True Chivalry Chapter One

Previous Chapter

The clash of blades rang through the courtyard. A young man with pale pink hair, a thin moustache, dark blue eyes and a rapier was trying to break through the guard of a blue haired, light brown eyed, armoured woman swinging a zweihänder. She was massive at just over a hundred ninety three centimetres tall.

He dropped to the ground, scooped up a fistful of sand and threw it at her face. Quickly, he took a flying leap.

She grabbed his sword holding wrist with one hand and jabbed the handle of her massive blade into his gut. He went down coughing and holding his gut.

“Okay, that’s enough of that contest,” the man who spoke had long silver hair, piercing blue eyes and stood at about a hundred eighty centimetres. “Geoff, can you stand?”

“Give me a moment,” Geoff gasped.

“Now then, who else would like a chance to challenge our vice captain?” the man asked, pulling Geoff up. He turned to look at a pair of nearly identical looking young men. They both had fiery red hair, dark green eyes, freckles and stood at a hundred sixty four centimetres. The only visual difference between the pair was that one had considerably dirtier armour and messier hair.

They looked at each other.

“You do it, Fred,” the neater looking one said.

“Hey, you’re the one who always has a plan. You do it, Rod.” Fred stated.

“But you’re always bragging about your prowess,” Rod said.

“Frederick, Roderick, you work best as a team,” she said. How about you both give it a shot?”

The silver-haired man nodded. “We’ll make this our last training bout for the day.”

The twins looked at one another. “All right,” Roderick said. “Guess we have to try.” He drew a spear.

Frederick nodded back and brought out his own spear.

The twins moved in perfect unison. They struck together, only to have their spears tossed aside with a swing of the zweihänder. They both moved back, ran in opposite directions and attempted to catch their vice captain in a pincer attack.

She dropped to the grass, caught Frederick’s spear and threw him directly into Roderick.

“Okay, that’s enough,” the captain declared. “Miranda, you fought well today.” He turned towards his team. “Remember, you all are the best Torla has to offer. We must all train diligently and strive to better ourselves.”

“Maximilian, isn’t that enough?” They turned to greet a handsome young man wearing a fine silken tunic. He had light brown hair, light blue eyes and stood at about a hundred seventy centimetres.

“Prince Reynard,” Maximilian bowed. His troops followed suit.

“No need for that,” Reynard said. “I’m just here to see if you’re all coming to the ball tonight. It would be an honour to host Torla’s greatest protectors, after all.

Maximillian rose. “We will all be there, your Highness,” he stated.

“We will?” Frederick asked. His brother poked him in the ribs.

“Oh that is marvellous news,” the Prince declared. “I look forward to it.”

He quickly took his leave.

“Seems happy,” a dark haired, dark skinned, crimson eyed woman noted. She looked directly at Miranda as she spoke.

“Max, forgive me for speaking out of turn,” Miranda said. “But I thought events like this were optional.”

“Normally, they are,” he stated. “But his Majesty wishes to speak to our unit tonight. As such, we will all be there.”

“Preklam?” A young woman with red hair and sky blue eyes asked.

“Perhaps,” Maximilian answered. “All of you dress in your finery. As far as the casual observer is to know, we’re going to the party to enjoy ourselves.”

“Well, I do love a party,” Geoff said. “And seeing Dame Miranda in her finery should be a treat.”

“Oh you do go on,” A middle aged woman with brown hair and pink eyes chimed in. “But I see what you mean. With her height she could look quite fetching in a suit. You know, back when I was a young girl women never wore suits. It was always dresses with the colour based on the event. I recall this one party I went to…”

“Judith, hush,” Maximilian said. “Everyone, you’re dismissed. I’ll see you all tonight.”

Miranda was heading home when she heard a voice calling her name. She stopped.

“Hi, Sylvia,” she said.

Sylvia had red hair, green eyes wore a nice green dress. “Mira,” she said. “I was just wondering if you’re coming to the party tonight?”

Miranda nodded. “Our whole squad’s been invited,” she said.

“Oh that’s lovely,” Sylvia said. She smiled. “Save me a dance?”

“Sure,” Miranda agreed.

*****

Truthfully, Miranda didn’t want to go to a stuffy, boring ball. She wanted to stay home and have a nice chat with her grandfather. But she was a knight and she wouldn’t disobey orders without a very good reason.

She didn’t have any dresses, so she put on her formal uniform.

The Page took her invitation at the door. “Presenting, Dame Miranda Pienta!” he declared.

She went directly towards the others in her unit.

“You know,” Geoff said “I could buy you a very nice dress.”

“I could also buy my own dress if I really wanted one,” Miranda stated.

“Yes, but the one I pick would accentuate your curves very nicely,” Geoff said. “Like I did for Janice.” He gestured towards the dark haired, red-eyed woman. She was wearing a tight red dress.

“Looks uncomfortable,” Miranda said.

“It is,” Janice confirmed. “Didn’t have anything else so I trusted the buffoon.”

“Ouch,” Geoff said. “And you look so good in it. Isn’t that more important than comfort?”

“No,” Janice answered.

Prince Reynard walked over to the group. “So nice to see all of you,” he said. “Lady Miranda, would you do me the honour of a dance?”

“My apologies, your Highness,” Miranda said. “But I’ve promised to dance with someone else.”

She hurried away.

Reynard laughed awkwardly and excused himself.

Geoff turned to the red-haired woman. “Hey, Pat, a hundred gold says he keeps trying until she gives him a pity dance.”

“A hundred gold says she successfully avoids him for the entire ball,” Pat countered.

“I’m betting with Patricia,” Roderick said.

“Oh no, she’ll dance with the prince,” Judith said. “He’s royalty, after all. And you can have my bet on that one.”

Miranda moved over to Sylvia and bowed. “May I have this dance?” she asked.

