Chapter 96 – Deific Inference.
All eyes were on them as they walked down through the terraces and across the arena to the raised platform, the only sound that of their steps and the drips of blood from Cassia. Rachael was still pouring magic into her, but the lady knight would survive. For all her power, it had meant naught against the ancient. Warrior had blasted straight through it. Or perhaps she had been too arrogant, and hadn’t even fully called it to herself. It probably wouldn’t have mattered either way.
The attention was nerve wracking though, and it wasn’t just the same as before. The feel of the looks was different. Sure, the desire was still there, but there was more to it now, and other things as well. All action had consequences. They had proved the existence of the ancients to those present, but there was a cost. For them all. That they had to pay, be it their choice or not.
Things had suddenly gotten even more complicated, and they were already before.
it’s nothing that you can’t handle.
‘Says the being who just up and left.’
But perhaps they were just as much at fault as well. She had wanted to do this, even though it was Alysia’s suggestion at the start. They also had made a choice.
“May I?” A young rider asked as she ran up to them and skidded to a halt just before them, two of the palace guards accompanying her. She was nervous, not quite able to meet their eyes, her hands unsure of where they should be and her posture like she on a trigger edge, ready to flee at the slightest provocation. Rachael nodded. The rider carefully laid her hands on Cassia, golden mana flowing from her. The lady knight’s eyes were closed now, her breathing regular, wounds no longer bleeding. The trail had ended halfway across the arena.
“She’ll be fine,” the rider stated, looking up at the queen. “But she’s going to take a while to heal.”
“Good. Take her to the infirmary.”
“As you wish,” the rider said, before looking carefully at Rachael.
“Here you go,” Rachael stated, dumping the lady knight into the riders arms. Crystal watched as the rider carefully made her way out of the amphitheatre. She looked like she still wanted to run, but with the burden of the lady knight she was taking as much care as she could.
Alysia turned to face the lady knights, her gaze firmly on Willow. “You have your proof. Are you satisfied?”
Willow stood, halberd materializing in her hand as sandy coloured mana flowed around her, forming a cape that settled on her shoulders and flowed down her back. She walked slowly and deliberately down towards them, exuding confidence in every step, quiet murmurs starting as the riders looked at each other in confusion. Crystal stood beside Rachael, just as confused, her hand find her lovers and intertwining. The lady knight stopped a few meters from them, a cool breeze blowing through as she stared at them, eyes seeming to glow in the now fading light.
“You are still monsters,” she stated, as she raised her weapon.
And then thrust in into the ground, the point digging deep into the earth as she knelt before them, head bowed. “But you spoke the truth. We have been given what we asked for, though perhaps we would have better off had we not. We all are effected by hubris in one way or another, and we must take the consequences with it. And know our place.”
Willow rose again, facing the riders in the terraces, her face going through warring emotions as she looked at them. “I am sorry,” she finally managed, her voice quiet, head bowed, “for what we have forced you all to go through. I can only hope that you all made the choice for yourself, and not from our influence.
They were right too. They represent what we are, our very core. A new age is indeed upon us, changes even greater than what the Queen Alysia was saying.”
“Can I ask one thing,” Willow continued, turning back to them, “that you offer the choice again. For those that were misled.”
“No. That we cannot,” Rachael answered. “The magic had a purpose, and that has been fulfilled. It has taken ahold in one form or another, and recasting it would have no additional effect. You refused the offer then?”
“Actually no.” Willow looked down at the ground. “At that moment, I could sense the power, the truth behind it all, and Dune’s desire for it. I accepted the gift, and she is all the more happy about it. Cassia on the other hand...”
Crystal looked up at the familiars as calls went out from them, some happy, some remorseful, and some gloating. Sadness and pity for those for whom both sides now desired it, but that had missed the opportunity. Calls that tore at her heart. The familiars were no longer what they once were, but something much more. Both good and bad. Awakened, more like their riders in all ways, in all that entailed. The positive aspects of society, and the parts less desirable.
They would all awaken in time. That was a part of the magic, but perhaps there was something more that she could do for the ones who had missed out at this point in time.
you’re being soft.
but this is your domain,
and your consequences to bear as well.
“For three days,” Crystal stated, her voice loud and clear as she borrowed Rachael’s trick, faint arrays glowing around her. “For three days we will pull the leylines here again, Promise sitting in attendance. Meditate here, both rider and familiar, and that should be enough to accelerate the awakening.
