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The Last Hopes
The rock bites into my hand. Hard. It takes all the willpower I can muster to swing myself onto the top of the ledge. I want to gasp for air, but my rib cage feels as if it’s shrunk. Curse this virus. I am forced to inhale agonizingly slow and quiet. After about five minutes I get to my knees and crawl to the edge of the cliff I just scaled. The mile-long drop makes me dizzy, and I move away. I lie on my back again. There’s a small four-foot, curved rock blocking me from the view of any predators that may prowl these mountains. I put my back against it, and try to think about what I have to do next.
Instead, memories of how I got here flood me. The virus is messing with my brain again. I remember how, just half a year before, I began to get the visions. The visions that gave me my purpose. The visions that revealed the prophecy of Dargom’s uprising and return to the world. I can still recall the feeling of fear that filled me as it was revealed that Dargom’s forces would spread rapidly over all of the beautiful world of Paclumien, burning down our villages and crops. Even more terrifying than that was that I and the four others in my family had been chosen (by who, I do not know) to stop him. I remember the sense of duty I felt when I used my flame for the first time. This was replaced by a sense of revenge about a week afterwards. I can still see myself having to hide in a the bushes as the Dargom’s forces killed off Mom, Dad, and my two older brothers. None of our flames had developed yet, and they couldn’t defend themselves. I watched my house burn with their bodies still in it. The visions had not warned me of this. And I, Ryan, the youngest brother, was sent to turn the fate of the world.
I didn’t even expect to make it this far, on my journey to the center of the country. I had left still dazed at the death of my family, and I wandered numbly for several days. I was forced to snap back into reality by hunger. Fortunately, I always was able to find a forest, and hunted with a slingshot owned by my father. I mostly found squirrels, rabbits, the occasional turkey. One time when I came across a unicorn, I was so hungry, I almost attempted to shoot it. But I didn’t. My parents always told me never to harm one of the higher animals.
Then, there was Claire. I push the thought out of my head. I can’t afford to think about her now, especially since she isn’t by my side any more. I have to focus. I know there’s a small camp of Black-Troops around here with cures for this virus. Just in case someone besides the Rebels gets infected. It also tempts infected Rebels to join Dargom’s side just for cures. And many sickly traitors have done so. I’m in the beginning stages of the virus at the moment; the scratching hasn’t started yet.
My thoughts are interrupted by a low whisper in some ancient language from behind the rock. I hold my breath. Black-Troops. I hear at least two of them conversing. I stay as still and quiet as I can, hardly daring to breath. After a minute, I hear them moving away. That’s strange. If they’re here, then that must mean...
I carefully take a peek over the rock. Well this fortunate. The whole camp of Black-Troops is laid out before me. A sharp-topped fence encompasses the whole camp, ten feet high. It ends at both sides of the cliff. I guess they weren’t expecting anyone to come this way. I scan the camp. Ladders lining the fence, the main fort in the center. Finally, I see it. The storage; a white tent filled with boxes. That’s where the cures are. Unfortunately, there’s a single Black-Troop guarding there. All of them look the same, like a six-foot knight with a pitch-black body and dark-purple armor. They don’t need weapons. They don’t need to eat, drink, or even breath. But they can be killed, just like any living thing can.
And there’s only one guard. I know that I can’t take on even one with this virus, but if I can just get a cure, I’ll be able to fight them off. I pull my father’s slingshot from my belt. The engraving he left on it make me want to cry. But I have no time for that. I take one of the smooth stones from my belt and pull it back in the sling. On one knee, I carefully look over the rock, and aim at one of the Black-Troops on the other side of the base, away from the storage. I fire and duck down as quickly as I can. Judging by the fact that I hear a screech rather than a clang, I think my stone has met its target. The armor doesn’t protect them everywhere. I look over again and see the guard run over to its buddies. This is my last chance.
I jump and haul myself over the rock. Then, I sprint as hard as my body and the virus allows. I’m halfway there. A quarter left. Almost there! My hopes are crushed into the dust as a Black-Troop tackles me sideways, right before I reach the boxes. They’re all on top of me now. Though I know it’s over, I want to go down fighting. I try to start my flame. The fire’s weak, and barely covers my fist, but its still there. I bring it back, and take a hook at three of their faces, killing them all instantly. But there are too many. It’s over. My consciousness finally begins to fade as, not the many blows I am receiving, but the virus begins choking away my life.
Then, in a chaotic battle for consciousness, I hear a cry, the sound of metal on metal, the shadows of the Black-Troops disappear, and a smaller shadow kneels in front of me. It tilts my head up and pours something down my throat. I have no strength in me to resist. The virus prevents me from even tasting it. At first nothing happens. Suddenly, I feel like fist that’s been squeezing my body for the longest time is releasing its grip. My muscles loosen, my mind clears, and I take a full breath of air. I take a few more gulps of air before completely breaking down into hysterical laughter. It feels so good to be free. I don’t care about who or what is next to me. I’m free.
