PERPETUAL WAR ARC THREE: CHAPTER Seven – The NExt Step

One step has been completed in this difficult mission that Natalia and Orsolya have been sent on. Now the next step begins but for now a moment of rest has been given to the pair as they join up with a new companion.

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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.

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In the days of my youth, I could give two shits less what the old would say. But war ages you fast. After you’ve seen someone you’ve known your whole life of fifteen years get blown into pieces, you age real damn fast. Finding myself on some R&R away from the trenches I was eager to do anything to get my mind off of war. So, finding myself beneath some shade in some old lady’s garden, a cup of coffee in hand, and listening to her stories was a great distraction. At the time I didn’t care who I listened to, but I realize now and, in a way, I think I realized it then… listening to the elderly speak their stories is a way to remind myself that I can damn well make it through this horrible war and retire and live a happy peaceful life just like them. And now here I am, sitting by the fireplace in my country home, a glass of whiskey close by. I am at peace.

-Arthur Kinpin, The Time Spent Away from War

Natalia was sprinting through the tight corridors of the trenches. The sound of gunfire and artillery all around fueled her drive to keep going. Soldiers kept getting in her way, their faces filled with anger and malice, demanding she fight. An ominous buzz in the air caused her to turn and there in the sky she saw it, the massive leviathan obscured by clouds rising high in the sky.

She turned to keep running, pushing more soldiers out of her way. Before bumping into Vykter. The man rubbed at his helmet before placing it atop his head and giving her a reassuring smile. She felt a calm in that smile before it became twisted at the sight of blood slipping out of the corners. Looking down she saw the saber tip piercing through his chest.

Stepping back, Natalia watched Vykter fall to the mud. Behind him stood the Union Lead, bloodied saber in hand.

Natalia fumbled for her rifle but found it empty. Tossing her rifle to the side she took hold of her revolver and pulled the trigger over and over, an audible click with each pull, but felt no recoil as each chamber was empty. The Lead drew closer, a grin on his face as the saber bore down on her. Stumbling back, Natalia fell into the mud and looked up to the Lead standing over her. She let forth a scream drowned out by the release of the leviathan’s massive cannons, the boom shaking her to her core.

Her eyes shot open to see a wooden ceiling above her. Sitting up in a rush she looked down expecting to see mud but instead she saw a rugged red quilt covering her. Just a nightmare. Her hand went for the locket hidden beneath her plain white tee shirt.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you up, Natalia.”

She looked over to see the toolbox on the ground, its contents sprawled across the floor, Orsolya busy with picking up the various tools. She gave the locket a light squeeze. Thank goodness. Natalia collapsed back into the comfort of the sheets. The clanking sounds of each item being dropped back into the toolbox along with the low hum in the ceiling above her kept her from falling back asleep. Looking along the ceiling she saw no window, the only light coming from a few lanterns hanging along with a couple of light bars at the center of the ceiling. “What time is it?” she asked while pushing the quilt off her body, the heat of it becoming unbearable.

“A little before noon.”

Natalia reached up to her eyes to rub them awake. “I think I could keep sleeping.” Sitting up, Natalia looked over to see most of the toolbox was put back together. “What are you doing anyways?”

“Getting these tools to Alek upstairs.”

“Alek?”

“Yes, he’s helping Ellen upstairs.” Orsolya secured the lock on the toolbox and began to walk towards the stairs on the far side of the room. “I’ll be right back. Get dressed and wake up. You look like a mess.”

Natalia watched her go, listening to the footsteps on the wooden stairs become muffled behind a door. The creaking of the floorboards above her were the only sign of life. She looked back down to her surroundings. Her bed along with a couple others pushed against one side of the room with a pair of long workbenches on the opposite side. Tools from hacksaws to pickaxes hung from the wall on oddly placed hooks. A weapons rack sat in the corner with various models of rifles with ammo crates on the shelves above. Boxes filled with rations and labeled as such sat in another corner atop a pallet. Black and white pictures of scenic landscapes covered vast portions of the plain cement walls, helping to conceal the visible cracks and water stains. Natalia paused to study some of the landscapes, rubbing her eyes in the process to try to clear her tired eyes to get a better look of one particular picture that was on the wall just above her bed. “Gentle hills overlooking a bridge…” She muttered to herself. It almost looks like where Orsolya and I were last night.

