Kingdom of Lorelia
A light wind took it upon itself to stroll on through the balcony doors. It was a mischievous wind, making knots in the bead strands framing the doorway and ruffling papers on the desk. From his seat, Lord Kaz looked up, a slight frown on his lips. He had an excellent view of his city; the quaint little homes, the sprawling marketplace, and the ever-ongoing wall that snaked around the city and kept it safe.
Shivering, Lord Kaz crossed the room to close the doors. Far from the castle keep, the jagged peaks of Earbelet stretched out like an endless set of claws. As he stared, losing himself in things that were to come, he didn’t hear the soft steps of two children sneaking up behind him.
“Found you, Lord Kaz!”
“Whoa, this is a surprise!”
Lord Kaz gathered up the two children—a pretty girl with mismatched eyes of blue and green and chestnut hair, and a boy with eyes of gold and brown with sunshine hair. Swinging them around until they all were dizzy, the three of them collapsed on the bed in laughter.
“I could have sworn I put the two of you to bed? Hmm? Noel, are you responsible for this?”
The girl shook her head, tossing her golden curls about. “Nu-uh! It was Vilhelm’s idea!”
Lord Kaz raised his eyebrows, smiling. “Oh ho? Well, now what am I going to do? It’s the middle of the night and I have two hyper children who are wide awake.”
“A story!” both children said in unison, “A story!”
Lord Kaz laughed. “Very well, then. What about, though?”
Vilhelm puffed out his chest. “A great monster who can make the bad guys go away!”
Noel shrieked. “No! How about a knight who saves a princess?”
Balking, Vilhelm gave Noel a light shove. “Ew, that’s a girly story!”
“Like yours is any better!”
Pulling them apart, Lord Kaz placed a kid on each knee. “Alright, this story is about a great being who can make all the bad people go away—”
“Hah!” Vilhelm stuck his tongue out at Noel.
“—but, he also saves the princess—”
“Hah, right back!” Noel stuck her tongue out.
“—Or the prince, whomever is in trouble. But, do you want to know a secret?” Both children looked to Lord Kaz with wide eyes. “This begin lives in this very castle. Far below the surface, slumbering until the time is right to call him.”
“Is he big and strong?” Vilhelm asked, voice low in awe. Lord Kaz nodded.
“Bigger than I and strong as the mountains.”
“Is he handsome and brave?” Noel asked. At her father’s nod, Noel shivered in excitement.
“How do you call it?”
But Lord Kaz shook his head. “You can only call him when you know you’re in danger, and that nothing else can save you.” Lord Kaz looked around, as if trying to see any eavesdroppers who might be hiding about. “In the throne room, stand in the center of the floor’s emblem. Then, when the future looks bleak, close your eyes and…”
~Eleven Years Later~
The sharp clang of steel brought Noel out of her memories. Rolling to the side, she dodged the next slash which landed right where her throat had been a scant second before. Running, she dashed between two more soldiers who slashed for her head.
“Get that bitch! Strike her dead if you have to, just take her out!”
An arrow whizzed by Noel’s ear, cutting a tiny slit into her lobe. The small cut felt like her ear had been cut off, but it didn’t stop the young woman from reaching her destination: the central throne room. Blood racing down her cheek, Noel pressed on. Almost there!
The room was mostly left untarnished by the chaos and war blustering around it, and it still had its door left intact. Closing it, Noel threw down the steel beam that locked out the bloodthirsty mod trailing her with weapons drawn. Not a moment later did the resounding clang! clang! clang! of weapons and the soldier’s angry shouts against the door ring out.
Noel backed up, her heart beating madly in her throat and her knees wobbly with a refusal to accept what was happening. In the center of the room, she collapsed, breath ragged and heaving.
“Why is this happening?” she cried to herself. She clutched at the gold coin pendant around her neck. “Vilhelm, where are you!”
