The Rise of the Black Company
The Book of Scratch
The Book of Scratch
(Late October – Deep in the bowels of the dark north)
First entry. It has been some time since the Black Company has waged war and I have never seen a grimmer life. I can see now the street wars in Beryl was a vacation for most of these men. The glint in their eye has returned, on the trail and in the trenches. And yet I can feel the light in my own eyes dimming.
The rout in Elm seemed to only whet the appetite of the mage and wild-eyed barbarian. They spent several hours alone with Fowler, blood-curdling screams echoing from below. Morbid curiosity brought me downstairs, but an overwhelming nausea in the pit of my stomach forced me out. Fowler’s painful distorted faces are etched in my memory and replay again night after night in my restless sleep.
The Captain arrived in the afternoon with the rest of the Company in tow and demanded to be filled in. Our uneasy alliance with Dorn ended abruptly with a harsh message for the Limper. The Captain was eager to move on and we quickly loaded the spoils from Jensen’s granary. Fitz’s eyes gleamed with a newly found great axe while Creeper seemed to wear an intricately crafted longsword with his usual stoic silence. I stared at the foreign morningstar at my belt darkly. The land and the people of the bloody north were getting into our bones.
(On the road to Roses)
The Captain is pushing us with a purpose now. He ordered Bastard’s advance party to charge ahead to the fortress of Meystrikt. These harsh foreign syllables pain my lips. I’m beginning to resent their subtle influence, though their curses seem to spit a subtle darkness unlike any other I’ve encountered. A scarred warrior aptly named Shanks joined us, replacing Fitz for this mission who had taken ill. Most likely picked up from one of the whores of Elm. Seems like this place doesn’t agree with him either.
Meystrikt though powerfully built has been neglected by time. The fortress guard seem vaguely interested in their duty and more concerned with carousing at the eating hall. The abandoned barracks held few usable beds and even less heat as a cold draft seeped through the crumbling walls. I gladly set about the mindless task of making the place more habitable. A few stubbed fingers were a welcome relief from the gore of the past weeks. Still there was an uneasiness in the air. The night brought thundershowers and lightning filled the canyon, a disturbing natural phenomenon.
My eyes opened to the mage’s wild eyes. His face still lingered from my dreams, blood spattered and ruthless. I forced the images out of my mind as I tried to focus on his whispered words. The lord of the fortress was planning something for us. Not only us, but the whole Company. He had been paid well to lure us into some kind of trap. I should have known the darkness surrounding the Company could not be escaped.
Subterfuge was needed. I had to revisit those demons of the past and wear the mask of another again. Still, it was reflex and old habits took hold playing the familiar game of cat and mouse. I studied each guard intently, watching and listening for vital cues to their personality, mimicked their annoying ticks, took on their characteristic walk, haunted their daily routines. I entered another world, gladly setting aside my own dark and troubled mind for a time.
I rejoined the group in time to see Bastard arguing with one of the guards. Inevitably it ended in blows. Well one blow really, from Bastard, through the guard’s face. His body laid limply on the ground shifting the feeling in the air. The rest of the men knew, the Black Company was here.
We laid a trap at sunset in the back wall latrine. I settled into the stench and watched as Six melted into the shadows of the far wall. After a time I almost forgot he was there. The guard entered as expected, this one wasted much of his time on watch pacing back and forth to the latrine. I shifted into character, a simple drunk with bad aim.
The guard was properly distracted as Mumbles murmured words of magic through the arrow slit. I jumped a bit as Six slid his blade into the man’s back. Apparently the spell had not worked. I took a long last look over the man’s features as I donned his armor. My face contorted into his lax dull expression and my mind filled with random bits of his life. Family members, debts owed, lecherous desires, and more I made my own and headed out into the torchlight to test my skill.
The plan was to slowly replace their guards with members of our squad. I sought out the weakest link, a teenage boy with a penchant for liquor. I led him into the relative privacy of the north tower and let my new dark personality take over. Mentally and emotionally removed, I watched as my arm delt several crushing blows and my sickle slide easily along his throat.
Six slipped up the stairs to join me and take the young guard’s tattered armor. Absent mindedly I noticed his undershirt seemed ill-fitted to the boy and had the marks of several deadly wounds. Neither of us paid much attention as we hurried back into position.
With Six in place I assumed the easy saunter of my new guise and took my place at the front gate. My companion at the gate looked a bit quizzically at me, but a quick improvised distraction took his mind off my unconvincing performance. I had to keep sharp. Surprising concern for my newly forged family welled up. I shoved aside my feelings as I subtly shifted the conversation.
From there things quickly spiraled out of control. A commotion from Six’s post alerted my companion and several others nearby. I tried suppressing their curiosity, digging deep into my study of these men and how they thought. For a time I felt I might be able to salvage the situation and excused myself back to the north tower. But of course subtly and subterfuge descended into more bloodshed. With a bit of luck we managed to silence the guards before anyone inside took notice. The Black Company walked the walls of Mestrikt.
Mumbles had evidently contacted Captain during the course of the melee. The rest of the Company arrived minutes later. Bastard filled Captain in on the treachery, resulting in the razing of the towers. Though at Bastard’s suggestion, Captain Kendo was “invited” outside by the Company’s warring mages first. Madly flailing at imagined horrors, Kendo flung himself from the central tower into the waiting hands of the Company.
He quickly spilled his guts, figuratively then literally. The whole camp had been replaced by Rebels who planned to off the Company during the night. Clearly we had been underestimated again. I’m beginning to wonder how long our luck will hold out. And if death would be a welcome release.