Perpetual War Arc Two: Chapter One – A Brief Detour

The Town of Bosavan, a place of ruins visited by many for the secrets that it holds. Bryce and Liarie have ventured here in search of an artifact. It is in this town that their true conflict will begin. Thus another chapter of the horrors of Perpetual War has arrived.

I can’t stress enough how sorry I am to have taken this long to release this chapter! The next release schedule is every three weeks. I’m hoping the extra week will pay off in allowing me to avoid any huge gaps in releases. We’ll see how that pans out… what’s important is there are many future chapters that will be releasing in time! Until then, thank you for reading!

Arc One: Chapter TenTable of Contents | Next Chapter

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The editing was done by Luke Thompson and here is his – website.

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Perpetual War Arc Two:

Chapter One – A Brief Detour

I urge those who wish to see the result of war and what it does to a nation’s people to research the Bosakil Mountain range. Among those mountains and the valleys within it lived a prosperous people under the singular banner of Bosavan. Their capital was popular and brought in many travelers who sought the beauty and history locked within the walls of the mountains. They had a rich culture of art, literature, and innovative designs, and nearly all of it was lost to this maddening war we live in. Nearly a thousand years ago, Derdainia conquered them and subjugated their people to Imperial rule. Since then battles have raged as various nations have come to fight over the rich minerals of the mountains. In the end, nearly every single city, town, and village has been reduced to ruins or flattened entirely. The people of Bosavan, stripped of their nation’s identity, second-class citizens in the nations that conquered them, have now been scattered across the continent to try to eke out a living, assuming they have not already died along the way. Books now barely even mention the small nation’s name and soon they won’t at all. Just another casualty to a war that must end.

-Marlene Vumos, Letters to End the Madness

The stream wove back and forth through the remains lying across the crumbling street. The sections of the road were cracked and ruined, helping to guide the icy stream along its path. The water’s journey came to an end in a small lake formed out of a large crater that had swallowed up several homes on the outskirt of the town. The entire scene was frozen along with the rest of the town with a thin layer of snow blanketing everything, except where it had been disturbed by recent shelling.

Gray clouds moved at a snail’s pace but were growing in numbers; their heavy appearance promised more flecks of white to further bathe the town. The rays of the sunrise only broke through with rare glimpses to the bright sky above. Warmer days were far off for the town nestled within a valley of the Bosakil Mountains.

At the edge of the crater stood five figures, each covered in thick, dark, navy coats. They began the gradual ascent of the road leading into the town. Eyes scanned each dark window searching for any sign of danger. The variety of vehicles, craters, rubble, and frozen bodies that could provide potential cover were peered over with keen sight. A low, howling wind swept through the tight alleyways. Their boots crunched through the snow, and puffs of smoke blew into the air with each of their breaths.

Bryce walked ahead of the rest of the group, the device in the palm of his left hand leading him on with its needles. His breathing was smooth and consistent, the black scarf around his face helping him breathe warm air. A gust of wind struck at him; its icy tendrils gave him pause for a moment before he pushed onward.

A pile of bones just ahead of his step with a skull looking up did not waver his focus. The fear of what had happened to those who passed through the ruined town barely crossed his mind. His grip tightened on the marker as he looked down at the needles urging him down the road.

The path he walked on rose sharply, cracks in the cement gave glimpses to something metallic that had crashed through several buildings to the right and submerged itself beneath the street. Bryce reached the top and there he stopped to give a chance for his comrades who lagged behind to catch up. He glanced back and saw Liarie at the front, a gust of wind catching at her thick flowing orange hair.

She hooked loose strands behind her black-tipped, furred ears. “Do you see anything, Bryce?” she asked.

He shook his head, “No, I’m starting to wonder if this has been a waste of time.” He turned to head down the other end of the slope, eyes scanning for any remaining signs to point him in the right direction through the streets.

Liarie kept pace with him, her elegant fingers taking hold of his arm.

He halted at her touch.

She brushed up close to his body, “You are being hasty; you should take my advice and head to the center. I’m sure there we will find Guidance.”

Bryce lowered his shoulders as he relaxed to her smooth tone against his ears. “You may be right, but the marker doesn’t point there. Though it hasn’t exactly been accurate through these mountains.”

“The town’s archives, I’m sure of it,” she whispered.

“Surely that place has been ransacked of anything valuable?” Bryce asked, glancing down at the small circular device in his left palm, a pair of needles within pointing toward a glow at the outer rim of the device. “What would Guidance find in there?”

She ran a hand along his back. “Knowledge or power, either way he must have found something.”

“And now his presence seems to have stopped there, meaning we can finally meet him. I wonder if the scavs in the area got to him first though.”

