With every passing day the column of the second legion pushed northwards into Europe, over the alps and into what had been Austria and Germany. Now it was wilderness, wild and untamed with rolling hills fertile grasslands and ever-present forests closing in around them as they cut a trail north.
Their scouts, Hildegard and Turi in particular, kept an eye on the movement of monsters and wild spirits in the area. Those that didn’t try to ambush the Legion (which were swiftly repelled) were soon all seen to be traveling straight north deeper into Germany.
“They’re heading to something,” Hanne said, looking over the map as the legion commanders, Hildegard, Cat, Rosa, Angel, and Gisela all crowded around the command table, a snaking red line marking their passage thus far.
“Agreed,” Hildegard said. “This isn’t coincidence, any monster or spirit that I’ve scouted that was too far out to catch the Legion’s scent has been going in roughly the same direction.”
“Nidhoggr is calling them,” Angel said. “It is attempting to force itself fully into Midgard and wants an army there to greet it. When the Primordial manifests, then all of those monsters will be unleashed in a new tide of destruction.”
“Which means not only do we have the dragon to contend with, but an entire army as well,” Rosa sighed. “This surprise attack might turn into a siege.”
“And a siege is something we can’t afford,” Hanne said. “This battle can’t last more than a day after we initiate our attack, maybe just hours. We need to establish a line wherever Nidhoggr is and hold it while Cat and the others take out the Primordial.”
“But where is it going?” Angel said. “Nidhoggr’s influence is blocking my sight. Everywhere I look, I just see more of the dragon.”
“At a guess,” Gisela said. “Somewhere of ritual importance. This Primordial will want a stage to begin its attack on Earth and it isn’t going to settle for a nameless field outside Leipzig.”
“Any ideas?” Cat asked. “Germany has to be full of places like that…”
“One,” Gisela said. “I think…you said in your dream, when you battled Nidhoggr, it was atop a mountain, and the peak was clear of trees and plants, yes?”
“That’s right,” Cat nodded. “It was just…bare rocks and a lot of snow.”
“That might be our clue,” Gisela said. “The Brocken, Germany’s bald mountain.”
“Near Schierke,” Hanne nodded. “I know of it…I believe it’s around…here.”
Hanne marked a spot on the map to their north, matching the path of the migrating spirits.
“As for when, that is another question but also one I believe easily answered,” Gisela went on. “It’s October now, and I have little doubt that Nidhoggr’s ideal time to manifest and our ideal time to strike will be on the 31st.”
“Halloween?” Rosa asked.
“Two years to the day since the final Day of Revelation,” Gisela said. “A fine anniversary gesture considering it was Nidhoggr’s escape that started it all. The day itself has potency, though not for Nidhoggr’s cosmology…but it represents something that matters. The end of summer, life, and warmth. Nidhoggr comes with the darkening of the year.”
“It’s as likely a day as any,” Hildegard nodded. “That doesn’t even give us a month to cross half of Germany though.”
“We’ll need to march hard,” Hanne nodded. “And the going will only get rougher the closer we get, I have no doubt.”
“A month, northern Germany…a battle at Samhain on the Bald Mountain…that sounds right,” Cat said. “Like something out of a story.”
“The benefit of Primordials is that they are rarely unpredictable,” Angel said. “This is a solid hypothesis.”
“Then that’s the direction we’ll take,” Hanne said. “I want this Legion moving at sunrise and I want the supply train informed of the increased pace. I’ll need the scouts ensuring that we’re on the right path with updates on any sighted monster every third hour. Understood?”
All the assembled nodded, many of them with their faces dark. This was going to be a hard march to an even harder battle. They had a destination now, but not an easy one.
As the group began to depart from the command tent to relay orders to the rest of the legion, Cat caught up to Rosa.
“Hey,” she said. “Do you have a moment to talk, just us?”
“Hmm?” Rosa raised an eyebrow. “Sure, why not.”
With some minor trepidation, Cat led her away from the command tent to the edge of the camp, away from prying eyes and ears among the trees, though still within sight of the fires of the legion camp. Rosa followed along quietly until Cat stopped them, and she crossed her arms as she waited for Cat to speak.
“So, uuh…” Cat shuffled words around in her head, trying to come up with the right thing to say. Rosa stayed quiet, watching her with a sort of blank curiosity that only made Cat sweat more.
“Look, Cat, if this is going to take a while, I can come back or…”
“N-no! Just…give me a second I’m trying to get my words together.”
“I can give you some minutes I just need to-“
“Dammit, Rosa, stop making this hard!”
“Making what hard? You’re the one who-“
“I like you!”
