A/N: Here is the chapter. Expect the next one...I don't know when, but it will come. Unless something crazy happens, this story will not be discontinued. I don't know how long it will take, but I will finish it.
Thank you for the reading and do review. Lets me know that I am not completely fucking this up.
Lunasong, 26th of Octamensis, 687 IC (Imperial Calendar) : Centaxday, Telona 16th, 10 ABY.
15 Days Before Luke Awakens from His Coma.
Sexta Diei Hora (Sixth Hour of the Day) : 1200 standard hours.
The sun shined brightly over the expansive valley. Its position was high in the sky which placed the time to be around midday.
A small breeze blew through the grassy plains and bushy trees. The leaves and grass fields sang as the wind passed through them. A serene scene.
A single dirt road cut through the fields. This road was the Appia Highway.
One of the main highways found within the Saderan Empire, it was a direct path to the capital, Sadera, before splitting and leading to Telta. Additionally, when heading further westward, the large highway met the Tessaria Highway at a crossroads.
At these crossroads is the famed city of Italica. A merchant's hub that started as a simple rest stop of pilgrims several centuries ago, and grew into a hub of trade.
Amidst the song of rustling leaves and grass, the thunderous sound of hundreds of hooves was far more cacophonous and rugged. The quadrupedal, equine mammals sped toward the approaching walls of Italica.
The horses were in formation. With two side to side, and over 100 pairs, the horses numbered 264. Atop each horse, rode armor-clad knights who brandished a banner of a tri-colored rose. Various flag-bearers displayed the crest proudly as they rode. The intricate, gold silk lining the banner's edges shined brightly as the flags fluttered.
The mighty Rose-Order of Knights. An elite group of warriors led by Princess Piña Co Lada. Aside from their distinguished skills with a blade, this group was unique in that it was composed almost entirely of women. Specifically composed of younger women belonging to some level of nobility.
Daughters of noble elites who grew tired with their life of arranged marriages and restricted freedoms. What started as a simple game of girls "playing guard", developed into a skilled group of sword-fighters who could rival the Empire's own guard.
Yet, out of the 264 members, about forty-three were men. Some were retired, old soldiers who had no means of living a peaceful, retired life thus chose to live as warriors. The others were sons of nobles who were third or fourth in line to inherit the family name.
They sought their own glory rather than live in the shadow of their older siblings. Norma Co Igloo belonged to this group.
As the walls of Italica came into sight and the hundreds of horses rode onward, the head of this large group began to slow her horse, prompting the line to do the same. Slowly, the large group of warriors eventually came to a halt.
They were still a good distance from Italica, but the city's large walls were viewable even from this far.
The head of the cavalry was a beautiful young woman with long, curled blond hair. The back of her hair was mostly straight, but curled at its tips. Her most unique feature were the two large ringlets framing the sides of her face.
This was Bozes Co Palesti, second child and only daughter of Marquis Palesti. An astute young woman, she prided herself in being more than what her position intended for her.
A fierce and loyal warrior, Bozes joined the Rose-Order when she was ten, and still serves Piña without a single notion of stopping. She held the second highest rank in the Rose-Order, designated the order's "Yellow Rose". Beyond this fierce loyalty, she was also Piña's closest friend.
As Bozes sat atop her horse, eyeing the town suspiciously, her third-in-command, fourth-in-command to Piña, silently rode up beside her.
Another beautiful and fierce looking woman, the fourth highest ranked knight had short, dark hair and similar armor to Bozes.
This was Beefeater El Caty, another very close and loyal friend to Piña. She serves as the captain of the Rose-Order, and ranks below the "Tri-Colored" members. The entire order respected her skill with a blade, and even Bozes admits that Beefeater is unparalleled.
The two women held unmatched respect for each other and undying loyalty for their princess.
"Bozes…the gate is open," Beefeater stated.
Sure enough, her words rang true. The large gate that closed Italica from the world was wide open as if the city were not on lockdown. The sole reason for mobilizing the Rose-Order was due to Count Formal's role in the expedition beyond the gate. He took the army that acted as the protecting force of Italica and the surrounding land.
Therefore to keep potential scoundrels from entering, the Count locked down the city. Yet, the gate stood open without a care in the world.
"Open, and with a few men standing guard," Bozes replied. Her eyes strained, but she could make out the guards standing beside the large gate.
"Do you think something happened? Maybe the gate's mechanism broke," Beefeater suggested.
"Possibly, but a feeling tells me otherwise," Bozes replied.
"I agree with Bozes, I doubt the Count would leave without ensuring all gates were functioning properly," Another voice cut in.
The third person placed herself beside Beefeater. She was beautiful, much like many of her comrades-in-arms, and had short, silver hair. Her eyes a bright green, and she gave off a no-nonsense attitude.
Panache Fure Kalgi, member of the esteemed Kalgi clan of nobles, and third highest ranking member of the Rose-Order. She held the rank of "White Rose," and was the final of the "Tri-Colored" leaders of the order.
Panache, Bozes, and Beefeater were one of the few original members of the knightly order. All close friends with Piña and each other.
"Not that he had much time for inspections. His Majesty was insistent that Count Formal rally his armies in such short notice," Beefeater replied with a bit of a frustrated tone.
