6. A New Threat

Chapter 6

A New Threat

            As Clair planned, the units were split and the enemy soldiers were kept on their toes. This made it easy for Nel and the others to sneak past the majority of the soldiers as they made their way into enemy territory. There were a few men that noticed them in the chaos, but they were defeated in no time. Privately, Nel was a bit disturbed by the lack of Black Brigade soldiers. If Vox had commandeered Albel’s men, then where were they?

It seemed the closer they approached Kirlsa, the more Black Brigade knights there were. But for some reason, they weren’t attacking. Nel could hear the superior officers of the other brigades screaming at them to act, but they refused to budge as if they were trying to protest something. However, they were doing everything they could to keep Aquarians out. They were almost an impenetrable defense, but Nel and the others managed to squeeze through and rush to the central command where Vox waited.

“So you’re the ones I’ve been hearing about… The ones who defeated Albel…” he sneered as he mounted his dragon.

With the way Vox was speaking, Nel had to wonder in what condition Albel returned in. He may have lost the battle when he fought against Fayt and Cliff, but he wasn’t so defeated that he had to be removed from battle. Did something happen to him after their last encounter?

She stored the new information in the back of her mind as Cliff countered Vox’s statement with, “So what if we are?”

“Vox!” the spy shouted as she unsheathed her daggers, “You will die here!”

Nel had her reasons for fighting and they gave her the strength to make it this far. But now that she was before the enemy, her only thought was the destruction of the man before her. Of all Glyphians, she hated him the most. It was evident from the moment he took command of the Dragon Brigade that he desired war and did everything he could to make it happen. It was because of his influence that he made it to the top of the list on Nel’s assassination targets, but she didn’t have the skill to attack him alone, nor did the man ever let down his guard.

It was because of Vox that so many innocent people died needlessly. Nel hated him to the very fiber of her being. She even hated him more than the foolish Glyphian king who listened to him. Vox smirked down at her furious features before he gestured for his men to stand down.

“You have a lot of guts, but we’ll bury you just the same… Leave these scum to me, men!”

The man was bold and overconfident. Considering he was one of the best warriors in Airyglyph, he had every right to be. But Nel had confidence that, together with Fayt, Cliff, and Adray, she had more than enough to defeat the corrupt man.

“Let’s go!” Fayt called as he charged into the battle.

Vox made sure to keep his distance with his air dragon so that Fayt and Cliff would have a hard time hitting him. This left them with no choice but to use their battle techniques until he flew low enough for an attack. Luckily, Vox seemed more focused on the engineers than on the runologists, making it possible for Adray and Nel to cast a few spells on the dragon.

Nel unleashed a simple firebolt on the left wing of the dragon, distracting it long enough for Adray to unleash his earth glaive on the beast. One of the earth daggers shot out from the ground and managed to knock the dragon down. Vox swiftly jumped in time and rolled back into a fighting position as Fayt attacked. The Glyphian captain soon had his sword locked with Fayt’s before Cliff came up from behind and landed a blow to his shoulder. Had Vox not anticipated the back attack, he would’ve been struck in the head.

It was clear that Adray wanted a piece of the action, but he focused his attention on the dragon so that Vox wouldn’t have the chance to get back into the air. Nel decided to stay back long enough to summon another spell. She figured that if she could stun Vox, then Fayt or Cliff would have time to deliver the finishing blow. When she was done chanting, she held her spell and waited for a clear shot so that she wouldn’t hit her allies in the process.

But, the dragon roared in anger and unleashed its fiery breath before it flew up into the air. Vox and Nel were the only ones not affected by the attack. The only reason Nel wasn’t knocked down was because of her distance and the fact that she unleashed her ice daggers in time to shield her from the fire. Vox had jumped back upon hearing the dragon cry and avoided the fire altogether. She noticed him trying to rush back to his dragon so she ran up to him to block his path.

He was stunned at first but recovered quickly enough to swing his sword at her. She easily caught the blade between her daggers and shoved him back. She could hear the dragon moving and letting out a growl. She knew it was after her since she was attacking its master, but she didn’t move from her spot. She stood her ground, unflinching as the beast came closer to her. She wasn’t surprised to hear a stunned noise come seconds later when one of her comrades recovered and started attacking.

