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Chapter 1

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Esakka 2, 542 CSE, Brigga Province

"You have got to be fucking kidding me?”

The large, angry swordsman screamed as the charging group of enemy ground forces was flung pell mell by the blast of magical fire which then dissipated in the darkness. He whirled to glare at the scrawny tall figure standing on a mound of dirt a few dozen meters behind the line, the thick metallic torc around his neck swinging freely before settling into place, a bit off-kilter. The top of the swordsman’s head was smoking and sizzling from proximity to the blast of fire.

He waved his sword at the scrawny figure and yelled, “Watch your godsdamned aim, Crookback!”

The figure made an obscene gesture and with a cackle, dropped back down behind the birm it’d been standing on.

For his part, Samazar growled deep in his throat then squatted back down in his trench just as a volley of incoming arrow fire was announced from somewhere behind him.

Across from him, Wymrick watched, eyes wide with awe, terror, and a good half dozen other emotions. 

“New guy?” 

Arrows began to pepper the ground but, thanks to the trench cover, only a few managed to find their way through. 

“New guy?”

Wymrick’s eyes darted to each arrow as it landed; to the overhead cover as each arrow slammed into it.

“New guy!”

Something hit him on the side of his head and for a fleeting moment he thought he’d taken an arrow hit. Then it hit him again and he realized Samazar had been throwing chunks of dirt at him.

He tried to shake off the giant pit in his stomach. “Sorry, sorry, Samazar. I thought..”

“Stop thinking and pay attention.” Samazar rolled over and in a crouch waddled his way next to Wymrick. “We need to get word to Rainer, let him know the ranged fire is starting to let up over here. I think they're moving the other archers around to the north flank.” He pointed over Wymrick’s head to an opposing area of the battlefield.

Wymrick nodded his head furiously in agreement as the arrow fire over head continued to slam into the trench cover. He couldn’t tell if it had slowed or not.

Samazar was glaring at him so he nodded some more.

“Why the hell do I always get stuck with the new ones?” Samazar said with a hard eye roll, and then smacked Wymrick lightly on the side of his head. “That means you, New Guy.”

Wymrick’s eyes widened. He shinnied back a bit, trying to cram himself into the corner of the trench hole. “Me? You want me to go? Can’t you...you know…” He pointed to his own torc-less neck and taped lightly at his throat.

Samazar’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Out of range, you idiot.”

 “Well, I don’t think…”

Samazar’s smack to the head was a little less gentle this time. “I told you to stop thinking. Now get your ass moving or I’m going to use you for a shield.”

One of the tips of Samazar’s metal torc, hanging heavy around his neck, began to give off a very, very soft reddish aura. It was faint enough you had to actually be looking for it to know it was there. Then Samazar’s head snapped to alert as if he were healing something. He tapped his torc once. “You sure? Ground troops?”

Wymrick was trying to make sense of the chaos that was making everything hard to make sense of the chaos. 

Samazar grunted and without a thought stood up so he could look over the top of the trench ridge. “Shit. Well, two hundred’s a lot more than we’d thought.” He tapped the head of his torc. “Got it.”

He dropped back down and turned to yell towards the other side of the trench and saw Wyrmick still crouched across from him. The roar that bellowed forth was impressive. “What the Seven Hells are you still doing here?”

Wymrick knew the moment he saw the look in Samazar’s eyes it was either death by Samazar or death by arrow fire. Before his team leader could raise the large sword in his hand, Wymrick took the least terrifying one and ran as if the Banes were at his heels.

“Don’t come back unless you're dead! Tarry, Wrinkle, we’ve got incoming. Sharpcut, lay down some fire.”

Behind him as he ran, Wymrick could hear the sounds of his trench hole fading away overtaken by the on-going battle that raged across the large trench line before the city walls. 

Up ahead he could just make out a silhouette of an old wagon that had obviously seen better days. Most likely abandoned by one of the local townsfolk before they were killed or fled the mounting battle. By the look of it, something had knocked one wheel completely from its axle and the wagon had crashed on its side where it remained. That looked as good a place as any to get his bearings before he headed towards Rainer’s flanking unit about two hundred or so paces from where he and Samazar had been held up.

