Author's Note: Whew, another long one! My longest one yet, actually. Anyways, hope you all enjoy chewing on it for a little while. Things are heating up as we break past the midway point!
XXXIII. WHAT IS SEEN AND UNSEEN
Within the spacious office of former Sovereign Counselor, now President Elect, Lord Patryck of the House of Zala, Grandmaster of the Order of the Zodiac, the lattices were drawn tightly shut, only the glow from a few candles providing any light within the dim recesses of the chamber.
The President sat at a large ebony desk in the center, reading over another detailed report from his trusted General, Lord Rau, ferried here by the Order's swiftest carriers.
"All troops are in position for the Spitbreak Campaign," Lord Patryck read silently. "We are now awaiting your orders to lay siege."
The President set the letter down, rubbing his clean shaven cheek thoughtfully. Lecreuset is undoubtedly the Order's most capable General… he mused. He was selected for Meteor practically just after pledging fealty but…tis also true his ship has suffered the most recorded losses on deck. More than one grieving family has referred to his ship as cursed. I am certain tis because he takes them too far into the fray in his bid to win the battle, a feat he usually accomplishes. No matter, those men and women made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause we all hold so dear and one day their families will come to realize that. While he had the misfortune of being burdened by the Archangel pursuit, he has prepared the Campaign with excellence, far swifter than I could hath hoped. Tis as if he does not sleep. He is my greatest piece on the board...
Sitting upon a bench along the packed green pastures of the Clyne family Manor, Sir Kyra occupied himself as best he could, enjoying the refreshing feeling of the warm light gracing his skin as he gazed in between the clouds buttressing the outer terraces of the Tower of Virgo. The seas below churned violently today, as if the ripples of some far away commotion were spreading out and disturbing their calm.
Lady Lacys had provided him with the fine attire of a Plant nobleman from the Tower's sizable shopping floors, a richly dyed, ruffled shirt and fine leather trousers. He had never been so well arrayed, he thought to himself. Compared to the more familiar course clothes he wore as a commoner apprenticed on Heliopolis, it made him feel just a bit uncomfortable, to be honest.
"Tis almost time for the rain," the Lady greeted as she approached from a handsome cobblestone path off to the side. As usual, she was surrounded by a coterie of her strange magickal constructs, bouncing and rolling about her legs, chirping away their gibberish frantically, Haro leading the charge as always.
"THAT IS A PROBLEM!" it shrieked inexplicably.
"Will you come in for tea?" Lady Lacys offered with a soft smile.
Sir Kyra merely stared back at her for a moment in silence. He had begun to feel restless, anxiously wondering about the fate of his friends aboard the Archangel or the course the damned war had taken abroad. But she seemed completely content to let it all be, strolling about these perfectly enchanted grounds with impunity, passing the long, dull hours by drinking tea or playing with her pets. It was if time did not pass here. It could be frustrating though, her quick dismissal of the troubles in the wider world-her naivety. But nonetheless, she had…mended him. His sorrow over the terrible events of the previous week had seemed to fade at last, granting him a reprieve from his feelings of failure. He no longer felt ridden with guilt and agony nor consumed by self-hatred. It was as if…a great weight had lifted from his shoulders.
At last, he rose to his feet, tearing his eyes away from the tumultuous seas and joining her.
As the pair made their way along the brightly lit pier at the garrison in Carpentaria, clad in the crimson surcoats of the Zodiac elite, Sir Yzak regarded his fellow Knight, Athryn, carefully out of the corner of his good eye.
"My chance will come soon," the silver-haired Adept assured him suddenly, as if replying to something unspoken.
Sir Athryn said nothing, understanding the boy's disappointment. He had sworn to fell Stryke, after all, but now, by slaying Kyra, he no longer had the chance to avenge his wound and satisfy the deep seated rivalry he had fostered between them. The Knight smiled slightly to himself, however, as he mused how Kyra had probably not even noticed it during their battles.
Turning away, Sir Yzak shook his head in frustration. "To think that you would be selected for the special reserve," he muttered with obvious jealousy. "As always, the son of Zala has his status handed to him," he added with a sneer.
Letting his satchel fall to the ground, Sir Athryn turned and faced him, outstretching his one good hand and offering it with a gentle gaze. "I apologize for how it ended," he said. "Thank you all for your valor in service and the aid you rendered."
Sir Yzak looked down at the hand doubtfully for a moment, pursing his lip. At last, however, he reached forward, taking his former commander's hand and gripping it firmly, a traditional sign used among the Zodiac.
Separating once more, Sir Athryn returned his satchel to his hand and brushed past with a nod. "Goodbye," he intoned.
"Next, you shall serve under me!"Sir Yzak boasted over his shoulder, stopping the dark-haired Knight in his tracks. "Do not allow yourself to fall before then!"
Sir Athryn's mouth opened in surprise, turning back to regard the Knight. "Alright," he promised with a smile.
Within the dockyard hidden beneath the Joint Fortress of Alaska, the bridge had been lowered from the main deck of the Archangel, stretching down to the nearby pier. Along either side, the entire regular crew had assembled in two lines, Koijiro's corp of artisans and Lieutenant Natarle's guards and gunners, as well as Romero's men. They kept their backs straight, hands raised in salute as they waited to honor the procession of departing officers.
"No! I am not leaving!" the irate voice of Lady Fllay could be heard cutting through the air, as she was practically dragged up the stairs onto the main deck by Lieutenant Natarle. "Unhand me!"
The Lieutenant, however, merely stared ahead, her lavender eyes locked in a determined glare as she tried very hard to ignore the Lady's vehement protests. They were met by Captain Murrue and Sir Mwu up ahead upon either side, trying their best to treat the proceedings with the military respect it deserved.
Grinding her heels to a halt, Lady Fllay addressed the Captain desperately, her argent eyes wide, "Captain! Why only me?"
"Fllay," Sai muttered with mixed feelings, Torii fanning his jasper wings from his perch on the boy's shoulder.
"Would you quit it already?" Lieutenant Natarle barked over her shoulder in exasperation. "These are our official orders from the General! You may be the Lady of Allster, but you are a soldier now. You hath no choice in the matter."
Lady Fllay ground her teeth in frustration, silently fuming.
Captain Murrue's face softened compassionately. "Unfortunately, she speaks the truth," she assured her gently. "Being a direct order from the Generals of the Fortress, there is nothing I can do about it. I am sorry."
The Lady's looked away, her shoulders falling in despair.
"If ye wish to make a plea, however, you could meet with the Marshals," the Captain offered, trying to sound cheerful.
"There is no chance they would even consider it," Lieutenant Natarle shot back sternly.
The Captain looked down, unable to say more.
Setting her pack to the floorboards for a moment, the Lieutenant raised her hand in a firm salute. "Goodbye, Captain," she announced.
"Thank you for everything, Lieutenant Natarle," Captain Murrue said with a practiced smile.
"You are most welcome," the Lieutenant replied.
"I hope we shall hath the chance to meet again," the Captain offered, her smile fading. "Somewhere other than the battlefield."
Natarle lowered her hand, nodding. "I am sure that can be arranged once the war is over."
