Three-thousand years ago
The ones known as the Brood were wiped out.
The reason known no more,
The Brood have become a shadow of a memory.
But an age old Legend has come true,
And the Brood will once again return
This is their story.
Part I: The Age of Man
~ Meeting for the First Time ~
I was uneasy as we approached the front. Over the past two months, the main Imperial forces had forced the Allied forces back from the Imperial borders of the northern region. With news of Ludian reinforcements on the way, the unit of Riders I was enlisted with was ordered to advance to the front line and spearhead our first attack into Allied territory in nearly a year.
We advanced slowly atop our drakhorns, small dragon-like creatures without wings. The location of the camp probably had something to do with our orders to advance. Imperial drakhorns are indigenous to the northern peaks, making them highly mobile for this sort of operation. Only the Highland Kingdom could match Riders in mountain combat, but there were no reports of them joining the Allied Nations in their war.
The drakhorns walked on their massive hind legs, hunching their backs to allow us to sit on them without difficulty. Their front legs were more like arms, with three massive claws at their ends that could slash through steel. A long horn protruded form the tip of their forehead, allowing them to skewer things in order to break forward. The lumbering beasts served us much like horses served Ludians.
"You alright?" the young man next to me asked. His long silver hair blew in the harsh wind as large drops of rain pelted us from the north. Large muscles breathed slowly under his dark navy blue military suit, the standard for an Imperial rider.
The pants were fairly loose to allow relatively free movement. The bottom of his pant legs were tucked into black boots that went up to just below his knees. His long sleeved dark blue shirt hugged the skin. On top of that was the chest plate, a thin white Kevlar plate that curved around the chest. Thin lacing of mithril at key points allowed the plate to bend when the wearer moved to allow greater range of movement. Mithril also ran along his sides, holding together pieces of leather that attaching the back plate to his chest plate. Long black gloves covered his hands with pieces of Kevlar laced on the top of his forearms. Attached to his waist was a large black belt with the holster to his gun as well as the sheath to his katana. His gun was a standard issue firearm with limited range. It had a wooden handle with a large metal shaft. Gold was laced along the shaft to give it an air of nobility. The katana was longer than the standard of its kind, but thin and light, making it the ideal weapon when dismounted from the drakhorn. Another sword was strapped along the right side of the drakhorn. This long sword was heavy and thick, making it hard to deflect or defend against. Such a weapon was ineffective in man-to-man combat, but served its purpose when mounted on a drakhorn.
"I'm just a little nervous," I replied, trying my hardest not to sound how I felt. As I waited for his reply, I sat still on my drakhorn, head tilted downwards to shield my eyes from the warm rain.
The youth grinned, a smile peaking at the corner of his mouth. "It's good to be nervous," he ensured me. "That means that you're alert." The man turned and looked at me in the face. His blood red eyes, an oddity among any clan, pierced into my sole, even though they bore no hatred towards me. "But remember," he continued, eyes bearing as serious a look as I had ever seen, "don't allow it to consume you entirely. For then it becomes fear."
"I'll remember, Kai," I smiled slightly at my old friend.
Kai and I had been friends ever since childhood. We didn't live near each other or have common friends that brought us together. Our friendship was more like fate.
Unlike human Imperial citizens, we did not have black hair or tan skin. I had fair skin and black hair with a slight blue tint, something never seen before. My bluish-green eyes are attributed to the possibility that I am half Wyndian, but that simply was not true. Both my parents were well established Imperial citizens, born and raised within the Empire. Being so odd in appearance I was shunned by the other kids when I was young. Throughout my early years I was teased in class and kept out of physical activities. It wasn't until I met Kai, a child who was also unique in appearance, that I knew companionship.
Kai was with me every step of the way. We joined the academy together when we were ten. It was at this time that the war with the Alliance was becoming the dominant event in life. Many children from all over the Empire were signing up for the academy, some without the permission of their parents. It was hard to leave my family, but something called me to do this. A voice that was distant, but felt familiar.
Two years after completing preliminary training, Kai and I were recruited by Shryk to be in his rider unit. He happened to be stationed at our training camp after a recent battle and needed replacements. Although we were very young, he saw potential.
