9: Sometimes a Sacrifice Has to be Made

To my surprise, I see Ganeson hiding by himself behind a bookshelf in the library. “Captain, the Swordmasters have captured all the refugees. We need to figure out a way to save them.”

Ganeson is clearly unhappy with the whole scenario. “Kiera, we can’t save them. We put up our best fight but our militias were no match for the Swordmasters. The ruthless Swordmasters had killed them all. If I were captured, the Swordmasters will take the Portal Stone from me. They would have discovered their way into New Haven. The safety of New Haven is our top priority. The safety of the refugees is secondary. Our mission is already over. The Swordmasters are too strong for three of us to fight. I suggest we let them leave with the refugees.”

I believe, to defeat the Swordmasters, we have to execute an unconventional tactic. “Earlier, you said the only way we can fight this fight is if we turn both the undead and the Swordmasters against each other. Ryo is keeping the ghouls locked up in the armory. We’ll release them so that they can fight the Swordmasters for us.”

Ganeson says, “Your plan is flawed, Kiera. Once the ghouls destroy the Swordmasters, what’s next? If things get out of control, they will kill all the refugees. The refugees will then return as ghouls to bolster the Undead Patrol. I’d rather have them spend the rest of their days in the city prison alive rather than living as ghouls.”

I say, “Look, Captain. Once we release the undead to fight the Swordmasters, I will lead the refugees out through the back door of the Portal Room, into this library and lead them to the safe room on the third floor. They will be unharmed.”

Ganeson says, “The Swordmasters will come after us.”

I say, “The Swordmasters will be too distracted by the undead to pursue the refugees.”

Ganeson walks to and fro like many things are running through his head. “You assume that everything would turn out right. But there are so many scenarios that would turn ugly when a group of Marked Ones gets caught in the crossfire between the Swordmasters and the ghouls. No, I’m not willing to take the chances and throw away my life so recklessly. I’m going to find a clear passage and get out of this mansion. I suggest that you and Ryo come with me. Do not waste your time here any longer. Three of us would have plenty of other opportunities to rescue more refugees in the future.”

I say, “These refugees have over and over again asked if you would stay and help them if they are attacked. As the counselor, I tried my best to give them hope. If we walk away from this, we would have failed these people as their protectors. Please do not turn your back away from them.”

Ganeson stares at me with indifference. And just like that, without saying a single word, he leaves the library to seek his own safety.

What? Our Captain has abandoned us.

As the counselor of the rescue team, I have done a bad job keeping my Captain motivated. The refugees are receptive to my words, but why can’t Ganeson listen to my reasoning?

What shall I do? Shall I get Ryo and leave the refugees behind? Is Ganeson right when he said we should live to fight another day? But we still can save the refugees if we choose to fight. I refuse to believe that we have lost.

I head to the third floor where Ryo is keeping the undead held up in the armory.

Ryo is keeping the door to the armory shut. “I’ve managed to lead the ghouls into the armory. But the door won’t lock on its own. I need to keep it shut myself, otherwise, the ghouls would simply force their way through the door.”

I say, “The Swordmasters have broken into the Portal Room. The Swordmasters have taken down all our militias. Ganeson has decided to abandon us, taking the Portal Stone with him.”

Ryo sighs with heaviness in his heart. “Then our rescue mission is a failure? We fought so hard to keep the Undead Patrol from getting the Marked Ones. Then the Swordmasters just swept in and claimed the Marked Ones for themselves.”

I say, “We’ll release the undead in this armory and lead them to the Swordmasters. Let them fight each other while we go and rescue the refugees.”

Ryo thinks for a while at the ridiculousness of my idea. He almost wants to voice his objection but he changes his mind. “I guess we have nothing to lose. I’ll lead the undead to the Portal Room.”

I say, “You just have to run faster than the ghouls.”

Ryo says, “Tell that to someone who has the ability to manipulate the time around the ghouls.”

I say, “You were reluctant to use your Time power before. But why now?”

