Hey, guys. I'm here again, with Chapter 2.
Also, I've decided chapters are going to start out fairly short for now, until more people are interested. Things will get longer, but I'd rather have more than two followers first. If you want me to continue this, let me know! I've got a 90% chance to underestimate myself; give me a reason to keep going beyond 'maybe somebody will notice it when it's finished'.
So… go nuts.
King Scrimir of Gallia was in a foul mood. Admittedly, he often was, but today was especially foul. One of his best fighters, a dragon Laguz named Garoth, had been beaten in battle by a weakling, a puny little Beorc mage. And as Scrimir had gone to discuss Garoth to ask what was wrong, why he had been beaten so easily, he had caught another Laguz paying Garoth.
Scrimir's combat games had been founded almost a year ago, after what many were calling the Dawn War. As an alternative to war, Beorc and Laguz had opted to begin a playful type of sparring, which Scrimir had swiftly turned into a competition. Bets were placed, and money traded hands. But paying a fighter to lose? That was ridiculous! He had already sent a message around, but…
He spun around, then relaxed. "Queen Nailah. I have need of your-"
"I'm not Nailah." The wolf told him. "I'm Volug."
"You wolves confuse me! I sent for Nailah!" Scrimir snarled.
Volug snorted. "She's on her way. Helping the last of the wolves settle in Gallia. Most of them have never been anywhere but Hatari. They need some help. She sent me ahead to learn what's going on."
A low growl rose from the back of Scrimir's throat as he explained the situation.
"Ah… Scrimir?" Volug asked an hour later when Scrimir had stopped shouting. "Garoth might have fought a thunder mage? Thunder is dangerous to dragons."
Scrimir's face turned blank. Volug sighed. "I'm just going to go-"
"Garoth wasn't the first time." Scrimir barked. "Everybody's losing money! It's as if somebody's fixing the fights! This is a horrible affront to the honour of my arena!"
Volug rolled his eyes. "It's gambling. Everybody loses money. Fine, here – Nailah and I will try to find proof that somebody's 'fixing the fights'. But I'm pretty sure not."
Scrimir grumbled incoherently.
"Goodbye." Volug turned and ran off.
"So these are the only herons on Tellius?" Michael asked, with a bemused expression on his face.
Sephiran sighed. "Yes. Besides King Lorazieh and myself, these three are the only ones."
Both groups stood in a courtyard, sizing one another up.
"What-?" Rafiel and Fleur-de-Lis, the eldest princess, spoke at once.
"Go ahead." Rafiel relented, to the shock of all four Archaneans.
"Erm… I was going to ask about your wings." She said softly. "They're…"
"Hatari." He said sadly. "The wolf Laguz don't know much about healing birds. I was travelling through the desert, and I flew too hard. They don't work anymore."
"What I was going to ask," He continued, "was what made Lord Sephiran assume we would be alright with this?"
Sephiran sighed. "I'm sorry, but I told you Serenes will die unless King Gabriel can be persuaded to open trade routes, allow Archanean herons passage. When you hold control over whether a country lives or dies, you get to name any price."
Michael cleared his throat. "I suppose Princess… Leanne… and I must go, then? Allow Princes Rafiel and Reyson their pick?"
Sephiran blinked. "I suppose." He spoke to Leanne for a minute in the Ancient Language, and then turned back to Michael. "She doesn't speak much other than ancient, but-"
Michael interrupted him by breaking into the same language. Leanne jumped, then turned to him, chattering excitedly.
"Yes, yes, well. Carry on, then." He nodded to the others, and they walked back into the castle.
The remaining five eyed one another nervously, Sephiran standing off to the side.
Volug spotted Reyson in the amphitheater, waiting for Scrimir's next match to begin. He jumped up several tiered seats, weaving around Laguz and Beorc who were bundled up tightly against the threatening rain.
"Scrimir doesn't know… Oh, forget it." He scowled, reverting to the Ancient Language. "Mordecai hasn't taught me enough Tellian. Reyson, have you heard anything about cheating in the arena?" For the first time, Volug noticed the heron at Reyson's side. "Erm… and this is…?"
