Author's Note: Record of Agarest War always struck me as a game with almost infinite potential. With an epic and generation-spanning storyline, memorable characters, and, at times, genuine emotion, the title was bogged down by repetitive game play and a lack of proper attention to the very elements that made it so appealing in the first place; it's story. Even before playing through the entire game, I realized that Records of Agarest War truly deserved a richer, more vibrant universe in which its characters could grow up, develop, and become solid, three-dimensional personalities. This fanfiction was written with that ambition in mind. Though the beginning is slow, I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Updates will be as regular as I can manage and for any of you who stick with me for the long haul (I did say the story was epic), let me say now that I hope this story grows to meet your expectations. Your comments, concerns, feedback, and encouragement are, as always, welcome and received with gratitude.
Record of Agarest War is a trademarked title to which I have no intellectual or financial claim.
Edit: Shout out to EderNimrais for catching my typo; there always seems to be one embarrassingly obvious one... Chapter 2 to be up tomorrow or the day after.
"General Raglan, Sir, are you quite alright?"
"…Hmm?" Leonhardt jerked awake, accidentally knocking over the 4th battalion in the process. Looking up, he found Kasibal's face in equal parts concern and embarrassment.
"We've had a long march, I think the General speaks for all of us!" said Kasibal with forced humor to the rest of the war council, "We make camp here tonight. Have the men set sentries and get a good night's rest. Keep activity to a minimum. We're deep in the frontier and I'll not have the barbarians ambush our camp when we're this far from reinforcements. Dismissed!"
"Kasibal… I apologize," began Leonhardt as the war council dispersed. "I must have dozed off. Still, the strategy we discussed is solid, have our vanguard move up the river towards Dodone, that should draw the enemy out to engage. When they strike, our flanks will close and cut off their retreat…" he said, surreptitiously returning the 4th battalion to its place on the right flank.
"Yes, General, the men will be in position by the morning. Our scouts report that the barbarians have also made camp a half a day march away. We should be prepared to meet them on the field at midday."
"Very good. Was there something else Kasibal?" asked Leonhardt, arching his eyebrow at Kasibal's concerned expression."
"General Raglan, permission to speak freely?" ventured Kasibal.
"Always, and call me Leonhardt. How long have we been comrades in arms?" asked Leonhardt, clapping his hand on Kasibal's shoulder.
A smile broke over Kasibal's face, "Thank you, Si… Leonhardt." He looked to the distance thoughtfully, "I remember being assigned to your staff right out of officer school… Our deployment against the Maluka Rebels was my first. It was also the campaign that won you the title Golden Leo if I remember correctly."
"I haven't thought of those days in years…" Leonhardt sighed, "They were dark days… House Raglan had just fallen. They sent me, a general with no experience in command, with an entire regiment of recruits to put down the entire rebellion… I honestly think they did not expect us to return at all…"
"You won back your honor, even if not the honor of your House, Leonhardt. Besides, look at this new posting! The 11th regiment is one of the Empire's most experienced battle groups. They have been defending the Frontier for years."
"Kasibal… do you think it's the right thing to do?" Leonhardt asked, looking at the models and flags on the war map.
"…what are you asking, Leonhardt?"
"Look at each of these, Kasibal. We in command think only of battalions and regiments, effective strength, numbers and supplies. How often do we stop to think of the men they represent? And what of the 'barbarians' we face tomorrow? Are they not men too; do they not have their own families to think of? What could the Empire want with these woods that is worth thousands of grieving mothers and wives and families torn asunder? Leonhardt raised his eyes from the map to his Lieutenant's and saw a flicker of disquiet behind them.
"I know not what our Empire seeks in these woods, but I know we have our orders. We are soldiers, we fight for a day when our people will no longer need to fear for anything. When Gridamas stretches from sea to sea, our people and the people of this continent will know peace. Is that not what our armies have fought for since the beginning of our Empire?"
"…Perhaps… Kasibal, I know why you are concerned. It does not inspire confidence in the men when their general is in ill health. I will reassure them as best I can tomorrow before battle, but I confess I have been sleeping poorly as of the late. I… dream of pain and darkness engulfing our lands and when I am awake, I fear that I am at the head of that wave."
