Posted 25 September 2017 - 09:14 AM
Hey guys! Looking to update ya'll on my projects from the past few months, for now I'all leave you with the first chapter of a writing project. Please let me know what you think, if you'd like:
Beloved son. Stop. Cannot believe you in your 20th year. Stop. Mother would have been proud. Stop. I hear from the Pardus company: you've made a fine soldier. Stop. Can't wait see your face again next week. Stop. I have written that so many times over the last 10 years, but-..."
The gas lamp shook to the crack of artillery and thunder.
Dust fell overhead. Tears welled up in the author's eyes as he dipped the quill in sable ink.
"-by the will of the gods, promise I will get home this time. Stop. You'll have to tell me all about the Djain people and 'Al'Asaf.
Send regards to your Praefect. Stop.
Love you more than life itself. Stop. You make me so proud. Stop.
The telegraph was folded neatly and pressed with a round seal of crimson wax: "Praefect Wallace Veritirum. 9th Hatchet-men"
It was a fortnight after the Festival of Jupiter, at the Yule Ball in the city of Triest, the capital of the Chez'nask Region. The regiment leadership of the Ninth Eagle gathered in the hall, dining, dancing, and drinking the night away. For tomorrow, they would ship back to Florence for intense training and grueling discipline. The air was heavy with chatter, the atmosphere eaten up by the harpsichord and the smell of brandy. Outside, the snow breath of the weather roared against the windows, causing the stained glass to shutter now and then.
Outside, the impoverished citizens of Triest fought the bitter cold, shuffling through the snowy streets, dragging frozen maize and fish on sleds of rotten wood. Some occasionally casting a burning glare at the brightly lit hall; it used to be their chapel.
Inside, in a secluded corner of the noise, Captain Veritirum sat with two other soldiers, cards in hand, around a small table; glittering denar coins dotted the table, sending gilded reflections on the darkened faces. One of these men, the gunnery sergeant of the 9nth Hatchet-men. His teal dress-coat was tightly cut and his pitch-black hair was thoroughly combed, but an unhinged air seemed to possess all his movements. In the candle light, his eyes were as two burning crucibles; rife with fire, incinerating themselves with rage. An extremely typical feature for Hatchet-men.
"You know what, Cap'n? I can always tell the ones who hold something close inside when they fold every round on a game of Five-hand-shift." he paused, tapping the ashes off of his cigar onto the table.
"You have a lover back in Florence?"
"That's not of your concern," the Captain replied stoically.
The Gunny took a huff of his cigar and leaned forward, staring the olive-faced officer in the eyes. In the dim orange light of the overhead lantern, one could see a certain concealed pain in his face. Unlike most of the other soldiers in the room, he had seen just how much a man could lose for the Empire. Triest used to be his home and the Chez, his people, after all.
A cloud of smoke crept from the Gunny's lips as he opened his mouth again. "You ride with us for a little while, cap'n sir, and everyone plays their hand."
A moment crept by, as all the players picked up their cards and counted them. The Gunnery Sergeant began to speak again.
"The- uh- last Cap'n we had never returned with us from Malum. You know why, Cap'n? You know what was the last thing that sorry coward said before I put a hole through 'em?"
The Gunny shook his head and paused as he started to deal the final cards.
"'Oh, my wife! Oh, my children! What'll they do without me? I'm not dying like this!' All teary-eyed and such" the Gunny laughed in spite of himself. Veritirum struggled to find the comedy of it. "I could tell he was cracking. Then he took off on his horse and broke the bloody square. The Fuzzies grabbed him off of his ride... And... And I put him out of his misery with my musket. 'Had half a mind to watch him scalped. We lost some good ol' boys that day because of him. Isn't that right now, Cassius?"
The other younger Chez Hatchet-man nodded in silence. His face was as motionless and smooth as a marble statue, the form only interrupted by a fresh scar etched down from one of his piercing eyes. The Captain cast a nervous glance at the Gunny before making an effort to ignore his obvious threat. Another awkward silence wandered by as he looked at his hand of cards. The other two players watched him eerily.
"Subtlety was never my craft, Cap'n, but if you ever break my square 'n cost me some of our boys' lives..." the Sergeant continued, "I might just let the natives take care of you."
The Captain studied the lines of the Gunny's face and laid down his hand, as did all the players. His was the winning hand. "Understood, Gunny. I hope it never comes to that... And keep your denars, gentlemen. I'm headed to my quarters for the evening. Gather your men, Gunny. We sail for Florence tomorrow. Pardus company will be shipping in from Benda to train with us there." The Gunny started to cackle and spew out smoke as the Captain left his chair and made his way from the Table. Cassius remained still.
