Chapter 3: War And Death

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 66







'CLANG!'

The clatter of metal rang through the air as Mao blocked the opponent's sword with her own. It already hit her twice, now, but her armor and helmet had protected her.

She pulled back, very ungracefully. As the elf charged her, ready to administer a fatal hit, Mao kneeled at last second, her blade extended outward. The sword tore through his knee, and the elf toppled over. Mao slammed the blunt end of her sword into his head, knocking him unconscious.

"I hate this, I hate this, I hate this..." Mao sighed, "And I thought they were our allies. They must've been talking about a different kind of elf."

"Incoming!"

Alert, Mao quickly ran toward a boulder. She could hear a loud 'boom' and smell smoke pouring into the air, and much heat was looming behind her.

"Omph-!"

She cringed as she toppled over. As she looked at what made her trip, she gasped.

It was an elf corpse, staring at her with bleeding, dead eyes. Its head was bashed in so bad that it barely had a recognizable face, anymore.

Mao could barely breathe. She helplessly crawled back, choking on her own pithy screams. When she finally managed to stand, she fled quickly, hiding behind the boulder. She fell to her knees, panting.

Still unnerved, she removed her helmet to keep her breathing steady. Her wavy, shoulder-length turquoise hair was strewn out and messy, while her face was smeared with sweat and dirt. It deceived her former beauty-obsessed appearance, but she came to accept it; no matter how proper she liked to be, nothing would come before defending her sisters.

Naturally, though, none of that mattered right now. She kept panting hard, struggling to breathe until she finally vomited a little. The shock barely started to recede. She anxiously climbed on top of the boulder and viewed the area.

It was an open meadow, speckled with patches of sand and upturned earth. Very few trees and boulders broke the pattern. There was a handful of elf corpses; those with dark gray skin and gunmetal-colored armor. Alongside them, only a couple of sylph sergeants had fallen.

"Are you alright?"

Mao took a sharp breath, but quickly calmed down. It was just Yuna, joining her. She had a scratch on her cheek, with dust and dirt staining her scuffed armor. Her helmet was off and tucked under her arm, showing her dirty blonde hair that was tied up with a red ribbon.

"I'm alright," Mao finally answered. "I just wish they would stop with the canons."

Yuna laughed, "Agreed."

As Yuna paused to check the battle, putting her helmet back on, Mao also looked.

Their own side made good progress in pushing back these stubborn warriors. Sure, elves were faster and could use white magic to heal or block, but Aubades had superior weapons and armor, and were able to predict many of their movements. Not to mention their constant advantage in numbers.

This aggravating fight kept going for only a short while longer. As more blood was shed, and fewer warriors fell, the head of the elves' group rushed back.

"Retreat!" He called. "Too many have fallen, we must retreat!"

Sure enough, the elves begrudgingly started to fall back, running into the nearby woodland. The beaten elf lord glared over them, then spat on the ground and shot off with the rest of his troops.

Yuna leaped up. "And don't come back!"

Mao gasped, shoving her. "Yuna!"

"What?" Asked Yuna. "They're enemies."

Unable to argue, Mao ignored her, and they soon regrouped with the remaining sylphs. Most of them were vague or unfamiliar sergeants and commanders, but the one leading the group was more recognizable, as a lieutenant. She stepped up first; the silver-haired, dark-eyed sylph known as Atara.

"How do things look, right now?" Atara spoke.

A sergeant answered, "Only one dead, Madame Akane. Six considerable injuries, and one critical. It also seems this elven unit is in full retreat, and no other reinforcement has been sighted."

"Good," Atara remarked. "In that case, we can tell the camp to pack their things starting tomorrow, and return to the palace. Our division, here, will return as soon as we give the message."

"Very well," the sergeant responded.

Mao spoke, "But Atara, shouldn't we stay in case they need help? That's why they called us down here in the first place, isn't it?"

Atara shook her head. "They should be fine. It was just that pesky band of elves they needed help with, and now that the bastards are retreating, they'll be able to clear up the rest just fine on their own." Her eyes narrowed. "And Atsuya, it's preferred that you actually wear your helmet."

Mao pouted. "But I can't breathe in this thing."

"Oh gods." Atara facepalmed. "I swear, you're taking too many notes from Seraphel..." She grunted. "Fine, leave it off, but keep in mind that it's required in battle or royal presence." She turned to the others. "All of you, brush yourselves off and collect any Aubade corpses. We leave now."

