Xorsis : Invasion\Lost
“Today’s swarm went on forever, didn’t it?” Nia said, sighing as she applied medicine on her hands.
Aez sat nearby, silent. Jordan was pacing across the room, his eyes yet full of energy.
They had returned from another mission today. A year had passed since the day Dottonex was invaded. Multiple search parties had been sent around the area, to the forest especially. But yet, no attackers were found yet. Yet the invasions were ongoing. Most of the people of the outskirts were moved to the inner cities. Meanwhile, most of the anti-undead squads had moved towards the forest, forming smaller base camps. They stayed guard; and when the swarms approached, they had to finish them off. Sometimes, things would go out of control, and some inner areas of Dottonex would be damaged. But most of the time, the inner guards would work quickly to exterminate the threats.
After the invasion, all the recruits had gone through training ranging from three to six months, after the prior fitness trials. Nia had passed it easily, and though Aez’s scores were a bit lower but he was qualified. And to Aaron’s dislike, the two had improved a lot in the training. Aez, too had become very fit and he was made into a squad leader, because he was a good strategist and could keep calm in stressful periods, which were necessary. Nia on the other hand, was one of the best soldiers and easily the best one in Aez’s squad.
However, Nia and Aez barely talked outside of the duty. Somehow, after the invasion, after joining the army, they both had been separated and didn’t come across each other often unless it was a mission. And during the mission, there wasn’t anything to talk about except the target. But Nia wasn’t lonely. Nia made only one friend, and that was Jordan. They were nice to each other, and Nia felt like Jordan could understand what she felt many times. The voice inside her head approved of him too; it seemed like both Jordan, and the voice - which Nia decided to call as her other self, had that fire about them. The need to kill. The need to murder every last of those undeads. And maybe that was why, even in these few months, they had grown close.
Both of their motivations were somewhat similar, and that was why Nia confided in him many times, whenever things felt heavy. After all, Jordan too had lost his family in the invasion - every one of them were slaughtered, and that he fled like a coward - he felt horrible about it. And that’s why it was his way of taking revenge for his family - by fighting in this squad.
Today’s mission was a bit difficult, like it had been these days. Somehow, the swarms were getting better at dodging past their shots, it was as if they were starting to have intelligence all of a sudden, something they hadn’t noticed before. This was unusual. Now the swarms attacked very often, and out of the blue. They formed structures and assembled, and progressed in a way so that they could take out most of the recruits. Twice Jordan had saved Nia’s life. This aggressiveness was getting to Nia and she was stressed out.
“Aez.” Nia turned to him, “do you have any plans for the next invasions? Our soldiers are dying everyday. We need to figure something out if we plan to outsmart them.”
“I’ve been working on it,” said Aez absent-mindedly.
“You’ve been saying that for four days now!” Nia shouted at him, “We’ve been close to death many times, it wasn’t like this before!”
“Of course I know that,” Aez finally looked at Nia, his eyes were calm and his tone serious, “What do you think I’m doing? We can’t just set off a random strategy without being sure it wouldn’t cost more lives. It’s hard - to see all those deaths - but I need time.”
“But it’s not supposed to be like that, is it?” Jordan interrupted, “The undead aren’t supposed to be able to have intelligence at all, right? We didn’t see them being like that ever. So why-”
“Is it important to know that?” Nia sighed, “They are evolving. That’s the only conclusion I can draw from.”
“The ones who sent them - they are getting smarter,” Aez spoke quietly.
“There’s no one sending them,” Jordan spoke out, “How many times have we sent search parties? It’s uncountable by now. Have we found any evidence? Nothing! It just seems like these undead - they are some kind of corrupted lifeforms.”
“And why would they be corrupted,” Aez turned to him, “Why would all of a sudden they’d attack Dottonex fiercely? Cridelford wasn’t invaded that much, was it? Why? There has to be a reason.”
“Whatever it might be,” Jordan said, “That’s none of our business. We aren’t investigators, we are soldiers. You can’t waste time hypothesizing why it is like this when more of us are dying out there every single day!”
“Why don’t you two get it?” Aez facepalmed, sighing heavily. “If-”
“You shouldn’t have been here,” Jordan lashed out at him in anger, the fire burning in his eyes, “You aren’t trying to save anyone. You’re just observing everything quietly.”
