Chapter 42 - Plans Within Plans
Ringo could not believe what she was seeing.
In fact, her vision was not only showing it to her but it also spread wide enough to show that everyone around her was also looking at what they were seeing, baffled and confused. It was the scariest thing any of them could think to imagine, but there it was.
“Grave news, mam.”
The Presidential quarters were at the center of Bellhall. A massive tree housed the entire parliament of the Fea people, as well as representatives from other cities that were part of the united people of Fea. The president, which was Layryn at the time, was at the very top, living in the same huge branch where the forefathers of her society had lived, though back then, it was closer to the ground. She could see most of the forest from her point of view, so it came to her as no surprise when one of the Forest Guard showed up, battered and wounded, to report on what she could well enough observe.
“I can see. How is this possible? I was told it was impossible. In fact, I was taught in history lessons this was impossible.”
“An army of Rei, mam.”
“What?” That actually confused her even further, “an army of Rei?”
“Thousands of them.”
“But…how are they here? And why? They don’t even go here.”
“They’re here, mam. They’re rampaging across the forest, and their intentions to take Bellhall are clear. They are being led by…someone very powerful.”
“Is this person behind this?”
“Yes, madam president. We don’t know how but he sets the trees of Bellhall ablaze…he is setting fire to our forest.”
“The stones…he’s the one who has them.”
“Hmpf, nevermind. General!” She threw open the robe she had on, one made of a giant leaf, revealing a green one-piece dress that seemed custom-made to fir her features like a second skin, only harder and more perfect.
“What, Madam President? I need to go,” the general protested.
She exited through her window into what was a roofless corridor, making the general wait on purpose. Layryn felt the rain falling upon her, not quite satisfied, as a strong bulking purple-haired female Fea entered the room she had just left. Though it would be hard to find any satisfaction in such a situation as the burning of her home.
“I suggest we have the weather weavers worsen the rain.”
“Already done so.”
“Also maybe have the forest regroup around the rocky pass? And reinforce it with one regiment of soldiers, meanwhile, send anoth--”
“Already gave the word. With all due respect, madam President, you didn’t give me this job so I would need advice on how to run a war.”
The girl was spiteful and belligerent, but she was the best there was at waging battles. Her red eyes were fiery and alive with the energy of ten warriors. Layryn looked back at her, and were her city not in mortal peril, she would have smiled.
“Very well, I will join you at the front-lines.”
“What? No, impossible,” said the loyal general, turning around, “you’ll stay safe, is what you’ll do, mam. Preferably here.”
“The burning of trees is impossible, general. I’ll be damned if I don’t go down there and show these Rei what Bellhall is made of…personally. Now go and worry about the counteroffensive, I will join you presently.”
The older woman looked disgruntled and not at all content, but duty is a hard thing to deal with.
“…your word is my command.”
Layryn stole one last glimpse of the burning. She wasn’t sure what it was all about, but it looked like an invasion. Whoever was behind this, Rei, Lan, Pan, Jun or even Xia…they would pay dearly.
“MARCH! PUNCH THROUGH IT ALL!!!” Katsuryu pushed his right hand forward, red glowing stone grasped tightly in it. A burst of red flames shot out of it in a great barrage.
The fire was brighter than any ever witnessed, like fire spewed out by lava, but redder still. Clearly, it was not simple fire that the man was conjuring, but whatever it was, it was working on the magic-imbued floar of the Fea. He was shooting in wide and long barrages that burned everything within forty feet, that had the audacity to be ten feet to either side of him.
Bellhall’s great advantage had always been its trees. The way the forest guard could use them, and the way the warriors used them to ambush and harass any invasion force. But Katsuryu was putting them to the flame as easily as one would with normal trees. This was as serious as it could get for Bellhall.
“Bellhall will burn! And from its ashes, Reinuh will rise! Fight, my people! FIGHT!!!”
Every time he set fire to a tree, close to ten Fea leapt from it. Arrows and spells were shot from the distant dark, from within trees outside the edge of the burning that Katsuryus’ advancing force was making. Katsuryu himself was surrounded by retainers who protected him from incoming attacks, with physical and magical shields. Those behind and to the side continuously stretched further and further, making sure all the territory was becoming theirs. That no Fea straggled or stole their way behind them.
But a short number of Rei was ahead of the advancing force, cleaning traps and ambushes, and Kazuki was among them. It frustrated him that he had to do something that dangerous, but it was still safer than siding against the Rei.
Plus, fighting alongside other Rei made…an odd kind of sense. It felt reminiscent of fighting alongside his sister. He hadn’t thought about her at all recently, less still ever considered her a real sister. Adoptive sister, at best.
To think that maybe she was there, and they just hadn’t spotted each other yet. To think he was actually feeling some sort of excitement, or worse yet, belonging.
