Inner Harsh Season 1 / Episode 11

Inner Harsh

Season 1 / Episode 11

Written by Lucas James Pralle

Narrated by Larry Anderson


 

 

The Seven Blades

They were seven of the best warriors, tasked by the king with a singular mission—get Luland to the royal tabernacle, and more importantly, get him in a position where he could stop Romoa. No one knew if Luland was up to the task. Romoa was four times Luland’s age and four times as practiced. Luland had demonstrated an aptitude for alchemic construction and other   relatively peaceful branches of alchemy, not war. To many in the Jadean ranks, he was still perceived as a child.

Romoa was a starved dog of a man—mean, desperate, and wicked. His alchemic career had been under much scrutiny and criticism from the School of Alchemy. There was no peace with Romoa, just war. Stories of attacks being carried out on relatively harmless tribes surrounding Badean’s Moor were abound. Some of the prisoners were said to have been brought back to castle Maryt for clandestine experiments by the court alchemist. The connection between the horrific creatures—beasts comprised of sewn parts of the many, kept alive by the tones of an alchemist’s spheres, and Romoa, was not lost on King Jade, Luland, or many other members of the Jadean Army. The fact that parts of women and children were being spotted with increasing regularity was doubly concerning. Queen Maryt’s role in all of it was beginning to become unclear. Either she had gone mad and was complicit, or Romoa was completely in control. King Jade would have to act quickly and unexpectedly if they wanted any chance of defeating the vile creature.

A plan was formulated. The Seven Blades would make its way through the dark, spindly brush of Badean’s Moor on one of the flanks, hopefully undetected, and hopefully with enough strength at the end of it to challenge Romoa. The black brush was so thick in that area that it was impenetrable to any regular man on foot, but that meant that it was also too thick for Romoa’s horrendous creatures to penetrate.

A skilled alchemist versed in alchemic construction, in theory, could make his way. It was a daring move. If the Jadean alchemist was captured or killed, the King would not only lose the battle, but he would undoubtedly lose his castle. A castle needed their alchemist, and they were not easily replaced. At least not at a castle like Jade, that respected and followed the rules of the School of Alchemy. This willingness to put an alchemist on the line also made the move unpredictable.

An alchemist’s most important tool is their sphere. These are crafted from the very rare alloy, sensata, which can only by salvaged from fallen stars, and is regulated and watched closely by the School of Alchemy.

The spheres were initially constructed as religious items. To worship the spheres, or the perfect shape, was to worship all knowledge and the universe. Before alchemists were alchemists they were priests, and early on, one of them, Cura, decided to construct his spheres in a way where ingredients could be placed inside as some sort of charm. When Cura finally managed to complete his novel concept, hollow out a sphere of sensata, and fill it with religious ingredients, he and those around him were shocked to find that his sphere was emanating heat, a quiet tone, and at its peak of activity, levitating.

Today, this would be considered a low-grade transmutation sphere—something that is taught to all young alchemists. Cura had discovered the incredible transforming effects of the spheres. Later experiments found that the spheres not only could excite the components within to create such incredible results, but when spheres were struck and permitted to sound, their tones resonated in a way that could agitate matter at a distance. These spheres were what allowed Luland to part the fog leading up to Castle Maryt, and then hopefully, they would allow him and the Seven Blades to pierce the black brush of Badean’s Moor.

One of the members of the Seven Blades, Pendleton, the Sergeant of the Guard for the Castle Jade Nightwatch at the time of the fall ten years later, provided a detailed account of Luland’s sphere construction for this brief history. Normally this type of recording would only be done by the court alchemist themselves, but Luland had sent the Seven Blades out to fetch the ingredients required to breach the entangled brush and challenge Romoa, thus providing the soldiers with an unusual amount of insight.

***

Diary of Sergeant Pendleton of the Seven Blades – 32nd of Yunis, 1568

One of the ingredients requested by the boy was a segment of the black brush itself. Initially, this seemed like an easy enough task. I set off with Gwen, one of my archers, and Warhammer. I didn’t bring all the Blades, because we didn’t have to travel far to get to the brush, and the area was largely undefended, due to its impenetrable nature. I almost lost my life as a result.

The trip over was relatively uneventful. Two Marytian regulars made the mistake of engaging our small detachment. One caught an arrow to the eye, and the other had his lungs ruptured when a battle hammer slammed into his chest. When we made it to the black brush I took out my dagger and was going to cut a length to bring back to the boy, but before I could do so, the fiendish stuff lashed out and wrapped its thorny and wicked appendages around my arm. The thing yanked me so hard in its direction, I thought it was goin g to take my arm completely.

I’m glad I had brought Gwen with me. She is probably the only Blade that was fast enough to stop the creature, or whatever Bolfoy wants to call it, from pulling me in. She was able to land two arrows in the barbarous stalk before Warhammer grabbed me by the waist and extracted me. The three foot length of the material, still coiled around my arm, was pried off and put into a leather sack. Even being detached from its parent, the brush flailed and snapped worse than any viper I’ve ever seen.

