Another battle of the great war has come to a close. It is only but one of hundreds that occur nearly every day. For now though Natalia can enjoy an uneasy rest. It wont be long before the conflict continues for her.
The featured art was done by Mattias and you can see more of his work here – website.
The editing was done by Luke Thompson and here is his – website.
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Chapter Ten – Beginning
To understand the Derdainia Imperium’s Father figure is difficult. Especially when you consider that the Imperium despises any God and their magic. This is odd as the Father is in a sense a God himself and anyone can clearly see the use of magic all throughout Imperium lands. But this paradox has been welcomed into Derdainia with open arms as they both mock and fear their espers yet use them. To learn why this is the case, one must look back to the start of the Imperium and quite possibly even before that, a task that has left many historians including myself quite… stumped due to the lack of information available. I personally believe the paradox began with the Father himself. He created the Imperium upon the defeat of Yen and Vark. This legendary occurrence quickly surmounted to all living souls that the Father is a God-killer. His word thus became law, and no one could stop him from introducing magic into the land. Why the people still despise it is a question that continues to be debated.
-Gretelie Quel, Historical Observations on the Rise and Fall of Nations
The view from the window was a well-trimmed garden with bright flowers of red and violet. Butterflies fluttered about with their beautiful wings on display. The morning dew sparkled in the sun that was rising into the sky and gave the entire garden a glistening glow that would give anyone pause. The entire display perfect in every way except for the brick wall beyond that barely held back the gray, militaristic city rising up to tarnish it.
Hadeon pulled the drapes closed and turned with a heavy sigh to plant his elbows on the surface of his ornate wooden desk. The dark burgundy color of the wood had a slight glow from the desk light at the corner. He reached over to switch the light off and sat in the dark with his head in his hands, bored. The paperwork stacked before him filled with words and blank lines at the bottom waiting for a signature. The title at the top read East Balkyud Front Field Report.”
Rubbing his eyes, he reached into a drawer for a flask. He paused at the sound of a knock against the door and placed the flask back in the drawer. “Come in,” He said while watching the doors already opening as the girl on the other side did not bother to wait for a reply. “Coffee, juice, even water are all better options in the morning then the taint of alcohol, grand altálonos,” she said with a quick salute, legs together and her fist over her right breast. She broke the stance and reached for the switch on the wall, the room quickly becoming bathed in a gentle orange glow by the lamps along the four corners of the room.
“I didn’t have a drop!” he retorted while rubbing his eyes from the sudden light. “And as usual you break all formalities, Bardeen.”
Waiting a moment for her eyes to adjust to the room, she began to cross the garnet rug at the center. “I’d prefer my first name, thank you very much,” she said, coming to the front of the desk to place a fresh stack of papers onto the others. “The latest report.”
He paused to glance at the report before he looked back up to her golden eyes and brunette hair kept smooth and short, ending just before her neck. “Of course, let’s continue to break formalities.”
His shoulders slumped as he leaned back in his chair. “Can you at least turn the lights back off, Veyluna?” he asked.
“Honestly, the darkness does not suit you well at all.” Veyluna straightened herself and turned, eyes wandering to her surroundings.
“I swear, when Grand Altálonos Lugern said you were an oddity, he mentioned none of this.”
“Me, an oddity?” She glanced back with a coy smile. “I could say the same of you.” She meandered to the nearby bookcase, fingers trailing along the spines. “What with your collection and all.”
“What do my books have anything to do with this?”
Veyluna smirked. “You keep a rather large percentage of foreign books. The likes of Grand Scientist Herclysses Field Reports, Mammal Species of the Swen Mountains, The Study of Flight in Ashiyah Valley, Savannah Medicine of the Avcul.” Her fingers paused over each title. “And my personal favorite, Yen and Vark’s Union.”
“What’s your point?”
“That you pay quite a bit more attention to foreign ideas than our own, or something of the sort.” She shrugged and turned from the shelves filled with books, passing by even more stacks along the ground. She found a seat in a cozy leather chair across from another with a coffee table between them.
Hadeon leaned forward, his brow furrowing. “Are you insinuating something?”
She burst out laughing, head bumping into the high back of the chair.
Watching her, he felt what little tension in his muscles seep away in an instant. “I swear you act like a child with these foolish tricks.” He reached for the drawer with the flask. Quickly unscrewing it, he downed a gulp, the warmth easing the ache starting to grow in his head.
“Hadeon!” She snapped to attention with a scowl. “It’s too early to drink!”