"I suppose you are right," Captain Murrue shrugged, casting her amber gaze on Lady Fllay once more. "Please take care of her," she added.
"Yes," the Lieutenant assured her, picking up her pack once more and grabbing the Lady by the hand. "We are leaving," she snapped, turning about face. With that, she marched across the deck, pulling the girl along to the bridge.
The Lady cast one last, pleading look back at Sai, feeling utterly powerless.
"Fllay," Sai called out with increased urgency as she was led away.
"Torii!" the bird from his shoulder chirped loudly, taking to the air in a rush of wings and flying ahead of the Lady.
"Perhaps I shall raise a fuss as well," Sir Mwu mused with a half-hearted smile as he regarded the Captain nervously, his burnished helm held at his side in the crook of his poleyn. "The Marshals."
Sai frowned, looking down sadly as Torii returned to alight upon his shoulder once more, apparently having said its goodbyes to the girl it held such affection for.
"You know they shall not even consider it," Murrue countered dryly.
"But why would they send me to California to be a trainer at time like this?" Sir Mwu frowned.
The Captain smiled back warmly. "With you teaching, the number of conscript deaths on the frontline will surely drop," she managed.
Sir Mwu exhaled deeply.
"Come now," Captain Murrue urged. "You are going to be late."
"Ugh…why? Damn this!" Sir Mwu cursed in frustration, stomping his foot.
The Captain merely raised a hand in salute, her smile returning. "Thank you very much for everything you hath done for us all."
Sir Mwu nodded, pulling his helm down over his head to shield his misting azure eyes. Returning the salute, he replied, "You as well."
With that, the burly Knight turned and slung his satchel over his chest, greeted by the forlorn salutes of Sai and Miriallia. He placed a tender hand on the boy's shoulder, squeezing him affectionately, before pulling up his scabbard and straightening his back, beginning his descent down the bridge, the familiar faces of Marshal Dalida, Arnold, Jackie, Romero and Koijiro to each side of him as they raised their fists in admiration for having had the chance to serve with the famed Hero of Endymion.
Captain Murrue found herself unable to tear her eyes away from the sight, her amber orbs watering despite herself as she watched him go.
When the war is over... the words echoed in her mind.
Deep within a shaft cut through the ice below the Joint Fortress, William and his fellow Atlantican General stood just outside of a small chamber, hung upon a series of weights and drawstrings which served to raise and drop it through the various levels. The positions along the pulley were protected by am array of locks crafted for special sets of keys issued to select staff, the lowest level a closely-guarded secret for all but the highest ranking officers.
The curious platform had brought them to the deck of a small observatory set into the ice, lit by naught but a powerful red glow which issued forth from the depths below. Above their heads stretched only darkness, as far as the unaided eye could see.
"How goes your watch?" General William inquired of one of the elite engineers stationed at the deck, dabbing a bead of sweat from his forehead with a fine handkerchief.
"Everything appears stable," the officer assured him with salute.
The General smiled, peering over the observatory to the depths below. "I am certain everything shall begin as planned." His voice fell to a low whisper, however, as he mused absently. "And it shall also end as planned."
On the main deck of the Archangel, two Marshals had been sent to the ship from the Fortress above with word of their new orders.
"This shall only be for the meantime, but as of today the Archangel of the Eighth Fleet is to join the Alaskan Navy, Fifth Escort Division," the Marshal on the left read from an official scroll sealed by the Joint Generals on staff.
Captain Murrue, Marshal Dalida and Arnold stood at attention before the pair, committing the instructions to memory as they wondered at their new lot.
"This is an official order from General William of the House of Sutherland," the Marshal explained, regarding them all carefully before continuing to be sure they understood the severity of the situation.
"Aye!" Captain Murrue affirmed quickly, raising her hand in salute as her officers did likewise.
"Alaskan Escort Division?" Romero muttered to Jackie in surprise, taking care to keep his voice low.
"But the Archangel is a battleship," Jackie countered softly, quite perplexed as well.
"To enable the execution of these orders, restoration and resupply of your ship will commence at the fourteenth hour. You are instructed to hath everything prepared for loading and unloading, as well as repair and rearmament by then," the Marshal added, taking care to scrutinize the document to ensure he left nothing out. "Well, that is all," he said finally, turning to take his leave as his compatriot did likewise.
"Marshal," Captain Murrue stammered uncertainly, her voice faltering.
As one they turned toward the woman in surprise. "Do you hath a complaint?" he asked carefully.
"No, of course not," the Captain assured them with an embarrassed smile. "But we hath submitted papers for soldiers wishing to take leave or be discharged," she explained. "We also hath received no instructions on what to do with the Plant captive we are holding onboard."
The Marshal nodded sympathetically. "There is much work to be done with the looming threat to Panama," he explained whilst the other made his way towards the draw bridge. "I will be sure to let the General know of this," he pledged.
Captain Murrue pursed her lips, exhaling a weary sigh as she watched them depart back to the pier.
Along the terraced outer courts which ran atop the Tower of Virgo, Lady Lacys, Sir Kyra and Master Malchio had gathered inside the knotwork folly which had been formerly used to house the boy's bed. Upon his swift recovery, however, a polished table had been moved there in its place, at which the trio had convened. Outside the gilded shield, however, the air carried the sound of heavy rains pouring down upon the grounds from clouds conjured by the Adept engineers in the floors above. The system had been designed to serve as a strict irrigation schedule in order to nourish their open gardens and orchards, an occupation which served to alleviate some of their dependency on imports from conquered or neutral territories in Earth, though the Towers had little substantial space to afford to such pursuits.
They sat in silence for the moment, listening to the droplets hitting the ground as they sipped from cups of tea brought faithfully by Okapii, Master Malchio's ears perhaps even more perceptive than the Adepts' due to his peculiar ailment.
Setting her cup down with practiced poise, Lady Lacys turned towards Sir Kyra, who reclined with his back to her, looking past the ornate glass panes which ran the length of the fixture.
"Do you like the rain, Kyra?" she asked, making conversation.
The boy turned back towards her curiously.
"WHY IS THAT?" Haro shrieked from betwixt the Lady's hands, her delicate fingers stroking his smooth magenta plate affectionately.
The Lady smiled a little sheepishly.
The fallen Knight turned away, his face bland. "I was thinking how strange it is," he admitted. "I was wondering, 'What am I doing here?'"
"Where would you rather be, Kyra?" the Lady wondered aloud, her sapphire eyes peering after his spirit. But it seemed hidden from her sight and she remained uncertain.
"…I know not," Sir Kyra replied, the slight edge of frustration in his voice as he stared down at the smooth varnish which coated the table.
"Do you not like this place then?" Lady Lacys ventured, leaning in closer.
The Adept's eyes narrowed. "Is it truly alright…for me to be here?" he spat under his breath.
"As far as I am concerned, of course tis alright!" the Lady exclaimed, reflecting none of his melancholy as she perked up.
"Rest assured, the time will come when you will realize where you should be going, and what you should be doing," Master Malchio spoke up at last, his hand feeling for the saucer upon the table to set his tea down. "Because you bear the Seed," he explained cryptically, his soft features facing him with dull, unblinking eyes.
