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Army at the Gates

Will Battles: Chapter 38

By Kristen LeavittPublished about a year ago 14 min read
(Photo from Swedish Collar on Pinterest)

It was somewhat anticlimactic to break down the door with your newly gathered army only to discover that no one was home. Jistan stared in shock at the empty city. It had been sparsely populated when they’d left, but now it seemed as though the Flames had taken every living soul.

The Mind Scythe stared with expressions ranging from cool professionalism to horror. Captain Ordel, the senior officer amongst the Mind Scythe taken from the front line, stared at the empty streets darkly.

“Whoever has done this will pay,” he said, voice low and soft.

Karrin stood at Jistan’s other side. They had met up at their prearranged location only two days previous, both having successfully gathered a respectable number of fighters to reclaim the capital city and rescue the Highness.

“Where is the enemy?” Jistan wasn’t sure who had spoken, but it didn’t really matter. It was the question they were all wondering.

Ordel gave Jistan a questioning glance, but he only shook his head, indicating that he didn’t know. Ordel began issuing brisk orders for his people to split up by Unit and scout out various areas, then report back immediately if they find anything of note. They were not to engage unless engaged, but instead to gain as much information as possible so they could form an attack plan.

“This will take too long,” Aniah said, stepping up and grabbing Ordel’s elbow. “We need to get to the palace immediately!”

Ordel, to his credit, remained calm and professional, despite the fact that she had been nagging him since they joined with Karrin’s group.

“If the Highness is still alive, it can only benefit her for us to have a firm plan in place for rescue. It serves no one for us to storm in brazenly and get ourselves killed, thus eliminating her last chance for rescue. Trust me, if they have not killed her yet, they are preserving her for a reason. We have no reason to rush.”

“But they are torturing her!” Aniah protested. “Trying to get secrets out of her, no doubt! What if she breaks, tells them things? Isn’t that a reason to hurry?”

“I believe you know as well as I that the Highness will die of pain before breaking,” the Captain replied, his voice completely confident. Jistan believed it, and he could tell Aniah did too. But she didn’t look pleased.

Joree clapped a hand over her shoulder before she could engage in further argument. “Come on, Aniah,” he said cheerily, “it’s not so bad. I mean, I was tortured for weeks and weeks, and I’m fine! Your mom has been captive for less than half the time. She’ll be fine.”

The ridiculousness of the statement made Ordel gape, but Jistan and Karrin both laughed, likely from excess nerves. Aniah looked ready to punch Joree in his grin.

“You, son,” Ordel finally said, “are quite possibly the strangest young man I’ve ever met.”


Horick was still trying to pry where he might find a key to the cells below out of his happy but uncooperative soldier friends when a new soldier came stumbling into the room, breathless and sweating.

“Army!” he gasped. “Just showed up. Scouts say they counted at least three-hundred, all well-armed.”

The soldiers languidly stood, holding weapons in semi-ready positions.

“We’re on it,” the leader, Markum, said. The breathless soldier was apparently in too big of a hurry to register their lackadaisical response, for he dashed away, likely to pass on the message to others.

Markum sighed, stretching. “Just when I thought the work was over.”

“We aren’t supposed to leave this position,” a short woman who they all called ‘Stoopy’ said. “Maybe ev’ryone else will take care of ‘em before they even get here.”

“Hope so,” another man muttered, prompting sitting back down and yawning.

Horick was already moving for the door. No one tried to stop him.

“Take some of ‘em out for us if ya don’t mind, friend,” Stoopy called out, sounding almost drunk.

Horick snorted. “Sure. I’ll do that.”


There was indeed an army. They were splitting off into groups, likely in some sort of patrolling pattern. They bore the insignia of Manicot on their uniforms. What had taken the Manicoti army so long to respond to a threat on their capital? Had it really taken so long for word to reach them? As he considered it, that was actually very likely. Most of the army was busy fighting the Pulse creatures or the fool-cursed humans who thought they could side with said creatures and come out on top. The Manicoti soldiers likely had enough to worry about without considering an attack on the greatest stronghold in the country. Especially when said stronghold was supposedly guarded by the strongest being in the world.

Someone moved to the front of the line, speaking with a small group that had gathered and was deep in discussion. At the sight of the newcomer, Horick instinctively grew tense. Tall, golden hair, too-brilliant eyes-for a moment, he looked like a Pulse creature. But no, his muscle and bone structure were far too normal. Still, there was something distinctly odd about him. Horick couldn’t shake the feeling of unease he got whenever he looked at the young man. He was off, wrong in a way that Horick couldn’t find the words to describe.

He sensed something moving behind him and turned to look over his shoulder. And nearly poked his eye out on the arrow tip pointed at his head.