She took a deep breath and stretched her arms. Rubbing her eyes one last time she turned so her legs hung over the edge of the bed. Her bare feet touched the cement, causing her to let out a small yelp at the cold touch against her toes. Looking for her pack she noticed Orsolya’s and someone else’s at the edge of the other two beds. I wonder who’s that is? She pondered the thought for a moment before a growing urgency forced her to ignore it for now. Peering over the edge of her bed she found her pack and she quickly dug inside for a pair of clean undergarments and her toothbrush. Spotting a closed door to her right she walked over and opened it revealing a bathroom within.

Going about her business she listened to the footsteps above. Upstairs is probably a lot nicer and warmer then here. Finishing up she turned the nozzle to the sink and made a disgusted face at the smell of the well water. She washed her hands, then changed into the clean bra, briefs, and tight-fitted tee shirt before turning back to the sink and mirror. Brushing her teeth, she looked up at her mess of hair with a groan. Forgot the brush. She spat the toothpaste in the sink and focused on straightening her hair as best she could with her hands.

“Natalia, where’d you go?”

“I’m here,” she replied stepping from the bathroom to see Orsolya at the foot of the steps, two plates of food in her hands.

“Lunch, though I guess for you it’s breakfast.” Orsolya placed the plate on the bed and walked over to the workbench with her own plate. “Finish getting ready and eat. We’re going to go over this map of the area soon.”

“Okay,” Natalia replied moving over to the plate to see an arrangement of lettuce, bright red tomatoes, pink twinflee, black olives, capers topped with slices of grilled red-dot fish and a couple of buttered rolls placed on the side. “Wow, this looks great!” She picked up one of the rolls and took a bite savoring the buttery soft texture of the warm bread. Her heart fluttered with pleasure as she scarfed down the rest of the roll. “It tastes so good.”

“Enjoy it and don’t waste any of it. Good food like that is hard to come by even for Albert and Ellen.”

“Are they the ones who live here?”

Orsolya looked over a bit confused before she realized her mistake. “Sorry, I thought I mentioned their names to you yesterday.” She went over to the table and placed her own plate of food on the surface before leaning against the edge to face Natalia again. “Yes, they are the elderly couple who live here and keep eyes over this safe house of ours.”

“And they’re able to get food like this?”

Orsolya turn around to begin studying the papers atop the table while taking absent minded bites from her plate. “Derdainia pays well to those who provide us a safe house on this side. They pay even more when information is provided, which Albert has plenty of.”

Natalia left the plate for now as she went over to a hanger in the corner with her uniform, now dried and cleaned from last night’s storm. “What does Albert give? Troop movements?” She took the gray pants off the hanger and pulled them up before taking the white blouse.

“Troop movements is exactly what he supplies, this town is secluded, but it’s close enough to major roads such as the bridge we crossed under yesterday that Albert can easily travel to and keep an eye on. He then can send encrypted telegraphs to get the message back including the latest about the Leviathan last night.

“And he’s been doing this since the trenches were dug?” She buttoned her blouse before returning to her pack for her belt.

“That’s right.”

“How hasn’t he been caught?”

“You see the pictures on the walls? He conceals himself by drawing the scenery. No one’s going to question an elderly man going out to practice art, from what Albert’s told me the few soldiers who have approached him have all ended up encouraging him and even bought some of his work.”

Tightening the belt, Natalia sat on the side of the bed and picked up the plate and fork to begin eating the colorful salad. “Impressive,” she said between mouthfuls of food she was eagerly stuffing in her mouth.

“It also helps that there are larger resistance cells throughout Glodoran that draws the Union’s resources.” Orsolya turned and leaned against the workbench, her own plate in hand. “Though we still need to keep a low profile when we head out. I can’t imagine how pissed off our dear Brigadier Voss would get if such a useful resource was ruined because we were sloppy.”

Natalia wiggled her toes in discomfort, the chill of the basement starting to get to her. “The town is so small, I’m sure we’ll sneak out just as easy as we snuck in. I’m more worried about the leviathan being so close to us.” She ate a strip of the fish, the flaky texture rich in flavor, before placing the plate to her side so she could reach over the edge of the bed for her pack. Shifting items out of the way she found a pair of fresh socks that she pulled onto her feet as quickly as possible.

