War. Even within the world of Rise, war is no stranger to its inhabitants. But to those like the Iron Wolves, war meant the difference between living with an existence or disappearing into nothingness. War for the Iron Wolves could come from all sides. In this case, war pushed at them from three separate countries: Solaris, Sukonia and Cullatish.
Anima sat waiting quietly on her bed. The small bunny sitting in her lap and her kitten, whom had become almost like her second shadow since her journey to Naekuro, nestled at her side keeping a silent vigil with her. Worry emanated from her to permeate the air. She knew Stykes would be coming home tonight before leaving again in the morning. She flopped onto her back before the weight in her belly made her roll onto her side. A small sound drifted over to her from the window causing her to smile.
“You’re late home,” Her voice was soft but not faint to his ears. “Was beginning to wonder if you’d even come home tonight even though you had promised me you’d come every full moon.”
He padded lightly across the room and sat on her bed. She could feel him shift behind her before turning to crawl up and lean over her. Curling his hand around her body, he touched her belly with a flat hand. “Aruna tells me you are due soon. I’ll need to get this war over before then.”
“Can you really make it end that quickly?” Anima’s scepticism was clear in both her voice and emotions. “If you can, then why didn’t you end it long before now?” Stykes sighed and ruffled her hair. She pushed his arm away annoyed. “I’m serious! If you could end this war that quickly then why didn’t you already?”
“I can’t rush things because I feel like it,” Stykes replied rolling over onto his back. “Sometimes you need to take the long way around because it contains more benefits than then short way.” He watched Anima roll over to face him. “However, this war has now gone on for too long and the benefits of cutting this short outweigh the original benefits of taking the long way.”
Anima sat up with a slight smile. “So you want that weapon that Hana and I created last year…” Stykes knew that smile so well that he caught himself giving her the exact same smile. “I had Hana teach every Alchemist who is proficient in Chemical Lore to learn how to create that weapon.”
“I knew you would do that without telling me,” Stykes replied calmly. “So I ordered every Alchemist who were proficient in either or both Chemical and Herb Lore to report to Kuros in Didea Village in the morning.”
“Herb Lore?” Anima asked quizzically. “Why do you need Herbalists there? The weapon is chemical based. A Herbalist would have no idea what to do and blow everything up.” Her comment triggered Stykes’ deep laugh. “It’s true though! A Herbalist would blow things up with chemicals just like a Chemist would poison people with concoctions made from herbs.”
“Simply,” Stykes replied with a very soft, soothing voice. “I need more Healers. Aruna and Ishmael’s Healers, Priests and Acolytes are overloaded with the injured. I need Herbalists to fill the gaps and provide relief while they’re waiting for a proper healing from them.” He pulled her close with a smile. “Nothing to worry about. Just get some sleep now.”
“I always seem to be sleeping,” Anima murmured. “It’s like I’m hibernating. I’m not a bear in winter…” Stykes stroked her hair gently and soothed her to sleep. “You better be prepared for Hawkeye’s anger in the morning.”
The early next morning, Kuros watched Stykes pace in front of the Alchemists that have gathered. Amongst them, Hana and Gabrielle stood towards the front. Standing in front of them, he began his address.
“This war has gone on long enough!” A cheer from the Alchemists rose suddenly. Stykes’ back tickled giving him the sign that Anima was now awake. He continued on. “Tonight! We will stop this war with our enemies fleeing in fear. Tonight we will send this message: ‘WE ARE HERE TO STAY!’” He waited until the, now deafening, roar died down. “I will divide all of you into four groups according to your skill level. Three will go to the battlefield and the fourth one will remain here as back-up.”
While Stykes continued, Hana leaned over to her mother. “Anima is due soon. It’s probably why he’s fired up to end it all tonight.” Gabrielle nodded and gave Stykes a small smile when he shot them a sharp glance. Hana grinned and whispered. “I need to tell you a secret later that Anima told me. She said I can tell you but no one else.”
