7. Other Worlds

Chapter 7

Other Worlds

            If Nel found her hand on her shoulder (as it happened every so often), she would usually let go and try to forget that it happened. But this time, she just let it pass and continued to hold it there. Dion’s wishing charm was partially entwined on her fingers and the chain of flowers were draped on her chest and shoulder because of the gesture. Usually, the rune on her shoulder would make her think of Albel, but this time her thoughts were also centered on Dion and Ameena’s untimely death. The last thing she needed to think about was Albel and the love shared between the two at the same time, but she couldn’t bring herself to look away from the Palmira flowers.

Even she once tried to gather the flowers to make a charm when she was younger. She had fond memories of gathering the beautiful flowers with Clair and weaving the stems together to make the chain. Sometimes her father went with her and helped her with her charm. Nel’s only wish was to follow in her father’s footsteps and bring prosperity to Aquaria. In the end, she got her wish when her father was presumed dead from a mission, but she never really believed the wishing charm granted it, even after the fact that she weaved the one thousand flowers into it. Her ‘wish’ was granted under bad circumstances and she refused to believe that the goddess would be so cruel.

Furthermore, Dion and Ameena got their wish to see each other again and neither one finished their charms. But that didn’t mean the flowers didn’t serve some kind of purpose. Each flower was picked with the determination to see a wish fulfilled. It gave others hope and a positive way to support others. It was for that purpose alone that Nel respected the making of those charms despite having lost her belief in the legends behind them. This wishing charm meant a lot to him and Nel knew what he intended to do with it once he completed it.

But what was she going to do now? The charm was clearly meant to go to Ameena, but she wasn’t alive. Was it right of Nel to walk out with it? Then again, where else could it go now that the owner and the recipient were gone? The castle staff would have no choice but to throw it away or store it with Dion’s old belongings. It was probably better for her to keep it for the time being…

Nel finally moved by lowering her hand and walking to the small vanity in her room. There, she slowly untangled the charm and draped it over her mirror and table. There were only two flowers missing. It was such a shame that he was so close to finishing. Of course it wasn’t like something different could’ve happened if he had finished it, but it was sad to see his efforts wasted like that…

That decided it for her. Nel was going to gather the last two flowers and finish the charm for him. Then she was going to place the completed chain over their graves. That was a good way to honor their memory. But her new mission was going to have to wait until everything settled down. She still needed to hear Cliff’s explanation of the Vendeeni and there was still an issue of if those invaders were coming back.

Nel glanced at herself in the mirror to see how bad she looked. Thankfully, she hadn’t really cried, only a few tears had welled up and escaped. There were only tear streaks on her skin, but no redness in her eyes or cheeks. All she needed to do was wipe her face and she was ready to go out again.

When she went outside, she discovered that Fayt was back in his room and spied Cliff entering it. The door was left open and she could clearly hear the boy lamenting how everything was somehow his fault. But as she approached the room, she was shocked to hear Fayt admit that the Vendeeni apparently wanted him for some reason.

“Who am I? Why do the Vendeeni want me so badly?” he cried out, proving that he didn’t know everything behind the invaders. Nel walked in just as Fayt approached Cliff and grabbed him by the shoulders.

“Look, I know you know something!” he persisted when the blonde man refused to say anything.

The spy knew an opportunity when she saw one. With Fayt demanding an explanation, Cliff was being backed into a corner. All she had to do was add her demands as well and he should cave soon.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said to Fayt, letting them know she was there before she faced Cliff, “…but those things-the Vendeeni-what are they?”

He was trapped and he knew it. The older man let out a sigh before he swatted Fayt’s hands away from him. He then glanced at the floor before he finally decided to reveal what he had been hiding.

“All right. You guys are part of this now, anyway,” he conceded, addressing Nel’s demand before Fayt’s, “Those guys, the Vendeeni, they-”

He was cut off when a male soldier ran to Nel and saluted. She was about to curse his inopportune timing, but then discovered that there was bad news.

“We got trouble! Another one of those weapons has appeared in the sky!”

“What?” Nel shouted in surprise before Cliff cursed and ran out of the room. What horrible timing! Nel closed her eyes in frustration as she thought over the situation. She knew next to nothing about this new enemy and she didn’t know how to defeat them. What’s worse: they were at the capital. The queen’s life was in serious danger.

“Is this, too, an Arrow of Apris?” a soothing voice wondered, pulling Nel out of her frantic thoughts. The soldier beside Nel saluted as she turned to face the newcomer.

“Your Majesty, why are you still here? Please, you’ve got to get to a safe place right away!” the spy pleaded as her queen approached.

Romeria shook her head slowly, “Lately, it seems that hiding does not help. Is anywhere truly safe now?”

