The rage. The fear. The feeling of helplessness that had haunted me mere moments before. None of it mattered now. It was relegated to the back of my mind. All that mattered was the breath of the Princess against my ear and the feeling of Rionna in my hand. Nothing else existed. Nothing else could exist. For this was the fight of my life.
I was weak, battered and bruised. Elora and I had expended nearly all of our Aurum. To use the tiny sliver that remained would mean our separation. Our Gifts of Healing, Thought and Strength were no longer an option. I had to rely on my wits, the natural enhancements that came with Bonding and my own experiences to see me through.
Craven stood before me, wreathed in his corrupted flame. His arms were spread delicately, palms facing upwards and aimed towards the night sky above. I could feel, rather than see, the blighted scar he called a smile. He was enjoying this. Even with the Forging of my Weapon he believed that he had already won.
He wanted me to attack him, to give into my emotions and strike foolishly as I had done before. But that tactic wouldn't work now. Maybe if I had significant stores of Aurum I could afford to take risks, but that time had come and gone. Every movement had to be careful, every strike calculated. If I missed or failed to defend even once, I would fall before him and Elora would be taken from me.
My grip tightened around Rionna's hilt, the smooth warmth comforting me, and I took a long breath. Exhaling, I watched the shifting edges of my new sword move in hypnotic patterns.
Rionna was not typically what I would consider my kind of weapon. Her length reminded me of Dumas' bastard but that was where the similarities ended. Her hilt was slightly longer, almost to the point of being the grip of a two handed sword. The metal of the hilt was in a state of constant flux, a shimmering sea of silver that rippled under the touch of my fingers. There was no guard between the hilt and the blade, instead the Elements seemed to constantly clash against each other. Silver tracks ran a few inches into the darkness before being pushed back by a wave of semi-corporeal black. It was a war, endless and without reason. At least, not one that I would ever be able to understand.
The lack of a guard made me nervous in more ways than one. I worried for my grip on the hilt and for the efficiency of any defensive techniques I knew which required the use of a cross-guard, but those worries faded almost instantly. Elora had crafted this Weapon for me and that was enough. If I had proven anything over the past few weeks it was that I was pretty damn adaptable.
I settled into a stance, my feet sliding across the wet grass. The rain that had been falling during our attack of Dunwellen had picked up and it fell heavily across my shoulders. I felt the shiver in the air and knew a storm was approaching. The sizzle of the rains hitting the walls of flame that enclosed us was all encompassing. I caught sight of the flashing stars that brightened and dimmed seemingly at random within the black, void-like blade of my Weapon. The more I stared the more my confidence grew. With a sword like this I wouldn't lose. I couldn't lose.
Rionna felt my conviction and the wisp like edges of my Weapon suddenly sharpened and solidified, gaining form and causing a comfortable weight to settle in my palm. I grinned at the mad man standing before me. He was nothing, just a broken creature who needed to be put down for the sake of all. Every breath he took was an insult to those members of the Band who had lost their lives for my sake.
It seemed strange in a way. Elora and I first Bonded because of Craven and now here we are again, reinforcing our Bond through our Weapon's forging because of his machinations. It must frustrate him to no end, knowing that he was reason we were pushed together in the first place.
“You seem to hesitate, peasant,” Craven spoke, his words calm and considered, “Do you finally realise how futile it is? You may have a Weapon, but you are without Aurum or Armour. You have no way to win this fight.”
“I disagree,” I said, my smile not faltering a bit at his bold words, “I don't think I can lose this fight, Craven. Even if I tried.”
“Craven,” The yellow Knight spoke the name out from between clenched teeth, “You call me a coward and yet know nothing. I am a god, whelp. Refined and blessed beyond measure. I am the true evolution of Knighthood. You are shit beneath my heel, a measly little commoner who lucked into a Bond with the Princess of Venos. Your story will be a brief one and your mercenary friends will huddle round their fires and tell whispered tales of your agony.”
“You really do love the sound of your own voice, don't you?” I asked, slightly exasperated. Every second he gave me before he attacked was another moment I could recover, however slightly, with my natural healing.
