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Normally upon waking I immediately exit my sealed sarcophagus. There has been a lot to do recently, and time is precious when one is slumbering for as long as I do. Now, my hand reaches for the lever and hesitates.

I need a moment for myself, to think.

Last night was full of lessons. The first one is that my romantic life will require me to stop myself from eating my partner if he is a mortal. I can see that this would be problematic. The easy solution would be to court or let myself be courted by a vampire, and that is not going to happen any time soon.

A problem for another time.

The second important lesson was how easy it was to dispose of two mages and a guard. I butchered them in an instant. They did not stand a chance. Even a prepared group with a defensive circle did little more than delay me for a few seconds. I need to reevaluate the impact I can have when battle is joined in the future. I must remain cautious, of course, but I can see myself slaughtering my way through an entire squad if I catch them unprepared.

I should be flattered by the progress I made, yet I cannot rid myself of the oppressive weight of my own failure. Even the overall success of the operation pales in comparison to the loss of the one I had sworn to protect. I am left bitter and deeply unsettled.

I exit my protective shell and join Dalton on the driver’s seat.

“Good evening Dalton, how are you doing?”

“I will be good for another few hours. Asni will have to drink at some point. It would be best if we stopped in a few miles.”

“Very well..”

I keep silent as we trudge forward. Dalton once again shows his ability to read the mood and stays quiet. Letting me work through my problems. With no distractions, I submit myself to a pointless game of what ifs.

What if I had decided to just finish Fillmore off?

What if I had dragged her out the moment I heard footsteps?

What if I had hidden completely and made them believe I had left by another way?

I churn and mix scenarios in my head again and again until I am interrupted in my self-destructive musings.

“What happened Mistress? Talk.”

“How do you know that I am upset?”

“You lean forward and occasionally scrunch your nose when you rehash something.”

“Bah!”

I will have to work on my composure when I enter vampire society. Being read like a book sounds like a terrible liability to have if Lancaster clan’s byzantine politics are any indication.

“Well?”

I dramatically sigh to convey my annoyance.

“I failed a promise.”

I recount the night and focus on the supplicant’s death. Dalton takes the time to reflect before asking me a question I had not considered.

“Does failing hurt your pride and esteem or does it bite deeper? Your kind follows strange rules. Perhaps breaking them hurts you as diseases and age hurt us.”

Is he correct? Breaking an oath is, for me, unthinkable, but perhaps vampires can be forced into situations when they see no other choices but to do it. What if two promises conflict one another? Then this would strike at our very essence.

We are supernatural creatures and Loth has already demonstrated the importance of will and purpose. I dare not imagine what would happen to a vampire oath breaker.

Then what about me? I did not let her die on purpose. Then why? If this is about intent and belief, then what do I believe killed her?

Greed.

This is it, is it not? I was not committed. I tried to both complete my task in an optimal way and to protect her somewhat. Indecision and greed were my sin. I focused so much on planning and long-term benefit that I forgot this simple truth. I am not Master yet, to have plans within plans. If I give my word, I must pursue it with all my might, probably.

“Yes Dalton, it hurt me. If I had only tried to save her and killed Fillmore on the spot, this would not have happened.”

“Perhaps, or perhaps we would have the entire Georgian militia trailing us even now, looking for a red-hair woman with bruises on her face. Do you realize the ramifications of violently slaying a Governor, Mistress? Do you think me able to manage the situation during the day, alone and without plan as the nation’s most wanted outlaw?”

Now that he put it like that…

“I was born North of here in an isolated hamlet.”

I completely stop. I turn to Dalton and look at him with wide eyes. In our eight years together, he has never, ever mentioned his family even once. I know what food he likes, what music he prefers, even how he ties his shoes. I still have no idea about his origin and I did not pry. This revelation is simply unprecedented.

“Lots of religious folks moved to the New World because of persecutions and I got to give it to these European lads, many of them were correct. Some beliefs should have remained in the dark ages. Let me give you an example. You have a community. Each wise and holy man has several wives, and plenty of children. When women are of age, when they have their first blood, they are married off to other wise and holy men. When the men are of age, they are invited to travel the world, witness its debauchery, and accomplish some nigh impossible tasks. Do you see where I am going with this?”

“And if the young men return too early or do not conform, then something happens to them?”

“Nothing has to happen to them. The village elders shun them, and the entire community follows suit. There is little need for violence when you have absolute control, and they did. We were told that the outside world was unholy and monstrous, we were told that the wise men guided us for our own good and since some of them were our parents, we believed them.

