Chapter 1

It’s all my worthless father’s fault.

My mother is dead. I am trapped in a land savaged by these barbaric pseudo-humans – don’t be fooled! They look human, but their depravity, their hostility, their idiocy. They must be different from us, below us, below you and me.

I am a soldier, a noble warrior fighting against these human-like beasts. Yes, that must be what they are. Warden’s words make no sense otherwise. Beasts. Not human.

A brute charged at me. It wears the thick heavy hides crudely cut from some creature’s flanks, covering up little more than a bit of skin. Its eyes are wild, dead of intellect, of true sentience. That magic of being, of thinking is missing. All it knows is the huge ax in its hands and me, a target. Prey.

How wrong it is. For predatory though it seems, it is MY prey.

Fifteen meters distant now. I wonder if it actually understands the instrument of death I carry in my hands. Projectiles. Bow and arrow. I remember reading a story somewhere; the meeting of a wolf and a man. That man could pick up and throw rocks shocked the wolf into submission.

Death is somewhat like submission, right?

I notch and draw. Ten meters. I aim. It readies a massive swing. I release. An arrow fletched with my own hands appears in its unguarded neck. I lower my arms. It falls, dead, blood shooting like a river running uphill.

The maelstrom around me returns, the battle rejoined with my mind. Warden is to my left, her raging blade just cleaving off another beast’s hand. Other soldiers are around me, fighting; each of us wears red to tell of our noble purpose. That rather large older man has a comparably small length of crimson cloth tied to his left arm. The young soldier next to him – his own son, I think – has a maroon sash tied around his belt. I notice that the young soldier’s armor is of much higher quality than his elder. Protect the next generation, I suppose.

I am an archer, and my gloves speak of our light, our purpose. Its cascading alizarin and umber oranges represent us, the Daecian army. We are a fire wrought by the holy Sun itself, and the ravaging scourge our might has been directed at today will be cleansed.

I rejoin my body with the battle, and more blood rejoins the earth from which it came. I will fight on, much as I despise these barbarians.

This is all my father’s fault. For he started this war, and then had the gall to die before seeing it through. Now chaos spreads, and only Daecia can contain it. So I must fight. We all must fight. For salvation.

#

I woke from my reverie. We had returned to Seren, the town we were ordered to defend, hours ago. The day’s battles, still fresh in my mind, haunted me. Gathered in the local tavern were Warden, the father and son I saw on the battlefield earlier today, myself, and a few other soldiers. We of course had beaten off the latest Entor horde. Who could have doubted? We are, after all, endorsed with the power of the Sun itself.

“But why are they even attacking?”

My ears perked up at the sound of this. Shuffling myself out of my resting stupor, I lean forwards and join the table. Warden is again to my left, the younger soldier to my right, and his father sits to his right.

“Dad, it doesn’t even matter. The Entor attacked this town, and the holy Sun of Daecian might must be used to protect them and stop that threat.”

“But why? What reasons could they have for these attacks? They may be brutal, and they may be savages, and they certainly don’t have our level of knowledge or intelligence, but they at least have reasons for doing things, don’t they?”

“The Entor are a vile barbarian race. Don’t question our orders, old man, they come straight from the cardinal might of the holy Sun itself. We are not given to understand its will.” I said.

The man looked like he was about to say something when Warden interjected.

“Kid’s right, Grant. Best keep your lid on these things.”

The conversation then turned to other things, but Grant’s comment bothered me. I’d always been pretty good at puzzles, and even if the Daecian Council didn’t want to tell us soldiers everything, I should at least be able to figure out more than most.

I lost myself in thought for the rest of the meal, and after a while it was time to leave.

#

We left the tavern as a group, Warden stoically leading the way. I found myself behind her, with the rest of the noisy half-drunk crowd behind me. As I passed the threshold of the door, my ears caught something.

“That…that old whore isn’t…worth a single coin, my friend. She thinks she’s…thinks she’s such a good sergeant…such a strong woman…I tell you, friend, that old whore…is just that, an old whore.”

I whirled about, furious, and stared into the eyes of a pair of particularly drunk and dirty soldiers in my platoon. I opened my mouth to yell at them but before I could utter any sound an arm came from behind me and shoved me aside. Warden brought her other arm came up, crossbow drawn and ready, pointed it at the man’s leg, and loosed an arrow straight into his right thigh.

“THAT…THAT WHORE SHOT ME! SHE SHOT ME THAT OLD-”

Before he could finish his curse Warden’s other hand plunged a knife to the hilt into his left thigh, using her other arm. His words just became one senseless scream of pain. Of suffering. Of fear.

“Let me put it this way, kid. I just attacked you, with weapons. I just shot you and stabbed you. I did it without thinking, without caring. As an instinct. And you know what, kid?”

She stepped over the stricken soldier and looked down at him.

“The higher-ups aren’t even going to try to touch me. Still think I’m just a woman, I can’t handle this job?” She lifted the crossbow again, loaded and notched it easily, leveled it at his face, and let the tip of the bolt touch the skin between his eyes.

“Try me.”

The rest of the day was…uneventful after that.

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