Nel bit her lip as she accepted that hard truth. There was nothing they could do to protect the queen this time, other than shield her with their own bodies. But if the invaders had the weaponry to destroy everyone, then what was the point in that? Furthermore, what good would it do if the queen were the only survivor? There would be no one left to serve or protect her…

The queen soon walked further into the room and stood before Fayt, “You know what that thing is, do you not?”

The boy appeared incredibly guilty as he bowed his head and closed his eyes. He couldn’t respond and Nel was getting on her last nerve. She still wasn’t upset with Fayt, but she needed answers now. Even if the boy didn’t know anything, any information he could provide would be helpful.

“Is it a weapon from Greeton?” the queen prodded when the blue haired boy wouldn’t speak.

“No, it’s not,” he replied as he shook his head.

“Then what is it!? What is a Vendeeni!?” Nel shouted at him, forgetting to curb her tone. She was too upset and worried about everyone else to be patient anymore. People could die if she didn’t get answers soon.

Fayt hesitated for a second before he glanced up and then faced the queen fully. “I’ll explain, Your Majesty. The Vendeeni are…”

“Hey, come here a second!” Cliff yelled urgently from the doorway before he ran off again. Nel gritted her teeth and growled, biting back the foulest of curses before her sovereign. She hated the interruptions, but she had to agree that it was too late for explanations. She should’ve forced Cliff to speak much sooner…

Everyone in the room ran out to catch up with Cliff. Nel was in the lead as she ran to the second floor and into the throne room. She followed Cliff all the way to the White Dew Garden beyond the queen’s throne. Mirage was already there, analyzing the situation. Nel could only glance up helpless and stunned as a red ship similar to the one that appear before began descending in the sky.

“Damn! What now?” Cliff growled as he watched the ship.

Fayt sullenly walked toward the balcony wall and glanced down. “I’ll give myself up. Then they’ll leave.”

“Fayt, no!” Mirage replied instantly in a scolding tone.

Nel recalled the boy claiming that the invaders were after him. She wasn’t sure if it was true or if it was something that Fayt personally believed to be true, but she was touched that he was willing to sacrifice himself for her country. But there had to be some other way. The boy had done so much for the kingdom- it would be cold hearted to give him up like that now. Cliff was especially angry over Fayt’s words as he turned the boy around and made a threatening gesture.

“That’s enough of that! You say that again and I swear I’ll smack you one!”

Silently, Nel agreed with the sentiment, though she wouldn’t threaten to hit him. She had other, kinder ways to convince one not to sacrifice themselves. Mirage quickly went into damage control by pacifying Cliff, then addressing Fayt. She also believed that the boy shouldn’t sacrifice himself.

“Then what should we do!? This country’s military doesn’t stand a chance against the Vendeeni ships!” Fayt shouted as he swung his arm out.

Nel’s eyes widened slightly at his outburst. So there really wasn’t any hope? She trusted Fayt to know about the situation and if he believed that they couldn’t fight the invaders, then his analysis was most likely accurate. …But there had to be something! The spy refused to go down without putting up a fight.

“Hey…” Fayt suddenly muttered as a thought came to him, “…But you chased away the Vendeeni ship before! Why not do it again?”

“Huh? But-” Nel said in a stunned voice. He didn’t remember being the one to destroy that other ship? She supposed it shouldn’t be any surprise since they hadn’t told him what happened on the battlefield before he passed out, but why wouldn’t he be aware of the angelic creature that he himself had summoned? Unless… he really didn’t know anything about the powers he possessed.

“It’s as I thought,” Mirage commented as Cliff sighed.

“You don’t remember a thing don’t you?” he asked as Fayt gave them both a confused glance. Nel narrowed her eyes at the blondes. They seemed to know a lot about what was going on, but for some reason they didn’t want to tell. But maybe if they knew, then they had an idea of how to fight the invaders…

“What are you talking about?” Fayt inquired in a frustrated tone.

Suddenly a glint in the sky caught Nel’s attention. There was another ship, but this time it was silver-white and much smaller than the other one. Dread filled her as she moved into a fighting position. “Wait-another one’s coming!”

When the two blondes looked up, the spy was surprised to hear relief in Mirage’s voice when she glanced at her partner and said his name. Cliff nodded and casually crossed his arms as a smile graced his features.

“Yep, it’s them. Finally.”

