Since the first evacuation had gone relatively smoothly, when they woke up and got on the road the next morning, the atmosphere was quite different. The squads were more comfortable — more hopeful. Still rattled, of course. They’d all seen Harie come back with the townspeople who had nearly been left behind. But there was a distinct undercurrent of “maybe that hadn’t gone so badly”, and that was a difficult sentiment to squash entirely. But Wilom was having trouble trusting that things would continue to go smoothly. He didn’t know whether he was affected by Harie’s persistent bad mood and the Colonels’ persistent, tired resignation — that feeling of being very near the end of a draining project, knowing that soon they would be able to rest, but also knowing that there was nothing they could do about it yet — or whether he was just starting to get cynical, but he couldn’t help suspecting that something was going to go wrong before the end of this assignment. Continue reading
By the time they were halfway to their first destination, Wilom was almost starting to find the routine of walking relaxing. Wake up, eat, walk, eat, walk, eat, sleep. Almost. He might have been able to put the destination out of his head if it were just him, but he was surrounded by the others, and through the Ferryman’s Knowledge, their thoughts were encroaching on his own. He didn’t even need to catastrophise about what was going to happen once they got to the town — everyone else around him was doing that for him. The longer he listened, the more outlandish the ideas got, particularly from Javrinnen, but also the harder it was to dismiss them as outlandish. He could feel his shoulders tense up more and more the longer they walked and the closer they got to their destination. If only he could have slowed down and talked to the others … but they were being marched too fast and the few stilted attempts at conversation had been met with a brusque “Save it for your legs” from Colonel Briar. The armour, too, while lighter than expected at first, was beginning to wear on everyone as the day went on, and it was getting harder for the squads to find the motivation to begin the conversation. Continue reading
Even though he wasn’t using the Ferryman’s Knowledge — at least, as much as he could avoid it — the next few hours were a blur for Wilom. They got the news first from the soldiers and conscripts who met them at the gates, excited to spread the news to new ears. Colonel Briar was immediately whisked away, in the centre of a crowd of other commanding officers. They said nothing as they left, and Wilom would have suspected, even without the Ferryman’s Knowledge to confirm it, that the Colonel was being taken to debriefings and probably strategy meetings, to keep the officers informed of what was going on. Wilom idly wondered how much of the real situation someone like the Colonel would be told. Was he high enough in rank or position to get most of the story? Or only the parts that related to his missions? Of those parts, how many were lies, like what was published in the newspapers? Continue reading
On the fourth day of walking — Wilom had no illusions that what they were doing was anywhere close to marching — the convoy finally arrived at the camp where they were running supplies. Continue reading
It was after dinner when the little squad was called into one of the debriefing rooms and told that they were finally going to be given a real job to do. Continue reading
There was a hastily-called meeting of the Heads the next morning, to discuss the fate of the town. Wilom didn’t know what they could do about it now, and he told them so, despite the heartbroken look on Vicdra’s face. Apparently most of them had been investigated also. Nobody could risk being further involved.
Rytel was conspicuously absent. Continue reading
For the first time since he’d left the River, Wilom found himself wishing that Vanda had given him some way to contact her.
There was only one person who would still offer him a place to sleep.
Mr Treene. Continue reading
It didn’t hit Wilom at all as he was walking home, despite the new sheaf of paper in his briefcase: the lists of things he would need to procure and do before he reported for training. He probed at the idea like a sore tooth. Continue reading
This time, as Wilom approached the gates, there were more guards than usual. This was hardly uncommon – returning patrols often stopped by the gates to talk – so it wasn’t until Wilom got much closer that he realised that they were not chatting, and in fact, that they were all looking at him. Continue reading
Wilom went to visit the construction site with Vanda every day for a while – with the Pathways, it was a matter of minutes to get to and from the site every morning. Rickart had thoroughly taken over the site planning, and was so obviously competent at it that Wilom honestly felt a little useless. Instead, he joined Inushi’s heavy lifting crew. Wilom realised with a start that he’d never seen a soldier in any sort of action – he’d only ever seen them either sitting on the boat, or waiting idly. Inushi was wearing only her singlet and trousers, bracing a plank of wood upright as a few men and women up on the scaffolding got themselves in place to pull it up. Wilom admired her. She was efficient and capable, and had a knack for being part of a team while she led it. Continue reading