“Yes, the leviathan…” Orsolya paused between eating before she continued, “Honestly, we’re lucky. If we had been any slower than we would have been caught beneath that air battle. Our return trip definitely won’t be easy.”

“Is anything easy? I feel like since the trenches, it’s been one thing after another.” Natalia finished with her socks before she reached for her other roll to bite into. “Though…” She began before pausing to swallow the bite of the warm bread. “This moment right now, I could get used to.” She smiled while wiggling her toes now safe and warm in the black socks.

“Yes, well, it won’t be long before we’re back at it and this next leg of our mission won’t be easy, I fear.”

“What could possibly make it any harder?” Natalia asked finishing the last of her meal to place the plate to her side and reach into her pack for her canteen to wash down the food with cool water.

“The terrain will be more difficult, and there will be Union patrols we’ll have to deal with.”

“Little rougher terrain and patrols like normal, doesn’t sound much worse.” She drank from the canteen, nearly emptying it. With a satisfied sigh she closed it and returned to her pack for a brush. “Did the contact arrive to tell us where the Union’s base is located?” she asked eying the pack besides the third bed.

“I don’t know yet, our guest does.” Orsolya said motioning to the third pack.

“I assume that’s the Alek person you mentioned. Is he a gamayun?” Natalia asked while she started to straighten her hair with the brush.

“You’d be right. Though you’d know him by his last name, Stervok.” Orsolya smiled as she continued to stare at the pack lost in her thoughts.

“Isn’t that one of the gamayuns who was still out on the field when we set off?”

“Yes, he’s thankfully safe and he’s seen Lovkin a week ago; she was well and heading back to our side. Though no sign of Ishtal yet.”

“What’s Stervok doing upstairs with a bunch of tools anyways?”

“He’s helping Ellen with a leak in the attic while Albert is out scouting the road, we crossed last night.”

Natalia finished brushing her hair and began to pull it into a braid, “So he’s our contact we were to meet up with?”

“Yes, I haven’t had a chance to talk to him a lot, he came in early this morning just before the sun began to rise.”

“Did you know he was the contact?”

“No, but I’m glad that he is. It does explain the lack of information on the Union base’s exact location in our mission letters.”

“They were relying on Stervok to get the information to us, weren’t they?” Natalia asked while finishing up her braid with a tight brown hair tie at the end to keep it together.

Orsolya went around the table to a stool to sit on. “I’d say that is a pretty good guess. It’s a bit of a sloppy operation, but with winter coming I’m sure our superiors are desperate to strike a terrible blow against the Union before the first heavy snow.”

“I hope that first snow isn’t while we’re still out here.” Natalia grumbled and stood to walk over to the workbench with her empty plate. “So, I assume Stervok will be down soon to go over these maps?” she asked while stacking her empty plate with Orsolya’s.

“Yes, he told me soon when I was up there getting our lunch.” Orsolya noticed Natalia starting to pick up the plates, “You don’t have to worry, I can take them.”

“I’ll take them and see how much longer until Stervok is down here.” Natalia took the dirty plates and headed for the stairs. “Anyways I want to get a peek of what’s upstairs.”

“Alright, be sure to thank Ellen,” Orsolya said.

Natalia began the climb up the steps, “Will do!” she called back.

Coming to the top she opened the door and exited out into a small, cramped kitchen. Drawers and cupboards surrounded her at nearly every angle. A pot on the gas stove was slow boiling, the contents giving off a garlicky aroma.

“Did you enjoy lunch, sweetie?”

“Oh!” Natalia jumped in surprise and turned to see an elderly woman with a cane standing in the doorway. “Yes, it was fantastic! Thank you very much, Ellen!”

“I’m glad.” She walked on past Natalia towards the pot, her cane tapping along the cracked tile floor. “You can place those plates in the sink, I’ll clean them later.”

Natalia stepped over to the sink, squeezing past Ellen. “Are you sure? I can clean them if you want.”

“No, it is fine, you have plenty to keep you busy already.”

After putting the plates in the sink, Natalia stood awkwardly to the side. “I, uh, sorry, I did not formally introduce myself, I am Natalia. I’m very grateful to you for letting me and Orsolya stay here.”

