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The Last Stand (The Eleven Years War: Book One)

By SybilCochrane All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Fantasy

Chapter One

The evening was cold and quite rainy, as was to be expected in Caitha during the spring. Due to the weather, the dirt streets - now turned to mud - were completely deserted, everyone in Thaos having escaped the first storm of the season by hiding in their sagging, wooden slat homes. They were all probably huddled around their warm hearths, their roofs steadily leaking rainwater, but Elise and her father were lucky; Milo had patched up their old, leaky roof the week before. It meant that, for the first time in a long time, they could only hear the rain pounding on the roof, rather than feeling it drip down on them as they curled up in their beds that dark night. With how exhausted she was from a day filled with serving ale and food to the quarry workers who frequented the tavern her father ran, it was a blessing.

Despite how tired she was after a day on her feet, Elise just couldn't seem to sleep: she was too worried about her little brother, Milo. He'd left for Asfalis, his first post as a Watchman, just a few days before. When he'd visited for a few days after finishing his military training, he'd assured them that he'd be perfectly safe in the town, and due to how close he was to Thaos, he'd be able to visit more often than he would otherwise. Despite his reassurances, Elise still worried about him. No matter how safe he claimed he'd be in Asfalis, he was still going to a military post in the middle of a war, even if it was a far off one; it scared her to death to think that her younger brother could be marching off to battle.

Eventually, Elise sat up in her bed and ran a hand through her pale blonde hair. If she wasn't going to sleep, she might as well do something productive.

Elise silently got out of bed, padded over to the window, and looked outside. Through the rain-soaked glass, she couldn't see anyone outside, as was to be expected. Even so, she pulled the thick, scratchy curtain across the window; considering what she was, it was better safe than sorry.

Once she was certain that nobody would be able to see her, she cupped her hands together and watched as a small, flickering flame began to appear.

She wasn't sure how long she'd been able to do it, but ever since she could remember, Papa had been telling her to keep her gift behind closed doors. People in Thaos tended to be quite superstitious, to the point where they went searching for witches whenever something went wrong in the quarry; only the Gods knew what would happen if they found someone who actually could do something out of the ordinary like she could.

However, Milo had loved watching her control fire, even after he'd grown up. She thought about him that night as she practiced manipulating the fire that night, making it grow larger and smaller, making it turn into different shapes. How was he? Was he homesick? Did he have a roof over his head that didn't leak? Did he have good, warm food three times a day?

She probably would've continued practicing, if someone hadn't barged through the front door.

When she heard the front door snap open with a bang, she clasped her hands together and looked over at her closed bedroom door, terrified. How could anyone have seen her? She'd been so careful!

"Elise, we need your help!" Elise's shoulders sagged as she relaxed; it looked like that wasn't the reason behind this late night visit.

She lit a candle, grabbed her canvas bag filled with medical supplies, and walked outside her bedroom.

The two men she saw in the doorway were sopping wet, their soaked clothes dripping rainwater onto the wooden floorboards. She recognized the non-injured man as the town's blacksmith; however, she didn't recognize the man the blacksmith was carrying. She could tell that he was a Watchman, though; nobody else in Caitha wore dark gray cloaks or carried short swords on them, as to avoid being confused for one. He was clutching his shoulder, which had something - a wooden stake? - sticking out of it.

"What happened?" Elise asked as she set the candle down on a nearby table. Papa, who'd wandered outside of his room, as well, rushed over to them and helped the blacksmith set the injured man down on one of the tables. He moaned softly in pain.

"I-I heard him out making a ruckus in my smithy," the blacksmith said as he ran a shaky hand through his gray hair. "By the time I got there, he was out cold." Pa helped him into a chair as Elise put two of her fingers against the man's neck. Thankfully, she could feel his pulse beating against them.

"Is he going to be alright?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," Elise admitted as she set her bag down and began to inspect her new patient. When she pulled the hood of his cloak back, he saw that he wasn't a man, but a boy, one that didn't look to be much older than she was. He had shaggy, dark brown hair, eyes that were screwed shut in pain, and ghastly pale skin. He looked like he'd received quite the beating, judging by his black, swollen eye and the long, deep cut above his right eye, one that would almost certainly leave a nasty scar.

After she was done seeing whom her patient was, Elise began to inspect the object in the boy's shoulder. It was long, narrow, and made of wood, with three feathers attached to the end. The other end of it was stained dark red in the man's blood, just as his beige, parchment-thin shirt was around his shoulder. Just by her barely touching it, the boy tensed up and groaned. It looked like one of the things she'd seen the soldiers stationed in Thaos carrying in their quivers...

The blood drained from her face. It was a crossbow bolt.

Elise looked over her shoulder at Pa. "Can you come hold him down?" He nodded, walked over, and held him down by his shoulder.

Elise grabbed the crossbow bolt and began pulling it out of the boy's shoulder.