"There is your answer then," Lady Lacys affirmed with a confident nod.
Sir Kyra turned back to her but…without truly seeing her. He was staring through her, the questions and doubts swirling inside his mind as he pondered the wizard's words.
Floating idly in the far northern Sea of Bering, a massive Fleet had assembled from scores of enchanted vessels, a vast array of massive galleons, heavily armed frigates and swift escort warships, deployed from the nearest Zodiac Fortresses of Carpentaria and Kaohsiung, their recently conquered Port on the eastern shores of the Orient. Captains stood ready at their helms, nervously peering through their spyglasses, though the miserable conditions left little to be seen, their messengers and diviners on swift call to relay the eagerly awaited order from the homeland as soon as it arrived.
Adorning their decks were all manner of engines; ballistae and siege towers filled with dozens of warriors with which to penetrate the Fortress upon breaking through the Port.
On watch high above the Fleet flew countless Knights and their Squires riding atop a host of ferocious mounts crafted from the abundant elemental matter of the other planes. While the Adepts could fly without them, such creatures, relied upon exclusively by the rival Alliance to mach them, had proven quite useful in allowing them to shift their focus elsewhere as well as ferry them to and from battle with greater haste. And any advantage they could conjure, was one they would keep with the stakes so high. They were arrayed in plates the hue of dark grey and plum, green sashes tied around their faulds whilst fresh enchantments had been painstakingly woven about their arms and armaments by the Order's artisans. They passed the time by sharpening their swords or drawing back their crossbows, conserving their strength for what would undoubtedly prove to be the greatest siege the Adepts had ever attempted, though they were yet ignorant of that fact. And still more Parties came, eager to gain their share of the glory, flying in from even further garrisons under the sway of the Zodiac, wished well by the fervent waves of the officers left behind.
Party leaders remained on deck or in the armories for the time being, a few distinguished red sashes about their number, conversing with their Captains over tactics and strategy, their helms held under their poleyns to be ready to lead the charge in an instant. Meanwhile decorated sorcerers and magicians stood at the opposite sides of the decks, or even on the tiered balconies running below, casting an assortment of benevolent spells upon the Fleet to bless their coming battle, regular crewmembers respectfully affording the silence they required to work their Art with precision.
While the Captains and their officers had thought it odd they had been ordered to assemble here in the shadow of the Alliance to be sure, given that their target was Panama which lay to the south, this was the designated rally point. And so they waited.
Bearing the honor of leading such a massive Campaign, however, was the distinguished pride of a contingent of enchanted submersible crafts, sealed shells of steel and glass propelled through the water and equipped with all manner of special implements to cut their way through and break up the thick shelves of ice which would lay ahead of their true journey. Unbeknownst to the Fleet above, they would serve to clear the path in order to enable the Fleet behind to advance, as well as comprising the cornerstone of the Generals' strategy to pierce so deeply into the Alliance without being first detected and headed off.
"The Campaign will commence on schedule! All spellcasters are to bring their conjurations to a close!" messengers began to announce excitedly over their decks, the word spreading throughout the Fleet in moments.
A frenzy of shouts and calls rose through the air as officers barked orders back and forth whilst their sailors scurried about the decks, heaving and grunting to and fro to in their bid to make way.
In the air, Parties joined rank and assumed formation, taking up the van, rear and flank positions about their respective vessels. Cannons were rolled or swiveled into position, loaded with the large bore shot and fire-powder.
"Our diviners foretell clear skies and a steady light!"
"Wind is running north to northwest!"
Far to west on the outlying Zodiac isle of Boaz, one of two mighty fortresses with lay out east from the Plants, facing towards the land of Earth, Lord Patryck sat high within the spiraled Citadel in his customary chair as Grandmaster of the Order, surrounded by his most trusted officers and attendants. These were not field officers, but brilliant strategists and tacticians who ran the war abroad from within these walls, spending long hours in the intense study of maps and tables and running endless games and drills in their strive to end the odious stalemate with the Alliance. And today, with the genius of the President's Campaign, Spitbreak, it seemed their labours would finally be at an end.
President Lord Patryck rose ceremoniously from his seat, clearing his throat as he prepared to speak into the massive enchanted Mirror whose pane curved around the face of the front wall. Stretching in a continuous line across the sea, the Order had anchored a row of ships upon which they had placed such Mirrors on tall poles, oriented towards this point, from which the light would be reflectd onto the next and then another. An unbroken chain of communication from the Zodiac's Plant fortress all the way to the conglomerate Fleet which had gathered in Earth, a series of similar mirrored fixtures hung at various points across the decks of the ships stationed there to be viewed by their crews. It was a costly and tedious system to be sure, but the President did not wish to rely on diviners or letters for such an important battle. He had demanded immediate knowledge of the conditions on the field and this was the only way his engineers had devised to acquiesce. Additionally, he felt that his troops all deserved to bear witness to this historic moment, the day they crushed the Alliance once and for all! They had the greater forces, more powerful magicks, a secret way in to bypass the enemy's main defences, and the element of surprise. There was no chance they could lose this battle.
"WITH THIS CAMPAIGN," Lord Patryck began in a booming voice, wearing his customary leather guards, plate spaulders and mail hauberk. "IT IS MY GREAT WISH THAT THIS WAR FINALLY COME TO AN END!"
His voice rang out clear throughout the massive observatory atop the isle of Boaz, stretching across the row of relay ships all the way to the conglomerate Fleet in the Sea of Bering, the powerful words filling the hopeful ears of the Knights and Officers ready to give their lives for its execution. "IN THE HOPES THAT THIS WILL LEAD TO TRUE FREEDOM AND JUSTICE," the President continued. "LET THE SPITBREAK CAMPAIGN COMMENCE!"
"Commencing the Spitbreak Campaign…relaying the order," scores of attendant officers muttered, working furiously at their stations as they created models of various parcels of the battlefield, taking care to lay the pieces out and arrange their markers with precision. The goal was lofty; dozens of ritual spaces with a representation of a sequential piece of the coming battlefield as their focus, with which to work various spells in their favor, connected to the others beside and afore it through an intricate arrangement of lines and adjuncts, sigils and circles which served to calculate and determine specific minutiae such as distance, breadth, force or span.
With magick of this scope, the Adepts had little choice but to resort to ritual and foci to insulate their minds from alienation. The risks and burdens were simply too great on any one spirit. They had first purified the space, banishing energies which they predicted would prove inimical to their force, utilizing traditional occult principles as their powerful wills attempted to reach the distant Ether in a bid to coerce it to conform itself along the lines of their victory.
Staring down at their works from the deck above, Lord Patryck nodded. The massive picture was coming together exactly as foreseen.
Sir Yzak hurriedly pulled his helm down over his scarred face once the speech had ended, gripping the hilts of his scimitars eagerly. This was the event he had dreamed for! The chance for the House of Jule to prove its quality and win glory beyond compare. He licked his lips in boyish anticipation.
After today, it shall be General Lord Yzak… For sure!
"Cipher from main fortress hath arrived… target: Joint Fortress of the Alliance of Earth, Alaska!"
"What?" a chorus of shocked gasps rang out over the assembled Zodiac decks in the Fleet.
