Dirt stung his eyes.
The world spun when he caught the flat of the Scygard's blade with his face, his ear ringing when he struck the ground. Emily was screaming but her voice was only a whisper to him. He struggled to his feet but the ground seemed to turn upside down. He could not tell left from right. All he knew for certain was that the right of his face bled freely from the split skin, as he felt the warm liquid rolling down his neck.
For a precious few minutes Fayte was unconscious. When he roused at last he pushed himself up only to have his legs betray his balance. He pushed himself to his feet a second and then a third time and thrice he fell forward again. Emily… He rose again and this time his balance was returning. Finally he stumbled out of the tent and managed to remain on his feet. The ringing in his ear had softened. Now his body threatened to break down into panic as he beheld the corpses that lay scattered around him.
Heads were taken off necks, arms off shoulders, and whole torsos from waists. The foulness of the stench of blood was too much for Fayte and he found himself retching on his knees. Even the dirt beneath his palms was damp with blood. Such carnage. The Scygards were behind this. Fayte forced himself to concentrate, looking beyond the bodies. A path of mutilated corpses indicated where the Scygards had been. He followed.
In the near distance he could hear orders being yelled. Some were told to move the prisoners, others told to bolster the defences. None of those orders were given to tend to the wounded. Fayte touched his hand to his chest and muttered prayers as he ran, not for the dead, but for those he had left dying. Many men called for him, some begging for aid while most begged for the mercy of death. The Scygards had left them with wounds so grievous, not even the Bishop could save them. It was all Fayte could do to not imagine what his home had looked like the day his family was butchered.
Fayte eventually came upon a body draped in a robe from head to toe, soaked with blood and soiled from the stench that assaulted his senses. The dead man's eyes had purple veins crawling all over. Poison. Someone was fighting the Scygards and that someone was winning. The tents around him had been knocked over or torn down. Some had even caught fire but no one was trying to put them out. Ahead, he watched as two Scygards stood with their blades drawn, facing a single opponent.
A third held Emily.
He ducked into a broken tent and scavenged a sword sick with rust. The weapon was heavy in his hand and the grip did not fit as well as a squire's blade, but this was hardly the time to be fussy. Fayte searched quickly and found a buckler, a small rounded shield, pinewood framed with steel. It was nothing like a white shield but it was a shield nonetheless. I'll just have to make do.
The three Scygards engaged the lone man. It was the youngest man he had seen in the tent, the one who fled first. The Underlord's agent. But Fayte's attention was not placed on him. The leader of the four Scygards pulled Emily away, cutting down two men who came at him with axes.
The leader turned around and threw Emily aside.
Fayte struck him with a force so ferocious it made the Scygard stumble backwards in defence. The momentary startle was short-lived. The Scygard immediately went on the offensive. That buckler he found could only take a single slash from the Scygard. The golden blade cut through the steel and went through the wood like soft meat. He dropped the shield on the floor in pieces, parrying the Scygard's curved blade with his sword.
He's too fast- he's too fast!
The Scygard was hardly trying. Fayte watched as the curved blade seemingly snaked down his sword, cutting his wrist before going for his neck. He dropped his sword and dodged, letting the tip of the curved edge slice the left of his chin. Fayte tried to move away but the Scygard lazily kicked him and sent him sprawling on the ground.
Get out of here! Emily was looking at him as he turned to face the Scygard. She had found herself a dagger but she was in no condition to defend herself let alone save him. Run, Emily. "RUN!"
"Don't hurt him!" she cried, begging the Scygard. Emily dropped her dagger, her hands shaking uncontrollably. "Please! I'll go with you! Just leave him alone, please!"
The Scygard met eyes with him, raising the curved blade for the final slash.
"You are no child," the man said. At that moment, Fayte found himself confused to see that look in the Scygard's eyes. "So I shall do you this honour."
The Scygard had looked upon Fayte as an opponent.
He looked at Fayte with respect.
Forgive me, father.
A screech from above them stayed the Scygard's hand. The Saldarian looked up and immediately dove to the ground, dodging a large beast that swooped down from the air. Ye'Jou? No, that's not him. The Hylan gryphon spun in the air and swooped back down again. Already on his feet, the Scygard bent his knees and leaped into the air for the kill. His golden sword met with white steel and the Scygard hit the ground rolling. Fayte watched as the rider leaped off the gryphon and landed with a burst of light on his- no, on her feet.
"By the command of King Eardon and the oath I have taken…"
Lady Elisen drew her gleaming white sword. In the midst of all the chaos, she stood out like a beacon of light in her armour of white. Her silver-edged helm framed her face and her white velvet cloak spread from her shoulders, hanging inches off the blood stained earth. The scarlet hues of the flames around her danced across her polished armour and the face of her pristine white shield.
The Whiteguard's eyes flared with power.
"…I am here for Princess Emily."
