Chapter 12: Family Ties

Pronunciation:

Rhion: Rii-ohn

Kratch: Like "scratch", but with a "K".

Kraxas: Kraa-zas

I do apologize for the wretchedly long wait and I'm sure many of you are willing to draw and quarter me for it. I would make excuses, but really, it is only because I'm near the end of another story and I'm hoping to get it finished relatively soon, in addition to a lot of stressful schoolwork as a Biology major. Thankfully, this story is gaining a lot of momentum as well, so that's the good news for you guys. I hope this chapter makes up for it, somewhat. :D

General Rufus Tiber was not a pleased general.

In fact, he was furious.

He crumpled the sheet of parchment in his thick, meaty hands. He tossed it into the small campfire burning in a small wood stove in the corner of his tent. To keep the smoke from blowing inside, the stove had a smokestack protruding through the roof of his tent."How could this happen!" he raged, stomping around the tent, knocking things aside with his muscular forearms. "How could my soldiers have been so stupid! Incompetent, moronic, All-Father thrice-demned, sons of cows!"

Siegfried sat in a corner of the the tent, making himself as small as possible, to avoid the emboar's wrath. Granted, Siegfried could stop the General with merely a thought; after all, he possessed a type advantage, but he was not in the mood to be savagely beaten into a pulp. The general was not wearing his armor at the moment; instead, he bore a blood red tunic that went to his knees and a black cape with a golden underbelly.

He had received a report from a hapless messenger that a handful of slaves had taken out the Tao Empire's main source of metal ore during their campaign, the Black Pit Mines. One of the soldiers had escape the onslaught and managed to pen a letter to General Rufus Tiber. The fact that he lost valuable soldiers and supplies enraged the general. Now, he would have to divert valuable resources to recapture the mining complex, if he were to continue to obtain metal ores from the mountain depths. But now he was in a midst of a campaign to push out of the Taso Valley and into the western parts of the Sky Kingdom and he intended to do so with as much force behind him as possible, like a thousand hammers striking a single anvil at once, completely overwhelming whatever was left of the Sky army, forcing them to retreat into their holes, like the trash they were.

And now he had to make a decision: should he send soldiers to recapture the Black Pit Mines, especially when winter is so close, or should he focus on the campaign at hand?

"General, if I may speak?" Siegfried offered meekly.

General Tiber stopped raging and whirled around to face Siegfried, his cloak billowing around him in a gold and black fury. "What!" he snarled.

"May I suggest that we use one of the Legions arriving and diverting them to the mountains. The Legions are already near there, so why not send one of them to recapture it? Their vast amounts of resources will surely destroy any opposition that stands in their path. Then, they can make the trip back down, rather than sending soldiers northward, towards the oncoming winter weather. The Legions would be going ahead of the storms."

General Tiber studied the alchemist, his eyes veiled with red in rage. It was clear to Siegfried that he was not thinking straight. "What makes you think," he began calmly, "That I haven't thought of that!" Siegfried shrank back from the froth and spittle flying off the pokemon's tusks. His rage was on the verge of becoming unstoppable. Siegfried was now calculating numerous scenarios, to either avoid his rage completely, or to put a stop to it, using his mental facilities. Both scenarios sounded feasible at the moment.

"I apologize, General," Siegfried shrank back, praying that General Tiber would not resort to violence to calm himself. Siegfried was the only one present in the room, meaning that if anything, he would end up receiving the brunt of the emboar's wrath. All he had for a weapon on him was a small curved dagger and his staff, both of which would do very little against the general's bulk and savagery. He could use his psychic powers, to put a stop to his impeding rampage, but the alchemist guessed that the Emperors would be very displeased to hear that Siegfried had tampered with the general's mind. There was little Siegfried could do.

But then, just as General Tiber's temper came to a roiling boil, he simmered down, breathing heavily, hands still clenching and unclenching. He finally spoke, his voice raspy from losing his temper. "Send a messenger to the 49th Legion that is arriving for reinforcements. They have a new mission in mind."

Siegfried nodded curtly and scampered out as quickly as he could, tripping over an errant piece of furniture as his cloak and robes flew about him. General Rufus Tiber laughed as the trailing edge of Siegfried's cloak zipped out. "Sniveling little coward," he chuckled darkly to himself. "Alchemy is a useless science, practicing in dark alleyways and hidey-holes. Only the sword is the true force around here, to deal with these Sky savages." He picked up his massive, double bladed ax, hefting it easily in one hand, as easily as a butcher could handle a cleaver. He sneered, picturing the note the messenger had passed onto him.