"The Joint Fortress?" they scoffed.
"That cannot be!"
"You heard the President!", however, became the most prevailing sentiment, and with that, the company of ships began to lurch forward, sped by the favorable wind as they followed after the submersible vessels in the lead beneath the frozen waves, cutting out their path before them with an array of terrible enchanted whirring claws, picks and blades.
"Spitbreak hath begun!" Lord Patryck shouted.
"Did he say the Joint Fortress?" Sir Yzak demanded in shock, fidgeting inside the Armor of Duwel nervously.
"Was it not supposed to be Panama?" his Squire questioned.
At the helm of the lead submerged craft which charged first through the ice, General Lord Rau smiled beneath his helm, "The swiftest means to end a war is by striking at the head," he mused absently. His officers did not appear to have heard.
"Very clever," Sir Yzak admitted. "I see that President Zala was not chosen for naught. I am impressed," the Knight mused.
"Sir Yzak?" his Squire asked in confusion, still not understanding.
The silver-haired Adept rolled his eyes. "They believe our target is Panama and hath sent away their strongest forces there. This is an excellent opportunity," Sir Yzak beamed. "We can put an end to the reign of the Humans for sure! I am going to slay as many of them as I can. Just watch me!"
Meanwhile at the Clyne family Estate, Lady Lacys sat on her knees inside the gilded folly with the sullen Sir Kyra and enigmatic Master Malchio in silence, occupying herself by making cute faces at Haro, who bounced up and down to her delight. At length, her sapphire eyes caught sight of her father, Lord Syegel, returning with the news she had requested, his robes damp from his walk through the rain. His service as a member of the Sovereign Council drew him away to the central Tower of Aries often, so the times he could spend with her at the Manor were a particular treat.
"It will not be possible, not even with the Master's craft," the Counselor related to his daughter upon entering the dry interior, running his hands hurriedly through his bushy blonde locks and drawing them away wet. "No voyages bound for Earth hath been granted leave to set sail. No doubt because of the Campaign."
The Lady nodded, truthfully a bit pleased. Sir Kyra, however, did not appear so happy about the prospect, tempering the Lady's enthusiasm.
"So you are the one our Council was so afraid of," Lord Syegel mused as he addressed the stoic boy. "The one we called Stryke."
Sir Kyra looked down, feeling slightly ashamed as he nodded in the affirmative.
"As it stood, we were under the assumption you were a Human warrior," the Counselor continued. "Had we known you were an Adept all along, the Council might not hath been so afraid of the Alliance's enchanted armaments and their incredible power. It hath left their minds closed to reason. But…," he sighed wearily. "as it stands, we are facing the consequences of that ignorance now."
"Father, one of the gulls brought a letter for you from Lady Eileen," Lady Lacys announced, handing him a strip of parchment. She was one of his few allies within the Council and they often saw eye to eye on foreign policy.
"Canaver eh?" the Lord muttered the name curiously, as he untied the ribbon and unfolded the page. Clearing his throat, he read the message aloud, his tone suddenly gravening with each new word.
"Lord Syegel, we hath been deceived by Zala! The target of the Spitbreak Campaign is not Panama. Tis Alaska!"
The Lady frowned, looking up at her father worriedly as Master Malchio rose to his feet tentatively.
"What?" Lord Syegel spat in confusion.
Sir Kyra's eyes went wide as if he was suddenly shaken from a great stupor, the cup of tea held aloft in his hand suddenly crashing to the table below, shattering into a burst of tiny shards whilst its steaming contents formed a puddle which streamed off the table to the ground below.
"Kyra!" the Lady exclaimed, rising to her feet as she went over to him.
Returning his wrinkled gaze to the page, Lord Syegel continued reading, the blood draining from his face.
"His plan is to destroy the Alliance of Earth's main fortress in a single blow. Nothing of the sort was ever discussed or approved at the congress! We must do something before it ruins everything we hath worked together so hard to achieve!"
Lady Lacys placed her arms carefully on the boy's shoulders, not wishing to arouse a violent reflex from the Knight as he stared into space, transfixed. His eyes quivered fearfully as faces flashed in rapid succession behind them: Sai's spectacles. Miriallia's wave. Kuzzey's squint. Lieutenant Natarle's scowl. Koijiro's grin. Sir Mwu's confident smirk. Captain Murrue's proud smile. Lady Fllay's sad eyes. The Adept clutched his chest in pain, his heart feeling as if it might burst, as he grit his teeth and clenched his eyes shut tightly.
Lady Lacys knelt beside him, unsure of how to help. "Kyra…" she called gently, trying to soothe him with her enchanted voice.
Lord Syegel regarded Master Malchio gravely, a knot forming in the pit of his stomach as he contemplated the shocking news. Something had to be done, he knew, or else everything they had striven for would come to naught because of one reckless Adept and his followers, misguided at best, deluded at worst. "Lacys…" he called carefully, drawing his daughter's attention away towards him. "Can we speak for a moment?" he inquired.
The Lady nodded, standing to her feet and leaving Sir Kyra as she took her father's hand tenderly, leaving the folly to converse in private.
Along the expansive piers adorning the dockyard beneath the Alliance's Joint Fortress, Sir Mwu, Lady Fllay and Lieutenant Natarle stood together amidst a throng of similarly clad officers and warriors, the women clutching their service papers in their hands, whilst the Knight bore a rucksack filled with their belongings slung across his back, most of which was comprised of the Lady's things and his additional armaments.
Several of the Atlantican ships in the harbor had raised anchor as they ran drawbridges across to the piers to provide safe passage for the waiting troops across the way to board.
"Are there still companies heading for Panama?" Lieutenant Natarle remarked in disbelief at the frenzy which surrounded them. Looking over Lady Fllay's shoulder, her eyes skimmed the orders emblazoned there on. "It appears that the ship you are to board will dock at that pier," she mused. "Where is yours, Sir Mwu?" she inquired.
The Lady frowned, feeling pensive. It was all so sudden. But then again…she mused, looking back in the direction of the Archangel on the other side of the dockyard sadly. Perhaps it was time to get off that cursed ship. She had made too many memories on those decks. Some sweet, but most were bitter.
"Huh…?" the Knight remarked in surprise, truthfully not having thought about it. "Oh, my course lies with this maiden," he waxed, looking down at her admiringly as he flashed a cheerful smile, despite his disgruntlement with the whole affair. "Bound for the western coast of Atlantica. Not far from home, actually."
"Is that right?" Lieutenant Natarle replied dryly. "Well, farewell Sir Mwu," she saluted, but her mouth opened in surprise, at seeing the handsome Knight offer his hand.
"Yes, take care Lieutenant," he replied with a warm smile.
The Lieutenant blushed, despite herself, tentatively placing her hand into his. Giving her a firm squeeze, he released her and placed a gentle hand on Lady Fllay's shoulder, leading her away.
Lieutenant Natarle stared at her hand for a moment, transfixed. Finally her eyes narrowed and she shook her head, snatching up her pack resolutely.
"How is the evacuation proceeding?" General William inquired of his fellow Atlantican General as he strode into the shaft to join him as it descended through the dark depths beneath the fortress.