"Nonesense, Leonhardt. You are leading our Empire to a better future; your father would have been proud."
Leonhardt sighed, "I doubt that, he fought tooth and nail against the invasion of the Frontier when he was my age, before we drove the Syrium from our borders. At any rate, Night draws her cloak ever tighter; I have kept you too long with my talk of philosophy. Thank you Kasibal, that will be all tonight, please get some rest before tomorrow, we break camp at dawn."
Leonhardt panted and pulled his sword out from the frontiersman chest. It's golden finish shone through the rivulets of crimson that adorned it, a grisly reminder of the necessary evil it had been forged for. At his feet laid the Frontier army's general, his sword shattered by Leonhardt's killing blow and his standard trampled by his own retreating men.
"General! The barbarians have broken ranks! They mean to flee, shall I signal our flanks to engage them?" asked Kasibal.
Leonhardt looked across the field at the carnage. Easily two thousand men laid prone, some dead, many moaning. The barbarians had fought courageously and with discipline, but the day was Gridamas's. Leonhardt had taken to the front line of his own army. Besides inspiring confidence in his own men, it also afforded him the opportunity to seek out and face the opposing general, who apparently also subscribed to the lead by example theory. He had done his best to avoid needless death, ignoring those who cowered away from his golden blade and its reputation, and preferring to wound rather than kill. At last, Leonhardt found himself face to face with his opposing peer. As the two dueled, Leonhardt knew he could expect no quarter from the opposing general and had, in the end, taken the latter's life. With their general slain and half their number dead or wounded, the general's subordinates sounded the retreat and their men scattered to the woods they had charged out of. Seeing the proud and independent men of the Frontier running back to the safety of the woods with their tails between their legs, Leonhardt knew that their spirits had been broken and that Gridamas would be able to sue for peaceful annexation. There was sense in further death; better that they should live to bring the news to their homes and become citizens of the Empire.
"No, have the men take care of our wounded… and theirs. We have broken their spirits today. Those men who flee today will sue for peace with us tomorrow. We must now play the part of the gracious victors, let them see that our Empire is merciful…"
Kasibal opened his mouth to say something, but Leonhardt never heard what it was. A messenger suddenly burst out of the woods, "Sir! A message from the Capitol, Sir!"
Leonhardt took the scroll and broke the seal. "House Klavis's seal… what could they be up to… Damn!" Leonhardt's fist clenched, crushing the scroll. He turned to House Klavis's messenger, "Your Lord Klavis cannot possibly expect me to issue such an order! Execute all enemy wounded and terminate fleeing forces with extreme prejudice? These orders are mad and unnecessary!"
"Lord Klavis doesn't, Sir. Each of your regiment's commanding officers has received a copy of the orders. Lord Klavis took the liberty of giving your forces the final push they needed for a decisive victory. As a matter of fact, I believe he awaits your final report at the command tent."
Around him, Leonhardt could already hear the unsheathing of knives as "his" men accepted House Klavis's orders and began the cull. It was too late to help any of them, but their comrades fleeing in the forest might have still had a chance. "Soldier, I hereby requisition your mount. You are dismissed," said Leonhard, deftly pulling the messenger from his saddle and tossing him to the bloody mud of the battlefield. Taking one last look at the messenger's smug expression dissolve into one of rage and disgust, Leonhardt spurred the horse towards the retreating barbarians. If he rode quickly, he might yet intercept a messenger to one of his flanks and prevent the barbarians from being completely cut off and surrounded.
"Leonhardt!" Kasibal's voice cut after him.
I'm sorry old friend… but I cannot let this come to pass. I will explain myself to you after it is done," thought Leonhardt as his mount galloped past the tree line.
The forest's oppression fell upon Leonhardt like a hood over his head. The only sounds he could hear were the beats of his mount's hooves and the snapping of twigs as he brushed past. He let the horse do most of the steering, only aiming it in the general direction of his regiment's right flank. The more he thought of it, the more absurd it seemed to expect to catch a single messenger before he reached the right flank's commander, Musaka. Musaka was a consummate soldier, severe, but reliable. Leonhardt knew he could not expect him to disobey a direct order, but the man might listen to reason.
