|Methodenstreit: The Last Czamaral
Author: demonsshade PM
Two almost-lovers, Matthew and Sveta, part just as Weyard needs them together most. A dark take on Golden Sun with MatthewxSveta at its core, but romance is only a part of the plot.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Tragedy - Matthew & Sveta - Chapters: 4 - Words: 24,580 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 10-05-12 - Published: 09-28-12 - id: 8562519
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: Hey, hey, hey. This is the first chapter in my reboot of Fallen. I decided to scrap all the ideas that rose from my previous stories, Risen and Fallen, and start anew. That's right! Nobody is dead anymore, the plot is different, and different things happen! Risen will remain uploaded because it is, honestly, one of my favorite things I've written. I'll be taking Fallen down shortly and will be recycling some of its content (which isn't much, honestly) for use in my new series.
Speaking of recycling, two of the four POV for this chapter are taken directly from Fallen, and were simply edited for consistency. That would be Hydros's POV and Unan's POV. Matthew's and Rief's are both entirely new. Together, these four POV sections are intended to give a bit of background about the change that is coming to Weyard after Dark Dawn. (By the way, there's a one month time skip between Matthew's POV and Rief's.)
Because this is a reboot, there's no need to read Risen or anything else to understand what's going on. You can start right here! Read Risen if you want, but it's no longer related to my new Golden Sun stuff (though I may reuse characters). Anyway, I've written too much for this A/N. Enjoy my new fanfic! And please review!
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
- William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming
Matthew gazed out over Morgal as the last of the shadows of the Grave Eclipse melted away, somehow visible against the moonlight. They hadn't yet cleared the mountains on their trek back into Sana from the Apollo Sanctum, and though their quest was won, their hearts were heavy with grief. They distracted themselves with humor and banter, but they all ached in some way.
Matthew wanted to reach out to Sveta, to comfort her for her lost brother, but what could he say? "Sorry" was pitifully useless, as effective as mending a ghastly wound with a single, small bandage.
She was mostly silent on their daily hikes, and curled up in a ball, alone and separate from the group, when they stopped to sleep. By the time the group finally reached the mountains again, Sveta hadn't spoken in days.
Sitting around the campfire at night, the rest of the party was chatting amiably. Sveta simply stared into her soup, playing with the spoon and eating nothing. Matthew found himself distracted by her. She was beautiful, that was sure, and in a sense her beauty was only enhanced by her insistent depression. The firelight seemed to dance across her face, illuminating each feature, eliminating imperfections. Her downward gaze further dramatized the image, as if from some long-forgotten statue of an age unremembered.
"We're almost out of the mountains now," Kraden said. Matthew realized he had been spacing out, keeping little track of the conversation. Who the old man was speaking to, why, and in response to what, he had no idea. "I agree. It's time to think about what the next direction for us, individually and as a whole, is."
"Well," Matthew looked across from Kraden, where Karis was sitting on a log next to Amiti, her face serious. "Matthew, Tyrell and I were planning on returning to the Goma Plateau. Isaac and Garet are, no doubt, worried sick about us returning safely."
At this, Sveta raised her head, ever so slightly, looking straight at Matthew. He caught her eye, and it seemed almost like a trace of hurt washed over her for a second, but then it was gone again, her face turned back toward her soup. Briefly, Matthew wondered if nobody had told Sveta about his plans to return with Karis and Tyrell. He swore to himself. He should have told her himself.
"I... must return to Ayuthay." Amiti said slowly. Oddly enough, he glanced at Karis when he said it, as if there was some unspoken understanding between them. "King Paithos may already have succumbed to his illness, and I must see to it that my city is properly led."
"Same here." Eoleo stated, shifting his weight. He'd already finished his soup and was running the blade of his greataxe along a whetstone, drinking a strong alcohol from a pouch every once in a while. "Champa needs me. I can take a detour to Yamata and Belinsk to take Himi and Sveta home once we're back at my ship, but after that it's home for me."
"So it seems home-bound is the trend?" Kraden smirked at Eoleo, who was seated near to me. "I guess I'm more spry than you lot. I'm not done with my adventuring." Rief immediately seemed to snap to attention.
"Sir! What about me?" Rief piped up. Kraden laughed, an unexpectedly deep and resonant sound, despite the man's age. A century, if Matthew remembered correctly, yet he was somehow still active.
"You're welcome to accompany me, Rief. You can choose the direction of our adventures now!" Rief beamed at Kraden's statement, a light appearing behind his eyes. "I tire of making our decisions after so long."
