A/N: Hmm...well, it certainly has been a long time since I was writing a new chapter of this story. But, as you may have found out from reading my other stories (hint hint), I have a HUGE course load this semester of school, so updates will likely be few and far between. And my classes aren't very inspiring (Chem and Algebra II just aren't very conducive to creative thought...) And that's about all that's up with me. So why did I return this story? I don't know. I guess I just thought it could use a little love in the form of a new chapter. Yes, thank me later–as in after you read it. I may have lost my prolific (at least I think so...is that too cocky a statement?) writer's touch, so forgive me if this chapter is a little tough on the old eyes and mind. It's just another bump in the road.
By the way, I have this interesting urge (this is new, seriously) to actually FINISH a story! SHOCK GASP! I know, it seems a little rushed. But don't worry, it just means I'm putting careful thought into the way I want my stories to end. But they may be ending soon. I'll just leave it at that. I will end them, though, not just leave them hanging (as I have with my D.N.Angel story...oh dear...)
Never mind me. I'm just rambling. On to the story!
TEN: The Turning of the Wheels
"Are you certain of what you saw, Lowen?"
"Of course I am, Hector! Excuse me, Marquess!"
"You know you don't need to use that title when you speak to me. You're an old friend."
Lowen sighed. "I know, sir. It's just that...I was trying to say that I respect the fact that you have a country to run, too."
It was Hector's turn to sigh. It echoed throughout the high-ceilinged Throne Hall of House Ostia as he got to his feet and descended the large marble steps from his throne to the floor of the Hall. He placed his hand on his companion's shoulder.
"I thank you for that sentiment, Lowen..." Hector whispered with a smile, "but my first priority is my daughter."
"But sir...the demands that that...that monster made...you can't possibly be thinking of complying with them!"
Hector's blue eyes grew dark with sadness. The silence in the hall was punctuated by the sounds of the storm that had drenched all of Lycia as soon as Lowen had walked through Hector's door. The Marquess looked upward, trying to see even a speck of light through the gigantic windows of the hall.
"If my daughter's life is at stake...my choice is already made. I shall abdicate tonight, quietly, and we shall leave tomorrow morning. Oswin is already making preparations. I shall leave explicit instructions to the Regent to secede from the Lycian League only if he hears that I am dead."
Lowen looked up suddenly, surprised by Hector's words. "What do you mean, 'only if I am dead'?"
The grizzled lord laughed bitterly. "Oh, Lowen. You didn't honestly think that I would go down without a fight, did you?"
Lowen's smile brightened as he saw the Marquess smile. "No, sir. This is just like old times, eh?"
Hector nodded. "Get some sleep. Ask the door guard for directions to your rooms. You've had a long day, and we have a long journey ahead of us tomorrow."
Lowen bowed. "Yes, sir." With that, he hurried out of the Hall, gently closing the large oak doors behind him.
Hector simply stood for a moment, listening to the rain and thunder outside. His daughter was in danger, and he was going to save her. His hand instinctively went to his chin, and he stroked his beard. He really was too old to be going into battle again.
He breathed in, a solemn, lonely tear sliding down his cheek. "Father Roland..." he whispered. "They say that you watch over all your children. I pray now that your view is not obstructed by these clouds of darkness. I have need of your courage and strength...for I know, in my heart, that this is the last battle...my last battle."
"Fall back!" Eliwood shouted. "Fall back to the walls!"
Feeling the rush of air on his side as an attacker neared him, Eliwood swung his sword upward, connecting with the Bern soldier's chest, slashing him and sending him flying over the wall and plummeting to his death.
He glanced quickly at his soldiers below the wall. They were indeed following his orders, slowly backing up to the wall and funneling through the gate. The Bern frontline was still fighting fiercely, but Pherae's frontline was being excellently commanded by Kent, who was barking his own orders to specific units.
"Eliwood! Watch out! Wyvern!"
Eliwood spun to find Lyn's voice, only to fall into the shadow of Wyvern Rider, hovering over the wall, separating him from the rest of his small contingent defending the wall.