The darkness began to brighten and it seemed rather odd that the sun would be rising so quickly. He also quickly realized, gods be praised, it wasn’t the sun.

He dove for the ground, completely ignoring the thought of whatever his face was going to land in, as a massive, boiling, ball of fire slammed into the ground just ahead of him.

As the wave of heat washed over his back he remembered seven days ago, being assigned to the unit, and the first order of the day, digging plop trenches with squatting benches.

Seven days. Well, this certainly was fun.

His ears were ringing as he pulled his face from the mud. The fire boulder had completely obliterated the wagon and everything within ten paces. Two more paces and Wymrick’s scarlet hair would have been matched only by the fire-burned flesh it would have once clung to. Equally thankful for the fact that his face-plant into the mud had saved his lungs from being charred from the inside out, he struggled to his feet, grabbed the helm that had rolled a few feet from where he landed, smiled at the fact that he’d never let go of his blade and stumbled off in what he hoped was in the right direction to Rainer’s unit.

One foot in front of the other, keep putting it there, keep moving. He could still hear Top’s voice bellowing out. That had been day three as they force-marched fifty-two miles in less than two days, more than half of that through the Furnaces. Gods be damned, those mountains were hell. He remembered, as they descended on the northern side of the range, he’d been struck by two things. 

The first was the realization that you could actually see the reflection of the Sea of the Orb off in the distance; little twinkles and flares despite the fact it was probably, what, six, seven miles from where they were?

The second had been the site between where he was and where the Sea of the Orb lay. The smoke, the sounds of explosions, the screaming of men and beasts were the clear sign of the war that smashed between the Broken Swords and the Braggian uprising. From what he’d gathered, the Swords had been brought in because the Serinnians were busy elsewhere. It was their damn Empire, what were they doing ‘elsewhere?’

Samazar said he didn’t know and didn’t care when Wymrick put that question to him. Then, for daring to bore him to death with stupid questions, Samazar had him carry the water skins of all the other team members. After he filled them all up. And for the next three miles to the checkpoint and the link up area.

Well, it was what he’d signed up for. No more hunting for rats. No more wasp removals. No more dog bites. Most important, no more of Vordoff’s stupid ‘catcher jokes and his infautation with anything younger than was right. When the Swords finally came to Ela’ka he’d already joined before the last word was out of the mouth of the person who’d told him.

Months of travel by ship, passage into the northern lands of the Serennian Empire and finally waylaid in a small town, Hearts Fire, to rendezvous with one of the Sword’s hesirs. That was an impressive sight, he had to admit. Five hundred soldiers camped outside a town half that size.

He was assigned to a unit and the march began.

Seven days since that moment. Even if it was only a week he was fairly certain that if he lived through this he was going to go back and kill Vordoff.

Another blast from another falling war meteor snapped him out of his memories. This one wasn’t close but it still shook him up a bit, more because he’d realized he let his mind wander. And now was most definitely not the time to let your mind wander.

He stumbled to an area of higher ground, a ridgeline that was part of the mountain range to the west and spilled down towards the Sea of the Orb to the east. The lowlands here were peppered with them and it made for interesting battle terrain; especially for the ground troops to maneuver. ‘Interesting’ was apparently a word Samazar used whenever he wanted to kill something. You’d start up one, engage the entire way up, beat the living snot out of the enemy and run down only to come straight up against another ascent; and more enemy.

It was miserable.

But at the crest it gave you a chance to see a slightly larger picture of the overall battle. It was definitely a huge front; a mass of several dozen skirmishes and smashing conflicts. The worst of it, by far, was further north, closer to the city of Brigga. That was where the vast majority of the main push was. It had a high concentration of warmages up there. Sure, every regiment had one, maybe two, attached as support but everyone knew each of them was a dyed-in-the-wool, pain-in-the-ass, balls-to-the-wall, lunatic. But it beat fuck all when compared with pulling the short end of the stick and having your unit end up near the main attack point. There’s crazy, really crazy and then there’s half a dozen or more warmages in the same vicinity. Even after just six days he knew this. Stupid is as stupid does.

