Perpetual War Arc Two: Chapter Four - The Acolyte

in #fiction2 months ago

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The quiet of the Bosakil Mountains are a steep contrast to the horrors amid the trenches. Such a place is where Bryce and his group draw ever closer to. First though they must travel the final stretch of the mountain range to end this part of their journey.

See the full chapter list over at the Perpetual War page.

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The editing was done by Luke Thompson and here is his – website.

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Chapter Four – The Acolyte

The Union’s company is formed by a single individual referred to as the Lead. They are granted the title by those who follow them into battle. The Lead has complete say on everything that occurs in the company and can create sub-ranks at their leisure. The Lead, however, must answer to an Acolyte if they wish to have any form of support. Acolytes coordinate many companies and just like the individual soldier who can join and leave companies at will, the same can be done with Leads to the control of Acolytes. This pattern continues up the tree of Union command to the very top with Minister Calhounvel. The punishment for failing to appease the one in higher status becomes severe higher up the chain as there is less mobility. This lack of mobility is where the strength to give orders and organize strategies comes into play. As the Acolytes for example can kick out Leads from their command if they are disappointed and if this happens multiple times a reputation is bound to form. A low enough reputation can lead to punishment by the church and result in banishment or execution. I think such a system has some positives, however I believe the freedom it gives is too great and will surely allow corruption to take hold far more easily as punishment is not nearly swift enough. A balance is needed in giving freedom to the individual versus power to the group mind. An important lesson in military structure, Savant.

-Auruko Tem, Study on Military Structure


The entrance of the large war tent bathed Bryce in warmth and protection from the chilling winds that were arriving from the onset of nighttime. The dark blue canvas was kept up by black poles which also supported yellow-tinted bulbs hanging on several of the crossbeams. Along the side of the wide space were crates kept closed except for one that was pried open to reveal folders filled with documents and maps already ruffled through. The result of the open crate was laid across the long table that ran the center of the room covered in documents and maps. To the side was another table where two young women were working on a mechanism, feeding different powders into tubing and drawing runes. Opposite of Bryce at the far end of the table was a large circular contraption supported by thin unfolded legs. A white and black goo-like shape emitted a light from the center of the contraption, seemingly trying to create a sphere and failing as each color grew before losing to the other in an endless cycle of movement.

The outside noise of the camp was mostly drowned out by the humming drone of the contraption, the only other noise came from the women’s whispers and the man who stood at the main table with mug in hand. The heavy smell of fresh brewed coffee filled the air. Steam floated off the mug as the man seemed more engaged by the warm contents of it than the map that he had originally intended on giving focus to. His towering figure, only furthered by his broad shoulders and muscles, gave an exaggerated tilt as he lifted the mug and took a short sip of the coffee before returning to his normal stance. Seeing Bryce, he turned and gave a bright smile, the thick brown mustache rising slightly to expose his clean teeth. “Bryce, it’s so great to see you’ve returned from those frigid mountains! Come, come join me!” His voice boomed as he waved his hand urging Bryce forward.

“It’s great to see you as well, Brashmar,” Bryce stepped forward as instructed, heading for the opposite side of the long table.

“Claire, please, can you get Bryce some of this amazing coffee of yours?”

“I, I’d love to, Lead Helfin, it’s just…”

“Come now, Claire… I’d hate for Bryce to go thirsty.”

Bryce looked to the woman speaking to see her complete focus on a parchment paper in her hands, fingers drawing out a blood rune. A strand of black hair loosening from around her ear to tickle at her cheek went ignored by her intent focus. “It’s fine, Brashmar, she’s trying to draw a rune.”

“Is that right?” Brashmar let forth a loud chuckle and took another exaggerated sip of his coffee. “I suppose it can’t be helped, carry on, Claire. When you have a moment though please get some for our guest and a second cup for Gilford when he gets here.”

“Yes, Lead!” Claire replied and hunched forward around the rune nearing completion, a red glow starting to come off of its form.

Coming to a stop, Bryce looked across the table, his eye forced to look up at the larger man several inches higher. “How’s everything going since I left?”

“Three weeks I’ve gone without your insight, that beautiful familiar of yours, Zel’s fantastic stories, and Murn as a sparring partner.”

“I mean, how’s the war effort.”

