Ferum Republic – Chapter 1.1: The Best Laid Plans1st March 201710th March 2018Iron Wolf

Ranford Castle – Dourans Province

Year 1844

A few specks of light rain peppered his cheeks as the clouds above him groaned with the sound of building thunder. General Belethor Vorn pressed onward, keeping low as the occasional bullet hissed overhead as it strayed close. Either side, his men followed suit and pushed onward up the slope, seeking the advantage of a better line of sight as they advanced towards the source of the gunfire. The shelter of the tree line, and their forward siege bastion, lay behind them as they pressed on through the initial rocky and uneven land. The terrain beyond was mostly flat, save for the occasional shallow rise here and there between them and their target. Outcrops of rock bordered what had become a no-man’s-land, with the intimidating presence of the castle ahead. A soldier just ahead to his left slipped as a bullet impact struck the rocks close to him. Vorn altered direction slightly as he pushed onward, his breath now sounding heavy in his chest as grabbed hold of the soldier’s elbow and hauled the man back to his feet.

“Keep moving, soldier,” said Vorn. “Get to the top.” The soldier gave a short nod of thanks or acknowledgement. He was not sure which. Vorn followed the rest of the team up the hill.

“General,” came a voice just behind him. He ducked lower as he paused in his advance and turned to his adjutant lieutenant. He was pointing toward the castle… no, towards the ranks of troops in open field. His troops.

“What the hells are they playing at, getting in that deep?” He gestured for his lieutenant, a man named Olveri Ferraman, to come closer as he laid low, though they were still out of effective range of their rifles. Ferraman dropped beside him, his back turned presenting his backpack vox radio. Ferraman wore a headset and microphone on a boom attached the radio in the pack. The back of the pack held a second microphone receiver handset that could be used by a second person. Vorn unbuckled the handset and brought it to his ear, pushing the stud on the side that activated the device. Ferraman had already selected the short range frequency his regiment was using.

“Vorn to all companies, do not advance beyond the line of skirmish.” There was no reply. “I repeat, this is General Vorn. You’re pushing too deep. All companies return to skirmish line.” A crackle of static filled the speaker pressed to his ear which carried fragments of words. The thunder rolled overhead again, making the static worse briefly.

“Rot it all,” cursed Vorn as he strapped the handpiece back to the pack.

“Interference from the weather, sir,” said Ferraman. “It comes and goes.” Vorn grimaced and pushed himself back to his feet, cursing the misfortune this siege had faced up until now. He soon reached the top of the rise, his men spread out along the rocks and rubble. They were taking steady aimed shots toward the enemy dugout along the castle wall. He looked along the advancing line of men in the field as they boldly pushed forward, heedless of his instructions. Their officers likely emboldened by the apparent diminished resistance from the castle defences. Gunfire from the dugouts was almost half as intense in this push as it was in the last push yesterday afternoon. They had inflicted a heavy toll, though their own casualties were substantial. Not to mention an accident, caused by mishandling of a powder keg in their first assault yesterday morning, inflicting large casualties among the artillery crews and damaging most of their howitzer cannons. An entire sixteen piece battalion of artillery had been out of commission before they could bring the full force of it to bear.

General Vorn squinted as the wind built a little and whipped the red horsehair plumage of his silver and bronze helmet around. He surveyed the field ahead and the enemy disposition. A rumbling built to their right, a different kind than from the thunder overhead, as Vorn’s landships had circled back around again. Clad in heavy iron and a short barreled rotating cannon turret on top, they belched steam and smoke from their boilers as they entered the field. Their efforts co-ordinated with the horseback cavalry on the left flank. Ferum soldiers riding fully armoured warhorses, and armed with gas propelled grenade launchers, began their harrying raids at the other side of the field. The launchers they carried fired a small timed-fuse grenade designed to stick to enemy tanks. The horses were more maneuverable than the enemy landships of the Delphari State, and proved to be an effective strategy throughout the siege. The Ferum landships’ cannons thundered one after the other as they drove into the field on their treaded tracks, each one wheeling away after hitting their target, or as close as they could get to it. An older design, they were more like mobile mortars and less accurate due to the shortness of the barrel. Either way they served to punish the line of dugouts along the base of the castle wall, keeping enemy troops heads down as the cavalry charged in close from the other side of the field. The two remaining Delphari landships along the dugout line turned to bring their guns to bear on the Ferum landships. The other two at the gate further to the left did not and, instead, turned to face the charging cavalry. In the last assault yesterday morning, Vorn had employed this tactic to great effect. The Delphari’s newer landships favoured accuracy with their longer barrels. This came at a cost of the barrel being fixed to the superstructure of the tank, meaning the driver also had to aim the cannon for the gunner. Also the lack of a rifle attachment to deal with close in troops, like their own tanks, made them easy prey for his cavalry grenadiers. When they turned their attention to the Ferum landships, they left themselves exposed to a charge on horseback. The end result being the Delphari had lost the majority of their landships guarding the walls either side of the castle. For every two or three they had removed from the field, however, Vorn’s forces had lost one.

The troops in the field surged forward, taking advantage of the momentarily reduced fire from the dugouts. Along the walls of the castle, the occasional muzzle flash of a rifle answered their advance. Vorn was angry at his field officers for disregarding their plan, eager for glory in battle. Though he had to admit they had wounded the Delphari more than they had realized. This could be the moment they breach the gate, and the cavalry seemed set to clear the way with ease.

“Fine,” he said to himself as he withdrew his pistol from the underarm holster strapped over his breastplate. He pulled the bolt back to chamber a round from the magazine. “Prepare to push forward!” His soldiers lifted themselves off the ground at the order. To his side, Ferraman was holding his headset close to his ear while adjusting the frequency with his other free hand, searching for a clear signal. Vorn followed his men down the slope as the landships to their right flank opened up with a second barrage. Several shells struck in and around the dugouts. His squad came onto level ground, clear of the rocky terrain, and redoubled their efforts to gain ground behind their advancing force already halfway across the open field. The Delphari landships answered the Ferum as the two along the wall took a shot each. One flew a little wide of the target, landing in the space between the two and kicked up a blast of wet earth. The other struck the flank of one of the Ferum landship as it began its turn away from the castle. The side of the armoured tank was rocked by a powerful explosion.