“Thank you,” Willow stated as she bowed, her weapon and cape disappearing as she then turned and walked back to the terraces to take her seat. “That would leave just the promotion then.”
“Indeed it does,” acknowledged Alysia. “Congratulations Tayja, you’re now a Lady Knight. Come see me in the morning please. This night has taken more than its toll for all of us.”
‘Or in other words, even the queen has had enough. Somehow I think that things did not quite go as she expected.’
That would be the case for them all. Arrays had a physical cost as well, and Promise was miles above what she had ever done before. Crystal batted her eyes at Rachael as she sunk into her embrace, zoning out all of the noise that had erupted around.
“As you wish, warrior princess,” Rachael declared with a chuckle, white light enveloping them.
“Think we can learn that trick yet?” Fairweather asked as Crystal and Rachael suddenly vanished from the amphitheatre. She knew exactly where they had gone, the form of the array that Rachael had created familiar even if she didn’t understand any of it. Some of those nearby might have though, from the sudden exclamations.
“That I think is part of their domain,” Clocky replied as he looked around them. “However I do believe they have the right idea. We are going to gain some unwanted attention if we stick around much longer.”
“On that we might already be too late,” Fairweather said with a sigh. While the riders were all currently occupied with their own matters, Tayja still sitting with the other lady knights and looking rather shell shocked, some of the ferals and nobles around them had decided to shift their attention. “Would have been nice if they could have taken us with them.”
‘Rachael sends her apologies, but she doesn’t possess Myne’s gift,’ Hope said to her as they stood up. Myne, with her sensing ability that rivalled that of the arkchildren, if it wasn’t superior, and her flames that were on the other side of deadly. And who knew what other powers she possessed, given the utility she had shown with her flames. She was rightly one to be feared.
Ah well. Mundane methods it was then. Or in this case, the Clocky method. Flattening out any creases in her dress, Fairweather took Clocky’s arm, hugging him close as they made their way up to the top level of the terraces. And straight into the path of a rather wealthy looking man who was quite obviously trying to intercept them. Long regal purple robes that were tied at the waist with a gold threaded belt, short black hair that was interspaced with mauve feathers, and small feathers that flowed back from the outer corners of his eyes. A feral that didn’t have animalistic ears she assumed.
“I don’t believe I’ve had the opportunity to introduce myself,” he stated, making a quick bow. “I am Elder Larson of the Alpine Mystics.”
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance I’m sure,” Clocky stated dryly, “but we are required back at the palace.”
“Perhaps I can escort you back there?” Larson replied slickly. “The riders after all do seem to be in a state at the moment.”
“Let me be blunt,” Clocky answered, looking him directly in the eye. “We cannot provide you with the knowledge that you seek, nor will we make any arrangements for you. We are not Casters. For that you will need to talk to her highness, though I doubt that either Crystal or Rachael will acquiesces. Their interest lies with the riders and not with power hungry scions.”
To his credit, Larson managed to keep a straight face. “I am sorry for my interruption,” he said with another shallow flourish, though his tone said otherwise, before he moved off to the side. “I shall indeed endeavour to speak with Alysia.”
No one else interrupted them as they made their way quickly along the top terrace, especially as a couple of the familiars took it upon themselves to growl at another noble who appeared like he was going to attempt to. A gesture that was appreciated. Then back onto the path that led away from the amphitheatre and through the palace gardens. Soft lights now hung along it, illuminating the way, palace guards standing at regular intervals. Fairweather held Clocky close, the evenings events sinking in. She hadn’t expected to see any of the ancients again after the ritual on Odinsphere, and those present wouldn’t have grasped even a little of the importance of what had just happened, or the potential consequences.
Or perhaps they did, some quietly uttered words reaching her ears. But still only a small part of it.
Fairweather shuddered. She could feel their glance go over them.
She just prayed that Velvet knew what she was doing. It was done now though, the world no longer the same.
Clocky leaned in and gave her a reassuring kiss on the forehead, his hand rustling her hair between her ears. He was her pillar. And his power was live, a faint glow from his eyes.
“He’s got agents following us, doesn’t he?” She asked, loudly enough for anyone around them to hear.
“Indeed.” Clocky chuckled and shook his head. “A waste of everyone's time. Nothing will happen tonight. His men would have been better suited elsewhere.”
