Chapter 33:

Chapter 33


Hell. The only word capable of describing the scene before them. A total inferno. An eternal blaze. The enchanted woods had been engulfed by hellfire. Every inch burned with unrivaled fury. Every spec of hatred and rage went into those flames and served as an infinite, unyielding, undying fuel. And despite being hit with the full force of raw, unfiltered emotion, unbound power, Ronin still stood.

"What..." Vera trembled. "I hit him with everything I had..." Elizabeth crawled over to Isaac's body. She checked his pulse.

"He's still alive, barely." She said, beginning to pick him up.

"And yet... he's still here..."

"We need to get him to a safe spot so I can give him medical attention."

"He's still standing..."


"It wasn't enough..."


"I wasn't enough..."


"We can't beat him..."

"Don't worry about that right now!"

"Elizabeth?" Vera seemingly snapped out of her trance, catching Elizabeth off guard.


"We have everything we need here, right?"

"Yeah, I've got the lotus."

"And you've got Isaac?" Tears welled up in her eyes. Vera clutched her staff harder and harder.

"Barely, but yeah." Elizabeth carried Isaac on her back, holding onto his arms like a pack.

"So, tell me, are you ready?" She raised up her staff.

"Wha- I guess? Ready for what?" Vera didn't answer. She stared at her tormentor, and he stared back. Surface tension broken, tears streaming, confidence and heart shattered.

"RUN!" She shrieked. With a slam into the ground, Vera's staff imbued the two girls with a heightened feeling of strength and speed. They felt lighter, Isaac felt lighter, their burdens felt lighter. Vera quickly whipped around, grabbed Elizabeth by the arm, and sprinted away. Ronin cracked his neck and gave chase.

Run. Run. Run. That's all that existed in their minds. Run. Keep running. Don't stop running. They weaved through scorched trees. Running. They tripped over fallen branches. But they kept running. They needed distance. They had to maintain distance. Everything depended on it. Their lives. Their kingdom. Everything depended on running. Their efforts seemed to be paying off, until Ronin caught up to them. Leaping down from the trees, slamming his kanabo into the earth, he just barely missed the heroes. Screams escaped their bodies, only to be drowned out by the roaring flames of their mistakes. Ronin lunged forward. Vera peaked back. She stumbled, seeing the face of the demon. Ronin grabbed her robes. He raised his katana. Aimed at her neck, she couldn't run anymore, she wasn't fast enough, she wasn't strong enough, she wasn't good enough, the council was right, she was a failure, she wasn't ready, someone like her couldn't be a leader, they couldn't be a powerful mage, because at the end of the day she's just a girl, irrational, weak, helpless, and Ronin was ready to end her. Elizabeth plunged a scalpel into the Oni's eye. He let go, staggering back.

"COME ON! LET'S GO!" She pleaded. Elizabeth grabbed Vera, hoisted her up, and pulled her along. "We are not dying here! Not yet!" Vera couldn't speak, couldn't react. All she did was cry. Cry and run. Run. Keep running. Don't stop running. Never stop running. Never stop fighting. Don't. Stop. Running. Run. Run. Run. Run. RUN! An arrow shot passed their faces. It grazed Vera's cheek, cratering into bark. A touch of death. Grimwald's reaper, his assassin. Another arrow pierced Vera's arm. He was after her. Her alone. The scroll didn't matter. Elizabeth didn't matter. Only Vera. Vera only. Just Vera. Just Vera. Just Vera. Prey upon weakness. When the strong break, that's when you've one. Isaac was already out of the picture. Now he just needed to remove the only other threat. And she was crumbling. Iron will reduced to blood-stained rust. Slice! Ronin's blade cut through Vera's Achilles tendon. She gasped, gagged on her own stifled breaths. Elizabeth glanced back, only to see Ronin grasping the back of Vera's neck. "VERA!" He lifted her up and smashed her against a nearby tree. She screamed. The fires searing her tender flesh. Elizabeth charged at him. She threw her back to the samurai. "Sorry Isaac!" Using the knight, she tackled Ronin. He was thrown off. Vera dropped to the ground, barely standing. Elizabeth dragged her feet and sprang back forward. She grabbed Vera again, and once more pulled her along.

"I can't..." She whispered softly. "I can't keep going..." Vera cried, beaten, broken, and burned.

"Yes you can! If I can keep going, then so can you! DON'T QUIT ON ME VERA!"

"I'm tired... I'm so tired..." Her legs dragged against the dirt. She no longer was running. She couldn't keep running. "How do you do it? We can't beat him. We can't kill him. Isaac wasn't enough. I'm not enough. We're going to die. How do you keep going, knowing that this is the end?" Elizabeth made an abrupt turn. She guided them into a clearing. They slowed their running to a stop. Vera collapsed to the ground. She vomited.

"Vera, look at me. Look at me!" She got down to her level. Elizabeth took her head into her hands. She wiped away her tears. "This isn't the end, not for you, not for him. We're going to make it out of here alive, alive! Got it? You two are going to go on and live a wonderful life together, and you're going to fulfil all your dreams, and you're, you're going to have beautiful kids together! Okay? I need you to focus on that right now. Not him, not the past, not any of that. Focus on fighting for the future! Fight for yourself! Fight for him! Do you understand?!"


"AH! No buts! Listen to me, Vera. You are stronger than this. You are stronger than him! You want to prove yourself to the council?! Then you are going to get back up, swallow all of those fears and insecurities, fight through the pain, and-" Ronin leapt from the trees. Soaring through the air. Katanas drawn. Ready to pounce. "RUN!" The two got up and made haste, escaping just before Ronin struck. His blades penetrated the earth, catching Vera's robes. But she pulled through. She kept running. The cloths that bound her tore, allowing her to run free. They left the clearing, back into the thick of the forest. Each warrior continued. Continued to weave. Continued to pursue. Continued to run. Newly invigorated, the desire for life seeped into every stride. Awareness, agility, all heightened. They dodged every shot of an arrow, every strike of the kanabo, every swipe of the katana.

"There!" Vera shouted.

"The exit!" They continued to run. They didn't stop running. They didn't want to stop. They couldn't stop. Not now. Not ever. A fierce gust of wind came up from behind them. A whirlwind slash. Trunks of trees severed from their stumps. Unstable logs and branched began to slide off and rain down. Burning effigies of charcoal and decay. Ronin grabbed Vera's hood. Without hesitation, she pivoted around and kicked him with her broken foot. He let go. He couldn't hold her. He couldn't hold her back. Not anymore. Not ever. Vera aimed her staff at the Oni. A forceful push repelled them. Ronin dug in his blades to slow his momentum. Vera used the launch to further their escape. They were right at the exit. Freedom was at their reach. The tides will shift once they change battlefields. They just had to make it. Ronin blinked forward. Vera and Elizabeth took a dive. Flaming trees started to tip. Ronin threw away his equipment, extending his hand, favoring more to just grab them. Vera and Elizabeth reached out the same, hoping to make a speedy recovery once they hit the ground. The girls crossed the finish line. They slid across the dirt, looking back to catch a glimpse of their assaulter. And what they found; it was better than anything they could've imagined. The trees fell. Ronin flew. Then, BANG, BANG! Two trees landed on top of the samurai, crushing him. Only his arm made it out of the forest, still extended, still flexed, forever locked in the final position of his mission, never relaxing. A slave in death as he was in life. The heroes sighed a sigh of relief, thankful that their nightmare was over.