By: Suspicious Panda
“Xavier!” Vesstan called. Xavier spun around, surprised. “Xavier, you were right, she’s evil.”
“I know,” he replied coldly. Vesstan stopped by the bottom of the tree.
“I’m sorry,” he panted. Xavier shrugged.
“I know,” he said again. I could tell that his indifference was getting on Vesstan’s nerves, but he kept his cool for the sake of trying to make amends for his own actions.
“I need your help,” he said. Xavier didn’t respond. “Please, Xavier, Quota is going to destroy everything.”
“So, now you want my help,” Xavier replied. Vesstan made a motion of frustration as if flipping an imaginary table, then took a breath.
“Xavier, I’m serious. We need you.” He reached up to Xavier’s perch and pulled his feet. Xavier nearly fell flat on his face, but caught himself. He looked up at Vesstan in anger and confusion and Vesstan gave him an apologetic look. Xavier didn’t even get a chance to be angry because he saw what Vesstan left back at the alter. I looked at what was making him freeze. A fire blazing. People trying to put it out. Quota was nowhere to be found.
“Alright,” Xavier said softly. He stood and brushed himself off.
“We should find Elyon,” I suggested. The two boys nodded and began walking toward the castle.
We arrived at the castle gates to find the door blown off its hinges. I immediately felt fear rise up and grip my heart. I shook it off. I couldn’t let fear get the best of me while Xavier and Vesstan are running in, regardless of the danger that might be ahead. I refused to drag them down.
We ran into Elyon’s office. He sat in his chair with Quota hovering over his shoulder. She held the Forebearer’s Blade by his throat casually.
“Oh, hey, guys. Nice of you to stop by,” she said with a smile. She really was beautiful, still in her wedding gown with her makeup and hair all done up. But her intent had not been to get married.
“Quota,” Vesstan said cautiously, his eyes not leaving his father. “Please let him go.”
“Now, why would I want to do that? Vesstan, I don’t need him. I need you,” Quota said. “I had you once before, but those Arrow Brandeds broke you out.” She said the words as if it were an insult. “Speaking of which, where are your other two little friends?”
The three of us looked around and wondered where Soleil and Rumour were. I ran to the window and looked out. I scanned the people fleeing the burning wedding ceremony. I spotted Soleil, still in her bridesmaid dress, leaning on Rumour’s shoulder as if she was in pain. He led her away from the flames.
“I see them,” I said. Xavier ran over and looked out, but Vesstan kept his eyes on his father. I turned back to what was happening in the office.
“You were the woman from Morrow Inn,” he said softly. Quota smiled, eyes glimmering malevolently.
“I need you to come withe me, Vesstan,” Quota said.
“I know. But why?” Vesstan responded calmly.
“You’re my key.” Quota acted as if this were obvious.
“What does that even mean?” Vesstan exclaimed. He was getting stressed. Tears began to form in his eyes. “People keep saying that, but they don’t tell me why!” His voice shook and I knew he was on the verge of breaking down right there.
“Don’t worry, I’ll explain it. If I bring you down to the Tree of Blessings in Caseithel City and spill your blood at the bottom, the Arrow Brandeds will be destroyed.” Quota said this as if it were something completely normal. As if she were just reciting a shopping list.
“But wha–” Vesstan began.
“Now, if you were just any elven prince, the tree would only begin to die.” Quota gestured with the knife, holding Elyon in the chair with her other hand. “With some work, you could bring it back. But, because of your unprecedented power,” she pointed at Vesstan with the blade, “there will be no cure for the tree. As you know, the Arrow Brandeds use the Tree of Blessings for their branding ceremonies. If it dies,” she made a stabbing motion over Elyon’s chest, “so do they. It’s simple.”
Vesstan took a deep breath and cleared his face of expression.
“Take me there,” he said with a certainty I’d never seen in anyone before.
“No, Vesstan, don’t do that!” Xavier said, gripping his arm.
“I have a plan,” the prince responded.
“What is it, then?”
“Don’t die,” Vesstan said as Quota grabbed him by the back of the shirt. They both disappeared in a flash of bright light.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Elyon asked, standing up. “We need to get him back.”
“You’re right.” Xavier said. “But we need Soleil and Rumour as well.”
We ran out of the castle gates. Past the burning buildings. Past the panicked people. We ran through the burned down wedding ceremony. Most of the fires were out. Only one flower remained on the alter. We printed across the yellow field. Soleil and Rumour still sat at the foot of a tree.
“Guys, Quota has Vesstan!” I yelled as we approached. Soleil jumped up, but immediately winced and leaned against the tree. I saw that her dress was ripped and burned. Under the fabric, her leg had severe burns and some of the material from her dress had melted and stuck to her skin.
“Guys, I’d love to come, but I think I should stay behind,” she said. Elyon shook his head.
“Nonsense!” he said, picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder. She let out a small scream and clung to him. She was obviously not used to being carried like that, if at all.