The dragon grinned wickedly, big drops of green-brown saliva dripping from its bared fangs. The rider held a wicked-looking lance, gleaming in the setting sun.
"I have you now, Marquess Pherae!" the rider cried. His dragon settled on the wall, shaking the stones at Eliwood's feet, but the seasoned warrior stood firm, sword outstretched toward his advancing foe.
"Oh, just think! I will be the hero of the Lycian Campaign, and Bearoth will promote me to General, and I'll replace that dastard Murdock!"
Eliwood frowned at this and shouted, "What did you say about General Murdock?"
The rider laughed, and his wyvern screeched. "General Murdock? Haven't you heard yet, Marquess Pherae? The General will be meeting an unfortunate demise at the full moon tonight!" He cackled evilly again. "Lord Bearoth is going to make an example out of him at Bern Manse tonight, you can be sure of that!"
Eliwood's mind was racing, but he didn't let the rider know it. He should be answering to keep delaying him, but the rider's answer had shocked him–Murdock would suffer some cruel fate at the full moon? The statement had a evil ring to it, and Eliwood was sad for Murdock. He had just been following orders in the first place. There was no reason for the man to die. He was an excellent soldier, probably one of the best in all of Bern...
"It's time to die now, Marquess Pherae!" The wyvern unfurled its leathery wings and propelled itself a little off the stone wall, and the rider adjusted his spear.
"Yaaaaaah!" The scream was not the rider's. Before Eliwood's eyes, a flash of silver light slashed the rider and the wyvern in half. The broken pieces of their bodies fell over the wall, leaving a slick mess of red and black blood on the stone wall.
Lyndis, knelt on the wall, an extremely large saber clutched in both her hands, shining silver in spite of the black blood covering it–the Sol Katti.
Eliwood cautiously went to Lyn's side. "Thank you for that, Lyn."
She shrugged and laid the Sol Katti behind the parapet, out of view. "I'm just trying to keep you alive. You're not helping much, though."
"I apologize," said Eliwood darkly. "Listen, that rider said something to me, and it struck me as being familiar...
He told Lyn about what the rider had said, pausing occasionally to duck as blazing balls of light flashed overhead, Lucius' Light magic destroying a flying Wyvern Rider.
Lyn frowned. "That's odd...I feel it too, but I can't quite place the feeling. It's almost like...dread."
Eliwood nodded, then moved Lyn aside as he did battle with an onrushing attacker, whom he quickly dispatched with a sword thrust and a pommel to the head.
"That was exactly what I was thinking..." suddenly, his eyes went wide, terrible recognition registering on his face.
"Dread...Lyn, whatever is going to happen at Bern Manse tonight, I think it might be similar to what happened at the Dread Isle."
Lyn gasped. "But...that's impossible. We rid the continent of the morphs after Nergal was defeated..."
"You did no sssuch thing."
Lyn and Eliwood spun wildly. A short figure, wreathed in black cloth and shadow, stood in the middle of the wall, golden eyes gleaming devilishly from under its hood.
The shadow cackled and threw back its hood. Shoulder length green hair framed a slender, pale face with fiery gold eyes. It was not one of their old archenemies, but the face was nevertheless familiar.
"I am Nessus! Bearoth has sssent me to aid the pathetic mortalsss in the dessstruction of Lysssia." A smirk formed itself on the Nessus' face, and Eliwood could have sworn he saw a forked tongue lick the Golem's pale lips.
Lyn reached down and clutched the Sol Katti in her hands. "Well, consider us the people who will stop you." As though it was responding to her courageous words, the blade shone with biting silver light.
Nessus shrieked and shrank away from the gleaming sword. "Curssses! One of the Holy Twinsss!" Apparently sufficiently away from the sword's power, Nessus opened his eyes. "Crafty...crafty, children of Roland. But you'll have to do better than that if you hope to fight me!" The morph thrust a hand toward Lyn and Eliwood. An arcane symbol twisted itself on her hand and came to life, shimmering with an ugly green light.
