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John sprinted down the chaotic street, passing men, women, and children, all running toward the castle wall behind him. Fires were erupting everywhere he looked, illuminating the night with both beauty and destruction. The enemy troops were obviously closing in fast. He could hear screams of unlucky citizens who weren’t fast enough getting away from their homes. He didn’t have much time. He began to feel apprehensive as the crowd began to thin and he was more exposed. It was not long before he was running down an empty street.
The main street that led directly from the castle to the Great Road was mostly up in flame in front of him, but before he reached them, John took a sharp right and kept running without breaking stride. He knew from the lack of flames that this street was safe. He could see one or two stragglers ransacking their house, looking for anything that could be salvaged and safely carried.
Once he reached his own home, John dove inside and called out, “Morgan! Stacey!” He called out,and when he heard someone call back from upstairs, he took for the stairs. Diving through the halls checking each of the three rooms as he went, John eventually found them in the room at the end. As he entered he found his five year old daughter sitting upright on the bed, her wide blue eyes showing the fear that he felt, but could not show.
“Where’s mommy?” he asked, his voice quivering slightly.
“I’m here.” His wife said, running out from the closet.
“Morgan.” He whispered as they embraced for a second, knowing the urgency with which they have to leave. He couldn’t help but notice her face, the only fear that showed was the glossiness in her eyes, but every other feature of her bestowed confidence. She is much stronger than me. John thought to himself as they made their way silently down the stairs. As the got to the front door, Stacey began to sob and stopped at the threshold, refusing to take another step.
Knowing time was short, John decided to skip the argument and walked back and picked Stacey up. She kicked and screamed and hit, but John never slowed.
Suddenly Morgan stopped dead in her tracks and John had to sidestep to avoid crashing into her. “What —” but then John saw why she had stopped. The fires were starting up on the main road and making their way toward them. Black silhouettes that looked like ants in the distance could be seen carrying torches and weapons.
Without speaking John grabbed Morgan and turned her around. Night’s darkness hid them from view, but they had to quickly get to the castle walls before the enemy troops cut them off. John knew the area very well so he knew that a secondary road ran adjacent to the Great Road, straight to the castle.
Moving as silently as possible, John led them through the abandoned suburb. The sound of sobbing began to echo through the street and to their terror, they found out it was their daughter. They decided not to address it; they just wanted to get the street before she began to cry again.
In his haste, however, John missed the orange glow of a lit torch sliding across the street that he was aiming toward, and he almost crashed into the soldier that held it. The enemy soldier instinctively unsheathed his sword and pointed it straight at John. He called out, without looking away, in a language John did not understand. John’s heart dropped as he saw about ten more torches make their way quickly toward them. By the sound of hooves in the darkness, John could tell the one man without a torch was mounted, obviously the captain of a scouting party, ordered not to burn the houses so they can keep the secrecy of their position. John cursed at himself for his stupidity.
Stacey turned around for the first time and whimpered when she saw the sword. She flailed silently as he began to set her down, terrified of anything but the reassuring safety of her father’s arms. John set her on the ground while she clung to his leg and Morgan silently walked over to pick her up. John looked back and saw that the entire scouting party was now forming a semi-circle around them. The mounted soldier broke through the line of soldiers and looked amused at the sight of three commoners. John curiously watched one of the torches in the back go out, but nobody else seemed to notice.
“You are now prisoners of the mighty Pylonos,” The man on the horse began, “and as such you have two options. You will be taken before the great general and you will either swear loyalty to him, or be put to death in the most brutal and painful of ways.” John flinched as memories of the screams of men in the death wards during his military captivity and knew that whatever they did, it wasn’t quick. “Men, if any of them run—” he never finished though as one of the soldiers yelled from the back and a dark figure sprang from behind the men and knocked the captain off his horses. John drew his sword as the two men grappled and struck out at the man that had his sword pointed at him. Surprised at the quickness of his movements, the man flinched and John’s sword passed through space in between the man’s helmet and breastplate like butter. The dark figure stood up from the captain’s corpse to face the seven remaining men. All seven had already unsheathed their swords and took a defensive stance, their gazes passing between John and the man in black. John couldn’t help but notice the man only held two knives, but stood confidently against this seemingly impossible situation. What an idiot. As if on an unheard command, the seven men charged and the scene turned into a barrage of swords and armor.
