Tomorrow we fight
Written by theyoungestleah
This work was last updated February 13, 2020
Verilia took a breath, gasping slightly as the wind ripped it away from her. She turned, tugging up her tunic to shield her face as snowflakes whipped around her and the other members of her team. She felt her brow furrow as her gaze landed upon the dark stains that marked the ground. It would be some time before the dragon riders would discover this latest assault.
She flicked her lance and watched the snow in front of her become speckled with red dots. I’ll have to properly clean it this time, she thought, eyeing the metal tip; its edge was started to dull from use and the telltale signs of rust were crawling up from the shaft. A sigh pushed past her lips, billowing out in a plume of mist torn away by the wind, and she moved to join the others. She squinted through the snow as she wove between the various gryphons and riders that made up her squadron, searching for Pheron’s form.
A low moan caught her attention and she stopped by a pair of soldiers. One was being strapped down to a saddle, clutching at bandages wrapped tight around their leg, while the other was muttering something under their breath. As she took a moment to examine the scene, Verilia noticed the faint glow of healing magic, shielded from the wind by the gryphon’s wings.
“Ah, commander?” The wounded rider faltered when they saw her and straightened up in the saddle. Lonit’s face peered back at her and she could see them trying to fight off an expression of pain. “Sorry, I got caught off-guard by one of the dragons. Who knew such a large one could move their tail that fast?”
“They’ll live,” the other soldier said. While she couldn’t see his face, Arnaud was the only one of the group who regularly wore a belt stocked with enchanted gems. “I’m not the best at healing, but Lon will make it back to the base.”
“Yeah, and Thosa is going to rip me apart once I’m healed,” Lonit grumbled. “You alright, commander? You seemed a bit distracted after this raid.”
Verilia waved off their concern. “I’m only unwell because you and your flock keep calling me “commander,” even though we are all equal in Sky Piercers. I dislike being singled out when we all have an important part to play in our duties, and I’m hardly the only original member left.”
“True, but your flock has always been the leaders of the Piercers. When Ceres retired after she lost Elete, well, you were the next candidate for flock leader, even if it’s only made up of two pairs now. I can’t really blame Ceres for wanting to escape the war since it was the death of her lover. Besides, the younger recruits look up to you as leader.” Arnaud patted Lonit’s thigh. “That’s about as much as I can do for you, Lon. I may be your battle partner, but you’ll have to face Thosa’s wrath on your own.”
Lonit let out a gasp. “Arnaud, how could you betray me like that? Come on, Meliae, you’ll stay with me, right? I can’t let Thosa keep me grounded at the base!”
The gryphon shifted underneath her rider and Verilia felt the animal form a mental connection with her. Meliae’s delicate voice echoed in their minds as she turned her head back to look at the others. “Apologies, Lonit, but Thosa is your mate, not mine. This is a battle I cannot join you for and I believe you will lose it.”
Verilia felt her eyebrows raise in amusement while Arnaud let out a bark of laughter at the injured soldier’s predicament. She heard the crunching of snow and a familiar presence brushed against her mind, and the woman turned to see Pheron approach her with his head bowed against the wind. He jerked his head towards the battleground and the gryphon’s voice joined her thoughts. “There are no survivors, as ordered by the Steel Defender. The other flocks are ready to leave.”
She nodded at his words, then motioned to Arnaud. “Get in your saddle, Camden. We’re leaving for the base as soon as you’re ready.” He gave her a lazy salute as he pulled down his goggles that she ignored by climbing up onto Pheron’s back. She settled into a more comfortable position and slid her lance under her belt as she leaned down.
Her partner tensed under her as she brought her fingers to her lips, letting out a sharp whistle. In an instant, thirty-four gryphons took to the air and it only took a few minutes for them to climb to a safe altitude. Verilia glanced behind her and pulled up a scarf to cover her mouth, catching a glimpse of the ruined caravan before it was swallowed by the snowstorm. As the squadron coasted on, she started to tune out the wind whistling in her ears and the feeling of snowflakes cutting into her skin even through the layers of protective clothing.
The silence was broken by Pheron; while he did not move from his position while flying, his mind had reached out to hers. “You’re troubled.”
She took a moment to examine her own emotions before responding. “I suppose I am. It’s been nine years since this war began, and just as long since we started fighting in it as the Sky Piercers.” She was sure he could feel her discomfort. “I am not used to running a squadron on my own. Hugin is some help, but Ceres was the true tactician of our flock.”
“But it is not the responsibilities that weigh down your shoulders tonight, correct?” Verilia frowned to herself at his words. “You have been unwell for the past month.”
“I have? I hadn’t noticed.” She stared into the wind in front of them, searching her thoughts. “Well, if I had to pick a source, I would say it still does have to do with my responsibilities.”
She stopped, grasping for the words. “If I have been keeping track of time correctly, in a few days’ time, I will have had control of the Sky Piercers for two years. Losing Elete, and by proxy Crius, then Ceres was hard on all of us, but I’ve slowly come to realize that it seems that I should’ve been more bothered about our loss than I was.”
“How so? I saw you shed many tears in those days.”
“In truth, I’m not quite sure of it myself. I fear that I’ve grown too used to the bloodshed and the letters of condolences to experience the pain of this war. I don’t know if this war has hardened me against sorrow or if it has numbed me to it.” Verilia tightened her grip on the saddle horn. “In our first assault, I was nearly sick with disgust and horror. Tonight, I was more concerned with the state of my lance than I was over the blood that continues to stain my hands.”
Her gaze settled on the back of Pheron’s head. “I don’t know how many more years this squadron will fight through and we’re about to enter a new year with no end to the war in sight. The uncertainty of how much longer this strife will continue and how many more letters I have to pen to the families of fallen riders troubles me.”
She felt a wave of comfort through their mental link. “No matter how long, know that we stand with you. Even if you become numb to the violence, I shall remain by your side for as long as I can.”
“Even if I lose all sense of who I am?”
“Thank you.” Verilia reached forward to rest a gloved hand on some of Pheron’s exposed feathers. “Tonight, you should sleep while I speak with Orel’s messengers.”
“Do you suspect more conflict so soon after our raid tonight?”
“One can never tell with Orel. They have seized every opportunity in this war to cripple Lorcan’s forces, no matter how underhanded or dirty it is. I would wager a heavy sum that we will have to leave for another location in the morning.”
She felt a surge of distaste from the gryphon and she patted an armored plate. “Rest well, Pheron. Tomorrow, we fight.”