Chapter 29:

Amber's Trial (Part 1)

Hime x Hime

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I found myself standing on the deck of a cruiser. Judging by its exterior, it was Aurelia's Tear. I couldn't exactly remember when it had been restored since the attack by Dag's crew, but it was practically perfect. We soared through a thick fog.

The biggest question I had, however... was how I ended up on the ship in the first place.

The last thing I remember, I was getting ready to take on the trial. This must be part of it, but... it feels so real.

I pinched myself, and was surprised to feel a very authentic sense of pain. Incredible. Scanning my surroundings, my eyes came to rest on Sakuta who was speaking to Commodore Flynn near the helm. If anyone would know what was going on, it would be him.

"Sakuta! Az!" I shouted, running over to them. "Where are we? Did you complete your trial already?"

"Trial?" Sakuta looked puzzled.

"You know, the Guardian's Trial? We were trying to save my sister, and we took the Dreamer's Draught. I remember going to sleep, but... not much else after that." I explained.

"Amber..." Sakuta looked at me with a serious expression. "We took the trial months ago. Don't you remember?”

"Months ago?" I asked, thinking hard to myself. "If we saved her... then who was the real culprit? Henrí stood accused, but there was no way it was actually him. I would remember something like that. Or... would I?"

"Face the potential future that you fear, and prove your strength!"

I remembered the words I had heard right after closing my eyes. I mouthed the words "future" a few times to myself before it finally clicked. So the trial was a potential future, and it was currently playing out before me.

Sakuta's concerned gaze didn't waver, but he also didn't answer my question which bothered me. I tended to avoid using my ability on people I truly cared for—out of respect for their privacy—but I was dying to know what was actually going on here. I tried looking into his intentions, but...

I'm not getting readings from anyone. Not Az either. Guess I'll just have to play along without some key info, and try to guess how to pass this trial on my own.

"It's been a long while since you looked so seasick, kid. I still remember having to turn right around on our first voyage, because you couldn't stand up straight. Hahaha!" Az laughed jovially, twirling his handlebar mustache. "Is something else the matter?"

"No... I guess not." I scratched my head. "Sorry to make you worry."

"It's alright, I just wanted to make sure you had your head in the game." Sakuta smiled briefly. "It's gonna take all of us being focused on the task at hand."

"Focused? For what, and where are we headed to?" I wondered.

"I'll go over it again. It's been confirmed by our scouts that Demon Empress Lucia has left Darkspire's impenetrable walls on her mothership. She's going on a little retreat to an island off their western shore." The Commodore cut in, explaining the situation.

"We're going to attack her ship under the cover of fog, steal the key to The Crossing so I can finally get home, and avoid the bulk of their forces at the capital." Sakuta sounded pretty proud of their plan, but hearing it made my heart ache.

So Sakuta is just going to... leave us? I always knew that it was a possibility, but for it to happen so soon... It feels like we were just starting to understand each other.

I had even shown him how I felt with my kiss. At least... I thought I did. Had I been delusional about how he felt about the whole thing? I did cut him off before we had a chance to talk through it. Was that a good idea? I tried not to second-guess myself, but it was somewhat difficult.

"Well what about—" I began.

"Your father? Don't worry, I have reason to believe that King Raymond is alive, and being held beneath the catacombs in Darkspire. Ray is tougher than he looks, that old bastard!" Az echoed Sakuta's confidence. "After Sakuta departs, we'll use Lucia's ship to sneak past the walls, and use her life to barter for your father's."

"That's what you were worried about, right?" Sakuta asked.

"...Yeah." I lied.

I couldn't tell him the real reason. I felt dumb, having a chance to achieve my ultimate goal, and still worrying about such things. I smacked my cheeks to wake myself up.

Trial or not, I need to focus on the mission at hand. This is all meant to make me second guess myself. Why did I partner up with Sakuta in the first place? I already know the answer.

It was to save my father. All these people had gathered for that specific purpose, and I couldn't afford to disappoint them by letting my mind wander. Not after all they'd done to help. Although...

