Title: Friend in the Dark
Warnings: Some scenes contain violence
Word Count: 2600
Summary: A warrior. A prince. An assassin.
A/N: My first real work of original fiction, written for a creative writing class my senior year of high school
Dakota, prince and heir to the throne of his country L’daera, knelt at the foot of the bed in front of him, placing a bouquet of lilies and roses at the base. The still form on the bed looked as if it was prepared for a funeral; unfathomable brown eyes closed, beautiful brown hair creating a dark halo around pale skin, a peaceful appearance on a face of feral beauty.
He couldn’t believe what had happened only days ago. His best friend, his only real friend, had been shot in a failed attempt at an assassination, the would-be killer’s arrow missing her heart by inches. The healers had told him that there was nothing they could do yet he didn’t give up his hope, he would never give up on her.
Standing up, Dakota slipped carefully onto the bed next to Kai, his eyes straining to see the slight rise and fall of her chest, the only sign he had that she was still alive. Her sudden appearance in his country had been shrouded in mystery and before anyone had learned the true purpose of her arrival in L’daera, they’d become friends; she stood by his side through recent difficulties brought on by his title. Running his fingers lightly over her pale face he sighed and slid off the bed to sit down in the chair at the bedside and he watched her for some time before his eyes began to close, thoughts drifting back to the last day he’d seen her bright eyes open, her body so full of life.
Three days earlier…
A relieved sigh slipped past Dakota’s lips as he walked out into the forest, the fresh air working miracles on his stressed mind. In the woods surrounding the castle there had been a large increase in reported sightings of the strong, giant creatures known as Wyrms. That very morning, King Willem and Ian, head of the forest guard, had again tried to plead their case to him as to why they thought the Wyrms were gathering in the nearby areas but Dakota had waved away their theories without much consideration.
Ian was absolutely convinced that Kai’s arrival and the increase in Wyrm sightings and attacks was no coincidence. Dakota had already come to trust Kai with his life by the time Ian and Willem came to him with this information but when questioned, Kai resolutely denied any ties with the dark wizard Kahladorn and Dakota believed her. The mysteries surrounding the woman, coupled with her disappearances late in the night for hours on end, did nothing to lift Ian’s suspicions, however, and the head guard had approached him many times, imploring the prince to listen to him.
That very morning, when Dakota went to rouse his friend to break fast with him, Kai was nowhere to be found, nor had anyone seen her since early the previous evening. The whispers around the palace about the scout who had been killed late the previous night with no immediately visible cause of death, a single white rose covered in blood left in his hand, did nothing but bolster Ian’s opinion of the young lady Dakota had befriended. None of it made sense to him, as the stories of the mysteriously beautiful Eccaia, Kahladorn’s primary weapon who’s signature mark was the white rose covered in blood, came mainly from the far eastern parts of the continent and never anywhere near L’daera.
Now as the day wore on and Kai had yet to return to the palace, Dakota couldn’t help but worry, couldn’t help but wonder if there was any truth at all behind the rumors and tales being told and whispered in the halls. He didn’t want to believe that his closest friend and confidant was working for the dark wizard, that she was a traitor. He wanted to believe that she would return from a long ride through the woods, looking wind-blown and wild as always and everything would go back to normal.
Still, with the rumors spreading like they were, Willem and Ian continued to press him into considering the option that maybe he didn’t know Kai as well as he thought he did. Breathing deeply, he let the fresh air of the woods calm him as he looked forward to a short ride around the palace perimeter when the harsh sound of hoof beats registered through his thoughts. Ian rode up to him stoically, his face grim and the rest of his body splattered with a dark red liquid.
Dakota frowned as the guard pulled his mount to a stop in front of him. “Has there been another attack?”
Instead of answering him outright, Ian simply told him, “Prince, I think you need to see this.”
