The Good Soldier
You cannot receive more power until you know what it means to desire it, to lust for it. You know nothing.Simcha, the God of Death and Desire
A dark fantasy short story featuring a commander in The Simachian Empire. He makes demands of his god. Instead, he receives new orders. Orders that could change everything.
©2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED James Lee Aarwen LLC.
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A sea of soldiers stood at attention atop a barren plateau. Each warrior was garbed in full battle gear, with his armor polished to perfection. The dark steel of the armor faintly reflected the pale light of the full moon as they stood, still as statues. One man stood apart from the others; he was tall and stout. His short black beard was barely distinguishable from his dark grey skin. He stared expressionless, toward a small unattended altar erected at the edge of the plateau. The only distinguishing difference between him and the army was his left shoulder guard. It was painted a flat red, signifying his command. He held his helmet under his left arm, while his other hand was braced on the sword hilt, just barely visible under his black cloak.
A thick cloud passed over the moon, and for a moment, all was concealed in a veil of darkness. Everything turned to silence; not even the wind dared lift its voice. Moments later, the clouds parted. In its wake, a pillar of shadow lingered, completely obscuring the altar from view. A thousand armored fists clashed to the ground, echoing through the stale air. The once glimmering sea of moonlight transformed into a blanket of darkness. The black silk cloaks of the soldiers mimicked the night sky as every warrior bowed toward the pillar.
The man in front lifted his head. He rose to his feet, his helmet left on the ground where he had knelt.
“I demand what is mine; I led this legion into battle and slaughtered my enemy. By right, I lay claim to my enemy’s rank.” The man’s voice echoed loudly across the mountainside, unchallenged by even the slightest noise. Several of the soldiers behind him shuffled uneasily as the silence dragged on.
The silence was broken by the man’s unfaltering voice as he called toward the pillar again. “I am due for a promotion and a mission of my own. I challenged by the way. He and his army were weak, slow. I lost not a single man.”
A soft but deafening boom vibrated through the air, causing a small ledge at the edge of the plateau to break away and fall down the mountain. The man and all the soldiers were pushed back as the pillar erupted into wisps of black smoke. The smoke then gathered back towards the altar; it twisted in on itself, condensing into a solid form. The silhouette of a man nearly 10 feet tall formed from the mist. The eyes of the soldiers glazed over at the sight of the creature, their empty stares trailing to the invisible horizon.
The mist settled. Forming a luscious black silk cloak with shimmering gold floral designs embroidered throughout. The black silk flowed over the man’s angular figure. His skin was that of an unnatural white, flawless in every way. His face was smooth and welcoming, but his black eyes drew a look of pure and utter disgust as he looked down on The Commander.
A voice slithered through The Commander, piercing his heart and mind as the shadowy figure walked toward him.
[You defeated your foes true. But your challengers were weak. Your desire was weak.] The Commander’s heart thrummed in his chest as his god drew closer. [Your victory is meaningless to me. You cannot receive more power until you know what it means to desire it, to lust for it. You know nothing!]
The Commander lifted his eyes to the beast, who was now standing between him and the moon. Darkness enveloped him. Where the whites of the god’s eyes should be, there was utter darkness. A blackness starkly contrasted by his glimmering silver irises and an even darker pupils.
“Simcha, what would you have me do? Whom would you have me destroy?”
The figure reached out a hand, touching the man’s head with a single threatening finger.
[You are of a strong mind. Do not let that control you. You will go to the foot of the mountains near Rabanath, and find a path through them. I desire the lands beyond, and the pass is too narrow and too far from the enemy. Do this, and perhaps you will learn what it means to desire power.]
A feeling rose in the man, something foreign. Not fear, for he had felt that before. Just as quickly as it had come, it was gone, wiped away by the voice of the figure before him.
[Do not question your orders, you are to take a force of one-hundred and find a safe passage through the mountains.]
No sooner had the voice stopped than the first rays of the sunrise peaked over the plateau. The man opened his eyes, looking around at his men. Life was returning to their eyes as they turned to one-another, whispering about the events that had just transpired.
“Men!” The Commander called. “It is not ours to question the commandments of our god. Follow to the camp at the entrance to this sacred place. There, I will share with you our orders.”
The hot noon sun was baking the soldiers in their armor by the time they reached the camp. Dust covered their boots as they dredged through the thin covering of desert sand over the rocky ground beneath their feet.
“Commander,” a man called as he ran to The Commander’s side. “If you would, what has the great Simcha given for us to do?”
