Eoryn slowly turned over in his bed. Sunlight streamed into his room from one of the large windows, and he knew it was time to get up, but he was not ready to do so. He was weary from his fitful sleep and long dreams, and he would like nothing better than to sleep in.
He saw that the two beds beside him were unoccupied, meaning that Finiah and Lucas were already up. A rustling in the corner caught his attention, and he turned to see Lucas pulling a shirt on by the door. “Good morning, Lucas.”
Lucas mumbled a salutation in return, and as his head popped out of his shirt, Eoryn saw that he looked disheveled and tired. “I saw that your bed was empty for a time last night. Did you have trouble sleeping too?” Eoryn asked, swinging his legs over the edge of his bed.
Lucas shook his head. “I was just using the bathroom.” Without another word, he stepped out of the room.
Eoryn dressed slowly and splashed some cold water in his face, trying to rouse himself. He too stepped out of the room several minutes later, not sure if he was ready for the day but determined to at least get away from the temptation of curling back up in his bed.
He stretched and looked around at the lobby adjoining the Kinrin’s rooms. It looked to be empty. “Is anyone else here?” he asked out loud, not expecting an answer. He knew that the Kinrin were probably already eating breakfast in the dining hall.
“I’m here.” The voice that answered the question Eoryn thought would be rhetorical was timid. Turning, he saw a girl, book in hand, rise to her feet. Alena. She was wearing a long green dress that made her light eyes stand out even more from her pretty face. Eoryn felt his stomach flutter.
“Oh, hi,” he said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Sorry to disturb you. Are the others down in the dining hall already?”
“I think so.” Alena hesitated, and an awkward silence filled the room. “Did you sleep well?”
Eoryn ran a hand through his hair. Anything but that question. What do I tell her, that I was dreaming of her? “I slept pretty well,” Eoryn said out loud, dead panning. “Are you studying?” he asked after another pause, nodding down at Alena’s book.
“Yes, I come of age this next full moon, so I am trying to stay caught up with my studies.”
“Well, I hope we are back in Srinmoor by the next full moon so you can celebrate the rites there. I am sorry if calling you to the Crystal City will ruin what at any other time would be a happy season for you.”
Alena’s face suddenly became solemn, and she stepped away from Eoryn and walked to the window. For a long time she looked out across the Divide, and her back still turned to him, she said, “I will not be upset if I miss the coming of age rites. In fact, I hope I never have to set foot in that Inrelion again.”
“Why?” Eoryn asked, remaining where he stood some fifteen feet from her.
Alena turned back to Eoryn, and her eyes flicked up to his. “I was mistreated there, for I refused to conform to most of their teaching.”
Eoryn searched Alena’s face. She was serious. “They tried to make you abandon the Creator?” Eoryn said this as more of a statement, for he knew the answer.
Alena nodded and pulled back the sleeve of her dress past her elbow. “They gave me this after I refused.”
Eoryn stepped towards her and stared at a slender scar that ran some three inches across the underside of her forearm. “They cut you,” he said out loud, surprising even himself with the anger in his voice.
Alena looked up at him, her face showing surprise at the anger in his voice. “The others in our group were wounded too after they refused to follow through with some of the teachings. It was hard.”
“Why did you do it, Alena? Why did you stay in the Inrelion even after you were abused? You could have been trained at home, like I was.”
Alena smiled sadly. “Our Creator calls us to follow our parents, does he not? I told my parents of my abuse; I showed them the wounds I received; I even begged them to remove me from the Inrelion; but they shrugged my pleas away. They thought it important that I learn the Higher Principles, and they believed that I could only learn them at the Inrelion.”
“But surely a girl like you need not understand the Higher Principles!” Eoryn exclaimed. “I mean,” he quickly added, “only those who are heirs to leadership positions need the Higher Principles.”
“I am an heir to a leadership position. My parents reside in prominent positions in the Assembly of Srinmoor.”
“You’re . . . you’re a princess?” Eoryn stumbled, shocked.
