Finding Crystal

By Lady Meilin

Chapter Two: Reunion

Light streamed in through the glass window at the end of the hall, illuminating the hard wood floors and reflecting off of the chrome of the elevator as its doors slid open. Two figures stepped out, one after the other. The first was a teenage girl. Her silver eyes squinted at the sudden brightness, waiting for them to adjust. She wheeled her traveling bag out behind her, counting down the doors until she came to the right one. The second one was older by a couple of years and carried a traveling case on his shoulder. Quietly, he followed his younger sister down the hall.

"Ayumi, you missed it. It's this one." She stopped her counting, and scrutinized the number on the door she was standing in front of before back tracking to where her brother was standing.

"But we live in 1207." She protested. Keiji pointed at the gleaming, gold numbers on the door. 1207. "Oh. How'd I miss it?" He shrugged his broad shoulders before gesturing for her to open the door.

"Home, sweet home," He murmured as the two stepped in. Ayumi kicked off her flip flops while Keiji slipped off his sneakers.

"You've got to be kidding me." Keiji looked up to see what his sister was talking about and saw eight large trunks stacked against the left wall of the foyer.

"Is that all of our stuff?" He asked as she took a look at the tags stamped onto them. With a sigh she nodded.

"Some of it must be the stuff we put away in storage last year. We're going to have to unpack all of it today. Otherwise it'll just sit here for the rest of the year."

"Alright then. Let's get started." He said.

It had been two days since Crimson's attack. In the time afterward the two had packed up their belongings and prepared to leave for school. They had been attending Ichihara Academy for several years now and had reregistered at the end of the preceding year. The academy was a prestigious boarding school for high schoolers that focused strongly on the sciences, though they were renowned for many of their other programs. Because the tuition was so high, room and board was free and lavish. Keiji and Ayumi had been given a beautifully furnished, two bedroom apartment in the housing section of the school campus. The layout was standard; past the foyer was the living room, to the left were the bedrooms and bathroom and to the right were the kitchen and dining room. The bedrooms were carpeted and all the other rooms had hardwood floors.

It took them nearly four hours to move the trunks, unpack them and then take them down to the storage rooms in the basement. Afterwards, they had to go through all of the dishes that had been set in the kitchen nearly a month before and wash them. And like every year, the building staff rearranged their living room and the two had to haul everything back to the way it was. When they finished they were tired and dusty.

Keiji glanced at his watch and groaned, "We've got to meet everyone in an hour."

"I call shower," She responded, jumping up and running to her room. Keiji shrugged.

"I'll take mine downstairs then," he called to her before gathering his things and leaving. It was forty five minutes before the two were showered and dressed in suits. Ayumi picked up the long, black velvet bag that sat quietly by the door before the two headed out.

Both of them were silent as they traversed the campus, making their way passed several more housing complexes. It wasn't long before the housing areas turned into the science buildings which soon gave way to several gardens that belonged to the botanicals department. It was early September, so many of the trees, though laden with leaves, were orange, red and gold instead of the customary green. There were no flowers on the bushes that lined the many walkways, and the grounds weren't strewn with petals from the flowers that normally adorned them.

The sun shone down brightly, warming up the cool air and reminding them that summer had ended only a few weeks ago. A soft breeze blew by, rustling several gold and red leaves off of the trees and carrying them onto the air.

Soon after, the gardens ended and a large plaza took their place. In the center was a large, bronze statue donated to the school some thirty years ago to commemorate the founder, Yuki Ichihara. Rising up behind the statue was a magnificent structure, with left and right wings that flanked the center structure of the building which rose up several stories. Pillars lined the entrance and ceiling to floor windows flanked the immense, double door entrance, giving visitors a view of the beautiful, marble floor interior.

A black car with tinted windows pulled up into the driveway that wound its way into the plaza and in front of the main building. The door opened and a teenage boy stepped out. Red hair framed his face and danced just above his shoulders; green eyes glowed merrily, his lips parted for a laugh. He looked back for a second, arguing his point merrily with the occupant of the car, before moving out of the way and revealing her. Her skin was pale in contrast to his tanned complexion, her eyes, green like his, were clouded with disapproval. Her hair, a vibrant red like the boy's, was pulled away neatly from her face and held in place with a ribbon. Several curled locks framed her delicate face. She stepped out of the car, her lips parted; letting a few words pass through.

