Chapter 38 - Aegis
The south perimeter is breached.
My heart beats faster.
The danger is closer to us then than I'd anticipated.
I tried to calm myself. I'd tried to remember that the castle is surrounded by the ocean, that the mountain serves as a fortress for the elves. I'd like to think that there's no way the bad people could cross that narrow bridge without falling, or at least, without getting undetected by the guards. But just by the glimpsed of my friends' faces, dressed in alarm and terror, all those hopes I'd been clinging onto went crushing instantly.
"Where's Prince Gamette?" They were halfway to the door before I could realized they'd already moved.
I doubled my steps to matched their long strides. My breathing, still heavy as I take in the information that the danger lies inside the borders of this very castle, we considered safe, minutes ago.
"In the armory."
My mouth fell open the moment we step out of the room. This isn't happening.
There's an army of elves, hundreds of tall and toned men, wearing a huge white armor, heading out uniformly, marching to the back side of the mountain. Their footsteps, echoing through the stone walls and waterfalls inside the open castle, making my knees tremble.
I can't see the beginning of the formation, neither the end of the line.
And I can't help but wonder, how many bad guys had managed to get into the border, to require this number of soldiers for defense.
I wanted to asked Eric, or anyone about it, but my tongue hesitated at the sight of my friends' seriousness as we take flight of stairs. Clearly, this is not the time for my questions, that's probably the last thing they wanted to hear right now.
I feel like the universe had pushed a button, turning my friends into military men like everyone around where I look. No traces of easiness can be seen in them. Instead, their eyebrows were furrowed, and their postures, uptight. They look like they're carrying a heavy responsibility on their shoulders. Unfortunately, that's actually the case.
"Who are the attackers?" Dave asked.
One second we're just having a normal dinner together, casually talking to each other. Now, it's as if, Utovaj is suddenly demanding their undivided attention, and is constraining them to act in a certain way.
If there's one thing I'm not fond about this magical world—aside from the danger— it's when it's forcing my friends to carry the burden of this land, making them set aside that part of themselves that I'd grown accustomed with.
"Lycans. A pack of them." I wouldn't be suprise if they'd forgotten I was with them at this very moment, because I did too.
I can't take my eyes off of the soldiers, coming from everywhere and gathering at the foot of the stairs, then falling in line with the others that's already marching out. Their irises are fiery, and holds nothing but bravery and determination. The spirit of courage is basically radiating off their rock-solid armors.
Their armors are huge and metallic, even their boots seemed to be made of a hard object, because they clang loudly with each step they make.
All of the soldiers have long light hair and pointy ears, like Prince Gamette. Although most of them are pointier than the others.
"A pack?" Eric exclaimed.
We are almost at the armory.
When we step into the room, all of them paused for a second, glancing at my friends, then continue what they're doing in the following second.
"Your Highness." It's the general, I assumed, because his armor was painted in a different shade of white, that is not yet known to my race. And his demeanor mirrors years of experience in the battlefield.
Different group of soldiers immediately gathered around my friends, unintentionally pushing me aside. In their hands are huge pieces of armor, boots, and shields.
"Reinforcement is on the way to the south border, equip with healers. We are at the disadvantage, My Lord. Lycans' vision at night is at its peak. But nothing our warriors weren't trained with. You need not take a part of this."
"Is that a part of a greater plan, General? Or lack of confidence in our skill?" Dave asked, but he didn't sound offended. If anything, it seems like he's close to the general, because he's smiling when he said that. Althought that smile didn't reach his eyes.
"You know what my words meant, My Lord."
"We'd been sitting out for quite some time now. I think we trained long enough to sit this one out." All that talking while my friends, were being suit up by other soldiers. Huge golden armor were being attached to their body, that looks extremely heavy, they might not be able to move freely.
"The Queen won't be particularly happy with this." He replied, but Dave only smiled at him.
"A messenger has been sent to the Queen, informing them about the situation here. Preparing them whatever happens tonight." It was Prince Gamette, walking from the other side of the room. He just finished being suit up, and is now heading towards us.
My friends nodded to him, as he handed a stack of swords to Macforth, the closest one to him. Macforth then took one from the stack before passing it on to Errol.
It's admirable to see they'd set aside their differences in situations like this. That's truly commendable, especially after I witnessed how they behave towards each other on a normal occasion.
And despite the state we're in right now, I can't help not to be dazzled at the sight of these beautiful men in front of me. They're already striking, but now that they're in an armor, that made them look like magical living tanks, that will shield people to safety, and with all the courage and valor going on, how can one not stop and stare at them in awe?
