Fan Fiction

19 May 2004, 5:23 AM

Part III - The Ramparts by Dustin Geeraert []

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The next day I awaken much later than is usual; I attribute this to my restless night and so many weeks on the road. I'm stiff and sore despite getting an amount of rest almost ridiculous compared to my guarded, fear-haunted nights in the bog on the way here.

I clammer down the rickety stairs and then into the open square, still touched by light rain. Out here there seems to be little activity going on, despite the fact that the time is approaching midday. The weather, of course, is overcast - I don't think the sun ever appears here - and the day has a misty, uncertain feel to it.

I approach a man I have not seen before who is working in a smithy. I inform him that I am the new soldier here, and ask him where I might find Erik.

I am guided through the muddy fortress-town to an open avenue, in which dark streaks of dirt and water draw together and lead to a soiled and grayish ramp, itself terminating at the door of a building of stone and rotting stucco - the place which I am told serves as the home of Erik, foremost among the fortress's leaders.

At this point I thank the smith and he departs down the soggy pathway back to his occupation. I knock several times on the old wood door, and before long a man appears in the doorway and asks my business.

This is Erik. He tells me this after I explain to him my stationing here for possibly ever. He is tall and well-filled, and though gray and unshaven like the rest of the people I have seen, he carries himself with a bit of pride which is probably what sets him apart from the other inhabitants of this oubliette.

From the look of him and the weapons, plan papers, and war-focused volumes I see as I enter his dwelling, I can tell that Erik is the acknowledged military leader of the outpost. I take some comfort in the fact that when this place comes under attack, his competence and skill will make for a formidable defense, despite the torn flags and worn structures. A brown, sturdy table serves as centerpoint to his stony room, and sitting around it are two men, presumably other leaders. Erik and I both fall into two of several chairs placed haphazardly around the table, while the other two look on.

He asks if I have a specialty of military significance, or any skills that places me above an average soldier. "Everything you'd expect of a captain, as well as some experience as a craftsman," I tell him.

"And you served in the armies of the Province.."

"In the south, Covenant, Tyr, and Madrigal..." I inform him.

"Madrigal." He states the word, flat, empty. The whole room feels the despair that word brings.

"You were there." One of the other two, a red-bearded tall man, looks at me.

"I saw." Stillness fills the air. "It was... horrible."

Silence still reigns in the room, to the point where the light drizzle of rain outside, forever wearing the world down, is audible.

"Right," says the tall man, grabbing his companion by the shoulder as they both rise. "We were just discussing strategy..." and with a nod to Erik "We'll continue this tonight."

Both men step to the door, into the dull daylight, and are gone.

Erik continues: "You can take up a position of Captain among our third band of warriors."

"Already?" I am rather surprised by this. I straighten, and say "Thank you, sir."

Rather than responding, Erik pauses, silent for a moment, and then looks up. "Can I ask you something?"

"What?" I say.

"Why did you ask to be placed here... here of all places?"

I don't know what I'm supposed to say to that.

He continues. "If you wanted out of danger and yet a soldier's pay; well, then you're a scoundrel, and the gods know there are better places for that than here; Garrisons full of such schemers..."

I observe him.

"You don't look like such a man... but why?"

I say simply "This is the ends of the earth, is it not? Some men cannot live elsewhere."

"A drifter, eh? I know the type. You look like this place had its effect on you long before you came here... not two days here and already you look as if you belong..."

"I needed to leave..." I don't know what there is to say about my life beyond that.

"I see," says Erik.

This seems to be the end of our conversation.

I turn and find my way out of the battered room, pushing the creaky door back into place behind me and stepping down into the muddy streets. What's there to do now? I wonder. Despite this place being itself, I still have the urge to make a thorough exploration of the perimeter, and I still expect that at some point, the fortress's current guardians will appoint someone to do it for me. But apparently this is not a priority. I wonder what is a priority around here. Probably nothing.

