The Rise of the Black Company
The Book of Bastard
The Black Company is currently stationed within the Bastion Fortress inside the city of Beryl. The city is in a constant state of unrest and on the verge of complete uprising at any given time. The powder keg is held at bay through the policing efforts and brute force tactics of the company. We are in the middle of our third summer of service to the Syndic of Beryl. Many within the company are unhappy with the current contract thinking it diminishes the legacy of the company.
The platoon we are serving in is headed up by Sergeant Mercy, in addition to having several other subordinate “corporal” type squad leaders. This includes myself referred to as “Bastard”, “Wall Eye” and “Wild Bruce”. My moniker of “Bastard” is a reference to my unwavering belief in chain of command and following orders to the letter and without fail. Mercy is known to be one of the tougher commanders in the company. He is the one that slits the throats of the fallen after a battle. He is a vicious fucker with a flair for showmanship and commanding attention to himself. I have served with his type before, and in all honesty, prefer his type. He is blunt, cruel and obvious. You know what you are getting with him and where you stand at all times. I follow orders, keep my mouth shut, my troops in line and alive. He loves me for it and leaves me the fuck alone, just how I like it. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
“Wild Bruce” and “Walleye” have been murdered inside an inn within the town. It appears that they were poisoned by the Blues that control that inn. Old Mole Tavern is the only commonality in the eating habits of 4 company members that have been murdered via poison. Croaker has confirmed that it is a type of poisoning via food that is chemically based. That eliminates the other sub officers from the unit and puts me in direct line of succession. We are to gear up immediately and prepare to move out to this tavern for an investigation and possibly some serving of justice starting with the innkeeper. Mercy and Croaker are accompanying us to the tavern for the time being.
Mercy directs the plan of attack as, three men at the back door and a pair at each window. Mumbles shows up a few minutes later with something in a sack, and a shit eating grin on his face. There is an exchange of sorts between Croaker and Mumbles. I don’t overly involve myself. Mumbles follows orders well and has talents I find useful, though his methodology may be unappealing.
The inn is a multi-story building with several exits and windows. With two squads we attempt to shut off all routes of escape. I volunteer to take post at the back door along with a couple other members of the squad. Mercy boldly marches into the inn calling out the innkeeper and his kin. Dramatically and in a booming voice, he declares in front of the whole tavern that they are to suffer punishment. The innkeeper denies the charges, playing the innocent. Mercy loudly announces the punishment as declared by the Syndic is “slavery”. That is public crucifixion followed by allowing their corpses to be picked by the carrion birds. A fate saved for the lowest of criminals. There is protest and the slam of something on a table. I don’t see from where I am posted, but Mercy yells something out at the sound. Pushed to his breaking point, the innkeeper shouts something and the tavern erupts with brandished weapons and moving bodies.
Posted at the back door, myself and the two other squad members are soon face to face with several unarmed persons trying to escape. Weapons out and shields forward, we push the fools back into the inn with unrelenting force. They lack any training or skill and appear to be in a state of sheer panic. They are quickly put into submission and moved back inside. I shove one back into the corner of the room and knock him cold with my sword pommel. With him down, I move to support the other two squad members with me. So far we have knocked two of the unarmed kinsmen of the innkeeper into a stupor and they lay crumpled on the floor. From the next room, I can hear Mercy bellowing and the meaty thump of bodies hitting the floor. The strange little magician Mumbles has hurled a beehive on the inn occupants. The bees swarm them and they swing wildly in the air at the horde of bees assailing them. One of the thugs in the backroom plunges a dagger into one of my squad. He then turns his blade to the unconscious kinsmen at his feet, slashing his throat. Blood covers the floor now, both of friend and foe alone. He murders one of the fallen men who were fleeing. It seems a strange action. They must be protecting some kind of information from us. We must keep at least one of these fools from being slain. Another of the “Blue” brigand falls to my blade, as his arm is separated from his body. For a moment he stares at the fountain of gore that was once his arm, then at me as his eyes glaze over and he is gone. I hear the squad member behind me groan. He must not be dead yet. I need to drop this last scum bag so I can attend to my fallen brother. The bees seem to have thinned out since the first few seconds when they appeared. They no longer seem to be affecting the enemy’s movement or combat capabilities. The sounds of battle seem to have abated from the other room. The moaning of the fallen and the shrieks of men dying from horrible wounds announces the close of battle.