Alena laughed lightly. “I don’t think a ‘princess’ would be the right word, for my parents can hardly be called a king or queen. Nevertheless, they deemed it essential for me to receive higher learning.”
“You will have an arranged marriage then,” Eoryn said slowly, his heart sinking. It was then he realized that he had done a poor job of guarding all his emotions towards the girl before him.
Alena blushed and looked down at the ground. “They are not always arranged, Eoryn, even for successors to higher positions, but in my case, yes. I will be betrothed to Lucas when I come of age.”
“Lucas, he is an heir too?”
Alena shook her head. “He is not of noble birth, but his family is one of the richest in my town. His father was also a friend of my father; the two of them arranged the marriage when I was ten years old.”
A desperate feeling swept over Eoryn. He did not want to believe what he had just heard. His mind searched for any hope that Alena was not closed to him. Did she love Lucas? Did Lucas love her? Perhaps if the answer to either of these questions was no, then he still might seek to win her hand. He opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly there was a loud explosion.
Eoryn was thrown off his feet by the force of the blast and tumbled roughly to the ground. The last thing he saw as he fell was Alena stumbling and then falling with a scream as the ground below her gave way. “Alena!” Eoryn yelled, scrambling to his feet. Before him the front third of the lobby Alena had been standing on had disappeared, nothing showing now but a jagged hole gaping out into the Divide. Eoryn called Alena’s name again and ran towards the gaping hole.
“I’m here, Eoryn. Please help me!” The feminine voice was clearly distressed.
Eoryn reached the edge of the hole and looked to where the voice had come from. Alena hung suspended over the Divide, barely grasping the edge of the floor. Her fingers were slipping. Eoryn sprang towards her and grabbed her wrists, and with all his strength he pulled her up and onto the floor of the lobby.
Alena rolled onto her back and then sat up beside Eoryn. She was breathing heavily. “Thank you,” she said, turning her begrimed face to Eoryn.
“You’re bleeding!” Eoryn exclaimed when she turned to him, seeing blood trickling down her forehead. He quickly tore a strip off his shirt and pressed it to the wound.
Alena raised her hand to her forehead, and for a minute her slender fingers touched Eoryn’s hand as she took the strip from him. “I will be fine. You need to—” but another explosion shook the ship and Eoryn grabbed Alena’s arm and pulled her away from the edge.
“What is going on?” Eoryn looked out of the gaping hole, searching for the cause of the explosion. The space past the hole was no longer empty. Several small, almost round vehicles zipped along in the open air, shooting long bursts of red flame into the side of the 2B Alena and Eoryn were in. To the back of the 2B another ship appeared. It was about a third of the size of the 2B, but it was fierce looking.
“We’re being attacked!” Eoryn exclaimed, backing away from the gaping hole.
Alena rose to her feet, still pressing the bloody strip of shirt to her forehead. “Go! I will be fine. See what you can do to help!”
“Are you sure?” Eoryn asked. He hated to leave her alone.
Alena nodded, and Eoryn turned and ran down the hall leading away from their rooms. A voice boomed above the sound of the explosions as he ran. “To the captain of this ship we say, do not make to defend against our attack, or we will destroy you! Surrender!”
Eoryn ran harder. Though he dreaded it, he felt pretty sure he knew who they were being attacked by, and if his guess was correct, the attackers would take no prisoners. It would be a fight to the death.
After weaving his way through several hallways, Eoryn burst into the dining hall. He searched for his friends, hoping to join with them. He saw two young Kinrin heading through a doorway on the opposite end of the hall, and he again started off in a fast pace to catch up with these two. All around him the passengers who until a few minutes ago were eating their breakfast peacefully were now running in every direction, tipping over chairs and tables in their panicked flight. Eoryn managed to navigate the chaos and ran through the doorway he had seen the two Kinrin enter. The doorway opened out into another long hall, and Eoryn saw the two Kinrin ahead.
“Hey, wait up!” The two Kinrin turned, and he saw that they were Finiah and Lucas. They stopped to let Eoryn catch up, who said as he approached, “Where are you going?”
