The town of Bravan holds a particular mystery, a key that Bryce’s company so desperately needs to find in their hunt for the Imperial Gamayuns. Will they find that key or merely waste their time further?
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This war tearing our lands apart, what does it gain us? Walking the streets of ruined towns, all I see is the dead and those left to tend to them. Children left to starve while their parents are forced away into more senseless fighting. All this suffering so the rich and powerful of the great nations can have a chance at attaining more power in the Primordial Towers. Is it worth it? I have spoken ill of this war and I encourage everyone to walk through a town right after a battle. Upon exiting the other side you’ll understand, and I assure you, you will find yourself siding with me in speaking out against this war.
-Marlene Vumos, Letters to End the Madness
Bryce peered around the empty room lit by rays of light seeping through the shattered windows to reveal a scarred and pillaged home. The walls were cracked, and black scorch marks lay across the floor where a fire began before being put out.
“Anything?” Halgurd asked.
“No, just another empty house.” Bryce turned away from the dismal scene to join Halgurd outside. “Did you find anything next door?”
“Nothing.” Halgurd shook his head. “I don’t understand, why do the people of this village allow these homes to lie in ruin?” Halgurd asked.
“It’s too close to the front.” Bryce paused to look into the next window and saw a similar scene.
“No, it’s also not enough incentive to convince people to move here.” Bryce paused to look back at Halgurd to see the vlaxon with a paw on the pommel of his sword and focus on a jagged crack running the height of the house.
“Not enough incentive? How much money must be offered?” Halgurd asked.
“A good question for one of the economic advisers.” Bryce ran a hand along a wall covered in moss and vines, the leaves swaying under his touch. “If I had to guess, it’s more than just money. The Union is forgiving to those who are conquered and eagerly give up their past beliefs to swear loyalty to Yenvark. This forgiveness does not always extend down to the individual citizen, especially when it is Derdainians we’re talking about.”
“What can be done about it?”
“Many things, but that’s up to the higher ups to decide, not us.” Bryce continued to the next house. The windows were covered with curtains and the walls had minor repairs done to it.
“You have no ideas yourself, Lead?” Halgurd asked.
“Another time, Halgurd.” He came to a halt before the door of the house and gave it a knock. “We have a house to search.”
“Yes, Lead.” Halgurd replied and took up position to the right of Bryce.
The door opened a moment later to reveal a middle-aged woman with disheveled black hair and an exhausted look on her face. “Yes?”
“Good afternoon ma’am, we’re conducting searches of the village and need to look through your home,” Bryce said.
“Are you serious?” She rubbed at her eyes, “What are you even looking for?”
“That’s a private matter. I can promise that we will be brief in our search and be on our way.”
She simply nodded, understanding the futility of the situation and opened the door further for them to enter.
Walking in, Bryce was greeted by a dimly lit room. Much of the furniture was cheap looking metal shelving or chairs with thin cushions. The once vibrant wallpaper with flower decorations had a pale color with rips and tears throughout it. At the center of the room sat a young boy looking up from his play session with a pair of carved wooden toys. In an adjacent room the smell of carrot soup permeated in the air. Blinking his eyes to adjust to the dark, Bryce stepped further into the room. His attention was focused on looking for any abnormal wooden floorboards.
“How old is he?” Halgurd asked.
“Four,” the woman replied.
Bryce glanced over to see Halgurd stepping closer to the kid.
“What’s his name?”
“That’s a great name.”
“Halgurd—” Bryce said before stopping when he noticed the woman starting to relax with Halgurd asking questions.
“Carry on.” Bryce nodded and turned away from Halgurd to meander towards the back of the main living room.
“What’s this a carving of?” Halgurd asked.
“A wolf!” Alex exclaimed with an excited smile.
“Mind if I take a look at it?”
Coming to the doorway leading into the kitchen, Bryce looked back to see Halgurd take hold of the wooden carving.
“You look like one,” Alex said.
“No, no, he’s a vlaxon!” The woman looked at Halgurd with nervous fear. “I’m sorry, he’s still young, please understand.”
With an outburst of laughter, Halgurd gave her a toothy smile. “There’s no need to apologize.”
“A vla…vlaxon?” Alex said, unsure.
Kneeling, Halgurd handed back the toy and ran a paw through the boy’s hair, ruffling it. “Yes, a vlaxon.”
Bryce turned to head into the small kitchen. The counter tops were stained and cracked with age. A pot sat boiling atop the gas oven, the carrot smell now much stronger with hints of pepper. He stepped further into the kitchen to get a look around some cabinets but nothing was suspicious. Leaving the kitchen, he stepped into the adjacent doorway that led into a short hallway.
