Fayte went up the way he came from.
The mercenary took him back up the road, disarmed and wounded. They passed the alley where the agent brought him into. Up the steps they went ascending to the second tier of the city. Eres Star City grew larger the more he explored. He followed the mercenary up the road. Fayte held his shield openly and it drew eyes all around. Yet not a single other false knight has come forward. Likely the agent's men were guarding him from the shadows.
A great gatehouse loomed over them when they arrived at the end of the cobbled stone road. Snow piled on the top of the gatehouse and frostvines crept from the base of the grey stones. The green vines were white with frost, chopped off many times to keep from jamming the gates. But the parasitic plant just sprouted more heads and continued to claim the wall.
These walls are taller than even Castle Rondiar's. The frostvines all grew outside the stones, when normally they would dig their way into the crevices. These walls were not fit for scaling. Little wonder the Underlord has trouble getting in. The walls had to be at least half as deep as it they were tall as well.
Behind this gatehouse was the Grey Castle, home to the throne of Danfred Greyblade and the Kings before him. After the nine heroes had united the kingdoms of Hylan into one kingdom, the remaining Kings became the first to receive the title of Magister and their castles were turned into Magister's Courts.
"Who goes there?" a guard from above the gatehouse called.
"It's me!" the mercenary said. "Raise the gate! I've brought a gift for Lord Reydar! It's the son of the Lord-Knight!"
The guard on top leaned over the edge to try and get a better look. Fayte waited patiently. They had to wait a while for the guard to send the message. Without warning, the gate rose with the cranking of unseen gears. Bits of ice flaked off from the gate as it rose slowly. From behind the castle three false knights rode out with their heavy cloaks behind them and their heads adorned with knights' helms. They rode past them and surrounded them, with their swords drawn and backs faced towards them. A fourth rider emerged from the castle to meet them. This man was draped in a robe of purple silk and emerald velvet, striped with amber and golden weaves.
"Orson Reydar," Fayte said, shoving the mercenary aside. Anytime now, agent. "I am Fayte Kaywin-"
"Son of Frendon Kaywin," the man said. "I am afraid you are mistaken. I am not Orson Reydar."
A yellow earth glyph appeared beneath Fayte's feet. Oh give me a break, Sera.
"That man is long dead," the noble said, his voice sharp with strain. "And this Underlord's agent will soon join him."
Fayte could hear the shuffle of boots above the wall but he could see no one. This is a trap! The glyph activated and a flash of light blinded him. He felt a stab of pain run up his legs and through his back. When he could see again, Fayte found himself imprisoned from the waist down in a block of hardened earth. He tried to hack at the earth with his sword but it was too strong. Magic earth can only be broken with magic.
Wasting no more effort, he turned to looked at the mage. When the mage came closer to him, Fayte saw that his face was as pale as a dull shield, but unlike a shield with a face of pure white, the mage had thin purple tendrils creeping all over his face. The black of his eyes were dark red and the veins in his white were thick and pulsating.
His eyes are bleeding. This man is either poisoned or cursed.
"Where is the agent?" the mage asked, his eyeballs looking as though they would burst at any moment. "I know he seeks my head, so let him come and claim it. Call him out and I shall put an end to this--"
--a shell of earth erupted from the ground around the mage.
Half impaled in the shell were daggers from all directions. Fayte knew little about magic, but he knew that all spells needed a glyph in order to be casted. This man used no glyph to create this shell. The knights surrounding them tried to find the source of the flying daggers, but they were just as lost as the archers lined atop the wall. One of the false knights turned his mount around and started towards Fayte. That was when they heard a choking noise from the inside shell. The false knights began to panic. They rode around the shell, striking at it with their swords while Fayte freed himself. The earth that imprisoned him had become brittle. He carved himself out with his shield, freeing his right leg before a loud shatter made him look up.
By the light-
The mage was headless.
Standing beside his mount and stroking the horse was a man. He was covered in shadow-black leather. Silver links and steel clasps bounded his gloves and boots tight. His cloak of sable hung from his shoulder, black with flakes of white snow. And like a raven poised to strike, his hood covered his head and shrouded his face in darkness, leaving only his mouth exposed to light. While his left hand touched the animal and soothed it, his right hand held on to a small bag about the size… of a head. A pool of blood collected on the ground beneath the pouch.
Behind him, Fayte heard more choking noises. He turned to find all three knights grasping at their throats. For a while Fayte thought that they were trying to strangle themselves, but that wasn't it. They were clawing their throats like there was something inside. Very quickly their face began to turn purple and one by one they fell from their horses, still grabbing and scratching at their necks, their bodies writhing in excruciating pain.
A lump appeared in his throat.
POISON! Fayte fell to his knee. He tried to cough but he could not. The lump in his throat seemed to grow legs, tickling at his windpipe while smaller lumps rolled down into his stomach. He tried to breath in but his throat only tightened further. He tried to breath out but his ears popped and eyes began to lose their focus. Fayte could not get any air and his head grew lighter and lighter. Then something stabbed him in the throat.