The backroom is cleared of foes, and we flank the last one standing. My sword arm strikes out and he is down, clutching his ruin of a throat. I don’t grant him a quick death. “Let him bleed out”, I say locking gaze with the dying man. They call me Bastard. If had he a throat he would name me so himself. Bleed out you piece of trash.
I give orders to secure the rear door. The squad member snaps to action and stops staring at the sound of my voice. I move thru the double doors and enter into the main area of the tavern. Combat is still going on, but not many of them are still standing. Mumbles is attending to the wounded man at the rear door, attempting to stabilize him. The only two remaining armed men, drop their weapons and submit as they see me head into the room. I smirk at them.
Mercy yells for all to hold. “Tie them up! Secure the premises! Search downstairs!” I report in that we have secured two prisoners and have them in custody at the back of the inn. I send Fits, Creeper and Six downstairs to secure the basement. They are to search for any more idiots that may want to die on our blades. They find several high ranking “Blues” hiding in a hidden alcove down there. These men have good political value and potential as hostages or even bounty from the Syndic. It must be our lucky fucking day.
Attempting to throw off our foe and bringing attention to our magicians, Mercy talks loudly about rewarding our informant. This should create dissent and distrust amongst our foes or those who would strike against us. Throw meat to a pack of wild dogs and watch them rip themselves to shreds over it while we watch. I nod approval to Mercy.
We gather ourselves and our prisoners and begin to head back to the Bastion Fortress. Mercy asks me if I think we should expect trouble from our captives. I respond in the negative passing my gaze over each of them, making sure they see me. “Weapons out and cut these bitches up if they give us shit boys,” I bark. Mercy nods approval and pats me on the back.
As we reach the halfway point of our return journey, we pass a massive force of one hundred armed soldiers. Heavily armed and armored they almost look as nasty a sight as us trooping around the city. At the head of their column riding a large stallion is an effeminate figure. Wearing a full face mask and clad in all black. Its gaze seems to waver over Mumbles for a moment, but continues onward.
We return to the Bastion Fortress without further incident.
Several hours pass, wounds are tended and we heal up.
Croaker and Mercy summon us all to the courtyard. We rally around as he Croaker informs us of a foul turn of events. We have captured many of the key conservative members of the “Blues”. Political intrigue and foul acts have prompted a revolt of the Urban Cohorts. They are a hired militia of sorts that serves as the personal guard to the Syndic. The foul braggarts make ready to attack our foothold at the Bastion. We are to make ready to stand in combat against them. I yell for my squad to make ready and make haste to the front gate. There I stand with Croaker and Mercy as we prepare to fight these men to the death for their treachery. We do not take lightly acts of betrayal. There will be no prisoners today, only examples made for others.
Archers take post in the upper level of the towers ready to fire arrows down upon our foes. I set my feet firmly, shield up and sword at the ready. We are beset quickly and they prove more difficult foes than we expect. Fighting next to me, Mercy is struck solidly in the face by a mace. He reels but continues to stand, his face a ruin and his eye completely gone. The mean son of a bitch didn’t even cry out when he was hit. He just cursed and slew the one who had struck him. The exchange of blows is furious, and they fight on despite horrible wounds inflicted. The press of bodies behind them keeps them from maneuvering and turning about. They bull rush our front line and continue to do so at every opportunity. I alone am pushed back at the influx of bodies. I take a step back to regain solid footing. The line is loose but not broken. My sword swings as I cleave meat and my foe drops heavily to the ground.
Just then Mumbles yells out, “Fall back behind the second portcullis!” I step back quickly after hearing that. Mercy stands his ground as though he did not hear. Blows rain down upon him. He succumbs and falls to his knees. His eyes roll back into his head and he falls to the ground.
