The Praedian Records

J.G. Phoenix

Fleeing Victory Chapter Three

 Fleeing Victory

Chapter Three

When they first arrived, Ricard wanted nothing more than to go down into the tunnels to escape the corrupted crystal mounds on the surface. Once they were in the tunnels however, he couldn’t wait to get back to the surface, away from the automated guns and greater number of corrupted crystals. After they came up for air only to be greeted by heavy gunfire, he realized that the 203rd’s first and biggest mistake was coming out here to begin with. They had no air support, and no idea how many they were fighting.

It could be a lot worse. While they were under fire, no one was out of action yet. Ricard guessed the rocks and uneven terrain around the tunnel entrance was providing cover for both sides. With one crucial exception coming over the horizon, the enemy could only shake them up for now.

“It’s just one drake! Shoot it down!” Lieutenant Rog tried his best to marshal the 203rd’s anti air tanks, but shells and rockets were coming down on them from every direction. In all the chaos, it was a wonder he was even able to keep track of the Munican bomber.

The anti air kept up the barrage despite the high explosive harassment, but the dragon-like plane managed to release its entire payload, receiving mostly superficial damage as it pulled out of its dive. The wounded drake left a trail of black smoke and dread behind as Ricard and so many others braced for the bombs. When they came down, the blasts were far, far behind them. Rog never gave the order for all units to report in. No one was anywhere near that impact.

Ricard came up through the commander’s hatch to see the rising smoke a fifth of a mile behind them.  “What, did he choke?” It took a special kind of idiot to miss by that much, Ricard mused to himself.

“He missed?” Nicholas called up from inside Chaser’s hull.

“By a country mile,” Ricard said, cocking an eyebrow at the dark column in the sky. “Something’s not right here.”

The sensor team’s report was the missing piece of the puzzle. “We think the tunnel’s collapsing, sir. Checking with the rear for confirmation. Over.”

If the tunnel collapsed, they couldn’t retreat from this attack underground. Ricard winced, realizing that dive bomber hadn’t missed his target at all. In fact, he may have doomed them all if the sensor team’s suspicions turned out to be true. They weren’t so far behind enemy lines that they couldn’t make it back to their allies with the fuel they had left, but they certainly weren’t going to fight their way back overland with enemies in every direction and no air cover.

Ricard had a feeling–a terrible sinking feeling that the Municans had an exceptionally large division of their own armored vehicles rumbling toward them at that very moment.

Lieutenant Rog swept the whole battalion with new orders, instructing the scouts to disperse and find the 203rd a way out of the area. The anti air tanks were to distribute themselves evenly throughout the formation of tanks as they formed a large defensive circle. Lastly, the light and medium tanks were to line up their shots carefully, and try to pick off any Municans that got too close.

The crystal mounds that subtly plagued them at the Cordaean ingress weren’t quite so numerous here; at least, Ricard thought to himself, maneuvering wasn’t going to be difficult. He slipped back into the turret and closed the hatch. “Alright, Nick, we hold here until one of the scouts finds a gap we can slip through.”

“So hull-down,” Nickolas began, before something occurred to him. “Hey wait, earth hull-down or metal hull-down?”

Ricard smiled bitterly. The terrain here was wildly uneven. There were plenty of spots to dig in and wait, but few of them offered a good enough angle to shoot back at anything that came their way. Metal hull-down it was.

“Chaser, get those arms deployed and cover your body. Then ease into our slot in the formation.”

Chaser rapidly unfolded its arms and the skirt armor attached to them as it began moving. As numerous tanks began to form a heavily armored circle around their logistics vehicles, more and more eyes looked to the sky. The 203rd’s formation would protect them from a good deal of the sporadic, random shells coming in, but from the sky, everyone knew they were starting to resemble an enormous bullseye. With all of their support units bunched up, a well placed airstrike would devastate them. It was up to the scout cars to find them a route out of this engagement, and fast.

Casey kept his head down as Alice raced around plumes of dirt and debris shooting up out of the ground. Whether it was a sudden turn or driving right over a mound, they were evading everything the Municans were throwing at them. It was times like this, when they were under fire and running for their lives, that Casey realized just how reckless the woman behind the wheel was.

“Ya didn’t have to jump that, did ya?” Casey pleaded as he bounced helplessly beneath his machinegun mount. If not for his helmet …

“We’re not taking hits, right? Feel free to complain when that happens.”

“Well that’s not fair-” Casey suddenly found his head firmly against the side of the scout car as Alice swerved to the right, narrowly avoiding another shell. Dust and smoke poured into the vehicle from the viewport and left Casey half blind. “That count?”

“No,” Alice called back, only sparing him a quick glance.

Casey tried to keep himself upright as the Municans threw more and more fire at them, but more than once he’d wound up on his back or dazed from smacking his head against something harder than his helmet. Wishing he had a seatbelt–and a proper seat for that matter–he put on his goggles and pulled his scarf up over his mouth before climbing back up to the gunner mount.

There wasn’t much for Casey to see outside at first, only the signs of battle behind them and the endless desert up ahead. Even so, he was relieved to not see any of their own nearby. That at least meant there were no casualties that he or Alice could confirm.

It wasn’t long before Casey noticed the lack of shells coming at them. Since Alice wasn’t driving like she wanted to flip the car anymore, he wasn’t getting thrown around like a ragdoll. The real question was what changed. “Why did they stop shooting us?”

There was no response. Casey smacked the roof with his palm a few times. “Alice, the shooting stopped. Think we broke through.”


“Time to call it in.”

“Wait.” Casey had to know what was happening, first. The Municans weren’t shooting at them anymore, but something was still coming in the distance. Like the first nasty surprise the 203rd received when they arrived, the next attack was coming from the air. He counted at least six drakes.

“I see them,” Alice called up to him. “We need to warn the Lieutenant.”

“Oh we’re gonna do more than just warn’em,” Casey said, grabbing onto his machinegun and doing a quick inspection. “Good, no damage.”

“We’re going to attack them?!”

“Just annoy’em a little. If even one breaks off and goes for us, then that’s one less for Rick to have to deal with.”

“Yes,” Alice half agreed, “but we don’t have a big enough gun to bring down a drake.” If one did decide to attack them, it would be all they could do just to stay alive. If they were doing this, Alice needed to find them some good ground. Her searching quickly went from hasty to desperate as Casey got the gun ready for ‘pester-fire.’

“There’s nothing out here,” she hissed. At least, she thought frantically, there was nothing she could see from such rough terrain. There could be an airport less than a mile from them and the only evidence would be the sounds of planes in the distance, along with the occasional low flier. They had to get higher anyway to get the drakes’ attention, so Alice brought them up onto another mound.

“Nice spot,” Casey called down, “Just be ready to move when one comes this way.”

Alice heard him, but said nothing, instead using their new vantage to search for something, anything that could help them.

“Heeeey!” Casey opened up on the formation of drakes as soon as they were close enough to see the bullets arcing toward them from the ground.

“Come on, come on.” Alice came up short in her search until, in a bid of desperation, she opened the driver side door and looked out behind them. Her eyes went wide by what they had missed on their way here. “Is that a village?” She wanted to take back those words immediately, noticing some of the buildings partially collapsed, and others being little more than foundations. It might have been a village at one point. Now, it was a ruin. Even so, that ruin was just the sort of cover they needed, and it wasn’t too far away.

“Casey, there’s a ruin behind us. As soon we get their attention we’re going there.” She wondered if he could even hear her over his own manic shooting. She doubted it; she could barely hear herself.

Suddenly, the shooting stopped. Casey leaned over his gun and tried to gauge the enemy’s response, but the drakes were still flying in formation. When Alice shut the door and leaned forward to get a good look herself, she saw the whole formation enter a wide turn to the southeast. Toward them.


“All six are coming?! What? It’s a 50cal, not a SAAM launcher! Alice get us out of here! Plan worked a little too well!”

“I noticed!” Alice got the car moving as fast as she could, and they nearly crashed driving off the edge of the mound. Six drakes, six armed drakes were coming straight at them with murderous intent. She didn’t like their odds with even one of those shrieking planes. “If we can just get out of the open we might have a chance,” she told herself.

All Casey could do for the moment was hang on as Alice evaded the drakes and tried to reach the ruins, the ruins neither of them could see anymore. There was one more thing he could do, Casey suddenly realized, something he should do while he still had the chance. He reached for the radio.

“The drakes peeled off?” Lieutenant Rog couldn’t credit something like that to the strength of the 203rd’s formation. Even with his anti air in position, they didn’t have enough firepower to completely repulse an airstrike. This formation was meant to keep the enemy on the ground from closing in unchallenged. Rog’s men were making themselves a big target for the fliers in exchange.

The Lieutenant tapped his operator on the shoulder. “Any news from the scouts?”

“Incomplete reports and a lot of screaming,” the operator shook his head, “Nothing actionable.”

It sounded like radio discipline was breaking down again. Rog needed a minute to try and come up with a plan, so he’d let his command vehicle’s operator, Lang, handle the radio station for a change. Unfortunately, he hadn’t come up with anything he liked, and the scouts hadn’t reported back with the intel they needed.

Getting out of this might require a gamble, a committed move made completely in the dark.

“Hold on,” Lang held out his hand to keep Rog’s attention, “This is Intrepid 1. 21, you’re breaking up. Repeat that. Over.”

“21?” Lieutenant Rog had a slightly incredulous look on his face.

“Intrepid 1 to 21. Good to hear. Get us some coordinates, then. That might be our ticket out of this mess. Over.”

Rog couldn’t hide the anticipation on his face.

“Sir, Intrepid 21’s scout vehicle made it out of the encirclement and found a ruin relatively close by. If the coordinates look good, we can probably muscle our way out and head in that direction.”

“Good. It’s not much, but an actual landmark will help us pull out of here. I’d also appreciate having better ground to fight on, if it comes to that.”

“Lieutenant, are we still on the mission?” That was a good question, so it was no wonder Rog’s driver, Tos, was asking.

Rog sighed, not quite sure himself. On the one hand, they were still at near full fighting strength. They were pinned down like rats, but if the enemy suddenly ran low on ammunition–something that wasn’t completely out of the question–the 203rd would be poised to make a violent comeback, potentially sweeping the field. It made the lieutenant wonder if the enemy had as many units out there as the incoming fire suggested.

“Yeah,” Rog gave the idea more consideration, “They could be playing us right now.”


“No one’s even sighted an enemy gun or tank yet. It feels like they’ve got us slightly outnumbered, but if that’s the case, they’re risking a lot by waiting for the drakes to bomb us into submission. They should be closing in before we get desperate enough to break out.”

“Ah,” Tos nodded, “You think they’re pinning us down until the main force gets here.”

“Those drakes they sent could actually be the main force, but there might be tracked reinforcements on the way,” Rog said. “They clearly knew we were coming, but they probably spread themselves out to make sure they caught us as soon as we came out of one of the tunnels.”

“In that case,” Lang began, looking away from his station, “We need to break out of here before possible reinforcements really close the net.”

“Or those drakes come back to hit us again. As soon as Intrepid 21 gets us those coordinates we’re making a break for it,” Rog decided. They had a bearing already, but the distance to the target would determine some critical details in the orders Rog was preparing to give the 203rd.

They didn’t have to wait long for Casey to report in, but the lieutenant wouldn’t have believed that at the time. Two minutes was an eternity while under fire, even if it was barely amounting to suppressing fire.

“Coordinates received,” Lang winced at the radio. Rog reflexively mirrored the reaction, wondering what was wrong. “Keep yourselves alive, Intrepid 21. Over and out.”

“What happened?”

“The drakes took out their vehicle, but our scouts made it to the ruin on foot. Both are injured.”

Lieutenant Rog clenched his teeth. “Not again.”

Lang and Tos already knew to keep quiet about this. Casey and Alice would probably survive until they arrived, but every time the latter got into trouble, far too many of Rog’s men broke ranks to try and help her. They couldn’t afford that kind of stupidity right now.

Lang handed Rog a slip of paper with the coordinates freshly singed on with hot mana. That was the only good news for the moment.

“Only a couple of miles.” At full speed–or near enough as they could get on this hellish terrain–it wouldn’t take them long catch up.

Ricard was sure he was going insane from all the waiting and worrying when Lieutenant Rog finally buzzed in with new orders. Apparently the scouts had found … something.

“Intrepid 21’s scout team have found a landmark for us. We’re heading straight for it. Staggered column. Intrepids 7 and 10 take point; Intrepids 2 and 4 take up the rear. We’re getting out of here right now.”

Rog gave more specific orders to the anti air units, sensor units, logistics vehicles, and even the scouts, but by that point Ricard was already focused on getting Chaser into position in the column. They were going to wind up roughly in the middle of the pack, a couple of vehicles in front of Intrepid 1, and right behind one of the sensor vehicles.

“Alright we’re left,” Ricard’s voice trailed off as he turned Chaser’s turret about forty-five degrees in that direction and waited. That was when he noticed the shelling beginning to die down considerably. Ricard wasn’t optimistic enough to think they would burn through all of their ammunition just suppressing them like this. What felt far more likely to him was a group of heavy tanks preparing to charge their position at point blank range. For a group as large as the 203rd, shock and awe was the only way to defeat them outright.

“We’re underway,” Nicholas reported.

“Alright, let’s fall in and get out of here.”

The radio chatter was picking up again. Rather than add to the noise, Ricard focused as best he could in order to use the Commune technique. “Alice, Casey, what’s the situation over there?” It was so much more waiting before he tried again. “Alice, Casey, it’s Rick. Respond.”

“Are they okay?” Nicholas looked back over his shoulder.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” Ricard frowned. “Alice. Casey. Come on, give me something here.” It was at that moment Ricard lamented being in the middle of the pack. At least if Chaser were at the front, he could move faster without as much scrutiny. He would still be in for a reprimand dragging the battalion along at such a high speed, but at least he wouldn’t feel helpless.

“Hey Rick. It’s Matteo. You reading me?”

Ricard cocked an eyebrow at his radio. “Intrepid 21 receiving. What is it, 7? Over.”

“Orders, reports, and relays ONLY!” Lieutenant Rog wasn’t having any unnecessary chatter on the main channel today.

Ricard sighed and waited for Matteo to inevitably continue their exchange via the commune technique.

“Still receiving?”

Ricard heard Matteo’s voice in his head this time, undistorted, but quieter. “What’s this about, Matteo?”

“I’ve been trying to raise Alice; congratulate her for finding us a way out, and all that. No luck so far. How about you?”

That wasn’t good. “Same here. No response through commune, either. I’m not sure what to think.”

“You know what I think? I think we need to double time it. The lieutenant gave us the lead, so we get to set the pace of this fighting retreat. Think you can keep up?”

The beginnings of a smile made it to Ricard. “I was just about to ask. Yeah, we can keep up.”

“Good. Now let’s get over there and thank her in person.”

Assuming Alice and Casey were alright. Ricard could only hope and follow Matteo’s lead along with the rest of the 203rd.

Fleeing Victory Chapter Two

Fleeing Victory

Chapter Two

If the tankers of the 203rd were hoping to escape their inexplicable headaches and the natural unease they felt around the corrupted crystals, those hopes were dashed when they learned that the scouts had barely managed to clear the way for them.

As above, so below.

There were corrupted crystals everywhere. While the tunnels themselves may have been more than a hundred feet across, the armored battalion could only traverse the bottom, a narrow stretch of rock and gravel lined by red crystal mounds. Ricard noted a few wider areas where two tanks could travel side by side, but they were few and far between. More importantly, they had to travel single file to ensure every vehicle had enough room to turn around in an emergency.

More and more became amenable to the idea of turning back as the ground and the walls began to stir. No one needed the sensor vehicle’s operator to tell them that there was seismic activity in the region. It hadn’t yet been confirmed whether the small tremor was one of the worms, or aftershocks from some other event.

“This is the van. We have two paths we can take up ahead.”

Ricard touched his ear piece, curious about the report.

“Another tunnel opens up just behind us. They look fresh.”

“You found a fresh intersection? That’s unfortunate.” Ordinarily, Lieutenant Rog would be the first to explore a new avenue of attack, but a fresh tunnel meant unexplored territory. In truth, its only appeal would be the complete and utter lack of corrupted crystals along the path.

“No scout detachments?”

“Yeah. We have no idea where it leads and we don’t have time to chart it.”

The paths were marked for another team, and the 203rd pressed on. By the time Chaser came up to the intersection, Ricard was compelled to utter the lieutenant’s own words. “That’s unfortunate indeed.” The path was clear–and dark, lacking the eerie red glow cast by the corrupted crystals. Still, it was a much more attractive option than the path they were on. Looking back, Ricard could see where the fresh tunnel created a second branch going roughly back in the direction the came.

“I wonder if that worm is in the area.”

One by one the 203rd’s vehicles challenged steep inclines and narrow passages, each crew hoping in turn that their luck would get them through to the other side of the tunnel system. Ricard’s ease was just beginning to return to him at the top of another incline when he heard something shatter overhead.

Nicholas’ gaze shot back to him. He had no answer for the young tanker.

“I’ll take a look,” Ricard said, pulling his scarf up to cover his mouth. He didn’t know for certain, but the only materials around here that would make that sort of high pitched splitting noise were the corrupted crystals. The rest was all rock and metal, neither of which even came close.

“Be careful,” Nicholas said as Ricard reached over to his side and picked up a helmet.

“I’ll be fine, but have Chaser stop for a second.” They should still have a minute before the next tank in the column reached the crest of the incline. That was time enough to poke his head outside and see what fell on top of them.

Just for good measure, Ricard pulled down the goggles affixed to his helmet before lifting himself up through the commander’s hatch.

“Oh no …” Ricard winced at the glowing red shards strewn across his tank’s hull. He spied a few crystal growths above them, poking out from the roof of the tunnel. Some must be coming loose after the tremors. That was especially dangerous for the scout vehicles, whose gunner stations offered no verticle protection whatsoever.

Purportedly, contact with bare skin would leave a soldier down for the count, so it wasn’t worth the risk trying to get rid of the shards himself. Ricard didn’t like the idea of being outside of the hatch, but these shards had to go one way or another.

“Chaser, go manual.”

Ricard steadied himself with his left hand while holding out his right. The tank began to shake, its right manipulator arm coming loose and stretching out to match his movements. Slowly–carefully, Ricard made gentle sweeping motions, minding the position of Chaser’s mechanical arm, and with a few swipes, the shards were sprinkled onto the side of the path. A few tiny fragments were left behind, but nothing as large and cumbersome as a tank’s manipulators could deal with those. They would have to spray Chaser down thoroughly back at the base to get rid of those.

“That’s the best we can do,” Ricard sighed, slapping the roof of the turret a couple of times.

Chaser’s arm stowed itself back alongside the suspension system, the mechanical hand attaching itself to the sprocket hub for support. There was a loud metal clamping noise that let Ricard know the arm was secure, and that the sprocket’s ‘backup’ drive was in place again.

Ricard climbed back down into the hatch and pulled down his scarf, letting Nicholas see his relieved smile for himself.

“All good?”

“Almost, but we should be fine for now. Onward we go.”

“Back up! Hurry!”

Casey was shaken out of his daydream when Alice hit the brakes on their scouting vehicle. She hadn’t been the one calling out on the battalion’s primary channel just now, though.

