Viary walks down a long corridor with chrome walls, the missing sections showing exposed clay, carrying a set of blood-stained keys. A pair of chakrams rotate as they levitate above her shoulders like dutiful sentries. Her arms are outfitted with mismatched gauntlets. The left gauntlet connects to a fingerless chainmail glove and has an extra layer of riveted metal on top. The right gauntlet only covers her forearm with black leather. Like the chrome walls of the corridor, her armor leaves a series of old burns on her fingers exposed.
Her jet-black hair is cut short just above her nape and hangs straight. Her blue-grey eyes exude a brutal nature matched by her militant outfit; a dark armored vest with a white “E” in the bottom left corner, a long-sleeved black shirt, black and white camouflage pants, and steel toe boots. A metal brace strapped to her back has two narrow slits in the top, the resting places for her chakrams.
Viary comes to the final unexplored room in the underground complex. She hefts the bloody keys and determines the copper key in the middle matches the shape in the knob. She tosses the keys over her shoulder and they’re sliced like paper by her chakrams. One of the blades hovers away from her shoulder and saws through the lock, making it easier for her to kick the door in. She looms in the doorway, scowling as she scans the room.
Six warriors stand at the ready while another half dozen race to lock various forms and dossiers into metal cabinets. Once all of the cabinets are locked, all eleven warriors converge, each one wielding wooden swords with barbed wire woven into the edge. The wall in the rear of the room has hundreds of similar wooden swords draped on metal shelves. At a glance, Viary can tell the barbed wire is a feint. The wood is expertly cured and made to withstand clashes with metal. However, what she’s capable of goes beyond weapon composition. She has a rare ability that not even most recognized Slayers can access. Bond Of The Blade can be used for more than controlling one’s weapon hands-free. The mystic energy that connects Ohaida and their weapon can be used to generate a radar that can detect the presence of other bonded weapons. The only pings come from her chakrams. The warriors before her are not true Ohaida.
This is it. The suppliers of the anti-Ohaida movement, No More Swords. With this victory, the murdering of my brothers in arms comes to an end!
After dialing the radar back, Viary commands one of her chakrams to spin vertically in the doorway. The celerity of its revolutions increases so much so that a strong wind has her hair whipping around wildly. The pressure forces the dozen warriors back, their arms unable to keep their blades extended. She beckons a tornado from her chakram to fill the room. The warriors’ screams are cut off swiftly once the dark winds lift and slam them around. Her control of the wild tempest is so fine-tuned that none of the drawers are damaged, nor is she affected by the pull of the storm beside her hair.
Viary lets the tempest run for ten minutes before arresting her chakram’s momentum. Both circular blades resume their vigil over her shoulders as she steps past the defeated warriors, their wooden swords and barbed wire destroyed, including the hundreds on the rear shelves. Some of the warriors remain conscious, though they’re too busy contending with their severe wounds to bother the chakram-wielder further.
A round, two-dimensional shadow, two inches in diameter, slithers into the room after Viary. As it slithers across the throats of the warriors, it slices them wide open, killing the ones that survived the tempest. The shadow expands to one foot in diameter before transitioning to three dimensions. The shadow becomes a man dressed in the same militant outfit as Viary, except that the “E” on his vest is red instead of white. A makhaira rests in his left hand, wet with blood. The handle is custom-made for his grip. His fingers are riddled with tiny, pale scars. His honey-colored eyes scan the dead warriors once before he dismisses them as a threat. The slashed shelves and wooden swords hold his attention a moment longer.
“This is the right place.”
Viary commands her chakrams to slice through every lock on the cabinets. “Undeniably. It was the most well-guarded hideout to date.” She inspects several dossiers from the nearest cabinet. “Waybills, distribution routes, and consumer ledgers. No More Swords is about to crumble.”
“Big fucking deal. This wasn’t our goal or a challenge. The newbie could’ve completed this!”
Viary looks at her partner with thinly veiled contempt. “They killed fellow soldiers, Andel. It’s different. And that new recruit was a mistake.”
Andel flares his nostrils. “Not your call to make.”
“It wasn’t yours, either.”
Andel snorts. “Kirby can shove his orders up his ass!”
“Yet here we are,” Viary says, going back to rummaging through the cabinets.
“Like you want to be doing this any more than the rest of us.”
“Whatever capacity my nation needs of me, I will serve it. That’s what–”
Andel’s at her side in an instant. “What is it?” he asks, but he can see for himself. The waybill in her hands is dated two weeks ago and claims that the receiving party is Exulsi; the location is the Vanusi state of Brelala. The items in the waybill include a pair of chakrams with three inwardly curved iron handles, a makhaira with a custom black leather grip (dimensions included), a boomerang with serrated metal on both arms, a karambit with a two-finger grip, and a halberd with two half-moon hooks beneath the blade.
