The military leaders of Derdainia meet to discuss the latest conflicts in the country. A meeting that has happened time and time again, with new and old faces alike. As one conflict comes to an end another begins in the on-going war.
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Glodoran has become the largest battle of this past decade. Over fifty million causalities in total. When battles average in hundreds of thousands here or a million there, it becomes trivial when placed next to such a number. This battle all began when Yenvark Union, upon encroaching into Derdainia territory brought forth enough magic to create a crack in the mountain and revealed the existence of a Primordial Tower within. Naturally, Derdainia responded in kind by retaliating at first to the encroachment and next in trying to take control of the tower. This initial confrontation alone had two hundred thousand causalities. The news of the tower spread fast, and before long neighboring nations began to seek ways to press into Derdainia’s northern borders. Now as of my writing four major nations and three smaller nations are locked in a stand still – Derdainia to the south of the tower with Yenvark to the north. Swenork pressing in from the east along the Bosakil Mountains and Oligany coming from the northwest. To the northeast the faction known as Vlaxtawk take up refuge in the Glodoran mountains as well as pockets of remaining forest on the outskirts around the Glodan plains. In the southwest the Uleashe numerous in their numbers hold on to their corner. The last faction is that of the Morhi’can Alliance to the west. A complicated mess the battle has become, and it is destined to grow in size with rumors of Ashakuriya and Luncal making strides in entering the fray with their own war machines.
-Scholar Telorl Uvish, The Study of Great Battles
The chandelier hung high above the table, its sparkling lights lit the golden frame ablaze, and in turn chased away any shadows seeking to consume the large oval shaped room. The table that was beneath it was made of a rare, sturdy maple wood stained dark and was covered in an array of papers and documents with a map at the center. Flags and blocks stood scattered across the map to depict the location of various armies in Derdainia and the surrounding front lines that encircled the Imperium. The edges of the table were smoothed evenly all around its massive shape.
Four men and a woman stood around the table, dressed in their dark gray uniforms decorated with a variety of pins signifying past accomplishments. An insignia with three stars surrounding a sword decorated each of their collars to noting their rank as grand altálonos.
Standing back from the table was each altálonos’ personal aide, ready to serve. Around the table three, more aides walked with long sticks in hand made for reaching across the table to the center as to reposition the flags and figures to new spots.
Tall windows with maroon curtains drawn were on one side of the room. To either side, doors led out of the room that were currently shut. Portraits hung along the walls with a pair of massive horned eagle heads mounted above either door, their eyes locked across the room. The final wall was used to hang a large framed painting of the Father himself and nothing else. His blond hair seemed to have a glow to it in the light of the room and his piercing gaze was locked upon the table set out before him.
A final man sat at the table with the back of the chair facing the painting of the Father. His uniform similar to the others with the main difference in the insignia on his collar instead was a sword all by itself, the design similar to the Father’s own great sword showed in his grip in the painting behind. A heavy, furred coat hung around the elder man’s shoulders, his entire body leaning forward to rest his head on his hands that held the top of the black cane in his possession.
Veyluna stood at an angle along the table, between the windows to her left and one of the doors leading out to her right. Her own body was kept in disciplined attention, back and shoulders straight with her arms holding documents ready to be retrieved if ordered for them. A notepad atop the stack in the crook of her arm was opened to a page with words already written within, notes of various details she picked up. She watched the whole display of minds come together to discuss the Imperium’s current blight with acute attention.
At that moment her focus was on Hadeon, the grand altálonos that she was personally under. The man had a hand on the table, leaning heavily on it with his eyes focused on the map laid out in front of him. She watched him reach for his cup of coffee. He surely spiked it with alcohol, I swear he’s not the man I expected to be placed under. Too lazy and quick to turn to drinking.
“The recent reports of the East Balkyud are not very promising.” The stern voice opposite of Hadeon came from Grand Altálonos Krontelk. His glasses appeared tight on his pudgy face.
Veyluna leaned slightly forward to get a good look of Krontelk. Such a plump man, the idea that he was once a soldier on the front line is comedic.
“If we don’t do something about it before winter sets in there is a chance, we’ll lose the entire front,” Krontelk continued.
A tap of a finger on the edge of the table drew the large man’s attention to Grand Altálonos Oestreiker. “When has the eastern front ever been promising?” He slid a finger along the smooth surface of the table looking for any inconsistencies. The metal tip of the glove adding a distinctive ring as he moved his finger. “I suggest we take advantage of the Talmakians withdrawal to reposition the fifth and twenty-eighth Sereg along the Balkyud front before winter sets in.”
