PERPETUAL WAR ARC TWO: CHAPTER Six – Eve Before Battle

Bryce and his company are soon to carry out the orders of the acolyte. It is within the trenches that they will be tested once more as a company. Just as important as the battle itself is, the eve before can decide the entire fight. A plan within a plan.

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Magically infused blood is an important tool for espers. Without it they are no different than anyone else. Every esper thrives off it and uses it to cast their magic. This basic trait of every esper mixed with the ideologies of each nation has led to many curious applications for replenishing this valuable tool. Derdainia relies on the obvious choice of opening a wound through a shattered vial to feed in distilled blood. Yenvark went with a powdery dust to mix with water to drink giving a slower but cleaner feed of magic. Ashakuriya rely on needles for a direct means of ejection of blood. And Swenork uses a patch to feed in blood in intervals. The importance of distilled blood in the midst of combat can never be understated and these unique solutions further characterize how these nations operate.

-Ondel Huvez of House Zelterion, Espers of Coronam

The dirt road leading out of the valley was crowded with trucks filled to the brim with supplies. Crates full of ammunition, food, fuel, and other various supplies. The dust kicked up by the caravan drifted on the wind to blow across the plains to the west. The path itself snaked its way between the hills of the grassy fields before it began a gradual turn towards the southwest where the distant Glodoran trench line was located. The sun high above impacted the land with its bright rays, the heat abated by the constant winds and the chill that seemed to still linger from the morning. The clouds that drifted off from the mountains drew ever closer with thunder and promises of colder nights.

With the light of day, Bryce saw from his vantage point atop the hill much of what was happening beneath him. His own company was gearing up to move as well as the other two larger companies. The workers not related to any of the three companies were busy preparing the last of the supply trucks for departure before getting the camp ready for more later in the night. The whole area was part of a long supply route to the central part of the Glodoran line. The anti-air batteries protecting the camp were built into the hillsides themselves as a means to thwart any aerial units from getting too close with pillboxes dug into the ground further out to push back any land attacks that could come from the less defended Bosakil Mountains. In the opposite direction of those mountains, the Glodoran plains stretched on seemingly forward, at the very edge a single peak rose up in defiance to the sky. The Primordial Tower, its shape nearly obstructed entirely by the dark clouds drifting around it.

Bryce loosened the wooden charm from its place to run a finger over its smooth surface. His finger stopping to pressed down on the etching at the center, a symbol of Yenvark. The anniversary is coming up soon. He looked away from the Tower back to the distant north in the direction of his home. Almost ten years since that horrible time. Have you made a life for yourself yet? He hid the charm again at the sound of footsteps approaching. I need to pay a visit soon, but when?

“What could the keen mind of Bryce be burning over now?”

“Just admiring the sights.” Bryce turned to see Brashmar making his way up the hillside. “You should try it sometimes instead of being so caught up with military life, Brashmar.”

Brashmar’s thick brown mustache rose slightly as he gave a bright smile. “And maybe you should busy yourself with your company more instead of getting caught up with so much adventure.” The man finished the climb up the hill before straightening his towering figure. “I suppose, though, boys like you are fond of such things.” He gave a salute with fist over heart.

He returned the salute with a smile. “Just have to keep things lively. Sitting around all day would surely make my mind go dull.”

“Sounds like more silly nonsense from those two fey you keep around.” Brashmar replied and stepped out to take a look at the sight of the caravan and expansive terrain beyond. “What am I supposed to look at here Bryce? A bunch of grass and trucks? I got enough of that bloody nonsense down in the camp.”

“Turn your gaze to the distant sights such as the tower.” Bryce replied.

“Yea, what about the blasted thing?”

He placed a hand on Brashmar’s shoulder and waved his other out in a presenting matter. “And now take it all in at once. A perspective you can’t normally get anywhere else but from up high.”

Brashmar shook Bryce’s hand off and crossed his arms. “Just more grass with a blighted peak of darkness at the edge. Nothing particularly impressive.”

“I suppose we just have two different views of things.” Bryce shrugged and ran a hand through his hair, “Regardless, what got you to walk up here, Brashmar?”

“To talk about last night’s meeting. You didn’t stick around long.”

“What’s there to talk about?” Bryce began a slow walk down the side of the hill. His eyes setting on where his company were starting to finish packing up their supplies. “I had no intention in joining a suicide mission, but it seems I got stuck in it anyways.”