But since the dragon was being unruly, all three of her companions were busy dealing with it. This meant she had to hold off Vox long enough until at least one of them was available to help her. Nel couldn’t forget the fact that while she was a good warrior, she wasn’t as strong as Albel or Vox on her own. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t stall.

Vox was impressed by how she stood her ground and how she blocked his next attack. He waited for her to attack before he decided to bait her and leered down at her.

“You must be the one Albel has been watching for the past few years. You had his attention since the first attack on Arias, but he never let your pretty face sway his loyalty to Airyglyph,” he told her with a dark chuckle as he continued to attack her.

He knew all along of Albel’s feelings for the Aquarian. It was obvious with the way he was always concerned about her whereabouts and location. But he couldn’t prove without a doubt to the king that the captain was a traitor until his recent failure at the Bequerel Mines. It didn’t matter to Vox if Albel was in love with the enemy or an actual traitor. The boy was nothing but a softhearted thorn in his side from the moment he was born. But the knowledge was useful enough and he had ways of using it to destroy Albel’s good name. And, if he played his cards right, he could use it to defeat the woman before him.

Nel didn’t betray any emotion or hints that the information bothered her. She didn’t pause at the mention of Albel’s name, nor did she allow herself to care about whatever Vox said. He was a known liar (even though she couldn’t sense any deception from him at the moment) and she didn’t have any reason to believe him. She wasn’t sure if the purpose of his words was to make her think that Albel really did love her or make her upset that he didn’t love her over his kingdom (which either one didn’t matter to her anyway), but she knew he was trying to make her falter.

But he wasn’t deterred by his first failure. He had much to say and he knew something would make her crack sooner or later. Albel had to have made some kind of contact with her during the past and if that wasn’t enough, her father was just as famous as his former captain.

“But I can see why he admires you,” he continued as they fought, “It seems that the feeble minded are attracted to others as foolish as they are.”

Nel wasn’t one to let a snide comment about her intelligence affect her in the middle of battle. If she did, then she would have to acknowledge that Albel had feelings for her and that she felt something for him. She didn’t want to believe the possibility of either one until she had more answers from the Wicked One himself. Besides, she partially agreed that Albel had to be some kind of an idiot. Nel continued to focus on the battle only by parrying his blows and gradually push him back away from his dragon.

“It makes perfect sense… Both of you are weak. Both of you have weak ideals and serve undeserving masses. You both even had equally weak fathers who foolishly sacrificed themselves for worthless ingrates that barely deserve the right to live!”

That had done it. Vox allowed a grin to appear when the spy tensed for a brief second. Nel didn’t care that she was being compared to Albel. All of that was unconfirmed information that she could easily ignore. What did bother her was what he said about her father. There was nothing weak about what he did! He bravely sacrificed his life so that others could live. A weak person like Vox would never understand the concept.

Vox tried to attack, thinking her defenses were down, but she caught the blade and glared up at him.

“Having compassion for others doesn’t make one weak!” she growled. Nel was so angry that she barely noticed what her body was doing until it was too late. But she didn’t regret her actions in the end.

She let go of his blade and ducked under it when he tried to swing again. Then, while she was crouched down, she kicked her foot out and made contact with the side of his thigh, throwing him slightly off balance. Vox was still able to attack as his body tried to regain balance. This time, Nel blocked the attack with one dagger and swung the other across from her, aiming for his neck. Unfortunately, he managed to move back before she could sever his head. Instead, she only cut through the leather parts of his armor and grazed the top area of his chest. But her attack also left a deep gash in the upper part of his sword arm, crippling him somewhat.

Nel finished her move by quickly circling around him so that he couldn’t finish his attack on her. He managed to graze her arm with the tip of his blade as he followed her movements to prevent her from getting behind him. With his arm bleeding and most of his muscle tissue severed, he had no choice but to use his other arm for the rest of the fighting. She had the satisfaction to see some shock in his features, but it quickly vanished into a glare as he prepared his next attack.

“Forgetting someone?” Cliff yelled as he tried to hit the Glyphian captain.

“Of course not,” he sneered sardonically as he moved out of the way. Cliff had great strength, but he was a little slow and Vox was still able to dodge him easily. But he was starting to have difficulty when Fayt joined in.

