by Dan Hiestand
Jace and Isabelle had just finished having breakfast with the Sindell Air Force fighter pilots in the giant messhall just adjacent to the Hangar, where Jace made it a point to find out exactly who Thane Grace and Wesley Riller were, and found out they were pilots who lost their lives heroically saving the convoy and getting Jaden within the Sindell forcefield. Isabelle had watched in contented silence as he broke into a whole discussion about how, in a sense, their sacrifice was the deepst and most important in the struggle to date, as without Jaden everything would have been lost. Even going so far as to say what he and Relic had done in Fairlawn, also the stuff of instant legend, would all have been for nothing if not for those men.
Isabelle had seen him do things like that before, but she didn’t know if he did it to make himself feel better or to make those listening to him feel better, but she was sure for whatever reason he believed it more than anything. Truly, deeply believed it. And whatever his motives, whatever else, you cold see the look in those pilots eyes as they listened to him. There was a power some people had that just commanded attention and confidence. The stuff of natural leaders. His cousing, Aleister had it and was fighting the war on a very different but no less critical front. When they left and made their way out to the courtyards, it was a reminder of why everyone loved him, why she loved him, and it was in those moments that you left, knowing, believing they were going to be successful over the powers attacking this land. Even if it was just for a little while.
Walking through the gardens outside the gardens, outside the main entrance to Sindell Castle, you could look at it from the gardens and courtyards they were walking thorugh and it rose up like a giant beautiful symmetrical mountain rising up in layers and up and back. And they came to a wide stone bench, sitting down. No one watching them, no more dress uniforms, just them, sitting on a wide beautiful, ornate stone bench, a beautiful fountain bubbling up in front of them.
“Beautiful, huh?” she asked him, looking at the fountain.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think I’ve had my fill of fountains for one lifetime.”
She smiled a little and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. Just watching the fountain, savoring this time with him when she had him all to herself, when there was nothing going on.
Where it was quiet.
“So are you gonna tell me what you argued about with Thean?” she asked.
Jace smiled, finding it amusing that she had known when he had an altercation with him or if Thean was the cause of his troubles from the time he was a kid.
“It’s complicated,” he said, but now that line of thought led him somewhere else.
“Mmhm,” she said.
“Hey, do you remember the first time you met me?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said, a little surprised and she stood a little straighter before leaning forward to look at him. “You don’t?”
When he went on, she realized it was more rhetorical and he was still staring down into the beautifully manicured grass.
“I remember all the other kids had prominent parents, they all had outrider lineage, or had been scouted. You remember all those aptitude tests we had to take to even be considered?”
“I didn’t have any of them until I was already accepted into the Order. Nobody sponsored me. I began my training at the right age, but before that I didn’t even know what the Outrider Order was.”
“So what are you saying?” Isabelle asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, and he sighed, and no one was able to disarm anyone’s concern as easy as he was, and even as she found herself still concerned she relaxed in his presence in spite of herself. “Nothing,” he said and then the seriousness left him, the seriousness more evident in the last year of their lives, and he was more like the carefree Jace. “What do you wanna do today?”
And it was remarkable, when he took the time to think about it or notice how similar this city was to the situation of Lornda Manor. Not far from the mountain range, and to Isabelle, there was even something familiar about this stone bench and courtyard atmosphere.
“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “There’s a rumor there’s gonna be a scouting expedition to the mountain path,” then she stopped. “Not like they’ll be letting you or I on it together, after that stunt you pulled last night,” but she was doing her best not to laugh.
“Couldn’t help it, it was your fault anyway.”
“Yeah, and how’s that?” she asked, a flirty attitude that had driven Jace crazy for as long as he could remember. “Cuz I looked all pretty? And surprised you?”
“You really are the smartest, most beautiful person I’ve ever seen or heard of.”
Isabelle reaction was that she was a little surprised by that, and Jace smiled a little sheepish kind of laugh, and after all this time still capable of being embarrassed by her.
Jace’s mouth quirked into a little sheepish expression, and she leaned over hard on the bench and nudged him hard, an unspoken exchange passed between them.
A few more moments passed, and then Jace spoke again, looking back at her and leaning forward on the bench.
“Yeah, well, if anything you’ll be going and I’ll be staying here.”
“Oh? Why’s that? Wouldn’t be part of that whole complicated thing Thean related, is it?”
Jace tried not to smile, but more at her than anything related to the situation and then he went to look away.
“Mmhm,” she said. “So what’s our punishment? Court-martial?”
“Yeah, well,” Jace said. “The world is ending.”
She smiled, opening her mouth a little and shaking her head mocking him.
“Joke’s on him,” she said, but making fun of Jace, but right on the edge of laughing in a flirting way.
Jace started to laugh, but then suddenly he put his hand up on her shoulder, and even Isabelle didn’t pay attention to it. She was paying attention to the look in his eyes, that wild look she had seen on the balcony with him at Lornda Manor, although it didn’t seem so all consuming now. She watched him rise to his feet, slowly, his hand still on her shoulder, and he was looking out through the light blue forcefield that was barely perceptible in the daylight, out to the plain.
