Sunday, July 27, 2014

Page 767

The Vanguard will have a real problem on its hands if that happens,’ said Wendy, ‘because it won’t just be us. There will be dissenters to deal with as well. We’ve sent word to all of the Vanguardian leaders, explaining our circumstances, and we’ve received word back from Field Marshall Sanko stating that if the situation continues to escalate, she will come to Sair personally and order General Lawrence stand down.

Shenado perked up a little. ‘Sanko, huh? That’s excellent news, but I don’t think Lawrence will listen to her. She may outrank him, but his boss is Lamont. Is she the only one you’ve heard from?

Octavia nodded. “The others have all been irritatingly quiet. We’re not even sure if our message reached Sermung.”

I’m not surprised,’ said Shenado. ‘His whereabouts are often kept secret. Even if he did receive your message, he probably won’t answer you.

“So we’ve been told.”

Truthfully, I wouldn’t have expected any of them to answer,’ said Shenado. ‘Sanko is really willing to go against her own comrades for our sake? That is a very bold decision on her part, especially considering she doesn’t have any ties to the Elroys that I know of.

Believe it or not, some people in positions of power still give half-a-damn about the rules,’ said Wendy.

Octavia breathed a curt laugh. “When I was younger, I was quite keen to meet all of the strongest women in the world--or at least, all of the ones who wouldn’t kill me for looking at them the wrong way. So naturally, Wendy and I have met her before. A few times, in truth. Not very friendly, that woman. I don’t think she likes us much. But I’ve never gotten the impression that she cares about anything more than she cares about justice and the rule of law.”

I’ve heard others say as much about her as well,’ said Shenado. ‘But you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a bit more skeptical than usual.

Of course. We’re in no rush to trust anyone from the Vanguard, either.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Page 766

That is about the same as what Axiolis told me,’ said Shenado. ‘I’ve always thought that story was a little strange.

You are not the only one,’ said Wendy. ‘Octavia and I wondered if the Vanguard was somehow behind the attack on the Elroys, but we never found any evidence proving so. And of course, Zeff and Axiolis saw the attack happen and were convinced it was Abolish, so I don’t think they ever doubted the Vanguard like we did. Or perhaps that was their reason for rejoining: because they thought it would help them find answers.

If they ever had such suspicions, then they never told me about them,’ said Shenado. ‘I think they genuinely believe it was Abolish’s doing. And to be frank, I trust their judgment more than I trust yours.

Wendy ruffled his feathers again. ‘I do not blame you, I suppose. But you must admit, recent events have cast a new light on that old one.

Shenado made no response.

“If the Vanguard betrayed my family thirty years ago, then why would they wait so long to try and finish us off?” said Marcos.

Everyone blinked at him collectively.

“What?” he said.

Nothing,’ said Wendy. ‘That was a very level-headed question and well-posed. We have been wondering the same thing, but just because we don’t currently have an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Shenado came to land on Marcos’ shoulder. ‘It hardly makes much difference at this point. We’re in a fight now whether we like it or not. How goes the gathering of the allies, by the way?

“Fairly well so far,” said Octavia. “Our conflict has gained quite a lot of attention. The fearmongers are saying a war in Sair would destabilize the entire continent, so there are a number of parties interested in preventing it.”

And a few in exacerbating it,’ added Wendy.

“Of course.”

“Do you think it will really come to war?” asked Marcos.

“If Lawrence continues to ignore our demands, then yes. Soon enough, we’ll have ample strength to lay siege to Rhein’s Keep.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Page 765

Octavia seemed to have trouble continuing her story. She glanced at her reaper another time, and Wendy helped her out.

Axiolis and Zeff were both able to identify the attackers as members of Abolish,’ he said. ‘Zeff recognized them from photographs, while Axiolis had actually fought against them with his previous servant. We sent a team to the lake in order to look for any other survivors, but there weren’t any. Octavia and I visited as well in order to make sense of what had happened. It was very unsettling to us that Abolish could make it this far into our territory undetected while still having enough power to wipe out over two dozen servants--some of whom were quite powerful. We didn’t find any answers, but it has always bothered me.

After that, all of the Rainlords gathered to mount a counterattack, along with the Vanguard’s assistance. We knew who the enemy was, where they were located, and had solid intel on most of their members. On paper, at least, they DID have enough power at their disposal to have conducted such an attack, and we had several reports that they’d been in frequent conflict with the Vanguardian units to which the Elroys belonged. So, despite the strange circumstances, there was no doubt that they were the ones responsible, and at that point, we were all brimming with righteous fury. We fully intended to obliterate them from the face of Eleg.