Veritirum navigated through the crowded floor towards the foyer, sliding on his winter coat and adjusting his pith helmet neatly over his combed hair. He dodged many a Red-Coat and Hatchet-man along with their accompanying sad-eyed maidens. Two 'Taur slaves, their faces covered by silk hoods, forced open the huge cathedral doors for him. The wind howled furiously into the room, causing some irritated party-goers to turn their heads. With a short breath, the Captain stepped out into the black night. The huge doors slammed shut behind him.
Around the winding streets, he stepped through the snow-dunes, leaving deep tracks in the snow behind him. The wind blew furiously as the carriages plowed through the roads of slush and cobblestone. It seemed he was walking in a constant cloud of his own breath, which hung for a second in the frigid air. His coat was warm, but the storm had a way of biting through it. Most of the Chez commoners had already bolted themselves into their homes by sun-down and he could not blame them.
The tall, brick street-houses lined the road illuminated by the flickering lights of the street lamps; their weeping faces went in and out of view in the dying glow. Every now and then, he would cast a nervous glance at their boarded windows and doors; just as locked up and repressed as the people's eyes. In Chez'nask, the Empire seemed to bring more blood than peace, and more tears than order. The Captain took pride in what he did, taking land for the glory of the Pantheon and all, but occasionally he would stop and wonder if it was really worth it. But as the priests would say, Jupiter's blessings were upon those who spread his power.
Maybe that was what made men like the Gunny so dead inside.
It was a frozen half-hour or so before he saw the open air of the Garden Square peak out behind the street corner. What once was scenic landscape, a beautiful town-square now lay dead and grim. Twisted, lifeless cedar trunks and dead skeleton-like bushes now dominated the space. The occasional body of a Triest rebel lay prostrate, arms akimbo, frozen over, and with an arquebus gun planted in the white dunes beside them. Time and weather were the only ones to give him a proper burial.
Up ahead, in the center of the square, he saw the palisade wall of the Imperial camp, rising from the sea of sleet as a row of teeth from a predator's jaw. A group of obligatory poor souls, who were also sometimes referred to as guards, made a shiver-infested effort to stand up straight and salute him as he passed by. The Captain smiled and saluted back, before a gust forced him to keep his pith helmet from falling off. "Cognovit. You gents get inside and light yourselves a fire. Only a fool would charge the fort in this weather. If your praefect has a problem, tell him to come to Captain Veritirum's tent."
"Etiam-m, d-d-dux..." they said with shivering voices, scrambling to give another fickle salute. "Alright now, keep warm," the Captain patted one on the shoulder, passing through the large wooden gateway.
He marched through the rows and rows of tents. Not a sound to be heard, but the faint howl of the wind and crunch of his leather boots against the snow. Eventually, he found his way to the outside wall of his own tent, made clear by the large, red Imperial Eagle printed against the sand-colored canvas. The Captain wasted little time as he rushed through the entryway and tied the flaps shut behind him; the wind still shook the tent, the flapping and clattering of rope and canvas were all to be heard. He produced a small bit of flint and steal, with which he quickly revitalized the iron stove in the corner of the room. With the sound of a whispering crackle, an fragile, infant flame started to grow.
Veritirum removed his gloves and helmet, spread his hands in front of the fire, and then lumbered over to his desk. He paused as he noticed the pale from of another letter, freshly sealed- with the General's coat of arms, no less-, laid on the oak wood. He quickly picked it up and broke it open; it was a telegraph from Florence. The first few words made his face turn bone-white with horror.
"Captain Wallace Veritirum. You will not go to Florence. 1000 men and women of Pardus company are presumed dead at Al'Asaf'. Reports say it was the Djain. You and Ninth Hatchet-men shipping to Benda tomorrow. Further orders given by the Ambassador. Ave."
His shaking hands dropped the letter as if it had turned red hot. His heart raced. He sat down on the bed. His stoic reserve cracked. The Captain silently wept.
He reached down and picked up the letter, crumbling it in his fist and tossing it into the fire. His eyes burned from the tears, cold, and smoke. He squinted and slumped over on his cot.
During the sleepless night to follow, it seemed a blur to him, as if his most vivid nightmares had sunk their claws into his own world. And seized hold of his only son.
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