Reyson sighed. "Volug, this is Paschar. I'll explain later, okay? Paschar, Volug is a wolf Laguz. You guys have those, right? And how would somebody cheat in plain sight?"
"Scrimir's afraid that people are paying competitors to lose. I don't really understand what he's worried about, but I figured you might know."
"Oh, rigging. Yeah, of course. You make a massive bet on the underdog, pay the better fighter to lose on purpose, and then make a ton of money."
"Nah, everybody's too afraid of Scrimir to bother. I think it used to happen in Daein, though, during the Mad King's Reign. Sothe told me something like that, anyway. Ashnard was really into gladiator fights."
"I see. Thank you."
An earth-shaking roar erupted from the crowd all around them. Volug flinched, his keen ears ringing.
"Game on!" Reyson cheered. "One of Tibarn's hawks is taking on Ranulf. This'll be good."
The two competitors squared off on a raised dais in the center of the amphitheater. Both shifted, and Scrimir stepped up to face the crowd.
"Ranulf of Gallia versus Zephyros of the United Bird Tribe!" He roared. As the crowd answered, Ranulf dove at the bird, claws outstretched. Zephyros shrieked at him, flapping heavily to rise out of the way, but Ranulf was too fast. The hawk dropped in a bloody heap after one strike.
"Ranulf wi-" Scrimir began, but the rest of his sentence was drowned out by a bloodcurdling scream.
Reyson jumped, then glared at Paschar.
"He… he… he just… wha?" She panted, then crumpled to the ground.
"What the hell?" Reyson shook his head. "Sorry!" He called out to the crowd after a moment. "Alright, c'mon now…"
He eventually managed to walk out of the arena, Paschar's immobile form cradled in his wings.
"You showed her what!?" Xane shouted after Reyson had explained what had happened. They were in Serenes Forest, where the visitors had been relocated to. Things were awkward enough, Elincia thought, without them homesick as well.
"It was one fight. A lame one, too."
Xane sighed. "Kutiel, bring Paschar to her room. Reyson and I have some things to discuss."
The third heron princess nodded, and took her sister gently, moving away without a sound.
"Come with me, heron." The red-haired guard said evenly. Reyson followed him outside the vine-covered building the herons of Serenes had lived in.
"What the hell made you think it would be entertaining to a heron to watch Laguz kill one another?"
"Hey, I never asked her to come with me."
Xane sighed. "Listen to me, heron. Do you idiots worship Medeus or something?"
"Medeus. The god of chaos?"
Reyson chuckled. "We call her Yune, but yeah. She's much nicer than the goddess of order. More fun to be around, too. Hehe, bag of organs."
Xane stared dumbly at him. "Lovely image that painted. And I suppose female-domination is much more integral to your society than Queen Elincia would have us believe. As is chaos, I suppose? Violence is the norm?"
"Yeah, I guess. We had a couple wars a few years back, but…"
"Anri preserve us…" Xane hissed under his breath. "I only know this because of something I can't tell you, but for about a thousand years, Gabriel's been leading us in the way of peace and order. Most Archaneans don't know what violence is. Everything is perfectly ordered, as is the way Anri demanded."
"Sounds boring." Reyson let out a low whistle.
Xane sighed. "It got old fast. That's why I took this job. But brutal harmony is all most of the people still alive know. If we descend into chaos, Medeus returns, and then the only thing we can do is pray Marth returns to save us."
"Sounds a lot like our legend of the Fire Emblem."
"Look, Reyson. I want to help you. I want King Gabriel to allow travel, so I can get out of that boring paradise. But if you scare off the princesses by showing them just what they've been missing, then it doesn't matter. If word gets back to Gabriel, then he'll drag his daughters back, build a barricade, and lock you out. I have to sit and wait in perfect peace forever, your heron tribe dies, and eventually, if you ever return, he declares war. Medeus comes back, and Archanea drowns.
"So don't screw this up, got it? I've got a lot riding on this." Xane opened the door, and called for Kutiel.
"Unless Rafiel screws up with Fleur (unlikely), or Michael is secretly gay (more unlikely), she's your last chance. Don't mess this up for me."
"Sure. Hey, Kutiel, uh… wanna go stare at rocks?"
Reyson's expression of disbelief was still there when they returned three hours later.