“Vox!” the blue haired boy cried out as he rushed with his broadsword at the ready. Their swords met for only a moment before the Glyphian had to dodge Cliff’s next attack. Nel used the distraction to back away for a moment and confirm that the dragon was lying on the ground, seemingly dead. Now all they had to do was focus on Vox, unless his men decided to join in to save their commanding officer.

Nel didn’t even have to prepare another spell or ready for another attack. The battle was over when Adray appeared almost out of nowhere and drove his blade deep into Vox’s side. Fayt and Cliff backed away as Vox coughed up blood and lowered his sword. But Adray and Nel didn’t let their guard down. All because he was mortally wounded didn’t mean he couldn’t fight anymore. He wasn’t one of the best warriors for nothing, after all. For a moment, he appeared helpless, but he wasn’t ready to give up. He glared at the men close by him before he gripped his sword.

Suddenly, there was a growl as his dragon came to and quickly got up. It rushed over to his master, knocking over the engineers and Adray in the process, and let Vox mount him. Both man and beast were gravely wounded, but they still had more than enough fight left in them. What was worse was the fact that they were too high to strike. Nel and Adray would have to use runology to force the dragon down again.

“You have put up a nice fight! But I wouldn’t have it any other way!” he announced, acting as if he had gotten a second wind. The man really was driven to win, even at the cost of his life, it seemed. His wounds were bleeding and it wouldn’t be long before he was too weak to fight back, but he wasn’t letting it stop him.

But the heat of battle quickly faded when it felt like the air shifted somehow. The other soldiers watching the fight lowered their poised weapons and slowly turned to the sky as a shadow cast over them.

“Huh? What’s that?” one of them asked, gaining Vox’s attention. He turned to look as Fayt and the others finally looked up.

All Nel remembered seeing was some large object in the air. In a split second, a bright light shot out and the ground shook violently.

“W-What is that?” she could hear Vox shout just before her senses numbed and her body fell over in a stunned state.

When she came to, she found herself on her side, with her daggers lying before her on the ground. With a groan, she sat up and glanced around while the others recovered from the mysterious blast. The first thing she noticed was the remains of Vox near her feet. His dragon and half of his body was incinerated while the rest of him was burned. His skin was darkened, almost in the same color of Albel’s burns, and his hair was ashen. His eyes were still open and they seemed to have escaped the heat that killed him. They betrayed his expression of shock in his final moments.

Nel’s initial reaction was to throw up but she drew in her breath and willed her stomach to settle. That could’ve been her if she was a little closer to the explosion. But she didn’t feel one bit remorseful for the man. He condemned thousands to die and so it was divine justice that he met a similar fate. He died on the battlefield like a true soldier, though he probably deserved less of an honor. More importantly, now he was unable to continue the war. His death ended the lies.

She reclaimed her daggers and slowly got back up as Fayt and the others did the same. She glanced up to find out what hit them and was in for the shock of her life. There was a large metal…thing in the sky. It was so massive that she had a hard time trying to figure out how it could hover in the sky like a bird. She quickly noticed many of the Dragon Brigade knights take off to fly toward the object.

“The Dragon Brigade?” she muttered weakly, momentarily thinking that they were working with the strange metal object. But she soon noticed that they were just as confused with its appearance as she was. Whatever it was, it was no ally of either Airyglyph or Aquaria. But then a memory came to her. She had seen something similar to that before, but it was much smaller. “No, that’s-?!”

…It was a lot like the ship that Fayt and Cliff came in. It wasn’t the same style or color, but it was a mass of metal that could apparently fly in the air.

“It’s them…” Cliff growled, proving that he did know something about the mysterious object.

Nel could only watch on as little holes opened up in the sides of the ship and let out smaller ones almost similar in size of the one that crashed into Airyglyph. The smaller vessels soon began to fire down at the battlefield and at the Dragon Brigade as they tried to attack them.

“What IS that? …Something from Greeton?” she inquired of her companions. She could tell by the looks on their faces that they recognized the strange objects.

“No…” Fayt nearly whispered as he took a few steps forward in dismay, “…That’s the Vendeeni.”

“Vendeeni…?” she echoed back, unused to hearing or saying such a word.

Fayt began to look panicked as he shook his head. “What are they doing all the way out here? Are they planning on conquering this world?”