"Easy, Beefeater. His Majesty's reasons are his own…as unreasonable as they may seem. Flying iron birds? Ale clouded the minds of adventurous scouts who sought to avoid punishment for straying from their assigned routes, so they made some clever stories of untold riches beyond the gate. Nonsense, I say," Bozes replied with greater frustration.
All people in the Empire knew that the Rose-Order was a bit…open-minded in their beliefs. They encouraged noble girls to get an extensive education beyond what was expected, and some believed the Order was poisoning the minds of young noble women, and giving them so called "ideas above their station." Most people ignored the open-minded knights, and for good reason since the Empire still treated them as ceremonial pieces rather than an actual military force.
Nonetheless, the order's views did reach some young noble women, usually the second or third daughters, and their number grew steadily. Yet, numbers meant nothing if the Emperor did not acknowledge them as a legitimate group.
"Reasons aside, what matters is the safety of Italica and her people. Shall we approach cautiously?" Panache commented.
Bozes simply held up an arm, drawing the attention of her two compatriots.
"Suissesse! Come here," Bozes called for the commander of their archers.
Slowly, another horse joined the three.
Suissesse Co Mein was a petite and quiet girl with silky, long black hair. Her pretty features were often overlooked in favor of her two older, more "mature" sisters whose hands already belonged to other noble houses. Her parents found it hard to find a suitor given their daughter's demeanor, and Suissesse chose not to wait around.
Joining Piña's "knight school" many years ago, she became a prominent member of the Rose-Order due to her unmatched skills with a bow. Deadly precision stemming from near-superhuman eyesight, and years of using a bow. Suissesse was one of the greatest archers in the Empire if not the world. Not that the Empire realized given she was not a recognized soldier, which was something she shared with the rest of her order.
"How may I help?" The quiet girl asked calmly.
Bozes pointed ahead, "Can you distinguish who is atop that wall?"
Suissesse, Panache, and Beefeater followed Bozes' finger to look at the top of the large wall. From this distance, most would not be able to discern distinguishing features, but Suissesse's eyesight gave her a clue.
"I believe it is Norma," Suissesse replied calmly.
"Then we needn't be cautious. It was most likely a faulty gate. Come now let us not keep Princess Piña waiting," Bozes said.
The other three gave her nods before returning to their positions. Soon enough, the large group was off. They reached the base of Italica in a few minutes, slowing as they neared.
Bozes could now make out the guards on the wall, and sure enough, Norma was one of them.
"Good to see you arrived safely! I assume the journey was a quiet one!" Norma shouted down from his elevated position.
Bozes pulled her horse's reins, and she looked up at the young man, "Oddly enough, not a single bandit in sight, and the villages from here to Sadera enjoy peace. What of here? Is a faulty gate the only excitement?"
As Norma's features hardened, Bozes grew quiet. It was now that Bozes realized the man seemed tired. A bit disheveled and large bags under his eyes. Something was wrong after all.
"Much happened in the last day, Bozes. I suggest you and Panache ride to the manor at the center of the city. Princess Piña awaits you," Norma stated ominously.
Bozes wished to question more but stopped herself. The seriousness on Norma's face was disconcerting, and Bozes grew worried.
Bozes turned back to her fellow knights and spoke, "Panache, with me! Beefeater, you stay here, and aid Norma in assigning our forces."
"Right away!" Beefeater replied.
Bozes merely glanced at Panache, who needed no more words, and the two were off with a steady gallop. Not going too fast for fear of accidentally trampling one of the many residents roaming the streets.
As they galloped through the city, Bozes and Panache took in the sights and noticed that nothing was out of place. There were people travelling to and fro, children running and playing, friends talking, traders trading, and other miscellaneous, daily activities. At first glance, nothing was different.
Yet, as they maneuvered through the large streets, cut through narrow alleys, and galloped up steps, they noticed a subtle oddity in the air. People seemed to whisper to each other with looks of worry and uncertainty. Of events that transpired the night before. Of newcomers seen throughout the city.
A pit grew within Bozes' stomach. She had a sudden sense of dread linger deep within her. What happened? She wondered.
After a few more minutes, the two riders reached the center of the city and stared up at the walls of the Formal compound. Said walls were nowhere near as tall or grand as the walls surrounding Italica.
"Open this gate! I am Bozes Co Palesti, second-in-command of the Rose-Order of Knights!"
The nondescript guards were quick to do as ordered. They had no real means to determine if Bozes' words rang true, but given her command and urgency, they were too frightened to question her. That and the clear tri-colored rose adorning her horse's regalia was a solid indicator of her honesty.
A few moments of silence later and the bridge soon lowered with the sounds of clashing and shifting metal chains. Once the bridge met the ground, Bozes and Panache easily crossed over the moat, and entered the compound.
The Formal estate was simple in design. A large manor at its center and large grounds around it. The grounds were expansive enough to be impressive. Behind the large manor were stables for horse and carriages.
Bozes and Panache sped up slightly as they traversed the center dirt road. Neatly trimmed trees and bushes lined the side of the large dirt road, which led directly to the manor's entrance.
As Bozes and Panache arrived at the large set of stairs which rose up to the grand, veranda-like entrance, Bozes pulled on the reins of her steed and turned it into a halt before quickly dismounting with honed skill. Panache did the same and joined her fellow knight.
