Morteus ran through the castle, his heart thudding in his chest. He was sure there would be more soldiers between him and the king. Where was Isoldé? He was foolish to let her go and wander on her own.
He couldn’t help but add her to his list of dangers. What if she lay in front, planning to kill him?
Morteus slowed as he heard voices from down the corridor. His eyes slid back and forth suspiciously, watching out for any threats. He crept forward, keeping himself plastered to the wall. As he reached the bend, he peered over the edge of the wall, quickly drawing his head back as he saw Isoldé, who was being confronted by a few soldiers.
Should I go help her? Morteus knew the answer instantly. She hadn’t made to kill him yet, and they were in this together, for now. The only way to reach King Periphral was to work as one.
He rushed forward, startling the soldiers.
“Morteus!” Isoldé cried out, a smile illuminating her face for a moment. Her smile faded as a hard, set expression settled on her face while she tried to parry the blows of three soldiers at once.
Morteus had a moment to look around before two soldiers bounded towards him. Morteus leapt away before they could reach him, his attention drawn to a lone figure watching the entire battle.
“Darren?” An odd expression crossed his face. He had forgotten about Darren. Facing his brother, his best friend, would be blasphemy beyond all imagination. They were once inseparable, and he wouldn’t even consider fighting Darren.
Darren was staring at him, appalled. “Morteus?” He looked wholly miserable. “What are you doing here?”
The soldiers who had rushed at Morteus backed off, seeing that the prince knew him. Their swords remained raised, ready to fend Morteus off if he made any move against the prince.
“Well, I-” Morteus tried to find words to explain his deed, but couldn’t find reason in them. He looked down at his feet, ashamed. “I-”
Darren’s eye’s widened as comprehension dawned on him. “No… This can’t be right… You came here to… kill us?” His hand jumped to his mouth as Darren realized what he just said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. There must be some misunderstanding,” His words sounded childishly ignorant.
Morteus shuffled his feet. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to- I wasn’t thinking straight!” Morteus fought against his emotions, confusion overwhelming him. What was I thinking when I signed up for this? Morteus asked himself.
A wave of horror rushed through Darren. “You mean… You really did intend to kill us?” He took a step back involuntarily, his mouth open in revulsion.
Morteus closed his eyes, his mind turning over in turmoil and chaos. Was it right to fight against his best friend, against the king? He wanted all this nonsense to stop. But what about revenge? He couldn’t leave his father without an explanation… And his mother… He wasn’t sure whether the old lady he met in the square the previous day was actually his mother… Chances were, she was in captivity, or worse, long dead.
You’ve come this far. You’ve killed your foster brother, pledged your allegiance to Von Mont… There’s no turning back now. Morteus told himself.
He opened his eyes, seeing that Isoldé was still trying to ward off soldiers. Darren’s eyes were still on him.
“I did,” Morteus said, each word paining him. He could see what he said was like a stab in the chest to Darren. “And… I still do.”
The two soldiers rushed forward as Darren recoiled in shock. Darren held one hand up weakly, not permitting the soldiers to touch Morteus.
“Please tell me I heard that wrongly,” Darren rocked back and forth, as if trying to soothe himself. “Please tell me that you’re out of your mind. Please tell me this is just a mistake.”
“No,” Morteus repeated his words slowly, regretting the pain he was causing Darren. “I came to kill the king and take back what is rightly mine.”
The soldiers made every sign in wanting to dash forward and seize Morteus, but Darren did not drop his hand.
“No… This can’t be true…” Darren shook his head, unwilling to believe. “What happened to our family? You really believed what Darius said in that moment of rage? How could you lose faith in us, after so long? When you ran away… I felt so terrible… But never in my greatest nightmares did I imagine… you would come back to take revenge.”
“So what Darius said wasn’t true?” Morteus looked him in the eye, not daring to raise his hopes. As he expected, Darren looked down.
“I know, I can’t believe it either, but as unfortunate as it is, it is true,” Darren looked up again, the fire rekindling in his eyes. “But why would you come attack us? Why can’t you just put aside our differences, and become part of the family again? You’re my best friend,” His voice broke. “My true brother.”
Morteus’ stomach clenched. No, you mustn’t let this get to you. King Periphral killed your father. “I’m sorry, Darren. I have to take revenge for my father. But… taking into account our… brotherhood… I’ll let you go. Just let me pass,” He fell into a formal tone.
Darren looked shocked. “You really are here to kill father…” His face hardened. “I don’t know what happened to you, Morteus, but I won’t let you do that.”
“I don’t know what’s happened to me either…” Morteus murmured, then sprinted forward before the soldiers could react. He unsheathed his sword, preparing to knock Darius out unawares.
Darius stared open-mouthed at him and drew his sword in a split-second. He parried Morteus’ blow and held a defensive stance, unwilling to hurt the person he still considered to be his brother.
After a moment’s hesitation, the guards raced forward, only to be blocked by Isoldé. Morteus stole a glance at the floor behind him, only to find three prostrate figures on the ground. He increased his attack on Darren. Isoldé was still combating a few other soldiers.
“Please, I don’t want to harm you,” Morteus felt terrible. What monster have I become? “Do not force me.”
Darren darted from side to side, knowing that he wasn’t a match for Morteus. “What happened to you, Morteus? What made you so obstinate, cold, evil?” Tears were forming in Darius’ eyes. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision.
