Into the FrayChapter 1.1: "Arrayed across the horizon, naught but victory lay in their path"
My mother blames my father for dying before I could learn the horrors of the wars he fought. "You worship his memory and you worship him for fighting. War isn't polished armor and shining parades, Indy. War is leaving the field each night covered in too much gore to be cleaned before the next day's bloodshed." But I was never listening--I was looking at my father's armor, polished, golden, and clean on its display stand at the head of our table. When she wasn't looking, I would trace the lines of the plating and hover my hand over the bullet holes in the breastplate. Every night I promised myself that I would take my father's place in the glorious Flame Dawn.
But then, just as I was about to be old enough, the wars ended. The Dawn was officially at peace with all of Talich, even the unconquered Genesis Industries in the south. My chance to fight was over.
Until the day that Pyr ordered a massive recruiting drive. When we received the data scroll offering positions in the Dawn for every man or woman who volunteered, I took it in hand and left. Now, standing amidst a crowd of other aspiring members of the Flame Dawn, I regret not looking back to see my mother one last time.
"Someday," I whispered, I vowed, "my name will be shouted as men charge into battle. Someday, my name will be alongside that of Bromich, of Sacullus, and of Iruel in the stories told at nights."
"I doubt it," drawled a pale black-haired man standing next to me. "More likely, we'll all be buried in unmarked graves while Aberion toasts to men like Bromich and Sacullus, and women like Kali. You're too late to be remembered, whoever you are."
"That's hardly an optimistic outlook."
He shrugged. "Cannon fodder in a war between two global superpowers isn't an optimistic job opportunity."
"What's your name?"
"Endymion. Vladimir, eh? Mind if I call you Vlad?"
"Very much so." He turned to face the entrance to Pyr, the Fortress of the Dawn, wiping a thin sheen of sweat from his brow as he did so. "So, Endymion, why are you so excited to join the Dawn and achieve your destiny as the glorified hero who cut Orion's sorry head off of his sorrier shoulders?"
"My father was in the Dawn. A footman. He died--"
"Naturally," he quipped.
"He died taking Lechfeld, the capital of the East Talich Consortium."
"Ah, yes, the ETC. I'm gonna miss their annoying chatter on the pirate radio channels. Always worth a laugh, their talk of trade rights and international commerce. So your father bit the bullet like ninety percent of other soldiers in the Flame Dawn did during the wars, and inspired you to join the Dawn in his footsteps?" As much as it seemed to be worded and said as a question, it was not.
"Yup. And you? Why are you here, ready to join the Flame Dawn even when you seem to be hopelessly cynical about our chances of survival?"
"One, I'm not hopelessly cynical. I've some hope, seasoned with healthy amounts of experience and historical knowledge. If I was hopelessly cynical, as you claim, I'd sign up to fight against the Flame Dawn."
"Okay, you've got me there."
"And two, my father was one of the lucky few who actually survived. He's a knight and a governor now, and wants me to work my way up through the ranks like he did. Because that's going to happen twice in the same city, let alone the same family.
"Thirdly, I'd rather have training if we're about to enter into war with Genesis Industries. You know as well as I that when war breaks out and we all end up buried in mass graves, everyone else will be conscripted--and they won't get training. I'd personally like to shoot a few mechanics before those accursed drones of Genesis get me."
A knight in golden armor with a red cape stood up on a platform in the midst of the crowd, calling aloud to all of us aspirants. "Registration will begin shortly. This is expected to take several hours if not days, depending on how many of you brave men and women have volunteered to join the illustrious Flame Dawn, led by the glorious Aberion, the rising sun, founder of the Dawn, he who purges the heretics, caller of the crusade, the undaunted, the rampant, he who cleansed the world in fire once and will do so again..."
Vladimir yawned. "Aberion probably pays his PR department more for coming up with fancy titles than for actually, you know, advertising for the Dawn. I bet that at least ninety percent of that man's message is just a long list of titles--even more if he does some of the other famous leaders, like Bromich."
"You will be placed under the command of Bromich, the Field Commander, the Brilliant, the Vanquisher of a Thousand Armies, the Logistician, he who plotted the world and saw the forthcoming conquests, he who..."
Vladimir looked at his watch. "When he said that registration would begin shortly, I thought he meant that it would happen today. At this rate, we'll be done next week if we're lucky. All Genesis Industries has to say about Orion is that he's president, founder, and CEO of the company/nation. They'll be mobilized before we'll receive our uniforms and conquer us before that herald reads the declaration of war. Maybe I should have signed up for them."
"And let us not forget Kali, the Flaming Blade, the Resplendent, the Exemplar, who rose through the ranks even as the sun rises each morning, who stormed the breach at Pallydium, who..."
