Nightfall - The Gallant



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OmniChaos

The Smiling Man
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Nightfall
- The Gallant -
(A world from the minds of OmniChaos and Ordeith)


The year was 1527 of the First Age when the goddess Laetria declared war against Verdamal, the Dark God. The empires of Venelatria and Dongothvarn raised their banners high overhead, marching into battle against one another, and fanned the flames of war across the lands. And so ended the great Golden Age of Progress, and so began the Second Age and the bloody Gods' War.

- The Chronicler​

† Chapters †

Prologue - The Gods' War
Chapter I - The New Recruit
Chapter II - A Blitz Incursion
 
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OmniChaos

The Smiling Man
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†Prologue†
- The Gods' War -

"I have devoted the majority of my youth to the gathering of knowledge, and my later years to the understanding of what I had all gathered and what it means to me and the world around me. I traversed the world to visit the gods; from the height of Avgrand's Forge to the far Frozen North to seek Pelagus in his oasis. And what I have learned is most troubling. War is coming, or at least the gods believe so.

The bitterness between Laetria and Verdamal only grows stronger and stronger, and the others will no doubt answer their allies' calls. But there is yet more, as each god would no doubt enlist all the nations that live under their banner to fight alongside them. This world will be torn apart by a war the likes in which we have never seen, and I fear none will survive it. I can only pray I am wrong in my conclusion, for the sake of every living thing on this world.


- Yiftach, the Architect; Year 988 of the First Age​

- 1st of Octilar, Year 1527 of the First Age -

The sun peeked over the mountains, washing the rolling hills which transitioned into the vast grasslands of the Great Grass in light. It struck the small farm villages, drawing their owners from their homes into the streets to converse and begin their daily routine of checking livestock and tending crops. The women took their clothes outside, hanging them on suspended wires to be dried by the sun. Children took to the dusty streets, chasing after one another with sticks, playing 'soldiers' with their make-believe swords. It was just the beginning of another day for them.

The light crept further, reaching the outer wall of Ansehen, the capital and seat of Venelatria. It slid up the wall and spilt over, filling the city like a broken dam. The morning guard raised their hands to shield their eyes as their pupils adjusted from the dark morning prior sunrise. Soon, they would head in for rest as the next guard took to their routine. At the city's center sat the nobles and the churches (which began ringing their choir of bells to the tune of "Bless Us, Oh Mother," welcoming in the new day), carved into the side of one of the small mountains on the outskirts of the mountain chain. And at the top of it all, standing as a monument to itself, stood the High Keep of Ansehen, seat of the High Emperor of Venelatria.

Though he begun this day as any other, the emperor quickly found it different; a morning he—and the rest of the world—would soon not forget. The day was not one to be etched into the annuals of time, but rather dug, violently, like a gaping sword wound, and would leave a scar just as harsh. It was the last morning of the First Age, and the dawn of the Gods' War.

~*~

"Good morn, sire, and a most happy First of Octilar! Ah, reaping time is almost upon us. Soon, the farmers will pick their fields clean and prepare their scarymen to be thrown into the bonfires. Ah, and then the Feast of Harvest will begin! Oh, what a... a, uh... a..." The short, stocky man who had entered the room with such gusto slowly trailed off, his eyes scanning the empty room for signs of life. He scrunched his nose with frustration, lifting his curling mustache up to his cheeks, and walked quietly into the large throne room, the echoes of his footsteps sounding across the room. They rang across the giant, golden pillars that ran up the side of the walls, supporting the great glass ceiling that hung overhead. The short man walked along the red carpet, adorned in golden trim and design, that seemed to stretch onward forever, eventually stopping at the currently-vacant throne that towered before him. "Sire?"

The man reached the massive throne and spared a moment to admire the delicate and meticulous craftsmanship that had went into its construction. The seat itself was simple in design, little more than a red cushioning against a golden frame. But so much more than a seat, the throne of the High Emperor was a memorial to the goddess Laetria and her blessed empire. The throne stretched high toward the ceiling, and its sides nearly grasped the walls. It depicted the goddess, in all her glory, leaning down from the sky, arms outstretched and embracing Ansehen, acting as both its nurturing mother and loving guardian. It was adorned with many, vibrant jewels and was engraved with the names of all the High Emperors prior.

The short man timidly peaked around the throne, his eyes setting upon the closed twin doors that led to the emperor's private quarters—with a heavy emphasis on 'private,' as the emperor allowed no one to enter, including his concubine, with whom he occasionally slept with in another room. The large mahogany doors were engraved with powerful depictions of Laetria, Ansehen, and of a faceless High Emperor standing atop the mountain that housed the city, and was embedded with a variety of beautiful gems. It was quite the visage of the empire's grandeur, and the short man softly traced the outline of the door. He placed his hand on the golden door handle, hesitant to open it, and jumped slightly at its cool touch.

"Sire?" he called, knocking heavily against the thick door. When no answer came, the man resumed his vigorous rapping at the intricate door. He paused and placed his ear against the door. The man reached into his pocket and retrieved a small, brass pocket watch—large gears spinning and whirling, and the rhythmic ticking as the slim hand spun its way around and around—and, upon noticing the lateness of the hour, began knocking once more, his voice breaking in pitch. "Sire, please, I must insist! We've much that needs discussing and time is fleeing ever quickly! And the Council requests you sit in today's meeting! Please!"

"Come in."

The short man quieted. No one had ever been allowed into his majesty's private quarters, an exception he made with none. So why now? The man swallowed hard and slowly pulled the handles down. The twin doors slowly swung open, revealing the emperor's chamber, filled with a lovely mixture of white, red, and gold decorations. Red tapestry hung from the walls, boasting images of Laetria expertly sewn into the fabric with white silk. A large, four-post bed, made from what appeared to be solid gold, sat against the wall, holding overhead a white canopy with long, flowing white shades. In the room's center laid a large, white rug, lined with a fancy, gold trim. A small mahogany table sat next to a large, red-draped window. The window must have stood easily thirty feet high, and in it, standing on a large balcony that overlooked Ansehen, was the High Emperor.

"Sire, I—"

"The Goddess came to me this morning, just as the sun peaked the mountaintops."

The short man's face was set aglow, and a smile split his face in two. "Ah, what wonderful news, sire! Praytell, what did she say? Does she request something special for the harvest? Oh, or perhaps..." The short man began to ramble, his chipper voice spilling a dozen syllables a second. He would have likely gone on for several minutes, had not the emperor's heavy voice interrupted.

"My friend," the emperor turned to face the short man, his eyes heavy with concern. His aged face was twisted in a sorrowful expression, hiding the warm smile the short man was so accustomed to seeing. A sudden breeze struck him, lifting his long, silver locks slightly before dropping them back. "The Goddess came to inform me that we are to go to war."

"War?!" the short man exclaimed, nearly tripping on the large rug as he crossed the room, and almost stumbled to the fireplace, which was currently set ablaze. He sighed as he recovered his footing, then walked toward the emperor. "Whatever for? And with whom? The vampires? But what of the Treaty of 574?"

"It is to be broken. And not just Dongothvarn, but Hykilgoth as well."

"Hykilgoth?" the short man questioned, his face expressing his confusion. "But what quarrel have we with them? What issue, other than being scions of the Dark Lord, have we with the fae and humans of the Hykilgoth Republic? Have they not remained neutral in our dealings with Dongothvarn? Did they not tend to our wounded when our empire attacked Dongothvarn near a millennia ago? So why does the Goddess wish us to march upon them as well?"

"Because it is not our fight," the High Emperor replied, turning back to look upon his city; upon his empire given to him by the Holy Laetria. He watched as the guards changed, as the tired watchmen shuffled heavily back to their homes, weary from the long night's watch. He let out a heavy sigh. "This is the Goddess's fight. She has taken up arms against Verdamal, and we are to fight in her name. The dark nations are to be toppled, and the vampires, fae, and humans who call the Dark God 'Lord' are to be cut down wherever they may stand. These are the Goddess's words."

The short man was dumbfounded. "But sire, why? Why are we to do this?" He looked up at a piece of tapestry, which depicted the goddess as the Enlightened Mother, arms outstretched to welcome in all who seeks her embrace. "It doesn't seem right."

"Wrong and right are not for us to decide," the emperor proclaimed sternly. He slammed his fist against the marble railing of the balcony. "The Queen told us to take up arm, and that is what we are to do. It is not our place to question our Goddess's words; we are to simply follow them."

