• Chapter XIV

    I woke up the next day, feeling as if nothing happened the day before. I washed, put on my black cloak, and headed out to the king’s audience room. If Zeek comes here again, we’re damned for sure. The audience room was empty. At least I haven’t missed anything. I turned around and went about the castle, doing my duties, despite quitting the job.
    The day was uneventful until the afternoon. The sun bathed the area with warmth. The cool fall breeze blew upon us from time to time, but it was still bearable enough to walk around with a light jacket. I was at the marketplace, looking for something to be entertained with. The smell of sweetmeats mixed with the sounds of people talking with merchants. Some merchants were Rooks, bird-like humans who lived mainly in cooler areas, others were just normal humans. Just like NecroCity. With the money I have obtained from working as a guard, which was a considerably large sum, I bought another accessory to replace the Ulticore badge while it regenerated.
    I turned around and noticed somebody who wore clothing that seemed similar. Atomicos. One had messy, blue hair and wore a white cloak with black stripes, the other had white hair, which went down to the lower part of his neck, and wore a normal, white cloak. The blue haired one had a high collar that covered the lower part of his face. The white haired one wore his cloak with the sleeves cut short at the middle of the lower half of his arms. He wore glasses, so he looked like the scholarly type. They look a lot weaker than Xavier or Sablic, and certainly weaker than Geist. To stay unnoticed, because there was no doubt that they recognized me, I walked to the side to blend in with the crowd.
    The two men went for two different directions. What are they looking for? I followed the white haired man. I crept behind stalls and objects while I watched him speak with people. He seemed innocent, unlike Xavier or Geist, as he spoke with the many people of the marketplace.
    “…leaves?” I heard him say.
    “No, no sorry gov’nor,” replied a tall, burly man.
    “Thank you anyway.” The man continued on. Up close, he looked like he was in his late teens to early twenties. “Excuse me, do you know when a…” A bell rang.
    The Rook replied with a shake of her head.
    “Thank you.” The man continued on through the crowd.
    How strange. Are you sure this is a member of the same group in which that Geist character once worked for?
    He seems too…polite to be one of them. I hopped behind a cart as the man turned around.
    I would still be careful. One might not know how somebody reacts to people.
    He seems to enjoy talking to people, Schwarze.
    Just be careful.
    “Today, sir,” said a skinny man at the corner of the wall.
    “Today?” repeated the white haired man. “Are you sure?”
    “I am completely sure, sir.”
    “Thank you very much.” The man went into his pocket and took out a cell phone. “It’s Dante. Yes, he is leaving today. Right. I’ll see you there.” The white haired man, Dante, turned and sprinted to the other side of the marketplace.
    Now what is he trying to do?
    I am not sure, but this may be more dangerous than it seems. We should report to Spades immediately.
    Good idea. I turned and bumped into a girl who was dressed in a purple robe.
    “Ow, watch where you’re…Xilus?” stammered the girl.
    “Anne? What are you doing here?”
    “Shh. Don’t say anything out loud. Follow me.” We walked to the center of the city, where a large fountain sprayed water to the small pool below. There were stone benches around it and cars moved around the circular area on which we sat. “What were you doing there?”
    “Just looking around. What were you doing?”
    “Same thing as you. I spotted a man who dressed almost like that Eve girl.”
    “So did I.”
    “They didn’t seem like they wanted to fight.”
    “They were looking for information on something.”
    “Are you sure?”
    “He went around asking people about things.”
    “Like what?”
    “Like when somebody was…” I went through an epiphany. “He was asking when I was leaving the city!”
    “Then the Atomicos are still trying to take this city down?” Anne gasped. “You cannot leave yet!”
    “Great,” I muttered sarcastically. Now what? I can’t stay, but I can’t leave.

