Phantasy Star: Zero Hour
May 28, AW 324 - Baya Mahlay, Palma
The stage is set. And now it's only a matter of time.
Fireworks filled the night sky, the flares of red, blue, green, and white bursting above the splendid castle of Baya Mahlay, to the delight of hundreds of men and women. Each of them had reason to celebrate; Queen Hera Ossale had just given birth to a baby girl. "The princess of Algo, born only last week," it had been announced by every major news organization on Palma.
The event had been planned in advance, of course; even in this modern age, nobody knew just when the queen was going to give birth, but they had prepared the event as a combination baby shower/birth celebration for the little princess. Nobody, of course, was more proud than Hera and her husband, Ares Ossale, the High King of Algo. While Hera was recuperating from the birth, Ares was meeting with the party's guests, eagerly accepting their heartfelt wishes for the little girl and the proud parents.
"Congratulations, Your Majesty," one dark-haired man said, approaching the tuxedo-clad king. "How's Hera?"
"Both Hera and little Alisa are doing quite well, Reipard. I'll send your congratulations along." Ares replied. "Glad you could take time off to come."
"Of course, Your Majesty. Even though I am your chief of staff, it can't be said that Reipard LaShiec never let a good party go by without his attendance!"
The two men shared a good-natured chuckle before Ares asked, "Is the limo here just yet?"
"Another minute, Sire. Much as your subjects would like you to stay, you really should spend some time with your family tonight, if you don't mind my saying so." LaShiec clapped the king on the shoulder. "After all, they say every moment's precious."
"How true, Reipard." The king sighed wistfully, his blue eyes fighting back tears as he continued, "I'm just so—"
"Nervous, Lord Ares?" Another man, this one with dark blue hair asked, stepping in. "Advice from one parent to another, you'll be just fine."
"Thank you, Julius," Ares said, smiling. "Where's little Nero tonight?"
"Sarah's got him tonight. I think right about now she's tucking him into bed. I hope so, at least. Four-year-olds can be a handful sometimes."
"Weren't we all, at that age?" LaShiec interrupted. "Sire, the limo's pulling up now. Shall I summon your security detail?"
"Yes, of course, Reipard." Ares nodded to two men in dark suits, dancing with women among the crowd of guests. One of the women, an older blonde, seemed discontent to let her partner go as LaShiec tapped him on the shoulder, giving him a nod. The security man returned the nod, then gently broke away from his partner.
As LaShiec approached the other security man, he stopped, pausing to look at the man's partner, a blue-haired woman. The woman was a familiar sight around Baya Mahlay and Camineet over the past ten months, evasive as to her family and past. She seemed harmless enough, given she was invited to Princess Alisa's birth celebration, but LaShiec had to admit that besides the fact nobody really knew anything about her, something seemed off about her; the low-cut blue evening gown she was wearing seemed to be a different style than most of the other womens' dresses, and her platinum circlet seemed a bit flashier than most of the other guests' jewelry. Hardly unusual, LaShiec decided, but hardly worth working himself into a fuss over.
LaShiec took a step around the dancing couple, trying to figure out just what unnerved him about the young woman. Her gown had a long vertical slit up the right side, revealing a stocking-clad leg, but every so often, she would adjust it to conceal her leg. Modesty, perhaps? LaShiec thought. What is it about her that's setting you off, Reipard? Stay focused, for Dark Force's sake. As LaShiec glanced up, he locked eyes with her, dark blue eyes disappearing behind a shield of silver eyeshadow as she blinked. Her pleasant smile as she and her partner danced was only made more pleasant by the dark red lipstick she wore, and she tugged the security man closer, her long-gloved hands wrapped gently around him.
Calm down, Reipard. She's just one of Algo's many beautiful women. Stay. FOCUSED.
He took a step closer to the woman and the suited security man, tapping him on the shoulder. "Salieri," he urged. "Lord Ares's limousine has pulled up. Please escort him to it."
With a reluctant sigh, Salieri nodded. "Of course, Sir LaShiec," he replied. He then turned to his partner. "Iria, I'm sorry. I have to get going."
"Oh, so soon?" Iria asked. "What will I do without you?"
"We'll just be an hour or two, Iria."
"Salieri, please. Your presence is needed. Ma'am, I'm sorry to cut you two apart."