The Ferum landship quickly ground to a halt as the left track jammed. The tank let out a hiss as steam gushed from somewhere between the large central wheel and the body itself. Vorn heard a heavy clunk echo from within the tank’s body, even over the sounds of his own men’s rifles, and the landship wheeled further around to the left as the gearing on the track seized. The hatch on the top of the turret flew open and a crewman hauled himself out in a panic as the terrible sounding groan of metal giving way rose from deep within the iron behemoth. He cleared the hatch and turned to reached back down inside, then pulled away with a scream as a bellowing cloud of steam enveloped the vehicle. The crewman flung himself clear as the boiler exploded and rolled along the floor. A group of nearby soldiers bringing up the rear scrambled for cover as the boiler blew a second later. The blast sent thick black smoke and steam up into the air as the landship split open at the rear. A section of track split as a wheel broke off and was hurled to the side, tumbling along the ground. The cloud of steam drifted with the building wind and dissipated quickly, replaced by thick black smoke as a fire built in the hulled out belly of the dead landship, hungrily devouring it.

“I have a report from the 14th!” Ferraman shouted over the rising sound of gunfire. The 14th Regiment, known as the ‘Great Dukes’, were under the command Lieutenant Colonel Harran Methios and were tasked with assaulting the opposite side of the castle wall alongside the 47th ‘Red Tails’ Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Riktor Arnecastle. “Four of his landships are still in the fight, three pulled back for repairs and two destroyed.” Vorn grimaced at the news. He only had five left on his front as it was, two of the stubborn beasts reportedly broken down as their assault began and barely made it out of the staging point. It would have to be enough. Vorn glanced to the left flank as they pressed forward in the wake of the charging forward units. The landships by the gate had pulled out to intercept the cavalry charge. It was a futile gesture as their fixed cannons thundered in an attempt to scatter their enemy. His riders were too disciplined to be intimidated, too well trained to let a slow and cumbersome tank line up the perfect shot. The horses were trained for war and used to explosions and gunshot, and not easily spooked. The distance closed quickly. And there was smoke rising in the distance… Vorn noticed them smoke rising from what seemed to be behind the walls of the castle, close to the main gate. Or was it behind? He was unable to tell from his vantage point in the field.

The hiss of a passing bullet, then another drove Vorn and his team back to the ground. The dugout gunners had recovered little enough courage to take snapshots over the earthworks. Vorn’s troops, and those further into the field, took prone firing positions and returned fire with neat discipline. Somewhere ahead he saw several of his own men, to slow to react to the danger, drop limp to the ground before the next Ferum landship barrage opened up and drove the Delphari soldiers behind cover once more. They were, again, answered by return fire from the reloaded Delphari tanks, each one landing a close shot but ultimately his landships were spared any damage. Vorn returned to his crouching run along with his men and noticed a large smoking crater had been torn in the trench wall. Delphari troops were scattering from the destruction and at least two were struck by fire from the forward Ferum line. An explosion near the gate signaled the destruction of one of the Delphari landships. A large cloud of steam blew upward from the centre of the blast. The cavalry riders were circling back around to the rear of the last remaining landship by the gate, which struggled to turn to meet them. It was all but a forgone conclusion now. The sound of gunfire intensified ahead of them. Panic fire from the enemy?

“Down!” Came the command from the sergeant, his voice panicked and urgent. Vorn barely had time to look around before he felt something heavy slam into him from his right. He crashed to the damp, lumpy ground and felt the air rush from his lungs. “Stay down!” Came another shout as the sound of gunfire increased. The heavy weight rolled off him and Vorn recognised it as one of his soldiers. A corporal… named Yougen, he thought. The corporal gave him a quick nod, checking his commander was unharmed as a wave of bullet impacts stitched their way across the grass behind them.

“Gatling guns, sir!” said the corporal. The impacts moved further away. Vorn lifted up a little and looked around. His team were prone, a couple of them riddled with multiple bullet impacts. Their uniforms were soaked in crimson. Ahead of them he saw his soldiers in a panic, scattering out along the field or simply ducking for cover as lines of glowing hot bullets ripped through their ranks. Men fell to the ground, alive, dead and badly wounded alike. As the wave of bullets passed on some took firing positions and emptied their magazines up to the walls of the castle. Vorn followed their aim and saw several gatling guns set up along the wall.

Where… Vorn saw more men cut down as they tried to form a firing line in retaliation. Others gave to flight and began to pull back, their captains attempting to form some kind of order. The ones not dead, at least. Vorn rose up to a knee and turned toward the gate. The remaining Delphari landship was still unharmed and turned toward the field, pulling further away from the main gates. Dead bodies and horses alike were scattered around the ground close to it. Bullet impacts spread through the remaining cavalry who were racing away in an attempt to get clear of the wall. Everyone was too deep in range of the gatling guns. More cavalry riders fell from their mounts by the second as the deadly hail of fire disgorged from the battlements. The main gate was drawn open quickly and a Delphari landship emerged. Then another, and another right behind it. More pulled through the gate, every other one turning around to head behind the castle walls into the field of battle on the other side. The rest began to spread out into the field, between the advancing Ferum lines and the Delphari trenches and formed a wide firing line as the Ferum landships began their turn back to firing range.

They would have no chance, thought Vorn grimly.

“Fall back to the treeline!” Shouted Vorn. His men started pulling themselves off the ground and turned to run for the rocky ground and the trees beyond. He did a quick count of the enemy landships before turning with them.

Three new, up to six now.

And still, they rolled out. Vorn spat a curse as he turned back and ran back the way they came. Ferraman ran alongside, keeping low as lines of bullets strafed the field around them. Behind them, Ferum troops were cut down like so much wheat as the gun emplacements scythed through them. Others made a panicked retreat, desperate to get out of range of the gatling guns. The Delphari landships now on the field opened up in quick succession, the hollow boom echoing over the field of battle. The Ferum landships had already begun evasive actions. Some shells flew wide of their mark and blasted craters in the ground. One Ferum landship was struck by two separate impacts, one after another. The crew had no time to even evacuate as the armour was ripped open by the second shell and the tank was instantly immolated. Vorn put his head down as stray bullets hissed in the air overhead, and ran.

Vorn cleared the last of the rocky ground, his men in tow, as their rear line troops formed up along the edge of the forest ahead. The treeline was dotted with constructions of logs and sandbags forming a forward staging area for their siege. This part of the forest line was uphill of the field and gave a clearer view of the approach to the castle walls, and the slaughter on the battlefield. That much was evident as he drew near enough to see the faces of the soldiers arrayed along the makeshift defensive wall, where they had a good view of their fellow soldiers mowed down by the gatling guns.

