10. Hesitation

"Stop spacing out, Remus! We're still not done yet, you know."

Remus looked up to his Junoan companion who was flying just a bit higher than his mount. He shielded his eyes from the sun's piercing ray of light and answered back, shouting. "How much farther it is, Irine? I can't see anything from here."

"Based on my calculation, it should just be five more minutes before we arrive there. I can already see the ruins."

The two Junoans and two third of the Allied Army were advancing South. After their victory over the enemy's sudden attack—which halted their plan by two days to launch an invasion towards the border—they had moved quickly to gain the momentum and use it to strike back as soon as the assassins and rouges began their retreat. Some of the commanders were not in a good mood since it was their own plan that was back-fired upon them, but a few cold-headed persons stood up amidst of their blunder and confusion to raise their voice: if there was ever be chance to strike, it was definitely now, when their ground had not yet been recovered from their total defeat.

It was quite boastful and arrogant, Remus thought, to launch such an attack over their great numbers. Remus could only thought of one thing that those sand worms would had tried on them: a quick attack to break their lines. But even so, something was amiss. Even with their numbers, they should had known that they were no match to the Allied Army, eventhough they had the momentum of playing in their own field. The reinforcements had arrived in time, and it was the only thing that put the shadow lurkers' battle tactic and strategy on hold.

After some minutes of flying, the two halted their flight and lowered their mounts, flying low with just some feet from their subordinates' heads.

"We have won a great victory," he said, much to himself. "But the border is not yet ours."

"I'm not sure it's the right time to complain," said a female Rune Knight who was advancing some feet below the Junoans. She was one of Pronteran commanders that were sent to reclaim Sograt. Her blonde hair, which was covered by a bone hat, was glistening in the sun. She made a gesture to halt her knights' advance. The Junoans quickly mimicked her action and landed. "Look, there," she pointed with her sword. "What did you see?"

Remus followed the trail of her blade's tip. They had arrived at what seemingly to be an entrance to the ruins of Sograt. Broken and sunken pillars were scattered throughout the area. A tall building stood deeper into the ruins, one he recognized as the home for those shadow lurkers. Remus' sense didn't inform him of anyone's presence, though. "Whether it's a trap or a sign of victory," he finally said.

"I agree. It's too silent," Irine put in. "No welcoming party. No sight of assassins or rogues trying to defend their base. Nothing."

"See beyond," the female Rune Knight insisted.

The two Junoans exchanged glance. "What're you implying, lady—"

"Vega," said the knight. "Don't bother with how I got that nickname and answer my question: What did you see?"

Remus was about to interject when Irine spoke up, "A completely deserted area, if you ask me, but surely you know more than that. It may be a trap, and we should think of nothing less."

"And we're sure that those rebels retreated this way," said she, her expression unchanging.

"Pretty much so. But then—" Irine interrupted herself and sighed. Realization hit her late. "I get it now. This is not merely a trap. It's a part of their plan to divide our army."

"And that's not all of it. Look at those pillars," she pointed out while dismounting from her Ferus. The short haired Rune Knight touched the pillar and it dissapeared right away. "It's a mirage," she stated blankly. "We are trapped."

"But how?" blurted out Remus, shocked by the probability that everything he saw now was nothing more than mere illusion. "They couldn't possibly create all of these visions in just some minutes while retreating!"

"No, it's not them," said Irine, her hand moving to her chin. "It's most likely that another party has been waiting here, in their very escape route, to set up the mirage in order to cover the attacking party's retreat." A bitter laugh came from her. "Clever, aren't they... It seems that our enemy has a fine strategist leading them. It is at a time like these I really wish Catriel is with us. She would have been able to see this through."

Before they could continue to talk further, some figures came out of nowhere atop a nearby pillar. The three jerked their heads up and instinctively drew their weapons. Their subordinates did the same. But since the sun was in their line of sight, none could see them better until one of them leapt unto a nearer pillar.

A hooded figure, cloaked in a dark manteau stood silently just a few feet to where they stood. Slowly as possible, the cloaked unknown raised both of its hands. "I bear no weapons with me," a deep, masculine voice carried into the wind.

"What kind of trickery is this?" Remus spat while activating his Aura Blade skill.

Again, the figure spoke, "I mean you no harm, fair soldiers of Midgard. I don't wish to fight you. It is actually the exact opposite."

Remus bolted his dragon towards the figure, his Dragon Breath was ready to be activated. But before he managed to even fly, Irine and Vega raised their weapons to stop him. "What are you guys—"

"Wait," said Irine sharply without looking at him. She lowered her voice in order to ensure that the figure and his followers couldn't hear her. "Think, Remus: if he wanted to assault us while we were not on alert, he would have done so already. Let's listen to what he has to say, first. And even if he's indeed means harm, than our number is still far greater than his few men."

Remus lowered his weapon reluctantly and finally nodded. Their action, it seemed, was interpreted as a sign of willingness to hear the figure's plea, for he stepped down from the pillar and landed smoothly on the ground.

