He’s just a soldier. “My fellow Frumans, it is with a heavy heart that I greet you today.” Just a soldier, that’s all. Neatly seated on one of the barracks’ many benches, sharpening his spear for tomorrow’s drills. The scrape of metal against a whetting stone is nearly calming. Nearly. “Recently, our tireless, honorable scouts have confirmed our worst fears. Although we’ve put forward every resource, every volunteer, every last scrap of mana or steel we could afford from our hard-working citizens, it cannot change the truth.” He inspects the blade for scratches. None. The tip could be mistaken for a needle’s point, if he kept going. “We are the last civilization this world has to offer.” The soldier stands, awash in the thin glow of an overhanging electromagic lamp, pausing one more time before gently setting the weapon into its place on a rickety wooden rack. That was enough for today. “Across oceans and mountains, the plains and the volcanic ravines, we searched. I could not have asked for a more dedicated people, but even a nation as strong as ours cannot will an ally into existence from nothing.” Exiting the barracks leaves him under the cold embrace of the Fruman sky. Although several stars dawdle above, his eyes point squarely towards a distant plume of chimney smoke, barely discernible against an ocean of inky black. “And yet we are no fading flame, no dying tree nor rotting corpse. We are the strongest nation that man has ever known, and as your Queen I will do everything in my power to continue our legacy. This is our sacred duty as the last bastion of mankind: no cost will be cut, no shortcuts can be taken.” It takes him longer than he’ll admit to realize there are two plumes of smoke. One is a harmless coil drifting in no particular direction. The other twists and writhes like a tortured snake, accentuated by a periodic burst of smog. There’s a fire. He breaks into a run. His thin steel armor clanks against itself with a noise close to an emergency bell, and it’s with panting breaths he finally arrives at the scene. Panic breaches his stoicism like water through a dam. Oh, by the Queen, the flames had torn the house into just a husk, even the flowers out front we- It isn’t his house. The revelation brings a tsunami of relief, followed by an aftershock of nauseating guilt. His house is faced opposite the burning wreck, forced to watch its neighbor burn. He sighs, long and drawn-out, as his eyes are dragged to a trio of figures silhouetted by the blaze. One figure is on their knees. It’s the actual owner, he realizes. He can tell by the sheer despair present in the air; they’re hunched close to the ground, desperately clutching at their chest. Faint, wispy sobbing is just barely discernible over the flickers and crackles of the bonfire. One of the other figures turns, catching him staring at the unfolding chaos; a thick, plated visor matches his gaze. He has to remind himself to blink. They’re peacekeepers, pledged to keep Fruma safe. The left one is leaning on a stack of crates — confiscated, he assumes — with the label “Llevigar” printed neatly on the side. What was a Llevigar? The right one nods, ever so slightly; the threat straddles an unpleasant line between veiled and obvious, and a shiver runs from the nape of his neck to his tailbone. Move along. Now. He turns, taking one last glance at the blaze. He could step in. Save what he could of this citizen’s — criminal’s? — property. No. This was something beyond him. He trudges towards his house, rationalizing it to himself. His neighbor was probably hoarding supplies, or illegally practicing magic. Somebody was already taking care of it. “The torch of the future will be carried by our capable hands.” And besides, he’s just a soldier.