“You should listen. Every word I speak is the gospel of the Mentor. I am his hand and the sword it wields. I will destroy every enemy that stands before him. Everything that-”
“See? There you go again, off on another mad tangent that nobody cares about,” I laughed at the man, knowing being mocked infuriated him.
Craven went deadly quiet. His eyes were the only visible feature of his face and they glowed with violent intent. The clawed hand of his Gauntlet twitched and liquid fire spilled from his palm, killing the grass beneath him.
“I will ask one thing before we begin,” The yellow-eyed Knight was barely restraining himself from attacking. “How long has Gustav known of my plans? Was him coming to meet me a lie? Was it his plan to get in my way from the very beginning?”
I snorted in derision, “I have no idea who Gustav is. Though if he was getting in your way then maybe I should seek him out and shake his hand.”
“I shouldn't be surprised that he wouldn't trust a lowly member of his band with his true name, nor his plans,” Craven laughed mockingly. “You really have no idea, do you? Isn't that something. How well do you know the mercenary 'Boldrin the bold'?”
“Boldrin-” I cut myself off and ducked, Craven's clawed gauntlet ripping through the air where my head had been moments before. I lashed out with Rionna, his attempt to disrupt my thinking at least partly successful.
My sword sang with a fervent melody and collided with the Armour of Craven's forearm, sinking down to the bone with ease. The yellow-eyed Knight screamed in a combination of fury and pain as he ripped himself free and pushed to attack once more.
I threw myself backwards, swinging Rionna as I attempted to create some space and take advantage of her greater range. But Craven knew what he was doing. I had already established he was skilled when we had fought for the first time at the wedding and, despite the obvious state of his body, his abilities hadn't slipped. His Weapon was more durable than his Armour it seemed and easily deflected the quick strikes I made with my sword, my attacks not leaving so much as a chip in the dense metal.
“What the fuck do you know about Boldrin?” I asked even as I went on the offensive again, my speed and strength greater when Bonded with Elora. Craven blocked everything almost casually, my first strike having caught him by surprise and making him wary. Already the wound on his arm was healed and the Armour along with it. I didn't know it could do that.
“Orin, you to have to focus!” Elora's words echoed in my ears and I got my head in the game. She was right, the fucker was just trying to throw me off and make me an easier target. He would say and do anything right now to ensure his victory.
“Oh, I know more about Boldrin than anyone still living!” The Knight hissed and struck at my chest, which I deflected with Rionna's silver hilt before striking at his head. “I know him for what he truly is: a coward who turned his back on the truth!”
He wasn't attacking me with the gauntlet on his left hand, which must have meant that it was just a mirrored copy of his Weapon and didn't share any of it's more powerful traits. His Armour wasn't holding up well against Rionna, every hit I landed chipped or went through the tainted plate. It didn't really matter how many wounds I inflicted, however. Craven was a Knight with a Healing Gift and from the looks of things he had plenty of Aurum to throw into it. If I wanted to win this I would have to destroy his brain or cut off his head, neither looking like an option right now. His helmet was the densest part of his Armour, thick and incredibly durable. The weaker Armour at his neck was my best bet but he wasn't letting his guard down long enough for me to exploit the obvious weakness. Like I said, he knew how to handle himself in a fight.
His words about Boldrin fell on deaf ears. Right now I was committed to keeping myself and the Princess out of Craven's charred hands. I could ask questions about how the corrupted Knight knew Boldrin later.
“Elora, his Armour is weaker than I was expecting,” I muttered as I dodged another attack and countered with a flurry of my own. “Thoughts?”
“It must be newly Forged,” Elora replied, her voice grim but determined, “Like Gifts and Weapons, Armour grows stronger the more you and your paired partner use it. Mortal weapons wouldn't be able to break through but Rionna is different, she's been in your soul for a long time.”
I didn't have time to ask what that meant before I met with Craven again. He hadn't managed to put a scratch on me yet because I was fighting defensively, letting him come to me, but it was tactic that would end with me losing. I couldn't outperform him in terms of stamina and willpower would only take me so far. With his combined Gifts he would be more than capable of ending my life before long. In fact, I should already be dead. The only reason for my continued survival was that he needed Elora and killing me could destroy her mind at best or end her life at the very worst. Craven had to be careful.
