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The Trials that Bind Us

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The egg had begun to stir. 

She placed her claws on the ivory shell, it being currently nestled in the massive nest constructed by those long proceeding her, as well as her leader. Long had the egg rested here, and long had it remained dormant. Yet if it was stirring now, what could that mean for them, let alone the world? 

And aside from that, what did it mean for her?

The harpy in question was young than that of the one the amazons had dubbed ‘Harcypete’, she bearing medium length, violet hair and green feathers lining her body, covering her breast and fanning out at her hips, her stomach and middle of her chest and neckline uncovered, tanned skin. Her eyes were violet with golden scleras, wide and anxious. Her wings were a light purple, blue, and green, as was her tail, though the most distinguishing feature of her was that of her hands and feet, they being bird-like, yellow, reptilian claws and talons. Such features, as the feet, were commonplace for her kind, yet very rarely did one have anything aside from mere wings to serve as ‘arms’. It wasn’t but a short time ago that she too had only wings. Yet slowly, shifts in her anatomy began. It began as little nubs, yet steadily, they grew and grew into clawed arms, just like that of Harcypete’s. Even if it was a name their enemies had dubbed their leader, everyone seemed to address the head harpy as such, and it seemed she had taken to being addressed as such as well. 

The violet haired harpy, as well as the rest of her tribe, admired their leader, their noble, strong leader. Though they had failed time and time again, she never gave up the fight to take back the land that was rightfully theirs. Before those humans established their kingdom, the harpies ruled the mountains. They gathered, hunted, and celebrated in honoring those that came before them as they saw fit. After all, it was their land. Yet then, the humans came in, established a town down below, and drove them out of the land that was to be established as their kingdom. And they’ve been trying to take it back ever since. 

But now, it seemed that the violet haired harpy had undergone a metamorphosis, one that made her resemble that of her leader. Everyone was appalled at her new appearance, knowing full well what it meant. Yet she didn’t wish to think of it, having kept herself in the company of the egg to avoid the gazes of everyone else. At least here, there were no eyes to question or even judge her. 

Suddenly, she was aware of a presence. Turning around, she saw the pink haired Harcypete staring down at her, puzzled as to where she went. She gave a light trill, the violet haired harpy responding with one of her own. Harcypete was garbed in the bones of their ancestors, the ones that came before them, human-ish skulls and bits of bone serving as jewelry of sorts. And it seemed that it wouldn’t be long before the violet haired harpy would be wearing such, for her newest growths meant that…

Harcypete put a clawed hand on her shoulder, presenting her with a smile that quite betrayed her usually fierce features. It was clear that this was the last thing the other harpy wanted, yet time seemed to mark that the pink haired harpy’s time was nearing its...

Suddenly, a loud bark broke the silence, a severely wounded harpy coming up and alerting Harcypete that there was an intruder that was at the foot of their mountain. And even more, several of of their kind were dealing with them, though given the state of the messenger, a massive gash at her stomach to where she had to keep her wings pressed to the area, lest the flesh tear and anything vital fall out, this intruder was more than a simple man or woman. Going to the entrance of the hidden away chamber, Harcypete prepared to take flight. The violet haired harpy gave a trill of protest, yet was silenced by the pink haired leader. She gave her a reassuring smile before taking off to view the situation herself, leaving the two other harpies with the massive egg. 

Down Below

The dark sword ran through the winged woman, she released a shrill cry of agony before the light faded from her eyes and, once the weapon was removed, she fell to the ground with several of her other fellow clan members, motionless and torn to pieces on the ground. The darkly clad knight looked down at the carnage he had made, stepping over the bodies and looked up at the rest of the mountain that he needed to trek. 

Suddenly, a loud roar echoed throughout the area, he seeing a pink haired harpy that appeared different from the others charging right at him. Raising his sword, the knight swung at the incoming target, she in turn flapping her wings and evading the blade entirely. Harcypete dove downward and extended her talons, watching the knight by his helmet and, with one swing, threw him against the hardened rocks that rested all around. The echo of the knight’s armor making impact echoed throughout, yet he got back up after mere moments, surprising Harcypete greatly. Any ordinary man would’ve had their skull cracked and their head split open from a blow like that! Regardless, this intruder had to be dealt with. She dove forward again and jabbed a darkened claw right into one of the knight’s eye sockets, twisting it this way and that, yet found that no solid flesh rested in it. In fact, there seemed to be nothing in all of the helmet, it felt as if she were striking vapor. But still, she pressed on. Harcypete began to pull and lift the knight off the ground, yet was stopped by a thrust of his sword, she maneuvered out of the way so it wouldn’t pierce her, yet the blade sliced her side, she wincing in pain as it made contact. Nevertheless, she continued to hold on and lift, the knight swinging again. She caught the blade and held it in her claws, yet, to her shock, he was still able to move it in her grasp, twisting it and causing her to cut herself on her hardened flesh, she letting go and letting the knight fall to the ground, he landing on his feet. She flew down, standing a few feet away, sizing her opponent up, the knight in turn doing the same.

