The Long Road
The snow fell gracefully. As if each snowflake was a dancer performing their swan song in the most perfect way they possibly could. On a larger scale, it didn’t matter a great deal as once they finished that final performance, their only performance, they joined the rest to form a crisp blanket that lay upon grass. The air blew cold: harsh. It was, thought Nicholas, as if millions of razor sharp knives were being blown at his young face.
“We’re nearly there, Nick. Just a couple hours more.” Nicholas looked on, towards his teacher: Robert Lothar. You wouldn’t be able to tell much about him in his current condition as, like Nicholas, he was wrapped up in an ample amount of layers and armour to keep him warm in the vicious winter conditions, and safe from what lurked along the road between the kingdoms of Winterria and Welthereon. “What exactly are we doing at Welthereon? I thought they already had their léfmann problems sorted?” Nicholas called out to his teacher but got no response. The howl of the bitter winter winds was deafening with their hoods up. You could hear your thoughts and your own spoken words, and that was all. It made the ride quite lonesome but that was the life of a Slayer. Their dealings with léfmann, or what they’re more commonly referred to as - daemons, makes them undesirable to be around as they may carry evil on them. It’s all nonsense, of course, but once an idea is out there, and being spread, the lines between fact and fiction blur.
Robert’s horse soon came to a halt, and Nicholas followed suit. The winds were dying down a bit now. Nicholas watched as his teacher dismounted, and waited a moment before doing so himself. “Nick,” Robert snapped as his student inched closer, “stay there.” Nicholas nodded and remained in place. It fell quiet. Robert took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. He listened. He fought through the unnecessary information, the wind’s whispers and Nicholas’ almost silent breaths, and found what he was searching for. His eyes opened and he turned his head, sharply, to the left. Nicholas tried to follow what his teacher was doing, looking to the left as well, but all he could see was a vast emptiness: a wall of pure white. Robert stared into the icy nothingness, and past the curtains the snow were providing. There he saw them. They were rushing. They were running and tripping over one another. Robert couldn’t help but let a little smirk show on his face. His arm rose, and his hand grasped his sword’s hilt with intention. Nicholas turned his attention to Robert. “3…” Robert muttered. “2…” he continued. “1…” his hand rose up, with the sword attached, and in the same amount of time came swinging back down. The blade that followed his swift motion sliced through a pale-skinned, bloodied, abomination of a creature. Upon seeing this, Nicholas’ eyes lit up and he followed his teacher’s lead. He grabbed his longsword from its sheath and readied himself. “Ready yourself!” Robert cried out to his student, “There’s more coming!”
Their footsteps were thunderous. It was a very sudden change from the silence that lingered in the air just seconds before. “I thought King Brom dealt with the léfmann problem!” Nicholas cried out as, just past the horizon, the snowy veils that once hid the monsters vanished - revealing them all. “Clearly not.” Robert replied. There was spite in his voice. He’d trusted the King, and his word, but he’d been lied to: betrayed. The Léfmenn sprinted towards Robert and Nicholas.
Ten. That’s all there were.
As the first wave got within range, Nicholas and Robert began to swing and slash. Combat in these conditions was less than ideal, Nicholas thought to himself as he thrusted his blade through the chests of two of the creatures. He swiftly withdrew his blade and the léfmenn dropped dead. Another charged at him, then threw itself several feet trying to get him. As it was coming towards him - gliding through the air - Nicholas brought his sword from one side of his body to the other, and in doing so decapitated the lunging monster. Robert inhaled deeply, gathering all the breath he could, then paused. One of the creatures swung at him, trying to scratch him, and he took its hand off nonchalantly. He then, in a matter of moments, removed the creature’s head. It all happened so fast. The creature’s lifeless body didn’t even have time to drop. He exhaled, and the steamy vapour of his breath created a delightful, miniature cloud from his lips. Nicholas watched his teacher’s actions and was in awe at his skill and speed. “How many more, master?” Nicholas asked, unable to see them through the reformed shield of snowflakes. Robert, without giving his apprentice a second’s notice, replied, “Four. Two each.” Nicholas nodded.