Corpsmen rushed forward from the bastion carrying stretchers and satchels with field dressing and other medical implements. High above the rain continued to pour from clouds the colour of dull lead. Vorn stopped short of the wooden palisades and turned around to take stock of his returning force. Less than half of his charge had made it back alive, and almost half of those were wounded to one degree of severity or another. He looked beyond, back to the walls of Castle Ranford, and saw the Delphari landships trundling along the dugouts, taking positions along the fortifications.

Nine… General Vorn thought to himself grimly. We bloody had them down to three, now this. The enemy commander, a General Ilphett according to intelligence reports, was putting up a cunning and formidable defence against the Ferum military assault. They had intentionally concealed the number of landships they had garrisoned at the castle, as well as their gatling guns, presenting themselves as a weaker target than they actually were.

The towers along the walls had recently ceased disgorging the devastating hail of bullets from the newly uncovered gatling gun emplacements. The land between their forward bastion and the castle’s outer walls was a churned field of bodies and clods of bloodstained grass. Four of his landships sat as carcasses, two of them still burning. The surviving two had pulled back to their own staging point along the road that emerged from the western tree line. A few stray cavalry horses thundered along the field, their riders long dead behind them.

“Status of the 14th’s line?” Vorn barked at Lieutenant Ferraman. He relayed the request for status update in code. He had barely begun when Vorn spoke over him again with further orders. “Then have him impose a full withdrawal before he answers, if he has not already.” Continuing to issue the first order, Lieutenant Ferraman nodded his understanding to the general. With luck, his own forces had not charged too close, and perhaps some of the landships assigned to them were still intact. Not that it mattered, given the lack of artillery support to soften the outer defences. Vorn was not even sure they could breach the walls now if the 14th regiment had lost their own landships as well. Another young soldier on Vorn’s personal staff approached quickly with a horse for the general. Vorn spared another look toward the castle as he took hold of the reigns. “Why aren’t they pressing their attack?” He wondered out loud.

“General,” Ferraman said to his side. “The 14th and 47th are in full retreat also. Enemy landship count was down to two before the reinforcements, now eight in total. Lieutenant Colonel Methios reports two of his landships still intact. Four destroyed, three out of action for the day at least.”

“Blood and ash!” Vorn cursed. “Have them re-deploy their forward posting deeper into the trees and adopt a defensive posture while they lick their wounds. We all have wounds to lick. Then have Colonel Hernstridge begin forming a defensive retreat of our own. I want all troops reformed and ready to pull back to the rear camp within the half-hour.” Vorn hauled himself up onto his warhorse, took one look out across the battlefield, then turned his steed to make for the bastion.

“Sir, Colonel Hernstridge is dead.” Vorn turned back to Ferraman, grim disbelief on his face. Colonel Selven Hernstridge was the brigade commander, and commander of the 11th regiment, and had served with Vorn for over ten years. “Major Yvos was also killed in the first push,” Ferraman reminded Vorn. The major was Colonel Hernstridge’s second in command of the 11th. Vorn sat silent on his horse as the sound of rain rang against his plate armour as the rumblings of thunder rolled over the valley. Vorn paused a moment as he looked upward at the deep grey cloud covering.

“When the heavens open to receive the amassed dead of the wars of man, the Seraphym shall welcome them warmly as they weep at our folly.”

Vorn recited the passage from the Scripture of Dusk under his breath. The rain seemed to fall harder, as if in answer. The thunder bellowed louder, sounding long and mournful. Did it ever actually stop? Vorn, once more, turned his head to the sky, squinting against the raindrops striking his face.

Thunder… that droning noise…

Vorn looked back to his lieutenant once more, thinking his next order through. Ferraman’s face was locked in deep concentration as he pushed the vox headset firmly to his ears, cupping the speaker with both hands against the growing noise of heavy rain and the thunderous drone from the clouds above. Vorn waited a moment longer, sensing a change in fortunes. For better, or much worse, he was not yet sure. Ferraman locked eyes with the general as a wide smile crossed his face.

“Confirmed, stand by!” Ferraman released the activation stud on the side of the headset’s microphone boom. “Sir, you won’t believe this. I have contact with the ValHearan. They say they are ready to assist on your orders!” Vorn turned his head to the sky once more. Without turning away from the clouds above he issued the order to Ferraman.

“Have them join us directly,” he began. Ferraman began issuing the order as Vorn continued. “Relay target locations, I want those battlements brought down first then have them begin thinning out the landships on both flanks. Also inform the 14th and the 47th to reform their line for another push.” He gripped his warhorse’s reins tighter as it now became restless as he turned back to face the castle. The drone overhead steadily changed tone and grew to a deeper thrum. “Turn your eyes to the sky, my brothers of iron!” Vorn shouted across the last of the retreating lines of men, as well as those at the bastion walls. The retreating men stumbled around, their heads directed skyward.

The thick cloud layer seemed to bulge downward before slowly parting to reveal the brass and steel hull of the ValHearan airship. At almost 200 meters long, the ValHearan was one of only three such airships in service to the Ferum military air corps. The gas bladder was contained within an armoured hull decorated with ornate plates of brass. Either side of the prow section was adorned with the Ferum Republic Military coat of arms embossed in the armour plates in silver and gold relief. Along the centre line either side of the hull were large housings, which rotated on huge gears, containing dual-linked contraflow propellers that controlled pitch and altitude. A long gondola was slung below the hull, dotted with running lights winking green and red in the gloom. Gun housings in rotating cupolas were mounted to the side, several of which were short barreled howitzer cannons decorated with bronze mouldings representing the folded wings of an eagle. Other sponsons rotated into firing positions, bringing their 8-barrel rotary guns to bear to the ground below them.

The ValHearan’s bulk pushed its way through the gloom of the cloud layer above like its namesake avenging Seraphym of Ferum’s old legends. A promise of death for their enemies dispatched from on high. General Vorn reached over to this enquiry and took hold of the secondary vox handset, bringing it to his lips while pressing the activation stud.

“ValHearan,” he began, reciting from the scrolls engraved in his own memory. “Take up your sword, forged from the iron of the sky, and thrust it deep into the earth!”

Seconds later there was an answer from high above, the terrible blare of the airship’s warhorn followed by a fierce salvo from the gun emplacements. Thunder boomed in the sky once more, accompanied by the lightning flashes of cannon fire as the howitzers unleashed their fury one after another. The hills and forest around them echoed once more with the renewed sounds of war. The shells from the ValHearan rained down on the fortress and the surrounding land, sending rock and mud flying in all directions. The effect was swift and merciless, and soldiers along the enemy dugout scrambled for cover as bullets rained down from the rotary guns high above. Plumes of black steam billowed from the exhausts of the landships which broke from the safety of their nests in a panic, eager now to present the looming airship with as hard a target as possible. General Vorn rode his horse to the front of the reforming rank of soldiers, every man cheering to the sky. He pushed the stud on the vox handset once more, issuing the order to the 14th to begin their assault before handing it back to his lieutenant. He once more retrieved his pistol from the under-arm holster.

