Chapter 20:

The Move

The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph

The bonfire illuminated brightly in the dark depths of the cavern. Passed a certain point, no one could enter during the briefing. Enne hadn’t rested since arriving, but her fatigue didn’t show, even after the second day. She spent much of her time tending to Alejandro’s wound in a broken-down flatbed outside. By the time she left, his condition had shown improvement.

Enne’s eyes glowed against the embers. The image of Nuri remained fresh in her mind. Raquel’s scrutiny of their new ally made for an uneasy atmosphere. Although McCreary had sobered, he still had lingering effects. Mikail exchanged glances with Raquel to begin their briefing.

“I’ve gotta say I’m impressed by what you did out there,” Mikail said. “Salem told me everything. So, is it true?”

“What’s true?” Enne asked.

“Your lineage. You’re a Bouvire.”

“I’ll be straightforward with you. I don’t know what it means.”

“You bear the crest,” McCreary noted. Enne glanced at the faint crest on her chest.

“I’ve come looking for answers,” she admitted. “You say this—Nuri is a great hero.”

“Was a great hero. She disappeared years ago. Many suspect she died, but her spirit lived on in the movements that sprouted from her involvement.”

“My father, Ulysses? Who was he to her?”

“He was her confidant. From the stories I’ve heard growing up she rarely brought him up.”

“Enough of this,” Raquel rolled her eyes. “We aren’t here to trade old stories.”

“The lady wants to know where she came from,” McCreary replied. “The least we can do is tell her what we know.”

“Guys, get it together,” Mikail raised his voice before turning to Raquel. “A lot has happened, and we shouldn’t be at each other’s throats.”

“All right,” Raquel nodded before looking at the half-elf. “I understand you want Alejandro to avoid facing justice for what he did.”

“Yes,” Enne replied. “And it’s non-negotiable. Anyone lays a hand on him—”

“Wait, wait! You’re threatening us? The galls of this fucking elf!”

“That’s not a problem,” Mikail said. Raquel winced when she looked at him. “What’s past is in the past. If he can atone for what he’s done that’s all that matters.”

“He killed your great-great-uncle!” Raquel reminded. Mikail shrugged.

“You’re right, but—Reflecting on what he did leading up to the day of his death, he forgave his rivals. Some even joined him—”

“That’s fucking naïve. Do you really think that’s how things turned out?”

“How many of them splintered afterward? Not many, right?”

“Let’s—” Enne spoke, growing tired of the bickering. She hid her irritability behind a pleasant voice. “Focus on the reason you brought me here. I’m here to uphold my end of the bargain.”

“How is he doing?” Mikail asked. His tone had a discernible concern.

“He should be fine,” Enne replied. “Silesta is keeping him company. Thanks again for the room.”

“If there’s anything we can do to help. It’s gonna be a hard-fought battle.”

“Why attack the Ethoxians at all? It’s practically suicide.”


“Was a miscalculation on my part,” Raquel answered. “The intent wasn’t to launch an attack but rally the smaller towns on its perimeter.”

“That’s a good way to piss them off,” Enne responded bluntly.

“Do you know how long we’ve fought? The sacrifice we’ve made?”

“Centuries with no results?”

Raquel stood and drew her knife at Enne. Everyone knew how pointless it was. Her hands shook, and her breathing grew sharp. Enne looked at the knife before looking up. Mikail walked beside the wanderer, gently lowering her hand.

“Raquel?” Mikail said.

“The fuck does she know?” she voiced her anger. “When have you ever fought for anything?”

Enne steeled herself when they exchanged cold glances. Raquel was the first to break as she sat down.

“Since we’re done with our icebreaker for today, let’s get into the meat and potatoes,” McCreary said. “The agreement.”

“The funny thing is… I was already looking for you,” Enne said.

“Salem said as much,” Mikail responded. “But, why?”

