Perpetual War Arc Two: Chapter Two – Route

The Town of Bosavan now lies behind Bryce as he travels with his company through the snowy mountains. Danger still lingers behind him, conflict waiting to happen. The next goal was clear, escape from the mountains.

Meant to release this yesterday, but this quarantine stuff is making some days blend together. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy!

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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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Airships. Magnificent are they not? Oh, how the marvels of technology and ingenuity of the mind has led us to conquer the skies themselves! That in many ways summarizes the inventors of the past who built the first airships made of wood and cloth designed to fly solely by gases. As our world changed so did the airship. Gone are the days of seeing it as a marvel unsuitable for true conflict. Now we live in a world where the airship can change the tide of any battle, nay even the entire war! The nation that rules the sky shall hold claim over everything beneath it. Every nation we see this day still alive and prospering has acknowledged this truth and have built larger and stronger airships. Wooden walls? Now metal walls. Cloth bags of gas and nothing else? Supported by engines and magic. Catapults and bows? Cannons and machine guns! The world we live in is lit not just by the sun, but by the fires of death that the behemoths bring with them as they travel to battle.

-Mathematician, Inventor, Genius, Sir Fredrick Buckelham of Antoil,

Inventions that Shaped Coronam

The rays of sunlight pierced through the veil of clouds to glitter across the fresh snow. Climbing out from the cave entrance, Bryce shielded his eyes with his hand as he tried to look upon the glistening white laid out before him. Movement caught his attention, high in the sky he spotted a long-feathered heron gliding with the wind toward a distant spot further down the mountain. A strip of purple ran along the edges of the heron’s wingspan, the color distorting as it caught the rays of sun.

Liarie walked up the rocky steps to stop beside Bryce. “Did you sleep well, Bryce?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” He looked to her, admiring her orange locks that drifted in the light breeze of the cold morning air. “Can you see anything?”

“Plenty, but nothing of note.” Liarie turned to look up the slope of the mountainside.

“When are we going to talk about those shadows?”

Liarie’s face remained focused on the slope, only the slight twitch of her ears giving away any emotion. “I’d rather not talk about such nightmares.”

“Nightmares? Was it all magic?”

“No.”

“Then?” Bryce took a step closer.

“It’d be wise if we speak of such matters at a later date.”

“The others are still inside; we can talk now.”

“Later,” Liarie insisted.

“What about Guidance?”

“Bryce, I said later.” She stepped away with her back turned to him, her long tail curled slightly around her legs.

Bryce reached up to the charm hidden in his jacket. What were those things that they have her so shaken up?

With a deep breath, she spoke again, “We’d be wise to move soon lest we take a chance of a Luncal patrol catching us.”

 “Of course, we’ve been lucky so far.” Bryce looked back to the landscape to admire it for a few more moments, taking in the rolling hills of snow broken by the occasional tree that poked above the snow with thin naked branches. The Bosakil mountains rose above it all, though the peaks were growing shorter as they traveled. “Shouldn’t be much longer before we’re back” he muttered to himself. Back to dealing with other companies.

He lowered his head as he went through the entrance of the cave before coming into the small space within, lit by the blue rod of Liarie’s hanging from a hook punched into the ceiling. Vonna and Zel were busy tying up their gear for travel. Murn sat hunched over in a corner, unmoving in his metal armor, Liarie joining him by his side to ease him with a touch of her magic.

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Zel said as he finished strapping his sleeping bag to the top of his pack.

“That isn’t good.” Vonna did the same and pulled a ration bar from a side pouch to munch on.

Shooting her a scowl, Zel returned to his work before getting a drink from his canteen. “That it’d be disappointing if we don’t end up fighting any of those feathered creeps before we leave these mountains.”

“Of course, you’d want to fight Luncal.” Vonna replied.

“It’s not that I want to fight them, it just seems like the right thing to happen after all this running around them.”

“We won’t be fighting them,” Bryce interrupted before heading to his own pack, which was waiting in a corner by itself. He reached into a side pouch for a ration to eat, the hearty nutrient bar with a jam-like substance within. Each bite was both satisfying and refreshing as he settled down on the hard floor to enjoy the rest for a little longer before they began another day of traveling.