“Be still, both of you.” a voice suddenly said, both knight and harpy seeing a red cloaked, young man with long, golden hair coming up to both of them. “I’ve finally found you.” the knight remained silent, Koren then looking at Harcypete. “It seems neither of you are up for much conversation.”

Harcypete knew not who this man was, yet it was clear that he was with the knight. She spread her wings, ready to take to the air and strike again. “Hold it, beast.” Koren said, the pink haired, winged woman looking at him inquisitively, yet nonetheless, landed back on the ground. She surveyed the multitude of her kin at the knight’s feet. “I apologize for my colleague’s less than hospitable introduction.” the harpy growled in response. “Yet we have come to you with a proposition.” 

Path Exiting Palo

“This way.” Eliza said, leading the six down the steep, narrow path that went alongside the mountain ridge. They had come but a short distance away from the port town, yet already, the land was becoming high and somewhat treacherous, the drop from this height not lethal, yet one would surely strain or break something if they fell. “Really, I’m so happy that you’re back with us, captain.” the blue haired amazon said to Riesz. “Auntie Alma’s been telling us everyday that you’d return.”

“I would not just abandon you.” Riesz affirmed. “My duty lies here to my country as its princess.”

“Princess?” Eliza questioned. “Don’t you mean…” she stopped herself, verging on a topic that the blonde young woman clearly didn’t wish to talk about. At least not yet.

Sensing this, Angela spoke up. “So, what HAVE you guys been doing here? Aside from entertaining those ‘fine folks’ I mean.”

“I’m sorry that things have been so dire.” Riesz said to her fellow amazon.

“Well...it hasn’t been all bad.” Eliza said. “I mean, yeah, those guys are jerks, but so far, we haven’t been caught, and besides,” she gestured to her outfit. “Nevarl has quite a sense of style.” She then looked to her captain. “You’re looking pretty nice yourself, princess.”

Riesz’s cheeks flushed. To not arouse suspicion, everyone had taken to wearing their disguises when they left the bar. “Yes, ahem, well…” the blonde cleared her throat. “Aside from that, what else has been going on here?”

“Mostly it’s been organizing how to take back Laurent.” Eliza answered. “Though, I admit, without you, captain, we’re sort of lacking in any plans.” 

Kevin and Charlotte then looked to each other, as well as to Riesz. She knew well of what, or rather, who they were thinking of. “Well...rest assured.” the blonde answered. “Thanks to some rather...unexpected help, we now have a plan of action we can execute.” Eliza was intrigued by this. “Though, I believe it wise that we wait until we reach the base before we answer any questions regarding it.” Despite her eagerness to ask as to what the plan was, Eliza ultimately had to admit that her captain was right, she continued to lead the group along the path. 

Yet then, everyone stopped, Eliza sighting something ahead. “Everyone, hide!” she whispered. Before any questions could be asked, they too saw what she had seen, and took refuge behind the rocks that lined the pathway, ducking down. Floating by was what appeared to be a rather small, flying creature with a childish, cartoony face with narrowed, red eyes and a cheerful, mischievous smile on its pale face. It was purple on the rest of its head and had what appeared to be either ears or horns on its head, a bowtie, red, little wings, and a small pitchfork in its hand. 

“Ooh, it’s so cute!” Charlotte cooed, everyone else looking puzzled. 

“THAT’S what has got you all worked up?” Duran asked. “It’s just a little…” he paused. “A little...hey, Faerie,” the winged woman popped out, Eliza giving off a light ‘eep!’ only to be silenced by Riesz. “What is that?”

Faerie looked at the small, winged creature with the pitchfork. “I don’t know.” she answered. “I’ve never seen something like that before.” she then shuddered. “But there’s a strange energy radiating off of it. Be careful.” she warned. “It’s not of this world.” 

“Not of this world?” Duran questioned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” 

“It’s not a creature of natural origin.” Faerie explained. “It doesn’t come from this plane of existence.”