Nel didn’t like the appearance of these so-called ‘Vendeeni’ creatures. With their firepower, they really could conquer both Aquaria and Airyglyph. …But what did Fayt mean by ‘this world’? Was he implying that they came from another world? And why did he know about it? At the very least, she could take comfort in the fact that the blue haired boy was surprised by their appearance. That meant the invaders were here for a specific reason and could potentially leave once they obtained it. Chances were rather high that they didn’t intend to get involved in the war.

“Hey!” Cliff suddenly shouted as he stormed over to Fayt and grabbed him by the shoulder, “We better get outta here! I know what THEY’re after!”

“What do you mean?” Fayt questioned in a confused tone before the blonde man became reluctant to answer.

“Uh, actually…” he trailed off, as he tried to glance anywhere but at the boy.

And just that that, Nel’s trust wavered. They were hiding something from her. Or rather, Cliff was hiding something, judging from the fact that Fayt was just as confused as she was. But the invaders were only one thing. Both engineers were hiding something else from her and she wanted to know why. Hadn’t she given them her trust? Why couldn’t they do the same for her?

Though really, she shouldn’t care. When she set off to rescue them, they were only supposed to help with their weapon and that was it. The fact that they’ve gotten to know each other as traveling companions and the fact that they volunteered to help beyond what was needed was something she didn’t anticipate. They must’ve had a good reason not to tell her and she could at least hear them out. After all, if she was going to give Albel the Wicked a chance to explain himself, then she should give them a chance too. They were her friends… weren’t they?

Nel was brought back to reality when another stream of light hit close by. With the chaos going on, they weren’t safe where they were. Airyglyph probably thought these invaders were allied with Aquaria and her comrades might be wondering if they belonged to Airyglyph. It was going to be dangerous enough trying to avoid the light beams, but now the battlefield was going to be even tenser with confused soldiers.

“Can’t it wait? We need to get back to headquarters. Staying here is not a good idea,” she suggested. She tried not to glare when Cliff hid a look of relief that he was spared from having to explain for a while longer.

“O-Okay…” Fayt agreed as he decided that she was right.

As she had feared, there were a few Glyphian soldiers left on the battlefield, but they weren’t in any condition to fight. The attacks from above had kicked up dirt and created a fog around the land, hiding the extent of the casualties. Nel’s stomach lurched when they came across dead bodies from both sides. It seemed that the cause of death was from the invaders and not from their enemy.

This was a nightmare. Everyone was being slaughtered indiscriminately. War was much better than what was happening now. A slight fear began to surface when she realized that the invaders could move on to attack Aquios if they didn’t find what they were looking for soon. How were they going to defend the queen from something they couldn’t fight against?

Once they got past the border, things didn’t seem too good. There were as many Aquarians dead on the ground as there were Glyphians near Kirlsa. Nel could see some runological weapons being fired, but it didn’t seem to be having any effect on the invaders. The blows just died on the shields that seem to magically appear. Apris, even their own weapons were ineffective against the invaders. Things weren’t looking good at all.

By the time they reached headquarters, they found everyone was trying to retreat. Nel was worried when she couldn’t see Clair, but that was pushed to the back of her mind when she saw Dion ordering the weapon specialists to retreat. Time seemed to freeze as a thin line of light passed through his body and made contact with the weapon behind him. He let out a pained yell as the weapon exploded.

“Dion!” Fayt cried as the researcher fell over.

Nel immediately rushed to the young man’s side while the engineers stayed frozen in dismay.

“Hang in there,” she said reassuringly as she lifted the top half of his body to examine his wounds. That light was smaller than the one that hit Vox so the damage was only limited to his shoulder where it passed through. Dion let out a groan, signaling that he was still alive as Nel pushed aside part of his robe to expose the wound.

It was almost a clean hole. He was bleeding profusely and she could see charred bone and singed muscle, but it didn’t seem like anything major was hit. All she needed to do was repair the blood vessels and close the wound. She tried casting a healing spell, but she was stunned to find that it wouldn’t work. For a moment she thought her runology wasn’t working, but she noticed that something was trying to heal. Dion’s wound was so grave that healing was ineffective.