I wander down, through the alleyways, until I reach one of the outer walls, gray and bleak. I follow this wall, its rough textural stone and soggy base, until I come to a rampart. The soldier standing there seems in little hurry to move out of my way, though he offers nothing by way of resistance or even question. He simply nudges vacantly out of the way and once I have begun my ascent, stoops back into position, leaning on the rail. I wonder what thoughts run through the mind of a man like that as the rain falls down in front of him.

I step further up the rampart and find myself in a series of walkways, inexplicably constructed and now decaying. Ramps open to me on left and right, while windows occupy the outer wall and parapets line the inner wall. Running down the wall, every hundred meters or so, square towers are perched, the cold breezes winding through their windows and ruinous walls. I look back down onto the gray-brown scene beneath me. People stand and stare, the mud, the houses, the rain; it is all one. I imagine what would happen if I leaped off. Perhaps I would break some bones, perhaps even death. It is quite a ways down, but the mud looks deep in several places. I recall avoiding those when I was walking beneath. Nothing moves down there, nothing except the rain.

I make my way one ramp up further and onto the highest walkway, where through the parapets I am able to get a glimpse of the surrounding terrain. Now, the countryside around here is hardly a surprise; black, wizened trees, gray mud, pale, broken stones, and in the hazy distance, the bluish forms of faraway mountains. I can see many places an enemy could hide; but there are no enemies here. Not yet, anyway - but one day there will be.

The air is colder up here, and off in the overcast distance I can see a shimmering light that must represent the cloud-filtered sun. The taste in my mouth is bitter. I begin to walk down the rampart, mechanically following it with the vague intent of walking full around the fortress.

Passing between parapets, I imagine the inevitable: a time, though I do not know when, in which men will brace themselves against these stone barriers and then step into the clear to blast arrows, stones, and anything else remotely harmful at the sea of corpses that will be bear up against these gates and pile itself, blackening out the sky with its vile, dark essence. The unstoppable, all-engulfing darkness brought by the Thrall and their awful masters.

I continue to climb. The irregular fortress seems like it once may have been formidable: but then that applies to so many things. Gray and black stone jutting out into the sprawling mud-mire, sharpened stakes streaked with yellow and black stabbing the sky and pointing outwards: this is a hostile place, hostile and desolate.

Damp staircases lead me at strange angles to higher towers, manned by the occasional archer or lone, brooding scout. Some turn to look at me as I pass. Others do not move at all, as listless as the Thrall they will have to fight. I pass through higher ruined turrets, rugged and angular.

Finally, through an opening in an imposing dark square tower, I round a corner and step over the bleak wooden bridge to the Tower, the highest point of the rain-fortress. Once inside I slowly scramble up the broken stairwell, dragging myself up through the darkness. Drops of water fall on me from above, while the wind howls and dull light throws itself through the holes between loose bricks.

Finally I reach the uppermost aperture, and emerge again into gray light beneath the brooding clouds, upon the shimmering stones, slick with rainwater. This is the furthest up I've been in a long time. I can see in every direction, for once in somewhere not claustrophobic in this land of twisted trees, stony mountains and mysterious ruins.

I look to the East, and can see from the muddy plains of the marsh all the way into the blue-gray distance where the Cloudspine rises, immaculate. West the bogs rise into taller trees, and the black-blue Ermine flows in, grasping at the swamps. North, shadows fall as the mud becomes more desolate; everything dies out slowly and the land itself terminates at the black, tortured banks of the North Sea.

I look South last, for it is a direction I have cause to fear. But I see nothing, nothing but bleak bogs and plains, and the weathered path I followed here, tracing the Cloudspine parallel as it fades into the distance, gray with falling water. All around me is the open air: nothingness. Beneath me, the tortured earth, awaiting its final rape at the hands of the fallen. Supporting me, the ruinous, rain-wracked structures of men, built ages ago in different times. Inside me, the despair of having seen the Fallen and their work firsthand.

There is nothing more to be seen up here. I stumble back down the stairs and out onto the open ramparts.

~ You have reached your journey's end ~