“Jace, what is it?” she asked, but there was no answer, he just kept staring and she knew there wouldn’t be. “Jace!” she tried again.
She looked out past the forcefield towards where he was looking, trying to see what he was, but there was nothing there. Past the forcefield and the edge of the city there was nothing but open lush green plains. But when she looked back to him, she didn’t even have the chance to speak before he was grabbing her arm and pulling her back.
“We gotta go,” he was saying taking a couple steps backward. But still staring at the horizon where there was apparently no threat at all.
“Where?” she asked.
He was running now, and she was running after him.
“To the Hangar, come on!”
Hazel was getting sleepy, about to pass out. Relic watched her, and then suddenly an airship flew out the window and it seemed to get Relic thinking about something as he looked back to her.
Relic stood up.
“I’ll let you get some rest,” Relic said, standing up. “This has been a lot of information even for me. Do you need anything?”
But Hazel was transfixed, staring out the window, and when she looked back at him there was something in her eyes that wasn’t there before.
“All roads, Relic. All the different cycles spreading back through time since the fall of the Sun Kingdom and the failed attempts to unite ever since, as the echoes of that very first division has echoed through the world in every form of division since, they’re all coming together to intersect. The Crossroads of fate, when everything will converge and existence will be sent down one of two paths. We can debate who is write, who is truly on Fate’s side, but all that will be at an end after shortly.”
Then, shocking Relic, she grabbed his wrist and pulled him close, pulled him down to where he was kneeling beside her bed and whispered something into his ear.
When he stood slowly, he was in shock.
“Why …. Why would you tell me that?”
“Because there will come that moment, before both roads, where there will be no more arguing and what is meant to be will be. But if I’m wrong, you’ll need to know that. And it’s time now,” she said, looking like she was drifting a little away.
“Time for what?” he asked, leaning a little closer to her. He thought he heard a very feint boom or explosion in the distance, but it was feint, not so near that it was threatening enough to go beyond curiousness or break Relic’s focus on Hazel.
“The beginning,” she said, and now she was looking in his eyes again, exactly as she was when this conversation began the night before and they had talked thorugh the night. And as she faded from consciousness she breathed, “The beginning of the end.”
Republic of Veil’driel
Clive Barringer was standing in the exact spot Jace Dabriel had on the night of his famous mission where he almost single-handedly turned back the threat against overwhelming odds that lay siege to Fairlawn City, and it was a fact that was not lost on him, indeed it gave him comfort. (this paragraph must be saved for revelation later, which is what gives him the courage to make his run to the sentry house.)
Even despite this, he felt the strength go out of his legs as he saw the enemy army rise up over the hills in the distance over the plain, marching to the beat of a foreign drum, and in that moment, he thought of how hard he had studied to be promoted. All the all night study sessions, and he wondered if he would have done all of that work if he knew it would leave him in command of all these whistlers and this entire operation to confront an entire enemy host they knew nothing about. And unlike when Jace Dabriel stood upon this hill, looking out at the army on the ridge, this one was very real.
He barely had enough courage to raise the spyglass to his eye for a closer look. To get some detail of this horrible enemy, and then, the blowing of eerie horns blew, and he lowered the spyglass down again in front of him. Not looking.
He heard a rustling in the brush behind him, and when he turned, he could not deny the very real comfort he felt in that moment to see Adrian Pierce coming up the hill. He had grown to depend on him in the months since he was reassigned, and here in the most tense moments of this army that was totally calm, hardly looking bothered at all.
Clive didn’t know if the man simply didn’t appreciate the situation, or if it iwas a question of intelligence that he did not seem as terrified as he did, but he did know one thing. He was grateful for it. There was strength there, no matter what, and that could not be denied.
“Hmmmm,” he said, a bit out of breath. He was not overweight by any means, but heavyset, and the trek through the woods and up the hill had taken it out of him. Then he took his own spyglass and looked out to the gathering force without the slightest hesitation, and while he didn’t see, Clive smiled at him. “Well more than a few, and no mistake,” he said. “If they follow even the slightest of military procedure, they’ll send scouts.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Clive said, and now he too was looking back, this time with his spyglass up, feeling more comfortable when he was around. There were banners caught in the breeze, banners he didn’t recognize, and then in a flash he felt hatred for the First Consul and High Council, having read Senator Bren’s most recent herald, hearing the exact, complicated, disturbing truth of things for himself along with most every other Republic citizen.
Adrian grumbled, lowering the spy glass.
“Bah,” he said, and then sniffed. “All dem Whistler boys are in place,” he said. “And there ain’t none better. Happen to be a close personal friend of one.”
“I have no doubt,” Clive said with a smile, then asked, very sincerely. “And what about the street lanterns?”
“All taken down, oil spread around stragegically. If it comes to that,” he nodded out to the plain. “And I don’t think I’ll be go’in out on a limb here by say’in it fairly may, we’ll be covered.”
