Chapter Twenty-Three: Instability
A week had gone by and the order’s we were given had finally been issued. The conflict along the forest that bridged the barrier between the Eastern Clans and the Order had become tense enough to let the magistrate issue a full evacuation of Northern Garrison.
It was about time. Many had been itching to get back into action, especially those who’d been rendered useless for a few days after the battle.
Giant had returned to the group since, his brutish nature only enhanced since the previous battle. He’d taken on a different tone since however since the last conflict. He was still a meat-head, but in the two sessions prior to deployment he’d shown a new tacticalness in combat. Perhaps the previous battle had knocked some sense into him?
He wasn’t the only one to undergo changes though in the week. Baelomeir seemed to have gained more confidence in talking to the members of our unit, as well as Adrianna. This also meant that he was more focused when duelling us. This factor made me wonder if there was still more power he could unleash at a given time.
Ego remained the same.
There’d been a lot of changes with me in the time as well. My first three days of aerial training had been exhausting. The Master did not let up on any of his drills, forcing me to my limits with gliding in and out of the course known as “The Brush”; a course layed out with tall obstacles, swinging traps and without notice, tubes that spurt fire or lightning, sometimes both.
On day six, my Aerial Master had taken training to a new level, and for the first time I watched him unleash his own wings.
In opposite to my own wings of ebony, his were dark than night, yet they somehow glowed with an unnatural crimson.
Without warning he attacked.
And in a frantic game of cat and mouse we weaved in and out of the obstacle course, all traps and dangers at their full, but this time the only danger was being caught by the Master.
The pursuit lasted an hour, pushing me past my limits. I couldn’t help that he was holding back a small amount. Every time he’d begging to catch up, I’d manage to find a way to pull away. Sometimes he’d come too close and attack, lashing out with a lance of pure energy. Splinters from broken wood and shards of metal would fly through the air as the lance collided with something, cutting where flesh was exposed and inflicting minor wounds on the wings if the balance of energy going to them was inadequate.
Even if he was holding back even the slightest, the pursuit was still one of the most challenging exercises I could remember being put through.
After the hour he finally gave the order to stop, and we landed in a clearing within.
I felt my body fall heavy as soon as my feet touched the ground. My breathing erratic and nearly painful. It made me wonder if he ended the session due to me reaching my limits, or if it was just by decision to finish now.
But in the end he extended a hand and helped me stand tall. Wrinkles reflecting a small smile on his face, but he remained serious.
“You’ve done very well. Your father must be very proud. This has been your last training session with me. Remember everything you have learnt in this short time and harness your talents to perfect your ability of flight.”
He gave the salute, as did I return it. Then with a burst of power he took off into the air and flew away.
* * *
Our squad, comprising of thirteen now, reached the Northern Garrison with haste thanks to the flying contraptions. The town nearby was smaller than most regional towns outside of the Order Capital. The fortress nearby took up about a quarter of the town, and it’s tower reached high into the sky.
Small pulses of energy could be seen shifting to the peak of the tower where a machine that refocused the energies nearby into something more useful. It was part of the Order’s method of protecting its territories. But the technology had been adapted for their use from the technology used by the Islain during the war. But back then it sucked the natural energies nearly dry, whereas this one could recycle it.
Left over energy used in attacks never disappears, but is returned back to the world. This machine, through the management of powerful engineers, was capable of taking in the energy that was expent and “decayed” after being harnessed, and re-energise it. There was a side back. The Engineers in charge devoted their own life.
It was a pledge to the Order that required the greatest sacrifice.
The townspeople had already begun their preparation to leave before we arrived. Around 300 men, women and children deemed unfit for combat. Around a third the population of the town.
A Chaplin had once again attended to oversee our mission, the same as before. But this time his armour was gnarled and scratched. A reminder of the previous battle which had nearly claimed everyone on the field.
He marshalled us up in a line and began to give us the run down.
