A man continues to toil away in a dark city. Will his work pay off in the end or be for naught? All the while another man races forth towards his goals, accompanied and supported by his lover.
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In the days of old, nations relied on individual experts to toil away in creating swords, shovels, shields, hammers, armor, arrows, wheelbarrows, and all sorts of other weapons and tools. Everyone was an expert at something, thus an intelligent army when attacking would kill everyone they saw in sight or capture them to turn them into slaves. To replace an expert blacksmith is incredibly difficult and through time inventors figured out how to avoid this problem, through machines! The modern-day factory is capable of mass producing the tools that every nation needs to survive in this war. Now the people toiling away creating the tools only need half a brain to work the machine. Sure, killing citizens hurts the production of the nation, but a dumb citizen is easier to replace then an expert. Of course, you still need geniuses such as I to develop the machines but instead of us being spread across the land to provide the tools, we can be kept safe at the heart of the land away from danger. Then the dimwitted can use trucks we invented to carry out supplies created by our factories to the front lines.
-Mathematician, Inventor, Genius, Sir Fredrick Buckelham of Antoil, Inventions that Shaped Coronam
The buildings slipped by Hadeon’s view from within the car. An assortment of storefronts with apartments above climbed toward the cloudy night sky. Rune-infused lights were abuzz in an attempt to attract any passerby’s attention. Piles of muddy snow lined the street and sidewalk. Men and women alike dressed in warm coats walked the streets looking for gifts for the upcoming holidays, food to satisfy their hunger, or even lowly debauchery in the deep recesses of alleyways where the lights failed to reach.
The car came to a slow halt. Hadeon looked ahead to see a volferd in the middle of the road, its short, stumpy handler struggling to pull on the reigns of the beast.
“Come on, get out of the road,” Veyluna grumbled.
“Patience,” Hadeon replied.
She looked back at Hadeon in the rear seat, fingers tapping the steering wheel. “Patience, seriously?” Turning her attention back to the road she watched the volferd slowly get dragged to the side of the road. Once clear, she eagerly pressed on the gas pedal, causing the car to lurch forward before smoothing into a slow acceleration. “Stupid vlaxons always messing up.”
Hadeon looked out the side window to see the black volferd struggling more as another short vlaxon come running out to assist the first. “What do you expect? This city isn’t made for them.”
“I don’t know… for them to do a better job and not get in the way. This day has been horrible enough as it is!” Veyluna growled. The vehicle sped up slightly. A warning beep joined by a blinking red light on the dashboard forced Veyluna to ease up on the gas.
“Agreed,” Hadeon murmured and turned his attention back to the papers in his hand. Leafing through the sheets, he acknowledged the variety of numbers detailing recent losses along with various reports going into detail. With a yawn, he placed the papers atop the rest on the black leather seat beside him. “I’ve gotten used to it, one roadblock after another. I hope you can now acknowledge why I turn to my flask so often.” He chuckled while idly reaching into a coat pocket for the silver flask.
“Drinking away the problem isn’t helping, and you know it, Hadeon.”
Hadeon met her glare with his own. “Pay attention to the road. I’d like to sleep in my bed this evening, not in a coffin.”
“Of course, grand altálonos.” Veyluna waved him off and turned back to the road ahead.
Taking a swig of the warm booze, Hadeon closed the flask and kept it in hand at the ready. He looked out to his left to see a similar scene of shops on the other side of the road. Occasionally a vehicle briefly came into his view, a flash of their rigid, straight design an eyesore like much of the rigid, militaristic city. The car turned, giving him a new view of prickly-branched trees devoid of their leaves. Snow clung to the tree branches and piled up beneath, further suffocating them beyond what the city already did.
“I just don’t get it, with the night battle between the Union’s Leviathan and Luncal’sha airforce it is clear that the battle between the two nations is going to heat up, so why would the council decide to further stifle supplies for the Glodoran front?” Veyluna squeezed the steering wheel. “And the Precursor let it happen even though it is clear your plan has the best chance on breaking through.” The vehicle slowed as she shifted gears and turned directions down another street. The glare of streetlights along the windshield illuminated the dark cabin. “At this rate, we’ll be forced to retreat to the rear lines come Spring.” Veyluna glanced back at him. “Any ideas?”