“You say that, but I bet you that we’re going to get stuck fighting and when that happens…” Zel raised his hands as if he was holding a pistol, turning slowly in search of a target before kicking back with imaginary recoil. “Bang! We’ll wipe the floor with them.”

“I think you’re being overly confident of your skills.” Vonna finished her bar and began to get up with her gear.

“Not one bit.”

Vonna shook her head. “I’m going outside. This room has gotten stuffy with this fool’s ego.”

Bryce watched her head out before turning back to his meal. “Zel finish packing up, we’re waiting on you.”

“Sorry, I’ll get right on that!” He busied himself with his gear, placing a couple of magazines on a front pouch for easier access, then shifting other gear around to balance out the pack.

“It amazes me how you mess up the order of your pack every day,” Liarie observed. She shifted onto her heels to eye Zel with curious green eyes. “Surely you can better your system?”

“My system?” Zel looked back at her with a raise eyebrow before going back to his work. “I have to reach into it each day, it’s sorta hard not to move things around. What else am I supposed to do?”

“Put the stuff you need frequently at the top, so you do not shift items around as much.”

Zel paused, pondering the idea before resuming his work. “Yea, maybe. Or maybe my way is better!”

“Stubborn,” Murn said and stood at a half crouch, his head still nearly bumping into the ceiling. His armor creaked with movement and heavy footsteps crunched any loose rock along the way.

“Me?” Zel watched Murn pass by to climb out of the cave. “I’m not nearly as stubborn as you, big guy!” Hearing no response, he grumbled and went back to work. “I was wondering, Lead. What ended up happening back in Bosavan? I thought Murn and I had it rough, but you and Liarie looked just as bad.”

Bryce idly looked to Liarie, half-expecting her to reply first, but seeing that she was keeping quiet, he looked back to Zel. “Guidance wasn’t exactly easy to communicate with.”

“Did you end up getting whatever magical thingy you wanted?” Zel asked.

“No.”

“That’s a real damn shame.” Zel shrugged and got back to work on his pack.

“Incredible…” Liarie’s voice trailed off as she watched Zel.

“What is?” Bryce asked.

She looked to him in disbelieve at what he did not see. “How easily he can shrug off our failure at obtaining what we sought after these past two weeks. I believe it is what you humans would call a waste of time.”

“I’m sorry, are we talking about me?” Zel asked, disturbed from his intense focus on the pack, half of the contents still laid all around it.

“Truly incredible.” Liarie said and heading out the exit without another word.

She has a point; he definitely doesn’t care a whole lot. Bryce watched the flick of Liarie’s tail before it vanished.

“Lead, what was she going on about?”

Finishing his breakfast, Bryce shifted his pack onto his shoulders and stood. “When you’re done messing around Zel, we’ll be outside.”

Bryce stepped out onto the rim of the rocky entrance. Murn sat atop a large boulder to the side, unmoving in his waiting.

Looking around, Bryce turned to see Vonna atop the cave, binoculars to her eyes as she scanned every direction. “Do you see anything, Vonna?”

“No feathered caps of Luncal soldiers or their vehicles. Not even any animal life.” She lowered her binoculars and began to make her way back down the incline towards the rest of the group. “I honestly think we’re in the clear. It should be a smooth day and if we’re fast enough, we might be lucky enough to hit the Glodan plains by end of day.”

“What about you Liarie? Do you sense anything out of the ordinary?” Bryce asked.

Liarie stood with her hands on her hips and head back, enjoying the feel of the sun on her skin. “It’s silence here save for the small creatures that hide from the cold.” A smile crossed her lips. “Let’s get moving so we can be rid of this terrible freezing cold. There will be plenty of warmth at the end of our journey.”

“The end?” Zel climbed out of the cave. “I’m having doubts we’re getting to the end of anything. Knowing our Lead, we’ll get back to base and set off on another crazy expedition.”

“You’re welcome to stay back with the others,” Vonna said.

“And let you go off without my company? Surely you’d be lonely?” Zel asked, taking a sidestep to come closer to Vonna.

“I swear…” Vonna scowled and took a step away. “Lead, can we get moving already?”