Two hours later, Vlad and I were finally at the registration desks set up outside of the entrance to the fortress. An uninspired and generally tired looking man sat at the desk, not even bothering to look up at the passing volunteers. "Name?"
He began to write my name down on the roster and paused, looking me over. I examined him in return.
The man sitting at the registration desk before me was a little older than I was, and by his armor I guessed that he was also an Aspirant. He was a bit small for a soldier, with a gaunt face but inquisitive eyes. "Endymion, eh?" he said with a smile.
"My name is Haraldur. Welcome to the Flame Dawn."
"Thank you, sir."
"Oh, no need for the sirs, Endymion. I'm just an Aspirant, just like you are once you sign these forms. Sign here, please."
Not bothering with the fine print on the data scroll, I signed it and moved on, entering the fortress through its grand gate and following the crowd into the crowded armory. The place looked like it might have been organized at some point, but for now it was filled with crates upon crates of equipment, each haphazardly labeled. Weapon racks on the walls were half empty or overstocked, and excess weapons were leaning around everywhere. Ammo reels and clips cluttered the floor, and irritated men manned the cluttered desks that we aspirants were marching up to.
"Yes, very good, very good," muttered a clerk as he measured me for my armor. "Size 32, excellent, excellent. Here, take this. Adjust the straps like so--is that too tight? Good. Loose armor will be the death of you. Let's see, the helm... yes, yes, this one will do nicely."
"No no no no no!" cried a nearby clerk, angry with his subject. "This just will not do! You are far too robust for any of our basic armors! Thom! Send in an order to Genesis Industries this instant for armor plating for this, this, giant!"
"But sir, will they take the order?"
"We're paying them, aren't we? In spite of all the puffy going around about war, we're still paying them for weapons and armor so they had better deliver!"
"Do you have measurements?"
"I'm writing them down right now! Absolutely ridiculous! Why would anyone grow to be so obscenely large?"
I looked over at the victim of the irate clerk. He wasn't hard to find, easily standing two feet taller than the rest of the crowd with extremely broad shoulders. "What's your name?"
"I take it that you run into this trouble often?" I grinned, noting how his clothes were stretched to the seams.
"Let's just say that I find it hard to find clothes in my size."
"Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too."
"Move along, you two, I have more people to get outfitted."
"But what about my armor?" cried Lysimachus.
"It'll come in sometime tomorrow. We'll send for you when it does. Now get moving! I haven't got all day here, you know."
I shrugged and followed the line of newly-outfitted aspirants to another part of the armory, where we would receive weapons. Lysimachus followed me, trying to retreat within himself and remain inconspicuous in spite of his bulk.
"I'd like a sword, sir."
"Doesn't everyone and his goat, these days? All of these firearms from Genesis Industries, and everybody wants a sword. Here, take this one. How's the balance?"
I carefully swung the sword a few times. "It'll do."
"Humph. Here, take one of these pistols. Standard issue, so don't complain or protest."
"I had no intention of doing so."
"Sure you didn't. Now move along. Name?"
"And will you also be wanting a sword today?"
"Actually, I was wondering if I could have one of those large guns over there."
"Really? That's refreshing. Let me see... ah, this one should do." The weapons clerk plopped a large machine gun, probably meant more to be mounted on a turret than for personal use, onto the counter with an audible thud.
"Mark IV 88-Class Gatling gun, courtesy of Genesis Industries' R&D department. Allegedly jam-free, this baby can shoot 200 rounds a minute in a constant stream--just don't expect it to be too accurate. You feed the ammo belt in here, and the casings are shot out here. Comes standard with a built-in tripod, not that you'll particularly need it. Just remember, you don't have infinite ammo with this baby, so go easy on the spray and pray."
"Golly! Thanks a lot, sir!" Lysimachus picked up the formidable weapon, took up a firing pose, and then grinned. "What do you think?"
"I think you need armor," I grinned, "but otherwise, I think I ought to start running before I get gunned down. Does that thing have a safety?"
"No," replied the clerk, "Genesis Industries seems to think that safeties on their weapons are for idiots, incompetents, or illiterates. Now move along. Name?"
"Something light and fast--a rapier, perhaps?"
"So you want a sword too? Great. One of these days, people are going to realize that swords aren't useful when you're charging into battle, and are even less useful when you're being charged down by one of Genesis's infamous Mega Units or obliterated by their scouting drones. I hate to break it to you kids, but swords are not effective anti-aircraft weapons." The clerk continued to talk to himself and his customers while Lysimachus and I followed the line of other recruits to a large open courtyard.