Chapter Five: Negotiations

METEOS RYOUKEN

There is procedure in everything.

Especially in war.

Conventional warfare is simple.

Railgun-based weaponry was at first frowned upon by the world. Guns were believed to be tools that dishonorably closed the power gap between lowborn magi and their highborn masters.

Unless you practiced witchcraft, it didn’t matter how powerful you were as a magus, a bullet to the skull ended you just as swiftly as a high-powered spell.

For a time, people held the same belief for aircraft, tanks, and other modern weapons of war.

But over time, as nobles and royals grew stronger with each generation, commonborn magi were becoming less and less relevant because of their inferior magical growth.

Technology allowed the commonborn to compete. It gave them the opportunity to pursue glory beside their noble masters.

A conventional skirmish is easy.

People charge into battle, shouting battle cries at the top of their lungs. Steel clashes against steel. Bullets whiz through the air. Fireballs and blasts of ice and lightning arch through the sky.

At the end of a skirmish, ceasefires are held as the armies collect their dead.

No matter how violent the battle, each side treats the other with honor and respect.

But fighting a Reaper is far from conventional.

High Commander Meteos Ryouken is a man pushing his forty-sixth year. The tall man leans over the commander’s table, his brow laden with sweat.

The royalty perished in the blink of an eye, destroyed by the roar of divine thunder. With them countless souls were extinguished. A calamity chooses no targets, both noble and lowborn alike died in the inferno.

The Admiral of Shields perished in the flames, helpless against the weight of heavenly power.

Ryouken stands on the rooftop garden of some lord’s castle, activity abuzz around him.

The responsibility of protecting the kingdom’s people is his burden to bear.

The city is already in action. Magi are evacuating through the streets, fleeing on their feet and in cars alike. Soldiers gather at their stations, swords ready and rifles cocked. A thousand souls scream and shout, a chorus of anger and fear, countless emotions mingling together under the shadow of the skies.

The battle net is alive with the noise of commanders and lieutenants shouting orders at one another. Gather here, evacuate this, protect this, protect that. Like an ant colony under attack, the kingdom moves as one, a unity of tens of thousands of spirits acting together to pursue survival.

“I called for the air force.” Ryouken says, his fingers tightening around the table’s corner.

Before him is a holographic map of the city. Grids and lines and symbols float across the display, representing the state of the Kria. Like vines and veins, red and blue lines run across the cityscape, showing the positions of citizens and soldiers alike.

“We’re helpless until the air force arrives.” he tells his men.

“Artillery elements A3, A4, and A5 are in position, Commander.”

“Archery elements Beta through Gama are in position, Commander. Lieutenant Creusent is requesting that his squad reposition to the Southwestern Aviaries because the Christen Building is on fire, sir.”

“Granted.” Ryouken says, his eyes running across the holographic landscape. “I want all free squads and militiamen to establish a perimeter from the Aviaries to Silvergate Bridge, all the way down to the Bay of Memorials and the Northeastern Vestibules.”

Containing the situation is the best he can do for now.

This kingdom lacks the power to deal with such an overwhelming threat.

When a storm comes roaring at a castle’s walls, the lord does not order his men to arms. Instead he waits. Instead he shelters his people from the rain, hail, and wind.

This Reaper is a hurricane— a furious, merciless tempest of thunder and wind.

You cannot defend against a force of nature.

You cannot negotiate with an act of the gods.

Meteos Ryouken understands this. He has no intention of fighting the Reaper. He has no intention to kill her. All he needs to do is keep her at bay, to keep her from harming the rest of the city.

He positioned archery, artillery, and armor elements all around the castle’s ruins. Soon he will bombard the Reaper with everything the kingdom has. From spells, to spears, to missiles, a thousand arrows will fall like ceaseless rain.

Yet, he fully knows the danger that awaits his men should the Reaper decide to retaliate.

The Reaper is a giant and the magi before her are nothing but buzzing flies, irritations that can be slapped away at a moment’s glance.

“Kria will not fall. Not today. Not in a hundred years!” Ryouken’s voice echoes across the cityscape, a roar of defiance aimed at the heavens.

“Sir, we’re receiving a transmission from the Blue Arthur.” his communication officer says, turning to him for answers. “Should I patch them through?”

The magus curses under his breath.

What do they want?

King Ardrian Knightstein, in all his flair and pride, came to the city escorted by the greatest ship in his navy. The City of Kria stood in awe at the dreadnought as it emerged from the clouds. Its two-kilometer-long length shadowed the cityscape like a giant lance.

Most of Kria’s citizenry agreed on one thing: this boy king was showing off.

There are only seven such ships in the world and Kria is without one. The nobility agreed that the king’s intentions of arriving on the ship were far from pure. It was an obvious show of force, a declaration that Genevede could afford to send its greatest ship overseas without worry.

“Patch her through.” Meteos says through gritted teeth.

These Genevedian magi might want to help. That ship of theirs is powerful enough to take on entire fleets on its own. Support from such a vessel is worth considering.

“Commander Ryouken,” a blonde woman appears on the largest holographic screen in the room, dressed in the black and violet colors of an officer’s uniform. “This is Admiral Hisashi Shiskikura of the Kingdom of Genevede, captain of the Blue Arthur—”

“Her Grace must forgive me,” Ryouken clicks his tongue. “But we have no time to entertain you now. Your king was last seen in his hotel hours ago. However, non-military communications are down, damaged by the Reaper’s landfall. We have no updates on his location, but I assume that he’s being brought to safety as we speak.”

“My king’s condition is none of my concern, Commander.”

All activity in the war room seems to slow down after everyone hears her words.

“I request that you keep your men away from the royal castle and the nearby streets. In a few minutes we will be detonating a nerve agent meant to incapacitate the Reaper.”

The woman’s is young, looking to be in her mid-twenties. But the look on her face is stern and straight, leaving no place for argument.

“The nerve agent isn’t lethal, don’t worry. It was specifically designed to only harm the Reaper. I can see that most of your communications network is down, but I can tell you now that there are no survivors within a hundred meters of the royal castle. Save your men the effort and keep them where they are.”

“Shiskikura!” his fist pounds into the table, shattering the glass and splintering the wood. “Who do you think you’re talking to? Cease your threats at once or—”

“—or what?”

The woman laughs.

“Your kingdom is crippled and helpless. Please evacuate all of your soldiers and citizens from the areas I’m sending to you now.”

The map before Ryouken flashes red, showing perimeters and lines across the battlefield.

“Your Grace of Ryouken,” the woman says. “I’m not threatening you. I’m helping. In your current state, you are in no position to negotiate.” she glances at something to her right and nods once. “My men say that none of your men are close enough to the blast zone. That’s good. We’re detonating the device now.”

His words seethe in his chest. But as he opens his mouth to complain, the transmission ends with a static buzz.

Just then the ground shakes. The wind roars. Smoke and smog ripple from the heart of the city, rising high wrapping through buildings and streets.

Ryouken and everyone in his war room watches in awe as the castle burns, engulfed by a darkness darker than midnight.

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