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 A Tale of Iron

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Strider Zero

Male Number of posts : 9215
Location : McNeil Village
Quote : The closer you get to something, the tougher it is to see it.
Registration date : 2008-08-30

PostSubject: Re: A Tale of Iron   June 7th 2016, 11:39 pm

Chapter 75

The next morning, we follow the lieutenant commanders. They are walking down castle halls.

Solomon: Damn it. Weíre going to be late as usual thanks to Vito.
Vito: I canít help it! I just get so much energy at night and then I have to sleep.

They make it into the throne room, where everyone else is already waiting. All of the Fangs are present, not just Akari.

Shiomi: Youíre late. All five of you must lack discipline.
Strago: Nah, itís just Vito. I bet the other four waited for him.
Vito: Hey!
Helvast: I assume this means that we can begin.
Shiomi: Yes. Today we will be doing some joint exercises. This will be so that we can assess our skills as well as gain some form of understanding of one another.
Strago: For the next few minutes, I would encourage you to converse.

They start to bunch up into clusters. We see Aerona take a step, but then stop. He looks over to Eleanor, who is glaring right at him.

Aerona: Yeah yeah.

He stands next to her.

Eleanor: Who else is going to guard me?
Aerona: Thereís a much more capable guy right in front of me.
Strago: Not my job.
Aerona: Not cool.

Drake: Hey, Khilai. Long timeÖ
Khilai: Yeah. Last time we really talked, you got yourself into a mess in Drogos.
Mars: Well, that tends to happen when you mess with a dragon slayer.

Akari: So, Katzir. Remember when I was talking about the annoying abilities from Erosion?
Katzir: I remember.
Erosion: Hehehehe. Too bad he didnít get to fight me himself.
Athala: Youíre a martial artist?
Katzir: Yeah. Iím also a natural dark mage. Iím not in trouble, am I?
Athala: I doubt it. We have our own people who use dark magic apparentlyÖ

Vito: Itís me again.
Liron: Oh God.
Drora: Be nice, Liron! I think sheís still a little bitter over losing.
Liron: Shut the fuck up, Drora.
Solomon: Eh.
Drora: And who are you?

Solomon doesnít respond.

Vito: Acknowledge her or something, dude.
Solomon: Yeah.

Shahar has approached the queen and Aerona.

Eleanor: I donít recognize this man.
Aerona: Donít worry. Heís no threat.
Shahar: My name is Shahar. I wanted to formally introduce myself.

He gives a proper bow.

Eleanor: Very well.
Aerona: Have you given any more thought as to your weaknesses?
Shahar: Yes. I believe I have an answer.

A few minutes go by.

Strago: Okay, that is enough. Letís all head out into our training grounds.

They all go out into a wide-open dirt field that is torn up everywhere.

Mars: This place could use some fixingÖ
Akari: Allow me.

It takes a minute, but Akari manages to smooth out all the ground. *Music*

Akari: It would have been easier without the magic restriction, but I managed to make it serviceable.
Strago: Thank you.
Shiomi: Weíll start with a running exercise. Just one quick sprint to see where you all lie in physical speed.
Strago: Those of you who have good speed should line up. If you use heavy armor, itís ill advised.

Helvast, Jerome, Vito, Aerona, Erosion, Liron, Akari, Drora, Khilai, Drake and Katzir line up. Shiomi stands approximately 150 meters away.

Strago: Run past General Shiomi. That is all. I will count down from three and say go. So, get ready. Three, two, one, go!

They all take off. They finish in this order: Vito, Helvast, Jerome, Erosion, Aerona and Akari (tied), Liron, Drake, Drora, Khilai and Katzir (tied).

Liron: Looks like I beat you, Sheikh Drake.
Drake: *Huff* Iím not a sheikh anymoreÖand Iím not all that fast anyway.
Aerona: We crossed at the exact same time, Akari. Iím impressed.
Akari: I should be saying the same.
Shiomi: Next, youíll be determining physical strength. We have different weights. You must simply lift each a meter high and you pass.

This time, Shahar, Liron, Akari, Aerona, Athala, Drake, Mars, Solomon, Helvast and Jerome line up.

Solomon: Bring it.

The first weight, which is relatively light, everyone easily lifts. The next two are the same. The fourth weight, which is much larger and heavier, Shahar, Helvast and Jerome drop out.

Katzir: Look at that. The captains are already out.
Drora: Damn, Shahar.
Shahar: I feel so ashamed.

The next weight, Liron, Drake, Athala and Aerona all fail. The next one Akari fails. Solomon and Mars both fail the next one.

Liron: I didnít know you were that strong, captain.
Shahar: The girls beat meÖ
Eleanor: Way to go, Athala! You showed those boys!
Strago: Next, we need to determine skill. You will be fighting each other hand-to-hand and then with practice weapons of your choosing. Armor is forbidden in this test as well as magic.
Taario: Should I fight, General Shiomi?
Shiomi: There is no need, since you are a healer.
Aerona: Akari, letís do this. I challenge you to a non-restricted battle.
Akari: Besides the restrictions from the barrier?
Aerona: Yeah. Thereís something I need to try.
Strago: I forbid it. Your state is too volatile to go all out, even under the Elťnaril.
Drake: Aerona! Spear re-match!
Shiomi: Fight someone from another kingdom!
Drake: Iíve been at both thoughÖ *Music Stops*

Over at the Red Kingdom, we go to the throne room. Hunter is now in more regal attire. His sheikh robe is hanging over the back of the throne.

Sarah: See? Now, you look like the king that you are.
William: We also made sure they have magic resistance as well.
Hunter: Yes. I apologize for lashing out at you the other day. However, I will ask you not to overstep your boundaries again.
William: Understood. I also apologize. I gave up my title years ago, but it still feels like I am ruling our people.
Hunter: I understand. You are still an important guiding hand to the Etal.
Hayim: Lord William, have you gathered our best fighters?
Sarah: They will be ready to fight.
Hayim: I trust theyíre all at least on par with a sheikh?
Hunter: Yes. We kept them away from the military on purpose so that they would not get roped into war.
Hayim: Nice.
William: What of you? Are you ready to fight for us?
Hayim: I received direct training from Akari. My abilities have become much better since then.
Hunter: And Hayim will continue to grow from here. Iím going to finish his training.
Sarah: Thatís good. At least Akari was good for something in the end.
Hunter: Iím also ready to use the artifact that we obtained while we were out there.
William: Then you found it?! The eye of Kaz-Katel?
Hunter: I did manage to find it. Though, the cost was the entire team of people with me. But they were not loyal to us anyway. I had planned to sacrifice them from the start.
Hayim: You mean those people who were with you at the training grounds when you three fought General Shiomi?
Hunter: Correct.
Hayim: What does this eye do?
Hunter: Youíll see soon. It is a dark artifact that was once used by an orc chieftain. Long ago elves and orcs fought each other, using these artifacts. Some of them have fallen into the hands of humans, such as the Elťnaril. Father has an elven artifact in his possession still, I believe.
William: Indeed.
Hayim: So then, when you kept your team away from oursÖthey had already been killed. Thatís why we never saw them when we went to Drake and KaíRudís village.
Hunter: Yes.
Hayim: Sorry, Iím now getting a chance to internalize this.
Hunter: Itís okay. I kept some details from you on purpose so that you would focus on your mission. And you did splendidly.
Sarah: When Hunter first took you off the streets, I didnít think you were capable of becoming normalized into our society. But you have become one of us.
Hayim: Thank you, Lady Sarah.
William: What will you do about Sentus, Hunter? He has been moving about aimlessly. He is unsettling our troops.
Hunter: Captain Sentus is a mad dog right nowÖor a mad dragon. He will not attack us yet. We will have safeguards against him as well. If he manages to kill his targets, he will no doubt aim his wrath towards me.
Sarah: His targets? Are you expecting a war at our doorstep?
Hunter: I have this uneasiness about me, Mother. I do not know what is going to happen. It depends on the twins and whether or not they have to use my letter. If for some reason they fall in battle and that letter is discovered under the wrong context, things could go awry.
William: I thought your plan was perfect?
Hunter: No plan is perfect. I have come to understand that over my years of strategy.

We go to a few ships that are sailing on the ocean. Zooming in on the biggest one, we see Zvornoff, Noque and Nymeria.

Zvornoff: Hee! I still canít process that Agg got himself either captured or killed.
Noque: Not to mention Barg also got himself killed by Ahli.
Nymeria: Itís okay. Things are still well within Master Hunterís plans.
Zvornoff: I should have stood and fought with him. Athala probably beat him.
Nymeria: Our only problem is that we were not able to finish off the armies. Perhaps Master Hunter will know what to do.
Zvornoff: Indeed.
Noque: By the way, Zvor. I noticed that you fudged that attack against me the other day.

We briefly flashback to the battle in the snow when Zvornoff appeared behind Noque and lunged with his rapier and Noque deflected the attack.

Noque: You used your speed magic to get behind me, but didnít use it on your thrust.
Zvornoff: You were too open. Youíre stronger than I, but you should have known that attack was coming. I did that to sharpen your awareness.
Noque: Yeah, youíre right.

Later in the day, back at the Iron Kingdom, everyone is breathing heavy.

Athala: I didnít think there was someone below sheikh rank that was this tough.
Liron: And I see the lieutenants are no pushovers either.
Strago: You all did well today.
Shiomi: Based on the skills you showed today and the power you all possess while unrestricted, we can establish our rankings.
Strago: Captain Helvast, you possess overall the most ability. And your analytical ability is also very high. When you fought Aerona, you two both had the same thinking of using the data from the strength and speed tests to your advantage. Only, you were able to use it more effectively in the hand-to-hand fight.
Aerona: I have to agree. If anyone should lead our expedition to the Red Kingdom, itís you.
Helvast: I appreciate that.
Shiomi: Helvast, Iím counting on you, as always.
Helvast: I wonít let you down.
Strago: Like our previous battle, I would also like to suggest team leaders under you, that way you donít need to command everything all at once. Solomon, Mars, Iím leaving that up to you from our side of things.
Shiomi: Akari. Can you be our third?
Akari: Not Captain Jerome, maíam?
Shiomi: Jeromeís abilities and personality are more suited to be a second in command.
Jerome: Itís okay, Akari. Besides, you understand Hunter better than anyone else here. It makes sense that you would call the shots concerning him.
Shiomi: Iím putting Jerome under Solomonís team. Akari, you have your Fangs. Khilai, with Mars.
Strago: Aerona, you will be cooperating directly with Captain Helvast. You will float to whichever faction needs your assistance.
Aerona: Understood.
Strago: Vito, you are Akariís second in command. Erosion, you will tag-team with Khilai to be Marsí second in command. Drake and Athala, youíre with Solomon.
Shiomi: Helvast, feel free to adjust the placements as you see fit if you see something that needs fixed. I trust your judgment.
Strago: Now that those arrangements have been settled, I would like for you all to spend some time with your specific group. Dinner should be just about prepared for us.
Eleanor: Captain Helvast, you are welcome to join Aerona and I, since you are working with him.
Helvast: It will be an honor, Queen Eleanor.
Shiomi: Dismissed!

They break up into their groups.

Helvast: Have you thought about your circumstance a bit more?
Aerona: Yes. Iím changing up my style a bit as we speak.
Helvast: Thatís good.
Eleanor: So, it will be the three of us for dinner then?

Shiomi puts her hand on Helvastís shoulder.

Shiomi: You think I would miss a royal dinner?
Eleanor: Oooh, this is getting exciting now.