The greatsword was blue, gold and green, a dragon for its cross-guard, its claws grasping the crystalline blade, and its tail and blood soaked leather tightly wound up the hilt. A perfectly cut ruby cradled by more claws formed its pommel, glinting in the sunlight. Crystal would have said that it was purely ornamental, could she not feel the power emanating from it. The blade had a history, and a purpose. Beyond the current declaration. Warrior knew what she was doing.
Crystal sat on the cold stone, leaning against Rachael, Promise flying around them as she looked at the blade that Warrior had left behind. It had had a lot of attention already, and it had only been half a day, a steady stream of riders going up to it and appearing to give it reverence. Kneeling with head bent down, words uttered in near silence. Some even had offered gifts, an assortment of jewellery, weapons, flowers, food, and even some flour lying off to the side where Crystal had swept it all. She had gotten a few looks for doing that, but she did actually know the ancient better than any of them, and she was the closest thing to a priestess that Warrior had. There was a reason the ancient did not have any priestesses. Not that any of them had tried to stop her, and at least they seem to have gotten the idea now.
It wasn’t just riders either. A few of the ferals that had been present the previous night, and some others that Crystal didn’t recognize at all, also making an appearance. And there had been more again that had managed to make their way to the amphitheatre, but unable to go any further, not because of any guards but because of the mana density. It was just enough that the riders could still meditate in the amphitheatre with some comfort, but most people probably couldn’t handle it. For her it was probably still too light, but then again her and Rachael weren’t the norm. Crystal was surprised that they queen was allowing people into her palace ground in the first place. She likely couldn’t stop the riders even if she ordered them, given the importance that Warrior and Dragon had to them, as the ancient had so bluntly stated. And flight and all that. But as to everyone else? Who knew. Alysia was the queen, this was her home, she could deal with it.
It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though. The amphitheatre could do without being desecrated, and the last thing that she wanted was to have hordes of people milling around. The looks of those stuck outside the outer rings was enough as it was.
There was only a handful of riders sitting within the amphitheatre at the moment. All of them had been there since the morning, turning up just after sunrise and making themselves comfortable. Doing whatever they considered to be meditating, one looking like she was possibly asleep. It was an art that was unique to each person, but in the end it probably wasn’t necessary either. Just being in the vicinity would be enough. Hopefully it would keep everyone out of trouble.
She was back to wearing arma dea, Warrior’s armour. The associations would be unavoidable, but given everything that had happened last night, everything that had been said, they wouldn’t be able to avoid it anyways. Not to mention that it was super comfortable and Rachael was giving her that look that said that she more than appreciated her wearing it. A look that made her feel all fuzzy and warm inside. A pity about all the onlookers and the promise that they had made to be here for three days. The arrays could probably work by themselves, Rachael’s leyline array anchor-able, and Promise a creature of itself, but their presence also prevented prying eyes. They had heard from Fairweather and Clocky about a certain guild member, Alysia shaking her head with a sigh. Hopefully he wouldn’t be an issue.
The armour had changed too, evolved a little, which had surprised her when she had summoned it. She though its form immutable, but it appeared that she was wrong. All that Warrior had to say on the matter was something about connections, otherwise she had been silent. It fit though, and felt more like her, even if it was inching closer to what Warrior had been wearing when she had appeared.
‘Or perhaps Warrior’s armour was just reflecting the changes to your own,’ Spectre theorized. ‘Just much more extreme.’
The armour had become a bit more draconic and intricate in its nature. In the feel of it, in the design and motifs. Claws, wings, horns and heads now merged with the sun and rays of the armours design, and some parts were now looking a bit scaled. The colour of it and overall design were of course still the same.
To a casual observer, the blade in the stone was probably also a good fit for her armour, and truth be told it probably was. But it wasn’t her blade, the one bound to her. Crystal liked her weapon, and had no desire to pick up another at the moment, even if said other was more powerful. Hers would grow with her, her magic infused within it, part of the nature of being a paladin of Warrior. They were also the only ones who would be able to draw the blade. Like a bonded weapon, the hands of anyone else would just pass through the dragon blade, like had happened to Bowser when he had tried to claim hers. Possibly not without side effect though, the ancient’s power strong around it. She wouldn’t take kindly to someone trying to desecrate one of her weapons.
Crystal’s musing were cut short as a shadow came over them, a rider walking up to them, her familiar padding up behind. Scales a soft lilac colour with a blue sheen in the sunlight, the dragon one of the smallest ones that she had seen. Still large enough to carry her rider, who was also on the smaller side, around Crystal’s height.
