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Mid-afternoon, Rerudya, Windoni 5th; the same day the Battle of Tranfron ended;
When the town was declared secure, the allied leaders met up with the Rose Knights.
"There's a small branch in Transylvania, but this the first time I've had personal contact with the all-female knightly order," said Zelda as she, the lunaculi, Salim, the Lafayettes and Cadwiel were led to the command tent of the newly established camp.
Unlike the allied armies, which were mostly human (or vampire in Transylvania's case), there was an assortment of different races amongst the Rose Knights. In addition to humans, there were elves, dwarves, centauresses, fauns, Alfheimish fairies, and more. There were some harpies flying overhead too.
"I've never seen so many women in one place," said Salim, taking in the view of armored multi-racial women all around.
"Women who prefer the warrior path to the 'proper lady' path are more common than you would think," said Suguha.
"I dreamt of joining the Rose Knights myself before the war," said Nadia as they arrived outside the command tent.
"Lady Warmaiden, the commanders of the Northern Alliance Advance Force are here; along with most of the lunaculi," said their escort.
"Send them in," said the warmaiden from within.
Before they went in, Zelda turned to the rest of the group. "This is going to be a bit crowded, can I ask some of you to wait outside?"
Realizing what Zelda meant, Nai'a, Hye-won, Cadwiel, Nadia, and Ganesh volunteered and the rest went in. Inside were three Rose Knight commanders, a human, a faun and a heavyweight breed centauress.
"She said 'most' of the lunaculi, I only see three," said the centauress.
"The rest are waiting outside the tent," said Zelda.
"I see. So... from the rumors, let me guess; Princess Suguha Oda of Yamatai and Queen Zelda Tepes of Transylvania. I don't know who the elf is."
"I'm deeply hurt," Aglardor said passively.
"Don't feel bad, you're not well known outside of Marlakcor," said Salim.
"And I assume you must be Crown Prince Salim Al Zayani of Arabia," the centauress continued. "And I recognize you... you're Princess Veronica Lafayette."
"I'm not sure that I deserve that title," Veronica replied.
"The only leader not here is the Marathi General who replaced General Sunil Kelkar, who was killed in battle yesterday," said Zelda as she shook hands with the centauress. "I assume you're this army's Warmaiden?"
"I am. I'm Helene Juliette de Tyrell," said the centauress, Helene.
"'Tyrell?' Aren't the Tyrells a powerful centaurean noble house in Soleil?" Suguha asked.
"They are," said human sub-commander. "But Lady Helene's father was killed in the initial Umdari invasion, and her lord brother bent the knee and swore fealty to Germain when the latter usurped the throne."
"Can't count on family, can you?" said Salim.
"You have no idea," said Helene.
"I must say, if we'd known you were nearby, we would've planned for it before we made our first assault yesterday," said Zelda.
"You didn't see us, but we saw you. Our scout harpies reported your advance after they spotted you and your flags. We tried to time our assault with yours, but you moved faster than we anticipated."
"Couldn't have sent a note?"
"We did. We sent a pixie to deliver a message so that we could coordinate with you. Didn't you receive it?"
"A pixie?" Zelda inquired.
"A diminutive fairy, about 11cm in height," Suguha told Zelda.
"I know what they are!" Zelda snapped at Suguha before turning back to Helene. "No, we never received one."
At that moment, a knight walked in and addressed Helene with a voice and somber expression. "I guess I got here at the right moment. The tracking hounds found Eyile's body." The knight presented the little body, wrapped in a trio of handkerchiefs. Only her face was visible. Although deceased, the little fairy looked peaceful. "The poor thing had an arrow shaft straight through her chest, still clutching the note intended for the allies."
"(sigh) Thank you, Astrid, you may go. Make sure she's buried properly," Helene told the knight, who left with Eyile's body at that. "I liked her. She'd never failed before now."
"Our condolences," said Suguha.
"I don't need them, this is war."
"That's cold, Lady Warmaiden," Veronica said, and Suguha elbowed her in the rib.
"Just you three?" Zelda inquired after a moment of silence. "I thought the typical Rose Knight leadership was a Warmaiden and three sub-commanders."
"We're no different," Helene confirmed. "My second-in-command is an elf named Rhathel. Speaking on that subject, where is Rhathel?!" Helene demanded of her two other sub-commanders.
