Impossibly high hewed-stone walls border the city of Axio in its entirety. They stretched even along the southern coast's seaside cliffs. In the center of the city, a tall tower rose into the heavens atop a plateau. From this central spire, partition walls wind through the various districts.
The western most district was home to the Vanixian Republic. They were the surviving denizens of a once mighty empire that spanned the known continent. The Vanixian Empire had fallen some forty years ago, after the Great Apocalypse. A name given to an unknown event that caused the spread of demonic creatures, called monsters, across the known world.
The Empire did not have the technological or magickal know-how to defend against the threat of these monsters. After the fall of Tolin, the Empire’s largest and strongest port city, the surviving son of the Emperor, Theodin Vanixi, rallied the desolate and panicked human survivors and traveled far north to a coastal peninsula.
They founded a new city and with it; a new government. A Triumvirate, led by three Republics: Vanixian, Maarin, and Renaultian.
Throughout the last decade the three Republic’s politics grew increasingly divergent, culminating in the city's physical division.
Since the founding of Axio each Republic has maintained active military forces, called Divisionals. These armies were trained to combat the threats of monsters outside of the city. But tensions were rising between the Republics. Vanixian High Command has given the order that all members stationed in Axio be trained in more conventional methods.
The door to my chambers swung open, slamming hard against the stone walls. The sudden disturbance hurled me from my thoughts.
I shot up from my chair in a panic. At the doorway leaned a tall man in an elegant, gold trimmed, plate armored uniform. Strands of dark brown hair clung to his head—though, a single grouping of strands had been dyed a crimson-red. Beads of sweat gleamed down his face.
This was Julius Adaemus, my vice-commander.
I was about to demand he explain the reason for the late night outburst, but I noticed his labored breath.
“Juli—” I started moving towards him, and was interrupted.
“Your father… he’s been killed.” His words broken through gasps of air.
As Julius spoke, another man pushed past him into the room. An insignia affixed to his collar plate designated him as a military officer, a Knight-Captain.
“The Regent-Lord has been assassinated. Commander Vanixi, you must leave the palace!”
Stunned, I stared blankly at the two men.
What had they just said? My father… is dead?
“We have to…” another gasp of breath, “…to go, Airis.” Julius took my arm and pulled me out into the palace halls.
The Knight-Captain shouted out to Julius as we left, “Take her out through the gardens, there should be a carriage waiting.”
What in the Aether was happening?
The quietness and seclusion of my bed chambers were a stark difference to the commotion unfolding here.
Guardsmen were frantically running through the narrow corridors of the residential wing. A woman in a Knight’s uniform was ushering two men into a side room. Violent shouting echoed down the hallway from behind us, and two guards rounded a corner carrying a large wooden crate marked ‘EXPLOSIVES’.
“Move it—out of the way!” The guard in front shouted, strong-arming everyone in his way.
Julius pushed me with his body into a doorway to avoid them. When he started moving again, I pulled back from him.
“What about my sister? And my mother?”
He shook his head.
“Sorry, Airis, I ran straight here.” His frantic breathing had caught up a bit. “Isn’t your sister away studying?”
I racked my mind. He was right. She should had left this morning to return to her artificer trade-school. I was away at a briefing, but Rias was probably safe. My mother could still be in the palace.
I looked back the way we had come. Her chambers were on the other side of the wing. If I doubled back…
Julius shifted uncomfortably in the hallway in response to a door slamming open.
He reached for my hand. “I’m sure Lady Koharu has been evacuated by the guards. Let’s not waste anymore time dawdling.”
He was right again. Probably.
I shook my head in an attempt to bring some sense back to it. Being stubborn and searching the palace for my mother was a waste of time.
“I’m not dawdling.”
I refused his hand but moved into the hall after him.
We ran through the main hall and down a servant’s quarter stairwell to the first floor of the palace. People were running through these halls as well. Their arms full with sacks, boxes, and miscellaneous baubles. We escaped the mayhem through a side entrance and found ourselves alone in the courtyard.
The palace gates were wide open. Flames licked the stone archway of the gatehouse. A number of smaller fires had also been set in the surrounding buildings.
Bodies laid slain on the paved pathway heading out the gate. Some wore the crimson red of the Vanixian Republic, but others wore the green and blue of the Maarin and Renaultian Republics.
This wasn’t just some assassination. This was open treason.
Soldiers were fighting in the city streets. The clash of steel rang out as swords crossed in front of us. A group of three heavily armored soldiers were defending against a group of seven. The larger group varied in its composition, two heavy armored warriors were in front with tower shields, two medium armored warriors flanked them, and three lighter clothed casters were in the rear.
The aggressors wore green sashes and clothes. The three retreating soldiers were in red.
“Julius, we have to help!” I dug my heels into the edges of a stone paver and pulled back against Julius.