“When my little sister turned thirteen, she was set to be married with the leader of our community, a man by the name of Holden. Holden was seventy if he was a day and something about this bothered me greatly. My sister was scared of him. I made the mistake to voice my doubts to my father. I was immediately ostracized, publicly humiliated. I was asked to repent. I was told that I was the victim of evil souls. My friends avoided me, all because I voiced some concerns.

“I did not even oppose the marriage. In my mind, this man was a saint. This ordeal opened my eyes to a series of petty abuse that was so unchristian that I confronted my father about it at dinner, as he was hurling insults at me.

“We came to blows. I was surprised but eventually, I won. I knew I had to leave and I offered my sister to come with me. She refused.

“That is the thing that bothers me to this day. She refused because she was scared of the outside. Because they had fed her with lies and manipulated her from birth, she could not envision anything else. It was preferable to have this ancient man touch her than having to face the road, uncertainty, starvation perhaps.

“She refused because she adored them and they could do no wrong, and they could do no wrong because if they had, her entire world would collapse.

“And that is why since this moment, I follow no one blindly. Nobody is free from mistakes, Mistress, not even you. Maybe not even God.”

Until that point, Dalton eyes have been fixed forward as he reminisced those painful memories. Now, he turns to me with a fanatic light in his eyes. I never took him for a believer in anything and I was wrong. My Vassal has a set of values that is so deeply embedded in his personality that I could never tell he had thought them through.

“You can be wrong Mistress, and contrary to the others, you have an eternity to learn from your mistakes and make progress. Neither of us can say which would have been the better path. Only experience will tell you and you will get it, if you live. So stop blaming yourself, you did what you thought was best and failed. You cannot succeed every time, what matters is that you follow your values as best you can and never stop improving.”

I never thought I could be so impressed by him. Dalton is usually so reserved, I sometimes tend to forget that his mind is no longer that of the shy boy I took from the Valiants.

“Those are words to live by, my Dalton. Thank you.”

“We are here for each other Mistress. As you know.”

“Indeed. Have you ever thought about returning?”

“Yes, and no I will not. I would find her comfortable in her existence and her place in the world, surrounded by a gaggle of children. And yes, I know there are other girls, but even if we go and break the walls of this prison they would only curse us for it, and rebuild them higher. It takes a lot to question one’s value Mistress. Most people here tend to forget that the pursuit of happiness does not equate the pursuit of freedom. Liberty is a burden that not everyone is willing to carry.”

“Oh I know. In fact, I am counting on it.”

“Shopping for cattle, Mistress?”

“Eventually. We will depart the nest at some point. Carve a kingdom, maybe?”

“I want dibs on the ministry of justice.”

“One thing at a time.”

After a few more jabs at each other, we continue in silence. Dalton’s lesson makes me feel better. I made a mistake, yes, and that is normal. Vampire are hunters, not protectors. There will be a learning curve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wake up to the ring of a bell. I hastily dress and leave my bedroom to see what the emergency is this time. As soon as I reach the main floor. I know that something is different. All shutters are drawn and the protective wards along the walls are on standby, humming quietly and filling the air with the promise of retribution. I count no less than twenty-five heartbeats upstairs and stop in my tracks. Loth voice reaches me from the smoking room.

“Ari? Please join us.”

Still a bit wary, I climb up the stairs and spot men in a strange uniform equipped with long muskets. They salute smartly as I pass. There is a hint of fear in them, hinting that they know what I am. As I approach the door, I feel a familiar aura that surprises me to my core.

“Isaac?!”

“Hello Ariane. Excellent, you are here, yes, excellent. Please, do come in, there is much to discuss.”

I enter the room and take the gathering in front of me. Loth is lounging in is favorite chair in full battle regalia, minus his steel armor. Facing him, Isaac sits upright with a mortal standing by his side. The man has a close-cropped beard and the bearing of a veteran. His mature face is frozen in a mask of disapproval and his eyes dart around the room, evaluating and gauging.

Dalton is next to my seat. He is armed to the teeth and shows a few bruises but appears otherwise unharmed.

“Splendid, now that you are here, I can explain the situation in earnest. I will be using English for the benefit of Loth, Mr. Dalton, as well as Mr. Venet here, who is the head of my security detail. Be aware that I am here as the official representative of the Rosenthal consortium as it relates to the matter of the Leucadia. Now, your competent Vassal noticed two suspicious men circling the property and attempted to apprehend them. They turned out to be Brotherhood members and he put them down despite their physical prowess.”