"Oh boy, Kraden, he's gonna wet himself with joy now." Eoleo joked. He was a bit drunk, which gave reason to the outburst from a normally solemn man. A few of the others laugh. Matthew doesn't, instead too focused on Sveta. She glanced up again, catching his eye, then looked away quickly.
"Sveta," Matthew interrupted the laughing, hardly cognizant of it occurring in the first place. "Can I talk to you in private?" She hesitated for a long while, then nodded, standing.
"Hey, hey, Matthew!" Eoleo grinned, "Go easy on the girl! We're all going to notice if you start making kissy faces at each other!" He laughed again. Matthew glared at him for a moment before leading Sveta away from the campfire.
"Oh, come now, Eoleo," He heard Kraden say. "Be nice to the kids."
"Sveta, we need to talk." Matthew says once they're out of earshot. Sveta didn't respond, merely looking up at him, the moonlight draping her. The mountain they were on was unusually scenic, though perhaps that wasn't a good thing. Earlier in the day they had seen a few glimpses of Morgal. Villages still burned, their dark tendrils of smoke refusing to be blown away in the wind even days after the end of the Grave Eclipse. Sveta stared at them for as long as they were visible.
For a long while they simply stood there; Matthew started to feel foolish. If she wasn't even going to respond to him, then what point was there in talking? Resignation suddenly took hold of him, rather than the expected response of anger or irritation. How could he blame her for anything after Volechek's death?
"You don't have to explain yourself." Sveta said suddenly, the first real sentence she'd uttered in days. Matthew stared down at her in shock, disbelief. Did he really hear her speak? "I can't really expect you to tell me your plans for the future when I can hardly talk myself."
"I'm honestly surprised, Sveta." Matthew grinned at her. "Two full sentences! You can really speak after all." On any other person, the slight chastisement would have been damaging to use, but Matthew trusted in his friendship with Sveta.
"Shut up." Sveta said, a small grin showing. The first smile in a long time, since before Volechek's death. Spinning away from him, Sveta walked to the edge of the trail, staring out over the Sanan landscape, a picture visible only slightly in the moonlight. "You've shown me many beautiful, wonderful, terrible things on this journey, Matthew. Even if we do not end it together, I am content."
"I can always see you." Matthew blurted out, but he predicted Sveta's response before she spoke from the way she slumped her shoulders, sighing. "I mean, I could visit Belinsk, maybe buy a house and live there? We could see each other if we wanted to!"
"You're too idealistic." Sveta whispered, just barely loud enough to hear. Louder, she continued, "I am a Czamaral. I am the blood of kings. There are... expectations."
"Who gives a crap about expectations?" Matthew felt emotion run into his voice. "Yeah, I'm an idealist; it's the only way to keep sane after all the death and destruction we've seen. So I could care less about any royal expectations. Even if I've got to head home first, I'm still coming after you, no matter what."
"You aren't special, Matthew!" Sveta turned, angered. "There are laws, rules. I am going to be a queen. With my brother gone, all the hopes and desires of my people fall to me. I am their sole protector now. I am the last Czamaral."
"Have Matthew help you make some more!" They hear from the campfire. Sveta and Matthew turned towards it to see Karis cupping her hand over Eoleo's mouth, an embarrassed expression on her face. Sveta quickly looked away from them, blushing both from having accidentally raised her voice and the statement itself.
"Don't listen to him." Matthew smiled reassuringly. "I'm the son of Isaac, a warrior of Vale. How is that not good enough pedigree?"
"It's not about pedigree, it's-"
"Sveta, you know how I feel about you, and I, you." Matthew was certain the camp could overhear him by now; he didn't care. "But I just want to make sure of one thing with you, before we make any sort of decision. Everything I saw in your head back then, was it true?"
Matthew thought back to the Apollo Sanctum, to the time their souls merged. He had felt Sveta's consciousness pressed against him, her very essence seeping into him, him into her. It was more intimate than any lover's tryst, kiss or carress. He felt the entirety of her being, saw through her eyes, sensed her, knew her in every way imaginable. For a moment there was no distinction between Matthew and Sveta.
They simply were.
"Yes." Sveta looked up at him, again that same vulnerable, shy girl he met in Teppe Ruins, "Everything. You saw the essence of what makes me exist: Every facet and detail. You even saw-" She paused, just for a second, "How I look naked."
"Same for you."