A sudden scream pierced the silence of the woods and Leonhardt's eyes widened in shock. It was a girl's voice! Judging from the pitch and timbre, she was no more than a child… Leonhardt instinctively jerked his horse's reins in the direction of the voice, startling the steed. The mount reared up on its hind legs in surprise and panic, throwing Leonhardt from the saddle, and galloped away before Leonhardt had a chance to react.
The fall knocked the wind from Leonhardt and he gritted his teeth against the pain from the fall. Fortunately, nothing felt broken and his sword still hung in its scabbard from his belt. With no more mount, Leonhardt could not possibly hope to catch up with the other messenger. Frustration threatened to burst through his chest, but he steadied himself. He had tried and failed to preserve as many lives on the battlefield as he could, but he would be damned if he could not even save the life of a single girl in danger. Hauling himself to his feet, he dusted off and ran towards the voice he had heard.
Leonhardt burst through the undergrowth, his heart in his throat. Whatever had caused the girl to scream, he prayed it had not yet harmed her and that he would have the strength to confront whatever it was. As he crashed through the one last thicket, his eyes fell upon the very man he was looking for in the first place. Musaka, the 4th battalion's captain, stood pointing a spear at an elven girl whom he and his men had apparently cornered. The girl was young, still a child. Her pink hair was covered in leaves and twigs from the brambles she had probably crawled through to try to escape from the soldiers. Though her dress and leggings had a few tears, Leonhardt could see no major life-threatening injuries.
"Musaka! What are you doing?!" demanded Leonhardt, coming to a halt between the spear's tip and the girl's fallen form.
"General, Sir. I have my orders… as do you… Sir."
"Musaka… can you not see what you are doing is savage? Look at the girl!" Leonhardt pointed at the basket she had dropped, "She was picking mushrooms! By the Gods, what possible reason could you have for pointing your spear at her?"
"She is an elf and therefore an enemy of our Empire. Our orders are to terminate any enemy presence we find; her sex and age are irrelevant."
"Listen to yourself! You cannot possibly want to obey such an order. These are no orders of mine, forget them. I order you and your men to lay down arms and let this girl pass. You will also withdraw your men from the field and return at once to the main host. They are not to engage any fleeing forces without being attacked first."
Musaka's eyes softened and, for an instant, Leonhardt saw the troubled soul of the man beneath the soldier. "What a soldier wants is of no concern. Lord Klavis has been granted supreme command by the Emperor himself, Sir. I cannot accept your orders. Stand aside, if you will not obey our Emperor's commands, I must. I can assure you the elf's death will be painless."
"Please… don't let him hurt me…" whimpered the girl behind Leonhardt.
Leonhardt turned his head and gave her a reassuring smile. If they were going to die, he would not have her die in fear. "Do not worry, they cannot harm you so long as I am here. I swear that I will protect you from any danger."
"Musaka! You leave me no choice... if you do not withdraw this instant, our blades must meet as foes," declared Leonhardt, drawing his golden blade.
Musaka's men took half a step back, glancing at each other and their commanding officer, but Musaka stood his ground, his spear tip steady. "To raise your blade against me is to raise it against Gridamas. Sheath it and walk away now and my men and I will never speak of this again."
Leonhardt raised his sword, pointing it squarely at Musaka's chest. "If becoming such a monster as one that would murder an innocent child is required of me to call myself Gridamas, then I hereby resign my commission and renounce my titles. You and your men will not harm this girl so long as I draw breath."
Musaka dropped into an attacking stance, coming at Leonhardt with a blinding series of thrusts and jabs, instantly forcing him on the defensive. Leonhardt had previously sparred with Musaka on several occasions, but both men knew this time was different. Steel on steel clanged as Leonhardt parried Musaka's thrusts with his sword. From the corners of his eyes, Leonhardt saw Musaka's men draw their own swords and close in. Using the flat of his sword, Leonhardt made one final parry, throwing Musaka off balance and pushing his spear to the right. The tip of the spear drove into the heart of one of the soldiers, who dropped like a puppet with its strings cut. Pivoting on the spot, Leonhardt dodged a furious overhead blow from the soldier on his left. The soldier's blade splintered Musaka's spear and Leonhardt drove his own blade through the slit in the soldier's helmet. Gathering his remaining strength, Leonhardt withdrew his sword and rushed at Musaka, who dropped the now useless spear and struggled to draw his own sword. Before his sword had the chance to clear it's scabbard, however, Leonhardt's shoulder connected with his chest piece and Musaka fell to the ground. Without a second's hesitation, Leonhardt slammed his boot down, pinning Musaka's sword arm to the ground and pointed his sword at his captain's throat.
