Vol 4: Chapter 1, Part 1: Through Smoke & Haze

The voyage home had been a long one for William. It wasn’t that the distance was so great — it took about the same length of time sailing to San Vincent’s Port from Mormant as it did from Mormant to Sinerrah. Getting through the thick forest of the Losley Deadwoods though, even with the help of Lady Lisanne and her creatures, had taken some time. And then picking his way through the wild parts of Mormant to rendezvous with Captain Linley at the Royal Port near Strille had been a tedious task. Ordinarily he would have arranged to meet Linley at one of the smaller Port towns along Mormant’s coast, but upon stepping through the portal back to Lady Lisanne’s cottage, he had been informed that the Wolves had tightened up their grip on their own people as the war effort raged on, and all other Port’s had been closed.

That wasn’t the only thing that had changed in his absence. To his horror, and incidentally his luck, he had entered the Wolves’ country to find a great deal more Bears than normal. This allowed him to blend in and find his way to the Royal Port more easily, but the shock and disappointment that his people had joined the Wolves in their quest for dominance over the lands settled over him like a black cloud. He had been tempted to ask around so that he may suss out more information about how this had come to be, but had in the end kept his curiosities to himself in an effort to avoid any confrontation. He needed to get home to Elenya and his kids. That had to be his priority, despite the state of world around him.

So, he had found his way to Mormant’s Royal Port, and met an uncharacteristically grim Captain Linley, who had only a skeleton crew for his newest ship The Fillsner’s Muse II. William had helped to crew the ship as they sailed across the Lorring Sea towards the three large islands that made up his homeland of Sinerrah.

When they had approached the Port just south of the Capital city of Orekka, William had been shocked to see how much the normally moderate Port had changed. It had been expanded greatly, with a new framework of docks stretching out to either side of the original structure. It was now much bigger and busier than any Port in the lands, including Mormant’s Royal Port, and the previously largest Marina at San Vincent’s Port in the Republic of Katheyra. It had taken Captain Linley quite some time to even find a vacant slip among the many docks for The Fillsner’s Muse II to drop anchor at.

Despite his urgent desire to get to his home village of Doucent and see his family, William couldn’t help but take a bit of time to poke around the Port, after giving Captain Linley a fond farewell. Great new ships seemed to have been built in his absence, flying high the flag of Sinerrah, though he had no idea how the Navy could have accomplished building even one of the ships in such a short time. With the added space in the Port and the increased number of ships, many of which were Mormant military vessels by their flags and crews, he noted, the added flurry of activity was so out of character for the Bears, he felt as if he had stepped into an unknown land instead of his home country.

Sinerrah had always stood apart from the rest of the lands. Sure, they had traded with every part of the land, even Mormant, but they had kept their own borders tightly latched. They discouraged visitors, and stewarded their own three great islands themselves. Even amongst their own, they had a strict code of propriety that tended to look a lot like aloofness to outsiders. As he looked around the bustling Port, he noted both a decrease in that aloof behaviour, as Bears worked together and with Wolves to load cargo onto ships, as well as an increase in the sheer number of Bears in this one place. He had never seen so many of his people at once before, except as a child when he had attended the bi-yearly Royal Address. And even in the busy capital, just a short way up the road for this very Port, the Bears tended to keep to themselves. As a general rule, they didn’t like crowded areas, tight spaces, or working together. There were always exceptions of course, William knew that all too well, having struck out on his own as an Adventurer — which was very rare for a Sinerrahan. To see such a swift change was both curious and alarming.

Noticing a Mormant military vessel at the slip nearest the dock that lead to land, teeming with soldiers, William hesitated a moment. He hadn’t forgotten that he was a wanted Bear, even more so since he helped free Beddigan and Ragnon from the prison in Illensdar. A cluster of Bears approached from a nearby dock, clad in the sturdy green fabric worn by a ship’s crew, and he fell into step just behind them. He had the sense that someone’s eyes were trained on his back as he moved along with the throng of Bears and Wolves away from the Port, and when the road widened into the hard-packed track that lead to Orekka, he slipped into the trees.

Once he had moved far enough away from the road that he could no longer hear the noise of traffic, he settled into an easy pace, heading northeast to circumvent the capital and find his way home to Doucent.

He couldn’t help but breathe a bit deeper among the towering fir trees of his homeland. It had been too long, and despite everything that was happening that should give him pause for feeling any joy, he couldn’t help but smile to himself as he walked quietly towards his love — his family, his home.

That sense of joy didn’t last though, because before long the fresh, crisp scent of the forest began to twist and hold something new; something revolting. The air thickened, and as William looked up towards the tops of the trees he could smell burning, the acrid smoke drifting hazily in the sky above. And more than just the unpleasant smell, there began a series of low, grumbling sounds; haunting echoes, and crashes that shook the forest floor beneath his feet.

Needles fell from the tree branches above him as he hurriedly made his way forward, angling back now to the west, towards the great road. By his senses, he knew he should be just north of Orekka by now, and not too far off from Doucent. The burning smell increased and the smoke thickened as he moved northwest.

Stepping out from the trees onto the road, William was unsurprised to see it completely empty. It was not a very busy section of road at the best of times.

He moved along quickly towards Doucent, the tightening around his heart increasing as he moved into thicker smoke, and towards the heavy shaking crashes. The stretch of road was usually peaceful and quiet, with nothing but a couple of side paths leading into the woods to cabins and homesteads. He noticed that thick wheel ruts had been worn into the road where there had been none before. The amount of cart and coach traffic between his little village and the capital had always been minimal.

And then he came across the reason for the increased cart ruts in the road; for the smoke, the sound, and the stench. Where there had once been a section of lush forest surrounding a small lake, just southeast of the village of Doucent, now stood a massive industrial area. The trees had been cleared away for a great distance, and through the hazy smoke he could see the decorative arch that lead into the village in the distance. Between him and that arch though, stretching in both directions of the road, were great, huge structures — frameworks for building… something.

At first look, William had thought it a shipyard, despite it being so far from the Lorring Sea. But as he moved into the smoky, hot, noisy work area, he realized it couldn’t be ships that they were building here.

The small lake which used to be a sparkling place to take a dip on a hot day was polluted with some greasy substance that darkened the water to a grimy, slate grey. The acrid smell tickled his nose as he moved through the smoky haze towards the massive shapes in the distance. The crashing continued to shake the ground as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

Giant hinged metal… legs? He thought, as he approached one of the large framework structures. The orange glow of molten steel and the gruff calling out of orders to the Bears working on the project, followed by the wailing of metal being bent, and the steam of it being cooled.

He moved past the structure, deeper into the industrial area, towards a steady, rhythmic thumping. The groan of metal and a shine of silvery light beckoned him forward. The smoke was so thick, he coughed, unable to get a breath of clean air. Stumbling forward, he thumped into something very large, very hard, and very cold. Blinking rapidly in the smoke he stumbled back a couple of steps and looked up with gasp, at a giant, machine — a beast of twisted metal with the unmistakable shape of a Bear.

To be continued…

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