It’s common for a ranger to take on odd jobs on their travels. Be it handling the local wild bear, protecting travelers from wildlife, to even ensuring bandits aren’t attacking frontiers—the important ones that is. When you work for a living to protect and preserve you also adapt to doing things easiest for you.
Traveling the land as it is now dangerous, and it was not easy even traveling to this Radiant Citadel as they call it. The supposed former stronghold of a crime syndicate. Whatever it was formerly known as, it is no longer what it formerly was.
And out of all the biomes Naravhal had traveled through… this is truly the strangest. It stands in a mountainous region with a naturally dry tundra. The stronghold was hidden in a valley of mountains.
One would expect the area to be hardy, with little plant life. That was not the case. It is a thicket of dense foliage and forest. One could say that it’s even a swamp from the humidity. The fact that it’s supposed to serve as a headquarters is poor, affairs no buildings or anything only remnants of what it used to be.
Which comes to serve when she was given this… “mission” … by Joshua Daiyo—the briefing was not in fact held at the citadel, but in a hotel safe within the wall of the capitol of Eborra.
Now, she found herself in a room with three other individuals and a holographic projection of a man in military uniform that awaited her arrival. Seems that she was the last to arrive.
They all stood in a conference room that was typically used for business meetings. There was a large oval table in the center of the room, big enough to hold about ten people. There were no windows and the walls made of stone, but the room was well lit.
Naravhal wouldn’t be surprised if this room was chosen for privacy given the nature of their task, but even then… A conference room in a public inn was not confidential at all.
Then again, given today’s current situation… She pondered to herself. I am not surprised if they couldn’t afford or have the time to secure the location for a mission such as this.
Which makes the question what exactly is their mission?
The question brought her attention to the four people in the room. A large toned well-muscled man with dark skin as rich as chocolate and had braided black hair that touched his back. His sharp eyes indicated a level of tact and field experience. He stood quietly but shared a glance towards her, acknowledging her arrival. The second thing she noticed was that he wore casual clothing a simple top and loose-fitting pants.
Perfect choice of clothing for travel and maneuverability.
Beside him—or rather behind him— was an older shifter woman that had animalistic features of a tiger. She had bronze skin and dark hair. She had feline ears and eyes had that tigress sharpness to it and her hands were more akin to that of paws. Naravhal spotted a leopard tail swaying back and forth between her feet. Her clothes were simple but loose enough for flexibility.
By how close she stood to the large man, Naravhal assumed the two the two were closely acquainted. Which brought her eyes to the… youngest man in the room.
He was a tall slender man. His skin was pale and hair as dark as night. His clothes were a simple with a traveler’s cloak. His clothes were very well conditioned. Naravhal could tell that they have not been used before, if not at all the new guy.
The other two have been conditioned to travel in the same manner as herself. Many experiences in combat and travel gives a certain air about a person… what they wear and how they stand. But this new man—who seem to be the youngest out of all of them—seemed nervous. Maybe even anxious. He would need to adjust on this mission.
Which brought her eyes to the man at the end of the table… Lastly, stood a man in white and golden military garbs. They wore a metallic domed helmet that had a reflective blue hue imbued on it. It protected the man’s identity well. Naravhal already could tell that he wasn’t a general, but a man to relay the information to them. People of power consider themselves too important for such simple tasks. It’s one of the things she doesn’t like about them.
Always focused on the bigger problem and too busy to work with what’s right in front of them.
“Ah, then everyone has arrived now.” His voiced transmitted through the helmet as if speaking through a radio. “Before we begin, for verification and authentication please state your name, your occupation, and your commanding officer.”
Commanding officer? Naravhal thought with a frown. I’ll need to talk to Joshua about that. I assume that he means who we report to.
“I am Eden Meho.” The dark-skinned man spoke first. “Vanguard of the strike force. I was enlisted by Masami Iwasaki.”
Formal, and to the point. Naravhal surmised. This one has a military background.
“Eclipse of the moon,” the shifter woman introduced herself as with a nod. “Subordinate of Master Eden Meho, and a member of the strike force as well. I don’t consider myself a vanguard, but as someone who owes a great debt. I was also asked to join Serenity’s Vanguard by miss Iwasaki as well.”
The younger man to the right gave an awkward laugh, be it intentional or not, it brought all eyes on him next. He stilled, face flustered and recollected himself with a fake cough.