Now, at the age of fourteen, we were active members of his rider battalion. The youngest riders to ever be active, we were respected, but received a lot of teasing from the older members.
"You there, Ryu?" Kai's voice asked.
I shook my head, brushing away the fond memories of the past. "Yeah…" I said quietly, still a bit distant from reality. "I was just thinking about how we got here."
Kai grinned again, "I wouldn't worry about that right now." Kai pointed forward as he continued, "think about where we're headed."
We neared the top of the hill, deep within the valley formed by the two tallest mountains of the northern region. The ground had turned to a swampy muck from the heavy downpour. A thin fog of hot air trapped by the valley now surrounded us, soaking our bodies in sweat. The hot air felt heavy when breathed into my lungs. I could hear myself panting softly with each breath, eager to release the air I took in. The rain poured down heavier, thunder now accompanying it.
Four other battalions of drakhorn riders stood at the top of the hill beside us. I figured that together we numbered at least three hundred.
Off in the distance, I could hear the faint sounds of cannon shells exploding. The lines must have begun to advance, if cannons were being fired. My heart began beat loudly within my chest, warming my body as adrenalin was pumped into my blood by natural instincts. The smell of gun powder brushed past my nose, alerting my senses at having reached the edge of battle.
The fog was absent at the top of the hill entering the valley. From where we stood, the imperial line could be seen walking into the cover of the mist, led by a dozen panzer tanks; large chrysm driven vehicles with thick armor plating.
"Take your positions!" A man shouted. It was the commander of my battalion, Captain Shryk. He stood on a giant drakhorn, nearly twice as large as the rest of them. At such a size, most would assume it was unnatural, which was correct. The captains of rider units were given biologically enhanced drakhorns as a symbol of their rank.
The enormous drakhorn gave him the image of authority, being seated higher than his troops. He wasn't taken in by it though. Shryk commanded his men as if they were his equals.
Kai stood straight and firm on his drakhorn with an unreadable face. I blinked a few times while looking him over and was amazed at how focused he was.
"Are you nervous?" he asked me without turning or even moving his eyes towards me.
"A little," I answered while pulling on my drakhorn's reins. The drakhorn growled as its head was jerked by the rope and stepped back to line up more properly with the neighboring riders.
"This is our first big battle," Kai said, still looking ahead, "Before now, we were limited to small border patrols and convoy escorts." Kai became silent after what he said and looked up into the sky. As the rain began to run down his face he closed his eyes and took in a deep breath of mountain air. "The imperial cavalry isn't meant for such assignments."
I thought about what he said as the imperial line disappeared into the thick fog below. Only the faint glow of the tank engines and lamps carried by communications units could be seen now. Every once in a while, the fog would glow a brilliant gold and silver as a shell from a wyndian cannon exploded. The sight was very much like lightning during a dry storm.
"What are you trying to say?" I asked.
Kai kept his face pointed at the sky as he spoke. "These cavalry units aren't enough to face the ludian reinforcements that are on the way."
"So then…" I wasn't sure what it meant, but I felt that Kai had an idea.
"The empire has no intention of continuing the war at this border," he said. He lowered his face so that it was pointing ahead again. "It's too taxing on our supply lines and requires us to divert forces from the open plains that border Ludia to the south."
"Then why get involved on the northern borders to begin with?" I asked.
Kai laughed gently under the cold rain at my question. "Sometimes to advance in war you have to do the unexpected. The Empire knew heavy casualties would be experienced if open war with Ludia on the plains took place." Kai stopped laughing as he explained his reasoning further. "The ludians are stubborn," he said. "Imperial strategists probably learned form spies that they wouldn't involve themselves if the Wyndian borders were attacked."
"So they decided to attack from the north…" I said.
"I think that's about it…" Kai said.
"That doesn't explain why we're being called in," I exclaimed. "Why not just retreat from the north completely?"
"The wyndian forces have been fighting along these borders with us for over a year," he answered. "Moral can sink that amount of time, so a member of the royal family is probably present to keep them up."
I contemplated that possibility. "So you think we're here to capture a member of the royal family?"
"Of course not," Kai said sharply. "There have been no reports of one ever being here. We're here to crush what remains of the wyndian forces before the ludians arrive."