“Umm,” the rider started, pausing before she just barrelled on. “Our familiars are allowed to pay their respects as well aren’t they?”
“Of course,” Crystal replied automatically before internally wincing. That was a priestess’s style of response.
Both rider and familiar made their way up to the sword, bowing, and uttering a few words, or growls if you were the familiar. It seemed that all the riders were back to their skeon and dragon bone armour combo now, the present rider’s attire reflecting the norm. In other worlds, the vital areas covered and a pair of heeled boots. This one had a short skirt formed from the bone armour as well, and overlapping plates across her shoulders, the colour the same shade as her familiar’s scales.
The rider and familiar stepped back from the sword and turned, the faintest of shifts in the power around the sword detectable by those sensitive to such things, or just familiar with the ancient. Warrior seemed to be pleased with all of the extra attention. No surprises there, though there were much more fitting circumstances in which reverence could be given. She was Warrior after all.
Crystal had expected the rider and familiar to leave after that. Their evolved bond was clear to her, so they had no need to stick around. Instead though they walked back up to them, stopping a respectful distance, contemplatively looking at them before reaching some form of conclusion.
And then kneeling, the familiar bowing it’s head. Crystal blinked, a bit startled.
“Are you her daughters?” the rider asked. Rachael sniggered beside her as Crystal blinked again.
“Whose daughters?” Crystal asked. She wanted to make sure before she answered.
“The ancient’s. Are you, like, part of them?”
“No,” Crystal replied. “We’re her paladins. And mortals, just like you.” This time it was Warrior sniggering.
“Oh,” the rider replied, finally looking back up at them. “But your armour... And the queen said that we bear your mark...”
“It’s complicated,” Crystal sighed. How did you explain to someone that you just happened to like dragons, and also happened to possess the magic to give them something that they desired, whether they were aware of that desire or not. Even if you hadn’t realised it initially, when it had first taken hold.
Because of all of your involvement with the ancients.
She really didn’t have much of an understanding of the life of the riders, did she, and what was actually normal in the Innerlands. Just what she had been told and seen. She was still quite naive.
“You and me both,” Rachael said quietly with a chuckle.
“And what exactly is a Paladin of Warrior then?” the rider asked.
“It represents our bond with her I guess,” Crystal tried. Okay, she had stated their title, but she hadn’t actually thought about how she would explain it. Saying that you carry a part of an ancient probably wasn’t the best way, especially when neither they or Warrior fully understood its true extent and impact.
“Warrior doesn’t do priestesses,” Rachael picked up for her. “We’re the closest that she’s got, her representatives in all that entails.”
“And what does it entail?” the rider queried, before looking somewhat worried and bowing her head again. “My apologies if it is not my place to ask.”
Crystal looked at Rachael, both of them shrugging. “Sparring and training?” Crystal tried uncertainly. She had felt pulls relating to those, though that was only a small aspect of Warrior’s domain. War and bloodshed wasn’t a thing right at the moment, and riders weren’t crafters. Nor did any other aspects of the ancient seem applicable right at the moment.
“Would you deem me worthy of a sparring match then, or perhaps some training?”
Crystal thought for a moment before replying. They had the time right now, so she couldn’t really refuse. Not that she actually wanted to. It felt right to her, and Warrior approved. She’d done it before with Carmen, and it had helped them both. Carmen her skills, and Crystal her understanding of what they had. It wouldn’t be for just the rider though, but familiar as well.
“Sure,” she nodded. “This afternoon though.”
“I will return then,” the rider said, rising, then looking confused and unsure about what exactly she should be doing, before turning and making her way out of the amphitheatre with her familiar.
“All yours,” Rachael stated, as she stood and stretched, wings unfurled wide as she rolled her shoulders. “One of us should probably still keep a presence in here. Though if someone wants a real brawl...” The glint in Rachael’s eye said the rest of it.
Crystal chuckled as she stood and stretched likewise, Promise deciding to make her home on Crystal’s shoulder. Some movement would be good. And some food too.
‘You realize that she won’t be the only one to come,’ Spectre said as he looked across the amphitheatre. ‘It’s a few hours away, and she will tell others.’
Oh yeah. Perhaps she should have made it straight away.
