The crescent moon sat just above the horizon where a blue sky faded into deep shades of violet and crimson. Clouds scattered the sky as it darkened and the sun fell below a variety of hues. This was his last mission, and though his journey wouldn’t end before it rose again, he continued to follow the waning sunset until it was no longer. Santi stopped at a lodge he had stayed at once before and ignored unwelcome scents of bile and shit. Recalling the horrible food and wine, so eating was out of the question. Then he’d have to stuff charcoal down his throat to cure stomach pains that would come soon enough. A stable hand walked up to him offering to see to his horse, he gave the man a few coins and walked away. Only sleep, something that was becoming less of a priority, called to him. Not food or wine. In fact, he hadn’t seen the back of his eyelids in two days.
His nose got a whiff of the scent before his eyes did the moment he stepped onto the pathway. A fight had taken place. Fresh blood stained the rocks that scattered across the ground, which made him want to get Apple and leave. He’d sleep better if he camped in the forest of trees surrounding the Inn. The smell of blood sickened him, he hated it. Yet, he spilled so much of it with his sword and bare hands that one would assume otherwise. The old wooden door screeched as he opened it to a quiet and empty room. Only one person, other than himself, stood standing behind the bar top, the innkeeper. He’d never seen a woman her age wield a weapon. During his earlier stay, she slammed one through a man’s shoulder for reasons unknown to him, only being a witness to the incident.
“Do you have any rooms available?” His deep voice filled the place, making it much louder than he intended it to be.
“I can never hear you when you speak.” She stared at him, waiting for him to repeat himself.
He didn’t. She’d heard him.
She slapped her hands on the bar top, “I’ve got plenty, only you can’t sleep in them.”
She took a deep breath and stood back, crossing her arms over her chest, staying silent for a moment too long. Was she going to answer his question or not? It didn’t matter. If she couldn’t give him a room, what could he do? He held no power or authority over her and no one was supposed to know who he was so he couldn’t command her in the king’s name. She had previously seen his face twice and that was too many times. As an assassin, his job was to kill people. His duty was also to remain unseen as much as possible, only making his presence known to the king and those present before him. His cloak remained closed and his hood covered his head, but he was sure could see enough of his face in the bright, empty room. She wasn’t drunk, not like the room full of people that usually filled this place. If she didn’t see him the last time, she definitely could see him now with no one else to take her attention off him. His long dark hair flowed wildly around his shoulders to aid in the attempt to keep a low profile, but it couldn’t prevent the room from being empty. Ignoring the woman’s stares, he turned to leave the Inn before he got himself dragged into something he wanted no part of.
“They’ve gone and started a war.” She yelled out before he could reach the door.
He told himself to just keep walking, but his gut stopped him. The old woman had to be crazy. There wasn’t going to be a war and he was sure of it.
“What are you talking about old woman?” Taking a few steps back in the direction he kept telling himself not to go in.
“Like I said, boy, they’ve started a war.” She began to shake her head, Throwing her hands down to her sides. “That dumb king of ours, he decided he didn’t want peace, instead he has sent all his troops to the Dyzan Kingdom,” she shook her head again, “to the got damn gates. They’re on their way there now. And guess what?” She asked as she walked from behind the bar top.
He Stepped back, remembering her quick reaction when she pulled a damn sword on her own customer and stabbed him with it. There was no way of knowing where the sword had come from and he wondered if the wine he had drunk was the reason why. Didn’t really matter at the current moment. He had no intentions of being taken off guard by this old gal.
“Those damn Dyzan bastards had a spy in the king’s court and they know all about his dumb little plan. They’re headed this way now. Gonna take our kingdom before we can even get to theirs. Oh, and I bet that King Yandy hasn’t left his entire kingdom unguarded like ours has. Nope, I bet he hasn’t done a stupid thing like that.”
Santi stared at the old woman, disbelieving in everything she spoke about. What king would leave their kingdom unguarded? What king would go against an army ten times his size? He turned, leaving the old woman to continue whatever she was doing before he came in, yelling for the caretaker to get Apple as soon as he stepped outside. He was too far away to get there before the night ended, but he would ride until he made it to the castle gates.
