• Tales of Xalthia

    Chapter 22: Kingdom's Ruin

    By the time Elle finished informing Tsuki and everyone else in the audience chamber of what she had found out, it was already dark outside and the hour was very late. The audience chamber fell silent for a few moments, leaving a sense of dread and tension in the air. Whatever Elle had to say caught everyone off guard, especially the royal family. They were all speechless.

    Taichi had a hard time absorbing what Elle had just informed them of what she learned. "I'm sorry. Could you repeat that for me, please? I want to be sure I heard it right" he said.

    Elle shook her head and sighed. "Fine, I'll give you the short version. This kingdom, as a whole, is in grave danger. Not only does Menorion want to conquer Cayhill, but I sense a very powerful darkness growing in strength nearby at an alarming rate. I'm afraid this problem exceeds my own power to handle. I'd like you all to exercise extreme caution. The attacks on Briswater and Basilwell were only the beginning" she said.

    Tsuki became confused when she brought up the attack on Briswater. "Wait, weren't you the one who attacked the mines of Briswater?" he asked.

    Elle shook her head. "No, the ones who attacked the mines came from the same dark force that now threatens the nation. I was in the middle of hunting them down and just happened to be there when you guys showed up" she said.

    Emma crossed her arms and slipped into thought for a moment. "So, you're saying that this dark force might attack us?" she asked.

    Elle nodded. "Yes. I do believe that this force will attack. If it were up to me, I'd have the royal family to a safe place until this matter is taken care of" she said.

    Taichi stroked his chin and tried to follow what's being said while thinking of the options that they have. "How do you know that they will attack?" he asked.

    Elle looked at Taichi with a serious look on her face. "This dark force is controlled by someone in league with Menorion. As you are all fully aware, they attacked Basilwell. They want total domination over all kingdoms under the name of their ruler, King Caius" she said. She then looked at the group for a moment before continuing her explanation. "Since Eresseas is in a neutral state, Caius knows that you have no allies to turn to for aid so he thinks that this would be an easy target" she said.

    Taichi sighed heavily, massaging his forehead. "So, negotiations are out of the questions then" he said. He then stood up and nodded. "I don't want to admit it myself, but their military strength is far superior over our own. We are a peaceful nation, so we don't have a strong military force like most kingdoms do. If they were to attack us, we will likely fall. However, as long as the royal family and our citizens survive, we can always rebuild what's been lost. If we are to fall, we'll go down fighting" he said.

    Emma clapped her hands together after a few moments of silence. "Well, I think we all have heard enough talking for one day" she said. She then looked at Tsuki and his companions. "I would like you all to to remain here for a while longer. You're more than welcome to use our guest rooms" she said.

    Ramza shrugged. "Well, we're not in any hurry to go anywhere especially if the kingdom is in danger. We'll take you up on your offer" he said. He then bowed to the royal family once more. "Thank you for your hospitality" he added.

    Taichi nodded and summoned a guard. "Guard, please show our guests to their rooms. Give them what they need" he said. He then looked at Emma and nodded at her before looking back forward. "As for everyone else, I'd like you all to clear the room. Me and Emma would like to talk to Tsuki privately" he said.

    The guard saluted Taichi, holding his spear close to his body. "Yes, My Lord" he said. He then walked towards the exit.

    Taichi took one last look at his companions. "Make yourselves at home. If you need anything, ask the nearest soldier" he said. He then looked over at Elle. "Elle, please take Cheria and Nagi up to their rooms and help them change" he said.

    Elle nodded at him. "Yes, Your Majesty" she said. She then walked up to Cheria. "Shall we?" she asked.

    Cheria watched as Elle approached her and nodded. "Yes" she said.

    Moments later, Elle, Nagi and Cheria walked out of the audience chamber along with the rest of the guards that were in the room, leaving the room empty for Taichi, Emma and Tsuki. A sense of uneasiness and anxiety quickly filled the room. The silence was eerily quiet and awkward.

    Tsuki approached the King and Queen once more, trying to shake off the sense of uneasiness that he was feeling. "So, what did you want to talk to me about?" he asked.

    Taichi fell silent for a few moments. He then sighed heavily. "If we do get attacked, we all know we won't stand a chance. If death is inevitable, we can't let the royal family fall. If it comes to that, we want you to take Cheria and flee the kingdom" he said.

