A General Living By Love

Such a beautiful morning, thought General Produn, as his eyes lingered on the horizon. It was layered with a red haze, the clouds parting seamlessly in wake of the sun's coming, while the waves crashed softly upon the beach, slowly declining. The tide had begun its retreat back to the safe haven of the ocean. Though he had spent much time at sea, the great waters had not lost their aura of majesty. It had been a long time since he simply stood admiring nature's unparalleled beauty, basked in sun's warmth. Perhaps this was because he now stood alone.

The short reprieve he found from the fires that now burned within his heart did not last. His thoughts returned, as they always did, to her, and to the Republic. He had failed them both. Amongst the Republican soldiers, he was still in good standing. The Great General Produn, he who struck fear into the very soul of the Empire, he who fought alongside his troops in the heat of battle, would surely lead them to victory. Their hopes were misplaced. He had been forced to flee, despite all of his calculations and tactical maneuvering. The odds had been stacked too heavily against him. He watched time and time again as his men shed their blood in the name of the Republic, in the name of all that it represented. Yet neither their bravery nor his cunning had been enough. He possessed only remnants now of the vast army he once commanded. There would be no retreat from here. The general would not flee again.

I feel the flames. They dwell in me.

From the north approached the enemy, the Julian Battalion. Their coming meant the defense force had been defeated. The army was comprised of many different units, and there was no distinct pattern to their chaotic formation. He wondered how such a rabble could have defeated the Republican guard. The opposition then halted at the edge of the battlefield, as their leaders made their way to the center, though Produn wondered why they would seek to initiate talk after spilling blood.

"It seems they have requested an audience, General. Shall we indulge them?" Asked the Bulzome monk at his side. He had no care for the monk, nor his fanatical sect, but in such a desperate hour, no ally could be turned away, not even one whose loyalties must be continually questioned. He nodded to the monk, scanning the distant army as he began forward.

"We shall hear what they have to say." Produn responded. With an elegant blade sheathed at his hip, they walked to meet the enemy leaders at the center. A line of soldiers parted for him, like a sea being separated by the very hands of Elbesem. Much admiration lay buried in their eyes, yet he did not feel he deserved such loyalty. Could they not see the shame and dishonor he had brought upon them? That he had been unable to defeat neither Spiriel nor the Prince? The general, though consumed by memory of his great defeats, did not allow torment to appear upon his face as he passed his men. He had to stay valiant for them, if not for himself.

"It would seem you have broken through our defenses. I applaud your efforts, though your advance ends here." Produn said as he met them at the middle of the field.

A youthful man stood at the front, with dark brown hair and fiery eyes, eyes akin to a tiger's. He presumed this was Julian, their famed leader. Beside him resided a much younger boy grasping an Ankar staff. The general sensed a great aura emitting from the young man, though he could not articulate it in words. The Bulzome monk seemed to grow uneasy in his presence. There stood also two beautiful women of stature, with long blonde hair and fine clothes. Nobles of some sort, Produn imagined. He paid them no mind. Much to his surprise, Sir Donhort, General Tybalt's chief vassal, served as the rear guard. They had spoken on several occasions, and Produn questioned why on earth he would be standing alongside renegades. Before he could speak, a figure emerged from their ranks, one the General had not believed he would ever see again. The man saluted Produn with respect as he stepped forward.

"It has been a long time, General." Edmund said. Produn's eyes widened at the sight of him. His voice was nearly held in his throat by shock.

"I had heard you were dead…Edmund. How is it you are alive? Why are you accompanying these rogues?" Questioned the General, his face turned grim. Edmund lowered his eyes in shame.

"I have committed a great sin. I have betrayed King Benetram, turned my back on the Republic. I joined Commander Garzel of the Empire in hopes of securing Aspia for the Imperials. We fought atop the bridge, and I was thrown down amidst the great falls of Barrand. I believed I'd found my death in the water. Elbesem, it seems, had other plans for me. By the will of fate I was rescued. I reached Barrand alive, and there I was able to meet with General Rogan. Together, we took the Seagate. Words cannot describe my regret, nor my disgrace for what I've done. I do not hope for your forgiveness, General, but you must understand the gravity of the situation now before us." The general looked upon Edmund with disgust.

Am I the only one left who still serves you, Aspia?

"So that is how you managed to join with the Imperials. The Bearsol army lies dead by your hand, and before me now stands the shadow of a man I once called friend, yet still you would have me heed your words? " Edmund raised his head.

"Please, you must understand. This is larger than either of us, larger than even the Republic or Destonia. That monk who stands beside you is not your ally. He is a member of an evil sect, a servant of the dark God Bulzome, whom would gladly usher in the world's destruction. This ressurection cannot be allowed to occur. I have sworn an oath to protect the chosen, Lord Gracia. It is only through him this disaster may be averted." Produn's gaze turned to the boy who held the staff, the one who had felt so strange. Despite his outrage, he had retained his military mind, and assessed the situation with cool reason. Produn intuition sensed some truth in Edmund's words.

