Fan Fiction

Faith and the Stone by Jonathan Goss

Part I: No Heroes Here12 June 2004, 12:15 PM

October 25th, Plain of Scales

Captain Arkan stood in the dank, candle lit basement, hunched over the broad oak table. A map of the West, drawn on rotting parchment, draped over the thick edges of the wooden slab. The inkings seemed to grow and fade with the flickering, dying candle light. Perhaps it was just because Arkan was tired. Or maybe it was because he was well past his prime. But for whatever reason the topography inked on the cloth seemed to shift and shudder with every wafting flicker of flame. The man gritted his teeth in frustration, a grimace of gnarled rotted teeth and grey, bristly stubble twisting on his dimly lit face. His standard Province surcoat and mail suit tugged at his gaunt, worn frame.

Three weeks. He had been here, near the coast south of the Plain of Scales, for three bloody weeks with a regiment of men. Their mission was simple: retake the old Hellespont Bastion that rested only twenty leagues from the mountains. But "simple" did not mean "easy." The fortress was lost to the Dark about three months ago, and as the Dark continued to pour over the southern mountains unchecked it was quickly determined that the tide needed to be ebbed. So Maeldun sent Captain Arkan along with the Fifteenth Provincial Regulars, a sturdy regiment of the avatar's Southern Garrison. They had survived the defeat at Forest Heart and had somehow managed to survive through countless other seemingly doomed engagements. While not considered the best regiment in the Southern Garrison, the Fifteenth Regulars, or The Iron Foot as they had become known as, were sent in to dislodge whatever force had occupied old Hellespont. Their nickname had been acquired for their refusal to retreat six years earlier at the first battle for Bagrada. It was their journeymen alone who rallied the warriors and others to stand their ground, and because of it the entire Southern Garrison was able to reform on the western side of the mountain passes near Silvermines. And somehow the rock hard fighters managed to survive the battle.

The Iron Foot was a tough regiment. But something had gone horribly awry in that towering fortress over the past three weeks. No matter how many men Arkan sent in it still remained in the foetid grip of the Dark. Countless ranks and companies of warriors had been sent into that place, and not one had returned. And with each passing defeat the number of the Undead only grew. Of that the grizzled captain was sure.

It was a losing battle. And for all of its simplicity the reason for the outcome continued to elude Captain Arkan. Of course, he had his theories, but that's all they were: theories. His gut told him that there was something greater, more powerful than mere hordes of Thrall residing in the place, and no matter what the man tried it continued to best him. Whatever it was. And to make matters worse the Thrall, now strengthened by the corpses of the slain Iron Feet, had actually emerged from the keep and pushed Arkan's men back all the way into the Plain of Scales. They were now camped six leagues away from the bastion, in the ruins of a long abandoned hamlet, completely befuddled as to what should be done next. The morale was shot and the men were exhausted. Some were even beginning to show signs of fear; knowing the fate of so many of their comrades who had ventured into the place, knowing that should they be ordered to go in the same fate would await them as well. The dreaded thought of mutiny tickled the back of his mind, even now as he gazed harshly at the map. Would they obey his orders? Would they attack again if he ordered it? Something told Arkan that they would not.

So now the old officer was having to contemplate alternate routes and plans of auxiliary, even paths of retreat should the occasion call for it. The thought of running pained him greater than any wound of flesh, or any nightmarish memory. But with each passing day it seemed an inevitability. Not to mention the cool days of autumn were passing, turning into the cold, rainy days of winter. This far south they would surely not see snow, but would be met with the cold, drizzly rain and torrential downpours that accompanied the coast. It would turn the area between the Plain of Scales and the mountains into a veritable bog. He had to finish this before the weather trapped them in the mud. But he didn't have the foggiest idea how.

As his eyes started to blur from staring at the map he heard the sudden sound of the basement door being opened. The creaking of rusted hinges and rotting planks of wood heralded the form of his lieutenant, Marcus.

"Sir," the small, wiry man began as he neared the table. "I think we have a problem."

With a sigh of frustration Captain Arkan turned to his subordinate. The man had a look of apprehension on his face. He knew the man knew it was no time to bother their leader unless it was urgent. Marcus had his own troubles to worry over, Arkan figured. If he was down here with a look of fright smeared across his face then it must truly require the attention or presence of the captain.

"What is it, lieutenant?" Arkan grumbled.

"It's the fir'Bolg, sir. They're threatening to leave." Marcus chirped, his black goatee swirling around his gaunt face as he spoke. "They say that if we aren't going to attack then there's no reason for them to be here. They're packing their equipment now sir, as we speak."

Arkan looked up from his map and met the man's gaze. Marcus was a head shorter than Arkan, and all skin and bones. Their wiry frame was all the two had in common. "Is everyone okay? Have there been any fights?"

Marcus shook his head. "Not yet sir, but it'll only be a matter of time. Cayle's platoon is all but frothing at the mouth, their so angry. When I left they were striking up an argument with the fir'Bolg. And it doesn't look like anyone's trying to stop it."