"(urgh) Where do you think?" asked the faun sub-commander. "Enjoying the 'spoils' we took from the last town we liberated."
"'Spoils'?" Salim inquired.
"Liberated women," said Helene.
"In an all-women group like this, it's not unusual for women to lay with one another instead of with men," Suguha told Salim.
"Rhathel seems to like them especially young. Her new favorite seems to be a five-year-old vampire," said the human sub-commander.
"That silver-haired one?" Helene inquired, perking Zelda's full attention.
"A five-year-old vampire? Female with silver hair?" Zelda inquired. "A zyorite? About this tall, with brown eyes? Is her name Aurora?"
"I think so. How do you know that, and why do you ask?"
"Where is she?"
Helene led Zelda, Suguha and Veronica to Rhathel's tent. When Helene threw open the tent flaps, there they found a naked Rhathel in the middle of laying with several naked girls, most of them early or pre-teens, including the vampire-girl who could only be the one they described: Zelda's daughter, Aurora Tepes.
"Oh, Helene?" said Rhathel, who was holding Aurora close to her. "What brings you here?"
"Why are you doing this in the middle of the day, and just as we finished a battle too?"
"Mama!" Aurora cried when she noticed Zelda.
"Mama?" Rhathel echoed.
"Let my daughter go, now!" Zelda demanded, the look on her face menacing and her hand on Crepuscul's hilt, but Rhathel ignored it.
"Why should I?"
"That girl is Aurora R.L.E.F. Tepes, First Princess of Transylvania," said Helene.
"Why should I care? Princess or not, spoils of war are- Arh!" Aurora bit Rhathel's arm and ran to her mother. Zelda covered her with a nearby blanket before hugging her.
"Oh, Rori, I'm so glad you're safe. But where's Eddie? Where's your brother?"
"Rori do not know. We sap-part-ted," Aurora replied.
"I think she means 'separated.'" said Veronica, who then noticed Suguha was giving Aurora a weird look.
"Where's my son? Another young vampire similar in appearance to Aurora?" Zelda demanded.
"We don't have him, I swear, to my Gods," said Rhathel, with a cloth over Aurora's bite.
"The kidnappers must've hid your children in separate locations," said Helene.
"Smart," said Veronica. After everyone left the tent, Veronica privately inquired Suguha about her reaction to Aurora. "Is something wrong? You were giving Princess Aurora a strange look."
"Something just... doesn't feel right," Suguha replied.
"What do you mean?"
"Look how easily we found her. And when we first saw her, I got this strange chill. Something's just... not right."
"Should we tell Zelda?"
"Are you crazy? You saw how relieved she was when she got Aurora back, she'll never listen. For now, we should just watch the princess and see what happens."
Veronica nodded, and they confided in no one about Suguha's suspicion.
Later that evening;
"You still haven't told us why you want to take Garvis," said Helene as she, Zelda, Suguha and Salim poured over maps of Soleil and Garvis in the command tent in the camp outside Tranfron that evening. "Currently our force consists of 9,000+ able-bodied women, not counting the wounded, and that's after fighting five major battles since the beginning of the year. Our goal is to remove House Adhemar from the Soleilian throne, which has not been easy with House Bannister backing them. And the neutral-standing of many other houses makes it no easier. I agree that defeating Umdar is of importance, but our reports say that after calling away so many men to fight on the southern front, they don't have the men to launch a major offensive, not while they're losing ground to the Southern Alliance."
"We can't be sure of that," said Zelda. "For all we know, they might have more men outside the borders of Soleil. At any rate, the main point of taking Garvis is to cut off Umdari support to House Adhemar."
"And capturing Garvis will achieve that?" Helene inquired in an unconvinced tone.
"It will. Look…" Zelda brought the map of Garvis to their attention, "Garvis is arguably the most defensible fortress in northern Aquilonis, whoever controls Garvis controls the Vieillesse Peninsula, and there are several reasons for that statement: the city is surrounded by walls, and the castle itself is situated on the small island in the middle of the Caillou River; all seven of Garvis' bridges, the one connecting the north and south of the city, and the six smaller others connecting both sides of the city to the castle, are inside the walls of Garvis. Furthermore, between the bay and the Jeune Mur mountains, the Caillou has no other major bridges or crossings in any direction for hundreds of miles, north or south. Thus, because of Garvis' position as a major crossing at the narrowest point of the river, courtesy the island, it has been a major center of trade since the era of the Gargate Empire; all major land-based trade routes in and out of southwestern Soleil to go through there."