Rosa blinked in surprise for a moment.
“Well uh…yeah I mean I like you too, Cat.”
“No, you…ugh,” Cat ran a hand through her hair before steadying herself. “I mean I want to ask you out and date you and…stuff.”
“Oh…” Once more Rosa stood there in honest surprise, hands at her side. “…Wow you needed to do this whole dramatic confession thing?”
“Eh? What do you mean? Isn’t this how it’s done?”
Rosa snorted, only making the color rush to Cat’s face again. “No, you idiot. Just…like…ask me out. Tell me you want to go have lunch sometime.”
“We always have lunch sometimes!”
“Then tell me you want to go out somewhere and that you want it to be a date is my point,” Rosa rolled her eyes. “Honestly this whole confession thing…man who told you that was a good idea?”
“It was Megame wasn’t it?”
“Not just her!” Cat objected.
“Let me guess, most of the relationships you’ve read about involved guys in armor and women described as ‘damsels’.”
“That’s a…bit of an exaggeration…” Cat said, her flustering only growing more pronounced with each passing second. “I also wasn’t sure if…”
“If I was gay?” Rosa asked.
“Well…yeah…” Cat nodded.
“I’m not,” Rosa said.
Cat froze up.
“I’m bi actually. I like both sides of the field.”
Cat struggled to pull a response together as Rosa laughed.
“Seriously your face right now…have you not seen how I stare at Evangeline’s ass? The woman’s a safety hazard.”
“I don’t watch where you’re staring all the time!”
“That’s why you lose our duels half the time.”
“Oh, for the love of-!” Cat stomped forward, pushing Rosa against the closest tree to hold her there. Rosa didn’t resist or make any move to counterattack, simply watching her with an amused expression.
“You’re a jerk, you know that?”
“A complete ass half the time and intolerable the other half.”
“I get that.”
“I’m honestly surprised I like you half as much as I do,” Cat managed to keep her face straight as she stared down Rosa.
“Mmhmm,” Rosa just nodded along.
“But I do like you…I like you a lot especially since you became…”
“Less of an ass?” Rosa suggested.
“Yes,” Cat nodded. “Less of an ass. And especially with everything that’s about to happen…I thought it would be really important to…”
“Come on, Cat,” Rosa’s voice wasn’t impatient or unkind. It was more the tone when she was trying to get Cat to improve during training.
“I want to be with you, Rosa. No matter what happens I want to be at your side and I want to be…closer with you than just friends. Is that…alright with you?”
Rosa stayed quiet for a long time, too long for Cat. The seconds ticked by at an increasingly uncomfortable pace. Before her face finally split into a smile.
“Sure, Cat, that’ll be alright with me. Though you need to work on the straight talk because that confession was way too timid.”
Cat’s face was beat red. “I’m new at this.”
“And you took way too long. Seriously you could’ve asked me out months ago.”
“I get it…”
Rosa kept smiling and Cat felt her hand push up the bottom of her chin.
“That said, you’re going to pay for wasting all that time fretting. Seriously do you know how much training time this probably cost you? No wonder you were so distracted.”
Cat glowered, even as she felt her heart pumping wildly in her chest at Rosa’s touch. She was becoming acutely aware of just how close they were.
“P-pay how?” Cat asked, unable to look away.
“By making up for lost time.”
Before Cat could stop her Rosa had leaned in and for the briefest moment Cat could feel the ghost of Rosa’s lips pressed to hers.
Cat jerked her head back as she felt the color rush to her face in full force. “Wh-what are you-?”
“Just like a duel, Cat,” Rosa smiled at her. “Can’t be timid with me.”
Steeling herself, Cat squared her shoulders before leaning in, a bit forcefully than she’d meant to, and kissing Rosa straight on the mouth.
She wasn’t sure how long they stayed that way, seconds or moments she didn’t know and it didn’t matter. Her heart was thumping like a drum as her mind reeled at the simple fact that in a day, she’d gone from sparring with Rosa to kissing her.
Eventually they did pull apart, and though Cat was still dazed and reeling she could see that Rosa had flushed more than a little as well. Cat wasn’t entirely on the defensive.
“So umm…where do we go from here?” Cat asked.
“Wherever we want,” Rosa shrugged. “There isn’t a manual for this kind of thing, Cat.”
“Heh so…we’re dating now?”
“I guess so…”
“We should probably tell some people.”
“Though umm…before that…” Cat was about to pause before pushing the awkwardness down and gently shoving Rosa once more against the tree. “Let’s do that a few more times.”
Rosa smiled. “Heh, sounds good to me. You need practice anyway.”
“Says you, you’re terrible at it!”
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa