The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Part IV – 'A Crown of Thorns'


Chapter 47


The morning sun was cresting over the Sirenese Mountains, bringing the light of a new day to the Ardentin forest that blanketed their lower slopes. In the valley below the Abbey of Eagles Eyre, the expeditionary force that Nic and Lance had, with the permission and enthusiastic participation of General Zakaria, gathered together in Konassas, now stood just below the summit of Mt. Savat. Archers, foot soldiers, cavalry troops, and a score of officers stood ready for their orders.


General Marcus Andris Zakaria, fully outfitted for battle and surrounded by his entire senior officer’s corps, stood looking up past the tree line at the abbey and its massive walls. Charles stood opposite them.


“All right Charles, where is it?” Zakaria asked curtly.


“Give me a little time,” Charles said. “I’m fairly sure it’s close by.”


“Well, time is something we don’t have much of, and fairly sure is not the answer I’m looking for,” the General retorted. “And furthermore Charles, if you think that my troops are going to ascend this mountain up a glorified goat path and try to enter the only gate in the wall one man at time, you’re greatly mistaken.”


“Patience, General,” Nic advised as he lightly touched the old soldier’s shoulder. “Give Charles a little space. After all, a long time has passed since he last saw it.”


The it that Nic was referring to was an entrance long ago cut into the mountain, then covered and hidden over time. In order to endure a supply of fresh water, Mt. Savat had been chosen not only for its isolation and inaccessibility, but also for the abundance of natural springs that flowed through the mountain and eventually into the River Jerrell that ran through the Sirenese mountain range.


At the time of the Royal Academy’s construction, a shaft had been driven deep into the heart of the mountain and a large reservoir created in a great subterranean chamber. It was into this catch basin that some of the runoff from the springs that flowed underground through the mountain was allowed to drain.


At the same time, an elaborate mechanical pumping system had been built into the shaft, and an aqueduct from the reservoir to the Academy above was constructed in order to deliver fresh, cold, spring water to its inhabitants. Part of that ingenious system included an outlet at the base of the mountain to allow for overflow from the reservoir and prevent flooding of the shaft. In time, it had been covered over with the detritus of rockslides, and the growth of the forest.


Charles suspected that the monks of the Abbey were completely unaware of it – and that simple fact was the key to his plan. He’d convinced Nic and General Zakaria that if they could find the overflow tunnel, they could make their way though it to the reservoir, climb up the shaft and gain entrance to the Abbey, thus avoiding a costly, and possibly futile, siege.


Charles had spent the past two hours combing the side of Mt. Savat looking for clues, but twenty five hundred years of change made it impossible for him to find even one vaguely recognizable structure or landmark. He could feel the pressure; Nic, General Zakaria, his officers, and an entire army stood waiting impatiently for him. As he moved through the forest in one direction after another, his own level of frustration had grown to exasperation.


For the fourth time that morning he’d left them standing about while he traversed the tree line, searching for something – anything. Unfortunately luck had deserted him and, feeling discouraged, he was ready to quit. Perched on a convenient rock, he put his head in his hands. His mind raced as he bludgeoned his brain for an answer. He could remember what the mountain had looked like twenty five hundred years ago, but there were just too many changes in the forest for him to even begin to guess where the tunnel might be. He shook his head as he started to smell the stench of failure in his nostrils.


It was at that moment, as he sat downcast and rehearsing what he would tell a disappointed and disgruntled general, that he noticed that the one foot he had planted on the ground was getting wet. He glanced down in curiosity and noticed a tiny rill of water trickling past the base of his precarious seat. Jumping off of the rock, he crouched down, cupped his hand, let it fill with icy water, and tasted it. The water was cold and fresh. His heart lurched with sudden hope, and he suppressed it – after all, Mt. Savat was known for its freshwater springs. ‘But by the Emperor’s stones, what if it is…?’ he thought, with unaccustomed vulgarity.


He sprang to his feet and began to backtrack the flow, up the side of the mountain. Hearing Zakaria further down the mountain grumbling about incompetence and wasted time, he shouted out for them to come up and join him, and watched, with hope flowing through him, their hurried approach.


With Charles leading the way, they began tracking the flow of cold spring water. Nic was right behind him, followed by Zakaria and some of his staff. After picking their way a few hundred yards through the forest, they came to a large mound of rock and dirt. It was covered with a dense growth of brush and some large trees.