At a table, with Solomonís group, conversation is kept to a minimum at the beginning.

Drake: They put me in the same group as Jerome. What were they thinking?!
Athala: Iím worried about Drakeís emotional state. He might do something stupid if things go south.
Solomon: So, since weíre working together, I thought we should make a toast.
Jerome: Very well, Lord of Speechcraft.

The four of them raise their glasses and drink. Solomon gives Drake a subtle nod, which Jerome appears to notice.

Drake: Hmph. Our team is obviously going to kick the most ass.
Solomon: There you go!
Jerome: We can work on that ice storm combination that we did previously.
Solomon: Oh yeah. Not to mention, I can also make Drakeís flying weapons more lethal.
Drake: Good point, Solomon.
Jerome: Athala, your name was? I can unleash madness on our enemies and make you look like some kind of demon goddess. Hmmhmmhmmhmm!
Solomon: That makes no sense. How can a demon be a goddess?
Athala: I like the idea though.
Drake: What makes you think she isnít already a demon goddess?
Solomon: Didnít you guys hear anything I just said?

At Marsí table, which is in a separate room, Strago has joined this group.

Khilai: Iím the only Red person hereÖof course.
Erosion: Oh well. Hehehe.
Mars: General, how come youíre not having dinner with General Shiomi?
Strago: Weíve spent plenty of time planning already.
Khilai: Anyway, while weíre a team, I suppose we should at least speak about casual things. Though I am not particularly good at small talk usually.
Mars: Well, I usually talk about nerdy things. Did any of you read the latest edition of ďDungeon ConquerorĒ?
Khilai: No way. Youíre a fan of ďDungeon ConquerorĒ?
Erosion: Hey, so am I.
Khilai: No one else I know enjoys fiction books.
Strago: Iím beginning to think it would have been better if I joined the royal dinnerÖ
Erosion: So, Khilai, you like Iron Kingdom books?
Khilai: I donít care where they come from, as long as theyíre good.
Mars: Agreed. Iím also a fan of the ďSultanĒ series that comes from your kingdom.
Khilai: Unfortunately, those books wonít ever continue.
Mars: No?
Khilai: *Points to Strago* This guy killed the author at Seren.
Erosion and Mars: What?!
Erosion: How could you?!
Strago: You mean Sheikh KaíRud?
Khilai: KaíRud knew that I was obsessed with that series at one point. He used it to take advantage of me a few times. Oh, not in that way though.
Strago: He was an enemy at that time. He was going to attack what few civilians remained in Seren. I had no choice.
Khilai: I understand. We donít need to apologize for things we did in war.

At the queenís tableÖ

Shiomi: Royal knight, youíre different. I noticed it today when you first fought.
Aerona: I lost the use of my light magic after our last battle. Captain Helvast helped diagnose what was going on.
Shiomi: Fascinating. So youíre a natural dark mage now, huh?
Eleanor: Dark magicÖ
Shiomi: My apologies. I know itís forbidden here.
Eleanor: Itís quite all right.
Aerona: Captain Helvast and I have similar mindsets in battle. Is that why you two wanted me to work directly under him?
Shiomi: Thatís correct. The fact that you figured that out means that it was the right choice.
Aerona: Why do I feel like Iím talking to a female version of our general right now?
Helvast: That was quite evident when we fought using our fists. The art of fisticuffs isnít something that differs all that greatly between our kingdoms. Not compared to how different we fought using the same weapon.
Eleanor: Heh. That match made it easy to tell who was from which kingdom.
Shiomi: Yes, well, you lieutenant commanders trump everyone else when it comes to weapon skill. The only ones who can compete are Drake, myself and General Strago.
Helvast: I dare say that your skill surpasses the three knights of your past generation.
Aerona: The general said the same thing. Itís only a matter of time before our powers surpass theirs as well.
Helvast: About that, I have something in mind. Iíll explain more in detail when we finally do sail.

Switching to Akariís tableÖ

Katzir: Weíre all together still.
Shahar: I guess they didnít want to separate us.
Akari: I feel that this is for the best. We have our own synergy anyway.
Vito: Yeah, well, Iím not part of that synergy now, am I?
Liron: Iím sure you will be.
Akari: Vito of the Blade. For someoneís natural speed to surpass Captain Helvast and Captain JeromeísÖyou have my respect.
Vito: Thanks.
Drora: Although, you were very particular every time you needed to fight with a weapon.
Taario: (Trying to imitate Vitoís voice) Katanas, bitch!
Vito: I sound nothing like that!
Liron: You know there are more sword types than just katanas, right?
Vito: I know that. But I gotta have it. If I find something I like, I stick to it.
Akari: Specialists are extraordinary in their own right. Donít mindlessly put down them. Isnít that right, Katzir?
Katzir: Yeah.
Vito: Hey, Akari. How did you survive anyway? The other three who fought you said that they saw you die.
Akari: I managed to stop my bleeding by applying a layer of rock to my skin that kept pressure on it. This was just before I passed out. The amount of blood I lost was not enough to kill me, but it put me dangerously close. Thatís when my body went into a state of comatose.
Vito: Things are so different now. We attacked each other without hesitation in that forest and now here we are eating and drinking at the same table.
Shahar: We can say the same. He kept bringing you guys up during our last mission and now here you are. I never thought things would turn out this way. I just wanted to fight Aerona without backing down. I didnít think I would be then fighting alongside him.
Akari: None of us knew this was going to happen. We need to make the best of it.
Vito: I have one more question for you. Did you know Marlene, Nagema or Jahten personally?
Akari: Marlene, yes. Now, she was very strong. She had the magical ability of a sheikh and the weapon skill of a lieutenant from the Iron Kingdom. She fought Hunter and I individually in order to gauge her power.
Vito: Did you win?
Akari: We both won, yes. But she gave us each a hell of a fight.
Liron: I have no idea who youíre talking about, captain.
Akari: They were traitors that defected to our side close to the same time that Drake did. But these guys killed them when they were at the Red Kingdom last month.

Back at the royal tableÖ

Shiomi: So, Iím curious. Last month, your group killed many of our people. Daniel of the Red Sun was your doing, I believe.
Aerona: Thatís correct. That was a bit of a score that needed to be settled between us.
Shiomi: Iím curious about this history between you.
Aerona: Three years ago, he left a scar on my back when I shielded my queen.
Eleanor: I remember it so well.

We switch back to Solomonís table.

Jerome: So, I want to talk about your involvement in the coliseum incident.
Solomon: What about it?
Jerome: I was there that day. The fight itself had me distracted. Was that the plan?
Solomon: It was. That was when we coerced some information about the dragonís location from the nobles.
Jerome: You might not know it, but one of those nobles has the last name of Hetzelberg. That manís daughter is in Akariís Fangs of Pestilence.
Drake: Droraís father was there? Such a small world after all.

Khilai: You twoÖI actually caught a glimpse of you last month.
Mars: You did? When was that?
Khilai: Do you remember when you fled the battlefield after destroying the dragon?
Erosion: Come to think of it, there were four sheikh with Sentus. You were one of them?
Khilai: Thatís right. The other three were Hunter, Noque and Nymeria. All traitors.
Mars: Really? It was hard to see what was happening below us anyway. We were all on the brink of death at that point.
Erosion: Yeah.
Khilai: How did you manage to get the creatures of darkness to help you?
Erosion: They were grateful to us for killing the dragon. Thatís it.
Khilai: Aye, Dravos was a menace to their existence. That makes some sense. But you have to wonder if those creatures were under any influence from this dark lord.
Mars: I doubt it.

Shahar: So, Vito, is there a good blacksmith that we should go to in order to get our weapons repaired? We found one in the city, but Iím not sure if he is whom we should trust.
Vito: I know a guy, yeah. Jerard is his name. He works in the castle. On second thought, you should probably put your equipment in a bag and send one man to him.
Liron: OneÖman?
Vito: Yeah. Neither of you two girls want to be anywhere near him. I made the mistake of bringing my ex-girlfriend once and I almost had to kill him.
Akari: Is he belligerent towards women?
Vito: No, heís just extremely horny all the time. Thatís why he married a wife that is also extremely horny all the time.
Katzir: Sounds like they should balance each other out.
Vito: They cheat on each other all the time and neither of them gives a fuck. Theyíre degenerates, honestly. But Jerard is a master of his trade.

That night, we see Keros with Drake and Athala.

Drake: That about sums up what your duties will be as lieutenant.
Keros: Thank you for your insight.
Athala: We were both impressed enough by your skill that I believe you will be Heliosí lieutenant after this conflict has subsided.
Drake: Iím wondering where we should have you group-wise.
Athala: Weíll leave it up to one of our commanders.
Keros: ďWhen in doubt, ask a lieutenant commanderĒ, huh?
Athala: I donít particularly like them all that much, but they are our superior officers.
Drake: But youíll get along with them just fine, Keros. Athala has ego issues when it comes to them.

At the throne room, the queen, the dragon slayers and Helvast are present.

Aerona: You guys have a key to my room, yes? Go on without me. Iíll be guarding the queen tonight.
Vito: Damn. Sucks for you.

The other four leave.

Helvast: I too will be taking my leave. We will talk more tomorrow, Harbinger of Misfortune.
Aerona: Yes. I look forward to it.

Helvast also leaves. There is a silence for about a minute.

Aerona: I have a decree in writing that Iíd like to get passed.
Eleanor: Oh, Iíll bet you do. I have a decree for you. Donít you dare run from me. Weíre going to talk out all this bullshit tonight.
Aerona: Very well. Shall I brew some tea? This conversation could take quite some time.
Eleanor: Yes. Do so.

Aerona backs up against the wall behind the throne and pushes open a secret door.

Aerona: This way.

They both leave through the door.

Preparations are almost complete for the journey to the Red Kingdom!
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Strider Zero

Male Number of posts : 9215
Location : McNeil Village
Quote : The closer you get to something, the tougher it is to see it.
Registration date : 2008-08-30

PostSubject: Re: A Tale of Iron   June 20th 2016, 4:23 pm

Chapter 76

The next day, we follow the dragon slayers. Shahar is with them, carrying a large sack the size of his body.

Shahar: So, why are we all going to see this blacksmith?
Aerona: Jerard was working on a weapon for me. If itís done, I want them to see it.
Shahar: Iím curious now.

They knock on the black iron door to Jerardís shop.

Jerardís Voice: Kelly, this is the tenth time this morning I told you not to bother me!

They open the door and walk in.

Jerard: Gyahaha! Itís just you guys. Come on in, you bastards!
Solomon: Jerard, you do realize that Kelly doesnít ever knock anymore?
Jerard: ÖNow that you mention it, youíre right! I wonder who I could have scared off earlier then. Oh well, itís not important!
Mars: I donít think sheís has done that in years.

Jerard lets out a wheezing laugh.

Aerona: Howís my weapon coming along?
Jerard: I finished it not but an hour ago! Come and see!

Jerard brings out a war axe except the handle is more oval shaped and the head of the axe looks more like this. On the other side where the spike would be, there is a small hammer with tiny triangular spikes. Aerona holds it, putting his hands on the two grip spots.