"That's what I thought," I agreed.
"Of course…" Kai trailed off briefly as he thought. "If there is a member of the royal family here, we'll probably be the ones to capture him."
- x -
"Your highness, I urge you to turn back!" a soldier cried out to me from behind as I walked forward through the remaining troops. "If anything were to happen to you…"
I spun around on my heels, not wanting to hear the rest of that sentence. "If anything happens to me," I said firmly, "then I'll have died fighting for my people."
The soldier stood still with shocked eyes at my remark. Having made my point, I turned back around and continued to walk to the head of the troops.
"Yes…" the soldier said finally, bowing his head in failure, "but you can fight for your people at home!" The man looked up again and quickly ran to catch up to me, splashing puddles of mud with each step. "The battlefield is no place for a Princess of Wyndia."
"Who are you to say where I belong, soldier?" I asked, scorn entering my voice. I kept my back facing the man, not letting the frustration on my face be seen. "Your only concern is my safety," I said coldly, turning my head slightly to view the man from the corner of my left eye.
"But that is exactly why I must object to this!" The soldier cried, not in anger, but fear. "It isn't safe out there. Without the aid of the Ludians the Empire out powers us greatly!" The soldier was breathing heavily now, his shoulders rising and falling with each breath. "Princess Nina… please, turn back."
I was silent for a long time, thinking about his request. I didn't want to die, but I couldn't turn my back on the soldiers around me who were about to throw their lives away to hold off the Imperial army until the Ludian army arrived from the south. I wouldn't walk away. I couldn't walk away! Determination filling my heart, I straightened my shoulders, "I will lead my people to victory!" I shouted, spreading my wings. The white feathers shined, even in the darkness of the storm, appearing angelic.
The troops around me shouted, lifting their weapons in cheer. Not even the close sounds of battle could be heard beyond their shouting. Their hearts into it, they were ready to fight for their country, even if it was to their deaths.
The soldier behind me bowed his head, crossing his right arm across his chest. "I understand, your highness. I will protect you."
The soldiers quieted down as I put on two gauntlets. They were made of a greenish metal and covered leather gloves that cut off at my fingers. Each gauntlet could act as a shield or a weapon with their wide body and sharp edges. Although they looked heavy, they were actually quite light.
I turned to look at the allied army that remained. The greater part of it was made up Wyndians, which was understandable since Wyndia was the closest kingdom to this border with the Empire. Besides that, there were only a few dozen worrent and beastmen left.
"General," I called out.
"Yes, your highness?" a man asked from behind me.
I turned around slowly to hide my surprise. The general was a fairly old man, probably in his forties. The color of his eyes had paled slightly from age, while his once blonde hair had turned completely silver. His eyes told me that he had seen countless battles over the years, as they looked weary, while his hair simply told me he had seen a lot. His face was stiff with determination, despite having been awake for countless days.
"Prepare the troops for battle," I said solemnly, trying not to sound too excited or worried. "I want all the footmen in front in defensive positions. They will advance towards the imperial line in that formation until melee combat is possible. The worrent and wyndian knights will follow behind them and charge once the imperial line meets with them."
The general nodded as I laid out my plan for our last stand before the ludian reinforcements arrived. "What about the beastmen and cavalry?" he asked.
I looked over at where the beastmen had gathered. They were of the forest clans, armed mainly with rifles and bows. The wyndian cavalry had been severely weakened over the past month, now numbering under two hundred at best. There could have been more, but the number of men was greater than that of the ostarocs.
"I want the beastmen to remain by the camp with the cavalry," I said, finally. "Have their commander order volleys of arrows and rifle bursts fired as the line gets closer to our base." I began to walk forward through the developing line of footmen and knights as I continued to detail my plan. "The cavalry will serve as our last line of defense. I want all of the wyndian infantry formed together with them."
"Understood," the general said as I finished. He turned to his staff of senior officers and relayed my orders to them.
I watched as each man saluted and ran to his division of command as they were given their complete orders.
The footmen began to shuffle towards the front of the army, positioning their body length shields directly in front of them to take the defensive formation. Their line stretched across the entire opening of the valley that lead towards wyndian soil and was at least six men deep. Beyond the second line, the soldiers carried their shields on their sides, making them more adept at charging when the lines finally met for melee combat.
