“Anything on the watch?” Rayull asks Vulrick and Cet.

Cet clears his throat awkwardly as he is immediately reminded of his duty, only for Vulrick to speak up.

“No. A couple birds hanging around, but nothing unnatural,” Vulrick says, his deep helmet hanging low, pulling up only occasionally to check the sky.

“Good, who’d you switch watch with?” Rayull asks, glancing naturally over to Cet.

Cet raises his finger to explain, but he’s interrupted again by Vulrick.

“I swapped with someone I trusted.”

Rayull squints. “And who might that be?”

“Myself,” the man says without skipping a beat.

Rayull stretches a bit. “You mean t’say you were up all night?”

“Yes, sir,” Vulrick says, Cet slowly shuffling out of Rayull’s vision.

“Do you intend on slowing us down through the day? You’re supposed to change watch.”

“I won’t slow us down,” Vulrick says simply.

Rayull spouts a puff of smoke from his nostrils. “You best not, or else we’re ditching your gear and carrying ya’.”

“Fine by me, sir.” Vulrick looks off to a scant patch of field that hasn’t been totally shelled over by artillery magic or the East’s gunpowder monstrosities. It’s still relatively green, and reminiscent of the pleasant, breezy plains of the midlands.

The two walk up at the front for a minute until Rayull turns again to Vulrick. “So, what’s your story, Gair? Honestly spoken, the W.K.D.R. doesn’t have many men that get to your rank without being of noble birth, or talent. How did you get to this point?”

Vulrick sighs. “Well, what do you want to know in particular, sir? There’s quite a bit that led up to it.”

Rayull smirks as Bayl and the now-walking Cet get in a petty argument about girls. They have some time to relax and just march about; he might as well get to know them. “Alright, your youth,” Rayull chooses.

“Well, I was actually born as a mid-lander, but back then we called the region-”

“Lanold.” Rayull says, finishing for Vulrick. “I spent some time vacationing here with my guardian before the war. So you were a local? I think I remember you saying that yesterday.”

“Yes, Paitan was close to my birthplace, which didn’t really have a name: it was just a fishing lodge like the hundreds that dot along the rivers.”

Rayull nods. “So as a Lanoldian I suppose you’ve had a lot of interaction with Ulterians?”

“My father was Ulterian.”

Rayull hums. “Actually, that would explain how you knew their word for ‘cannon’ after all.”

Vulrick nods. “Yeah. I’ve forgotten most of the language, but when I hear it, words come back quickly.”

“Ahh, that’ll be useful for us. I could never be bothered to learn another language other than that of my peoples.”


Lower Draconic,” Rayull corrects, noting the difference between the language spoken by dragon-kin and the one spoken by the almighty dragons themselves.

“Excuse me.”

“It’s fine. Humans tend to not care much about us.”

Vulrick shrugs. “Not a lie. But you shouldn’t feel bad for not taking language too seriously. I’d imagine that’s the only tongue you’d be much interested in, as it’s what’s usually spoken on reservations, anyway, right?”

Rayull nods. “Right. I was thirty when I first said my first complete sentence in Draconic,” he says with a hint of embarrassment.

Vulrick looks up to the clouds. “What was the sentence?”

Rayull sighs. “I’m not of the reservation, so it’s a crime if you rob me.”

Neither of them laughed, as it was really quite a terrible, but practical sentence to know in dragon-kin reservations- the places are abysmally poor, and though humans have the means to help them, few of them want to, or are even welcome to do so by the proud sorts that live there.

“That’s an interesting first sentence to learn,” Vulrick notes.

“The teacher said that if I was to learn anything, it’d be that one.” Rayull shakes his head. “Right, but that’s enough of that. You were telling me about your youth.”

Vulrick nods. “Yes, sir. Life was charmed. I heard stories about magic and guns, though both sides were too afraid to bring any that close for fear of the other side getting their hands on it. Looks like the West really does have the upper hand with that now. Anyone can grab a gun and shoot, but magic takes years.”


“My upbringing was pretty normal. My dad was a river fisher, so that’s what I did until we tried to go to Ragnivan. My father wasn’t welcome, so I stayed with my mother. The war broke out, I grew up, and was enlisted. Lucky for me I was about twenty-five at the time.”

“Incredible. So you’d be around twenty seven or eight now?”

“That’s right,” Vulrick says, stepping over a person’s arm. “And over those two and a half years I’ve seen this green land get burnt to dust. It was more painful than any wound I’d taken… just the utter, entire annihilation of the place I called home. I sympathize with your kind over that. Not being able to go home is a bad feeling, tells you that you don’t have a place anymore.”

“So your village is gone?”

“Again, sir. It wasn’t a village, and yes. Hit by western artillery.”

Rayull nods solemnly. “War is its own antagonistic realm. I’ve heard speech of places you could go when you die: Atmassan, Any of the “hells”, Erergothan, Ree’s Crimson Garden, but it’s hard to imagine something worse than seeing people you remembered as happy, simple things, and watch them become miserable through violence. I’m sure you’ve seen it.”

