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Never Coming Back

Author: Birdpaw
Rating: Explicit
Status: In Progress
Series: Wolf Heart
Preceding: None
Succeeding: None


They say history is written by the victors, because of that, you never really get to hear what the losing side has to think.

Not that I was on the losing side, I was just more open-minded then half my people.

I guess that’s how young minds work, when I was 14 I had questioned what would happen if the Eastern side had won the civil war. 

The kingdom has been split into two sides of the same views, the leaders of each side didn’t want to admit it, but we all wanted the same thing for the past 100 years, what started this whole fight in the first place.

Freedom.

The East and the West both could have easily put their pride aside and worked together, but the East wanted not just to cling to the pine forests of the kingdom we are from, but wanted to expand even further.

This is what pushed the Western part of the kingdom to ask help from the neighbouring kingdom of Nixsan, that’s what made things worse.

Not that I have anything against them, actually they were a big help.

It was the kingdom behind it that worried most people. Yapry. It is said that this kingdom holds something ancient and alive, and very dangerous. I guess both sides were worried they would use it against each other.

Too bad that was indeed the case, but it was never the leader of Nixsan’s intention of use.

They call it the Black Mist, however it’s more of a menacing white then anything.

The leaders wanted a quick way out, they got their quick way out. 

But at what price?

I came from a very large family

In the end, I was the only one left.

Chapter 1

The only reason 

Was because I ran away.

The sun rose above the horizon, shedding sprinkles of light on the dew in the forests of pine trees. However, the distant booms of cannon fire shattered the peaceful picture, Erik tossed and turned in his bed, covering his ears from the noise.

“You seem very restless little bro,” His older brother Max muttered quickly, “Mother says breakfast is ready, so unless you want to skip breakfast, I’d hurry and get up.”

Erik glared at his older brother, who shrugged and left his room. Erik huffed when he could hear the cannon fire continue. He growled to himself, “Not that I got a wink of sleep anyways.”

He got up fairly quickly and got changed, he fixed his hair and went downstairs.

He sat down at the table, where his little sister was bouncing at the prospect of food. It was quite loud in the dining room, he had seven other siblings to contend with, since he was the second youngest. Aaron, his oldest brother, who seemed tired and worn out, his eyes a flat green, asked curiously, “What are we having then?”

Erik looked at his mother, before the war took an ugly turn, she was quite pretty and held herself high, but now grey streaked her raven black hair, and she looked like Hostrich had already lost and had been torn apart. She had placed food in front of Erik and his little sister Erin, since they were the youngest, they were to eat first, and Erin gulped it down fairly quickly. Erik turned away from his food.

His mother muttered worriedly, “You’ve been skipping meals lately, Erik, that’s not healthy, you know we’re only able to get so much food a day.”

Aaron cut in, “Well, if you let me and Max hunt or go to town-“ However, she cut off his sentence.“You know it’s too dangerous, your father is busy and can’t watch over you two when you do that.” She snapped.

Erik pushed away his food, “He’s never here anyways. I’m not hungry.” He grumbled.

His mother looked at him exasperatedly. Erik stood up, “I’m going for a walk.” He said quietly, and started to walk out the front door.

“Shouldn’t-?” His mother started to call him, but he stopped her, and growled, “I’ll be fine, mother.”

He didn’t wait for a reply, he shut the door behind him, and looked up at the sky, which was the soft red colour of the dawn. He walked down the path away from his house, the cannon fire still loud in the distance.

Erik stopped in the middle of the forest, and sat down on a log, he sighed, and looked around. The animals were long gone, and the cannon fire seemed to be getting closer and closer, until suddenly Erik covered his ears when a screech of the cannon ball hurling above him, and smash into the trees a mile away from him.

Erik looked up in disbelief, and jumped when four people came out of the bushes, looking shocked at their misfire.

“Good job.” His partner laughed, while the other looked at the other man in disbelief, who had a calm look on his face, Erik looked at the other person standing beside the calm man, and immediately recognized him as a Storm Guard. The Storm Guard were elite fighters of both the living and the non-living, which made them protectors of usually monarchs.

“Sorry!” The younger man immediately saw Erik, “We didn’t hurt you right?” He asked.

The calm man muttered pointedly, “Don’t think he’d be here if we did.”

The younger man immediately bowed to the calm man, “Sorry, your highness, it will not happen again.”

The calm man rolled his eyes, “It’s fine, you didn’t hurt anybody, might have shocked the poor kid though.” He said quickly, in an accent Erik couldn’t place.

Erik said quickly, “No, I’m fine, but I’m pretty sure the enemy is in either that direction,” he pointed east, “Or that direction.” He pointed west.

“That was a training shot.” The calm man said coolly, and walked off, with the Storm Guard walking stiffly behind him. The other two came up to him to make sure he was all right, but Erik waved them off, and asked curiously, “Who was that guy?”

“Don’t know him? That’s Prince Alexavier of Nixsan.” The younger one said quickly.

“What’s he doing all the way out here?” Erik questioned.

The older one answered, “He’s leading the West, however, it doesn’t look like it’s not making much a difference yet, but he’s the only one so far to have kept a cool head,” he hesitated, then added quickly, “Actually, his people are known for that.”

The younger one shrugged, “Anyways, what’s someone as young as you doing out here?” He asked curiously.

“I needed to take a walk,” Erik muttered, “Also, I’m 15.”

“Still quite young.” The older one muttered.

Erik shrugged, and started walking away from the two, who looked at each-other in confusion, then walked back to where the prince had left.

He walked up to his house, he opened the door, and realised everyone had must have gone to do their business, the only one still there was Aaron, and he looked thoughtful. He looked up, Erik noticed that there was a piece of paper, and a sword of pure white steel, and a necklace of a dragon intertwining an eagle on it.

“What’s that?” Erik said hesitantly.

Aaron handed him the note, and Erik quickly read it, he stopped dead at the last sentence, and rasped, “Dad’s dead?”

“Died fighting, mother’s at the shrine right now.” Aaron muttered.

Erik stared at his oldest brother in disbelief, and asked quietly, “Shouldn’t you be with her?”

“No, we had a fight,” Aaron replied. Erik raised an eye-brow, and he sighed, “I told her I was going to join the Storm Guard, I’m old enough, the minimum age is 18 after all.”

“That’s kind of suicidal.” Erik pointed out coldly.

Aaron shrugged, “Does it matter? If we sit back, we’re going to die anyways.” He growled, then stood up, “I’ll be back, wait here.” He walked out of the door.

Erik watched him leave towards the shrine, and huffed, staring at the sword and the dragon necklace, he then noticed a rolled up paper, which he assumed Aaron was going to use to get into the Storm Guard. He stared at the items for a long time, and thought grimly, Aaron’s in no shape to fight, he’s been sick for a while… Erik frowned, and then grabbed the pure white sword, the dragon necklace, and the rolled up paper.

He grabbed Aaron’s hunting bag, and quickly put stuff in it, and walked out of the house.

Erik looked back at the house, and the shrine on the hill behind it. He sighed, and headed towards the town.

~*~*~*~

The town was bustling with people, soldiers and civilians alike, he was unsure where to go, but he followed the kid in front of him, who was holding the same piece of paper and necklace he was. The kid noticed him, and turned around, “You look kind of young to be joining the Storm Guard.” He pointed out.

“I’m 18 man,” He grumbled, “Young look runs in the family.”

The kid just shrugged, Erik shivered, I hate lying.

Soon he and the other kid joined a group of kids ranging from 18 to 25, there wasn’t many of them though. “Calm down, we’re going to take you to the palace.” A guard called over the group.

Too late to turn back now… He got paraded along with the other group of kids, it seemed like they were walking forever, and they sometimes had to stop as cannon fire raged on both sides of them.

The kid he was behind muttered, “Hey, by the way, my name’s Maek."

“Erik.” Erik muttered.

Soon they reached the giant walls of the castle, they were let inside, and organized into a few lines.

The men who led them there dispersed, and it was just the small group of kids, and the Storm Guard.

The Storm Guard walked down the rows, an older man stopped in front of Erik, and looked down at him, and asked curiously, “How old are you, son?”

“18.” Erik said flatly.

The older man raised an eyebrow, “May I see your sword?” He asked politely. Erik shrugged, and handed him his sword. He turned the blade in his hand, and growled, “This is Hostrich steel, temperamental at best, hope you know how to use it.” He passed it back to Erik.

“I do, sir.” Erik said quickly, the older man only raised an eye-brow, and continued down the line.

Erik sighed, and Maek, who was beside him, muttered, “Hostrich steel? Was one of your family a Storm Guard?”

Erik was about to reply, but soon the Storm Guards were done, and returned to the front, and came up to people individually, and brought them into the castle. Erik finally answered, “Yes, my grandfather was part of the Storm Guard.”

The same older storm guard walked up to them, “You two, come with me.”

He led them into the castle, Erik looked around in wonder, the smooth stone walls seemed to reach into the sky, while the marble floor below them was smooth, it was like this place was not touched by the war outside, but Erik had this worrying feeling that it would be soon enough.

The old storm guard halted them, and asked quietly, “You have the papers?”

Matt and Erik nodded, the old Storm Guard read Maek’s, and nodded, then read Erik’s.

He stopped, and asked, “Your last name is familiar… Are you related to Gareth?”

“Gareth was my grandfather.” Erik muttered quietly.

“Strong man he was, one of the best, we were taught together, always had a knack for getting us into trouble, I remember the day when he told me he wasn’t 18, but 15, I was kind of shocked, but hey, he was good at what he did, probably one of the best at it.” The old Storm Guard muttered.

Erik watched as he blinked, and pocketed the papers, and led them to a group of other 18 year olds. “You’re split based on age, and will be learning together, now be warned,” he added with a glance to some fidgeting kids, “This isn’t the army, you’re not going to be learning physical training, you’re training to be Storm Guard. Not only might you fight the living later on, but do not be surprised when a spirit takes an interest in you. You will be taught how to distinguish a lost soul, from an aggressive one.”

The boys went quiet at that, “Follow me, it’s going to be a long day, you’re going to need a rest.”

He led them to a tower, kind of like a barracks, but nicer, there were bunk beds, a lot of them, but for such a small group, they only needed about a half of the room.

“I’ll be back shortly.” He muttered, and walked out of the room, and closed the door. Erik laid down, staring up at the bed above him, Maek took the top, and asked quickly, “Kind of exciting isn’t it?” 

“Yeah.” Erik muttered and one of the boys called, “Hey, we’re in training to be Storm Guard right, what did he mean by ‘distinguishing a lost soul from an aggressive one’?”

His partner grunted, “He means we’re going to have to sense when a soul just wants to be left alone, or if it just wants to kill us.”

“Oh.” The boy muttered, and laid down.

Erik rolled his eyes, and drifted off, he jumped when there was a knock on the door, “All right, you had enough rest, time to get up.” Someone called.

Erik got up quickly, and walked out, the others trailing behind him, “I’m taking you to the courtyard, to fit you with some basic swords, not Hostrich steel yet.” The older Storm Guard muttered.

They followed him to the courtyard, where there was a lot of practice dummies. He put them all in a line, and started with Erik. Erik however, wasn’t willing to part with his sword.