He grabbed Aez’s collar and yelled at him, “If you are interested about why the undead are the way they are - you should have just gone to the science department! Why are you here? You still have time, you coward! Leave! Leave us alone before you mess things up even more!”
Nia pensively looked from Aez to Jordan. I shouldn’t have told him about Aez’s dream, Nia thought, feeling anxious, it’s been a way of personally attacking him every time things go wrong.
But it’s not your fault, the voice in her head replied, you were talking to a friend. And what Jordan says is true. Aez is useless. He’s inexperienced - above all - he really doesn’t have ideas -
Jordan was yelling. “Why the hell did you even join us, and not only that - you became a squadleader-”
“It’s not like I bribed people to become a leader!” Aez protested, his voice trembling and eyes almost watery now, “You don’t get it!”
Jordan sniggered. “You weak, pathetic-”
“Stop!” Aez screamed. He grabbed Jordan's hand on his collar and kicked at the bigger boy’s knee, making him stagger as Aez stood up and looked directly at Jordan’s eyes. Adjusting his voice, he spoke in a calmer tone, trying very hard to make sure it didn’t seem like it was trembling.
“It’s just - you don’t get it. It’s not like - I can't just think of random ways to align everyone and make them fight.”
“Excuses,” Jordan spat, “God damn your excuses! Look at those damn Tokreian units, they are so well balanced, they barely lose people! And look at us! Do you even have how many we have lost? I came here so that we don’t have to lose anyone anymore?”
“That’s because Tokreians are well trained soldiers, and not like us, who got only around four months of training,” Aez replied.
“Of course, you’ll say that,” Jordan sniggered. “I can’t believe Nia used to like a guy like you.”
Nia gasped, and covered her mouth with her face.
Why does he know that? Have I been that easy to read? Oh no.
“Jordan!” Nia shouted, “Shut up!”
He - he doesn’t have to know about that yet.
Nia didn’t understand what to do. Jordan had been nice to her, and she trusted him a lot. She could understand why Jordan was acting that way towards Aez - he loathed passive people. But honestly, she didn’t find any fault at what Jordan was trying to say to Aez - to take action, to stop being passive. But attacking him like that? Nia couldn’t take it well. It hurt her too.
“Stop it, Jordan,” Nia whispered, tugging at Jordan’s hand, “It’s enough already.”
She let his hand go. Jordan groaned, his face red. He walked to the door, mumbling in anger.
“I see.” Aez looked at Jordan to Nia, squinting. He whispered to himself, “That’s how it is, isn’t it?”
Then shaking his head, he walked to the door, where Jordan was standing now, looking back at Aez.
“Well then, I must say,” Aez told him, “Thank you for saving her life twice now. I expect you to help her - and that also means, there’s no need for me. That’s a relief,” Aez said, sighing heavily, “I guess I can work out a strategy. It might involve the two of you risking your lives - hell, you might die. I guess it’ll be okay, since Jordan is so strong and he can protect Nia.”
Is that all you can think about now?
Why did they even choose you for a leader?
Is this the Aez I know?
“I don’t need to be protected,” she hissed, “Don’t think you are above me just because you are the squadleader. I’m still the best soldier of your squad and I can fight alone and very well. Just finish up your goddamn strategy before others die.”
Aez said stiffly, “Fine.”
And then he walked out the room, without glancing at any of them again.
“Jordan,” Nia now looked at the other boy, who shrugged.
“He’s a drama queen!” Jordan shrugged, “got really pissed off now that I mentioned some made-up stuff about you…”
“I really don’t care what you say to him,” Nia said stiffly, “He’s someone who knows what is real and what is not. But - please, stop attacking him like that-”
“If he can’t deal with criticism,” Jordan said loudly, “he might as well give up this job and go back to wherever he came from. Such a moron.”
Nia shot him a sharp glance and walked out of the room as well.
It felt complicated. Nia didn’t have a good relationship with Aez anymore, but it still hurt - he was his childhood friend after all.
She went to her room and looked over her stuff. She was running out of some supplies. She had to go back to the city and buy them over. Nia got the permission from Aez already, and so she set off. On other days, Jordan would accompany her. But today, he was already preoccupied after all these things, and Nia wanted to be alone too. So she set off on her own.
