Prologue

Latana poked her head in the tent. "Ey Raiko. Captain needs you. Bandages."

"Okay. Be right there."

She nodded and left. Raiko shoved the last few supplies into his bag and closed it, slinging it over his shoulder. He walked out of the tent, watching the soldiers pass by in the usual camp bustle. The wind buffeted him and he wrapped his tunic coat tighter around him, tight enough he could slightly feel the edge of the medic patch on the back. The captain's tent was huge compared to the others and much more lavish, though not big enough it couldn't be transported. After all, this was a temporary camp, they were going to be moving into action in the next week or so. He nodded at the spear toting guard outside the tent before walking in. Inside, the captain sat at a desk. She looked up as he entered. Captain Mora was one of the younger captains, early thirties. Her skin was a warm dark brown, fairly average for Odra. Her bright orange hair was tied back in a tight bun and she sat with her back as straight as a board.

"Meri. Thanks for coming."

He grinned and approached the desk. "You know we have forgers for medics right?"

"I have enough forgers fussing over me. This is just bandage changing." She stood up and stripped her tunic coat off. "Bled into another shirt. At this rate I'm going to be running into battle nude."

"That would be a sight."

She untied the scarf at her waist and untucked her shirt, slowly unbuttoning it as she walked up to him. As she got it off, it was revealed she didn't have anything on underneath, except some bandages around her lower rib cage. Raiko raised his eyebrows slightly as she stepped even closer to him.

He smiled. "If you think we're doing anything while you're all pus-y and gross you are mistaken."

"What if I order you to."

"Still no."

She smiled and stepped back. "Alright, better change these bandages then."

"Will do." He gestured at the bed. "Go on then."

She walked over and sat, unrolling the bandages from her chest, wincing slightly as they peeled off. The burn marks were still angry red and slightly wet. She held her arms away from her sides. "Forgers can go fuck themselves. Cowards don't know how to have a real fight. They just do it from a distance. How am I supposed to stop a damn fireball."

"My brother's a forger." He said as he brought out antiseptic and started to smear it over the wounds.

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"How old his he?"

"Sixteen."

"Huh." She glanced to the side. "Oh right, you're a Meri. Of course you're a forge family."

"Don't hold it against me."

"I'll try not to."

When he eventually finished up, he tucked the end in and grabbed the antiseptic bottle, screwing the lid on. "Okay. Done."

"Thanks." She twisted and kissed him, gently grabbing the lapel of his coat.

As they separated, he looked down. "Why me. Or, are you sleeping with a lot of your soldiers."

"I dunno. You're cute."

"Didn't answer that second part huh."

"On purpose."

He grinned. "Alright. Well, whatever. I don't particularly care."

There was a noise and they both turned to see one of the guards standing just inside the entrance. He didn't seem to care that the captain was sitting shirtless, and very close to one of the medics.

"Lieutenant Shol wants to speak to you."

"Right. One second."

He bobbed his head and ducked back out of the tent. She grabbed her shirt and started buttoning it up. Raiko watched her.

"Should I go?"

"Eh, you can stay." She tied the scarf back around her and shrugged her tunic coat on before going to the entrance and holding the flap, indicating for Lieutenant Shol to come in. He was a tall man with relatively light skin for an Odra. His eyes flicked to Raiko who was packing his bag up in the corner, then he clasped his hands behind his back. "Scouts are back. Sheran troops have moved east. Almost on our border. We might need to attack sooner."

Her brow furrowed. "How far east? How close are they to the border?"

"Less than two leagues."

Raiko frowned. He knew they had been at least fifteen leagues away the last time the scouts checked. And this company was the last defense for the town they were close to. If the sherans invaded, and won against them, they could capture the entire town. Mora crossed her arms. "Think we'll be ready to move tomorrow?"

"Probably. But I'll make sure everyone knows. So they're ready to go."

"Okay. Good."

Suddenly, a scream tore through the air from outside and was cut off. The three of them spun to face the entrance. Mora and Shol grabbed their swords, unsheathing them. As a medic, Raiko didn't have any weapons. He shifted nervously. A guard burst through the entrance, heading straight for Shol. Shol was caught off his guard at being attacked by one of their own men and frantically blocked the guards spear with his sword. The guard expertly twisted his spear, throwing Shol's sword to the side, stepping in and unsheathing a dagger, sticking it next to his neck. He was much more competent than a usual guard. Guards were good, but this guy was as fast as lightning. He held Shol, the blade pressed up against his carotid.

Mora and Raiko stared, not knowing what to do. Never had an Odra soldier turned to the other side, that just wasn't a thing. The guard adjusted his hold on the knife. More commotion could be heard outside. "Krashnoff says hi." Krashnoff was the Sheran prime minister. With that, he cut Shol's throat. Before they could do anything, the guard stuck the knife into his own neck and collapsed. Mora's eyes widened.