“That was Gareth’s sword, his was the most temperamental of the lot, are you sure you want to use that one?” The older man asked quietly.

Erik nodded, “Yes, sir.” The older man shrugged.“Well, let’s sharpen it, I doubt it’s been in real use.” The older man took his sword, and walked away with it.

Maek muttered, “You look heartbroken.”

Erik punched him in the arm, and the older man walked back, and handed it back to him. He sheathed it, and watched as the other man stood up at the front, waiting for all the others to be done. When they were done, he started pacing them, “I’ll be training you for the duration of your basic training, simple enough, I guess.” 

Maek and Erik stared at eachother in confusion.

"However, basics only, now, let's begin." The Storm Guard paired them into four people, "Your objective today is simple," he pointed to the forest behind him, "Capture the flag, kill anything that comes in your way, but not other people, that forest is haunted, but don't worry, elder Storm Guard will be watching. Besides, our people have this natural spirit block, so you'll be able to feel basic shades." He brought two fingers to his eyes, and nodded.

The groups split up into the forests, Erik followed Maek and the others deep into the forest.

"Spooky." Maek muttered, sword at the ready.

Erik poked him, "Relax, who knows what you'll irritate." He pointed out.

Maek only shrugged, the two other boys, looked around nervously. There was a twig snapping, the other three jumped, but it was only a small cat, and it ran across their path with a meow.

They all sighed, while Erik rolled his eyes. He took the lead, with the other boys behind him. Maek shivered, "Feel that guys?"

Erik blinked, and they looked ahead when there was a low growl, they all took a step back when this giant shade came out in wolf form, it looked at them quizzically.

Maek took a step forward, but Erik stopped him, he stared down the wolf shade, the wolf shade only blinked, and continued on.

"Wow that was awkward, but I still have a feeling of apprehension." Maek muttered, and looked at Erik. Erik continued to look around. He finally started forward, with the other three behind him. They walked for a long time before spotting a small green cloth tied to a tree, Maek jumped up and down, "Oh! We found it before anyone else." He went for the flag, but Erik held him back.

"Hold on, it can't be that simple." Erik muttered quickly.

"But Erik, come on, it's right there in plain sight!" Maek pointed out, and walked towards it, despite Erik's protest.

They all jumped back when something tripped Maek, he fell to the floor, unable to get up. "Hey, something's got me stuck!" He exclaimed.

Erik went to look, but found nothing, there were more twigs snapping. One of the boys muttered, "What is that coming?"

Erik noticed the shadows get longer towards them, the other two took a step back, but Maek was unable to move, Erik grumbled, "I told you it couldn't be that simple."

Erik froze when he felt something grab him from behind, he was pushed harshly away from Maek, who jumped, Erik turned around, but nothing was there.

"What the...?" Erik muttered.

Maek called, "Hey, one of you want to come help me?"

Erik stepped back from the shadows surrounding them. He looked up at the flag in the tree, he looked at the other two, who were trying to help Maek.

"You two, get the flag, I'll get him out!" Erik broke into a run toward them, they jumped back from Maek, and ran towards the flag. He stopped, and took his sword out, Maek begged, "No, Erik no!"

"Calm down!" Erik stared around, then stabbed the ground inches away from Maek's foot, the shadow semed to dissapate away from Maek, and Maek stood up quickly, following the other two who had grabbed the flag.

Erik ran behind them, but he could still feel the shadows following them, the other three cheered when they reached the break of the forest, and they all stumbled out, they turned back to see the shadows trying to reach for them, but the older Storm Guard was ready for them, he did something with his hands, and Erik watched as a great barrier reached over the forest, keeping the shadows in.

Erik noticed that the other groups looked worn out and tired, the older Storm Guard didn't seem impressed, and said quietly, "Now tell me, young ones, what was the point of that excersize?"

"I don't know, to try and push us?" One of the boys called.

"No, observence, all but one group really passed the shadow that guarded the flag, most of you paniced and immediately gave up, others fought, but not long, but the mistake you all made was jumping in too fast, assuming that it was easy as that." The older Storm Guard stood over them.

Erik took a deep breath, and stood up along with his group, he passed the flag to the older Storm Guard. The older Storm Guard sighed, "We have a lot of work to do."

They all seemed to groan, but the older storm guard ignored them. Maek looked at Erik, "Hey, you all right?" He asked.

"Yeah." He said breathlessy, "Are you?"

"Yeah, thanks for getting me out of that." Maek gave him a thumbs up.

Erik shrugged, and watched as the Storm Guards paired them up with eachother to work with, Erik sat down, and the older Storm Guard walked up to him, "Out of breath already?" He asked curiously.

"Yeah, kind of." Erik muttered.

"Well, you're the only one that actually noticed it couldn't be that easy, so I'll give you a ten minute break, actually, from that excersize, you do need to work on noticing spirits around you." The older Storm Guard pointed out. He walked away, Erik sat there in disbelief, and watched for ten minutes at the others trying to practice observing and anticipating an enemy's movements.

He looked behind him at the forest, the shadow still seemed to be trying to get out, but to no avail. Erik finally stood up, and the older Storm Guard ordered them to come around.

"Observence, unpredictability, both of these you will need, because sooner or later, you will be mostly alone in protecting." The older Storm Guard grumbled.

They trained until night fall, and the older Storm Guard looked at Erik, "You, follow me."

Erik followed him, while the others were dismissed to the quarters, Erik quickly realised that he was leading him deep to the basement of the castle, it looked empty, but felt dangerous, the older gaurd nodded to the shadows, and Erik recognized who stepped out. It was Prince Alexavier, it was the first time he was getting a close look at him.

He was extremely fair haired, his hair was practically snow white, but his eyes were a deep menacing grey, but he had a calculating look on his face, he muttered calmly, "Hello."

Erik was intimidated by him, he bowed quickly.

"Prince Alexavier, this was the one I was talking about." The older Storm Guard stood at attention. Prince Alexavier looked down at Erik, he dismissed the older Storm Guard, who immediately walked off.

"Now, tell me little one, what is a fifteen year old like you doing training to be an elite?" Prince Alexavier asked quietly.

Erik stared at him in disbelief, "How did you know?" He asked curiously.

"You cannot hide much from my eyes, I hope you do realise that once you reach 18, your barrier is fully developed. However, yours is not," Alexavier muttered, his eyes narrowed, "I presume you had difficulty sensing the shadow in that forest today, even fighting it?" He asked quietly.

Erik said nothing, but Alexavier nodded, "I thought so, I will not tell anyone your real age, but I hope you realise that you're going to have to work twice as hard as someone who is 18, your barrier is not developed, you are vunerable to the training passed to you, today was easy, it's only going to get difficult for you." Alexavier muttered coolly.

"Why are you telling me this?" Erik muttered.

"Because I'm the only person that can make sure you don't go crazy because of the training, sadly, I'm busy, spirits are able to tune in on you more easily, mess with your mind and soul, so you better listen to me carefully these next few days, I'm going to train your soul to fight back against hostile spirits, and I'm going to strengthen the barrier you have." Alexavier said flatly.

"Why?" Erik asked quietly.

Alexavier said nothing for a couple of seconds, "There have been people your age joining the actual army, what you're up against is a whole different ballpark," He muttered quietly. "You do know who my family is descended from, I presume?"

"Only a bit, you're descended from the Fate of Death." Erik pointed out, Alexavier nodded.

"I can tell you from personal experience, what Storm Guards face, and in extension, what you face in your training, will effect you in ways you think it can't, spirits will not hesitate to use you to their own means, to take over your soul, which may lead you to death yourself, which is why you must show no mercy to them, for they will show no mercy to you." Alexavier said coldly.

"Kind of dark." Erik muttered.

Alexavier sighed, "Your kingdom is full of darkness currently, you better get used to it."

Erik stared at him in disbelief as he stood up, "The West asked for our help, and that means they want us to use any means nescessary to win, I'm hoped you're prepared for what you might see, because this is the real thing, not those spooky stories you were told around fires." He said quietly, staring down at him with a calculating look.

Erik only watched as Alexavier walked away from him, Erik stared at the darkness, he thought quietly, What have I gotten myself into?

He walked back up to his quarters, the other boys were already asleep, but he just stared up at Maek's bed. He frowned when finally he drifted off into nightmares.

It was weird, he's had nightmares before, but none as intense as this. The nightmarish world seemed to overtake anything he saw, with red eyes staring at him with fiendish delight, he could hear the whispers of the shades, and it ended as fast as it started, he sat up quickly, he brushed his hair in confusion. He looked out the window, where the moon was still in the sky.

Erik sighed, and got up, he looked out the window, down into the pine forests. The shadows seemed to shift and move, he sighed, and headed down into the palace library.

He opened a book, and began reading, this one was on shades of different types. The candlelight flickering the shadows, he jumped when there was a noise, and the older Storm Guard came out of the shelves, "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in bed?" He asked pointedly.

"Um, nah, not tired." Erik said quickly, and looked back down at his book, but the older Storm Guard seemed disbelieving.

"Are you sure about that?" He asked curiously.

"I'm sure, sir." Erik muttered.

He looked down at Erik. He shrugged, and walked away. Erik sighed, and looked around, the shadows seemed to get darker as the hours went on, and soon he drifted off again.

~*~*~*~

"Erik, Erik, Erik, Erik." Someone repeated Eriks name over and over, he grumbled.

"What..." He looked up to see Maek staring down at him in confusion. Erik jumped up, "Wait! Did I fall asleep in the library?" He asked quickly.

"Must not have been for long, you nodded off as soon as I came in, you look pale man." Maek commented.

Erik brushed him off, "I'll be fine, just not used to the sleeping conditions I guess," he stood up, his vision went black for a second, then returned, "Anyways, what are we doing." He asked curiously

"Um, I don't know yet, are you sure you're all right, you're quite shaky." Maek pointed out.

"I'll be fine." Erik muttered.

Maek looked at him disbelievingly, but shrugged. "He wants us to meet him at the courtyard, I don't know what we're doing, hopefully not that forest again." He said with a shiver.

"We're the only group that passed, I doubt we're going to have to do it again." Erik pointed out. Maek only nodded, and they walked up to the courtyard, their footsteps echoing around the stone walls.

They entered the courtyard to see the older Storm Guard, he had gotten the rest of the kids into one huge group, Maek and Erik joined them, and Maek asked a small mousey brown haired kid, "Hey, what are we doing?"

The kid shrugged, they looked back when the older Storm Guard called for their attention. "This week will be hectic, it will decide who stays, or who doesn't stay, so you will need to be in tip top shape for the test ahead." He eyed a couple of people, "Do not overestimate yourselves, because as soon as you make that mistake, you will not survive."

Some people cringed at that, Erik raised an eye-brow, the old Storm Guard took out his sword, which was the same snow white steel that Erik's sword was made out of.

"We are not a shakeable people, we stick to what we believe in, just like the steel we're so famous for, if you do not know what you're fighting for, then the steel will not respond to you," he stuck his sword in the ground, "All Storm Guard, by the time they've finished their training, will have found the sword that will respond to them most, and very rarely, will this type of steel answer to anyone else if it changes hands." He added quickly.

He looked at Erik, "Would you like to demonstrate with your grandfathers sword?" He asked quietly.

