This is what happens when you forget how you are going to get home Saturday night. Your Saturday fiction comes at 11pm!
This is another Tri-star story, but I jumped ahead to a point where the different ‘races’ of Tri-star have met each other. For the record, those are the Solar (From the Spinder’s Crumbling Web), the Glie (From the Night of the Howler), and the Ceti (From Maja’s Lesson). Enjoy your silly names.
The worst part was the screeching. It drove mounts crazy, and rang in your ears. There was no escaping it, and Gerred was sure they knew that on some level.
“Push, men!” He yelled over the sound, “We have won, they just don’t know it.”
The monsters were on all fronts, pressing the central lines, collapsing the left flank, manipulating the right. They didn’t have long. He could see it in every man’s attack, how they swang with desperation, hoping to put a sword into that alien black flesh. Their discipline was cracking, their lines were loose.
A wave hit their ranks, gibbering mouths held back by towering shields and the crests of the branched-king. One broke through, it was the size of any man, but its limbs were impossibly nimble, and its skin fluid. It struck a soldier on its way past, knocking the man to the ground, and giving it a straight shot to Gerred.
He watched so many men before him be taken this way. A single fiend of the raw, a mockery of a soldier from the plates of harder skin on its chest to the arm that ended in a blade, breaks through and drops a captain or leader. The men buckle, and the creatures win another day.
“Captain!” Came a yell from behind him, “Captain!”
Gerred brought his sword down against the creature. Its flesh splashed against the trodden ground, blood shimmering.
It turned back toward him, a vacant face. Gerred pulled back from its wild blow, and the second. Its weapon flashed with his chest plate, and the creature was thrown off balance.
He had no time. They were disrupting his leadership. He was as good as dead, as far as his army was concerned. The battlefield was chaos enough. He heard men yelling a hundred different expletives, in tones from defeat to blind courage. He heard the beat of hooves on the ground. He heard his name in different mouths. Plus that screaming, always that horrific scream.
Except, their cavalry were far on the right flank.
Gerred tried to knock the creature to the ground with his boot, but it tapped into unnatural strength. He was knocked to the ground, and the creature stood over him, ready to lay him low.
Then the thunder of hooves was all he could hear. It was in his view before he recognized it, a Solarian warmount, and the rider’s spear through the monster’s chest. It scrambled, its flesh appeared to try to escape its body, pulling away in long strands of black. Then it resigned to its fate, and collapsed in time to be flung from the spear.
The rider wrestled with his steed, dismounted, and held a hand out for Gerred.
As Gerred was pulled to his feet, and he looked around him. The mounts were all over, pushing the creatures back, forcing them to rout, Today, they were saved.
“Captain Roughbone,” The rider said through his helmet, “I would have a word with you.”
They returned to the war tent. It was on a hill that overlooked the battlefield, and the mountainside that spilled out the creatures like an open wound.
His tent had a table covered in maps, notes and letters from all over the kingdom, and enough beer for whatever situation might come up.
“Sit,” Gerred said as he got in, “Clemen, get them a cup.”
The lieutenant walking in with them ran to the far end of the tent and started pulling extra cups.
The two Sol stood looking around the tent as if a trap was hanging somewhere in the flaps. They were still in full gear, armor that seemed like mostly made up of inadequate leathers to Gerred, but seemed to serve them well.
“This is why no one likes you people,” Gerred said as he pulled a stool from near the tent wall and collapsed on it, “you just saved my life, and my men, sit down and have a drink.”
The lower ranked Solarian looked to the captain that rescued Gerred, and started speaking in their home tongue. It was rapid, violent, Gerred could rarely make heads or tails of it.
“Ah,” Gerred said, “What is the saying? Our world, our words.”
The captain took off his helmet, revealing a face with two uneven scars across the side of his face, and a burn on the opposite.
“You’ll have to forgive her, she is new at this,” He said, “Captain Lon, of the Lowpike army.”
“Captain Gerred Roughbone, but you knew that,” Gerred said as Clemen came back and started pouring four tall cups of ale. “What earned me the gracious save today?”
Lon grabbed a stool and sat, looking down at the different maps. “Are these the different doorways?”
The map was of the Second Turn Mountains, a range that ran East to West, South of the capital. It was dotted with different marks, colored, with distances drawn between many different destinations.
“Suspected,” Gerred said, “We used to mine these freely, if you can imagine.”
“Now you alone hold back the horrors,” Lon said with a smile that exposed pink in his scars.
Gerred snorted. He looked to his helmet, one horn curled out of the side, and on the other side was a groove for his remaining horn to set into place.
“I think all the men and women wrapping their wounds out there would disagree.”
Lon nodded, “But today, you might have lost this fight, one link in the chain destroyed by a constant siege. While your king sits in his castle, doing what?”
Gerred squinted, he saw where this was going, “What are you here for, Solarian?”
“A night of companionship,” Lon said while his eyes wandered the tent, “I hear horns make for a good grip.”
Gerred picked up his cup, and drank deep. “Let the raw take you then, I don’t have the patience.”
The lieutenant spoke again, one word in their language, ‘Hurry’. Her arm sliced the air, and Gerred could hint her frustration.
Lon pointed to her cup, “Relax.”
“You should listen to her,” Gerred said.
Lon closed his eyes, “I’m here because I think there is a better way.”
“Better?” Gerred motioned with his drink, “You have some secret weapon?”
