The Calm After the Storm

By DA Guerier

…You should be more aware of your position as a leader…

The haunting words echoed through his skull, each time more accusing, condemning. With a shudder, Flik buried his face in his hands, gloved fingers furrowing into the mop of brown hair that spiked over his blue bandanna.

Leader… leader…

What he had done back in Toran Castle, back in the fire of rage, certainly hadn't been the action of a leader. But what exactly had he done? Everything was so fuzzy, he could only dimly remember. Like a horrible nightmare, nearly forgotten by morning, but still with a lingering, clinging, feel of dread. Startled faces, Mathiu Silverberg's fatal words spiraling down from the top of the deep, deep hole which trapped him. A hole he had dug himself, with a shovel made of anger and fear. Flik had once been told he was a beserker, that his quick temper was unreliable, explosive. That it got in the way of his judgement.

...No wonder Odessa had given up on him…

A long, mournful sigh escaped his lips, and he closed his eyes, buried his face further into his hands. No, don't think about Odessa…. But the thoughts berated him still, the memories of the past. Of the school in Lenankamp, the founding of the Liberation Army… Seven years, and Odessa had been there through it all, a beautiful and bright star, a guiding light. What would he do without her? He swallowed down the lump in his throat, kept his eyes tightly shut for fear of the hot tears that would escape them. It was to no avail; they trickled down his face to make dark spots on the sleeves of his once-white shirt, now dirty and stained due to the escape from the Liberation Army's lost refuge. And the journey to the new center of operations, the castle of Lake Toran. But it was Liberty Castle now, wasn't it? And the headquarters of the new Liberation Army. The old one had dispersed... Regardless, Odessa should have been there. But what should have been wasn't, and did not matter anymore. The message for her had been completely forgotten in his fury.

Odessa wasn't there, she was dead. And in her place as leader, this Endrey McDohl. He may have been a fugitive, but still, an Imperial General's son… Flik shook his head slowly. He couldn't understand it. Odessa had trusted the boy at first glance, ever since Viktor had dragged him in. What was it about this Endrey that they had both seen?

Voices drifted in from the cracks in the door. They were hushed; Flik's soldiers didn't want to turn his anger on them. They needn't worry about that anymore… He sat up and regarded with a cringe a former teapot, now lying in china shards on the rough wooden table and floor. The raging fire had gone out, his hatred of the Empire smoldering quietly in the back of his mind. It was spent for now, his mind clear… clearer, at least. As clear as it could be with the weight that now rested on his shoulders, that left a bitter taste in his mouth, and a shadow lurking behind his now-dried eyes.

After the attack on the inn in Lenankamp, the last of the hideouts to be destroyed, much of the Army had scattered to Milich Oppenheimer's domain in the west. Flik narrowed his eyes. The Flower General's taste in fashion was enough to make anyone recoil, but the rumors about his means of attack and defense would make you hide your laughter until he was well away. Soniere Prison held enough doors to make any lockpick resign, and who knew what protected the castle of Scarleticia? The warrior fervently hoped that none of his dispersed soldiers had been captured by Imperial guards; it would be difficult enough to find them all as it was. Maybe too difficult, with his forces in the state they were now.

With the help of Endrey's army, however, it could be done. He realized with shock that it was indeed the only way. As much as it tore him to see someone else leading the Liberation Army, to collaborate with someone born to the society he had come to detest, he had to get the remnants of his army back together. He owed it to them, he owed it to Odessa. Odessa… She had wanted him to believe in Endrey, hadn't she? Flik couldn't accept the boy as his leader yet, but to join forces with him would allow the warrior to observe him, and maybe discover what Odessa had seen.

Oddly enough, he hadn't any doubts about this decision. Rather, it was the opposite: the weight had been lifted -- evaporated, more like. It seemed as if there was someone agreeing with him, assuring that it was the right choice…

Flik rubbed the salty residue of tears from his eyes and leaned back in the wooden chair. No doubt someone from the great stone castle would come to speak to him, maybe to persuade him to join their forces. Sanchez, Viktor... or maybe even the McDohl boy himself. Well, whoever it was, he would tell them his decision when they came. Finally feeling at peace with himself, he waited.

* * *

At last, after a hesitant knock, the door turned with a slight squeal on its rusty hinges. Viktor entered, his tousled black hair brushing the top of the doorframe, a somewhat sheepish, worried --or was it guilty?-- look on his normally grinning features. The figure behind him was noticably smaller, and came in slowly, cautiously. Flik rose, and as he bowed in greeting he noticed Endrey's eyes. Bright, deep brown eyes, older and wiser than the child's face he wore. Those brown eyes returned blue warily, glowing with some inner fire…Was that what Odessa had…

Flik straightened, recovering from this sudden revelation. He regarded each of his visitors in turn, confident in himself and in his decision.

"Endrey, Viktor, I was expecting you."

(La Fin)

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