Right behind the footmen stood the second line of troops, made up of worrent warriors and wyndian knights. The worrent warriors carried various weapons ranging from staves and clubs to daggers. The wyndian knights wore prestigious blue robes on top of light silver armor. They were all armed with standard double edged swords.
A third and final line of men formed in the back, near the encampment that served as our base. Nearly two hundred wyndian ostaroc cavalry stood surrounded by the remaining infantry. The infantry was a pretty basic soldier, added to the military nearly a century ago when guns began to be more widely available. Wyndian infantry carried with them short range rifles, making them ineffective at long range, where long bow equipped archers can still strike.
I noted that the beastmen were nowhere to be seen. "General," I shouted.
I looked around before seeing the general making his way towards me from the middle line. He saluted when he reached me and asked, "what do ask of me, highness?"
"The beastmen…" I paused, looking around one last time to make sure that they were gone. "Where have they gone?"
The general didn't look the least bit puzzled at hearing that the beastmen had vanished, making my racing heart slow down a few beats back towards normal. "When the beastmen received their assignment, their leader ordered them to take position in the surrounding valley." He pointed at the nearest valley wall and moved it around to direct my eyes at where they were holding position. "They are prepared to fire volleys from three directions."
"I see…" I said, trying my best to see any trace of the forest clan beastmen. They were stealthy to say the least. "Are the lines ready to advance?"
"Yes, your majesty," the general said while bowing. "They are awaiting your command."
I looked over the lines from my position on a small hill at their left side. Each line was well organized and at full attention.
I heard some faint sounds from the west and turned to see flickering lights swaying in the fog. "Do we know anything about the remaining imperial forces?" I asked.
"They number at least two thousand," the general asked.
I gasped slightly at hearing the number. We were severely outnumbered; at least two to one. "Two thousand…" I repeated.
"There's more…" the general said, beginning to sound grave. "The imperials have twelve panzer tanks in the front line. Our cannons won't be able to destroy them all before the lines meet."
"I see…" I turned to watch the cannons being moved into firing position. "So the front line will be…"
Crushed… by machines men have no hope of stopping alone. I tried to think of something to do, but was shaken out of my contemplation when a loud explosion shook the ground beneath me as one of our cannon's was fired.
The general quickly stepped forward and caught me with one arm. "You'd best prepare yourself, highness. The battle has begun."
I looked into the general's eyes as he helped me up. They had suddenly become something other than their weathered stoic orbs I had peered into just minutes before. They were sharp and determined.
With nothing to say, I nodded and began walking over to my ostaroc.
I had to walk slowly, making sure my feet were firmly holding to the slippery ground as the cannons were fired at the panzer tanks. In the distance, I could hear the blast shells exploding, some louder than others as they struck the tanks. I prayed for the cannons to hit all the tanks, but there was no way that they could get off enough shots before the lines met.
The general followed me to my ostaroc, the large flightless birds that were native to the mountains surrounding Wyndia.
My particular ostaroc was specially bred for use by the royal family. While pure ostarocs had feathers that varied from red to grey and even silver, mine had the purest white feathers I had ever seen. Ostarocs had become the natural companions of the Wyndian people far before the kingdom was established. They now served my people as mighty steeds.
After jumping onto the ostaroc, I allowed the general to strap my feet into their holds along the sides of the bird's shoulders. He patted the bird on the back when I was all set and said, "stay with the cavalry." He looked me in the eyes to make sure I was paying attention and continued. "I leave what happens after our front lines are breeched to you, but until then, stay here where it is safe."
"I understand," I said, smiling respectfully. "I pray for your safety on the field."
"I am honored, your highness." The general bowed before leaving.
By now, a second barrage of shells was fired off by the cannons. The imperial line had gotten so close the explosions from our cannon fire were visible through the mist deep into the valley.
I watched some men on my left reloading one of the cannons. The large metal shaft was glowing a tranquil blue as it began to cool down. The chrysm crystal at its base was glowing a more golden color as power was being drawn from it into the blast chamber.
A sudden movement in front of me caught my attention. The front lines had begun to march ahead into battle, footmen holding their shields high while knights and worrent calmly followed with their weapons ready.