“Here it is,” Charles said confidently, pointing to the large mound.


“It certainly doesn’t look like a tunnel to me,” Zakaria grumbled.


“But General, look at the shape of the mound,” Charles said, pointing to the tall outcropping. “See how it’s slightly arched? There must have been a rock or mudslide a long time ago, and it covered up the tunnel; maybe it even collapsed part of the entrance. In the centuries that followed, the forest advanced and covered it, but this is it, I’m convinced. See the stream of water trickling from it? I’m sure it leads directly to the reservoir.”


That was all Zakaria had to hear; he strode over to one of his officers and began speaking to him, apparently issuing orders, for at the conclusion their brief exchange, the man left Zakaria and within a few minutes arrived back at the mound with a platoon of foot soldiers armed with shovels, picks, and iron bars.


“Start digging,” Zakaria said, “and pray that the General here is correct.” As he spoke, he cast a long gaze upon Charles, who stared back at him coldly.


It took a few hours, with everyone impatiently waiting and pacing – especially Zakaria – but then shouts arose from the group of soldiers who’d been digging. Nic, Charles, Tark, Zakaria, and some of the senior officers rushed over to the men, and sure enough, as they looked on they could see a dark pocket of empty space. Encouraged at their discovery, the soldiers started to work double time in order to make the hole larger. As it grew, Nic stepped up to the opening and picked up a stone. Throwing it far into the hole, the sound that returned to them was of a low, hollow clatter that echoed deep in the ground.


“We’ve got it,” Nic smiled.


Charles took a deep sigh of relief. Zakaria bent down and looked into the hole and nodded in agreement, but as he arose and turned to Charles, no smile crossed his face.


“I admit you’re right, my Lord,” he said, frowning at the red and black winged boy, “but now that we’ve found it, we have to hope that this is the only part of the tunnel that’s collapsed.”


“Yes, I was thinking the same thing,” Charles quietly agreed.


The soldiers, spurred on by their find, continued digging at an accelerated pace. In the meantime, Zakaria ordered his officers and troops to begun assembling near the entrance of the tunnel. As the excavation continued apace, there was a sudden shout, followed by the sound of breaking brush and muffled footsteps coming from the forest. Nic put his hand on his sword hilt, but relaxed when he saw Brotus emerge from the dark undergrowth of the forest.


“Where’s Jamie?’ Nic called out as the old soldier stumped up to where he was standing.


“He’s up there,” Brotus said, pointing up the mountainside at the walls of the abbey.


“Let’s hope that we’re soon up there as well,” Nic replied.


Taking Brotus to the side, Nic got a full report, but when he thanked and dismissed him, Brotus stared the King of Icaria in the eye, giving him a stony look.


“Beggin’ your pardon, Your Highness,” he said, “but I didn’t come all this way to stand back and watch all of you storm this place. You sound like my little sparr… ah… His Grace,” Brotus stumbled, belatedly remembering his manners.


“I thought you might want a rest,” Nic said. “Noontide mess is still being served, but don’t think I’m pushing you aside, Brotus. I could use another good sword at my back.”


“Well Your Highness, the only rest I want to see is my sword resting in the hearts of some of those scum yonder,” Brotus replied darkly. “There’s a debt owin’ there, y’see.”


“Fair enough,” Nic said. “And so it shall be.” Turning to face the old soldier head on, he smiled and winked. “And Brotus?” he added, “I know he’s your little sparrow, and that you mean no disrespect. I’m deeply grateful the little spitfire’s accepted you so well. I would never have been able to get him to fight as calmly and intelligently as you’ve managed to do. I’m forever in your debt. I don’t care if he’s the emperor of the universe – I never want you stop looking out for him.”


In his usual fashion, Brotus averted his eyes and turned his back on Nic as a gruff sound of agreement rose in his throat. “Well, I love that little sparrow,” he said under his breath so no one would hear him as he stalked away.


“As do I,” Nic whispered to himself as he watched the old man march off to find something to eat.


By midday, the soldiers had created a large opening that led directly into the mountain. With Nic and Charles leading, Zakaria and the assembled troops walked out of the sunlight, into the dark maw of the spillway. The tunnel was narrow, but still tall and wide enough to allow a number of men to walk abreast of each other. The arched stone ceiling, although occasionally sending drops of cold water down on those passing through it, seemed strong and secure.


