"Before the Battle"

"Thank you, Fenimore."

The Ferines girl looked up from the small clay bowls she had been stacking, blinking at the one who had spoken. Though he had apparently addressed Fenimore, Walter continued to look over at the other youths that hurriedly put the final touches on the automata army.

"I just did as you suggested," Fenimore replied modestly, allowing a small smile as she finished with the stack and placed it on a tray. She murmured a few words of gratitude to an older woman who carried away the tray, then returned her attention the young commander. "How are things going?"

"We're almost finished. We will be ready to commence operations on time, as expected." It was hard to tell if he was glancing at her through that fringe of hair, but Fenimore decided she didn't mind one way or another if he was.

"No, that's not what I meant." As she shook her head, her tied-back tails of hair swayed together. "How are things going with you?" The question earned her Walter's full attention, and she suppressed a grin at his raised-brow expression. When it became obvious he wasn't going to answer, she decided to explain further. "Are you nervous?"

"Nervous." The surprised look was gone, replaced by that composed frown in an instant. "Hardly. There's nothing to be nervous about."

Fenimore tilted her head, as if trying to read his face. It was difficult to, especially considering they did not know each other well at all. "Really? But you're going to be commanding all of these people tomorrow."

Walter's head shifted and his blue eyes began flitting around; he was back to looking out at the automata repairs. "No. Mainly the automata. You probably misheard."

"Oh." Fenimore swallowed a frown of her own, keeping her back straight and her hands folded in front of her. "Wouldn't you … rather be leading the charge onto the bridge?"

The question almost led to Walter turning his full attention back to Fenimore, but his eyes only strayed for a moment before returning to overlook the maintenance. "Of course. But every person has their part to play in this war. And controlling the automata is my part."

She didn't really understand the automata, or just how the ancient sentinels were tied to the Ferines. But she did know that Senel and the others had brought back a huge crystal which could apparently control the automata, and Walter was now in possession of it.

"Why you? Can't anyone else use the Whisper Crystal? I'm sure you could go with Senel and the others if you had someone else control the automata."

A few definitely negative emotions flashed across Walter's face before he forced back in to place that neutral expression of his. "It needs to be someone with an 'incredible force of will,' according to Maurits. Especially for the sheer amount of automata we intend to use."

Fenimore wanted to argue that the requirement seemed simple enough to fulfill, but she bit her tongue, noting the way the other had reacted to her questions. Instead, she decided to steer the conversation down another course. "I'm worried about Shirley."

For a few moments, there was silence, and Fenimore found herself thinking she had spoken too softly. But then, "The Merines is strong. We will see her returned to us before long."

"Senel will." Having glanced down, Fenimore missed the intense look that flitted across Walter's face. She might have noticed a pattern if she had seen it. "Senel will bring her home. She's waiting for him, you know?"

This time, she received no sort of reply from Walter.