I didn't, though.
I switched to offence and charged the Knight. Craven wasn't expecting the change and cursed as I fell upon him. I left myself open to attack as I gripped Rionna with both hands and brought her down on his head again and again. I felt a series of long furrows open up on my sides but they were shallow, meant to be painful and nothing else. He really couldn't kill me. But still, a few more of those strikes and I would be weak enough for him to just drag me away for whatever purpose came into his warped mind.
I whirled my sword in hand, the motion meant to confuse enemies before I struck from above, my spinning Weapon coming down and aiming for Craven's neck. It was blocked by the cowardly Knight who grabbed the blade of my sword and stopped it dead, his strength greater than mine by some margin.
“You fight like him,” Craven cackled, “Were you his pupil? Did the old fool take a student to help replace the family he lost? Disgusting!”
Craven yanked me forward and drove an armoured elbow into my face, my nose burst and blood seeped out. Tears filled my eyes and clouded my vision as I felt Craven's clawed hand sink it's talons into my torso. I cried out in pain and tried to break free but he was far more powerful than me. The heat of his claws caused my blood to sizzle and my vision to swim
“Fate is fickle,” The man said, his tone musing even as his claws continued to sink deeper still, “Who would have thought that Gustav and I would be fighting on opposite sides. Twenty years ago, the thought of his betrayal wouldn't have even crossed my mind.”
“Orin, headbutt!” Elora shouted and I acted on her instruction, slamming my forehead against Craven's heavily Armoured helm. It barely moved him at all and I'm pretty sure my forehead came out the worst in the exchange, but the sudden attack forced his grip on me to loosen enough that I managed to yank myself free.
I pushed hard against Craven's torso, burning my hands on his heated chest before I lashed out with Rionna, a simple two handed side swipe that finally found his throat. It opened with a wet gurgle as the yellow-eyed Knight moved away, his clawed hands coming up to his neck, his eyes wide in surprise. I didn't celebrate though, because the wound closed a second later. I cursed my bad luck. If he had been just a step closer I might have been able to end this.
“Good call, Princess,” I grinned, “I thought he wouldn't fall for the same trick twice. I should have realised who we're dealing with.”
“You... You...” Craven looked furious, his hands clenching and unclenching as random spurts of his blighted Element ignited all over his body. “Why do you continue to resist! All you do is prolong the inevitable! The Mentor wanted you alive, but I already know what you are. You're nothing special! Just a fucking peasant!”
Craven extended his hand and I watched as his yellow fire burned and extended, twisting and turning through the air like an insidious serpent. Craven moved his hand and his Elemental whip cracked against the ground, leaving a long scar of scorched earth in it's wake.
“I will show you the true meaning of Knighthood. The true meaning of power. By the end of this battle you will be begging me to take the Princess!”
I didn't respond, instead having to jump to the side to avoid another attack with his whip, which hissed at me as it passed. Fucking Element again. It always came down to the Element and I had only been able to manifest mine exactly twice. I should stop complaining. We didn't have the Aurum for me to use our Silver Element anyway, not that I could even if I wanted to.
“Ideas, Princess?” I winced as I avoided another attack, my hand going to my side and touching the stab marks of Craven's clawed Weapon.
“I don't know, Orin,” Elora replied, sounding almost desperate, “His Aurum has barely decreased at all. We might need to run,”
“Never,” I grumbled. All that talk of not losing this fight and now I had to run away? No, this fucker needed to die and I was the only one around to see it through.
I tried to get a handle on Craven's movements but I realised quickly after getting licked by his yellow fire that the whip didn't respond to his body but his soul, and could move any which way that Craven commanded it to. I tried to close the distance more than once but was rebuffed, sent scrambling across the ground to avoid strike after strike. Craven's howling laughter following me as I went. He was toying with me. He knew I couldn't use an Element. He had all the advantages in this fight.
“Orin, after he cracks the whip his soul dims. I think I see an opening!” Elora shouted inside my head as I tried and failed to get closer once again.