Every third soldier had been given an unlit torch, but all of them had been instructed to only light one for every hundred men while they were still moving through the tunnel so that the enclosed space wouldn’t become filled with too much smoke. When they eventually emerged into an open area, they were told that they could then begin to light the remaining torches. The soldiers picked their way slowly and carefully through the tunnel. A thousand yards into it, the tunnel began to angle upward at a slight incline. Walking up this incline became a bit trickier, since the water flowing over the stones made the walkway treacherous, but they continued on without incident.


After another thousand yards of climbing, Nic nudged Charles. “Look, an opening.” And as Charles looked ahead, he could see that the tunnel opened up onto a large, dark space. Nic and Charles were the first to emerge from the tunnel, and while their torches were far too dim to illuminate the entire space, it was obvious from the echoes that bounced back at them with every sound they made that they had come out into a vast, cavernous chamber. As more and more of the officers and soldiers emerged from the tunnel, and their torch light multiplied, the enormity of the space slowly became clear to everyone.


Looking about, they found themselves standing in a huge, open cavern that had been carved out of solid rock by men millennia before. The wall of the room formed a perfect cylinder, blending seamlessly into a high, domed ceiling. The surfaces of the walls and ceiling were highly polished. As Nic ran his hand over its surface, he could feel that it was as smooth as glass.


In the center of the space was a large circular reservoir of water that was many feet deep. Around the entire circumference of the deep pool was a wide causeway surrounded by a continuous, unbroken railing. It was onto this walkway that they’d stepped as they emerged from the tunnel, and upon which the troops were even at that moment forming up around the pool. On the far side of the cavern, Nic spied a second arch, similar to the one they’d just come through, but being unlit it was impossible to see where it led.


With Nic and Charles still leading the way, the army moved around both sides of the circular walkway and advanced on the second archway, the tromping of many boots sending up a cacophony of echoes in the reservoir chamber. Upon entering it, they found themselves standing in a tall vertical shaft that extended some unknown distance above their heads. There was a great spiral stairway carved from the wall of the shaft itself that wound around and disappeared into blackness beyond the meager light of their torches. And try as they might to peer further, nothing could be seen as they stared up into the darkness above.


The army continued to assemble in the shaft, and Nic began to ascend the steps that formed the giant corkscrew-shaped stairway. As he did, those who’d entered the shaft behind him followed. After a few minutes of climbing, most of the army was on the staircase and climbing the shaft. High above the floor, Nic looked over the railing and down; from his viewpoint, he could see hundreds of torches flickering as the army moved upward. After about twenty minutes of steady climbing, Nic came to a solid wall.


“Charles, they walled it up!” he spat, slapping his hand on the rock.


“No Nic, it only looks that way,” Charles said. “It’s a movable wall. It was designed to keep people out of the shaft so they wouldn’t fall into it, and also as a protection against contamination of the water source by hostile forces if they ever gained access to the Academy. The mechanism to open it is hidden somewhere nearby; we just have to find it.”


Hearing Charles’ explanation, Nic and some of the nearby soldiers began to move their torches over the surface of the stonewall in the hopes of finding something.


After about five minutes of looking, an angry Nic was exasperated. “Bloody hell! After all this… to be stopped by a stone wall,” he cursed and fumed.


“Wait Nic,” Charles said, putting his hand on the Royal Dominion’s shoulder. “Look down here on the tread of this step.” Charles pointed downward at a hole in the step. It had a slot in it with some type of mechanism embedded in it.


One of the soldiers put his sword into the slot and tried turning it, but without success. Nic asked the soldier to move back and he gripped the sword. His strength was impressive; after a few false starts and a couple of grunts, he slowly began to rotate the sword as if he were cranking a winch. There was a scraping sound, and the wall began, very slowly, to slide open. After about ten minutes of cranking, it was wide enough to allow them to pass through. Once they were standing on the other side of the wall, they found that they were in a large room filled with strange machines.


“This is the pumping station that drew the water from the reservoir and up the shaft,” Charles said. “We’re still about two hundred feet underground. I’m sure no one has been in here for centuries.” With that, he wiped a thick layer of dust from one of the machines and showed his dusty palm to Nic.


“Nic, I know where we are,” Charles continued. “Look over here – you can see another set of stairs. If I remember, this set of stairs leads to the control chamber for the machines. There we’ll find four tunnels and one stairway, leading in five different directions.