The healing rune only sped up the natural healing process so if one had damage so severe that the body couldn’t heal on its own, then there was nothing that could be done. But that didn’t mean all was lost, if she could get him to a doctor, they could stanch the bleeding and try to close up everything with synthetic materials. After that, it would be up to Dion to survive…

“…Amee…na,” he moaned softly before he settled down. That’s right. Dion had to survive so he could see Ameena again. She swore to end the war so that the lovers could be reunited again and so Aquarians could be at peace. But what could she do at this point?

Nel closed her eyes for a brief second before she turned to the men that gathered around her.

“Healing spells aren’t working! Wrap his shoulder and get him to Aquios immediately!” she ordered before adding, “Collect everyone who’s been wounded by these strange weapons and get them to Aquios. We can’t afford to lose any more lives!”

“Yes, ma’am!” they shouted in unison before they set off to complete her orders.

Nel stood once Dion was gathered and taken away. She then turned and assessed the damage. She could hear Fayt and Cliff yelling about something, probably having some kind of argument, but she chose to ignore them. All she could think about was how many were dying or were already dead. Not everyone was going to make it back to Aquios and not everyone was going to survive their injuries. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the screams and explosions. How could she protect her people against an enemy she couldn’t reach or defeat?

“Fayt!” she called out in worry when she heard the boy cry out. She initially thought that he was hit, but found that something else was happening to him when she turned to face him. He was glowing and some strange white runes started appearing on his body before he started floating slightly into the air. Cliff backed away with wide eyes, appearing truly afraid of what was happening.

Before she could even comprehend with what was happening, there was a bright flash of light that emanated from him before a beautiful creature with wings materialized above him.

“Is… that a god?” Adray wondered as he suddenly appeared beside her. Nel glanced at him for a moment before she turned back to the sight. She couldn’t answer that. The creature did seem like a benevolent being, but she couldn’t recall which god or goddess it resembled. Whoever or whatever it was, it was not Apris, his wives, or any of his children.

The magnificent being raised its arms and summoned a circle with unknown runological symbols that soon surrounded the flying object and the smaller ships around it. Then, the ships and the being vanished into thin air. All that was left was sparkling light and angel feathers. Before she could marvel at the beautiful sight, Cliff let out a worried sound as Fayt collapsed to the ground.

——————

Cliff and Nel had a long, awkward, and quiet trip back to Aquios once it was all over. They rode in one of the wagons and sat on either side of Fayt’s comatose form. The blonde man refused to speak when the spy asked questions and eventually requested for her to stop asking until Fayt was feeling better. It was making her frustrated that she wasn’t getting any answers from her so-called ‘friends’, but she decided to honor the request anyway. All things considered, it appeared that Cliff had a lot of explaining to Fayt as well. The boy probably deserved to be the first to find out everything before Nel did.

Adray decided to stay behind in Arias with Clair to help with the clean up. He figured that if Fayt had the power to summon a god, then he clearly didn’t need much training. His absence made it even quieter and that unnerved her. She kind of wished the aged runologist were there to help her explain the situation. At the very least, she could’ve used some company to help her figure out what had happened. It felt like the last few events at Arias happened so fast.

When they arrived in Aquios, some of the doctors took Fayt to the guest room and checked him over. Cliff remained by his bedside from that point on with a stern, but worried look. Nel wanted to stay, but she had other things to do. One of them was checking up on Dion’s condition. But at the time, the doctors were still trying to patch him up so she reported to the queen next.

Nel didn’t even know where to begin with her report to the queen. All she could do was describe the events as she had seen them and covey her beliefs regarding the matter. She made it clear to the queen that she suspected that Fayt and Cliff knew something about the new ‘weapons in the sky’ (as the others referred them as) and promised to inform her as soon as she could get them to talk. Lasselle didn’t believe her words (no shock there), but the queen accepted her report and requested for the engineers to talk to her once Fayt was well again. She wanted to hear an explanation from their mouths.

Once that was over, she had nothing left to do but to wait for Fayt to awaken and listen in on Dion’s condition. She found herself walking over to the guest room and sat down quietly on the edge of the unoccupied bed. Cliff was as silent as ever.

“If you can’t tell me about the Vendeeni yet, then can you at least tell me about that power Fayt used?” she wondered when she couldn’t take the silence anymore.

Cliff let out a sigh that was a mix of annoyance and frustration before he faked a grin and shrugged. “If I could, I would. The thing is: I don’t know much of anything about him and his power. Only my boss does and it’s my job to get the kid to her so they can talk. That’s why I’m his bodyguard for now.”