Liarie waved her hand. “It is not scavengers that linger near us, but a scout of the Vlaxtawk.”

Bryce looked up abruptly. “You can’t be serious!”

“Hush, your raised tone will upset the others,” Liarie replied, placing a hand over his heart and looked over his shoulders to the other three reaching the top of the slope.

“It’s bad enough we have Luncal descending upon our position soon, but Vlaxtawk too?”

Liarie shook her head. “The scout is merely that, a scout. It knows not our plan nor does it have any intention to confront us; it knows it would mean death.”
“We can’t let it reach Guidance before us,” Bryce grumbled.

“If the Vlaxtawk want what Guidance seeks then they would have sent more than a scout.”

“How can you be certain?”

“Who would better understand the culmination of races that embody the Vlaxtawk then a fey such as myself?” Liarie took several steps forward and turned about to face Bryce with a smile.  “Now, let’s continue on to our goal.” She pointed toward a flagpole that could be seen through a gaping hole in a building. “Alright?”

Bryce nodded in understanding and trudged on past Liarie down the streets made tight by the wreckage and death. He looked to the hollow windows above, seeking the Vlaxtawk that dwelled within the shadows. He tightened his hand into a fist and focused on the pulse of blood running through his veins. Warmth flooded his senses as he reached out for any sensation of life within the hollow halls of the ruined buildings, but he found none.

Just as the surge of magic came it quickly went away, along with the comforting warmth, which was replaced by the chill in the air. It amazes me how easily Liarie taps into the world beyond her touch.

Bryce focused his attention forward, his eyes searching for the distant flagpole. He turned down alleyways and streets ignoring the destruction all around him. His heavy boots crunched through the snow and snapped bones as he made his way. The pace was swift, only ever slowing so he could get a bearing on his location with the help of the marker. The occasional sounds of his comrades were distant noises to him. All along the way he felt the comfort of Liarie close by, a warmth always flowing through his heart even with the cold pressing in at every angle.

A light humming tone tickled at his ear and he looked back at Liarie, who wore a thin smile for him. “A song of the fey?”

“One of many,” she replied.

Bryce kept on walking, a growing soreness from constant travelling the past several days lingered within his legs. The gentle hum of Liarie’s music eased him into a comfort, the worry of whether Guidance was alive, what the Vlaxtawk was doing, when would Luncal attack, if he could protect his comrades, and so much more slipped away for those few moments.

All too quickly he came back to reality and the frigid cold it currently brought.

“Tell me, Liarie, what made you suggest Vonna and Zel over everyone from the company we could have chosen?” Bryce asked, glancing back to make sure the two youths were far enough back to not hear. The wind now at his back helped to conceal his words further.

“They’ve been with us long enough, that I think it was right to have them prove their worth. Why, do you disagree?”

“No, I was just wondering as you were so persistent about it.”

“Of course, else you would have invited the usual pair, Hendrick and Herra.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” Bryce asked. He reached up to the side of a truck blocking the path and began to climb over.

“You have such lofty goals, Bryce.” She took his offered hand and was lifted to the top of the truck, her hooves tapping loudly against the rusted metal. “Yet, you have a tendency to forget the steps necessary to reach those goals.”

Bryce climbed down the other side, offering his hand once more to ease her descent. “And what steps are those?”

“Numerous, far too many to name here.” She paused as she settled back into the thick snow, her tail swishing across the top to kick up flecks of snow. “But, to name one, the importance of expanding the group of individuals you trust. Thus, here we are with Vonna and Zel.” She waved her hand to stop him from replying, “And, anyway, we still brought our trusty sentinel, Murn along.”

“I guess that’s something,” Bryce replied and turned at the beckoning of the marker’s needle to stop dead in his tracks at the street widening before him towards the flagpole that stood atop a massive domed building. Its features were battered by constant shelling but through it all, the building still stood at the heart of the town. Its once glistening white color now faded and dirtied with age along with scorch marks of fire.

“Just ahead, Bryce,” Liarie said and looked back to the trio coming around the corner. “Come along! We’re nearly upon our destination!”

Bryce did not wait, choosing to begin to walk down the snaking path left in the road by the last inhabitants of the town who had tried desperately to maintain some sort of order. The rubble and machinery pushed out of the way were now a tangled mess barely recognizable for their original purposes. The path was ruined in several places where a shell had fallen to leave a crater, or a cargo truck had broken down and ransacked of everything valuable. The snow began to grow thicker, slowing him down with each step. The great central intersection waited before him as he paused in front of it. Scanning from side to side he saw no movement besides the occasional shift of wreckage with a low creak of metal caused by the strong gusts of wind that blew across the wide space.