“The stairway leads out directly into the plaza in front of the cathedral. One of the corridors comes up in the old dormitories where the candidates lived – it’s now been turned into cells for the monks. Another corridor runs parallel with the northeast wall and eventually emerges into the great refectory hall. The third corridor opens into the palace storage chamber that’s directly under what used to be the Imperial Palace – it’s what you and Jamie know as the abbot’s Chapter House. The fourth corridor goes under the plaza to the old craft and artisan shops that have been converted into a theological seminary for the monks.”


By this time Zakaria, breathless and annoyed, had joined Nic and Charles and the rest of the senior officer corps.


“I’m too bloody old for this,” he cursed, breathless from the long climb up the circular staircase.


Charles smiled at him. “Maybe you should retire to the Duchy of Lionsgate and assume your title of Prince, my lord.”


“Bloody hell, damn you. I came for a fight and I won’t be denied,” he grinned back at the red and black angel.


Nic approached Zakaria and began to explain what he’d just learned from Charles. As they talked Nic presented a plan that he’d quickly formulated based on Charles information – a plan that Zakaria readily agreed with.


According to Nic’s plan, the army would divide into five units. Four of the units would be small, and of equal size. Each of these four units would consist of one senior and one junior officer along with a group of soldiers who were all skilled swordsmen – mostly the cavalry men who’d had to leave their horses behind at the base of the mountain. The fifth – the largest unit – would contain swordsman, foot soldiers carrying swords or pikes, and all of the archers. The four smaller units would go down each of the corridors, emerging from them into their four terminal locations throughout the complex and initiate an attack.


If the plan worked as Nic hoped it would, the frightened monks within the complex might be caught off guard and would retreat as the soldiers advanced upon them. Using the information Charles had supplied, Nic knew that the only logical place for retreat would be the plaza in front of the cathedral, and that’s where the larger fifth unit of the army would be waiting for them.


Zakaria called his senior officer corps up and began to explain the plan. As he did, Nic, Lance, and Juston Tark split the army into its five component parts. Nic would command the army in the plaza. Lance and Tark each took charge of one of the four smaller units. General Zakaria assigned himself and Prince Andrew to the third unit. As the General prepared to assign the fourth unit to a senior officer, Nic stopped him and pulled him aside for a private discussion. A minute later they parted and Zakaria, stepping in front of Brotus, ordered him to take the fourth and final unit.


Smiling at the general and returning a crisp salute, Brotus stepped back and gave his supreme commander a small bow. “It would be my pleasure, my lord general,” he said.


Stepping up to Zakaria, Charles gave the General a strange look. “General, these four units are going to be involved in hand-to- hand combat,” Charles began. “Don’t you think that you should be in the plaza with Nic?”


Zakaria walked over to Charles and lowered his face, staring directly into the young angel’s eyes.


“See this?” he said, pointing to the scar that ran across the side of his face. “That, little boy, came from hand-to-hand combat. When I can’t do it anymore, I’d rather be dead anyway. And besides, I’ll be heading the unit that goes to the refectory. After seeing what they did to that child back in Konassas, I’m hoping I can give a few of those black robed bastards a permanent case of indigestion.”


“As you wish, your Lordship,” Charles said with a smirk on his face as he bowed deeply toward the old knight.


With the plan in place, there was only one thing left to do – initiate it. The army quickly assembled in the large control room of the pumping station. Ahead of them, against the north wall of the room, were the stairs that would take Nic and his troops into the square. Cut into the east and west walls were two openings, each leading to the corridors that would lead the four smaller units to their assigned stations. Once he got a nod of readiness from all of the key commanders and officers, Nic gave the signal and the four smaller units left their stations to execute their mission. In the meantime, Nic and his army waited silently in the pumping station control room for the four smaller units to begin stirring things up.


Each of the smaller units quickly entered their assigned corridor and moved to their destinations. Inside the old dormitory that had been converted into monastic cells, a group of monks were beginning an afternoon prayer session in a small chapel attached to their living quarters, when the door flew open with a crash and the soldiers led by Brotus burst into the chapel and began their assault. A few monastic students in the seminary were attending a lecture on faith when suddenly the doors of the lecture hall were smashed into splinters and angry, sword-wielding cavalry soldiers led by Lancelot flooded through. In the subterranean chamber of the old palace, the group led by Captain Tark emerged and began fighting their way toward the upper levels of the Chapter House.