Ellen gently laughed. “There’s no need to apologize, Natalia. I’m glad for the company and I’m sure my husband feels the same. He should be home in a couple of hours, I’d very much like you to meet him.” Removing the pot’s lid, Ellen dipped a big spoon into the contents of the broth and took a small taste before placing the lid back. “The flavor is coming along nicely; I think you’ll like it a lot.”

“It smells good,” Natalia replied and began to say something else before an abrupt bang above caught her off guard.

“Sounds like Alek dropped something,” Ellen shook her head and headed for the doorway out into the living room, “Come along, sweetie, let us see if he needs any help.”

“Um, sure,” Natalia followed Ellen out into the next room and stopped in her tracks at the walls covered in an assortment of paintings of beautiful landscapes intermixed with pictures of all sorts of people of various ages. Counters along the walls were covered in more framed pictures with a center display over the fireplace of a sword with a variety of Derdainia military decorations. At the heart of the room sat two plush chairs and a couch with a coffee table between them. Linen curtains pulled over windows helped block out some of the sunlight. The room gave off a cozy feel even with the display of so much history and art. “Wow.”

Ellen looked back and smiled at the expression on Natalia’s face. “My husband has quite the collection of art, as for me I’ve taken many pictures. We just always seem to be adding more; I fear we’re one day going to run out of space to display it all.”

“I think you’ve already gotten to that point.”

She looked around and nodded her head knowingly. “Maybe.” Ellen turned and continued, her feet shuffling while her cane tapped.

Another serious round of hammering echoed down before going silent again.

Natalia followed her with slow steps as she looked all around her. She saw faces of people she had never met along with younger versions of Ellen and a man she assumed was Albert with a cap and a big smile intermixed with colorful paintings of hills, mountains, forests, streams, lakes, and all sorts of other beautiful scenery. She paused before the fireplace to look up at the sheathed blade surrounded by medals of service through honor and bravery.

“You would think that the Union would hate us for being Derdainia, but surprisingly they left us alone.”

“Why would they do that?” Natalia asked looking over to see Ellen at the first step of the stairs.

“Well, I’m not exactly sure.” Ellen tightened her white sweater around her shoulders as a visible shiver shook her. “My husband says many things on it, I believe it is just us getting old,” she began to climb the steps slowly one at a time. “‘How can they be afraid of us?’ is what I tell him.” She gently laughed. “Well come along sweetie, we shouldn’t keep Alek waiting.”

She stared at the blade for another moment before following Ellen. “Do you need help?” Natalia asks catching up to Ellen along the stairs to offer her arm.

“Thank you,” she replied, taking Natalia’s arm into her own for support. “You’re very kind, has anyone told you that?”

Natalia laughed, “Not often, I guess.”

“Well, you are. Nice girls like you shouldn’t be out fighting. This terrible war should be left to those with a mean enough spirit.”

Caught off guard by the sudden outburst by the older woman, Natalia could only bring her hand up to the hidden locket in response. How much I’d love to be home instead of fighting.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but even I was forced into it.”

“You were?” Natalia asked.

“Yes, I was on the outskirts of Derdainian land far to the north of here before Union made their advances. Every man and woman was drafted on the spot including me.” Coming to the top of the steps, Ellen leaned heavily on Natalia as the memory came back. “Carrying that rifle for the first time, what a terrible tool.” She sniveled back a growing tear. “I had been cornered by a pair of Union soldiers and that was when Albert showed up.”

“He saved you?”

“Yes, and we’ve been together since.” Ellen laughed while wiping at her eye before continuing on down the hall, her cane tapping along. “I guess the war was good for something.”

“How long have you been together?”

“Forty-three years now, our anniversary was just last month.” She turned down the hall coming to the bottom of the steps leading up to the attic. “Enough about me though, Alek is just up above.”

Natalia looked up into the dimly lit darkness above, the sound of the hammer echoing several times before going silent again. “I actually had one more question, if you don’t mind.”

“No, go right ahead.”

“How did you end up living on the Union side?”

Ellen smiled. “This home was once my parents’ before I inherited it. I do speak terribly of the Union, but after me and my dear husband were captured, we were allowed to settle back here out of good faith. There are good people on their side, you should always remember that.”