Casey knew the voice; it was the gunner for the front-most scout. As soon as he caught sight of them, a flash of yellow dove down onto the vehicle, causing it to bounce on the spot. A plume of fire and smoke erupted from the impact, and for brief, terrifying moment, Casey feared the worst.

“Automated gun!” The next report came over the airwaves–from that same insanely lucky pair up front, no less.

“Get out of there,” Casey called out to them as the two leaped from the flaming wreck and ran like mad. They were practically tripping over themselves–and getting perilously close to the corrupted crystal mounds along the path–to reach the relative safety of the 203rd’s light tanks.

By the time they were clear of the immediate danger, another shot struck their vehicle and blew it up. The explosion sent thick, hot air racing past Casey and far down the line of vehicles in the tunnel.

Just when Casey was about to ask the lieutenant for his orders, the man himself instructed the units at the front. “This is Intrepid 1 to the van. Intrepid 21, standby to take point. Intrepid 7, move up and take out that gun. Acknowledge.”

“Intrepid 21 scout vehicle, acknowledged,” Alice sent back, “Holding here. Over and out.” While Ricard was the leader of Intrepid 21, they were now divided into two independent crews, one in the light tank, Chaser, and the other in a scout car.

Intrepid 7 was another matter. Theirs was one of a handful of tanker teams that hadn’t been reconstituted after the attack on Munica’s colossus weapon. Matteo, Luca, and their swift, brawler of a light tank named Daring were the original Intrepid 7 from the start of the war. Casey and Alice both knew what kind of shenanigans to expect from them.

“Intrepid 7 acknowledges. Over and out.”

Daring pulled ahead of them in the long line of vehicles and deployed its long mechanical arms for the coming exchange. The arms had the tank’s skirt armor attached to them, so they hung like small shields off the side of each arm. Once they were close enough, Daring grabbed onto the smoldering wreck and moved it out of the way. Next, the arms folded over the turret, leaving just the gun barrel exposed to return fire.

“Intrepid 7 to Intrepid 21. Give us one minute and we’ll have the way clear for you~ Over.” Matteo said. He was talking to–flirting with Alice in particular. No one in Intrepid 21 had any doubts about that.

Daring suddenly moved up into nearly the exact spot the scout vehicle was when it had first been hit. Its gun elevated to line up whatever was waiting at the top of the incline, but the tank quickly reversed and pulled back out of the line of fire. It wasn’t a moment too soon, as another flash of light struck the ground, sending up rock and loose parts from the first wreck. Without wasting any time, Daring pulled forward again, ready to fire back. As soon as Intrepid 7’s light tank came to a halt, its gun fired. Then, just as the smoke from the muzzle was beginning to disperse, Daring quickly backed up again, narrowly avoiding another shot from the automated gun.

“That’s definitely a 37mil,” Luca informed the rest of the 203rd.

Casey shrugged at the report. Daring had already done a lot to protect itself and the crew against that caliber of gun. While Munica’s anti-tank guns could punch through a light tank’s armor with relative ease, it was extremely unlikely that they would be able to make it through two separate sets of armor spaced as far apart as the skirt armor on the tank’s mechanical arms, and the hull armor at the front of the vehicle. Not getting hit in the first place was proving to be the best approach in this fight.

Daring jerked forward again and fired another shot, then quickly retreated in the brief window it had, completely avoiding the automated gun’s response. If the weapon they were facing had been manned, they might have had the good sense to hold their fire and bait Daring out into the open before firing. Instead, the weapon fired the moment it was reloaded, creating perfect three second intervals for Daring to weave its attacks into. This was a weakness of automatons that the Cordaeans had centuries of experience with. Using their own predictable behavior against them was enough to turn a stalwart defender into just another bump in the road.

Daring quickly moved back to the foot of the incline and fired up at its opponent, scoring a hit on the gun barrel itself. The light tank didn’t back off this time.

“Target neutralized. Moving to the top of the hill to check for additional guns. Over.”

“Copy that, Intrepid 7,” Lieutenant Rog replied, “Give 21 some space to get by after you clear the area. Over.”

“Hey, is everything alright up there?”

Casey laughed hearing Ricard chime in. He wasn’t sure if his friend was worried about the actual enemies in the tunnels with them, or Matteo making moves on Alice while he was half a dozen vehicles behind them.

He had his suspicions, though. “Oh yeah, we’re fine, man. We’ll be out of these tunnels in no time if that’s the best they’ve got for us.”

“Clear comms,” Lieutenant Rog said warningly.

“Intrepid 7 to Intrepid 1: We’ll make sure the road is good and clear, sir. Over and out.”

Someone was beginning to sigh into the channel before realizing their mistake and cutting the transmission.

“Heh.” Casey felt the same. He cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled, “Well get to it then ya showoffs!”

Fleeing Victory Chapter One

Fleeing Victory

Chapter One

The scorched remains of long dead machines littered the barren wastes of the Arenas Desert. Ricard Silva, one of the Cordaea’s 203rd Tank Battalion’s more apprehensive Sergeants, surveyed the carnage. Had any friends met their end in this field of rock and scrap, he wondered? After what he’d faced, Ricard couldn’t help but fret over over the people closest to him. It felt like time and again, pure luck had been the deciding factor in who lived and who died. His own share of that precious ethereal armor had to be nearly spent by now.

Along with the 203rd, Ricard faced numerous artillery bombardments by the Municans for days; he came out of it unscathed. He fought against a drake and its rider on foot, and avoided capture, not to mention a grizzly death. He was attacked by Munica’s new weapon, the Cordoba colossus, and while he was thoroughly roughed up by that point, Ricard still managed to escape both the colossus and the friendly airstrike sent to take it out.

How much longer could he keep this up? So much–too much–depended on luck these days. That was when the weariest of thoughts came to him: Were Command’s strategies just that reckless?

The newly minted Intrepid 21, along with the rest of the light tanks and six wheelers blazed their way through the western expanse, some of them likely pondering the same question. Their objective for this leg of the journey was one of the ‘crimson veins,’ enormous tunnels that webbed the Arenas underground. The 203rd had been ordered to head toward a known entrance into these underground tunnels and use them to slip right by Munican defenses in the area. All the while, other units would work with the Air Force to maintain the battlefront and prevent any massive redeployments. This had been the strategy for some time, and it proved quite effective.

At least, in the beginning: The Cordaeans would send armored units underground beneath enemy lines and hit targets ordinarily beyond their reach. Even heavily fortified installations like Fort Baldi had been completely devastated by the bold new strategy. These types of operations were quickly becoming outdated and even impractical, however. Things were too predictable, and now they were having to take more and more precautions just to survive their forays into the tunnel system.

Ricard glanced over at one of the wheeled vehicles driving alongside his new light tank. Alice was driving, and for the third time that day, she caught Ricard’s gaze. Or perhaps he caught hers. She smiled at him like always, but quickly gave the imaginary road they were on some due attention. Ricard’s tank, an automaton named Chaser, pulled slightly to the left in time with Alice, who steered gently in the other direction to let the blackened remains of a heavy Cordaean tank through. A moment later, they slowly came back together in the formation. Ricard watched the wreck fade by, seeing no way to identify it beyond its model. It could have been anyone’s tank. The story would be the same deep underground, where others’ had exhausted their own luck and met a fiery end.

Somewhere on the other side of the tunnel network, the Municans were preparing their own counters to this very operation. They weren’t so complacent as to wait for the Cordaeans to attack them. The crimson veins gave the Cordaeans only two problems in the past, corrupted mana crystal outgrowths, and the expected instability of a massive tunnel dug too close to the surface. Now, hoping to keep their defenses as up to date as possible, the Municans introduced high explosives into the equation. Any tunnels they found that didn’t fit into their own plans were promptly buried, while all the known approaches were at least partially mined. Some reports even suggested there were gun emplacements in some of the tunnels, waiting day and night for any sign of their eastward nemesis.

The Cordaeans adapted like always. Some of the armored vehicles of the 203rd could contend well with mines, and they would scout the tunnels much faster than their tracked counterparts. Even so, no vehicle could maneuver easily underground; whomever was spotted first would be a victim in a shooting gallery. A likely reason there were no reported sightings of Munican armor in the tunnels, even after nearly twenty of these expeditions by other battalions in the region.

Ricard asked himself again: Were Command’s strategies just that reckless? He lowered himself down through the commander’s hatch and back into Chaser’s turret, his own answer teetering dangerously toward ‘yes.’

Private Nicholas Thompson was the only other crew member inside, and he was dutifully keeping them on course. As for the automaton they were both riding inside of, Chaser was little more than a runic brain and a few recording instruments housed inside an armored box. That box was plugged into a socket just behind the driver seat and held in place with four latches for good measure. Being modular allowed any surviving runic brains to be placed into new tanks in mere minutes. Provided the new tank was identical, or at the very least similar, little else needed to be done to make the unit mission capable. It was a nice system for Cordaean crews to have in their back pocket, but having already lost a tank recently, Ricard didn’t plan on abandoning this one so quickly.

“Don’t worry. No artillery strikes this time,” Nicholas said, giving the runic brain casing behind him a few reassuring pats before noticing the amused look on Ricard’s face. “We’ll be fine. Right?”

As if Ricard knew how this mission was going to play out. He did know one thing. “That’s right. No artillery today. Today we get mines. Fun fun.”

“Don’t say that,” Nicholas protested.

At least, Ricard mused, the mines weren’t being aimed at them. As long as the sweepers cleared them out quickly enough, they should be fine. A slightly more pressing concern were the crystal outgrowths in some of the older tunnels. The reports on those were disturbing. So much as touching one with an ungloved hand was enough to land a soldier in the infirmary. They would be lucky if they were only out of action for a week. Those cursed blood-hued crystals were the inspiration for the name, crimson vein. No one knew where the crystals came from, but they were a good way to judge the age of any given tunnel, and a pain to clear out of the way of their advancing armor.

“Hey Rick!”

Ricard glanced at the radio unit inside the tank. That sounded like Casey’s voice. He was energetic as usual. Ricard wagered his machinegun toting friend was bored and looking for ways to pass the time while Alice did the driving. It was important for even the wheeled vehicles to have gunners, but Casey spent the better part of the day roasting in the sun for it. No one could fault him for wanting a little more from the road trip.

“Yeah, what is it?” Ricard responded.

“We’re seeing red a bit too early here. Take a look.”

‘Seeing red’? Ricard’s brow furrowed at the choice of words. It wasn’t a code or anything like that–none Ricard was familiar with, at least. “Give me a second,” he said to Nicholas, putting their own discussion on hold.

Opening the hatch and looking up through the turret’s cupola, Ricard first saw Alice at their 2 O’clock, about ten meters ahead of them now. Casey was standing as high up as he could and pointing his whole arm toward a rocky mound in the distance. Ricard’s eye searched for anything that could shed light on Casey’s message, and it wasn’t long before he saw tiny bits of red jutting out from the ground at the base of the mound. “What is–” Ricard turned his personal radio on, “What is that? Are those crystals? On the surface?” Even normal mana crystals wouldn’t form on the surface like this.

“Mission Control to Intrepid: Be advised, there are several surface level crystal formations along your route. The mission proceeds as planned. Mind the terrain and navigate around any formations you see.”

Command wasn’t in a panic over the strange phenomenon, so that was good news. That or everyone’s ignorance on the crystals was a prelude to disaster. The odds were frustratingly even.

“I don’t know, I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Rick.”

Ricard was on the same wavelength as Casey, but there was nothing for it. “We just have to be careful. Keep your eyes on the ground. Wouldn’t want to run over any hidden crystals.” They wouldn’t harm the vehicles, but the crews would all do well to avoid smashing the crystals and sending fragments and dust into the air. One bare skinned touch, one whiff of this stuff, and they were down for the count.


“Yeah …” Ricard murmured to himself. His mind puzzled over the possible cause of the crimson protrusions showing up on the surface, a trait now uniquely theirs. His only guess was that something about the land was changing, and not for the better. The Arenas Desert was already an inhospitable wasteland from centuries of brutal armored warfare, and so Ricard was impressed. Impressed and apprehensive. The crimson veins would give them enough trouble, and now one of their key features was showing up on the surface. He desperately wanted to heed whatever warning he was being gifted, but how could he, and if things were changing this drastically, what was waiting for them underground?

The wheeled vanguards of the Cordaean 203rd Tank Battalion cut a path of relative safety through the veritable minefield of crystal outgrowths. The formation was quickly funneled down into half a dozen small convoys, each with a pair of brave trailblazers leading the way. Ricard didn’t like having to stay as far behind Alice and Casey’s vehicle as he did–more than a few hundred meters, but the clouds of dust formed in their wake could completely obscure anything just ahead or behind them. The tanks could easily and unknowingly plow straight through one of the unprecedented corrupted crystal mounds if impatience won out of over prudence. The vanguards reduced their speed to make less of a disturbance, but the only thing anyone remembered for it was how much longer their ingress into the underworld had taken.

With only a single exception, the six wheelers leading the 203rd’s advance parked themselves a comfortable distance from the entrance into the wild tunnel system. Their cautious approach put them roughly an hour behind schedule.

“Oh thank God,” the gunner’s voice came in over the radio, “Entrance is clear. Initial incline is 30 degrees. No changes noted.”

Ricard was quietly taken aback. How was that possible? They were sitting in a field of crystal mounds, but there was no change to any part of the tunnel the scouts could see? The word ‘trap’ buzzed and flickered around the Sergeant’s head, looking for a place to settle and coalesce into a coherent thought, but he had little to go on. The discrepancy was too minor and they knew too little about the situation. In truth, they understood very little about these tunnels and were using them in spite of that. A bad feeling was what Ricard had started with, and that was all he had now.

Nothing to do, he thought, but wait until the vanguard made their way inside and gave the tanks the greenlight to follow. Ricard guessed they would be waiting for roughly an hour before heading in. That was the average time needed for any given mile of the network to be declared ‘armor compliant.’ That status only lasted a precious few days; the Arenas tunnel network was simply that dangerous now.

“No unusual readings in the area,” a crewman of a mobile sensor vehicle spoke up. “Seismic activity is negligible in our AO.”

Ricard breathed a sigh of relief at the news. The only thing more dangerous than the crimson veins were the creatures that made them. They were massive wormlike monstrosities, disturbingly quiet on the surface and terribly fast when moving through the veins. An adult worm could swallow an armored column in one pass if not for the immense firepower at the army’s disposal.

The Cordaeans and their adversaries the Municans, both had made a point of killing any worms their forces encountered, sparing nothing short of cruise missiles to keep the colossal pests at bay and their men out of harm’s way. If seismic activity was within acceptable ranges, then none of the crimson burrowers was close enough to cause problems.

That was the hope. Ricard’s personal fear was that the corrupted crystals were connected with the worms somehow. In the two hours–not one like he expected, but two long hours it took for the vanguards to greenlight their advance into the tunnel system, Ricard still hadn’t come up with any kind of hypothesis worth sharing with the rest of the 203rd. The entire time the tanks sat idly, uncomfortably close to the corrupted crystals jutting out of the ground. Occasionally a tank had inched itself away from one, a tank commander or two complaining of headaches and the like. Ricard hated how simply looking at one seemed to make it grow larger somehow. The illusion always broke when he noticed it, but between his own misgivings and the growing concerns throughout the battalion, they couldn’t risk staying here much longer.

As soon as the scout vehicles started moving into the tunnel, Ricard woke Nicholas up. “Time to move.”

“Got it,” Nicholas’ said, his voice cracking from the long nap.

There was no hesitation from any of the tankers when the scout vehicles started funneling into the underground. Within a few minutes, the 203rd disappeared beneath the rock and sand of the Arenas.

Lydia’s Golden Treasury: The Chronicles of Proxima

Lydia’s Golden Treasury

The Chronicles of Proxima


A week had passed since Enya was abducted from her apartment and ransomed for the Emancipating Blade. Lydia came in person to exchange the ancient Draksy weapon for her safe return, but she hadn’t left the matter at that. On their way back to the Tenebrae Estate, Lydia retrieved the Emancipating Blade from Enya’s former captors using Agia, a unique and forbidden power. At first, Enya wasn’t sure how anyone important was going to find out about Lydia breaking international laws. Later, she learned there was far more to magic, and Agia in particular, than she had ever imagined.

“That’s everything?” Ishmael asked as Enya stepped out of her apartment for the last time. Not only did she have her own driver now, but also something of a bodyguard. He ensured her the arrangement was only temporary, but Enya felt it would be months before she could defend herself from the kind of attack she faced here.

“That’s everything,” Enya said, locking the door behind her. She held out the key in her palm for Ishmael. “Now I just have to hand this over.”

“Will you be alright?”

Enya nodded slightly. “Mhm. Once I’m stronger. Once I know I’m not a burden anymore.”

Ishamel smiled. “I know the feeling.”

“Before you started training?” Enya had learned a good deal more about Ishmael in the past couple of days; there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that he could protect her from just about anything. What she found most interesting about the man was his training under a spear master, a man from the same artif clan as Haul Lynx. The man’s training was said to be so difficult and dangerous that only a handful of people had ever come out on the other side. That spoke volumes about the humble staff wielder in front of her.

“Yeah. I had to be able to protect people, not just myself. It’s not enough knowing what’s coming; you have to be able to act.”

Enya wondered if Ishmael was alluding to his rare gift. There were certain individuals whose sense of magic was extremely ‘biased.’ That bias made them extraordinarily sensitive to the workings of that particular magic. Ishamel had a bias toward Agia, something only Lydia von Tenebrae and a few others could use. He could sense Agia whenever and seemingly wherever it was used it. What made Ishmael’s bias so rare was that the physical distance between him and the source didn’t seem to matter. People like him, as few as there were, were employed by various governments to keep track of the use of Agia, and enforce their laws regarding its usage. That was how they knew what Lydia had done, and that was why she was summoned to a hearing in Cordaea.

“I need to find the kind of training that’s right for me, too,” Enya said, “but first I have to get used to being a student here.”

“You’re going to have your hands full,” Ishmael said, “It’s not easy being one of Lydia’s people, not when everyone knows who you are. I think you’ll manage, though. She wouldn’t have come up with the idea if you couldn’t handle it.”

“Right,” Enya nodded, “I’m going to return the key, and then we can leave.”

“We’ll finish packing your things and head back when you’re ready.”

Enya smiled. Ishmael was acting as her bodyguard, but still trying to give her the space she needed to be comfortable. She appreciated the effort that must have taken after what happened. As much as she preferred things this way, Enya wouldn’t have blamed Ishmael or Heinrich if they went in the other direction, being far too protective and going with her everywhere. After being taken in the dark in what barely amounted to a struggle, she might have even welcomed it for a little while.

As she neared the office, passing her neighbors and workers along the way, Enya couldn’t help but think back to that awful night. The pounding on her front door, the truck idling in the parking lot, her own brief screams; it should have been obvious what was happening. Enya never found out what her neighbors were doing at the time. Afterward, she was so embarrassed she hoped that by some miracle they hadn’t heard anything. She hoped they didn’t know what happened to her. Their inaction would be a lot less painful to think about, then.

Some people seemed a lot more sheepish than usual, though.

Enya couldn’t shake the feeling some of them did know. The office certainly did. They heard it directly from her when she told them she was moving to the dorms at the university. The veritable landslide of apologies and well-wishing from the office staff was to be expected, and it didn’t make her feel any better about what happened. She was grateful that they cared, but she would have been even more grateful for someone actually moving to help her at the time.

