The gathered soldiers numbered in the thousands, and from the sky, the Febhed appeared as a slow moving forest of stone and steel. In their armor of chain steel and crystal armaments, the Febhed army marched through the land, undeterred by terrain nor weather. With the lead squadrons Paterons invoking the secret voice of the earth to tame the rough path before them, the Febhed legions marched easily through the now leveled sloped and rocky roads, overcoming exhaustion with much ease. It was not difficult to study the general direction of their march to suggest their intended destination: The Seat of Faith.
Their journey did not transpire unnoticed, of course.
The Dragonarchers of the Faith routinely patrolled the skies, and even during the initial days of the march, a few riders had noticed the movement of the large numbers of Febhed troops and quickly reported their observations to the Hierophant. Earlier approximates figured the armed formations to number in the hundreds. Later patrols would frighteningly estimate the Febhed units to reach the tens of thousands, and in some ways, these highly exaggerated numbers would lead to the Faith itself approaching the conflict with much more violence that expected.
A violence that would someday be come be remembered and retold by the generations to come.
Donato marched ahead of the regiment that was placed by his father under his command. Though young and inexperienced, there stood deep within him a desperate need to prove himself. The absence of his older brother was a fact Donato hoped would be forgotten and that in its place the determination and dedication of the younger son would be transcribed. Donato held little love for his missing brother. Most of his life was punctuated by his father's constant proclamations of how things would have been better if Sunaj had never turned his back upon the Febhed. This, Donato believed, was the perfect opportunity for him to show to his father that he was indeed ready and more capable than Sunaj ever can be. This was to become his shining moment.
Across the many leagues, a quieter less noticeable march unfolded. With a determination no less real and no less focused than that of the Febhed army, the Pateron Acheu made his way through the long winding tunnels that stretched out from the Febhed Confessionarium. Though each step was an invitation for another painful reminder of his already impaired ability to walk, the Pateron ignored every spike of growing agony. He knew he had to reach his destination before the Febhed armies reached the Seat of Faith. He walked faster, shifting weight away from his pained leg in hopes of lumbering quicker. Acheu after all believed he alone could speak to him and convince him that now was the time to act. After everything that has happened, Acheu still believed his prodigal son Sunaj still thought highly of his father. This, Acheu believed, was the day he was to finally convince his son he was right all along. This was the day he was to see Sunaj come to him, apologise for his pride, and beg to be given a second chance.
In many ways, both father and son traveled with hopes in their heart, and belief in their mind. In many ways, both father and son were empowered by the goodness in their intentions.
Neither was to change the fact both heeded nothing but the self delusions that they had embraced.
Donato had never comprehended the secret voice of the earth. It did not matter which advisors Acheu had hired to teach him the intonations most basic notes. Nor did it make any difference when Acheu himself attempted to train his son to understand how the earth could be tamed to obey one's desires. The child spent hours sitting before a number of advisores, instructors and tutors, each with their own teaching style and training methods, only to come face to face with the truth which Acheu could not accept: Donato was unable to harness even the most basic of Febhed sorcery.
The denial had its roots. Considering how unsimple Acheu's childhood and pre-Pateron life was, one could easily see why Acheu wanted his children to become Pateron as well. All those years of playing to the Faith's needs, and fearing the mythical dangers that the Febhed were said to pose have imbued upon Acheu a desire to have his own children escape that manner of a possible lifestyle. And for a child to learn to harness the secret voice of the earth was an easy seat among those selected by the Patermaster himself.
No Pateron had ever gone hungry.
No Pateron had ever suffered the experience of being homeless ever again.
But this denial was powerless to the fact that the failure of Donato to learn the intonation was the second time Acheu had to suffer hearing this truth. Years ago, before Sunaj had walked way from his father's watchful gaze and frustrating demands, he too attempted to harness this intonation. Sunaj, like his brother after him, had failed.
Acheu reached the tunnel he had sought. The limestone markings upon its mouth easily confirmed that he stood at the shaft that would bring him to the tiny village where Sunaj had opted to move. Far from the Confessionarium, the place provided Sunaj a place to start anew, especially after the loss of the old village where he lived once with his whole family.
The old man felt another stab of pain shoot up his leg. He leaned against the nearby wall and slowly brought himself into a squat. Rubbing one hand against the ankle, he looked at the swollen area and shook his head. Another pain to overcome. Another hurdle to leap past.
For Acheu, he believed his life was filled with mountains. Challenges that demanded he find the strength to overcome them. While in the beginning, viewing his life in this manner allowed Acheu the chance to find inner focus, the years that followed saw him becoming soft and merely traversing the said mountains if ignoring them meant a loss of face.
Donato understood his father in more ways than the Pateron realized. Long being the mute witness to how important his father felt about what others would say of him. He remembered many of them, some painful, some dumb, yet all so seemingly crucial to his father that Acheu would be sensitive to their words and reactions more than his children's own needs.
"Father of two... with no mother in sight. Did she leave him? Or are the children adopted droppins of another man?"
"Was he truly allowing that failure of a son to live among the tribes instead of serving the Guard?"
"Has he no shame? Pateron and yet his children are illiterate to the earth's own words?"
As Donato echoed every command other contingents were given, he recalled how he reacted when his father first instructed him to lead the contingent. Another regret was planted in his heart. Another time he could have showed his father he was ready. Another time he spoke instead of his fear. This was all to change. Donato promised himself that today was the day his father would look at him with pride. Acheu believed in him after all, Donato mused. That should be all that he needed.
Acheu on the other hand slammed both hands together and began to create a steady rhythm of clapping. With each impact, he grunted out a syllable, forming a gradually solidifying intonation that shaped the tunnel floor. Smooth rock transformed into a sloping surface. Bringing himself down onto the ground, he shoved against the wall and allowed gravity to take hold of him. The massive forming slide carried Acheu rapidly down the tunnel, with redirected water flowing into the channel to reduce the presence of friction. It was a less than dignified way for one to travel for Acheu, but there were no witnesses after all and time was of the essence.
But both moved forward, fueled by their individual yet mirrored desire to prove themselves better. To prove themselves worthy.
Fueled by the very delusion that what they were should be enough.