"I would say another three vessels," the younger man admitted. "But can we complete it in time?" he asked nervously.
"Relax," the elder General assured him smoothly. "There is no chance they will penetrate our deepest levels at the start. They do not even know they exist."
His fellow officer nodded, deferring to the older man's experience and craftiness.
"You stand in the line here," Sir Mwu was explaining to Lady Fllay as they waited to board their vessel. "When your turn comes, they call out your name and you show them this paper. Understand?"
The Lady nodded weakly, taking the paper without a word.
"Excellent," the Knight exclaimed, turning around and making his way back across the pier.
Lady's Fllay's eyes went wide with panic. "Huh…? Wait!" she cried fearfully.
"I forgot something!" Sir Mwu called back over his shoulder with a reassuring smile, giving a slight wave as his feet fell into a sprint.
The Lady frowned, looking around her worriedly as a chill came over her.
Whilst the main Fleet tore through the ice above the hidden subterranean channel, a company of bizarre creatures lumbered toward the Join Fortress from the air above, consisting of little more than monstrous winged lumps of flesh with gaping, toothless jaws. Inside each of their mouths, which stretched as far back as a stomach, could fit a few dozen Zodiac Parties, comprised of those to whom the Order could afford no personal mounts. The hot breath and saliva collected around their armor, causing it to glisten as the plates became slimy to the touch. Upon beholding the telltale waterfall down below, they each took a deep breath. For some this would be their first battle and they could only hope that their magick would not fail them now.
Arriving at their destination, the Party leaders rushed forward, diving out of the creature's mouths without fear, their troops following close behind. They lay flat on their stomach as they descended through the air gracefully, some drawing their swords or readying their crossbows, whilst others held out the magickal implements which had been provided for them, taking care not to crack the smooth precious stones embedded within them.
It had to coincide perfectly, or theirs would be the first deaths to be recorded, the commanders reminded themselves.
It was not long ere they felt a hail of arrows rushing amidst their company from below, followed by the sound of cannonfire. Spinning away or rolling through the volley, several Knights aimed their crossbows straight downwards, releasing the enchanted bolts with a snap of their fingers into the hauberks of the gunners below before they landed atop the twain towers buttressing the middle Gate. Within heartbeats, however, the embrasured cannons from the two sets of opposing towers were swung inward along their turrets, firing their deadly rounds into the advance horde, the powerful shot splitting apart the very stones upon which they stood.
Meanwhile in the warm waters of the channel below, several dozen Knights wielding spears and tridents dove out of the hatches of the submerged contingent of crafts, clad in the specially sealed suits of Armor crafted for marine warfare, their greaves and gauntlets elongated for better swimming with webbed silk woven between their fingers and toes.
Spearheading the assault from the air, Sir Yzak stood atop his scaly beast adroitly, choosing to carefully scrutinize the scene below rather than rushing ahead in honor of his fallen friend Sir Dyarka, gripping the powerful barreled crossbow Shiva in one arm with the enchanted tower shield strapped to his other. He wished so greatly that the blonde bastard could be here by his side today to witness this glory. His troops meanwhile could only marvel at such a risky feat in exposing himself so.
As Sir Mwu dashed through the corridors and stairwells which ascended up through the expansive Joint Fortress, he stumbled and almost lost his footing upon hearing the sounds of shrill alarm bells ringing out in the distance, steadily advancing closer towards his ears. It sounded like it had come from one of the watchtowers bordering the outer Gates, perhaps.
"The enemy!" he blurted out as he burst into the nearest chamber. To his shock, however, he found it completely empty, its desks and chairs abandoned. Apparently in such haste that several papers still lay strewn across the floor.
He looked around in bewilderment, his mouth agape. "Hath they all gone to Panama?"
Finally, he swallowed hard, turning back to the door.
What is going on…?
"What is happening?" Captain Murrue demanded, the crew in a frenzy upon hearing the alarm bells going off along the outer battlements, pacing about their stations on edge. Oh, how she wished Lieutenant Natarle were here. She had held her reservations to be sure, but the woman was a brilliant tactician and she certainly kept a cool head in battle.
Suddenly, they heard a deep voice blast out over the dockyard, the sound carrying across the waves and echoing throughout the chambers above, no doubt from an enchanted horn kept somewhere safe in the Fortress above.
"ALL SHIPS SET SAIL TO MEET THE ENEMY! COMMENCE THE COUNTERATTACK!" the voice thundered. "THEY HATH BEEN DECEIVING US ALL ALONG. THEIR TRUE TARGET WAS CHANGED TO OUR ALLIANCE'S JOINT FORTRESS AT THE LAST MOMENT!"
Those lying bastards! How dare they!
Fearful gasps erupted across the deck from the throats of Kuzzey and Miriallia. They could already feel the floor beneath them begin to shake, as the invasion's disturbance carried over the waters below the hull.
Are they truly unable to fight fair?
Straining her eyes behind her for a glimpse of Sir Mwu, Lady Fllay stood anxiously in the slowly advancing line of Atlantican officers bound for its western coast.
"Hurry, onboard!" one of the Marshals up ahead urged, as he motioned for others to come and help him speed along the process. They were the last ship yet to depart.
Shaking her head in frustration, the Lady's argent gaze narrowed and she took off back into the now dark corridors of the Fortress in search of the missing Knight.
"Damnation!" Sir Mwu cursed as he sprinted through the empty halls of the Fortress in complete bewilderment, his rucksack trailing behind him from the wind his speed had kicked up. "Surely they cannot hath been so foolish as to leave the place defenceless... What is going on here?' he muttered through grit teeth. He had a very bad feeling about this.
Coming upon yet another floor, the Knight shook his head once more in bewilderment.
"There is no one here!" he lamented, at a loss to explain. Somebody had to be inside somewhere. Who else would take charge of the battle?
Letting out a fierce war cry, Sir Yzak willed his scaly mount into a dive, outstretching his hand as he formed the water within the narrow channel into sharp spears of ice which burst out of the waves and cut through the feeble decks of the aging battleships that had arisen first to challenge his company. They were quickly riddled with holes, filled all too eagerly by the waters below, gradually pulling the craft down into their icy depths.
Their gunners tried with all their might to drive them back with return volleys of cannonfire, but they were too divided between the Knights popping up out of the water beneath them and the ones assailing them from the air. It was a hopeless rake.
Gracefully dodging the hail of munitions and arrows flying through the air, General Lord Rau sped headlong towards the frozen grounds below as well, clad in his distinctive gleaming plate, the white sash of the General wrapt round his waist. "The curtain has risen. Tis now time for the actors to show their talents," he announced.
"Tis cruel to have to fight under such conditions," Captain Murrue fumed to her crew, knowing similar sentiments were coursing through their hearts. "But we cannot suffer the Fortress to fall," she affirmed, resolutely, striding over to her customary place behind the helm.
"Captain!" Arnold exclaimed over his shoulder, his eyes doubtful. But he already knew.
"All hands on deck!" the Captain shouted. "Pursuant to our orders, the Archangel shall set sail from the docks to join the fray!"
"You cannot be serious. How shall we prevail without Sir Kyra or Sir Mwu?" Kuzzey protested.
