"A Question? An Answer? Another Question."
Even from within the underground caverns beneath the Hidden Champion building Orson could feel the deep rumbling of the ground above. Currently he sat alone in his room, his eyes not leaving the hand cannon loose in his grip or his hand that continued to randomly shiver. His nerves felt entirely on fire without any clear explanation other than he guessed Crow must be touching something magic, wherever she was. Slipping his hand cannon into his coat pocket he walked out of the room and went up to the surface floor above. Where once the room would have been lively with the sounds of drinking and gambling it instead was full of the groans of wounded soldiers. Mearon himself tended to a wounded man by helping to hold him down as a broken blade was removed from his left leg. Choosing to not interrupt Mearon Orson exited the tavern entirely, receiving a wave from Conversation who stood outside.
She smiled with a slight giggle before speaking. "I'm surprised the gate isn't gone with how lackluster these Novan guardsmen are."
"Have they even considered our offer?"
"No response yet at all. Either their stubborn about us helping or they can't read. I wouldn't be surprised about either." Con shrugged.
"Any ideas?" Orson asked while looking in the direction of the city gate.
"Aside from asking your father nicely? I don't know much of anything about Sharven siege tactics. For all I know they could have a battering ram under our feet and in my closet."
"I don't...actually know much at all either." With a sigh Orson slowly lowered himself to the ground to sit. "Kite would know."
"Well we need to do something."
"I already tried thinking. Anything odd going on out here?"
"Define odd." Con responded simply.
"Like magic or something. My hand has been acting up and I think Crow is doing something stupid."
"Not a single peep of magic. As for Crow, I have no idea where she may be."
"This just gets better."
Leaning back Orson smacked the back of his head against the wall by mistake. Part of him already wanted to just wait this entire thing out in the tavern, sampling the drinks as he pleases. The stare from Conversation made him wonder if she somehow knew what he was thinking of. Oddly he now noted how her stare felt comforting to him now, almost making his sitting area comfortable enough to sleep in. As his thoughts went to sleeping a memory of Orson's messy room back in Ue'cvis came to mind. This memory lingered for a few minutes before he suddenly stood shouting "I've got it!" His heart suddenly pumped as he just thought about the idea.
"Got an idea?" Con asked calmly.
"Get me as much scrap metal as you can find! Also rocks, lots and lots of rocks!"
"Rocks…?" Con tilted her head slightly as she asked.
"JUST DO IT!" Orson responded with a shout.
His voice echoed into the tavern as he ran back inside the building and went straight for his room to open up his personal storage of tinkering metal. Looking over his notes of designs he tossed each one aside to get a fresh sheet of paper. With a feverish determination he scoured his room for a writing tool as he began to sketch up a new blueprint. The new design he took notes from the hand cannon but decided to focus on mass production without much consideration for longevity of the devices. After the first draft he only needed a second final draft to finalize his idea, a cheap but acceptably effective version of his previous hand cannon design, then with just the final ingredients of scrap metal and rocks he would have all that he needed. The sound of a loud thump signaled the creation of his new idea as Conversation dumped crates of metal bits along with random utensils from what Orson guessed was a kitchen. The stones on the other hand came at a much slower pace of a few armfuls at a time. Despite the slow rate of stones Orson got to work on the new design.
Conversation after the third armful of stones she just gathered from the streets of Novan noticed Mearon calling her over, walking over to him she could see his expression was grim. His hand shook at his side and his eyes seemed to look around the room with an intense worry.
"Have you seen Crow?" Mearon's voice cracked slightly.
"I haven't. I've been gathering stones lately." Conversation answered.
"This isn't something to joke about."
"I'm not. Orson is building something and needs rocks. Whatever it is might just keep the gate from becoming a pile of straw."
"We should probably have more than just you handing this." Mearon called over a selection of his soldiers who weren't wounded or just had minor injuries. Explaining the situation to them they stared at him with confusion before heading outside to go gather stones. "I'm surprised anyone still follows me."
"Talking like that won't solve the issues. What we need now is time, just a delay. Do you have any ideas or are you planning to rule a kingdom by sitting and doing nothing?"
