PrinceCon 39 Theme Teaser #3
One of the sentries poked his head into the command tent. “Major Quinn for you, sir.”
Garret nodded. As soon as Quinn stepped in, he could tell it was bad news.
Garret grimaced at the formality from his best friend.
“Southern patrol is an hour late checking in, sir.”
“That’s the third one?” There had been no sign at all of the first two that went missing.
“Yes sir. And…” his voice trailed off.
“The men are scared. Krebb keeps passing by, ‘just by chance,’ talking about how at least the valley had a wall, at least we knew our patrol routes, we never lost two patrols in a month let alone a day. If I hadn’t checked in on the Northern patrol when they mustered, I get the feeling there might not have been a Northern patrol.”
“Good thing you did, then.” Quinn always had his finger on the pulse of the men.
Before they could continue, the sounds of a commotion came from outside the tent, and the sentry poked back in.
“Lieutenant Sparks, sir, and–”
Sparks’ voice came in, excitable as ever. “Bishop! Survivor from the south patrol!”
Garret and Quinn exchanged glances. “Bring him in.”
Bishop staggered in, supported by Sparks on one side and Doc on the other. He was covered in layers of crusted-on blood and mud, making him look inches thicker than normal.
Unsurprisingly, Sparks launched right in: “So we were just talking about whether to send another patrol on the southern route or keep them closer, I mean would you rather know what happened even at the risk of losing more men or would you do better just to guard the flank and whatever’s farther out there can just stay out there, and Jimmy was saying how we should–”
“Lieutenant Sparks.” Quinn’s voice cut right through, bringing the monologue to a halt.
“Uh, Sir. Sirs.”
The injured man still hadn’t acknowledged them.
Garret stood. “Bishop?” Wild eyes shot up, locking on his face. “Bishop, what happened out there?”
A grating voice emerged, like nothing Garret had heard before. “General.” A pause, then Bishop pulled himself upright. The simple motion tossed Sparks and Doc aside as if they were puppets. Suddenly Garret realized he wasn’t covered in anything. It was his skin, thick black and marbled with red, craggy in a way skin simply wasn’t. His eyes were sinking toward madness, but while gravelly, his voice was steady.
“We were attacked, sir. First by dogs, I guess they were dogs. Wild dogs, with three tails, spikes on their heads, legs with bones and muscles but no skin. Rabid, completely mad. We lost Leonard, Bradley was hurt bad. Patched him up and carried on. When we got to the foothills was when we really got hit.”
Quinn asked the question they were all waiting for. “By what?”
“Creatures, some kind of rock, maybe clay. There were four of them, ten feet tall, looked like you or me,” he said without a trace of irony, “but made from the mountains themselves. Arrows, swords, it all bounced right off. Jordi’s hammer did some damage, but they crushed him quick enough. Didn’t even need anything except their fists.”
“So how did you…?”
“They left me for dead. I was dead. Only–” he gestured toward himself. “I grew back.” Garret heard the disgust in his voice. “Just like them. Halfway, anyway. Now I don’t know what I am.”
Quinn fielded this one too. “You’re a Watchman. Like you were this morning.” Almost involuntarily, Bishop straightened again.
“Until you go mad,” Garret added. The wild eyes locked on him again. “Don’t do it. We need every man. Hold on to it.”
“Sir.” That gritty voice.
“Dismissed.” Bishop ducked out of the tent automatically, with Doc in tow. Sparks started to move, but an imperceptible shake of Quinn’s head held him in place.
Quinn waited a moment, then spoke in a low tone. “Keep an eye on him, Sparks. Make sure he bunks with the Watch, but give him some space. We can’t lose him, we can’t let the civilians hang him out to dry, but if he goes mad…” The implication went unsaid.
Sparks gulped, but didn’t balk. “Sir.”
And then it was just the two of them.
“Sir, dogs or mountains or whatever, we can’t keep sending patrols into this.”
“No, you’re right. Keep the patrols in close, no more exploring, just guard the flanks. We’re going to need a few crack teams, but they’re only going to matter if the rest of us survive.”
“Men we can trust, men who will get the job done, men who will make it back here.”
“Why don’t we just guard the flanks all the way to Sitriph?”
“Teams. To find Sitriph.”
“Find it, sir?”
“Quinn, who do you think I am? We’re chasing a legend, here. We’d all have died in that valley if we sat down and prayed, and Sitriph got us moving. But grandfathers tell stories about the gates of Sitriph. It’s not like I have a map.”
“Garret…” For once, the honorific was forgotten.
“We’ll find it, Quinn. If it’s there, we’ll find it.”
“Pick your best. If Bishop makes it the night, he should go — he obviously has what it takes. Talk to the Magi, quietly. They’ll support us on this. The Priesthood too — we need every advantage. It’ll take at least five teams, and I want your recommendations by morning.”