Like a hand reaching for the very moon, four towering obelisks marked the corners of one of the passageways connecting the underground Febhed Confessionarium to the surface. The calm night sky painted above gave no hint to the tremendous events that were unfolding each passing second. Voices carried in the darkness. Orders to maintain formation, to prepare for the mission, to bid farewell to loved ones fluttered back and forth as the gathered Febhed prepared for their mission. Some were clearly experienced warriors, with small scars making their faces and arms with reminders of painful tribulations they had survived before. Others were far to clearly new, stumbling to move into their ranks, or struggling to wear the armor and uniform well. From the sky, the whole scene would have looked like an army of red and black ants were moving about the mouth of a hole leading deep below. Their lack of coordinated order, however, was far too evident.
Pateron Acheu felt the pain in his leg begin to throb again. Ever since that single night he had fallen asleep with his boots on, his leg had been menanced by this intermittent distraction. On worse nights, he could barely apply his own weight upon it. Acheu lifted his leg up, pushing his knee against his chest, then began to knead on the shin and ankle with his hand. He felt the tighteness of his skin. He felt the bumps that marked the presence of his veins. He did not realize how much tired he felt. Or looked.
He stared at his frail-looking hands. The scars on his skin reminded him of the harder days before he rose to the position of one of the Patermaster's chosen. The days when he believed he would be nothing more than a farmer, working for the merchant families that owned the land he was to earn his keep on.
While the rest of the world seemed content to believe in the Ancestral Dragons and their having chosen the Faith to represent them, Acheu lived a childhood that was filled with unspoken questions of why and why not. Each time the Faith would visit the farm which Acheu and his family worked upon to collect the monthly "donations," Acheu would struggle deep inside himself and wonder why their hard labor and sweat bore fruit that had to be shared with the Faith. And each time the Febhed barbarians would "come to assault" the farmlands, Acheu would wonder why there were always a few who would make sure they would leave baskets with bread, milk, and meat before locking the doors to their homes as the Faith have always warned them. It was not until after the merchant Acheu's family had served passed away did he gain a chance to see the other faces of the Faith and the Febhed.
And mind you, by passed away, the merchant did not die a natural death.
"Donato," Acheu motioned at one of the guardsmen nearby and waited for the young soldier to approach. Brown-haired with a face revealing to easily the fact he was barely past fifteen summers, the young man walked up to Acheu, clicked his heels together as he came to a stop a yard from the Pateron, then clamed his right hand against his left bicep in a salute. Donato was dressed in the layered leather and padded chainmail garb. A brown-red overcoat then adorned his shoulders and back. Steel-toed boots and, had the crystal-like face guard been in place, steel gauntlets completed his look, giving him the appearance of a clothed golem. "Proceed with the formations without me."
Acheu reached towards Donato with an open hand. The soldier took it, shifted his weight, to assist Acheu as he rose from his chair. The Pateron then intoned a basic note and the chair unbuilt itself and submerged into the earth.
"Our contingent is to proceed without me. You will be in charge," Acheu pronounced.
"But father-" Donato gasped, "I cannot-"
"Donato." His firm voice silenced further complaints from his own son. Acheu knew where the fear was coming from, after all. He knew more than just what Donato was thinking of. He knew Donato was right. The boy was too young to manage the contingent on his own. He was not due to do so, if only his brother had not abandoned the Febhed Guard and chosen the less honorable path of a mercenary. But after leaving the Guard to raise his children on his own, then seeing them massacred by the scavengefolk, Sunaj had lost faith in both the Febhed's ability to protect them and the Faith's embrace towards predestination. Though Acheu suspected Sunaj would return, he had thought then all his eldest son needed was a gentle push back. Acheu did not realize the scavengefolk he had led to the town would be so vicious. Nor that they would actually fail to be stopped in time. Acheu's plans of arriving in the nick of time to save Sunaj's town and family fell apart, and pushed Sunaj further away. Faced with the empty poisiton, Acheu had no choice by to have his other son take the post. It would have been far more embarassing to have the post empty.
It would have made him look weak.
Acheu tried to explain to Sunaj. The Febhed could not protect his family in time, because they were too distracted by the Faith. In some ways, Acheu merely wanted to spin things around in a direction he prefered. But in other ways, he was trying to convince himself that the deaths of his grandchildren were not the result of his own actions.
Acheu knew Donato was his only hope to recover some of the self-respect that had been lost. But Acheu also knew that this hunt for the dragon offered a different level of opportunity. Among the Febhed, finding a dragon that could communicate fully with a human without resorting to the Faith's reliance on the Dragon Song was proof that the Faith was no longer favored by the Ancestral Dragons. That the Faith might no longer even be necessary.
"Simply echo the commands of the nearest contingent. The Patermaster wants this army mobilized."
Donato nodded, although his eyes clearly showed his worry.
"Your contingent will be part of three others. The Patermaster will have you and the Ruby contingent on the flanks. While the rest of the contigents take down the Faith dragonrider and his steed, you and Ruby contigent shall focus on capturing the emerald dragon."
"I understand father, but I've never-"
"You will capture the dragon alive, Donato. And I shall expect you to pay attention. Note any opportunity to be the very one who successfully captures the dragon. The Patermaster must be impressed by your achievement."
"Donato," Acheu grabbed his son's shoulder so suddenly, Donato's audibly gasped. "Do what you have to do. Sunaj has embarassed our line long enough among the Febhed. He has traded his love for the family and his loyalties to the Patermaster for the lure of coin and the lusts of his adventuring whore. You have to undo what he has done to us. Do you understand me, Donato? You have to."
"I understand father," Donato inhaled sharply to steel himself, "But where are you going?"
Acheu shook his head as a reply. His hand loosened its grip on Donato. And by the time he started to walk away from Donato, his son had long realized his father did not answer because he did not want his own son to know.