Suddenly tendrils of shadow came screaming towards the Lords. Lyn raised the Sol Katti, and it responded by increasing the strength of its glow from bright to blinding. Some of the dark arrows dissolved in the silver light, but still other managed to get through the light barrier, slashing at Eliwood's arms and leg. He winced, feeling warm blood well up at the wounds. "Damn," he cursed, bringing his now red fingers away from his shoulder.
The morph cackled. "I'm jussst getting ssstarted, children of Roland!" Then he uttered a string of words in a hissing language, and a long finger drew signs in the air, which hung there glowing eerily in the light of the setting sun.
Shadows grew around Eliwood and Lyndis, their spindly tops looking like the tips of a thousand lances of darkness.
Lyn swallowed. Even the light given off by the Sol Katti seemed to fade as it neared the shadowy cage.
"Eliwood...this is bad."
"I know, Lyn...I know..."
Roy stormed into the War Room of Castle Reglay, his clothes stained with soot, sweat and the blood of his enemies. Though he had lasted through his first battle, it was not a pleasant experience, and he was certainly worse for the wear. Behind him strode the twins, Rebecca, and Victor.
"What's going on?" he demanded. "The battle isn't over yet, and without us to back them up, your students will be vulnerable to other attacks!"
Pent and Mikhail turned around at the same time, and in the same manner, so that Roy was struck by the fact that Mikhail looked like a younger image of the Archsage. They were both impeccably groomed, despite having been in the thick of battle not an hour prior, though they were dressed peculiarly. Roy frowned. They looked like they were about to go on a trip...
"You're wondering why we are dressed so, no doubt, my young Lord Roy?" Pent chuckled. "Well, it just so happens that we are going on a trip."
"We've located your father," Mikhail continued. "He and the rest of the Pheraean Army are fighting at Shellak."
"That's on the border of Lycia and Bern," Zechary said.
"An important stronghold, that," Phillip agreed.
"Yes, well," Mikhail said, "the rest of the news is...less optimistic."
Pent looked gravely at Roy. "Milord Roy, our spies in the Bern army report that at least one of Bearoth's Druid generals was dispatched to aid the effort in Shellak. From the beating our shield has taken from the lone Druid that stands before it now, this is not a good sign for your father."
"Then we have to get there!" Roy shouted. He spun and started running towards the door, but Mikhail grabbed his arm and held him back.
"There are more efficient ways of coming to your father's aid than to go gallivanting across the countryside like a flock of berserked pegasi," Pent said, using a rather obscure simile, but nevertheless getting his point across.
Roy eyed the Archsage suspiciously. "You're telling me that you can take me to my father...without 'gallivanting across the countryside'? How so?"
Mikhail smiled. "Come with us."
In a strange blur–Roy really wasn't sure of everything that happened next–he and his companions were descending a circular staircase of blue stone, following Pent and Mikhail, each of whom were holding a torch. The air was cool but thick with a heady scent, not sweet or spicy, but heavy, like incense...
And then they emerged in a gigantic underground chamber. The room was a perfect circle, with another circle laid out on the floor in pure gold. Eight onyx pillars held up the ceiling, placed on the points where a circumscribed octagon intersected with the outer circle.
"What is this place?" Rebecca asked, her voice filled with wonderment.
Mikhail smiled and took another step into the chamber. Instantly, eight torches–attached to the pillars–burst into flame, and a sweet-smelling mist, silvery mist swept through the room.
"This is the Heart of Reglay," Pent said, stepping into the center of the circle and raising his hands. In response, the gold design on the floor began to glow.
Mikhail motioned for Roy and the others to follow him into the center of the circle, too. They did so apprehensively, not sure what would happen by walking into a magic circle. In doing so, they failed to notice the way the gold circle flash when Roy stepped into it.
Pent looked thoughtfully at the boy. So he was the heir apparent to House Pherae. So what? Plenty of lordlings wandered the countryside all the time, and yet...there was something about this one...some aura, but of what, the Archsage had nary an idea. Could it be...
Mikhail tapped him on the shoulder. "Master...we really should be going."
