Derek Hale & Stiles Stilinski
Of a blessing buried in the dark where its watery limbs circled the Earth and gave life and beauty to every being, the mystifying tale of the Fountain of Youth remained a lore and lost among the descendants of time. It was said, the Fountain's mirror like water bore celestial power when three of its chosen sentinels' eight philosopher's stones were submerged in its pool of tears. Its power could restore the youth of its drinker, grant immortality and otherworldly abilities equal to that of a God. But these came with an unfortunate price, the Fountain's drinker could never return to the life they had lived before.
Lord Regent Gerard Argent; once a devoted and tenacious mercenary of the previous monarch, was hopelessly known for his remorselessness, his constant thirst for blood, his transparent - regrettably hereditary - disease to kill. After the assassination of King Jonathan Stilinski, mercenary Gerard stepped forward and presented his master's written will in his hands, declaring himself as the rightful Regent to temporarily rule the grieving nation in the young Crown Prince's stead. Dismissing the late King's loyal subjects and replaces the entire court with those who shared his ideals, Regent Gerard slowly introduced his manipulative, cataclysmic ambition to depose all reigns that were deemed as potential threats to his abrupt sovereign over the Republic. 'Twas a humiliating paranoia for a once respected man who had revealed himself to be so fearful of losing his golden crown to the neighboring regimes where he should have wrought peace and balance. And so, Regent Gerard chained the Royal Army and the reluctant Republicans with endless threats, fear and ascendancy through conjury, as he demanded his generals, his knights and nobles and clergies to construct him a plan of action that would immediately annihilate all his oppositions.
In mere 193 days, the Republic's new Regent became the sole catalyst of all hatred, grief and corruption. He was responsible to all innocent deaths, to all crushing numbers of over millions intentional casualties. He had ordered the mass slaughter of the weak and injured, women and the orphaned children and infants, and the unjust execution of his prisoners of war - buried them alive, drowned them in hot boiling water, chopped off their heads, crushed them between stones. He had enslaved and humiliated many to only sate his twisted entertainment. He had defiled the once peaceful reign of the late King and concocted total destruction to many kingdoms that fell from grace. Lord Regent Gerard Argent, 193 days after the assassination of King Jonathan Stilinski, was known as nothing but a devil in disguise.
Soaked to his bones in the rain, exhausted and hungry, Derek - mindless of his own injuries of cuts and bruises, the strapping weight of his armor and the only able-bodied captain left to lead the Colony's stranded 211 soldiers - lifted himself off the ground, and trudged through the field of corpses. He offered a helping hand to his men in their search for survivors, of both their comrades and enemy. The war had drawn out so many innocent youths. The rotten smell of decay, butchered flesh and ripped bodies, blood, gunpowder and chemicals wafting through the cold, damp sunset air made him queasy. Most of his infantries were grieving over their lost brothers in arms, few huddled together to escape the intense freeze and the brisk rain as the others screamed at the top of their lungs for their missing and very dead brothers and fathers. Their calls were unheard, drowned by the cacophony of crying voices, the croaks of stalking ravens, the hisses and the endless droning of heavy raindrops against bloodied metal and leather.
Damned soldiers, they were.
Derek stood terrified among the carnage, this battle alone charged him half of his men. Both young and old, robbed of their age and souls. He was stripped off his former ten thousand soldiers, and did little to nothing to the Republic's growing number. And as far as his eyes could see; the siege weapons, the swords, the spears, the broken arrows and bows, the busted armors all belonged to the colony. All belonged to his fallen brothers. Him and his men grew weary and starved, outnumbered and restless. Derek longed for the comfort of his bed; the smell of herbs and home, the embrace of his dear mother, the constant companionship of his sisters and cousin. It seemed, he could no longer bask in those sweet daydreams.
He tipped his head back, shivering at the rain's icy bite as it hit his marred, battle worn face. Once, he prayed for the day to shed its tears as he grew jaded with the sun's blazing heat. He meant the rain as a gift, a victorious celebration. Derek wished for the war to end by the time the day welcomed its first monsoon in months, but his tiny wish sounded dead to the gods above. Like many others. With countless casualties and sacrifices, even the rivers and the pure white rain turned garnet.
