The search has begun for Bryce to hunt down the espers who’ve infiltrated Union lines. Within the time spent hunting is a perfect opportunity to plan for what comes next for the company.
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.
The vlaxons, what a cruel hand that fate dealt them. A race born out of greed and malice for the lesser man. Not only enslaved but mutated beyond recognition of their former selves. Even with this unethical and horrific demonstration of magic’s use there were those who praised the creation of the race and did not question it and even hindered any opposition! One of the most profound writers to protect the creator Paxton Yul was none other then the scholar Gaston Stell! A truly despicable man who cared not for the other races that inhabit Coronam. It’s men like Gaston Stell and the generations that followed his lead who have left the vlaxon, who are already burdened by their fur coats, to continue to be weighed down by the collar of slavery. Only through this war have vlaxons earned any semblance of freedom, the cost of which has been paid in their blood. A cost that may end up becoming too great to be paid.
-Professor Fen, A Study into the Past
The small village sat between a hill and a large grouping of trees. A river ran through part of the village, with a watermill sitting along the bank. The few citizens outside of their house looked on nervously at the soldiers marching from building to building in search of any gamayuns.
The once well-maintained buildings were now torn and poorly rebuilt from stray bombs that had landed over the years. Heavy gray clouds above which promised a storm later in the night only added to the depressive mood of the ill-kept village. The only life that kept any form of spirit was the nearby alcove of trees, the flowers blooming beyond the roots to give a colorful yellow display that swayed with the wind of the Glodan plains.
“Nothing found,” Darke said.
Bryce looked down to see Darke on his right as the young boy studied the village with an intense gaze. The violet uniform shimmered in the setting sun’s gaze. “We can’t expect to find the gamayuns with the very first village,” Bryce replied and looked back to the village. He tightened his coat around his body, the vantage point of the hill starting to lose its charm as the wind grew fiercer, bringing with it a growing night chill.
“Correct. How long shall we seek them?”
“I haven’t given it a thought.” Bryce crossed his arms.
“Because we’ve just begun the search. I can’t possibly give up so quickly.”
“Quil approved of following Randalk’s orders, but why do we follow them?”
“We have to earn the warmachine, why else?” Bryce grumbled.
“The soul is in our possession; we should move on.”
“And what about our reputation with other acolytes, Darke?” Bryce looked back down at the boy. “If we ignore Randalk while under his command, he’ll scare other acolytes away from accepting us.”
“Reputation? What hold does it have on the company?”
Bryce opened his mouth then paused and shook his head. “I should not be surprised that someone who is dead has no understanding of reputation.”
“Dead? I merely walk the magical realm; I am perfectly alive.”
“You might as well be dead.”
“Of course.” Bryce spotted a group of his company soldiers led by Brashmar leaving the town towards the small campsite outside the village.
“Whatever you may think, Riel and I were summoned to follow a Lead’s cause towards a specific goal. We hope our time is not wasted on maintaining reputation.”
“It won’t be, I promise.” Bryce began to walk down the short hill towards his company’s camp. “Just stick around and you’ll see.”
“Our commitment is still sound, you need not worry.” Darke kept up with Bryce, even with his shorter stature, seeming to float along the grass. “Do you still keep your resolve? Do you fight for the true Yenvark?”
“I will remove Minister Calhounvel by force if I must.” Bryce gloved hands tightened into fists, the leather creaking.
“And so Yenvark will continue to bless your path. Though I wonder how you shall fare as the challenges grow.”
“What do you mean?” Bryce neared the camp, the booming voice of Brashmar drifting on the wind. Several campfires grew to life, encircled by the five trucks and armored car that made up the two company’s caravan.
“You lost one in the trenches and it pained you so. Will you maintain your resolve as you lose more?”
Bryce reared on Darke with a growl. “You overstep your boundaries.”
“I ask what must be asked.”
He stared into the dark eyes of the boy, trying to discern any sense of emotion but he found nothing. With a deep exhale, Bryce straightened himself and continued his way down the hill. “I’ll have my revenge and dethrone that traitor.”
“We all look forward to that day, a true shame that the end seems so painfully far.”
Bryce came to the bottom of the hill and stopped besides one of the trucks. “Tell me, Darke.” He looked back to the emotionless boy.
“Will you keep your resolve?”
“Riel and I now walk a different realm. I believe that speaks enough.”
“Was it worth it?” Bryce asked.
