A smile on his face, he spread the window wider to let in the sun, and looked out on the fields surrounding his conquered castle. His window zoomed in, showing the battle lines drawn up only a hundred miles away. Serge’s lines of tanks and dragoons looked impotent against the horde of black war machines arrayed by House Void. They were practically in firing range of each other, yet there had been no battle since Brand had been eliminated yesterday. Three didn’t seem interested, and Serge didn’t want to provoke him before he had time to reinforce the border. Brand realized he was thinking strategically and almost laughed out loud. It doesn’t matter to me anymore.
“Brand,” Volca’s voice spoke from behind him, sounding oddly consolatory. Since he’d lost Volca had been almost silent, and seemed somewhat confused. She probably didn’t know what she was supposed to do in this situation, especially since Serge hadn’t taken him prisoner as protocol warranted. “Your message is being answered. He’s… he’s here.”
Brand turned, and was met with the sight of his half-brother Ryam standing in his room, looking tired. It was shocking how different he looked, eyes bloodshot and framed with dark circles, skin pale and clammy. He sniffed heavily, obviously suffering from a cold. It had been a long time since Brand had actually seen him. He’d avoided him for so long, and now he was momentarily concerned what Ryam thought about that. He had every right to be angry… but somehow Brand felt he would understand.
“Hey bro. Been a while,” Brand said.
“Indeed it has,” Ryam glanced around the room with apparent interest. “Just like back home in here, isn’t it? That must’ve been comforting.”
“Eh, I didn’t really have much time to use it. Been fighting a war and all.”
“So… you’ve been eliminated then?”
“Yeah. Sorry I had to go out first, but it was close. Seol was like five seconds away from taking Jayle down,” Brand said.
“It’s a good thing she didn’t, actually.”
“All things considered, everything has worked out for the best. I’ve been at Court for half a year now, Brand, and I can tell you, something big is coming. There might not be a real war, hell, no one wants that, but there’s a good chance houses will start aiming missiles at each other soon. A good missile salvo does wonders for negotiation you know. Anyway, the point I’m making is, when this shit goes down we don’t want to be on house Jade’s bad side. If you actually had defeated Marona’s kid sister yesterday… well it certainly wouldn’t have done us any favors.”
“So, good job getting your ass kicked then?”
“Ha, I guess so. So what now? You gonna hang out at Serge’s castle? Or how about Seol, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind you moving in for a few months. You guys are gonna get married after all.”
“Actually, I’m not going to anyone’s castle,” Brand said. He realized his palms were sweating, and Volca shooting him a surprised glance was no help. He’d run this conversation over and over in his head, but honestly he had no idea how it was gonna go. Ever since Ryam had become The Heir, he’d felt like there was a wall between them. He’d never been very good at reading people anyway. All he knew how to do was just say what he thought up front and let people deal with it. So here goes…
“I’ve been on this planet for more than two years and I haven’t seen an inch of it with my own eyes. I’m gonna get out, take a look around. See what it is we’re supposed to be fighting over,” he said, feinting nonchalance.
“Oh really?” Ryam just looked amused. “You think that’s safe? I think I’ve heard the natives there refer to you as demons.”
“I’ll be fine. Volca will be with me,” he said turning towards her. To his surprise, she did not appear to be preparing to go off on him. She looked thoughtful, which probably meant she was running hundreds of probability functions in her head all at once.
“Hm, yes, I think that will do. You deserve to have some fun for awhile. Once this game is over, there will be plenty to do.”
“Alright then, I guess I’d better get going. If Void decides to move in I’m gonna get captured by the wrong player and that would be all kinds of awkward.”
“That’s one more thing I wanted to ask you about. I’ve reviewed the battle data. It doesn’t make sense. Three deployed an army far larger than it should be able to have created with its resources. Before your units lost power, it had already conquered a sixth of the Aqua continent, in a matter of hours. How is that possible?”
“Beats me,” Brand shrugged. “Maybe I’ll find out something while I’m looking around. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Thanks, please do. Enjoy yourself.” He signed off with a wave.
“Are you sure about this Brand?” Volca asked as they descended in the elevator.
“Not really. It’s probably a bad idea,” he said. “But I think it’s worth doing.”
“You really want me to come with you?”
“Huh? Of course. I’d get lost in like an hour without you there,” he said.
“I just thought… I was under the impression…”
“What? Spit it out.”
“I was starting to believe you resented my support. I want you to know… I have to follow my programming Brand. My purpose is very clear. You were supposed to play this game to win, and I was supposed to ensure that you played at your best. Whether you wanted to, or whether I thought you should, was irrelevant. I didn’t have a choice in the matter,” she said, quietly.
“It’s alright. Without you bugging me all the time I’d probably have been knocked off a year ago. But the games over now, so… what is it you’re supposed to do now?”
“I…don’t know. It is a very strange feeling.” He grinned, and put his hand on her shoulder.
“Welcome to my world. Oh, here’s our stop.” The elevator chimed and the doors slid open swiftly. Bright sunlight, real sunlight, flooded in and his eyes ached at the unusual sensation. He put up his hand, fingers spread, to block out the sun, and took in the view ahead. It was a burned and battered wasteland, utterly devastated, not a sight he really wanted to see. But beyond it was a horizon. And beyond that…
We’ll find out.
End of Act 2