I turn to Dalton and realize now where the bruises come from.

“They can’t outrun bullets Mistress, not like you.”

His smile has a vicious quality to it that I mirror with pleasure. Those imbeciles tried to take down my precious Vassal. A quick death was too good for the likes of them.

“Yes, well, their bodies are downstairs and we managed to dissect them.”

“Wait, you were awake during the day?”

Yes Ariane, masters wake up increasingly earlier as they grow, though our vulnerability to sunlight remains and we are extremely weakened while it is out. Please focus, time is of the essence. Moving on, we found out that they have runes inscribed in invisible tattoos upon them. Those are mostly shoddy work and allows them to perform incredible feats at the cost of their life expectancy. They can momentarily increase their speed, strength or endurance. Never more than one at a time. Loth and I estimate the average lifespan after inscription to be around two and a half years, though that will certainly not be relevant to us. There is no known way to deprive them of this power.

It is still fortunate that we found those two. The members of cells we had encountered while clearing secondary rings had not been marked. I suspect that only their trusted muscle will have access to runes and that can only mean one thing.

“They are onto us.”

“Yes. We are expecting them either tonight or tomorrow. Loth of Skoragg decided to make a stand and, though we do not approve, we will offer assistance this once.”

Ah, I thought that the tension was due to the imminent arrival of our enemies, but it seems it is a question of ego between Loth and probably Venet. If the head of security thinks he can convince the old Dvergur to give ground, he is sorely mistaken. The only person on the planet who can convince Loth of Skoragg to retreat is Loth of Skoragg. I presume that my dear host felt no obligation to explain the extent of his formidable defenses to the newcomers. They have no idea, and neither does our foe.

“In the meanwhile, I shall explain the reason for my coming and the importance of the mission that is ours and by extension, yours. What we are looking for, is this.”

Isaac removes a drawing from his briefcase and places it on the table in front of me with reverence. The paper is yellow with age and depicts an ornate black box with silver engravings. The lower right corner has been painted a deep black with a frantic hand, wild strokes of the brush contrasting with the realistic depiction of the object.

“Your painter had a stroke?” asks Loth with little humor.

“No… This is deliberate…” I add without thinking. I lightly caress the black surface. Frantic lines, a sudden urge to render something that cannot be rendered, I know this effect all too well.

“He tried to draw it but did not have the tools.”

Isaac looks at me with naked curiosity.

“Yes, very insightful Ariane. This is an illustration of the box containing the Gate of Beriah. It was drawn by Mr. Matthys, an artist under our employ during the late sixteenth century. We believe that the Gate bled through its containment and affected him. Matthys was an extremely rigorous man. When questioned, he insisted that his depiction was made faithfully. For the very same reason, we have no idea what the item looks like in reality. Scholars who got their hand on it have described it in confusing terms. Al-Din describes it as, and I quote, an aperture into the unfathomable path up and in. “

A key that breaks. Nashoba’s prophecy is now confirmed.

“Let me guess, they all turn mad?” asks Loth.

“Curiously, no. All those who study it have been witnessed to be functional adults, or at least as functional as this sort can be. Their notes, however, grow increasingly cryptic and yet it appears that they understand them. Regardless of the Gate’s true nature, it is an artefact of great power that is said to unlock man’s true potential. The thing is that it requires energy to function, life energy to be precise.”

“Like the runes?”, I ask, “Is this a coincidence?”

“It is not. Ownership and study of the artefact allowed the Brotherhood of the New Light, or Ascendency as they are called in Europe, to develop this extremely crude method. Let me finish, please. The artefact has been partially charged during only two events. The first one was the black plague and the second, the seven years war. The reason why we did not notice immediately is the staggering amount of deaths occurring at the time, as well as the general hysteria. Simply put, we are still uncertain of how it kills, only that it does and turns its victims into mindless creatures craving the vitality that was robbed from them.”

“Wait, what?”

“If the Gate is acquired and triggered, all humans in its vicinity but its bearer will be robbed of both life and sanity. They will turn into short-lived but murderous lunatics. At the same time, the survivor will acquire the strength to defy a Lord, if they manage to repeat the process enough times.”

“By the Watcher.”

“Indeed. The item was stolen from a secret vault by means unknown and later purchased by Ascendency. Before we could act, it was shipped to the New World.”

“And the ship was lost...”