In Dottonex, after buying her supplies, she decided to give Aaron a visit too. It had been weeks since she last visited Dottonex City or Aaron - and she’d be glad if she got someone older to talk to now.
Aaron was one of the top soldiers, and he stayed near the headquarters, which weren’t far from the supply markets. So Nia headed there. She went inside the building, and took the stairs to go up. There were elevators, but they were packed with Tokreians. Aez spoke very nicely of them, but Nia still felt uncomfortable around them. Maybe because of their black attires, or their words booming with knowledge. Somehow, as an ordinary soldier, she didn’t want to be near them. However, in the stairs, there were two of them walking down. As they passed her, they probably didn't notice her for her small height. However, Nia heard bits and pieces of what they were speaking about - and although she walked up steadily, the words were ringing in her head - they were familiar - they were too familiar.
As she crossed them, the Tokreians, however, stopped talking and looked at her. There was something in their gaze that doubled her discomfort, and she quickly walked up, feeling a desperate need to get away.
There were two more stairs to climb, and as she walked up, she heard the words in her head again and again.
“Morgan believes it’s time to retrieve it.”
“It’s only a clone though. Is it important?”
“Such a powerful thing - around commoners - it wouldn’t be good.”
The scroll. That scroll that was so debated over. Why- why do the Tokreians know about it? Did they really find history that interesting? And what does that mean? Clone? What clone? What retrieval? Who is Morgan?
With the words still perturbing in her head, she walked to Aaron’s office. Aaron was talking to someone. It seemed like they were done talking though, and that’s good, she thought.
“That settles it then,” Aaron was saying, “Thank you for your service, officer.”
“Likewise. It’s always pleasant working with you.”
The man came out. Nia looked at him - he was another Tokreian - through a lot taller than the other ones. He paid no heed to Nia, thankfully, and without any more delay, she went inside Aaron’s office, who was smiling at her.
“Welcome, sit down.”
Nia managed a smile and sat down at a chair, “Who was that?” she asked.
“That was officer Morgan,” he said, sighing, “He’s in charge of the Tokreian search parties. And they are going to send another search party. Damn. It’s been a whole year and still we can’t find out who caused them! The public are growing restless, how long are we going to say ‘we’re still working on finding the criminals?’”
Morgan? Nia thought, so he is a Tokreian officer. Nothing suspicious about other Tokreians talking about him though. But what’s up with that scroll?
“Search parties?” Nia asked, confused,“The Tokreians gonna send a search party? To the forest?”
“Yeah. They want to check it out on their own. But really, there’s no hope.”
Nia paused to think, however, Aaron broke off her thoughts, talking again.
“Forget about it, it’s not your business. How’s Aez?”
Nia gulped. “Okay, I guess,” she said, shrugging, and avoiding Aaron’s eyes. “It’s not easy being the squadleader after all. Too many duties.”
“Is he doing any good though? Who’d have thought that someone like him - would be a squadleader?” Aaron asked, his brows furrowed in concern, “Nia. Tell me. Are you sure everything is all right?”
There’s no point in hiding from it though, is there?
“Our troops are dying. I don’t know if you have heard but - the undead are growing stronger - no, they are finding ways to dodge our attacks and effectively kill soldiers. And they are attacking more often and randomly - it’s just too much.”
She sighed again.
“Jordan insists we should get a new strategy, but Aez is barely making any progress. In this way we are gonna be wiped out.”
Aaron was thinking something. She hoped he’d say something that might help them, but unfortunately, he only said, “It’s just the way it is. You have to get used to being at the edge of losing your lives.”
Thinking that way won’t help us!
“It’s hard, but at least we all are trying,” Aaron said, giving her a pitiful smile that she instantly disliked, “I’ll say, keep trying. Unless we all suddenly find the cause and exterminate it - these swarms are going to be never-ending. And unfortunately - I can’t see any way of doing it. Unless this Tokreian search party magically discovers something. I hope they can, they have my complete trust.”
Nia wanted to speak about the conversation she overheard earlier, but seeing how Aaron, too, highly thought about them, she didn’t dare to speak it out. Besides, the headquarters were full of Tokreians - and if they came to know that she heard them - it might not go well - she felt that way, especially when she thought of the look they had given him.