Pulled from his reverie, Derek staggered to his left and there was uncle Peter who sported an injured leg - absent of his infectious glee and sass, void of colors on his now ashen face. Yet he remained cautious and poised, as always. Clothed in his own suit of armor, his sword hanging on his left (opposite to Derek's right), Peter too was deprived of food and sleep. But the bright and unyielding, ocean blue of his eyes betrayed his fatigue.
Peter grimaced at the piece of parchment in his clutched hand - a message, written in light and rushed letters - before he folded and handed it to his nephew. "Grave news from our scouts, concerning our two neighbors. Unfortunately, the Republic has laid waste to Median, and executed its King. Burned all of its resources. And as for the Capital..."
"Uncle...? What of the Capital?" Derek weakly asked.
The hesitant pause Peter made was vexing enough. The Capital, the Colony's ally - was heavily equipped with enough infantries, artilleries, supplies, strong fortresses and magic stones - might be the Colony's last and only hope to win against the Republic, and thus end this war. Yet something felt dreadfully amiss. What was written on Peter's face, told him the opposite.
Derek read the folded message, and paled at the news. "No... no, no."
"This is impossible, uncle! The capital, and Malia... S-She gave us the Capital's--! W-We sent our--"
"Derek, i need you to calm yourself! Take deep breaths, boy!" Peter muttered as he gripped his nephew's arms, shaking him.
"T-The capital granted us their allegiance, an alliance so we can send our refugees there! M-Malia, she made sure our people are protected... the Capital, uncle, is our only chance to win this godforsaken war!" Derek's own voice trembled, his heart and mind empty of peace. At times like these, even a practical man like him showed unexpected weaknesses. He searched for lies in his uncle's eyes, finding nothing but disappointment - in himself and Derek.
He stuttered, voice pitched like a child's. "T-The shelter camps, our refugees? Malia? ...What happened to them?"
Peter groaned in defeat, feeling troubled and furious. He too was overwhelmed with the news himself, too exhausted to avoid Derek's questions, too worried for his daughter and nieces' safety. Peter swallowed as he hung his head, "...Missing, everyone. Malia included, Laura and Cora. The shelter camps, Derek, there were never any to begin with. The Republic had us deceived."
Spotting the horror crossing his nephew's face, Peter gathered him close, as if telling a secret and curled a hand on the back of Derek's head. It was the only comfort Peter could think of that would remind Derek of Adam, and he chose his words carefully and said, "Our alleged ally was the first kingdom the Republic had pillaged." The capital was known for its impeccable defense hence the fortresses, stronger and superior than the Colony's and the Median's, first to be seized by their enemy brought shiver and fear to them both. "That scoundrel, Gerard... He knew we would turn to the Capital in desperate times. He toyed with us, he used everyone-- the Capital's soldiers, their people against us." Then Peter's voice grew quiet, "They are amongst us."
With a stretching emotional dilemma, Derek glanced over Peter's shoulder, pondering if there were indeed traitors and spies in his numbered soldiers. These were the men who fought alongside him, who followed him, his uncle and Deucalion through endless waves of massacre, trickery, conjury, bloodthirsty battles. These were the brave soldiers who pledged loyalty to the colony. Derek would never accuse any of them for betrayal.
Peter bristled at Derek's changing expressions - from disbelief, doubt to pity. No, this was not what he should feel. Once visited and shown by an old Calavera seer weeks ago, of a broken world where its only pillar of balance was polluted by Gerard's poison, Peter now understood the Order his sister was adamant to conceal. He questioned why she kept the secrecy from her daughters and not her son, and now Peter would never know. He needed Derek to open his eyes to Gerard's hidden intentions, beneath the man's hunger for expansion and power. Forget the traitors in their little army, Peter needed Derek to understand why Gerard was suspiciously forceful to the colony than the others. Void of his purpose in the seer's prophecy, Peter needed Derek's strength and will to carry out Talia's legacy, as promised. That much he could do, even if the consequence would meant the undeniable downfall of the Colony, their home... then so be it.
He could lie, as a part of his contingency plan, just to save his nephew. Only his nephew.
"The scouts, however, did find breadcrumbs of human heads... ten miles south. They said the air was harder to breathe there. I reckon their souls are trapped in between worlds, restless. Angry. I find their sufferings familiar, yet so much different than here," said Peter, rousing his nephew's attention once again. "Their faces were torn, their bodies burned. I am uncertain of their origins, but i do hope you can help them find their peace."