“Mmph mph mpmph.” Eliza said, speech muffled. Riesz then uncovered her mouth. “That wouldn’t surprise me.” the blue haired amazon said. “Since the Nevarlans came, strange creatures have been appearing around here, especially at night.” she then looked at the small, purple being. “Even the harpies have been avoiding traveling at night.”

“Harpies?” Duran asked.

“Bird women.” Angela said. “I saw them once in one of Jose’s books. They’ve got the head and top half of a woman, but wings and talons like birds of prey.”

“So, they’re like beastmen sort of?” Kevin questioned. “Half man and half animal?”

“Um...I suppose you could say that.” Eliza said, thinking it over. 

“Are they making any moves towards Laurent?” Riesz questioned. “Goodness knows that they’d be thrilled that we’ve been knocked out.”

“You’d think that.” Eliza said. “But surprisingly, they don’t go near the borders of the citadel.” she then gave a light ‘hmm’, as if wondering something. “And I bet it’s because that is the source of where these strange creatures are coming from. If not even the harpies like them, then they’re definitely bad news.”

Though no one was wishing to say much as they were trying to stay quiet already, yet it seemed that one of them was quite deep in thought. “You’ve been awfully quiet.” Duran whispered to Hawkeye, who said nothing. 

Kevin noticed this as well. “What’s wrong?” Still, the thief said nothing.

Had he not seen it, he wouldn’t have linked it to her at all. Yet there was no mistaking it, not just his guild, but these unnatural creatures were here due to Isabella. And he knew the secondary part, as he had, if just for a brief second, beheld her true form, or at least part of it, that fateful night with Eagle. Her twisted features, feminine, yet they were in no way human. They were that of a demon, it couldn’t be anything else. And who better than to summon, as Faerie put it, creatures not of this world? Though he couldn’t see it, Riesz appeared to have similar convictions. If not the witch that had murdered her father, then who else could’ve brought these creatures into the world? And if something as small as that was on the path, then who knew what lay in the citadel?

If the two could’ve read the others’ mind at the moment, they would’ve seen just how similar their goals were. 

Suddenly, everyone felt the hair on the back of their necks begin to rise, Hawkeye in particular growing cautious. And then- “Look out!” he shoved Charlotte out of the way, the shuriken barely missing her as it embedded itself in the rock she was formerly standing behind. 

Turning around fast, everyone could see that they had been followed: a group of Nevarlan assassins stood above them, their darkened eyes leering down at them. The shout alerted the creature, the summoned imp, to the group of seven, surveying the intruders to ‘his’ turf.  Now they were REALLY caught in between a rock and hard place. 

More shurikens came their way, everyone being forced to move, yet as they moved past, the imp put his fingers in his mouth and whistled, several others of his kind hearing his call and appearing from various places, mainly in shadowed areas. The assassins went ahead of them, they all appeared to be angry at this, mainly because they wanted to get the meddlesome intruders first. Nevertheless, they were ordered by their summoner to not cause too much trouble to their human ‘allies’, as both were an asset. Of course, if one or two of them were caught in the crossfire, or maybe they played ‘too rough’ with them, then...there were always more of them to go around.

The seven went as fast as they could, yet the winding, narrow road didn’t leave much flexibility for them. Charlotte up and nearly fell over the edge, and had it not been for Kevin and Duran catching her, she very well would have. They shimmied and traveled as quickly as possible, avoiding the incoming projectiles coming their way. And if that wasn’t enough, the newly alerted imps were joining the human adversaries, throwing their pitchforks in their direction. And unlike the shurikens, the supernaturally charged weapons returned to their owners for them to throw them again. They went on and on, barely dodging their enemies’ attempts on their lives when finally, they spotted an unusual sight. 

A vast field of flowers.

“Ah, yes!” Eliza cried out excitedly. “Hurry! We’re almost there!” 

“What the?” Angela, along with everyone else, was confused. “The hell’s a meadow doing in a place like this?”

“Never mind that!” Riesz yelled. “Make haste there! It’s our only chance!” 

With little option, they dashed towards the field of flowers, yet upon reaching the border, they stopped. “Wait.” Faerie said. “These flowers…” she said. “They have a strange power to them.” She then looked to Riesz and Eliza. “What are they?”

“Just hurry!” Eliza pleaded. “They’re coming!” The assassins and imps hot on their trail, the group entered the field, running through the thickened, dense collection of flora, the assassins and imps following suit. 

Yet as they went along, five of the seven began to slow down. “Huh?” Faerie questioned, sensing that Duran’s mind was going through some alterations. “What’s going on?”

