One night. It had only taken one night for my life to turn to shit. Now I was a months journey away from my home. During that time a nice dark brown beard had managed to express itself prominently on my face, however the thing began to itch… A lot. The sword in my hand it moved towards my face. No that could end badly, shaving with a sword would make a bloody mess of my face, literally.
Thankfully the mountain passes were still easy to travel and not much snow had fallen. I had heard how terrible the storms could be here in the Andrine Mts. Shouldn’t be in the passes for long. Tonight was no different than any other night in the pass. Even though it had been two weeks since I had managed to get to the pass the constant calling of night prowlers created millions of little bumps on my flesh. The prowlers seemed to stay away as long as I made some noises every so often
The absence of human companionship began to gnaw on me. Day and night there was no one to talk to, to help sort out what was happening. The days went by. Worst part was the boredom. Few times in my life had I been without anything to occupy my time. There was one thing I had in abundance that I never did before and that was time. Time to just sit and think. I did not like it at all.
My finger in the dirt I began to move it in circles just passing time. The sun had been leaving the world earlier and earlier lately. Thanks to all of the sharp jagged rocks it was treacherous to walk the passes at. During the walk today I had been fortunate enough to stumble upon some wood that had not been waterlogged by the morning dew. Thank god it hadn’t rained, but for every drop of rain that may have fallen a coat of dew was there to replace it. Waking up chilled and soaked to the bone every morning was no way to live. My hands began to rotate a small stick and after an hour I had the fire lit.
It was amazing. The fire instantly made me feel a million times better. It felt like soggy rot was being smoked away by the flickering heat source. Thankfully only a few more nights and there would be no need for a fire. In fact if what the rumors said was true a fire would be the last thing that I wanted in the wastes. For now however the warm crackle of the fire kept me warm enough and the area around bright enough to let me continue with my idle doodles in the earth.
Sure enough two days later I had dropped out of the pass and hit the wastes. They were just as I had heard; dry, sandy, and hellishly hot. The only thing for miles and miles was the golden crust of a well prepared pie. A very crispy and generally tasteless pie crust, but crusty none the less. What made it worse was the complete lack of clouds in the sky. They literally just did not exist; it was like the mountains were too much of an obstacle for them to climb over.
South was the way to go once in the wastes. If I could get far enough to the south I could find the end of the two rivers of Yurel. Between the rivers there was fabled to be a city of enormous wealth, and full of ancient artifacts and whatnot. I was really hoping they had at least some water and food I could work for.
It had been two weeks since I had entered the wastes and I was really beginning to question my decision to journey to this god forsaken place. Every day was blisteringly hot and night had become a fight with the small critters that kept trying to poke at me while I slept. Unfortunately for those pests and fortunate for me, they were my only real source of food. There was not much fauna larger than the occasional elephant beetle so I made due. I wouldn’t have minded eating them except that sometimes their wings would get stuck in my teeth and that, oddly, is where I drew the line of what was disgusting and promptly threw up.
Every few days I would find a stream that trickled down from the mountains and would fill up the canteen. I was in the process of filling when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a small rodent scurrying away from me.
“Stop!” I yelled, foolishly thinking that this animal would simply stop and listen to me. The animal did actually stop look back at me, made what looked like a questioning face then quickly turned and kept running. Even though I knew the odds of catching the rodent were very slim I kept running after it. I was about five or six yards behind it when I felt a bee like sting in my neck.
Quickly the rocks and sand began to meld into one distinctly indistinct darkness that, in turn began to rotate. Quickly I found I was on the ground and had trouble moving my legs or any part of my body. Everything was turning dark and I could not fight the waves of nauseating sleep being forced upon me.
Marcus had been drafted into the local militia soon after the death of the prince. Rumors had been spreading that the princes’ assassin, Fellessen, had been working with the Acelunians. In the month after the killer had left Tanon chaos erupted all across the Tamultan Kingdom. Both countries had been gearing up for war, but with the assassination of the prince, the Tamultan army had surprised the Aceluns and taken the city of Brookensdale in a matter of days. In retaliation the Aceluns launched a counter offensive and sent their navy to Mumbril (a city just south of Tanon). The Tamultans, caught off guard, had very few defenses and were quickly overrun.
If the Aceluns took Tanon a huge amount of raw material vital to the Tamultan war effort would be cut off. An emergency draft had been issued and one third of the population had been drafted into service. Estimates were that the first attack on Tanon would be within the month.
