“Takumi?” Arora was surprised to hear that Takumi was here as well. She went with the others to free the captives. These poor people, but aside from being tied and gagged Arora saw they seemed unharmed and for that she was glad.
Arora also found the real Izana surprising. He didn’t act like she expected, but that was fine. At least he and everyone else were all fine. “I’m glad you’re safe, Archduke Izana.”
She was trying not to laugh along with Sakura. His informal manner was confusing but putting most of them at ease in a way, Arora noticed. Then there was Takumi, just like they said. He was safe as well. Arora sighed,”I’m glad you’re alright, Takumi. I know you probably still think I’m a traitor, but I’m just trying to stop this and fight the real enemy.”
It was all she could tell him or anyone. She couldn’t name the person or even the place, or give any details without risking the curse. It was a lot of missing information that made her story hard to believe. Rather convenient for the true enemy, she supposed. It was impossible to mention him or his location by name without dying.
Lucien stood watch as Leo started to turn to leave. “Go on, Arora. The real archduke should be inside. Along with the pathetic Hoshidan prince, Takumi.” Stepping aside he hit lightly kicked his horse in the side to bring it into a jog. Within minutes he was out of sight.
“What? Do you mean—” Sakura asked rushing forward after hearing about her brother. “Arora! The banquet hall is filled with people! They've all been tied up!”
“You can't be serious!” Lucien said rushing in behind and sure enofe she was right the entire hall was filled with people. All tired up and gaged. It took the better part of an hour but they finally were able to cut everyone free and find the real Archduke. One he was free he Lucien smiled. ‘This one should be better then the fake.’ He said to himself.
“You're here! You're here! You've finally come to rescue me! Thank you so much! You really saved my life! I'm absolutely starving! My tummy has been rumbling for hours now!” Lucien almost feel over at that.
“Are you truly the archduke of Izumo?” Valentine asked rising an eyebrow.
“Why yes! That's me! Archduke Izana, first heir to the divine bloodline, descen—”
Azura stopped him before he could give the same speech they had heard early. “Sorry, Archduke, but we've kind of already heard this...”
“Even the hair part?”
“H-he's even more informal than the imposter...” Sakura said giggling a bit.
“Ah! The fair Princess Sakura! I believe your brother is around here somewhere. He was left in a situation similar to my own. I can only imagine how hungry he is now...”
Sakura nodded “Takumi really is here?” Just then Takumi came out from behind some people looking first at Sakura then to Arora. His eyes settled on her for a long moment waiting to see what she had to say before he went off.
Arora felt pretty hurt after the exchange. She felt like they were close to convincing Leo. He could see reason, but the fact that they couldn’t name the true threat was a frustrating obstacle. It was amazing as many people took her word for it as they did. Even understanding that, Leo’s words stung,”Leo, I… I hope I can tell you one day.”
She wasn’t sure what else to say. She wanted to ask him to stay and help, but he wanted answers she couldn’t give. She just had to hope that one day he would understand. She couldn’t demand people believe her with her unable to say so much.
Arora looked at Lucien,”We still need to find the real archduke and make sure he’s alright.”
Hopefully he would be able to give them some answers to help them. Arora could use it since she was feeling down after Leo’s rejection.
Leo sit there on his horse overlooking everyone saying nothing only glaring at Arora. Leon could feel the anger coming from him. He locked eyes with her and finally said. “Why do you care traitor?” The voice rang out with ice.
“That cruel Leo.” Lucien said stepping forward. “She didn’t pick a side.”
“That right we found out that King Is being Manipulated by a third party.” Azura said stepping forward to help defend Arora.
This got his attentions he lifted his head to look them all. “What? How do you know this and what proof do you have?”
This cause Arora to pull back a bit as she looked over at Arora like trying to conform something. “Listen carefully. He didn't want to start a war with Hoshido. He's being controlled by our real enemy—someone hiding behind the scenes. This invisible foe is who we should really be after!”
Taking a few second to think about it he asked. “Well then, tell me who is pulling the strings. Name the Manipulator.”
This caused a few people to look away. Most didn’t understand why but they trusted Arora. “I’m sorry... we can’t say who it is.”
Leo anger seem to returned at this. “Unsurprising. I don't know why I wasted time listening to your ramblings. You're a traitor. I don't want to hear your excuses. Let me make this as clear as I can... You have abandoned our family, and I have extended you the same courtesy. I no longer think of you as my sister/brother. Got it? I only came here to clean up that vile mage. You and I will settle our differences some other time.” He started to turn and leave.
Just when Arora was sure they would have to surrender to save Sakura, Zola was defeated but not by any of them. She recognized that as well, though at first she wasn’t sure of she could believe it.