With that, Atara already began to lead the way back across the rugged plane, with several sergeants tailing behind her. Others seemed to have the remaining duties under control, so Yuna and Mao didn't bother. Too many hands were just as irksome as too little, Aubades often found.

Along the way, Yuna broke the silence. "These elves are starting to become less of a problem, if you ask me. I know they've been fighting us for years, and I could be optimistic, but maybe they'll just stop and submit to us, soon." She sneered, "Then again, Dark Elves do love to fight..."

Mao looked uneasy.

Yuna arched one brow. "You don't think so?"

"No, I'm sure they would," Mao replied. "It's just that the term 'submitting to us' makes me think something about this is a little brutal."

"You're probably just overthinking it," said Yuna. "It'll be fine, trust me. War is brutal, hence the reason we need to bring an end as quickly as possible, and if that can only be achieved through fighting back, so be it."

Mao tried to look cheerful. "I guess you have a point. I'm still getting used to the concept of..." She trailed off.

"Of what?" Yuna inquired.

"Nothing, nevermind," Mao insisted.

Yuna looked suspicious, but didn't say anything else.

"Really, no-"

Yuna smacked her, taking on a firm warrior stance. Naturally, any sergeant would quickly get in line whenever they saw that flash of familiar violet armor. Lieutenants may not have been royalty, but they were certainly superior. Mao shuddered as she saw one approach, from the corner of her eye.

"You two are really dragging along, aren't you?"

That bored voice changed the mood quickly, though.

Yuna looked irate as she saw a sylph all too familiar. A cynical young man with choppy dark hair, a prominent cowlick at the front, and red-brown eyes. For someone taunting about 'dragging along,' he didn't seem much better. This was the only lieutenant she refused to show any respect for.

While Yuna was already feeling her patience waver, Mao looked as happy and sociable as ever.

"Hi, Nagiri!" She chimed. "I thought you stayed behind. Where have you been?"

Nagiri shrugged his shoulders. "Around."

Yuna grunted irately.

"Oh, so sorry!" Nagiri bowed mockingly. "I forgot that it's forbidden to speak in the presence of Princess Yuna."

"I've nothing to say to you, Seraphel, so buzz off like the pest you are."

Nagiri crossed his arms. "'Nothing to say,' as you say something."

Yuna groaned angrily, then butted past him as she stormed ahead, putting as much distance between them as possible.

Nagiri sneered, "I see she's as difficult as ever."

Mao rolled her eyes. "I still don't know what's gotten into her."

Nagiri waited, making sure no one would hear. "It's probably about what you drug her into, which is exactly what I told you not to do."

"I couldn't help it," Mao insisted. "If I hadn't told her right away, she would've weaseled me out the next day and been even angrier. Although, even now it's worse than I thought. She's only started to act like her old self recently, and the second I so much as mention Kita, Sybil, or Zyreans, she gets all testy and distant."

"What a surprise," Nagiri remarked.

"Sarcasm is not necessary," Mao argued. "Besides, while I'm doing it for a good cause, I can't blame her for not liking our projects. Sneaking around, reading private documents, invading a dead royal's observatory, and questioning the queen and our entire history? I think if Kita were out of the question, even I would find that suspicious at the very least."

"Exactly why I told you to keep quiet," Nagiri concurred. "This subject only brings trouble. You would've been demoted for your mindset by now, and it even helped banish me to that dumb city."

"Half of that was just Chiro." Mao crossed her arms. "And personally, I hate the way everybody treats you as some nuisance, like that. If you heard some of the things Yuna says about you in private, there would be hell to pay."

"Whatever," Nagiri replied. "I don't know how your friend works, nor do I care."

Mao tried to look happier. "You know, she may lighten up if you try to give her a good reason to trust you."

"Why would I want that?" Asked Nagiri.

Mao shrugged her shoulders. "It's just that I'm a friend to both of you, but you two can't get along for even a minute. Not even on the battlefield!"

Nagiri arched one brow. "Have you met me?"

"Alright, so maybe that's expected," she said. "But it would be nice to have my only friends in this time get along. Not to mention, you probably know more about this research than I do, therefore how to word it in a way she'll like, so you could convince her of what we're trying to do through this. Then we'd have another member to our little team."

"Slow down, loudmouth," Nagiri warily spoke. "For the last time, there is not supposed to be any 'team' in this scenario. I told you, the only reason I got you into this was because you're a desperate, undertrained girl that's masquerading as a soldier, which is a death sentence."