“Precisely. And now, it has been found. Lady, and gentlemen, my task is to secure the artefact and return it to Rosenthal custody, I would appreciate your support in this matter.”

Not that we have much choice anymore.

Loth and I meet eyes and I start:

“I have questions.”

“Go ahead lass, I will ask mine later.”

“Thank you. What is the consortium’s stake in all this?”

“The secured vault was ours. We have a responsibility to stop them.”

Isaac gives me a pointed look, as if daring me to question his integrity. I shift my posture by the barest amount in a display of annoyance, a gesture that mortals will not pick up. Isaac returns an expression of contrition for a mere tenth of a second before his face turns back into a mask of professionalism. I let the matter go.

“Have you located the wreck of the Leucadia ?”

“Not yet, but we have found those who have. I will elaborate further later.”

“Fine. I am done for now, Loth.”

“Alright. Ye said ye wanted to stop them aye? Those Brotherhood twats?”

My talons click on my seat’s wooden arms but I refrain from commenting. So long as there is an outsider here, I will not castigate Loth on his foul language.

“Yes.”

“You and what army?”

Before Venet can object to the remark, Isaac raises a hand to stop him and replies with a conciliatory tone.

“Venet’s company is well trained and they have the full trust of the consortium. If more men are required, up to a hundred will join us from Savannah. I did not bring a full company to a social visit, I am sure that you understand why.”

“Who did you say had the wreck?”

“Well that’s the thing. The vessel that sold the surgery box belongs to a faction we have no influence on, more specifically, the pirates of Barataria.”

I can scarcely believe my ears.

“Excuse me? We are to confront pirates?!”

“Indeed, my dear, indeed. Pirates and smugglers. We know where to locate them, and we will depart once we have repulsed the Brotherhood assault.”

“Oh, I’m going ta repulse them alright, don’t ye worry.”

“You think they will come tonight?”

“Aye lass, they don’t want us ta escape, ya know? If ye’re discovered ye have to launch the raid immediately or retreat. I don’t know about ye but I don’t see them half-brain fuckwits falling back. They think they’re strong and canny and we’ve been pissing them off for weeks now.”

The wood under my hands creaks ominously in the silence that follows that statement.

“Ahem, yes Loth, indeed. I’m going to prepare for the fight. Will you help Loth, Vassal?”

“Yes Mistress, before that I have a question as well. Mr. Isaac. Sir.”

“Ask away.” Answers Isaac with a pleased smile.

“You said the Brotherhood is related to Ascendency. Any chance of those guys coming here like you did?”

“Yes. A very good point, very good point indeed. We have ways to track them if they come from Savannah in great numbers, but yes, we can still expect them to receive reinforcements. The consortium is monitoring the situation and I will be advised if we are to face more enemies. In the meanwhile, our task is to locate the Gate first and make sure they cannot obtain it. Now, let us discuss tactics.”

I leave and let Loth and Venet sort it out. I am not a tactician, or rather my tactics are radically different from theirs, and I am content to leave the squad planning in their expert hands.

When Dalton and I return armed to the teeth, both men have managed to temporarily shelve their massive egos and align a little bit. Venet looks furious which, I assume, means that my host got the last word, possibly with a variation of 'ye can do as I say or ye can take yer gear and f… and go away'.

Isaac sits comfortably in his chair and harbours a genial smile. I know who I have to thank for a quick agreement.

Loth explains the battle plan. Three of Venet’s men would watch the back and two, the sides, while the remaining fifteen would gather around windows on the second floor and attic with the shutters closed. At the right moment, I will fire a flare to provide illumination and that will be the signal to shoot on the intruders. With the door locked and a clear view of our opponents, as well as Loth’s surprises, we will turn the front of the house into a cross-fire field of death. I would deal with any surprise they may have.

The plan has the merit of being simple and sound, and we take positions. Loth disappears into his first floor workshop under Venet’s disapproving glance. I know what Loth is up to and find myself smiling inward, hoping that the Brotherhood sent enough men to annoy the grumpy giant.

A little after midnight, they come. Six figures emerge from the tree line and sneak towards the house in dispersed order. I fire the flare gun and immediately line a shot.

“Now!”

As the angry spark flies in the air and basks the lawn in furious red, I pull the trigger on my rifle and see the lead foe’s head snap back. An instant later, the crack of gunshot rings into the night. I reload with vampire speed but as I watch, our targets are sprinting back with unnatural swiftness. Most shots miss as a result with only one other intruder falling. Just as they reach cover a thunderous boom resounds, taking both a man’s head and part of a trunk. Loth has decided to open with his lowest caliber weapon, it seems.

