LEAVING THE FORTRESS
Kingdom Of Nohr: Capital Of Windmire
Us siblings make our way through the Nohrian city of Windmire and into Castle Krakenburg. That is where our Father, King Garon, is awaiting us.
“I see you made it safely, Draco.” Father greets me, standing atop the stairs before us.
“Yes, Father. Long have I wished to see you and visit Castle Krakenburg again. I feel like I’m dreaming…” I tell him gratefully.
“It is only thanks to your diligence that you are here.” He responds. “I am told you are now a warrior almost on par with Xander. You finally possess the strength to be an instrument of Nohr’s power in the world.” Unlike with Xander, I hint no sign of affection in his tone. Despite being my father, he seems completely distant. And yet, he’s still dear to me, even after all this time since I last saw him.
“But Father, will be all right outside the fortress?” Elise expresses her concern.
“I worry about that as well.” Camilla seconds. “Isn’t it dangerous for Draco to live outside the fortress’ magical barrier?” Before it seemed like Camilla and Elise were happy for me to leave the fortress, but now they’re worried? Oh well, they’re just looking out for me as always. Still, I decide to speak up.
“I appreciate your concern, but I earned my way here, and I’m ready to fight.” I assure my sisters.
“Draco, as you know, Nohr is at war with the eastern kingdom of Hoshido.” Father reminds me.
“Yes, Father. I have heard as much.” Although I know very little if anything about the war. I have no idea about the severity to it; I’ve never been exposed to war before. I’ve only read about historical wars from texts, such as the legend of the Hero-King Marth. But to me, those stories had always felt like fiction. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited at all by the idea of going to war. I’ve always liked the thought of fighting for good alongside my companions. Then again, I’ve been told about the consequences of war as well. But I admit I don’t know the half of it.
“We of the royal family are descendants of the ancient gods, the First Dragons.” Father continues. “As inheritors of that divine strength, we conquer those who oppose us with ease. One who learns to wield that power can destroy an entire army of common troops. Xander, Camilla and Leo have already shown that they possess this power. I expect no less from you.”
“I am aware of your expectations, Father. And I have trained every day to become more like my siblings.”
“Hmm… You show promise. But you will need a suitable weapon in order to serve Nohr.” And as Father finishes speaking, a cloud of darkness appears before me. It clears up to reveal a blade, but not just any one; dark, crooked and edgy, this is the most interesting sword I’ve ever seen. “This is Ganglari, a sword infused with magic from another world. With this sword at your side, you will crush the Hoshidan army with ease.” I take my gaze away from the magical blade and back to Father.
“Thank you for this generous gift, Father.” I thank.
“Hmm… Generous indeed.” Xander observes.
“Now, let us see you put that sword to its proper use…” Father stretches his arm forward. “Bring out the prisoners!”
“Yes, sire!” Prisoners? I watch as the soldier brings out two faces. A green-haired ninja and a muscular young woman carrying a club.
“These are prisoners from our most recent skirmish with Hoshido.” Father informs me. “I want to see your power with my own eyes. Use that sword to strike them down.” Guess I have no choice…
“I am Rinkah! Daughter of the Flame Tribe’s honourable chieftain.” Shouts the woman. “What is your name, Nohrian prince?”
“I’m… Draco.” I respond.
“Draco… Can it be?” Replies the ninja.
“Huh? Have you heard of me?” I ask him.
The ninja doesn’t answer me. “I am Kaze, a ninja of Hoshido. Show me what you can do.” He spins around two shuriken in his hands and enters a battle stance.
“Kill them all.” Father shouts ruthlessly.
My two opponents are waiting for me to make my move, but first, I notice something on the floor. A glowing dragon mark. “Is that…”
“Is something wrong, milord?” Flora asks.
“I feel… something emanating from the ground… Could it be…” I step onto the mark. Then, aura emerges from me and strikes the debris in front, revealing a floor glowing blue from underneath.
“That’s amazing! You blew away all the debris!” Flora remarks.
“Heh… Well done.” Father complements.
“Excellent plan, milord. Now we can hide in here and ambush our foes.” Gunter tells me.
“Hey! What are you waiting for?!” Calls out Rinkah.
“Right.” I walk towards her, ready to engage in battle.
“Remain focused, milord.” Gunter tells me as I walk on. “This is no mock battle; a mistake here could cost you your life.”