“These people are ready, even if reluctant, to depart this town, so I’ll keep this quick. We’ll be travelling in three groups. Three up front with me, Five up back, and Five in centre. Keep all your senses well alert for the journey. This mission should be a walk in the park, but it doesn’t mean we won’t encounter difficulty. The majority of these people will be incapable of putting up a decent fight if it comes to that, and it is your duty to make sure casualties in such a situation are kept to minimal. Our trip will take fourteen hours, two breaks in between for the escort. If we keep going we’ll make it before Midnight, or at least meet a patrol at the camp there, at which point we’ll exchange and depart back to the Northern Garrison.
Are these orders clear?”
“Yes, Sir.” We replied.
He quickly directed us into groups and left us to find our place in the escort. I found myself in the rear guard along with four others, two I didn’t know well, but the other’s were familiar. One was team leader we’d had a short fight with during our first day, and the other the woman who’d briefly duelled with me.
She didn’t take any time with initiating a conversation.
“So the word is you’ve come a fair way since that last battle. Wings?”
“Yes. It seemed the severity of the last conflict was enough to heighten my abilities.”
“Has the training proved well?”
“It seems so. I hope it’s enough when the time comes to put them to real combat though.”
“With luck, this silly conflict will come to an end before any serious combat begins.” She let out a sift sigh. “I have the feeling that if the East Clans have come together as they are, and were willing enough to use that bomb to take our forces out, then a major war is unavoidable.”
“It seems pointless for them to try. Even with the entire East united to fight us, our number and technology is superior. The Order didn’t gain the control and influence it had by being weak, and if they have any sense left it will be a truce from them before they waste any more of their lives.”
“I wouldn’t underestimate their tenacity. They are still many, and may we remember what we know of the last great war when the Kingdom of Islain invaded. We repelled them not with numbers, but with strategy and will.”
“Do you suggest we fight a similar battle, only now we are the Islain and they the united?”
“I’m not suggesting anything, but I’d be ready for battle at any turn. I won’t be surprised they launch an attack on the Garrison while we’re there.” She said almost sarcastically.
“Then we will repulse them with our energy and steel.”
She half laughed. “You are very confident. I like that. Which does remind me, we have never actually been formerly introduced. I am Miranda Pal’ Duria.”
“Alexandria Du’ Belmonte.”
Miranda cocked an eyebrow. “So you’re a relative to the Master General, Thar’ee Du’ Belmonte?”
My walk stuttered as the name echoed in my ears. My great grandfather’s name had not been mentioned in years.
“I hope that you are as strong as he was. Maybe we can end this conflict sooner than later?”
I ignored her comment. My Grandfather wasn’t a name our family uttered. But there was a good reason for why.
Thar’ee had been a Master General. One of the very best commanders. But during the war against the kingdom of Thail, he had ‘lost’ himself in a blood-rage. Within a short time he’d wiped out an entire portion of the army and outposts for the enemy. Within another heartbeat the force had killed his own, and raised a town.
In retrospect, he’d only wiped out two-hundred of his own regiment in the attack, compared to the two-thousand enemy. In the eyes of the Order Magistrate, it was a major victory and a turn-tide against the invaders. But he would not be hailed a hero for he failed just as much.
Our family regretted it, and tried never to think or mention the name. He perished in that battle, overwhelmed by his own might. And his relatives bared the scars.
“Oh, sorry,” I replied, snapping out of my trance.
“I take it that’s a touchier subject than most think?”
“No, not really. It’s just, I haven’t heard that name mentioned in a long time… The last time I heard it was before my grandfather passed away. He said I had his eyes. Then he died.”
“Our family doesn’t look down upon him. He did what he thought was needed to emerge victorious, but it was a mistake which cost him, and in the end the Order lost a hero and a villain. But those times then were different… We today just prefer not to think about the wrong doings, and ignore it. Easiest way to ignore, is to not bring it up.”
Miranda stared for a moment, then smiled. “Well, then for the sake of remembering the dead through not recalling, let’s focus on the times ahead. We have our own conflict to emerge from.”
“Yes… we do.”
* * *
The march continued for hours on end. The sun a bright crimson and orange above. The townsfolk we escorted away were understandably distressed, and muttered to themselves about wanting to turn back and stay at their homes. Some showed off spears and wooden shields slung over their backs, exclaiming how if they’d stayed back to defend then the enemy wouldn’t stand a chance. It was amusing in a way. There were maybe one in every three people here with any combat training, and it was doubtful to be at a military standard. But there was a somewhat refreshing appeal to their bravado. That in these times of great stress those threatened felt confident enough to defend their homes and family at a moment’s notice to the death.