Musaka's eyes betrayed no fear as he stared into Leonhardt's. "Finish me, Golden Leo. It is a soldier such as I whose fate it is to die by another's blade."
"It is a man such as you that deserves peace. You take no pleasure in war, but discipline has forced your hand. It was better this way, for you have not betrayed your orders and I have kept my promise to this girl," replied Leonhardt. "Girl," he said, turning to the elven girl behind him, "we must go now, before more men come."
The elven girl's eyes were round as coins, but fear was giving way to trust and gratitude by the second. "This way! I can take us back home!" she said, as she scampered off between the trees.
"Leonhardt… they will come for you and show no quarter. Your heart and compassion should shame the Empire, but have a care, boy, or they will eat you alive."
"Your concern is appreciated. I wish there was another way, but if I did not take your life, I must have rendered you unconscious," said Leonhardt as he brought the pommel of his sword down on Musaka's head and chased after the elven girl.
Together, the elven girl and Leonhardt hurried through the forest, staying off the main trails to avoid the men that were undoubtedly searching for him. Leonhardt wondered if his presence only endangered the girl, but if she were to run afoul any soldiers without him, all would have been for naught. At any rate, the girl kept a firm grip on either his hand or the hem of his coat at all times, as though afraid he would wander astray. Despite the situation and the danger, Leonhardt could not help but notice the girl's innocence and innately adorable nature. He had no children of his own, but he suspected the protective emotions and concern he felt for the girl would be the same for a daughter of his own blood. Somehow, putting himself between the blades of his men and her life had made him a grown man as he had never felt before.
"This way!" the girl whispered, tugging at his hand. The two of them emerged from the trees into a small forest clearing.
"General Raglan… you do me great offense running off like that…"
Leonhardt instinctively drew his blade, placing it between his body and the voice. With his free hand, he pushed the elven girl behind him.
"Indeed. Well? What say you? You have disobeyed a direct order from our Emperor, taken arms against your own men, worked to undermine the success of our campaign, and now you draw your blade against me? Do you mean to duel me for you and the girl's freedom?"
Leonhardt glared at Melchior. The head of House Klavis, Melchior was directly responsible for the fall of House Raglan and had assumed nominal control of the Empire's military after House Raglan's disgrace. In his early forties, Melchior was seldom deigned to come to the frontlines himself, commanding the military from his desk, and it showed. In contrast to Leonhardt's coat and light armor, which showed all the wear and tear of the day's battles, Melchior's ceremonial armor was spotless and buffed to a high sheen.
"No more games, Melchior. You know what I have done and if you are here, I am surrounded. Let this girl go home and I will surrender to your custody."
Melchior laughed, his mirth jarring in the otherwise silent clearing. "Who would have thought… the great Golden Leo would trade his life for a worthless wretch of an elf. That seems like an offer only a fool would refuse! But I have a better idea. I think it would be better for our country if the traitorous General Raglan were slain resisting arrest… that would end your tiresome house's name once and for all. As for the girl… I admit I am in the mood for sport, I would give her a five minutes head start."
Leonhardt raised his blade slightly higher. "Girl, go. Run, I shall follow behind you once I have made sure he cannot follow."
Melchior smiled coldly and snapped his fingers. "Unfortunately, dueling you would be a tiresome prospect. Elaine does love this set of armor… what if you scratched it? I think it's best if you met my champion in this duel, the Dark Knight."
The temperature of the clearing dropped perceptibly and every shadow seemed to deepen as a dark figure strode out from where he had previously been lurking between the trees. His name was entirely self-explanatory; as the knight's leadened footsteps drew closer, Leonhardt saw that he was enclosed head-to-toe in a massive suit of metal so dark it seemed to draw in light. On the knight's chest piece, two stylized eyes glared outwards giving a disturbingly life-like appearance to the armor. The Dark Knight stopped six paces from Leonhardt, completely silent, shock still, and radiating a palpable energy.