Couldn’t someone have helped? Anyone?

Maybe, Enya mused. Maybe not. She tried to rise above her own troubles and take in a broader view. At least now everyone she worked with was aware of the danger and ready to respond. Her encounter with Nestor, Sabina, and their accomplices had been harrowing, but everyone was taking the lesson to heart. Enya had a feeling even her former neighbors, as well as the staff at the main office, were taking this to heart, too. There was some small comfort in that.

After turning in her key at the complex’s main office, Enya came up to the car to find Ishmael standing in front of the driver side door. The window was down and she thought she heard someone on the radio. Apparently Heinrich and Ishmael were both listening together. Enya didn’t say a word as she approached.

So, Ms. Tenebrae, you mean to tell us that, yet again, you broke the law, simply because it suited you at the time?

That is not what I said, Senator.

The name Tenebrae alone would have tipped her off, but Enya would recognize Lydia’s voice anywhere. She quietly hurried over.

“The hearing’s started,” Ishmael answered the unspoken question.

“Naturally,” Heinrich smirked, “Cordaea is spearheading the whole thing.”

“And I’ll bet they’re still bitter about the loss of that monster, Berko.”

Enya winced. From what she knew of the Roburo Incident back in 977, Senator Berko came to Idolus trying to enact some grandiose scheme and was struck down by one of Haul Lynx’s personal guards. Haul was currently leading Idolus, so there was no love lost between them and the Cordaeans. That was the last time Lydia had broken the rules regarding Agia. The last time, she was in no condition to answer for it. It was just as well as far as Enya was concerned. Using every tool available was necessary when defending yourself and your people. She was becoming more convicted of it by the day.

Indeed, we should care little what you tell us and instead focus on your actions, Ms. Tenebrae. Let’s go over the facts, shall we?

Enya really didn’t care for the man’s tone. He couldn’t be talking further down at Lydia if he tried. What was the purpose of this hearing anyway? No one told her what the consequences for using Agia were, and knowing Lydia had good reasons for what she did, Enya hadn’t thought to ask. She just assumed an explanation of what happened would see this whole matter resolved and the Duchess left alone. She was starting to suspect that enough people had it out for her that they would make as much noise about this as they could.

After the assailants contacted your people, you prepared the Draksy artifact and went out to meet them. Once there, you exchanged the artifact for the hostage. Is this all correct so far, Ms. Tenebrae?

It is.

Well I’m glad to see you’re still in agreement with your own written statements here.

Enya’s brow twitched. The nerve of this man.

Ishmael smirked at her. “Trust me, most of his constituents are as enamored with Senator Garret as you are.”

“That’s … good,” Enya hesitated. She hoped she caught Ishmael’s meaning.

Now do note that at this point in your testimony, the details become rather vague, Ms. Tenebrae. All you’ve divulged to us is that you–feeling you were well and truly beyond reprisal–used Agia to retrieve the artifact from the assailants. Pray tell us what prompted such a complete and utter disregard for the Wahrhafen Accords?

There were several lines of reasoning that ‘prompted’ that decision, but one that weighed heavily on my mind was the knowledge that the Emancipator would be used by the Draksy in yet another-

Please, Ms. Tenebrae. Do try to focus. The Draksy Empire is not the subject of this hearing. I am asking why you breached the Accords, not your opinion of a particular group of peoples nor your fanciful interpretation of their proclivities.

Then I’ll answer this another way, Senator. The Emancipator is extremely powerful. While I had the people and the resources to try and retrieve it, there were serious risks involved. Time was another concern. It wouldn’t be long before the Emancipator was delivered to a certain individual in a certain nation. I chose to retrieve it using the safest method available, and at the moment the assailants would be the least prepared to stop me.

So you decided that going through the proper channels, or even attempting something with your own resources was simply too inconvenient for you. Better to be in breach of the Wahrhafen Accords than to weather the storm. Interesting, Ms. Tenebrae. Very interesting.

It was all because of Agia, but Senator Garret was being too simplistic about it. It wasn’t something Lydia just happened to gain in that moment. She possessed it her entire life, knew how to use it; her thoughts and opinions were heavily influenced by it. It happened quickly, extremely quickly, but Enya knew there was more to this now. Senator Garret was wrong. This was not about convenience at all.

Enya remembered the moment Lydia summoned the Emancipating Blade back to her side and she remembered it with stark clarity. At the time, the duchess had been visibly struggling, looking for closure. Lydia’s retelling seemed far more reasonable and not at all whimsical like the senator was implying. Enya could admit that there might be some rationalization happening after the fact, but even back then Lydia had clearly been thinking about this. She admitted straight away that she could try to retrieve the blade soon. Enya didn’t realize just how soon until the mana began to churn, but she had been warned.

“She warned me,” Enya grimaced.

“Yeah,” Ishmael nodded.

In the end, it was Enya’s own promise that finally pushed Lydia to action. Even if she had it all figured out, and was simply teetering back and forth on whether or not to act then and there, Enya knew she had a large hand in this. That was why she had to be here to support Lydia when she came back.

“You did, too,” Enya said, remembering Ishmael’s reaction.

Ishamel shrugged helplessly. “No warning prepares you for the real thing, does it? Don’t worry. Lydia will be fine.”

I would say this is the storm, Senator, but that would be giving you far too much credit.

That right there- Enya flinched at the sudden jump in Garret’s tone, -is the problem, Ms. Tenebrae. You think we’re all paper tigers, here to take your statement and then slap you on the wrist before sending you on your merry way, ill-gotten goods in hand. We are not. The Wahrhafen Accords exist to protect us all from the wanton abuse of Agia. You weren’t defending Idolus, nor were you incapacitated during your flagrant attempt to flaunt your powers. Rest assured, Ms. Tenebrae, there will be real consequences this time.

I’m aware, but know that I’ll no more tolerate Cordaea stealing the Emancipator from me than the Draksy. I’ll do whatever is necessary to keep the blade out of your warmongering hands.

Enya didn’t expect Lydia’s fangs to come out, but even with such a delicate situation as this, Senator Garret deserved to be bitten back at least once.

We’ll see if you can’t be humbled this time, or if you’ll remain arrogant to the last.

“What are they going to do?” Enya asked, her eyes darting between Heinrich and Ishmael.

“The punishment for breaking the Accords isn’t set in stone,” Ishmael noted, “so it mostly comes down to whatever the countries enforcing it can all agree on.”

“Everyone knows Lydia wouldn’t be affected by a fine,” Heinrich said, “She’s too wealthy for anything reasonable to get his point across, so they’ll try to punish her in some other way.”

“That’s not fair,” Enya winced.

“Things had to be left open and flexible,” Ishmael shrugged, though he agreed with Enya, “Senator Garret said the Accords were about protecting people from Agians abusing their power, but it’s more complicated than that. Agia is something Lydia can train to become stronger with; the Accords make sure she and the others can never become as strong as Arkady and Vaska were. That’s why the punishment has to be tailored. So they can’t just shrug it off.”

“That’s really not fair.” Only a few minutes into the hearing, and Enya was already fed up with politics.

I’m calling a ten minute recess. Let’s take some time to cool our heads Ladies and Gentlemen.

Enya didn’t know who was speaking now, but he seemed to be in a somewhat higher position of authority than Senator Garret. It was comforting that he sounded calm, but she doubted he was on Lydia’s side. She doubted anyone in Cordaea was.

“Speaker Carlson,” Ishmael said, “He’s heading up the hearing. I don’t know much about him but that’s probably a good thing.”

“No news is good news?” Heinrich asked.

“Something like that.”

“I can’t stand this,” Enya sighed, “Lydia did the right thing. The Emancipator is hers and she got it back without hurting anyone. I know there are rules but why can’t there be exceptions?”

“There are exceptions,” Heinrich noted, “but only for certain people. Rest assured if the military comes calling, the local Agian will get a swift pass. We should have been on the road by now, though. Shall we?”

Enya listened to the rest of Lydia’s hearing on the way to Roburo University, but the proceedings went in an unexpected direction. Lydia didn’t  have an opportunity to speak again after the recess, as Speaker Carlson opted to put an end to questioning for the day. Someone seemed to think everyone’s time was better spent going over precedent and other related matters instead. After a while, it started to feel like she was listening to a sentencing and not a hearing.

While she was still curious about Lydia’s situation, Enya was able to learn more about the Agians in general during the drive. Ishmael answered the spoken and unspoken questions alike, helping her piece it all together. By the time they arrived at their destination, Enya had decided that one of the most important things she should do during her time at Roburo was to throw herself into world history. It would not only help her with her work in the Golden Treasury, but also fill in years upon years of missing knowledge.

“We’re back,” Enya sighed with relief as Heinrich let her out of the car.

“Home at last,” Ishmael said.

Roburo University. So many came to Idolus for the express purpose of sending their children here or attending themselves. While outwardly similar to most colleges in the region, the leaders of Idolus had toiled for years to break from tradition and create a new kind of institution, one capable of competing with all of the others on a global stage. Lydia Tenebrae, and other prominent figures in the fledgling nation had long envisioned Roburo University as a beacon of light for the rest of the world. Through the renewed and galvanized Roburo University, Lydia in particular was aspiring to create a community of visionaries and innovators. She saw the world slowly receding into darkness, slowly being overwhelmed by malevan monstrosities, and little by little becoming blind to it all. From here, from the beating heart of Idolus, Lydia’s plan to set the world free was rapidly unfolding.

Morning classes had already started by the time they arrived. Fortunately for Enya, she didn’t have to be in attendance until the following week. She had the time she needed to get settled in and choose which courses she wanted to take, and far fewer distractions than she expected coming here. All that would change later in the day.

“I’ll help with the luggage before I head out,” Heinrich said, making his way to the trunk of his car.

“Thanks, Heinrich.” Things between Enya and Heinrich were much more casual now; Heinrich hadn’t given her much leeway on that front, but Enya didn’t mind. “Where are you going after we finish?”

“I’ll be visiting my mechanic. Even when the car doesn’t need any work, he’s a good friend and I like to lend him a hand in my off hours.”

“That’s awfully nice of you,” Enya said, completely blank faced. She didn’t expect Heinrich to be working even in his off time, much less smiling about it. She supposed some people were just like that. Considering he worked for Lydia Tenebrae, it wasn’t a complete shock. Her people were a diverse bunch, but every one of them were incredibly motivated.

“It’s quite fun sometimes.”

“He just loves tinkering,” Ishmael said.

“And you?” Enya asked.

“Your turn,” Heinrich said with an expectant grin.

Ishmael shrugged at them both. “If I find the time I’ll try to take care of a few things I’ve been putting off. I’m still playing bodyguard, though.”

That was a little vague, but Enya decided not to pry.

“I’ll try not to stand out too much.”

Enya glanced at the staff Ishmael kept on his back. Even without it, Ishmael had a presence that was hard to describe. A warrior’s aura, maybe. On top of his staff and the way he carried himself, Ishmael’s beige complexion marked him as a foreigner among foreigners. “Wait.” A staff? “Do they let you carry that here?”

“It’s a spear actually, but yeah, I can keep it with me. I’m technically a mage, so I can carry anything related to my craft as long as I don’t cause trouble.”

“The rule is primarily for mages,” Heinrich added, “but anyone can keep a trinket or two on them if they can justify it. You’ll definitely be seeing orbitals around.”

Enya did recall seeing a few people with strange devices when she came to apply for Lydia’s job posting, but she hadn’t thought much of it. She never realized the students had that much freedom. Enya didn’t know whether to be nervous about who or what she might bump into here, or excited; if Ishmael could carry around a ‘spear’, what could she take with her?

Enya was just about to pick up her share of the luggage when she saw a lone man making his way toward the main building. The strange visitor looked a little too old to be a student, but he was definitely young. He couldn’t have been more than ten years Enya’s senior, she was certain of it. What she was even more certain of was that he wasn’t here for anything good. His eyes could only be described as predatory, darting every which way and sparing Enya a glance only long enough for them both to realize she wasn’t who he was looking for. Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched the man carefully as he went inside.

“I know that look,” Enya winced. She couldn’t help but remember Nestor and his adamant gaze.

“I do, too,” Ishmael said, “That’s a man on a mission. He’s not going to let anyone or anything get in his way.”

“Let’s stay out of his way, then,” Enya said.

Heinrich only stayed until Enya’s things were inside her dorm room. He bid them farewell after that and left. Ishmael stayed, looking content to stand near the open door for a time. Eventually, someone down the hallway caught his eye. When Ishmael saw the figure approaching, he leaped farther inside and just out of view. “Oh no,” he quietly groaned.

“What’s wrong?” Enya asked. She just hoped there wasn’t something wrong with the door. She liked her privacy.

“You!” A young woman suddenly leaned into the room, holding the door frame for support. Her hair was a deep scarlet color and fell in long overlapping waves over a maroon and black dress. Despite her tone, she didn’t look especially upset with Ishmael. “You had better have a good excuse for being in the women’s dormitory right now.”

“Well, I do,” Ishmael said honestly, “but for Enya’s sake I won’t go into the details. Just think of me as a tour guide.”

The woman stepped away from the door as Enya and Ishmael came slightly closer. That was when Enya noticed she had a large bag hanging over her shoulder. The strap was taut and looked almost painfully thin for the bag. “I’m sure she’s already been given the tour. Still, looking after the new student sounds admirable enough. Ordinarily I’d be suspicious, but considering it’s one of the Triumvirate, I’ll take you at your word, Ishmael.”

“The triumvirate?” Enya knew what a triumvirate was, or rather what it could be, but somehow the description didn’t fit Ishmael based on what she knew.

“It’s,” Ishmael took a moment to come up with an explanation he could bear, but the scarlet haired woman already had one of her own. “That is the moniker the instructors here have given him and two other students attending here. You can be sure that whenever those three are together, something positively uncanny is about to happen.”

“… yeah, that,” Ishmael conceded. He made a gesture at the woman, inviting her into the room. “No point in just standing out there, right?”

“You said her name was Enya? Olivia Somma Proxima. A pleasure to meet you.”

Enya’s eyes suddenly went wide, taking Ishmael and Olivia both by surprise. “Proxima? You mean Clan Proxima?”

Olivia folded her arms. “That’s more excitement than I expected. Are you from Clese by any chance?”

“Libero,” Enya answered, unable to contain the rush of excitement. There were mixed opinions of Clan Proxima, both in Clese and abroad, but nobility was nobility. Proxima in particular was a venerable clan, easily able to trace their origins back nearly fifteen hundred years. Enya had never met anyone from the clan in person, but she knew that several had visited Libero Chapel over the years.

“Libero is a small out of the way place,” Olivia said thoughtfully, “You came quite a long way to study at Roburo, though that’s a common tale nowadays.”

“Well,” Ishmael chimed in, “I’m glad you found someone else from Clese here. It was bound to happen but I wasn’t expecting it to be the next person we ran into.”

“Me neither,” Enya agreed. It was all for the better, though.

“On that note,” Ishmael seemed to get an idea, “Olivia, can I ask you for a favor?”

“Oh dear, what is it, Ishmael?”

“Nothing major,” Ishmael held out his hands defensively, “I figured since you and Enya have a lot to talk about, you could give her another tour and I could go take care of a few things. That would also get me out of the women’s dorm, if that’s still bothering you.”

“You were leaving regardless,” Olivia smirked, “but I like that idea. What do you think, Enya?”

“That sounds great.”

“Then I’ll wait for you outside.”

Enya only needed a few more minutes to unpack. Olivia waited until Ishmael was on his way and Enya had locked the door to her new room. “Enya, could I trouble you for your family name? There’s something I want to confirm.”

“Hm? My family name is Ward.”

“Enya Ward.” Olivia grimaced at the name. “I thought so.”

Enya began to worry. That was far from the reaction she was expecting for just giving out her name.

“It’s not widespread just yet, but some sources have the full name of the woman those Draksy abducted last week. That name is Enya Ward.”

Was she going to become famous over this? Enya supposed that was always a possibility, considering who she worked for. She looked away from Olivia, not sure what to say at first.

Olivia’s gaze meanwhile, followed the long hallway Ishmael had left by. Empty. They were still alone. “That explains Ishmael. If you work for Duchess Tenebrae, then it’s only natural he would be watching over you after a fiasco like that.”

“That whole experience was like a nightmare,” Enya sighed, “I’m going to train as hard as I can so I’m never a burden to Lydia again.”

“An admirable idea,” Olivia nodded approvingly, “but you’ll need commitment to make it a reality. I don’t want to trouble you over this anymore. On with the tour? Your second tour.” She could only laugh at the idea now.

“Yes, let’s go,” Enya said. She was starting to feel silly about Ishmael’s suggestion, too. If nothing else, it was an excuse to chat. She just hoped that one of them could come up with something less stressful than Enya’s encounter with the Draksy.

Olivia brought Enya all around Roburo University, while their outing was being treated like a tour, there wasn’t any structure to their route. The only thing distracting Enya from it was her own questions. Olivia was able to answer all of them, from the best places to eat or relax, to the most and least friendly cliques that she should embrace and avoid, respectively. It was around the time they passed by the men’s dormitory, where Ishmael was, that Enya learned that there was no rule against the men visiting the women’s dormitory or the women visiting the men’s. Olivia admitted that they simply weren’t supposed to loiter, and that she preferred to remind them when she got the chance. Even an exemplary student like Ishmael got the same treatment from her.

As fun as this second tour was, Enya felt like Olivia was taking great pains to avoid running into anyone else. It was one thing to not interrupt a class or two. It was something else entirely to be taking such long and winding routes through the main building, as well as making sharp turns whenever someone appeared at the far end of a hallway. They couldn’t always avoid every single person, but Olivia seemed less tense once the odd student or teacher was behind them. She saved the main library for last, making it their last stop just like she promised.

“Since neither of us have classes today, why don’t we spend some time here? Truth be told, there’s something important I need to do while we’re here.”

“Important? Are you studying for a test or something?”

“Not quite,” Olivia said, visibly struggling to think of an answer. “Wait here for a moment. I know where the materials I need are kept.”

Enya waited while Olivia disappeared deeper into the library. She eventually took a seat at a study table. There were so few people scattered around the library that Enya barely noticed them. “I wonder what she needs to do if she’s not studying for a test.”

After a few minutes, Olivia returned. Enya was stunned to see her carrying not only her own bag and the books therein, but also new ones stacked perilously high over her head. Olivia was being careful not to let the tower of literature tumble over as she made her way toward the study table, but Enya wasn’t going to just sit there and hope for the best.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were bringing so many books back? I could have helped.”

“A small flaw of mine, I’ll admit,” Olivia smiled as Enya took half of the books, “This work is for myself and my future. I can’t bring myself to impose something like that on others. It drives people mad sometimes, I know.”

“What do you need all of these books for? You said you weren’t studying for a test.”

Olivia held off on the details until all of the books were off their hands and on the table. She removed the books from her bag, as well. One of those books was larger and had a more elaborate trim than the others.

“I love knowledge. I love gathering and compiling it, especially.” Olivia reached over to pull the largest book closer. “I’m studying the conceptual magic this book is encased in. Someday I’ll understand it well enough to replicate it.”

“The Chronicles of Clan Proxima,” Enya read the book’s title, “15th volume.” It couldn’t be a coincidence that Olivia brought a book with her by that name. “This book is about your clan.”

