Christel Saan had not slept much in the three weeks that followed his fateful encounter with Garn Pallerii. He’d lie awake in his tent, eyes open with his hands on his chest, thinking. His thoughts would shift from dread and despair to some plan he could use against the shemn, or sometimes towards Hazel and his hope for a better future. It had all happened so fast. All of Noveria had become a warzone, and it was a war that they were losing.
Every man fought for himself. The Rhaetaii would not go beyond the Sandra, the Surians refused to travel west, and the Taellians remained on their own. Anyone – even the women and children, the elderly and the sick – who did not escape the wrath of the shemn were massacred, and no one dared to help.
Their army came from the mountains, as Korasuun foretold, and their attack was ruthless and unforgiving. Every small village in the Taegan Valley was quickly obliterated, and that included Riftsire.
Taelliwey had somehow managed to survive the first attack, however the city was quickly besieged. If anything, and despite Ashley’s warnings, the city expected an attack from the south, anticipating the newly acquired ferocity of the djann that had destroyed Torren.
Taelliwey was able to evacuate many of its citizens by sea, and they were sent to the safety of the islands off the coast. But Christel knew that it was only a matter of time before the walls would come toppling down.
Eran was the next city to fall. It held out long enough, however it stood no chance in defending against this unforseen enemy. The city tried to evacuate to Eden, however the shemn destroyed the tracks, and with it their hope of escape.
Okraan was able to evacuate most of its people to Eden, at least they had the good sense to retreat early. The city was the only place where people could still fight, and even though it had almost been completely destroyed, the resistance fighters used it to keep the shemn from crossing the Sandra.
Despite the few pockets of resistance that had assembled, and the siege that took place over Taelliwey, everything north of the Sandra had been lost to the shemn. Surra and Eden were the only two relatively safe places left, and they were both filled to the brim with refugees.
From what Christel had last heard, Arlandra was still in Surra recovering from the wounds that Garn had dealt him. His body was recovering well enough, however Christel feared what might be happening in the assassin’s mind. He had suffered defeat more than once at the hands of Garn Pallerii, and the weight of this war was slowly crushing down on him, hell, it was crushing down on everyone.
He knew that he had to have faith in Arlandra, and in all of his plans and schemes at defeating the shemn one thing was certain – Garn Pallerii had to die. The fate of Noveria rested in the assassin’s hands, so Christel just had to keep everyone alive until it was done.
He had parted with Sam a week ago at the busy docks of Eden. The entire district had become filled with panicked refugees from Taelliwey and Okraan, and their cries gripped at his heart. I must find a way to help these people, he had thought.
The soldier had explained to Christel that, despite the siege over Taelliwey and Ashley’s hasty warnings to prepare, the council refused to make use of their military’s special division.
The Spartan forces, as people often called them, were the most elite members of the military, but weren’t used very often. They were capable to completing any task with complete perfection, and it was once the soldier’s dream to one-day rise to that astounding rank. For now, however, he needed their help, actually, he needed anyone’s help.
Regardless, and despite Christel objections, Sam was determined to help Taelliwey in any way that he could, and so he left right away, sailing over the ocean against the bounding current of refugee boats. And now it was Christel’s turn to help.
With the distant clamour of war thundering across the Sandra and into his tent, Christel opened his eyes. He crawled out into the gentle orange glow of the morning desert sun and welcomed its warmth.
He glanced over the still smouldering pile of rubble that he and a few other resistance fighters had created, forming artificial rapids as the water of the Sandra flooded out into the sea. He had destroyed the main bridge that connected Eran to Eden, rigging its supports with a few of Devin’s devices and watching as it plummeted into the blue depths of the river below. That ought to have brought them some time.
He was so tired. How long would this last? Never before had he experienced so much pain and destruction. And yet, there was Hazel, standing so comfortably with the river behind her, cooking eggs over a fire.
“Good morning,” she said, glancing over the orange burst of sunrise before them.
Christel followed her gaze. “I guess it is,” he replied.
“I found us some breakfast,” she continued. “I probably shouldn’t have gone out on my own, but your were so tired and we can’t fight a war on empty stomachs.”
He smiled. Hazel poked at their breakfast with a spoon and Christel realised that she was remarkably happy, despite everything that had happened. It made him feel good. It made him feel hope.
“Why are you smiling?” he asked her, curiously.
She looked at him, her eyes shimmering with a sweet orange flame. “Well, unlike everyone else I’ve seen in the past few weeks, I refuse to let the world burn so easily. It helps to smile – makes everything easier.”
The thought crossed his mind that Hazel understood that they could perish at any time, and she just didn’t want to go down unsmiling. It hurt for him to think about.
“And besides,” she continued, “it’s my birthday tomorrow.”
“Oh?” Christel laughed, “you’ll have to forgive me for not getting you anything.”
“Well given the circumstances I think it’s okay.”
They both watched as a group of resistance fighters marched by towards the broken bridge. They were heading there to take over for the group that stood watch during the night. How long would this last? He asked himself again. How can I help them? I am only a thief, but there must be something? If I can convince Eden to support the Djann, then we may have a force strong enough to fight back. But how to I get them to listen? And there’s no way of knowing if the djann will even want to fight alongside us.
Hazel was watching him as he delved deeper into his thoughts. He had to be strong, for her sake.
“Do you plan on re-joining the resistance in the fight?” she asked him.
“No, we’ve done our part here, we should go back to Eden. I have a mission to accomplish. Unite the humans with the djann, and with the orcs of the Eldar.” If I can get them to leave their forest, he thought grimly. But he wouldn’t think about that now. “That’s what Ariana asked of me.”
He left with Hazel that morning, to the only city left that was free of war. But there was a constant cry over Eden and an atmosphere that almost said: ‘but not free of despair.’ns 22.214.171.124da2