I wrote this for a short story forum contest some time in 2010. It certainly isn't my best work, and in my opinion what I have yet to post is much more polished.
It is set in the same world as a planned fantasy story which I hope to begin uploading some time this year.
Wet snow was the worst of its kind, Oscus mused silently. It was heavy, first of all. Made treks like this one harder than they had to be. He could deal with it, though, if it wasn't for the damp. The damp was even worse. Got into your leathers, through your gloves, froze your fingers. Made it hard to grip an axe, or even focus right. Sapped the strength right out of you. Fatigue and cramped muscles Oscus could ignore, marches day and night he could slog through with little more than curses and complaints. The cold, though, doesn't give a damn how strong you are. Doesn't care where your place is in life. Big men and small men, farmers and scholars, they're all equal before Father Winter.
And it wasn't even winter yet.
Oscus clenched and unclenched his left fist, trying to get the blood flowing. He could hardly feel his right, but it was busy balancing his axe over one shoulder. This wasn't the time to chain his weapon just so he could squeeze another pitiful ounce of comfort into his uncomfortable world. That would be death. War, like the cold, wasn't forgiving. Stack them together and life becomes a hellhole. A moment off guard could mean a sword in your back, or an arrow through a lung.
He trudged through the ankle-deep snow and stooped under a low-hanging pine branch, but something caught in his hair anyway. He scowled and plucked a stick from his scalp, bringing pain a few brown strands with it. Gave his fingers something to do, at least. He flicked the twig away and turned round, peering into the sparse forest.
Of his party, one of the soldiers came first. He wasn't quite as tall as Oscus, so he didn't have to duck the branch. His cheeks and nose were red under his poorly-fitting steel cap, and he didn't look much happier than Oscus felt. Seemed older, too. The man probably had more war experience than he did, but Oscus was the one who knew the area. That was why the Imperial Divinity had chosen him to lead. He knew the foothills around the base of the mountains better than anyone, so it was his task to escort two Divinity priests to Ulms.
Some job for a Sword of the Divinity. He was supposed to be the martial arm of the church, a soldier of the Heavens, not some party leader plodding through land that could very well harbor enemy scouts. Wasn't like he was afraid, though. Not at all. He just preferred his usual task of hunting bandits on the outskirts of town. Didn't offer much of a challenge, and the pay was decent enough. Bought him a room, meals, and a couple nights a week at the local whorehouse, all for little more than killing half-starved thieves no one would miss.
"Oscus! Where do you think we are?" Macard, one of priests, waddled out from behind some brush. It was a wonder he hadn't spotted the holyman sooner, given his ludicrously overblown fur coat and gleaming silver circlet. His neck was lost between his puffed collar and the rolls of fat flowing from his chin. The second priest, Jorn, followed up close behind, his coat only slightly less boisterous and circlet slightly less polished. He wasn't nearly Macard's size, but his shining bald head more than made up for what his attire and physique lacked. If there were any patrols nearby, it was pure luck his mirror of a skull didn't attract them with reflected sunlight.
Oscus looked up to the sky and wrinkled his nose. He didn't have a damn idea where they were, to be honest. The last time they'd seen a clear sky, the mountain peaks had receded quite a bit into the distance. Meant they hadn't quite made it halfway to Ulms since their departure six days ago, but they were close.
He hawked yellow into the snow, then wiped his nose on the back of his hand. As he looked to his companions again, a second soldier brought up the rear, completing their group of five. He was young, maybe younger than Oscus. At their departure he'd shown some enthusiasm. Probably happy to leave the piss-pot of a town that was Tuldua. See the capital, maybe find some work there once his stint in the army ran out. Now he was as cold and wet as the rest of them, the frown on his once-lively face ever slacker and more miserable as the days passed. Life in the wild was hard, that much the kid was finding out. Oscus was too.
He missed Tuldua already, no matter how unhappy and dry the town had been. At least there he'd had a stable job. Then the damn eastern barbarians decided to revolt against Ulmiric rule. Suddenly it wasn't safe to travel the Empire's roads without a strongman or four. The armies were already tied up in the south, cleaning up the last war against Dhasun, and there was no telling how long before they could march back and put the easterners in their place.
"Well?" Macard's snapped, cutting through Oscus' thoughts. The priest's fat face was right in his, frowning as if he'd already said the bad news. Oscus blinked, wrung his shoulders, felt his chainmail rub awkwardly through his cloth. He sought something useful to say, something to stall the question Macard invariably asked every morn and eve.