He felt a pull at his hair from the fiercer gusts of wind. Taking off his officer’s cap, Bryce smoothed his hand along his jet-black hair. The tail of longer hair on the back of his hair flapped in the wind before he pulled it back beneath the collar of his thick coat. “I assume everything is still quiet around us, besides rodents, Liarie?”

“What about the scavs, Lead?” Vonna asked.

“There aren’t any,” Bryce retorted. He met Vonna’s brown eyes and noticed her shivering. “Trust me,” he said in a softer tone.

Liarie raised her head to the sky and closed her eyes briefly. “We’re still safe.”

“I’m sorry, there aren’t any scavs? The mutilated bodies say otherwise,” Zel said.

“I still have not sensed any,” Liarie replied.

“Well, something is chewing on the bones that is bigger than some rodent.” Zel replied, idly kicking at a dented door hanging by a single hinge. “I’d agree with you that there aren’t any, but the stench on some of these bodies seems too fresh.”

“Predictable youth, believing the lies that scavengers would be low enough to pick at the remains,” Liarie snapped at Zel.

“Maybe not all of them, but I’m sure some of them have when they’re hungry enough.”

“Then no different than you or me, if placed into a desperation situation.”

A loud grumble emitted from behind Murn’s emotionless mask, giving pause to Zel before he could reply. Murn shifted, causing some of his muscles to bristle beneath the tight threads of the coat. The metal plates embedded in the uniform bent slightly by his movements.

Bryce crossed his arms and turned away from the others. He’s not wrong, something else has been here.

“There is no use speculating” Liarie stepped in front of Bryce and gave him a glint of a smile “It’s better we keep moving, yes?”

“Of course.” He returned the smile with his own thin version. Marching through the snow he headed through the center his eyes set on the domed building. The statues to either side with their swords and shields stood proudly in defiance to the destruction all around. The grand intersection set before was littered with wreckage of a whole host of various civilian and military vehicles. The bodies that still littered the space were ripped and thrown about, mostly just bones and tattered remains of clothing, the only mark that deemed them as human still. The tails of rodents scurrying into hiding places made him pause before he kept going; the chattering of their teeth left him on edge as he spotted their beady eyes watching with keen interest from beneath a twisted and mangled car.

The wind picked up again as he looked away, tightening the coat as he endured it. Snow blew across any gaps in the space before settling again into another pile of more of the fresh white fluff. Bryce felt his determination grow as he took each step drawing him closer to what lay within the domed halls of the town hall.

“Another esper.”

Why now? Bryce turned to see Liarie looking with raised chin towards a three-story building off to the right side of where they all stood. “Raise the shield, we’re in the open.” He ordered and closed his own eyes to extend his senses out. Where exactly in that building is she?

“No, the esper has already backed off. She’s currently sending a message.”

“We should get under cover, Lead.” Vonna stated, pulling the rifle off her shoulder to hold in her hands.

“Yea, I definitely agree with Vonna. Let’s not stay and become a rat’s next meal.” Zel added, taking a step in the direction and looked towards Bryce waiting.

Bryce nodded and turned to Liarie. “Do you sense the esper anymore?”

“No, she’s masking herself to my calls.”

He squeezed his fist as tightly as possible as a means of refocusing his own attention. His own extension of magic to reach out becoming silent. “Alright, stop calling out, we don’t need her knowing that we’re heading inside.” He began walking towards the domed structure once more. “Let’s move quick to cover. However, be ready to fight. If the esper tries to engage us, we’ll have to deal with her.”

Reaching the bottom of the steps, Bryce began the ascent. The deep steps were carved out of solid stone that served as the foundation of the structure ahead. The grand entrance was left blasted open to reveal a waiting blackness for him.

At the top of the steps, Bryce paused to take in the darkness. The heavy bronze doors that had once acted as an entrance now lay in shards across the floor leading into the room beyond. A beam of light from the outside pierced through from the hole in the domed roof. Taking care in his steps over the shards, he hid the marker in a pouch, and unholstered his dual shot pistol, and kept his other hand resting on the hilt of the saber. Within the room, the single light illuminated the columns spaced perfectly around the large circular room. Even with the light, the edges of the room were still too dark to see.

“Definitely not a warm welcome,” Zel remarked. The young man looking all about with his rifle partially raised, fear crept at his words.

“What did you expect, a waiting feast?” Vonna retorted.

“It would’ve been nice.”

Liarie snapped her hands together. “Silence you two! We need to focus on the task at hand.”

“Vonna, see if the esper is approaching from the front.” Bryce replied and moved deeper into the dark space. The light coming through the ceiling helped him navigate the farthest reaches of the room. His fingers reached out for the far side wall and trailed his finger down to a cupboard caked in dust. This place surely was beautiful once. He rubbed his index finger and thumb together, feeling the thick dust brush away into the air.

