Everyone who had seen the broom riders met with Arsha in the conference room on the Endeavor. Nazay, Endea, Tornoth, and Bulshnak told them what they saw, causing Gorfanth to sympathize more with his brother. When Endea and Nazay explained what the riders were doing during their sighting, Lardeth threw his hands into the air. “Of course!” he complained. “After experiencing ghosts, why WOULDN’T Oyed come pay a visit?!”
“What do we do?!” gulped Falnii.
“Pray and repent, by the sound of it!” answered Tornoth.
“There isn’t enough time in all the Realms for you to do that, Tornoth!” snarked Gorfanth.
“ZIP IT, YOU REALM-TROTTING SISSY!” snarled Tornoth.
“Guys, fighting amongst ourselves is the worst thing to do right now!” called Arsha. “We need to come together. Nazay, Endea, get us to yellow alert. Malnar, Yunfeen, go tell the Royal Families about the White Riders and make sure you emphasize what Endea and Nazay saw. Lardeth…”
“Everyone, please!” called Calandra’s voice as she and Orbak entered the room.
“My friends, there’s no need to prepare for war just yet!” urged Orbak.
“Daddy, there is EVERY reason to prepare for war!” argued Yunfeen.
“She’s right!” agreed Malnar. “The White Riders are back, and it looks like Oyed’s managed to seize control of them! Why else would they open a gate to the Depths?!”
“They DIDN’T open a gate leading there,” replied Orbak.
“And the broom riders you guys saw aren’t even the White Riders,” supplied Calandra.
“…How do YOU know that?” asked Tornoth, suspicion furrowing his brow.
“Allow us to present the leader of the broom rider band,” answered Calandra. She and Orbak stepped aside to reveal the leader of the band take their mask of to reveal HIS features. Arsha’s jaw dropped. The leader was a human of Arsha’s skin tone.
“Tendrak!” she snarled as she set her hairpiece onto the table.
“You know him?” asked Foresna.
“You guys haven’t met him yet,” hissed Arsha. “Everyone, meet my cousin on my dad’s side, Tendrak Royana, leader of the Whitefleet Broom Platoon!”
“Hey, Arsha!” chuckled Tendrak. Arsha stood up and grabbed him by the shirt, pulling him close to her face.
“You’re part of Realmfleet, aren’t you?! What’s the idea of terrorizing an Under-realm kingdom, Round Ears?! And you guys!” She pointed to Orbak and Calandra. “What’s the idea of letting them?!”
“Perhaps, I could explain myself, Pointy Ears!” snapped Tendrak.
“Yes, perhaps you should!” agreed Arsha as she let him go. Tendrak brushed his shirt and began.
“Let me start by saying it was never our intention to terrorize the Galdredan Lava Kingdom. We were summoned here to take part in a defense trial called ‘Operation: Warning Web’. The goal was to create an early warning system that would alert people of any potential threats Dr. Borg would fling at us. The Royal Families figured that, since this kingdom has the most broom riders, we would be inconspicuous enough to prevent any sightings. However, after Nazay and Endea spotted us last night, I had to declare the project a failure.”
“Then what about the fiery portal we saw you casting last night?” asked Nazay.
“That was no portal, Commander,” assured Tendrak. “One of my platoonmates is a smoker. He lit up a cigarette and I told him to snuff it for security’s sake. Unfortunately, it still retained its light as he tossed it to the ground onto a patch of dry grass. I figured we should spare the fire department a headache and ordered everyone to douse it. That’s what you two saw, the smoldering remains of us taking care of a fire.”
“I heard the whistle of my late father’s ghost train when Foresna, Falnii, and I saw you guys,” called Lardeth.
“What you heard, Your Highness,” answered Tendrak, “was the after-effects of a wind-dispelling charm. We were hit with really hard crosswinds, so we had to get rid of them for a safer flight. The freight cars you guys were stuck between had a flat bed of pipes and the wind must have passed through them at the right pitch to simulate a ghost engine’s whistle.”
“So, why wait until now to tell us all this?” asked Foresna.
“It was a Code Black operation,” explained Calandra. “The Royal Families didn’t want the details to leave the room they were using to discuss this. I was in on the conversation because Mother wanted to test me on whether or not I would blab about a Code Black operation to the ones I loved.”
“So, even Elmar was ignorant about this?” inquired Arsha.
“He was until last night,” replied Calandra.