Brashmar leaned forward so his head was level with Bryce’s. “I can’t stress how much I missed Murn as a sparring partner. He’s a great sentinel you got, it reminds me how much I need to find one for my company.”

“Brashmar.”

With a wave of his hand, he took another sip of the coffee before placing the mug down on a curled map’s edge. “Always to the point, Bryce. It’s important we have this talk, as once Gilford is here you know it’ll be all business.”

Rubbing at his forehead, Bryce nodded in understanding, “You aren’t wrong about that. I’m sorry.”

“Of course, though if you must know now, the war effort is the same. No new events have happened that are exciting besides what’s going on in those mountains.” He rubbed his large hands together, “Which, I’d assume you might have some news on what’s happening up there in Bosakil?”

“A complete mess is what’s happening up there. It’s just what Acolyte Vaul warned me before I went up there.” Bryce looked to the map, eyes scanning for where they were located on it. Finding the blue marker topped with a star near the center of the map. Heading south of it, Bryce could make out the edges of the Bosakil mountain range that stretched to the end of the map. “If I had to guess, Luncal is taking up much of the central pass through Bosakil.” He pointed out a thin line connecting several names along the central part of the range, the last name was “Bosavan.” “If we were a week or two later, we would have been forced to turn around or else die.”

Brashmar shook his head in disappointment. “If what you say is true, then Acolyte Vaul is going to have his work cut out for him come Spring.”

“It’s just another pain we have to deal with,” Bryce replied with a sigh. And another reason why I have to succeed.

Looking up from the map, Brashmar raised his head to the man entering the tent. “Lead Gilford, it is great to see you join us this evening.”

“Lead Helfin, Lead Coduire,” he said with a perfect salute of fist over his heart and back straight. “I suspect the mindnet is not ready.”

Returning the salute, Bryce glanced to Brashmar to see the large man wave a hand in a nonchalant manner.

“Nonsense, Gilford. Claire and Julianna are putting the finishing touches.”

Gilford turned his attention to the two women who now busied themselves around the contraption at the far end of the tent. “Quite the surprise, you’re on time this evening.” He walked forward at an even pace, keeping his shoulders back and pointed chin raised. “I am glad to see you have returned from your expedition, Coduire.”

Bryce could feel Gilford’s black-eyed stare taking in his every move. “And I am grateful for the assistance you provided my company in taking down that Luncal airship.” He forced himself to not look away.

“An easy task for the soldiers I sent. It was of course convenient for you to have such weaponry in the area, Helfin. The Luncal airship shot down would have been a considerable issue otherwise with what little that Coduire had.” Gilford reached the end of the table, his hands clasped together behind his back. He was level with Bryce and came up short compared to Brashmar just the same. His figure was thinner than either Lead, but the calculating look in his dark eyes gave off a different authority. His navy officer jacket was adorned by three stripes of silver on the breast pocket, and a pair of stars pinned on his collar gleamed in the dim lights of the bulbs.

Bryce leaned forward slightly ready to exchange words with Gilford before stopping himself with a deep breath. It isn’t worth it.

Brashmar chuckled and picked up his mug to take another sip. “Ruthless as always Gilford, though you should soften the blow among fellow Leads especially ones in this area.” He tilted back in tune to the coffee before lowering the mug again. “Anyways, you couldn’t expect Bryce to have such weapons or manpower, his company was split.”

“A fair point, but if he intends to grow stronger he shouldn’t split his group nor stick to such small tactics.” Gilford looked from Brashmar back to Bryce. “He should instead get used to looking at the bigger picture like a true Lead.

Why must you always be such a pain. Exhaling, Bryce met Gilford’s eyes once more. “How I approach each situation is my own business.”

“Of course, however I hope you intend to change for the better with your most recent gift. That machine soul is yours only because Acolyte Randalk allows it and will soon gift you a warmachine to house it. I promise you both him and I would be greatly disappointed if our efforts to help you were wasted by poor decisions made with such a weapon.”

Damn Quil putting me into such a position.

Gilford turned his attention to the two women who were adding the last of the runes and chemicals into the machine. “On such a matter, are we ready to speak with the acolyte?”

“Claire? Julianna?” Brashmar asked.

Julianna stood, her curled, auburn hair bouncing with her sudden movement. “Yes, Lead Helfin, the mindnet is ready to receive the connection.”