The second wave of daemons charged. They followed their brethren’s footsteps, almost exactly. Nicholas planted his feet firmly in the snow. His two daemons ran at him with their arms swinging, and one just slightly in front of the other. He knew this was going to be an essential part of his strategy. As the first one got within clawing range, Nicholas dodged to the right, where he was directly in front of the other. His foot tripped the first one, and momentarily halted it. His blade was then plunged deep into the second as it sprinted for him. He quickly removed the blade from the slaughtered daemon, and thrusted it downwards into the daemon and then further into the ground. Suddenly, Nicholas felt a hand grasp his shoulder. He rolled forward, evading any possible attack and got back to his feet, rapidly removing his blade and readying himself for another fight. As he did so, he noticed it was just Robert. “By the Lord-”
“Nick, I apologise. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” Robert let out a faint chuckle after his words, “But I am glad that you were ready for another fight, had that been what was called for.” Nicholas sheathed his sword and stood up straight.
”Of course I was. I was taught that that was the way of the Slayers.”
“I’m glad one of my students over the years has listened to my teachings.” Robert gave Nicholas a smile, and signalled to him through a simple nod of the head that they should get back into their horses. Before following his teacher’s lead, and mounting his stead, Nicholas took one of the daemon’s decapitated heads and strapped it to his horse. Robert watched his student do this, but didn’t speak up. He trusted Nicholas’ judgement and that he won’t be too aggressive with whatever he plans. Having both mounted their horses, they continued down the snow covered road towards Welthereon.
“I’m afraid, lads, that King Brom and his Queen are ill. They’ve ordered for the gates to be closed until further notice.” A guard informed the Slayers. Robert looked at his student, and Nicholas recognised the sour expression. “Well, it sure would’ve been nice for him to inform his guests of this, before they travelled for days, in these harsh winter conditions.” Robert hissed. It wasn’t the guard’s fault but he had no-one else to take his anger out on. Nicholas interrupted his teacher, just before he was going to continue his hate-filled speech. “Tell me, good Sir, if the gates are closed… How do you get in and out of the city to see your family?” The guard turned his attention to Nicholas, and a kind smile cropped up on his rotund face. “Me? Well, I use the guard’s gate-” Nicholas and his teacher looked at one another, as he continued to talk. Robert dismounted, whilst the attention was on his student. He snuck up behind the guard and in a split second wrapped his arm tightly around his throat. The guard tried to let out a cry for help but no noise left his open mouth. Robert held his lock tight, as he guided the guard to the ground and into unconsciousness. Nicholas dismounted his horse, grabbed the daemon’s head and followed his teacher into the guard tower on the left of the enormous iron gate. “Good job out there.” Robert patted Nicholas on the back as he pushed the guard’s keys into the wooden door. “Well, I knew the look you gave me.”
“Good, I’m glad you’ve learnt when I’m signalling for you to-”
“Save you?” Nicholas interrupts, with a chuckle.
“Very funny, boy.” Robert sneered. The lock of the door let out a heavy clunk as it unlocked. Nick turned to his teacher and gave a cocky, yet endearing smirk.
The pair walked through the doorway and closed the door behind themselves. “To the King?” Asked Nicholas. “Aye, to the King.” Robert replied as he took the lead. They walked down the snow-blanketed streets of Welthereon and past shut shops, and warm, fire-lit homes. Nicholas smiled as he saw a group of children tossing snowballs at one another. “Look at them,” Robert spoke up as they passed happy families in the streets, “they have no idea of the monsters out there.” Nicholas looked at his teacher, as he spoke such cynical words, with concern. He’d never seen him act like that. Then again, he’d never met a person who didn’t know about daemons and léfmenn. “They think life’s wonderful. They think it’s a perfect world beyond their stone walls… they have no idea about what it’s like beyond the walls.”