“A suicide mission?” Turning at the crunching of grass, Brashmar hurried a step to match Bryce, “Seriously? There is a great chance of success and you’ll get an opportunity to impress the Archbishop.”

“I don’t have the numbers to spare on such a risky plan. As it is, what’s the point of it all? It won’t break the line.”

“I must agree you are right, it undoubtedly will not break the line. But it’ll put more hurt on the Imperials after the Leviathan bombards them.”

“Then the Imperials repair the damage and we’re back right where we are.” Bryce slowed further as the hill grew steeper. A breeze sent the blades of grass dancing to and fro around his leather boots. “When I see the Observer vocalize his support to a plan made by one of the Bishops or the Archbishop himself then I’ll consider charging willingly across the dead lands again.”

Brashmar Stretched his arms briefly and stomped his feet down as the breeze passed. His larger frame making it difficult for him to balance. “You’re waiting on Lépurc?” He let forth a chuckle before cutting short as another breeze passed. “You may as well hang up your saber now. You’ll never get the chance to spill blood again.”

“If so, then it is what it is.” Bryce reached the bottom of the hill and began to walk along the outskirts of the camp. Several men and women with a scattering of nonhumans worked along the edge, unpacking or packing up their supplies depending on which unit they were in. Several trucks were entering the camp signifying the start of the arrival of the next caravan due for the front. More trucks destined to twinkle in over the course of the next six hours.

“I swear, Bryce. We both started at the same time as Leads. You’re going to fall behind as a company and eventually get challenged if you keep up this stubbornness of yours.”

He paused and turned to face Brashmar, “I’ve chosen my path. Now then, is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”

“I suppose there is nothing else.”

Bryce nodded and looked off to the side in the direction across the stream where Gilford’s company were preparing to move out. “If I was you, I’d stay back from this plan. It’s unfortunate I don’t have a choice; I’m stuck with these undependable companies heading off on this mission.”

“You’re scorn for Gilford is impressive!” Brashmar chuckled and slapped Bryce’s shoulder and drew nearer. “I’d keep your thoughts low though, Gilford is moving up fast, might even be an acolyte by the new year.” He said in a hushed tone.

Rubbing his shoulder, Bryce turned to leave. “What I said still stands. I need to return to my company, however maybe we can share a drink once we arrive at the front.”

“An excellent plan!” Brashmar laughed.

Heading past various tents and makeshift wooden structures, Bryce made his way through the camp towards where his company waited. He kept his hand resting on the hilt of his saber and back straight to give off a commanding look for anyone glancing his way. His mind though was elsewhere.

He tightened his grip on the hilt. Me, falling behind? Bryce turned down another path and began to slow in his step. Nearing the outskirts of the encampment he was not as surrounded by the activity of the soldiers and workers. And for him to trust Gilford? He’s crazy after what that man did to rise up the ranks. Abandoning position for glory, how absurd for the acolytes to look at him favorably.

“Thinking terrible thoughts of your fellow Leads I assume?”

Bryce felt his frustration wash away in an instant as he met Liarie’s green eyes. He relaxed the grip on his saber, “You could say that.”

She smiled and stepped closer to him to talk in a lower tone, “Best to keep them to yourself now that we’re going back to the front.”

“I know.”

“And our time together last night…”

“Will remain short-lived for now,” He stepped past her to continue to head towards the others.

She gave a simple nod and turned to keep up with him on his side. “Did Brashmar say anything besides words to disrupt your thoughts?”

“You mean anything useful?”

“Correct.”

“Not particularly, just trying to be friendly and give me a warning.” Bryce stopped before the clearing in the camp where his company’s tents had been before. In its place most of them now stood around the burnt-out fire pit, talking and waiting to move.

“A warning we should heed as we move forward,” She whispered and stepped ahead of him to wave for the attention of Hendrick.

Separating from the group, Hendrick jogged over to the pair to stop short and give a quick salute with hand over heart. “Yes, Lady Majes?”

“Is everyone prepared to move?”

“They are…” Hendrick rubbed at his chin, “Though I haven’t seen the twins nor Quil.”

“Correct, I’ve already sent my sister elsewhere with them to secure the soul in a safe place.”

“Then we’re ready whenever, just say the word and we can board the trucks and be off.”

Liarie looked back to Bryce. “Anything to add before we set off?”

