"Thou art sent from below to torture us! Go back to hell, demon!"
Don felt the blessed water hit him before the priest stepped out of the alley, and he moved with blinding speed, driving a fist into the man's stomach.
"Stupid priest," He said, picking the man up by his priestly vestments, "I'm no demon, just a man."
Then he headbutted the man into unconsciousness. Don grew tired of these interruptions, having had to drive through several mobs of people. Luckily, the majority of them fled when he let loose a bolt of lightning.
"Damnit," He said, dropping the priest, wiping a bit of blood from his face, "Where are they…"
They'd rode their horses until they'd dropped dead, and then marched into London. He'd thought that something would go wrong, but the mobs of pitchfork wielding, torch swinging, Londoner's was well and beyond what he'd expected.
"The group that searched the palace has returned," Simon said from beside him, retying a bandage around the wound across his chest, "They say that the entire guard has been massacred… say it looks like an animal tore them apart… Some of them look to have been eaten…"
Nothing surprised Don now, but he swore nonetheless.
"And my family?"
Simon bowed his head, not making eye contact with his Emperor while he spoke.
"The men didn't find the bodies of any of your family, Sire." He flinched when Don ran his fingers through his hair, and quickly continued, "My Lord, I can think of only one way to possibly locate the rest of your family."
He produced a flare gun from his belt. Don saw it, and nodded his ascent, going to lean against a wall for a moment. He heard the gun pop, and could hear the flare begin to burn above him. He could feel all of the adrenaline leaving his body, feeling the last little bit of hope die.
"Sire!" One of his remaining men yelled from the far crossroads. "A matching flare! Towards the harbor!"
Don looked up, and sure enough, maybe a half mile away, another red flare hung in the air, nearly at the harbor. Simon was quick to spring into action.
"Form up!" He yelled to the resting men. Hard training overrode their exhaustion, and they formed a column behind Simon. "Double time!"
Don loped ahead of them, the distance seeming to disappear increasingly fast the closer he drew to the flare. Group of people appeared on the street know, gawking at the line of bloody, but still heavily armed, troops running past. Within the last hundred meters, the number of people grew exponentially, and Don knew he'd found the right place. He could see objects, mainly pavers, being thrown from somewhere ahead.
"Form line!" He screamed at the top of his lungs, drawing the Brimstone Blade, feeling another strange sensation run up his arms like a shiver, "Halt!"
The crowd noticed them just as Don shouldered the closest man to him out of the way, giving him a hard kick in the ass when he stumbled.
"Make ready!" Don shimmied out of the way of the double row of troops that stretched across the street. "First rank…Take aim… Fire!"
Bullets tore through the mob, and Don felt a pang in his heart as people through themselves in front of others, many catching the bullets meant for another, while some were not so lucky.
But the safety of my family is paramount. A part of himself responded, squashing the pang.
"First rank, fix bayonets and stand to!" He ordered, watching with pride as his men moved smoothly, the two ranks switching positions. "Second rank… Take aim… Fire!"
Again, the lead fell upon the milling crowd like hail, sending them scrambling away.
"Push them!" Simon said, advancing with his own pistols cocked and loaded, a pace behind Don. "Roll them under!"
They finally pushed into the square, over corpses and wounded men and women who screamed and flailed about. The scene that greet Don caused his heart to stop. Elsa lay on the ground, unmoving, while Erik lay atop her, crying. Even as Don watched, Lillian was hit by a cobblestone in the stomach, which sent the girl to the ground, the ice wall she'd raised to protect herself disappearing. The other children sheltered with Anna and Katarina.
"Form square!" Don heard Simon say distantly, he had eyes only now for his family.
"Elsa!" He yelled, sliding onto his knees, seeing that, thankfully, she was still conscious. Erik recoiled from the sudden appearance of his father, "My love… My God! What happened?"
