SKY – Chapter 8
“It’s sad to think that we’ll probably never see our homes again,” Vayling said.
“Yeah, but hey, we’ll get to see what the capital is like,” Hleis replied.
“Unless we grow old and die before that! This ship moves so slowly that it’ll take us weeks to get there!” Vayling said.
“Well, it’s carrying our entire town’s population and the capital is quite far away. It’s a nice change of pace since we’re travelling through friendly skies. We get to see other parts of the kingdom that we would never have gotten the chance to before,” Traer said.
“Traer, do you think the mastigs would have returned to West-Hail? Did we really need to evacuate?” Hleis asked.
Traer responded, “Yes, from what I’ve read in manuals and history books, mastigs always return with a vengeance when an alpha is slain. Armies and soldiers can kill an alpha, but it comes at the cost of their base months later.”
“Though, that’s really something impressive you did Hleis, killing an alpha. What will you do from now on? The capital doesn’t need a defense force like ours. We’ll need to find a new occupation when we settle there. You should really consider joining the official military,” Vayling said. “I think I’ll maybe try and open a shop somewhere. Always wanted to own a store…”
“Haha, Hleis, they probably won’t even let you do anything else other than the military. Can you imagine if you became a mechanic like your dad? Everyone would know you as the ship repairman who killed a mastig alpha! The government would never leave you alone!” Traer joked.
“So, Sota, how was your first real battle?” Veindelio asked.
“I could tell it was very stressful from the other soldiers,” she replied.
“You weren’t nervous?” he asked.
“Not really, but maybe I should’ve been… It was my first one I had to fight unsupervised, I didn’t really know what to expect, and the academy and everyone had told me my entire life that we were the best. I don’t know, I guess I was confident enough to not think about dying,” she answered.
“Hmm. You did well, but we’re not invincible. Remember that for future battles and never think that you’re above defeat.”
“Yes sir. Um quick question, I saw the local defense captain fight the alpha with my squad mate. I didn’t think that there would be people outside the capital with that level of strength. Is that common?”
“No, Cruntiq is a special case and a well established warrior, he was far stronger in his youth too, before he used up so much of his vigor on the battlefield. The other one, who dealt the killing blow to the mastig, you said he was your squad mate, what is your impression of him and his team?”
“They’re very skilled. The marksman in my unit was exceptional, clearly very well trained. The shield operator kept her cool and was able to block when needed. They were all fairly experienced despite their age.”
“Yes, that is one of the aspects of life near the outskirts of the kingdom. Random mastig attacks are not infrequent and they grow accustomed to fighting them early on,” Veindelio interrupted. “Please continue, what about the swordsman?”
“Yes, he’s called Hleis. He was the most interesting one of them. I believe he passively uses enhancement magic on himself without realizing it.”
“I saw that. Yes, you are correct. But, from what I saw, he’s also using weight manipulation magic in combination to improve his movement and increase the force of his swings.”
“Is this a common thing to run into? Regular soldiers who can unintentionally use magic?”
“Not common, but not unique. The military recruits them when discovered, as they are valuable assets.”
“Will he get formal training?”
“Not in the style we’re familiar with, just training on efficiency and basic lessons. Often, they develop a unique use of their abilities due to their limited knowledge. It’s best for them not to deviate from that. There’s a certain value in that uniqueness. Cruntiq was probably like that too at one point.”
“I see… One last question, will we be able to see them again?”
With not much to do and not much room to move around, Hleis would spend many hours just watching the skies from the deck. As they got further into the interior of the kingdom, landmasses were sighted more and more frequently. Out on the outskirts, Hleis had never seen another settlement before. He only heard of them from travelers and merchants. The travel time separating each settlement they passed shrunk from days to mere hours. He never just realized how isolated they were in West-Hail.
Other members of the town would also show up on the deck to watch the skies and surroundings as they passed by. Vayling and Hleis would chat to pass the time; often speculating about ways they might be able to hunt some of the beasts that flew by. Maltii would recognize many of the species from her books, and when she didn’t, would carefully watch it and take notes for her records. Traer would sometimes come up and talk to Hleis about some theory he had or some new information he got about the capital that he couldn’t wait to share.
Even Sota would join him at times. They would talk about all sorts of things. Hleis was interested in her upbringing as a mage, while she was interested in how he learned to fight and what life was like outside of the capital.
It was near twilight when an unfamiliar silhouette flew past far in the horizon.
“Did you see that?” Hleis asked Sota. “Are beasts that size common near Center-Storm?”
“I saw it, but I’ve never seen that shape before though, and no, typically the size stays consistent across the kingdom since the climate doesn’t really change depending on where you are,” she replied.
“So that’s an abnormally massive beast?” Hleis said. “I didn’t think they could grow that big.”
“Haha you know what it could be, it could be one of those creatures they say in those ancient legends. A dragon!” said Sota.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“You’ve never heard of dragons before? Really? They’re recorded in all the ancient books and myths.”
“Nope. We don’t really get ancient books in West-Hail. Maltii may know.”
“Huh, well the ancient books traded to us by the harpies said that in the past, long before humans and mastigs, the dragons were the strongest creatures in existence. One of the stories even says that the mastigs only appeared after the dragons disappeared.”
“Did the legend say where they went?” he asked.
“They said they came from another realm and may have returned or died off, but who knows, it’s all just legends anyways.”
“That’s interesting though, harpy traders did stop by West-Hail once, but they never mentioned any of this or sold us any books. Apparently their kingdom is really far away. It’s also supposed to be so large that the mastigs don’t even attack it.”
