Chapter 18:

Twin Dragons

The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph

A pair of lilac eyes fixate on the screen in front of her. Her thumbs gently tap away while her eyes follow. A double tap and a sudden shift in her shoulders subtly reveal Cire’s engagement, despite her expressionless face. The blonde elf across her had become acquainted with her as retainer and captain of the Ethoxian Republic’s distinguished Valkyrie Unit. Kathryn Noble sat at a table in Cire’s flat, awaiting an emergency meeting. Though the Cire had donned her kimono, the captain donned a chic, black business dress. The dark colors contrasted Kathryn’s baby blue eyes, which gazed at the clock and then her partner.

Cire had been engrossed in her gaming portable, a relic from the human world. She had yet to adjust the top part of her kimono. When she tried to reach for the handheld, Cire shifted slightly.

“You realize the meeting is in a few minutes, right?” she sighed. Cire’s lilac eyes glimpsed her momentarily before returning to the screen. A 16-bit elf ran across her screen, jumping onto a turtle-like mech. When the character hopped twice, it sent a flat mech at the enemy behind it. “Cire?”

“Just another sec,” she replied.

Kathryn gently snatched the handheld and set it next to her. Cire easily gave in, exchanging a tired glance with her captain. In contrast to the fair skin of her Ethoxian counterparts, Cire’s skin was covered in dragon scales with a paler complexion. This had always made her feel subconscious. However, the marking under her eyes brought out her light purple eyes. Her hair’s wavy texture was slung over her shoulders. Despite the standards she held herself to, Cire was undeniably beautiful.

“You know if you kept up with your appearance—” Kathryn noted.

“Yeah. That’s not important.”

“Not important? You’re about to discuss the fate of a city while barely keeping your clothes on?”

“The research I scrounged up should suffice.”

“Appearances matter, Cire.”

“Why should I conform to arbitrary standards? Wearing things properly… Doesn’t change the matter at hand. What matters is how I can make a difference.”

“Says the one playing an old children’s game?”

“A—adults very much played these too. You just don’t get it. It’s a way too, eh, ease my mind.”

“Ease your mind? You? It doesn’t look like you’ve slept well since I last saw you.”

She moved closer to the dark elf, raising the neckline until it reached her collarbone. She realized Cire hadn’t been eating for some time by how the kimono pressed against her body.

“You haven’t been eating again?” Kathryn feigned concern.

“I don’t have much of an appetite these days,” she responded. “Besides, I’m not in dire need—”

“Cire, I can see your ribs!”

“We’re Elphynians. We don’t need food.”

“And we’re civilized too. It’s not like there’s a shortage for us.”

“Which—Is the point. Many others are getting by with no food at all. Because I’m in a nice little tower doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten where I came from.”

“You’re from a royal lineage.”

“A royalty I didn’t seem to remember. It must be nice looking back at memories. I still have to figure out whether it’s a memory or an implant.”

Kathryn sat in her chair with a subdued grimace. Despite Cire’s cold tone, the captain could tell she didn’t mean ill-will. Her existence was an anomaly in an otherwise powerful nation. It was then she remembered the significance of the day. Her eyes fixated on Cire, eventually getting her attention.

“It… Still bothers you, doesn’t it?” she asked. Cire nodded without answering the question. “She reminds me at every opportunity. That’s why I never bothered installing mirrors. She’ll always be there. I have to do right by those who I’ve trampled on.”

As the clock switched to the next hour, they received an alert in the middle of the table. Cire’s trembling hands reached over with the sudden help of her captain. They exchanged glances before aping the screen. Within a split second, their image appeared at a large roundtable surrounded by other council members. The room was pitch-black otherwise. The man in the middle was the Premier, Rodri Escalure.

“Captain Noble…” He spoke in a frail voice. “Miss Bouvire. I understand you come to us with urgent matters regarding Janus Elfman’s territories. He has been an excellent asset in maintaining control in that region. Those rich resources in Neo-T’Rach, or whatever those dwellers call it—I understand you, Miss Bouvire, want a different approach?”

“Yes,” Cire cleared her throat. She tried to maintain eye contact, but they shifted as she spoke. “For centuries, the Ethoxian government has suppressed any sort of independent movements that would arise—”

“May I remind you it is your government too? You’ve had a hand in quelling Neo-T’Rach’s rebellion—”

“Under a false premise. There was no evidence they were going to attack. They never had that capacity.”

