As the horde closed in, I didn’t notice the two bandits behind us cranking open the steel barred gates. Bull picked me up like a sack of potatoes, Ash hanging from my hair for dear life.
“From here on, you must do exactly as I say, understand?” Gavin was running behind us, the flood of enemies nearly making it through the exit before a few of the turncoats slammed the gates shut behind us, giving us a clear shot at escape. Gavin smirked as an explosion sounded behind us, followed by familiar screams from days prior. I was overwhelmed by everything happening, unable to find my voice.
“Don’t worry kid. We’ll be out of here in no time!” Bull laughed heartily as we continued our sprint through the winding corridor. You could really tell he was in his element, loving every minute of the chaos he was orchestrating. The sounds of battle echoed through the narrow halls, Bull’s giddiness evened out by Gavin’s more serious demeanor. The giant seemed to have the keep’s layout memorized, leading us down a convoluted route of twists and turns that lead deep into the heart of the dungeon. What had felt like hours took only minutes in reality, but nevertheless the giant had brought us to a thick, wooden door that was reinforced with steel. Bull’s face was covered in a childish grin, clearly pleased with his performance. He set me down on the ground with a thud.
“Isabelle should be just through this door. This is the chamber where Bull and I were being kept.” Gavin’s gaze was steel and focused; a side of him I wasn’t overly familiar with. Before when we were captured, we didn’t even have a chance to fight back. With how organized those bandits were, it couldn’t have been coincidence. They had to have seen us leave the city… “You doing okay, kid?”
“Y-yeah, I’m fine. It’s just been… a little crazy. That’s all.” Ash nestled deeper into his nest of hair.
“Good. I- no, we need you to stay focused.”
“Step aside, gentleman.” Bull forced his way through, producing a key that was formerly hidden in the sash wrapped around his waist. “I’m sure that young lady’s getting tired of waiting.”
After a few moments of fidgeting with the lock, an audible click sounded, and the heavy door swung open.
“After you,” Bull said with a grin, waving us through.
“Go on, Fyn. I’ll be right behind you.” Gavin placed his hand on my shoulder, offering a warm smile. “We’re going to get out of here. Today.”
I nodded, struggling to keep myself composed. I’d spent days worrying that he’d somehow gotten himself killed, that I was searching for a corpse. In that moment, his words really helped relieve a lot of the worry I was holding on to.
“Wait a minute…” Bull muttered as we passed through the doorway. Looking frantically from cell to cell, one thing became painfully obvious; Isabelle wasn’t here.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me…” The giant cursed under his breath.
“Just hold on before you go and blow your lid. Maybe she found a way out; after all, she’s nothing if not crafty.”
“I hope you’re right, Quicksilver. Only problem is we have to make our way back up again. Those hallways are gonna be crawling with bandits by now, and it’s only a matter of time before they find us holed up in here.”
“I can’t really argue with that. Come on Fyn, let’s get moving.”
“Hold on!” I shouted a little louder than I anticipated. Both Bull and Gavin jumped a little.
“I know where the princess is…”
“Wait, how did you-” Gavin stopped himself. “That doesn’t matter right now. Where is she?”
“…Outside the keep, waiting for me…”
“Of course. She wouldn’t let you wander into a bandit fortress on your own. She at least has some kind of backup with her, right?” I shrugged, Gavin cursing. “Dammit… this will complicate things.” Bull let out a hearty laugh, shaking his head as he crossed his arms.
“So here’s the situation; Isabelle is missing in action, and the Princess you’ve been chasing is right under our noses. First things first; we find the girl. Isabelle can take care of herself. Otherwise she’s likely already dead. The Princess, however…”
“She’ll be alright. As long as we can get to her before long…” Gavin raised an eyebrow with a playful smirk.
“Somebody have a bit of a crush?” I could feel my cheeks turning red, looking away quickly.
“No! It’s not like that…”
“Then it’s decided. We find the girl first. Fyn, I think it’s safer if you wait here.”
“No!” I shouted again, unintentionally. “I can help. Trust me.”
“And what exactly can you help with, unarmed?”
“Gavin, please. I have a few tricks up my sleeve…”
“Ah, just let the boy come. I’ll take the front, you take the-”
“My my, how heartwarming. The old washed-up knight reunited with his useless apprentice…”
Rian stood in the doorway, a maniacal smile stretching from ear to ear. His eyes were cold and long dead, sending a chill through my spine as he spoke.
“It’s been a while, huh.” Gavin’s grip tightening on his hilt. “I’m surprised you’re still alive.”
“I guess you should have checked my corpse more carefully, Quicksilver. Although you’re lacking the namesake you wielded so expertly…”
Gavin’s knuckles started turning white. “After all that, I moved on. Broadswords are more my style now.”
