“I can’t say.” Her tone was final.
Dem’s influence with Greer was surprisingly weak. He had to remind himself that while she might enjoy him, it was not the same thing as control over her. Perhaps, he had just relaxed too much after getting back from the Wilds. Still, Dem had never know Greer to be evasive, manipulative certainly, but never evasive.
“Can’t say? Or won’t say?” He asked, trying not to sound hurt. She had said they needed to talk, but now wouldn’t answer his most basic questions. They had discussed a number of topics after the soldiers had left, but eventually they had ended at this dead end.
Greer didn’t respond to his last question, turning her back to Dem.
“You won’t tell me why you think these soldiers are heading toward the True Wilds?” His voice full of doubt.
“I’ve sworn not to speak of it, as one of the blood. The possibility is remote anyway. This is likely just a false alarm, or some sort of training. You will be back in mere rotations. What you should be asking yourself is who was it that suggested you for conscription. They wish you ill.”
He had no idea who had gotten him conscripted, but it hardly mattered now. Right now he was bitter at Greer’s coldness.
“You had your cycles of fun with me and now..”
She turned back toward him, reaching out to touch his chest.
“It will be dangerous, and you’ve already made some enemies. It might be safer if you spent as little as time possible camped with the soldiers.”
Fear crept into his voice, “These soldiers are more dangerous than unknown Wilds? There may be calamity..”
“It is likely they will stop just short of the True Wilds. I cannot tell you why I know this, but..”
He decided to change the subject, “What is the ‘blood’? A clan? A nobility? Should I be bowing to you? The officer..”
“It’s.. a broad-term. For anyone who is a descendant of the First Party. You know the story of the First Party?”
“The First Party is just a myth? What truth could there be to a story about..”
“It is both myth and fact. The Protector had many companions on his journey to carve out the True Human Realm from the territories of monsters and non-humans, in turn, they were given special status for their labor when the great work was done. Their status was passed on to their children. Those of us who can trace our lineage to the bloodlines of those companions, are called the blood. Each bloodline can’t be considered a clan or a noble line, there are too many of the blood. In many kingdoms and clan territories, being of the blood is nothing special, especially certain bloodlines, but out here? On the edge of humanity? Its afforded me a decent place to live, and an easy job in the Tower. The soldiers might be disrespectful, but they wouldn’t do anything serious to me. Not because of my bloodline, but because I work for the Tower. My position isn’t high, but it’s enough to thwart a few conscripts from the Wall. My lineage merely helped me find work in the Tower.”
Dem was nearly speechless. Myths had just become reality, and a whole new level of complexity had been added to the world for him. He asked her the first question that came to mind, while he grappled with what he had just been told.
“They were conscripts too? The officer..”
“She is of the blood, but likely disgraced, exiled, or banished. Perhaps she choose service over prison or slavery. The others were likely regular conscripts. Few people choose the Breakwater Wall. Its an exercise in boredom, and when its not boring, its deadly. Conscripts from the Wall are usually the first bodies thrown at any force that might invade or threaten the borders of the True Human Realm. They go on training missions, occasionally too. They’ve passed through here a couple of times while I’ve lived here, though you were too young to have noticed.”
She continued, but with more worry in her voice, “You need to be careful. Even training missions are dangerous. Such missions often are a way for the Breaker to.. remove the weaker soldiers from their ranks. Judging by your ability there, with the soldier that was trying to touch me, you’ve improved. You’ll do better than the average soldier. As a scout you can’t be expected to stand and fight in a pitch battle.”
He mulled over her words, and then responded, wanting to tell her about Graf, hoping it would set her mind at ease. “Yes, I have bonded another…
She interrupted him then, pushing him against the closed front door lightly.
“Did I mention how much I enjoyed it to see you so protective of me? I think you deserve a reward..” Her voice was husky.
He smiled then, his tone playful, “Is this a reward for me or for you..”
