7: A Fight is Coming Our Way

The journey through the uphill rocky path takes us an additional hour to reach the abandoned mansion than it normally would. I am exhausted—I wish I could sit, lean somewhere and just take a short nap. But anything can happen within the next two hours. We still need to remain vigilant.

The mansion has three floors. We lead our group to the Portal Room on the second floor. In another two hours, the portal will open up in this room, which will finally bring the refugees to New Haven.

Our Captain, Ganeson is sitting down at the corner of the room by himself. He’s reading a book on one hand while taking a sip from a cup of his favorite hot tea. As we approach him, he doesn’t even look up from his book.

“Sure takes very long for you all to arrive. I almost thought we might have to leave you behind.” Ganeson takes another sip from his cup. “I see that you went back for Nisa’s group even though I clearly told you not to. You know I have to report this act of misconduct during my debriefing with Leadership.”

I say, “Captain, we have a situation.”

Ganeson still doesn’t look up from his book. “The Swordmasters found our location?”

“No, that could potentially be a problem, but we have a bigger one. The Undead Patrol is here.”

Ganeson finally looks up from his book. “How is that possible? I thought I asked you to shut the portal down.”

Ryo says, “The Undead Patrol didn’t enter the City through our portal, but strangely through another dead portal.”

Ganeson laughs. “I know of the existence of a dead portal nearby. But you expect me to believe that the Undead Patrol went through a portal that was already dead for many years? If I tell that to Leadership, do you think they will believe me? Clearly Ryo, you’re trying to cover for Kiera because she disobeyed a direct order not to go back and rescue Nisa’s group. While waiting for Kiera to return from her heroic mission, the Undead Patrol found your portal. But you didn’t have the guts to shut the portal to prevent the undead from entering. So you allowed them to enter, and then created this story that the Undead Patrol activated a dead portal.”

I can see Ryo seething with anger. I step in and defend him. “Look, Captain. This is not Ryo’s mistake. I’m the one who asked him to wait for me while I went to rescue Nisa’s group. When this is over, I’m ready to take full responsibility for my action. You may report me to Leadership and let them take the appropriate disciplinary action.”

Ganeson shakes his head. “That’s not the point. I don’t care what Leadership does to you after this mission is over. Let them ban you from future missions all they want. But your responsibility starts right now. I need you to ensure that our entire group can get back to New Haven safely.”

Ryo says, “Captain, Kiera’s action of going back to save Nisa’s group has got nothing to do with the Undead Patrol appearing in this forest. They found their way here regardless of her actions.”

I say, “Ryo and I can go back out to the forest and create a diversion so that the Undead Patrol doesn’t find this abandoned mansion.”

Ganeson says, “I don’t need to spread this team thin. I need everybody here to protect the Portal Room. Forget about the Undead Patrol. If they come to us, then we will fight them off in this mansion itself. This Portal Room can keep the undead out until the portal opens.”

I say, “Actually, I have another concern. Few Swordmaster scouts captured five refugees from your group. The good news is we managed to save them from the Swordmasters. The bad news is the Swordmasters were tracking us down until they got into a fight with the Undead Patrol. I fear they might come hunting us with more squads.”

Ganeson puts his cup of tea and book away. “So it looks like we might end up fighting the Undead Patrol and the Swordmasters here in this mansion.”

I say, “We have two more hours till the portal opens. I estimate that within the next hour, our enemies would arrive. The Undead Patrol will be the first to find us. Then the Swordmasters will arrive next.”

Ganeson says, “If the Undead Patrol or the Swordmasters discover the secret about this Portal Room, they will fight their way into New Haven. Ever since New Haven was formed, Lord Wrazen and his Swordmasters have always been seeking for a way to enter New Haven, but they never succeeded because we always ensure that we cover our tracks. Should they succeed, they will bring down an army to destroy New Haven. All the good works we have been building for years will be for nothing. A war is going to happen. We’ll deal with your misconduct later when we get back to New Haven. But right now, we need to work out a solution to ensure we can hold out our defenses until the portal to New Haven opens.”