Nel wasn’t sure what that meant. The next thing she knew was that the two ships seemed to be attacking each other. If they were attacking, then they weren’t allies. So did that mean the white ship was friendly? Judging how relaxed Cliff and Mirage were being, she would have to believe so. Nel watched as the smaller ship fired a large stream of light at the red ship, creating an explosion. But just as the enemy began descending, it fired a strong blast and seemed to damage the small ship. Both began falling from the sky, but moved in different directions.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” a new voice called out from behind. Nel turned quickly to find a strange girl with hair as blue as Fayt’s standing on top of the stairs. There was a slight glow around her that quickly disappeared when she started walking towards them.

“Hey, took you long enough,” Cliff commented. He was the only one who didn’t turn around, acting as if he expected her to be there. Nel shook her head as she tried to understand what was going on. How did that girl get here? The spy didn’t hear anyone approach and there was no way she could’ve gotten past the guards to reach the royal garden.

Almost instantly, the girl started saying things that made no sense to the Aquarian. It was like she was speaking in another language. She was only able to understand when Cliff made some kind of degrading remark about Fayt and earned a sarcastic laugh from the boy.

“Very funny,” he muttered in a monotone voice before he walked up to Cliff and wondered, “Who’s that girl?”

Cliff introduced her as the leader of Quark. Her name was Maria Traydor and she was apparently the ‘boss’ that Cliff mentioned earlier. Nel’s first impression of the newcomer wasn’t exactly a good one. She eventually recognized that Maria somehow driven off the Vendeeni and thus didn’t dislike her completely, but there was something about her attitude she didn’t like.

It was clear from the way she carried herself that Maria exuded confidence and control. She wasn’t exactly ‘arrogant’, but she also didn’t seem to care about her settings or the other people in the garden. She acted as if everyone other than her subordinates were just non-threatening objects for her to disregard completely.

Also, there was something else about her that sent warning signals to the spy. This Maria girl knew a lot about Fayt, even intimate details about him. Nel knew from experience that there were only two reasons why one would want to know so much about another person. One reason would be because she might’ve really liked the boy and was something of a stalker. …Another reason would be because she wanted to know a target she intended to kill someday. But it was too soon to determine if Maria was an admirer or an assassin.

All Nel did know was that Maria was interested in Fayt and the spy didn’t like the thought of the boy being in potential danger because of this girl. Although she believed Fayt was strong enough to take care of himself, Nel decided to make sure the two were never left alone together until she was certain Maria wasn’t a threat.

“Hang on just a second,” Fayt interrupted as she continued on her list of things she knew about him, “how do you know so much about me?”

Maria let out a light grin before she crossed her arms and turned away from him, “I did some research.”

Both Fayt and Nel glared at the girl with suspicion. The spy noted that she wasn’t shy or coy around Fayt, disproving the stalker theory. But she couldn’t say that Maria was an assassin either. Fayt was untrained and his guard was lowered. He could’ve been dead already if she really wanted to kill him…

What was more important, though, was the fact that the spy was being ignored and she was getting tired of that rather quickly. It was wonderful the Vendeeni were driven away yet again and that Cliff, Mirage, and their ‘boss’ were reunited again, but Aquios was almost attacked and they have yet to tell her about the Vendeeni. Regardless of everyone else’s goals, Nel still had to focus on the safety of her queen and country above all else. She needed answers now!

She approached Fayt and shifted her glare between Maria and Cliff. “Is somebody going to explain this? What’s going on? Who is she-how did she just appear here?”

She then glanced at Fayt and Cliff and continued with her frustrated interrogation. Her tone had a hint of scorn hidden within, “So, I take it you’re not all from Greeton after all? Come on, answer me! No more concealing the truth!”

Had she not been so upset, she probably would’ve handled that better. She didn’t need to let the others know she had her suspicions about them outright and she didn’t have to treat them like they were suddenly her enemy. That wasn’t how she viewed them as. Fayt was the savior of Aquaria and Cliff was as much of a war hero as Adray. Deep down, she trusted the two with her life… but it seemed the fact that they were still hiding something from her hurt her a lot.

Fayt, Mirage, and Cliff showed a little bit of remorse and guilt, but wouldn’t reply her to demands. Maria just glanced at her curiously with an eyebrow raised as if she were evaluating the Aquarian. Nel held back a growl that no one was answering her and was about to demand again, but the queen appeared on the top of the staircase and she heard every word.

“That is enough, Lady Nel,” she ordered calmly as she began to descend.

“But, Your Majesty…” she protested before the queen gave her a stern look.

“I said that is enough.”

Nel’s eyes widened as she recognized that scolding tone that was usually reserved for the Magistrate. Apris, she was acting just like Lasselle… Nel had let her fear of the Vendeeni and the possible destruction of Aquaria cloud her judgment and lash out at her companions. She knew this wasn’t the way to negotiate or get answers. She knew better than that!