Slamming the flask down, he wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “And I shouldn’t have to deal with you this early, but here we are!” Screwing the top of the flask closed, he secured it back inside the drawer. “If you’re the shining example of the youth who will take command of this Imperium, then we’re destined to be conquered within the decade by those crazed Union freaks.”
“You get worked up so easily, especially against my silly accusation.” Veyluna shook her head and kicked her feet up onto the table. Her eyes drifted up to the large pair of paintings adorning either side of the room. The first depicted a lone man in uniform with bright, blond hair atop a horse charging madly into a swarm of darkness with beady red eyes. On the opposite wall, the same blond man with a sword was piercing the heart of an angelic woman with four wings, her mouth open in a scream of agony or anger. “Honestly, anyone can tell you’re loyal to Father, when you are willing to hang such grotesque paintings.”
Standing up, he straightened his double buttoned uniform and moved around the desk to come to the front. “You just aren’t old enough to have an appreciation of the great painter Mattias Vin Hetzen. These are two of his greatest works, the display of our Father himself striking down Yen and Vark so their evil touch could never reach our beautiful land,” he said while walking slowly across the room to admire the paintings.
“They’re still a bit…” Veyluna bit on the tip of her nail trying to find the word. “Weird?”
“In what way?”
“Well, they’re old and focus too much on those beasts instead of our Father.”
“Gods!” He stated with a stern voice before relaxing, “They are Gods, not beasts.” He brushed back his blond hair from his forehead. “And it is important to acknowledge the enemy’s strengths and not demean them. These paintings show them in their moment of defeat by our Father. It’s paramount to remember this moment in history so as to remind us that we can repeat it against their servants.”
Veyluna nodded her head. “All very good points. Now quit the alcohol and look at the latest report.”
“And what is it about?” Hadeon asked, turning to head back to his desk.
“You’d already know about it if you weren’t so busy going on about paintings.”
Hadeon paused to look at her with a scowl. Seeing only a grin in return, he sighed and sat down in his chair. Reaching for the stack of papers, Hadeon slid the top packet towards himself. He flipped over the first page and began to skim through the first few paragraphs. “This is the latest report of Glodoran!”
“Yes, sir.” She stood and meandered to the other side of the room where there were wide shelves covered in a variety of trinkets, some acting as paper weights for documents yet to be filed. “I heard bits and pieces of it from Lugern. Some interesting stuff.”
“More barraging of either line… continued status quo there… Another heavy push on the central line by Halnberg.” Hadeon continued onto the next page, eyes darting for any words to pop out of the synopsis. “A renewed attack at the town of Salf.” He paused at a paragraph, “With an abnormally large barrage to the direct west in the Glodan Fields with the support of a Union Leviathan! And they followed that up with an attack at night. My, they are getting confident.” Hadeon leaned back with a smile, “Their attacks are holding the pattern as predicted. As long as the winter assaults go according to plan, then come next year, we’ll be tearing them apart for a change.”
“Are you truly confident we can break the line?” Veyluna said, poking at a trinket which abruptly exploded with a loose spring. Dodging out of the way, she looked to him and nervously smiled as she bent over for the spring and tried to force it back into the trinket.
“Yes, I am confident. I came up with the plan five years ago. Since then everyone’s tried to poke every conceivable hole in it while suggesting their own, but in the end it’s my operation that will pull us out of this mess and claim the Tower.”
Twisting the piece back together, Veyluna carefully placed the block back onto the shelf. Crossing the room, she sat down in a chair opposite of Hadeon. “What about Luncal’Sha and Ashikuriya? Surely they weren’t in the plans back then.”
“True…” Hadeon mumbled and brushed his mustache in thought. “It is a potential loose screw in the plan.”
“Well you have a few more months before anything starts to take action, plenty of time, right?”
“Not nearly enough, but some of the best ideas come through pressure.” Hadeon began to flip through the pages with keen eyes, but his other hand started to reach for the drawer.
Veyluna reached across the desk and stopped his hand. “Can I please get you coffee, sir?”
“Excellent, I’ll be back shortly.”
Hadeon watched her go. With the click of the door he opened the drawer to take a swig from the flask. Eyes closed, he turned to his thoughts, mind racing through the overarching details of the operation. Placing the flask back in the drawer, he leaned forward again to study the report. “I truly hope my plan can achieve the same greatness as you, Father. I fear if we can’t, then come next year the heart of the Imperium will fall.”