“Nothing you can say within range of his sharp hearing?” Gabrielle whispered back as she stood to move over to join the Herbalists. Hana nodded and waited in her seat. “Then I’ll come by to your room with some currant buns this afternoon.”
Stykes stepped down from the platform to join Hana. On his left, Herbalists were arranged in their self appointed ranks. On his right, Chemists moved themselves into their study groups. Stykes narrowed his eyes at Hana and murmured. “Where should I put you?”
“Right where you can see me,” Hana replied with a smile. “I already have my orders from Anima to watch over you. Nothing you can say will make me leave your side.” She pulled a small vial filled with transparent white liquid from her pouch and shook it. “I can follow you even if you fly.” Stykes sighed and set to work on dividing his Alchemists into the groups he needed.
Hana laughed as her mother tore a hot currant bun in half. “Stykes was upset that Anima had told me not to leave his side all afternoon. But I’m sure he got use to me after I deflected arrows from his wings.”
“That aside,” Gabrielle leaned forward with a sly smile on her face. “What is this secret that you couldn’t say in front of Stykes?”
“Hold on,” Hana stepped over to her worktable and picked out a dark orange vial. “I don’t want anyone listening in.” She threw the vial onto the ground hard. Soft orange light flooded the room leaving no surface untouched. “Anima taught me that one. She said that the darker the potion, the harder it is for someone to break into it. I’ve only successfully been able to create orange.”
“Overly cautious?” Gabrielle asked as she watched her daughter settle again in her chair. Noticing the worried expression on Hana’s face, she added. “Something you’re going to ask my advice on also?”
“Anima says that there’s two in her.” Hana started quietly. “It’s a feeling she has. She knows that they’ll be born tonight, well before the end of the war.” Hana closed her eyes not looking at her mother. “She wants both of us present when they come. Me to use her potions to create the barriers and you as a Healer and Midwife.”
“She doesn’t want Stykes there?” Gabrielle asked concerned. “Or is there something else she’s said to you?”
“Not said exactly,” Hana hesitated. “It’s just…” She swallowed hard. “She was teaching me a prophecy potion and she was explaining that created wrongly it can show someone’s past rather than their future. She threw it into the fire and…” Hana’s voice quivered like jelly. “I’m sure it was a scene from her past.”
Gabrielle moved her chair until she came close enough to bring her arms around Hana. “What happened?” She pet Hana’s hair gently. “What did you see?”
Hana leaned against her mother. Tears slowly trailed down her face as she spoke. “In the fire we saw a child in white, blood-stained robes. She had four angelic-style, black-feathered wings. Anima and I watched as she ran through the forest into a small clearing where a woman laid covered in blood. Her own wings torn and broken at her sides.” Hana covered her ears. In her head, the child’s screams were still fresh. “The child tried to wake the woman but a man stepped into view and grabbed the child by the wings.”
Gabrielle’s eyes widened in shock. “Black-feathered wings…”
“Mother?” Hana glanced at Gabrielle with curiosity on her face. “What’s wrong?” She gave her mother a little shake. “Mother?”
Gabrielle shook her head and smiled. “Black-feathered wings are the mark of a clan of Fallen Angels who were charged to look after Hell. It can’t possibly be Anima’s past because she is human.”
“Humans don’t sprout wings,” Hana said quietly. It had become common knowledge that Anima sprouted the wings whenever she tapped into Rosiel’s power. “Don’t tell me that’s because of Rosiel. Elf Royalty don’t possess actual wings. Just magical ones that are summoned through their elf blood in their daggers.”
Gabrielle thought carefully. “Did the child have blue hair?” Hana shook her head. “Then there you go, it can’t be Anima because she has blue hair.”
“It was too dark to see what colour hair the child had,” Hana pointed out quietly. “If it wasn’t Anima then how did she produce that image? She brushed it off with a laugh saying that not all futures are 100% accurate but it does make me wonder.” She looked at her mother with wide eyes. “I’m sure that image was the reason she has asked for just us to be present.”