Silently, Dakota followed Ian to the guard house, where the jailers were keeping watch over the body of a Wyrm the soldiers had brought in from their most recent skirmish. Like most Wyrms it belonged to an army of a dark wizard but this one, along with the majority of the ones being killed near L’daera, were in the service of a dark wizard, Kahladorn: the biggest threat to the free lands of the continent. It bore on its armor and body the sigils of the dark wizard and Ian handed the prince a note found on the Wyrm, also bearing the seal of the dark wizard.
The note, while not clearly addressed, was for a warrior wizard who was supposedly staying in L’daera and Dakota frowned as he glanced over it. “This is simply an order to attack anything they find.”
“We have reason to believe it is addressed to Eccaia,” Ian replied, the tone of his voice immediately putting Dakota on guard as he looked up at the experienced fighter.
“And what led you to believe this?” When Ian didn’t reply he glanced up at the motionless man and he read the note again, slower this time. The note was indeed from Kahladorn himself and there were discreet references as to whom exactly Kahladorn was addressing: a young lady ordered to stay in L’daera, his daughter, the darkly beautiful and mysterious warrior Eccaia. Her orders were basic but crippling to the L’daeraien army: to kill a handful of people, most of them high-ranking guards and officers, but the last order was to kill the prince at sundown on the last day of her stay.
Dakota’s breath hitched in his chest as he recalled everything he’d heard earlier, all the rumors about the soldier’s death with the white rose left behind, the unexplained increase in Wyrm attacks, Kai’s odd disappearance from the previous night and the striking resemblance between the circumstances surrounding his friend and what he knew of the assassin.
Seeing the look on the young prince’s face, Ian spoke up, “We found a small scouting party of Wyrms, but there are more on the way.” Dakota shook his head, his mind not willing to accept that what Ian had been saying all along was true.
“Have you seen Kai anywhere?” The look on the guard’s face was enough of an answer. Dakota turned and ran for the stables, mentally going through a list of the places where Kai was known to hide out when she needed space. Ian and a handful of guards chased after him, shouting their protests, but he saddled his horse and rode off hastily into the woods, his mind set on finding Kai, his heart needing to know.
His search continued well into dusk, the setting sun casting human-shaped shadows everywhere he looked but he continued to ride deeper into the forest. There were bodies of Wyrms strewn about the ground around him, still there after previous skirmishes, but no sign of Kai. His fears and concerns for the young woman grew as he continued riding, continued searching, until he heard the faintest sound of anguished crying through the forest. He immediately turned his mount towards the sound, his eyes searching frantically for any sign of life amongst the trees until he spotted a bright patch against the dark browns and greens of the forest.
The stallion nickered his protest at the abrupt pull on the reins but slowed his pace until Dakota jumped off the still-moving horse, running toward the figure curled in on itself at the base of a large tree, knees drawn up against the chest, sobs racking the small body.
Relief crashed over him in waves when he realized it was, in fact, the woman he’d been searching for and he knelt on the ground next to her, reaching out to place a gentle hand on her shoulder as he whispered, “Kai?”
The sound of his voice, even as quiet as it was, startled her and she looked up, pulling back as if she’d been burned, pain and fear mixed on her tear-stained face. “You shouldn’t be here!” She began to back away from him, her arms feeling behind her as she moved further away. A stab of pain went through him at the thought of his touch, his presence, hurting her and he reached out to stop her, wanting answers, and preventing her from moving further away from him.
“Tell me.” When she turned her face away, the dread he had been feeling hit him in full force. “Kai is short for Eccaia, isn’t it?”
“Please understand, Dakota! After I met you, I never… I never wanted to be what he has made me. He controls me, has this power over me and I- I can’t deny what he demands of me. Go, please!” He opened his mouth, ready to argue but he froze, watching in shock as her free arm came up from behind her back, the metal of a thin stiletto glinting in the moonlight. His immediate thought was of her betrayal but watching the pain in her eyes, the way her arm shook as it slowly inched forward he tightened his grip on her other arm and set his mouth in a thin line.
