Well, here's chapter 4... I know not many people are reading this, but here it is anyways.
Looking back on what happened that night, I’m amazed we even managed to escape with our lives. It was all pure chaos, from the people running around screaming to the burning buildings; it was all insane. But what shocked me the most, however, wasn’t the general panic of the people-that was to be expected in a situation such as the one we found ourselves in- it was the gunshots. Gunshots. In Elsmeria. There were no fire weapons in Elsmeria, they just simply didn’t exist, and I only knew about them because of my years in the human world. So the question that wouldn’t stop nagging me above all was why were there gunshots? I guess shock must have prevented me from thinking clearly, because the answer became obvious to me later, once we were safe.
But at that moment, when I realized the birds were silent, and my eyes locked on Eliah’s fearful ones, I just couldn’t think. Before I could react, or even ask, Eliah roughly grabbed me by the arm and started sprinting down the palace halls towards one of the side exits that led to the gardens. I ran after him, surprised at the pace Eliah was able to keep up, even at his age. I guess it was the adrenaline. We ran straight through the gardens, passing screaming people and armed guards who were heading towards the main commotion. We twisted and turned around paths and shortcuts that we both knew by heart after so many years at the palace. I could smell the smoke in the air from the burning buildings, and the wind was unfortunately blowing it our way, making it hard to breathe and see. We continued running, not stopping, not slowing down. Now that we were outside, the eerie silence we had experienced in the castle was gone, and gunshots and screams rang in my ears and blocked any other sound.
We finally reached the stables, where guards and soldiers were mounting their horses.
“Your highness!” one of the guards exclaimed. “How is it possible you have not been taken to safety?”
“I would think it is evident that is what I am doing sir,” Eliah retorted, pushing me towards a brown horse.
“We shall escort him to safety then, thank you for bringing him here unharmed.”
“No need,” Eliah answered dryly without his usual courtesy. The guard’s reply was drowned by the sound of an explosion that shook the ground. I decided there was no time to waste, and mounted my horse in one quick movement. Eliah climbed onto a white stallion and turned to face me. “Listen to me,” he said, for once not bothering to pretend he wasn’t ordering me around. “We do not have to travel far, but it shall not be an easy ride because of obvious reasons. You will stay immediately behind me at all times and do exactly as I tell you, understood?”
“Eliah how are we even going to get out of here? Why can’t we teletransport? Did they break the barriers? How did they-“
“Enough with the questions Nicholas! Just do as I say, I know what I am doing.”
“Your highness! Come with us, we shall-“
The guard was cut off by Eliah, who seemed to be losing his patience with this guy. “I thought I had just informed you that it is I, and not you, who will be taking the prince to safety!”
“Sir, without meaning to offend your honor, you are merely a tutor while-“
“Okay just shut up already!” I exploded. “Let’s get the heck out of here before we burn to death or something!”
Eliah didn’t need to be told twice. He turned and galloped out of the stable without another word to the guard. I galloped after him just as the sound of another explosion filled the air. To my surprise, Eliah seemed to be heading towards the center of the city, which is to say, towards the main commotion, and where most of the action was happening. I decided to just trust his judgment-mainly because I didn’t really have any other choice- and limited myself to following him, which wasn’t easy in the present conditions. I kept losing him in the thick black smoke, or getting separated from him because of hoards of soldiers that ran between us, forming a sort of barrier.
Things just got worse as we neared the city. Rubble filled the streets and bleeding dead bodies on the ground blocked the way. House roofs kept collapsing, quite possibly crushing the people inside. Innocent families who, like me, had no idea what was happening. Families formed by young children or hard working parents who- father. I’d forgotten about my father.
“Eliah!” I screamed, stopping my panicky horse in its tracks. “ELIAH!”
Unfortunately, Eliah didn’t seem to hear me. He kept galloping through the throng of people in the street, oblivious to my calls. I had to find my father; I knew I couldn’t just leave him behind. But the reasonable part of my brain told me it was impossible he hadn’t been taken to safety already. He was the king of Elsmeria after all; people didn’t tend to forget their king that easily. I wanted to believe he’d already been taken to safety, that guards from the palace had gotten him out of danger. And I knew it had most likely happened, that I was in more danger than him right now. However, I found myself unable to leave the city without making sure he was alright, I would never forgive myself if I left and he died or got hurt. We might not have the best father-son relationship, but he was still my father.