“I...I don’t know.” Duran said. “I...I’ve got to stop for a sec.” he paused, holding his head. 

“I...I’m feeling weird.” Angela added. “And...sort of good.” dare say, she felt rather...euphoric.

“Y-Yeah.” Kevin agreed. He then looked at the flowers. “Pretty…”

“Hey…” Charlotte giggled. “I nevew noticed...but I Duwan…” she then tugged on his auburn locks. “Youw haiw’s so smooth…”

“Has my hair always been this purple?” Angela asked, examining her own hair. She then looked to Hawkeye. “So is yours! Heh heh...we’re a couple of purple heads!” 

Everyone suddenly broke into mad giggles save for Riesz and Eliza. Yet despite his altered state, Hawkeye looked to the two amazons.

“What’s...heh...going on?” 

“It’s ok.” Eliza said. “It’s just the effects of the samnosa blossoms.”

“Sa...mnosa? Sounds yummy.” Kevin asked, a smile plastered on his face. He then knelt down and bit one of the petals, chewing it. “Tastes like...grass…”

Everyone giggled as if unseen hands were prodding and tickling them. “You look like a cow!” Angela chortled, then noticing Duran. “Hey…” she then felt the soldier’s abdomen. “You always been this built, beefcake?”

“H-Hey! Watch it!” he flinched shyly.

“Oooh, ticklish?” Angela asked, fingers wiggling mischievously. 

“N-No! Sto-ha-p!!!” she leapt and began attacking him, scribbling over his toned stomach.

Hawkeye observed everyone, looking to the two amazons. He too was just as high as the others, yet found himself a bit more composed. If anything, he was more confused than anything else. Despite the euphoria that was steadily overtaking him, the thief still had concerns weighing on his mind. “We...we gotta go.” he stammered. “Those guys...they’re coming.”

“They won’t make it past the field.” Riesz answered. “I should’ve told you of this protective measure first, yet ultimately, it doesn’t matter now, I suppose.” the thief tried to rise, yet fell to the ground. Charlotte was completely out, snoring away while Kevin was still trying to eat the flowers. Angela still assaulted Duran with tickles, Faerie practically begging the two to get up. 

“Here they come!!!” the winged woman cried out, the assassins rushing towards them. Yet when they went past the edge of the field, they stopped, the effects taking hold of them.

“Huh?” one of them said, looking down at their targets. “Oh yeah. We...we’re supposed to kill you, right?” he drew out a knife, yet his swings were sluggish and sloppy. Soon, he fell to the ground, a sleepy haze overcoming him.

“Y-Yeah.” another said. “But...I don’t feel it, man.” he then noticed Hawkeye. “Hey there. It’s been awhile, man.” he then patted him on the back. “Where’ve you been?”

“Um...just...around.” Hawkeye said, yawning. Goddess, he felt tired. “So...how are things?”

“Oh, you know.” he murmured drunkenly. “This and that...this place is nice.” he looked at the flowers. “Never knew a place as pretty as this was here.” then, he slumped over, having fallen asleep. Everyone else seemed to do the same: Kevin was out with a flower in his mouth while Duran and Angela were atop of each other, the princess’ head resting on the soldier’s chest. Soon, the assassins, along with everyone save Hawkeye, Eliza and Riesz were deep asleep, snoozing away without a care in the world. 

But then, they all realized. “Sh-Shoot!” Eliza cried out, seeing the swarm of purple creatures coming their way. “I forgot about those things!” Riesz gasped in terror, then, the blue amazon ran forward. “I’ll go get help!” she dashed off, leaving them alone. 

Riesz looked at everyone, seeing they were in no condition to fight. Hawkeye tried to rise, yet stumbled as he tried to stand. “What do we do?!” Faerie cried out.

Indeed, to her shame, the blonde captain didn’t think this through. She prepared her lance to fight the imps off, they seemingly unaffected by the power of the samosa blossoms. 

“ATTACK!” a voice shouted, a blue haired woman garbed in maid’s clothing leading the charge along with several other women, some garbed in Nevarlan attire, yet all equipped with spears. The crowd attacked the unnatural creatures, striking them down and combating them. The small, winged creatures threw their pitchforks and stabbed at the human women, fighting back rather well despite their size. Other women came and collected the sleeping figures, allies and foes alike. 

Hawkeye didn’t protest, let alone have the strength to fight back as a woman lifted him up and slung him over her shoulder, he saw Riesz readying herself to fight alongside her sisters. Then, everything went black.