Aerona: Itís just like Drakeís model.
Vito: Itís not as long as the halberd or glaive.
Mars: I see you wanted a spike at the end so you could still thrust if you need to. You essentially combined a poleaxe with a shorter war axe. And then the hammer partÖ
Aerona: I sacrificed length for sheer killing power.
Jerard: Aye! You can easily cave in heavy armor with that thing! At least, the way I made it! Gyahahaha!
Shahar: I see. So this is an all-purpose assassination tool that can be used in tighter quarters than your longer pole weapons.
Jerard: And who the fuck is this guy?
Shahar: My name is Shahar. Iíve heard of your skill, but now I see it in person. The work on the axe is remarkable and on such short notice.
Jerard: What brings you here, foreigner?
Shahar: My group needs general maintenance on our weapons.
Jerard: Let me see.

Shahar unloads the weapons.

Jerard: It will be fun to work with some of these. Twenty gold.
Vito: Iíll pay for it.
Shahar: Thatís not necessary.
Vito: Look, the five of us have more gold than we know what to do with. I doubt you had a chance to bring much with you.
Shahar: I see. Thank you.
Jerard: Mars! I see you arenít using my weapons anymore! The fuck is up with that?
Mars: Sorry, the sword broke. It held up under a lot of stress though. This is just more my thing since I infused my magic into it.
Jerard: Let me look at that hammer.

Mars shows it to him.

Jerard: Let me do some maintenance on this as well. The crafting process was good, but it could use some work. Did you do this solely with magic?
Mars: Mostly.
Jerard: I need to add more material to the hammer. Donít worry; Iíve worked around enchanted weapons before. I wonít tamper with the magic.
Mars: Thanks. How much?
Jerard: For you, free. The money for the war axe was more than enough to cover twice my cost and this repair.
Mars: Sweet.

They leave the room and see Kelly coming their way. She scans Shahar from head to toe.

Kelly: Mmm tall, dark and handsome. Want to have some fun?
Shahar: No thank you, maíam.

Kelly opens the iron door and goes through, shutting it from behind.

Jerardís Voice: Fucking shit! I told you to leave me alone, woman!
Kellyís Voice: Your breakfast is ready, you fucking 2-incher!
Jerardís Voice: In that case, letís eat! Gyaaaahahahaha!

Erosion is laughing very hard at the banter.

Vito: See?
Shahar: Yep, I totally see why you didnít want the ladies with us.
Aerona: If youíll excuse me, I need to get some sleep now that I have my weapon.

Aerona goes off on his own.

Shahar: Sleep?
Solomon: He had to guard the queen last night.
Shahar: Does she still not trust us?
Solomon: Itís not so much that as there still could be more Etal. We told you about the attempt on the queenís life, right?
Shahar: Yes. One of our former party members was leading that attack apparently.
Solomon: We collectively made the decision that another attack could happen at any time.
Vito: Erosion, would you shut the fuck up with all that laughing?
Erosion: I canít help it.

A little later that morning, we see Helvast, Akari, Solomon and Mars out in the courtyard.

Helvast: In a few days, weíll be sailing off to the Red Kingdom. And we have been tasked to lead this mission. I would hear your thoughts on what your ambitions are. Itís important that I understand your motivations so that I know what Iím working with. Akari, youíre first.
Akari: As you all know, my best friend is our enemy. Hunter is fighting for what he believes in. No, actually Iím not even sure thatís the case. But either way, I canít let it pass. He orchestrated the death of the woman I loved and tried to kill me as well. I want to stop him because weíre on opposite sides. Itís that simple. If it means that one of us dies as a result, so be it. Hunter started this. I intend to finish it.
Helvast: I see. Mars?
Mars: I met Hunter last month. Perhaps if I had been asking the right questions, I could have perceived this circumstance ahead of time. I also think that our kingdoms need to stop fighting. If this is what it takes, Iíll gladly fight.
Helvast: Very nice. Solomon?
Solomon: With whatís been happening lately, our team has been going in different directions. I can already see the dragon slayers starting to break apart. It started last month. Aerona has become more withdrawn from everyone than normal. Mars went off on his own to train. Vitoís goal of revenge is starting to make him even angrier. ErosionÖwell heís the same. While I care about everything Mars mentioned about the kingdoms, Iím more concerned with something else. I just want the team to stay together. Iím not going to let anyone interfere with that.
Mars: I didnít know you felt that way. I doubt anyone else does either.
Helvast: I understand.
Akari: How about you, Captain Helvast?
Helvast: Iím going to be honest with you all. Iíve lost many people. Living as an elf among humans, that is the one true drawback to long life. But, most people meant nothing to me, because I was taught at a young age to detach myself from humans for that very reason. Be that as it may, I could not stop myself from getting attached to this generation. Youíve all fascinated me and I donít think Iíve laughed as much with any other group of people. The previous generations merely looked up to me as a wise mentor. People like General Shiomi, Captain Sentus, Captain Jerome and Dravos. When they grew to a certain level, they walked beside me as friends and comrades. For the first time, I truly feel like I belong wholly to the Red Kingdom. Thatís why I want to get it back.
Akari: Captain HelvastÖ
Helvast: It broke my heart when Hassar fell into the bottomless pit of insanity. Under Hunterís leadership, there will be countless more people who will be forced into that predicament. He may think this will bring about peace, but this will just start a new cycle of wars for revenge.
Akari: This is true. Even if we lose, there will be more people who will eventually rise up and try to overthrow Hunter.
Mars: But thatís not what anyone wants. Thatís why we need to win.
Solomon: We will win. He signed his death certificate the moment that us dragon slayers decided to get involved.
Akari: Confident, are we? Thatís not a bad thing. Just remember though. This is not going to be the same as when you hunted Dravos. Hunter is much craftier than our previous king.
Helvast: That is for certain.
Mars: Weíre pretty crafty ourselves.

Meanwhile, at the training grounds, we see Liron and Athala sparring hand-to-hand. The rest of the Fangs (minus Akari) and Erosion are present.

Katzir: Theyíre nearly equal in almost every physical attribute.
Shahar: Athalaís upper body strength is superior, but Liron has the edge in lower body strength. Lironís speed is also better, but her skill in hand-to-hand is not as refined.

They stop to catch their breath. Liron starts breathing heavily while Athala is far less winded.

Liron: Damn. Your physical stamina is inhuman. Is it from walking around in armor all day?
Athala: Thatís part of it.
Erosion: Even for someone who trains in armor, her endurance is really high.
Drora: But, this is a battle without magic. Thatís where the biggest difference between them is.
Athala: Thatís true. Iím still new when it comes to magic. But then again, equipment is also a factor that isnít in this.
Liron: Yes.
Athala: I am satisfied. Thank you for indulging me once more. Our fight yesterday was rather enjoyable.
Liron: I too enjoyed it. This gives me a good gauge of where Iím at.

Katzir walks out towards the two of them.

Katzir: If youíre still willing to fight, how about going a round with me?
Athala: The martial arts man, huh? Your style did intrigue me yesterday. But Iím afraid Iíll pass. We shouldnít overdo it before setting sail.
Katzir: Itís cool.

The rest of the Fangs sans Taario chuckle.

Katzir: Hmm? Whatís so funny?
Shahar: ďItís coolĒ.
Katzir: OhÖ
Athala: Is there something Iím missing?
Erosion: Was that a joke?
Taario: Yeah, Iím afraid I donít get it either.
Drora: Donít worry about it.

Inside the castle, there is a view of the training grounds via a balcony a few stories high. Drake and Khilai are watching them from this spot.

Drake: They seem to be having fun.
Khilai: Yeah.
Drake: Do you want to join them?
Khilai: No, Iím good.
Drake: Are you worried about your standing after yesterday?
Khilai: Not in the slightest. General Shiomi always knew I was not exceptionally fit. My power has always been in magic. I can use my hatchets well enough.
Drake: True. SayÖ
Khilai: You want to talk an awful lot to me.
Drake: I wanted to ask you if you still hate me.
Khilai: When you keep blabbing, yeah. I came out here to enjoy the fresh air and the view.
Drake: Sorry.
Khilai: *Sigh* But no. I know that my brother was responsible for what happened to you. He said himself to me that itís better that I donít hold a grudge for something that isnít your fault.
Drake: Captain Jerome said that?
Khilai: Yes.
Drake: HmmÖperhaps I misjudged him.

A few moments go by.

Drake: Thatís all. Sorry to bother you.

He turns around and walks away. As he does so, he crosses Jerome. Drake gives him a nod and then walks past him. Jerome approaches Khilai. Neither of them says a word as they stare out into the distance. Jerome puts his arm onto Khilaiís farther shoulder and pulls her in closer. Khilai puts her arm around Jeromeís waist and leans against him as they continue to enjoy this peaceful moment together. Drake sees this from afar and then continues walking the other way.

We now switch to the throne room. Eleanor, Strago and Shiomi are the only ones in the room at the moment. It is later in the day.

Eleanor: So, tell me what you two plan to do.
Strago: We will take a handful of men. Just enough to run a second ship and to manage our own ship.
Eleanor: A second ship? I thought you two were going alone?
Shiomi: That second ship is just a safeguard against one of the ships being wrecked. That ship will also carry enough supplies to last those men a while. We need them stationed in open water until we are ready to leave.
Strago: With no knowledge of how far Etal is from here, it would not be wise to fly there. I doubt we have the stamina to make it. And even if we did, we would be helpless to defend ourselves after that.
Eleanor: So you will require two ships from us. That is acceptable.
Strago: We wonít require any spare ships.
Eleanor: What do you mean?
Shiomi: How do you think that army of orcs made it here? If our theory is correct, there should be a massive collection of ships waiting for us up north.
Eleanor: I see what you mean. You two really thought this through. I approve of this plan. After hearing what Captain Helvast had to say, you two really are the only ones who can pull something like this off. But, what happens if you get pulled into another anti-magic field?
Strago: We can deal with it. Both of us are fully capable of defeating a sheikh without the use of magic.
Eleanor: Very well. I will place my faith in you. Who will stay behind?
Shiomi: We are prepared to leave 70 of our combined forces here. That leaves the other team with roughly 200 units not counting our war council.
Eleanor: 270 between the two of our kingdoms. That just goes to show how dire our situation is.
Shiomi: No matter which front we fight this war on, we will be outnumbered. But those 270 have survived hell on earth. Theyíre worth at least two of any other soldier.
Strago: Thatís right. We just have to believe in our people.

A few minutes later, Shiomi leaves.

Eleanor: Is there something else you wish to say?
Strago: There is one thing. You know I have the utmost respect for your queenly prerogatives, right?
Eleanor: Yes?
Strago: Have I ever overstepped my boundaries?
Eleanor: No, you have not.
Strago: Then allow me to say this. I know you are hiding something from me. If you donít want to tell me what it is, that is fine. But, as one of your main advisors, I would request that you not keep secrets from me right now. We are at a volatile place and I need to know best how to protect your kingdom.
Eleanor: I respect your integrity, General Strago. I will tell you everything. But, you must promise me two things. One, no matter what I tell you, you must not try and interfere. Two, you must tell no one else.
Strago: On my honor as the general, I swear it that both of your conditions will be kept.
Eleanor: Very good.

A minute later, Stragoís face has changed to be more surprised.

Strago: I can understand why you would keep these things, especially considering the decisions that have been made recently. Your attitude as of late makes much more sense now.
Eleanor: Iím glad we have an understanding.
Strago: If youíll excuse me, I want to check up on everyone before dinner is served.
Eleanor: Who will keep me company, General Strago?
Strago: *Smirk* Iím sure heíll come out of hiding eventually.

Strago leaves the room. Immediately, the wall behind the throne shifts, making a noise that startles Eleanor.