Gabrielle nodded. “That does make sense. Fallen Angels are the enemy of all other races. If one of her children is a fallen angel, she needs to protect it until she can get word to Stykes.” She gave Hana a hug and laughed. “Don’t worry about it. If it is Anima’s past, it doesn’t seem to affect her now. If it’s the future of one of her children, then she’ll know how to stop it.”
Hana nodded slowly. If it is in Anima’s future then the woman on the ground is her. She shut her eyes but the voice of the child rang loud in her head. Mama? Mama! Wake up! They’re coming again! MAMA!
Stykes stood with his back to his army on the outskirts of Hasta Village. His jacket flapped in the breeze like a white banner against the dark sky. His presence alone instilling courage in his allies. Drawing his katana, he raised it up to the skyline. The army of Solaris stood just visible to the naked eye. At their fore stood their king in gold plated armour.
Stykes raised his katana and yelled “CHARGE!” A similar cry could be heard in the distance from the golden figure. The armies of both Solaris and the Iron Wolves ran forwards to meet violently in the middle like an avalanche meeting the ground. Stykes ran with them cutting down enemies in his wake. His mind focused on one task… Kill Kopra.
As if granting his wish, the fighting shifted creating a small clearing. Within it stood who he sought suited in the best gold plated armour his treasury could afford. Stykes paused with a smile on his face and his katana ready in his hand.
“You made a big mistake come out onto the battlefield,” Kopra said quietly, his voice clear to Stykes’ ears. “I’ll be sure to leave enough of your body to be identified by your endearing wife.” Stykes growled angrily and tightened his grip on his katana. “Come at me if you can.”
Stykes’ wings burst forth to thrust him forwards towards Kopra. His katana bearing down onto Kopra’s jewelled broadsword. They stared at each other intently. Neither wanted to be the first to disengage. Disengagement meant instant death at the hands of his opponent.
Stykes’ eyes darkened. Pain began to lance through his body. He cried out pulling back fast away from Kopra’s oncoming blade. It intensified creeping from his abdomen up to his heart and radiating outwards to envelop his body. In his pained haze, he looked up to see Kopra’s sword coming close to his head.
“STYKES!” The sound of metal rang loudly in his ears. Ash coloured wings blocked his vision of Kopra. “Get a hold of yourself!” White light surrounded Stykes and two pairs of hands lifted him up. “Get him to safety, Miyako!”
Miyako nodded and waiting till Chiae hopped up onto her back to keep Stykes in place before she left the clearing to fight her way towards Hasta Village. “What is going on? It’s not like you to break from a fight so suddenly.”
“Anima…" Stykes whispered through the pain. “Something is happening to Anima. This pain…” The pain intensified pushing Stykes to his limit. “This pain is torturous.” Raising his hand, he called Veritas to him. “Go find out what is going on. This pain is too much for one who should be just sleeping.”
Shutting his eyes, he watched Veritas fly to the Tower of Wings. Already he could see the green-like glass in the windows. She’s put a barrier up, Master. Veritas alighted onto the windowsill and pecked the window hard. Hands drew her inside carefully.
Stykes stiffened at the sight. Anima laid motionless on the bed. Blood thoroughly stained the sheets red. Her laboured breathing the only indication that she was still alive. Veritas moved her head to look up at who was holding her.
“It’s alright Stykes,” Hana said quietly. She stepped over to her mother and placed Veritas on her shoulder. Veritas watched Hana move away to look after Anima before looking down at what was before Gabrielle. Two babies laid asleep next to each other in a basket. Stykes smiled longing to touch them.
“Stykes,” he heard Gabrielle say softly. “We have a problem.” She picked up one of the babies. Unwrapping it gently, she turned the baby over to show Veritas its back. A bruise, similar to Anima’s, was lightly traced on its back. “You didn’t tell us Anima was a Fallen Angel. This is going to cause a lot of problems.”
Stykes paced his study room worriedly. Nowhere in Anima’s memories did she show that she was anything but human. He glanced at the bassinet where the twins were nestled safely in. Walking over, he gently touched their faces.
