“...The army.” Ajax looks over at Angelidis in surprise. He was in the middle of his meal, but he didn’t expect this. Shaula is the same way. In Western Britannia, a parent would only suggest the army if they were very jingoistic. Or simply unfamiliar with the 20th and 21st centuries. As the world advanced into the modern age, generally war became less mythicized.
“Glorious combat” was war’s mask, and it slipped once the world advanced.
During the first world war on Earth, many soldiers died needlessly, and the ones that didn’t went home maimed. The reason for that war was never fully understood by the people either. But still, many enlisted voluntarily. This world could be similar to that era regarding war ignorance. Still, Ajax and Shaula themselves don’t know enough.
From what Ajax and Shaula have learned so far while in the city, it seems the current war only involves the heroic nobles. Their first question is, why would the commoner class have to join the military? Shaula looks at Angelidis with unease as she continues.
“Well, the reason mom gave was that Varin and Rand would receive a lot of structure in their lives. I mean, right now they have some friends from school they hang out with, but… well, all of them are on the same path as the twins. Beastkin kids who might get a future in a stable factory if they’re lucky. The twins aren’t in any school clubs, and their grades are just high enough for graduation. Other than their friends, they don’t have much going on. They have no interest in what their future’ll be…”
“Who can blame them…” Olah feels sad for Angelidis’ brothers.
“Jelli, I’m still not understanding the connection to the army… Is it just about structure?” Meixi tries to approach this rationally. But, she doesn’t yet see why her mother would push the twins towards the army.
“Well, she’s saying something about a ‘career track’. Since they’re draconids, they’re naturally incredibly strong and durable, right? So, mom thinks that they have a really high chance of surviving their battles. She also said something about climbing up the hierarchy, but even she’s not dumb enough to believe they can join the officer class. Becoming holy knights is off the table, cause of the church’s no demihuman policy”
Shaula still isn’t understanding something. Ajax has this same question, and asks Angelidis.
“But, Jelli, we both heard that the war is being fought between Osva and Semjaza. Other than the gods, only the heroes, the nobles I mean, and the Dragon Knights on the demon side can actually fight in the battle. Are your brothers as strong as the heroes? Or at least the dragon knights?”
“What!? Ha, no fucking way. You cannot compare normal draconids to the fucking heroes… Even the dragons would tear us in half.” Angelidis laughs lightly at Ajax’s absurd suggestion that her brothers could compare to heroes. The dragon is fabled to be the creature that the draconids are based on, a race of the same parent.
The myths claim that the god who created the draconids created the dragons first in their own image. The draconid race was an attempt by that god to integrate his values with the humans, demihumans and demons. All of the latter races are humanoid while dragons are born in their unique draconic forms.
“So… then what would they do on the front lines in this war? Wouldn’t they be just cannon fodder?” As soon as Ajax says this, Sudirja nearly chokes on her drink. Meixi looks shocked at such a nonsensical question, but then she realizes.
“A-Ajax, Jelli told us that you and Shaula came here from really far out in the sticks, but… you don’t know what the Federation’s army normally does?”
Ajax and Shaula feel like their lack of information is coming back to bite them. Jelli looks at them while shaking her head in exasperation.
“Really, it’s even worse than I feared… Wow.” Jelli snorts. How bad must their lives have been to live in a village with that little knowledge? It boggles the mind.
“So… what would they be doing in the army then?” Ajax, aware of his embarrassingly high level of ignorance, carefully presses forward.
“Well, they would be–”
“Let me handle this, Meixi. This is my thing. Ahem…” Angelidis prepares a speech for the two of them. Olah and Sudirja roll their eyes. Meixi however looks over at Angelidis with sparkling eyes. All three of the girls can tell what Angelidis is going to start going crazy over.
“If they join the army now, they’ll be trained as reserve forces until the next time an aberrant crawler hive pops up at the easternmost edge of the continent.”
Meixi, Olah and Sudirja shudder at the mention of the crawlers. Ajax and Shaula notice their disgusted faces and decide to figure out what the crawlers are on their own time. However, Angelidis is gracious to them and continues her explanation.
“The crawlers live out in the Northwest of the continent. A lot of them have weird and unique appearances, but what they have in common is that most of their race are ruled by kings. The Federation calls those kings ‘usurpers’. Usurpers are pretty powerful and basically the gods of the crawlers. They hold the power to direct individual crawlers within the hive. They can tell crawlers to live and die. They’re like the dominant brain of the hive too. Hm, maybe ‘king’ was too empty a term, sorry about that.”
“Whoa…” Now this sounds more like an alien species to Ajax. Shaula is equally surprised and interested in Angelidis’ information about these ‘crawlers’.