Ryo says, “I have to use my Time power to help the refugees, but without compromising my identity as a Time Monk. Hezekiah is an immortal who can live forever. He cannot be killed, he will not die of old age, not even sickness can take his life. Currently, time is his ally. However, the only thing he’s worried of is my people, the Time Monks who have the power to manipulate Time and counter his immortality. When Hezekiah destroyed the Time Monks, I was the only survivor. In other words, I’m the only one who is capable of killing an immortal. If Hezekiah hears even a single faint whisper of a rumor that a Time Monk is still alive, he will rally all his forces to wipe me out of existence. If New Haven’s end objective is to eventually defeat the Immortal Lord, you need me in that final battle. I’m at the right place at this point of history. But for now, I need to keep my Time power under wraps and use them only when necessary.”

I say, “I appreciate the risk you’re taking. Here’s our plan. We will use our masks again.”

Ryo nods. “Indeed, fear shall be our greatest weapon.”

I say, “We will lead the ghouls to the front door of the Portal Room. The undead will attack the Swordmasters and keep them distracted. There is a back door in the Portal Room that leads to the adjacent library. While you hold the Swordmasters at bay, I will free the refugees and bring them to the library.”

Ryo says, “Sometimes I think I prefer you as the counselor rather than coming up with suicidal strategies.”

I laugh. “Please... if the refugees are all captured, I would probably have to counsel myself.”

Ryo bumps his fist on the armory door and then puts on his black mask. “Alright, let’s do this. I will give you a two-minute head start before I open this door and release the undead.”

I put on my black mask as well. I head back to the Portal Room and kick the door open. I do a quick calculation, there are about twelve Swordmasters. The rest of the refugees are tied up in ropes.

I raise my sword towards the Swordmasters. “You shall release the Marked Ones immediately or die.”

The Swordmasters are taken aback and dare not make a move. One of the Swordmasters say to their squad leader, “Maleek, it’s the Masked Assassin. What shall we do?”

Their squad leader Maleek steps up to the front. “Masked Assassin, you’re clearly outnumbered by us. You alone cannot hope to defeat us. As we speak, another of our squad is coming up and they will attack you from your rear. I urge you to put down your sword now. Then surrender yourself to us.”

It’s true that if another squad appears behind me right now, I’ll be doomed. “You’re ignorant. Haven’t you heard how I took down Swordmaster squads in a blink of few seconds? Are you testing me now?”

Maleek is unshaken. “I would love to see your sorcery with my own eyes.”

I try to peek behind. When are my reinforcements coming? Ryo, you’re so late! “Trust me, you will not even get a second to blink if I do it. I’m giving you one more chance. Release the Marked Ones now and I’ll let you all walk out of here alive.”

Maleek raises his eyebrow. Oh no, I think he has seen through my bluff. He takes a step forward slowly, and when he realizes I still haven’t made my move yet, he gives the order to his squad. “Everybody, charge at the Masked Assassin right now!”

I almost want to run away when Ryo in his black mask appears and manipulates the time around the Swordmasters, causing them to move as slow as snails. In a blink of a few seconds, he uses his hand combat to punch, kick and throw each of the Swordmasters. In a matter of seconds, almost all the Swordmasters are down in pain on the ground. However, when he reaches out his fist to hit Maleek, the squad leader doesn’t seem affected by his Time power.

Maleek laughs in a sinister tone. “Interesting, now I know what this whole facade is all about. One is a fake, and the other is actually a Time Monk. I thought your kind is extinct. Fortunately, my Commander has prepared me on how to protect myself from Time powers such as yours. And I don’t get to become the right-hand man of Swordmaster Commander without putting myself through grueling sword training. Let’s see how your fist can excel against my sword.”

I ask Ryo, “Where are the ghouls?”

Ryo says to me, “They refused to follow me. Looks like we would have to fight the Swordmasters without them. Free the refugees now while I keep the Swordmasters at bay.”

Ryo and Maleek put up an impressive fight. Maleek dances with his sword truly like the best Swordmaster I have ever seen, while Ryo moves like a true martial artist avoiding all of Maleek’s attacks.