Clive nodded, took a deep breath, glanced back out at the army just as an eerie horn sounded and the host came to a halt. Then he simply asked what was on his mind. To the soldier he had come to trust most.
“So, Whaddya think?”
Adrian answered all at once, whether he expected to be asked or simply was going to offer his opinion regardless, was not obvious, but it could’ve been either.
“I think when they send those scouts of there’s, assuming they do, we stay scarce. Let them report nothing. Make the sentry house look abandon. Like we run off. Have them go back and report that, and when their forces start to come down the road, we kill as many as humanly possible.”
“I like that plan,” Clive said. “See to it,” he said.
“Aye, sir,” he said with a lazy salute, and he looked back down the hill, dreading that he had just barely come up it and now he was going to have to conquer it again. He sighed as he took his first steps down the hill.”
“And Adrian,” he said, and he waited until he turned toward him. “I’m glad to have you.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, L.T.,” he said, and then turned back, amazingly looking more concerned with the walk down the hill back into the woods than with the enemy army on the plains.
In the hangar, Stellan Fox was training a rookie pilot, it had giant copper chains attached to the key points of all the aircraft, and though extremely loud, Stellan was watching from the hangar office, Shamblin Vet busy next to him, and he was talking to the rookie pilot over the sapphire.
Everytime he would call out a maneuver, the ship on those chains would respond, and Stellan nodded, noting marked improvement.
“Good,” he said. “Better. Much better that time.”
“Much better,” he was saying “Much better. Now let’s try a bank right move.”
From here, secured on the chains, it did just that.
But it was also a little shakey, as it was very hard to control these for rookies.
“Add a little more pressure to the pedal pressure pedal he said.”
And he did it, but now the thing started to verberate.
“Relax, kid, relax,” he said, watching through the glass. “A nervous pilot flies poorly, a panicked one flies once. We’l get there.”
Beside him Shamblin smirked.
“I remember Riller saying that to you like yesterday,” he said.
Stellan crossed his arms and nodded. The airship was a little sloppy but he wasn’t doing bad.
“Doing well for his first simulation,” Stellan remarked.
Shamblin was busy but looked up long enough though the window to asses a second and agree.
“Still makes me think of-”
At that moment, Jace crashed through the door of the hangar office, Isabelle right behind him.
“Jace?” the hangar clerk asked, surprised by both his sudden appeareance but also his intense and concerned face. “What are you doing here?”
Jace looked around a bit before speaking, as if he may have been expecting Artemus himself or some wizards hanging out in the hangar. Then he focused his attention totally on Shamblin.
“You have to summon the King here now,” he said. “Summon everybody here right now.”
Shamblin Vet didn’t show even the slightest hesitation, which Isabelle, still confused was even impressed with. But she knew it was a testament to what he has accomplished since coming to Sindell and how important he was.
Now Stellan Fox was instructing the trainee to shut it down and the sound of those engines immediately started to shut down and he was walking away from the window looking out on the hangar even before it had totally landed and the heavy chains clinked loudly back down.
Cleo woke up alone in Malcolm’s room, and spent the time since getting dressed, getting ready for the day, then she returned to his room, and he was still gone. She didn’t know how to take it, and now she was rummaging around in his room, which like his tent back on the plains in front of Fairlawn Woods, was pretty sparce. But the books were still there, and now, fully dressed, freshly bathed she was walking over to one of the books out of curiosity as she tied her hair back she looked down. She had just dropped her fingers on one of the covers when she heard Malcolm’s voice.
“If you wanna borrow that, you’ll have to wait,” he said. And she turned around to see him, arms crossed, leaning against the side of the doorframe. “Not done with it yet.”
“Ooh clever,” she said, her mouth open in a little cute mimicky action, but her entire face lit up when she saw him. “Felt guilty for abandoning me, I take it.”
He smiled, taking her in, and couldn’t help but smile.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “Had to check on some things. Didn’t wanna wake you.”
“Oh, look at your, Mr. Important guy.”
“You wanna get breakfast?”
She stepped toward him.
“Matter of fact, I would-”
Suddenly the blue sapphire that was tied to Malcolm’s arm of his uniform in the exact same way as it was in the Bryce Valley mission, and she remembered seeing it like that, sprung to life.
“This is a call to action. Repeat. This is a call to action. All stations, prepare for imminent action. His Majesty, King William and all senior personnel are requested to report to the Hangar. Repeat, this is a call to arms!”
Malcolm looked concerned and stood up, surprised.
Cleo raised her eyebrows.
“Senior personnel?” he asked. He raised his eyebrows. “Yeah.” The glowing blue sapphire attached to his arm faded to its dormant state again. He turned around took a single step, and then turned back to Cleo. “Coming Senator?”
Without a single word she started running after him, and they left out through the door and were running through the corridors that were moments before calm that were now alive with chaos and procedure and people doing what they were supposed to do.
“Is this how it is here? Is it always this crazy?” Cleo asked as they continued to run.
“Yeah,” he answered, as he held her hand and they dodged around a couple people. And then another, and another as the guard rushed past. “Actually, no, this is a little bit crazier.”