|2.| ▪Welcome Home▪
My heart pounded hard against my rib cage as I stared at the heavy dark mist that surrounded what once was my home.
My mind still accepts that what’s before me is my home, the place I grew up.
“We have the wrong place.” My voice was betraying me. “This is not my home.”
“We are in the right place,” Bishop Archer said from behind.
A few knights from the temple and Bishop Archer stood a few feet behind me as we stood on the cliff that’s supposed to have the view of the kingdom. But all I see is darkness, not a single house or soul in sight.
What was all this?
“It’s time,” Bishop Archer said and started giving out orders.
I stood still in shock at what was happening before me.
“Mila,” Bishop Archer called, squeezing my shoulder. “Let’s go.”
I still refused to believe it. This is not the place everyone I know lives. Not the place my family, I used to live. Not where Zion is.
We sat on the carriage while we entered the area surrounded by the thick fog.
My hand moved to my nose as an awful stench reached my nose.
I gagged but tried to remain composed. But, unfortunately, it was not very good.
“What’s this awful smell?” I asked.
Bishop Archer seemed unfazed by the stench that came from the few visible trees.
“Decomposing animals or humans?” Bishop said, making my eyes widen. What did he mean by human bodies?
I shift my gaze outside to see if my eyes can catch a few of the dead animals or whatever the awful smell is. But I can barely even see the tree branches.
“Everything’s dead,” I mumbled in confusion.
“Yes, dark magic,” Bishop Archer said. “The entire place is under dark magic and a powerful one.”
I looked his way. Was he serious?
Looking back outside, I start to distinguish a house. My body moved towards the window.
Squinting my eyes, I try to see whose house it is, but the view is awful.
“We should be careful, saintess,” one of the knight temple says as he approaches me on his horse. “We don’t know what’s out here.”
I nod in silence and keep looking around.
Seeing all this made me think about Ezekiel. What happened to him? Is he dead as well?
My hands gripped the ledge of the window. I didn’t even want to imagine how the castle looked.
If Zion caused this, it meant he went out of control, or he killed everyone. But my worst fear was that there was a chance he was dead.
The whine of the horses has our carriage stopping. Bishop Archer leaned on the other window and asked why we stopped. I remained inside, just listening to their conversation.
“We have arrived,” Bishop Archer said.
I frowned, confused. Were exactly where we?
One of the knights opened the door for us to get down. I was stepping out carefully with the help of the bishop. I fix my robe and lookup.
My entire body went cold as a shiver ran on my back. What was this?
Bishop Archer handed me a small oil lamp so we could look better.
With shaky hands, I lifted it. I gasped as my other hand covered my mouth.
We were in the middle of what’s supposed to be the plaza, but the entire place looked like a ghost town.
Old and destroyed buildings barely stand in pieces. In contrast, some dead animals’ bodies lay scattered here and there.
Some were only bones. This is evidence that this has been happening since a while ago.
The entire plaza was empty; the only sound of a few crows made me jump in fright every time they caw.
I could feel the ominous and heavy air around us. The fog or whatever it was seemed alive, and it was creeping closer by the minute.
“This isn’t safe,” Bishop Archer whispered next to me.
I looked from side to side. He was right; the fog or mist was getting thicker. It was hard even to breathe.
“Step back,” I said, walking to the middle of the plaza.
Setting the lamp on the ground, I pull the hood down my head.
I knew what I had to do. So I closed my eyes, raised my hands, took a deep breath, and summoned my powers.
The bright light emitted strongly, making the dark fog around us run away in fear.
After a few seconds, I opened my eyes slowly and noticed the small visible sky light reaching the plaza.
I had cleared the place. Not as it’s expected, but it was better than before.
“Good saintess,” one of the knights said, making me smile wryly.
“Let’s scout the area and see if there’s anyone alive,” Bishop Archer orders out.
I start heading towards Ezekiel’s home with hopes that he is alive. But, as I make my way to the familiar street, someone grabs me, halting my movements.
“No, you can’t,” Bishop Archer says as I turn to face him.
“What? Why?” I questioned him.
“We can’t let you go like this. The whole place isn’t safe, Mila,” Bishop Archer said sternly.
I know he was right, but my feet itched to look for my dearest friend.
“Please,” I begged. My eyes tear up. “I just need to know.”
Bishop Archer’s eyes studied me for a while.
“Sorry, but I can’t,” he said, shaking his head. “I can have the knight’s check on it.”
I clenched hard, knowing I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. Then, with a nod, Bishop Archer turns and calls over two knights.
I explained briefly where he lived. Then, I gave his name and told them to use mine. Hopefully, they will be able to find any clues.
“Come with me,” Bishop Archer said as we watched the knights go.
Walking out of the plaza, Bishop Archer stops where some knights are carefully guarding. The fog felt thicker in the direction we were heading.
“You know where is that, right?” Bishop Archer said, pointing up.
I squint my eyes with hopes to see what he is pointing at. But the more I think, the more I realize the direction he indicates is no other than the castle.
