“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 slapdash 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 a chance?
If this were so, we wouldn’t be able to carry on. Yet here we are.
It can’t be hopeless.
In a time long past, the armies of the Dark came again into the lands of men. Their leaders became known as The Fallen Lords, and their terrible sorcery was without equal in the West.
In thirty years they reduced the civilized nations to carrion and ash, until the free city of Madrigal alone defied them. An army gathered there, and a desperate battle was joined against the Fallen.
Heroes were born in the fire and bloodshed of the wars which followed, and their names and deeds will never be forgotten.
- Ghôls: A bestial race of knuckle walkers that served the Dark during the Great War. Inhabiting the same hills and mountains as the Dwarves, Ghôls have been in conflict with that race for as long as they have known one another. It is they alone who remember the names of the dark gods. ↩
- Thrall: The reanimated corpses of humans who fought against the Fallen Lords and lost. ↩
- Fallen Lords: Six powerful wizards who were suborned by Balor. Among them: Shiver, The Deceiver, The Watcher, and Soulblighter. ↩
- The Tain: An artifact created by the Smiths of Muirthemne during the Empire of the Cath Bruig. ↩
- Eblis Stones: Magic artifacts of great power. Those who control them are said to be unstoppable in battle. ↩
- Total Codex: A magical book of immense power, in which is written the fate of every creature that will ever be born. ↩
- Balor: Leader of the Fallen Lords. ↩
- The Nine: Nine powerful wizards who oppose the Fallen Lords. Alric is chief among them, and Murgen, Rabican, Maeldun, Cu Roi, and four others act as his generals. ↩
- Journeyman: (Heron Guard) These men are all that remains of the Empire of the Cath Bruig. Formerly the guards of the Emperor, they disbanded and wandered the earth in self-imposed exile after the Fallen destroyed Muirthemne and everyone in it. In a further show of penance, they developed the ability to heal other people, though they are by nature loners and do not actively seek out company. ↩