“Excellent if you may activate it and send the message to the acolyte that we’re ready on our end.”

“Yes, Lead,” Julianna replied.

“And, Claire?”

“Yes?” The black haired woman turned around, her bloody gloves entwined together as she seemed to twitch slightly.

“The coffee?”

“Oh, yes!” Claire exclaimed and quickly began to rip off the gloves while heading for the side table where a pitcher sat over a gas burner kept at a low temperature.

Not the most sanitary way of doing things. Bryce watched the bloodied gloves land in the dirt.

With a few audible clicks and shifts of a gear, the device began to come to life. Stepping to the side, Julianna peeled off her own bloodied gloves and grabbed a beige towel off a rack to wipe at her dirtied, fair skinned arms. “The liquid matrix should form the picture in just a moment, Lead.”

“Good work,” Brashmar said, downing what remained in his mug before offering it to Claire.

The white and black fluids constantly chasing themselves above the contraption became surrounded by lights as the matrix started to grow in size. A distorted shape starting to come into view. Bryce looked away from the image at the dark, brewed coffee being offered to him. Taking it from Claire’s hand he gently nodded his head in thanks and took a sip. The warmth of the dark liquid a welcome relief from the frigid cold that has surrounded him for the past few weeks.

Offering the second mug to Gilford, the Lead shook his head and Claire moved on to Brashmar to exchange mugs with him.

“Thank you, Claire.”

“Of course, Lead.” Claire replied and headed over to Julianna to join her in waiting on the side in case any maintenance was needed in operating the device at a moment’s notice.

Such a simple exchange and it says so much in Brashmar how he teaches those who follow him and that Gilford doesn’t trust him. Bryce drank more of the coffee, his mind spinning the thoughts as he waited for the matrix to finish forming.

The black began to spread out to create the outlines of an average-sized man leaning on a cane for support. The man’s surroundings were partially drawn of stone flooring and a column off to the side. The white of the matrix quickly filled in the gaps and melded with the black to create different shades of gray. The finish product was a black and white image of a man past his prime standing finely dressed in robe. The cane itself was finely carved and had a white shine to the top. The man’s facial features were obscured by the constantly shifting liquid of the matrix unable to maintain a perfect stilled picture, however the narrow glower and high arched nose identifying the man as Randalk could be seen.

Placing the mug onto the table, Bryce saluted in line with the others in the room. Or maybe I’m just over thinking a simple exchange.

With a salute of his own, Randalk said, “Let our Union of thoughts commence,” his voice distorted with a static hiss that cut in at random intervals. “I wish to hear the latest from each of you before we speak of the future.”

Brashmar seemed to straighten himself further, muscles bristling slightly. “The latest caravan will be arriving safely to the front line within two days time from now.”

“Good, Lead Coduire?” Randalk asked, his eyes turning their focus.

“Our search in the mountains came up short in finding any useful artifacts, however we can confirm that Luncal’sha is moving through the Bosakil mountains with support from the Swenork. Luncal had the courage to chase my group down to the outskirts of the mountain range, thankfully with the support from Lead Gilford’s men and Lead Helfin’s equipment we were able to shoot down the airship chasing us.”

“I presume you were able to harvest the machine’s soul?”

“Yes.”

Randalk tapped his cane against the ground, “It seems then I have good reason to honor the order for a warmachine to be built in your name. The husk shall be available to you in two weeks, I will have details on its location for you in the coming days. I will leave it to your ghosts to insert the soul.”

“Thank you, Acolyte.” Bryce replied with a slight bow of his head. And what exactly is the price I’ll have to pay both you and Gilford?

“And what of your report, Lead Gilford?”

“My time spent recruiting has been successful, and I will be arriving to the front line with a company of two hundred strong at the same time as Brashmar’s caravan.”

“It seems then the parts are falling into place for the next set of actions.” Randalk tapped his cane again, “Brashmar if you please, fill in Coduire on the planned operation that we’ve discussed during his absence.”

Here we go.

“Yes, Acolyte.” Brashmar turned his attention to the map set between the three Leads. He spread his hand out and a moment later each marker on the map gained a gentle white hue around it. The marker shaped as a star near the center of the map turned to a blue, “I’m sure you are familiar with the main forward encampment’s location for supporting the Glodan Field trench network.”