“You alright, Master?” Nicholas asked as he grabbed his teacher’s shoulder, stopping him. “Fine. Now can we just get to the throne room. I want to leave this city.” Nicholas let go, but kept an eye on his teacher. They continued through the quiet streets, until they reached the foot of King Brom’s castle.
Nicholas and Robert stood, side by side, just before the path up to the castle. “What’s the plan?” Nicholas asked.
“We go in, and talk to him. Ask him why he’s lied to everyone. Not just his subjects but those beyond his own kingdom; saying everything’s fine, and that he’s sorted his daemon problem.” Nicholas paused for a moment, as his master headed up the path and watched him. He felt like something was off with him but he couldn’t say what. He continued to watch his master head towards the castle, then slowly began following. He didn’t like what he felt, because he didn’t know why he felt that way.
“Your Grace, there’s two Slayers here. They claim to be your guests.”
“Get them out. Get them out now!” King Brom bellowed at his servant. It was too late though. Nicholas and Robert entered the grand hall and faced King Brom. “Dammit.” The King’s face went pale, and he swallowed hard. He hadn’t expected to be seeing the Slayers, since he’d called for all gates to be closed. “King Brom, how are you?” Robert tried his best to be warm to the King but it was clear, if not to everyone, to Nicholas that he was struggling with it. “I hope you’re well, I do hope that.” Robert began to slowly inch his way toward the King and his Queen. Nicholas, still uneasy about Robert’s sudden changes in personality, followed just a few steps behind. “I’m here, today, as your guest. Or at least that was what I had thought.” Robert let out a cough that echoed all around the halls, like thunder in the clouds. Nicholas grabbed his sword’s hilt. Robert instantly turned to Nicholas, knowing this’d be his reaction. “Nick…”
“I’m fine. Let go of your sword.”
“I can’t do that. You taught me not to do that.”
“I taught you not to kill me as well, but it looks like you’re going to ignore that teaching!” Robert snapped. The whole hall fell to silence. Robert and Nicholas were now facing each other. “Your chest plate… it’s damaged. It’s- it’s been broken through.” Robert let out another cough, that was followed by an encore of more. He began to cough up blood, and with each cough the amount of blood got more and more. “They got you, didn’t they?” Nicholas walked closer to his master, who was now on his knees, coughing up blood. He knelt down beside his teacher, his friend, and pulled back his hood. Robert was already much paler and his hair was thinner than Nicholas knew it to be. “I’m sorry…” Nicholas stood back up and took several steps back. “What’s- what’s wrong with him?!” The King yelled, in fear, hoping for answers from Nicholas. Nicholas looked at him and said nothing in response, he just spat on the ground in distaste. “Don’t you spit at me! I’m one of the 5 Kings! I could-”
“Could what? Kill me? Try. I dare you.” As Nicholas taunted the King, Robert let out a pain-filled shriek. Nicholas grabbed his sword, readying himself. His teacher got back to his feet and looked around. His eyes were now a misty black. His skin was a pale grey, just as the léfmann’s had been before. He had blood around his mouth, from where he’d coughed and it had bounced back at his face. He was a shell of the man Nicholas once knew. “Slayer, what has happened to him? Why is he like that?!” The King cried out again. Nicholas kept quiet, and Robert’s attention was on the King. He began to breathe heavily then charged for King Brom. Nicholas knew, as good and fulfilling as it’d be to watch Robert year the King apart and eat him alive, that he had to save King Brom. Otherwise the reputation of Slayers would be forever tainted. Nicholas unsheathed his blade and held it by the hilt similar to how one would hold a javelin. He lifted it up, just as Robert used all the strength in his legs to pounce at King Brom, and launched it.