Sylvia beamed. “Of course!” she declared.

They moved out on the dance floor and Miranda took the lead in the waltz. “Is there anyone else you really want to dance with?” she asked.

Sylvia’s face visibly flushed. “No, not really,” she answered.

“Then would it be acceptable for me to monopolise your dance card?” Miranda asked.

“Absolutely!” Sylvia exclaimed. “I mean, that would be quite all right by me.”

Towards the end of the ball, Miranda and her group were called to the throne room. The doors were quickly shut behind them.

The king had snow white hair and was at that stage where one has very noticeable wrinkles. He looked out at the knights.

A short, black haired man with spectacles and golden eyes whispered to him.

“So, this is all eleven of you,” the king said. “Maximilian, why are my Torla dozen missing a member?”

“My apologies, your Majesty,” Maximilian stated. “But the recent retirement of Sir Hector Pienta has left us with a vacancy we’ve not yet filled.”

“Well, no matter,” the king said. He turned towards the oldest member of the group. “Will you be retiring soon as well, Sir Napon?”

“So long as breath remains within me, I shall serve,” the old man answered.

“Good answer,” the king nodded. “But I didn’t come here about your vacancy. I’ve come here about Preklam. Our treaty with them has lost much of its former appeal.” He turned to look at Miranda. “Let’s be clear, I’m not blaming Hector. He negotiated well. Our situation has simply changed.”

“Will we renegotiate?” Frederick asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” the king stated. “We will ask the so-called queen, Cassandra Klais, to meet our envoy in a neutral place. Naturally, she will bring three or four strong attendants. That’s where you all come in. You will strike down her attendants and capture her. Using her as leverage, the Amazons will surely meet our demands.”

Miranda felt a chill run down her spine. She knew a captured queen would be abandoned by the Amazons and it would immediately lead to a long, bloody war.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 214: Welcome, Filorya

“Filorya, I need you to come with me,” Paul said.

“To what end?” Filorya asked.

“You’ll find out when we get there,” Paul said. “I’m sorry for being vague, but this is important.”

“Very well,” Filorya conceded. She followed Paul, uncertain of how to feel about the situation.

“This is our mess hall,” Paul said. “We eat and have certain meetings here.”

“Is there to be a meeting then?” Filorya asked. She hesitantly entered. Surprised to find food and the crew waiting for her.

“We didn’t have any traditional pacifican snacks, but I hope you like what we have,” Farah said.

“What is the purpose of all this?” Filorya asked.

“It is intended to welcome you,” Yuri stated. “If you are going to be a part of the crew, we will have to get to know each other.”

“Consider it our way of saying we’re glad to have you aboard,” Ophelia said.

“Then I will accept,” Filorya stated.

“We haven’t met,” Grace said. “I’m the engineer and this is our morale officer, Baron Wolfgang Andres von Erstein.” She held out the little dog.

“He looks like a baby from Ca’urg,” Filorya observed. “What species is he?”

“We call him a dog,” Grace said.

“What is he for?” Filorya asked. Wolfgang snorted and turned his snout up at her.

“He’s a companion,” Grace said. “Do you not have pets?”

“Only to serve specific purposes,” Filorya answered. “Why is he smelling me?”

“”It’s his way of getting acquainted,” Grace said.

“I suggest lightly brushing your hand over his head,” Yuri stated. “Like so.” She gently pet Wolfgang. “It is an enjoyable sensation.”

“Perhaps another time,” Filorya said.

The party went on for a while. Filorya got to know most of the crew, save Leon who skipped the whole affair.

*****

“These will be your quarters,” Ophelia said. “They’re pretty barren right now, but you can decorate them as you like.”

“You don’t need to go to this much trouble,” Filorya said.

“It’s not trouble at all,” Ophelia said. “Every member of the crew gets their own quarters, except for the people who choose to share based on their relationship.”

“Then I will accept them gratefully. When do I begin my duties?” Filorya inquired.

“Well, since we’re a mercenary ship we don’t always have a mission,” Ophelia stated. “So, your job while we’re waiting for one, or on the way to our next one, will be to train with Farah, Kat & Leon. I suspect you’ll be able to get them in better shape than they’ve ever been.”

“I will begin immediately,” Filorya said.

“No you won’t,” Ophelia said. “Lucy will send you all a training regiment. It will include time for rest and recreation. I expect you to follow it.”

“Pacificans do not normally take time for recreation,” Filorya stated. “We make exceptions only when celebrating a great victory.”

“My people have learned that taking time for recreation helps our performance improve,” Ophelia said. “I don’t know how closely that’s mirrored by pacificans, but we’ll give it a try.”

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True Chivalry: Prologue

Sir Hector Pienta was tired. It wasn’t something he wanted to admit to, but he was getting old and the peace talks he’d been going through with the Amazons had taken a lot out of him.

“You know, Grandpa, when I grow up I’m gonna be a strong knight just like you.”

He looked over at his young grand daughter. She had short cut dark blue hair and bright brown eyes.

“I’m sure you can do it,” he stated. “But what happened to being a baker?”

“I can still cook for myself,” Miranda said. “But if I’m a knight I can make the countryside safe from bandits and other bad guys.”

Hector hesitated. He remembered reaching the carriage that had been bringing her parents home on that fateful day. If Miranda hadn’t been staying with him… “That’s a difficult task to take on,” he said, finally. “But you may just be able to do it.”

The carriage carried them all the way to Preklam, the kingdom of the Amazons.

Hector left first, straightening his suit.

“The Queen is expecting you,” one of the guards said. “She’s in the palace garden.” She wasn’t one Hector had really met and he couldn’t recall her name.

“Thank you,” Hector stated. He allowed himself to be escorted. He held Miranda’s little hand as they walked. She stayed quiet like he’d instructed her.

