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Rated: E · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2190663
Operation Sea-Fever

Operation Sea-Fever

“Khayn Ahara would be proud.”

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The Tears in the area crouched down immediately, and instinctively, in fear. Some, despite all of their supernatural abilities, put their hands on their heads and froze, like children in the throes of panic.

The Illumanatii — or golden riders as the Outriders had originally referred to them — withdrew their crossbows, made no attempt to take cover and stood their ground. They looked around, trying desperately to find the source of the familiar-sounding attack, but this amounted to little more than frustration, pointing, and shouting at each other in confusion. Treinen, and a few others with pouches attached to their shoulders, took handfuls of reagents as they continued to scan the tops of buildings and the ancient ramparts of The Greywall. There were arrows scattered all over the square, some mere inches from their feet, including Hazel’s.

For all of this, Jace and Hazel’s eyes never broke contact, as if they were isolated from the chaos around them. She shook her head again, this time slowly. She was in awe of him, amused in spite of herself. Jace narrowed his eyes, and registering her expression, it took him slightly aback. But then their attention snapped simultaneously to a loud voice, and the young sharpshooter it belonged to, who was just now stepping out of the shadows.

​“To everyone in the forum,” Malcolm Hawkins said with his arms hanging loose at his sides. He was standing on the edge of a platform near the top of The Greywall, his right hand holding his bow. “You are currently covered in what we sharpshooters call a dynamic crossing pattern. If any of you Tears down there took part in the guerrilla-style attacks outside Fairlawn, around the Gap of Ezru, were part of the action in Bryce Valley, or the skirmishes in the provinces, you’re aware that means you’re screwed. For everyone else, that means you’re screwed. We can kill anything that moves in the square.” He paused. “And above it,” he added for the benefit the two lookouts standing on top of the wall above the gate. However, their rigid, nervous postures showed there had been no need for further clarification.

Behind Jace, the guard who had kicked him let out a scream of rage and stepped forward, raising both crossbows, apparently hoping he might kill the Outrider’s before being struck down. The defenseless Dabriel barely moved, except for ever-so-slightly arcing his head back against the giant ground stones of the square. The act gave Jace an upside down view of a single arrow whistling straight into one of the young guard’s temples and out the other. The screech and shot happened so fast, that the sanguine projectile was stuck in a wagon on the other side of the gate even before the golden rider fell in a neat corkscrew down into a lifeless heap.

“So, I mean, if you require any further examples we can do this all day,” Malcolm went on, having never moved a muscle. The killing shot had come from somewhere else. Jace was still flat on his back, but he was squinting back up to the sky now. He huffed out a relieved exhale as he listened to Malcolm’s echoing voice. “Everyone drop your weapons or the gorgeous redhead dies!”

​“None of you listen!” Hazel yelled, and the authority in her voice dwarfed that of the young bowman above, despite him having every advantage. “That’s an order! Stand fast!”

​Another shot, not fired by Malcolm, screeched down and landed in front of her boot.

​“Final warning!” Malcolm bellowed.

​“Stand fast!” Hazel repeated, but to her surprise, her Illumanar began dropping their weapons. “What are you doing!” she demanded, confused and angry. “I gave you an order!”

​“I’m sorry, Mistress,” Treinen said, and her attention shot to him, shock and anger glistening in her eyes. “Your father would insist that we comply,” he said and then he too dropped his crossbows to the ground. He exchanged a very brief glance with Jace, and this seemed to spur the Outrider’s to his feet, which he did with a grunt.

The sudden quiet felt strange as Malcolm said nothing further, and it added to the tension in the air. It was a clear lull, a calculated pause, and every second carried with it the undefinable sensation of a slingshot pulling back.

Now standing, Jace stepped over to the pair of crossbows his would-be-killer had dropped as he was dispatched.

Then he moved toward Treinen.

“Got those keys, old friend?” he asked. Treinen tossed them over without hesitation, and the Outrider held up one of the crossbows so that the keyring landed around it. “Yes, it was worth it, by the way.” Now he turned and walked toward Hazel, pointing both of his bound hands forward. “You mind?”

Standing mere inches apart once more, Jace caught the scent of rose oil again, but he was careful not to react. Hazel reminded him so much of Isabelle, that he found it more unnerving than any other element around him, and the phenomenon was only heightened when she leaned forward to whisper in his ear. Even her mannerisms were exact. And yet it wasn’t just imitation. It was much more than that, something natural.

As she spoke, she took her time unlocking his irons with her mouth almost touching his ear. “Haven’t been wandering lost all this time after all, eh?” ​The first clasp fell free from Jace’s left hand. “Maybe dad was right about you.” Hazel shook his wrists hard as she jostled the key on his right wrist now. It, too, fell loose.

With his newly freed hand, Jace touched the back of his head, then brought his fingers in front of his eyes, checking for blood. ​“Maybe,” he said. “Mind telling me where he is?”

“Nah,” Hazel said, laughing a little. Then she reached forward to touch Jace’s filthy collar. The sudden movement might have been interpreted as hostile, but the Outrider let her do it, and fortunately for her, so did the Whistlers.and though the sudden movement might have been interpreted as hostile, he let her, and fortunately for her, so did the Whistlers. “Well done,” she said, shaking the fabrics to reference his appearance.