It was an honest answer. He wasn’t lying to her. Nel mulled it over in her head as she realized that this was the first time Cliff mentioned having a ‘boss’.

“What about Fayt’s father?” she continued, trying to get a sense of their goals. She believed Fayt from the first day about his search for his father, but Cliff only backed it up once. It wouldn’t be that inconceivable to believe that the engineer’s goals were radically different.

“That’s his goal, but I don’t mind helping him out on that once I get my goal done. My boss wants to help him too, so he doesn’t have to worry about it,” he explained as he nervously ran a hand through his hair. “Listen, I know you’re starting to have some trust issues with me and I have no right to ask you, but would you watch him for me? I need to tell Mirage what’s been going on.”

Nel examined him from the corner of her eye. Obviously she hadn’t been doing a good job of hiding her emotions if he was able to figure out her new reservations of him. But, he did tell her something honestly and he didn’t seem to be ignoring her on purpose. The man was tense and appeared like he wanted to be anywhere but here, but he was making it obvious that he still trusted Nel. Why else would he leave Fayt in her care?

“Alright,” she nodded as she crossed her arms, “But try not to let Ameena know about Dion’s condition for now. She doesn’t need the added stress.”

“Gotcha,” he replied as he stood up and left as quickly as he could.

Once he was gone, Nel glanced down at Fayt’s sleeping form. She couldn’t bring herself to be as angry at Fayt as she was at Cliff. He didn’t seem to know much of what was going on like the blonde man did. And… there was also the fact that the blue haired boy saved Aquaria. She still wasn’t sure what happened, but the fact remained that the invaders were gone after he summoned that god-like creature. For all she knew, he could really have been the Arrow of Apris that the queen believed him to be.

Nel sighed a little before she reached over and brushed some of his blue hair away from his eyes. She didn’t think it was possible, but she had come to care about Fayt a lot. More often than not, she felt like she was protecting him in some cases and she ended up guiding him a lot when he wanted to learn about her culture and religion. He really was starting to seem like a little brother to her…

Still…the spy was struggling to be patient with the two. She had to know what they were hiding and get more information on these ‘Vendeeni’ creatures. She didn’t want to take the chance of those things somehow coming back to destroy everyone. And if they did come back, then she wanted to know how to defeat them. Surely Fayt or Cliff knew of someway to fight against them.

Cliff returned nearly two hours later, seeming much more relaxed than before. Nel suspected that he probably did more than just ‘talk’ with his partner, but she was in no position to judge him. She agreed that all warriors needed comfort sometime and he was no exception. Considering how stressful the last few hours were, the man probably needed it. They resumed their quiet watch over the boy, but this time it wasn’t as tense.

But while Cliff wasn’t as edgy as before, Nel was starting to fidget some. She wasn’t much of a patient woman and she was trying very hard not to ask the blonde anymore questions. She knew she had to respect his wishes to wait on Fayt, but how much time did they have?

Suddenly a soldier knocked and entered the room before he saluted to Nel. “Lady Nel.”

“How is Dion doing?” she wondered, knowing that he was only reporting the researcher’s condition.

The grim look on his face said it all, but he replied anyway with the shake of his head, “Not well…”

“I see…” she muttered. It seemed that Dion was most likely going to… No, she didn’t want to think of that. He was still breathing and he still had a chance to survive. She just had to focus on that slim possibility.

“Uhh…”

Nel quickly turned her head to the bed as Fayt started regaining consciousness. “Oh…you’re awake. What a relief. I thought you might not ever wake up again.”

She was attempting to make a lighthearted comment to show Fayt that there was nothing to worry about, but it fell a little flat. The news of Dion’s condition was bringing down her mood. She knew Fayt would wake up eventually because Cliff was certain he would. It was one of the first things she noticed since they started heading back. The blonde man was more worried over Fayt’s power than the fact that he had passed out.

“Where am I?” Fayt wondered as he sat up and glanced around.

“Castle Aquaria. We’re back,” Cliff responded in a low tone, “It looks like the Airyglyph soldiers went home, too. Now’s not the time for war.”

