Even away from the trenches peace can rarely be found. Liarie has learned this lesson time and time again and will soon experience it once more as her much needed rest is interrupted. The stresses of war linger long after the battle.
The featured art was done by Mattias and you can see more of his work here – website.
The editing was done by Luke Thompson and here is his – website.
How mighty the vlaxon have become! Truly magnificent! This once meager, weak race has truly grown from its days of youth! One of the youngest races on Coronam, the vlaxon have multiplied and filled every gap in nearly every single nation across the whole of the planet. I have even heard rumors of a vlaxon soon to be named Prime-arch in the land of Doncordius. For the unaware, the vlaxons are humanoid in nature with similarities to the mammals that we so often see in our local forests. Foxes, wolves, rabbits, cats, even bears. If the animal has paw there is a good chance there is a vlaxon variant of that animal somewhere out there. The most important aspect anyone should understand about the vlaxon is they were a created race. Even then, evolution has shaped them greatly from that distant past. From rags to riches as the saying goes!
-Apprentice Scholar Ariel Rijil, A Curious Observation into the Races of Coronam
The pair of trench lines ran in either direction. They swerve close to one another at times before quickly turning away. The land between was chaos, the result of countless battles between either side. Beyond that the trenches became a network of line after line as they head towards the rear of the defenses. The hills that were near the trenches were small slopes in comparison to those further beyond, with the hills growing in size going in the direction of the Bosakil Mountain range while in the direction of the Primordial Tower they kept their height before tapering off to a flat plain. In either direction, the end was too far to be seen with the naked eye, the trenches seeming to go on forever.
Liarie eyed the display with idle curiosity from her vantage point far behind the line of artillery and last trench line. She sat atop the low-hanging branch of the large tree; its network of branches stretched wide to cast a vast shadow across the top of the hill. The roots weaved over one another before burrowing deep into the hill. Flowers grew between the gaps, their yellow petals shined brightly whenever a ray of sunlight made it through the tree branches.
The fresh green smell filled her with bliss as she enjoyed each breath as if it would be her last chance to enjoy clean air. She turned and settled back against the trunk, resting her head against it with one foot on the branch and the other idly swinging in the air back and forth. Her eyes closed as she began to hum a tune to herself, a joyful one that made a weak attempt to hide the true sorrow within. She placed a hand against the branch and tapped into the warmth that flowed through the tree, the magic a soothing joy to her senses that caused them to melt away in bliss.
In that flow of magic, she found her mind in the middle of a dark ancient forest. The trees towered above her, sheltering her from the dangers of the world beyond. Laid out before her was her old home, the yellow glow seeping out from the windows calling for her attention. The call of her parents came from within the building, her heart skipping a beat in excitement to hear their voices. She rushed forward, the door drawing ever nearer.
The deep, resonating voice brought her back from the gentle waves she had lost herself in. Why can’t I see mom and dad in my dreams? Do you see them, sister? She opened her eyes slowly and peered down at Murn who looked back at her with his faceless mask. “Yes, my gentle giant?”
“Oh?” she placed a hand against the trunk for support and gently raised herself to catch a glimpse through the leaves at Brashmar marching up the hill with Claire and a blue-furred, hulking vlaxon in tow. Bashmar spotted her and gave her his signature smile. “How troublesome.” She arched her back in a long stretch and shook herself further awake before dropping off the branch to land in the grass below with a thud, hooves digging into the grass. She straightened herself and walked over to Murn. “I was enjoying such a magnificent sensation too.”
Murn looked up at her expectantly.
“Stay, there is no need for both of us to ruin our sleep,” she said with a smile to him and ran her fingers along the cheek of his mask. “Rest.”
Murn simply nodded and lowered his head again, his body appearing more like a statue then a living creature.
Liarie turned and stepped out into the sun to greet Brashmar. “What honor do I have to be visited by Lead Helfin?”
“Liarie! You look beautiful as ever and that smile, dare I say would challenge Yen herself!” Brashmar’s voice boomed in the open air and he stopped before Liarie, his figure dwarfing her small frame.
She waved her hand in a playful manner. “You flatter me too much, Lead Helfin. I am but a simple fey.”
