Good day, reader.
Today I have the next segment of Walking the Scar, both here in this post and also linked on the StoryShift app if you’d like to vote on what happens next.
But before you rush off, I’d like to share with you some music.
Below you’ll find Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Please enjoy:
It’s one of my very favorite pieces, I hope you liked it.
Now then, onto the “chapter” of Walking the Scar.
The middle road is sensible, Umo feels. There’s no need to let free that which can still hurt, and there’s no need to destroy that which poses no threat. Orders did not clearly dictate how to handle noncombatants after interrogation, after all.
“Just break his hands and send him on his way,” Umo says.
Ayternae smirks. “You’re a good guy, Sir.”
Beogarte looks over to the humidor. “As always you do me too much credit. Your view on the matter is sound. We shouldn’t kill someone that we could just as easily make a non-combatant.”
Ayternae nods. “I’ll make it so.”
So he passes the word along to the humidor. Umo listens as a gasp of elated surprise reverberates through the small room, the voice belonging to none other than the captive- he was quite certain he would be killed.
Another silence, presumably filled with hushed words, and then an intensity fills the air. Umo laxes into a seat as he hears a sharp cry with cracking sounds. He takes a sip of his nearby cup of tea as the continual cries of the captive ring through the train car. Exasperated breathing, more cracking, more breathing, and finally, those long, relaxing breaths as one comes to term with their new station as a cripple.
Ayternae’s the first out, looking completely unaffected by his actions, and calmly takes a seat two away from Commander Beogarte. Next out is the captive himself, by this point flaring red, his pale features coursing with pain-stricken blood. Finally, leading the captive out, is Prestuma.
It’s rare that Umo feels truly sorry for someone, and this is one of those moments. As expected, Prestuma’s gaze is wide and receptive, as if an evil god had reached down and whispered the dark truths of the world into his ear. This isn’t the first time Prestuma’s hurt people, of course, but everyone in the squad knows he needs some time afterward to unpack it all in his head.
The remainder of the journey via train is uneventful. They pass way stations to refuel a handful of times, each time serviced by increasingly pale, increasingly western people. Umo listened to one that wasn’t even speaking their language. This is strange for him, considering Ulterians are shown to be a largely homogenous people except for the islanders in all forms of higher culture. He’s not sure if he should feel angry or threatened, but he can see Marco, who’s been awake for about an hour now, certainly is. As Marco yells at the westerners to go back home, Umo leans aside to Ayternae.
“You’ve been far west before. These are Ulterians, aren’t they?” Umo asks.
Ayternae’s expression is pleased as his cultural expertise is again brought to light. “They absolutely are. There’s many here who come from long lineages of both Ulterian and Barbarian parents. The dichotomy of Eastern and Western beings and interests were not nearly so defined even fifty years ago.”
Umo arches his head as he watches Marco toss an empty glass at one of the “Westerners”.
“Really? I sort of expected as much.”
“Yeah. My dad gave me a book on it once. Well, better put forced a book on me. Histories by Amswynn.”
Umo smirks. “Did you read much of Amswynn?”
Ayternae chuckles grimly. “Naturally, sir. My father would have me do little other than read on my free days from school.”
“I’m sure that was exciting.”
“Oh yes… They were all cultural and historical books as well. Amswynn and Bassanai became good friends of mine, I guess you could say.”
“As expected of a successful father who desires a successful son I suppose.”
Ayternae crosses his arms. “You’re probably right.”
They go further and further to the exterior. Dense verdant forests and rigid rock outcroppings swallow the oncoming landscape. The train, and as such their world becomes shadowed by the ever-present looming of the Western forests, reaching even past the border.
Conversations turn to mysticism and the darkness of the barbarian mind – rumors of depravity and cannibalism, the secret insect men and the profane overlords.
Slowly, Umo sees the change happen in his squad. The smiles die out. They stop drinking on their own whim. More time is spent inspect and brandishing weapons, keeping sharp for those few thin seconds they may have when drawing on a target.
Just as Ayternae slips his magazine back in place for the final time on this ride, the train exits the woods. Rather, they are still in what was the forest, but it has been removed via industry.
In the center of the curling destruction is a vast expanse, and in the center of their vision, the Westernmost city of glorious Ulteria: Yarseld.
“The Offland City, there it is,” Umo says.
“You’ve never been, have you?” Ayternae, still in the seat next to his, asks.
Umo shakes his head. “Drawings. Is it really as Westernized as they say?”
“It absolutely is. Magic shows, like the real sort, were a daily occurrence five years ago when I visited a few months with my father.”
Umo looks out again to view the city – those outrageously-high walls, shadowing over the West’s tall trees. “It’s as impressive as they say. It’s supposed to be impenetrable, isn’t it?”
Ayternae looks about to see if anyone is listening other than Beogarte. “So the engineers claim… but that estimate was based on their knowledge of magic and technology from about two hundred years ago.”
“…So the brief about siege magic.”
“One hundred percent accurate. My father’s known about this for weeks, not enough time to develop an effective countermeasure.”
Umo sighs. “By the Emperor.”
“Believe me, sir. Everyone in the know shares the same sentiments. We can’t lose our will to fight, however. The defense of this city is going to be filled with people’s finest hours.”
Umo looks back to the men, some sleeping, others chatting about their own topics, Honelon especially is engaged in a mutually-interested discussion with the captive. “I invite the Western Kingdoms to do their worst. This isn’t just a war of cultures, after all, but of technology and magic.”
They both stare on at the bright, awe-inspiringly walls. “The course of human history depends on this war, doesn’t it?” Ayternae says.
Umo puts his hands on his lap. “For our history, maybe. I wonder just how important this war is to the other dimensions.”
Strangely, this offhand comment makes them both feel a little better. Neither of them are all that concerned with lies far beyond, as they have no way to access that very western technology to begin with. They assume that if they don’t care much about the other realms, perhaps their own dimension is not all that consequential to others. Perhaps, somewhere, technology and cultural progress is championed, perhaps that somewhere is also at war, and hopefully, they’ll win.
The two ride along silently all the way to the rail station.
The massive walls fly by in a gust of steam and the train screeches to a slow halt. Yarseld’s inner city draws utterances of awe from the soldiers. The market is not crowded like the Imperial City, and there’s an air of consistent homey pleasantness in the decorum, but the faces of the men and women do not reflect their surroundings. Their expressions are intense, the tensions are rising as rumors of the approaching Western Force rise from the weekly papers.
The doors are opened and, with a violent plume of smoke coursing through the cabin, the conductor greets the men out. They take the captive with them, naturally.
The question now is of priorities. Umo takes in the atmosphere for a few seconds more as he comes up with his plan.
Want to decide on what happens next? Cast your vote using StoryShift!
All the best to you,