The fact that there was a very small military presence because of Tanons’ relative security only made matters worse. Few of the residents had any experience with a bow, the strong industrial base of the city meant the most promising soldiers would be found in the mines and docks. The hope was that because of the daily toil they endured would help to create them into a wall that no Acelun skirmisher would be able to break.
Marcus did not look forward to being killed or to kill. Every day he cursed Fellessen and wondered why he killed the prince, betraying not only the country but also Marcus. The time he had known Fellessen the man seemed to be of good character, a little odd, but never to the point of killing a prince.
“Get into formation now!” one of the soldiers yelled at Marcus.
“Yeah yeah, I know the drill. You’ve only been saying that every minute for the last week” he replied. With that the soldiers face was visibly redder, he stomped right up to Marcus and punched him in the gut. “Ugg” Marcus muttered.
“Do you think this is a game? We are going to have to fight for our lives and your attitude won’t just get you killed but the people around you killed as well. I know you were drafted but I don’t give a damn, I’m going to make you soldiers whether you like it or not!” With that the soldier began to drill the draftees some more.
Before too long the dinner gong rang and all of the enlistees ran into the new barracks. Marcus headed to barracks B. It was a new hotel, tickling the sky at ten stories tall it was the tallest in the city. It was an odd building to look at, with the base mostly fashioned out of stone and mortar, but higher up it glistened from the steel that the rest of the tower was fused together with. An engineering marvel, nowhere else in the kingdom was a building that tall, or strong. The place was basically a fortress.
Marcus made his way into the building. Upon entrance a now familiar smell assaulted his nose, men crammed into a small area, and with the tantalizing smell of food it drove his nostrils crazy. He made his way towards the knot of men waiting for food. Per usual the line moved agonizingly slow. Every step forward towards the food was almost torturous. Finally Marcus had his food in hand and went to sit down. The closest empty space was next to a large burly bear of a man who seemed as if he alone was emitting most of the noxious scent. He had a massive under bite and the few strands of hair on his head were just a vague reminder of what had once been.
“Hey there fellaw, names Rataghuw. Yours?” The man said in a lively voice as he put his mug onto the table.
“I’m sorry what did you just say your name was? Rat Jaw?” Marcus replied shocked.
“Oh no no no, RATA GWAW. Gwaw not jaw! Never eard that one before though!” he replied in an upbeat manner.
“Yeah, Im just gonna call ya Rat, ok? “
“Yeah that’s fine by me boy. So you from here?”
“Now try and keep the excitement down to a minimum but… yes I am in fact from this wonderful place.” Marcus said in a snarky tone.
“Well ya don have to be so cheery there boy. Just trying to make some friends in this ere army.” Quiet ensued between the two for a few seconds, both eying each other and sizing one another up. Suddenly Rataghuw face broke the stalemate between the two with a big grin. “Ya know, I jus realized I don even know your name? How impolite of me. Would ya be so kind as to enlighten me?”
“Well hello there Marcus, glad to meet your acquaintance. Something seems to be botherin ya, now either you’re a big ol stick in the mud or there is a big ol stick in you’re a—“
“Oh hah hah, yeah so what if somethings bothering me. Somethin is always bothering some one some where some how. So just lemme eat my meal in peace will ya?”
“Allright, if ya insist. Jus saying ya sat next to me.”
With that Marcus got up and left the table, quickly finishing the last of his meal. He made his way back to his assigned room. Six other men were stationed in that room which made no sense to him, not only was the room cramped as all hell but his house was literally three blocks away.
Marcus grabbed a coat from under his cot and left the building. He walked around the city and noted all of the recent changes. A lot of the alleys had been gated up and main streets had been blocked off. The reasoning behind this was to keep the aggressor funneled at the defenders in tight kill zones easily defendable if the wall was breached.
Many upper story buildings had large pots now mounted in the windows. These would be filled with hot oil and dumped onto the invaders. With all of these defenses however the city was still severely lacking in archers which could easily be the defining element.
As Marcus thought about all of the ‘improvements’ to the city and what he had been taught by the military, the realization sank even deeper that he would most likely have to take a man’s life before the year was out. The concept was very foreign and had soured his mood. The more he thought about it the more he resented what was happening, what had happened, and what might happen. He thought of Fellessen and how this entire situation had begun.
It dawned on Marcus that the idea of the walk clearing his mind was really doing the opposite. He had to focus from here on about fighting, otherwise he would never have need to think again. With this he went back to the fortress of a barracks that now claimed him as resident.