“Stay away from me, you blasted dolls!”
Kazuki would not oblige the Fea, though. And if Katsuryu had his way, no Rei would ever again, unless by choice… by stupid choice.
Kazuki intercepted the Fea’s leap, that he had made to escape an arrow thrown by another forward scout, and shoved him against a tree. The tree would soon be burning, but this lucky Fea would not even get to see it. Inside the small dent they had made on the tree, the Fea held up his hands, pleading.
“Why are you doing this?!” The Fea asked, amidst tears, as Kazuki shoved his sword through his belly. He took it out and slashed his throat open before jumping back out.
He witnessed the archer nailing another Fea to a tree with a well-placed arrow, and as he landed, another Rei landed next to him. It was a girl, no taller than a Pan, with short black hair styled in twin-tails, and light grey complexion; she carried two small one-bladed axes.
“Ha ha, this’s fun, ain’t it?”
Kazuki looked down at her in silence.
“Oh, c’mon, stop being so gloomy,” she told him, tapping him condescendingly, “I can hardly believe it, but it’s true. We’re really gonna have our own place now.”
“Let’s just get through the day,” another voice came from above, from a tall and lean Rei, still sporting the pointy ears from his life as a Fea, though his left eye-socket was stitched closed, showing signs of the one eye missing. His complexion was darker, but his hair was white. He was holding onto a bow and arrow that seemed to be enchanted since a very light dark fog hung around it. Or on it, depending on one’s point of view about auras.
“Ain’t there enough rain, already? Why’d you gotta rain on my parade, too?”
“That’s funny,” the archer said, not the least bit amused, “c’mon.”
There were more scouts out there, obviously, but that was Kazuki’s team. The three of them were ahead of the invading force, dismantling trap and killing ambushes dead. And he had to admit, the two of them were mercilessly competent. The Archer leapt out, the short Rei spread out her arms like wings, axes in hand, and followed suit. Kazuki was soon to follow.
Meanwhile, back on Spellgate, a short Jun, bald and with a beer belly, was standing in the middle of about two thousand warrior Jun. They were all in uniform for low-light warfare, which is to say, dark tones of all kinds of color to fight in the dark. Around them stood the holograms of the most powerful of Spallgate’s citizens, since each had offered a portion of the regiment from their own hired forces.
The Jun at the center was sweating, red with frustration as he moved his hands around, focusing on a spell.
“Was this the plan all along?” The specter next to Ramachandras’ asked.
“Pardon?” Ramachandra played the fool, as ever.
“We all know he was muscling you out of some businesses.”
“I think you’re thinking of someone else. I’m not the one who stole the stone.”
“Oh, my apologies. I thought you were him.”
“I understand the confusion. After all, we do change our appearance every meeting.”
“Well yes, it’s just that you’re wearing that one.”
“Hm? Oh, respect. It’s so he knows I’ll remember his sacrifice.”
Ramachandra’s hologram was very identical to the fool who had challenged him, and who was now being made to cast the spell that could only work by taking every last drop of essence that the man had to give. He saw the man open his eyes, looking at Ramachandra’s hologram, recognizing himself in its visage.
He was about to die, so Ramachandra smiled and blew him a kiss.
Meanwhile, in the undisclosed location once housing a lot of the people of Rei…
“Thank you for releasing us,” Arata said.
“I don’t want your thanks,” Leaf said, “you really made a mess of things, coming in here alone. Neither of you knows the first thing about infiltration.”
“Has the war started?” Sanpu asked, massaging his shoulder for comfort, “I wanna fight.”
“The war’s started,” Leaf nodded, “I’m on my way now, but I don’t think you’ll want to come.”
“Well duh, of course I don’t want a part in that war,” Jomiko stated.
“I will go, I need to find Danatcia,” Persephonai said.
“Dude, give her up already, she obviously doesn’t want anything to do with you,” Fuun’na mocked him.
“Listen!” Leaf interrupted them, “I’m going. I’m sure Layrin will send a force to circle around them, so I’ll hook up with them and shove some Bellhall might up their as--”
“But?” Pixa interrupted, impatient and moody from behind her eyes that were red from shedding tears.
“But I don’t think you’ll want to leave just yet. ’Cause the thing is -- Danatcia, the Sen?”
“Yeah,” Persephonai acknowledged.
“Right, Danatcia and the other three are still here.”
“What?” Arata questioned, confused. “Why would they still be here? They’re Katsuryu’s--”
“Because Katsuryu is still here.”
They stared at Leaf for a few seconds, but none of them knew what to think. They looked back at Leaf, each with their version of a surprised and confused expression.
Jomiko spoke first.
“He’s not leading them?”