"N-no! You can't fight him!" said the elven girl, tugging at Leonhardt's hand.
Leonhardt turned to face her while keeping one eye on the knight. "Girl, you must trust me. Go now, run as fast as you can. I promise I shall be behind you, you will always have my protection."
With a gentle nudge, Leonhardt turned the girl around and watched as she disappeared between the trees.
"Run as fast as you can on those little legs! We'll be following right behind you!" called Melchior. Returning his attention to Leonhardt, Melchior's face twisted with a vicious pleasure. "Dark Knight… finish Golden Leo."
Leonhardt dropped into a defensive stance, intending to buy the elven girl a few valuable minutes before disengaging. The Dark Knight sprang into motion with inhuman speed, his blade literally a blur of darkness as he flew at Leonhardt. In all his experience on the battlefield, Leonhardt had never known a foe to be so fast and so strong. His first blow on Leonhardt's blade shook his entire arm. Were it not for the blade's exceptional forging, Leonhardt had no doubt it would have shattered. Under the Dark Knight's relentless onslaught, Leonhardt realized there would be no disengagement from the duel, his blade moved so fast that it was all Leonhardt could do to parry and continue to back up. Impossibly, the Dark Knight's attack sped up even more, overwhelming any defense Leonhardt had left.
Leonhardt's eyes widened in shock as the Dark Knight's ebony blade slipped past his golden one and cut through his armor as if it was so much silk. As the blade sank into his body, he could feel no pain, but a cold beyond description gripped his chest and drove all breath from his body. As the blade withdrew, Leonhardt sank to his knees. Through a narrowed tunnel of vision, he saw his shaking hand pulling away from his wound with shockingly bright red.
"How the mighty have fallen…" Melchior's voice sounded muffled, as if he were speaking through a wall. "I could end you now, but you don't deserve a warrior's death. You shall kneel here, bleeding out until the death of a traitor takes you. Don't worry about the elf either… I'm sure she'll join you soon enough in whatever afterlife you find yourself in. Take your time, there's no hurry…" said Melchior as he walked past Leonhardt with the Dark Knight in tow.
Alone, Leonhardt felt his body fall forward into the ground. Darkness closed in around him, though it was not the foul shadows of the Dark Knight, but rather a warm and obliterating blanket.
Golden Leo indeed… I could not even save a single girl from those who would murder her for their own amusement. Years ago, I vowed to rebuild our family's name. I sought honor on the battlefield, but only in protecting an innocent girl, whose name I do not even know, did I truly find my purpose. I only wish I could have known that life longer and kept her safe for longer than half a day…
The darkness had closed in completely and Leonhardt felt his body draw its last breath. A light approached from the distance and Leonhardt felt a tug of curiosity. What would his first glimpse of afterlife be, he wondered? As the light drew closer and Leonhardt began to make out details, his eyes widened in shock. Whatever he had expected it was not… a beautiful woman, clad in impossibly flowing robes that revealed a shocking amount of her skin… Leonhardt had never seen any woman dressed as she was in life, much less death. Not wanting to offend her modesty, Leonhardt looked up at her face. She had long locks of subtle teal hair, done in an alluring, yet impossibly antiquated hair style, the kind women of the ancients were depicted having from legend. Yet, for all her beauty, her eyes gave Leonhardt a ripple of disquiet. A deep and captivating amethyst, there was not a single flicker of emotion behind them. For that matter, her entire face was an ivory study in smoothness and the lack of expression.
As the woman drew closer, Leonhardt struggled to one knee. Finally, she stood before him. "Leonhardt…"
"Forgive me, I do not believe I recognize you…" ventured Leonhardt.
"My name is Dyshana. This is our first acquaintance," said the woman. Although her voice was beautiful and luscious, it too lacked any emotion, much as her face did.
"Dyshana… it is a pleasure. Tell me, how am I having this conversation with you if I am dead?"