“We are to travel to Rabanath, and from there find a path through The Dragon Fang Mountains.” The man stopped at this news, whispering, “But that is dragon territory.”
“It is not ours to question. He has commanded it, and so we shall do.” The Commander walked casually further into the camp.
“Yes, so we shall do,” exclaimed the man, as though all his past misgivings were forgotten.
The full, even note of the announcer’s horn pierced the air as The Commander and his legion approached the arched entrance to the city of Rabanath. The solid wooden doors slowly creaked open, revealing a tall man clothed in ornate black steel armor. There was a distinct gold emblem on his breastplate. Several large spikes were fastened to the shoulder guards, and a long black cloak trailed behind him.
The Commander dismounted from his horse and strolled toward the armored figure before him, stopping at the city gates. He bowed toward the man, holding both arms straight as boards by his side.
“It is a great honor Natä’Kkotër. What is the will of our god?” The Commander’s voice was loud and respectful. He measured his words carefully before he spoke, to prevent offending the man before him.
“You may stand, Commander. I am to accompany you through the mountains.” Natä’Kkotër’s voice was soft, yet it carried perfectly through the air, almost as though it had been telepathy rather than an actual voice. “I am not to command your soldiers in the mountains. You will find that I have already arranged some of the supplies for the journey, including two of our experimental F-Class Ballista. You have until the morning to visit the breeders, rest, and make any preparations for the journey. Simcha wants this mission completed as quickly as possible.”
The Commander hesitated for a moment. He knew they would need more than tonight to request passage through the Dragon Fang Mountains. Without that permission. His thoughts were interrupted by the whisper of Simcha’s voice, reminding him not to question his orders.
“Yes, I will give my men leave for rest tonight and have them assembled before sunrise on the morrow.” All the Commander’s past hesitation had vanished. Black smoke trailed from the cracks between Natä’Kkotër’s armor plates as he turned and walked away from the city gates. “Men, you have leave to relax and rest tonight. Visit the breeders as is your duty, then sleep and assemble outside of the gates before sunrise tomorrow. We will then march with Natä’Kkotër through The Dragon Fang Mountains.” The one hundred soldiers before The Commander dispersed and walked past the dull, colorless buildings into the city. Most of them headed to the city center, toward the breeder’s mansion. Rather than follow his men, The Commander walked toward the armory to inspect the supplies. They would be a necessity for their journey through the mountains. He marched through the well-organized and clean city streets, collecting salutes and bows from workers he passed. Each wore an identical burlap shirt and kilt with leather stitched into the elbows and chest.
The doors to the armory were large, ornate wooden doors with black steel inlays that had small runes etched into them. Cold air assaulted The Commander’s face as he opened the heavy doors and entered the depot. The Commander paused for a moment, taking in the sweet smell of wood and oiled steel that dominated the large room. Along the walls were racks filled with all manner of killing instruments. A particular type of sword caught his eye. It was long and curved, but the central section of the blade was thicker than the rest, the sword looked ideal for slicing through armor or the thick hide of a dragon.
A tall man entered the armory behind The Commander. “Hey there, Commander. I suppose you’re the one Natä’Kkotër commissioned the F-Classes for.” The commander stopped himself from admonishing the casual disrespectful tone when he recognized the features of the man as being that of a moonborn. His skin was pale white and glowed against his raven black hair and dark grey eyes.
“Yes, that is correct.” The commander projected his voice confidently and respectfully towards the man as he nodded his head in respect. “Though I was expecting to have more than two ballistas for the passage through the mountains.”
“No, No. Not to worry. Once those beasts see what you can do with just one of these behemoths, they won’t dare attack you.” The chipper casual voice of the darkling was unsettling to the Commander. “My name is Rüakk, That’s dark speech for spirit. “What’s your ID Commander?”
“AK22-NK2-10-5-6-1” The commander spat out the conditioned reply before he could even register the question. It was a common inquiry, one the commander was always proud to recite.
“So you are of the Akka and Natä’Kkotër bloodlines. That’s powerful, ancient royal blood, and from such a young breeder.” Rüakk’s voice was that of amazement. He turned and motioned for The Commander to follow. “I will call you Kedeb from now on.”
The commander grabbed the sword he had eyed earlier as he followed Rüakk toward the large tarp-covered wagons at the rear of the building.
“Thank you for the name,” Kedeb again bowed to the moonborn. “But why Kedeb?”
