-We have to use this summer to train for the assault against Asterius. His guards are powerful and loyal to him and they have also ferdogs that can inflict lethal wounds during the fight-stated Satoru at the meeting of the community.
-I could train more Shadowcats till then!-offered Galen, a tall and lean Changer, with feline features. They are not afraid of the ferdogs.
-I will pick a team of helpers and we will teach the fight techniques to anyone willing to join-added a bulky man. My friend Ogren has already volunteered!
Satoru nodded approvingly.
-Great! I agree with these action plans but we must keep in mind that things might end up nasty t and the ones left here in the forest camp must be protected. For now, the training will be the first stage of the preparations. But we need to find a way to get inside the Citadel unnoticed. I need every person to come forward with its idea, no matter how improbable-sounding one and share it. There has to be a weak point in the protection of the city even after the measures ordered by Asterius!
Up in the Citadel, the High Commander of the White Guards was overjoyed by the success of his play put in action. It reached a shocking, bloody end, delivering a hard blow to both his enemies: those who were helping the Invisibles and the Silver Tree. It muffled even the discontent inside the Council of Elders where Asterius knew that he had some opponents. But no one knew that he was slowly damaging the Silver Tree to determine it to grow a seed, one that he would then plant and manipulate for his purposes. His loyal followers, the Guards under his command and his nephew, Rolf Asterianus, they all looked up at him as to the savior of the Citadel.
He smirked at the thought of his future power and poured himself a glass of heavy red wine.
-Cheers…to me!-he said to his reflection in the window glass. Beware, you crippling and you, monsters! Your days are soon to be cut short….
But while Asterius was celebrating his victory, Satoru and the outcasts were busy in creating the plan of the attack. Savian’s thorough knowledge of the Citadel was of great help and they were searching every inch of the white walls to find the weak points. The data gathered through the air mail brought by the pigeons was used to create the map of the White Guardians’ shifts. The pressure of time was almost tangible; the great damage suffered by the Silver Tree was raising the question of how much it will resist and how its demise might affect the land and every living thing. There was nothing similar described in their known history and people were fearing the worst. Cora was keeping in touch with the Silver Tree in her dreams, the only time when the Tree, being alone, was confident enough to communicate with her.
And even then, the dark shadow threatening its life was present somehow.
“It’s killing my Tree…”-cried the little, fluffy Spirit. It came today and poured some horrible thing in the water! He said: -You have no escape! This is killing you bit by bit but not before you finish your work! Then the seed will be mine!”
“But who is he?!” -exclaimed Cora.
“Oh, he’s a horrible, horrible person….My Tree is so afraid…You must hurry! I don’t know how much it can resist!”
“Tell the Tree we are almost ready but we need to find the way to get in!”
“ Hurry up…….Pleeease…..-veiled the Spirit, fading inside the red mist.
Cora woke up exhausted and thoughtful. So much to do, so little time for it!
The Silver Tree took the message and decided to help with its last remaining strength. All it needed was to finish the silver shell for the Seed and then, dig deep into the ground, find the buried roots of the Moon-thorn bushes and revive them. After Avik’s escape, Asterius ordered people to set the bushes on fire and clear the space next to the walls. But these ancient vegetal monsters had roots far deeper than anyone expected and the Tree sent his last drops of life-giving energy to them. Waking up from their sleep, they responded to the appeal and began to dig their way upward. They grew and grew, extending their strong roots under the walls, until they formed a vegetal network under the Citadel’s protection. All they needed was a moonless night and the signal of the Silver Tree. This was the final message, Cora received in her dream and this was the breakthrough they were waiting for. Soon, it would be the long awaited night and the army of Invisibles and their allies was ready to face the enemy.
The night before the attack, Cora and Satoru found themselves teeming with things unsaid, emotions unshared and confessions delayed for too long. The air was dense around them as they sat on the steps outside the house, hands clutched on the cup of linden flowers tea. Finally, Satoru broke the silence.
-I don’t know how things will work out tomorrow….so I wanted to say something-he said, his voice stranded by emotion.
He stopped for a moment turning to Cora and gently ran his fingers through her hair.
-You are the most beautiful and amazing girl that I have ever seen. I look at you and I can’t believe I am not dreaming. I think I’m in love with you….So, if we manage to safely return tomorrow, would you stay with me…forever?
Overwhelmed, Cora swallowed hard before answering. She set aside the cup and put her arms around the young man’s neck.
-I cannot see myself otherwise but by your side….-she whispered.
He held her close, lovingly…. Up in the skies, night unfolded its wings of stars, shimmering in the magical rhythm of love.