"Yuna wants to find Kita, too," Mao insisted. "Why didn't you talk to her the way you did me?"

"Because -on the contrary- Yuna is way more of a soldier," Nagiri responded. "She's one of those sylphs like Chiro, Atara, or every other sergeant that joins the ranks. They don't care about the reason behind what they're doing, just about doing it with obedience. Or they join different and turn into the same pawn. Different stories, different pasts, different personalities, but in the end, only one shared motive." His eyes narrowed. "And you know, by letting someone with that hive mind in, we're risking her exposing us for conspiracy and possible treason."

Mao's eyes narrowed. "You know, you still haven't explained why you want to do this. I want to get this information to find, appeal, and reason with my friend, maybe even understand her and her demon associates. With all due respect, you clearly have your own weird ways, but what would you get out of this?"

"I keep telling you, I refuse to talk about it," Nagiri retorted.

Mao pouted. "Pleeeeeease, Giri? Not even a hint?"

"Why do you want to know so badly?" Nagiri interrogated. "I have my business, you have yours. And please don't call me that, I don't like it."

"But I told you my reasons, already!" Mao argued. "Don't you think you can reciprocate, just a bit?"

"Not really," Nagiri muttered.

"Please?"

"I-"

"Pleeeeeeeease?!"

Nagiri looked hesitant.

She blinked innocently. "I'll be your best friend."

Nagiri grunted. "Gods forbid."

Mao groaned, "Come on. Please?"

"Stubborn girl," Nagiri muttered. "If I tell you a vague version, will you never ask again?"

Mao nodded vigorously, crossing her heart. "Promise."

"Fine," Nagiri spat. "You joined to save a life, I joined to redeem one. That's all you need to know."

Mao pouted. "That's it? What does that even mean?"

Nagiri looked irate. "It means something happened a long time ago, and it happened to involve those demons. That's it."

"What happened?"

"You've heard enough, for one day," Nagiri said flatly.

Mao looked uneasy. "I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't have asked." She cleared her throat. "Alright, so with that out of the way, what's our next move toward this? Do we just keep reading what Sybil's observatory has to offer?"

Nagiri shook his head. "We must've read those books and scrolls at least ten times, front to back, and there's nothing that can further our thinking. All we know is that Sybil never talked about a city of strife until after the Extinction War was declared, which is extremely suspicious considering it's meant to be why the war started in the first place."

"Have you found anything about how the war started?" Mao inquired.

"Not enough to go off of," Nagiri responded. "Sybil just talked about how she was 'pushed over the edge' before the next entry starts day one of the war, never giving any details.  All the pages before just talked about very basic ways of evolving Sybilius; trades, building, etcetera. Although, I thought I saw one section..."

"What?" Asked Mao.

Nagiri shook his head. "It's probably nothing, just caught my eye for some reason."

Mao grunted. "Yet another secret that shouldn't be a secret, and you won't tell me."

"Why do you need to know all my secrets, nosy?" Nagiri argued.

"Because like it or not, friends share!" Mao insisted. "Not all the secrets, either, just the obvious ones."

"Yeah, sure," Nagiri muttered. "But you have nowhere to talk. Not even to Yuna, evidently."

"What?!" Mao retorted. "I've told you everything you want or should know, and Yuna knows more about me than I do! It happens when you're sisters."

Nagiri arched one brow. "You know none of you are sisters, right?"

"I know," Mao mockingly responded. "I'm not that dumb."

Nagiri gained a taunting smirk. "I don't know, I wouldn't hold it against you..."

Mao smacked him. "Shut up! Really, though, what were you talking about?"

"You should know," Nagiri explained. "On every other mission, you come back incredibly depressed, even if you try to hide it, and you still haven't told anybody why. Yuna just asked you a minute ago, and what was the answer?"

Mao's eyes narrowed. "Stop eavesdropping. I know it's natural for you to be some sort of spy, but you can drop it around me and Yuna. Second, I haven't told either of you because I know you'll find it stupid."

"Try me," Nagiri replied. "I can already guarantee that I've worked with stupider people."

Mao took a deep breath, searching the area for anyone who may be listening in. The coast seemed clear, and the nearest people were those at the very back of the group, dragging along the Aubade corpse and critically injured soldier in a shabby wooden cart.

"It's..." She sighed. "It's just that nothing gets to me more than seeing people die or suffer. Everyone keeps saying 'war is war, battle is brutal,' and of course I believe them. After everything I've seen in just a short time, it would be stupid of me not to."