"You may have left the mortal plane, but you are not yet beyond the power of the Gods. I come to you with an offer. I sensed that you were not yet ready to depart this world and that your strength has yet to fully come to bear. I would offer you this; the chance to return to the mortal plane, a second opportunity to right the wrongs of your world and to protect the ones you love. I offer you the power of the Gods themselves. With their blessing, you and your descendents will unlock your true potentials. In time, your descendents will grow to have power that even the Gods would tremble at."
Leonhardt rose to his feet, "And you would grant me these gifts at what cost?" he asked, for one never made compacts with the Gods themselves lightly.
"I will not lie… my price for these gifts is equally extraordinary. I desire equilibrium in this world. Your body and life, your very soul, even your destiny, shall belong to me and that purpose. Those of your descendents as well. In accepting this covenant, you forever bind yourself and your descendents to me. You and those of your blood will live gloriously, but only to sacrifice yourselves to protect this world as Spirit Vessels."
Leonhardt looked deep into Dyshana's eyes. Though the terms were, as she said, extraordinary, he sensed no malice from the woman. As for his descendents… would they ever forgive him for entering a divine contract on their behalf? Perhaps not, but to refuse her offer would preclude their very existence. Life in exchange for no life. A destiny in exchange for none at all…
"I made the girl a promise… I swore that I would do anything to protect her. Will this covenant give me the power to fulfill that vow?"
"You and your descendents."
"Then I accept your terms Dyshana."
The woman raised her arm and Leonhardt felt strength surging into his body as light engulfed him. Slowly, the darkness ebbed and the forest returned. Leonhardt watched incredulously as the gaping wound in his torso faded until it was as though he had never tasted the Dark Knight's blade. If there was any doubt left in his mind that Dyshana was not a divine emissary or a Goddess, herself, it was erased as surely as his mortal wound was.
Dyshana waved her hand dismissively as she turned towards the tree line. "The Gods wield the powers of life and death… from this moment forth, you and your descendents will forever more be Spirit Vessels. I will join your travels to guide you and to hold you to our contract. I know you have many questions, but they must wait. The life of the one you so cherish is in the balance and we must hurry."
As Leonhardt crashed through the forest brambles, he marveled at how sprightly he felt, particularly for a man who had been run through by a sword not twenty minutes ago. Perhaps it was merely the confidence a man might draw from having been blessed by a divine presence, but it seemed to Leonhardt that Dyshana had held true to her promise; he sensed a strength and vigor in him that he had never felt before. Making haste, he only hoped that the elven girl had managed to hide and elude Melchior.
"She is just beyond this thicket," intoned Dyshana, utterly unperturbed by Leonhardt's mad dash through the forest.
Leonhardt took a running leap, testing his newfound strength for himself, and easily vaulted over the undergrowth into yet another forest clearing. Immediately, he noticed, to his dismay, that the elven girl was in yet another predicament. She had hid herself in a small hole formed by two roots of a great tree. Above her, a massive presence loomed, one nearly as intimidating as the Dark Knight. Towering easily two heads above Leonhardt, the creature was massive, with arms as thick as Leonhardt's torso and rippling with inhuman musculature and radiating magic energies. It wore no armor save for a modest kilt at its waist, but Leonhardt judged from the creature's skin was likely hard enough to serve the same purpose as any forged plate.
What dark forces do you conspire with, Melchior? he wondered, but the questions would have to wait. In one deft movement, Leonhardt drew his golden blade and pointed it at the creature. "I know not what manner of creature or beast you are, but I will only warn you once: step away from the girl or meet your fate."
The massive creature turned around slowly and fixed Leonhardt with its gaze. A glimmer of intelligence rippled beneath its fearless eyes. Clearly, the creature was no bloodlusting beast, but that fact made it, perhaps, even more dangerous.
In a split second, both Leonhardt and the creature made up their minds, flying at each other. Using his massive gauntlets, the creature blocked Leonhardt's blow and threw him back. Before his resurrection, such a force would have completely staggered him, but with his newfound strength, Leonhardt merely leapt backwards and fell into a defensive stance. The creature's eyes betrayed its surprise; clearly it had expected a more dramatic result. Snarling slightly, the massive creature let loose with a flurry of furious blows and swipes. Steel clanged on chitin as Leonhardt parried some blows, but many of them he dodged outright, moving with deftness and speed that surprised even him.