“All remaining cavalry grenadiers to the left flank,” he yelled to his own men, now hastily forming a proper battle rank. Understrength units formed together under the direction of their sergeants, rifles were checked, runners recovered replenishment ordinance from the bastion’s stores. “Ride in after the gun on the west tower are silent, target the landship nearest the main gate! Second wave to assault the trenches ahead, get in their lines once the artillery stops! Ferraman, inform our landships sit this out and continue their repairs.” More thunder rolled overhead between the rappid report of gattling gun fire. The enemy along the dugouts below the walls continued to scramble for cover as bullets rained on their position from above. Almost one after the other, two Delphari landships were reduced to torn metal by direct shots from above. The ValHearan gun crews began to get their eye in, the shells becoming more accurate. The first of their targets to be hit directly, a tower in the south-west corner, became a shower of shattered stonework as bodies were hurled over the wall. The cloud of dust flashed rapidly as bullet containers cooked off in the explosion and the gatling gun was reduced to a pile of chewed-up metal.

“Tower is clear!” Announced General Vorn as he dug his heels into his horse. His steed reared and launched itself forward. “All cavalry charge!”

Four hours later, General Vorn stood atop a mound of rubble by the main gates where the left tower had partially collapsed in their breach. He stood looking out beyond the ruined gate into the field where too much blood had been spilled. The battle was now over. They had won. The very taste of the word turned sour in his mouth before he could even utter it. In the large main courtyard behind him the dead were being organised by the brigade’s corpsmen. Vorn had observed the grim ritual for the first ten minutes before having to find other things to occupy his mind. Even here, assessing the repairs that would be needed to secure the castle walls once more, he could not escape the scenes of death. Rain continued to pour, and the gentle thrumming of the ValHearan’s engines filled the air. It circled the fields slow like a huge metal carrion bird.

“Ferraman,” Vorn spoke as he unclasped his helm. His adjutant was at his side in moments and took the helm from him. The air was muted all around, save for the sergeants occasionally issuing orders to their men. Refortification was underway as much as seeing to the dead, the prisoners and salvaging enemy and allied equipment alike. Everyone went about their work with a solemn yet methodical quiet. Vorn felt the steady flow of rain on his head, his short greying hair now matted to his head with sweat. He ran his hand through his hair several times leaving it tousled and unkempt looking, content to let the rain wash it back down. Finally, he turned to Ferraman once more.

“How long before the engineers get here? I want this gate secured quickly.”

“Yes sir, the rain and mud has made it difficult for them to move their heavier equipment. They should be here shortly sir.”

“I see.” Vorn turned back to the courtyard and the rows of dead Ferrum soldiers being laid out in bundling bags, not yet sewn shut as they were ready for identification by the regimental quartermasters. There was no sign of the Delphari dead that had filled this area not too long ago, though bodies were being cleared out from further in the fortress itself. They were being carried out beyond the wall, no doubt piled up in the field. Not far away, the surviving Delphari soldiers were being lined up and made to kneel in rows facing the wall. Vorn assumed the transport wagons for the prisoners would be here at a similar pace to the engineers. Above the outer courtyard the Delphari flag was finally cut from the flagpole. Vorn watched it tumble to the floor, the cloth folding over itself as it landed in the mud below. The eager soldiers that did the deed quickly secured the flag of the Ferum Republic to the cord and ran it up to full height. the flag caught the wind and unfurled quickly. With all that was happening below, the moment seemed to pass without remark or cheer from any of the Ferum soldiers. Vorn looked back to the work at hand and, after a moment’s pause, turned to Ferraman.

“I want a full list of our dead once completed,” he said. “Wait here for the engineers and see they get started immediately. I want the gateway repaired and fortified before nightfall.” Vorn marched from the rubble of the wall and headed for the interior of the main fortress.

He entered the door of the main barracks building through the assembly hall doors. Ferum soldiers stood in a rank at guard over another mass of kneeling prisoners. Their hands were bound in front of them and tied together in lines of ten. Around a dozen officers had been removed from the ranks of soldiers, including the garrison commander, and quartered in an adjacent office under guard. Vorn continued on through the room, sparing little more than a glance at his kneeling enemies. He would present himself to the garrison commander in due time. Vorn headed through a hallway leading deeper into the inner fortress, his route following the activity of medical staff and stretcher bearers moving along the halls carrying the injured to the makeshift field hospital. He had visited the fortress once before, though only for a few days and that was some years before the war broke out. If his memory served him, ahead was a small complex of training rooms. Their post-battle plan of operation had been to set up the surgery there in order to tend to their wounded. Just beyond would be an inner courtyard and the command building. His new office.

He found his way to the training complex which comprised of a series of large adjoining rooms. The doors along the hallway had been propped open and the sound of wounded soldiers grew louder the closer he came. He passed by, keeping clear of stretcher bearers making their way in and out, and continued to follow his mental map of the castle. He quickly and easily found his way to the courtyard beyond. Vorn stepped into the yard and was greeted by another scene of death. A fierce pitched battle had taken place here in the push to secure the garrison commander and his staff. Bodies from both sides still awaited removal. A great many bullet holes left crisscrossing lines of small craters along the walls. Dried blood stained various patches of brickwork as well as the ground beneath his feet where no doubt grievously wounded soldiers had already been removed for medical attention. There were only two other soldiers in the yard, moving along the bodies slowly, attending to the grim duty of identifying the dead. Vorn’s fists clenched tight enough to dig his nails into his palms. He slowly circled the yard, and stopped at the first body he came to. His uniform was drenched in crimson and his face was a death mask of shocked surprise. He checked the name tag.

Salvek. Vorn left the tag for the soldiers still making records and stood straight. I’m sorry, Salvek. The name was not familiar to Vorn, all the same, this was a young man under his command. He walked past after a moment’s pause as several more stretcher bearers entered the yard behind him. The next man, much older than Salvek, had seemed to have been caught in a blast. The paving slabs were blown apart into a charred crater, likely from a hand grenade.

Estarburg. Again, Vorn owed the man a moment’s unspoken apology before moving to the next in line, practically beside Estaburg. Vorn reached for the tag, lifting the slumped head back. He froze as the lifeless face looked up at him with an eerily calm expression on his face. Vorn felt like he would fall backwards, quickly taking a knee as he held the young man’s face.