Nel quickly picked up on the cue that Cliff didn’t want to talk about the Vendeeni or tell Fayt what had happened. He was probably hoping that Fayt didn’t remember seeing them on the battlefield. But the boy did remember and asked about them. Even though Nel wanted Cliff to talk, she decided to spare him this one time. Besides, at the moment, there were more important things to focus on.

“Don’t worry about them. How are you feeling?” she inquired, more concerned about the boy’s health.

“I’m all…” He tried to act as if nothing was wrong, but as he tried to move out of bed, he started to feel the effects of whatever happened to him, “Argh! I’m aching all over! …And Dion? …Is Dion okay?”

Just like how Cliff hoped that he wouldn’t remember about the Vendeeni, Nel hoped that he wouldn’t remember the blow Dion received. The last thing he needed to worry about was someone else when he himself was still recovering. Still, even if they asked Fayt to not think about anything and just focus on recovering, he would just go ahead and think about it.

And…Nel wasn’t in the mood to make up a story or try to avoid it like Cliff was doing. She decided to be honest with him as she shook her head, “He’s been seriously injured. He’s still breathing…but it doesn’t look good.”

She wasn’t one to bring false hope. She had to tell it as it was so that others could prepare for the worst and come to terms with it. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t privately hope that things turn out for the better.

Fayt’s eyes widened in shock and worry before he quickly got out of bed. “Oh no! I promised Ameena that I’d make sure he got home safely!”

“Wait, you should stay in bed,” Nel insisted as she reached out to him.

“She’s right. You’re not in such great shape yourself, you know,” Cliff agreed with her.

“I’m more worried about Dion right now,” the boy stated with a frown before he glanced at Nel, “Where is he?”

Somewhere deep down, she wasn’t that surprised to see him react that way. He was the type of person to worry about others over himself. Nel should’ve just told him to go back to bed, but she decided to tell him anyway.

“He’s in a private room across from the fabrication room.”

“Thanks!” the blue haired boy called out before he ran out or the room with newfound energy.

In the end, Nel couldn’t blame him. Had she been in his position, she would’ve wanted to do the same thing. She valued the lives of others over her own, just like her father did before her. Fayt’s trait was one of the many reasons they got along so well and why she cared about him in a close, platonic way.

Cliff stared at the open doorway before he stood up and glanced down at the red haired woman incredulously. “Are you sure that was a good idea? He’s going to stress himself out if we let him run around like that.”

“Maybe, but there’s nothing we can do when he’s like this. He will want to know about Dion or the Vendeeni and so I chose to let him worry over Dion. …Or, did you want to have that talk with him?” she wondered idly as she stood up and gave him a casual glare.

“Sca-ree,” he muttered as he scratched the back of his head. “But I see your point. Thanks Nelly.”

She didn’t spare him the explanation out of kindness. Cliff was going to have to say something sooner or later and she wanted no more distractions. Once the visit with Dion was over, they were all going to have a serious talk.

With nothing more to discuss, they both headed for Dion’s room to make sure Fayt didn’t overexert himself. But that proved to be a fruitless effort once they arrived. The blue haired boy nearly barreled the two over in his rush to get out.

“I’m bringing Ameena to see you!” He promised the bedridden man before he disappeared down the hall. Cliff and Nel could only watch, stunned at the energy the supposedly injured man possessed.

“Uh…shouldn’t we stop him?” Cliff wondered as he shrugged, “This might not be a good time to move the girl. Mirage says she’s gettin’ worse.”

Nel glanced into the room where Dion was sleeping before she faced the direction Fayt left in. The man was pale and his breathing was shallow. It really didn’t look good…

But…it was too late to stop Fayt. By the time they could catch up to him, Ameena would already be informed. She would insist to see him regardless of her health. She already proved how determined she was to see him before.

“I don’t like the thought of risking her health, but she does deserve the right to visit him. Maybe it will help them both get better. I’ll arrange for bedding so she can rest in his room. That way, she won’t have to strain herself in returning to the inn,” Nel replied as she thought it over. The way she saw it, Ameena’s coming was going to be inevitable. Might as well accommodate her.

Fayt returned shortly with Mirage and Ameena. The blonde woman was carrying the sickly girl piggyback until they reached the room. Ameena wasted no time in rushing over to his bedside, coughing the entire way. She really was worse than before. She was even paler than usual and she was having trouble breathing. But her condition didn’t matter to her as long as she was able to see her friend again.