“In order for a Code Black operation to be declassified,” continued Orbak, “the people in charge would have to unanimously vote on it or the one carrying out the operation would have to declare it a failure. Queen Andwayla Narven, in all the times we discussed this after the first few sightings, voted to keep it classified. She wasn’t happy when Tendrak took the decision out of our hands. Honestly, I’m glad he did, because the rumor about the White Riders returning at any point in time was always proven false.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Malnar.
“I’m surprised you and Yunfeen of all people don’t know!” remarked Orbak. “The White Riders were laid to rest during the First Age of Unity! During King Rentar Emboramii’s reign, Rentar gathered scientists and mages from across the Realms to try and cure the White Riders as a way of making reparations towards those families. They found a way and restored them to a peaceful rest, taking the bodies back to their families so they could be interred properly and rest in peace. Any time there were sightings, it was always the power of suggestion from a swindler or some young punks trying to scare people. Rentar made the details of their final rest public, so I’m surprised you girls forgot that!” Yunfeen and Malnar turned beet-red in embarrassment.
“Mally,” gulped Yunfeen.
“I think we goofed!” Yunfeen hid herself behind her fan.
“That’s a distinct possibility.” Malnar put her head to the table.
“So, there’s no ghouls flying around?” asked Arsha as she set her hairpiece back into its usual place.
“No, there’s no ghouls flying around,” confirmed Orbak.
“Are you friggin’ KIDDING me?!” snapped Tornoth. “You mean to tell me that Bulshnak and I embarrassed ourselves in front of Gorfanth because you guys wanted to play with your new toys?!”
“…How did you embarrass yourself?” asked Malnar as she picked her head up.
“What?!” yelped Tornoth. “Forget I said anything!”
“Come on, Tornoth!” chuckled Lardeth. “Out with it!”
“No! I won’t!” snapped Tornoth.
“You know what?” giggled Arsha. “We don’t need him! We can ask Gorfanth!”
“Don’t you dare, Gorfanth!” snarled Tornoth.
“I won’t,” assured Gorfanth. “Sorry, everyone, but my staying mum on the details is all part of a contract with his company.”
“Then Bulshnak can talk!” suggested Falnii.
“No, I can’t,” rumbled Bulshnak.
“Can’t or won’t?” chuckled Foresna. As everyone had a turn ribbing Tornoth and Bulshnak, Orbak and Calandra stayed in the back, observing the whole thing. This incident would be going to the public after this, but they weren’t so sure of the repercussions.
“Excuse me, Your Majesty,” muttered Calandra to Orbak as she left the room. She made her way to Elmar’s quarters and found him running his hands over his face. “Elmar, sweetie?”
“I just had a call from Councilman Torrudai,” he mumbled. “He’s demanding to speak with you.”
“…He’s not happy with Mother,” sighed Calandra. “I’ll speak with him.”
“Communications console’s over there.” Calandra sat down and keyed in a command to connect with Torrudai. She then put in a passcode, followed by completing a retinal scan before an old man appeared.
“Your Highness, I’ve been looking for you,” he grunted.
“Elmar told me you were looking for me,” replied Calandra.
“I’ll be blunt, your mother’s decision in light of the panic that went on has made many of my colleagues and people VERY unhappy.”
“I’ve been told that by the people themselves.”
“Then you have a better grasp of the situation. I need to make this very clear; the Galdredan Council has just barely voted to let your mother continue ruling until you marry Elmar and he retires from Realmfleet. However, that was a pretty slim vote. Right now, people have no confidence in your mother’s abilities.”
“Her heart is in the right place, Councilman.”
“Perhaps, but you have frequently said that her head isn’t.”
“…Yes, I did.”
“Your Highness, the only reason that she’s still in command of our kingdom is that she DID propose effective methods of routing Splitter operatives for all Realms and imprisoning them. You must understand that if she does something like this again…”
“Just give me a heads-up so I can return to claim the throne if the vote swings that way.”
“…I’m glad you understand, Your Highness. For now, safe travels.” The call ended and Calandra put her head in her hands.
“…I know she’s my mother,” she mumbled to Elmar, “but she’s not doing our kingdom any favors.”
“Well, we cannot change her so easily,” muttered Elmar. “We can only hope that her future actions will be less…absurd.”
“Yeah…” Calandra simply sat in Elmar’s lap as he wrapped his arms around her in a reassuring hug.
“…You know,” mused Elmar, “I believe the 4 F’s are going to be performing within the last 10 days of this week.”
“…Yeah, I could do with some 4 F entertainment,” chuckled Calandra.