“No, get everyone loaded up, Hendrick,” Bryce said and watched the man turn without another word. “I assume the soul is being taken to our haven?”

“Where else would Quil hide it?” Liarie said before heading off towards the others.

“I suppose there really is nowhere else,” he replied and followed behind her at a slower step.

The pair of trucks were covered in mud, the beige paint peeling away to reveal rust. The front had a high roof that gave of a hunched appearance due to the back sloping slightly downward. Each truck was being filled by supplies from the soldiers before they began to climb in. Hendrick, standing to the side, watched the whole display with Dunkir, the pair talking before turning their attention to Liarie.

“Why are we heading to the trenches again? They’re a waste of time, Lady Majes, and you know it.” Dunkir grumbled.

“You may think it a waste, but the Lead has decided that we need to head in that direction.”

“For what?”

“To help the other Leads and play our role.” Bryce stepped into the circle with hands resting on his hips.

Dunkir gave a salute before he continued, “Sorry, Lead. I’m just not seeing the point.”

“Fortunately, you don’t have to,” Hendrick said.

Bryce raised a hand before Dunkir could reply to Hendrick. “Trust me, I prefer we didn’t have to head in that direction. But that’s where the Union needs help the most. We can’t ignore the call every time it is put out.”

“There are other fronts…” Dunkir crossed his arms. “Fronts that actually move.”

“You’re right, but I’ve chosen this one. If you wish to join another company, you are welcome to, Dunkir,” Bryce replied.

The man raised a brow of surprise.

Liarie looked to Bryce with her own surprise before turning to Dunkir. “I’m sorry, Dunkir. Please understand that the Lead has his reasons.”

With a grumble, Dunkir stormed off not caring to reply further.

“I swear I hope that man keeps unleashing his temper on the enemy and not us,” Hendrick said.

“Why’d you apologize, Liarie?” Bryce asked.

Liarie shifted on her hoofs, ears twitching. “I don’t think you should be trying to force anyone away right now. We can’t afford it.”

“We don’t need anyone who’s bloodthirsty.”

“He can be calmed when combat is near. And eventually we will need him when we join a battle.”

“She’s right, Lead. I don’t think it’d be good to lose Dunkir.” Hendrick punched the palm of his hand. “Man’s got quite the strength and I’m not just talking about brute force, but the strength to get things done. Not everyone in the company can do that.”

Bryce sighed. “Fine, but I’m trusting you to keep tabs on him, Hendrick.”

“That’s easy enough!” Hendrick clasped his hands, “Now then, I think the trucks are just about loaded. I have Zel driving one, and I’ll be driving the other. Preference on where you two sit?”

“I’ll rest in the back with the others. Bryce, you should take this opportunity to get Hendrick caught up on what happened in the Bosakil Mountains,” Liarie said.

“I suppose that would be a good idea,” Bryce replied.

“Excellent, I’ll let Zel know to pick someone to keep him company and we can be off!” Hendrick walked off to find Zel who could be seen arguing with Vonna.

Bryce took a deep breath. “I’m not sure if I should be relieved to be done here considering where we’re heading.” He looked over to Liarie to see her eyes and ears pointed to the sky. “What do you see?”

“The Leviathan moves.”

Following her gaze, Bryce saw the magnificent pillow-like dark gray clouds moving in a singular mass high in the sky. Bursts of lightning sparked along the clouds giving way to glimpses of metal. A low hum could be felt on the air. Bryce rubbed at his arms from the chills running through him. A sickening feeling pulled at his heart strings.

Liarie’s fur stood on end as she rubbed her arms and lowered her head with a whine. “I envy those who don’t have to feel that horrid flow of magic. Its tune is deafening.”

Bryce began to reach around her to pull her close in comfort before stopping reluctantly to simply place a hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. “It’ll be gone soon.”

A burst of energy was released into the air finally drawing the attention of everyone in the camp. The loud buzz went away as soon as it arrived. The clouds at the rear of the distant leviathan blew apart to reveal propellers and rear batteries before more clouds covered them over. The camp returned to its bustling active movement, no one taking any more interest in the shifting clouds a few hundred kilometers away.

The acolytes are insane to move such a beast!