Blade in hand, the Scygard sprinted towards Lady Elisen and attacked her. A flash of white burst from her sword each time she met blades with the Saldarian. The Scygard struck with a flurry of slashes while Lady Elisen moved gracefully from step to step, defending with her white shield and then striking quickly with her white sword. Fayte watched in awe as the Scygard struggled to keep up with her even though she was moving slower. It made little sense to Fayte and seeing the intensity in the Scygard's eyes, clearly it made little sense to him as well. Lady Elisen ducked a leaping slash and spun around, her white cloak whipping across the Scygard, and she met eyes with Fayte for a fleeting moment before she swung back to engage the Scygard.
He hurried to his feet and went to her.
"Fayte!" She held his arms with her trembling hands, tears running down her dirty cheeks.
"Come on," Fayte said, pulling her to her feet. "Get on the gryphon."
The beast had landed behind her and squawked at them to hurry. Fayte helped her on but before Emily could mount on properly, the gryphon shook her off and knocked Fayte aside right before it took a fire bolt in the face. Behind him, a group of slavers rallied behind a mage. Two red fire glyphs glowed in the mage's hands. Amongst those born with the birthright of magic, there were those who thought themselves superior than others. Many of those mages do not follow the teachings of the Orders of the Elements, choosing instead to live lawlessly, believing that they should not have to subject themselves to the rules of an Order.
As Fayte pulled Emily up, the gryphon positioned itself between them and the mage. The animal squawked at them and batted its tail.
"We need to go," Fayte said, realising what it was trying to say.
"We need to go!" He took her hand and pulled her along.
Behind them the gryphon spread its wings and screeched before pouncing at the slavers. Alone and against so many of them, the gryphon actually had a good chance still, but not when a mage was involved. The gryphon was well aware of that Fayte was sure. Such was the kind of loyalty the majestic and intelligent beasts had.
They raced through the camp, searching for Amelia and Kamille along the way. Emily had been separated from them the moment they were brought into the camp. She had heard one of the slavers saying to bring Amelia to where the children were. As for Kamille, "This one needs fixing first." A slave with a broken knee would sell for much lesser.
All around them the battle continued. The slavers were being pushed inwards by the earth animations. As many slavers as there were in this camp, the horde had the clear advantage in numbers. It wasn't just Emily that the Scygards wanted, but for what reason would they need all these people?
Ironsville's graveyard. The dead were brought back. An army of the undead would be scary, but did they not already have their earth animations? Unless they need the dead to create the animations. Fayte looked again and thought back. Every one of the earth animation resembled a living thing. Kestel had also noted that the animations contained traces of necro magic.
An arm burst from the ground.
Emily screamed as they skidded to a stop. The arm pushed a shoulder out and then a torso and a head, dragging itself out with a moan that sounded like rocks grinding together. They were spawning inside the camp now. He ran forward and threw his boot across the animation's head. It did little. The animation grabbed his leg and Fayte had to stomp down on its shoulder, reducing it to crumbles before it finally stopped. Then he saw why the slavers were losing.
"Fayte, it's reforming!"
I can see that. "We need to get out of here right now." He took her hand and ran past the animation. "Did you see where they kept their horses?"
Emily shook her head. "What about Amelia? We can't leave her!"
"Wilson would have charged in during the chaos," he told her, hoping, leading her between tents over bodies and through animations bursting from the ground. "He will find her and Rinmar will seek out Kamille- watch out!"
An earth animation seized Emily by the ankle. She shrieked before shaking its arm off and stomping it on its face. The animation crumbled back to earth but the bits began to seek out each other again. They did not wait for it to reform. Soon they realised that there was no way out. The entire camp was surrounded and everyone was being pushed in. Fayte had watched in horror as the frontline battled the earth animations. The monsters outnumbered them three to one and they were not taking prisoners. Once the animations got a hold of them, they tore the slavers apart, literally, limb from limb, sinking rock teeth into necks. Some were even dragging whole men into the ground.
We cannot hope to escape by land. He looked to the sky. I need to find Rinmar.
Emily let go of his hand. He tried to pull her back but stopped when he saw them.
Ahead of them was a whole group of children, about ten maybe twelve of them. They were covered in dirt, tears, and scratches, but otherwise all of them seemed well enough. Many of them wore old and worn out clothing. A few wore dirty clothes but the dirt did not hide the obvious work of a paid tailor. Then there was that one girl who was the cleanest by far.
"Look! It's the Princess!" Amelia looked from Emily to him. "Hi Fayte!"
Thank you, Sera. He rushed to her and held her in his arms tightly, kissing her long and hard on the temple before he checked that she was unharmed "Are you all right? Did they hurt you?"
Amelia smiled at him. "I'm fine. I knew you'd come rescue me!"
He flinched when the image of his younger sister smiling at him flashed across his eyes. For a moment Fayte froze, thinking he was holding his dead sister. Amelia could have died.
But she didn't, he told himself. She didn't.
"Fayte?" Amelia poked his cheek, noticing the cut on his chin. "You're hurt."
He smiled the best he could. "I am well. Are these your friends?"
The other children crowded around Emily and looked at him.
"I was put in the same cage as them," she told him. "Roland there picked the lock and led us out."
Roland was the tallest and the oldest amongst the children, twelve, maybe thirteen. The way he looked at Fayte made him uncomfortable, like Fayte had done him wrong. This boy was taken from the streets. He doubted Roland still had parents or anyone who cared for him.