Base of the Mountain

Harcypete was waiting for one good reason as to why she shouldn’t tear this blonde human to shreds, her glare speaking just that.

“You don’t believe me, I can tell.” Koren said. “I suppose I can’t blame you. Your kind’s interactions with humans, specifically those amazons, haven’t been positive.” How did he know of that? Suddenly, a voice came to be heard, the violet haired harpy coming down out of concern for her leader. Harcypete alerted her to stay back, the head of the harpies directing her attention to the sorcerer yet again. She gazed at him inquisitively, unsure at what he was getting at, yet nonetheless wanted him to get to the point. “Your people were here first, weren’t they? You once ruled the mountains. Yet the humans came and overtook the land. Drove you to only the highest, most hidden parts, didn’t they?”The younger harpy was puzzled as to what this human and the dark knight were here for, yet nonetheless, listened as did her leader. She gave a light trill, yet Harcypete urged her to be quiet. “Well, what if I told you that we are sympathetic to your plight?” Koren said. “In fact, we are willing to help you in getting back your land, both from the amazons AND the new forces that invaded the kingdom.”

Harcypete shook her head, as if to say ‘You lie.’

“I can’t blame you for not believing me.” Koren said, yet then lifted his hand, a fireball manifesting in it. Then, it turned into a ball of floating ice, then one of thunder. Then, he directed it towards one of the boulders nearby, the entire rock being consumed in surging electricity before blowing apart, burning, charred shards spread on the ground. Harcypete and her younger ward looked at Koren, surprised. “Not everyday you see a human with magic, is it?” he asked, pleased by their reaction. “And, if I may be so bold, I think you’re also aware of something else that can bestow an even more powerful magic. A…” he smirked. “Certain stone, if you will.”

The Next Morning

“No...no more.” he moaned. “I can’t take it…Angela…” 

“Hey. Hey, get up.” 

Duran groaned, opening his eyes to see Faerie fluttering in front of him. He surveyed his surroundings to see that he, Kevin, Hawkeye, and Charlotte were inside a cell with what appeared to be slumbering Nevarlan inhabitants, the same that probably went after them. “Where…” the soldier yawned, standing (even if he stumbled a bit doing so). “Where are we?” 

“The amazonian secret base. Or rather, it’s holding cells.” Duran turned to see a blue haired woman garbed in maid’s clothes and Riesz standing outside the bars. Faerie gave a cry of surprise and disappeared. “And if not due to the word of our princess here, you would be our prisoners.” the blue haired woman surveyed the other figures inside the cell, noting Charlotte in particular. “Though, I admit, we have yet to see a Nevarlan agent that short.”

Despite the fact she was still asleep, he could’ve sworn that she murmured “Am not…” 

Duran rubbed his face. “Where’s Angela?”

“In a spare bed. Seeing as she and the princess weren’t garbed in the same clothing as you, they weren’t considered a threat. And though she already alerted us of how you’re not affiliated with Nevarl…” the blue haired woman paused, giving a glance at Hawkeye. “Well, you were already asleep.”

 “You carried us in. Surely it wouldn’t have taken that much to give us a bed.” Duran then yawned. “What was in those flowers?”

“Samnosa blossoms.” the blue haired woman said. “They’re the reason this place is so protected. Rest assured, once exposed to their pollen, you develop a natural immunity to it.” she then smiled. “Although, if the roots are crushed and smoked, you get a similar effect, just without the drowsiness. It’s quite popular down in Palo. Shame you couldn’t sample some yourself.” She then looked at the blonde princess.

“Alma! I couldn’t!”

“Just one puff won’t kill you. Besides, it might be just what you need.”

“Um...well,” Riesz looked at Duran. “I’ve already told them the details of what has occurred, both down in Palo, as well as what we all are here for. So you have nothing to fear, Faerie.” hearing this, the winged woman manifested herself to be seen, the blue haired woman looking upon her.

“I never would’ve suspected I would see one of your kind.” she said, astonished. “And here I thought I had seen it all in the war.”

“The war?” Duran’s eyes widened. “You mean…”

Riesz nodded. “I present to you, Alma.” the blonde young woman gestured to the older woman. “Greatest Captain of the Amazon Guard, hero of the Peddan War, and one of the valiant souls that built the very Kingdom of Laurent.” 

“Former captain.” Alma corrected. “And greatest is an overstatement.” 