“Long story short: My city was attacked by a nomadic group. We had caught one of them who claimed to have come from the north. I feel the problems stemmed from things happening in this region.”

“That could’ve been anybody,” Raquel shrugged. Mikail leaned forward.

“Did you get a name?” he asked. The look in his eyes revealed some reserved fear.

“McKinley,” Enne replied. Mikail slowly buried his head in his hands. Raquel rubbed his shoulder while McCreary looked to take another whisk from his flask.

“That fucking fool. He was… my cousin. We had a falling out, and he decided to go his own way. I—I'm sorry for any harm he’s done to you… I am.”

“But you didn’t have a hand in that.”

“We’ve been fighting for years,” McCreary chimed. “He just tired of losing people, but it’s bigger than that.”

“Just how big are we talking?” Enne asked.

“The settlements.” Mikail huffed before standing and towering above everyone as he paced alongside the flames. “The Ethoxians have had a strong hold on the region for centuries. I’m just picking up the pieces of my ancestors.”

“Are there others?” Enne asked, meeting his cold blue eyes through the flames.

“No. We’ve been losing traction among those 3 settlements. But recently, we’ve had an anonymous benefactor whose been aiding us. We suspect it's someone from within the Ethoxian government.”

“What makes you say that?”

“The weapons are modified Ethoxian weapons,” Raquel answered. “Extendo… He keeps thinking he’s untouchable but just as expendable as we are.”

“Raquel,” her leader uttered. He looked over to find her indifference.

“We don’t even know who it is.”

“It doesn’t matter. It gets us closer to reaching our goal. Who knows? Maybe we can win back some legitimacy with those settlements if we take back the city. Imagine having Neo-T’Rach and Nefasthice looking to us for ousting those bastards in their palaces?”

“Those are the settlements, right?” Enne asked.

“Nefathice is the home of all the shady shit,” McCreary explained. “I’m talking drug barrens, pimps… a place that traffics unfortunate people who want to escape the small towns beyond the safety of the settlement walls. Then we have the business sector, Opacres, home to the affluent. Finally, there’s Neo-T’Rach, where mining and industries happen. There is a large dwarven population, most refugees from their homeworld. I was the son of a refugee. I ran off one day and met Mikail. Maybe one day I can come back and kill many of those pointy ear pricks! Eh, no offense.”

“None taken.”

“As of late,” Raquel spoke. “They’ve debated whether it’s sensible to use slave labor or commit genocide.”

“What?” Enne winced

“You heard right,” McCreary looked down at his empty cup. “We’re about to go the way of the orcs real soon if we don’t do something.”

“That’s—not right!”

“This is why we fight, Enne,” Mikail continued. “I wake up every day thinking about what’s on the line.”

Enne sat in quiet reflection. All the books and heroic deeds couldn’t topple the system she faced. In some sense, she lived in her bubble, never experiencing the true depths of darkness. But as her imagination went wild, a foreign pain could be felt within her soul. Her inner thoughts revealed themselves as she teared up.

“So,” Enne regained her focus. “They still rely on slave labor to mine for resources, but they’re using mana-tech to quell uprisings? That doesn’t make any sense. Based on my father’s older models, mana-tech used very minimal amounts of mana. I could imagine after hundreds of years. They could minimize the footprint in those mechs.”

“That’s a possibility,” Mikail agreed.

“But what does it mean for now?” Raquel shrugged. “But this is an excellent segway to the mission at hand.”

“Right. So, there’s a base just north of Frederick. It’s not like the outpost you went to. We’ve noticed several large shipments coming from Neo-T’Rach. We’ve got reason to believe they’re new mech.”

“You want to sabotage them?”

“We don’t have a choice. If those things are put on the field, our situation will get a lot worse.”

Enne stroked her chin before standing. The atmosphere in the room felt much different from what it was minutes ago. The risk was high, but what could be uncovered would help the resistance fighters by flipping the situation in their favor. She wondered what Alejandro would’ve thought as she glanced at the trio.