"But even that's inconsequential. The nakedness of my body is nothing compared to that of my soul." Sveta's gaze remained locked onto Matthew's. "Don't question what you saw, Matthew. There is no truer expression of who I am in all of Weyard than what's bored into your mind."
"Sveta-" Matthew started to say, but Sveta cut him off, her finger at his lips.
"A queen cannot forsake her people, even for the one she-" Sveta stopped herself, looking away. "Matthew, don't chase after me. The pain isn't worth it to either of us. To even talk of this while in mourning for my brother, I can't-" Hesitation. "I can't stay with you. Not after all this."
"Why not?" Matthew asked, but he felt he knew the answer, even if neither could ever express it to the other.
"Because..." Sveta grit her teeth, her eyes watering. Her misery at that moment was tangible. "Because I said so, okay?" Sveta practically yelled this, a few small streaks of sadness running down her cheeks, but an instant later she was quiet again, as if embarrassed by her outburst. "This isn't a choice I can make for myself. I would have loved for you to come with me, to live with me in Belinsk, but we both know that won't work. The people will never accept it. They don't even want me, let alone a stranger. They want my brother!"
"You can't fight it. This is how it must be." Sveta verbally bit at him, harsh and hostile. Matthew found himself without words as Sveta pushed past him, back to the campfire. After a long while he sighed, sitting at the edge of the cliff.
He stayed there, his legs dangling off the cliff, and thought for a long time, a curious remorse settling over him, a regret for times never to be, for visions he'd never see through. He understood what she had said – at this point, there was no way he couldn't understand her – but the pain in his heart proceeded relentlessly.
It was hopeless after all.
King Hydros clutched the desk tightly, support for his old bones. Even a Lemurian grows old in the end, and Hydros knew his had been a long time coming. Every morning he'd awaken, surprised to see the light of Sol, surprised that his heart had not simply stopped in his sleep. Every night he slept wondering if he'd see the next light of dawn, if that was to be his last day.
Every time he walked, he wondered why his legs didn't simply crumple beneath him. They probably would if he didn't use a cane. When he ate, he wondered how his organs could still function after so long. Truly, it was a miracle that he had lived since the last Golden Age. Who would have thought he'd live to see another?
The ancient Lemurian examined the room he had claimed as his own so long ago. As King, his quarters were naturally lush, but Hydros was not one for extravagance. Silk curtains from hundreds of years past hung from the open window, so fragile to age that a single touch would destroy them. Yet even they were but a small fraction of Hydros's own age. Hydros unlatched the lock holding the window closed and let it fly open.
He gazed out that window now, out over the sinking city of Lemuria. The scholars had all thought the Golden Sun would restore their city to its former glory, but Hydros knew better. Lemuria was a relic of the past. You cannot stop the cruel and swift passage of time, even with alchemy. The city itself was dying, much like Hydros himself.
"I watched as you were born, Lemuria," Hydros smiled calmly out over the moonlit city. So calm and quiet, the people long having left to the armada when the architects declared the city was falling into the sea too swiftly to be safe. "And like so much else, I will have to see you die."
Behind him, Hydros heard a rustle of movement and the old king smiled. He hobbled to his desk, stacks of papers filling it to the brim. How fortunate he had gotten all his work for the day done before this moment. There should be very little trouble for those who follow him to lead.
"Raspin," Hydros called as he lowered himself into that old, familiar chair behind his desk. The musky smell was still pleasant after all these years. The young, bright-eyed soldier rushed into the room, saluting. "Please, bring me some wine. The vintage from Jorbe's stock, if you would please."
"But sir," Raspin cocked an eyebrow quizzically. "Weren't all fine wines taken with the Armada?"
"They decided to take the wines as well?" Hydros chuckled. "Typical of sailors. I should have expected such a thing. Tell me, Raspin, why are you still in Lemuria?"
"Sir," Raspin snapped to attention. "I exist to serve and protect the crown no matter where you choos to stay. I shall accompany you until you have packed all your belongings and are ready to join the Armada."
"At least some still hold respect for their elders." Hydros smiled at the young man. Still fresh to combat, he was only seventy years old. Such youth. "Tell me, are there any particular ladies you have your eye on currently?"
"B-Beg your pardon?" Hydros nearly burst out laughing at the blushing the man immediately displayed. Oh! The innocence of youth! How beautiful and fragile the concept was! "I-If you would allow me to say so," Hydros nodded, "I-I've had eyes for Lady Myra f-for some time now."
