Chapter 14

Chapter 14

A Chapter by Johnzo

Marshal Langhorne and two of his scouts go on the search for Marshal Hidlegras in the recently razed town of Mez.


Langhorne wiped a bead of sweat of his forehead, then ran his hand back through his blond hair.  The sun shone brightly in late midday as he stood on a ridge overlooking the broken pass.  Though Mez was closer to Smison than any other town, the way was hard and impassable to all but the hardiest of travelers.  He had yet another few miles to travel, but he had stopped to survey the terrain and plot the best path south.  The brief moment of rest was truly appreciated. 

“Jaxet!”  He called out, “any signs?”  

“No marshal, still no one else in view.”  Replied Jaxet who was just reaching the ridge a good thirty feet further down from Langhorne.  “Where’s Haz sir?”

“I sent him down ahead, let’s follow.”  Replied Langhorne.  He went down a thin path on the ridge carefully avoiding the larger outcroppings and areas of loose debris.  Jaxet followed several paces behind.  As they reached the bottom Langhorne made eye contact with Haz.  He was sitting silently at the crest of a hill further south.  Haz made a signal gesturing to the southeast then tapped his left brow followed by his right ear. 

Langhorne turned over his shoulder and spoke in a low tone, “We may have company.  Haz heard something, but hasn’t made visual confirmation yet.  Stay alert, let’s keep moving forward.” 

“Yes sir.”  Said Jaxet.  Though he was a young scout, Jaxet was fully aware of the signal that Haz had given, but he followed his mentor’s lead. 

After a few short minutes the two met up with Haz on the hill and resumed speaking. 

“What do we know?”  Said Langhorne in a muted, somber tone. 

“I heard what sounded like footfalls to the southeast.  They were headed back south I think, but I couldn’t make a visual.  It could’ve been some local fauna, but it was a couple hills over, so it’s anyone’s guess.”  Haz gave a quick report then looked to Langhorne for the next plan. 

“Jaxet, let me see that scoped rifle a moment.”  Said Langhorne.  Jaxet complied and immediately handed over the firearm.  Langhorne looked through the scope and over the nearby hills.  He was impressed by the increased visual range of these latest scopes they had purchased from the Cytechs, but even still there was nothing within his sight.  “We’re very close to Mez now, they could have their own scouts in this area.  In fact, we should expect that they will.  We’ll keep arms out from here on, and stay close.  I’ll take lead, then Haz, then you Jaxet.  Keep your eyes open, keep those scout skills sharp.  This could be the most dangerous situation either of you’ve seen in your short lives.”  Langhorne looked over the hill straining for any additional bit of information before they went ahead.  I don’t like walking into a unknown situation…  But this time I don’t have any choice.  He turned back to his scouts, “We move.”   

The three walked cautiously south crossing one hill after another.  There still had been no signs of the outcasts, but they knew that each hill crested was one more closer to a certain confrontation.  The only question was when. 

Haz broke the silence talking in little more than a whisper.  “Do you think Hildregras is alright Marshal?  It’s been three days already.” 

Langhorne let the question rest in the air for a moment.  “He’s a cunning one.  If anyone could find a way to survive through such a dire situation, he could.  If I were in his place, I’d leverage my knowledge of the northern terrain.  If the outcasts are setting to make war, they’ll need all the information they can gather.”

“Do you think they’ll really risk waging outright war?”  Before a few days ago, Jaxet never thought something like this could ever unfold in the generally quiet North East territory.  There was great concern bleeding into into his voice. 

“The Outcasts have never shown this much aggression in my time.  We’ve known the location of Mez was a risk for years, but the nearby rich mines made it worth being so close to the Wastes borders.  At least the Merkants thought so.  Time passed, war has been the last thing on people’s minds.  It’s been nearly twenty years now since we’ve had close dealings with the Outcasts, so that can only mean one of two things.”  Langhorne paused a moment and sat down on a large rock that cropped out of dusty hill they had been climbing.  He took out a canteen and took a small swig of water. 

The two scouts stopped and knelt down, following suit with their own canteens. 

Jaxet spoke again.  “What two things would those be?”

Langhorne looked to the ground with no trace of emotion in his eyes.  “One, they aren’t interested with things going on outside their borders.  They come out only occasionally to scavenge, then retreat back to their foggy mire.  Or…  They’ve taken the past years in planning.  What we’ve seen lately is just the ground work for a more involved and nefarious plot.  Given the amount of activity lately, including their night raid on Smisom, I’m inclined to think the later.”