“Yes, and let’s keep a fast pace people. It’s downhill from here on out.” Bryce stepped from the rock and into the thick patches of snow awaiting them. Boots sinking into the fresh white fluff.

The gradual decline of the hills guided them along the plains of snow, the white blanket glistened by the rays of light that grew stronger as the clouds began to dissipate revealing the bright blue sky beyond. The crisp cold air was refreshing as they kept a steady fast walk, their warm coats protecting them. Murn marched at the front, his large, heavy body clearing a path for them all to walk. At the rear, Liarie kept her rod in hand, weaving a constant spell to move snow over their tracks.

Slowly as they went the number of layers of snow lessened allowing more plants to stick out. Blades of grass, spiny pokers, and jeweled flowers all broke through the white barrier to catch the rejuvenating rays of light. The once-scattered trees began to grow in greater numbers, their branches snaking in an assortment of directions.

The tall mountain peaks around them grew shorter and shorter until finally they broke past the last at the edge of a cliff. There the group stood to take in the sight of the forest covering the hillsides beyond. A pair of rivers stretched from either direction to vanish into the thick forest.

Moving down the side of the cliff, they found a thin rocky path worn from use by other travelers which took them down to a plateau that ended at the edge of the forest. Snow, once thick and bountiful around them, still lay waiting among the trees, but the layer was far thinner and only barely staying together in defiance to the growing heat of the sun.

As they entered the forest, Bryce stepped to the side as the others moved on to watch Liarie eagerly reach out for the thickest tree. “Glad to be back?”

“Oh, most definitely.” She stepped close to give the tree a hug, her hands unable to reach all the way around as she pressed her face to the rigid bark. “The smell, it’s wondrous.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, relaxing her body. “And I can finally be rid of this stifling coat!” She unzipped the front, quickly pulled the coat off, and stuffed it into her pack.

“Surely you are still cold?” Bryce asked.

Liarie straightened out the long sleeves of her indigo blouse. “A little, but I’m still wearing more than I’m used to.” She rubbed at her black pants in discomfort. “Once we’re back down, I look forward to my dresses again, I don’t know how you humans deal with all these layers without going mad, it’s insufferable!”

“It’s better than freezing to death.”

“Freeze?” Liarie scoffed, “Up in the mountains, yes, but here?” Liarie waved her hands around to the surrounding trees. “Nothing more than the blissful cool touch of the forest.”

“Not everyone wants to feel that touch,” Bryce replied and resumed his pace down the gradual descent. “Let’s change the topic.

“What would you like to discuss?”

“Where do we even begin? Guidance? Those shadows?”

“Soon enough Bryce, we should not discuss it so close to our companions,” she whispered in reply.

“I know, it’s hard for me to not dwell on it,” Bryce replied and looked just up ahead at the crest of the path where Zel and Vonna stood arguing with one another while Murn waited close by.

Liarie moved past Bryce to get in between the two with hands outstretched as she glared down either of them. “You two bicker like entwined saplings!” Liarie spat.

“Sapling? I’d consider myself a full-grown tree, thank you very much!” Zel replied with chest buffed out.

Vonna shook her head, “Entwined with that moron? You can’t be serious, Lady Majes.”

“Would I lie?” Liarie replied.

“No, you wouldn’t,” Vonna groaned.

“Let’s keep going,” Bryce said and motioned to Murn to lead the way.

Murn moved from his stupor and began to make his way down the crest.

“I was wondering, Lead, what are we going to do if a Luncal airship happens to catch us near the forest’s edge? We’ll have no cover.”

“The rest of our company will be by when we enter the Glodan plains.”

“We don’t have any equipment to shoot down an airship though.”

“Hendrick will have taken care of it with the help of the ghosts.”

“And if he didn’t?”

“It’s been taken care of, Zel; there is nothing to be concerned over,” Liarie cut in.

Zel glanced back at Liarie. “I’m glad to hear, though if my opinion matters at all, I’m not a fan of us getting help from those ghosts,” he replied and quickened his step to catch up to Vonna.

Murn followed a clearing around a larger boulder protruding from the undergrowth.

Trailing behind slightly, Bryce allowed Vonna and Zel to take the lead while he motioned for Liarie to come closer before circling around the boulder. “You did make sure Quil wasn’t there when you told Hendrick about meeting up with us, right?”