Rachael sat against one of the stone columns, watching Crystal as she sparred with the rider. Well, more like something that was a cross between a demonstration fight and a training session. There was a limit to how much either side could do, given that they were still in the palace gardens and there wasn’t a lot of empty space. She hadn’t seen the head gardener yet, but there was no doubt that they’d probably had a heart attack after seeing the aftermath from the inauguration, and that there were still riders coming and going wouldn’t be helping any. This area of the gardens would never be the same again anyways, but at some point it would probably quiet down enough. Or perhaps not.
Spectre observation to Crystal had been right. The rider hadn’t come alone. There had been four of them that had arrived about an hour after lunch, swooping down as a group and landing near where they were now, though only Caroline, the one who had approached them initially, came up to them again. And then another two after that, staying back and just watching after they had paid their respects at the sword. Warriors shrine. The whole amphitheatre could probably be labelled as a temple to Warrior now, as there was no way that it would be used for anything else. They were all younger riders, gem grade, and all awakened.
The riders who had been meditating earlier in the morning were still there, quiet and keeping to themselves. Crystal had been right, the combination of her manifested array and the density of the mana accelerating the evolution and pushing them towards awakening. They hadn’t been completely truthful when they’d cast that array, the magic having an effect on the riders and familiars whether they accepted it or not. There hadn’t been a choice in that matter though, all of the riders that had been at the inauguration already bearing their mark, a combination of their presence in the city and her own declaration that she had roared across the city, carrying their mark with it. Those that hadn’t chosen to awaken then would still have done so, though possibly months or years down the track, or longer. How it actually worked out for Nya, the rider from Nisha’s group that had been sent back to the capital, she wasn’t too sure. She had their mark, according to the queen, even if she hadn’t been near them that long. A subconscious activation of the array perhaps, like it had been for the rest of that group? As to if the evolution would have happened without their interference she wasn’t actually sure either, even if the queen seemed to believe otherwise. It was a natural fit for the riders though, Crystal quite adamant on that, and rightly so, as even she could feel the desire from the familiars for it. As to the result of the experiment, Rachael had no clue. All that had really happened is that Crystal had obtained mastery over the array that had previously been triggering on its own, in response to said desires, and offered to all riders in the capital. Which is what the queen had been after in the end. Did that mean it would no longer trigger on its own? She didn’t know, especially as it now had form. Time would tell she guessed.
Caroline wasn’t too bad, though her young age was showing. Her moves lacked in experience, and combined with her obvious nervousness around Crystal and need to hold back in the gardens meant that she and her familiar were being sloppy in their execution as much as not. Had it been a real fight, she would have been dead from the start. But that was the whole point in a training spar, and Crystal was doing her best to advise and correct her, even if she was just as nervous as they were. Rachael couldn’t blame her there, with fourteen pairs of eyes watching her. She was absorbing to watch though, her sensual form dancing around the rider and familiar, instinctually reacting and moving, her wings and tail aiding rather than hindering. Very much a part of who they were now, even if they were still just manifestations.
She did have other things that she needed to deal with though, and now did seem like as good an opportunity as any.
‘Can you ask Clocky to come see me?’ she asked Kitsune, the cat-fox having spent the last hour carefully examining the engravings on the stone columns.
‘Sure, message passed on to Hope.’ Kitsune replied. Rachael did kind of miss cellphones, but hey, the arkchildren were superior in almost all ways.
About an hour later Clocky arrived, making his way around the outside of the amphitheatre as she continued to watch the riders training. There had been some improvement, though Caroline was currently switched with one of the other riders that had arrived with her. Who was at about the same skill level. Clocky was back to wearing his leather armour. Rachael though that he actually looked better in his suit, but like all of what was worn at the inauguration, it wasn’t really practical for everyday wear. She needed to make him some new armour, even if it was just acquiring something new and modifying it. But he’d need to agree to that, and thus far he hadn’t shown any interest in replacing the gear that was familiar and he trusted. He’d been uncomfortable enough in the suit as it was. She’d need to talk to Fairweather and get her help there.
“You wanted to see me,” he said as he sat down beside her, looking towards the group as well.
“You saw them all didn’t you,” Rachael eventually said, after a few moments of silence. Clocky was a patient man, and Crystal was currently sparring with the rider’s familiar. A beautiful dance of dragons.
“Yes. Some I wish I had not.”
“I will not ask you of what you saw.”
Sometimes Clocky was a hard man to read. Even more so now. She had no idea what else he saw, the shadows of possibilities from his magic, ever present with him. Not that she and Crystal were normal either, with the ever present presence of Warrior and other ancients, and the bond with each other and the arkchildren. But those visions hadn’t been born of his magic, but from another. One multitudes more powerful.