She sealed his mouth with a kiss. His thoughts were mostly of the tongue exploring his mouth, but he spared a thought to the idea the Greer was distracting him from asking more questions. He cared about asking more questions, but not so much to break their kiss.
He pulled her closer, then spun them both around, until her back touched the door. She was surprisingly pliant to his ministrations, without the usual smile on her face. A look of angry lust had taken the woman over, as he ran the tips of his fingers up her inner thigh, tracing a line across her stomach. Perhaps this time he would finally tire the woman out.
Dem had escaped his pleasurable imprisonment, after leaving his seed in Greer a few more times. The woman had fallen asleep finally. He was able to gather his things and leave in peace. He wondered if he should stop by to see Greer again, before he left. Would she be any more willing to answer his questions then?
His parents had been overjoyed to see him, after he found them just where Greer had said they would be. He was surprised though, what he found, when he arrived was strange. The home Greer had found them not far from her own, and was much nicer than he was expecting. The juxtaposition of his poor parents living in relative opulence was both amazing and disconcerting. It wasn’t as grand as Greer’s home of course, but it was still nearly the same size as their home outside the walls of the settlement. It was large for a settlement apartment, where space was at a premium. More interesting was that Greer had apparently stocked it with items befitting a home of quality in the settlement. Soft rugs covered the floor, carved wood furniture haunted every corner, and the tableware was polished metal. His parents had even been fitted with simple but sturdy clothing, much softer and finer than anything they had previously.
What did Greer want from him? He thought he understood her, having known her for nearly half his life, but now he wasn’t sure at all.
Explaining to his parents that he was leaving again for a long trip, and where he had been the last five cycles, would have been awkward, had he decided to do so. Instead, he simply said he would see them again soon, and that he was going out again.
His mother argued with him less than usual. He wondered if she now understood what he was trying to do, and that it required him to earn coin. Her face had a look of confusion occasionally, especially when he caught her looking around at all of their new possessions. She had kept herself busy taking care of a small forest of potted plants she had placed around their apartment. His father still left the settlement everyday to work as lumberer, but the coin he earned was now mostly used to buy food, basic necessities, and more pots for plants. Dem wished his mother could be content, but he would rather her this way and safe, than outside the walls of the settlement.
With barely a quarter cycle left until he needed to meet the encamped soldiers at the Wilds-gate, he had to finish his errands quickly. His time with Greer and his time with his parents had taken up the majority of what he was allocated to get ready to leave.
He still had no idea what all this was about. When Greer had told him they needed talk, Greer had been more interested in discussing who might have put his name up for this conscription, than in actually giving him an idea of what he would be doing. He didn’t even know how many soldiers he would be traveling with, or where specifically they were going, other than north. Greer had questioned him about how successful the Party with Karmis had been, and if Karmis held any anger towards him. Dem had lied of course, simply saying that Dice had died due to her own stupidity, and that Karmis had been happy enough with him despite the setback. Greer had grilled him on why the Party had gone were out there in the first place, but he simply feigned ignorance.
As a part of his errands, he took his spear to a smith to be checked for damage. He had his own clothes repaired, and even setup an order to have Graf’s axe fixed when one of the smiths who specialized in large weapons had time. He had given Greer the beastcores from the last trip into the Wilds. As they had lie in bed, Greer asked him why Karmis had let him have anything from the trip, normally he might only expect a small tip, but he had simply said it was part Karmis showing her satisfaction with his work. It was thin lie, but it was what he had to work with. Greer’s response had been baffling at first. Her usual smile had fallen a bit and she had pat him on the back, like she was comforting him, while nodding her head knowingly.
Greer had then said, with her usual smile, “You do what you have to do. Karmis would not be the worst first partner, she was very experienced and beautiful. Her Path was definitely related to seduction or charm. Is that why you’re as good as you are? Did she teach you a few things? Perhaps I should send her a thank you gift as I’ve benefit from her training you. You got quite a lot for your hard work, one of these beastcores looks expensive. Not everyone is so richly rewarded for their first sexual experience. It is a shame I was not your first, but at least I did not have to go through the work of teaching you to use your tongue.”