She forced herself to calm down and regain control of herself, “…Yes, Your Majesty.”

When the queen approached Maria, Nel decided to stay by her sovereign’s side to ensure her safety. The spy might agree that she got off on the wrong foot with the blue haired girl, but she still didn’t know much about the woman to consider her trustworthy yet. It was better to be safe than sorry.

Romeria stood tall and proud before the newcomer, “I know not who you are, but it is certain that you are one of their acquaintances. I would hear an explanation of you now, one that makes sense to my ears.”

“Please forgive my rudeness, Your Majesty, but would it be alright if we talked amongst ourselves first?” the strange woman requested as she bowed gracefully and then straightened up to cast a brief glance at her companions over her shoulder, “We have a lot of catching up to do. I will explain all of the details and how the facts are connected afterwards; that I promise.”

She certainly had a lot of nerve! …But Nel appreciated how the girl was respectful and polite in front of her queen. Maria was rather well spoken when she wasn’t using difficult and unheard of words and she had the humility to bow before authority. Romeria wasn’t insulted one bit and conceded to her request.

“…So be it. Show them to the conference room.”

Even though she didn’t so much as glance at Nel, the red haired woman knew the order was directed at her. This was probably her chance to redeem herself for her unbecoming behavior.

“…Yes, Your Majesty,” she replied with a nod before she gestured to the others to follow her.

*************

She did as she was told and showed them to the conference room. She also used the fact that the queen didn’t give any further orders and continued to remain in the hallway after they had closed the door and began their secret discussion. Honestly, Fayt and Cliff should know better than to keep secrets from her. If she couldn’t get the truth straight from their mouths, then she would just have to listen in on their conversation and figure it out that way.

But as Nel stood close to the door, she realized that she couldn’t understand a word they were saying. She could hear the words and she could understand most of what they were saying, but there were also foreign terms mixed in their speech that made it difficult for the spy to follow. She began to wonder if that was the reason they weren’t telling her anything- it was too complicated to understand.

The spy was able to summarize a few things from the first part of the conversation. First of all, Fayt was in the dark about some kind of power that possessed and that his father was being held captive by the Vendeeni invaders. She also understood that another one of Fayt’s friends-Sophia- had been captured as well.

The voices were starting to get quieter as Maria took over the conversation and began getting further away from the door, forcing Nel to lean closer and strain her hearing. It seemed that she was finally telling Fayt what was going on, but the only words she could understand was ‘forbidden research’. She had no clue what a ‘Pangalactic Federation’ was and she didn’t understand what the so-called research meant.

But she did understand the tone in Maria’s voice after she revealed that she was experimented on, “I’ll never forgive them.”

Maybe Nel didn’t understand the situation, but Maria’s character was starting to become a little clearer. Fayt’s father did something to her and she was furious over the knowledge. The spy understood the language of ‘revenge’ rather well and it made sense as to why Maria would have some lingering thoughts of hatred toward Fayt. The girl might’ve wanted to kill him, but she wanted answers first. Perhaps the fact that Fayt knew nothing of this research saved his life for the time being.

“My dad…I-I can’t believe this! Living weapons? You…a guinea pig? You just look like an ordinary girl!” Fayt said hysterically. He wasn’t taking the information very well, but Nel could see why. Maria was accusing Fayt’s father of something terrible.

There was a brief pause before the spy could faintly sense a change in Maria’s demeanor. Her voice seemed slightly annoyed and tense like she was about to prove something.

“Watch this,” she commanded before Nel sensed something akin to runology being activated. She couldn’t see what was going on but she jumped when she heard a loud noise followed by the sounds of something shattering. The spy was soon pressing her ear against the door before she could stop herself. For a moment she was worried that Fayt was hurt, but then felt relief when he expressed his surprise and proved that he was unharmed.

“What?” he muttered in a stunned tone.

“This is the power I received from…” Nel tuned out the rest as it involved long words that would give her a headache in trying to repeat. But she did catch the scorn in Maria’s voice as she asked, “So…still think I’m an ordinary girl?”

“But… why would my father do such a thing?” he wondered, still unbelieving that his father would be so cruel as to experiment on others.

“And not just to me,” Maria added before she explained, “I wasn’t the only one they modified. Another came before me- I was the second subject.”

“What are you saying?” Fayt inquired hesitantly, afraid of what else she could say.

Maria paused before replying. Nel had to wonder what the girl was expressing as she tried to think through her next words. Her voice sounded something akin to sympathy before she admitted, “The first subject…was you.”

Nel shook her head. Most of this was confusing, but she couldn’t imagine someone experimenting on their own child. Who would do such a thing? Fayt confirmed that as he tried to defend his father’s honor by denying her accusations. But…unfortunately Maria had some rather good points and questions to indicate that she wasn’t lying or that far off in her ‘theories’. The Vendeeni were after Fayt and they had to have a reason behind it.