The garden was beautiful with all kinds of flowering plants. The queen was fully armoured with a long sword hanging in her belt. She had light green hair and dark blue eyes.

“Your Majesty,” Hector bowed.

“Please, just call me Cassandra,” She stated. She knelt down to look at Miranda. “And who do we have here, Hector?”

“My grand daughter,” Hector answered. “My apologies for bringing her. I had no one to look after her.”

“I see,” Cassandra said. “Then she can play with my daughter. Courtney!”

There was a rustling in one of the trees. Hector saw the girl right away. She was about Miranda’s age with hair that was almost the same as her mother’s, maybe a shade darker. She had a mischievous grin and bright blue eyes. She dropped from the tree, landing steadily on her feet.

She ran over, studied Miranda for a moment. “Wanna see my secret spot in the forest?” she asked.

Miranda looked up to her grandfather. He smiled and nodded. The children ran off to play while he discussed the treaty’s terms with Cassandra.

*****

Courtney led Miranda through some bushes and into a small clearing in the shade of a massive tree with bushes grown all around.

“This is my spot,” she said. “These bushes all grow berries too. So, you may be able to find some good ones. Oh, and a small village of pixies lives way up in the tree. They may come down and talk with us, but we mustn’t climb up or do anything rude to them.”

“I’ve never met a pixie before,” Miranda said. She looked around. “It seems like a good base. I bet no adults can get over here.”

“Not easily,” Courtney said. She spread out on the grass and looked up. “So, why are you here with your grandpa?”

“Cause grandpa looks after me,” Miranda said. “I… I don’t have parents any more.”

Courtney studied her for a moment. “Well, we’re kind of alike,” she said. “It’s just me and my mum. I don’t have grand parents or anything.”

“Yeah, but you’re a princess,” Miranda said. “That gives you all kinds of attendants and stuff, right?”

“Amazons don’t have princesses,” Courtney said. “My mum is the queen cause she’s the strongest. When she’s beaten or chooses to step down, whoever the strongest warrior is will take her place.”

“I didn’t know it worked like that,” Miranda muttered. “It’s kind of cool. You going to try to become queen?”

Courtney shrugged. “I’d rather be a normal hunter, I think. What about you?”

“I’m going to be a knight,” Miranda answered. “I’m going to become strong and keep Torla safe.”

“Well, once my mum and your grandpa work things out, our kingdoms will have each other in times of need,” Courtney said. “And we can play together all the time!”

“Why are you so sure they will?” Miranda asked.

“Cause they both really want to,” Courtney said. “And my mum is good at getting what she wants.”

“Still can’t know for sure,” Miranda said.

“Yes I can,” Courtney said.

“Can’t,” Miranda argued.

“Can,” Courtney insisted. “I’ll just ask old lady Elm.”

“Who?” Miranda asked.

“Old Lady Elm,” Courtney repeated. “She’s a dryad with Apollo’s gift. You wanna meet her?”

“I’ve never met a dryad either,” Miranda said. “Where is she?”

“This way!” Courtney called. The girls ran through the forest. They eventually reached a tree that was old and bent, but still going strong. “That’s her tree,” Courtney explained. “We have to be very polite.” She moved carefully forward, followed by Miranda.

“Well, if it isn’t the Klais child.” The old woman who spoke had bark like skin, a bent back, brown eyes with flecks of green in them and dishevelled, twig looking hair. “What brings you and your little friend here?”

“Miss Elm, we wanna know if the treaty between Preklam & Torla is gonna be signed,” Courtney said.

“Treaty?” Elm asked. “Oh yes, I’ve heard whispers of it. Let me look.” She straightened out, her eyes turned black as she chanted slowly. “I see it!” she declared. “The quills will meet the parchment. The treaty will be signed and the next decade will be peaceful.”

“My grandpa is going to make all that happen?” Miranda asked.

“Him, and my mum,” Courtney said. “What about us? Will we be good friends?”

The old woman turned her attention to them. Her eyes remained darkened. “I see the thread that connects you,” she said. “It is a powerful thread indeed. You will spend much time together. But there’s a shadow over your future. Yes, it will show itself fifteen years hence. It threatens to sever your thread. If you would preserve it, you must both be strong and fight for your bond when the time comes.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Miranda said.

“Don’t be such a worry wart,” Courtney said, throwing her arms around Miranda. “She said it’ll be fifteen years from now. We can worry about it then. Come on, let’s pick some delicious berries.”

The old dryad watched them go. Her eyes caught one last glance of the red thread connecting them as they vanished. She sighed. The shadow she’d seen worried her. Not just because of what it could mean for them, but because of what it could mean for the entire region.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 213: Decision Reached

The Intelligence test wasn’t what Ophelia had expected. There was a large wall with several strange symbols etched on it. The centre of the wall was empty, but there were small symbols matching those found around the wall that could be placed there.

“Is this just a sudoku puzzle?” Kat asked.

“Oh, I get it!” Farah declared. “If we draw the grid like so…” She used her hand held to set up a 9×9 grid and reproduced the symbols on the wall.

“Assuming it is a similar puzzle,” Yuri stated “The solution is…”

“Oh, hush,” Ophelia said. “We may not have your enhanced processing speeds but we can solve a puzzle like this.”

“Would it not be preferable to resolve it hastily?” Yuri asked.

“I kind of like puzzles like this,” Farah said.

“Yeah, so do I,” Ophelia said.

“The tough part is going to be this symbol,” Farah said. “It’s not actually anywhere on the grid.”

“We’ll have to fill one of the squares completely and get it through the process of elimination,” Ophelia said.

“It’s definitely an expert level one,” Kat noted. “At least it has that going for it.”

“Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if it was just an easy one?” Ophelia joked.

Yuri watched and waited while her companions went to work. It took them twenty three minutes, thirty eight seconds before they had the solution ready to go. The wall quickly slid up to give them access to the treasure inside.