Veyluna winced at the metal on the table’s surface. What is with those gloves? Is it to do with him being an esper? She thought after spotting the black orb patch stitched into his uniform.
“I’d agree with that. What of the Southeastern border? Is Petrovard holding, Helmina, so that you may reposition both Sereg?” Krontelk asked, his round spectacles turning to the woman who stood to the right of Hadeon.
“As of recently? Or overall?” Helmina replied with her own questions, arms crossed.
“Why does that matter?”
“Well, overall, it’s abysmal, I’ve been suggesting we redirect supplies there for months, but you and Oestreiker made sure to put a stop to that happening.” She straightened herself more as if growing with the aggression of her words. “As of recently though, yes the lines are holding and healthy as of this morning line report from the fortress.”
Veyluna looked to her right at Helmina, a shiver running through her at the woman’s visible scowl. She looks like she’s ready to tear someone’s heart out.
“You know very well why that shipment from the city of Weshvale had to be re-routed to the border cities of the Oosatull Kingdom.”
Veyluna from her angle saw Krontelk give Oestreiker a glare at having been cut off by the man before returning a reply of his own against Helmina. Krontalk’s bald head seem to turn red as the man ground his insult before calming down with a slow breath.
“Yes, some sort of epidemic.” Helmina waved her hand and shook her head, the black curls of her hair shifting in the light. “And at the time I suggested we create an investigation into the situation as good chances the people of Oosatull are meddling with Talmakian drugs. Or worse, they’re lying to us and want free aid! Then we’d have every excuse to not have to help our poor ally for a change.”
Oestreiker cracked a knuckle in his hand as he examined over the gloves looking for anything wrong in the fabric. “It took a great deal of effort to establish the ceasefire on that border.” He cracked another knuckle, “With an entire front closed we’ve been able to turn our attentions to other areas, it should be expected for us to send the occasional gift to our allies out of good faith to maintain the peace.”
“It’ll backfire on us, this ridiculous peace with Oosatull, they’re a bunch of thieving mongrels just like Talmakia,” she sneered.
The grand altálonos between Hadeon and Oestreiker, and across from the old man who had not spoken yet finally did with a gentler, but commanding tone. “Calm yourself, Helmina, such insults fall on no one who’d disagree or be tempted to fight you on the issue of Oosatull or Talmakia. Thus, keep them bound behind the key to your mind.”
Helmina returned to a more normal pose, her arms uncrossed as her shoulders relaxed. “I understand, Lugern.”
Lugern turned his attention to Oestreiker and Krontelk behind. “Let’s stay on topic and avoid any more heat, shall we?”
Krontelk simply nodded with a huff of breath and hid his emotions with a long drink from his coffee.
“Noted,” Oestreiker replied.
He always knows what to say. Veyluna admired the older man before turning her eyes to Lugern’s assistant, a young man with black hair similar in age to her. Lucky bastard getting paired up with a legend like Lugern.
“Krontelk, your suggestion on repositioning armies to support Balkyud is of sound design, I do believe though we must take from a different location. I fear if we perform the same plan as last year, then Petrovard will surely fall during Summer as it nearly did then.”
Veyluna watched Hadeon take another sip from his coffee. Why can’t I be under Lugern? He clearly has more knowledge behind him than this slouch. She rubbed at her forehead to hide her frustration. Lugern recommended me for this position after academy school; surely, he intended for me to work for him and yet here I am.
“And what would be your recommendation?” Oestreiker inquired, cracking a third knuckle.
Lugern waved for an assistant with a long stick to step forward. Taking it, he pointed out a group of three blocks near the center of the map. “The newly reformed eighty-eighth infantry Sereg along with the mechanized thirteenth core and fourth armored Spautink have been away from the war for quite some time, this would be a golden opportunity for them to perform.”
Hadeon awakened from his stupor, “Those were assigned to support my objectives in Glodoran, there must be another place we can take troops from? What of the western borders? Have they not improved?”
“The Ulhtarn plains have and will continue to be a complete mess for the time being,” Krontelk chuckled. “No matter what we do our forces are outnumbered by the Uleashe Federation, the only saving grace for us is the encroachment of Ashakuriya Clan slicing through their rear.”
“A fair point, but if I don’t get the reinforcements required in Glodoran then we won’t have any front broken in the new year,” Hadeon continued.
Lugern ran his fingers along the smooth wood of the stick. “You needn’t worry, Hadeon. After the eastern front is helped, come spring we can reposition them back north. You should only see the positive in this, they’ll be receiving immense experience in preparation for your schemes to the north against Union.”
