The first mistake

The first mistake

A Chapter by Srchaud
"

A band of soldiers finds diplomacy in the dreg forest comes with consequences.

"


Chapter 1


The first arrow almost killed him, the second hit a tree to his left; he would not stay for the third. The brush rustled under his feet as he ran, the thick carpet of moss and vines spongy from a recent rain doing little to hide his movements.

The quick and solid punch of wood signaled another arrow hit over his head, the shaft still wobbling in the ashy gray limb of a gnarled tree.

With a leap over a log and skid under a set of thorn branches tearing the top of his red cloak, a whiz of an arrow flew past his ear. He could hardly stay ahead, every root and stump taking their time to trip him up.

Howls and shrieks came from the canopy along the long thick ancient tree branches and upon the forest floor; they chased him at every height of the forest.

Coming to a small clearing, the sky cracked with lighting and rain began to fall for the tenth time today rising a thick white mist off the ground.

With lungs burning, he ran across the field, his foot sinking into muck. D****t, he thought, he just ran into a bog.

At the edge of the clearing, the brush shook with movement. They were flanking him.

Think, think...” he said un-holstering his flintlock pistol, hoping it would still work in the rain. “Those air elementalist wizards promised a new rain proof powder, today would test their word.”

With a splash, his leg fell into a brackish cold water up to his knee, the mud and soupy mix of grass, weeds and bugs almost sucking his boot off as he pulled out.

Another arrow came past, ricocheting off his chest plate and the field became barraged with dozens of misplaced shots.

Ducking under an overturned tree, its spread of dead muddy roots made a shield, and he waded waist deep through cattails and long grass, the splashing of arrows all around him.

Reaching the edge, a hand grabbed out to him from a brown berry bush and he took it but fell back into the bog as the flesh slid off revealing bone.

Hanging from the trees above, their skin peeled off in black patches, muscles withered to the consistency of salted meat, a dozen bodies hung upside down. They had been there a while and already built up a coat of maggots; the flies at least were swatted away by the storm.

In ripped hose and tunics, they were peasants of the border and thankfully not his platoon. He could still reach his command. Maybe he still might live.

Overhead, under curtains of dark oily rain, the clouds gathered thicker, an icy mist at the top of the forest canopy.

This storm, he thought, then threw himself onto the forest floor ducking under a whistling arrow hitting the corpse above him in the thigh.

Pushing through an onslaught of gnarled tree limbs, they pressed against him, holding him back. The fog rose denser and the frosty white cotton like color turned to an ethereal dark hued green - magic or the forest's natural ability, he didn't know.

Taking a moment to look around, he could not hear the sounds of the chase and took off immediately as silence in the Dreg Forest always meant a bad sign.

Captain.” a voice, a human voice he hoped, called out to him not more than a few wagon's length away. He didn't respond, the dreg were certainly already coming, he didn't want to reveal everyone's location, the fog at least working both ways.

Captain Trevin.” the voice called out to him again, this time followed by a higher pitched chirpy feminine voice.

Shut up!” he wanted to yell back and did as soon as he jumped onto an overgrown dirt road of rocks and green mushroom patches expelling a dusting of light green spores.

His red tunic and dark blue trousers, a vivid burst of color against the backdrop of dull greens and faded browns, matched his soldiers'. A platoon of thirty, they were armed with flintlock rifles and wore breastplate. Already waiting on the side of the road, their clothing had become damp under the heavy spurts of rain.

They are here, Lieutenant Safre.”, he said to a woman with short blonde hair highlighted in sky blue streaks. She stood arms folded, wearing a red robe lined with dark blue trim, a blue sash tied around her waist giving an hourglass figure - thin like a twig and just as fragile. Her face pale, accented with frosty light blue lipstick and eye shadow melted under the new wave of rain.

What?” she replied as if waking from a dream, her eyes dreamy and slight smile expressing amusement.

