Chapter 35 - Selfish Heroics
Bellhall was quite the city. The Lan fancied themselves one with nature, but only someone who truly understood, or cared, about the true essence of Nature would build a city such as the self-proclaimed capital of Fea territory.
The city was spread around the tree-tops at the center of the largest jungle in Harmonia, which itself resided at the center of the largest forest in Harmonia, one which covered almost two-thirds of the island.
The rest of the island was patches of tall grass with one or two mountainous regions that weren’t that tall, and quite covered in flora.
The jungle was the city, as it had been grown across centuries of careful and tender magical manipulation. Both wood and green and all the colors covered by flowers had a different hue to them, as they lightly glowed with a tint of deep blue. The glow wasn’t noticeable in the light, and during the night, it simply provided a very superficial layer of lighting that was not enough to keep a person from sleeping.
Everything so magically infused, and grown, was very resistant to fire… which not only made Bellhall as a capital city actually viable but also very easy to manipulate and control. The guards of Bellhall were trained to commute with the flora so they could bend and use it as weapons and fortifications.
The housing weren’t holes fashioned out of the tree trunks, nor buildings built out of wood into the trees. Fea had taken care, and showed great patience in the past, as they made the flora naturally grow to accommodate them. Being a jungle, it was very dense with trees and other flora, as well as having a tropical climate. The tight disposition of the flora allowed for privacy to be available.
Trees bent and spiraled as convenient, generating giant leaves and vines that were used for protection against the weather, which is to say, as walls and roofs; this had been possible, not through craftsmanship, but patient, clever and magic-induced botany.
Even today, Bellhall had a special group of Fea that studied and trained on how to deal with the trees, to work on both expansion and inner maintenance. But everything was done along with the trees, other than just using them as material.
Ironically, the Fea were less respectful of the fauna. Eating meat was a bit frowned upon, though outer influence had exerted its effect on that dogma, so they hunted only to keep their habitat safe. But they insisted on controlling what went in, and out, of Bellhall…to the best of their ability. And if they needed to kill a beast, they would.
How they did this was through nature empathy; members of the city guard had the ability to sense anything within the blue-glowing perimeter of their jungle with remarkable accuracy. So while the city seemed, at first sight, an easy target…it was far from it. They had more perception within their territory than any other city-state, and despite not having any fortifications, it was still a very dense jungle, often plagued with heavy weather.
Fairgriffen had its wall, Aellea a strategic position, Spellgate a living city filled to the brim with people willing and capable of fighting and Bellhall?
Bellhall had nature.
And tried as he might, Leaf could not imagine how anyone could singlehandedly conquer the city, even with all the magic stones in the world.
He closed his eyes and turned around, allowing the leaf to flap close. He could still hear the rain pounding as he sat down on a smaller branch that was edged out of the main one that served as a floor for that particular room. He looked forward, crossing his arms in disgruntled thought.
“Ringo’s safe. I’m sure of it.”
At that moment, he felt a communication trying to tune to him. He focused for a bit and accepted it.
“Jomiko,” Leaf reacted, not uncrossing his arms while side-glancing at the materialized light on his ear, “what is it?”
“We found their location! We’re contacting everyone.”
“What?” Leaf stood up, “where is it?!”
“We’ll know soon, we know how to get there. It’s west from Bellhall.”
“How did you find them?!”
“Marmalade stumbled upon them.”
“What?! And you trust her?”
“Like there’s a better alternative. Just get moving, I’ll call again once I’m suuure. Gotta go.”
“Wait maybe I--” the spell broke off though. He sniffed, flustered, looking at the window he had just been at. “Well, no time to lose,” he opened it and jumped out onto a tree branch.
Meanwhile, Fairgrifen’s warriors were all locked in battle near the main gate. Faircloth’s faction had fashioned makeshift walls and palisades, on top of which they had mounted big hollow tubes which they used to shoot gigantic pieces of metal and rock at their opponents, using explosions to propel them.
“Quite ingenious…” Pandeer commented, with hands behind his back, while looking at the siege weapons with intriguing eyes.
“Sir, would you mind taking cover?!” Breem requested, he himself was leaning against the wall next to the window through which Pandeer was watching.
“This must be Kyrn’s doing…he was always very creative.”
“Yes, a shame that he’s utilizing it against u--”
Breem was interrupted by a chunk of rock that crashed against the opposite wall so fiercely and quickly that it went completely through, killing two soldiers who were circling the house.