The short man shuffled uneasily, glancing across the room. He disliked the idea, greatly. It was one thing to march into a necessary war, but the empires of Venelatria and Dongothvarn had had peace between them for nearly a thousand years. So why should they be drawn into the gods' squabbling? But if the emperor planned to follow the goddess's command, there was little to be done but to simply go along with it. With a heavy heart, the short man sighed. "Very well, sire. Shall I inform the rest of the Council?"

The emperor held silent, his gazed fixed upon the far horizon. Finally, he replied, offering nothing more than a simple "yes."

"Then consider it done." The joy had been chased from the short man's face, whose expression had turned as hard as stone. His relaxed posture grew erect, easily adding three more inches to his height. Pleasantries had given way to seriousness, and the short man took his job quite seriously. "In that case, I will inform the Central Army to prepare for deployment. Word will then be sent to the northern and eastern forces."

"It will not be enough," the emperor responded coldly, nearly choking on the words as they left his lips. "The Goddess has commanded that all able-bodied men of at least the age of seventeen be outfitted and sent into battle. That includes our suzerainties. I have already sent word west to the queen of Morcado, whose forces are to merge with our own as we pass."

"All able-bodied men?!" the short man nearly screamed. In an act of what would have be seen as nothing less than contempt, the short man slammed his fist against the mahogany table. "But what of the farms and the forges?! Who will grow our food and smith our weapons?! How can our nation survive?!"

"Have we not women?! Have we not children?!" The emperor's temper had reached its boiling point, and he now unleashed it upon the man. However, it was not the short man with whom he was angered by (despite his actions suggesting otherwise), but his goddess, who had commanded him to do this; to send his people to die in an unnessecary war. He agreed with the councilman completely, but it was his duty as emperor of Venelatria to follow the goddess's will, regardless of his personal opinions toward them. And that was just what he would do. "Let them tend to the field, let them forge our swords!” Tears slid from the corners of the emperor’s eyes, sent violently flying as the man yelled. “The Goddess has commanded our men to the field, and we shall send them as thus! So let her decree be known far and wide: We will go to war this very day!"

The short man had nothing to say. There was nothing that could be said. The emperor's outburst, while a bit pointed, was all but true, and the short man now saw the emotion that lay behind the emperor's eyes. After all, who was he—the emperor—to decline his goddess? Doing so could very well bring her wrath upon them as well, dooming Venelatria all the same. In the end, regardless of the decision, the outcome would be the same: the suffering and death of innocent Venelatrians. So the councilman did the only thing he could do: bow and then leave, off to follow the orders given to him.

The emperor sat down on his bed and dropped his face into his hands. "Oh, Laetria, what shall become of us?"
 

OmniChaos

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†Chapter I†
- The New Recruit -

"Not all of the stories that are etched into the annuals of time survive its passing. Not even Venelatria, and its self-proclaimed 'endless' Hall of Records and Artifacts, has the entirety of our world's story archived—though they certainly confess to. Much is lost among the grains of life's hourglass, but far more is lost through our own actions, namely war. Countless records, histories, and stories lost, with only the strongest of those surviving intact. How is it put? Ah yes, the winners write the history books, and amend the past. Meanwhile the losers are erased from existence.

I write to you now, Vestaphon, to share with you one such story, since amended by Venelatria to suit their purposes. I once met a young man, though we stood on opposite sides of the field, whose kindness spared my life, and whose friendship changed it forever. While his deeds shall forever be honored by Venelatria, his real story, as it truly occurred, deserves to be shared to all those that will listen. So I shall share with you the story of Edward Gryffin, the Gallant. I owe him, at the very least, that much."


- Lars'Enga, Former Dongothian General; First of the "Gallant Letters" to Nikolaus'Vestaphon.​


-24th of Abrile, Year 620 of the Second Age-

It was the third hour of the morning; the so-called 'Blackest Hour,' as whispered around campfires. The stars, which hung so high above the land, sparkled and shined like a thousand shards of a shattered diamond, scattered across the melancholic, black sky with such an artistic, elegant design, that it painted the heavens with a stroke of wonder and delight. The twinkling and sparkling of each individual star joined together to form a grand symphony of light, casting beauty and joy upon the war-torn land below. However, their song would, sadly, be cut short, for not everyone held the same love for their light. Past the twinkling stars, who continued with their grand concert, to the far west, amassed ominous, black clouds, their dark intent as poorly veiled as the white flashes that occasionally erupted from the clouds. Slowly inching toward the grand city which lied below upon a light, damp wind, the black clouds reaffirmed their intent with a deep roar of thunder.

The wind god Shifah's frustration bellowed across the western sky as lightning arced across the clouds and thunder let out a heavy rumble. A loud clap sounded, which traveled all the way across the western expanse of the Great Grass and threatened to shake the very ground itself loose. Far below his thundering fury, metal clashed with metal as magicks were cast and arrows loosened beneath a torrential downpour of rain and hail. The conflict at the border had raged on through the night, and further west, in the kingdom of Jinan, the Dark God's forces had been plaguing the Seraph nation for months, spurring Shifah's irritation. And so he had cast his frustration to the wind, which had carried it upon its back and into the Black Fields of Dongothvarn and further east into the flowing grasses of Morcado, where it released his fury upon his foes.

However, the storm front was still at least an hour away. So, for the meantime, the stars would continue their symphony high overhead, looking down upon the capital city of Ansehen. From above, the city itself appeared much like a small patch of sky, the numerous lamp lights—small mechanisms that used electricity to release a controlled flow of light magicks—lining the streets and igniting the spiraling pathway that wrapped around the small mountain. It climbed up the side, growing brighter along the upper district and erupting into a great chorus of light at the district square, the aptly-named 'Court of Stars.'

However, down in the lower district, along a side street near the soldier barracks, a small group of soldiers gathered.

~*~

A loud clap of thunder sounded. A large man bearing white armor looked to the sky, pulling a small, worn toothpick from his mouth. He let out a soft chuckle as his lips curled into a smile. "My, the god of wind certainly sounds pissed off. I feel sorry for the poor bastards fighting at the border—not that we won't be joining them soon." He turned to face a line of young men, all wearing white chest plates and leg armor, and chewed on the end of his toothpick. "Where's that poor-excuse for a soldier Gryffin at?

"Private Gryffin? Private Gryffin!"

"Coming, sir!" The sound of footfalls echoed across the empty streets, a steady, rhythmic 'tap-tap'-ing against the cobblestone road. A young man, no older than seventeen (though his face swore younger), came running down Ansehen's dim street, his sword bouncing wildly against his back. His white armor shone brightly under the lamp lights, turning him into a glistening kindle in the deep night. The young man skidded to a halt, nearly toppling the line of soldiers standing erect before their commanding officer. "I-I'm here, sir," the young man managed through gasping breaths, "I'm here."

"Ah, a pleasure for you to join us, Gryffin," his captain, Eddrick, chirped sarcastically. He bent forward, so as to lower his face to the young man's. "Perhaps, in the future, you can be bothered to arrive on time as your fellow men did?" Eddrick flicked his gnarled toothpick aside. "Now hurry up, you goddamn kid."

"I-I'm sorry, sir," the young private replied timidly, taking his place among the soldiers with a metaphorical tail drawn firmly between his legs. He shuffled once in-place, his armor clinging against itself softly, before straightening his body to attention.

"Nice going, Edward," his neighboring soldier, a young man named Sebastian (Bastion to his friends), Edward's oldest and closest friend, cracked, chuckling softly. This resulted in a sharp 'shut up' from Edward, who jumped slightly as Captain Eddrick stepped toward the pair.

"Now then, since we are all here—" Eddrick shot Edward such a pointed glance that it made the young man flinch. That, in turn, caused Bastion to snicker, who then received his own pointed glance and quieted quickly with a heavy gulp. "—perhaps we can now get down to what you can expect out there."

As Eddrick walked down the line of men, his back toward the young private, Edward leaned out slightly to watch him. Though the man terrified him and constantly belittled him, not to mention relentlessly tortured him, Edward still held a great deal of respect for his captain, if only for what he had accomplished. Chester Eddrick was a legend of his time; a hardened warrior who had single-handedly held off a unit of vampires long enough for the Alabaster Saints to receive word and drive them back. As the story goes, a unit of vampires had managed to sneak past the conflict at the border and sought to establish a foothold behind enemy lines to launch an attack and decimate the Central Army's exposed rear. That desired foothold just happened to be a small settlement in which the captain was in, recovering from the last conflict's wounds. When the attack began, Eddrick sprang into action and fended off the entire unit of vampires (the number of which ranges from ten to ten thousand, depending on just who you ask). When dawn came, and the Alabaster Saints arrived to drive away the vampires, Eddrick was reported to have been standing at the gate, bleeding profusely, and just barely clinging to consciousnesses, still guarding the hundred or so citizens within it. Whatever the truth might be, word quickly spread, legends born, and Chester Eddrick became a household name.