“I don’t see her yet.”

Bryce turned to see the young woman lying flat across the ground, peering through the scope of her rifle. “What do you think, Liarie? Do you recognize her at all?”

“I don’t recognize her, there is no telling how strong she is.” Liarie shook her head, “Nor do I know what her game is, but I fear if she ends up heading in our direction, she may disrupt our goal.” Liarie replied.

Zel found a column to lean against, his fingers playing with a loose strand in his coat’s sleeve. “What will we do if she shows up though? We can’t shoot her, cause of whatever is out there hiding. Maybe it’ll have the guts to come after something living.”

Vonna’s rifle lowered slightly as she looked to Bryce, “That is a good point, no telling what we’ll attract that’s hiding here.”

“We’ll have to take the risk.” Bryce took a deep breath and looked out past the doors to the snowy intersection.” We can’t risk an Imperial esper learning about Guidance. Dispatch her, Vonna, if she gets too close.”

“Are you sure about this?” Vonna asked and looked up to Bryce to see his stern look. With a simple nod she turned her attention to peering through the scope towards the roads leading into the grand intersection.

Bryce turned to Zel and Murn, “be ready to help Vonna with whatever she needs to cut down the esper if they come near here.”

“Aren’t you staying to deal with her, Lead?” Zel asked.

“There is no telling the condition that Guidance is in, Liarie and I, both need to confront him as soon as possible,” Bryce replied.

“It always seems like our situation gets worse and worse,” Zel sighed and gave a salute with his fist over his heart.

Murn with no expression gave the same salute and marched over to a corner to wait.

“Let’s go, Liarie faster we get to Guidance, the better before there are any more complications,” Bryce said.

“Of course, Lead.” Liarie replied.

Heading into the darkest part of the room, Bryce reached up to the middle of his chest, pressing down on the wooden charm that lay hidden beneath. I’m going into another tomb, little sis; I know I’ll make it through with your luck.

With a deep breath, Bryce reached out for that familiar warmth that ran from his heart and out into his veins. Yenvark, I beseech you both to protect me from what lies within this dark place. He opened the palm of his left hand; above it sparked a burning red ember of light. The smooth, marble surfaces of the columns to either side of him were revealed. Further on, he found the opening of a hallway and set out onto the path.

Liarie produced a curved rod that glistened with a blue glow to help light the path. A sprinkle of blue fell to the ground in the wake of her footsteps.

The hall began a slow descent into a staircase. Cracks lined the steps where pieces of the ceiling above had fallen. They took each step carefully, several shards loosening further to skip down the path. The dark space filled with the sound, echoes dancing along the high ceiling, unable to be seen in the dim light.

Coming to a landing, Bryce grimaced at the next set of stairs blocked by debris. Looking towards an entrance to a hallway, he paused before it at a resounding punctuation in the air from the of a release of a bullet.

“It seems the esper approached our companions,” Liarie said.

Bryce closed his eyes and tried reaching out, but he only felt a fuzziness intermixed with the cold of the halls.

Another resounding impact of a bullet echoed down to them.

“It’s too far out for me, can you sense if the esper is still alive?”

“Yes, she has revealed herself and still breathes life, but our companions are just as healthy,” Liarie replied.

Bryce looked back the way they came, a grimace crossing his lips.

Studying him for the moment, she shifted on her hooves. “We’ve come this far; I don’t think we should let this risk we’ve taken become in vain.”

The spark of flame in the palm of his hand brightened. “I know. It’s just they’re facing an esper…”

“Calm yourself and you’ll see that we must continue. Our time is finite here, Bryce.”

He noticed the flame’s growth and took a deep breath to calm it. “You’re right, we have to trust them to handle it.”

He turned his attention back to the hallway and headed off onto the new floor. Bones lined the space along with cracks, scorch marks, bullet casings, and discarded weapons; all cluttering the tight corridors.

The path led them past makeshift barriers of furniture, ripped and torn apart. A skittering of noise drew their attention to see the small bodies of rats before they vanished into holes along the wall. A third gunshot echoed down into the dark place.

“A hole.”

Bryce turned at Liarie’s voice and saw her peering into a room. Moving past her he saw the hole into the darkness below. With a nod he sent the ember down to illuminate the floor below. Seeing nothing dangerous he hopped down. Regaining the ember in the palm of his hand he moved to the side to create space for Liarie to land. A blue ember falling from Liarie’s rod to dissipate into the stone floor.

“More signs of a struggle.” Liarie pointed to the doorway broken through with bones littered all about with their ripped clothing and armor.

“The bones have bitemarks just like those above,” Bryce observed and nudged his foot against a long shin bone covered in bites. “Zel is right to think that something is here.”

