Ventus – Day 89 of 135


Three hours later, he sat at a viewscreen and watched as Ventus fell away below. Too bad it was night; he would have dearly loved to have traced the course of the journeys he and his companions had made across the land.

Every now and then the display flickered with blue-white light. The Diadem swans were attacking. While they had easily taken out Marya’s ship, they were no match for this cruiser, as the captain had pointed out proudly and at length.

Axel was tired, bruised and chilled to the bone. Soon he would go take that bath he had been dreaming of for months; for now, he couldn’t take his eyes off the screen.

Somewhere below Calandria was getting ready to confront Armiger. Axel had argued with the captain for a good hour, trying to convince the man to follow Marya’s directions to the queen’s palace and interrupt the siege. They probably had enough firepower in this ship to eliminate Armiger; but it had been the god Choronzon who had hired Axel and Calandria to kill Armiger. As far as the Archipelagic military were concerned, the war against 3340 was over.

Axel no longer cared about Armiger anyway. He just wanted to get Calandria back.


He turned. Marya stood in the doorway. She had cleaned herself up, and looked beautiful in a snow-white gown, framed by the door’s ivy in warm summer-like light from hidden sconces. She stood barefoot on the genetically-tailored grass of the ship’s civilian quarters, and appeared relaxed and confident, as though she had not been squawling and biting the arms of medieval soldiers earlier in the evening.

“You’re amazing,” he said.

“You look like hell,” she laughed. “Why don’t you get some rest? There’s nothing more we can do now.”

He turned back to the window. “We have to go back,” he said. “We’re not done here.”

She touched his arm. “I know. First we’ll have the remains of Turcaret analyzed. They may give us some valuable insights into why the Winds won’t talk to us. And then we’ll go back for your friends.”

“It’s just that…” He didn’t want to say it. Marya waited patiently.

“We have to get Calandria,” he said. “She’s so obsessed with 3340, and Armiger. Sometimes I think… I think she wants to lose. Wants to die, or something worse.”

Marya frowned. “We can’t save her,” she said.

Axel turned back to the viewscreen. Ventus was visibly a globe now, in crescent phase as the ship headed away from the sun. Diadem twinkled brightly above the limb of the horizon.

“If not us,” he said, “then who?”


“Parliament’s forces are on the move,” said Matthias. “He’s going to try it.”

Matthias was in full battle gear–not the gold-worked breastplate and shimmering epaulets Galas had always seen him in before. In plain black leather and iron, he looked like a common soldier now, except for the red flag rising above his back that signalled his rank. Nothing he could have said or done could have projected the gravity of the situation more than this simple change of clothing.

Galas was briefly ashamed. She was dressed as always in velvet and gauze finery. She pictured herself picking up a sword, strapping on a shield and entering the fray like some barbarian queen. She would love that. She would love to do anything rather than what she had to do.

Regally, she nodded to Matthias. “Go then. You have my complete confidence.”

“My lady…” For a second his composure cracked. He was an old man suddenly, saddled with an impossible task. They would lose this battle; both knew it.

Galas smiled most carefully; her responsibility now was to act the part for which she had been born. So that these people died believing in… something, anything. Even if it was a failed dream.

“Dear Matthias, I only meant I would wish to have no one else in command of my force, now or ever.”

“Thank you, your majesty.” He bowed. “But I have given equal authority over to General Armiger. He will be commanding the defense of the gate.”

“Good.” He bowed again, and turned to leave.

“Matthias?” She couldn’t go through with it–perhaps she could hide her true feelings from the rank and file, but it would be unworthy to do so to her closest friends. When he looked back with a puzzled look, Galas said, “No one should have to die for me.”

He glared at her. “You are the rightful monarch and heir, blessed by the Winds. We would all be honored to die to defend you.” He walked quickly away.

Galas stared after him. She felt a stab of pain in her chest–sorrow made physical–and hugged herself miserably.

Dawn had just broken. Morning light slanted in through the ruined windows of the great hall. The shattered flame pattern worked in stained glass seemed like a centuries-old joke only now reaching its punch-line. To hinder Lavin’s men from gaining access to the tower through the thin walls of the hall, Matthias had doused everything in here with oil. This great chamber would be an oven soon.

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