"Casualty report." Dave said.
"Half of our men is injured. The other half is dead." I gasped.
Just outside this castle?
"Take her and Lunea along with the others." It was Macforth's words that pulled me to the present. He was talking to a soldier next to him, but he had his eyes on me.
And then I realized that I managed to gather all the attention at my ignorant human reaction of the ways of war.
I do know that death is inevitable at wars, but war is history. At present, war is just on the pages of my books, and on the far side of the world. War isn't a normal thing for most people. It's not a common scenario, waking up to it or being distubed at dinner because of it. So, me learning that war is much closer to us than I realize, and that people had already died, is absolutely surreal.
And those soldiers I saw earlier, and my friends, their lives will be in danger too. So how can they talk about death so lightly?
"No. Eric will do that." It was Jermond, fastening a sword to his waist.
"Nope. I will have none of that. I will fight side by side with you. There's no way I'll be left out tonight."
"No, Dave. You guys are not doing this to me again."
"This isn't the time for argument, Eric. No one wants you out there. Don't you understand that? Just go and escort them to refuge." My eyes widen at Jermond's words. He made Eric shut, and obviously hurt. I would be too if Jermond directed those words to me. That is extremely bold to say to his brother in front of other people. And I believe, I wasn't the only one who thinks that way, because everyone is silent.
But then, I noticed too that no one even object his words. No one tried to belie it. Why? Does that mean that everyone has reached a consensus of not allowing Eric to fight?
I glanced at him, he's obviously not happy about this. I wanted to pull him out of the room so he wouldn't have to feel embarrassed anymore, but I'm afraid he would brush my hand away.
"Stay with Lunea. Don't leave her side." Macforth directed that words to me, almost a whisper.
His silver irises are firm as he asked me to look after the Moon Princess. It's as if, he's mentally pleading me to make sure she'll be safe, because he can't personally do that right now. He needs to fulfill his duty to the people, before he can attend to his personal matters. And I respect that.
"I promise." And I will do everything to fulfill that, regardless if I'm clueless how I would actually do it.
I raised my promise hand to assure him that he can count on me, so all he needed to do is focus on the fight, stop worrying about her, and clear his mind from anything else.
I don't know, part of me wanted to earn his praise by following his words, and making sure that the princess is safe. Part of me is actually thrilled that he's entrusting her safety in my hands, even though I have no magical powers. I feel like I'm worthy of his trust. And I wanted to show him that he's not wrong about that.
I nodded, and immediately ran towards Eric who'd already retreated to the door, unwillingly.
Eric glared at me, the moment I reached him. His fingers were curled into a fist, his jaw was clenched. I can practically saw the bad mood aura around him, as we walked deeper into the castle, so I decided to walked behind him instead. I'm just hoping that he wouldn't make me responsible for him being left out of the fight tonight.
But that's not what bothers me at the moment.
As we walked down the stairs, I was introduced to the other side of the war. That part of the chaos that's happening outside the battlefield. The one where the collateral damage lies.
My heart breaks at the sight of their women and children, being taken to the other side of the castle, away from where the soldiers headed earlier, away from their home. These people, that has absolutely nothing to do with war, but will be the most affected of it's outcome once it's finished. My heart aches for them.
War does nothing but create widows and orphans.
The women's faces are dressed in worry, but they manage to keep their calm posture, leading their kids to safety without scaring them off at the same time. I don't know how they're doing it, when I couldn't even calm my own heart at the very thought of the soldiers and my friends, the chaos, and the word death.
How can one remain calm at the sight of these magical people, carrying weapons, ready to fight a battle that could cost them their lives?
"Let me have that." Eric took a bow and arrow from a soldier that we passed by, then he handed it to me.
I took it without hesitation, and followed him silently as we head to where the Moon Princess is.
Eric probably wants me to assist protecting the people. And I couldn't help but be grateful for his trust in me too, like Macforth. He offered his trust on my capabilities, generously, even when our friends denied that to him. He knows how it feels like, that's probably why he doesn't want me to experience being doubted.
I only hope he wouldn't take that against them. My friends might be unfair for unanimously deciding to exclude Eric, but I know they have their reasons. They're only doing that for our safety. I hope he doesn't get upset for too long.
And now that I'm staring at the bow and arrow in my hand, I wonder what I could really offer. This isn't the time for doubting myself, but reality is, I just trained for hours in that misty forest, would that be enough to protect the people? Those soldiers out there were probably training their whole lives, and yet...