With a last look at Eliah’s fleeing figure, I turned my horse around and galloped back to the palace as fast as possible. My horse dodged people and jumped over debris, hurtling through the city like lightning. The sound of gunshots came from all around me, and for the first time I saw the people who were firing the weapons. They wore black suits that covered their entire bodies; their outfits looked almost military with their helmets and bullet-proof goggles. The weapons they were carrying appeared large and threatening, and I had no doubt a single bullet aimed at the right place could knock a person dead in seconds.
A new explosion made the ground shake and the buildings around me crumble. I wondered what weapon was causing the explosions. Bombs? Grenades? Just like the guns, they were human weapons. There were no bombs or grenades in Elsmeria. I didn’t have much time to give this much thought, because right at that moment my strong brown horse got hit in the side by a bullet fired from somewhere across the street. The horse let out a pained sound and its legs gave in, bringing it down and throwing me off its back. I hit the ground hard and the breath was knocked out of me by the impact. For a second I lay in the dirt facing the smoke-infested sky, unable to breathe. But before I had time to come to my senses, bullets started hitting the ground next to me, and my survival instincts took over, forcing me to get up and run to safety.
I sprinted across the street, darting in and out of buildings in the hope that they would protect me from the bullets as I made my way through the city. I turned a corner at full speed and bumped right into one of the armed men wearing the black suits. He immediately trained his gun on my head, and I reached for my sword, ready to defend myself-just to find my sword wasn’t at my side. I was unarmed, of course-I had been getting ready to leave Elsmeria for the human world, and I hadn’t been carrying any weapons. I froze, thinking only of my vulnerability as I stood in front of the gun pointed straight at me. I was expecting the bullet to come at any moment, too shocked and scared to even consider moving out of the way, when the realization hit me. This man hadn’t shot me on sight, like all the other gun-carrying enemies were doing to elves all around me. I allowed my eyes to drift up and looked at the soldier’s eyes through his transparent goggles. They were blue and wide, as if he was more scared of me-an unarmed, skinny kid- than I was of him. I saw the gun he was holding was shaking, as if he were unable to hold it straight. We both stood there stone-still, staring at each other in fear; the unarmed kid and the weapon-carrying man.
Except he wasn’t a man-he was a kid himself. He was too short and narrow to be a grown man, and his face was still young, almost childish. He was a kid, probably around my age, and he was scared too, just as I was. Scared of this mission, scared of his role as an invading soldier, scared to murder. I couldn’t have been given a better opportunity. I brought my hand up in one swift move and knocked the gun out of his grasp, then kicking it across the dirt so he couldn’t get it back. I delivered one hard kick to his stomach that sent him tumbling down to the floor, shock still registered in his face. Not wasting another moment, I turned and ran away, still intent on reaching the palace.
Along my way several Elsmerian soldiers who caught sight of me tried to reach me, possibly with the intention of ushering me to safety. But I was determined not to leave the city without finding my father first. The castle grew nearer and I put on a burst of extra speed, confident now that I could make it there in time. The grand gates at the entrance were thankfully unlocked, and I barreled through them and past the dozens of soldiers who were standing guard by them. Numerous arms reached out to grab me and stop me from passing through the gates, but I merely ducked them and continued on my way. I dashed up the majestic marble stairs leading to the castle’s main door, but it wasn’t until I pulled myself through the huge oak doors that something incredibly obvious came to me; no one was attacking the castle.
I racked my brain for possible explanations, but I could just come up with three reasonable ones: either the invaders just hadn’t had time to get to the palace yet; the guards were defending the palace really well (which seemed unlikely seeing how easily I had managed to get in); or the palace just wasn’t the main objective. The latter explanation confused me; it’s only logical that if you invade a city you would head towards the main headquarters, the place where the highest figures of power are held, first. If you eliminate the leader, everything else is chaos, and it all starts crumbling down, making your invasion undoubtedly easier. Why then, I wondered, were the invaders not heading towards the castle?
I shook my head to clear my thoughts and decided to concentrate on the mission at hand for now. The first place I could think of was my father’s bedroom. I ran up the stairs and through a maze of corridors, passages and shortcuts until I reached his room. I flung the door open, hoping my father was inside-but he wasn’t. The room was empty. I went back into the corridor again, checking the room behind each door that lined the long hall. Empty. Empty. Empty. Frantic, I headed towards the library, where I figured my father could be working. Once again, I was disappointed to find only a cowering maid behind a tall bookshelf, who I instructed to flee the castle immediately. The ballroom, the bathrooms, my father’s office, I even checked the kitchens; but my father was nowhere to be found. I was beginning to think that I had been originally right, and my father had already been taken to safety, when I heard the loud cracking sounds in the throne room. The invaders had reached the castle.