After a few moments, I turn to see who gave me the cure. I stop breathing. A girl long blonde hair, a slender build, and bright blue eyes stands before me, wearing the same military uniform that I last saw her in. “Clair?”
“Still sure you can make it without me, Ryan?” she replies. “You fought like a fish out of water.” By now, her comments and sarcasm no longer sting me. What surprises me even more is the genuine smile she gives me. I fight back tears from the sheer wave of happiness it brings me to see her face again. In her hand is the note I had left her as I snuck away during the night. She lifts it up. “You really underestimate me. You really think my broken leg stops me from being an army-prodigy?” She gestures to her still-broken left leg. “I may not have your silly flame powers, but if I have my sword, nothing’s gonna stop me from killing the Black-Troops.” She glances at the purple life-blood of the Black-Troops she just struck down, a kind-of-scary smile on her face. Another thing I’ve gotten used to by now.
She turns and begins walking up the mountain, and I follow. “Not much longer now,” she says over her shoulder. I look up and see she’s right. With my vision now cleared, I can see that Dargom’s enormous castle looms nearer than ever before, at the peak. It really is almost over.
The trek to the top is uneventful, and quiet. I feel terrified at the fact that Paclumien’s fate now rests on my shoulders. Claire's face is, as usual, mostly devoid of emotion. But still, I can make out a trace of concern on her face. It makes me think about the nights we spent together around the fire as we made our way across the country. She had been so hostile, so bitter. I never gave up on her. And eventually, she opened up. Turns out, we both lost our family to Dargom, but she suffered much more emotionally. I wonder why. Though I’m never did manage to fully help her out of her... phase, I think our bond has helped her is some way.
I laugh. “Remember the time we first met?” I ask, trying to break the tension.
She keeps her eyes ahead, but a smirk flies across her face as she replies, “All too well, Ryan, all too well.”
“You almost killed me that day.”
“Well, when you're out in an unfamiliar and hostile wilderness, you can never tell who you can trust.”
“It is not hostile in Paylum. My country is not a place of violence. Is yours?” Then I remember. “Oh, wait... it actually is.”
“Milirome is a militant region, but I guess you can call it violent,” she retorts. There’s a silence between us for a minute. “I wouldn’t have killed you, I just wanted to... take your supplies.”
“Really? ‘Cause I still have the scar on my chest where you slashed me,” I smile.
She grins teasingly at me. “Sorry ‘bout that.” I wish this walk could just go on forever. Just me and her, talking casually as we trek up the path. I enjoy talking with her a lot. I wish this could last longer. But fate is cruel. Fate took my family from me. Fate put me, just an average fifteen-year-old, on this long lonely journey. Though, for the most-part, I wasn’t alone. It was two fifteen-year-olds. I realise that without my family, Claire is the only one I still hold on to. What will I do if fate takes her away too? I would be alone. My world would shatter like glass. I push the thought out of my head. Focus. You’re almost there. Almost there.
After about half an hour, we arrive before the castle. All is quiet. The castle itself is enormous, and it’s outer walls form a perfect square. The bricks that make it are large, and very dark colored. Just like anything related to Dargom. The castle has a dome at the top, thus, they can’t shoot any arrows. Not that they need them, or use them. My heart beats like the drums that my fellow villagers often play in the bands.
“Well?” Claire questions. “What now? Knock on the door like we’re stopping by for a leisurely visit to a friend?” Fortunately (or unfortunately), I don’t have to answer her question, as the giant metal gate of the fortress slowly begins to lower. My breaths and heartbeat quicken. I feel like the blood in my chest has turned to ice. Before I can stop myself, I quickly grab her hands in mine.
“Claire,” I stutter with haste. “If we don’t make it out, I-”
“Save it,” she cuts me off. “Focus on Dargom. I’ll take care of the rest.” She gives my hands a reassuring squeeze. “I know you can do it.” Her words send warmth through me, melting the ice in my chest. Then, she turns, and the gate hits the ground. Within, roughly two-hundred Black-Troops stand at ready.
Claire screams out a war cry, and charges into the castle, and chaos floods it. I know by now that I don’t have to worry about her. I take a deep breath. I feel completely numb. Paclumien’s last hope is me. Through all the fighting, a path seems to open up straight through the center. I walk through it, oblivious to the world around me. The castle is more like an arena, almost completely hollow. When I reach the end, I stop. There he is.
“Dargom.” He doesn’t reply. He’s humanoid, like a very well-built person seven feet high. He’s surrounded by a deep-violet ever-shifting fog, giving him the impression that he is in a purple flame. His figure is pitch black. His face is completely featureless except for two bright, white eyes. It seems as if all the hatred in the world are infused into those eyes. I stare straight into them. “Let’s end this.”