"Do not show mercy on the battlefield," Eddrick continued, reaching the end of the line of soldiers. He spun on his heel, about-facing and continuing back the direction from which he came. Edward shot back to attention. "For the enemy will certainly not show it in kind." Eddrick stopped before Edward, leaning in so close to the young private that his nose nearly touched the young man's eye. A small smirk encroached upon his lips, drawing the long, gray stubble along his chin up across Edward's cheek. "No, all they will offer is a quick death, drawing your blood from your veins. Every. Last. Drop."

Edward swallowed hard and exhaled when Eddrick continued past. His breath had been harsh, a mixture of some sort of heavy ale—it was harder than anything Edward was used to, including the hard liquors served at the Weeping Wood Inn when the sun slipped beneath the horizon—and some meat that smelt like it had grown a bit too ripe. The smell lingered for a few seconds, tickling Edward's nose hairs with its foul odor, before it slithered away after its master.

"They are fast, they are strong, and they are cleaver; never let your guard down when near one. Never!" Eddrick spun again, coming back to Edward. The young man grew tense and he prayed to Laetria that Eddrick wouldn't stop in front of him again. Edward didn't think he could stand another dose of that rancid breath. His captain passed him by, and the young man relaxed again. "They are skilled in their magicks, and they have powerful war machines. They are superior to you in virtually every way. That is why we have these." Eddrick tapped his white platebody, the armor clinging against his gauntlets and letting loose a slight, deep echo. "As you are no doubt aware, though I will reiterate for the slower of those among you—" Edward scoffed. "—this armor is interlined with an array of complicated machinery with the sole purpose of keeping your asses alive. To skip the technical mumbo-jumbo that neither you nor I understand or really give a crap about, these machines increase your physical strength output by ten times, allowing you to match the strength of most vampires."

Eddrick proceeded to demonstrate the machinery's power, as he squatted in front of a large, fallen pillar of stone. The sound of machinery spinning sounded softly from beneath his armor, a low, near-constant buzz and click-clacking of gears, accompanied by small puffs of smoke. Eddrick tightened his grip on the bottom of the pillar, causing a few cracks to slightly splinter up the pillar. After a large burst of smoke from the armor's rear, the pillar lifted off the ground with complete ease, as Eddrick lifted it over his head and twirled it like a stick. "This gives us equal footing with the vampires," he continued, standing the pillar upright and setting it back where it belonged, after which he continued his pacing. "But you men have something they don't, something far stronger than anything they may have."

This time all the soldiers turned their heads to follow their captain, drawn in by their leader's words. He spun once more, but held his position, looking at each of the men staring at him.

"Heart." A chorus of murmurs sounded from the soldiers, which was quickly quieted as Eddrick cleared his throat. "That's right, heart. You men have the ability to stand against the unstoppable, to accomplish the unthinkable, and to slay the unkillable, even if you don't quite know it yet. I did, and so can each and every one of you.

"But let me get one thing straight: you are not heroes—half of you are hardly men, so don't expect to have your named recorded in the Hall of Records and Artifacts. You are not heroes, and right now, none of you are deserving to be. But you will go to battle all the same. You will draw your swords, raise your bows; you will draw their blood, and they will draw yours. You will charge into battle with your banners held high, crying your goddess's name over the clashing of metal. If you live long enough to return, broken, scarred, and soaked in your enemy's blood, perhaps then, and only then, will have you earned the right to be called 'hero.'"

Eddrick walked to the center of the soldiers, spun on his heel so that he faced them, and took three steps back, so that all the men could see him with ease. He stood there, a visage of greatness. His armor was worn and chipped, though it still bore the empire's symbol proudly. A scar ran across his harden face, from his strong jaw to those soul-piercing irises that could stare even a demon down. His light blue cape shuttered softly in the damp breeze. Edward was in awe of the man that stood before him; he truly was a hero, regardless of what the boy thought of his personality. He had been to war, and not only returned alive, but did so soaked in his enemy's blood from head to toe. He was the very personification of war to Edward's eyes.

"Tomorrow morning, High Emperor Lucilius shall hold a ceremony for our departure at the Court of Stars and will be seeing us off. From there, we'll cross the Great Grass and join the main force currently fighting at the border. This is it, boys. Welcome to war.

"Now go get some rest. Embrace your mothers, embrace your elders, and keep their faces fresh in your mind as you march onward. K Company, 3rd Battalion of the 527th Division of the Venelatrian Central Army, Eddrick's Eagles, dismissed!"

"Yes sir!"

~*~

"Oh man, I can't believe you were late again, Ed." Bastion smirked as he threw his arm around Edward's neck. The pair walked down the cobblestone road from whence Edward had arrived, leaving behind them the eager chattering of their fellow soldiers. "Oh, if you had seen the look on Eddrick's face when he saw that you weren't there—again—you'd have pissed yourself. I mean, he was beyond just mad. From the look in his eyes, I'd wager he wanted to kill you."

"Whatever," Edward mumbled, squirming free from his friend's grip and placing a foot between himself and his best friend. As much as Edward liked Bastion and was thankful to have him as his friend, the guy just didn't know how to shut up sometimes. Despite that, Edward knew his friend's intentions were good, and he simply was trying to cheer him up.

The two continued on in silence for several minutes, Edward lost in his thoughts, while Bastion thinking of a way to get Edward to open up. The chattering of voices had long since faded, no longer able to reach them, and gave way to the soft, rhythmic sound of their footsteps echoing across the dim-lit roads. For such a large and vast city such as Ansehen, filled with more people then he could count (which wasn't all that high regardless), those dark, empty streets on which he walked truly made him feel alone in the world. And that feeling terrified him.

"Hey, Bass?" Edward spoke after several minutes of silence, drawing his friend's attention to him. Bastion turned his head slightly toward Edward, enough to look at his friend from the corner of his eye while minding the road before him. Edward paused slightly for a moment, as if he were second-guessing his decision to speak up in the first place. He brushed the thought aside, and after a heave gulp, finished his question. "Are you, uh... What I mean is, um, are you excited for all of this? Like the others? Do... Do you really want to go to war?"

"Hell yeah!" Bastion shouted, banging his fist against his chest plate. A deep echo sounded from within the armor, followed by soft ticking as the gears of the internal machinery sputtered from the 'impact'. The boy threw his fists into the air and let out a loud cry. "You better bet I'm ready for this! I'm going to slay everyone of those bastards with one hand tied behind my back! They'll sing songs of me; 'Bastion the Great, slayer of vampires and hero of the Gods' War!"

"Would you two kids 'eep it down?!" a woman shouted, hanging her head out of her window, weary eyed from her sleep. "Gods 'ave mercy, I know you two young'uns are jus' rarin' to have at 'em, but fo' the love o' Laetria, the res' o' us need our sleep! You two young'uns do as well. Got a big day morrow, don't you? Be good lads and hurry on home." As she withdrew her head back into her house, she mumbled "At leas' for our sake."

Edward smiled slightly, offering an apology for their rudeness. As he turned back to face Bastion, he found his friend's face soaked with tears. "Ed?" Bastion managed between the gasps. "Ed, I-I'm scared. I don't want to go. I don't want to die." He tried to wipe his face to no avail, the tears he cleared quickly replaced by new ones. "We're going to die out there, aren't we? We're going to die and be left alone among a field of corpses. I don't want to go like that, to just be another poor soul trampled over in the heat of combat. Oh gods, Ed!"

Without a word, Edward walked to Bastion and embraced him. He finally understood him; he understood why he acted the way he did. All the jokes, the cockiness, how he never took anything seriously. It was because Bastion was just as scared as he was. "It's alright, Bass," he said, trying to hold back tears of his own. Bastion wept silently on his friends shoulder, having lost complete control of the emotions he had kept bottled up. "We're all scared, Bass. We're all scared."

~*~

It was a dreadful day. Last night's storm had blown through well before sunrise, its rolling thunder and bright flashes now just a fleeting memory in the people's minds, and left in its wake heavy rain and thick humidity. Gray clouds hung overhead, with no break in sight, and draped their melancholy veil over the entire city. Beneath them, the soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder, filling the Court of Stars to its brim, waiting anxiously to hear the High Emperor speak. Today was the day they would leave for war, and all the soldiers shifted impatiently, ready to head out. Well, not all the soldiers.