I hurried back downstairs, trying to calculate what my odds were of making it out of the palace alive. I knew trying to exit through the front door would be incredibly stupid-that was probably where all the invaders were coming through-, so I ran for the side door through which I had fled the palace with Eliah not long ago. I began to believe it was possible, that I was almost there and I would manage to escape, when I heard the blood-curling scream coming from behind me. It wasn’t a scream of fear or pain-it was a battle cry. I looked over my shoulder without stopping, and I saw a large man carrying a gun and wearing the invader’s black suit running towards me like a charging animal. I could outrun this man, I was almost certain I could. I didn’t have any heavy clothing or weapons to slow me down like he did, and I had always been agile and fast. I could make it.
Or maybe not.
The man fired his gun and the loud crack echoed down the narrow passage, ringing in my ears. A second gunshot filled the air and this time I saw the bullet land in the wall right next to me. I started zigzagging as I ran, hoping that would make me a more difficult target to hit. Fifty feet left for the door; forty feet; thirty feet almost there. And then the sound of another gunshot vibrated through the closed space and excruciating pain ran up and down my body in waves as I felt the bullet enter my side. The impact knocked me down instantly, my head hitting the cold marble hard. Black spots filled my vision and everything around me started spinning. I could only hear the blood rushing in my ears and the fast beats of my own heart. Even the invader’s loud laughter and whoops of joy sounded like they were coming from far away, as if I were hearing it in a dream, or through a wall. Pain clouded my thoughts, making me unable to concentrate on anything that wasn’t the agonizing sting caused by the bullet. I touched my hand to my side and it came away coated in thick, dark blood.
The man who had shot me reached the place where I lay bleeding on the floor and kicked me so hard I started coughing blood. I couldn’t prevent a yell from escaping my lips as he hauled me up by the shoulders, pinning me against the wall. “So much for the little race, huh?” His words barely made sense to me. He drew his fist back and punched me in the face, making me double over and spit out even more blood. I heard him laugh and then cock his large gun. The barrel of the gun was pressed against my forehead and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block out the pain and the paralyzing fear. “You disgusting little monster,” he hissed in my face. Then he released his grip on my shoulder, which made me fall back down to the floor, lacking the strength to remain standing. “Die on the floor you filthy rat, on the floor where you belong.”
I wanted to say something, to talk back to him, to ask so many questions; but I couldn’t. My breath came out in short, quick gasps, and my mouth was as dry as sandpaper-except for the blood that is. Even if I had been physically able to talk I doubt I would have been able to formulate a sentence. My brain had just shut down, not working, not processing anything except the pain. I never imagined getting shot would hurt this much. The barrel of the gun was placed against my head again, and I don’t think I’d be wrong to assume this man was taking pleasure in seeing me suffer on the floor and in delaying my death to make my pain last longer.
And then, with no warning, a shower of blood hit my face. It wasn’t my blood. I opened my eyes in surprise and looked up to find the invader groping desperately for the sword that was sticking out of his chest. With a final gasp, his knees gave in under him and the man fell dead to the floor.
“NICHOLAS!” Eliah’s voice. That solved the mystery; Eliah had thrown the sword that had killed my to-be murderer. He knelt down next to me and frowned when he saw the blood that was staining my shirt and pooling under me. “I thought I told you to stay behind me,” he said, but his voice didn’t sound angry, just worried and frantic.
“Father,” I gasped. “Had…to find…fa-“ I broke off into a fit of coughing, and blood spurted out of my mouth.
“I imagined you would have more common sense than that! Your father was the first to be taken to safety of course. No, don’t talk. Just be quiet. Stay still.” He picked me up carefully, but I was unable to hold back a gasp as pain shot through me.
“Quiet!” He snapped.
Dark spots started dancing in my vision again, and I felt light-headed and dizzy. Eliah headed towards the exit, walking slowly so his sudden movements wouldn’t hurt me. I caught sight of the large gun the invader had dropped on the floor before he died.
“The gun. Get the gun. And the sword. They might-“ I was interrupted by another coughing fit that increased the pain in my side, and the last thing I remember before blacking out was Eliah gingerly bending down to retrieve the weapons.