Erik blinked, then shuffled up nervously. Everyone backed away from him to give him space. Maek looked excited, while others seemed unsure.

The old storm guard looked down at him, Erik looked back up unflinchingly, "Maybe that sword will answer to you seeing as you're related to Gareth, but we'll have to see," The older Storm Guard growled, and took his sword out of the ground, he got in a defensive stance, "Attack me."

Erik looked at him in disbelief, he growled, "What are you waiting for?"

Erik jumped back when the old Storm Guard leaped at him, he immediately got into a defensive stance, and the old guard muttered, "You're pretty spry, your reaction time is near perfect."

Erik shivered and widened his eyes when the old Storm Guard was suddenly behind him, "But you've still got a lot to learn." He growled.

Erik turned sharply, and brought his sword up just as the old guard brought his down, Erik's head was rattled because of the sharp noise when the two swords met.

The old guard said nothing, and pushed Erik away, "All of you have a lot to learn." He growled, and sheathed his sword.

They were dismissed, but most kids sat around chatting, but Erik felt nervous, he could still hear the cannon fire, and it seemed even more closer than before.

"Ah, relax Erik, they won't reach the castle." Maek pointed out.

Erik growled, "They could reach the castle," he shuffled nervously, eyeing the dark clouded sky. Maek looked up at the sky also. Erik only blinked, and looked ahead, "It's not like they aren't trying." He pointed out.

Maek said nothing, and only looked down. It had started to rain a bit, but it didn't bother either of them, Hostrich was always stormy. Erik muttered, "I think I'm going to go take a walk, I'll be back." 

Maek only nodded, and walked away from Erik, Erik headed back towards the castle. Some kids walked past him whispering quietly, Erik realised they were looking at a runed book, but he could not understand a word it said, so he continued in the castle. Erik saw some older Storm Guards walk past the staircase that went upwards towards where the king and queen usually slept.

Erik sighed, and stopped beside a half opened door, he blinked, and could hear voices inside, he peeked in, and saw the Prince with a couple older men, they were looking down thoughtfully down at a map. "What do you think, sire?" The oldest one asked curiously.

"I think if we camp around Lake Twister, and set up a couple choke points here," he pointed to an area, "And here, there will be no attacking towns of course, those are off limits." He added quickly, eyes flashing.

The two older ones looked at each other nervously, Alexavier looked at them, "I refuse to take innocent lives, the east may not be as merciful, but that's fine, they do that, they will lose, we get them into the choke points, that's it, they will be forced to retreat." He said coldly, his gaze seemed to be calculating every move.

"It will not be that easy to pull off, your highness." The older one whispered.

"It never is, but as long as my father has not called the order, I will not do it." Alexavier hissed unnaturally.

The older one shook his head quickly, "Of course not, we know you don't want to do that, that's the last option, but you haven't even called the Storm Guard yet."

"The Storm Guard are more spiritual warriors then anything, I'm trusting them with a much more important task then simple fighting, it'd be a waste of their talents, and a waste of life." Alexavier said calmly.

"So the rumours are true then? The East is trying to unlock a way to the Lower Spirit World?" The older one whispered fearfully.

Alexavier nodded, "There has been a spike of shade activity in these areas, I'm sending them to contain each one, if they do their job right, your army does not have to worry about spirits." He growled.

Erik listened in fascination as they planned the next move against the east. Prince Alexavier was a whole lot more calculating and observent then even what people believed. Erik thought, However, he seems like a cold person, what does he mean 'I will not do it'? Do they have a secret weapon that only Alexavier can handle?

Erik backed away from the door, and headed back towards the courtyard, where everyone was now grouping up again, Erik ran into Maek again, and they were split into two, Maek and Erik ended up in a pair, and they both shrugged.

"This is your task for this week, you are to not leave each-others side while this task is going on, which will last for 48 hours, you will have to depend on your ability to survive in harsh conditions, we are sending you out of the castle, you will head to where your map is circled, now be warned, you are to avoid any areas of recent fighting, your main task is to get to the rendezvous point, while protecting this," he took out a bunch of necklaces with gems on it, "You will take these gems to the areas circled on the map, no where else, and you must protect it at all costs."

Some kids stifled laughs at their partners, but Erik seemed hesitant when the older Storm Guard handed him the gem, and continued handing them out. Maek asked curiously, "What do you think it is?"

Erik shrugged, "A necklace?" He replied shrewdly, and looked up when another Storm Guard handed them a bag and a map. Maek put the bag on the ground.

"I'll carry the necklace and the bag, you carry the map, because I'm terrible with maps." Maek muttered quickly.

Erik shrugged, and passed him the necklace, he took the map, and looked at it quickly. He noticed the red circle immediately, and whispered to Maek, "Hey, the spot we're supposed to take this thing to is right by the mountain, we could use that as a landmark."

Maek looked in the distance where the mountain containing the ruins of the White City was, he murmured back, "How long do you think it will take to get there?"

Erik looked up at the sky, "2 days, maybe less if we hurry." He muttered quietly.

The older Storm Guard called them together, "A warning to you all, this is different from the last training, anything out there will kill you, so do not be afraid to defend yourself against animal, spirit," He hesitated, then added darkly, "Or human. The task starts now, you will find essentials in that bag, and unless you know your way around the outside, I advise you do not waste the bags contents."

Everyone either scrambled away, or planned out their route, Maek and Erik started towards the castle gate that led to the outside, "So, head towards the mountain, figure out which direction to go through from there?" Maek asked curiously.

Erik nodded, and led the way to the mountain in the distance, "The one thing I'm worried about is shades and spirits, I doubt we're going to run into people there."

Maek asked, "What do we do if we do?"

"Exactly what he said, if they want to kill us, then we must defend ourselves." Erik said coldly.

Maek looked unsure at that. He followed Erik past an abandoned town, the sun was starting to set, he asked, "We better watch out for blood spirits, or set camp and wait them out."

"I don't know, blood spirits would be kind of difficult to figure out, however, we only have 48 hours to get this done, I'd rather make up as much ground as possible so we don't get back tracked." Erik pointed out, and shrugged.

Maek asked quietly, "Do you know how to fight against blood spirits?"

"I know what not to do when fighting blood spirits," Erik glared at him, and continued on, with Maek following him nervously. Erik looked around quickly, but saw nothing. "Relax Maek, they're attracted to nervousy." He muttered calmly.

Maek growled, "Easy for you to say." He eyed the shadows as they walked, and soon the sun had finally set, the moon light casting dim shadows on the ground. Erik started to look around curiously, but there was nothing. Maek mused, "What do you think?"

Erik however stopped at the darkness ahead of them, where little red looking fireflies hung suspended in the air, Maek muttered, "Oh..."

Erik looked around, the blood spirits didn't seem to have noticed them, he looked around quickly, "Maek, we have to get past them!" He growled quickly.

"Don't have to tell me that!" Maek whispered back.

Erik watched as the little red dots seemed to shiver, Great, they noticed us! Erik thought quickly, he eyed Maek, That gem is the top priority, the old guy said, or was it the one protecting it? It's like he wanted us to make a desicion. Erik watched as the red dots seemed to flicker, he and Maek took a step back when they started speeding towards them.

He looked back at Maek and the red spirits, and finally made a desicion. He jumped in front of Maek, and snarled, "You have to go ahead and wait for me while they're distracted!"

"You're kidding me." Maek growled.

Erik snarled, "You know what we were tasked to do, now go ahead!" He pushed Maek to the side as the blood spirits rushed at them. He jumped back. Maek seemed torn between fighting with his new friend, and doing what they were told to do. Erik snapped, "Maek, come on, I can take care of myself!"

Maek finally relented, and retreated from the blood spirits. Erik dodged another attack, and narrowed his eyes when one missed his head by an inch. Erik jumped away from the blood spirits, and looked back, another one rushed him. He barely was able to dodge this one, it clipped his side, he flinched, and looked around at the blood spirits.

He ran to follow Maek, and the blood spirits did not follow him. He caught up to Maek, and said, "That went well."

Maek suggested, "Perhaps we should sit down and take a breather?"

"Yeah." Erik said breathlessly, and sat down. Maek took out the necklace, "What do you think this does anyways."

"It probably does nothing Maek." Erik grunted, glaring at the gem in contempt.

Erik started a fire, and Maek asked, "Hey, Erik, if you don't mind me asking, why'd you want to become a Storm Guard? You're pretty small for someone who is 18."

"Hmm, well, actually, I wasn't intending to end up like this, my older brother was, recently we got news my dad died." Erik said quietly, and looked at the fire.

"Sorry to hear that." Maek muttered.

Erik shrugged, "He wasn't that great a guy anyways, he was never home, the only real father I had was my grandfather, but he died when I was six, so it was just me, my mum, my brothers and my little sister," Erik poked at the fire absentmindedly, "He was a Storm Guard, actually got mad at my dad when he left when his family needed him there."

Maek whispered, "So you ran away?"

"After I got the news my dad died, my older brother was in no shape to be fighting either, my other older brother doesn't have the sense to, and well, my little sister is too young." Erik said quietly, "I was the only one who could fight, I hated my dad for what he did, left my mum struggling to feed all of us, my grandfather tried his best, like it was now his job to protect us when my dad couldn't, but even he was pushed to his limit."

"How did your grandfather die, if you don't mind me asking?" Maek asked curiously.

Erik blinked, "It's foggy, for an old guy he was pretty spry and in good shape, which is confusing, he had no sickness, no trouble, but one day he was there and the next he was gone, but then my mum told me that he was a Storm Guard, and that they are immortal in a sense, fighting spirits, not just the living, made their souls resitant, so, they can neither rest in the Farlands or the Lower Spirit World, forced to wander both." He muttered, "I don't know if it's true or not the thing I know is though, my grandfather died, and my dad came back that day." He narrowed his eyes at the fire.

"That must not have been pleasent." Maek muttered.

"No, he never did like the Storm Guard, thought what they were fighting was a lost cause, that it was pointless to fight both worlds." Erik said coldly.

"Pointless? We're the only ones that are able to hold our own against numurous spirits, us, and a few others, and especially the people in Nixsan." Maek pointed out.

Erik closed his eyes, "I know, but, it doesn't matter now, he's dead." He growled.

Maek went silent, he looked down at the fire nervously, then looked at the gem curiously. Erik blinked, "Wait." He snapped, Maek jumped back, almost falling over.

"Pass me it!" Erik snapped.

Maek only nodded, Erik snatched it away from him, Erik looked deep into the green gemstones depths, Maek asked quietly, "Erik, what is it?"

Erik looked at the shadows in disbelief, "I don't believe it." He said in shock.

"What is it?" Maek asked curiously.

Erik held the gem in his outstreched palm, he whispered to it, "Arank, munas."

Maek stared at him horrified, "What are you doing?!" He asked quickly.

"Calm down, I think I know what these are." Erik muttered, and stared at it curiously, there was no change in it's form, That may be because I'm too young, or my barrier isn't strong enough. He thought quietly.

Maek watched in horror, but Erik sighed, "I know what they're going to do with it," he growled, "It's some sort of key, a key to a soul mirror." He pointed out.

"No way." Maek stared at him in awe.