Hadeon crossed his arms and leaned back slightly in acknowledgment. “You have a good point, but when we discuss the situation again in Spring, I expect to get the supplies and manpower I need.”
“You will get what can be spared, Hadeon,” Helmina said, giving the man a glare. “We all are short of supplies on all fronts as we have been for years. I suggest you make plans with what you have just in case you get nothing.”
He leaned forward, returning Helmina’s glare with his own. “I am only concerned after the failures of the southeast to capture territory to fuel our war machine.”
Veyluna squeezed the documents to her chest. What is he doing, trying to start a fight with her?
Helmina’s eyes narrowed as she prepared to lash back with words of her own.
The old man raised his head slightly and let forth a light chuckle that deflated the tension in the room and drew the attention of the altálonos in the room. Clearing his throat, he looked at Hadeon with blind eyes. “Young Hadeon, you are new here, so you have much to learn. The piece of knowledge I encourage you to gain this day is to control your urge to accuse and maintain your mask. Emotions here won’t get you far. A lesson that even others in this room have trouble with sometimes, isn’t that right, Helmina?”
“Understood, Precursor.” Hadeon nodded his head and stepped back into his relaxed position, hand moving to his cup of coffee.
“Sorry, Precursor,” Helmina replied with a solemn tone.
Precursor Tanendorf, just how old is he? I wonder if he can speak to Father?” Veyluna looked into the old man’s blind eyes and felt an invisible pressure as she was forced to look away, eyes drifting to her documents in hand in an attempt to hide from the white glare. What was that feeling? She peered up to see the old man with his head down again, motionless.
“To side with Hadeon, I must admit the recent failings of this year on all fronts has put us in a precarious position.” Oestreiker moved a bang of brown hair back behind his ear from where it had gotten loose from. “We must gain a victory in Glodoran, so we may continue to strike fear in our neighbors as well as boost morale. Failure would surely force us to shrink our borders.”
Hadeon simply nodded his head in agreement before sipping from his cup in quiet contempt.
“A victory there is unlikely thanks to Swenork, Luncal’sha, and Ashakuriya all stomping their way into Glodoran,” Krontelk said.
Helmina stifled a laugh. “For once I agree with you, Krontelk. We’re better to focus on the southeastern front’ I’m confident with enough strength that I can break Talmakia by this time next year.”
“What gives you the confidence for such a bold claim, Helmina?” Lugern inquired.
She smiled, “I have formulated the plans and will have my assistant give you a copy before you leave. But, to summarize, the plan calls for the capture of a key Talmakia worship area on the border and force them to focus a large number of troops there. Through attrition we can weaken them then push into their land with the onset of Fall next year.”
“A sound plan, but where do we find the supplies to break them on their turf in the first place?” Krontelk asked, adjusting his glasses on his wide nose.
“You said it yourself, Krontelk, the western border is a mess with Ashkuriya cutting through. With such a distraction we should be able to reposition supplies to the southeastern front.”
Krontelk snorted and his face reddened. “Are you crazy? If Ashkuriya turns on us, they’d force our hand in our current state!”
Oestreiker leaned forward to study the map with a renew focus. “That is unlikely to happen based on Ashakuriya’s current movements. I believe Helmina is on to something.” He grinned and rubbed his hands together. “And if her plan succeeds and it breaks Talmakia it will also solidify our alliance with Oosatull further. The southern border for once will grow still.”
“Let us not jump so far ahead,” Lugern interrupted the growing excitement in the three altálonos. “We must study the plans that Helmina is putting forward and compare them to the situation carefully. Even if we’re right about the clan’s movements, that still ignores the current threat of the north with Luncal and Swenork moving from the Glodan and Bosakil mountain ranges.”
“And what of their movements up north?” Helmina asked, turning to Hadeon. “Have the scouts there given you any information to go on?”
“Yes, currently Luncal’sha has taken the Bosakil pass leading into the Glodan plains. Nothing of equal threat has occurred. It is still too early to conclude their current strategy in the region and the ambassador has not returned any message to the northern outposts.”
“Such a lack of information should put to rest any current discussions,” Lugern said and handed the stick back to the assistant. “I believe we should part for now and gather as much information before convening once more.
“Wise words, Grand Altálonos Lugern,” Tanendorf said with his raspy voice. He slowly raised his head and turned to each altálonos with his blind eyes. “I want each of you to study Helmina’s strategy carefully as well as Hadeon’s. Before Winter sets in we must solidify our strategy.”
