Derruk breathed heavily as he leaned against the corner of a building. He had been among the first waves off the ships when they docked in Debobat. He had charged down the gangplank, pulling his sword as soon as his feet hit the solid wood of the pier. It seemed he had been running and fighting ever since.
He was a young man. This was his first taste of battle. Only the constant movement had kept him from throwing up. Battle was not like anything he had ever imagined. In all those tales of valor and victory in wars past, the bards never said anything about the way a man’s intestines boiled out of his stomach when the gut was sliced open. They didn’t talk about how slippery the ground became beneath your feet. And they didn’t mention the horrible screams of women as they were cut down.
The first three blocks had gone quickly. He had sliced men down as they ran for cover. It didn’t seem very noble, but he was told to kill anyone not wearing Imperial arms. He had heard the cry of griffins circling to the west, penning in the mass of humanity in the city.
It was at the fourth block, past the ale houses and brothels that were typical of all port cities, when they met the first organized resistance. Carts had been overturned in the streets, spilling goods out across the cobbles. Men hid behind them, brandishing weapons – swords or pitchforks, which had a surprising reach. Derruk had seen a friend, Edmind take one to the leg.
Edmind had screamed and dropped his sword. His fellows helped carry him back to the field surgeons for healing. Derruk was worried. The pitchfork had looked none too clean.
He had no idea how the others were doing. When he started off, he had been somewhere behind the company commander, Colonel Hammersong, who insisted on leading the charge himself. But he had turned up a side street at some point and his superior officer was no longer in sight.
The acrid tang of smoke filled the air. Somewhere, a fire was burning unchecked. He had seen a fire in the close quarters of a city once. It jumped from house to house more quickly than could be believed. With the docks so nearby, water could be brought and the blaze quenched under normal circumstances. But today, the fire was left to burn.
He was so tired. He thought training had been hard, but it was nothing compared to the real thing. It was funny, during the initial rush, he had felt nothing. He ran and fought and killed and dodged and seemed like he could go forever. It was only now, that things had slowed down, that the aches and pains were catching up with him.
Frankly, he was glad the others had moved ahead. It allowed him time to catch his breath and it spared him from having to kill any more. When he had signed up with the infantry, he never imagined it would come to this. Sure, there were skirmishes now and then, and bandits often plagued deserted stretches of countryside. But this was more akin to war.
He never realized how loud a battle was either. As he leaned against the corner of some shop, he realized how quiet it had gotten around him. His breathing was unnaturally loud. It seemed to be all he could hear.
Suddenly, he felt a pain lancing through his lower back. He tried to cry out, but something prevented him. He looked down at this chest and saw the point of a sword sticking out between his ribs, six inches under his chin.
He watched in a kind of quiet wonder as the tip of the blade twisted ninety degrees and then vanished. He felt a backwards jerk, and a pressure in the small of his back, as someone put a boot against it.
His knees gave out and then his cheek was pressed against the rough stone of the street. The last thing he saw as his eyes glazed over was the form of a desert man holding a sword, long black braids swinging as he peered around the corner of the building Derruk had just been using for support.