Assuming his human form, Red glared at their opponent, huffing in displeasure.
“What?” Roland asked dumbly.
“We lost,” Red said through clenched teeth, his pride feeling wounded. It didn’t matter that the opponent was a Silver aura to him, they had lost.
“I get that, but how?” Roland asked.
Their opponent sauntered forward, placing their broadsword on their back where an enchantment gripped the blade to their armor. They took off their helmet and placed it against their hip, revealing a feminine face, silver eyes, and blonde hair.
“It was a good fight, my Heir. You’ve gotten a lot stronger since last I saw,” the woman said.
“You’re incredibly strong yourself, Sabrina. Mira should be proud,” Roland responded, gripping her outstretched, gauntleted hand.
“I wouldn’t be so sure, Mother has very high expectations,” she said sheepishly.
Looking over his shoulder, Roland muttered, “I know that feeling all too well.”
They all exited the training room. Red smirked when he saw Valerie acting antsy, barely restraining herself from rushing forward to smother Roland.
“So, I didn’t catch what happened at the end there,” Roland stated.
Emperor Abernathy touched something on the wall, then enlarged the replay with a quick swipe of the hand.
“I told you, she cheated,” Red grumpily said, folding his arms as he watched the footage.
Everyone present ignored his grumbling, watching as the final confrontation began playing on the wall. At the final moment before the mythril broadsword met Red, Sabrina shifted a pace to the side, her sword bisecting Roland from shoulder to hip.
“A movement skill, then,” Roland stated. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you use that skill before.”
“It’s costly to instantly move like that, so I rarely use it. Since it was the dreamscape, I didn’t feel one way or another about using it,” she said, running her hand through her hair. “If your weapon spirit’s Power was Silver, you would’ve won that fight.”
Red bristled, crossing his arms in frustration as he glared at the female warrior.
“Honestly, I think that fight was all on me. I’m not used to the amplifying effects Red has, and that was the first time we trained together, so I wasn’t aware of how powerful my attacks would be.” He shrugged. “I should’ve known when my delayed Propulsion Strike blew you to the other side of the room that things had changed.”
Emperor Abernathy nodded, repeatedly watching the whole exchange at an incredibly faster speed than Red thought was possible to process, but he kept doing it. His expression was unreadable as he continued to observe.
“Well be retiring then if nothing else is needed of me,” Sabrina said, bowing deeply to the Emperor and then respectfully toward Roland.
Roland shook his head, “Thank you for your time, Sabrina. I had fun.”
“Same,” she agreed, smiling as she left the training room.
Roland went to soothe the still anxiously pacing Valerie, and Red focused on the Emperor.
“Before you speak,” Emperor Abernathy interrupted Red as he began to open his mouth, “just know that Roland is my only Heir. If I were to lose him, I would lose my only family. He’s more to me than his title of Heir, so proceed with caution.”
Red closed his mouth, looked behind him toward Roland as he hugged Valerie, and resolved himself to see his promise to the trainees through to the end.
“I spoke with Battlemaster Hendricks, and he told me there’s a Silver dungeon - Devil’s Lair - nearby,” he started, talking quickly in hope that he could say his part before the Emperor refused him outright. “I trained with the new warriors, and they’re hopeless. They’ve no will to fight, no will to do anything outside of the minimum effort required from Battlemaster Hendricks, and even he has given up on any of those trainees surviving. I -”
The Emperor held up his hand and Red stopped, “What did Roland say?”
Red gulped, giving a second look over his shoulder, and then turned back to face the Emperor that was staring at him out of the corner of his eyes. “Initially, he said no, but I convinced him to think about it. He said we’d talk again after this, but -”
“So, instead of acquiescing to the will of your wielder - my son - you went over his head to approach me?”
When Emperor Abernathy put it that way, it was pretty damning.
“I - I’m doing what I have to do to get something done. I’m going to the person who can directly make a choice on matters.” The Emperor opened his mouth to speak, but Red interrupted, “Mira said that an Emperor was both strong and kind, but where is the kindness of sending kids to their death without at least giving them a chance to succeed? I - I can’t standby, doing nothing, if they’re all going to go out and get slaughtered like master Vaughn!”
“Is that so?” the Emperor simply asked.
Red nodded, fearful he’d croak if he tried to speak now, the nervousness caused by what he was doing drying up his throat.