“I won’t take it back.” Riesz said definitely. Alma gazed at her with just as intense a gaze, the two staring at each other. Ultimately though, the younger relented, averting her gaze. Indeed, even after all these years, the blue haired woman’s eyes could best hers. “Anyway,” Riesz cleared her throat. “We should wake everyone else up and get down to business. We have a meeting to attend.” 

More amazon women came, armed with spears. The cell doors were opened, and the women went in and took the still sleeping figures out, lying them on the ground. Charlotte had a small bit of drool trailing out of the side of her mouth while Kevin snored, displaying his surprisingly developed canines. And while she tried to avert her gaze, Riesz couldn’t help but find her eyes locking onto the violet haired thief. His tanned features appeared so smooth and serene. Dare she say...cute. Thankfully, he began to stir, Riesz averting her gaze from him as he woke up. “Oh...hey there.” he greeted,  Riesz stiffening. “What’d I miss?” 

“Nothing much.” Duran said, still trying to rid himself of the sleepy feeling. “Apparently, we’re due for a meeting.”

In the corner of his eye, however, the thief noticed several other Nevarlan thieves in the cell, all asleep. He got up and noticed more cells, each with its own small collection of prisoners. Yet these prisoners, unlike the drunken patrons last night, were still and quiet, as if they were the undead. “Yes.” Alma stated. “Alcohol seems to loosen the effect of whatever spell’s been placed on them, yet it’s not strong enough to break it. By the time it wears off, they go back to this state.” 

His eyes searched the cells, yet fell upon a short, purple, feline-like creature. “Niccolo!” Hawkeye cried out, getting near the cell. “Niccolo! Hey, what are you doing here?!” the small cat didn’t answer. “Niccolo! Hey, Niccolo!”

“He won’t answer.” Alma explained. “We found this one trailing with some of the other thieves following us back here.”

Hawkeye was crestfallen upon hearing this. The little cat’s eyes were glazed over, appearing dead to the world around him. “Niccolo…” 

“I hate to interrupt,” Alma then spoke up. “Yet our captain requests that there be a meeting. And that all are to be present there.” 

Hawkeye gave one last look at the cat before turning away, cursing the witch that had done all this. As well as the several leers and glares he received from the women all around him.

Later

After readying themselves (as well as putting on their normal attire), the other five joined Riesz and the rest of the inhabitants of the base, all gathered around a table and surveying a map that detailed the layout of the mountainous area. “So,” Riesz began, pointing towards the flower field outside the base. “According to Domperi,” indeed, when she had mentioned that name, everyone seemed to be shocked that they had managed to get a word in with the legendary (albeit tiny) strategist, “The first step is to conjure up a whirlwind in the samnosa field, and drive the petals and pollen to the kingdom.” she then moved her finger to Laurent. “That shall take care of any outside forces, allowing us to infiltrate the citadel and take it back. But in order to do that, we need the power of Sylphid.” 

“And to do that,” Alma spoke up. “You need to go through the Gusthall.”

The other five members of the party were confused. “Gust...hall?” Angela asked, raising a brow.

“Where the Mana Stone rests, and where Sylphid guards it.” Alma answered. “It was constructed by the first peoples of this land at an unknown time, and then sealed up to keep the Stone of Wind safe.” she then looked at her princess. “Yet I suppose, it must now be opened. I and Joster once traveled there to rescue your mother from the hand of Olbex, Nevarl’s general, and it is to Sylphid that we owe our gratitude for saving her life.” 

“Yes, I know the story.” Riesz answered, noticing how several glares were being directed at Hawkeye. “Yet that is the way we must proceed. We-”

“Why is he here?” someone interrupted, pointing at the violet haired thief. “He belongs to them, doesn’t he?”

Riesz tightened her lips. Though she had a feeling that this would come, that didn’t mean she liked having to deal with it. “Yes, I’m more than aware of where he’s from.”

“Then what’s he even doing in this room?” another amazon asked. “Why isn’t he in the cells with all his other ‘friends’?” 

Despite his calm silence, it was clear that Hawkeye was steadily growing uncomfortable. “Hey, listen, I know how this looks.” he admitted. “But I’m not with any of them, let alone like what they’re doing.”

“Then why did you come here? Unless it was to join them?” another amazon added. “Or did the desert whores there not satisfy you anymore?”

To Riesz’s and everyone else’s shock, a deadly fire lit up in the once composed thief’s eyes, looking as if he were pondering whether or not to spring up and take action. And indeed, he was seriously considering it, yet ultimately, with a deep breath, he simmered down. “The women here are quite lovely here.” he then said smoothly. “And there are many girls back home that remind me of you fair girls.”