“Behold the might of the Flame Tribe!” Rinkah leaps up into the air, dragging her club behind her and leaving a trail of flames. As she approaches me she slams her club down for a decisive blow, but using Ganglari, I parry, making her lose her guard. I take the opportunity to land a good blow on her. She rushes towards me and we engage in an intense clash of weapons, but eventually she gets the upper hand and brings me to the ground with a heavy strike.
“Milord, fall back and let us take care of her.” Gunter orders me. “Return here and heal your wounds.” I remember the glowing blue square. I rush out of the fight, and Gunter and Flora cover for me while I heal up.
“A ninja’s shuriken may not cut deep, but it can sap you of your strength. Your death need not come all at once.” The ninja Kaze appears out of nowhere in front of me. And like that, I take on my other opponent. Quick and nimble, he effortlessly dodges my attacks and counters with rapid streaks of shuriken. But then, several daggers fly his way and manage to strike him.
“Now’s your chance, Draco!” Flora calls out. I seize the moment and strike Kaze; it doesn’t take too much to defeat him. Meanwhile, Gunter and Flora have managed to take care of Rinkah for me. Looks like we’ve won. They’re really tough, aren’t they? I hope all Hoshidans aren’t this strong.
“So this is how it ends…” Kaze grunts as he’s on his knees.
“Don’t just stand there, idiot boy. Finish them!” Father commands impatiently.
“But, Father… They’re already beaten.” I speak up against him. “You want me to execute helpless prisoners?”
“You dare question me?!” Father raises his voice. “I order you to kill them!”
“No! It’s wrong!” I protest.
“I won’t argue the point any further.” Father grunts. He then casts a spell that creates a fiery blast behind Kaze and Rinkah.
“Gods!” I shout out of shock. He then casts another fiery blast, this one aimed at Kaze. I leap in the way and block it.
“Draco! What are you—“ Elise asks.
“Unbelievable…” Xander watches on in disdain.
“You would defy me directly, Draco?!” Father scolds me.
“Father, please forgive him! He doesn’t yet understand our situation.” Xander tries to convince Father.
“Fine, Xander, you kill them.” Father orders Xander. “And if anyone gets in your way, kill them too.” Xander shows reluctance, and Father’s patience is long gone. “DO IT! KILL THEM ALL!!” I’m almost shocked by just how merciless Father is. Was he always like this?
Xander still does not comply. He looks at Father in the eye as he says “No, Father. I refuse.”
“Are you disobeying your own father, Xander?!” Garon threatens Xander most viciously. “I don’t believe this… You and Draco… You have both disappointed me with your display of cowardice.”
“No, Father. Cowardice would be slaying those who have done nothing to harm us!” Xander continues to speak up.
“NOT ANOTHER WORD, OR YOU WILL PAY THE PRICE!!” Garon roars in rage.
“Father, no…” Elise begins to cry. “Please, won’t somebody do something?”
Leo sighs. “Why does it always fall on me?” he puts forth his arm, and Kaze and Rinkah are surrounded in a ring of magical aura. Then, they disappear. “Father, I have dispatched our enemies on behalf of my softhearted brother.” He confirms. Father just grunts. “I only ask that you would be merciful in your punishment of him…” Leo shows sympathy for me as well.
“Enough! I will consider the matter later.” Father leaves. I confront Leo, very upset with him.
“Leo! How could you?! They were beaten! There was no reason to execute them!” I yell at him.
“Agreed. Now hush.” Leo smirks.
“Leo, your spell…”
“…Was only enough to weaken them, yes.” Leo confirms. “I should have followed Father’s orders. But Camilla and Elise always make such a fuss when I do anything to upset you.”
I breathe a breath of relief. “Thank you, Leo. I’m sorry for teasing you about your collar.”
“You can repay me by not mentioning it again.” Leo sighs with irritation.
“That was great, Brother!” Elise cheers.
Camilla looks worried. “It was, but I doubt this will be the last we hear of this. Father never forgets a slight.”
It seems even Xander was doubting Father back there. Now I’m worried for Father…
I know I have to apologize to Father now. I got myself into this situation. Thankfully, Elise is willing to come along and help me out. The two of us approach the giant doors in front of Father’s lair. “All right, Draco. Let’s go in there together. I’ll help as much as possible.” Elise offers me her support. “This is our father we’re talking about. He has to forgive you, right?” She winks.
“Thanks, Elise. I hope you’re right.”
