The quiet of the Bosakil Mountains are a steep contrast to the horrors amid the trenches. Such a place is where Bryce and his group draw ever closer to. First though they must travel the final stretch of the mountain range to end this part of their journey.
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As I expected, I was unable to penetrate the great walls of the Primordial Tower. I stayed nonetheless among the shadow of the mountain to enjoy the peace of it. The wildlife there is quite… different. I have trouble describing it when the magic in the area is so thick to mutate wildlife beyond the norm. Insects with crystal shells, plants that had an electrical current to them, beasts merged with the very rock itself, and so much more. I unfortunately had to leave before I could continue my research. A Yenvark Union advance company moved into the area and out of fear of an opposing nation showing up and causing a raucous of noise, I moved on. I decided to go north into the Union’s territory. A nation open to non-humans living amongst them so freely is not a common trait, so off I went to learn more. It did not take long though for me to realize why a free spirit such as I could never prosper here.
-Baxter Kuluq, Notes of an Explorer
The stream flowed quickly, the water clear and cool to the touch. The occasional small fish spotted for its scales reflecting the rays of sun that broke the forest canopy, darted through the swift current. The soft sound of the running water added to the somber tone of the forest. Animals moved from their slumber at a slow pace trying to shake off the morning’s chill.
A flash of light caught Bryce’s attention. In the shadowy distance of the forest a flickering flourish of lights trailed behind a bird flying between the trees. His attention was affixed to it as it went from branch to branch.
“Lead, when are you going to share with us the next move?”
Bryce shook his head, disturbed from the show of beauty as he turned to Zel who was crouched by the stream’s side busied with filling up a canteen. “Liarie and I are still deciding, for now there’s nothing to say.”
Zel screwed his canteen closed and sat back on the grassy embankment. “Come on, you both are too secretive with these plans of yours. You’ve gotta share something, at least with me!”
“At some point, Zel,” Bryce replied bluntly and looked past Zel to the other three further down the length of the stream gathering their own water and scouting ahead. “Let’s worry about getting back to the others without any confrontations with Luncal.”
“You keep saying things like that, Lead, and we’re sure to have it happen.”
“There’s no need to be superstitious, Zel. If it happens then we simply failed to avoid it.” Bryce moved off the boulder and stepped over the stream towards Zel. “After all, we know Luncal is following us. Now let’s get going, the others are leaving us behind.”
Rocking back then forward, Zel rose to his feet in one smooth motion. “It’s not that I think they’ll show up just cause you said something, but thinking about it seems to make it more likely to happen.”
“That isn’t how it works though,” Bryce replied with a shake of his head.
“I know, I know.” Zel waved his hand. “I’m honestly wasting my breath. Let’s keep going Lead.”
An odd boy. Bryce set off with the stream to his left, heading down the gradual descent towards the other three. Vonna busy with filling her canteen besides Liarie who was doing the same. Further ahead, Murn busied himself with clearing a path through a thick patch of undergrowth.
“How much further until we are out of this place?” Zel asked.
“Our time in this forest draws to a close very soon,” Liarie observed with eyes pointed in the direction that Murn headed. “We should be ready to deal with any conflict that arises upon our exit into the plains beyond.”
“Now you’re saying stuff like that too.” Zel shifted on his feet and crossed his arms.
Liarie looked to Zel with a raised brow, then to Bryce. “What does he mean?”
“He’s just superstitious is all,” Bryce replied and leaned up against a tree to rest. “Hurry up with the water so we can move.”
“Of course.” Liarie replied and began to screw her canteen closed before looking to Zel. “So what does superstitious mean?” Her ears tilted slightly towards him.
“It means that head of his is filled with all kinds of crazy.” Vonna stood and took a drink from her canteen.
“Crazy?” Liarie asked.
“I wouldn’t be talking after some of those comments you made in your sleep last night.” Zel grinned.
“I said nothing!” Vonna pointed a finger at Zel from across the thin stream. “And I know ‘cause I could hardly sleep with you tossing and turning every damn second like a newborn child.”
“I fear my original question wasn’t entirely answered,” Liarie cut in again.
Zel ignored Liarie and replied to Vonna, “It’s hard to sleep when there are roots everywhere. Though I guess you’re used to sleeping on something hard.”
Vonna’s brow furrowed as her empty hand balled up into a fist. “Lead do you mind if I punch Zel?”