“We were headed for the cargo deck, where we hoped to meet up with the rest of the group,” Finiah said quickly. “We need to form some sort of plan to fight our attackers!”
“But why aren’t we meeting back at our rooms? Alena is still there, and she won’t know we are meeting in the cargo hold! And where are Jalen, Kiran, and Nayele? We need to stick together!” Eoryn exclaimed, exasperated. Naturally, he considered himself the leader of the group, and to have someone else give orders that seemed completely illogical to him made him fume.
“Jalen and Kiran had already finished breakfast and were headed back to our rooms when the attack began. We sent Nayele back to the rooms to tell them and hopefully you and Alena to leave the rooms at once and meet us by our ACVOTs in the cargo hold. We should meet the rest of the group there,” Lucas said calmly, almost coldly.
“But why? Meeting at our rooms was the most logical idea!” Eoryn retorted, still upset.
Lucas didn’t answer but turned his back to Eoryn and started down the hallway. Finiah and Eoryn followed him. As they ran, they passed many gray-cloaked men, the sailors of the ship, who ran to their battle stations. Many of the sailors looked confused and alarmed, their faces grim. “What are we attacked by?” one of the sailors shouted to no one in particular as he ran past.
“Heirum!” another sailor called back. “They came out of nowhere and caught us sleeping! We must fight!”
“Heirum,” Finiah said quietly from Eoryn’s side.
Eoryn nodded. There was no need to communicate more.
The three Kinrin reached a flight of stairs and climbed down into the cargo hold. Many more of the sailors scurried to and fro here, opening a port at the far side of the ship and firing up aircraft that were studded with guns. These aircraft were the main defense the ship had, other than the arms the sailors carried. Thud after thud testified to the destruction their enemy was reaping to the outside of the ship.
The Kinrin reached their ACVOTs, but the rest of the group was not there. Anxiety fluttered in Eoryn’s stomach, but he forced the feeling down. They will be coming soon. Several minutes passed, and a steady stream of the aircraft began pouring out the open port, attacking the circular vehicles of the Heirum, but there was still no sign of the rest of the Kinrin.
Eoryn slammed his hand against the hood of his ACVOT and turned to Lucas, who had begun pacing. “They are not coming.” He spit these words out as if it was Lucas’s fault for their absent friends.
“Give them a little time; they will come,” Finiah, who appeared to be the calmest of the three, replied.
Lucas stopped his pacing and looked at Eoryn. As their eyes met, Eoryn saw an almost desperate look cloaking Lucas’s usually calm composure. “Alena, did you see her before the attack. Is she safe?”
Eoryn set his jaw firmly, feeling almost reluctant to tell Lucas of Alena. So we are worried the most for the same person, he thought as he finally opened his mouth. “Yes, she was headed back to her room the last I saw her.”
This answer didn’t seem to please Lucas, and he resumed his pacing. “They needed to leave their rooms!” he exclaimed fiercely after a moment. “They need to get down here! Why aren’t they here!”
Suddenly a voice called through speakers in the ceiling above them. “Men, this is your captain speaking. Abandon the assault craft and close the port. We are outnumbered and surprised; we must surrender. Report to the upper deck when you have followed my orders.”
A collective gasp rose from the sailors, and one of them yelled, “We are surrendering without a fight? We will all be killed! Heirum take no prisoners!”
Finiah grabbed Eoryn’s arm. “Eoryn, we need to do something. We must fight the Heirum, for we cannot just let ourselves be killed.”
“What do we suggest we do? The rest of our group is who knows where, and there are only three of us!”
“Let’s take your ACVOT and get out that port before they close it. Maybe we can think of something once we are out there.”
Eoryn nodded, and he and Finiah quickly boarded the ACVOT. “Lucas, are you coming?” Finiah asked the Kinrin who still paced before the ACVOT, which roared to life as Eoryn started it.
Lucas hesitated. “But what about the others? We need to protect them!”
“That’s what we are doing! If we stay here, we will all die. If we go, we might have a chance to save ourselves!”
