With a crash the door caved in, but the ROIbot stumbled as it charged into the room holding its trapped prey. Eoryn sprang forward towards the door, swinging his Double Blade down on the exposed head of the robot, but he also stumbled. The floor beneath his feet seemed to slant, and suddenly he felt as if gravity had little effect on him. The floor kept slanting, and Eoryn jumped forward and grabbed the door frame, which was almost above his head now. Behind him, the ROIbot slipped across the almost vertical floor.
a tremendous crashing of stone followed, and suddenly it was all Eoryn could do to hold onto the door frame. There was a robotic cry below him, and he looked down just as the ROIbot, red eyes wide, slammed into the opposite wall and fell right through. Eoryn gasped as he watched the ROIbot, bricks, and debris fall more than a hundred feet to the street below. Eoryn was hanging over a hole a hundred feet in the air.
He desperately tried to hoist himself up and through the horizontal door frame, but it was simply beyond human ability. What’s more, the door frame was giving way. Though the outside walls of the tower were made of bricks, the inside walls were wood-framed, and after the tremendous force of the impact, many of the studs were cracked.
Eoryn tried one last time to hoist himself over the doorframe, but a loud crack stopped this attempt. Another crack followed, and Eoryn looked around desperately for anything else to grab onto, knowing that his hold on the doorframe was tenuous. A cord hung from the crumbling wall above him to the edge of the doorframe, and Eoryn reached for it. His finger’s grasped it, but just then the doorframe gave way. Eoryn fell, tightly clenching the cord. He dropped some twenty feet, falling through the hole in the wall, but suddenly the cord snapped taunt. He nearly lost his grasp on it, his hands lacerated as the cord slipped through them, but he held on, grasping the very end of the cord.
Eoryn groaned, his head spinning. He took one glance at the ground far below him and wished he had not. He looked up and saw the reason for why he hung over the street. The tower he dangled from had somehow been toppled, and it had fallen till it smashed into a neighboring building. The toppled tower, leaning way over, was suspended over the street in this way.
Eoryn closed his eyes, his stomach queasy. He contemplated just letting go, and he wondered what it would feel like to fall to his death. He figured he would soon find out no matter if he let go or not. His grasp on the cord was slipping.
The sound of an engine roaring towards him came to Eoryn, and he spared another look down. An ACVOT was speeding his way, and even from the distance, he could tell that Finiah was driving it. A ray of hope lightened up his nauseous brain. Just hold on, Eoryn thought, closing his eyes again. He concentrated all of the remainder of his strength on gripping the cord, but slowly the end of the cord was inching through his sweaty hands.
Suddenly Eoryn was falling again. He felt the air rushing past him, but he landed with a thud on what felt like a seat, the wind instantly knocked from his lungs. There was a shout of triumph beside him, and opening his eyes, he saw Finiah smiling at him. His friend had caught him just in time.
“Nice of you to drop in!” Finiah said, still beaming.
Eoryn groaned and turned over in his seat, throwing up over the side of the ACVOT. Finiah’s smile disappeared, and he hesitantly asked, “Are you going to be okay?”
Eoryn held up his hand. Once he was finally able to restore some wind to his lungs, he wheezed out his thanks.
“You’re welcome,” Finiah replied, his smile returning to a lesser extent. “You should be glad that Kiran spotted you up there, or we would have passed right under you. We were making with all speed away from the tower, afraid that it might fall on us.”
Eoryn glanced into the backseat of the ACVOT. This time Kiran and Jalen sat there. “Hi.”
The brothers nodded at Eoryn and voiced their gladness that he was safe, and Eoryn continued, “The others follow behind?”
“No,” Finiah shook his head, “Lucas, Nayele, and Alena went on ahead. I was the last one to board the ACVOTs, so they got a head start. We should catch up to them soon.”
A tower cascaded down in pieces behind them, the bricks making a deafening clatter as they slammed into the street. Eoryn turned and looked back at the city. Dust hung over it, and gaping holes showed that many of the buildings had been leveled. Eoryn could see even from the height of the ACVOT the forms of several ROIbots moving around and also the smaller figures of the fleeing Kinrin. It looked, quite literally, like utter chaos. “Erailindor is being destroyed.”