He did reckon that having less than two dozen of them in the entire army was probably a good thing. Yup, definitely a very good thing. Come to think of it, how in the Seven Hells do you keep those bastards from blasting away the entire battlefield, friend or enemy? He shrugged, too tired to really care and too determined to get where he was going to stop and try to figure it out. 

And if he didn’t get there soon, Samazar would most likely put him on cook’s duty for an entire month; if they lived that long.

Up ahead he could make out a line of trenches and he was fairly confident it was Rainer’s team but between the dark of the knight and the shadow flicker of all the fire that was cascading around them from Brigga’s siege engines it was hard to make out details.

Dodging his way around a number of charred burning pitch balls still sloughing off fire, he slid down into the edge of the trench.

He instantly knew things had just gone from bad to worse.

Okay-as I read this next section, am I to assume that there has been a passage of some amount of time? And that Wymrick & Samazar have met up with everyone else? Sorry for the confusion.

*****

“All right, line up and pipe down!” The large dark-skinned company leader glowered at his unit as they began to climb from their resting places into a formation of four lines; Vulture, Cobra, Bear and Ash. Are the 4 (Vulture, Cobra, Bear & Ash) a large batallion of soldiers? Or just a few? Or a single individual representing each team?

They had just arrived at the far edge of the southwestern point of the battlefield. Far off, Wymrick could just make out the tell-tale signs of arrow fire and small explosions that marked a skirmish erupting near the northern wall of Brigga. He was tired, the march had been longer than anything he’d endured. His feet hurt. His crotch was chafed. His neck was chafed and sunburned. Who the hell would have ever thought, in a place with freeze-your-ass-off temperatures like out of the mountains they’d just come from, you could get a fucking sunburn?

“Listen up! There’s a mess over there,” he turned and pointed one of his massive arms toward another area of the battlefield, “that got hit and defended but left a king’s ransom in dead bodies that are going to start festering. We drew clean up duty. Bear, Cobra, get it done. Hook up with Nail, she’ll get you going.”

There were a number of groans from two of the lines, one of which Wyrmick realized he was standing in. Samazar leaned forward so he could glare down the line of his team. “Next one of you opens your mouth I’m going to make you eat everything we clean up.” Lips clamped shut immediately.

“The rest of you, we’re going to encamp over there at the base of that small ridgeline..” Again another finger point. “Any questions?”

Vulture’s team lead called out. “You want standard formation and watches, Top?”

Turning toward the ridgeline, Top chewed at his lower lip a moment, then turned back. “Yeah, for now, probably best. Buttercup, you and Vulture take first watch.”

She nodded and jammed her thick, metal helmet back onto her head.I thought that Wymrick was Buttercup’s mentor….but, it reads as if she has been soldiering a lot longer than Wymrick (as he is the ‘newbie’ here). Did I misunderstand that from our movie? 

“If that’s it, get your butts moving.”

Formation broke and Bear and Cobra found themselves hiking to the clean-up site at a double time. In the two teams there were three fresh faces; Wymrick, Talor and Liam. None of them had been around even remotely long enough to warrant a nickname. This made it especially difficult since they were all technically ‘new’ and every time someone yelled “New Guy” they all answered.

Which made Grin, a nasty piece of work who must have earned his nickname from the horrifying facial scar he had, laugh and chuckle and make obscene comments. Wymrick had grown to hate him already.

As they hit the clean-up area, the first thing that hit Wyrmick was the smell. Burning, stinking, roasting. Back in Ela’dun, trapping and ridding the flotillas of pests and vermin, he’d seen and smelled numerous bad things before. But this smell, the scent of burning people, was a new one. Liam chucked out his dinner almost immediately, which earned peals of laughter from Grin.

But the worst part? As they worked, mouth’s covered with wet rags to ward off the stench and the bugs, the part most horrifying, he realized, was it would make you salivate. It smelled like something cooking on the spit. It wasn’t until you stopped to think about it, took a moment to catch the little subtle difference that was more acrid than sweet, that the revulsion suddenly slammed into your brain.