“I’m trying not to think about it,” Hadeon grumbled. He rested his elbow on the side of the door and laid his head along the palm of his hand.
“You’re far too calm about this. Usually you’re the angry one.”
“Just exhausted,” Hadeon murmured.
“I guess.” Veyluna sighed and turned her attention back to the road.
Hadeon’s eyes began to droop as he stared out, watching the cold city pass him by. His view turned with the car and entered a downward slope before coming to a bridge. The wide river sparkled in the silver light of the low-hanging full moon. A small boat left a wake to ripple across the surface; small plates of ice forming at the edges of the river were tossed and broken up. Before long, his view was consumed by buildings again, much shorter this time and a darker, gloomier feel to them with no need to appeal to would-be shoppers. Few people walked the sidewalk, and those who did were in a hurry to either get home or head out for the evening to work or be entertained.
“I hate driving at night; it just feels like no one cares that the sun has set.” Veyluna paused, expecting a response before finally continuing, “When I lived in the countryside everything seemed so much more natural and livelier. While here even though everyone seems to be up throughout the night, it feels like they’re all dead inside.”
Taking another swig from the flask, Hadeon said, “It’s just the dirt of this part of town.”
“Even where the rich live, it all feels dismal.”
“They’d surely disagree.”
“I’m sure they would with their piles of riches,” Veyluna scoffed. “This city makes me sick; it’s covered in a layer of dirt, quite literally too with the factories pumping smoke all day long. Any attempt at trying to make it beautiful is weak and pointless. I honestly hate it here.”
“Why not retire then?” Hadeon turned away from the endless row of townhomes with walls cracked and windows boarded up.
“And leave you? Surely not, especially now that I want to see this plan come through. It’d be such a huge blow to the Union!”
“I do appreciate your help, but don’t feel obligated to stay.” Hadeon crossed his arms and laid his head back against the seat, eyes closed. “You’ve finished your five-year contract with the military, you have no reason to stay. Return to the countryside, start a family. You’ll be much happier, I’m sure of it.”
“There is just no way I can do that. Not after all my hard work. I want to serve the Imperium and make Father proud.”
“You can serve it just as well by raising a family. You are a woman after all, and you aren’t an esper, service was never mandatory.”
“No, it was for me.”
“I couldn’t disappoint my parents.”
“Why would you?”
“My father always talked about his service and how proud he was of it. He’d never say it, but I know he was disappointed in never having a son. So, I enlisted and when I told him, the look he gave me…”
Hadeon looked up from his rest to see in the rear-view mirror a glimpse of Veyluna’s smile and golden eyes light up.
“It well, it made my day. Each time I did well in the academy, my father was even happier.
“What did your mother think of it?”
“My mother was, of course, nervous for me but always talked about her regret in never enlisting when she was young.” She paused in the story as she turned the wheel, guiding the vehicle around a corner then across another bridge. “I have to admit I was nervous too, especially when I was handed a rifle and told to shoot at the target.”
“How’d you do?”
“Horrible!” Veyluna laughed. “I didn’t hit the target once! My instructor, eager to yell at us, was stunned to silence! I thought for sure that was the end of my career.” She tapped the side of her head. “Thankfully my brains got me through, but I was still disappointed with myself. I got stuck at some boring secretarial position and I know my father wouldn’t admit it, but he was a bit disappointed too. For three years I felt like my talents were rotting away. That is, until altálonos Lugern found me. It was with him I was positioned at headquarters and now finally I feel like my work is worthy. My father and mother still don’t fully understand what I’m doing, but come next year when the attack happens, I know they’ll be ecstatic for me.”
“So, you stick around just for your parent’s approval?”
“That’s right, I guess.” She shook her head and sighed. “Admitting it honestly is making me feel a bit foolish.”
“Don’t. Validation can be important and wanting it is perfectly normal.”
“I guess, in the end I just want to look back and have no regrets and I don’t think I could if I disappointed my parents.”
Hadeon took another swig from the flask before placing it back in his coat pocket. Tightening the coat around his body he leaned back against the door to look out at the passing street. A small park with a statue of a pair of soldiers raising a flag caught his attention. Days of youth running by this park made him smile briefly before the gloom of the endless row of buildings returned.