The two ignored the surprised looks of groundskeepers, and as the two dismounted, a few stable hands went to care for the horses.
Bozes and Panache practically stormed through the front doors, and in doing so gained the surprised looks of many maids and butlers.
"By Emroy, what is happening?" A well-groomed, mustachioed, older man entered from an adjacent sitting room after hearing the doors swing open. He froze upon recognizing Bozes.
He stood straight before bowing his head. Seeing this, the other maids and butlers did the same.
"Lady Palesti, please forgive us. We were aware you were arriving today but did not expect you so soon," The butler apologized.
"I care not for your attentiveness. Just take us to the Princess," Bozes demanded.
The butler bowed once more, "Then, please, this way."
The two moved forward into another room quickly followed by the butler.
A few minutes later, after a long and winding walk through the large home, Bozes and Panache, led by the butler, Bartholomew, entered the upper floors. These floors were meant to house the Formal family themselves or any guests deemed important.
"Princess Piña is right in here, Lady Palesti. Though she did request we do not disturb her as she was busy with certain matters," Bartholomew explained.
"I am sure she will make an exception, please just let us inside," Bozes replied.
Something must truly be bothering the princess for her to stay in her chambers so late into the day. Bozes and Panache gave each other glances as Bartholomew held open the door.
The sight was not an odd one per say. The chamber itself was composed of two subsets, the bedroom and sitting room. With the sitting room, housing two couches with a table in between, and beautiful chimney on the same wall as the door. Some bookshelves adorning a portion of the wall near the large window.
At the far side of the room was another door, which led to a private bathing room. Along the same wall was another door that led into the actual sleeping chambers.
At the two couches sat, not only Princess Piña but also Grey and Hamilton. However, the oddity came from Piña herself. She was, to put it simply, disheveled.
A very rare sight to see because Piña was hardly one to lose sleep, nor was she one to allow such an unsightly appearance in front of anyone other than her inner circle. A circle composed of Bozes and a few others.
The sofas were organized so Piña was facing the door itself thus Bozes could take in the tired sight of her princess. Hamilton and Grey were facing Piña thus Bozes and Panache only saw the back of their heads.
Hearing the door open, Piña looked up angrily, aiming to chastise whoever interrupted but stopped when her eyes met Bozes'.
Bozes' features slackened upon seeing the tired eyes of her oldest friend, "Piña…what happened?" She asked, uncharacteristically dropping the title.
Piña opened her mouth to speak before shutting it and looking down. The princess collected her thoughts.
She then looked up at her loyal friend and knight, "I am sorry for my state. I did not sleep well."
Bozes slowly shook her head as she took in Piña's appearance. "I care not for how you appear. What worries me is why you are distressed," The blonde-haired woman replied.
Piña massaged her temples, "Bartholomew, please send for more refreshments. You two must be famished."
Both Bozes and Panache shook their head, just wanting Piña to get on with it. They both recognized that the princess was stalling.
They did not realize the stall was for Piña's own sanity. Having to relay the previous day's events only worked to make them real, and there was still a small part of Piña wishing for this all to be some lucid nightmare.
The butler bowed, "Right away, Your Highness."
With the butler gone and the doors closed once more, Piña released a sigh.
"You must be ashamed…such a dreadful display from a princess. Clinging to the faintest thread of hope. As if anything can wake me from this very real nightmare," Piña palmed her face.
Bozes was quick to step up to the sitting princess. She knelt and grasped Piña's free hand, engulfing it in her own, "I care not for appearances or displays. You are my friend and most importantly, my princess. All I care is for your health."
Bozes knew not what happened, but what she did know is her princess, the woman she swore everlasting loyalty to, was in a state that needed comfort.
Bozes kept her temper in check for she feared crushing the princess' hands, but there was underlying fury building within her, because it was incredibly difficult for something or someone to shake her princess. Whoever did this would soon find themselves missing their head.
"Thank you Bozes. So much has happened and there is so much to explain." Piña soft voice travelled far in the quiet room.
Panache stepped up before kneeling, "Whatever ails you Princess, we await your command."
This time, Piña released a calm and mirthful sigh, "I know your loyalty is unshakable, but I fear this is far beyond all of us. Even then, will you still stand with me?"
Piña glanced at Panache and Bozes, and saw their unwavering resolve.
Her eyes then turned to Grey who held a small smile, and gave a small nod, "Not even Sir Skywalker could shake my loyalty."
Piña eyes then fell on Hamilton and noticed how the young girl fidgeted. Hamilton was not as skilled as the other three thus she rarely fought, but Piña knew her loyalty was just as strong.
Meeting eyes with the young page, Piña gave a small nod to calm the girl, which gained a smile in return.
"You are fools, but I suppose I am foolish for questioning your fealty. Now then, you have questions and there is no use in delaying further. Come now, I require a bath, and I have wasted enough of the day already. I must depart for Sadera as soon as possible. Grey, call forth the maids, tell them to draw a bath, and then prepare horses as planned. Hamilton prepare my armor and pack any necessities. Bozes. Panache. You are with me," Piña handed out quick orders, seemingly out of her slump.
The four knights stood straight.
"Yes, Princess," They said in unison before moving to do as told.