Maleek draws a dagger and throws it towards my direction. Ryo raises his hand and uses his Time power to slow the dagger down, in time for me to avoid the attack. However, in doing so, Ryo allows himself to be exposed to Maleek’s attack and he gets hit to the ground.

While Ryo is down on the ground, Maleek runs towards me with his pointy sword ready to thrust into my chest. “Now, I’ll get the glory of killing the Masked Assassins.”

Maleek dashes towards me with his sword. I am not fast enough to avoid his attack and I almost think that would be my end. But something stops him halfway.

It is someone actually.

“You don’t get to kill any more of my people. You will let them go.” It is Ganeson! He has returned to help us fight this battle.

Maleek says, “Let the Marked Ones go right under my watch? I’ll be a laughing stock if I do.”

Ganeson says, “Then you would have to fight me first.”

Maleek and Ganeson engage in a fight with nobody gaining any advantage over each other. Ganeson’s return turns the tide of the battle to our odds. His sword fighting is even more skilled than I thought. They are almost equally matched.

Ganeson shouts, “Kiera, I’ll hold the Swordmasters for you! Quick, untie the refugees and gather them in the library.”

I say, “Are you sure you can handle the Swordmasters on your own?”

Ganeson says, “You worry about getting the refugees to safety. I’ll be fine on my own.”

I quickly lead all the refugees to the library through a second door in the Portal Room. I cut the rope tied over Jon. “Quick, you need to free the other refugees.”

I can’t believe my eyes. Four Swordmasters have recovered from Ryo’s attack and are now joining their fight against Ganeson. And yet, Ganeson doesn’t flinch in defending against their attacks. But over time, all the other eleven Swordmasters are joining up with Maleek to fight against Ganeson.

Maleek finally stabs Ganeson on his shoulder. Ganeson groans in pain, as blood gushes out from his wound. He accidentally drops the pouch that contains the Portal Stone.

Maleek picks the blue gemstone and studies it. “A Portal Stone… so this is your key to return to New Haven. The last time I pursued a New Haven team of twenty people and cornered them in a warehouse with no exit. Then they mysteriously disappeared into thin air. I asked myself, how could a group of people disappear unless they were tapping into the power of the Portal Stone? With this stone in my hand, you’ve just sealed the fate of your people at New Haven.”

Ryo picks himself up from the ground and shouts to Maleek, “Looks like your fate is sealed as well.”

The ghouls locked in the armory earlier have finally arrived to join the fight. Maleek turns behind and orders his men to defend against the ghouls, giving us the opportunity to head to the library and keep the door shut from the Swordmasters.

* * *

A few minutes have passed. Ryo comes back with a bad news. “Why does it have to happen now? With the ghouls keeping the Swordmasters busy, this would have been the best time for us to get to the armory. But our path to the third floor is blocked by the invisible creature.”

I say, “We must not let the creature discover the refugees and destroy them.”

Ryo says, “We can’t hide in this library forever. It is only a matter of time before the Swordmasters finish up the ghouls and turn to hunt us down. They will force the door down and we’ll need to fight them again.”

I say, “Our Captain is injured. That leaves only two of us to fight the Swordmasters.”

Ryo says, “The Swordmaster leader—the one called Maleek, he is trained to resist against my Time power. I can’t defeat him purely through my hand-to-hand combat.”

Ganeson sits down, leaning against the wall holding his wound, calls out to me. “Kiera, how long have you known that Ryo is a Time Monk?”

I say, “It’s been a while. Why do you ask, Captain?”

Ganeson looks worried. “There are some disturbing rumors circulating among the Leadership of New Haven, saying that the Time Monks were destroyed by Hezekiah because they were betrayed by one of their own. Since Ryo is the last remaining Time Monk, he could be the traitor that sold out his own kind.”

I say, “But that’s impossible. He was motivated to fight Hezekiah to avenge the destruction of his people. His wife and daughter died when Hezekiah wiped the Time Monks off. I don’t think your theory carries any weight.”