Jistan frowned. “Where’s Lanae?”

Aniah immediately perked up, looking around.

“What, did you lose your charge?” Joree said, smirking.

“Flames, I knew that it would be trouble,” Aniah snarled. “Captain, we need to find it. Immediately. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Ordel gave a suffering look, taking a deep breath before responding.

“I hardly think that wisp of a girl is going to cause us any trouble,” he said, trying to sound diplomatic.

“It’s not a girl,” she emphasized. “It’s a Delani.”

“I’m aware of her species,” Ordel replied pointedly. Aniah scowled.

“It’s probably colluding with the enemy right now!”

She continued her tirade, but Jistan was no longer listening. He was watching Joree, who was trying not to laugh.

“What?” Jistan asked.

Joree just shook his head, then burst out laughing. It was all he could do to lift an arm and point to farther down the street. Jistan turned to find what was so amusing.

“There’s your trouble, An,” Joree gasped out between chortles.

Jistan watched in bewilderment as one of the strangest sights he had even seen played out before his eyes. An enormous man with a beard and intimidating looking biceps strode towards them with his arms held out to his sides as if in surrender. And behind him, a tiny but fierce figure held a drawn bow, the tip of an arrow inches from his back.

“Oh,” Jistan managed weakly, finally finding his voice. “That’s where she went.”


Joree tried very hard not to squirm at the hulking man’s overt scrutiny. Joree hadn’t said one word yet, but the man kept giving him long, intense stares. It was distracting enough that Joree wasn’t following the conversation very closely, despite his best efforts. Basically, this stranger was a foreigner, not Kriton, who had come to the city to find someone, only to find the city practically deserted.

“Where are you from?” Ordel asked in his ‘captain-voice’. “I don’t recognize your accent.”

The man, who called himself ‘Horick’, gave a wry smile. “Far away,” he said vaguely.

“Oh?” Ordel asked, looking unimpressed. “So far away that I haven’t heard of it, I assume?”

Horick snorted. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard of it.” He sounded like he was telling a particularly funny joke that only he knew the punch line to.

“What is the name of the person you are searching for?” Aniah demanded, stepping forward. “Is it Arellia?”

Horick gave her a baleful look. He still stood stock still, Lanae’s arrow tip pressed into his back. No one seemed inclined to tell her to stand down.

“I couldn’t care less about your Highness, kid,” he said. Joree was almost tempted to like the man for a brief second. Almost. Until he kept talking. “I’m here for a woman called Narissa.”

Jistan, Karrin, and Aniah and glanced at Joree, their faces a mixture of intrigued concern.

“Why?” Joree asked, speaking for the first time. Horick looked him up and down again, making Joree’s skin crawl.

“She may have information I’m looking for.”

Joree snorted. “I doubt that. She’s a simple farmer. Has been all her life.” After the words were out, he wondered if they were actually true. She never had gotten around to telling him about his father, after all. It wouldn’t really surprise him if she had more secrets.

“She may have lived a simple life, but I have reason to believe that she knows people who are significantly more…well, significant.”

“Stop talking in circles,” Ordel snapped. “We have limited time to save this city, and you are wasting our time. Tell us specifically why you are here. If you don’t, that little lady,” he nodded to Lanae, “can release her burden. I’m sure her arms are getting tired.”

Horick cocked an eyebrow. “You’d kill me? Just like that?”

Ordel didn’t answer. Joree suspected the Captain was bluffing.

After a moment, Horick just sighed. “It was a long shot. Narissa supposedly had a connection to someone who knew my brother. I needed to find her to start my search.”

“So you’re looking for your brother?” Jistan asked.

Horick pursed his lips. “Not exactly. I mean, I assumed I would have to find him, but he is not my end goal.”

“Who is?” Ordel asked impatiently.

“My niece,” Horick said. “My brother…he’s not a good man. He got himself into trouble and was exiled from our home. He dragged his daughter along with him. I’m here to bring her home.”

Joree stared at the man through narrowed eyes. The story seemed unlikely, but the man didn’t show any signs of deceit. Of course, he also hadn’t shown any concern over the arrow tip in his back, so he was probably a hard one to read.

“What are your intentions towards Manicot?” Aniah asked, apparently fed up with hearing about Horick’s family sob story.

“I have none,” he replied frankly. “I hold neither animosity nor loyalty to your country.”

She nodded once, as if that settled something. “You have been in the city for a few days, yes?” He inclined his head to say ‘yes’. “And you said you have been to the palace?” Again, an affirming nod.

“Excellent. You will help us as a guide and informant, and a soldier, if it comes to fighting. In return, we will help you locate your niece.”

