Of the many rebellious elements that engaged with Garlean forces along the Ilsabard-Gyr Abania border, it was the men and women under command of Bernard Stern that were the biggest thorn in the side of the XVth Legion.
To even hear the name made Victor van Gervais, the XVth’s Legatus, grind his teeth. Stern’s band had barricaded themselves in a mountainside fort and it was the perfect opportunity for some desperately-needed revenge. A win after his disastrous attempt against van Gabranth would help soothe the old man’s bruised ego, though it wouldn’t make his eye grow back.
It would also be an excellent lesson for his young protege.
Aurelia pyr Lucius joined Victor in the transport to the site and remained by his side the entire mission. She carried out his orders to the letter, she was perfectly behaved, an excellent soldier. Officer material. When he tasked her with having refuse and rebel corpses tossed over the wall into the fort’s courtyard, she made sure it was done. She didn’t hesitate.
Victor wondered if their conversation had been more impactful than he’d originally thought.
Six days into the siege -- six days of fending off reinforcements -- the white flag went up and the fort offered surrender.
A reasonably easy win, Victor thought, but he couldn’t just let them go. As he stood next to his subordinate he rumbled in his low baritone way that it was time to teach Stern and his men a lesson they would not soon forget.
Aurelia looked up at him.
Victor van Gervais’ preferred method of execution was the Brazen Bull. Fire featured in the punishments he used on subordinates and those under his rule regardless of crime, from branding to burning of homes and belongings, to worse. The order was not unexpected, but it still gave the young woman pause.
“Block the gates. Burn them all,” he said.
Though the fort was carved into the mountain there was enough inside the wall that it would burn and produce ample smoke to kill everything inside. This Victor knew, and he was silent as Aurelia processed the order. She snapped a salute after several long, drawn-out moments and barked, “Yes, sir,” before marching off, shouting orders of her own to her men.
Van Gervais smirked. War machina were moved into place to block the gate and, minutes later, his men and women were throwing fire bombs over the walls of the fort. The potent mixture of flammable chemicals inside each canister was enough to feed the flames until they caught on to the furniture and supplies inside, and it wasn’t long until an inferno had overtaken the entire building.
As Aurelia moved by her commander, presumably to get away from the screaming and the smell, he grasped her shoulder and rumbled, “Stay. This is the fate of all enemies of Garlemald, Aurelia, a lesson that you must learn as well. If you are to survive to take my place… it is imperative that you sear this day into your memory.”
She looked up at him, frowning, and he turned his gaze to her.
“Those that stand against us must burn.”
Aurelia looked upon the fort and its screaming inhabitants in silence.
Bernard Stern was a tall man, a hair’s breadth from seven fulms, broad-shouldered and muscular. A man of firm principles, a man of Ala Mhigo, he had seen the Garlean invasion from its first wave and had fought it his entire adult life. His greatest foe was Victor van Gervais, a man whose methods were far more brutal than those of Zenos yae Galvus or his predecessor. Yet, Gervais did not oversee Ala Mhigo or Gyr Abania: he held territories along her border on Ilsabard’s side, and other provinces along the mountains.
Gervais was the wall that blocked Gyr Abanian forces from moving into Ilsabard to take back what was rightfully theirs.
Bernard remembered stories told to him when he was a boy on his father’s knee, of his people sweeping through the lands around them and bringing them to their knees, of when they were conquerors and not the conquered. When his people had a backbone. He longed for that, for a stronger Ala Mhigo, for Ala Mhigans that were willing to truly fight.
Not as part of some flimsy Alliance, but for themselves.
He stormed onto the scene with a handful of men, the sight of the blackened husk of a fort making him flush red with rage. Bernard knew Gervais had been there. He knew Gervais was responsible.
“Don’t bother looking for survivors, there aren’t any,” the old monk spat, “and there won’t be any supplies to salvage, either. Wipe everything clean. Make it look like nothing happened. Show them we won’t be frightened. I want more men assigned here once it’s done.”
The response from his men was as expected: no questions, just saluting and a series of nods. They trusted him, they wanted to see the Ala Mhigo that he spoke of at night by the roaring campfire and in his speeches. They wanted to bring Ala Mhigo glory, too, and that sometimes meant making a mess or cleaning one up.
Bernard stood with his arms crossed over his broad chest and watched his soldiers work. In the end, that was what they all were -- soldiers. If his vision came to pass, Ala Mhigo would once again be a nation of conquerors.
They just had to get people like Victor Gervais out of their way.
Aurelia pyr Lucius stood before her commanding officer, her immediate commanding officer, who stared at her over a stack of paperwork. That stack had been steadily growing for weeks, as if Sebastien quo Gervais were ignoring it and hoping it would go away. The eldest son of their Legatus and the first to rebel against his father’s wishes by joining a Legion that wasn’t the XVth, he was immediately shunted to desk duty when he did return to the fold.
