Vol.1, Ch.4, P.1


The seasons have wheeled a cycle since the Battle of Erbelde. Three full years have passed from the day I first enlisted in the Order.

The Mareschal Tallien was no longer to be found in the 5th, having retired to consummate his heirship to the title of viscount. The under-mareschal, too, had left the 5th’s halls, returning to his homeland upon news of the untimely death of his elder brother, to whom was due the succession of the family name.

That left the role of mareschal to none other than the lieutenant of the Owlcranes: Emilie. To be promoted to such an esteemed position at so young an age was most unusual, indeed.

Central itself had taken great heed of the “Aureola of the 5th”. And more fervently still did the officers of our Order revere her very presence. Fresh still in their minds was her valiant figure, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the hero-dame Tiselius at the banks of the Erbelde, her silvered thunderblade rending asunder the fell droves of Nafílim. A veritable idol, whose resplendent reputation was, by this point, set deep in stone.

As for the Owlcranes, the role of lieutenant was passed to Gerd. And on another front was Felicia with a promotion of her own: no longer was she lieutenant to the 1st Sorcery Brigade, but brigadier to the three Sorcery Brigades altogether. Her phenomenal flair for the magicks had rightfully earned her the esteem of being the 5th’s foremost spellweaver by far.

And there was I, yet a swain—Emilie’s, of course. But if being swain to a mareschal, up from that of a lieutenant, was anything to go by, then I suppose one could say I’ve moved up in the world.

Only, both my duties and my daily life at the Order had gained no greater prestige. Sword training, horse-tending, gear-caring, housecleaning, and sword training yet again—my routine had hardly changed at all.

I was, at the moment, tidying up the mareschal’s chamber. Emilie herself was sat upon a leather chair before a grand desk, flanked by decorative standards. In her hands were many papers, to which she gave a glance over. And a glance upon this newly appointed mareschal herself would reveal in her a newly assimilated mien of majesty, as it were. A recent development of character, perhaps one precipitated by the rigours and expectations of her current station.

“Rolf, we’ve drawn up plans for the next operation,” Emilie said. “Come and have a look, if you can?”

A rather prideful glow was about her face as she held out the papers to me.

“Plans, my Lady?” I blinked. Taking them, my sight fell upon the cover page. “Classified materials—are you certain?”

“I am.”

Writ large was the line “Operations Manual for the Recapture of the Godrika Minery”.

The marquisate of Norden, home to the 5th’s headquarters, also held within its southern reaches the foresaid mines of Godrika. Well-known for their warrens of well-endowed deposits these mines were, but equally so were they feared for their depths that bristled with the behemót: malicious fiends of myriad forms, all imparted with odyl of their own. And the manual I held in my hand was symbolic of our kingdom’s craving for the recapture of such a bedevilled place.

I thumbed through the pages. Immediately apparent was the scope of the operation. By no means was it a meagre one.

These days had often found Emilie locked behind closed doors till the late hours, immersed in meetings within which no swains were suffered. That’s not to say such meetings are a rarity at all in a place like the Order, but it seemed their purposes of late were tasked specifically to the planning of this operation.

A report within the papers indicated that, at present, the threat levels within the mines were on a downward trend. So much so, in fact, that it was very much possible for just the 5th to barge in and clean house.

The strategies and tactics required to do so were outlined to granular detail further on in the papers. From group compositions to logistics, all was accounted for; even the march to the minery itself was not spared of its fair share of attention, a clear lesson learnt from the failures at the Erbelde this past year.

All in all, it was a manual written and considered with exhaustive care for every aspect of the operation, no matter how large or little. This, I judged, but what I also judged was the spectre of underestimation: inadequate thought was given to the difficulty in deploying troops into so confined an environment as a web of underground tunnels. Not to mention that the plans themselves called for too wide and thin a dispersal of troops at every level of the operation.

But beyond such details, there was one matter that cast a deep shadow over the entire affair…

“My Lady,” I began, looking up from the papers. “I believe these plans are in need of some reassessments.”

“…Reassessments?” Emilie blinked. “Where, exactly?”

“‘Where’, might not be the word. If I may be blunt, this operation’s actionability itself must needs be reexamined.”

“…What? How can you say that!?” Emilie gasped, clearly taken aback. But within her voice, there also smouldered a tinge of anger.

