Chapter 35 - Finally Some Good News
She was trying to fall asleep on top of a tree branch. It was a trick she had watched a Fea do once, to avoid getting caught off guard by whatever random bandit happened to stumble upon her sleeping body. It made it harder for other people to sneak up on her when she was sleeping, though the sleeping part was more of a challenge than she had anticipated.
The height would make the fear that she’ll move and fall off the tree branches weigh heavy on her mind, so she was still awake when passersby crossed the woods.
The woods were part of a jungle that followed south from Bellhall, where she had been to take care of an errand for her boss, Talom. She was there because she was heading back to Aellea, to report back.
Why they were there was anyone’s guess, but they provided a chance for an easy I.O.U cash grab, due to the info bounty that was up on them from Arata and Jomiko and everyone in their group.
Marmalade turned her horse ears to follow the steps, and carefully watched them moving towards her direction. Even then, her periwinkle eyes could discern the four, and identify them as the group Arata was after.
It’s them alright, she nodded to herself, doing her best not to move. She had been warned they were powerful, and taking into account the stories that were being told about the battle at Spellgate, she would rather avoid a fight. She held the hems of her large black skirt, holding it in place to make sure a whisp of wind wouldn’t flap them. What are they saying?
Soon enough, as they crossed her position, their words became perceptible.
“Are we lost?” A womanly voice sounded out, a bit impatient.
“Not excessively,” A man’s voice replied.
“What does that mean?” The woman again asked.
“That he doesn’t know where we are,” another voice, rough and angry, argued, “but he knows where he’s going.”
“And where’s that?”
“North-west,” The male voice said, getting farther and harder to hear, “the fortress is to the hard west of Bellhall, but underground…just pay attention to the trees…”
Marmalade gaped for a few seconds…in disbelief.
Really? Did I really just overhear how to find their headquarters because they decided to talk about it just as they’re crossing my path? She looked up at the gods in thought, squinting her eyes in suspicion. What’re you playing at now?
Meanwhile, back in Fairgriffen, Midori drooled boredom over a pillow. She never imagined she’d loathe not doing anything so much. And the fact she actually knew everything that was going on just made it worse.
The civil war had been getting worse and worse. Often had she heard attacks on Faircloth’s tower, where she was being kept, and Faircloth was notably losing control of his revolution since he had been driven to attempt to interrogate her, though fortunately, he had not yet let loose his crazy Pan on her.
She had been contacted by Arata on the news of Spellgate, which she had reported to Faircloth. And recently, Miyabi had contacted her to let her know Aellea had dispatched a force to help Fairgriffen re-assume control.
The basis of this order was important, and exactly why Faircloth was increasingly stressed. They weren’t sent to support Faircloth. They were sent to pacify the civil war, giving aid to whoever’s winning, so to minimize Lan casualties.
And who was winning was a subject that fluctuated ever dangerously, as days passed. Meanwhile, Jeen was most probably dead, and that responsibility gnawed at her conscience like an itch, especially because she didn’t have anything else to do or concentrate on.
Her initial calm was increasingly getting frustrated, and the more Faircloth showed up to rant at her, the more she was convinced that whole talk about her not having a part in the civil war was a lie.
Most importantly, her chances of continuing on the Academy were only promising if Breem and the rest of the aristocrats re-assumed leadership.
She sat up, crossing her arms and legs, to have her daily staring contest with the door.
“I think I can beat you,” she said, more to herself than to the person outside.
“Oh most certainly,” the oddly pleasant voice of the Pan replied, “to be frank, I don’t understand why you haven’t tried.”
She twitched her nose and sniffed. She needed to believe it, she needed to convince herself she could defeat that Pan so she could run once and for all.
But his replies were too suspicious; she just couldn’t bring herself to do it, especially since she didn’t have her Xenia. The pan had once taunted her with it, asking her if it was hers in a clear provocation for her to make a move.
But she wouldn’t. She wanted something to happen, needed something to happen that would give her some kind of surprising edge.
“But nothing happens,” she fell down to the side, sighing in ultimate boredom. And as she fell, a loud and violent boom shook the entire room.
For a moment, she glanced down at herself and the bed, trying to recognize something that would explain the explosive sound, thinking it was her.