“We are going?” I asked as my heart pounds. I could feel my entire body tremble.
Worried that he would notice this, I clasped my hands together.
“Yes, we have to. That’s our main goal, the reason we came,” Bishop Archer said as his eyes met mine. “I hope you’re prepared.”
I gulped as I looked back up the fog. The castle is supposed to be visible, but you can’t even see the gates.
After some time, all the knights gather back again on the plaza.
So far, not a soul is around. It’s like everyone disappeared. There’s no trace left, and my heart sinks. Was Ezekiel dead?
I bit my lip and turned to face somewhere else.
Tears threatened to escape my eyes.
“We are going by foot. So I need six knights to stay back in case something happens,” Bishop Archer explains.
I wiped a small tear that escaped my eyes.
“Mila put your hood on. We are leaving,” Bishop Archer said. I nod quickly and cover my face.
I didn’t need any of them to see me like this. Not when I feel like all I ever known is now gone from this world. The place I once loved, my home.
The sounds of crunching leaves and our feet were the only noises that accompanied us as we walked in silence up the hill.
Our group remains silent, just surveilling our surroundings if something dangerous decides to lurk out from the darkness.
“This place reminds me of something.” One of the knights finally says.
I spared him a glance—a deep frown covering his features.
“What is that?” I asked with curiosity. His green eyes looked straight into mine.
“The poisonous forest.” He answered in a clipped tone.
Why did that sound familiar?
I didn’t ask more, and we kept walking silent until we finally saw the gates of the castle.
“What happened here,” I asked, confused.
The walls of the castle looked attacked. It was as if something enormous had tried to penetrate its walls.
“Do you see anything?” one of the knights asked.
“No, nothing. No signs of guards in the castle.”
My hand gripped the strap of the bag I was carrying.
Stepping forward, I move closer to the front. My eyes were glued on the walls and wooden gates that blocked our paths.
“How are we going to get in?” someone asked from behind.
The knight next to me looked over his shoulder.
“Could you hold this?” I tell him while handing him my bag. He looked skeptical, but either way took it.
“What will you do, Mila?” Bishop Archer asked.
I looked around the forest. The place was covered with thick fog. It wasn’t safe to even step in there.
I let out a breath, “The only thing we could try right now.”
I moved closer and looked up.
My loud voice echoed in the quiet place.
“Mila!” Bishop Archer hissed with a worried look. All the knights got closer while taking a defensive stance.
“It’s all right,” I said and looked back to the front. “ZION!”
I yelled again and again until we heard a loud bang which made our group jump in fright.
The bang sounded again, echoing so loud it made the crows scared.
“Mila!” Bishop Archer called as the banging on the wooden gates continued.
Taking a step back, I feel the knights form a circle around me.
Once we were all together, the banging suddenly stopped. We all stared at it confusedly.
Who was making those sounds?
As someone talked, the gates fell with a loud thud causing us to squirm away.
Dust flew around us, blocking our view.
“Mila stays close,” Bishop Archer said as his hand grasped my arm.
I hum in response, but I feel something wrapped around my ankle as we start to move.
“No!” I mumbled as fear crawled on my skin, breaking into goosebumps.
“Mila?” Bishop Archer called while moving his hand.
But before I can say a word, my body falls on the dusty ground and is dragged into the castle.
I let out a piercing scream as the gates closed once again.
I coughed as my eyes fluttered open to complete darkness.
Confused, I crawl up and back away in fear. Where was I?
I was confused because the place seemed unfamiliar.
“W-where am I?” I stuttered in fear.
An eerie silence was making me want to cry.
What was that that dragged me?
As I looked around the barely lit place, I heard footsteps from somewhere, approaching and fast.
I jolt up in a panic.
Patting my body, I remember I gave my bag to the knight. Then, cursing under my breath, I pulled the only weapon I had on me—a small golden dagger.
My eyes moved around as the footsteps sounded louder and closer.
Taking a few steps back, I hear the footsteps stop. Where did it go?
As I keep moving, I suddenly bump into something.
My hand gripped the daggers handle as I closed my eyes full of tears.
I tried to remain calm, but it was useless.
Something crawled up my body moving slowly and steadily—the strange thing wrapped around my legs until it found its way to my waist.
I felt it wrapped tightly around me, squeezing me, suffocating me.
Unable to keep it together, I moved, and the black thing halted my movements. I gasped when suddenly I heard the footsteps again.
This time they sounded from different directions. Again, I could feel an ominous presence closing on me.
Raising my dagger, I prepare to attack. But as I move it around, someone grabs my wrist.
I yelled, but another hand covered my mouth. Tears welled in my eyes as something not human covered my mouth.
I sob against the strange thing.
Feeling someone lean against my body, I squeeze my eyes.
“Mila, I’ve been waiting for you all this time. My one and only saintess.” The familiar voice said, making goosebumps erupt all over my body.
“I’ve missed you.” Zion chuckled as his hand tightened around my jaw. “Welcome home, my love.”