From the safety of the forest, red flowers and plumes of smoke erupt. Five, then ten, then forty muskets answer our challenge, their bullets clattering uselessly against the protective steel barriers now covering the windows. I aim and shoot at an exposed man but they are so many.

“I can’t see them Mistress.”

I grunt and reload the flare gun, doing my best to forget that shooting myself with this will turn me into a torch. I angle the small weapon and send an incandescent light close to the enemy line. With them illuminated, our side resumes firing.

Undaunted by the futility of their attack, our foes keep shooting. I am not too worried about our ammunitions or defenses. What worries me is the implication of such an attack.

They do not care about publicity.

There is no way to hide the assault of half a company on a doctor’s house. There will be an investigation. So why, why would they take such an insane risk?

Just as I line yet another shot, they suddenly retreat and silence descends on the clearing. This is strange… I would expect them to storm us…

As I think those words, a deafening explosion erupts from deeper into the copse and a small cannonball smashes against the main door. It pings, bounces back and digs a furrow in the ground.

They have artillery?!

I tap on Dalton’s shoulder and scream: “I’m going out!”

I drop from a window on the left side wall and rush to the cover of the trees. Just as I reach a large oaken trunk, I jump up, thus avoiding a furious swing from a tall man wielding a cavalry saber. The weapon buries itself in the wood as if it were butter.

His eyes widen in surprise.

“Above you,” I add teasingly before stabbing him. I am immediately on the next man.

There are six of them and they do not stand a chance. Even their improved reflexes are not enough to match me. Compared to father Perry, who had struck where I would be instead of where I was, those men are but awkward children. In only a handful of heartbeat there is only one left standing.

He raises a musket and I decide to try something. As our eyes meet, I use Charm. Instead of my usual attempts at subtlety, I simply crush his mind like a rotten apple. He blinks and lowers his arm in confusion. Not waiting for any further results, I close the distance and take his head off.

Huh, it worked! One more tool in my arsenal. I could even use it to destabilize a foe at a critical moment.

My distraction does not last. Loth’s wards may be sturdy, but not sturdy enough to repel sustained cannon fire.

I move right towards the forest at the front of the house and the enemy artillery hidden within it, keeping my head low. Perhaps I should have painted the mask black.

I finally hear heartbeats in front of me and take a close look at the men regrouping in the tree line and the defences arrayed around them. I am so surprised by what I see that my mouth hangs open. Only the sound of a second detonation a few heartbeats later manages to draw me out of my surprise.

This is bad.

I should fall back. I should fall back and warn the others and yet, I have an opportunity to learn more and to repay a debt.

Just a minute.

I sprint forward, trigger a proximity ward and jump up. I scramble up the tree like a squirrel as a man’s voice gives an order in a commanding voice.

“Now!”

Men erupt from the ground, shedding their camouflage in great sprays of mud and leaves, to find… Nothing. The man from Fillmore’s cave steps up from a dug-up shelter. He is dressed in luxurious hunting gear in green and brown and holds a decorated musket. To his right, Belinda emerges similarly equipped and I notice with pleasure that she looks just a bit apprehensive. To his left is a man I have never seen. He wears a steel helmet of unknown origin and the plastron of a “cuirassé”. On his chest, a massive pendant harbouring the symbol of a tower dangles and his clean-shaven face is scrunched in concentration.

The biggest threat will have to go first, but before that…

Using the confusion, I throw one of Loth’s beacon stones next to the six-pounder pummeling our door. You just wait.

I shoot a pistol at Belinda, only for it to flatten against a translucent shield. I stare in awe. This was a silver bullet!

Belinda yelps and the leader flinches, but the tower man barely moves. It’s him. His shield has stopped my projectile. I now regret not taking one of Loth’s special bullets.

Before their eyes look up, I am already falling among the crowd. I cut a man open and claw a throat before they even register my presence but soon, they bring their numbers to bear. They all focus on speed and rush me all at once. I flip over the closest warrior and cave his skull in on the way. I land on another foot first and jump against a trunk, slashing a spine. Then with both feet against solid wood, I propel myself like the rogue vampire showed me and barrel forward closer to the mages. I land on a soldier blade first and send two silver throwing knives in the shield. It holds, though the enemy mage’s hands start shaking. I do not dare get closer as I expect another silvery circle to close around me if I did. I cannot afford to get caught in a trap.