"Ayano!" Ayumi called out, interrupting her friend in mid-sentence. Ayano stopped in her admonishment, turning her back on her twin brother, Satoshi, and gave her best friend a grin.

"Hey!" It only took a few moments for Ayumi and Keiji to cross the plaza. Ayano threw her arms around Ayumi and hugged her tightly.

"So, how was your summer?" Ayumi asked, linking her arm through Ayano's. She grimaced.

"Dad made me spend two weeks in Ellaria. He said to 'live in court like a noble should.'" She stuck her tongue out, "I'm a Soldier and don't need to mingle with the courtiers. I've got enough standing already."

Ayumi grinned and nodded in understanding. Many of the nobles at the Ellarian court were more than aloof and for anyone not used to playing their ridiculous and never ending mind games, spending more than an hour in their company was suicide. It drove a person insane trying to see the numerous hidden meanings in a simple phrase like, "Your hair is so well done today." It could mean any number of things from 'Normally it looks hideous' to 'You look better than me, this means war.' Though the nobles looked like adults, their goings on (which most politely referred to as 'courtly intrigue') were reminiscent of a child's game of 'she did it first'.

"You'll never guess what I caught Ryo at!" Ayano said with a wicked grin. Ayumi hesitated to ask what it was – Ayano's smile made her feel uneasy.

"What?"

"He was being lip-raped by the Countess Norfont!" Her mouth dropped open with surprise, before she started laughing.

"Are you serious?!" Ayano nodded, her face wearing an adamant expression.

"I was wandering around and found a door behind a tapestry. And what'd you know, there's Ryo being pinned down by the Countess. He had red lipstick all over his face!"

"Ryo got pinned by the Countess Norfont?" Ayano glanced over at her twin brother, irritated by his interruption.

"No. He got pinned down –"

"Lucky man." Keiji commented with a grin.

"That's disgusting. The Countess is nearly forty!" Ayumi said with a grimace.

"Doesn't look a day over twenty; 'heard she's got a group of cosmetimages working on her face." Satoshi told her. She shuddered.

"That's so gross."

"She had the audacity to glower at me on her way out. Ryo ran out the minute she let go of him. I asked around and apparently she's been trying to get her hands on the Ambassador's protégé for quite a while." Ayano said with a smile. By now, the four of them had entered the main building and had made their way up to the second floor via elevator.

The elevator doors slid open with a metallic ping and the four stepped out into the hall. They made their way to the fourth door on the left side. Inside, the room was moderately sized; on the left wall were floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, opposite that wall some one had pinned up maps of Ellaria. To any innocent passerby they would appear to be novelties bought by an adamant fantasy buff. In the center of the room was a table on which a military map of Ellaria had been spread out; around it were six chairs.

Standing by the window was the Ambassador's protégé, Ryo and the Crown Prince of Ellaria, Hideki.

"Don't tell Ryo I told you. I told him I wouldn't say anything." Ayano said with a grin.

"Don't tell me what?" Ryo turned away from the conversation he had been having with Hideki only moments before and focused his piercing blue eyes on the newcomers. He took one look at Ayano's sly smile and groaned.

"You said you wouldn't tell!" Ayano shrugged.

"I lied. Bad habit I picked up from the nobles." Keiji and Satoshi flocked to his side, badgering him with questions.

"Was she a good kisser?"

"Did she stick her tongue down your throat?"

"I heard she scratches. Is it true?" Ryo ran a hand through his spiky blonde hair and looked pleadingly at Ayumi.

"Hey, don't look at me. You're the one who got yourself lip-raped." The boys snickered.

"Ayumi, what are you carrying?" The laughter and jokes immediately subsided. Hideki moved away from his post at the window, his gray eyes watching them all. His voice seemed to echo through the room ominously and rang with a quiet, but strong authority, a quality he had found very useful in the courts of Ellaria.