Erik nodded, and watched as the moon rose into the sky, "You get some rest, I still can't sleep, so I'll take watch." He pointed out, Maek didn't complain, soon he found a place that was comfortable, and went to sleep. Erik blinked, and looked up at the sky, it was clouded, but the stars were still visible to the spots not filled with cloud cover.

Erik watched as the fire died down, he kept watch on the shadows, but there was no movement from them. He blinked, and looked up at the sky again. He sighed, and looked at the gem he was still holding, What are they planning? They either want to let a spirit or two out, or keep them in. Unless that's what Prince Alexavier was talking about, having the Storm Guard make sure the spirits don't irritate the army.

He pocketed the gem stone, and sighed, I shouldn't be talking about my dad never coming home, I ran away without telling anyone. My mum must be frantic by now. 

Erik looked at the direction his house was, but it was miles away. He sighed, "Maek, you awake?"

"Hmmm, I'm half asleep." Maek muttered.

"I lied about my age, I'm not 18." Erik said quietly.

Maek sat up quickly, and asked, "How old are you, you're quite ahead in ability if you're not 18."

"My grandfather taught me a lot about what I know," Erik sighed, "I'm 15, I lied because I didn't want my brother to fight, he is in no shape to fight."

Maek stared at in awe, "Damn, man, how did you take on that shadow that had me?" He asked curiously.

Erik shrugged, "I don't know, my grandfather taught me how to use this thing, and spirits hate this metal, they'll do anything to get away from it," He pointed out, and took out his sword, it flickered in the firelight, "He told me that as soon as you struck a spirit with it, they'll dissipate, or retreat."

"Wow." Maek said quietly, "Who else knows your age?" He asked curiously.

"Prince Alexavier," Erik said calmly, "He told me I'd have to work just as hard with you guys to make this, because my spiritual barrier isn't as developed as yours."

"Well, the old guy was talking about some sort of test, that'll decide who passes to the next level of training kind of thing," Maek said quickly, "Think you'll pass it?"

"Depends what it is," Erik muttered quietly, "Something only a few will get through that test, and even then, they probably won't be the same." He looked up at Maek calmly.

"It's daunting hearing a 15 year old say that so calmly." Maek shivered.

Erik only blinked, "During this time of Hostrich, do I really have the ability to be innocent to what is going on around me? Even my little sister knows something is wrong." He pointed out gently.

"Good point," Maek muttered, he jumped when Erik passed the gem back to him, and he pocketed it, "Isn't this whole thing like a test?" He asked quietly.

"It's more of a test of stamina then anything else, how long we can go for against all odds." Erik muttered quietly, and looked at the fire thoughtfully.

Maek blinked, and they watched as the moon set in the horizon, very slowly, red streaks filled the sky as the sun rose to the east. Erik sighed, "Well, we better get moving." He stood up, a bit too quickly, and almost stumbled back, he shook his head.

Maek muttered, "You should get some rest, you haven't slept since you arrived I'm assuming." 

"I'll be fine, let's just get the task done, and I'll rest." Erik said coolly, and pointed south, where the mountain was. Maek nodded, and followed Erik's lead.

Erik looked up at the sky, it was it's usual stormy grey, but he could almost see the threatening movements of the clouds, he sighed, and muttered, "There's a storm coming, so be wary about that."

Maek looked up at the sky also, "Points to be a big one, think it'll halt us?" He asked curiously.

"For anyone that isn't from here, it would," Erik muttered, "But it shouldn't be a problem for us." He continued on the path, the mountain getting closer and closer.

"That didn't take long to reach." Maek commented.

"No, guess I was wrong about the time it would take," Erik muttered quietly, and looked up at the mountain top, where the spires of the ruined city rested on top. Erik took out the map, "Might as well figure out which direction we're supposed to go then." Maek only nodded quickly, and sat down.

Erik looked around curiously, then looked at the mountain top again, he muttered, "I believe the place is that way." He pointed in the direction.

Maek looked confused, "Isn't that where lake Twister is?" He asked curiously.

"Yeah, what about it?" Erik asked curiously.

"You say those gems are the key to unlocking or locking soul mirrors... What if lake Twister was a soul mirror, a really big one?" Maek asked curiously.

Erik scoffed, "Highly doubt it, imagine if it was unlocked to let spirits through, that'd be kind of disastrous wouldn't it?" He pointed out, and headed into that direction. Maek followed him nervously.

They finally reached lake Twister, where some older Storm Guards were sitting by a camp fire, they looked up whtn the two young boys arrived, "You two were quick." The younger one commented.

Erik only bowed his head, Maek passed the gem to the older Storm Guard there, he huffed, and walked up to the four stones that seemed to lead to no where towards lake Twister. Erik and Maek watched curiously as he repeated the same words Erik did, Erik blinked when he crushed it with two fingers as if it was sugar, he allowed it to blow into the lake. Maek muttered, "Uh, what are they doing?"

The older Storm Guard nodded at the other three, they took their places besides the stone, and watched the lake. The older Storm Guard turned to them, "You may return to the castle now, but you're going to take a shortcut while you still have the chance." He growled, he took his place beside the last stone, Erik looked forward curiosuly when the lake seemed to sparkle almost gently, "Now boys, we're not here to dawdle, we have a job to do too, just think of the palce you want to go, and you'll end up there." He growled, his gaze deep in concentration.

Erik and Maek nodded, and ran up to the sparkling surface, Maek nodded at Erik, Erik only blinked, and they both jumped in.

~*~*~*~

Erik blinked open his eyes to a flash of white, he looked around, the older Storm Guard was waiting for them, "Impressive, you two are one of the first ones here." He commented.

Erik only nodded, Maek nudged him in the ribs, but he ignored him as the Storm Guard continued on, "You two may go rest and eat, while I wait for the other pairs."

Maek looked happy at that, but Erik just shrugged, he followed Maek back to his quarters, and laid down on the bed, Maek said quickly, "I'll be back, I'm really hungry!" He ran out the door.

It was almost sunset when some of the pairs came back, some worn, some looking exhausted, most of them went straight to sleep, Erik tried, but couldn't, Maek had come back, and immediately fell asleep as soon as he reached his bed. Erik sighed, Why can't I sleep? I'm sure tired enough too, but I know I'll just get another nightmare, and that'll wake me up anyways. So why bother even going to sleep?

He got up once again, and walked back down to the library, however, he bumped into somebody on the way down.

"Sorry." He mumbled.

"Having trouble sleeping I'm guessing?" A familiar voice chimed in it's cold and musical tone.

Erik blinked, and looked at who he bumped into, it was Prince Alexavier, Erik only nodded, but noticed something different about the Prince from when he last saw him, he had dark circles under his eyes, and looked like he hadn't slept in days, Alexavier noticed his confusion, and muttered, "You're not the only one that's having a tough time, little warrior." He started to walk away.

"Hey, what's wrong with you then?" Erik snapped.

The Prince turned to look at him, he growled, "I'll tell you if you tell me."

Erik stared at him in disbelief, then growled back, "Nightmares." He noticed Alexavier stare at him for a bit, with those same stormy, cold grey eyes. Alexavier muttered, "Your barrier is strengthening on it's own, strange, never seen that happen so early at your age before." He started to walk away.

"Hey! You haven't told me what's up with you!" Erik called back.

Alexavier stopped, "I'm leading a war little warrior, it really is no mystery why I can't sleep, and even you will not understand, not until you've really seen all the horrors this war has to offer." He said in an almost sad tone. He walked away, and Erik tipped his head, What did he mean by that? Erik thought in confusion, he frowned, He was sad... The calculating, the mastermind behind why the West has taken such a foothold, is sad, wow

Erik watched as the Prince's candlelight seemed to fade down the hallway, he walked back to the recuits quarters. Everyone was asleep, he crawled into bed, and closed his eyes to the flickering candlelight on the roof of the bunkbed. Something about it reminded him of home, he felt a pang, and frowned.

My mother is probably frantic... I did the exact same thing my dad did, but... If I didn't, Aaron wouldn't have made it. Erik thought grimly.

Chapter 2

Do you ever

Really fight for what you believe in?

Erik nearly smashed his head on the bunk above him when Maek screamed in his ear, "Erik!"

"Ow, what the hell, what are you waking me up for this time, Maek?" Erik grumbled, the past week Maek had been waking him up for stupid reasons, Erik thought quietly, It's been forever since I got this much sleep.

Maek muttered quietly, "I mean, you're not one that is usually late for training, and now we're starting on the spirit side of things, and then the big test that seperates pretty much everyone on who becomes a Storm Guard, and who doesn't." Maek shrugged, and started to walk away.

"All right, all right, I'm coming mother." Erik said sarcastically. Maek only huffed, Erik got changed, and followed him to the courtyard. The older Storm Guard seemed stressed out lately. Erik raised an eye-brow when he muttered, "Usually, we'd get an experienced Storm Guard to teach you this side of things, but since she is not here right now, Prince Alexavier has kindly offered to teach you the last part of your training before he has to leave." He bowed to the man beside him, "They're all yours."

Erik noticed that Alexavier seemed even more scrawny then before, he looked half dead, but his eyes were still full of grey fire, "All right, now it's important you all hang onto every word I say, spirits are tricky, they're a whole other world to what you're used to, quite literally, so what I tell you is important, and will keep you alive for what the elders have planned." Prince Alexavier said coolly.

Maek pointed out quietly, "Is it just me, or does he already look like one of them?" 

Erik rolled his eyes, "Obviously he's been having trouble sleeping and eating, something is bothering him I guess, better not dwell on it." He pointed out quietly.

"Thing is though, you're going to have to wait for night time, so, come mentally prepared." Alexavier muttered, and dismissed them, he turned to the older Storm Guard beside him, and almost stormed away towards the castle. Erik looked at Maek, "How long did I sleep?" He asked curiously.

"Well, it's afternoon now." Maek replied, and looked up at the sky. Erik groaned, and muttered, "I'm going down to the library then."

"What for?" Maek asked curiously.

Erik poked his own head, "He just told us to come mentally prepared." He grunted, and walked away from Maek.

Maek looked confused, then shrugged, "All right." He said calmly.

He walked past the meeting room door, and there were hushed voices, he stopped, and peaked in again. Alexavier had his face in his hands in exasperation. One of the leaders whispered sadly, "You can't go on like this and continue doing this to yourself, your Highness, your brother has issued the order, why won't you follow it, if not for your own good?"

'I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, just because my brother his kinglyness thinks that it's the best thing to do, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do." Alexavier snapped, his eyes no longer calm, but full of grey fire.

The leaders only looked at each-other nervously, the older one said coldly, "Don't kid yourself, Alexavier, you're no older than half the new Storm Guard out there, and even you can take on so much."

Prince Alexavier only sighed, and the younger leader whispered, "We will not blame you, you've done so much for us at great personal risk, this had to be done sooner or later."

"I'm not willing to kill innocent people just for this, because my brother says it must be done," He glared down at the paper in front of him, which had a very neat scrawl on it. He added darkly, "No, I'm not giving up that easily, I believe there is a way to finish this without having to resort to... That thing, tell the men to continue, I'm not stooping that low."

"If you don't sire, you risk being run into the ground." The older leader growled.

Erik blinked when Prince Alexavier rolled his eyes, "Then that is a risk I'm willing to take." He growled dangerously.