“Nonsense! Isn’t that right Claire?”
The black-haired woman who was standing in Brashmar’s shadow up until now suddenly jumped to attention, pulled from her own thoughts. “Yes, that’s right, Lead!”
“Good!” Brashmar chuckled and slapped his hand down on the vlaxon’s shoulder.
The vlaxon, beneath his armor, nearly collapsed at the impact.
“I don’t think you’ve ever met Tergrit; he’s my newest recruit and a powerful one at that! You should have seen him in the trenches, tore a Derdainian’s arm right off, isn’t that right?”
“Yes, Lead,” Tergrit replied with a gruff voice, his sharp fangs clicked together.
“And this here, Tergrit, is Lady Majes, a familiar to Lead Coduire.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Tergrit.,” Liarie said, eying the bulky armor layering his body and the heavy lance gun on his back. Impressive.
Tergrit nodded his head in reply.
“Now that we are done with the pleasantries, if you could explain, Lead Hel—.”
“Ahh, you take after Bryce far too much, quick to the point and full of formalities! You’re among friends! Let us drop these titles for now!”
Is he loud to everyone else? She rubbed at her ear from his booming voice. “I meant no ill will, Brashmar. I am just overly curious what would bring you to the rear is all.”
“Curiosity, eh? What would you say if the answer was to simply introduce Tergrit!” He slapped Tergrit’s shoulder again, the vlaxon recoiling less this time, having anticipated the blow.
“I’d call you a liar, naturally.”
“Brutal honesty, I like it.”
“Please, Brashmar, carry on with your explanation.”
“Fine, fine.” Brashmar reached into a pocket for a folded envelope. “I’ve come with information for Bryce, direct from Randalk.”
“Oh? Are they in regard to us receiving our well-earned warmachine?”
“It is related, but not exactly… Further orders.” Brashmar replied.
“More orders? Does Randalk not intend to deliver what we’ve earned?” Liarie crossed her arms. She tapped her hoof and seeing no immediate response from Brashmar, she shook her head and raised her hand to him. “I’ll be sure to get the message to him.”
Brashmar pulled the envelope away from her. “Always following formality, yet eager to break the rules.”
She pulled her hand away and hid her annoyance behind a blank face, “Sorry.”
“There’s no need for the apology!” He chuckled and placed the envelope back in its pocket. “I do trust you Liarie, however the order is direct from Randalk. The message is to be delivered from one Lead to another, I’d hate to screw it up and risk punishment.”
Liarie nodded her head, “You needn’t explain such reasoning to me. Though is there any way you can deliver this message at a later time? Bryce is currently resting when I left him earlier today.”
“Unfortunately, the time for rest has ended! The message needs to be delivered as soon as possible.”
“So be it,” Liarie turned and pointed off towards the encampment of wooden structures and tents nestled between the hills. “He’s resting in the officer cabin with our company’s emblem. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find.”
“Thank you, Liarie, how has everything else been? I heard your company only lost one in the battle, an impressive feat!”
“Yes, just one… Bryce had hoped for zero…” Liarie rubbed at her hands from a chill that shook her. The memory of Bryce’s gaze after failing to save Chapman flashed before her.
“In times of war losses are to be expected, such a minimal amount is to be congratulated!”
“Um, Lead, the message needs to be delivered, I don’t think we have time for small talk…” Claire said cutting into the conversation.
“Am I getting shot at?” Brashmar asked.
“Well, no, Lead.”
“Then there is always time for small talk! It is important to develop healthy relationships, especially among companies!” Brashmar chuckled to himself.
“I must agree with Claire,” Liarie said ending Brashmar’s laugh. “We can have many future conversations, but I believe this one should be put to an end. You have a message to deliver.”
Brashmar nodded his head. “I understand, the fair lady wishes to return to her afternoon nap.” Brashmar waved his hand and marched on past Liarie with Claire and Tergrit following behind him. “See you around, Liarie!”
Liarie stood silently watching the three descend towards the busy camp. He thinks I wanted to cease talking for a nap? She rubbed at her ears again.