Darke gave a thin smile with a hint of sadness that quickly vanished in his emotionless stare. “Return to the others, plan as you do best. Our powers shall await their day of use.” The boy turned away, his form starting to lose focus along the edges.
Bryce grimaced and turned to head around the vehicle towards the center of the camp. He says he’s not dead and yet acts like he is. Just what was the price to walk the magical realm? What was the reward?
“I suspect thee found nothing atop the hill?”
He felt the familiar soft touch of Quil’s lithe fingers gliding across his arm towards his hand. “No, Darke couldn’t sense anything either.” Looking over, Bryce saw her pristine face give away a hint of disappointment.
“A shame.” She looked off to the distance, her bright yellow eyes seeking something that was not there.
“We did only start the search.”
“Yes, yes, we did just start.” She looked up to him with an inquisitive stare. “Are you still confident in your decision?”
“To take the company elsewhere?”
“I have to.” Bryce noticed the twitch in her white-tipped tail. “I understand you’ve worked hard on earning Randalk’s trust, but you have to see the danger in working with that man, if we stay—.”
“As you’ve told me,” Quil said, wrapping her hands around Bryce’s right hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “I just hope it works in your favor.”
“It will,” Bryce replied, avoiding her gaze, tingles of warmth running up his arm. Curse her intrusive touch. He stuffed his left hand in a coat pocket, forcing himself to not push her away.
“What of Brashmar? Will he join us in the end?”
“With your help and Liarie’s, I believe so. Brashmar is a bull-headed man; he’ll take whatever path to power is direct and simple for him to understand.”
“And do we truly want that over taking Randalk’s power?”
Bryce leaned against the truck, hiding in its dark shadow. “You forget that we’re trying to gain the power of a Guidance.”
Quil pressed close to him, hands still entwined in his. “I did not forget your fool’s chase.”
“But it hasn’t given us anything material yet. My path has nearly given us something.” She rested her head against his shoulder, running her hands up his arms. “I wonder, do you hold any excitement for it?” Her black-tipped ears perked up.
“For what?” He squeezed his left hand hidden in his pocket. The intrusive warmth surged along his arm.
“You know what I speak of.”
“That!” Quil squeezed his arm. “Once it is fused with the soul, imagine what we can do next.”
“Yet, you were upset when I first mentioned it and have not once acted with any interest in the machine, why I wonder?”
Bryce met her gaze forcing himself to not look away from the deep yellow eyes. “Because I can’t help but think of the cost we have to pay for it.”
“Progress comes with a price.”
Bryce raised a brow, “That is not something I’d expect a fey to say.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Quil asked, her grip tightening, ears twitching.
“You’ve changed,” Bryce watched her look away, unable to match his gaze any longer. The surge of warmth in his right arm dwindled away.
Quil’s ears drooped down, her keen eyes holding a hint of sadness in them. “Is that truly a surprise? You have seen it in my sister, I’m sure of it.”
“Yes, I have.”
“Interacting with humanity has left me cold. Colder than that wretched day in the ancient forest.” She rubbed her arms. “This is no place for a fey, but what choice do I have?”
Bryce felt an urge to reach out but stopped himself. She’s been so irksome, yet I can’t help but feel sympathy.
“The first night both companies are together, we should speak with Brashmar,” Quil said, walking away from Bryce with a slow step.
“Right,” Bryce said, unable to bring himself to say anymore. Her and Liarie dragged into this war, far from other fey. They don’t deserve it.
Rounding the end of the truck, Bryce looked up from his thoughts to see both companies’ members splitting up between the various bonfires. The bonfires grew a brilliant orange, giving off warmth to fight back the growing chill in the air. The ding and cutting up of food on temporary tables was being prepared on one side of the camp, with several members eyeing with anticipation. All along the edge, tents were being pitched up by the vehicles. A variety of conversations filled with laughter and heated discussions were being made all around bringing great life to the camp. At a central fire stood Brashmar. Beside the tall Lead was the ever-loyal Claire and across from her was Liarie.
“Ahh my fellow Lead and the shy fey! Come, join us, come on!” Brashmar shouted.
Bryce only heard a mutter under Quil’s breath and spotted the twitch in her tail. “Careful, Brashmar,” he said as he crossed the space towards the Lead’s fire.
“Careful of what? We are among friends with not an enemy in sight!
“Remember we are hunting for gamayuns.”
“Always business with you!” Brashmar scoffed and waved his hand towards Claire and Liarie who both held paper bags. “It is time for revelry and relaxation! And what better way to start then with fresh pastries made by a lovely lady of this village.”
