The mace collided with the beast with a sickening thud, chunks of fungal flesh scattered upon the gray carapace. The town in shambles, smoke gathered where bodies lay. A fire burned ever so bright, like a wound upon the earth. The woman prepared another swing, throwing her arm back in a single motion, anticipating the beasts next move.

The beast darted to the side then propelled itself forward, slamming into her, nearly knocking her to the ground. She quickly reoriented herself, delivering a swift kick to the beast's jaw before twisting herself around to deliver another swing of her mace. The beast took the steel club head-on and fell ungracefully upon the ash-covered ground, a plume of dust reverberated in turn.

Another warrior, sickly pale and clad in tarnished leather, approached silently, and gave a sudden, yet well-aimed stab of his spear, impaling the beast through the head. Tiredly, he then took a swig of his flask.

"How many are left, you think?", he wheezed, almost jokingly. The first one, the woman in steel plate, pointed eastward, "H'resvald's still holding the east edge. Alone, I'd imagine.", she spat.

The sickly man gave no noticeable reaction, "What's done is done. We should return to base and tell of our- ", he paused, then shut his mouth, letting silence overtake them.

A moment passed, the woman lowered her head and nodded solemnly.

The sickly man freed his spear from the beast's skull, gave a brief, pained glance eastward, then followed behind the woman as they began their trek back to the base. It would not be much longer, now.

By dusk, they arrived. The ramshackle fort stood weakly upon an unassuming hilltop. Two guards, both equipped in studded leather and wielding worn, yet functional, weapons. They nodded, the gates opened, and the two warriors entered.

A stack of crates sat in a corner, mostly empty as they were. Once, they held valuable supplies from another fort some miles north. Weapons, armor, rations, now devoid of the goods they once contained. They were the last shipment, they needed to last, and they might've. The sickly man turned his gaze towards a table in the center of a room, just down the hallway.

There, a gruff, balding man sat. Several other warriors came and went through the various rooms of the fort, a hushed buzzing underlined the atmosphere. The woman stepped into the room first, the old man took notice and raised his head as he was snapped from his contemplation.

"Commander Ealhstan."

The balding man narrowed his eyes, "H'resvald, did he carry out his duties well?"

The two warriors nodded in response. The commander simply sat there for several moments, his eyes closed.

"And, are you two the only survivors of the first and third week squads?"

Again, they nodded. The commander hummed, "We've been granted more time. The problem is that we don't know what to do with it. Solveig, did you recover anything of value?", he questioned.

Solveig, the woman, reached into her satchel and retrieved from it a pocket-sized book, "I found this on the body of Count Revi, a record of goods coming in and out of the Tower of the Jester. Besides that, nothing. If there was anything else of use, it was likely destroyed months ago.", she handed the book to the captain.

The captain flips through the book absentmindedly, "I'll have Erik look it through, but I'd imagine us too far from the tower for anything stored there to be of any use to us. A shame, but we need to keep out hopes up. It wouldn't do us any good to lose faith now. Bentley?", the commander turns to the man, survivor of the third-week squad.

"Yes, sir?"

"As you know, you'll be transferred to the fourth-week squad in four days. If you have any letters you wish to write, you should do so now.", he turned to address the both of them, "The two of you are dismissed. Get some rations from the west-wing."

The two soldiers gave their salutes and retreated to the west wing. The captain leaned back in the creaky, wooden chair, then called for Erik. A few minutes pass, and the lanky strategist arrives, carrying several books with him.

"Sir?", he adjusted his grip on the tomes, shifting his weight so that they don't fall from his hold.

Commander Ealhstan slid the record book towards Erik, "This book has records of the goods coming in and out of the Tower of the Jester prior to the war, I need you to look through and determine if there's anything of note left there. Equipment would be nice, but unless there's a notably large stash, I can't imagine abandoning this fort would be worth the risk. Even so, let me know if you find anything."

Erik gave a salute, retrieved the book, and took his leave. The commander returned to his contemplation. He pondered the fate of his own fort, and the fate of the other forts in the Cresk valley. He wondered, more than anything, how long the lakebed can even afford to continue fighting the Boletus. In a single year, both the Aklal Alliance and the Holy Kingdom of Y'ne were driven to their absolute limit, their resources dwindling by the dawn. How long, then, can this war last? How long will he, himself, last? He looks upon the cluster of mushrooms upon his wrist, the tell-tale sign that one has been inflicted with the Mycelium Wrist, and pondered, more than anything, "How long?"