We sprinted back to the castle. Elyon sent us to get armour and weapons while he treated Soleil. We obliged. He was much more serious after his son was taken. Appearance was the only similarity to man I met before. By the time we had returned, arms full of weapons and armour, Soleil was already standing and walking about gingerly. Through the ripped and burned fabric, I saw that her wound had been cleaned and dressed.
“You can walk,” Xavier observed.
“You’re right, but I can’t do anything in this dress. I’ll just have to take it off,” Soleil said. She stepped through a door, into a random bedroom. While she changed, we handed out armour. There wasn’t much, but it was enough. Vests and different kinds of pads were distributed.
“Y’know, good enough,” Soleil said, stepping through the door. She wore black cargo pants and a navy blue long sleeve shirt. They were not her size at all, but like she said, good enough. We gave her a vest and I helped her put on knee and shin pads as she put it on. She grabbed a knife from the pile of weapons. We all began grabbing as many guns and knives as we could. I was careful not to make myself too heavy though.
“Alright, let’s go,” Xavier said. He lead us out the door. Suddenly, I saw something unexpected. Vesstan staggered towards us. He had what looked like claw marks across his face.
“Vesstan, what happened,” Xavier called, running to his side.
“We didn’t get that far. I used my quote unquote ‘unprecedented power’ to, well, overpower her. I got away, but I know she’s not that far. And I know that she’s even more angry now.” Vesstan stopped to catch his breath.
“What about the claw marks?” I asked.
“She’s a shapeshifter. I think. I’ve never seen a shifter teleport like that,” he replied. I stepped forward, but felt a hand pull me back.
“Well, don’t you look ready for something big?” Quota snarled over my shoulder. Then the world crumbled under my feet and Quota was the only solid thing left for me to hold onto.
I landed on hard ground and looked around in panic. I sat at the foot of the largest tree I’ve ever seen, Quota watching me from her seat on a particularly big root.
“You’ve never traveled like that, have you?” she asked, picking at the bark with the Forebearer’s Blade. I thought for a second I might just throw up right there. That would answer her question. Instead, I swallowed hard and took a breath.
“Didn’t you say you needed Vesstan for this?” I asked. She nodded absently. “Why did you take me?”
“Oh, I know that you won’t work for the sacrifice, but they’ll definitely come after you. They don’t want your blood on their conscience,” Quota said simply.
I felt a wave of nausea again. Did she just indirectly threaten to kill me?
“They’ll be here any second now,” she said. I looked around. The tree was surrounded by what looked like the kind of arenas gladiators would compete in. A few strange, modern things sat around the ancient looking structure. A trash can by the door. A cellphone forgotten on one of the benches.
“Why do you need to get rid of the Arrow Brandeds?” I asked. She put the knife down in her lap and turned her gaze to me.
“When the Arrow Brandeds are gone and the elves are overthrown, then will I reign as a queen,” she responded simply. The line from my dream. It was coming back little by little. I could feel the memory there, but I couldn’t access it.
Suddenly, there was a bright flash. Quota scrambled to grab me and put the knife to my throat.
“Quota!” Soleil’s voice was sharp and filled with rage. I almost thought that, just for a second, I saw… fear in Quota’s eyes. The five of them stood there for a second. Xavier was the first one to break the silence, but not in a way I’d expect from him. He ran from their formation to the trashcan by the door and threw up. I heard sighs from at least three different people. Rumour put his head in his hands.
“No matter how many times; he always pukes,” I heard him mutter. Xavier sat back on his heels and Soleil walked over to him to make sure he was okay. Meanwhile, the rest of us resumed what we were doing. With the two Arrow Brandeds gone, that left only three people ready to fight. Soleil rubbed her brother’s back as he leaned back over the trash can. I had never anticipated that what I thought was the strongest and quietest member of the group would have the weakest stomach. Then I remembered how he had been when we first met and it all made sense.
“Anyways…” Quota said. “What are you waiting for, come get your human.”
Vesstan lunged at her and she teleported a few feet away, leaving me at the foot of the tree. The prince helped me up and handed me over to Elyon who pulled me toward the door.
“No, I’m not leaving.” I pushed against him. He let me go, not wanting to anger me too much.
“Quota!” I shouted up at her. She turned to me and my heart stopped. I hadn’t planned past that. The brief distraction gave Vesstan a chance, which he took. He tackled her and the two of them tumbled over the roots. I looked back and Rumour and Soleil were helping Xavier up from his kneeling position. Elyon took Xavier’s hand and Soleil bolted off to help Vesstan. She walked up behind Quota, trying to be as quiet as possible. She pulled a knife from her belt and positioned it above her back. Suddenly, Quota spun around, she stomped her foot on the ground and threw her hands out to either side in a pushing motion. Soleil and Vesstan both flew back. Vesstan landed on the hard, tiled ground. Soleil, on the other hand, flew straight into a wall. Xavier ran over to her. He knelt at her side. Quota snapped her fingers and dark figures began to rise from the ground. They were almost like ghosts, but they were strange. They moved like ghosts, but looked more like shadows. They stood still briefly, then attacked. Soleil and Xavier both pulled their bows and arrows off of their backs. Vesstan drew two long swords and planted his feet, preparing for Quota’s next attack. Elyon and I, on the other hand, drew guns and aimed for the closest shadows. The sky was getting dimmer as if it was preparing for night.