“That smell is delightful,” Quil said with a sniff of the air.
Bryce eyed the contents of either bag, spotting a variety of intricate sugared and cinnamon covered breads. “Seriously?”
“Of course!” Brashmar exclaimed.
Claire shook her head with an exasperated sigh.
“Honestly, they look delicious,” Liarie said with glee in her eye and her tail wagging. “I think it’s a fantastic treat for everyone. Speaking of, you get first pick, Lead.” Liarie smiled and tilted the bag towards Bryce.
“They do look good,” Bryce mumbled, a craving growing in him for something sweet. Reaching out, he took hold of a sugary oval with slits cut into it to reveal the inner filling of cherries. Biting into it, the light dough mixed with the sweet sugar and cherries sent a shiver of delight through him.
“Good, right?” Liarie asked.
“Yes, it’s fantastic!” Bryce replied with another mouthful. I can’t even remember the last time I had something so sweet and delicious.
“Excellent! Claire, Liarie please get one to everyone! After the shy fey and I take our share,” Brashmar exclaimed, taking a pastry of his own.
“Sister, please,” Liarie said with a smile to Quil.
“Thank you,” Quil said, taking one herself.
“Delightful! Let me have another!” Brashmar said reaching for the bag in Claire’s hands.
“No!” Claire snapped and quickly pulled the bag away. “Everyone gets one! You said it yourself.”
“A fair point, but it was my idea, so I believe I deserve another.”
“No!” Claire snapped again and marched off towards another group of soldiers.
Bryce chuckled. “Seems your second in command is too strict even with you!”
“Seems like it,” Brashmar huffed and sat down on the log besides the fire, legs stretched out while he finished what remained of the sweet pastry.
“I’ll be right back,” Liarie said, following Claire.
Bryce caught her smile directed at him, his heart skipping a beat at her perfect smile and bright green eyes. He watched her go, enjoying the sight of how her dress danced around her legs as she took each step and the way her tail swayed back and forth.
“A rather sweet pastry, but not nearly as sweet as I prefer,” Quil said.
“Really? The flavor would surely be ruined if it was any sweeter,” Brashmar replied.
Bryce looked over to see Quil sitting across from Bryce, the swirled pastry she had taken only half eaten as she took another nibble from it. He sat down on the tree stump; the warmth of the fire even closer now felt comforting in the growing chill of the night. The silvery moon of Ceruden was high in the sky.
“Our first discussion and it is a disagreement! I would say that is a terrible start, shy fey,” Brashmar said.
“I do have a name.”
“I never heard it. I’ve only ever seen you in the distance, unlike Liarie who seems to socialize with all!”
“It is Quil,” she replied while rubbing her right ear. “Must you speak so loud?”
Brashmar let forth a booming laugh only causing more discomfort to Quil. “The same question Liarie has asked me before! Bryce, what must I give to have these two fey in my company? They are far too amusing.”
“Trade? Is he truly serious?” Quil asked Bryce with a raised brow.
“Uh,” Bryce said feeling both sets of eyes on him. “No, Brashmar. They’re with me to the end.”
“The end? Ha! How dramatic! But I shouldn’t be surprised; you are always business. You need to learn to loosen up some more.” Brashmar looked past the fire toward another group. “Though I suppose that’s why you surround yourself with a bunch of comedians like that Zel fellow.”
Bryce followed Brashmar to see, at the head of a fire, Zel standing in front of a bunch of other members of the two companies waving his hands about like a maniac while telling some riveting story. “Yes, well, if I wasn’t serious my whole company would probably be dead by now.”
“Not all dead, I’d abandon you first,” Quil scoffed with crossed arms.
“A cold one.” Brashmar chuckled. “Maybe it was better that you kept your distance, Quil.”
She merely scowled and returning to nibbling on her pastry.
Bryce finished his pastry, savoring the sweet texture one last time while he listened to the crackle of the firewood. Silence settled on the trio. He glanced over to see Brashmar unscrewing the top of a dented silver flask.
“I suppose,” Brashmar said breaking the brief silence. “You probably want to talk business, so go ahead,” he said before taking a swig of the flask.
“You actually want to talk serious for a change?” Bryce smirked, “Alright. so we’ve searched two towns on our first day and no luck or even hints of suspicious people passing through,” Bryce leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, hands clasped together. “I thought Randalk was certain there was movement in this region.”