“Indeed it is. For over one thousand years Clan Proxima’s history has been dutifully preserved in the chronicles. It’s one of few surviving examples of an autonomous chronicle. That’s why I’m using the time I have right now to study this small portion of it. All of this,” Olivia gestured at the other books on the table, “is just my reference materials.”

“I’ve never heard of an autonomous chronicle before.”

“An autonomous chronicle is a system that records events and compiles them without any outside input. Think of it as a complex series of spells forming an unbiased, immortal record keeper.”

Enya felt she was beginning to understand, a little. “So you want to make one for yourself.”

“That and much, much more. Imagine it, Enya,” Olivia let out a longing sigh, “imagine the truth recorded for all time. No bias, no twisting of events to suit one’s reputation or agenda. It’s not that simple, of course. The system needs its own reference to begin with. A person, or author to base itself on. That represents a crucial flaw, one that not only makes it difficult to establish in the first place, but one that also makes it vulnerable to more subjectivity and bias than even I care to admit.”

It certainly sounded great, but as Olivia was quick to admit, it wasn’t that simple. Enya hoped Olivia would find a way around that problem during her studies. As always, however, most concepts regarding magic and its use went well over her head. Enya couldn’t let the situation stay like this forever. She had to learn to defend herself, and studying to become a mage was the surest path for someone like her.

“Since you work for the Duchess, it should be fine for me to show you this. Have a look here, Enya.” Olivia opened the 15th volume to an arbitrary page toward the end. She brought Enya’s attention to the upper left corner of the page where the date of the following passages was written. “See anything interesting?”

Enya nodded. This wasn’t written like any history book she had ever seen before.

“1st of Tepis, Olivia Somma,” Enya read the top of one passage aloud, surprised to see Olivia’s name there. This must have been a very recent portion of the chronicles. “Ever endeavoring to-oh wait!” Enya quickly pulled away from the book. “It’s going into something personal, isn’t it? I shouldn’t be reading this.”

Olivia stared blankly at her for a moment, then she let out a small chuckle. “Hilarious. I’ve become so used to my life being an open book for some that it never even occurred to me. You are right, of course.”

“I’m sorry,” Enya bowed her head, wishing she caught herself sooner. There was something off about what she saw, though.

“There’s no need to apologize, and I appreciate your restraint, besides. So, there you have it. There was only ever one chronicler and he passed, oh some eleven hundred years ago. The autonomous chronicle our clan used took generations to perfect, but we met our goal toward the end of the chronicler’s life. Our history has been accurately recorded ever since. So long as we exist, and so long as we help maintain the system, that won’t change.”

“How does it work?”

“The system was designed to monitor the chronicler as he wrote, eventually compiling together his voice–his method of writing, so to speak. It can take years of passive monitoring to fully comprehend something as malleable as a man’s style of writing. It takes far longer to imprint his mind’s eye, but eventually, the chronicler found that everything he intended to write for that week had found its own way to parchment without him. He couldn’t bring himself to change even one word of it, and from that day forward, the chronicler’s quill served our clan in other ways.”

“So it copies the chronicler’s style? And what about the language?” Enya was surprised that the pages she saw were written in Laytier. That wasn’t a common language a millennium ago. Since Clan Proxima originated largely in Clese, she would have expected at least some of the volumes to be in Archesian or Cotole.

“The language is whatever it needs to be,” Olivia said, though after being so thorough with her previous answers, she seemed to regret the simplicity of this one. “Put another way … Enya, how many languages can you read?”

“Three,” Enya said, after considering whether her pitiful grasp of Archesian counted or not.

“I don’t know how the words are appearing to you now. For me, they’re Archesian. I want you to start thinking in another language and then look again.”

Enya knew where this was going. She was becoming more and more familiar with old magic and how ‘adaptive’ it could be. The Armor of the Unburdened looked like something only a tall and stout man could wear, but once Enya started putting on the individual pieces, the entire set of armor shrank down to accommodate her smaller, lithe build. The Atoning Mirror got into Enya’s head and showed her what was there, while also doing the same for Pharez. The Emancipating Blade wasn’t concerned with boundaries of the blood at all, and simply acted as a bridge between the wielder and one or more of the Fundamental sources of power. It was no surprise at all that the Chronicles of Proxima could translate itself for any given reader.

Enya felt she already had her answer, but she followed Olivia’s instructions. Archesian wasn’t the most comfortable language to be thinking in, not with so many gaping holes and boundless chasms in her vocabulary, but she was curious. Would the pages look different to her? She leaned in for a closer look. While the words appeared to still be in Laytier, than began to distort slightly. Enya blinked and tried to focus on the Archesian language and the various words she knew. The words seemed to flicker on the page, as if they were just illusions barely keeping themselves together. Enya blinked again. The words flickered again.

Maybe Archesian wasn’t the best choice?

“Think of a phrase you’re comfortable with and repeat it in your mind,” Olivia suggested. She could tell Enya was struggling.

Enya closed her eyes and imagined the phrase, ‘We stand as one,’ in the Archesian language. She repeated it several times, and continued to do so as she opened her eyes. For a moment, Enya thought she’d failed again. The words of the 15th volume were still in Laytier, but only for a split second. Enya didn’t even have time to react to her supposed failure before the words became completely distorted. She was still repeating the Archesian phrase in her mind; that seemed to be driving the distortion. A moment later, the words reassembled themselves into Archesian right in front of her.

Enya’s brow furrowed as she looked over the page. While each section was well ordered and neatly summarized, everything Enya tried, and admittedly struggled to read, was about Olivia. She had been under the impression that the Chronicles of Proxima was about the clan as a whole. Even if it was a magical journal, it should have been one shared by hundreds of people, but recorded by a single author.

“I can’t even read half of this now,” Enya said half jokingly.

The words flicked again and quickly morphed back into Laytier. Enya almost missed it as Olivia burst into a fit of laughter.

“So the language really is whatever it needs to be,” Enya concluded. She had another question for Olivia, but felt nervous asking about what she read.

“Indeed. Though it won’t work for just anyone. The Chronicles recognize you due to your ties to the Duchess. If not for that, there would be no words for you to read in the first place.”

Enya cocked her head, questioning Olivia.

“It would have been utterly insane to lay out our long and winding history for just anyone to read at their leisure. The chronicles have recorded both our triumphs and our failures, both our virtuous deeds and our sickening crimes. Steps were taken to ensure only certain parties can study it all.”

“And Lydia is one of those parties?”

“Duchess Lydia von Tenebrae and her people were a more recent addition. We have a special arrangement with her.”

It took a few minutes for Olivia to go over with her, and Enya was shocked to learn that the 15th volume of the Chronicles of Proxima was part of the Golden Treasury. There were sixteen volumes making up the Chronicles at the moment. The 16th was blank, waiting for the 15th to be completed. Each time the latest volume neared completion, a new one was made. While Clan Proxima still possessed the first thirteen volumes, volumes 14 and 15 were in Lydia’s possession. Like a person checking out a book from a library, Olivia was borrowing this portion of the 15th volume temporarily. She had several days to study it before she was expected to return it. At first, Enya felt this special arrangement wasn’t the best idea. This was different from the Emancipator. Clan Proxima’s history was theirs, so why was the latest volume of that history a part of the Golden Treasury?

“One reason: for our protection,” Olivia answered, “Today there are spells and even special tools for peering through the veil of the magic we used. That old security measure is ineffective. Proxima has atoned for many things, but every day foolish relatives who don’t know any better, or simply don’t care, are galivanting around, falling into crime and vice, adding page upon page of humiliation to the record.”

Enya frowned. She was still trying to understand, but she could already tell why Olivia wouldn’t like what some of her relatives were doing.

“In one hundred years, this won’t matter,” Olivia shrugged, “Until then, our leaders felt it would be best to add a new layer of security to the Chronicles. The Duchess agreed to let us use the Golden Treasury to house our more recent history, until they can be … put into the proper context.”

Olivia looked ashamed to say that. It took Enya a moment to realize why. “Your clan doesn’t like what some of its members are doing, does it? So they’re covering it up.”

“We made a crucial mistake in constructing the autonomous chronicler,” Olivia sighed heavily, “Who is and who is not a member of Clan Proxima was considered, but that was ages ago, back when we were trying to expand and grow larger. The system has been operating on the same old standard for one thousand years. It doesn’t matter if someone throws their hands up in the air and denounces us, or heaps a mountain of embarrassing refuse on our heads. The chronicler doesn’t care who we think is a legitimate member of the clan. It’s simply recording all of our actions.

“We’ve been looking for ways to amend the system, permanently, but politics and other distractions have some of our best people distracted. I’m one of the few left with the freedom and the knowledge to search for a solution. I will find one. It’s only a matter of time, but for now the Golden Treasury stands between Clan Proxima and those who would exploit our association with criminals and other riffraff.”

Enya imagined how her family would react to being associated with criminals, petty or otherwise. It wasn’t long before she was thinking about Nestor and her abduction. There were other ways to become famous, she remembered. How would they feel when they learned she was taken? It was brief, but it was still a near brush with death.

“To be a part of Clan Proxima is to be honorable, diligent, bold, always forward looking, perhaps to a fault,” Olivia mused aloud.

Olivia was veering off into the unknown, but she left a small inspiration for Enya. She knew so much about the chronicles now, there was a familiar thought pleading with her.

“I’ve been rambling, haven’t I? And to think, I came here to study.”

Still the thought was pleading with Enya. She wondered if it was the same thing that was bothering Lydia just before she used Agia to retrieve the Emancipating Blade. She decided to humor her own playful little thought, even if she would feel embarrassed afterward.

“For one thousand years it has filled countless pages, forged by Proxima’s most diligent mages …” Enya sang experimentally. The rhyme worked, but she had a long way to go before she had a proper song.

“What was that? Enya, are you singing?”

“I was just trying to see if I could come up with a song for this,” Enya said nervously. She appreciated the effort Lydia put into her song even more now. Irving might be able to think up lyrics on the spot, but Enya couldn’t. She didn’t have nearly enough artif blood in her veins to pull off that kind of feat.

“A song? Interesting. Do the keepers in the Treasury sing about every artifact?” Olivia looked genuinely curious about it.

Enya tried not to laugh. “No. Only some of them.” Only the ones she was personally involved with. Maybe someday, she thought, but for right now it was merely something that Irving had started, and Enya encouraged.

“So the Chronicles of Clan Proxima are ‘worthy of song,’ are they? I like that,” Olivia smiled.

“I want Irving to hear it, so maybe I should try to think of one later,” Enya said.

“Hold on,” Olivia held up a finger, “I insist on being a part of this.”

Enya didn’t see any problem with that. Until Irving suggested Lydia sing about the Emancipating Blade, Enya just assumed Irving would always be the one coming up with the songs, as well as singing them. Now that things were opening up, she was happy to include Olivia. In fact, being an artif, things would go all the smoother with her help.

“Alright, let’s come up with something.”

“We’ll have to think carefully,” Olivia warned, “At the very least, the chronicles will record what we come up with today.”

No pressure.

Enya and Olivia spent almost twenty minutes coming up with a song about the Chronicles of Clan Proxima. Admittedly, Olivia was the guiding hand. She thought of most of the lyrics and made sure everything was concise and orderly. Enya had a fundamental contribution as well, that being the song’s melody. They still had one issue they needed to work out, a missing verse earlier in the song’s narrative. They were short on time, Olivia noticed. She would have to finish her work in the library soon.

“I suppose we’ll have to fill in the rest another time. Preferably-” Olivia’s words caught in her throat as a figure appeared at the library entrance behind Enya.

“What’s wrong?”

Olivia shrank and bit down on her lip as the man spotted her. “Simon.”

Enya turned around to see who it was that had Olivia so visibly uncomfortable. She immediately recognized Simon from earlier. He made Enya almost as uncomfortable the way he marched into the university’s main building. Ishmael had him pegged as a man on a mission, and he was right. Enya only hoped Olivia wasn’t who he was here for. If she knew him, and judging by the way he was rapidly bearing down on them, she must have, they were in a tough spot.

“What are you doing here?”

“Stop avoiding me, Livie!”

Both women flinched.

“You know why I’m here, so don’t play dumb. Give me the book.” Simon stepped around Enya and held out his hand toward Olivia. “I know you have it.”

Enya squinted quizzically at Simon. The book was sitting right there on the table, granted, among a dozen others, but it was still by far the largest and most eye-catching. Just as she realized Simon didn’t know exactly what he was looking for, he and Olivia both caught each other glancing at the 15th volume. It was already well inside Olivia’s reach, but Simon dove for it anyway, only to be left half sprawled over the table as Olivia swiped it and moved away. Her chair fell behind her and she nearly tripped over it trying to get to a safe distance. Enya rushed around the far side of the table and planted herself halfway between the two.

“Don’t do this, Simon. You’re only making it worse.”

“You’re the one making it worse,” Simon snarled, hauling himself up and straightening his jacket, “The more you avoid me, the more gets written. The more that gets written, the harder this is going to be.”

“You know how the system works, Simon,” Olivia said, “The more you stand out, the more it hones in on your actions. It can’t be helped. More importantly, it can’t be stopped.”

“Are you,” Enya paused, doubting her own question, but nothing else really made sense to her. “Are you part of Clan Proxima, too?”


Olivia looked away.

Simon shifted irritably by the table. “Yes, but I shouldn’t be. The books just think I am, so now I’m caught up in this crap.”

“I’m confused,” Enya said, looking back and forth between them. They certainly didn’t look related.

“He married into the clan a few years ago,” Olivia began an explanation Enya knew neither of them would be comfortable visiting, “He and my sister had always been close. Eventually they decided to marry, but there little approval from the elders. They decided to test Simon by not informing him about the Chronicles and how the system works. He was the only member of Clan Proxima at the time who didn’t know his actions were being recorded.”

“Yeah, instead of trusting me, you ‘tested’ me,” Simon said.

Olivia suddenly took an aggressive step toward Simon. “And you failed.”

“Livie, just give me the book.”

“Why do you want it so badly?” As nervous as Enya was, as long as the 15th volume was a part of the Golden Treasury, she had a duty to protect it. She didn’t know how she was going to go about it, but she had no intention of backing down now.

“I’ve got to destroy it, or erase my name from it, or something!”

“That’s not going to work-“

“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice brought their attention toward the front of the library. A rather unamused librarian was coming to quiet them down. Failing that, they would probably be thrown out.

“I apologize,” Olivia sighed.

“Me too,” Enya followed suit.

Simon crossed his arms and leaned to one side, not saying anything.

“You three are in a library. For God’s sake, act like it. Take this … drama elsewhere.”

With that, she went back to her desk, and for a long moment, no one said a word.

Eventually, Simon opted to end the silence. “Meet me outside so we can talk. Don’t run, don’t avoid me this time.” For good measure, he held up a finger threateningly. “I can make both your lives a living hell.” He turned to leave and punched the door frame on his way out of the library.

“What’s wrong with him?” Enya said, completely bowled over by Simon’s hostility.

“Help me with these books. I’ll try to explain. At least that way you’ll understand what’s happening.”

Simon was Olivia’s brother-in-law, and he was also a gangster. Olivia’s sister, Priscilla, was practically royalty by comparison. Even so, the two tried to marry. Proxima’s elders allowed the arrangement on the condition that Simon be kept in the dark about the chronicles for exactly three years following the marriage ceremony. Priscilla had reluctantly agreed, but even she knew about Simon’s criminal ties. Without revealing the truth, she tried her best to steer his life in a new direction. All the while, his less savory work was recorded by the chronicles, implicating him and everyone who worked with him in both minor and serious crimes like.

The real tragedy in Simon’s tale was that he was very nearly reformed by Priscilla. He was preparing to cut ties and leave his old life behind, but in those three years appointed by the elders of Clan Proxima, the chronicles had built up a monumental list of crimes perpetrated by Simon and his partners. When Simon learned about the chronicles on the third anniversary of his marriage to Priscilla, he denounced the clan and began a book burning crusade. He went to incredible lengths to try and erase himself and his old cohorts from the records, but all his efforts came to nothing.

Enya understood now. She also realized that Olivia had been using the 15th volume like an early warning system. According to her, at the end of each day, just before sunrise, the actions of each member of Clan Proxima were compiled into the latest volume. By reading the events of the previous day, she could effortlessly track the movements and actions of anyone in the clan. Simon was considered a part of Clan Proxima by the autonomous chronicle the clan established, so Olivia was able to keep tabs on him right up until this morning. She knew he was coming to the campus, and she tried her best to avoid him, even while giving Enya a tour of the facilities.

Olivia was turning out to be quite the multitasker.

Something Enya still couldn’t figure out was why everything she had read in the 15th volume was about Olivia. There was no mention of Simon or anyone else. There were likely thousands of pages in that hefty book, so she was ready to write it off with any excuse that came to mind, but the entries covering multiple days of Olivia’s life and hers alone nagged at Enya. It was also strange that a single book, no matter how many pages were in it, could cover the lives of hundreds of people. A thousand years of history, and hundreds of people tracked through only fifteen books? That should be completely impossible from what Enya had briefly read. It was simply too much information. For now, there was nothing to do but follow Olivia’s lead and do her best to keep the 15th volume safe.

Enya wasn’t surprised the encounter in the library hadn’t gone unnoticed, but there was a crowd gathering near Simon in the courtyard outside the main building. He was keeping them back with curses and the occasional threatening posture, but it wouldn’t be long before campus security got involved. He was bound to be ejected soon, which made Enya wonder if they should really bother talking with him. Simon wanted the book but neither of them were prepared to let him have it. What more was there to discuss?

“Enya, no matter what happens,” Olivia turned toward her as they made their way toward the crowd, “don’t panic. I hope there’s another solution, but I don’t want Simon to get himself arrested over this.”

Enya grimaced. Simon definitely deserved to be arrested from what she knew, but his reputation was directly tied to Clan Proxima.

“I know that we shouldn’t go easy on him, at least on principle,” Olivia admitted, “He’s a career criminal. Even so, we hid the chronicles from him. I can’t help but feel he would have handled the truth better if we told him from the beginning, before the marriage. He failed the elders’ test, that much is true, but if he had known  his every step was going to be recorded for all time, if he knew he was going to be held to account from the very beginning, perhaps …”

Enya nodded, partially agreeing. It was all well and good to hope people would do the right things for the right reasons, but it was an ideal that was proving wildly impractical for Clan Proxima.

“We wronged him first. Technically. I’ll apologize for the deception,” Olivia decided, “It wasn’t my decision, but like my sister, I had every opportunity to reveal the truth. I’ll apologize and we’ll see where things go from there. I don’t expect him to listen, but he isn’t the only one that should be held to account.”

It was then that Enya noticed someone was following directly behind them, and gaining quickly. She thought it might be another student, come to see what the fuss was about, but when Enya turned to see who it was, she was more than a little relieved.


“Come to watch the fireworks?” Olivia said by way of greeting.

“Are we dealing with another crazy person?” Ishmael winced as he came up alongside Enya and Olivia, “Weren’t the Draksy enough for one month?”

Enya could only sigh at that. At least she didn’t have to worry about their safety anymore.

Olivia shrugged. “Apparently not. Admittedly, I’m partly to blame for this one. I’ll do my best to make this right.”

Once they were close enough, Simon spotted them and jutted a finger at the small group. The crowd thinned out between them, slowly clearing the way. “You actually came. Good.”

Olivia led them to the center of the crowd, a few meters from where Simon was standing. “I doubt we have much time before security steps in and removes you from the campus.”

