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Moving Mountains

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Mí Meán Fomhair 12

632 AAD

General Cain,

I'm glad you and the regiment made it safely to the Northern encampment. Mother says the Longcoats have retreated to the wilds of that area so it is dangerous but necessary work. The winters there are terrible from what I hear. I hope you've packed something warmer than your duster but knowing your unnatural attachment to it, I think it unlikely.

Tutor taught me how to do enchantments so I've included my latest attempt. They'll keep your hands warm, and as far as the aesthetic, what can I say? They remind me of you. (Oh don't worry, I had Az double check them. They won't catch you on fire or anything).

Stay safe,

Her royal Highness Dorothea Glinda Gale-yaddi-yaddi-yadda

Cain smirked, his frozen breath briefly obscuring the page. He reached for the envelope, shaking it gently as two silver cuff links tumbled out. He rolled them over in his hands feeling a warmth not unlike that of holding a steaming cup of coffee.

"Nicely done, kid" he murmured appreciatively, rolling up his trench sleeves and affixing the links to each wrist. The etching on the flat discs caught his eye and he lifted one wrist to the dim lantern light to exam it more closely.

"DG..." he grumbled, snapping the edge of his duster's sleeves back over his wrists.

The two engraved smiley faces mocked him from their new perch as he sat back down at his desk to compose his reply.

Mí Meán Fomhair 30

632 AAD

Your Royal Highness,

Thank you for your generous gift. They will be helpful on patrol and as of yet, they have not spontaneously combusted. Consider me pleasantly surprised.

There have been reports of some locals disappearing but no clear leads on their where-abouts. We have apprehended a few Longcoats. They are mostly disorganized, trying to find passage over the Deadly Desert but we've had some skirmishes. Rations are holding well and the soldiers' morale is high despite the starkness of our surroundings. Currently we have cleared sectors 1 and 3 and I anticipate our progress will continue on a similar time table. An official report of our supplies, men, and daily intake will soon follow.

Your servant,

General Wyatt Cain


Mí Deireadh Fomhair 7

632 AAD

General Cain,

I enjoyed your riveting account of how much hay the horses consume and the amount of cornmeal currently stored. It almost feels like I'm right there with you. Did you know the horses at Finaqua eat hay as well? Remarkable creatures.

Things here are much the same. Az is still easily exhausted and suffers debilitating headaches. Mother has held endless meetings with dignitaries from the outer realms to re-establish ties. Of course, with that has come the unwelcome advances of suitors. Usually Azkadellia's glare is enough to send them scampering but the occasional dirty trick has to be employed on the more clueless. On a completely unrelated note, I've learned it takes about six months for a Duke's eyebrows to grow back.

Anyway, I've sent you something again. I was never much a fan of winter, the lack of color weighs on me over time. It is not enchanted. You're welcome.

Stay safe,

Princess Dorothea Glinda Gale-so-on-and-so-forth-the-first-or-fifth-I-can't-really-remember

Cain's eyebrows knitted in mild confusion as he pulled out the folded paper behind the letter. DG had attached a brilliant watercolor of the sunsets over the lakes of Finaqua. He ran his fingers over this little bit of home marveling at the skill. He knew she had been an artist on the other side but he'd not seen any of her work until now and felt a small smile cross his face as he imagined her worrying a paintbrush between her teeth, critiquing her choices of color and shade with small smears of paint on her face and forearms. He shook his head to clear the vision and frowned. Taking the painting with him, he stood, intent on tossing the bit of sentiment into the bin but he couldn't do it. Instead he satisfied himself with tucking it out of sight into his rucksack.

They had been writing to one another since he left on the slow march North over an annual ago. Mostly they said nothing of real importance except to recant the events since their previous correspondence but a part of him always looked forward to seeing her messy script written on royal stationary. Someone out there besides Jeb gave a damn if he lived or died and he was chagrined to say it mattered deeply to him.

Cain rubbed is face to attempt to straighten out his turbulent thoughts when he was interrupted by a knock at his tent. It was his second, Commander Bowen.

"Sir, we have movement in sector six."

"The mountains? That's a first."

"Right sir, not sure what to make of it."

Cain nodded briskly.

"Send in the scouts. Have them keep their distance, see of we can get a better handle on this. Do not engage and return immediately at any signs of trouble."

The man gave a salute and left the tent. Cain returned to his desk, putting his writing utensils away. DG's response would have to wait.

Hours later Cain found himself pushing through the crowded makeshift hospital ward. One scout named Harding was being tended to, her medic holding pressure on her still bleeding wounds. "Is she fit to report?"

"Aye," nodded the medic, wrapping gauze snug around the lacerations.

Cain looked expectantly at the scout.

