Part Three of Four. Enjoy!
Stay Close, Don't Go
By Esther A.
I thought I had woken up in the same place again, in the same old worn down house with my little brother slapping his cold hand against my cheek. Little, immature Mallius who was twenty-years-old, six feet in height and broad-shouldered. He was more of a boy who played with hearts instead of toys. Maybe he thought hearts were toys. Metaphorically, of course. I would be terrified in the case he played with hearts in the literal sense.
My brows were furrowed as I ran a hand through my bleached hair, wondering where the hell I was. Commander? Oh, right. This was reality, wasn’t it? My little brother was long dead. I was the commander of the Royal Army of Frearie which had lost a majority of its territory to the Demons four years ago. Elven and Witches, alongside other species, were forced underground into an old cavern system as the Demons had taken over the land, including the palace.
The skinless flesh of my knuckles symbolized my regrets. Had I forgotten to dress my wounds last night? Had anything changed at all? Were we still to follow through with the plan and exit the safety of the cavern system? Did I really have to lead them? Why was I here again? Why was Mallius not in this position? There was only one answer to every question and the answer was this. Because I killed Mallius. I may not have done so directly, but I ultimately caused his death with irrational decisions that would put his life at risk.
I put everyone’s lives at risk, don’t I? My only goal is to ensure the kingdom returns to the hands of the Elven kind. For this, I sacrifice the lives of my men and throw away my humanity. I have the heart of a Demon that’s been locked in its cage for too long. I just want to be free from my duty. I just want to be free from this place.
I seemed to have momentarily forgotten about the soldier who stood by the doorway. I turned my head to him and raised an eyebrow as if to question him about why he was here. What was so urgent that he needed to barge into my quarters at five in the morning?
“What is it. Could you not have waited for me to come prepared to the conference room before you spouted your news?” The words I spat were stronger than I had anticipated. The soldier bowed his head apologetically, but he didn’t leave.
“I’m sorry, sir, but it’s important! Someone from the elite squad has gone missing!” I was silent as I slipped out of bed. I felt quite exposed in front of a soldier like this, still groggy with sleep, only with a pair of trousers on and my silver cross chained around my neck.
But… The elite squad? That was the group of soldiers who worked under me specifically and had a higher status than that of the other recruits. They were handpicked by me and sent off on special missions that the others weren’t qualified for. Just two days ago, Cory Sun-Jin and Akiria Saito headed off to the Outlands to acquire information from the Demons. They were the top spies, after all.
Correction. Akiria was the top spy. She worked efficiently and most of the time, independently. She was strong and fearless like thunder but had the stealth of the wind. Her hair was the navy dusk and her eyes were the crystalline seas. There was always something about her sharp and icy gaze and her cherry lips that got to me. I always kept my eye on her, but it was only because she was useful to the army. Not because I longed for her to be in my arms or anything like that.
My elites and I were close. We knew each other like we knew the backs of our hands and Akiria and I were no different. However, she acted like I was more to her than just her superior. To Akiria, I wasn’t just the Commander of the royal army. Perhaps I was a friend. For this, I wanted to protect her.
I sent Cory on the mission with Akiria just so he could keep an eye on her for me. Plus, Cory had better hearing considering he was a Qilin and human hybrid. The two of them were expected to be back by this morning, but it seems like Akiria came back without her comrade. The soldier at the door furrowed his brows and looked away, but I prompted him to break the news with a snap of my fingers.
“Akiria Saito has been taken captive by the Demons.”
What? My eye twitched with the anger that festered within me. It didn’t even have time to boil, it had just appeared. I wasn’t emotionally ready for this. I thought Akiria would have gotten the job done with Cory by her side but what I had anticipated was not the result. I should have gone with Akiria myself. Why didn’t I, though? I was afraid of failure and losing yet another person I loved.
