"It can't be hopeless."
Two nights ago half a dozen men and I crouched around a campfire,
trying to stay warm, and one of them said those words. He'd joined
the Legion only three weeks earlier, and started talking to himself
after a Ghôl's cleaver removed three fingers from his left hand.
He squatted there in the dirt, repeating that sentence. If he
was looking for reassurance or sympathy, he came up empty-handed,
for no one else said a word.
Tonight I sit by a campfire fifty miles northwest, remembering
the way he screamed this morning when four thrall surrounded him,
knocked the sword from his good hand, and hacked him to pieces.
I never got his name.
The war in the North is in its seventh year, and I grow tired
of writing this record. Force of habit counts for something, but
I've written of so many half-hearted assaults, so many retreats
- why do I go on? Writing down every detail I could remember -
the names of dead men and burning cities and the feeling of heat
at our backs as we ran away, again - used to help me sleep at
night. Now it's just something to do between fighting and sleeping.
Sometimes the sense of futility is overwhelming. Now that most
of this blackened continent belongs to the Fallen Lords and their
servants, it's easy to become discouraged. Sometimes I feel that
holding on for seven years means nothing, that chronicling this
slow death of a world and its people means even less. Our efforts
seem to make no difference, and I wonder why I ever thought joining
up with the Legion was a good idea. My grandfather always told
me I had a bad head. Sometimes he would strike it for emphasis.
In the last month I have dreamt of my grandfather repeatedly,
for reasons I do not understand. I loathed him as a child. When
I was younger my sisters and I spent summers on his farm, performing
the menial labor that any sane adult fobs off on children.
I remember dreading the summer and the bitter old man it brought,
lugging his pumpkins a full mile from the field to his slap-dash
barn, running in terror from his malnourished animals.
I hated it then, though it seems almost idyllic when compared
with this summer. Perhaps that's why I dream of it.
The only relief we had during those summers were the nights when
the old man got drunk. He was a sorry drunk; a single bottle rendered
him immobile for the evening, and his words ran together like
rainwater dripping down the rope that holds a hanged man aloft.
Sometimes the liquor ate a hole into the living parts of his mind,
and he would forego his usual giggling stupor and tell us stories
that had been told to him while he was young: about one named
Connacht who delivered the world from darkness.
The way the stories had it, Connacht came out of the east right
around the same time that a comet took up residence in the Western
skies. At the time the world lived in the long shadow of the Myrkridia
- a race of flesh-eaters too horrible to describe to children,
or so my grandfather said. I have heard other stories of them
since, and it seems that no two people can paint the same picture
of what the Myrkridia were or how they were able to keep the land
stricken with fear for hundreds of years. I'd dismiss them as
a complete fantasy were it not for the conviction - and the fear
- in my grandfather's bleary eyes when he spoke of them.
Connacht was the first human in a thousand years to survive a
battle with the Myrkridia ...and he didn't just survive, he prevailed.
He hunted them down and imprisoned them in an artifact called
the Tain, a prison without walls which the smiths of Muirthemne
had forged for him. When the Myrkridia disappeared, Connacht ascended
to the Emperor's throne and presided over what is now known as
the Age of Light. His story fades away at this point. Some say
he died, or was assassinated or kidnapped. Others say he left
Muirthemne in search of some powerful artifact. Supposedly the
immense power of items like the Tain both fascinated and terrified
him, and he is known to have sought out objects of similar power
- the five Eblis Stones, Tramist's Mirror, the Total Codex.
He destroyed the ones he could, and secreted the rest; in any
case, none of them have been seen in centuries.
In fact, all of this is ancient history. But Balor and the rest
of the Fallen torched Muirthemne just a few years ago. And I'm
reminded with a quick look over our ranks that we are not the
brave Connacht's army, but a scruffy rabble in the service of
The Nine. I doubt Connacht will swoop in to save us.
Back when I joined up with the Legion there was a mad Journeyman
who regaled anyone too tired to move away with his theory about
the Edge of All - that line between the land and nothingness out
beyond the kingdom of Gower, where Connacht arose. He claimed
the world is double-sided and constantly spinning, like a coin
tossed in the air, and the living and the dead are held to its
surface by sorceries too powerful for humans to master. "...And
so the light and the dark hold dominion successively, and the
land belongs in turn to men, or to the undead." I grew as tired
of his affected vocabulary as I did of his idiotic ideas, but
I confess I felt a small twinge of sadness when he died. I never
got his name either.
For the last week the camps have been abuzz with the rumor that
The Nine have got their hands on something which can change the
course of the war. Most of us are inclined to dismiss this as
nonsense, but seven years of bloody battles with the tireless
and seemingly infinite armies of the undead will do that. I admit
it seems ridiculous. A talisman that will keep us alive, that
will somehow give us the strength to outwit and outlast Balor?
You'd think The Nine would have used it earlier. It's just a rumor
anyway, and I've learned not to put much faith in rumors.
The men of the Legion have heard too many promises that everything
will get better any day now. No one wants to hear the words spoken
out loud, so I keep mine to myself, and I suspect others nurture
hope as well, though they may not speak of it openly.
Would we carry on, fantasizing of a future beyond war, if we hadn't
If this were so, we wouldn't be able to carry on. Yet here we
It can't be hopeless.