“All right. Deep breath and… here we go.” Elise gets a serious face as she prepares. “Father!” She calls to the other side of the doors. “We have something we need to talk to you about!” We are a bit surprised to hear a big roaring laugh from Father.
“Father?” I ask in confusion.
“It sounds like he’s with someone… Maybe we should come back later…” Elise says to me.
“Hrmph! Who’s there?” Father shouts.
“Oh! Sorry to bother you, Father…” Elise is clearly a little bit nervous.
“Yes, we apologize if this isn’t a good time…” I’m nervous too, for good reason.
“What do you two want?” He asks us.
“Father, we’re here to apologize.” Elise continues. “Right, Draco?”
“Yes, that’s right. I’m sorry for questioning you.” I deliver my apology.
“You may enter.” We open the doors and make our way into the room, where we see Father sitting on his throne. The two of us stand there before our father, waiting for him to speak… “Draco… You disobeyed a direct order from me. Ordinarily you would not still be alive.”
“I understand…” I reply bravely.
“No! Father, I can explain—“ Elise tries to stand up for me, though I’m not quite sure if that would work.
“Silence!” Father doesn’t let her anyway. “As you are my child, Draco, I will grant you some leeway.” He seems to at least be willing to reason with him. That’s good, right? “I have something in mind for you. A mission. If you complete this task successfully, I will pardon your crime in full.”
“Really?” I’m honestly a little bit surprised. “What sort of mission?”
“There is an abandoned fortress perched on the Hoshidan border. I wish to know if the building there remains serviceable.” Father explains. “You are to travel to the site and inspect the premises. No battle will be required.” That doesn’t sound too bad, I think to myself. “Do you understand? I won’t tolerate being disappointed twice…” Gods, I don’t think I want to imagine what would happen to me were I to fail this… But it should be fine.
“Yes, Father. It shall be done.” I accept.
After our discussion with Father, me and Elise leave him be. We run into the rest of our siblings, and I tell them the news.
“Darling, are you sure you’re going to be okay out there? I don’t like this…” Is how Camilla reacts to this.
“Of course! Please don’t worry; it’s just an abandoned fort.” I reassure her, still not worried.
“You’re acting rather casual about all this, Draco.” Leo tells me with crossed arms and a bit of a glare. “It isn’t like Father to be so forgiving…”
“What do you mean, Leo?” My smile fades a bit.
“That’s enough, Leo! Don’t be so worried all the time, sheesh.” Elise confronts Leo. “And don’t even try to scare Draco before his first mission!” Then, much to my surprise, she goes ahead and gives her brother quite a big shove.
“H-hey!!” Leo reacts initially. “That’s not necessary!”
“I suppose I’ll just have to come along. That way I know Draco will be safe.” Camilla looks at me lovingly.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.” We hear another voice. The owner of that voice reveals himself before us. Or herself. I’m not sure.
“Why ever not, Iago?” Camilla asks him/her.
“Lady Camilla, King Garon intends this expedition as a test of sorts.” Iago explains. “As his top advisor, I have been entrusted with coordinating this mission.” He/she then turns to face me. “He would like to know whether Prince Draco is worthy… After all, he *is* part of the royal lineage. Therefore, your assistance would simply muddy the results.”
“Understood.” I nod. “Camilla, I need to do this all by myself. Surely you understand.”
“Not all by yourself, Draco.” Father makes himself present. “Rest assured, I don’t intend to send you out there completely defenceless.”
Yet another face enters the scene. A huge, hulking man with an oddly-shaped head and a very unfriendly face. “Milord.” He speaks. I can’t help but be intimidated by his presence…
“This is Hans.” Garon introduces him. “He is a veteran warrior and will ensure no trouble befalls you.”
Though I’m not quite sure about being alone with him, I remain polite. “Thank you, Father.”
“Hmm…” Xander stares at Hans with uncertainty. “I’d be wary of that man if I were you, Draco.” He approaches me.
“Why do you say that?” I ask Xander, though I’m not too surprised.
“He’s a criminal. A murderer and a scoundrel. I arrested him myself, many years ago.” Xander speaks with a tone of anger and resentment towards Hans. “Father seems to think he’s rehabilitated, but I’m not so sure. That said, he is a formidable soldier.”
“I see…” I’m very nervous at the thought of travelling alone with this man. Thankfully it turns out Gunter and Flora will be accompanying me as well. That makes me feel more at ease.
After a decent trek, we finally reach our destination. “Wow… Is this it? The Bottomless Canyon?” I marvel at the place; I’ve read about it in texts, but I had to see it to believe it. When I look down, I feel a bit nervous. It sure does look bottomless to me.