Within their rare sphere of magic-wielders, only one of them was girdled with their sacred duties to ferry the dead upon their passing, like what Talia did before she sacrificed herself months ago. Derek was fully aware of its sorrowful, morbid ritual where his mother stood amidst hoards of coffins after the siege of their hometown. She summoned their restless ghosts, sending them safely to the afterlife. The siege marked the ending of the heavenly truce between the Republic and the Colony. And Derek witnessed from afar, weeping at the glistening inferno of souls; prancing, dancing and swirling up the dark night sky.
Derek lowered his head, recalling his dead mother. "...I am only a wielder, uncle, like you. I am not like mother, I can never send the dead."
"Your mother gave you everything she knew, Derek. She passed her responsibilities to you. Sending souls to the afterlife grants you enough strength to last for a year," asserted Peter.
"If I was indeed like mother, I would have done so already."
Then a sudden realisation passed Derek's thoughts. He remembered the stories his parents used to tell him, of a hidden and powerful southern kingdom called the Sanctuary. Perhaps, the beheaded victims were heading towards the mysterious country?
"...Median is a neutral kingdom," he murmured, "The republic has violated the laws of neutrality. It is enough of a reason to set an alliance with the Sanctuary."
Peter sighed, "Nobody knows where the Sanctuary is. It is only a tale."
And Derek quietly said, "--Find it."
Then there was that fiery temper he had missed, crossing Derek's features. Peter succeeded, he only needed his nephew to march south alone. But when Derek pried and tore himself out from his uncle's grip, attempting to bring half of their men to rescue the Colony's refugees, Peter fumed and quickly grabbed Derek's forearm to stop him. By bringing their soldiers across borders, it would rouse the Republic's attention.
"You cannot risk the entire army, Derek! The Colony, good nephew, think of the Colony!" Peter hissed, he knew he was misleading the poor boy but he could never break the promise he made with Talia. She was one of the Fountain's eight sentinels, and her son was her supposed successor. He had to make sure his nephew was safe and sound, this was the only way he could think of. For himself to be estranged from Derek, to force the boy on the edge of his patience. To leave his army behind, just a small sacrifice to save the entire world.
Feigning a troubled concern for their soldiers, he pleaded, "We are our kingdom's last hope (i just need you to go alone). This is a mistake, you are leading death on our doors. You know this is a trap!"
But Derek, as stubborn as his parents, refused to face him. The nearby soldiers were now staring at them, surprised at his sudden outrage. Amidst the confusion, Peter spotted Deucalion who now stood outside his tent, bearing a sympathetic understanding to Peter's sacrificial arrangement for their soldiers. Between him and Deucalion, Derek and the rest of their men, Talia had only shared the secrets of her Order with her brother and her loyal friend.
"The Sanctuary has enough people to recruit, fortresses as strong as the Capital's. I do not care how far it will take me to go there, I will beg on my knees if I have to! As long as I live, I will not stop."
But Derek was not suited for vengeance.
"The Prince, Derek. He will know," Peter gritted his teeth, rain oh dear humble rain, please help him convince his nephew to change his young mind. "We do not have even the slightest chance to escape his sorcery by going south."
The prince - the trickster, the master of conjury - was the Republic's forgotten, Crowned heir who wore a notorious, innocent white overcoat that disobeyed the stark vacancy, the nothingness of his face beneath his hood. Absent of eyes, nose and mouth but his booming, disembodied voice. His skills were beyond comparable; quick with his feet, a witty fighter. It felt almost disheartening to think humans could be even more terrible than monsters. Derek tasted the Prince's gruesome talents only a few days ago, where the substances of their magic stones were still burning in the air. Their armies collided by the river, accompanied by a storm and the eventual bloodbath. Derek and the Prince were locked in a brutal sword fight, as he gambled his life to at least wound the trickster. But the paralyzing shock crept down his spine when the blinding sparks of the Prince's magic exploded, howled and shrieked as it was countered with Derek's spell, blasting them apart. The soldiers cried at the swarming inferno, flickering dusts and spores swirled and suspended. The Colony then retreated, suffering greatly in numbers and morale. As Deucalion hoisted and forced him to make their escape, Derek could feel the Prince's eyes staring his way. But he did not bother subduing them, he looked as if he was glued to his ground. Letting them escape, letting them suffer the living pain. Despite that, Derek was confident he would never be frightened by the prince's capability to dominate and execute. Yet Peter's persistence only made matters worse, as if Derek could not bother to even try to win.