Her entire right side, between her hip and breast, was covered in burns, the dress having been mostly burned away over the wound. He held Elsa's hand, even as the rest of his family came over, now surrounded by the Imperial Guard. At the sight of the bayonets, the crowds had pulled back.
"Magic users… Foreigners," She said slowly, obviously fighting the pain, "Watch out for the… werewolves."
Don grunted as her hand went limp, but saw that she stilled breathed. Erik was there in a moment, while the other's watched.
"Who fired the flare?" Don asked, standing quickly.
"It wasn't us!" Ivan said, "What are we going to do, Brother?"
"You," Don said, looking towards the figures that were moving up the street the same way he had just moments before come, "Are going to get to the harbor. Captain Simon! Get my family on a ship and get them out of here!"
The strange sensation that kept shivering up his arms quickened, the closer the figures drew.
"Do not argue with me!" Don yelled, letting his anger sweep him away again. "Go!"
And they went, leaving Don alone.
"Brave… but dumb." A figure said through inhuman lips from the shadows in front of him.
Don held his ground, even as the pair of werewolves, lithe, graceful and deadly looking, stepped into the street. The scars on his arms hurt worse than they ever had, and he nearly dropped the Brimstone Blade when it began to glow red hot.
It will ward you against evil. He remembered the Merman's words from weeks before.
But it wasn't the werewolves that attacked first, instead, Don had to dodge backwards as flames billowed from above him. He countered with a bolt of lightning, but was forced to redirect it as the werewolves split up and came at him from multiple directions. One of them lost a clawed hand as his glowing blade sliced through it, but it punished Don with a kick to the stomach. Two men dropped from above, wielding wickedly curved swords in one hand, while shooting fire from the other.
Don immediately attacked, sending the second werewolf that had tried to get around behind him flying into a storefront with a dose of his magic. Magic didn't seem to be able to kill them outright, at least not with the amount of power Don was using. The two fire users, who didn't seem to be anywhere near the same level of power or experience as Jacques, retreated a moment to allow the two werewolves to recover.
"You think you can hurt my family and get away with it? Not likely!" Don roared at them, using the space they had foolishly opened up to conjure a great stream of lightning that washed across his four foes. The two foreigners countered, or tried to, with their own fire magic. But Don's magic was simply more powerful, and swept them, and their magic, away into nothingness. "Bastards!"
The two werewolves howled in pain, and scampered away down the street. Don stood alone once again in the street. His magic had set several buildings aflame around him, but he could still hear the great clock tower at the center of London toll midnight. He turned down the street, but stopped as he saw another figure waiting there, eyes glowing violet.
"Do not think you have won, Emperor," It said with a well-manicured voice, "You have simply put off your own end."
And then it shimmered into nothingness, as if it hadn't happened.
"What in the name of God above…" He murmured to himself, just as pain doubled him over. One of the strangers had apparently nicked him a little more than he'd thought, as blood gushed from a wound across his thigh. With some effort, he pushed himself erect, and began to limp towards the harbor.
It was the longest walk of his life, as men and women watched him from their windows. Some of them hurled insults, but luckily none hurled anything of a greater substance. He reached the final set of homes, which were right on the edge of the harbor, with only a streetside pier separating them from the sea.
"Halt!" An officious voice called from behind him, and Don turned, just as he reached the edge of the pier, bringing the Brimstone Blade up into a guard position. When he saw what was behind him, he lowered his sword. There was no point when he faced a double line of soldiers, with their muzzles pointed directly at him. "Throw down your sword!"
Don didn't budge, and he didn't let the Brimstone Blade clatter to the wooden planking below him. Instead, he looked at the officer in charge of these men, the one who had spoken, and said simply.
"Do your duty."
The officer nodded, his eyes widening for a moment, as if in surprise, and then the world exploded into red all around Don. But it wasn't the rifles that fired from in front of him, but instead the massive thunder of cannon that sent him to his knees. He dropped to his stomach, covering his ears with his hands, as several more cannon roared, and a noise like hail on a metal roof sounded from the street ahead of him.