“Ah, they’re not the only ones who was asked to join surrounding these vanguards by Masami either.” He explained before wincing at a thought. “Er- Masami Iwasaki I mean. Sorry I’m still not used to talking with people… I’m, er…”
The man paused again inhaled deeply and exhaled, clearly, he was out of his element.
"I’m Somnus Orbitus. I was formally graveyard keeper of the Seven Springs capitol and a priest of the Sovereign Host. Masami is my Bishop. I’ve always wanted to do more, and she wanted-- needed me to be there for her… So here I am to help in what way I can. Be it here on Stellarium or in the stars with her—with the commanders.”
Naravhal noticed a bit of spite in the last statement. The man wasn’t used to socializing. It was obvious as day that while his words ring true, he clearly wanted to be fighting alongside the commanders in the stars.
He wants to prove himself, be a hero.
She can’t say she felt the same way. The thought of traveling to a different world still is an odd concept for her. Who’s to say that she would even be useful out there? Her knowledge her expertise comes from the lands of Paradenia. Her experience of traveling these lands and scouting. New world, and new lands?
Who’s to say that they even have the same type of forests, grasslands or even tundras? Who’s to say that they would even have the same type of biome here? If Joshua Daiyo was to ask her to join them on a mission to a different plane, she would be hesitant.
Besides, that’s what the heroes are for. I’m here to help protect the frontiers, to protect my home, and I can’t do that if I’m gone.
And now all eyes were on her awaiting her introduction. She let out a sigh and pulled down her hood showing off her facials and her race as a Goliath woman and stone colored skin.
“My name is Naravhal Stonerunner Vaimei-Luthea… I go by Naravhal. I’m a Ranger of the Frontiers and I’ve been tasked with helping step in particular with surveys and scouting. I’m from Starview Valley. I asked to Joshua Daiyo to join his troupe. He’s proven he’s not like the other so called “heroes.”
“I trust them to do the things that military are too afraid to do,” she directed towards the officer that stood in front of them. “Because of politics or other such tripe. I won’t say he’s my commanding officer, but he was glad to have me. So here I am.”
The mass soldier gave a nod as he seemed to be noting down some information in a tablet.
“Excellent,” he would eventually say. “Based on the information that I have currently, your statements match those of the vanguard commanders in our system. Apologies for any lack of security given the situation at hand.”
“We cannot afford to offer such measures,” he continued, folding his arms behind his back. “In fact, this meeting is it’s kept off the books. Not even your commanders know the details of this mission, should you choose to accept it.”
“I’m sorry,” Somnus interjected. “Are you saying you lied to them?”
“Far from the truth,” the nameless officer responded. “The mission is still to scout out information… but that is only one part of the mission. All scouts that we have sent into the Quintessa region have all met their end. Not even one has managed to survive. They cannot cross the frontlines of the war.”
“Before I continue, please understand. This meeting is off the books. No one other than your commanders knows that you are here in this room. No one knows that I am meeting and speaking to you here. What we’re asking you to do is dangerous, deadly, and even suicidal. Not even the commanders of the gave enforce knows that you’re being sent to this mission. You will have no deniability.
“You will not receive any support from any military- this includes even the Gaevrn Force. If you are captured, there is no help coming for you.
General Redbeard’s army has some method of knowing where we will be, and where we will strike. Our technicians are theorizing that they’ve managed to intercept any sort of communication devices in the Talenta Plains. We need eyes in Quintessa, in the very capital itself.
“General Redbeard has been very keen on his promise. This is not made public knowledge, and we intend to keep it this way. But for this briefing you should be alerted that his forces have slowly been advancing in the land. This is a war that we are losing.”
The group stilled at that information. Eden’s and Naravhal’s eyes narrowed, Eclipse’s tail stopped swaying, and Somnus went white. The officer waiting for the four to digest that truth before he continued.
“And after everything that happened in the Battle for Buulta was broadcasted across Stellarium- including the commander’s fight- he knows our defenses are considerably weakened and the capital is defenseless. I strongly believe that he is going to make his move very soon.
“General Redbeard has firepower that can rival that of the military might that rivals Ethindras, yet he has not made a move yet. The ultimate question is why? You will be gone for an indefinite amount of time and it’s highly likely that only one of you could return alive. As I said before, anyone who enters Quintessa ever returns alive in the same manner that they were brought back.”