This was how I lost Mallius, after all. I sent him away to the Outlands behind the kingdom’s back so he would be able to obtain information about Demon war strategies. He gained the trust of a princess by charming her but never made it back before he was brutally assassinated. By who? The princess, of course. Amelia Masdurett has been at my tail since. She cursed me for sending her a man who she would love, then tearing him away from her grasp.
It was my fault. I was the one who gave him orders despite the risks it would impose. I was his older brother. His only family who loved him to the moon and back and even further, but in the end, I was the one who killed him.
I clenched my teeth and fists. “I am going to shove Sun-Jin into the Brazen Bull and roast him alive.”
The soldier looked mortified. He backed away, not daring to challenge the Commander, but he glanced at me in the eye either way and dipped his head in apology again.
“That wouldn’t be wise, Commander. I’m sorry. The Captain’s reaction would not be pleasant…”
He was right. Captain Anna Marie Rosa Lelianna Prima Belle, commonly known as Captain A, (who named her, and what drugs were they on?) was a no-nonsense woman who didn't believe in free time. She seemed more like a Commander than me, honestly. The last time she confronted me wasn’t pretty.
Although I was the Commander, I still had orders to follow. I had to recruit civilians so the people of Frearie would have enough of an army to take action against the Demons. I ended up minorly wounding one of my soldiers out of anger. Once the Captain found out, I had to try and argue my way out of it but she was utterly disappointed. Needless to say, I was slapped across the face by the strongest woman in Frearie in front of Akiria.
Since I was unable to physically harm anyone else, I had to take action myself. Anna would disapprove but I didn’t care. I had nothing left to lose. I thanked the soldier and asked him to leave before I got dressed and slung my katana over my shoulder with its holster. I realized I had forgotten about my eyepatch only after I hopped on my horse.
Well, it didn’t matter. I let my hair fall over my face in ivory wisps, cascading over the four and a half inch scar that stretched over my eye and down my right cheek.
Getting to the palace from the cavern system was a trip that took an entire day on horseback. I was alone with nothing but my sword, and my strength which took the form of luminescent wings behind me when I needed it. As the stone-walled palace fell into my line of sight, I held my breath in anticipation. If I knew anything about the Demons previously, I would know that they’d be expecting someone to retrieve Akiria.
I bet they didn’t know it would be the Commander himself.
I was being stupid. I came alone with no backup plan. I just wanted to get Akiria back. I wanted to avenge Mallius but my desire wasn’t strong enough to act upon. I haven’t stepped on the palace grounds for four long years. Since then, the flowers have wilted and the sod was dried and cracked as if a drought had run its course.
I heard a sigh from behind me before a flurry of black feathers passed in front. There was only one Demon I knew with the wings of a crow, and that was Amelia Masdurett.
“I never knew the Commander of such a headstrong nation could be so, so stupid,” she drawled, twirling a lock of auburn hair around her finger. “Akiria is safe within my grasp, you vile man. Seeing as you have come alone and so quickly at that, Akiria seems to be one special Elf!”
Slowly drawing my sword from its holster, I growled. I wasn’t about to take any of her crap. Amelia seemed to have anticipated this, however, and remained sturdy in her position, holding a hand out to halt me.
“You will be wasting your strength, Vaxas. Drop your sword or your woman is as good as dead.”
My woman? It wasn’t anything like that. Maybe somewhere in my heart… I wished it was. But I didn’t wish for Akiria to be harmed. No matter how much I wanted to slit this Demon’s throat, I couldn’t if I wanted my subordinate to be spared. I tossed my sword to the ground, allowing it to clatter at Amelia’s feet. She simpered, raising a hand as if to notify her guards that I had admitted defeat.
I didn’t admit defeat. There weren’t any guards.
Not until I realized the air around me was wavering, allowing them to appear from behind some sort of invisible wall that I hadn’t taken notice of. Being blinded by rage and desire was my mistake. They came in a hoard, binding my limbs together and kicking me to my knees. Amelia kneeled, lifting my head with a finger under my chin before standing and shoving her six inch stiletto heel into my incapacitated eye.