Ganeson says, “Then why doesn’t Ryo want to reveal his identity as a Time Monk?”

I say, “Ryo is the only person that can defeat Hezekiah. If his identity is known, it would attract Hezekiah’s attention and he would be hunted to his death.”

Ganeson says, “I think it’s because the world knows there’s one last Time Monk who betrayed his own race to the Immortal Lord. If Ryo is that traitor, your theory about Ryo being the only person that can defeat Hezekiah cannot hold its own weight. That’s because Hezekiah already owns that renegade Time Monk. If the last Time Monk currently resides in New Haven, he could be serving as a spy for Hezekiah.

I take a few seconds to digest that statement. That is a heavy conspiracy theory Ganeson is throwing at Ryo.

Ganeson says, “But let’s not take my word at face value. I’m just making assumptions. You have Empath powers, you need to look deeper into Ryo’s history if you want to find out the truth.”

As an Empath, it is not within my ethics to poke around another person’s past. I kneel and check on Ganeson’s wound. “Captain, your wound looks serious.”

Ganeson says, “I know. Never been stabbed for such a long time. There’s something I need you to do. The Swordmaster has taken our Portal Stone. If they breached New Haven, they will bring a war to our people. You must take it back at all costs and stop that from happening.”

I say, “Worry not, Captain. Ryo and I will figure a way to get it back for you.”

Ganeson coughs. “No. I want you to keep the Portal Stone.”

I say, “I thought the Portal Stone is only qualified to be carried and activated by the Captain according to New Haven’s rules. Not even another operative is allowed to take over the Portal Stone unless...”

Ganeson says, “Listen to what I have to say. When the time reaches, make sure the refugees are gathered in the Portal Room. The portal will open for a minute. New Haven would activate the portal from their side. However, from New Haven’s end, they have no idea what awaits them when they activate the portal. The last thing they want is the enemies to storm New Haven when the portal opens.

“This Portal Stone acts as a failsafe. As the carrier of the Portal Stone, you are the one that makes this crucial decision. If we’re safe from the danger of the enemies, then activate the stone and the portal will open. If you deem that New Haven’s safety could be compromised by activating the Portal Stone, then you need to destroy it. Do you agree to uphold the responsibility as the carrier of the Portal Stone?”

I say, “Captain, I will honor the instructions you entrust to me. I assure you that we will get it back from that Swordmaster. But where are you going? I thought we would fight our way back to New Haven together.”

Ganeson says, “The library is not the safest place to hide. We are surrounded by two attacking sides—the undead and the Swordmasters. You need to bring the refugees to a safer place. There is a safe room in the armory on the third floor where you will be protected by an unbreakable metal door. If you manage to get there, you will be safe from both the Undead and the Swordmasters. But you cannot reach there if that invisible creature is blocking your path. I’ll lure it into the Portal Room. It will destroy the Swordmasters. Then your escape path will be clear.”

I say, “No way, Captain. This sounds like a one-way trip for you. You accused me of being reckless, now you’re trying to play the hero.”

Ganeson says, “I know what that invisible creature is. I have encountered it many times in my previous mission to the Outside World. But yet, strangely I cannot remember how it looks like. What I know is, most people would never survive an encounter with it. To prevent the creature from attacking you, do not let fear consume you.”

Ganeson gets on his feet with my help. “The door will not hold the Swordmasters for long. Once they enter this library, you and Ryo will probably be captured. They will torture the secret location of New Haven out from you. When you won’t reveal anything to them, they will execute you. I wouldn’t want such end for you.”

I say, “There must be a better way to do this, Captain.”

Ganeson gives me a stern look. “That should be my last order to you as your Captain. Now Kiera, let me do my job. Once I have lured the invisible creature into the Portal Room, you must hurry and lead the refugees to the safe room in the armory. Come back and get the Portal Stone once everything is over.”

I try to think of another way to do this. “Captain, are you really sure that this is the way to do it?”