She had laughed then, at him. His only response was to roll away from her, and contemplate how he could win out over Greer in the end. Using his Domination spells might be effective, but he had no wish to harm Greer, even accidently. He also worried about what the Tower might do if it detected something amiss with one it’s employees. The Tower’s spellcraft was always a mystery Dem. It was far and away more complex and powerful than what could be bought locally. It was also much more costly, and usually only available to adventurers.
While shopping he even found some more clothes for Ina, so that she would have a spare set. He considered finding some clothes for Graf, but he already wore a set clothes and armour, Dem also had no idea about the beastman’s sizes.
He left a message for Wersa at the Tower, explaining his situation and asking her to catch-up if she thought it was possible. She had been gone a while now, and would likely be back soon, or so he assumed. It was unlikely this group of soldiers would travel faster than Wersa could alone. The real problem was making up a reason for them to travel together. Perhaps, they could concoct a plot about her wanting to travel north for some other reason. In his note, he had asked her to think of an explanation, while he also thought of one, and they would simply use the best between the two or some combination as their excuse. He revealed no details in the note, though. He was careful to make everything sounded like a request. He had no idea who might end up reading their correspondence. Technically the Tower safe-guarded it, but he couldn’t rely on such a thing.
With less than a sixteenth to spare, Dem finished his preparations and set off toward the Wilds-gate, with a heavy sigh. His five cycles with Greer had seemed too long, just a cycle ago, and now, facing danger again, he felt they hadn’t been long enough.
Dem checked his pack for the sixth time, making sure he had everything he needed, as he walked toward the encampment. Was he nervous or just worried? He would feel more comfortable with Wersa or his beasts at his side.
The encampment wasn’t far from the gate door. As he got his first real glance at the soldier’s camp, he realized there were too many soldiers to fit them easily within the settlement. Perhaps that was why the officer had asked to stay with Greer, not only for her obvious invitation, but also to avoid having to camp out yet another night or pay for an inn. There were hundreds of soldiers here, swarming all around, busy preparing to march. Each was a mirror of the soldiers he had met earlier. Had he not been confined to Greer’s apartment over the last five cycles he would have noticed all of this earlier. He suspected Greer had some idea that soldiers were in town, she hadn’t seemed too surprised to see them at her door. She had received a number of messages during their time together, it had been one of the few reprieves Dem had gotten between their sessions.
As he walked closer, a soldier stopped him and asked him his business. He simply stated his name and that he was a conscripted guide. The soldier had looked him up and down, and then brought him toward the central tent without further challenge. Dem took this to mean he was nonthreatening enough that the soldier didn’t feel it was necessary to confirm Dem’s identity. Dem didn’t know how he felt about this. On the hand it was good to be unassuming, on the other it invited trouble to look weak.
The first soldier quickly found another soldier, who in turn, finally brought Dem to one of the larger tents at the center of the encampment. Dem was then ushered inside. Inside the tent was fairly dark, clearly intended for easy sleeping. There was a cot, a small writing desk, and a collapsible chair. There was room enough for five or six people to stand, though only three people inhabited the tent. He recognized one as Officer Sumisi. She smiled as she looked up at him, the smile not quite reaching her eyes. Dem wondered if she was still unhappy about being denied by Greer.
She spoke to him, interrupting whatever other conversation she was having with the other soldiers, “Ah, our Tamer! Demneh, was it? Thank you for arriving in such a timely manner. I’m glad I didn’t have to send any soldiers after you. I’m sure you’re interested in where we are going and what we are doing, but there will be time to explain, as much as I can, as we travel. Let us discuss your work, and what you will be doing.”
Dem responded casually, happy that she was interested in talking work with him right away, “Yes, of course. I’m glad to be of service.”