“And I suppose those girls can be bought by a few pretty words?” someone else asked. “Sorry, but that doesn’t work with us.”

“They’re pretty, yes, but they’re the truth.” Hawkeye replied. “And it’s also the truth that I AM on your side.” he then paused, about to be reminded of a painful fact. “After all, if I was with them, why am I able to get out more than a few words and talk normally?”

Everyone looked at each other, pondering this fact. “Well...that’s true.” Eliza spoke up, dressed in her battle attire. “And, well, he did help out with the ‘show’ last night.”

“Don’t be a fool, Eliza. It could all be a ruse.” someone retorted. “Maybe this ‘Isabella’ they seem to worship let this one’s mind go free willingly.”

It was then that Hawkeye lost a bit of control. “I have NO affiliation with that witch.” he snarled. “She is the very reason that I had to leave.” 

“And why is that?” another amazon asked. “I heard that a friend of yours was killed, yet you didn’t say the reason how or why.” Hawkeye kept it together, yet he couldn’t help but notice the several eyes on him. “Sounds rather suspicious to me.” several of the other women whispered to each other about this, all the while glancing at him and to each other. “Maybe...he did it.” an icy chill filled the entire room. “In fact...maybe we have a murderer standing with us in this very room.”

“What?! N-No!” Eliza protested. “Don’t be ridiculous!” Everyone looked at her, she was feeling rather foolish. “I mean...yes, I don’t really KNOW him, but...he doesn’t really seem like a killer.”

“They never do.” Gertrude said. “Did Olbex appear to be an evil man? Yet he threatened our King and abducted our Queen. And even more, he tried to make slaves out of the refugees!” 

“Slaves?” Hawkeye was confused, what was all of this? He had never heard of this.

“And he tried to kill his brother’s killer, along with the daughter of his second in command! And that man did us no favors either!” 

“Daughter?!” the thief exclaimed. “What are you-”

“If this desert rat is with the rest of them, then who’s to say he doesn’t have some blood on his hands?” 

“Hey, that’s going a bit too far.” Kevin spoke up. “You don’t know the first thing about Hawkeye.”

“And what’s a beastman doing in here as well? Weren’t these savages the one that took over Jadd?” 

“Hey! Kevin is NOT a savage! You’re all being really mean!” Charlotte retorted. 

“And someone get this kid out of here!” 

“Geez, you all have a broom shoved up where the sun doesn't shine?” Angela scoffed. 

“We’re devoted to our kingdom! Unlike you, who was thrown out of yours!” 

Angela brought out her staff. “I can send you crashing through the nearest wall in a flash, bitch!”

“And what of Richard, who was too weak to defend his?! A so called ‘hero’ of the war indeed!”

“Don’t you DARE speak of His Majesty like that!” Duran shouted.

“And what do you plan to do about it? From what I heard, you couldn’t even finish off a single man, twice!” 

The young man drew out his sword. “Those flowers don’t work anymore, so come on! Let’s step outside!” 

“ENOUGH!!!”

The sound of wood being run through drew everyone’s attention. Riesz stood there, her lance jammed in the table. Upon seeing she had gained her audience back, she removed her weapon and began speaking again. “I am at the helm of this operation! As well as the one who has traveled with these five! Some shorter than others, yet we have had battles we have shared and survived together! And we shall survive more! Including the one drawing very near!” the blonde captain then took in a deep breath, calming herself down. Nevertheless, she remained firm. “We have all suffered under the attack of Nevarl, and our people now live in fear because of the invaders.” she noticed glares being shot in Hawkeye’s direction again. “But,” she continued. “What good will fighting among ourselves do? Honestly, I expected better from you. Has life outside the citadel’s walls caused you to be this petty and unfocused?” this seemed to get several of her fellow amazons to look down in shame. “We must band together, now more than ever. And it is not just to take back Laurent.” she then looked at Duran. “If I may, Faerie? Perhaps you could explain this better than I can.”

“M-Me?” the winged woman manifested, earning many wide eyes studying her. The small creature felt nervous under their gaze, yet ultimately, she fluttered down to the table, landing and allowing her wings to stop moving. “Well...while your situation has something to do with it, the main issue is how it affects the entire world.”

“What issue?” Eliza questioned.

“Mana is disappearing from the world.” Faerie said. “And there are forces that wish to acquire and break the seals on the Mana Stones.”

“What?!” Merci shouted. “But...but the Stones hold the-”

“The Benevodons, yes.” Faerie confirmed. “And even more, these forces are trying to gain passageway to the Mana Sanctuary, and subsequently, the Mana Sword.”