A third barrage of cannon fire was sent over the alliance lines at the closing lights. The explosions of the shells were clearer now, echoing in the deep expanse of the valley walls. I was frustrated at having to stay behind with the cavalry to watch the front lines do battle, but knew it was for the best. The last thing the alliance needed was for a member of the Wyndian royal family to die in a losing battle.
A loud cry was heard as the lines finally met. The sounds of battle began to leak out from the valley, barely touching my ears, but sounding louder than anything I had heard in my life. It's beginning…
- x -
Climbing onto my ostaroc, a large white bird with a spear like beak, I signaled my men to advance into battle. The troops advanced at nearly a running pace, determined to hold the line until the Ludians arrived. I traveled on my ostaroc in the middle of them, directing them as needed.
When we reached the front, my men charged in. A line of men with shields was at the head, knocking back the Imperial troops. A few officers on ostarocs ran forward, small groups of soldiers following. It was hard to make out what was happening in the fog, but the slow advancement forward told me we were winning.
Walking forward on my ostaroc, I passed by countless dead bodies of Alliance and Imperial troops. No longer alive, they were the same: men and women who died for their country. The smell of rotting flesh and blood invaded my nostrils, making me feel lightheaded. It was like breathing death.
As I got close to the battle, some troops surrounded me, forming a human barrier. They were armed with short range rifles, weapons recently made for front line battles such as this one. As Imperial soldiers pierced through the fog, the men around me opened fire, not letting a single man get to me.
I was confident in our chances of victory until I suddenly heard men screaming in pain and shock just ahead. Their cries were followed by the sound of something being crushed into pieces and the high pitched roar of drakhorns.
I could make out nearly forty large shadows in the distance, obviously belonging to rider units. More men screamed and the fog began to glow a bright orange as the drakhorns used their fiery breath.
"Riders…" I whispered to myself as the fog ahead began to glow ever brighter.
Flames stretched across the battlefield, some of them dangerously close to me. Not even the raging storm could calm the flames. The fire could be heard from all around me and the sudden feeling of doom formed in the pit of my stomach as I saw a drakhorn leap out from the fog, it's yellow and red scales now perfectly visible to me. As it landed, mud was thrown up into my face, momentarily blinding me. I quickly wiped my eyes, not letting the drakhorn or its rider catch me while I was occupied.
"Protect the princess!" a man shouted.
I could hear numerous footsteps from behind as men positioned themselves in front of me. The rider halted his drakhorn, which stood tall on its hind legs before lunging forward and taking one of my soldiers in its mouth.
The other soldiers staggered back as the man was whipped back and forth by his leg in the drakhorn's mouth. He cried for help as he continued to fly in the air. Several soldiers with spears stepped forward and attempted to stab the drakhorn, but it batted their weapons away by using the helpless soldier it had grasped in its jaws.
One soldier managed to avoid the human weapon and plunged his spear into the drakhorns left leg. The beast cried out as the pain reached its nerves, releasing the now dead soldier from its teeth. The rider jerked the rope he was holding to remain on the drakhorn as it fell lopsided for a moment. With his free hand, the rider lifted his long sword and slashed downwards on the retreating soldier.
The soldier fell and rolled to his side to avoid the slash, but wasn't quick enough to dodge the massive blade. His roll came to a violent stop as his left leg was caught and removed by the attack. By reflex, he rolled onto his back and reached for the wound with one hand while lifting his other to plead the man to stop.
The rider must not have been interested. Without hesitation, he lifted his sword and stabbed the downed soldier in the heart. As the body became limp, he removed his sword and turned back around to face me and the remaining soldiers. The drakhorn had recovered from the pain in its leg by now, and stood straight again. The rider yelled something in the imperial language and the drakhorn suddenly shrieked and ran forward.
I pulled back on my ostaroc, causing it to jump back as my surrounding soldiers formed a human wall in front of me. Three of them continued to fire their short range rifles, but the bullets continued to bounce harmlessly off of the drakhorn's thick scales. As the rider almost reached us, the gunners pulled out their swords while the others lowered spears at the approaching drakhorn.