“Leo! I’m so glad to see you. Thank you for saving Sakura.” Her excitement at seeing her brother was not entirely enough to overcome the look he was giving her. Of course he didn’t understand, not yet. It kept her from rushing toward him, though she was still very glad to see him,”I was hoping for a chance to talk with you, and the others too.”
She wasn’t quite sure where to start explaining for Leo, especially given the things she couldn’t explain. So she hesitated and asked quietly,”How is everyone? How are you?”
“I’ll do anything I have to win.” He smiled evilly. “Even if that mean I have to hurt this girl. Now drop your weapons.” Suddenly what looked like branches started growing behind Zola. With intense ferocity they shot into the back of Zola forcing him to drop the knife and letting go of Sakura. “GYA” he screamed out in pain as the spikes shot thought his body. Lucien felt no pitty for the man as he felt like he knew that kind of magic. “It can't be... That magic…"
Walking out from the darkness was Leo holding his legendary spell book. Brynhildr “You were the lowest of the low, Zola... Hiding behind hostages—you disgraced the entire Nohrian army.” Zola looked in shocked before falling to the ground dead.
“Seems we owe you thanks for for saving Sakura.” Lucien said lowing his weapon. Leo said nothing as he just looked over the crowd as his eyes settled on Arora. They seemed anger but with a tinge of hurt.
Rather than an illusion it seemed they had been holding back a sizable force. Until Lucien mentioned some of them could be illusions, which made sense. Arora just couldn’t tell which was which, so the fight was hard.
Arora would be distracted by a fighter that turned out to be an illusion more than once, but one of those times a real enemy had come in at her side. She parried his blade, but his momentum sent them both tumbling to the ground. He’d landed on top of her, and there was a pretty bad pain in her him where she landed. Thankfully he was disoriented from the fall too, and she recovered. Arora was pretty sure she’d have a bruise from that. It wasn’t bad enough she had to stop and deal with it immediately, so she pressed on until they had the mage cornered.
Arora had been feeling pretty confident until the flash of light. “Sakura! Let her go!”
Not only was she afraid for her sister, Arora was furious that he’d hold her sister hostage like that. She wanted to attack, but there was no way they would be able to get to him before he hurt her. Arora grit her teeth, her knuckles white with how tight she was gripping her sword,”You’re despicable. So this is what you’re willing to do to win?”
The castle was luckily a one-way path so I wouldn’t be hard to stay together. Charging the push up into what looked like a small army of troops. “They can't have that many left, can they?” Some asked. “We don’t know how many troops they had in the first place but some could also be illusions.” Lucien said as the enemy charged.
Lucien had been right that somewhere Illusions but he been unlucky found that out. He gone to cut one of the troops down only to be stabbed in the back as his blade hit nothing. Letting out a pained cried he turned and cut down the enemy that had hit him. Luckily the wound wasn’t deep.
“Lucien are you okay?” Kaze asked running up to him.
“Yea” He hissed in clinched teeth. “It nothing just stings. Keep pushing I be a second.” He pulled a small position form his belt and downed it. Instantly the pain stopped and he let out a sigh of releaf.
Even with the illusions it didn’t stop everyone from pushing to the mage and his guards. ““Mweh-hehehehe! You can't possibly defeat me!” Zole laughed casting lighting at a group of them. His magic was powerful as but he couldn’t keep them all down. “Gah! I cant believe it.” he said once his back was against the wall.
“We've won. You can't escape now, Zola. Tell us where the archduke is!” Kaze said once he was surrounded.
“HA! You really think it'd be that easy? What a naive little boy you are. I always have an escape plan!”
“What are you—?!” Someone cried as a flash of light blinded everyone. Once it cleared Zola was holding Sakura with a knife to her neck.
“Ho! Look at me and my adorable hostage!” He laughed
“Arora” Sakura cried out in shock.
“Sakura! Let her go, Zola! Are you really going to stoop this low? Do the honorable thing!” Azura said.
“Let her go you monster or I’ll rip you limb for limb.” Lucien threated once he got closer.
“Pfft yo your honor! I'd rather win than be honorable! After all, the winner is the one who writes the history books! Now, put down your weapons! If you don't, the girl to get hurt.”
Arora was expecting a sudden attack, so she was pretty ready to defend herself. The men were skilled, but Arora had also been trained well and gotten a lot of experience lately, so she took down the man she was facing without too much trouble and went to help the rest, especially if she noticed them struggling.
The snow made things difficult, and Arora didn’t like the cold much. Especially when they had to fight. “Yeah, it is pretty annoying. At least it’s only annoying.”
The snow could have gotten worse, she supposed. It was getting a bit better though, and they were getting closer to the castle. Arora was concerned the castle would be difficult, but they had to press on to save Izana. Arora looked at the castle seriously,”We have to be cautious and stick together. The mage will be the biggest threat, and I’m concerned about the illusions. Whatever we do, we can’t get separated. They could confuse us or trap us, especially since we don’t know the layout and they probably do.”