“They’re brewing war and the three of us… we’re just walking right into the thick of it?”  Haz was not feeling optimistic about the situation. 

“You should trust me more than that by now.”  Corrected Langhorne.  “If things go well no one will notice we’ve come and gone.  What we need now is information, and we need Hildegras.  Not just because we need to rescue our own, but he should have been able to absorb some information by now no matter where he’s being held.”

“Assuming he’s alive.”  Muttered Haz. 

“Come on Haz, show some respect.”  Retorted Jaxet. 

Haz huffed and took another swig of water. 

“You are right Haz.  It’s an assumption, but one based on past experience.  Hildegras knows how to work the people around him.  We know the outcasts are after something, which means they need information on how to find it.  He knows that, and would do everything he could to exploit it, especially as a means of survival.”  Said Langhorne.

“I still don’t like the gamble.  We could be walking into a stronghold.  They could have their weapons pointed at this very hill as we speak, and if not who knows what kind of defenses that may have organized closer to Mez.  It’s too risky.”  Said Haz.  His words were direct which was something Langhorne had come to expect, but not disrespectful. 

“In any case, we won’t leave one of our own behind.  Trust aside, that is something you should’ve learned by now Haz.  This is not a raid, just a quiet extraction.  We’ll stay low, only move when we’re sure we can’t be seen.”  Said Langhorne. 

“If you say so.”  Complied Haz.  He folded his arms and leaned back a bit.

“You’ll be a marshal on your own merits soon enough Haz, but for now we move ahead.  Just be sure to leave your own plans behind when we get close.  There won’t be room for discussion from here on out.”  Said Langhorne.  He made sure to make direct eye contact and gave a slight smile to Haz.  Haz was the longest tenured scout currently serving in Smisom, which was the reason Langhorne chose him to come along, but his experience had made him cocky and opinionated in some situations.  Even still, Langhorne was grateful to know he had such an adept scout with him on such a dangerous mission.  “We’ll be in visual range of Mez over the next couple hills, at that point we’ll have to find cover and begin surveillance.  We’ll stay put until dusk and then find an opportunity to make our move.  Once we find an ingress, Jaxet you’ll remain at point by the exit, we’ll need you to ensure the way out is still clear.  Haz, you’ll come with me into town, then we’ve got to split up and find Hildegras.  I don’t have to tell you the upmost importance of stealth here.  We’ll meet Jaxet at the exit in one hour no matter what.  If we can’t find him and extricate him in that time, we regroup and make a new plan.”

“And what if there are other survivors?”  Asked Jaxet, his eyes and furrowed brow showing his intense focus on the moment. 

“We leave them for now.  If we can get Hildegras out, we’ll have a better idea how to get the others out, and where they may be held.”  Said Langhorne.  “Let’s keep moving now, I want to make sure we get a good view of the area while the sun is still bright.” 

“Right.”  Agreed Jaxet. 

Haz nodded and stood, packing his canteen away in his pack.  “Might as well, wouldn’t want to be late for my own gruesome death.”  He said smiling while giving Jaxet a hearty shove, nearly pushing him over while he too was beginning to stand. 

“Oh, real nice Haz.  You really shouldn’t talk like that you know.”  Responded Jaxet. 

“We all deal with tension differently Jaxet.  I don’t mind as long as long there’s proper focus when the moment calls for it.  Though Haz, that moment is nearly here.”  Langhorne stood up and motioned south.  “This way.”



“There’s our way in.”  Said Langhorne just above a whisper.  He leaned back down behind a boulder outside the edge of the town he once knew as Mez. 

“How can you even tell?  This place is a war zone!”  Haz replied in a strained whisper. 

The red light at dusk was more than enough to illuminate the ruins that sat before them.  Every single building was either broken, burned or otherwise damaged.  There were even several spots of smoldering ash where some buildings had been burned to the ground.  Some wooden homes near the north edge of town were the least disrupted, but window and doors were broken in and the edges of most of the exteriors were singed and blackened.  From where they stood, they could see that other stone and mortar buildings further into town were in just as bad condition.  Caved in walls, holes in roofs, even cut stone foundations were displaced and cracked.  Pock marks and small craters littered the ground every where, and their occurrence seemed to become more frequent towards the center of town. 

Haz continued, “It looks like the whole place was savaged by some kind of explosive weapons… but I’ve never seen anything like this before.  The whole town’s a wreck, how can you even find a way anywhere?” 

“See the shadows cast by the first building down the ridge?  If we make it there, there’s enough cover from the next few buildings to keep us out of the suns light and get us a vantage point a lot closer in.  From there we figure out what to do next.  I haven’t seen or heard anyone yet, but I’m going to bet that at least a few of them are still here.”  Said Langhorne. 

