At the storehouse, Ernest stood guard at the entrance of the basement where the strange piece of an artifact laid idle by underneath his feet. Deep in thought, he cannot find words to describe the majestic detail and power below the floor. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. Such a rare find was worth much more than mere common gold.
Beside of Ernest, who was completely mesmerized of his discovery, Grimwald reacted differently and smiled a madden glee. Sparkle in his eyes, he sought out of the prize and the chance for profit. Whether it was vague or powerful if there was a price to be made then Grimwald was the right man for the job.
However, as much as the former thief would like to take it to sell the highest bidder, Grimwald decided it wasn't the best and quickly gave up the idea. He didn't want to risk the wrath of the Commandant.
Grimwald left the storehouse to report to the Partishan. It had been fifteen minutes after that and Ernest remained at the wait for their return. Just as he was about to close his eyes footsteps were heard just outside. He watched the door open to find a large figure in full set of pale armor.
The Partishan arrived at last.
"You are Ernest, correct?" The Partishan, Simr Lars, spoke calmly. "Your friend, Grimwald, is with Remius, carrying the supplies from the workshop. Proceed to him and follow his command. Is that clear, soldier?"
Ernest understood and deeply bowed with respect. He had a profound admiration to the Partishans. He would never forget that day when their courage saved his people from death at the hands of the Red Horde.
"As you wish, milord."
Partishan Lars confirmed with a nod and remained silent as Ernest left the storehouse. Alone by himself, Lars already felt a strong source of energy lurking below the basement. Its energy wasn't foul or devious but rather a pleasant vibe that presented him.
The Partishan proceeded down into the basement. As he gradually opened the door, a gush of cool breeze blew at his face. There was an ambient glow, a soft light, that surround the basement. He went further ahead as the light grew brighter than ever before. At the end, he spotted the source of the light.
It was a stone. A single chunk of oceanic ore that emitted an innocent glow of light. It had strange markings all over the piece and laid firmly attach on a stone post, perfectly arranged as a personal trophy.
Lars didn't suspect the strange energies would be coming from a single, pathetic rock. He reached his hand towards the stone without a thought of hesitation or fear. He touched the surface and lifted it with ease. Again, it was another surprise to him that the stone weighed nothing more than a feather.
Lars brought his face much closer, seeing his own reflection from the stone. He wasn't prepared to deal with when a jolt of energy ran through his face and his fingers. The sudden reaction was unavoidable. He dropped the stone to the ground, shattering it into million of pieces before the debris fade from existence.
The blue light was no more, replaced by a pitch black of darkness that engulfed the basement.
Lars shook off the pain from his fingers and lighted the torch. He cursed silently under his breath, agitated that he couldn't bring the stone to his superior in one piece. All that was left from the stone was rendered useless, nothing more than mere rock and dust. Aside from the situation, he was relieved that it didn't explode.
With the purpose to bring the stone was unsuccessful, Lars made his way back upstairs, disappointed that the trip to the storehouse was just a waste of his time. He wasn't even sure the purpose of the stone or its usefulness.
Although Lars left the storehouse, he somehow felt much better for some reason. He didn't feel the soreness from his back or the arduous pain in his head since his introduction to the Partishan.
"Probably the weather," Lars simply guessed as he turned his direction to his group.
In what had been hours of peaceful exploration, the vanguards had checked the hamlet and found nothing dangerous or otherwise a threat that surround the area. Although Partishan Lars was skeptical of the blood from the longhouse, he was convinced it was safe for the rest of the forces to arrive.
With the word from Partishan Lars, row after row of imperial gunners marched into the hamlet, bringing along Lady Valice and the rest of his fellow Partishans. They quickly chosen a large house to deliver the wounded and the broken.
In conclusion, the vanguards reported that the entire hamlet itself was empty, barren from any life. The hamlet had several houses that were enough to fill the remnant of Lady Valice's forces and supplies that last for several months.
Partishan Lars reported to his superior, Callus, about the stone and a humanoid beast from his blood vision. He had already mention the stone to the lady, but didn't mention about the blood vision for reason that she cannot know.
The Partishan closely guarded their secret of blood vision from the public. The ability to glimpse through a person's memories through the taste of blood was considered heretical to most citizens. If the public knew that their pride and joy were but vampiric monsters the consequences might excel into another open rebellion.
The Partishans had been quickly informed by Callus of the humanoid beast, openly vigilant for more strange creatures similar to Lar's description.
After days integrating to the new world and recuperating the wounded soldiers, the hamlet was transformed into a base of operation. One of the many things to come in the name of the Empire. With the construction of the wooden wall underway, the soldiers geared up for an expedition to explore the unknown territories of the land. All they needed was the command of the Lady.
From the window sill of the longhouse, Lady Valice watched her troops from afar, feeling a tremendous relief and gratitude that they survived the terrible gruesome of winter and the merciless Red Horde of the Scarlet Order. The men outside of the longhouse were seasoned veterans of the Scarlet Rebellion, efficient sharpshooters and killers alike. Some were loyal to her late father, Garibaldi Vera, some opened out with bitter resentment of her leadership and fewer declared their services to the Lady.