The rider on top of the drakhorn removed his gun as he rode closer. Before reaching my men, he fired a single shot the hit one of the spear holders in the right shoulder. The man dropped his weapon and spun from the force of the blow.
The soldiers closest to him watched him as he fell, naturally attracted to the action taking place. Several soldiers yelled to look out, but their minds were still in a haze. By the time their minds took over their instinctual curiosity, it was too late. As the soldier on the right of the fallen man looked forward again, the drakhorn's horn rammed through his chest. His body jerked and his mouth coughed blood, but it was probably more from nerve spasms than anything fueled by being alive.
The remaining soldiers didn't hesitate any longer. They charged in on the drakhorn and its rider, spears and swords drawn to attack.
The rider turned his drakhorn around to face the troops and yelled something else in imperial tongue. The drakhorn responded by bending its head back and growling heavily. A golden light could be seen within its throat, making it obvious what would happen next.
As the soldiers leapt at the rider, the drakhorn spat its fiery breath. Two men fell to the ground covered in flames. They rolled through the mud while grabbing at their faces and screaming. The remaining soldiers stepped back again to avoid the fire. When the drakhorn ran out of fire to exhale, they advanced again, attacking from both sides rather than the front like before.
Again, the massive creature stood up on its hind legs, elevating its rider above most conventional attacks.
I watched as, one by one, the soldiers were defeated by the lone rider.
The beast looked almost like it was out of control, but the man that rode it was obviously in command of it. Soldiers came from every direction to stop him from reaching me, but they could do nothing to stop him. Those who weren't swatted aside by the drakhorn were easily killed by the rider, a relatively tall man with short black hair.
My ostaroc slowly stepped back as more drakhorns appeared from the fog. More soldiers came to protect me, but their numbers were quickly dwindling. Not even the short range rifles could pierce the armor-like scales of the drakhorns, but my men remained by my side.
The drakhorns began to stomp their massive hind legs as they surrounded the few soldiers that remained, the men that rode them pulling out their guns, preparing to kill us.
Unable to contain myself, I pulled out my rapier and leapt off of my ostaroc, spreading my wings in flight.
- x -
As we reached the line we smashed through a phalanx wyndian footmen. Most men scattered as their barrier of shields was torn asunder by the massive drakhorns while a few less fortunate were trampled. The ground literally shook as our drakhorns stormed into battle, their horns acting as battering rams. Alliance soldiers screamed in terror as we arrived, cutting them down in a brutal bloodbath. We quickly moved up to the Alliance line, setting the field ablaze.
The bodies of the dead fueled our fire, giving it life in the storm that nearly flooded the ground. We now stood in what seemed like an ocean of mud and fire, cold rain raining down on us while the heat of fire rose from below.
As the battle raged on, I noted that the wyndian cavalry was absent, meaning there was another line awaiting us up ahead.
"Ryu!" Kai shouted from beside me. "Watch out for their arrows!"
"Huh?" I asked. Before receiving an answer, I heard a high pitched zip above me. I looked up to see a barrage of arrows raining down on us from the valley walls. With a quick yank, I told my drakhorn to turn, avoiding one of many arrows that were coming at me. My drakhorn had caught on by now, acting on its own instincts rather than waiting for me to direct it.
The lumbering beast leapt back as the first wave of arrows struck into the ground. I had to lean over to the side and back to dodge some of the shots, almost falling off of my drakhorn at times.
A drakhorn came tumbling back form the fog, nearly colliding with mine. The rider was thrown off, his body bleeding badly from a wound to the lower torso. I began to move forward again when the fog was blown apart. A fierce wind ripped through, throwing the mist into the flames.
The scene now visible, I saw a dozen drakhorns crowding at one spot while others circled around. The winged warrior flew out from the crowd, and to my amazement, it was a woman. Not even a woman, but a young girl about my age.
The girl floated above the group of drakhorns and threw her arms back. A violent force of wind formed at her hands. Swinging them down at the drakhorns, she released a massive whirlwind that threw them from their feet.
Flames spread as the wind fanned them, forming a wave of fire. The wave came charging at us, drakhorns and riders alike soaring helplessly through the air behind it.
While some riders were thrown, some were unlucky enough to hang onto their drakhorns, only to be crushed as the beasts landed on their backs. Their screams were short, instantly cut off by sudden death.