After they had gone far enough away, she let out a heavy sigh and walked back towards the shade of the tree. I tried, Bryce. Sorry that your well-deserved rest is to be interrupted. She rubbed at her ear again. Though he may already be awake.
Liarie looked down at Murn’s emotionless mask. “Is it that obvious?”
“Yes.” He let out a deep snorting sound.
She studied the white mask before suddenly recognizing the sound. He’s laughing! That just figures. She rolled her eyes and climbed up the tree to return to her resting place on the wide branch. Closing her eyes, she tapped back into the magic of the tree in an attempt to return to the peace she had been experiencing before.
“Quil,” Murn said.
Liarie was pulled from the dream-like feeling just as she neared the edge of it. Looking down at Murn, she saw the direction his mask was pointing and reached out that way. The familiar spark of Quil’s soul touched hers and she sat up. “Her timing is terrible!” Liarie snapped and rubbed at her forehead in frustration.
Murn let forth the same sound again.
Suddenly he’s all full of emotion at my expense! She jumped back off the branch and landed with a thud. “Come, let us meet her.”
Murn stood up to his full height, towering over Liarie. “Yes.”
She began heading toward Quil, trekking down the hill, away from the encampment. Grass sprung up in the wake of her hoofs before they were completely flattened by the heavy footprint of Murn. Wind whipped at her orange locks as she went. Her fingers played with the silver ring around her right index finger, turning it around and around. Why must I feel this sense of unease? Is it due to Bryce’s new plan to relocate the company? No, it is a deeper feeling, but what?
Coming to the end of the decline, Liarie followed a dirt path away from the camp before exiting off it to the side of another hill. The raised ground all around her lessened the effects of the wind. She forced herself to stop playing with the ring, keeping her hands to either side of her body as she walked at a brisk pace. I’ve felt it before when going to meet you sister, but when did it start? I just want to feel happy; I want Bryce to feel happy.
The grassy path led her past a couple of boulders disturbed from a crater that had begun to fill with grass. The wreckage of what had crashed picked clean of parts leaving twisted rusted remains decaying away. Around the hill a group of several trees grew close, Quil’s presence calling out to her. She quickened her pace to the trees. And I want you to feel happy sister… Curse this turmoil. She may be right, being around humans is making me soft.
Approaching the trees, she realized her hands had balled into fists from her internal emotions. She took a focused breath and loosened her hands before stepping into the shadows of the trees. Leaves blew off the branches, a bed having already formed all around the clearing. At the center, Quil sat atop a tree twisted that had been partially torn from the ground and left at an angle. She gave Liarie a gentle smile.
“It’s great to see you again dear sister.” Quil jumped off the tree and walked forward to meet Liarie, her hand raising.
“I feel the same.” Liarie sealed away her internal struggles into the back of her mind and met Quil halfway to touch her hand, warmth surged through either of their fingertips. Just as it began, it ended.
“You seem troubled sister. Tell me what has happened during my absence?”
How is she always so much more perceptive than me? Liarie squeezed her hand to try to rid herself of the lingering warmth from the intrusive sharing of emotions. “Bryce was injured.”
Quil gave a knowing nod and returned to the damaged tree to lean against its trunk.
I wonder what other personal discomforts she felt? She began to walk the clearing keeping her attention on the surrounding trees. Her ears flicked at the heavy thud of Murn settling against a tree, armor creaking. “We went through with the attack as planned and it failed, unsurprisingly.”
“How disappointing… Thankfully there shall be other opportunities, courtesy of Randalk’s spy.”
“During the attack we did lose the new recruit, Chapman. It was painful for Bryce…” Liarie paused in her walk and looked over to Quil who was preoccupied with a small beetle crawling across the rough bark of the tree. “He’ll recover; I am confident of that.”
Quil led the beetle onto her hand and lifted it into the air watching it crawl between her fingers before coming to rest in the palm of her hand. “Now we’ve fulfilled our end of the bargain, the war machine is quite close.”