And that’s it. Without saying a single word, Ganeson walks out of the library. What? Just like that? Is that the last time I would see him? I was wrong earlier for thinking that he was the type of Captain that would abandons us.

Nisa’s father comes to me. “Kiera, my daughter is left behind in the Portal Room.”

I am surprised. How was it that I rescued all the refugees but failed to notice Nisa’s absence? “Where is she hiding?”

Nisa’s father says, “When the Swordmasters attacked, I asked her to hide in a small crack opening on the wall. She’s small enough so she managed to fit herself in. The Swordmasters didn’t discover her, so she’s probably still hiding there.”

To think that the invisible creature could be in the same room as her right now, no I do not want to play those scenarios in my head. “Don’t worry. I’ll come back for your daughter once we get everybody to the safe room.”

We wait for a moment. Ryo sneaks into the hallway and discovers that it is clear. No attack from the invisible creature.

I look at the remaining refugees, who are now under my leadership. “We don’t have much time until the invisible creature turns around and start hunting for us. Everybody, let’s move up now.”

We lead all the refugees up into the armory and get them into the safe room, where it is locked behind an unbreakable metal door.

* * *

I can’t believe that Captain is gone. Just a while ago, he was still alive and barking orders to me. What has this mission just turned into? Yet I have no time to grieve.

Get your act together, Kiera. The other refugees are relying on you for direction and protection. I can’t let my emotions overwhelm me.

Ryo asks, “What’s our next move?”

I say, “Ryo, we need to get to the Portal Room and see if the invisible creature has left. Captain has asked us to retrieve the Portal Stone. Also, Nisa’s father said his daughter is still hiding in the Portal Room. We need to find her.”

Ryo says, “Let me get the job done. You stay here and watch over the refugees.”

Ryo goes away for a few minutes and then returns. His face looks troubled. “I found Nisa still hidden in the same wall crack in the Portal Room. The invisible creature was no longer there. But we have a two-fold problem here. Apparently, Nisa was holding the Portal Stone. But I couldn’t get her to come out from the wall crack. She seemed afraid that the invisible creature was out there waiting for her. I told her many times that it was safe, but she still wouldn’t listen to me.”

I say, “I may need to talk to Nisa myself.”

Ryo says, “Let me come with you.”

I say, “We need someone from New Haven to stay and watch over the refugees. They would be uneasy if both of us leave them. You need to stay and keep them safe.”

Ryo says, “The Swordmasters and the ghouls are still roaming the mansion. Please be careful.”

* * *

I make my way back to the Portal Room on the second floor. The Swordmasters had been completely wiped out by the mysterious invisible creature. I don’t even know if Ganeson survived that encounter. But I can’t find him among the dead bodies lying in the room.

Nisa’s father and Ryo mentioned about Nisa hiding in the wall crack. I look at the corner of the Portal Room where there is a crack opening, which only a body size like Nisa’s could fit in.

I call out to her. “Nisa!”

Hiding in the dark crack of the wall, Nisa seems immobilized by fear. She won’t talk or move. She might have seen something horrible happened before her eyes.

I say, “Come on, Nisa. You need to follow me to join up with the rest of the group.”

Nisa shouts back, “No!!! Don’t come near me!!!”

I signal her to be silent. “Shh... don’t scream, Nisa. You’ll alert the ghouls to our location. We are rather exposed here. You need to follow me now.”

I try to reach out my hand into the wall crack and pull Nisa out. But she screams even louder, “Don’t come near me!”

How am I supposed to get a frightened little girl out? She’s traumatized by what she saw. I can’t really see Nisa from my position, only a vague figure of her deep in the wall crack. Wait, I think I see the shimmering blue light of the Portal Stone. Nisa pushes the Portal Stone out through the crack. I take the Portal Stone and keep it in my pouch.

Nisa says to me, “Take the blue stone. Now leave me alone.”

So what now? Technically, I already have the Portal Stone and can safely return to the refugees. The remaining Swordmasters can still find me at this exposed location. I’ll be vulnerable if they decide to attack me. If I were to be captured by the Swordmasters, I’ll probably be executed in the end—not the kind of death I want.

