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The nation of Aska, whose mainland is the peninsula of the greater continent, Eislone, was a proud seafaring nation that had a rich history in trading with its neighbors via the Noresse sea. Though being a substantially smaller nation compared to others of its status, Aska had developed a robust naval presence that few could rival.

Where Aska excelled in ships and sea experience, it severely lacked in any sort of ground force. In light of the new war, Aska was forced to admit a desperate draft for any able-bodied citizen to take arms and defend their country. Reid Lucian was no exception.

Weeks following his rescue, Reid found himself eating alone in a mess-hall. He and the other surviving members of the blitz attack were drafted into Aska’s army.

Reid swirled the slop on his tray with a small fork. He already missed the deli, though he did nothing but complain about it at the time. The early mornings, his boss, Mr. Lewinski berating him, the annoying customers that never seemed satisfied. Now he would give anything for the smell of the freshly baked bread or the whirring of the deli slicer.

He wondered if he would ever get his old life back. If there was even any going back. He wondered if-

“Erm, excuse me,” Reid was shaken out of his daze and looked up. He saw that it was that brunette girl, the one from the night he was rescued. She was holding a tray of gruel and stood next to him.

“Do you mind if I join you?” She chuckled, “It’s a little funny to say, but you’re the only one I kind of know here. Or at least that I’ve seen before.”

Reid bit his lip and had the expression of a deer in headlights.

Ever since he was young, Reid never held a strong presence in a room or learned the magic trick behind talking to girls his age. Any conversation he held with a pretty girl in college or on the street typically turned into a droning discussion about the weather in the best of times, and in the worst, he developed a dry mouth and mindlessly stuttered.

“Um,” She cleared her throat “I-I can so somewhere else. That’s fine too,” She turned to walk away when Reid grabbed her arm. She looked at him with shock.

Realizing his horrible blunder, he quickly retracted his arm and blushed, “S-Sorry” He stuttered “I was just startled. Uh, please, feel free to sit. If you still want, I mean.”

She chuckled and claimed the seat across from him. He dared not make eye contact with her.

“I don’t think I had the chance to introduce myself, my name is Elise. Elise Ladetto. What’s yours?” She asked politely

“Lucian,” Reid replied “Reid Lucian! R-Reid is my first name.” He corrected a little too loudly

Elise nodded and smiled “It’s nice to meet you, Reid Lucian!” she pointed to the salt and pepper shakers next to his elbow “Would you mind passing those? I’ve found its’ the only way to get this stuff down.”

“Oh these?” he slid them across the table, “You know what also helps,” Reid picked up a small tin container off his tray and handed it to her

“What this?” She sniffed the tin

“Oregano,” Reid stated “it goes well with most things. Helps add a little subtle flavor too.”

Eliese sprinkled a little of the oregano onto her gruel and tried “Hey,” She chewed “This does help. Thanks for sharing!”

Reid smiled, the first time he could recall doing so since restarting basic training.

“Are you a chef or something?” Elise poured a little more of the herb on her food

“No, I just work-” he cleared his throat “I used to work, I mean, at this deli near my house.”

Elise placed a finger on her chin “Oh right! I remember you saying something about that when captain Everett’s team brought you in from across the bay.”

Reid sunk in his seat reliving that horrific night in his mind’s eye.

Elise laid her fork next to her tray and placed her hands on her lap “How many did you lose that night?” the spark in her voice evaporated.

“My older sister” Reid replied “She was waiting from me on the ferry that was evacuating people. She was on board when the Republic attacked. They fired a missile at it. The boat didn’t stand a chance, and neither did she,” he lowered his head “I watched it all go down.”

Elise lowered her big brown eyes with him “I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how awful that must have been.”

“How many did you lose?” Reid asked

“None had no one to lose. I lost my parents in a bombing raid during the first war. They sent me out to get food at the depot. I heard the sirens and ran home, but when I got there, there was nothing left but ash.” She ran her hand along with her small gold necklace that featured a small heart pendant.

“My God, Elise sounds horrific!”

