"He knew they were coming. He knew, and yet why?"
Ripley's legs were about to give out as he ran away from his home in the mountains. He didn't know why, but his gut feeling tells him to run on. His thick hair, trimmed at the sides, gleamed dark green against the blazing sun, and the rag he wore, a large smock used for industry, was getting heavier with sweat.
An hour ago, he had volunteered to help his father in his smithing work, but from the look of his face, the man clearly did not want his son to help with the hammering of the huge piece of glowing metal.
"No, son," he said, "You're not ready yet."
"But father, what else am I supposed to do? I've already finished my chores. I want to help out."
"No means no. This is supposed to be an artistic piece. This isn't something for your untrained hands yet. And I still have to finish embossing the general's armor, which is still not in your level of skill. Besides, you still haven't recovered yourself from that accident."
"But it's almost healed! I mean, look! I can move my fingers and-"
Ripley wanted to demonstrate his capability by moving the injured arm, which looked fine at first glance until he moved his fingers too fast and winced in pain.
The older smith shook his head and resumed his work.
He then suggested, "Since you clearly want to help, why don't you go out and gather some firewood for the forges? At least you can get some fresh forest air to help heal that arm."
The young apprentice grumbled, trod outside, and skipped down the rocky slope. As he headed eastward, to the wooden pillars that signify where the conifer forest began, he spotted a weird shape in the distance. He took out his binoculars that he always brings to spot wild animals and the occasional visitor in order to get a closer look.
Strange men wearing blue were walking towards him, or at least, his direction. They were neatly arranged in two lines, and it appeared that they were going to scale the mountaintop and reach for the other side. And farther on, something else caught Ripley's attention.
Near the base of the mountain were two giant humanoid figures, leaving behind them a trail of smoke that hid the view of the desert basin below. He recognized them as Behemoths, a collection of advanced weaponry housed inside a metal body that often resembles a living being. As soon as he saw them, he immediately recognized what the men were.
The Blue Army of the Bulwark.
A powerful military force that is the backbone of the large Bulwark Kingdom. Said to have been blessed by the-Goddess-who-disappeared, they push forward into the east in her name, but the constant retaliation of the Shorin continue to stop their advance.
Ripley rushed back inside the house to tell his father about the coming army. When he told him about what he saw, the smith had a change in his eyes and stopped working. He then hurriedly kept his things and rummaged through his collection of weapons.
"This is bad. Why now of all days?" he panicked. "Has it finally happened?"
"Father, what's wrong?" Ripley asked. "What do you mean, finally happened?"
"It's nothing. Where is it? Where's that darned thing?!"
After a few minutes of searching, he found what he was looking for and hurriedly handed it to his son.
"Son, listen to me." He said with fear and concern in his eyes. "Take this box and run. Run as far away from here as possible. Whatever you do, do NOT open the box, and do NOT give yourself to the Blue Army. You understand? Don't ask any more, and don't you worry about me, just go!"
Ripley wanted to protest, but his father pushed him into a chute and closed the door. He banged against its steel and called out, asking about this commotion, but all he got as a reply was a loud bang, which startled the young smith. A fist-shaped dent can be seen on the door.
"I know you can't afford to lose your only family," said the older smith through the gaps. "But I can't either. I have to do whatever it takes. And you will know why in due time."
"But, father! What about you?!"
"It's better if they find one of us sooner than them finding us both later. Now, go! Run away from here!"
And that's when a group of silhouettes approached the front entrance to the smith's abode.
"Earl Nightjar! This is the Blue Army of the Bulwark Kingdom! Surrender yourself, or else we will be forced to exercise extreme measures on you!"
As Ripley slid down the sooty tunnel and out the back, he could hear the sounds of banging and marching, sound of clattering metal and closing cabinets. Outside, he could also see men clad in blue preparing to storm the small shack.
"Earl Nightjar! This is your final warning! On the count of three, we will break down the door and take you by force. If you're gonna resist, we will not hesitate to take your life! You have been warned!"
Ripley wanted to know why the Blue Army acted that way towards his father. For all he knew, he had been a smith working under the blue flag, creating swords and armor for the troops. But now, he was retired, and was living a peaceful life with his son.
And then, he heard the sound of a door creaking and a familiar voice barking.
"What is it? Can't you see I'm trying to live in peace?"
A trooper marched forward and spoke as if reading from a script.
"You have been called out of your retirement to-"
"That's enough, private. I know what you're up to. But, no. I'm not gonna go back and finish what I started."
Just then, Ripley saw the trooper take out his sword and try hitting the man with the pommel, but he was sent flying and his back bumped into a tree trunk.
"All units, package has retaliated. Initiate suppressive measures."
And then, sounds of conflict erupted. From what Ripley could tell from the exchange, these men had some unfinished business with the smith, and his father has fought back against them.
He had deemed the place too dangerous to stay, so Ripley began a mad dash for it, box in tow.
He ran, and ran, and ran. For the first time in his life, Ripley felt fear. He feared for his life, but worse of all, he feared for his father's life. He didn't want to worry about him, as he was able to defend himself against the troopers, but it was a fight involving many, and sooner or later, the old man will tire.
When he finally descended from the base of the mountain, Ripley could see the Behemoths change position. In the next instant, fire spewed from their backs, and then there was a thundering sound coming from behind him. Fearing for the worst, he forced his legs to continue running and never looked back.
Until his weary legs finally took him to the nearest town, where he balled himself by the outer wall and sobbed. A few minutes later, a youth with goggles on his messy blonde hair and dusty overalls approached Ripley.
"Hey, Ripley! What brings you here? Did you run away from home again?"
"Please, Marlowe. Leave me alone," was Ripley's reply. "I'd rather not talk about it."
"What's wrong? Still frustrated about another sword you're making?"
"It's not that. It's about my father."
"Why? Did he give you a hard time again? Come on, Rip. Don't cry. You're always like this."
"But that's not what I-"
"Here. Lemme take you to base and let's talk it out there. I've got some news that might interest you."
And so the youth called Marlowe took the tired Ripley and escorted him to a familiar place.
The desert town of Outpost was as sleepy as it gets. While it may appear that the town itself was a small collection of shacks with nothing much to look at, its real pride is in its only stone building, the Palmetto. It's also the largest building in town, spanning five stories with a large thatch roof, which makes the building look like a tropical tree, hence the name.
As soon as the two entered the building, the entire atmosphere changed. A cacophony of sounds filled the air, the familiar sound of a bustling community. Merchants can be seen selling their wares to the right of them, and to the left was a bar large enough to house its own refinery. It's as if the building itself can pass for a town entirely on its own.
The pair headed for Marlowe's base, or so it's called, but it was just an ordinary room located in the second floor, the residential area.
"Okay. You stay here first and calm yourself while I go get the usual, alright? Of course, you're gonna have to pay for the service fee. Nothing's free, after all."
And when Ripley was left alone in the room, he cried himself to sleep.