9 Power Underneath Despair
(From the point of view of Violet Belladonna)
"Where is this passageway leading into?" Sir Damian questioned with his hands holding the hilt of his sword tightly.
Earlier, he was using his right hand to support my wobbling body, but I told him that he should focus his attention on being alert for any nearby enemies rather than taking care of a burden like me. He didn't like it when I implied that I'm a liability to him, but I'm sure he's very much aware that a mage without mana is just as useless as a toddler. Right now, the only able-bodied person around is Sir Damian, but even he is filled with so many bruises that I'm sure we could easily be beaten if an enemy spotted us.
Needless to say, I am more than scared for the safety of the princes. This sudden attack really caught us at a horrible time, so bad that a part of me thinks someone had orchestrated it from within our alliance. However, literally, every nation around Izrecael would want us to fall. Still, all of them know that there's no benefit in destroying the coalition now that we're all working harmoniously together.
Still, one could also view this as an attack from powerful foreign invaders that we have never encountered before. That idea is much more terrifying than thinking about someone betraying us.
"Are you alright, Madame Belladonna?" I heard Sir Damian utter those words silently as he spoke to me in a gentle tone.
I shook my head as I gazed at his blood-filled countenance. "I'm doing quite well, Dir Damian, believe it or not. Thank you for your worries." I began to walk again slowly, but I'm sure the enemy would come running towards us if we won't hurry.
"Maybe it's really wiser if you hadn't taken that monster's razheema." Sir Damian said with a worried look on his ashen face. "At least let me carry the stone for you."
"No need, Sir Damian. I can take care of myself. Carrying the stone will only slow you down in the event that an enemy comes running towards us." I then turned my head towards the loyal knight who's walking cautiously beside me. "If that happens, I'm sorry, Sir Damian, but I have no choice other than sacrificing you for the sake of the princes. When the enemies find us, I will use my blood to activate that monster's stone and transport the princes somewhere far from here. I would do that now if I can guarantee their safety, but doing that would just add more unneeded problems for us." I then heaved a grunt as I pulled the heavy load behind me. I strapped the darn thing around my shoulders so I could use my hands to carry the prices. Luckily, they're both good children, for they haven't cried yet. At least not loud enough for me to notice. "Do you understand, Sir Damian? I'm doing this because I know that we might have to sacrifice our lives for the princes soon, so just keep your eyes around us and stop yapping."
Sir Damian just looked at me with a dumbfounded gaze with his jaw dropped. "You really are something, Madame Belladonna. Aren't you afraid to die?"
"Of course I do. I won't be human anymore if I stop getting afraid of the good ol' Reapers." I grunted as I dragged the stone with my back while still trying my very hardest to carry it with my trembling body. "But I'm pretty much used to the feeling already—I'm still scared, but I can get over it. It makes me think clearly while still feeling afraid that my ass will get handed to me anytime soon."
Sir Damian heaved a relieved sigh as he slowly pushed the humongous stone on the floor with his feet. I wanted to stop him, but we don't have time to halt our step and bicker some more now. Besides, it eased the strain for me, so I don't really have a reason to have him stop what he's doing.
"Where are we anyway?" Sir Damian uttered with a raised eyebrow while scanning the surroundings with his eyes.
I did the same with a pair of furrowed eyebrows. This hallway was what greeted us when we turned the fifth fang hanging behind the tomb of Queen Lara. I had no time for sentimentalities and greetings for the dead, so I haven't said anything when I saw the newly built tomb of Queen Lara, but I did shed a single tear for her memory when I finally had the time to look at her clearly after my fight with that wretched bride.
The surroundings look pretty much the same: dark stoned walls, floor, and ceilings; dripping moisture coming from above, making it impossible to walk clearly without slipping; and utter darkness that was further amplified because of the fact that I now have no mana to create a source of light using the brilliance of my barrier.
Luckily, the passageway we used to enter this dark hallway immediately closed when we passed through it. I thought that someone must have cast a spell through it, but after further examination, I concluded that a powerful magician must have used earth magic for it to close automatically when it fulfilled its role. I could only dream of being so powerful that my skills would still work without me doing anything or even being around the radius to cast the spell manually.