“We need to call Kirby. Now.”
Andel scoffs. “It’s a waste of time. The copycats already have our weapons. Stopping them before they do anything drastic is the wisest course of action.”
“You’re oversimplifying the facts. This waybill could be a forgery or a trap. We’ve been after No More Swords for a month, and their organization was farther reaching than we anticipated. They could have resources we didn’t discover, especially since they had such complete details of our weaponry. If it is real, it means our group is being targeted. Our paper trail in another nation is a political mess in the making. We need to investigate these files and determine if other copycats exist.”
The smile Andel shows is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “There are no others. Lady Khadijah is sure of that. This mission was to determine the location of their headquarters. We have it now.”
Viary turns a frosty gaze to her captain. “How long have you known?”
“Relax, soldier. Lady Khadijah trusts you still. It’s Kirby she’s unsure of at the moment. Normally you’d receive our orders from him but Lady Khadijah wants this done before her problems come at her from two nations.”
Andel’s blinded by his bloodlust, as Lady Khadijah expected. With this proof, dispelling any concerns of our interference in another nation’s lands is easy. These orders didn’t come from Kirby because he would never issue them. The minute we cross the border into Vanu, there’s a ticking time bomb on our careers. And with No More Swords dismantled, for the time being, she’s able to breathe easier.
“Very well,” Viary replies with a content grin.
“I’ll safeguard the evidence. You go and–”
A young man in a white version of the militant outfit rushes into the room, morning star in one hand, a tablet in the other. “You have to see this!” he cries.
“Calm yourself, Zoka. What’s the news?”
“It’s Four Hearts Academy. It was–”
Andel snorts, his disgust intense and immediate, an expression that Viary shares. “To hell with that school. It’s dying, anyway.” He and Viary march past Zoka.
“Past tense, sir.”
The pair stop but only Andel looks back. “Explain,” he orders.
Auriel stomps through the sand with a singular objective- training. The sand that pops onto her boots with each stomp slides off as if repelled by the fabric. The metallic shoelaces share the same properties as the collar and plating down the center of her bodysuit. She totes her executioner’s blade over her shoulder, weaving through an acre of cacti, careful not to nick a single one before she begins.
During her brief time in the Silent Slayers army, she was Kirby’s direct subordinate. She was slated to be his successor until Nuria and Rum were born. In her time since, she’s tried to deny as much of her soldier’s lifestyle as she could so as not to influence Nuria and Rum to follow in her footsteps. She never discussed her old life with them. She taught them a few self-defense moves; more to Rum so he would be able to use the sword she had specifically crafted for him.
But now, after the conversation she just had, the time has come to revisit the skills she sees the necessity for on the horizon.
“What the hell do you mean there was a war?” was Auriel’s initial response to Reddic’s call. “Are Nuria and Rum–”
“They’re alive and well, yes. You know I’d give my life to protect them.”
Auriel concentrates on the bond between her and her executioner’s blade. Instead of saturating the air with that mystic energy to create a radar, she coats her blade with it. The technique is only available to a select few, earned through years of bloodshed.
“You said The Pure wouldn’t retaliate this swiftly, Reddic. So, forgive me for not believing you one hundred percent right now!”
“When it comes to those two, there’s no one to trust more.”
“Besides yourself,” Reddic added swiftly. “It’s why I backed Kirby’s nomination of you as their guardian without hesitation. I trust him and he trusts you, therefore I trust you.”
Auriel huffed, her transition away from her ill feelings for Reddic giving way to a responsibility to ask more important questions. “How bad are things?”
The technique is called Bulis. It is the process of using the mystic energy connecting Ohaida and their weapon to harden and sharpen one’s own body and weapon respectively. Bulis must first be mastered on one’s own body before applying it to their weapon, or they run the risk of degrading the strength and integrity of their weapon.
“Two of the five professors are in critical condition. Half of the security team is the same. The other half is deceased. Headmaster Neth remains comatose. Only a handful of students are hurt but their wounds didn’t require hospitalization. We’re keeping them here on campus at the emergency triage under police and military protection. Parents are arriving even now to pick up their children. I imagine you’ll be coming soon.”
One of the advantages of Bulis beyond the hardening and sharpening is the range it affords Ohaida during battle. The mystic energy can be fired as an invisible shockwave with the force profile of the weapon it comes from. A hammer’s Bulis crushes. A sword’s Bulis slashes. A spear’s Bulis pierces. When Auriel lowers to the ground and spins, she fires a ring of mystic energy from her blade in all directions.
