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Evermist

Chapter One

Elias folded his good white shirt and placed it in the duffel atop his other worldly possessions he was allowed to take with him; two pairs of pants - one black, one dark blue, small clothes and undershirts, three pair of long underwear his mother had made special for the trip, two long, woolen shirts and the jackets to match the pants, the slingshot he'd carved from the tree branch that had caught his eye as being 'perfect' when he was only ten years old, all three books that he had bought with his own money, and the letters from his summer away from Anise tucked away with a red ribbon to keep them together and safe. For Induction today, he wore the gray suit with his black shirt. He knew he'd be issued a uniform as soon as he arrived, but he still wanted to look presentable at the gates.

A small part of his mind wondered how many other young men showing up today could boast three coats and the pants to match. He didn't think there would be very many, if any at all.

Nor would many manage a purse with two golds, twelve silvers and forty-seven coppers. The treasure constituted all the money he had in the world and he didn't know if he'd need it where he was going or not, but he wanted it with him just the same.

A crash at his door announced the arrival of Jaina, her red curls a tangled mass as she bounded in without so much as a knock, legs pumping as she kicked the yellow, frilly dress she wore. She looked a thunderhead, face flushed and hands balled into fists at her sides. Her eyes were red and puffy, and he knew she'd been crying again.

"Talk to Father, Elias! He has to listen to you! He has to!"

Ah. She'd been talking to Father again. No doubt he'd switched her for it as well. Normally, she'd have bounded in here and bounced onto the bed, but instead she stood just inside the door fidgeting. Oh yes, she'd been switched. He knew that fidget all too well.

Elias sighed, turning back to the duffel and cinching it closed, his eyes straying to what lay wrapped in a leather holster on his bed. A gun. And this was no ordinary gun - this was a rifle. A repeater as well. With this he could fire a dozen shots without having to reload - important that. The inlaid stock, the silver inset with his initials, 'E S R' for Elias sanRian - oh yes, this was as fine a weapon as he'd ever seen and had surely never dreamt of owning such a thing. Yet here it was, with his initials inlaid on the stock in silver as if to shout to the world that he came from a wealthy family.

One that would not buy out his Conscription. It marked him as something; what, he wasn't certain. A failure? A bastard son? Who knew how the story would go, but a story there would be and whether or not it hindered or helped him to survive was yet to be seen.

The saber lay next to the rifle, fit snugly in the scabbard his mother had commissioned for him with it's intricate design - dragons battling each other up one side and back down the other. He was almost certain his mother had been responsible for both weapons and not just the saber, but she claimed only the one and not the other. His father had presented him with the rifle just after dinner, his mother the saber, and neither looked very happy about it. She disagreed with this whole mess, but he knew his father would not budge once a decision had been made, and he'd made up his mind about this.

"Father doesn't listen, Jaina. He speaks and other people listen. We've argued enough. There's nothing left to say."

Suddenly she was beside him, eyes staring down at the rifle still wrapped in leather. "It's not every day Father gives you a gun..."

"He has a guilty conscious, and a wife who does not let him rest when she thinks him wrong."

Jaina stared daggers at him. "Why must you make it more difficult?!"

Jaina was the baby in the family, only ten years old, but far too smart and mature for her age. He'd always said so. They never let her be a child and yet insisted on dressing her up like some doll all in lace and frill, hair curled and lips painted. Nor had they let Ari be a child with all their rules - they drilled into both of them a sense of honor and duty that had always grated on him and he feared it would crush his siblings once he was gone. Any attempt to discuss it, though, was met with harsh words and the strap if he were too lose with his tongue.

"I don't think it's very fair that you have to leave," Jaina said while still eyeing the rifle on the bed.

"Life isn't always fair," he said softly. "You should remember that. We don't always get what we want. Sooner you learn that, better off you'll be. Especially with Father."

Elias finished cinching up the duffel and put his arm through the cord, slinging it over his shoulder. Jaina stepped forward and took the saber from the bed, wrapping the belt around his waist easily enough, her face utterly serious. She tightened it, then stood staring up at him, green eyes brimming over with tears.

"I don't want you to go there."

Cupping her chin, he gave her a smile. The best he could manage when all he wanted to do was shout to the stars and rage against the injustice of it all. He smiled.

"I'll be fine, Jaina. If anyone can come back from there, I can."

"You promise?"

"I promise," he said softly, wanting nothing more than to wince for it. He'd never broken a promise to her before, but this one was made without any surety of his being able to keep it. He was heading to Evermist, and no one he knew had ever come back from there.

Hugging her tightly while she sobbed against him, he finally had to pull her free, pick up and walk out of the room.

* * *

The promise bothered him as he waited for the lightwagon. He'd managed to break cleanly with Anise the night before, telling her not to even consider waiting for him. She had to live her own life and not pine after him. It ripped him apart inside to do so, but it was for the better. Even if he returned, her father would never agree to marry her to a Militiaman - and that was assuming a great deal; first, that he'd come back, second, that he would be something more than a simply Militiaman, perhaps an Undercaptain or Officer.