The final group, led by Zakaria, emerged into the refectory and caught a large group of monks eating. The soldiers began overturning tables and scattering food everywhere as they chased the monks from the large dining hall.


In the meantime, Nic and his contingent had emerged from the pump station and were on station in the plaza. Suddenly, from all over the compound, doors were flung open and black-robed figures began to pour into the open space of the plaza, pursued by one of the four units of soldiers. His majesty King Niklas of Icaria smiled to himself as he heard Zakaria bellowing at the top of his voice. “You filthy bastards, I’ll send you all to hell.”


As the monks continued their panic-stricken flight to the plaza, they were confronted by the troops of King Niklas, and realized they were trapped between the swords before them and the soldiers behind them, who were still snapping at their heels. For a few seconds the black robed ocean stopped its flow and began to mill about in confusion, until with a great shout from Nic, the larger army swept forward while the four smaller units merged smoothly into a single fighting force and attacked from the rear.


The fighting was not as fierce as had been expected, and within minutes the monks were rounded up and detained in the center of the plaza. Under direction from some of the troops Nic stationed around the prisoners, the defeated monks stripped off their robes and knelt on the hard stone of the plaza, hands clasped behind their heads. Satisfied that the situation was under control, Nic went to find Charles, whom he’d ordered to remain back in the pumping station. As a decided noncombatant and the only Icarian who knew his way around the large complex, Nic didn’t want anything to happen to the red and black winged angel. After gathering up Charles, the two strolled back to the plaza.


“There’s not as many as I first suspected,” Nic said to Charles.


Quickly looking around, Charles shook his head.


“Unbelievable,” he said, “I can assure you, Nic, having been a prisoner here, that this is just a fraction of the inhabitants of the abbey. I can’t imagine where the rest are.” Just then, they both heard a familiar voice shouting from the steps of the Cathedral and spun to watch with a surge of relief as four figures descended to the Plaza.


“They’re gone,” I shouted. Hearing the commotion David, Cody, Jonathan, and I emerged from the cathedral where we’d been hiding. At the sound of my voice, Nic and Charles spun around and stared wide-eyed at us.


“That’s because most of them fled under the cover of darkness a few days ago,” I angrily volunteered. “These men were left as decoys. They were expected to keep the complex running and make it appear that there were more of them than there actually were. Look closely at the prisoners; you’ll find mostly young boys who were recruited as postulates along with novices and a few old monks. The leadership, including Gude, his bloody Knight henchmen, and the majority of the monks, is gone.”


“But…” Charles began.


“The spy,” I shouted once more. “I was stupid. I should have found and killed him before we left for the abbey. Somehow he got word to Gude and the knights. They packed up and left hours before we arrived.”


As I spoke to Nic, Charles began looking more closely at the prisoners that had been herded into the plaza. Moving nearer the mass of men seated on the ground, he saw the faces of frightened old men and young boys. As much as he hated Gude, he found himself suddenly relieved that only a few had been hurt or killed. These poor creatures were as much victims of Gude as Luc had been. In a heartless move, Gude had left them to be slaughtered – an action that would have reinforced his religion’s belief that the Icarians were evil devils intent on wiping out humanity. As it was, it turned out only the few fanatical monks who had been left behind to force these poor boys and old men into fighting had actually been killed. Upon their deaths, the others had quickly and quietly surrendered.


Seeing the four of us standing in the courtyard under the bright afternoon sun, Lance rushed up to Cody, kissing and hugging him. Andrew – appearing unconcerned about any negative reaction – did the same with David. But no one appeared happier than Charles, who bent down and hugged his little brother with all his might. Then, stepping back, his face took on a worried look. As he studied the cuts and bruises Jonathan had sustained, he gasped.


“Oh, Jonathan,” Charles cried, “Are you hurt? What did they do to you?”


“They started to hurt me Charles, but Jamie saved me,” he said, and offered his older brother a weary smile.


Charles stood up from Jonathan, only to be pushed aside by Andrew, who hugged the little angel tightly.


“Jamie, what about you?” Nic said, raising an eyebrow. “What happened? And are you all right?”


“Yes Nic, I’m fine. I’m not hurt or injured. That’s something that I can’t say for Jonathan’s captors.”


“What happened?” both Nic and Charles asked at the same time.


“I promise to tell you later, but not now.” I pointed down to Jonathan, indicating that I didn’t want to go into detail in front of the little angel. “Just know that we’re all fine. I’m aware that Jonathan looks a bit rough at the moment, but I promise you Charles, it’s all superficial. We got to him before they could begin their evil work.”