"Fuck. It's Puppet."

Raiko stared at her. "What."

"You have to get out of here. You're a medic. It's against the rules of war to hurt you. Get out of here. Warn the town."

She rushed forward towards the entrance, then pulled up short. She went weirdly still, the point of her sword dipping as she relaxed her hand. Raiko backed up slightly as she turned. Her expression was off. In a flash, she sprang at him and he stepped back as she swung wildly, grazing him in the chest.

"Mora! Snap out of it, you can beat him!"

She stood, breathing heavily. "You don't get it. She can't snap out of it. That's how this works."

Raiko stared. "Puppet?"

"No shit." She frowned slightly. "Wait, you were having sex with your captain? Man who does that?" She saw Raiko's expression and rolled her eyes. "I'm controlling her. I can see her memories."

"Get out of her head!"

Mora glanced to the side. "I shouldn't be talking to you. Makes it harder to kill you."

"Then don't kill me."

"I don't have a choice. They make me."

"What do you mean."

"I can't tell you."

"I'm a medic." He spun and showed Mora, and thus Puppet, the patch on the back of his tunic coat. "You can't kill me. It's against the rules of war."

"I've killed civilians. Think that's in the damn rules? I. Don't. Have. A. Choice." There was a pause before she sighed. "This is taking longer than it has to." She raised her short sword and rammed it into her own chest.

"NO!" Raiko rushed forward as she crumpled to the floor. The knife had gone into her heart, she had seconds to live.

"No no no nonono." Raiko said, his hands staining red from where he held her.

She coughed and spoke weakly. "Run." Was that Mora or Puppet.

"Who are you?"

Her last thought was that of confusion. Raiko stared in dismay for a few long seconds at her body. Then he got up and sprinted out of the tent. The camp was a massacre. The few who were alive were screaming and running in chaos. Fire erupted into view in the corner of his vision and he turned to see the company defender forger mowing down tents with fire. It spilled from her hands, flames destroying everything in her path. A hornid was tied at the edge of camp and he rushed over, vaulting on it. The beast tossed its head in surprise, spinning in a circle. He grappled with the reins, getting it under control, before digging his heels in so that it leapt forward and started to charge down a trail, it's cloven hooves carving the earth. The town they were defending, it was only leagues away, if he only had time.

Raikos heart thudded in his chest, going much faster than the hoofbeats that thundered beneath him. He barely felt the wound on his chest. It was far from the most important thing right now. He was going through a mountain pass, on one side was a sheer cliff going up and on the other side a sheer cliff going down. As the landscape streamed by, he heard his own thoughts speaking to him.

"You know I can't let you go right."

He almost fell off in surprise. "Are you in my head?"

"You don't need to speak. And yes. Kind of my specialty."

"Get out!"

"Sorry. Can't do."

Raiko suddenly lost control of his limbs. They were in control, just not his. He slowed the hornid, not on his own volition. The only thing he could control was his head. He whipped it around. "Stop!"

He got off the saddle, sliding to the ground.

"Please! You don't have to do this! I- I have a brother. He's waiting for me."

"I'm aware. I can read your thoughts. I already told you this."

He let go of the reins and walked over to the edge of the trail.

"Please. Please I won't tell anyone. I swear."

"I can't trust that."

Tears sprang to his eyes. His tears. Not Puppets tears. His steps slowed as he approached the edge of the trail, near the cliff.

"You said they make you do this. I can help. I can get people to help."

"You can't help me. No one can."

"Please don't kill me." He gave up on talking in his head and just shouted. "Please! I don't want to die! I don't want to dieā€¦"

"I'm sorry."

Raiko stepped off the cliff.


Leagues away, a sixteen year old boy opened his grey-blue eyes. He glanced at the man sitting across from him. "It's done." He pushed a lock of sweaty blonde hair out of his face. "They're all dead."

"No one got away right." The man said, staring at him.

"No one. One guy got pretty far but I got him."

"Show me."

The boy leaned forward and touched the man's forehead, showing him his memories. "I swear Kasper. No one got away."

After a second the man leaned back. "Okay. Good." He stood up, offering his hand to the boy, who accepted it and got to his feet.

"That town. Are we going after it?"

"That's not your place to know."

The boy clenched his jaw and looked away. "Well am I done then."

"Yes."

"Can I go."

"Yes. And remember-"

"Yeah. Don't say anything. I got it." He left through the back entrance of the building and walked through a courtyard, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. No one looked sideways at him. After all, he was just a normal Sheran kid