Every time he raised his head, Aurelia could see the scar across his throat that ended his time with the XIIth Legion and it made her internally cringe. He was so much like his former Legatus: invincible. Unkillable. And there he was, rotting behind a desk when he’d be of better use on the front lines.
“He had you burn it, did he?” The Centurio asked. He didn’t envy her one bit, he hated his father’s insistence on fire as punishment. He hated the smell of burning flesh. “I can’t be surprised. It would be wonderful if he would come up with another way of doing things. Perhaps, just once, he could take prisoners and attempt diplomacy.”
Aurelia’s awkward laughter made him shake his head.
“Right. Father isn’t the sort to be diplomatic. That’s why I’m not in line to take the Legion when he dies. I just hope he doesn’t completely break you like he has everyone else,” Sebastien added. He handed her a document from the mass of papers on his desk. “I made a copy of your report. Nice and succinct, this one, you’re getting better at it.”
“Thank you, I think,” the younger woman replied. The Optio was uncomfortable and uncertain as to why.
“He wants you to meet with him. You’d best get over there now, he’s likely already waiting.”
With that, Sebastien gave her a half-hearted salute and shooed her from his office.
Victor had a reasonably-sized office in the Garlean Consulate in Kugane. It consisted of his desk and chair, plus a couple of smaller chairs across from it for any guests. That was it. No place to store files, and it was a strangely clean place. He had a magitek tablet much like most other officers that allowed him to store all the information he needed and he didn’t require much else.
Technology the likes of which Ala Mhigans and Eorzeans simply couldn’t grasp despite their claims to many so-called “magitek engineers”, Aurelia bitterly recalled as she waited for the older man to acknowledge her presence. She wondered where the enemy managed to find so many “experts” -- likely at the bottom of a box of cereal as some mail-in prize.
Did Eorzeans have boxed cereal?
Pyr Lucius was startled from her thoughts by the low voice of her Legatus, who finally rumbled a greeting from behind his tablet. The huge Pureblood man made Aurelia nervous when in a setting outside of war. She felt like she was in the headmaster’s office at the academy.
“Your report was succinct,” he echoed the words of his son, “and I am pleased that you seem to be grasping the point of these exercises. You will make for an excellent Centurio once you have matured.”
Aurelia was almost insulted by the insinuation that she wasn’t mature, but he did have a point. She was nineteen. As it was, being an Optio at her age was probably not a wise plan anyway. Garleans seemed to just be like that, to develop a little faster.
Or, at least, to reach loftier heights at younger ages. Maybe it had something to do with all that war, and doing as much as possible before inevitably dying to being stabbed in the back or something. She tried not to think about that part too much.
“Yes, sir,” Aurelia said. “Is that why you wanted to see me?”
Victor slowly exhaled through his nose.
“No. It appears as if our foe has not learned his lesson, and the fort has been returned to its previous state. I have sent warmachina to deliver our message in a more permanent manner,” he said. “I have called you here because I would like you to take some time away from the front lines.”
“I see.” Aurelia waited for the punchline.
“We must dedicate more effort to your combat training. I have noticed some weaknesses… and they must be fixed if we are to take the fight to Stern himself,” Victor continued.
The younger woman nodded once.
She had heard that Bernard Stern was a formidable foe on his own, a supposed Fist of Rhalgr. Rhalgr the Destroyer was the patron deity of Ala Mhigo, a destructive god for a people whose king had gone mad and killed everyone around him. Or something. Aurelia wasn’t entirely clear on the story.
“He’s a monk, right? He punches people to death.” The younger woman’s simplistic explanation made Victor roll his eyes.
“He has been known to do that, yes, though hitting the right point on the body can make strikes beyond the first punch completely moot,” the Legatus pointed out. “When you do not have your father to make up for your weaknesses, you leave yourself vulnerable to attack in ways that he will target. Young Garleans are just as much his foe as those my age.” Victor sneered. “He views our children as enemies in waiting.”
Aurelia was smart enough not to point out that Victor did not take issue with killing civilians of any age, either, and he took note of that. Her eyes judged, of course, and that told him she’d file this interaction away for later. Good.
“Anyroad… I will be in touch. We have much to do, you and I. Dismissed.”
The younger woman didn’t wait for any further requests -- she left, leaving the old Legatus to think over whatever he was planning for her. She knew she’d find out eventually.
About the Creator
Loves Star Trek, cats, tallships, lost expeditions, and macabre things. Adult with ADHD. Wrangles vintage graphics into digital products and sells vintage stuff. Knows many things, finds it difficult to apply them.