"Six days, maybe."
The priest's lip curled. "Maybe? I want something better than maybe, Kulth. The Clergyhead did not pick you for maybe."
There was something about authority and how it liked surnames. "Then the Clergyhead can come play in the fucking snow himself." That was what he wanted to say. He didn't, obviously. Might forfeit whatever pittance he'd get when this whole thing was over. Instead, he waved vaguely in a westerly direction. "Hard to say. Even I haven't been out this far, not in months. Two days ago we were about a third o' the way, but the snow's freezing now." He picked one boot from the powder and shook his leg, working out the kinks. "Makes it harder to move."
Macard's frown only grew. He muttered something under his tongue and drew his coat tighter, beady eyes glaring daggers at Oscus even as he made to turn off the beaten path. "I have to piss. I'll take the opportunity, if we're stopping anyway."
Stopping hadn't been Oscus' intention. He'd been waiting for the rest of the gang to catch up, was all. Almost had the mind to say his piece, but he grit his teeth and sucked in a breath instead. "Father, I don't think it's wise to go off on your own-"
"Then come join me, by all means! I don't want to sit around on my ass and get cold." And with that, Macard's fat figure ambled away into the trees.
Oscus bit his lip to suppress a curse, and he turned to the older soldier. "Stay with Father Jorn. If anything happens, holler." He frowned and jabbed a thumb at Macard's retreating figure. "I will… accompanyFather Macard, for his safety."
The soldier only offered the most imperceptible of nods. Probably too cold to care, even if Oscus had just said he was going to go murder Macard instead of babysit him. He jammed his longsteel into the ground and leaned back against a tree, taking the chance to crack his knuckles and slap some feeling into his face. The younger one wrung his fingers together, doing the same for his frozen digits. Their uniforms, not much more than leather breastplates inscribed with the Imperial seal, were already dirtied and faded, their weapons specked with rust. Might be pitiful figures, if Oscus didn't feel like how they looked.
He glanced to Jorn, who only smiled softly and dipped his head in Oscus' direction. He was an agreeable sort, as far as Oscus could tell. Didn't say much, and that was better than most Clergymen he'd met. Ate his fair share of the rations too, unlike Macard. Tolerable. The second priest did nothing more than stand in the snow, gloved hands clasped behind his back, and gaze off into the trees.
Oscus turned round and followed Macard's wide footsteps into the thick brush. Behind him the young man said something to his older counterpart, and the latter chuckled softly. Oscus didn't make out the exchange, but he smiled anyway. It was good to hear laughter. In his experience it was the best medicine for many a man's ails.
Except for steel in your stomach. His grin faded and turned downward. Wouldn't do for any easterners to overhear a couple careless soldiers swapping jokes. They might find it funny too. Funny enough to come join the party. But they were keeping relatively quiet so far, wasn't quite worth it to yell at 'em to shut it.
He heard the sound of splattering on snow and a tuneless whistle before he found Macard. Rounding a bush he saw the priest facing away, relieving himself at the base of a tree. It really was a wonder the man could find his own fruits, let alone his-
He heard the twang but by then it was already too late. An arrow thudded into the tree trunk not a foot in front of Macard's face. The fat man stared at it dumbfounded even as it sat there quivering, his steady stream of piss abruptly cut off.
Oscus moved. He pounded snow as he ran for Macard, swinging his axe from his shoulder and gripping it in his hot hand. "Get down!" he bellowed.
Macard either didn't hear him or was too shocked to respond. He jerked round, a look of utter surprise on his pudgy face that might've been amusing, if circumstances were different. Oscus reached him, grabbed a handful of fur and dragged him to the ground. The fat man let out a squeak of terror, flopping into the snow with arms flailing. Then Oscus spun, looking frantically into every dark bush that could cover a marksman, axe ready in both hands-
The old soldier came roaring out of the trees, sword high over his head, face contorted in an expression of rage and fear. If he had a target, though, it got him first, as another shaft sunk into his chest, just below his heart. He flopped forward with a gurgle, blood spurting from his mouth, cracking the arrow as he hit the ground and lost his sword.
If Oscus had any real sense, he probably should've made a run for it. One of three able-bodied men already down, an unknown number of assailants, and two helpless priests that required protection. Running would've been the smart thing to do. Running might've saved his life, and he could've gone off on his own, forgotten this whole business. He had the survival skills to do it. Could've run without a second thought.