I smacked into the ground after jumping over another whip strike, the flames brushing my leg and causing my soul fire to scream. “Tell me.”
“The whip is Aurum intensive,” Elora began her spiritual sight no doubt focused on Craven's soul, “He can't keep using successive strikes for long before he needs to recover. His soul is barely keeping up with his demands. He has plenty of Aurum but his compression just isn't far enough long to handle such an advanced Elemental technique for any length of time. When his soul dims he'll be vulnerable and he won't be able to use his Gifts. That's when you strike.”
“You remember how worried you were about being valuable as a Smith?” I smiled, “I'd say you've proved yourself wrong.”
“Shut up and focus, Orin!” Elora snapped, though I felt the slightest hint of pride bleed through the Bond.
I chuckled, “Yes, Princess.
“Still laughing, boy!”Craven shouted, his whirling whip in constant motion, “Still think you can win?!”
“Always, Craven. I never doubted!” I yelled back, preparing myself, Rionna's comforting weight in my hands adding steel to my heart.
The yellow-eyed Knight bellowed and spun his whip forward, aiming to put me in the ground with one swift strike. I focused on the whip itself, it's constant hiss in the falling rains filling my ears and it's heat searing my skin as I dodged again and it slithered past me. I turned my attention back to the enraged Craven, ready to move on Elora's word.
I ran, my feet pounding the wet grass, Rionna's song light and triumphant as she cleaved through the moisture filled air. I pushed every single one of my enhanced abilities to the limit and shot across the ground. I wasn't as fast I was with Thought and Strength, but I was more than enough to catch the shocked Craven unaware.
I sliced downwards through the air, aiming for Craven's head. His yellow eyes shot open in fear and he backed away, but not fast enough to stop me from cleaving into his shoulder and down into his heart.
Not enough. More!
Craven's screams were the antithesis of my Weapon's joyous shrieks as Rionna cut deep into the corrupted Knight's left arm, nearly severing it completely. It looked to be hanging by a thread and the blood that fell from it was black and blighted. As tainted and disgusting as the man himself.
I needed to finish this now!
I brought my sword around again and again, Craven using his Weapon to keep me from striking his neck or visor, but I didn't aim for those. I could weaken him plenty without going for the deathblow so that was what I did. I cut into his ribs, attacked the gaping wound on his chest and struck his legs.
“Finish him, Orin!” Elora roared and my voice joined hers as we blitzed forwards as a blur, ready to destroy this foul fucker once and for all.
“Enough!” Craven screamed and fire blossomed from his body. I was hit by it's full force, unable to get away, only able to turn in time for it to hit my left side instead of my right.
His soul burning flames charred my flesh, my skin burning and blackening under it's intensity and pure, unadulterated power. My black fire cried out within my soul realm. I watched as the tongues of my soul froze and began to weep a void like vapour into the space around it. It was just like at the wedding, my fire looking like a barely healed scab. My soul's cries of defiance earlier in the fight had become piteous whimpers as it sought to protect itself from the yellow flame.
I hit the ground hard, skittering to a stop near the very edge of the fiery arena Craven had constructed. It might have been the pain or something else entirely but I thought the encirclement of yellow fire looked weaker than before. I might have been able to jump over them and run if I wasn't a stubborn fool.
But stubborn fool I was and the chances of me running away from this fight were non-existent.
“There's so much... Orin, are you alright? Can you stand?” The Princess' concern caused a small smile to appear on my lips as I pushed myself unsteadily to my feet. I was more than a little surprised that I had managed to hold onto Rionna for the duration of my flight. Though, it might be more fair to say that the sword was holding onto me. Thin slivers of the silver hilt had risen from their home and wrapped themselves tightly around my hand.
“Thank you,” I said to the sword, which I swore giggled, before the silver retracted and returned to whence it came. “I'm fine, Princess. Wasn't that bad. I missed the worst of it.”