However, when we reached their base of operations, there was almost nothing left. Instead of a large military complex, we found a smoldering crater. A chasm. So deep that we could barely see the bottom. And all around it, were the heads and mutilated corpses of everyone we knew to be responsible for the attack--as well as a few we DIDN’T. Some were very surprising, being well-known and high-ranking members of Abolish who might have given us real trouble in a direct conflict. As you might imagine, we weren’t sure what to make of it. And thirty years later, we still aren’t.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Page 764

It was Octavia’s turn to hesitate. “Did Zeff ever tell you what happened to the rest of his family?”

It was as Marcos thought. He gave a weak nod. “He didn’t mention it much, but... they were all killed, weren’t they?”

“Yes. He and Joana were the only ones to survive. Afterwards, they lived here at Red Lake until they turned eighteen. I didn’t want them to rejoin the Vanguard, but they wouldn’t listen to me.” Her expression weakened, eyes glazing over with distant memory. “I was very upset by that decision. I should have been more understanding. Instead, they pushed me away, and I just... let them.” She closed her eyes and rubbed her brow with one hand.

Marcos frowned. The old woman had been so cheerful from the first moment he’d met her. He’d wondered if nothing ever fazed her or if she simply didn’t care. Seeing her like this invoked a strange mixture of worry and gratitude. He was slow to ask his next question. “He never really went into much detail about how they died, so... can you tell me what happened?”

Octavia looked at him heavily, then at Shenado.

Axiolis told me about it, but I’d like to hear your version of events, if you don’t mind.’

Octavia gave a slow nod. “Very well.” She took so long to gather her thoughts that it seemed like she might have changed her mind. “...Zeff and Joana had no other siblings. Their parents and grandparents were all members of the Vanguard, as were many of their cousins. Zeff was on his way to joining the Vanguard as well. He’d been with Axiolis for over a year, already.”

She paused again, biting her lip as she chose her next words. “The attack happened very suddenly. The Elroys were having a large family gathering out on a lake up north. About thirty miles from here. Almost all of them were present, including Zeff and Joana. The few who didn’t attend were later found dead elsewhere. I didn’t know anything had happened until Zeff showed up on my doorstep with Joana in his arms. She was unconscious but still alive. She didn’t have a reaper yet, so Zeff had carried her all the way here on foot.”

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Page 763

Even this painting is a bit misleading, if you ask me,’ said Wendy. ‘The Twins could have avoided this. They had ample warning that the enemy was coming to their doorstep, but their pride wouldn’t let them retreat like they should have. They could have lived to fight another day, but this painting implies otherwise by glorifying their deaths.

“It doesn’t glorify anything,” said Octavia, furrowing her brow. “You know that’s not why I had it painted.”

Wendy just ruffled his feathers at her.

“It’s a reminder that theirs was a cautionary tale,” said Octavia. “It’s so we don’t forget the consequences of our actions. My family has always been too reckless for my liking.”

I don’t know how much good it’s done,’ said Wendy.

For a moment, Octavia just glared at him. Then she wiped her face clean and looked at Marcos again. “Anyway. What do you think? Are you disappointed to hear that they weren’t quite the heroes that everyone claims they were?”

Marcos blinked. “Disappointed? Not really. Even if it’s not as nice or... as comforting, I’d still rather know the real story. Otherwise, it just feels like I’m being lied to.”

She broke into a wide grin and laughed faintly. “I don’t know if your father ever told you this, but when he was younger, he and his sister lived here at Red Lake for a few years.”

He thought back. “Oh... yeah, I think he mentioned that.”

“Did he? I’m surprised. Regardless, the point I was trying to make was that when he first came here, he and I had much the same conversation as this one. And he said almost exactly the same thing as you did just now.”

Wendy intervened with a nod. ‘I remember it perfectly. His exact words were, ‘I would rather find more pain in the truth than any solace in a lie.’

Octavia chortled. “That’s right. He was pretty intense for a fifteen-year-old.”

Of course he was,’ said Wendy. ‘He’d just been through an ordeal of his own, remember?

“I do,” she said, and her smile waned.

Marcos had an inkling of what they were talking about. “What ordeal?”