But the Captain merely stared ahead expectantly, her amber eyes narrowing into a determined stare as she awaited the execution of her orders.
Atop the Clyne Estate, the scheduled rains had finally come to an end, a cheerful sky rewarding the people below for their wait. But such a trifle did nothing to quiet the troubled spirit of Sir Kyra, who stood at the edge of the gilded folly, staring out over the grounds at a loss for what to do. He heard the telltale soft footsteps of Lady Lacys as she approached him from behind. She was alone this time, he discerned.
"Kyra?" she called out to him.
The boy turned towards her slowly, tears welling up in his amethyst eyes. Unable to hold it in, they fell down his cheeks in great drops. But twas not as any other tear he had shed, for his body did not shudder, nor his mind reel. Instead, he smiled at her. "I am going," he said simply, his decision made.
"Where are you going?" the Lady inquired, her hands folded together at the hem of her white dress.
"I must…return to Earth," Sir Kyra replied.
"Why?" Lady Lacys pressed."Your return alone will not end the war."
The Adept shook his head. "I can see glimpses of it when I close my eyes, that battle raging to the north. I can no longer remain here and do nothing but watch."
The Lady frowned, disappointed and confused.
Cutting through the air like a knife, General Lord Rau rolled sharply to the left, avoiding the massive shaft discharged from a ballista along the stone ridge of battlements ahead. Drawing back on his longbow, he strung four poisoned arrows at once, releasing them with a snap as they streaked through the air at incredible speeds, simultaneously embedding themselves past the mundane armor which covered the artillators' chests up ahead, killing them within mere heartbeats.
The General breathed in deeply, flying past as others rushed to take the place of their fallen compatriots. Leaving such puny kills for the Squires, he dove into the culvert which stretched around the Bay just beneath the aqueduct, shaking the falls' drops from the blonde locks fanning out from under his helm as he descended down the shaft cut inside.
"It appears that Azrael's information is accurate," he muttered to himself in the dark, rolling forward as he set down atop one knee, a burst of air displacing the chamber around him from the force of the landing.
Stumbling through the quaking corridors in the dark, Lady Fllay ran for her life, bits of ash and dust, as well as pulverized stone and splinters falling about the air, soiling her hair and causing her to cough profusely.
"Sir Mwu!" she gagged.
A particularly loud clamor shook the tower she found herself in and she pressed against the wall in terror. "Where is…the Archangel?" she whimpered. "My…!" she breathed, her words cut short by another fit of coughing which came over her as she took off running once more, doing her best to suppress the fear steadily growing within her.
"If one does nothing because he tells himself he will not make a difference…" Sir Kyra countered firmly, his eyes set forward against the sapphire orbs of Lady Lacys. "He would end up doing even less than he might hath."
The Lady kept silent, hearing him out as he mulled over the words in his mind, a powerful realization obviously coming over him. "Then nothing would change…" he lamented. "And nothing would ever end."
"So shall you fight against the Zodiac again?" Lady Lacys inquired nervously.
Sir Kyra shook his head.
"Then the Alliance of Earth?" the Lady pressed in surprise.
But still Sir Kyra shook his head, his gaze softening. "I feel that I hath…a better understanding now about what we should be fighting for," he explained. "I now renounce the oath I swore to the Alliance. I am no longer their Knight. I shall not bear the burden of 'Sir Kyra' any longer."
Lady Lacys' eyes widened, his enlightened words giving her pause. Her indecision seemed to leave her as she remembered her father's words and she nodded resolutely, as if she had come to a decision of her own.
"Then very well," she said with a knowing smile.
Sir Mwu froze midstride, his blonde locks drenched with sweat as he felt an awful chill come over him. "This feeling," he panted. "Has Lecreuset come? Is he the one behind this?"
Tentatively, he crept forward and strung an arrow on his longbow, suppressing his breathing as he allowed the curious senses of the Laflagga line to take over.
"Please change into this, Kyra," Lady Lacys intoned, emphasizing his new voluntary abandonment of title as she indicated a silver tray held out by one of her family's hired servants upon which was neatly folded a pressed crimson surcoat, adorned with sigils of black and gold, and a familiar red sash he had seen round the waist of Athryn many times which laid atop it.
"Please inform them," she added to the perplexed servant with a knowing smile. "That Lady Lacys of the House of Clyne shall be singing the song of peace from here on," she affirmed, her sapphire eyes sparkling brilliantly.
In what appeared to be a recorder's chamber deep within the besieged Fortress, General Lord Rau calmly drew one volume from its rows of shelves and then another, quickly searching their contents and casting them away. An hourglass was resting on the desk, as if to alert someone it was counting down to something, so long as they recognized the sign that is. The din of battle could still be heard emanating from the besieged Gates just outside the Bay. The main Zodiac fleet had not completed the channel and entered it yet, but neither had the Fortress sent out its docked battleships. Compared to the sheer size of the extant forces, the battle had barely begun all.
At last one of the stray scrolls proved promising. It appeared to show a map for the lower levels, even beneath the dockyards. His eye took to a narrow shaft which cut straight down over a league beneath the base. Below it, however, there was an curious empty space. A smile curled at his lip from beneath the helm. "Well…there it is," he muttered.
His eye caught sight of a shadow, however, slowly moving within the light which streamed into the chamber from behind the doorframe, the hands pulling back on an arrow carefully. The General whirled around, outstretching a deep crystal rod in his hand as an ember blazed forth from its flawless tip, striking out towards the assailant.
Sir Mwu flinched, backing behind the stone wall for cover as it was rocked by the ensuing explosion. After a moment, he darted into the room after the General, dodging a succession of further blasts which flashed brightly in the dim quarters and filled the air with smoke.
Ducking behind a chair for cover just a final blast rushed over his head, singing his hair, Sir Mwu scrutinized the dark corner on the far side carefully. General Lord Rau cut into the opposing stairwell and took cover behind the wall there.
"It has been a long time, Mwu of Laflaga," the General greeted mockingly. "I apologize to say this after finally seeing you again, but I do not hath the time to be fooling about with you." Carefully, General Lord Rau peered past the wall to brave a glimpse toward the pinned Knight. "Since you are still here, I suppose you must no longer be of any use to the Alliance of Earth."
Sir Mwu's azure eyes narrowed as he readied another arrow.
"My how you hath fallen out of favour, Hero of Endymion," the General taunted.
Suddenly, a bright light flashed in the room, stunning the Knight as he struggled to close his eyes in time. He could hear the fleeing footfalls of Rau as he made his escape. Bolting out from behind his cover, Sir Mwu turned his longbow on the hallway the General had just fled through. It was empty now, of course.
Slowly lowering the weapon, the Knight strode back over to the desk to see what the General had been here for. To his surprise, however, he saw an hourglass, the grains of sand within slowly tumbling down to the bowl one by one, situated beside a scrap of parchment filled with drawings of the fortresses' foundations. A long narrow shaft caught his eye, however, and he gasped in horror.
Without another thought, he took off running back the way he had come, an ominous dread enshrouding him. He had no time for his rivalry with the General at present. There was something much worse at work here.