“Yes. It’s the natural boundary dividing Nohr and Hoshido.” Gunter informs me.
“It can’t really be bottomless, can it?”
“Let the eternal darkness below be your answer. Those who fall may never return…” I’ve read about that. Spooky, but fascinating… “I truly despise this place. Something about the land around here just isn’t right.” Gunter observes the area. “The sky here is always dark and foreboding, and lightning strikes all who fly across. This is clearly a place us mortals were never meant to enter. Normally we’d go around… But the fort that King Garon wants surveyed is right over there.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad. I’m just happy to be outside in the fresh air.” I take a moment to stop and think; this is a real adventure! “Compared to the inside of the fortress, this is downright exciting!” I smile.
“Hm. That certainly puts things into perspective, milord.” Gunter’s face becomes less grim. “Come, let’s proceed.” Our band of four continues.
Once we make our way closer to the fort, however, we are ambushed by what appears to be Hoshidan soldiers. “Blast! It looks like this fort isn’t as abandoned as we thought.” Gunter snarls. “Why the devil is this place crawling with Hoshidans?”
“Hold on! Do not advance any further, soldiers of Nohr.” One of the Hoshidan soldiers commands of us.
“Crossing that bridge is a violation of our border treaty.” Speaks somebody else. “Turn back at once, or we’ll be forced to attack!”
“What should we do?” Asks Flora.
“We’re not here to fight. I suppose we’ll have to turn back and report to Father.” I decide, trying to avoid any conflict. The only problem there is if Father will be disappointed in me for not succeeding, in which case I should be afraid. I’m confident he’ll understand, though…
“Wise decision, Lord Draco.” Gunter agrees, so at least he’s got my back.
“Who asked you, old man?” Hans yells aggressively.
“What?!” Gunter reacts with shock as Hans moves past us and, with no provocation, strikes the Hoshidan before us with his axe, murdering him in hot blood. As I hear the scream of horror from the soldier as his head splits into two, and his lifeless body is left on the ground to bleed, I feel like being sick. This is such a horrendous sight, I can’t believe it! Suddenly any enjoyment I’ve been getting out of this expedition is gone. This adventure has turned into a nightmare.
“Hahahaha! Die, scumbags!!” Hans roars.
“You’ll pay for this!!” Cries the Hoshidan guarding the fort.
“Hans, why did you do that?! That man did nothing wrong!!” I shout at Hans through a face full of tears.
“Pfft.” That’s all the response Hans dignifies me with.
“We should have tried diplomacy first. We weren’t sent here to fight!” Flora backs me up, handling the situation a bit better than me, but still clearly distressed.
“Speak for yourself, bitch.” Hans responds to Flora most offensively.
“What’s that supposed to mean?!” I intervene, trying to pull it together.
“Soldiers of Hoshido, hear me! Do not leave a single Nohrian alive!” We hear the one guarding the fort again.
“Prepare to attack!”
“Argh! Looks like there’s no getting out of this now.” Grunts Gunter. “Get ready to fight, Lord Draco.”
No… I don’t want to fight. I refuse. “Draco… Come on. We have no choice now.” Flora tries to convince me.
“No. I won’t do it.” I tell her as I’m still shaking.
“Very well.” She places her hand on my arm, then proceeds to help Gunter fight the soldiers. Hans, meanwhile, has completely gone for it, massacring helpless soldiers left and right. An awful sight. I try my hardest to look away.
Eventually, all the soldiers are taken care of. I make my way over to the fort, taking deep breaths. Hopefully I’ll be able to put that sight behind me soon enough. Suddenly, however, we’re ambushed by a few more troops. One of them is a muscular ninja with dark red hair and a scar across his right eye. “You’re the leader of these troops? Pah. You’re nothing more than a boy.” He tells me.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“My name is Saizo. I’ve come to claim your life.” He prepares his shuriken.
“Hey! Everyone!” I call out. “We’re still under attack!”
“Destroy them!” Saizo commands.
“I won’t allow it!” Just as Saizo rushes towards me ready to impale me with a shuriken, a sword strike gets in his way. I look up, and am very glad to see who it is; Xander.
“What?! This must be their real commander…” Saizo observes.
“What’s going on here, Draco?” Xander turns to me.
“Xander! How did you know we were in trouble?” I smile at my brother. Following just behind him are our other three siblings.