Finiah nodded solemnly. “The citizens are receiving in full the penalty of turning from the Creator. I wonder what they think of their decisions now. Do they still think they are an enlightened people, that they do not need the Creator’s light, or do they regret that they turned from him?”
“I am sure some of them do,” Eoryn said quietly, “and there are many loyal Kinrin suffering in that city now as well, tied to the same fate as their neighbors. They wouldn’t fight, Finiah; they refused to come to our aid against the ROIbots. Even now I wonder if any of them are fighting the ROIbots, even as their homes are being destroyed. If only some of them had rallied to arms! We could have easily defeated the ROIbots and protected the city. Instead, the small line of Kinrin I gathered was crushed and the city is being ravaged. I have failed not only the city, but our Creator, too.”
“No! Eoryn, you did all you could; you followed the Creator’s leading to the fullest extent. It is not your fault that the city is crumbling—far from it! The downfall of Erailindor falls fully on the citizens of this city. They could have stood and fought, they should have realized the threat their homes were in, and they should have made the Creator their lord, but they did not. You, however, have done all of these things.”
“It was not enough.”
“It was all you could give! Please, friend, I saw you voluntarily lay down your life for me and my friends today, fully knowing that to stay and face that ROIbot alone was to die. If nothing else, you saved our lives this day! Let us put the thoughts of this city behind us. Our goal is the same. We must reach the Crystal City and fight for it, and that means we are headed for the coast of the Divide. We will stop here shortly for the night, sleeping in the open plains, but we will press on as soon as possible. We must reach the Crystal City, and we will win the Creator’s victory there.”
The seven young Kinrin stood at the edge of the Divide, looking down over the railing to the bottomless space before them. They had traveled many leagues in the past few days, reaching the coast on the third day after the fight in Erailindor. It was now the morning of the fourth day, the day the Kinrin planned to board a ship to take them across the Divide to Etrinmoor. They had all bought necessities for the voyage in the small, harbor-side town, especially the student Kinrin who up until this point had had little more than the clothes on their backs. They had each bought several pairs of clothes and whatever else they deemed necessary.
During their travels the past few days, Eoryn had been pressed several times as to how he had escaped the ROIbot in the tower. He had told his story both to Jalen, Kiran, and Finiah, and then again to Nayele, Alena, and Lucas. All of the young Kinrin had expressed their wonder at his story, and their thanks. Everyone, that is, except for Alena, who had smiled when she saw Eoryn climbing out of the ACVOT that first night but had not said a word to him since. Eoryn wondered at this. He knew that Alena was shy, but he had seen courage in her in Erailindor, especially in her calm words to him right before the battle against the ROIbots. She also occasionally spoke to the others in his group, though even then she said only a few words, but for a reason he didn’t know, he was receiving her silence.
Eoryn shook his head. He felt almost guilty thinking about her. He was headed for war; this was the wrong time to try and sort out the complexity of a girl, let alone one he barely knew. Thankfully, Finiah also broke into his thoughts just then. “What would it be like to fall over the edge and into the Divide? It’s a long way down.” With these last words, said pointedly, Finiah flashed a wry grin at Eoryn.
Eoryn crossed his arms, not ready to fall for another of his friend’s pokes at his acrophobia. A few Kinrin down, Kiran spoke up, “I wonder how long you would fall if you jumped into the Divide. What would it feel like, falling so long that you could actually think about it?”
“It would hurt eventually,” Lucas said, wincing a little as he spoke. He had endured several cracked ribs from the hammer blow of the ROIbot he had charged, and they were healing slowly. “Whether or not there actually is a bottom to the Divide, the air would become so heavy that you would suffocate.”
Nayele shuddered and backed away from the railed edge. “That’s a nice thought.”
“What time do you think we can board our ship?” Eoryn asked, changing the subject. He looked at a gigantic vehicle harbored between two long stone piers hanging over the divide. This gigantic ship was the same in principle to an ACVOT, also made to fly through air, but it was multiplied many times in size. Ships this size were often called Double Berths, or 2Bs.
“The captain said he would welcome us aboard as soon as he finishes loading his non-animate cargo,” Finiah replied. “Seeing as they started loading at dawn, that should be soon.”
“We should make for our ACVOTs, for they will probably load the Kinrin taking ACVOTs with them first,” Lucas said.