    Tsuki was shocked at what he instructed him. It was the last thing he'd ever thought to hear him say. "Your Majesty? What are you talking about?" he asked, alarmed and concerned about what he told him.

    Emma shook her head. "We must preserve Eresseas' future. Once we pass down the crown...or if we're killed, she will be the only one who can lead our nation. So, if it ever comes down to it, take her and run. After all, you are her bodyguard and childhood friend so I'm sure you want to keep her safe from anything" she said.

    Tsuki shook his head, unable to understand why they're saying such things to him. "I do! I want her to be safe but I can't run from my duty!" he said. Running away wasn't something he likes doing. There was no way he could condemn the people that saved his life.

    Taichi approached Tsuki and placed his hands on his shoulders. "Tsuki, your primary duty is to protect Cheria and withhold the peace in the name of Eresseas, correct? Withholding the peace during wartime is a difficult thing to accomplish. It's a duty that requires more than one person to complete. Protecting Cheria, however, only needs one person and there's no better person suited to do that than you" he said.

    Emma approached Tsuki as well and stood next to Taichi. "You are more than her bodyguard. You're her knight, her protector. The strong bond you two share is what she holds most important to her heart. We want Cheria to be happy and live her life to the fullest. She is the most happiest when she is with you" she said.

    Tsuki was silent for a few moments. He didn't want to accept it, but he had no choice. It was an order from the King and Queen. Although, he didn't like it, he had to accept it. He then nodded hesitantly. "Alright...if that's what you wish. I'll be sure to get her to safety if the time comes" she said.

    Taichi patted his shoulders and dropped his arms to his side. "That's my boy. Now, go get some rest. I have a feeling that you'll need it soon" he said.

    Tsuki nodded then made his way out of the audience chamber. As he left, Taichi and Emma watched in silence. After he left, they both shared a brief look as the room fell silent again.

    Emma smiled a bit. "He's a good boy. He tends to be reckless but he's loyal to a fault. We were right to appoint him to the Royal Eight" she said.

    Taichi nodded. "I agree. When we first met him, I thought he was some punk kid. He really has changed since he came here. His loyalty to us, Cheria and this kingdom is one of his strong points. I almost forgot about that" he said.

    As the night went on, things were quiet outside and within the castle. Almost too quiet. All you could hear was footsteps of the night guardsmen patrolling the inside of the castle and the whistling of the wind outside. Things were like this most of the night until around three in the morning.

    Once the clock struck three, distant explosions erupted from the city gate. The noise was loud enough that it sent the entire city into a panic. The explosions slowly grew closer to the castle until the castle gates themselves blew open from an even bigger explosion. The explosion woke up everyone who was asleep within the castle. When Cheria woke up, she sat up in her bed. She saw Nagi sleeping in the same bed as her but Elle was gone. She appeared to be in a deep sleep since the explosion didn't wake her up. She shook her head and climbed out of bed then walked up to her window. She looked outside and saw smoke and fire throughout the city and fighting in the castle courtyard. Moments later, she heard noises coming from outside her door. She grabbed the bow and with a set of arrows that were mounted on the wall and stood across the room from the door, attaching an arrow to the bow and pulled the string back, getting ready for invaders that may burst in. After a moment of silence, five men in black cloaks and red armor forced their way into her room. Before two of them could point their weapons at them, Cheria released two arrows at the invaders, striking them in the chest and killing them. However, before she could attach another arrow to her bow, the remaining three invaders pointed their weapons at her, ready to kill her.

    Then, one of the knights in red armor started to approach her with his spear pointing towards her. "Target found. You're coming with us, Princess" he said.

    Before he stepped any closer to her, he heard groaning sounds behind him. When the knight turned around, the two other invaders fell to the ground, killed by the hands of Tsuki who stood behind them with his sword drawn.

    Tsuki had a very displeased look on his face. "It seems Elle's intel was spot-on. You didn't think you'd be able to abduct the Princess and escape alive, did you?" he asked. Before he let the knight answer, he rushed at him and struck his sword through the knight's chest, killing him. He removed his sword from the knight's chest and let his body fall to the ground and approached Cheria. "Are you unharmed?" he asked.

    Cheria looked at him and nodded, relieved that he arrived when he did. "I'm okay. I need to learn to load my arrows faster" she said.

    Nagi groaned a bit as she soon woke up from all the noise. "What's going on...?" she asked, half asleep and rubbing her eyes. When she saw the bodies of the intruders, she immediately came to her senses and got out of bed.