“I’m waiting for that daughter of mine and my husband to get here, then we’re going to the mountains. Folks scared of the mountains. It’s hard to get to, but I’ve got a secret passage, and that’s where I’m going. Got a little cabin there for us to hide out till the wars over.” She paused for a moment, though he did his best to ignore her.
He cared nothing about her cabin or place in the mountains, and she didn’t have to follow him outside to tell him about it. If there was a war, he would most definitely be fighting in it. The king would want him at his side.
“You can come with if you want.” The old woman said.
The young man had not returned to with his horse, so he was forced to deal with her unwanted conversation.
“That will not be necessary.” He stepped forward to indicate he didn’t want to talk to her anymore.
“I said you can come with if you want, and it is necessary.” She shrugged her shoulders, not getting the hint. “Ain’t no point in riding back to Erios.”
His eyes shot to her, as she walked up next to him. How the hell did she know where he was headed?
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. I know a lot of things and I know that you’re too late to get back to that dumb ass king of ours,”
“I don’t work for the King.” He lied.
“I didn’t say you did.”
“Look, thank you, but no thank you.” Finally, he saw Apple. “I have to go.”
Giving the man a few more coins, he hopped onto Apple, but the innkeeper didn’t seem as if she was ready to end their conversation. Apple seemed happy to see him she stirred a little, he rubbed her mane to let her know he was happy to see her too. It had only been about five or ten minutes, perhaps less. Maybe she stirred because she was tired, he hated the fact that he was putting so much on her. She needed rest, and so did he. Without her, right now, he’d be walking, but Apple was strong and she had been with him on every mission he had been given. If she could speak, he wondered if she would yell at him for not allowing her to rest properly.
“If Yandy comes for us, it’s over. This kingdom will fall.”
“Yandy and his men will stay in his kingdom. He isn’t coming. I don’t know who told you that, but…”
“The king’s men tell me this, when they were here, on their way to ride with him to Dyzan. They said that we had better pray. Then the entire village of Karza come this way, headed to the mountains. An old man told me that his village was destroyed by Yandy’s men.” She pointed a finger at him. “They carried blue and yellow flags, and some of the men had those golden capes. That’s a Yandy warrior. I know what those colors mean.”
He couldn’t believe his ears. There was no way he had been on his way to the kingdom with, right behind him, the Dyzan army. No, he would have sensed something. Though the thought beat in his mind like a damn drum. If Yandy’s men were coming, then he needed to get to Erios before they did. Leaving the old woman standing there, he rode away. She yelled something, but he couldn’t hear her in the distance. There wasn’t a thing she could say that he wanted to hear, though he had to be thankful for the knowledge, if it was true, that he had received from her.
Apple sped down the dirt road, running like the wind. If what the old woman said was true, the kingdom was going to fall.
The night came and went, the sun rose, and still he rode. Apple was tired and so was he. Hours passed before he made it to the gates of Erios. The guards stood out front; he knew it had to be a good sign. With the guard’s present, it proved the kingdom was not unguarded. He stopped to speak to them before he rode through.
“The king, is he here?” Apple stirred, eager to get to the stable house.
She knew she was home.
“Haven’t you heard, assassin, the king has marched on Yandy. There will be war.” The guard laughed.
“Dumb ass, I always knew he was too young to rule the kingdom.” The other guard added.
Both reeked of whiskey.
There was no point in continuing his conversation with them, so hurried to the stables and left Apple in the hands of the servants that stood out front. Through the doors, he ran as fast as he could to the king’s quarters, noticing he didn’t see many guards along the way and those that were present were lounging instead of holding their post.
“What are you running for you idiot?” A familiar voice asked as he ran by.
He stopped and turned to face the only person he knew would tell him the truth.
“Where is the king?” He demanded, not caring about rank or title.
“You haven’t heard?” Aydin shot him a questioning look.
“Heard what? I just got here.” He took a few deep breaths.