The young Raspin was chuckling nervously and scratching the back of his head. Hydros could tell the depth of the boy's feelings by the look in his eyes. Memories of youth rushed back to Hydros then, and he smiled again.
"She's a few years your younger, but the daughter of a senator!" Hydros laughed, throwing his head back. "Keep to your passions, boy. You are only young once."
"Of course sir." Raspin smiled, saluting again. "And your wine?"
"There should still be one bottle of something left. Humor an old man his alcohol, if you would," Hydros smiled kindly. The young soldier had no choice but to obey. He rushed off. Oh, how Hydros wished he could still move so swiftly! And long after the soldier had gone, Hydros smiled and spoke to himself. "I've got quite the feeling tonight is not ordinary."
There was a long silence, so long that Hydros worried that he had perhaps felt what had not been there, that his senses, despite being fine tuned after so long, were wrong. But finally, almost with relief, the presence responded.
"How did you know I was here?" The hooded man stepped out of the darkness. He was dressed from head to toe in black, as expected, his face barely visible. "I made sure there were no clues. I am not unskilled at infiltration."
"And indeed, you fooled a young guard." Hydros smiled at the intruder, leaning back as comfortably as he could in his chair. "It's been thirty years since we last met, but you are still as callow as ever. You serve a master that you do not understand."
"You spared Raspin by sending for the alcohol." The man stated. "You knew there was none left, and he dare not return without it. How generous of you, and to maintain such a cool demeanor throughout."
"Unlike a few I know," Hydros leaned over a candle, extinguishing it with a flick of the wrist. "I try to keep to sanity in my line of work. But I'm the King and you're a soldier. Surely there is a difference in wisdom required to hold each position."
"On the contrary, I've moved up in the world." A flash of a smirk under that hood. Moonlight reflected off that devilish smile; the treachery behind it was almost palpable. "I'm not just a grunt anymore. I'm called Denier, general of the coins, now. The High Empyror needsme."
"I am not surprised. You were always talented, so very talented, but always young in the mind." Hydros shook his head sadly. "Your genius has hampered you. Your good judgment seems to be taking an unwelcome vacation. Many will die because of you."
"I take no pleasure from the deaths I will inflict," Denier stated grimly, drawing a long, thin blade. It was as dark as pitch and seemed to suck in the moonlight around it. "Your life is not the first I am bound to steal, but it is all necessary."
Hydros stood slowly, pushing the chair back. He knew this was coming the moment he first opened the window. As his father did before him, and his father's father did before that, Hydros stood and stared at his death. There was no other acceptable way.
"If you follow through with this, you realize you are condemning this entire world, yes?" Hydros let go of his cane, letting himself stand under his own power. "History has a peculiar way of repeating itself, so I know what is to come next."
Denier crossed to Hydros, the dark blade pointed at the old man's heart. As the point touched Hydros's tunic, he could feel his weakness encumber him, but he stood strong.
"Just don't resist, Hydros." Denier said, almost kindly. "I will not make your passing unpleasant. It's just like falling asleep."
"I die fighting." Hydros backed away, throwing up his hands. Massive icicles erupted from Hydros's palms, shooting towards Denier. The hooded man rolled to the side, getting to his feet just as Hydros attacked again, this time with a barrier of boiling water thrown at him.
Hydros sighed sadly as the boiling water enveloped Denier and he started to writhe in apparent agony. The old king took no pleasure from the sight of the burning man, but he knew it was necessary. Hydros turned away, out that window he knew so well.
Clouds in front of the full moon, shining slightly in the darkness.
Sharp pain, and Hydros looked down at the black blade, at the blood pouring from the wound in his chest. Behind him he could feel Denier pressed against him. As he spoke, his voice cracked in sadness.
"Good king, you are not the first," He barely breathed in Hydros' ear as the man slowly stumbled to the ground. Hydros felt his senses dull as blood poured from the wound. He stared out the window, at nature, at once serene and violent.
"Find peace with your gods, Hydros." Denier said, drawing his blade. Hydros fell to the ground, his head tilted upwards. Still he could see the moon, covered in clouds.
"There was no other way." Hydros whispered at the night sky.
"I am sorry, your grace." Denier said as the world faded out.
And at long last, after centuries of strife and conflict, peace and love, a lifetime nigh immortal, King Hydros looked one last time at the familiar sky. As the moon moved from the clouds it hid behind, the moonlight touched his skin again, and Hydros was content. In the end, all that began must also end.