*****

He was not even slightly ashamed that he’d puked up a full day’s rations the first time. But he’d been the last new guy to do it so he took that as a good sign.

Rainer’s entire team appeared to have been hit by a ball of pitch. By the looks of it, it must have careened into the trench after ricocheting off a fallen tree and it had sent it precisely down the trench like a children’s game of tunnels and marbles. The bodies were a jumbled, mingled, melted mass of jutting limbs and boiled flesh. The torcs around each of their necks had been turned to slag, merging with the melting flesh as to be almost one. Down to the right about twenty paces a large downed tree had been hauled across the trench as a means for troops to move back and forth. It was really only meant for daily operations as only one soldier at a time could move across.

And, of course, there was the smell.

He took three deep breaths to keep his breakfast down.

This is really not good. Not good at all.

He glanced around furtively, looking for anyone who might still be alive but he didn’t have to look long; like the hope of finding something you already know isn’t there.

Then the assault started.

Three units of Brigga ground troops and an attachment of cavalry had spearheaded through the center of the archers laying down the barrage of arrow fire earlier. As the Swords began to react to the shift in the ranged attacks, the Brigga ground forces had seized their initiative in an attempt to get past this front, close them in, surround and eliminate them.

Wymrick was staring down the charge.

He dropped down into the trench, back against the front wall, and frantically looked up and down both sides. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.”

The Swords began to answer the charge and arrow fire from both sides once again began to pepper the battlefield. There was also the distinct sound of one of Crookback’s poppers somewhere to the left. Screams, grunts and voices grew in intensity as the two forces engaged.

Seven days. Seven days was all he was apparently going to get. He hadn’t even yet taken the oath, hadn’t met his thirty days for the ceremony. No torc. He was just going to die here in the mud, who-knows-how-many-days away from Ela’ka.

The pounding of hooves had been growing closer and louder and Wyrmick flinched as several of the charging steeds leapt across the trench overhead. The blade in his hand felt inadequate to say the least but he wiped the sweat and grime from his hands on his chest to maintain a better grip just as the first Brigga soldier slid into the trench not four paces from him.

Wymrick didn’t have a moment to think. His mind just went blank and his feet carried him to close the distance and he rammed the blade up through the armor gap between armpit and chest plate. The soldier didn’t even make a sound as Wymrick pulled the blade out and took a step back.

The soldier’s crossbow tumbled to the ground and the dead soldier followed suit. Wymrick’s eyes locked onto the weapon a moment. Back to the dead soldier’s peaceful face. Back to the weapon.

“Well, son of a sow’s tit, that I know how to use.”

He quickly sheathed his blade, flipped the dead soldier over to find his quiver of bolts, grunted in surprise when it appeared to be almost full, and then scooped up the crossbow. A quick yank and tug and he’d drawn the line and notched a bolt.

He flattened his back against the trenches front wall and took several more deep breaths as he listened to the clang, smash, screams and battering of the battlefield above him. With a quick movement, like looking into the bottom hold of a ship for rats, he stuck his head up barely a blade’s width over the top of the trench, flicked his eyes across the range and then dropped back down.

All right, he thought, I’m in the gap, obviously.

Another horse leapt across the trench.

I should hide in here. Keep my head down. No one will know I’m here. Live to fight another day. Right?

Even though it’d only been seven days he flinched as he felt the smack of Salazar’s imagined hand slap against the side of his head followed by a swing of that massive blade.

All right then, hiding is probably out of the question.

For the strangest of reasons, an old nursery rhyme his mayma used to sing to him popped into his head out of nowhere. “Trip to the lake, hear the lilting tide, trip to the sky, falling from on high.” Even stranger, he started to hum it.

It wasn’t very loud and definitely did not overcome the sounds of the battle, but the vibration in his chest, the familiar tingle of the words and the memory of his mayma’s voice, all began to instill a calmness, a clarity.

A ground soldier slid into the trench, this time facing towards him, The soldier immediately rushed forward brandishing the spiked mace with murderous intent but Wymrick raised the crossbow and the bolt slammed into the woman’s neck and nearly out the back. She fell dead at his feet.

