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“Skyriss, what happened?!” demanded a stern voice, approaching from behind.
The Guild leader cloaked in blue opened her mouth, but no words could be heard.
The young woman with white hair, designated leader, stood flat-footed, adorned with loose buckles and straps dangling from her torn robes. A horrific sight beheld her, and in that moment, she felt anything but a leader.
Skyriss Delcastle turned slowly, her bottom lip still twitching in disbelief.
“Answer us!” the Drifter bellowed, coming to a hovering halt before her. Three more Drifters floated down from the sky above, landing upright on either side of the one who had spoken to Skyriss. They were all dressed in dark shades of blue, covered nearly from head to toe in Skyborn guild robes. They looked rather ticked.
“I...” Skyriss began.
“How did this happen?” asked the first Drifter, pointing to the destruction beyond. “Again?!”
Skyriss Delcastle looked over her shoulder and winced. Their Guild city stood in ruins in the valley below, many pillars still smoldering from the fire that had overtaken it.
“The landscapes...” she continued.
“The landscapes?” scoffed the man with the deep tone. “Don’t you mean an attack from Dragonis?”
“Let her finish,” said a girl beside him.
Skyriss gave her a thankful, teary-eyed glance. “It wasn’t Dragonis. The landscapes were just moving too fast... They shifted and collided more than usual today. And the city didn’t have a chance to—”
“Please tell me everyone evacuated in time,” pleaded one of the other Drifters.
“Most of them did,” replied Skyriss.
“I tried!” Skyriss sobbed.
“Were any lives lost?” asked one of the four Drifters of Skyriss.
“I don’t know yet,” she replied. “For those who couldn’t escape, my greatest hope is that their Helvers shattered and they were pulled back to Earth before they could be crushed or burned. I just don’t know.”
“And we won’t know until the aftermath. But what we do know,” said another girl who looked about the same age as Skyriss, “is that our Helvers tether us to the planet. We can’t exist on Eeventide if this metal is unbound from our arm.”
The brunette brandished the contraption as she rolled up her right sleeve. Bright gold plates reflected the firelight of the blending climate in the distance, the landscape that had come and gone so quickly.
“Victoria, I am so glad to see you,” said Skyriss, drying her eyes with her sleeve. The arm she had lifted was bulky in contrast with her slim figure, even compared to her flowing robes. Bright blue light radiated from the alien metal plastered to the palm of her hand. The armored gauntlet made her fingertips look like shiny claws.
“Did you at least try to save them?” asked an older man. He had not spoken until now.
“Yes, of course,” Skyriss answered, turning to the fourth. “I summoned every Angel at my disposal. Those at the gates helped me line the atmosphere with strikers, send seraphim into the wreckage, and fly people out on the back of Majestic Noziroh.”
“Where is everyone now?”
“And did the cardsmiths make it out O.K.?” added Victoria.
“They’re at the Vendetta Plateau, and yes, the Cardsmiths were the first to be evacuated.”
“They’re probably waiting to hear directly from you,” said the brunette.
“Let them wait,” commanded Skyriss. “But tell the Cardsmiths to meet me here. I’m going to fly on ahead and scout a location to start rebuilding.”
“What?! Are you insane?” mocked one of the two men. “That city was our second attempt to maintain a stable home here and it took months to forge!”
“Then we’ll take as many months as we need to forge a new one. Eeventide is our home, and this time, we’ll take it to the sky. The planet isn’t stable, but I’ve some pretty good ideas where there are lots of cloud clusters—”
“Do you hear yourself?” interrupted the third. “The planet isn’t stable!” “Which is precisely why we need to build in the sky this time,” argued Skyriss.
“No! The fact that you couldn’t save everybody with all of the Angels at your command proves that the cardsmiths need to focus on forging new cards. Not to mention that we’ll be caught even more off guard if Dragonis attacks while the cardsmiths are busy forging a fricken castle! Eeventide has already proven itself—it doesn’t want anybody building a property it can’t tear down.”
“C’mon guys,” chuckled Skyriss in frustration. “We’re not environmentalists here. And you’re talking as if Eeventide is a living thing!”
“Maybe it is,” offered the younger of the male Drifters. Skyriss Delcastle looked down at the smoke billowing from the remains of her Guild’s headquarters. “Even so,” she said, “You four are my most elite members; the council of Skyborn. I need your support.”
The four exchanged brief glances. “We’re sorry, Skyriss, but we won’t keep putting up with your childish leadership.”
“Childish? Excuse me?!” she contended.
“You have four days to clear your head of any smoke you inhaled that may be clouding your judgment,” said the first Drifter, still angered. “What we’ve been doing obviously isn’t working. If you haven’t come up with a clear direction by then for the Skyborn Guild as a whole, we will leave, and we’ll offer to take any that are smart enough to leave with us.”
“You wouldn’t!” cried Skyriss.
“Watch us,” concluded the man.
“Victoria?” Skyriss pleaded with her closest friend.
The brunette shook her head, fighting back tears of her own. “I’m sorry, Skyriss... We appointed you Guild Leader because you’re good at what you do. The best, even. You’ve been fair to a degree, but we can’t keep living like this.”
“Then, trust me on this,” Skyriss appealed. The tears were welling up again at the betrayal of her best friend.
“Four days,” they said in unison. With that, they turned and drifted off toward the horizon in the direction of the plateau.