Sometime later, Piña found herself lounging peacefully in a circular, porcelain tub. Contrary to the underground, servant baths, the top floors of the Formal manor contained private bathrooms for the head family and any potential noble guests.
The maids filled the tubs with jugs of hot water whenever required. Additionally, some pristine herbs of the most alluring fragrances were added to ensure that the cleanliness and scent of the person bathing was of the highest quality.
With her silky hair down, Piña settled against the inside of the tub, the hot water reaching up to her chest.
Bozes and Panache stood undisturbed in front of the tub, still in full armor, and waited for Piña to situate herself.
Two maids stood by the door, out of their normal uniforms, and now sporting simple robes. If requested, they were designated to help the princess bathe herself thus they could not risk getting their maid outfits wet.
"So then…where to begin?" Piña said more to herself.
"Grey mentioned a Sir Skywalker," Panache commented.
Piña's face turned grim, "Ah yes…Sir Skywalker…or should I say prince? No matter…he is the oddest man I have ever met. However, before I speak of him, I should tell you that the expeditionary forces are no more. The Flame Dragon attacked their camp and killed everyone including Lord Godasen."
To say this was unexpected would be an understatement.
Bozes and Panache looked at the princess and hoped her words were mere jests. However, her face and the fact that she would never fabricate tall tales, told them that she spoke the truth.
"There were 20,000 in that army…we must inform His Majesty. He must know of such a loss to the Imperial defenses," Panache said with conviction.
Bozes felt herself nodding in agreement before turning to Piña. "Though I feel that is not all," The blonde commented.
"No…" Piña paused for a moment and looked distant. The princess' mind filled with the images of the previous night. The great powers used against the bandits haunted her dreams.
"The reason I lost sleep was not because the death of expeditionary forces…as horrible as that may sound. It was because of events involving Sir Skywalker," Piña paused, and the furrowing of brows was enough to tell her she had her subordinate's attention. Not that there was any doubt.
"Prior to the dragon attack, our forces managed to reach the other side of the gate. There they encountered untold powers. Powers controlled and led by Sir Luke Skywalker. The brief conflict resulted in the death of 400 imperial men and the capture of over a hundred. Among these prisoners are Count Formal, Count Roen, and Count Missna," Once again, Piña said the words with a relatively calm demeanor despite the severity of them.
"400 dead and 100 captured? This is a declaration of war. I understand the worry, but with the allied army, we can easily crush these invaders," Panache tried to reason. Her judgement of the source of Piña's worries completely wrong.
Although the death of the expeditionary forces was a surprise, especially with the unexpected arrival of the Flame Dragon, Bozes and Panache were not all that concerned.
Even if they both did not believe the stories of glass huts and flying metal-birds, the fact that His Majesty sent such a large force shows that even he was preparing for retaliation. Although this retaliation is greater than anyone predicted, surely greater than either Bozes or Panache expected, it is merely another aspect of Imperial expansion.
Yet Bozes felt that it took more than a simple war to shake her princess.
Bozes noticed the sudden shift in Piña's expression. What was calm and grim became a soft anger, underlined with subtle tint of fear. A direct reaction to Panache's words.
Bozes wondered once more of what caused such fear in her princess. This caused the anger within Bozes to grow.
"No!" Piña declared suddenly, it was not a shout per say, but a very strict and unwavering command.
"Clear your mind of such thoughts, both of you!" The strictness faded as Piña's eyes met Bozes', "Please…if you truly are loyal to me, no…if you have any sense of preserving your lives then you will rid yourself of such thoughts."
Bozes and Panache looked scandalized to put it simply.
"Princess, what are you saying? Surely you are not suggesting that we ignore this transgression. These people must be punished, and the 400 men avenged," Panache pressed.
Although Bozes agreed, there was something else troubling her, "Princess…you mentioned that this Sir Skywalker was the leader of the enemy, but you also mentioned that you met him…how?"
Piña released a sigh, "That, my dear Bozes, is where my true troubles lie. He came here yesterday as an envoy for his own army. With a group no greater than four, he revealed to us his demands...or lack thereof. To put it simply…he wants no war, no ransom, no riches or slaves. All he wants is peace, and we have no choice but to agree…lest you want me to grovel upon my hands and knees to beg him for mercy."
"Piña…" Bozes was still processing everything Piña said, but a single insinuation stuck out to her, "Please tell me, did this man threaten you." The blonde did nothing to hide her fury.
Panache seemed to catch the supposed meaning behind Piña words and soon found herself wondering the same thing. If this Skywalker threatened their princess… peace be damned.
"No…in fact, I believe he see threats to be below him. That man is illogical in his fervent magnanimity. Instead of issuing threats or demands, he issues apologizes and compromise. He accepts imprisonment, knowing full well that he could free himself. Any man of his station should be abashed by such treatment, but he accepted it as if pride means nothing. Who knows maybe it does not, at least not to him? If he were any other, this city would be in flames, and I most likely his new slave. Instead he chose to defend its people as if they were his own," Piña commented with an almost exasperated tone. At this point, she was airing her own thoughts rather than relaying them.
"I'm sorry, but we do not understand, Princess," Bozes aired her concern.