“It normally takes me longer to do those,” Farah said.

“Well, three heads are better then one,’ Ophelia stated. “Still, a strange test.”

“The pacificans do not have anything like sudoku in their culture,” Yuri stated. “For them, it would take effort to recognise the nature of the puzzle and to find a solution. We were also on a timer.”

“A timer?” Ophelia asked.

“Affirmative,” Yuri stated. “There was a subtle ticking from the time we entered. I do not know what would happen if we ran out of time.”

“You could have mentioned it,” Ophelia said.

“I considered doing so, but was concerned that it would impact your enjoyment of the activity and cause you all undue pressure.” Yuri stated. “Besides, I was confident in all of you being able to overcome it.”

“Well, it all worked out,” Farah said. “So, let’s go back. We need to prepare Filorya’s welcoming party.”

“Welcoming…” Ophelia had to take a moment to ponder what Farah had just said.

“She took that oath so she’s sticking around, right?” Farah asked.

“It would be a reasonable assumption,” Yuri agreed.

Ophelia thought for a moment. “We’ll discuss this when we get back to the Cerberus.”

*****

The crew, minus Filorya, gathered in the conference room.

“We’re all here for a simple reason,” Ophelia said. “We need to decide how to deal with Filorya. I can release her from her vow and send her on her way, or we can welcome her aboard as a part of the crew.”

“Easy, send her home,” Leon stated. “Done.”

“I disagree,” Paul said. “She seems eager to learn about our culture and prove herself to us. I think it would be prudent to give her the opportunity.”

“I haven’t really met her. So, I don’t care one way or the other,” Grace said.

“She would be viewed in a highly negative light if she were to offer her loyalty only to have it considered not worthwhile,” Yuri stated. “I have had the opportunity to speak with her at length. I have also observed her abilities in action. I believe we should permit her to continue with us.”

“I’d like to be friends with her,” Farah said.

“We do have room,” Lucy pointed out. “And a loyal pacifican could come in handy.”

“We have had a lot of run ins with pacificans,” Kat stated. “Maybe having her along could help us avoid some further problems.”

“So, Everyone wants her around but me?” Leon asked. “Fine. Whatever. Keep her around. I don’t give a shit.”

“Well, it appears that we have a welcoming party to organise,” Ophelia said. “We’ll go to the canteen and get things ready. Paul, we’ll give you a signal when we need you to bring her.”

“You all have fun with that,” Leon muttered. “I’m going to bed.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 212: What to do with Filorya?

“What were you thinking?” Paul demanded.

“She was doing well in the trials and she wanted to keep going,” Ophelia said.

“She’s still recovering from exposure,” Paul said. “Not to mention she has open wounds and you sent her into a small area filled with dangerous gases.”

“I guess I didn’t think of that,” Ophelia admitted.

“No, you didn’t,” Paul said. “I know this isn’t a traditional crew and you don’t have to put your foot down that often, but this was a case where you should have.”

“Well, that’s enough of that,” Leon said. “Ophelia, let’s head back. Yuri and Farah will be waiting.” He half dragged Ophelia from the medical bay.

“How mad is he?” Ophelia wondered.

“I’d say he’s more disappointed right now than mad,” Leon answered.

“That may actually be worse,” Ophelia muttered. “Think he’ll forgive me?”

“Sure,” Leon said. “Even if she was a proper part of the crew, he’d forgive you. Especially since it all worked out.”

Ophelia had to stop and think for a moment. It was true, Filorya had taken an oath but she wasn’t an active member of the crew. She and Lucy were going to have to decide whether or not to change that.

“Leon,” Ophelia said. “I want you to stay here and look after Paul. I’ll take Kat back with me.”

“Because she’s smarter than me?” Leon asked. “It’s fine. I figured that was coming. Besides, I’d just be bored by a quiz or puzzle or whatever they’re going to test you with.”

*****

“Do you often talk to Captain Mistress like that?” Filorya asked

“Only when I think she needs a reminder,” Paul said. “Don’t worry. You’ll recover. You just need proper rest.”

“I can not return to the mission?” Filorya asked.

“I understand your eagerness,” Paul said. “This must be a once in a lifetime situation for you. But you went through two of the trials and you got to see the Mausoleum. Now, you need to rest.”

“This crew is very strange,” Filorya said. “On a pacifican ship, a medical officer would not speak to the captain in such a way. Nor would they give a warrior imperatives.”

“Well, this isn’t a pacifican ship,” Paul said. He handed her a glass of water. “Drink this. I’ve put a mild sedative in it to help you sleep.”

*****

Yuri passed the endurance test with no real problems by herself. After all, she didn’t need to breathe and she could shut off the systems being targeted easily enough.

When she returned, Farah had a nice pile of gems carved out.

“You have been productive,” Yuri observed.

“Well, you were gone a long time and I didn’t have anything else to do,” Farah stated. “You think Filo’s okay?”

“I do not believe she sustained heavy damage,” Yuri answered. “Paul should be capable of repairing her. Why are you concerned? Have you had an opportunity to form a bond with her in this short amount of time?”

“Not really,” Farah answered. “But she’s one of us now, right? So, we have to look out for each other.”

Yuri and Farah had quite a large haul of gems when Ophelia returned with Kat.

“Okay,” Ophelia said. “We just have the intelligence trial left. We’ll finish that up and complete this operation.”

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Escalating Rebellion

There are many worlds out there. A number of galaxies, stars and planets. One such planet is Swieth. On this world, they possess the capacity for intergalactic travel while maintaining a feudal society where many kingdoms form alliances and wage war over territory.

Two such kingdoms were Retunia and Bloir. They were neighbours and had maintained a steady alliance for centuries. Yet neither truly trusted the other. Both knew that in any moment of weakness, the other could capitalise on it to expand their own influence. So, they worked hard to keep their kingdoms tied together.

