It had to be an illusion. There was no way Lyndon could speak to him. What he couldn’t deny was the fact something was happening around him. The crowd, including his friends, blurred. He wiped his eyes to bring it all to focus again, but it changed nothing. The waking world was distant. Another might have become alarmed. There was a piece of him that was. However, the monk inside him, stilled him from doing anything abrupt. The weight behind him shifted and leaned on him as they spoke. Lyndon liked to do that.
Not going to say anything? Really? You aren’t going to be amazed? You know what I’m amazed about, you being crushed by my death? If I could live again, I would do it all over again. Maybe this time, I’ll punch you in the head to stop you from being so sad about it.
“Well, excuse me for being upset because I was stupid,” he said mockingly and aloud. He didn’t know why he did. What he was hearing should not have been real, but speaking felt right.”If I left sooner, you would still be here.”
There you go again. It’s annoying enough you do this after a sparring secession. ‘If I did that, I would’ve won,’ or ‘if I did this,’ I might’ve been able to do some impossible but impressive technique that these mere mortals around me can’t.’ Get over yourself! I don’t care about what you didn’t do.
Soletus found himself getting frustrated at the apparition. “I failed you! We made a promise to watch each other’s back.”
Remember, I told you I was going to save you next time you needed saving. That was part of that promise.
“But all I was thinking about was myself. I wasn’t watching out for you!”
If I really had your back, then you would’ve felt safe and not protect yourself like you did. So there, I’m right. You’re wrong. Get over yourself. I’m the oldest. Do as I say.
Soletus squeezed his eyes shut to wipe the dampness forming under them away, grinning. It had to be Lyndon. Only he would say any of that.
Besides, I’m to blame for my death more than you. I was loosing my sight. I should’ve stepped down long ago, but I wanted to be someone. I wanted to find my own greatness. To stand out just as much as you. Anyway, Fox-top is better at watching you back. How am I supposed to compete with a shield anyway? Makes a fellow feel inadequate.
“You came all the way here to tell me this?”
Yeah. This is a rare opportunity. I jumped to it. You needed to hear me tell you, I’m not mad at you. I happily gave my life to you, so stop with the pity-patty.
“Thanks, I love you too,” returned Soletus.
He felt a pat on the back of his head. Glad to be of assistance. I have to go now. Live, Sol. Be bold and be brave.
The queen voice ended in a long note. The wind moved on, carrying Lyndon’s voice away with it. The crowd was silent and from a corner, there was a clap and then the entire area erupted in applause. Their cheers and claps thundered in Soletus. He jumped up and clapped his hands over his ears. He did what Mien often did when the world was too much and fled. Voices deep, high, child, and adult clamored in his ears and in his mind as he ran. Some spoke in low whispers, some spoke just a little louder, and all spoke in Melodic. He didn’t know what they were saying to him and he didn’t care. He just ran to get as much distance as he could so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
The world quited. He found himself in the center of the gazebo in the pond. He was sucking in air as if he had run for miles. His heart was in his throat. He shuffled to the railing and leaned against it. He looked up to see the reflection of the moon on the water. It was blinding and he squeezed his eyes shut. Everything around him looked unusually bright and surreal. He sank down to his knees. The platform felt solid and real enough. However, the moonlight that shined on him almost felt warm. One shouldn’t feel anything from that. His only conclusion was the fact that he was in some state and needed to wake up.
Fabric rustled beside him. He followed the skirt up to Briar’s shadowed face etched with concern.
“I was trying to get Mien or Ko-ko to come here, but they were caught up on the Queen.”
Soletus searched her face, she looked real.
She put her hands on her hips. “Don’t look so surprised I’m here. You sounded like you were arguing with someone and next thing I know it, you run off.”
He continued to stare at her wordlessly.
“Are you spooked or are you really that surprised to see me,” she said. “I can leave if that’s what you want.”
Soletus then rose upright and hugged her.
Briar let out a gasp. “What? Why?”
She was fleshy, and clearly real as she squirmed to be let go. Soletus pulled her away, but rested his hands rest on her arms. It was the contact he needed to anchor him there.
“Do I need to get Mien because he’s good with weird?”
“Sorry,” he said and didn’t recognize his voice. It sounded uncanny. There was an undertone of power there. He had a lit. “Something happened back there.”
“So the Queen’s song got to you?”
Soletus felt the wind blow again. However, he didn’t hear voices on it. He felt cold.
“You’re shivering now. Are you sick or something? I really should get Mien or Kiao,” said Briar as she spun around. Soletus caught her by the arm before she got out of his reach.
“No, stay here,” he said.
It was then someone cleared their throat behind them. Both Soletus and Briar turned around to see Princess Arlwin standing there.
“What’s going on here,” asked she asked.
“Princess,” greeted Briar. ”I’m trying to get this dod help.”