"I see. So, conquering Garvis will cut off any major imports House Adhemar has been enjoying while Umdar was occupying most of the kingdom."
"It'll also cut off any possible reinforcements from Umdar," said Salim.
Helene paused to think for a bit before saying, "I suppose this'll help greatly with defeating Germain."
"Cut a major artery, and the heart ceases function," Salim replied.
"That's a rather dark way to put it," said Helene before turning back to Zelda. "We've also received reports of an unrelated rebellion brewing in the northwest of Soleil; if we take Garvis, they'll become emboldened by our success, and that will put a lot of pressure on House Adhemar and House Bannister."
"Now that we're in agreement, let's talk strategy," said Zelda.
"You three talk. It's late, I'm going to sleep," said Suguha. "Fill me in in the morning."
"Sleep well, your highness," said General Araki as Suguha got up to leave.
"Now, with our current position, we can only attack Garvis from the east," Suguha heard Zelda say that just as she left the command tent.
Since they had driven out the Umdari, the citizens who had taken shelter during the battle had since welcomed them as liberators. Regardless, the mayor was reluctant to allow another armed occupation, and so requested that they don't quarter in the town. The allied leaders obliged and the armies made camp on the north and west sides of the town.
Walking through the Transylvanian quarters of the allied camp on her way back to the Yamato quarters, Suguha was still thinking about the strange feeling she had when they found Aurora. As she walked, she spotted a nightgown-dressed Aurora walking out and away from what Suguha knew was Zelda's tent. "You there, Kakeru?"
"I am, Princess," said the ninja named Kakeru, who just appeared out of a shadow.
"Where's she going? And is that a knife she's holding?"
"I'm not sure where she's going, but that does look like a knife. Shall we follow, Your Highness?" Kakeru asked.
Suguha and the Kakeru quietly followed Aurora into the Soleilian quarters. Suguha got nervous when Aurora approached what she knew to be Veronica and Nadia's tent. "What is she up to?" Suguha wondered in a whisper as Aurora entered the tent. Quickly, yet quietly, Suguha approached and opened the tent flap, and saw that Aurora was about to stab Veronica. "Oh, no you don't!" Suguha exclaimed as she moved to stop Aurora, but Aurora turned around and tried to slash Suguha.
Suguha backed off, and Aurora's knife hand was seized by an awake Veronica. It took the two women and Kakeru little effort to restrain the struggling five-year-old vampire, who repeatedly tried to bite, kick, and slash at them. But eventually they bound the young royal vampire to a chair by rope. Nadia woke up during the struggle due to the noise.
"What's the meaning of this; subduing my daughter!?" Zelda demanded when Suguha and the Lafayettes brought Aurora before Zelda and the rest of the summoned leadership. Suguha had dismissed Kakeru so that they could deal with this themselves.
"Your daughter just tried to assassinate me in my sleep!" Veronica retorted.
"You expect me to believe that?! Aurora is five years old!"
"You calling us liars?" said Suguha as she felt the weird chill again. "There's that weird chill again."
"What weird chill?" asked General Jaipal Avanthkar, who had replaced the deceased Sunil Kelkar as commander of the Marathi.
"Ever since we found the girl earlier today, I've been getting this weird chill."
"Forget about chills! Why would my little girl want to kill Veronica?" Zelda demanded.
"Something hasn't felt right since we found her," said Suguha. "I'm willing to bet that this isn't Aurora. It could be a shapeshifter, or she might be possessed." That last suggestion seemed to light a candle in Suguha's mind. She turned back toward Aurora, activated her "devil's eye," and saw that Aurora's soul was floating a few feet above her body, while her body was possessed by a devilish spirit. "So that's it."
"What now?" Zelda demanded.
"Your daughter is trapped in spirit form while an evil spirit walks in her body." This declaration caused the entire tent to go quiet. Everybody was staring at Suguha like she was crazy. "Why are you all looking at me like I've gone crazy?"
"Suguha, are you feeling alright?" Salim asked worriedly.
"Is she suffering from any head trauma?" Helene suggested.
"Are you calling my princess crazy?!" General Araki asked furiously.