His silver hair, a mark and testament to his heritage and bloodline, was pulled away from his face and held at the nape of his neck with a rubber band. His tall, lean body moved easily across the room to the cluster of friends that had, only a moment ago, been joking around.

"Well?" Ayumi quickly removed the velvet bag from her back and opened it, pulling out a beautiful, 36"x 6"x 6", rosewood container. The lid was inscribed with a beautiful depiction of a flower painted to look like fire, its vines extending across it and curling around the edges. Silently, she set it on the table.

"Your Highness," Hideki raised an eyebrow at the title; it was an unspoken rule that the title was for court and court only, "May I present Crimson's blade: Issander."

She lifted the lid of the box, revealing the blade that Crimson had unwittingly left behind after their fight. It was a twenty four inch white steel blade. Its hilt had been fashioned to the form of a writhing snake, hood flared and mouth opened wide from which the blade extended. Set into the pommel was a gleaming ruby and etched into the blade were several runes that glimmered when the sword moved.

Hideki reached for it, wrapping his fingers around the hilt and pulling it from the box.

"How did you get this?" He breathed.

"She attacked us in our home." Keiji said, "Some how she managed to trap Ayumi in a dream spell, put a silence spell on the entire house and fight me at the same time. She left the sword behind."

"Seems like some one's upgraded their power level," Satoshi commented with a frown.

"Well," Hideki started, putting the sword back into the box and closing it, "We have other matters to attend to. Ryo?"

Ryo stepped forward and once the table was cleared pointed at the map.

"As you know," He started, "Ellaria is protected on all four sides; two of those protections are natural, to the north are the Barrier Mountains and to the east is the Endless Sea. To the west and south are the barriers that have been erected through Crystal, here and here. When Crystal was put back together the west fortification was reinstated to its former strength but the south fortifications have gotten weaker and weaker over the past twenty years. And since Crystal isn't whole it will only continue to get weaker.

"The villagers who live on and around Ki'Tal Plateau have had to be evacuated because of Circe's continued attacks. She's had her soldiers sow the fields with salt and nearly all of the villages have been burned down; the same thing on the west side of the River Tanus. We've been able to relocate a good deal of the refugees in and around Karrus Valley. Some of them have found refuge in the mountains, which is good considering the possible crowding in the cities." He sighed before continuing, "Unfortunately, the Mages have been given reason to believe that Circe has started to breach the west fortifications, as well. Which means –"

"She's planning an invasion?" Ayumi finished, horrified. Ryo nodded grimly.

"For the most part, attempts at scrying for her are useless; all we get is murkiness. But, when we are able to see something, they indicate that she's growing incalculably in power. And our spies from the S'Raksha Nomads say that she's amassing an army, it's supposed to be huge."

"So that means," Ayano started with a frown, "That even if we retrieve the last part of Crystal, we still face war…" He nodded again.

"It's starting to seem that Circe planned on invading from the very beginning, whether or not she got Crystal. And now that she's got a small part it'll be more difficult than ever to beat her. We need the last shard in order to stand a chance; you can't fight a battle when our energy sources need to be replenished every few hours." Hideki frowned as he stared at the map.

"So, when do we go? Obviously we need to be there soon."

"That's another problem. Ever since Crimson crossed the Stream with your parents it's put everything in a mess. When I left they were just sorting everything else. She's managed to entangle seven Streams with just one crossing. And since she's come back and forth a second time I can only imagine that they're worse off than when I left." The whole group looked grim. The prospect of war was not one any of them favored. Though they had all been trained and prepared for the possibility since they had been old enough to hold a sword upright, none of them had spilled actual human blood. The idea of doing that on such a large scale made them more than a little nervous.

"We'll have to check with the Time Watchers," Satoshi commented. Hideki nodded.

"We'll go tonight. Any objections?" Everyone shook their heads. "We'll meet here in a few hours."

Ayano grinned.

"Party!"

Well, that's the second chapter. It took me counts in head...a very long time to finish it up. And I'm very, very sorry. Life seems to be a bit hectic for some reason (even though it shouldn't be). Thanks to all who reviewed;I love you guys so much. And I'll be returning reviews shortly.