The blade soared through the air and pierced Robert – straight through the heart. Robert collapsed just before the feet of the King, with the blade poking out of his back. King Brom sat in silence. Nicholas was frozen in place as he stared at his sword, buried in the back of his friend… his father. “You saved me?” Brom looked up from Robert’s body and the pooling dark blood. Nicholas looked up slowly. He didn’t say anything. “I—” The King stuttered, “I owe you my life.” Nicholas chuckled. It was the first noise he’d made since he saved King Brom. “What?” The King asked, confused at what was so humorous. “You don’t owe me anything. I did my job. I did what you’re paying me to do.” Nicholas stared at Brom. He wanted to kill him. He wanted to hurt him. He… Nicholas realised he didn’t want any of that. He just wanted his friend back. “I’ll pay you double.” Brom bargained, desperate to reward Nicholas. Nicholas, again, chuckled. He made his way towards the King and the royal guards readied their weapons. Nicholas paused and looked around. “You’re ready to attack me but where were you where a daemon lunged at your King?” Nicholas’ tone changed. He became more serious and angry. “Where were you then? Where were your blades then?!” Nicholas yelled with his arms wide. “Where were you,” His words were calm and quiet, which was infinitely worse and more impactful than his yell just a moment ago, “all of you guards… where were you when I had to kill my friend to protect your king?” Nicholas turned back to Brom and made his way to Robert’s body.
He wrapped his hand around the handle of his blade and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see the blade come out. He didn’t want to see Robert in the state he was in. But the squelch as the blade came out was deafening in the large hall. Nicholas flinched at the sound and opened his eyes after it was done. He put the blade under his arm and wiped it clean. All the while Brom watched silently. Everyone watched silently. They knew what’d just happened and were respectful as Nicholas sheathed his blade. “Do me a favour, Brom.” Brom looked at Nicholas in shock, no-one addressed him so informally in nearly a decade. He then calmed himself and remembered he owed this man his life.
“What?” He asked politely. Nicholas looked up to him, as he sat comfortably on his throne. “Tell your people about the daemon problem. Warn them about it.” Nicholas looked down, briefly, at Robert and then back up at Brom. “Warn them about what might happen to them.” Brom swallowed hard. He knew telling the truth wouldn’t bring him any favour politically but he also knew Nicholas was right. “Oh.” Nicholas smirked as he hoisted Robert’s lifeless body onto his shoulders. “Yes?” Brom leaned forward, eager to hear what else Nicholas had to say. “Hire yourself some Slayers to deal with the problem, and pay them twice what you normally would – just like you’ll do for me.” Nicholas didn’t wait for a response from Brom and set off down the hall and to the large doors. “I—” Brom was flustered, “I…” he swallowed hard. He owed Nicholas his life. “I will. I swear to you.” Those were the words Nicholas wanted to hear. They brought a content smile to his face as he headed outside and back into the cool winter’s day.
The sky was white. Each snowflake glided down to join its brethren, and form a crisp, icy blanket that lay upon grass. Nicholas’ feet fell heavily with each step. The snow that touched his face melted from the heat, and joined the tears that ran across his cheek. He dropped to his knees and the body of his friend – the man who taught him everything he ever knew – rolled into the snow. Nicholas wiped the tears from his face and took a deep breath. “The world is no longer what we once knew it to be. It’s changed.” Nicholas took another breath, stopping himself from crying again. “It’s still changing. I’m so grateful to have been taught by you, and I promise you now, I will continue as you did. I will protect the Five Kingdoms from daemons and those who seek to do them wrong.” Nicholas paused again. His voice became shaky as he spoke and he knew he needed a small break before continuing. “I will train the next generation of Slayers, as you trained me and Cedric. I promise you.”
As he placed the last stone on Robert’s makeshift grave, in the snowy grasslands of Welthereon, Nicholas smiled at his master for the last time. He walked, solemnly, to his stead and mounted it. He grabbed the reins of Robert’s horse and guided it along with him as he set off, back down the long road.