Gallarvin… Vorn fought to keep his features stone-like as his own nephew stared back with lifeless eyes. Gods in the stars, Gallarvin. The young man had been struck in the chest by several bullets and his left leg was a burned mess. Vorn lowered his head and clenched his teeth. He wanted to scream, and cry. He needed something heavy to kick over in rage, or to hurl something at the wall and watch it shatter into pieces. He needed to roar in anger until his face and throat burned. His jaw tensed and his throat tightened as he willed strength back to his legs and rose up to his full height. He stepped backward, away from the wall and into the open portion of the courtyard where the rain still fell and did not move for several minutes. The stretcher bearers moved along the path and reached his nephew’s body. Vorn forced himself to turn and head back to the main outer courtyard. There was still too much to do before he was allowed the luxury of personal grief.

The scene unfolding in the main courtyard was one of orderly operation. The engineer corps had arrived and begun their work in earnest as they worked to repair the fallen gates with the help of their mobile steam crane. Not far from the scene was Ferraman, dependable as always in his task as Vorn’s aide. Many of the bodies were being prepared to be moved, the bundling bags being stitched up one by one as carts awaited their grim cargo. Another strong wagon was threading through the sea of activity to join a second identical one already parked along the back wall, close to the prisoners that were awaiting transport. The first of the carriages was already half full as a second rank of ten soldiers were ushered to the back. Their faces were all mixtures of emotions from sullen and defeated to angry and sour glares at their gaolers. Vorn watched the line of men making their way to the rear of the carriage as a flutter of azure blue at their feet caught his eye. He felt his anger well within as he realized what the prisoners were being made to do by the guards that herded them along. The Delphari flag, previously cut from the mast above the courtyard, had been spread out in the dirt between the prisoners and the wagon. They were being made to walk over their own fallen flag, by his own men.

“Hold!” Shouted Vorn from halfway across the courtyard, pointing at the prisoners with his arm outstretched. The rank of prisoners came to a sudden halt as the guards quickly braced their rifles for action, quickly assessing the situation. The corpsmen tending to the dead froze in place briefly, as did the armourers unloading fresh weapons and ammunition from their carriages. Even the sounds of the engineers construction work faltered at the general’s harsh tone before slowly picking back up in volume as work resumed. In the space of a few seconds, Vorn stormed across the yard toward the rank of prisoners. Ferraman departed his posting with the engineers and began making his way to his commander as did several of the officers present overseeing their various duties.

“Step back all of you,” Vorn growled at the Delphari prisoners. The captured soldiers shuffled backward from where they had stopped, just short of their trampled and muddied flag. “Guard, step aside,” ordered Vorn. The guardsman in his path quickly sidestepped the general as he marched through the picket. Ferraman was now several paces behind and followed through. Vorn halted at the fallen flag, bent over and quickly hauled it out of the wet muck. He rolled it up into a rough bundle as he gathered it from the ground and turned to face the line of prisoners briefly, stopping short of an apology for this churlish show of disrespect. Their faces were uncertain, and not a one gave him so much as a nod of gratitude in the couple of seconds before he turned to his own men. He gave the line of guards an even glare, long enough for them to notice it – to feel it – before he walked back through the picket. Censure would come later, and for now they had a job to do which he would not undermine.

“Carry on,” he barked as he passed the opening between the guards. Ferraman followed him out again as Vorn headed towards several junior officers who had gathered. He passed the rolled flag to his aide and addressed the officers directly.

“That display of poor taste will not happen again,” he said quietly, his tone laced heavily with reprimand. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Sir,” came their joint reply. Vorn gave them a quick nod before dismissing them back to their duties, with the exception of Ferraman.

“Sir,” he began carefully. “The 14th’s commander has arrived and is waiting for you.” Ferraman referred to Lieutenant Colonel Methios of the ‘Great Dukes’ regiment.


“By the gate, sir.” Vorn managed to suppress a groan under his breath as Ferraman left to resume overseeing the gate repairs. Methios had taken their conversation’s end as his cue to stride forward with the confident arrogance of a rooster, to say nothing of his almost pristine uniform. Not a feather out of place, Vorn noticed. He almost began walking towards the approaching officer but decided instead he should at least get some mud on his boots, and elected to allow the colonel to come to him. Not even half way across the yard, the Lieutenant Colonel began his pompous oratory.

“This is indeed a day to be remembered,” he began, loud enough to be heard over the engine of crane and the steam hammers now working on the tumbled section of wall around the gate. Vorn kept his face impassive. “This great victory will be long remembered in the annals of the Ferum military. Allow me the honour of congratulating you, General.” Methios, now within reach, offered an outstretched hand to the general. Vorn took it smoothly, his face still a mask of stone, and shook only briefly.

“What of your men?” Vorn enquired. As part of the security plan, the two supporting regiments were tasked with perimeter defence, forming an outer and inner line of dugouts until the fortress itself could be made fully secure. In the confusion of the final push, there was always the outside chance that scores of enemy soldiers, already outside the wall, could have broken through a hole in their advancing line and made a retreat to the forests either side of the fortress. A counter attack was not likely but nothing should be discounted, either. This fortress was hard fought for and dearly bought in Ferum blood. It would not be lost to them a second time. He would not allow it.

“The perimeter is being established,” Methios said as he began removing his leather gloves, plucking one finger loose at a time. “And my men are already deploying to their marked locations, having resupplied from the forward base.” Vorn gave a nod of approval. He may not like the man for the insufferable brown-nose he is, but he was damned efficient in the running of his regiment. As he pulled the first glove free he looked around at shook his head, an approximation of awe on his face.

“The impossible was made possible here today,” he said, injecting as much adoration into his speech as he could. And there, again, was Vorn’s dislike of the man rising to the surface like a bloated corpse in water. “When news of this victory spreads, all of Ferum will rejoice your name, General. You will be lauded as the hero to the people that you are.” Vorn wanted to spit a retort somewhere along the lines of ‘The people can eat rot’ but managed to stifle it as he watched the enemy soldiers being loaded onto more transport wagons. “I am certain that Chancellor General Rouche will be most pleased by this step forward. This success leaves the entire Delphari south-eastern flank exposed for a renewed push.”

The Chancellor can eat rot, too.

“I am sure he will be pleased,” Vorn managed to say as his eyes fell back to the ranks of dead being loaded onto other carts.