Shaking his head, pacing back and forth for a bit, he wondered why the hell Aydin was looking at him like he should already know what was going. Maybe he did. If he wasn’t so set on not believing the old innkeeper’s words.
“They say he’s marched on Yandy.” He needed confirmation. “Is it true?”
“Yep,” was all the response he was given.
“What do you mean, yep, is that it?” He wanted to punch him. “You just let him march on Yandy?” Removing his hood, he didn’t care if anyone saw his face, he stepped towards Aydin with clenched fists.
“What was I supposed to do, Santi?” He looked down, at his hands, “oh, you’re gonna punch me now?” Aydin waited a moment before he spoke again.
Santi didn’t unclench his fists. He wanted them ready.
“I have no influence now that he listens to that damn uncle of his.”
“His uncle is a lying thieving bastard and he knows that.” There was no containing his anger.
“Yea, well, what do you want me to do. I refused to go.” Aydin admitted, using it as his defense. “That’s the only stance I could make, choosing not to go but to stay and defend the people he has left behind.”
“He’s gonna die!” Santi yelled.
Neither of them said a word as the truth echoed between them. Santi turned away from the man he had taken his oath with. He couldn’t believe what was happening. If Erios fell, the entire kingdom would be wiped from history.
He squatted for a second, as the same dizziness he had been experiencing for the past few days came over him. His head begun to spin, and he placed his hand on the ground to hold himself up.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong is an old lady told me that the Karza clan left their village and traveled south to the mountains.” He stood to his feet. “She said that the village had been attacked by Yandy warriors.”
Aydin’s brows rose like rainbows in the sky.
“You heard me. Yandy’s men, they’re coming.”
“I knew that they would come, especially when they found out what his plans were, but this soon. How can you be sure?” Aydin demanded.
There was no way that they could arrive this quickly in the Erios territory unless they knew what the young king was planning.
“Oh, now you want answers.”
“Just shut up and tell me.”
Santi hesitated, glaring at the man whose face had turned red.
“Blue and yellow flags,” the woman’s words flowed from his lips, “some of the men had golden capes.” He watched as Aydin’s brows rose even higher and the shocked express turned his face a darker red.
Santi could see the fear that crept through him but only for a moment. Fear for the young king and his kingdom, not himself. He wondered how Aydin could even allow such a thing to happen, and now there was no way for either of them to stop what was already happening. Yet, still, he blamed himself. They had made a promise, and now that promise was about to be broken.
“And you saw this with your own eyes?” Aydin’s face wasn’t so bright anymore, and he did his best to hide the fear Santi knew still lingered within.
“No,” he ran his hand through his hair, “I told you, the old woman at the…”
“You come to me with tales from the elderly.” He began to laugh, dismissing Santi, waving his hand in the air.
Santi felt the sting from the laughter that now surrounded him like it was the tip of a blade. So, he felt it was only proper for him to show him the tip of his own. Closing the space between them, so quickly that Aydin barely had time to think, he drew his weapon; the blade was long and always sharp. The tip was aimed right at his friend’s throat, though their friendship was the last thing that ran through his mind.
It was the oath they had taken that caused him to pull his blade. If Aydin felt the young king’s death was something to laugh about, then he had forsaken his oath and death was the penalty.
“What’s wrong with you?” Aydin’s voice shook as fear seeped from his pours. “Why are you pointing your blade at me?”
“We made a promise. We promised to protect him, to keep him alive long enough to be a damn king!” His voice rung through the halls.
Still, he cared nothing about who saw or heard him. The guards present looked at the two of them, not knowing what to do and not daring to interfere. Though many knew not who he was, there were those who did, especially amongst the king’s men. He was the best and would kill any opponent. He could see some of the guards, those who recognized him, grabbing the arms of others, stopping them, those who had no clue. He’d kill them, and only blink his eyes once.
Anger and rage were all he felt, there was no mercy.
“You either swear now, that you will help me keep him alive, or I will kill you now and release you from your oath to his father. Your brother, your king.” He pushed the sword closer to his neck, causing blood to spill from the cut his blade was making.