"Being a bit harsh aren't you?" Mearon shifted uncomfortably after saying this.
"Being harsh or patient won't make a difference. You're meant to be a king. Think like a king. The caring king of king who would do something to save their people, these people." Holding out a hand Con motioned to the wounded men within the room. "Your people."
"Alright well it's people of Sharveu. What do we know about people from that nation?" Mearon looked Conversation in the eyes.
"Well nothing like Orson. So honor bound."
"Polite to a fault?" He suggested.
"Maybe. Direct in their tactics if their not like Orson.
"Not afraid to ask for help." He suggested.
"Unwilling to retreat. They might even be willing to throw their lives away if it meant taking the walls." Con felt an odd amount of pride to be facing an enemy like this.
"Hm..." Mearon placed a hand under his chin in thought. "Alright, I've got something...it's stupid and probably going to get one of us killed." The nervous glance he gave was enough to make Conversation more than a little curious of his plans. When she said nothing as a response he simply continued talking. "We challenge the Sharveu Vanguard to a duel. They pick their fighter and we pick one of our own, if we win they cease their attack for...well I was hoping for two days. I think you and I both know who they are going to pick as their strongest fighter."
"Two days..." The words lingered on her tongue for more than she liked. Thinking to herself she simply calculated the worth of two days without hostilities, two days and all she'd have to do is win a fight. 'Even if we only got one day still that would be enough to get something done.' The answer seemed determined for her before she even gave Mearon the confirmation of a nod.
"Alright I'll fight. I don't see anyone else around here doing it." Her words came out of her with a larger amount of resolve than she had planned.
"To be fair you are definitely a knight on this chess board. I don't think any pawn could get this done." A slight smiled crept onto Mearon's face.
"I prefer to be a step-stool." A giggle escaped her after saying this.
"I'm sure Orson would love to hear that. I'll go try out my charms to use the Harkin wall guard to get our message out. Two days free from a blade trying to go between their ribs should sound like sweet anodyne to them."
"Odd, I suppose that's the new thing I learn today."
"That the people of Novan know of the medicine Anodyne."
"Oh...Anodyne isn't just a saying?"
"It is in Myria..." She trailed off and coughed gently into her hand.
"Huh, never knew that actually." There was a large pause in the conversation.
"This is a bit awkward." She stated this with a gentle smile.
"Very so...yeah let's just pretend the talk ended on the uh wall part."
Mearon turned and walked away somewhat quickly to leave Conversation to her own devices. Not knowing what to do with herself she simply stood there for a few minutes before trailing after Mearon. On her way out of the tavern she saw a few soldiers bringing in boxes full of stones and pebbles. 'Two days.' The rocks might as well have been screaming the words at her as she left. With unusually heavy thoughts she wondered just how this would go. She knew in her heart that Orson's father, Arikern, would be her opponent. The idea of actually winning somehow sickened her more, how she would explain it to Orson made her ready to collapse. Whether he disliked him or not it was still one of the people responsible for bringing him into existence. The idea of Orson killing one of her creators entered her mind but it didn't seem exactly the same nor as sickening. Her focus was off to the point she bumped into a wall while walking. The loud ding of her metal hat hitting the wall reminded her of a bell. That sound alone brought up the calming memory of what she told Orson. 'Moths and Bells.'
"Moths and Bells." Gently she spoke the words and it helped her relax. "Moths and Bells!" She shouted. The cheery tone in her voice almost forced the smile onto her lips. "He'll understand. I know he will. Thank you...wall." She gently pat the wall she bumped into. "I'm talking to walls now, I really am off my game."
With a cheerful and genuine laugh she pulled her halberd out from the secretive pocket dimension that was a fold within her cloak. The idea no one ever asked where she kept her weapon made her smile turn mischievous. The gate of Harkin already looked ready to collapse upon her arrival, somehow the iron grate placed behind the solid wood had fallen and broken off before the door itself did. Mearon was among the guard, already she could hear the fighting slowing down to a crawl.