“Oh? Is there something wrong,” she said, walking toward them.
What ever happened, faded. The world was normal. Soletus leaned against the railing. “The Queen’s voice, had an effect on me. I don’t know—”
He stopped because he caught movement in the shadows. Something large and dark stepped into the lantern light, coming down the walkway towards them. It’s was a little larger than an obsidian hound. His left forearm ached.
Arlwin started to follow his gaze.
“Don’t move,” Soletus hissed.
The young woman became still. “What is it,” she asked and the drass beast began to rumble. Arlwin’s hand went to the hilt of her sword.
Soletus motioned for her to stop. The princess’s hand encircled the hilt of her sword, but she stayed from anymore movement. The monster then stopped it’s approach. It raises it’s nose in the air and started sniffing. Briar pulled up the skirt of her dress to her thighs catching Arlwin’s attention.
“Briar stay still,” hissed Soletus between his teeth.
She slid out her tao stone stiletto. “What do you want me to do? Go for its eyes?”
“Is that a thigh scabbard,” gasped Arlwin. “Where did you get it?”
“I had it made from a tanner in Grace’s Hope,” she said smiling and showing it off a little longer.
“Really, the army issued ones makes my leg sweat,” said Arlwin. “That looks much better.”
Soletus then cleared his throat and spoke very low and tersely. “I think the beastie in front of us is a little more important that accessories.”
“Indeed,” whispered Arlwin. “What do we do about it.”
“You do nothing about it. Briar, when I tell you too, take the princess and run. Don’t look back.”
Arlwin then whispered to him. “And leave you to fight that thing by yourself?”
“I’ll be okay,” he said, eyes fixed on the drass beast in front of him. It had tough skin and tusks making a knife useless. He would have to tussle with it and his muscles tensed in anticipation. One more beastie to kill for pay back.
The Princess studied him. “You’re trembling. You can’t fight that thing by yourself…can you?”
A smirk stretch his lips. “It’s just the anticipation. It ain’t that big, but get Mien here asap. Tell him I’ve a beastie for him to roast.”
Briar groaned. “You always get to have all the fun.”
The young monk stepped forward. Briar slid behind him reaching for the Princess’s hand.
“Run,” he shouted and let out a loud savage cry running towards the beast to get its attention. It caught sight of him and charged. At the same time, he run at the beast and then did a handspring using the beast’s back. The princess and Briar raced by him as he twisted in the air landing with enough time to grab the drass beast by the tail. “Let’s dance, Beastie.”
The drass beast clawed at the wooden planks of the platform as Soletus dragged it. When it couldn’t get purchase, it twisted around to snap at his hands. The young monk then swung it against one of the support beams. The entire structure shook showering him with dust. The beast snarled.
“Oh, you liked that did you,” he said, flipping it and slammed it to the ground. He tugged the gloves down on his hands and then cracked his knuckles. He then clapped creating as much noise as he could to keep it from the fleeing lady and princess. As they went towards the crowd, he saw someone running away from it. They kept to the shadows of the estate going between the shrubs and waiting by the front door. He had focused on the drass beast. “Here beastie, beastie, beastie.”
The monster got to its feet and snapped the air in his direction, but didn’t attack. Drass beasts were used to things being afraid of it than something that wasn’t. It paced back and forth before it tried to charge him from the left and Soletus pivoted. “Too slow,” he said jump backward from its teeth and then pulled himself one the rails of the gazebo. He used the support beam to help him keep his balance. It tried to bite his feet and and he danced the other side of it.
“Bad beastie,” he admonished and stomped on its head. Before jumping down and kicking it in the lower jaw. He then stepped behind it and saw someone dashing towards him with a light orb over their head and someone else close behind them with three.
The drass beast caught sight of them and tried to run off. Soletus grabbed it by its tail again.
“Oh no you don’t,” he said. It whirled around and gnashed its teeth at his hands. Soletus snatched his hand back but not before the monsters tusks left a tear in his glove. He glanced to see if his skin was cut. It wasn’t, but that didn’t stop his heart from beating in his throat or the shot of pain going through his left forearm.
The drass beast ignored him again and tried to run towards Mien who was now running up the walkway.
“We aren’t done yet,” said Soletus grabbing the monter by the tail and back leg and flung it behind him with snarl that would’ve done the drass beast justice. It tumbled to the back railing of the structured and clawed at the wood to stand.
“Soletus move,” shouted the young chanter who’s voice came out like a gale. The young monk made for the railing and vaulted himself over it in time to see the ground light up in veins of gold. The drass beast screamed. He jumped and saw the reflection of golden light as he hit the water.
