There was chaos everywhere.
“Bastards,” he muttered as he toed a body to make sure the man was dead. “Insolent bastards.”
He peered out, scanning for any of their soldiers among the dead bodies. The courtyard was filled with blood and bodies, but very few seemed to be their own. Ahad signaled to a soldier in the distance and said, “Get our dead into the castle. Burn the rest.”
“Sir,” the soldier said, and shouted to his comrades to help him. Ahad brushed off some dirt on his sleeve and trudged towards the castle, wincing as his leg protested loudly.
To the guards at the door, he said, “Has Commander Aryan gone inside?”
“No, sir,” one replied. “He hasn’t been seen since the attack.”
Again, Ahad cursed. Where are you, Aryan?
He turned again to the courtyard, surveying the expanse. To the left, there was a cluster of bodies wearing the uniform of the royal guard, so Ahad made his way to them, hoping both that Aryan was there--at least he’d be located--and that he wasn’t--him lying among dead bodies didn’t bode well.
Alas, the universe had never been too fond of him. As he pushed away the others, his eyes snagged on a badge shining in the light: one that was too clearly Aryan’s. It was red with a silver chainlink, symbolizing the rank of a honorable veteran. Ahad had a matching one, and he pressed his hand to his own, trying to calm his heart.
“Aryan?” he called, ashamed at how small his voice sounded. He grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the mess of bodies.
Aryan was out cold, and Ahad’s heart pounded as he pressed his fingers to Aryan’s throat. His skin was cool beneath his touch, and revulsion rose in his throat.
“Come on, you big idiot,” he said, still as he tried to detect a pulse. “This is not how you go out.”
Finally, he found it. It a little unsteady, but it was there, and that was what mattered. Ahad closed his eyes, letting out a long sigh of relief, then examined Aryan for injuries. He had a large cut on his shoulder and a bruise on his temple, which must have been why he’d been unconscious. Ahad hauled him to a sitting position and allowed himself a moment of peace, face buried in Aryan’s head.
Aryan stirred, and Ahad hastily let go. “Aryan.”
“What...were you doing?” Aryan asked, sitting on his own.
“Nothing. Making sure you didn’t die on me.” Before he could see the amused expression he knew Aryan would make, he got to his feet and held out a hand to Aryan. “Come on. We have business.”
Aryan groaned as Ahad hauled him up. “What now?”
“There is more bad news yet to come,” Ahad said, jerking his head towards his left. Aryan followed his line of sight—there was a page running towards them, an alarmed expression on his face. Aryan grimaced.
“I am half sure your saying alone makes the unfortunate events come to pass.”
Ahad’s mouth quirked, but he hid it by rolling his eyes.
The page reached them, doubling over with his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath.
“The Prince,” he gasped. “The Prince is missing.”
Ahad seized the boy’s arm. “Explain.”
“All the other Royals are safe,” the boy said, terrified in the face of his fury. “But Prince Kellan cannot be found.”
Ahad cursed, releasing the boy. “Is the family in the cellar?”
“Yes, Commander,” he said. “The Princess awaits you there.”
Curtly, Ahad nodded, and he and Aryan ran quickly to the cellar.
“You think he’s been--?”
“Kidnapped?” Ahad pursed his lips. “It’s more likely than not. That Dayyaan scum has everything to gain by having the heir to the throne in his power.”
“The Prince is no child,” Aryan said, visibly trying to be optimistic. “He’ll get himself out.”
To that, Ahad said nothing. Aryan glanced at him and frowned, then looked away.
The family was still in the cellar. All looked shaken, but none of them injured. The Queen sat in the chair, her son standing by her and murmuring to her.
Both the Princesses stood in the middle, Princess Zara standing by as her sister talked with with a guard. He nodded at an order, bowed, and then left.
Ahad and Aryan approached her. When she saw them, her face noticeably turned relieved, and she said, “Commanders. Thank God you’re alright.”
They bowed. “Your orders, Princess.”
“Kellan’s in trouble,” she said with impressive calm. “I suspect he’s been captured. His captors can’t have made it far with all the security, so I suggest you move out now and lead a search party.”
“As you wish, Princess,” Aryan said. “Anything else?”
“No, thank you.”
Aryan and Ahad bowed and turned to leave. Before they could, Princess Zara said, “Commanders?”
They turned to her. “Yes, Princess?”
Princess Zara closed her eyes, her hand clasping her sister’s. “Bring our brother back.”
Aryan smiled. “We will.”
“Creepy,” Aryan whispered, and Ahad shushed him.
“Keep your mouth shut,” he said in a low voice. “We can’t risk alerting anyone hostile.”
“What, like a deer?” Aryan snarked, and Ahad silenced him with a look.
But he had to say, creepy was an apt description for the house before him. It looked very much like a haunted house, if those existed. The windows were broken, the walls covered in ivy.
“Reckon it’s a good shot to check it?”
“What’s wrong with you?” Ahad said. “Of course we’ll check.”
“Come on, then,” Aryan said, and moved towards the cottage.
But he had barely taken a step when there was the sound of a huge crash and light flashed through the windows in an eerie blaze; Aryan stopped right in his tracks, eyes wide.
“Did you see that?”
“I’m not blind, Aryan,” Ahad snapped, eyes on the house. What had that been?
“Then tell me that isn’t a ghost.”
“It isn’t a ghost,” Ahad said calmly, ignoring the fear that sliced through him at the word. “It’s a fight.”
Before Aryan could respond, he was running towards the house, pulling out his sword. “Come on!”
Light flashed again, but without flinching, Ahad shoved the door open and rushed in.
Immediately, everyone went still.
Then a cheerful voice said, “Commander Ahad, welcome! You’re just in time to see the finale in the showdown of the siblings!”
Ahad frowned. Showdown of the siblings?
His first thought was: Well, that’s cheesy.
Then he realized who had spoken and his frown deepened.
Behind him, Aryan burst in and after a moment of stunned silence, said, “Prince Kellan?”
Ahad took in the two fees locked in a fighting position, and to Prince Kellan against the wall, and thought, Well, this is fun.