They were similar in every way except for their gender. The female, he knew had to be named Rosiel, had the pointed ears of an elf. He touched the male’s cheek gently. He had the human style-ears and features. Stykes wondered how this child became a Fallen Angel. From his knowledge, it was only possible if Anima was a Fallen Angel or if she had been unfaithful to him. He knew if she had been unfaithful that he’d know.
He closed his eyes and thought back to his conversations with King Neflyte. “That’s my eldest son,” Neflyte told him with a sigh. “Seryian doesn’t want the throne and told me to name Anima as my heir. He’s travelling at the moment.” He looked at him with sad eyes. “Normally I wouldn’t do anything related to Anima without conferring with him first. He and Anima use to be incredibly close.” He paused and looked out the window. “I wonder…”
He raised his hand gently calling Veritas to him. You called Master? She asked landing gently onto his wrist. She glanced at the bassinet. They’re sleeping peacefully. Unusual for hatchlings of your species.
Stykes gave her a poke for her comments and smiled at her. “I need you to find a certain person for me,” Carefully, he explained the Lunarian throne room and the painting of Neflyte, Anima and her brother. “I need you to find Seryian for me. When you find him give him this for me.” He placed a chain around her neck. Four amulets hung from the chain. A wolf head to symbolise the Iron Wolves, a crescent moon for Lunarias, a dove in flight symbolising himself, and a sword with a corked vial to represent Anima. Hopefully that will bring him here. Veritas chirped at him before flying off into the distance.
Anima awoke to the sound of crying. “Rosiel? Maniel?” Her voice barely made it out of her throat. Sitting up, she looked around the room until it spun. “What’s going on?”
A cold hand gently stroked her face. “Rest. You lost a lot of blood giving birth to the twins. Rest now.” Anima’s eyes slowly focused onto Stykes’ calm and concerned face. “It’s alright. I’ve asked Gabrielle and Aruna to assist me in looking after the twins.” Stykes watched her close her eyes once more. “I do have a question for you.”
Anima relaxed and whispered. “Go ahead. Although what I know is the same as what you know. I don’t see what asking me will do.”
Stykes sighed. “I know but sometimes asking you brings the information I need to the surface much faster.” Silence passed for a while before he continued. “When you last saw your brother, did he say where he was going?”
Anima opened her eyes and narrowed them at him. “If it’s about the Fallen Angel thing, Seryian will have no clue about it. I asked him once before when I found out about the bruise on my back and what it symbolized.” She turned her head until he was in her direct line of vision. “I’m surprised you’re only asking about my brother now.”
The silence between them stretched. Anima closed her eyes again and smiled. “Tell Veritas to go to mountain ranges in Urankia. Deep in those ranges is an ancient library that Rosiel built. That place is the best to start at if she’s going to search for him.”
Several months had passed before Anima was well enough to function properly. All the Iron Wolves could tell that her thoughts were always elsewhere. Stykes had left to supervise the expansion of the barrier to encompass Lunarias leaving Anima with their twins and the entire Iron Wolves Guild to run.
She leapt lightly down the stairs. Her eyes intent for once on her destination. He’s here! He’s here! It wasn’t the first time she wished she had wings to get her to her destination faster. Bursting through the doors into the Knights Quarters on the ground floor, she ran into something solid.
“Anima!” Lina exclaimed as Kuros leaned over to offer his hand to her. “Where are you going?” Anima frowned at this statement. Lina stepped back and saluted stiffly. “There’s an unknown at the door. We can’t let you pass until it is safe.”
“I can assure you it’s perfectly safe.” Anima replied accepting Kuros’ hand. She continued while roughly brushing dust off of her white silk robes. “Seryian wouldn’t hurt anyone.” She paused for a second before continuing. “He’s a protector not a fighter.”
Lina and Kuros looked at each other worriedly. “Seryian?” Kuros asked quietly and leaned over once more to bring himself to eye-level with Anima. “Anyone who can verify him?” Anima’s clear eyes told him exactly what she was thinking. “I have to ask for your safety.”
