The night's breeze carried the feint hint of smoke. An eerie silence cut through the midnight air, as a lone patrol found themselves stopping mid-step at every little noise that creaked through the forest path to investigate the mysterious noises. "Steady lads, hold your line." It was dangerous to be abroad in the forest at night, especially this night, the blessed night of the dead. "I hate the fact the Sergeant made us go on patrol tonight, I swear he has it in for u..." with a sickening thud, an arrow flew from out of the darkness, without warning struck home piercing the throat of Corporal Vanderstant cutting him off mid word. Suddenly, without warning and a chorus of bestial roars drowned out the forests natural twilight sounds as a cascade of hideously misshapen forms spang forth from the darkness the roars deafening and now followed by dark ancient curses in a tongue long since forgotten. "Form up men, form up, ranks, get into your ranks." Screamed the newly promoted Corporol. But it was to late, the unknown assailants started tearing and slashing rending their flesh from bone with every stroke of their claws and evil looking wepons a man fell in tatters, a broken form of a humanoid the claws and weapons biting home as well if not better than the finest steel. Their armour and militia weaponry was no match for these ferocious beasts. "What in the name of the gods are these damn thin..." Before the man at arms could finish his sentence his throat was torn from his neck and consumed in front of his dying eyes.
As soon as it had started the carnage was over. An eerie silence filled the blood soaked air. The only evidence that was left were the decapitated and dismembered corpses of the Corporal and his men at arms which were left strewn across the road as if toys of a disturbed, freakishly strong demented child had broken them all in a fit of rage and tossed aside.
The morning chorus sang out across the Riekenwald valley. It was as if the events of last night had not ever happened and for now this was the case in the sleepy province of Keppelstadt. As the sun rose, it came streaming in through the shutters of the window of the barrack room office and illuminated the grim looks of concern over the Captain and the Sergeants faces. " We have had a message pigeon from the outpost saying that the men have not arrived to relieve the garrison at Falkenstien Pass Sir. I believe the outpost have dispatched a rider just before dawn to ascertain the whereabouts of the relief column." The Captain regarded the Sargeant with a look of sheer disgust." "Sergeant Katzenburger, that is the least of your concerns, those poor souls, keep your personal agendas out of Malitia affairs. If you had not allowed your personal feelings to cloud your strategic judgment, followed the correct protocol and done as your superiors had commanded then we wouldn't be in this gods forsaken mess now would we." Sergeant Katzenburger blustered and could feel his blood pressure rising at this scolding. He especially new the consequences of talking back to a superior, having dealt out the same judgement upon the Corporol the very evening before. He calmed himself, regaining composure hoping in that moment of calm that the Captain had not noticed the reddening of his cheeks and the clenching of his fists and simply allowed his vast years of military conditioning and service to take control, he let out a sharp and forceful reply "Yes Sir" he gave a salute as was customary and turned to make his way out of the door and into the bitter morning air. As he reached for the door handle the captain, without looking up from his desk slyly remarked with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "Oh and sargeant, before you go, you may want to go and see the garrison Physician about your blood pressure and the damage that has been done due to the excessive grinding of your teeth." Without thinking the Sergeant grasped the door handle in his ham hock sized fist and wrenched the door open with enough force to almost remove the door from its hinges slamming it behind him as he marched off into the streets toward the front gates to gather the reports from the centuries.
The rider approached the scene of the previous nights carnage a sudden wave of dread rushed over him. Something told him to approach with caution and that his hand should not drift to far from his blade. His eyes were drawn to the smoking mound of partially scorched human remains that lay eviscerated before him. The smell of blood and fear filled the air, as he arrived at the smouldering mound he regarded the drag marks and the trails of blood on the ground. "This was not the work of feral beasts, at least not the positioning of the bodies like this, or indeed the fact that there was any remains at all. The beasts in these parts usually feed on the fresh kill." A tidal wave of nausea struck as sudden sickening urge to expel the contents of his stomach as he searched through the pile of partially burned corpses was overwhelming, it was only his military training, strength of will that kept him from doing so, well that and the brutal ribbing he would receive should anyone back at the garrison find out about it," The rider said to himself. It was then his heart sank, a terror gripped him the likes of which even his training could not have prepared him for. After what felt like an age of rummaging through the viscera he found something, something he wished he had not. With the swiftness and agility of a wolf lunging in for the kill on it's unsuspecting prey, he leapt onto his trusted steed and made for the garrison at Keppelstadt. "Let us not linger here a moment longer Blizzard, run like the wind, we need to show the captain this at once and get them to send another rider to the outpost to warn them of what's is coming." With a sharp kick of his heels away the pair rode off to sound the alarm.