But Oscus guessed he wasn't a smart fellow. He found himself rushing forward once again, charging the undergrowth where the second arrow had come from. He didn't yell or scream. There wasn't time. There was only his breath in his ears and his heart pounding in his throat and the snow crashing round his boots. Five paces from the brush he saw the archer, or at least the shape of a man with a bow. He had a third shaft knocked but it was too late, and Oscus' shoulder crashed into him full-tilt, sending the man sprawling and launching his arrow into the woods.
The axe went up and down, connecting with the archer's head with little more than a soft crunch, blood and bits spattering in the snow. That was it, the killing business. Pretty simple, pretty messy. The thing was, though, just like any other trade, there was always more work to be done.
"Yer did it now, fucker. Give up while yer can and we'll give ya a clean death."
Oscus looked up from the fresh corpse, and his heart fell. Advancing from a small clearing were five more men, each one more fearsome than the last. A couple spindly ones had rusted shortswords and bucklers. Another held a pretty big axe, larger even than Oscus' own and the arms to use it, while a fourth, a tall and lanky fellow, brandished what looked like a butcher's cleaver. The last one, a huge man of a good six-odd feet, heaved a great iron sledgehammer in two hands, his ham-like fists gripping the handle and forearms bulging with purple veins. They were all dressed in what amounted to rags, by Oscus' standards. Mud on their faces. Ragged, greasy hair. Easterners, by the look of 'em.
He glanced left and right, hopelessly searching for allies, or maybe a way out. This wasn't what Oscus had in mind, when he'd been given this job. He'd hoped for an easy task and easy pay, something different from the norm, a chance to see Ulms itself. Now it seemed all too likely that he'd die out in the middle of fucking nowhere, with naught but a missing person's report as his legacy. Hell, the priests would be more missed than him, and they hadn't done anything for it. He didn't deserve this. He'd killed men, but they'd been thieves and beggars. Nothing the Heavens would condemn.
It was so unfair.
And then Jorn was next to him, as silently as the shifting pines overhead. Oscus jumped, ready to split him open, but Jorn had a look of serenity on his face, almost boredom. Hands still behind his back, chin tilted up ever so slightly, eyes shifting about as though surveying a scene that interested him only in the most miniscule of ways. He looked at each of the barbarians in turn, inspecting them, maybe judging their worth. Then he glanced sidelong at Oscus, and smiled.
"Come now, sir Kulth," he said, waving a gloved hand dismissively, "I think you can deal with these men. Why, they're barbarians, are they not? One of our kind is worth two of theirs." Jorn tilted his bald head forward, holding his palm up in offering. "And you are a Sword! The finest the Divinity and the Empire has to offer. Why, I'd put the exchange rate at five to one!"
The lanky easterner spat on the ground and took a step forward, bringing his scarred and pitted face into the light between the trees. Looked like he'd been struck with the pox and a scrap all at once, and lived to tell about it. The last person Oscus wanted to fight right now. "Fuck yer, imperial! You all die like the rest of us, no mistake!" He grinned, showing a set of dulled yellow teeth. "The mud don't care who you are. Yer the same, and yer bleed the same."
"But we'll be happy t' try," the one with the axe said. "Make yer bleed more, that is." The others chuckled their agreement.
Oscus gulped. "Father," he muttered, swapping hands on his axe, "if you want my advice, you get the hell outta here. Run. Maybe they won't find you. Take Macard and the youngin' with you-"
But Jorn cut him off. "Oh, I don't think that will be necessary, Oscus." His grin grew wider, and his eyes narrowed. "In fact, I think you have a very important job to do. Rise and shine, sir Kulth. Rise and shine."
He was so very bored, Oscus was. The Good Work, the Great Game, it was sparse in the woods. But perhaps these newcomers would oblige him. They held promise and amusement. Maybe they could hold their own in his wonderful contest.
He giggled like a schoolgirl, like a squirrel chittering in the spring, like a great beast at a watering hole, like the king of the world. "Are you here to play?" he asked the five men, the five pieces before him. "We can begin, now that there are players!" He took a step forward, raising his Queen piece in the air, his axe, his leveler. It was his secret weapon, but they did not know it yet. They would find out, and they would be so surprised! They would be awed! They would discover his ability and commend him so!