Kraden was always whistling now, Rief thought absentmindedly. It was a happy tune, carefree with a hint of sadness to punctuate its melodic verses. Somehow the lack of words made it all the more sweet. No matter what happened, no matter what course their road took them, the man was jovial, full of a jubilant life a man over a hundred should never have been allowed to possess.
"Where to now, my boy?" Kraden stopped, looking back at Rief. They were somewhere north of Bilibin now, Rief thought, though he couldn't really be sure. Much of the country seemed unfamiliar, and the sparse, yet very green and very common, forest they walked through did little to reveal their location.
"Wherever the road takes us, I guess." Rief smiled back. North. They were always going north, he felt, even when they went South, or East, or West. Always the road turned back North. There was something profound about that, Rief thought. Ever since leaving the rest of the adepts some weeks past, or perhaps a month, their journey had been one of joy and adventure. A happy journey, for once.
"Oh, if only your sister could see us now!" Kraden laughed, picking up his tune again, speaking between verses. "Too bad she ran off with Piers, now isn't it?"
Rief thought back to the time he'd first met Piers, a fairly aloof, yet skilled, sailor who was one of the Warriors of Vale. Undeniably, the man was handsome, and his mysterious nature was likely a treat for any young lady But he was Lemurian, so his age was rather undefined.
"Isn't he older than you, Kraden?" Rief dared to ask. Kraden didn't take well to implications that he was old – in his mind he was just as active as any teenager but, of course, much, much wiser.
"Old is a subjective term, Rief." Kraden glared jokingly at Rief, who stifled a grin. "But, to be honest, nobody really knows his age but Piers himself. When I first met him, he seemed to look around the same age as Felix, though he was much quieter and, dare I say, wiser."
"Either way, he's at least 50, right?" Rief ventured, and Kraden nods. "Well, my sister is only 16! Isn't that a bit weird, then?"
"As I said, young one." There Kraden went, using his age as a convenient soap box. Rief rolled his eyes. "It was Nowell who pursued Piers, not the other way around. I'm unsure of Piers' feelings for the girl, though he did let her stay with him."
"Well, he'd better keep my sister safe." Rief mocked protectiveness, putting his hands on his hips for emphasis. Kraden didn't respond, however, merely stood in the middle of the road, silent. "What's up, teacher?"
"Shh!" Kraden shushed him suddenly, casting his gaze about. A moment later, the bushes to the right of them rustled, and Rief stiffened with shock. He jumped away from Kraden, drawing his staff and pointing at the bush, but... nothing.
"Kraden, it was probably just a-" Rief was cut off by a flash of darkness, then a man appeared before Kraden, jamming something black into the older man's stomach. Rief cried out, but strong hands gripped him from behind, holding him. Mentally, Rief called for his psynergy to blast his captor away with water, but nothing came. The grip tightened greatly, keeping Rief's neck bent uncomfortably at an awkward angle.
Ahead of him a dark-haired, handsome man stood, looking over Kraden, an unnaturally empty expression on his face. He was dressed head-to-toe in some sort of metallic armor, not unlike the uniforms of the Tuaparang soldiers he'd fought in the past, though it was darker.
"Halcyon, enough." The dark-haired man remarked, waving his hand. The man gripping Rief loosened a bit, but did not retreat entirely. Rief glared at the man who attacked Kraden with hatred as he bent over, staring straight into Kraden's eyes. Kraden was down on his knees, clutching his stomach in pain. When their eyes met, Kraden nearly fell backwards in surprise.
"You!" He said, struggling to get to his feet. "You're dead!"
"Evidently not." The dark-haired man shook his head. "Your powers of observation remain as astute as ever, old man." He turned to the man holding Rief again, an angered expression evident. "Halcyon, let him go already. Are you trying to break his neck?"
"Of course, general," Halcyon's voice was low and raspy, sarcastic, but oddly monotone as well, as if he didn't have full control over the flexibility of his voice. He let go of Rief, letting the Mercury Adept tumble into the dust of the road, adding, "What else can be done, my almighty master? Shall I grovel?"
"You can shut your artificial mouth," The dark-haired man responded. More dark-armored men appeared around them, from the bushes or trees or elsewhere. Rief realizes to his horror that they'd been trapped, completely and utterly. "So, Kraden, is this going to be easy for both of us, or do I have to make it hard?"
"Bastard!" Kraden spit out.