“I sense nothing of importance.”

Bryce exited into the hallway waiting beyond the door. “But something was here. These soldiers put up quite the fight against whatever it was. A valiant effort. Yet they seemed to not have killed anything.”

Liarie extended the rod forward to light up the path covered in more bodies picked clean by hungry rodents. “What occurred here has long since passed, there is no reason for you to get caught up with it, Lead.”

“Is that not what we are doing with our search for Guidance? Making the same foolish mistakes as those before us?”

Liarie nodded. “Maybe, but you want to break the cycle.” She gently pushed Bryce, “So, let’s get to it. We can’t waste time here.”

“You’re always right, aren’t you Liarie?”

“I am a familiar to you and I am a fey. I’d be doing a poor job if I was wrong.”

“Naturally.” Bryce moved into the abating darkness. Boots crunching against the scattered remains. His eyes focused on any movement at the edge of the light. The flicker of a rat’s tail here or the sight of beady eyes studying him.

Every floor they descended grew colder. The air becoming harder to breath, the permeating stench of death unable to circulate to the outside.

Down another spiraling staircase, they came into a space with rows of bookshelves; dust seemed to move through the still air. Past the shelving they entered another hall that led them past multitudes of rooms used for study and calculations; desks, pens, and journals all thrown about around complex machines now shattered. Turning down an intersection they found themselves descending further to enter an armory full of weapons. Rifles, machine guns, and pistols, covered in thick cobwebs. Spiders watched from the corners. The webbing was strung along the ceiling as they went down another hall towards an intersection. Whispers fluttered on the air of a distant gunshot before it was overpowered by the echo of their boots on the marble floors now turned stone through their traveling.

Before a heavy metal doorway, they finally stopped. Stretching his hand out, Bryce laid it against the door. He gasped in surprise at the cold which pierced through his leather gloves to touch against his skin.

Liarie crept close and placed her hand over his and brushed up against him. “Relax. You sense it, don’t you? Guidance is within.” Another ember fell from the glowing rod.

Comforted by her warmth in the cold place, he closed his eyes and focused. He tuned himself to her and his own breathing. Rhythmic and gentle. Extending his sense up the length of his arm and to the door, he felt its cold embrace. The warmth flowed through his body to spread across the door as he turned his attention to envisioning the power he desired.

With a loud hiss and a clasp of metal bending, Bryce smiled at the sight of the hinges breaking under the pressure and the door swinging inward before collapsing against the wall to come to a permanent rest.

“This place… shadows linger within it.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean to us?”

Liarie shook her head. “I’m not sure exactly. Nonetheless stay close, less we chance being separated in the dark,” Liarie said and gently tightened her grip around his hand.

“Of course. We’ll make it out. We have to.” He smiled to her and began the descent down the staircase.

The echo of their footsteps seemed to become dampened by an invisible presence growing as they descended. Even their own breathing seemed to be affected. The glow of the ember and rod was lessened into a tight sphere around them.

The stairway ended to an opening. The darkness stretched on, seemingly forever. Their sources of light were barely able to pierce the veil of shadows. Noises from above became nonexistent as did the stench of death from before. In its place was nothing.

Liarie looked around with focused eyes, her eyes twitching at the most subtle of changes in the air.

“What is it?” Bryce asked.

“Something is amiss, but…”

“But?”

“I don’t know, it’s as if we stepped into a place we should not have.”

“That’s comforting.” Bryce grimaced.

With steady steps, the pair moved forward into the darkness. The shadows moved at the touch of their light with great resistance, constantly threatening to swallow them up. A spark of blue ember trailed off the rod to vanish in the pitch black.

A sudden hiss broke the silence.

Bryce turned about looking for the source of the noise. His eyes darted in every direction as the hiss seemed to echo from multiple directions before it came to a halt. He felt Liarie’s hand tighten in his.

“Relax, just keep moving forward.”

“Which way?” He paused before seeing the end of the rod pointed for him. He began to walk again. The hair along the back of his neck stood on end as the hiss went off again and was joined by others.

“Ignore them, you mustn’t show fear to their anger.”

“What are they?” Bryce tightened the grip on his two-shot pistol still held in his right hand. His finger itched to move towards the trigger.

“I now realize where we are.”

“And that is?”

“Quiet,” she said and urged him onward.

Each step he took brought him deeper into the dark place, no end in sight. The comforting presence of Liarie occasionally turning him in the correct directions needed to navigate the abyss. Numerous clicking sounds tapped across the floor, always keeping a steady distance from the pair. A heavy breathing emanated from the shadows, sending a cold chill to swirl through the air.

Up ahead a light grew within the darkness. As Bryce drew closer, he felt his heart begin to beat faster. “Where is Guidance? I don’t see him, Liarie.”

