Act 1 - Captain Cassel
‘What a mess.’
Captain Francis looked around at his haggard men and sighed. They were low in number, with only a few lucky ones remaining. The ones that did remain, however, were a disorganized mess.
As Francis halted, so did his men. The dust that the horses stirred up was quickly swept away by the wind.
Francis took a breath and asked,
“Where is Lars?”
Francis glanced towards the very rear, however the only sign of Lars was his unmanned horse.
“The last time I saw him he had injured his neck.”
One of the knights answered, his sentence riddled with hurried breaths. It seemed like he had a hard time finishing his sentence. He grasped his half-broken helmet in his hands and lowered his head.
“He must’ve fallen off his horse. I’m at fault. I should’ve known. I’m sorry.”
Francis couldn’t blame the knight, as, he too hadn’t looked back.
‘Seven left, including me.’
As Francis’ thoughts turned to the spectral-like knights, that had appeared out of nowhere, his hands started to shake. The terror of those knights had imprinted deep in his heart, and he was unable to calm himself.
Francis scanned his men,
“Does anyone recognize them?”
His men blankly looked at each other.
A weak voice sounded out.
“Maybe the ‘Black Lion Knights...?”
Francis shook his head.
The armour’s the same, but they’re not the Earl’s. They almost seem like spe-“
He stopped himself from saying the word, not willing to recognise his own thoughts.
In less than ten minutes, twenty knights were reduced to eight. The Royal Knights, having lost that battle, had to shamefully retreat, unaware that their numbers were further reduced to seven.
After the hurried retreat, Francis had no idea where they were. He decided to lead his troops in a southern direction, however he doubted that the direction of the sunset was south.
“Was it an illusion? There’s no way those kinds of monsters really exist.”
Francis replayed the previous events in his mind. The black armoured knights wielded large swords, which could cut steel like butter. They used spears to stab a horse and hurl it over, even if had a person on it. One of the monsters caught Francis’ spear mid-air and snapped it, almost as if it was breaking a regular wooden stick.
“Captain, what’s our mission? Don’t you think it’s time to tell us? Who are those black knights? Why were we attacked?” a frightened young knight choked out.
“Aren’t we the Royal Knights of the Karmorte? When we left why didn’t we report to His Majesty? Why did we have to sneak out at dawn? Why didn’t you let us stop at any houses? Why did we have to rush through the shortcuts?”
“I agree, Captain. I also had the impression that we were ordered to follow Ironpeace’s official invite and act as messengers. However, before we departed you ordered us to be heavily armed. But all those weapons were useless in fighting those monsters. What the hell is going on here?”
The other knights joined in on the interrogation.
After a brief silence, Francis reached into his clothes and took out an envelope. The envelope was decorated with the crest of His Majesty and was heavily sealed.
“This envelope contains a confidential letter from His Majesty, King Charles. I had intended to keep it a secret until we had arrived at Ironpeace, but, due to these circumstances, I am unwilling to continue to do so. You are correct, we aren’t going to Ironpeace by an official invite. Instead, by the order of His Majesty, we’re going as reinforcements.”
The knights looked at each other, surprised.
Francis continued. “Eight troops total got the order. Three sets of troops to Arantia and five to Carnelog. They left a day earlier than us.
“His Majesty is preparing for war?”
“Yes. Although, he didn’t say who the enemy was, I believe it shouldn’t be hard to guess.”
“The Earl of Black Lion, and the Earl of Red Rose?”
Francis nodded. He prepared himself for the oncoming questions, however none came.
Only the oldest subordinate carefully asked one.
“If that’s true, then were those monstrosities sent as assassins by one of the Earls?”
“That’s a possibility. I thought about it on the way here, but I couldn’t find a connection. I can’t make rash judgements. Don’t you think it might be a mere coincidence?”
The knight let out a despondent laugh.
“You really think this is a coincidence?”
Francis smiled half-heartedly. He was unable to come up with any words to cheer up his men.
He spurred his horse onwards, and his men did the same.
He could have raised moral by mentioning the possibility of other messengers being caught in dangers like them, and how it was crucial that they succeed as they had the most men. He could have also mentioned how they could have been the last hope for His Majesty, but he could not.
He couldn’t because he was scared. It seemed like the only thing he could do was to head south, towards the border of Ironpeace. The only thing enabling him to keep leading his men was the fleeting hope of salvation once they crossed it.
‘Just to the border’, he chanted inwardly, ‘It’ll be okay as long as we get to the border’.
Unfortunately, his vague hope lasted less than an hour.
Two black knights stood on the road, blocking the Royal Knight’s path. Francis’ horse reacted before him.
Francis tried to control his rampaging horse as he shouted:
“Men, get in your battle formations!”
However, a split second earlier, the knight beside him had shouted “Brothers, protect the Captain!”
Usually Francis led the troops at the front, however, this time, his men didn’t allow it.
“What is this nonsense!? What are you guys doing?”
Francis yelled, however his men didn’t listen.
“Even when we had twenty men we couldn’t stop three of those monsters. Our last resort is to sacrifice ourselves in order to alert the king.”
“There’s no way I’ll accept this. Even if we follow your logic, the one to flee shouldn’t be me.”
“Face it, Captain. They already know our route. It’s better to turn back and report to His Majesty. You’re the highest ranking one, it should be you.
Francis shook his head.
“You dare to give me an order?.”
“Sir, there’s no time to argue. Go!”
Two of the black knights were rapidly approaching on their horses.
Captain Francis bit his lip.
“Survive. You’ve got to survive.”
Francis turned back, forcefully suppressing his tears. The horse, as if it knew the pain of its master, ignored his fatigue and charged away. However, less than two minutes later, the sound of rapidly advancing hoofbeats echoed from behind.
Francis look around and wielded his sword. The black knight’s horse galloped to his side instantly. Vapor poured out of the gap in the black knight’s helmet, looking as if a beast was slumbering inside it.
Francis let out a battle cry as he slashed down with his sword. The sword broke as it made contact with the helmet. The helmet, although somewhat bent, recovered as if nothing had happened. As Francis gazed into the helmet, the dark void inside gazed back.
It was darkness itself. Francis’ eyes widened as he stared at the oncoming black axe. The axe lunged towards his neck, and, with that lunge, Francis knew that the monsters would soon reign terror upon the whole country. The guilt of breaking his promise to his men trumped his fear of death.
He just wanted the pain and terror to end.