And what if things comes to worst? What if the Moon Princess is attack tonight on the way to the refuge? Can I really throw myself in front of her when the situation demanded? If that's the last thing I could do to fulfill my promise to Macforth, will I really do it?
I'm praying that the situation that will answer those questions won't arise.
But on the second thought, Eric's with us. And I'm sure there're still soldiers that will going to escort us to refuge. We'll be safe.
"Follow where the people are going. Do not leave Lunea's side. Use that to protect yourself if you have to, but don't worry, your escape should be safe."
"What did you mean?" I stop walking.
My heart beats loudly upon the realization of his words.
I grasped his hand, pulling him to face me.
"Eric, no." I shook my head. I wanted to cry because I can see the resolve in his eyes. He has already decided.
He glanced down at me, resting his hand on my shoulder.
He hasn't said a word yet, but I can see the firmness of his decision in his irises. There's no way he would let me stop him tonight.
"I have to do this. My brother is out there. My friends, our friends. I have to do something to make sure they're safe." And he meant it.
He's not going to walk out there just for thrill and fun, the very reason, I assumed, why my friends won't let him out to fight. Eric's the type to go after danger and adrenaline, so part of me understands why our friends won't let him out of the borders. But Eric just wanted to protect our friends, to help. He just wanted to keep them safe. I can hear the sincerity of his words. But...
"How about you? How can I be sure you'll be safe?"
"I will be fine." I am not buying that!
"No! If something bad happens to you, I will always remember this moment when I let you leave. My mind will going to replay this moment, where I would tell myself that I should've not let you go, but I wouldn't be able to do anything, because it already happened. And this scene will be repeated in my dreams over and over again. Don't do this, Eric. Please!"
Because I'm sure that's what will happen. This very scenario will be included in my long list of reccuring nightmares. I might be sounding selfish at the moment for only thinking about myself, but I'm scared. And I'll blame no one but myself if Eric doesn't come back.
"That's the last thing you should worry. There's no way I'm dying tonight. I assure you." I shook my head and squished his hand tighter.
"We're not even sure about that. Please, Eric, don't go. Just stay with us, please!" I'm ready to kneel down if I have to. I will do everything that I can to stop whatever bad things that might happen. I don't want to look back to this day and tell myself, "If only I didn't let Eric walk away that day. I should've tried harder to make him stay."
He breathe deeply, squishing my hand as well. He glanced around, before staring at me.
"I didn't want to tell you this, but it seems like it's the only way you'll let me go..." His tone changed into something extremely serious, it scares me, but I nodded anyway, assuring him that I'm listening.
"Do you remember the freaky mirror they keep in this castle? The one that showed you your fear?" It's as if on cue, I had goosebumps all over my arms, and at the neap of my neck, as the vision of the white lady, staring at me through the mirrors, resurfaced in my memories.
It felt so real earlier I didn't even care how exactly I reacted in front of everyone. At that moment, I thought I was alone, and I just wanted to get out there.
"It's okay. Point is, I know exactly how I'll die. And that's not tonight. So will you do me a favor and stop being paranoid like them? Their fear is not really helping anyone."
Is that the reason then? Why they wouldn't let him out of the borders? Why they didn't want him to fight? My assumptions were all wrong then.
I always knew that our friends' decision not to let Eric out of the borders has a reason, I just didn't know that it has been his life that's already on the line. I thought, they're just afraid that Eric will be careless outside the borders. I didn't know, about this part.
"Oh!" He gasped.
My mind just went blank.
This is my first time embracing a non family member, but I'm not even embarrassed about it. I hugged Eric because it feels like it's the right thing to do. It feels like he needed my moral support all the more now than ever.
I can't pressed more into the subject. That will be insensitive. I feel sorry for Eric.
I feel ashamed for being a coward and being scared when the mirror showed me my fear, when all the while, Eric's vision is worse. On top of that, I'd been a liability to him all along, when he should be having a peace of mind to, at least, try to forget what the mirror showed him.
"I'm so sorry." My voice broke, that made Eric's eyes rolling.
"It's no big deal. Really. So don't cry. You look uglier." Eric pulled my cloak and brushed it all over my face, before grinning.
He grabbed my arm and started towing me down the hall.
"I'm not dying tonight. You have my word." If my eyes have fire, Eric's face is probably burning right now. I can't take my eyes off of him. I'm not even worried about running into a pole or a wall as we walk.
It amuses me how casually he can talk about that subject.
"Everything's fine. So, let me go, alright? This is the only way I can make sure they're safe. Trust me on this." He glanced down at me, smiling, then looked straight ahead.