I jerked my drakhorn back as another came flying at me. The sound of the impact echoed through my ears as mud rained down on me. The drakhorn got to its feet and scurried away into the flames, leaving its rider's crushed body behind.
The Wyndian girl continued to float above us, out of reach. I could see her preparing another spell, an eerie red glow emanating from her hands.
Kai saw it too, and began shouting towards me, "Ryu! Draw your gun!"
I brought my left hand across my waist and reached for my gun. Lifting it from its holster, I took aim on the girl when she launched her spell.
The spell came forth as a small ball of light. My instincts took over, and I found myself blindly firing my gun. After pulling the trigger the switch on the barrel swung downward, striking the chrysm crystal to ignite the powder that propelled the metal bullet. The crack of the ignition pounded in my head, almost disorienting me, as the bullet was launched from the short barrel. The force of the reaction was so great that the recoil threw my firing arm back, pulling my entire back slightly with it.
The ball of light exploded, bathing the field with white light, as the bullet shattered through it.
Although my shot missed, the flash of light took the girl by surprise. I could here the end of her yelp as the loud sound of the shattering spell came to a stop. Through the receding light, I saw her small form fall to the ground.
The girl wasn't the only victim of the explosion, however. My drakhorn reacted in fear, kicking me from its back as it ran off.
The flames now surrounded me. I shielded my face as I made my way through the blaze, searching for the girl. Aside from the crackling of the flames, I could hear someone coughing. Following the sound, I found the girl lying on the ground with her hand over her mouth.
It was a girl alright. My age at best, she had a slim figure that had not yet matured. Although she was young, she had the face of one who had seen a lot, which wasn't surprising for the world we lived in. She was wearing a light blue dress that hugged her skin tightly. The bottom was short, revealing her bare legs. Around her neck was a golden necklace with a crest that rested on her chest; the crest of the royal family of Wyndia.
I lifted my gun and addressed her, "Get up." The words sounded a bit strange and came to me slowly, since they were in an Allied language I was just barely fluent in. It was required to learn the dominant language of the allied nations when joining the military in case of such potential prisoner situations as this.
The girl got to her feet, still struggling to breathe. I hadn't noticed any trouble breathing yet, but I could see why she had problems. Smoke surrounded us, born from the fire the drakhorns had made. Her slender figure was covered with mud from her recent fall, covering her fair skin and face. I could still see her dark blue eyes gazing at me. She was obviously curious about my appearance, but I didn't let that distract me.
"Identify yourself!" I demanded, squaring my aim on her heart.
The girl remained silent, keeping a firm gaze on my face.
I found this distracting; no matter how hard I tried. I was used to being singled out for the way I looked, but this was different. It wasn't disgust or insult; it was curiosity. It almost felt embarrassing to have her look at me for so long, and I suddenly felt an odd heat rush to my face. My vision began to blur a bit, my eyes clouded by a sudden crowd of thoughts in my head. Even with the utmost concentration, my arms began to shake, the gun losing its aim.
"You are just a child…" the girl muttered, barely audible to me.
"Speak for yourself," I retorted, trying to regain my control. "Who are you!"
Again, silence. This should have made me angry, but it didn't. Perhaps more puzzling than her silence was the complete silence I perceived around us. None of my comrades had appeared to aid in capturing the girl. Even the flames seemed to no longer crack with the sound of life.
Maybe it was due to my sudden display of weakness, but the girl was very calm. Her body wasn't shaking at all, and her face was relaxed. Everything seemed to conflict with reality at that moment. The battle was no longer taking place. The only things that existed were this girl and I, standing, facing each other in silence.
Forcing the dream-like sensation from my mind, I repeated my demand, "identify yourself, or I'll fire."
"You won't…" the girl said. Her eyes were filled with innocence as they pierced the shield that surrounded my inner self. I could no longer keep my battle instinct together in order to make her talk.
"I will," I insisted, pulling the switch back to prepare to ignite the chrysm crystal. Although it looked as if it were natural, I was forcing myself to pull the switch back. Something inside me told me that this was wrong; something so deep that it pained me to deny it.