“We do not have time,” his response was spoken harshly, through gritted teeth, “You have to get out of the city before they find you.”
“I am not letting these bastards murder our people in the streets!”
His head shook in disbelief.
“Please, don’t get us killed.”
He drew his sword and charged towards the spell casters.
I channeled energy through my body, a soft golden glow built around my left hand. The light intensified, and I traced a simple sigil in the air with my finger.
With a closed fist, I aimed my hand at the closest warrior.
“In the light of divinity, be judged. Righteous Fire!”
Upon opening my hand, a dazzling golden flame shot forth closing the distance between us in seconds.
My HOLY BOLT impacted against the leather breastplate, puncturing it, leaving a gaping wound in their side. A cry of pain rang out, and the warrior doubled over.
The group turned to see who had just vaporized the chest of their comrade, and I became the center of attention of the enemy group.
Julius took advantage of the distraction and leapt forward, thrusting his blade into the throat of one of the casters. It sank deep and the man collapsed. Julius pushed the body off his sword with his foot, an arc of arterial blood sprayed from his target’s neck as his blade came free.
With a powerful swing, his blade contacted the next caster in line. It cut across their unprotected midsection. They fumbled backwards and flailed on the ground for a moment before ceasing.
One of the Vanixian soldiers cried out while charging forward. He wielded a two-handed great sword. It was held low by his right side as he ran into the enemy. A powerful swing struck hard against a tower shield, the impact knocked both the attacker and defender backwards.
The other two Vanixians capitalized on the knockdown effect and charged in to flank the remaining shield user.
Julius’ attention turned to the remaining caster in the rear. A glow of blue light had been gathering around their hands, but when the great sword attack impacted the loud bang must have interrupted their concentration. A jolt of energy spread through her arms and she yelped in shock. She turned heel and fled—but didn’t make it far.
A fiery ball crashed down from the direction of the gatehouse. It impacted the fleeing caster, and charred chunks of flesh and bone spattered against the surrounding walls and street.
In the same instant, a volley of arrows penetrated through the armor of the three remaining Maarin soldiers.
I spun around to see who our reinforcements were, expecting a few straggling Divisionals—instead, a sea of crimson met my gaze. In formation, a mass of hundreds marched down the street. They were led by a small woman with wild cherry-red hair, dressed in an ornately embroidered uniform. Golden trim traced the edges of a light steel breastplate, affixed to which was a Commander’s insignia. I recognized her.
This was Hailey Brooks, Commander of the Third Division.
The three soldiers Julius and I had jumped in to save approached her, but an officer blocked them, pointing to the rest of the formation. They saluted and fell in towards the back. Hailey glanced over at my companion. Her eyes narrowed.
“Commander Brooks.” He responded nonchalantly.
Her eyes widened. Likely from the implication that if High-Protector Julius Adaemus was here, then so too would Commander Airis Vanixi. Her calm and leader-like composure fled, her eyes frantically scanned the streets for me. I gave a second of thought to trying to garner her attention with a wave, but it didn’t matter. Before I could even raise my arm, she had spotted me.
“Airis!” She ran towards me and stopped short within an arm's reach.
Hailey and I had attended Axio’s military academy for nobles youths together, the Vanixian Academy for Divisional Officers, or ‘VxA’ for short. Though it had been a few years since I had seen her last. She looked the same, and was even emitting the same youthful energy as back then.
“Oh, heya, Hails. It's… uh, been awhile.” I chuckled.
My arm was bent with a hand resting above my shoulder. I was trying my best not to be awkward. Even in normal circumstances, my interpersonal skills weren’t up to kit, let alone in the middle of a battle.
She remained unfazed by my stumbling greeting.
“I’m so glad you’re safe! I heard about everything from a runner to our garrison…” her words trailed off and she shook her head, “I mobilized my Division straight to the palace, but you had already left. We gathered up anyone we could and were heading to the main gate—”
Julius approached and interrupted her, “We need to keep moving. You’re not safe here.”
Hailey nodded in agreement.
“He’s right, come with us. Let’s get you to safety.”
“A large group like this will slow us down.”
“Yeah maybe! But a large group will also keep you from being overwhelmed if another patrol spots you!”
“We weren’t spotted! We were assisting those other soldiers!”
The two of them bickered for a few moments. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Fate had already made my decision for me.
During the time they had been arguing, I had pulled a small golden coin from my pocket.
In the glow of the distant flames, the polished faces flickered as it tumbled through the air. The coin landed on the back of my palm.
Heads, I would escape the city. Just Julius and I.
Tails, I’d stay and do what I could to lead my people to safety.
I lifted my palm slowly to reveal Fate’s decision. A crimson-red painted engraving of a Phoenix, its feathered wings spread wide, stared up at me…