But was that a fact, or would they freeze up?
I’d frozen during combat before, when younger of course. By twelve I’d gotten enough nerve to always keep on guard in training. But I was always being trained for a place within the Order. These men and women found a place elsewhere in society, running stores and businesses.
There was an odd similarity to the Earth-Realm. But in less pathetic sense to humanity.
The day came for our first stop. Our trek had taken longer than expected and the sun already was setting beyond the hills. A messenger had passed word to the groups to be ready to set up camp. The Chaplin in command had yet to decide whether it was better to set up through the night, or to rest and keep going until we reached the camp. By his guess, it’d only be another six hours. But by then it’d be past midnight. Visibility would be low, perhaps too low, and there was a large escort at risk of attack. We’d have to leave at first light.
* * *
Firelight fluttered between tents as the people set up for a night. We were on guard duty, disallowed rest for the next twelve hours. The Chaplin in command was being necessarily alert, though it seemed a little unnecessary to some of the group.
All of us had to walk up and down the length of the camp and stand watch, as was expected, but the Chaplin had ordered us to police the escort as well. Making sure any fire’s built were in a hole to so they’d be less visible, or keeping disruptions between people at a peaceful level.
We were trained to be warriors, not enforcers. If they wanted a security detail, then they should’ve sent one along. But the conflict had bought some unusual circumstances, and complaints were not allowed.
It was becoming a disappointing night. I was walking around the perimeter of the camp keeping myself in deep thought to pass time. It didn’t seem that there’d even be a minor disturbance. With first light still four hours away, I knew it’d go by as slowly as possible.
I sat myself down on a large rock overlooking a portion of the camp. “What if someone did attack the camp?” I wondered. “They’d have a Chaplin, and fifteen recruits to contend with.” I yawned a little. “Fifteen tired recruits… or maybe I’m just really bored of waiting for something to actually occur?”
“I’ll slit your throat!” Called a man’s voice inside the camp.
“It was never yours in the first place, you old bigot!” Called another.
“So much for dull.”
I jumped off the my rock and ran towards the disturbance.
Another of my squad, someone I was not well acquainted with, was arriving on the scene too.
“I’ll give you one more –“
“Hey!” I yelled. “What the hell is all this commotion about!”
The two men stood in place. Faces contorted in rage. One, an older man with a thick grey beard brandished a long dagger in hand. The other, a younger man, wielded a knife in one hand and held something tied up in a sack under his other arm.
“This is not your business, girl.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Excuse me, but we are here to escort you to a safer destination, and during this camp, to keep order. It’s plenty my business, now explain yourself.”
“Get lost!” Yelled the old man as he lunged at the other.
I let out a sigh and brought forth my sword. The old man slipped back as his dagger connected with my own blade and was knocked to the ground.
“Are you crazy! You could’ve taken my arm off!” He yelled back as he clutched onto his arm. “Hey, he’s running!”
The other warrior stepped in front. “Going somewhere?” He spoke.
“You two are to remain here until we have sorted what is going on. You’ve caused enough unrest already, so you better co-operate or we’ll have to detain you.”
“HA!” Spat the old man. “As if we aren’t ‘detained’ enough by being removed from our homes.”
“Just both of you get in line and answer my questions so I can get back to other things.”
“Bah! I don’t have to listen to you missy! You may be a member of the Order, but you’re just a freshmen by your armour pattern. Back in my time, I was a far higher ranking officer, so why should I listen to you? In my day’s you’d obey your damned elders! Like this brat there should!”
I shook my head in disbelief. This was going to be a long night.
An explosion sounded on the other side of the camp.
“That can’t be good.” Said my squad mate.
Fire began to rise in the distance followed by more explosions.
“Shit… great timing for a raid.”
“What shall we do about these two?”
“We don’t have time for them. They’ll have to sort it out.”
“Heh… I reckon that old man will throttle the other to death within minutes.” Said my squad mate as we ran off.
