Prologue: The Final Battle

“This is it! We’re finally here... standing outside the Immortal Lord’s throne room. None in the history of mankind has ever survived this far. We have done it!”

I raise my sword and point it towards the final door. And that door will finally lead us to our enemy’s final location.

Jackal says, “Gideon, do you think he saw us coming?”

I shake the sword in my hand with determination. “Even if Hezekiah knows we’re coming, he can never stop what we’re going to do—not this time.”

Jackal says, “I can’t believe we are finally here. We fought really hard in many battles. What if we have chosen a different path? What if fifteen years ago you didn’t choose to stand up for the right thing?”

I laugh to myself, thinking about the young and silly days. “Yes, the day the Immortal Lord invaded and destroyed our city—who could forget that day?”

Jackal puts his hand on my shoulder like a proud friend. “You were a hero on that day. While everybody was running for their lives, you turned back and rescued a group of students trapped in the school. You became a hero overnight. I believe that your actions that day had set us on this journey of great destiny. Everything started from that moment. If you hadn’t pulled off such selfless act, your wife wouldn’t even be alive today.”

I tell Jackal, “You gave me too much credit. You and Xing decided to stick with me as a team. Without you and Xing, no heroic acts would have been possible that day.”

Jackal is rather confident about his statement. “Without that day, we wouldn’t have joined the war. Can you believe that? A small decision that day altered the destiny of the people. Just one small decision.”

Yet I wish to remain humble about it. “Please, if I’m not around, I think you would have gone back and rescued those students as well. I’m not the only hero here.”

Jackal says, “You’re being too humble about your achievements.”

One of our lieutenants arrives and gives his report. “Sir, 1st Division has successfully breached the enemy fortress. They are already in their position to storm the throne room and take Hezekiah down. Everything else is waiting for your part.”

That’s good news! The 1st Division army is led by my wife and the Monk. I thank the lieutenant for his report. “Alright, once we enter through this backdoor, I will bring the fight to Hezekiah himself. Jackal, you will look for the trigger that would unlock the door for my wife’s army to enter. Then the Monk will do his trick, and end this war once and for all. We will go home and celebrate our victory.”

Jackal gives a satisfied laugh, something he has not done for a long time. “And just like that, we solve the mystery that many past warriors had struggled with—how to defeat an enemy who cannot die. You know, at times I find this plan to defeat the Immortal Lord too ridiculously simple to be true.”

That is the problem. Everybody keeps thinking it is simple. “It’s not simple. The Monk is the sole key to defeating the Immortal Lord. He has been preparing many years for this day.”

In his usual self, Jackal would always question my plan. “How confident are you that the Monk’s powers will work? As your wife said, his emotions had been extremely unstable lately. We’re putting all our eggs in his basket.”

I say, “That’s why my wife is there to help the Monk see it through. He has to make it through. If he doesn’t, then all that we fight for here would be for nothing.”

But indeed, Jackal’s statement does have me worried. In order for us to succeed, we need the Monk to succeed. In order for the Monk to succeed, we need my wife to succeed on her part.

Our lieutenant pulls me aside and whispers, “The commander of the 1st Division asked me to pass you a letter. She said it is only for your eyes.”

I read the letter. What she wrote in the letter is difficult for me to swallow. “Why? Of all time, why now? This is a tough position to be in, Jackal. I think we may need to retreat.”

Jackal’s reaction is huge. “But, why? We are just a door away from ending the war of the century. What did your wife say?”

I want to say it is impossible for my wife to say she saw the dead. But living in a world where our enemy uses Dark magic to raise an army of ghouls from dead bodies, that statement would mean nothing. “She saw someone who is supposedly dead. She saw the Witch.”

Jackal shakes his head. “That’s impossible. The Witch is dead. We’d already destroyed her. She is not supposed to be here. Are you sure that’s what your wife saw?”