I examined myself and discovered that wasn't exactly true. My left arm up to the shoulder, the left side of my face and part of my chest was almost completely black and burnt to a crisp. The skin looked like parchment and every movement seemed to tear it open and cause bright red blood to flow free, the contrast of colour disturbing me. If that wasn't enough the vision in my left eye was fuzzy and indistinct, tinged with crimson. It would play havoc with my depth perception. The only thing that was keeping me going right now was the Bond. It was already working to heal me at it's significantly slowed rate, I could feel it. But it wouldn't be enough. Even with the Bond it would take a long time for this to heal. Every twitch of movement was agony, but I needed to keep going. Slowing down or stopping wasn't an option.
“Your soul is injured, like it was before,” Elora said, her voice soft and soothing in my ears, reminding me that I wasn't alone. “If you hadn't made such great strides in compression, that attack might have killed you, or at the very least put you in a coma.”
“Well, I had a great teacher,” I said with a strained smile as I lifted Rionna and aimed her at my enemy, who had already healed his significant wounds.
“We need to leave, Orin,” Elora said, her desperation reaching new heights. “ We can't stay, you're too weak to fight now. Please!”
Craven was already on the approach, his whip of fire no longer in his gauntleted hand. It seemed like he had given up on toying with me. He was filled with grim purpose and I wondered if he had finally snapped. Had my last attack pushed him over the edge? Would he defy his vaunted Mentor and end me?
“I still see that defiance in your eyes,” Craven whispered, his eyes pinned and fixed on my broken body, “Even now, beaten as you are, it does not fade. Why do you fight, Orin of Myrin? What gives you the strength to stand?”
That question I was not expecting. I thought it would be more of the same; threats of death, pain and torture. I blinked at the Knight in confusion, the action causing my left eye to flare up in irritation.
“Because it's the right thing to do.” I answered without thought, my voice hoarse and broken, just speaking caused my mouth to fill with blood which I spat onto the ground. “Because I can fight. I don't need another reason.”
I watched as Craven's helmet became fire and seeped into the Armour at his shoulders, his expression was a combination of rage, wonder and downright bafflement.
“Because you can?” Craven muttered, a smile on his ruined face, this one was different to those I had seen before. It was not manic nor was it filled with venom and spite. This one seemed almost... melancholic. “Who knew that I would see that same quality in a peasant like you. I fight for the same reasons, Orin of Myrin. I fight because it is right. Because I can.”
“No, you don't,” I spat out, causing Craven's expression to falter. The flames at the edge of the arena growing even dimmer, “You attack women and children, kill innocents because they stand in your way. We are nothing alike, Craven. I fight for my family, for my friends, for Elora. You fight only for yourself.”
“N-no... I...” Craven's expression, for the briefest of seconds, seemed to show distress on a level I had never seen before. Such sadness could be seen there, such sorrow for mistakes made and a past drenched in blood, “I fight for others... I fight to save them... To save them...”
“Your view is warped if you believe that,” I said, Rionna beginning to feel heavy in my hand. I felt so tired.
“Orin, something's wrong. His soul... it's screaming.” Elora sounded horrified, her words sending a shiver down my spine.
“I wanted to save them. To save all of them. You have to believe me!” Craven's eyes were wide and filled with a pain so acute that I felt like it would cut me to the depths of my soul, “I didn't want this. I didn't, I didn't, I didn't!”
I didn't know what to do. Now would be the perfect time to end this, to kill Craven once and for all. But I couldn't. It was like I was frozen, stuck watching as the man plunged the claws of his own Weapon into his face, opening deep gouges that mixed his tears with blood. The wounds healed just as fast, again and again.
“No! No! Stop this! I know who I am!” Craven focused on me again, his expression the same as it was at the beginning of the battle, filled with rage and a mocking hatred. “I am a living God, made by my Mentor, reforged from the broken body of a broken man! I must bring him the Princess, I will bring him the Princess! All he asks is loyalty, all he asks is devotion! Who am I to reject him?!”
Craven raised his hand and burning fire flared there, setting his expression alight. It was a cruel mix of love and hatred, joy and devastating pain. His madness had overridden whatever he was feeling before and he revelled in his power. I tried to move and nearly stumbled, my balance off and the left side of my body weak.
“Hammond!” A voice echoed from the other end of the clearing, A voice I recognised as well as my own. Craven froze in place, his jaw opening in shock. The fallen Knight turned his charred visage around to face the speaker, with me following suit.