"This…this is the God child?" The General asked. The boy stared at Produn, an air of holiness shrouded all about him. There was something strange about the child, that much he could not deny. The monk scoffed at the accusations directed towards his sect.

"These are little more than lies and propaganda my lord. Do you even realize who that woman is that travels among them? She wears the Imperial signet…" The monk stated, pointing towards the older of the two noble women. Edmund interjected quickly, hoping to offer explanation.

"This is…Lady Melinda of the Empire. She has sought refuge among our party." The monk then placed a hand on the General shoulder, as a demon would rest, when tempting a man. He spoke to the General in a voice filled with sympathy.

"She is the biological mother of Prince Medion."

His mind drifted back to that day, at the docks of Anafect. His army had sustained heavy losses in their bloody battles against the Imperials. They were wounded, plagued by exhaustion, hardly in condition to even raise their weapons. He had managed to procure a ship, and was preparing to flee with the remnants of his once formidable army when Prince Medion's force arrived at the village. Elbesem it seems, had forsaken the Republic, for even in retreat Destonia would grant them no quarter. The Prince sought their ship. He saw no qualms in taking the vessel by force. His men, slowed and despaired, fought on bravely. They knew there would be no victory for them here, yet still they freely shed their blood to protect him, to ensure his escape.

I could have protected you...

She had ordered his soldiers to escort him onto the ship, thinking only of his safety and not of her own. His men had complied willingly with her commands. They forced him into the vessel while the battle concluded. Stella was a talented magician, a splendid tactician, but her place was not in the field. Somehow she had tricked herself into believing she could perhaps stall long enough for the ship to depart, maybe even defeat the Imperials. No such victory was possible. The Medion army pushed his forces until their backs were to the ocean. They fought bravely, down to the last man, but courage wins the day only in idealistic tales and legend. Real war is a far less romantic affair.

He had forced his way back to the upper deck, and it was there Produn witnessed Stella's demise. He recalled the moment with ease, the agonizing images forever engraved upon his memory. They found one another's eyes when the wounds became, at last, too grave for her to bear. She looked at him with longing, and even in death he found her to be most beautiful. Her hands cradled her stomach, when the last lights faded.

The hope left her eyes when we parted. It died before her body did.

He gazed at Lady Melinda with malice and hatred, for he knew the monk's words to be true. The woman stepped back, fearful of General Produn's gaze. There was no disguising these demons that raged within him. He looked as if he would kill her right then. They fell into a tense silence, and no one dared to move. Julian grasped his blade, but Edmund placed a hand on the hilt, as he looked at the General.

"Will you not see reason Produn? I do not desire to fight you, but I will if I must. I must protect Lord Gracia…" Edmund was unable to finish his sentence. In a swift motion, the General backhanded him, and the force of the blow nearly sent him staggering. Julian drew forth his sword, preparing to move on the General, but once again Edmund forced him to stay his hand. Produn responded with anger.

"Reason?! You wish me to see reason you traitorous dog?! You admit freely to having betrayed our cause, admit openly that you now harbor the mother of the Prince as your personal envoy, and yet somehow you still entertain the notion your words mean anything to me?" Edmund opened his mouth to speak, but Produn cut him off.

"Spare me your justifications Edmund, I care not to hear them. Perhaps you can recite them to the bodies of Stella and my men that lay buried on the outskirts of Anafect. They died beneath the Prince's blade. You will garner more understanding from their slain corpses than you will ever find in me. Prepare yourselves for battle. We are done talking." The General turned his back on Edmund then, and began marching back to his soldiers with rage a filled heart. Edmund stood, watching Produn depart, but could not find the words. He could only lower his head regretfully, knowing the call to the battle had been given, the sparks of war ignited.

After rejoining the Republic forces, the General moved to the head of his army. The Julian battalion had initiated their advance. His men looked to him for guidance, waiting anxiously for their orders to be given. Produn walked proudly along the front line.

Give them what they want…they have earned that much.

"The army of Bearsol has been defeated, friends. These invaders are of Imperial alignment. We have been forced to concede territory after territory, home after home to the Empire. They have oppressed our people and suppressed our freedom. The Emperor sees our land as little more than his own personal property, but it is not so. These lands belong to us, to the Republic. Aspia is still worth fighting for. Let your weapons speak for you on the battlefield now, let combat be your voices, those that have been so long ignored. Let us send a message to Domaric himself, one he will not be able to cast aside!" The Republic soldiers erupted in unison at the words of their beloved general. They raised their weapons to the sky, united beneath a wave of pride and nationalism. His men then awaited the arrival of the enemy with frantic anticipation. They yearned for the chance to send their message to the Empire.

They'll fight until their breaths, Produn knew, fight with everything they have left.