Piña shook her head, berating herself for speaking such incoherent thoughts, "Sir Skywalker and his group do not want conflict with us, which is good because they wield powers and weapons that we can never hope to match. To put it simply if we were to seek conflict, all we would find is our utter defeat. That is where I lie…as a princess of this realm, I have a duty to serve and preserve our people. The only means to ensure our survival is to refrain from retaliation. To ensure there is no war between the Empire and Sir Skywalker's forces."
"You speak of his powers, but the Empire is the most powerful force in the world. No one other than the gods could hope to defeat us," Panache insisted, but Piña could see the worry seeping into her friend's features.
"Yes…you are right. We are the most powerful in the world, but these people are not from our world. They come from a world where flying ships of metal are commonplace, and where mere soldiers wield weapons that can destroy entire legions," Piña returned.
Bozes shook her head in disbelief, "That is not possible!"
Piña looked down at her reflection in the water, "But it is…I witnessed it last night. Two of them managed to hold back over a hundred bandits. They killed over half and maimed those who did not retreat. If that is not enough to convince you, they also claimed to have killed the Flame Dragon."
"Impossible! Lies to stoke fear! They hide behind this falsehood of compassion to trick you!" Bozes was quick to denounce the words.
"Perhaps… Sir Skywalker could be but a skilled charlatan. Yet he speaks with such sincerity that I cannot help but believe him. Even if he were lying, that does not deny their power. Lies or not…we have no choice. To make an enemy of them is to court Hardy," Piña's final words killed any further speech. The room was silent, and Piña continued with her bath.
Bozes and Panache stood silently, trying to piece together what Piña told them. They still had many questions, but they could not deny the fear and somber that overtook their princess.
After a few minutes of utter silence, Bozes spoke, "If they do not demand anything…then why remain here? Why not leave…return to their world? If what you say is true, they have conveyed a message even if they did not intend to."
Piña released another sigh, "Sir Skywalker's compassion has deemed our slavery repulsive. He wishes to help the slaves of the Empire, claiming it would be hypocritical to turn a blind eye."
Panache scoffed, "It's as if this man wants a war…freeing the slaves? Might as well steal all the gold in the Imperial palace, I'm sure that would warrant a lesser sentence."
"And it would be easier…there are an untold amount of slaves in the empire. This Skywalker must be as arrogant as he is illogical," Bozes spouted angrily.
"Whether he is arrogant or illogical, matters not. What matters is that he has power, and hopefully that power remains at bay," Piña corrected.
"At bay? If he truly aims to free the slaves, there is no way his weapons shall remain sheathed. There will be blood, whether Skywalker grasps that or not," Bozes spat the name with venom.
Piña noticed the growing anger in Bozes. The princess knew her friend well, and could tell although Bozes held Piña's word in high regard, the blonde knight was clearly doubting Skywalker's power. The brash and prideful knight probably thought she could cut down Skywalker and his allies on her own.
That reminded her, she had a place to be.
Piña stood from her seated position, signaling she was finished with the water. The maids standing idly sprang to work and moved to dry the princess off as she stepped out of the tub.
As nude as the day she was born, Princess Piña casually stood as the maids dried her off.
"You expressed your loyalty, but will it remain once I share with you my proposal on how to deal with this?" Piña asked.
"Undoubtedly," Bozes replied without pause.
Piña gave a genuine smile.
A few minutes later, after getting dried, braiding her hair, and equipping her armor, Piña silently led her three subordinates. She had yet to explain her plan on how to deal with the newcomers.
"Princess," Bozes started, "where are we going?"
Piña kept on walking, "As I explained earlier, there is little we can do to face Sir Skywalker and his forces, thus I've conjured a plan which will hopefully keep a war from erupting. At least for now. As part of the plan, you along with the majority of the knights will remain here, and you Bozes will act as my envoy."
"Then you will return to the capital?" Panache questioned.
"Yes…I plan to tell my father and the senate that the expedition failed due to the untimely appearance of the Flame Dragon, and that Alnus is its new nest to deter any further expedition," Piña revealed.
"What of Sir Skywalker and his forces?" Bozes questioned.
"There will be no mention of them. We cannot let the senate discover the truth," Piña replied
"Lying to the senate? Why?" Panache asked.
"We all know they are far too prideful to see reason. Should they learn of Sir Skywalker, their cries for war would be so loud they'd reach the Avion Sea. Thus we deter them by simply stating that the Flame Dragon destroyed our forces," Piña explained.
"So not a complete lie, but a modified truth," Hamilton joined in as she was already briefed.
"A truth? How do we know we can trust the world of this Skywalker?" Bozes questioned.
"We cannot, but his word is supported by the mage, Lelei La Lalena, an apprentice to the sage, Cato El Altestan. Her village was evacuating when the dragon attacked, and the attack was stopped by Sir Skywalker and his allies who allegedly killed the dragon. We have yet to confirm if this is true, but I plan to remedy that soon," Piña said as she marched forward, her cape fluttering behind her.
Bozes and Panache gave each other glances as they followed.
Piña turned a corner, followed closely by Panache, Hamilton, and Bozes. Once they entered another hallway, Piña slowed her pace.
Bozes and Panache noticed some sort of commotion up ahead. Given the various doors in this hallway, it seemed they were in the residence wing of the manor. Various maids waited outside an open room up ahead. The double doors leading into the room were wide open, and relatively loud voices were coming from inside.