“What will you do now?”
“The same as we have been. We will continue to travel with you, a part of your journey. There is no future for us anywhere else.”
“Not even with the others from your team?”
“We have all gone our separate ways. Perhaps we will meet up again, perhaps not.” Clocky shrugged, his eyes still on Crystal and the other riders. “Though we can still keep somewhat in touch via Hope for Saylin and Vorsce if we need to. The wonders of the technology of Odinsphere.”
“How are they doing?” Rachael assumed that they had already checked up on them, as long as Petunia’s arkchildren we’re within communication range with the floating city, or near a leyline.
“Saylin and the skimmer are working out about as expected. She’ll get used to it eventually, as long as they don’t try flying in the middle of a storm.”
“Enjoying her new lease on life. For all the impulsiveness around it, they make a good pair.”
In other words, some details were better left unsaid. She was a little curious about exactly what sort of information the arkchild had sent back, but then again with Saylin in the mix...
She could probably talk to Millie using the same methods as well. But, how much did she know her old friend any more? Millie had lived through the demon war and the shattering, and then a number of decades after. A lifetime of experiences that she herself had only just started on, new friends and new relationships. And perhaps a new form of existence as well, with however she was integrated into Odinsphere. Then again, Millie barely knew the real her either, with so much that she had kept secret, her magic and life as a priestess kept hidden away. Perhaps she would one day. In fact she probably should. But it wouldn’t be any day soon.
“We’re still happy to have you with us,” Rachael said, bringing herself back to the topic at hand. “As we always will be. Just know that Crystal will always be my first priority.”
“I wouldn’t expect any different from you. She is your soulmate after all. In the truest sense of the word.”
And that was it, the two just sitting and watching training session as a couple of the other riders cycled in, the current one joining Caroline in taking the opportunity to rest. They weren’t much better, especially when working in tandem with their dragons. They had a long way to go, but at least they would be more aware of it now. And the shrine would probably get even busier.
Fairweather turned up about half an hour later, back in her travel gear as well, the mesh top, tights, and boots that Rachael had made, with a light jacket thrown over the top, something that Alysia had given her.
“You look good,” Rachael stated, the catfolk blushing in response, the flames around her ears deepening momentarily, and her tail giving a quick swish. “We need to do something about your boyfriend’s outfit,” she added. “It hasn’t changed since we met.”
Fairweather smiled at that, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “Yes, that we do,” she agreed.
Clocky of course just rolled his eyes.
The next two days were more of the same. Far too many riders coming to pay their respect at the shrine, prayers and even more offerings, along with a small assortment of others doing the same. More than on the first day, mostly ferals and wealthy looking people, and even some of the palace guards themselves, but the riders well out numbered them. Some came past multiple times, their faces becoming familiar to Rachael. The food left Rachael had burnt as an offering at the end of each day, consumed by flames formed from her magic, an eager and intense sun yellow, the smoke swirling around the sword before dissipating, while Crystal had requested a chest or something for all the non-perishable items to be put into. What exactly they would do with or what would happen to them neither of them was sure, Warrior providing no input into it at all. Failing anything else, it would just get left in the palace’s care, and woe to anyone who tried to steal from it.
And of course, even more training and sparring. Rachael pitched in, the two of them taking turns while the other watched over the arrays in the amphitheatre. Crystal had been exhausted by the end of the first day, as much from the mental aspect of it as the physical. For some of the riders the advice sunk in easily. For others it was like talking to a brick wall, and that took its toll. But warriors call was strong, and they kept trying. Over the course of the three days, Rachael was certain that they had sparred with around two dozen different riders, some of whom returned every day, Caroline included. Even Willow had made an appearance on the third day, though only for a short time late in the day.
True to Crystal’s word, for those that had spent their time meditating, soaking in the presence of Promise and the dense mana, three days was indeed enough to accelerate the ‘natural’ process to the point of awakening, the choice that they had originally rejected, for whatever reasons. As much as she thought she should, Rachael couldn’t hold it against them. Other people’s words, especially from those in power or that you trust, hold a lot of influence. And they looked so happy as they awakened, rider and familiar looking at each other with wonder in their faces. The smile radiating off Crystal’s face as she watched them was priceless, and well worth the time spent waiting.