“I’ve already prepared arrangements. Mira and Artois - another Gold aura - will accompany the first group in two days' time and the second in four days' time,” the Emperor calmly stated.
“I can’t acc-” Red paused, mouth half-open. Recollecting himself after he processed what Emperor Abernathy said, he floundered much like Mira had before when he’d requested to adopt the Braveheart surname. “Excuse me, what?”
“Battlemaster Hendricks requested a meeting this evening, and I spoke with him before this,” the Emperor explained. “I agree with your intent, and on a bigger picture scale, we’ll never reclaim our world if we keep sending the youth to die with no opportunity to survive.”
Red stared dumbly, struggling to process what he heard.
“Don’t forget what I said when you approached,” Emperor Abernathy said with finality, turning back to study the footage.
Red nodded, realizing that he’d been seen through from the start. Red bowed to the Emperor at the waist then turned around, meeting Roland’s knowing gaze.
I’ve been played for a fool, he thought to himself, but Red didn’t get upset about it. In the end, he’d gotten what he was after either way.
Sitting on his palatial throne staring up at the starry sky, Red watched as the last drop of Essence required to push his Power into Silver territory. Without delay, the fluid spilled over and wrapped around the orb. It shrank, but now it gave off a much more potent aura that shined brightly in the sky above.
He’d saved every drop Roland had given him over the past couple of days, and he’d only had just enough to push past Bronze. Standing, he walked over to the pool and observed the dais within the empty fountain.
Red Braveheart | Weapon Spirit | E+
Power - Silver | Durability - Bronze | Attunement - Bronze
Once a simple sword, this blade has soaked up the lifeblood and Essence of countless soldiers. Tempered in great battlefields, dyed red from the lifeblood it has consumed, this spirit seeks a wielder to match its bloodlust and desire for further tempering. It’s still young, but its potential is boundless.
This spirit has taken on the surname of its first master in honor of his ferocity in battle and overwhelming might when faced against unfavorable odds. A deep adoration is seeded within the spirit. This blade wishes to be a blade worthy of its first master’s surname and will prove itself no matter the hurdles it must overcome.
To drink the blood of my enemies and prove myself worthy of my first master’s name, these are my only desires.
Innate: Two Forms
Power: Bloodred Blitz
“There’s so much more now,” he stared in awe as he read through it all. Taking on his first master’s surname really changed him, at least according to the dais. “Bloodred Blitz sounds promising.”
Bloodred Blitz - Create two copies of your weapon form. These copies last for thirty seconds.
He thought it was fairly impressive.
Intuitively, he understood what the skill could do, and he wished he was able to know how his skills would grow. Unfortunately, he would have to wait and see.
Now that he finished what he came to do, he gave the cosmic orbs one last look before leaving his inner palace.
Red stood up from the sofa and looked around the small suite. He could sense Roland and Valerie waking within their shared room. Looking around, it shocked him how little pomp the Royals truly gave toward their living areas, but it didn’t seem like anybody else ever visited.
The front door gave way to a small personal kitchen with storage spaced for fresh produce, and each appliance was lightly enchanted to fulfill its function properly. There was another room, and Red curiously stepped inside to see two silver cubes inside, different flashing enchantments greeting him. Kneeling, he looked inside to see wet clothes in one and dry clothes in the other.
“Interesting,” he said as he twirled one of the persistent locks that always dangled in his eyes.
Leaving the room, he returned to the openly connected kitchen and guest area and looked around again, noticing that the ceiling contained one of those spheres Mira had used to project his lessons on the wall. As he reached for it, the door to Roland’s room opened, and the Heir glared at Red.
They stared at one another for a brief moment before Red shrugged, losing interest now that the day’s events were finally right around the corner. Roland returned to the room, and Red had to ignore the sound of playful giggling from within, but the Heir exited only moments later.
Red greeted Valerie with a lazy wave as the couple exited Roland’s room. Roland grabbed his sheath from where it hung next to the front door and strapped it to his waist. Without prompting, Red followed them out the door, more than likely the most excited one of the three of them.
Four dozen trainees stood in rows before Roland’s procession, all saluting with their fists over their hearts. They had marched through the city toward Vanguard’s gates. Once they arrived, four large trucks waited for them.
What is that?
It’s an LMTV, Roland responded. Red could tell the Heir was nervous.
A who-be what-ee?
It’s a big transport vehicle from before The Shattering. With some enchanting, mages got the vehicles working again.