The two leaders looked at each other nervously, "Sire, we know how much you don't want to hurt our people, especially the innocent ones, but, what happens if you're run to the point that you have no choice but to turn to that thing?" The younger one asked gently.

"I'll do everything I can to make sure that doesn't happen," Alexavier turned to the messanger beside him, "Tell my brother I'm not done yet, that he can forget about it, that thing's bad news, and should stay where it is." He said coolly. The messanger nodded, and turned towards the door, Erik hid behind a statue, but the messanger ignored him.

Erik continued listening in, "Don't do this to yourself, sire, it's no longer worth it, the East are a lost cause at this point." The older one commented.

Alexavier was staring down at the ground, he sighed, "After I'm done here, I'll continue to direct your men in what they should do, I'm not resorting to that, I'm not using my ability against innocent people," He turned away from them in dismissal, Erik hid behind the statue again, as the two leaders walked out, Erik walked back to the door, and Alexavier sighed, "I told you once, little warrior, you cannot hide, come in."

Erik walked in nervously, "What was that about?"

Alexavier was still staring down at the note flatly, Erik flinched, It's like all the life in his eyes had left him, that old guy was right, he's not in really any shape to argue with whoever his brother is, but why does he continue anyways? He thought quietly.

The Prince smiled, "Didn't think I could end up this far, this is what war does to you, all you fight for, sometimes others begin to wonder if it's even worth it, but I know your people better than they know themselves, they can say they won't blame me, but they will, that is a last resort." He said quietly.

"But they're right about you running yourself into the ground." Erik pointed out gently.

Alexavier sighed, "Maybe, doesn't mean I'm giving up, as I told them, that is a risk I'm willing to take."

"What's the other risk then?" Erik asked curiously.

Alexavier seemed to flinch at that. "It is nothing, nothing you will understand yet anyways, I'd rather not get the Storm Guards involved on this one." He growled, and seemed to stare off into space.

Erik said nothing, but only looked at the stradegy map on the table, routes were marked in different colours, it almost looked like a board game. Alexavier didn't seem impressed, Erik muttered, "You know, for your age, you're quite advanced too." He looked down at the map thoughtfully.

"Think I'm smart, look at my brother." Alexavier grumbled hatefully.

Erik only looked at the map some more, Alexavier said quietly, "I'm not the only one being run ragged, people are dying because of this, not always of war." 

Erik stared at him in confusion, Alexavier sighed, "My people are known for being cold, calculating, almost brutal in a sense. If we were, this would have made the desicion a whole lot more easier."

"Well, you seem calculating at least." Erik added.

Alexavier laughed airly, "I was taught that way, taught to be observent, taught to know my enemies movements even before they did, everything I'm able to do, it can be taught to you, just like how Storm Guards are taught."

"You've got to be smart to be able to pick that stuff out though." Erik pointed out, and looked down at the map, "I don't see your brother planning these movements out, making all the hard desicions." He added.

"No, but he has enough authority to change my desicions," Alexavier walked to the wall, "He just knows I won't listen to him anyways, so he doesn't bother." He pointed out coldly.

Erik only stared at the Prince, his whole calm and calculating demeanour had changed in an instant, Erik thought grimly, The war is taking it's toll, even on him. Alexavier sighed, "It's not like it matters, we're winning the war anyways, they haven't even reached the castle yet, so I wouldn't worry about it."

Alexavier turned to him, "I'm teaching your group the fundamentals of the spirit world before I leave, then hopefully when I come back, they'll be new Storm Guard." He added, with a soft smile. He left the room, almost staggering out tiredly. Erik watched him leave in confusion. He's fighting for a Kingdom different from his, he's not willing to risk the lives of innocents to end this war, even if it means it takes an even bigger toll on him...

Erik followed him out, then went back to the courtyard, the sun had set, everyone was grouped by the forest with the shadow. They looked up at it nervously, Alexavier was already there, "I assume you all remember this forest." He pointed out, and looked back at them.

They all nodded nervously, Erik looked on curiously, Alexavier muttered, "You will be doing this task alone, without others to help you." He looked at the older Storm Guard, and nodded, Maek asked nervously, "What do you mean, doing this alone?"

"Just what I mean, if you are attacked by a shade, there will be no one to help you but you," Alexavier muttered. Maek stared at him in disbelief, "So I suggest you listen to me carefully if you want to make it out."

Alexavier turned to them, and continued, "Spirits, shades of any kind, will try their best to take control of you, and they will fight to do so, so you must fight back at all costs, with everything you have," He blinked, "How many of you know how to use a ward?" He asked curiously.

Erik looked around as people nodded, Alexavier blinked, "Hm, of course, you should not need to resort to a warding, your people have a natural spiritual block on your minds, that should be enough to stop any spirits, however..." He looked back at the forest, "Never underestimate a spirit, if you feel an emotion that isn't yours, you must fight back immediately." Alexavier said quietly, and looked at the older Storm Guard.

Alexavier muttered, "Remember, this is not what you are all used to, this is an exersize of the mind, and you'll need a steady mind to make it out, you will not find that physical activity will help you against spirits, not in the normal sense anyways," He said calmly, "So, just survive the night in there, I doubt you'll have to move around much, spirits will come to you, try not to go to them." He added quickly.

Maek raised his hand meekly, and Alexavier looked at him, Maek asked quietly, "What happens if we fail to fight back against a spirit, and it takes over us?"

Alexavier blinked, and muttered coolly, "Why do you think I'm here? I wouldn't worry about your life yet, if you are taken over, I'll be able to sense it."

Erik noticed some of the others didn't look convinced, Alexavier, however, ignored the dark looks, and turned to the older Storm Guard, "Lower the barrier." He said calmly, Erik blinked when some of the kids started to back up.

The older Storm Guard nodded, and walked up to the invisible wall that seemed to seperate the forest from everything else. Erik watched as the older Storm Guard held his hand out, and he could almost see the barrier seem to dissipate into the sky. Everyone craned their heads to see if anything would attack, but nothing did, the older Storm Guard turned to them, "All you've got to do is survive a day in there, be warned, as Prince Alexavier said, it is not as easy as it sounds, you will need to be observent, you will need to be able to survive." He pointed out, and then allowed them inside the forest.

They immediately seperated, Erik walked the dark path alone, looking up at the shadows in the trees, they seemed to move and shift, he blinked, and continued. He sat down on a log, and brought out his sword, which seemed to cause the shadows to still. He sighed, and started to poke the ground with it, Not as easy as it seems? Alexavier told us not to go looking for spirits, and that they'll find us...

Erik looked up quickly when he heard a couple twigs crack, he looked around cautiously, but there was nothing. No... This is a test of patience, Alexavier knows that spirits are smarter than they seem, he wants to test our patience more than anything, and if I know this group well, most of them will fail, and try to go looking for spirits. He thought quietly.

He looked up again when some of the trees started to creak ominously, and the leaves shuffled in the wind. Erik didn't move, and only stared down the shadows in front of him.

Wait... Hold on, it's a test of patience, but also of a test on how long we can go before we crack from the things we hear, the imagination is the most dangerous thing in this forest. Erik thought quickly, and stood up. He walked towards the bush that seemed to be shuffling, he raised some of the leaves with his sword, and saw two bright eyes lit in the darkness, he rolled his eyes when the cat meowed, and bounded away.

Erik sat back down, he did see a couple of transparent shades walk past, but they paid him no mind, he blinked when he heard something above him. He looked upwards, and he flinched when there were two red eyes staring unblinkingly at him, he jumped away, but they didn't move. So this is how you're going to do it right? Erik stared at the aggresive shade, they both froze when there was a loud noise in the distance, Erik looked back at the shade, and he flinched when it seemed to have come down the tree, but still didn't attack.

Erik stared at it for a long time, and took a step back when it stepped into the moonlight. It had taken on the form of a huge direwolf, a low growl came from it's throat, it's teeth bared. Erik looked around quickly, and anticipated any movement the wolf made.

It leaped at him, and he jumped back, it seemed to bark in annoyance, it's teeth snapping inches away from where he was. It leaped again, but he was ready for attack this time, he brought his sword in front of him, and it met it. Erik pushed it away with the sword, but it didn't seem to want to give up. It jumped at him again, and he sidestepped, I think it's trying to tire me out.

The shade finally stopped, and stared at him once again. Erik raised an eye-brow, "What...?" He looked down at the ground, and realised there was something bigger behind him. He turned around to see a huge shade staring down at him, he looked back at the other shade, which seemed to have disappeared.

"Uh... That is not good." Erik muttered quietly. He jumped away from it, That thing is massive... He looked up at it, and backed away as it shuffled towards him. The moon shed patches on the forest floor, Erik looked around quickly for any means of help. Erik jumped back from it's next attack, almost falling over from loss of balance. It seemed to hiss at him.

Erik stopped as it continued towards him, he frowned when it stopped inches away from him, he was about to attack the creature, "Wait, little warrior."

A cloaked person came out of the darkness, but he sighed when it was just Alexavier, he blinked when Alexavier stepped in front of him, "Sorry, this one's kind of tricky to deal with, already it's taken down a couple of the recuits easily, so just leave this one to me."

Erik watched as Alexavier took out his own sword, it was a shining steel, but not quite a Hostrich steel, but even then the shade seemed to shy away from it.

Erik watched as Alexavier took a step towards the shade, and it immediately shrunk back. Alexavier finally pierced it with his sword, but it didn't disappear, it didn't even move, but it seemed to be trying.

"Hurting the living will not get you far, shade, this is not the Lower Spirit World." Alexavier growled, Erik looked around him to see the shade was frozen, but it didn't seem to be listening to Alexavier.

"You must pass on, you've gotten too big." Alexavier muttered darkly.

The shade seemed to finally understood, and soon it disappeared in a breath of smoke, Erik stared at the Prince in confusion, "What did you do?"

Alexavier only smiled sadly, "Nothing, I only reasoned with it." He murmured quietly, and added, "Better continue your task then, you're one of the few left." He said calmly, and walked back into the darkness. Erik looked around, but there were no more shades, the shadows had stopped shifting, and had returned to normal.

Erik sat down on a nearby log for the rest of the night, and when the sun rose, he headed towards the forest edge, and he broke through the darkness, he looked around to see younger recruits being tended to by healers, the older Storm Guard seemed unnerved, "How did something that big get in there?" He asked.

Alexavier however, only shrugged, "Shades sometimes feed off the energy around them, but it all depends." He muttered, Erik noticed he looked a lot more tired, a lot more defeated. The older Storm Guard didn't seem to notice, and gathered the recruits not being healed by healers around.

"For those of you that made it through the night, good, you will need a lot of rest for the final test though, not all of you will be allowed to make this one, only a few will pass, and even then, it's edgy, it'll start next week, and we'll meet right here." The older Storm Guard commented grimly, and dismissed them.

"Hey, Erik!" Maek called him.

Erik only waved, and Maek asked, "Man, that was hard, did you see that huge thing?! I barely got away from it."

"Yeah, it attacked me." Erik replied quietly.

"Woah, scary." Maek said quickly.