The sight of the bloody saber wielding Lead and the faceless, white-masked soldier gave her pause as she grimaced. “I’m not so sure about that.”

“You’ll come to see what I said is true.”

Natalia shook her head. “It doesn’t matter if I do or don’t, I just want to survive.”

“Don’t we all, sweetie?”

She froze up and looked to Ellen to see her wrinkled smile.

“Now, enough talking, get up there,” Ellen urged Natalia towards the stairs with a wave of her hand.

Natalia simply nodded in reply and began the climb up the steep stairs into the attic. Don’t we all… She squeezed her hand into a fist. Why’d you have to die Lena? Coming to the top of the steps, Natalia squeezed her eyes in an attempt to force the sight of her dying comrade from her thoughts.

The hammer slammed down again, bringing her out of her thoughts. She looked around at the narrow attic, the roof slanting toward the top and creating tight nooks at the edges where shadows lingered. Light bulbs hung on hooks with their wires strung along toward a wall where it went down to vanish into the floorboards. On the opposite side of the attic, a tall, slim man was busy hammering another wooden board to the ceiling. With a lightbulb close to his head, it gave a bright glow to his blond undercut hair that was slicked back. Scars ran up his right arm in random directions, the white a steep contrast to his tanned skin. He brushed his arm across his face to try to wipe the sweat away before he hammered another nail.

Natalia shook herself from staring and quickly snapped to attention with her fist over the right of her chest in salute, “Stervok, right?”

He finished hammering the final nail before turning on the stool to face her. “It’s good to see you awake, Natalia Ludmila.” His voice was smooth and pristine. He raised his fist in a returned salute to hers.

“Thank you. It’s good to be up.” Natalia’s focus began to wander to corners of the room unable to meet his focused sky-blue eyes. “Do you need help at all, Stervok?”

“Alek is fine while we are out on the field,” Alek replied while gathering up the tools around him to place back into the bin. “Thankfully, I just finished.”

“Oh, well if that is the case, then will you be coming down to the basement now as Orsolya has begun going over the map and we’re wondering when you’d be joining us?”

“Always the impatient one, that woman.” Alek laughed and stood in a half crouch as to avoid hitting the ceiling with his head. “Yes, I’ll come down now just lead the way.”

Marching back down, Natalia saw Ellen heading back toward the stairs. “Do you need help again?”

“That’d be nice, sweetie,” Ellen replied looking back with a smile. “How is it going, Alek?”

“I’m actually done, Ellen, with what I can do from the inside.” Alek answered having reached the bottom of the steps, “Albert will need to get someone to look at it from the outside.”

“Oh, that’s fine. I’m sure Albert can find some help, but your quick fix is greatly appreciated,” Ellen replied.

Natalia offered up her arm for Ellen and began walking her down with Albert close behind.

“Of course, it is the least I can do for your incredible hospitality,” he said.

“You flatter me, Alek, but don’t feel like you have a responsibility to help us, nor you Natalia.” Ellen came to the bottom of the steps and walked towards the plush couch to sit on. “Albert and I, enjoy the company it keeps things lively around this old home.” She settled down with a heavy sigh and placed her cane to the side. “Now the both of you get on with your talk down below. Dinner will be ready in a few hours when Albert gets home.”

“Thank you,” Alek said with a nod of his head.

“Yes, thank you!” Natalia added and moved towards the kitchen, the smell of the garlic leading her in the right direction in the unfamiliar home.

Reaching the kitchen, Natalia looked around in confusion at the tight space looking for the door to lead down to the basement. “I, uh, don’t know which way,” she turned to see Alek walk through the door behind her.

“This one,” he opened a hidden side door to reveal the stairs leading down to the basement, “After you.”

“Right, that one…” Natalia replied and took the lead down the stairs into the cold basement.

“Finally, you’re back and with Alek in tow, good.”

Natalia came to the bottom of the steps to see Orsolya still sitting at the workbench with a map taking up much of the surface. A hammer, chisel, and a couple of books held down the corners of the map.

“You’re impatient as always, Orsolya Kopen,” Alek replied.

Orsolya rolled her eyes. “And you’re always the professional, now get over here and let’s review this map already.”