LaShiec's lie was bald-faced, and blatant. He knew Ares Ossale wasn't getting into that limo without the two members of his security detail; just as much as he knew the bomb he had placed in the limo was set to detonate in four minutes' time, killing the occupants easily in a cloud of shrapnel and pressure. Of course, that won't happen if you don't leave IMMEDIATELY, he thought.
"I understand, Sir LaShiec," Iria said. She stepped away from her partner, blowing him a kiss as he left to flank the king. Then, as if she were doing it to deliberately irritate LaShiec, she turned to King Ares. "Your Majesty!" she called to him, waving for his attention.
LaShiec inwardly swore as the king turned to face the blue-haired irritant; then he seethed as Iria offered her "heartfelt congratulations on Princess Alisa's birth," and "best wishes for a happy parenthood," and the dark-haired man stopped paying attention at this point, his knuckles turning white as his fists clenched in scarcely concealed anger. "Sire, we should leave..."
"Nonsense, Reipard. I can stay for just a few more minutes," Ares replied. "Have the limo circle the grounds."
LaShiec nodded, saying through clenched teeth, "Of course, Sire. I left my visiphone in my office... I'll have to fetch it."
As he left Ares's presence, LaShiec glared at Iria. For just a brief moment, Iria seemed to glare back at him, a hateful stare. Never you mind, he thought as he dashed to his office, entering the castle. You'll just have to kill Ares some other way. Don't think about pointy-eared complications... Pointy-eared? He stopped in his tracks, thinking about Iria once again. She did seem to have pointed ears... STOP. [b]CONCENTRATE.[/b] You've been planning this for three years, Reipard, he urged himself. You're not going to let the crown slip through your fingers because everything falls apart here.
Everything had been meticulously planned— except for the possibility of someone stopping Ares as he made his exit. Once LaShiec entered his office, he screamed in anger, slamming his hands on his desk. "Damn it, damn it, DAMN IT!" he shouted. "It was all going so well!"
"Yes, it was, wasn't it?"
Reipard's eyes widened in shock at the voice behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the source of the voice. "Iria," he said, his word a hateful growl.
"You thought you had it planned so well, didn't you, Reipard LaShiec? You thought you could just blow Ares up, become king-tyrant of Algo, all thanks to your hell-spawned friend, didn't you? But you didn't count on the unknown."
"How did you know that?" he demanded. "If it weren't for you, Ares would be a bloody mess in what's left of his limo. Oh, well, at least Hera's doctors are going to 'accidentally' screw up. A terribly way do go, accidental overdose on a Monomate IV, I would say so. Wouldn't you?"
"Indeed. Good thing someone at the hospital found out about the forgery you perpetrated, so Hera gets just enough Monomate she'll need to recover, huh?" Iria asked. "Looks like you're getting nothing at all. And do you know what the best part is?"
Iria's lips formed a sinister, crimson crescent of a smile as she answered, "Dark Force was watching you the whole time. The whole damn time, and he saw everything go wrong. Your 'Lord' saw everything fall apart on the very eve of victory."
"How... How did you know about Dark Force?!"
"I know Dark Force all too damn well," Iria continued, reaching into her dress's slit. "I hope so, anyway... I killed Dark Force."
"Impossible! You can't kill a god," LaShiec told her. "You can't kill the god that everyone in Algo will soon worship!"
"But I did. And it was not an easy thing. Not compared to what I'm really here for... Stopping what caused Dark Force to come forth in the first place."
LaShiec remained silent, then watched, amused as Iria revealed her right leg— and the pistol tucked into her stocking. She drew it swiftly, levelling it at LaShiec. "You know what this is, right?" she asked.
"It's a gun," LaShiec replied, mocking Iria. "STRiKER Security R-16, ten millimeter. Ares's guards and the RobotCops have them."
"Not just any gun; its frame is Mahlay steel. You won't know what it means, so I'll just tell you that kind of metal allows for a higher-velocity cartridge. And speaking of which... You can sense what it's loaded with, right?"
LaShiec shook his head, only prompting Iria to respond. "Laconia-jacketed bullets. And just beneath the bullets' tips are fragments of something you'll love. Have you ever heard of Elsydeon?"
