Elise! Olrick’s panicked voice pulled her out of her sleep. She could feel him shaking her shoulder gently. Please, just wake up, already!
Elise’s eyes slowly fluttered opened to the sound of rain dancing on the roof. Even though her room was still dark, she could see Olrick standing at her bedside, already dressed despite the morning hour. He was staring at the door, tense, as if he was expecting something – or someone – to come barging through it.
“What is it?” she asked as she slowly sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Olrick looked over at her.
Her skin turned ice cold when she saw the look on his face. She’d never seen someone look so terrified, before.
“The Giskens are here,” he said. “We need to leave, now.”
The blood drained from Elise’s face as terror took her in its icy grip. The war had finally managed to make its way there; they would end up just like every other country the Giskens had invaded.
Without another word, Elise hopped out of bed and ran over to her trunk, where her clothes were. Olrick left the room as she threw it open and yanked out a dark red dress, shutting the door behind him. She put it on as fast as she possibly could, yanked a pair of old, leather shoes onto her feet, and left her room.
When she reached the tavern, she saw that Pa was already up. He was shoving food into a canvas sack as fast as he could, his blue eyes wide with fear, thin lips frowning and bushy, gray eyebrows furrowed in concentration. Olrick was standing next to the door with his back against the wall, waiting for the Giskens to come in. Someone had propped a chair under the doorknob to keep anyone from coming in.
“Are they really here?” Elise asked. Pa looked up at her with his shoulders sagged, defeated.
“They are,” he said. “They came in from the other side of town, though; if we hurry, we might be able to escape-“ Everyone froze as they heard men begin to shout in a harsh, guttural language outside. The Giskens had come.
Olrick cursed as he pulled his short sword out of its sheath. He looked over at them, his face grim.
“Get out of here,” he said. “I’ll hold them back for as long as I can.” Elise’s heart sank. He’d barely been able to fight off Bram the previous day; what made him think that he could fight off an entire army of Giskens long enough for she and Pa to escape?
Pa was, she thought, thinking along the same lines as she was. He opened his mouth to protest, but he didn’t get the chance; there was a loud bang on the door, nearly taking it right off its hinges. There was more shouting in what they assumed was Gisken.
“Please, just go,” Olrick pleaded. Without another word, Pa grabbed the sack, took Elise by the arm, and began running towards the back door.
They stepped outside to pure chaos.
The entire town was flipped on its head. There were soldiers fighting on the streets, trying to keep the Giskens from taking the town over, but it wasn’t working. Dead Caithians covered the ground with only a few Giskens to avenge it as many of the people she’d grown up with tried to run. Many of the Caithians lying on the ground weren’t even dead, yet; they simply lay on the ground, waiting to bleed out and die or for a Gisken soldier to show some mercy, and it made her sick.
“Elise, we have to go,” Papa’s voice brought her out of her own thoughts.
She looked over at him, a lump beginning to form in her throat. She couldn’t leave, not while there were people that she could help dying in Thaos. This could be the last time she would get to see her father.
“Papa, I can’t leave yet,” Elise said. “If I do, a lot of soldiers are going to die, and I don’t think I can live with that on my conscience.”
For a few seconds, Papa stood there, trying to think of something to tell her to change her mind. Then, he sighed, running a hand through his graying hair.
“Alright, he finally said. “I guess we can find another time to get out of here.”
Elise forced herself to smile. What was he thinking, staying with her here? She’d hoped that one of them would survive this day.
She pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind as she rushed over to the closest injured soldier. She couldn’t have that kind of thinking distracting her, not while she was trying to save people’s lives.
The first soldier she got to was a boy around her age, with a massive gash across his chest. His eyes were wide with shock and he was really still, as if he were already dead. She probably would have thought that he was, if his chest hadn’t been rising and falling steadily and tears hadn’t been streaming down his face.
Elise set her bag down next to her and pressed a rag down against the wound. The second she saw it, she knew that she would have to stitch it up, something she might not have the time to do. “Hang in there; you’re going to be okay.”
The boy began to shake his head as Papa knelt down next to him. “No I’m not. They’ll kill us all.”
She let go of the rag and began digging through her bag. Papa began pressing down on the wound the second she did. “Don’t say that. The Giskens aren’t as cruel as the stories say, I’m sure of it.” She found her needle and thread in the bag and began stitching up the gash in his chest as fast as she could.