I could tell that much and more went into the creation of this manual. In fact, it was, beyond anyone’s doubt, an exemplary and scrupulous piece of work. A product of untold toil, moulded precisely at every seam and corner by a girl bent on fulfilling the obligations of her high office, despite her tender age of eighteen.

To be met with dissent may have proven too much for such a soul to bear. Yet I could not with good conscience support this plan.

Emilie spoke once more. “Rolf, need I remind you of all that our kingdom stands to gain should we capture these mines?”

She did not.

The success of this operation had far-reaching consequences for this kingdom’s war strategy going forward—that, in itself, augured much ill.

“We would gain much, true, but I believe that there loom losses greater again,” I reasoned. “Godrika offers us only silver, my Lady—nothing else.”

“I’m fully aware. But ‘tis the sheer bounty of the silver itself that is more the point, Rolf!”

Londosius ever craves silver, but not for want of filled purses and packed coffers. The metal’s uses are strictly determined and regulated within our borders. So it is that even by digging up vast volumes of this argent commodity, not a speck of it would be tasked to the enrichment of the life of any citizen in this kingdom.

“Silver is a resource most precious to our military pillars, my Lady, one that our kingdom forbids the export of. All that we extract from Godrika goes into meeting the demands of the war effort. Put simply, we stock our store of silver and our armies shall swell along with it.”

Let it be made absolutely clear that Godrika’s depths are deeply engorged in ore deposits. Obtaining this seemingly boundless bounty would likely be nothing short of a historic vicissitude for Londosius, one that would usher in an exponential expansion of its military might.

“Listen, Rolf. Suppose for a moment we capture Godrika, and put silver arms and armour into the hands of all of our officers. You must know just how tremendous of an advantage that avails us in our fight against the Nafílim?”

Emilie’s attempt at persuasion was not without reason or merit. That much silver would surely turn the war heavily in our favour.


“Think of all the comrades-in-arms we can save!” Emilie continued. “And our families! Our loved ones! But more than anything, it brings us so much closer to ending the Nafílim once and for all.”

That was where she strayed.

“Nay, my Lady. Godrika only portends a greater need of gravestones for our comrades.”

“And why’s that!?”

“The battles we bear at present are plenty enough, yet Central seeks to stretch the lines of each of these battlefields all the more. The burdens upon them will weigh heavily and heavier still should we arm and sharpen ourselves further—burdens Central is overeager to heave upon us.”

Gain a greater advantage, and troops will be made to fight ever more ferociously. And the harder they press on, the wider and more bloodsoaked the battlefields will become—the momentum of war is as an avalanche, unrelenting, all-consuming.

“Burden? The only burden I see is the one upon your shoulders,” Emilie countered. “Proof, Rolf! Have you any at all? That Central would be so insatiable!?”

“None, my Lady.” But of course. All I’d spoken of thus far was circumstantial in nature.

“Then why speak against it so!?” yelled Emilie, taken with an unusual bout of anger.

Against such roaring emotions, I did my best to keep calm as I continued on. “Furthermore, I cannot see the need to bring an end to all Nafílim .”


A remark tending slightly towards treason, I admit. After all, Londosius dearly tasks its every sword and sinew towards the annihilation of the Nafílim .

Yet I could not relent.

“My Lady, it betrays reason to expect that we may ever bring about the extinction of any kind.”

“‘Tis precisely why we toil away in our duties, is it not!? That we might usher in some chance to an impossibility?” Emilie rebutted. “Rolf, we have momentum in this war! Were we to stay the path at all costs, then surely the day will come! The day when the war is done at last—and the Nafílim along with it!”

That, right there.

All within this kingdom are taken with this belief—a zeitgeist, binding every beating heart of every living soul within this realm. It is the core of the country, a policy in and of itself, absolute and immutable.

But I was shaken from those shackles.

The Battle of Erbelde.

I had fought her then, that child Nafíl. As we measured blades together within the Nafílim encampment, my own heart began to beat to a different belief.

She, too, gambled all and more in that battle.

But why?

She stood steadfast upon that battlefield, her life wasting on with every wager and every peril faced, while her own heart blazed with a desperation most dear—such was what I gleaned from her as she frantically flourished those daggers of hers.

A soul that readily risks everything to protect something—could such a soul truly be evil?

I could not know. Not then. Not now.