Political marriages were a favoured method. One year, Retunia engaged their princess, Azilla to Bloir’s crown prince. Bloir, in return, engaged their princess, Vivuna to Retunia’s crown prince. As a consequence, the princesses saw one another at many diplomatic events. Although they barely spoke. Until one fateful night.

It was a stodgy party. Just a bunch of diplomats and aristocrats gathering around to discuss intergalactic affairs. Naturally, what was best for the common person did not come up.

Azilla grew bored of the whole thing fairly quickly. She excused herself to the balcony to get some air. She noticed she wasn’t alone right away. Vivuna was already there.

“I had no intention of intruding,” Azilla stated. “I’ll leave.”

“No, stay,” Vivuna invited. “We’ll be family soon enough.”

Azilla accepted and moved close. “My brother questioned where you were.”

“Did he?” Vivuna asked. Her voice was clearly disinterested.

“You do not notice him?” Azilla asked.

Vivuna shrugged. “Do you notice my brother?”

“Not particularly,” Azilla admitted. “I suppose it will be difficult for us both.”

“Not so difficult,” Vivuna stated. “We will be queens and we will be able to share our woes.”

The two continued talking, far past when the party had ended. When they parted, Azilla felt both thrilled and terrified. She had noticed Vivuna.

*****

The princesses continued meeting at functions. Their families were thrilled to see the princesses get along so well. They didn’t suspect the feelings that were starting to blossom.

Things came to a head when the families met for a celebration. They were planning on holding the weddings in one year.

Azilla wasn’t paying much attention. Vivuna found her after she’d wandered off.

“Is something bothering you or is the reality just crashing down onto you?”

“I can not say,” Azilla said.

“You can’t?” Vivuna put a gentle hand on Azilla’s shoulder. “Is it something scandalous?”

“That isn’t wrong,” Azilla confessed.

“Then I shall tell you my scandalous secret first,” Vivuna said. “Then you can say yours.”

“Like you even have one,” Azilla muttered.

“I am not so pure as you think,” Vivuna stated. “The truth is, I have noticed someone. And not a man.” She looked directly at Azilla when she said it.

Azilla took in her confession. “Then, we are alike,” she said. “A pity it is taboo or…” Vivuna kissed her in that moment. Azilla embraced her back.

“We can’t,” she gasped.

“We will be discrete,” Vivuna assured her.

That night, the princesses went from friends to lovers.

*****

They continued meeting in public as friends and in secret as lovers. Even as the wedding date drew nearer. They spoke one night while they were laying together after a tryst.

“In a way, you’re fortunate,” Vivuna told her. “My brother will have so many mistresses that he barely bothers you.”

“I am concerned for you,” Azilla said. “My brother can be kind, but there are times he drinks too much. And he is not good tempered when he does.”

“I will be wary,” Vivuna stated. “At least we’ll be able to keep meeting.”

“It is some comfort,” Azilla agreed.

*****

Time passed and the wedding drew closer.

The princesses were cuddling after another tryst.

“I have begun thinking that I do not wish to share you,” Azilla confessed. “The idea of my brother touching you makes me feel ill.”

“I feel the same,” Vivuna stated. “More and more, I wish to be your only. It’s a pity that our kingdoms’ laws don’t allow for a princess to be wed to a princess.”

“A great pity,” Azilla agreed. “As is, we must marry princes and become mothers.”

“You know,” Vivuna said “there are other worlds that allow two women to marry. I might be able to charter us a ship. If you wish.”

Azilla kissed her. “I do wish to escape with you. But relying on mercenaries is a dangerous notion. I do have an idea, now that you bring that up.”

“What is your idea?” Vivuna inquired.

“My parents commissioned a new, prototype star ship,” Azilla explained. “We can take it under the pretence of taking a quick trip to find presents for our future husbands.”

“And by the time they come looking, the ship will be sold and we’ll be long gone,” Vivuna stated. “But are you sure? We’ll never be able to return and it will cause tensions between our families.”

“They’ll get over it,” Azilla said. “I just want us to be together. In the open, without husbands or rules that tell us we can’t.”

“Then let’s go.” Vivuna said. “We’ll find somewhere in the galaxy we can belong.”

*****

For a couple days, the royal families thought nothing of the princesses being away on a trip. By the time they noticed something amiss, the ship was sold. Azilla and Vivuna were somewhere in the vast galaxy. They could never return, but they didn’t mind. They were finally free to be themselves.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 211: Medical Emergency

“So, that’s two trials,” Ophelia noted. “Filorya, you seem to be the expert on this place. What would make the androids attack us?”

“Them, Captain Mistress?” Filorya asked. “They are here to keep this place hidden and to make sure the dead are undisturbed. So long as we do not disturb the bodies, they should leave us to our trials.”

“They won’t care that we’re prying gems from the walls?” Ophelia asked.

“They shouldn’t,” Filorya said. “Such a thing is to expected as a reward for merely finding this place. Just don’t allow the petty plunder to distract you from the true treasures.”

They made their way to the vitality trial.

“What can we expect here?” Ophelia asked.

“Surely, it wouldn’t be something that constantly injures us and sees how long we can last,” Farah stated.

“Physical pain is unlikely for a trial,” Filorya agreed. “It is more likely to be something physically and mentally draining. Possibly even lethal in the long term.”

“And I suppose you want to challenge it?” Ophelia asked.

“Yes, Captain Mistress,” Filorya answered.

“Yuri, you go in with her,” Ophelia said. “Whatever they use shouldn’t have nearly as much of an effect on you.”

“That is true,” Yuri stated. “I will bring her back if things become problematic.”

“And I will safeguard you,” Filorya promised, patting Yuri on the back.