"El... Elsydeon!? Impossible! Inconceivable!" Now LaShiec was starting to show his nerve, his ambition falling apart before the blue-haired beauty. "I had that sword locked in a tower—"
"It's a very long story. One you'll never know, Reipard LaShiec. But it's one I know all too well. It started with your hellish deeds, and it ends now."
There was an unease in the air between the two before LaShiec finally asked, "Are you going to kill me? I live forever through Dark Force—"
"Just like my best friend lives through him. But you'll never know it."
"We shall see about that. O Reverent One, lend me—"
LaShiec's hasty prayer was cut short as Iria pulled the trigger, not even flinching at the loud report from the gun drowned out the minister. As LaShiec's chest burst into a spray of blood, he sank to his knees, gasping for breath. Why... he thought, horrified as the first wave of consecrated energy tore through his body. Why have you abandoned me, Dark Force?!
Iria fired again, and again, not a trace of remorse in her eyes as she watched the man sink to the office floor. Even though blood was starting to pool beneath him, Iria continued firing at LaShiec until she heard the dull click of the pistol firing dry. LaShiec could feel nothing but pain, his lungs starting to fill with blood. He knew something was dearly wrong; instead of easily taking the full burst of fire from Iria's pistol, he was looking at her from four inches off the floor. The last he ever saw of her was one blue high heeled shoe, inches from his face, before he died.
Iria looked down upon LaShiec's corpse with grim satisfaction, hearing the first steps of support approaching the office. With a sigh, she set the emptied pistol to the floor, raising her hands in preparation for the inevitable.
"Lord Ares, I hate to interrupt, but there's been an incident a few minutes ago."
"Now?" Ares asked the security man. "What do you mean, 'incident?'"
"There's been an incident involving your transportation. Your limo exploded while it was circling the palace," the guard explained. "We think there was a time bomb aboard it. Driver's DOA at Camineet General. And there's been a shooting in the palace."
"What! What happened, man?! Are my people safe?"
"Sir LaShiec's been shot, Sire," Salieri told him. "Twelve shots fired in his office, all struck him. The woman I was dancing with a little while ago? She was arrested... They found her in LaShiec's office. Right now Palace Security has her."
"Oh, my God... Is he—"
"I'm afraid he's dead, Sire."
Ares's head hung as he took in the news of his good friend's death. "This is terrible. Mister Salieri, did this woman say why she did this?"
"She'll only talk to you, Sire. Julius Landale's questioning her now."
Before Ares could further ask about the incident, Salieri's visiphone began to ring, scarcely audible over the hubbub of the crowd. "Salieri," he spoke into it. "She had what? A card? I don't understand... Oh. Oh. We'll be right there."
"Salieri, is something wrong?" Ares asked.
"Sire, please follow me," Salieri replied, motioning for the king to follow him into the palace. "This is something you should see for yourself."
"If it's Reipard's body, I don't want to—"
"No, Sire. It's... After she was arrested, Julius found something on the shooter. Please, follow me."
The trip to the palace's security office took ten minutes. Every time Ares tried to ask about what was going on, his guard would only reply with vague "It can wait until we get there" or "You should see it personally, Sire"s. Finally, they arrived, and Ares entered the office cautiously.
"Julius, what's going on? I have my chief of staff murdered, my limousine was sabotaged..."
Julius handed Ares a slim card. "If I may say so, off the record, Lord Ares?" he asked. "There's some strange shit going on right now. Feel that card."
Ares touched the card carefully, running his fingers across its surface. "Metal?" he asked.
"And yet it looks like plastic and paper," Julius continued. "That's not all. Look at the front."
The king of Algo looked at the card's front, raising an eyebrow. After he read the information, he turned to Iria, who was handcuffed to a chair. Her pistol was set on the table in front of her, along with the few possessions she carried. Ares spent a few seconds to come up with the proper words, choosing carefully just what to say about this most unusual circumstance.
"Miss Iria," he finally said. "I don't suppose you can tell me just exactly who you are, or why you've done just what you did tonight... or even what this card is, by any chance? You may have saved my life tonight."
He set the card down on the table, then once again looked at its front:
OFFICIAL IDENTIFICATION CARD
PIONEER II RESEARCH/EXPLORATION VESSEL
Iria Ashleigh A-5459-10200-30
DOB Apr 17 AW 3059
Issued Oct 22 3082 Expires Oct 31 3087
Restrictions: R E
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