“Indeed. I need to return to my second and see the outer line preparations are underway properly. With your leave, General.” Vorn turned and nodded. The colonel snapped off a crisp salute, which Vorn returned, and headed back to the main gate where his staff car was likely idling. Nearby, Ferraman had been keeping a close eye on their exchange awaiting its conclusion. Vorn saw he was clutching an alarming amount of binders, likely containing resupply orders.

“He’s an acquired taste,” came a familiar and morose voice from behind. Vorn turned slowly to the newcomer, who he already knew was Lieutenant Colonel Riktor Arnecastle. Arnecastle stood at just over six foot tall, his hair was trimmed short all around and showed signs of greying along the temples. His face bore the harsh angular features belying his Astavolian heritage. The lieutenant colonel commanded the 47th ‘Red Tails’ regiment which had assisted as backup and support for the 14th under Colonel Methios. Though unlike Methios, Vorn noticed that Arnecastle’s battle dress was in a similar state as his own and showed signs of having led the fight from the front. “I am sure he means well, though, continued Arnecastle, as Ferraman began a slow walk towards them both.

“I assume you refer to Methios,” asked Vorn in a dry tone. “And not my aide.” Arnecastle smiled thinly and nodded an affirmative.

“It does seem, though, your aide has an arm full of work for you so I will be brief. There seems to have been a serious problem with my regiment’s resupply order.” Vorn slowly closed his eyes and let out a groan of frustration. “The quartermaster at the central camp has less than half of what my regiment requires to form a proper security cordon in our assigned area. Even more so now, given our lack of functioning landships and artillery. I am seeing to the disposition of what we have currently. I just wanted to inform you personally and…”

“Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel,” Vorn interrupted firmly as Ferraman drifted into earshot. “See the lieutenant gets a list of the correct inventory shortfall. I will have a pre-approval waiting for swift dispatch back to the garrison at Lentavian Moore.” Ferraman, ever dependable and swift on the uptake, stepped into the conversation.

“Of course, sir,” he said quickly. “I will have a fast rider attend to the dispatch with haste, just leave the details with me.” In reply, Arnecastle withdrew a folded document from beneath his jacket and handed it to Ferraman.

“Already done. Here are the details.” Ferraman quickly rebalance the binders in his arms to free up a hand and took the document from the lieutenant colonel with a grateful nod.

“Of course. I will attend to this immediately.”

“I will leave you to your business, General.” Arnecastle and Vorn exchanged a brief salute before the lieutenant colonel returned to a horse of his own.

“See to that order first,” said Vorn. “We can’t have the blasted supply lines fall apart like this. Finding out who fouled up the allotments can wait for now.”

“Once this is done, sir, I have dispatches awaiting attention. Also, the commodore of the ValHearan has made contact and wishes an audience as your earliest convenience, though they are slated to depart next daylight. And we have the first tally of the dead and injured.” Vorn’s face hardened at that last part. While it was left unsaid, Ferraman was referring to the need to begin the mountain of condolence letters to be dispatched to the families of the dead soldiers. For a commanding officer, the battle never simply ended once the killing stopped. He would revisit the death of the last few hours slowly over the course of the next few days.


“Signal the commodore,” said Vorn, his throat feeling quite dry. “Tell him I will see him in one hour. Ensure he is directed promptly to the commander’s office. I may as well take up residence there for a while. Have my effects brought from the rear camp as soon as you see to that supply debacle. After that, we can begin the dispatches and dealing with the fallen.” Ferraman nodded and headed off to the castle stable where his horse was saddled. He would, Vorn knew, deal with this faster by riding directly to the camp and seeing to things there. Vorn gave the courtyard a final walk around, ensuring orders were being carried out smoothly. The engineers had already secured one of the gates in place, erecting temporary metal frames around the breaches and mounting the refortified gate in place with their large steam crane. Debris were being cleared away and placed to one side for salvage, and the final batches of prisoners were being loaded up, save for the officers…

Hells. Thought Vorn, remembering he had yet to present himself to the surrendered commander. An old military courtesy, maybe, but one he insisted upon. War, however hard and bitterly fought, was a time when the smallest civilities were not just good manners. It was utterly crucial that they were observed.

Vorn informed the officers overseeing the cleanup where he would be if the need arises, then marched back through the interior of the stronghold to the holding area. He selected a small guard detail and told them to bring the commander to the office, and headed through the corridors leading back to the training courtyard and the command complex beyond. The courtyard was now empty. Vorn paused a brief moment, his eyes resting on the rust-red smear of dried blood where he had found his nephew. He forced himself to march on quickly, the dry tightness returning to his throat. There would be time for that later.

Vorn spent time clearing space in his new office before there was a gentle tapping at the half-open door. He looked up to see a soldier’s face looking through the opening. One of the guards tasked with escorting the garrison commander from the officer’s holding area.

“Yes, just a moment soldier,” said Vorn, pressing his hands to his long coat in an attempt to smooth it down. It was, Vorn knew, somewhat futile. His coat was still damp with rain and crumpled from his breastplate, which now sat against the wall near the heavy polished oak desk. Either way, a soldier’s pride demanded that he look as presentable to the enemy as he could.

“OK, bring him in.” He stood facing the door as the soldier opened it fully and stepped through the door to allow the prisoner to follow through. Vorn watched the commander enter the room behind the young guard and…

“That would be her,” came a tired sounding woman’s voice as she entered the room. “ Thank you very much. And you must be General Belethor Vorn.” Vorn cleared his throat and frowned a little. She was a diminutive figure with full black hair tied back in a bun, now somewhat disheveled from the events of the last few hours. Her face was round and she had steel grey eyes which, while clearly weary, were keen and focused as she measured him up. Vorn guessed her age to be at least a decade younger than him, putting her around her late thirties at most, perhaps forty at a push. Her uniform was the grey and green of the Delphari military, as disheveled as his own from the battle, and properly adorned with the rank insignia of a Delphari colonel. Dried blood stained her right sleeve, though she appeared to be unharmed on the whole, save for a small grazed patch on her left cheek.

“I…” Vorn coughed quickly to recover his thoughts. He had not expected the commander of this fortress to be a colonel, let alone female. He was not even aware of any women rising to such ranks in any military. “My apologies. And you seem to have me at a disadvantage, Colonel. I was expecting General Ilphett.”

“Sorry to have disappointed you, General.” The woman managed a weak but genuine smile.

“Your name?” Vorn asked.

“Ephiria Alcainous. Lieutenant Colonel, Delphari military, and the garrison co… that is, former garrison commander of Ranford Castle. On behalf of my soldiers, I formerly surrender to you at this time under the conventions of war.” Vorn nodded his head quickly as she finished up.