“Yes, I do mind.” Bryce sighed and straightened himself. “You two argue enough. I don’t need you two to add physical harm to the list of issues.”
“Thanks, Lead, for telling her no. I wouldn’t want a bloody nose right now,” Zel said.
“I did not ask for any feedback, Zel.” Bryce snapped at Zel before stepping past them to head towards Murn who was waiting. “It was an entertaining discussion, but we need to focus up once more and finish our journey. No telling what danger lies ahead.”
“Jinxing us again,” Zel muttered.
“Jinxing?” Liarie asked.
Bryce stopped and turned to face Zel, “Zel, what did I just say?”
The young man caught the edge to Bryce’s voice and quickly straightened himself with chin raised and shoulders back. “To focus up, Lead!”
“Good, now keep moving.”
Zel quickly marched forward with Liarie trailing behind.
Bryce caught Liarie’s eyes as she passed, a light giggle emitting from her as she found his sudden serious tone amusing.
Securing the canteen on her belt, Vonna hopped the gap that the stream created and fell in step with Bryce. “Lead, can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” Bryce replied.
“I was wondering, are all Company Leads relaxed like you? It’s so rare to ever see you snap.”
Bryce slowed his pace as he gave it thought, his mind racing over every man and woman he’d met who lead a company. The numerous faces of all of them giving him both warmth at the relationship he held with them or a seething rage with ever having to deal with them. “I wouldn’t say I’m the only one, but I am more relaxed, yes.”
“Why is that?”
“That’s a personal question, don’t you think?”
“Sorry.” Vonna trailed off, unsure of how to continue.
He passed by the various kinds of spiky and thick leafed plants trampled by Murn, several branches already starting to poke back up in defiance. “I suppose I’m more relaxed and calmer, after all there is no reason to be angry in times of peace. However, I still expect discipline when we actually get into a combat situation.”
“Of course, Lead!” Vonna replied.
The pair walked in silence for a few minutes, trailing behind the other three who led the way down the hill towards another stream that divided the path before heading up another gentle slope. “Since we began this expedition, I had no idea how much you and Zel argued, was it like this before?”
“Why do you stick around him then? As you both joined the company at the same time.”
“Well, I…” Vonna trailed off.
Bryce glanced back at her to see she was looking at Zel up ahead. “Well?”
“I don’t want to say he’s family, but he is the only other person I know from basic training.”
“You knew no one else?”
Vonna lowered her head, fingers fidgeting with a button along her coat. “There were two others, but they shipped out before me and before I could join their company, they died.”
“I see,” Bryce said. More dead and the war carries on.
“Please, Lead, let’s keep moving.”
“Of course.” Bryce turned and carried on with his pace. He crossed the thin stream and began the gradual climb up the rising slope, the trees starting to thin out around them. The chirping of birds, buzzing of insects, and other various animal calls began to rise as the morning slumber wore off from the forest animals.
At the top, Bryce noticed Liarie suddenly turn, her tail flicking from side to side as her ears stood on end. He hurried in step to reach her, noticing the look of fear cross her face. She senses something, but what? His mind hurried over the possibilities before coming to rest on a single threat. “What is it? The Commodore’s airship?” He called out as he neared the top.
“It is not his, but the Luncal ship paired with his!” Liarie replied.
“An airship all the same,” Zel groaned.
Not the Commodore’s, that’s something I suppose. “Let’s hurry down the other side of this hill and back into the cover of the trees!”
“The trees lessen, at the bottom of the hill is the start of the Glodan Plains,” Liarie said with a turn to stare out in the direction they were heading, her keen eyes narrowed as she sought out any further details. “I can’t spot our comrades from this view.”
“We could head back where there is more cover,” Vonna suggested, coming up behind Bryce to join the group.
“How fast is that ship coming in?” Bryce asked, turning back towards Liarie. The fey closed her eyes in thought as her ears twitched a couple of times.
“It’s approaching fast!” she hissed.
“They probably have a good guess on our location, we’re heading for the plains!” Bryce ordered. He set forth in a sprint down the hill not checking to see if the others were following.
“This is a bad idea, Lead! Sprinting down a hill with all these damn roots!” Zel exclaimed.
“Keep an eye on your step!” Liarie called out.
“Easy for you to say!”