"For now, I ask that you refrain from speaking about my plan around the other knights. Norma was already informed to say nothing, and the city guards know better than to start speaking out of place. I shall have two knights ride out to Alnus to confirm the camp's destruction. Hopefully, what they see will spread quickly, so my tale gains merit," Piña continued walking as the maids surrounding the doorway cleared a path and bowed.
Piña entered the room, followed closely by her three allies.
Bozes and Panache were unsure where they were going, and froze once they got of view of the room.
Seven figures were in the room. Five of which were dressed in the oddest garb Bozes and Panache ever saw.
Then Bozes' eye landed on a rather unexpected face.
"The Priestess of Emroy?" Bozes proclaimed louder than she intended.
All eyes were soon on her, and she straightened at the attention. A red tint overtook Bozes' cheeks as everyone gazed at her.
One of the strangers in even stranger garb quickly placed a gold crown-like thing atop their head and walked over to Piña.
"Your Highness. May we help you?" The dark-skinned woman asked. Bozes and Panache were shocked to hear the odd, monotonic voice come from the woman's wrist.
"Yes, Lady Versio. I am not going to lie, with your presence here, I am left at an impasse. As Sir Skywalker so aptly put it, your intentions here leave me with no choice but to return to the capital to hopefully prevent any further conflict between my people and yours," Piña explained.
Iden nodded, "I'm sure Luke would want us to reiterate that we are sorry for causing problems, and that we are willing to negotiate whatever reparations necessary for those we killed."
Piña gave a tired and solemn nod.
"If only it were so easy, Lady Versio. Nonetheless, in my absence"—Piña motioned toward Bozes—"My confidante and second-in-command, Bozes Co Palesti, will act as intermediary. Italica is still in dire need of guardsmen, so Lady Palesti will lead the Rose-Order stationed here, and should the need arise, negotiate in my place."
Bozes maintained a stoic disposition, but found herself disagreeing with Piña's call. The loyal knight did not feel right it letting the Princess travel without proper guard. With clenching fists, Bozes stood straight by Piña's side, aiming to question the move later.
Iden nodded. "Understood, and you're leaving now?"
"Yes…the trip to the capital will take several days. Hopefully with a smaller group we'll shorten our travel time, but even then, it will still be at least a week before we reach it," Piña said.
Iden nodded once more before speaking, "Then we wish you safe travels, but if I may offer something"—Iden paused as she reached into one of her trousers' pockets and pulled out a handheld holoprojector—"as a sign of good faith."
Piña recognized the discus shaped object since Luke demonstrated its capabilities during their initial interrogation.
"We've decided transparency is the best means of gaining trust. This will help you communicate with your second-in-command to ensure our activities are not sinister," Iden explained before pulling out an identical holoprojector and extending it toward Bozes.
The blonde seemed affronted by the object, and its purpose was lost on her.
"Princess," Bozes awaited an explanation.
Piña took the holoprojector and looked it over, "This object allows for instant, face to face communication. No need for messenger birds or couriers. With this I could speak directly with you even if I sat in my room in the Eastern Palace."
Bozes looked at the objects in disbelief, and even Panache eyed the objects with curiosity.
"Princess, that is—"
"Impossible," Piña interrupted. "It is, but these people have mastered the impossible. This discus is proof."
Bozes' face relayed her skepticism, but she remained quiet.
"I understand that this seems impossible, but these devices work as Princess Piña described. All you need to do is press the button located here"—Iden pointed out the buttons on both holoprojecters—"and it will initiate a call, and it is up to the receiver to answer."
Iden demonstrated what she spoke of by pressing the button on the holoprojector still in her hand. Not a second later, the projector in Piña's hand begun beeping.
The foreign sound startled Bozes and Panache, but Piña remained calm.
"To answer, you press the same bottom, or if you wish to silence the ringing and effectively reject the call, hold down the button for a few seconds," Iden continued explaining with her every word translated via her headset.
Piña pressed the button as Iden said, and the holoprojector came to life. Displayed upon it was a small image of Iden, who moved a few feet away to avoid interference.
"T-that is…" Panache began as she looked from the image to Iden and back again. Seeing how every movement Iden made was reflected in the blue projection.
"Unbelievable, yet there it is," Bozes finished Panache's thought while looking at the hologram in awe.
"Once the conversation is over, just press down on the button for more than second to end the call," Iden said as she held down said button on her holoprojector and ended the call.
Iden's image faded from Piña's projector, and the former stormtrooper walked up to the three stunned knights.
"Also if you don't want to hold the projector, you can place it on the ground and press down on the center to make the scale one to one," Iden finished, and presented the center button on the holoprojector.
"One to one?" Piña repeated curiously.
"That means the person is projected at their full height," Iden explained.
Piña nodded in pseudo-understanding. Her mind went back to when Count Formal spoke with his daughters, and how he was projected at his full height. She could not begin to understand how the small discus was capable of such a feat, but accepted Iden's words.
"Thank you, Lady Versio. This will make reporting on both our sides much easier. With that said, it is time I departed. Please give my regards to Sir Skywalker once he awakens," Piña finished.
Iden merely gave a slight bow before returning to her friends.