“We mustn’t worry about that, stay focused.” She replied in a hushed tone.

The breathing began to slow as the tension in the air seemed to rise with each step Bryce took towards the light. The haze around it cleared to reveal a stone table with a humanoid figure laying across it. The figure’s skin was a sickly pale purple. Bite marks were visible along its body wherever the silver robe did not cover skin. Several fangs were still embedded in holes, the hosts having violently retreated. Within the webbed hands of the figure was the source of the light.

“Did Vlaxtawk kill him? Are they the ones casting these shadows?” Bryce gave his own hiss towards the surrounding darkness.

Liarie shook her head, “No, this is not Vlaxtawk.” Her eyes focused on the source of light. “We needn’t worry though; Guidance may have fallen but our true goal still lays within his palm.”

Bryce looked to her with a raised brow. Yet another horror we must face in this world? Watching her approach, the light, his eyes widened as the light grew with her touch before he was forced to look away at the brilliance.

As the light dimmed, he saw the purple figure now rejuvenated and standing at his full height. His lithe body towered over Bryce and Liarie. The rich glow of his body seemed to repel the very darkness itself as he opened his eyes, a glow to his brilliant pupils. “A human and fey. An esper with a familiar.” He stretched his webbed hand out; the source of light was a crystal shard resting in his palm. “How curious.”

“How are you alive?” Liarie asked. Her furred tail moved side to side as her hands clasped together. “No, that isn’t important right now, what’s important is you’re here with us, which means you can help us and the Union!”

“I cannot, as I do not reside here.” Guidance lowered himself to stare down Bryce. “Nor do I see the need to guide you two. A curious pair yes, but it is not Yen nor Vark who seek my help, not even Union. It is your Lead that does.” He gave a smile of his pearly white teeth. “Am I, not right?”

Bryce studied the crystal waiting just within arm’s reach. “Whether it is for me or not, in the end it is for Union. We all serve Yenvark.”

Guidance closed his eyes, the lids moving horizontally, as he straightened himself. He opened his eyes once more to the darkness all around. “You say that, and you have sacrificed much to come here to this wretched place.” He turned back to study the pair. “I’d be curious to meet you two and lend an ear. Maybe if it aligns with the right path, it will once more give hope that Yenvark’s light can shine upon this world that nears the brink of destruction.”

Abruptly, Guidance vanished along with his light.

A sudden pull at his body made Bryce’s heart skip a beat as he took several deep breaths and looked out into that darkness to see the stone table with the sickly pale figure still lying upon it now a fair distance away in the darkness. Teleportation? But when was the spell cast and how so quickly? The glow within the figure’s hand beginning to diminish. In that limited remaining light, long pointed shapes poked out from the darkness to pierce into the ground. A hiss of rage vibrated the air.

Bryce felt a shiver run through him as he unholstered his pistol to fire into the darkness. The fiery impact of the two bullets vanished into the darkness giving a further glimpse of more multi-legged shapes crawling towards him.

“It’s no use, we have to go, now!”

He felt a tug on his shoulder and turned to see fear in the pure green eyes of Liarie. “But the shard…”

“It’s gone! Its magic was sapped away, and we will fall with it if we stay!” Liarie took hold of Bryce’s arm to try to turn him back the way they had come. The staircase was illuminated at the touch of the blue glow of Liarie’s rod.

With a nod of understanding, Bryce made his way to the staircase, forcing Liarie to begin the climb first while he followed close behind; his attention turning to reloading his pistol. He turned the hinge, ejecting the two empty shells within, the sounds of them clattering to the stone behind lost to the numerous clicking of mandibles. Placing two new heavy slugs in the chamber he clicked the pistol’s barrel back into place and holstered it. Alighting a blue ember in the palm of his hand he glanced back to see the shadow of the creatures a few steps behind. He released the ember and created a new one while the first lit up the steps to create a thin barrier of flames. A loud hiss followed him as he made it to the next landing to see Liarie running down the hall.

“I can hear them all over!” Liarie called back as she slid to a halt at an intersection. “Don’t bother slowing them down, Bryce. We just have to go!”

“Why didn’t you sense them before?” he called out after her.

“They were hiding within that magical realm!” She let forth a wail of frustration. “I knew something was wrong! Why’d I mistake it for just shadows?”

A magical realm, so then it wasn’t a teleportation spell; we were kicked out of the realm after Guidance released the hold on the spell. Bryce sprinted down the hall, following behind Liarie as she started down a turn. “Do you remember the way out?” Glancing back, he saw the shadows billowing forth from the stairway in pursuit.

