Chapter 24: Allies
Arvonna had been the first. Descending upon them like Morrigan's end, the insurgent forces swarmed the bastion like some horizonless mass of grey goo, annihilating all in their path. The artillery barrage on their foxholes on the outskirts of the city had done little to stem the trickling tide that had now become a flooding river.
The sounds of the distant barrage continued as Odeilla stumbled through the streets, defeated. All that she could think of were the terrified last moments she had witnessed upon the faces of those she had persuaded to follow her. For once in her life, just once, she thought she had actually done something right on her own, what a true Queen would have done. So far she had managed to get her companies killed or captured, sparing herself only at the last desperate pleads from Arvonna to escape.
All she could think of was Arvonna's stressed tone as she screamed at Odeilla to run, before her head jerked back, spilling out blood, falling into the sand. After the initial shock of Arvonna's sudden death, she felt a deep guilt just from staying behind, just from putting herself in danger. Why does my life matter any more than the others? Odeilla screamed over and over in her head.
Stumbling aimlessly through the hollowed out remains of the great leviathan that had centuries ago breathed it's last, Odeilla couldn't help but wonder how many the monster had claimed even in death. The very thought seemed to drain almost all of the little hope that still remained within her.
"Don't go down that way." Scipio called out as Saito took a step towards a staircase that descended into an arched passageway, across which terrified, running people formed a kind of curtain to what lay beyond.
"How do you know…" Saito began to say then stopped "Oh wait, your metal faced friend probably told you."
"He told me a lot of things." Scipio said, avoiding the staircase and taking the quieter road to the left.
"Who is this Rezaq?" René asked.
"He's the leader of some insurgent army." Gasha replied "The ones raising hell in the streets."
"Those would be the ones." Scipio answered.
"How do you know this guy?" Saito added, continuing the barrage of questions Scipio had found himself under.
Scipio paused before answering "He was once a…partner of sorts."
"Could you be less specific?" Gasha said.
"That's for another time." Scipio insisted. "I promise I will tell you this tale as soon as we are safe."
The four continued down the street as overhead, artillery rained down upon the encroaching forces outside the city. The sounds of conflict and confusion raging like a fire across the city had become white noise to their ears. Saito still didn't trust Gasha's friend. How can he trust her after all this time? She thought. Gasha's lies pertaining to her existence struck a deep gash within her. She'd been through hell and back with him! Who could she Be seconded to someone like…like René… Then again, she'd rarely spoken about what happened the day the Ninth Order lay siege to Ryukyu. And it'll stay that way.
As Scipio spouted warnings and worried mutterings, Saito looked about the buildings around them. Compared to the chaos they had seen earlier, this avenue looked entirely deserted. Not even a semblance of any soul or survivor could be seen, save for the occasional scurryings of small fetid varmints. If one ignored the soft dulls of the artillery shells and the heated arguments of gunfire punctuated by shrill, bereaved cries it seemed almost silent.
Silence however, was never a sound that came without price. From far too many unexpected attacks faced during the Civil war, Saito knew to keep her guard especially heightened in the silence, for in the silence was when the senses relaxed. And it was in her heightened state that a flash of something caught her eye.
Instantly she turned raised her hand, silently signaling for the others to freeze. Looking at Gasha, she made a series of quick hand gestures, to which Gasha nodded firmly before silently dashing towards the corner of an alleyway, drawing a pistol from beneath his tattered jacket. The others followed in a similar fashion, leaning against the wall that connected to the corner.
"What is it?" René whispered.
"I think it's a Rhean soldier." Saito whispered back.
Saito thought she saw a flash of anger in René's eyes at the very mention of the ancient Kingdom. She thought the spark to be similar to the feelings she bore towards the ninth Order, yet for the moment she drew no conclusions. Right now she was focusing on conjuring up the brief image of the Rhean soldier that was still coming together. A woman in the distinct blue-green uniforms worn by Rhean soldiers. Yet Saito had seen Rhean soldiers before, even ones of higher ranks, none of the attire they had worn matched the style she had seen.
"Okay, here's the plan" Gasha said. "We're not rebels, so just pretend-"
René whipped out her pistol and spun around, firing two shots in rapid succession. Saito spun around just in time to see a small automatic weapon go flying backwards as a young-looking Rhean soldier clutched her arm as she stumbled back.
"Stop shooting!" Scipio cried. "We are not enemies of Rhea."
"We?" René questioned, but lowered her gun "Don't worry, if I was shooting to kill, she'd be dead."
The young woman clutching her wrist and kneeling on the ground looked up, revealing a face of resolute yet tired fortitude. Concealed beneath long, dark wavy hair, a small cut ran horizontal down the left side of her lip, and blood was running down her near-unblemished face. Her almost-defeated face immediately brightened up when they fell on Scipio.
"Basilo?" She asked, with a tone of utmost disbelief.
All eyes turned to Scipio. Basilo? Who in ten thousand suns was Basilo? Saito wondered fervently. Scipio, or Basilo or whoever he was now remained silent.
"Just an old cook, huh?" Gasha blurted out.
For the first time in Saito's long memory, Scipio had no words to add. After all those years of not having enough time to get everything on his mind out, he finally could muster nothing. Such a brusque change in his personality shook Saito more than every mortars and shells flying over her head.
"Basilo?" The woman, who was scarcely older than Saito had been when the civil war began, stood to her feet and asked once again "Is that really you?"
Scipio slowly nodded his head, on the rise looking directly at the woman. "How you've grown."
The expression of utter confusion spreading across Gasha's face told Saito she was not the only one who'd been lied to.
"So…who are you exactly?" René interrupted, not really directing the question at any singular person.
"I'm Odeilla." The woman said. "Are you friends of Basilo's?"