Piña handed the spare projector to Bozes, who was still unsure of the device, before swiftly turning and leaving the room.
Bozes, Panache, and Hamilton were not far behind.
As they made their way down the hall and further from the room, Bozes spoke up, "With all due respect, Princess, you should have told us they were still here."
"Does it matter? Knowing beforehand would make no difference," Piña replied.
"It is one thing knowing of the enemy, but housing them as well? Not to mention their leader seems incapacitated. The way he's treated makes it seems as if he's already conquered the city," Panache replied.
"I do not know what happened to Sir Skywalker, but apparently he fainted earlier this morning and has yet to awaken. As for his treatment, Count Formal declared that Sir Skywalker and his allies are to be treated as honored guests," Piña revealed.
"I thought he was their prisoner? Does that mean Count Formal is here?" Bozes asked for clarification.
"No he isn't. Using something similar to this discus"—Piña paused as she held up the projector—"they spoke directly to Count Formal. It seems he's quite taken by these newcomers. Apparently they treat him and his men fairly by serving regular meals, giving soft beds, and even allowing them to bathe regularly," Piña explained.
Bozes shook her head in exasperation. "These people are incomprehensible. Treating prisoners no different from guests? What good is there in that?"
"As unorthodox as their methods are…they got results. As the Princess stated, Count Formal reciprocated their supposed kindness with his own. Perhaps this is what they want. To disrupt the Empire by coercing its aristocracy," Panache suggested.
"Would that be such a bad thing?" Hamilton spoke for first time since they left the room.
Her words made everyone stop and turn back to look at her. Bozes and Panache stared at her incredulously while Piña held a face of curiosity.
Hamilton grew flustered before speaking, "Um…I do not mean I wish for these outsiders to overtake the aristocracy, but isn't the fact that they do so in such a bloodless way a good thing? That also poses the question as to why they would use such underhanded methods when their power is unmatched."
"That is the crux of the issue, my dear Hamilton. We do not know. All we have is our preconceived notions of the world and the dealings of men. Dealings of which these people seem to stand above. If they wish to free the slaves, let them. I cannot stop them, but I can stop the dealings of men I am accustomed to. I will confront the senate, I will lie to them, and hopefully they will be too preoccupied arguing with each other to see through my deceit," Piña proclaimed honestly.
"Princess, I swore to be by your side until the day Hardy claims my soul, and as much as I do not agree with this course of action, my oath will never change. What I truly fear is the risk you take. If they discover your deception, you will be branded a traitor and executed," Bozes said.
"They may brand her a traitor,"— A new voice began—"but not even the Emperor could come within arm's reach without meeting my blade," Grey approached the women without his usual smile. His face was completely serious.
"Sir Grey, do you realize what you insinuate?" Panache asked scandalized.
"I insinuate nothing. I was assigned to protect Princess Piña with my life, and for the last ten years, I did just that. Whether it be against marauders or imperial guards, my oath stands," Grey proclaimed before turning to Piña with a smile.
"We've readied the horses and supplies, Your Highness. We leave when you see fit."
Piña returned the smile and gave a nod before turning to face Panache and Bozes.
"I understand that what I ask is treason, and for that I apologize, but as long as we prolong peace, even for a short while longer, an alternative might present itself," Piña said
"To risk so much on a chance, but what if no alternative presents itself?" Panache questioned.
"There must be some way! I know not of Sir Skywalker's thoughts, but he is a man! Men with such power always seek wealth, power, and the greatest pleasures, and I suggest we provide as long as he agrees to return to his world," Bozes suggested.
Piña shook her head once again, "Persuade him? What good is our gold to a man from a different world? What powers can we give that is not overshadowed by those he already wields? As for women, who would be alluring enough to capture the attention of a man with his status? You?"
Bozes froze as she thought over the question. Her eyes never left Piña's, but her fists clenched tightly before she answered, "If becoming his woman would keep you from staining your name and honor, then so be it."
Piña rested her hand on Bozes' shoulder, "I will not ask you to do such a thing. Mainly because I feel it would be pointless. Not because you lack charm, but because Sir Skywalker's peculiarities. I cannot say for certain that Sir Skywalker's words are not deceptions, but I also cannot deny the sincerity of said words. We proceed as planned, and I ask that you aide in spreading my lie to those in the city. Merchants spread information quickly, so if the city believes the Flame Dragon alone killed our men, then so will the rest of the Empire."
Giving Bozes' shoulder a soft squeeze, and meeting the blonde's eyes, Piña gave her closest friend a smile, "I am incredibly grateful to have someone who cares for me as much as you do, and know that I always seek your counsel. If you think of some other way, do not hesitate to inform me."
Bozes reached up to touch Piña's hand which still rested on Bozes' shoulder, "Of course, Piña."
Several Hours Later…
Several hours passed since Princess Piña departed for the capital. As Grey had informed, he had procured four horses for the trip.
At her request, the group was mean to be small, so they could travel as quickly as possible. The group of four consisted of Princess Piña, Grey Co Aldo, Hamilton Uno Ror, and Beefeater El Caty. Even with such a small group, and relatively moderate amount of supplies, the trip would still take around to seven to eight days as opposed to the usual ten to twelve.