***

The small circular table sat in the corner of the room, dimly lit by a bulb hanging from the ceiling. Stains marked the table’s surface with a deck of cards at the center. Scattered around the cards were leaflets of paper and loose coins. The surrounding dark room had little in the way of decorations beyond a few empty chairs and a couple of other tables in opposite corners. The cement walls lined with cracks and stained by leaks from rainwater above. A hall led off from the room towards other parts of the bunker with a set of stairs going in a different direction towards a metal door that connected to the outside horrors.

Sitting huddled around the table were Vonna, Zel, Bryce, and Dunkir. Dunkir sat leaning back with his head against the wall, bulky hands concealing his three cards. Zel, opposite Dunkir, had his elbows on the table with keen eyes admiring Vonna to his left, a grin on his face. Vonna returned his look with an icy glare of her own, her body rigid against the back of the chair.

Bryce saw the glint of anger in Vonna’s eyes and simply returned to the letter he was busy writing. Why do I always freeze up on what to write to you, sister?

“Come on, Vonna. There’s no need to hold a grudge just ‘cause I beat you last round,” Zel said.

“Are you going to reveal the field already or raise the bid?” Vonna replied.

“No, I think we have a healthy amount in the center already.” Zel reached for the deck and discarded the top card before revealing the next three. He let forth a whistle before looking back to his own hand. “My, a sword of three and axe of three plus a magic!” He looked to Vonna, “Go on, raise the bid. I know you have a three in that hand of yours.”

Vonna simply growled and threw in a few more coins to the center of the table, the metal clinking with the other coins already there.

Dunkir grumbled a curse and tossed his cards onto the table. “I yield.”

“Already? That’s a shame.” Zel reached across the table for the three cards to slide them into the discard pile. “What about you, Lead?” Zel paused noticing the unfolded paper in Bryce’s hand. “Come on, Lead! No writing letters when we’re to be gambling!”

“I told you he wouldn’t play and yet you still threw cards at him like an idiot!”

“Lead?” Zel asked ignoring Vonna’s insult.

Bryce looked from his letter to Zel’s pleading eyes. “Vonna is right you know,” he said and took up the hand of cards he hadn’t picked up yet. Looking over the numbers and symbols he shook his head and gave them to Zel. “A terrible hand, now keep playing, I’ll join in on the next round.”

“Come on you barely looked at them!”

“Zel!” Vonna hissed, “Let him write his letter to Celine.”

“Alright, fine, fine.” Zel replied and placed the cards into the discard along with Dunkir. “Are you going to play against me alone then, Vonna?”

“I already threw in my coins, now get on with it!” Vonna said.

Zel tossed in more coins, “Excellent, let’s get a look at the flourish then.” He discarded the next card off the deck before revealing another card to add to the line of three. “Unfortunately, not another three, just an arrow of four.” Shifting through his own hand, Zel placed out a magic card in front of him. “Your reveal, Vonna.”

How should I start, sister? Bryce ran the pencil back and forth creating a small scribble in the corner of the paper as he stared at the top.

 “That’s your best?” Zel asked with a raised brow, “I really hope not.”

Bryce looked up from his disturbed thoughts to see Vonna scowling at Zel. Do these two ever not fight?

“Says the fool who laid out his best card,” Vonna said.

“Oh? Then I hope that card of yours isn’t the best or you’ll be losing this round with just a simple pair of fours.”

“You don’t think I have a three then?” Vonna asked.

“Hmm, maybe.” Zel smiled, “What’s the bid?”

“Nothing,” she replied.

“Not very confident it seems,” Zel shrugged and leaned forward to discard another card, “I suppose there is enough on the table already.”

“I swear, this game…” Dunkir muttered and dug into his pack for a knife and chunk of wood already half carved.

Zel revealed the next and final two cards. A master of hammer and veteran of shield. “Your bid, Vonna.”

“Nothing.”

“Again?” He raised a brow and turned to Bryce. “Lead? Any opinions?”

“Just enjoying the show,” Bryce replied, the letter forgotten for the moment.

“Glad you are!” Zel turned to his own pile of coins and began counting them before pausing to instead pull two leaflets of paper from beneath the stack to place at the center.

“That confident to give up more money you don’t even have?” Vonna asked

“If you are confident in winning then there is no reason not to shoot for a higher profit.”

She rolled her eyes and slid in her own leaflets to match the bid.

“Lead, I really wish you were playing right now.”

“And why’s that?”

“Well, you’d surely match the bid and make the pot much richer!”

“With the cards on the table and the hand that I had before? I think not.” Bryce chuckled.

