I hold them tighter, allowing the moment to last. Finally, finally, they’re safe once again.
Then Cassie grunts. “John!” she exclaims, the maturity and earnestness of her tone surprising me.
I whirl around. Perhaps I thought too soon. He’s standing there, beside the body of the dead giant Evil, watching us.
The Red Captain…Nirak.
Crouching, I don’t remove my gaze from him. I sink until I feel my fingers close around the hilt of my sword, and then I stand upright. I slowly, cautiously raise my hand, and in a gentle, drawn out motion, remove my cloak from my shoulders. It jerks and waves as it flows away from my body, alighting delicately on the ground to my right, the way the wind beckoned it.
“I’ve been watching you, ever since you entered Howaito Maki,” his voice comes to me from across the distance of twenty feet between us. “At first, I didn’t know why I found you so interesting. But now, I think I understand.” He gestures with his sword, pointing at me, “Who are you?”
“Do you remember me?” I question. “Your Evil left me for dead in the middle of my own home, and you kidnapped my little brother and sister.”
Nirak pauses, thinking for a moment, and then smiles, “Yes, I remember you. You were the first family we found. I had given my Evil orders not to kill any of you three, so that I might have a higher number for the sacrifice, but my Evil didn’t listen very well. They were too…excited. They felt too…challenged.” I grunt, unnerved and uncertain as to the meaning of his words, and then he speaks once again, “I ask you once more: what is your name, human?”
I grit my teeth and state boldly, “My name is John Hedekira, son of Anthony!”
“John Hedekira,” the Red Captain repeats. “Indeed, you are interesting. Do you even know what ‘hedekira’ means?”
I grunt; I don’t know. I didn’t even know my last name had any significant meaning. “I’d stop acting so confident,” I say, trying to change the course of our conversation. “You’re outnumbered and the prisoners have been saved! You can stop asking questions, because I don’t feel like answering anymore!”
Nirak lowers his head, baring his white teeth, his yellow eyes both glaring and smiling at me, and he questions, “Are you sure?”
The sound of feet pounding against the ground fills the air. Across the courtyard, exiting the gate in the next wall, a squad of thirty Evil emerge, each one bearing a long pike and a short sword. I look about warily, watching as the thirty Evil fall upon the dazed army of Castrum Fortress, and then I swiftly return my gaze to Nirak. The Red Captain raises his sword. “This fight is not over.” And he charges me.
I hop backwards, accepting his blow against my blade, making sure I’m covering both Cassie and Luke. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Faith and Bernard approaching. Good, maybe they can get Cassie and Luke out of here. But Nirak…I’m focused on him. I feel as if…this is destiny that we should fight, and I kill him—
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