The assassin pulled a thin rod from Fayte's throat and immediately Fayte bent over and hurled. Lumps of brown sludge splashed with blood on the ground. He gasped for air and coughed some more, even when the assassin pushed him onto his back.
"My apologies, friend," the hooded killer said, still holding on to the pouch. "You were in the radius of my fumes."
Fayte continued to take in deep breaths, coughing out more blood every now and then.
"Allow me to introduce myself." The light of the sun revealed the lower half of his face. Fayte saw that it was not shadow that shrouded the upper half of the man's face, but a piece of thin black linen. "I am-"
"Underlord…" Fayte said before he went into a short fit of coughing.
When the Underlord smiled, Fayte felt like he was in immediate danger, as though an arrow was coming at him or a sword was being swung at him.
"With this problem taken care of-" He raised the pouch and gave it a little shake. "-my men can now retake this city and I will have Eres Star City... for my own."
Take it. The Orders will have it retaken once this crisis is over.
"Yes, having a city for my own is… tempting," the Underlord said. He spoke with an ease like nothing in this world could hurt him, not because he felt safe here, but because no one else was more dangerous than him. "That would be greedy though. And I treasure the relationship that I have with the King right now. He may not like the idea of me, but the King knows that I have my uses. That is why I am left to roam free. Yes, I believe taking this city for my own would unwise. It would force his hand to take away that very freedom."
The Underlord grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him to his feet. Standing this close to him, Fayte felt an urgent need to run away like he was in grave peril, but the Underlord held him still. Even when armed men charged from the castle gate on foot, the Underlord still held him there and kept him from leaving.
"Would you like me to take care of these men for you?" the Underlord asked, grinning like it was such a silly question. "Or would you prefer they take you to their Master where your Princess now kneels in shackles?"
Fayte shook his hand away. "The deal was for you to save her."
"And the agreement was for you to not inform the Order," the Underlord said. "Now that they are here, the Saldarians must act."
"What do you mean?"
The cry of gryphons echoed through the air.
"I wish you luck, squire." The Underlord began to walk away, head in his hand. "It seems your quest will soon be over, one way or another. I hope it ends well."
Fayte looked to the distance and saw small dark figures flying towards the city. A squadron of gryphons were headed here. With the Underlord in the city and the mage dead, the mercenaries will quickly remove the armours they wear and feign innocence. They would want no part of this now especially with the Order at their doorsteps.
Fayte turned back.
Seven men with swords and axes were coming at him. They weren't even pretending to be knights. Each men wore their own armour and wielded weapons they were used to fighting with. It made sense for Rinmar's uncle to keep the best of the mercenaries within the castle and close to him.
If I allow myself to be taken now then I will be disarmed, bound, and made another hostage.
He bent down and picked up his sword and shield.
Emily is just behind these men and above those steps.
He tightened his grip.
There's no more time for a new plan.
His eyes narrowed.
Fayte ducked and guarded his left, spinning his body and throwing his sword into a flourish, cutting the first two men down. He met the third blade with blade, diving straight into the offensive as he pushed the mercenary back into two other men. Fayte charged all three of them at once. He raised his shield to his face and slammed into them, stabbing his sword at the same time. One of the three dropped, while the other two shoved him off his feet and into the ground.
But Fayte rolled back onto his feet and charged right back at them.
He danced his sword off the first blade, moving so fast the mercenary didn't even see the huge white shield coming at his face. Fayte spun and parried an axe with his sword against the wooden handle. He pulled back, using the curve of the axe as a hook on his sword and successfully disarmed the mercenary. The man stood defenceless for a moment and had an open neck the next.
The remaining two mercenaries hesitated. Within the span of two minutes they had watched five of their comrades fall under the sword of a squire. They hesitated. And that was all Fayte needed to assure himself of a victory. He moved in. His white shield shimmered in the light as it slammed against bones. His sword sang as it cut through armour and flesh. Fayte tore his sword from the dead and swung the blood from his weapon before he broke into a sprint.
White flakes melted on him as it began to snow lightly. He scaled a flight of grey steps and emerged at the inner courtyard of the Magister's Court. The Scygard mage greeted him with Rinmar by his side, warmly wrapped with a wolfpelt cloak. Behind them, the remaining eleven knights were on their knees. All of them bloody and freshly bruised all over, shivering uncontrollably from the cold. Only one knight knelt still and calm as though he could not feel the cold. Captain Resfield himself was at the head of the knights and right beside him-
"Emily!" Fayte shouted.
She looked up and the sight of her sank his heart. The left of her eyes was black and swollen. The right of her face was bleeding from a fresh cut. Her lips were bloody and her hair was in an uneven mess from the harsh handling she had suffered. It only made his lips tremble when she saw him and smiled hopefully.