"I know you were behind this, Imasu. And once I get my hands around you, I will make you wish that you never became a soldier." He drove one side of the ax into the table closest to him. The table was nearly cleaved in half as the metal sunk into the wood.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

The days passed by in a blur for Absalom. First, he had to deal with Sky soldiers seeming to doubt his every move, thinking him as a traitor in their midst—which he was not-, then he had to deal with two injured friends, one of which was stubbornly refusing to allow himself to rest and heal, instead, going out to train with his unusual spear. And on top of that, the entire army was moving to Ft. Karydos, only shortly after he and his friends arrived. At this point, the charmeleon was running on pure adrenaline.

There was another matter concerning him though, one much more personal:

His sister, Rhion.

Rhion was his older sister, a charizard and an officer in the Tao Army. Since joining the Sky rebellion, he was growing worried that he would have to face his sister in combat, a fear that was becoming more and more realized. He didn't want to fight her, but this was a cause he truly believed in, a feeling that made him feel more complete.

But what about his sister?

He couldn't stand the thought of fighting her—for she would easily outmuscle and outmaneuver him—nor could he imagine any of his fellow soldiers or friends face off against her either.

Rhion loved the idea of fighting. While he was more studious in his younger years, trailing behind his father like a baby ducklett, Rhion ran around with some of the older boys on their street, beating them easily with a wooden sword and shield. Alitair, her twin brother, would play catch-up to her. She willingly signed up to join the Tao army a few years before the conflict and was quickly promoted to an officer ranking in one of the legions. Her parents and younger brother had never been more proud. But the shiny veneer of combat wore off as she was called to participate in the invasion of the Sky Kingdom. The letters she wrote home often expressed distaste over lording over the Sky soldiers, beating them at every turn. She disliked how the other officers treated the Sky soldiers like they were nothing more than slaves—lower than slaves, for slaves were actually useful, Rhion had wrote in her letter. She liked to fight, but not like that. She wanted to defend her Empire from threats, like the Corsair Campaign, not savagely beating her fellow neighbors.

As Absalom mulled over his thoughts, an idea occurred to him.

What if he somehow found a way to convince his sister to join his side?

The idea seemed appealing, but the more he thought it over, the more he realized that Rhion joining his side meant deserting the Tao Army and essentially, betraying them. Rhion would sooner hang herself than do such a thing.

Absalom sighed and pulled out his issued sword. He was the only one in the tent at the moment—Kephra was off being Kephra and Micah was on the other side of the camp, picking up some supplies for his craft and other things that Absalom did not know of. He went through the motions of sword fighting, recalling faintly what Rhion had taught him, during her trips back home. It wasn't much, for Absalom did not desire to be like her, but he did so anyway, to keep his sister happy. Family was family, especially in these arduous, trying times.

He mulled over his options, going through the motions of the weapon in his hands. The blade flashed and shone in the lantern light. The more he considered his choices, the more the idea of appealing to his sister, swaying her to do the right thing, was pleasing. Caught up in his own thoughts, the tip of his sword flicked across an edge of his small table next to his cot. It caught on a piece of apple, sending it flying to areas unknown. Absalom flushed in chagrin, even though there was no one in the tent with him. He sheathed the sword and made his decision. He began to exit the tent, sticking his head out of the flap to eye the weather, making note of the heavy clouds overhead. According to the dragonair soldier who also doubled as their weather scout, there would be cloud cover, but no sign of rain, for the clouds were not "low enough", whatever that meant.

The air was brisk, with a frosty bite, so Absalom decided to grab his fire and rain proof cloak, just in case. Yes, he was a fire type and his inner fire would keep him warm, but the air was still cold across his scaly, pebbled skin, making him uncomfortable. He headed out towards General Imasu's tent, keeping a close eye out for Kephra and Micah, should they return and find him missing.

"Absalom, what are you doing out?" It was Micah, with two packs strapped across his back. The raichu jeweler had a mace tucked in the belt of his red tunic. Absalom wasn't too surprised; at the uprising of Black Pit Mines, that was his preferred weapon of choice. It was a pretty simple weapon to use, all it took was bashing pokemon's heads in, really.

"I was going to talk to General Imasu." Absalom pulled the cloak tighter around his person. "Not much to it."

Micah eyed him suspiciously. Absalom was sounding evasive and unwilling to divulge the entire truth. "I'm not so sure about that."