​“Thanks,” Jace said, but his attention had shifted away from her as he clipped the enemy crossbows to his hips. They fit so perfectly, that they could have been Outrider-issued. This done, he looked up to, and signaled the watchtower platform.

Malcolm nodded, slipped on his archer’s glove, and assumed a firing position. At first, it wasn’t clear what he was aiming at, but following his line of sight revealed his focus was near The Greywall gate, specifically the elaborate pulley system that was exposed in a slit beside it.

​Another shriek of an arrow — music to its allies, terror to its enemies — and a sharp ping was heard of severing metal, right at the point where the cables intersected. The complex mechanism of chains began to unravel. Even among the famed skill of the Whistlers, it was a masterful shot.

​Malcolm stood straight immediately after releasing the shot, knowing he had hit his mark even before the commotion of gates opening all along the wall.

​“Good shot, that one,” Hazel said.

Jace shrugged. “He’s alright.”

​“The famous Malcolm Hawkins, I presume. Not a faceless phantom after all.” Hazel looked back to Jace. “How’d they infiltrate?” she asked, her tone light.

​Jace didn’t respond, but he didn’t have to.

She closed her eyes and smiled.

​“The Greywall wasn’t as secure as we thought,” she said.

​“I guess it was called to defend Zarponda one more time,” Jace said. “Awfully big piece of architecture to defend with anything less than an army. And illusory ones, unfortunately, just don’t get the job done. All kinds of ways to get into it, if you know it’s secrets that is.”

“Khayn Ahara would be proud.”


“That how you know about the secrets? Hm? Talking to ghosts with your Due Timer friends?”

Jace shook his head, looking totally relaxed. He pretended to stifle a yawn, but only to irk Hazel, as the nonchalance was just an act. In fact, it was all he could do to keep his hands from shaking amidst all the tension.

“No,” he said. “I grew up playing in that wall.”

“Pretending to be Khayn then?”

Jace smiled.

“Raven Lale.”

Now Hazel smiled as well, and in that moment, the two could have been sharing a casual conversation on a beautiful, peaceful day.

“Ah, of course, of course. You’re an Adamant Gaze kid. You know, we’re standing in his Square.”

“Yes. I am. And yes. I know,” Jace said, and his tone made the words sound strangely like an admission.

“Well, then, let me talk to Dorsey a second: You can blindly do what my mother bids, but you stumbled into what’s happening here by chance, nothing more. And you did so all-too-late, with stakes and causes you couldn’t possibly comprehend. This is a war whose end you’ll never see. I mean, seriously ... do you honestly believe any of you are getting out of this alive?”

The Outrider’s shrugged again as the rumble of a different kind rained down on the forum, and a single fighter airship split the sky above. On a low course over the city, it veered back around toward Galway Bay.

“I don’t know what I think, actually,” Jace said, and while everyone in the square lifted their eyes to the sky, Hazel and Jace’s remained locked together. “But things are lookin’ up.”

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If this were a routine mission, Jaret Brandon could have used the sapphires to update General Lockhardt. But Jaden had warned such communication could be monitored by Artemus Ward’s forces. What’s more, the Outriders and Whistler reconnaissance teams had reported something impeding their efficiency. Within The Greywall, and inside Zarponda, the devices worked normally. However the signals could not seem to cross from the plain to the city and vice-versa. Not even from the air. Therefore, the Lord of the Sky was forced to fly exceptionally low to get a message through to the forces on the ground. The risk of having those communications intercepted, at this stage of the operation, was simply a risk they had to take.

​“General Lockhardt, this is Brandon, copy?” he said when he was over the halted army at the base of the ridge. He glimpsed down at the sapphire to make sure it was glowing. It was.

​General Graydon Lockhardt squinted against the bright sunlight, shielding his eyes toward the shadowy outline of Jared Brandon’s ship. His forces had walked straight through an illusory army that appeared to be camped at the exact spot his own now found itself. Not even Jaden had known the enemy forces were just an illusion. That information had come from the prince they had all thought lost until just a few months prior. The general had known of Dorsey’s survival since the night Jaden came to them, but still, actually seeing him turn up just a few weeks later still felt like he was seeing a ghost. At first, he could not believe the teenage boy he knew was now an Outrider of Veil’driel, but now he took it as a matter of course. He was even getting used to calling him Jace now. He had been invaluable in the months since his arrival, but this mission was, by far, the most ambitious.

Below and before him was the joint Sindell/Veil’driel force under his command, and while the majority of their resources remained behind with General Creed, the sight was an impressive testament to the combined strength of Ciridian’s two greatest nations. As a young man, he had seen those two forces clash in a horrific conflict known as The Looking Glass War. Now, as an old one, he was co-commander of their united strength.

​“Yes. I read you. Loud and clear,” the general said into the sapphire in his hand. “What’s our situation, Jaret?”