“After the cowardly Abbot fled, they decided to kill him after all,” David said. “We didn’t arrive a moment too soon.”


“Thank you,” Charles said, as tears came to his eyes, “Thank you all for risking your lives, and for saving Jonathan’s. I didn’t think I’d ever see him alive again.” And once more Charles bent down and fiercely hugged his little brother. Arising Charles gave me a grateful look. “I find myself thanking you once more for saving the life of my brother,” he said quietly. “I owe you a debt I’ll never be able to repay.”


“I’d call it even if every once and a while, you’d give me a respite from your lectures about my behavior, disregard for tradition, and disdain for protocol,” I blurted out.


“You’ll never be so lucky,” Charles replied, coolly raising his eyebrows as he looked me over.


“For once, you can be glad he’s blind,” David said under his breath, strategically changing the topic.


“Why do you say that?” Charles asked, turning to the gladiator.


“It got a bit ugly after we found him,” David said. “I’m just glad he wasn’t able to witness it, although I’m sure he’ll probably tell you about the screams.”


Nic and Charles just looked at each other. I could see the blood drain from Charles face as an involuntary shudder passed through his body. Feeling a hand on my shoulder I turned to see Brotus standing behind me. I smiled up at him and gave him a big hug.


“We did it, Brotus,” I said as I leaned into him.


“That we did, sparrow. It reminded me of the old days with Derrick the Fat. I was never happier than when I was with the Iron Regiment. And for once, I’m proud of you, little bird. You followed your head, and not that fiery temper you’re so good at showing. You took on a dangerous job, and you did it without whining. That’s what a man does.”


“For once?” I said, releasing him and standing back to look in his face. I could feel my lower lip push out in an attempt to pout.


“Oh, I’m always proud of you, little boy,” Brotus said. “You know what I mean. Don’t be so sensitive.” And he hugged me once more.


By now it was late afternoon. The sun, while still bright and warm, hung in the western quarter of the sky. I walked across the plaza and looked at the monks that Nic had captured. Charles had been right. The old men looked ill and tired, and the boys were only slightly older than children. I knew that the Arch Abbot Gude and I were far from done yet. But for the moment, I was relieved that the first battle was over, and we’d won.


“Do you see what he’s capable of?” I said, turning to Nic as we slowly walked around the circle of prisoners. “He left them to die. He left them for us to slaughter so he could maintain his campaign of lies and hate – happy to feed the rumors that we’re bloodthirsty killers of humans. He ordered Jonathan’s execution,” I angrily shouted, “and I can’t even think about…”


“I know, Jamie,” Nic said, giving me a look of concern. “But we’ve captured Eagles Eyre, and we won’t surrender it.”


“No, we’ve recaptured The Royal Academy of Eagles Rock,” Charles corrected gently, coming up behind us and holding Jonathan’s hand.


Lance, who had been addressing some of the soldiers guarding the prisoners, stopped and approached us. “Prince of Eagles Rock, Your Highness,” he said, giving Nic a formal bow. “The title fits you well, sir.”


“You certainly earned it,” I added with a smile.


Nic approached me and took me in his arms. He gave me a light kiss that quickly turned into a strong, deep one. As we ended it, he stood back and looked down at me with love and concern.


“I was incredibly worried about you, Jamie. I’m glad you’re not hurt, or worse.”


“I was just as worried about you, Nic; being separated from you made me realize how precious you are to me.”


“Same here,” Nic replied.


“Ahem,” Charles cleared his throat. “Now, if you two are finished, there are some important things ahead of us. I think you should follow me.” With that Charles, still holding Jonathan’s hand, walked across the plaza toward the eastern wall of the abbey complex. Looking at Nic in puzzlement, I frowned. He in turn stared back at me and shrugged, but took my hand and followed Charles. In our wake came Lance, Cody, Zakaria, Prince Andrew, David, and Juston Tark, along with a number the senior Xannameirian officers.


The day had turned out to be a good one. And as I looked around the grand royal academy, I was glad that it was now in our control. Walking beside Nic, we slowly strolled across the plaza toward Charles, who stood tapping his toe impatiently next to a blank section of high, gray wall. I could see the red and black marking on his wings sparkle in the sunlight and couldn’t help but suspiciously wonder what he was planning.