As Lady Fllay continued to stumble through the dark innards of the Joint Fortress, she was surprised to hear someone, presumably a soldier like her, cry out from the hall ahead, "A Zodiac warrior!", hurriedly pointing his crossbow for the hall just beyond her range of vision.
"One has breached the wall!" another exclaimed, his voice changing to a pained scream as the Lady saw his burnt body thrown against the back wall amidst a crackling discharge of white lightning.
Unsure of what to do, Lady Fllay squeezed into the nearest crevice, peering past the corner at the brutal skirmish. All she could discern was a full mane of long blonde hair fanning out from beneath a gleaming helm. He was gripping someone by the aventail now and lifting him straight into the air as if the man weighed nothing. Agonized screams began to fill the hall up head as his body jerked, almost causing her to pitch forward and vomit, though sheer terror managed to keep her composure.
Throwing the desiccated corpse away with disdain, General Lord Rau continued on his way. A man rushed out past Lady Fllay pressing the stock of a crossbow against his shoulder. He looked Eurasian. The General whirled around, casting another bolt of lightning into his chest from a wand of sorts, the body ravaged to a smoldering mess.
The defender fell unceremoniously at the Lady's feet and she let out an awful scream, stumbling away from the body and falling to her rump. Seeing the approaching figure, however, she rolled forward and snatched up his fallen crossbow just as the General's shadow fell over her, his boots drawing inexorably near. She raised the weapon up just in time and pulled back the crank, its shaft now aimed shakily in between his plates.
The General stretched his wand toward her without a thought, readying the spell, but something gave him pause, and he softened. "H o w i n t e r e s t i n g…" he intoned, changing his course as he drew upon other magicks.
Lady Fllay's eyes went wide, her breathing laboured. That voice! It cannot be! "Father!" she exclaimed despite herself, as Lord George's image flashed through her mind unbidden.
"F l l a y…" the voice sounded in her mind, powerful and seductive.
"Father's…voice," the Lady mumbled in a stupor, completely bewitched.
General Lord Rau nodded with a satisfied smile.
But…it cannot be! Your dead!
Suddenly, her fingers snapped the mechanism defiantly, sending the bolt flying forward without warning. Ere the General could evade, the shaft embedded itself below his neck, wedging between the enchanted plates and piercing his lungs.
Lady Fllay merely stood there, holding out the crossbow as if it were an extension of her arms, her eyes riveted to the sight.
General Lord Rau smiled as he gripped the shaft with his gauntlet and ripped it out, breaking it in hand and flinging the pieces away. Looking at his wasted wand in disappointment, he cast the dull crystal rod aside where it clattered to the floor shattering.
The Lady felt as if she had fallen into a dream, her eyes wide with disbelief as her body shuddered. Impossible! No one could survive that!
But rushing forward, the General slammed his shoulder into her forehead with expert precision, putting her out whilst he caught her limp body in his other hand.
"And this is how it is done-like this," Lady Lacys was explaining to Kyra as they rode together through the streets and floors of the Tower within the plush interior of her private carriage, her hand making a fist laying horizontally over her torso.
Performing the unfamiliar sign, Kyra looked back to her for confirmation.
"That is how Zodiac warriors greet each other," the Lady affirmed with a smile.
Seated comfortably enough within the small but fast craft which would ferry him back to the Plants, Sir Athryn sat facing forward unblinking.
Opening the satchel which rested atop his lap, he eyed the sparse belongings within; a spare pair of boots, his folding knife, papers of mark and other such issue. His eyes fell on Sir Nycol's cherished music sheets however, and he paused.
"I am to return home and play the conquering hero," Sir Athryn spoke aloud, addressing his dead friend bitterly. He shook his head in disgust."You are the one who deserves these honors, not me," he muttered.
He sighed. What would he tell the boy's mother and father, he wondered. How would he ever face them? No doubt they had already heard the terrible news. Closing his eyes, an image of Lady Amalfi weeping alone at the boy's old piano flashed through his mind and his body tensed. But…to see the one responsible for that loss, he wondered how any could control themselves.
As the battle outside began to spread into the Bay, slowly the wrought iron portcullises of the Joint Fortress dockyard began to rise, a fearsome craft leading the charge from behind the waterfalls. It deadly sharp bow pierced through first, followed by majestic sails and proud masts.
"Wombats, Valiants! Fire!" Captain Murrue barked.
Without warning, its cannons blasted out their enchanted munitions in a crushing forward volley, accompanied by the shrieking wails of countless rockets which spiraled out from the ship and tore through the air for the enemy.
The Zodiac Knights ahead turned toward this new foe in confusion as they readied their weapons, the feeble but many Eurasian defenders proving little match against their company. But the enchanted rounds simply tore through their number and obliterated the mass of them, sending riddled and scorched bodies crashing down into the Bay below and signaling their compatriots to take heed.
Realizing the new threat the Archangel posed, the other Knights took to assailing her from all sides, bearing down on her with their crossbows or conjuring blasts of air and ice against her hull, drawing from whatever elements the miserable environment offered, whilst they continued to fall under the valiant gaze of the Eurasian Knights grappling with them in the sky atop their mounts or attempting to push them back with their cannons and ballistae.
So far their wards were holding and their armaments serving to keep the Zodiac forces at bay. So far...
Lady Lacys led Kyra, clad in the red surcoat of the Zodiac elite, up through the restricted floors of a tower reserved by the Ministry of Works.
"Good afternoon," Lady Lacys saluted cheerfully as they passed a pair of Zodiac officers up ahead, Kyra following her example as he fought a nervous smile.
His smile faded, however, when he saw two guards up ahead, arrayed in the familiar heavy armaments of the Guardians. The Lady, however, strode up to in complete confidence, nodding expectantly to the pair with practiced authority. They quickly relaxed, unsure whether to regard her with the respect one should a daughter of a Sovereign Counselor or indulge in the excitement one would such a popular musical icon. Apparently deciding on the former, each drew a key kept on a chain round their necks and undid the enchanted locks which sealed the thick stone door shut.
Straining their backs, they pushed the slab open for them, a soft hiss sounding as the air flow stabilized.
"Follow me," Lady Lacys said, taking Kyra's hand and striding through the doorway, the officers dutifully sealing it behind them.
Kyra's amethyst eyes widened as the Lady led him by the hand to what appeared to be a forge, the light of a great fire still crackling up ahead, its fumes wafting upward through a chasm which opened up to the clear sky.
But if that surprised him, what came next left him in wonder. For in the center of the room stood a casket, in which lay a full suit of Armor upon a bed of black velvet, its plates gleaming of opaque and sapphire. Kyra was immediately struck by its resemblance to his old suit, Stryke, and he marveled. For this was no ordinary Armor. It brimmed with enchantments that struck the Adept's keen senses powerfully, its craftsmanship flawless after the smooth manner of the Plants' finest artificers.
"Stryke!" Kyra exclaimed aloud.
Lady Lacys' head turned to the side in confusion for a moment. "Not quite," she smiled. "This is Frydom. Tis a new suit of Armor, forged from the finest materials and enchanted with our best spells to surpass those seized from the Alliance, forged under the orders of the newly appointed President, Lord Patryck."