The premier raised his eyebrows. Kathryn kept a straight face, although Cire had stirred the cold host.

“A false premise?” he repeated. “We can’t let an inferior race decide what to do with essential materials. Destiny is in our hands as the goddess Ethos deems it. And what say you, Captain Noble? What madness did this woman decide to bring you in?”

“I came by my own volition,” Kathryn replied.

“They were barely able to fight,” Cire said. Her voice did well to hide her quivering anguish, though her captain could see it in her eyes. “Their rebellion didn’t stand a chance when I arrived….”

His posture had become slightly hunched over, and his suit was a poor fit against his skinny frame. His cold eyes were scrutinizing as he examined their presentation. He tapped the table and summoned a hologram. Cire immediately recognized the terrain. Rodri sat against his chair and clasped his hands, glimpsing the slightest hesitation.

“Then, Miss Bouvire,” he continued. “What is it you want us to do? Clearly, you’re incapable of understanding the value—”

“The value that these finite resources are worth more than lives?” Cire feigned a brewing voice of disgust. Rodri chuckled weakly before coughing profusely. “We thrive on exploitation and oppression! And you tell me we’re better than them?”

“That is the consequence of power by which the Ethoxian Republic lives.”

“A younger generation begs to differ. They see it differently from how the old guard sees it.”

“Cire?” Kathryn whispered, looking through the side of her eye.

“Is that so?” Rodri questioned. “I can see why they take such admiration for you. The Elphynian charm, they call it? We’re aware you poll well with them, should you run for my seat. Imagine! The daughter of a fallen queen rises to power to shake up the old regime. It’s stuff that makes lofty stories.”

His words didn’t move Cire.

“We’re already a declining power, though,” she replied. “I didn’t come here to discuss my political aspirations. I’ve come here to talk about the crisis unfolding south of Neo-T’Rach. Janus has proven time and again that he can’t maintain his grip on the populace.”

“Janus is a valuable asset. You might find his tactics treacherous, but his city has thrived.”

“At the cost of the outliers who are beginning to pick up arms? We’ve had an uptick of violence in the past few decades, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to die down.”

Cire searched on the scroll inscribed in front of her, sliding the files to the premier. He opened them, quickly glancing through each. The increased costs and development weren’t aspects he’d become familiar with. Cire and Kathryn waited quietly, hearing his occasional grunts. It was as though each document stirred some disappointment in him. Cire gained some level of confidence, hawking from afar. He closed the hologram and acknowledged them.

“These numbers are current?” he asked. “And… The other part?”

“As recently as last year,” Cire answered. Her eyes looked into his. “He’s overspending without much efficiency. Mr. Elfman is a profiteer. This façade is a way to show that he’s some sort of strongman, but he’s anything but. We can get someone who can work with us and build stable partnerships. It would be a new way forward. All we have to do is let nature take its course.”

The girl did her research, but how much? Kathryn thought.

“But—you’ll still be visiting them on Frederick’s Reestablishment Celebration next week?”

Cire nodded.

“It was upon his request I show up,” she replied. The premier frowned. “I guess I’m becoming a little more popular these days.”

“So, it seems,” Rodri replied with a smidgen of disdain.

* * *


Enne, Alejandro & Silesta sat in a small chamber guarded by two rebel soldiers. The dimly-lit torches glowed from the four corners of an ancient cavern. Enne could easily break through and make her demands, but she complied with McCreary. Also, she was more concerned about Alejandro’s fledgling health. A growling stomach echoed. Silesta had yet to touch her cold food as she fixated on the setting’s darkness. The elf couldn’t hide her flustered expression. Stroking Alejandro’s hair, Enne observed his declining health and the elf’s poor appetite. Enne had lost count of how many times she expressed her concern.

“Silesta?” Enne whispered. Silesta glanced over. The bags under her eyes were dark. “Have you—slept at all?”

“No,” she replied. Her eyes trailed to Alejandro when her ears perked slightly to his shallow breathing. “Is he—going to be okay?”

“I don’t know. My mana doesn’t seem to be effective.”

“I hope he makes it through. You two are finally together again.”

The darkness hid Enne’s weak smile as she looked upon the wanderer. She held his hands, feeling the occasional trembles from his body fighting the infection. It brought back memories of their earlier journey, but it was nowhere as bad. Enne looked toward the cold dish comprising fish, bread, and a cup of water. It was clear the rebels were running low on supplies. Enne wondered what the outcome of their conversation would be.

“Are you going to eat?” she asked.