“I face the same difficulties!” Liarie replied and quickly came racing to Bryce’s side. “It’s coming in fast; I fear we won’t make it without some danger from its weapons.”
As if on que a roar of an engine in the distance reached Bryce. “We don’t have much of a choice,” Bryce grunted as he leapt over a large grouping of roots. He landed squarely on his feet with a huff, the pack on his back jostling violently from the maneuver. “Make sure Murn makes it, he’ll be the slowest in this situation.”
“Of course, I’ll see you at the bottom safe and sound,” Liarie replied and left Bryce’s side.
The roaring engine grew ever louder before reaching an abrupt crescendo as the airship passed overhead sending the canopy to jostle and shift in every direction from the intense winds.
They predicted our exit far too accurately. He took a deep breath and pushed onward, his muscles straining between the quick pace and having to carry his heavy pack.
The engine began to lower in tone as the airship shifted positions. Between the canopy, Bryce noticed it turning back towards them and a plume of smoke billowing out for its side. “Incoming!” He yelled
A salvo of gunfire and heavy shells tore through the canopy towards the forest floor below. Trees cracked and began a slow tilted tumble, branches shattering as leaves flutter in every direction. The undergrowth below were ripped to shreds with rocks and fallen branches acting as shrapnel. Sparks from the explosives caught onto the dry, dead leaves along the floor creating fires that threatened to grow larger. The pockets of snow along the path melted under the heavy heat of the firepower, and the water added to the muddy terrain of the descending hill.
Skidding through a patch of mud, Bryce bumped into the side of a fallen tree. He used it for support as he watched the airship overhead continue past them. The ship’s engines roared as a powerful gust of wind followed in the wake of the ship causing an upheaval throughout the canopy. An assortment of animals scurried in every direction to escape the noise and fire.
“Can’t we do something when they come for another pass?” Vonna asked, coming to a halt besides Bryce.
“If we had bigger guns then sure,” he replied. Turning, Bryce spotted Zel coming up to join them with Murn further back and Liarie by his side. “Let’s keep moving, we can’t slow down now!” he called and climbed over the tree to land in more mud on the other side, his boots giving him the necessary stability to stay upright. The pack he carried helped further with his balance as the descent of the hill threatened to take him in a neverending tumble down. Roots, shrubbery, and tendrils seemed to all grab at his boots in an attempt to trip him as he passed.
A loud howl of gears and shifting plates filled the air along with the disjointed kick of an engine pumping out a fresh torrent of power. He looked to the sound and caught a glimpse of the airship turning on its bow before straightening out to head for them once more. Smoke billowed out from its sides as flashes of fire danced across the front. More explosions sounded all around him.
He reached a hand out and slowed in his descent slightly. Bryce’s focus turned to the shells landing all around, searching for any that would come too close. With a wave of his hand, a shell that had broken through the canopy suddenly twisted at an odd angle to crash off to the side with no harm.
The force of wind from the passing airship caused his coat to billow all around Bryce. Loosening his grip on the magic, he turned and saw Murn and Liarie coming up to him.
Liarie pointed forward, “The forest ends soon! I can see Vonna and Zel nearly upon it!”
Turning, Bryce spotted the other two having already gone ahead starting to reach more level terrain. “Hopefully the rest of our companions are still waiting for us.” Bryce continued down the rough terrain, skidding through mud and bounding over fallen trees. Sparks of flame danced all around, chasing animals from their homes. The howl of metal and gears sounded once more as the airship began another turn.
Trees became more scattered as Bryce reached the evened terrain. Several streams snaked their way from the melting snow along the hill to end in growing puddles and muddy pits in the dull grass. He ran straight through the mess of holes and dips toward Vonna and Zel, who had slowed down.
“It’s here for another pass, Lead!” Vonna called out.
Crouching down, Zel aimed his rifle at the oncoming airship soaring down the hill towards them and pulled the trigger. “Come on!” He released the empty casing and slammed the bolt back to fire another shot.
“You aren’t going to hit it, you idiot! It’s too high!”
“I know, but I rather go out fighting then die like a coward!” Zel yelled back and fired a third shot.
Bryce reached them and twisted on his heel to face the airship. The ship’s bow turned up as it leveled out its descent, and smoke and fire appeared along its surface. He extended his hands and reached out for the closest shells. Warmth filled his veins as he brushed the oncoming fire to the side, guiding them with their momentum to a safe distance away. He watched the airship fly overhead, more gears shifting as it began to slow. His eyes darted about for more cover, the fewer trees at the base of the hill providing little in protection. I can’t keep stopping these barrages, a shell is going to get through.
