Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ravens: Chapter One, Part One


It all started some time ago, in a land not far from here. A land known as the Kingdom of Aura. A prosperous land that grew on the labors of hard working men and women in fields of barley and rye, of brewers most bold and of frivolous merchants and moneylenders that made the whole kingdom run so well. Knights and soldiers patrolled the borders, ridding the kingdom of the occasional bandit menace that was so prevalent during those budding years of our happy little city-state.
I was one of those knights… well, truthfully I was one of those knight’s footmen, a spearmen that moved with the young lad to act as one of his personal guard. Yeah, I know, guards for the guardians of the realm. Seems silly doesn’t it? I always thought so. But I was paid a sack of grain a month, and it was more than enough for me to barter with for food and… luxuries. We’d gotten word from a ragged looking man that his town, some nameless little burg on the Eastern most edges of our borders, had succumbed to the Plague.
That meant Zombies.

And so the knight, our Lord-Commander Faulkner rallied us all in his father’s name and led us on towards the township some four days march away. We all knew what we were in for as we marched; the frazzled villager that had escaped and warned us had taken a good week to make it as far as the Capitol. That meant that the few people who had dwelled in the nameless little village had more than likely succumbed to the Plague and reanimated already. Faulkner was a young man, eager for a chance to prove himself on the battlefield like his father had so many times. More of a boy than a man, the Lord-Commander was a braggart and a bully, and more than that he was an idiot. Don’t look at me that way, he was! Back then it was believed that being heavily armored was the best defense against the undead, so that they couldn’t just tear into you like some feral beast.
So that’s what he’d done to us: loaded us down in the heaviest armors he could find, great suits of cured and boiled leather with iron rivets and bronze plates, great towering shields that went from boot to shoulder, and weighed more than they rightfully should have. I had particular trouble with my shield as it was one that had clearly been made for someone mounted on a horse, you know that animal right? Four strong legs and a thick body, hooves instead of feet. Yeah, they’re kind of rare these days but they were still abundant enough back then.
The march was tolerable, as far as marches go. The Nuclear Autumn was still going strong, dark clouds roiling in the sky like the face of an angry god, keeping the weather fairly cool and dry. Between that and the ocean breeze that always drifted off of the Pacific, we were more than comfortable during our forced march, save of course for the heavy armor we were all being forced to endure. What should have taken four days instead took five, thanks to that.
It’s truly what led to our undoing, I think.

“Blast it all, this armor is heavy!” Jonah cursed for the hundredth time that day, twisting his arm back and forth as he tried to, once again, get a better feel of the weight piled onto him.
He failed, of course.
“Jonah, for the last time, bitching about it isn’t gonna make it any better!” I say, taking a swig from my gourd, the sweet Auran wine easing the ache in my joints ever so slightly. “You’ll just have to get used to it like the rest of us.”
“Easy for you to say, all you gotta lug around is that damned spear. The rest of us got actual swords and boards to try and make use of, y’know?” Another cadet chimed in, laughing with a few other younger soldiers.
“Hey, I paid my dues as infantrymen years ago. I’m quite happy serving as the royal asshole’s personal guard, thank you very much.” I reply with a sardonic smile. “You best get used to your terms of service now gents, cause if you think it’s tough now just wait till we have some actual combat.”
“Oh come on, it’s just gonna be some zonked out villagers-gone-ghouls on us. Gonna be a clean and sweep, you watch.” The cadet said, his friends laughing and clapping him on the shoulder in agreement.
“Uh-huh. You best hope we don’t encounter Ghouls on this run amigos, you better just pray we have some run of the mill zombies.” I reply, refastening my gourd to the hook on my waist.
“Ghouls, zombies… what’s the difference?”
“The difference, you young snot, is one thinks while the other doesn’t. We get ghouls we’re gonna have to deal with some actual tactical combat. Zombies, they’ll just rush at you, clawing over each other at the nearest sign of fresh meat available.” I explain, grabbing my eight foot spear from the tree I’d leaned it up against as we took our small break. “If it’s Ghouls we be fighting, you’ll be happy we have this armor.”
“Whatever Zack, like you know what you’re talking about.” One of the cadets snort, turning back to his buddies, delving into whatever conversation they had going on between themselves.
I just shrug and check over my kit once more, counting the number of dried slices of meat left over in my little sack, as well as the two extra gourds of water I have dangling from my side. Pulling a whetstone from my sack, I lean my spear over and begin sharpening the eighteen inches of iron-wrought blade sticking out from the wooden shaft. I love this spear mostly because of the fact that I made it myself some years ago, picked from the ruined suburbs of Los Angeles during a long range supply run, back when our fair Kingdom had yet to be added to the maps. This spear had served me well since then, the trowel I’d scavenged making a fine blade for the wooden pole I’d had commissioned from the Redwood trees we’d taken to harvesting. Each side of the iron trowel I kept to a sharpened shimmer, allowing me not only a tool that I could use to stab with at long range, but a tool with which I could use to cut with, slashing at enemies with a good deal of leverage when the need called for it.
And in my line of work as a soldier, the need was often there.

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