“Dion!” she managed to shout before she coughed a few times. The researcher weakly glanced at her before he raised his hand and reached out for her. Ameena eagerly took his hand between hers.

“Amee…na… I’m sorry… I couldn’t…keep… promise,” he muttered with a slight wheeze to his breath. It seemed that his lungs were starting to fail him as well. His eyes moved from the girl to Nel before he requested, “Lady…Nel. Please… That…box.”

She nodded and turned to grant his request. When she opened the box, she was stunned to find a nearly completed Palmira’s Wishing Charm. She knew it wasn’t complete because each chain contained ten flowers and the last one was missing two. She gathered it up and silently counted the chains in her mind. Apris, Dion was close to one thousand. He was only two away from finishing…

“This?” Nel inquired when she finished gathering it up and held it out. Dion nodded before he glanced up at Ameena again.

“I promised…to end…this war… So I could see you…in Airyglyph…again…”

“I know… Please, you must rest!” Ameena pleaded with him before she broke into another coughing fit.

But Dion couldn’t stop. He had a lot to say, as if he knew what was about to happen. It seemed to give him a bit of strength as he forced out his next words. “I couldn’t end the war… But…I saw you again. It’s…all I ever wished for…”

“Dion…that was my wish too,” she replied as tears started to form. She probably knew what was about to happen as well.

“I’m glad…I saw you again,” he admitted as he finally rested his head.

“Me too.”

“Amee…na,” he sighed on his final breath before his body failed him and his hand fell from her grasp. He died with a peaceful expression on his face. He died with no regrets.

“No…” Fayt cried as he took a step closer, “This can’t be happening! Dion! Doctor!”

Nel watched as the doctor checked Dion, but she didn’t pay much attention to the girl by his bedside. Ameena was rather unresponsive given the fact that her friend was no longer alive… Suddenly the spy realized that the girl was awfully still. No…she wasn’t…

Fayt was shouting about how unfair it was and apologized to Ameena that he had failed her. But soon, he too, noticed that she wouldn’t respond.

“Ameena?” he inquired gently as he moved to touch her. Nel closed her eyes when the girl collapsed. Ameena was gone too…

“NOOOO!” the boy cried out when the doctor signaled that she was dead.

Cliff had to restrain Fayt from destroying Dion’s room as he grieved and blamed himself for everything. Nel was still staring at the young lovers, still unbelieving what had happened before her eyes. She was brought back from her stupor when she felt something warm trail down her cheek. She slowly brought her hand up to touch the warm and felt something wet at her fingertips. She was crying…

Nel walked out of the room unnoticed before the others could see her tears. As a soldier, she was used to seeing death on the battlefield. The only emotion a corpse brought to her was determination to win in the war so that another person wouldn’t have to die. Dion and Ameena’s deaths shouldn’t have been any different, so why was she crying?

The spy managed to reach her room without anyone noticing her and closed the door so she could have some privacy. She leaned against her door as she recalled the scene. A soldier dying was one thing, but the death of two lovers torn apart by war was another. Nel was grieving the fact that she couldn’t save them- and she was just now realizing how strong their love for each other was.

Ameena was on the verge of dying from moment she entered the room, but through sheer willpower, she managed to stay alive long enough to share a final conversation with him. It was the same for Dion, but he was struggling to live since he was shot on the battlefield. Once they’ve said their goodbyes, they died together.

No, that wasn’t right… Once they’ve realized that they were both not long for this world, they said their peace and made a new promise to see each other again on the other side. They willingly let go of their lives because they knew they didn’t have to live without the other. A love like theirs was powerful and shouldn’t be taken for granted. It made them stronger when they needed strength. It made them brave when faced with the scary unknown that death brought.

Nel vowed to never forget them or the love they had for one another. One day, she might find that someone she cared deeply for and it wouldn’t be right for her to forget the sacrifice Dion and Ameena gave just to see each other again. If she found true love like theirs, she will do anything in her power to never let go of him or her.

For the time being, she forgot about Albel’s mark on her in her mind. Unless she fell for Albel, being in love with someone else would be difficult. He was far from her mind at the moment and she chose to ignore that fact. But her body remembered and she soon found her hand rubbing at the Dragon’s Bride rune on her shoulder.

It was then that she realized that she was still holding the wishing charm.

To the next chapter

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