"That's not stupid," Nagiri interfered. "The death of an ally gets under everyone's skin, especially the newer recruits like yourself. That's why the most stable ones joined because they've already seen death in their normal lives."

"It's nice to know you understand that much," Mao remarked. "But it's not just the death of an ally."

She paused, glancing back at the corpse again. The poor injured soldier still had his violet-plumed helmet on, hiding his identity. Although that didn't prevent anyone from seeing the huge bend in his arm, and much blood pouring from a deep gash at the base of his neck. She couldn't see the other one clearly, but the amount of crimson nearby suggested a very bloody, messy death.

It was just like her encounter with the elf corpse, which threw her into irrational panic and sickness. The agonized wails would deafen and haunt her, the stench of the blood made her sick, and the tragic sight of a lifeless body made her feel like her own soul was being sucked out of her. She started to tremble in place.

Nagiri broke her from thought. "You alive?"

She blinked hard, quickly looking away. "Sorry. And the truth is that I just hate any kind of death. Why do so many people have to die? How many lives does it take to win just one simple battle that leads to nowhere? Even this war has been nothing but several battles that lead to no end, just more death. The goal is extinction, and it started because of a murder or several, just as how it will end." She groaned, "Why can't it just stop here? Zyrean or Aubade, we've all lost so many people as it is. Why can't we just end this and save who we have left?"

"That's unspoken logic that nobody likes to consider," Nagiri muttered. "Especially vengeful or resentful leaders. I'm not going to justify death; I don't think anyone can. But what we do know is that it's the only way to down an enemy and make sure they don't come back. That is why battles end up with one or more of what you see behind us."

"'What' you see?!" Mao retorted. "That's a fellow Aubade, you know! That could've been me, or Yuna, maybe even you!"

"It could have been," Nagiri responded. "But this time, it was someone else."

Mao crossed her arms. "I don't know how you can say that so comfortably."

"Frankly, it really doesn't get to me anymore," Nagiri responded. "But that's just another thing people disagree with. There are many who can relate to you, so you're definitely not alone in that thinking."

"Like who?" Asked Mao. "The only people I've seen who care about a soldier's death is the friends and family. Everyone else just doesn't care; they treat the corpses like broken equipment!"

"Just look at your leader," Nagiri responded. "She connects to the people she trains, not just as their leader, but as a mentor and guide; a friend. Every time we lose one, even if it's just one or two anonymous sergeants, it haunts her and takes its toll. She hides it for the good of others, but you'd be surprised how much she deteriorates without that mask on. In other words, you're not the only one who finds this wrong, and grieves even when you don't know these fallen soldiers."

"Really?" Mao finally grinned. "Alright, that helped. Thank you..."

Little did Mao realize that as they talked, Yuna kept glancing back with an annoyed look. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but still couldn't help the feeling of irritation that came over her whenever she saw anything like this.

She hated Nagiri with a burning passion; it seemed that every day, he said or did something that ruined his reputation even more. That didn't just include his initial behavior, or what he did on the battlefield, but the rumors she heard and what she picked up from the conversations with Mao. Every day, they did research and practically broke laws to find a nonexistent piece of history; what they thought could be an alternate 'truth.' What evidence they found meant nothing, and what evidence they didn't find made Yuna angrier.

'What are they trying to find?' She would think to herself whenever they dug so terribly deep.

The only thing keeping Yuna from putting an end to this was, of course, Mao. Her own best friend was the only kind of friend or family she had left. Kita abandoned them for the Zyreans, her little brother was back in Lion's Bridge, leaving only Mao and Corelia as sylphs she cared for.

Perhaps she didn't care about Nagiri, but she did care about keeping Mao away from a fate similar to what Kita was bound to. One of rebellion, where she could die at the hands of either a demon or their own kind. As such, Yuna kept her lips sealed, letting Mao do her research in secret. Naturally, she already thought about trying to expose Nagiri's misdoings without mentioning Mao's involvement, but the second she tried, Mao told her to stop; that she needed him if she were going to find anything that could help Kita, be it a way to bring her back or to simply understand her.

As such, it was like Yuna was stuck with Nagiri for the time being. Not just because of Mao, but because of the other friend she had lost to the dangerous world beyond.

Yuna sighed. Why did you have to do this, Kita? Now I have two sisters to worry about, and a criminal following me the entire way.

 


Submitted: September 15, 2019

© Copyright 2021 Raven Akuma. All rights reserved.

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