Lucas accepted Finiah’s logic and climbed aboard the ACVOT, and Eoryn turned the vehicle so it was facing the port on the far side of the cargo hold. He pressed the accelerator to the floor, and the ACVOT sped above the deck towards the port. Several of the sailors noticed the speeding vehicle, and they waved their arms and shouted for Eoryn to stop, but he ignored them.
“Get the port closed! Stop them!” one of the sailors shouted. The command was quickly obeyed, and the port began to close. Eoryn did not let off the accelerator, though, and kept the ACVOT pointed straight at the closing port. They zoomed through just before the port closed.
Now outside the huge ship, Eoryn slowed the ACVOT and stared at the battle before him. The assault aircraft that had left the 2B before the captain ordered the surrender were still fighting, but without aid, they had begun to fall back. The round vehicles molesting the 2B seemed to have a sort of pattern to their attack. They came from the Heirum’s master ship in waves, descending on the 2B with overpowering force. While these waves added to the destruction of the double-berthed ship, just as many of the small, round craft would return to the master ship, only to join in the next wave heading back to the 2B. Already the destruction these small aircraft had caused was great, and Eoryn could see why the captain had called for the surrender.
“The Laser Pods of the Heirum are doing their job well,” Finiah said grimly. “I never hoped to see them in action; the stories are frightening enough. What are we going to do?”
“We need to assess the weapons we have available to us,” Lucas said, “and we need to hurry! We can’t be caught out here in the open. Double Blades are useless against the Laser Pods, so I suggest we head for the master ship, where we might be able to put our arms to use. As for any other weapons, this ACVOT might prove handy.”
“What do you have in mind, a suicide mission? I don’t plan on crashing my ACVOT, if that is what you are thinking,” Eoryn replied.
“No, not a suicide mission, though that is what this might become. We might be able to use your ACVOT in a way where we can abandon it before it crashes.”
Eoryn shook his head firmly. “No.”
“Better your ACVOT crashed than you and all of us dead,” Lucas retorted, stone-faced. “It might be our only option.”
A Laser Pod flew past them, its red flame barely missing the ACVOT as it sped past. Eoryn steered out of the path of another of the pods and again pressed down hard on the accelerator, heading for the master ship of the Heirum. “I don’t think we will get all that far if we just drop onto the Heirum’s front porch. We can land on the ship and use our Double Blades, but there are only three of us, after all. Heirum may be small, but they know how to fight.”
“They will be distracted in attacking the 2B. We might be able to fight our way to the control room or something,” Finiah suggested, not sounding all that sure of his plan.
“No, fly to the back of the Heirum’s cruiser,” Lucas said calmly, pointing.
Eoryn nodded and veered the ACVOT towards the back of the cruiser. They approached it, and the fierce looking ship loomed above them. Even though the ship appeared to be moving slowly, Eoryn had to gun the ACVOT to almost its highest speed to gain on it. They drew near the back of the Heirum’s cruiser, where four huge, fiery engines powered it forward. A steady stream of Laser Pods cycled into a port between these engines.
“If you were thinking we would have less unwanted company back here, I think you need to think again,” Eoryn called back to Lucas, jerking his head towards the Laser Pods.
“No, I knew there would be Laser Pods back here. They only have so many combustibles they can throw at the 2B before they need to recharge, and they enter that port to do so.”
“Yes, but how does this help us? Did you have a certain plan to go along with this knowledge?” Finiah asked, almost exasperated.
Lucas nodded slightly. “I don’t know if it will work, but I thought we could ram the ACVOT into one of the engines.”
“And fry ourselves with it?”
“No, that is where the Laser Pods come in. They circle in a continual pattern into that port. If we could grab onto the pods somehow, we could set the ACVOT on auto pilot, point it towards one of the engines, and let fly while we travel into the Heirum’s ship on the Laser Pods.”
“It would be very dangerous,” Eoryn said, rubbing his jaw.
“Do you have a better plan?”
Eoryn shook his head. “What do we do once inside the Heirum’s ship, and how will we get back on the 2B?”
“I don’t know. We’ll form a plan as we go.”