Absalom sighed. He knew that Micah would not believe him. "I tell you later, okay?"

"Sure. I have to drop these off anyway. I have a toxicroak wanting me to fix her mother's brooch. Apparently some of the filigree bordering has been destroyed, so I'm creating a new filigree border using what is left." Micah gestured to his packs. "And I gotta drop these off. Anybody up for mutton stew tonight?"

"Very much so in this cold weather." Absalom waved to Micah. "I'll see you soon." They parted ways, Micah to their tent, and Absalom to General Imasu's tent. It wasn't too difficult to find it, for in all its grandeur—that Imsau did not enjoy—it stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb in a sea of drab beige and brown tents. Two guards stood watch, an exploud and a ivysaur. "Is General Imasu in at the moment?"

"Why do you ask, Tao?" The ivysaur sniped.

The exploud prodded the ivysaur with the butt of his poleaxe, a massive halberd that only the exploud was seemingly able to wield. "Be polite. In case you managed to obtain amnesia within the past few months, I was born a Tao was well."

"You were?" Absalom asked.

The exploud thumped his fist against the scale armor he wore on his chest. "Yessir, I was. Born and raised near the eastern city of Viber. Then I moved here."

"Huh, my parents once visited Viber. I've never been there myself. But to my previous question: Is General Imasu in at the moment?"

"Yes he is," the ivysaur said, licking his lips, sounded more subdued than earlier.

"May I go and speak with him? I have some urgent matters to discuss with him."

"I'll go and check to see if he is in the mood for entertaining guests." As the ivysaur made his way, the exploud turned to Absalom.

"Where are you from?"

"Oam. My father was an architect/engineer there. I'm only here because of the Tao conscription."

"Ah yes, awful stuff. To have a conscription like that means that the Empire is desperate."

"Or they want to simply get this whole ordeal over as quickly as they can, overwhelm the Sky forces."

"Which they did pretty easy at the slaughter at Titus. But of course, that wouldn't have happened if one of our own didn't betray the entire army."

That piqued Absalom's curiosity. "I don't recall that." There were always stories and tales spun during his days as a soldier at the Mines, birthed by the news on the front and fueled to outrageous proportions by drunken Tao soldiers bragging. But the story of the battle of Titus did not ring true in his memory. "What happened?"

"One of our own, a mienshao by the name of Kraxas decided that he was going to trade in the entire position of the Sky army, in addition to some other information pertinent to the war, all for the chance for a position in the Tao administration and a bag of golden arics and other treasures that would make any minor landholder drool with greed. But the even bigger rumor," the exploud leaned in. "Was that Kraxas was Rain's lover and that she has vowed to destroy him the next chance she had."

Absalom whistled, it was no wonder she was angered when he, Micah and Kephra arrived. She was afraid that Absalom would end up becoming a traitor, or worse. "That is awful."

"Yes, most of the army got obliterated once General Tiber attacked us from the rear. Thankfully, General Imasu had escaped, otherwise, none of us would be here, but rather in chains."

The ivysaur's head poked out from General Imasu's tent. "You may enter now. General Imasu will see you." The ivysaur waddled out as Absalom entered.

Absalom found General Imasu leaning over a map of the region of the Taso Valley, with Ft. Karydos in impressive detail. Next to General Imasu was a older fearow. The long beak had a deep gouge going across the entire length of the beak. A helmet made of blackened, matte metal, sat perched on his head, giving him a fierce, predatory look. More black armor covered his body, lightweight, to allow for greater maneuverability. The fearow wore a pair of gauntlets over his talons, with jagged edges and long, metal claws. A slender sword was jammed in a sheath, specially designed to allow the fearow to pull it out and sheath it when necessary. His icy black irises, like shiny river pebbles, stared Absalom down.

"General Imasu," Absalom saluted.

"Ah yes, Absalom," General Imasu acknowledged. "This is my second in command, Commander Kratch."

"How do you do, Commander?" Absalom offered a clawed hand to shake. Kratch gazed at the hand, extended, and finally offered a wing.

"I am doing as well as I can be in this weather." Kratch stated.

"Yes, I was never one for this weather myself," Absalom sympathized. "Being a fire-type and all."

"I would hate to interrupt this lovely conversation," Imasu said. "But why is it that you have taken it upon yourself to come down during an important, tactical meeting. I am a very busy samurott and general."

"Well," Absalom sighed. "It is about my sister. You see, she is an officer in the Tao Army, the 71st Legion, if I remember correctly-"

"Which is one of the Legions stationed here." Kratch interrupted.

