Big West 2019 Teaser #3: A Soldier's Journey

Bri Bedore

How can I mark the date… What is a moon in this place, and how could the sun’s swinging arms still reach me? I know not what day, season, or even year it is anymore… but I still carry the Age of Curses in my breast.

I can feel its corrosion, even now, so far from Iridian’s smog.

These experiences must be written, must be made tangible, or they are little better than dreams. I have to remember what happens to me, just as one wandering a maze must mark which paths they have already taken.

I have to remember what happens to me, because I don’t think anyone else will.

That monster, that bird-skulled phantom was waiting for me at the Gates of Ruis. It stood untouched by arrows or the shrapenel of Waereth’s explosions, and it pulled me through the battlefield with its gaze.

Moving like a wraith myself, I reached the gates. Inscribed above the portcullis were the words “IN AETERNUM”... I looked back at the soldiers straining on the field, and recognized nothing. No Iridian banners, no warmachines of Waereth. Only faceless soldiers, surging in eternal combat.

Were any of them real, as I felt myself to be, or had they simply worn their identities smooth, like rubbing a carving from a wooden figure?

The gates opened at the cloaked creature’s touch, and we entered into an impossible city.

It was all phases of war layered over one another--it was a sacked city, it was host to returning heroes, it was crumbling, it was victorious…

I watched champions riding high on majestic steeds as red petals were tossed from windows overhead, but were they rose petals, or sprays of blood? As they pooled in the cobblestones under horses hooves, it was impossible to tell.

There are legends of a city beyond the circles of resurrection, reserved only for heroes who fall in battle. It is said this city’s gates only open when a warrior passes through their final death.

But I refused to believe that any final reward would welcome me home with blood, and not with your smile, Onwen.

I could not stay.

I ran through the lunatic streets, and found the Monster waiting in the shadowed mouth of an alleyway, mist drooling out around it. It had borne me from the siege, maybe it could take me somewhere else

“Please,” I begged it, “I cannot stay here. I have a wife, a son…”

It looked down at me, its grim countenance unreadable, until at last it nodded its beak and led me down the alleyway.

“Ghost Crow,” a voice cut through the ambient chaos, clear as an officer’s command. We turned back, and I saw a warrior’s silhouette, framed at the alley’s entrance. He pointed a sword at me, “That belongs to me.”

I drew my own weapon, but Ghost Crow, my monstrous guide, raised one ragged sleeve as if to stay me.

“He is already lost, don’t pretend you can save him,” The Warrior approached us. Mist swirled around my ankles.

Ghost Crow held me back, but I resisted against its arm.

The Warrior growled, advancing. “What’s going to happen to us if you don’t let us feed?”

Ghost Crow hurled me backward with unnatural strength, and the arms of mist caught me up, sucking me into an ephemeral rip-tide.

I tumbled, drowning, the edges of my being blurring. I clutched only to your name, Onwen. I tried to remember that your name was attached to you, and to home, and I imagined that I was still connected, too. I tried to believe it.

At last I washed up on some kind of tangible reality.

Hot, humid air pressed into my lungs, coated my skin with sticky sweat, and the sounds of insects and birds were louder than any market day.

When I pried my eyes and mind open once more, I found myself in a land almost like the stories of the world before Warmachines, and plaguecraft, and curse-smog. It was a verdant jungle--ferns with fronds like an entire regiment of men, trees like towers of Iridian citadels. Mushrooms unleashed a soft snowfall of spores, each puff shining in the daylight, and the very earth seemed to breathe with me.

And then I saw the red eyes watching me from the undergrowth.

While my name has become a threadbare thing, I still knew that I was Marcus Kalas, Captain of Iridian, and I’d had enough of being prey. I found my sword lying in the moss beside me, and I held my ground.

The creature that emerged was feline, but mutated… four eyes, and six legs, and tentacles streaming from its back. It lunged and I feinted left, striking out as it flew past me.

One of its legs fell to the ground, claws still distended. It screamed and I answered with another blow, and another, until the monster lay in a motionless heap.

That’s when I realized that the beast was not alone.

A pride of at least a dozen more stalked forward, snarling at the death of their scout.

I took my cue and ran.

The Jungle snapped at me like a living predator itself, vines barring my way, roots rising to trip me, but I ran, and ran as the beasts gave chase. I knew they were herding me, guiding my flight, but what could I do?

I looked back at the rows of eyes and teeth gaining on me, and saw too late the wall of mist looming ahead.

The mists closed over me again, and while the last had been an ocean, this seemed like a curtain. I stepped through the sliver of nothingness and my feet landed on scorched earth.

A red wash like the haze of funeral pyres seared my vision, and I stumbled back from oppressive heat, but the way had closed behind me. At my back was only blackness.

Free from the creatures that had hunted me, I breathed in the smoky air with heaving lungs.

This new no-where I’d fallen into felt less like a somewhere and more like a some-one.

The entire world was flame and char.

I couldn’t hear my own hacking coughs over the grinding sound of embers, I could see no horizon through the heat, but despite my strangled senses, I know the flames saw me.

The fire that was everything knew that I was there. I was nothing but one last, unburnt morsel.

Staring into that sun-bright inferno, holding only our two names, I wondered what would happen to you, Onwen, if the fire consumed me.

Do your loved ones fade when you stop remembering them?

If I never come home, Onwen, will there be a home at all?

Hands closed around my shoulders and yanked me back. The world of fire flipped into darkness.

My vision dazzled from fire, my wits frayed by war and monsters, I wheeled like a drunkard against whoever had seized me.

At last my eyes adjusted to see Ghost Crow looming over me, a backdrop of stars behind it. It checked me over for wounds or burns, and pulled away.

That monster is my only friend in this unreality.

So here I sit, on this dusty plateau, meteorites leaping like fish from the rivers of stars above me, and I try to remember what’s happened... But I don’t understand why.

Why did I slip from war into this patchwork of dimensions?

Is this the afterlife, or is this another kind of oblivion?

Maybe I’m here because I’ve been forgotten. Lost, as that Warrior said.

Am I fading away because you’ve forgotten me, Onwen?

Is there even a home to return to?
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