Solveig took a swig of her flask, knowing damn well that she didn't know when she'd next have the luxury. Sitting upon an empty crate, she idly chewed a stale ration. Her armor sat neatly in a corner of the room, covered in mycelium and dents and scratches.

Three other soldiers also sat in the room. Two sat on barrels next to each-other, the fourth sitting on the ground a few feet from the entryway. They ate in silence for a time, until Kurt, of the second-week squad, broke the silence with a question.

"Solveig and the rest of her squad were the last soldiers to be assigned here, and they showed up twelve days ago, yeah?"

A response came from Jeresa, the only other of the first-week squad besides Solveig, on account for her absence during the mission earlier. Had she not been helping Erik decipher some messages from the southern wall, she might've been counted among the casualties. She gave Kurt a nod.

Kurt sat up, nearly kicking Jeresa in the process, "Well, we're due for some new soldiers and supplies, aren't we? Supposed to be every week, or so. Or maybe-", Kurt found himself cut off by Yeran, of the third-week soldiers, from across the room, "Shut it, Kurt. We're already thinking it, you don't need to say it aloud."

Kurt shrugged, "If we're cut off from the other bases, what in the world are we supposed to do?"

"Nothing, unless the commander tells us to.", Yeran responded simply, "We are soldiers, we don't make the big decisions, just the little ones, like which Boletus to kill."

Solveig gave a humorless smirk and muttered, "…Or to be killed by.", which earned her a glare from Yeran that could kill a beast on its own.

"Look, if you're afraid of dying to the Boletus, keep in mind that dying by the Mycelium Wrist ain't much better.", spoke Yeran. Silence. A few moments pass, Kurt lowered his gaze.

He clutched his head, "I just… I wanted to earn some money for my family. I didn't expect to die. I didn't want to die."

Yeran gritted his teeth in frustation, "Then why didn't you leave? You had the choice to leave when the war began! Kurt, you chose to put your life down, it's too late for this- "

Kurt slammed his fist down upon aged oak, "I didn't have anything to go back to, Yeran! Do you think everyone who chose to fight, chose because they had people to protect? The northern reach was my home, now look at it! You're damn right it's too late for this shit, it's been too late, and it'll never stop being too. Goddamn. Late!"

Yeran closed his mouth, then lowered his head, "…I know. I'm sorry, this is just stressful for all of us. I don't want to die, either. But we need to keep fighting, the rest of lakebed depends on us, now."

Solveig hopped down from the crate she was sitting on, "Well, that's nice and all, but what are we supposed to do? Commander doesn't seem to know, and neither does anyone else. We can hold this fort until we run out of supplies, and then what?"

"Most of the soldiers here are week-four. If we don't get new soldiers soon, there'll be only a fraction of us left in a weeks time.", Jeresa adds.

Yeran huffed and turned to Solveig, "Didn't you and Bentley recover something from your mission? Maybe it'll give us something."

Solveig gives a heartless laugh, "Something? Like what? Hope? It was a record of goods going in and out from the Tower of the Jester. Not only is the place a week's journey away, do you think there'd even be anything worth making the journey for? It'd be pointless. We'd be more useful holding this fort right here."

"Being overly negative doesn't help anyone, Solveig. There might be something.", Jeresa chided. Solveig raised her hands, "Well, neither does being overly optimistic. We should be realistic, here."

Kurt, his voice cracking, spoke again, "A-alright. What about the message you were helping Erik decipher, Jeresa?", he asked.

"Ah. Well, it turns out, it was meant for Commander Teris's fort, but, well.", Jeresa sighs.

At this, Yeran stood up, "Yeah. I'm gonna call it a night.", he waved and left towards his quarters.

"Same here.", said Kurt as he followed behind.

Ten or so minutes passed, one of the fourth-week soldiers poked his head into the room, "Hey, you two, everyone is to meet in the central room in five minutes.", then, just as quickly, the soldier returned down the hall, leaving the two soldiers to give each other a shared look of confusion.