Autumn, year 53 of the third age
2 Days before the Dawn Guard lead assault on Utica
Sergeant Yance Kvek scaled the wall of the once capital fortress of Utica. In the distance, the camps of the army and militia of every major city in the Cinderfell Empire prepared to take back the city and topple the tyrant, Redhammer, who took power in a military coup just a short time ago. Getting to and ascending the wall was easy. Nightfall had lasted several days and the only source of reliable light was the campfires behind him and the eerie glowing column of light that projected from the palace that was located in the heart of Utica. It also helped that there was a surprising lack of guards posted on the wall. Perhaps Redhammer didn’t expect infiltration and scouting of the city.
Yance shrugged off the thought as he turned his head to make sure the rest of his three man team were still behind him. Kaya and Valin were only a few meters behind and didn’t show signs of struggling as they scaled the massive walls after him. As Yance reached the top, he peered up and down the barricades. Nothing. This disturbed Yance as he pulled himself and silent stepped on the stone overlook. Yance reviewed his mission as he waited for his comrades to finish their climbs.
Of all people, his father, General Enre Kvek had given Yance this almost suicidal mission into the unknown. The object was to get in, acquire what information on the strength of the city as they could and, if able, disable or destroy any siege emplacements that Redhammer’s forces may or may not have set up in preparation for the impending assault.
“So let me get this straight,” Yance remembered asking his father angrily, “you want me and my people who sneak into the most heavily-defended city—next to our home—filled with the most deadly soldiers and traitors known to the Cindefell?”
General Kvek grimaced and replied, “The Stoneborns and I aren’t happy with the situation, but we feel that Koth has a responsibility to the Empire to cripple as much of the traitor’s advantages as we can prior to the siege. Furthermore, you and yours are the currently the best choice. Decades of peace haven’t done anyone’s military any favors.”
“Yes sir,” Yance said and turned to leave.
“Yance,” Enre said and waited for Yance to stop and listen, “Don’t screw this one up. Lots of soldiers on counting on this info.”
Yance snapped back to the present as Valin finished his climb and ungracefully stomped down onto the stone walkway. Yance turned angrily to the orc as he balanced himself. Valin looked down to see he had slipped on a pool of an iced dark red liquid. Valin looked up at the other two with a mixture of disgust and concern.
“Ignore it,” Yance ordered Valin before he could speak. They all knew what it was, but the mission took precedence over who the source of the iced blood was. Though, as he looked over the ramparts into the once great and thriving city, Kaya voiced a thought that had come to all the members of the scout team.
“Where is everyone?” Kaya whispered mostly to herself as she observed what the others had.
“Not our concern,” Yance replied as he formulated a plan,” Alright, we make our way to the nearest guards barracks then cover any open marketplace for trebuchets or ballistas or whatever the traitors may have set up. I want to be out of this city before our siege engines get set up.”
The orc and the human nodded and followed Yance down the inner wall into the vacant streets.
It was several minutes before the small scout team had encountered their first set of fully plated beings patrolling the streets. They were easily avoided, most of the city’s street lamps were out, having been out of oil for some time now.
When they finally reached the nearest barracks (which took them a little longer to locate, due to not having an exact map of the city) Yance ordered Valin to cover the entrance while he and Kaya entered the dark and seemingly abandoned barracks. Yance recoiled as he opened the heavy wooden door and a rush of rank air rushed out of the building. After recovering from the lack of stretchless oxygen, Yance entered the barracks.
Being in darkness for the past several days made it easy for Yance’s eyes to adjust to the darkened confines of the barracks. He stepped further into the barracks and took in his surroundings, trying to avoid the stench. There were signs of a struggle, chairs and other objects knocked over and misplaced. There was also a splatter of what Yance assumed was blood in a man-shaped indent in the wooden wall of the barrack’s entrance.
Yance stepped carefully through the room, making sure not to disturb the random items on the floor, with Kaya in tow. She took the effort to follow Yance step by step as the reached the busted-in door of the next part of the barracks, presumably where the bunks were. He passed through the threshold of the doorway and froze. He stared into the barracks at two lines of armored hulks standing silent and still, thankfully not noticing the two humanoids frozen in fear in the doorway.
Yance frantically signaled Kaya to back up and took a step back without watching his step. He fell none-too-gracefully to floor, his equipment crashing around and the mug he stepped on rolled frantically across the floor. The two of them froze and silently stared into the doorway they had been trying to slip away from. After several seconds, they could hear a set of metal boots. Kaya helped Yance up, and the two were almost to the door before the twang of a crossbow and a cry from Kaya caused Yance to turn. He saw a full metal suit holding a rather worn-looking crossbow in one hand and a rusty axe in another. He also saw Kaya on the ground, with a bolt sticking out of the inside of her knee.
Yance raised his own crossbow as the armored assailant started making its way across the room, dropping its crossbow. After leaving his sights, he released a bolt that slipped into one of the breathing holes in the helm. Yance was aiming for an eye, but it would have tol do. The knight recoiled from the hit, but continued forward without breaking stride.
By this point, Valin had heard the commotion and taken the initiative to enter the barracks. Upon seeing the monster and the state of Kaya, he drew his longsword and charged the knight before Yance could warn him otherwise. Cursing to himself, Yance attempted to pick up the crippled Kaya. Before he could stable both himself with the added load of another person weighing down one side, he heard the sound of Valin’s sword helplessly bounce off the full plate, followed by a swish and thud as Valin’s headless form fell the ground.