“Them… right.”  Said Haz rolling his eyes a bit in disgust.  “And you’re betting Hildegras is still here.” 

“I’m counting on it.  Send the signal to Jaxet, then we’ll move.”  Said Langhorne. 

Haz pulled out a small whistle.  He placed it to his lips and covered the base with his free hand.  He rang out two short bird calls followed by a long one.  Trr-trr twery-er.  An identical call rang out from somewhere in the hidden stone about a hundred feet back. 

“Good.”  Without another word Marshal began slinking down between rock and stone down the ridge that led into Mez.  Haz waited a few seconds then followed.  They tried to remain as out of site as they could, while at the same time moving quickly and keeping an lookout for any potential prying eyes.  Luckily they saw none, and soon they reached their target point. 

Langhorne leaned back on a stone and mortar wall that was missing a huge section near the top.  A gaping chunk was missing from the roof as well.  He surveyed the area trying to formulate a plan. 

“We’ve only got another 20 minutes of daylight left.”  Said Langhorne. 

“And less than an hour until we meet up with Jaxet.”  Reminded Haz. 

“We’ll need to split up here.  You’ll take the southeast, I’ll go southwest.  Don’t use the roads, they’re too open.  Cut through the back ways, keep a wall at your side at all times as best you can.  When the sun goes down, start making your way back.  We’ve got to move fast.”

“I don’t see why we didn’t just wait until after dark, it’s a lot easier to remain unseen.”  Haz said plainly. 

“Something tells me we don’t want to stick around much after dark this close to the Outcasts handiwork.  This much carnage, there’s bound to be plenty of… bodies left behind.”  Langhorne hesitated in his word choice, but regrettably acknowledged the obvious truth.  “There are bound to be plenty of scavengers out as the moon rises.” 

“You mean, mowguls?”  Asked Haz, his face growing more serious.

“Most certainly.”  Langhorne gave Haz a firm pat on the shoulder.  “See you after sundown.”

Langhorne took his rifle off the strap on his back and took off running in a low crouch.  He didn’t even look back to see if Haz had followed his instructions, he knew the scout would stick to the plan when it mattered most.  He did however hear what sounded like a stumble and muted oomph.  “Now’s not the time for fumbling…”  Said Langhorne under his breathe, but he continued on. 

Not a soul alive to be found… yet.  Langhorne’s mind raced as he made his way through the razed town.  His pace was quick, but his footfalls were steady and as quiet as he could manage.  He passed what looked to be part of an old Merkant shop, the splintered beams of the outdoor storefront pointed their jagged edges to the quickly darkening sky.  This is part of the marketplace, not a trace of anyone.  Just then he caught a glimpse of the main town meeting hall between the charred remains of two Merkant office buildings.  It was in decent shape, there was no major structural damage.  A building that close to the destruction, and still standing, it’s probably my best bet.

Langhorne cut through the alleys and back lots of a few buildings and made it to the meeting hall.  There was a six-pane glass window with just the lower left pane broken out within his reach.  First he crouched under it and listened, but there was nothing but silence.  He raised his head and peeked in the window.  It was quite dark, but the red light was enough to make out a few human shapes in the far corner.  They were all sitting, and in the shadows it looked like their hands and feet were bound. 

Not going to take any chances.  Langhorne picked up a few loose stones off the ground.  He walked to the edge of the building and threw one around the corner into a pile of nearby debry.  The thud of stone on wood rang out as Langhorne quickly hid back in safety.  He paused a moment, then did the same thing with the other two stones in other directions.  Not a sound.  Langhorne was puzzled. 

The sun was already at the horizon, and he knew he had only minutes let.  He pulled his rifle, checking the large multi-slot chamber before clicking it into place, then entered the meeting hall.  He opened the door slowly then quickly came inside and closed the door. 

“Hildegras?”  He said quietly. 

“Langs, you’re right on time.”  A bleak voice responded. 

Langhorne ran over to the source of the voice.  He found Hildegras tied up, next to a few other men also bound, but he was the only one conscious.  Langhorne grabbed his knife and cut Hildegras’ ropes. 

“What’s been going on here, is it has bad as I expect?”  Langhorne asked. 

“I would say so.”  Hildegras rubbed his wrists and stretched.  “This will not be a one time incident.  These Outcasts are moving, Mez is just a preparation.  For what I haven’t figured out.”

Langhorne shook his head.  “This is not good news.  What else do you know?” 