Gunshots rang out. The bullets and arrows passed right through the shadows. They exploded in black smoke, reassembling about thirty seconds later. I felt one pull me by the collar of my shirt. I landed hard on the stone tiles, knocking the air out of my lungs. A shadow stood over me. It lifted a fist and its arm morphed into a large blade-like point. I rolled away just as the shadow brought its fist down beside my head, cracking the stone. It tried again. Right before it hit my face, Vesstan sliced it in half with his swords. He helped me up.
“Always have someone watching you back,” he said. I ran over to Elyon, who seemed to have his hands full. I shot at the shadows. An arrow flew past my face. I turned just in time to see a puff of black smoke behind me. I saw Xavier whisper something to Soleil. She nodded and began moving towards Vesstan. Quota had really met her match and decided to shapeshift. Vesstan grabbed the Forebearers Blade as she took on a four winged, dragon-like form. Rumour eyes glowed white as he changed into his demon form and ran over to help Vesstan. Soleil shot arrows from afar while Xavier aimed at any shadows that got close. Elyon and I went back-to-back, shooting at the dark forms. I watched as Vesstan plunged the blade into Quota’s scaly calf. She made a sound between a human scream and an animal’s howl.
I heard a shouting from that direction. All remaining shadows dispersed and didn’t reform. I turned and saw Quota, in dragon form, carrying Vesstan off. Soleil managed to hit her wing with an arrow. She made a pained noise and dipped down, struggling to fly. Quota managed to get over the arena wall, carrying Vesstan with her. We all ran outside as quick as possible. Xavier shot an arrow and caught another of Quota’s wings. She shrieked and dropped Vesstan. Luckily he was only a metre or two away from the ground. He landed, holding his arm tight to his body as if it had been injured.
“No, she can’t get away!” I cried. Rumour pounced on Quota, pulling her out of the air. They landed on the grass, nearly rolling right over the cliff on the other side of the field. Wait, hold on… A cliff, a dragon, Vesstan. We were standing right in the place from my dream. The memories rushed back, washing over me like a freezing cold ocean.
“Lake, are you okay?” Xavier asked. I stared at him in silence for almost a full minute. He looked frightened by my strange behaviour.
“It’s all coming back,” I whispered. “This is my dream.” Xavier stared at me for a second, then began yelling to the others. Vesstan jumped up and they all got in an arrow-shaped formation with Soleil at the head. One side was shorter than the other so I ran in and filled the spot. We surrounded Rumour and Quota. Quota roared and spit flames at us and we dispersed, only to reform seconds later. We all aimed our weapons. Vesstan was left with only one uninjured arm, so a second sword wasn’t an option. Quota waved her tail wildly. The others ducked, but I wasn’t so fast. I was slammed down, hitting my head on the hard dirt.
The world started to spin. I saw Vesstan fall to his knees. His eyes glowing bright, bathing everything in front of him in green light. Just like in my dream, blood poured from the claw wounds down his back, soaking into his shirt. But this time it was green, obviously. The ground began to shake. Elyon backed away from his son. Xavier took his sister’s hand and began running toward the forest on the other side of the field. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t stand.
Quota bit down on Rumour’s leg and he screamed in pain. He flailed and managed to get the shapeshifter-like creature off of him. Rumour pushed Quota off the edge of the cliff. For a second she didn’t come back up. Then I saw her farther off, straining to stay aloft. Rumour ran toward the forest where Soleil and Xavier had headed, then looked back at me.
I stared up at the sky and watched as the arena cracked. A large slab of stone fell and was heading straight for me. I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I closed my eyes to accept my fate. This is where my dream ended, and this is where I will end, I thought to myself.
At the last second, I felt something push me from under the rock. When I reopened my eyes, Rumour was standing over me. He bowed his head and invited me to get in his back. I struggled to get up and he helped me with one of his front paws. When I finally managed to get on his back, I saw Quota’s silhouette against the dark sky. The earth rumbled and I held tight to Rumour. Just like in my dream, a piece of a far off mountain collapsed because of Vesstan’s earthquake. It caught her wing and she plummeted downwards, shifting back to human form as she fell. Rumour ran towards the others.
“Rumour!” Soleil called out. Xavier turned back and ran toward us. He threw his arms around his friend’s neck then stepped back. He took something from Rumour’s mouth. The blade. Relief flooded my mind. The Forbearers Blade sat in his hands, safe. A little wet, but safe. Xavier smiled widely and held it up high to show Soleil. She saw it and cheered. The three of us head over to where she stood with Elyon. She hugged her brother tightly. I turned just in time to see the green light in Vesstan’s eyes go out, replaced my nothing. Like a burned out lightbulb. He swayed slightly. Then he fell to the side. Xavier ran to him.
“Vesstan!” Elyon cried.