“Yes, precursor,” they replied in unison.
“Good, now return to your respective chambers and get to work; the Father waits eagerly for our next victory.”
Hadeon downed the last of his coffee and left the cup for an assistant to collect. He turned and met Veyluna’s glare. “Get a copy of Helmina’s plans and meet me in the hall,” he grumbled and stomped off towards the closes exit.
Veyluna watched him go with a sour look before heading over to Helmina’s assistant who passed her a black folder filled with papers. Other men and women moved beside her to get their own copies, giving her the space to ease away from the growing conversations in the room, uninterested in joining them herself and instead focused on catching up to Hadeon.
A servant opened the door for her, and she passed through into a hallway lined with marble and well-lit by light fixtures running along the ceiling. Hadeon was waiting there, flask in hand.
“Hadeon!” She hissed at the sight of the flask.
He waved a hand to silence her and closed the flask before concealing it in a hidden pocket of his uniform. “Let’s get going.”
“Of course,” she replied and stepped forward to match his pace going down the hall. The familiarity of the halls coming to her with ease having now worked besides Hadeon for some weeks now running papers to and fro down the halls. They weaved back and forth through them, the marble interior broken up by statues, paintings, potted plants, and the various posts denoting occupants of the rooms they passed.
“Why the rush?” she asked, finally breaking the silence between the two of them. A foot shorter than him, she was forced to take a faster step to be able to keep up. “Don’t tell me you’re agitated by your plan not getting what it needs to succeed.”
He slowed in his step to glance back at her and without a response he kept walking.
“I knew it, that Helmina got to you.” Getting no response, she continued, “I knew you told me your distaste for the grand altálonos’ meetings, but now that I’ve finally been to one, I think you set yourself up to be annoyed. You can’t possibly expect to get everything you want.”
“I don’t,” he growled.
“Then why get angry at all?”
“Because each meeting makes my grand strategy to break the Glodoran line seem further away.”
“I can see that getting to you.” Veyluna nodded her head in understanding. “I always heard about how precarious our situation as a nation was with fronts at nearly every angle, but seeing the grand map with the most up to date locations of each regit really put it in perspective.”
Hadeon stopped and turned to her. “And I expect your help in making sure my plan still happens even if we lose more support for it.”
“Well, yes, that is my job.” She laughed. “To have to deal— I’m sorry, I mean work with you.”
Hadeon grumbled a curse under his breath and looked past her to a window looking out on the garden surrounding the Supreme Military Headquarters. “Lugern assigned you to me for the express purpose of helping make the Glodoran push happen.”
“Did he now?” Was that Lugern’s intention from the start?
“Yes, I’m telling you this now as I believe you have the talent to plan on both the strategic and tactical level.”
“I’m glad you see me more than a secretary.” She grinned. “Shall we get back to your office and get to work? Spring will be here before we know it.”
Hadeon took a deep breath and marched on. “Another week is over; we draw closer to the operation’s day. Let’s hope it isn’t a huge mess.”
The halls of darkness rushed past him in a blur. The echo of his footsteps struck out in every direction and yet were muffled. Heavy breathing not his own seemed to bellow forth from the shadows threatening to engulf him at any moment. A skittering of noise in the distance.
A light ahead caught Bryce’s attention. He raced for the gap of light, rays growing brighter as he neared it.
He reached the exit and stopped short at the emptiness which greeted him. The source of the light was high above him in the distant, dark sky.
“Always moving…” a voice bellowed forth from high above. “What exactly do you race toward?”
The skittering of noise came ever near.
He looked back, eyes widening at the sight of the light casting on the black shadows coming close to him. Without a second’s thought, Bryce leapt forward into the emptiness. He plummeted down; eyes closed as he reached out for the strings of magic. The familiar touch tickled at the edge of his mind and he took hold with reassurance. His quick descent turned abruptly to an ascent towards the bright light.
“To change the world, is it?” the voice asked with an inquisitive tone. “But what can a single man do with the world ever in motion as a raging river?”
A sudden weight struck him down, his mind clinging to the touch of magic. With a heavy impact, Bryce found himself on his back in the midst of shadows. The light from before was now gone and in its place was a red lingering glow.
Standing in a rush, Bryce called flames to his fingertips. The fires danced about, casting their light upon the odd shapes striking out from the unmoving shadows. He cast out with his hands alighting one of the figures. The heat began to grow against the cold as other fingers drifted away from the one withering away in pain.
“Your determination has been admirable since the beginning.” The voice’s words, in a deep throaty pitch mixed with a snarl behind them, seemed to come from different angles. “It might even be just enough.”