A third horse flew by overhead.

His eyes fell on the downed tree. To Wymrick, it looked a hell of a lot like better cover then where he was currently.

It also started an idea brewing in the back of his head.

He clammored his way as fast as he could down the distance to bring him directly under the thick tree. Then he pressed up near the top of the trench to once more peer out into the battlefield, this time with much better protection from the tree.

The battle was no longer merely skirmish attacks. This was a full on frontal assault, more than likely bent on trying to take one of the main Sword encampments further to the rear. More concerning, and definitely more pressing, was one of the larger units, it looked to be about the size of a company, was heading straight his way as it moved from trench to trench trying to gain cover during their advance.

The idea brewing in his head screamed loudly, loud enough to momentarily overcome the song in his head. His eyes flitted back and forth, taking in the movements, soldiers and horses, and the smaller forming battle areas.

Vordoff’s obnoxious voice popped into his head. “Don’t poke the big dead ones. They’ll be full up and you don’t want to tackle that mess.”

Another horse was heading towards him, or more likely toward the other side of the trench he was in.

He ducked back down. This is going to get me killed.

He glanced back over the battlefield one more time, took a good look at estimating where the horse was aiming to make its jump, then dropped into the bottom of the trench, scrambled over about four or five paces and rolled over flat on his back looking straight into the sky above.

“Shit!” He rolled to his knees, yanked on the crossbow draw line, and shoved another bolt into place.

The moment he flopped onto his back the horse came into view over the trench. He wasn’t quite underneath it but fortunately it was on his dominant side and he quickly flipped the point of the crossbow, squeezed the release and watched it slam into the side of the horse’s underbelly just below the right front leg.

The horse screamed and the jolt caused it to twist. It almost made it, front feet coming down on the far side, but the resulting pain and surprise from the twist had put its trajectory off. The back legs slammed into the far well, the soldier in the saddle was jarred loose and both of them tumbled down into the trench. Audible cracks and a horrifying scream from the horse signalled bones snapping in the fall.

Fortune was fair once more as the horse landed on the soldier’s head and torso and by the look of the fall had broken his neck. The horse on the other hand was flailing about, making an awful screaming sound, eyes crazed and almost full white as they rolled about with every shriek.

Wymrick stumbled toward the beast, dropped his crossbow and drew his blade. He miscalculated the distance between them as he advanced and as the horse flailed and twisted, one of its good legs smacked him in the chest, knocking the wind from his lungs and sending him hard into the side of the trench. To make matters worse the blade in his hand had been between him and the trench wall and the slam had driven its edge deep into one of his legs.

Fortune was fickle. Maru, you bastard.

As he yanked the blade from where it was embedded, he tried as best as possible to stifle the yell by shoving his face into the mud of the trench wall and letting the scream of rage and pain bury itself there. Then, heart hammering with adrenalin he moved quickly back to the horse and shoved the tip of the blade as hard as he could up through the bottom of its exposed neck and in toward its skull.

It went limp after about five heartbeats.

“Into the trenches! Move!”

Hell and rat shit, that is close, he thought as he heard the yelled command. He dropped to his knees, shoved his blade into the dead horse’s abdomen and began sawing as hard and fast as he could. The viscera was slick and hot but he was desperate. When he had cut a slash nearly as tall as a jotinar he pulled out as much of the horse’s inner workings as he could then plopped down alongside the carcass and covered as much of himself as he could with the entrails.

As the first of the enemy soldiers dropped down into the trench, Wymrick went as limp as he could. He tried to slow his breathing, the ragged ache in his chest. Eyes closed, he began silently praying to the gods that he’d done enough.

“Anu’s ass, that is a fucking mess,” came an unknown voice not too far from where he was laying. He was very much starting to regret coming up with this idea. Maybe he could surrender?

Yeah, that’s an even stupider idea than this one.

“Lay off, Morge, we hold for thirty and then move, like Tarrian said.”

“Yeah, piss off, I know.”

By the sounds of it, there were probably about a half dozen soldiers that had sequestered in the trench before leap-frogging to the next.

