The figure sat on a bench overlooking a large fountain as a refreshing breeze blew across his face. He was currently in the nearby aero-naval sector of the city and watched as the huge airships came and went, gliding magnificently through the clear, moonlit sky in full sail. He always marvelled at their capability to fly, a constant reminder of the power of psi in their world. Large crystals within the hull powered huge devices which hummed with power. These large engine devices projected psionic fields around the ship. One of them covered the bottom, building up pressure along the underside of the ship. This disparity of psionic pressures resulted in the propulsion of the ship upwards. Similarly the mast unit generated strong fields behind the sails to push it forwards and fields at the front to slow it down. The airships were lovingly named what they were because they literally looked like 'ships that sailed the air' however the figure always thought that in that regard, 'Skyships' would have sounded so much better. He now smiled to himself, he only knew all this because he had a certain friend who owned and airship himself and would always tell him about the intricate systems on board the craft with a large degree of pride. However the figure always thought that it was more of a dinghy, rather than a ship.
The figure then wrenched its gaze from the sky and proceeded to take out a device from his pocket. It was an earpiece and as he flicked open the switch which contained its inner crystal, it crackled a bit and began to hum with life. He then tapped it twice and briefly spat out a couple of testing words.
'Hello, can you hear me?' he said.
There was a little hum as the machine began to broadcast its psionic signal.
'I repeat, can you hear me? Please respond.'
The figure then sat back in his seat, impatiently waiting for the other end to respond. He had kept his communicator turned off whilst he was in the labyrinth. This was because good manipulators would be able to track the psionic presence, leaving him open to attack. By turning off this device, he thought that he could reduce the chance of running into any good manipulators.
Although I wouldn't have minded if i fought some stronger enemies.
The figure was sent to the Royal City for a specific reason. The Guild would not have sent just anyone into such a dangerous mission. Naturally they would have sent the best, the most efficient.
Which is precisely why I shouldn't be waiting so long for a response right now!
The figure buried his head in his hands. His partner was brilliant; however he was also quite inefficient. The figure sighed again, his partner may be unreliable at times, but he would be there for him. They had watched each other's backs for a very long time now and he trusted that he would respond any second now...
As if on cue a playful voice came from the earpiece.
'Hey, Gai. nice to see that you've decided to talk again.'
The figure, Gai, smiled. His full name was Gaius, however the entire guild felt that the abbreviated form packed a lot more punch. He felt that it certainly was a fitting name for one of the stronger members of the Guild.
'Yeah, I decided that it would be safer to turn off every possible psionic device whilst I was in that place,' He replied.
'Hmmmm… I would have just turned everything on, saves me from having to find them.'
Gai chuckled for a second, Ethan was always like this. Like a lot of adolescents he was always confident and ambitious, sometimes even a little too confident, but he was one of the few who could back this up with strength and skill.
'I'm sure you would have found a lot more than you could have handled…' he replied.
'Ahhh Gai, always the serious one.'
'That's why they send me to keep you in check.'
Gai said this last phrase with a sigh. They were just sharing common banter, jeering lines they had thrown at each other ever since they first met.
'Anyways, where are you? I thought we agreed to meet up at eleven…' Gai took a quick glance at the large clock on the main port tower, 'That was half an hour ago!' he snapped.
'Hey, no need to get angry, I just got side-tracked on the way here,'
Gai rolled his eyes in disbelief.
'Is this about that girl again? I swear the only thing that you've done ever since we got here is stalk the poor thing,' he said.
'Hey hey! Don't put it like that!' Ethan snapped back.
Gai smiled, feeling as if he had won a major battle in his banter against the boy.
'Besides, I'm there now…'
Gai's eyes began to scan the plaza. Surely enough, a figure in a black coat was making his way across the plaza. His unkempt, black hair danced slightly with the wind as he walked, playing about his youthful, sixteen-year-old face. He also wore the earpiece around his left ear and as he approached, Gai noted how he kept his manipulator identity completely masked, keeping his crystals contained and eliminating any psionic fields around him. He walked naturally, keeping his back straight. All this lent to the impression that he belonged here and as such he avoided drawing suspicion and attention to the meeting of the two black coated figures. When he reached Gai, he casually greeted him.
'I hope I didn't make you wait too long.'
To anyone who may have been watching, they were just two friends meeting each other.
'Come, let us go somewhere a little less crowded,' said Gai, as he stood from the bench.
He was taller than Ethan by about half a head. It was to be expected as he was a year older than the boy. Sometimes this caused Gai to treat Ethan as a little brother, something Ethan absolutely detested. Whenever Gai would treat him to a drink, or volunteer to take the more dangerous job or take the blame for a mission gone wrong, Ethan would snap back that just because Gai was older, he didn't have to treat him like a child and storm off angrily.
Just like a child…
Gai smiled, he knew that Ethan treated him as an equal and he expected that to be reciprocated.