As bleak as he felt at the moment, he didn't consider either possibility to be very likely.

Promising Jaina that he'd come back... It was a mistake, and he knew it, but he couldn't stand seeing her in tears. Dinner the night before had been bad enough and he had no desire to relive it all again. So he told her what she wanted to hear and that's that. He would try to live up to that promise, and not just for her, but for himself as well. He didn't want to die, he just knew that his chances of survival were not good.

He was going to Evermist, after all.

 

Chapter Two

The lightwagon hummed as the driver navigated the streets of Valles. Elias sat in the coach, arm resting on the window sill as he watched the city pass by. No one else had flagged the driver down, so he rode alone and it suited his mood.

The winding road from the hills down to the lower city held little beyond the normal city clamor for him to concentrate on but it was better than the alternative. He watched as the fine coats with tails of the Gentry of the Hills gave way to the rougher, woolen coats of the lower city. The colors had always surprised him, even when he was a child and would take trips with his parents to the lower city to catch a boat to Southport, where his Grandparents lived. Yellows and blues and reds were the colors of the coats here - but always bright. The Hills, everything seemed somehow duller and drab.

Large houses with immaculate gardens and windows full of shine and polish gave way to smaller dwellings where the glass windows were of a lower quality and difficult to see through. Here and there, he still saw broken roofs and decaying walls and wondered why the wealth of Valles had not extended this far into the lower city just yet.

"Fort Sudren coming up Boss," called the driver and Elias rapped the top of the coach as acknowledgment. Gathering his things as the hum of the lightwagon lessened to nearly nothing, Elias waited for it to stop completely before unlatching the door and stepping down onto the street. The lightwagon shifted slightly yet continued to hover just above the ground.

"Two and three," said the driver, and Elias dug the silver and copper from his pocket and handed it over with a small tip. All of it an extravagance he probably couldn't afford anymore, taking a lightwagon instead of walking on his own two good legs, but he'd not wanted to bother with navigating the streets on his own so he counted it well worth it.

"Thankee sir," called the driver as he pushed a lever forward and eased the lightwagon back onto the track and down the street. Elias had always wondered what made them go, but his Father would answer, "That's the Magistrate's business and none of yours!" so he had never learned. He supposed he never would now.

The guards at the gate nodded as he walked through. Each had a rifle on his shoulder and a pistol and saber on his belt. The younger of the two looked familiar, and it took Elias a moment to realize he was the son of a Merchant from down the Row, a man of some import if he recalled correctly. His service here in the guard at Valles had most likely been bought and paid for.

It's what his Mother had wanted his Father to do for him.

The guard didn't look at him with any kind of recognition, and to be honest, Elias could not recall the man's name nor his families name, so he decided it was best not to even speak about knowing him.

Inside the tall walls of Fort Sudren, hundreds of young men like himself were gathered here and there in lose formations, all looking wide-eyed and shocked at where they stood. An older man with closely shaven hair and a piece of wood where his right leg used to be, gestured at Elias with a cane he held in his right hand, motioning for him to step forward. Since no one else seemed concerned with his presence fresh from the gates, Elias obliged the man.

He was at least as tall as Elias himself, nearly five foot seven although it was hard to judge with the peg leg. His hair was shaved closer to his head than Elias had ever seen, barely showing a wisp of brown coloring. His beard, though, was like mixing salt and pepper in a bowl, equal parts white and dark throughout, and cut in such a way that it outlined his jaw and mouth sharply, with nary a hair out of place. His body was lean and muscular and he wore the dark blues of command, a pair of stripes visible on his sleeves and a single stripe down his pant legs. Elias wasn't sure of the rank - not yet, but he'd seen enough of these men come and go from his Father's dinner table to know it meant he was to be listened to.

"Name," the man said as a clipboard materialized in his hand. His tone made it clear answering was not optional.

"Elias sansRian," he answered.

"Elias, Son of Rian," the man replied as he checked something off on his paper. "Sign or make your mark here..."

The man held the clipboard out and Elias signed next to his name.

"You're with L Company - they're on the western edge of the field and flying a blue flag with white stripes. Form up there for Induction. You'll be issued your uniform and processed after the Captain has his words."

"Yes sir," he replied, and the man gripped his elbow like a vice. Elias stared, mouth half open as if to complain, but something in the man's eyes kept him silent. Here was a one legged man who managed to scare the wits right out of him simply by looking at him.

"Good instincts," the man said, his voice like gravel. "But I ain't a 'sir'. Faster you learn that, better off you'll be. These stripes," he said, pointing. "Makes me a Sergent. I work for a living, you got me?"