    Tsuki looked through the belongings of the dead intruders but didn't find anything worthwhile. He then shook his head. "We're under attack, just like Elle predicted. It seems that the royal family is their main objective" he said. He then heard more footsteps outside approaching her room at a fast pace. "We need to get you to safety. Follow me and stay close" he said.

    Cheria shook her head. "No, I can fight too. I haven't been doing nothing these past three months you know. I've been taking archery lessons from some of our best archers. I can cover you" she said. She then put a quiver of arrows on her back and attached an arrow to her bow.

    Tsuki nodded. "Alright then. Nagi, stay close to us. We'll be safer in a group" he said.

    Nagi nodded. "Alright. I'll follow you guys" she said.

    Before they could leave the room, they were ambushed by three knights that charged into the room. Tsuki quickly cut them down and wasted no time in leaving. Nagi and Cheria followed Tsuki while staying close to each other as they descended down to the main floor of the castle. As they made their way through the castle, bodies of Eresseas knights and intruders littered the halls. After descending down a stairwell and entering another hallway, they saw Lynette and Ruko fighting off a group of intruders by themselves.

    Ruko delivered a powerful kick to one of the intruders, sending him flying back and colliding into the wall. "Damn, they're tough, I'll give them that" he said. He then swung around and slammed his right gauntlet against one of the knight's helmets, knocking him onto the ground.

    Lynette healed the small wounds and injuries Ruko sustained and sighed, looking around. "I hope everyone is safe" she said.

    Tsuki approached them once Ruko had defeated the group of intruders. "Ruko, Lyn! You guys okay?" he asked.

    Ruko turned around and saw Tsuki with Cheria and Nagi. "We're fine. What about you guys?" he asked.

    Tsuki nodded. "We're fine. No one's hurt" he said. He then looked around but didn't see Ramza. "Where's Ramza?" he asked.

    Lynette pointed to one of the doors. "He's in the foyer with Elle. He told us to secure the Princess, but it seems you beat us to it" she said.

    Tsuki nodded. "Alright, let's not stand around. The enemy is all over the place. Let's regroup with Ramza and Elle so we can assess our options" he said.

    Everyone agreed and they started to make their way to the foyer. On the way there, they did all they could to assist the knights who were fighting off the intruders. There was one thing that bothered Tsuki though as they made their way through the castle. Where were the other members of the Royal Eight? He hasn't seen them at all.

    Once they entered the foyer, they saw a horrific sight. Corpses from both sides were scattered all over. It was like a massacre. As they walked around, they heard the sounds of fighting coming from the audience chamber ahead of them. They rushed into the chamber, seeing the entire place utterly destroyed and in flames. At the far end of the chamber where the royal family sit, the wall behind the chairs was completely destroyed. Standing in front of the broken wall were Ramza, Elle, Taichi and Emma.

    Tsuki ran up to them with haste with the others following him. "Are you guys okay!?" he asked.

    Ramza turned around and saw Tsuki and the others approach them. "We're fine. They couldn't touch us" he said.

    Taichi was uneasy about the intruders. "Something isn't right here. The cloaked men among the attackers don't seem normal. It's almost like they're not human" he said.

    Elle walked towards the opening from the broken wall. "You're right. They're not human at all. They're Shades, soulless beings that come from Dark Arcanum" she said. She then closed her eyes for a moment to concentrate. Moments later, an incantation circle formed under her feet. "I didn't anticipate the use of Dark Arcanum. We must fins a safe place to lay low for a while so we can go over our options" she said.

    Tsuki approached Elle, wanting answers. "Wait, Shades? Dark Arcanum? You mind fill in the blanks for us?" he asked. There were even more questions now and it seems Elle has all the answer once again.

    As Tsuki demanded answers from Elle, they heard echoing footsteps behind them accompanied by a familiar voice. "Now now, try not to lose your head, boy" the voice said.

    Along with the familiar voice was another voice that they recognized. "Yes...it wouldn't be as fun cutting you down if your head isn't in the right place" the second voice said.

    They all looked towards the entrance to the audience chamber and saw Stahler and Mike of the Royal Eight approach them but they did not appear or sound friendly. They had a rather menacing, evil look on their faces.

    Tsuki didn't want to think ahead even though he may already know what's going on. "Stahler...Mike...what are you saying? Where are the other members of the Royal Eight?" he asked.