“What about your parents? What do they think about your service to the Imperium?”
“I’m sure they would be proud.”
“I… that’s good…”
“Don’t feel sorry, they passed when I was young.”
“Okay…” Veyluna replied.
Hadeon’s view turned once more to the familiarity of home before the car came to a slow halt. A small house nestled between many others in a neighborhood that seemed to have avoided the biggest developments the city had gone through over the decades. Trees lined the short front yards of each home with small gardens in front of some.
“Why do you even live here? Surely you make enough money to be in the rich part of the city.”
“I have no reason to be there,” Hadeon replied while he gathered all the papers back into his bag.
“Why’s that? Surely it’d be a better place for a family.”
“Good night, Veyluna,” Hadeon said opening the car door to step out into the cold air.
“Hey, I was thinking for tomorrow we should review the gamayun positions.”
Hadeon leaned on the door to peer back into the cabin. “I agree. I want the latest report on the group traveling through the Scar; they should be through by now.”
“I’ll make it happen.”
“Good, we’ll talk more tomorrow.”
“See you tomorrow,” Veyluna called out before the door was closed.
Hadeon looked up at his home, leaves piled up along either side of the sidewalk leading up to the front door. Visible cracks and peeling paint left the walls looking poor. The pair of trees on either side were devoid of leaves. A single light was on in the foyer to shine through the front door’s small window. The light was a welcoming call to him in the dark night.
He looked back at the car starting to drift away down the road leaving him in near silence, only broken up by the distant traffic and endless sick life of the city’s busier sections. He sighed and began the short trek up to the front door.
Reaching the door, Hadeon could hear a rumble of movement within before a loud bark sounded out. He took out the key and opened the door to reveal the black and red spotted dog within. “Hello, Red,” he said with a smile and stepped into the foyer.
With the door closed, he left the bag full of documents on a nearby stand, forgotten for now. He hurried to the backdoor and let Red outside. Stepping onto the back porch, Hadeon took out his flask to take another swig of the warm liquid. A haze hung over his mind, a mixture of the growing booze and exhaustion both piling on to him.
Red barked as he came running back to Hadeon after having ran through the tall grass of the backyard and done his business.
“I know, I know, you’re hungry,” Hadeon replied, opening the door to walk back inside. In the kitchen, he found the dog food and poured it for Red who eagerly began to eat. Standing before the old beat-up fridge, he listened to Red eat while his own stomach grumbled. His mind drifted to what Veyluna said, the hunger he felt forgotten for now.
Walking away, he headed into the living room, discarding the coat and loosening his buttoned shirt as he went. Hadeon sunk into the couch and took another swig from the flask, finishing the contents within. He rubbed his eyes and looked around at the sparsely furnished room before his eyes settled on the coffee table before him, a small picture frame lay there covered in a thin layer of dust. Picking it up, Hadeon was met by a picture of a younger version of himself next to a young black-haired woman with a bright smile and a hand over her pregnant stomach. He felt a pull on a heart string, an urge to pull the picture frame close in a hug. Forcing the emotions away, he placed the picture back down on the table and leaned into the cushions of the couch, allowing himself to sink further in the worn fabric.
With his eyes closed, he heard the jingle of Red coming over. He patted his knee.
Red took the offer immediately and hopped on to rest his large body across Hadeon’s lap.
Hadeon slowly began to scratch Red behind the ears, his own mind left blank as he tried to push away the struggles of his world even if just for a short while.
“Just a day behind,” Liarie said, having stood from her place at the center of the rocky alcove, stone spires rose all around to create a wall from the plains beyond.
“Are you sure?” Bryce asked.
“I’m sure of it, and I am confident that the twins as well as Quil will back me up once they return from their scouting of the surrounding area.”
Bryce nodded his head in understanding. “A day behind then, it could be worse…”
“I am still terribly sorry about that,” Liarie replied.
“Enough with the apologies, Liarie!” Hendrick exclaimed on the opposite side of the campsite. He was leaned up against one pillar, rolling a cigarette butt between his index finger and thumb.