But what shall I do? Shall I leave Nisa behind so that the other refugees can get back safely to New Haven? No, I can’t bring myself to do that.

I take a pendant out from my pouch and throw into the crack to her. “I need to help you navigate through your fear. Take this pendant. It would allow me access to your emotions.”

A minute passes and Nisa still has not taken the pendant yet. I say, “That pendant will give you the courage you need to face whatever that is haunting you.”

There is a moment of silence. The longer I stay here, the higher risk of me getting discovered by either the ghouls or the Swordmasters. “I will wait for you, Nisa. I won’t go back to the others without you.”

Suddenly, I feel a surge of energy in my emotions. I’m connected to Nisa. She has taken the pendant, which her physical contact allows me to enter her emotions. I take my meditative sitting position and I let my consciousness float into hers.

* * *

I see the entire battle replayed through Nisa’s view. The Swordmasters barged into the Portal Room. Nisa’s father hid her in the wall crack so that she would not be discovered. Hiding in the dark, she witnessed the whole fight in the Portal Room through the cracks of the wall.

I saw myself, Ryo and Ganeson coming in to rescue all the refugees. She was calling out to me but I didn’t hear her. When the ghouls attacked the Swordmasters, she saw me leading her father and other refugees out through the back door. She thought that I had forgotten about her.

Nisa, I’m so sorry. I didn’t intend to leave you behind but I wasn’t aware you were hiding inside the wall crack in the midst of all the chaos.

Then something with an invisible presence entered the Portal Room. I can feel its evil aura. Each Swordmaster fell one by one, not knowing what hit them.

I remember Ryo said that the invisible creature cannot be seen with one’s naked eyes, except when it detects your presence. By the time you see the invisible creature, it is going to attack and kill you.

And then it happened. The invisible creature spotted Nisa in the wall crack and attempted to kill her. My heart feels tight as if something is pressing against me, trying to force me out from Nisa’s memory. No, this can’t be. This is merely Nisa’s memories, the invisible creature cannot attack me here.

Wait! I have heard about this creature before. The people of the Outside World called it a Wraith. They said that a Wraith cannot be seen with your naked eyes. But by the time your eyes see a Wraith, that means is going to attack you. When you are being targeted by the Wraith, you will experience a paralysis and seizure because your worst fears are manifested in your mind.

The evil presence... I force myself to gaze into its face. The terror and darkness almost overwhelm me, as if I could turn crazy if I stare any longer. I saw Nisa almost being consumed by its evil presence.

Based on Nisa’s memories, the Wraith was trying to stretch out its death grasp towards Nisa, but it couldn’t reach her because of the small size of the wall crack. Then the Wraith left. But its fear attack on her mind still caused Nisa to be caught in her own worst nightmare, replaying over and over again in her mind.

Nisa says, “Just leave me be, Kiera. I don’t think I can overcome this.”

I say, “Nisa, listen. You’re a very brave girl. You must not let the creature consume you. You need to gather your courage and pull yourself back to reality.”

Nisa says, “I can’t. The creature’s grip on me is too strong—like it’s choking the life out of me. It’s pulling me towards him. I’m losing myself.”

I say, “It’s only your memory. The creature is no longer here. You have to fight the fear. You need to let it go.”

Nisa says, “It’s my fate to die alone here. Why do you insist on rescuing me?”

I say, “Because no matter how bleak hope may seem, you must not give up fighting. Because sometimes it’s easier to give up than to keep on fighting. Let me show you a part of my memory.”

I allow Nisa to access a part of my memory. “Twelve years ago, on the day Hezekiah’s Undead army breached into my former city, my school was the first to be overrun by a huge horde of ghouls. Together with a group of students, we hid in an underground shelter. When the horde of ghouls was passing by our location, a teacher locked our door from outside to prevent the ghouls from finding us. When the horde had passed, the teacher did not return to free us. We had no idea what happened to him but I think he might have been killed by the ghouls. We were locked in the underground shelter with no food and no water for almost a day. We tried every way to escape but we couldn’t break ourselves free from the shelter.