They reached a silent park east of the plaza. The cool breeze now swayed the trees which enveloped the space. Beneath their feet was a carpet of cool, crisp grass. Soft lights sprayed their warm glow over the area, giving it an almost ethereal look.
It was Ethan who began the conversation.
'What did you find out?'
Gai paused to gather his thoughts.
'Well, they are definitely in there,' he started. 'I tried to get one of them to talk but I knocked him up a little too much.'
By this time Ethan had entered a more serious mindset. His normally playful face seemed to be deep in thought.
'So we know they are there, but we don't know what they are up to.'
'They could be up to nothing for all we know; they might just be biding their time…'
'No.' Ethan quickly interjected Gai's train of thought.
'Established rebel factions like them are always planning something, it was the same with the case of the Arlington rebellion.'
The Arlington rebellion was one that Ethan and Gai had crushed two years ago. Although they were very young then, they were under the charge of Harken, a more experienced Guild Manipulator known for his chivalrous nature and strength with the shield and mace in close combat. Back then, Ethan had managed to piece seemingly unrelated bits of information and successfully predict the actions of the rebel faction. However his deductions at the time were based on the mindset of angry citizens, ready to cause trouble at the first chance they got. The manipulator rebellion which was fighting a more established stigma and a more powerful enemy than the Arlington administration and thus would most likely be less inclined to act brashly.
Gai voiced his opinion to the boy who nodded in return.
'Yes, I see where you are coming from, however, the main weapon of a rebellion is a symbol.'
Gai seemed to be confused.
Ethan elaborated, 'They need to try and establish themselves as a threat nice and early, they need a symbol, something that the public can follow. Usually they want to set up their leader as this symbol and, in order to do that, he or she needs to do something extraordinary.'
Gai narrowed his eyes. Ethan's thesis and argument sounded familiar. He mulled over the thought in his head until realisation dawned upon him.
'Are you modelling this on the Vaal conflict?' he asked.
The Vaal conflict was a big event in the recent history of the Kingdom. During a summer fifteen years ago, over five city states in the northern part of the kingdom had banded together against the Royal City and its rule. Over a year of heavy fighting ensued as the military systematically destroyed the rebellion, one city at a time. In the end, all that remained of the area was a smoking wasteland of devastation.
'You know, it seems that rebellion has been pretty common recently,' stated Gai. 'Do you think that the nobility is to blame?'
Ethan shook his head.
'No, the nobility and the monarchy are not the problems. The problem probably lies somewhere in the…' Ethan paused for a second, taking a quick glance around him. When he was satisfied that no one was eavesdropping on their conversation, he continued
'No I think the problem lies in the military.'
The Kingdom's military was always a force to be feared. However, it was only recently that it came under new administration. After the previous Grand General had passed away, a bloody campaign had started as the remaining High Generals fought for the position. Even the nobility wanted to have a part in the leadership and the interference of the Earls led to even more complications. Eventually, one man rose above the others and now stood at the head of the Army. His name was Arkan, the Immortal.
Ethan shuddered. The man's reputation was just short of legendary. He had conquered countless city states in his younger years, had ascended to the rank of High General at the age of twenty-one and founded the Kingdom's elite 'Templars' two years later. He had earned the title of 'Immortal' at twenty-five for leading fifty of his own soldiers against five-hundred others whilst defending a choke point at the snowy mountain pass of Crondor. He had held the line as the civilians escaped, carving a trail of shining destruction with his sword and placing his psionic warp beacon at the forefront of the battle. As he fought, man and metal became one as he blocked countless buffeting blows with his might shield and slashed back at his enemies with lightning speed and deadly precision. His legion, encouraged by the shining titan before them, held fast and after an hour of bloody combat, the psionic beacon glowed. With a crack, his personal army, the Templars began to warp to the battlefield, their arrivals matched with a shockwave that sent enemy soldiers flying. After they arrived, the enemy, fatigued and haunted by the image of the bloodstained Arkan and the new Templar threat, began to retreat only to fall swiftly before their unbreakable counter assault. Despite his injuries, he charged with his army, his heavy plate armour already splintered from his previous combat. When he returned to the back lines, the medics looked at his grievous wounds with horror as they treated him. However no matter how much their treatment stung him, he didn't falter and survived with pure will alone. Ever since then his name inspired fear in every man and woman in the land. Everyone shivered silently at the thought of the bloodstained figure standing before countless enemies in shining plate armour, holding an impenetrable shield, swinging a psionically charged sword which left only fire and destruction in its wake.
Gai seemed to detect his thought process.
'Do you think that Arkan is the cause of this unrest?'
Ethan shook his head slowly.
'No. Arkan's reputation is fear-inspiring however; he is regarded as a national hero. Frankly I feel that the kingdom feels very much safer under his leadership than anyone else's. No I think the problem lies elsewhere.'
Gai's brow furrowed as he considered Ethan's words. The boy may not have looked it, however he was very knowledgeable about the kingdom's political issues. Ethan sensed Gai's uneasiness and quickly diverted their attention to the mission at hand.