The villainous brush had torn my arm up pretty good, and I was bleeding quite badly. Gwen wrapped me up real quick and we made haste to bring the devilish stuff back to the boy. When we got there, he simply grabbed the writhing sack from Warhammer, instructed me to get patched up, and excused himself as he consulted his records. I felt like punching the kid in the nose for all my trouble.

***

The court alchemist’s record is an essential asset for any castle’s army. The record is a traveling alchemist’s library which contains all sorts of recipes, enchantments, and other research which has been passed on through the ages by the alchemists of that particular castle. The record contains indispensable information for the court alchemist, and given the extensive history of alchemy at Castle Jade, Luland’s record was quite robust.

Normally, on just about any other suitable terrain, the books would have been brought in via an enclosed trailer pulled by a few horses, cumbersome but relatively manageable; but given the unpredictable nature of Badean’s Moor and the possibility of the records being swallowed into its murky depths, the books were placed in locked chests which were then placed on the backs of men and transported to a more secure spot, where the library could be reassembled piecemeal. It might seem like an enormous and possibly unnecessary task, but it was well worth it to both Luland and his king. If a rival alchemist attacked with a sphere that your alchemist didn’t know how to counter, the simplest of attacks could bring an entire army to its knees.

In the following passage, Pendleton describes watching Luland consult his library and crafting his spheres for their attack.

***

Diary of Sergeant Pendleton of the Seven Blades – 32nd of Yunis, 1568

After I had the medic patch up my arm, which by the way, burned like Bolfoy himself had pissed into the open wounds, I returned to the boy’s library area.  He was still searching through the massive and ancient volumes by means of a sphere emitting a dull red light. When he finally found what he was looking for, the boy exclaimed and returned to his alchemic tent with a dusty, leather bound tome in his hands. I followed.

I was only half surprised to see the sack containing the vile black briars still jerking about on the boy’s workbench, despite the fact that it had been separated from its host for almost an hour. This didn’t seem to bother the boy in the least. Perhaps because he had n’t yet felt its bite.

The boy flipped through pages of the tome that he had retrieved and read a few lines to himself before reaching into a cabinet below the bench. From there he retrieved what looked to be a silver tin with an inscription on the lid. I was as close as I cared to get to the briars, close enough to see the tin in good detail, but I couldn’t read the strange characters covering the lid. The inscription was in Alchemist’s Script. I had heard of it before, never seen it, but I guess it was a written language that the School of Alchemy had developed over the years, helping them control the number of amateurs trying their hand at the art. I’ve been told that many components of the language have ancient, ceremonial origins, from a time before alchemists. Honestly this could all be hearsay, as I wouldn’t know the difference.

When the boy opened the sack containing the merciless brush, it nearly caught him by the tip of his nose. I do have to admit, that at that time, I wished it would have given him a little nip. Anyway, he took some powder from the silver tin that he had produced and sprinkled it upon the wretched thing. Upon contact with the powder, the creature burst into a blue flame and let out a scream worthy of a thousand beasts and men meeting their end at the same time. It was a terrifying thing to come out of such a small object, much less something lacking any visible apparatus to create it. I have never been so ready to leave a wretched place in my life.

The boy then took a pestle and mortar and crushed the remains of the creature into a fine powder of its own and poured it into an empty sphere. I was surprised when a few of the other Blades started bringing in additional ingredients for the sphere. Miko the Pikeman brought in a cask of water retrieved from the moor. A small amount of that was added to the concoction. After that, Frite the Aggressor brought in a severed human hand. I’m not sure where he had retrieved it from, but knowing Frite, it was probably fresh. The boy took the hand, burnt it with the powder same as the brush, and crushed it before adding the ash to the sphere.

The boy then stoppered it up, consulted another book, said a few words, and within seconds the sphere was emanating a light green glow. He told me that I had fifteen minutes to get the Blades ready for departure. I hoped he knew what he was doing, because if that sphere faltered for any span of time, we all would have been swallowed up without a trace, and the rest of the Jadean Army would surely have been doomed.

***

The king gave them his blessing, and Luland and the Seven Blades set out into the lethal black brush. Pendleton, and the rest of the Seven Blades followed closely behind the nineteen-year-old Luland as he precariously held an enchanted sphere over his head. A faint, almost imperceptible green glow emanated from the sphere, too miniscule to be detected by someone more than a few steps away. The dense scrub groaned as it parted in front of them, and the water bubbled beneath their feet.

The group encountered the jagged and ghostly white bones of many bizarre creatures as they pushed through the black brush. Amongst these were men, creatures with the likeness of men, and beasts with bones of such magnitude, the men shuddered when they thought of meeting them in the flesh—most were secretly sure that they would soon join the remnants, but Luland’s sphere held, and the black brush finally broke, revealing the innards of the Maryt line.