Bozes attempted to convince Piña to take a bigger group, but the princess reassured her that the combined skill of Piña, Grey, and Beefeater was enough to ward off any dangers.
Bozes knew that was true. Did not mean was happy about it.
Noticing the blonde's discomfort, Piña suggested communicating via holoprojector once night hit to ease Bozes' worries. With no real alternative, Bozes agreed.
The group of four then took off without an issue.
The sun soon feel behind the horizon, and the moon shined over the city.
Within the manor, Bozes sat patiently in her room. The room which Piña used went to Bozes. With its many sub-rooms, Bozes sat in the common area where the fireplace and sofas resided. She sat in a single-person sofa, and impatiently stared at the holoprojector placed on the floor. She was dressed in a silk robe and sleepwear. Exquisitely made robes that were simple in nature.
The subtle tapping of her finger and inability to remain still were signs that she was growing worried. The sun set nearly two hours ago, and still no word from Piña.
Various thoughts filled Bozes' mind, and most involved doubt. How could someone speak across distances? She wants to believe it nonsense, but if Piña said it was real then she could not really doubt it.
If such a thing was possible, why has Piña not communicated?
A sudden knock on the door caught Bozes' attention. She didn't get a word out before it opened, revealing Panache. The short haired girl wore similar silk robes as she walked in.
"Still no word from Princess Piña?" Panache asked.
Bozes simply shook her head, "She said she would attempt communication at nightfall. Two hours since sunset, yet nothing. These outsiders lied about the discus after all."
Panache stood by Bozes and looked down at the motionless holoprojector, "Her Highness was convinced it would work, and I won't lie and say I wasn't curious to see."
Bozes gave Panache a glance to which the white-haired girl shrugged, "I've always had an interest in magic, even if I have no talent for it."
"I know that, Panache, but surely you do not believe such magic exists? If it did, then the researchers in Rondel would know of it by now," Bozes argued.
"Different world. Different magic. Like Piña said, these people do the impossible," Panache replied.
"Which makes it imp—"
A sudden beeping interrupted Bozes' reply. Both Panache and Bozes instantly looked to the holoprojector. It kept beeping.
Bozes stood quickly and walked over to the discus. She crouched down as it kept beeping, and for a moment thought back to what Iden said.
Bozes pushed down on the center of the holoprojector, and the moment she lifted her finger, it came to life.
Both Panache and Bozes flinched at the sudden light and noise, but they were stunned once they realized Piña stood before them.
Piña's form was prominently blue, but there were some hints of color. Her vibrant red hair shined through the monochromatic blue more than any other color.
Piña was in her usual red and white tunic and corset that she wore underneath her armor, and no longer wore her circlet.
"Piña? Can you hear me?" Bozes asked as she stood straight.
"Yes, and I can also see you Bozes," Piña replied.
Bozes shared a glance with Panache before facing Piña.
"Is Panache in the room?" Piña asked after noticing the glance Bozes gave to someone outside of the projector's sensors.
Panache stepped up as she spoke, "Yes, Princess."
Once Panache neared the holoprojector, Piña turned to glance at the White Rose.
"I'm sorry I kept you from your slumber. I wished to travel a bit into the night, but lost track of time," Piña apologized.
"It's alright Princess, but it was worth the wait to know you are safe and witness this spectacle. I am simply amazed by what is in front of me. We are speaking directly, yet you are hours away from the city!" Panache's usually seriousness faded as her excitement grew.
Piña smiled at her friend's delight, "As exciting as it is, this is merely one example on how these people are beyond us."
Bozes nodded at the implications of such a device, "This alone would give them an unparalleled advantage over us. Their king could command an army without being anywhere near the battlefield. Instant orders that provide instant results."
Piña merely nodded, "Our minds think alike, Bozes. I concluded the same thing when I first experienced this magic."
"Why let us know of such a monumental advantage?" Panache questioned.
"Possibly because it is rudimentary. To them it could be as uninteresting as parchment and quills," Piña theorized.
"What have we stumbled upon, Piña?" Bozes said in exasperation.
"Something far beyond you and me, my dear Bozes, but we have no choice in this matter. Either we prevent this from escalating or we are doomed," Piña stated grimly.
"Then let us find a means to get these outsiders to return beyond the gate," Bozes insisted.
Piña sighed, "You are persistent. As fruitless as I think this course of action is, I cannot really stop you, but keep in mind what I explained of Sir Skywalker. Do not expect him to be as greedy as most men we know."
Bozes bowed her head, "Of course."
Piña shook her head and rubbed her temples, "Just do not act rashly…and try to pass your ideas by me prior to enacting them."
"Do not worry, Princess. I will keep an eye on her," Panache added.
Piña gave a smile and small chuckle, "I am sure you will. Well, the day's travel is weighing on me, and I find myself exceptional tired. If you've no more questions, then we should rest for the night."
Bozes and Panaches bowed.
"Sleep well, and be careful Princess," Bozes insisted.
With their conversation over, the three proceeded to awkwardly and unsurely turn off the holoprojector. Once it was actually off, Bozes and Panache departed and turned in for the night.
Bozes was restless, but ultimately she fell asleep. Her last thoughts revolving around how useless she felt, and how she swore she would help her princess, no matter the cost.
A/N: Well look at that, got it out earlier than I said. Excuse any errors. I am only human.