“By the Goddess…we’re dead.” 

“Hold a moment.” Riesz said. “She’s not done.”

“I left the Sanctuary and found my current host, Duran.” she gestured to the Valsenan soldier. “He shall be the one to wield the Mana Sword.” the amazons appeared shocked at this, the fact that the soon to be wielder of such a legendary weapon being in this very room. “And these five have their own reasons for joining him on this quest, yet rest assured, their involvement will be for the benefit of all. Especially you.” 

Everyone was silent, looking at each other and pondering the words the winged woman had said. Then, finally, Duran spoke up. “Well, if that’s taken care of, then what are we waiting for?”

Faerie thought of this. “Hm, no reason really.” she fluttered up to him. “In fact, we’ve probably stayed longer than we should’ve.” 

“Then let us go.” Riesz said. “To the Gusthall we go.” 

“Wait!” Eliza then called out. “Shouldn't...well, some of us go with you? I mean, there’ve been a lot of strange creatures that have appeared on the mountain trails.”

“Which is why I shall be accompanying them.” Everyone looked to see the blue haired woman stepping up. 

“Auntie?” Eliza said, shocked. “But...but your leg. You...well, you know…”

“I’ve still got fight in me left.” Alma answered. “Besides, I’ve been wishing to get out and give those intruders a piece of my mind.” 

Hearing the words of their former captain got everyone pumped up, Alma shooting her princess a confident smile. “Well...if that’s the case, then we best depart.” she then turned to everyone. “Go prepare, we set out soon.” 

With that, everyone went their separate ways, Riesz about to do so as well, yet a hand was placed on her shoulder. “If I may, and if you don’t wish to do so, I understand.” Alma sighed. “But...I feel that you are owed to seeing it.”

Outside

The blonde knelt down in the field of flowers, a stone marker in front of her, marked with the crest of her kingdom. It was clear that it was meant to be a grave, and beside it was another just like it. 

“Father…” Riesz breathed out.

“We weren’t able to recover his body.” Alma said, placing a hand on the kneeling young woman’s shoulder. “But...I suppose in some way, he can now rest with your mother.” she saw her princess flinch, yet still, no whimper came out from her. “Any news of Elliot?”

Riesz shook her head. “...he was once in Beiser.” her fist shook. “Held in a cage and sold like an object.”

“Sold?!” Alma cried out. “To who?!”

“The owner of the trade only said something about a man with ‘red eyes’.” Riesz explained. “Yet...I suppose it’s something to go off of.”

“He certainly doesn’t sound like a ‘natural man’.” her nursemaid said. “Perhaps he is connected to the other unnatural creatures that have been roaming around here.” yet speaking of unusual figures, “I must ask you.” Alma said. “Are you sure that we can trust that young man?”

Riesz needed no further information as to whom she was talking about. “He is from enemy territory, that I won’t deny.” the princess said. “And indeed, I know that many are calling for him to be outright imprisoned along with the rest of them.”

“And even hotter heads want him and the rest of them outright dead.” 

Riesz nodded in acknowledgement. “And I admit, he has his...tendencies.” she said. “But so far, he has yet to harm me, let alone anyone else. Though, technically, we have all just gotten together recently.” 

Silence fell in between the two, Alma somewhat torn. “Well...so far, I’ve had little reason to trust your judgement.” she answered. She didn’t wish to say she outright distrusted Hawkeye, but nevertheless, all possibilities had to be accounted for. “Yet...should he betray us…”

“Then I will deal with him.” her princess assured. “Should it come to that.”

Alma nodded. “Well, should you need me, then I shall be with you.” 

“Thank you, Alma.” Riesz then rose. She then heard several other footsteps, looking to see the other five hanging back, not getting too close out of respect. Yet still, she directed her attention to Hawkeye. “Please understand, this situation has been taxing on my people.” she told him. “Many are calling for the blood of the invaders, and I wish for there to be no more carnage. Yet…” she sighed. “Once we move on Laurent, I cannot guarantee anything.” 

The thief averted his gaze for a moment. “But...you still don’t trust me, do you?”

Riesz was silent for a moment. “I...won’t lie. Aspects of your story are odd, and many details are missing.” she explained. “Just...please. Don’t disappoint me.” she then looked up at the large mountain. The distance they would have to travel would be long, yet ultimately, the journey would have to be made. 

All she could hope for was that any potential threats would at least be manageable. The last thing they needed was any more trouble.