In the center of the amassed soldiers, standing with the 527th unit of the Venelatrian Central Army, Edward stood less than enthusiastic. The surrounding air was thick, a mixture of the heavy humidity and the warm air from all the present men. Worse yet, the air had a nauseating stench to it, the foul smell of thousands of soldiers' body odor mixed together, intensified by the falling rain. And so Edward stood there, the rain drenching his hair flat and pinging against his (and every other soldiers') armor, filling the court with a symphony of chimes.

"Attention!" a man cried at the lead of the gathered men. A unified cling sounded as the armored men shifted into position. Edward noticed Captain Eddrick at the front, to the right of the man who had cried the order. "Present arms!" The soldiers drew their blades in unison (or shifted their bows or raised their tomes) and lifted them before their faces, which, during a sunny morning, would have reflected the light back upon the face of the High Keep and washed it in a radiant glow. "Presenting his greatness, High Emperor Lucilius!"

A man emerged from the large, wrought iron doors of the High Keep. Though Edward could hardly see him, he knew it was the emperor due to the large, white robes that flowed around his form. The young man still found it hard to believe that this man, who appeared no older than forty, was actually two hundred and thirty-four years old. Such was the greatness of their goddess, he supposed.

"Soldiers! Men! Brothers!" the emperor cried, raising his hands high when he reached the platform set up at the Court of Stars. The man's voice carried far, amplified by the vibrations created as Lucilius spoke through the voice amplifier that stood atop a mahogany podium. A small spark flew through a glass tube that curved around the top of the standing piece of tech. "After six hundred and twenty years of fighting, we stand at the cusp of victory, and soon the Dark God's army will fall!"

This spurred a great explosion of cheering and shouting from the soldiers, who raised their weapons high overhead. The staff of a raised poleaxe struck Edward's head as a soldier shook the axe up and down. The young private grabbed his head, recoiling to prevent from being hit again. While it drew no blood, it certainly hurt like hell. Lucilius lifted his hands calmly to quiet the roar, which dulled into a light murmur.

"These are crucial times, my friends," the emperor continued. The sound of his projecting voice rung slightly in Edward's ears. "I will not lie: the battle at our border has grown into a war of attrition. With every passing hour, more and more of our fellow countrymen fall to the weapons of our enemies, and, at times, it seems a hopeless fight. But their's fall to our weapons as well, and I will not abandon our footing at the border, for that is all that is keeping the vampires from marching upon our very doors!" The emperor threw his fists against the wooden podium, which caused the small mechanism to emit a loud buzz as the intricate innards of the device tried to resituate themselves back into working order. Lucilius continued when the sound quieted, a choking tone in his voice. "You men may hate me for it, but—"

"Never!" a soldier cried. Another followed, and then the entire force cried in unison: "All hail the High Emperor! All hail Emperor Lucilius!"

"I thank you, men," Lucilius wholeheartedly replied, softly choking up at the display of the men's unfaltering trust in him. "And so, we will not back down! We will hold our border to prevent the enemy from gaining a foothold in our home, and we shall chase them back into their dark kingdoms! We will win this war and the Dark God and his followers shall fall!"

"Hail the Maiden! Hail the Mother! Hail the Queen!" the soldiers cried in unison with the emperor, a great cheer that sounded across Ansehen. "Long live Venelatria!"

"Now go, my friends!" Lucilius cried, raising his hands over head. Tears flowed from his eyes as a crack sounded in his voice. "Today you march to war! Go, brothers! May the goddess bless and protect you all in your battles, and may she lead you safely back to us!"

"Attention!" the man in the front ordered again, once again resulting in the shifting of metal as the soldiers came to attention. "About face!" The soldier spun on the heels of their feet, the entire formation of men moving in a solid, fluid motion—well, save for Edward, who stumbled slightly as he turned. The two center file of men, which included Edward among them, scooted outward, creating a small pathway for their commanding officers to traverse. As the two men walked along the path, several others broke out and joined the men, all officer-ranks of imposing figure. At the front of them all, Edward noticed the man who had been barking orders. It was General Sephyrus, Third General of the Central Army; old "Iron-side Sephyrus." He was a ruthless commander, and expected nothing but the best from his soldiers, making Captain Eddrick (who shot Edward a glance as he passed) seem tamed by comparison. Rumor had it that Sephyrus was the front runner in obtaining the late Field Marshal Levin's seat.

When the two men reached the opposite side of the formation several minutes later, the two file of men moved back out to fill the small pathway. General Sephyrus spun on his heel, turning to face the collected units that he was to lead. "Men!" he shouted, his voice echoing loudly over the falling rain. "Forward march!"

The two men began marching down the Golden Street of Ansehen, the spiraling main street that wrapped several times around the small mountain before leading out the front gate and into the Great Grass. The soldiers quickly followed, filling the streets like a rushing flood. The Golden Street was turned white as the men marched along, chanting the Venelatrian battle hymn, "Glory Be to the Goddess" above the rainfall. The citizens cheered from the rooftops and the side streets, cheering for the soldiers as they passed and throwing flowers to them.

They eventually passed Edward's house, and the boy looked up as they did. On the roof he saw his younger sisters, mother, and grandparents standing there, waving to him as he passed by. His sisters shouted, cupping their hands around their mouths to carry their voices further; his mother was crying, wiping tears from her eyes; and his grandparents were waving. Edward's mother reached into her pocket and pulled from it a small golden flower. She threw it out to him, and Edward reached up, grabbing it by the end of the stem. He waved to them as he passed, and continued to wave until he could no longer see them.

Edward looked down at the flower his mother had thrown to him and realized it was the legendary Golden Dawn Blossom, a flower said to give the goddess's unfaltering blessing to whomever possesses it. Edward's father had found it one day during the war, and sent it to his wife. He died the next day. The legends about it had to be true, as that had happened ten years ago, and the flower he had sent her still lived.

The boy tucked the flower under his armor and looked up to find the front gates just before them. And that is when it hit him. He truly was heading to war, to the bloody conflict at the Morcadian and Venelatrian border. He would be forced to fight, and he would probably die out there, just like the other countless men who had before him. For goddess and empire, right? To fight bravely to protect those left at home? Then why, as he passed beneath the great stone arch of the main gate and stepped out into the flowing waves of the Great Grass, did Edward feel very sick? Such a dreadful day.
 
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KingdomKey

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This is a glorious story to read. I pity the emperor, but I happen to like the short man that holds so much respect for him. The details were outstanding. To the average reader, some may not care for much as I do. However, it made me feel like I was actually there and witnessing the exchange between the two of them. Furthermore, its quite exciting to see the story tied to the Nightfall Lexicon. I was quite moved, when so many men interrupted the emperors speech to show their loyalty and high regard for him in abrupt cheers. I already fell for Edward and Bass. I like them both. The use of an accent in a minor character was a nice touch to the story as well. There is so much I like love about this story already. I hope to see more of this soon. :)
 

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†Chapter II†
- A Blitz Incursion -
“A sword placed in the hands of a soldier makes him a powerful weapon. An army placed in the hands of a brilliant general makes him an unstoppable force."

- Unknown​


-24th of Abrile, Year 620 of the Second Age-

The rain stopped after six hours, leaving behind it the thick veil of clouds and heavy humidity on the damp, western breeze. The sun broke through it for but a minute, hanging high overhead about an hour short of its zenith, and provided the soldiers a small reprieve from the dread that hung heavy on their minds. Its light warmed their faces and their spirits, sparkling brightly off their ivory armor, and, for but a short moment, they felt the Holy Mother's loving arms wrapped around them, protecting them. Edward lifted his head high and closed his eyes, letting the light bathe his face in warmth and comfort, a small smile creeping onto his face. Then the clouds moved and swallowed the sun like a hungry wolf, leaving Edward and the soldiers to continue on beneath gray skies.

They marched on through the day, cutting a large swath through the Great Grass as they flattened the flowing blades under heel of boot and wheel of machine, only stopping to set camp once the sun had finally sunk beneath the horizon and the dull gray of the clouds had given way to the blackness of night. Just as day was the goddess's domain, so too was the night Verdamal's, and into that deep darkness none dared to march out. For to march blindly onward on such a night, in which even the stars in the heavens were swallowed by the great darkness, was to bring doom upon them all, for many monsters lurk with the veil of night.

