"Pandora! Torios!" The governor yelled, as the sounds of heavy footsteps resonated inside the pens.
Visibly lost, I saw Lans and his knights unsheathe their weapons; only to end up doing the same, once two massive scaled beasts, stepped out of the shadows.
I used to believe that those creatures were only legends; that they were just something that our elders had come up with, to prevent us from wandering too far into the wilderness. But upon seeing those leathery wings and those jagged tails that could easily have impaled a boar from one side to another; I knew, that those were indeed, Wyrms…
Most of us had never seen a Wyrm so closely in their lives, and a wave of panic traveled through us as Gilbert made them roar with a single snap of his fingers.
Unshaken by this sudden display of power, Lans stepped forward. "Fiend, what kinds of dirty tricks are you trying to pull now?" He asked, with a voice untainted by fear. "Your days are numbered, imperial puppet; desist now, or suffer the consequences."
But of course, Lans bravery would certainly not be enough to confront this new foe; and Gilbert seemed to be perfectly aware of that fact. The governor remained secure in his resolve; untying his whip from his belt, Gilbert stared right back at us, with a fierceness that belied his somewhat frail build. "The peoples of Sharom were always like Wyrms…" He replied, lashing out mercilessly at his charges. "No matter how much you feed them, no matter how well you mean; they'd much rather eat their own tail than rely upon the kindness of others!"
The knights surrounding me braced their shield, their hand still trembling as the beast tamer drove his beasts ever closer toward us. "They're far too prideful; they have to hunt for their own food or they'll let themselves die from hunger!
With one swipe of its mighty claw, the Wyrm, referred to as Pandora, cleaved through the shields of my knights Seeing this, the soldier, that was standing closest to Torios, dropped his weapon and tried to flee; but too late did he realize that reptile's tail had already coiled around his leg, leaving him completely defenseless as the monstrous beast gnawed off his head.
None were prepared for what was happening around us, and while Lans's knights were doing their best to hold them off, we were soon separated into two groups as governor Oblion drove his beasts to the pinnacle of their frenzy. I soon found myself stuck into a corner with a handful of my men; afraid, and not quite such what I was supposed to do.
The massive beast towered above us, casting his shadow all over us. "Reality is very different from ideals…"
And then, one by one, the knights, that were standing before me, were swept aside by Torios; until that finally, I was standing alone, before the monstrosity that shouldn't have existed in the first place.
I raised my sword, tried to protect myself; but I too, was sent plummeting on the ground…
Above the ruckus, I heard Gilbert's whip fall down upon the Wyrm's hide; causing it to roar once more as its maw was filled with saliva and blood. "They don't know what's good for them, so you have to tell them what they want to hear, in order to protect em' from themselves!"
I raised my head, tried to make sense of my surrounding, only to discover that my weapon had been knocked off my hand during my fall. I heard Lans yell something, but somehow I couldn't quite make sense of what he was saying. And so, the reptilian beast finally reached me… I… couldn't do anything…
And so, as tried to stand back up, the reptilian beast rammed into me. "Look out, my lady!" Only to end up banging its head upon Lans's shield.
Visibly unnerved, Torios roared, made even more angry by the knight's bravado. But Sir Hamilton would not let himself be intimidated; the beast opened its mouth and then Lans trusted his arm up to his forearm inside the beast's maw, his blade piecing the fragile flesh inside its throat.
The Wyrm's pain seemed unbelievable and while I was still frenetically looking for my weapon, Lans called one of his men to his side, and eventually vanquished the massive reptile, who had escaped Gilbert's control.
The governor was furious, those creatures were like his own children; and so, he too joined the fray, helping Pandora fend off her attackers as the other beast, fell lifelessly upon the ground.
The fight was not easy, but the knights had finally managed to rally together and under their combined assaults; the last creature, also fell.
Upon seeing this mess, Gilbert fell on his knees; all was lost. The beasts he had brought up from the egg were slain, Parcival itself had fallen under the might of the rebel's army; and all that remained, was him.
Meanwhile, I had finally managed to retrieve my sword, and was now heading strait for the governor; if only not to have to think about whether I should be relieved or ashamed at the fact that Lans had, once again, saved our lives…
"I… I thought that stopping to fight the Empire was the best thing for this kingdom… But maybe…" Said Gilbert as Sir Hamilton reached my side. "Maybe it was just a lie… … … Do what you will with me, I care not. I have failed this kingdom, failed my army, and more importantly, I have failed my people…"
Everyone seemed to be expecting that Sir Hamilton or me would end his life on the spot. But Lans actually seemed to believe that this task wasn't his to accomplish; and so, as everyone were looking at me, I raised my blade and…
"Everyone, wait!" The governor's eyes were still cast to the ground as I prepared to execute him, but I was stopped by a voice that was coming from further behind us.
"Please, you've got to believe me…!"
I turned around, and saw a flamboyant winged warrior rush inside the room as if his own life was at stake. "Gilbert didn't want to fight you guys or stand with the Empire!"