    Advent and Dante sat on top of a building which overlooked the center of the city. “So he’s leaving today. What a coincidence.”
    “Is it not? I believe the probability of an event like this is a staggering one out of one trillion.”
    “Why is that, Dante?”
    “We could have come a trillion of times before, if I am estimating correctly, and it just so happens that the boy is leaving today of all days.”
    “If you put it that way…” His eyes focused on a crimson haired boy walking next to a brunette girl. “There he is.”
    “Xilus and the princess herself.” Dante sniffed the air. “I see what you have meant when you sensed that black energy.”
    “What do we do?”
    “We are not close enough for him to sense us, so we are safe from here.”
    “The phantoms of the city are coming back, Dante.”
    “And your point is?”
    “They point to both of us. The ones that I see point to Xilus, while the ones that he sees point to me.”
    “I see.”
    “It is getting increasingly unsafe for us. We better go somewhere now.”
    “We can speed this mission up a little, Advent.”
    “Xilus and the princess are not in the castle, correct?”
    “So we can just storm in?”
    “Not storm, we can just walk in without getting noticed.”
    “How are we going to do that?”
    “You forget, Advent, I am an Atomico.”

    Anne and I strode to the palace, dodging people carrying their supplies and cars passing by. The white sun’s light bathed the morning breeze in warmth when we reached our destination.
    “So you think that they are going to attack?” I asked anxiously. I just want to go on. We’re wasting too much time.
    “Of course, Xilus. If they have attacked every time we have met them, they are bound to attack us soon. What’s wrong?” replied Anne.
    I was clutching the center of my chest sharply. “I sense…this…energy. Black energy, just like mine.”
    “There’s somebody else with your energy signature?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “We better hurry.” We picked up our pace and made it to the king’s audience room.
    Spades, Devon, Melissa, and the king were sitting in the room, seemingly making preparations for our departure. “Ah, Xilus, Anne.”
    “Daddy. We’re having a bit of a problem with the Atomicos,” panted Anne.
    “Another attack?” grumbled the king.
    “Can’t they just give up?” whined Devon.
    “Not until this kingdom is destroyed.” The king’s face was full of anger.
    “Well, Your Majesty, that is not the case,” I cut in. “We are not exactly sure of what they are doing.” The king stood from his throne. He walked back and forth with his hands clasped behind his back.
    “I see. This is a rather strange predicament. I can see where you are getting your assumption, Xilus. If they were plotting an attack, we would be fighting with them already.”
    “What should we do then?” inquired Spades. The twenty year-old looked like he was fifty at this point.
    “We wait for them to strike. If we attack now and end up foolishly slaughtering our own people just to destroy our opponent, we would just show our fear.” The king sat down and changed his frowned face to worry. “On another subject, where is Luke?”
    Damn. Anne flinched next to me. Devon looked sick. “Well you see sir,” I finally answered. “He never existed.”
    “The king’s face was filled with bewilderment. “Of course he has. I’ve seen his birth with my own eyes. I’ve raised him with my own hands. You expect me to believe you?”
    “A boy named Zeek, who used to be my best friend, somehow survived the blast at NecroCity.”
    “And the fallout,” added Devon.
    “Right. He’s attained powers of illusion and came to Arkalcus, probably with a team, to take the city over. It was a two way plot. Do you have any memory of actually making a deal with Geist?”
    “Now that you’ve mentioned it, no,” replied the king.
    “Zeek must have taken your guise to strike a deal with the Atomicos, only to have ruined it by cancelling the deal at Sypras Manor.”
    “Makes sense.”
    “It does. It helped Zeek and his comrades…”
    “How are you sure he had comrades?”
    “A small boy had orders from somebody to make him end his onslaught.”
    “Go on.”
    “The Atomicos lost a member, as you have seen, and left Arkalcus. Meanwhile, whoever is plotting against the Atomicos started his plan to take down the city. That seemed to collapse yesterday.”
    “And now the Atomicos are resuming their plans to destroy Arkalcus,” finished Spades for me.
    “I cannot believe this. The enemy was walking among us for all these years,” remarked the king.
    “Now what?” asked Devon. “Do we stay, or do we go?”
    “You leave.”
    “What?” Devon, Anne, and I were staring with bewilderment.
    “I cannot delay you any longer. You have been here for eight days now, too long for the world now. I will make sure that all of the Royal Guard are protecting Arkalcus.”
    “Thank you, Your Majesty,” Spades staggered.
    “There is just one more thing to attend to. Are you really considering leaving House Beslutsamhet?”