Aerona: Damn it. I thought I was perfectly hidden, but he still sensed me.
Eleanor: So, you heard what I told Drake.
Aerona: Yes. To be honest, I was wondering if I should do that myself before today. Weíre on the same wavelength.
Eleanor: I really didnít want you to hear this. But maybe Iím thinking it was better that you did.
Aerona: Well, itís as the general said. We shouldnít be keeping secrets between the three of us. Although, Iím certainly just as guilty as you are when it comes to letting him in on our information.

At dinner, we see a large table where everyone is seated. They all appear to be generally organized based on their arranged teams. Keros is seated with Helvastís group, between Aerona and Helvast.

Eleanor: So you are the new upcoming lieutenant for Helios?
Keros: I hope so, your grace.
Aerona: He has shown proficiency in an actual combat situation as well as in a one on one duel against Lieutenant Athala.
Eleanor: Athala, is this correct?
Athala: Yes. While he did not win, he showed a level of competency similar to Aggro. As for whether or not he is as skilled as Zvornoff, that Iím unsure of. But based on my recent fight with Aggro, I can compare Keros to him.
Keros: LieuÖI mean Zvornoff was more skilled than I. However, if I may, I would like a chance at fighting him if we should cross paths on the Red Kingdom.
Drake: From what I remember, Zvornoff was a more versed fighter than Aggro. I considered him second to myself when I was a lieutenant. But now that Athala has stepped up, I would say he was second to her. That is untested, however.
Strago: I would agree with your assessment, Drake.
Helvast: As for allowing you to fight this man, I canít guarantee anything. In war, you donít always get a chance to cross blades with the one you want. We still have to find where to put you in the scheme of our team.
Mars: Captain Helvast, we have the shortest of the three teams.
Helvast: Very well. You will join Mars, Erosion and Khilai.
Keros: Understood.
Strago: For now, Keros, I will grant you a temporary lieutenantís rank. This will allow you a certain amount of command while at the Red Kingdom. If you do well enough, you can keep the position and youíll be put over Helios after it is reconstructed.
Keros: Thank you, General Strago.
Jerome: Thatís right; you burned down the city. That was a bold move, General Strago.
Shiomi: A smart move as well.
Akari: Funny enough, we stayed at Helios overnight just before we found you all. There was one stone building there, so it didnít burn.
Keros: That was Zvornoffís home.
Akari: Oh, and Drake, we took some food at your house in the Red Kingdom. We appreciate your unknowing hospitality haha.
Drake: Hah. Well, itís not mine anymore. Iím glad you used what food was there. It would have gone bad anyway.
Drora: Trust me. After going through the mountains and that jungle, it was such a beautiful sight.
Helvast: You mean you didnít go through the Haero Mines coming back?
Katzir: We were all too injured to think about facing that thing again.
Helvast: That thing? What did you see there?
Shahar: A spirit of the last dwarven king with a hoard of undead. Not to mention a chimera.
Khilai: Say what now?
Helvast: What lies beneath those minesÖthat sounds like a dark elven spell to me.
Akari: It was definitely an arcane spell.
Strago: Anyway, on to business. The rest of our forces, as you know, have moved to Seren on foot. Tomorrow you will all ride on horseback there as well. By the time we get there, they will have also made it. Weíll spend the night at Seren and then itís off to the port.
Shiomi: We will be with you all the way up until you leave the Iron Kingdom.
Strago: Make sure youíre all prepared by tomorrow morning.

Sometime later, we see all of them outside, separated by kingdom and facing each other. Aerona is holding a flag attached to a pole. This flag has a blue background with an iron bastard sword pointed diagonally down to the left. The Iron people are on the left. On the right are the Red people with Jerome holding a flag as well. This flag has a blazing red and orange background with a crescent, half and full moon in that order on the top left corner. Strago and Shiomi both carry a new flag, one hand each on the pole. Helvast steps out in the middle of the two groups and the generals hand the pole off to him. This new flag has an arming sword and a scimitar crossing diagonally downwards. Both blades are on fire. The scimitar is lit with red flames and the arming sword has blue flames. The arming swordís blade crosses over to the right side of the flag, which has the red and orange background from the Red flag. The scimitar crosses into the left side, which has the blue background from the Iron flag. Helvast raises the flag as everyone stares at it.

Strago: Captain Helvast, this is your banner to fly, as our combined forces.
Shiomi: With this, we are officially leaving you in charge of our armies.
Helvast: It is with great honor that I accept this majestic flag. The first flag of Jovah. I vow that this very banner will soar above the Red capital after we claim victory.

With a new banner, Jovahís army presses on to war. Next time, on A Tale of Iron!
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PostSubject: Re: A Tale of Iron   June 24th 2016, 8:47 pm

Chapter 77

In a dimly lit room, Helvast and Shiomi are sitting next to each other side by side on a bed.

Shiomi: Starting tomorrow, you wonít be able to rely on me. Will you be okay?
Helvast: I lived well over a century without you, my dear.
Shiomi: *Chuckle* Indeed you have. Listen, Helvast. I know youíll have your hands full, but I have a request.
Helvast: What is it?
Shiomi: If itís possible, save Sentus, be it from Hunter or himself.
Helvast: You have my word.
Shiomi: We clash a lot, but he is dear to me.
Helvast: I remember how much you two fought when I tried teaching you two how to control your powers. You were like siblings in that aspect.
Shiomi: Thank you, Helvast. Should I not return, let him know.

The next morning, we see the Jovah army at the destroyed docks with most of the Red ships there. We see Drake, who is wearing the sheikh robe again.

Shiomi: You decided to wear it after all.
Drake: Yes. I had to get it repaired from my fight with the royal knight, but I will wear it.
Shiomi: Thank you. I know this decision wasnít easy.

Jerome: Even with our combined forces, we still have fewer numbers than what we sailed here with. Our ships will more than suffice.
Akari: So this is where you guys made it. I think our ship is a ways up north.
Drora: No thanks to Shahar.
Shahar: Hey, Iíd like to see you do better.

The soldiers and mages begin to get onto the ships. The main teams gather together and face Strago, Shiomi and Queen Eleanor. They exchange a few words and then take one last look at each other. After about five seconds, Helvast and company turn and get onto two ships. Jerome, Khilai, Keros Mars, Solomon and Erosion get on one. Helvast, Aerona, Vito, Drake, Athala and the Fangs of Pestilence get on the main ship. Namely, this is the same ship that Shiomi was on when they sailed to the Iron Kingdom.

Solomon: Why do I have to be on the secondary ship?
Jerome: Relax. This is just about lodging. We will be sailing close enough that we will be able to switch between ships at leisure.

On the main shipÖ

Aerona: Captain Helvast, you DID make sure that there are at least two trained sailors on each ship, right?
Helvast: Naturally. About half of the Red Kingdomís sailors survived. General Strago was able to pinpoint some of them from your kingdom as well.
Akari: Well, thatís a relief.

About half an hour passes.

Katzir: Captain, all the ships have reported as ready to go.
Akari and Helvast: Right.
Helvast: Youíre not a captain, Akari. Why did you respond?
Akari: Sorry. They all call me that. I didnít tell them to.
Drora: It was easier than calling him Sheikh Akari every single time. And sir is too uptight.
Helvast: Anyway, then, letís get going. Raise anchor!

Shahar, Drake and Athala raise their anchor. Mars and Solomon follow up by doing the same on their ship. Akari jumps off the ship and lands on the beach.

Liron: Captain?
Helvast: Yes?
Liron: Not you.
Helvast: *sigh*

Akari looks at the other three standing on dry land.

Akari: General Strago, Queen Eleanor, it was a pleasure meeting both of you. General Shiomi, I wonít fail you a third time.

He surrounds himself with some dark magic aura.

Liron: Oh, I see what heís doing.
Shahar: Yep.

Akari spreads thrusts his arms outwards and the ground between himself and the other three splinters in one long thin line. This line stretches all the way to each ship. Akari then forces his hands backwards to move the ground below them, giving all the ships the push they need to coast out into the water. Akari salutes to Shiomi and then turns. He bends his knees and then jumps high into the air and lands onto the main ship. He dispels the dark aura around him. There is a collective murmur heard from the other ships.

Taario: Damn, that was cool.
Aerona: That dark magic proficiency is very impressive.
Akari: Thank you.
Helvast: Besides Jerome and myself, Akari likely has the best skill in dark magic in this fleet.
Drake: To be fair, heís probably also the best of us here besides you and Jerome.
Athala: Really? Over all our lieutenant commanders?
Akari: Itís a tough call, really.
Vito: I wonder about that myself.

On land, the three turn around after they get far enough away.

Strago: Come, your grace. Letís get you back to Aegis.
Eleanor: Very well.

Once the ships make it out to open water, they converge a little, to about fifteen feet between them.

Vito: Do you think theyíre anxious to get over here and talk to us?
Aerona: Probably.
Vito: How much you wanna bet they want to train right away?
Aerona: Canít bet against that. Itís too one-sided.

Solomon: Letís go over there now.
Jerome: Sure, if you want to go grab the two planks from below deck.

Solomon gets two 20-foot wooden planks and bridges the two ships. He, Erosion and Mars immediately head over to the main ship.

Aerona: ĎSup?
Solomon: You ready to train?

Vito and Aerona both chuckle simultaneously and look at each other.

Erosion: You seem to be doing better.
Aerona: Yeah, Iím good, guys. Thanks for giving me the space I needed.
Solomon: Still, we donít have a healer on our team anymore.
Mars: Too soonÖ
Aerona: Itís all right. That just means we need to be more cautious and efficient with taking damage in battle.
Vito: So, what are you going to do now?
Aerona: Right, I havenít gotten to try my abilities as of late. Stand back.

Aerona concentrates and then brings out his dark aura. It seems to be thicker than before. Everyone else on the ship senses it and turns to see.

Helvast: So this is the result.
Akari: For an Iron soldier, thatís not bad at all.
Drake: The amount of energy is higher than when he fought me.

Aerona puts the aura away and takes a deep breath.

Aerona: Not good enough. If this is to be my only magic tool, it has to be even stronger.

Katzir approaches them.

Katzir: I too seek what you do. Iím a natural dark user, like you now.
Aerona: I see.
Katzir: Why donít we train together over on the other ship?
Aerona: Thatís a good idea. I wasnít able to really see your skill with dark magic yet.

The two of them make the jump over the gap.

Akari: Perhaps this is what Katzir needs.
Vito: Maybe this is what they both need.
Helvast: Ö
Akari: Is there something wrong, Captain Helvast?
Helvast: ďSeekĒÖWhat is Katzir looking for out of his dark magic training? It sounded oddly specific.
Solomon: Captain Helvast, can I ask you something?
Helvast: Yes?
Solomon: Do you know how Sentus learned to master his wind magic?
Helvast: Of course, considering that it was I who helped him do so.
Solomon: ThenÖcould you help me do the same?
Vito: Solomon?
Solomon: I feel like Iíve hit a wall when it comes to skill. I just donít know how to improve any more than I have already.
Helvast: I can give you a few pointers, certainly. And Vito and Erosion. Noque and Nymeria were under my command, having the same affinities as you two. I can give you pointers as well.
Mars: What about me?
Helvast: Iím sure Akari can help you get better general magic control. Thatís the best we can do as far as your affinity.
Solomon: All right then. Letís get started.
Helvast: Hold on there. I have priorities on who I need to work with first.

Helvast turns to Liron and nods to her.

Liron: Thank you.

The two of them go aside for the time being.