It was louder than any cannon fire or ripe crack of magic in the air. What had happened? Were the men…gone? Uneasy, the young woman rose. She took a step towards the door. Before her disbelieving eyes, the heavy steel latch unbarred itself and stood upright like a soldier at attention.
“Vilhelm! Is that you?”
A bark-like grunt was her reply—deep and coarse. Noel knew that grunt, had heard it all of her life from watching her father’s soldier’s train out in the fields. Until the grunt’s owner had been exiled to the icy wastes of Neuge: Kessler Rosch, former Captain of the guard. And Noel’s uncle. Within the next second an alien sound rent the air and the thick steel doors flew towards Noel, landing with a thunderous crash just behind her in twisted, smoking heaps.
In all honesty, the young woman didn’t know whether to run to Kessler, or to back away from him. She never knew what he did to get exiled, but it must have been terrible. And, his appearance here in the midst of an all-out massacre… In her confusion, Noel stood there, silent.
“Noel, thank the heavens you’re alright!” Kessler rushed forward and took Noel into his arms, cradling her like his own child. “You’re bleeding. Dammit all!”
“Uncle Kessler,” Noel said, “What are you doing here?”
The look on Kessler’s face was incredulous. “What? Noel, now’s not the time for this!” He grabbed his niece’s upper arm, making her wince. “You need to come with me! Hurry!”
Panic rooted her to the spot. Noel wrenched herself free. “No!” For a brief moment, she saw a bitter anger flare in Kessler’s eyes. “I was told this was the only safe place when something like this would happen.”
“Gah, your father’s stupid tales,” Kessler snapped. “No, what you need to do is leave this place before you get killed!”
Noel narrowed her gaze. At the moment, it was too quiet to be dangerous. “I don’t think so, Uncle. It’s strange; you show up and everyone goes away. The fighting stops. And, what did you do to those doors? No, I’m staying here and calling the only thing that can really protect me.”
She turned her back on him and proceeded to walk to the room’s center. Clenching his fist, Kessler reached for his sword. Swinging it in a graceful arc, the man’s eyes, once blue, now gleamed with an insane two-toned hue of poison green.
“You’ve gone and made me angry, little Princess! Fall, just like that wretched Prince did!”
Noel turned just in time to see the blade’s tip zoom straight for her throat. It splashed her life’s blood across the floor like grotesque blossoms. At least, that’s what would have happened had a massive…thing not appeared before the girl just as the blade closed the gap. Noel heard the blade sink deep into flesh and bone; the sound made her stomach turn. Too nervous and stunned to look up, Noel only heard a voice.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” it exclaimed. It belonged to a man, and it seemed to be mocking Kessler. “What do you think you’re doing with that thing! You might hurt someone.”
Kessler growled, out of both shock and anger, but mostly from shock. He tried in vain to free his blade, but a black acidic substance oozed from the man’s torso and began to erode the blade. The hilt clattered to the floor while the blade’s tip jutted from the man like some horrific form of body art.
“Well,” the man shrugged. “Hurt someone else, besides me.”
“What the hell are you!”
Noel opened her eyes and saw nothing but a wall of blue—the man who protected her was huge! From where she stood, she figured she stood eye level with his ribcage. He towered over her by a foot, at least! She looked up and saw soft locks of light brown spilling down his back. Just then, the man looked over his shoulder at her.
“You alright, little miss?” Seeing her awestruck stare, the man gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. Your knight’s here to protect you.”
“No one’s protecting that little bitch,” Kessler hissed. “Make yourselves useful! Get them!”
With a snap of his fingers, a strange portal opened within the air and out jumped a number of soldiers and monstrous beasts. The tower of a man crouched into a fighting stance, hands up and ready to let them fly.
“Can you do anything to defend yourself, little miss?”
