It is a calm lulling night as Bryce walks the camp. The golden moon of Lushan hangs high in the sky casting its golden rays. What awaits Bryce this evening?
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 emotions that drive everyone, what have they led our world to? I sometimes wonder if we could flip a switch on the anger and rage within our hearts and turn up our sympathy for others then we could end the cycle of destruction we bring upon ourselves and the land. Unfortunately, such a thing shall never happen and thus emotions will continue to drive us through this world. The youth are filled with bountiful energy and easily swayed by propaganda to turn their rage against one another. Then through countless battles, if they happen to survive, they rise up in rank and become leaders and propagandists to sway the next generation while trying to ignore the growing turmoil within them. Finally, when they retire, now older and more resistant to outside elements affecting them, they then become prey to their own growing regret. Nightmares begin to consume them from actions of their youth. In the end, everyone perishes by their own inner turmoil, wrought upon them by the will of others destined for the same fate.
-Halbern Isador, A Philosophical Take on the History of the World
The cool night air was a comfort to Bryce. His frustration from the day’s events all culminating to the shock of Liarie’s appearance had left him drained. He desperately wanted to stay by her as she recovered, but by Quil’s urging he was forced away. As much as he wanted to go back, he was finding solace in simply walking a quiet path through the still night. His dread for Liarie lightened once he felt her presence through the familiar bindings with his soul. The knowledge that she was safe was enough for him for now. Even then he still ached to be by her and see her smile. To learn what had happened to her.
He walked a slow pace along a grassy path. Patches of purple flowers dotted the field, their petals opened in bloom with the full golden moon of Lushan that shined brightly above. The stronger silver moon of Cerudan was eclipsed and hidden behind thick clouds, its rays muted under the golden brilliance.
A fluttering of wings caught his attention as he spotted a pair of moths flying from flower to flower drinking the nectar within, yellow lights trailing behind their flight path. He thought back to the peace beneath the tree atop the hill, lying in the grass with Liarie by his side. The brief moment just before they entered the trenches seemed like ages ago. He felt an ache in his heart to experience such a moment again with her. To lay within the comforting, blissful folds of nature without a care of what lay beyond.
The path began to turn into a gradual climb, he took it with ease, barely noticing as he kept to his memories. His mind drifted to the ancient forests to the north that were once his home. The time when he first saw her, bright pink flowers decorating her hair, a gleeful smile upon her lips. Her cold words when he had introduced himself to her had dashed him then, but now he could not help but smile at the silly conversation he had with her so many years ago.
Even with her rejection then he could not help but continue to pursue her, even with Quil constantly butting in the way. His parents telling him to not go so deep into the forest. Villagers looking at him funny when he’d return. It had felt like the world did not want him to meet with Liarie and he began to think it never could be. Until Liarie opened up to him by giving him one of her flowers, such a little thing, but it was enough.
Bryce rubbed at his heart as he recalled the fires that gripped the forest that one terrifying night. The purge had been set upon the area. The fear he had felt as he ran wildly into the woods to escape. Finding Liarie and the comfort he found by being by her. The touch of their souls as a pact was made.
He stopped to take a deep breath as the discomfort upon his heart faded away. His hand drifted to the wooden necklace; taking it from its hiding place, he stared at the wooden carving, eyes following the curves. “I wonder what you would do, sister?”
Glancing the rest of the way up the ridge, he saw the dim golden glow of Lushan. Hiding the necklace again, he walked up the rest of the way, eager to see what lay beyond.
Coming to the top, Bryce was greeted to the familiar sight of the Scar, an expansive field stretching beyond his sight. The crisscrossing lines dug deep into Coronam, going in every which way with no rhyme or reason. Many of the lines dug through to come to an end where large spikes of rock struck up in unnatural formations that displayed the destructive force of magic. At the heart of the Scar, a heavy fog hung perpetually, hiding what lay below. The Scar itself was lit by the golden moon, giving it an odd beauty.
Hanging just below the clouds in the far distance was an airship gently lowering itself toward a large structure with tubing going into the depths of the Scar. A pair of search lights lit from the top of the structure, helping to guide the airship down for docking in preparation for loading and unloading of materials.
“Lead! It’s great to see you this fine evening!”