A silly notion she quickly dropped when another boom went off within seconds. Furthermore, she was now attentive and felt the shaking coming from below.
“What’s happening?” She asked out loud, for the Pan outside to respond.
“We’re under attack, I assume,” she could feel the shrug through the door, “this is a pretty good chance for you to run, I think.”
“Will you ever stop with that?”
In response came a muffled explosion simultaneous with the bursting sound of the door breaking. Her instincts flared, and she jumped aside, allowing the pale and young bald Pan to come flying against the wall above the bed.
The crash was startling loud, and as the body bounced off the wall to fall on the bed, she turned her glance at the door. There she saw Breem, standing in the doorway, pissed off beyond all recognition and with the wind blowing past him still, from his dashing spell.
His look and feel were no longer of a tired and melancholic seasoned Jun, but of a war-infused warlock. He was dressed in light-looking plate-armor, without a helm, with a large silver cape; both attires showed signs of fight, the plates scratched and dented, the cape ragged and full of cuts and tears…and both covered with other people’s blood. Besides that, he was carrying two staffs, one white, delimited by spheres, and Midori’s Xenia.
Her heart jumped at the epic sight of him, flaring with hope and gratitude..
“Ugn…” the young pan grunted, pushing himself up.
“I advise you stay down, you wretched creature. I’ve heard no end of the atrocities you have committed, and so will have no issue in putting you down right now… instead of allowing the law to rule over your fate.”
“Ha.” He got off the bed and stood, blood trickling down a wound freshly made behind his head. His smile was pleasant and easy-going, completely oblivious to the things he was saying with his trembling eyes and twitching hands. “What makes you think I’d rather have my fate decided…at court?”
His hands shone with a sick purple, much like the sorceress Midori had fought alongside with, when with the pan couple and Jeen.
“Then so be it,” Breem said, his voice brimming with energy, so unlike what she had witnessed. He threw open his arms, causing a wave of wind to shoot out against the Pan, his cape flapping back vigorously.
The young Pan took it straight on, crouching to resist the push.
He stretched his arms forward and shot a wave of energy that washed over Breem. Breem immediately felt whatever it was.
“Ugh…” He stumbled forward, his skin growing pale. He bent over and puked while the young Pan wasted no time to dash at him with a laminated piece of stone in his hand.
“Hhahahahahahahahahahaha,” he laughed as he saw his victory, but Midori would have none of it.
She charged into action, breaking just before to slide her way to intercepting the Pan’s attack just short of Breem’s neck, by pushing it with her hand.
She then stepped forward and swung her arm overhead, pulling the Pan to his side and over her to crash him to the ground. But the pan turned and landed on his feet, and his grabbed hand shone again with the sick energy. Midori quickly released it, avoiding whatever effect he was trying to poison her with.
“Finally grew a pair? Good, good.”
“Just doing what you’ve been asking all along …” Midori told him, so wholly frustrated she just reached back, grabbed her Xenia and ripped it from Breem’s hold. “And going all out!”
She leaped, swinging her staff down. He spun to the side and pointed his glowing hand at her, but she swung her Xenia in a quick spin, hitting the hand away.
In immediate succesion, the other end hit his right side. He jumped over and aimed both hands at Midori but Midori was too fast in spinnning her Xenia again, hitting both of them away to shoot their poison at the ground next to her.
Her emotions still hovering angry and frustrated, she just kept pushing him back, wailing on him while hitting away his hands, all while keeping him from getting any decent distance. Eventually, he made a mistake, and took a hit, and from that came a combo of hits that knocked him down for good.
She found herself bringing down the staff upon him when he was already unconscious and bleeding, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“I…think he’s down, Midori.”
Midori held her staff at bay, looking down on the battered body of the Pan with a bewildered look over heavy breathing.
Then she looked up at Breem, and like a child, hugged him.
“Breem!!!” She didn’t cry, but her eyes teared a bit with relief. “You came for me.”
“I made you a promise,” he said, in a hurt voice, looking like he was doing his best just to stand. “Ugh…I don’t know what he did to me, but it hasn’t worn off.”
“We need to find a healer.”