“He is, we still have a decent number of towns to search north of us,” Brashmar tilted the flask towards Bryce, “You want some?”
“No thank you,” Bryce said waving his hand. “So, whether we find them or not, I’ll receive the warmachine.”
“As we discussed already, you needn’t worry, I promise you’ll get it this time. Anyways, you had to head north to receive it, so everything works out!” Brashmar said, tilting the flask back again for another swig.
“Right, I just have to make sure as I can’t help but feel like Randalk keeps stringing me along for an empty promise.”
“No, no. I promise!” Brashmar said and placed a fist over his heart. “Honestly, Bryce, you needn’t worry.”
“I’m glad,” Bryce looked away from the fire to give him a nod. “Tell me though, what are you getting out of this?”
“Peace and quiet from that Acolyte!” Brashmar began to laugh before stopping abruptly, “Oh, did I say that too loud?” He looked about before laughing even louder at his joke.
Bryce laughed along with Brashmer, catching Quil’s side glance. So, he doesn’t like the acolyte either? Good. “Has he given you a tough time?” he asked once Brashmar had calmed down a bit.
“When hasn’t he!?” Brashmar rubbed at his forehead. “That acolyte is a real pain, but he keeps my company growing, so what can I do? You’ll see in time too that as much of a pain he is, it is worth it in the end.”
Maybe his dislike isn’t enough yet. Bryce looked back to the flame, “Right, I’m sure I will. Though the recent run in the trench was not a particularly good display of strategy from an acolyte.”
“I agree with you there… it was more of a stubbornness driving that offensive.” Brashmar shook his head. “Not much choice though, someone’s company has to be there to keep the front going, otherwise we all lose. May as well be us.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“A morbid way you humans look at situations,” Quil said.
“Easy for you fey to say, most of you aren’t on the front lines,” Brashmar replied.
“We see the futility; thus, we avoid it.”
“If only we all could,” Brashmar took another swig.
“Such a delightful evening!” Liarie cut in.
Bryce turned at Liarie’s voice to see the fey hopping over to them with an idle step, tail wagging playfully in the air.
“Everyone enjoys the food. This was an excellent idea, Brashmar,” she said, stopping before them to take a seat on a log near Bryce.
“I’m glad to hear.” Brashmar grinned as he took a glance around the camp.
Doing the same, Bryce spotted the men and women all enjoying the sweet food, some waving in appreciation.
“You thought I joked, Bryce, but I hope you see it now. It’s important to relax and reward your followers. Business all the time is far too boring in this chaotic life we live,” Brashmar said.
Bryce spotted Herra and Samuel laughing with Dunkir, a smile on the short-tempered man. “I suppose you’re right.”
“You’re lucky, there is one left,” Claire said.
Looking over, Bryce noticed Claire hand her paper bag to Brashmar before taking a seat by the fire.
“Ahh, magnificent Claire, you truly are the best!” Brashmar exclaimed, stuffing his greedy fingers in the bag.
“Is he always this loud, Liarie?” Quil asked rubbing her ears.
“Unfortunately, but I believe I’m growing accustomed to it,” Liarie laughed in reply. She stretched her hooves out towards the fire and placed her hands on the log to throw her head back in a long stretch. “This truly is a delightful night for the company, wouldn’t you agree, Bryce?
Eyeing her lithe form, Bryce smiled in reply, “Yes, it is.”
“I have to ask, Bryce, where did you find that furred one?” Brashmar said between licking his sugar covered fingers. He nodded his head towards Bryce.
Looking over his shoulder, Bryce spotted Halgurd talking with Roy, who seemed overly excited to hold Halgurd’s sword, slashing it back and forth through the air.
“Oh, Halgurd? He joined us after I assisted him out on the trenches,” Liarie said.
“Out on the trenches you say? So, he’s a recent recruit just like Tergrit?”
“Halgurd!” Brashmar yelled, his voice giving pause to nearby conversations as eyes turned to Brashmar then to Halgurd. “Come over!” he continued with a wave of his hand.
Collecting his sword from Roy, Halgurd left the youth to walk over. The conversations in the camp resumed as many eyes turned instead towards the growing smell of fresh food at the side table where dinner was nearing completion.
Halgurd stopped before the group with his back and shoulders straight, head raised high.
Brashmar chuckled. “A serious looking fellow, is it a furred clone of Bryce?”
“Excuse me?” Halgurd raised a brow.