Though she knew he meant no offense at the honest question, Noel felt hot in the face. Sadly, though, she had lost her sack while escaping from the other soldiers. Shaking her head, the young woman retreated to give the large man some room. She took cover by the smoking forms that were once doors. Kessler snarled and readied his sword. His men closed in on the man, halfway encircling him with their array of separate weapons. Some had swords, some had guns, and others had odd gloves that crackled with deep hues of electricity. The beasts, on the other hand, made their way towards Noel. Their chaotic forms and jagged mouths would have given demons nightmares. Clouds of sickly black escaped from their nostrils as they charged.
The large man gave a toothy grin as he spun towards them. “I prefer it this way, anyway. Come on!”
With a single thrust of his flattened hand, he cut two beasts in twain. Blood sprayed the air as they turned to black mist. Turning, the man cast a quick glance just in time to catch the tail of another beast that had leapt over him in hopes of sinking its teeth into Noel. All the force of a lightning strike went into the man’s punch; the beast crackled and exploded into the same mist the others did.
All the while, Kessler’s men stood like stones, rendered dumb by what they saw: in the blink of an eye the man had destroyed three hellfiends with his bare hands! Upon seeing that same killing machine now charge them with a bloodlust glint in his eyes, half the men turned tail and ran, their still-clenched weapons all but forgotten.
“Bloody cowards! You three, take him!”
The remaining three men fanned out and circled the giant. One soldier—a woman adorned in reddish armor—slashed, cutting deep into her target’s left arm. Another—this one a tall, lean man clad in black—pulled his trigger, loosing a bluish spray of sparks and lead. The last—a man protected by a silver breastplate over deep green fatigues—closed in on the right, his gloves crackling with a mad shower of purple flashes that formed into fire and coated his arm.
In the next instant, the tower of a man seemed to be overwhelmed and screamed out. Thinking he had won, Kessler smiled. But it quickly turned into a snarl. The man, using some unseen power, blew the soldiers off. They flew in three different directions and their forms lay still amongst the rubble.
“Son of a bitch,” Kessler hissed under his breath.
Kessler was the only one standing now, and he knew for certain he couldn’t take on that massive beast on his own. Judging by the other man’s grin, he knew Kessler was quick work as well. And yet, the towering man saw something odd about the soldier before him; the way his eyes seemed to be there but not at the same time. Before he realized what was going on, Kessler vanished at the exact same time that Noel shrieked.
The larger man whirled around. As Noel saw his eyes narrow in anger, the young found herself restricted and a sharp pang at her throat.
“I dare you,” she said to Kessler, tone cold as ice. “Kill me and condemn this entire world to hell.”
But her uncle laughed. So much that his entire body shook, forcing the blade to create a thin red line across the girl’s throat.
“It won’t go to hell. I’ll be saving this world! And you’ll just be the first step!”
Kessler moved his blade and began to draw it across Noel’s pale neck.
In through the doors charged two men, each clad in midnight and moonshine armor. Each had a hand extended and pillars of fire erupted beneath Kessler’s feet, throwing him back and saving Noel’s life—but not before creating a small wound that would most likely scar. The two strangers took a place on either side of the towering man; though tall themselves, he still dwarfed them.
“Retrieve her, Gyula!” demanded the blonde knight.
Annoyed by the command, the brunette replied, “I’m already on it!” To staunch the feeble flow of blood, Gyula tore part of his coat’s hem and tied it around the woman’s throat. All the while, he never saw the smoking form rise back to its feet.
“Watch out!” warned the dark-haired stranger, “He’s preparing to strike!”
“I WILL SEE HER DEAD IF IT KILLS ME!” Kessler abandoned his sword and growled deep; it was sound no human could ever hope to make. “AND I’M TAKING YOU ALL ALONG FOR THE RIDE!”
His face half gone from the fire, Kessler held his hand to cover his deformity. With his other, he threw a shroud of black mist around the four—Gyula, Noel, and the twin strangers. Madness making up for lack of other resources, the soldier ran for the throne room’s balcony. And though they fought against it with all their combined strength, the black mist hauled Noel and the others along like they were limp ragdolls.