There is no way this was going to work.

“Gods be damned, that smell is worse than Ayamor’s asshole.”

“Well, watch where you put your damned nose?”

“When this is done I’m going to drop a nosckian mushroom in both your rations, we’ll see who’s asshole smells worse.”

“We’re moving!”

There was a smattering of clanking and clamouring, grunts and heaves. Wymrick shifted his head just a bit and cracked open one eye. The enemy troopers were scrambling out of the trench rapidly. 

When he thought he saw the last one rise out, he waited ten more heartbeats until he rolled away from the horse carcass and scrambled back up to his feet directly under the overhanging tree.

A quick glance toward the advancing forces let him know he had about thirty ticks before the next wave would be in the trench.

All right. That went better than planned. He scrambled quickly back to the dead carcass, yanked more of its entrails from the corpse and piled as much as he could over against the wall facing the advancing troops. Then he plopped down back against the mess, slathered himself as much as he could and leaned back, pressing his head into the mud to hide his face. His crossbow, nocked and ready, lay in the crook of his arm smeared with gore.

He heard them before he felt the slide of the earth knocked loose above his head as the enemy soldiers scrambled into the trench.

“That was way too close. Someone has to do something about their fucking warmages.”

“You wanna volunteer?”

“Hell no. But those scrappy bastards are making the ground…”

“MOVING!!!!”

More heaves and grunts. Wymrick snapped open his exposed eye and saw the three enemy soldiers grabbing and hauling themselves up the wall he was facing. One was slower than the other two.

As the third one reached the crest, the other two having disappeared in their charge, Wymrick raised the crossbow and shot the last one right through the back of the neck. 

With a strangle, wet gurgle and grunt, the soldier crashed back into the trench, dead.

Immediately Wymrick reloaded the crossbow, laid down on his back and pointed it straight up in roughly the spot the three had climbed out.

Then he waited. One beat. Two beats. Good, he thought, they didn’t…

“Kayvar, get your ass…”

A helmeted head leaned over the trench, eyes went wide and Wymrick shot her in the face.

He had to scramble to move to avoid being hit as she fell into the trench.

But before he stopped moving he was already reloading.

After several dozen heartbeats he was sure the third wasn’t coming back. He clamoured to his feet, stuck his head under the tree to see if more were coming and sure enough there was another group, looking like four, moving towards him.

He was exhausted and he started to sob. Smacking himself in the side of the head, he grabbed the two dead soldiers and hauled them about three paces away from the horse carcass.

Then he dove back into the entrails.

He was losing track of time. He wasn’t sure how many. He wasn’t sure how long his luck would hold out. His hands were aching, his lungs were heaving and he knew eventually that was going to be a dead give away. He was thinking about warm cider in the hull of one of Vordoff’s skiffs. He was thinking about the crust forming in the crack of his ass from all the blood that was seeping into his gambeson.

A dead soldier fell at his feet and he hauled that one to the third pile of bodies he had been stacking.

Scrambling back to his tree, he stuck his head a little too far out of the hole this time, having a difficult time remembering what he was doing.

By the looks of it the shift was moving more to the north, he could see the enemy units angling away from the current front line.

Oh, right. He was trying to save his ass during this assault.

He dropped back down into the trench, glancing around at the bodies piling up in various areas. Well, hell, I’m not taking any chances, he thought. He dragged the most recent body down toward the far collection of corpses and then scrambled back into his equine abattoir.

Just in case.

The sounds of the battle continued, he could hear screams. Explosions. Commands ringing out. The pounding of hooves and feet.

He vaguely remembered he’d run out of bolts for the crossbow as he promptly fell asleep.

-----

“Well that is certainly an interesting sight.”

Somewhere in the back of Wymrick’s mind, the voice peeled through the horrible dreams of running rivers of blood and skin. But he was warm, so he willed the voice to go away.

Another voice, a little deeper pitched, “That’s, what, nine?”

The first voice. “It looks like it. Crossbow bolts.”

“But who the fu---”

With a yell that sounded more like a dying gasp and a heave, Wymrick sat up from his bed of decay, leveled the crossbow in the direction of the first voice and fired the empty crossbow. 