“No, I won’t run away. Not this time, Kai,” he whispered into her hair as he used his grip on her arm to pull her against him, hugging her tight, feeling warmth against his neck as tears fell from her eyes and wet his skin. Closing his own eyes, Dakota waited for the blow to come, breath held apprehensively, but the impact he felt on his body wasn’t the one he was expecting.
The breath Kai had been holding came out in a harsh gasp and she released her hold on Dakota, falling against him with unexpected force. Dakota fell back with the sudden weight against him, cradling her in his arms and opening his eyes to see an arrow protruding from her back. A movement off in the distance alerted him to the presence of other creatures nearby: Wyrms, if the commotion in the trees was anything to go by. Working quickly, Dakota repositioned his arms around her body, holding her tenderly as he carried her to his mount and maneuvered onto his horse as carefully as he could.
A harsh gasp left her as she was jostled, her hand clutching desperately at the fabric of his tunic as he readied her for the ride back to the palace, her voice faint when she spoke. “Dakota…”
“Sh, don’t talk. I’m taking you back, everything will be all right. I am going to take care of you.” He saw a flash of something in her warm brown eyes before they slipped shut and she went limp against him, her hand releasing its tentative hold on his tunic and he urged his horse to run.
The moment he was in sight of the palace gates, Ian rushed out to Dakota as the prince halted his mount abruptly, the guard’s face going from relief to surprised anger. The look on his prince’s face, though, had the seasoned guard holding back his reprimanding remarks and he silently led the young man through the halls of the palace.
They reached the healers’ rooms after what seemed an eternity to Dakota. Without asking for an explanation, the healers immediately rushed up to their prince and reached out to take the young woman from his arms. He was hesitant to relinquish his hold but Dakota carefully placed Kai’s lifeless body in the arms of the healer before he and Ian were shooed out to the hallway to wait.
Ian wanted to speak to the young prince but as he watched the man from where he was sitting, his eyes following Dakota as he paced along the hall, the guard held his tongue. The look on Dakota’s face told him most of what he wanted to know, that he had learned about Kai’s true nature, that the girl was a traitor like he’d suspected all along, but the truth didn’t seem to faze the prince at all.
Hours later the door to the healer’s room opened and Dakota rushed over, eager to learn if Kai was alright but the moment he saw the looks on the faces of the healers, he froze instantly. They told him the arrow had barely missed her heart and nothing they tried could rouse her, even for a moment, from the death-like slumber she seemed to be in. Ian felt for the young prince but at the same time wanting to tell him that it was for the best, the girl he thought he knew wasn’t who she said she was, but when the prince made his way to the lady’s bedside, he followed Dakota into the healer’s room, standing by silently as they looked at the pale maiden lying on the bed.
The silence dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, both Ian and Dakota standing next to the bed and looking down at Kai’s still form, half expecting her to sit up any moment. Helplessness washed over Dakota, he wanted to do something, keep his promise to protect her, but he could only stand there, watching, feeling vulnerable. She had quickly become his whole world and all he could do now was watch it slip slowly away.
Ian placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, his voice quiet when he asked what had happened and as Dakota recounted the events he surprised himself by harboring a new-found respect for the warrior she was and found himself just as anxious his prince to see her pull out of her eerie reverie and live to fight another day.
Dakota’s restless sleep was disturbed when he a soft noise coming from inside the room broke through his sleep-addled brain and he jerked in his chair, his gaze immediately moving to the bed where Kai was lying, searching frantically for some sign that she was still alive. His eyes caught the smallest of movements of her chest, the shallow rise and fall calming his nerves enough as he sagged back against the chair in relief. Running a hand tiredly through his hair, he pushed himself to the edge of his seat, carefully leaning over to place his lips against her forehead, pressing a light kiss there before rearranging a lock of her soft hair. No matter what the healers said Dakota would not just give up on her, he still held on to hope, willing her to get better. He knew her body and will were strong enough to pull her through, knew that Kai would not stop fighting. She would get better, and he would always be there for her, a strong presence by her side, always there to protect her.
part ii || part iii