“What a shame. I was really hoping to fight you at your full strength.” Rian shrugged as he dropped to a low stance, lunging towards Gavin preemptively as he unsheathed two single-edged swords. Gavin narrowly dodged the first attack, sidestepping an overhead slash. Rian adjusted quickly, his left sword changing course halfway through his swing. Gavin parried the blow with a little bit of luck, swinging the blade over his shoulder. It wasn’t difficult to see this maniac was pushing the Quicksilver Knight to his limits.
Without a rapier, Gavin’s regular speed was nearly halved. A broadsword weighs substantially more than the former, forcing him to adjust his fighting style drastically. Neither of us wanted to say it, but Gavin was at a steep disadvantage.
“Sloppy as ever, I see.” Despite his struggle, Gavin taunted him. The man growled, spinning his swords as he took an offensive stance.
“You think you can fool me with a facade? I’ll make you eat those words!”
Rian lunged again, Gavin staying on the defensive. Bull had placed himself in front of me, refusing to interfere in the duel.
“Why don’t you help him?” I whispered, Ash’s head poking up from his nest.
“Can’t you see what’s going on here?” Bull smiled, shaking his head. “This is between Gavin and that bastard. If I stepped in, Quicksilver might kill me. Besides, he’ll come out on top. You’ll see.”
I sighed, my eyes wandering back to the battle in front of us. It was the first time I’d witnessed Gavin’s swordplay without holding back, and it was like watching a skilled dancer. Each of his movements was seemingly calm and precise, him bringing his sword to reflect Rian’s attack in the nick of time, almost like it was rehearsed. Even with the heavier sword, Gavin was managing to hold his own, but he was tiring much more quickly. It was clear he wasn’t used to lugging around that much weight.
“You’re not running out of fire, are you old man?” Rian’s grin was desperate and unnerving, like staring into the eyes of a demon. His technique was much less refined, but the strength behind his blows was staggering. It was no wonder Gavin was getting tired; reflecting a blow like that was no small feet, let alone a barrage.
“I’ve… gotta push through…” I could hear Gavin’s muttering.
“Bull! You’ve gotta do something!” Ash began stirring, but Bull placed his hand on my shoulder before I could move any further, immobilizing me. His grip was like having a boulder pin your legs; there was no escape.
“I know you’re just worried, but listen. You’ve got to put your trust in him. Gavin’s skill with a blade is infamous throughout the kingdoms of Sevestia’s enemies.”
I tried to wriggle free, but it was no use. “Fine!” I shouted, shrugging off his iron grip. I glanced up, Bull smiling faintly.
Gavin’s guard was beginning to break down, little cuts showing up on his arms as Rian continued his onslaught.
“Why… Are you doing this?” The old knight managed to spit out, taking a slash to his shoulder. He winced for only a second, leaping backwards in order to put a little distance between him and his opponent.
“Is that a malicious question? How could you not know, teacher?!”
“Why didn’t… you come back?”
“You know why! You left me for dead!”
“Is that what you really think, Ri?” I could see a memory flash in the man’s eyes for a split second, his guard lowering for only a moment. “You may not remember, but I dragged you out of that shithole.”
“Stop it!” Rian yelled, his eyes tearing up. “You’re lying!”
“I dragged you all the way to that cave, in the midst of a battle. I’m the one that patched you up, Rian.”
Gavin had forced something in Rian to snap. He dropped both his swords, cradling his head. “Quit lying, you son of a bitch! You left me there!”
“I fought off twelve men, but then we got seperated. They overtook me, would have killed me if my brother hadn’t saved me. But when I came back for you…” Gavin looked down at his feet. “I… I’m sorry, Ri.”
By this point, Rian was kneeling on the ground, staring at his hands. “But Graves… He said…”
“Graves is a traitor; a deserter. He was planning to betray us all along.” Gavin sheathed his own sword, walking slowly towards Rian.
The reality he’d clung to had been shattered by Gavin’s revelation, his hands shaking as the tears rolled down his cheeks, muttering words under his breath.
“You can hate me all you want, Ri. But you need to know that I didn’t leave you there.”
Keeled over, staring at his bloodstained hands as the full realization of the crimes he commited washed over him, Bull struck him once in the head, incapacitating him.
“I don’t want to talk about it. We should lock him up and get moving, alright?” He may have thought that he was doing a good job at hiding it, but I understood now. The entire duration of that fight, he was taking the defensive on purpose. He didn’t want to hurt his former student, and Rian tried to take advantage of that, and ultimately failed.
“Understood, sir.” Bull mocked him, giving a salute. I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t relate to what he was going through. All I could do was hope that Rian would come around once he woke up, maybe change his ways. Either way, it wasn’t the time to be dwelling.
Bull scooped up the unconscious man like a mother lifting her baby, carefully setting him down on a cot in one of the cells, and locking it as he left. “Okay!” He shouted, punching his hand as he stood in front of the doorway leading out of the dungeon. “We have a princess to save!”