Erik sighed, "I need some sleep after that, see you later Maek." He headed back to the quarters, and curled up in bed, shaking. What's wrong with me, why do I feel so tired all of a sudden, it's not like either of the shades got a hit on me. He thought quietly.

He fell asleep, and was met by nightmares, nightmares of the forset, the shadows as they shifted and squirmed, they were trying to reach him, but for some reason they couldn't. He felt like he was being crushed from all sides, unable to move, the shadows soon got blood red eyes, and they started to growl, Erik saw the barrier start to weaken to their unrelentless attacks.

He closed his eyes once again, and heard someone call his name, he turned around, but there was nothing there. There was a flash of light, and he once again nearly smashed his head on the bed above him, Maek was looking at him curiously, "You all right, Erik?" He asked quietly.

"Yeah, I'm fine." Erik lied.

Maek only looked at him disbelivingly, and went up to his bed, "Whatever you say, Erik." He muttered.

Erik only stared upwards for the duration of the night, he sighed, What's happening to me... He thought darkly, and stared at the shadows all around them.

~*~*~*~

A week had passed, Erik had turned 16, he didn't tell anyone though, not even Maek, he walked to the courtyard, where everyone had gathered. Maek muttered nervously, "This is it."

Erik only nodded tiredly when the older Storm Guard muttered, "You'll be going into the Lower Spirit World for two hours, and you'll be attempting to come back out using a soul mirror, I will not sugar coat this, you will get lost in there, and none of your training will help you apart from yesterday's, this time, it's pure instinct you're going to rely on, if you do not trust yourself, you will not make it through this." He said quietly.

Maek asked, "How are we going to enter?"

The older Storm Guard looked at him, "I will be taking you all to a soul mirror, all of you will jump in, but you will not end up together, you'll be seperated." He replied.

And no Alexavier to help us, he left a couple days ago... Erik thought quietly. Maek seemed to shuffle nervously. The older Storm Guard muttered, "Follow me."

They followed him away from the castle, and into a nearby clearing with a large pond, they gathered around it, and looked down at it nervously. The older Storm Guard asked, "Who wants to go first?"

Everyone looked at each-other, Erik sighed, pushing his way to the front, "I'll go." He muttered quietly. Everyone stared at him in disbelief, and they took a step back away from the soul mirror to watch. The older Storm Guard only blinked, and nodded.

Erik looked down at the mirror. He looked back at everyone else, and they seemed to be staring at him, waiting. He rolled his eyes, and looked back at the soul mirror. Erik took a step forwards, and his world flashed all sorts of different colours, and his eyes adjusted to a dark forest, lit only by the mushrooms that dotted the forest.

"So this is the Lower Spirit World..." Erik muttered thoughtfully, he could sense the spirits unrestlessness, he sighed, and walked forwards. However, the spirits only watched him curiously. He sat down on a log, "Two hours..." He murmured quietly. He blinked, Why am I feeling so tired all of a sudden?! He thought darkly, and tried to stop himself from nodding off.

The spirits seemed to pay him no mind, and went about their business, Whatever they do for their businessErik thought quietly.

Erik looked up from the ground when he heard something like a screech. He blinked, as the forest seemed to get darker, he watched as the shadows grew longer, and the moon in the sky was surrounded by dark, black, menacing clouds. He looked at the spirits, and they looked agitated by the sudden change in environment, Erik felt like he was going to pass out, No. No. No, I cannot give up now, this is what he meant, no physical training can prepare you for this. Erik thought quickly, and stood up, pacing.

The spirits watched him curiously as he paced the clearing he was in, How long have I been in here for? Feels like only minutes, but has it been? He thought quickly, and decided to wander the forest.

He came across another sparkling pond, Another soul mirror, I guess this is one of the ways out, possibly. Erik noted where it was, and wandered a bit aways, and sat on a stump, sword now resting beside him, the spirits only stared at the sword in fear. He looked up at the moon once again, as it passed the stages of it's life faster then it would in the living world. Erik looked forwards, and stared at the shadows in front of him.

He froze when he felt chilly, and a terrible sadness befall over him, he growled, Ignore it, ignore it. He thought grimly, however the emotion wasn't going away. He thought quietly, I will not break easily to you spirit, so get out of my head. He reached for his sword slowly, and made it to the spirit trying to take control of him that he was going to strike himself, and he felt the pull of sadness leave him, he jumped away from the stump, and looked behind him.

"You." He hissed, it was the same wolf like shade that attacked him in the forest. It stared at him with blood red eyes, however, it seemed a lot more bigger and stronger than it was in the forest, it zigzagged towards him, not finished with it's attack. Erik narrowed his eyes at the beast, and as it lunged, he held the sword in front of him, causing it to run right into it.

It growled darkly, trying to bite at him, but he only kicked it away, he ran back up to it, and copied Alexaviers move, striking the sword down to get it stuck. The shade tried to get away, but soon it started to fade, a look of fear on it's face. Erik didn't flinch, and only stared down at it as it slowly faded away. He took his sword out of the ground, and sheathed it.

Erik looked at the other spirits that watched curiously, but they seemed to shy away from him, Erik frowned, Oh, I need to get out of here... But how long has it been? He thought sadly.

He walked back up to the soul mirror, and stared into it curiously, he saw his reflection was normal enough, but the energies around him seemed to waver and shift the water below. He touched the surface of the mirror, and looked closer.

It was night time in the living world, he looked around for any hint that is was time to go. He saw Maek and the others seemed to be waiting for something, the older Storm Guard was looking at something, and often casted a glance to the sky. Erik sighed, "Now or never-" He gasped when he was pushed in, he thought quickly of the castle, and jumped when there was a bright flash of light, and he found himself staring at the stormy sky. He sat up quickly, "Okay how long was I in there for?!" He asked.

The older Storm Guard finally looked up, "Longer than two hours in living time, I can say that," He murmured, Erik realised that there was only four of the other recruits, including Maek, and they seemed really tired, but none worse for the wear, the older Storm Guard murmured, "You're the only five that made it for the two hours, and beyond," He looked at Erik when he said that, he murmured, "Our expert on spirit energies is back, so I suggest that you get checked for any lingering, we don't want you having nightmares, because now comes the hard part."

They all wandered into the castle, there was a female Storm Guard leaning against a pillar, she asked quietly, "So you're the ones that made it. Hm, usually there's less than five, well come on, I gotta see if there's any lingering spookies around you, so tell me now, who's been having nightmares as of late?"

Maek and the other 3 looked at each-other curiously, and Erik sighed, "I have, ma'am."

She looked him over, "All right, the rest of you go upstairs down the hallway to the right, that's where the newer Storm Guards sleep." She murmured, and looked at Erik, "You can follow me, and I'll see what's up with you."

Maek led the other three upstairs, they all gave Erik an apprehensive look before disappearing, he followed the Storm Guard into what looked like a Healers station, but with all sorts of bits and pieces, she murmured, "Excuse the mess, my healing abilities lie more on the spiritual side, if you've heard."

Erik nodded, and she pointed to a chair, he sat down, and she asked, "So tell me, Storm Guard, how long have you been having these nightmares?"

"Um, well, they only started getting intense when I did the capture the flag task on the first day." Erik replied.

She looked at him thoughtfully, and brought out her dragon necklace, "I need you to relax, and clear your mind, it makes it easier on the both of us if your mind isn't an absolute mess." She said calmly.

Erik nodded, and watched as his vision seemed to darken, but it was like he was still awake, she said calmly, "I'm surprised someone your age actually passed the final test."

"Huh?" Erik asked.

"You're 16, however, your barrier and mind is quite strong for someone as small and young as you." She commented, and sighed, "Sorry to tell you, you must not have been fast enough for this spirit, they got a good hit on you, or more to say, your barrier, and the energies it left intensified your nightmares, I'm assuming these actually started when you came to the castle?" She asked curiously

Erik nodded, "Well, to get rid of this energy, I don't need to do much, you just need to relax and get some proper sleep while you can." She said quickly, and light entered back into his vision, giving him a headache, he watched as she shuffled through the shelves.

"Here," she muttered, and had taken out a blue liquid from the shelves, "Drink this, you'll pass out within five minutes, I promise, think of it as a temporary barrier as yours heals." She passed it to him, he looked at it curiously. 

"Thanks." Erik muttered, and bowed to the healer, and walked out, following where Maek and the others had walked. He found them with some other younger Storm Guards, and they chatted avidly. Erik sat down on an empty bed, and Maek and the new Storm Guards turned to him curiously.

"What?" He asked.

Maek shrugged, "What's that you're holding?" He asked curiously.

"It's something to help me sleep." He muttered, and opened it, it simmered a bit. Everyone turned to watch, he took a sip of it, and it tasted like stinging ice, he drank the rest of it, and looked at them.

"Its not like it's going to work immediately." Erik mumbled. He lied down on the bed, and everyone went about their business.

He narrowed his eyes when blackness appeared at the edges of his vision, and soon his vision went black, he looked around in the darkness, and sighed, cannons still rang in his ears, however they seemed even more distant than before. He jumped back when light entered his vision, but he felt energized, he sat up slowly, and looked around. Dawn was breaking through the windows, and everyone else was asleep.

Erik sidled over to the window, and peeked out, he narrowed his eyes when there was smoke in the distance, and the blast of cannon fire, he thought quietly, They're getting closer, that can't be possible...

He backed away from the window, and closed it, he looked around nervously, and got changed, he walked downstairs. There were people whispering darkly, but they ignored him as he headed down to the library, he walked among the bookshelves. He narrowed his eyes at the silence, and looked up at the books, he looked at the window on the wall across from the bookshelf.

He jumped when a bell tolled, he walked upstairs quietly to see everyone downstairs, clamouring to see what was going on. Erik pushed past a couple of older Storm Guard and saw Maek, "Maek! What's going on?" He asked.

Maek shrugged, "I have no idea, somethings happening at the gates!" He called.

Erik tried to see past the taller Storm Guards, to no avail, he huffed, and sneakily pushed past them to stand with Maek, he muttered, "What do you mean something's happening at the gates?"

They pushed their way to the front, and saw towns people clamouring. Storm Guards were trying to calm them down, but to no avail.

"We'll let you in, if you please just calm down and explain what's happened!" The older Storm Guard called over the clamouring.

"What happened?!" A townsperson said hotly, "Our town got attacked, that's what happened! I thought the king is supposed to be trying to stop this!" He snapped.

The Storm Guard seemed shocked, "He is doing everything he can! If you'd all calm down we'll be able to get you in without any trouble." He snapped back.

They didn't calm down, they just got more angrier, Maek whispered quietly, "How much you wanna bet they're going to be throwing punches?"

Erik blinked, unsure. A couple of Storm Guards went to help the older one when the towns people started getting irritated, the older Storm Guard muttered, "Let's be civil now..."

As soon as the older Storm Guard said that, the townspeople went into an uproar, Maek blinked in shock and stepped back as punches were thrown by both parties, Erik muttered, "This is crazy."

The older Storm Guard got punched in the arm quite hard, and at that, he cracked, he whipped out his pure white steel sword, and pointed it at the townspeople, the gate and courtyard had gone silent, he growled menacingly, "We were ready to welcome you into the castle gates, all we needed was some cooperation, now, you will absolutely listen to us and what we need you to do, now will someone please explain the situation, and we'll go off from there."