She doesn’t care about Chapman’s death. She flicked her tail and carried on walking the perimeter. I wonder if this is how Bryce felt when I spoke so carelessly of the boy’s death. Dried leaves crunched under her hooves, the smell of decay and rot from the distant trenches lingered in the air even with the surrounding trees. She reached a hand out to a tree to run her fingers along the rough bark. I can’t let this bother me, it’s one death… just a random recruit. Her hand balled into a fist.
“Sorry, just thinking.” Liarie loosened her hand and kept moving past the tree. “Were you and the twins able to hide the soul?”
“Yes, it is hidden in our sanctuary to the north. Has the acolyte told Bryce where the war machine will be delivered too?”
“Not yet, though Lead Helfin came by looking for Bryce with new orders from the acolyte. He said the time for rest was over.”
“Additional orders? Curious, nonetheless it must be related!” Quil clasped her hands together. “We should be off to the camp to hear the news.”
“You can go ahead. I would like to rest a little longer; the battle was quite taxing.”
“You came to me so quickly and now you need more rest? You seem caught by your own thoughts as of late. What troubles you?”
“Nothing to be concerned over, Quil.”
“I believe I should be concerned.”
Liarie stopped and looked over to see Quil release the beetle into the air. “Why is that?”
Quil stepped off from the tree to turn to face her, “You seem distracted as of late, is it Bryce?” She crossed her arms.
How do I speak to you sister about my turmoil? It’s always business between us now and now it’s going to get worse due to Bryce’s decision… She looked away, shoulders slumping, “I had hoped to let him break the news. I suppose it is better that I speak it.”
“Speak about what, sister?”
Liarie paused besides a tree to use it for support. “He intends on leaving the area.”
“Is that right?”
“I’ve spent quite the amount of effort counseling the acolytes.” Quil shook her head, “I know he does not favor Randalk, but why not stay and support Rooseheart or even Winsshil? He never truly settled into the area and chose an acolyte in the first place. Whom he chooses will not fault the others, but to leave altogether…”
“He’s made his mind.”
“Did you try to convince him to not play the fool, sister?”
Liarie lowered her eyes from her piercing gaze.
“I thought not. I fear you are allowing your emotions to cloud your judgment.”
“My business with Bryce is nothing for you to worry about.” Liarie resumed her walk instead of meeting Quil’s glare.
Quil moved from her spot to intercept Liarie. “You are right, keep your business, but that does not give a reason for us to make foolish tactical decisions. We must convince Bryce to reconsider.”
She paused before Quil who entered her circling path. Liarie straightened, “I already asked him about it, and he talked me through the plan, there is nothing to reconsider.”
“Power is needed to gain the cathedral.” She took an idle step forward, back straight, as she spoke calmly, “He chases after rumored artifacts and fails. Only through my hard work have we earned the trust of an acolyte who will surely gift us with loyalty, and he intends to turn away because of his distaste?”
“You believe you have earned Randalk’s trust.”
“I very well have!” She stamped her hoof, “You know well as I do, sister, that a lead of Bryce’s stature is rarely gifted a war machine. That is the proof of trust and with it he can prove the company’s worth and earn more gifts of power.”
Liarie shook her head and turned from Quil to walk towards the center of the clearing. “I don’t believe it is worth the risk and neither does Bryce.”
“I do and if Bryce has the strength to lead us to the steps of the cathedral, then he will do what is needed even if it holds risks.”
Reaching the center, Liarie ran her hand along the torn tree’s trunk, the wood rough against her fingertips.
“Maybe there is another plan we can do… a compromise of sorts.”
Liarie looked over to Quil pacing, her dress waving around where smooth skin met fur at the knees, hooves stamping the ground. Her mind is so set on her goal.
“Maybe I can convince Randalk that we should reposition as a means of providing him eyes elsewhere…” Quil looked over to Liarie with a questioning look, “Where is he relocating the company?”
“Sister…” Liarie took hold of a loose chip of bark into her hand to squeeze it. “Do you think of home at all?”
She raised a brow. “Of course, why do you ask?”
“I just wonder, sometimes, about this war… what’s it doing to us?”
“Liarie!” Quil said her name with a laugh, “Oh, my Liarie.” She shook her head and approached Liarie to place a hand on her shoulder. “It is testing our resolve to keep to our goal. A tough one, but we must do what is necessary to achieve it.”