“But, you get paid much more then us mere soldiers, there’s no reason for you to not bid!”

Bryce shook his head. “How many times have I heard that said to me?”

“Plenty of times and there’ll be more to help that ego of yours.” Zel chuckled and turned his attention to Vonna, “Well?”

She scoffed at him and revealed her two cards. “A straight with master high.”

A big grin crossed Zel’s face, “Like I said my dear, you have to shoot higher.” He revealed his own cards a quad pair of three cards. “I had the three the whole time, I didn’t need that magic card which you thought was my best, Vonna.”

Vonna scowled and looked away from his grin, “I swear sometimes I just want to punch that grin off your face.”

“It’s okay to be a sore loser, most are around me.”

Dunkir placed the knife and carving to the side to reach for the deck of cards. His thick stubby fingers moved smoothly across the cards as he began to shuffle them with ease.

“Come on, Vonna. Stop pouting. Take a note from Dunkir, he’s just relaxing ready to go another round!” Zel gathered up the other cards and slid them to Dunkir to add to the shuffle.

“You’re always too confident, Zel,” Bryce said.

“Now even the Lead is complimenting me!” Zel replied as he began to reach for the money at the center of the table.

“That wasn’t…” Bryce paused and shook his head. There’s no point. He turned at the sound of the door opening behind. The muted outside came in with a rush of noise of distant artillery firing and shouts of some soldiers working nearby before it became muted with a clank of the door shutting.

“Who’s paying us a visit?” Zel asked leaning in his chair, the money forgotten.

Bryce spotted Hendrick with smoke in hand walking into the dim light of the table. “Hendrick.”

Hendrick turned at his name and grumbled, “I know, I know.” He cursed under his breath as he snuffed the cigarette out in the sleeve of his coat, visible burnt marks across the surface.

“No need to get upset, boy. Just don’t need that smoke clogging up this coffin,” Dunkir said, his focus still on the cards held in his hands.

“We’re the same age!” Hendrick spat.

Bryce waved his hand. “What brings you inside, Hendrick?”

“Liarie asked for me to retrieve you. She wants us three to discuss the plan for tonight.”

“Plans just between you three? Without me?” Zel questioned. “I assumed Vonna and I were going to be treated special after our adventure out into the mountains.” He stood to face Hendrick. “Or at least me. After all, I can match this fool.”

“Match me?” Hendrick asked.

“You shouldn’t have taken him, Lead.” Dunkir grumbled still shuffling away.

“Maybe,” Bryce replied.

Zel placed a hand over his heart “Vark himself shines upon my actions!

“No wonder I’ve been feeling a constant dread.” Vonna leaned back in her chair with crossed arms. “As the Gods have chosen you of all people to be our guiding light.”

“You jest, Vonna, but you know it to be true!” Zel shouted.

“Is this a play to you?” Vonna asked.

Bryce stood, taking the coat off from the back of his chair to wrap it around his shoulders. “Honestly, it’s been fun, but I think on that ridiculous note I’ll be going with Hendrick for the evening.” He took the letter and folded it up to place in a coat pocket.

“Alright, fine, fine.” Zel waved his hand and sat back down a smile on his lips as his attention turned back to the money at the center of the table. “I’ll have to get your money in the future then, Lead.” He paused as he studied the pile of money closely, “Where is all of it? Dunkir, did you steal some?”

“I’ve been shuffling,” Dunkir placed the deck of cards back onto the table.

“You’ve been sitting there this whole time not moving, so surely you took the money or saw who did. Was it Vonna or our glorious leader? Which is it?”

“I was shuffling.” He gave a cold stare to Zel.

Unable to meet the cold gaze, Zel turned to Vonna. “Vonna, give me your share back!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You took your money back, I know it!”

“How do we even function as a company?” Hendrick shook his head and moved for the door.

Bryce followed Hendrick to the outside. The argument growing in heat behind him before it became silent altogether with the closing of the bunker door behind him. I can’t believe Vonna hasn’t transfered companies to get away from him.

Up a set of steps, Bryce entered a dark path that joined up with the network of trenches. A rumbling of artillery fire becoming less intermittent as night battles further down the long line of death were beginning. Hendrick led the way through dark halls of dirt with only lanterns ahead to guide their step to each turn and intersection. The only other source of light came from the silver moon that hung high in the sky, its rays piercing through gaps in the heavy clouds. The creak of wood, squish of mud, and crunch of something underfoot gave them some warning on where they should step. The path occasionally was filled with crates or soldiers sitting huddled up. A low mist hung over the network of defenses.