One of the other soldiers in the tent then spoke up, loudly barking at Dem, “You! You will refer to the officer as ‘ma’am’. Don’t even look her in the eye you fucking worm. You bumpkin trash, beastfucker. You..”
Dem was taken aback for a moment until he recognized the soldier in question. It was Soldier Stass, the one who had tried to grab Greer. Dem was already sick of the man. He was clearly just trying to bully Dem. Greer had explained, during their last conversation, that while Dem was a conscript, he wasn’t an official soldier and was only required to do the job that was asked of him, and nothing more. It had been one of the more important things Greer had wanted to explain to him after the soldiers had left. He was only subject to military discipline if he committed some sort of crime, or refused to do the job they had conscripted him to do, but he didn’t have to follow military decorum.
In response to the Stass’ tirade, Dem merely held a neutral expression on his face. He considered smiling, but antagonizing Stass more, served no purpose. Finally, when Stass was done, his face red and angry, Dem turned back to Sumisi, waiting for further explanation.
Sumisi looked from Dem to Stass and then back to Dem, her smile finally reaching her eyes.
She spoke, amusement in her voice, “Stass, I don’t think Dem will be as easy to bully as you wish. Dem I hope you forgive Stass, he enjoys giving new conscripts a hard time.”
Dem merely nodded his head, while taking another survey of Stass face, but the soldier had turn away from both of them. Dem guessed Stass was now genuinely angry his provocation hadn’t worked, his earlier act just for show.
“As I was saying, your work here.. We are short on scouts and guides. We also need people to train some of our.. newer conscripts on living in the Wilds. You will also serve as a lookout, and train others on what is required of a lookout in the Wilds. Some of the soldiers here have Wilds experience, but most don’t. You will be doing quite a lot of hand-holding, but I assure you the fighting will be done by the soldiers here. You merely need to relay information, scout ahead, and train some of the soldiers as we move.”
Sumisi looked at him expectantly then, clearly waiting for his questions.
“I take it this is a training mission then?” Dem asked the most obvious question that came to mind.
Sumisi responded curtly, “That I can’t say, just yet.”
“What about beasts we encounter? Do I or the other guides get a cut if we find something worth selling?”
She laughed then, “Only if you kill it, otherwise it gets added to the coffers of the unit. You will be given a small, and I mean a very small, stipend for your time as a conscript at the end of the mission.”
“Will I need to camp with the soldiers every night?” He already wanted to be away from this camp as much as possible. Sleeping around so many people was loud and bothersome, he imagined. With Ina and Graf, he could be fairly safe camping away from the soldiers, for a while at least. When they neared the True Wilds, he might change his mind.
“When you’re not out scouting or on lookout duty, it would be best. It would be hard to teach our conscripts if you aren’t with our conscripts. Perhaps, we can send them out to camp with you! Make sure to feed them well!” She laughed then, at her own joke, but Dem didn’t it think funny. He had no interest in feeding or teaching Classed Soldiers. He tried to smile in response though, to leave a good impression.
It was then, that Stass interjected, derision in his voice, “Where are you beasts Tamer? Do you even have one? What is the point of Tamer with no beast? Do you get cold at night with a beast to f-”
Before Stass could finish, Sumisi stopped him cold.
“That is enough Stass. Listening to you will make Dem think we lack discipline. Do you require another reminder Stass? Of our discipline?”
Dem was happy the officer was finally willing to reign in her subordinate. Dem supposed that since he was not actually part of their hierarchy, on the one hand it meant Dem was not beholden to strict military decorum, and on the other hand was also not protected by it. This situation allowed Stass some leeway for his bullying. Dem also noted that Stass was something of a hypocrite. Despite Stass’ earlier anger at Dem for a breach of military decorum, the soldier seemed to have no problem interrupting his superior officer’s conversations. He was indeed beginning to wonder about the discipline of these conscripted soldiers. He didn’t know much about militaries, but this was not what he was expecting.