Mars: Why her?
Akari: Itís a long story, but the short of it is that her older brother was a sheikh under Captain Helvast. Letís just say thereís some history there.
Mars: Well, while weíre waitingÖ

Mars goes back across the planks and approaches Khilai.

Mars: I wanted to continue our conversation about Sultan.
Khilai: Very well.

Just next to them, Katzir and Aerona are clashing fists while clad in dark magic aura.

Jerome: You should be able to maintain that aura at all times while fighting if you want to master it.

They eventually stop and both dispel the aura.

Katzir: How long have you been using dark magic?
Aerona: A little over a month now. You?
Katzir: A couple weeks maybe? I lost track of how long our last mission was.
Aerona: You seem to have a really solid understanding of it in such a short amount of time.
Katzir: I watched my cousin Seijuro practice a lot. I picked up on a lot of his techniques.
Aerona: You were related to Seijuro? My condolences then.
Katzir: Itís fine. What you guys did was during war.
Aerona: That doesnít change much, in my opinion. Even in war, that person still leaves behind a family and friends. We block it out of our minds going into war, but that fact remains. Besides, it wasnít exactly in war.
Katzir: Shahar once said that an armistice is a silent war in of itself. Now that Iíve seen the other side of things, I have to agree with him.

Meanwhile, Akari is with Shahar, Drora and Taario.

Akari: I think this is also a good opportunity for the three of you to improve in your own ways as well. Taario, you cannot use dark magic, right?
Taario: Correct.
Akari: How would you like to learn? It will be difficult to perform here on the ship for your first time, but I can send you down the right path.
Taario: Sounds good. Sheikh Helen didnít offer to teach me because I didnít necessarily need to know it at the time. But times are different. I think itís important to learn.
Drora: Thatís the spirit.
Akari: Good. Shahar and Drora, you should also be working on it.

Some time passes.

Liron: I think I understand.
Helvast: Good. Keep working on it. *Grins* By the way, are you free tonight?

Liron puts her hands on her hips and looks at him with a blank face.

Helvast: I got it, I got it. (Mumbling) It was worth a shot.
Liron: Youíve known me since I was a child. Isnít that messed up?
Helvast: That never stopped me before hehehe. I donít play by human rules, young one.
Liron: ÖAre you sure you havenít become a dark elf yourself?
Helvast: There would be no question if I were one. Trust me.

After Liron leaves, Vito, Erosion and Solomon join him.

Helvast: Right, so letís see what you can do.

We pan over to the other ship, where it is just Jerome, Keros, Khilai and Mars.

Mars: Do you know where we will land, Captain Jerome?
Jerome: Probably not at our main docks. We should avoid a direct conflict that might compromise our ships. No! We should make a statement by spilling as much of their blood as possible!
Khilai: No, I think it is best that we go elsewhere.
Mars: When we traveled to the Red Kingdom the first time, we went southeast. That was where Seijuro was guarding the land.
Khilai: Hunter will have some kind of defense just in case. It may even stretch to that part. But that will also mean that he would be spreading his defenses thin.
Jerome: He will probably pick two points to guard. The main docks and that area are the two. We will consult with Akari to see what he thinks about that hypothesis.
Drakeís Voice: Hey, Keros!
Keros: Yes?
Drakeís Voice: Come over here. I want to see how you fare against me.
Keros: Excuse me.
Khilai: Not like you were saying anything anyway.

Keros leaves and goes to the main ship. Most of the people on that ship circle around he and Drake. Drake makes a dull Estoc for Keros. Drake makes a rapier for himself and grabs his shield.

Keros: That set upÖ
Drake: Thatís right. This is Zvorís choice in weaponry.
Athala: Doesnít he also use a rapier and dagger sometimes?
Keros: He does, but he prefers the shield generally.
Drake: Well, letís get started. Use your magic as you see fit.

They both ready their weapons. Keros goes for a lunge first, which is blocked by the shield. Drake pokes from behind the shield, and Keros blocks that as well.

Drake: Against Zvor, youíll need a lot of patience, also keeping in mind his speed magic.

Drake appears behind Keros and thrusts with his rapier. Keros quickly turns around and parries the strike with his shield. He counters with a thrust, but Drake dodges it and shield bashes. Keros steps back to avoid it.

Keros: I am used to his speed.
Drake: That was a good move.

Keros raises his sword arm and a puff of smoke comes from behind him. A figure appears, dispelling the smoke. It is a large, 7-foot suit of armor with a large two-handed blade.

Keros: I can also defend behind me with my magic.
Drake: A type of summoning magic. Impressive. Letís see how good you are at using it.
Keros: Are you sure about this, sir?
Drake: Do you not think me capable of handling it?
Keros: No, sir. I was more worried about the ship.
Drake: Then donít strike at the ship. Strike directly at me.
Keros: Very well.

At the Red Kingdom, we see Noque, Nymeria and Zvornoff at the capital. Hunter is walking with them.

Hunter: That is troubling indeed. Iím glad you managed to destroy a large part of their army though.
Zvornoff: Ho! We were not able to kill any high-ranking soldier from either army.
Hunter: That is okay. The fact that you even bring me news of what is going on over there is great data.
Nymeria: They did not seem very enthusiastic about following your lead.

They stop walking as Sentus is in front of them.

Sentus: The sheikh twins were under you as well?
Noque: Captain Sentus! Come for my head, have you?
Hunter: Donít worry; heís on our side for now.
Sentus: What is going on over there?

They bring him up to date with what the three knew prior to leaving the Iron Kingdom.

Sentus: Akari survived. I donít believe it.
Hunter: I was just as shocked as you were.
Sentus: Knowing Shiomi, theyíll be coming this way soon.
Hunter: Yes. If the two armies join forces, there is a strong chance those five will be back here with her.
Sentus: Good. Perhaps this was the best-case scenario for me after all. I will have another shot at their heads. Unlike Shiomi, you wonít try to hinder me, yes?
Hunter: No. Do what your heart desires, Sentus.
Sentus: Heh. Itís odd not having you call me Captain Sentus anymore.
Hunter: You were a superior that the three of us looked up to, but unfortunately that relationship ended.
Sentus: Well, donít expect me to give you any honorifics. Youíre not my king. Iím sure the army across the water feels the same way.
Hunter: I know that. But either way, theyíll bend the knee, or die trying to stand.
Sentus: How do you plan on fighting the generals? You know, not even I can defeat one of them. Numbers donít matter against them either.
Hunter: Let me ask you a question.
Sentus: Oh boy. That part of you hasnít changed.
Hunter: You fought over at the Iron Kingdom. Was there any moment where the generals fought using all their power?
Sentus: No.
Zvornoff: Ho! They did indeed once and it was when they fought each other!
Hunter: In other words, they are not always at their best. But why? For what purpose donít they just always fight with all their strength?
Sentus: Because everyone would die from being involved in the fight. OhÖI see what youíre going for.
Hunter: The only way to eliminate this problem is that they travel here alone. And even then, we have anti-magic fields handy. They will not get very far on their own.
Sentus: Shiomi would never risk doing that. She knows better. They know that youíll be receiving this data because they know that these three got away.
Zvornoff: General Strago is the same way. They also wonít risk killing the vast majority of the army for the sake of defeating us.
Hunter: We can use that to our advantage. You see, Sentus, power is a curious thing. Too much of it and suddenly it can be used against you.
Sentus: Youíre also dealing with high-level strategists like Captain Helvast and Akari. Do not underestimate them.
Hunter: I do not underestimate them. I wanted Akari dead for the very reason that he poses the most danger to me.
Sentus: He knows you very well, even better than I do.
Zvornoff: I wouldnít worry about him as much as the dragon slayers.
Hunter: They certainly will be troublesome.
Sentus: Leave them to me.
Nymeria: They managed to beat Dravos. Are you telling me that you can do better?
Sentus: Thereís a reason he was never made a captain. He was more powerful than I, but he didnít know how to use it. He never had the natural aptitude for battle as Shiomi or myself.
Hunter: I donít care. They have clearly gotten stronger since the fight against Dravos. One of them was able to single-handedly guard the queen from a lot of skilled warriors.
Nymeria: The two that we fought were also more powerful than us individually.
Sentus: Silence. I know how powerful they are. I fought them at Seren.
Hunter: Anyway, we have a lot of planning and preparation to do. They could be here by tomorrow morning depending on how quickly they decided to move.
Sentus: Let me know when youíve come up with a plan. I will be with Sentira until then. And consider this my final warning. If you step within earshot of Dracyl with more than one person, I will regard you as an enemy looking to harm my sister. Understood?
Hunter: Yes, that is clear. I will have KaíVor deliver my plans alone.

Sentus walks away.

Hunter: We must keep him away from the dragon slayers for now.
Noque: My king, what is the purpose of that?
Hunter: Itís a tricky lose-lose scenario until the end. If he meets them early on and wins, heíll be after us next. If he dies, then we lose our most powerful ally. Either way, we need to keep him helping us without facing them until we are ready to deal with him.
Zvornoff: Hoho! Your clevernesly cleverness is astoundingly astounding!

Back at the ships, we see Mars and Akari sitting across from each other. They are drinking some tea.

Mars: So when I was young, I accidentally broke the house. Thatís when my parents found out that it wasnít just earth.
Akari: HmmÖI see. So youíve never been able to control your power very well.
Mars: No. Thatís why they had to seal it up. Itís not just about how unstable it is. Iím just not very skilled at it. I canít really even use dark magic effectively.
Akari: Thatís a shame.
Mars: On the other hand, if you had the Wrath of Gaia with your level of skill, you would be near unstoppable.
Akari: Maybe. But, nevertheless, I have my own methods for getting more powerful.

A new stage in the war draws close!
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PostSubject: Re: A Tale of Iron   October 15th 2016, 12:36 am

Chapter 78

We go to the throne room in the Red Kingdom, where Hunter is sitting down. Hayim is next to him as usual. William is standing in front of Hunter and the sheikh twins are next to him.

Hunter: Good morning, Father. What brings you to the palace this early?
William: I have the three great generals of the Etal army. Shall I bring them in?
Hunter: Excellent. Yes, do so.

He has the door opened and three people come through. The first is a light-skinned man who has a black ninja outfit on. His mask is on, but the hood is down, showing his medium length brown hair and brown eyes. He is carrying a wakizashi and a dagger on his belt. The second is a man that looks like this. He has a curved blade of some kind sheathed at his side, a straight sword on his other side and a smaller curved bladed at the same side. The third is a woman wearing black baggy pants and a loose black short-sleeved shirt. She has long black hair and brown eyes. She has more of the skin tone that you would expect from the Red Kingdom. She is carrying a large club on her back.