“I know you don’t want to admit it, but there’s only one truth,” she replied before she announced her intentions, “I’m going to steal the Professor and everyone else back from the Vendeeni and ask him why he did what he did. But to do this, I need your help, Fayt. I can’t do it alone…”

The spy wasn’t sure why Maria needed Fayt’s help when she seemed rather capable of handling things on her own. But at least it explained her motives and why she was after the boy.

“I wouldn’t expect you to object to saving your father and Sophia… I know how important they are to you,” she pointed out when he wouldn’t say anything. She was making it sound like he had to join her. Then again…perhaps that was the case seeing as she was his only hope to see his father at the moment.

“Of course I want to rescue them. They mean everything to me,” he replied almost instantly before he paused again. Nel could imagine him nodding as he made his decision, “All right. I’ll help you.”

“All right, now that we’re decided…”

Nel tensed when she felt a presence come up to the door. It flew open before she knew it and she had to back flip out of the way before it could hit her. Cliff stood at the other end with a threatening glare until he realized who was eavesdropping. The spy glared some as she tried to figure out how they noticed her. Then again, she could’ve made a noise when she reacted to that shattering sound earlier…

“Nel!” Fayt called out in surprise as Maria crossed her arms and grinned some.

“It doesn’t matter if she heard us,” she said as she turned away. Cliff shrugged as he went back inside and left the door open for Nel.

The spy glared again before she walked into the conference room. On one hand, it was nice of her to allow her to listen in on their plans. On the other… Nel knew the only reason she was allowed was because that woman was confident she didn’t understand anything. In other words, the Aquarian was of no threat to her. Perhaps Maria was being nice, but the spy couldn’t help but feel like an idiot compared to her. The blue haired girl was making it obvious that she knew more than Nel. She felt like Maria was flaunting it too…

“So how are we getting off this rock?” Cliff wondered as he approached his leader. Nel resisted the urge to sulk as she walked over to the nearest corner and struggled to understand. What did he mean by ‘rock’? Was he talking about leaving the continent?

She soon tuned them all out when they started saying more words she never heard of before. What was the point in listening in anymore? No wonder why Fayt and Cliff were hiding something from her! Nel never would’ve guessed how…primitive her county was until these people showed up. They had technology that put Greeton to shame…

“Hmm… Our best option would be Aquaria’s runological weapons.” Nel perked up at Mirage’s comment. She understood that at least… Why did they want to know about her country’s weapons?

“Hey, what about Dion’s weapon?” Cliff added as he glanced at Fayt.

“You mean the Thunder Arrow?” he clarified before the blonde man nodded.

“That’s the one!”

“I don’t know how much damage it could do to the Vendeeni battleship,” Fayt replied with a shake of his head before he looked at Maria, “but, as far as I know, it’s the most powerful weapon on this planet.”

That gave Nel hope. They had something that could stand a chance against the invaders. That was better than nothing.

Maria also seemed impressed enough. “All right, then let’s start making preparations immediately.”

“The thing is, it’s still under development. It’s not ready for actual combat. And I doubt its range is long enough to reach the Vendeeni ship. In any case, the weapon belongs to Aquaria-we can’t just use it as we please,” Fayt interjected, reminding Maria that she wasn’t the queen of this place. …Well that was Nel’s feeling anyway. She honestly felt that Maria didn’t care about others and thought they were all primitive beings. Maybe it was true, but that didn’t give her any excuse to treat them as such. After all, she needed their help just this once.

“The Vendeeni…” Nel began as she tried to sort her thoughts. If she was going to volunteer her services, then she needed to make sure she understood enough to be useful. “You mean the ones from before?”

“That’s right,” Fayt confirmed as she approached him.

She then glanced at Maria. “They’re coming back?”

“There’s no doubt of that,” she replied with a nod.

“And you need our Thunder Arrow to fight them?” she concluded as she looked up at Cliff.

“That’s about the size of it,” he confirmed. Then that was all she needed to know. The rest of it was none of her business.

“All right, I’ll talk to the queen about it,” the spy offered as she crossed her arms. Fayt and Cliff stared at her in surprise.

“Huh? Are you sure?” the boy wondered with a hopeful look to his face.

“Honestly, I don’t really understand the situation,” Nel admitted before she added, “One thing I do know: if that celestial ship comes back again, it will cause another catastrophe. And… I believe the two of you are worthy of my trust.”