“They are very well armed.  It seems they’ve been productive in their leave from blighting the rest of us decent folk over the years.  Their weapons are… so destructive.  The town was lost before they even set foot inside.  They have machines, devices and explosives that are entirely foreign.  It’s uncanny, we really had no hope.”  Hildegras was grave and somber, but almost detached from his own words. 

“And what about you men here?  Why leave some alive?”

“We’re useful… I suppose.  They made me walk them through my maps of the northeast in a high level of detail.  Some of these others are blacksmiths, carrier pilots and the like.  I guess they though they might need some human resources at some point.  I haven’t seen or heard any of them since day break this morning.  But I’m sure they’ll be back.  Where are you going?”

Langhorne disappeared for a moment then reentered the room rolling a barrel of water.  He found an empty stein on the floor nearby and gave Hildegras drink.  “We’ll leave the water for these others, but we’ve got to move now.” 

Hildegras knew these other men were in no shape to make the long trek to Smisom, it was a hard decision to make, but one he wouldn’t question.  “Then what do we do?”

“We need to plan.”  Said Langhorne as he made for the door. 

Hildegras followed slowly then hesitated.  “Anything short of evacuating the entire northeast territory at this point may be useless.  Langhorne, don’t you think…” 

Langhorne paused his steps but did not turn.

“Don’t you think it’s time to call on your old friends?”  Hildegras said. 

“Those-!”  Langhorne was given pause by his own attempt at keeping his voice down.  “Those people were never my friends.  Anytime I’ve gotten mixed up with them, it’s never gone well.  They might even be involved in this for all I know!”  He paused again trying to cover the tumult of anger he had on the subject.  “Hildegras, you know why I left the plains to come to the northeast, you of all people know what went on back there.  It’s utter madness.  Those people are nobody’s friends.  No.”  His tone was growing more and more resolute and in control again.  “No, I won’t be pouring that oil on this fire.”

Hildegras approached his friend and placed his hand on Langhorne’s shoulder with a dry smile.  “You sound like someone who has their mind made up.” 

“Glad to see with all this trouble they haven’t broken your spirit yet.”  Langhorne replied.  “After you.” 

The marshals exited the meeting hall.  The sun was completely below the horizon, but a few traces of fading red light lingered. 

“We’ll need to meet up with Haz before leaving town.  I’ve got Jaxet placed just over the northern ridge watching the exit.  We can make camp once we’re far enough north and out of danger.” 

“You’ve got that oaf out there by himself?”  Asked Hildegras. 

“We split up to find you, he’s under orders to rendezvous after sunset.”

“That one’s been getting a bit too big for his britches these days.  Thinking speed and strength are more important than stealth, that’s just asking for trouble.”  Said Hildegras. 

“He’s growing cocky, but he knows how dire the situation is.” 

They continued on and reached the shattered marketplace en route to the north.  “Not much further now.”  Said Langhorne, but as he did he paused mid-step. 

“I heard it too.”  Said Hildegras, a hidden nervousness building in his posture.  The sun light was completely gone now, and the faintest moonlight lit the town. 

A moment passed and again a slight noise could be heard in the distance.  A foot fall was coming closer and at rapid pace, but there was something else. 

Marshals!  A voice bellowed out.  Run!”

Taking the advice, they did just that and ran straight out of town towards Jaxet’s lookout. 

“Haz, what is it?!”  Said Langhorne, calling out to his scout. 

“Creatures-!  Mowguls!”  He shouted in reply.  Haz had never seen one in person, and in the moon light they looked more monsterous then anything that should possibly exist.  He jumped over a broken half wall and rolled on the ground.  Picking himself up instantly he continued the sprint.  A single stone grey mowgul followed him not too far behind, it’s scarred bald round dome gleamed off a bit of moonlight.  Even in the dark, it’s slobbering curved teeth were noticeable, and especially unwelcome.  The mowgul was in full stride with all four legs rapidly striking the ground with sharp black claws on each foot.

The two marshals ran ahead as Hildegras turned to speak in mid stride.  “So which was this that got us into this mess?”

“What do you mean?”  Said Langhorne barely able to speak inbetween heavy breathes. 

“Which was it, Haz’s cockiness or oafishness?”  Smiled Hildegras. 

Not funny, thought Langhorne as he drew his rifle. 


© 2010 Johnzo

Author's Note

All comments appreciated! Specifically about the individual chapter pacing, and how the pace of the overall book feels. I think this is just starting the 2nd major arc for this book which will build up to the final climax at the end of book 1.

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Added on August 15, 2010
Last Updated on August 15, 2010



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