|July 8th, 2005, 11:04 PM||#1|
Join Date: Nov 2004
War is a terrible thing, but, it is not the worst thing.
War is a terrible thing.
But, it is not the worst thing.
To see your wife or husband or daughters or sons enslaved and killed is worse.
To see every thing you have spent blood, sweat, time, and tears building be destroyed, is worse.
To live in constant fear of a devastating attack from an enemy that will not be placated by anything less than your total annihilation, is worse.
To suffer and die when the resources you need to live and prosper are being denied to you by an armed group of crazed thugs is worse.
But the fact remains war is a terrible thing.
So, how did I end up here, leading a platoon of Fyros outcasts against a band of Matis outlaws? I am not really one of either, and in fact, I really had more in common with the Hell Raisers than I did the Fyros settlers. If war was such a terrible thing, why did my life seem to consist of one battle after another?
I am, or was, Captain Antocho Chiando, Commander of the Second Contingent of His Majesty’s Royal Guard. I had more military honors than anyone did my age, and, with the notable exception of General Liccio Chiando, I was the youngest Matis to command part of the Royal Guard. There were many in Matia that ascribed my quick rise to my performance in the battle at the Slough of Demons, and there were many others that said it was due to having the great General for an uncle. The truth is somewhere in the middle.
I have been released from His Majesty’s service. Perhaps released is too amiable a word. I believe my official status in Yrkanis is ‘in exile on pain of death’. As it turns out, leaving your command on the eve of a raid on a bandit outpost does not look good in after action reports, especially if your contingent is routed because of the sudden lack of leadership.
Our lives are the culmination of choices and consequences. We don’t always make every choice for we which receive the consequence, but for the most part, the actions and results are ours and ours alone. By consistently valuing certain actions or outcomes over others, we build lives that reflect what we believe most strongly. Sometimes, though, the entire course of a life can be changed by one decision in one instant. When I had the choice between greatness and happiness, I chose Mia.
Miaccia Visti, daughter of the honorable Bergio Visit of Davea. Like most young Mattisian ladies, Mia grew up learning the treasures and dangers of the forest. She was more than capable of taking care of herself in and around the Majestic Gardens. In fact, she was so capable of taking care of herself; she had, more than once, taken care of me.
The details of how Mia and I made it from south of the Fleeting Gardens and into the good graces of the Woven Bridles have little bearing on the present conflict. Right now, the Hell Raisers were being led into the kill box of Fyrision auto-launchers and flame weapons. The Hell Raisers set their camp just north of the scenic Virginia Falls. The cliffs of the falls provide an excellent vantage point where an observer can easily get advanced notice of an approaching threat, or a vulnerable target.
Unfortunately for the Hell Raisers, they had incurred the wrath of a Fyros tribe, and moving around the desert is as natural to a Fyros as swimming is to a Tryker. It took two days of sneaking behind dunes and moving though shallow, dried out riverbeds before we reached the falls. We were now too close to the base of the cliffs to been seen by their look-out, and too well concealed to be found by their patrols.
Virginia Falls is one of the few watering holes in the desert of the Hidden Source. Many tribes and clans have laid claim to it over the years, and none have held it for long. In Fyros, it is typically the women that collect the water. Since it is trivial in the other lands of Atys to find water, this seems to outsiders to be something of an unimportant task. In Fyros, it is a matter of life and death. Not only for those depending on the water to live, but the cunning and lethal Fyros water hunters risk their lives collecting it.
Several days ago three water hunters left the Woven Bridal settlement, four days ago one of them returned. She was naked, and blistered almost completely from the sun. The fingers on her left hand flopped uselessly back on forth as she took each stumbling step. As soon as the guards saw her, she was rushed into the healer’s tent. In the space of a few hours, her skin was healed and her fingers set.
She gave the account of how she and her sisters were hiding from a pack of huge varnix that roam near the falls when they were surprised by the Hell Raisers. The water hunters fought the bandits, and killed many, but they were eventually subdued. They were taken to the bandit camp where they were beaten and assaulted and where two of them gave in to the torture and died. The Hell Raisers celebrated the arrival of their unwilling guest with drunken revelry, and when they had passed into alcoholic slumber, she dragged herself to the edge of the pond, slipped in, and swam away.
