The Fallen Angel
Saferon waited impatiently in the waiting room outside of where the medics operated on Ritana. The tent was large enough to allow for partitions, and was easily the most sand-free one of all.
Minding her own fresh wound, she paced incessantly from one end of the room to the other, while several others sat in the room, with their own varieties of injuries.
“Why does she wander around like that?” said a young boy to his father.
“A dear friend of hers is in that room,” the father said quietly to him, “her friend is badly hurt and she is concerned for her.”
“But you always taught me not to worry, because it doesn’t change anything,” the child recited.
“You are right,” Saferon replied with a faint smile, “Worrying doesn’t change anything. Yet I think you’ll find that logic will not always prevail. I believe your father may agree on that one. Don’t you, Maxis?”
The man looked to her with a smile he tried his hardest to uphold, “many confuse worry, and concern. It is perfectly natural to be concerned for the well-being of others.”
“Perfectly,” Saferon repeated, struggling on some minor level to maintain composure.
Ritana. So strong a woman, so reserved and yet so confident. So invulnerable was her friend to the daily routine of trouncing the invaders, she always found some creative way to take each and every one down. So efficient she was, that the two found more time to converse than the time it took to dispose of enemy groups at a time, either in the air or on the ground.
Yet Saferon had never seen her fear so deeply for her life as she did that fateful night.
“Captain,” said a middle-aged male medic in loose and simple bluish-grey garb.
Saferon knew what he was about to say. It was on his face--she didn’t have to read his mind. Her heart sank--it almost stopped.
“The General will see you now—before she departs to Kabaiila.”
The tone was cold, but that of a medic had to be in a war. Yet even then, Saferon picked up surface thoughts flowing through the medic’s mind, those of doubt. He thought again and again: if even Ritana could fall, who could not?
No fool ever thought to have attained immortality, and lived, she remembered parsing to the Imperator, just hours ago.
Saferon only nodded in reply and walked past him.
In the middle of the room, surrounded by medics and rudimentary machines, Ritana laid on a wide bed against the curtain wall. Her black leather armour and dozens of feather darts were piled up in a corner of the room. She herself was veiled from the feet to her chest by a microfibrous beige blanket, hiding her mortally injurious state. Even her wings were tucked under herself, hiding the hole in one of them.
Ritana looked weakly to the medics and said with her expected hiss, “leave us.”
The medics slowly obliged, the last one closing the curtain that made a door to the room.
Saferon stepped in, the pain of her own wound occasionally making her stop a breath as she carried on to the side of the bed.
“You’ve looked better,” Ritana said weakly with a smile.
“You’ve looked far worse,” Saferon replied in kind, taking one of Ritana’s hands into her own.
Ritana laughed a dying woman’s laugh, the second time she had ever been seen laughing.
“They say you’re off to Kabaiila,” Saferon turned her smile into a frown.
“They may say as they please,” Ritana shrugged with all the remaining strength in her shoulders, “yet is it where I belong, after taking the number of lives that I have, as centuries passed?”
“You belong here,” Saferon replied—the safe response.
“No,” Ritana’s breaths became more drawn, more efforted, “not I. It is you who shall remain in this plane, my love. Your...work...is unfinished.”
“What work?” Saferon shook her head.
Ritana clenched onto Saferon’s hand, her nails biting into the flesh as she stared into her eyes.
“What work!?” Saferon repeated.
“The—the legend,” Ritana said weakly, her eyes glazing, “the legend is true!”
“The—golden—knight. The cycle—complete.”
“What cycle? I don’t understand!”
“Find...her...” Ritana said as her grasp began to falter, the light in her eyes flickering out, “find...her...”
“Find who?” Saferon begged, “who!?”
In her last breath, she uttered “Vin....field....”
With that, her hand fell limp, her eyes staring perpetually at Saferon, air ceasing to flow.
Saferon stared blankly at her bloodied hand, using her other hand to gently close Ritana’s eyes as she said quietly, “for all the lives you took, you saved a hundred-fold. I will find this Vinfield. May you make your final flight to Kabaiila.”
It all seemed like nonsense, only it was nonsense spewed from the lips of General Ritana Caal, who only spoke with purpose.
“Captain,” said the voice of a Nywanese soldier from outside the room—only, with an odd accent she couldn’t place.
She stepped outside, concealing her bloodied hand by clasping both her hands behind her back as she greeted two soldiers—the ones she saved before. A tall stalky figure with an eyepatch—and a man with a robotic arm.
“Go ahead,” Saferon said weakly, then cleared her throat and spoke with more authority, “go ahead, soldiers.”
“Agent Good reporting for duty,” said Sam as he swiftly bowed.
“Hi,” Edge waved his new, mechanical hand, likely one of the first things he learned to do with his arm.
“What are you doing here?” she asked them both.