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to infiltrate the nation of Quintessa and relay information of Redbeard’s military status. Any weaknesses, civil status, military presence, and their vehicle numbers. If you’re to fail, then there’s nothing we can do to prepare for full assault. Buulta will fall, and from there, their military will sweep across Paradenia until there is nothing left.”
The room fell silent. What could anyone say to that. The officer spoke with such conviction it was difficult not to see a positive spin on it. The mission was suicidal, and as the four of them glanced at one another, the question plagued each of their minds. Which one of them would die?
“What do you mean by that?” Somnus broke the silence first. “Those who return are not brought back in the same matter as they left?”
“Any scouts that we sent to spy on the enemies past the borderline were sent back to us in dismembered pieces.”
“Sovereigns above…” Somnus gasped. The thought made him feel ill, bringing a hand to his mouth.
“I have heard tales and rumors of their brutality,” said Naravhal said grimly. “I didn’t think that it was actually true though. That such people could be so cruel.”
“You’ve never met hobgoblins before.” The officer spat, and he leaned forward aggressively. “They’re not human they’re brutal! And there is nothing is more important to them than overwhelming victory. Making no mistake. they will not show any mercy.
“History runs deep between the blood of man and goblinkin in Paradenia. If you are caught, you will meet an early death. You will only have each other as you will be on your own.”
The man let out a long sigh before gesturing to the table.
“If you choose to accept this mission there are tabloids underneath the table for you from our colleagues at the Collegium. It will wipe your memory of this conversation in the chance that you are captured and tortured for information.
“You will retain the drive and focus of what you’re to do but you won’t remember from who only that it was a mission given by your fellow commanders and you’ve accepted it. Serenity’s vanguard is a new organization and while it would have been better to keep it a secret…. the events of the Battle for Buulta have made the commanders organization known and we can’t risk that.
“So, what say you. The decision is yours and we will not need an answer Godspeed.”
And as the armored individual sets that he began to fade, and blink become a blur before fizzling out. He was never there in the first place. He was an illusion; a transmission of magical nature and technological advancement, all but leaving the four individuals alone in the room.
Glances were shared between them and then at the table. As they reached under the table, sure enough, there was small boxes. Four boxes total for the four of them. Somnus was the first to reach out, albeit hesitantly, and pick up the box. Upon opening it surely enough there was a vile liquid inside.
“A potion of modify memory...” The priest sighed. “To think that they’d go this far... Are we going to do this?
“It’s like the man said,” Naravhal hummed, as she inspected her own vial. “The mission is a suicidal one. The only ones who know the true details are us, and our mysterious Gaevrn Force friend. Not even the commanders know of the severity of the situation.”
“Do you think we should tell them?” Somnus pondered, seeing that Naravhal didn’t have an answer he continued. “I don’t know how I feel about all this hiding of secrets and half truth. Especially if we’re supposed to be working together. Why keep this from the commanders? Why keep this from, well, the Paradenia’s saviors?”
No one said anything in the room fell quiet on it at the question. It was a question of trust, and that’s one not easily answered or earned.
“It’s because they are heroes.” Eclipse spoke up. She stared down at the vial in her paw in intense thought, not even looking at the other as she bought their attention. Her eyes were sharp, piecing together the information that was given to them. “If what they told us is true and that’s we’re on a dying planet, then things are extremely dire. It’s not just for us, but for this Redbeard in Quintessa and the wars happening in the other nations as well. There’s nothing that we can do here on Stellarium to prevent this brewing calamity.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What do you mean? That what we’re doing now is fruitless?” Somnus stood up straight, shaking his head. “Because I refuse to believe that. I choose to believe that, despite what’s happening, that there’s still hope for a good end a happy future. Masami had inspired me of that much. I’m surprised that you don’t have a similar mindset as well that she recommended you.”
“Hope is fine and dandy and all, but it doesn’t bring results.” Naravhal countered. She held the vile of memory loss in between her fingers twirling the contents before looking at Somnus. “And especially for a bunch of nobodies like us. We weren’t chosen for this task because of our specialties. Believe it or not we’re the only people that they had to call on to help because no one in their right mind would ever want to after so many deaths. As hopeful as they may be, that reaps of desperation. Hah. Fitting for what’s happening today.
“Desperate yes, but not hopeless.” Eden Meho said with a thoughtful look.
“Oh, so the big guy does speak.” Naravhal jested and raised a brow. “I was beginning to wonder if you were here just for all size or actually to contribute to this decision.”
