Elseron sat with his back against the wall holding onto the tiny vampire that slept in his arms with her head resting across his armoured chest. Random uncontrolled thoughts ran through his skull as he struggled to remain conscious. It had been at least twelve hours since they had put them in here and there was still no sign of Eden. If nothing else pain kept Elseron awake. Unending, numbing, blinding pain. His shoulder bled where the arrow had hit his shoulder blade, gore stuck to his face from the eight inch long sword strike down his right cheek, he couldn't feel below the knee of his left leg anymore and without Atlas to heal him soon...But for now the pain was his friend. It kept him sharp! Awake! It ordered the confused mass of his thoughts as best it could, but a combination of worry and shear exhaustion weighed heavy on Elseron and he knew, if they so wished, the Encantos could kill him as easily as they would a bug. He was helpless. For the first time in over three hundred years, the Stalwart Shield was completely at the mercy of his enemies.
No! Roared a voice inside his head, You are the Stalwart Shield! Guardian of Atlas and the greatest warrior the worlds have ever seen! The warrior inside him roared forcing him to a drop a hand down to where his axe would have sat. If the Encantos hadn't taken it. Atlas needs you! And you need her! So fight them Elseron, fight them or I will never forgive you. Only then did he realise the voice was not his own, opening his eyes Elseron was sat in the same cold cell, Arisa in his arms, but a woman stood before him.
'Ariel...' he mumbled placing Arisa gently on the floor. She immediately dropped to his side, hands cupping his face, her soft red lips kissing him on the forehead.
'Be still my knight...be still.' staring at her in disbelief the wellspring of pent up emotion released, he was left a jibbering wreck, tears pouring from the corner of his eyes. She smiled as he placed his hands on her sides, feeling the folds of her dress beneath his bloodstained fingers.
'I...I've missed you...so much! Every day I wake with a hole in my heart.'
'As do I my knight,' she whispered. Those glorious eyes dancing over him. 'But I've been watching you,' she smiled as a pearlescent tear ran down her gorgeous face. 'Such a man you've become...a long way from the boy I knew. That orphan from the slums who would follow me through the streets yet never speak to me,' her hands ran down the rough stubble of his face as she pressed her forehead against his, wiping his tears away with her thumbs. 'Such a man you've become. But I hate myself for the burden you've put on yourself because of me my love...'
'No! Never feel that way,'
'How can I not?' she wept. 'Because of me you're here. I should never have said anything.'
'Shush now,' he said kissing her hand. 'You saved me a lifetime of questions. And now you're here...' a sudden hard and stone cold thought gripped his heart. 'Am I dead Ariel?' eventually breaking away from him she kneeled at his side, soiling her pristine white dress where her knees hit putrid floor of the damp cell.
'You are passing; I can do nothing but take you on...to be with the other Spirits in the Heavens.' Fear gripped him, but not a fear of death.
'No I can't...not yet! Not now! Atlas needs me, I need to see her safe, I need,' she placed a finger on his lips and smiled sadly.
'Then go back, do your duty my Shining Knight. And know I will be watching, always. And I will be waiting for you, when it is your time.' Smiling one last tear fell off her delicate chin.
'I love you.' he said almost desperately.
'And I love you, always and forever my knight.' with one last smile she leaned into him, their lips inches apart, getting closer,closer!
'You!' boomed a powerful voice. Elseron opened his eyes finding the cell door open and a huge scarred Gaoler standing over him. 'Up! Now!' Arisa shot awake and gripped onto Elseron with added vigour as the Gaoler pulled him up by his arm, his whole body screaming in protest.
'Elseron!' screamed Arisa in tears as another guard pried her from him.
'Be brave Lady Kayne,' he said looking back into her warm honey irises. 'Be brave.' the guard tossed her harshly to the floor before he and the Gaoler took Elseron's full armoured weight and dragged him through dark corridors lit with torches dug into hallows on the seastone walls. Fighting to regain his wits Elseron tried to shake the exhaustion from him but nothing worked, he must have been asleep for only a few seconds, but that dream...that dream. Emerging up into a grand hallway of the main palace the Gaoler shoved him into a crowd of guards who all carried spears and lances. One reached for him and deftly began to unlace his armour. He knew he had to conserve his strength, but out of the shear instinct to survive Elseron quickly elbowed the man in the temple. Blood spraying out of the other side of his head with the impact. A lance speared into his thigh, screaming in pain Elseron fell to one knee and the last thing he saw was a green armoured knee flying towards his face.