“Of course.” Liarie lowered her head.
“What makes you ask such a question?”
“I wonder when did our times of carefree go away?”
“When the Union burnt our home to the ground and killed our parents.” Quil gently squeezed Liarie’s shoulder then turned to walk away. “You’re right, sister, you still look tired; rest for now. I’m going to go talk to Bryce.”
Liarie leaned her back against the tree and slid down to the dirt. This unease of mine, is it because you seem so focused on our goal, sister? Or is it because I’ve grown more emotional? What is this war doing to me?” She rubbed at her forehead of a growing headache.
“When you’ve rested, sister, come find me. Maybe we can have a friendlier, calmer conversation.”
“Yes, sister, that sounds nice,” Liarie replied watching her go before pulling up her knees to bury her head. “It sounds nice,” she muttered, squeezing her legs tight. I fear it won’t happen though. Each time we speak alone things just keep getting worse it seems. She felt a sting in the corner of her eyes. I wish we were just back home… Fey were never meant for this horrifying place.
The clearing was still, only disturbed by the occasional leaf falling from a branch having changed colors to an orange, soon to wither away altogether. She wiped a tear from her eyes and looked over to see Murn studying her with his faceless expression. “I’m okay, Murn.” With a deep breath to calm her senses, she rose slowly to her feet, using the tree for support. “We’ll move soon.” Back on her feet she rested her head against the tree and closed her eyes. What do I do? She wiped at her eyes again and pulled a handkerchief from a pack along her belt to wipe at her nose. She stumbled forward leaving the tree behind before collapsing to her knees. The pain and suffering from the trench battle, seeing Bryce hurt and sacrifice his own strength to help others welled up inside her. The journey through the mountains and the battles before that. The arguments with Quil and the destruction of their home. All of it swelled up in her heart to overtake her senses. “Why can’t I be stronger?” she muttered through tears. “Like you, big sister?”
The large shadow of Murn fell over her. Looking up she saw him shielding her with his arms. “I’m okay, Murn, I’m just… upset is all.” She wiped at her eyes again trying her best to clear them.
“Yes,” She raised her hand to him. “Help me up?” In a smooth motion she was brought to her hooves. “Thank you, Murn.” She said and fell into his supportive arms. “At least I have you.” She laid the side of her head against his chest and closed her eyes. Her shoulders slumped as the emotions washed out of her. A familiar magical touch pressed against her, urging for her attention. Bryce is calling… he must have received the orders. She looked up to him and smiled. “Let’s return to the others, I think I need to get back to work and stop thinking for a little while.”
“Yes,” he replied.
“I’m glad you agree.” She left his protection and began to walk to the edge of the clearing. One thing is for certain. I need to prove to Quil that Bryce is the right Lead for us to support.
Liarie stood at the center of the cabin. An unease in her heart at the angered emotions she felt through the office door at the rear of the room. Her doubts were quickly vanishing with a growing urgency to rush through the door and meet with her love. The tight walls of the cabin and ruckus of noise outside of the lively camp grew silent to her senses as she stepped forward.
“I’d give him some time,” Vonna said.
She looked over her shoulders to see the youth giving her a concerned look.
“The news Brashmar delivered must’ve been bad, haven’t seen him that pissed in a while,” Zel said walking towards the exit with box in hand. Other members of the company were walking in and out of the exit carrying equipment out to the trucks outside.
“He’ll get over it soon enough, I’m sure,” Vonna replied.
Liarie turned back to Vonna who finished loading up a box full of supplies. “Where is Quil?”
“Off sulking like a child!” Dunkir cut in with a laugh.
“What happened?” Liarie raised a brow to Dunkir.
“A disagreement, nothing more!” Herra came in to rush Dunkir along with another box before heading out the door with the bag that Vonna had prepared.
“Well?” Liarie asked Vonna.
“Like Herra said, a disagreement.” Vonna turned her attention to preparing another bag with food rations. “I’m sure, Lead will tell you all about it once he’s had time to think.”