Yance cursed again, not even an half hour in the city and the mission had gone bottom up on him. The two hobbled out of barracks. Several meters out, Yance turned slightly to take a look back to see how many pursuers they had. Surprisingly, the metal monster wasn’t following, and from what Yance could tell, was more interested in collecting the parts that it had separated from Valin rather than chase the two of them down.
Both disgusted and relieved, he guided Kaya into the maze of back streets of Utica.
The two had hobbled for about five minutes, before Kaya finally gave up and demanded that Yance let her down. Once down, he inspected her and the wound. The bolt was wedged deeply in the tendon under her thigh and the bleeding hadn’t slowed. Remembering what little medical training he had received from the Koth military, he tore a strip of cloth from the pant leg under her wound. Not only did this allow Yance to inspect the wound more carefully, but gave him the material to tie a makeshift tourniquet.
Kaya released some whimpers as he had finished tying the tourniquet. All things considered, she had held it together remarkably well for having a limb rendered useless by a foot long wooden bolt lodged into her knee.
“How bad?” Kaya asked after several seconds of heavy breathing.
“Outside of a miracle, you probably aren’t gonna win any races anytime soon,” Yance grimly joked and started making plans on how to exit this forsaken city as he reloaded his empty crossbow.
“Where’s Valin?” Kaya asked, her breathing slowed further and she finally took time to observe her surroundings.
“Dead,” Yance replied, his voice cracking a bit as it sunk in. Valin wasn’t the brightest but he had been part of their little scout unit for the past several month. Other the course of Valin’s service with him, Yance had learn to appreciate the orc’s less subtle approach to conflict.
Kaya didn’t reply right away. Both of them stayed silent for several moments before both of them turned to a growling noise. A rather boney dog stood no more than three meters away, teeth bared and continuing it’s growling. Before either of them could act, the dog started to bark at them. Yance, left with very little options, raised his crossbow and released the freshly loaded bolt. The bolt struck the dog it the throat and the barking stopped as soon as it had started.
Yance let the crossbow fall at his side, letting his sling catch it as he dropped to pick up Kaya. As he was about to lift her up, he noticed that something had caught her attention. Yance looked in the direction she was looking to see two armor clad figures entering the alley and approaching them. Before Yance could continue to assist Kaya, she had pushed him in an upward direction and spat out a panicked, “Go!”
Yance stood up with the push she had given him and paused for a moment before unslinging his crossbow and handing it and a bolt to Kaya. He took another look at the figures rapid approaching them, then turned back to Kaya.“May the Martyrs find room for another,” Yance said quickly before running down the alley. Behind him, he heard the crashing of steel against cobblestone as, what he guessed, one or both of the armored figured started after him.
Towards the end of the alley, he heard one set of boots rather close. He stopped, turned, and dove at the legs the armored figured. He felt the weight of armored figure’s legs crashed into his side and their owner crashed to the cobblestone street. The crash caused Yance to roll with the momentum that the armored figure’s direction. Yance’s side was surely gonna be bruised for several weeks to come and he was sure a few ribs were broken but it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t get out of this martyr forsaken city. Once he finished rolling, he righted himself, drew his knife, and jumped on the suit of armor as it rolled onto it’s back as it tried to right itself.
Yance drove the knife into a slit in between the helm and chest piece. The knife entered the slit and there was sound of steel on steel. In a panic, Yance used his adrenaline to pull the helm off to find a soft spot to finish off his opponent but instead of a man, he found a monster.
Before him, a human child’s head was in the place what Yance guessed on top of an orc sized body. The head was connected the torso by metal plates and bolts. Patches of hair were missing were also missing from his grotesque being. It’s eyes, which had mismatching colors, were locked with Yance and were filled with rage as lipless teeth snapped at him. Before he could fully registered what lay in front of him, he drove his knife in the spot of flesh between it’s jaw and the metal plate.
The frankenstein-esque creature underneath Yance thrashed about for a few sounds, trying to through Yance off, before finally stopping as blood filled it’s lungs. Yance would’ve let loose a sigh of if he wasn’t freaked out about the monstrosity under him. He sat, frozen, before he heard the sound of a crossbow firing followed by a crunch. Yance turned in time to see the second knight withdrawing a mace from a smear of the wall.
Yance swift turned back, stood to run, and, after stumbling on a arm, ran into the dark maze of streets and alleys of Utica.
Yance sat quiet in a random tavern behind the bar. He had chosen this specific out of repair tavern at random on his way town. He had long regained his breath but the events of the past few hours had him stuck in spot. He had accepted that with any other enemy force, he would’ve been put into a similar spot. He had also accepted the fact that he, too, should be dead with his comrades. It wasn’t for their actions, he would be dead right now. The latter thought bugged Yance more than it should’ve.
Yance contemplated his next course of action. He could return to the camps and his father and explain his failures and why he survived while the rest of his team had met there sudden and unfortunate fates. This option would require him to explain how he had failed to lead what was suppose to be a relatively simple scout mission.
A thought dawned on Yance. If he didn’t show up, they would just assume the mission a failure and the whole team dead. This course of action also allowed him to avoid the inquiries of treason for being the sole survivor. Additionally, he would have to face those the friends and family of Valin and Kaya back at Koth.
While initially sickened by these thoughts of cowardice, the more he thought about the subject, the more he felt like it was the best option. Finally, Yance stood up and noted a book left on the bar table.
The Trials and Tribulations of the Dark Ages – Monsters and Martyrs by Fritz Gabany and Marko Karhila.
After staring at the book for several seconds, Yance made up his mind.
Yance Kvek died in a rundown tavern in a war torn Utica and Frtiz Karhil was born.