The Beginning After the End (Vol. 8.5): Amongst the Fallen
But What For?
But What For?
Dec 16, 2021
I moved forward on the wooden bench and leaned my shoulders and head back against the side of the tent, struggling to find a more comfortable position while I waited for the senior captain. The canvas was cool, and the gentle drumming of cold rain on the tent made me want to close my eyes.
The instant I did, however, unpleasant memories surfaced in my mind.
We had still been on the road when news reached us of Dicathen's fall, by way of a force of Alacryan soldiers that had blocked the road to Etistin. The Twin Horns and two other adventuring groups had signed on to guard wagons of weapons and goods heading from the Wall to Etistin. Some of the supplies probably even made it there, though not in our hands.
A boorish Alacryan mage had informed us that the war was over, that the Council members had been executed, and that anyone who laid down arms and returned to their homes would be allowed to do so. It was Helen who convinced us to do as they said.
I could feel my frown deepen as I thought of that moment.
Durden had been ready to go down fighting, his normally even temper having run away with him after Reynolds's death. Angela had been afraid, but she'd have followed Helen anywhere. Helen, though…our leader was always the voice of wisdom. She'd talked us back from the edge when Adam died, and again when Reynolds fell at the Wall, and she saved all our lives there on the road to Etistin.
But what the hell for? I asked myself for the dozenth time.
When the elf Albold later arrived at the Wall in the dead of night, looking for warriors willing to fight back against the Alacryans, the others had been more than happy to go with him.
But I couldn't.
There was a light scuffling as the tent flap was pushed aside. A young, severe woman poked her head in and said, "The senior captain will see you now."
I pushed myself up and adjusted my armor before stepping out into the rain.
The guard led me toward the large tent where the senior captain met with the Wall's other commanders. A thin, balding dwarf was just leaving. He flashed me a sad smile from under his wiry beard as he walked past. Jerimiah Poor, the Wall's almoner. He smiled often, but it was always a weary expression. I imagined that being in charge of hand-outs to the needy was a rather thankless job when everyone around you needed something and you had next to nothing to give.
The rain, though gentle, was bitingly cold, and it quickly distracted me from the dwarf. At least they let me wait in a tent, even if the bench was harder than Durden's head. A thin, humorless smile crept onto my lips at the thought. I'd have to tell him that, if I ever saw the big conjurer again.
The guard eyed me skeptically as she held the tent flap aside. "Jasmine Flamesworth to see the senior captain, sir," she said. I raised my eyebrows at her and smiled wryly, more of a sneer, really. Her gaze focused just over my shoulder as she waited for me to enter, and she let the flap fall behind me after I did, cutting out the misty gray light and forcing my eyes to adjust.
The big round table still dominated the space. In fact, the tent looked almost identical to when my father had occupied it, although the map on the table was gone, as were the neat stacks of paper. Senior Captain Albanth was sitting behind my father's ornate old desk. It was a cumbersome, unwieldy thing to have in a tent, but that was Trodius Flamesworth…
The senior captain was glowering down at a scroll. He groaned and shook his head as he rolled the scroll up, his eyes flicking to me as he did so.
I stood, waiting to be addressed, or perhaps invited to sit. I knew Albanth wasn't as slavish to military decorum as my father had been, but I also knew better than to assume he'd be welcoming of purposeful disrespect.
The senior captain grunted at his scroll. "We're experiencing shortages on everything except mouths to feed." The barrel-chested soldier stood up and made his way around the desk so he was standing in front of me. He leaned back on the desk and let out a deep breath, almost a sigh. "Which means I have plenty on my plate at the moment, and little enough time for friendly chit chat. What do you need, Flamesworth?"
He frowned at me and crossed his arms.
"Work, Senior Captain," I repeated, careful to keep my tone respectful.
Senior Captain Albanth gave me an appraising look before shaking his head. "Plenty of work, Jasmine, but no coin to be had anywhere. If you just need to keep busy, maybe I can find something—"
"I need to eat," I said, more harshly than I intended. I clenched my jaw to keep from saying anything else as I waited for Albanth's rebuke.
The senior captain frowned, but he didn't reply right away. When he spoke again, his deep voice was soft. "I heard you once mentored the young General Leywin. Any truth to that, Flamesworth?"
I returned Albanth's frown but said nothing, unsure what he was getting at.
His lips quirked up into a wry smile beneath his beard. "I have an exceedingly hard time picturing that."
I felt my own frown deepen. "Why's that?"
"No doubt you are quite capable," Albanth replied, relaxing back against his desk and looking and me appraisingly. "It's just that I can't seem to picture General Leywin as a child. Something about that much power makes you think he must have sprung out of the earth as a full-grown man."
Then I realized why the senior captain had brought up Arthur.
His disappearance and probable death was a greater blow than the loss of any single battle, even the destruction of the Council's flying castle. He was the only Dicathian individually powerful enough to make a difference in the war, even more so than the other Lances. It was natural that people who understood this would want to talk about his loss, to mourn him in whatever way they could
When I didn't jump right into the story of my time adventuring with Arthur, Albanth continued. "I've never fought alongside anyone with a mind like his. I swear, he had the tactical prowess of a general five times his age. I heard…" Albanth trailed off and cleared his throat, as if he was about to share an unsavory rumor. "I heard he awakened at only three years old?"
I suddenly remembered Arthur providing me with an in-depth explanation of his sword-fighting technique when he was just three, shortly after having embarrassed Adam in a training bout.
My gaze fell to Albanth's feet and I adjusted my armor uncomfortably. "He was a strange child."
Albanth was watching me expectantly, but I didn't elaborate. What did he want me to tell him?
Silence lingered for several increasingly awkward seconds before I said, "Anyway, he was about what you'd expect. Was there some reason you wanted to know about him?"
Albanth seemed caught off guard by the pointedness of my question. He cleared his throat and pulled the curling scroll from his desk. "Just curious, I suppose. It's a shame, a damned shame he's gone." His eyes flicked from the scroll to me, then back. "Anyway, you say you want to help? There is one way. The Wall needs food. Without hope of continued supplies from Xyrus or Blackbend, or any of the little farming villages nearby, our only real source of food is the Beast Glades."
"And you want me to go hunting."
Albanth gave me something between a nod and a shrug. "It's more dangerous out there than it used to be, what with the mana beasts that survived the horde's attack lingering around, and others that came in to feed off the dead. It makes hunting difficult, and dangerous. But if you can bring in some edible mana beasts, I'll find you somewhere dry to rest your head at night. Deal?"
I turned around and lifted the flap of the tent before answering. "It better be somewhere I can get a hot bath.”
The war between Dicathen and Alacrya is over and Arthur Leywin has vanished. In the uncertain aftermath of this decisive loss, a few familiar faces navigate peril both political and moral as they are now forced to make a difficult choice: accept life under Vritra rule or keep fighting despite impossible odds? As Dicathen falls, Mica Earthborn, Lilia Helstea, Emily Watsken, and Jasmine Flamesworth must each answer this question for themselves.
NOTE ABOUT READING ORDER: to get the best reading experience, Amongst the Fallen should be read after volume 8 of The Beginning After the End (make sure you've read up to episode 868).