“That letter you were writing, is it for Celine?” Hendrick asked to break the silence.

“Yes, it’s been a while since I last wrote to her.”

Bryce paused along the path where it had opened up to reveal a short-barreled artillery piece with a crew of soldiers piling a stack of shells close to it. It won’t be much longer it seems.

“Lead.”

“Keep going.” Bryce nodded to Hendrick and the pair resumed down the path heading towards the outer most trench line.

Coming to an intersection, Bryce peered over the edge to the dead man’s land beyond, a low mist hung over the land which obscured the Imperial lines close by. Lowering his head, he followed Hendrick along the line towards a wider portion of the defense where an entrance to a bunker facing the dead lands was situated.

“Here we are,” Hendrick said.

Bryce walked towards the waiting metal door and paused as he recognized Murn’s large bodied shape sitting to the side of the entrance. Murn’s dark armor, muddied up from the trenches, helped conceal the large figure in the night.

The faceless mask turned at the sound of the Bryce’s footsteps. “We move?”

“Not yet,” Bryce replied and carried on past Murn without another word to head into the bunker, Hendrick close behind.

Bryce stood in the doorway, letting his eyes adjust to the bunker’s darkness, the only light sources coming from dimly lit bulbs along the corners. The bulbs placed in such a way as to stop any light from being seen through the thin gaps in the wall facing out to the Imperial lines.

“Finally, you’re here. Took you long enough.” Liarie’s voice sounded in the darkness.

Blinking his eyes a few times, Bryce spotted her tail flick in the darkness. He stepped forward to join her by the small windows. “I didn’t realize you were waiting for me.”

“Of course, this is the night of the attack.” She was leaning up against the wall, keen eyes looking through one of the slits towards the Imperium. “I know you’re trying to avoid it, but we must discuss it as the time to move isn’t far now.”

“I know.”

“Then let’s get to it,” Hendrick said.

Bryce looked back to see the man finding a chair by the corner to sit in. “What’s there to discuss? We cross in the morning after the initial attack to provide fresh support for wherever the Imperials are giving the most resistance.”

Hendrick reached into a pocket for a fresh cigarette to place between his lips, unlit. “Come on, Lead. Surely you have a bit more on your mind then just blindly skipping on over there?”

With a shrug, Bryce found a nearby chair and sat down. “There isn’t much to go on.”

“That’s correct, and it’s cause you refused to go to the final meeting with Gilford and Helfin,” Liarie said, pacing in the tight space before finally stopping against the wall, to lean against it.

“I told you, It’s a waste of time.” Bryce groaned and leaned forward to rest his head in his hands. “We go in as a company and stay tight. Get out as soon as we can, the same thing we do every time.”

“That same strategy won’t work forever. With Quil and the twins still on their quest, there’s just twelve of us this time.” Hendrick took the cigarette in hand, rolling it between his fingers as he focused on the tip of it.

“Hendrick, has a point, Bryce.” Liarie tapped her hoof on the cement floor, the click resonating in the tight space. “I know you’d rather go in headstrong, but not everyone can keep up with you.”

“We just won’t take everyone,” Bryce said.

“That’s your idea?” Hendrick asked.

“We’re to provide support. I don’t see a reason for us to risk the whole company.” Bryce leaned back in his chair and looked towards the thin slit peering out into the world.

“And if the operation fails, what will you do if the acolyte faults you?” Liarie asked.

“Damn it…” Bryce rubbed at his forehead, “All this trouble ‘cause of Quil.”

Liarie looked to Hendrick with a raised brow.

“Yea, he vented to me plenty in the ride here.” Hendrick brought the cigarette to his lips, mimicking the act of smoking. “Unfortunately, though, Bryce, we’re stuck with this position. I told you then and I’m saying it now.”

“We need to find Guidance, find the shards, and keep growing. Instead we’re being thrown into a suicidal operation.” Bryce tipped the chair onto its back legs and rested his head against the wall, eyes closed. “So, we take everyone then. Find the position we’re to head toward and take minimal risks. Us three with Murn will make up the front while the others take up the rear and supporting roles.”

Hendrick leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Any idea where that position will be?”