She nodded, “It was. But I’m far from alone in that case. A lot of orphans were made in that raid and in that war. I’ve made my peace with it.” Elise picked up her fork and took another bite of her lunch.

A heavy silence sat between the two. Not a particularly uncomfortable one like two strangers would experience sitting on a train together. Instead, more of the sort of stillness where two wounded souls shared a moment of solidarity. They found war had a funny way of doing that.

“So, what did you do before all this?” Reid asked once the pair finished their lunches.

She wiped her mouth “I was a school teacher. I thought kids their numbers, how to read, things like that.”

“That’s an important job. Not something I could ever do,” Reid admitted

“Thank you! My mother was a teacher. When I was young, I would help her grade papers and any other work she needed doing around the school. I wanted to be just like her!” Elise smiled warmly looking back on it “So I attended university and did just that.”

A giant of a man with thick stubble and a cigarette hanging from his mouth approached to two “Ladetto and Lucian?” he grunted

The man was definitely not another cadet. Instead of the gray jumpsuit they all wore, he was decked out in the gear of a proper Askan military man. Complete with heavy looking boots, blue and black camouflage patterned pants, and a white tank top with a dense looking blue jacket tied around his waist.

“Well, you two them or not?” He growled again

“Yes, sir!” The pair answered in unison

“Great, Major Hudson wants to see you two. Follow me.” He turns and walks out the door. They rush after him afraid to make the man even angrier.

The bright sun temporarily blinded the two as they exited the mess hall. Shouts from drill instructors and the chattering of fresh cadets fill their ears. While the capital’s standing army and royal guard were stationed behind her thick walls, the city’s medieval infrastructure was far too little to accommodate the influx of new recruits and refugees. So most new-comers had a small village of tents erected for them, and a new temporary training ground was set up to train the newly drafted cadets.

Standing in the shadow of the capital’s magnificent medieval fortress, the lush green fields the base sat on were iconic. For hundreds of years, travelers to the land had written stories and poems of Aska’s unique flora and furtle soil. For what the nation of Aska lacked in military might, it more than made up for in its potent beauty and culture. Some of the most world-renowned artists apprenticed in this very place, Vilas, Aska’s capital.

“Will you two hurry up a little? You don’t want to keep the Major waiting.” The giant shouted back at them. The pair were forced into a jog to keep up with the man’s long strides.

Sweaty and a little out of breath, the group finally reach a long canvas tent in the middle of the camp. The man stomps out his cigarette and holds the tent flap open for the two cadets, “Get going, we’ve taken long enough getting here.”

They rushed inside and found themselves standing in front of a sharply dressed woman seated behind a desk. Her dark hair was cut short, and her long skirt and blue blazer were pressed and tidy. Reid was surprised to see the redheaded captain from before sat atop one of the many crates piled in the corner of the tent.

The man joined them inside “Cadets Ladetto and Lucian, Commander.” He saluted the woman behind the desk.

Reid and Elise took note of his formality and follow suit. Though they had been training at the base for a couple of weeks, they still weren’t entirely sure who to salute and not. On Reid’s first day at the camp, he saluted the entire kitchen staff. While flattered, they informed him it wasn’t necessary. Though he did notice he always got a little more gruel then the other cadets from then on.

“At ease,” The commander states with authority. Her piercing blue eyes first fixed on Reid “Cadet, name, former employment, education, and military experience.”

“M-Ma’am” He stuttered “Cadet Reid Lucian, deli worker, a year of university, required basic training during high school.” He rang off

The commander nodded then looked to Elise, “You?”

“Ma’am, Cadet Elise Ladetto, school teacher, Masters degree, advanced rifle training from Commander Ladetto.”

The commander looked through her papers “Yes, I saw you come from military royalty. Of course my condolences for your father and mother’s untimely demise. I’m sure you rest well knowing your father touched many of our lives and saved many souls.”

Elise nods “Thank you, ma’am. I know he was dedicated to the cause, ma’am.”

“And you mentioned advanced rifle training? I didn’t see that in your papers.”

“Ma’am, when I was young, my father taught me how to shoot. My record is eighteen out of twenty sharpshooter targets.”

