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

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Chapter Thirty-Six

Something was wrong.

That much was obvious from the second Olrick saw a Gisken in old, worn clothes come into the party. He stood out like a sore thumb among the other guests, all of whom were dressed in fine silks and velvets; even the few Gisken soldiers who were there were dressed in formal suits, which stood to confirm that he wasn’t at the ball to enjoy himself. Seeing him there, trying to get in between Lira and Tai Ming and Raul made a pit grow in his stomach, one that he couldn’t seem to get rid of.

“Something’s happened,” Olrick said as he stared at the Gisken.

Eza looked up from her meal and looked at the Gisken, who was now whispering something interesting in General Raul’s ear, judging by the look on his face. She frowned when she saw the man in black; it seemed that she didn’t trust his motivation in being there, either.

“Normally, I would dismiss him as a messenger, but it isn’t like the Giskens to use an officer for such a task,” she said. She began to look around. “Where’s Elise? Did she leave, already?”

“She left the second we saw Raul come in,” Olrick said. “She should be back any second, now.”

Olrick’s stomach twisted into knots. He didn’t know how or why, but he just knew that Elise was the reason the Gisken had come; they’d caught her.

He stood up from his seat and began walking towards the Gisken. “I’ll be right back-“

Eza grabbed his arm without even looking up from her mutton. “Hold it.”

Hold it?!

“What do you mean, hold it?” Olrick snapped, turning to face her. “As far as we know, they’re trying to get information out of her as we speak, and you expect me to sit here and pretend like nothing’s happening? Gods, Eza, it’s as if you don’t give a damn about what happens to her, or something!”

“I expect you to think before you act,” Eza said. “As far as you know, that Gisken’s there to tell him about some battle we don’t know about. We can’t just go running around, acting like gut feelings are just as accurate as detailed reports from the field. It’s a damned good way to get yourself killed.”

Eza was right; he knew it, she knew it. But… how could he just stand there when Elise could be in danger? He’d promised Milo that he’d protect his family; he couldn’t just back out of that, now, just as it was really starting to matter.

Olrick shrugged Eza’s hand off of him. “I’m sorry, Eza.” He walked over to the Gisken, who was making his way out of the ball after saying something to Raul. Whatever he’d said, it had peaked Raul’s interest quite a lot; he was now walking over to Polain, ignoring Lira and Tai Ming.

“Where is she?” Olrick growled once they were out of the main hall. His voice echoed loudly in the room, enough that it made his voice more of a thundering boom than he’d intended it to be. Not that he gave a damn.

When the Gisken turned around, Olrick’s blood ran ice cold. It was Bram.

“Why, if it isn’t Commander Olrick?” Bram said, folding his arms. His eyes almost seemed to smile with glee, like a little boy receiving a toy sword. “I must say, you’re looking much better, now that you don’t have that nasty black eye. I’m happy that it healed up so nicely.”

“You never answered my question,” Olrick said. He could feel his fists beginning to shake in anger. “Tell me where she is!” Bram began to chuckle as he slowly walked towards him, his hands shoved in his pockets.

“Ah, you mean that little whelp, Elise?” he asked. “Well, she’s been wondering the same thing about you; I think she may be under the impression that you’re going to come and rescue her like some knight in shining armor. I guess it’s never occurred to her that those stories about Watchmen being spineless cowards are true.”

Olrick grabbed the hilt of his sword, but he managed to keep himself from drawing. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t just kill the turncoat; as far as he knew, he was the only person who knew where Elise was. “Damn it, Bram, this isn’t a game!” Bram simply laughed, again.

“Oh, but it is a game,” he said. “Don’t you see? This entire war is a game, and all of us – you, me, Elise – are all pawns. The difference between me and you is that I’ve accepted that, while you’re all still trying to manipulate the pieces, yourself.” Bram turned around and began to walk away.

“By the way,” he said, stopping and looking over his shoulder at him. “Elise is awaiting the judgment of General Raul. She’ll probably end up in the gallows within a few days.” He turned so that only one side of his body faced him. “It’s a crying shame, too; it’s such a waste of beauty.” He turned his back to Olrick and began walking away from him, again.

Olrick slowly began to draw his sword, his hand shaking. Damned monster! Every part of him wanted to kill him, even the part that wanted to help Elise; it would be best for everybody – including her – if he were to die right then. “You traitorous bastard, I’ll-“

“Commander Olrick!” When Olrick turned around, he saw that General Polain was standing there, with Eza, Silas, and Kylar behind him. Never, before, had he seen the general look so pissed: for the first time, he allowed his anger to show on his face. “I would like a word with you, please.”

He took a deep breath as he put his sword back in its sheathe. He had to calm down; getting angry wasn’t going to help Elise. “Yes, sir.” Polain led them to one of the side rooms. It looked to be one of the small, private dining rooms, where they would entertain their more prominent guests with private dinners.