A sudden flash blinded Gyula and Noel. Sounds of tearing cloth and shattering glass deafened their ears. And a vile scream cursing them to hell was all that echoed within their minds. When sight and sound returned, they found themselves stopped. Instead of falling to the chaos of civil war below, the pair found themselves hovering in midair. Gyula seemed fine with the predicament, but Noel shrieked, fighting against the black-haired knight who held her close. Six wings jutted from his back—his brother’s, as well—each one an opalescent hue, like crystals.
“Shanoa!” she shrieked, panic-stricken. “Put me down! Put me down!”
Yet Noel immediately rethought her words as the man’s grip loosened and she found herself dangling two hundred feet in the air. She clambered back up into his arms, eventually settling by being held like a newlywed bride. Her face flushed and she could see a tiny splash of pink on her holder’s cheeks as well.
“We are not Shanoa,” the man stammered. “You can rest your fears. We are here to help you.”
“Yeah,” Gyula sneered to the blonde. “Seven hundred years is a little long to wait, though, isn’t it?”
The knight remained silent. Flicking his head, he and his brother took off. To the warring individuals below, they appeared to be invisible. Noel could see Kessler’s bloodied form on the ground below, encircled by a number of his soldiers who weren’t killing innocents. Their eyes combed the skies but didn’t appear to see the four people flying in what the woman supposed was plain sight.
“We are invisible,” the black-haired man confirmed. “But it won’t last long.”
“Gyula, you’re heavy,” complained the blonde.
The brunette scoffed. “I can’t fly! It’s not like I can carry you!”
Mouth curling into a grimace, the blonde murmured, “That’s not what I meant.”
As the two winged men flew beyond the walls of the kingdom, they settled down within the thicket of the surrounding Earbelet Mountains. Gyula placed himself immediately at Noel’s side. Just in time, too, as she lost her will to keep standing. Silent tears ran down her cheeks, platting on the ground and creating tiny darkened spots.
“Your Majesty,” the blonde began. Noel’s gaze shot up; she looked horrified.
“How did you know?” she stammered. “Who are you two?” Looking to Gyula, she asked him the same thing. But he just scratched the back of his head, seeming unable to come out with a proper response.
“’Majesty’?” Gyula questioned. He looked to the young woman’s face; she had pretty golden eyes, one noticeably a darker shade than the other even with the slightest of glances. His own gaze went back to the knights. “What are you talking about? She’s a Guardian.”
The knights looked to one another. “She looks it, yes,” replied the dark-haired man. “But, we can say no more without risking further damage here. We need to get back.”
Gyula raised an eyebrow. “You two need to jump again?”
The knights nodded. “We’ve overstayed our welcome here.”
Unable to take them avoiding her question any longer, the young woman pushed away and gave the trio a stern and serious look.
“I appreciate what you all have done for me, but… I need to go back. I need to find—”
“He won’t be there, Majesty,” hummed the blonde knight.
Noel stared. Of all the nerve; who did that guy think he was? For once that day, Noel decided to go against the words of strangers. She turned on her heel and began to walk. Acting on strange advice had already gotten her in trouble—had gotten her home blown away, in fact! And countless people slain… The lady shook her head as she went. Head down, eyes to the ground, Noel never saw the dark knight appear in front of her from his spot more than twenty feet away. Noel walked right into him—though, it felt more like colliding with a steel wall than a man. A man who could sprout wings…
“What do you want from me!” she demanded, shoving him back a step.
“For you to listen to us instead of to your heart. We can’t let you go back.”
“Just try and stop me,” the girl spat back. Since these guys wouldn’t respond well enough to kindness, the lady decided to get rough and volatile. Her home was in danger, and she had to find the one person who could help make things right. Meaning to push past the knight and continue on her way, the young woman stopped dead in her tracks. Looking back with a fright, she stared wide-eyed at the knight. “What did you say?”
His mouth was a thin grim line. “I said he’s already dead.”
“W-what?” She looked to the blonde and then to Gyula.
