Passage Chapter 8
I took an oath...
Such words floated around in his mind, only occasionally forming a complete thought. At the present, he was separated a great distance from the conscious world, small flashes of memory his only link to the ones out there. Little did they please him, but the fact they made sense of his situation somehow gave him a sense of relief. He would be allowed to make peace with it, at the very least.
A sense of peace...something he had unintentionally strived for since his early years, but strived for nonetheless. Misguided admiration and the ability to feign ignorance of his past were proof of this. And now, so many years of striving had led him here, to taking this once-in-a-lifetime oath. He could not think of anything beyond that, and in that sense, he had succeeded in fulfilling this oath. But had he had the chance to look at the whole picture, he might have thought otherwise...
For now, he was limited to recalling bits and pieces of the chaotic events that evening...
Heeeeeey! Miakis called. Wilhelm! Mueller! Hows it going?
Hm? Wilhelm turned around as the young woman approached, followed by the other two Queens Knights. Oh, hey. Weve driven off the remaining numbers. As you probably heard, weve defeated about half the Nether Gate forces. The detective kids took out a couple, too. We were just scouting just in case they wanted to make a quick return.
Oh, thank goodness.
I must say, Im relieved that soldier made that report, Mueller was saying as he sheathed his weapon. Not to say I lack faith in our unit, but those assassins are strong. Weve already sustained a couple of deaths and about forty injuries in my group alone, and that was caused by a mere five assassins. Five. I dont know how much longer we could have held out.
Huh? Miakis, who had been staring at Mueller quizzically since his first words, now looked at the other knights as if to seek the answer. That soldier...?
Your Majesty, you must relax, Richard said, watching the young girl slowly pace back and forth.
Lymsleia shook her head. I...cant, she responded softly. I wont be able to rest for days. Not while theyre out there.
Im sure it will all work out, Richard told her, though he knew he had no way of guaranteeing so.
Considering his words, the young queen found her way back to the throne. I...hope youre right. I know I have to deal with these kinds of things, but I wish theyd give it a rest once in a while. We just fought a war.
Richard gazed at her sympathetically. Well...I suppose Im in no position to argue against that. Im a mercenary for hire, and Im always involved in some conflict, so I cant complain. Then again, its never personal for me, so I dont think I have the right to complain.
Youre still allowed to have opinions, Lymsleia told him. Its just...harder being in a position where everything you say is going to have some effect on your country. But Im okay, she quickly added, assuring him with a smile. I learned very early that I would have to become assertive and selfless at the same time. Id say Im starting to get the hang of it.
You dont have to tell me, Your Majesty! Richard said, smiling back.
And what did I tell you about calling me that?
The young queen chuckled. Im just kidding, she told him. She then sat back, clasping her hands together. So, Richard...
Whats wrong, Miakis? Kyle asked.
The worry seemed to multiply in Miakis expression. Its just...why would...a soldier make that report? Her Majesty only authorized certain messengers for communication. No guard or soldier of Sol-Falena is allowed to personally make a report. They can only accompany those making a report.
Is that true? Mueller inquired, looking uncharacteristically unnerved. Then what of the young man who made that report? Are you saying it wasnt one of your soldiers?
Miakis shook her head. It couldnt be. They received strict orders. She then looked at Mueller and Wilhelm with sudden hope. Are you...are you sure it wasnt one of your men?
No way, Wilhelm replied. We were all too busy fighting off those Nether Gate clowns. One of my soldiers, a man I know very well, told me that one of your soldiers gave him the message. He described the guy being dressed up like a soldier of Sol-Falena. Anyway, why does it matter? The point is, the message got across.
But was it the right message?
What do you mean? the mercenary commander asked.
That your claim of this soldier can mean one of two things, Galleon informed him. Either one of our soldiers is hard of hearing, or...
Miakis eyes narrowed in despair as she completed the thought. Or...as of right now, Her Majesty is in grave danger...
Haha. No, really! Why do you keep dodging the question?
Y-Your Majesty... Richard stammered nervously. Because...theres...really...nothing to answer about it. All that matters is the present and the future.
The girl studied him intently. But to be in the present, you must have had a past.
But...I dont see why that matters, he said, turning his face away. If youre worried that Im going to run away, theres no need. Right now, I have a duty, and I intend to fill that duty to the very end. I never take an oath lightly.
Thats good to hear, but I told you, Im not worried about you skipping out on your duty. Youve always struck me as the loyal type. She tilted her head down. I was just...curious about your past, thats all.