Bryce simply nodded.

“Good, then I want you to keep that in mind as the main focus, for this plan is situated on this region.” He shifted his hand slightly to a marker to the north along the map, the top of it began to glow red. “Our location is where the Leviathan will soon be passing by on its way to the main encampment. Upon its arrival, it’ll barrage the Imperial defenses.”

“Is it wise to move the Leviathan?”

“Risks must be taken for victory,” Gilford replied.

Of course, that’s his response for meddling with such dangerous magic! Bryce crossed his arms, “What about the barrier the Imperials have up? We’ve already tried attacking it countless times, their supply network is too efficient in the area.”

“A Union saboteur was able to sneak in and is waiting to stop the barrier.”

“Who’s saboteur? Was it a ghost?”

“It was mine, if you must know, Coduire.” Gilford grinned. “As soon as the moment arrives, she will strike the match giving a perfect opportunity for the Leviathan to make its attack.”

“Impressive,” Bryce said, keeping his attention on the map. Truly impressive, but what about the rear defenses? And the ones further back?

Seeing no more words from either Lead, Brashmar continued his explanation. “Prior to the leviathan’s attack, all along the Glodoran trench line there will be a steady bombardment from our lines to make it hard for the Imperials to see our true attack coming. If Gilford’s ghost does her job, then when the airship attacks it should weaken that position.”

“She’ll perform her task perfectly, there is no need to concern yourselves about that.” Gilford added with a nonchalant wave of his hand.

“Of course,” Bryce replied and pointed towards a few of the other remaining markers along the trenches. “What of the other encampments? Will those acolytes go on the offensive?”

“Yes, Acolyte Randalk has made plans with each neighboring acolyte to perform attacks.” The marker to the east of the blue marker lit up a yellow color. “Acolyte Rooseheart will be attacking the ruins of the Town of Salf in hopes of getting the high ground the town provides.” The marker to the west lit a green color. “While Acolyte Winsshil will be attacking the already weakened central line.”

“And what’s the plan of action for our encampment after the leviathan attacks?” Bryce asked. And plan for the defenses beyond these?

“Nine of the leads in the area are to attack along the front while the remaining seven will remain in the rear as supporting roles.” The markers on the map lifted into the area while the map beneath rolled itself up to the side and revealed a new map beneath. The markers split and moved until there were nine split into three groups of three. Each group settled onto the new map, a close-up image of the Glodan Fields trenches. Seven markers took up the rear behind the three groups. “To simplify things, we will only discuss the group consisting of our three companies.” The central three markers lit up a blue, red, and green color. “This attack will be occurring at night with Gilford leading the initial charge.” The red marker moved forward. “After the line is secured then I will move up with my company to build defenses.” The blue marker moved up. “At the same time, you’ll move up, Coduire, with your smaller company to support in whichever area that is facing the most resistance.” The green marker finally moved forward. “And, from there we will secure the trench network and spread to either flanking groups to support them as needed.” Brashmar straightened himself, his hand moving away from the table as the colors vanished from the markers.

“What are your thoughts, Coduire?” Randalk asked with a tap of his cane.

“Nowhere is there mention of the Imperial defenses beyond these trenches.” Bryce leaned forward, eyes studying the detailed aerial shots of the trenches. “We should focus on making a breakthrough, not simply taking a few lines of trenches.”

“Such a plan would never work.” Gilford scoffed, “If we try to make a break, we’ll just stretch ourselves thin and hit up against another line of trenches unprepared.”

“Or we will catch the second line off guard by our swift attack and create a true fatal blow against Derdainia.”

“Coduire may have a point,” Brashmar added. “Attacks like this one have failed for the past eleven years.”

Gilford rose up on his toes slightly before settling back down on his heels. Hands clasped behind his back. “This time, however, I’ve succeeded in planting a saboteur to strike a crippling blow in their defenses.”

“It may hurt them, yes.” Bryce gripped the edge of the table, “But, it ignores the counterattack the Imperials will throw at us. Plus, it ignores what they keep behind that ridge, it’s not just artillery, but armored cars and tanks. Weapons they can easily move to hit us, faster than we can move across dead man’s land.”