They went inside the tomb. The treasure chamber was a closed off room with a metal covered case.

“It appears to utilise a timed locking mechanism,” Yuri observed. “Once we activate the case, the metal will retract at a specific interval.”

“Then, the trial will be enduring until it opens,” Filorya stated.

“I could try accessing it and forcing it to open,” Yuri volunteered.

“Don’t,” Filorya said. “I am certain that my ancestors would have programmed the guardians to activate in order to preserve the integrity of their tests. It would be dangerous for Captain Mistress and the other two.”

Yuri nodded. “I will defer to your greater expertise in this matter.” She approached the case. “I am activating the mechanism. Prepare yourself.”

“I am ready,” Filorya said.

The second Yuri activated the case, it started. A high-pitched siren reverberated through the room. Yuri deactivated her audio receptors in response. Filorya didn’t have that option. She covered her ears with her hands and grimaced.

Yuri detected something else too. She gestured to Filorya and brought a hand over her nose and mouth. Filorya mouthed the word “gas” and Yuri nodded.

For a pacifican, it was a mildly toxic chlorine-based gas. For a human, it would have been quickly lethal.

Yuri and Filorya waited. Ten minutes, twenty minutes. They were approaching thirty when Filorya collapsed.

Yuri glanced at the case. It wasn’t open yet. She hurriedly picked up Filorya and made her exit, reactivating her audio receptors as she went.

She heard the siren deactivate and the case lock reset as she left.

*****

Farah was the first one over.

“What happened?” Ophelia asked.

“The trial activated a high-pitched siren and a low dose of chlorine gas into our enclosed space,” Yuri answered. “It should have been only mildly toxic to pacificans but the exposure must have proven too prolonged for her and she collapsed.”

“That doesn’t sound that bad,” Leon said. “I’ll take the trial.”

“I would not recommend it,” Yuri stated. “The gas is far more lethal for humans.”

“Damn, she’s not responding,” Ophelia said. “Leon, help me get her to the shuttle. We’ll take her back to the Cerberus. Yuri, I’ll count on you to handle the trial on your own. You and Farah can pry up some more gems after that. We’ll take the last trial on later. Lucy, you got all that?”

“I’ve already told Paul to prepare medical,” Lucy answered over the communicator. “He muttered something about ‘damned stubborn pride.'”

Ophelia and Leon took Filorya from Yuri and carefully carried her back towards the shuttle.

“Keep track of her breathing,” Ophelia ordered. “And give her one of those oxygen tanks. It might help get her sinuses cleared.”

“Even I can handle that much first aid,” Leon said. “Don’t know why we’re wasting it on her though.”

Ophelia heard him mutter that last part but chose to ignore it, for the moment. She had to get them back to the ship quickly.

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The Last Draconian Finale

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

Illyana finally woke up.

“Are you going to be okay to keep going?” I asked.

“I think I’ll have a migraine for the next month,” Illyana answered. “But I’ll be fine. Let’s find Michael.”

Getting down was a challenge, given the hole Entrik had left behind. I had to help Illyana too, since she couldn’t see to find hand and foot holds.

We found our way down to the ground floor. There was a staircase to a basement partly blocked by rubble.

I quickly chanted and slammed my palm against the floor. The ground rippled and surged forward, pushing the rubble back so we could pass.

We descended. There was a heavy scent of blood and the area looked like a torture chamber.

We found Michael in the central area. My heart sank immediately.

His chest was horribly burned, his armour was melted into his flesh.

One of his wings was completely shredded. His silver hair was both matted with blood and singed. His flesh had turned even paler than Illyana’s. For a moment, I thought we were too late.

Illyana hurried over, seemingly sensing something I couldn’t. “Michael?” she grasped his shoulder gently.

“… yana,” His voice was so low I could barely hear him. I moved over to them.

“We’ll get a cleric,” Illyana said. “Just hold on.”

“It will not help,” he whispered. “I… kept my vow but it… did not help.”

Illyana felt around the ground for a moment and took his hand. “Save your strength. Don’t try to talk.”

“Illyana, I will not make it,” he gasped. “I can already see Thanatos approaching.”

“Michael,” her voice was pleading and sounded like she was going to cry. I put a hand on her shoulder, not sure what else to do.

“Go ahead,” I tried to keep my voice collected.

“My people are avenged,” blood dripped from his mouth as he spoke. “But light must still be shined on Sadow’s misdeeds.”

“We’ll make sure of it,” I promised.

“Thank you,” Michael stated. “Illyana, do not cry. If anything, I was fortunate. When my people fell, I was granted a stay of execution.”

“It’s so damned unfair,” Illyana stated. She was crying at that point. We were both crying. “This has been looming over your head forever and now that you’re finally free of it…”

“Now, I am truly free,” Michael gasped. “I am thankful to have had friends and companions like you. It is proof that I did something right.” His head fell back.

I put my ear against his chest. There was a heartbeat, barely. It managed to keep going for about thirty seconds.

*****

Illyana Fensen

My oldest friend was gone. All I could do was hold his swords close.

I barely remember the trip back to Callie’s estate. I remember hearing Tynan’s massive hoofsteps greeting us. I remember hearing Callie say “You’re all right, thank the Gods!” followed by a loud smooch.

Most of all, I remember Aiko bounding over, asking where Michael was and then falling very silent. She knew even before anyone said anything.

We returned to Sadow’s estate a couple days later to gather the bodies, including Michael’s, for a proper pyre. I stayed with Aiko while the others worked. She hadn’t been speaking much.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” she whispered. “We never even had a chance.”

“I know,” I agreed. “I loved him too. In a different way, of course. It’s so hard to process that someone you’ve been with forever is just gone.”

“I wish I could have known him as long as you did,” Aiko said. “It feels like there’s so much more to say to him… to do. I just feel so… empty.”