“We’ve arrived just in time. Your luck never runs out, does it Brother?” Smirks Leo.
“Are you all right? I was so worried about you.” I’m used to Camilla worrying about me. I know she’d let nothing happen to me.
“We’re all here for you, Draco!” Elise calls out. Having everyone here by my side makes me feel much more at ease.
“Thank you, everyone!” I then remember our situation at hand. “Um, but before we get too carried away… We *are* under attack.”
“Who dares attack my beloved Draco? I’ll have their heads on a platter!” Camilla prepares her mighty axe, Mani, ready to use it against some Hoshidans.
“I’m not hurt, Camilla.” I tell her.
“But, darling… It’s the thought that counts!” Camilla smiles warmly. Then she flies her wyvern spiralling high into the air, leaps off her mount, and vigorously strikes the air below her with her axe, creating a pillar of ice that impales the two Hoshidan soldiers Saizo was with. Her wyvern then catches her just before she hits the ground.
“Wow… I never knew Camilla could be so… ruthless.” I’m left in awe.
“Heehee! That’s right, you’ve never seen her on the battlefield before.” Elise giggles.
“This is not going well…” Grunts Saizo. Then, another ninja comes onto the scene, showing up out of thin air.
“Saizo! What’s wrong? What’s our status?” This one is female; a beautiful woman with dark brown hair covering her right eye, and a surprisingly big bust for a ninja.
“I misjudged the situation. We’re outnumbered.” Saizo informs her. “Kagero, do we have anyone else on the way?”
“Affirmative. Lord Ryoma is right behind me.” Kagero answers.
“Ahh… Then I think this battle is as good as won.”
“It looks like more Hoshidan reinforcements are on the way.” Xander informs us.
“Indeed… What should we do?” Asks Leo.
“Well, Draco is safe, and the fort’s condition has been evaluated.” Xander observes. “There’s no reason to engage Hoshido further at this point.” He turns to me. “Draco, you take the lead with Gunter. We’ll follow close behind.”
“Will do. Thank you, Xander.” I leave the scene with Gunter and Flora by my side.
As we make our way across the rickety bridge again, I stop to notice I can’t see Flora anywhere. “Gunter, have you seen Flora? She was here a second ago…” I start to worry.
“I’m sure she’s right behind us.” Gunter assures me. “Now, hurry up. I can’t stand being on this bridge a moment longer.” But then, we are approached by somebody. Once I see who it is, my heart drops. It’s Hans.
“Don’t worry. You won’t have to stand there much longer.” He is looking at us very threateningly with his axe in his hand. I’m very afraid…
“What is the meaning of this?” Confronts Gunter.
“Less talk. More death.” Hans smirks maliciously. Then, without another word, he charges towards Gunter. He slashes at him with his axe, knocking him to his knees, and then wrestles him off the bridge. It takes a moment for me to process the scene because I’m so shocked. Gunter has just been sent falling to his death. And if what he said earlier about the Bottomless Canyon is true… We’ll never see him again. Suddenly, I am sent back into despair.
“Nooooo!!!” I shout at the top of my lungs. “Hans!! Why are you doing this?!!”
“Awww, did I knock your babysitter into the ditch?” Hans says in a patronizing voice. “Here – you can meet up with him at the bottom!”
Then, suddenly, at the peak of my rage, my left arm transforms into a sort of spear head. However, I’m so furious at Hans, that’s the least of my worries. “You’ll pay for this!”
“What?! What kind of freak are you?!” I leap into the air and strike him with Ganglari, then stab him with my spear hand. Then, suddenly, my left hand changes form again into a sort of giant claw that shoots a blue ball of aura that finishes the combo. Afterwards, my left arm reverts back to normal. “It can’t be…”
“I want answers, Hans! Why are you doing this?! Why did you provoke the Hoshidans?!” I point Ganglari at his face as he’s downed. “And why did you kill Gunter?!” After no response for a second, I start to lose my patience. “Answer me!!”
“Just following orders… King Garon’s orders.” Hans grunts. But that’s not good enough of an explanation.
“What?! You lie!!” Hans gets back up on his feet, and runs away. “Come back here!!” I give chase after him. Alas, I lose sight of him soon enough, and I’m left here in the Bottomless Canyon, all alone.
“You’re mine, Nohrian!” I hear a voice. Is that the woman I fought before? Before I have a moment to think about it, I get struck in the back with a club. I’m knocked to the ground as I start to lose consciousness…