“An important trait that you could use, Sol.” Alek chuckled and made his way over to the workbench to take a seat across from Orsolya.

Following Alek, Natalia took the seat between the two of them. “Sol?”

“So, I’ve been told by you many times and just like I’ve reminded you, professionalism won’t help you survive out here,” Orsolya replied.

“I’m alive still, aren’t I, Sol?” Alek clasped his hands together and straightened his back. “I’d say it’s carrying me along just fine.”

“Sol?” Natalia asked Orsolya again with a raised brow.

“A nickname that Alek prefers.” Orsolya crossed her arms.

“Nice and short, easy to say in the midst of battle,” Alek said.

Orsolya scowled, “You might be right, but we aren’t in a battle right now.”

“Thankfully not!” Alek laughed and reached for a grubby rag left in his back pocket to scrub off a dirty mark he noticed on his wrist. “Now what have you been up to, my lady, while I was busy fixing up the roof?”

“Studying the map that Albert gave us this morning.” Orsolya tapped a finger on the map. “I’m eager to hear your observations on it.”

“Of course you are.” Alek smiled.

Natalia leaned forward to eye the map. “This looks newer than the one we saw back at the forward encampment.” She squinted her eyes at some of the words and quickly realized it was not the small font that was an issue but that the words themselves were in the Union’s native tongue of Ulsha.

“Because it is, straight from Albert who got it a couple days ago from another informant, or at least that’s what I’m told.” Orsolya tapped a mess of lines near the center of the map. “And this map is definitely much newer than the one we saw, I’d say by at least a couple of months.”

“Has the Scar of Yul really gotten that much bigger?” Natalia asked.

“It’s definitely grown.” Alek said reaching into a pocket to dump several screws on the table before picking up one to place its head over a town to act as a marker, “And here we are, the village of Bravan.”

“The scar isn’t that far west of here.” Natalia eyed the distance between the screw and the tip of the scar that snaked across a third of the map with a jagged motion, fingers licking out to the surrounding land. “Do you think it’d eventually swallow up this town?”

“Who knows, either way the Scar is a perfect path to stay hidden,” Orsolya said.

“Are you serious?” Natalia looked to Orsolya wide eyed. “Isn’t it dangerous?”

“Sure, silvrik are a likely issue we’ll have to deal with. Maybe some wildlife too, a red bear or a four horned beetle.”

“Silvrik?”

“Another race that inhabits the Scar,” Orsolya replied.

“Are they dangerous?” Natalia asked.

“Can be,” Alek mused, but it’s either them or we take the risk with Union patrols and well one can call in for extra support the other is far less organized.”

“I guess that makes sense.” Natalia sighed and looked back to the map with a frown.

“Now then, Alek, what do you know about this map?”

Alek placed the rag back in its pocket before rubbing at his eyes. “It’s been a long day.” He leaned forward to get a better look of the map. “I must be brief for now as I should get some sleep before we set off tonight.”

“You aren’t actually joining us, are you?” Orsolya asked.

“Yes, orders dictate that I am to support you two on your mission in dealing with Alexander Lépurc.”

“Albert mentioned the latest message from Command. I’m still a bit in disbelief that three gamayuns are to travel together.” Orsolya said.

“Three of us espers together? Surely we’ll succeed then!” Natalia said.

Alek shook his head, “Our chances have improved, however there are still many challenges ahead of us.” He reached to the side for another loose screw. “Now, then, the location of the Union’s main base of operations in this region of Glodoran is here.” Alek placed the head of the screw north of the scar just past a river and a pair of towns along the water. “From my understanding it was propped up only recently, which adds credence to why Command was having a difficult time locating it. The infrastructure is all new and still growing.”

“This section of the Scar then should lead us right near the town of Yulhilven, which we can use as a stopping point before approaching the Union’s base,” Orsolya said pointing out a thin stretch of a ravine extending out from the scar towards the most eastern town.

“Precisely what I was thinking,” Alek replied.

“I get the risk of being discovered by Union, but do we really have to travel through the Scar? Surely we can use the various stretches of forest just east of the Scar leading up to the town,” Natalia said while pointing out markings for forests extending out west of their current position.