Red nodded, allowing Roland some peace of mind, focusing on the ceremony - or whatever this was. Looking over the warriors, he noticed that each team had been assigned with a squad and outfitted with steel armor, longswords, and kite shields.
Mira stepped forward, “I am Lady Mira. I will be taking groups one through six, and my partner,” she waved toward a guy Red hadn’t seen before, “Lord Artois will take the other half. You’ve been split into teams, but think of this as a joint operation. The Devil’s Lair is no joke, no playground to frolic about.”
She paused, and Artois stepped forward to continue where she left off. “At our Emperor's request, we’ve agreed to lead you into the dungeon. Battlemaster Hendricks and I both agreed that sending any of you into the field before you’ve reached Silver capability is akin to asking you to forfeit your lives.”
Hendricks stepped forward, booming, “Trainees, you have an opportunity here! It will be dangerous, the journey ahead perilous, but as the next generation of Vanguard’s hope, we will not see your deaths without giving you tools to fend with!” He stepped forward, fist across his chest, “Who are we?”
In unison, every trainee thumped their fists against their chests at Hendricks’ prompting, “Vanguard.”
“I said,” he roared, stepping up to the line of warriors, “Who. Are. We?!”
Red made eye contact with Arnold, and a beaming smile crossed his face as the burning desire to live and fight radiated outward.
When the trainees replied, the ground rumbled from the combined resolve of the warriors as they slammed their shields against the ground and roared together, their fighting spirit coalescing to a chill-inducing warcry.
“Aye, and don’t you ever forget it!” Hendricks shouted with a smile, wiping away a tear from his face as he stepped back to Mira and Artois, speaking loudly enough for the trainees to hear. “I’ve personally spoken with the Royal Emperor, requesting permission to join the dive.” He glanced back toward the crowd that hung onto every word, “Permission was granted, so I’ll be joining you all inside.”
Hendricks beamed with pride as he turned toward the crowd, his aura a strange mixture of Gold-flecked Silver. Red had to admit, he felt proud of the warrior trainees as their shields continued to resonate.
Roland’s time to step forward came, and he did so without hesitation, “Some of you may know me, but I’ll introduce myself for those who may not have. I am Roland Abernathy, Royal Heir,” he crossed his arm over his heart, thumping on his chest twice. “And I’ll be joining you in Devil’s Lair.”
Several trainees gasped and hushed whispering broke out within the back rows, but the warriors only met Roland’s gaze with a smile. If Roland was going with them, then there was no way they could fail. The Emperor himself wouldn’t let anything happen to the last family he had.
Roland gave them a moment before clearing his throat to regain their attention, “Departure is in an hour. Take this time to familiarize yourselves with your new teams before we go.”
The trainees thumped their chests, breaking from their ranks at the dismissal. Roland turned to talk to Hendricks as Valerie wrapped her hand around his waist, moisture accumulating in the corners of her eyes.
Red left them to approach Arnold, clasping the young man’s forearm in greeting.
“I want to apologize for my behavior before,” Arnold started, but Red held up a hand to halt him.
“Don’t think twice about it. If someone offered me something that sounded too good to be true, I think I’d also be a bit skeptical.” They released their grips, turning to look at the three people that approached. “Now, it’s on you to make them feel the same.”
“I don’t think it’ll be too hard with Mad Moon Mira and Anwar Artois watching over us,” Arnold said quietly, looking behind him to make sure none of the high profilers had heard the nicknames for the two Golden auras.
“Fair enough,” Red said with a smirk. “I’ll leave you to mingle for now. Good luck, Arnold.”
Red pat the young man on the back before turning away, internally crossing his fingers in hope that he wouldn’t have to witness any of Valerie or Roland’s gushing.
When he approached, they both looked at him with a smile.
“Did you make a friend while you were training, Red?” Roland asked.
“He did seem friendly with that guy. When I see him like that, he doesn’t look as scary. If only he didn’t glower at everyone all the time,” Valerie said playfully.
Raising a brow, Red really looked at the girl. She looked far happier than he’d ever seen her back at her father’s manor. Not only that, she looked healthier as well. He gave a half-smile toward the girl.
We should discuss my capabilities as a weapon spirit before we reach the dungeon.
Just - give me this time, please. Roland pleaded. As long as it happens before we get there, enjoy your time. Red nodded toward Valerie and allowed his human form to shift away, taking solace within his inner palace until the time Roland prompted him.