“I’ll be heading off. I’m glad I was able to converse with you today,” she smiled as she stood up to leave.
She was on her way to the door.
She turned to look at Aaron again.
“It probably sounds weird but,” he said, sighing, “But I think you’ll understand. Please keep Aez safe, will you?”
Nia wanted to say that Aez could take care of himself pretty well and he wouldn’t like it if she tried anyway, but still, she said, “I will.”
That’s what Aaron would have wanted to hear. Besides, since they were risking their lives this much - they could die anytime, couldn’t they? Why let personal struggles hinder the other relations?
With a lot of thoughts buzzing around her head, Nia walked out of the headquarters. It was afternoon, but if she set off now, she could reach the base camps well before night. And so she kept going. She didn’t want to stay at Dottonex City. It had been a year - but the city - the landscape - nothing felt right now that there was no one. No grandmother, no Leo, and even no Aez. It was lonely, it was cold. Nia couldn’t stand it.
She walked, and something grabbed her attention. To the left, there lay the field - the place they visited a lot before. There were children playing in the field right now. The afternoon sun cast a soft look in the grass and the shrubs. The lavender flowers were still there. But they - none of them were here.
Maybe when things get all right - when all undeads are defeated and we can come back home and start new lives - maybe then we could visit the field… again, like we used to do in our childhood.
She started walking.
If on that day - she cleaned off all the blood in her house, decided to stay and study - then she’d have been studying in a college by now, wouldn’t she? Aez too - in a science college. Maybe he’d have already become a junior scientist.
As she walked on, a realisation struck her, and afterwards, it almost became harder to breathe, as the tears streamed down her cheeks.
If on that day - I didn’t react rashly, if I could accept things, then Aez wouldn’t have ended up here, would he? Not everything has to be said. Aez himself would never want to be in the army.
He joined because… he wanted to be by my side.
Because I wanted to run away from the truth, he gave up all his dreams.
All because of me.
Nia burst into tears. She covered her face. The other people around her cast surprised looks at her, but before anyone could approach her, Nia started to run.
Because of me.
Because I made that decision.
You… Aez… you….
The afternoon sun set that gloomy light above everything. Nia couldn’t stand it. That glow… those days…
She stopped near a lamp post, pausing to catch her breath.
The thoughts ran in.
When I made that decision to join the military, I didn’t care about his feelings at all. But he cared about mine. He was always there, but I never tried to understand. I thought I was on my own - but it was never that way.
Will he ever forgive me? Will I ever be able to forgive myself?
I’m sorry, Aez...
I never cared about you enough…
I… I am a horrible person...
But now - there’s nothing to do anymore -
She looked to the left. She had left the field far behind, now there were only buildings all around. Without further delay, she kept walking on, looking forward.
The voice inside had started to speak again. And she agreed to its words.
There was only one way left now.
I’ll fight hard, bring an end to all this - so that we can get back what we had - our life that we - no, I - threw away so easily…
When she reached the base camp, Jordan was outside, waiting for her. Seeing her, he approached her, and greeted, “Welcome back, so how was it? Everything was okay, right?”
“Of course it was fine,” she smiled, hoping he’d not notice her puffy eyes, “Well, I’ll head inside.”
She didn’t want to talk with him now. She needed to find Aez. The overheard conversation - Aez had to know that. Maybe, it could be a clue to whatever he was thinking?
She found Aez in the room they were sitting in the morning. The lights were turned off, the moonlight coming from the windows pointed out his silhouette. He was sitting all alone, apparently lost in thought.
Nia never referred to him by his title name, but the way they were distancing from each other - maybe in a few weeks they’d only know each other by rank names. Nia hated that.
Aez turned his head to her, however there was no emotion in his face. Nia dragged a chair and sat down next to the table.
“What is it?” he asked. His voice was hoarse. Nia felt a pang in her chest.
“Uh, I visited Aaron today…”
“I don’t care about any soldier’s routine. If there’s information, tell me. Otherwise, leave.”.
Nia was taken aback.