“Yes…follow me.” Weakly, he walked on, “Prime Overseer Pandeer went ahead to confront Faircloth. We need to go…ugn...see if he needs help.”
“Ok, but lemme help you, though” she reached out but he extended his hand in a halt, leaning on his staff. “No. I’m okay.”
Slowly, they marched out of the room and across the corridor, and up the stairs. She did indeed recognize the tower as Faircloths’, from when she had been there herself. But now, signs of battle were everywhere.
On the corridor leading to her room alone, there were about two dozen fallen guards. As they approached their target, allies started surfacing. Some wounded, others resting, others guarding conscious prisoners, others gathering dead bodies, and others gathering unconscious bodies. It was hard to tell which was which.
Eventually, they approached the door Midori had once laid her ear against, only this time it was burst open, with the guards she had once dropped to sleep, dead and pushed aside. Inside was what was visibly an office.
There was a desk with a garbage can next to it, quills and papers over said desk with a few cabinets and closets here and there plus a fireplace to the side of the room.
A Pan was sitting on the chair, going through whatever documents he could find intact.
He was balding on the top of the head and had the charred remains of a beard. He looked like a kid, the few streaks of white hair he had left constrasting a look of both wisdom and quirkiness.
He was surrounded by soldiers and was dressed in a plate armor much like Breems’, only fitted for his size, and mostly covered by a ragged and tore up red cloak and hood, that now looked more like a cape and hood. She realized then that he was the cloaked figure she had witnessed fleeing the day Faircloth attacked, by stealing a griffin. Additionally, other people’s blood was dripping down his face and clothes.
“Ah, Breem,” he looked up, “I see you managed to retrieve our guest.”
“To be honest, Bandeer…she mostly retrieved herself.”
“Well, all the better,” he shrugged before turning his head towards one of the guards, “go fetch a healer for Overseer Breem, if you please. He clearly needs one.”
“Right away, sir!”
“So…Faircloth escaped?” Breem asked.
Pandeer slouched and threw a scroll he was reading on top of the desk, ignoring the sound of the armored guard leaving the room.
“He was never here to begin with. I fear we underestimated his cunning…”
“How do you mean?”
“Seems Aellea has dispatched a military force to subdue this civil war, in preparation for another on-coming threat.”
“What? What on-coming…the stones?”
“But still, this is good,” Breem reacted, “they’re the reinforcements we need.”
“Oh no, that’s not what they mean to do at all,” Midori reacted, remembering their mandate.
“Ah, the girl knows.”
“Knows what?” Breem asked.
“They came to subdue the civil war, Breem, not take sides.”
“So what? They’re coming to conquer us?!”
“’Course not, they just don’t care who wins, so they’ll take the winning side.”
“Well, that’s us.”
“That’s your perception. From someone coming from outside, the winning side might be the side that’s able to meet them.”
Breem opened his eyes in realization.
“He moved his headquarters to the gate!”
Pandeer again nodded, and then hopped off the chair, “we need to move fast if we’re to avert a catastrophe. Miss Hanna, we will be needing your assistance.”
“Pandeer, I strictly promised her I would--”
“I don’t care. She’s a Lan, she’ll something Faircloth doesn’t have. She will help to convince the Aellea force to take our side, no matter the state of the battle they find.”
Midori then felt watched as they looked in her direction, both intently.
A course of emotions went rampant as the events of the past week replayed behind her eyes. She had never wanted anything to do with this war, but the sides were clear in their intent. She had never been one to see things in black or white, but as far as she was concerned, Faircloth was crystal clear in his conquering ambition. The amount of bad things that he had done was dwarfed, though, by the things that he would do should he manage to attain power.
On the other hand, she did not want to die for someone else’s ambition. For some land she had no patriotic connection too. For people that she didn’t know. Evil and bad things would always be present in the world, and in people’s lives. Whatever she sacrificed to help…would not be worth it.
And then Pandeer added.
“You’re entitled to feel pressure, but whatever you decide, we won’t take it personally.”
Breem nodded. “If you decide you want to be kept out of this matter, Midori, I give you my word you will be delivered safely outside the wall.
And with that, she made her decision.
It wasn’t long, not nearly long enough, before she was led out the secondary gate by a grim and sad looking Breem.