"Oh yea, we'll play," the tall one hissed. He was the Snake, but not the quickest of them, Oscus knew immediately. Then the biggest one laughed his consent, a rumbling thunder pouring from his deep stomach. He was the Great Storm, infinitely strong yet infinitely uncontrollable. Not the best player of the lot, Oscus could tell. This was his second secret. He knew his foes' strengths at a glance, their faults at a whim. Naught but a flash and a moment's thought. An invaluable skill in any game, but in this one most of all.
Oscus smiled so invitingly, a grin from ear to ear. "Then we will begin!" He spread his arms, to draw them in, to deceive them. How they would all laugh to see themselves fooled!
The Snake came first, lurching forward, cleaver high, falling towards his open embrace. He was so eager to prove himself. An apt player indeed. But Oscus was the master, the hand over the chessboard. He would teach them the beautiful rules, and they would learn the wonderful game.
The cleaver did not cleave, but thumped into the ground where Oscus had been a moment before. He'd twirled to the left, spinning elegantly, his Queen arcing round and painting the Snake's side with glinting silver and shining red. A point, for him, or ten. Points were truly unnecessary in this game of his, in this Game of Life. It was the outcome that mattered.
The Snake announced his delight and painted in the snow a streak of pleasing crimson. He stumbled, forgoing his weapon and clutching at his side. A poor move, but Oscus was not a forgiving teacher. The only way to learn was through one's mistakes, and so he would teach. His Queen came up high and flashed down, splitting the back of the Snake's neck right through the center, decorating the white with specks of pink. How handsome it was! How perfect! No one could have declared his victory more gracefully.
And yet victory it was not. There were still more players to be tested, to poke and prod and engage. Oscus turned to face the opposing party, his grin still shining brightly, and he reached out with one hand to beckon them on.
Three advanced steadily, but one, the axeman – the Bull – rushed forward to succeed where the Snake had failed. He roared loud, eyes bulging, axe swinging in wild sweeps, and Oscus retreated. He danced and ducked and laughed as the Bull's steel was a blur around his limbs. But he never kissed that steel, no. He was too quick. He was smoke in the wind, flames in the air. Impossible to touch and even harder to seize. Oscus stepped back, to the left, to the right, and the Bull snarled louder with each miss, with each small defeat. There was nothing to be had. Oscus was not available to be had.
The opposing player swung round and chopped with all his might, spittle flying from his mouth. A noble endeavor, a well-played hand. But Oscus was better. His Queen carved a flawless circle and connected with the Bull's axe just below the steel, sending the offending piece flying head over handle into the brush. Then Oscus' backswing crashed into his stomach, tearing out a painting of pink and purple and rose. The Bull's eyes went wide. He squeaked, fumbled to keep his guts in as he slumped to the ground, but the work of art was complete. His satisfaction was only succeeded by Oscus'. The master's grin grew ever wider.
Now the other three were wary. They no longer advanced so confidently. Their eyes shifted to find one another, unsure of whom they were playing against. Oscus felt this, and he did not blame them! How could they know who he was? How could they know how fortunate they were to be engaged in a personal match with the best of the Game's players?
Oscus tipped his head back and bellowed his laughter to the trees, a bottomless and limitless declaration of his passion. "I am such a poor host!" he chuckled. "I have neglected introductions! I know, already, who you are. The Snake and the Bull I have met," he gestured to the two defeated onlookers, still so shocked by their swift defeats that their eyes gazed off into nothing, "and I know that you are the Great Storm, and the Spider Twins." Now Oscus's free hand flowed in the air, like a conductor guiding his musical flock. "But I, you see, am the Grandmaster, the Chessman of Life, the Player of Games. This is my most favorite of sports, and such sport you are offering me. Oh yes." Oscus laughed again and twirled his axe while his conductor's hand extended, three fingers pointing to the remaining players.
One of the Spiders jabbed his sword in Oscus' direction. "Yer fuckin' nuts! We'll skin your hide, when we get ya. Too fuckin' crazy to live!"
Oscus frowned. This was not expected. They were acting immature and spoiled, unused to losing. Such poor sportsmanship. Such… maladroittaunts, insults from children. They had yet to develop gentlemanly manners. They did not understand the finely tuned, unspoken etiquette exchanged in the Game of Life.
But he was the Teacher, and it fell to him to teach.
"Come then!" Oscus barked, "and we will see! You have much to learn, my students!"
