Chapter 2: Friend or Foe
(Slightly early chapter cause of exams tommorrow >.>)
Walking out of the room, A jaw-dropping sight made its way into my still cloudy vision. Below us was a sprawling settlement where small shacks and huts dotted the clearing in a random manner. At the edge of the clearing was a line of sharp wooden fences jutting out of the uneven ground, marking the end of the clearing. Past the fences, as far as the eye could see was a sea of verdant green trees, before abruptly stopping in front of a pair of snow capped mountains.
The twin dragons of Varusia, located in the province of Vanaheim. Originally named after the legend of two dragons who fought and ruled over Vanaheim, now they are mountains known throughout the empire for their dangerous monsters and unforgiving terrain. Considering the close proximity of those mountains, the town of Varich must be close by too.
“Beautiful isn’t it?”
Valtan’s exclamation pulled me out of my deep thoughts and back into reality.
“Uh, yeah. But why are we located so high up for?”
I enquired curiously. While looking anxiously at my surroundings, I realized that I was standing on thin wooden boardwalks that were attached to long curvy branches. These boardwalks then spiralled down the main trunk, forming steps for the log house that laid ingrain into the trunk of the tree. Above me, small thin branches spread out, forming a leaf covered canopy that shielded us from the glaring sun overhead. Piecing together all the details before me, I finally realised that we were in a tree!
Feelings of shock and awe replaced the sadness and loss within me in an instant.
“Oh this, it’s called a world tree. They can be found within the centre of most great forests. We came across this one and decided to set up our base around here as it’s relatively secluded and also allows us a birds eye view of the surroundings, warning us if and when the empire attacks.”
I turned back to face Valtan and replied with a suspicious look on my face.
“Doesn’t that also…you know, make it easier for you to get spotted out as well?”
“Ahahahaha… Uhhhhh… How about we go meet some of the crew and get you something to eat?”
Dodging the question, he made a one-eighty and started to walk down the spiralling staircase, beckoning me to follow behind.
At the base of the tree, roots sprawled out in all directions, weaving in and out of the dirt and grass below. Following Valtan’s guidance, we soon arrived at a dilapidated shack.
Though calling it dilapidated might be wrong as most of the buildings around here look the same, so I guess it’s normal?
With a quick glance behind to check if I’ve managed to catch up, Valtan then proceeded to knock on the door.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
No matter how you see it, that’s totally not knocking at all!
I retorted loudly in my mind as Valtan started violently slamming his fist into the door, where with every hit, I could see splinters shooting off in random directions. Glancing at the surroundings once more, I thought back to myself.
I mean I guess that kinda explains why most of the houses look like this anyway. I just hope everyone else isn’t this… wild.
However, my hopes were instantly dashed as an old scruffy man finally opened up the door.
At first glance, he looked normal… at least compared to Valtan but…
“Who yer’ makin’ all this racket for? I ain’t deaf y’know!”
“Sorry Lennair, but I’ve got something to ask of you.”
Scratching his chin, Valtan replied hesitantly. Taking a closer look at his face, he was actually squinting, as if bracing for something. With a blank look on my face, I turned to face Lennair, only to make the same expression as Valtan.
“Again?!? How many times has it been already? You wanna overwork me or somethin’? Look I’m already tied up by our current supply issues and now the empire burned off Varich, our closest contact point to civilization. Whaddaya want me to do now?”
“I’m sorry for pushing this to you but could you find my little buddy here some rations and maybe a spare sword and armour while you’re at it? I know being a quartermaster is hard but I’ll give you some more rum later okay?”
Lennair glared at Valtan for a second, scratching his unkempt beard as if seriously contemplating his leader’s instructions, before finally shrugging his shoulders.
“Alright, gimme a moment while I go search for some spare rations.”
After saying that, his scruffy figure disappeared behind the door, only to be replaced by loud rummaging coming from the depths of his house.
Man he sure is working hard… Speaking of which, I haven’t really introduced myself to Valtan yet. I guess I should at least let the person who saved me know who exactly he saved.
Taking advantage of this short pause, I spoke out to Valtan.
“Uhhhhh… Hey, I’m Aegeus, nice to meet you Valtan. Thanks for saving me.”
I extended my hand, while looking at Valtan confidently in the eyes.
Surprise first unfurled across Valtan’s face before turning into an expression of joy.
“Ohohoho… Nice to meet you! Thought you’d never open up!”
His thick arm went over my neck and onto my shoulder, pulling my head closer to his chest. He then formed a fist with his remaining hand and drove it into the top of my head, ruffling up my hair.
“Ow ow ow! Stop it!”
After what seemed like an eternity, I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be glad to see that scruffy man’s figure appear behind the decrepit door.
Ah! Finally, my true saviour!
“Alright, here’s some spare rations I’ve found. It’s not much but it’s all I can afford right now. Lately a bear’s been attacking our supplies and guards at night, and for some reason their bodies are nowhere to be found. Now that the Empire has basically razed Varich to the ground, our supply lines are gonna be even more strained. As for the equipment, you can try approaching Harry for it…”
Lennair said that with a frown and a hard expression clouding over his face.
Looks like something else is affecting him… I don’t know if I should be meddling in these kind of things considering my relatively new position. But maybe Valtan would know. I should try asking him about it…
After thanking Lennair for the rations, me and Valtan started walking towards the east of the encampment, to find Harry the blacksmith. On the way, I reluctantly asked Valtan.
“Did you see Lennair’s facial expressions earlier? He seems bothered by something… Do you know what that would be?”
“Ah. I guess you noticed it too. Well, a few weeks ago, a bear started attacking our encampment. One of the soldiers missing was his son, Zenir. Although I’ve been wanting to send a search and rescue party after them, with the recent strained supply lines, my hands are tied as there’s no one I can spare.”
Ah. That explains it I guess. He must be feeling lots of unease and anger right now. Losing a precious loved one… Afterall, that was what I had felt.
“Truth be told, I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse. As much as it pains me to lose the very soldiers’ that trained under me, I knew that I had to work harder to ensure the safety of supplies for the rest of us, in an attempt to distract myself from what was really happening However, with more and more of it being stolen now, I can’t afford to overlook it any further!”
With fire reigniting the embers in his eyes, he clenched his fist and continued.
“How about it kiddo? We go hunting for the bear that’s been stealing my people and supplies? Heard its holed up in the mountains somewhere!”
Really? Didn’t you say your hands are tied? Well I guess I do owe you one for saving me back in Varich. Moreover, I can’t be the same me that was helpless in protecting Andromeda against the attack by the Empire. I need to get faster. I need to get stronger. I need to get my revenge!
Words continued to echo in my mind. Emotions swirled in my heart, nudging me towards a resolute yes. Succumbing to my emotions, I then turned towards Valtan with a determined expression on my face.
“Sure! Let’s do it!”
Ending off with a loud clap that resounded through the clearing, two men with wide unnatural grins and crazed countenances exchanged a handshake in the middle of the unkempt dirt path. Out of context, one would’ve probably thought that they had both lost it. But to them, it was instead the start of a tumultuous friendship that would change their lives forever…
Written by: Emelia-Tan
Edited by: Schwarz13 and Mega14343
Proofread by: Yakult