Arora took the lead again to the castle, expecting that the enemy would again try to take advantage with some surprise attack or a trick.
Lucien would nod as he drew his two blades. He would keep close to Arora and let her know if anything smelled out of place. He had the best luck out of anyone if he knew if someone was being faked. “Take the lead we got your back.” He said taking a spot just behind her. Everyone else paired up and got ready to follow.
Just as suddenly as they started pushing, they got attack. Nohr soldier rushed out of the snow at them. Jumping to the side he stopped one of the two men rushing Arora. Leaving the second for Arora to handle. Being Nohr the soldier was well trained and would have been a problem for most unready for it but for him it wasn’t anything that he couldn’t handle.
After a short time of dancing blows Lucien was able to knock the other man weapon away and finish him with a quick blow to the head. Looking up he rushed to help some of the other who seemed to be having trouble. Once finished with the first group the regrouped the heal the wounded with was lucky small then kept pushing forward.
As they pushed more and more the snow around them would melt away showing off more troops and house. “This snow makes it hard to push but it seems one it hit it gone. It seems more annoying than anything.” He said after an hour of combat and clearing out most of the town. Leaving mostly the final push to the castle at the top. A few had to fall back to handle bad injury and pull guard on them. “How do you want us to handle the final push they may have a few men left plus that dam mage.” He asked turning to Arora.
Arora nodded, glad for the reassurance from Lucien. Even if he didn’t know the specifics, he could always tell when something was bothering her. He was right too. They needed to gather strength first.
The relief of finding Izana was short lived. Something didn’t seem entirely right here. She wasn’t the only one that looked uncomfortable. She just couldn’t put her finger on what, exactly, was wrong here. He didn’t know about the Seal of Flames? Arora frowned. That was frustrating.
It also didn’t make any sense. Such a thing was hardly unimportant, and she very much doubted it was ‘dull’. There was no reason for him not to know, as an excuse it was rather lame. She didn’t feel quite right about accepting the feast either. How had he known to prepare it anyway?
Even with her suspicions Arora was surprised to learn he was an imposter. A very skilled imposter, but not skilled enough. “Thank you, Gunter. Better to know what we’re up against.”
This was an imposter, and they had to save the real Izana. Arora stumbled back at the flash of light and sudden cold. Arora drew her sword,”We have to defeat the imposter and save the real Izana. Stay close, we can’t let the enemy draw us apart.”
If this Zola could use illusions like that it could be very dangerous if they got separated. He could confuse them and cause a lot of trouble before they figured out what was really happening. Arora moved forward slowly, ready for a surprise attack. At this point that was the sort of tactic she expected from this enemy.
Lucien looked around before patting Arora shoulder. “It be fine, worrying won't change anything.” He could tell form the look on her face that she was worried about the war. He didn’t want her stressing out over thing out of her control. “We are going to need more help and power before we can even thing about taking on our enemy in force.”
After a quick search the were led to Izana. He was tall with pure white hair and a carefree face. Lucien felt off from first sight. He couldn’t feel any holy power coming from him. Not like he could from his own mother or grandmother. Turning to them he smiled as he addressed there group. "I am Archduke Izana, first heir to the divine bloodline, descendant of the gods...keeper of prophecies, and winner of best hair...five or six times? I forget. It's so nice to finally meet you! I imagine your journey here was quite difficult. Time to kick back and relax! Izumo is a wonderful place. You could stay here forever!”
Lucien almost fell over from his intuition. He seemed not to be the only one as a few of the other seem to react the same. If he truly was the descendant of the god then he was nothing like his mother who was similar but a bit closer to the gods. “Th-thank you very much for such a warm greeting...” Azura said seem to be the quickest to recover.
“Oh, it's nothing! You know, I'm really glad you came! I rarely have company. I'm so excited, I hardly feel like myself!”
Hayato seemed to be the first one questioning his actions. “I don't understand... Why is he being so informal? Is this how all major leaders of the world are meant to behave?”
“No, they don't normally act this way. He's just...a special case.” Sakura said laughing softly.
“Pardon me, Archduke—we actually came here to ask you some questions.” Valentine asked stepping forward.
“Oh? What about? Ask away, my friends! If you've got any good gossip to share, I'd be ever so pleased to listen!”
“We were wondering if you could share what you know about the Seal of Flames.”
“Huh? The Seal of Flames? That sounds pretty boring to me... I don't bother remembering dull things.” Lucien clinched his fist starting to get a bit upset at the way the man was acting. This was on way a man in his position should be acting. He been raised by mother who did it and he felt as if it was mocking her and her connection to Naga
“I...see. Just when I thought we were going to catch a break, too.” Sakura said looking a bit disappointed.