Bryce turned to see Jacob waving his hand, his other wrapped around the shoulders of Rachel.
“What made you two come up here?” Bryce asked walking over to where they were snuggled close with backs against a large boulder covered in moss facing the glow of the moon.
“Well we—,” Jacob said while starting to stand in salute.
“No, stay seated there is no need,” Bryce said.
“Oh, sure,” Jacob replied settling back down with Rachel, who pressed back against him.
“So, we thought with us stopping early for the day and the light of Lushan upon us that we’d use this chance to take in the scenery,” Jacob said, looking out at the Scar with a smile.
“It is something.” Bryce looked back to the landscape, his mind drifting instead to the dangers that had occurred to leave Liarie in the state that she was in.
“Did you come up for the same, Lead?” Rachel asked.
“To get some fresh air?”
“You could say that,” Bryce replied, halfheartedly, his mind pre-occupied with his own thoughts.
“Sit and rest then, Lead. You clearly need it,” Jacob said.
Bryce exhaled deeply before settling down a few feet away from them in a thick grassy path. His eyes still taking in the golden glow of the land. “I suppose you are right about that.”
“Of course I am! Take a load off, the night is still young and as beautiful as it can be!” Jacob squeezed Rachel close. “Right?”
“Yep,” Rachel said before pressing tightly against him for warmth against a gentle gust of wind.
Bryce looked out of the corner of his eyes to the young couple hugging one another, innocent eyes looking to one another with compassion. When was the last time we held one another like that, Liarie? No concerns or fears of what was around us, just focused on each other.
“Is she okay?” Rachel asked.
“Is Lady Majes okay?” Rachel asked again.
“Oh, yes, she’s just resting right now,” Bryce replied, coming out of his troubled thoughts.
“That’s good, I do hope she gets well soon.” Rachel smiled.
“She will.” Bryce looked to the couple. “So, tell me, how’d you two meet?”
“Us? What a fantastic story!”
“It wasn’t at all.” Rachel laughed.
“That’s what you say, ‘cause you were a scaredy cat!”
“I was not!”
“Oh, but you were!” Jacob said pulling her back to try to muffle her protests. “You should have seen her, shaking like a leaf!”
“Stop!” Rachel exclaimed trying to push him down before being shoved aside with ease, laughing all the while.
“Go on, tell me,” Bryce said.
“A group of us was scouting out a ruined building, going room to room, seeing nothing special. Suddenly I hear this high pitched scream and I go running towards it to see what was happening. I come around a corner and there is Rachel atop a box scared of a tiny spike rat!”
“It wasn’t tiny, Lead! It was the biggest rat you could ever imagine!” Rachel yelled, finally getting the better of Jacob in their struggle. “With huge spikes! I nearly lost my eye!”
“I’m sure you did!” Bryce chuckled.
“I don’t think he believes you.” Jacob laughed, wrapping an arm around her shoulders again.
“I do,” Bryce replied with a smile, “honest.”
“Good,” Rachel replied. “You look to be in a far happier mood now.”
“Yes, I’d say you two helped with that.” Bryce looked back toward the moonlight, his somber tune gone now as he enjoyed the beauty.
“Mind me asking you a question, Lead?” Jacob asked.
“What’s it like having a Familiar?”
Bryce lowered his gaze.
“A bit personal of a question don’tcha think, love?” Rachel said with a frown.
“Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean it in any bad way,” Jacob said.
“You’re fine,” Bryce replied. Stretching his legs out, Bryce bent one knee to rest his elbow on it. “The bond is like an extension to my soul. When I need Liarie or she needs me we can call to one another over great distances. And we can tap into each other’s strengths in combat, extending our use of magic far past any normal person.”
“Can you read each other’s thoughts?” Jacob asked.
“Really?” Rachel asked Jacob with a quizzical stare.
“We could, but we rarely need to. Just the feel of our emotions to one another is enough to get our intentions across normally,” Bryce replied.
“Not such a silly question, now was it?” Jacob grinned.
Rachel sighed and playfully pushed him away.
Bryce plucked a nearby purple flower and gently twirled it between his thumb and index finger.
“Do you ever get tired of her? You know, being so close even in your own mind, surely you’d want space away?” Jacob asked.