“Unfortunately, she was present in the room.”

Why must there always be something? Bryce rubbed at his forehead and looked back at Liarie to see her giving a faint smile.

“I know what you are thinking, trust me I’m not too happy about it myself, but you know how my sister is.”

“She would have found out anyways.” Bryce sighed and finished moving around the boulder to see the other three had gone further ahead through a thick grouping of trees, the shadows they cast making parts of the forest floor nearly pitch black. “What trouble do you think she’ll get us in now?”

“I’m not sure. Just please remember, Bryce, that she does mean well, even if her methods are questionable sometimes.”

“Questionable or not, I know we’ll be safe. What I’m worried about is who we’ll have to pay back after everything is said and done.” Bryce stepped from root to root, not daring to step into the dark abyss that made up the space in between the thick trees. His hands stretched out to touch the massive trunks for balance. “I know I’ve mentioned it before, but why don’t you try talking to her again about how I’m the Lead and how she needs to follow and when she has some brilliant idea to pass it through me first.”

“That is a pointless discussion. She still chooses to integrate as little as possible with races beyond the Great Tree’s boundary.”

Bryce stepped from the last root back on to the cool dirt. Just ahead, Murn was descending down a steep decline to vanish from view with Vonna and Zel right behind. Zel and Vonna were bickering in hushed tones, evident by their striking hand motions with the occasional spike of a raised voice before lowering again. “And I’m sure Quil thinks little of me. She’d rather not deal with any of us.”

“I believe she still questions my choice to accompany you.”

Why don’t you tell her to leave then? He bit his tongue and kept moving. I couldn’t do that to Liarie, to chase away her only sister. He listened to her hooves tapping against the hard surface of the roots become silent once more as she caught up to him on the soft dirt.

“I’ll try talking to her, nonetheless. Maybe with us getting a step closer to Guidance, she’ll see some reason that we’re on the right path.”

“Are we really a step closer to Guidance? He did vanish after all.”

“Well, there…” Her ears stood on end as she abruptly turned to a distant noise.

“What is it?” Bryce asked, watching her attention turn to the sky.

“An airship approaches!” She hissed and turned to head past him. “We need to stop the other three and find the appropriate cover while we have a chance.”

Bryce watched her go past him as he studied the sky, trying to listen for the sounds she heard. Closing his eyes, he tried to listen for any noise. “I swear, I’m jealous of those ears of yours,” he said aloud to no one in particular and turned to give chase after her.

Down the steep path and in a small clearing stood Zel and Vonna embroiled in another discussion while Murn walked on ahead to clear a path through a thick patch of undergrowth. Liarie moved in between the two with hands outstretched as she glared down either of them.

“You two bicker once more, why this time?” Liarie spat.

“It’s just some friendly banter,” Zel nervously chuckled, “Honestly not worth repeating.”

“You humans argue for sport! It baffles me to no end!”

Vonna shook her head and turned to a growing buzz in the air. “An airship?”

“Yes,” Bryce said joining Liarie in the small clearing to look out at the path laid out before them. “Most likely a Luncal one; it’d be best if we went back to the large trees we passed.”

“No, I sense a better hiding spot just ahead,” Liarie replied.

“Are you sure?” He scanned the path, taking in its winding directions before it vanished with the further downslope of the forest. A glimpse of sparkling lights where a thin river ran through at the bottom of the hill caught his eye.

“Yes, now come along all of you!” Liarie hopped ahead of them and headed down the wide grassy path. “We must not waste any more time!” She called out as her pace quickened, her hooves kicking up grass as she went.

Wordlessly, Murn and Vonna followed suit while Zel looked to the sky. “That buzz has an eerie tone to it, there is no way it’s Luncal…” He rubbed at his chin.

“Who can it be then?” Bryce asked.

“I think it’s a Sween ship.”

Bryce nodded and set forth down the path. “Just the same, we need to move or else we’ll be in trouble.”

Zel stood alone at the edge of the crest, eyes closed as he listened. He grimaced as he finally turned and began to head down the path. The buzz growing louder with a sharp howl in contrast. “It’s definitely Swenork, Lead!”