Well, like I said, theres really nothing to say about it, Richard told her, his smile a bit strained this time. Its a boring story anyway! Besides, Ive fought beside Mueller for so long, thats all I really remember! In fact, when I was your age, I was already sparring with the other sol-- He stopped completely and turned around, listening intently to some unknown sound.
What is it? Lymsleia asked in concern.
I thought I heard something.
Maybe it was just a bird? the girl suggested, though for some reason, she suddenly felt helpless at the threat of such a creature.
Richard shook his head. No...more like somebody sneaking around...
That cant be. The messenger said the Nether Gate retreated and--
She was interrupted by the creak of a door. Both she and Richard turned as a severely wounded guard stumbled in a few steps, only to collapse onto the red carpet.
My apologies, Your Majesty, the stunned Richard stated, but it looks like the messenger was wrong.
Not that Im dismissing the possibility, Wilhelm started, eyebrow lifted in confusion, but should you guys really be so quick to panic? Im sure that by now one of our men wouldve seen something.
Miakis expression did not relent. Nether Gate is Nether Gate. They snuck into a dragon horse cave even though it was right next to Gordius. She let out a frustrated groan. Oh, Im not going to wait to find out if Im right or wrong. Im going back.
Just a moment, good knights!
Kyle, Galleon, and Miakis turned at the sound of the voice. Approaching them was a royal soldier of slim build and average height.
Yeah? Kyle asked. What is it?
Several of the Nether Gate assassins have penetrated the city and are now murdering the citizens, one by one! the man announced. You are to go into the city and slay these assassins. This is a direct order from the queen.
With nearly matching looks of anger, the three knights all drew their weapons at him.
Liar, Miakis accused. First of all, none of the soldiers are authorized to pass along messages. If you were one of our soldiers, you would know that. Who are you?
An amused laugh erupted from the man. Why are you wasting time with so useless an interrogation? I am a soldier of Falena.
Shut up! the female knight shouted. If that were true, youd be a complete disgrace!
Oh really, now? For what? For doing the job your messengers are too dead to do? I deserve a medal for my performance. And anyway, you didnt answer my question. Why are you wasting time with me? Innocent citizens are being slaughtered as we speak.
Quit lying to the lady! Kyle ordered him. If the Nether Gate really are in the city, then theyre probably headed for the palace! And youre just stalling us. Wilhelm! Detain this guy!
Gladly. Wilhelm stepped forward and snatched the man by the collar. All right, lets move it along, wise ass. Theyll deal with you later.
Just then, everyone saw it--a flash of steel in the moonlight, and Wilhelm stumbling back, completely startled. A groan of pain came from the mercenary commander, and blood began to stream thickly down his arm.
Wilhelm! Galleon and Miakis cried out.
Commander! Mueller shouted in alarm, immediately drawing his weapon. He lunged past his injured officer and comrade and skewered the unknown soldier through the side of his torso. The soldier let out a gurgle of surprise, and he fell over as Mueller jerked the blade out. An oddly shaped weapon also dropped not too far away from the dying man.
Clutching his wound, Wilhelm looked up with a mix of appreciation and astonishment. M-Mueller...
I know that mark, Mueller stated, sheathing the bloody blade. Its the underhanded mark of the Nether Gate!
Miakis only grew more upset. Which means...our worst fears are true...
Are you all right?! Lymsleia cried as she and Richard approached the injured guard.
Your Majesty, the guard moaned weakly, raising his head. Its all...I could do...you must...run away. Theyre here. Theyre...here... With a final breath, he dropped his head and lay still.
The girl stared at his unmoving form, horrified. No...
Just then, a familiar presence showed itself in the doorway--a Nether Gate assassin wielding long, twin blades.
What?! cried Lymsleia, taking several steps back. Theyre as far as the palace?!
Richard promptly drew his rapier. Your Majesty, behind me, quickly! he instructed, eyes fixated on the murderous intruder.
Oh... Lymsleia did as she was told, rushing past Richard.
The temporary knights eyes then narrowed. Youll go no further, he said in a nearly commanding tone.
What? the assassin rasped. Do you think youll stop me, boy?
The assassin swung his weapons at Richard one by one; with a secured stance, the teen immediately dodged the first blade, leaning back to evade the second with equal success. When the cycle repeated, Richard deflected one of the blades with great force, causing his opponent to briefly stumble back. Before the intruder could regain his posture, Richard struck hard, stabbing forward at the mans gut. Gurgling, the assassin immediately ceased all action, his arms becoming limp. Richard then pulled out the blade, watching his opponent fall.