    Stahler stopped in the middle of the ruined audience chamber and stared down Tsuki and the others who were near the broken wall. "The other members of the Royal Eight have been...removed from the picture. The only other things that we need to remove are Tsuki and the royal family. I suggest you throw down your weapons and surrender. You are outmatched and outnumbered" he said, pointing his blood-stained sword at them. Moments later, Shades appeared behind him. It was almost like they formed from the darkness that surrounded him.

    Elle knew the situation was dire at that point. If they were to escape alive, this was their only chance. "Fighting now under these circumstances is futile. We must retreat. Everybody, get in the circle!" she said.

    Tsuki and his companions nodded and stepped into the square that formed under Elle's feet. Taichi and Emma, however, did not move an inch from where they stood. Only Tsuki knew what was coming next.

    Cheria stood within the circle and looked at her parents, who were not moving. "Mother, father! Come on, let's get out of here!" she pleaded. She knew that they needed to escape.

    Taichi turned his head and looked at Tsuki, giving him a brief look. It was the look telling him to flee with Cheria and ensure her safety. It wasn't long before Emma did the same. Tsuki knew what they said with the look they gave him. He was extremely conflicted and hesitant to leave but he couldn't deny orders that came directly from the King and Queen themselves. He had to fight through his own hesitation and sorrow. Once he managed that, he grabbed onto Cheria's hand and held onto it tightly.

    Cheria looked back at Tsuki when he grabbed her hand. She immediately saw the look on his face which sent a chill down her spin. "Tsu?" she said. It took her a moment to notice what was going on.

    Emma looked at Elle and nodded. "Elle...get them to safety. This is your final mission from us. We're counting on you" she said.

    Elle was silent for a moment. Emma was basically saying goodbye to her and releasing her from their service with one final mission. She knew what was coming next. She was also very hesitant just like Tsuki. "...As you wish, Your Majesty" she said. She then focused more of her Mana into the incantation circle as he began to resonate and glow.

    Mike then charged at them. "You're not getting away that easily!" He held his ax up in the air, getting ready to attack them. Once he was close enough, he jumped into the air and swung his ax downwards.

    Taichi took his sword and blocked the attack. "You still have much to learn, Mike" he said. He then swung his sword to the side, breaking Mike's defense. When he was open, he took his left arm, which had a steel gauntlet attached, and slammed it against Mike's stomach with incredible force and power, sending him flying back and crashing into Stahler.

    Cheria tried to break from Tsuki's grip, pleading for her parents to get in the circle, almost in tears. "No! We can't leave you! If you stay, you'll---!" she shouted with tears running down her face.

    Tsuki can understand what she's feeling. He didn't want to leave them but they were giving them a chance to escape. He then released her hand and wrapped his arms around Cheria, holding onto her tightly from behind. "I'm sorry. Please forgive me" he said with clear hesitation, conflict and sorrow in his voice.

    Emma walked up to Cheria but stayed outside of the incantation circle. She then hugged Cheria and gently used her hand to pet her on the head. "You must survive. If our family falls, the kingdom and it's people will soon follow. We can't allow that to happen" she said. She then removed the necklace that was around her neck and placed it in Cheria's hand. Once she did that, she slowly backed away.

    Taichi looked back at them and gave them a smile. "Tsuki, you take good care of our daughter you hear? Keep her safe no matter what. That is your last mission from us. I'm deeply sorry for putting you in this difficult position" he said.

    Tsuki, still holding onto Cheria tightly, clenched his fist tightly. Despite his orders, he wanted to jump out and fight alongside Taichi and Emma. Even though he didn't like what was happening, his hands were completely tied. He gave them one last look and nodded at them but his hesitation was clearly shown on his face. "I will...I'll keep her safe and I'll make sure she becomes a great Queen. I swear that on my life" he said.

    Once Elle gathered enough of her Mana in the incantation circle, a faint buzzing sound started. "Everybody, hang on. This could get bumpy" she said.

    Cheria continued to struggle free but Tsuki wasn't going to let her go. "No! Let me go! The're going to die! Mom! Dad!" she shouted at the top of her lungs.

    As Cheria screamed out for her parents, they group within the incantation circle were enveloped in a green light. Moments later, the group disappeared in an instant as the green light shot up into the sky, Taichi and Emma behind to face Mike, Stahler and their attack force of Shades alone. As the night went on, people throughout all of Cayhill could see the dense, thick smoke coming from the flame that engulfed Eresseas in the night sky.

    To be continued...