“I still remember that incident vividly. There were about ten of us students, all crying and feeling hopeless. We were certain that we were going to die. No food, no water, and running out of air. Everybody else in the school probably had evacuated. Nobody was coming back for us. That was the worst realization of my life. We had been abandoned to die by ourselves. Nobody was going to come back and rescue us.

“On that night, I made peace with my heart and was ready to leave this world peacefully. Then suddenly, someone opened the door of our shelter. I remembered, three boy students came and pulled each one of us out to safety. I then rejoined with the rest of the people evacuating the city. Just like that, I received my second chance to live. I am alive today because three strangers came back to rescue me when everybody else had forgotten about me.

“I was ten, just like you when I was trapped at the school prepared to die. So if you ask me, do I know the feeling of being abandoned with nobody coming back to help you? Yes, I know that feeling. And I wouldn’t let it happen to you.”

I sense Nisa’s heart opening up a little. I see Nisa’s projection trapped in an environment with total darkness. It looks like the Wraith’s attack has trapped her in her own mind. The cloud of darkness has dispersed much after I told her my story.

I ask, “Can you see me, Nisa?”

Nisa sees my projection. “Yes, I see you.”

I stretch out my hands. “Reach out to me and grab my hands.”

Nisa says, “I can’t move. My feet are stuck on the ground.”

I need to figure out how to extract Nisa out from her mental limbo. As an Empath, I’ve learned something called the Parallel Technique, which says ‘What is true in the realm of the mind can be manifested into the realm of the physical’.

I say to Nisa, “You need to move. I can’t reach you, but you need to reach out to me. Once your hands touch mine, you will be safe from the evil presence.”

Nisa’s projection finally stretches out her hand. Bit by bit, her hand finally reaches my hand.

* * *

We’re back to reality, where Nisa has subconsciously reached out her hand through the wall crack to reach mine as well. That is the Parallel Technique.

Nisa says, “I saw it. I saw the creature ate the souls of the Swordmasters. We must not allow it to find my father and our other friends.”

I say, “Don’t worry. We will not let that happen. I’m going to give you a pull. Can you stand up and move? I’ll bring you back to regroup with your father.”

Nisa says, “I’m still stuck, Kiera. A wooden beam fell and blocked my way out.”

Yes, indeed a wooden beam has fallen and blocked Nisa’s way out from the wall crack. I think I may be able to fit my body into the crack, force the beam upwards to allow Nisa to climb through. So that is what I do.

Nisa climbs out from the wall crack with an expression of relief. “I’m alright now. Thanks, Kiera. You’ve saved my life.”

At that very moment, about a dozen ghouls appear and spot us. Without Ryo by my side, I can’t fight all of them by myself.

I say to Nisa, “Go hide in that closet while I divert the ghouls away.”

Nisa says, “Don’t leave me behind again.”

I say, “If you follow me, it’s impossible to outrun the ghouls. I’ll make a circle and come back for you.”

Nisa reluctantly climbs into a closet nearby and seals it tightly. As for me, I run away as fast as I could from the ghouls.

I head towards the third floor. Where am I supposed to lead the ghouls? I can’t bring them to the armory, they would merely block the refugees’ way out later. I see a small opening in the ceiling at the end of the corridor. An attic without stairway? The only way to go up is to scale the wall.

The ghouls come pursuing behind me. I have no time to think, so I climb the wall into the attic. The attic is dimly lit by a few rays of sunlight. I hide in a corner hoping that the ghouls will not find me. The ghouls won’t be able to climb the wall.

But tough luck for me, the ghouls do climb on each other to get into the attic. Now I have to fight my way out. As I run towards the ghouls climbing through the opening, suddenly, I feel something light beneath my feet. It is a trapdoor! I fall through it into another room.

I hope the ghouls don’t fall in here as well. Otherwise, I would have nowhere to run. I wait for a minute. None of the ghouls follow me here.