“Sween or Luncal, they’re both problems for us!” Bryce called back. His boots slammed down the path as he tried to catch up to the other three further down the hill. The tail of hair loosened from his coat to dance in the air behind him. He wove back and forth between the trees, the shrubbery and low vegetation starting to grow thicker across the forest floor as they descended. The winds of the mountains became more distant as the canopy of the forest grew higher above them, its darkness keeping a chill in the air.

The buzz grew louder as the howl seemed to shift the very air itself. Bryce did not dare turn around to see the ship as he focused on moving forward. The thin river ahead sparkling bright where rays of sunlight pierced through the canopy.

He came to a halt at the edge of the path before it sloped down to meet the river’s edge. He could see the shadows of fish within the shallow depths of the slow-moving water. He looked back and forth seeking footprints where the others could have gone. He turned at the sound of Zel’s heavy breathing to see him pointing off to his right. There Bryce saw Liarie waving for them before vanishing behind a tree.

Rushing up the slight incline over a pair of boulders overgrown with moss, Bryce made his way towards the tree, following Zel. Around the wide trunk of the tree, he saw Liarie, Vonna, and Murn hiding amongst a thick patch of long-tendril bushes. Lowering himself, he entered the thicket, taking mind where he stepped as to not hurt the long, thin roots of the bushes growing in a web-like path through the dirt.

“We did all that running to hide here?” Zel asked.

Liarie nodded and ran her hand along one of the tendrils. “Like many plants and wildlife, they seek nutrients, and magic is one form of nutrition. These plants will help better hide us from their espers if they have any.”

“It’s safe to say they have at least one,” Bryce said.

“What makes you say that?” Vonna turned her head to the sky trying to peer through the thick leaves of the bush and to the canopy beyond. The buzz of the airship growing ever louder as the rustling of moving branches grew fiercer.

“It’s a Sween ship,” Zel replied.

Murn simply grunted.

The rustling of the canopy grew into a cacophony of noise as the breeze of the airships rotors reached down to the group huddled amongst the bushes, the vines growing along the top twisting with the wind. Bryce saw the glimpse of metal sheets acting as a protective shell over the long-bodied ship. Dark, royal blue with stripes of golden yellow decorated portions of its smooth, elongate wings that had rotors built within the wingspan. The guns bristling along its side promised a destructive impact for any opponent.

Just as the airship came, it slowly began to move away, showing no signs of slowing down. It’s howling twisted with a crackle of noise in its wake before returning to the buzz. Until finally, the airship’s presence vanished altogether, the forest returning to its peaceful tone.

“A Swenork ship here, how interesting,” Liarie said, still looking up with wide eyes of curiosity. “I wonder where they are heading.”

“Based on their direction, somewhere toward the Imperial and Union lines.” Bryce climbed out from the bushes, arcing his back in a stretch. Straightening his coat, he pulled the thin tail of hair back beneath the collar.

“There is no way they’d go that far,” Zel said.

“They won’t. If the reports are right, they’re just clearing the path for the Luncal forces to move through. We need to keep an eye out for any Luncal ships looking for us.” Bryce ran a hand through his hair and turned to see Liarie and Vonna helping Murn out from the entangling tendrils.

Clearing the plant’s grip from around Murn’s thick legs, Vonna stood and looked to Bryce. “What if Luncal told them our location, and they land to search for us?”

“I don’t think we need to worry about that at all.” Zel crossed his arms and nodded his head as if confirming his assumption. “They’re just a scout ship, they don’t have the manpower to go on a hunt, they’ll turn around to rejoin the rest of their forces soon enough.”

“You speak as if you can read their captain’s intent.” Liarie tilted her head in surprise. “Yet you have no magic.”

Vonna stepped in to pinch Zel’s arm. “Cause he’s making up more nonsense.”

“Let’s get going before Luncal decides to show up,” Bryce commanded before he began to head off in the general direction of the air ship.

“Ow, stop!” Zel exclaimed, rubbing his arm before trying to pinch Vonna back who had already taken one too many steps away. “I swear…” Seeing the others head off, he took up the rear. “You know, Lead, if you talk like that you might jinx us.”

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Author of the on-going serial "Perpetual War"

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