“Why are we even taking both the ACVOTs with us?” Jalen asked as they headed for the loading dock where their ACVOTs were ported. “Once we reach the coastal city of Gorendel across the Divide, we will probably have little need for them, for we will most likely march on foot with the army of Kinrin to the Crystal City. As the owner of one of our two vehicles, I fear the voyage may take a toll on my ACVOT.”
“We can never be too sure,” Eoryn said. “We just might need them again. Regardless, I think our ACVOTs will be pretty safe, Jalen; they will be ported in the cargo hold for the duration of the journey.”
The Kinrin reached their vehicles, and several minutes later a middle-aged Kinrin in a dark gray uniform informed the group that they would begin loading the ACVOTs soon. A gate was raised, and a small stream of ACVOTs started moving in double rows across the deck and into the gaping doors of the cargo hold. Once inside the ship, Eoryn stepped out of his ACVOT and looked around at the inside of the 2B. The cargo hold was very spacious, the ceiling some twenty feet above Eoryn’s head. Many crates and barrels were stacked against either wall, the rest of the space needed for the two rows of ACVOTs.
“Hello.” Eoryn turned to see a stout man standing before him, dressed in the same gray garb. “Welcome aboard,” the man continued, a smile splitting his bearded face. “I will be your captain during this journey, and it is my uttermost pleasure to bear you across the Divide. It should be about a two week trip, and my crew will make sure you are comfortable for the duration of it.”
Eoryn shook the man’s hand. “We thank you for the service of your ship, captain.”
The captain nodded. “You are most welcome, young sir. You are the group of Kinrin headed for Gorendel, are you not?”
“Yes, that would be us.”
“I thought the same,” the captain replied. “And you are not the only ones headed for Gorendel. Some of my friends captaining other ships have told me that they are also bearing groups of young Kinrin across the Divide to that city. Why the gathering, may I ask?”
Eoryn opened his mouth to reply, but Lucas cut in. “Our business is our own, captain.”
“I meant no offense,” The captain said quickly, his smile disappearing. “I asked out of curiosity only.”
“We took no offense,” Eoryn said sincerely, glancing at Lucas. He wondered why Lucas had cut him off, for he had been fully prepared to tell the man why they were headed across the Divide. “How may we find our rooms, captain?”
“Yes, I am sorry for my oversight. You must be weary from your travels. My first mate, here, will lead you to your rooms.”
A male Kinrin who had come up alongside the captain nodded to the group of Kinrin and motioned for them to follow him. The Kinrin did so. Behind them, the captain watched the small group leave. He watched till they were out of sight, stroking his beard. Finally he turned to greet the other passengers, but there was still a frown on his face.
The first mate led Eoryn and his friends up several narrow flights of steps and to their rooms. “Here we are,” he said over his shoulder as he led them into a room that looked almost to be a lobby. “The three doorways leading into this antechamber are your rooms. This antechamber is for your group alone to lounge in, but you can also head to several of the larger, public rooms as well. The meals are served in the dining hall during eight hour, twelfth hour, and eighteenth hour. I hope you enjoy your trip!” the first mate finished, handing the room keys to the young Kinrin.
“Thank you,” Eoryn said, “I am sure we will.”
The days of travel passed slowly for the group of young Kinrin, but regardless, Eoryn was glad for the idle time. The long days were usually spent in the lobby-like space between the Kinrin’s rooms, and it was in the lobby area that each member of the group got to know each other better, the days being spent telling stories of their lives or talking to one another. In a matter of days the young Kinrin forged a friendship that grew stronger as each day passed, and Eoryn no longer considered the persons in his group as students he had been called to lead, but as his friends.
Eoryn even talked to Alena several times, the silence between him and her finally broken. It was in those brief conversations that Eoryn noticed how beautiful she really was. She smiled often, and her warm green eyes always seemed to sparkle when she did. Strangely, it was Eoryn who felt shy and awkward now when she spoke to him. All the while, though, he guarded himself from having any feelings for her. For now is definitely a wrong time, he had convinced himself. He knew it would be perfectly acceptable in principle for him to seek her hand—he had come of age a few cycles of the moon ago—but he was resolved to wait till at least after their uncertain future was decided. We might all give our lives defending the Crystal City anyway, he had thought.