Anima didn’t answer him. Feeling around her waist, she opened her pouch and brought out a clear liquid. Smiling, she shook the vial. “You aren’t going to let me pass, are you?” Lina barred the east wing exit with her spear in response. “Then I have no choice.” Quickly uncorking the vial and drinking the contents, Anima waved and disappeared from view. “You can ask Rue to verify him if you can find Rue before I get to the door.”
Anima laughed and ran deeper into the Knights Quarters. Her chameleon potion aiding her to dart through unnoticed. Seryian came here instead of Lunarias. She skidded to a halt just before the west wing exit. Why did he come here instead of Lunarias? He doesn’t know I married Stykes. Quietly, she slipped out the door and padded down to the huge double doors to slip around the Knights standing at the door.
The man talking to the Knights wore light-weight russet pants with dark leather boots. His white long sleeved jacket was buttoned down the front to his waist leaving the knee-length remainder to flap gently in the breeze. At his waist sat a pair of swords. One was a rapier that was identical to Anima’s, and the other was a broader and stronger claymore. His auburn hair long and sun-streaked shading his deep blue eyes. He turned looked directly at her with a welcoming smile on his face.
“I can see you,” he said softly. The Knights looked in her direction before looking at each other curiously. “When does the Chameleon Potion you swallowed wear off?”
“Soon,” Anima replied. Her seemingly disembodied voice scared the Knights. “Why are you here? Your obvious assumption should be that I’m in Lunarias.” The suspicious tone in her voice wrapped around the Knights forcing them to attention.
“Because I can tell where you are, sister dearest…" Anima stepped back. This wasn’t the Seryian she remembered. His manner in speaking to her wasn’t the warm affection she remembered. Seryian strode towards her and scooped her up, pinning her arms to her sides. His voice whispered in recognizable tones in her ear. “Your brother wishes to see you.”
“Oslo…" Anima hissed angrily. “Using a Masque Potion to fool my eyes.” The effect of both potions began to fade. The reappearance of Anima and the shifting of Seryian to Oslo gave the Knights barely seconds to raise the alarm.
“Thank your brother for teaching me,” Oslo said manoeuvring her until she was pressed with her back to him. Drawing a dagger with a blood red ruby in the hilt from a sheath that was tucked under his jacket, he pressed it to her neck. “Let Stykes know this message,” he told the Knights before them. “He should return to the Elven Realm and be destroyed as his fate dictates or he won’t see Anima again in any incarnation.”
Pressing his dagger harder to her throat, he whispered. “You have one, don’t you? A Smoke Bomb that allows you to escape danger. I know Stykes would insist on you carrying one even in the Iron Wolves headquarters.” Anima winced and nodded slowly. “Use it or I’ll slit your throat right here.”
Anima opened her eyes and looked apologetically at the Knights before slipping two fingers into her pouch. A dark grey potion fell to the floor and immediately began to produce plumes of dark smoke. The smoke rose upwards, surrounding Oslo and Anima before spreading out to encompass the entrance and the entire courtyard.
“After him!” she heard Kuros yell through the darkness. But she knew they can’t catch up now with the smoke obscuring everything. “Don’t let him leave the grounds alive!”
Stykes dropped his pen. Pain spread across his neck and chest. What in the world?! Rapid knocking at the door focused his attention. “Come in.” He called.
“You sound strained.” Kyte stepped into the door with a ball of white light hovering over her palm. “I have an urgent message from the Iron Wolves Headquarters. I was told to let no one read it but you so I brought it straight here.”
Stykes reached out for the scroll and froze. “A white scroll…” Carefully he took the scroll and unrolled it to it’s full length. White scrolls usually contain bad news in disguise. Quickly he skimmed the scroll before standing up. “Follow me.” he said calmly to Kyte as he passed.
“What…" She began to ask before realizing he was leading her to the Lunarian Barracks. “Something’s happened to Anima?” Her voice sounding more concerned rather than worried.