“Lead, we need to move fast,” Vonna stated.
Zel lowered his rifle and looked all around. “That last barrage tore down what few trees were left, we got no cover! Lead!”
An abrupt release of built up pressure in the distance shook the ground at their feet. Bryce felt relief wash through him as his tension released. “We’re fine.” He reassured them.
“We’re fine? Ho-” Zel’s eyes widened with surprise before turning to glee.
Rising up from behind a slope in the land were a pair of glistening white and blue projectiles with a trail of smoke following them.
The airship began to twist more, flares shooting off from its stern with a low bass of popping canisters. The engine roared to new heights of power, causing those on the ground to feel their bodies shake with the vibrations.
The first projectile entered the plumes of flares, continuing onward before corkscrewing to the side and exploding where the airship had been before. The wave of energy blew the fluttering white flares in every direction.
The second projectile pierced through the smoke of the first to chase down the airship, making contact on the rear.
The roaring engine abruptly halted with a screech, as the left wing began to bend unnaturally. The airship twisted at the whim of its damaged wing toward the sloped hill where the projectiles had originated. The helium balloon built within the body of the airship began to expand in a weak attempt to gain altitude. Several cannons fired off another barrage towards the hill in defiance.
Another pair of projectiles launched from the hill, heading for the limping airship.
Tracer fire lit up the air between the ship and the projectiles. A buzz of machine guns.
The projectiles drew closer to the airship with each passing second. Their bodies became littered with bullet holes before exploding just meters from the airship. The shockwave tore the left wing off the rest of the way as holes appeared all along the balloon from shrapnel.
The airship limped along a bit further, maintaining its height before it began a slow, inevitable descent with the helium escaping the balloon and fires catching onto more spinning rotors.
“Well.” Zel straightened himself and looked over to Bryce. “Hendrick did end up coming through!”
Bryce adjusted his coat and pulled the tail of hair back beneath the collar. “Of course.”
“We shouldn’t waste time standing around!” Liarie snapped, coming up to join them by the tree, Murn bringing up the rear to stand patiently. “That Luncal ship will surely have survivors and maybe even a soul!”
Another snap echoed across the land as a chunk of the slow, crashing ship broke off to plummet down into the ground below.
Is it possible that a soul strong enough to power a ship just landed in my lap? Yen must surely be forgiving this day. With a deep breath, Bryce began to march through the mud and grass, heading for the drier fields waiting just beyond. Patches of fire where pieces of the ship had already crashed helping to light up the path that he had to head towards. “Our companions will surely be there, let’s make sure we don’t keep them waiting.”
“More running?” Zel asked.
Vonna placed a hand on Zel’s shoulder, “Yes, more running. Do we need Murn to carry you?”
Zel caught the faceless stare of Murn before he passed by in pursuit of Bryce. “No, no. I think I’m good.”
Bryce left the muddy terrain behind and entered a rhythmic pace through the field of grass. Long blades weaved around his heavy boots. He maintained his breathing even as he drew closer to the wreckage, any fear of danger kept at the back of his mind. Instead, he focused on the reunion with the rest of his company.
Nearing the crashed ship, the smell of smoke grew thicker as the heat of nearby fires brought brief warmth to his chilled skin. The cool air had little effect in fighting back the heat. Slowing his pace, Bryce unholstered his dual shot pistol and brought a steady warmth to his free left hand. He scanned the wreckage that was starting to surround him with each passing step. Twisted beams, bent metal platforms, splintering wood, crates with contents spilled out, unmoving bodies. Everything was scattered with no rhyme or reason, fires eager to cover it all.
A gunshot caught his attention the sound coming from deeper within the wreckage.
Spotting a large enough gap between two metal sheets, he made his way through. Taking each turn with caution his pistol always raised and at the ready.
Around another corner he spotted the blue-coated individual. The thick-mustached man had a rifle in hand aimed at a feathered-cap soldier who was begging with soundless words. With a pull of the trigger, the soldier collapsed.
The bolt pulled back; the man reloaded the rifle. With a click, he looked up with a knowing nod to Bryce, “Lead, it’s great to see you’re back. Where is Zel?”