"I wish to provide you all some assistance," he said while walking slowly to the three. "The only way to break this spell is by undoing the magic behind it. No one but a master at sorcery or a Guillotine Cross can do it. You'll need our help."

"And do we have a reason to trust you?" Vega asked, her weapon's edge pointed against him.

"Maybe not yet," he admitted. "But here I am, standing in your line of assault without any weapons drawned. And I'm sure you all know already that if you should call some reinforcement to break this spell, it'll all be too late to catch up with the fleeing rebels."

Remus shifted uncomfortably on his mount. There was... something about this man that chilled him out. His stature and tone were calm and composed, as if they were not even exposed to a war at all. And his aura told him of someone who was used to move without a sound in the shadows, someone who was expert of the art of assassination and stealth.

Irine grunted. "Well, that's very cocky of you, offering a help in such a manner. Now, tell us of reasons why we should trust you rather than merely using your help. I can tell that you're not some normal assassin. You're a Guillotine Cross, aren't you?"

"Indeed I am," he said simply. Pulling off his cloak's hood, the figure turned out to be a man od no older than thirty. He had this complexion of a Southern people: light tanned skin and sharp black eyes. His red hair was cot short with one side was being longer than the other, almost hiding his left eye completely. "I go by the name Azure in our ranks, and you can call me so if you wish. As for the reason of my 'defection', it is rather too simple to be explained. I stand in the same ground of beliefs as you all are. Nothing can be gained from rebelling, and I'm sick of my men's blood running over my own chamber just because of this foolish game. That is all."

"And should we believe you with just that?" asked Irine, her tone suspicious.

"Action speaks better than words." He then snapped his fingers once, and in a mere second, bands of cloaked assassins were standing behing him. Dust and sands sprinkled everywhere because of their sudden movement, causing the knights and crusaders to raised their weapons and shields in order to maintain their battle stance. And with another snap, they all bowed to one knee. "Our service is yours," said Azure. "But we will only assist you in one condition."

"Speak," ordered Vega.

A smile came upon his lips, a gesture Remus had a hard time to interpret of its meaning. "Bring me to Catriel Lachelle."

Ephron walked hastily, making his way through some knights and priests who were busy tending to the wounded. He had arrived just a bit too late in Prontera, only to heard that the Feyonese and their allies had been pushed back north with minimum casualties. It was, he thought, very brave and chivalrious of those Feyonese to abandon their home in order to avoid greater massacre. He had heard some news about their evacuation. Report had stated that the Allied Army had been attacked by bands of shinobi, rogues and assassins in mid-evac, and that their secret routes were all but exposed to their enemies. He had expected something more terribel than this when he'd heard it for the first time. But it turned out that only a small number of shinobi were able to successfully ambush the evacuating troops and citizens since the Feyonese had prepared their traps on board.

How had they managed to prepare such traps to counter the enemies' ambush was unknown to him, though. Had they calculated the worst possibilites and set traps in their own escape routes? Or rather, was Catriel's mind taking them to take such precaution?

And yes, there was Catriel.

He was in Midgard for the Junoan Order, yes, but he was specifically in the Prontera Field looking for her. And for the war.

"Commandant," said a knight who was beckoning him closely, "the tent is that way." He pointed out to a rather small tent, which Ephron suspected had been built for Catriel personally since she was the acting Ambassador for Junoan Army in the last battle. He turned to the gray tent and was greeted with a pair of guarding knights.

"Greetings, sire," one of them gave a salute, Pronteran Order style. "The Lady has not yet awaken, and Lord Knight Gizelle is inside."

Ephron gave a curt nod. He signaled his subordinate to come with him and entered the tent.

The room inside was neat and well-arranged eventhough it was only a temporary abode before she was being sent to the capital of Midgard. Catriel was laying motionlessly on her bed, her wounds had been tended, and her attire was of a plain white garment. Her already pale skin was now almost white now, and an untrained eye would easily mistake her for a corpse should she be laying on a battlefield. Gizelle, who had been sitting on a chair beside her, got up immediately when he recognized his superrior officer. Three Junoan knights who were also there gave a salute.

"Sir," he greeted while bowing.

Ephron walked slowly to where he stood and threw his glance at Catriel, his expression unreadable. "How is she?"

"Lady Catriel had been unconscious eversince she was found wounded near the evacuation site," said the brown haired Lord Knight. "which was four days ago. An Arch Bishop and some High Priests are regulary attending her, and although her physical wounds are healing slowly, she had not shown any improvements other than that. I'm afraid it is the poison that's slowing her recovery process."

"Poison..." Ephron trailed off. A list of some possibilities of what might be in the posion ran through his mind. But he could not recall any ingredients what would knock someone unconscious for days without another side effect. "Excuse me," he said to the Lord Knight dismissively, "I was lost on my mind. Tell me of your name, please, young knight."