“Such machines will be inferior to us if we make a swift enough attack and secure their own trenches.” Gilford chuckle, “As for your other points, I’m well aware of them all and more. After all I’ve been preparing for three weeks while you wasted time amongst the mountains.”

“Gilford—” Bryce began, eyes flaring up as he met Gilford’s own calculating stare.

The tap of a cane brought the room to silence.

With a deep breath he loosened his grip on the edge of the table and straightened himself before facing the shifting image of the acolyte. He noticed the thin smile even with the moving colors of the black and white liquids. Damn him, he’s enjoying this.

“These are fair points you’ve brought up, Coduire, however Gilford is right, and it can be backed up by his time spent preparing.”

So, the plan is already set, it didn’t matter what I said. He took another slow breath, exhaling slowly to calm his beating heart.

“Now that you have been caught up, do you have any further suggestions to give?”

“No, Acolyte.” Waste of my time.

“Then shall your company take part?”

“Yes, Acolyte.”

“Good, I am glad you are willing to perform the task given and once it is over you shall have your warmachine.”

Warmachine or not, I never had a choice thanks to Quil.

“I presume you are still in agreement with the operation, Lead Helfin?” Randalk asked.

“Yes, acolyte.” Brashmar gave a quick salute.

Randalk looked to each Lead with his heavy gaze before continuing. “The operation shall begin four days from now at zero, one hundred. Gilford you shall have the alpha lead on the central corridor of this operation. If there are any further changes you shall be contacted by message. Otherwise I expect you all to continue to meet your current schedule and perform your expected tasks. Any questions?”

Plenty, but they’re pointless to ask. Bryce looked out of the corner of his eye to see the other two Lead’s unmoving.

“The next time we speak shall be after this operation, I expect to hear good results.” Randalk raised his head and cane up to an invisible force above, “To Yenvark we pray for success.” Lowering himself once more he met the eyes of the Leads, “Give Union all of your strength.”

“Strength be through Union!” The three Leads said in unison with fists over their hearts.

The black and white liquids came to a halt, frozen on the image before everything began to collapse inward with a buzz of noise. Just as it began, the noise and movements came to a halt as nothing more than a levitating sphere once more, the two colors eating one another in an endless spiral of destruction.

Bryce looked down to the mug of coffee still seating on the edge of the table, forgotten. Picking it up he sent a surge of warmth through his fingertips, the dark liquid swirled around with sudden life as it was heated up. He took a long sip, enjoying the warmth. There is definitely no way to get out of this operation, the best I can do is avoid losing anyone.

“You can shut off the machine, my dears.” Brashmar said to Claire and Julianna who set to performing the task, fresh gloves on their hands. “Well, Lead Alpha, is there anything you need to mention before we head our separate ways?”

Gilford shook his head. “No, this meeting’s importance was to verify that all three of us are on the same page,” Gilford said while eying Bryce. “Now that we are, I have higher confidence of our success. Adjustments will need to be made once we arrive on the front, thus I think a final meeting between us three before we begin will be most useful.” Gilford reached for a breast pocket, the silver chain glinting slightly in the light of the bulbs. “What say we meet on the second day at one, seven hundred?”

“What would be the significance of this meeting? The operation is straight forward, we know our roles.” Bryce said.

“I suppose with your small company you have a smaller grasp on the logistics of such operations. As a lead you have the power to not attend, but I believe it may contain useful information for you.”

“I’m to support any area that you may be having trouble in during the assault. What more is there to discuss? Send me the details of the times of attack and I’ll play my role. Otherwise I’ll be spending my time preparing my company.”

Gilford nodded, “So, be it. I believe we have spent enough time this evening. I shall be taking my leave.” Gilford said with a salute and turned with a click of his heel to head for the exit.

“Safe travels to the front, Gilford,” Brashmar said and waited for the man to leave. Once the tent’s flap settled back into place, he looked to Bryce. “You two are always so quick to attack one another.”

“It’s been like that since the beginning when we were part of the same company. I doubt it’ll change anytime soon.” Bryce shrugged and finished the coffee before starting to head for the exit himself after a salute. “Thanks for the coffee, Brashmar. I’ll see you again at the front.”

Brashmar returned the salute. “See ya there, Bryce. Don’t do anything stupid until then.”

“Of course.” Bryce pushed past the tent flaps to enter the chill of the night.

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