“Of course, I accept your surrender on these terms.”

“I’m glad one of us does,” she said with a sigh before lowering her head and taking a deep breath. “Forgive me, General. That was… not professional.”

“I quite understand,” said Vorn, cautiously. “Think nothing of it.”

“Thank you.”

“And where is General Ilphett?” Vorn asked. Alcainous remained silent, her face impassive. “Hm. I take it I cannot number him among the dead, correct?” Again, the female colonel said nothing in response. Vorn turned to the two guards present.

“Wait outside.” The men nodded and quickly departed. Once the door was closed and the two were alone, Vorn paced around behind the desk and gestured for Alcainous to sit at one of the chairs opposite him.

“I apologise for the mess in here,” she said, her smile returning. “I was not expecting company.” Vorn lowered himself into his seat after she took hers. He stared at her for a moment as he felt himself smiling back. It was the first smile he had felt on his face in weeks.

“Tell me, Colonel. Are you injured?” He asked. She tilted her head inquisitively before Vorn gestured to the large amount of blood dried to her sleeve.

“Ah, no. My attache.” Silence hung between them for a few seconds as her eyes wandered to the desk ahead of her and stared into the distance between. “He didn’t make it.”

“I see.” Vorn almost made a sympathetic remark, or even an apology, before reminding himself that these were his people’s enemy. His job was to defeat them.

“General Ilphett was not present at the start of your siege.” She said, finally. Vorn rested his forearms on the heavy desk in front of him and locked his fingers together. “That is all I will divulge, I am sure you understand.”

“Very well.” Vorn leaned back again and took her measure for the second time since she entered the room. He did not doubt she was telling the truth, though the thought of the enemy general still at large somewhere in the countryside gave him cause for disquiet. How large of a force he had with him at the time was of even more concern. Especially with a supply chain issue having arose, their landships and artillery mostly destroyed and the troops breaking camp to relocate to the fortress itself. He filed the thoughts to the back of his mind for now, knowing the ValHearan was still on station for at least the remainder of the day and night. They were as secure as they could be, all things considered.

“If I may ask you a question,” Alcainous ventured, “Do you have a tally of the dead? For my own people I mean.”

“Not at this time. My adjutant staff will be collecting this information. I can see that you get it if you wish. Though we plan to transport you to a stockade as soon as possible.” Alcainous nodded her thanks.

“And your own, if I may ask?” Vorn frowned at her, taking care to guard his response.

“Are you curious how many of my men fell to your defences?” Vorn asked, his tone barely masking a spark of anger as the mental image returned again.


Again, Vorn quickly pushed it away.

“Professional courtesy,” she said calmly, noticing she had struck a nerve and keeping her tone intentionally neutral. “I am sorry if asking was out of line.” The room fell to silence for entirely too long to be comfortable. Vorn eventually broke the silence.

“Seven hundred and eighteen dead at current count. Almost twice that wounded over the course of our siege.” Alcainous nodded slowly and locked her steel grey eyes with his. They lost none of their strength as they met his own eyes of dark brown which, despite his own fatigue, seemed capable of splitting solid rock with the force of their stare.

“With respect, I hope you will understand I make no apologies or offer no sympathy.” She maintained her calm and neutral tone. Vorn nodded slowly. In some way he respected her stance, having taken the same one himself. She showed herself ever more the capable commander who led such a punishing defence in more ways than displaying such tactical acumen.

“Our people are at war,” Vorn said evenly. “And we are all soldiers. You seem like a commander that understands this.”

“With that in mind,” she continued as smoothly as she could. “I would like your personal guarantee that my men will be treated as such by your own, as your prisoners of war.”

“You have it.”

“Would it be asking too much for you to see our dead returned to their homeland?”

“I am afraid so. Resources in war are reserved for…”

“Your own needs,” she interjected. “ As I expected. Very well, I quite understand.”

“I can see to their burials in the field not far from here,” Vorn offered. “At this time I cannot do more.” Alcainous slowly exhaled, her weary smile returning.

“That will be sufficient. At least further arrangements can be made to intern them in the future. Hopefully when this hells damned war is over.” Vorn remained silent and stared at her keeping his face impassive.

This war that we started. He thought to himself.

“Guard,” said Vorn, his voice loud enough to carry through the door to the outside. The door opened and the first guard stepped back into the room, his partner holding outside, both of their rifles held at port arms. Lieutenant Colonel Alcainous, understanding the conversation was now over, slowly stood at the same time as Vorn.

“Thank you for your assurances, General.” She said. Vorn nodded at her as she turned to face the guards that would escort her back to holding with her officers.

“I will see what I can do about your casualty reports,” offered Vorn as she began walking to the door. She stopped briefly and turned to lock her steel grey eyes with his once more. Her face was still weary, yet those eyes seemed to smile at him.

“I appreciate that.” Vorn slowly lowered himself into his seat as Alcainous left, feeling the fatigue taking firm hold of all of his senses. The light from the bay window overlooking the training facility courtyard was dim. He had not noticed until now the daylight was failing as the grey clouds snuffed out what little the sun could provide this late in the day. It was enough to make him want to sleep for days.

Almost half an hour later, Vorn had finished locating a taper to light the oil lamp on the wall when a familiar knock came from the door.

“Come in, Lieutenant,” Vorn said as he struck a match and held it to the length of taper. He opened the valve on the lamp and lowered the taper down into the flume. The room gradually illuminated as the door opened and Lieutenant Ferraman entered, followed by a Ferum officer dressed in the colours of the newly formed Air Corps. Ferraman still clutched his stack of binders which seemed to have gotten bigger, though Vorn was convinced that was likely more his imagination.

“Commodore,” said Vorn in greeting. As their ranks were essentially equivalent to each other no salutes were required between them. Instead, Vorn stepped forward and offered his hand the commander of the ValHearan.

“General Vorn,” he said, shaking Vorn’s hand with a firm grip. “Commodore Donnel Heizen of the airship ValHearan. Thank you for seeing me so quickly. It is an honour to finally meet you.”

“The honour is mine,” said Vorn, heading back to his new desk. “Your timely arrival secured this victory and helped save many of my men. You have my gratitude” Vorn gestured for the commodore to sit in one of the chairs as he took his own seat. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Ferraman lingered by a tall bookcase along the right side of the room.

“There was little time to tarry after we left port. The weather began to turn foul and we took a slow pace higher up.” Vorn nodded, though his knowledge of aeronautics was limited. He turned to his lieutenant waiting to the side.