Even if in the end Crystal hadn’t ended up getting to spend much time with the familiars at all outside of the sparring matches. Such was part of the cost of her offer.
And at the end of the third day Alysia finally summoned them. Had she not, they would have gone to see her anyway, but the only person present in the throne room when they arrived was Tayja. Or Lady Knight Tayja, as she was now. She didn’t look any different than before, looking away nervously as they entered before steeling herself and refocusing her gaze. Rachael couldn’t help but smile. It was obvious why she was here.
Walking up to them, she knelt down, head lowered. “Alysia has asked that I accompany you on your journey. She has informed me as to why, what your purpose is, and the potential risk.”
“Please stand,” Crystal said to the rider, motioning with both hands. “You doing that is making me nervous.”
“And what were the why, purpose and risks that Alysia told you of?” Rachael asked as Tayja complied with Crystal’s request.
“To help offset your obviously foreign nature, and in part be a guide. Though I don’t know how much use I’ll actually be there,” Tayja answered. “You’re following after a rider named Ueana and her group, who are looking for Water, one of the demon king’s lieutenants from the battle a decade ago. They hold a ring as their only clue to her whereabouts, and the need to find her is somewhat urgent. Relatively I assume, given that you’re all still here. And finally, the risk is death. One of Ueana’s group has already been warned of that exact outcome, a lady knight no less, and given that the mission will probably result in either us or them running into a demon that managed to kill a rider, it’s not some hallow threat.”
“That is of course assuming that we don’t run into the demon king himself,” she finished.
“Or something far worse,” Clocky added.
Bring it, Rachael thought to herself at a particular ancient. Things will not go as you think.
“Our priority is Ueana,” Crystal said, folding her arms. “As to what follows that who knows. We aren’t some summoned heroes here to save the world or anything, even if we are tangled in with the ancient’s games. All we wanted to do was explore. But Ueana...” Crystal paused, looking like she was wrangling with what she wanted to say. “She’s important to us, and it would be foolish to ignore the warnings.”
“And you are fine with all of that,” Rachael asked. “With the possibility of throwing your life away for some strangers from faraway lands?” Not that they would let any of their companions die without a fight, visions or not.
“Yes,” Tayja replied with confidence.
“That is fine then,” Rachael stated. “Welcome to the team. As long as you don’t hit on Crystal.”
Tayja went a brilliant shade of rose, her gaze suddenly locked with the floor. “That was a mistake. I was drunk.”
Rachael smiled dangerously. “What, so you don’t think that she’s hot then?” she asked, trying to keep a serious edge to her voice. And not really succeeding.
Tayja’s head snapped up, her face even redder. “No! I mean... she’s really hot. You both are.. but...” Common sense kicked in as she glanced over at Crystal, Tayja burying her face in her hands and mumbling something about hormones and horns.
“Hey I’m right here you know,” Crystal protested, her face also an adorable shade of red as Rachael burst out laughing.
“We’ll be happy to have you along,” Rachael finally said once she had settled down. “Really.” Crystal was right though, Tayja was definitely something.
“So,” she then started, turning around to face Alysia, who had entered around the time that she had started teasing Tayja, “You have some information for us on Ueana?”
Alysia gave her a look, and then shook her head as she walked past to take her place on the throne.
“Indeed I do. Though it’s not quite what I expected.”
Trish’s boots clanged loudly as she made her way across the catwalk. Not that anyone would be able to hear her, the wail of the siren on top of the thrum of engines drowning out everything and making her head hurt. Add in the flashing red lights, the stale air and the smell of unvented fumes, and her walk across the top of the generator room was rather unpleasant. In fact the whole installation was rather distasteful. Give her wide open spaces and nature any day. But she had a job to do.
Reaching a hole in the catwalk, she jumped down, crouching as she landed, spreading out the impact around her. A few cables swayed, a thin coating of frost on the closest fuel tanks. Nothing to worrisome. Standing, she started searching her way around the room. It would be here somewhere. There was six in total, hidden in the most random places, but they say that information wins the wars. She had come prepared. Three had been deactivated so far, three more to go.
And there it was, a small panel flush with the wall, matt white plate over it, in-between two of the generators. The only hint to its true nature a six digit code printed on it in one corner. Squeezing in, she pulled out her knife, slipping it under the seam and then putting her of her weight into it. Which wasn’t a lot, truth be told. The metal groaned, and then the plate popped off, whizzing past her head and pinging on the side of the generator as it flew out into the room. Perhaps she had put too much power into it. She stared at the flashing lights and buttons on the panel, before stabbing her knife into it and giving it a twist. The panel sparked and died. They had told her the rough locations of them, but not the codes, so she was having to improvise. It had the same effect, albeit with a little more interference, and the annoying background noise.