The talk was done. They sidestepped to the left and right, scattering in a rough triangle around Oscus. They may have been juvenile, but they had some notion of the Game's tactics. Still, knowledge of tactics alone would not help them. Oscus let himself smirk, one corner of his mouth turning up, just enough so that the closest Spider, the one with a crooked nose, could see.
The Twin pursued the bait, but in a reserved manner. His counterpart, the one with a scarred cheek, advanced from the opposite side, both with swords and shields raised. Oscus merely held his axe low, slack in both arms, encouraging their plan. He would pick it apart and show them the error of their ways. He would find their faults and tear them wide. He would show them where their weaknesses lay, and how their strengths were frail.
They both came at once, the Broken-Nose Twin jabbing, Scar-Cheek slashing. Oscus arced his back like a dancer, the first strike missing by no more than an inch. He could feel the space, the air that signified his success. He could sense the blade fail to carve flesh, even without his eyes witnessing Broken-Nose's poor maneuver. Yet as he did so, as he contemplated how well he flowed round their attacks, his one-handed Queen swept up and parried the second strike, steel on steel, the loud music of their contact ringing joyously in his ears. Then he settled on the balls of his feet, twisted his hips and whooped loud, swinging the Queen at Scar-Cheek's head.
The latter Twin staggered back. He had not been fully committed to his first blow, and that was his mistake. Oscus' strike, though, nipped his forearm, cut through his leather, and Scar-Cheek yelped in pain.
This was how the Game was won, when numerical odds were unfavorable. Little triumphs, won by little blows, drawing little blood. Even small wounds slowed down the most enthused of combatants, drained them of their strength, distracted them from the ultimate prize.
Except Oscus. He was far beyond that point. His focus was unparalleled, his commitment to the Game unmatched. He felt steel dig into his back just below his left shoulder and slash through his skin, but it was nothing more than a signal, a message in a long-lost tongue, a language only known by the most superlative of masters. It told him that its deliverer was weak, open, committed to the strike. Commitment was better than hesitation, but even this would not save the message's courier.
"Good!" Oscus roared, and he spun, Queen carving low and sweeping through Broken-Nose's knee, cracking it the wrong way. The Queen's blade continued, shearing through flesh and bone, lopping off his other foot just above the ankle. The Twin screamed in surprise; he had not expected such swift retaliation! But now he would learn, and now he would know forever more. He stumbled back, falling to the ground without a prop, fumbling his steel and leaving a trail of wet red in the snow, crying in wonderful, anguished surprise.
There was thunder, a great booming in the sky, and a flash of furious lightning. But this was no natural tempest, Oscus knew. An enormous black mass, the Great Storm, loomed above Oscus, trunk-like arms supporting the Heavens' own hammer. He intended to use the Master as the anvil. Oscus admired his tenacity, his bravado, his pure power and sheer strength! What a bold and natural plan, so in tune with the smith's profession and nature's task alike! How he pined to commend him greatly, but there was no time for words. Regardless, he was certain the Great Storm would come to understand his appreciation.
The Heavens' Hammer fell towards the earth, and Oscus dodged to the left. Even he was not quite fast enough, and the great block of iron crashed into his right foot. But this would not stop him. This was minor, and quite expected. Even a master such as he would receive bits of wisdom from three opponents.
Before he could retaliate, though, Scar-Cheek came again, growling harshly with the sweep of his sword, slashing Oscus' right thigh. A touch, a half point for the enemy! The Master himself would walk away from this combat ever wiser. Even he found more to learn with each match.
"Excellent!" he screamed, the pitch of his voice carrying over into hysterical elation. He was overjoyed to see such progress in such a short amount of time, to see them learning so well! But it was best to not let them become overconfident, no. That would invite disaster.
And so his Queen found Scar-Cheek's face, cracking in two.
The Great Storm had removed his hammer from the earth's embrace, and the huge iron block drew back and came around again in a wide arc. Oscus ducked the blow as he wrenched his Queen from his fallen foe's skull, took the weapon in both hands and flung it at the Storm. The axe tumbled once, twice, before the weapon impacted in his chest, expertly positioned over his heart. The great man stood there, blinking for a moment at the steel now embedded in his flesh. A trickle, then a stream of red leaked from the wound, and he wobbled on shaky legs, fell to his knees, and finally crashed into the ground with a truly epic thud.