Boldrin was walking towards us, his hands at his side, no weapon to be seen. His smile was filled with warmth and love. But it wasn't aimed at me, it was directed to the warped form of the yellow-eyed Knight. I hadn't noticed but the fires that had enclosed us had sputtered out completely during our talk, Craven's breakdown seemingly removing his control of his Element. I spotted Eric and the others behind Boldrin, staying away from the clearing in the cover of the great trees that surrounded us. The only light to see by was what was emanating from Craven's Armour.
I focused on the small group with my Bond enhanced vision and spotted Tessa. She was unconscious, her chest rising and falling, leaning precariously against a tree next to Eric. A nasty bump sprouted atop her skull. Did Craven clip her as he grabbed me? The other thing I was noticed was the absence of old Brin, but perhaps he was hiding further in and I couldn't see him.
“Gustav?” Craven asked, his voice cracking. He sounded small and confused, like the kids in the orphanage when they finally realise they can't go home.
“I'm here, old friend. I'm here,” Boldrin replied, that smile not slipping, only faltering slightly when he ran an eye over my wounded body. “Orin. You alright, son?”
I was too shocked to say anything, but I nodded. Elora seemed to be just as shocked as I was. She had assumed, like I had, that Craven was full of shit and was just trying to distract us by bringing up Boldrin. He was telling the truth?
“Orin, do you know what's going on? How does Boldrin know Craven?” Elora hissed, the surprise in her voice matching the expression on my face.
“No idea. Be ready. We may have to help him.” I didn't know the whole story here, but I wasn't going to let Boldrin die either way. The man had basically raised me, father to the Sister's mother, I would protect him no matter what.
My hands were beginning to tremble, the adrenaline was wearing off and the full pain of my wounds replacing it. I was unsure if I would even be able to hold onto Rionna for much longer and I felt Elora's worry for my well-being like a physical force. I could still stand, though. So I could still fight.
“Hammond, please. I need you to stop now. Remember what you fight for, remember who you are.” Boldrin's tone was gentle. At least, as gentle as he could be with his booming voice. “Olga wouldn't want this for you. Ingrid wouldn't either. You know it as well as I.”
Craven's face fell as Boldrin mentioned those two names, welling up with tears as he balled up his fists and pressed them against the sides of his head.
“I know they're gone. I feel their passing every single day. But it wasn't your fault, Hammond. It wasn't your fault.”
Craven snarled and lifted a clawed hand towards Boldrin. I made to intervene but the band leader raised his hand to stop me. “My fault? I know it wasn't my fault, Gustav. It was yours. You were supposed to protect them, to keep them safe. I lost my sister, lost my niece, because of you!” Fire flared at the tips of his clawed fingers, looking for all the world like he was going to incinerate Boldrin the bold.
The large mercenary nodded his head sadly, tears leaking from his eyes as he spread his arms wide. “Then if you need my life to make your pain go away, Hammond, I would happily give it.”
Not on my fucking watch. I growled and gripped Rionna tighter, taking a step forward, lights bursting behind my eyes at the agony the motion caused.
“Stay back, Orin!” Boldrin barked fearfully, his hand gesturing towards me. “Don't interfere.”
Craven hesitated, taking note of Boldrin's dismay before aiming his gauntleted hand towards me slowly, watching as Boldrin's face morphed from terror to full blown panic.
“Maybe I should just take away the boy,” Craven said with a grin, “Maybe I should make you suffer and let you live your foul half-life.”
“Don't,” Boldrin whispered, his stare intense enough to turn boulders to dust, “Hammond. Don't.”
“Why?” Craven hissed, the flames of his Weapon flaring with his temper, “Why would you put so much on the line for this peasant! Why did you follow him here, why would you sacrifice your life and the lives of your men for a child barely old enough to grow hair on his face?! Answer me, Gustav, or I will burn him alive and laugh as he screams, the Princess be damned!”
Boldrin was frozen, his eyes skittering between Craven and I, a cold sweat developing on his brow.
“Seems he doesn't care for you, after all,” Craven turned to me, “Die!”