"I don't know what happened general... Rogers was next to me and then...he was just gone sir..They came up from the ground!" The scout's hand shook as she ran it through her matted hair. "I reached for him but he slipped through my hands...they pulled him under ground. Then they grabbed me. I held on to a branch and kicked until it let go and I ran... We were ambushed, sir. I think it was a trap."

"The two other returning scouts gave similar accounts, sir."

"I'd like to speak with them."

"It'll be awhile. Knowles is out cold and James...they're taking his leg right now."

Cain pressed his lips to a thin line.

"Did you get a look at them? Anything at all?" He asked the scout firmly.

"Just a glimpse...they were grey like the rocks, long limbs but that's all."

He handed her a small notebook. "Write everything down that happened. From the moment you left camp til you returned. Do it while it's still fresh in your mind."

The scout gave a brisk nod, taking the parchment from him. After a lengthy discussion with Commander Bowen, Cain and fifty heavily armed men marched to the sector looking for any signs of survivors. They found some bloody underbrush but not much else. Weary after a long night of searching, he returned to his tent at dawn.

Seven soldiers just vanished...What the hell is going on here...he thought, removing his hat and coat. He stopped at his shirt as his fingers brushed those ridiculous and wonderful cuff links. He hadn't even thought about gloves since she sent them.

He had kept the enchanted items from public knowledge. Things like that had a way of walking off when others heard about them. Also, his constantly going bare handed gave the soldiers plenty to mutter about when they though he wasn't in ear shot. No harm in them thinking he was even more of a hard-ass then he was. But lastly, when he brushed his thumb over the silver, he could feel something distinctly "DG", low and musical. It bit back at the loneliness that seemed to pervade his tent during the nights.

DG... I have to tell the royals.

He stopped his undressing and poured a small tumbler of scotch before settling down at the desk again.

Mí Deireadh Fomhair 14

632 AAD

DG,

We are missing seven scouts. They went on a reconnaissance mission and were ambushed. Only three returned but we have found no bodies despite an extensive search. The conscious ones report the attackers seemed to come out of the ground, dragging captives with them. I need you to get the Zipperhead on this, see if he can find anything in that library. We're going to interview the locals about the disappearances in the area.

Stay sharp. I think something bad is coming our way and I'd like to get out ahead of it for once. An official report to the Queen will follow shortly.

He hesitated here, unsure of how to finish, before chiding himself for his stupidity and signed it simply as 'Cain'.


Mí Deireadh Fomhair 20

632 AAD

Cain,

Message received along with Mother's official report. Glitch, Az, and I are heading to the library now. Will send word as soon as we find anything. Enclosed is what i was working on when I got your letter. It's not finished.

Be safe,

DG

(Attached is a half colored sketch of the garden at Finaqua)


Mí Deireadh Fomhair 23

632 AAD

Cain,

All we've found is some children's book about rock dwellers and eggs. It seems to be from around the time of the original Slipper so we're unsure of the relevance. Azkadellia thinks the witch had mentioned something about the "rock beasts of the North" but cannot recall any details. We'll keep at it. We've heard of the other incidents.

Please be safe,

DG

(Attached is a hastily done sketch of Glitch pouring over a book while wearing an over-sized monocle)


Mí na Samhna 15

632 AAD

DG,

In all we have lost twenty five soldiers, another forty wounded, and still don't know what the hell is going on. We did capture a group of Longcoats trying to find passage south but despite interrogation by our viewer, they had nothing helpful to offer. I don't think this has anything to do with them or the Witch.

The men are fearful. No answers, random attacks, and not a damn body to be found. Some of the more hysterical ones have been spreading rumors of ghosts. A blizzard has moved in which is not helping search efforts or morale. So far no deserters but I anticipate it any day now. They know the price for desertion and though I hate to follow through with it, I will.

No disappearances in a week. I wonder how long this will hold out.

Cain

DG could see Cain's frustration in the heavy marks and splatters left by his pen. She sighed putting his letter away and grabbed her sketch pad. She twirled her pencil, trying to decide what to send him. The drawings were getting more and more difficult to select. At first she had intended to send landscapes to remind him of home, but they soon seemed ridiculous, like sending him hotel art to hang in his tent. So, she switched to a more personal touch, sending pictures of their daily lives to let him know his friends were thinking about him.

Her mind's eye drew up an image of the Tin Man as she last remembered him. In some ways Wyatt Cain was still locked up tight in that iron suit, hardened exterior nearly impossible to penetrate. But then there were moments, few and scattered, where the steel edge to him fell off... She never really had a thing for the hyper-masculine, older type, but then again, Wyatt Cain was the real deal: complex, handsome, chivalrous and she couldn't help but swoon a little when he gave her an unintentionally smoldering look from under that fedora.

DG spun her pencil again before catching her reflection in her floor to ceiling mirror. Feeling quite bold, she smiled, and began to sketch.

Let's see what General-stick-up-his-ass thinks of this.