“Elise, you may want to hurry up with that,” Papa said quickly once she was almost halfway done with stitching up the boy. His voice was getting panicky, now that the sounds of battle were changing to that of swords clanging and crashing to that of people screaming as Giskens yelled at them. “I don’t think they’d take this too well.”
“I’m almost done,” she said, her needle beginning to go faster through the boy’s skin. “I just need a little more time-“
Her neck turned cold as someone pressed a metal blade against her neck.
“Put that needle down.” The man who said it was eerily calm, one that spoke Caithic with a hard Abunaki accent. Pa turned around to face the owner of the voice, and his face turned white in terror.
“What are you going to do to her?” he asked as Elise put the needle down and put her hands up. A Gisken soldier grabbed him by the forearms and pulled him to his feet. He was a little younger than her, with a shaved head and olive skin. The sword in his other hand was covered in crimson blood.
“I don’t know,” the one behind Elise said. A tanned hand grabbed her by the forearm and yanked her to her feet. She could feel tears beginning to brew in her eyes, but she managed to blink them back. “It all depends on how merciful I’m feeling after all this is over.” The Abunaki and the Gisken led Elise and Papa back to the tavern.
When they got back inside, they saw that Olrick had been busy while they’d been gone. Four Gisken soldiers lay on the floor, bleeding, and a fifth was leaning against the wall with a gash in his side. Olrick looked relatively unscathed, though he did have a few cuts and scrapes, himself. The door had been knocked off of its hinges and was laying in the doorway, broken.
“Why, if it isn’t everyone’s favorite Watchman?” The man behind Elise said mockingly. “I guess crossbows just aren’t like they used to be, are they?”
Olrick turned to face them. The defiant look on his face turned into one of fear.
“Leave them alone, Blair,” he pleaded. “They didn’t do anything!”
“They didn’t do anything,” Blair repeated. “If they really didn’t do anything, you wouldn’t be so keen on saving their miserable asses.” Olrick’s grip on his sword tightened, and Blair put the blade of his sword against Elise’s neck. Now that it was extended out in front of her, she could see that the sword had a waved blade, like a long, silver flame. It was unlike any sword she’d seen come out of the blacksmith’s shop.
“I would drop that sword of yours, boy,” Blair growled. He pressed the blade against her neck harder, and Elise found herself recoiling. “It would really be a shame if these two were to die because of your stubbornness, wouldn’t it?”
For a few seconds, Olrick simply stared at them, unsure of what to do. His grip tightened a little on his sword, then he sighed and dropped his sword in surrender.
Elise’s heart sank as she watched one of the uninjured Giskens grab Olrick by the forearms. This couldn’t really be happening, could it? Any second now, she was going to wake up from this nightmare and carry on with her life, one that didn’t involve Giskens or wars. She knew she wouldn’t, though. This hell was going to continue until they managed to kick the Giskens out of Caitha, something that probably wouldn’t happen for a long time.
Before Blair had Olrick dragged off to some unknown fate, he pulled Olrick’s other short sword from his belt and began inspecting its shining, new-looking blade. After a few seconds, his face lit up in recognition.
“Is this that whelp’s sword?” he asked. Elise could see Olrick tense up in anger. “I didn’t expect a Watchman like yourself to be so sentimental.”
Blair tossed the sword over in their direction. She couldn’t help but think that it looked a lot like her brother’s, but that was impossible. Milo was safe in Asfalis, away from all this.
“Don’t call him that,” Olrick growled. Blair looked at him in mock surprise.
“Then what should I call him?” he asked. “A coward?” Olrick furrowed his brows in anger.
“He wasn’t a coward,” he said. “Milo had more guts than any of you!”
Elise’s heart stopped. She hadn’t even realized she’d fallen to her knees until the Gisken with the shaved head began to help her back to her feet. Her brother couldn’t be dead; he was too young!
Once she was back on her feet, Pa wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. She could feel him shaking as he tried to keep his emotions inside.
“It’s alright,” he kept saying. It didn’t comfort her; he sounded like he was still trying to convince himself that it was okay that his son – her brother – was dead before he even had the chance to live.
Elise looked over at Olrick. He had a sad, pained look on his face. Why hadn’t he told them what happened to her brother when he found out they were related? Why had he waited until the issue smacked them in the face?“Keep them here and get this place cleaned up,” Blair ordered the Gisken with the shaved head. “I’ll go see what General Raul wants to do with them.” With that, he took Olrick away, leaving Elise and Pa to mourn for Milo.