With the Bulzome monk at his side, Produn commanded his troops dutifully. He ordered his snipers into position, commanding them to fire their volleys when the opposition came within range. The enemy force struck hard and fast as they charged in. Though the arrows were carefully fired, it appeared that only a few managed to find their marks. It was almost as if some divine force had shielded them as they reached the Republic soldiers. The main infantry unit gripped their halberds tightly when they entered quarters combat with the Julian Battallion. The melee fighting grew thick and bloody within seconds. Though courageous and battle hardened, the Republic forces found themselves out matched by the fighting prowess of their foes. Warriors of unparalleled skill broke through their lines, while spells of fire and lightning caused limitless destruction across the field, tearing asunder both men and earth. Above the raging battle, hovered a squadron of Pegasus knights, their spears poised to be thrown down with masterful precision. They were engaged by Julian's own aerial units upon the currents of the wind, a skilled female knight killing several of them. The corpses of Produn's dead knights soon fell from the sky to the ground.

Is my defeat written in the stars?

"Quite strong," Said the general, as he looked upon the scene with anguish from behind the brunt of his forces. He theorized his plan of action carefully. The Bulzome monk soon spoke to him, the fear evident in his voice.

"What will you do now General? They are breaking through… " Produn looked at his dying army with darkened his eyes. He said nothing more. The only course left to him had been made most clear. He drew his blade. The hilt felt at home in his hand, the familiar weight of the sword becoming one with his being. It had been almost baptismal, drawing the weapon from its sheath. In that moment, Produn felt himself reborn again as a soldier, waiting anxiously upon the edge of combat. He welcomed the rebirth.

I embrace this fire, through it I will find vengeance.

His men fought with renewed vigor as he entered combat. The tide's turn against them was not enough to suppress their valor. They fought on, in spite of the defeat looming on the horizon, for they still had a message to send. The experience was spiritual for the General. At last, he felt he had become one with his army, one with his soldiers. He would bleed with them now, as the sun cast light across the bloody stretch of sand. There was beauty to be found, in death upon the field. He struggled forward without fear.

At the heart of the battle, the General found Edmund, bearing a sword red with the blood of his men. Around him was a ring of dead soldiers, their weapons still clutched by lifeless hands. Edmund breathed heavy as he looked upon Produn. He knew all too well the duel that what was to come, torment and regret taking hold of him as the general advanced, while their blades readied to cross. The hatred in Produn's eyes was like a wild fire burning in the night. There would be no end to it, until all was consumed by the blaze.

"Must this be, General?" Edmund asked, as he made ready. Produn cast him a smile of madness.

"It has always been, and will forever be. Let our swords speak to one another now Edmund, for I long to see the climax." Edmund closed his eyes, and then opened once again. All reason had been abandoned. He had no choice to be fight or die.

"By your leave."

The first attacks were slow and methodical, the two combatants feeling one another out. These preliminary motions did not last long. The strikes grew swifter, harsher, and the echo of clashing metal was lost amidst the sounds of war. Produn felt the rage encompassing his heart, allowed it to flow through every corner of his being. He allowed the demons within to do as they willed, to take control of him. His strikes then increased in ferocity. They slashed the air with hate, putting Edmund onto the defensive. Though strained by guilt for his betrayals, Edmund did not wish to die. He knew he could not allow himself to fall. With great effort, he continued to parry the General's onslaught, holding his ground.

I speak for both of you now…

Their gazes interlocked, alongside their swords. Each forced against the other with everything in him. The weapons became extensions of their wills. Driven, and unhindered by fear of death, Produn lunged at Edmund with reckless abandon. He would end it now. Edmund reacted to the thrust on instinct. He deflected the General's blow and stabbed him in the gut, pulling back quickly. Produn took no notice the wound at first. His mind was elsewhere. With adrenaline still pulsing through his body, the pain did not immediately hinder him and his attack continued. The demons of rage pulled their strings.

Elbesem be damned.

"Stand down, Produn! It is over!" Edmund cried, but the general did not hear him. He heard only the voice of his own sword. With all his remaining strength, Produn swung at his foe, and in doing so knocked Edmund's sword aside. The unarmed man fell to his knees. Their gazes locked with one another again, as the general prepared to cast judgment down upon his enemy, he who had betrayed both him and Aspia. There was fear in Edmund's eyes, intertwined with lament and acceptance. A part of him felt he deserved this execution. Produn saw this, saw the torment in Edmund's eyes, as he raised his sword one last time to the heavens. This triggered hesitation. The blade itself never did strike home. Two arrows pierced the wounded general where he stood, and his legs gave way beneath him. The fight, the battle, it had ended.

Produn lay still upon his back, letting go of his sword. He had no more use for it. Edmund rushed quickly to his side, calling for a healer. The general barely heard Edmund's yells. They grew distant as his essence drained away. He spoke only in whispers.

"...I have finally realized...my child's soul...with Stella...if I go to this other world ...will I meet them there? I fought…I fought …with the only song left to me. These gears of destiny have gone mad…I care for them no longer..." Edmund knelt grasping his arm, but knew already it was too late to save him. He grieved for his friend.

"That's…that's why you were so stubborn."

The general's eyes then turned to the sun, as the life finally passed from his body. He basked in its warmth. The light felt good on his skin. In the distance, he could still hear the roar of the waves, whom rolled endlessly upon the beach. Such a beautiful morning, thought Produn.