Chapter 26:

Chapter EX: Ven, Part 2

Setting Sun Story: Beta

Ven - The Day Before the Siege

We waited for another day to pass after our landing on the Western shores of the Baustian peninsula, far South of that small beachside village. The High Commander, present on an operation as grand in scale as this, ordered the construction of a forward base, hidden behind the hills before the fortress's plateau, protected from "the Dot's eye," as he put it.

It would be easiest to siege from that angle, as a slope gentle enough to run Aether tanks to the front line without burning through any one driver's reserves lay down on the West bank.

With the same tanks towing supplies and gathered materials, the base went up in a little over an hour. Behind the wall of a rock formation, sparse campfires, storage boxes, and personnel tents surrounded a larger command hut, in which I first heard of Lumina's trump card heading into unknown territory.

"Given your status, I would've thought you were the first to get it," the Secretary to the High Commander said to me, scratching the fleeting hairs on his scalp.

"Injections, no. Nobody said anything to me about that," I replied.

It was strange, seeing as my squad of Prodigies would've still been enacted in the few weeks prior. Maybe they sensed my decision was coming... I didn't exactly give the warmest welcome to the title of Hero.

Having received my orders, I left the command room, only to find a cool palm grip over my back, white fingers sliding beneath my off-duty tank, driving down on the gap between my collarbone and my shoulder.

As I allow myself to pulled around, I'm met with a mop of green-struck hair.

"Listen, I don't care that you made the choice to disband the group, but before we go in there, think about your tactician! He's locked into this, Ven! He won't make it on his own.

"You still have time to correct things, the Second Commander isn't here-" he tried, and rightfully so.

To them, there was no higher prestige at our age, but destroying our band was all I could do to make the break as clean as possible; while placing little to no burden on them.

Sad to think they might be gone... all because I needed an escape.

I looked around for Laurence, a young boy, barely even a teenager. From what I had heard just before I met him, his marks were far above anything they had ever seen from a kid his age. So he was shoved straight into the role of a Tactician.

The more I look at it honestly, the whole thing reeked from the start. I mean, while Laurence had a keen sense of space, able to map out any location in moments, he clearly wasn't ready to fight. Nonetheless, he hadn't the backbone to get his opinion across, ironic for his role, so Ken here typically laid things out on his behalf.

"-we can still revise the entrance plan. Work as a team, even just this once, please! I don't know why the hell they gave all the power to you in the first place!" Ken spurted out as hair fell in his mouth, finally revealing his frustration.

What more could I do than shake my head?

"Just listen to the High Commander, he knows what he's doing," I finished, calmly plucking his hand from my neck.

I was wrong though. I guess the Baustians retook the West side of the city as soon as we moved South, where Laurence would've been stationed to support the backline.

I suppose I don't really know how it worked out, so I'll hold out hope that things ended okay.

Moonlight fell quickly over the camp as the Sun retreated beyond the ocean, and while I was tempted to question Ken on his knowledge of these 'injections,' the spew of curses he already slung at me hinted not to turn back around.

I went to bed with my heart in my chest. If I was to flee now, I wouldn't have gotten past any night-watch without bloodshed. So I slept knowing that I was to see conflict, cursed to face war, whether I had done everything to get to where I was or not.

Tomorrow, it would be real... and while I bore no ill will to any one person, I would have to pick a side. So much for freedom.

At sunrise of the next day, we marched, meeting with those that came from the motherland to the North, and getting a messenger's word of ready from the enforcements stationed for a week or so in a city to the south known as Maticcia. The dirty- sorry...

I had given no word to my former classmates as they sat around a smoldered fire from the night before, rubbing their hands together to ward off the stinging ocean breeze.

My former Support, Tela, had her arm around Laurence, who breathed heavily in anxiety of the task laid out for him. Her long hair was down from its usual place at the sides of her head; the battlefield would certainly be no place for style... and yet the pink hue remained.

In fact, the four refused to remove the dye in their hair, probably clinging to some remnant of status. It would only serve to make them targets of ridicule... still, we all have our insecurities.

Ah, the fourth one, I suppose I haven't mentioned Thomas yet... he was a big lug of a man, very top heavy. He just kind of went with the flow when it suited him. I don't think he cared about much of anything, apart from the Prodigies.

Some time before noon, we began.

To the North, an artillery unit lobbed Light from beneath the cliffs of the plateau. There were forces supporting from all sides of the invasion, but they hit the Chaos barrier the most, and the doors weren't coming down without it gone.

Once inside, well... you know the rest.

A Bathhouse, Sometime Later, Somewhere on the Peninsula - Ven and Adam

"That's great and all, but... I really just wanted to know why you left," Adam complains in a low tone of voice.

Ven scratches his head, the rising steam is making his skin itch.

"Sorry, I lost track of what we were talking about," he responds with a chuckle.

These chats over a nightly bath have been going on for the last few days, and after today, Ven wanted to rant for a while.

He stands up, sloshing hot water over the edge of the pool, once again failing to cover himself, despite Adam's many stated grievances on the matter.

Grabbing a large towel to dry off, Ven looks over at his fugitive companion.

"I guess I think I was never supposed to be there in the first place. It wasn't some last minute decision, I always wanted out. It's just that, I dunno, maybe I didn't have the courage to jump until then."

But lemme tell ya, he was right. A fall like that hurts you.

Regretting his recount of the last few days, Ven can't get the others out of his mind.

There is no clean way out of a life.

Before shutting Adam in the room alone, he chimes in one last time.

"Always be sure of yourself, Adam. If you want to leap, don't hesitate to do it. But I remember what you said, do whatever feels right."

Adam’s neck turns, and his head drops to the side after pressing his back against the pool wall, as to not be seen by outside passersby.

He thinks for a second.

"You say that like I'll never see you again," the Baustian finally questions.

"Well, you never really can be sure if you will. Treat every moment like a blessing, every goodbye like the last," Ven throws out, sharply. "Have a good one tonight, cut loose, kid."

He shuts the door to the inn hallway before Adam can inquire on the sudden dramatics. Not that he has the courage to comment... nor really disagrees.