Breem glanced to the side to see Pandeer ducking down, his eyes still locked on the weapons. He evidently dodged the rock by an inch…which didn’t surprise Breem, Pandeer was the fastest and sharpest-eyed fighter he has ever known.
“Yes, a true shame. After all, no amount of reasoning will allow us to overlook his support of Faircloth.”
“Maybe he was threatened?”
“To invent a machine of war?” Pandeer looked at him, and because Breem was sitting down, they were at the same height.
“Well…” he pulled two large curved knives from his belt, which held at least ten more, and shrugged, “shall we end this?”
“Whatever happens,” Breem placed his hand on Pandeer’s shoulder, “it has been an honor.”
“And it will continue to be, my friend,” Pandeer reciprocated, placing his hand on Breem’s elbow, “until death do us part.”
Breem reacted, pulling his hand away. “What?!”
“Ho ho ho ho,” Pandeer giggled, rightly amused.
“Ugh…” Breem stood up by pulling on his staff, with a slight smile. He had been healed in the meantime and was back to his full fighting composure. He fumbled his shoulders, cracking them for comfort, and added: “you always get me pretty well.”
Pandeergiggled thrice more before jumping out the window with a front flip. Breem span and left through the door, signaling his fellow aristocrats, the ones still alive and on their side, which were 2: Double-ax wielding Laer, a robust Pan, the Public Works Overseer, and high alchemist Minyl, the Science and Research Overseer.
Laer yelled out and just crashed through the door of the building he was on. A chunk of rock went to collide with him but with a powerful grunt, he waved his ax down, forcing it to pierce the ground below him. It exploded the ground but did little else than delay him a couple of seconds. Meanwhile, Minyl drank a potion while she passed a vial of blue liquid to another soldier. The soldiers around her threw the vials, which fell and broke, generating smoke that not only spread to conceal them, but flashed with light in intermittent time-spans, blinding any who, being outside, were looking at it.
Warriors jumped from the other side, running into the smoke. Inside the smoke, Breem could hardly see anything, but he was still the one better off since he created a space of visibility with his wind. A spearman suddenly showed, thrusting at him, but Breem span to allow the blade to scrape past the armor, while casting a wind spell with a slicing movement of his staff that to slit the warrior’s throat.
Breem walked his way to the wall, killing about a dozen enemies without suffering a wound. When he got there, Pandeer was already on top of one of the columns of the palisade.
“Did we perchance forget we are in a hurry, Overseer Breem?”
“Yeah!” A shout came, followed by a dying yell of a soldier flying off the wall after just falling victim to an ax-uppercut to the chest.
Laer came into view as the soldier landed violently on the ground. “’Urry up, Breem, war waits for no one!”
“War is something I’m all too glad to be late for, Laer.”
“Bah!” And he leaped back into the fighting.
“I applaud your faith in the girl, Breem, but please do not relax to this extent.”
“Hm…very well, Pandeer,” he focused the energy around his feet, and floated inches off the ground, “I promise I won’t dally any longer.”
Pandeer nodded in contentment. Just then, a sword thrust through him, only that was a transparent image of him. The real Pandeer materialized inches to the side, the moment after, having avoided the attack. He spun left, slicing off the leg of the foe at the knee, and then jumped and span again to finish a full turn, shoving the knife through the enemy’s eye all while gently landing on his shoulder...and all before the leg actually caved.
It was a Jun, and it looked quite shocked prior his death. Pandeer hopped out of the shoulder, to continue onward. The body reacted to the attacks, falling dismantled. Breem blasted off the ground.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the door, Faircloth stood in all his adorned glory, surrounded by his equally adorned imperial guard. They watched as the silhouettes of an advancing army gained in both size and consistency…as Aellea’s dispatched battalions approached.
A small Jun, almost a teenager, came scurrying next to FairCloth. He bent low and told him, “they’ve breached the first fortifications.”
“How long until they get to the wall?”
“Kyrn says he can hold for half an hour longer. That’s how much ammo he has left. But…Pandeer, Breem, Laer…all of them are here, my liege”
“It will not matter. As soon as we receive our reinforcements, this will be over.”
He waited, sweating in anticipation as stealthily and quietly as he could, as the army approached. Soon, he could actually hear the battle raging behind him, beyond the wall. And his frustration was yet further put to the test when Aellea’s army stopped a couple of hundred of feet from reaching him. From it, two mounts rode to meet him.
