Chapter 15: Ancient Rose
Bodies fill the area, illuminated only by torchlight. The courtyard is full of people, some dressed in full armor, prepared for battle; others only in their clothes, no weapons to speak of. Some are knights, some are wizards- and still others are new players, barely making it to the castle in time for my speech.
I stand in front of the crowd, but behind the king- a man much older than me, dressed in magnificent purple robes. Ryan stands beside me, shifting on his feet. Rylie isn’t to be found, what with her “condition” getting worse.
“Subjects!” he booms, and I make a mental note to speak louder than him. “I am sure you all have heard of the recent attacks on our fellow servers by the dreaded Ender Army. Well, here I have with me tonight is a player by the name of Guardian, the one orchestrating the counter-attacks. She and her team successfully defended Cobaltium from complete and utter ruin!”
A cheer goes up among the crowd, and the king waits a few moments to let it die down before speaking again. “Guardian has spoken to me about a possible raid tonight on our very own home, and will now speak to the people of our plans.”
He gestures to me, and as he steps back I step forward, clearing my throat. “Thank you. Anyways, thanks to some inside knowledge, we have gathered information that there will be a raid tonight so I’ll try to be quick.
“Advanced players, take the front lines, back up the newbies that can help. If your strength is magic, flank the opposing army and attack from the sides. Archers, stick to the back, you go after the dragon if it appears. Any questions?”
“How are you sure this is gonna work?” one person shouts.
“If I could defend Cobaltium with barely any planning, then we can defend this server,” I answer matter-of-factly. “Anything else?”
“How are you sure that something is gonna happen tonight?”
I open my mouth to respond, but I’m cut off by the roar of a dragon way too close for comfort. Everyone turns toward the sound, and I shout, “Is that enough of an answer for you?! Get ready everyone!”
The distinct shadow of the enderdragon swoops overhead, and the cries of the players are soon drowned out by the shrieks of endermen as the courtyard explodes with action. Arrows are flying, swords glint in the torchlight. I find myself jumping right into the fray, ducking under and around players until I’m toe to toe with a player on the enemy side, my sword clashing against their hatchet.
We trade blows back and forth, them slashing and me parrying, until my sword gets knocked out of my hand. A short moment passes, and then I dash after it, hearing a shout behind me as I slip away from my opponent.
Grasping it back in my hand, I glance up at the sight of an obsidian blade coming down on me. I reach up and hear the clang of the two metals clashing together, the impact sending a jolt through my arms as I glance up into the eyes of the Enderqueen herself.
“You,” she breathes, stepping back and holding her sword to the side. “You said your name was Guardian, huh?”
“What’s it to you?” I retort, standing up and holding my sword at the ready.
She looks me over and smiles, giving a slash across my form that I barely manage to block. “You’re kinda cute,” she coos. “Too bad you’re an enemy.”
“That’s just gross,” I grimace in response, slashing back as she blocks with expert timing.
She grins, and we trade blows back and forth, me slashing, her parrying with me blocking and slashing again. She’s fast and nimble, for being taller- and younger- than me. And soon, I find myself tiring out, my slashes getting slower and my blocks missing, landing me a few wounds on my arms and legs.
Soon enough, my sword is knocked away from me again and I’m knocked down onto my back. Before I can stand up, however, Shado’s foot comes down on my chest, pinning me down to the ground. I growl and squirm underneath her as she puts her sword up to my neck, staring back into her face.
“This was fun,” she says, pressing the blade tighter against my throat. “But now you must die.”
“Wait!” a voice calls, and Shado is shoved back away from me with a stumble as Ryan stands in between us, his arms out and breathing heavily.
“Ryan?!” Shado shouts. “What are you doing?!”
“Please,” he breathes, turning to Shado. “Please not Guardian. I’ll do anything you want me to. Please.”
Shado growls, but steps back again, glaring at him. “Fine. But only this time.” A glance back at me. “We will meet again. Ryan, you’re coming with me.”
She puts two fingers in her mouth and whistles loudly, and the roar of the dragon in the distance responds. Soon after, the creature in question comes swooping down and Shado jumps on its back with ease, dragging Ryan up with her before they both fly away.
I simply stare after them, my mind racing at a hundred miles a minute.
“Ryan is a traitor!”
I’m practically fuming at this realization as Rylie fusses over my wounds, however minor they may be. I find myself getting hotter and redder as I dwell on this fact- we were friends! I thought I could trust him!
“Listen, Guardian, none of us saw this coming,” Frozen replies over a cup of tea. Eva sits beside them, head hung low, and Rain leans against the doorframe to the outside. The air in the room is tense, even with the window open. “I tried my best to teach him what I could- I didn’t know that this would lead him to . . . yeah.”
I’m silent for a moment, and then sigh in disappointment. “No one’s blaming you, Frozen. No one in here is to blame.” I glance to the side and let out a frustrated growl. “I just wish that I had known.”
Rylie finishes tending to my wounds and stands up to her full height beside me, which draws the gaze of everyone in the room. In the dim light of the early dawn, she’s still in her ender form, so I have to strain my neck to look up at her.
“I’m going outside,” she announces, turning on her heel and walking abruptly out the door. I watch her go, and then look back at the others.
“. . . You should go with her, Guardian,” Rain sighs from his position against the wall, shifting on his feet. “Someone has to keep an eye out anyway.”
I roll my eyes in response, but get up and follow Rylie out into the cool dawn air anyway.
The ender-human in question I find standing at the beach, just out of reach of the tide rolling in and out. She’s watching the sun rise over the horizon, I assume, but glances back once she hears me approach. Her purple eyes bore into mine, and then she gives a sigh, almost falling down cross-legged on the sand.
“You might want to sit down,” she starts, motioning to the sand beside her, “because this might get pretty long.”