The damn mushrooms,” he said kicking a grouping of a dozen exploding the fungi into a burst of green mist. “There's no hiding now.”

Where's the Sergeant at Arms?” she said, her voice coming to a more serious tone, “First squad? Where is everyone?”

Dead,” he responded, “as well will be in a moment.” he continued cocking back the hammer to his pistol. “They don't want a treaty, we should have never come here.”

The cold tickling fingers of an enveloping mist caressed his skin and droplets beaded along his graying beard and bald head. Reaching down, he felt the smooth barrel of his own flintlock pistol.

Rain came faster and harder turning all the senses off, replacing them by a veil of rain. It would be hours before sunset, although he didn’t think it could get much darker.

Make formations.” he shouted.

You want to fight them?” Safre said, her lower lip dropping in surprise.

They are coming, make no mistake of that. We can't outrun them and we can't hide, they know the forest better. All we can do is stand and fight.” His platoon looked on with the same expression of shock as if he asked them to punch their Gods in the face.

There can't be more than a dozen, there is thirty of us. If we hold here and now, we may be able to fight them off.” They still peered at him in the same puzzled expression. “If you want to get home, to Arthan, get in that damn formation.”

Each soldier alive with movements darted into a square formation around the road, their bayonets jabbing out like the quills of a porcupine. Safre and him remained at the center.

Within the formation, a man unrolled a blue banner with a red cross in the center along with four red drops arranged in a circle on each corner - the emblem of their empire, Arthan.

A red faced soldier, flushed with exhaustion, breathed hard, forcing his legs forward with every step, taking the center of the square. A thick canvas pack strapped to his torso and back had several leather belts and rusted iron hoses running down the length of his arms connecting to a flint lock musket with a blue tinged mist wafting out the barrel.

Did you at least give them the scroll?” Safre whispered. Within his pack, he gripped a wooden case, then held it up. “What will you tell Prince David?”

He's is an idiot.”

A low rumble tumbled across the sky and he waited for the flash of lightning, but with visibility so poor, nothing could be seen.

Safre, rain-soaked and shivering, covered in sticky underbrush peeled away several leeches attached to her arm with a tongue out in disgust.

Where are they?” she asked. He answered with only a gruff grunt and instead watched the forest, the dark branches of the dead trees reaching out through the fog like fingers to some gargantuan creature lurking beyond sight.

Something caught his attention off to the side. Several branches swayed but he heard no sound. Straining his eyes to see through the wall of rain and fog, he might as well have been under the ocean or in the deep of night.

What do you see?” the man in the center line asked flicking a switch on the under-barrel of the flintlock rifle. All at once, a whirling came from his pack followed by several sharp pings of rattling metal. “This isn’t the comfy halls of the Wizards Tower,” he said peering back to Safre, “hope you know how to fight.” Rolling her eyes, she stepped back behind Trevin.

Everything went quiet except of the sounds of rain and a light rumble of far off thunder. His attention remained fixated on something in the trees. Stillness, absolute rain-drenched stillness, but he knew they were out there, they would not leave so easily.

A crunch of dead branches, a fluttering of leaves, then quick darting movements followed by an otherworldly shriek stabbed the stillness. The cry plunged into his ears and felt like a knife running over his heart. Full of high pitched notes, it danced at the edge of sound like a banshee. Remaining far off, to him it only created a false sense of security as distance meant nothing.

Keep your eyes on the trees.” he said jogging down the line hitting the chest plates of his soldiers. “You too, Agilis.” He squeezed the man holding the humming energy pack by the neck.

Another shriek came from deep in the thicket followed by snapped branches and swaying leaves.

Stay calm, soldiers of the empire.” he yelled confidently. Agilis stood in the center aiming into the brush and Safre hid behind him, barely able to peer over his shoulder from her tiny height.

Haunting screams continued cutting through the sounds of the ever growing intensity of the storm. Trevin gazed out with one hand shielding his eyes.