“Oh,” FairCloth realized they had not cemented an alliance yet, so basic parlay during a war would be applicable. He pointed to the leader of his personal guard, a mighty Pan that wielded a war-axe, who pretty much looked alike Laer if one ignored the bald head, and commanded him to follow him.
His frustration turned to utter confusion, though, when he saw who accompanied the Lan commander of the Aellea battalions. The commander was a female Lan, a lioness, and rode straight and unflinching, betraying nothing with her strong and merciless gaze. And accompanying her…was none other than Midori.
“What the hell are you doing here?! You left the city for good!”
“You’ve lost, FairCloth,” she said, getting a bit emotional, “this civil war of yours is lost!”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” the Lioness spoke, her voice grudgingly hard. “Midori informs me you have lost most of FairGriffen. Is this true?”
“Would I be here receiving you, were it true?” FairCloth argued, waving the matter aside. “The girl was my guest, but she was free… to be caught by the others. What did they offer you for your help, you little mercenary? I’ll quadruple it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the lioness told him harshly, “saying that in front of me…whatever motivation has driven Midori to help your enemies, she has obviously committed to it. She won’t just change her mind now…”
“Watch how you address me, Lan,” Faircloth disrespectfully demanded.
“My name is Leenat, high commander of the first and second battalion of Aellea’s army. I have been told you began losing your war, and so you took over the gate and fortified your position around the gate alone…in an effort to fool my Emperor. I have been told you kept a citizen of Aellea under arrest, against her will, and have threatened her with torture and death. I will watch how I address you, Overseer FairCloth, when--”
“You dare treat me by that menial title?!” FairCloth pointed a vigorous finger at Leenat, “you make your intentions clear, Leenat. Am I to suppose you are ready to spend all your forces against the might of FairGriffen over…a small resistance force? Will you,” he pointed at Midori with disdain, ”on that mercenary’s voice alone, commit your force to oppose the winning side?”
“I will demand you allow me to survey the state of the citadel with my own two eyes, as I was supposed too. The fact you hold the gate holds no sway over my orders.”
“…” FairCloth most visibly strained his head to think of a way out of his situation. He looked on, stern and unrelenting until, somewhere inside his head, he reached the breaking point. He sighed and lowered his head.
“Damnation…I know when I’m beaten. This war stops now, I will surrender my forces to you, in the hopes that--”
“I want no business with Fairgrifen politics. You will surrender yourself, and your forces, to Overseer Pandeem… and whoever is left. For judgment under Fairgrifen law and territory.”
He again looked like he was going to resist, but Midori couldn’t help but smile when he bowed down his head, trying to retain some dignity. “As you say…”
Midori grinned further, realizing what she had accomplished. More than helping Breem, who had clearly fought hard on her behalf, she had achieved so much more… and all without risking a fight! That was the best part.
She recalled her conversation with Pandeem, who didn’t take long to win her over.
“All-paid housing at Breem’s tower, at one of the luxurious rooms, mind you. We will also allow you to attend the Academy completely for free, and if you wish, we will arrange for a minimum of weekly sessions of private tutoring with Minyl, FairGrifen’s prime alchemist.”
Oh her eyes were beaming. The plan was simple, too: to stage her leaving, and Breem played his part well, faking sadness and disappointment. Everyone knew FairCloth had spies everywhere, and seeing Midori leaving for good, he would pay no further expenses on dealing with her as a variable.
And if he did, she could always have run… but of course, she didn’t tell Breem that.
Midori’s heart beat hard, her cheeks blushing with pure joy… because she had done it. From slaving at a wares shop on some dusty old village to being a prime guest of FairGrifen’s Aristocracy. All her goals were now undoubtedly achieved, and along the way, people she liked were going to do well, and people she didn’t like were either dead or about to do very badly. If Jeen was alive, it’d be perfect.
She’d have to find out about him.
“This is really one of those days,” Midori said to Leenat, who wholly ignored her, “where life just feels freakin’ amazing!”
She opened her arms in celebration, but because of that, she lost balance.
She wiggled her arms trying to grab onto something but she just made it worse and ended up falling down, hard, on the ground. A loud thump raised sand, and dust, and Leenat simply rolled her eyes while FairCloth eyed her with hate.
From amidst the sand cloud, her arm rose up, “I’m okay! …I’m o-I’m okay! Hahahaha.”
She was more than okay. That much was clear, as she wiped her grining happy face with her arm.
She might have fallen off her “high horse”, but she was still on top of the world.