I hesitate, taking in the scene- a beautiful sunrise, with the ender-human sitting very picturesque in the middle. The purple pixels emanating from her form are a stark reminder- why isn’t she changing back?
The question is answered once I take a seat next to Rylie, and she takes a short breath before speaking.
“I think I’m stuck. In my ender form, I mean.”
I’m taken aback somewhat, blinking a few times before finally registering what she said fully. “What do you mean?”
“It means I can’t change back,” she clarifies, drawing lines in the sand with her claws. “I don’t know why. It was never at will, it was never my fault- well, I guess it was, but-“
“Wait, hold up. What do you mean by that?”
Rylie looks over at me, and then sighs again. “It’s a long story.”
“We have time,” I say, shifting into a more comfortable position on the sand. “Don’t we?”
She nods once, clasping her hands together and taking a deep breath. “I didn’t used to be human, you know. I started out as an enderman.”
I blink in surprise. “No, I did not know that.”
“Well, now you do,” she replies, giving a slight chuckle. “Anyway- I used to be pure ender. I lived a long time ago, back when there was a sort of monarchy ruling our race. We were . . . not quite that different from what they are now.” She gives a dry laugh. “We went through periods of war and peace. I was spawned in in a time of war.
“I was . . . very different from what I am now. I wanted blood and destruction and death. I wanted to be the strongest. So I honed my strength with my brothers and sisters in raids and battles that we took part in. In a way, it was . . . almost fun, to be part of that. How I could feel the adrenaline running through my bones, my core, making me feel freer than ever before.
“One time, as one player lay dying-“ she stops, her face scrunching up into a look of disgust before continuing- “they cursed me to ‘feel their pain forever’. I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant by that at the time- honestly, I assumed that it meant that I would be in physical pain until I died. No . . . honestly, this was much worse.”
She stops for an extended period of time, so I lean back, letting out a low whistle. “So, basically, if I’m right, you’re immortal now, and your curse is that you changed into a human forever?”
She nods. “I went into a hiding for a long time after that. During that time, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to think and learn and change.” She shrugs, turning her gaze back to the sun which has now risen completely over the horizon. “That’s how I know about the game and servers and stuff like that, while still being game-born. But I guess none of that matters anymore?”
I pause, opening my mouth and then closing it again. “You . . . you’re still on our side, right?”
She glances over at me in surprise, and then ruffles my hair. “Yeah, I am, don’t worry,” she replies. “I know you’re still shaken up about Ryan- but you have to move on from that. He’s the enemy now, and not worth your time.”
“I know, I know,” I complain, “but . . . I can’t get over it, you know? I trusted him. I thought we were friends . . .”
Rylie gives me a reassuring pat on the back. “Friends come and go, you know. Just let them go when they do.”
I give a noise, and lean against her shoulder. “Thanks.”
She continues to rub my back as we watch the sun rise together, sitting in silence.
The clang of weapons and the growls of the sparring endermen reach my ears as I watch my army hone their skills against each other. We’ve sent out messengers to bring news of the final battle to the opposing side, and now all we can do is train and wait.
However, I’m tense, my body rigid. Thoughts flood my mind- thoughts of destruction and agony, and ones of hope and renewal. History has been seeming to repeat itself. And this time, I just might be on the wrong side of it.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, and turn around from my spot on the balcony to face Storm looking down at me, his gaze unblinking.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Storm asks, taking a position beside me.
I glance back out towards my army before responding. “No, I’m really not.” I give a frustrated sigh. “I’m never sure about these things. It’s just like two years ago, when we were going up against Herobrine- you weren’t there, so you wouldn’t know,” I add when I see the confused look on his face. “But now . . .”
I trail off, lost in thought. Storm gives me a pointed look, and I glance back at him, feeling the desperation in my face. “Storm, I always thought I was doing good for my people but- I feel like the bad guy. I’m not the bad guy, am I?”
Storm takes a deep breath before speaking, biting his lip. “ . . . I don’t know, Shado. What you’re doing is . . . I don’t know how to put it. Excessive? That seems like a good word.”
I feel my body go limp, even though I’m standing, and I can feel myself start to shake. He’s saying yes, basically- I can tell from the way he danced around the question, trying not to hurt my feelings.
Storm notices this and reaches over, giving me a pat on the shoulder. “H-hey, it’s okay. You’re doing what you think is best.”
“But is it really?” I ask, my head still down. “Am I doing more harm than good? Am I just leading us on a path of destruction?”
Storm doesn’t respond.
I put my head in my hands and sink down to my knees, trying to hold back tears. Even though he’s not saying it, he’s right- I am doing more harm than good. Should I just stop? Call this all off, renounce my crown and go back into hiding?
It’s too late to fall back now, a voice calls in my mind, and we both glance up to see Herobrine leaning against the doorway to the balcony. In a rush, I wipe my eyes and stand back up straight, trying to hide the fact that I was just almost crying. He doesn’t need to know that.
Herobrine’s blank eyes bore into mine as he continues. You’ve come too far to stop. You’ve built an army out of practically nothing, you’ve made plenty of enemies as well as allies. It’s impossible to turn away from all that at this point.
“ . . . You’re right,” I finally reply, crossing my arms and turning my head away from him. "There’s no turning back now.”
I take a deep breath, trying to clear my head from all the thoughts clouding it. It’s almost time. Our messengers should be back soon.
A slight wind blows through my hair, making me shiver as I notice the cold temperature of the End. It’s been almost two years since my last time like this- but it feels so much longer. And as we stand here, on the balcony of my castle, I feel a power inside my core growing steadily stronger, spreading through my body.
It’s almost time, and I’m nervous. Will we be able to win? Will we prevail?
Only time will tell.