In the Year of the Ascension of the Prophet, Avin
WAR CHANGES A MAN. Especially when the enemy’s rank and file in said war is comprised mainly of reanimated dead. People whose lives consisted of nothing more than toil and trouble, rather than rest in their graves, now made up the legions of a dark lord called the Carrion King. Tens of thousands of gruesome golems. One-time fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters.
Yes, war changes a man. A year of campaign. A year of black blood in a black land. It changed young Marcus Viridius Grivna both outwardly and within. To see him on that day in the year 367 of the Ascendancy of the Prophet of the Light, or A.E., one would cast their gaze upon a thin, sunken-eyed, hollow-cheeked scarecrow of his former self, braced in dented and scratched plate armor, dirty blond hair plastered to his skull, his flesh a ghostly pallor. It was a mirror image of how he felt inside; faith-tested, his nightmares no worse than his day-to-day reality.
He had arrived beneath the rocky cliffs of the fortress called Varna Sestus before the cold season, when the ice floes filled the seas and made it impractical for ships to navigate the Mist Coast. He came bright-eyed, clean-shaven, with a quick step and a firm sense of right and wrong, of what was good and what was evil. The things he had seen, that which he had partaken in, bore testament to the extremes of Light, of Drear, and of those gray border realms between. Just not the outcome. Good was supposed to prevail. Evil fall away. Not so.
When the Gurtham armies came and tore down the walls of the sestus, they destroyed what remained of the Luminary Legion and their allies in the lost northern realm. Their success was attained through overwhelming numbers, and a willingness to throw themselves heedlessly at the enemy with no regard for their own deaths. A beleaguered few of the defenders made it past the disordered rearguard and escaped into the wild, into the Forsaken Lands.
Marcus and his company were among those who fled. That’s when his faith first wavered.
Over the next several days, haphazard attacks by more enemy warbands and swarms of slavering revenants reduced his company to a handful. That’s when his hope of ever returning home, much less winning the war, began to unravel.
He did things he’d never foreseen ever doing. He struck down his risen comrades. He hacked the limbs and heads and torsos of undead women and children. That’s when what was left of his innocence melted away forever.
Though the meaning of it all was rather rough-hewn, Marcus never lost what it was that drove him on. He cut a jagged line into the heart of Gurthkam, refusing to lose sight of what lay behind this cursed crusade; in this deep cold season, reinforcements weren’t coming anytime soon. What was once fueled by faith in the Light, now took sustenance from anything but.
Darkness. Rage. Hatred.
These were the emotions that blanketed Marcus, kept him thrusting into the belly of this dark, bleak domain. Indignation and rage ushered him onward, a frozen grimace on his face, the wire-wrapped hilt of his Iridian blade gripped hard in two gauntleted fists. The only way he knew justice would ultimately be served upon such a dire and unrelenting foe was to never relent himself.
Not one damned bit.
 Revenants, technically.
 The sestuses—or sestii—of Varna, Bara, and Daggio were a string of fastnesses, or fortresses, which once guarded Falahan’s far northern borders. Bara (The Broken Fortress) and Daggio (The Desecrated Fortress) have long since fallen into ruin. Varna Sestus was the last to remain garrisoned.
 The Forsaken Lands were once the northernmost regions of the nation of Falahan, but were given up for lost in drawn out wars against Gurtham armies of men and darkindim in 116 A.E., some 220 years before this story takes place.
All fiction and snippets contained herein are © 2009-2010 J.M. Martin. Do not copy or distribute. All rights reserved.