“Oslo has captured her,” Stykes’ voice was intense with suppressed anger. “According to the scroll, he disguised himself as Seryian and came to Headquarters asking for Anima. Anima, being what she’s like, came out to meet him. Apparently when she became suspicious of him is when he caught her.”
“And you’re going to take the entire Lunarian defence to Cullatish to get her back?” She asked incredulously. “While I want to charge in and rescue her too, you can’t leave Lunarias open for attack.”
“That’s not what I have in mind,” He paused to turn and face her. “I’m leaving you in charge here. But I’m going to take Rue, Miyako and Chiae with me.”
“I see…" She raised her hand to her chest and bowed. “As you wish, my Lord. I am yours to command.” Stykes nodded and continued towards the Barracks.
“Anima,” Rough hands shook her. Chains chinked in her ears. “Anima! Wake up before I give you a spanking you won’t forget.” Slowly, she opened her eyes.
“Seryian?” she murmured quietly. She looked at the man holding her. His auburn hair and pale white skin were stained with dirt. His clothes were torn and looked like they had not of been washed for a long time. “Real one?”
“Who else would I be?” Seryian hugged her tightly. “You silly girl. Were you that anxious to see me?” Anima’s eyes scanned the cell they were in. Chains trailed from his wrists and ankles. “But I am happy to see you.”
“How long have you been here?” she asked pulling away a little to look at his face. “What have they done to you?” Bruises encircled his right eye and dotted along his cheeks and jaw line.
“Before I tell you,” he gazed into her eyes cautiously. “How much do you remember from before the time we met?” Anima tilted her head, not comprehending what he was saying. “Then you need to remember before I can tell you what is going on here.”
“I’ll have to know eventually, won’t I?” Anima asked a little annoying at Seryian for dragging this out. “I’m in my twenties now. I think I’m adult enough to handle it.”
“You’re not human.” Anima’s face paled at this small statement. “Father and I found you when you were quite young on the slopes of Wolf Mountain. A woman, clearly not human, laid at your side covered in blood. We could see she was dying. We told her we would look after you. She created the bracelets with our blood and locked them onto our wrists as a bind between us. To seal the deal, she said. So you are my sister in the sense that we share the same mixed blood, but we weren’t born from the same parents.”
“But…" The clouds in Anima’s mind cleared. False memories of Seryian’s mother gave way to true memories of a woman with pale blue hair and the deepest sky blue eyes. “So I’m a demon?” Her mind told her that wasn’t quite right.
“A fallen angel to be precise,” Seryian said correcting her. “Those who are the true Royal Family of Demons aren’t Demons themselves. Your family, from what I’ve gleaned from the guards, was driven from the Demonic Realm by Oslo and his followers. You and your Mother were the last of that line.”
“The reason you left…" Anima’s mind raced at the memories that now flooded her. “The reason you left…”
“Was to find out why you and your Mother were able to get here when the Bull Demon guards the path between this realm and the Demonic realm,” Seryian confirmed. “If the Bull Demon no longer guards the path, demons can come to destroy not only the human realm but every realm connected to the demonic realm.”
“Then the creature that destroyed the Elven Realm,” Anima said suddenly. Everything began to fall into place. “Was a Demon who left the Demonic Realm.” She refocused her eyes back onto him. “Oslo is trying to finish the job he started.”
Seryian nodded and sighed. “His aim this time is to kill you and anyone else who knows about who you are. So that means myself and Father.” Anima’s eyes became downcast. Seryian tilted his head worriedly. “Anima?”
“Father…" She lowered her head. Tears fell onto her hands rapidly. “The Angelic Guild attacked Lunarias and I met their guild master, Thyme. He made me remember something from my past but it was too brief for me to understand what it was or where it came from. Thyme murdered Father…”
Seryian’s eyes watered. He drew Anima to his chest and gently pet her hair. “I’m sorry…” he whispered repeatedly in her ear. “I found out that Angelic and Oslo were in league with each other when I was caught. I couldn’t do anything to send word to Father.”
“It’s not your fault,” Anima whispered back. “But I’m happy to finally know you’re alright…”