“Wait, wait!” Boldrin shouted, his hands coming up to ward off the coming inferno. What was this? “I'll tell you,”
“I'm listening, old friend,” Craven sneered.
Boldrin turned to me, smiling weakly as he brushed a hand over his face. “Orin is an Heir, Hammond.”
Craven blinked at Boldrin, confused. For a moment, It was like he really couldn't comprehend what was being said. Then something clicked behind his eyes and he smiled, which quickly became laughter. Such all-consuming laughter that the vile Knight forgot I was even there, forgot anyone was there. Tears spilled down his ruined cheeks as he looked up at Boldrin who stared back at him with stern eyes.
“You expect me to believe that?” Craven managed to push out between bouts of hysteria, “You expect me to believe that the Hall would allow an Heir to roam the wilderness with a mercenary band? You really have lost your mind if you think I would believe such tripe!”
“It's the truth.” Boldrin wasn't laughing. If anything he looked even more grim than he did before. “I am charged with his defence.”
“Elora, what's an Heir?” To say I was confused would be putting it mildly. Was Boldrin playing some kind of long game? Get Craven, or Hammond, comfortable so he could take him down when his back was turned? Boldrin looked like he believed what he was saying but it wasn't true. I was a mercenary from the Commons of Myrin. No more, no less. Boldrin must be up to something. I would be ready when he made his move.
“I have no idea. Heir to a throne?” Elora sounded just as confused and uncertain about what was going on as I was. Her next question sounded faintly accusatory, “Orin, Is there something you've not told me?”
“Honestly, Princess, I don't have a clue what Boldrin's talking about.” I replied grimly, my eyes trying to catch Boldrin's but he was avoiding making the contact. Why? I would really like to know the play here. “I think he's just trying to distract him.
“The Hall wouldn't allow it, Gustav. Stop talking like a fool,” Craven snapped, his humour fading with Boldrin's insistence.
“The Hall doesn't know. No one knows, not even him.” Boldrin finally turned to look me in the eyes, his expression troubled, “I didn't want to tell you like this, son.”
“Boldrin, what're you talking about? This a play?” I asked, my eyes dancing to Craven who still frowned in disbelief at my band leader.
Boldrin smiled fondly, “Nah, no play. Not this time. Just the truth. You're special, son. You always have been.”
“So, he's an Heir?” Craven asked to the night sky above. “A Knight of Knights. Here, now?”
A Knight of Knights?
“Yes, he is.” Boldrin replied briskly, he and I watching as Craven's expression of disbelief morphed into one of complete and utter euphoria.
“I asked for a sign and the Mentor has offered one in the form of this bounty,” Craven's smile was peaceful bliss adorning his burnt face, “Praise him. Mentor knew! He must have known! Why else would he ask for Orin and the Princess? The boy will more than make up for my mistake with Venos. Even them being Bonded will no longer work against me. I am chosen.”
Craven swept his eyes over the members of the band assembled and then finally on me. “A peasant no more, Orin of Myrin. You shall be my redemption. To think, Gustav, I thought you a mere mercenary all these years. But you were the protector of the greatest prize in all of Ouros. You may go now. I will not stop you. The boy comes with me.”
Boldrin grimaced but did not move, solid as stone. “I figured you'd say that. You know I can't allow that to happen.”
Craven turned and smiled at him gladly, “Then why tell me at all?”
“That'd be cause of me, fucker,” A spear smashed into Craven's cheek, penetrating straight through and emerging from the other side. Old Brin's grinning face could be seen on Craven's blind side, his hands on the shaft of his great spear as he pushed against the powerful Knight with all his might.
“Archers! Ready!” Boldrin bellowed and charged, without a weapon, into the fray. He threw a devastating punch at Craven which connected with his temple. Even without the strength of a Knight, Boldrin was at the least on the level I was physically when enhanced. The man was just too impossibly big for that not to be the case. He proved my point a moment later when Craven's face whipped to the side, causing him to further impale himself on Brin's spear.
The yellow-eyed Knight growled and snapped his jaw shut, his Strength enhanced teeth shearing straight through the tough wood of Brin's spear like it was paper.