Any of our remaining pursuers had become lost in the conflict, random bouts happening in every corner of the fortress. It felt like we were in the middle of a war; echoes of metal against metal reverberating through the small stone corridors.
“When Bull said he was staging a coup, I had no idea just how much support he’d rallied.” Gavin laughed with a determined grin, shaking his head. Bull grinned, offering a thumbs up.
As we reached the top of the staircase, he jerked his arm out in front of me, stopping me dead in my tracks with a thump. Even running into him at full speed, Gavin hardly budged from the impact. That single moment of letting his guard up had vanished, the stench of a rotten man wafting through the stagnant air. Within seconds, Graves emerged from around the corner, donning an unsettling toothy grin
“Stay behind me…” I tried to listen as he spoke, but Grave’s wide-eyed grin was distracting. Graves twirled his broadsword, followed by a deep, menacing laugh.
“Gavin… I never thought I’d have the chance.”
“Likewise. Really been a blast from the past. First Rian, now you…” The man’s brow twisted for a split second, followed by his familiar, dark cackle.
“How was the reunion? I’m sure he had a lot to say.” It was obvious what he was trying to do to Gavin, but what was more surprising was that it was working.
“You son of a bitch… You rotted that poor kid’s mind, brainwashed him into being your lap dog. He didn’t stand a chance…” Gavin was failing at hiding his anger. Couldn’t he see that was what Graves wanted?
Graves grinned ear to ear, shaking his head. “Are you sure about that, old friend? Or maybe I opened his eyes to what the world could really offer. I’ve never been happier, or more free!”
“You’re delusional. We end this. Today.” The knight’s anger was burning out of control, the only thing on his mind vengeance. He wanted to see Graves pay, and that would compromise him.
“Your funeral, Ex-Paladin!” The old knight lunged towards him, Gavin only narrowly deflecting the wild blow. His eyes widened, surprised by his foe’s strength, speed and precision. Graves was his senior by at least ten years, but he was just as strong, if not stronger than he was in his youth. I looked up to Bull, his expression suggesting that he was a little more worried than he was earlier.
“That speed…” He barely had a chance to take a breath before Graves lunged again, narrowly missing his neck as he spun around with a horizontal slash. Gavin dodged the blow by the hair on his neck, the blade grazing the back of his skull. He then countered with his own strike, aiming for his foe’s thigh.Graves’s sword was already there, swatting away Gavin’s attack like a fly. The man laughed maniacally, leaping backwards.
“You were always a skilled swordsman, I’ll give you that. But this…” Gavin shook his head in doubt, his thoughts racing. “But this…”
Graves shook his head, snickering. “Or maybe you’ve become weak since your ‘fall from grace’, Quicksilver Paladin.” I could feel the rage pulsing from Gavin as the man mocked him. “You’ve grown complacent over the years. Training children has made you soft!” Graves began the dance once more, both men parrying the other’s blows. Watching them fight was watching two sides of the same image, their technique clearly adopted from the same instructor. However, Graves’s raw speed and power was proving too much for Gavin to handle,not to mention he was still recovering from the earlier fight.
“Are you just gonna watch again?” I looked up at Bull, a cold sweat on his forehead.
“I don’t know. There’s so much history…”
“If you don’t I will!”
Bull’s reaction was too late, reaching for me just as I exited his arm’s length. I had no idea what I was about to do; all I knew was that even for a second, I somehow had to draw Graves’s attention. He smirked, mocking me. I could feel Ash powering up, the familiar heat returning to the small of my back.
“Get out of the way, Gavin!” I was forced to watch as he turned to face me, the tip of Graves’s sword protruding from Gavin’s abdomen. I could feel the tears instantly surfacing, and the amplified emotion aided by Ash’s power. Luckily, Bull pulled Gavin aside as I cocked back my fist, the veins of electricity spreading into my fingertips.
As my fist travelled through the air, it was like an invisible barrier stopped me from fully going through the motion, holding my hand an inch from his chest. I looked up at Graves in shock, the man standing with his arms crossed. On the bottom of his forearm, I could see strange letters glowing a vibrant white. The last thing I saw was that bastard’s cynical grin as the lightning was released, the impact launching both of us in different directions. My arm felt like it’d been ripped off and reattached as I slammed into a cobblestone wall, an audible crack sounding in my torso.
My vision faded in and out as Bull rushed towards me, Gavin behind him clutching his abdomen. He’d at least pulled the sword from the wound, using his prison rags as a makeshift bandage. I can specifically remember Bull’s reaction to the power; normally, people were surprised and shocked when they witnessed a kid with magic powers. Bull’s expression was more that of excitement, rather than fear. The last thing I remembered was the giant picking us both up, and sprinting for the door to the surface before I passed out.