    Advent ran through the streets of Arkalcus, jumped over cars, and crouched behind the fence of the northern wing of the palace. “Now what?” he asked into his phone.
    “Just leave your energy where you stand,” replied Dante from the other side of the phone-line. He sat at the center on top of the building that overlooked the center of the city. “I’ll send you-know-who towards the palace to make an opening for you.”
    “You’re little partner?”
    “Who else?”
    Advent closed the line and let go of his energy. If I have to fight, I’m in for it. Leaving his energy meant leaving his scythe and all of the incantations which he learned in all of his years as an Atomico. He only had his instinct and skill. He looked up at the clock tower of Arkalcus. This reminds me of that day. 1495. The new millennium was coming and a new king was ready for his crowning… His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden movement of a shadow. Dante. The gate of the castle swung open. Advent ran behind it and ran into a guard.
    “Now, Advent, we must be extremely careful in these new grounds. I will leave a disguise for you at the basement of the palace. Just sneak in there, but do not get caught. My master wishes you luck,” explained the creature, now in the guise of a guard. One who looks closely could tell the difference between a human and a possessed one, just look for any dark rings around the eyes and paler than normal skin.
    “Right.” Advent nodded and headed for the entrance, hiding behind trees and bushes and staying wary of his vulnerability.

    Anne paced back and forth, trying to find out what to say. I, as I was still unofficially unassigned from the guard (I would be as soon as I leave Arkalcus), was sitting on the couch, following my assignment of being the princess’s personal guard, as I was supposedly her servant.
    “I don’t see what is the problem,” murmured Anne.
    “It is too dangerous for you, Anne,” explained her father softly, his voice echoing in the empty room. Spades, Devon, and Melissa were finishing their preparations.
    “Xilus and his friends can protect me.”
    “What if you are alone?”
    “I can take care of myself.”
    The king closed his eyes, stifling his tears.
    I wonder why he is crying.
    His daughter is growing up.
    I hope I don’t have to see you go through such sentimentalism.
    “Daddy, are you okay?”
    “I’m sorry; I just can’t believe how much you have grown. Now that I no longer have a son, although I never had one, I can see you more clearly. I’ve kept you in this city for too long. You have to see the world. Let us just make a vow to each other, my daughter, that we will see each other again.”
    That was easy. I could not see a fault in his reasoning, though. I would have done the same if I were him.
    “I promise.” Anne curled her pinky and whispered, “Pinky promise.”
    Is that not what elementary school children attempt as a means of gaining trust?
    Yes. The king smiled warmly and they shook their pinkies.
    Anne and I left the room briskly. “Your father must really love you,” I sniffed.
    “Yeah, he does,” she said slowly. “I guess he’s been like that until Zeek implanted that false memory on us.”
    “Seems so. You know what?”
    “That pinky swear…”
    Anne smiled. “I intend to keep it.”
    “Okay. You know what else?” We stopped at the center of the palace. “I wish my father and I had such a bond.”
    “You never knew your father?”
    “No. I only remember him slamming the door behind him and never coming back.” I took a deep breath. “But it’s just a memory. Looks like we are going to leave in about an hour; you should get ready.”
    “Okay.” Anne turned towards her room. I started to walk towards my room. “And, Xilus.”
    “Can I see you at the clock tower in ten minutes?”
    “Ten minutes?”
    “That I can do.”