One of Ganeson’s militias arrives and whispers something to him. Ganeson says, “Kiera, we have a situation here. Some of the refugees are planning to escape from this mansion. They already know what is happening. The refugee group that came back with you—they told everybody that the Undead Patrol and the Swordmasters are now heading towards this mansion. Everybody is beginning to feel anxious and has problems keeping their spirits up. Despite what they may plan, we cannot allow them to escape into the forest. They would be easier targets for the Undead Patrol and the Swordmasters. Though this mansion might not be the safest place either, but it sure is better than hiding out in the forest. We have two more hours to go until the portal opens, I cannot afford to have a few refugees spreading panic in the group. It can make our mission more difficult than it already is. If we stay together till the portal opens, we might be able to get through this.”

I ask, “Captain, what do you need me to do?”

Ganeson says, “You are the counselor of our rescue team. Do your job—talk to the refugees. Calm them down. Give them assurance that we will get them safely to New Haven.”

Indeed that is part of my job. But sometimes the people need to hear from their top leader. “As the captain, would you like to talk to them personally as well?

Ganeson laughs sadly. “Me? The refugees probably hate me in their hearts for leaving behind the two groups. But I’m not appointed as the captain to be loved by them. My job is to get them safely to New Haven. That means, if anybody tries to escape from this mansion and compromises the safety of our entire group, I would have no choice but to apprehend them. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. We wouldn’t want these refugees to think that New Haven is their new slavemasters.”

Ganeson points at me. “But you managed to save some of them from getting left behind. They see you as their hero. You are the right person to talk to them. They will listen to you. So do everything you can to stop them from escaping this mansion.”

That doesn’t sound like a difficult job for me. “I will do that, Captain.”

I walk over to a group of eleven refugees having a deep discussion among themselves. They are plotting something in secret. I need to find out what. “What are you all discussing about?”

A refugee named Adelene says, “If I tell you, would you promise that you wouldn’t tell the Captain? After all, you’re like the Captain’s right-hand person.”

I say, “Adelene, you know that I have your best interests at heart. After all, I’m the one that saved the refugees that got left behind. So what is troubling you so much that you are whispering behind the Captain’s back?”

Adelene says, “After the Captain entered this forest from the last portal, he rushed the entire group to move faster. An elderly man hurt his foot and couldn’t keep up. My brother Jon and a few men stayed and tried to help the elderly to keep up with the group’s pacing. As a result, they got left behind. We pleaded with the Captain to go back and find Jon’s group. The Captain refused our request. Tell me, Kiera, when we reach New Haven, are the people there welcoming or are they as condescending as our Captain?”

What should I tell Adelene? The truth? Half-truth? “Look, the Captain is putting his life on the line to rescue you refugees. I won’t defend some of his questionable decisions. But we need someone like him to maintain order among our refugees. Who are we to complain?”

Adelene says, “Complaining? Now you make me look like I’m the bad person here. We hear rumors from Jon’s group saying that the Swordmasters and the Undead Patrol could potentially locate us here. We want to get out of this mansion before that happens. But knowing the Captain, he and the militias would take drastic actions to stop us from leaving.”

I say, “We have two hours till the portal opens to New Haven. If you wander away from the mansion back into the forest, I’m afraid there’s no other place you can hide out at. It will be even more dangerous.”

Adelene says, “I think we have more chances of surviving the forest than surviving attacks from the undead and the Swordmasters.”

I want to admit there are some truths in Adelene’s words. But whose side am I on again? “No, Adelene. If you go out, you will be more exposed to the undead and the Swordmasters. You need to stay put and trust in our capability to protect you all.”

Adelene says, “I trust in your capability, Kiera. You have saved two groups that got left behind. But I don’t trust the Captain’s capability to protect us. And you alone are not enough to protect all seventy-five of us.”

I say, “Adelene, I appreciate your trust in me. What can I do to help you stop worrying about the situation?”

Adelene’s eyes brighten. “I’m surprised you asked. Provide us with weapons so that we can help protect the refugee group. Currently, there’s only nine of you to protect a group of seventy-five. When the undead or the Swordmasters attack, you need more fighting hands.”

Is this some trick from Adelene’s side to exploit my kindness? Will she turn against us once we give her the weapons? “I will discuss this with the Captain.”

Adelene sighs. “If you discuss with the Captain, I assure you that he will not agree to your request.”

Ganeson doesn’t seem too happy when I propose this idea of giving weapons to the refugees to protect the group. His response is something I should have seen coming. “Kiera, I asked you to convince them not to escape from this mansion. In return, they convinced you to give them weapons. Must say you’ve done a splendid job as a counselor.”