"Who are you?" I asked, not quite sure what to make of this muscular hawk man.
The redheaded warrior then tried to answer, but was stopped by a wizard in dusty robes that stepped from the shadows. "This man is Canopus Walf, the Wind Rider…"
I watched in disbelief as Warren mentioned these last few words and felt an unpleasant sensation growing inside of me. "This man used to serve in governor Oblion's army before Sharom was annexed by the Empire; and has come to enlighten us about the governor's true motive in this matter."
"You've got to believe me, Gilbert didn't like the Empire any more than you guys; he just wanted to save his people, that's all! Please spare him, he isn't such a bad guy, he just got caught up in all this."
Gilbert remained silent this whole time, not even willing to defend himself; but upon realizing what I was about to do, I… I dropped my weapon…
The sound of the metal, falling upon the solid floor, resonated inside the griffon pens. And eventually, it was Gilbert finally broke the silence and replied. "It doesn't matter why I did it, Canopus! I am a traitor to this kingdom. I have helped perpetrate the illusion of the false peace that the Empire has been promoting, and nothing will ever change that fact." He turned back to me and then went on as his former friend stared at him in disbelief. "Finish me, that is all a traitor like me deserves."
My advisor spoke once more. "With all due respect, governor. Life is cheap, especially in time of war; but right now, your life is not worth taking. Surely, even you can understand this. While you may have made a mistake, wouldn't you rather set things right, before death finally claims you?"
Governor Oblion stared back to the winged warrior. "Forgive him, guys, I'm he'd be willing to help you out; should you give him the chance."
Cowering under Warren's gaze and deeply ashamed of my misjudgment, I answered. "Fine…"
The others did not seem exactly thrilled, but Gilbert nonetheless raised his head in disbelief. "You would forgive me?… I…" The old man didn't quite seem to find the words to express what he was feeling right now. "Then I… I will pledge my life you, m-my lady! I swear that as long as there even a sparkle of life left inside this body, I will keep fighting for your cause…"
Imperial Year 25
Branca… … I seem to have lost track of the date…
It was done; Sharom was now officially liberated from Empire's rule and would, from now on, be known as the birthplace of the Zenobian Revolutionary army…
Our ranks were swelling, peoples from every corner of the province had come to serve under our banner, and we had also earned staunch allies in the form of Gilbert's newly trained griffins and Canopus's hawk men company.
The peoples were overjoyed with our success; but those of us who were part of the command chain knew far too well that it was only a matter of time before the Empire sent someone competent to pacify the region…
Plans were already under way to march upon the Zenobian capital, and while our morale was greatly improved by our recent victories, I knew fully well the difficult choices that lay ahead of us.
While we could have headed strait for the capital, through the Pogrom Forest, this region was still largely uncharted since the end of the war; leaving us with little choice but to rush blindly with no idea of the size of the enemy forces. Even though taking this shortcut may have sounded tempting, there was still the matter of the liberation of the lower kingdom, whom had already suffered far too much under the rule of the Zeteginian Empire; but to do so would leave us far too much behind schedule to prevent the them from sending reinforcements to the capital.
I knew that I was making a mistake, but in the end, I decided to split our army in half. Maybe it was petty and selfish of me, but I could no longer stand Lans presence around me anymore; and so I ordered him to free the lower regions, while me and Warren would rush through the Pogrom Forest…
I believed that I would still have done the same, even if this opportunity hadn't presented itself; but deep inside me, I knew, that Sir Hamilton was not at fault… … I was…
Back when we liberated Parcival, my advisor had taught me a harsh lesson; one which, in my haste, I had failed to grasp when the time came to conquer the area. I had failed to hear what the people had to say, I had failed to see to it that Canopus joined our ranks; and if it weren't for him, I would have probably executed the former governor under the pressure of my peers…I had failed to see what was going on outside my own tent, since I was so afraid of facing the battlefield again; and by doing so, I had endangered the lives of each person that constituted our army…
I could no longer flee my responsibilities…No matter how much I wanted to go back home, it was already too late to turn back; now that we had reached the edges of the Pogrom Forest, I could no longer head back to Volzak on my own. And while I could have made a run for it, I was still terrified at the thought of what I might find along the roads…
I had no other choice now, my only way out was to help the rebels in the liberation of Zenobia; and only then, would I truly, be free. I had to toughen up in order to save everyone else, from myself…I have to grit my teeth and face the battlefield once more; for that only then, would I be able to see this through.
I would lie if I said that I wasn't afraid; but maybe with proper planning, just like with everything else, I would be able to do it… … …
Preview: For years, the Pogrom Forest had always stood as a grim monument of the war that took place twenty-five years ago; and while most peoples gave this area a wide berth, there were still those who were foolish enough to thread its soils. Forces, much darker than anything the rebels might have imagined, are insidiously bending the forest to their will; and Earwind will have to face her worst fears if she hopes to make it through the night…