Courage of a Pebble
Shocked, Alpacino wondered why those fellows couldn't just give up.
What ought he to do? He could ignore the soldiers he pointed in the wrong direction, but what of those who kept to the original route? It was highly likely they'd be able to capture Eirinn at the rate they're going.
Damn! What to do! Do I point in another wrong direction? It's impossible! They'd definitely suspect me and it'll get even more troublesome too!
Seeing that the soldiers were about to leave, he panicked before he had a concrete plan in mind. "Um, Madam!"
"Hmm?" The Stokian magus Trey turned around and asked, "Anything else?"
"I…" Alpacino paused and was at a loss for words. Perhaps he should just let them go like that. At least, he would no longer be in any danger.
Eirinn might know how to travel with a low profile. Who knows, she might've found the Hockian troops already. She shouldn't be in any danger, right?
Even though the winds were cool and breezy at night, Alpacino's sweat came out nonstop from his nervousness. He wiped it off his forehead and made up his mind.
"Madam," Alpacino steeled himself and said, "I have something to report to you."
"Oh?" Trey said, "What would that be?"
"Well…" Alpacino feigned an air of mystery. "It has something to do with the ugly one you mentioned."
"Oh?" Trey narrowed her already small eyes, and a wrinkle formed on her face. With a smile, she said, "Come, young one, tell me about her."
"But…" He tried to appear troubled. "There's so many people around…"
Trey looked around and laughed. She waved and one soldier dismounted and knelt by Trey's horse. She stepped on his back to dismount and shuffled to Alpacino. With her kindest voice, she said, "Alright, son. It's only the two of us now. You can tell me about it now, right?"
"Okay, okay…" Alpacino nodded fervently like a delighted child and approached her. "The secret is…"
He hurriedly drew his shortsword and send it piercing for Trey's neck.
But at the end of the day, she was a mid-order magus that wasn't much weaker than Bribahns, the one sponsored by Alfreid. She had a hunch of what he was about to do and already had her hand raised before he could hurt her.
Trey's ring let out a bright glow and a magic missile struck Alpacino square in the face.
"Agh!" The strike broke his neck outright and blood flowed out nonstop. Alpacino's already displeasing looks was exacerbated further by the blood.
"I'm curious, son…" she said, her face still holding that smile but her eyes radiating seething venom, "What kind of fool do you have to be to have the courage to offend a mid-order magus?"
"Fool?" He forced himself to endure the pain coming from his broken nose and stood up, before wiping the blood off his face. Alpacino looked at his reddened palm and smiled as he thought, that's right, perhaps I am a fool! Even if I die here, I doubt she'd know about it. I was the one who hurt her first, and now, I'm doing something suicidal. It looks like I'm the biggest fool of them all!
But… You lot are the last people I want to be called a fool by. It's my foolishness… she's the one who gave me courage and strength! If that's foolish, I'm happy to be foolish!
"I won't let you go on as long as I'm standing," he said sternly when he got up.
"Get him! Letting this old woman here take care of him myself is a stain on my reputation," Trey said as he backed down slowly.
"Yes, Sir!" The Stokian soldiers charged immediately.
Alpacino knew that he couldn't fight the incoming enemies head to head. Since he had chosen this path, he no longer cared about his life. He only regretted not being able to kill the old woman. Since his surprise attack had already failed, he wasn't counting on getting rid of her now. All he wanted to do was to buy Eirinn a little bit more time, even one more second would do.
He didn't know whether it would be of any use, but he had to do that. He had hurt Eirinn just now and now he had to make up for it.
Alpacino stood there firmly and felt that he had never been so calm. He could see every movement of the enemy, their weapons, their mounts and their limbs.
They were getting closer. He narrowed his eyes slightly and ducked to the side when the rider was one meter away. First, he bent down to avoid the rider's slash and stretched his hand out lightning fast to grab onto the rider's leg.
Alpacino didn't hesitate to stick his shortsword into the dismounted rider. He pulled his sword out and took the longsword of the corpse.
The riders were all shocked at the sight. They could tell that the man was no better a fighter than they were, but they didn't get to see how he managed to kill their comrade.
"Dismount and show him that we have good warriors in Stok too," said one of them, before he got off from his horse. The others did the same. They all drew their swords and charged for Alpacino.
He didn't feel an ounce of fear. For some reason, he looked at the enemies charging for him with a sense of pride.
Did I manage to become someone with courage in the end after all? he thought, before he roared and charged towards the Stokian soldiers.
The battle didn't last long. Faced with more than ten enemies of his strength, it was already quite commendable for him to last five whole minutes.
Now, two Stokian soldiers held their swords against his neck and dragged him towards Trey.
"I'm rather curious, you see. Why did you suddenly attack us? Do you have something to do with the girl we're chasing?" Trey asked.
Alpacino closed his eyes without uttering a word.
"Speak. I shall consider granting you a swift death."
He remained silent.
"Since that's the case, it's too bad." Trey waved and dictated an acid bolt spell on him.
"Aaaagh!" He shrieked in a chilling voice as the flesh on his chest melted into a meaty mess.
Alpacino knew he was about to die. But even then, he didn't feel an ounce of regret.
Even though I deserted, I managed to kill three Stokians. I contributed to the empire… I can call myself a soldier, can I? Though he screamed on the surface, his mind was at peace. He recalled his life up till now and mulled it over.
Hopefully the empire will treat me as someone who died valiantly in combat. Will my parents get the pension from the empire? They should be fine, hopefully.
Leguna, you said that as long as you still breathed, you wouldn't let harm come to the girl you love. I don't know how well I'm doing on that front, and I don't know if there's even a point to it. But I figure I at least tried. I'm sorry I couldn't look after her for one year as promised. Eirinn will have to depend on you from now on…
Eirinn… I wonder if you'll remember me and forgive me?
His consciousness gradually blurred and at the very end, he seemed to be able to vaguely see the face of a girl, one that was so beautiful it seemed unbelievable. She had a head of long, silver hair and silver irises just like Eirinn and looked at him with a sunny smile before nodding, as if reassuring her of something.
Is that how you originally looked? The person I love the most… is beautiful… as I imagined…
That was his final thought.
"Cut his head off. Perhaps Lord Saron would find some good use for it," Trey instructed. He didn't aim for Alpacino's face to prevent ruining his face.
"Yes, Madam Trey." A soldier nodded and approached Alpacino's corpse. He nodded to it, as if acknowledging his bravery, before swinging his longsword solemnly.
At the same moment, Eirinn felt her heart beat faster for some reason. She looked in the direction she came from and mumbled, "Big Brother Alpacino…"
Little did she know that a man had gave his life because of the feelings he had for her. Even though he lost it and committed a mistake, he showed bravery in the end and stood up for a cause without hesitation. He bought a few precious minutes for Eirinn at the cost of his life.
Alpacino wouldn't know it, but his sacrifice was the key to her eventual escape to safety. In fact, not only did Eirinn escape this tribulation, the whole world also did as a result. The gears of history had shifted away from the darkest abyss because of a small pebble that was Alpacino.
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