Taking the first door, Bryce flicked the light switch. A lamp sitting atop a nightstand flickered on to reveal a messy bed, half the sheets laying on the floor besides it. The walls were plain, and piles of folded clothes sat to the side, no drawer to keep them.
Seeing nothing else of interest, Bryce left the room to head for the last door that led down to the basement. Scattered lightbulbs buzzed awake after he hit the switch. He took careful steps down the wooden stairs to enter a dismal and empty basement. “On to the next house then…” he muttered and turned with disgust at the glimpse of a roach scurrying away into a dark corner.
He made his way back up and walked through to the main living room to see Halgurd busy talking with the woman before pausing to look to him.
“Nothing, I presume?” Halgurd asked.
“That’s right.” Bryce looked to the woman and added, “Sorry for taking up your time.”
“Oh, that’s alright, please enjoy your day.” She gave a nervous smile and stepped out of the way of the two men, coming closer to her son.
Halgurd bowed his head slightly to her. “Thank you.” He then bowed his head to Alex. “Grow up big and strong, alright?”
“Okay!” Alex piped up in reply.
Bryce walked to the door and opened it, motioning for Halgurd to hurry up and a moment later the two men were back outside.
“We’re just about finished with another row of homes and we’ve found nothing. Do you think the others are having better luck?” Halgurd asked.
“I doubt it,” Bryce replied, marching on to the next house that lay dormant with a hollow inside.
“I’m starting to think this has all been a waste of time.”
“That it has been,” Bryce said and began to step inside the empty home before pausing at a nearby cry of pain.
Halgurd’s ears perked up and he turned towards the source of the noise, “Should we investigate?”
Another cry echoed into the air followed by a shriek of fear, “Definitely, let’s go!” Bryce said and began to run down the road before turning down a tight passageway between two buildings. Coming out the other side, Bryce spotted the bright blue door with peeling paint, slightly ajar. Another shout echoed from the house. Down the wide path other villagers who were out looked in the direction of the house then to Bryce as he rushed towards the door with Halgurd on his heels.
Reaching the door, Bryce burst through it and spotted Dunkir holding up an old man by the collar, the pudgy old man sweating profusely. Herra was to the side of Dunkir speaking urgently and on the other side of the living room an elderly woman was pleading for Dunkir to release the man.
“Dunkir! Release him!” Bryce commanded.
“Lead! Sorry, just…” Herra stammered and quickly shook Dunkir’s shoulder to get his attention.
“Dunkir!” Bryce called out again as he drew nearer. His hands tightened into fists.
With a grumbled curse, Dunkir let go of the old man’s collar and stomped towards the center of the room.
Herra caught the old man before he could crumble to the floor. “Sorry, let me help you to a chair, Albert.”
“What is happening here?” Bryce asked.
“Are you okay, my dear?” the old woman asked, taking wary steps forward, unsure of what to do.
“Yes, I’m alright, Ellen,” Albert replied with a heavy sigh as he was brought to a cushioned chair to sink into.
Dunkir having regained his composure stepped towards Bryce and saluted, “Lead, this house I believe is the one we’re looking for.”
“You’re guessing, Dunkir!” Herra snapped. A scowl crossed her face that quickly vanished as she felt a pull on her sleeve.
“Water, please,” Albert mumbled as he wiped at sweat beading on his forehead.
Herra quickly rushed past Ellen towards the kitchen.
“His medication, he needs his medication!” Ellen cried, her cane tapping away.
“Tell me where, I can get it.” Herra’s voice became muffled by the walls as she went deeper into the house with Ellen.
Bryce looked about the room acknowledging the pictures all along the walls before his eyes settled on the Derdainian sword with various military decorations surrounding it. “I hope you aren’t thinking this is the house just because this man once served in the Imperium. You know many of the people here were once part of Derdainia.”
“I know that, Lead, but to so proudly display—.”
“Is to be expected of a decorated solider.”
“Lead,” Halgurd said, stepping through the front door.
“What is it?” Bryce asked looking over his shoulder.
“We have onlookers coming over, what do you wish to do?” Halgurd asked.
Bryce looked over to the old man who sat hunched in his chair, sweating.
“Lead, please, we must search this house, I know something is here,” Dunkir pressed.
“I’m not tearing apart this house on a hunch.”
Dunkir pointed toward the kitchen. “It isn’t a hunch, I’m telling you there is something here. In the kitchen the wallpaper has a crease. I’m sure there is a hidden door behind it!”
