Inner Harsh Season 1 / Episode 10

Inner Harsh

Season 1 / Episode 10

Written by Lucas James Pralle

Narrated by Larry Anderson


 

 

King Jade sat upon his understated bronze throne at the end of the royal chamber, staring through the three prisoners that were kneeling before him. They were messengers sent from Castle Maryt, bearing warnings of war. Upon receiving their message, King Jade had them thrown into his rat infested dungeon and sent riders of his own out to Castle Ker in the south and Castle Tikreeb in the east, appealing for assistance. His messengers returned within a week with their replies, and King Jade had now made his decision.

“I want the three of you to stand,” said the King with a calm authoritative air. His speech was slow and deliberate, not a breath wasted.

A handful of royal guards, each impressively equipped with muscle and blade, stood behind the shabby prisoners. The riders, still wearing the red and black riding gear of Castle Maryt, and covered with bits of chaff from their cell floors, stood uneasily.

“Look at me,” said the king, potently. His voice echoed off the high pointed arch ceiling and gilded walls of the chamber.

A guard coughed at the far end.

“How long did it take you to arrive here from Badean?” asked King Jade.

There was an awkward silence before finally the prisoner standing in the middle of the three, the one with a small face and big ears, began to stammer uncontrollably. A brawny Jadean guard came thundering behind the stuttering fool and pulled the man’s hair like it was a patch of unsightly weeds. The prisoner let out a terrified shriek.

“Well?” asked the king. Given what was taking place and what was at stake, he was remarkably calm.

“Two weeks, yer majesty!” yelled the man from his tippy toes in a high pitched and frantic squeal. The sturdy Jadean guard released the feeble messenger and he sank down into his usual slouch. The other two riders looked on dumbfounded.

The king shook his head, amazed by the display of stupidity. “Two weeks…Okay, two weeks…gentlemen, you have two weeks to deliver this message to your queen…” King Jade motioned for one of his attendants, a young Jadean scribe, to present three scrolls wrapped in Jade colored ribbon to the prisoners.

As they each received one, they stared down at it, perplexed.

“You,” said King Jade as he snapped his fingers and pointed at the short, balding messenger to the left of the awkward stammering one. “How much time do you have to deliver this message to your queen?”

“Two weeks, yer majesty,” said the man proudly. The king smiled. The riders looked back down at the scrolls in their hands, somewhat at ease.

“I know it isn’t general custom to inform riders of the contents of royal correspondence that they carry, but I think I’m going to make an exception in this case. After all, your lives depend on it.”

The three men’s attention shot back up to the king. The big eared rider let out another short shriek.

King Jade waved off the brawny guard as he approached the goofy looking messenger. “Scribe Ory, please read your copy of my dispatch to Queen Alleb for these gentlemen.”

“Yes, your majesty.” The boy returned to his spot next to the king and unfurled his own copy of the scroll. He cleared his pre-pubescent voice. “On this, the 20th day of Yunis, year 1568, I, King Jade of Castle Jade, respond to your invitation of ‘deciding this matter in the most direct manner’, first and foremost, with a resounding ‘fuck you’.”

The riders began to squirm where they stood. The boy continued.

“In the unlikely event that you have received this message, you should commend the rider or riders that delivered it. They were sent from my castle with no horse and two days’ worth of provisions a mere three hours prior to my own army of soldiers departing for yours.” The boy paused and looked over the scroll as three Jadean attendants approached the messengers from behind and strapped leather packs to their backs.

The big eared messenger failed to make an utterance this time, his jaw just dropped to his knees. King Jade smiled and motioned for the boy to continue.

“Consider this warning of my arrival as a generous gift, one that your messengers have toiled very hard to produce. The fact that they are standing before you means that your messengers were not spotted by my scouts or any other element of my army during their voyage to your castle. I can say this because I have ordered my men to kill them on sight.”

The three messengers stared at the boy wide-eyed as he rolled the scroll up.

“Thank you, Scribe Ory,” said the king. “Gentlemen.” All three jumped at the sound of the king’s voice. “You have three hours…beginning…now. You better get moving.”

The beastly guards spun the messengers around so they were facing the door at the end of the long royal chamber. A not-so-gentle shove was given to each. Three hours and King Jade would depart with the mighty Jadean Army, all 10,000 regulars, something which hadn’t been done in over a century. It was a big risk, but he knew if he didn’t move quickly, the rest of the kingdom would fall within half a year’s time.