I say, “Captain, currently only nine of us are armed. We need more fighting manpower to protect against the upcoming attack from the Undead Patrol and the Swordmasters.”

Ganeson says, “And what if they decide to turn against us?”

I say, “If we don’t provide them with means to protect themselves when the enemies attack, they would become a liability.”

Ganeson says, “I have enough worries thinking how to defend against two attacking parties. I don’t need another one to emerge from within our own group. The answer is no. I will not take the chance.”

I want to reason with Ganeson to at least give more trust to the very people he’s rescuing. But before I could say anything, he had already walked away.

Adelene looks at me and laughs slyly when I return to her. “From what I observed, your conversation with the Captain didn’t go too well. So what I said is true, when the enemies attack later, the Captain will be too busy to protect us.”

I say, “I’ve already done my best when I spoke to the Captain. But now I need you to do your part. I need you to stop riling up the others with whatever escape plans you all have. It’s not going to help the group if you splinter off on your own.”

Adelene says, “I’m not the only one provoking the rest. You need to talk to my younger brother Jon. He’s the one that got abandoned by the Captain to be captured by the Swordmasters. Of course, he has every right to be upset about it.”

“Alright, I’ll talk to Jon.” As I walk over to Jon and the other four who were left behind earlier, they too seem to be having some kind of secret discussion.

Jon shakes my hand. “Kiera, I want to thank you for saving our group earlier.”

I say, “You’re welcome. I’m just doing my part to protect the refugees we rescued.”

Jon nods and then his face turns somber. “But Kiera, I want to ask you an honest question. If you had never found us back there, does that mean we would be hauled over to the city prison and stay there for the rest of our lives?”

How should I answer that question? “Hmm... actually that…”

Jon interrupts me before I could finish my sentence. “You don’t have to say anything. I already know your answer. As what Adelene told me, they pleaded with the Captain but he didn’t even turn back to rescue us. You rescued us because you just happened to chance upon us. If you didn’t, we would have left our former town to sit in a new home behind the bars, with oppressive human masters instead of the undead.”

I say, “But Ryo and I rescued you. That’s all that matters. You still hold your grudge against us because of the Captain’s inaction?”

Jon looks down on the floor. “I don’t hold grudge against anybody, especially not against you, because you saved our lives. But I just want to make sure that a similar situation doesn’t happen again. What if we are attacked by the undead or Swordmasters in this mansion again? Is the Captain going to protect all of us? Or is he going to take care of himself and head back to New Haven leaving some of us behind?”

Some of the refugees are clearly unhappy about Ganeson’s actions. I may be the counselor of the group, but I don’t have the magic to erase what Ganeson did. “Look, Jon. I need your help here. Of the seventy-five refugees here, you are one of those who experienced being left behind. The Captain alone cannot watch over seventy-five people. At least, I don’t trust him to do that. I need your help to be the extra eyes. If the Captain leaves people behind again, you need to help look after those that got left behind.”

Jon says, “Back in the forest, an old man got left behind because he sprained his ankle. I stayed behind to help him but was unfortunately captured by the Swordmasters. Of course, I would gladly protect our refugee group.”

I say, “Very well, Jon. But can you also stop whatever escape plans you’re planning?”

Jon clears his throat. “Kiera, I’m not trying to incite a rebellion here. After all, we owe New Haven our lives for rescuing us from our Undead rulers. But what if the enemies successfully breach this Portal Room before the portal opens? We have to take care of our own survival.”

I say, “I know you’re a good man. You have prioritized another person’s safety above yours when you went back and helped the old man who got left behind back in the forest. I think New Haven could use more people like you. I could use people like you to help look after others.”

Jon says, “What can I do?”

I say, “Call off your escape plan. Help me to keep the refugees in check.”

Jon is reluctant about aborting his escape plan. “You’re asking me to throw away our escape plan and trust in your ability to keep all of us safe.”

I say, “No, I’m asking you to trust in your ability to keep this group safe.”

Jon nods with a certain determination in his eyes. “This doesn’t make sense to me. But my heart tells me that I can trust you.” He stretches out his hand in a gesture of goodwill. “Very well, I will do it.”

I shake Jon’s hands firmly. “Thank you, Jon. That means a lot to me, and to all the refugees here.”