Bryce gave a hint of a smile, “Not at all.”
“Do you like her?” Jacob asked.
“Jacob, stop prying!” Rachel exclaimed, giving him a rougher push against the shoulder sending the boy to his side.
“I’m just curious is all!”
Bryce looked away with a grimace. The urge to reply with “yes” and being unable to soured his brightening mood.
“You know how it is with um, relationships with pact members…” Rachel said unsure of her own answer.
“What, you can’t be together?”
“That’s right,” Rachel replied.
“Yes, well, I should get going. It’s a long day tomorrow,” Bryce said, standing up. “You two should get some rest as well. There probably won’t be another short day like this for a while.”
“The night is still far too young for sleep!” Jacob protested.
He looked down at the flower, readied to discard it, but instead he closed his hand around it. “Good night, you two.” Bryce replied, half listening to the two of them as he began to descend back down the way he had come. The whispered bickering of the two lovers drifted away with each step he took. The soft texture of the flower in his hand gave him comfort and an odd sense of excitement. How innocent the two of them are. I wish we could have such a simple relationship, Liarie.
The gradual descent was soon left behind as Bryce drew near to the column of trucks encircling the campfires within. The tall shapes of the trucks helped block out much of the wind that blew across the open Glodan Plains.
He walked the outskirts preferring to remain in the shadows. With idle steps, Bryce made his way around the camp towards his tent, already pitched up from earlier in the day. A growing exhaustion he had not noticed before was eagerly speeding up his steps towards the comfort of his bed.
A tingle of warmth deep down in Bryce’s chest fluttered into existence like a butterfly spreading its wings for the first time. The cold dreariness he felt for much of the day was quickly washed away as he stood there at the tent’s entrance unsure if he could even consider sleep anymore. Liarie!
Turning from the tent, Bryce hurried towards the tent where Liarie rested. The dark of the night grew as more clouds blew into the area to cover parts of the golden moon obscuring its glow. A renewed vigor in the wind brought forth a drop in the temperature. The few sentries along the outskirts of the camp curled up tightly, shivering as they desperately counted down the minutes until they could escape back to their respective beds and sleep the rest of the night away.
His eyes set on the tent, he spotted Quil step forth from the flaps, securing them closed after her exit. “She is awake, isn’t she?” Bryce asked drawing close.
Quil turned at Bryce’s voice and crossed her arms, eyes narrowed. “You hold great impatience,” she replied in a hushed tone.
“Yes, but are you surprised?” Bryce asked, lowering his voice in a whisper.
She shook her head. “No, as you hold a pact with my sister.” She stepped close to brush a hand along Bryce’s arm. “I wonder though if it was a folly to let her form such a bond.”
“She made that decision herself; you know that.” Bryce’s brow narrowed in a frown as he tried to force away his frustration against her sensitive touch.
“That she did and now she is under the same threat you face. This mysterious third entity. I despise this horrid situation you have placed her in, Bryce Coduire.” Quil parted from Bryce to give him a final glare before beginning to walk away, her tail flicking in a dismissive matter. “She is awake now and eager to lay eyes upon you. I hope you keep your visit brief and allow her the rest she deserves.”
Bryce stood there rubbing his arm to rid her touch from his skin. The flick of her tail only left him further heated in his anger. Obtrusive as always and now she suggests what happened to Liarie is my fault!?
Seeing no point in standing in the cold any longer, he let out a huff and walked the short distance to the tent. Pulling the flaps open, Bryce stepped inside to a dim darkness. The only source of light came through the thin walls of the tents from the fires beyond.
“Quil?” Liarie asked.
“No, it’s me.” Bryce said, stepping further into the tight space. He could make out the outlines of Liarie’s arm moving in the dark before a lantern sparked to life sitting atop an unfolded table. The gentle glow revealed the boxes and pack of supplies on one side of the room and on the other side the cot that Liarie was laying atop of. She was on her side, half-curled with her quilt piled up at her hooves. The emerald night gown she wore hugged her curves. At the foot of the cot was her dress laid out, drying. “I see Quil cleaned your dress.”
“Yes.” Liarie did not move from her spot atop the cot.