Another shriek, then tattered strips of dirty white rags covering something humanoid in shape flashed by like a ghost, moving quickly from tree to tree, scarcely in view for more than a moment.

Losing sight, the wet dirty rags came into view again, this time several yards closer. Shrills surrounded the drenched mud-covered soldiers from every direction and a barrage of sounds sliced through the woods as if dozens more than before were charging through the brush.

Here they come.” he yelled. Safre winced in fear wringing her hands, mumbling under her breath.

Its going to be alright.” Agilis tried to reassure her.

Take aim!” Trevin said to his platoon. The soldiers pointed in all directions moving their rifles about in confusion, frantically aiming from side to side, their muskets pointing at phantoms in the storm. A buzzing sound of energy coming from the pack on Agilis’ back hit its peak and a bluish glow shimmered along the bag and slid down the metal cords to the musket.

Whispering a brief prayer to the old Gods Lygus and Magus, “May you protect my warrior soul and see me through this day,” he took aim with his pistol.

A whistling noise flew from the trees and into the platoon. Next to him, a man screamed in pain with an arrow lodged in his neck. The soldier fell to his knees, his hands clawing at the shaft. His cries went to gurgles, his face twisting in terror, the skin turned black followed by copious amounts of blood oozing from ears and eyes before he fell face-first into the mud.

Fire!” Trevin barked, his face scrunched into determination.

Rifles erupted in flame all along the line. Wood splintered and branches snapped, but the shrieks and cries continued undaunted.

Agilis squeezed his trigger. With a zing of clinking metal, a torrent of razor sharp ice cut into the trees, severing limbs and punching shard size holes in the trunks, even knocking down a few emerging saplings.

Safre raised her tiny hands closing her eyes. Her skin began to glow and shafts of light shimmered over her palms forming into large icicles. With a flick on her wrist, she hurled them into the forest.

Another arrow came from the woods as the soldiers reloaded followed by another pained groan. A woman down the line grabbed her knee, a shaft sticking upwards through the wound.

Help me.” she cried before her face turned black and twisted.

Fire!” Trevin ordered again and once more the line lit up firing into the dark entanglement of plants and trees. A hail of arrows returned, some snapped against the armor of the guard like small twigs and others hit flesh.

More screams came from his line as both women and men dropped dead in the mud.

Maneuvering through his forces, he could now see the creatures in the woods, their presence brief and fleeting.

Fire at will.” he shouted.

Another arrow flew out from the dark woods and hit the standard, shrieking, his skin contorted into a web of black veins as he dropped the flag.

Agilis backpedaled, the muzzle of his rifle exploding in frost, coating the forest in arctic ice.

A dreg hopped acrobatically from tree to tree landing on a nearby limb, and extended its palms. Trevin fired his flintlock but the creature dodged behind the tree with one quick leap only to come back out, raising his palm again towards the group.

Agilis, the tree!” he pointed stuffing powder down the barrel of his pistol.

Agilis aimed up as all around him the roots began to writhe and rise. With a lash, the wood and vines wrapped around Agilis’ neck and torso. A few pops came from his rib cage as the wood pressed inward.

Safre, darting to the rescue, whispered panicked words under her breath and pulled at the roots, even using a leg to push against the wooden cage.

Trevin, help!” she yelled back to him. His boots sank in the wood and he tripped. “Trevin!” she cried out to him again as he pulled his boot from the earth.

A large moving tree limb swung into her face, battering her down like she was made of straw. Agilis, then dragged upward into the forest canopy, disappeared from view as Safre’s eyes followed the man into oblivion. Scrambling to get up, she stumbled, dazed, with a large welt forming on her cheek.

Safre,” he said sloshing in the mud towards her.

A dreg darted from tree to road to tree and struck into Safre’s soft neck with a blade before running back into the brush. Grabbing the wound, blood trickled between her fingers mixing with the rain and with a swaying nod, she collapsed.