"So you would rather abandon your own people? The women, the children, your family to that wretched demon's mercy?! Uncle, you are fully aware to what they do to their prisoners. They torture people like us. They slander, kill, they commit an abomination! They are not humans, they are monsters. I would rather die a martyr to save the lives of my people, than be a coward like you," Derek spat, yanked his arm away as he turned his heels to their small camp.
Like a twitch, Peter spun him around and struck his cheek with a stone fist. Derek crashed to the ground, the pain began to throb as he kept his face downward from meeting his uncle's eyes. There were gasps from their men who had witnessed the blow, and slowly did the uneasiness filled the sunset air. Dark orange glow of the sun sent glitters like jewels to the rain, casting shadowy figures to the lifeless bodies covering the earth. Everything was quiet, both uncle and nephew never fought in their entire lives.
Derek shook the dizziness and the pain away, and tasted the tangy iron of his own blood in his mouth. He gingerly touched his swelling cheek with a trembling hand, still caught in his shock. Peter, overwhelmed with guilt, disappointment and grief, stared down at him - fists clenched tightly, repressing his years worth of wrath. The oldest of the two was the most unlikely to lose his temper, but not one thing had gone the way they originally planned since they entered this forced purgatory. Of course he could not keep his patience sewed together. And now, their relationship like a father and son, was straining and treading on a thin ice.
"You want to be the martyr to nothing but your own mistakes? How many of our soldiers do you prefer? Fifty? All of them? How many of our deadbeats do you want to force chasing death?! Go ahead, take them. Fine by me. But i will enjoy from Hell seeing you wallowing in your guilt," Peter howled, his nose flared, noticing Derek flinching. They were both strong men, reduced to barking little children at war with their conflicted emotions.
He winced, closing his eyes at his nephew's quiet sobs. The last time he heard him crying was when his father was found mutilated in the forest, hanged like an offering for the devil. As he opened his eyes, in silence did he ask Deucalion to usher their men away; to prepare and keep themselves warm, to be alert for ambush, and to leave them alone. Amongst the heavy carnage, Peter crouched beside Derek and gently turned the boy's head to him. His eyes softened upon witnessing his nephew's supposed vulnerability, the one better suited to his young age as he placed a hand over his swollen cheek. Derek could feel pleasant warmth tingling his skin at the contact, the pain reducing and healing.
"My dear nephew, I am not asking you to submit and surrender. By taking all of us to Sanctuary, you will bring chaos to your mother's cause. And that does not bode well with me and the other sentinels," Peter admitted, his features stricken as he pulled Derek to a tight embrace. "I am asking you to leave us, to run. This battle is not yours to fight, you are not a coward in escaping it. Your mother has great faith in you, Derek. Do not fail her, be brave!"
Derek clutched on his uncle's arms, weeping and quavering at the thought he might lose his last remaining family. "U-Uncle, please don't do this to me..."
But Peter pulled away from him, avoiding his pleas as he stood and ordered a cold dismiss.
Derek's hometown - York - was one of the farthest and liveliest in the Colony, holding the majority of the kingdom's most treasured assets of military citadels, businesses and trade centers, resources of food and livestock and growing population. Thick forest walled three corners of the said town, serving as gates for security measures to merchants, travelers and visitors from foreign lands. York was widely known for its serenity and architectural, domestic beauty; especially the century old cathedral built on the town's sacred core and its steady bustling of pilgrims and devotees, and their king's grand monument constructed lavishly in gold nearby. The marketplace was crowded with busy vendors, farmers, merchants and potential buyers, smelling heavy of fruits, dried, fresh, raw and exotic delicacies. Boats, trade-cogs and carracks anchored, supplied and ready at the harbor for their captains and crews' daily voyages; armored and armed soldiers patrolling their designated areas, archive buildings for scholars and apothecaries, schools, shops, guilds, inns and taverns, and a stretch of stores owned by craftsmen and smiths all surrounded the town's core.
Half a mile close to the harbor where the gulls freely sang their songs, and up the cliff that bore a perfect seat to view the setting sun was Derek's childhood home. The aromatic smell of herbs, flowers and spices; of bread, sweets, magic and metal swirling in the air - it was the one of the few comforts his family could afford.