“Hey,” he quickly replied, throwing his hands up. “I’m still groggy. No clue what they’re talking about, little miss.”
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air. None seemed willing to break it for fear of repercussions. Yet Noel found what she had heard to be too ludicrous to accept as the truth.
“You’re joking,” managed to slip out of her mouth. She wanted so very much to believe in those words, but as she looked at the bloodied coin the blonde knight withdrew from his pocket, Noel screamed.
“We are sorry, Noel,” the dark knight began.
“No! You’re lying! I don’t believe you!”
“Why? Why should I?” the young lady screamed, biting back far harsher remarks and a river of tears that fought back with the strength of the ocean.
Everything was crashing onto her psyche at that moment—her father’s death, the raid, the villagers’ deaths, Kessler’s betrayal. And now this…this mess that was obviously just a failed joke about the only man who could help her.
“I have no reason to trust you! None of you! For all I know, that could just be some vile attempt to steer me into harm’s way!”
Gyula approached to console the girl but she shoved his hand away. Looking like he had been rejected for something far more important, the man stood there. The other knight approached.
“Please, Majesty,” he begged. “Just trust us and do as we say.”
“Then tell me who you are! I don’t have any reason to trust you unless you tell me something, at least!”
The blonde quirked his bottom lip. He looked to his brother. “Isn’t there anything we can do?”
The dark knight shook his head. “There were no specifics. We must do what must be done.”
“I…guess it won’t do any more harm than we’ve already done, eh?”
The dark-haired man gave a disgruntled sigh. “I hope not.” He reached up and removed his helmet, his brother mimicking the action.
The second the fading sunlight filled the dark knight’s shadowed form with color, Noel felt like her soul had been crushed beneath the very mountains themselves. The man boasted a beautiful but fire-scarred face, and emerald eyes that swam with shadows of dark things never to be spoken of.
Standing before her was the very man she personally held responsible for the war that had destroyed her home.
“You,” she managed, “You’re Cael of Madoa… You killed Vilhelm, didn’t you!? You monster!”
Launching herself forward, Noel intended to rip Cael’s throat out. But a strong grip seizing her wrists halted any thought of such violence. She wriggled like a worm on a hook against Gyula, regardless of the fact she knew she couldn’t get free. So, instead, she slumped to the ground, sobbing. Her hopes of the joke washed away in her tears; she knew it wasn’t a lie now. And though the man she claimed to be Cael didn’t deny the accusation, he didn’t confirm it either.
“I was him,” he began. “And, for the next year, I will still be him. But now, my name is Viktor. I am Cael’s past, and his future.”
Noel choked as the man she had called Cael placed the bloodied coin into her shaking hands. His words registered, but they were far outweighed by the grief filling her heart. The coin was small and etched with tribal designs native to the Su’tehk warriors of the east. It had matched the one dangling around her own neck; a matching birthday gift for her and her betrothed back when they were just children.
“I did kill him, Noel,” Viktor replied. “I am sorry.” However emotionless his tone had been, that simple phrase carried with it tomes of sympathy. Enough that Noel swallowed her sorrow and rose to her feet.
“I think I understand, now,” she said. Her eyes were distant, but her mind was still very much there. “You two are time travelers. I have no right to be mad at you. But…” She searched within for the proper way to voice her thoughts. “But why is this happening? I can’t believe it.”
“Believe it, alright,” replied the blonde. “I’m Xander, by the way.” Small scars lined his young and handsome face, surrounded by a matching patch of burned flesh that snaked from his cheek up to his forehead. His was the face of a well-travelled warrior. And its physical features, aside from the eyes, were shared with Viktor; they were twins.
“I’m lost in the dark, too,” Gyula chirped, “But these two know what they’re talking about. And for the record, they’re the ones who sealed me away at the end of the Loita Raza.”
Noel repeated Gyula’s last two words with a childlike fragility in her voice. Her eyes then rolled up in her head and she fell to the ground, unconscious. In the background, the sounds of gunfire and magic waged on, lessened only a little from when Noel was within the castle. Viktor and Xander returned their helmets and snapped the visors up for a moment.
