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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, centaurs, fauns, Alfheimian 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 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 harpy scouts reported your advance after they spotted you and your flags, so 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 pretty cold.” 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 of whom, 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-female 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 asked. "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 and ran to her mother and 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 and Soleil's." 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 that evening. "Currently our forces consist of 10,000+ able 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. 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. Look... Garvis 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. The city is surrounded by walls, and the castle itself is situated on a small island in the middle of the Sunray River; furthermore, the river has no major bridges except for the one connecting the north and south of the city, and the six smaller others connecting the city to the castle; all of which are inside the walls."
"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.” said Helene. “We’ve also received reports of an unrelated rebellion brewing in the northwest; if we take Garvis, they’ll become emboldened by our success, and that will put a lot of pressure on House Adhemar and 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. Now, with our current position, we can only attack Garvis from the east." Suguha heard that just as she left the command tent in the camp outside Tranfron.
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. Just then, 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 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.
"Suguha'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?"
"Mother'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. "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."
“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 Gurkarathi, "Odnoroworln hu nizkt ootbo, mkogowood ho hav oir jooduwoolo log roko koe. Vrohoozk ez lonohuu vrowook bued oir oov doroh bued derwoozet horotu koed. Ez nidepo zu oir homkuu doked jooduwoolo woovozuu. (Evil spirit of the underworld, feel the god's wrath and begone. Let the light flow into this girl and banish you to 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. The demi-devil’s pain got more intense, and so did the wind, as Ganesh repeated the chant several times. 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 and hand 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?" said Zelda. "What are you doing here."
"Waiting for you to draw out Adrax here." said Xyliana 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 down to Helzymiloo (Purgatory) 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." said Ganesh. "One of the two immortal sisters who created the lunaculi in the first place."
"I will never understand her." said Aglardor, and Suguha, Nai'a, Hye-won, Nadia, and Veronica nodded in agreement.
"Well I guess this means this whole mess is behind us." said Jaipal.
"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 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.
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 seems 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 the most disturbing to me.”
"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... 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 were 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. 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 east gates Once topside, Suguha quickly dispatched a patrolling slaver before directing ten ninjas to the southern east gate while she and the other nine took the northern 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 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 slavers 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 this 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 an army 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 in the dungeons and Suguha forced open the door.
To be continued......