So where am I? I find some torches and light the room up.

What I find in this room is interesting! A room with a map of our City? Paladin’s gloves, armors and weapons lying around?

This mansion belonged to the Paladins before they were driven out from this City after the Black Night Incident almost five years ago. The Paladins advocated strongly for our city government to accept the Marked One refugees from the Outside World. However, on the day of the Black Night Incident, when a few refugees died unchecked under the Paladin’s watch, it led to an outbreak of ghouls. Almost a thousand ghouls overran and destroyed one of the city districts, High District. Five thousand citizens died that night. Ever since then, the city government has outlawed all Paladins and the Marked refugees.

This mansion served as one of the Paladins’ headquarters. This room I’m currently standing in used to be the Paladins’ Strategy Room.

Amazing! We’ve been using this abandoned mansion as a portal checkpoint to New Haven. Little do I know that the Paladins’ Strategy Room lies in this hidden section.

A dusty book lies on a desk with its title ‘The Undead We Fight Against’. Do the Paladins know the way to defeat the Wraith I saw in Nisa’s memory? I flip through the pages of the book. It explains the various strategies one can employ to kill the Wraith.

Paladins who practice Light magic would have no difficulty killing the Wraith. But we have a problem. There are no Paladins in our midst.

I now know why everybody fears the Wraith and has not been able to defeat it. I think I have found the key to defeating it. If I can defeat the Wraith, then I can clear a safe passage back to New Haven.

But I have a problem right now. The door is locked. I search the room. There’s no key to be found. What? Then am I trapped here forever?

There are some carvings on the wall:

-o --ve -s t- --rve

What is that? Probably doesn’t mean anything. I try to reach back to the opening at the ceiling where I fell off. I try to scale the wall. Failed. It’s too high. I can’t reach.

I try to force the door open with hands. No luck. The door won’t even cause a creaking sound.

Am I doomed to be trapped and die here? The Portal Stone is with me. Ryo and the other refugees will not make it back to New Haven.

Nisa is hidden alone in the closet, with the ghouls still surrounding her. She will probably die if they find her.

Am I such a failure? Over and over again, have I been too ambitious in this mission by wanting to save as many refugees as possible?

Have I indirectly caused the Undead Patrol and Swordmasters to find us here?

No, Kiera. Don’t let your hopelessness get the better of you. There is surely a way out. You just need to look harder.

Perhaps, the key to getting out of here is not what you think it is.

At the very next moment, something came tumbling down through the same trapdoor I came in from.

If it’s a ghoul, I still may be able to handle it. I just hope it doesn’t bring the others in as well.

I grab a Paladin’s sword beside me and move slowly towards the location of the noise. I can barely see the shape of its figure in this dimly lit room.

What if it’s the Wraith instead? Based on what the Paladins suggested in their tome, I have the necessary Empath powers to defeat it. I just need to create an emotional shield to protect myself from the Wraith’s mind attack until I can get close enough to kill it.

I slowly take a few steps closer until I can get a better sight of the figure. Is it a ghoul or the Wraith?

Oh no, I think I’m very doomed. It is a Swordmaster!

So he has found me. He draws his sword and prepares his stance to fight me.

What shall I do? I’m rather vulnerable without Ryo around. I’m not skilled enough to fight one-on-one with a Swordmaster. If this Swordmaster is as ruthless as Maleek who fought with Ganeson earlier, then I’ll probably be defeated easily.

Am I ready to accept my fate?

I’m sorry, New Haven. I’m supposed to be rescuing the refugees, but now I can’t even rescue myself.

I’m sorry, Ryo. You always ask me to be careful. But I’m reckless and I’m sad that we hardly had time to get to know each other more.

I’m sorry, Nisa. I told you I would be back for you so that you could start a new life in New Haven. I’m sorry I can’t keep my promise.

But I will probably die trying. I have only one weapon of fear left to deceive my enemy—my Assassin’s mask. I put on my mask and prepare for the fight of my lifetime.