    Advent was sprawled behind a wall, holding a ceramic vase. A guard was walking down the hall adjacent to his, and he could not be spotted. The guard walked closer. Advent gripped the vase tighter. Closer. Tighter. Closer. Wait, wait. Closer, closer, closer. The foot steps grew louder and louder. Now! Advent turned around the corner, gripping the vase, and swung hard.

    I found Anne at the top of the clock tower. The morning breeze had ended just a few minutes earlier and the white sun gave up its spot and gave the red sun a way to reach the center of the sky. “We’re leaving in thirty minutes, Anne.”
    “I’m going to miss this place.”
    “I’m just worried about the Atomicos prowling in this city.”
    “My father has his army ready for us. My mother helped me pack, so I’m ready to go.” She took a deep breath. “I’m going to miss her.”
    I leaned against a wall. “You’ll see her again someday.”
    “How are you so sure?”
    “Because you promised.”
    “Promises aren’t foolproof.”
    “They are if you have help.”
    Anne looked at me confusingly.
    “I intend to let you keep it.”
    She walked towards me and studied me closely. “So there is a soft side in you.”
    “I just don’t like breaking promises. I made a promise to my grandfather a while before he passed. I promised him that I will never be alone. That’s why I got Xiona and Zeek as friends. The promise built that bond between us.”
    “But Zeek betrayed you.”
    “Zeek will always be my friend, Anne. He was once and will stay like that. He just needs somebody to help him find the right way, that’s all.”
    Anne smiled. “Then it’s a deal. I will keep my promise. I promise that to you.”
    “And I promise that I’ll help you keep that promise.” We shook hands, an act that will bind us forever.

    Two guards stood in front of Advent. Two guards stared back wildly at Advent, who held the vase in an odd fashion. Advent stared back nervously, his left leg frozen in mid air and his right hand holding the vase in the air. One of the two guards walked slowly to Advent and asked, “What are you doing with that vase, Private?”
    Private? Advent looked around with his eyes in confusion. “Just...um…testing to see if I can ambush an enemy, sir.”
    “Looks like you need help with that.”
    “Right. Thank you for the advice and all, sir.” Advent put the vase on its table and continued in between the guards. He swung around the corner at the end of the small hall and went downstairs. He paced himself to the closest door, which was opened slightly, and went inside. The room was a library. Some shelves were burnt and there was a shattered table in the center of the room. Parts of the walls were burnt and destroyed. “This must have been a nasty battle.” Advent noticed a pin on top of a desk, which was slightly charred at the far end of the room. He picked it up, placed it in his pocket, and put on the armor that was next to the pin. It felt heavy, probably because of his cloak, but he was still able to move quickly. He turned and went out the door, up the stairs, and started his mission on finding information on the Royal Family.

    Anne stared at the sky for about ten minutes while I leaned on the wall behind her, staring at the floor.
    “We should go now,” I declared.
    Anne turned from the view and nodded. “Let’s go.”
    We got to the castle, with about thirteen minutes to spare. I sat down in the king’s audience room when I sensed a strange presence not too far from me. I turned around and noticed a guard walking quickly across in front of the entrance. There was an unusual air around the guard. Probably just a newbie, I assured myself. After another five minutes, the guard came back, walking more hastily than before. “Guard,” I called.

    Advent was standing next to the entrance to the king’s Privy room. He was taken as a guard to the room, so he was assigned to stand there. It was the perfect way to eavesdrop on the king’s conversation with his council members.
    “…casualties?” asked the king.
    “Twenty-five, sir,” replied a member.
    “Those creatures are getting reckless,” muttered another man.
    “We must strike!” declared another.
    “I believe that we must sit and wait,” said a fifth man.
    “I am not sure, gentlemen,” murmured the king. “I have my daughter leaving today, a rumor of elite Impulse invading the city, and my terrible sickness to worry about.” The king coughed violently.
    “I am sorry to hear that, sir.”
    “Conditions in Mabloru are worsening. I will think about my decision by tomorrow. Dismissed.”
    Advent heard scrambling sounds in the room. “Guard,” said the lieutenant, who was standing at the other end of the arched entrance. “You may have a break.”
    Advent nodded and sped towards the exit of the castle. He passed an entrance when a voice called him. “Guard.” He turned around and stared at a young, slim, crimson haired boy about his height looking at him.
    Xilus. He’s going to leave in just ten more minutes. “Yes?”
    The boy eyed him. “Why are you rushing?”
    “New to the job.”
    “Oh. Good luck then.” Xilus smiled slightly. “Just don’t hang around with the big guys, or you’ll get crushed.”
    “Thank you.” With a nod, Advent turned and left for the entrance.