"Who goes there?" A deep and serene-sounding voice resounded throughout the hallway, making both Sir Damian and I alert and in position to attack in case the stranger who suddenly voiced out his words towards us is an enemy.
"We would like to say the same thing to you, Mister Stranger." Sir Damian uttered with a stomp of his feet, making the clanking of his armor ring throughout the tranquil but darkened hall.
"Hmm... That sounds like armor. You must be a warrior from Izrecael then." A bright orange-colored brilliance then spewed out before us, making both Sir Damian and I squirm because our eyes are no longer accustomed to the touch of light. When I finally managed to open my eyes to see the person who cast such luminance, I saw a short and thin man holding a cylindrical-shaped potion bottle. "Oh my! Damian!?" The stranger said as he extended his glowing potion bottle at Sir Damian.
"Uncle Bert!?" Sir Damian uttered as he slowly dropped his guard down perhaps because he knew that this person in front of us is one that could be trusted.
The person whom Sir Damian called 'Uncle Bert' then moved his hand to shine the light of his potion bottle literally a few inches away from my face, making me so blinded by it that I almost fell. With an excited chuckle, the stranger before me took his beret off his head, revealing a messy chestnut hair and his sunken eyes surrounded by a thick layer of blackness. His pale face brightened as he smiled when he saw my face.
"And you must be Lady Violet Belladonna!" He said with a voice filled with excitement, but it still managed to be tired-sounding because of the lowness of his voice. "I am very pleased to have finally met you!"
I then looked at Sir Damian with a confused look on my face and finally realized that since he called this man 'Uncle,' then he must be one of the famed Carmichael brothers! Since he used a simplified nickname that is 'Bert,' then it is safe for me to say that I am not gazing at one of the strongest potion-maker in the entire empire, Roberto Carmichael!
"Oh, no, no! It is me who's very pleased to have finally met you, Sir Roberto, very, very pleased!" I spoke with a flustered tone as I shook the man's hands as firmly as I could.
Sir Roberto chuckled momentarily before looking at both of us with a stern expression through his dimly lit torchlight from his potion bottle. "You flatter me, but we have to hurry. The enemies are already circling us. We have to move."
We both compiled readily as we ran through another spiral staircase, which went on for eternity once more. However, it felt less constraining for me and Sir Damian because of Sir Roberto's aid. Surprisingly, the famed potion-maker has unbelievable strength in him as he volunteered to carry the heavy load on my shoulder with ease. Before I even realized it, we're already on the other side of the empire, far away from the darkness of the catacombs, blinded by the sheer brightness of our new scenery.
By the time we stepped out of the catacombs through an ornate wooden door with macabre gold inscriptions, a group of hurrying wizards, alchemists, and medical professionals welcomed us with gentle voices and countless words of gratitude. They pulled Sir Damian and me gently towards two huge beds that were already placed there before we even arrived and hastily cast different healing magic at me. In contrast, the others quickly treated Sir Damian's wounds with stern expressions. Meanwhile, the princes were placed on two small cribs beside me with two other young wizards to tend on their injuries, if any. I say so, for I am confident that the princes are definitely not wounded.
"You have to forgive our haste, Madame Belladonna; this is a direct order from the king." Sir Roberto explained though I couldn't really see him because the magicians and the alchemists were circling me with their blinding wizardry.
"I figured as much. Don't worry about it, Sir Roberto. I am fully aware that the king always wishes to finish things as quickly as possible." I then groaned in pain as I felt the many cuts and bruises all over my body, closing up and connecting to each other, making me feel it stinging my body. I wanted to look at how Sir Damian is faring on the additional bed, but I could not see nor hear anything from him. That thought alone is enough to frighten me, so I know that the medical professionals have to fix his wounds without using magic manually. "Tell me, Sir Roberto, did the king say any changes regarding the plan to escort the princes away from Izrecael?"
By the time I stopped speaking, I had grunted as I felt something gradually being pulled out of my stomach before I started feeling my organs joining up together like they were being sown together with magical threads of the purest form of light sorcery. Afterward, the skin at the same spot began to close up with the greatest of ease like they were goos destined to stick together once they touched. I looked down at what the magicians had just forcefully extracted from deep within my punctured intestine. There, on a table beside me, stood a chunky and bloodied and sharp stone that must have been in my stomach the entire time, but I haven't realized that it was there—somehow, I did it through sheer determination alone.