Eclipse glanced up at her partner and asked, “Your thoughts?”
Eden did not answer right away he looked at the box on the table that stood motionless in front of him then to Naravhal.
“I do believe that this military force has their own agenda for the secrecy. Be it for righteous reasons or reasons that could benefit their patron— our goals still align with one another. We want to stop The End. The commanders of Serenity’s Vanguard have taken to the stars to do just that. Who’s to say that they will return? Who is to say that The End will wait? That everything will be fine while they’re away? There’s no guarantee that things will get better, but we know for certain that things will get worse while they are away. So that’s what we’re here for.”
“To stall the peace…” Somnus finished. Eden nodded in agreement.
Eclipse stepped forward. “The military had all but admitted that they’re not going to be sending anymore of their men to their deaths. Things are going to get worse but it’s a matter of how much we can mitigate the damage. If we can stall another catastrophe, or somehow prevent an all-out war—even if it means that it would cost of our lives… That will give the commanders enough time to do what they need to do and save your…to save our world! Our homes!”
“And that’s most likely why they kept the details of this mission secret.” Naravhal added, seeing the picture being painted. She groaned and rubbed her head as she flipped the vial in the air and caught it in her hand. “Typical of the capitalist. They want the heroes to solely focus on the moons and that were given to them without details of what they want from them. Bliss in ignorance.”
“And if we tell, or even contact the commanders about this…” Somnus said.
“It would just add to list of things to worry about.” Eclipse finished. “Not saying that they would come back to help with this task, but it could very well distract them from fully focusing on giving it their all.”
“And that is why we’re not going to tell them.” Eden summarized, giving each person a telling look. “What they’re doing in the stars far outweighs any of the moral decisions made here. They’re risking their lives by diving into the unknown for a chance at saving this world. What they’re doing is no more dangerous, no more different than what we’re doing.”
“The only difference is that if they knew that it was a suicidal mission, they would do the quest themselves or join us on this quest.” Naravhal chuckled and gave a small smirk towards Eden. “You make it sound like we already agree to take this quest.”
“Because we are. Not because we don’t have a choice, or because were the only ones fit to do this, but because we’re the only ones who have the will to do it.” He said with a nod. “Masami and Joshua, the founding two commanders vouched for us. I am assuming that everyone in this room has the fortitude and the will to do what must be done.”
Eden uncorked his vial, and stepped forward as he boldly claimed, “I am more than willing to give my life for the vanguards. Because I believe that they can find a way to save what we love.”
“Wherever you go, I will follow.” Eclipse said looking up at Eden with a determined nod. “To make sure that your life isn’t lost and to repay Masami.”
“Ha…” Somnus that a long sigh, both of his hands slapping his face as he dragged his fingers down to his chin inside again. “I guess this is what it means to walk the talk. I may not be as driven as you all to the point of dying but I fight to live.”
Somnus looked at the boss of them with a nod and towards Naravhal. “If this is a suicidal mission then there will be no one better cleric than me to prevent such deaths. Well… asides from Masami and her mentors—” he shook his head. “—my point being if you have me, I’ll ensure that no one dies in early death. I’m not blessed at healing... but I can prevent critical injuries to a degree—and I won’t let anyone fall in the heat of battle.” Speaking quietly to himself, he added “Not again, not anymore.”
“Yes, very inspirational.” Naravhal praised with a small clap. “But unless you guys know how to traverse the Talenta Plains you wouldn’t even make it past the frontlines.
Naravhal put her hands on her hips. “This is the second time I’ve been asked to partake in a suicide mission. Yet after hearing all of that I can’t help but feel that we all share a sense of that passion that the commanders do.” She smiled, a more genuine smile. “I haven’t really met the other commanders, but I can speak for Joshua. He had the will to do the most outrageous things that I question, and he refuses to acknowledge himself as a hero. No different from us.”
“So yeah, I guess I’m in.” She said looking at Somnus, who flashed her a smile. “We might not be heroes, but we can at least make sure that there’s something left for the heroes when they return.”
She uncorked the vial and raised it to the others. “To the unknown future.”
“To the heroes of this world.”
“To pulling our parts.”
“To helping our vanguards.
The four took full swigs of the vial.
All four, unaware of the hidden invisible scrying orb in the of the room watching them before blinking out of existence. Their unknown watcher had obtained enough information regarding their decision.