Bryce felt confused by her cold response. The touch of the flower in the palm of his hand gave him action as he stepped towards the table besides her cot. “I won’t keep you from your rest; I just wanted to give you something.” He placed the flower onto the surface.
Liarie poked her head up at the flower; she reached a hand out and brought it close to sniff it. “Thank you, Bryce. It smells delightful.” Her tone was dull as she placed the flower back atop the table and returned to her curled-up position.
“Are you okay?” Bryce asked.
“No.” She stared off, seeing something that wasn’t there, “I can still see it.”
Liarie squeezed her eyes shut. “What that beast showed me.”
“Beast? When you were brought back, Riel had said you were walking the magical realm. Was the beast within that place?”
“Yes, it pulled me inside even with the blood shield. I haven’t the faintest idea how.”
Bryce pulled a stool set the side close so he could sit beside her. “What did it show you?”
“The horrors that may occur if we fail to reach him soon.” She looked up at him, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. “He showed me your death.”
He grimaced. “Surely he was toying with you?”
She placed a hand atop her head, squeezing in frustration. “If he was, then it is cruel. The images he showed me, they were far too real!”
“Nothing can predict the future, you know that, Liarie.” Bryce reached out to touch her shoulder.
She flinched at his touch then calmed once she met his eyes. “I am aware, but he knows something we don’t. A danger we fail to see.”
“Maybe.” Bryce leaned close to her, gently brushing her hair. “Did he say anything to you? Where we could find Guidance?”
With head resting atop her hands, Liarie lay there curled up, comforted by his gentle touch. “Guidance waits for us to the east, but if Guidance sides with that beast we shouldn’t go.”
“Is this the same creature that I dealt with just after the trenches?”
“What makes you think so?” Liarie asked, not stirring from her position.
Even without her moving, Bryce could sense a subtle stirring in their connection to one another. “It is, isn’t it? He spoke of Guidance as well.”
“We have to find help in another Guidance,” Liarie said, looking up with a scowl.
Pulling his hand back, Bryce met her gaze. “You know we can’t, Liarie. This is our best chance.”
“We don’t know what powers we are messing with by joining forces with that thing!” Liarie exclaimed, sitting up now as a panicked look began to fill her eyes. “We just can’t. If it can mess with my soul from this distance, imagine what it could do to us when we approach it!”
“I’m sorry, but we have to risk it,” Bryce said rising to his feet to step away, not able to handle the sorrow in Liarie’s eyes.
“We have to run from it! Surely what it showed me cannot happen if we don’t go near it. Just give up on this all and find a place to hide.”
“You know deep down you don’t want to give up, any more than I do,” Bryce said, his fists tightening as he steeled away his own emotions. “We have to face this danger if it means a chance to overthrow the evil that sits in the cathedral halls.”
“I understand that and yet…” Liarie began to sob, “Why can’t someone else do it? Take these risks so we can just live in peace?”
“We are the ones who have to do this. Otherwise, no one will have peace.” Bryce began to move toward the exit, trying his best to hold firm to the ache of emotions flooding his heart from Liarie’s soul. “And it’s personal for the two of us. We’re the ones who can make this happen.”
“Still…” liarie sniveled, “Bryce, please don’t go.”
“We should get some rest, Quil asked me to give you plenty too.”
“Hold me, Bryce.”
“You know I can’t…” Bryce said with a whisper, his voice threatening to crack.
“I was here to check on my familiar, nothing more.”
“Please…” she said with barely an audible whisper.
Glancing back, Bryce saw Liarie with tears streaming down her face, about to collapse from the side of the cot to the floor. “Liarie!” He moved in a rush, catching her and pulling her close to his chest. There the two of them sat on the ground, arms wrapped around one another.
“Please, just hold me, Bryce.” Liarie buried her head into his shoulders, tears flowing freely as she began to openly sob. “I don’t want to be away from you again.”
“I got you, just rest my sweetheart.” Bryce hugged her tightly, one hand on her back and the other brushing her beautiful orange hair. Am I making a mistake by pursuing this Guidance? He lowered his head, the tension of the moment starting to leave him as he felt delight in having Liarie so close. He whispered to her in a soft voice, “You’re safe with me, always.”