I have completed my job in convincing the refugees not to escape from the mansion. I walk to Ganeson and give him a silent thumbs-up, which means everything on the refugee’s end is under control. He merely nods in return and continues studying the layout plan of the mansion, from which he’s trying to formulate a defense plan.

* * *

I’ll go talk to Nisa to see how she is doing. Nisa is lying on her father’s lap, worn out by all the long traveling.

Nisa says, “I heard the Undead Patrol and the Swordmasters are coming towards our mansion.”

I say, “Don’t worry. We will hold them off until you can get to New Haven safely.”

Nisa says, “The Undead wants us because the Mark allows them to turn us into their ghoul army. The Swordmasters want us imprisoned because of the Mark we have. You know, for once I do look forward to New Haven and hope that we can live a normal life, free from all these wars. If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t want to receive the Mark. When I was five, the Undead rulers threatened to kill my father if I didn’t receive the Mark. And since my father already had the Mark, he would return as a ghoul after he dies. I didn’t want that to happen. So I received the Mark to save my father.”

I say, “You did a brave thing, Nisa.”

Nisa says, “They say, if you are a good and honorable person, you wouldn’t

the Mark because it corrupts your soul. But I did it because I didn’t want my father to die.”

I say, “Look, Nisa. I have no idea what I would do if I were in your position. But if receiving the Mark means saving a loved one, maybe I would have done the same thing. There is no wrong in saving a loved one. It doesn’t matter how the Undead rulers forced you to receive the Mark. All it matters now is that there is a better future waiting for you in New Haven.”

Nisa says, “You’re right, Kiera. Thanks for telling me that. By the way, I want to ask you a personal question. If you’re uncomfortable, you don’t have to answer it.”

What question could a ten-year-old girl ask that would make me uncomfortable? “Go ahead, Nisa.”

Nisa puts her most innocent-looking face. “Are you and Ryo together? You two seem very close.”

I feel like falling to the ground and laugh. “Yes, we’re close, but we’re not together. Many years ago, Ryo was on the brink of suicide when I first met him. I helped him to navigate through his emotions. His depression was severe. He felt guilty over the loss of his wife and baby daughter. I helped him to heal his emotional wounds. He’s in a much better shape than when I first met him. But don’t tell him I told you this part of his story. He’s still fighting to put his sad past behind.”

Nisa says, “So you actually have powers? You know it’s rare to meet people with powers from where I came from. The Immortal Lord captures those with powers and corrupts them to serve him.”

I say, “I know. Those who have powers like the Paladins, the Wizards, the Monks and many others, they prove to be too much of a threat to the Immortal Lord. So when the Immortal Lord captures them, he either converts them to his side, or he kills them all. I come from a group of people who have the ability to tap into the raw power of emotions. Our people are called the Pixies.

Nisa says, “I have heard many stories about Pixies. But I’ve never met one before, let alone lucky enough to be rescued by one. So they always say that the Pixies are fairies with wings who can grant us miracles?”

I chuckle. Apparently, that part always comes out when I introduce myself as a Pixie. “No, do I look like I have wings to you?”

Nisa says, “Maybe you hide them underneath your clothes. How does your Pixie’s power work?”

I say, “Pixies use emotions as fuel to their life. If we surround ourselves with a positive environment filled with light-side emotions, we develop emotion-based powers which are more positive. For example, some Pixies specialize in healing. Myself, I develop Empath skills, I can understand another person’s emotions and help them to manipulate their emotions for the good.

“During the beginning of the war, Hezekiah kidnapped a large population of Pixies. He placed them in an environment of hatred and destruction. They used negative emotions to develop destructive powers. For example, we came across one of Hezekiah’s Pixies, so distorted with hatred—she could self-explode and kill hundreds around her anytime.

“As for me, I chose to surround myself with the people of New Haven, because in order to fully nurture my Empath powers, I need to surround myself with a positive environment. However, I have to be careful not to give in too much to hatred, or else my powers may turn destructive.”

Nisa says, “I’m glad to have you as my guardian pixie.”

I brush my hands through Nisa’s hair. “You look tired from the long journey. Take a good rest, will you? I’ll need to attend to other matters.”

A militia approaches me. “Kiera, Captain wants to brief us all. The Undead Patrol is going to reach our location in another fifteen minutes.”