Clouds loomed over head, the gray shapes becoming littered with dots of white. The specks of snow slowly drifted down with the gentle breeze before touching the ground and melting away, adding to the mud that filled the trenches.
Men and women lumbered along, bringing supplies to the various parts of the damaged trench walls. Cold food was being served along the lines as the spirits of the soldiers drooped low. The bodies of their friends and enemies were slowly carted out to be burned in a pyre later that night.
Those wounded during the battle now lay in different dugouts being treated. Those too injured to fight on were carried over the ridge to trucks that kept rolling through, bringing fresh troops and taking the worn-out ones back to encampments deeper in Imperial land.
Natalia’s vantage point within the trees along the ridge gave her a view of the winding roads leading back to the main camps. She slumped her head as she turned inward from the surrounding carnage. She reached into her blouse for the locket, unclasping it she stared at the pictures of her loved ones within, admiring each set of eyes as tears welled up in the corners of hers.
She lifted her head at movement in the corner of her eye to see Orsolya coming up the ridge toward her. Wiping away the tears with her sleeve, she stuffed the locket back into her blouse and paused at the red scars on her hand where the vials had broken. A flash of red filled her vision as she rubbed at her eyes. What was that? The footsteps neared as she opened her eyes to see everything clearly once more. She began to stand, her muscles aching with the movement as she was forced to reach out to a tree to stop herself from collapsing back down.
“Sit, Natalia, there’s no need.” Orsolya climbed over the dead branches and low shrubbery growing around the trees to make her way to the small clearing Natalia sat within.
“Okay,” Natalia murmured and settled back down. The bed of grass, still damp was cool against her feet.
Kicking off her own boots, Orsolya gladly settled down across from Natalia with a beaming smile. “I had a feeling I’d find you in a place like this. Though not as nice as the last one I found you in.”
“It’s the best I could find.”
Orsolya waved her hand. “It is what it is.” She leaned back against a fallen tree and stretched her legs out. “Honestly, after yesterday, I really need a spot like this. Not exactly quiet with all the trucks, but it’ll work.”
Seeing no further discussion, Natalia laid back. High above she watched the few remaining branches move in the gentle breeze. The few flecks of snow to make it down landed with a gentle cool touch before melting. She stuck her tongue out to catch one, its taste delighting her senses.
“Yes?” she asked, turning her head to look at the older woman still resting against the tree. “What is it?”
“I want to say how glad I am that you survived. Yesterday was truly madness.” Orsolya reached up to rub at her forehead, “You did an excellent job these past few days, I’m sure of it.”
“I don’t feel that way…” Natalia looked back to the sky. “Lulilia is barely hanging on, and from what Hukven told me, Vykter is dead as well as Crav.” She could feel the sting in her eyes coming back as she continued, “And he also told me that Windstor lost Onzetum and Lushaltor.”
Orsolya leaned forward and studied Natalia. She opened her mouth to speak but stopped herself.
“I was assigned to them… I was supposed to protect them and all I did was fail them.” She blinked her eyes, trying to rid herself of the growing tears. “I should have at least saved Vykter. That esper struck him down… I was too busy dealing with my own fears to do my job, I failed him, and, and—.”
“Stop, Natalia. You did everything you could.”
She sat up, the pain in her arms ignored for the moment. “I could have done more!”
“I see you shaking even just sitting up.” Orsolya shook her head, “You were being choked to death when I found you. There was no way you could do much more.”
“Surely I could have! That esper moved so swiftly even while using his magic. I should be able to do the same!” Natalia shouted, a rush of dizziness forcing her to lay back down.
“That esper was a Union Lead. They’re some of the best espers of Union. Even I was having trouble matching his strength. It was fortunate that help came when it did.” Orsolya crawled across the grass to lay down besides Natalia. “Now stop blaming yourself, it’s time to rest. Tomorrow…” She smoothed out her uniform and adjusted herself on the grass, finding a comfortable position before closing her eyes. “Tomorrow, we set off on our journey together. It’s not going to get any easier from here. But we have each other.”
Natalia looked to Orsolya waiting for further discussion but saw none. She turned back to the sky. Surely, I could have done more. They died just like before. She closed her eyes, hands squeezing together. But Orsolya saved me, maybe this time it’ll be different. She glanced over to Orsolya to see the woman with eyes closed, a smile on her lips. Maybe.
She looked back to the sky and raised her left palm to study the scars. Nothing happened. What did the blood vial do? Will I go crazy in the end?
End of arc one, stay tuned to the blog for news on the release of the next arc.
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