She said she couldn’t remember much of the trek to the settlement, she just kept walking long after the pain flooded out every other feeling. Neither the sun nor the kitin nor the cuttler stopped her from returning home. After she was healed, she begged to join us in the bloody revenge that she knew would be visited upon the bandits. But the settlement already had too few water hunters, and to risk one on a military assault was foolish.
My plan was so simple that it was almost cliché. A pair of Heavy gunners would wait until the enemy patrol returned to the camp leave their concealment and fire a few rounds into the camp, hopefully killing a couple of bandits. That part went off perfectly. We heard the distinctive report of Fyrisian heavy rifles and the pained scream that told us the rounds found at least one target. The gunners made sure they were seen and then ducked around an outcropping of rock in the cliff wall.
This, of course, drew the entire the gang. Bloodthirsty, brutal and strong all describe the Hell Raisers. Intelligent does not. A hit and run attack in the middle of the day does not cause them to wonder, because it is exactly the sort of thing they would do given the opportunity. The group of thugs ran right into a hell storm of fire and rockets. The hollow rush of one auto-launcher after another delivering its payload reverberated from the cliff face and out over the open desert.
As stupid as they were, they knew when to take cover. Sometimes, flat on the ground is as good a protection as you can get, and that is exactly where they went, exactly as we knew they would. That was when our squad of Cleavers ran into their flank. Double-bladed Fyros long swords have a peculiar whistle as they arc through the air to slash flesh from bone with devastating effect. Primarily, however, they are used as piercing weapons; the split blade design makes an effect blood groove and creates wounds that are difficult even for skilled healers to mend.
The auto-launcher bombardment, of course, ceased out of fear of harming our own. Wounded and confused, the Hell Raisers turned to fight the swordsmen, there were only ten, or so, of the bandits left alive. Our artillery men abandoned their launchers in favor of short lances and rushed into the melee. It is a strange thing about combat. You know there is noise raging all around you, but you don’t really hear it. Either the sound of your own heart beating in your ears drowns it out, or it doesn’t seem important enough at the time to listen.
The melee ended quickly, and the sound came back to my world, and I heard the last moans of the dying, wounded bandits. I heard the sound of our healer chanting the words that would coax the sundered flesh of our men back together. I heard the sharp crack of an explosion from a long rifle, and I heard the gurgling yell of Dean Ibiraan, my lieutenant in this campaign.
The left side of Dean’s face was ripped to shreds, and his jaw dangled from the tendons still attached to the other side of his skull. Blood was streaming down is arm and chest as he dropped, face first, to the ground.
“Take Cover!” I ordered, though I didn’t need to, the soldiers knew what was happening and were already running for shelter, some of them dragging their wounded brothers with them. A few more shots made holes in the desert sand, like tracks from an invisible xerx following the last few men to make it under an overhang in the cliff.
Dean was still twitching in the sand, but it was too late to do anything for him. The sniper on top of the cliff was very good at hitting a stationary target. A bit of heroics here might get us out without anyone else ending up like Dean.
“Listen, Cexius,” I said to the artillery man next to me. “I am going to run for the bandit camp on the other side of the cliff. Have all the gunners aim their launchers for the landing at the top of the cliff. Fire away as quickly as you can.”
Cexius gave me a grunt that I had learned meant agreement, and he and the artillerymen shouldered their auto-launchers. A few of the men mumbled “Good luck.” I took a few quick breaths, and sprinted out from under the over hang. The desert sand slipped from underneath my boots, and the desert sun flooded my vision as I left the shadow of the cliff. Then there was the soft thump of a bullet burying itself in the sand nearby, and the high pitched zing of a round bouncing off the rock wall, and the uncomfortably close whistle of shot passing near my head. And then there was the unimaginable pain of my calf muscles being ripped open, my shin bones blown to fragments, and me being pitch headlong, carried by my own momentum, into the sand.
I would like to have said that my life passed before my eyes, and I was thankful for the time I had on Atys, and the time I shared with Mia, but all I could really see was white hot pain. Somewhere beyond the veil of agony I heard explosions that could only come from auto-launchers. As I was still alive enough to know that, as I was a perfect target, I had to suppose the artillery had been successful. And that was the last thought I had before I released my increasingly tenuous hold on consciousness.
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