But what I did know was that to be “done” with the Nafílim was folly most foul. That genocide would see this conflict to its proper end was something I could not accept.

“‘Tis naught but a path of pure carnage you would have us walk, my Lady.”

“You speak nonsense, Rolf!”

By this point, Emilie was all but boiling and livid. What’s done is done, as they say, thus at risk of fanning her flames further, I ventured forth in voicing yet one more reason to this unreasonable conversation.

“Moreover, I cannot abet the soundness of this operation, if it executes on grounds that the threat within the mines is thinned.”

“Threat? Threat, Rolf? ‘Twas none other than you who came up with the calculations for measuring such threats!”

Indeed, it was.

Threat levels: separate a given theatre of operations into a set of distinct areas, and thereafter calculate the perceived danger based on the observed number of hostiles present within each.

This was what I recommended to her previously, and to this day was a method yet employed. In fact, it was by these very same means that the threat levels within Godrika were determined to be in decline. One could even say that it was by my own hands that this operation came to be in the first place, however directly or otherwise.

But the numbers written in the manual whispered to me of a somewhat… “unusual” stir within the mines.

“I believe the behemót may have vacated themselves rather too asudden. Why this came to be bears much needed consideration and scrutiny,” I explained.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that, as an example, a menace of a behemá may have made itself home in the mines, and by its ruthless nature, has been weeding out its weaker kin.”

“What’s this? A ‘menace of a behemá’, you say? Your fancies have taken a flight too far, Rolf!”

Emilie may have been right. I merely wished to elucidate any and all potential risks, but in my wanton efforts, I may have seemed overmuch the feeble-witted fowl pecking at too large a ground for too meagre a meal.

“Perhaps they have, my Lady. Perhaps there is no such specimen. But just as well, it simply may be that our scouts have not discovered it as of yet.”

To this, Emilie deeply sighed—likely an attempt at calming her own errant emotions.

“Rolf. I understand well that your place here may become all the more perilous should we avail our armouries with more silver. But I’m the mareschal of this Order now. Much injury and injustice it has done you, I know. Yet with me as its commander, I’ll make certain that you’ll not be ailed by such abuse any longer.”

Her words were as resolute as her unwavering gaze upon my own.

“I am ever and always your ally, Rolf,” Emilie went on. “But just as I would give my all for you, I need you to do the same for me—to think upon yourself, of what it means to be a knight, of why we fight with so much desperation. Won’t you do this for me?”

Knighthood—my dearest ambition.

What is a knight, really?

For what, and for whom do we fight?

Had I known the answers to such, would I have long been a knight myself? A man worthy of respect? Perhaps not to the same measure as Emilie, of course, but at the very least, someone to whom any soul would be glad to treat with a tinge of regard?

Certainly, no man could hope to be knighted were he to voice overmuch his dissent towards the will of the Order, or to nurture within himself the notion that his own beliefs were more righteous again than the Order’s own.


What is to be said of an Order that is so quick to quell a man’s wish to live virtuously? Does a man not choose to don his armour and defend his fealty that he may be as honourable a soul as his lot would allow? I could not for the life of me make myself an abettor of this operation, not for as long as I spied within its success the temptation to let loose the leashes upon Londosius’ lions of war.

The moment I knew myself to be ungraced was the moment I resolved to never be constrained by cowardice. This, I had sworn upon my very heart.

A man who becomes a knight by betraying his own constancy for his own convenience, who but wavers when his better wits beg him to be unwavering—such a man, to me, is no knight.

And that was exactly why I could not put upon my lips the words that Emilie so wanted to hear.

“Even still, my Lady. I am opposed to this operation,” I reasserted.

At once, all hale was sapped from Emilie’s face. And after a lamenting sigh, she spoke these next words.

“Rolf. This is what the Order itself has decided upon. Such strategic matters shall neither heed nor abide dissent from a mere swain.”

“…My apologies, Mareschal.”

With that, I resumed my chores. For her part, Emilie leant back deeply into her leather chair and turned up to the ceiling, eyes brought to a full close.

The compromises we make.

The compromises we forsake.

Those who are changed.

Those who are yet the same.

No boy or girl can remain so coddled in the cradle forever. Such a doubtless and unspotted truth this was, but for the fool who could neither accept it nor ever let go of the treasures of his childhood, what could he do?

Naught but stay silent and keep cleaning that cold room.





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