***

Diary of Sergeant Pendleton of the Seven Blades – 32nd of Yunis, 1568

I can’t think of a time that I was more relieved than when we finally cleared the black brush. The boy had actually pulled it off. We took cover behind a stack of wooden planks to get a good look at the Maryt position. It was impressive.

You could tell that a vast amount of energy was expended to place wooden planks, dirt, and tents before the battle began. I’d say these preparations had started before the dispatch inviting war was even sent to King Jade. I couldn’t detect a single break in the wooden planks that surrounded the castle. I suppose this was not only for the comfort of the Marytians, but also to keep those rogue monstrosities on the other side of the black brush. It’s a wonder that the Marytians venture out to meet us in the moor at all. They probably had to draw straws to see who went out into the cold, wet hell that was the front line.

***

The Seven Blades surveyed the area. A plan would have to be made quickly. The more time they took, the more Jadean men would be slaughtered by the morbid creatures, and the stronger Romoa would become. Smaller tents were scattered throughout the enemy area. These were no doubt quarters for the sentries and other support facilities, such as food storage. A scaffold serving as a tower stood directly in front of the main chamber. It was a wonder they hadn’t seen Luland and the Blades pushing through the brush, but they had probably deemed it as an impenetrable obstacle. Given the complexity of the area, an alarm would no doubt be sounded; the key would be to reach the objective quickly and to cause enough widespread mayhem that the enemy wouldn’t be able to contain it before Luland neutralized the Maryt alchemist. A plan was hatched, and it was time to move.

Finey and Gwen stepped forward with their bows. They both drew arrows from their quivers that had spheres specially equipped to the shafts.

“Let’s do what we do, Blades,” said Pendleton in a hushed voice. The sound of the archers drawing their strings was mixed with Warhammer cracking his tree stump neck and Frite the Aggressor unsheathing his broadsword.

“Ready,” said Gwen and Finey in unison.

“Fire.”

The archers unleashed their arrows, and they flew high above the encampment. When they reached their peak, Luland yelled something in a foreign tongue as he clashed two spheres together. They let out a high-pitched tone like a blacksmith’s hammer hitting an anvil. The arrows burst high above and spread blue embers that fell like rain on the tents, towers, and men—setting them alight. A wave of chaotic screams cascaded throughout the moonlit position.

“Let’s move!” yelled Pendleton, as the Seven Blades ran across the wooden planks of the Maryt position and toward the main tent. The blue flames were working spectacularly. Soldiers spun out of burning tents, themselves on fire. Loud screaming swirled and masked any noise that the Blades made. A guard in the tower next to the tent spotted the Blades and got half a call out before Gwen slipped an arrow through his throat. The Blades couldn’t fail; the incendiary spheres had also been the signal for the main body to expend all resources and push forward through the moors. If Romoa wasn’t neutralized, Jade’s forces would be ripped apart to the last man by his beasts.

When the Seven Blades reached the queen’s tent, a great swirling wind came down and nearly threw them on their backs. The surrounding tents were caught up and flapping so fiercely their timber supports were snapping. Romoa was buying himself time, but his efforts were only spreading the flames more rapidly and destroying his own men. The Blades recovered and ran up to the side of the queen’s huge green tabernacle. Pendleton slashed an entry point in the side and breached the tent. They flooded in. Inside, it was dark and eerily silent.

Pendleton whispered for the Blades to form up in the darkness. Luland would take the center and illuminate the way with one of his spheres. He pulled a small silver sphere from his satchel, whispered something to it, and it ignited into a red glow. The blades could now see that they were in the midst of Romoa’s library. They began to make their way between the tall shelves filled with thousands of books. The dark ceiling of the tabernacle ruffled uneasily overhead.

“Your king is more of a fool than I ever could have imagined,” said a voice from the center of the darkness.

Pendleton motioned for the Blades to keep on moving towards its source and to make as little noise as possible. A bizarre creaking began emanating from the darkness.

“Did you hear me boy? Your king has betrayed you. He has left you for dead. He knew there was no way for you to leave this place.”

The Blades kept advancing. The end of the library was coming up. More eerie creaking up ahead.

“It’s a shame really. You’ve demonstrated considerable potential coming here, but alas, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. And you and your friends are going to have to pay with your lives. Don’t worry though, I’ll put your bodies to good use. Do you like my creations, Luland?”

The Blades were now passing through a series of workbenches littered with debris. Pendleton made the motion to spread the formation with his hands. The commandoes did so seamlessly, one archer on each flank, Frite the Aggressor on point, Warhammer and Miko to each side of Pendleton and Luland, and Key the Assassin somewhere off in the darkness. The undeniable stench of death was swelling. They were getting closer to the source. Something terrible had taken place here.

Then things suddenly got worse.

The sphere that Luland was holding dimmed like a dying flame. He shook it…it returned…and then it went out.

The dreadful sound of a hundred cries—man, woman, child, and beast—all emanating from the same source sang:

 

Down the river

Through the sea

Little minnow

Swim for me

Pendleton grabbed Luland’s arm and pulled him under a nearby workbench. It was a trap.