I would like to at least talk to Sakuta about this before all this is over. Just maybe... I could convince him...

"Hey, Sakuta. About you going home..." I fiddled with my hands. Right as he turned to look at me...

"We've got company!" Az yelled. He turned the wheel abruptly as several flying figures came into focus.

They were clad in blackened steel armor, and their outstretched wings covered a beautiful full moon revealed by a gap in the fog. I could see their glowing red eyes.

Demon elite.

"Damn it! The weather didn't hold like we thought, we're gonna have to fight our way to Lucia." Az sighed. Sakuta clenched his fist, distressed.

"Fight!? Don't you recognize those soldiers? Those are Lucia's elite, the Knights of Dagon." I wasn't one to back down from a fight, but these guys were truly on another level.

Pure-blooded demons many times stronger than I was, they were Lucia's personal band of assassins. Six men and six women with unparalleled dark magic ability. They also carried with them the strength needed to protect Lucia from any threat. Like my father, they were legends from Dagon's last civil war.

"They've taken down whole regiments with only the twelve of them before! We only have this small ship, and I don't have wings like they do. How will we even fight them?"

"You and I won't be fighting them, Amber. We're gonna focus on boarding Lucia's ship with the crew we have, and let our secret weapon fight the knights for us. As much as it shames me to delegate, I'll let him explain the rest." The Commodore gestured towards our secret weapon.

"Secret weapon!? What does he mean?" I muttered towards Sakuta as he stepped forward.

"It's simple. I'll take on the knights while you guys reach Lucia, and end this fight." Sakuta said. "I trust in your strength, Amber. Get to Lucia, and get that key."

"It's not me I'm worried about! These guys aren't like the lizard men we faced back then. You may have defeated Phantom, but he had the power to overthrow governments and simply withdrew by himself. These demon elite... They're merciless. They won't stop until—"

Sakuta simply shook his head.

"I've grown since then. You'll see what I mean. I will protect all of you. Just watch me, Amber!" Sakuta put out his right hand. "Materialize, Archangel Armor: GABRIEL!"

We were blinded by a bright light as Sakuta transformed. The cannon appeared in place of his right arm like before, but soon his whole body was covered in mechanical armor. His left arm became a saber of pure energy, and beautiful white wings burst from his back. It was almost like he was...

An angel!?


"HOW— When did you learn this!?" I took a step back in surprise. Sakuta, in his new form, began to fly off the ground. A winged helmet appeared on his head with a visor to complete the look.

"In this timeline, Sakuta met an individual that helped him realize his powers MUCH sooner than the universe anticipated. Perhaps even too soon. His unusually fast development as a Materializer allowed for this plan to take shape."

What's that voice? Is the trial speaking to me?

"You feeling a little better now?" Sakuta interrupted my thoughts with a grin. The Knights began to nosedive towards us. "I'll be honest, I finally realized where I saw this cannon for the first time. It was an anime I used to watch when I was a kid. Angel Fighters. So I kiiinda borrowed their whole armor set. What can I say? I love my mechs..."

"Sakuta... You're so weird sometimes." I couldn't help but giggle at his nonchalant attitude. "I have something to tell you when this is all over, but I'll put my trust in you. Give 'em hell!"

"Weird, huh? I'll try to take that as a compliment. Your trust is appreciated, let's have that talk when we win." Sakuta nodded.

"Come on out, Pon-Pon. We have a ship to board." I smiled with newfound confidence.

"Pon-Pon!" My little companion was summoned, perching himself on my left shoulder. I pulled out my hand cannons, readying myself for the coming assault.

"Get the grappling hooks ready, gentlemen! There she is!" Az called out to his crew as they frantically prepared the ship for battle. Coming into focus was a huge mothership with a skull carved into the figurehead.

My aunt is somewhere inside there. I'm coming to rescue you, father.

The stage was finally set as the trial was now in full swing. The conditions to pass to the Garden of Dreams were still unclear to me, but I didn't have time to think about it. Knights closed in on Sakuta as the battle commenced.