"We're still nearly five days out from the Morcadian border," Eddrick stated, tearing free a piece of dried, lean meat. The meat was cut into thin strips and salted, as to preserve and protect the meat from spoilage—since supplies were only shipped every other month, the food had to be able to survive for months on end—and was a staple of the soldier's usual rations. Edward and Bastion, along with several other boys from their unit, sat around the soft campfire, its flame already starting to taper in intensity, and listened to their captain in-between his bites, partaking in their rations all the meanwhile. "And Dongothvarn would be another four days if we were to cut through Hykilgoth, though of course it's not like we're actually going to be traversing to Dongothvarn. Just food for thought."

Edward had to take his captain's word for it, having never left the greater Ansehen area, let along the central province of Venelatria, where as Eddrick had been well traversed in at least the area between the capital and the border. "We still need to pass through Selindor—that's the western province, for you idiots who didn't know—and will be picking up roughly eleven hundred men from the capital, Argenbruke. Along with them, we'll be picking up about forty-four hundred from the Northern Army, which is comprised of the Strahland, Paridim, Gathos, and Felimae provinces." Edward touching his left fingers with his right index finger, slowly added up the numbers as they went along. "These Northerners are cocky sons of bitches whose mouths are stronger than their fists. So try not to get into any fights with them, cause they're also bitter losers. That said, if you do fight one, don't you dare lose. Gods forbid we give those bastards any more reason to flex their gums and stroke their egos, among other things.

"After a day's rest at Argenbruke, we continue west along the supply train until we reach the border province of Biensk." Eddrick tore loose another piece of the dry meat, chewing profusely in an attempt to work it down. He took a large gulp of some sort of heavy ale (Edward could tell by just the smell alone that it was the exact same ale he had smelt that morning, his nose hairs attested to that) and finally managed to swallow. "Terrible. Anyway, once we reach the provincial capital, Basteel, we'll be meeting up with thirty-one hundred more men from the Southern Army, comprised of the Dumoth, Ralteme, and Varincia provinces. Southerners are typically very friendly and loyal people, so I would suggest making a few friends—might just save your asses." Eddrick paused for a moment, sparing a glance over toward Edward who was still counting away with his fingers, and shook his head before continuing. "Along with the Southern Army will be six hundred and fifty Leijonni warriors of the Kirkasu Pride. Any of you who want to be a smart ass toward them, don't; these guys don't mess around. And don't get fresh with their women. They're just as deadly as their men, if not more so, and doing so might cause you to wake up one morning without your...'little private,' and that would be most unfortunate."

Eddrick yawned before he took another large swig of his ale, sighing slightly afterward. "And to round it out, we'll be joined by an additional thousand from Biensk. The Westerners aren't all that different from us, if slightly a bit more on edge. Just play nice and everyone should get along fine. After one final night of rest at Basteel, we'll march for the border as a combined force of roughly—"

"Eighty-two thousand!?" Edward shouted in surprise, sending small chunks of meat that he was chewing flying from his mouth. The boy had just finished adding the numbers with his fingers, and the sheer shock of his conclusion caused him to nearly choke. He coughed a few pieces out that had decided to take a bad trip down his mouth before continuing. "That's insane! Are we really picking up that many people!?"

"You idiot!" Bastion replied, jabbing Edward's side with his left elbow. "Ed, you forgot to carry over the four! It completely threw off your numbers! That, and you didn't account for the, uh, second two. Because of that, it added a, uh, zero variable to your final number. If you had done it right, clearly you would see that the correct number is sixty-three thousand, seven hundred and thirteen, give or take a few men depending on certain—"

"It's seventeen thousand, you half-wits!" Eddrick shouted in annoyance. "By the gods, can't you two add anything past four? Laetria help us if our lives rested in either of you two having to add anything together!"

The rest of the boys grouped around the campfire let out a united cry of laughter, as Edward and Bastion tried to slink into the shadows, their faces red with embarrassment. "That should do it for tonight," Eddrick interrupted, easing the laughter into a dull murmur. "Now that we've finished today's 'geography lesson'—" Eddrick glanced toward the pair "—and math lesson, I think it's time you all call it a night. We've all got a long day of grass-stomping ahead of us, and I don't need any of you lot passing out and getting trampled." With that, Eddrick poured the last of his ale onto the fire, extinguishing the dying flame.

~*~

"Hey Ed, you awake?"

An annoyed, incomprehensible murmur was all that replied, mentioning something about coconuts, followed by soft snoring. Bastion shuffled across the tent blindly, being careful not to break anything or bring the entire tent down in the pitch darkness. When he finally reached the source of the soft snoring, Bastion placed his hands against the side of his friend's body, and, with a light chuckle escaping his lips, shook the boy vigorously. Edward awoke with a series of sharp, somewhat confused, 'what's, followed by an annoyed growl directed toward his rouser, knowing full well that it could only be Bastion.

"What do you want?" Edward whined through his yawn, stretching his arms and legs out as far as they would reach. "I just fell asleep."

"I gotta take a piss. Come on."

No reply came from Edward. Instead, the boy raised slightly from his resting place, his sleeping pack rustling softly beneath him as he shifted his body around, and held his right hand out. A small, dim orb of light appeared, floating just above his palm. Scarcely bright enough to even begin to illuminate the confines of the tent, the light was just bright enough for Edward to show the expression on his face, which clearly stated the words he spoke next: "Are you freaking kidding me!?"

"Just come on!"

With a begrudging groan, Edward turned over off his back and crawled out from under the tent. As he joined Bastion outside the tent, he was greeted by nothing but the pitch blackness of the starless night, with him unable to see even his friend's face right in front of his eyes. The boy held his hand out and a small orb of light materialized once more, this one slightly brighter than the previous, allowing the pair to see the path just before them and let them avoid running into a tent. The camp was set up almost like a maze, with several tents set up beside one another with little pathways created for the soldiers to traverse in situations similar to the one the pair currently were in.

"Hold up, we'll need to be able to find our way back," Edward said, leaning back into the tent with the orb. He rummaged through his gear and personal effects, looking for something through his weary eyes. An 'ah-ha!' sounded and the boy raised back out of the tent, a spool of thread held victoriously in his hand. Edward tied the end of the string to the bottom of the tent, unwinding it by several feet so that it rest firmly on the ground. "We can use this string to guide our way back to our tent. Otherwise, we'd likely get lost in this gods-forsaken maze and be forced to sleep on the ground until sunrise. And I'd rather not get scolded by Eddrick again."

Having set off into the maze of tents, the pair eventually found their way to the outskirts of the camp, though only after running into three dead ends along the way. Filled with relief and an expression of over-exaggerated joy across his face, Bastion quickly stepped pass the boundaries the light provided and into the darkness to take care of his business, a soft, jolly whistle escaping his lips. From that empty darkness, as the whistling began to taper off, Bastion called back to Edward, his words loud enough for only his friend to hear. "Hey Ed?" he started, his tone now soft and serious. "Why don't we just go? We're all alone at the edge of camp without a person in sight. We could just run and leave this all behind us." Silence filled the void following Bastion's words, persisting for near a minute before the boy returned to Edward's field of view. He returned the Bastion Edward always knew, a smile splitting the boy's face in two. "Gotcha!"

"Well why not?" asked Edward in response, his tone matching the softness of Bastion's previous question. The thought had occurred to Edward before, always tickling at the back of his mind, but the boy had never placed any stock into the idea; it was nothing more than a passing thought. However, with Bastion posing the same question, despite it being nothing more than a joke, made Edward wonder: why couldn't they just go? "Bass, why don't we just leave? Leave the gods and their petty war; leave all the needless death and suffering it has caused. Why should we have to die for a cause we don't believe in? We could just start walking... See where fate leads us..."

"You know I can't do that, Ed," Bastion sighed, placing his hands against the back of his neck and stretching his back. "The shame of abandonment that would be placed upon my family's name—the shame of one's own child abandoning the 'just cause' of Laetria's 'holy war' to save his own, sorry hide—is simply too much. 'There goes the family of the coward!' they'd mock, 'Behold! The father of the deserter!' they'd sneer. Stuff like that. You know how nobles are: always quick to tear one another down, not caring the wounds left by their words, so long as there is coin or power to be gained of it. My father is a good man, more caring and generous than the rest of those self-righteous, prancing peacocks combined. And by the gods, would they jump at the opportunity to defile my father's name. No, I could not do that to them." He paused, looking out into the unseen distance with a look of pensive turmoil in his eyes. He looked lost in thought, as if his mind were a million miles away from where they were. When he continued, his voice was somber and sad. "Besides, I think you're forgetting: where exactly could we go? Unless you've forgotten, the Gods' War is spread across all of Nirmana, not just at the Venelatrian border. Any place we go, we'll be made to fight. Only place safe from the war is the Terrafrost up north, but how long could we possibly last there? We'd likely starve, if not killed by bandits or the wildlife first. Face it, Ed, there's nowhere we can go."