The soldier with the deeper voice, a huge scar running along one side of his face that dragged the corner of his mouth nearly to the ear, stumbled backward in surprise and disappeared from view behind the birm above. The other soldier, much quicker to react, dropped and tumbled skillfully into the trench. Two daggers were in his hands and before Wymrick could take in another breath they were nearly into his throat before the soldier suddenly pulled back.

And started laughing.

Grin’s deep voice above growled out in anger as the sounds of him trying to get back to his feet spilled over the ledge. “What the hell is so damn funny?”

The smaller soldier held his finger up to his lips and smiled at Wymrick. “Tell Samazar we’ve got a live one,” he called out.

Grin appeared standing once more at the edge of the trench. “Punch, just shut up and tell me…”

Wymrick was blinking as he realized the sun was out, up, day, to hell with it, there was light.

Grin started to laugh as well, that laugh that Wymrick was most certainly growing to dislike. “Well, look at that.” He turned and called out over his shoulder. “Samazar, one of the new guys survived!”

There was a very audible curse of disappointment somewhere off in the near distance.

“So, new guy,” Punch prodded him with the tip of one of his daggers, “you hide out here the whole battle?”

Wymrick groaned and tried to roll over. His leg was killing him, it had a deep ache that ran up one side. His head hurt almost as bad. Things were fuzzy and Punch staring him in the face with a very serious look of murderous intent wasn’t helping him focus. “No. No, I don’t think so.” His voice was ragged and sounded about two octaves too high.

Punch threw him a lopsided grin. “You know what we do to cowards, right?”

“No, no, really, I...” He discovered he couldn’t move. Maybe it was the leg. Maybe he was too tired. But he couldn’t make his limbs move. He could flop and flail, roll over and grunt, but nothing else seemed to work. He couldn’t feel his toes, either.

Punch stood up and glanced around the trench, wiping his blades on his shirt and resheathing them. “Doesn’t look good for you, new guy.” 

Grin spit down into the trench on the other side of the dead horse carcass as Samazar arrived at the edge. “You want us to deal with this, Samazar?”

Samazar glared at Grin who just smiled back. At least, to Wymrick, it looked like a smile.

“Can it, Grin. Punch, what’s the damage?”

Punch gestured at the various piles and bodies. “We got nine dead. All Brigga militia. Two by sword, including the horse. The rest by crossbow. New guy here was lying mostly inside the horse carcass.”

“He was what?”

Grin shrugged. “Yeah, it sounds twisted to me, too.”

Samazar gave him another look, “Will you shut up?”

Grin waved dismissively at him and wandered off from the trench.

“Oh, one other thing, Samazar,” Punch said.

Samazar patiently waited what was most likely a very considerate amount of time for him. “Do you need an invitation, your highness?”

Punch shook his head, “Oh no, sorry. New guy is holding the crossbow.”

Wymrick looked down at his lap and sure enough the crossbow was still there, tucked back into the crook of his arm, finger on the pull. How the hell did that get there again?

Samazar was silent. Wymrick was getting the distinct impression that he’d survived the battle only to die here at the hands of his team leader. Samazar’s dark eyes drilled holes into his and he tried licking his lips to alleviate the cracked sting from them but everything just tasted like blood.

“New guy.”

Wymrick shook his head again, realized he was drifting off, trying to fall asleep. “Uh, huh, yes, Samazar. What?”

“Did you kill all these soldiers?”

Wymrick blinked, he was so tired. “I...I think so.” He closed his eyes again, they were just heavy, the lids felt like anvil weights.

There was another long moment of silence. Only the distant sounds of the battlefield being swept and contained spilled into the trench. Calls for medics, bootstrappers, shovels and other supplies could be heard.

“Get him cleaned up and get him some food.”

Wymrick smiled at the word. Food. That would be nice. But maybe after he took a nap. Maybe Vordoff would let him sleep in just a little bit longer.

As his mind faded gently into sleep and mayma began to sing, he heard Samazar’s growl one final time. “Looks like that one can shoot.”

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