Hunter: Hmm, it has been a long time since weíve seen each other.
Hayim: Wait, I recognize you. I have met them before, Master Hunter. Are you telling me that they are actually the great generals of Etal?
Hunter: Thatís right. Their fathers were the generals before them.
Hayim: (To the swordsman) Aedan, are you telling me that you held back against me that one time?
Aedan: Yes. You have good memory. I believe we met six years ago, yes?
Hunter: (To the woman) Lau-Kai, where have you been?
Lau-Kai: Iím sorry. I was training in the mountains, in order to be of service to you.
Hunter: Iím sure you have gained great power.
Noque: Iíve never seen you three here before.
Nymeria: Nor I.
Aedan: But we know you, sheikh twins. Isnít that right, Hakuren?
Hakuren: ÖYeah.
Hunter: Aedan, do we have the rest of our high level fighters?
Aedan: They are ready to be dispatched at your command.
Hunter: Good. We need to defend our lands. If we can take them out while theyíre trying to dock, we will win.
Lau-Kai: Shall I go to the main docks?
Hunter: No. Iím going to send Sentus there by himself. If they try to dock there, Sentus will destroy them in one fell swoop. Then weíll only have to worry about dispatching him. And believe me; thatís a lot easier than dealing with two generals, two captains, Akari and the dragon slayers. I want you five to defend Haf, the border where Seijuro once protected. Based on their movements last month, the dragon slayers likely weighed anchor there. Itís possible that they might try that again.
Hayim: What if they try to go around and attack us from behind?
Hunter: You know very well how difficult that would be after traversing those parts yourself.
Hayim: True.
Hunter: Chances are that they may attack from the Northwest. Iím going to have Zvornoff go that way. Hayim, I also want you there, along with KaíVor and company.
Hayim: As you wish.
Aedan: If that is all, your majestyÖ
Hunter: No, that is not all. You three have been away for a long time. I want to see how your skills match up.
Aedan: Against whose?
Hunter: Against mine.
William: You canít be serious.
Hunter: I will be fighting too on occasion. I would like to have a good fight to warm up.

On the secondary ship, we see Helvast and Katzir alone.

Katzir: What did you need to talk to me about?
Helvast: I have to ask. Yesterday, when you talked about getting stronger, your wording and tone made me think of something. What did Seijuro tell you?

Katzir remembers Seijuroís words in the forest.

Seijuro: Listen, Katzir. I want you to go Captain Helvast for aid. Of the three captains, he will likely be the one most willing to help you achieve this form.
Katzir: He told me his secret. Did Liron tell you about how we saw him and her brother under a necromancy spell?
Helvast: Yes, she did say as much. She said that the two of you went alone into another area.
Katzir: He did that on purpose so that he could show me that form.
Helvast: So, he entrusted you with that secret. To tell the truth, I had no idea that was even possible until Seijuro came along.
Katzir: Captain Helvast, will you help me achieve this power?
Helvast: Yes, though this is a precarious situation. How many people have you told?
Katzir: No one. I made a promise not to say anything, not even to the captain.
Helvast: Good.

Just then, Aerona lands next to Katzir.

Aerona: You seem to be doing something important over here.
Katzir: Where did you come from?
Aerona: I was listening to the whole thing.
Helvast: Nice try. Our conversation was meant to be private and we donít have to tell you anything.
Aerona: Oh well. Yeah, that was a lie. I wanted to see if you would fall for it and divulge something important.
Katzir: Sneaky bastard.
Helvast: You can hide well, but I would know if you were listening.
Aerona: In either case, do you mind if I join in on this training? Iím assuming youíre going to help Katzir with his dark magic.
Helvast: Yes, you may.

On the main ship, we see Akari and Mars blindfolded by cloth.

Mars: Are you sure this is supposed to help?
Akari: Absolutely. Without relying on sight, you can begin to feel a stronger connection to the earth. You may not be standing directly on it, but youíll feel it.
Solomon: How the hell did you figure that out?
Akari: Itís all thanks to you three. Do you know how a coma works? All of your body senses are cut to virtually zero. If you lose one or more senses, what you have left will heighten. With nothing else left, my magical sense heightened.
Erosion: The magical sense? You mean the sense that allows you to detect presences and control magic?
Akari: Yes. However, this method does not work for just any affinity. The connection to the earth is paramount. How effective this will be in just a dayís span will be minimal. But at least you know going forward.
Mars: True.
Akari: But doing nothing wonít help too much in this short period of time. Erosion, throw a punch at me. It doesnít matter where.
Erosion: Sure.

Erosion does an uppercut towards Akariís gut. At the last moment, Akari reacts and then catches Erosionís fist.

Akari: Iím sure through all your battle experience that your senses have been sharply attuned. Let that be your guide to controlling your magic.
Mars: I never thought about it that way.

Elsewhere on the main ship, Vito and Drake are clashing blades. Vito parries a thrust from Drake and then puts his sword up to Drakeís neck.

Drake: I yield.
Vito: Good.
Drake: Iíve never seen someone that good with a sword before.
Vito: Thatís what happens when you train with one weapon for so long.
Drake: There arenít many people who can beat me with medium sized swords.

Over at Aegis, at the throne room, there are a few knights present. The queen is there and Strago and Shiomi are in front of her.

Eleanor: Will you be leaving now?
Strago: We need to get going. Thereís no telling if they might attack again soon.
Shiomi: If we can cut them off, they wonít be able to.
Eleanor: General Shiomi, I just want to say this to you. You have to come back alive. After our talk, I believe you will be essential to rebuilding our continent. You have also set precedence for women in both kingdoms. We need a guiding figure like you.
Shiomi: Thank you, Queen Eleanor. I believe you have also set an example of what a fine queen should look like.
Eleanor: And General StragoÖ
Strago: Yes, my queen?
Eleanor: Go kick some ass. Thatís an order.
Strago: *Smirk* When have you known me to do any different?

Back on the boats, on the side ship, we see Aerona and Khilai. Jerome is off to the side, listening but not in the conversation.

Khilai: I just wanted to thank you for the other day.
Aerona: For what?
Khilai: That crossbow bolt would have hit me, but you took the shot instead.
Aerona: Ah, that? I forgot about that. No problem.

There is a silence for a few seconds.

Khilai: Iím not sure what else to say.
Aerona: Me neither.

Liron joins them.

Liron: Well, you two are the silent types usually.
Aerona: How would you know that?
Liron: I just know. Iím the same way sometimes.
Aerona: I prefer to be alone most of the time. Donít always know what to say to other people if Iím not fighting.
Khilai: I know that feeling.
Aerona: Then letís just brood together over here.
Liron: Sounds good.

They sit down against the side of the ship in silence. Solomon approaches them.

Solomon: Hey, guys!

There is a faint dark aura emanating from them as Solomon speaks up to them.

Solomon: UhhÖIíll come back later then.

On the main ship, we focus on Akari (still blindfolded) and the rest of the Fangs aside from Liron.

Shahar: It appears the wind is slowing us down heavily. At this pace, we wonít even be there by tomorrow.
Akari: That gives Hunter more time to prepare, but it also gives us more time to make a decision on where to land.
Katzir: How do we know he will be preparing for us?
Shahar: Remember, the sheikh twins escaped. That was days ago. Thereís no way they donít know that weíre coming now.
Katzir: I forgot about that.
Drora: If only we were strong enough to kill them right there.
Akari: There were others besides Noque and Nymeria. One of the Iron lieutenants was an Etal as well and there were many soldiers on both sides that turned out that way as well. The plan was meticulous to say the least.
Shahar: By the way, Katzir, how is your training going?
Katzir: Captain Helvast is amazing. His attention to detail has really helped me further my understanding of my power.
Akari: Yes, I know what you mean.
Drora: You mean he has given you some advice as well? Recently?
Akari: Indeed.

Akari sits down and begins contemplating.

Akari: How is he going to set up his men? Thereís no way he is just going to let us land without a fight.
Shahar: True. As long as weíre on a ship, we have the disadvantage.

We see a brief split screen of Akari on the left and Hunter on the right.

Both: What will you do? What will be your plan?
Akari: The main docks should be well defended. Or perhaps thatís what he wants us to think.
Shahar: Landing there could lead us to being pincer attacked. But perhaps that will be the least guarded.
Akari: We could take our chances on land, certainly. He would surely defend the northwest and southwest border a bit stronger. At least, thatís what he would do if I were out of the picture. The fact that he now knows that Iím alive changes everything.

Elsewhere on the ship, Erosion is attacking Vito over and over with his wakizashi. Vito is carefully defending each strike. Erosion lunges and it gets knocked aside. Using that momentum, he spins around and switches to an icepick grip and goes for a stab. Vito is waiting for this attack and brushes it aside.

Vito: You know better than to be flashy.
Erosion: Damn it. I just canít seem to be able to get any better.
Drake: Erosion, if I may, I think itís because that weapon isnít the best choice for your style of fighting.
Erosion: What?
Drake: Here. Try this.

Drake creates two weapons for Erosion. The first is a side sword and a single sai. Erosion takes both weapons and begins feeling them.

Vito: Interesting.
Drake: You use your off hand to touch with poison, right?
Erosion: Yes. Thatís why Iíve never used a shield. It also allows me to debuff.
Drake: With that sai, you should still be able to debuff. You should also learn to focus that poison into the tip of that weapon. The major thing that weapon gives you though is an extra defensive option. Rapier and dagger is becoming a more popular combo these days. That sai gives you a guard that you wouldnít normally have on a normal dagger. It can be used to hook as well.
Erosion: I see. But why the side sword instead of just keeping my wakizashi?
Drake: A shorter weapon like a wakizashi is best used with a shield for the context that youíre looking for. Although that dagger will give you a bit better defense, itís not nearly the same as having a buckler or a full sized shield. That side sword still has slashing potential, more than an estoc or a rapier. But the tapering on the blade makes it ideal for thrusting. It is a pretty flashy weapon if you ask me.
Erosion: Makes sense.
Drake: Try it. The ones I just made for you are dull. You wonít do any real damage to Vito.

Erosion puts his side sword upwards and then lunges with it. Vito blocks it and then steps in closer and cuts. Erosion blocks with the sai and turns it sideways to hook Vitoís katana away. Erosion then slashes downwards with his sword at the same time. Vito jumps back.

Vito: What the hell. Just from switching weapons, I had to outright dodge his attack.
Erosion: ThatÖfelt much better.
Drake: There you go.
Erosion: Thank you, Drake. But, we have no forge here. We canít just permanently make them. We wonít have time once we get off the boat, will we?
Drake: I may not be as good as Jerard, but I can make those weapons relatively easily thanks to my magicís aid. It might take some time, but I promise that I will get it done as soon as possible.
Erosion: Thanks, but why are you willing to go that far for me?
Drake: I owe a great debt to all of the dragon slayers. You all stepped up and kept Queen Eleanor safe in my absence. I heard about the ambush by Daniel of the Red Sun. You used the Tepenhyakugo and kept them at bay until the general arrived.
Vito: So you have a crush on all five of us; not just Aerona. Good to know.
Drake: Will you quit it with that?
Vito: Nope.
Drake: Anyway, Erosion, that will stay materialized for an hour as long as I donít will it to go away. If you require more training after that time, let me know.
Erosion: I will.
Drake: Now, how about we simulate a more free-for-all environment?

Drake creates Andķn and takes out his shield.

Vito: That black longsword, why is that one always so different from your other weapons?
Drake: Andķn was the very first successful weapon I created with my magic. I decided to make it special.

A bit later, we see the Fangs of Pestilence on the secondary ship. They have made a circle, with Akari standing just outside of it. They are facing outwards from the circle. Aerona is standing in the middle. He takes a few steps towards Liron, with no sound made. He takes a few more steps and then touches her on the shoulder, making her flinch.

Liron: Damn.
Aerona: You have really strong magical skill, but your senses arenít quite fully attuned yet it seems.
Liron: This is really hard, to be fair. You didnít make a single sound.
Aerona: Thatís because Iím not wearing my armor anymore.
Liron: You know, itís not exactly normal to walk silently.

This time, Aerona goes for Taario, who also doesnít respond until his shoulder is touched. He goes to Drora, who reacts just before he makes physical contact.

Aerona: There we go. You continue to impress me, Drora. Youíre more skilled than you let on.
Shahar: Itís either me or Katzir next. 50/50 chance.