“Lieutenant, feel free to set the folders down anywhere there is space. Commodore, would you like something to drink while we talk?” Ferraman quickly located a space on the large side table and unburdened himself, already scanning the room for anything that would pass as refreshments.

“No, thank you,” Heizen replied warmly. Vorn nodded and turned to Ferraman.

“Wait outside, please.” Lieutenant Ferraman saluted and headed for the door, closing it gently behind him. “I get the feeling you came here for reasons beyond salvaging this siege, Commodore. Unless military high command has less faith in me than they proffer to my face.”

“You make it sound like you were losing so badly, General. I am confident you would have broken through the defenses shortly.”

“I would like to say I would have already if I had not lost half my artillery in an accident.” The commodore raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Some fool mishandled powder in the supply carriage as they were setting up a second line. Blew the whole lot sky high, as well as a load of men. Half a dozen howitzers also out of commission.”

“I am sorry to hear that. Even the best plans cannot account for cruel turns of fortune.”

“So it would seem. As a result, I had to send the landships in closer than I would have liked before we softened their own lines up enough to commit that close.” Vorn leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair, letting out a frustrated sigh. “And then they sprung a clever trap on us.” Vorn briefly outlined the last hour of the failed assault. “I was in the process of ordering a full retreat to give us time to redress our strategy when you entered the battle. Your airship is quite impressive.”

“Thank you,” said the commodore with a gracious nod of his head.

“Though last I had heard you were due to join the defence of the Stillwater Gates. Bringing us back to the business at hand. What is it I can do for you, Commodore?”

Commodore Heizen reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a folded letter, secured with a deep orange wax seal. He placed it on the table before Vorn.

“I was instructed to deliver this to you.” Vorn took the letter and turned it over in his hands a few times, his face contemplative. The orange seal was that of the office of Overgeneral Utherbern himself. He had no need to view the crest on the seal to know this. An orange dispatch was usually one of the utmost importance. He pulled the seal from the thick parchment and looked at the commodore again.

“What else?” Vorn knew full well a fast rider could have made it here in as much time.

“You should read the letter first, General.”

“You know its contents?”

“Not specifically. I have orders awaiting me on my ship which I am instructed to open once you have read yours…” The commodore trailed off, as if waiting for Vorn to read the dispatch. Vorn frowned and began reading. Several moments passed as Vorn’s frown turned slowly to somewhere between frustration and disbelief. Commodore Heizen held both his hands up in a placatory gesture. “And after you join me on my ship and are ready to depart. Then I will learn of our destination. That is all I have been told.” Vorn almost crumpled the letter in his fist before setting it back to the table, thinking better of such a display of childish anger.

“And you whisk me away to heavens knows where? Leaving this command in the hands of Methios, no less.”

“I have not had the pleasure, personally,” said the commodore in reference to Colonel Methios. “I do understand, however, he has a certain personality that may take some getting used to. I am sorry you must relinquish your newly conquered fortress to him.”

“I am not so specifically concerned about this fortress or who has the ‘pleasure’ of commanding it,” said Vorn, his voice a low growl. He stood and began to pace the floor behind his desk. “And I will be the first to admit I dislike all this secrecy and skulking. It does not feel like war. However, we have security and supply issues I should be here to deal with in person.”

“I am afraid that will have to be Colonel Methios’ burden now, General.” Vorn paced the room for several quiet seconds before letting out another sigh of resigned frustration. He could not go against this order however much he would wish to try.

Resupply issues, thought Vorn. Masses of wounded and dead. Enemy officers and soldiers to be dispatched to penal facilities, to say nothing of General Ilphett still a large with who knows what forces at his disposal.

Vorn turned the situation around in his head several times while the commodore patiently waited for any further discussion, his task completed for the moment.

“Very well,” said Vorn eventually. “I have no choice, I suppose.” Commodore Heizen nodded and stood, ready to take his leave.

“For what it’s worth, I understand your frustration,” Heizen said as he smoothed his coat. Vorn nodded in response. He had never been one to shoot the messenger and knew the commodore was at no fault here.

“When do you need me to be ready to depart?”

“We will need to make our wind no later than eight AM tomorrow. I will return at seven to shuttle you up to the ValHearan and get you situated. You may want to bring personal effects with you, in the likelihood this is not a short trip.”

“Good thing I had the lieutenant make arrangements to see them brought from camp.” Commodore Heizen gave Vorn an amused smile and nodded his head before turning back to the door to leave.

“I shall get out of your hair for now, General. I suspect you have a long night ahead of you.” The commodore inclined his head to the side table where Lieutenant Ferraman had left the stacks of binders. Vorn followed his gesture and looked back to the commodore again.

“What, those?” He grumbled. “I am afraid they will have to be Colonel Methios’ burden.”

Commodore Heizen let out a short laugh before he left the room. Vorn was still stood in place behind his desk as Lieutenant Ferraman entered the room carrying two more oil lamps he had scrounged up from the neighbouring rooms. He quickly set about lighting them one after the other, placing them wherever they were best suited as Vorn sat back down.

“It appears,” said Vorn slowly, measuring his temper as he felt it rise once more. “We are going on a little mystery flight.” The lieutenant stopped half way across the room from the pile of binders he had intended to begin working through. His eyes slowly went wide as he looked at Vorn, who was now turning the letter over in his hands once more, still contemplating screwing it up and tossing it out of the window in anger.

“F… flight?” Stammered the lieutenant.

“Yes, flight. As in, up in the air.” Vorn looked up at Ferraman. “On the ValHearan.” Vorn added for the sake of clarity.

“I… see.”

“Orders from Overgeneral Utherbern himself. Entirely too cryptic for my tastes.” Vorn fanned the folded letter around some more, staring at it intently. “I have entirely much to do before we depart tomorrow morning. I want my effects packed for travel, and I need you to get that insufferable bootlick, Methios, over here again tomorrow morning.” Vorn let the letter fall to the table and rubbed his face as he continued to speak. “Also I will need to appoint a successor to Colonel Hernstridge before the change of command. I’ll be damned if I will hand my troops over to Methios without a clear senior officer present, so… what?” Vorn eventually noticed that, as he was talking, Lieutenant Ferraman had slowly lowered himself into a seat, the pile of binders seemingly forgotten. Ferraman’s face was a wide-eyed pale mask of worry.

“Uhm… I have a fear of heights, sir.” Vorn slowly closed his eyes and brought his palms up to his face, resting his elbows on the table, and sighed once more.