“I must agree with Hendrick; your sincere apologies aren’t necessary! We should instead focus on catching these Imperials!” Brashmar exclaimed, slamming his fist into his open palm.
“I still can’t help but feel partly responsible for our situation,” Liarie murmured.
My dear beloved, please stop beating yourself up over this! Bryce felt the urge to approach her and hug her tight, to reassure her. “If anyone is to blame, it is my failure to keep our caravan moving swiftly enough to get into position. When you, Riel, and Quil teleported back, we should have been much closer than we actually were.”
“But,” Liarie paused, going over the facts in her head.
“Enough of the past!” Brashmar exclaimed and stepped out toward the center with hands outstretched. “It is time we focus on our next step and it is clear as day!”
“How’s that?” Hendrick asked.
A big grin crossed the large, muscled man. “They lead us by just a single day, but we do not travel on foot, but by engine! As long as we move swiftly, the fey and ghosts should be able to keep up with their presence before it vanishes! Am I not right in saying this, Lady Majes?”
“Yes, you are right,” Liarie replied with a glimmer of a smile.
“Excellent, are we in agreement with this basic plan, Bryce?”
“Of course,” Bryce said with a nod.
“Then I shall start the preparations for the companies to move within the hour!” Brashmar stormed out of the alcove with great vigor, the task at hand clear as day to him.
“Such a straight thinker, as if the gamayuns are travelling straight north on a wide-open road for us.” Hendrick flicked the butt into a patch of grass and walked forward. “What’s the real plan, Bryce?”
Bryce crossed his arms. “We head straight for the main encampment on the wide-open road.”
“Seriously?” Hendrick asked.
“Why hunt for the gamayuns when we can go straight to their goal?”
“Are we sure they’re heading there?” Hendrick asked.
“Why else would they travel this far north?”
“A good point.” Hendrick clasped his hands together. “Shall I grab Zel and get the trucks revved up?”
With a nod, Hendrick rushed out in search of Zel, leaving Bryce and Liarie alone in the private alcove.
Liarie stood with her head downcast, not saying a word.
Bryce spotted the purple flower entwined with the rest of the flowery piece decorating her hair. “I’ll have to pluck more of the purple flowers next time I see them; it looks great on you.”
“You think so?” Liarie replied with a slight blush, her hand reaching up to gently brush where the purple flower sat with the other brilliant hues of the other flowers.
“I’m glad.” Liarie smiled to him before looking away again.
“What are you thinking about?” Bryce asked as he took a step forward, not daring to draw too near in case of any prying eyes.
“Of what happened last night?”
“Yes, I’m sorry for what happened, I shouldn’t have risked being so close to you,” she whispered.
“You don’t need to apologize. I was only comforting my familiar.”
“It was more than that, wasn’t it?” Liarie asked, looking to him with a glisten in her eyes.
Bryce’s expression softened. “Of course, I wish I could have stayed all night.” He wanted to step closer but held his ground.
“I’m glad to hear.” Liarie gave a thin smile before looking away. “This business with the beast, I know you’re right, but I still can’t help but think…” She took a deep breath.
“It’ll work out,” Bryce said reassuringly.
“How can you know?”
“I just do.”
“That confidence, I just don’t understand where you humans get it from.” Liarie shook her head. “It truly amazes me.” Her ears twitched at the start of nearby engines. The rocky spires around them helping to muffle the sound.
“We’ll need it for the challenges ahead.” Bryce crossed his arms and looked out past the gaps in the rocks to see the bustling movement of everyone getting ready. “I fear even just dealing with these gamayuns will test us, let alone for what is to come after, in the Bosakil mountains.”
Bryce felt her soft touch on his shoulder. Looking over, he saw her smile, his heart skipping a beat at her natural beauty.
“Even when I doubted, you reminded me so quickly why I chose you. Lead us to that bright future, my beloved Bryce.” She interlocked a hand with his and brushed up close to steal a kiss from him before breaking away. “The others are waiting.”
“For a fey you really do know how to say the right things way too often.” Bryce grinned and walked after her, the burning desire to get to the next goal driving him on. The hunt for the gamayuns was drawing ever closer to an end.
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