Lockhardt was itching to get into the fight, as were his legions. They had been forced to watch, idle, up until now, unable to advance further than where they encountered and dispelled the illusion army that had been camped where he now stood. He had watched Jace scale the last high ridge before the city, alone, and now he was practically stamping in place as he awaited the intelligence that would unleash his attack.

​“The main objective of penetrating The Greywall has been accomplished. The prince is inside, along with Malcom and his Whistlers, but the apprehension of Hazel Lien has not yet been achieved.

Lockhardt walked his mount along the line, his accompanying riders moving in formation with him. “And?”

We’re ready to engage the enemy and we will desist upon your arrival. Raven Square, and the road leading in should be relatively clear by the time you arrive, but watch yourselves.

​“Understood,” Lockhardt acknowledged. He twisted in his saddle and watched the lone airship swing around over the plains behind them and then back towards the city. Some of his men cheered at the sight, and then he wheeled his mount and came back along the line. “I’ll meet ya at The Sloping Squire, eh?”

​“Copy that, general. First round’s on me, don’t be late.

​The sapphire Lockhardt held faded just as the boom of the airship vanished over the ridge that still blocked line of sight to Zarponda. He could feel the energy, rising like a storm. It was a different kind of adrenaline that he hadn’t felt in decades, and it filled him with a strength he was unaware he still possessed. The port city would still be quiet now, and he wondered if the inhabitants understood what they were seeing.

Lockhardt smiled tightly to himself. Months of preparation was coming together. No longer would they be confined to the maddening, claustrophobic, and heartsick operations of strictly defensive warfare.

​A chance to strike back after all this time.

​“The Sloping Squire?” Darvin Nash asked. “If it’s what it sounds like, am I invited?”

As the younger man approached, Lockhardt noted the high polish on his boots and approved. The Outrider had made himself indispensable over the previous weeks. In addition, his hatred of the Tears who had almost killed him and his family in Bryce Valley was absolute. It was good to have a man who could be trusted.

​“It is. And you are, Mr. Nash,” he said. He had grown to like the Outriders very much. It wasn’t just their their near supernatural skills in the saddle, it was that Lockhardt had always valued and appreciated competence above all. And Darvin Nash, in particular, was one of the most competent officers he had ever seen, in every single way. “Let’s sound the advance.”

​The Outrider nodded, acknowledging with a respectful: Sir. He was not required to salute, as he was not under the command of Sindell, nor an officer in Lockhardt’s ranks, but he did so anyway. He was on the verge of galloping away when the general added: “Keep your cavalry in reserve until our first wave reaches the gates. After that, you have permission to join with Mr. Lang and enter Zarponda as practicable.”

Darvin nodded, and Lockhardt finally snapped back a salute to conclude their business.

“Good luck, general,” the Outrider said, quietly, and then he was cantering back to the lines.

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​“Hazel. Don’t,” Jace was saying. “It’s not just the Whistlers. Lockhardt is out there with four legions. He has two Veil’driel cavalry legions with him, and Creed has the Helix Legions held in reserve. Zarponda is lost. It’s over. Just come with us.”

Hazel tilted her head back. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“No. I don’t think I’ll do that, Jace.” She opened her eyes and looked forward again, straight into his. “But I’m pretty sure you knew that.

“This isn’t who you are, Hazel. This isn’t who any of us are. No more games, no more clever banter ... just surrender the city and come with us. Come with me.”

“There’s an Outrider who could make me half-consider that offer ... but, and this must come as quite a shock to your Champion of Veil’driel ego ... he isn’t you.”

“Relic would be saying the same thing I am.”

Hazel shrugged.

“Yeah, but he’s not, though. And I don’t like you. So I’m thinking maybe we should just finish that fight we started, instead.”

The expression on Jace’s face was one of confusion, but it didn’t last long. Hazel’s eyes flashed through every color of the rainbow, and the Outrider knew she had been distracting him all this time.

With a sharp intake of breath, Dabriel looked over to see a sky fire unit had taken up position in the shadows below the watchtower Malcolm was standing near. Their reagents were already placed in the center of their circle, their necklaces already glowing, the comet charge was only seconds away.

​Malcolm was oblivious to the threat, as he had been focused on Jace’s interaction with Hazel, and then the sight of General Lockhardt’s legions moving into position. His companions, likewise, had become sufficiently complacent to miss the movement as well. After all, it was a hypnotizing spectacle; so much so that when Jace screamed up at him, the Whistler violently flinched.

​“Malcolm! Jump!”

Adrenaline coursed like fire through Malcolm’s veins. ​“Jump?” the bowman asked himself quietly, then he looked down to Jace. “Hell do you mean jum—!”

But when he saw the Outrider pointing to the circle of Tears, he had his answer. Streaks of amber lightning lanced up in a crackling web between them, anchored by their gemstone necklaces. There was no time to think. There was barely time to act, and so without the slightest hesitation, Malcolm leapt off the tower, still holding his bow.

In almost the same instant, the platform on which he’d been standing exploded, and the Whistler disappeared, crashing through the roof of one of the smaller, adjacent buildings.

Down in the forum, in what was known as Raven Square, all hell broke loose.

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Chapter Three  (E)
Nathaniel’s Potions and Herbs
#2190664 by Dan Hiestand
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