Eoryn had bunked for the past nights with Finiah and Lucas, Nayele and Alena given privacy in their own room and Jalen and Kiran taking the third. It was as Eoryn headed to his bunk on the tenth night of their journey across the Divide that Lucas, looking up at him from the bunk he lay in, spoke to him, “Eoryn, why are you so sure in the leading of the Creator? I mean,” Lucas continued in an uncharacteristically fast manner, “you seem so sure of yourself, like you are a born leader. How do you know we will be of any use defending the Crystal City? How do you know if we will even get there in time?”
Eoryn paused before he answered. “Lucas, I don’t know if we will be of any good defending the Crystal City. I don’t know if we will get there in time, or even if we will get there. I know this, though. We are called to follow the Creator; we are instructed to follow his paths. This is not to hold us in bondage our anything like it; it sets us free! That is why I can have peace in heading towards battle. The Creator will always be with us, and in this we can have hope, no matter how dark the times seem. “
“Hope,” Lucas said the word slowly. “Is there really hope? You were there at the Inrelion; you saw how few of the students are loyal to the Creator. We were taught in that Inrelion how to fight, Eoryn, but we were taught how to fight against those holding Double Blades as their weapons. In a few years, these students will become warriors. What then? There will be no one left to fight for you.”
“There will still be one who will fight for us, Lucas, no matter how dark it seems: the Creator.”
There was no reply from Lucas, and silence fell over the room. Eoryn slid into his bed and lay for a long time staring up at the ceiling. Though he had spoken confidently to Lucas, inside he was shaken. Lord, lead me. Please strengthen me. I can’t do this alone.
Eoryn slept fitfully that night. He tossed and turned, and his mind was filled with fleeting dreams. He saw again the students advancing towards him with gray swords unsheathed, their faces emotionless. He felt again the despair as he retreated from the room. In an instant this vision passed, and Eoryn saw himself standing, alone, on a vast plain. An army was approaching him, marching across the field like a wave sweeping over the beach. Darkness seemed to surround the army, and as they drew near, Eoryn saw that the soldiers carried the same gray blades. He raised his Double Blade as the first lines loomed before him, but suddenly the army disappeared.
He stood now on top of the Light Tower, looking down on what he supposed was Erailindor, but he could not tell. The city was leveled, an utter wasteland. Only massive heaps of stone remained in the barren streets. A chill ran through Eoryn, and he shook his head.
Eoryn was suddenly thrust into the battle against the ROIbots. His eyes were drawn to an older Kinrin fighting alone against one of the robots, the soldiers around him already overcome. The blade of the ROIbot cut through the air, and the lone Kinrin couldn’t block it in time. The sword sliced deep, and Eoryn stared, horrified, blood pouring from the man as he fell to the ground. A silent yell rattled through Eoryn’s throat. Suddenly a ROIbot stood before him with hammer raised, turning him from the horrifying scene, and he flinched as the hammer descended into him.
Eoryn looked up after the pain never came. Alena stood before him, her beautiful face turned up to him. Looking around, he saw that they were back in the streets of Erailindor, and as he turned back to her, he realized that she was searching him like she had done when he told her to stay behind before the battle. Eoryn opened his mouth to speak to her, but suddenly there was a loud crash and Alena fell through the street before him with a scream.
Eoryn jerked upright in bed, barely suppressing a yell. His mind returned to consciousness, and he realized that he was covered in sweat and was breathing heavily. He sighed, and his tired mind began sorting through his disturbing dreams. He had had these same visions for the past few nights, and he grew weary of them. He knew that most of dreams were just flashbacks to things already past, but others of them troubled him. He wondered why he continued to see clearly in his dreams things that had never happened.
Eoryn lay back in his bed and rubbed his eyes wearily. As he slipped back into a light slumber, his eyes slowly focused on the bed across from him. The blankets were pulled back, revealing the empty white sheets. Well, Eoryn thought as his eyes shut, at least I am not the only one having trouble sleeping.
The captain of the 2B sat with arms crossed in the control tower of his ship. He often sat here late at night when he needed time to think, for seldom did any of his crew dare to disturb him here. His fingers ran over the smooth metal of the wheel before him. Though it was currently locked in autopilot, he marveled that such a small mechanism could turn a huge ship like the one he possessed. Much like how one small decision can change the course of your life, the captain thought, lifting his fingers to his face and stroking his beard.