And she really meant that. Fayt and Cliff helped save Aquaria and it was high time for her to return the favor. After overhearing them, she was starting to believe that they were only telling her what they knew she would understand and she considered that a kindness on their part. They were good friends and good people, regardless of her opinion of Maria and her lack of knowledge of Mirage.

“Thank you,” Fayt replied gratefully as Cliff rubbed the back of his head, feeling a little flattered.

“Regardless, we did promise the queen that we’d explain the situation to her,” he commented, trying to change the subject and proving that they were going to keep their promise. Nel nodded as Fayt gave a tired smile.

“I don’t think she’ll be as easy to convince.”

***************

When they arrived at the throne room, Nel informed the queen that they were ready to talk and let them explain the situation. As promised, Maria made it to where they could understand. Nel was stunned when she heard the entire story. So they were all from another world… Never before had she thought of the possibility that there were other worlds beyond the night sky. But given how ‘other worldly’ they acted and how they had superior knowledge over technology, she had a reason to believe them. Furthermore, the appearance of those celestial ships was more than enough proof that there was other life out there.

Nel was also able to learn that her companions were not all from the same world. Cliff and Mirage called themselves ‘Klausians’ while Fayt and Maria were ‘Earthlings’. And the invaders, the Vendeeni, all came from another world too. Their planet was called Vendeen. It was all mind-boggling and if Nel had heard this when she had first met them, then she would’ve considered leaving them in Airyglyph in fear that they have gone insane. …It was another good reason why they were hiding this information from her.

Fayt and the others weren’t completely sure of the enemies’ goals, but they were positive that they were going to come back. Once again, the magistrate didn’t believe a word they’ve said, but the queen took in their story with an open mind. She had a difficult time trying to follow, but like her spy, she looked at the facts and chose to believe based and what she did know.

“Your Majesty, these people can be trusted,” Nel added to help with their credibility. The queen knew she didn’t give her trust very easily so it said a lot. Plus, the queen relied heavily on both Nel and Clair for their ability to sense deception. Together, the Crimson Blades helped the queen decide on whom she could or could not trust. “I believe they are telling the truth.”

The queen nodded, accepting her words before she wondered, “And…you say this new enemy will return again? Why would that be?”

“I think that I am their objective,” Fayt replied hesitantly. Nel recalled that it was mentioned before and that they discussed it earlier when they were talking in the conference room. It kind of made sense since the Vendeeni hadn’t appeared until they did. Not only that, they were capturing people who knew him. She was starting to understand why Fayt believed everything was his fault…but even if it was, it wasn’t like he brought the invaders here on purpose. It was obvious that the …‘off-worlders’ (as Nel chose to call them now) came to their planet by accident.

“So, you are the cause of this entire affair?” the queen wondered, sounding a little surprised.

“I don’t want to believe it myself… But yes,” he admitted with downcast eyes.

Suddenly the magistrate perked up as a hopeful thought came to him. “Then all we have to do is hand you over to them! Then they will go home, no?”

Nel bit her lip some. This was a very rare time that Lasselle came up with something sensible, but it was unfortunately a painful sacrifice. Now that they were facing an enemy that was clearly more powerful than they were, they had only two choices left to them: offer Fayt in exchange for peace or fight them to their last breath. Had they not come to know and respect the off-worlders, the choice would’ve been obvious. It would be better to sacrifice one life to save the lives of an entire kingdom. The queen had the heavy burden of having to choose her country over individuals so the spy wasn’t sure what course she would take. But she was confident that whatever she chose would be for the good of Aquaria.

“Lasselle, you are to remain silent!” the queen snapped in her scolding tone. The red haired woman felt some relief that the queen felt his suggestion was too callous to mention. It meant that she also was fond of Fayt. The magistrate apologized before he bowed his head and faced the front.

“Can we fight these…” she paused as she tried to test the new word on her lips, “…Vendeeni with our Thunder Arrow?”

Nel glanced at Fayt, eager to hear the answer. The possibility of having a weapon that could stand up to the invaders was something she wanted to believe and hope in. She hated feeling defenseless and wanted some way to fight back.

“I can’t be sure, but I believe so,” Fayt answered as he nodded his head, “The Thunder Arrow would divert the Vendeeni long enough for us to leave the planet…and fix the situation.”

So they weren’t sure… Nel was a little disheartened to hear that. But distracting them long enough to allow Fayt to escape was better than nothing. Should he leave, then the invaders would have to follow. It was probably for the best. The last thing they needed was to wage another war on creatures from another planet.

“For the sake of our country, it might indeed be best to simply hand you over to them,” the queen began once she came to her decision, “However, you are our guest. It would not be proper for us to abandon you now.”

Nel let out a sigh of relief before she glanced up at her monarch, “Your Majesty, you mean-?”

