A thousand scenes flashed through Dogwood’s mind. A collection of memories he’d gained over countless battles, skirmishes, and war. As they came and went, they overlaid what was in front of him: a splintered and broken door, the house a mess with overturned furniture, broken dishes, and destroyed memories from the years of his life.
Amidst the wreckage of his home was something that chilled him to his core: a small splattering of blood. It unmade him.
He dropped to his knees, but didn’t notice when the porcelain from their dishes tore through his cotton breeches and into his flesh. Not my Laurel, the thought trailed through his mind, and a sob escaped from somewhere in the region of his crippled soul.
Dogwood had lost his wife, and now his daughter was gone, too.
Sage walked through the front door, and his shoes crunched over the debris as he came to stand by his best friend. He stood there only a moment before checking the rest of Dogwood’s house. It was not only shock, but fear that had rooted the man to the downstairs. He was afraid of what he might find if he followed the carnage toward the upper level.
Sage found nothing, though, and returned to the downstairs. Dogwood hardly took notice of the noise, and it took a minute, or three, before he realized Sage was talking to him.
“What was that you said?” Dogwood asked, all emotion drained from his heart, mind, and voice.
Sage looked down at his Captain with sadness.
“I was giving you the damage report,” Sage said, as gently as he could.
“Oh.” It was all Dogwood could manage, but he turned his gaze up toward Sage. “I feel empty, Sage, so empty I don’t think I can cry. Shouldn’t I be crying?” he asked, dazed.
This time Sage sighed, brushed away the remains of the household, and took a knee next to his friend.
“You’re still in shock, old friend.”
“Oh,” Dogwood said, again.
The two remained in silence, until Dogwood felt something stir deep within his being. It wasn’t sadness, or grief, or hate—it was anger.
“You took my wife, you putrid, vicious Gods, and now you’ve taken my daughter from me, too?!” he yelled to the ceiling.
Dogwood’s throat was accustomed to barking out orders to a multitude of recruits and Guardians, but these words burned and tore his throat on the way out. His body crumpled, as though it had taken everything out of him to bellow the words.
Sage had frozen in place when Dogwood had asked his questions of the heavens, but now he was mad at Dogwood.
“Who in the Abyss said your daughter was dead, you addle-brained bonehead?” Sage asked, not quite yelling but loud enough to grab Dogwood’s attention.
Dogwood looked up at Sage as cynicism and hope raged through him.
“What exactly are you suggesting, Sage?” Dogwood asked. He tried to keep all emotion from his voice, though it still cracked as he said his friend’s name.
“That you should stop yelling and damning the Gods, and form a search party. Your daughter wasn’t the only one who disappeared, Dogwood. Several family members of the council members who opposed the war, as well as some council members themselves, have been taken,” Sage said, matter-of-factly.
“Taken?” Dogwood asked, with such a level of hope in that one word it almost rebuilt his world around him.
Pain from his knees rushed through his body, and he grimaced as he stood. Blood stained the knees of his pants, but he did his best to ignore it.
“Yes, taken, you dimwit. Did you not think it strange that with all this destruction there was no body found?”
Dogwood glanced around, sheepishly, and straightened his tunic. His friend’s reprimand snapped some steal back into his spine, and he turned away from the destruction of his home.
“Casualty report?” Dogwood the Captain, and not the grief-stricken father, asked.
“Few in number—given the amount of mayhem and ravaging they did to the people and land,” Sage reported.
“Anyone from the Guardians?”
“Three, all on border patrol; likely silenced to keep from sending out a warning to anyone.”
“Mostly structural. Unlike all their other raids, they went for the buildings and the people in them as opposed to the crops. My guess is they came in trying to take over, wanting to save the crops for themselves, but met more resistance than they expected,” Sage concluded.
Dogwood nodded. “You go and form a search party and I’ll—” Dogwood started, but Sage waved him off.
“It’s all already been taken care of. Those emergency protocols you put into place a few meetings ago really stuck with everyone, so everything is being taken care of as we speak. Well, except the search party. I was on my way here to get you to form one,” Sage said, impertinent.
“Hmph, then let’s go,” Dogwood said, eager to be off.
The two of them made their way toward Headquarters, and Dogwood saw the damage for the first time. It had all been a blur, except for his home. He mentally chided himself for that oversight. Yes, his daughter was one of the most important things to him, but he also had a responsibility to the Clan. The many over the one was the only way Pixies had survived countless Fay wars over hundreds of years, and in a moment of panic he’d forgotten.
“Berate yourself later,” Sage said. They’d been best friends for long enough that Dogwood didn’t need to voice his self-reprimands.
They landed in what used to be the training yard. Among all the damage done, anything belonging to the Thorny and Thistle Guardians had taken an exceptional amount of it. In fact, Dogwood’s office was nothing more than a pile of broken sticks.
