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

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Chapter Nine

Elise stared up at the ceiling of her room in the church, listening to the pattering of the rain on the roof as she tried to fall asleep that night. She felt sick, sick and numb from everything that had happened to her in the past few days. Within the space of five days (had it really only been that long?) she’d met Olrick, been saved by him twice, learned that her brother had been killed, met the monster that had invaded countless countries and was beginning to take over her own, buried her own father; none of it felt real to her. She kept thinking that none of it could possibly be happening: this wasn’t something that happened in real life. However, what was happening to her couldn’t have been more real.

She was fairly sure that she’d managed to fall asleep, because the next thing she knew, she was hearing a commotion outside her bedroom door.

Elise sat up and rubbed her eyes, confused. What was going on? It sounded like someone was breaking into the church…

Fear seized her. She got out of her bed, walked over to the bag filled with some of her belongings, and pulled out the small knife Milo had given her before he left for training out of it, just in case. As the noise died down and all grew quiet outside, she unsheathed the knife and stared at the door, mentally preparing herself to hurt whoever she would find on the other side.

Finally, her bedroom door began to creak open. She pointed her knife at the door, squinting at the door as light from a lantern flooded her room. Standing in her doorway was a thoroughly soaked figure clad in a dark gray cloak and two swords strapped to a belt around his waist. Alistair stood behind him, still dressed in his bedclothes.

Elise hesitated, slowly lowering the knife. It couldn’t be him, could it?

“O-olrick, what’s going on?” she asked. Even though she knew that she wasn’t in immediate danger, she still felt fear rising up inside her.

“I need you to hurry and get dressed,” Olrick said. His voice was steady and calm, but it was all too easy to see the fear in his eyes. “We need to leave; now!” Without another word, Elise yanked a dress on from her bag on and tied her cloak around herself while Olrick and Alistair turned around in order to give her some privacy.

Once she was dressed and ready to go, she stepped outside her room, where Olrick was waiting. When he heard her coming, Olrick and Alistair turned around.

“Do you two want a blessing before you go?” Alistair asked. Olrick hesitated, then shook his head.

“I don’t think we have the time for that,” he said sadly. Alistair nodded in understanding.

“Then, I guess this is goodbye,” he said. Elise had a sinking feeling in her stomach; she didn’t want to think of this as a goodbye. That would mean that she’d really be abandoning everything she’d ever known, something that she really didn’t want to think about. “I’ll light candles for each of you.”

“Thank you,” Olrick said. He looked over at Elise. “Are you ready?”

For a few seconds, she found herself hesitating to answer: how could she possibly be ready to leave behind everything she’d ever known? She eventually found herself nodding, though. There was nothing left for her, there; the Giskens had destroyed everything she’d ever known.

The two of them stepped outside.

The night was dark and cold, filled with the sound of the rain pelting the earth and distant thunder claps as another spring storm passed through the town. The houses were dark as Thaos’ other inhabitants tried to sleep, the dark smoke coming from the chimneys being the only signs of life. For a few seconds, the two hid behind the church as Olrick looked around, searching for Giskens. The rain soaked their clothes, chilled them to the bone. Elise found herself wrapping her thin, dark green cloak around herself tighter, trying to get herself warmer, but it didn’t work.

Finally, after a few seconds, the two ran out from behind the house and towards the neighboring home.

As they ran, Elise looked to the side to see what Olrick had been staring at. Standing at the far end of the town was a group of Giskens, patrolling Thaos’ streets for people breaking the curfew. They were talking to each other, seemingly oblivious to the fact that both of their prisoners were escaping.

Something caught on her foot just as she was about to reach the safety of a nearby house. The next thing she knew, she was landing in the mud with a wet smack, her ankle throbbing painfully.

The blood drained from her face as the Giskens began shouting at her. She was the only one they’d seen, though, and Elise found herself praying that Olrick would keep running so they wouldn’t catch him, too; Elise knew that she’d be in deep trouble when they caught her, but Olrick… if they caught him trying to escape for a second time, they would kill him.

He didn’t keep running, though. As she scrambled to her feet and the Giskens ran towards her, Olrick came back for her. He pulled her up to her feet and the two began running for the main road that led out of the town.

Elise had never run so fast in her life, and despite that, she found herself lagging behind Olrick, who ran faster than anyone she’d ever met. He didn’t let her fall too far behind; he had a white knuckle grip on her arm as they ran out of Thaos, with the Giskens following close behind. The mud sucked at her boots, dragging them behind, the shouts of the Giskens got closer and closer with each passing second; with each wet footfall, they became closer and closer to getting caught. She knew it; he knew it.

Finally, after a minute or so of running, Olrick pulled her ahead of him and stopped running. He pulled his sword out of its sheathe and turned around to face the Giskens.