Clearly upset, the creature bellowed and lowered its massive head, pointing its razor sharp horns directly at Leonhardt. With a burst of surprising speed from such a massive creature, it charged forward, clearly intent on running Leonhardt through. Standing his ground, Leonhardt leapt at the last moment, narrowly avoiding the horns and landing with his boots planted squarely on the creature's massive back. Coiling his body, Leonhardt drew his legs in and released, leaping from the creature and landing neatly behind it. The force of his departure staggered the creature, whose momentum compelled him to drive squarely into the trunk of a massive oak. The entire tree groaned as it split bodily down the middle.
"STOP!" the girl's voice rang shrilly across the clearing.
"Girl! Stay where you are! The creature may yet be dangerous," Leonhardt replied, keeping his sword trained on the massive beast.
Snarling, the creature pulled itself free from the unfortunate oak, looking, surprisingly, no worse for the wear. Though it continued to eye Leonhardt warily, all hostility had vanished from its body language as soon as the girl had spoken. With a low, gravelly voice, it spoke, yet again surprising Leonhardt, "Master, do you not wish me to protect you from this human as I did the others?"
"No! Borgnine, this human is the one who saved me… I think he was one of them, but he was kind, not like the others… I trust him with my life," explained the elven girl as she emerged from her hole.
Utterly bemused, Leonhardt sheathed his blade. "Forgive me… I thought you meant to harm her. You must forgive my preconceptions, so intimidating was your appearance… my only thoughts were for the girl's safety. You have my gratitude, Borgnine, for protecting her when I could not."
"Master's safety is my only concern. So long as we share that goal, we are allies," ground out Borgnine after what seemed to be an eternity of silence.
"Borgnine appeared to save me when some bad men found me!" said the girl, happily patting Borgnine's knee; the highest she could comfortably reach. "My name is Ellis! Did some of the bad men call you Golden Leo? That's a strange name."
Leonhardt laughed, grateful for the release of emotion and worry for the girl's wellbeing. "Ellis! It is a fine name. My name is Leonhardt, though my friends call me Leo. Some called me Golden Leo, but perhaps I am that man no longer..."
"Then I shall call you Leo too!" declared Ellis. "You seem… different Leo… I was so scared that the really bad man would hurt you…" she said with a shudder.
"The Dark Knight?" asked Leonhardt, "Yes… I suppose he did hurt me, but I am better now. I made you a promise, did I not? Whatever the future may hold, it is but a small price to see you safe now." At that moment, Dyshana chose to materialize from the trees where she had been watching from a distance. "Ah yes, this is my… friend… Dyshana. She helped me to get better when the Dark Knight hurt me very badly."
"Leonhardt, you would do well to speak frankly with the girl. Her destiny and that of you and your descendents are all intertwined." Dyshana suggested, "Also, though her appearance is that of a human youth, you forget that she is an elf. She is likely older than you…"
Ellis stuck her tongue out and blew a raspberry at Dyshana. "Leo is too strong for even the Dark Knight to defeat! Perhaps he watches us even now, too afraid to face my two guardians!"
Leonhardt laughed, "Be that as it may, Ellis, I think it would be best if we were on our way to safety... I must confess that I am unfamiliar with these woods, is there anywhere we can be safe from the Gridamas army?"
"We can go home, we'll be safe there! Follow me everyone!" said Ellis as she scampered off.
Without another hesitation, Borgnine lumbered after her, shadowing her protectively. Giving Leonhardt one more unfathomable stare, Dyshana glided after them, making slightly less noise than a stalking panther. Gripping the pommel of his blade, Leonhardt took one more look at the forest depths. Undoubtedly, hundreds more men would die before the sun would fully set, men he had tried to save. He had entered the forest looking for honor and redemption, only to find darkness and death. I must find a way to end this needless bloodshed and suffering… I owe that much to the men who lay unburied here and their families at home, be it in Gridamas or deep in the Frontier. I failed you all today, but I can yet see this one girl to safety. It is a start… and for her sake and yours, I will end this blighted war and see our land heal from its ravages.