The sound of gears rotating and working in unison filled her ears as the large wooden doors slowly opened. Mearon didn't say a word to her as she walked. None of the guards said anything or even seemed to breathe, all they did was stare. Stepping around the corpses that littered the ground she stepped across the field, the gate closing tightly behind her. The slam of the over sized door seemed to echo as a signal to the vanguard they should approach.
Only three figures approached Conversation as she had gotten to an area that seemed purposefully cleaned of corpses to form a perfect circle. Of the three figures Con recognized two of them. One of the figures was clearly Rook, one of his arms seemingly missing entirely and his true feelings unknown behind his mask of a smile. The second she could recognize was Arikern, his wolf shaped helmet and presence alone made it clear he was not someone to take lightly. The unmistakable wolf emblem upon his azure cloak ensured there was no doubt he was Ue'cvian. The plates of solid metal that were his armor were stained with fresh blood, clearly not his own. Whatever his expression was, whatever his face or eyes even looked like she didn't know. Within his hands he held the mightiest claymore she had ever seen, it seemed more like a slab of solid metal than an actual sword.
Finally of the three there was an unknown man who wore atop his head a crown made of what looked like solid ice. The gemstones of the crown were perfect sapphires that had an obscure luminescence to them while the ice shifted in shape of snarling wolves. His eyes seemed like those of a dead fish, pale and white. The only suggestion of color in his eyes were the outline of a flame where a pupil should have been, the color a solid green. The snow white color of his hair only made him seem like more of a ghost posing as a man. His smile seemed unnaturally large as he strode along past corpses with the grace of a swan. The unnaturally pale skin of his body looked too smooth, without a single wrinkle of age to the point he looked childish. Without even noticing Conversation stared at him for a full minute just waiting for him to speak.
"You may refer to me simply as Cobrine. My Titles mean nothing in this case of honor. Wouldn't you say?" His voice sent a chill through her spine and made her nearly drop her halberd entirely. Composing herself before speaking was the only way she could keep from stuttering out a rushed response to him.
"We would invoke the right of-"
"Who is we? You stand alone." He interrupted her and seemed to lick his lips with a forked tongue after his words came out.
"I speak for the lord Mearon and by extend the people of the city of Harkin."
"Continue." He instructed gently.
"We invoke the right of an honorable duel. Should we win we demand you cease your siege for two days time. Our fighter shall be the one standing before you, with my weaponry being all you can see upon me."
"Hmm...and if we win?" He asked.
"We are open to suggestions."
"This could make things easier. Oh yes...much easier." A slow malicious cackle came from Cobrine before he continued. "We would like Orson, son to my general, brought to us. No weapons in hand and without any interference from us taking him into our custody. No harm will come to the boy as long as he doesn't resist."
"These terms are more than acceptable to me and my allies." Conversation looked over at Arikern standing stoically in his armor. "I assume he will be my opponent."
"Hmm...yes he does seem the most well armed." Looking over at Rook Cobrine seemed to giggle gently at the wounded mercenary who scowled at him in return. "I suppose losing an arm makes your sense of humor go as well. Actually I have a much more interesting rule to add to this little duel. A favor for my one armed friend here."
"Depends on the rule you're adding."
"You must win both fights in order to get both days. One against Rook and the other against Arikern of course."
"And why should I agree with this added risk?" She asked.
"Because if you win both you not only get both days but I will also enlighten you of something most wonderful regarding the state this world is in. You may even realize that siding with us would be best."
"I'm not interested in politics." She responded bluntly.
"Oh no no...this is much more important than simple land or the riches of war. But I suppose you should focus on not dying for now?" His words lingered in the air as he stepped away.
Without a word Arikern lifted his great sword into the air before stabbing it into the ground. The grass of the field shined with a brilliant blue light before an intense cold filled the entire area. The air grew wild and it even seemed to snow before the bodies upon the ground slowly turned to blue ashes. Their equipment and clothing seemed to remain untouched but the skin, meat, and bone floated into a single pile. As the plains were clear ice formed at the midpoint between the gate and where Conversation stood. An elevated flat area complete with a seat filled viewing area formed with seemingly flawless dimensions was the final result. The perfection of the fighting pit at the center changed as large spikes were created at random to make it seem like a room of mirrors. Stepping into each Conversation could see perfect reflections of herself and even Rook as he walked in after her.