"Ah, yes. Very well." Pent rolled up his sleeves and reached into his robes, withdrawing a pouch of turquoise velvet bound with gold string. Humming a faint tune, he untied the string and poured the contents of the bag into his hand.
It was pure, white sand. Roy had never seen that kind of sand before. It was said white sand only came from the icy shores of Ilia. As Pent began to sing in the language of magic, Roy wondered how the Mage-General of Etruria had come to own such a thing...
Suddenly Pent's voice reached a crescendo, a haunting melody hanging in the air. Suddenly Roy's senses failed him, and everything faded to black.
Colors began to swirl faintly in front of his eyes, though his senses registered nothing. "Focus on the face of your father, Lord Roy," Pent's voice commanded in his mind. "Focus on his face."
Roy concentrated on the last image of his father–standing in the gates of House Pherae, watching as his son rode off into the sunset...
The colors immediately responded, swimming and spinning and soldifying until Roy saw two figures surrounded by a cage of dark energy. One was a lady wielding a glowing saber, the other was a man with fiery red hair...
"Father!" Roy screamed. His senses came back to him in a rush as he stepped onto hard stone and started running, unconsciously drawing the sword his father had given him on that day, the day that already seemed so long ago.
Eliwood turned to see his son running towards him, the nameless sword sparkling ominously, followed by his companions and Lord Pent, who had just stepped out of thin air.
"Father!" Roy cried. "Father!"
"Stay back, son!" Eliwood yelled sadly. This wasn't fair. His son would appear only to see his father die...
Then Nessus shrieked, an awful, piercing cry, and writhed to the ground, releasing his grip on the shadowy cage. It shattered in a flurry of black feathers that fell solemnly onto the wall.
Roy ran to embrace his father, followed quickly by Pent, whose eyes were blazing and focused on the Golem in front of him. From his robes he drew an ancient tome, its cover inscribed with an arcane symbol that flared to life at the Archsage's touch.
Nessus' eyes opened, his face grimacing in pain. "Damn you, Archsage. My brethren were supposed to destroy you and your accursed palace!"
"Well," Pent quipped dryly, "apparently you were mistaken, because I am, in fact, alive and well." He pointed a bony finger at the creature, and the book flung itself open, a phantom wind blowing through its pages, glowing with a warm light. In a deep, otherworldy voice, Pent began to intone the magic spell. "Et solarum grevenous duryn vesternum queriin!"
Light crackled at his fingers, and threads of light began to wind their way around Nessus' prone body, forming an orb of light, sparking and singing the Golem's black robes.
Nessus was still grimacing, but it appeared that he was attempting to maintain some form of honor in the face of death, as he was no longer cursing his opponent.
"Destroying me will do nothing, Archsage, and you know that full well."
"Hmm..." Pent murmured. "I think you are wrong, one born from the depths of the darkness. Destroying you will most certainly prevent the deaths of the children of Roland, if only for a moment."
Nessus glowered. "That may be, but the Roland's kin will not be able to run from their fate for long. Nor will the lines of the other heroes survi–"
But before the Golem could finish his sentence, Pent closed his fist, and the orb of light suddenly coalesced into a fireball, and then collapsed inward upon itself. With a shriek and a flash of light, one evil entity was banished from Elibe.
Mikhail rushed over to his master just as Pent was about to collapse on the wall. Gently, he laid his master's head on the stone surface of the wall and took a pouch from his robes.
"Is he alright?" Rebecca asked.
Mikhail nodded. "The magic he just performed was one of the High Magics. It takes a lot of energy to invoke, and my master is growing old, even if he refuses to admit it."
"Rebecca! A little help!"
Rebecca whirled around, nocking an arrow in her bow, and found the source of the voice. Phillip and Zechary were engaged in a battle with some of Bern's soldiers that had crept up on the party during the battle with the Golem. Just above them, a Wyvern Rider hovered threateningly. She raised her bow, aimed, and released the arrow, sending it speeding straight at the dragonling's heart. With a horrible scream, it fell from the air.