“It would work if it wasn’t for this major road,” Alek said motioning to a stretch of road going from the town heading south towards the trench line. “The forests along the route are also patrolled due to threats such as us.” He tapped his finger along the most eastern part of the Scar. “We do have the option of exiting the Scar earlier. However, to cross this road our best bet is to enter the Scar here and cross under the supply route.”

“What about the return trip?” Natalia pressed with more questions, “Isn’t it too dangerous to travel back through the Scar as it’d be predictable.”

“More than just predictable,” Orsolya said with a shake of her head, “We have to get in and out of that place as fast as we can. The longer we stay in the Scar the more time we give the silvrik to catch our scent and hunt us.”

“We’d have to give it well over a month before risking a return to the Scar to allow our presence to vanish from there,” Alek added.

“A month of waiting around would be far too risky,” Orsolya said and reached across the workbench for one of the screws to roll between her fingers. “So, what is the escape route? I assume you have an idea already, Alek?”

“Of course I do, Sol,” he smiled and slid his finger from the Union’s main base going west. “We have two paths as I see it. To the immediate west with a stretch of the Glodoran mountain range we can vanish into the snow that’s already fallen there. However, going from there back to our lines would take a while.” He then slid his finger northeast from the base. “The other direction would be riskier, however if we head deeper into Union territory briefly, we can shake off any pursuers before heading back southeast towards this town. Once we’re here it should be smooth sailing.”

“Going back into the mountains seems dangerous,” Natalia said while nervously rubbing her hands together at an invisible chill. “We risk running out of supplies if we don’t get out before the first snow.”

“I agree with Natalia, though leaving tracks to indicate that we may have gone west wouldn’t hurt,” Orsolya said.

“No, it would not,” Alek replied while rubbing at his eyes again. “We are in agreement then? Tonight, we leave and head towards the entrance of the Scar.”

“Yes,” Orsolya said.

“Can’t we at least not enter it at night?” Natalia asked.

“Of course not,” Alek chuckled, “The less nights in that place the better, we’ll stop and rest until sunrise, then we shall enter that place.”

“The faster we get through the better,” Orsolya tapped the screw against the table. “Do you have enough supplies to make it through, Alek?”

Alek glanced over to his pack and thought about it for a moment before replying, “Yes, I have what I need and thankfully Albert had spare ammunition for my rifle.”

“And do you think you can keep up?”

“Why the sudden question about my stamina?” Alek crossed his arms.

“You’ve been out here far longer than either of us, if you need time to rest more…”

He waved his hand to interrupt her, “You need not worry about me, Orsolya. I’ll keep up just fine.” Alek turned his attention to Natalia. “The better question is if our new gamayun here can perform.”

Natalia returned with a glare of her own. “I’ve been out on my own enough times, I’ll survive.”

“I didn’t ask if you could survive.”

“Alek, she’ll be fine, let me ask you something else,” Orsolya cut in.

“What’s that?” he replied.

“Are you certain Lépurc will be at this base?”

“I’ve seen some of the reports and dispatch orders coming from the base with his signatures to confirm his location.” Alek stood and stretched before letting out a yawn. “My mission for the past month has been to confirm that consistency. Now that you two are here, it’s changed to infiltrating the base and eliminating him.”

“And do you think we can?” Orsolya asked.

“Sure, there are a few weak points, just like any Union military camp.” Alek began to walk towards his bed. “But, that’s us getting into the details of the operation, we’ll have to discuss them later. For now, I need my sleep otherwise, I’ll be working on two days of nothing.”

Orsolya placed the screw back onto the table and stood. “No, get your sleep. We need you rested up as much as possible for when we enter the Scar.” Stretching, Orsolya began to head for the stairs. “I’ll be upstairs helping Ellen, we can talk more later.”

“Sounds good to me.” Alek yawned while heading over to his bed.

Natalia watched both of them go their separate ways, yawning herself. I could sleep more myself. With a heavy sigh she stood and followed after Orsolya up the stairs. She stopped at the bottom of the steps to glance back at the map. It won’t be long before we’re back out there. The Scar… She shivered and hurried up the stairs trying to rid herself of the rumored horrors that linger there.

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Author of the on-going serial "Perpetual War"

2 thoughts on “PERPETUAL WAR ARC THREE: CHAPTER Seven – The NExt Step

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