Squeezing her way back out, she walked across the room to the door, releasing all of the latches on the inside before she shoved the level down and pushed the door open. A straight corridor greeted her, opening out into a larger chamber that was flooded with light. One of the launch chambers. At least the next part would be more straight forward.
Counting to three, she burst into the corridor in a run, pushing herself to sprint as fast as she could as she reached its other end, then leaping off the edge of the platform as she entered the launch chamber, out over the void like expanse below. And the missile stored within. It was a stupid layout for a facility, repurposed from its original design, something to do with the space program in its earliest stages.
Trish landed with a crunch on the opposite side, the platform creaking under her impact even as she pushed away as much of it as she could, the wall in front of her icing up. She would have rolled as well, but there was no where to roll her. Standing, she quickly moved away from the damaged section, and down towards the lower levels of the facility. They didn’t use these access point, why would you, with that thing sitting so close, but it did give her access to any part that she wanted.
A bloodthirsty growl alerted her to the company as two misshapen forms dropped down from one of the higher platforms, shaking the one that she was on with their weight. Sinuous limbs, a bulky top half with far too much muscle, matted fur and a wolf like face. Third generation demonspawn by the looks of it. Entirely inappropriate for this type of place.
“Piss off,” she growled at them, forming power in her hand.
They didn’t listen. They couldn’t. They were after all just mindless, bloodthirsty creatures. And weak at that. Lifting her hand, she pointed it at the lead creature. “Die.” Releasing the power, she drew her blade and charged as a spear of ice slammed into the front creatures shoulder, throwing it off balance, and causing it to tumble into the depths below. It wouldn’t be back up any time soon if it managed to survive. She dodged under the wild swing of the second, flowed around its body, her blade leaving a red trail across it as she did so. The creature cried out in pain, attempting to spin around and have another go at her. Which was a bad idea on its part. A quick kick from her, and it also tumbled over the edge, claws attempting to find purchase but failing, the platform just a little too far out of its reach.
Sheathing her blade, she continued on. She wasn’t even sure why they were contemplating using them in the first place. It wasn’t like they’d actually have any effect on the demon king. Surely Negatomora had demonstrated that. Yes, they’d wipe out a swathe of his army, but that would just delay the inevitable, and have a worse, generation spanning, effect on the environment and all the innocents in its effect radius. Which was massive. Every child had been taught that in school. After all it had been a big threat for a while, a fear at the forefront of all countries minds. One that had faded into obscurity, even if the weapons hadn’t.
Another door burst open if front of her, a solider in combat fatigues stepping out, semi automatic weapon at the ready and pointed at her. “Freeze,” he shouted at her.
Really. Trish sighed. If that was what he wanted. The air cooled around her as she raised her hands, a large ball of ice forming in the air above him. Which she then let drop, the solider collapsing, his gun spraying bullets in her direction as his body twitched. Supplementing herself, she dashed towards him, trying to stay out of the bullet arc, kicking the gun out of his hand once she reached him. The metallic pinging was disconcerting, but it didn’t seem like any had managed to penetrate the missiles shielding. Shaking her head, she pushed the soldiers body over the edge. He could join the others. This mission really was turning out to be a pain.
Trish woke to the sun streaming in on her face. Hot and intense. It was mid morning already. She’d overslept. Someone would probably be at her door soon, wanting to know where she was. Which was kind of pointless, as if they found her here, then they knew where she was.
It had been a long time since she’d thought about that time. The demon kings war against humanity, and the shattering that had followed. The events that had changed the world dramatically and completely. What on earth had brought them to the surface? She shrugged. It didn’t really matter. It was the past after all, and little remained. Certainly none of the people. Even all of the heroes had passed, claimed by time. And that prodigy that she had trained for a number of years? Rachael was it? Gone before the war even began. A real waste, given her talent and aptitude.
She did wonder a little what had happened to her.
Not that it actually mattered.
Shrugging again to herself, she pushed the blankets aside and swung out of bed. The past was mere memories, held by few and easily lost. She was here in the present, and the present would start demanding soon.
[[Arc 6 end.]]