Suddenly a wall of flame appears in between us and the Cohorts. Mercy lies there on the ground, severely wounded and possibly dying. Our archers continue to fire arrows and bolts down from the tower. The arrows start to train down towards the archers set behind the mob. I lunge forward into the flame wall and grab Mercy dragging him back inside. A few of them rush through the flames. One strikes me as I attempt to defend the fallen Mercy. Another Cohort leaps the fire, surprising Fits and wounding him. Mumbles drops the portcullis. Several of the Cohorts are trapped inside the Bastion with us now. I bellow in anger and strike a back hand swipe of my blade. Head leaves body and makes a sound like thick wood when it strikes the ground. Fits drops the other with a savage sweeping blow that almost cuts man in two. He smiles down at the dying man, with a look almost like the two of them just shared a joke. Strange bloke that one, but useful, damned useful.
Mumbles quickly rushes to the side of Mercy and manages to get his bleeding wounds bandaged and under some control. Above us from the towers and the walkways, those with bows continue to drop the wounded Cohorts outside the fortress. Mumbles and I rush Mercy to the infirmary where Croaker is quick to attend him. He has taken a serious head wound, lost a finger and lost an untold amounts of blood. Croaker says that there is the possibility of permanent brain damage from the head wound. If so, let it be memory loss. Mercy wouldn’t like knowing that he was dropped by the likes of that rabble. He would want something more epic.
We rest for two hours, per the captain’s orders. While we are healing and dressing wounds, Mumbles takes a nap and says he is going to scout around. He has some ability to leave his physical being while sleeping and use his spirit to walk around as a scout. I don’t question it. I have always taken him at his word, though it might at time sound absurd. Croaker and the Captain confer in hushed tones. Croaker approaches and informs me that for now I am being put in charge of the squad. Mercy’s condition is critical and will remain so for some time.
We are being sent to the poor quarter, or “Groan” as it is commonly referred to by the locals. The Captain says that lethal force is allowed, following sufficient warning. These are mostly civilians we will be dealing with. As professionals, we must at least give them opportunity to withdraw.
I order my squad to refrain from attacking unless we are attacked first. Urban Cohorts that engage us are to be given no quarter and slain outright. Anyone of those traitorous fucks that crosses paths with us will pay for what happened to Mercy. Civilians are to be spared if possible, but our own health and safety comes first before all others. We move as a unit through the city. Street by street and square by square, we disperse the gathered mobs. Utilizing a commanding voice and intimidation, we disperse many without shedding blood.
In one square, twenty Urban Cohorts are looting, raping and murdering common folk. I roar a warning that we mean to kill them if they do not surrender. Inside, I pray that none of them heed. I want to butcher them all for what they have done and are doing. Half of their number flees at command. The other ten fools rush toward us looking for battle. We stand our ground. As they rush in, Six and Creeper do their jobs well dropping their front runner. He falls flat on the ground with an arrow in a eye and one in the neck. Two stand toe to toe with us, exchanging blows. Our bowmen are taking the blunt of the blows due to their light armor and lack of shields. Vulture gets man handled by the Urban Cohorts. He is beset upon from both sides, and pelted with blows from maces upside his head.
Mumbles invokes some of his usual chicanery, creating an illusion. Four rotting undead warriors crawl from the ground and begin to move towards our attackers. They reek of death and decay even from 20’ away. The fear exuding from several of our attackers is palpable. Those that have stepped up to me have each fallen in a single blow from my blade. Three lay in a twisted pile at my feet, blood filling the gutters of the street we fight on.
Vulture continues to get whooped on badly. He seems very raw in forward combat. I need to remember to have an efficiency rating conversation with Mercy about moving him to rear ranks only, and only serve for ranged support.
I move into a flanking position with Scratch and dispatch the one he is engaged with. His arm goes flying as I cleave it clean off his body. Vulture finally represents and cuts down one of the fleeing Cohorts.