Accountable to the number of survivors less than a hundred made out alive from the forest. What have been a battalion was substantially reduced to a small pocket remain of weary and exhausted soldiers. Even the Partishan with over five hundred men were cut down to twenty three, dangerously close to extinction.
With many problem in her hand, Lady Valice had to be cautious in her decision without a mere chance to hesitate. The survival of her men, the Partishans and Oraas Dem rest under her shoulder. She was ready to sacrifice whatever the means necessary for the safety of a few remnant of iron.
"I see that you're still daydreaming of the outside world." Oraas Dem presented from behind. "The men wanted to know when they can start their expedition? They've been waiting outside for an hour already."
"I know, Oraas. I know, but we cannot be sure what they would suspect out there."
"As always you have a profound kindness of your men."
Valice smirked. "Too bad the men doesn't show the same."
"Give it time, milady. The men served your father in the beginning of the rebellion. Transition to new leadership is never easy. However, if you are worried for them then your concern is misplaced. I trained these men under your father for many years. They are well prepared for the task."
"I hope you are right." Lady Valice sighed lightly. "We cannot afford to lose any men at this point on."
Lady Valice turned away from the window and moved to the center of the room where a pale armored Partishan stood in wait.
"Good morning, my leader." Dumar Callus, unofficial leader of the Partisan, gave a slight bow before her. "How was your sleep? I hope the night didn't bother you or anything at the matter."
Lady Valice hated the man out of all of the Partishan. She heard tales of his dark deeds of malevolence and cruelty in the Scarlet Rebellion, disregarding the lives of both friend and foe alike.
"I am well, Sir Callus. The night isn't terrible than you would imagine." Valice made a feint smile as she sat down at a nearby table. "This would be the last time we'll see each other."
"Yes. Might take days from here and back, but it would be worth it."
"I hope so. We abandon a lot of good people back there. I cannot imagine how they would survive in the forest. Alone in the darkness."
"They are probably dead as we speak." Callus stated, densely which the Lady hid well of her painful expression of annoyance towards him. "The chances of survival is slim and if they manage to survive then they have already deserted the Empire in exchange their pitiful life. Oh my apologies, I mean their years of loyal service.
"However, we shall see if there is any survivors that stayed true to the Empire. My concern are the remnants of the Scarlet Order."
"The Scarlet Order?!" Oraas Dem blurted out with shock. "Surely you must be joking that their despicable order still lives do you? My men have check every inch and corner of that hellish landscape and blow their nightmare's head off if they are still breathing. There is no reason to think that they manage to survive from that place."
Partishan Callus craned his head and smiled toward at Dem. It was a demented smile, filled with murderous intent for blood and pleasure. "Never underestimate a Scarlet, dear Commandant. Their tenacious determination and their own personal cowardice might serve as the motivation to live rather than fight to the death."
"Is this the reason why you want to lead the expedition?" Lady Valice asked, worryingly. "To kill every last man, woman and child that sided with the Order? "
"An optional objective, milady. Nothing that would risk to your goals." Callus simply replied. "However, the Order is but a blight that have aged into an avarice swine. If any of them manage to survive their teachings of indulgence and corruption would spread throughout the land, making a new Order out from the ruin.
"My duty, and the duty of the Partishan, is too bring peace to the Empire and destroy any that might disrupt the harmony of the land. Including the Scarlet Order. Now, as much I would like to discuss the extensive details, do I have your permission to proceed with the expedition?"
Lady Valice was not an ideal woman if she was to let Callus be in charge of the mission. She might simply decline his request and replaced him with a more suitable candidate, but if she did then the whole group of Partishans would voice in protest, even as far as to take over her forces if she was deemed unfit of command.
"Say no more, Sir Callus." She said, mentally sighing, making a standard gesture of hand. "You have my permission. May your journey be safe and may you return in one piece."
Callus quickly smirked, made a light bow and left without a word.
With Callus out from the hearing range, Oraas Dem moved closer to Lady Valice. "Dumar Callus. A prime candidate in the title for Patriot. He might be a dangerous one."
Lady Valice sighed out loud. "Let's hope that it doesn't come to that."
The sound of command from Partishan Callus had set the soldiers into motion as they marched out from the hamlet in a journey back to where it all began, deep into the black and forsaken forest.
Meanwhile, far from the hamlet at the opposite side of the world and safe away from the forest, a single soul ventured into an uncharted course, carried towards to a future wrap with insularity. The figure wore in a magnificent crimson armor, feather and light that move without restriction. The man wandered in the middle of the night, alone and lost in the empty road, never turn his head back to the brothers that were forsaken.
The red armored figure was Aviel Amion, and he was the last of the Order. The last soul that earned the right as a coward.
However, Amion didn't feel the heavy guilt that burden his thoughts nor the frustration over his action. Rather, he was thrilled with exhilaration and a smile that cannot be erase. He was relieve that for the first time in his life, he was no longer bound to the will of the masters.
Aviel Amion, last of the Crimsonier, was free from his chain. It was his life long ambition to leave the Order, forever burying the past.
