Sweat rolls down my face. I can feel the tension in the air strangling the breath from my lungs. Either way forward would mean certain destruction. There was – is - no way to win, let alone survive, this next frontal assault. I take a shuddering breath in, trying to remain calm. We will lose this battle, possibly even the war. What does it matter what move I make now? The quiet slowly grows, and I welcome it for once. However, his voice breaks the small silence I had.
“It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat.” Footsteps follow the words until a shadow covers my hunched over form. I carefully push myself up from my leaning position against the table, turning to look at the man before me.
“And what, exactly, do you mean by that, Colonel?”
He gives me that smug smile of his, and I hold back my growl. The Colonel is beside me in a second, and he is gazing over the table. “You already believe you have lost, therefore you believe any move you make is your inevitable defeat, yes?” I sigh, refusing to turn and look at the sprawled battle plans that litter the table.
“Speak plainly, Syne, I do not have all day.” The man leans forward, hands on the edge of the table.
“You have one unused card up your sleeve still, Major General.”
I turn to him now, arms still crossed over my chest. My head tilts ever so slightly, curiosity tugging me to speak, and ask. However, I remain silent. I will not beg for an answer. Colonel Syne seems to realize this, and instead gestures behind me. “We know the location of the headquarters of the enemy-”
“It is impossible to get near due to terrain-”
“Please let me finish, Lira.”
His tone catches me off guard. When I finally meet his eyes, I see a small hurt hiding behind the worry and concern. I avert my gaze, but still listen as he continues.
“It may be impossible for us, but not improbable for a few… friends that owe me favors.”
This makes my head snap towards him. Of course! Why had I not thought of them before? Realization dawns on me as to why, and I carefully stand.
“How did you contact them? I thought all of our letter drakes were killed or captured.”
Syne nods his head. “That information is still correct, however, my personal letter drake is still very much alive, and in my hands, so to speak.” He snaps his fingers, and the all too familiar shriek echoes in the tent. The ground slightly shakes as something large lands outside. A scaly, six horned head pokes through the small door opening. It gives a soft calling towards us, with a gleeful look in its four eyes.
“Colonel Syne, I cannot permit you to risk so much for us. This is-"
“My choice, General.”
I stop, shocked. He gently shakes his head. “Please, I mean no disrespect, but you cannot stop me from using every available resource to ensure our victory. Besides,” He grows quiet as he motions towards the panting head of the beast. “Phros here would have eaten me if I didn’t allow him to fly out to check on his mate.” As if agreeing, the beast softly growls, but his gaze was not one of malice.
I cannot hold my excitement. “This gives us a chance. If the Alananche receive your letter soon, then we can rally together and possibly stand a chance against the Endasyne and end this war for good.”
“About that letter…”
The voice nearly makes me shout in joy. I turn and spot the old elf walking through the tent door, next to the head of the beast. He gives Phros a gentle pat, and the beast quickly retreats, knowing the meaning. As the eyes of the elf meet mine, I break normal protocol and rush forward. My arms wrap around his body, and he returns the embrace. “It is good to see you to, little Lira.”
I attempt a growl, but it turns into a chuckle as I release the old man. I give a playful punch to his arm. “You know I have told you not to call me that anymore, Master Eldrym.” A soft smile plays on his lips, his deep blue eyes glowing in the dim candlelight.
“As I have told you to merely call me Eldrym. We are both masters now, are we not?”
I simply shake my head. “No matter. Right now we need to figure out how to get past this supposedly impenetrable barricade to the Immortal Castle.” I guide him to the table, moving failed battle strategies aside. “The Endasyne General, Kalam, has staged his whole army around the easiest, and only, accessible path by land to the stronghold. Other paths have taken more lives than necessary.”
Master Eldrym nods, and that usual smug smile that he shares with his son slowly creeps onto his face.
“It is a good thing we do not travel by land, then.”
I can only nod in agreement. However, I do find myself pointing towards a set of twin towers that were guarding the castle. “These hold what we believe to be anti-air crystals, which is the only reason we have yet to attempt anything like this.” I move my arms across my chest again. I look over the map, noting how effective any aerial attack would be to us right now, if done properly, but the risk it held with it was very great.
“Master Eldrym, I cannot ask this of you and your men- “
“Be silent, little Lira.” His voice was not condescending, but gentle and kind. I lift my gaze to his, and he holds a soft, small, calm smile. “You are not asking anything. We are merely providing the means of victory to family.” His eyes flash with slight pride as he gazes at me. I fight the tears that threaten to spill over.
“The risk is too great- “
“Nothing is too great for you, young one.”
I suck in a breath, and carefully regain my composure. The old elf before me smiles, his dark skin wrinkling at the movement.
“Alright. I will not try to stop you. I know that is like speaking to a druggrut.”
This earns me a small laugh as we return to the table, giving the strategies laid out before us our full attention.
“Now… Here’s the plan.”