I gave her a hug. “Do you want to come back to Wicadia with me?” I asked. “Maybe talking things over would help both of us.”

We sat in silence for a while. “No, I think it’s too soon,” Aiko answered. “I need some time on my own. Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” I stated. “We all grieve in our own way.”

We mostly stood in silence while the bodies burned.

After that, things move pretty quickly.

Lynai said she’d be staying with Callie for a while if any of us needed her. Tynan and Gabriel were eager for their next adventure.

Aiko travelled with me for a while. We both carefully avoided talking about Michael. I think we both wanted to have some time to think about him on our own.

“Well, we’re a couple hours away from Wicadia,” Aiko said. “I’ll take my leave now. I… I hope.” She stopped and took a deep breath. “I’ll come see you, when I’m ready.”

“I understand,” I stated. “Aiko, take the Phoebian blade. I think he would have wanted you to have it.” I held it out for her.

“You should keep it,” Aiko argued. “You were his best friend.”

“And I’ll take the Helion Blade with me because of our friendship,” I stated. “But really, I want you to take the other. Please?”

I let her pull the sword from me.

“I’ll treasure it,” she said. “Farewell.”

“Until we meet again,” I said. I listened to her footsteps fade and I was almost alone.

On my shoulder, Drake made a chattering sound as though to cheer me up.

*****

I returned to the Academy and heard a familiar voice.

“Well, hello again.”

It sounded like Michael, but I knew it couldn’t be.

“Pan?” I asked.

“Not one to let wishful thinking get in the way are you?” the voice shifted. “Yes, it’s me.”

“Why are you here this time?” I asked.

“I’m just here as a witness,” he answered. “You’ll soon find out why.”

“Illyana!” She was running towards me. I could hear it. I could also hear Professor Mord’s cane tapping.

“I’m home, Mother,” I said.

She hugged me tight. “My poor Girl. I’ve heard… well, never mind what I’ve heard.”

“I thought you were still in Het Wald,” I said.

“Well, the situation is stable now,” she answered. “They don’t need me. Although I did run into an interesting visitor on my way back.”

“A visitor?” I asked. “Who?”

I heard a nervous throat clear. “Illyana. It’s been too long.”

“Sylvie!” I ran towards her voice and collapsed into her arms. “There’s so much I need to talk to you about.”

She gently stroked my hair. “So I’ve gathered. Is it okay if I say something first?”

“Anything you want,” I answered.  Though I suspected she was here about our promise.

She cleared her throat. “Illyana, I love you. If anything this time I’ve had since my last confession has only enhanced that.”  I’d been expecting the general sentiment, but hearing her actually saying it, hearing the passion in her voice, still blew me away.

“You don’t have to become my bride if you don’t want to,” Sylvie said. “But I wanted you to know my feelings haven’t changed.”

I felt her cheeks. They were warm. Then I kissed her. “Neither have mine,” I whispered.

“You kids better just get the ceremony over with soon,” Professor Mord called out. “I don’t want to miss it.”

I’d forgotten he was there.

“I can transfer to the Temple in Wicadia,” Sylvie said. “I can mostly help in situations in the surrounding area.”

“Well haven’t you thought this through?” Mother stated. “That’s quite admirable.”

“You honour me, Miss Elivy,” Sylvie said.

“Please, call me Luc,” Mother said. “We are going to be family, after all. Now, Illyana, tell us everything you need to talk about.”

A crack of lightning interrupted before I could even begin.

There was something heavy in the air. Everyone was silent. This had to be why Pan was observing.

“Luc Elivy, you have been chosen!” A commanding female voice rang out.

“What is it?” I whispered.

“A floating woman in very intricate robes with white hair, a fair face and glowing eyes,” Sylvie whispered.

“Chosen for what, Great Hecate?” My mother asked.

“My Magi have been thinned,” Hecate’s voice answered. “You are the second replacement. Illyana Fensen, you will be the third.”

“With all respect, Great Goddess,” I said “I can not serve you in this way.”

I felt a powerful shock wave. It nearly knocked me over. “And why, pray tell, is that?”

I was terrified, but I had to stand my ground. “Because your generous gifts for your Magi include not ageing,” I answered. “And there is someone I can not have leaving me behind.” I squeezed Sylvie’s hand.

“Then let your life forces be tied together,” Hecate decreed. “As you do not age, neither shall she. Should one of you die, so shall the other. Now you may serve and, hopefully, not have regrets.”

The heavy atmosphere dissipated. I felt very strange.

Being a Magi would be a new challenge, for certain. But I was confident that I could serve in that role more compassionately and less arrogantly than those who had fallen. For all my friends. For my soon to be bride and for my dearest, oldest friend. So that his sacrifice would really, truly mean something greater.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 210: Filorya’s Determination

Leon cracked his knuckles. “All right, I’m lifting it.”

“I’ll grab the treasure,” Farah reassured him. “Just warn me if you need to drop it.”

“I won’t drop it,” Leon stated. He grasped the handle and pulled it down. The slab was pretty heavy. Probably around two hundred thirty kilos, but he managed to get it moved. Farah reached inside and pulled out a jewel encrusted weapon. It looked a bit like a sickle, but with a  jagged edge.

Leon let the slab down with a sigh of relief.

“I’ll open the next one,” Farah said.

“I can manage it,” Leon said.

“I’m sure you can, but it’ll be easier on both of us if we trade off,” Farah said.

Yuri opened hers one-armed without any real problems. The weapon inside hers was more like a bladed war fan.

Filorya pulled. She didn’t have Yuri’s mechanical strength, which made it quite a challenge. Most people, pacifican or otherwise, would have just called for someone else to help so they could get the treasure more easily.