"The east attacked the towns on the border, nothing is left, everything is gone." One of the townspeople muttered, eyeing the sword nervously.

"Good, now, we need you to get into an orderly fashion as to make things easier on us to count how many people there are, and how we'll accomadate you." He snarled dangerously.

Erik blinked as the townspeople shuffled backwards, and allowed the Storm Guard to walk amongst them, and allowed them to go inside. Erik and Maek and some other Storm Guards stayed beside the castle doors, and watched as the townspeople flooded the courtyard, Maek sighed, "Well, we know one thing, one more step, and the east is at our gates." He muttered quietly, tapping the hilt of his own sword nervously, his sword also seemed to shiver from his emotions.

"What do you think will happen once they reach us?" Erik asked quietly, and looked up at the overcast sky.

"If that happens, well, that means the East is winning." Maek muttered, and he watched as the townspeople settled down, and were led to sleeping spaces.

Erik looked around quietly, some of the townspeople looked tired and sick, he sighed, and headed back into the castle. Maek blinked, and looked back at him, but said nothing. Erik saw the older Storm Guards discussing the situation, but they paid him no mind, he sat on the steps, and stared down at the ground thoughtfully.

He jumped when the older Storm Guard walked up to him, "You and the other new Storm Guards are going to help the townspeople adjust, sadly, with this many people we're going to have to ration food, they're tired anyways, I doubt you'll get attacked out of frustration." He muttered darkly, and limped away.

Erik sighed, and stood up, he walked back outside where there were campfires and tents, where familes sat around nervously. Maek and the others were huddled in a circle, whispering quietly, Erik jumped when he got dragged into a huddle, Maek hissed, "Um, so what do we do? I really don't want to get punched in the face."

Erik shrugged, "Well first let's figure out what they need exactly, there's a lot of them, so we should split and cover each sides of the castle, and meet up at the back." He murmured.

Maek and the others nodded, and they all seperated, going among the townsfolk to see what they needed most. Erik got through a couple, listing off the things they requested in his head before he could remember them, and came to a small family.

Erik blinked at the two small children at the womans side, they were both the same age as his sister, their mother looked like she had another on the way, he looked around for their father, but didn't see him. He walked up to them nervously, they all looked up, and he asked, "So... What do you need?"

The women looked at the campfire thoughtfully, and she whispered, "Just some food for the kids, water, and blankets."

Erik bowed, and walked to the back of the castle, where the others were waiting. Maek nodded, and Erik muttered, "Well, let's get them what they want."

They ran to the kitchens, and took as much as they could carry, Erik looked at the feeble rations for the townspeople, and he asked, "Is this really all we're giving them?"

"We're short on food as it is." The cook muttered from behind a door. Erik sighed, and walked back to the towns people he sought after, he gave the other familes their food. He walked to the mother and her two kids.

They all looked up when he put the food down, and bowed, "I'm sorry, this is all I can get you." He murmured.

The mother looked down at the food sadly, and distributed most of it for her kids, but took so little for herself, Erik cringed, and walked away as the kids ate their food. Erik watched as some Storm Guards walked up to them with water and blankets, Erik walked away quietly, Maek muttered, "Hey, it's dinner, let's go."

Erik nodded, and followed Maek to the hall where the Storm Guards ate. He sat beside Maek, and stared down at his food. Maek muttered, "Are you not going to eat that?"

Erik blinked, and shook his head, he whispered, "I'm not even that hungry, I'm thinking of giving my food to the family." He looked up and down the table, and everyone was chatting amongst themselves, he looked at Maek, and shrugged.

Maek nodded, "All right, I mean, I doubt they'd say anything." Maek muttered, and indicated to the older Storm Guards.

Erik murmured, "You're right, but still, we better be careful." He looked up and down the tables quickly, he shifted from the table, followed quietly by Maek, they left the dining hall quickly, and looked around, still holding their food. They rushed outside to where the townspeople and family was.

They gave their food to the mother, who looked up at them gratefully. They only bowed, and walked away, Maek said quietly, "I wasn't that hungry either anyways."

Erik only smiled, but he shivered when there was more cannon shots, he stopped Maek, "Maek, listen." He pointed at the sky, which was a dark indigo blue, Maek bit his lip.

"That's not possible, they're closer than before..." Maek muttered, and stared at the walls fearfully.

Erik asked, "Should we tell the old guy?"

Maek stared at the walls for a long time, and finally shook his head, "No." He murmured, and walked back to the castle. Erik watched him leave in confusion. He looked back at the walls, while the cannons continued. He shivered, and started to walk back to the castle.

He entered the quarters, and sat down on his bed, everyone was shuffling, unable to get any sleep because of the cannons. Erik thought quietly, How long until they reach our gates?

He finally lied down, and got some unrestful sleep, but even that didn't last. Soon, the older Storm Guard was waking them all up, he however pulled Maek and Erik aside.

Erik and Maek stared at each-other nervously, the older Storm Guard said calmly, "I noticed you two brought your food to the townspeople," they started to speak, but he stopped them, "Don't worry, you're not in trouble, that was a noble thing you two did, are you hungry?" He asked curiously.

Erik looked at Maek, and shook his head, Maek, however, nodded quickly. The Storm Guard passed him an apple, and looked at Erik quizzically, "You haven't been eating a lot since you came here, are you sure you're all right?" He asked.

Erik nodded, "I'm fine." He muttered quietly.

The Storm Guard looked down at them both, then finally shrugged, "All right, anyways, I've got something special for you two today." He said quickly, and led them down to the castle gates, some of the townspeople were already awake. They looked at the walls of the castle darkly, the cannons in the distance.

"This is going to be a long journey, so, anything you two want to grab anything before we leave." He asked, Maek and Erik shook thier heads quickly.

"All right, we're going to be a moon or so, we're patrolling the border, particularly populated areas." He pointed out, and led them out of the gates.

Erik and Maek looked around while they walked, the cannons getting fainter as they walked away from the castle, Erik felt a chill down his spine when they reached the forest, and continued walking.

"So... Um, what exactly are we patrolling for?" Maek asked quietly.

The older Storm Guard stopped, he said quietly, "Simple, we've gotten info from Prince Alexavier that the East is getting a... Uneasy foothold, this is to make sure they know that we're not backing down." He continued walking. maek looked at Erik nervously, and they followed him quickly.

"So, like, they might attack the castle?" Maek asked quietly.

The older Storm Guard didn't stop walking, he muttered, "The chances of that are increasing, Prince Alexavier has warned us about the impending threat, but no one else is really taking it seriously, the castle has stood through many attacks, I guess they don't understand why this would be any different."

Erik frowned, it had become night by the time theay reached the edge of the forest, Erik noticed another small path, and recognised that it was the path to his house, he blinked, and jumped when Maek looked down the path also, "What's down there?" He asked curiously, Erik jumped, and sighed.

"It's nothing." Erik muttered, and continued walking, however, the Storm Guard, who was behind them, froze beside the path, as if he was frozen. Erik and Maek looked back at him, and he hissed under his breath, "That's impossible..." He unsheathed his sword, and walked down the path.

Maek and Eirk looked at eachother, horrified. They followed the Storm Guard nervously, they stopped by Erik's house, after a long down trodden walk, but Erik froze, the house seemed dead, as if there was nothing in there. Erik looked around, and saw the hill, the other small building gave him an uneasy feeling, he watched as the older Storm Guard kicked down the door, and looked in curiously, Erik followed him quickly, and peeked in.

It was dark in the house, he expected to see someone like his sister or his oldest brother, but neither of them were there. He walked in nervously, Maek followed. The older Storm Guard looked around tensely, and Maek asked, "Is... Aren't people supposed to live here? I don't get it." He added.

The older Storm Guard was bent towards a corner though, while Erik started to poke Maek harshly, Maek looked at him in confusion, they both looked up when the older Storm Guard made a noise.

"This can't be right... This is impossible..." He muttered, Maek craned his head to look.

"What did you find?!" Maek asked curiously. Erik craned his head to, and they both froze when the older Storm Guard stood up, and held out his hand, and showed them.

Erik noted that it seemed like the essence of a spirit, but it gave him an uneasy feeling, it was white, but it seemed to move and shift like a shade, the older Storm Guard let it fall out of his hands, and it disappeared as it touched the ground.

"We need to get out of here, we're in danger." The older Storm Guard hissed, and pushed them harshly out of the house.

Erik asked, "What's going on? What did you mean when you said 'that can't be right?'"

The older Storm Guard was staring at the house, "Maek, take Erik away from here, you won't be able to handle what's here." He snapped.

Erik snapped, "This is my house! I know you know! What's going on?!" He snarled, and took a step towards the older Storm Guard.

He hissed grimly, "You know as well as I do, Erik, whoever or whatever was here, isn't here anymore." He snapped, and nodded at Maek, who seemed confused.

Erik had frozen up, Maek shook him, "Erik? You all right?" He asked quietly.

The older Storm Guard hissed, "Now is not the time to ask questions, Maek, you must take Erik back to the castle, I need to get word to Alexavier." He had his sword in the defensive position.

Maek looked at Erik, who was staring at the house in disbelief, they all froze when white mist started to seep out from the door, Erik shivered, What is that? He thought quietly.

"Now!" The older Storm Guard snapped, Maek and Erik finally complied, and ran away from the house.

Maek asked, "What was that?! We just left him with that thing!" He snapped.

Erik said nothing, Maek continued, "Well, then again, he's more experienced than us..."

Erik growled, "We've got to go back."

"To the castle?" Maek asked curiously.

"No, to the house!" Erik snapped.

Maek jumped away from him, then finally nodded, "They say there's no better teacher than experience." Maek said thoughtfully, Erik's eyes flashed, and nodded.

They ran back towards the house, but the Storm Guard was holding his own against the weird and shifting mist, Erik muttered, "We need to corner whatever that thing is, it'll know that it has no chance against three of us."

Maek nodded, and they ran to the older Storm Guard, they took positions behind the mist, and unsheathed their sword. They seemed to confuse the mist, and soon, they had it trapped.

The Storm Guard stuck his sword into the mist, which seemed to halt it, Erik and Maek followed suit. They stared down at the thing, and Maek went to poke it, "What is that?" He mused.

The older Storm Guard snapped, "Don't touch it! It's dangerous."

Maek receded from the misty thing. He looked up at the older Storm Guard quizzically, who sighed.

"Just, you two, go back to the castle and tell them what happened here, I must continue to Alexavier's camp and report this..." He looked down at the trapped white mist, "This is a bad omen if it is what I think it is..." Maek and Erik bowed, and grabbed their swords, the mist seemed to struggle, but the older Storm Guard stared down at it, and it receded.

They ran off, and Maek asked, "What do you think that was?"

"I don't know, but whatever it is, and if it has the old man spooked, it's got to be bad." Erik said quickly, and looked around the forest nervously.

Maek only nodded in agreement, they stopped, and looked back. Maek groaned, "Oh no... Do you feel that?" He asked, shaking nervously.

Erik looked around quickly, and narrowed his eyes at the undergrowth. He thought grimly, Yes... I feel that, but it's not a spirit... No... This is worse.

He murmured, "We better hurry back to the castle, Maek." 