Bryce shook his head. “Ignore it, Halgurd.
“What’s your name?” Brashmar asked.
“I am Sir Halgurd of Brakenshaw.”
“Far more serious then Tergrit, wouldn’t you agree, Claire?” Brashmar asked.
Claire simply nodded; her attention mostly focused on screwing off the top to her canteen.
“Why the fancy title? Tergrit didn’t announce himself like that,” Brashmar asked.
“Who?” Halgrud asked.
“The vlaxon in my company!”
Halgurd shook his head, “Just because he shares the same furred burden as I, does not mean I am aware of him.”
“I thought you vlaxons were all related.” Brashmar tilted his head slightly.
“Is he serious?” Quil questioned.
With a heavy sigh, Claire shook her head in disappointment.
Halgurd looked to Bryce with a surprise look before turning back to Brashmar, “A preposterous thing to say! Would you say the same of all humans?”
“A fair point,” Brashmar replied.
“Ridiculous…” Halgurd muttered. “Can I be dismissed, Lead?”
“Go right ahead,” Bryce replied.
“Who gave you such an absurd idea?” Liarie asked.
Brashmar shrugged and took another swig from the flask.
“He gets many ideas from an overactive imagination,” Claire said, her hands gently rubbing her canteen, tracing the scratches across the dim gray surface.
Liarie perked up, “Where are you off too?”
“To get some fresh air, you should join me.”
“Fresh air? We already have plenty!” Brashmar extended his arms out to his surroundings.
“I seek a quieter place,” Quil replied.
“Ahh, let me guess, the forests where fey like to hide?” Brashmar asked.
Quil gave Brashmar a scornful look before turning away.
“Was it a bad joke?” Brashmar asked.
“Definitely not your best,” Bryce replied watching her go.
“I’ll keep her company, see you three later,” Liarie said, standing to follow her sister.
Bryce began to say something to her before pausing at the visible shudder that ran through her.
“What’s wrong?” Claire asked, noticing Liarie look towards the north.
A gust of wind blew across the camp bringing with it a low whispering hum that slowly died away. Bryce stood to get a better view of the outline of the leviathan in the distance marked by the lights along its surface. The large shape was obscured by clouds and the darkness making it appear ominous.
“Tis a disgusting blight upon the beautiful sky,” Quil said returning to the group, the fur along her ears standing up in distress.
All around the camp, Bryce saw the rest of the company members all turning with curiosity at the source of the hum.
“Disgusting?” Brashmar looked back with a big grin. “My dear shy fey, what you are looking at is one of the crown jewels of the Union. A leviathan class air ship! The Varnicateau, named in honor to our great God, Vark himself!” He looked back, arms on his hips and head thrown back in a proud manner. “A truly magnificent beast!”
“It’s a terrible thing,” Liarie mumbled, rubbing at her arms as another hum washed over the camp.
“I wonder why it’s here though, the Glodoran front isn’t in that direction,” Brashmar said.
Bryce grimaced, “It’s because of Luncal, they must be making their move.”
“Luncal’Sha?” Brashmar said with a raised brow, then chuckled. “You must be right, it’s getting ready to fire!” He turned to his pack and began digging through it. “Claire, where are my binoculars?”
Another hum blew across the camp, slightly louder than before.
“Side pocket,” Claire said.
“Thanks!” Brashmar said shooting back up with binoculars glued to his face eager to spot out the distant details.
Multiple tails of light illuminated from the leviathan to race across the sky, one hitting a target to create a blazing inferno to trail towards the ground below.
“A fantastic salvo!” Brashmar exclaimed.
“Such a terrible show.” Quil shook her head.
“Claire, you have marked our route, correct?” Liarie asked.
“Oh, uh.” She looked away from the spectacle. “Yes I have.”
“Are any towns near where the leviathan is?”
“Let me look,” Claire replied and pulled a clipboard from the side of her pack to look over a pack of papers. “Yes, the town of Bravan. We should arrive there by the morning after tomorrow.”
“Good, let us not create any delays and stay true to the schedule, I fear Luncal will not stop with this first assault,” Liarie said.
“They definitely won’t, those feathered freaks are relentless!” Brashmar laughed, lowering his binoculars to take a swig from his flask. “The eastern front is about to get lively!”
“It was inevitable,” Bryce said, his eyes focused on another salvo of lights that filled the sky, more fiery infernos forming. Luncal is moving much sooner than I expected, will the eastern front under an acolyte truly end up being a better move?