"It's Gizelle, sir. Gizelle Skyler."

"And your age?"

"Twenty one, sir."

"Skyler, then," he turned to meet his subordinate's amber eyes. "Tell me, what makes you participate in this war?"

If Gizelle looked surprised, he hid it well for none of his features showed it. "I am a knight. I fight for my idealism towards peace which bounds me to the code of chivalry. That is all I can do to protect my home and those who are dear to me."

"I see. Then, do you believe that we can win this war?"

"I... I do want to believe so, but I dare not to be optimistic. I fight only the battle that is portioned to me, and if winning makes everything better, I shall strive to win."

Ephron nodded. "Good. Such is the value of being a knight—optimism will make you unable to think rationally, but being pessimistic doesn't help you in battle either. Only fight the battle that you know you can take an advantage of." He then waved a hand to the knight who had been following him, and the man left, only to emerged with a medium wooden wooden box which was draped in rich purple linen. "This," Ephron said as he took the item and opened it, "is the true reason why I'm here."

This time, Gizelle's eyes widened as he saw what was inside. A familiar robe in a color of dark purple and silver streaks, along with a silver ring and a red stone on the top of the folded clothes.

"From today, you shall be the acting ambassador in order to win this war. And in order to hold the rank, you're now promoted to be a Rune Knight."

"But, I—"

"If your ideals are of what you've just said, then we know we can put our hopes in you," the older knight cut in. "Knights come and go, whether by blades or by trials. But in the world we currently live in, only those who are capable of staying true to his ideals and righteousness will stand unshaken. Come, receive the Lord's blessing upon the new authority and responsibility He has entrusted you with. You shall spare me the curt and humble method since time is not very kind upon humanity these days," he added while giving away a bitter smile.

Gizelle, who appeard to be still shocked, quickly recovered and heeded to his superrior's orders and bowed to his knee. Ephron took a bottle of holy water which was still sealed, and opened it. He then poured out the crystal water on Gizelle's head and said, "Your body is made of flesh, yet your heart is made of steel and will be refined through fire. Your sword is made of steel, yet its blade is made of will and faith. You live in dark times, yet you will emerge as the one who bears our Maker's light through your life. You are a human bound to the law of death, yet must your life points out to the liberation of our carnal mind and self. Now, rise a Rune Knight."

As he rose slowly to his feet, every knight other than Ephron in the tent bent on one knee.

"Put your old armor off."

He did as he was told. Ephron held out a Rune Knight's robe from its container and helped him putting it on. Actually, it was a duty of a supervisor and a member of Senate during this kind of ceremony, but since situation demanded, it couldn't be helped: he had to do eberything by his own. After Gizelle had put on the robe, Ephron asked for his left hand and slipped the silver ring of rune carvings on his middle finger. "The ring shall be one with you until your death," he informed, almost all too hastily since he could already heard a bustling sound of knights on duty outside—a reminder of their situation. "What do you feel of it?"

"Cold. Yet, it feels like it's glowing, as if it is radiating the coldness itself."

"Every sensation a Rune Knight feels upon their baptize is different. It symbolizes your character, and also it will determine your runic abilities and stregth." Ephron hesitated for a moment, but then said with still the same placid expression, "Upon Catriel's baptize, she stated that she felt the ring as a 'stinging piece of ice' on her finger... And you've seen how she battles and masters the rune far above us. I'll be eager to see how you develop yourself and your sword . Now, your armor. Put it on."

Gizelle should knew that Rune Knights always summon their armor and weapons out of nowhere with rune magic, but it seemed that he had no idea on how they first donned it on their baptize since his eyes were searching the empty containter. Ephron smiled. He too had behaved like that upon his own rise in rank. "You have no need to search for it," he said, much to his own delight and amusement. "You've seen that there's no armor in here. You have to create it."


"Create it, Skyler. Create it. With the rune now flowing freely inside you, you must have felt the strange waves of... 'cold' energy already, as you put it. All we you have to do now is visualize that energy into physical form and materialize it with your will. Try."

He closed his eyes and suddenly, his breath became much slower and controlled. His whole stature relaxed a second after. Interesting, Ephron thought to himself. There had been a very few Rune Knights who were capable of creating runic armor and weapon right after their baptize. Even up there in Juno, new Rune Knights were usually given a whole week to meditate and read ancient scriptures about runes and the flow of energy. But the lack of time and the pressure of war were not the best of friends, so they had skipped all those formalities and neccessities, which Ephron had hoped that would give birth to another prodigy.

As soon of thin silver layer of aura bloomed from Gizelle's skin, Ephron knew that his hopes had been answered. Two years with Catriel seemed to had instilled knowledge, calm nature and a broad sense of rune mastery to the young knight.

A/N : Yup, I know it's messily written, but please don't kill me... *sobs* Ahem. The good news is: your characters are coming up in this fic! So please wait patiently upon their debut.

Please do Review if you're interested... :D