Stass responded quickly, but didn’t seem entirely cowed, “No, ma’am.”
Sumisi continued, this time speaking to Dem. “Perhaps we can help you tame a beast on this trip. I’m sure we will encounter many suitable beasts.” Her slight frown as she told him this signaled to Dem she felt no small amount of pity at the thought of a Tamer without a beast.
“Ah, officer, I have two beasts actually. You needn’t worry about me. I appreciate the offer though.” Dem tried to project as much confidence as he could.
Stass spoke again, in a more quiet voice, not able to help himself, “Where are they then?” Stass then sneered at Dem while crossing his arms, as if waiting for Dem to pull a fighter-bird his pack.
Sumisi gave Stass a withering glare, but didn’t speak to reprimand him. Perhaps, she too was wondered where Dem’s beasts were.
Dem looked from Stass’ face, to Sumisi’s face, to the the face of other soldier in the tent, gauging their reaction to Stass’ behavior. Both Sumisi and the other soldier just seemed tired, and shrugged their shoulders, as if to tell Dem that this is who Stass was and he could be no other way.
Dem sighed, and simple said, “They are near, they should be here soon.”
Dem had indeed asked Ina and Graf to come to the campsite earlier, and from his bond with them, he could tell they weren’t far away.
Dem had debated with himself over revealing his beasts to the soldiers. He would lose some advantage in potential surprise, but fundamentally, they would find out anyway, he had come to realize. Traveling to the True Wilds would take rotations at the very least. Whether he liked it or not, his beasts would be seen eventually. Now that he knew he would be training soldiers as well, it made it all the more apparent that some his secrets would be revealed, just hopefully not the important ones. At least showing off his beasts early on might gain him a measure of respect. Maybe it would cut off any more hazing from Stass and any soldiers like him. Keeping them secret would only help him if he were run afoul of all these soldiers, but if that happened it was unlikely his beasts could help him anyway.
“I see, well that is good, Demneh.” Sumisi responded, not appearing to entirely believe Dem. Was it his age that caused them to underestimate him? He was an adult now, but still young, far from middle age.
“Ok, Stass, I need you to take Dem to the arsenal-”
Before she could finish her command, a messenger arrived, asking for Sumisi’s attention. The messenger was another soldier, in lighter armour, breathing heavily.
Sumisi quickly offered permission to speak to the messenger, not caring if Dem heard apparently.
“Ma’am, beastfolk activity sighted nearby. The commander’s guards refused me entry to his tent, so I came here to you. What are your orders?”
“Beastfolk? Here? I don’t believe any beastfolk trading parties were expected. How many beastfolk have been seen? Surely they would not be foolish to attack the settlement with hundreds of extra soldiers here.”
“Ma,am. Only one.”
“One? One-wait, one beastfolk? You’re saying there is exactly one beastfolk out there approaching?”
“Yes, ma’am. One beastman.”
“No others, just the one?”
“Yes, so far as we know ma’am.”
Sumisi sagged slightly at this news.
“Why should we care about a single beastman approaching? It is good you didn’t interrupt the commander with this.”
“Ma’am, I thought someone should know, because the beastman is headed towards us and not the settlement.”
“I see, well, I suppose I will go out to meet this beastman. Perhaps he give me his beastcore if I bat my eyes at him prettily.” Sumisi said with a laugh.
She spoke again, some of the mirth leaving her voice, “As, I was saying earlier, Stass, tak the Tamer to get whatever gear we can spare for him. Perhaps, you two can learn to get along.”
Dem spoke up then, “Officer, I would like to accompany you instead. I don’t need anything gear. I already have everything I need.”
Sumisi stopped for a moment, to consider his refusal and his request, and then shrugged.
She smiled at him then, and spoke, “Fine, don’t complain later if you are lacking in equipment. I’m sure you’d look fine in our armour. You may can accompany me to meet this beastman.”
Dem smiled pleasantly at the officer in return. He had a feeling he knew this beastman.
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