Bryce looked towards the kitchen where Herra came rushing back out with a glass of water for Albert, Ellen following close behind. He began to move before pausing at the sensation of Liarie’s presence drawing near.
“Lead!” Halgurd called out. “Lady Majes approaches.”
“Wait here,” Bryce said, already heading out the front door by the time Halgurd finished. Bryce spotted Liarie rushing past the villagers. “What is it?”
She came to a halt right before Bryce and took a deep breath before speaking in a quiet voice to avoid the onlookers from hearing. “Quil and I have found the trace of the gamayuns heading west.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. The latest gamayun medallion is well crafted, but there is no mistaking the lingering presence of that girl from the Bosakil mountains.
“Her inexperience is our benefit. Is she alone?”
“It is hard to say, I believe there is at least one other,” Liarie looked out towards the west, ears perked up. “We should move swiftly; I suspect they left some time last night.”
“Not far ahead of us at all. Gather everyone up and we’ll meet at the entrance of the town. As soon as the trucks arrive, we’ll head west.”
“Okay!” Liarie nodded her head and raced off, hoofs kicking up dirt in her wake.
Turning, Bryce entered back into the house to see Albert looking in better shape with an empty glass besides him. Ellen was sitting in a nearby chair while Herra chatted with them. Spotting Bryce, Herra quickly grew silent and waited. Nearby Dunkir stood with crossed arms and Halgurd close by pacing back and forth.
“Please,” Ellen spoke up, “Please you have to believe us! We mean no harm to the Union.”
“Ellen…” Albert said, looking towards her before going silent.
Bryce saw the pleading look in Ellen’s old eyes and finally nodded his head in understanding. “Of course. I am sorry that members of my company have caused you any grief this day, we’ll be on our way.”
Dunkir stomped his foot but was silenced by Bryce’s look.
“Halgurd, Herra, Dunkir all three of you can head out. I’d like a final word with Albert and Ellen.”
“Yes, Lead.” Herra said.
With a grumble, Dunkir stormed out with Herra following behind him with a lighter step. Halgurd nodded his head with a slight bow to the elderly couple then marched out, paw resting on the pommel of his sword.
Bryce walked over to the display at the heart of the room where the sheathed sword hung. “You’ve gathered quite a bit of military decorations.” He said drawing close enough to see the various medals and ribbons. One particular medal was the medal of valor, an eagle with a sword carried in its talons.
“A long service in a pointless war,” Albert said.
Bryce laughed and turned to walk back to Albert. “Pointless during your time, but I’ll see the end of it.”
It was Albert’s turn to laugh. “If that’s true, then I’ll be long dead before it happens.”
“Time will tell.” Bryce gave a salute to Albert then to Ellen. “I wish the both of you a restful day and blessings from your Father.”
Albert slowly stood from his chair.
“Albert…” Ellen said, starting to rise.
“It’s fine, my love.” Albert smiled and turned his attention back to Bryce.
Such a strong bond between these two, will we make it this long together, Liarie?
“And I hope your God and Goddess continue to protect you.” Albert returned the salute with the Derdainian version, a fist over his right breast.
“Thank you,” Bryce said and headed for the door.
“Whatever your ambitions are, young man, I hope you find peace like I have,” Albert said.
Bryce glanced back and simply nodded before stepping out into the sun, closing the door behind. Before him waited Dunkir, Herra, and Halgurd who stood guard before several villagers who eyed the scene curiously from the distance, many of whom were meandering away after sensing nothing more was going to happen.
“What now, Lead?” Herra asked.
Bryce reached into a pocket for a watch and noted the time. “Liarie and Quil found our target. Our hour is about up, so the rest of the company should be arriving soon, we’re to meet them at the town’s entrance.”
“That is excellent news!” Herra said.
“Are we going to ignore this clear Imperial hideout?” Dunkir grumbled.
“We have our target in sight, I’m not wasting our companies time terrorizing an elderly couple. Now let’s move!” Bryce ordered and marched off, catching the grim look on Dunkir’s face in passing. The man seems to only grow angrier even with good news!
Such a peaceful presence from Albert, a man who should hate someone like me. Bryce wove through the path he had originally taken through the village, the poorly maintained buildings a blur to his senses. It’s a shame that the leaders of both nations can’t come together to find common ground. He entered the main road of the village to be temporarily blinded by the midmorning sun shining just past the rooftops of the two-story homes and shops lining the street. Stepping into the shadow of a row of buildings he made his way down the gradual hill towards the village entrance. As long as the minister is in place, common ground will never be found. Even once I take it, what will I do about Derdainia? What about the other nations bordering the Union?