“I’ve sent him with the other three around the perimeter to make sure no Luncal escape. Where is the rest of the company, Dunkir?”
Dunkir wiped at his large nose before turning around. “They’re back this way, trying to find the soul.” He led Bryce through more gaps in the mess of wreckage. The short, broad-shouldered Dunkir seemingly having no issues in climbing over obstacles and squeezing between tighter spaces. His rifle kept in his thick-gloved hands, finger resting along the trigger guard, ready. Armor plates were sewn into his uniform only furthering his bulky appearance.
Up ahead the fires began to lessen, green sparks of light drifted in the air coming and going at random. The ship’s soul still lingers?
“I found their chief!” A voice rung out along the walls.
Rounding the corner Bryce saw three more figures searching about a large clearing. The one that was closes looked up at Dunkir and Bryce, her eyes lighting up with excitement. “Lead!” She dropped a piece of wreckage she had been investigating to salute with fist over her heart and her head raised. “It’s great to see you once more!” Her helmet shifting slightly to reveal the sandy-blonde hair beneath.
“At ease, Herra.” Bryce replied, meeting her light-brown glistening eyes. “You said you found the chief?”
“Yes!” She beamed a smile and quickly bent down to the wooden chunk she had been moving before.
Bryce grimaced in disappointment at the Luncal officer with a thick piece of metal through his heart. The Luncal’s darker, ridged skin covered in blood.
“Unfortunately, he’s dead as you can see,” Herra shook her head slowly. “But not all is lost, after all the aura is still up.” She reached out to one of the green sparks floating in the air. The light dissipated at the touch of her fingers. “He must have never reached the soul in time.”
“For once the fortune of Yen shines upon us. Best we hurry before the soul departs.” Bryce replied before moving past her towards the other two figures near the center of the clearing.
The pale boys huddled over a twisted and mangled ship console both stood in unison to give a salute to the approaching Lead.
“Welcome back,” the first said.
“Lead,” the second finished.
“Darke, Riel, can you salvage the soul?” Bryce asked, studying the twins. Between their grey eyes and pale skin, they gave off an ethereal presence that no normal born human could have. Both of them wore a violet uniform with a white band running down from one shoulder. Darke had it on his left and Riel on his right shoulder. Darke’s hair was left unkempt and spiky while Riel had his hair combed with a band braided behind his right ear.
“Did you find Guidance?” Darke asked.
“Sort of?” Riel asked with a tilt of his head.
“Quit asking such pointless questions, ghosts,” Dunkir grumbled and crossed his arms.
Both boys glared at Dunkir in unison before turning back to one another.
“Best to ignore the short tempered one,” Darke whispered.
“Agreed, it is a waste of time,” Riel replied.
Dunkir took a step forward, “What was that?” he hissed.
“Enough!” Bryce cut in and gave both sides a glare. “Dunkir, go with Herra and make sure there aren’t any more Luncal stragglers lying about.”
“Yes, sir,” Dunkir grumbled and stomped off. He muttered a curse to Herra along the way, the girl nodding enthusiastically as she rushed ahead. Both of them heading off past a large piece of sheet metal stabbed into the ground.
“Now then.” Bryce turned his attention back to the pair. “Is the soul salvageable?”
Riel reached a thin, fingered hand to place it at the center of the banged-up console. “Yes, the soul of this airship is intact.
Darke placed his hands behind his back and began to pace around the area, eyes studying the various particles of green light floating through the air. “The soul is weak.”
“Can it still be used?” Bryce stepped closer to the console. The controls began to glow a white shine at their edges.
“The soul is not pristine,” Darke replied.
“But it is worth harvesting,” Riel finished.
He chuckled. “I mustn’t complain about the gift not being as perfect as I’d hoped. A gift. Now get on with it.” Bryce took hold of the edges of the console and nodded his head to Riel.
Riel returned the nod and closed his eyes. The console lit up further, the white illumination growing in power.
The cool touch of the console quickly heated up as Bryce wanted to pull back. He grit his teeth and squeezed harder. The glow of the console threatened to blind him as even with his eyes closed, he could feel its searing touch. His heart rate increased as the heat moved up his arms and traveled through his body. Whispers of intelligible voices sounded from every direction like hammers to his head.
Abruptly the light dissipated and along with it the intense heat.