"Sugu's not crazy!" Nadia exclaimed. "After all the weird stuff that we've seen and done over the last several months, can you really call her idea crazy?"
"Maybe not, but this is my daughter-" Zelda started, but Veronica interrupted.
"Zelda! I know this is your daughter, but don't be blind. Here;" Veronica turned to the possessed Aurora, "what's your mother's full name, and yours?"
"Momma's name is Zelda Alucard Loredana Teodora Margareta Tepes. Rori's is Aurora Ramona Lavinia Eugenia Felicia Tepes." the possessed Aurora replied, which shocked Zelda.
"There. You see?" said Suguha.
"See what?" General Jaipal asked, oblivious to what just transpired.
"Aurora's only five years old," said Zelda, who just activated her own "devil's eye" to confirm Suguha's theory. "Except on formal occasions, our full names are rarely ever used. There's no way she would know them so well; and even if she did, I know full well that she can't say them so fluently." As Zelda turned off her devil's eye, the possessed Aurora started laughing.
"I guess I should've known I couldn't pull off this charade for long. I can't believe I made such a careless mistake." The possessed Aurora looked up at them with an expression that seemed almost bestial. "You're right, your daughter isn't in here. She's been floating about trying to tell you, but it seems only the Yamato girl was able to sense her. My job was to assassinate the two daughters of Delphine de Lafayette. As the last known living kin of King Justin III Lafayette, they are now threats to King Germain I Adhemar's hold on the throne."
"Germain has no right to the throne, evil spirit!" Veronica exclaimed.
"What are we going to do about this?" Salim inquired.
"I'll go get Ganesh," said General Jaipal.
"Bring Aglardor, Nai'a and Hye-won too," said Zelda.
They waited for a half-hour before the rest of the lunaculi were brought along. After they explained the situation to him, Ganesh looked at Aurora hard.
"Definitely an evil spirit. A demi-devil I assume," said Ganesh.
"What's a demi-devil?" Hye-won asked.
"They're much less powerful than full devils. Sort of like a pawn on a chess board.
"I cannot believe you compare me to that," said the demi-devil possessing Aurora.
"Quieh, cou! [Quiet, you!]" said Aglardor. "What do we do, Ganesh?"
"The rest of you just need to stand around. We may be one short, but my powers will be greatly enhanced by all of you. Exorcising this evil runt will be...... how would you say it?"
"Cake?" Hye-won suggested, earning stares. "Metaphorically it means easy, at least where I've lived my whole life."
"I don't care what you call it... just get this beast out of my daughter!" Zelda commanded.
"Very well, your grace," Ganesh replied with a nod.
"This isn't going to hurt her, is it?" Nai'a asked.
"It won't harm the princess physically, but so long as her spirit stays out of the way she won't be harmed."
Suguha felt Aurora's spirit move away, as if obeying Ganesh's instruction to stay clear.
Everyone followed Ganesh's instructions to set up the exorcism. Once everything was in place, Ganesh began the chant in Ingdjese, "Doroh hu miruu ootbo, ez nidepo zu kotoud oir homkuu doked loitodu hu! [Evil spirit of hell, begone from this world and never return!]" After the first chant, as the demi-devil in Aurora writhed in agony, a vortex of air swirled around the room. As Ganesh repeated the chant several times, the demi-devil's pain got more intense, and so did the wind. Finally, after the tenth chant, the demi-devil, now visible to them, was cut from Aurora and her body went limp. The vortex of wind also ceased. "The evil spirit has been removed," said Ganesh.
"We can see that," said Suguha, as the demi-devil leered at them maliciously.
"Now what?" Nai'a asked just before an arm appeared out of nowhere, grabbing the demi-devil by the neck. "What the...?"
"I'll take over from here," said a familiar voice. The body belonging to the arm holding the demi-devil materialized fully, revealing Xyliana.
"Xyliana? What are you doing here?" Zelda asked.
"Waiting for you to draw out Adrax here. I couldn't get to him on my own, not without harming the girl anyway," Xyliana explained before she addressed the demi-devil. "Daddy's been looking for you."
"Wait... Lady Xyliana... your father, Lord Vermiculus... he's a fun guy, right?" Adrax whimpered, "Do you think he'll... blow this off or something?"