Seeing the battle taking place, Eliwood leaned over and kissed his son's forehead. "Son...this is no place for a reunion. Go and find Serra in the city barracks. You can help her in the hospital–"
Roy shook his head and pulled away from his father. "Sir," he began, causing Eliwood to wince, "I have no intention of leaving you alone. There is a battle here to win, and I intend to win it with you."
For a moment, Eliwood considered disagreeing. But then he saw something in his son's eyes that hadn't been there before–it wasn't coldness, or power, or bloodlust. It was love, and compassion, and the understanding of life. Being in battle had taught his son all the things that he had hoped it would–a respect for the value of life.
The Marquess placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "In that case, Lord Roy," his eyes sparkled as he uttered the words, "let us finish this."
Roy smiled and raised his sword. Then he and his father raced down the side of the wall. Lyn watched as they ran, side by side, toward the setting sun, and wondered...
As Zephiel watched the sun set through his tower window, the thrill of anticipation ran through his veins. Tonight, at last, the spell Bearoth had placed on his beloved Guinevere would be at its weakest. This night, his chance would come. He could undo all the wrongs of his past and start anew. Guinevere would forgive him, as she always had, and they would continue to rule together, and try to rebuild the relationships that Bearoth and his despicable designs had ruined.
He turned from the window and went to his dressing room. From a chest hidden under an oak table, he withdrew a night-black robe, a pair of black leggings, and a dark tunic. He donned them quickly, glancing behind them every now and again to be sure that no one was watching him. He knew that his rule was only an illusion conceived to fool the citizens of Bern, and that no one in the Manse was his friend. He was distinctly alone. Not even Eliwood had come to his aid, though it wasn't necessarily his fault.
Finally, he wrapped himself in the robe of night, clasping it with a gold medal, similar to the ones he had seen Bearoth's abominations wear. He threw up the hood and went to his mirror. Yes, he looked like a wraith. In this way, he could pass through the castle without arousing suspicion, and reach Guinevere's bedchamber in order to destroy the spell that held her in thrall.
He frowned as he saw his blue eyes sparkle with tears from beneath the hood. He cursed himself for forgetting that crucial detail. His eyes were not the threatening gold of a Golem's. If he had to face someone and look them in the eyes, they would not be fooled by the disguise.
His heart sank. Before his plan had even been set in motion, it had been foiled by his own stupidity. He fell backward and landed with a soft thump on his floor rug, sobbing in despair.
He cried and cried, watching as the sun dipped behind the distant hills, blanketing the land in twilight. Mercifully, the stars did not show themselves and remind him of the beauty of his love, and the terrible fate she would again suffer this night.
And suddenly, he felt something inside of him. Not fear, and not hopelessness, but something different...like faith, and courage, and hope.
He stood, amazed at his emotions. Though he knew not what, something was going to happen tonight...and he was going to be a part of it.
He looked at himself in his mirror again. Did the demons even have to look at others? Bearoth had taught them that they were chosen beings; they didn't so much as glance a poor, insignificant underling. No, he decided, his plan would still work.
A new resolve steeling him for whatever was to come, he ran to his dresser and pulled out the top drawer. Rifling through his stockings, he finally reached the bottom the drawer, where a lone stocking sat. Only, this stocking looked rather bulky...
He reached into the stocking and withdrew a sparkling silver dagger. It was the most gorgeous knife in his possession, with a tear-shaped sapphire set into the hilt and the pommel wrapped in white silk.
It had been an engagement gift from Guinevere. She had called it the Angel's Tear. He felt more hot tears well up in his eyes, and a single one fell on the blade of the dagger. It promptly sizzled and vanished with a wisp of steam.
Zephiel sheathed the dagger deep within his cloak, taking special care to conceal its celestial glow. In his experience, Golems were not fond of shiny things.
Thus prepared, Zephiel quietly stole to the door. He listened. There were no footsteps at the door, nor any creaks from the stairs. Since his was the only room at the top of this tower, he could assume he was the only one present.
He opened the door and shut it softly. Then, taking a deep breath, he descended the stairs as a ghost would, but he was not out to haunt–he was out to save.