“Attention!” Sage bellowed as they walked toward a formation.
One of the protocols in place was for one platoon to report to the grounds for whatever they were needed for during an emergency; be it corpse duty, helping the builders with debris, or conducting a search and rescue.
The Pixies snapped to position, crisp, precise, and full of fury.
“At ease,” Dogwood said, and not a few of the gazes held enmity for him, and his perceived ‘soft’ stance against the Beigads. “You can hate me all you want—later. Right now we need to move,” he glanced pointedly at those with particular animosity toward him.
They all gave terse nods, though he knew he would have to pay the piper sometime soon.
“First, I want squads one and two, under the command of Sage, to gather as many of the Guardians as they can find, form up, and head toward the Beigads,” he said. A cheer went up among those gathered. “Squads three and four,” he continued, and the noise died down, “I want you to come with me to scout ahead and get a better feel for the situation with the hostages and the rogue Pixies. Those who are gathering the others, you leave on Sage’s word, the rest of you have three minutes to get the rest of your gear. If you are not ready to leave when I am, you will be left behind to catch up or join Sage. Understood?’
“Sir, yes, sir!” the platoon shouted with passion.
“Dismissed,” Dogwood said, and eighteen Pixies darted off to get ready, while the rest stayed and waited for Sage.
Dogwood turned to his friend, and found a frown.
“Yes?” Dogwood asked.
“It should be me leading the advance guard, and you commanding the main force,” Sage said, and kept his voice low.
“I have to do this, Sage. You know why. I trust you to get there in time to keep anything unfortunate from happening to me,” Dogwood joked, and tried to make light of the situation.
Sage did not share his humor of the situation, and just gave Dogwood a long, considering look and then sighed.
“As a father, I understand. As a subordinate I say your plan is foolhardy,” Sage grumped.
“Disagree as you will, but I am going. You should head out, too,” Dogwood said, firm.
Sage went from friend to leader in the blink of an eye and turned to the first two squads.
“Let’s be off, you layabouts, or do you want your Captain to have all the danger and glory to himself?” A general yell of excitement went up from the Pixies assembled, and they took off after Sage when he surged to the sky.
As the last person cleared, the final Pixie from the remaining two squads landed, ready to go.
“Move out,” Dogwood said, and took to the sky.
The Pixies followed closely behind as the headed in the general direction of the exit destruction trail of the Beigads. Their trails were certainly not difficult to follow, as they tended to trample everything in their paths. The group found tracks that were heading out, and not in, and shifted course to follow them.
Dogwood’s heart pounded not only from the exertion of flying so fast and the adrenaline from the anticipation of the upcoming battle, but also from anxiety for Laurel’s welfare. Now that he’d had time to clear his head, something else struck his mind. He hadn’t checked to see if Snowdrop was alright. He cursed himself twice over a fool, and snapped at the person closest to him to move in to speak.
“Yes, sir?” asked the young, male Pixie with hair the color of pink roses.
“Batys,” Dogwood said, as he recalled the youth’s name on the fly, literally, “do you have, or recall, a list of those believed to be taken?” Dogwood asked, his heart strained once more.
“I do not, sire,” Batys replied, regretful.
“As you were,” Dogwood said, and the Pixie drifted back to his position.
Dogwood chewed his lip. She was a Pixie who held growing magic, and would not be one of those immediately sought out after the mayhem. His gut was telling him that Snowdrop would have waited for him at the house. Unless, that is, she’d been taken. The thought rang true with his intuition, and it added to the worry mounted on his shoulders.
It gave him cause for more speed, and some of the Pixies were struggling to keep up, while the rest were barely doing any better. They did not have the same motivation he did to find the raiding party.
They say the Abyss hath no fury like a woman scorned. Those who say that must never have met a father whose child was at risk, and likely being used as leverage against her father. The mere thought of Laurel being utilized as a hostage made him grind his teeth in outrage. Cowards, he mentally spat.
Not to mention it seemed as though Snowdrop had been captured as well, all because of him. He could kick himself for putting her in danger, but it was likely she’d kick him for thinking such a thing. That one had a fiery temper, and he was bound and determined to learn more about it, and her.
As the forest whipped by, the sun was making its decent toward the western horizon, and shadows were gaining substance beneath the boughs of the trees. Though the sun still had a few hours yet, Dogwood spotted a flicker of light ahead of them, and quickly on the heels of that sighting he smelled smoke.
They were merely scouting, unless they encountered enemies, but grim determination hardened his resolve. He had tried the peacemaking route, and taking the higher road by not retaliating after the previous attacks, but they had hit him where his heart was.
The only thought left to his mind was simply: Let them come.