The one armed mercenary simply stared at her for a moment and without uttering a word reached underneath his cape. Hidden beneath the bright orange fabric he produced a weapon that looked like an over sized curved sword of some kind. It's metal seemed to glitter between a pale white and light blue, made a darker blue every minute for just a moment. The blade was engraved with odd markings of a moon surrounded by what Con guessed were stars. Holding the weapon with one hand Rook smiled at Conversation as a blue light engulfed his body. The light turned to azure blue flames that burned bright enough she had to cover her eyes for a moment. As the flames faded away Rook no longer looked the same.
Where once his features seemed plain compared to most of the others around him he now stuck out clearly. His hair grew long enough to reach his elbows, it's color a bright snowy white similar to Cobrine's own strands. His eyes now brightly glittered blue with star shaped pupils. Where his missing arm once was an ethereal one took it's place. His voice sounded oddly more feminine as he spoke to Conversation.
"It's helpful having friends to help cover a weakness. I think I'll take more than just an arm, sorry if that sounds unfair."
"I'm not alone either. Now hurry up, I don't have time for the hired help."
Readying her halberd Conversation paced in a circle along with Rook. Her eyes looked his stance over for any clear weaknesses although he seemed to be almost too open. His shoulders were relaxed and his legs and arms both just remained seemingly entirely limp, even his weapon just hung loosely in his hand at the moment. Remaining cautious she stopped pacing to just remain on guard, her grip on the shaft of her pole arm tight.
With just three delicate hopping steps Rook closed the distance to slash with his weapon, the blade leaving a bright blue trail in the air as it traveled. Tilting her head down she blocked the slash using her hat before bashing with her hat afterwards. To her surprise Rook was gone entirely, her bash just going out into open air. With a glance over her shoulder she saw the glow of his blade first, a beam of solid blue flame firing toward her from behind. Too slow to dodge she felt the sting of it piercing through her chest before setting a nearby pillar of ice on fire. Ignoring the pain she turned around to just barely block an incoming slash using her hat.
The sting of magic burned Con to her very core, still she remained mostly expressionless. Following her instincts she took a step back to avoid the next slash in Rook's flurry, interrupting the third slash by going for a simple thrust of her weapon. It's spear point immediately found success as it pierced his chest, blood staining the ground as he let out a pained grunt. To her surprise his entire body suddenly ignited with blue flames before a shock wave exploded outward from Rook, knocking her away and tumbling to the ground as she broke through two of the spikes in the fighting pit. These spikes near immediately refreshed and she couldn't see Rook at all. Taking a moment she gets to her feet and placed a hand to her chest, a small blue flame forming in her hand that she tossed away. A sigh of relief escaped her lips as the searing pain from the blue flame faded away.
Among the reflections of the ice she saw an image of Rook off to the left head in the exact opposite direction of her. When heading to her left to look into the open area she was once within she saw couldn't see either Rook or even a reflection of him. To her right she could hear the sound of melting ice accompanied with the sight of a thick cloud passing from the same direction. This cloud grew denser and wider until soon she couldn't see farther than five steps ahead of herself. With her vision obscured she decided to press her back against one of the ice spikes before standing still to make her stand there.
The sound of a footstep echoing from directly ahead of her caught her attention for a moment. As the steps veered off and away she raised her halberd to gently hit the nearby ice to test it's noise. As the sound echoed she removed her hat entirely to place it on top of a spike and hit the spike a few more times loudly until the footsteps began to head in her direction. Then placing her hat down on the ground she stepped off to the opposite side of the room. Much like most of her actions thus far she then simply waited, seeing the outline of a blue flame along a sword pass by her. The blue light then filled the entire arena for just a moment, not enough to see but enough to cause a flash of light to reflect off her metallic hat.