“Run!” he yelled. For a few seconds, Elise didn’t follow his instruction; she stopped and watched him as he began to stall them.

She’d known that he could hold his own, but it wasn’t until then that she saw just how well he could handle a sword. He ducked and wove around Giskens as he fought them, like these skilled swordsmen were nothing but children: he matched parry for parry, blow for blow, fast enough that she had just started taking in one move as he finished another. Even so, she could see past the strong façade he put up. She could see him wincing in pain with each blow he blocked, she could see that every swing pained him; if he kept it up, he was going to die on that muddy road like some sort of animal, all so she would be able to have a few minutes more of freedom.

After Olrick had fought the fourth Gisken, Elise found her own prophecy coming true. The next one he faced off was Blair, and though it lasted longer than any of the other fights, she knew that he wouldn’t be able to win. About a minute into the fight, Blair smacked Olrick on the side of his head, hard. He fell to the ground on his stomach, not moving.

Elise’s blood turned ice cold as she stared at Olrick’s unmoving body. Had Blair managed to kill him? After a few seconds, she saw some signs that he was still alive: he began to moan quietly as he slowly lifted himself off the ground, his arms shaking.

“Why, isn’t this a familiar situation?” Blair asked, his voice eerily calm. It sent a chill up her spine as he rolled Olrick onto his back with his foot. He stepped on his neck and held his flame-edged sword over his head. Olrick kicked, squirmed, tried to pull Blair’s foot off of his neck as he choked, but none of it worked. He was stuck, right where Blair wanted him. “Are you going to beg for your life like that other whelp of a Watchman?”

A warm tingling began to erupt in Elise fingers. When she looked down at them, she saw small, flickering flames dancing between them.

Realization and determination began to bloom inside her. For the entire week, Elise could only stand there and watch as awful things happened to people she cared about. She’d watched as Bram and the Giskens mercilessly beat Olrick, she’d allowed them to kill her father, she was powerless to help Milo; however, this time, she could do something. She would do something.

Just as Blair went in for the kill, Elise threw the flames at him as hard as she could.

The largest ball of flame she’d ever created – no, ever seen - flew out from her hands, taking with it every ounce of warmth and strength she had. Time seemed to slow as the bright, orange tendrils snatched at Blair’s clothes and set them alight.

Elise was faintly aware that Blair had started screaming, however, it sounded muffled. She began to shiver, colder than she’d ever been before, and small, black dots began to dance in her vision. She hadn’t even realized that she’d fallen to her knees until she saw Olrick running toward her.

The last thing she remembered was Olrick yelling her name before she passed out.

No, Olrick kept thinking as he held Elise’s cold, wet, limp body. Please, Gods not again! He pressed his ear to her chest, hoping – praying – that he hadn’t managed to get Milo and his entire family killed within two weeks of each other.

He could feel her chest rising and falling: she was still alive.

“Is she alright?” Instinctively, Olrick turned around and pointed his sword at the voice’s owner. It was Finn, the young, Gisken captain who usually got put in charge of watching him when they weren’t busy interrogating him. He seemed to have his heart in the right place, despite the fact that he was a Gisken; he didn’t even lift his sword to defend himself, the bastard.

“I don’t know,” Olrick said as he sheathed his sword. He picked Elise up and stood, despite protests from his injured shoulders. He could feel her shaking like a leaf in his arms.

Blair groaned as he continued to roll around in the mud, writhing in pain. They looked over at him, Finn with fear, Olrick almost sympathetically. Both of them, he was sure, were feeling sick at the scent of burnt flesh. Finn gently picked him up, doing his best to not touch the burns. When he heaved Blair over his shoulder, making him shriek in pain after having his burns touched, he looked like he was on the verge of throwing up.

“We need to get these two back to Thaos,” he said. “They need to see a doctor.”

Olrick found himself hesitating. This whole incident had added a whole new problem into the situation, one that was big enough that he found himself rethinking his entire plan. They were, originally, going to escape to Asfalis, the town just a few miles up the road that was home to the headquarters of the intelligence section of the army. Now he found himself beginning to reconsider that plan. Elise looked like death: she was stone cold, like a corpse, her body shook, her skin was the color of flour; as far as he knew, she would die before the night was through if he didn’t get her to a doctor, soon.

However, there was the problem of being recaptured if he were to go anywhere near Thaos to be considered, as well.

Finally, he shook his head.

“You and I both know what will happen if I step foot into Thaos again,” he said. “I think I’ll take my chances.” He could see that Finn desperately wanted to argue with him, but he didn’t. He simply closed his eyes and sighed.

“Good luck,” he said. Olrick nodded.

“You two.” With that, he turned around and began running down the road towards Asfalis, Elise cradled in his arms.

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