“The usurpers though, they have a certain reach. Every so often, a group of crawlers can leave that area of effect where the usurpers hold command authority. If that happens, it’s not that big a deal… in most cases. But, sometimes? A false usurper can gain control over that group. When a false usurper appears, they work on the growth of their aberrant hive, producing offspring and consuming the surrounding land’s plant life. It’s like they’re an invasive species. The crawlers that obey the usurpers never extend into the territory of the Federation. An aberrant crawler hive will come here ten times out of ten. They can never be left alone, they’re ravenous.”
“So, then your brothers will be in the reserve of the army, training until an aberrant hive pops up… and they’ll go try and exterminate that hive?”
“Exactly right, Shaula. The last aberrant hive popped up a decade back, so the next one is due in the next few years at least. If Varin and Rand enlist now, they might even see combat before their term is over.”
“I see. These crawlers are a menace huh.”
“Just the aberrant ones. They’re on the whole mostly harmless. I mean, it’s not like humans can wander into a usurper’s territory without being devoured, but it’s probably the same way if they tried to come over here. Some of them are pretty interesting too! The usurpers are all on the level of gods. Even the crawlers that the Federation has some relationships with never speak of their gods to humans or demihumans. Except once.”
“Hmm?” Ajax and Shaula feel really curious now, while Meixi looks at Angelidis with glee. They’ve finally reached the juicy part. Olah and Sudirja continue looking uninterested. They love Angelidis a lot, but the crawlers are an obsession too weird for them to feign interest in.
“600 years ago, there was one usurper whose image was passed around through the Federation. It was the only reliable image of one in existence. It was even verified as real by the pope at the time. And, get this. It had human features!”
“Yeah, yeah! It had a few crawler features like an exoskeleton and antennae, but its body was very human-like. In Tritol, they actually have a festival for it every year!”
“Yeah, yeah! Apparently, a few decades back, some people in the wilderness claim they’ve seen a weird monster appearing around the Mega Forest. They came back with information about its appearance and actually described the monster exactly as how that usurper looked 600 years ago! So, basically, it became something special about the city of Tritol, one of the things I actually like about this place.”
A usurper near the Mega Forest. Ajax and Shaula have learned a little something about that forest. It is the forest with the giant, blue leaf, white trunk trees where they had woken up. It’s a forest that cannot be chopped down, not even by heroes. It is also a place that humans and demihumans cannot walk into.
A poison generated by the blue leaves of the Mega trees fills the air within the forest at all times.
So long as a person doesn’t enter the tree boundary, they’ll be fine, even if they smell blue leaf residue. Animals other than humanoids are fine entering the forest as well, completely immune to the poison. The mechanism for the forest’s fatal poison is quite inexplicable from what they’ve already heard.
A usurper, a crawler god, was seen wandering inside there? They were in the forest for a relatively long time. What if it was watching them? Of course, the whole thing could be a tall tale, but they wouldn’t be able to make a proper educated guess either way.
“If only you knew about the crawlers, guys, you wouldn’t have to face her insanity.” Olah tells Ajax and Shaula, with eyes like a dead fish. Other than her pet Miella, Spark, the crawler festival and that damned 600 year old usurper is Angelidis’ major interest. There is a surprising amount of lore about the usurpers that Angelidis never hesitates to share. When given the opportunity.
“Hey, don’t be mean to me, Olah! I grew up with the usurper festival, it’s tradition! They’re having one in a few weeks actually… Wow, you guys are so blessed! First trip out of bumfuck nowhere, and you get to see something really cool!”
“So, Ajax and Shaula, you’ll go with her, right? To see the usurper festival?” Olah proposes this sudden attack.
“Yes, it isn’t that interesting for the rest of us, it’s mostly Jelli’s horror hobby. But, you two can definitely go with her?” Sudirja maliciously pushes the knife in.
“Ahh! Will you? Only Dzan and Sigvor ever come with me to an event like that! Even Meixi backs out…” Angelidis gives Meixi a stink eye while Meixi only smiles brightly, completely oblivious. She can feign interest in the crawlers whenever Angelidis talks about them. They’re simply too creepy for her to even attempt celebrating at a dedicated festival.
Angelidis sighs, smiles again and turns back towards Ajax and Shaula.
“It would be amazing if you two could come! J-Just think about it, ok?”
“O-Ok, sure, we’ll think about it.”
Ajax politely leaves it up in the air. He isn’t all that interested. However, Shaula is shocked by his refusal. This festival sounds just like certain halloween or local horror festivals back on Earth, one of Shaula’s few interests.
So, surprising everyone at the table, she speaks up.
“We would love to join you, Angelidis.” Ajax only looks at her with a dejected look. He realizes that he should have known what her reaction would be. Angelidis takes a deep breath before exclaiming.
“Oh, fuck yeah!”