"(Heheheheheh) Oh no, no, no. It's straight down to Helzymilo for you."
"Please! Anywhere but there!"
"Sorry for the trouble this little runt made," Xyliana told everyone before shimmering out with the demi-devil.
"Who was that?" Helene asked.
"Xyliana. She's one of the two immortal sisters who created the lunaculi in the first place," Ganesh explained.
"I've yet to officially meet her, but even if I did, I don't think I will ever understand her," said Aglardor, and Suguha, Nai'a, Hye-won, Nadia, and Veronica all nodded in agreement.
"Well I guess this means this whole mess is behind us," said Jaipal, and Araki nodded in agreement.
"Aurora? Are you there? Rori, sweetie, speak to me," said Zelda, who had undone the ropes binding Aurora and been shaking her since Xyliana left.
A second later, the color came back to Aurora's face. The young vampire princess stirred and she looked at her mother. "Mamma? Is the bad ghost gone?"
"Yes, it's gone, baby-girl."
Both mother and daughter embraced each other for the first time in almost a year.
Zelda decided not to send Aurora back to Transylvania, for risk of her getting captured again. And so, she was placed with the camp followers under guard.
Three weeks later; Yuldya Windoni 27th;
Summer was starting to creep in as the days got warmer, and after three more weeks of marching, during which Suguha's seventeenth birthday came and went, the Allied Advance Force finally arrived on the outskirts of Garvis.
Leaving the army six miles behind them, Zelda, Suguha, Aglardor, Jaipal, Salim, Veronica and Helene scouted ahead to find out what they were up against. General Araki remained behind with the army to keep them organized.
Skirting the edge of the trees of the forest north of the eastern road, they got a look at the fortifications. There were gargoyles all over the walls and near the gates… some even dotted the landscape; the Garvis clan, which had been sleeping for centuries. But even from their relatively close proximity to the castle-town, there appeared to be few troops guarding it.
"This doesn't make any sense," said Zelda, viewing the ramparts of the walls with a telescope. "According to those slavers we captured, there should be thousands of Umdari troops guarding this place, and yet there seem to be too few patrolling the walls and the perimeter."
"It does seem strange," said Helene, lowering her own telescope. "But we can worry about that later, how're we going to get in?"
"We can't formulate a plan until we know what we're up against," said Jaipal.
"Hang on. Let me get a birds-eye-view," said Aglardor, who was eyeing a hawk flying overhead.
"What do you mean?" Suguha asked, but Aglardor didn't answer.
After Aglardor stared at the hawk for a few seconds, his pupils dilated fully, and the hawk changed direction and flew over Garvis.
"What is he doing?" Zelda asked.
"I don't know," Suguha replied. Suguha looked back toward the eastern gates and experienced something strange. For a second, the scene in front of her was nighttime, and a procession was entering the gates. It ended a second later as Veronica called out to her.
"Suguha? Are you, all right?" Veronica asked, concerned.
"I… I'm fine," Suguha replied, shaking her head back to reality. "What was that? Some sort of memory?" Suguha asked herself in thought. "But I've never been here before in my life."
After about ten minutes, Aglardor's pupils contracted again and he came back to them.
"Before you ask, that's one of my lunaculus powers. I can get into the minds of animals, control them and see though their eyes. I can also use my 'angel's eye' ability through them and see through walls," Aglardor explained. "I call it soulsight, and I just used that hawk to scout ahead."
"Handy," said Salim.
"What did you see?" Zelda inquired.
"I think the Umdari flags are just for show, because I didn't see a single Umdari soldier," Aglardor told them. "The only forces occupying the city seem to be the rest of the slave traders, and there can't be more than five hundred. But that's not what disturbs me the most."
"What else did you see?" Suguha asked, slightly afraid to know the answer.
Aglardor took a gulp before replying, "I saw... people. Men and women... even young children... stripped naked... and hung from the castle walls by their waists. Their arms bound behind their backs."
"Must've been slaves they no longer had use for," said Salim. "Or they did it to make examples of defiance."
"Were they alive?" Helene asked.
"Half of them seemed to be dead, apparently from starvation. The rest seem to be barely hanging in there," said Aglardor.
"Then we're not waiting another day," said Zelda. "Suguha, I want you to get your ninjas together. Under cover of darkness tonight, you're going to scale the outer walls and open the eastern gates from the inside."