“No, I have to know now.” Liarie twisted back to the door. “I have to see him.” She walked towards the door and reached out for the handle before pausing. Maybe. Vonna is right? She frowned and shook her head. Curse these doubts, when did I gain so many? Squeezing her hand into a fist, she gently knocked on the door.
Liarie stared at the wooden door in shock before quickly regaining her composure. “Are you that upset to not recognize your…” She paused. Lover. “Familiar is here to help you?”
She leaned close to the door; her ears perked listening for any returning sound. The moving of a chair then footsteps followed. Taking a step back she saw the door open slightly. Taking the invitation, she opened it further to step into the office.
The once orderly plain room now had crumbled up papers thrown all about and a pair of chairs lying on their sides in the corner. The left wall had a knife protruding from it with multiple cuts where the knife had pierced.
“Close the door, please.”
“Right, sorry.” Liarie pressed the door closed and took her seat across from Bryce who sat behind his desk with a heavy sigh. She felt a slew of questions and statements rush through her mind, but all of it lay trapped behind her doubts on what the right thing was to say to comfort Bryce.
“Here it is, another bane on our lives.” Bryce waved his hand at the crumbled document laying at the center of the desk surrounded by ripped up fragments of an envelope.
She picked up the document carefully and brought it close to read over the perfectly imprinted letters from a typewriter.
“Cursed acolyte demanding more from us to earn some war machine. Your sister dealing with Randalk is going to get us all killed at this rate!” He slammed his fist into the table.
Liarie looked up in surprise, the anger in his eyes vanished as he was forced to look away from her wide-eyed gaze.
“Sorry…” His hand flattened along the table, “I just can’t help it. We’re to hunt down a bunch of Derdainian gamayuns. You must understand that our company is not ready for such a task.”
“I agree, we aren’t ready,” Liarie said in a quiet voice as she looked back to the letter to finish the remaining few details before her eyes were drawn to the bottom where Randalk’s hand-written signature marked the end to the orders.
“What do you think?”
She laid the document back on the desk, “We have to perform the task.”
Bryce stood up and walked over to the knife to pull it from the wall. “I feared you’d say that.”
“You do see why, yes?” Liarie watched him turn the knife over and over in his hands.
“As much as I hate to accept it, I do. To leave the command of an acolyte with an unfinished task and try to join another acolyte is a poor idea.” He sat back down, knife still in hand as his attention was on the shine of the blade. “Once we have the warmachine then we have proof of a finished task, but until then Randalk can speak ill of us.”
“We could try to make an appeal to the court.”
Bryce shook his head, “Even if we win, we may end up with nothing but our reputation. We’ve worked hard enough.” He threw the knife, the tip impaling into the opposite wall. “I want that damn warmachine at this point.”
“How do you know we’ll actually get it this time?”
“Brashmar promised me this is the last time and to further that promise, he’ll be accompanying us.”
“Seriously?” Liarie groaned, her ears shifting at the mention of his name. “Must we deal with that man?”
“Yes, as it is, we’ve discussed about him being our best ally right now.”
“I know, I know.” Liarie sighed as she watched Bryce walk over to the knife again to pull it from the wall. “Then we are travelling tomorrow?”
Bryce walked back to his chair and threw the knife as hard as he could into the wall again before sitting back down with a huff. “Unfortunately.”
Liarie reached across the desk to gently run a hand along his. “We’ll make it through, I’m sure of it.”
“With you by my side, I know.” Bryce returned the touch with a smile. “I’m sorry again.”
“For what?” She tilted her head.
“For showing my anger to you. It’s far too ugly.”
Liarie gave him a gentle smile and shook her head, “You’re fine, my love. I understand your frustration. Just think on the bright side, we’re far away from Gilford.”
Bryce chuckled, his spirits lifting in a second. “Not even a gift from Vark himself could best that fact.”
“See, our situation isn’t so bad now, is it?”
“Not bad at all.” Bryce stood and raised his hands high in a long stretch. “I’ve sat around long enough. Let’s get outside and see how the others are doing.”
Liarie stood to follow him out of the office, briefly pausing to look at the document still lying on the desk. Hunting gamayuns, I fear this will be far worse than the trenches for us.