The Old Guard

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The Old Guard

Unread post by Wandering_Woodsman »


I grimaced, my boot fighting against me as I drew it out of the ooze of the swamps and took another step through the fetid muck. No matter how tightly I bound up the boots, the foul water still seeped in. I was soaked up to my knees in the filth, and it was only going to get deeper and uglier before I made my way back to camp. Thankfully, this was my last day on rotation in this cesspit. A fortnight here, then back to the village for another fortnight before a posting somewhere else.

Unfortunately, thinking about it just made me mutter a few choice words that would earn a few chuckles if I was in the barracks. With my luck, I'd get posted to the ruins of the city. I still didn't get the reasoning behind that fight. Most of the buildings were no more than three bricks stacked atop one another. Sure, there were some folks up there who wanted to make a home in that mess. Granted, they weren't going to make friends by worshiping the god of death and calling up the undead to do a jig or something, but why fight over that right now? When we've got a gods-damned enemy with an army of over ten thousand men just over the northern mountains itching to put a knife in all of us, whats the point? So we can die knowing that pulled out the thorn in our foot right before the bastards crack our skulls? Hells, they brought out an undead dragon in the last skirmish and sent THAT after us. We lost more then a few to that little gem. If they can pull that trick, I'd say they're the bigger threat. Feh, but what do I know? I leave the political nonsense to those with a head for it. Me, I'll just be out here keeping the roads clear of lizards in this delightful swamp. Could be worse I suppose. Could be crossing blades with lizard-men. Again.

Late evening, I trudged back to the camp among the old ruins beside the path, and spent the next hour or so trying' to find enough wood to get a small fire going. Middle of a swamp isn't as barren as you'd think. Plenty of plants, animals, even a few trees. Only problem, they're soaked to the core. After a bit of work and maybe a prayer or two, you can indeed get a fire started. Or in this case, smoke, with only a little fire. Better then nothing. That done and with a cold meal of Cooks hard biscuits and some jerky in me, I drifted into a light doze for the night, shivering in the bedroll. I love my job.

Next morning, I started making my way back towards the village, grateful to be leaving the more questionable areas of the swamp (was that an eyeball?) and onto more solid ground. It would be hours before I reached the outskirts of the city, so I had plenty of time to think. Or try to wipe off some of the more interesting things drying on my gear. Fun. After finally getting things sorted and cleaned in my pack, my hand landed on my set of blacksmith tools, and I couldn't help but offer a prayer that it would be my next posting. Forging a new weapon, armor, even simple repair work. I didn't much care what it was. Just being in the smithy would be a blessing; the ring of iron and steel on the anvils, the comfortable heat of the forge. Some would say it was a nightmarish din, and as hot as the hells themselves. Bah. I enjoyed the work, crazy as that might be.

Short while later, I started noticing some black smoke on the horizon. At first, I figured it was old Barron trying some new magical whatsit up in his tower, but strange thing was, there wasn't as much as I'd expect from him. Getting closer, I could smell it. Blood. You never forget it, your first major battle and the smells that come with it. That bitter coppery taste in your nose and mouth, the sickly sweet of death. Then the corpses started appearing. Distance off, it was all just mounds on the ground. Then red spattered lumps. Then people I'd known for days, months, some for years. Arms missing, legs, heads. Some disemboweled, the utter stench of rot, of guts spread across the grass, tinged with dark, dried red. Most cut down from behind, great wounds up and down their backs, arms, legs. The clothing was tattered, from both the weapons that killed them, and the worrying of scavenging animals now picking through the dead, the birds pecking at at the eyes. Some had tried to fight. Scythes, pitchforks, even simple sticks and rocks. No good. I kept walking, stunned at the bloodshed, looking everywhere, expecting an attack from the trees along the path. Reaching the first of the fields, I saw the carnage unfold. There wasn't a building standing. Only timbers, some still smoldering, and every animal in sight slaughtered. No, not slaughtered. Butchered. Killed wthout reason. This wasn't a raid. This was something worse.

Reaching the palisade, I could see that we'd put up a fight. The enemy had paid for this attack. Their dead stretched out towards the gates, some with arrows, some with bolts, some in the middle of scorched areas of earth, evidence of a finger wiggler joining the fight. Some of our own, scattered among the enemy. Johren, his long-sword next to him, coated tip to pommel with red, three corpses spread out ahead of him. Ghren, the crazy bastard had taken down a couple himself with his daggers before they got him, his shoulder and part of his neck torn away. Many others, here and there as I walked through the village, past the village green, down towards the shoreline and the barracks. I was still hoping we had beaten them back, but the moment I started down the hillside, knew we hadn't been that lucky. I found the brigadier near the wreckage of Galen's shop. Somehow, gods know how, he'd beaten a Claw. A Claw. We'd gotten reports from our scouts that they existed, but nothing truly solid. All we knew for certain was their name, they went through rituals, training that killed most who tried. Those who lived, became living instruments of death an destruction. They sent Claw at us. They killed us. They butchered us. Our farmers, our merchants, our families. They hated us. Gods above.

I spent that night, and the following three days burying my dead. I cursed the Claw. I cursed the enemy. I cursed the swamps. I cursed that I lived. It fell on deaf ears. None was left to hear. My past was gone. My Company was gone. My life was gone. The enemy had won. They would come back, claim their new lands. Plant their own fields, raise their own families. There was nothing left. I had nothing left. I turned south, and began to put one foot in front of another, like a soldier. The last guard.
"Now see, that's good information there. For a second, I thought you'd just met a chicken god."

Toman Ironarm
- Blacksmith of the Phoenix Company

You know, only on the Coast would that have needed to be said. :?

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