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Book 7, Chapter 13 - Joining The Crusades

 Governor Nilam remained in the capital for two days and one night before returning home.

He had to leave. Byzantium wasn't the capital, but it was still a city of over a million citizens. It also served as the gateway to Fulmulta so it could not be left unattended for long.

And thus the brief interruption was handled smoothly. Cloudhawk returned Lance to his extradimensional prison.

He wasn't sure what the Governor and Elder discussed, but it was a quick conversation. Whatever negotiations they were involved in must have gone well. Both sides were pleased with the results.

Noah was especially happy with the arrangement. Not only had Lance done his duty to secure their family union, but he was also a young man of potential. He was a fine liaison and an even finer future representative of the Argyris family.

Meanwhile Governor Nilam was vocal with his delight. He was especially impressed with Idonea. The Nilam family had wanted to gain a foothold in the capital for many years and at last their opportunity had come. Before he left, Lance's father urged him to produce a son as soon as possible. If they birthed an heir their family's unification would be complete.

After hearing the request, Idonea couldn't wait to join the crusades. A child?! She hadn't spared even a moment for such a thought. She was only seventeen, barely an adult!

But there was something she found strange. Byzantium's notoriously lustful Young Master hadn't made even the hint of a pass at her. Although she wasn't very interested in this dandy noble, his disinterest bothered her a little.

Is he really not even a little interested in me?

She didn't like him necessarily, but she didn't hate him either. Idonea didn't even consider him a friend. She was, though, a pretty young girl with a fair amount of confidence in her looks. The fact that Lance hardly gave her a second look had started to get under her skin.

She wasn't a child! Was this guy blind?!

When Byzantium's Governor left, Noah called for a meeting with Lance and Idonea. He brought up a subject they were both glad to hear. "We have word from the Crusades. They have accepted your applications."

Idonea's eyes lit up. Good. Real good! After joining the holy army they would send her to Skycloud and she could begin searching for her father. She still held onto the belief that he was out there somewhere. He was invincible, he had to be alive.

Cloudhawk breathed a sigh of relief. He'd had to jump through several hoops, but it seemed it was all paying off. Things were bad and he couldn't afford to drag his feet. Four Supremes were planning their assault on his home. From up in Sky Fortress they were a looming threat. Then there was the gods' army making its way here. When it arrived things would be irrevocably changed.

Noah went on. "The Crusade forces are large. It is the largest collection of warriors since the Great War, comprised of the greatest men and women of the Elysian lands. Now that you've been accepted into its ranks you not only represent our family, but all of Stormford. You must do your best."

The Argyris Elder saw things simply. He had a deep and insightful view into the inner workings of the lands. Skycloud's rebel forces were passive, which meant they were at the mercy of the Crusades. Meanwhile the Supremes continued to bolster their forces.

All the greatest servants of the gods were rallied to fight against a single backwards nation. To his mind there was no question what the outcome would be. What's more, a rebellion of this scale was bound to garner the attention of Mount Sumeru. When this was over there would be no trace of the corrupted Elysian land.

It was predestined. Victory was assured!

Lance and Idonea were the future of their family. If they returned from the crusades laden with merits it would mean a great deal for their future, and the future of the Argyris clan. Noah did not expect them to join the front lines, nor did he think they would have to. In a war of this magnitude no single fighter was worth much. Two young people wouldn't be called on to change the tide of battle.

Members of the Argyris family were also present in the Crusades' leadership. When the fighting broke out, these two young nobles would be assigned somewhere away from the conflict. Then when victory came they would reap the benefits of having served. In short, their mission was to raise their public image and make connections.

Just a few months. Then they'll be home safe with plenty of medals to show for it.

As the Oracle had proclaimed, these newly-wedded crusaders had become an example for all of Stormford. When they returned they would be given positions and titles. Where their futures would bring them was limited only by the means of their family and the threshold of their skills.

Idonea wasn't thinking that far ahead. "When can we leave?"

"Don't be in such a hurry. The Holy Army is both unique and particular, with a stringent selection policy. Tonight you will be fetched from the mansion and brought to a secret training facility. There a series of tests will determine whether you will join the crusades or not. Do well and you will be sent to their fortress in the sky."

"Why so much trouble?" Idonea was getting frustrated. "I thought we were already accepted."

"Stop complaining, war is no small matter. Hundreds of thousands of lives are on the line. Although the soldiers of the gods have a great advantage you must never let your guard down." Noah paused for a moment before continuing. "The army is separated into three divisions; the outer forces, the garrisoned elite and the inner circle."

"What's the difference?" Cloudhawk asked.

"First, they are isolated from one another," he explained. "In other words the outer forces cannot enter the Sky Fortress. Garrisoned troops don't know what the inner circle is doing. As you might expect the outer forces have the greatest numbers but the lower quality of soldiers. Their aim is to prevent any enemy spies from infiltrating. They are stationed around the fortress and keep watch. In the unlikely event an enemy gets to the Fortress, they'll be stopped outside."

Cloudhawk rubbed his jaw. "That's some serious security."

"The garrisoned forces have fewer soldiers. It's mainly comprised of Temple forces from the four realms, representatives of the various Governors, demonhunters and children of noble families. They are more skilled and more reliable than the outer forces."

Idonea piped up. "What about the inner circle?"

"That is the most important part of the army. Although they are few in number they are all extremely strong. They are the Master Demonhunters and greatest fighters, gathered for this singular purpose. They represent the incredible power of our people."

Idonea was excited by the news. How strong were these mighty warriors? Master Demonhunters were all highly accomplished men and women; either they have killed demons or achieved other great deeds. That was how they earned the title Master Demonhunter. There were only a handful all throughout the Elysian realms.

To be called Master Demonhunter meant you were a person of exemplary skill and quality. They each had their own skills, styles and relics. In addition there were martial artists, whose mastery of their bodies were equal to what a Master Demonhunter could perform. They were supported by other demonhunters and talented soldiers.

At the very top were the Supremes themselves. What force could stand against this righteous sword of Mount Sumeru?

"Neither of you are strong enough to join the inner circle. Focus on earning a place among the garrison. We have family members who will help you along."

This was all excellent information for Cloudhawk. Now he knew how these 'crusades' were structured.


That night.

All was quiet as darkness crept toward the early hours of dawn.

An unassuming airship pulled into the nearby military airport. Lance and Idonea were collected after being introduced by members of the family. Their identification was checked and eventually they boarded. The ship rose into the air and off toward the horizon.

It was finally starting. Cloudhawk took a deep breath.

Idonea sat across from him, unaware of what was to come. Judging by the look on her face she was filled with both trepidation and excitement.

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