Derek was an apprentice to York's local and slightly eccentric blacksmith in the marketplace, Mr. Finstock. The townspeople knew him as the quiet, brooding son of Adam and Talia hale - the boy who taught himself the art of swordsmanship whilst forging and repairing weapons, armors and tools. His father was a skilled hunter and a known artillator, His mother was a retired soldier and had opened a now semi-popular Confectionery shop in town. His uncle, Peter, was an intelligent scholar and a scribe who spent most of his time locked in his given archive. Laura, the eldest of the hale children, worked as a teacher in one of York's public schools and her youngest sibling, little Cora, was her student. His cousin and Peter's only daughter, Malia, was the hot-headed cavalry archer in the military and Derek's childhood accomplice.
Deucalion rode his stallion through the forest; greeted by the proud eastern gate of York, the chirping cicadas and the faint squawking of seagulls, the pleasant bustling of active townspeople and the smell and the relief of home sweet home. The old gatekeeper and a few sentries bowed their heads upon his arrival, reporting the day's good news and weather, and the night's yearly celebration. Dismounting, he brought his horse by its reins to a stable located nearby, beckoning the young stableman to keep a very close eye on his sensitive 'friend' before he paid him a silver coin for the boy's promised work. Strolling through the busy marketplace, he bought a basket full of bread, cheese and fresh fruits, as he awarded giddy musicians and smiles at the passing children who gaped at his hefty longsword. He accepted the humble gifts from the vendors and merchants who knew him, thanking him for his undivided service to their God, king and country, as he eventually made his way to Mr. Finstock's shop.
Hearing the powerful, beating sounds of metal clanging and hammering, he invited himself in and smiled at the deeply engaged apprentice who took his teacher's place for the day. He had not seen the boy for close to a year, and now he grew up to become quite muscular for his age - seemingly trustworthy and dependable, like his father, Adam. Placing his food basket and gifts on a desk, Deucalion took in the sight of the surprisingly tidy and clean workplace (opposite to Mr. Finstock's usual mess); molds stored at one corner of the shop, the chimney, the burning fire-pit and the coal-mount on the other - tool-stands for his swages, hammers, drifts, punches, axes and chisels, racks of finely produced weapons, maille armors and headgears.
"Good morrow, Derek!" bellowed Deucalion, laughing gleefully when the said apprentice jumped, dropping his hammer to the ground. He grumbled at the soldier's insufferable cackles as he replaced his fallen tool by a bench.
"Prithee, you should knock, old man," Derek huffed at his now failed, tempered metal but nonetheless curved an easy smile when he turned to greet the soldier. Oh, how much similarities he had of his lovely mother. "It is a matter of courtesy, a prerequisite for a man of your newly found status. Mind the dirt, if you will."
And a very clever lad.
"Hush, hush. You will just have to make sure that I do remember such necessity. I am not overly fond of committing such nurtured behavior," he countered, returning the boy's welcoming embrace as he patted his back. Deucalion was a close friend of Derek's parents, and a recently promoted captain of the Royal Colony Military. He was a constant presence in the Hale children's rowdy childhood, a doting mentor to them and perhaps a forced sitter, at times.
"And so I will remind you again, dear sir, that a smithy like me do not serve tea," Derek teased as he released his old mentor, snatching a rag by the anvil to clean his dirtied hands and watched the man taking a seat on a stool beside the desk. "You will have to make your merry way to mother's store to find one. Or to Laura's, if she's not too busy to entertain you."
"Goodness me, you sound a lot like your mother. How did Adam and Talia ever conceive such devils for children, I will never understand," Deucalion chuckled, smoothing down his dark blue gambeson - grimacing at the apparent discomfort to have to wear a clothing so expensive. "How is your mother, Derek? Is she well?"
"Mother's health is as strong as always, nothing to worry. She is experimenting a few recipes today, with pears and almonds for the feast tonight. Do visit the Confectionery if you want her complimentary treats."
"I will, I will. It scares me that you know me so much. What of your father?"