“Archers, fire! Need some help here, kid!" Boldrin yelled, not moving. He had complete faith that Eric and the others wouldn't hit himself or Brin. The arrows hit their mark a moment. Most of them bounced off Craven's reinforced skull but one or two got caught in his ruined cheeks, another piercing his exposed neck.
“Orin! Now!” Elora shouted from the depths of my soul. “Together!”
I moved, ignoring the pain I felt radiating from my left side. So many questions were unanswered so many things still needed to be said. I needed to ask Boldrin what he meant, ask him about who I was, or what I was. But right now I couldn't afford to be distracted. Craven stood before me and he was weakened and exposed. This was the chance I needed and my family had given it to me.
Everything happened so fast.
Brin was going on the offensive again, his grin never faltering even in the face of this monstrous opponent. With his spear done for, he dragged a dagger from his hip and aimed for Craven's eye, hoping to put the bastard down quick. It didn't work.
An infuriated Craven spun in place and extended the fingers of his hand to form a sword. He used his corrupted weapon to pierce the old man's chest, right through his heart, before the ancient warrior could even think to react. Even then, old Brin's smile stayed on his face. He used the last of his strength to plunge the dagger into Craven's neck, making the yellow-eyed Knight scream in pain. Brin fell.
“An honour,” The whispered words were thunderous, ringing through my ears as the light faded from my old friend's eyes. Sorrow pawed at my heart and my eyes watered even as I poured on the speed, grief giving me wings.
Boldrin howled and attacked the man he had called friend. His fists were battering rams smashing again and again into the face of his foe. Boldrin lost himself to the grief and the rage, his hands blurs until he was stopped altogether. Craven held Boldrin's outstretched arms with ease. His cruel smile returning and yellow eyes glowing.
“No!” I screamed and tried to move faster. I was almost within arms reach. All I needed was one last push.
Boldrin turned to look at me and smiled proudly. He said something to the open air before he closed his eyes. He looked old and so tired. Everything was happening in slow motion, every detail was highlighted.
“Goodbye, old friend!” Craven roared and smashed a closed fist into the chest of of Boldrin the bold. The man didn't make so much as a sound as he was thrown from his feet, hitting a tree at the edge of the clearing with a sickening crunch.
I jumped into the air, Rionna a glittering beacon of astounding stars that shone with my rage. I would break him to pieces and cut off his fucking head!
Craven's hand came up almost casually and grabbed me by the throat, his smile still intact. I brought my sword down, aiming to impale him through the skull but he grabbed my right wrist with his other clawed hand, stopping it's descent cold.
“Time to go, little Orin.” Craven cooed as though he was speaking to an unruly child. “Mentor will be waiting, oh yes.”
I snarled and struggled, pushed and pulled against his iron grip but I didn't have the strength left, didn't have the ability to keep fighting. But I wasn't alone. I was never alone.
“Elora. Do you remember what Tessa taught you?” I hissed between my partly burned lips.
“Yes!” snarled my Princess and motes of light immediately emerged from my chest, forming and taking the shape of the Princess of Venos faster than she had ever done before. She was wasn't even fully formed before she was pulling her dagger from the scabbard on her hip. Her hair, blonde and shining, streamed behind her back and tears fell from her honey coloured eyes.
Craven tried to move but I grabbed his arms with both of mine, Rionna already fading away with Elora's departure. I felt my muscles tear and already beaten body bleed from the exertion of holding the monster in place. Elora's dagger went into Craven's eye. Sliding almost all the way up to the hilt before it came to a jarring stop. Craven was still alive but his struggling had ceased. I let him go as he fell to his knees, Elora following with her knife in hand.
We both watched in wonder as the yellow drained from the Knight's one remaining eye, revealing a earthy brown one in it's place. Such feeling could be seen within. Such horror, such pain. Craven reached up and took a gentle hold of Elora's hand, still tightly wound around the knife which had handed him his death.
“Because I can.” The man wept and jerked on the knife, pulling the blade into his brain up to the hilt.
Elora released her hold on the knife and the man once known as Craven fell to the ground, his Armour and Weapon disappearing along with his life.