"Sire!" A voice called, barely heard after the cacophony that had assaulted his ears just a moment before, but still audible. It resolved itself into Lars Darvos, Captain of the Akula, who hopped down from the rope ladder someone had dangled over the side of his ship. "Thank god we arrived in time. Let's get you with the rest of your family."
And so Don, still bleeding, and almost deaf, was carried aboard the Akula, which had sustained only mild damage in the battle with the blockading Coronan ships. His family was already aboard, and the other three ships of the squadron were preparing to run defense for their Emperor.
Simon saluted, then let the ship's doctor go to work on the Emperor's leg wound, as the ship altered course towards the mouth of the harbor. Don tried to stand several times, asking about Elsa and the rest of his family.
"My Lord," The Doctor said with an authority even his liege lord couldn't dismiss, "You must lie still, or the stitches won't hold properly! The Empress is fine," The man dropped his voice slightly, "She will have scars where she was burned, but other than that, she should be fine."
Don relaxed, and felt the pinch and pull of the needle and thread as it pierced his wound, grunting whenever the doctor went a little too deep. He'd gotten his family away, through it all. Before any of his men could notice, he wiped away the happy tears that threatened to fall.
Then the lookout in the crow's nest far above him called out a sighting.
"Smoke in the mouth of the harbor!"
The doctor finished sewing closed his wound, and Don was able to hobble to the side rail beside Captain Darvos. A shape appeared in the darkness, lit by lamps that ringed it. It was low to the water, with sloping sides and a rounded area over the bow. But strangest of all, it possessed no sails, but moved through the water at a clip that even a fleet little sailing ship would have envied.
Before Don could call out how dangerous that ship would be, Darvos was yelling at the signalmen at the stern of the ship.
"Signal the Empress and Vasa to move to engage that ship with all caution!"
As the young man began to snap open the shades over the lamp he held, signaling to the boy signalman on the Empress all that Darvos had ordered. The final ship of their squadron, the Fafnir, stood by the Akula on the opposite side from the strange ship.
The two Swedish ships moved towards it, turning to bring their broadsides to bear. Cannon shots rang out, but Don could see nothing with the spyglass. He could hear the noise the cannonballs were making when they struck, though…
"It's covered in iron!" He said incredulously, "By god, it's covered in iron!"
And that meant the two ships moving to engage it were as good as dead. Don watched with drawn breath as the iron ship altered course, ramming the Empress amidships. It tore through the ship like paper, reversing away after mortally wounding the other ship, and going for the Vasa in the same way. A flurry of cannon shots from the Vasa smashed into the ship, to no effect, and then the Vasa shared in her sisterships fate.
Like a wolf stalking its prey, the other ship began to pace the Akula, even as Darvos sent cannonballs clanging off its armored carapace. Then it turned, aiming for just about the point Don was watching from. The Fafnir was altering course as fast as she possibly could to intercept, but she would be far too late. That was when Don had had enough.
"Sire, be careful!" Someone said, as he lifted his arms above his head, and throwing all his energy into his magic.
A single bolt of lightning struck from the heavens, striking the ship on the upper part of its armor. Don held it there, an otherworldly pillar of light. It was only when flames began to billow from the iron ship that he stopped, slumping to the deck in exhaustion.
"The Emperor did it!" Someone yelled from the area of the bow. "Huzzah!"
The entire crew lifted up a 'huzzah', before getting back to their business. The Akula and Fafnir returned to rescue as many of the other ships crews as they could, and then set off across the sea towards the Southern Isles.
As Don was carried below decks to lie next to Elsa, who smiled when she saw him, under the watchful eye of the ship's doctor, he could only hope that things had not grown too dire in his absence.
Thanks for reading, all! I just wanted to pose a quick question, and I'd love any responses I can get!
How do you like the characters? I've tried to make them as realistic as possible. Have I succeeded with that?