Ariel...Ariel...Ariel. Freezing cold gripped Elseron's head. Piercing into the flesh of his face with thousands of tiny fangs of ice. Inhaling he immediately began coughing as ice water flew into his lungs. A hand gripped his hair and hauled him from the freezing depths, falling to the side coughing and spluttering Elseron revelled in the air that filled his lungs. Air! Glorious, underrated air! Hard hands manhandled him onto a strange wooden construction that held his arms spread above his head and his legs apart, slightly more than shoulder width. Blinking and panting Elseron tried to take stock of his surroundings. He was in the courtyard of the Palace, the main gateway he collapsed facing him, the huge sloping rock walls of the underwater mountain hanging over the air above his head. The huge courtyard was full of Encantos guards, soldiers and knights. All facing away from him, looking to the palace roofs. A small man wearing half moon spectacles approached him and suddenly and quickly stabbed a strange implement into his neck, pressing on a plunger to inject a strange green liquid into his bloodstream. It was only then, when the Apothecary scurried away did Elseron realise he was armour-less and shirtless.
'A beautiful toxin our greatest Apothecaries have mastered over the centuries,' said a pompous voice from behind him. 'It negates your ability to use magic, we can't have you tearing my father’s palace down when you get stronger...can we?' the Drowned Prince of Encante cut into Elseron's view, walking around him slowly, his clothes a simple white silk tunic and leather breeches. His dyed red hair pulled back into a ponytail. 'So you're the great Stalwart Shield. I'm not impressed.'
'Cut me down from here boy and I'll be sure to impress you.' hissed Elseron focusing his gaze above the roof line of the palace. Brax smiled stepping directly in front of a wooden table Elseron had only just realised was there. Striking the cloth from the table he revealed a series of gleaming, vicious looking blades made for the shear purpose of causing intense pain.
'You obviously spent a long time getting all these muscles Atlantean so I will be merciful and give you one chance before I cut each one away from your body.' Stepping so close to him Elseron could smell his perfumed skin Brax looked up into his eyes. 'How many others entered Encante?' pausing Elseron craned his neck down and looked to Brax's shoes.
'Would you care for a box Drowned Prince? Then at least you could look me in the eyes properly.' Blue lights from Elseron's tattoos flashing in his eyes the boy prince grinned before striking him hard across the jaw, reopening the cut across his face and shaking the teeth in their sockets. Spitting a mouthful of blood onto the floor Elseron looked back down to the boy before he dealt him another blow, then another, then another and another. A vicious flurry that left Elseron's face numb and bloodied, his eyes swelling already and his bottom lip nearly split in two.
'Your precious Queen has been running my men around the city like fools, what do you think the chances of her coming are when she hears her loving Guardian screaming to the mountain top?' Brax hissed as he grabbed Elseron's face in his hand.
'Not great...chance of you...making scream...you punch...like a woman.' Elseron mumbled through his swollen mouth, laughing slightly at his own delirious wit. Brax struck him again but this time with the flat of his elbow. Breaking Elseron's nose with a loud snap. Blood flowed and tears flooded his eyes, obscuring his vision even more. 'In fact...I know...women...punch harder...than you!' Melody immediately sprang to mind. 'So...you punch...like girl!' Fury ripping across the prince’s unnaturally handsome face he moved from Elseron's face and onto his body. Unleashing a series of crippling blows; knees and elbows. Cracking at least five ribs and at the end had Elseron coughing up blood, the pain was miserable. Unending. Ariel...come back to me my love...I want to die.
'My Prince!' shouted someone Elseron couldn't see as he was strung, slumped, against the strange wooden X.
'What!' roared Brax.
'There was a sighting in the streets of the woman, white dress, no veil. Brown hair.' A deadly silence fell over the courtyard; Elseron only heard the clinking of armour for a long minute.
'Where's your little whore Queen?' whispered Brax in his ear.
'Who?' a hard fist collided with his limp body, sending another spurt of coppery blood flowing into his mouth.
'Your whore! Your little whore where is SHE!'
'Your mother? She's in the Palace behind you.' That comment cost him another harsh set of powerful body blows, but the boy was tiring and one after one the punches became more laboured and easier to withstand. 'Oh...I'm sorry,' mumbled the old Atlantean knight, pulling himself upright. 'Are you one of his bastard children?' Expecting another deal of blows Elseron braced himself, but none came. Instead the boy prince moved over to the table and picked up a gleaming silver knife, several inches long but only a single inch wide. Built for slipping between ribs and spinal vertebrae.
'You have no idea how much pain I am about to put you through Atlantean, tell me...are there any others of your group in my city? And where is your Queen.' Elseron smiled and began laughing, deliriously, through all the pain and blood and tears and broken bones.