“Okay.” Eoryn gently raised his ACVOT closer to the stream of Laser Pods heading into their master ship. The Heirum piloting the Laser Pods, most of them out of ammunition anyway, did not seem to pay any attention to the ACVOT and Kinrin. Eoryn raised the ACVOT till the Laser Pods whooshed past just above their heads, and he stared up at the underside of the round aircraft. Two metal bars ran lengthwise across the underside of most of them. Perfect.
“All right, it looks like we can do this. Who wants to go first?” Eoryn said, half sarcastically. “I will go last, setting my ACVOT on autopilot and pointing it so that it destroys one of the engines.”
“I will go first and clear anything or anyone that might want to keep us out,” Lucas said. “You will need to stay fairly caught up with the Laser Pod so my arms are not ripped out when I grab onto it.”
Eoryn nodded and sped the ACVOT up till it was keeping close to the speed of the Laser Pod above them. Lucas stood up in the ACVOT and began to count out loud. When he reached five, he jumped up and grabbed onto the bar running across the Laser Pod. Eoryn and Finiah watched as the hitchhiked Laser Pod disappeared into the open port of the Heirum’s ship.
“He seemed to do fine,” Finiah said. “I guess it is my turn.”
Eoryn circled the ACVOT back around so he could get the necessary acceleration to catch up to one of the pods filing past. “Are you ready?” he asked to his friend as he began to accelerate the ACVOT.
Finiah stood up and steadied himself. “Yes. Are you sure you can do this, Eoryn? Getting out the ACVOT and onto a Laser Pod when it is set on auto pilot will be hard.”
“It is definitely the most dangerous scheme we have come up with to date,” Eoryn said, smiling a little, “and that is saying something. Don’t worry, friend, I will be fine.”
Finiah clasped Eoryn’s shoulder and then looked up at the nearest Laser Pod. After a few seconds, he leaped forward out of the ACVOT and was whisked away by the unsuspecting pod.
Eoryn watched as his friend disappeared into the ship and then imediantly began making ready to turn his ACVOT into a missile. He set it in auto pilot but paused for a moment, remembering all the long hours he had worked to save enough money to buy this vehicle, his first. He ran his hand over the dashboard. “Goodbye, old friend, you served me well.” In one deft motion Eoryn pointed it towards the engine to the far left of the Laser Pod’s port and jumped up, grabbing hold of the underside of the nearest Laser Pod. He was jerked forward, but he did not lose his hold, and wind rushed through his hair as he approached the enemy ship. To his left the now empty ACVOT slowly angled away from him as it headed for its target. Just as Eoryn reached the edge of the port, there was a deafening explosion. His ACVOT had done its last task well.
Seeing the floor of the port some eight feet below him, Eoryn closed his eyes and let himself drop. He smashed into the floor and rolled several times along it before he could get to his feet. As he did so, he unsheathed his Double Blade, anticipating being attacked. A loud, piercing alarm started going off, no doubt the result of the far left engine malfunctioning after the crash.
Eoryn was not imediantly attacked, so he looked around, still holding his Double Blade ready. Lucas and Finiah stood some twenty feet away, also holding their weapons ready, but nothing was attacking them. Or at least nothing was currently attacking them, for as Eoryn drew near, he could see several bodies lying at their feet. As far as he could tell, the port was deserted of living Heirum.
“Well, we made it. Now our only problem is that because of our actions, the ship we are on is failing,” Finiah said, only half joking.
Lucas shook his head. “There are four engines; one of them being knocked out will probably not be enough to send this ship spiraling into the Divide. Let’s get out of this open space before we are spotted by Heirum who have enough sense to raise the alarm before they attack us.
“Where are we going to go?” Eoryn asked quietly as they began running.
“The control room.”
Above them a loud voice boomed out again. “I see that you have wisely surrendered your ship, captain, and to acknowledge this, we will call off our Laser Pods. In a few minutes we will send a boarding party onto your ship. Do not try to fight them, or we will send you into the Divide. We have a cargo to pick up.”