A bush jostled beside him and a ragged humanoid beast erupted from within the leaves, curved dagger in hand. Quick and rapid, it should have by all counts had its dagger in his throat before he pulled the trigger, but instead its knife sunk into his throat as he pulled the trigger. The dreg crashed back into the bush, a stream of blood arching from its wound.

Dropping the pistol to the ground, trying to breathe, his lungs could not find air. He could feel the cold handle protruding from his neck.

Arggh.” he shouted trying to stand. He wouldn’t make it home. “Klara.” he whispered, hoping somehow his wife at the capital Arthanis, safe from harm, heard his plea but she married no coward and he wouldn’t go down without a fight. He owed her that honor.

Pushing himself up, drawing on all his remaining strength, he released his sword from its scabbard creating the distinctive ringing sound all good swords do when unsheathed.

The forest moved and swayed from wind and hordes of dreg; he could see dozens of those creatures surrounding him.

Come on you b******s.” he cried and charged. Several arrows punctured his flesh before he even got a few steps. Pain surged through his body, the stinging intensity growing into a hot agonizing burn as his flesh felt like it melted off bone. With muscles stiffened, no longer in control, the sword tumbled from his hands.

Crashing into the mud, the last thoughts he had were not of the mission, his men or even Klara, just darkness and only briefly, for after that, he never had thoughts again.


***


The Dreg Forest became quiet with the sounds of fighting hushed by slaughter. Men and women laid in various states of death, gutted, poisoned, bleeding, all along the road and surrounding broken foliage. Within the center of corpses, the flag of the empire lay crumpled on the ground, dirty and stained, its frayed cloth wet with pattering rain.

Within the woods, he walked out of hiding with others around him. They jerked their bodies, unnaturally swaying from side to side without rhythm or pattern, mimicking abominations from beyond the realms of the physical. Dressing like ghosts, strips of cloth were pulled horizontally over their entire bodies in layers. Each one carried a quiver of arrows, a bow and curved blade of sharpened bone.

Standing around the carnage deep within the bodies of Arthan soldiers, reddish eyes peered through bits of fabric.

Touching his necklace of animal bones before moving in to the platoon’s leader, he had seen their kind before at the edge of the forest. The one who shouted loudest was always in charge.

The chilled rain began to subside, although the dark clouds and cold air lingered on. A parchment, rolled up and wet, protruded from a sack on the captain’s body, the seal of Prince David unbroken and the wooden box it rested in unlatched and shattered. He knew it was coming, he had foreseen it exactly as it lay before him.

Kneeling beside Trevin’s body, he briefly studied the man’s face, tracing the contours and blackened designs of poisoned flesh with a thin bony finger and long dark fingernail.

Taking the rolled up parchment, his nimble finger snapped the wax seal and unrolled the document. Scanning the black archaic symbols of spiral designs across the paper, he could take away no knowledge from the mysterious writing.

Beginning to speak, his language elegant and soft, filled with grace, he touched the head of Trevin, caressing his wrinkled rough cheeks. Rising to one knee to get up, he crumpled the paper, having seen enough and chucked the wad of parchment with disdain at the dead man’s head. He had no more business with nonsense and walked over to the lone dead of his kind.

A slight sting nipped at his limbs, at first at the tips of fingers, then working up to his elbows. Pausing, he raised a hand. His fingers were black and rotting, the skin peeling away from the bone, the nails hanging loose. The rot continued to move past his palm and up the arm with strips of flesh falling off and chewed muscle dangling by tendons.

Staring in disbelief, another of his kind came forward, sword in hand, and lopped the infected limb off at the elbow.

He felt nothing, not even pain as the limb fell to the ground and he could only look on at his own stump. Dozens of tiny black tendrils surfaced through his muscle and grabbed the outer flesh like tiny hooks, pulling in the skin over bone and meat to seal the wound. His companions stepped back, their weapons pointed at the spectacle.

The numb feeling that held him faded and a new feeling emerged - pain, anger, hate. Words coarse and heavy, his once elegant tone changed into a guttural slop. He didn’t recognize the words from his mouth, but he knew its meaning and moved forward raising his own weapon.