A Crimsonier was the heart of the Order, consisted to a rare number of few. Through the power from the stone called the Heart, they were grand conjurers of the flame, able to cast brilliant spectacles of light. They served faithfully to the Order, willful servants to help the people that were in dire need of help. But as the Scarlet war erupted, with their masters command them to do despicable cruelty against an entire nation, they were viewed like any other. Horrendous monsters, vile sorcerers left unchecked that needed to be stop.
Amion cannot erase the deeds that stained his hand, the decision that burned deep into his soul. The powers that he wielded was meant for the goodness of the Empire and to the citizens that dwelt in their peaceful, unimportant lives. Yet the people were victims of corrupt masters, overzealous knights and terrible fools like himself.
Even his fellow Crimsoniers fell to the influence of the masters, already forgotten the creed of what meant to the Order. They become twisted abomination of their former selves, discarding their humanity in the machines for war. He would have join them, unwillingly, intensely even, to die in the master's name if not for one person that changed his life forever.
A young boy with a heart of gold that fell and died in his arm.
From miles of his travel to the quiet darkness the sight illuminated under a pale moonlight. There from ahead, Amion spotted something from the distant. A wheel cart, broken and discarded at the side of the road. He approached to the cart to find it to be empty, but his eyes quickly caught attention not far from it.
It was a body yet it wasn't even human.
A strange, manlike raccoon laid perched at the tree with a wound through the chest. The wound was large, precision right through the heart. The death was instantaneous. The raccoon wore fine set of garments of yellow and blue with a feathery red cap. A businessman or a noble.
Amion didn't help but to show sympathy for the beast. The sign of struggle suggested that the raccoon was attack by one or more group. Although he had no knowledge of the identity of the raccoon there was a certain chance that the camp was nearby.
Internally debating, Amion faced with two possible choices. Either he would stay to find the camp, pillage the supplies and kill anyone that stood in his way or continue on, march towards the road until the sight of civilization.
The choice wasn't difficult. Amion stayed.
The Crimsonier took action and went off course into the wilderness. He easily found the tracks on the ground, sporadic, traceable for anyone who has good set of eyes. He was a fool to stay, fool to dare such an attempt, but the idea that there might be some food to satisfy his hunger suggested it was worth the risk.
The trail lead Amion just a mile from where the raccoon was discovered. There was a fainting orange light from the distant and strange unintelligible sounds was heard, a mixture of laughter and joyous song.
Amion took precaution in every step of the way, quietly hiding in the shadow, treading inch by inch closer to the light. He wasn't surprised that the camp was littered with wanton beasts, quite similar to the raccoon from earlier. From different shape and size, the beasts gathered around the fire, drinking away with cheerful expression in their faces.
Amion counted about seven of them, all large and intimidating beasts with the exception of one little critter, a rodent of chocolate-brown fur in red and white garment, tied behind a tree with cuts and bruises all over its body.
The beasts were pretentious, unclean with no regard of mannerism. There were different types of animals around the camp, precarious and lethal in their own right. The style of their clothing, dulled colors of brown and grey fabric, made Amion assumed they were mercenaries, common thugs for hire who cared little for others.
Hastily, Amion acted without a plan and stood in the open for the beasts' attention. He raised his hand towards the fireplace.
The fire begin to grew, stronger, brighter than ever before. In the end, the fire exploded in a spectacle brilliance that caught many beasts by surprise. Amion leaped into the chaos with a charred black blade in his hand and sliced clean off at the nearest beast.
While most were covered in flame, some struggled to fend themselves against the intruder. However, in the end, the beasts were taken down one by one, disarmed and intoxicated by the drink.
The procedure was swift and merciless that ended in mere minutes. All the mercenaries were dead from either burned, crushed from the explosion or slayed by Amion. With the campsite cleared, there was only one left that remained.
The brown rodent watched the whole ordeal, still wide awake of the destruction and death that permeated around the camp. With undaunted ruby eyes, the rodent turned to its rescuer, a single individual, a creature, draped in vibrant red of armor.
Amion walked towards to it, standing before the weak and battered rodent. He raised his hand and aimed for the rope as his hand displayed a faint and fiery glow. The rope began to catch fire and it wasn't long before the rodent was released to kiss the dirt.
After that, there was a moment of silence between the two.
Instantaneous, Amion was bit impressed by the resilience of the rodent, trying to get back up on its feet though under fatal and severe injuries. He observed safely from a distant as the rodent managed to stand. He got what he came for with supplies that lasted a week. With a nod of confirmation, he went on his way, leaving the camp, the dead mercenaries and the wounded rodent behind without a word.
By reason alone, Amion should have stayed at the camp, tending to the rodent's health, accompanying the creature on a faraway journey of treasure and excitement.
The idea was ludicrous at best.
Amion was not a saint, not a hero to save the day. He was a refugee, an immigrant, a self proclaimed deserter that abandon his brothers to their death. He had better things to do than to care for others. From now on, it was every man for himself.
There was nothing to stop him, nothing to distract in a lonely trail far into darkness.