Among the Stars
Port Hemmis, Praetum. Her Year, 970.
The salty air was peppered with the occasional whiff of fish, cooking in the massive market near the coast of the famed city. Terracotta walls, vibrantly red in the high sun with a splash of orange from the roof tiles assured anyone; this was a Praetian city. Truly a marvel of the modern world; Port Hemmis was one of the largest cities in the Primarchy, and even the lands of Retough as a whole. The magnificent Keep lying nestled into a lowly pitched hill stuck into the sky, obstructing the view of anyone in the city facing inland. Castle Wicker, they called it, aptly named for its tendency for its wooden hourdes to catch fire in the blazing summers. It was an impressive feat of architecture, sitting up on the hill which gave it the highest elevation in the immediate vicinity. No siege tower could dare try and match the impressive height of its walls, nor could any attacker face the elite soldiers garrisoned inside without a scratch. The keep itself wasn't anything special. A church nestled into one corner, a rather cramped courtyard with a few unsightly buildings of various purposes crammed in. There were a few impact craters along the outer walls of the keep from conflicts centuries past, where lucky Launceen forces managed to surround the city. That conflict was long ago, and the keep had not cracked open then, nor would it ever should you ask the Primarchy.
In the streets it was a usual rabble of city filth; even the prettiest of cities could not find ways to keep refuse and unsightly messes from littering the streets. Backroads and alleys were the worst offenders; you'd have no idea you were in the richest city this side of Brimwough had you taken a peek down one of these unfortunate masses of shanty housing and makeshift structures. The main roads, however, were ever vibrant in that crimson brick the city was ever so famous for. Permanent, respectable structures lined these areas and businesses of great repute lining the first floors of these buildings. Above them were rows and rows of residences, some as much as six or even seven stories high. The upper levels of particularly tall buildings, though, were hasty wooden additions done to accommodate the booming population. They were unsightly and quite frankly ruined the picturesque style of these structures, but no one could complain when it was time to seek shelter. Aesthetics were a secondary concern for Praetians.
The people were the sort you'd find in most major cities; horribly rude even to the nicest of gestures. Should you so much as think of lending a hand to a poor market dealer with a wheel caught in a ditch, you'd receive an earful of unsavory words with a mix of hand gestures just to keep things original. Maybe it wasn't all that bad, though; the vendors in the streets under their tarps hiding from the sun beckoned for any to browse their wears. Friends greeted each other merrily in the streets over games of Kraim. Taverns and bars were accompanied by the cheering of eager patrons at the mention of another round. All in all, life was humble here in Port Hemmis. It had its flaws, but who could deny the charm of an imperfect community?
Lera Heloys of the Tenth Griffin Battalion was not one who enjoyed the sentiments of a large city such as this. She far preferred the quiet, jovial life in a rural farm town, away from the busy life of everyone else. It made the soldier homesick for Greywillow, and the way the blooming orchids colored the surrounding fields of her home town. Her mind drifted to garlands with perfectly sized crowns, made special for each of the people in the community. Lera enjoyed knowing everyone. Strangers were nothing but an annoyance. However, if there was a city to attempt to enjoy the splendor of, she supposed Port Hemmis wasn't all that bad. The pastel red of the buildings contrasted beautifully on the deep cerulean of the Creviss Gulf. She peeked out from the ramparts of Castle Wicker at the bay, a mess of disoriented ships casting large nets for the schools of fish that live close to shore. The lighthouse, on a neglected and lithe strip of land sticking out into the bay by a few hundred meters looked as though it would swallow up the ships coming in to port had it been alive, from the way it curved ever slightly inwards.
Lera's mind then drifted to food. Gods, she was hungry. The breeze carried the crisp smell of baking fish from the markets to her nose, and she longed for when she'd see her next meal. Creviss cod was a delight to enjoy this close to the sea, something she'd never get to experience way back inland at her humble home. The Heloys girl was so caught up in her daydreaming that she nearly fell over the battlement when a particularly strong gust of wind pushed at her back. Lera gripped the rough stone edges of the parapet, halting her early death plans. She sighed from relief as she stood up straight, her focus renewed.
Lera was residing in Port Hemmis for the time being, awaiting, what she felt like, was nothing. Grand Primarch Aunslas II had stationed her unit here to supplement the garrison on the off chance an invading force would suddenly appear. Lera found the notion doubtful; after all, it was a clear day. They'd be able to see an incoming navy from kilometers away should they attempt to invade. There was no reason for her to be actively monitoring for aggressors from Castle Wicker. She'd take occasional glances every couple minutes, but besides that, let her imagination wander.
The presence of her commanding officer forced Lera into a ready stance, eyes dead ahead as he passed. Beside him, Lera caught the glimpse of an older gentleman wielding an ornate red robe. A golden sash covered his shoulders just beneath the greying hair he barely possessed on the top of his head. Lera knew the man from the holy incantations on his person the moment she laid eyes on him; Bishop Amanse Retten, one of the holiest priests in the Primarchy. Lera didn't dare crane her neck whatsoever at his passing; she feared what her commander may do if she showed such lack of discipline.
"Commander Verk," Retten spoke in a voice pitched too high for such a stout and feeble man. "I implore you. Visiting the holy temple of Ceremeus is mandatory for anyone who's arrived at our humble port. Please, it is but a few blocks away from the Keep. You've never been, correct?"
"I have not," Commander Finnick Verk nodded, the chainmail draped around his neck and chin clattering quietly as he did so. "But we cannot afford to let our highest priest out of the castle for now. I've been sent here on strict orders to protect this city and its top officiaries. That includes you, Bishop."
"I trust in your skills enough to bring me back to Castle Wicker should a sudden invasion begin, I assure you. I see no Ykrumic masts on the horizon, nor do I feel the thump of an army's footsteps. Surely we can react to such a force in just a few minutes; plenty of time to admire the work of our wonderful priestesses at the temple."
The two important figures passed by without paying Lera an eye. She was nigh invisible to them as a standard sentry posted to Castle Wicker. Once the voice of the Bishop died down and the clattering of Verk's armor subsided, Lera lowered her shoulder and slumped back against the wall. Her posting here was pointless. There was an active civil war going on in the south, and an invasion to the north. Both fronts needed every last soldier they could get; so why had Grand Primarch Aunslas II stationed her here, of all places, on the whisper of a potential threat?