Vulrick pauses a moment, as if he’s somewhat put off by having to talk about this. Even so, it does seem like the others are listening, so he can be as frank as he needs to be. “I have,” he starts. “Young kids, filled with what people call goodness, and then a month later they have the eyes of a man who’ll kill himself if it weren’t for his orders…. It’s enough to break every part of the spirit. We do bad things out here, to people we love, because we have to,” he glances over to Rayull’s side as they walk. “I imagine you understand that feeling pretty well, as a knight and all.”

The two are silent as a breeze blows and Awnway finally breaks up Cet and Bayl’s argument by calling them both pussies.

Rayull hums. “…If they don’t die… they become those sort of people that don’t just tolerate fighting, but fall in love with it. Those monstrous creatures are war’s greatest horrors. I don’t mind a good fight, absolutely not, but those people make me want to be a pacifist.”

Vulrick takes a moment to think over his companion’s words before speaking. “And yet you’re in the Witch Knights, eh?”

Rayull immediately flings a suspicious gaze in Vulrick’s direction. One rarely uses the term “Witch Knight” to describe the magically-altered community of superior wizards and warriors that make up The Knighthood. In fact, it’s usually a word uttered by Ulterians, or those that sympathize with them.

“I did what I believed was right at the time,” Rayull says. “The realities of warfare seen over these decades of service have been… disfiguring beyond imagination, but worth it.”

Vulrick holds his gaze toward Rayull for a few seconds before turning away. In that moment, it’s clear to Rayull that Vulrick doesn’t just dislike The Knights, he despises them.

“Yeah, some people handle war just fine. Maybe live for that last scrap of their living experience that lets them feel truly alive,” is how he responds.

The two keep their gazes locked away from one another for the next few minutes. Both men get the feeling that the other one considers him a crazed killer; worse than Carl, as unlike him, they learned how to dress in the mannerisms of society.

The group continues on away from the wood, and deeper into the plains.

After a minute or two more, Vulrick clears his throat to continue. “Well, thanks for asking. How about yourself?”

Rayull smirks, glad that the previous conversation didn’t damage them to the point to where they can’t talk. “I was told my egg was found in an abandoned nest. A knight named Meeo Letlind picked me up and raised me. She’s a bit flippant for someone of her rank, always been, so while I followed my instinct to become a warrior, she kept teaching me how to do tea parties and knit things and other silliness.”

Vulrick hums. “A very feminine sort of life. I think I’d have preferred it.”

Rayull scoffs. “Yeah, and I wasn’t at all for that. We had a lot of problems… I guess we still do.”

Vulrick nods his head forward. “What sort of problems, if I may ask?”

“Usually we just don’t see eye to eye, but recently it was something much bigger…. She betrayed the knights.”

Even this causes the unnaturally graceful Vulrick to convulse in a very light, very quick flinch. “Well. What’s her knight title? Perhaps I’ve heard of her.”


Vulrick exhales heavily. “…That’s a surprise. She’s pretty well known. Considered to be in Redemption’s top circle, isn’t she?”

“Right. The Knights tried to keep it under, but people have started to ask.” Rayull snorts out a puff of smoke. “Word’s spreading as we speak. By the time we come back she’ll be branded a war criminal.”

“What are they doing about it?” Vulrick asks.

“I’m not at liberty to say, but I can tell you a party’s been sent to retrieve her… hope they don’t,” Rayull adds with a mixed tone.

“Huh. This was on the tail of the whole Liefland ordeal with the fairy-folk murders?”

Rayull scoffs. “You keep up with the news?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You’re pretty well informed for a soldier,” he says.

The group enters a decrepit town of brick and concrete, a clear indicator that it was of the more modern, eastern persuasion.

“I stay on top of the messengers and boards when I’m between missions. Quite a lot you can find out when you offer the recruits drinks, too.”

Rayull chuckles, “Yeah, they feel pretty tough when you put a few on ‘em,” he says, his reptilian eyes scanning the various openings across the town that could hide an eastern gunman. The two instinctually hush up, and slow down for the others to form a small box.

“What now, boss?” Cet says with a miserable look about him as they huddle into a building’s nook.

“We’re about halfway through the firing lines. This is where we should be based on our orders.”

“Which you know are bullshit,” Cet says matter-of-factly. “They just want us to get shot at so the artillery can get a read on them.”

“Yeah, and that’s too damn bad for us. We follow orders. We’re going to wait for movement, and if we don’t hear anything, we’ll spread out in groups, maybe just send out a scout and see what we can find. Remember: you see anyone, you let me know. We’re not here to survive, we’re here to kill Easterners. Are we clear?”

Everyone gestures their acceptance, Cet’s particularly animated as if to suggest sarcasm.

They wait ten minutes- nothing but the breeze. The only question now is how the groups should be split.


About the author


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