Captain Arkan nodded his head. "Alright, lets go."

Without hesitation the two men were ascending the rickety staircase and making their way into the camp. Outside the old farmhouse stretched sixty acres of neglected farmland now dotted with pockets of tents and clusters of weapons caches. Horses were in short supply, as were most of the necessities a well honed regiment needs. Smiths, mess halls, nursing stations, equipment repair tents, few of these remained in working order for the men who worked them were all dead, rotting in the Hellespont. It was a sad, grim scene, supplemented by even gloomier weather. Grey, sickly storm clouds seemed to blanket the sky, the sun a distant memory. This was the scene met by Arkan's old eyes as he exited the worn down flat. It was a dire monotony.

He and Marcus drew closer to the cluster of men now gathered around Cayle's twenty-five warriors and Nge'Tu's sixty fir'Bolg archers. Of course, one could simply follow the sounds of shouting and cursing if they desired to locate the spot. As Arkan and Marcus drew closer to the crowd they began to make out the words being exchanged.

Cayle was doing his usual par for the course cursing and insulting, his men echoing their sergeant like squawking parrots. And in response the fir'Bolg were throwing subtle insults and left handed compliments at the men in order to confuse them, taunt them. The archers milled about easily, some taking seats in the cool ground or resting on their blanket rolls. Only Nge'Tu and his immediate cadre of veterans were standing, attentively facing the persecutors. This was obviously not serious business to the archers. But Arkan wouldn't have it. He couldn't have it. He needed the archers just as much if not more than he needed Cayle's men. It wasn't a matter of saving one of his platoons, it was a matter of preserving the alliance of Nge'Tu's fir'Bolg.

"Alright, alright," Arkan began, bellowing over the shouting as he moved into the crowd and between Nge'Tu and Cayle. "What the hell's going on here?"

Cayle, naturally, was the first to chime in. "These back stabbing twig-shooters are talkin' about turning tail!" Cayle spat as he spoke, and Arkan could detect the distinct stench of gin on his breath. Great, a drunk sergeant and a platoon of equally sloshed men, just what Captain Arkan needed. "A little bit of down time from this butchering and they get all impatient. It's pathetic." He hocked a glob of alcohol soaked spit into the direction of Nge'Tu. "You know what I think? I think they like shooting us in the back and watching us get chopped up like meat in a slaughter house. 'Cause that's what ol' Hell's Pot is, a damned slaughter house! And I think if they're not seeing us get our asses handed to us then they get bored!" That was the new-found nickname for The Hellespont Bastion: Ol' Hell's Pot, or Hell's Pisspot, depending on how drunk one was.

"I don't necessarily care what you think, Cayle." Arkan said firmly. "Why don't you just go lie down somewhere and snooze it off." Not waiting for his response Arkan turned to Nge'Tu. "Now, what do you have to say?" He asked with as much composure as he could muster.

"We're not going to sit around waiting for you men to find your courage." Nge'Tu explained. "There are battles to be fought and a war to be won. If we are idle here then we are useless while our brethren die in the north. If you are not going to attack The Hellespont then release us so that we may make use of ourselves. If you do not we will simply leave." After that the archer captain folded his arms across his chest and peered at Captain Arkan with all the nonchalant patience a fir'Bolg contained.

Arkan took a minute and scratched the stubble on his cheeks. It was time to act. He couldn't afford to lose the aid of the fir'Bolg, especially not now. Whether he had a plan or not it was time for action. Any action.

"Give me time to formulate a decent attack-"

"You have had five days!" The archer exclaimed. "Let us act. Now."

Arkan turned to Marcus who was now standing to his left rear. The old man turned to his aide and leaned in to speak quietly. "How far away are they?" He asked softly.

Marcus was silent for a moment. "Less than a day." He replied with equal quiet.

"Can we afford to move out? Will they catch up with us?"

Marcus smirked a bit. "Are you kidding me?" He remarked with a coy expression. "It won't be a problem, I assure you." That seemed to satisfy the captain. He had reinforcements coming. Not many, but good ones. Men that he had found by chance and had begged to aid him. Of course, none of the men knew about this, it would only further enrage them, crushing their already dying pride. But if they could just hold out for the reinforcements then the tide could be turned, and the bastion retaken.

"Okay, fine." Captain Arkan said, resuming his original volume and turning back around to face his troops. "We'll move out." He turned to the throngs of warriors crowded around him. "Pack it up! We'll leave at dusk and get within a half league of the fortress. From there we'll try and launch an attack."

A moment of sheer uncertainty passed through the crowd. They had gone from four hundred men to one hundred and fifty in three weeks. And now they were being asked to go back? It would take a full on attack just to punch through the Thrall-filled fields surrounding The Hellespont. An attack now would be suicide.

It would take a miracle.

And those were in short supply these days.

~ You have reached your journey's end ~