Absalom nodded. "Yes, I know. Rhion used to send me letters, until I was forced to join and was then shipped up to Black Pit Mines."

"And your point is?-" General Imasu asked impatiently.

"I can't stand the idea of being on the other side of the battlefield from her, knowing that maybe, just maybe, I will fight her one day soon." Absalom swallowed nervously, seeing General Imasu's red eyes and Commander Kratch's black ones, scrutinizing him and his every word. "I want to rescue her and bring her back here." he finished quickly.

"You mean kidnapping a Tao officer." Imasu corrected.

"Just before I left for the Mines, Rhion sent one last letter, one describing the deplorable ways of the Tao soldiers, regarding the Sky citizens. I think that, if swayed just enough, she could join our side."

"You're talking about a Tao officer here," Imasu said, whiskers twitching ever so slightly. "It would also require spies, my soldiers and other resources in this operation you are wanting. So much work for only one soldier."

Commander Kratch coughed, clearing his throat and getting the attention of the room. "If I may speak, General Imasu. I understand your pain, Absalom. I would not stand for fighting against my nest mates, to face them on the other side of the battlefield." He turned to General Imasu, the lantern light reflecting against his slender, scarred beak. "To have a Tao officer on our side of the field would be immensely valuable, for they would intimately know the inside and out of Tao formations and machinations. To have her on our side would prove extremely beneficial,"

Imasu frowned. "It would expend too much of our energies just for one soldier."

"I would have no problem with using one of my own units." Kratch said.

Imasu scowled and turned his eyes to the map, quiet, a single claw tapping the parchment paper. Kratch and Absalom waited for a few minutes for the samurott to finally speak. Absalom was wringing the hem of his tunic, apprehensive. General Imasu sighed. "As much as I would not wish to do it, I will grant permission to allow you to try and sway your sister to our side; however, I decide how it goes. Understand?"

"Yes," Absalom said, choking with elation. "Thank you."

"You may thank me once we get your sibling in our camp. Now, I will send a small of soldiers, and one messenger. The messenger will try and persuade your sister, and the soldiers are on standby, should the Tao soldiers decide to pursue us. I need you to write a letter, pleading for her to join us. Then the messenger will deliver it to your sister in the Tao camp."

"But why not me?" Absalom asked.

"Because, from what my spies have told me, the Tao soldiers have discovered the downfall of the Black Pit Mines, plus information about the instigators of the conflict. The information is not specific, but the last thing I want is for you to be captured for your connection to the Black Pit Mines. I have no desires on losing a valuable soldier, or worse." The last part of Imasu's explanation hung in the air, and Absalom knew what he meant, those words not said.

"He is afraid that I would be tortured into revealing the remnants of the Sky Army," he thought. "Maybe he thinks I'll be the next Kraxas. I understand, General."

"Very good," General Tamar Imasu nodded. "Now, be off and write your letter, I expect to have it by tonight."

"Thank you General, for allowing this to happen."

"Family is family, the most important thing in the world. That is something we cannot argue against. You are dismissed."

Absalom saluted and began to make his leave, when Kratch, who had been silent for the latter part of the exchange, spoke up. "General, what if Rhion is suspicious of the letter, and does not take it at face value?"

"You mean, if she doesn't believe it was actually from Absalom and it is a trap?"

"Yes General."

"You bring up an excellent point. Absalom, do you and your sister have a certain, "code", perhaps? Like a personal story between you two or a secret that only you two know?"

"Why do you ask?"

"So we have indisputable evidence, when we confront Rhion with the letter."

"Alright." Absalom thought it over for a moment, before a memory sprang to mind. "Well, there was this one time, Rhion and I were playing in the streets and we got very hungry and lost. We wandered for a while until we came across a bakery. We managed to convince the baker to let us have a piece of raspberry pie. Rhion managed to get sticky pie innards all over her new dress that mom had gotten her. If you use that story, she'll know it was me. I'll give you more details later."

"That would do excellently," General Imasu said, pleased. "Now You're dismissed."

Absalom saluted for the second time today. "Thank you again, General." He smartly exited the tent, striving hard to contain the spring in his step. When he left, General Imasu turned to Commander Kratch.

"Well, I hope you're happy. This was your idea."

The wrinkles around Commander Kratch's eyes crinkled as he gave the general the avian equivalent of a smug grin. "I can assure you General, that this will be a highly successful mission."

"I can only hope so."