Curse it, I’ll never get used to that! Opening his eyes, Bryce saw the console had been ripped open along the top. Riel on the other side stepping back with a shiver, skin paler than normal. “Are you okay?” Bryce asked.
“Of course he is.”
Bryce turned at the voice of Darke to see the twin weaving tendrils of blue light through the air. The tendrils extinguishing any flames that had gotten to close.
“It has been some time since we’ve had to harvest such a soul.” Darke reached a hand up to catch a remaining green spark, the majority having drifted to the ground to vanish.
“Are you sure?” Bryce looked back at Riel to see the boy let forth a hacking cough before straightening.
“Yes, we’re fine. The burden is not too much,” Riel replied.
Bryce nodded with a grimace and stepped off the platform, “Let’s get moving.”
“Excellent.” Darke said and waved his hand towards an opening. Flames at the edges of the path were blown out of the way by a sudden gust of wind. The boy then bowed slightly as Bryce passed.
Bodies and debris slowly shifted out of Bryce’s way as he moved forward. The dissipating flames and smoke gave light to the shortest route out of the wreckage. Warmth tingled at his fingertips, the feeling of the ship’s soul keeping him on edge. The fires creeping along the sides only furthered his growing discomfort. Whispers of cool air ahead urged him onward as he quickened his steps.
Emerging from the depths of the dead airship, Bryce was met with a gust of wind from the plains. The clear air brought a sigh of relief from him as he closed his eyes to enjoy the breeze against his face for the moment.
“How fare thee?” a soft, feminine voice spoke.
Bryce looked down to see a woman kneeling in the grass with her hands pressed to the soil. Her long locks of pale green hair fell past her slim shoulders, a pair of black-tipped, furred ears sticking out. Small wisps of green and yellow lights moved around her before dissipating as she released her grip upon the ground. She stood in a smooth motion to end just below his shoulders. The yellow dress flowing around her legs with a long, white-tipped tail hanging down. Her fair skin seemed to glow under the sun’s rays.
“I am well, Quil.”
“That is excellent to hear,” Quil replied and offered her arm to him.
“You know what my opinion is.”
Quil waved her hand with a gentle laugh. “I am not a familiar to you.”
“I still don’t think it is wise.”
“You are merely escorting a fair lady. Let any who see think what they please, Bryce.”
“A fair point,” Bryce gave in and took up her arm in the crook of his. How long do I have to appease her, Liarie? She intentionally tries to get under my skin.
“See? There is no consequence for our action.” Quil replied and relaxed her hand upon his arm. “Those that have joined us this day are just around the bend. I will reunite them with you once more.” The pair began to walk with Quil leading.
Bryce looked back to see the twins had already gone.
“You know how ghosts are.” Quil said.
“Of course,” Bryce nodded. The fires to his right continued on, occasional flickering out but never coming any closer. The acidic smell of the smoke was being blown away from him by the wind, the peace of fresh air once more easing his mind.
“I should like to ask how fared the journey through the mountains.” She ran her delicate fingers along the sleeve of his arm to interlock with his bulky gloved hands.
A slight tingle of warmth went up his arm. Why must she always be so intrusive?
She gently squeezed his hand and looked up at his stern gaze. “Guidance did not give what you desire.”
“Perceptive as always, Quil.” Bryce looked away, trying his best to ignore her wide, yellow eyes so eager for knowledge.
“Why did Guidance hurt you?”
“He said that I had come seeking him myself and not for the Union.”
“Guidance’s statement rings true.” She released her fingers from his and took light steps ahead, the grass seemed to lift as her hooves passed by. “Yet why would thee ignore one another?”
Bryce watched her movements, entranced by how the hem of her dress danced above the tips of grass. “I did not ignore him.”
“Oh?” she twisted around to stop before him. “Guidance saw into your heart. I’m sure of it.” She reached her own hand out to place it over his heart. “He saw your motives, the same reason why we’re all here. Yet you must be conflicted still.” She looked up quizzically. “Why is that, I wonder?”
The same tingling began to creep into his heart before he took a hold of her wrist and pulled her hand away. “You’re being—.”
“Yes!” Bryce barked.
“I must be.” She turned and walked to a nearby metal rod embedded in the ground. “If my sister and I are to help you…” Quil trailed her hand along the rod, rust running behind her fingertips. “You haven’t forgotten, have you?”