“Kedeb is an old name, a powerful name. It mirrors your blood and will serve you well. Kedeb, I present to you the F-Class Ballista.” Rüakk called excitedly as he slung the white tarp off the wagon. Beneath the tarp was a monstrous war engine the likes of which Kedeb had never seen. There were three sets of steel reinforced ballista arms stacked atop one another. Connecting each of the arms were several thick steel cords strung through large metal wheels. Each set of cables was fastened behind a steel plate that appeared to be connected to a gear system that would pull the plate back, loading the ballista.
Kedeb looked at the base of the engine, wondering how such a massive machine could remain balanced on its own. He found the Ballista had no base. It was connected to the wagon via an iron platform that appeared as though it could be rotated.
Rüakk reached into the ballista cart and slid a long, heavy box to the edge of the wagon.
“These terrors are the pride and joy of our latest engineering efforts. We call them Vavet’de’ka, Fire-Death bolts. I know, I know… Not my name for them.” Rüakk excitedly unlatched the box as he spoke.
Inside the box were 6 sizeable solid steel bolts with thick wire fins. They were packed tightly into the boxes. Rüakk pulled one of the ballista bolts out with both hands. It was nearly 4 feet long, and the shaft was at least two inches thick. The tip was long and tapered to a fine point, with small barbs on either side of where the tapering began. Kedeb also noticed a strip of dark silver metal inset on the top of the arrow. Rüakk handed the bolt to Kedab, who was surprised to find its weight lighter than he expected from a solid steel rod of this size.
“Why the silver?”
“This!” exclaimed Rüakk as he pointed to the strip of silver metal. “This is a special metal that we have found to react violently with dragon blood. It actually catches on fire on contact. This heat will ignite the explosive powder filling the hollow cavity inside of the bolt. However, these bolts are also dangerous to store. If the metal gets water or human blood on it, it will explode almost as violently as if it had struck a dragon. It is why each cart comes with several untreated bolts as well. If it is raining, you cannot use these bolts safely.” Kedab could scarcely believe what Rüakk was saying. Metal could not catch fire just by contacting water. “I see that look. Here, I’ll give you a demonstration.”
Rüakk walked to a crate near the ballista. He reached in a pulled out a small rock-shaped chunk of metal. Rüakk sat the piece down on the dirt floor between Kedeb and the wagon. He then spat on the rock. Less than a second later, the metal erupted into bright purple flames that gave off an abundant amount of heat and purple smoke that carried the pungent order of week-old rotten eggs.
“Our engineers continue to impress me.” Kedeb was still wrapping his head around what he had just seen. He was glad to have such a powerful weapon on his side, but he was wary of the obvious dangerous nature of the bolts. “Here,” said Kedeb as he handed the bolt back to Rüakk. “Thank you for the demonstration. You have put my mind at ease about the journey tomorrow. I must visit the breeders and get some rest. Good night.” Kedab bowed his head to Rüakk before heading for the doors of the armory.
The Commander was already awake and in his armor when the bells rang to wake his company. The smell of lavender was still thick in his nose as he buckled his sword to his belt. His thoughts trailed to his time with the breeder the night before. She had been more attractive and skilled than the usual stock.
Kedeb reached the city gates, where his men were gathering as the first glow of dawn graced the horizon. The two large ballista carts were assembled and stationed amidst the troops. He looked toward the city gates to see Natä’Kkotër standing against the wall. The feeling from before, when Kedeb had talked with Simcha, returned. Once again, he could not put a name to the hesitation in his mind. Natä’Kkotër leered at Kedeb through the small slit in his helmet. His gaze seemed to pierce every fiber of his being. Just as before, the pull in his mind was gone, evaporated by the urgent need to organize his men.
“Soldiers! The time has come for us to begin our expedition through the mountains. Each of you was chosen by the god of desire himself. Our mission is imperative to the coming war. We are to find a safe passage through The Dragon Fang mountains. Remember, with your trust in our god, in Simcha’s name, we cannot fail.” The sound of chains creaking within the city walls echoed across the quiet courtyard as the city gates swung open.
Kedeb mounted one of the ballista carts, where he would have a complete view of his legion. Natä’Kkotër did the same, standing beside Kedeb. “Together, we march!” Kedeb’s voice boomed over the army and was immediately followed by the unified shouts of all 100 of the legion under his command. The carts lurched forward, marking the beginning of what promised to be a harrowing adventure.
To Be Continued. . .