Culmination, Part 25

“You’re kidding me,” Arcten said, his voice flat with disbelief.

“No, I’m not,” Hana replied firmly. “This is what Starfengt exists for. I built the best teams of assassins in the galaxy so I would have the opportunity to hunt Neminatrix down and punish him for what he did to my father. I am NOT going to let this opportunity pass me by just because it might be a little dangerous!” Her eyes were ablaze as she spoke, and she kept creeping closer and closer to Arcten, so by the time she finished, she was standing practically toe-to-toe with him. Arcten stared at her impassively, huge arms folded across his broad chest, and once she finished, he just continued staring silently.

“Xeliana!” Hana barked, not taking her eyes off of Arcten. “Contact the rest of the team. Tell them to break off their exercises and assemble here immediately. We depart for Trisitania in one hour.” Xeliana saluted sharply and ran off, leaving Hana and Arcten to their staring contest.

“What are you going to do, Arcten?” Hana whispered, never taking her eyes off of Arcten’s.

“I will follow you to the deepest depths of Nerzaga,” Arcten whispered back. “You know that.”

“Do I?” Hana replied, and the tone of her voice almost made Arcten’s heart break, although he didn’t show it on his face. “You just punched me so hard it knocked me unconscious.”

“I had to do that,” Arcten said, his face unchanged but his voice cracking slightly. “You were trying to do something that I knew you would regret later. I had to stop you, for your own sake.”

“You knocked me out me for my own sake?” Hana asked, a small smirk appearing on her face.

“Everything I do is for your sake,” Arcten replied, his expression unchanged. Hana’s smirk disappeared, and she sighed deeply.

“I know,” she said, her expression a mix between sorrow and affection. “Believe me, I know.” She turned away and folded her arms across her chest.

“Hana,” said Arcten suddenly, and she turned back to him. “Please reconsider this decision.”

“I can’t, Arcten,” she whispered, tears appearing in her eyes. “You know I can’t.” She shook her head and turned away again. Arcten regarded her in silence for a few moments, and then he stood up straight and saluted.

“Very well, sir!” he barked. “I will prepare the team for departure immediately.” Then he strode out of the holding cell area, leaving Hana alone with dark thoughts.

***

Forty-five minutes later, the team had assembled and was ready for departure. Hana smiled inwardly as she looked over the 11 of them, lined up and waiting to load up into Fluttermask. They really were the best troops in the galaxy. To go from training and thinking they had weeks left to prepare, to being ready to depart and fight in less than hour, was a feat that no regular soldiers could match.

“Listen up!” she barked in her best “commander” voice, striding back and forth in front of her troops. “I know that we weren’t scheduled to depart for Trisitania for a few more weeks, but the Empire’s civil war has forced our hand. We’ve received reports the so-called Emperor, Valador, has dispatched a fleet to invade Trisitania and put an end to our target, the other so-called Emperor, Neminatrix. So if we want to be the ones to kill Neminatrix, then we need to move now!” She fell silent, and fixed each one of the Starfengt members with a piercing stare.

“You might be wondering why we’re even bothering,” she continued in a firm voice. “If Valador is going to invade Trisitania, why don’t we just let Valador take care of Neminatrix?” She fell silent again, and once again made sure to look all 11 assassins in the eye. “Because we are Starfengt. Because we are the best, and we are not going to just let the Empire do our work for us. It is our job to strike fear in the hearts of Fangalin’s enemies, and what better way to do that then by killing an emperor in the middle of a war zone?” Her striding back and forth became more energized now, her speech becoming faster and louder. “We will send a message to Valador, and to all the leaders of all the nations that oppose us! You are not safe from us! We will find you, even in the heart of your most fortified refuge, and we will break you! And when you think you are about to win a great victory, we will slip in under your nose and steal it from you!”

She stopped and fell silent once more, a fire raging in her eyes. “We are the best soldiers that have ever lived,” she said in a quiet, intense voice, “and we will prove it.” She paused again, and then she thrust her right fist into the air. “To victory!” she bellowed.

“To victory!” came the response from 11 men and women, their right fists thrust into the air as well. Hana nodded sharply, and 10 of them rushed up the ramp into the ship. Arcten, however, approached Hana as she was about to follow them.

“Gonna try and change my mind again, Arcten?” Hana asked skeptically.

“Of course not,” Arcten replied. “I know when I’ve lost. I just wanted to tell you something.”

“What?” asked Hana, one eyebrow raised quizzically. Arcten took her by the arms and gazed deep into her eyes.

“I’m proud of you,” he said quietly.

“Proud of me?” Hana said, her puzzlement deepening. “Why?”

“Because nobody thought you would ever come to this point,” he replied. “Nobody believed that you could build the finest team of assassins in the galaxy. Nobody but me. And you proved them all wrong. Starfengt is feared by all of Fangalin’s enemies, and if we pull this off, that reputation will only become greater. We’re on the verge of accomplishing what you set out to do 10 years ago, and I couldn’t be happier to have been by your side every step of the way.”

“Thank you, Arcten,” Hana replied, and her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. “That means everything to me. And we WILL pull this off. I promise you. Our victory over the Empire will be a thing that future generations will tell stories about for a thousand years.”

To be continued…

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