“This won’t take long,” Simon promised, “Put the book down.” He pointed at the spot between him and Olivia. “Put it down right there and stand back.”

“Simon, please.” Olivia’s grip on her bag and the 15th volume tightened. “Don’t you understand what you’re doing? Even if-“

“Just put the book there, Livie!”

“Don’t,” Enya said, holding the back against Olivia, “He’s just going to ruin it.”

“That’s right,” Simon said, “I’ve never been this close before. The family keeps the volumes hidden away somewhere. That one’s the only one they don’t have locked up in some vault, so put it down on the ground and let me do what I came to do.”

“You don’t understand what you’re doing. It’s not as simple as destroying the books, Simon.” Olivia reluctantly took the 15th volume of the chronicles out of the bag. Several students began pulling out cameras, while others let their orbitals snap pictures of her and the book. “Even if you destroy this one, the 16th is already part of the system. It would take the 15th’s place and nothing would change.”

Simon seemed to falter for a moment.

“Simon listen to me. The chronicles aren’t what you think they are. Destroying this book won’t help you hide what you’ve done.”

“I have to try, Livie. This isn’t just about me. That thing is watching everyone I’m around. Everything we’ve done is getting into that overblown diary. It has to stop.”

“It won’t stop, Simon. Not until your life ends,” Olivia said. There was a grim finality to her words and the way she said them. She clearly knew something no one else present did.

“Help me, Livie. Just help me end this. If my old boss or his people find out about this, we’re screwed. Don’t you get it?! I’m trying to protect my family! My son, your sister, all of us!”

“I’m sure all of us are, Simon.”

“So help me do that. Put the book down and let me do this.”

“… fine.”

Enya gasped. “Olivia, are you sure?”

“This has to end. I’ll let you do this, Simon, but after that, you have to listen to everything I have to say. Will you agree to that much?”

Simon nodded. Then he pulled back his hand. Suddenly mana erupted around his wrist, condensing into a bright orange flame above his palm.

Olivia slowly stepped forward with the 15th volume in her hands and knelt down with it. Enya could only watch in horror as the fire Simon was holding began to wrap around itself again and again, condensing into a small star. The crowd was beginning to spread themselves out further, realizing Simon wasn’t going to hold back in destroying the chronicle. Ishmael took Enya’s hand and guided her back to a safe distance as well. Olivia wasn’t far behind.

As soon as they were clear, Simon let loose a shout, and threw his spell down onto the book. A burst of all colors flashed in all directions, and ethereal flames flowed over the concrete in brilliant waves that nearly caught up with the dispersing crowd. At the center of it all were the ashes of the 15th volume. Enya could only bare to look for a moment.

“Finally,” Simon breathed. He offered no resistance when security officers stepped onto the scene and grabbed him.

“Could you,” Olivia held out her hand toward the guards, “hold him there for just a moment? There’s something I want to say.”

The men were reluctant, but Simon wasn’t making things difficult for them, so they obliged.

Olivia came closer, stepping around the scorched remains and dying embers. Once she was close enough, she clasped her hands together and locked eyes with Simon. “I’m sorry.”


“We should have told you the truth from the beginning. The whole truth. If we had, so much could have gone differently.”

Simon scoffed. “Naturally. Is that all you wanted to say?”

“If they decide to put you in a cell, rest assured I’ll be talking your ear off from the other side of those bars,” Olivia said with a bitter smile.

“And I’ll listen, like I promised,” Simon returned her smile.

“Ms. Somma,” one of the guards spoke up, “we should take this elsewhere.”

“You’re right. And Simon? There’s more. There’s so much more you need to know about the chronicles. I hope that once I explain it, you’ll understand.”

She turned to face Enya. “I’m sure you noticed it as well. All of the entries were about me. No mention of anyone else, yes?”

Enya nodded. So there was something to that after all.

“Simon deserves to know the truth. I’ll go with him and explain everything. After that I’ll tell you as well.”

“Okay,” Enya agreed. There was little else she could do now that the 15th volume was burned to cinders.

“In that case,” Ishmael said, “We should get going.”

“We’ll talk in the morning, Enya.”

It was a long night, but Enya managed to get some much needed rest. In the morning, she listened to the second part of Lydia’s hearing on the radio while she had her breakfast. Somehow, they had spent so long discussing other issues, that the hearing was split into two days. Enya wondered if they were going to wrap things up this time, or aim for three.

The Committee recognizes Haul Lynx, Primarch of Idolus. The floor is yours, Sir.

That wasn’t a name Enya was expecting to hear. For the leader of a nation to be speaking at a simple hearing was more than a little unusual. On the other hand, Lydia was one of Idolus’ founders. She served as the first Primarch until the Roburo Incident. She and Haul were also the best of friends. Maybe it would be stranger if he wasn’t there at her hearing.

Thank you, Speaker Carlson. Now then. Friends, enemies, and those with wavering commitments … good morning.

Enya nearly spat out her apple at Haul’s greeting.

I’m here to speak on behalf of my dear friend Duchess Lydia von Tenebrae, and to offer a suggestion on how to deal with her breach of the Wahrhafen Accords. Fairly. I see little reason to drag this out any further.

Pray pardon my interjection, Primarch Lynx-

Enya knew that voice. It was Senator Garret. This morning wasn’t off to the best start, after all.

You say you wish for a fair ruling, but is she not a dear friend of yours, as you yourself said in the self same breath? Surely the conflict of interest isn’t lost on you.

The idea was someone else’s, actually. I just happen to agree with it. Think of me as little more than a messenger, Senator Garret.

Even so, we’ve already deliberated at length on this matter and have come up with a fair concession of our own.

Somehow, Enya doubted any concessions Garret wanted from Lydia would be fair.

Well, don’t keep the rest of us in suspense. Where is the Committee leaning for the moment? Surely this isn’t just another indirect attack on Idolus.

Haul sounded amused and Enya could have sworn he was wearing a smug expression right now. She had a feeling he was used to dealing with people like Garret. He might have even enjoyed the conflict. If he were someone else, someone on the other side, she could admit that Haul’s flippant attitude was a bit much. He was on Lydia’s side, though. Moreover, he was clearly getting on Garret’s nerves. There was nothing to do but cheer him on as he went toe to toe with the Cordaeans.

We believe the best course of action to redress the unauthorized and flagrant use of Agia-

Enya let her head fall, nearly onto the table. Did he have to use the term ‘flagrant’ like that?

-is to turn the Emancipating Blade over to the Draksy government.



Lydia was present too and her reaction nearly mirrored Enya’s.

Frankly, the only punishment suitable for an Agian of Ms. Tenebrae’s standing is to return her ill-gotten gains to the Draksy. As a Draksy weapon, we should acknowledge their claim to it. Furthermore, this situation would never have come about in the first place had Ms. Tenebrae not been in possession of the weapon.

Senator, I already warned you I would not

Senator Garret, your idea is an interesting one. I’ll add completely insane, as well, but still interesting.

Haul interrupted Lydia with an unseen gesture before firing back at Senator Garret. Enya was somewhat relieved, but their only hope for avoiding another incident now seemed to be convincing this committee to go with the idea Haul was suggesting. Lydia wasn’t going to let the Cordaeans take the Emancipator from her, much less hand it over to the Draksy.

With all due respect, Primarch Lynx, you represent your nation’s highest office. I suggest you act like it. Petty comments are not becoming of someone in your position.

Please. Duchess Lydia von Tenebrae also held the office of Primarch until Senator Berko forced her out of it at gunpoint. You no more respect the position than he did. But I digress. There’s the matter of your complete insanity to address.

Primarch Lynx.

Garret’s tone was furious, barely restrained, and Enya was trying not to laugh. Haul was a … ‘linguistically ruthless’ politician.

I believe the floor was mine, was it not?

Indeed. Please, continue Primarch.

Speaker Carlson was still completely neutral from the sound of things.

Ignoring ethnic ties for the moment, consider what actually happened. The Duchess was forced to turn the Emancipator over to the same people that abducted one of her employees. They’re criminals. What’s more, they’re criminals acting on behalf of a foreign government. While I cannot prove they were acting under orders, the fact of the matter is that you are suggesting we reward these criminals with the very item they stole. Remember that their stated goal was to hand the Emancipator over to one of their leaders. If that’s true then this committee would simply be finishing what they started.

Haul had a point. Nestor was clear about their intentions. Even if they were lying, they had to act on the assumption that Nestor and his cohorts were stealing the Emancipating Blade to get it back to their ‘Princess of Wyverns.’ Suggesting they do the work for them to punish Lydia for breaking their rules was just silly.

You say the Emancipator is ill-gotten. I ask what then could be more ill-gotten than outright theft, first by the assailants and then by you yourself?

What then would you suggest, Primarch Lynx?

Senator Garret was still seething, but he was keeping together, if just barely. Enya wondered if he wasn’t secretly working with the Draksy.

I did come bearing a suggestion, one that the committee should be able to live with, and also one that the Duchess should agree to, given the circumstances.

We would be most grateful to hear it, Primarch. How would you have us address the situation?

Carlson was ready to hear the idea, and so was everyone else, Enya included.

Duchess Tenebrae has been in possession of the Emancipator for twenty-eight years. It has been out of Draksy hands for more than half a millennium. Even were it only in her possession for a fraction of that time, it was already determined years ago by a committee of Lumaian, Calman, and Idolan officials that the weapon belongs to her and not the Draksy government. With that said, to completely strip her of it would go beyond a mere punishment. My suggestion is that she yield the Emancipator to the Idolus government. It will be under my administration’s care for an amount of time agreed upon by this committee. After which, it will be returned to the Golden Treasury.

It was an interesting idea, but Enya worried that there was so much bad blood between Idolus and Cordaea that the senators would either reject the idea out of hand, or push for an extremely long time frame.

And during this period, Ms. Tenebrae will not have free access to the weapon?

Enya didn’t recognize the man’s voice, so she assumed he was just another politician weighing in during the hear.

That is correct, though I reserve the right to lend the weapon to whomever I wish, the Duchess included. The Emancipator is a powerful weapon, and I will not have it laying idle during a crisis.

I’m curious. What would you suggest is a fair amount of time to redress the Duchess’ unauthorized use of Agia?

Three years, Speaker Carlson.

Enya flinched, and the radio was abuzz with chatter. She wasn’t expecting it to be that long. Six months at most, maybe, but three years? She wasn’t feeling too good about the suggestion now, but at the same time, she knew some in the committee had much, much harsher designs for Lydia. Haul’s suggestion probably came in light of that. It was a real punishment, not just a slap on the wrist.

Maybe it was for the best. Enya just wished she could see or hear Lydia’s reaction. All she could hear were Cordaean politicians finally coming out with their thoughts. It was nearly a minute before Speaker Carlson managed to rein everyone back in.

I’m impressed, Primarch Lynx. For a moment I feared you cared little about the process and were merely steering this hearing toward a middling conclusion. Duchess Tenebrae, do you have anything to add?

Primarch Lynx’s suggestion is acceptable. I would honor it.

Enya listened carefully, but she couldn’t glean much from Lydia’s tone. She wasn’t upset, at least. Enya was starting to feel better, too. At least the Emancipator would be in Idolus, in Haul’s care. Lydia was being held to account, but in just a few short years, this whole mess would be behind them, and the Emancipating Blade would be returned to its proper place in the Golden Treasury.

The vote didn’t take long, and Haul’s suggestion was accepted as is. For three years, the Emancipating Blade would be in the Idolus government’s possession. After that time, it would be returned to Lydia. With that, and Enya’s breakfast taken care of, she left her dorm room to meet Olivia.

Enya expected to meet Olivia somewhere on the campus, the library maybe, but she heard from Ishmael that Olivia was already on her way to the Tenebrae Estate. She was also supposed to be working today, so Enya had planned on going there right after chatting with Olivia. Heinrich wasted no time in driving Enya back to the estate. Sure enough, Olivia was waiting for her in the main hall, along with Irving.

“Good morning, Master Wheeler. Olivia,” Enya greeted them both.

“Good morning,” Irving gave a small wave.

Olivia simply nodded.

“So,” Enya was hesitant to ask, especially with how somber Olivia looked, “how did it go?”

“Simon and I spent much of the evening talking. It was tense for a while, but I think he’s beginning to understand.”

“I’m sure you had a lot to talk about,” Enya said thoughtfully.

“He didn’t understand what the Chronicles of Proxima really are. It’s not a collection of books. Burning the books is like cutting your own hair. God willing it will grow back, but you can’t kill a person that way.”

“What are the Chronicles of Proxima, then?” Enya asked. A major contributing factor to her long night was Olivia’s confession that even Enya didn’t know the whole story behind the chronicles. Her curiosity was even more difficult to bear with Olivia standing right here.

“When my clan went about making a chronicler, they needed more than a person to base the writings on, but also something to base the design of the entire system on. The reference we used for the Chronicles of Proxima are the Praedian Records.”

“The …” Enya didn’t know what to say. There were few who could offer an adequate explanation of what the Praedian Records even were. To base the chronicles off of a system that no one could claim to fully understand was a monumental undertaking. “How could they base a system on the Praedian Records? It doesn’t exist in the physical world, right?”

“Proxima holds a prestigious position in the Clesian monarchy,” Irving chimed in, “Clese has made numerous attempts to access the Praedian Records. All the world’s knowledge in one location? It’s too much to ignore. No one has ever officially made the journey, but I assure you the Clesians have sent several people in at tremendous cost. Some are even known to have returned alive.”

“I’ve heard the same thing,” Olivia said, “I believe one of my people studied the records in person back then. They would have gone on to help design the autonomous chronicler. It would have taken an astronomical amount of mana to make that journey, but if they came back alive, they would bring a great deal of insight to the project.”

“It would take countless books to contain the clan’s history long into the future,” Irving continued, “and so instead of books, special archives were used. The book Simon set alight was not the 15th volume of the chronicles itself, but a terminal linking to it. It was a viewport into the archives that comprise the 15th volume of the Chronicles of Proxima. The words shift even as the focus of the reader shifts. They exist as a convenient guide through an otherwise boundless sea of information.”

A smile slowly formed on Enya’s face. Now, finally, she truly understood what was going on.

“We pretend the volumes are the chronicles themselves. That protects the secrecy of the archives, but that same lie convinced Simon he could destroy the chronicles outright with brute force. When I couldn’t convince him to give up, I realized that perpetuating that lie was pointless. Lies of omission, lies to protect secrecy. I think I’ve learned my lesson, this time. The whole truth means the whole truth, doesn’t it, Enya?”

“Right,” Enya gave an approving nod.

“And what of Simon?” Irving asked, “Do you know what they’re going to do with him?”

Olivia sighed, partly in relief. “He wasn’t arrested yesterday, like I feared. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone somewhere brings him in for questioning. Unless he goes into hiding, he won’t be a free man for much longer, I’m afraid. Still, I suggested he return to Clese and speak with the elders while he still can. Now that he knows the truth, there’s a chance, however slim, that something good can come of the talks. Eventually the authorities are going to realize they can gather a lot of evidence to use against Simon and his gang by accessing the archives. If it comes to that, those thugs will want revenge for bringing them all down with him. My sister and her child would make for excellent targets, naturally. That was his whole motivation for destroying the book. Ignorance is a curse.”

“If there’s anything we can do to help,” Enya began, almost surprised by her own willingness to get even more involved.

Olivia chuckled. “I should have known you would offer. I don’t know what you could do to help just yet, but if your offer stands when we need you, I’ll ask.”

“Well, I’m glad the situation is as a whole is improving. I believe there was one more thing you required of me, Ms. Somma?”

“Yes,” Olivia grinned and glanced sideways at Enya, “I learned yesterday afternoon that the Chronicles of Clan Proxima were worthy of song. I plan to record a song into the archives, and you will be our audience.”

Irving gave Enya a look.

Enya smiled nervously.

Eventually Irving smiled back at her.

“One more thing.” Olivia approached Enya and began to whisper into her ear. Fortunately, she’d come up with the missing verse for the song, and passed it along to Enya just in time. “Now listen and listen well, Master Wheeler,” Olivia struck a dramatic pose, “while we sing of the Great Chronicles of Clan Proxima~”

“Ready?” Enya mirrored Olivia.

“Goodness,” Irving said, unable to contain his amusement.


*A record for all time is what we seek,

like what we’ve heard, but never seen, a power so unique

The Praedian Records’ mystique

A single man returned from that place,

his will so torn, a face forlorn, lost in time and space

Clan Proxima’s will he embraced

*The chronicler, sits down to write

The written word comes to light

*The unseen author

*The chronicles were born

*Let the record show, Proxima’s ideal

*Love and temperance, honor faith and diligence

*Illusions all dispelled, replaced by what is real

*Lust and impatience, disbelief and indulgence

*Let the record show, for weal and for woe

For weal or woe the record shows,

no more lies, there’s no disguise, that deceives the prose

The unseen author always knows

*Some chose virtue, and some chose vice,

both have had to pay the price

*A record for all time

*The chronicles have sworn

*Let the record show, the troubles we have faced

*Deception of the cloth, and corruption of the crown

*The sins of our past, not one word will be erased

*The coin we have taken, and the rivals we cast down

*Let the record show, for weal and for woe

*Some chose hope, and some despaired,

for acts of violence, some prepared

*There are no more unknowns

*The chronicles forewarn

*Let the record show, shining like a star

*Forsaking the darkness, and reaching out to the light

*For those who seek the truth, show them who we are

*Defending our ideals, never giving up the fight

*Let the record show, Proxima’s ideal

*A time and place where our heads can all be held up high

*Let the record show, for weal and for woe

Lydia’s Golden Treasury: Emancipating Blade

Lydia’s Golden Treasury

The Emancipating Blade


The Golden Treasury Item exhibit at the Tenebrae Estate was scheduled to end after the seventh day. Thanks to the Atoning Mirror, and help from Irving and Pharez, Enya had endured her inner darkness and taken invaluable insight from an older, more mature Enya that was yet to be. The revelation gave her the grace and the genuine smile she needed to handle even the most absurd requests from the exhibit’s many visitors. While the first two days had been harrowing for her, the following four were practically uneventful for Enya. It wasn’t until the seventh day, once the end of her shift came, that anything unusual happened.

“Almost all the visitors are gone.” Enya had made the rounds through the gallery several times and counted only four people left who weren’t a part of the staff. That meant it was nearly time to close the doors and start returning all of the items to the Golden Treasury. Enya would have liked to help, but it was getting late, the sun was setting, and her shift was over besides.

“Ms. Ward,” Felka approached her, “Before you travel home for the day, Master Wheeler would like to speak with you in his office.”

Enya wasn’t sure what to expect. Hopefully she hadn’t done anything wrong. Her intuition told her it could be important, but probably nothing bad, at least nothing bad that she had done. “Okay. I’ll head over in a few minutes.”

“Very good.”

The women parted ways and Enya continued through the gallery, looking over each display she passed and thinking back on the frantic week she had. While Etoile’s mirror had been the highlight of the exhibit for her personally, quite a few strange characters had come through the exhibit. Enya recalled a businessman from Cordaea who, despite some very clear rules about how the guests were to conduct themselves, made repeated attempts to purchase some of the items. Even had even asked Enya to quote him a price. Now she knew that this sort of thing was normal for Lydia and her people. Some people didn’t care about the rules. They could always solve a problem with money or influence. At least things had never gotten violent or especially loud.