It does not matter, MORE PREY TO THE SLAUGHTER. Yes, there is still work to be done. I jump backward and in the same motion, grab the dead enemy’s pistol and fire at the witch. As I expected, more silver. I use the backward momentum to slide under another foe’s slash and dig my left hand in his chest, raise him above me and send him flying into the shield.

“I can’t take much more of this!” screams the tower mage.

Dark joy fills my still heart. This is what I have been made for, this bloodshed, my foe’s plans unravelling as I carve a red path through their terrified ranks.

“You brought sheep to a lion hunt,” I remark.

“I’m done!” yells the witch immediately, “Blood hound!”

The world stills as reality submits to the will of the woman. A ball-sized projectile erupts from her gauntlet with a deafening shriek, leaving behind a trail of reddish gold.

It flies straight at me. I ignore the retreating vermin and dodge to the side and under cover. The spell hits a trunk and melts through it without stopping. Its trajectory changes to track my movements.

That might be problematic.

I throw a silver knife through it without much effect, it hits a branch in a pile of molten slag. Running out of ideas, I rush at the man whose spine I severed and lift his still moaning body as the sphere of death is about to hit. I throw him forward.

Spell and screaming man impact and with a thundering sound, he explodes. Blood showers all present.

Note to self: do not get hit by that.

“Shit!” screams the witch, but her leader shows no trace of concern.

“It does not matter, vampire, and you know it.”

The haughty man looks at me from behind a line of soldiers and the two mages. PATHETIC WEAKLING, HIDING. No, he is trying to gaud me into rushing forward. They probably have another trap and I do not want to risk it.

“And who might you be?”

“You can call me the Herald, for this is my purpose. Tonight, I bring death.”

He is delaying, and so am I. Very well, let us turn this into a contest. I make a show of watching the corpses around me before returning my attention to him.

“You did send a lot of your followers to the Hades.”

“And their sacrifice will not be in vain. I am so glad that you and the interloper looking into our business work together. I do so love killing two birds with one stone.”

He smiles viciously. I am unimpressed. I SHOULD SHOW HIM HIS OWN INNARDS. No, Ari, this is a trick. Think about something pleasant, like painting, the placid gaze of the Watcher, or the nice screams the Herald will give me when I shove my thumbs in his orbits. Ah, this is not working. Better move the conversation forward.

“This house is a fortress. Your pathetic band will never breach it.”

“Oh, I beg to differ. See the men behind us. Look at their uniform.”

I already saw.

“You are bluffing. Your kind works from the shadows.”

“The time of shadows is past!” intones the man with solemnity.

The next words are not for me, but for his men.

“The time of enlightenment is upon us! We will bring our full power to bear to fulfill our mission and usher humanity in a higher realm. Nothing shall stop us in this most august of tasks! You and your associates are but insects buzzing in our ears. Noisy and bothersome, but ultimately just a nuisance. Your pitiful attempts stop tonight. You see, contrary to you our reach is long, and you criminals did cause the governor’s house to burn down…”

Ah so that is it. I have to warn the others. At least I dropped the beacon in the midst of brotherhood members.

“I would love to stay and listen, but I do believe my associate has a message for you.”

Hesitation mars the Herald’s face just at the right time. For the second time, the night stills as a monstrous detonation shakes the earth and makes the very air vibrate. From the house, a large metal mouth belches a storm of steel and fire onto the forest. In a single instant, the maelstrom of incandescent death smashes into the six-pounder, its servants and everyone and everything around on a twenty feet radius. The cloud propagates outward like the Devil’s own breath. When the dust settles, all that is left behind are splintered trunks, torn earth and the shredded remains of men and equipment.

Fools, they thought they could outgun Loth. Laughable.

With an ominous groan of rotating gears, the decorated barrel angles left.

“Fall back.” orders the Herald with a calm voice. His men form a ring around him, and they move deeper into the forest.

I could go after them but I realize that I simply do not have the time. If what he says is correct, and I believe him, by morning this place will be swarming with enemies. We need to leave.

I run back up and inside. I ask Dalton to fetch Loth and soon, we all gather in the entrance with Isaac and Venet.

“We have a problem.”

“I noticed lass. It’s vaporized now.”

“Ah no, we have a real one. The cannon was indeed used by Brotherhood, but the musket line is not them.”

“No?”

“No, you see, for the past twenty minutes we have been firing on the United States Army…”

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Once more thanks to the people who took the time to write a review. My heart bursts with pride. Or is it cholesterol? Anyway, enjoy your weekend.


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