Part 20: SiegeThe journey to Wargliss was surprisingly uneventful.
Somewhere beneath my bravado lurked the quiet certainty that this was a terrible plan. Of course everyone would notice me. Of course they'd find out. Of course I'd be sent straight back home with nothing to show but sore feet.
All of which proves that "certainty" is fictional. Only once was I approached, moments after we arrived at the fort. If you'll forgive me a moment of self-congratulation, I think I handled it well.
Hey. Are you supposed to be here?
Am I supposed to be here?
You're asking me that? You are? Is your head on straight, soldier?!
I...I just thought...
No mumbling! If it's not worth shouting, it's not worth saying!
Let me see your sword.
...nocked. Stained. I think I see rust starting to set in.
When's the last time you polished this? This blade couldn't slice a cake!
You come to me carrying this piece of crap and ask me if I'm supposed to be here? Ask yourself! Now get out of my sight! I don't want to see that weapon again until it's sharp enough to shave my balls on a hot summer's day! Understand?!
Yessir. Sorrysir. Thankyousir.
...what? What did I do?
Where might this charming young gentleman have picked up that sort of language?
Who knows? It's a gritty old world out there. Innocence ain't worth a sh...shot.
Ain't worth a shot. Don't even try.
If anyone else thought to question my presence, their concerns were soon superseded.
Boulders crashed upon the fortress gates with a noise more felt than heard, laying a syncopated rhythm over the crescendo of marching feet.
The charge began.
And I discovered that Gustav was half-right.
I had overestimated myself. Loss and war clung to one another as dying lovers, and even the book could not separate them. Those screams I picked out beneath the brutal din of steel were as like to come from foe as friend, and every casualty I reached in time left me too late for another five. It was a paper wall to dam an ocean, yet I could bring myself to do nothing more.
Monsters were easy. People weren't. The chaos afforded me hundreds of opportunities to kill, and I took none. Every time I moved to strike, I'd raise the sword and see my reflection, tinted red by the phantasm of blood, and balk. The blades, forged from the very idea, the very necessity of murder, issued their call to my hands, and I denied them.
I could not endure those terrible screams knowing that I had wrought them. I could not leave this place a killer.
He was half-right.
If I had been what he thought I was, a simple and innocent boy, the battle's ravages would have scarred my soul, just as he predicted. I was not. The scar was already there.
I lived through worse than this every night. War at least had survivors.
Monster! They've got a monster!
As I hauled the twentieth, perhaps thirtieth man from death's precipice, the ranks parted. A reptilian behemoth lumbered through the divide, trampling the slow and unfortunate. A commander barked some order I couldn't understand, and the men united to break their weapons against its metallic carapace. They had no chance.
But monsters were easy.
My assault killed both the drake and, for a fleeting moment, the clamour. Kaleilan soldiers silenced with awe, Waisen invaders struck dumb by fear.
Seizing the moment, I stood tall upon the spoils of my victory and let my face be burned into the eyes of nations.
Slander me now, you bastards.
They've breached the fort! Fall back!
Better move it. If we lose now, nobody's gonna care that you were out here.
I don't see anyone. Have they cleared out already?
I'm guessing they're in there.
'Morning! Don't go back there, you'll throw up.
Should've used incendiary. Ash is easier to clean. Less scraping.
What happened just now?
I knew they'd get inside. Told them a hundred times. Let Waisen have the fort, wait for them to get cosy, then collapse it. Easy, saves men, plus I get to test my delayed fuses. Everyone wins! Except Waisen. But that's the idea, or so I'm told.
I mean, as if it'll be fit to use afterwards anyway. All those catapults. The whole place is a pile of rubble in denial. Did you see that monster they had? 'Course you did, you killed it. That was impressive, by the way. How old are you?
Dammit. I was gonna like that guy. I could tell.
I don't see any...you know. Mess.
He must be down there.
Yeah, but in how many pieces?
Rempo. Do you feel that?
From the hole. There's a chill.
The ice spirit? She's down there?
I'm almost certain.
Go have a look while you still can. We might not get a chance to come back.
Volatile, volatile, volatile! I was sure I'd fixed that!
That's rule number one of explosions, you know. They shouldn't happen until they're supposed to.
Are you al-
Oh bugger. I sent this batch to the armoury and everything.
Ah well. I'll have to write some letters. Let's see, "Your husband/father/son (delete as appropriate) died contributing to science, which is a good thing so don't even start with that weepy nonsense like I know you're about to do, everyone snuffs it sooner or later you blubbering fool. Remains provided for burial purposes. See enclosed."
Am I alright? Slightly peeved, otherwise peachy. Did you come down here to check on me or are you going somewhere?
Wrong! Not with all this junk in the way.
You know what you need?
...I'm guessing a-
That'srightit'sabomb. Don't answer rhetorical questions! Gets right under my skin, that does.
It's an assault on my agency. It's my question and I wanted it to be rhetorical, damn it! Who are you to overrule me?
Tell you what. You can have a few gratis if you promise to tell people about them. Bombs are the future of warfare, you know. Have to get that word of mouth going.
Okay, so I just...
Throw it. And don't be where it lands. Easy, right? It is easy. Of course it's easy. So how is the mortality rate so high, I ask you.
People are idiots. That's why.
Hah! See? You're not an idiot. I like you.
Wish I could go too. Hard to believe something like this was down here the whole time, isn't it? Ah, but I'm no archaeologist. One's field must come first.
Thanks for the help.
Not at all. Please, treat them with reverence. Blowing things up is a delicate art.
You actually believed that, didn't you? I could tell. That wasn't a "Humour the madman" nod, that was a "Listen to this wise sage" nod.
Oh, before you go. Do you know how to treat shrapnel wounds?
Don't get any shrapnel wounds.