“I’ll be by in a few days. That should give you and Nuria time to discuss that “two of the five professors” detail.”
Auriel rises and flips her ponytail over her shoulder. The entire acre of cacti has been mowed by her Bulis. Even with such a clean cut, the points of separation of the cacti perfectly parallel, the soldier is anything but proud. Just like Reddic, she’s developed a rapport with Officer Stark and one crucial detail Stark revealed via text has her blood running cold.
The last four to arrive kept their faces hidden. I’m hoping to ID them now by using their powers as clues. Ironically, the giant will be the greatest challenge. However, knowing what I do, my gut says the man with the red lightning may be someone you know.
Auriel didn’t respond to Stark. She didn’t get the chance, her phone shattered to pieces in her grasp the second after reading it.
It’s his guts I’ll spill if I ever get the chance!
“Why couldn’t you have told her about the man with the red lightning?” Stark states, resting against Neth’s desk.
“I could have but any such news from me may have riled her back up again. For obvious reasons, any call we share on campus must be brief,” Reddic explains, resting against the desk at Stark’s side. “Kirby and I are as close as brothers, but only because we had the advantage of growing up together. My younger personality was one not everyone could appreciate…or tolerate. Auriel was one of those people. Our relationship has never been easy while at the same time being entirely necessary. Throw in the man with the red lightning, and it only grows worse.” Despite his light tone, the expression he shows is haunting.
“You know,” Stark says, witnessing the naked pain on his face, “I admire your dedication to Nuria. Not just for how it benefits her but for how you endure the turmoil all the half-truths cause you. I’ve barely known a month and I feel like garbage every time I meet Nuria’s gaze. However you do it, I’m glad that you do. Especially when she broke down the way she did. I wouldn’t have been able to talk her down.”
Reddic’s pain doesn’t ebb wholly but he smiles regardless. “I disagree.” He turns and moves to the now unboarded window in Neth’s office. The wood lay in a dismantled pile by the entrance for Fanger to lumber on. He watches the police and soldiers patrol the campus, the disparate units regarding the other warily. “The two of you have a bond and she’d have listened to you. It wouldn’t have to be words. Nuria would act after you. Just remember, even without our explicit orders, she didn’t charge into the fray the moment we all saw the state of the campus. This time last year, she was brazen enough to fly to your defense in Jupiter City. You’ve tempered her properly. I’ll need you to continue to do so in my–”
Stark’s phone goes off with a blaring ringtone. She only answers because it’s Professor Cwen on the other line. “How’re Professor Lynald and Officer Roark?” she fires immediately. “Are they stable?”
“Lynald’s out of surgery at long last but he can’t receive visitors just yet. The doctors said he was in and out of consciousness too much to determine if his life is out of danger. His facial fractures will make it painful for him to talk, so they’ll have a TTS device on standby so he can talk to his brother and sister-in-law when they arrive.
“I don’t have any information on Officer Roark or any of the other critically wounded officers. They were taken to a different hospital. Perhaps Warden Crata can give you those details.”
“Unlikely. No doubt news of former Jupiter City officers being members of The Pure has started to circulate nation- worldwide. Until the city’s higher-ups can manage that fiasco, nobody with any ties to The Pure- no matter how small- will be given the details of which hospital they were taken to. That includes me, and unfortunately, that affects Crata’s ability to investigate. The wildfire is gonna run for amok unchecked until it stops drawing eyeballs.
“All of our names will be dragged through the mud. Even on the extraordinary chance that Four Hearts Academy isn’t closed, we’ll never be able to secure jobs at any educational facility again. History books will paint us as the greatest failures to ever grace Avinia’s most famous academy.”
Cwen’s laugh rings hollow. “I’d like to argue we should look on the bright side but I’m afraid that is the bright side.”
There’s a lengthy silence where Stark, Reddic, and Cwen all lament the events of late, the gravity of their futures sinking in. Stark’s never been at a loss like this. There’s always been an action, even the act of retreating, available to her. But bygones are the days of her youth when that was an option. She thought she’d faced the music before during her trial, but this is one million times worse. Her growing funk is ruptured by one particular name drop.
“Excuse me, you arrived with the patient named Neth, didn’t you?” she hears a nurse say over the phone. “Ms. Cwen?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” Cwen responds numbly.
Stark snaps upright and the motion provokes Reddic to step closer. The hushed tones are garbled over the rings and whistles of PA announcements in the background but the officer hears enough.
“Since when?” Cwen asks urgently.
“Five minutes now. We wanted to wait and see if it would stick before telling you.”
The next words spoken bring tears to Stark’s eyes, a hand to her lips.
“What’s going on?” Reddic asks breathlessly.
“Headmaster Neth is awake.”