The figures tightened around Bryce, their oddly shaped appendages reaching out in an attempt to snatch him.
“In the end, time will dictate that.”
He unleashed more of the flames with a silent cry of effort. The shadowy figures pulled away, unable to stay close to the heat and light.
The red glow above morphed and changed to a pair of large eyes looking down upon him. “Your search for this Guidance will lead you down a terrible path.” The voice now emitted from a of pair of eyes, the creature’s shape hidden amongst the darkness. “Will you follow it, nonetheless? All for a chance?”
Bryce expanded the flames further as he looked out upon the eyes trying to peer into the darkness to learn more from their deep pools of crimson.
“Seek me then” The voice said with disdain and the eyes closed as the figure moved away. “Human…”
The darkness all around rushed forward to engulf Bryce. His touch upon the magic was pulled away from his mind as a frozen chill took his body. He tried to scream, but nothing came out.
Bryce’s eyes shot open.
A low rumble in the distance. A cement ceiling above. His body covered in a heavy blanket. A bead of sweat slid down his forehead.
The room itself was plain, another pair of beds both empty along with crates and bags of supplies in the corner.
He blinked his eyes a few times and tried to move his hands. Aches of pain came with the movement, but with some effort he pulled his hands free of the blanket to look at each digit, moving them as if to confirm he was still alive.
Lowering his hands back down, he felt a comforting warmth rush through his heart at the sight of Liarie in the doorway of the small room. “I’m—” he coughed as he tried to clear his throat. “How glad am I to see you, Liarie.” He smiled and coughed a couple of more times.
Liarie settled down beside him and forced a canteen into his hands, “Don’t talk, drink first.” She stared at his face with a quizzical look, “Did you have a bad nightmare?”
He shook his head and took the canteen into his hands, the thought of water making him realize just how parched and dry his lips were. Eagerly, Bryce brought the opening to his lips and drank.
“Alright, well I’m sure you’re wondering about everything that has happened since you became unconscious.”
He coughed again and paused in his drinking to look at her, “How long was I out?”
“You used quite a lot of blood.” She laughed. “More then you should have, but thankfully you did not receive any fatal injuries. So, in the end just a day and a half.” She tapped the bottom of the canteen. “Drink some more.” She shifted her legs into a crossed position, her tail flicking behind her a couple of times. “Thanks to your actions at the end, everyone who had made it to that point, made it across. The only loss we received was Chapman. Compared to other units, we did phenomenal considering the circu—.”
Bryce cleared his throat and handed her back the canteen. “I know you mean well, but please, Liarie. Don’t speak of Chapman as just a number, he was a person.”
“Sorry, I… forget…” She lowered her head, ears drooping.
“Don’t feel bad. You are right, it could have been worse.” Using his elbows, he sat up against the pillows and pulled the blanket back to try to cool down.
“Are you sure you didn’t have a bad nightmare?” Liarie asked now seeing just how drenched his shirt was with the blanket pulled aside.
“I guess you could call it that.” He rubbed at his forehead trying to clear it of sweat. “It was dark, and shadows were chasing me.”
Liarie leaned slightly forward, her ears tilting towards him as she hung on every one of his words with curiosity.
“A voice was speaking to me all about the futility to the flow of time.” He took a deep breath and rubbed at his chest. “In the end, the voice said that if I seek out Guidance that it’d lead me down a terrible path.”
“A terrible path, eh?” She smiled. “Well, how much worse could our situation get? We’re surrounded by war every day.”
He returned her smile and laid his head back to stare up at the ceiling. “The voice wasn’t human, some sort of creature… I think it’s what we’ll be led to after we meet up with Guidance.”
“A creature? An ancient race you think?”
“Anything else from this nightmare of yours?”
He shook his head.
“Are we still looking for Guidance after we leave the trenches?”
“Yes.” Bryce looked down at her, admiring the bright green glow of her eyes. “We’re already on this path. I don’t see why we should get off of it.”
“I agree,” She rose to her feet with a light bounce and began to head for the door leading out of the small cramped space. “Get some more rest, my dear, I’ll bring you dinner and we can meet up with Hendrick to discuss the next set of plans.
“Thank you, Liarie.”
“Of course,” She gave him a final look of longing and left with a wave of her tail.
“Bound to a bed again.” He closed his eyes and reached out for that familiar string of magic, its flow soothing his mind. Once I leave this comfort, what will be waiting for me? He saw the flash of the pair of red eyes. What exactly was that creature?