"Consider it done," Suguha replied in a determined voice.
Later that evening;
As the allied army approached Garvis via the eastern road, Suguha, Seishitsu strapped to her back and her face covered, led twenty ninjas to the walls of Garvis. Using kakute, Suguha and her fellow ninjas climbed the wall between the southern and northern eastern gates Once topside, Suguha quickly dispatched a patrolling slaver. While killing still didn't come easy to her, she'd long since found the resolve to do what needed to be done. Suguha then directed ten ninjas to the northern east gate while she and the other nine took the southern east gate. Quickly and quietly, they dispatched the slavers guarding the gate and unblocked it. Once it was open, Suguha went back topside, lit a torch, and waved it, signaling the army to come in.
"What now, Princess?" asked Junichi.
"Now, we lower the bridges to the castle, make our way inside, and open the rest of the gates," Suguha replied. "We're also going to make our way to the dungeons and free any wrongful inmates."
While Suguha and her fellow ninjas opened Garvis from within, Zelda, Jaipal, Salim, Veronica, and Helene led the army down the road toward the eastern gates. Splitting the army in two at the fork in the road, Zelda, Jaipal, and Helene took the southern fork while Veronica, General Araki, and Salim took the north. By the time both armies reached the gates, patrolling slavers had noticed the breach and were trying to close them, but were killed where they stood by hidden ninja.
"Spread out! Go door to door. I want the slaver leaders captured alive if possible!" Zelda ordered Veronica and Salim using a faintly-glowing fist-sized crystal ball provided by the Rose Knights. These new magical devices made it possible for Zelda coordinate with her fellow commanders from a distance. From atop her hippogriff, she then ordered her men, "Search the walls! Retrieve all the people hung from the ramparts. Give immediate treatment to all who need it."
"Is it really wise to do that before we've secured the city?" Jaipal asked.
"These are slavers, not soldiers. They lack discipline and training, I don't think we need to worry about any counterattacks; at least no effective ones."
"Your Grace," said the ninja Junichi, who just appeared out of nowhere. "The bridges across the river have been lowered and the gate into the castle opened. The way in is clear."
"Alright," Zelda replied. "Men, follow me!"
While Zelda led the army into the castle, Suguha and several other ninjas were already inside. Killing several slavers and restraining others, they split up to cover more ground, and Suguha and Kakeru made their way to the dungeons to see if there were any prisoners.
"Why are there so many gargoyles in the halls?" Kakeru asked as they passed another couple statues in the middle of the hall.
"Don't you know your history?" Suguha replied as she killed a slaver they just took by surprise.
"If it's Yamatai's history, sure."
"Well you should start reading more about the history of other places. Garvis used to be the capital of the Gargate Empire, a pre-Soleilian gargoyle-ruled nation that once dominated the Vieillesse Peninsula and much of the heartlands of northern Aquilonis. Gargoyles are usually stone by day and flesh by night, but the Gargate Empire kept itself alive for so long using magic talismans that kept armies of chosen guardians awake during the day. And then, roughly two thousand years ago, the ruling Garvis clan was cursed into a seemingly everlasting stone sleep, which directly led to the collapse of the Gargate Empire over the course of a few decades afterwards."
"I guess I'll have to read more," said Kakeru as he made a right turn, but Suguha grabbed his arm.
"Not that way, this way," Suguha told him, directing him to the left.
"How do you know the way to the dungeons?" Kakeru inquired curiously, which made Suguha stop in her tracks.
"I… I don't know," Suguha replied, wondering how she did know where the dungeons were.
Several minutes later, they arrived at the entrance to one of the dungeons and Suguha forced open the door. There were eleven doors, five on each side and another one at the end of the hall. Suguha opened the first door on the left, there were six cells in this room, which housed nearly fifteen slaves. Lighting a flame in the palm of her hand, Suguha got a look at who was being kept in the room: there was a single lizardman, a centaur, two elves, two fauns, and the rest were humans.
"Are you here to free us, or are you new buyers?" one of the human slaves asked.
"I'm Suguha Oda, first princess of Yamatai, and the lunaculus of Aquilonis," Suguha replied. "And also, one of many leaders of the army that has invaded and liberated Garvis."
"The latter part is still underway though," said Kakeru.
"The Sun God has answered our prayers at last," said another human slave.