“Of course! I left a trail for us to follow.” A brilliant blue flash of light appeared at another intersection, the light directing down a left turn before vanishing. Taking the turn, Liarie passed by several more flashes of light. Her ears twitched at the skittering echoing down the halls in pursuit of their footsteps, and her tail wagged and twisted to maintain her balance as she took each turn tightly.

Bryce took large strides, trying to ignore the fear of taking a wrong step as he tried his best to keep up with the fey. “Remember, I’m just a human!” he called out, his hands balling into fists as he desperately wanted to turn and fight. The horde of noise seemingly growing closer with every passing second.

“We both have a pair of legs; you just got to use them faster, Bryce!” She twisted down another path.

Coming to the doorway, Bryce jumped through the opening and saw a hand lowered down for him from a hole in the ceiling. Releasing the grip on the embers within his hand, he shifted back on his heels and felt a surge of warmth through his legs down to his feet before he jumped. The burst of energy sent him up as he took hold of Liarie’s hand and was quickly pulled through the opening. A swarm of blackness snapped at his boots as it quickly began to rise after them. “Thank you, Liarie.”

“We aren’t out yet, Bryce.” Liarie turned and move out of the room and into a new hall.

Following her, Bryce froze up at the vibrations shaking the room. “Just how many are there!” His eyes widened at the dark shapes trying to squeeze past the gap in the floor, mandibles and spiny legs clawing at the floor to get a grip.

“More than enough!”

Bryce exited into the hall and followed Liarie down the path towards a set of stairs. The only light came from the rod in Liarie’s hand, its blue glow illuminating the path in a weak attempt to push past the shadows. His chest pounding with the effort of sprinting, Bryce let forth a loud growl as he picked up speed to keep up with Liarie. The stairway exited out into another hall that twisted back and forth, where a dark surging liquid seeped from cracks within the foundation. The tendrils slammed by the swift boots of fey and human stuck to the bottoms in a weak attempt to slow them down.

The rod abruptly shot forward from Liarie’s hand to reveal a group of clawing creatures that were abruptly obliterated in a blue inferno. Liarie did not slow in her movements as the rod floated in the midst of the inferno to push the flames away clearing a path for her and Bryce. The inferno was left to its growing chaos as the rod caught up to Liarie’s hand.

“What are those?” Bryce asked, his fingers twitching to squeeze a trigger or the pommel of his saber.

“Twisted abominations.” Liarie climbed a new set of stairs, her pace slowing as each step shook her legs. “Monsters that we don’t want to fight.”

“Can you give me more than that?” Bryce asked, exiting into a room from the staircase. The rays of a setting sun shone through a space up ahead.

“Later, we must find our companions.” Liarie stopped as a vibration shook the room, dust floating down from the ceiling. Her ears twitched as she closed her eyes to listen. “Luncal await us outside.”

“With their commodore?”

“Yes.”

“Figures, this day isn’t getting better is it.” Bryce growled and set forth towards the waiting light at the end of the room. “We best hurry.”

“I’ll catch up in a moment; I’ll slow the creatures behind us.”

Bryce turned to protest but paused at her calm look and simply nodded in understanding.

Resuming down the path, Bryce came out into the dimly lit entrance hall with its blasted open doorway and littered debris across the floor.

At the entrance stood Vonna with rifle raised, her body visibly shaking as she jumped in surprise at Bryce’s appearance.

“By Yen’s fortune, it is fantastic to see you, Lead!” Vonna exclaimed. She lowered her rifle and took a deep breath. “I didn’t want to leave, but we’re running out of time!”

“I know.”

Vonna glanced to the sky, “An airship flew in, I couldn’t see the flag what with all the cloud coverage. I’m sure we’ll have company soon.”

“It’s Luncal.” Bryce spat to the side, clearing his mouth of dust, “What about Murn and Zel?”

Vonna looked to the west, towards the outer rim of the grand intersection, “I lost sight of them when they went to cut off the Imperial esper. They should have returned by now.”

“Seems Yen isn’t gracing us with all of her fortune.” Bryce moved past Vonna to the doorway. There he looked out onto the grand intersection at the center of the town to see fresh craters and fires among the wreckage. “All this chaos just for us?” He looked to the sky in search of the source of the shells. That bastard is definitely up there for him to waste so much firepower for us.

“Where’s Liarie?”

Bryce turned back to Vonna and began to open his mouth before a flash of blue bloomed out the path he had come from. Another flash blinded them both temporarily before they saw Liarie come running towards them.

“I slowed them temporarily, but we must leave!” Liarie called out. The blue glow of the rod dimmed as she placed it back on her hip. Her hands shook as she came to a halt before Vonna and Bryce. “Now!”

“Not without Murn and Zel. Can you sense them?” Bryce asked.