Reid looked over at her dazed. He wondered why she had mentioned nothing about her father being the legendary commander Donovan Ladetto. He was a first war hero.

“Impressive, of course, I will need to see proof of that.” The commander folds her hands together “My name is Major Hudson. I am responsible for squads one through nine. I am pleased to inform you that you two have been selected to fill the new available positions in squad two. Captain Alice Everett’s squad, along with gunny Clyde Vargas and specialist Luther Kane.”

Reid’s stomach sank. It was apparent to him now that this was really going to happen.

“We will fill these roles to the best of our abilities!” Elise confirmed

“See that you do,” Hudson looked over her shoulder to Captain Everett who appeared to be aggressively eating an apple. “Anything you want to say to your new troops, captain?”

She paused mid-munch “Try not to die to quick,” she spat

Commander Hudson rubbed her temples “Yes, thank you for those inspiring words captain,” She put away her paperwork “Now, cadet Ladetto if you wouldn’t mind meeting me at the shooting range. I would like to see those sharpshooting skills in person if you will.”

Elise saluted one last time and walked out of the tent.

“As for you cadet Lucian. Gunny Vargas, would you mind introducing your new teammate to specialist Kane? I believe I last saw him mingling with the engineers near the tank battalion.”

The large man saluted “You got it, Commander,” and unceremoniously shoved Reid out the tent flap.

Once she was sure only her and Hudson were left, Alice Everett spoke up, “Commander, you can’t be seriously sending these kids out. Those troopers are going to eat them alive.”

Hudson examined the pen in her hand “We don’t have a choice, Alice. The tiny military we have was already crippled by the initial attack. Until the Federation up north decides to honor our agreement, cadets like those two are the face of Aska’s ground force.”

“If that’s true Hudson, this is going to be a short war.” Alice tossed her apple core in a nearby trash bin and sauntered out the tent

Hudson pulled out a drawer from her desk and examined a small framed black and white photo of a smiling blonde man holding a dark-haired child. Hudson traced a finger around their faces “John, I wish you were. I could really use you right now.”

*

“Na, its called a cloaca! Isn’t that weird?” A tall, thin, dark-haired man pointed to a colorful bird on his shoulder

“How does that even work, though?” A smoot covered engineer asked

“Who knows, but I’m telling you it’s all from the same place.” The gaunt man placed his cigarette back in his mouth and scratched behind the bird’s ear with a grease coated finger

“I’m kind of jealous,” A neatly dressed engineer in glasses stated

“That’s weird, bro” replies the birdman

“Kane!” Shout a deep-throated man’s voice. The dark-haired didn’t even have to turn around to recognize the voice of Clyde Vargas.

“Gunny! Was just talking about something you’d love-” he turns around and sees the gray-clad cadet walking in front of Clyde “What’s with the new blood?”

“Luther Kane meet Reid Lucian. Reid, this is squad two’s specialist Luther Kane.” Clyde rails off dryly

“No, shit?” Luther wipes his hand on his soiled jumpsuit and shakes Reids offered hand.

Reid shriveled slightly at how cold and clammy his hand was, then noticed a slight rattling. He looked at Luther’s wrist and saw a hand made bracelet made of a collection of small white things.

He pointed to the armband “Cool bracelet, what’s it made of?”

“Rat bones!” Luther beamed

Reid recoiled “W-Why?”

Luther pointed to the bird on his shoulder “He doesn’t like the bones, and I didn’t see a reason for them to go to waste.”

Clyde pinched the bridge of his nose “Ok, kid, I introduced you. I’ve done my deed for the day.” He turned and started walking away, “Be at the command tent by 0600 for the mission brief. Combat ready.” He shouted over his shoulder

Reid drew in a deep breath and looked back at Luther “So, know what a cloaca is?” Luther asked excitedly

Reid squinted “N-No…”

“Here, let me show you!” Luther grabbed the bird off his shoulder.

** Previous Chapter – Chapter 1: Fire and Brimstone**

** Next Chapter – Chapter 3: What Goes Boom In The Night **

One comment on “Valiant Hearts – Chapter 2: Welcome To Squad Two

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