"You mean Scipio? Well I was until about ten seconds ago." Gasha answered.
René stood to the side, looking unsure of almost everything. Saito could only imagine the endless echoing questions growing in her mind. Odeilla tried to make a move towards them, but René held up her pistol in warning.
Gasha grabbed Scipio by the shoulder and half dragged him into the alley. "We need to talk." He said. "René, keep Odeilla company."
René shot a glance at Gasha, before resting her gaze back on Odeilla, who smiled in a strange sort of way, something which seemed to set René off. They both fell out of view as Saito rounded the corner, joining Scipio and Gasha.
"Alright, can you explain to me exactly who in Morrigan's name that is back there?" Gasha asked in a stressed tone.
Scipio paused for a long, long moment, before finally answering "Very well, no more lies" he said "That over there is the heir to the Rhean throne."
Gasha nearly dropped his pistol, his jaw almost joining it too. Saito's surprise was less as explicit, but equally taken aback. The Heir to the Rhean throne? The Heir to one of the few factions left that the Ninth Order still feared? Now that was a hard bit of sand to swallow.
"You really expect me to believe that woman over there is the next in line to the only tangible threat the Ninth Order has left?" Gasha scoffed.
"You can ask her yourself." Scipio replied.
"You do realize how astronomically low the odds of your meeting here are?" Saito broke in.
It was her turn to doubt.
"Not as high as you'd think." Scipio replied.
"What does that even mean?" Gasha asked.
"More importantly, how do you happen to know one of the most powerful people this side of paradise?" Saito asked.
The last question stuck in Saito's mind like the idea that came to whoever it was that developed the fade drives for FTL travel.
"Well, you'd better explain yourself right now." Gasha half-yelled.
"Now is really not the time." Scipio said. "It is a long story."
"I've got time." Gasha replied. "I'm not leaving this spot until I get answers."
One of the most powerful people in the entire galaxy. Saito couldn't get the thought out of her mind. The more she reasoned and cross-examined the thought as neurons fired deep within her, the more she began to decide the plan that was brewing could really work.
"Perhaps Scipio's story can wait." Saito broke in.
"Saito! Don't go defending him!" Gasha said.
"I'm not. We'll squeeze it out of him later." Saito replied. "Just listen."
She pulled Gasha aside, telling Scipio they needed a word as she dragged him unto a bombed-out dwelling. Making sure he was out of earshot of Scipio she spoke.
"Think about how far a hostage like that would bring the rebellion." She said.
Gasha cocked his head to the side. "A hostage?"
"From the most powerful person this side of the fringes." Saito added "If we got enough ransom and leverage, we could finally stop running, we could finally take the fight back to them."
A hesitant smile grew on Gasha's face "Don't get ahead of yourself now."
"I'm serious." Saito said. "And maybe, just maybe if we play it right, the Kingdom may join the cause."
"Now you're dreaming." Gasha said. "An alliance with someone who's just stolen you're daughter?"
"You're missing the point." Saito said. "We can either be heroes, or the money laundering relics of a dying cause."
"Heroes to some…" Gasha said. "I thought hostage taking was against the Ryukyu code of honor."
"The code of honor!" Saito spat, feeling something almost physically snap inside her "Honor is what got my people enslaved! Honor is what killed the Knights of Ryukyu when the planetary shield went down and all they could do was wave their archaic weapons about and get blown to pieces!"
She felt her arms shaking and clenched her nails into her palms, trying to subjugate the emotions which refused to return to their abysses.
"No," Saito whispered menacingly "The Ninth Order fights without honor, and I wont fight someone who doesn't play by the rules."
She unclenched her fingers, feeling a relative sense of calm flow back through her again.
"Then what will you do then?" Gasha asked.
"We play by their rules, by the Order's code of honor." She replied. "I'm sick of letting them beat me down while I do nothing, just because some ancient custom tells me to do so!" She flared "We take this princess, and we use her to gain whatever advantage we can. No more running. It's time to turn and fight back."
Saito never thought she'd denounce the code that had once shaped her life, yet it seemed for the moment benign why such a code should rob her of this one chance to take back the very planet which had borne them in the first place. That has to be worth something Saito hoped.
"Saito, if we do this, you realize the Rebellion could be lost entirely."
"What rebellion do we even have left to lose?" Saito surprised even herself by saying. "We're nothing more than space-terrorists hiding in asteroid belts and backwater trash rings!"
"I suppose you're right." Gasha nodded
He walked towards a pile of rubble one of the insurgent's shells had made in the side of the dwelling's wall, and stared at it. No doubt it was bringing memories back of his desert home planet of Edembia, and them warlords of whom Saito had only heard of in brief, painful anecdotes.
"Well, if you're going to do this, then I'm with you."
Saito nodded back. The two made their way back towards Scipio, who was studying the side of a burned out home.
"We need to get the future queen out of here." Gasha said.
"What do you mean?" Scipio asked.
"We're rescuing her." Gasha reiterated.
"Rescuing?" Scipio asked again.
"The garrison won't hold for much longer, and I doubt any ship larger than a destroyer will make it past those Anti-Air defenses Rezaq set up."
Scipio slowly nodded. "So, how do you intend to any of us off of here?"
"René!" Gasha called out, as they turned the corner.
René had her guard down, and seemed to be in a conversation with Odeilla, as she saw them coming, almost instinctively she raised her weapon, though not at Odeilla, but at them. She quickly lowered it.
"Yes?" She asked.
"Is your ship the Turquoise…" Gasha began.
"Crimson Wolf" Saito finished.
"Yes, is the Crimson Wolf still looking for passengers?" Gasha asked slyly.
"You'll have to ask the captain." René responded. "His ship, not mine."