“Yeah, I would like to see it one day. They trade us a lot of books and other artifacts. There’s a massive library and museum in Center-Storm that holds a lot of them. I’ll show it to you and the others sometime.”
“Sounds fun, it’d be nice to learn about these things.”
Center-Storm was enormous, high castle walls that stretched further than the eye could see, blocking off any view of the horizon or sky behind it. It was a city that wasted no space; occupying the entire size of the continent-sized landmass it was build on atop of. Countless islands, all with their own settlements, surrounded it with an unending stream of vehicles that travelled between them and the capital.
They docked at a massive port and were greeted by a procession of armored guards. This wasn’t a military port, but their ship was met by the military. The soldiers showed a great deal of respect to Cruntiq and Veindelio as they led their people off the ship and onto transports meant to take them to their new homes in Center-Storm.
From the transports, Hleis could see the capital from above, where the differences between each district were distinctly noticeable. He could see where one part of the city ended and another began. Every now and then Hleis could see down into the poorly lit maze of suspended streets and bridges that littered the residential areas and the layers of human settlement below, settlements that were continuously abandoned and built on top of over the centuries.
The natives of Center-Storm explained to the people of West-Hail how the city was founded almost four thousand years ago. Before it was the capital, it was the second most powerful amongst the human city-states. When the mastigs first attacked, Center-Storm was able to survive destruction and consolidate the remaining states under the banners of the greatest warriors of the time to form a unified military force. Eventually this military force became what was known as the CloudStock Kingdom, and its leader became the fabled king of legends.
Sota explained to Hleis that over time, as the war escalated, more and more settlements began to retreat to the capital and set up their own districts in the city, often being the last remnants of other fallen settlements, turning Center-Storm into a collage of forgotten towns. West-Hail would be the next of many groups to settle like this. They would be assigned an area when they could rebuild their town and add their own legacy to the layers of Center-Storm’s history.
“I have never worn clothes this…pricey before,” Hleis said. “Is this really necessary for a dinner?”
“They look good on you though,” Sota replied. “And yes, we’re being invited by a lieutenant general of the kingdom. That’s a great honor you know!”
“Hey, think of it this way. We just got a free pair of fancy clothes,” Traer said.
“You know what? We’ve been here for a week yet I still can’t seem to understand how a place like this exists. How is there so much stuff built here? People haven’t lived in the lowest levels in centuries right?” Hleis asked.
“Well, there are a lot of people and people want to build their own things when they arrive, so it just keeps on adding up. Most of these buildings have lasted longer than the people who made them,” Sota said.
“We’ve just got to get used to it. Still, I never thought four months ago that we’d be flying through the capital on a luxury transport to have dinner with such a high ranking official,” Traer said. “I never knew Cruntiq had connections this deep, and that they’d ask us to come.”
“It’s no surprise,” Sota replied. “You are future leaders of your community. Hleis fought alongside your captain and my captain to kill a mastig alpha. He even delivered the finishing blow. That is a major accomplishment for any warrior. Who knows, he might even get a medal!”
“Haha I hope not. I’m exhausted. I’ve heard nothing but praises all week…” Hleis replied. “I wonder what this banquet is going to be about though? Doesn’t seem right to host something this size only to celebrate our arrival right?”
“Guess we’ll find out,” Traer said.
“It’s not that weird of an occasion,” Sota replied.
The food was abundant and extravagant. Dishes Hleis had never seen before stretched across his table. He was sitting with several other prominent members of the town including Traer. Several tables over, he saw Sota sitting with a large group of mages. Near them, Cruntiq was sat with Veindelio, the mayor of West-Hail and several people he did not recognize. Hleis could only guess who they were. Probably high-ranking members of Center-Storm’s military he reckoned.
It was almost two hours into the dinner party when one of the people at Cruntiq’s table stood up and addressed the room. “Thank you everyone for coming. I hope you all enjoyed this celebration of the amazing things you accomplished at West-Hail, to prevail against such odds goes far beyond expectations and reason. It’s unfortunate that your homes had to be abandoned, but your people are surely worth preserving.”
This man was fairly old; he looked around the same age as Cruntiq. Throughout the night he and Cruntiq would be seen talking to one another. It seemed like they knew each other.
“We have something to announce to everyone here. The town of West-Hail, and the CloudStock military, has agreed upon terms, to transform the West-Hail defense force into an independent army under the leadership of Cruntiq. In exchange for your service, the district of West-Hail will be given additional land designations and rewards.”
The mayor stood up said, “This will all be voluntary of course, but we have recently proven our strength to the capital and they want us to be involved with the war effort. We have been given a wonderful opportunity to help our families and community as well as serve our kingdom.”
“Furthermore, your army will be well supplied. You will have capital funding and training resources available to you and are free to recruit as needed,” the lieutenant general said.
The party had died down after the announcement; it was pretty late for the denizens of West-Hail. They had all returned to their homes to ponder things over and inform their families. The lieutenant general and Veindelio met on the balcony of the venue, overlooking the endless city lights at night from the high vantage point of the city center.
“So, what are your thoughts?” the lieutenant general asked.
“Its amazing that they got through the predicament they were in. I won’t say it was easy, but I definitely don’t think they were pushed to their real limits,” Veindelio replied.
“That’s Cruntiq for you. Truly exceptional. Not only is he strong, he also simplifies things for his soldiers, trains them to focus on what they need to focus on and nothing else.”
“They far exceeded what we originally needed from them… The first step went unexpectedly, but they meet the requirements. Will we initiate next steps?”
“It’s almost certain that we do. We can’t waste an opportunity like this one. Let’s schedule a meeting with high command.”