The trees rustled quietly in the afternoon’s gentle breeze as the Sarrancian unit trudged along the dusty road, the city falling away in the distance behind them.
“He didn’t say anything more?”
“No. We’ve just to reinforce the town until told otherwise.”
“The Rellics surely aren’t brazen enough to attempt anything? This seems a dangerous gamble, captain, the city garrison has been a priority for months.”
“I suspect it’s the display that matters. If General Radan allows the northerners to come so close to our settlements in times like these without even symbolic resistance like us, it will do little to inspire respect from the other nations.”
“So we are marching merely to maintain appearances? There is surely a more appropriate measure than one which requires weakening our most critical front, no?”
The captain turned and narrowed his eyes. “It is not becoming of a soldier to question their orders so openly. If all questions had easy answers, the world would be a far less complicated place, Mera. We are not privy to the General’s information, nor, unfortunately, do we have a say in the matter. A short excursion to Clearmont, hope the Rellics are on their way peacefully, and home again, simple as that. The Estrans will not make the first move, I am sure, and if they do, the garrison remains strong enough to give them pause.”
The breeze slowed gently to a halt, and for a moment, the world was still, as if waiting for what would come next.
“Tell your Baron that the 5th Era is dawning… And it…is an era…”
Hands grasped for swords in a futile attempt to stop what was coming, each soldier knowing already that it was too late. Holt held the captain’s gaze, stared her down. He would not go meekly.
“…of Scale!” Varix bellowed, a crisp, bell-like note the only sound in the moment that succeeded her statement as the 3rd Legion’s captain drew her glass blade from its scabbard, decapitating the kneeling Rellic in one swift movement. Quiet hung in the air for a brief second, the Justiciar’s temple silent save for the sound of blood gurgling from the knight’s kneeling corpse, and the thud as it slumped to the ground. Varix gripped the severed head by its thick, greying hair and stared it in its lifeless eyes, before bowling it out amongst the knight’s wide-eyed troops, the black scales of her face parting to reveal a sharp-toothed grin. She took a step backwards and out of the crimson pool forming in the pale grass at her feet, shaking the knight’s blood from her boot as she did so.
The Rellic company scattered.
Valerius raised his right hand, bent squarely at the elbow, palm outstretched. Behind him, the rustle of arrows being nocked filled the air. Still too discordant, he felt. Not as synchronous as he should like. More training required.
Atop the Sarrancian walls, he could see the Alathorian rabble rushing around from tower to tower, unsure what to do, like witless rabbits confronted by a predator. He held himself longer than he usually would, could hear the men behind him growing restless. He wanted to savour the moment, draw it out for the southerners about to face their deaths. He inhaled deeply and clenched his fist. There was a sharp sound like a gust of wind as bowstrings were drawn as one. Much better, he thought.
He stretched his neck, and adjusted the blue cloak draped over his back, fist still held firmly in the air, unwavering. There was movement atop the battlements as a gilded Alathorian came into view.
“What is the meaning of this?” the man began, “this is an act of war! Sarrancia has no quarrel wi—”
Valerius smirked, looked the man in the eyes from his position in front of the gates, and brought his fist forward and down. A cascade of pale birch barbs were loosed, arcing overhead and into the city proper as the soldiers on the wall took cover, the sound of arrows thudding into structure and man alike heralding screams from within the city. The gilded Alathorian stood up again from his position behind a crenellation, gesticulating wildly.
“This is madness! I’ll have your hide you Estran pig! There was no provocation! With this act you doom the Empir—”
The man stopped short, a feathered shaft puncturing his throat as Valerius relieved a nearby archer of their weapon. The Alathorian tottered forward, plummeting over the wall’s edge and impacting with a wet smack on the ground below.
“The Empire was a relic!” the legatus shouted. “It is time for a new age! An age of success! An age of progress! An age of Estrath!”
Valerius thrust the bow back into the archer’s hands without looking, turned on his heel, and strode back through the ranks, his blue cape trailing behind him in the wind.
“Fire at will.”
There was a wet splash and Sir Kliric stirred, wiping the cold water from his scales. The jailor let the empty bucket fall to his side, smirking.
“Breakfast,” he said, sliding a low, wide wooden bowl under the cell door. The gruel splashed with the force, and a thin maggot wormed its way to the surface, its rest disturbed. Sir Kliric stared at the jailor, his face expressionless.
“You’ll be getting company soon,” the jailor said, crossing to his seat by the table outside and easing himself into it. He threw the bucket in a corner with a clatter. “If I’ve got my dates right, that boy of yours ought to be in for a nasty surprise right about now.”
Sir Kliric said nothing, looking at the bowl at the door. He leant over to retrieve it, and began poking through to see what the jailor had hid in it today.
“Hope that cell’s got enough room for the three of you,” the jailor continued.
Kliric crushed a maggot between his thumb and the stone floor of the cell.
“Space is at a premium, after all.”
The prisoner grasped the small wooden spoon and began consuming the watery liquid. He grimaced as he did so, the cold mass tasting of dirt and filth, uncomfortable in his mouth.
Kliric glanced at the jailor.
“There’d be little point in imprisoning corpses, eh?”
Sir Kliric looked back down at the bowl, running his tongue along the inside of his mouth as he continued eating the slop. His stomach growled.
“Oh, how the mighty have fallen, eh Kliric?” said the jailor, standing to his feet. He crossed to the cell door and leant against it, his scales reflecting a blue tinge into the small room. “The Sir Kliric, famed Dragonknight, hero of countless battles, reduced to this.” He sighed, a pitying look on his face.
Sir Kliric continued eating, disregarding the jailor.
“A traitor to his king, and a traitor to his son. A washed-up coward that’s let down everyone he loved and everything he stood for.”
There was no sound from the cell, save for the rhythmic scrape of spoon on bowl.
“Your son deserved better.”
Sir Kliric glanced at the man with narrowed eyes.
“Nashann deserved bette—”
There was a flash of movement from the cell as the bowl capsized and the knight barrelled into the door, snarling, one brass arm clawing wildly for the jailor through the bars. The blue scalar danced back from the door quickly, grinning. He held eye contact as Kliric broke his silence, the walls reverberating with the volume of his wordless yelling. The jailor waited until the display abated, laughing.
“Are we quite finished?”
Kliric stood, arm wedged in the bars, panting. He was still for a moment before the old knight spat on the ground, removing his arm from the door and returning to his seated position, jaw clenched.
“Pathetic,” chuckled the jailor.