Edward signed heavily. Bastion was right, of course. There truly was no place they could go, at least as long as they planned on not dying. Of course the northern wilds were out of the question. Apart from the murderous bandits, savage beasts, and general lack of fertile soil, the area had become infested with plague-carrying vermin—another 'gift' of the Gods' War. They simply weren't harden enough to survive such unwelcoming terrain. And of course, more than anything, Bastion's reason for staying. With all of Bastion's absurd goofiness and childish behavior, Edward often found himself forgetting that Bastion was actually the son of a prominent nobleman, and had to, from time to time, act the part. "I suppose you're right," Edward groaned, a small smile beginning to encroach upon Edward's lips. "Besides, since you're so dead-set on staying in this accursed war, someone's gotta be out there on the field with you, making sure you don't have a blade ran up your ass. So I guess I might as well stick around for—"

Edward found his words cut short as another dim ball of light emerged from the edge of the encampment, causing the boy to extinguish his in return with the quick balling of his fist. "Get down!" Edward whispered harshly, grabbing Bastion by the shoulders and yanking him down after him, nearly falling down into a jumbled mess. Edward clasped his hand over Bastion's mouth, which was responded by the muffled protests of Bastion. "Be quiet! Someone's coming."

Two men walked in the direction of the pair, their soft murmurs steadily growing louder and more comprehensible as they approached. It didn't take long for Edward to recognize the men as being Eddrick and old Iron-Side Sephyrus. Shit, Edward thought. Had they seen them as they made their way through the tents? As the men approached, Edward ducked down even further, taking Bastion with him, to the point that he was laying on top of his friend. The two walked mere feet from the boys, the pair being able to hear every snap and break of the grass beneath the men's footfalls as they passed. The boys held their breath as Eddrick's light peaked through the swaying blades of grass and stuck a thin line across Edward's face. The captain stopped for a moment—during which Edward's and Bastion's hearts nearly dropped right out of their rear ends—but continued on after a couple of seconds. The boys let out a soft, nearly inaudible, sigh as the men passed, carefully repositioning themselves as they spied on the two.

"Has it already been ten years?" Eddrick asked Sephyrus, his eyes latched upon the unyielding darkness stretched out before him. "It seems like just yesterday, the three of us together, playing, fighting, keeping each other safe and out of trouble. And then I failed him. I wasn't strong enough to keep him safe, and now—" Eddrick’s words drifted into the deep void, allowing the eerie silence to reclaim the night, perturbed by only the occasional chirp of a rogue insect.

“Indeed it had, Chester,” Sephyrus replied, drawing a large, brown bottle from his sack, its label long-since faded and unreadable. The man pulled free the cork with a light grunt, tossing it aside and out of view, and took a generous drink of its contents. “But what happened that day—you need to stop blaming yourself for his death, old friend. It isn’t your fault; it never was. What happened that day was going to happen despite you and me. Hell, you could even call it predetermined. It doesn’t matter how much more strength or power we could have had, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of that day. Because that was just the kind of person he was.”

“But now, because of me, his son’s—”

“Still alive, Chester,” Sephyrus interrupted sharply, his voice a strong, reaffirming tone. He held the bottle out toward Eddrick, dangling it just within his peripheral view. He shook the bottle lightly, the contents tinging against the glass as it swished and swirled inside the bottle. Eddrick snatched the bottle from Sephyrus’s hand and took a heavy drink. “And with any luck,” Sephyrus continued, “he will remain so. And after all, you were the one who trained the poor bastard, so that automatically triples his odds out on the field, I’d wager.” Sephyrus smiled slightly. “Besides, James wouldn’t want you beating yourself up like this every year.”

“James!?” Edward gasped beneath his breath. “But that’s—”

“Psst! Ed!” Bastion hissed, dragging Edward’s attention from the two men. “Come on, we’ve got to go. Every moment we stay out here, we increase the odds of being discovered, especially by those two. Besides, we’ve got to go get back to sleep, unless you’ve forgotten about the miles upon miles of vast, open grassland we’ve got to trek through tomorrow?”

Edward gave Bastion a dirty look, which was replied to with a teasing smile. The boy shook his head and sighed, but eventually nodded in agreement. “Fine,” he mumbled, sparing one final look back at the two men. Edward watched as Eddrick poured the last of the bottle’s contents onto the cold ground, the light from his orb setting the falling drops of liquid aglow, and silently worded a few words that the boy couldn’t quite make out. He turned back to Bastion, who was looking back at him anxiously. “Alright, let’s go.”

~*~

They packed up their camp and started off again early that morning, well before the sun pierced the lingering remnants of nighttime. The morning dew left their equipment slightly damp, and a cold, morning breeze riddled their entire being with each blow. The breeze was bitter and sharp, like an angry, lingering spirit of winter that refused to relent to the spring that had long-since come. Edward had heard the more superstitious men among them suggest that it was actually a foul omen; the spirits of the slain soldiers trying to deter their advance to their own death. Not needing anything else negatively affecting his own moral—regardless of how much actual stock he put into the outrageous claim—Edward hastened his steps to put as much space in between the men and himself.

After nearly two hours of walking, when the sun crept over the horizon, the dew that clutched to the flowing blades of grass were set aflame by the radiant dawn, and released a euphoria of shining choruses that praised the morning's light. And just as the darkness fled from the light’s arrival, so too did the bitter spirit fade to the dawn’s warming rays. With the sun to their back, its light illuminating the unknown that lay before them and guiding them in Her loving embrace, the supply train passed through the provincial border of Venelatria and into the western province of Selindor. A tight knot formed in Edward’s stomach as the realization that he was no longer within the comfort of Venelatria set in. He had now truly left his home, and it made him feel so lost, so alone, and so—

“Gryffin…”

The voice sent a cold shiver down Edward’s spine, and the boy swallowed hard. Having been so lost within his own train of thought, Edward had inadvertently traversed his way through the supply train all the way to the front, where he now stood just behind Captain Eddrick and “Iron-side” Sephyrus. Shit, Edward cursed, how in Laetria’s name did I end up here of all places? With his eyes still sharply locked on the boy, Edward prepared himself for his captain’s wrath. What he received instead was an annoyed sigh, followed by his liberation from his captain’s icy glare. Edward didn’t dare question the reason, but simply accepted the truce given to him by Eddrick.

They traveled along for several more hours before the mountains of Heaven’s Peak began to rise into view from the far south. Edward, like everyone else who lived in the capital, was well aware of the mountain chain’s end, which wrapped around the southern edge of the Venelatrain province and was within view for all to see from the safety of the city‘s walls, but the sheer size of the monsters that grew only larger with each step left him speechless. Each seemed to stretch higher than the last, as if reaching up to grasp at the sky, and judging from what appeared to be clouds or fog behind the peaks, Edward mused that they had been partially successful. As they continued and the peaks to the south became more clear, Edward began to realize what he had been mistaking as clouds or fog was not of the sky, but of the earth. Behind the peaks of mountain chain stood a behemoth—a mountain that dwarfed the nearby monsters, surpassed the hanging sky, and pierced the underbelly of the heavens. Edward’s jaw hung loose, as if unhinged. “Th-th-that’s the…”

“The Altamont,” Eddrick finished. The man had fallen back a few steps so that he walked beside Edward. “The tallest point in all of Nirmana, it’s peak is said to be the gateway to the realm of the gods. The true Heaven’s Peak. Well, at least that’s what legends and religious nutcases say, anyway.” The man showed a cocky smirk. “If you ask me, it’s just a big ass hunk of rock that an insecure god is using to compensate due to the fact that his ‘Altamont’ is just a little nub.”

“Do you think it wise to be mocking a god?” chirped Bastion playfully as he poked his head in between the pair. “I heard from a very reliable source that the last guy who made fun of Avgrand’s, uh, ‘god-hood’ had a giant ball of lava dropped on him. It‘s true!”

“Ah, I had wondered where your shadow had gone off to, Gryffin,” the captain sarcastically groaned upon Bastion‘s arrival. “You two are usually attached at the hip, so I had gone and feared for the worst. Was already preparing my letter to your father: ‘I regret to inform you that your son, Sebastian, has been trampled to death after passing out during our march to the border. My deepest and most sincere apologies’.”

“Aww, how sweet of you to worry about me, sir,” the boy requited in kind, drawing a soft snarl from Eddrick. Bastion turned and smiled a toothy grin toward Edward, but found his eyes locked upon something as he did. “Hey Cap’n, what’s that over there?”