Shahar starts focusing even harder. Aerona goes back to Liron, who doesnít react till she is touched on the head.

Liron: Me again?
Aerona: Shahar, youíre missing the point of this whole exercise.
Shahar: You could tell that I was anticipating me next?
Aerona: Itís not hard to tell when someone is focusing really hard on sensing.
Akari: Thatís correct. The point, Shahar, is that you need to be ready at all times. You canít always go by numbers alone.
Aerona: Unfortunately. Numbers are always nice and predictable, which is always preferable. But fights, ambushes, battles, theyíre not numbers.
Shahar: I know that! Damn it.

Aerona touches Shahar on the back. He reacts afterwards and makes a frustrated grunt.

Aerona: Maybe we should switch people.
Akari: No. This is for the best. Remember this. Every sheikh in the Red Kingdom can sense as well as Drora or better. Even Habib.

Aerona touches Liron on the shoulder once again.

Liron: What the fuck?!
Aerona: I bet you were thinking, ďHeís already gone after me twice. Iím safe for a few rounds.Ē
Liron: How would you know that, huh?
Aerona: Your shoulders relaxed. Your posture gave away how alert you really were.
Liron: Shit.
Akari: Were you not listening to what I said to Shahar, Liron?
Drora: I bet he just wants to touch Liron.
Katzir: Aerona, I wonít forgive you if you touch her inappropriately!
Aerona: Why does everyone assumeÖoh forget it.

Suddenly, he moves a bit quicker behind Drora and touches her back.

Drora: I couldnít react in time. Thatís cheating.
Shahar: Thereís no cheating in a real fight, Drora.

Aerona appears next to Akari and whispers in his ear for a few seconds. He appears back in the circle. Akari walks into the circle, still blindfolded. Aerona gives him a slight push in a direction. Akari walks up to Liron quietly. She quickly turns and tries to punch Akari, who dodges it.

Liron: Captain?
Akari: Liron, just a few minutes ago, you wouldnít have detected that until it was too late. Well done.
Aerona: Although your instructions werenít to attack me, but just to acknowledge my presence.
Liron: I know. I just wanted to hit you.
Aerona: *Smirk* Too bad.

Liron starts to focus her mana and makes the dark purple lightning surround her. She disappears and reappears right in front of Aerona and makes a wide arc kick. Aerona dodges it. A massive amount of dark magic energy surrounds Aerona and Liron takes a step back. Aerona looks at her with one eye completely purple, grinning maniacally.

Aerona: (Dark and menacingly) Are you sure youíre ready to take me on?
Liron: This intentÖheís going to try and kill me if I take even a single step forward!

She puts away her aura and takes another step back. Aerona also does the same.

Liron: What the hell?
Akari: You felt his killing intent, didnít you? Thatís another part of sensing. Sorry, I asked him to do that at some point. You kinda made it a good opportunity.
Shahar: Iím pretty sure we all felt that just now.

They look over at the main ship, where everyone is looking directly at them.

Aerona: Sorry!
Akari: Killing intent is important to sense. When HayimÖyou know. Maybe one of us could haveÖ
Liron: Even you couldnít tell though until it was too late.
Katzir: Thatís because Hayim didnít have any ill will towards Amitay. I think thatís why.
Shahar: Youíre probably right, Katzir.
Aerona: Iím guessing you lost one of your own recently. Was it all right that I made no attempt to kill this Hayim? I wanted to capture him alive, but he made use of that portal woman.
Shahar: (Sarcastic) Thatís a surprise. I fucking hate that woman.
Liron: Hayim is ours to kill. Itís for the better that you didnít get to.

Later that night, everyone is on the main ship minus the sailors needed to man the secondary ship. In the shipís kitchen, Solomon is working hard and fast between cutting things and cooking them. Khilai is assisting him, following his directions.

Solomon: The halibut is ready to go in. Make sure that fish doesnít overcook.
Khilai: Right.
Solomon: Erosion! How long on the bread?!

Erosion is baking in a brick oven.

Erosion: Theyíll be ready by the time the fish is cooked!
Solomon: Good!

A few minutes laterÖ

Khilai: The fish is done.
Solomon: All right! Now, I need your magic to make this meal work.

Outside, they bring a large pot and many large bread rolls. As they serve them out, each of them has a bit of meat and fish in them. They then place gelatinous cubes inside the rolls as well. We see on Helvastís sandwich that the cubes begin to melt. Helvast takes a bite and reels back.

Helvast: Mmm! It melted right in my mouth. What was this amazing cube?
Solomon: We made aspic out of rabbit and fish stock.
Aerona: I donít normally like seafood all that much, but damn Solomon.
Solomon: This wouldnít be possible without Khilai and her ice magic.
Khilai: When a higher fat stock cools down to a certain point, it begins to congeal. That melting time allows you to enjoy a sandwich and soup at the same time.
Akari: This bread is also very good. Erosion, is this your work?
Erosion: Yes. Iím the baker.
Vito: Their cooking and baking talents work so well together.
Jerome: To think there were people on this ship who can keep up with my sister in the kitchen.

After eating, Helvast stands up in front of them.

Helvast: Tomorrow, I want you all to work hard in the morning. After mid-day, we need to rest. Mars, Solomon, Akari, I want to see you three in a few minutes. Thatís all. Good work today, everyone.

Two strategies collide, next time!
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PostSubject: Re: A Tale of Iron   February 12th 2017, 12:58 am

Chapter 79

We now see two black, rough looking ships. Compared to the Red Kingdomís ships, they seem poorly made. These two ships are side-by-side, roughly 100 feet apart. On the left one, we see Strago and Shiomi looking out the back of the deck. We can faintly see land on the horizon getting farther away.

Strago: It has been a long time since I stepped foot off the Iron Kingdom.
Shiomi: Itíll be okay. Our safeguards should hold just fine.
Strago: I know. But more importantly, weíre finally alone again.

They glance over to the other ship, where no one is looking at them. They embrace and kiss each other.

Shiomi: Iím brimming with excitement, Strago. We can go all out against the enemy without worrying about casualties.
Strago: Yes, I know. I can hardly wait.

At the Red Kingdom, we see a small village. Each building rests on an extra few feet of foundation. Just outside this village, there is an army. At the helm are Zvornoff and Hayim. This beach terrain leads straight to the water.

Hayim: So, theyíve come here.

Off in the distance, we see the ships coming their way.

Zvornoff: Ho! Ready the catapults!

On the main ship, Helvast is at the very forefront looking out.

Akari: What do you see, Captain Helvast?
Helvast: Theyíre waiting for us, all right. I donít see Hunter though.
Akari: Good. That would be very bad for us if he were here.
Jerome: It appears as though you made the correct judgment call, Akari.
Solomon: Who do you see?
Helvast: From this distanceÖI can make out one man with the Iron cavalier armor. Another is wearing tattered clothes. He appears to be one of ours.
Akari: Hayim.
Solomon: That is probably also Zvornoff with him.
Helvast: Thatís not all. Theyíre readying some trebuchets. They donít intend to let us make it onto land.

As the ships get closer, we can see ten catapults now at the edge of land. Many archers are also standing by.

Zvornoff: Nock!

Archers put arrows onto the bow, but do not put any tension onto the bowstring.

Hayim: Sorry, captain, but youíre not making it here without a fight! Fire the catapults!

The catapults fire off large rocks in the direction of the ships. Helvast steps up to the very edge of the ship.

Helvast: Who do you think youíre threatening, whelps?!

Surrounded with dark aura, Helvast puts both hands forward. Suddenly, the rocks drop out of the sky and plummet into the water. The water within a distance also appears to be getting pushed downwards. Helvast releases his magic.

Zvornoff: Draw!

The archers pull back on their bowstrings and aim upwards at an angle. Fireball suddenly comes forward and shoots a straight line of flame that lights all of the arrow tips.

Zvornoff: Loose!

The volley of fire arrows launches out at the ships. Most of them donít make it far enough to land, but a few make it to the main ship. Shahar runs forward and creates a barrier to block them.

Hayim: Shahar. Letís see you guard against this.

Hayim activates dark magic and then begins to whirl his hands in a circular motion. The water in front of him begins to swirl into a waterspout. He then sends it straight up into the air diagonally. It launches into the air and then comes down at the main ship as a large swirl of water. Solomon suddenly releases a concentrated windblast that blocks this, dispersing the water. It falls onto the ship like rain for a second.

Jerome: Helvast, letís weigh anchor!
Helvast: Are you certain?
Jerome: Yes.
Helvast: All right!

Not long after, all the ships have stopped, just a hundred feet from land. Archers have their arrows nocked and the catapults are ready again.

Hayim: Are you serious about staying in the water?! This is my territory!
Khilai: Like hell it is!

Jerome and Khilai both jump off the ship. As they land, the water below them freezes into small platforms. Hayim reacts to this and then begins moving his hands. The two siblings put their hands on the water and it begins to freeze. Eventually, the ice gets to the shore, where the water that Hayim begins to manipulate freezes over. Fireball steps up again, but Hayim stops him.

Helvast: Give up! You donít stand a chance against two captains!
Zvornoff: This is far from over!
Helvast: Bring him out!
Zvornoff: ?

We see Athala emerge from the secondary ship, holding a chain. Attached to this chain is Aggro. He is bound and is looking rough.

Athala: On your knees.

She forces Aggro on his knees. Hunched over, he looks at Zvornoff.

Zvornoff: Agg. So, have you come to negotiate with a hostage?!
Helvast: Hostage?! Youíre mistaken!

Helvast nods to Athala, who nods back. She draws her sword and raises it high. Zvornoffís eyes widen as he puts his hand out towards Aggro. Athala brings her sword straight down, cleaving his head off instantly. Zvornoff instinctively looks away for a moment.

Helvast: This is not a negotiation! This is a warning! This is what happens when you betray our kingdoms!

The dragon slayers step forward.

Aerona: Zvor, are you prepared to fight your former superiors?! You know you canít beat us!

On the secondary ship, Liron and Katzir step forth.

Liron: Hayim!

Hayim turns his attention to Liron, who is charging up in her two fingers. She releases a bolt of lightning straight at him. He dodges out of the way in time.

Hayim: So itís true after all that you lived! You should not have come back!

Shahar, Akari, Drora and Taario join them.

Shahar: No, Hayim! You shouldnít have betrayed us!
Akari: Where is Hunter?!
Hayim: Youíll never understand! The struggle is never over!

Hayim pats Fireball on the shoulder and he puts his hand upwards. He releases a fireball into the air, and a portal appears in its way. The fire goes through the portal and another portal appears above the main ship.

Akari: Everyone! Get away from the ship!

The fireball comes straight down onto the ship and explodes upon contact. The ship is destroyed from the top and splinters while also set on fire. Fireball then reacts as he looks to his left. Katzir is teeming with dark magic, right next to him.

Katzir: You shouldnít have done that.

Just then, Zvornoff appears between them. Vines come out of the ground and restrain Katzirís arms at that moment. Zvornoff thrusts with his blade, but all of the sudden, a poof of smoke appears between them and his sword makes a clang. He steps back as Kerosí armor summon stands there. Keros stands next to it. Katzir also breaks free of the vines and surveys the area.

Keros: You traitor.
Zvornoff: Oho! Iíd love to fight you, but weíre not sticking around for this.
Keros: What?!

All of the sudden, a rumble in the ground is felt. Zvornoff and the rest of the Etal army take a step back and then a black circle forms under them. They suddenly disappear and the black circle also vanishes. Some time passes and all of the ships beach and everyone gets off.