“I’m not hungry,” Silesta replied. Her stomach growled. “Um…”

“I can reheat it for you if you get it.”

At first, the young elf remained motionless. Her eyes were fixated on the food. She took her time getting up. Enne noticed how skinny the young woman was as she kneeled to get the food. Silesta returned and sat beside her. She passed it to her and watched to see what she would do. The flames around them began to flicker. Silesta looked around curiously while Enne focused on the plate. Raising one hand, Enne absorbed embers from the fire into a refined orb as she held it toward the food. Silesta winced as the food warmed.

“Was that necessary?” she asked.

“Absolutely not,” Enne smiled. “But that was pretty cool, no?”

“I—guess? I could’ve held it to one of the torches.”

“But you weren’t going to.”

Silesta’s lips held firm as her eyes shifted. Enne handed over the plate, ridding the orb with a finger snap. The young elf stared at Enne before gently taking it off her hand.

“Come on,” Enne spoke. “I know you’re hungry. I—”

“That was quite the magic trick,” McCreary said from behind the gated entrance. Silesta and Enne watched as the dwarf entered. The doors locked behind him.

“I guess I won’t be leaving anytime soon?” Enne asked. McCreary looked at the pale wanderer resting on her lap.

“I’m afraid not.”

“Why are you looking at Allie like that?”

“Raquel… Would like to motion a death sentence for his betrayal.”

Enne’s lips parted but withheld her reaction. She glimpsed at Alejandro before returning a frown to the dwarf. McCreary also seemed torn by the news he’d given as he paced. Silesta had yet to touch her food while observing them.

“Is right now the time to worry about this?” Enne asked. McCreary shot a glance and nodded. “he can answer for it, but we need to get him the proper medication.”

“I don’t make the suggestions,” he replied. “How much do you know about his past?”

“Allie’s? I have an idea, but he doesn’t talk about it much.”

“What if I told you he has everything to do with why the rebellion works from these old caves?”

Enne didn’t react. She recollected the dream he had. He replayed the events that led to him traveling aimlessly for so long. Alejandro was a man strife with guilt. She’d only ever see him genuinely smile when she stayed close to him. For that, she understood the depths of his guilt but remained uncertain of the sins he bore.

“Allie is a good man,” she said. “He might’ve made a few mistakes, but he’s trying to redeem himself in his own way.”

“With all due respect,” McCreary replied, considering what he’d say. “How can you speak for a man that can’t speak for himself?”

The question stumped her. She gently gripped the wanderer for a moment. She knew he’d have to answer for himself in a trial by fire. Enne hoped there could be another way. McCreary excused himself as he walked toward the door. Enne wouldn’t let him go without a final say. McCreary froze when he felt the room’s pressure change. The flames danced to a weak breeze. He turned over to find a lilac tint in Enne’s right eye.

“Miss—Bouvire?” he uttered.

“I want to talk with the one in charge,” she demanded softly.

“He’s a busy man—”

“And I can easily blow my way through this place! I’m only here to be as friendly as possible. Allie’s health isn’t getting better. You either allow me to talk to him, or part of the cave is brought down.”

The dwarf maintained his composure despite the cold glare she gave.

“I’ll talk to them right away,” he replied. Enne’s eye dimmed.

Allie wouldn’t want me to hurt any of you. She thought as the dwarf left.

It wasn’t long until someone returned. It was the young rebel leader, Mikail Volkan. His eyes were heavy from his temporary seclusion, and his breath reeked of alcohol. He slung a chair in the middle, sitting down while listening to the door shut. There was an initial silence before he combed his greasy hair with his fingers. He tried to look at them but couldn’t. His face began to grow stubble, and his eye contact was weak. Enne found a broken man that reminded her so much of Alejandro. His lips parted, heavy breathing, when he pointed at the unconscious wanderer.

“I’ve heard of him,” he said. “Through Raquel.”

“For as long as I’ve known him, he’d always try to do the right thing,” she replied.

“The right thing, huh?”

“I wouldn’t lie—”

“And how the hell would I know that? You took down a few of my boys—”

“And could’ve easily killed them and whoever got in my way. I’d have no reason to lie to you. I think it’s safe to say I’m not some Ethoxian woman.”

I gave Cire a little more to work with here. (She's literally my self-insert) Her interaction with Kathryn reveals a lot about their friendship; Bits and pieces. But there will be more of her sprinkled in while Enne pushes the story forward. Enne never loses heart... You gotta love that~

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