Eddrick turned and followed Bastion’s finger to a thick column of black smoke rising from the top of a very large mountain. Though the mountain still stood beneath the gaze of the Altamont, no other mountain apart from it matched the mountain in height, and the black smoke pouring from its maw gave it an ominous air about it. “Ah,” he replied, “that would be the Drakkenmount. It’s an active volcano that serves as the main home of the Drakes, as well as the house and fuel of Avgrand’s Forge.”

“So wait, our enemies are this close to us!?” Edward interrupted, his eyes wide in shock. “So why haven’t they attacked us from the mountains!?”

“Who says they haven’t?” Eddrick lowered his head and shut his eyes, his face covered in pain, as if an old, sharp memory began to replay in his mind. “Count yourself fortunate that your life has been cushy up to this point, for just because it hasn’t happened within your lifetime, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. After all, there is a reason that the Supreme General is stationed at Ansehen and not the border.”

“Captain,” the general spoke up, cutting through the tension. “If we continue at this rate, we should reach Argenbrucke by nightfall. So I need you to go check the rear forces. We don’t want any stragglers getting separated.”

“Or stretched too thin?” Edward questioned timidly. “I-In case of an attack?”

Sephyrus let out a stifled laugh that was partially a snort, but recollected himself before continuing. “No need for you to fear, Gryffin. While it’s true that there has been attacks from the mountains in the past, the empire has since taken special precautions to insure the safety of the capital and the people who live there.” Eddrick let out a contemptuous scoff, but a sharp glare from Sephyrus quieted him, and sent Eddrick on his way to the rear of the supply train. “Now, Gryf—Edward, was it? And—”

“Sebastian,” the boy interrupted. “Sebastian Augustine.”

“Ah yes, Roswald’s son. Eddrick has spoken much of you two. He says you have a great deal of heart, and much untapped potential. He also says you two are lazy, lack direction, and require structuring. In fact, Edward, you are just like your father was at your age.”

“My father?”

“Yes, James was a very dear friend of mine and Eddrick’s, and the three of us were just like you and Sebastian are in our youth: completely inseparable. That’s why I want to take you two under my wing and train you personally.”

“You want to what!?” the pair cried out in unison.

“Yes, train you. Edward, I believe you are aware by now that your father was the former Supreme General of the Central Army. And you, Sebastian, your eldest brother was one of the finest officers that I ever had. While it is indeed unfortunate that they no longer are with us, their spirits live on through the two of you. So that’s why I want to give the two of you my full attention, so that potential within you can be released. Believe me, by the time I’m through with the two of you—”

Edward had drifted out roughly halfway through, his eyes draw toward a small flock of something flying in from the south—from the direction of the Drakkenmount—and were steadily growing larger. He couldn’t make out any shape or detail, only that there appeared to be near two dozen or more. “Um, General?”

"Hm?" Sephyrus abandoned his monologue and followed Edward's gaze to the shadows, which had grown closer still. "Ah, it’s just a small flock of cravens, nothing to worry about. If they get too close, we'll just fire a round and scare the bastards shitless." Sephyrus let out a heavy, booming laugh, and returned to his speech with a "Let's see, where was I?"

“Cravens?” Bastion scoffed in a whisper, leaning over toward Edward. “If that’s a flock of cravens, it’s the smallest flock I’ve ever seen.”

Edward nodded in agreement. “You’re right. Also, they’re much smaller. You remember when we were younger and were given boom-crackers whenever we’d all want to go play out in the Great Grass? And then when that one swarm tried to attack us, we shot our boom-crackers at them, and saw that cravens are no larger than a fist. Whatever these things flying toward us are, they sure as hell aren’t cravens.”

“Then,” Bastion paused, glancing nervously toward the approaching shadows, “what on Nirmana are they?”

"General," Eddrick shouted, pushing through the ranks back to the front of the supply chain. "All rear units present and accounted for, and all in high spirits at the news of our approach to Argenbrucke.” Eddrick passed around to the left of Edward and Bastion, taking his place beside Sephyrus. “And I can think of a certain pair who are probably more eager than any of the rest.”

Edward ignored Eddrick's obvious jab at him, his attention locked on the objects that were beginning to come into view. They definitely weren't cravens—in fact, from the look of it, they weren't even organic. There was no visible movement—no flapping of wings—just a steady, fluid approach. A small flash resonated from the center object, and a deep sound followed a second later.

"What was—" Eddrick's question was cut abruptly short as Edward somehow managed to tackle his captain, bringing him down hard against the Great Grass, bending and breaking the tall blades under their combined weight. With a swift kick, Edward knocked Sebastian‘s legs out from under him, and brought the boy down beside them. "What the fu—!" Eddrick tried to curse, his eyes fixed on Edward with anger. A sharp whistle cut him short; it consumed all of the noise: the clanking metal, the wind passing by his ears, even his captain's string of profanity. And as it passed by, though Edward could not see it, he saw reflected in Eddrick's eyes a mix of surprise and concern, lied beneath a sturdy focus, and he felt a great heat burn the back of his neck.

The object passed through where Eddrick just stood and struck the ground with such a great fury, that the ground shook and stumbled all the units within fifty feet of them. Dirt rained down upon Edward's head and back—a soft cling-clinging sounding as it struck his shining armor. Both the boy and his captain held still for a moment, still processing everything that had happened while blankly staring at one another through big eyes. The moment passed as another explosion sounded, this one further along the supply train, and Eddrick rolled the boy off him. "To arms, men! The enemy comes to meet us and we must answer in kind! Fire those cannons! Knock those Drakenaut scouts out of the skies! You! Get that cannon back in—"

"I warned you, Cap'n!" Bastion shouted from within the panic. "You make fun of Avgrand's 'god-hood' and here comes the lava balls!"

Edward pushed himself up off the ground as Bastion and his captain's voices was drowned out by the sound of cannon fire as the Drakes released their volleys of magma balls toward the supply chain. The magma balls struck, and the sound of dying soldiers filled the air. The Venelatrian army answered in kind as it fired a cannon round back at their attackers, the electricity-launched cannon able to send cannon-arrows back at their targets a hundred times faster than traditional cannon powder and twenty times faster than magicks. The steel arrow ripped through the foremost Geocopter, igniting its fuel line and causing it to explode. The Geocopter, now a giant ball of flames, flew overhead and crashed a few yards from the supply train.

Following the copter's path, he saw him—or what was left of him. Though Edward successfully saved his captain and his friend from certain doom, his actions were not without consequence. Lying at the lead of the supply chain, the charred remains of old 'Iron-side' Sephyrus, Third General of the Venelatrian Central Army, still burned as a heavy stench occupied the air. Edward opened his mouth to yell in horror, but found himself cut short by a high-pitched wail.

From the south-west—from the direction of the distant mountains—flew a large, black vessel, that had materialized right before Edward‘s eyes. It was sleek and the black metal shined in the sun’s bright rays. The vessel was long, casting a shadow across the flowing blades of grass below that was easily three hundred yards long. Four large propellers at each corner of the vessel kept the massive beast up, as well as propelled it forward when correctly maneuvered. Though he had never seen such a thing before, Edward knew exactly what was now moving directly toward him: a Dongothian Lander. The boy had overheard a report given to Eddrick concerning it. Supposedly the newest way for the vampires to cross into enemy territory unnoticed, the seraph Shekhinah, Marik, having reportedly faced the very same beast not but three weeks ago.

Edward watched in terror as several objects began falling from the Lander, hitting the ground just a few hundred yards away from them. The objects began moving toward the supply train, and as their details became more defined, Edward’s heart sank. The black armor. Running toward the supply train was a small unit of vampires, easily numbering six hundred and steadily growing as more and more leapt from the Lander. They let lose a unified cry: "Dongothvarn! Engilim, donim, vistilim; deall exalteelye!".

The Lander's fired a shot from its cannon, blowing a large chunk in the middle of the supply train as the grass was painted with the soldier’s blood. As the vampires filled the gap further, now but fifty yards away, Edward noticed a small, white object glowing from within the charred clothes of Sephyrus's remains. It began dim, but steadily grew until it was as bright as a star on a clear night. When the boy crawled closer to investigate, a large symbol surrounded by magickal runes etched itself across the ground with a brilliant light. Seven pillars of light fell from the sky, each falling evenly along the symbol's edge. The impact from the pillars sent a shockwave of magickal energy pulsing around the runes, stirring up strong winds and thick dust.