Maek nodded and they broke into a run, soon they had reached the castle, but something was off. They reached the gate and looked around, everything seemed normal.

Erik froze when he heard the familiar whistle loom over them, he looked at Maek, and snapped, "Maek! The castle! It's-"

He never got to finish his sentence, before the whistle was followed by a deafening crash.

Chapter 3

There are moments

When you've got to learn

The consequences

Both Erik and Maek ducked as the cannon zoomed overhead of them, smashing into the castle wall with a deafening crash, Maek snapped, "That's impossible, there's no way they reached us!"

Erik watched as more cannons zoomed over head, and a Storm Guard called, "Everyone get to the back gate! The castle is under attack!" He pointed to the castle. Erik watched as the gate was closed on the attackers, he murmured, "That won't stop them for long."

Maek shivered as one of the castle towers started to collapse, townspeople were freaking out, but followed the other Storm Guards orders. Erik covered his eyes from the smoke, as he heard stone start to crumble, Maek growled, "We have to get out of here! Soon this will be nothing but smoke, fire, and ash!"

Erik growled, "Don't have to tell me twice." He uncovered his eyes, and attempted to look around through the smoke, but to no avail.

Maek nodded, and they trudged through the smoke, often having to dodge fire, as cannons continued to zoom overhead, aimed at the castle. Erik shivered, I knew this would happen... I saw it coming... Everyone did... He throught grimly, and looked up at the sky, but it was also covered with smoke.

They finally reached one of the towers that was still untouched, and Erik coughed, the smoke burning his throat, "They're not letting up!"

Maek looked around quickly. "Erik, we've-" They both jumped when there was a deafening crash, they looked to where the gate was, and Erik shivered, "Maek, they got in... We've..." He unsheathed his sword, and immediately sat down, tired because of all the smoke.

Maek blinked through the smoke, and murmured, "We've got to get to the forest, sadly, it's the only safe place! At least a place where we can fight back!" He snapped.

Erik nodded, and stood up, following Maek around the tower. Erik murmured, "We've got to-" There was an ominous creaking sound above them, and they stopped. Maek looked up, and they both froze when the tower was leaning precariously over them.

Erik blinked when something seemed to crack, and it started to fall towards them, he felt someone pull him away, and his vision went black.

He sat up, holding his head, and realised Prince Alexavier was sitting in front of him, with a very eerie smirk on his face, "You all right, little warrior?" He asked dangerously. Erik rubbed his head, and murmured, "I-I don't know... The tower..." He looked around, and realised that the cannons had stopped, he murmured, "Hey... What happened to the attackers?"

Alexavier frowned at that, "Remember what I said about how I'm fighting a war? I didn't just mean the calculating side." He asked quietly.

Erik still felt woozy, and thought tiredly, Wait... Where's... Maek...?

"At any rate, you got knocked on the head pretty bad, we need to get you and any survivors out of here pronto." Alexavier muttered quickly, and looked around.

Erik was about to stand up, but Alexavier stopped him, "I managed to save you from getting crushed, that doesn't mean you got so lucky where stones fell," He snapped. Erik relaxed, and Alexavier sighed, "Sorry, just everyone's been having a bad day." 

Erik clinged onto the wall as he stood up, he went to reach for his sword, and froze when he couldn't find it. Alexavier noticed his fear, and he asked, "I'm assuming this is yours?"

He held up a sword, it was dusted, Erik grabbed hold of it, and sheathed it, and felt like he was going to be sick. He looked at Alexavier, who stared at him calmly, Erik murmured, "Another Storm Guard was near me..." He looked around, Alexavier looked thoughtful.

"I'm sorry Erik, with all the smoke, the only one I managed to see was you." Alexavier said calmly.

Erik looked down at the ground, shivering, and he asked, "Wait, does that mean the old guy... He got to you guys?"

"You were out for a bit." Alexavier muttered, and then soon led him to where people were standing, they weren't Storm Guard, Erik thought quietly, They must be some of Alexavier's men...

Erik started to get most of his vision back, the smoke and ash was settling, but fires were still flickering around the castle, Alexavier was bundled in a warm cloak, Erik stared at him in disbelief, and asked, "It's not that cold here, why are you wearing that?"

Alexavier looked at him, "I had to go home for important business after I left the castle, then I came back." He murmured, then nodded to his men, and asked quickly, "Did you get to the survivors out? Somewhere safe?"

They bowed, and one of them answered, "Yes, your Highness."

Alexavier looked at Erik questioningly, and he asked, "Ever ridden a horse before?"

Erik murmured, "Yes, but..." He looked up at one of the horses, who looked down at him. Alexavier got on a horse, and called, "We've got to return to camp, the survivors are already being guided into a safe place in Nixsan."

The soldiers bowed, and also got on horses, Erik stared up at his horse nervously. Alexavier walked up to him, and he murmured, "It's not like you're going to fall off, you said you've ridden one before." He said calmly.

"Yes, but it was uncomfortable." Erik murmured, and went to the side of the horse, and looked around. He finally sighed, and got on the horse.

He followed the patrol, he looked back at the castle, which was still in flames, Alexavier also looked back, and sighed, his eyes flashing in sadness. Erik noticed one of the soldiers make a face, and continued on.

The full moon had risen into the sky, the clouds blocked half of it, and Alexavier halted them, nad looked around, one of the soldiers asked, "Is something the matter, your highness?"

"Be careful, we're entering in eastern occupied territory." Alexavier whispered, and urged the horses forward.

Erik looked around, and thought grimly, I feel.... Weird... Like there's something else besides us out here... He looked around again, and sighed. He shook his head, and thought, It's probably just my imagination...

As they trudged through the forest, Erik felt like they were being watched, he eyed the undergrowth nervously. Alexavier turned to him, and asked, "You all right?"

Erik nodded, "I'm fine, I'm just getting an... Odd feeling." He muttered, and looked around. Alexavier looked around as well, then murmured to his men, "Keep moving, it's best that we not stay here."

The soldiers nodded, and they continued forth. Soon they reached an isolated camp and Alexavier got off his horse, it was unnaturally dark, there were no torch lights, Alexavier, however, didn't seem bothered. Erik followed him nervously.

Some people left the large tent, and greeted him respectfully, Alexavier dismissed them, and entered the tent. Erik followed, and realised that there was another Storm Guard there, but he paid Erik no mind.

There was a large map, much like in the castle, but it was a bit crumpled, Alexavier murmured to one of the men, "Anything new?" He asked curiously.

"Nothing, the spirits have been blocked from entering, that was a good call..." He lowered his voice, "Any survivors from the castle attack?" He asked.

Alexavier only shrugged, "We got the townsfolk to Nixsan until it is safe for them to return, as for the Storm Guard, they all dispersed, or dead, either way, I'm not sure of their fate." He said flatly, Erik flinched. Alexavier eyed him, and murmured, "However, I did get one surviving Storm Guard."

Everyone looked at Erik questioningly, who only bowed his head, the other Storm Guard finally looked down at him, and grumbled, "I'm surprised someone as young as you survived your training."

Erik looked up, while everyone but Alexavier raised their eyebrows in shock.

Alexavier cracked a smile, and murmured calmly, "Often it is young people who surprise people the most."

Erik turned to Alexavier, who had a distant look on his face, one of the men asked, "Homesick already, Alex?" He joked, the formality was dropped.

Alexavier rolled his eyes, "Only a little bit," He admitted, then looked out of the tent when there was a cannon in the distance, he shrugged, and returned. "They haven't found this place yet, but we shouldn't take chances, I'm having scouts scope out other areas that the East will never think to look."

Erik noticed him sigh tiredly, then someone added, "So... What's happening with the weapon?"

Alexavier froze at that, and looked around suspiciously, then looked at the Storm Guard, who just nodded, and left, signalling for Erik to follow him. Erik complied, and they left the tent, and stood outside.

"What did he mean by weapon?" Erik asked the Storm Guard pointedly.

The Storm Guard shrugged, "If I told you, you wouldn't like it." He grumbled.

Erik huffed, and asked, "It can't be that bad, right?" 

The Storm Guard blinked, and said coolly, "Prince Alexavier is being pressured to use something that he alone can control, but by doing so, he is allowing something dark into him, and if he does finally crack under the pressure, many lives will be lost, and he alone will be to blame." He nodded to the sky.

Erik mused, "Why would he be blamed for something he's being pressured to do?" He looked up at the sky.

"It's simple, because the people don't know that he is being pressured the way he is, by his father, his brother, the leaders of Hostrich, he is being pressured from all sides, I don't doubt Alexavier, but even he can only handle so much." The Storm Guard grumbled.

Erik blinked, and asked, "Do you think he's going to crack?"

The Storm Guard sighed, "I don't want him to, he's an unyeilding person, however... I think the signs are clear enough, that he's close to finally giving in. He's been through a lot for someone his age."

Erik blinked, "Doesn't he want the war to end?" He asked.

"Of course he does," The Storm Guard said coldly, "But he wants it to end without having to resort to killing innocent people, but whether he likes it or not, it's going to happen, it's not something he can avoid, and he knows it."

Erik looked back at the tent sadly. He sighed, and sat down. The Storm Guard looked down at him, "Hm, have you been trained blindfolded yet?" He asked curiously.

"Isn't it kind of pointless if I can't see my enemy?" Erik muttered, and looked back up, "No, of course I haven't, why?"

"Since it looks like we're the only Storm Guards around here, I'll have to pass on my training, usually when you're inducted, that's when you start with the super difficult stuff, the first, is fighting without your sense of sight." He pointed out calmly.

Erik asked curiously, "How do you fight without seeing?"

"It's something you figure out along the way." The Storm Guard muttered, and walked away from him, into another tent.

Erik huffed, and stared up at the sky. The clouds were starting to part to reveal a dark blue sky, with countless tiny white stars speckled across the vast expanse. He looked back down at the ground, people were only just starting to wake up, and going about their business. He jumped when Alexavier came back out, and looked down, "You're not tired?" He mused.

Erik shook his head, and Alexavier shrugged, "Well, I don't know when, but we'll be moving soon, so, prepare yourself." He walked away, where some men bowed to him respectfully, he dismissed them, and he was followed by two others into the forest.

He sighed, then looked up at the dark grey sky.

He flinched when there was cannon fire in the distance, he looked ahead at the forest, and tipped his head, Alexavier had returned with the two others, "All clear." He murmured to a person who walked up to them.

The Storm Guard walked up to Erik, "What happened at the castle?" He asked coolly.

Erik blinked, and murmured, "Well, one minute, it was quiet, then there's really loud cannon shot, and then they started hitting the castle, the rest is kind of fuzzy due to a rock falling on my head."

Alexavier walked up to them, and said, "I sensed spirits around the pond, I'm hoping not to confront them though."

The Storm Guard bowed deeply, Erik looked up at Alexavier, and asked, "Where are we going?"

"Guagamela, I'm hoping to take a foothold, and see how far the line extends." Alexavier grunted.

Erik looked at the mountain in the distance, he frowned, and nodded. He stood up, and muttered, "They say there's something ancient there."

Alexavier nodded, "I've heard," He mused, then looked back at his men, who stared at him curiously, "But we've been pushed back, I have no other choice." He pointed out.

They all nodded in agreement.

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