All's not quiet on the Eastern Front - Misc Chapter

[Cleric’s Confession]

On the battlefield, there's no such thing as God.

That was the first thing my instructor taught me when I joined the Legion. Fresh from the Monastery, I didn't believe him, then.

Of course, how could I? Faith was everything to me.

Back the ways of the glorious mana, gifted by the First King. Taught the hymns and structure of the miracles, each one a precious work of art, passed down over the ages.

Those were my life.

I could form [Barriers] of will, mend cuts and bones with a simple [Heal] or a greater [Restore.] I had saved lives- many lives, through God's will and my own personal conviction. By the will of the Light, I had changed fate. By my two hands, I believed that I could shape destiny.

Then, I went to war.

I went to war, and I learned I was wrong.

"Healer! Healer!"

Over and over, I hear the shout. More a howl than a cry, it calls to me, and I pass it by as I walk. Brisk, efficient, I clear my way through the mud and filth.

"Healer!"

Persistent.

The old me would have stopped to help by now. I know it, with each step, as my boots sink in and escape the muck. The sand moistened by the false rain brought from bombardment. Only added to by the vomit, the piss, the sweat and blood. With a horrible squelching sound, that gurgles as much as the man I'm passing by, my boots continue.

“Please!”

I know the old me would have helped, but that's not how things work any longer. I'm part of something bigger, more important. I have my assignment. I'm supposed to be helping someone else.

Not them.

So, I don't slow. I don't turn.

Among the ruins of stone and earth, brown and red: there's a white tent up ahead. White, at least, as anything can be in this terrain. There are stains up along the edges, splashed from the rain and tainted weather. Burns and blackened portions too, where fire has reached us.

It’s so close, yet so far.

I'd run if I could, but I know I shouldn't. If I run, I'll get tired, and if I get tired... well. It's best that I don't. When I first came to this place, I used to run. Just like I used to stop.

Now, I know better.

I step inside, and my boots stop. Faces stare at me, some hopeless, some desperate. My hands find their places, pressing against red.

The gurgling... that's back. Ragged, heavy, exhausted: always the same, as of late. Like the mud, like my boots.

I hate it, so I try to make it stop.

Magic.

For a moment, I am as I once was. Held in the arms of Light and Faith. Held and embraced, loved by the only reason these men here can even pretend to tolerate my presence. I let the mana run through me, until the noise stops.

Stops.

Failure,

Gone.

Unlucky.

Just words, excuses. This time, it seems I wasn't fast enough. My fault, but I don't feel guilty.

There's no way to feel guilty and survive in a place like this.

I get up to leave with a shake of my head and a false gesture of respect. I ignore the curses that earns me, stepping back and heading the direction I'd come from before. The tent flap gives way as I return to my steady gait.

The shouts trail after, but soon fade.

They don't matter, and there's nothing I can do. Nothing they can do. There are always more who need help. More tents to visit, and not enough people like me to visit them. Curse me all they want, but it won't change a thing.

The Eastern Fronts are like that.

My boots squelch once again, as I travel. Thicker, with the rain. Not heavy, but not relenting either. The shouts for help still haven't stopped.

"Healer! Please! Healer!"

I can see them there, still slumped in the dirt, watching me. Face filthy, expression wild. Both wounded, the person beside them is covered, more red than grime.

"Healer!"

Begging.

Begging for what? A chance to go back?

Looking past them, over the trench beside this pitiful excuse for a road, I can see the front. I can see the flashes of battle. Of Mages throwing fire, of soldiers hammering back at the enemy. Thousands of paces off and I can see it, clear as day.

How long did it take for them to make it back from that, I wonder? One wounded man carrying another, stumbling through the broken ground... Hours?

I don't know the answer, but it doesn't matter.

I pass them by.

The Adventurer's Daughter - Misc chapter

[Misc Chapter]

"Are we going over more sword skills today?" Behind him, Rulo heard Vena shout out her question with palpable excitment. "I've got all the basics down, you know? My footwork is perfect, my skills are great, even [Sure-strike] and that other one!"

"You mean the [Guard-break] skill." Rulo replied, as he continued leading their march deeper into the forest. There was a cold breeze today, the cover of canopy above their heads soaking up the warmth of the sun. "That's something you'll need, if you're ever up against armor."

"Yes, that one." Rule listed as Vena replied from somewhere behind him, footsteps quickening as she caught up to his pace. "Seems silly though, I don't know what sort of monster would have armor. Maybe those giant crabs? I've heard in town that some adventurers try to fight those for their shells, good for armor. Otherwise, I don't see the point."

"You can never have too many skills, daughter of mine."

"You say that, but then you only teach me the boring ones."

"Boring..." Rulo picked at a low hanging vine, as they continued down the path. "Remember, that I'm teaching you anything at all is simply fortune in itself. My own father... he never showed me how to do much more but swing a hammer."

"I'm not about to become a smith."

"No, no you're not, Vena." Rulo sighed, as they reached the clearing. "But that's exactly why we're having our lesson today."

"Do you mean sparring? Are we finally sparring, for real? Without the wooden swords?"