John struck out blindly, hitting two guards before they even reached him, but as they got closer, he was only able to back up and parry off the blows. He was without armor, so he had to be extremely careful to not get hit at all. As he parried the umpteenth sword away, he heard a scream from behind him. Turning around and running for his wife he saw that one of the soldiers had made way past them to his wife, he was grabbing at her and she hit him weakly. When he got there he decapitated the man with a swift sure stroke.
That’s when he froze.
Unable to move, John looked down for the source of his paralysis and found the tip of a sword poking out the front of his white tunic, now stained red. The tip was only there for a split-second before it retreated and John fell forward in a cloud of dust. More screams and wails came from his wife and daughter, but he couldn’t see what the source was. It didn’t matter anyways, he had lost. His family would be taken and tortured to their deaths or would have to join the mistresses of the great general. I can only hope for the latter, he thought to himself, but Morgan’s too strong. Maybe Stacey. Maybe. That’s when he felt weightless and knew that death had finally come.
But instead he saw a man in a black mask holding him up. A surge of reassurance raced through him. The masked man killed all the enemy guards! “Morgan?” John was too weak to say anything else.
“She and your daughter are alright, if not a little traumatized. There was a support patrol that saw the fighting, their taking them to the castle as we speak.” The voice of the masked man sounded young. How did he know who John was talking about?
“Thank you… stranger.” The masked man shook his head.
“I’m no stranger.” John watched in amazement as the man peeled off his mask.
“I’m so sorry father.”
“Don’t be…. They surprised us… and—”
“No, not for that, for everything else.” A tear was seen traveling down his face. “For the fights, for the disrespect, for the trouble I got into.” John began to cry now too; remembering his son’s last words as he stormed out of their house. “For everything I said, everything I did. I tried to apologize before. I just didn’t know if you hated me… I hated me.”
“No son, I… could never hate you.” David began to smile.
“Do you remember what you told me, the day you took me out and showed me how to use a sword? About which war was the important one?” David’s face lit up like he was the ten year old holding his first again, just like that night.
“The war… within yourself.”
“And I made you a promise? I said ‘I promise you, dad, I won’t lose that war,’ you remember that dad?” John’s eyes were lifeless, his breathing stopped. There was no answer. David’s tears became uncontrollable, his voice cracked at times. “That moment two years ago, I lost that war. You remember what I said dad?” No response. “I said I would never come back, I said I would show you how you were wrong, and, most of all,” David’s cry’s turned into sobs, “I said I didn’t love you… remember, dad?” the image of his crying mother and terrified sister as he slammed the front door so that it broke, the way he walked into the street, out into the world, never turning back. “I lied.” He was whispering now. He knew his father was dead, but he couldn’t let him go. “I promise you, father, I will take care of mother and Stacey. I promise you father, I won’t let you down this time. I’m stronger now.” His sobs began to soften. “I love you, dad. I had a hard time showing it, but I always loved you.” David gazed at the lifeless eyes staring back at him, and he closed them.
Almost a minute later a man walked up behind him and waited as David rose to his feet. The light of dawn left a purplish haze on everything; the fires in the suburbs had been burned out except for a few that still burned, now no bigger than campfires. The enemy had been pushed back and defeated. David reapplied his mask to cover the tears and began to march briskly to the castle, the soldier falling into step behind him.
“Are you going to tell them it was you?”
“No, they can’t find out, ever.” David had regained control of his voice, so it didn’t crack. “They wouldn’t be pleased to see me anyway.”
“They might find out eventually.”
“No Jeff, they must never find out. I’m dead to them.”
“They need you now, David. With your father gone—”
“I will be there, Jeff, but they will never know it. I will be watching, protecting. I made a promise.” This one, I won’t break.