- x -
As I reclaimed my vision from the flash of light, I found a man pointing a gun at me, demanding that I stand. My body stiff with fear, I got up slowly, joints locking as I straightened. Through the blend of rain and fire, I could barely make out the figure, but I could see that it wasn't a man, but a boy, no older than me.
Another youth appeared to the right, long silver hair blowing through the flames. "Ryu…" he said. The youth looked at me and then at Ryu again, a concerned look on his face. He said something to the boy pointing the gun at me, but I couldn't understand, since it was in the imperial dialect.
Ryu didn't listen. It looked as if he didn't even notice the other imperial soldier. "Identify yourself!" he shouted, putting a firmer grip on his gun.
I didn't say anything, examining his face. He wasn't like any other imperial I had seen; pale skin, eyes that were a lighter blue than those of Wyndians with a touch of green, and black hair that had a bluish shade under the yellow light of the fire… Quite odd, I thought. He must've noticed what I was doing, because his face began to turn red.
The other youth was now a bit panicked at his ally's sudden display of weakness. "Ryu!" he shouted, standing almost in his face. He shouted something in imperial tongue, but it sounded completely alien to me. This situation made me wish I had listened to my advisor when he told me to study their language for diplomatic missions.
Again, Ryu showed no sign of notice. His arms were beginning to shake, the gun rattling loose. He wasn't a battle hardened killer yet, and I found myself compelled to prevent that from happening. "You are a just a child…" I said, the words almost whispered out of my nervous throat.
Ryu snapped his reply at me, "Speak for yourself!" He was obviously trying to take control of the situation, but was doing a bad job of it. "Who are you!"
I remained silent, avoiding provoking any aggression that may have been hiding deep in his heart. My body was now calm, instincts no longer feeling any immediate danger; not even from the other imperial, who seemed more interested in getting his friend back to reality than capturing me.
Again, Ryu demanded, "Identify yourself, or I'll fire."
His words were weak in substance, obviously forced. He had no desire to hurt me, which I found strange. Maybe it was the biased upraising I had in the castle that made this sensation so alien, but Ryu was far from an oppressive man. "You won't…" I said, truly believing the words.
Ryu pulled back the switch that would ignite the chrysm in the gun, preparing to fire. "I will," he said, his arms still shaking.
The other youth spoke almost in a sad tone. "Ryu…" was all I could understand.
I chose to ignore the man, just as Ryu did, even if he couldn't help it. Ryu's empty gaze told me he was harmless, but perhaps I was just being foolish. "Ryu… that is your name?"
Ryu firmed his grip again, taken by surprise by my question. "How did you know that?" he asked.
"You're friend told me," I said, waving my hand at the silver haired youth.
Ryu looked directly at the other rider, but obviously didn't see him. "You're lying! There's no one there!" Frustration was beginning to invade his face, his eyes now tense. "You…" he hissed, "who are you!"
Feeling like I owed him that much, I gave him an answer, "I am Nina," I said, my voice steady and calm. "Princess Nina of Wyndia."
Ryu was suddenly stiff. His body no longer shook, but he was obviously still distant. Having the information he sought, it seemed he no longer had anything to do with me.
I started to walk towards him, passing by the other rider on the way. I relaxed my wings as I reached him, putting his arms down softly with my left hand. He moved almost like a puppet, his face empty of life. Something inside called out to me, or was it something inside of him? I wasn't sure why, but I reached out with my right hand, my left still resting on his. I touched his face, rubbing the mud from his cheek.
Ryu suddenly took in a harsh breath, as if coming out of a coma. No words were spoken, only action. I don't know what happened in that instant after I touched him, but it knocked me unconscious. That last thing I remember seeing was a blur as I fell to the ground, a sharp pain at the back of my neck.
- x -
A/N: I hope you like the re-written version of this chapter. Since I had taken such a huge break from writing this and developed my style further, I thought it would be a good idea to update this chapter a little. All of the events are the same, but details were added. Please R/R. I am especially looking for comments about the changes I made, since I'm thinking about spending time rewriting chapters 2 and 3 as well.
Update 5/14/2011: I really cannot fathom how fanfiction lost all the quotation marks over the years. Thankfully, I still have these chapters on my laptop and am re-uploading them.