They had buried Thomas outside the city walls, leaving his Longsword standing upon his grave as testament to his bravery. This one last meaningless death was too much for Gale, and she had broken into tears. She had decided that she owed it to herself as well as to Thomas to give this necklace back to Nina. Although in Hikari, a sprawling metropolis of grey-ish stone, one young girl might be hard to find.
Out of all the places that she could be, for whatever reason, they decided to try Hikari Castle, which was by far the tallest building, overseeing the entire city in all directions. There was also a straight road leading uninterrupted all the way to the castle gates.
As they approached, the guard who stood on the other side of the gates asked for some kind of identification, before a beautiful young girl, about their age, with emerald green eyes and flowing blonde hair stepped out from behind the castle's front doors. She walking slowly, her hair and silky white skirt flowing in the breeze. She had a tiara made of white steel atop her head, glinting in the sunlight. The hunters assumed that she must be an authority of some kind. She dismissed the guard before addressing Gale.
"I already know. I know everything about your quest. And I know everything about the wyrms, and their Descendants." She pointed to Rakurai, who tooke a step back "I'm... a Descendant? What does that mean?" he asked, genuinely surprised.
"It means you are the descendant of one of the first Hunters who slayed the Wyrms, absorbing a piece of their power and passing it down their family tree, making it stronger and stronger until it finally manifested in you," she answered immediately.
Before Gale could ask how she knew all of this, the girl continued. "I Nina, queen of Hikari; my mother died just recently of a fever. I am also a Descendant of the Wyrm of Light, and therefore a seeress. I foresaw Thomas' death weeks after we met. I did my mourning then, so then I could enjoy the time we had without thinking about it. Speaking of which, he gave you something for me, did he not?"
Nina outstretched her had through the gaps in the corrugated iron gate. "I'd like it back," she said softly. Gale slowly placed Thomas' necklace in her hand. Nina pulled her hand back through the gate, looking fondly at the dove placed on the silver chain. She smoothed her thumb over it as if it was dirty. She smiled thinly. "I gave him this for his fifteenth birthday. He'd always said he wished he could fly. And... now he can," she muttered, looking to the sky, which had clouded over into a sordid grey colour. She opened the gate to allow the hunters into the courtyard, which strangely had no greenery in it, just grey stone.
"Gurētosutōmu told you he would fight Yaketsukuyōna, didn't he? He is wrong," she mused, turning her gaze away from the hunters and to the sky. The hunters followed her gaze, to see a faint grey mass forming in the distance. "That... is the Divine Maelstrom" Nina whispered. "He cannot fight the White Star, for he became too weak when he helped arrest your fever, Gale."
It was only then that the group remembered that Gale was still under its curse, and asked Nina if she could heal her. Nina nodded slowly, and closed her eyes. She crossed her arms over the opposite shoulder, and a dim white light shone around her and Gale, then faded away.
"You are cured," Nina said hollowly. "As I was saying," she continued, "He must stay above to create the Maelstrom. He cannot descend, for his creating the winds that will end humanity is written. Therefore, it falls to us to stop the White Star," she told them. She turned her head to the east of the city, and pointed. "The Frozen Tower once there has been consumed by the White Star. He has used its power to transfrom into a human shape, as foretold."
Nina paused for a moment. Then she walked briskly to the castle doors. "Follow me! Quickly!" she yelled, and the hunters ran after her.
After passing many corridors and climbing innumerable flights of stairs, they finally reached the top of the huge spire that served as a lookout post at the forefront of the castle structure, a small narrow space that they barely all fit into, as it was only built for one or two lookouts at a time. Nina gazed into the distance worriedly, the wind, which had become very aggressive, tugging at her hair relentlessly. Her eyes widened, and she called the hunters to look yonder.
And, to their surprise, the Great Forest (which could be seen from far, far away because the castle sat so high) was ablaze with blue flames. "It has begun! The White Star has set the forest alight!" Nina yelped. As they looked closer, they could see a huge mass of monsters, grounded and airborne alike sprinting away from the devastation... and toward Hikari.
"That teeming horde will arrive in a few hours at that speed. We must prepare for battle at once!" Nina shouted. She called down the strairs to the Guild Knight that stood at the bottom. "Guard! Raise the alarm! Tell the entire city that every citizen capable of fighting must come here to the castle and prepare to defend the city! Tell them a horde of monsters approaches!" she ordered.
"Right away, milady!" came the reply, followed by his speedy and loud footsteps that slowly faded as he got further away. She turned to the group. "Turo, you will go to the weaponsmaster and tell him I want the Dragonator, the Ballista and as many crossbow turrets as possible active on the city and castle walls in the next two hours!" she snapped. Turo bowed before leaving for the stairs. She turned to Gale, Mizu, Rakurai, Shinji and Jinsoku. "You five play a pivotal role in this battle. Prepare, and be ready for the White Star. Go, now!" she barked.
The group joined hands, and Rakurai teleported them all away in a bright flash. As the bell tower rang a dismal funeral dirge, Nina turned her eyes to the sky, closed them, and clasped her hands together, praying to whatever deity awaited in the heavens to help them avert the catastrophe that would spell the end of everything.
To Be Continued in: The White Star Chronicles XII-2: The Queen's Counsel