The man sighed. "Alrighty, then." His right boot shoots out, kicking Kraden into the dirt. Stunned, the man could hardly resist as the man, Halcyon, who'd been behind Rief, scooped him up. It was an odd sight. Halcyon carried Kraden easily, but his fairly small frame, albeit muscular, didn't seem capable.
"What do you want with us?" Rief asked, looking around now that he was standing again. He was completely surrounded. He might have had a hope of escaping alone, but there was no way to get Kraden out, so he wasn't leaving.
"It's got nothing to do with you, honestly," The dark-haired man said. He tossed a dark baton back to one of his soldiers, who sheathed it quickly. "My master would like to speak with the old geezer before he kicks the bucket. I'm just a transporter to make sure the goods arrive intact." He looked over at Kraden's battered form. "Well, mostly intact."
"Who is your master?" Rief asked hesitantly.
"Oh," The man grinned, "I think you already know the answer to that."
A jungle filled with life, teeming to the brim with insects, mammals, birds. One need not look far to find themselves surrounded in totality by the brilliance of nature. Sana's forests were famous for their diversity, their jungle qualities. All manner of species lived in the place, and many a scientist had wandered through them in the vain effort to understand it all.
And in the center of this brilliant ecology lay the Fort Lasting, a stronghold of the Sanan army. In times of peace, the fort would be barely stocked, with but a small regiment to keep the peace in the tiny villages outlying the jungle. The people lived in harmony with the nature here, respecting and appreciating the power of what had existed long before them.
How ill-fitting, then, that so many would die here.
Emperor Unan gazed out the meurtrière, his face a stone facade. Though everything he exuded was of cold command, inwardly he could not deny his fear. King Wo's forces had Fort Lasting surrounded. Somehow the man had also secured most of the secret passages out. Unan clenched his teeth as he stared at the distant black on red flags of Wo's bannermen. The attack was too well prepared, too carefully executed, to be Wo's work. The man was a warrior, not a thinker. He rushed in blindly. He didn't strategize.
Unan was a military genius, but even he was outmatched. He knew this was bad, but he dared not show it to Lady Hinechou and her children. He turned, a look of bemusement on his face, so carefully concealing his inner dread.
"My lady," Unan bowed to Hinechou, then nodded to her children, Ryu-Kou and Hou-Ju. "There have been a few minor delays, but there are still a few passages Wo hasn't yet captured. There is yet time to escape."
"Send my children, then," Hinechou stated, "But I will remain. Perhaps Wo will listen to reason."
"I cannot guarantee-"
"We must try!" Hinechou snapped, before immediately calming herself. She gripped Hou-Ju tighter as Ryu-Kou drifted to the meurtrière. "As long as my children are safe, I do not care what happens to me, but for your sake, Unan, I will try to speak to Wo."
"He is a barbarian that will kill all of us if he has the opportunity." Unan stated simply, crossing his arms. "It's too dangerous to stay, my Lady. Please, leave with the guards. Leave the fighting to me and my men-"
"Men?" Lady Hinechou growled, "There is much that can be accomplished without the use of sword and shield, Unan. A woman's wiles are just as necessary as a man's sword and shield."
Unan sighed. There was no arguing with her. As much as it pained him, Unan knew he'd have to let her stay – for better or for worse. At the very least, the heir, Ryu-Kou, would survive. Perhaps he'd be able to stop Wo elsewhere, but that wasn't likely.
He wasn't about to lie to himself. Unan knew that Wo had crippled Unan's forces. The surprise attacks had left him baffled, with no idea how to respond. Wo's armies pushed them out of Tonfon, into the countryside. His army had split, with half fortifying the tower at the foot of the endless wall. He had heard no word from them since, so it was likely they were already defeated. The rest of his forces, under Unan, fled to Fort Lasting, but Wo had pressed them too hard. Likely the walls would fall at their next strike, and who knew when that was to come?
"Very well." Unan sighed, hanging his head. "Hopefully this won't get you killed. Ryu-Kou, Hou-Ju," Unan spoke sharply to get their attention. "Go with General Xiang, my most loyal soldier, to the wine cellar. The passage there should lead into the Lonely Island Ruins east of here. From there you can flee to Tonfon and-"
"No! I need to fight!" Ryu-Kou stepped forward, angered. "I'm the heir! I can't just flee because things looks a little bad! This is a rebellion I need to be around to put down."
Unan stared at him, unamused. Ryu-Kou didn't understand the danger, but that would have to be dealt with another time, provided they all survived. "You will go with Xiang, and you will not argue." Unan stated, very clearly, to his nephew. The boy backed down. Somehow, that act only made Unan more distressed. Ryu-Kou was a coward. Even with help it was not likely he'd ever retake Sana from Wo if Unan lost today.