"No, that's not it." Rulo dusted off his shirt, checking the leather straps which held together his padded armor. The armor was worn. So very worn, scratched and even torn through in some places. The look of equipment that was well passed its prime, but not quite ready to give up the ghost. Still, despite all that, Rulo felt a sense of lingering attachment. "We're doing something else, instead."

"We're not sparring then? Then why did you drag me all the way out into the woods? Are we hunting? I have my bow-"

"Vena, repeat the three rules for me."

"What?" Vena stopped short at Rulo's raised hand, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "All of them?"

"Yes, daughter of mine: all of them."

"Is this a trick, father? You had me learn these years ago, before you even let me pick up a sword."

"There is no trick." Rulo replied. "Just answer."

"All... alright. The first rule is to trust your team."

"That's correct." Rulo nodded. "Go on."

"Second rule is trust your gut."

"Good, very good, and the last?"

"The last is: if you can't win, you should run."

"Yes." Rulo nodded, as he crossed his arms. "Those are the rules."

"So? I knew them already, I've known them for years." Vena scowled. "What's the point in asking me what I already know?"

"Because there are three more, that I haven't taught you." Rulo replied, sternly. "That's why we're here today."

"You took me all the way here, for a lecture? What about training? You told me you were going to teach me [Double-strike] soon. Or maybe [Warrior's rush?] Can you teach that one?"

"No, Vena. That's not why we're here."

"Then why?"

"Because today we're going on your first descent." Rulo replied. "Your first dive as most people call them."

"... Is this a trick?"

"No trick, daughter."

"What will mother say?"

"Your Mother doesn't know."

"We're going into a dungeon?"

"The dungeon, Vena. They are all connected, like a web that finds itself deep into the earth. It is important to remember that."

"And we're going? Now?"

"Yes, we are... though not far. There is a specific entrance that is hidden here, in this forest. A cavern that has found itself cut off, ruined by a collapse nothing has yet seen fit to clear away."

"Where?" Turning about, Rulo watched as Vena's eyes darted about the clearing. "No..." She hissed, as she approached the brush along the north side, past the wooden post that marked the trail head deeper into the forest. "It was here the whole time? Are you serious father? The whole time?"

"It's been here since I was a boy."

"Why didn't you tell me? You know how badly I've wanted to go into a dungeon!"

"The dungeon, and that's exactly why I didn't tell you. Vena, I teach you not because I wish a life of Adventuring for you, but because I'd like you to survive it."

"You say my skill with a sword is better than yours! I've been ready!"

"Swinging a sword isn't what being an adventurer is about. That's what you do when something goes wrong, and there's no other way to fix it." Rulo pushed aside the foliage, as he took the lead again. Vena followed closely. "That, is something I hope you'll learn today."

Rulo took his first steps past the last of the underbrush, foot passing from soil to stone. It was familiar, this crossing. He'd heard it described in many ways, but Rulo had always found it to be almost... mystic. Darkness closing in around him, a feeling of excitement, of terror. The taste of mana, rich, wild, and angry... he stopped and closed his eyes, as it all began to close in around them.

"Vena."

"Yes, father?" Vena's reply seemed very loud in the space of the carvern's entrance. Though, at the same time, Rulo thought she sounded almost... silent. As if her voice were pulled away by a nonexistent wind.

"There are three more rules, that you've yet to learn." Rulo listened as his own words echoed off, down into the dark abyss before them. A tunnel that lead down, deeper into the stone and earth. "The first is simple. While you must trust your team: you can not trust them too much."

"I understand."

"Do you?"

"I do. The only person I can rely on completely is myself." He heard her pause, before adding, "And you, father."

Rulo smiled.

"Good. The second, is that while one must trust their gut, they must also trust their own heart. One's own beliefs, those can be a source of strength. Do you understand?"

"I... I think so." He heard her reply.

"There will come a time when you are torn. Unable to know what is the right choice to make. Unable to determine which way you will need to go, or what action is correct. There are times for logic and faith, just as there are times for instinct."

"I understand, father."

"Good."

"What is the final rule?"

"It is tied, just as the others. Tied and wound about all that I have tried to teach you until now. The deeper you go into the depths, the more dangerous your journey will become. Rule rules I teach you are there to protect, and to guide."

"The rules will keep me safe."

"Yes, that is my hope."

"Then... the last rule?"

"The last rule... daughter, you are strong. You know this, you believe this, but on day there will be a fight you can not win."

"And if I can't win, I should run. I know that rule."

"Yes, you do, but not all in life is so simple."

"I don't understand."

"No, you don't. Not yet." Rulo let the air in his lungs fill him, deeply, then leave his flesh in a long sigh. Slowly, he began to walk forward into the dark. "But one day, there will be a situation: a battle, or a decision, in which you believe you can't win." Deeper into the abyss, Rulo let the cold soak into his bones as the dungeon beckoned. "And instead of running, you will stay and fight."

"But that's against...?"

"Yes, the final rule is that, in all things, there is always a choice. No matter the cost, there is always a choice."

"You're... You're saying I should break the rules. Why? Why would I do that?"

"Because one day, Vena... one day you will find something that matters more than your own life." Rulo replied, as he marched into the darkness. "Just as I have."