I show him the letter. “She is certain. We know what the Witch is capable of. Thirteen years ago, when the Paladins led by Sir Devon stormed into Hezekiah’s fortress and were on the verge of winning the war, the Witch was present. Nobody knew what she did. She made Sir Devon’s entire army disappear. Probably killed them all. Here we are on the verge of winning the war, the Witch is present again. Is history going to repeat itself?”

Jackal walks to and fro restlessly. “Hezekiah is certainly tricking us with illusions. He knows we are afraid of the Witch. He knows he’s going to lose, so he’s throwing this final deception at us to deter us from defeating him.”

Could my wife be wrong in what she saw? But her letter expressed an absolute certainty that the Witch is alive. She wrote, “I know you’re going to question if I truly saw the Witch who was already dead. Don’t ask me how I know, I don’t have much time to explain. But I know with certainty that the Witch I saw is real and alive.”

I need to come up with a solution to this situation. “If the Monk is the only person who can defeat the Immortal Lord, then the Witch is the only person capable of canceling the Monk’s power. That also means, Hezekiah already knows our plan. We have to pull back, Jackal. I won’t risk our entire team to confront Hezekiah when the Witch is around.”

Jackal doesn’t like what I just proposed. “Let’s assume that the Witch whom your wife saw is truly real. We’re not even sure if that will even be a problem yet. We’ve fought this far to just give up and go home.”

This is a hard choice for me to make. “Is it a mere coincidence that the Witch appears right at the very moment of this final battle? Could it be Hezekiah’s final arsenal to defend against us? My wife is with the Monk. If the Witch decides to counter the Monk’s power, both of them will die.”

Jackal stares at me with firmness in his eyes. “You’re worried about your wife’s safety. You’re putting your own interest above the interest of the people. If the Monk successfully unleashes his power on Hezekiah, then we go home victorious today. We’re so close to winning the war. The people of the land are counting on us to declare the end of the war. Are you going to hold back our victory just because... you’re afraid of sacrificing your wife?”

There is one thing, or shall I say, one person, I am not willing to compromise. “I’m not going to sacrifice my wife to win the war.”

Without giving a thought, Jackal immediately says, “Sacrifices are necessary to win wars, Gideon. I’m asking you to count the costs if you don’t. If we don’t end this war right now, many more lives will be lost. I’m sure your wife knows the price she’s willing to pay to end this war.

I had a feeling Jackal would use that argument on me. He always rubs on me the importance of sacrifice. But the reason it is called sacrifice is because it is not the easiest thing to do. “My wife is the next closest person I ever have. She’s the only one keeping me sane in the madness of this war. Every day, she tells me, she believes that we can win our battles. Were it not for her, we would not have come so far in winning against Hezekiah. We could have other opportunities if we pull back and find a better timing.”

Jackal tries his best to convince me otherwise. “Hezekiah is at his weakest right now. There’s no better time for us to defeat him. If we don’t do this, I’m not sure if we ever will have the right opportunity again.”

Perhaps, Jackal is right. But still, that is an easy call for him to make. I say, “Our daughter is three years old now. I promised her that we would return safely from the war. What am I to tell her if her mother didn’t make it? This is too cruel for a little girl to bear.”

Jackal says, “Then what are you going to tell the people who entrusted you to lead the army? You’re going to tell them that you decide not to end the war simply because you want to keep your wife safe? If your wife is here with you right now, she would have wanted you to make the tough decision to end the war.”

What shall I do? I know I should make the call and end this war. On the other hand, I will never sacrifice my wife so that we can win the war. My loved ones matter to me, so does the fate of our land.

What shall I do?

Shall I proceed with our mission, knowing that the Witch’s presence will endanger the lives of my wife’s team?

Or shall I call this mission off, and find a better time to defeat our nemesis? My wife’s team will be safe for now. But as what Jackal said, we are losing a lifetime opportunity to end this war for once and for all.

I ponder deeply about the consequences of my decisions. “I’ve made up my mind, Jackal.”

When I finally announce my decision to Jackal, I realize that there will be no turning back from here onwards...