“I haven’t given up, you idiot. I’ve been waiting for you.” His voice continued to shake.
He was lying.
Santi glared at the man he was willing to break his ties to and only hold the memories dear to him close. Everything else, including this moment, would be nothing to him. Another death, another life taken by him.
“Waiting for me, huh, for what?” He wanted to know what lie he would come up with next. “The prince,” he stopped himself, “The king marches north, to Yandy, to a trap. Yandy, has marched all the way around and is coming up south, heading north, here, to our kingdom. And, where are you?” He asked him, throwing his arm over the man’s shoulder, leaving the blade at his throat. “Here!” He pushed him away, removing the blade and placing it back in its sheath.
“I am here because there was no point in going when I needed to figure out how to defend this castle, the people that are still here, in case this happened. Yes, I knew it was possible, just not so soon.” Aydin tried to explain, hoping Santi didn’t decide to just kill him instead.
The man saw any hint of betrayal as a fire that needed to be extinguished.
“You lie.” He tapped two of his fingers on the hilt of his blade.
“No, it’s only obvious what is to happen next. Though, as I said before, I didn’t know it would be this soon. If Layne is met by half of Yandy’s men to the north, he would be boxed in when they come from the south, and I am certain that fleeing east or west will not be an option. They will have covered that area before anyone came up with the idea on their own.” He continued to explain.
Still, a part of Santi no longer had faith in Aydin.
“I’ll tell you what you should have done, killed his fucking uncle and called it a damn day.”
“Really, kill the king’s uncle. That is what you would have done?” The captain of the Erios army disagreed.
“Yes, and that is what you should have done.”
“And been taken as a prison for treason?”
Santi nodded, “with the bastard gone none of this shit would be happening. You’d still be loyal to your oath to his father.”
“And soon to be beheaded for my crime.”
“Have you not heard of dying for a damn cause?” Santi found himself yelling more than he had in a very long time.
Aydin said nothing. There was no point in arguing with a man who only saw death as the answer to all problems. Sometimes it was, and sometimes it wasn’t. Honestly, he felt he would allow the king to learn a lesson. He’d never assumed things would turn out like this. If Yandy’s men marched, it was for a reason and victory was almost certain.
“Where are your war tactics?” Santi walked up and tapped on his head. “I am an assassin. Killing is what I do. Kill. You understand. You are the one who is supposed to prevent war, and if war is unpreventable you are the one who is to devise the plan to win.”
“I could not prevent this, no matter what tactic I devised.” Aydin defended.
He’d had enough with the back and forth.
“You wouldn’t have done what I would have done, and not cared about it, but…”
“I would have been killed for it!” Aydin yelled.
“You are the Captain of the greatest Army in the south!” Santi yelled. “You didn’t get that title just because you were the king’s friend.”
“I am the king’s friend, Koden is not dead.” Anger filled his voice now, especially because Santi spoke of their friend as if he were no more.
“No, he isn’t, but we can’t bring him back from where he is either, can we?”
Both glared at each other, breathing in the hot air that passed between them.
“I, Santiago Garza, am going to kill Sperion Erios, and then the little king will have nothing to worry about.” His smile was wide as he told of his own plan. “And if you try to stop me, I will kill you too.”
“Then what? Yandy cares nothing about the king’s personal affairs. He has waged war against him. If he is marching here, then he knows of Layne’s decision. We have to stop them. Otherwise, saving the young king would be pointless, because he will die anyway.”
Aydin thought for a moment, trying to figure out what to do now.
“How?” He asked.
“A spy, that’s how.”
“And the old woman told you that as well.”
How the hell did some old woman have more answers than he did?
“Yep, and what the hell are we going to do. Ride north, or south?” That was all he wanted to know.
“We can’t ride south, we have no men. What will we do when we find Yandy?”
“Kill him if he doesn’t turn back.” Of course, that was his thought on the matter.
“And the young king?”
“Well then north it is.” Santi shook his head. “You are the captain, it’s your call.”
“Oh, now it’s my call. Only a few moments ago you had a sword to my throat ready to run it through.”
“And I still will if you give me any reason to believe that you are a part of this.”