“Allie comes with us,” Enne said. Raquel furrowed her brows. “Once he makes his recovery.”

“We don’t need him,” she protested.

“It’s the only request I have.”


“Fine,” Mikail granted her wish. Raquel shot a cold glare. “Besides, we need to gather our bearing before heading out.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Enne bowed before leaving the chamber.

* * *

Later that night, Enne sat at the flatbed’s edge with two lukewarm cups of hot chocolate. Silesta sat beside her, sipping what remained of her drink. Enne wondered how she fared, but she seemed in better spirits.

“Silesta,” she spoke. “How are you feeling?”

“How am I supposed to feel?” the elf asked.

“What kind of question is that? Are you comfortable? How does the hot chocolate taste? Any plans for tomorrow?”

“Plans for tomorrow?”

Enne withheld her frown as she looked away.

“At least you know your name.”

“I’m sorry. I wish I knew more. You’ve had no dreams? Not aspirations, but—”

“I—I know what you mean. But, no. I haven’t.”

“Try to remember.”

Silesta doted for a minute. At that time, Enne nearly conceded the young woman couldn’t remember anything.

“It’s… Always the same thing,” Silesta’s gentle voice broke the silence. “Fog and coal… Death…”

Enne nodded before gazing at the starry night. She placed her hand on Silesta’s, feeling her tremble slowly ease. Alejandro slowly awoke. He looked around, cringing from the dull pain in his chest. The setting looked familiar, but he wasn’t sure where he was. Enne’s ears perked gently. She looked over her shoulder, watching as he sat against the side.

“Where are we?” he asked tiredly.

“We’re where we need to be,” she replied before passing him a cup. He lowered his nose and took a whiff of the scent. “Why are you sniffing it like that?”

“How am I to know this is hot chocolate?”

“I haven’t tried it myself. I was waiting for you to wake up. In fact, it’s probably cold. Let me warm it up.”

Enne scooted closer and coursed mana through the old ceramic cup. Smoke rose in seconds, unleashing its chocolaty aroma. The flustered wanderer took a sip. She found something endearing about his subdued interactions. Enne playfully nudged his arm. She took a sip, finding the taste enjoyable.

“Wow,” Enne commented. “I know damn well they don’t have cocoa beans, but this is a damned good substitute. Right, Silesta?”

Silesta nodded. Their conversation lightened her mood.

“Yeah,” Alejandro nodded. “It’s probably the best I had in some time.”

“Allie… We’ll be heading out in a few days.”

Alejandro lowered his cup. When Alejandro looked at her, her steely gray eyes were already gazing into his. It wasn’t a severe gaze but something more considerate. Their eye contact held before he broke off. He knew what she was about to say when he recognized his surroundings.

“Allie,” Enne gently grabbed his hand, caressing it with her thumb. “I made a deal to get you the help you needed. You were in terrible shape.”

“What kind of deal did you make?” he asked. He looked away, wondering how she’d respond.

“We’d infiltrate an Ethoxian base north of the city.”

“What kind of deal is that?”

Enne nudged his face toward her to see her gray eyes reflecting a dim moonlight. Her eyes searched into his, hoping to find comfort and warmth on a cold night. She slid her hand down to his chin, twirling his beard before letting go. The wanderer was mesmerized by her effortless seduction as she leaned in to kiss him on his lips. Her body pressed against his as though stealing warmth. Her hands held onto him as though she feared letting go.

“I can be so reckless,” Enne whispered into his ear before leaning back to see his face. “I’ve done things in the heat of the moment. But your feelings… They do matter to me.”

Alejandro’s heart stopped.

“Whatever happens—" Enne continued.

“Happens,” Alejandro finished, placing his hands on her waist. She expressed surprise, seeing the determination in his eyes. “I’ll never leave your side.”

Enne’s smile widened.

“Hey, uh, En,” he said. “Silesta is still here, you know?”