He wasn’t expecting the water being so cold. It cut him like a knife. He burst through the surface and saw flames being reflected on the water. He looked up and saw flames consuming the wooden structure. He winced. Mien might’ve been a little overzealous. He swam towards shore and spotted the figure in the shrubs. They slip into the front door of the estate as the guards noticed his fall and one of them was coming towards him. From the amphitheater, a cluster of men had gathered at the shore shouting at him.
Soletus realized then it was a distraction. Putting them on edge, finding the poison, and leading them to the tongueless male was a distraction.
Soletus swam with earnest shouting for the guard to turn around, they didn’t earn him.
When he got to the shore, it was Tobias who helped him out.
“Where’s the Patriarch and his family,” he demanded.
“In the main house. All guests are being directed there,” said Yunus. “We are checking the ground for more drass beasts.”
“Where are they being taken?”
“Likely the meeting hall. It’s the securest room right now,” said Yunus.
Soletus didn’t wait and took off towards the entrance. “With me,” he shouted. “Forget searching.” He charged in, pushing past several servants running around. He prayed he wasn’t too late going down the hallways. He knew the direction of the hall and guessed turning down a corridor and then backtracked when he saw Yunus motion him towards another. And then he heard women screaming. He was too late.
He went towards the shouting and saw the Gyrfalcon clan huddled together and being hurried by Captain Gyrfalcon towards a corridor. The Patriarch was in the middle of elbowing a person with a knife in the face. He was grasping his side.
“That’s quite enough from you,” he growled and kicked them in the abdomen. The force sent them back against the wall. It was enough time for Soletus grab their arm and yank the knife from their hand. The person struggled trying to get out of his grasp. He wrestled with them and slammed them against the wall and pinned them. They tried to bring their knee up to get him between the legs and he tossed them on the ground. What was staring up at him was an angry woman. She tried to throw herself at him and that was when Yunus caught her and pulled her back. Captain Gyrfalcon appeared and took hold of her pushing her against the wall again.
“Indeed enough,” he said, folding their arms behind their back. “I need someone, anyone with shackles.”
“Yunus, go find someone,” ordered Soletus and the Patriarch sank to the ground. Blood was on the floor and on the walls. All of it was clearly his.
Soletus slid to his side.
“Kharis,” shouted Lady Maelyra.
“Keep still, Sir,” said Soletus, looking at the blood saturating the man’s shirt. Also, there was blood oozing from between where he held his side, The was another spot on his chest.”
He wheezed. “I’ve been stabbed in the back too.”
Soletus unwound his sash. “Hang on. Lady Maelyra, hold this to his stomach. Get Sister Kiao now,” he shouted to Tobias right as the Red Guard came, taking the woman from. Captain Gyrfalcon tried to join them, but Lord Kharis stopped him.
“Liamus, see to our family and the Queen in the room,” he said weakly. “I’m fine.”
The man hesitated.
Soletus then instructed the rest of his bandmates. “Go with them.” Lady Maelyra presented the ribbon she had tied around her head to him.
“It’s for his arm.”
Soletus took it and the Patriarch’s eyes began to wander. “Sir, stay with me. Tell me, what happened?”
“Ambushed,” he said. “She came right from behind the wall and was trying to get Valencia. Liamus was ahead and I took the rear. I was closest to her and fought her. Fast dear she was.”
Soletus heard feet and saw Kiao running to them. “Lord Kharis,” she cried with Briar trailing her.
“No,” the young woman cried. “No, Papa, No!”
Kiao pulled her back and spun her around. She forced her voice at her. “No, I need you to get Mien. I need help with this.” Briar nodded and charged away. The priestess got down. “Lord Kharis. I need you to stay with me. I need you to focus on me.”
The man’s eyes rolled. “Smell too much blood.”
Maelyra stroked his head. “He doesn’t like blood.”
Kiao hovered a hand over his heart. She stared vaguely in front of her and frowned. “The wounds aren’t poisoned, but he’s been stabbed six times.”
“Six? I counted four,” said Lord Kharis. “I imagined one stab would kill an elf a lot quicker than this.” He coughed and there was blood in his mouth and he winced. “What are you doing sister?”
“Doesn’t feel good,” he said with his eyes rolling in his head.
“Kharis,” shrilled Maelyra.
Kiao was looking intently inside his body. “Is he out?”
“Yes,” she said.
The patriarch moaned.
“Don’t worry, he’s still fighting,” reassured Kiao. “He’s a great deal of fight left in him. I’m worried the most about is stomach wound. We need to move him. Soletus, I need you to carry him. Somewhere, anywhere clean.”
Lady Maelyra nodded. “I know a good place.”
Soletus scooped the Patriarch up and followed Lady Maelyra down the hall and took him into a room to a private small meeting room with a good long table for Kiao to work.
“Will Mien be able to find us,” said Lady Maelyra digging into a cabinet and pulled out a decanter and a crystal class bottle of liqueur.
Kiao nodded tugging and pulled at Lord Kharis’s clothing. “Certainly.”