Sergeant Katzenburger was by no means a small human being, he stood a full head and shoulders above a tall man and was as wide as a doorway itself, a muscular frame in his prime now slightly pudgy as was the tendency of an aging man of the Reiksmarshall office. In his prime Katzenburger had been the epitome of the roguish dashing swordsman. His proficiency with a blade in his day was actually almost legendary, there wasn't a man in the whole nation could best him, until that fateful day a treacherous little worm called kepplerbad challenged him to unarmed combat, he took him down in a flash but kepplerbad had the last laugh, with a swiftness that surprised even Katzenburger, kepplerbad struck him in the knee with a dagger and cut him to the bone. "Damn that little worm," Katzenburger thought to himself as he looked out over the wall rubbing the area of his knee where the scar was located. The sargeant looked up and to his left and in a reminiscent tone spoke out to the young man at arms beside him "Sonny, did I ever tell you about the time I was chosen to become honour guard of the counts household?" with a look of exasperation on his face the man at arms turned his head back to the horizon and said in a manner which was dangerously close to sarcastic "No,no you haven't Sergeant," "at least not for a couple of hours anyway." He muttered under his breath. "What was that boy." the sargeant said in a tone that sounded like a cannon misfiring. Realising how lucky he had been not to be heard fully he quickly covered up and stood to attention and replied "Nothing Sergeant, I was merely clearing me throat is all." "I thought as much." said the aging bear of a man. Another trait of the good sergeant was his hot temper, many a time had people bore witness to the old Sargeant beating some manners into someone who had had the misfortune of getting on old Katzenburgers nerves. Now looking rather disgruntled he walked away in a foul mood off to check the other watchtowers. "Bloody hell kid, you got lucky there, I thought the ol' blowhard was gonna give ya a booting in the stones." As the young man turned he saw the toothless grin of his old mate Hendrick. "Core I know my heart nearly bust out ma chest matey." the two shared a little sly chuckle together before regaining the semblance of composure. "That's what did for the Corp at knows..." "What you on about toothless?", A rather unfortunate kick in the face from one of the counts children's horses had earned him that nickname. "The corp got on the bad side of old blowhard britches over yonder and that's how comes he and that detachment of lads got sent out last night instead of this morning." "Them poor sods." they said in unison. "Word has it that the corp and his boys ain't made it to the outpost on the edge of the Riekenwald path." another voice chimed in from behind old toothless. "Bloody hell Hewbie, clear your throat or summit next time, I thought ya was old Katzenburger" Hewbie another unfortunatelooking soul, doubled over and a beared which even though tucked into his belt still had been known to trip him on occasion. "Cheeky wee sod", the old man coughed and splattered "If I was 20 years younger I'd tan yer hide for ya." "Aye, aye, alright old'un, I, we meant know offence," said Hendrick flashing his trademark toothless smile as if it were going to improve the situation some how. To be honest Aleric thought to himself it made him look as buffoonish as he sounded so it actually disarmed what could have been a situation that potentially got them all on a fizzer." "Ignore the silly ass Hewbert, what was it you were saying about the corp and his boys not making it to the outpost?"
