Chi’s steps were purposeful and, if she had to admit, deliberately slower than usual. There had been whispers for months that The Army of Light had arrived just across the sea that separated her vast City with the other continent. It had been difficult for generations to get any information on that godforsaken place. Seriph and Therio’s ancestors had once lived peacefully and even cooperated. But that was before the war. That was before her people cleaned up their continent and began living in harmony with their world. Before the other continent went the exact opposite direction. The entire atmosphere of the planet had changed in a matter of decades. Aipotu no longer had sunny days and the night clouds glowed blue on moonlit nights. With Seriph off who knew where in the onion, it was Chi’s responsibility to protect her City in the Sea. With everything Seriph had been through since he got back she didn’t want to tell him too much about what he saw during his time with Therio. It had taken them months to even get him halfway back to where he was before he left. Hell, it took weeks before he even learned to use his wings again. She was sure they had the nanites, or at least some version of them. It was highly doubtful any of her people would have defected. She couldn’t fathom anyone other than Galadriel giving those monsters tech that powerful. What worried her most were the scouts. Before Seriph got back he had described Galadriel’s scouts. He said they were like mangy dogs. Cybernetic abominations that could send signals all the way back to the heart of the onion. He described their skin literally crawling with swarms of nanites that they would use to torture any unfortunate source of intelligence. He killed one once and said it screamed like a child as it dissolved to disperse and find one of its’ other hosts. He didn’t remember them but described them to her again after his stint with Therio. If the scouts were on Aipotu, The Light wouldn’t be far behind. Seriph took her along to a planet similar to theirs to watch an invasion five years previous. He wanted her to see what was at stake. A massive ring had grown up around the world’s equator. Galadriel sent his microscopic robots through a tiny break in the world’s barrier with the onion. They begin to self-replicate eating organic material in the waters until they can manifest as one massive portal. By the time most worlds figure out what the phenomena are, it’s too late. The army attacks from all fronts all at once. They sail out of the portal like a planet-wide black wave of concentrated death. Every ship leaks oil as it cuts through the water so that the ships in the rear can literally light the ocean on fire. After they recruit the strong and kill the weak, they simply sail into the other side of the portal and set off the final weapon. Seriph didn’t let her see that part, but he described it as a missile of some kind that burns the sky. He said that some worlds fight back, and some have even survived. The one’s that count however are left with no atmosphere and tainted oceans devoid of life. With the information Seriph had brought back from his most recent trip, Hermes thought he could infiltrate the others. Chi had just gotten word that He was back and in bad shape. She could have been there in seconds but chose to walk instead to weigh her options. Seriph himself didn’t know how long he would be gone before he left. She knew the legion was strong. She knew if push came to shove every man, woman, and child old enough to carry a sword would fight. She knew if push came to shove every man, woman, and child old enough to carry a sword could possibly die. Seriph was convinced he could unite the other great houses of the onion under Elan against Galadriel, but time wasn’t on their side. The looks on the healer’s faces when she walked in the infirmary told her everything she needed to know. “He’s dead.” She said. One of the healers, Gale, sighed deeply and said weakly, “He had an arrow in his lung. The fact he got back to the shores at all is incredible.” “Did he say anything before he died?” She asked “Just four words, Mum. ‘The ocean’ and ‘the wall.’” “Show me the arrow.” Chi said. “He must have lost most of it in transit,” Gale said, “we were only able to recover the tip.” He held out a stainless steel dish with a piece of gnarled metal clanging around inside. Chi recognized it but didn’t want to acknowledge it. As if saying the word would manifest something bigger on top of them. “They call them bullets.” She said. “Have all the healers start converting the infirmary into a triage center. Tell them to expect heavy casualties.” As she left the room she called over her shoulder, “And send word to Gabriel to assemble the legion.” “Which legion, Mum?” Gale asked. Word would travel fast, people would start getting jittery. “All of them.” She replied. She walked back to the throne room and tried to think of what she was going to say. She had to inspire confidence. They would fight for her regardless out of duty, but they needed to believe she could lead them. She needed them to believe they could win. She needed them to believe she wasn’t absolutely shitting herself right now. Before she knew it, there it was, staring her right in the face; his throne. His empty fucking throne. Hers was to one side and his sister’s to the other. All of them the same size and same height. When his father died he had the engineers change it. She had protested initially insisting that his status as the head of his house, this world’s great house, he should be above them. “Honey,” he had said, “these people love you just as much if not more than me. And we love them like the family they are. I can’t think of a single reason why my chair should be any nicer than yours.” “God damn it!” Her voice echoed through the hall and every column in the room screamed right back at her. She sat down in his unremarkable chair and pulled her knees to her chest. She wrapped the black tails of her long coat around her as she felt a tear trace the tattoo that curved down her cheek from the corner of her eye. “The battle of Aipotu,” she said out loud, “the pauper queen’s final stand.” She brushed the tear off her cheek and sat up straight. “Where the fuck are you, Seriph?” She whispered. She stood up and straightened her coat. It shifted and shortened as it formed her armor, the nanites hardening her skin, and extending her sword from her hand. She decided to finish it off by putting Seriph’s Alphega crest in the center of her breastplate. Her resolve steadying and her heart beating in her ears she stepped onto the balcony. Below her hundreds of thousands of legion soldiers stretched out to the very edge of the sea. The Host, The Highest, The Valkyries, the entirety of the City’s legion. There was a murmur throughout that sounded like a dull roar due to their number. She held her sword with the tip to the ground in front of her and a silence louder than the roar fell. She started to speak and faltered. The Host was the closest legion and was probably the only ones who could hear her hesitance. They began rhythmically tapping the hilts of their swords on their breastplates. The other legions followed suit until the thunder of it must have travelled all the way across the sea. The thought of Therio’s army hearing the shear might of hers gave her strength. “My legion,” she proclaimed, “Seriph is gone. You know this. He has not abandoned you! He has not forgotten you! I! Have not! Forgotten! You!” Their thunder crashed again. “My legion. Hermes has fallen. His sacrifice has not been in vain! His death brings with it his final message. War is coming to our shores! An ancient evil the likes of which we’ve not seen in millennia. But you, my legion, are strong! You are brave! And I will not falter! We know war is coming but war does not know that we are coming. War does not know that we will black out the sky with our wings and rain death and devastation on its’ cowardly motherless head! Do not do this for me, do not do this for you, your families, or even Seriph or Aipotu. This we do for Hermes!” The Host started the chant; it spread through the Highest, the Valkyries and the entire host. Five hundred miles off the coast of the City in the Sea, the General on the front of the lead ship for The Light thought he heard someone whisper “For Hermes”.