"Thank you for freeing us," said one of the fauns as Suguha started unlocking the cells with lockpicks. "I'm the gatekeeper of the Garvis portal. Should the slavers even think about using the portal to escape, it's useless without me."
"Relay that to Zelda," Suguha told another ninja that just showed up behind Kakeru, and the ninja left to fulfill his orders. "Do any of you know how many slaves are being kept in these dungeons?" Suguha asked.
"In the cells on this level? There're probably at least vavky, [fifty,]" said the lizardman, who had a Xotilic accent. "There are more cells down one level, and another below that. Including the ones still alive on the walls, Garvis may be hosting at least three hundred slaves."
"This is gonna be a long night," said Kakeru as Suguha finally opened the first cell.
"You said it," Suguha replied.
It took nearly two hours, but once the castle and the northern half of the city were declared secure, Zelda called a meeting in the castle courtyard to discuss the offensive to take the southern half of the city. While they had captured and killed a great number of slavers in the process of invading Garvis, scouts had reported that the rest of the slavers had caught on to what was going on and were preparing to mount a defensive action.
"Suguha's ninjas scouted ahead and reported that the remaining slavers are gathering in this square, a couple blocks south of the main avenue," Zelda explained as she indicated the location on the map of Garvis. Suguha was not present, as she was helping to shepherd the liberated slaves to a safe place. "It seems that, rather than surrender, they're prepared to fight to the death."
"Seems suicidal if you ask me," said Jaipal, and Araki nodded in agreement.
"They don't seem to be aware of how many of us there are, which is why they're making a stand there instead of coming after us directly."
"That's a classic fallback strategy," said Helene. "For slavers, they know their stuff.
"Perhaps, some Umdari soldiers or ex-Soleilian Royal Army veterans are amongst them," said Veronica.
"Actually," said Zelda when she looked at the map again, "I think it might be that they're trying to escape. That particular square they're congregating in is where the Garvis portal is." This revelation caused a stir.
"Then we can't sit here, we need to move now!" General Araki asserted just as a ninja showed up and whispered some new information into Zelda's ear."
"Relax, my eastern friend," Zelda assured the Yamato general. "They've completely forgotten that they don't have the key to the portal; they don't have the gatekeeper, as one of Suguha's ninjas just informed me. The gatekeeper is with her."
"That'll complicate things for the slavers," said Helene.
"What's the plan?" Veronica asked.
"To start with, secure any possible means of escape," said Zelda." In other words, the southern and western gates."
"What comes after that?" Salim inquired.
"We pick off any archers they have stationed on the rooftops, and lay siege to the square. We'll give them a chance to surrender."
"What if they don't?" General Araki asked.
"I said so before: these are slavers, not trained military men. And even if some of them were, if they have any sense, they'll surrender without a fight.
Zelda's orders were carried out. Within another half-hour, and using the walls, they had secured the four remaining gates on the south side of the river, trapping the remaining slavers in Garvis.
The slavers did indeed station archers on the rooftops around the square, but the more professionally trained archers of the allied armies picked them off easily. As the allied troops moved on all sides using all accessible streets, they had the slavers surrounded.
"I never expected Garvis to fall this easily," said Suguha, who had delegated moving the liberated slaves to Kakeru while she joined the fray. Suguha was currently on one of the rooftops overlooking the Garvis portal square, along with Aglardor and three other Yamato archers. The corpse of a felled slaver archer was at her feet behind her. Looking upon the surrounded slavers below, it was easy for Suguha to see that they were all nervous. As Suguha watched from above, prepared to pick off anyone who did anything suspicious, Zelda walked into the square ahead of her men.
Once in plain view of everyone, Zelda spoke directly to the slavers, "This is your only warning: surrender now, or die."
"Seems a little out of character for her, doesn't it?" Aglardor asked.
"But it was effective, look," Suguha said, and as she spoke, the leader of the slavers approached Zelda, stared at her for a moment, and got on his knees. Within moments, the rest of the slavers copied their leader, and the entire allied army cheered in victory. "Sometimes you gotta act more atypical than you usually would to get what you want, a surrender in this case."
"No argument there," Aglardor replied.
As the allied army moved in to apprehend the surrendered slavers, Suguha noticed the look Zelda had given the slaver leader. "I think she recognizes that man," said Suguha.