But this was not the time to relax, or conclude the Game with laughs all around. Oscus jerked his head over his shoulder, grin still frozen wide, to find Broken-Nose. He was rolling in the snow, howling, clutching at the stump below his calf, trying to halt the flow of blood.
Oscus leaped forth, one knee landing on Broken-Nose's shattered leg with a terrible, magnificent crunch. Broken-Nose squealed like a pig before the butchers until Oscus' hands closed around his neck. "No!" he yelled, spittle flying from his mouth. "No, you mustn't! You must learn!" He brought his face right up to the Twin's, eyes popping crazily from his skull. The Twin had a look of half-horror, half misery on his face, lips twisting and curling in fear and shock. He had lost, after all. He had lost the Game of Life.
Oscus' fingers wrapped tighter, his thumbs pressing together into Broken-Nose's neck. "You must let it bleed! You must learn! This is how you learn!"
Broken-Nose could not speak. There was only gargling and the scrabbling of flesh as he weakly clawed at Oscus' hands. His eyes rolled back into his head as red bubbled from Oscus' thumbs, flowed over his skin, stained the snow.
"Learn! You must learn!" Oscus released his grip and slapped his pupil twice with bloody hands, smearing red across his cheeks. Broken-Nose's head lolled with the strikes, but there was no more life. Too overcome by his defeat, clearly.
"You must… you must learn…" Oscus' breath was suddenly gone, his chest was constricted. The strength was draining from his limbs, flowing through his body, abandoning him for the earth. Weakness replaced it. He crawled from Broken-Nose's body, red hands sifting through the white snow, before flopping down onto his side and rolling to his back. His eyes were tired. His head hurt. It did not help that the trees overhead were inexplicably shifting, blending, morphing together hazily.
"Learn…" There was always more learning to be done. Learning was the cornerstone of life, of the Great Game. Learning was a passion. And Oscus, he was the Master…
Oscus screamed. His limbs were a shrieking chorus of agony, his veins rivers of molten lava. There were three, four, too many wounds to count, so many that they melted together in a sea of boiling acid. His back felt charred alive, like a great, ugly welt had been seared across his shoulderblades. His leg was dumb but it spewed incredible pain, and his foot was a lump of butchered meat and shattered bones. There was nothing untouched, no oasis of calm in the thousand burning needles that stabbed deep into his body every moment, every second.
His scream died in the woods, and now it was silent. He tried again, but there was no sound. His throat refused to work. He sobbed, wheezed, blubbered like a baby. It hurt to cry. He could not be alive. He must've been in hell. There was no explanation for this torture, this horrific, unfathomable misery that was hoisted upon him.
Oscus' head flopped to one side, eyes squeezed shut, and even that shot tendrils of fire up his spine. He ground his teeth, little noises squeaking from his stupid mouth, but the pain did not subside. When he opened his eyes, he saw a blur of greasy brown hair. Then his vision focused, and he blinked away his tears of pitch.
The hair was attached to someone's head, but the face wasn't one he recognized. It was coated in blood, eyes glassy. Red poured from his punctured throat, and the stream had melted out a dip in the snow, pooled on the frozen ground. He was missing a foot, too. The other leg was bent backwards unnaturally, bits of pink and white bone sticking through the skin at his knee.
He might've vomited, spewed all over the bloody snow… if it weren't for the comforting edges of oblivion flickering in his mind's eye…
"Where is he, Jorn?"
"… which one?"
"Here, Macard. Here, see?"
"…This is Kulth? By the Heavens, is he… is he dead?"
"Not yet, no. "
"He might not make it, is all. He has lost much blood. The ambushers may have been barbarians, but they did their work well."
"But… they're all dead too. You're saying our Sword killed them? All five of them? By himself?"
"That seems to be the case. One of our soldiers died before the fighting truly began, and the other I instructed to remain behind. There was no one else, and I watched from afar. Indeed, sir Kulth was the lone combatant."
"…Then it is a success."
"It would seem. These techniques that the Clergyhead used, they have the desired effect almost to the letter."
"If you had seen it, you would understand. Words cannot describe what sir Kulth… did. It is no matter, though. We will inform the Clergyhead of the project's success."
"We must leave him. There is no choice. We cannot hope to carry him, no matter how close safe territory may be."
"A shame. A shame, truly. I still find it impossible to accept that he butchered five men so easily."
"Yes, but think of the rewards our men and our armies will reap, Macard. Think of the results…"