Filorya, however, wasn’t most people. She had spent her adolescent years reading about the great heroes of the past. She had deeply admired them and trained to try and become as much like them as she could. For her, this was a test she couldn’t decline. One that would prove she hadn’t spent all that time in vain. All she had to do was pass.

She pulled. Slowly, but surely, the slab was rising. As it rose, she could sense her triumph getting closer. Finally, the treasure behind was revealed. She reached in with her free hand, grabbed it and was finally able to let the slab drop.

“You may have been able to acquire that treasure more quickly if you had pulled the lever with both arms and then released your grip with one of them,” Yuri stated.

“I didn’t think of that,” Filorya admitted.

“Well, we’ll load up the treasure from here and move onto the next building,” Ophelia said. She looked at Filorya. “I thought you weren’t going to make it for a moment there. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Captain Mistress,” Filorya handed Ophelia the jewelled weapon she’d retrieved.

She noted that Yuri had three while Leon and Farah had gotten two. Still, she was proud of herself for taking on the trial by herself and passing it.

*****

They dropped off everything, carefully placing the weapons in secure containers, before moving on to the test of skill. It was also fairly straight forward. There was a table covered with jewels and jewelled weapons past an obstacle course filled with spinning blades and other deadly devices. The entombed bodies had their coffins lining the walls as though they were being given preferential treatment as spectators.

“Yuri, take a bag over there, grab everything and come back,” Ophelia said. “Even if one of those things manages to hit you, you should be fine.”

“Please wait, Captain Mistress,” Filorya entreated. “I would request the honour of challenging this gauntlet first.”

“You just recovered from exposure,” Ophelia argued. “And you could easily be killed if you get hit. Yuri stands the best chance of getting through safely.”

“Perhaps, ” Filorya agreed. “But I am not officially a part of your crew. If I fail and am slain, you will lose nothing. If I succeed, you will have your prize.”

“I don’t want to see you get yourself killed just for your pride,” Ophelia stated.

“Just let her do it,” Leon said. “No reason to interfere with her life goals.”

“Please, Captain Mistress,” Filorya entreated.

“All right, fine,” Ophelia agreed. “If it really means that much to you.”

“Thank you,” Filorya said. “I am in your debt.”

She took up her position, observed the course for a moment and ran in.

“Nice of you to help her out,” Farah whispered, nudging Leon.

Leon shrugged. “I just don’t care if she fails.”

Filorya dived under a crashing piston, narrowly side-stepped a swinging blade and vaulted over some spikes.

The course was designed so that it had to be moved through quickly and decisively to avoid injury. Filorya suffered some minor cuts from narrow misses on her way through, but managed to complete the course and reach the goal.

She’d completed two trials. She really hoped that Ophelia would let her challenge the other two.

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The Last Draconian 105: Destined Battle

First Chapter

Previous Chapter

Lynai Elfblood

I kept a careful watch around us. If I’d wanted to, I could have left Illyana behind and gone down after Sadow & Michael. But I knew I couldn’t do that. She was still out cold. If I left her, any of Sadow’s soldiers could come in to investigate the noise and find her.

No, I was effectively stuck until she regained consciousness. I wasn’t really worried about the two of us. Callie and the others would probably keep Sadow’s people at bay. Besides, it would be tough to get up to us with the hole Entrik had left.

I was, however, worried about Michael. He was by himself and against an enemy he was prepared to die to beat. I just hoped he remembered his promise and didn’t act rashly.

*****

Michael Ryufan

I fired a void bolt down at Sadow. It was a desperate attempt at disrupting his major spell. Unfortunately, it was not a successful attempt. He had prepared for my attack and shielded himself. The bolt was harmlessly broken.

“Burning Tempest!” The words were fierce and loud. A dark cloud formed overhead. I took to the air, attempting to get above it. It moved to position itself above me. Streaks of fire and lightning rained from the cloud.

I knew I had to evade the bolts carefully. I had my aether shield to fall back upon but I did not want to use it unless I absolutely had to. Using the magic of my blades was somewhat draining.

I twisted in the air and flew between two bolts. I dashed away from another. One bolt nearly connected, but I managed to shield myself from it.

I knew I could keep evading if I was careful. “Flash of thunder!” A bright light flashed in front of me. I momentarily lost my vision. That was when I was hit. It was a fierce blow directly to my chest. I was sent spinning. I tried to correct myself with my wings. Unfortunately, my vision was still blurred and a second bolt hit my left wing. I could not maintain my flight and I crashed into the ground.

I could see Sadow. My vision was blurry, but I could see him. I tested my left wing. It would not move. The injury to my chest was significant as well. One of my hearts had stopped completely. The other was attempting to compensate.

Sadow attempted to end our battle with a quick fireball. I was able to shield against it.

“Still going, are you?” he muttered. “Well, it won’t be long.”

He was not exaggerating. I was rapidly losing my vigour. I briefly considered the Binding Breath spell but decided against it. I had vowed to fight to live. I rushed towards him with my blades extended.

He attempted to halt my advance with a lightning bolt but I had predicted his spell and prepared for it. A powerful gust of wind launched me into the air. I could not fly with only one functional wing, but it was enough to carry me away from his bolt while allowing me to maintain my momentum.

He erected his flaming wall once again. I activated my aether shield and leapt through, slashing at him with both blades as I went. The shield shattered just before I cleared, earning me some nasty burns to my legs and tail. Still, my efforts were rewarded. His right arm was sent flying and he staggered back, nursing a chest wound.

“I mustn’t die,” he muttered.

I used a whirlwind spell to propel myself forward. A fiery bolt struck me in the chest but I also found my mark. The Phoebian blade was lodged in his skeletal chest.

I could not maintain my magic and began falling, but I did twist around as I did, bringing the Helion blade crashing into the back of his neck. I fell to the ground with the decapitated head rolling near me.

I had won but I could not rise.

Next Chapter

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