Soletus hung back, taking in the sight. The taste of elven blood filled his mouth and for an instance, he smelled dust around him. His ears started ringing again as that had that moment. Confusion and the rising feeling of fear kept him still. It was Mien rushing by him with Nimbus demanding what had happened that brought his mind forward again. He felt unbalanced wondering where he was.
Mien took one look at the Patriarch and started giving out orders. “I need mine or Kiao’s bag and warm water,” he said.
Nimbus nodded and darted out. Soletus followed going towards the kitchen while Nimbus went upstairs. Guests weren’t anywhere about. It was mostly Brotherhood and staff around looking and searching rooms, calling them clear after they inspected them. When Soletus came to the kitchen, it was busy with staff looking frayed, heating up water and gathering a mass of teacups. He asked them nicely for a basin and a kettle explaining that Lord Kharis was injured. His clothing was too wet and dark to see the blood on him so there was no panicking and a demand for answers. However, there was a good amount of urgency and a tall strong woman followed him back. When he arrived, they had him undressed to see the full extent of his wounds. He was stabbed in the back between his spine and shoulder blade. There was a wound in his left hand and arm and there he was stabbed in the chest twice and stomach once. Kiao rolled him to the side working on his back. Nimbus entered his mind.
“You can leave now. We’ve everything under control. Go to your father and tell him what happened. If he’s not in the dining hall, he’s outside.”
Soletus gladly left. He just trekked across the estate again with pond water squelching in his boots with every step. He then became aware of how terrible he smelled. Between the sour smell of pond water and blood, he didn’t know what was worse. He avoided the dining hall and went outside first. He heard his father giving out orders.
“After we get the main house searched, I want the inn checked before we let the guests return there. I mean every inch of it. Then we escort them to their rooms by blocks. That’s the safest thing to do,” he said then looked above everyone’s heads and then barked. “Soletus!”
All the wardens parted and the young monk walked in the midst of them, ignoring all the stares.
His father’s brow pulled together. “What happened?” Concern was heavy in his voice.
Smoke was still heavy in the air. Soletus gestured towards the smoldering gazebo. “I don’t think you need an explanation on that. But the Patriarch was stabbed multiple times by a single assassin. I wasn’t able to get there in time to keep it from happening, but my men were able to grab her. Lord Kharis is in Sister Kiao’s hands now. Last I checked, she was confident in his survival”
His father took him in from head to toe. “Are you alright?”
He shrugged. “I’m fine. Just a little damp from the pond.”
“You went tearing off at the concert. Did that have anything to do with this?”
Soletus forgot that he had. It didn’t even feel like the same night. “No, Sir. It was personal reasons. We can talk about it later. I’m here for my orders.”
“Orders,” he barked incredulously. “I order you to get out of those clothes.”
His father pointed to the estate house. “Afterwards, you go to bed. I don’t want a sick warden. Go!”
Soletus saluted him and walked away. On his walk back, he became aware of how wet he was. The rush of the evening’s events were starting to wear off. The night air was making his exposed skin icy. Everything that was touched by his uniform, was getting uncomfortably cold. Going inside didn’t help. His movements caused his trousers to sag and the squelching of his boots echoed in the empty hall. If anyone was around, they would’ve seen him walking comically up the staircase holding the sides of his trousers.
When he was about to cross the threshold of the corridor, something metallic shot out from behind the doorway. He stared down at the edge of the blade at his neck.
“Stop there,” ordered Princess Arlwin, her voice husky and threatening.
Soletus gaze slide down the blade to the hand that held it. The cold light of a hunter, burned in her eyes. All the girl like qualities were gone. Soletus returned that expression with something just as cold and passionless.
“Could you put that away,” he said.
Recognition lit Arlwin’s face and all of what Soletus had seen vanished.
“Oh, Junior Warden, what are you doing here,” she asked.
“I can ask the same,” he returned. “Why aren’t you in your room! It’s dangerous.”
“I’m searching for anyone prowling around,” she said lowering her sword and then looked him over with her nose wrinkling. “Why are you wet.”
“I dove in the pond so Mien could take care of the drass beast,” he told her.
Her eyes went wide. “He burned the gazebo.”
Soletus shrugged. “He may have gotten over-zealous.”
She then took him in again. “You’re shivering.”
“That’s what happens when you dive into a cold pond,” he took a step around feeling tension in his chest. His heart was beating too fast.
“Are you okay,” she asked when he placed a hand on his chest.
He nodded. “It’ll pass. The Patriarch was stabbed a few times. I have his blood on me in. I can smell it,” he said matter-of-factly.
She took his hand. “Come on. I’m escorting you to your room. If anyone attacks, I’ll try not to stab them too much.”
Soletus thought to pull away, but he was more amused. The Princess charged forward with her sword out ready to cut down anyone in their path.