"Cou htinr jo? [You think so?]" Aglardor asked in Ethar.
"I'll ask her later."
As the liberated slaves were moved out of the castle, the surrendered slavers took their places in the dungeons. By dawn, the city and castle of Garvis was declared secure, and the Soleilian flag was flown from every flagpole. The many slaves that were hung from the walls were taken down as well. Those who were dead were given proper burials, while those that still lived were given proper clothes and nourishment. It seemed evident that some of them had been saved just in the nick of time.
Nai'a, Hye-won, Cadwiel, Ganesh, and Nadia were also finally allowed into the city now that it was secure.
"I can't believe how easily we took Garvis," said Nadia as they made their way to the temporary makeshift camp for the liberated slaves.
"And I still can't believe all these people were being held against their will," said Nai'a. "Slavery is so cruel."
"No argument," Nadia replied.
"According to Aglardor, some of these poor people might not have lived if we had arrived a xac [day] later," said Cadwiel, as she started helping a young, and weak, ex-slave to eat some of the provided food. "I'm relieved we were able to say so many."
"These people may no longer be under the thumbs of the slavers, but that doesn't mean they've been saved," said Ganesh. "These poor people have endured suffering and cruelty for so long, it may be a long time before some of them can sleep peacefully again."
"I guess it's the same no matter what world you're in." said Hey-won.
"Hear, hear," said Nadia, who was now comforting another ex-slave as Juliana leaked a few tears unto some open cuts.
As they talked, the lizardman slave Suguha encountered in the first dungeon walked up to them, stopping in front of Hye-won.
"Can I help you?" Hye-won inquired.
"Kxejo oyoj, kxuk vuso? Ak suddek ro! [Those eyes, that face? It cannot be!]" the lizardman exclaimed in Scalthor when he saw Hye-won up close.
"Hye-won, do you know this Saurian?" Ganesh asked curiously.
"I can't say that I do," Hye-won replied as the lizardman began to sniff her. While she was sure she didn't know the Saurian, she had, to her own amazement, understood what the lizardman had said.
After a minute, the lizardman had stopped sniffing Hye-won, and continued to look at her in amazement, as he appeared to realize who she was. "Ak aj yei, [It is you,]" the lizardman said in amazement as he got down on one knee and bowed his head to Hye-won.
"Hye-won, seriously, are you sure you don't know this kemhile? [reptile?]" Cadwiel asked as Lugion hissed in apparent warning to the Saurian.
"I don't!" Hye-won replied before she turned back to the Saurian. "Who are you, and… do you know me?"
"Of course, you wouldn't remember me, you were only a rury, [baby,]" said the lizardman, switching to Zedylric, mostly. "I wasn't sure when I saw you from a distance, but now I know it's you. You have the same face and scent as your mother. My name is Ark'tok. I was once a loyal servant of your family, the Inilzac vumacy, [family,] and your caretaker. Tuiwxkoh [Daughter] of Ceht [Lord] Coltox Tlaloc gnar K'jorkat Inilzac and Cuty [Lady] Dynir, an Amazon of Kujira… my derco cuty, [noble lady,] Tacohita Xochitl gnoi Coltox Inilzac vox Beltikroc."
Everyone was stunned at the sudden revelation of Hye-won's true name and identity. After a minute of silence, Nai'a was the first to speak.
"Sounds like Hye-won, or should I say 'Tacohita,' was born into Nekcrozian nobility," Nai'a said with a slight chuckle, to which Tiki mewed in concurrence.
"Xotilic nobility to be precise," said Ganesh. "The Inilzac family is an Aztec-Xotilic noble family of Aztec origin the worships the Jadeites, and one of many families of the Beltikroc clan."
"Yoinyixenyej [Coincidences] do happen, don't they," said Cadwiel, and Lugion hissed in apparent concurrence.
"There are no coincidences in the gods' design, only inevitability," Ganesh replied.
"Sugu, Ronnie and Zelda are going to love this," said Nadia, as Juliana flapped unto her shoulder and let out a low cry.
Hye-won remained transfixed on Ark'tok, stunned at the revelation of her true family and identity.
Garvis was taken, albeit a little too easily, and Hye-won, aka Tacohita Inilzac, was now learning the truth about her origins. Now that their primary military objective had been accomplished, they allied leaders were left to wonder what was going to happen now.