Kyra could only stare in awe at its shining surface. It boasted an array of bejeweled rondels in brilliant hues which protruded from and adorned its surface, two at the besagews, two atop the pauldrons, two on either side of the faulds and one crowning the bascinet. A row of work tables circled around the receptacle, on which were laid out various weapons and armaments of exquisite quality, including two long sabers, a large pavise shield, and a pair of what looked to be ribauldequins, obviously inspired by Blytz' Triskeros of similar design.
It was the cuirass, however, which drew the most curiosity from the Adept. Closing his eyes, Kyra's mind penetrated past its thick plate and into the hollow cavity cut within. What he beheld there, however, shook him to the core. He could hear a steady beating echoing within, a strong heart pumping it full of magick.
"Tis alive…" Kyra breathed in disbelief. He had never before seen anything like it. "Why are you allowing me…?" he asked in confusion, tearing his eyes away from it to look at her once more.
Lady Lacys smiled brightly, her sapphire eyes dancing. "I feel that you shall need the power within this armor," she explained. "Neither will alone, nor strength alone, will prove enough. That is why. But it will take a strong heart to tame. Do you suppose this will ferry you where you wish to go? Will it be of aid when you get there?"
"Neither will alone, nor strength alone," Kyra repeated reverently. "Why me?" he asked in disbelief.
"You are…Kyra of Yamato," the Lady replied simply, drawing a brand from among the tools laid out on the table, its tip cut into a curious sigil and plunged it into the flames until the cool metal glowed like fire. Drawing it out at last, she approached the boy, holding it aloft and flashing an embarrassed smile.
Kyra's eyes widened and he swallowed nervously.
"Tis a bit crude," she admitted. "But without it…"
Kyra nodded, silencing her. "I understand," he said, taking off the surcoat and allowing it to the drop to the floor. Pulling down the hem of the mail hauberk underneath, he exposed his breast, readying himself for the sting.
Pursing her lips, the Lady pressed the fiery brand against his flesh, the sigil burning its visage onto his chest as the singed smell filled the chamber.
Kyra clenched his teeth as he winced, grateful when the Lady pulled it away at last. "Will you be alright though?" he managed suddenly as he thought of her safety in light of bequeathing such a thing to him.
The Lady smiled, striding up to join him and clasping his hands. "I shall be singing…the song of peace," she assured him.
Kyra smiled, for the first time in days he realized. "Take care of yourself," he said warmly.
"You as well, Kyra," the Lady replied, moving forward. "Go with all my strength," she blessed him, her sweet lips kissing his cheek in parting.
The ritual complete, the Lady backed away. "You must be on your way then," she urged.
Kyra nodded, striding towards the Armor and placing his hands upon its plate, ready to array himself thusly. To his surprise, however, the suit dissolved in a flash, along with the weapons which served as its companions, his hand falling through air to meet only plush velvet in its place.
What is this?
In an instant, however, the Armor instead appeared around him in a burst of light, fitting him perfectly. His mouth hung agape in delight at the incredible spell as he flexed his arms and tested the feel of the sabatons. The steady flow of raw power he felt surging from within its mysterious core was nothing short of incredible.
"Frydom," he muttered, his eyes reading the words emblazoned upon its plate. "This heart inside…it easily possesses the potential of Stryke fourfold. But what creature holds such power?"
Shaking his head, he dispelled such curiosities, closing his eyes as he readied the spell forming in his mind. He had not realized just how long it had been since he had used magick, the rest for his spirit no doubt of great benefit in the long run.
"I am no longer the bloodsoaked sword of others..." Kyra muttered. "I am my own side now."
Neither will alone…
Powerful strands of wind began to emanate around him, shaking loose the dust in the chamber and whipping forcefully at the flames. Slowly his new pearlescent sabatons rose into the air and he outstretched his arms toward the skies above the shaft.
…nor strength alone!
His amethyst eyes snapped open, narrowing into a determined gaze.
Lady Lacys waved goodbye from below, watching his departure with mixed feelings. She could hear a clamor of frenzied activity as a coterie of officers pushed their way in through the slab, bursting out onto the floor in bewilderment as they squinted up at the brightly clad figure poised in the air above them.
"What is happening?" one exclaimed in confusion.
"Frydom is leaving! Who authorized this?" another demanded gruffly.
"Quickly, someone close the hatch! My Lady, you should get to safety," the one nearest her urged.
"Send word to the Fortress! Make haste!"
Suddenly, however, they all were thrown to the floor hard, covering their heads as a blast of air erupted from the Armor's feet, launching Kyra upwards through the narrow shaft like a rocket.
Show me your speed, Frydom! Take me to the Archangel!
Rushing past a Party of patrolling Knights hovering just outside the Ministry, they turned as one in confusion toward the shooting gleam which cut through the air betwixt them.
"Who is that Knight?" the one demanded as they spun around, his eyes straining to catch a glimpse.
"Tis past shift change, not on our schedules. Heading towards Earth…but all voyages there are prohibited today," the other noted, his voice full of suspicion.
Flying after it to apprehend the mysterious figure, they strung their bows and released a volley of arrows at his back.
"Stop!" Kyra spat, suppressing the urge to kill them where they stood as he willed Frydom into a frenzied weave, evading the shafts with ease. No more of that…"Let me go!"
"He is fast!" they exclaimed fearfully.
Reposing from a backward flip, Kyra rushed forward to face them, one of the sabers appearing in his hand in a flash. "Lacerta," he read, noting the inscription etched upon the shining blade. Holding his breath, he tested his new resolve as he brought the edge of the blade up through the surface of their armor, careful not to pierce their flesh, and down their back. The enchanted sword cut through the inferior wards like cloth, their dull plates falling away in shreds of metal, leaving them exposed and unarmed.
The whole maneuver happened so incredibly fast, neither Knight had time to counter or parry the bizarre stroke, left winded as their weapons fell to the sea in bits. They stared at each other's bare face aghast, their mouths agape, truthfully just grateful to be alive.
Sir Kyra slowed, turning round to face them once more as he raised the blade threateningly, drilling them with a hard stare. Turning about face, he sheathed the terrible weapon and continued on his flight unopposed, setting his eyes toward the distant mountains of Earth.
"That sword," one of the Knights muttered, shaking his head in wonder.
The waters around the Plants had potent abjurations and foils cast about them, causing any enemy ships foolish enough to venture too near to become hopelessly lost on endless seas and, if not aided, starve to death after the exhaustion of their stores. This was maintained with near obsessive vigilance to ensure that an attack such as the one which destroyed Cancer could never happen again. But there were no such wards against those leaving the isles, and so they afforded Kyra no trouble at all as he sped away.
Reclining in his private quarters below the deck of the tiny craft, Sir Athryn stared out the lattice absently, his emerald eyes feeling heavy. The fast ship had made great strides over the last few hours, bearing him across the waves to all the pomp of the Plants that awaited him, the next chapter in his service.
Suddenly, a gleam caught his eye from the air just outside the hull and he froze, staring at it perplexed. It looked like…Stryke? He bolted toward the lattice, pressing his hands against it as he peered intently after the figure. In the next moment, however, it was gone just as swiftly as it had come. But it had been there, he was sure of it.
It cannot be…