    The strange guard left quickly. I sat down and waited until Devon tapped me on the shoulder. “We’re leaving,” he announced eagerly. I sprang from the couch and followed him to a large limousine outside of the palace grounds. The king and the queen stood there, with Anne half-sitting in the vehicle.
    “Good tidings for you,” said the queen. She handed Spades a packet. “That is for emergencies.”
    “May the King’s Spirits go with you,” said the king.
    “We promise that this land will be free of this Atomico threat,” declared Spades.
    “I hope you are successful,” replied the queen. Devon, Melissa, Spades, and I went inside after Anne gave her parents a final hug. Anne sat next to Devon.
    The limo was just starting when Melissa murmured, “I hope Sin is okay.”
    Spades sighed heavily. “He probably is. We will find him.”
    Devon smiled lightly. “I bet you he’s ripping all of the Impulse in Mabloru limb from limb.”
    We continued in silence until we passed Sypras Manor. “Do you see that?” remarked Anne. She pointed at a large flag with a familiar sign that resembled two, multicolored double-helixes crossed together in an “X”.
    “Oh no,” I muttered.

    Advent sat in the lounge room of the mansion, staring out the window. The red sun lit up the greens of the yard around the mansion.
    “Advent,” muttered a strong voice from behind.
    “Dilan. What do you want?”
    “For you to confess. Were you meddling with Necro’s orders?”
    “No, Dilan,” denied Advent fiercely. He sniffed as he turned the page on his book. It was a journal from former Number XIV. Advent was always fascinated by the former member’s escape and betrayal.
    “It seems ironic as you are reading the journal of that traitor.”
    “I am nothing like Zigandile, Dilan.”
    “You and him were alike,” replied Dilan. He stood in front of Advent now and tried to get his attention. “Fortunately for you, you never murdered a member and went AWOL.”
    “Fortunately for you, I never reported you for harassment.”
    “How am I harassing you?”
    “You are sniffing around me just to prove something that is untrue.”
    “How dare you accuse me of this?”
    “Don’t think I haven’t noticed the badly replaced objects in my room. What did you think that you would find?”
    “Anything that provides proof of your treachery! And once I explain to Necro, I will be Number One, and you…you will be sitting in the dumps, trying to hide from my wrath!”
    “I helped promote you, Dilan. How can you betray me like this?”
    “Do you think I needed your help for such deeds, Advent?”
    Advent’s fury smoldered. “I can demote you.”
    “And I will just come back to Number Three. If not, I would have taken that fool, Zorzec’s place as Number Two!”
    “Not before I defeat you.”
    “Defeat me? Ha! You are not worthy to even hold that scythe of yours in battle, let alone handle it correctly!” scoffed Dilan.
    Advent fought the need to prove him wrong. He just got up, slammed the journal closed in front of Dilan, and turned. “You are a fool, Dilan.”
    “A fool who is in charge of the invasion force for Arkalcus? I think fools cannot, Advent.”
    Advent froze. “You are in charge of it?”
    “Did you really think it was going to be one of you weaklings?”
    “Xilus is entering Mabloru, Dilan. You should be more worried about what can happen to our lower ranks instead of your place in the Atomicos,” warned Advent. And I’ll make sure that it is you who suffers at the end, Dilan. Mark my words: you will shut your mouth.