Enya began to worry there was still a chance for an argument or even a fight to break out when she saw a gruff looking man and a blonde woman standing aggressively in front of Todd–Todd of all people. What was worse, Enya’s least graceful colleague was flailing his arms around and she could hear him talking from across the gallery. Her pace quickened as she tried to get within earshot and stop whatever this was. She didn’t care who was the problem, Todd, or the visitors, she just couldn’t let it escalate.

“Yes, the Fearful Howl,” the gruff man said impatiently, “the most important Draksy blade in the entire world, you know what I’m talking about.”

“Uh, no I don’t,” Todd fired back, exaggerating the man’s accent, “You are coming to see blade, da? Here is blade,” he gestured at the ancient sword on display behind him.

“Why does Tenebrae hire children to take care of priceless artifacts? You don’t even know about the Fearful Howl, one of the world’s greatest treasures! Either you are lying, or you are the dumbest one here. Which is it?”

“Let’s find someone else to help, Nestor,” the woman said, half turning away from the exchange. She glanced back at Todd and fixed him with a cruel smirk. “This boy doesn’t know anything.”

Todd was visibly irked by her remark, almost dropping his crude impression of the gruff man. “Nyet nyet, I am knowing lots of things. You are asking wrong questions.”

“Todd, stop!” Enya ran up and grabbed him, anchoring him on the spot, “Not one more word!”

“Oh? And who might you be, girl?” the woman asked.

“Enya Ward,” she introduced herself, quickly turning to the two visitors and bowing as deeply as she could. What a mess, she thought. Was it that hard to stay out of arguments with Lydia’s guests? What’s worse, Todd was making fun of their Draksy accents. She didn’t know why he had taken things this far but she was going to drag it out of him the second she was done making amends. “I am so sorry for his behavior. Whatever it is you’re looking for, I’d be happy to help you find it.”

“Enya-” “Quiet.” Enya cut Todd off with a sharp whisper.

The gruff man, Nestor, looked relieved, while the blonde woman’s smile never left. “Wonderful,” she said, “That’s a good girl.”

Enya still had fresh memories of her first encounter with the Atoning Mirror, and her dark reflection wasted no time in pointing out how eager she was to please others. She didn’t think much of it most days, but being called a ‘good girl,’ almost like some kind of dog, reminded her of that awful exchange. Her reflection may have had everything about Enya’s life twisted, but she wasn’t lying, something Enya herself would have to keep in mind going forward.

“Now,” Nestor began again, “the Fearful Howl. You know of it, yes? It has other names if you don’t know that one.”

“Fearful Howl,” Enya crossed her arms in thought. She knew for certain that whatever that item was, it wasn’t part of the exhibit; nothing–and Enya meant nothing–on display here had that kind of moniker associated with it. That didn’t mean she couldn’t figure out which item it was and explain the situation to them. Maybe if demand was high enough, this Fearful Howl thing could be part of the next showing. According to Irving, these exhibits were a quarterly affair, and the same items were never put on twice in a single year. There was no reason not to be optimistic.

“The Dread Blade? Toilless Blade, Dragon’s Tail,” Nestor tried one name after another, “Unlimiter, Strakh Voy, Graf’s Bane.”

“Enya-” She cut Todd off with her elbow this time and kept trying to think of an item that matched one of those names. Most of them sounded unrelated, as if the man was reaching for names completely at random.

“Hmm,” Nestor quickly ran out of ideas and looked to his blonde companion.

She shrugged at first. “Limit Breaker? Orlov’s Fang, perhaps? Emancipator?”

Emancipator. Enya had only come across the term recently, but she knew an item that fit that name. “The Emancipating Blade,” she said, bringing her palm and fist together.

“That must be it. Tell us, where is it?” Nestor asked, “Sabina and I came a very long way to see it.”

Oh. Enya realized they had a problem on their hands. She knew what the Emancipating Blade was, or rather, she knew an item by more or less the same name. It was a Section S item, just like the Condemning Mirror. Items stored in Section S were essentially personal defense tools Lydia kept to herself and her closest retainers. Enya was rethinking being optimistic in this situation. She wasn’t looking forward to telling the two Draksy visitors the item they came to see was strictly off limits.

Glancing at Todd again, Enya wondered if he hadn’t been trying to warn her this whole time. Regardless, nothing he was trying to do warranted being so rude. Running the Nestor and Sabina in circles was one thing, but there was no excuse to mock them. Everyone knew the Emancipating Blade was somewhere on the property, now, but their guests wouldn’t be allowed to look at it, no matter how far they came or how much they pushed. They came all this way for nothing.

“It’s,” Enya paused, suddenly taken aback by Todd’s blatant attempt to stop her from saying anything. He had to know that everyone could see him shaking his head and waving his arms. “Just … stop.”

Sabina chuckled when Todd finally stopped floundering. “I don’t think he likes us.”

“Not my favorite face here, either,” Nestor said, staring daggers at Todd.

“I’m truly sorry about all of this,” Enya said, opting for the most diplomatic stance she could muster, “The item you’re looking for isn’t open to the public for viewing.”

“Really,” Sabina’s smile faded quickly.

“Are you serious?!” Nestor stomped once, “We come all this way to see the most important artifact of our people, and all you have to say is you’re sorry?!”

“She didn’t have to say that, either,” Todd said, leaning aggressively toward Nestor. Whatever the game was, the jig was up, so he dropped his Draksy act and planted himself close enough to shield Enya. “It would have been better if you just got fed up and left in a big huff, but I guess we’re doing this now. No one sees that item. Period. End of story. You can leave now.”

Enya was already startled when Nestor got aggressive, but seeing Todd close in to match him and then tell the two Draksy visitors to leave nearly gave her a heart attack. She couldn’t quite bring herself to stop him, this time. There was more going on than she knew. Something about the Emancipating Blade itself that was driving this, with a lot being left unsaid on both sides. Enya didn’t have to think about it for too long before a vague idea came together for her. The Emancipating Blade was a Draksy relic. One would expect one of the most important historic artifacts of the Draksy people to be in one of their museums, not in the private collection of a Calman duchess. Nestor and Sabina made Enya uncomfortable, certainly, but their attitudes weren’t completely unjustified.

“You two children are working for a thief,” Nestor hissed, “That weapon belongs to my people. We have been denied long enough.”

Enya cringed. Nestor’s attitude had gone from bad to worse in the space of a few breaths. She thought he was only here to see it, but now he was making grand claims to it.

“Calm, Nestor,” Sabina soothed, “These two couldn’t do anything for us even if they wanted to.”

That was true, Enya almost nodded.

“The exhibit has come to an end,” Felka interjected, having approached the argument mostly unnoticed, “It’s time for any remaining guests to return to the main hall. The gallery is now closed.”

Enya checked the time and sure enough, it was the top of the hour.

“Tch, fine,” Nestor span around and made for the door at a brisk pace.

“Maybe we’ll come visit again, sometime,” Sabina smiled and turned to leave.

“Yeah, don’t bother,” Todd called out as the Draksy left, earning himself a swat from Enya.

“Could you seriously not have handled that any better?!” She at least managed to wait until the other servants had closed the doors to the gallery, but Enya was upset. Even with Felka standing right next to them, she couldn’t help but lay into him. “Why did you do that?!”

“Draksy asking about that thing are always bad news. Don’t bother making nice with them. They’d steal if it if they knew how.”

“A lot of people would steal a lot of things if they could get away with it,” Enya easily countered, “That’s no excuse to treat them like criminals from the start! You’re going to give us a bad reputation!”

“No I’m not.”

“That’s enough, you two. I’ll take over from here,” Felka calmly cut in, “Ms. Ward, your shift is over, and Mr. Brace, it’s about time for you to head up to the library.”

Todd sighed heavily. “Right, right.”

The library? Enya supposed there was some text Irving wanted translated, or something to that effect. Todd had more responsibilities here than she did, after all. Enya didn’t know how much longer his shift was than hers, since she was always on her way home by now, but she assumed his library visits were related to his vast knowledge of old languages and runes.

“I’ll go see Master Wheeler now,” Enya said, bowing goodbye to Felka. Before she left, she pointed a finger at Todd. “Behave yourself.”

“What are you my boss, now?” Todd gave a crooked smile.

“I refuse to let you drag our names through the mud,” Enya left with those words.

“You wanted to see me, Master Wheeler?” The words were barely out when Enya realized Irving wasn’t alone in his office. Lydia was with him, seated in front of his desk and half turned to face her. Enya hadn’t seen much of her benefactor and favorite author lately, though she knew that was perfectly normal around the estate. If she was here, then Irving probably wasn’t the only one that wanted to speak to her. “And good evening, Mistress Lydia.”

“Good evening.” Lydia’s greeting, that beaming smile of hers was almost too much for Enya to bear. The duchess always treated her like a good friend and not just an employee. It was more than Enya would have dreamed of when she first set out for Idolus.

“Before you head home today,” Irving started things off, “there’s something we want to discuss. It’s about your current living situation.”

“My current living situation?” Enya didn’t know what to think, at first. Was there a problem with the apartment she was renting? Of course there was, she thought; it took roughly an hour for her to get to the Tenebrae Estate each morning, and another hour to get back when she went home for the evening. As much as she loved working here, the journey was a bit of a hassle. Even so, she couldn’t afford to live any closer to the estate. It would take a hefty savings to rent a place anywhere near the outskirts of Roburo City.

Enya thought there might be something else Lydia and Irving took issue with, but she didn’t know what it could be. They both knew what her financial situation was like, as well as the price of living in Roburo.

“I planned to ask you sooner,” Lydia admitted, her smile morphing into something more apologetic, “but it’s been difficult to find the time. To be brief, I want you to consider moving into the dorms at Roburo University.”

The room was quiet for a moment. Enya was caught off guard by Lydia’s request. Roburo University was much closer to the Tenebrae Estate, less than a ten minute drive, so it could solve Enya’s commute problems. It was the same place she visited when applying for her current position, her and a hundred other people. What stumped her was the idea that she could just ‘move in’ with no one raising an eyebrow. “Aren’t those dorms specifically for university students?”

“Enya,” Irving stifled a laugh, “remember who it was that funded Roburo in the first place. Besides, no one said you couldn’t become a student there.”

Enya flinched. Her education had been extremely narrow in Clese, focused almost entirely on life skills. As a result, her writing skills were refined, she had a commanding grasp of her mother tongue, and she was a decent groundskeeper. On the other hand, Enya’s knowledge of world history was only just beginning to develop, her grasp of physics and mana were practically nonexistent, and she felt she would never be comfortable with anything in mathematics that went beyond the basics. Enya had a nagging feeling in the back of her mind that even Todd was more qualified to become a student at Roburo University than her. Soon, that nagging feeling clawed its way to the forefront.

“Is Todd a student there, too?”

“He turned down the offer, actually,” Irving said, “He’s living here at the estate.”

Todd lived right here? In the same building they were in right now? His trip to and from work consisted of a three minute walk from whatever room he was in to the main hall, Enya realized. She had even more questions now.

Sensing her confusion, Lydia held up a hand to reassure her. “Don’t get the wrong idea, Enya. I wanted Todd to become a student as well. His parents would have been overjoyed, but he turned down the offer. He’s staying here in the servant quarters on several conditions.”


“His living expenses are part of our in-house budget, and naturally, he doesn’t have to go far to get here,” Irving explained, “so he remains on call for an additional four hours each day. He’s still a student, of course; as part of our arrangement, Todd agreed to further his linguistic and runic knowledge on top of his regular duties, though we try to overlap the two as much as possible. Everyone deserves a little free time.”

“So he works up to sixteen hours a day and has to study a lot,” Enya tried to summarize. That seemed fair to her. She was on call twenty-four hours a day back home and was still expected to be happy about it. Enya also felt Todd could use the extra discipline in his life, especially after the fiasco she witnessed earlier. “So if I stayed at the estate, I would have to follow the same rules?”

“I would rather you move into the dorms,” Lydia softly urged. Leaving nothing to interpretation, she said, “I don’t just want you to work for me. I want you to learn from me and my colleagues. We aren’t going to be seeing much of each other here, Enya. We’re both far too busy. However, if you become a student at the university, that would open some doors, as well as further your own goals.”

“Oh, right!” Lydia was a Fellow at Roburo University, and that was on top of being one of its original founders. While Enya still didn’t know how she could possibly be qualified, she doubted Lydia would have brought it up if it was impossible. She had all but given up on the hope of attending one of Lydia’s lectures as a student. It always seemed like buying her books and relying solely on those was all she could do. “So you’re saying that if I get into Roburo as a student, we can actually talk every now and then and I can even take your classes.”

“Precisely,” Lydia nodded.

“Her work schedule in the Golden Treasury will have to change,” Irving noted, partly to himself, “but anything worth doing takes some doing. Well, Enya, if you like the idea, we can start making preparations right away.”

“I love the idea,” Enya said, barely able to keep her voice down.

“You will have to show the Board that you’re committed,” Lydia warned, “but that’s the only major obstacle at this point. If you’re willing to fully commit yourself at Roburo, then I’m willing to sponsor you.”

Enya nodded deeply, ready to do whatever it took to get the Board’s approval. It seemed like this was the final piece of a puzzle, just what she needed to complete her new life in Roburo. “I won’t let you down.”

“Wonderful. We’ll need the whole day for this, so you have leave tomorrow. You’ll meet me at the university first thing in the morning, and I’ll set up a meeting with the Board. If all goes well, we can have you enrolled by the end of the day. There’s plenty more to do, but we can discuss that tomorrow.”

“Right,” Enya agreed.

“That was all we needed to discuss,” Irving said, “It’s getting late so we won’t keep you.”

She was apparently free to go now, but as excited as Enya was, she still felt like she and Todd had completely mishandled the Draksy pair from earlier. As far as she knew, neither Lydia nor Irving knew anything about it. They should probably hear it straight from her. Maybe Lydia could also explain why the Section S items were never even temporarily shown off to the public.

“What’s wrong, Enya?” Lydia noticed the sudden change in the girl’s mood.

Even Enya didn’t realize how tense she was until that moment. “There was something I forgot to mention. Two visitors were asking about a Section S item, the Emancipating Blade-” Enya was so startled when Lydia and Irving shot up from their seats that she nearly fell back a step. That was far from the reaction she was expecting.

“Where are they now?” Lydia asked. She was serious, like a garrison commander trying to defend their post.

“They left before I came here,” Enya winced, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how serious this was. Todd was mocking them and trying to chase them off and I was so shocked that was all I could focus on.” As much as she hated to bring the focus back on herself, she had to ask. “Was I wrong? Did I mess up again?”

Lydia’s expression suddenly softened. “… it’s always the new people who have to deal with things like this, isn’t it?”

“Indeed,” Irving nodded. “You did fine, Enya, especially under the circumstances. Since they’re already gone, there’s no point in leaping to action. The Emancipating Blade is as safe as it ever was. What more can you tell us?”

Enya relayed everything she could remember about the incident and the two Draksy guests to Lydia and Irving. She tried not to throw Todd under the bus, but his over the top antics played far too big a role in the way Enya handled the situation to simply brush over. In any event, Lydia and Irving were both far less concerned with anything their two subordinates had done. Enya found that they were the most attentive, and the most tense whenever she quoted one of the Draksy. “Since it’s a Draksy weapon, they felt they had a right to see it.”

“That sounds about right,” Irving grimaced, “Well, at least they let the matter be for now.”

“For now,” Lydia said in a low, grave tone.

“Intuition acting up again?” Irving tilted his head at her.

“All day, today,” Lydia nodded, “I even called Ishmael back from the University. You did well, Enya. Todd’s heart was in the right place, as well.”

It was time, Enya decided. She wouldn’t have a better opportunity to broach the topic. “Can I ask why? You can summon Section S items right into your hand, right? Couldn’t you just show it to them once?”

Irving answered first, moving out to the front of his desk. “It depends on the circumstances. There are magical traps of all sorts out there, and thieves and assassins are quite common.”

Thieves and assassins. What a depressing thought. Lydia did so much good for those around her, yet there were people out there that would rob her, even kill her given the chance. Enya didn’t need Irving to remind her. The Roburo incident of 977 was a horror show, a major international incident, and the only proof she would ever need. It was another reason Enya looked up to Lydia. Idolus was attacked, nearly destroyed, and the duchess was left in a coma for several years. Despite that, she still dedicated herself to changing the world for the better. She hadn’t wavered, even after having her heritage used as an excuse to invade Idolus.

It was still a little disheartening to see such a seemingly small request rejected. Enya didn’t know if the Draksy were genuine travelers, or Lydia’s enemies, but she wanted them and anyone else she came across to be the former.

Lydia held out her right palm and gently spread her fingers. “Very few people asking about the Emancipating Blade simply want to see it with their own eyes.”

Suddenly, a surge of mana erupted out of the air just above Lydia’s palm. For a brief second, swirls of cyan and teal leaped and danced in a frenzy as small arcs raced up through their center. If Enya had even blinked, she would have missed the moment when the Emancipating Blade went from being a mere thought in her mind, to a real, tangible blade in the physical world. The mana quieted and disappeared, leaving a long sword floating over Lydia’s open hand. Slowly, she took the blade by its hilt, and held the Draksy weapon out in front of her for Irving and Enya.

“This is it, the Emancipating Blade.”

It was a most unusual sword: Every part of it curved in one direction or another, giving the weapon an almost organic appearance. The tip of the blade had an almost rounded taper that contrasted with its inward curving dual edges. As Enya’s eyes followed the edges of the blade down toward the hilt, the ancient weapon widened and widened and the edges vanished beneath several overlapping chitinous plates. They resembled elongated and extremely narrow scales, stretching from the top of the hilt to a quarter of the way up the blade. From the side, they reminded Enya of flower pedals, flower pedals that might spread out and down to reveal the rest of the blade. Unlike many of the more recent treasures she had seen, Enya noted a distinct lack of gold or embroidery on the Emancipating Blade. Despite its design, it had been intended purely as a weapon from its very conception.

“What do they usually want?” Enya eventually asked, “To take it?”

“There are three powers in this world,” Lydia explained, “three powers in particular that we prudens are bound to. We call them the Fundamental Powers: Creation, Destruction, Transformation. The artifs are tied to Creation and its nexus of power. The vas are tied to Destruction and its nexus. The muahns are tied to Transformation and its nexus. Most people can no longer use magic. They lack the time and resources, and even the freedom to become true mages.”

Enya didn’t know what any of this had to do with the Emancipating Blade itself, but she was curious about the Fundamental Powers. She only knew what she’d been told, which unfortunately wasn’t much. There were very few people who could claim to only have artif or ‘faber’ blood, and the same held true for vas and muahns. If they looked back far enough, just about anyone could find at least one of the others in their bloodline. Enya herself knew of at least one vas in her family tree, and quite a few artifs, even though she and her family considered themselves muahns. She was one of those people Lydia was talking about, unfortunately, one who couldn’t use magic. She hadn’t even been allowed to study it as a child. When even rural settlements had no direct access to mana, there wasn’t much point.

“We’ve fully industrialized to shelter the common folk from the crimson monstrosities roaming the world, and taken away their inheritance in the process,” Lydia continued, “This sword is from a time long before that, long before the prudens began to lose sight of who we are.”