As if on cue, the guards dragged a semi-conscious body out from behind the wall which was indiscernible from my surroundings.
They brought Akiria in front of me, forcing her to kneel as well. The marks on her porcelain skin showed signs of abuse. Strands of hair came loose from her ponytail, and her tired blue eyes... They bore into me. For the first time since Mallius was killed, I've been broken.
Amelia strutted up behind Akiria, yanking her head back by her hair as she smiled sinisterly. Oh, Akiria must hate me. If she didn’t work for me, this wouldn’t have happened. Just at the sight of her, tears began to bite my eyes. I opened my mouth and I wanted to say something but nothing would come out. I writhed in my restraints despite knowing I wouldn’t be able to get free. If only I could hold her. If only I could save her.
“What are your last words to her, Vaxas Tavrinth?” Amelia inquired. What a conceited tone she used. I’ll kill her later.
I simply scowled at the Demon princess. I knew I’d regret it later but it didn’t matter. Anger numbed all my other emotions. I turned to Akiria and her battered face, gaze softening. She listened and didn’t say a word.
“Hang in there, Akiria. I promised you. You promised me. We’d take ‘em down together.” My breath hitched. “You’d do it for Eiya. I’d do it for Mallius. We’d fight ‘em together.”
She nodded slowly, but there was something about her eyes that seemed lifeless. Undetermined. She had already lost hope. She had already given up. She had already accepted her fate. Amelia clicked her tongue and shook her head, as if she was disappointed in the conversation that had incurred between the two Elves.
A small nod of the head tells the demon behind me what to do. He takes a handful of my hair, gripping hard enough to tear it off. My eye was forced to feast upon the imagery. God, I wanted to look away.
Amelia drew her blade across Akiria's throat, and I hated myself even more from that moment. I tried to cry her name, but I cried tears. I watched as her life bled out in crimson streams. I watched her blue eyes close forever. The force binding her hands together come loose and Amelia releases her, allowing Akiria’s body to fall as lifeless as her eyes to the ground while the princess stepped back to boast about her victory to her comrades.
I was released, but still surrounded. There was nothing I could do to get myself out of this situation. Maybe I just didn’t want to do anything. On all fours, I crawled over to the corpse and held her in my arms.
Amelia cackled as words began to sprout from between my lips.
“IloveyouI’msorrypleaseforgiveme… Icamebecause— Because I… I didn’t want to lose you. Akiria! Listen! I love you! Pleasecomebacktome...”
I continued to cry and I would have gone on forever if something hadn’t struck my cheek just then. The sting lingered and I was about to turn to face Akiria before I realized… she was no longer there.
“Dammit, Vaxas! When I ask you to go to sleep, you stay up for ‘nother eight hours. When I ask you to wake up, you’re sleepin’ like a corpse. Wake up! We’re meeting Akiria at the subway station in five minutes!”
The light was blinding even behind my eyelids. I reached out to swat away whatever had been in my face, only to find that it had been a long black ponytail when I finally decided to open my eyes. Frearie was gone. Mallius was here. I decided to put off the dream I just had... if it was even a dream. I couldn’t differentiate fantasy from reality anymore, especially if I kept waking up in different places, drifting between two worlds.
I let out a groan, watching Mallius as he rolled his eyes at me and tugged roughly on my arm.
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already, dude.” My little brother turned to leave the room but lingered in the doorway. He probably wanted to make sure I had actually gotten myself out of bed.
“Wha— Akiria? Black haired, blue-eyed Akiria? She styles her hair like yours but it looks far better on her, right?” I inquired with some degree of bewilderment in my groggy morning voice.
“Piss off,” Mallius drawled. “But yeah, how d’you know? You clairvoyant or somethin’?”
“What? No, just a dream.”
“Huh. By the way, yesterday I told her you two’d be meetin’ and she’s kinda interested in you. She was wonderin’ why we had such weird names. Somethin’ right out of Game of Thrones, she said.”
“What’d you say to her?”
“I said dad was drunk when he named us.”