“The right flank curves inward towards the Imperial side. It’ll be the hardest to defend against their counterattack. Assuming Gilford succeeds at the very least in taking the first two rows of Imperial lines, we’ll head for the second one. The Imperial artillery will most likely aim for the outer line during the counterattack to avoid hitting their own soldiers.”

“All good so far, what else?” Hendrick pressed.

“When the plan inevitably goes bottoms up, we back off toward the central position, which curves outward, there we will cross towards the left flank where it curves further out. Using the trenches as protection, we can make a cross where our trench comes closes to theirs on the left. The Imperial artillery will be focused heaviest on the central position where our forces are most likely to panic and retreat towards due to its proximity to everything.”

“See, was that so hard, Lead?” Hendrick chuckled, “Now we have some semblance of an idea.”

“It’s the logical one, I wish I could think of something more productive then planning to retreat from the start.”

“It is productive,” Liarie added and stepped forward. “It is the perfect opportunity to give more experience to our newcomers and if we succeed then we’ll have a hundred percent survival rate. That’ll surely spread to the other companies after Gilford and Brashmar surely take heavy losses.” She began to pace again. “We should next discuss the plan on dealing with any imperial espers, as that will be our greatest threat.”

“How many have you felt on that side?” Hendrick asked.

“Even with the Leviathan’s attack prior to our arrival, the noise is almost deafening from either side trying to mask each other’s movements.” She closed her eyes and came to a standstill. “But I still make out flickers of noise of at least two espers on their side, not more than four.”

“Any you recognize?”

Liarie’s ears twitched at the sound of a lighter opening. “I made a clear connection with Orsolya Kofpen of the Gamayun sixth unit.”

“That’s not good,” Bryce muttered.

“No kidding, didn’t she actually almost catch you dead with her sniper last time, Lead?”

“Don’t remind me.” He pulled free his saber, eyes admiring the thin, elegant blade. “This time we’re in the thick of the trenches though, she won’t be as effective up close. Cut her down and we’ll do more than just train our recruits.”

Liarie caught sight of the lighter and the orange of the cigarette’s tip. “Hendrick, how many times must you spread that ash of death near me?” She hissed and marched over to snatch the cigarette from Hendrick’s lips.

“Liarie, come on!” He stood in a rush to try to grab it back.

With a sudden breeze, the light was gone, and she returned the cigarette to Hendrick. “Again and again, you spread that putrid smell near me. These trenches are horrid enough.”

“I’m sorry,” Hendrick said with a sigh of relief at having the thin stick back between his fingers. “It’s just hard to resist even in your nature-loving presence.” He settled back in his chair, fingers aching to reach for the lighter in his pocket.

“How therapeutic a hike through a forest would be for your senses,” she said.

“Maybe, or a hot bath with a nice cigar.”

“Typical…” Liarie returned to her pacing.

With the saber lowered, Bryce cut into the conversation once more, “Did you sense any other familiar espers?”

“Just one other, that esper from Bosavan.”

“Did you make a clear connection with her?”

Liarie shook her head, “No, she’s too young to sense my presence in this noise. Only Orsolya and I, touched.”

“So, potentially just one pain in our ass.” Hendrick stated.

“Assuming we even cross paths. They’ll be enough chaos tomorrow and she is just one esper amongst it all,” Bryce replied.

“All true statements,” Liarie said and turned to Bryce. “Nonetheless we should still carry a flask of dust to keep our bodies strong for excess use of magic.”

“I hate the taste of that crap.”

“Taste is trivial when compared to our survival.” Liarie shook her head, “I believe we should rest soon in preparation for tomorrow morning; however we should review the weapons back at our company one last time.

Bryce stood with a long stretch, “I suppose you’re right. Let’s make it brief.”

“So, we can get our beauty sleep and be nice and fresh for our Imperial friends.” Hendrick chuckled and walked to the door to open it for the other two. “We’re off to war once more.”

“When did we ever leave it?” Bryce replied with a shake of his head and set off into the trenches. The chill of the night air hit him along with a growing rumble of artillery all around. Stepping from the bunkers he turned towards the light of the guns from his view within the trenches, eyes following the flashes of light into the sky. “It seems the thick of the battle has begun.”

“We’ll be within it soon and before we know it back here, hopefully heading somewhere quieter,” Liarie said, rubbing at her ears in discomfort.

“I hope so,” Bryce mumbled. For all our sanity.

Posted by

Author of the on-going serial "Perpetual War"

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