My mind is blank at the information he shared. He just told me about his future death. How can I recover from that when I still struggle to take in the chaos that's happening outside the walls of this castle?
Eric is one of the kindness person I know. He is thoughtful and honest, and caring. I can't even imagine him dying. He doesn't deseve that. No one does.
"Lunea!" Eric called. I jumped at the sudden rise of his volume.
The princess and her escort walked out of a room before we actually reached it.
My heart panic in both fear and relief at her presence. She's fine now. Beautiful and well again, standing perfectly on her feet.
She's wearing a black cloak, that only made her more regal. Her hoodie is up on her head. Her wand, standing tall next to her.
"I entrust both of you of each other's safety. Go straight to the refuge. Don't get left behind." The princess didn't even look confuse at Eric's words, she must've been informed what's happening outside. If that's the case, I admire how she managed to appear perfectly fine. She doesn't even look scared.
"Take them to safety." Eric asked the princess' escort.
I couldn't watch him leave. If anything bad happens I will blame myself for letting him go. But Eric made it clear that nothing will happen to him. He promised.
Besides, Eric asked me to trust him on his decision. I won't deny him that. He promised he'll be safe. He promised he'll live.
So, all that's left to do is fulfill the promise I made with them. Stay with the princess and make sure she's safe.
"This way, Your Highness. We shouldn't get separated from the crowd." I gestured to the path where Eric and I came from. I didn't stare directly at her face.
The princess nodded at her escort, and he left us to stand at the other end of the hall, not completely letting the princess out of his sight.
"Thou speak as if nothing happened, mortal." There's an edge on her velvet voice. There's no denying that she's still upset with me, but now isn't the right time for that.
"Your Highness, I know that you have a lot to say to me. But can you do that later? I need to take you to the refuge first." The reality of chaos going on outside the castle started growing on me that I'm not even bothered if I'm talking appropriately to the Moon Princess. My mind is focused on just making sure she'll stay alive tonight.
"Can we please go now, Your Highness? We might lost track of the people." I panic, because there's only few women and children left in the castle earlier. Another second we stayed here, and the traces of them will be gone, completely.
As much as I feared for my own safety, I couldn't just follow the people and leave the princess here. That's cowardly and selfishness, even though I'd been both in the past. This time I should turn over a new leaf and be brave.
I wanted to fulfill my promise. Macforth trusted me, I wanted to be worthy of that faith.
"Go forth, mortal. I need thou not." She dismissed me, and started walking to the opposite direction that had my heart in distress.
"I can't. I promised Macfort—."
"Do dare utter my king's name with thy filthy mortal mouth once more, as if thy is equal to him, and heaven forbids what I could do with thy existence." My eyes widen at the presence of her wand inches from my face.
"Do not be mistaken that I know not what happened whilst my absence." Is she talking about Macforth's claim?
I lowered my head in embarrassment. I feel guilty. It feels like I'm doing her bad deeds by being Macforth's protectorate, even though I have nothing to do with that. It feels like I'm committing a sin to her, for being a protectorate of her fiance.
"My king made thou his subject. Do tell, mortal. What does that make of me?"
"I'm sorry about that, Your Highness, but I can assure you that means nothing. Mac— Prince Greil only did that so I wouldn't be taken by the soldiers. Nothing you need to worry about."
"How can one not worry when my king, instead of taking me to battle, decided to leave me with his subject. I will not be made to watch over a mortal."
"Oh, no, Your Highness. I'm actually sent here to protect you. Prince Greil told me to stay by your side. I may not look like it, Your Highness but Eri—Prince Kira taught me to use this." I lifted the bow and arrow for her to see, assuring her I got her back.
"Thy obliviousness insults me, mortal." What did I do?
"But I'm telling the truth, Your Highness."
"My king had put thou under his protection. It is a must he keeps thou safe. However, it is not the same for myself. I follow no bonds. I made no promises. I will be where I believe my presence is needed. I will protect my king. I will protect my people." She flickered her gaze at me.
"Where are you going, Your Highness?" I panic because she started walking towards the direction where the soldiers headed earlier.
Macforth will be disappointed in me.
"Oh no, please, Your Highness. That way is dangerous. Don't go out there. Please!" I almost touched her. I was an inch away of touching her arm, I'm so thankful I didn't, because her glare was enough to tell that I will be put in place if I did.
Her irises warned me once more, before heading towards the south portion of the castle.
But how can I stop her? How can I pull her back to the safe side of the castle?