***

Diary of Sergeant Pendleton of the Seven Blades – 28th of Yunis, 1568

We finally made it to Badean’s today after a solid week worth of smooth riding. I spoke to two of the scouts during chow a few days ago, and only one, the more experienced of them, reported ever stepping foot in Badean on any other occasion. At that time, he had told me it was a complete shithole that should be avoided at all costs. I thought he was exaggerating and, being an old, grisled bastard. I can now see that his gloomy description of this place might have been inadequate.

It had been clear open skies all the way from Castle Jade, through Four Fork Pass in the Neidling Range, and through the western side of the Southern Plains. This picturesque atmosphere was soon snuffed out. As we passed into Badean, the untroubled skies and hospitable breezes were replaced with a dense, stifling fog so quickly and completely, Castle Jade and the beautiful country that we had just passed through seemed like a distant memory. Then, things really began to deteriorate.

King Jade sent word out to the commanders to halt their advance until the scouts were sent out to assess the situation. After the four scouts failed to return with their report within two hours, my detachment, the Seven Blades, was dispatched to investigate. We found the scouts, or at least what was left of them, after about half an hour worth of riding through the increasingly marshy terrain.

Their horses were gone. One man, the older scout that I had spoken to a few days prior, was split in two, almost a clean cut. Or at least I imagined in two. All that remained of him was his upper half. Another scout had the side of his head smashed in so severely that the contents of his skull were oozing out from behind his bulging eye. It wasn’t pretty. Both men still had their swords sheathed, as if whatever happened to them, happened so quickly they didn’t even had a chance to react.

Due to the increasingly unsure footing, I had the men tie their horses off in the rear and kept us in a tight diamond formation as we searched for the other two missing scouts, footprints in the moss, or other bits betraying the perpetrator in the surrounding black brush. There were none, but the reason for that soon presented itself.

One of my men, Warhammer, a fabulous monster of a man that could crush two of my fists in one of his, and also thankfully possessing exceptional hearing, was the first to hear the creature approaching from the east. It wasn’t long before we could all hear the brush being snapped off in the distance and the freakish wailing. It was enough to straighten up the hair on my neck. I quickly yelled for defensive positions to be taken. There was no cover available where we stood, so we joined shields, knelt, and waited for our enemy to emerge from the murky haze.

The wicked thing flew over our heads and headed straight for our horses. I don’t know why, but it seemed to prefer the flesh of the beasts over us. There was a good deal of confusion, as we couldn’t see what was taking place, only hear the unholy cries of the horses as their legs were being fractured and sides split. The situation was certainly the most intense thing I’ve ever dealt with.

I could see Finey, my archer, was about to pick up his shield, possibly to gain a better angle on our unknown adversary, before I told him to halt. It was a good thing he did so, because the beast must have detected his movement. His position was the first to be hit by the horrendous creature—with such force that Finey and his shield were thrown a good twenty feet to the rear. I can’t speak for my men, but I’ll admit I was taken aback when I actually caught sight of our adversary.

The body of the beast was a collection of legs flailing, horse and human alike, faces and cries of men that I didn’t recognize, all nightmarishly strewn together. A hundred hands grabbed in a frenzy and pulled at stitches and gouged eyes, and torsos swung wildly. The head of the creature appeared to be that of a horse, its eyes pallid white.

The thing was moving impossibly fast and would have for sure minced poor Finey if Miko the pikeman hadn’t landed a good barb in its side. He gained purchase on what seemed to be the belly of one of the horses, tearing it open, and spilling it’s entrails into the swamp. I don’t know if they belonged to the beast or the horse, but it gave us enough time to engage the enemy with our weapons. I personally hacked off three heads and several limbs before the abomination fell dead in the water. We were still trying to understand what we had just seen when another one presented itself. We were completely unprepared for such an attack.

I can say with confidence that you wouldn’t be reading this journal entry if the boy hadn’t shown up. There was an exceedingly loud tone, which is still causing my ears to ring as I write this, and the fog in our immediate area actually parted to the point where bright sunlight shone down on us. Apparently the creature cannot exist in such conditions. The fiend quickly retreated back into the existing mist, and the one that we had just hacked up dissipated into a purplish vapor.

What happened today was at the perimeter of Badean’s. I’m hoping conditions will improve as we advance to Castle Maryt, but I doubt that will be the case. Our fate is now with the Gods.