With his attention drawn by the mysterious object, Edward failed to notice that the vampires were now upon them. Moans of agony filled the air as the soldiers, most of which were rookies that had never gone face to face with a real vampire, began to fall one after another. Another Geocopter flew overhead and crashed to the ground as a cannon-arrow connected with its target. The wailing sound Edward heard earlier returned, and the boy lifted his head to see two more Landers materializing beside the first one.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he whispered. The boy wanted to cry, feeling absolutely hopeless. If General Sephyrus was dead, how exactly could they hope to survive? Sure, Eddrick was there, but not even he could manage all these vampires alone. Edward’s fear turned to panic as a black armor-clad vampire stepped from the fray, his eyes locked onto the boy. Dread set in as the vampire set off into a straight dash toward him, turning yards into feet within seconds. The vampire leapt into the air, his fingers outstretched and ready to shred Edward to pieces. The boy shut his eyes tightly, tears flowing loose between his eyelids. This is is, he thought. This is where I die.

The bright columns of light released a brilliant flash of light magic’s, consuming Edward’s vision, as well as the vampire before him. And for a moment, Edward could see nothing but white, the sounds of the battlefield sounding distant and far as a soft ringing filled his head. The boy opened his lips, but dared not speak a word, fearing the reply he might receive. Finally, the words left his lips. “Am… am I dead?”

"Rise, child," a warm voice spoke. Edward raised his head—his eyes adjusting as the whiteness began to fade—and focused on the figures that stood before him. Seven in all, with each a golden tome in hand, the foremost man, who had long, raven-black hair, held his hand out to Edward. "It is alright, you yet remain among the living. Fear not, child. I am Chasid Devonte, and we are the Alabaster Saints."
 
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The lava balls were highly amusing to me as I read this. I really like the strong friendship between Edward and Bastion, despite how one wishes to flee and the other has to preserve his family's good name with honor. I imagine we'll be seeing these two a lot as the story goes on! At least, I hope so. Furthermore, I like how Edward is already proving himself useful to captain Eddrick by saving his life. Too bad the general died, but I think these three will survive and carry on to win the battle without him. In any case, I like the end the best because of the fight scene. I know it was brief, but the moment Edward was saved it was like a miracle being born right on the battle field. I cant wait to see what the third chapter of this will be like. And on that note, this was well worth the wait for a chapter two! C:
 

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Here are a few thoughts on the prologue; I'll try to get read and respond to the first two chapters this weekend.

I hope it goes without saying that your writing and storytelling is strong, so I'll be skipping over a lot of those (positive) points and focusing on the things that I think are problematic or at least deserve a second look. There are a handful of grammar and vocabulary problems sprinkled throughout, which I can highlight later if you'd like, but here I focus on the storytelling.

OmniChaos said:
"Good morn, sire, and a most happy First of Octilar! Ah, reaping time is almost upon us. Soon, the farmers will pick their fields clean and prepare their scarymen to be thrown into the bonfires. Ah, and then the Feast of Harvest will begin! Oh, what a... a, uh... a..."
The prologue has a lot of exposition disguised as dialogue or character observation. This makes sense -you've got a lot of world building to do- but sometimes it comes across a bit too transparently. This opening dialogue, for example, which could be paraphrased thusly: "Good morning, sire! It's the first of October, and people are doing exactly what they have been doing at this time of year for centuries, but I thought you should know about it!" Admittedly, people do talk about inane things when exchanging pleasantries, but I just don't find it believable here. He is clearly building a scene for an audience.

In fact, throughout the prologue this character seems to act as a barometer of what the audience should be feeling. The King isn't in his throne room by late in the morning? Panic! The goddess has ordered war? Stumble dazedly almost into a fire! She has drafted all able-bodied men? Righteous fury! Maybe I'll come to understand this as an aspect of his character, but right now it just feels like he telegraphs everything the audience is expected to know or to feel.

In a similar vein, the internal monologues of both characters near the end of the prologue are largely unnecessary. You've already shown quite convincingly what they think of the Goddess' orders and hinted at why they must comply. The summarizing monologues feel like they pull the reader by the nose.

One thing I particularly like in the prologue is the opening description of a sunrise. The physical descriptions and larger scene setting are very expressive and complement each other well. My favorite line: "[The morning light] slid up the wall and spilt over, flooding the city like a broken dam." I just think it's a wonderful image.
 

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I like the first chapter. You're past the exposition of the prologue and into some actual human characters. (You address elsewhere why the prologue's characters are intentionally left vague.) Too early in the characters' development to say whether I'll like them or not, except for Eddrick, who comes into the story fully battle-scarred and probably as developed as he'll get. That whole scene draws so deeply from the "grizzled commander addressing green recruits" routine that I can't help but imagine Eddrick as the Soldier from Team Fortress 2. But it's a fun scene.

Really not much happens plot-wise, which is fine as we're still establishing the characters, so I'll address two points of writing. First, some of your sentences feel over-extended. This was true of the prologue as well. For example:

The sun peeked over the mountains, washing the rolling hills which transitioned into the vast grasslands of the Great Grass in light.
It's not wrong per se, but "which transitioned into the vast grasslands of the Great Grass" is a really long phrase to separate "washing the rolling hills ... in light." It makes me read over the sentence a second time just to make sure there wasn't a mistake. You do something similar with parenthetical remarks:

At the city's center sat the nobles and the churches (which began ringing their choir of bells to the tune of "Bless Us, Oh Mother," welcoming in the new day), carved into the side of one of the small mountains on the outskirts of the mountain chain.
When I get to the word "carved," I have to retrace my steps all the way back to figure out what was "carved into the side of one of the small mountains on the outskirts of the mountain chain" (surely not the bells?). You try to fit so much detail into each sentence that it occasionally interrupts the flow of the sentence, compelling the careful reader to go back to make sure they read it correctly.

The stars, which hung so high above the land, sparkled and shined like a thousand shards of a shattered diamond, scattered across the melancholic, black sky with such an artistic, elegant design, that it painted the heavens with a stroke of wonder and delight.
This is a long sentence with a lot of adjectives separated by a lot of commas--again, not incorrect (except for the comma after "design"). But I feel if you got rid of two commas it would flow better: "The stars, which hung so high above the land, sparkled and shined like a thousand shards of a shattered diamond, scattered across the melancholic black sky with such an artistic, elegant design that it painted the heavens with a stroke of wonder and delight." It's still a long sentence, but I find it easier to follow.

Sometimes it has nothing to do with the sentence's length or construction. Take the following:
Bastion turned his head slightly toward Edward, enough to look at his friend from the corner of his eye while minding the road before him.
There is nothing wrong with this sentence grammatically, and it doesn't make the reader second-guess its meaning. It's perfectly fine the way it is. But I still wonder if it's worth the latter 2/3rds of the sentence justifying an action ("Bastion turned his head slightly toward Edward") that doesn't need to be justified.

This leads into my second point, which is that you still seem to be over-explaining certain things in your story. Here is the introduction of Bastion.
"Nice going, Edward," his neighboring soldier, a young man named Sebastian (Bastion to his friends), Edward's oldest and closest friend, cracked, chuckling softly.
We've again got a confusing amount of detail in a sentence--try reading this section alone: "his neighboring soldier, a young man named Sebastian (Bastion to his friends), Edward's oldest and closest friend, cracked[.]" The space between the subject (his neighboring soldier") and verb ("cracked") is filled with three separate bits of information, and it just feels clunky. Equally important, do we need to be told that Bastion is Edward's oldest and closest friend? Is that not information we could just as easily and more naturally pick up from their interactions in the story?

"Whatever," Edward mumbled, squirming free from his friend's grip and placing a foot between himself and his best friend. As much as Edward liked Bastion and was thankful to have him as his friend, the guy just didn't know how to shut up sometimes. Despite that, Edward knew his friend's intentions were good, and he simply was trying to cheer him up.
This is the sort of interaction that informs us what the relationship between Bastion and Edward is really like, but it feels like you're over-selling it with the insistence that they are friends. The interaction should be enough to let us know who they are.

Without a word, Edward walked to Bastion and embraced him. He finally understood him; he understood why he acted the way he did. All the jokes, the cockiness, how he never took anything seriously. It was because Bastion was just as scared as he was. "It's alright, Bass," he said, trying to hold back tears of his own. Bastion wept silently on his friends shoulder, having lost complete control of the emotions he had kept bottled up. "We're all scared, Bass. We're all scared."
The bolded sentences (all interior monologue) are not necessary. If Edward has figured it out, trust that the audience has as well. Your writing is good enough that you can spend less time justifying the characters' actions and more time describing them, and let the audience come up with their own interpretation.

I'll read the second (and last?) chapter and then try to give my thoughts on the piece as a whole.
 
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