Up on the lofty palace balcony, it was easy to see the lingering clouds of acrid smoke on the horizon. The putrid columns of murky black swirled about in a haze, a disdainful blight upon the otherwise clear canvas of blue sky.

"It's been like that for the past ten years now. There's no way to secure that location."

The very fact that Arein had remained standing for that long was incredible itself. Whether it was a testament to the defenders' tenacity or the brutish tactical incompetence of the orcs, Sir Justino did not judge.

He continued to survey the far walls with a grim frown from behind the visor of his helm, watching them as though the hordes of beasts and heathens that laid beyond would come clamoring over the crumbling stone at any moment.

He and his troops would have to be wary to avoid them when they inevitably returned to base. Though they had managed to force their way through the scattered pockets of orcs they'd encountered upon their arrival with little more than minor wounds, repeat encounters would only increase the risk of suffering unnecessary casualties.

So far from the capital and facing a foe whose numbers could swell by hundreds with each passing day, that sort of risk was unacceptable.

At the same time, remaining in the city as uninvited guests posed its own set of risks. Even now, outside, with the sun glancing off of the black plate of his armor, Justino could practically feel the eagle-eyed glares of the palace's elven inhabitants on him.

His token force escort of knights waiting in the streets fared little better, in their still practically spotless armor and shining weapons, standing out in stark contrast to the masses of ragged and harrowed Hironeiden troops.

He allowed himself a final glance around city, his grimace only deepening under his horned helm as his gaze trailed away from the walls and into the streets to finish his tactical analysis.

Arein was an intricate labyrinth of roads and buildings all stuffed into one flat sector with the exception of the palace that towered above it all; troop rotation onto and off of the frontlines was undoubtedly a nightmare, in addition to regulating the populace simultaneously.

All the more reason that he and his men should leave.

It was only then that he broke the impregnable silence between him and the silver-armored woman standing ever silently and still at his side, with a stern and authorative address that boomed like thunder in the relative peace and quiet of the palace courtyard.

"Gather the men at the front gate. We're leaving."

When she did not immediately respond, Justino turned away from his marble perch to face her, noting the sudden look of surprise that passed the usually impassive visage beneath her helm.


"Right away sir?"

Her usual, professionally cold voice took on an inquisitive tone as she responded, as though she didn't fully grasp the situation.

Justino's eyes narrowed beneath the slits of his visor; Ellen was far from the ideal soldier, but she was by no means inattentive enough to not understand the clear risk to their men the longer they remained. Her mind was elsewhere at the moment. And as far as he knew, there weren't many things that distracted her that easily.

"The situation is volatile enough as it is. Our prolonged presence will only worsen it, and I'll not endanger our men any further by leaving them stationed where they are unwelcome."

"I understand, Sir."

He studied her expression for any sign of hesitation or wavering, anything that might betray a sudden bout of mysterious weakness in her. He even went as far as to briefly contemplate whether to verbally follow up on his hypothesis or not.

"I know you and your unit are tired as they are from the journey, but we cannot afford to rest within these walls. I expect that you'll handle them in their current state accordingly."

"Yes Sir."

Justino refrained from dismissing Ellen immediately; there was still the question of her less than acceptable regard for formality at the conference with Sir Lonefield. They were all fortunate that the elf was lenient as he was, between receiving the sudden and unwelcome arrival of unexpected guests and having endured a ten year siege.

Although given the circumstances of her arrival and the fact that Justino had been the one who'd knowingly ordered her unit out on a scouting run in an orc-infested sector, he supposed that the fault laid more on his shoulders for failing to fully consider the consequences of his commands.

"You're dismissed."

The metallic clank of her boots against stone gradually tapered off as she marched out of his sight, making her way towards the grand staircase leading into the city below.

Justino himself lingered for a moment longer, gazing out towards the war torn horizon one last time.

He would never admit aloud of course, but he was dubious over the probability of success in occupying, and ultimately annexing the city. A city of pagans, no less; though he was confident his men were professional enough to put aside their inherent disdain for these heathen elves, he was doubtful that the elves would in turn be accepting to their history of intolerance.

That, and of course, they would essentially be inheriting ten years worth of battle damage and all of the social friction that stemmed from it.

By all means, he anticipated that beating back Vellond's continuous assault would be the easiest part.

Justino slowly turned his visored gaze back towards the palace that towered over him, its unblemished marble walls standing against an equally pure sky.

This was their gate to the Holy Land. One way or another, the will of the Patriarch demanded that he take this city, or die trying.

For to question the will of the Patriarch, was to question the will of God.


So… trying my hand at something new here. Sort of. Seeing some KUFII stuff really made me ache for the old, washed out and bleak-looking days of the original Xbox games, so I guess it was inevitable that all my ranting to friends about it through PMs would translate into me finally getting off my ass and writing a story about it.

It's only a prologue for now, more or less testing the waters to see just how comfortable I really am with writing Sir Justino. God only knows why the fuck I ended up choosing him over the plethora of other characters who had way more screentime but… well, I dunno.

I guess I found it kinda cool that he was present in two campaigns that I feel more or less directly contrasted each other in tone and theme, and figured that'd translate well into a coherent story of sorts.

Fingers crossed that people actually find this thing.