“We’ve recovered fully and are ready to return to duty,” Sam said.
“Found your stick by the way,” Edge pulled the pieces of her Longpick out of a sack, “shouldn’t leave this crap lying around. Somebody could be in for a hell of a shock.”
“All the more reason for people to be more careful where they step,” Saferon retorted.
“I found your shield and sword too,” he added, “you’re still running around with this stone age stuff?”
“Always helped me keep my arms on,” Saferon retorted once more.
“Oh, a cripple joke, nice,” he scoffed.
“What is the condition of the General, Captain?” asked Sam.
“Dead,” Saferon shook her head, “Winnibahn must know. I will deliver the news to her in person. You will both accompany me aboard the Jaegrynn.”
“As you wish,” Sam bowed again.
“Just as long as you deliver the news and not me,” Edge replied, “Losing one arm’s enough, thanks.”
“Dead?” Winnibahn exclaimed as she paced angrily left and right in her ready room of her ship, “dead!?”
“Only in the physical sense,” Saferon stepped in front of Sam and Edge.
“Not fucking funny,” The Admiral’s eyes filled with a deadly combination of sadness and rage, "Why the fuck did you two go it alone!?"
"You know our history," Saferon shuddered, "That's how we'd always done things."
Winnibahn stopped on a dime and looked Saferon in the eye, angrily uttering out, “who? Who did this!?”
The Captain tongued the words carefully, as she remembered the night before that nearly ended her own life as well. She then looked back to Winnibahn, “Ritana recognized him. Called him the Imperator. That Imperator."
A long pause came before Winnibahn spoke lowly and to the side, never unlocking her eyes from Saferon as she spoke, “Agents. Leave us. Wait outside.”
The one-eyed man and his one-armed counterpart departed out the silvery sliding door.
"I'm sorry, Saferon," Winnibahn sighed, looking away, "she was important to us. And I know she meant a lot to you."
"More than you could ever know," Saferon stared at the floor, reminiscing better days.
"Fair enough," Winnibahn then turned away to the window, sighing, “I always wondered when he’d show up. Of course it would take someone like him to take down our Ritana."
“You’ve met him as well,” Saferon said as she slowly approached the Admiral.
“I had,” Win said, “years ago, when Nywan was in its infancy. Oh, we’ve met. Do you remember the days on Noregaa, when we fought the Behraanese invasion?”
“You never missed with a bow,” Saferon reminisced.
“I only missed once,” she turned around, lifting the lower part of her carbonmail shirt to reveal a deep, jagged scar that stretched from kidney to kidney.
“It would appear I was luckier,” Saferon placed her hand on her own recent wound.
“Luckier than Ritana,” Winnibahn noted, “she was a fine woman. Quiet. Disturbed. But she did what she thought was right without fail.”
A painful silence entered the room, if but for a few seconds.
"Did you make him pay?" Winnibahn finally asked.
"I made him hurt," Saferon shook her head, "I made him suffer. But he lives."
“We have to tell the other Generals,” said Saferon, “They need to know about Ritana. So will her brother, Trabin. Poor bastard. And they need to know he’s here, only--”
Saferon tried to find the words. Tried to find meaning.
“Only what, Saferon?”
“Ritana mentioned something,” Saferon continued, “before she died. She said something about a—golden knight, and to find this Vinfield thing.”
Winnibahn tilted her head, “She said that? Ritana said to find Agent Vinfield?”
“Who is this Agent?”
“Captain Laura Vinfield of the Skyreign. Behraanese defects that came looking for their old war hero here. Ended up leaving with her. Heading for Pillars, looking for some ancient ruins--”
“The war hero you refer to is my mother,” Saferon said coldly, “don’t insult my intelligence.”
“Telepathic, right,” Win nodded, “what interests me, is—why Vinfield? What does she have to do with some ancient folklore? She’s nobody of consequence.”
“Yet, my mother trusts this inconsequential person with her life?” Saferon argued, “this inconsequential person’s name is mentioned in the dying words of our fallen General, my friend? I think it’s worth considering that she might be of at least some consequence, don’t you?"
Win had no answer for that. She could not refute Saferon’s point.
Saferon stood silently.
Finally, Win spoke, “I will tell the other generals--”
Before she could finish her sentence, the ship shook violently, causing the two to stumble to the wall. Warning alarms sounded, and an intercom opened, <All hands, the Neversail is under attack!>
“What the hell is going on out there?” Winnibahn shouted.
<Admiral—I can’t believe this-->
“Get the fuck on with it!” she shouted louder.
“It’s the—It’s the Bentorii! Multiple waves inbound!!!”
The Admiral looked suddenly to Saferon, and spoke firmly, barely holding back the panic, “Run. Now. Get as far away as you can from this planet. Call the Ophelia. GO!”