“No.” Bryce grumbled and looked downcast as dark thoughts drifted through his mind before he regained his composure.
“Then you know we must acquire the aid of a Guidance. We finally tracked one down and all the efforts were squandered.”
“And more magic, and soldiers, and supplies, and a slew of information that we must find!” He snapped.
She winced at his sharp tone. The metal rod now completely rusted over crumbled to the ground.
“Sorry, it’s just.” He rubbed at his forehead. “We’re wasting so much time.”
Quil watched a few flowers grow from the remains of the rod. The yellow petals blooming brilliantly. “You and my sister have chosen the rockiest and longest of paths. Rushing it will surely break a bone or worse.” She turned and offered her hand to his. “But you know that. Let me speak on things you are unaware of.”
“Please,” Bryce felt her arm wrap around his once more and they began walking together once more. This time Quil matching his pace and maintaining a relaxed step. They began to move up a slight incline where the bow of the airship had ended. The ground was torn apart where the tip of the airship had made contact. A group of trees lay strewn about along the gradual hill, their roots and branches sticking out at odd angles. Fires crept along the hillside seeking to burn it all with the only thing stopping it was the direction of the wind blowing the fire back towards the main body of the wreckage.
“While you were gone, we followed your orders to wait in the plains until your return. In that time Dunkir began the training of the three new recruits: Roy, Chapman, and Earl.”
“Any promise with them?” Bryce paused near the top of the incline to look out at the expanse of destruction. The dull, green of the plains always in turmoil to regrow their brilliance now scarred with yet another blemish. A new crater of fire and steel that will soon turn to a charred mess to remain as a constant taint for years to come. Similar craters and wreckage littered the landscape from his vantage point. A discarded tank here or a crater where a bomb had gone off. The only reason any plants could survive was because the main battle line of trenches were further away, the constant shelling unable to reach this distant field.
“Maybe, but I would advise you speak with Hendrick himself to retrieve the most accurate report.” Quil studied Bryce waiting for a reply before following his eyes to the land beyond. “Amazing how nature reclaims all eventually.”
Bryce spotted a crashed plane, its design from previous models years ago with a flimsier rudder and rigid wing design compared to the sleeker appearance of the newer models. Moss covered much of the plane’s rusted body, flowers growing along the top. “I wonder how long nature can keep up when we continue to throw junk on its soil.”
“Mother Coronam will persevere with the air of Yen and Vark, I am sure of it.” Quil gently pulled at his arm. “Shall we continue?”
“Yes,” Bryce turned from the sight to resume the climb up the gradual hill. “What about Hendrick and Theodore? Where are they?” He spotted ahead a single tree growing at the top of the hill, its branches twisting and weaving together to create a web of complexity.
“They stand with the three new recruits guarding the weaponry used to take down the airship.” Quil pressed closer to Bryce and spoke with a hush tone. “And they’re with Lead Gilford.”
“That man came out here?” His free hand tightened into a fist.
Quil ran her hands along Bryce’s arm again, entangling herself further. “A mention of his name seeps under your skin too easily. You mustn’t let that happen, less you fall into the same trap you humans take joy in.”
“It’s hard to when Gilford is part of the reason why we’re in our current rut.”
“That he may be, but your perseverance has garnered attention from an acolyte. A warmachine is being built in your name.”
“What did you do, Quil?”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Why is an acolyte suddenly interested in building a warmachine for us? Which one is it?”
Bryce stopped in his treks with a heavy sigh. “Of all the acolytes… He’ll want something from me. Why did you have to ask for help from him?”
Keeping a grip on Bryce’s arm, Quil stepped closer to get a good look of his disappointment. “It is unwise to ignore all the lessons given to us by Yen.”
“And which one is that?” He asked, meeting her yellow gaze.
“A gift can be neither good nor bad. Only how you perceive it.” Quil gave a bright smile.
“Did you think of the ramifications of asking for help from Randalk? That’s why Gilford is here to do Randalk’s bidding, isn’t it? Why did you not let Hendrick stick to the original plan?”
Quil waved her hand, “A plan such as yours is a simple trick that would have failed if Luncal’sha had an esper aboard. My plan crashed their machine and garnered us a soul.”
“You assumed it would have failed.” Bryce’s face reddened as he stifled his anger, “Better to live free then in debt to another.”