But he didn't have time to think on it. All at once the castle shook, throwing Unan and the others to the floor. The final battle had begun. Unan shouted to Xiang, who ushered Ryu-Kou and Hou-Ju out of the room. He looked after them for a long moment before rushing to the meurtrière again. Below him he could see smoke rising from the gates past the courtyard. Some monstrous force had blown a hole into the castle.
Horror rose in Unan's chest as he saw the rank and file of Wo's soldiers march through the orifice. Rows upon rows kept on coming, adorned in head to toe with a black plate that hid any identifying features. Some of his soldiers started organizing a defensive line near the main doors, but Unan knew it wouldn't last long.
"General Liu!" Unan shouted to a short, balding man on a landing below the window, who snapped to attention. "It's earlier than I thought, but fire the traps. Let them know we're not going down without a fight!"
The man nodded and rushed off, up to the roof to give the orders. Unan rushed to his drawers, rifling through them. At the bottom of a mess of silks and fashions he pulled out a buckler and a brilliant longsword that shown dull blue in the low light. He swung it once, testing the weight, before he was satisfied. Lady Hinechou hung against the walls, her face very pale at the sight of weapons.
Unan hadn't the time to strap on his armor. For all he knew, the enemy soldiers had already entered the main building of the fort. No, he would go without and hope the gods were merciful today. He glanced at Lady Hinechou, but she hadn't moved. She'd be safe in the study, for now.
The emperor of Sana rushed into the hallway and heard fighting emanating from below. Unan ran for the stairs, but caught himself right before he leapt down the flights. Standing at the bottom, staring up at him, was a woman that was all too familiar. She wore tight leather armor and a katana was sheathed in her left hand. Her raven hair was tied back, revealing those unforgiving brown eyes. They betrayed a certain murderous intent, one Unan understood perfectly.
"Unan," Meisa said, her words like ice. She nodded as she spoke, ascending the stairs slowly, each muscle in her legs easily visible underneath the leather. "It's been a long time."
Unan was not fooled by the pleasantries. He backed away as she reached the final step, her stone cold face only barely smirking, as if from some inward joke. That joke could very well be Unan's now laughable survival rate. He hadn't counted on Meisa rushing directly for him.
"Still playing as Wo's hunting dog?" Unan spat the name, curling his lip. "I didn't think Wo wanted me dead, just as a prize."
"Prizes are easier to deal with when they're heads on spikes." Meisa drew her blade, the familiar grinding of metal on leather ringing in Unan's ears. "But no, I'm just supposed to bring you to Wo once the fighting's all done with. Maybe you'd like to make things easier on yourself and just surrender?"
She brought the katana up, pointing it at Unan, who held up his longsword. Unan knew he was no fighter, and the skilled Meisa would easily defeat him. Another way out, then, but how? If he was captured, all was for naught. Wo would have him executed within days, a week at most. Unan backed away, and Meisa followed. As they passed the door into the study, Meisa turned to check inside it.
Just as Unan had hoped, a stone tablet crashed down on Meisa's head, knocking her to the ground, out cold. Unan looked to Lady Hinechou gratefully, glad that he had trusted she would know what to do. Hinechou glanced to the fallen woman, then up at Unan, her eyes wide with fear and adrenaline.
"If she's already here, we need to move fast." Unan stated, taking Hinechou's hand. She nodded and they started down the stairs. Outside, he heard screams rise into the air all at once, a sickening, dull splashing sound right before. Unan smiled grimly to himself. General Liu had unleashed one of the keep's defenses. Burning oil would tear through King Wo's forces – until they ran out, of course.
Unan rushed as fast as he dared. If he or Lady Hinechou fell and hurt themselves, they'd be sitting ducks for oncoming soldiers. Meisa was right when she told him that it didn't matter if Unan was alive or not. King Wo wanted Sana's throne, not the respect of neighboring nations. He'd do as he pleased.
Unan clenched his teeth, furious. His own brother! Even after all this time, Unan knew Wo's brutality and anger hadn't faded. At the final battle of the last war, Unan had let his brother slink off to Kaocho to lick his wounds. Unan knew he should have killed Wo back then when he had the chance, but even now he knew it would have been the wrong decision. Morally, of course.
Though what use were morals?