“Not our problem. If they kill each other that’s one less problem for us to solve.”
“Ooh, cold.” He replied wryly.
“Try to keep up.” I exclaimed as I focused my might and took off into the air.
I heard him yell something about “that’s cheating” as I flew off towards the other side of the camp. Ahead a fire had spread, igniting tents without any sign of stopping. Civilians ran in different directions, some trying to get away, others trying to put out fires. Some stood, weapons ready.
A blast of energy erupted besides me, it’s heat burning my face as it past.
I spied below the source. A figure in a cloak with a long stave which had a strange glowing jewel on the end.
“Concentrated Energy Weapons… Can’t be the Eastern Clans… they’re traditional warriors. So who are they?”
The answer would have to wait till later. For now there was battle.
* * *
Panicked screams and yells echoed through over the clash of steel as a battle ensued within the camp.
I was making use of my wings still, using my agility in the air to outmanoeuvre those with Energy Weapons. I was almost surprised at how well my training had paid off in the end, as I dodged and weaved past each shot or blast. Swooping down close to lash out when an opening presented itself. The only problem with my current strategy, was when I did swoop down to strike, there were swords, tents, flames and other warriors to avoid. I was cutting it close each time, and the surge of adrenaline was amazing.
Nearby I spied the Chaplin, swinging a large halberd around, both breaking the combatants weapons, and dissecting them in a single strike. This raid was easy so far. The attackers weren’t prepared to fight all of us, which meant they may not have been military. So who were they?
I swooped down again, my weapon lashing out at the nearest enemy. Their stave glowed and blasted a stream of energy, missing me completely.
“Not good enough!” I yelled, running them through.
It was starting to become disappointing, I thought as I sailed back into the air to observe the battle.
From my vantage point I spied around only eighty enemy units who were engaged against the Order and then a hundred more citizens who’d decided to take up arms. I wondered if perhaps if more of them joined in the battle and got the madness out of the way, then they’d all be quieter for the rest of the night having been granted their moment of vengeance for being removed from their homes.
Trumpets sounded from a the forest near the camp. I spied around for the source of the sound and glanced a sighting of torches moving quickly in our direction.
More of the enemy? If it was then the tides of battle would soon be turned in their favour.
Common sense came to bear over the battle lust. Our objective was to secure and escort the refugees. To fail such a simple mission would not go well.
I swooped down towards the Chaplin, landing a few meters out of reach of his mighty halberd. Bringing it around and cleaving through each foe like their armour was nothing but cloth.
“Sir, someone else is approaching from the North of the camp. There’s a lot of them.”
The Chaplin slew the last opponent standing in front and then took bearing of the situation ahead. For a short moment a strong resonance issued from within his armour that sent a eerie chill to my core.
“Thank you for the update, Recruit. It seems our allies have arrived to finish what job was left over. Please rally the others to this point within the next half-hour.”
I stood slightly puzzled for a moment, before taking off into the air once more.
Through the tree’s, a few hundred soldiers in blue and white armour charged forward into the camp. The ten or so combatants left spotted the approaching force and turned to flee, but their attempt was to no avail.
Warriors leaped, and ‘teleported’ within the blink of an eye and landed before and on top of the fleeing forces, silencing them without hesitation.
This battle was over.
Doing as told, I did a few laps of the camp until I found all of the other initiates and passed word to head to front of the camp to wait for further orders. Not surprisingly none were badly injured. A few had taken hits from energy blasts, but nothing that couldn’t be shrugged off.
The Chaplin arrived at the meet just as I came to land.
“The troops that arrived are from the same camp we were meant to escort to. Most are heading towards the Fortress, but those who aren’t will be returning back to the camp to pass news of the fleeing enemies defeat. We are now relieved and shall return back to the Capital to await further orders.”
There was some pleased murmuring in the group about not having to provide any further escort, and hopes of getting assigned to a more worthy task soon.
“I shall be heading to join the front lines, but I’m sure your commanding officers understand that you do not need me to hold your hand along the way.”
He gave the formal salute, and we all returned it.
“You have your orders. Move out as soon as the escort is back under way.”