I heaved a light sigh and patted myself gently, giving myself the praise that I deserve for living another day. I sure am amazing.
Sir Roberto then sighed from the side, waking me from my daze. "I'm afraid not, Miss Belladonna." I heard a few mechanical sounds, hissing, and metallic clinking from the direction of Sir Roberto's voice. "Why do you ask?"
"I would be brazen and say that Sir Damian needs ample time to rest. He is heavily wounded, and he needs enough time to rest." I protested with a soft tone.
"... No can do, Madame Belladonna." The sounds coming from Sir Roberto's area paused for a few moments before it proceeded like usual again. "Believe me, I am on your side in saying that my nephew must be given enough time to rest, but the king explicitly told me that you and the rest of the soldiers he commanded to guard the princes would not change. The plans will not change, as well."
"... There goes his cruel side, I see—cruelly trusting and cruelly emotional. I understand, Sir Roberto. Forget that this exchange ever happened." I said as I raised my upper body while moving my hands and arms around, flailing it from one place to another.
When my wounds are finally healed, I stood up and thanked each and every person who helped in the process personally by shaking all of their hands and tapping their shoulders lightly.
Then, one of the young people, a girl who was tasked to heal the princes' wounds, approached me shyly with a flushed expression, "Excuse me, Madame Belladonna. Forgive me for asking this, but I was told that there would be more of you guarding the princes."
When she said those words to me, I peeked at my surroundings subtly and saw that there are more than two beds around us, silently telling me that these people expected more than two of us here.
The fact that we're the only ones who returned is a... grim message, to say the least.
"There indeed were more of us earlier," I said in a whisper as I gradually felt the sudden sadness coming all over the surrounding.
"May I..." The woman stuttered as her hands shook vigorously while she tried her hardest to smile. "I... Forgive me, Madame. One of your companions is my father, so I..."
Drats, I expected this to come, but it's still a hard pill to swallow. I couldn't say anything.
I placed my hands on the girl's shoulder as I looked at her straight into her eyes with as much gentleness as I could possibly pull off from within my already breaking heart. "I'm sorry."
Tears then started to form from the girl's eyes, but she tried as hard as she can to stop it from slowing, disallowing herself to show and sort of weakness before her peers. "I understand."
"I don't know who your father is, but..." The familiar voice of a man rang from a few feet away from us as he grunted heavily with a sigh. "... every man who came with us is brave, and they all died as warriors, great warriors. I don't know if this will help you feel any better, but you can assure yourself that your father's efforts are not in vain. He didn't let us down, and he most definitely did not let you down." Sir Damian tried his best to utter firmly as he sat on the edge of his bed. He's naked from top to toe, and the only thing covering him up is a cloth on his waist and a few bandages on his chest.
After hearing Sir Damian's clumsily spoken words, the girl finally allowed her tears to fall out of her eyes as her body trembled. The only thing I could do to help her now is to wrap her in my embrace. I looked at Sir Damian while shaking my head because I know that everything he had just said was a lie. He just sat there as if he was so proud of himself for what he had done while I gazed at him with a pained smile.
Fuck... All of them died horribly. Perhaps Sir Damian's attempt to lighten the mood worked, so who am I to ruin such a beautiful moment?
She then tightly wrapped her hands around me as she quietly sobs in my arms. "I will never forget what they have done to us, Madame Belladonna." Her deepening voice started to get firmer as the people surrounding us all began to look at us with a much more determined gaze. "My father will be avenged."
My goodness, you better avenge him because whoever that poor soldier might be, he's lying there somewhere, probably mangled up and with a high probability of having a really messed up brain that turned into soup. How could I possibly tell her that?
"Then you cannot honor his death here." That was good, right? I dare say that's motivational enough to keep this lady fighting for another day or so. "You all did your best here, ladies and gentlemen," I said while gently tapping the girl's back. "but the battle is still raging outside, and you have already done your job in healing the princes. Go! The battlefield awaits!"