With that we are clear for the moment. I ask Mumbles to check wounds for those that have received them. He expertly aids Vulture, Scratch and Creeper. Once this is completed we keep moving along on our assign patrol route. We come to another intersection with 100 civilian rioters. The noise of their rioting is too much for me to make myself heard over the din. After several attempts it becomes clear that it is useless. I confer with Mumbles and ask him to create a loud booming voice repeating my statement to disperse. We will attempt to use my ability to Command and Intimidate as a base line for his wizard craft. The effect isn’t what I had hoped for, only a dozen or so leave. We will have to take more direct and blunt methods. I order the squad forward. The first person I reach I throw to the ground and again issue my command to “Disperse!” The fool turns on me and I instantly cut him in half. The sight of this man being destroyed inspires another dozen to flee rather than to fight. We are still confronted with about 2 dozen who decide they can take us. As they reach us, we instantly destroy about half their number. At the sight of such swiftly dealt death the rest decide retreat is wiser.
We move through two more intersections and continue our tactics of intimidation and wizardry to clear the rabble without spilling blood.
As we finish that last area on our sweep, we hear the roar of the bugle sounding recall to the Bastion Fortress. We make speed back to our Bastion and see our Captain in the courtyard. He informs us that over 100 of our brethren have fallen in the riots within the city. He says that we have done more than was sane and shall not imperil ourselves any longer. We shall hold here and let events take their course.
Mercy’s condition is not improving and will likely not recover. We rest up and tend our wounds behind the walls of the Bastion.
There isn’t much talk through the rest of the day.
The city reeks of death. Those creatures that feed on death replace the city’s normal denizens. From the top of the parapets, bodies can be seen to litter the streets in all directions. Huge rats freely roam the streets gorging on the corpses. The sky over the city is covered in clouds of ravens and carrion birds.
I don’t hear any of it myself, but a few of the others say that the Captain blamed himself for our losses. They say that he is so distressed that he attempts to give his resignation to his officers. I don’t know if I believe the scuttlebutt or not. The Captains seems made of tougher stuff than that.
Partway through the day, I seek out Mumbles. As I approach the barracks he is within, I stop at the door. Groans and shrieks of pain sound from within. He must be gleaning information from those “Blues”. I don’t care to observe his methods, as adept as he is at them. I leave resigning him to his work.
Later than evening he emerges and sits with our squad by the fire. He conducts an impromptu teaching of his “hand speak” with some of the men. I choose not to take part. I fill my hands with steel when language fails. It has served me well and gesture speak seems of little use to me. If it keeps the men distracted from the situation we are in, I see no harm in it.
The Captain and Lieutenant spend a good part of the morning taking count of our remaining troops. Along with Croaker, they reorganize squads and assignments from all those that are gone. Patrols are sent out in the early afternoon to gather intelligence and survey what remains of the city. My squad is relieved of this duty. I am however allowed to sit in on a meeting to discuss how to handle the mass of bodies and prevent disease or plague from erupting. That would only create a worse situation. Croaker does most of the talking. I don’t speak, just listen like the stoic soldier. I know my role.
Patrols return and debrief with the officers. Lots of stories start to circulate throughout the ranks. Tales of horrific scenes are rampant.
One story catches my attention. The Urban Cohorts in their looting, sought treasure from the tombs of the nobility buried within the Necropolitan. This is a huge series of tombs and crypts atop a hill within the city proper. Local legends tell of vast wealth buried with the corpses of the extremely wealthy. They also tell of ancient monsters called the Forvalaka imprisoned for an age upon that hill. These are creatures of utter darkness. They are said to be able to walk in the form of a man or a monstrous cat of prey. They feed on the blood of their victims and favor man flesh above all other. They conquered the city once and ruled it in their tyranny for over a decade before being deposed and sealed on the Necropolitan. It is said that the Cohorts unknowingly broke the seals on the tomb of these monstrous Forvalaka loosing them upon the city. Bodies have been found dismembered and bloodless. The city folk are gripped in fear, and now call for help from their regent.
They say the Captain dismisses these rumors as pure bullshit, but the Syndic swears them to be true. Even so, I sleep armored with sword close at hand tonight. I set guard duty for my squad. I have seen strange things from our own magicians. I have learned to discount nothing. Better to be paranoid.