Of course, the decision he had to make this night was not a little one. If even one of his crew found out what he was planning to do, he could very well be labeled a traitor. Then again, they might see the wisdom in what he would carry out that next morning. He owed a debt, and it could not be recompensed unless he turned over several of his passengers to his debtor. The captain was a man who loved to make decisions, but in this case, he knew he didn’t really have a choice. To save what he deemed precious, a sacrifice had to be made.
The captain rose to his feet and turned to head to his cabin, but suddenly a blade was pressed to his neck. A voice spoke calmly from behind him, “Hold there, captain. I would have a word with you.”
The captain turned quickly, his eyes glinting. The form of a man stood before him in the dark room, his right arm extended as it pressed a sword to the captain’s neck. His face was shadowed from view, but the captain recognized the voice. “I suggest you remove that blade from my throat,” he said calmly. “You have nothing to gain, for I assure you that if you strike now, you will not leave this ship with your head still attached to your shoulders.”
“First some answers,” the shadowed man replied just as calmly, “for I am confident you would like to keep your head upon your shoulders as well. Why are you taking us away from the shipping lanes? And don’t think that I don’t know what you are doing, for I know. I have ways of procuring information.”
The captain hesitated. “I am deviating from the shipping lanes to fulfill a debt. I must rid my ship of the group of young Kinrin before we reach the other side of the Divide.”
The shadowed man took a step closer, and it was clear that he was angry. “This had been your plan all along, to turn us over to the depths of the Divide? How dare you!”
“I am doing my master’s bidding. I have no choice.”
“Your master’s bidding . . . you serve the Master of Darkness?”
The captain laughed. “No, I care nothing for the light or darkness. I serve only the thing that means something to me: money, value. To protect my ship, I need to carry out this task.”
“How does throwing a band of loyal Kinrin into the Divide save your ship?”
The jaw of the captain worked back and forth at this question from his assailant. There was a long silence, but finally the captain spoke, “they will not be thrown into the Divide. Instead, I mean to turn the Kinrin over to the Heirum.”
There was an exclamation from the man opposite him, but the captain continued, “A fortnight ago my ship was attacked by a band of Heirum. We fought them desperately, but my ship was overcome. I then feared for my life, knowing that Heirum do not take prisoners, and I promised their leader that I would give him anything in return for my life. The leader laughed at this at first, but then a sudden thought must have occurred to him. He told me that his master was planning another attack on the Crystal City, and that this time the Kinrin of Srinmoor must not be allowed to interfere in the siege. He spared my life on this one condition: that I turn any Kinrin I perceived were making to help the Crystal City over to him. If I failed to comply with this condition, my ship would be destroyed and I would lose my life. So, you see, I must follow this order.”
The calm composure of the man opposite the captain seemed to waiver, and the sword he held shook slightly. “What will the Heirum do to the Kinrin? Will they kill them?”
The captain nodded slightly. There was no need to say anything more. ”Who do you serve, lad?” he said after a moment to his wavering assailant. “I see that the sword you press to my neck is not a Double Blade, but you have aligned yourself with a group of loyal Kinrin. Must I turn you over too?”
“I am not here to answer questions,” the shadowed assailant said quickly. “You know as well as I do that I do not serve the Creator. I am only accompanying this group of Kinrin to protect a girl in it.”
“A girl,” the captain said, a sneer in his voice, “who will be dead by the time the sun reaches its peak tomorrow.”
“No!” The assailant stepped forward, and a patch of moonlight revealed his passionate face. It was a young face, and even in the dim light, his dark eyes flashed. “Perhaps an agreement can be made? Spare the life of the female Kinrin named Alena, and I will spare yours. Answer carefully, for your life depends on it.” With these last words, the sword was pressed even harder against the captain’s neck.“No, my life does not depend on it,” the captain replied evenly. “You know as well as I do that if you take my life, your own life will be forfeited. You cannot get away with murder on a ship. Tomorrow I will fulfill my duty in turning over the Kinrin, and they will die. I will give you this, though: deny that you serve the Creator, and I will spare your life. Choose this night whom you will serve, whether you will serve the Creator and die, or deny him and live.”