Most of all, how can a princess, so fragile looking as her, be this determined to walk right into a war, where even Eric isn't allowed to step into, where even my friends were being discourage to take a part in?
"Thou know little about danger, mortal. I'd seen things that is yet to be undertood by thy race. Myself had walked the true meaning of danger. Thou may speak, but thy words are empty, it will move no one."
I can see now why she is Macforth's future queen. I can see now how Macforth seems to immediately let his guard down around her. He need not to remember his forgotten feelings for her. Knowing the Moon Princess is enough to admire her all over again. I see now why it wasn't hard for her to penetrate Macforth's wall.
"Okay then, Your Highness. I will be right beside you. That way I can still fulfill my promise, and ensure your safety." I glanced forward.
"How could a mortal speak of my safety when thou can not even secure thy own?"
"Your Highness, I couldn't just stay behind and let you go there alone. I promised Prince Greil I won't leave your side. So, this is me, fulfilling that promise. I will protect you, whatever it takes."
"Thou are speaking of thy death, mortal." She warned.
I am very much aware of that, but after hearing the princess' resolve, how can I walk away? Especially after I decided to turn over a new leaf.
"Worry only for thy self mortal. I need none of that." Right, after all, she's a magical being.
Back in the mirrored room, when her eyes lit up, I know she's up for something enchanted. She has magical powers, maybe I wouldn't have to worry that much. Maybe, she could offer them help, more than they worry.
I breathe deeply, wishing I had the chance to change for a more appropriate clothes.
It seems like the heaven is rooting for me tonight.
I positioned the bow and arrow in my hand, in a way that I only needed to release the arrow if the chance arises. If I'm going through this war, I'm going to do it right. I won't let Eric down.
"Again, brave heart." She uttered. I didn't know that the princess was watching me with my little preparation.
I think she'd told me that before. And she's telling it to me again. Does that mean, she really meant it? Is she really complimenting me?
"I might get hurt out there anyway, so I wanted to say this, Your Highness..." She's taken a back at my words, I know because I am too.
I'm testing the mood. I will not continue if I saw any hint of resistance, but there's none. Suprisingly, even though the princess is shocked, she's attentively listening to my words as we head deeper into the forest.
"Will you please, not make me do something that can threatened my life? Like with the black pearls? I learned that it's poisoned. And I saw what it did to you, even though you're a Utovajian. Please remember that my body is only adapted to the misfortunes of my own land. Every bad things, poison or other bad events that's happening here, will have thrice the effect on me. I'm not magical, if I were the one who fell in that pond earlier, I might be dead by now. And the princes will be implicated by that. They'll not going to hold it against anyone but themselves. They'll think they're responsible for not securing my safety, even though that's far from the truth."
"Are thou saying that I threatened thy life?"
"With all due respect, Your Highness. Didn't you?"
"My king, and the princes probably think of me as despicable, upon hearing thy words. Might as well die in the battlefield tonight."
"Oh, no no no, Your Highness. I didn't tell anyone that you tried to push me. I just told them why we're there in the first place." Her gaze was far.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't lie to them about that." I think I've offended her.
"Or were you just mistaken the black pearls for something else, Your Highness?" I hope she said yes. Mainly because I really wanted to be friends with her. Second, because it's hard for me to understand why someone would lie about something to hurt others.
"Thou speak so much, mortal."
"I'm sorry, You—" To my surprised she grabbed my jaw, making me faced straight ahead.
The white armors are advancing through the forest, in the middle of the woods, deeper into the shadows of the remaining trees. Twigs were breaking. Swords were being drawn everywhere, clashing onto something hard.
Balls of fire are flying... and something else.
The soldiers are fighting in front of the moon, they're merely silhouette against the moonlight, I couldn't see who are they battling with. Everyone is moving from all directions, I couldn't distinguished anyone. I couldn't find them from all the running and shouting from across the field. Where are they?
The invaders managed to penetrate this part of the forest, in the middle of two gigantic rock formations. There are obviously Muijr trees in the middle of the field that were suppose to be standing, but are now taken down and crushed to the ground.
With fingers crossed, I followed the princess, transferring carefully behind another boulder. Her escort is leading the way. I trust both of them. They know what they're doing, they know where we are going.
I tried to listen to the voices as we move forward, searching for a familiar one, but they are all going on at the same time, I couldn't comprehend any of it.
I just focused on my steps, and tried to dismiss the slashing and crushing that I hear. I really did, but I couldn't. The worse part is, in the middle of the rage and pain I hear, I picked up a particular sound that shook me to my core.