By the Sands!

Gerhald halted his soldiers when they reached the end of the desert. Unlike deserts in Murdos, the Tormus Desert ended abruptly. One moment, you were traversing the harsh, nearly hidden path of the desert, the next you were in a lush green field. It was saddening really. The only one of the group who didn't seem upset to leave the desert homeland was the outlander, Augustus. Just where did he hail from? Only those from Murdos had brown hair, but... he did not seem to act like one of the Firstborn's people.

It mattered not. 

As customary, the soldiers stopped their annoying song and turned until they faced the west and their capitol city of Faerain. The main body of troupes, and most of the EarthGuard, had already joined Mar's forces further west, so they would have already done this.

"Men!" Gerhald announced, his voice amplified by a nearby Air user named Hamer, "We leave the desert home to defend it! We leave the desert home to cherish it! And though we may leave it, let it be known that the desert home never leaves us!" The soldiers cheered, making Gerhald relax a little. He was nervous about this speech since this was his first time leaving. "By the sands we have grown!" Gerhald called, pulling his sword and raising it towards the heavens.

"And by the sands we will win!" The soldiers answered in unison.

It was odd. Gerhald never had faith in these youths, but in the last month they had grown into soldiers rivaling even the King's Vanguard. Fredan, Mierah, Gorros, and Hamar were the four captains, all carrying the name Mato proudly. They had made these boys into men more than Gerhald did, but he still felt proud.

"All right, men," Gerhald yelled, quieting the men. They were nearly a hundred in number, so it took a while for them to calm down. "We are heading to Asuna pass to stock up on water and get a few horses." There were a few surprised looks. Horses cost a fortune after all. Horse breeders were richer than most kings, really. "They are only to be used for the wagons. We are lucky we don't have to make some of you carry them." Gerhald eyed Augustus. That man still felt off.... 

"Now, move out!"

Gerhald sheathed his blade and took the first step onto the lush plains. He almost visibly cringed. What was so great about this cold ground. Even with his padded stone armor, he felt the chill. Didn't Eastern men freeze like this? Sure, the desert was harsh, but it was a glorious land made for those who learned it. Almost like the right woman. She might be hard to court, but if you learn to treat her right, she would be the best out there.

"You look saddened, sir."

Gerhald looked down and noticed Mierah walking alongside him. Instead of a pitying gaze, she looked curious. ...and so beautiful. Calm down! She is a soldier! A captain, even! She must be treated like one! Not as a woman...

"I am sad to leave the desert home," he answered, trying not to show his nervousness. Scarred Father, Gerhald was not good at these things! Sixty years had gone by without him talking to many women. He was still too young! Especially for an Immortal...

"It is sad," she answered coldly, "But I am worried if your sadness will affect your duty."

Gerhald was taken back momentarily but caught himself. She was straight-forward, like most Immortals. "I am not some weak Eastern fool, Mato," Gerhald snapped, his anger rising slightly, "And something like homesickness will not ruin my efficiency. By the Scarred Father, I will prevail."

At first, Gerhald thought he offended her. It was the opposite. "Well said, Domin Gerhald, sir." And with that, she left. Gerhald had to tear his eyes off her. Even with the silver armor, she looked dazzling. 

'Calm yourself, man! She could be a thousand years old by now!' 

Alteration and Plasma... the two, if mastered, meant eternal youth. Most Immortals killed themselves or let themselves be killed after a few hundred years because they started to wither. Sure, they could live forever, but what was the point... After a while, it was said the pain healed came back in waves...

Gerhald shivered and focused on the road. "Hamar!" The man appeared next to Gerhald. "I want you to go ahead and send word to Asuna Pass that we come. Let them know our number and get their void user to send for the proper amount of supplies. I think his name is Gasha, so remember to ask for him specifically." After all, it would be bad if they miscalculated. Especially with reports of Great Lizards stealing food while attacking. "May the sands guide you."

"Sir!" The man saluted and ran off at high speed. Air users made excellent scouts and messengers. That was the only reason Hamar had been allowed in. He was still in his twenties, so he was barely old enough to leave home, let alone fight. 

Wait.... "Zarn Augustus!" The man walked forward lazily and glared at Gerhald. He hadn't caused anymore trouble and still kept his distance even now, but something was up.. "You are one of the few Void users we have and I am sure you have heard of Wretched Terror in the Northeast?"

The man nodded. "What of him?"

Gerhald tried to calm himself. The man would behave in everything but properly addressing his superiors. "I will need you to negate any fire shot at our group. We work as a team here and this will be important, understood."

He nodded halfway, obviously already hatching plans of his own. Well... Gerhald would let it go for now. After all, if the outsider got killed, it was no skin off-

"Sir! Sir!" 

Gerhald and Augustus both turned toward where a frantic Hamar was running back. "Why are you back? What happened?"

The man stopped and coughed as the small force of Gerhald's came to a halt. The side effect of using too much air was shortness of breath, but with the amount of coughing Hamar was having... Was that blood. 

"Get me water!" A man cam forward immediately and handed over a case of water. Gerhald offered it too Hamar who drank it up viciously. "What happened, Zarn Hamar?"

The soldier coughed again and took another swig of water. "I was... halfway.... I saw it... He had the scars, sir.... It was..." He coughed a few more times, this time all of it blood that stained the lush grass below. "Sir.... it's Wretched Terror and... three other Lizards... Asuna Pass is..." The man collapsed.

Gerhald felt cold. He had never seen a man die before. Sure, Air users who overdid it made their lungs collapse and usually died in minutes, but not before Gerhald... It was odd, he felt bad, but not because of this dead man... No, he felt bad for feeling nothing about it. Was death really not that big a deal for Gerhald? No. Duty simply came first.

"Augustus, this was a man who wanted to die in the homeland." The man nodded, though he seemed annoyed at basically being commanded to do something. In an instant, the body disappeared into nothingness, leaving blood-stained grass behind.

"Men!" Gerhald turned and looked at his soldiers, now showing signs of fear, "We seem to have run into the battles early. There is only two things I will tell you. The first is that we are defenders of our people, not heroes! Fight as a group! Remember your training!" He waited a moment. How should he encourage them? Gerhald himself was so scared he could hardly think. "By the sands we have grown! By the sands we will win!"

The End

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