Within the last few centuries, the use of magic for industrial and military applications had gone up exponentially. As a resource, a means of powering machinery in particular, mana was extremely efficient. Governments couldn’t afford to limit their consumption of it. The more they reined themselves in, the more easily their rivals could surpass them. As a result, the mana that once filled the atmosphere of Praedia was depleted anywhere near pruden settlements. Large mechanical siphons and wide spanning infrastructure connected mines, refineries, and storage facilities to each other, forming an enormous resource network throughout all the industrial nations.

For the people living there, gathering mana on their own was not only extremely difficult, but often illegal. They were forced to purchase what they needed from the local government. Mages were a rarity, and within the last few generations, the public’s understanding of magic and the mana empowering it had begun to diminish. Rather than shaping mana and controlling it with their minds, scientists and engineers used special devices designed by the few remaining mages in the world. Little by little, the prudens were losing their grasp on the Fundamental Powers.

“This sword first appeared in the hands of Emperor Arkadiy, the father of not only the Draksy, but all four of the Scattered Tribes.”

Emperor Arkadiy was one of the few historical figures from antiquity that Enya hadn’t learned about from Irving. She wasn’t familiar with the Emancipating Blade before today, but she knew well the great conqueror who invaded the Zavodian continent from a far away land, brought down the Thunderous Empire within a year, gave the continent its name, resettled millions of people, and then vanished from history, leaving no trace of himself or an heir to carry on his name. The Four Scattered Tribes were the remnants of Arkadiy’s army. They gathered in Central Zavodia before the Emperor’s disappearance, and then scattered in all directions. The people that migrated north became the Draksy.

“No one understood this weapon’s true power until after Arkadiy was gone. The tribes kept all of his possessions, all of his weapons, and the Draksy came to possess this, the Emancipator. Each of their leaders used it, destroying their enemies, carving out new territory for themselves. It was as much a part of their history as the Emperor was.

“This sword alters its wielder’s connection to the Fundamental Powers, freeing them from the limitations in their blood. That’s why the Draksy want it back. That’s why anyone with an interest in using it for war or reproducing it would like to get their hands on it.”

Enya wasn’t quite sure she understood Lydia yet, but she wasn’t the least bit surprised that someone would want to use a weapon like this for war, and even make copies of it. “It frees them from the limits in their blood?”

“I am a pureblood vas, for example.” Lydia turned to face Enya while keeping the blade held up in front of her. “Any finagling I could do with my Agian abilities aside, I have no potential in Creation or Transformation magics. For me, the Emancipator alters my connection to the Destruction Nexus, acting as a conduit of power. Because I’ve studied Destruction magic since childhood, combining that knowledge and conduit together pushes my potential in Destruction beyond any mage, any dragon, and any spirit. If a pureblood vas wields the Emancipator, they are effectively one with the Destruction Nexus. The same holds true for the artif and the Creation Nexus, the muahns and the Transformation Nexus …”

Enya waited for Lydia to continue, but she stopped short of something. Then Lydia approached her and offered her the blade. Enya was almost too scared to touch it. What would happen? Even after Lydia gave a reassuring nod, Enya hesitated, taking a long moment to gingerly take up the sword with both hands.

“And because purebloods are so rare,” Lydia said, “someone like you, Enya, with blood ties to all three pruden races, should you extend your knowledge far enough …”

Enya didn’t feel any different, but even as Lydia spoke, the understanding began to open her eyes wider and wider. She wasn’t a pureblood by any stretch of the imagination. However weak her ties were, she still had them, ties with Creation, Destruction, and Transformation. “Someone like me could become one with all three of them,” she said with a gasp. She always regretted never studying magical principles and teachings as a child, even against her family’s wishes, but now she felt even worse for having unknowingly squandered so much. The Fundamental Powers were the birthright of all prudens, not just the upper classes.

“Now you understand,” Irving interjected, “why we can’t simply let anyone who wants to ‘look’ at the blade do so. Few people have honest intentions to begin with, and what’s worse, history itself is a testament to what they would do with it. Without exception, every Draksy Emperor since Arkadiy has led one vicious campaign after another against their neighbors. Any weapon the Draksy have ever obtained, they have used, and with all the restraint and consideration of a hurricane.”

“Their empire was broken and in disarray for a time,” Lydia said, “That was when the Emancipator was lost. It may surprise you to know this, Enya, but I actually found this as a child.”

It was only a little surprising, thinking back on her reading. Enya knew from Lydia’s book, The Traveler, that the duchess had done a lot of exploring as a child and found many lost artifacts.

“I used to travel all over the continent with my parents. I especially enjoy poking around large ruins, something Zavodia is in no short supply of. Exploration has always been one of my favorite hobbies and the Emancipator was one of my very first discoveries, one of the earliest additions to the Golden Treasury.”

“Item 2-S-01,” Irving gave the designation. It was the first among the ninety-nine quick summons in Section S.

“I’m telling you this because I want you to know my reasons, both the rational as well as the sentimental. I want to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, yes; the same holds true for all of the items I’ve gathered over the years. Even so,” Lydia gently clasped both of her hands over Enya’s and the Emancipating Blade’s hilt. “this is my greatest treasure. It was the test of my character as a youth, as to what I would do with unfettered power. It protected me and my loved ones from some of the greatest threats we ever faced. It’s constantly reminded me who I am and what I’m striving for in life. It’s as much a part of me as my arms and legs.”

“I understand,” Enya said. Sentimentality wasn’t the greatest excuse to deny the Draksy one of their own cultural artifacts, but even she felt that, somehow, Lydia’s claim on the Emancipating Blade was just that little bit greater than theirs. She was still conflicted on who the blade belonged to in the end, but Enya knew one thing for certain: Lydia hadn’t used the blade to harm others. Maybe it wasn’t hers by right, but it certainly was by merit, for whatever that was worth.

Lydia had said everything she wanted to say on the matter, and the Emancipating Blade vanished out of sight, leaving only their hands together. “I hate to turn them away, but no matter what their intentions are, I can’t take that risk.” She let go of Enya’s hands and slowly backed over to her chair before sitting down. She seemed tired somehow. “Don’t worry, Enya. This is personal to me, but it’s nothing unusual.”

“It’s not?”

“Representatives from other nations have threatened war with Idolus over items in the Golden Treasury. A pair of Draksy making demands is nothing compared to that.”

Fair enough. While Lydia was right about the sheer difference in magnitude, Enya couldn’t help but notice just how stressed her benefactor was over the subject. The threat may have been minor, but it was a threat to her greatest treasure. That made the difference in magnitude, at least for Lydia, meaningless.

“I think I’ve kept you long enough for one day. You should head home before it gets dark.”

There was no chance of making it back before sundown, Enya realized, but she should still head out. She found herself glancing at Irving, instead of making for the door. Enya nearly burst into laughter when she realized why she was hesitant to leave. Something about this conversation felt unfinished, and now she knew what it was. Hopefully Lydia and Irving would be just as amused when she told them. “You know, Master Wheeler, these history lessons usually come with a song.”

“Goodness,” Irving chuckled, “It really has become customary, hasn’t it?”

Lydia covered up her smile with her hand as best she could.

“I don’t know, Enya,” Irving said thoughtfully, “The Emancipating Blade is perhaps the most important item in ‘Lydia’s Golden Treasury.’ I think Mistress Lydia herself should be the one to treat us to a song.”

Enya didn’t even notice Lydia flinch in her chair. The idea seemed like a novel one, and she was briefly carried away to an imaginary concert performed by an imaginary Lydia. “That sounds like a great idea.”

“Irving, you can’t put me on the spot like this,” the real Lydia pleaded, “I’m not an artif. I can’t conjure up songs out of the void the way you can.”

Irving let loose a hearty laugh as Lydia lost her composure. It was a rare sight, one even Enya couldn’t help but notice now. “I’m quite sorry, however, I must insist.”

Enya had to admit, if pressed, she would need a lot more time to come up with a song. The subject didn’t matter; she couldn’t get it done in just one day. That was what made artifs so impressive. Their memories, and their commanding grasp of whatever language they studied, made them masterful linguists and musicians. One just couldn’t expect the same from a vas or a muahn. “What if you come up with one and sing it later?” Enya suggested.

“Reasonable,” Irving smirked.

Lydia hung her head in resignation. “Very well. Come this time tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll have something. Consider it a reward for enrolling in Roburo University, Enya.”

“Oh, that’s perfect!” Enya was already onboard with Lydia singing about one of her own treasures, but she absolutely loved the idea of it being a reward for becoming a student. She was more motivated than ever.

As Enya left the Tenebrae Estate’s main building, she tried to imagine Lydia’s miniature concert and how she would sing about the Emancipating Blade. She didn’t have much to go on. She hadn’t known Lydia personally for very long, and didn’t even know what her singing voice was like. Enya didn’t even know if this would be something private, or if others would hear about it by tomorrow evening and show up. It could be overwhelming for Lydia, but Enya hoped that anyone who wanted to hear her sing would be able to.

Today was unusual for Enya, not just because of the confrontation with the Draksy, and Lydia’s explanation of the Emancipating Blade; today, Enya had a driver. There was no need to call a cab. A man with a uniform similar to the rest of the servants waited patiently waited for her by a black car parked in the driveway. It was a bit much for a young groundskeeper, but Enya tried to accept it as part of her new life. Lydia told her before she left Irving’s office that she would have a driver take her to and from the estate going forward. It was as much for security as convenience. Enya wasn’t going to argue with either of those motives, even if she was still paying for a fraction of the car’s fuel. It was only fair. Besides, her driver was quite pleasant. He looked to be just a bit older than Todd, with enough charisma and good grooming to cover both of them.

“I’ll be taking you straight home today if there’s nothing urgent, Ms. Ward,” the driver said, opening the rear door for her.

Enya stopped to think just in front of the passenger seat. “Groceries, mail, and library rentals,” she mused aloud. “No, nothing urgent.”

“Very good.”

Once Enya was inside, and the driver had started up the car, they were off. The driver introduced himself as Heinrich. That was a Calman name, which suggested he had a significant vas heritage. It was nothing important on its own, but their discussion about the Emancipating Blade was still fresh in Enya’s mind, and it had her paying special attention to that kind of information. Heinrich hadn’t given his last name, likely on purpose to ensure he and his new charge reached a more comfortable first name basis sooner rather than later.

“Some say my driving is a bit fast for their liking,” Heinrich warned, “Please let me know if you’d like me to slow down.”

“I guess I’m not in a hurry,” Enya said, partly to herself, “but if you can get me home faster, that would be nice. I want to take care of the laundry early in case something happens tomorrow.”

“You’ll be home within the hour, Ms. Ward.”

Just as they were pulling out past the main gate, Enya saw a figure outside the car, just across the street. He was wearing a conspicuous hoody now, but she could recognize that bitter expression almost anywhere after having only seen it once. That scowl was Nestor’s. At first Enya wasn’t quite certain it was him, due in no small part to the twilight. Everything about him was the same, even the way he eyed her black car with contempt. At least he couldn’t see her. At least, she thought he couldn’t see her. The car’s windows were more than just tinted. No one without exceptional magical abilities could peer into the vehicle, thanks to its own set of mana enhanced features. Even so, Enya could almost swear he was looking straight at her.

Nestor skulking around outside the Tenebrae Estate was worrisome. Lydia and Irving were right about the Emancipating Blade. Todd may have even been right about the Draksy. Enya could only hope Nestor didn’t stick around to make trouble for the servants. He could camp outside the estate all night if he wanted to, but it wouldn’t win him any time with Lydia’s greatest treasure, not so much as a peek.

“I can’t believe he’s still here,” Enya huffed as the car pulled away.

“The man back there?” Heinrich asked, glancing through the rearview mirror.

“Nestor. He was at the exhibit earlier with a woman named Sabina,” Enya explained, “They wanted to see the Emancipator. That obviously wasn’t going to happen, but they insisted right up until closing time. Todd really made a mess of things, too.”

“We do occasionally get troublemakers,” Heinrich said. “I’ll remember his face.”

“I’m sure they’ll give up soon.” Enya didn’t see the need for even her own driver to be on guard. On the other hand, he would know better than her. Even Todd was on point today, even if his methods were ridiculous. Enya wasn’t looking forward to the day when she was so used to his bad behavior that she stopped caring.

Once they arrived at Enya’s apartment complex, Heinrich let her out of the car and escorted her right up to her room on the second floor. Being let in and out of a fancy car was one thing, but Enya was blown away by Heinrich was the first impression of a male servant that she desperately needed when she first arrived at the Tenebrae Estate. She supposed Irving had made up for Todd in a multitude of ways, but still, Enya would have loved to be working alongside Heinrich, even if it meant being driven around by Todd. It was a better ‘arrangement’ in her mind.

“Thank you so much, Heinrich,” Enya instinctively bowed, “Not just for being my driver, but also for demonstrating how a proper Tenebrae Servant is supposed to behave.”

Heinrich smiled apologetically, likely thinking of poor Todd. “We try to be worthy servants for a worthy master. Always.”

“Exactly,” Enya nodded fervently. “My faith’s restored. Thank you again.”

As Enya unlocked her door and stepped through when Heinrich’s phone rang. Enya paused while he answered it.


Enya remembered that name. Lydia mentioned him in Irving’s office.

“That’s unfortunate. I’ll come pick you up. No, it’s no trouble at all, especially considering the situation. Yes, I trust her instincts as much as you do. All the more reason for us to move quickly.”

Enya wasn’t getting nearly enough from Heinrich’s side of the call alone, but she suspected this Ishmael was supposed to be somewhere and had gotten held up somehow. She didn’t know whose instincts they both trusted so much, but it did remind her of Lydia. She was renowned for her ‘financial instincts’ in particular.

“I’m on my way.” Heinrich put away his phone. “I must be going now, Ms. Ward, but I’ll be here in the morning to take you to the university.” He bowed to her this time.

“Safe travels,” Enya said, giving Heinrich a small wave as he turned to leave.

Enya turned on the lights and shut the door. When she turned around, she was back home, in a rather dull, mostly barren apartment. The walls were white, but somehow appeared a subdued, uninspiring gray to tired eyes, weighing down the mood of the living room. Not being able to afford much more than a bed and a futon for soft furnishings, Enya plopped herself down on the latter and stared at the far wall for a few minutes.

Tomorrow was a big day for her, and even as her seven days working at the exhibit began to finally catch up to her, Enya couldn’t help but mentally prepare herself for the Board members at Roburo University. She had to convince them that she was a good fit. Relying entirely on Lydia’s recommendation would only make them both look bad. Lydia hadn’t given Enya any details about how she was supposed to approach the meeting, so Enya hoped she had everything she needed.

Maybe it was enough to explain to them just what she’d put herself through to save up enough money to travel from Clese to Idolus, and rent an apartment here. If that wasn’t enough, Enya could probably tell them just a little bit about her work for Lydia, nothing confidential, of course, just enough to show that she was competent, dedicated, and a quick learner. Weren’t those all qualities of a good, teachable student?

Enya did all of her laundry early and set aside some clothes for the morning, making sure she was prepared no matter what happened. If something was spilled over one dress, she had another ready and waiting to go. If one pair of shoes was looking a bit too scuffed in the morning light, she had several other, newer pairs to choose from. She had a comb on her night stand and another on the dresser. Despite all these extra preparations, Enya couldn’t help but have a light dinner. Scraping together a larger breakfast to make up for it in the morning would be the end of her prep work.

Normally, Enya would do just a bit of reading before bed, even when she wanted to turn in early, but tonight, her plan was to go straight to bed. That plan was unceremoniously ruined when, just ten minutes after she laid down, there was a knock on the door. Enya’s thoughts were jumbled, as she had already been falling asleep. No one should be visiting her other than Heinrich, and not even him at this hour. A part of her began to worry, and she wondered if she shouldn’t just ignore the knocking and try to go back to sleep. Whoever it was wouldn’t have any choice but to try again tomorrow if she chose the easy way out.

The knocking continued, louder and more insistently this time. Whoever this was intended to rouse her from sleep if need be.

As quietly as she could, Enya slid out of bed and crept back into the living room.

The knocking was even louder this time. Even the neighbors had to be approaching wit’s end with someone clubbing the door with their fist.

Enya was really worried, now. Heinrich wouldn’t do something like this. An unlikely face came to mind, one she desperately hoped hadn’t somehow followed her home. Slowly, with painfully cautious steps, Enya approached the door. Another series of banging made her jolt. She covered her mouth, hoping her gasp hadn’t made it outside. She couldn’t get any closer to the door. Not now. She was too scared. Enya crumbled to her knees and started praying.

“Go away, go away, go away …”

She expected another fit of door bashing, but instead, the handle began to jostle and shake wildly. In that moment, Enya’s blood went cold. They were actually trying to force their way in. Heinrich wouldn’t do that. Even Todd wouldn’t try to do that. This was a real intruder. Slowly, quietly, Enya began to crawl backward away from the door toward the center of the living room. She glanced back in the dark toward the kitchen. Would a knife help her at all against whoever was contending with the front door? It was better than nothing, she decided.

Just as Enya stood up to go to the kitchen, the door handle bent all the way down and the door flew open. Enya only spared the dark intruder a glance before running. She couldn’t see anything but their silhouette in the dark, making it a wasted effort. Even so, her instincts were telling her it was Nestor. She had nearly made it to the kitchen and just barely managed to flick the lights on before she was grabbed from behind. She let out the loudest scream she could muster before a gloved hand flew over her mouth. There was more than one intruder, she realized. Desperation took over and she bit down on the gloved hand as hard as she could.

The second figure yelped, trying not to reveal themselves, but Enya could tell it was a woman. Sabina, maybe? It didn’t matter now. Enya kicked and struggled to get free, but she was in a vice grip, held almost two heads off the ground, and being carried back toward the door. All she could do was start screaming again, but even that didn’t last long before a cloth wrapped itself around her mouth and neck. With no options left, she used her hands to scratch and claw at the first attacker’s sleeves. His clothes were thick and insulated, so she couldn’t reach his skin or cause him any real pain.

Before Enya knew it, she was outside her apartment and being carried down the same staircase Heinrich had escorted her up not two hours earlier. Enya saw the get-away vehicle, an old truck with a large tarp over the back. There was already a driver waiting, and the engine had been running the entire time. She was going to be taken. Enya knew it, and she didn’t have any way to buy herself more time. What were they going to do with her? Would there be a ransom involved? Suddenly the Emancipating Blade flashed in her mind’s eye. That must have been why they were here. The Draksy, Nestor and Sabina, the driver, and anyone else involved. They were going to try to trade Enya for Lydia’s most important treasure, naturally. The shame she felt for being caught, and knowing how she was about to be used, drained the rest of the fight out of Enya. It was too late to stop any of this.

“Good girl,” Sabina’s voice came from behind.

The words smacked of arrogance. Enya couldn’t stand hearing them again, especially from that woman. The man holding her tossed her to two more ebon clad figures in the back of the truck, and they quickly bound Enya’s hands and feet. As soon as he climbed in, he revealed his face. It was indeed Nestor, just like she thought. The second Sabina was in the passenger side seat in the front of the truck, the driver peeled out of the parking lot.

“Time to find out what you’re worth, child.” Nestor didn’t look or sound nearly as pleased about the situation as Sabina did.

The two others holding Enya sat her up straight and kept her facing Nestor.

“You know why we do this?”

Incensed by the question, Enya violently shook her head and gnawed at the cloth over her mouth.