Akari: Captain Helvast, do you know what happened?
Helvast: That looked of an artifactís magic to me.
Jerome: I donít recall us ever having one in our possession.
Helvast: Nor I, Jerome.
Solomon: Looks like the Etal had them all this time.

We pan over to Katzir and Aerona. They both have dark magic energy flowing outwards.

Aerona: This is bad, Katzir.
Katzir: I know. If they hadnít retreated so quickly, I donít think I could have stopped myself from going berserk.
Aerona: This powerÖitís not like anything I had a month ago.

The dark magic energy surges forth from both of them.

Aerona: IÖcanít contain it. Heh, this is not good indeed.

Akari walks over and releases the dark magic from both of them. They both sigh.

Akari: Youíre both getting used to these lands again. Itís because youíre natural users that it will naturally draw itself towards you. Donít let it consume you.
Aerona: (Grinning) ThisÖis awesome. Tell me, Akari. Do you think you could have taken me on the way I was powering up?
Akari: There are a few ways to deal with dark magic users. Donít think just because you have raw power that it canít be dealt with.
Aerona: Iím aware of that. But that wasnít my question.
Akari: If it comes down to it, we may just find out.
Katzir: Iím sure we can control it. We have to.

With the other FangsÖ

Liron: It feels nice to be back.
Drora: Hell yeah it does.
Shahar: I can already feel myself much stronger.
Taario: Yes.
Shahar: Why donít you try to bring out dark magic now, Taario?
Taario: I feel like I can.

Taario focuses in his hands and dark magic does appear.

Shahar: Youíre almost ready for the surge. Just a little more practice.
Taario: Right.

As the army remains scattered, everyone from the two ships gathers together.

Solomon: So, whatís our next move?
Helvast: This is a tough call. We donít want to over-pursue them. They could be waiting for an ambush. Akari, what do you think about what has happened?
Akari: Hunter must have spread his forces pretty thin. That was unlike him, unless he was expecting us to try and land elsewhere.
Jerome: With no sign of the sheikh twins or Hunter himself, thatís probably correct.
Helvast: Well, we canít stay here. With our backs to the water, we are at a disadvantage. Especially if Hunter himself finds his way onto the battlefield. Thereís no one better at manipulating his element. That just adds onto the strategic disadvantage.

The army convenes and moves just outside the beach terrain. They are now trudging through marshland that can sometimes reach the ankles.

Mars: The Red Kingdomís terrain changes very quickly it seems.
Erosion: Hold a moment.
Helvast: What is it, Erosion?
Erosion: Somethingís wrong.
Aerona: I donít sense any presences. Are you detecting something that I am not?
Erosion: Itís not about enemy presence.

Erosion then has a realization moment and turns to Jerome.

Erosion: Jerome, freeze this area immediately!
Jerome: What? Why?

Suddenly, many soldiers drop to their knees.

Akari: What is going on?!
Erosion: The marshes are poisoned!

Jerome puts his hand down and freezes the vicinity. Some layers under the initial layer of ice have a dark purple color mixed with brown. More soldiers are dropping.

Akari: Donít let the water touch your skin!

Most of the army manages to step onto solid ground. The soldiers who dropped to their knees before Jerome froze the liquid collapse.

Helvast: Gather up everyone who canít move on his or her own!

As they round up the disabled soldiers, a few more succumb to the poison and drop along with them. Erosion is seen treating them one by one at a rapid rate. Taario and other healers are doing the same.

Aerona: Surely this marshland wasnít like this before.
Helvast: No. This was definitely sabotage.

Taario approaches Helvast.

Taario: Captain Helvast, bad news. While we are able to treat the poison and we are sure to have no deaths, I fear it has done quite some damage. A sizable portion of them has been paralyzed in the legs from how fast the poison acted once it touched the skin.
Vito: They got us good. It took some time for the poison to get through armor and clothes before reaching the skin.
Aerona: Can you heal paralysis?
Taario: No. Iím afraid once the nerves have been severed, we healers canít ever reconnect them. We can only reverse the damage done to those nerves. Some of these soldiers will never walk again.
Akari: Damn it. We canít rightly just leave them here. And yet, thatís exactly what Hunter wants.
Jerome: Weíre almost out of the marshes. We need to keep moving. If we donít, weíll get trapped in here. Iím certain theyíll attack us soon if we stay here. We canít burden ourselves with the crippled.
Aerona: I hate to admit it, but Jeromeís right. If I were one of those people, I would want you to move on without me.
Helvast: Finish treating who you can. Weíll have to make a decision by then.
Taario: Yes, sir.

After all is done, twenty soldiers are left paralyzed. The rest rejoin the army.

Aerona: A tenth of our army gone and it wasnít even in battle. Damn it.
Solomon: What are we going to do?
Helvast: We have no choice.

Helvast goes to the paralyzed group. He begins to cast a spell and then they begin to float up into the air. He then ties a large number of chains together and has them all grab onto it.

Helvast: Iím making the gravity to a point where you wonít go one way or another. You are essentially weightless right now. Just keep a hold of this chain and you will be able to travel with us.
Iron Soldier: Thank you, Captain Helvast!
Jerome: Heís too soft. Heís playing right into Hunterís plan.
Vito: How so? We donít have to carry them this way.
Solomon: Yeah. How much of a burden are they this way?
Jerome: You donít get it, do you? Manipulating gravity this way isnít a one-time spell when weíre moving. He has to keep it up, draining his mana at a steady rate.
Akari: Yes. Itís unfortunate, but perhaps it has to be this way.

They continue on and eventually make it out of the marshland and into more steady grassland. Many of the Iron soldiers are sweating at this point.

Liron: Theyíre not used to our climate, just like we werenít used to theirs.
Shahar: It was easier in the marshes when Captain Jerome had the area frozen.
Katzir: This still doesnít compare to that jungle. That was the WORST.
Drora: Weíre never going there ever again. EVER!

A few moments later, the captains, sheikhs and dragon slayers stop at roughly the same time.

Solomon: The enemy is already here and in multiple waves.
Helvast: No, wait!

Helvast turns behind him where a few soldiers are falling down. We can see at the very back of the army, Hakuren is slaughtering men at a rapid rate with his wakizashi. The soldiers box Hakuren in and all attack at the same time, but he disappears and reappears away from them. Hakuren suddenly reacts, as Erosion appears where he dodged. They clash identical weapons and stare each other down. Aerona then appears behind Hakuren, but he suddenly disappears from both of their sights.

Erosion: Fast!
Aerona: Where did he go? How did we not sense him coming at us from behind?!

By the front of the army, we see a portal open from above and Aedan, Lau-Kai and the sheikh twins land. Solomon and Akari step forth first and attack them. Aedan steps up front and then suddenly, Solomon and Akari have been split up and are now in the middle of the enemies. At that moment, all of them feel the pressure of Helvastís gravity on them. Noque throws a debuff beam at Helvast, which connects and weakens the gravity. Akari stomps on the ground, which raises them all up a few feet. This throws everyone off balance. Vito then jumps up onto this raised platform and attacks Lau-Kai, who dodges this attack.

Just then, a familiar black sphere forms on the ground near the army and Zvornoffís army spawns from their side. Immediately, Keros goes after Zvornoff again and they begin to clash weapons. Hayim also attacks the soldiers, but Khilai gets in his way. She spins her hatchets once and points one at him.

Khilai: Well, water boy? Want to challenge a sheikh?

Hayim immediately makes a burst of water come from his hand, but she freezes it immediately and his arm becomes encased in ice. He retreats in pain. Khilai attempts to give chase, but it quickly becomes lost within the chaos that immediately ensues as the two armies clash.

Khilai: Damn.

By the back of the army, we see Aerona looking around. Erosion is not in sight now either. He suddenly reacts at the last minute and ducks under an attack. Aerona takes his axe and slashes back and Hakuren avoids it. He takes three steps back.

Aerona: Where did he come from?

Hakuren flicks his wrists and three shurikens are flung at Aerona. He dodges out of the way, but they strike other unsuspecting soldiers farther away.

Aerona: You bastard.

Hakuren disappears again. Aerona reacts and turns around to block, but Hakuren is not there. This catches him off guard when suddenly, Hakuren appears behind him and cuts him across the back of the neck. Aerona falls to the ground almost immediately. At this moment, soldiers rush Hakuren, who disappears again.

Iron Soldier: The royal knight has fallen! What do we do?!

In the front, we see Aedan and Vito clashing swords. Aedan currently has a sword that looks extremely similar to Vitoís katana, but with a little more curvature.

Vito: A katana, huh? Nice.

They both slide their weapons off each other and back up. Aedan draws a scimitar on his off hand and twirls it. Vito rushes straight in and lunges with his sword. Aedan parries with the scimitar and then goes for a cut with the other sword. Vito maintains enough control of his weapon to go for the block. Aedanís sword passes by Vitoís block, however, as he turns the sword around, changing the trajectory. He cuts Vitoís leg with the inside of the blade, leaving a large gash. Vito takes a step back with a realization.

Vito: Thatís not a katana. Itís a falx. If only I realized in time.
Aedan: Thatís right. Had you known, you might have been able to see through that feint. But that being said, my feints are flawless. My sword is unmatched.
Vito: Weíll see about that.

Just then, a horn is sounded in the distance.

Aedan: Unfortunately, our time is up.

At the sound of the horn, the Etal army retreats into a cluster and quickly disappears with the same spell as before. Some men from both sides have fallen.

Helvast: Theyíre trying to attack us in waves to try and wear us down slowly while minimizing their own casualties. Hunterís good. Real good.
Akari: Yeah, but we knew that going in.
Jerome: They are worse off than they think, though.
Mars: What do you mean?

Elsewhere, the Etal army is catching their breath. Hunter is in their midst.

Hunter: Aedan, how did it go?
Aedan: Things are going according to plan so far.
Nymeria: My king, there was no sign of either general.
Hunter: Thatís strange. Are they still in the Iron Kingdom? Or are they lying in wait?

Suddenly, an Etal soldier turns to Hunter and lunges at him with his spear. Hunter is surprised, but manages to dodge out of the way. Aedan immediately decapitates this soldier with his falx.

Hunter: A traitor in our midst? No, wait. This magical presence!

A few more of the soldiers turn to Hunter. Their eyes show that they are spooked by something.

Hunter: Knock them out! This is Jeromeís doing!

They manage to incapacitate the rogue soldiers without killing any more of them.

Hunter: Looks like they had a trap of their own that nearly worked.
Lau-Kai: Hakuren, it looks like you managed to kill one of the dragon slayers. Nice job.
Hakuren: No, I couldnít finish the job. At the last second, he guarded with dark magic and my cut wasnít deep enough.
Aedan: It will obviously take a lot more than one strike to kill a dragon slayer it seems.

By the Jovah armyÖ

Solomon: I see. So you managed to corrupt some of them into seeing Hunter as some kind of demon.
Jerome: Itís a slim chance that heíll die from that, but at the very least we can cause some disorder and they might lose a few soldiers from it.
Helvast: Nice work, Jerome.
Jerome: If you hadnít used so much mana bringing the cripples here, we could have easily crushed their army. Remember that.
Helvast: I know. You donít have to tell me that. Itís obvious how this war is going to play out now. Conventional warfare isnít going to cut it against Hunter. Itís time we devised a new strategy.

The fight between Etal and Jovah is already heating up!
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A Tale of Iron
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