Big West 2019 Teaser #2: A Soldier's Journal

Bri Bedore

Writing has been appearing within personal notebooks, on the blank pages of old books, posted on notice boards, scrawled on the backs of ledgers, and even on bits of litter blowing in the wind.

It's always the same words, in the same handwriting:

Spring’s Second Moon; Year 907 in The Age of Curses

I’m writing by morning’s moonlight, or what little comes through the pyre-smoke and the choking smog of Wraereth’s warmachines. By now the soldiers who cry themselves to sleep have stopped their noise, and the dying have left us.

In these few, precious moments of pre-dawn clarity, I can think, I can write. If I can keep thoughts in this journal, I can trust that they still exist when the delirium takes me again.

I wear my memories of you as armor, Onwen. Without them, I wouldn’t last dawn’s first hour.

I see your dark hair woven with strands of silver, as though the stars have spent every night kissing your head. I can still feel the grip of your hands on my shoulders when I left for the siege, and that gleam in your untarnished eyes as you told me to go with honor. Audax was only a swell in your belly.

How tall has our boy grown now?

Are there more than laugh lines on your beautiful face, wife?

Has this siege scarred you as much as it’s scarred me?

I can’t wonder what Audax thinks of the father he never met. I can’t distract myself with worrying how you get by. Those thoughts would consume me.

I have to imagine you just beyond every enemy on the battlefield, standing in the threshold of our home with your arms outstretched, and if I cut down just one more Wraereth soldier then I can fall into your embrace.

But Onwen, my love, there are always more of them. Their numbers never diminish, their warmachines vomit javelins all day, and their wall never falls. My soldiers break themselves against the battlements in an endless, surging tide of bodies. At night we listen to the wails from within the walls of Ruis and do what we can for our own injured... and in the morning the horns blare and the fever claims us again.

Onwen, I think my mind is gone.

For I believe less and less that I’m actually in Wraereth, camped at the gates of Ruis. Now, in these lucid moments before the fighting begins, I know, somehow, that I’ve slipped the tethers of reality. Perhaps through my own madness, or perhaps existence itself has turned its back on me, as the stars do now, winking out one by one in the gloam of dawn.

I’m not dead, my dear Onwen, but I’m afraid I might be somewhere worse.

I fell off of Iridian into the river of time, and it’s swept me out to some great ocean. And there are things in these fathomless depths, brushing past me in this darkness through which I now sink.

My soldiers, the war, the bodies and the rubble and the memories of you are sinking with me...

But I refuse to succumb to oblivion.

Last night, through the cries of men and machines, I felt a silence overtake me. I looked up and beheld a figure, an inhuman bulk, cloaked and hooded, untouched by the blood and soot. In the howling haze, that figure stood in crisp focus--rags and feathers and an aura of swirling dust motes.

The silence grew suffocating, and then it turned and looked at me.

Its face was nothing but a beaked, bleached skull, but those eyeless hollows seemed to hold my gaze, to look right at me. It saw me.

And then it was gone. Vanished.

If I see that thing again tonight, I’m going to leave the siege. Though it may cost me my sanity, my honor, or my life.

That monster is the thread that I will follow out of this perdition.

So if by some miracle you’re reading these words, Onwen, tell our boy that I’m coming home. I am going to hold you and our son in my arms. I swear it as a soldier of Iridian, I swear it as your husband.

I’m coming home, Onwen.

I’m going to get out of here.

--Captain Marcus Kalas