“The Lowpikes are called one of the three,” Lon said as he took a swig, and let out a sigh of relief, “We fight the darkness wherever it appears, whenever we can. We practice our tactics, we loan ourselves to villages and magistrates that need our help. But still, politics inhibit us. Leaders get nervous when we move through their lands, fine our representatives back in the capital, the magistrates that take our cause buckle under pressure every season. We can’t fight a war in the field and in the halls of the magistratum.”
His words were familiar. Gerred got daily missives of supply requests denied, of troops moved to fight bandits and rebellions in the west. When he dared visit the capital, the people there were so distant from the fight, he was lucky if any of the nobles remembered it was happening.
“And what is your solution?” Gerred said, “should we take the crown? Tell me of your glorious rebellion, Solarian.”
Lon laughed, and Gerred looked to Clemen to see the young boy’s nervous reaction. Solarians were odd, fast to overreact. He could never tell when they were sincere.
“We could toppled the castle in a day,” Lon said with a laugh, “By the time the heads stop rolling, we would have full support for sure.”
The Solarian slapped his knee, and his lieutenant sighed.
“No, horned friend, I propose an alliance, between leaders in the field.”
Gerred scoffed, and looked down into his drink, “Oh, companionship?”
“Exactly,” Lon said with a thrust that spilled froth on the table, “We make our own stance, as men of the cause of protecting our respective lands. Show them that we are beyond their politics, their arguing, their posturing. Show them that the important fight is protecting our people from the sickness spilling from the Raw. Sol, Glie, Ceti, the three standing strong together.”
It was Gerred’s turn to laugh. Now the Solarian was turning to pure fantasy.
A messenger entered the room, and stopped when he saw the foreigners. He ran up, bowed his horns low, and then passed over a scroll before vanishing.
“The three?” Gerred said as he unwrapped the urgent letter, “How do you plan to bring the Ceti to the table? Those pollbrain freaks are as stubborn as locked twins.”
Gerred looked up, “No offense meant.”
Lon laughed, “Don’t worry, I have no idea what that means.”
“The last time we sent a diplomat through to the Ceti, he came back missing fingers,” Gerred said, “Your plan is starting to sound like a fable.”
The Solarian leaned forward, “Well maybe if your lot hadn’t killed their king…”
Gerred grumbled loud enough to silence the man, “And we taught them that a bunch of pebbles on a necklace make for a shit crown. It was unfortunate.”
“Stubbing your toe is unfortunate,” Lon said, with a wink, “regicide is a little different.”
The Solarian was as quick to dredge up the past as the Ceti themselves. The incident was history, the worst case scenario for two peoples first meeting. Back then, people were scared, paranoid, and strange people coming through a supernatural doorway, gibbering in an unknown language, was bound to cause problems.
“Fine,” Gerred said, “but that doesn’t change the truth, they refuse to talk.”
“To your king,” Lon added, “I may be able to get them to the table, if you promise they’ll leave intact.”
This was building up, and Gerred didn’t know if he liked the direction it was heading. He was a military leader, not some rebel. But the Solarian was right, that the situation was dire.
The map in front of him outlined their current defense, a span of land no one could perfectly fortify. There were efforts to build walls before, but they were always attacked during construction, the attacks becoming fiercer until the lines broke and the walls fell. They were facing a nefarious enemy, and as far as Gerred was concerned, it wasn’t a matter of if they fell, but when.
He sat back, rolled up the letter that came to him, and put a hand on his chin.
“I’ve heard the Ceti are of one mind,” Gerred said, “How would you ever talk them into working with people they hate?”
Lon didn’t look at Gerred as he took a drink, “You’ve heard wrong.”
“There is a splinter group that has formed, a sort of rebel faction among our starved brothers across the Raw spaces. They don’t fight openly, just politically. Their whole purpose is to convince their people that yours and ours aren’t the brutes they believe.”
If true, that was remarkable. They could finally heal century old wounds.
“So then what is this?” Gerred said, “Do I ride with you, and decry the branched-crown while wearing your banner?”
Lon laughed again. Gerred was growing to hate that laugh. Still, he didn’t hate the man in front of him. Saving a man’s life was a tough sign of loyalty to overcome. He wanted to believe him, wanted to see this man as something beyond a crazed instigator.
Lon stood, “How about this, nothing now. We aren’t prepared, we aren’t anything. For now, I just want to call you friend. You fight for the right cause, more than a crown, or riches, you care about defeating the enemy.”
Gerred got up from his stool as Lon came around to meet him. The man was shorter, but stood like he could meet the horns of the king.
“Let my men raise your banner,” Lon said, “we will settle whatever came in that letter for you, as a show of kindness.”
Gerred squeezed the letter in his grip. Lon smiled at the instinctive action. It was a message about a crisis to the North, in a little village.
“The creatures are appearing at night,” Gerred said, “North of here, in a little town.”
Lon shrugged, “Nothing the Lowpikes cannot handle.”
“Except,” Gerred added, “We’ve a defensive line not far from there, and there is no door between my men and that village.”
The two Solarians looked at each other, and Lon’s eyebrows rose to meet each other. The woman nodded, and then Lon did as well. He grabbed his helmet, and then put a hand out for Gerred.
“Send a bird ahead of us,” Lon said, “I think I know how to handle this.”
Gerred took his hand, “Do, and we will talk about your little alliance.”
Lon put his helmet on, and started for the door, “Don’t worry about the alliance, captain. Just think about the cause, that’s all that matters.”
Gerred followed the Solarians out, and heard the first echo of a call down the ranks. He looked to the horizon, and the fading sunlight. There was a dark smudge across the cap of the hill, a swaying stamp that shifted in small leaps toward their camp. The enemy was approaching again.