***

The Battle of the Seven Blades: A Brief History

The “boy” that Pendleton refers to is none other than the nineteen-year-old Castle Alchemist, Luland. He was largely untested prior to setting out for Badean’s Moor. His promotion from Alchemist’s Assistant to Castle Alchemist had been brought about by the premature death of Alchemist Phoenix, who a mere two months prior had died from choking on a piece of inadequately ruminated chicken. Luland’s predecessor had only been fifty-eight years old at the time of his expiration, which was exceptionally young (the average lifespan of an alchemist was nearly one hundred years at the time), so Luland’s ascension had come as quite a shock to many members of the Jadean kingdom, especially the army.

Seeing how the Battle of the Seven Blades is linked to the arrival of the delegation from Ker, it is not unreasonable to posit that some foul play had been involved in Phoenix’s death, and many theories do exist, but no definitive evidence supporting such theories has ever been produced. Thus, they are not included in this history.

King Jade had sent Luland along with an entire company of foot soldiers to check up on the Seven Blades when they hadn’t returned promptly with their reconnaissance report. It was a good thing too. Not only for the sake of the Seven Blades, but for the entire Jadean Army. If they would have advanced within the range of the strange beasts without the protection of Luland, they would have been cut to shreds like the unlucky scouts and their horses. At least now they knew the beast that they encountered couldn’t exist in the direct sunlight. Without this information, it is doubtful that the Jadean Army would have even reached the walls of Castle Maryt.

Luland used his spheres to keep the fog at bay, while a massive column consisting of 10,000 scouts, cavalry, lancers, pikemen, swordsmen, archers, and mercenaries made their way behind him. This was an enormous task that probably could only have been matched, at the time, by the opposing Maryt alchemist, Romoa.

The Jadean Army arrived at Castle Maryt the following evening. The men bed down as soon as possible. They would need their rest.

When Queen Alleb sent her dispatch a few weeks prior, famously asking, “Why waste the blood of those which in the end will mean nothing?” it was assumed that she wished to keep the civilians living within Castle Maryt out of the fight. This was actually the general custom of the time, and to show that she had kept to her word, the fog was actually lifted from the area surrounding Castle Maryt for the entire evening prior to the battle. The Queen’s gargantuan green tabernacle could be seen outside the castle walls, under the moonlight. It is unclear whether Romoa, Maryt’s alchemist, lifted the fog that evening. Regardless, whoever was response for the brief reprieve from the mists that night brought them back with a terrible fury the next morning.

Even though the soldiers of Maryt had a fortified position in the rear, they too still had to venture out into Badean’s Moor to fight the Jadean forces. The Marytian soldiers might have been more accustomed to the hazy gloom of the battlefield, but it brought little advantage to them. This was witnessed when the two sides clashed. Sergeant Pendleton of the Seven Blades provides an excellent account in his journal.

***

Diary of Sergeant Pendleton of the Seven Blades – 31st of Yunis, 1568

We’ve been fighting the Maryt men for two days now, and I’m beginning to become concerned with how this battle is progressing. The general atmosphere is at best morose, not only because of the atrocious fog, greyness, and swampy conditions that we have to constantly deal with, but the tide of this war doesn’t seem to favor Jade nor Maryt, only death.

I’ve personally witnessed several times, instances where men from both sides trade blows with their swords to the point of absolute exhaustion, resort to grappling, and many times fall into the brackish waters, never to be seen again. When you are forced to walk through the dark waters of the battlefield, you can feel the countless hands of the dead clutching at your ankles and beckoning you to join them. This isn’t an exaggeration either—I’ve heard several other men report the same. This place is a paradise for Bolfoy if I’ve ever seen one.

The large serpent like abominations have returned as well. The boy [Alchemist Luland] was able to keep them at bay until we reached the castle. When the mists came back the following morning, so did the creatures. They spring up from the dark waters, take a man or two, and disappear into the mists. We’ve managed to kill a few more of the damn things. Each time we strike one down, it dissipates into a purplish mist and is replaced by another. The boy says that they are crafted by an alchemist and sustained by the tone of his spheres. The alchemist would know, but I have my doubts, as I’ve seen the things take just as many Maryt men as Jadean. It troubles me that I’ve heard the wails of women and children emanating from these fiends.

I’ve just received a summons by King Jade. He must have a special mission for the Blades. Honestly, anything is better than spending our time dying in this wicked place. We need to end this engagement as quickly as possible.

***

The exhausted warriors of Castle Jade were fighting valiantly, but they could not sustain such losses for much longer. Morale was slipping, and strange beasts were ravaging both Jadean and Marytian lines. A death-dealing chaos had taken over. King Jade knew that he had to do something drastic. He looked to a small group of commandos called the Seven Blades and his nineteen year old alchemist, Luland. The results were spectacular.