Elias could only nod, unable to find his voice. There was something about the man's eyes, all cold and blue, that made him shiver and want to run away. When his arm was released, Elias wasted no time scurrying off to find his company.

He was surprised that none of the other young men looked that different from himself; all wide-eyed and nervous, clutching bags and appearing generally lost. He knew his own face must be a mirror of these others. Another man in blue, this one much younger and without any stripes on his sleeve, lead him out to a spot in the formation and told him to stand there until Induction was over.

Once the other was away, Elias looked to his left and smiled nervously at the young man beside him, who returned it in like. Soon, another man stood to his right and Elias also smiled at him and received a smile in return. This was his company, he figured it was never too soon to start making friends with the men who might save his life one day.

Perhaps a quarter of an hour passed before his company was looking very full, as were all the others. He counted ten companies based on the formations, and all facing a raised platform just in front of what looked like offices of some kind. He knew that the Fort itself was much larger than this one area where they gathered, and guessed that it must spread out behind those offices to include barracks and access to the docks below.

It wasn't much longer until a group of men climbed the stairs and formed up on the dais. One in particular stepped to the edge and faced the assembled companies. From all around them, the men in the blue coats began shouting for quiet.

"I am Captain Sanche, Commander of this facility," said the man in a booming voice. He has jet black hair with beard and mustache to match. His uniform is dark blue with gold cords tied on his shoulders and a chest full of medals that gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. "Each of you has been chosen to serve your people, your families, your home and your Magistrate. Here you will learn the skills to be a soldier. From this point on, you are Militia. You will wear the uniform with pride, and you will serve to the best of your ability until the day your Conscription ends."

The men in blue all around them began shouting that they all raise their right hands. Captain Sanche started to recite the oath, and each and everyone of the men there repeated the words woodenly.

They were Militia now.

Chapter Three

Still shocked, Elias ran his hand over the stubble on his head. Looking to Narut he gave a small smile to see the other doing the same thing. He and Narut, it seemed, would be bunk mates for the duration of their stay at Fort Sudren. Both had been given haircuts and uniforms and now waited for their instructor along with a dozen other members of L Company, which had apparently been split into 3 squads for training.

Narut was from Southport, eldest son of a fisherman who'd spent most of his life stepping in and out of boats. His skin was dark and his hair had been curly before they shaved it all off. He smiled easily and Elias felt instantly at ease. He was the kind of person everyone liked immediately and Elias was glad to have him around.

"Right!" shouted a voice that boomed like thunder, causing all the young men around him, including Elias himself, to jump. "You lot! FORM UP!"

Everyone scrambled to form up two lines as a man wearing gray pants, suspenders and a white, button-up shirt with no collar stepped up and started glaring. There was a hint of blond in his short cropped hair and his long, thin face showed the lines of a man in his middle years at least.

"You are now a part of Pygon Regiment, L Company, 4th Squad. I am your Squad Leader - that makes me God. My name is Sergent Fesh. You will address me as Sergent, is that understood?"

Everyone replied "Yes Sergent!"

"Good! That is the first thing you have to learn! The second thing is how to run and that starts right now," he said as he pointed to a yellow line painted on the hard packed clay road. "Follow the yellow line! RUN!"

Elias turned with the others and started following the yellow line as it snaked through the barracks, Narut running alongside. Both began panting fairly quickly, taking in great gasps of air. Most of the others were no better.

* * *

Elias had lost the toss that morning, so he had to climb into the upper bunk in the room he shared with Narut. He'd wondered why anyone wouldn't want the upper bunk, until he stood there staring at it, body weary and muscles sore and aching. There was barely enough room in the cramped space for both of them to move around in normally, and when they were stiff and sore from a day of training, it seemed that much more cramped and the climb into the top bunk felt a thousand feet high.

Neither spoke until they were lying down, and then it was mostly groans until Narut managed a complete sentence.

"..do you think it will always be like this?"

"I don't know," Elias replied, shading his eyes with his arm. "I hope not."

"I think I hurt everywhere."

"You too?"

"Fesh is evil."

Elias snickered, causing his aches to flare up again. "He's not evil," he wheezed. "He has to make us strong, teach us to survive."

"I'll never make it..."

"You? You worked a fishing boat all your life! I'm the one who'll never make it."

"Nah, you complain but I think you're the kind'll be here teaching others someday. You'll come back."

Elias sighed. He'd forgotten all about Evermist for a bit. There was always the chance he'd get sent somewhere else, it did happen, just not as often. There wasn't as much need for Militia anywhere else, hadn't been a war in a thousand years. The only thing that needed guarding was Evermist, and they needed reinforcements every year.

"You'll come back," he said quietly, willing it to be true. He liked Narut, he really did. He wanted all of the men he'd met today to come back even though he knew far too many of them would die. There were no guarantees.

Yawning, he turned towards the wall and closed his eyes. He could already hear Narut snoring softly below and sleep came quickly.

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