“Shut that door,” Polain ordered quietly as Olrick walked in. He shut the door behind him. For a few seconds, nobody spoke as Polain looked into all of their faces, trying to figure out exactly what he was going to say to them.

“What were you thinking?!” he asked.

“We were thinking that it would be a good idea to do our damned jobs,” Silas said.

“So you spied on General Raul while he was here for a peace conference?” Polain snapped. “Yoi kamigami, Silas, do you have an ounce of political tact in you?” He began pacing, running a hand through his hair. “Thanks to that little scheme of yours, all hope of peace is gone; General Raul has informed me that the only sort of peace he’ll accept, now, is unconditional surrender after he burns Semata to the ground.” Nobody responded to that. Now, Olrick could see that Eza was fuming mad, as well. He couldn’t even imagine how she felt about all this, seeing her adoptive homeland fall to the same armies that took her birthplace from her.

“So, the fact that we’ve managed to save the asses of thousands of civilians isn’t worth it to you?” Kylar asked. “Like it or not, Polain, this plan of ours has been saving lives.”

“I guess you haven’t heard the news about the eastern invasion force, then,” Polain asked. “That last letter you stole from Raul’s room was a trap; we lost an entire army to not only a Jotiese army, but a Gisken one and a force of Mirinian mercenaries. They’ve managed to take everything as far as Bimin.” Silas cursed. Bimin was just a day’s march from Semata, without a thing but farmland between them.

However, that fact wasn’t what was twisting Olrick’s stomach into knots. He’d just gotten thousands of men killed, and for what? So he could delay the end of all he’d ever known by a few weeks? He felt sick to his stomach.

“Now, General Raul wants all of your heads on a platter, along with that of that poor serving girl you got wrapped up in this mess,” Polain said. “Believe me, if it weren’t for the fact that you four are the only commanders that I know aren’t going to do everything they can to preserve what they have when the Giskens come to kill us all, I’d happily oblige.”

“They’ve killed Elise?” Olrick asked, his heart sinking. That couldn’t be true; she couldn’t be dead, not yet!

“No, not yet,” Polain said. “He’ll have her executed once they get back to their camp tomorrow.” He looked around at everyone else. “I hope you’re all happy; you’ve gotten an innocent girl killed over this, not to mention all the poor souls out east.” He stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

“We aren’t going to let her die,” Olrick said stubbornly once he was gone.

“No, we aren’t.” Eza opened the door and looked around, making sure nobody was there, and shut the door behind her. “One of us needs to go in and get her, before they ride off with her in chains. Since the idea to get someone on the inside was my idea, I’ll go.” She picked up her staff and turned to leave, but Silas wouldn’t let her: he stood in front of the doorway, with his arms folded over his chest.

“Like hell you are,” he said. “If the Giskens catch you, Raul will ship you back to Kurzh to die, and everything Mitrius ever did for you would have been for nothing; is that what you want?” Eza didn’t say anything; she just stared up at him, anger burning in her eyes. It seemed that she knew he was right.

“I’ll go,” Olrick said. Silas and Eza looked over at him.

“Alright,” Silas said. “Be quick about it, and try not to do anything stupid.” He stepped out of the way, letting Olrick walk out of the room-

-And right into a very distraught Finn.

“Is it true?” Finn’s face was flushed, and the look on his face reminded Olrick of a child who couldn’t find his mother. “Is Elise really a spy for you guys?”

Olrick sighed, running a hand through his hair. In his anger, he’d completely forgotten about the poor Gisken.

“Yes,” he finally said. Finn looked to the side and began rubbing the back of his neck. He looked like he was on the brink of tears, now.

“So, everything she ever told me was a lie?” he asked. He rubbed his eye as he turned around to walk away. “Gods, how could I have been so blind?”

“Not all of it was a lie,” Olrick said, grabbing him by the shoulder. Finn looked back at him, a look of disbelief on his face. “Believe me, she’s just as smitten with you as you are with her.”

“How could you possibly know that?” he asked.

“She seemed genuine when she told us about her feelings for you,” Olrick said. “Believe me, it isn’t in her to lie about things like that, especially to her friends.” For a few seconds, neither of them spoke; poor Finn didn’t look like he was in the mood to say all that much.

“You’re going to go help her, aren’t you?” he finally asked. Olrick nodded; he somehow doubted that he would go and tell Raul about his plans.

“You want to join?” to his surprise, he began to shake his head.

“I can’t,” he said. “They’ll kill my family and ship me off to Kurzh if I do something treasonous like that.” Olrick nodded in understanding.

“Do you know where she is?” he asked.

“I-I think she’s in General Raul’s room,” he said. “He just went up to start her interrogation.” He nodded and began running down the hall, praying that he wouldn’t be too late.

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