“Threats, violence, it’s the way of the world for people like us. You children thought Sabina and I were just disgruntled tourists, didn’t you? No no no,” Nestor shook his head, “We are servants, just like you,” he jutted a finger uncomfortably close to Enya’s face. “I am Nestor Vanya Novikov, Retainer of the last true ruler of the Empire.”

Last true ruler? Enya was more interested in getting free than listening to Nestor gloat, but the political situation in the Draksy Empire escaped her completely.

“You children don’t know anything,” Nestor sighed.

Enya didn’t know what he was expecting from her. She could barely even growl at him through the cloth in her mouth. Giving any sort of meaningful response was out of the question.

“Of course you don’t know about her. The Princess of Wyverns. She is our lord and master. The Fearful Howl is hers. Your Calman duchess has no right to have it,” Nestor poked at Enya’s face several more times, making sure he had her full attention. “If you had just taken us to it, this would have been simple, easy, but no one listens. No one ever listens until it comes to this. Threats, violence. This is the way of the world. It always has been and it always will be.”

A couple of hard knocks on the back window came, courtesy of Sabina. It was some kind of signal, based on Nestor’s reaction.

“She just made the call. Tenebrae knows we have you, child. If she agrees to give us the blade, you can go free.”

Enya closed her eyes. She couldn’t bare to look at Nestor anymore, but even more than that, she wanted to escape from what her imagination was showing her, a distraught Lydia. Enya’s presence here was never meant to cause anyone grief or turmoil, and what about the Emancipating Blade? That was Lydia’s most important treasure, the very thing she was about to be ransomed for.

“If she doesn’t,” Nestor said, his tone shifting to grim resolve, “you die.”

The terms were laid out, at least for Enya’s ears. Lydia had to give the Draksy the Emancipating Blade, or they would kill Enya. Neither outcome was even remotely desirable, but it was all up to Lydia now. Enya could only pray for a miracle, a way to be rescued from her captors. That was the only way to save both her and Lydia’s treasure.

So Enya prayed.

She prayed for hours.

Enya opened her eyes and saw the morning light beaming in through the truck’s tarp. Her restraints weren’t the only things binding her, now. There was something thin, with a bulky attachment tied around her neck. It reminded Enya of a collar, but she couldn’t see what it was or what it was for. She had been alone when she first came to, but only for a moment. Enya heard shouting, arguing, as one of the Draksy approached the truck. The first face she saw that day was Nestor’s. He looked just as angry as he had in the gallery, climbing into the truck and hauling Enya up by her restraints. Her elbows and shoulders took a lot of punishment from the sudden lift, and it was the most painful way to wake up she had ever endured, culminating in a hard drop onto the rough, dry mountain grass. The sun was blinding outside, and Enya couldn’t tell where in the world she was, or even how many of them there were.

“You see?! I told you,” Nestor shouted at someone Enya couldn’t make out, “Here she is! Alive! But for how much longer, I don’t know. I’m tired of waiting, boy.”

Boy? It wasn’t Lydia herself, then? Enya supposed that made sense. It might be too dangerous for her to come in person. Who did she send, then? Were they going to exchange the Emancipating Blade for her?

“Where is Lydia?!” Nestor wasn’t finished yelling, it seemed, and from the sound of things, they were expecting her, not whoever this ‘boy’ was.

“Sorry, we’re all you get,” a young man’s voice barely reached Enya’s ears.

It wasn’t Todd, though the thought of him being here was crazier than anything her imagination could come up with. It wasn’t Heinrich’s voice either, but the man said ‘we’re all you get’ implying he wasn’t alone. It was enough to make Enya fight to adjust her eyes to the light, forcing them open a little bit at a time. She had to see who Lydia sent to save her.

“Don’t you understand?! If you jerk us around, she DIES,” Nestor bellowed. His threat echoed down the mountain.

“Calm down,” the man said. “You just want the Emancipator, right? We brought that.”

“It could be a fake,” Sabina chimed in, “At least if Lydia was here, we could trace her magic and counter it if she tried something.”

“Or try to kill her,” the man said pointedly.

“Enough games! I’ll give you ten more minutes to get Lydia out here. After that,” Nestor turned to Enya, looking down on her with the same grim resolve as the night prior. “After that, you can try to fight us if you want, but you will die the same as her.”

The man sighed casually. “I guess we’ve got no choice, then. Time for plan B.”

He turned toward a dark elongated shape a few meters behind him just as Enya’s eyes adjusted to the light. She wouldn’t have recognized him even if he turned back to face them all. He was built differently from all the other men Enya knew from the Tenebrae Estate. He was fit and lean, like a runner, his dark brown hair was kept in a short ponytail, and he carried what looked like a long maroon colored staff in his right hand. She didn’t know anyone like that. Not yet.

Enya, Nestor, Sabina, and the other Draksy watched as the man bent down in front of the black mass and tapped his fingers on it.

It was strange to see at first, but as Enya focused on the dark shape, it quickly resolved into a black car. It was Heinrich’s car. The man with the staff was tapping the right passenger side window. Whoever else was inside, the Draksy couldn’t see them. Heinrich got out first and came around the back, presumably to let someone else out. Was it Lydia? Had she come after all? Wasn’t that dangerous?

The man with the staff quickly turned to the Draksy and approached them. “She’s here, but if you try anything, none of you are walking away from this,” he warned, pulling up his staff and giving it a good twirl for emphasis.

You try anything, and you’ll be picking up pieces of this child for days,” Nestor calmly spat back.

That was an eerily specific threat, Enya noted. She hoped that whatever was tied around her neck had nothing to do with it. If it was some kind of bomb, couldn’t they just set it off once she was free? She was still gagged and bound, so she couldn’t warn anyone. All she could do was hope it was as obvious to them as it was to her.

When Heinrich reached the back of his car and opened the door, he and his partner seemed to be the only ones that weren’t surprised, when Lydia von Tenebrae herself stepped out. “I’ll take care of the rest, Ishmael,” she said.

The man with the staff, he was the one Heinrich left to pick up the previous night.

“Sabina?” Nestor and several others had their eyes on her now.

Sabina squinted hard at Lydia. She must have suspected a body double, but that wasn’t the case. She nodded to Nestor. “It’s her. It’s the real Lydia.”

Could she tell just by looking, or was she using magic too faint for the eyes? Enya didn’t know, but she was glad to see that Lydia had come to rescue her. She was less happy about what would need to happen for her to get out of this mess. The Draksy’s plan wasn’t foolproof, but they were better prepared than Enya had been.

“Show me the blade,” Nestor demanded, “No stalling, you’ve had all night to get it ready for us.”

Lydia held out her hand and kept her palm facing the sky, just like before, and just like before, the Emancipating Blade appeared, erupting into existence beneath a torrent of excited mana and sparks. Enya knew now, Lydia was willing to give up the Emancipating Blade to save her life. She was happy to know that, but even so, she felt responsible for what was happening. If she had just avoided being taken somehow, if just one thing had gone differently yesterday, maybe they could have avoided this. Enya hated the bitter, defeated look on Lydia’s face. She tried to think of a way to free herself, so she could get back to them before the trade was made, but it was already too late.

One of the Draksy leaped to the front the group with a long black case in his hand. He opened it, and lightning exploded out from it. The violent arcs crashed into the Emancipating Blade and enveloped it. Lydia stumbled away into Ishmael’s arms as a burst of white mana was thrown out in all directions. A moment later, the sword was pulled into the case and it instantly shut and locked itself. The force of the retrieval almost sent it flying out of the Draksy man’s hands, but he kept a grip on it. Once he had his footing, he made a beeline for the truck before anyone could change their minds.

“Severing complete,” Sabina smiled triumphantly.

A severing was a kind of spell Enya had only learned about recently. Private ‘inventories’ like Lydia’s bound items to special magical systems, which allowed the owner to summon and dismiss the items at will. It was ludicrously expensive to operate one as large as Lydia’s, but these systems were powerful and versatile. A severing spell could remove an item from that system, stealing it from the inventory with brute force. The Draksy must have known that Lydia could summon the Emancipating Blade right out of their hands and back to hers on a whim as long as it was a part of the Golden Treasury, and so they severed it completely. Item 2-S-01 was now a blank entry.

Nestor knelt down over Enya. Again, he hauled her up by her wrist restraints, and again Enya could only endure the intense pain, her shoulders crying out for mercy. Nestor finally ended their relationship by forcing Enya a few meters closer to Lydia and Ishmael, and then throwing her toward them. Ishmael managed to catch her before she hit the ground. The Draksy all piled into the truck as the engine started up, and Enya started screaming through her gag. She had to warn them about the collar she was wearing before the Draksy got away.

“Enya,” Lydia winced.

No time, Enya mentally pleaded, there was no time. By some miracle, Ishmael opted to take off the gag first. “Are you-” “My neck! Take it off my neck,” Enya yelled as the truck drove away at speed.

Enya had been worried, seemingly for nothing. Lydia simply waved her hand over Enya’s head, and as if struck by a thousand microscopic blades, the restraints fell into small, thinly sliced heaps all about her. The collar had suffered the same fate, and its inner workings had been minced by the overwhelm Destruction spell. Whether it was a bomb, or something more subtle, it was broken.

“Anything else?” Lydia looked to Ishmael, who was already going over Enya’s entire body with his hand. He was looking for something.

“What’s he doing?” Enya asked. She couldn’t let that occupy her for long. The Draksy hadn’t gotten away yet. “Lydia, we can still catch them. You can get the Emancipator back …” Enya tried to convince Lydia, but the look on the woman’s face told her to leave it be. Lydia’s decision had already been made and nothing could change her mind.

“I’m sorry,” Enya hung her head. She could barely hold back her tears looking back on everything. She was supposed to help look after the items in the Golden Treasury. Now, because of her, the most important one of all was gone. There was nothing she could do to turn the situation around. Today was supposed to be a good day, the day she was accepted as a student at Roburo University and began her new life in earnest. Now, she felt like crawling into a hole somewhere, somewhere she wouldn’t be a problem for anyone else.

“No other traps,” Ishmael grinned, “She’s fine.” With that, he helped Enya to her feet.

“I’m sorry, Lydia,” Enya said. She wiped her eyes, but it wasn’t enough to keep her eyes dry. She felt like nothing but a burden to Lydia now.

“We should go,” Heinrich said softly.

“Come back to the estate with me, Enya,” Lydia said, holding out her hand.

“Why? This is all my fault!” Enya let herself fall, but Ishmael kept her from completely falling to pieces. “If I wasn’t here to get kidnapped, none of this would have happened.”

“I,” Ishmael was about to say something, but held back. He made eye contact with Lydia, asked an unspoken question, and then gently urged Enya’s head toward him. “It’s not your fault. We had a feeling something weird was going on. People have been poking around the estate for a few weeks now. You’re the only servant that doesn’t live at the dorms or in the servant quarters, so Lydia asked me to keep an eye on you until you were out of that apartment complex.”

“It’s my fault,” Heinrich quickly weighed in, “I didn’t think you were in any immediate danger. I thought I could have Ishmael brought to the apartment to watch the area before anything happened. It was foolish to leave you alone, Ms. Ward. You have my sincerest apologies.”

“If I hadn’t gotten held up in the first place,” Ishmael countered Heinrich, “you wouldn’t have had to make that call. It’s my fault.”

“N-no,” Enya took her turn to protest, picking herself back up, “Look at me. I’m completely helpless. I’m completely useless. Anyone who wants to steal things from the Golden Treasury just has to find me and throw me in the back of a truck. That makes it my fault. That’s why none of you should even bother with me anymore.”

“Please don’t say that, Enya,” Lydia said, visibly heartbroken. Enya felt a sudden pain in her chest. She regretted her words right then and there. “Please don’t say that.”

Heinrich and Ishmael quietly left the discussion. Heinrich went to stand by the car, and Ishmael stayed just close enough to Enya to keep her off of the rough terrain.

Enya trembled at Lydia’s words and the way she said them, afraid she might hurt the woman she idolized even more if she said anything else, anything at all. “B-but, isn’t it true? Isn’t it?”

“They took the Emancipator from me. Don’t let them take you, too.” Lydia held out her hand one more time. “Come back to the estate with me. Please.”

Even though there was nothing anyone could say that would convince Enya she wasn’t a liability that day, she couldn’t say no. She did everything in her power to reach Roburo, against the wishes of most of the people in her own family. Lydia was the very woman she was trying to follow, and she was the one asking Enya to continue, even after what had just happened. Enya wasn’t just another face in the crowd, hoping for a book signing, or insight into a problem, she was one of Lydia’s own people, now. She was someone responsible for the items in the Golden Treasury, someone Lydia was willing to help, even if it meant losing the most important possessions she had. There couldn’t be a worse time to give up, to walk away. Lydia had given up the Emancipating Blade to save her life; Enya couldn’t abandon her now.

Enya took one last look at the fleeing Draksy. Their truck was more than a mile down the road, halfway down that part of the mountain. They would never catch them. Enya turned back toward Lydia, wiped her eyes one last time, and reached out for her waiting hand.

“I can’t stand this silence,” Lydia groaned.

“I could put on some music,” Heinrich offered, his hand reaching for the radio dial.

“That’s thoughtful, but …”

Enya was resting her head on Lydia’s shoulder, completely drained from her ordeal. Heinrich and Ishmael had been in the front of the car, discussing the events that led up to the morning confrontation while Heinrich drove them back to the Tenebrae Estate. Eventually, they had run out of things to talk about. They had questions for Enya, but those questions would have to wait. It wasn’t the time to be dwelling on her Draksy captors. They were going out of their way not to mention them directly until the conversation dried up completely.

“I was hoping,” Lydia paused again, searching for the right word, “for some kind of closure.”

“Lydia?” Enya quietly spoke up.

“Yes, Enya?”

“Will you ever be able to get it back? The Emancipator?”

“I will get it back. Making a move any time soon, though,” Lydia smiled bitterly, “now that would make a lot of people very unhappy, not just the Draksy.”

“But it’s yours,” Enya grimaced, “The Emancipator belongs to you. I know that, now.”

“Thank you, Enya. It means a lot to me to hear you say that.”

“I’m serious,” Enya sat up and faced Lydia, “We have to get it back. I know me getting kidnapped is what started this, but I’ll help you. I’m going to study hard at the university, and I’m going to develop my own set of skills, learn how to defend myself, and I’ll help you get the Emancipator back.”

Lydia was visibly stunned by Enya’s sudden declaration. Ishmael leaned around his seat to see the commotion, while Heinrich could only keep an eye on things through the rearview mirror.

After considering the idea, Lydia had a question. “Is that a promise, Enya?”

“It’s a promise!”

Lydia smiled. “Then when the time comes, we’ll take it back.”

“I’ll be ready.”

“In the meantime,” Lydia made a soft pivot, “I’d still like some closure. Something has felt off ever since we got in the car.” She stared at the roof, seemingly lost in thought.

“Closure?” Enya wasn’t sure a situation like this could have any real satisfying conclusion to it. They had come out of this with less than they started with. Then again, that only felt half true. The Emancipating Blade was gone, but Enya felt that her bond with Lydia was stronger than ever.

Lydia sighed. “I know what it is. I didn’t get to sing for you.”

“Sing?” Ishmael gawked.

Heinrich narrowly managed to keep his eyes on the road and not look back over his seat.

“The song,” Enya remembered the reward she was promised. It seemed premature, but she’d be lying if she told anyone she didn’t want to hear Lydia sing. “Is now really the time? You’re singing about something we don’t have anymore.” Enya looked away, feeling guilty again. There was no escaping her helplessness in the loss of the Golden Treasury’s finest. “I don’t want to drag up any bad memories for you.”

Lydia closed her eyes.

It took Enya a moment to realize that Lydia wasn’t thinking of a reply, but mentally rehearsing.

In the north lies Creation, in the south lies Destruction,
in the west lies Transformation, in my hand the Blade of Emancipation

The ruins of old I would scour, the reward for my great endeavor
the blade turned my knowledge into power, a bond that no one could ever sever

From antiquity to the Treasury, from the hand of the Emperor down to me

I know not the hand that forged the great blade,
I know of the monarchs whose hearts were swayed,
Successors, aggressors, their wars are for naught,
oppressors, the lessers, the pain they have wrought

Creation, cast your light and show us the way,
Destruction, rise up and chase evils away,
Transformation, go forth and turn night into day,
Set them free, set them free, set them free

“I hope that someday, I can use the Emancipator to change the course this world is on. There is so much we can accomplish if the people are free to grow spiritually, again, to understand their birthright and use it.”

“You will,” Enya said, trying to sound reassuring. To her surprise, Lydia closed her eyes again and held out her hand like she did each time she summoned the Emancipating Blade. Enya knew the Draksy had used a severing spell on it, removing it from the Golden Treasury altogether. They had even sealed it in a special black case for good measure. Lydia wasn’t going to be able to summon the Emancipator this time, and Enya could only shift around uncomfortably as she waited for the inevitable failure, and the finality that would surely come with it.

“Enya, it’s time, put your hand below mine,” Lydia instructed her.

Enya was fighting back more doubts than she could handle, but she followed Lydia’s instruction and quickly put her hand in the same position.

Ishmael and Heinrich were confused at first, but Ishmael could sense what was coming as soon as Lydia began to focus. He stopped himself just short of climbing into the backseats with them. “Lydia, wait,” he pleaded.

Suddenly a thick blue haze engulfed Lydia. Enya could feel the mana passing through her with ease and converging on Lydia’s body. The sensation was subtle at first, but intense. She had never felt such a strong magical presence in her life. Whatever was happening, it had nothing to do with the Golden Treasury. It was a completely different kind of magic. Enya tried to put her free hand hand on Lydia’s shoulder, but the energies surrounding her were almost painful to the touch. The closer her hand got, the more it felt like it was being violently shaken at its foundations. Enya thought every particle comprising her hand would scatter to the four winds if this kept up. She pulled back, opting for her voice instead.


“She’s using Agia,” Ishmael said.

When Lydia opened her eyes, a black case emerged in its own dense cloud of mana and promptly fell into her and Enya’s laps. The air in the car cleared and all of the residual energies subsided.

“W-what?” Enya was convinced Lydia wouldn’t be able to summon the Emancipating Blade back, but somehow she’d done it. Could Agia really be that powerful? “What did you do? I thought they severed it?”

Lydia let out a deep breath and gently patted the case with her hands. “A song, and a sword. That’s just the closure I needed~” She fixed Enya with a big grin and said, “There are bonds that even magic can’t sever, Enya. Now don’t forget the promise you made to me.”

Enya was surprised to hear that brought up only a few minutes after the fact, but a promise was a promise, and she aimed to keep it, even if the Emancipator was already back in Lydia’s possession. “You can count on me.”

“Enya,” Ishmael held up a finger to make a point, “Try to keep your head down while you’re studying and training, alright? Lydia just used Agia, which is against international law. A lot of angry politicians and nosy journalists are going to be gunning for us for a while. Understand?”

“Really?!” Enya’s eyes darted back to Lydia.

“I’m afraid so,” Lydia smiled an apology.

“It’s not the first time she’s pulled something like this,” Ishmael shrugged, “We were practically overdue, anyway. Nothing we can’t handle, though, right?”


“Navigating rough roads is what we do,” Heinrich said.

“If you say so,” Enya said, mostly resigned to her fate. She just hoped she would be ready for whatever was coming next.