[2728 AD; Bel Dale in Maeitakohn – 12 years ago]
The smoke had finally cleared. Henry peered up over the fallen tree as the enemy was nowhere to be found. It was a simple mission, Henry thought to himself, complete the weapons delivery to the Rusa family in Bel. That had changed when the Thekohnian army had cut Henry and his troop off in an ambush. Henry was lucky to escape with his gun, as was Fercewend, but the same could not be said of the rest of their troop.
“At least… at least you’re still here, Rohan,” Henry said.
“I’d rather it be me than the rest of our force,” Fercewend replied. “Too many good men lost their lives from that attack.”
“I know,” Henry lamented. “It’s not like you to dwell on this, though.”
“Those bastards killed them,” Fercewend said. He reached for the handle of his sword. “Only if I were to draw my blade just then! Just then!”
“What is done is done,” Henry said, “And I will miss them too. But our mission is not over.”
“Do we even have any of the weapons left?”
“We’ll have to check.”
Henry and Fercewend got up and walked away from the tree over to the smoldering truck. The charred and bloody bodies did little to quell Henry and Fercewend’s shock, but nonetheless they looked into the truck to see if any of the weapons had survived.
“Nothing,” Fercewend said. He pounded the side of the truck. “Damn it!”
“Hold on,” Henry said, crawling into the back. He covered his mouth as he found a small, steel box. “Maybe, just maybe…”
Henry eyed the lock on the front of the box. Then, Henry reached into his pocket, looking for the key that would open the lock. He finally grasped a small key, and inserted it into the keyhole. He opened the box and found the letter that was inside.
“That’s it, isn’t it,” Henry said.
“That letter,” Rohan said. “Hold onto it.”
Henry nodded. “Let’s go,” he said.
The walk across Bel Dale was exhausting for Henry and Fercewend. With nightfall approaching, the two men had decided to continue onward. After all, Rusa Manor was not that far off. As they approached the gates, Henry and Fercewend looked around.
“Do you think it’s too quiet?” Fercewend asked.
“I am concerned,” Henry asked. “Let’s move and keep our guards up.”
Fercewend kept his hand close to his sword, while Henry held onto his rifle. They opened the gates and walked into the desolate courtyard. Henry eyed each side of the manor, walking up to the front steps. To their surprise, Fercewend and Henry found the front doors open.
“Please, just be okay,” Henry muttered to himself.
“Who is there?”
Henry peered inside the main hall of the manor, where he found a young woman with blond hair standing by the stairs. She was grasping the railing as Henry walked in with Fercewend close behind.
“We are of the Ameci military,” Henry said, “Troop 32. You are?”
“Tori,” she replied. “Tori Rusa.”
“The daughter of Joe Rusa?” Henry asked.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Tori said.
“Just tell us,” Fercewend said, “Is he here?”
“He is,” Tori replied, “But I’m afraid he can’t meet you.”
She collapsed to her knees as Henry rushed to help her up. As he did, one of the doors upstairs broke down. Henry looked up to see three men walk out with guns in their hands.
“They were here,” Tori said, wiping her eye. “Got here and shot him.”
“Damn them,” Fercewend said. “We have to get out of here.”
“Is there another way out of here?” Henry asked.
“There is one,” she answered. “A passage only the family knows… knew, rather.”
“The others are dead, too?” Henry asked.
“Let’s go,” Fercewend said. “We can take her back to the base.”
Henry turned around. One of Thekohnian soldier from the earlier attack was standing in the doorway, with a pistol raised and pointed at the group.
“Get down!” Henry said to Tori.
Tori ducked under a nearby table as Henry aimed his weapon. However, he and Fercewend were already surrounded by the rest of the Thekohnian soldiers inside the manor.
“Looks like my hunch was right,” the Thekohnian soldier said. “A couple of Ameci rats crawling around trying to protect the Rusa girl. Such a shame.”
“Why?” Henry asked. “The Rusa family is a neutral side. What is there to gain?”
“A simple-minded Ameci like you is below understanding,” he replied. “I think it is time for you to be silenced.”
As the man tried to fire his gun, his hand was cut off by the swift blade of Fercewend. The immediate swing of Rohan’s blade had subdued the opposing man. Fercewend then withdrew his sword and picked up the man, throwing him out of the nearby window.
The other Thekohnian soldiers aimed their guns at Fercewend and Henry. Fercewend unsheathed his sword once more, with Henry aiming at the soldiers above. The incoming gunfire hit the ground before Fercewend, who moved over to the left and started charging at the three. Henry began to fire at the soldiers, one of them getting hit in the head by Henry’s bullet.
“Take this!” Fercewend exclaimed as he leapt up the stairs and swung his sword at the two remaining soldiers. They backed up to avoid the blade, but found themselves against the wall as Henry soon followed after Fercewend.
“It’s too late,” one of the soldiers said, “Even if you take the girl with you, the Rusa family is dead!”
Henry shook his head, pointed his gun at the soldier, and shot him in the forehead. “As for you,” he said to the remaining soldier, “Today is your end.”
As Fercewend and Henry made it back to the Ameci base in Bel, Tori had trailed behind them the entire time. The walk back had been bitter and long, with no one speaking a word.
“We’re here,” Henry said.
“I’ll head inside,” Fercewend said. “We’ll figure out what to do with her.”
He headed inside as Henry turned to Tori. She had no interest in speaking, and Henry could not blame her. Given all that had happened, this day would be the last thing she’d want to dwell on. Henry looked up at the sky as dawn began to break.
“I know what it feels like to lose those close to you,” Henry said. “Hopefully we will try to work something out with you.”
Tori didn’t say a word, opting to stare at her feet instead. Henry took a deep breath, continuing his speech.
“I… My comrade, Fercewend, told me when I entered the military that I should never get stuck thinking about things I cannot control,” he said. “That has been my driving force the past five years.”
He was met with more silence. Henry knew that Tori had no interest in hearing what he had to say; nonetheless, he continued.
“Being in the military has given me purpose,” Henry said. “I never had the benefit of being in a family like the Kunigunde family, and because of that I had to fight. I had to fight to get in the military, and even now I keep fighting.”
He took a seat on the ground, legs crossed. “I guess I got carried away there,” he said to her. “I am sincerely sorry for your loss, if that makes you feel better.”
Tori looked at him, tears in her eyes. “What’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“You didn’t have to save me,” she said. “Like you said, my family wanted no part of this war.”
“I know, but I can’t forgive them for what they’ve done,” Henry said.
“You care so much for a stranger.”
“I suppose,” Henry said. “We have a motto in the army: Keep moving, no matter what the cost. When I see you, that is what comes to mind.”
To be continued…