'Anyways, it's not like I'm pulling this assumption from thin air…' he started, 'I happened to find out something interesting whilst I was in the noble sector…'
He was met with a suspicious look from Gai.
'Doing your stalking?' he said, eyebrow raised.
Ethan rolled his eyes in response, 'That won't work against me twice,' he responded, making an effort not to let Gai's words affect him, a noticeable effort.
He was beginning to regret telling Gai about her. Ever since they reached the city he had been making constant jabs at Ethan about his obsession over the topic. It was not a common occurrence that he was able to come to the Royal City and even when he was, it was only for a couple of hours as their airship recharged its psi reserves for the second leg of a long journey. Ethan had held onto the crystal that he had taken from her all those years ago, after all he had promised her that he would return it.
He had been able to find her house after asking around Falcon square for most of the day. Attached with that information however, was the fact that she was getting married, married to one special Earl Hugo Baron. Whilst that information in itself didn't really bother him, it was startling realisation that he was very removed from her life. Realistically, he didn't even expect her to remember him after six years.
But he decided to visit her anyways. He made his way to her house and proceeded to return the small crystal to the man who opened the door for him. Ethan had quickly deduced that the man, who wore an expensive red and white coat, was not the butler of the house and when he mentioned Arianne's name, the man had quickly become irritated. Ethan took this as a sign that he should leave, so he thanked the man for his time and left the house, albeit not before noticing the slender and elegant girl who walked slowly down the street, blonde hair swaying in the wind and a folded piece of cloth gathered in her arms. He turned his face away from her and quickly left, after all it he had made eye contact and by some chance she had recognised him, then suspicions would have arisen about their relationship. Ethan wanted to avoid that for two reasons, he didn't want his presence to be advertised in the city in a scandalous story on front page of the morning paper and he didn't want to ruin the young girl's reputation. However, just before he had come to meet Gai, he had gone back to her house one more time. Something earlier had bugged him…
'I visited her house…' he ignored Gai's accusing look, 'and ran a psionic sweep. There were faint signatures, I got suspicious and went to investigate.'
He then turned to face Gai.
'Guess what I found…'
This piqued Gai's interest. He indicated for Ethan to continue.
'Surveillance devices, foreign ones. They were transmitting weak signals but I was able to track them for about fifty metres. They were leading to the docks,' he reported.
Gai nodded, 'Where the manipulator movement is located.'
'Yes, if the manipulators are interested in that house, it's probably because of the wedding,' stated Ethan.
Gai was beginning to understand Ethan's logic.
'So, if they are interested in her, then by extension they are interested in the wedding,' he said, repeating Ethan's words to let them sink in.
Fragments of their conversation drifted into his consciousness.
Established rebel factions like them are always planning something…
The main weapon of a rebellion is a symbol…
It's probably because of the wedding…
Gai looked at Ethan now, 'You don't think that they are going to use the wedding as a way to demonstrate their power do you?'
Ethan's brow furrowed slightly, 'That is precisely what I think. Earl Hugo Baron is one of the youngest Earls and thus he is relatively inexperienced. Moreover I have heard that he has acquired a pretty fine weapon from the king himself. An attack on the wedding would serve two purposes, to establish the manipulators as a threat and to have a crack at an Earl's personal armoury.'
Then Ethan's demeanour changed. The usual playfulness entered his voice and a smile played at his lips.
'I have a good feeling about this.'
Gai frowned at Ethan, 'But…' he started but then stopped.
It was rare for him to doubt Ethan's ability to draw conclusions and predict enemy movements, however some details of the supposed enemy 'plan' still bugged him. It all seemed so reckless on their part, a little too reckless.
Ethan was now looking at Gai with a curious expression.
'Yes, what is it,' he valued Gai's opinion and never denied him an opportunity to express his thoughts.
'Why would they attack a wedding? It seems a little too much, wouldn't they lose the support of the public if they just came and ruined the event?' he said.
'Ahhhh, I knew you would think that,' said Ethan with a smile, 'They are not going to attack the wedding but the party before it. Since the Earl just loves his publicity, it's an open event. All it will require are a couple of suits, some crystal restrictors and done, the Manipulators are in.'
'Oh I see.'
Gai had been unaware of the party that Ethan mentioned so he assumed that the attack of the manipulators would have happened during the ceremony.
'But you still haven't answered the question, what do they gain from this?' he queried.
Ethan let out a small chuckle at Gai's question, 'Well…' he paused to gather his thoughts.
An expectant silence ensued as Gai waited for the cheerful boy to speak.
'I guess they'll think of something,' he said with a shrug.
A heavy sigh left Gai. This wasn't the first time Ethan had simply relied on a hunch. Sometimes Gai felt that the boy was just lucky most of the time.
'Hey, what do we lose? The party is tomorrow. If we go and they do attack, then we'll capture them and call it a good days work…'
'And if we don't?'
'Well maybe the food will be nice…'