“Me!” That was it, he could kill him now. “I would never put the king in a position like this.”
“Then why the hell are you still here?” Santi asked him again. “If you are as loyal to him as you claim you are, loyal to your oath, then you shouldn’t be here. You should be out there.” He pointed towards the open window. “Doing whatever you can to get his ass to turn back.”
Aydin said nothing because he knew that Santi was right.
“And if killing his uncle would have put enough fear in him to turn around, then you should have done it.”
“Yeah, well guess what, Assassin, he listens to you more than me, you should have had your ass here to stop him.”
Another dagger in the chest.
“What the hell took you so long to get back anyway?” Aydin asked, curiously.
He didn’t want to tell him. No one needed to know why it had taken him so long. Three days. He had passed out for three days and he had no indication as to why. At first, he blamed it on the Inn’s poor quality of food or their lack of cooking knowledge. However, nothing could have knocked him out for three days. Not food poisoning and any other poison should have killed him if it was strong enough to render him unconscious. He was only immune to a handful of poisons, not all. However, if he was poisoned, he wanted to know why and who had done it. Most importantly, how.
“I think I was poisoned.” He finally admitted.
“You? Poisoned?” Aydin chuckled but stopped himself as soon as he started.
“Yes.” Santi didn’t find it funny.
Clearing his throat, “how in the hell were you poisoned?”
“If I knew, I’d be telling you about the person I killed for poisoning me.” That was a dumb question.
“Do you really think someone tried to kill you?”
He shrugged his shoulders, “that or something else is going on.”
“Like what?” If there was something else going on then they needed to figure it out now.
He shrugged his shoulders again, “If I knew, don’t you think I’d be telling you all of that.” Repeating himself.
Santi shook his head. If he could just punch Aydin in the face one time, he’d be satisfied. For the moment.
“Every detail of it.” He decided to add.
“If someone is trying to kill you…” Aydin began,
“No one is trying to kill me.” He put up a hand to stop him. “It’s possible that someone didn’t expect me to function during it. Hoping to rob me, maybe. Nothing took effect on me until I was at the temple.”
He paused for a moment, recalling the events.
“I slept for three days, and still I was tired when I finally woke-up. Exhausted, beyond anything I’ve ever felt before.”
Aydin just shook his head, not knowing what to think of it. All he could do was hope that whoever it was realized their failure and did not try it again.
“No, we have to go south.” He came to realize after long thought.
“For what?” Santi knew it was not to face the Yandy soldier’s alone.
“Dy’mere.” The name, alone caused Aydin’s blood to boil.
It was a name neither of them wanted to hear, but the truth was the truth. Dy’mere was needed and that was all there was to it. He could admit when he needed help, Santi could and would not.
“Are you serious?” He froze the moment the name left Aydin’s lips.
“I’m not going to get that asshole alone.”
“Don’t get him at all. Why do we need him?” Santi didn’t care why he had already refused.
“We do, he can get us out of this, he can deal with Yandy.”
“That bastard will get us all killed!” Santi yelled, causing the others in the room to start watching them again.
One minute they were arguing, the next they weren’t. The guards were confused. Yet, this was how it had always been between them. All of them. Aydin, Santi, Dy’mere, and (the one who bound them in their oath) Koden.
Santi threw his hands up into the air and walked away. There was no way he was going there, he hated Dy’mere and wanted nothing to do with him. He headed back down the halls, needing to find a place to sleep. There was no way he’d make it another moment without it. Yandy’s men would be upon them soon, upon the kingdom, and he needed to get the hell out of this place before that happened. He had no problem with fighting, but this fight would be to the death. No matter how skilled he was with a weapon, he couldn’t beat them all. When outnumbered by thousands, death was certain.
“We need Dy’mere!” Aydin yelled down the hall.
Though Santi heard him, he ignored him. He should have just killed him right there in the hall of the castle. Then he could go and save the king on his own because he still didn’t trust Aydin. But, he wasn’t going to kill him, yet. So, instead, he made his way to the closest cot he could find and fell asleep.