"You did good protecting them, Roland," Fayte told him. "Thank you."
The boy was holding a little girl's hand on his right, half his height, while the left held a little boy's hand who was just as small and afraid. Roland turned to the Princess and looked to her for guidance. Emily had often visited the streets of different cities, giving out food and finding shelter for children like Roland. No doubt Roland had heard of her deeds, perhaps even seen her before, so now he saw her as someone he could trust.
"Fayte…" Emily was thinking the same thing.
There is no way we can escape with all of them. He lifted Amelia up and held her tightly as though he might lose her again if he didn't. Fayte begged Sera for forgiveness when a selfish thought occurred to him as he held Wilson's sister.
"If Lady Elisen is here then the other knights won't be far." Fayte looked behind them and saw men running in their direction, bleeding all over and in no condition to fight. They were fleeing. "Back to the tent where I found you." He turned to Emily. "We will wait there and…"
Emily waited for him to finish but when he did not, she turned around and saw a lone man, his robe heavy with blood, and a curved blade hung from his right hand. She led the children back, away from the Scygard.
Amelia gripped his shirt but he had to set her down. "Fayte…?"
I failed to protect my sisters. "Emily, take the children and run." Like the gryphon, Fayte placed himself between Emily, Amelia, the children, and the Scygard. I failed to protect my mother. He picked up a sword from the ground, this one lighter than the last but the edge was chipped from too much sharpening. "Go on. Lady Elisen will be with you shortly. Wilson too."
The Scygard began stalking towards them.
"Hold each other's hands now, children," she told them as she carried Amelia, keeping her tone calm and as cheerful as she possibly could in this situation. "Everything is going to be all right. Follow me now, come this--"
--the Scygard dashed forward.
I won't fail again.
Fayte leaped into his path and met steel with gold. He parried the slash and pushed the curved blade away with all his strength, following through with a punch to the Scygard's cheek. The warrior took it full in the face and stumbled backwards. Behind, Emily ran with the children, urging them on as they escaped.
The Scygard tore off his cowl. His lips were cut and ruined and his left eye was bloody and swollen. Fayte knew he stood no chance against a Scygard, but at that moment the thought never came to his mind. All he saw was someone who killed his family. And all he heard were his mother and sisters screaming.
"DIE!" he bellowed, landing a downward blow on the Scygard.
Every time the Scygard parried his strike, Fayte struck again and again, harder and harder, throwing his weight behind every strike, screaming and coming down on his enemy with a brutality he had not known he had. The Scygard ducked and slashed at him - he dodged - returning with a slash and a stab. The man rolled away and he lunged forward, stabbing the ground but the Scygard narrowly jumped away. Fayte was more used to fighting with a shield, almost getting himself killed when he tried to block the Scygard's countering slash. He caught the Scygard's blade with the sword instead and pushed the man away.
A Scygard's weapon is curved. Curved blades are made for slashing and ripping. They don't stab. Fayte rushed the Scygard, stopping the curved blade with his sword before he rammed his shoulder straight into the man. He's leaning on his right leg. Fayte moved to his left and slashed from that direction. The Scygard's face strained with pain as he shifted his weight to his left - injured - leg to parry the blow. Right eye swollen. He feign a punch with his right hand. The Scygard could see clearly with his left eye so he moved to defend himself, but at the same time Fayte threw the hilt of his sword into the right temple of the Scygard's head, the side where he was blind. Now he's disoriented.
Fayte spun and cut the Scygard's lower back wide open.
The Scygard fell to the ground with his weapon dropping from his hands. Blood poured from his wound and the pain made his body cringe and bend awkwardly. He struggled to get up but the previous blow to his temple kept him down. Fayte stood above the Scygard's head. He panted hard and heavily. His ears rang with the screams of his sisters. His heart wrenched with the sorrow of his dead family. The guilt of failing them strangled the air from him.
"This is for my mother." He raised his sword over his head. "And my sisters. And all the people you murdered in Zywedior. They were all innocent… THEY WERE ALL INNOCENT!"
Fayte swung the sword down- or at least he imagined himself doing it. He froze with his sword above his head and the Scygard lay defenceless in front of him. Every fibre of his body demanded that this man be killed, but something was fighting it. Something deeper inside him would not allow him to end this man's life.
A knight cannot strike down a defenceless man.
Fayte let his sword slip from his grip. He felt the weapon fall behind him and heard it thud on the ground. The Scygard had drawn his last breath, yet the screams in his head went on and the fear in his sisters' voices continued to torment him with guilt, so much guilt that it was choking him. His hands clenched into fists and his nails dug into the heel of his palms.
"THEY WERE INNOCENT!" He dropped to the ground and punched the dead man in the face. "WHY?" He threw punch after punch, screaming, "WHY? WHY? WHY?"
He kicked and fought when someone dragged him away.
"THEY DID NOTHING TO YOU! WE DID NOTHING TO YOU!" Fayte continued to fight and scream when Wilson wrapped his arms around him, whispering for him to calm down. "They were just a baby and a girl! I was supposed to protect them! I was supposed to protect them! They depended on me… I was supposed to protect them… and I failed them! I failed them…"
I failed them all…