Horick cocked one eyebrow. “May I ask who exactly you are?”

She sniffed, raising her chin. “I’m heir to this country, citizen.”

“And I’m not a citizen, your majesty,” he replied dryly. He studied her for a few long moments. “But I accept your offer. It can’t hurt to have royal connections, I suppose.”

Aniah smirked. “Oh, I can assure you it will be well worth your efforts.”

Joree couldn’t help a small smile himself. Of course Aniah was confident she could help him. She did, after all, know exactly where Narissa was, hiding away with Eshi in a hunting lodge a few miles outside the city.

“You can put your weapon away, Lanae,” Joree said. She glanced at him, gave an almost imperceptible shrug, and lowered the bow. Horick gave no reaction at all, not even a breath of relief.

“You should know that the palace is occupied by enemy soldiers,” he said, moving straight into it. “They guard a secret underground passageway. Arellia is down there, along with many other human prisoners.”

The first part was not news. The second, however, elicited gasps and several curses.

“She’s alive?” Aniah asked urgently, stepping forward.

“Yes. But she wears a collar of some kind that blocks her ability to use Will.” Horick seemed very troubled by the idea.

Joree felt sick. He had created that weapon inadvertently. In a twisted way, this was all his fault for not simply dying during the weeks of torture. The capture of Ranteel would have been nearly impossible with the Highness’s protection.

“Yes,” Aniah said softly. “I saw them put it on her.”

“Can you lead us there?” Ordel asked, a gleam of hope in his eyes.

Horick nodded. “Yes. We will want a small, elite team. More numbers won’t help much in the tunnels. They would only clog a retreat. Although it might be wise to bring some extras to guard the entrance to the passageway so that we can’t be trapped down there.”

“Good. Great.” Aniah was already moving off. When she realized no one was following she paused, looking irritated. “Well?”

“We still need to gather the team,” Jistan reminded her.

“Right,” she said, stopping and pulling at her jacket to straighten it out. “Well, be on with it then.”


Bricken really wished he hadn’t made such a good impression back in training. Perhaps if he’d been a bit more mediocre, he would be back in Kriton, drinking in the shade of the city wall and watching for an attack that wasn’t coming. Well, no. He wouldn’t be. But at least he wouldn’t be here. Yet.

He did not like Dennison, the strange foreigner, or Vris, the creepy Delani man. Yet they were the ones heading this mission, which meant Bricken had to answer to both of them and act respectful about it too.

He didn’t like what they were doing here. Sure, power and glory and wealth were fine and good, but he wasn’t so sure about torture and the murder of helpless captives. That seemed to cross a line. Fortunately, he had never been asked to hold the knife.

Just deliver the next victim.

One by one, he’d had to drag in the increasingly emaciated and sickly Manicoti into the torture chamber, where Dennison would speak while Vris held the knife to the prisoner’s throat. And the high and mighty Queen-or whatever she was called-would just sit there and watch her people die. She never even flinched when the knife made the fatal cut.

Although, as he considered it, something had changed. It was an almost unnoticeable transition. She’d been stoic, with a steely sort of haughty determination, like she was above even noticing her surroundings. Then, three or four days back, Bricken had brought in the first victim of the day. Her face hadn’t changed, and she hadn’t spoken. But Dennison had laughed.

“Ah, your personal bodyguard. Furl, is it?”Bricken could still remember that insidious way Dennison had laughed when Vris slit the man’s throat. And since then, the Highness had been different. She still didn’t speak or show emotion. But rather than seeming contained and aloof, she just seemed empty. As if she was no longer concealing emotion, because there was nothing left inside to conceal.

Today, Bricken reluctantly dragged in a semi-conscious young woman. She was practically dead anyway. This would be more of a mercy killing than a murder.

However, before they could begin the gruesome ritual, a soldier stumbled past Bricken, shoving him aside and saluting Dennison.

“Sir,” he gasped. “An army. In the city.”

“Good,” Dennison said. “Took them long enough.”

“No,” the soldier said, shaking his head, still panting. “Not our army. Mind Scythe.”

Dennison froze, then cursed. “How far from the palace?”

“They seem to be moving slowly from the outside in. We have at least a half hour.”

“Fine. Tell everyone to gather up and prepare to evacuate to the failsafe.” He turned to Bricken abruptly and pointed. “You,” he snapped. “Activate phase two and bring the package.”

Bricken paled. By the time he had recovered enough to say ‘yes, sir’, Dennison was gone.


About the Creator

Kristen Leavitt

Hey all! I am a recent graduate from BYU in Provo with a masters in PE. I have a passion for the outdoors, physical activity, sports, and health, but I also love writing! I love my husband, parents, and all eleven of my siblings!

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