A smile formed on her lips as she could see Rook's blade raised itself upward and then begin to fill itself with flame. Just as he brought the blade down to send an explosion of blue flame at her hat she held out her halberd, the weapon and her moving directly for the hat. While she couldn't see it she could feel her weapon sink deeply into Rook's back. There was no sound at all for just a moment, Rook simply fell down to his knees. As he opened his mouth to say something she tore her weapon from his back to raise it and then outright decapitate him. The slash deep but taking two to finish off removing his head fully. 'Over just like that.' She thought to herself. Sitting down she then waited for a few minutes until the mist faded entirely, the battle won and ended unceremoniously in her opinion. For those minutes of waiting Conversation simply cleaned her weapon and placed her hat back onto her head after patting off the few small embers clinging to it's metal. The arena slowly seemed to flatten out as both Arikern and Cobrine stepped down from their viewing areas. Cobrine smiling joyously as he spoke with clear mirth.
"Brutally efficient. No mercy at all!" Cobrine gingerly picked up Rook's weapon by the blade. "Do you mind if I help myself to the loot?" He asked with an all too eager smile.
"I think I know someone who would like it actually."
"Not even for some coins? You may not even know how to appreciate such craftsmanship."
"I am, it is a Myrian blade after all."
"Myrian...I figured it was Karin in origin. Well whatever, I didn't really even want i-"
Cobrine stopped as Arikern suddenly impaled him through the chest from behind. His mighty blade igniting with a raw blue light bright enough Con tilted her hat down to shield her eyes. The sound of a hellish wail filled the area along with the smell of clear and distinct burning. When the light faded Cobrine seemed gone entirely, replaced by what looked to just be a black heart and pure white ash. The heart still beating and pulsing with green blood, it's scent oddly sweet like sugar. In one single motion Arikern grabbed the heart and tossed it over to Conversation who caught it instantly.
"Do me the honors fellow golem."
"Fellow?" She raised an eyebrow in question.
Arikern reached up and simply popped off his helmet to show his armor was in fact empty. The interior was just that, the interior of a suit of heavy armor. Of all the thing Conversation had seen coming from what was under that helmet, she never guessed it would have been nothing. Looking down at the heart in her hands she crushed it until it suddenly burst into just a mixed pile of rancid black and green blood. In the distance to the north east she saw a bright white pulse run through the air and fill the sky, accompanied by the sound of breaking glass. A hearty chuckle radiated from Arikern's helmet as he turned to Conversation.
"That's it then. Well have a good day." With that said Arikern turned and began to walk away from Conversation and make a few hand motions for his troops to leave entirely.
"Wait just a second there, what just happened?" Conversation stomped after him.
"I'll keep this short. That wasn't Cobrine, I know that due to my actions as well as how he treated that sword. But more about the sky, you just saved Ue'cvis and the entire nation of Sharveu. You have my thanks for that of course and for keeping my son alive. You've done for me the final part of what I needed. Oh also you won the war." Arikern clapped three times and shook Conversation's hand before once again continuing to walk away from her.
"I don't understand."
"Don't worry too much, it should be over soon enough." Arikern turned around and stopped walking away to instead turn and face Con.
"What will be over?" Con said with irritation.
"The world of course. I've done this song and dance long enough to know. You just need to do enough different from the usual timeline and then things if reset should be relatively in order and not in chaos."
"But why didn't you just kill him yourself then?"
"I've already done that. Mind you last time it took a long time to figure out he wasn't actually Cobrine but by now it's more just a sad and irrelevant fact. I may not reset time but I know how it works, and I've assured Ue'cvis and Sharveu will be around when we reset time again. You can also ensure memories come of another timeline come to you if you just leave yourself a strong enough trigger of something that isn't in the timeline but should be, mine was my wife. That's enough explaining I think. I hope you're here next time, I could use someone like you. What was your name again?"
"Right, got it."
Arikern then continued walking away and Conversation simply sighed and then slowly sat with a hand to her hat. She didn't need to try figuring out how time worked or what Arikern meant by resetting time exactly. She had won, even if she didn't have to actually fight the opponent she was meant to. That alone was enough to make her smile genuinely and even giggle to herself. Standing up she could see Mearon was entirely in shock and just staring down at her along with the men on the wall.
"Well...I guess I'm worth more than two days." She said to herself jokingly while heading back to Orson.