'Are you that eager for your father to die boy?' he mumbled, blood dripping off his split lip. 'It's your city already? Show you father out here I'll be more than able to accommodate your wishes...' the razor sharp touch of the steel blade against his bicep made Elseron wince. The searing fire of its gentle embrace as the prince dragged it down his muscle, slicing open skin and sinew and muscle. Roaring a silent roar Elseron gritted his teeth trying to ignore the pain, but it shattered his mind, broke everything inside of him. It controlled his world. Took him over.
'How many of our soldiers did the Stalwart Shield kill?' asked the prince finally releasing the cut which left Elseron panting. The warmth of the blood running down his arm, into his armpit and down his shattered purple ribcage.
'Two hundred three my Prince.' said a confident voice to his right.
'Two hundred three...' breathed Elseron.
'Shocked Stalwart Shield?' asked the boy.
'Disappointed, so few!' Elseron laughed. It seemed mad and reckless...but it was needed for Atlas. He needed to anger Brax so then the boy prince would make the mistake of killing him, because no matter how hard Elseron's mental barriers were, eventually, the pain would build into unbearable proportions, then even the Great Guardian of Atlantis would break...and tell the boy everything. He couldn't let it come to that. While he was still alert enough to think Elseron had to make the boy kill him. It was safest for Atlas.
'I am going to cut you...once for every soldier you've killed.' said Brax in a pleasured whisper. Showing Elseron the gore covered knife. 'Unless you tell me where your precious little queen is...I promise I won't rape her...at first.' Smiling at him Brax slapped him across the face. Elseron smiled back which just made Brax smile more.
'Can't get a girlfriend the normal way boy? Have to resort to rape...how sad.' Elseron had to give the boy credit. He stuck to his word. Two hundred and three cuts across his flesh, by the end Elseron couldn't stand so resorted to hanging from the straps around his hands. Letting those take his weight. Everywhere was red and slick with blood. His once beautiful tattoos were now nothing but random patches of colour beneath the thick film of his blood, their stunning patterns intersected with the lattice work of fine precise slices. Some small, others at least five inches long. Yet through the whole agonising torture Elseron kept his mind and didn't scream once. He couldn't risk drawing Eden here. Or Dante or Phaedos if they were still here...how he would have loved to see Dante in his great beastly form tearing through the ranks of these b*astards...but he couldn't.
'My Prince he cannot take much more without succumbing to the spirit world. He has lost more blood than I have ever seen a man lose. He'll be lucky to last the night.'
'No!' shouted the boy prince. Elseron smiled. He was going to die, he hadn't talked and he was going to die...Ariel...I did it my love. I did it. The thought made him feel bizarrely proud. A silence fell over the courtyard...one he didn't like the feel of. 'Bring the girl.' Arisa! No! Lifting his head Elseron's eyes were so swollen his vision was now nothing but tiny slits. But he saw the boy Prince smiling sickly.
'Sir?' questioned the Apothecary.
'DO IT!' roared Brax. Elseron blacked out for a moment and when he regain sight he saw Brax by the table, Elseron's axe in his hands. Shaking it wildly trying to make the handle extend. 'How come it won't work for me?' he asked moving to stand before Elseron. 'Your Atlantean magic is tricky.' placing the blade beneath his chin Elseron groaned as his own sacred weapon sliced to the bone, lifting his head as blood trickled down his neck Elseron looked at Brax. 'But oh well. The blade works, that's all that matters I suppose.' he paused and held Elseron's head still, axe blade now slicing bone. But Elseron was so broken he didn't feel it, he was numb. Less than dead. 'I will slice the flesh from her bones Elseron...I will cut her into pieces and feed her to the dogs. Just tell me Elseron...spare her. Just one little name, just one little piece of information.' Pausing Elseron mumbled his answer as searing agony shot through him. 'What?' asked the prince moving his ear closer.
'She will destroy you...' the words were agony and left him exhausted beyond belief. Brax hissed and before he knew it Elseron was deliriously staring. Arisa was sobbing gently as Brax had a hand wrapped around her neck holding her against him and her other arm bare from the shoulder, the flat of the axe holding it in place. Arisa looked at him, golden eyes swimming with tears.
'I'll be brave.' she said softly. He could only tell her words by reading her lips. She appeared to be saying it over and over again.
'Tell me Elseron, tell me and I won't hurt the girl.' Arisa shook her head slowly, Elseron looked to the floor ashamed and appalled with himself for what he was doing.She can take it, she can take it. Arisa's scream shattered the silence of the courtyard.