Her tail swiped back and forth as she ground her teeth. “Sense them now with the torrent of noise that Luncal and those shadows have caused? You must be mad!” She looked to Vonna. “Did you not see where they went?”

“I did but hold up a minute.” Vonna looked to the shadows behind Liarie and took a step back. “What is chasing you two?”

“It’s not important; we must move quickly to where we can find Zel and Murn.”

“Is it Scavs?” Vonna replied.

Bryce shook his head, “No, something else. We can discuss it later, now please, Vonna.”

Vonna nodded in understanding and set forth down the stairway. “You know, I said how many times that it was crazy to come to this town. And here we are!”

“No use to regret our decision.” Bryce paused midway down the stairway at the audible series of cracks sounding from the domed building. He shivered at the feeling of eyes studying him but saw none within the darkness. “Can they give chase, Liarie?”

Liarie slowed at the bottom of the steps, her hands outstretched as she closed her eyes. Ears twitching. “Quiet, the chaotic noise shifts, I need to focus.”

“It has to be scavs,” Vonna stated, eying the shadows at the top of the steps in search of the familiar shapes but saw none except for the darkness. “We really need to keep moving,” She raised her rifle to peer through the scope to her left, the direction where Murn and Zel had gone. She lowered her rifle again with a frown. “I still don’t see them.”

Bryce turned in the opposite direction at the abrupt boom that echoed in the distance. “Another volley, get down!” He raised his hands and closed his eyes. Vark shield us! His thoughts drifted to that of a barrier, focusing on the intent of it. Vibrations shook his mind from all directions, shrapnel flinging against the barrier as new craters were added to the town. The rush of noise settled down to be replaced once more by the breeze rushing through the town.

Releasing the grip on the barrier he looked around to see water falling where snow had been melted by the blasts of heat. A pair of fresh craters were close by to their location with more in other parts of the town.

“Damn Luncal getting here faster than we predicted.” Bryce ran a hand along his hair and turned to Liarie who was still focused on her spell.

Vonna slowly sat up and eyed either one of them with a concerned look. “Well, can we get the magic working faster so we can leave? I rather not get butchered by those savages this evening.”

“Savages is an interesting description,” Liarie replied, her hands lowering. With a deep breath she set forth deeper into the intersection.

“Well they are! And we’re going to be surrounded by them or killed by the scavs, or whatever is chasing you two!” Vonna exclaimed.

“Come along you two, I can sense them. Murn is hurt, we mustn’t waste any more time,” Liarie said.

“How did you sense them?” Bryce asked.

“The shadows have settled, for now.” Liarie climbed over a set of wreckage without pause. “Though we mustn’t waste the sunlight or else we will be forced to deal with them and will surely fall.”

“Are these shadows afraid of the sun?” Bryce asked, trying to keep pace with her agile speed through the thick snow.

“Afraid of the light?” Liarie paused to eye both Bryce and Vonna, taking in their concerned looks. “This isn’t a fairy tale. They have merely paused due to the fear of the unknown. I can sense their fear and we can thank Luncal’sha Kingdom’s bombing for that.”

“Ridiculous, all of it.” Vonna huffed as she shouldered her rifle and struggled to keep pace through the snow. She nearly stumbled over a long piece of wreckage sticking out from the snow, the iron rusted beyond recognition.

Liarie exited the grand intersection and headed down the main road before turning down a side street. Her tail flicking back and forth helping to guide Bryce and Vonna who brought up the rear at a slower pace. Fresh snow being kicked up by their heavier footsteps.

Slowing, Bryce reached a hand out to the brick wall to steady himself. Moving down the street he came to the hole in the wall where Liarie vanished and walked over the debris. Lying against an overturned shelving unit was Murn with Liarie by his side and Zel standing at attention.

“Glad you found us!” Zel said with a big smile. “Murn got hit hard by that Imperium’s volferd. We barely got under cover before the barrage.”

“They’ll be landing soon and ready to hunt us down in this town,” Vonna exclaimed, coming through the opening. She took a deep breath before continuing, “We need to get Murn to his feet fast and move.”

Liarie gently rubbed Murn’s side with a hand lit with a blue glow, before caressing the side of his face. “You have rested enough. We must move on before you can rest more.”

With a simple nod, Murn rose to his full towering height.

“Well, Lead, we going before another barrage?” Zel asked.

Bryce looked to each of them now looking to him for the command. “We’re moving northwest. We have the head start. If we move fast enough, we’ll keep a good distance from them before the sun sets tonight.”

Grabbing their gear, the group filed out of the blown-out shop and quickly made their way through the streets. The distant hum lowered in tone as the airships landed and their pursuers began to enter the town by foot in search of them.

Posted by

Author of the on-going serial "Perpetual War"

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