High castle walls surrounded them here with the sun above that did little to the cold. Five men wrapped in cloaks the colour of the desert stepped out from the shade around the knights. The Scygard mage said nothing, only staring at Fayte with a mix of contempt and awe.
"Uncle," Rinmar said, his hands placed behind him while his eyes were on Fayte, "I fear you may have to hasten your plans. We can wait for Zywedior no longer."
"This is only a squire," his uncle said, turning around to catch the eye of one of the Scygards. "He is nothing."
The Scygard moved and Fayte readied himself but Rinmar stopped them.
"There is a Whiteguard making his way here," Rinmar argued.
His uncle scoffed. "I have defeated one. I shall defeat another."
"That was a woman. The one approaching is not."
Lady Elisen would make quick work of the both of you, Fayte wanted to say, but that was not what happened in the slavers' camp.
"Woman or man, Whiteguard or knight," his uncle held his hands behind him, "they stand no chance against us."
Rinmar seemed disturbed by his uncle's confidence, shooting a worried look at Fayte as though telling him to act quickly. Fayte was one squire against six Scygards and they had Emily. There was nothing he could act upon. He looked to Captain Resfield for guidance, hoping this time the Captain would not just point out an obvious fact to him. The Captain did not, daring a smirk at Fayte before he shook his shoulders ever so slightly, just enough for Fayte to understand that he's broken free of his shackles.
Captain Resfield glanced to his left at Emily, get Emily, then he nodded.
Fayte strode up to Rinmar and his uncle. One of the Scygards came forward to intercept him but that was when Captain Resfield moved his leg forward and stood up. He broke his shackles and screamed, "FOR HYLAN!"
At once his men all rose and though still shackled, they flung themselves at the Scygards. The Scygards moved quick enough to plunge their curved blades into the knights, but they were sorely outnumbered. A few of the knights sacrificed themselves for their brothers and sisters to take out the Scygard, goring them to the ground before they ended them brutally with stomps and kicks.
Rinmar dove onto Emily at once and for a heartbeat Fayte thought that he had lost her. Thankfully all Rinmar did was shield her, holding her in his arms protectively with a dagger drawn. His uncle drew his sword and drove it through Captain Resfield, but the Captain roared and wrapped his arms around him, holding him down just long enough forFayte to sprint forward and put his sword through the Scygard's heart.
"NO!" Rinmar screamed.
His uncle grinned. The Scygard mage raised his leg and kicked Captain Resfield off his curved blade, leaving the knight to die on the ground as he spun around and struck Fayte. He barely raised his shield in time, feeling the force of the golden blade glancing off his shield as he rolled aside. Rinmar's uncle laughed as he reached behind and tore Fayte's sword from his back. Fayte turned to Rinmar for an explanation and he saw the Prince pointing at his own chest.
Kestel had once sank a dagger through Rinmar's heart.
"My Prince," he said, still unaware that Rinmar was against him, "do you have the Princess?"
Rinmar conveniently put his dagger to Emily's neck. "Yes."
Fayte readied himself while the knights, freed from their shackles now, pulled Captain Resfield aside. They could not make any move against the Scygard mage, not when they were unarmed and unsure of Rinmar's loyalties.
"I fear you may be right, my Prince. We can wait no longer." He looked back to see Kamille approach them. "Good, you finally show yourself. Can I trust you to keep this squire busy?"
Her eyes flickered to his. Whose side are you on, Kamille?
"Yes," she said, draped with a thick cloak of wool, unarmoured but armed with her malicious weapon.
Rinmar's uncle smiled as he raised his right hand over his head and began to chant under his breath. He shut his eyes and a glyph of crimson and gold tore open beneath his feet. Do it now, Kamille. Prove me wrong. The girl looked from Fayte to Rinmar's uncle. She stared at the latter with her back to Fayte. As time passed the glyph grew larger, dark mist poured from the glyph like blood from wound, seeping towards Rinmar's uncle and coiling around him.
Kamille wasn't going to do anything.
I should have known. Fayte ran to the Scygard mage. Kamille spun around and struck him on the shield. Suddenly she was at his right- She's fast! -knocking him on his sword and forcing him to jump away.
"Whose side are you on, Kamille?" Fayte yelled at her, swinging his arms to loosen his shoulders.
That was when he noticed the tears in her eyes.
"I fight," she said, her tears rolled from her eyes but her face strained with rage, "for myself!"
Kamille swung her weapon at Rinmar's uncle. At first it seemed as though the sword would cut through the black mist, but her golden blade stopped and the mist enveloped her. Rinmar's uncle opened his eyes and his two orbs glowed crimson.
"Foolish child," he said, grabbing Kamille by the neck. "You think to strike at me as your mother did? She was no more than a bed warmer and you a servant. How dare you raise your sword at--"
--Rinmar jumped onto his uncle's back and opened his neck.