“Yes. We shall let you use the Thunder Arrow.”

Thank Apris… The spy really thought she would choose to hand Fayt to the invaders. With the situation as it was and the fact that Fayt wasn’t entirely sure the weapon would work, it would’ve been safer to make that sacrifice. But the fact that she chose to believe in them implied much. She trusted the off-worlders with the lives of her people. With that said, it was Nel’s turn to do the same and help them in any way she could. Relief and gratitude showed on Fayt’s features as Maria expressed her own gratitude.

Cliff was the only one not joining in as he expressed some concern with the plan. There was an issue of a range problem. According to the research, the Thunder Arrow only had so much range. It probably wouldn’t be able to reach something in the sky. And even if it did, it might not be as strong as it could be. But they had no time to discuss a solution as a new problem came about. One of Nel’s subordinates rushed into the throne room appearing panicked.

“We’ve got a problem!” she shouted to Nel before she turned her gaze to the queen and gave a quick bow of respect. For a moment, the spy worried that the Vendeeni were back already, but the soldier had worse news. Lasselle tried to scold her and send her away, but Nel nodded and gave her permission to speak. “Someone has infiltrated Kaddan!”

“What!?” Lasselle called out in alarm before the queen stood in shock.

“Who!?” she demanded, worry creeping into her voice.

“It was one of those celestial ships, Your Majesty. They landed right next to the shrine! We believe they’re headed for the Sacred Orb. They wear a strange kind of armor and are equipped with weapons that emit glowing beams of light! The runologists have them stopped for the moment, but they can’t do anything against those weapons! At this rate they’ll be at the Sacred Orb in no time!”

Nel’s blood ran cold at the report. Not only was the holy shrine being infiltrated, her people were already being attacked by those ‘glowing lights’. But soon anger coursed through her as she wondered what those invaders were thinking. They had no right to lay claim on their holy relics! Her kingdom hadn’t done anything against them…yet. At the very least, this transgression gave Nel all the more reason to find a way to take up the Thunder Arrow and try to destroy them.

For once the off-worlders were confused at the turn of events since they knew nothing of their religion or why Kaddan and the Sacred Orb were important to them. But Maria was able to identify the weapons of the thieves. She called them ‘disruptor rifles’. Nel wasn’t sure what to make of it until she saw it with her own eyes.

“If that’s the case, why are they going after the Orb, instead of us?” Cliff wondered, bringing on a good point. If the Vendeeni were here because they wanted Fayt, then they should have no reason to invade. Furthermore, they shouldn’t have any knowledge of what they were infiltrating if they didn’t belong to this planet. Even if this was an attempt to draw Fayt to them, it didn’t make any sense.

Fayt glanced at Nel before he wondered, “What’s Kaddan? And what’s this Sacred Orb?”

“Kaddan is the holy land of our church,” the spy began before she explained the holy sphere known as the Sacred Orb. It was thanks to that Orb and Queen Sirvia that the people of the fallen Kingdom of Aquor were able to defeat the Greeton invaders and become the Sacred Kingdom of Aquaria it was today. It was also the source of water that kept the lands fertile and sustained life. They owed their lives to the Sacred Orb.

It was quiet as Maria contemplated her story. But soon an idea came to her and she turned to the queen, “Your Majesty, which way is Kaddan?”

“To the east of Aquios,” she replied, curious as to what the blue haired girl was thinking. Nel watched with interest as the girl pulled out a strange device and flicked her wrist. A portion of the object flew open and seemed to let out several blinking and flashing lights into the air. The spy was transfixed to the sight of that miraculous device. It was nothing she had ever seen before. Even Welch Vineyard’s inventions didn’t come close to the level of technology Maria possessed.

“I see. Interesting…” she muttered with a slight grin before she gestured for Mirage to come over and look at the device.

The blonde woman expressed true surprise as she backed away and glanced at her leader, “What in the world?”

“What is it?” Cliff wondered as Maria folded up the object and put it away.

“I’m picking up an energy reading in the location they described and it’s too technologically advanced for this planet… It’s even beyond our ability to identify,” she answered as she shook her head. Nel had no clue what that meant. Was that a good thing or bad?

“It may be a so-called ‘Out-of-Place Artifact’, or OPA. I bet the Vendeeni detected this Sacred Orb while they were searching for us,” she continued, saying something that got the spy’s attention. She understood that last part.

“So you think they’re after the Sacred Orb?” she inquired, trying to hide her dread.