Kill them all.”








© 2017 Srchaud



Author's Note

Srchaud
barring grammer and spelling, did you enjoy the opening? How are the prose and flow of the chapter. Does it make you want to read more or does it turn you away to something else?

My Review

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Featured Review

Considering the fact I tend to shy away from lengthy writes, chapters and books when posted here, I found this chapter of yours really quite engrossing. If the opening few sentences had not been compelling, I would not have read further. Thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end, N

Posted 1 Week Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

Srchaud

1 Week Ago

Thank you very much. I know the challanges of a lengthy read as I tend to shy away from them as well.. read more
Neville Pettitt

1 Week Ago

This was worth the effort....All Good Things, Neville



Reviews

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k
In this chapter, you utilize descriptive language in a very effective way. You give the reader enough information to have a clear understanding of the context of the story, but not so much that it's difficult to get through. With what little information you give the reader in this first chapter, it feels more like a mystery than a vague conclusion, which makes me want to read more. Your end line, "kill them all", is effective and intriguing as well. Putting this dialog in its own paragraph really gives it the punch it deserves.

One thing I noticed that I'd like to draw your attention to: "Howls and shrieks came from the canopy along the long thick ancient tree branches and upon the ancient forest floor". You use the word "ancient" here twice, I recommend using a different word in one of these places to keep a variety.

Good work, I hope this review is helpful!

Posted 2 Days Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Srchaud

2 Days Ago

Thank you and take use your advice. It is one of those silly things you dont notice untill someone p.. read more
The level of detail is so captivating. As a newbie, I could learn so much from it. I tend to shy away from such lengthy reads, this kept me intrigued

Posted 3 Days Ago


Scary, makes for compulsive reading, powerful element, Dreg forest, the ghostly, rag clad enemy warriors, with bone necklace, rifles firing ice, classic good guys fighting bad guys in evil forest, very exciting movement and pace and structure all work fine, just need a better understanding of era, future time? Or past?

Posted 4 Days Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Srchaud

4 Days Ago

I assumed the equipment(flintlocks, plate armor) would give an idea of time(its steampunk/fanasy) Bu.. read more
Alice Frances

3 Days Ago

oh, not familiar with steampunk, orienting in time is not a bad idea though
This first chapter was very good. The action was compelling. The entirety of your writing flowed very well. I enjoyed it overall and will be keeping up.

Posted 6 Days Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Srchaud

6 Days Ago

Thank you and since you took the time to read my work, I will be sure to read your work as well.
Considering the fact I tend to shy away from lengthy writes, chapters and books when posted here, I found this chapter of yours really quite engrossing. If the opening few sentences had not been compelling, I would not have read further. Thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end, N

Posted 1 Week Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

Srchaud

1 Week Ago

Thank you very much. I know the challanges of a lengthy read as I tend to shy away from them as well.. read more
Neville Pettitt

1 Week Ago

This was worth the effort....All Good Things, Neville
I have to say that was a great read. Right from the start it was intense I like. It can't wait to catch up with your work

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Srchaud

1 Week Ago

Thank you. It means alot that you like it.
wow! you are so descriptive and the lines just flow, grammar on point, will give you a whole review after i am done with all the chapters, good job!

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Srchaud

1 Week Ago

My wife helps me edit, she is good with grammer and spelling, me not so much. Thank you for the revi.. read more
Ms. R

1 Week Ago

still you have all the credit for the detailed description, i find amazing details within your writi.. read more
Wow you are such a better writer than I am. Your action scenes really keep you engaged. I need your editing skills as well. Its just great.

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on September 11, 2017
Last Updated on October 17, 2017


Author

Srchaud
Srchaud

Elligton, CT



About
I will review and leave a comment on anyones work who reviews and comments on mine. My comment will be thoughtful and not a generic response of well done. Any new writers who need feedback let m.. more..

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