Reaching the last building, Bryce came to a stop to see the trucks moving up the hill. The trio following him halting close behind, waiting patiently. I’m getting ahead of myself, one step at a time. The gamayuns are much closer than I thought.
The sun overhead burned brightly, the first in a while as the clouds around it were forced away or evaporated out of existence. In that bright glow workers were busy clearing the wreckage of the tower that had stood atop the cliff. Besides it another foundation was already being laid and a new observation tower hurriedly being built. The trees around the area were singed and burnt, the fires that had ravaged the area having long since ceased from the freezing rains that had passed through.
Bryce sat beneath one of the few trees remaining in the area to not have been burnt to a black charred mess. He watched the workers going about their business from a distance. Trucks driving up to bring fresh supplies for the new tower. Close by the metal pieces an anti-air gun was being assembled, the long barrels being propped up one at a time to the sky above.
“And what is Bryce thinking about?”
He looked over to see Liarie coming near to join him in the shade. “Just the pointlessness of our search,” he replied before looking back out at the workers. At the center a man dressed in the dark gray hooded cowl of a pastor walked between the workers observing them and giving guidance where needed. In the pastor’s hand was a long cane, the bottom cracked and chipped from striking the disobedient.
“Your frustration seems unfounded; we did find the gamayuns, after all.”
“Yes, after they enter the Scar, of all places,” Bryce sighed and slowly rose to his feet. “The company isn’t experienced enough for such a place. We’d be easy pickings for the silvrik.”
“Quil suggested we go in…”
“Of course she did,” Bryce chuckled and looked over to Liarie. The gentle breezing against her bright orange hair gave him pause as he stared.
“What is amusing about that?”
“Because it’s something I’d expect her to say.”
“She is serious, and I agree with her.”
“Are you crazy? We can’t endanger the entire company for this.”
Liarie shook her head and looked back to the wrecked tower. “It would not be the company, only Quil, Riel, and myself.”
“That’s an even crazier idea!” Bryce grasped her shoulder forcing her to look towards him.
“I disagree. Us three can move faster than any human can. We can catch up to the gamayuns.”
“That’s not what I mean, I’m talking about your safety. If you get hurt, there won’t be any support. I can’t risk losing you.”
Liarie blushed and looked away, “You need not worry about my safety. This is a necessary risk that we must take for the mission. We can’t allow emotion to rule us, here.”
“I’m not letting my emot—.”
“But you are!” Liarie interjected and stepped away, tail flicking. “We are tasked with capturing or killing these gamayuns. We have an opportunity to catch them and you are willing to throw it away.” She crossed her arms. “And if you stop to think for just a moment, you’d realize Darke is staying with you. While we travel, you’ll move on the outer rim of the Scar. Once we find the Gamayuns we’ll determine what exit they are heading for and then use the connection the twins have to teleport back, then set up a trap for the gamayuns when they exit the Scar.”
Bryce ran the idea through his head before nodding. “I’m sorry, you’re right. The idea is perfect.”
“I thought you’d agree.” She smiled.
Looking past her, he saw his company waiting by the trucks. Brashmar’s own company was further back, with Brashmar himself marching about with visibly growing impatience. “What exit do you think they will come out of?”
“I suspect the north toward the main encampment. Why else would they infiltrate so deep into our territory?”
“I have a feeling you’re right about that too.” Bryce chuckled and ran a hand through his hair. Another breeze swept over the area causing the tail of hair on the back of his head to loosen. Sweeping the tail back under his coat he placed hands on his hips and looked out at his company. “Then it seems this time around the company is following your lead. Best you get moving quick. I’ll keep the company moving and ready to attack as soon as you return.”
Liarie began to take a step closer before pausing and instead kept her distance. Everyone around was able to see them clearly. “I’ll keep you updated, just don’t fall behind, okay?”
“I won’t.” Bryce forced a smile. “I wish I could hug you goodbye.”
“As do I, my love. It won’t be long though.” She returned the smile before turning to head down the hill. “See you soon!”
“Wait!” he called.
Liarie paused to look over her shoulder.
“Can you at least take a gun for protection?”
She simply laid her hand over the wand hanging from her belt then turned to continue down the hill. In the distance, Quil and Riel were already waiting.
“Why’d I even bother asking,” Bryce sighed and looked out at the distant plains beyond his vantage point atop the large hill. Trees lined roads and small forests dotted the land. A small town sat huddled between two hills; a distant church bell rang from it. With a deep breath, he began the trek down the hill to rejoin his company.
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