Morteus felt a jolt as Darius said the word evil. “I’m not evil, I’m just taking revenge for my father, so he may rest in peace,” said Morteus, taken aback at Darius’ words. He tried justifying himself. “I know you, Darren. You’re my best friend. You weren’t born when King Periphral killed my father. You don’t have anything to do with this, so please, just go and hide- I’m not sure how it’ll all work out. I’m not even sure that I’ll survive this ordeal, so for your own sake, please go.”
Darren glared at Morteus, looking ever so young. “I used to follow you around, Morteus. But I’m not a child anymore, so don’t order me around!” He blocked Morteus’ blow and jumped out of the way.
Morteus followed him, stabbing at him half-heartedly. “You’re only fourteen, Darren,” He muttered, aware that Isoldé was still listening. “Go, and don’t let any of these soldiers catch you.”
“You’re not much better off! You’re fifteen!” Darren exclaimed, thrusting his sword forward. “I was… scandalized when I found out that you weren’t part of our family, but after you left, I realized… I realized that it doesn’t matter at all who your father is! You’re still my brother, and my father took you in! It’s who you are, your personality, your values– that makes all the difference in the world, not where you come from.
Morteus clenched his teeth. “I do come from here, Darren. This was my father’s castle. Your father- he took it from my family. If it’s about who you are, then rightfully King Periphral should be dead. Let me through, or I’m afraid I’ll have to resort to violence,” He held up his sword menacingly.
“If I don’t?” Darren challenged. “You’ll kill me?” His voice was steady.
“If I have to,” Morteus said after a moment’s hesitation. “So help me.”
Darren blinked. “You would really kill me?” Reality sank in and his lip trembled. “That’s despicable,” He moved forward, his arms waving in a slashing movement. “Then I would leave no mercy. I won’t let you slaughter my parents, even if it kills me.”
A heavy weight settled in his heart. “I’m sorry,” Morteus moved forward, angling his blade so that the edge of the sword was facing sideways. Morteus intended to hit Darren on his head with the flat side of the sword, therefore incapacitating him yet not causing major harm. His sword fell down on Darren, and in that split second, he flinched to a side. The edge of Morteus’ sword sliced his arm open in a gory gush of red.
“Aargh,” Darren held his arm to a side, trying to defend himself with one hand. Forgetting that they were in a battle, Morteus’ hand leapt to his mouth.
“My goodness, I’m so sorry,” His eyes were wide with shock. “I’m sorry, Darren, I didn’t mean to-”
Seeing that Morteus had dropped his attack, Darius fell to the floor, letting the agony overcome him. He clutched at his arm, the beads of blood staining his hands. Tears came to his eyes as he stared up at Morteus. “You can kill me now, Morteus… Just… Just don’t hurt my parents. Please,” Darren’s hand slackened on the sword, as if he was giving in.
Morteus bit his lip. “I’m sorry, Darren. I didn’t mean to hurt you, but Periphral killed my father. I must take revenge,” He looked away. “Sorry.”
Darren didn’t reply, so Morteus turned back to find that Darren had jumped into the air in a final attempt to stop Morteus. “You…” Morteus lifted his sword and parried the attack. Darren fell to the floor again, pain searing through his arm.
“Kill me, then,” Darren closed his eyes in defeat. “Why are you so absorbed in your yearning to have revenge? You don’t even know your father.”
Morteus’ knuckles balled up into fists. Darren had hit below the belt. “My father’s dead because of Periphral. I don’t know my father because of him.”
Darren breathed in, tears leaking from his closed eyelids. Morteus gripped his sword, afraid that Darren would try tricking him again.
Darren opened his mouth but no sound came out.
“I’m going,” Morteus said heavily, but with conviction. “Nothing’s going to stop me,” He whirled around, motioning to Isoldé, who had been watching them, knowing not to interfere.
Darren opened his eyes and grabbed the back of Morteus’ robes. “Wait!” Morteus turned back. “Don’t kill my parents, please. It’s my last wish,” Darren implored.
“I’m sorry, Darren. I have to,” Morteus’ voice was hard. And you’ll be fine, it’s not your last wish yet.
“But… Mor,” Darren reverted to his old nickname for his brother. “Didn’t you love them, didn’t you even care for them, even just a little?” Darren tried one last time, tears leaking down his face.
Morteus froze. Isoldé held her hand to her heart.
“Because they loved you. I loved you. You’ll always be my brother, no matter what you do.”
Teardrops formed at the corners of Morteus’ eyes. He slacked and dropped his sword. It clattered to the floor.
“Darn it, Darren,” He whispered and fell to his knees. “I… I did… love them,” He choked and fought back tears, his voice rising hysterically.
“Yes, I loved them!” Bizarre tears were flowing relentlessly now. “I loved them from the bottom of my heart! I loved them, and they abandoned me! They threw me aside, raised me like a pig for slaughter!” Morteus’ eyes blazed. “They killed my father.”
“Don’t you see? Love! What can it give you?” He picked up his sword.
“What has it given me?” He whispered. His voice grew hard, brittle. “A broken heart, a hardened soul,” He stood up.
“I will not make that mistake again,” His voice was cold. “Come on, Isoldé.”
Isoldé gave a slight nod.
Morteus turned with an air of finality, leaving Darren shedding silent tears in his wake.