Derek groaned, folding the rag as he sat perched on his workbench. "Father was out hunting a few days ago, slipped on a rock and bathed himself in the cold river. Gave us a fright when he came home soaked and bleeding. He refuses to rest and eat his medicines no matter how much we beg him!" he muttered, earning a heartful laugh from his mentor. "He is a careless, stubborn old father who ignores how delicate his health is. You should talk to him, sir. Perhaps he will listen to you better than us."
"I assure you, Derek, regardless of my current status I am powerless against your father," Deucalion said with a small, fond smile. "And Malia? Is she still causing you much trouble? I understand she can be a little handful now that she is with the cavalry."
"Cavalry or not, she brings trouble everywhere," he rolled his eyes, taking off his apron and flung the cloth on the desk. "The last time she did was making a fool out of herself at Barrow's Tavern, and uncle forced me to intervene. We both sported a black eye the next morning, and we gave uncle the same treatment."
The soldier laughed yet again. Oh, how Derek and Malia's antics always managed to ease and brighten his days. Admiring and observing Mr. Finstock's upgraded shop and the collection of fine weaponries; of steel, carved and polished swords, maces, spears, deadly arrowheads and armors, all forged out of sheer good strength and motivation from none other but Derek. Excellent quality and purchase of silver, gold, iron and carbon coal, prepared by a well-trained apprentice who bore perfect craftsmanship and swordsmanship. He remembered then, a day before he was summoned to the king's palace to be promoted, did he offer a place for the boy in the army - to continue his mother's legendary office. Derek was a perfect candidate for the Royal Colony Military, and of good heritage. And yet--
"How was the ceremony, sir? Did you enjoy your time there?"
"Well, it was a privilege to have been invited and honored a title. To be acknowledged," Deucalion stood, taking an interest on a finely folded, black tungsten-carbide sword with a gold handle, resting proudly on the rack. Testing its grip, and the sharpness of the weapon's edge and tip. It was certainly a deadly sword. "To be surrounded with such fine treasures and... nobility."
The boy frowned, "Do you not like them?"
"It is a matter of being likable to Lords and Ladies like themselves. Those who attended my ceremony were nothing but blue bloods and my men," the soldier sighed, wincing at a memory. "Which means I have to be well-behaved like them, all upright and stiff. To also which, you very well know, I do not like. Even so, I will forever respect our king's hospitality."
Derek chuckled, rolling his sleeves down to cover his naked arms and proceeded to rummage the man's gift basket. Deucalion shifted his attention to the sword in his hands, it balanced beautifully on his palm as he sheathed it back to its scabbard. But he scowled when he saw the ominous dragon symbol etched on its pommel, it was an emblem for a royalty. A Republican royalty.
"May I ask to whom this exquisite sword will be sent to?"
He raised an eyebrow, as he bit on an apple. "A blue blood, sir. A young Lord came by a few months back, paid Mr. Finstock a pouch of gold coins for a perfect Sabre. He brought along a few precious metals with him, said he wanted the sword to be a gift."
"Did you help making this said weapon?"
"I did everything, actually. Mr. Finstock was a bit... useless, to say the least. Now that he is getting married," Derek sighed, taking another bite of his apple. He mumbled then, as if he was disappointed at his teacher's love sickness. "For a man his age, I am a little shocked."
"Was he alone?"
Deucalion fixed his eyes on the carving of the dragon, it was certainly Derek's handiwork - smooth and elegant. The burgundy scabbard's expensive fur and leather, its gold and silver designs. A weapon suited for a fighter. "And when will Mr. Finstock's client retrieve his merchandise?"
"Tomorrow... if I am not mistaken," Derek said cautiously. "What is with all these questions, sir?"
"Hmm? Curious, I am curious is all. Nothing to worry," the soldier shook his head and smiled ruefully, returning the sword to its rack. Now, why would a Republic aristocrat need his sword be made at a town a thousand miles far and foreign such as York? There were many popular blacksmiths in Republic cities and ports, but this - a Colony territory, no less. What made him suspect the most, was that this young Lord came here all by his lonesome, as if he knew there were sentinels residing here. None could judge his distrust, the Lord could be a spy. Instead, he asked Derek, "Have you, by any chance, changed your mind, Derek? The offer still stands. A talent like yours is a prerequisite in the army."
"You understand my reasons, sir. It is a bad omen for me to join the army. I am truly sorry," Derek smiled sadly, bitten apple forgotten in his hand as he shrugged. "My place is here."