“I think that was a little too much for her, Gyula,” Xander mused.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I figured I should tell her now when she’s kinda out of it, you know?”
“Crude but effective,” Viktor replied.
“Do you have a plan?”
Gyula stared, but then grinned. “Not a clue. If she’s not a Guardian, then hers is out there somewhere and they need to be found.” He gathered Noel up and cradled like a mother would a slumbering infant. “Just tell me name and I’ll go from there.”
At the silence he received, Gyula became suspicious. Reality then dawned. “Oh no, it wasn’t… Was it?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Bhujerda,” Viktor replied. “Two weeks ago. This girl truly is the last hope for this world. She’s all alone.”
Gyula grimaced. Gritting his teeth, he gave Noel’s pretty face a hard look. Pale skin, pink cheeks and lips…She was just a child. Yet, when he had looked into those golden eyes not even moments ago, they swam with the knowledge and sacrifice of a Sage. This girl had already had a hard life, and now this was being thrown at her? No. Gyula wouldn’t stand for an explanation like that! Not in a million years.
“I don’t buy it,” he whispered down to her. “You’re not alone.”
“Hm?” Viktor looked up.
“I said I don’t buy it,” the brunette repeated. His casual tone from before turned dark, stoic. “She isn’t alone. She’s got me to keep her safe. Hell, if not for her calling me, I’d still be trapped in that damn stone.”
Xander shook his head. He took a step towards the towering man. “Don’t speak like that, you idiot.”
At the glare he received, the blonde stepped back to his previous spot. Those blue eyes glowered with a hateful resolve.
“Don’t you tell me what to do,” Gyula hissed. “I’ve been called—BY her—to keep her safe when nothing else could! This can only mean one thing.”
“I’ll become her Guardian in the other’s stead. I’ll keep her safe and make sure her journey is completed!”
His warnings proving useless, all Xander could do now was watch as a bright flash surrounded the left wrists of both Gyula and Noel. Within seconds the light dimmed, replaced by three thin bands, each glowing a pale blue. The bands spun faster and faster, until the blue light bathed both of their bodies completely. When it faded, a black mark resembling two crossed squares had been branded onto the pair’s forearms.
“Dammit,” Viktor cursed. “This will complicate things.”
Gyula looked the mark over, not fully believing it to be real. Picking Noel’s slender arm up, he looked her mark over as well. They matched. In his eyes now rested a fierce determination, an unwavering will to do what he had said he would. But, he met the angered looks of the twin knights. Towering over them though he did, he felt quite small at that moment. He squared his shoulders.
“I’ll keep her safe,” he repeated. “Trust me. Her knight will always be by her side. I promise. Besides,”he added, smirking. “If not, you two will be the first to know, won’t you?”
Viktor was silent; Xander, however, smiled. “Do what you can. You just changed the future. Head northeast from here.”
“What! He just screwed everything up, so telling him where to start can’t hurt anything!”
“Hey, argue with yourselves on your own time. You have control over it all, don’t you? This thing is a ticking time bomb,” Gyula remarked about his and Noel’s new pact symbols. “Take care of yourselves. Be seeing you.”
Without a word more, the tower of a man turned and began his perilous trek into the snow-covered peaks. His destination was unknown, but he would head in the direction the brothers had said. Silent as death, Viktor and Xander watched him leave. As Gyula vanished within the thicket, three streaks of white carved their ways across the darkening sky. The twins looked to one another.
“And so,” Xander chuckled, “It begins. With one or two things changed up a little bit.”
“Indeed,” Viktor sighed. “Thanks to your big mouth.”
“Hey. You gotta love me, though.”
Viktor remained silent. Snapping his fingers, a rift opened in midair in between the siblings. Wasting no time, they both entered and were gone without a sound.
© Copyright 2017 JD Ledger. All rights reserved.
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