I lift my hands into the air and two radiant flames erupt from each, engulfing my hands from wrists-up. I bring back my right fist and the flame on it grows, and turns red. I let out a war cry that sounds exactly like the one that Claire used. I leap towards him send my fiery fist at him with all my might. He does the same, with his purple fog trailing behind him and his fist covered a black fog. My flame meets his fog, and the impact blows us both backwards in a smoky explosion. I fly across the arena into the wall and crumple on the floor, while he lands on his feet and flies, yes, flies towards me on his cloud. By the time I get up he’s already on top of me. I have to mimic his attacks like a mirror just to block each of them. Punch, kick, hook, jab, reverse kick, head, knee. After what feels like twenty minutes, I’m able to get into the flow of things, and speed up my movements. It’s hard, but now he has to block whatever I throw at him. His white eyes grow wide in frustration, and anger. When his movements begin to fall short of mine, I once again bring back my fist, ignite it, and send it straight into his face in another explosion of smoke. He zooms through the air like a rag-doll. The tables have turned. Once he bounces off the wall and hits the floor, I hastily extend my palm towards his limp body. I feel the energy leave my arm and bright red fireball bursts from my hands, consuming him and his fog in an inferno.
I collapse to my knees from exhaustion. I did it. I did it! Gasping, I turn to Claire, who give me an enormous grin, lost for words. The entire fleet of Black-Troops litter the floor around her. I’m about to speak something happens that makes the blood in body turn cold and makes my heart stop. Claire is jerked, like a puppet, through the air by a faint, black vapor. I watch in horror as it lifts her through the air and into the smoke where Dargom lies. Then the smoke clears away. No. This can’t be happening.
Claire stands before me, but her skin, hair, and clothes are all grey. Her eyes glow white with burning hatred. I’ve seen this before. Dargom is possessing Claire. She screams, and jumps at me, unable to feel what would be pain in her leg. I don’t even move. She sends a blow into my face, knocking me out of my stupor. Suddenly, I feel as if all the hatred in Dargom’s eyes have been shoved into me. He took my family. He will not take Claire. I release another war-cry as my entire body is engulfed dazzling, white flames. I remember now, how my father had told me to cure a possessed person.
“Sorry Claire,” I say. She leaps towards me again and I do the same. Just like when this fight started, we both bring our fists back. But this time, when they connect, she is blasted back in a blaze of white. While she’s on the ground, I pin her down and stare into her eyes. My mind enters a battle of wills, mine again Dargom’s. Light versus darkness. Through it all, I hear his voice.
“Just give up,” he says. “You will never be able to keep darkness away. It will always rise back up.”
“That may be true,” I reply. “But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to vanquish it for now.” With everything I have left in me, I force my will over his. An agonized screech escapes him as my will suffocates his. Dargom is gone. Forever.
When I wake up, Claire is no longer possessed. She’s free. And so is the world.
Time passes, and two weeks later, the world is rebuilding itself. People are laughing again. Without Dargom, all the Black-Troops have simply died, deactivated. The people are burning the bodies and melting the armor. All the armor in my village is gonna be melted and formed into a sphere. I’ve heard that they plan to roll in up Mount Minorus, and push it into the lava.
As of right now, I stand facing Claire. The horse that will bring her back to Milirome, who’s now made a peace treaty with Paylum, stands close, tied to a fence. She smiles grimly.
“Well, I guess this is goodbye,” she says sadly. My heart beats hard in my chest. I struggle to maintain a straight face.
“Yeah, I guess it is.” We stare at eachother for a few moments, waiting for the other to say something. Then, she turns around, unties and mounts her horse, and sets off, without looking back. My breathing quickens. I know she can be bitter. I know she can be mean. I know that when people see her, they see a hostile person, glad to kill for her country. But that’s not what I see. She’s brave, smart, and does what she knows is right. She’s amazing. I can’t lose her too. She’s the last person I still hold onto.
And it’s only now that I realise the feelings I have for her.
I start to walk. Then I break into a jog. Then a run. Then a desperate sprint. When she sees me, she stops and dismounts. A look of concern washes over her face. I stop in front of her.
“Ryan, is something wrong?” she asks worriedly.
“Claire,” I say, “Please.” Her eyes widen a bit with understanding. “Claire, I want you to stay. With me.”
She gazes straight into my eyes, with emotions I can’t make out.
After several moments I bring my face towards hers. But I’m stopped by a hand on my chest. My last desperate hopes hang by a thread as I stare at her downcast face.
“I’m sorry, Ryan,” she says. She looks up and her eyes meet mine. “I don’t have feelings for you.” I stand rooted to the spot as she rides away. Slowly, she disappears into the horizon.
The world shatters like glass.