As the assassin lay sprawled on the carpet, Richard saw another entering the room, similarly equipped. The teenager grunted in surprise, but remained as he was; he parried a blade as the man attacked. Very briefly, the intruder left himself vulnerable to a good strike, and Richard took full advantage, slamming the weight of the blade against his opponents chest. Temporarily losing his balance, the assassin swayed but managed to swing sharp steel back at the young swordsman. Richard evaded and thrust forward, severing the mans windpipe with this aggressive stroke of the blade. The assassins body momentarily locked up, and he collapsed as he was released.
Sheathing the blade, Richard turned and hurried over to Lymsleia. Are you all right?
The girl nodded. Uh huh. Th-thanks...
Though somewhat inappropriate for the moment, Richard showed her one of his gentle smiles. No need for thanks. Im just doing my job.
Lymsleia, however, was now looking at something else. Oh no... she said in a hushed, panicked voice, pointing. Richard...look...
The commander turned as two more Nether Gate assassins, a man and a woman, wandered into the room. Presumed to have witnessed the previous duels, they both possessed similar vials, both of which they intended to make proper use.
Argh... Richard turned completely around and took his weapon in both hands. He stood with his legs shoulder width apart, the rapier pointed upward at an angle, an unusual pose for him. Your Majesty, he said, initiative once again taking over. Stay by the throne.
Uh... Lymsleia watched as he then left her side. Y-yes, of course...
Passing the rapier to his right hand, the teen charged forward at the assassins, who were now in the process of consuming the liquid in the vials. Both he and Lymsleia knew what it was--Raging Nostrum, the horrifying compound that completely spent its users life in exchange for a few moments of superhuman strength.
Oh, no you dont! Richard shouted as he quickly approached the man. He smacked the closed vial out of the assassins hand, only postponing the act of taking the drug; furious, the man swung a blade in retaliation. Richard blocked four consecutive attacks by the assassin, countering with a few strikes of his own. The moment Richard backed off, however, he was knocked forward as a searing pain went across his back. He let out a cry but regained his stance, turning as the female assassin came into view with a blood-stained weapon. Noticing the crazed look in her eyes, the teen realized she had successfully taken the deadly drug.
He couldnt remain focused on this for long, however; hearing the man approach from behind, he spun around, dodging as a blade was swung at him. Richard attempted to hit back, but the aftershock of his injury stunned him; just then, his concentration slipped just a little, his grip following suit. Consequently, the assassin knocked away the rapier, leaving Richard almost completely defenseless.
The man took another swipe at Richard, which proved in vain; the young commander ducked and dropped to the floor, quickly tripping the man.
S-stay away! Lymsleia suddenly commanded, albeit shakily, from across the room.
Richard turned to see the female assassin heading toward the queen. Before he could react to this, the male assassin had him in his hold. The teen gasped and attempted to pull away the arms that were now squeezed around him. Fortunately, he managed to create enough distance to slip out without causing more injury to himself. The assassin had no intention of admitting defeat, however, and Richard knew this. Whirling around with great speed, Richard reattached his grip to the assassins wrists, pushing the deadly blades away from his own flesh.
Lymsleias eyes widened as the female assassin approached, one blade high in the air and seeking its target.
Richard briefly turned his head, fully realizing the danger the queen was in. Lymsleia! he shouted. Without thinking, he drove his knee forward and struck his opponent square between the legs. When the assassin backed off in pain, Richard punched him across the face with powerful force. He then took off, grabbing his weapon along the way.
Oh... Lymsleia brought her hands over her mouth, not taking her eyes off her attacker.
I have a message, I have a m-message, the woman said gleefully, laughing uncontrollably. The blood of Shahrewar, it still lives. Farewell, Princess...
Lymsleia flinched and shut her eyes as the weapon swooped down in her direction with alarming speed. But to her surprise, it was not she who was struck.
She opened her eyes to see the woman leaning back in shock for a moment. She then fell, revealing Richard, who was standing behind her with a crimson-stained blade.
Your Majesty... the commander said, panting. You didnt...she didnt...Im...glad youre all right.
Lymsleia looked up at him, obviously shaken by the murder attempt. Richard... she barely whispered, tears glistening in her eyes. Why...is this happening...?
Though it was more rhetorical than demanding, the question struck at Richard. Uh... His expression then calmed, and he shook his head. Dont worry, Your Majesty, he said as he turned around, eyes meeting those of the other assassin. He briefly glared when he realized that not only had the vial returned to the mans hand, it was now empty. Still, Richards determination remained unshaken. I wont let anything happen to you, he continued. Just hold on a little longer. Ive sworn to protect you, and thats exactly what Im going to do. He then looked over his shoulder with a smile. Just stay here, okay? With that, he was heading toward the assassin.
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