“It’s the most likely explanation. If you look back at history, anyone who got their hands on OPAs acquired incredible power. It would pretty much go without saying they’d want it,” Maria stated matter-of-factly, sounding much like a scholar who did a lot of research on the subject. Then again, the spy recalled that the girl did a lot of ‘research’ when coming. Maybe it was hidden jealously, but Nel didn’t like how Maria seemed to know everything. She felt the girl had a sense of superiority because of her greater knowledge.

“That’s terrible! We can’t let them steal our Sacred Orb!” Lasselle cried out before he glanced at the queen, “Your Majesty, we must send soldiers immediately!”

This had to be a bad omen… Lasselle said something sensible twice today. Perhaps this was why bad things were happening. The queen agreed immediately and turned to Nel to issue her next order.

“Take your unit and make for Kaddan at once.”

“Your Majesty!” Nel called out as she stood straight and prepared to leave the throne room without a second thought. But before she could leave, Fayt blocked her path and tried to reason with the queen.

“Please wait a moment, Your Majesty.”

“We are sorry, but we must attend to your business later. Responding to these thieves at Kaddan must take precedence,” the queen insisted before nodded to Nel to leave. The spy turned and was about to walk again, but Fayt placed a hand on her shoulder to stop her again.

“That’s what I’m saying: I don’t think Aquaria’s military could stand up to them with their current equipment,” he said as Nel moved his hand off her shoulder. She knew that all too well. Going there would be suicidal, but they couldn’t just allow the invaders to take their relic. Maria said it herself: the Orb could bestow great power to the wielder. If the Vendeeni managed to take it, then who knew what they could do with it? They could possibly destroy everyone with it if they were so inclined to. The queen told him as much, but the boy was still determined to stop Nel from leaving.

“Look, I’ll go to Kaddan,” he offered with a sigh.

“What are you thinking?” the red head questioned him in an almost incredulous tone. She knew he was offering to go in place of her and her soldiers. He wanted to spare everyone the slaughter that was sure to come. But…she couldn’t let him go alone.

“It’s my fault the Vendeeni ever came here in the first place. I have to accept responsibility somehow,” he explained with a look of remorse. Nel felt like sighing, but held back on the urge. She had to admit his wanting to help was admirable, but he needed to stop blaming himself. The way she saw it, it wasn’t directly his fault. Yes, the Vendeeni were after him, but it was their fault for chasing him. Fayt could’ve crash-landed on any planet and the Vendeeni would’ve invaded them all the same.

“Hey, wait a second,” Cliff interjected with a look of indignation that he was being left out, “You mean ‘we’, right? You plannin’ on going there alone?”

“He’s right. Going alone would be suicidal. If you die, then I’ve come here for nothing. I’m going, too,” Maria added as she approached him. She sounded like she cared, but the spy could detect an undertone of hidden intent. She needed Fayt alive for something and it sounded like she was particularly interested in the Sacred Orb…

“Thank you,” Fayt told them, grateful for their support.

Nel doubted the three of them could make much of a difference. Not if her entire unit would be useless against the Vendeeni… But then it just occurred to her that the off-worlders could have some means to defeat the Vendeeni or some kind of protection from their ‘disruptor rifles’. Maybe it was better to send them after all.

“Very well. Then we shall leave it to you,” the queen said, also seeing the higher probability of success with them. Fayt and Cliff alone accomplished so much, so she knew of their abilities.

“Your Majesty, I’ll go with them as well,” Nel offered, not wanting to be left behind. She knew she had to protect the Orb at all cost, but she also wanted to see the new enemy face to face. She had been rather bothered with the fact that she didn’t have any clue what the Vendeeni looked like. It was ridiculous to fear something that was before now unknown to her and her planet. She had the right to see the faces of those who would dare threaten her country and pillage their religious artifacts.

Plus… while the spy had great trust in Fayt and Cliff, Maria was another matter. She knew nothing about the girl and couldn’t trust her not to desire the Orb for herself. She was rather…excited with those ‘readings’ she picked up and she seemed very interested in the story Nel had told her about the Sacred Orb. Of course, Maria could’ve been simply interested in the knowledge, but it was better not to take chances.

“Yes, please do,” the queen agreed with a nod. She probably had reservations with the newcomer as well considering that Maria suddenly appeared out of nowhere. “As the situation is grave, we give you permission to use the Sealed Cavern. …Do not fail us.”

Nel picked up the pleading and worried tone. Romeria cared deeply for her country and her religion. She was placing a great deal of trust and hope with them. They couldn’t afford to fail.

“Your Majesty!” Nel said formally before she bowed and gestured for the others to follow her.

Time was short. The spy prayed that the traps hidden within the shrine would buy them enough time to catch up. She didn’t want to think of the possibility of the enemy getting a hold of the Sacred Orb.

To the Eighth Chapter (Understanding)

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