Almost immediately, the boy tensed up in pain as the crossbow bolt slowly came free of his shoulder. His teeth and fists were clenched as he began to scream in pain, though quietly. He kept squirming, which made Elise go a little slower, as she had to use one hand to hold him down rather than using both of her hands to try and pull out the bolt. The blacksmith looked like he was going to be sick; as he watched, his face turned a pale shade of green.

Finally, with a sickening squelch, the bolt came free of the boy's shoulder. The boy relaxed and began quietly moaning as Elise handed Pa the crossbow bolt. The blood drained from the blacksmith's face when he saw it, changing the color of his face once again.

"Dear Gods," he whispered as Elise pulled a needle and some thread out of her bag. She began to carefully stitch up the boy's shoulder, a procedure he stayed surprisingly still for. "Why would anyone do this to a mere boy?" Pa sat down by the blacksmith.

"It was probably a bunch of soldiers," he said. "You know how much they hate Watchmen." The blacksmith nodded in agreement as Elise finished stitching up the boy's shoulder. 

Once she'd finished, she wiped the blood off the needle and put the supplies back into her canvas bag. If this had been an attack by the soldiers, odds were, the wound to his shoulder wasn't his only injury.

Elise took a knife and gently cut off his shirt to see what else they'd done to him.

She'd expected to find other bumps and scrapes, but nothing quite as bad as what she saw. His body was covered in various injuries, most of which were burns that oozed puss with infection. His stomach was bruised black and there were too many minor cuts to count.

"Why would anyone do that?" the blacksmith asked as Elise pulled out a bottle of ointment and some bandages. She gently began to lather the ointment onto the burns. The boy tensed up when she touched his burns, but he didn't cry out, like he had when she'd pulled out the crossbow bolt. "I'm not sure that a group of soldiers would do something like that, even to a Watchman." 

There was a loud thunderclap outside that shook the house.

"I think I should probably get going," the blacksmith said as he stood up. "The wife's probably starting to worry about me."

"Take care," Pa said. With that, the blacksmith walked back out into the storm, shutting the door behind him. 

Pa walked over to Elise as she finished lathering the boy's burns with ointment. "How is he?" 

Elise sat him up a little and began to wrap some bandages around the burns on the boy's stomach.

"I think he'll be alright," Elise said. "He's soaked, though; we need to get him warm before he catches a cold." Pa nodded and watched as she finished wrapping the bandages around the boy. 

Once she had finished, Pa carefully picked up the boy, making him moan again.

"We'll put him in Milo's bed," he said. He began walking towards the room Elise and her brother had shared before he left to become a Watchman. She put all of her supplies back in her canvas sack and began to follow Pa back to the room, the sack in one hand and a candle in the other. 

Once they were in the room, Elise pulled the covers away from the bed and Pa put the boy in Milo's bed.

"I'll stay up with him," he said as Elise pulled the covers back over the boy's broken body. "He'll probably be a little scared when he wakes up in an unfamiliar place, and you'll need to be well-rested if he takes a turn for the worse during the night."

Elise would've protested her father's decision, if the boy's eyes hadn't started to flutter open. He began to groan as his brown eyes opened and looked around at his new surroundings.

"Where am I?" he asked. He tried to sit up, but stopped midway up, wrapping his arm around himself and wincing in pain.

"You're in Thaos," Pa said as Elise eased the boy back down. "You ended up in the blacksmith's smithy somehow and he brought you over here when he saw how bad of a shape you were in. I was going to stay up with you, just in case you got worse-"

"Y-you don't have to do that, sir," the boy stuttered. "I don't think I hurt anything too vital." Pa couldn't help but raise an eyebrow.

"You got shot," Pa said. "What if it turns septic in the middle of the night or something?" the boy absently touched his injured shoulder. He had a look on his face, almost as if he'd forgotten all about his injury and his eyes filled up with shock. It seemed that he just realized that there was a possibility of him dying from it.

"It won't get infected that fast, Pa," Elise said. "If it does get infected, it'll take a day or so for symptoms to start showing." Pa was quiet for a few moments, then sighed.

"You'll come get me if you need me?" he asked. She nodded, and he said his goodbyes and left the two of them to their own devices.

"How does your shoulder feel?" Elise asked as she walked over to her own bed and sat down, facing the boy. He gently put a hand to his wounded shoulder, wincing, as he got this distant look in his sad, brown eyes, as if he were remembering something.

"It hurts, but I'll be alright," he said. He looked over at Elise. "I never quite caught your name."

"My name's Elise," she said, pulling a lock of her hair behind her ear and out of her eyes. "What's yours?" The boy began to adjust his position on the bed.

"Olrick," he said. For a few moments, the two were quiet as Elise laid down in her bed, pulling the covers over her. She went to go blow the candle out in order to plunge the room back into darkness so they could sleep, but she stopped herself before she could; the question nagging at the back of her mind stopped her.

"Would you happen to know somebody named Milo?" she asked. "He's a Watchman, too." Olrick paused for a moment, then shook his head.

"The name doesn't sound familiar," he finally said. "Why?"

"He's my brother," Elise said. "He left for his first post a few days ago; I'm curious as to how he's doing, is all." She blew out the candle, making the room turn black.

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