“Another fine lesson from Yen. However, risks must be taken on occasion.” Quil gave another gentle laugh. “The past is the past, look to the future now, a gift such as this will move you much closer to achieving goals that will garner the attention of even greater figures.”
“You always try to see the positive.” Bryce returned her smile with his own thin, forced version.
“Naturally. Now then, sister is waiting beneath the tree. I doubt she wishes to wait any longer.” Quil turned and began to pull Bryce along. “After all, there is much to do.”
Ahead, Bryce studied the tree, looking for someone. There in the shade he spotted the fey.
Quil quickened her pace up the hill, the dress billowing around her swift moving legs. “Liarie! Do you fare well?”
Liarie stood up and walked out from the cover of the shade. “Of course,” she raised her right hand and placed it against Quil who offered up her own right hand. Their fingertips reddened slightly at a surge of warmth that went between the sisters. Just as the connection was made it was stopped and the pair exchanged knowing smiles before turning to Bryce coming up to the top of the hill.
“Did you find the soul within the wreckage?” Liarie asked.
“Yes, the twins have it,” Bryce replied.
“Is it strong enough?”
“It needs some work,” Quil nodded and walked toward the tree to begin to circle around it with a slow, meandering step. “Given time though, it will power the machine.”
“Machine?” Liarie followed her sister’s step with her own eyes. “We’ve gotten one? From whom?”
“Acolyte Randalk,” Bryce muttered and walked to the crest of the hill to look out upon the land. The view from before was even grander with the outskirts of the forest they had come from visible. The mountains beyond towered high above, their peaks obscured by the clouds high above.
Liarie lowered her head and crossed her arms. “That’s troubling. What is that old man up to?”
“He plots no different than our own, Lead.” Quil stopped in her circling to reach out to a low-hanging branch. A grouping of woven branches untangled themselves from her touch to reveal a pink, oval shaped fruit within. She took it into her hand with care, inspecting its smooth surface for any imperfections. “What is important is we have garnered the attention of an acolyte and thus gained a valuable asset.”
“Yes, it’s just…” Liarie rubbed at her arms at an invisible chill. “I hope this wasn’t your idea, sister. Being in favor of an acolyte of all things…”
“You always worry yourself.”
“Sister—” Liarie began.
“It’s done, let’s change the topic for now.” Bryce cut in and turned from the scene to see Quil holding three of the pink fruits within her hands. “They’re in season?”
“With enough nutrients a weaver tree can always be in blossom and have plenty of its jewels to share.” Quil walked with light feet towards Bryce and Liarie. “An excellent snack to prepare our minds for the upcoming ordeals.”
Liarie stood with crossed arms, studying the fruit from a distance.
Taking a fruit, Bryce looked over the small pink shape. “It amazes me how it’s always cold to the touch.”
Looking to Bryce, Liarie huffed and took the offered fruit to her. Biting into it, her thin tail swished to the side as her ears perked up, “It’s delicious!”
“A sign that it is filled with its rejuvenating juices.” Quil smiled and took a bite of her own.
Bryce followed the example of the other two. Instantly he felt his taste buds tingle awake after having been deafened by the acidic smoke of the fires. The sweet taste brought an instant warmth of pure satisfaction to his heart.
“You like it Bryce?” Liarie asked with a raised brow as she leaned closer to Bryce.
“He most definitely does, after all it is far too rare that he is disappointed in our ideas, right sister?” Quil asked with a bemused tone.
“As of late I fear I must disagree,” Liarie replied.
“What do you refer too? The failure to gain the support of Guidance?”
Liarie glared at Quil. “I speak of this acolyte business.”
“Must I convince you of every action I take?” Quil asked.
Bryce placed his hand on Liarie’s shoulder giving her pause. “I think we should save this conversation for another time.”
“A fantastic idea.” Quil looked out to the wreckage.
“Fine, we have to return to the others soon anyways, don’t we?” Liarie asked, breaking from Bryce’s grip to step to the crest of the hill. “Back to the reality of this war. How easy it is to forget it in the moment even when it is so close.”
“We must return, in service to Yen and Vark.” Quil urged Bryce to follow where she was pointing towards the edge of the fires where a group of soldiers were meeting up. “The others await, shall we depart, Lead?”
Bryce felt another tingle at his heart. Fear, remorse, and excitement swelled within him. “Yes, let’s get back to camp and plan for our next step.”