"I happened to be wandering by the captains office on my way back from the latrine and lo and behold who was in there, old blowhard Katzenburger getting a stern rollocking from the captain." "Well that explains the foul mood he was in when he flipped at me, don't it toothless." "Aye, indeed it do me old matey." the toothless man said as he thumbed his glazed over eyes. Aleric looked troubled and his thought must have permeated the air and reached the other two in the group at the same time. "You don't think... No it couldn't, he wouldn't surely?" they both stared at Aleric with a nervous look on there faces... "Come on boy spit it out before we die of old age." Aleric looked up from his troubling thought and locked eyes with the group... "Last night was the night of the blessed dead right? "Shhhhhhh you young fool, if you are heard saying that you'll be strung up from the nearest arrow nest." "Well it was wasn't it?" both of the men nodded fearful of uttering a word incase they were being listened in on. It was not an uncommon practice to spy upon people in this nation to get ahead in life, or gain political favour or something like that or an uncommon occurrence to find the secret police knocking at your door for a callous word uttered whilst drunk in some tavern in the arse and of nowhere. "You don't think that the Sgt set this whole thing...." the two men looked at the boy as if death had singled him out to kill them and harvest their souls, when shattering the intense silence between the compatriots, came carrying over the morning breeze the sound of a loud warning blast of a horn cutting Aleric off just as he was about to begin his next sentence... Hewbert turned to Hendrick and the pair breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Men, Action Stations!!!" "Call out the guard." And as if right on cue there came the loud balling of Sergeant Katzenburger, "Voice of an Angel there that fella has ain't he." The others smirked and shook their head and jumped to it. "Ok men, keep your eyes peeled, we need to be ready for what ever may come."
Out of the forest line bursting forth came the rider on his white and grey mayned charger Blizzard. Galloping for their lives he kicked his spurs in again getting another boost "Come on boy you can do it, let's out run these beasts." As if spurred on by his words Blizzard doubled down and pulled away from the pack persuing them. Shouting and balling came ringing through the air, " Well at least they know we are coming." Stanislav said to himself. A few moments later the pack of beasts burst out of the woods in hot pursuit. "By the gods they do not give up." he thought to himself, when, disturbing his thought he felt an unnatural wind whistling past his ear that came with the familiar sound of an angry hornet swarming past him. A sickening thud accompanied by a chorus of angry beastial roars one of the beasts hit the floor and rolled the sound of its neck snapping actually almost a comfort, although that was one of 6 down only another five to go, he wryly thought to himself. Another shout came across the wind, this time he could make out the words draw, loose... and no sooner had the words reached him the sky turned dark with arrows. They rained down skewering their targets. Within seconds Blizzard and Stanislav rode through the gates and they slammed shut behind him. Another volley of arrows slammed into the ground skewering another 2. The lads cheered as they saw the 2 remaining beasts turn tail and run back the way they had come. "Ok, lads well done back to your posts, keep a sharp look out on that tree line just in case those bastards come back." Stanislav leaped down from his mount and handed him off to a man at arms that came to steady him. "Please give him some water and some fresh hay, he's earned it." The man at arms saluted him and ran off to carry out the orders. "Looks like you had a bit of trouble their Sir." Came the slightly less harsh in tone voice of the Sergeant. "Indeed, it looked a little precarious toward the end their but thank the gods your men have obviously been well drilled in their Archery." This obviously made the man bear of a Sergeant puff his chest out with pride. "They are well trained bunch of men, may not look like much but each one is worth 10 of those things." "I hope you're right there Sergeant." and patted him on the shoulder. "Sir, is there a report you would like me to give the captain of the garrison? "I'll take the message personally Sergeant." The burly man bear turned around and saluted, there stood the Captain, a dashing figure he cut, not the youngest of men but not quite over the hill either, a slight touch of grey gracing the edges of his hair and beard. "Stanislav my boy, good to see you", the two embraced. "Good to see you too Gustav, I'm sorry Captain." The Captain smiled and they walked into the office they muttered to each other low so they could not be heard. "There is much we need to discuss." "Before the door closed Stanislav leant his head out of the doorway and shouted to the men... "First rounds on me tonight boys at the Greyhelm Inn." There was a massive cheer from the guard on the wall and a wry smile from the Sergeant as the door closed with a thump. Suddenly Katzenburger bawled an order out which cut the mood dead. "Indeed the first round on you, yah galloping dandy." He said to himself as he turned his back on the walls and marched into his garrison office on the other side of the square. The Men looked confused and worried all at the same time. Aleric looked out at the forrest and quietly said to the others "Somethings not right lads, there is something dire going on here and this is just the beginning. You Mark My Words." The three men at arms took up there positions and began their long watch.
Thank you for reading!