“Hey now, don't look so disappointed! I've prepared a feast for you inside! You should eat, drink, and be happy while there is still time to do so!” Izana smiled waving them along with him.
Azura was ready to give up just yet as she step forward. “Wait. Are you sure you don't know anything about the Seal of Flames? The fate of the world may hang in the balance.”
“Grrr... I said I've never heard of it!” He said he voice growing darker.
Suddenly Gunther stepped forward and pushed Azura behind him. “Of course, you haven't, you’re imposter.”
Izana showed shock. “What? You're calling me an imposter? After I've prepared a feast for you all?”
Gunter had none of it as he readied his lance. “Don't be coy with me. It's plain to see you're hiding behind a magic illusion. Reveal yourself!”
“Ah! Gunter, you're no fun at all!” As Izana said this his form changed into a much shorter man that Lucien recognized as one of Iago assistance. “Zola - I knew it was you behind that magic!”
“Eeheehee! It's been a while, hasn't it?
“Gunter, who is this?” Azura asked.
“This cretin is a Nohrian mage. He specializes in illusions and deception. He one of Iago lapdog.
"But...then where is the real archduke?!” Sakura
“I'm afraid it's off to jail for him—the clink, the slammer, the cooler! Oooh, cooler! That reminds me—it's time to make use of King Garon's ice bomb! Everyone, fire! ...Hehe, fire the ice bomb...” With a flash of light suddenly everything was coved in snow.
“What the.” Lucien said as he felt his body temper change causeing him to shiver. He hated the cold and even more so snow.
“It's incredible... They've done something to encase the entire town in ice. We'll have to break through. The enemy is probably using this ice as cover. Be careful!” Azura said reading her own spear.
Arora smiled and got comfortable against Lucien. She didn’t mind sleeping outside, especially if Lucien was there, so she slept there. She fell asleep pretty quickly, and didn’t wake until it was morning and several other people were up and getting ready to go.
Arora got up to help pack up and ready everyone for the road. Tonight they would have to go back to the base to resupply, but she was hoping to make some progress first. Maybe even find some answers and power to help deal with the real problem they would eventually have to face.
She was glad it didn’t take too long to get to Izumo. They really were making fantastic progress. The place was also gorgeous. Arora kept looking around, taking in the beautiful sights,”It’s wonderful. Yes, we really should. We can’t delay too long.”
She still needed the answers here, but she knew while she went here it was likely Nohr and Hoshido were continuing their conflict. A conflict she wanted to end.
Lucien nodded as he looked down at her. “I understand and I trust you I always have always will.” He rested his head then letting her rest against his warm belly. “You should rest for now and we will worry more about it when the time comes.” She had to know something but she couldn’t tell him meant that whatever was up was bigger than he knew. Again, he was led back to what Grima had said to him. Was he really telling him the truth. Should he even trust that half of himself if he did, he could be led into a trap that would put Grima in power and that could be horrible for everyone but if he was right and he miss out and everyone got hurt. Was his freedom worth his friend and his loved one life. No, he would be willing to give himself for everyone.
He looked down at Arora that rest just against him. “For you and Luna I would be willing to give anything if it meant protecting you both.” He said to himself he had no idea if she was walk or not but he didn’t care with a yawn he closed his eyes and went to sleep.
He slept sound that night no dream no nightmare just a nice long slumber only be woken when it was time to move out again. Turn back to normal he grabbed his pack and took up a spot close to Arora. It didn’t take long for them to find the place they had been searching for Izumo. “It like a palace.” Someone behind Lucien said. “Yes. Izumo has long been known as the kingdom of the gods. It only makes sense that the center of its power would radiate peace. While all the other kingdoms quarrel, it maintains a neutral stance. I'm glad we made it here safely. Let's go find the archduke.” Azura said pointing to the center cortyard.
Arora welcomed Rinkah to the growing group warmly. It was really amazing how fast they were growing. It was almost overwhelming, but really she was just glad they weren’t struggling alone. The faster they grew stronger the better chance they would have in facing the real threat.
They all made better progress than Arora expected after the fight. She had expected everyone to be exhausted, but in those few hours they made it pretty far past the village. Arora agreed that a resupply and chance to rest would be good for everyone, and give them a chance to see what Lilith had been up to. She was so busy making the base better Arora was constantly impressed.
Arora went to make sure everyone would be alright for the night even with there not being enough supplies. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. She went to see Lucien, noticing he was in his dragon form,”Hm? Ah, I’m working on that. There’s sort of a plan…”
She leaned against his side. She wanted to tell him everything, but she knew she couldn’t. Not here, not now. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you more just yet. But I am thinking of what has to happen after we get everyone together. Doing that is just the start.”
It was the exact steps that she wasn’t sure of. Somehow she would need to get them all to follow her before she could explain everything, then they could properly work on fighting the real enemy, the one manipulating things behind the scenes.
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