“Aez,” she said, feeling anger heat up her face. She slapped him on his shoulder. “Stop being such a moron. He’s your brother, okay? At least, show some interest in him!”
“He was right all along,” Aez whispered, turning his face away from hers, “I… I shouldn’t have been here. Jordan is right.”
Nia’s heart was beating very fast. Aez never looked like this - only once - back then when he was left alone - he was this mess. But now again - this hopeless person who had the shell of Aez - it hurt her. It hurt her so much and she didn’t know what to say. If only it was like that back then - sharing a lunch, and an umbrella, and finding Leo together -
But things weren’t so simple anymore.
She shook off those thoughts.
Aez continued, “If this strategy fails, I’ll be losing two elite soldiers. But I really don’t see how I should go about it. But I guess… in the end we all are going to die.”
“Don’t.” Nia shivered, “Don’t say such things. We’ve got to keep fighting.”
“But how long?” Aez asked, “how long will this go on? There was nothing like this back then - never - never in our history. Why now, why is it all happening now?”
Nia fidgeted in her seat. What should I do?
“Aez, I’m sorry.” she finally managed to speak out those words, “before you implement that strategy - before we all die, I’ve got to say this. You joined this madness for me, didn’t you?”
Aez was quiet, but he now looked at her, his eyes had an unreadable expression.
Nia looked down at the floor. She felt so guilty. She stole and broke his dreams into nothing. She’d never be able to look at him.
“I’m sorry for doing these things to you. I broke down what meant everything to you. It was all my fault. Because I wasn’t able to deal with the sorrow. But if I reacted better back then… we wouldn’t be here.”
“Shut up,” Aez said, and Nia looked up at him. He had an uneasy face now. “It… wasn’t your fault. I’d have joined anyway. Yes, right. Because granny and Leo meant a lot to me too.”
You’re such a terrible liar, Aez!
He evaded her gaze and walked towards the window. “The moonlight is really pretty, isn’t it?”
“Aez,” Nia said, clutching her dress on her knees. She felt her voice break down, “Let’s go back one day… to our hometown… when this all ends…” let’s sit together at the sunset for hours. Again. But the words didn’t come out.
Aez didn’t reply. He looked stiffly at her, and then stared into emptiness, his eyes unfocused.
The voice inside Nia’s head talked.
Talk about that conversation. It’s more important than your confession.
Nia couldn’t help agreeing to it.
She wiped her eyes and whispered, “I heard a conversation among the Tokreians today. It was weird.. But it seems like they know about the scroll and they are looking for it.”
“Of course,” Aez replied, though his voice was still hoarse, “Everyone has been looking for such a powerful object since who knows when. What’s even new about it?”
“They were talking about a clone…”
“Maybe they want to make one if they find it and take it back to their nation,” he spoke quickly. Then he looked at Nia. Their gazes met. There was a coldness in his eyes.
“Nia, at this point I don’t care about my dreams anymore. But at least, I plead to you, don’t… don’t break my beliefs and ideals, at least. That’s all I have right now. After this disaster ends - if it ends, maybe when we are above fifty, at least, we’ll be retired by then - and then, I’ll be able to live in a bright world - a bright future we’ll receive from the Tokreians. That’s all I believe. I beg you, don’t take that away too.”
Nia’s heart was shattered into a thousand pieces.
Once I told myself, I’ll never hurt him again.
Look at you, Nia - you did it again. How many times has it happened now? I’m such a bad person, I’m awful, I’m pathetic…
“Off you go,” Aez said, offhandedly, “we’ll need to get ready. The strategy needs to be discussed with everyone before any urgent mission.”
Nia silently left.
The full moon was up in the night sky.
There was once a festival in Dottonex, a few years after the wars had ended everywhere. Dottonex could feel safe too. It was winter. That’s when it took place. A festival where they had gone together. Nia didn’t remember anything clearly anymore, it was as if those memories were blocked. But she could see blurrily that Aez was smiling all the time. They were happy.
Ah, perhaps there’ll be a festival again when it ends. But then - we won’t be together, will we? She smiled, after all - if the strategy works - we can’t guarantee we both will be okay. But at least, she prayed in her heart, quietly, even if I pass away - let Aez live. Maybe one day, he’ll fulfill his dreams - and then - I’ll be forgiven too…