Wo took after their father, Ko, but without the artistry and eloquence their father commanded. Ko would recite famous poetry amidst the bloodiest of battles, recounting ancient oratories of mighty battles as he swung his mighty war hammer. He philosophized amidst murdering, one part madman, one part poet and two parts king. Intelligent, brutal and skilled, Ko was truly a force to be reckoned with.
Unan could only feel lucky that Wo wasn't all his father's son. If so, the world would be doomed.
The fleeing royals ran through a door at the bottom of the stairwell, bursting into the a hallway. Things were uncomfortably calm, but Unan kept moving. He pushed Hinechou into the kitchens to the side, heading to the trapdoors. The wine cellar was through there.
But as he opened the door, the butt of a sword slammed into his skull. Dimly, he felt Lady Hinechou stumble over him, shrieking. Unan looked up, to a man holding a blade, the point held near Unan's right eye. He was slim, but muscled, covered from toe to neck with black armor. A frighteningly calm face peered down at him, disheveled hair falling around yellow eyes. Even as muddled as Unan was from the strike, the sight of the man was unsettling. They flicked from Unan to something to the side, then leaned down, grabbing Unan tightly by the back of his shirt and hoisting him up.
Unan would have gasped if his mind was more clear. King Wo leaned against a doorway. Behind him a row of soldiers appeared, rushing past and out the door Unan had entered from, turning to head up the stairs. Unan tried to yell out a warning to General Liu and his forces above, but the man carrying him grabbed his throat, cutting his yell short.
"How naïve of you, Unan," Wo smirked, straightening himself. "You left the kitchen passage unguarded."
The man towered over everyone else, his striking black beard and muscular Sanan features gave him a powerful air about him. He was no weak, pitiful man, no coward. Strapped to his back was a frighteningly large hammer, etched in bloodied gold and adorned with eloquent designs. Unan realized with a start that it was Ko's weapon, possibly the strongest hammer ever forged. He had to have claimed it when he sacked Tonfon.
"Brother," Unan stated calmly as his head began to clear. Wo's smile widened. "It seems our positions have been reversed from last we met."
"The gods have favored me," Wo stepped forward; he nodded to the yellowed-eyed man. "Let him go, Halcyon. If he tries anything, kill Lady Hinechou."
Unan glanced about. The Lady was held by two soldiers near the wall. King Wo looked her up and down, and the man licked his lips like a predator savoring its prey. Unan shivered.
"Our beloved Kuan certainly had quite the prize, didn't he?" King Wo turned back to Unan. It was no secret that Wo had lusted after Unan's dead brother's wife, even when Kuan was alive. "A pity he had to die at the end of beastman spears. Wouldn't that be your choice?"
"I had no choice." Unan stated, meeting Wo's gaze and not wavering. "Your attacks on Sana left me unable to support my brother when he tried to quell the beastman revolt."
"You know the laws, brother." King Wo walked to Lady Hinechou, grabbing the front of her kimono. She didn't shriek, merely stared calmly into King Wo's eyes. "You were supposed to take her hand in marriage as substitute to Kuan. Yet after all these years, you've left her without a man." King Wo drew a dagger, placing it against the velvet holding her kimono closed. "I'll remedy that!"
"Touch me and I'll gut you." Lady Hinechou stated. So much for her claims of wanting diplomacy, Unan thought, though that could be forgiven under these circumstances.
"Quite the mouth on you, girl." Wo raised his hands to strike.
"Stop!" Unan shouted, stepping forward. Instantly Halcyon's arms wrapped under his own, holding him back. King Wo turned, amused.
"There's desire in your eyes, brother," Wo said, his smile wicked. "As I had thought-"
"Emperor!" Meisa trotted into the room, her back straight and a bloody katana in her left hand. The body of General Liu was dragged by a few soldiers behind her. "We've taken the keep more quickly than anticipated. The locations of the secret passages served us well."
"How...?" Unan looked to her quizzically. It had seemed odd that Meisa had reached him so quickly despite being incapacitated, that King Wo was so certain of victory that he'd converse with Unan rather than fight. Was it even a battle?
"General Xiang was a useful spy." King Wo stated while laughing, as if reading Unan's mind. "Oh, and doesn't he have Lady Hinechou's children? Even more wonderful." Unan gritted his teeth. "Halcyon, take the previous emperor away. I'll need time to decide his fate."
Unan felt the soldier holding him nod, then a powerful blow to the back of his head. The last thing he saw before all went dark was Lady Hinechou's terrified face as the soldiers dragged her away, King Wo following.