Story:City of Ghouls
|City of Ghouls|
|Story arcs||Curse of the Grand Idol story arc|
The morning was fairly uneventful. More quote on quote training as usual. The soldiers arrived in a classroom expecting to learn more about first aid, military history or something else like that. But to see the captain himself in the room again? This was irregular. He was always busy with something, but why was here now? What was going on?
“Militiamen, listen up,” Captain Gardisto explained. “There’s been a major change in plans and we’re going to have to cut your training short."
“What?” Neil called out. “But we just got here!"
The captain begun. “The local military of Jacinth is having some trouble pacifying the rioters. Not to mention, they’re having issues controlling the populace within the quarantined areas of the reactor leak.”
Gasps filled the air as the other soldiers whispered to one another. A miraculum reactor leak. That same substance that powered their weapons. That dangerous substance. It happened months ago, but only now Jacinth was asking for the Militia’s help. Why they waited so long, who knows.
“What happened?” Neil asked worriedly. “Is everything okay?”
“We only know that the Jacinth Legion needs us to help deal with the situation.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Alder began, “I don’t believe any of us here are competent enough to go on real missions yet. We haven’t been trained for more than a couple of weeks and we all barely know one another."
“Then you better start learning fast," Sergeant Hezurda replied. "The Militia exists impartially to support other house militaries in times of crisis,” Hezurda replied. “But don’t expect to be coddled by them. They view us as the bottom rung of the ladder.” As the sergeant went on with his brief, Alder saw that disgruntled look in Crow’s eyes. Clearly, he wasn’t looking forward to being surrounded by more stuffy, arrogant types.
“Um…” Lynette began. “Will there be fighting?”
“Depends on how well you do your job,” Sergeant Hezurda replied. “We got unhappy citizens with a brutal police force keeping them in check. Make of that what you will.”
“Heh heh…” Lynette tried laughing it off, but quickly silenced herself when she realized how serious the sergeant was. But even his description didn't paint a clear picture. She could never imagine anyone fighting. Even though slaves were supposedly mistreated, all she had known was kindness from her overseer. Why would anyone fight over anything when you can always talk about things peacefully? Just ask nicely if you need something, right? Right? She just thought she would be doing favors for the military wherever she was needed, but actual combat? She didn't know what to think.
"You only have two hours to gather your belongings and board the train. We're the Militia after all. We always have to be ready."
Interesting. Already getting deployed? Alder was never in the frontline as a knight so this would be a first. Always had he defended an area of land he knew. He looked forward to it and maybe perhaps he would get the chance to feed that thing.
But these other kids? How long would they last? Against angry rioters and possibly ghouls, the Militia's endeavors may as well be a population purge.
It didn't take that long for all the soldiers to prepare themselves. Aside from their weapons and some loose keepsakes, they hardly had much in the way of belongings. Everything they owned could easily fit in a small backpack for each of them.
The dock was just walking distance away from the schoolhouse. Back in that mugginess again, but only for a short time. After a short march over the top of a hill, they came to a rather stunning view of a cityscape with numerous brick buildings dotted about. Upon the horizon, a great white pyramid with four obelisks at each of its corners. Whitestone, the capital of Arguros. But that wasn’t where they were going. It was the opposite direction: south towards the sea where the port city Jacinth awaited.
To their right, the south flowing Maristos River. A small collection of blocky buildings as well as a steam boat docked. Sergeant Hezurda led them aboard, assigning seats so that everyone would sit with their squadmates within isolated, enclosed set of four seats for privacy. A fairly lavish boat in fact since the trip would be at least several hours. And thus, Alder found himself once again with his compatriots: Lynette, Crow and Neil.
Alder glanced at the glass door that enclosed him within the cabinet. Some privacy away from the soldiers from other squads.
“Can I trust you guys?” Alder said.
“Trust us?” Neil replied puzzled by his question. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m sure you want to know about why I joined the Militia,” he said.
“Ooh, is it story time?” Lynette asked excitingly. “I can’t wait to hear!”
“Yeah,” Crow added. “Are you going to tell us? You’re a knight after all.”
Alder took a deep breath, ready to get something off his chest. “You know about the Sardius family, right? The exiled house from the mountains to the east? Knights who use black magic?”
“Yeah?” Neil replied.
“I’m not trueblood Carnelian,” Alder explained. “My mother is...was a witch from House Sardius. She was burned at the stake for using black magic. Supposedly anyway.”
“Oh my Asmos, I’m so sorry, Alder. I had no idea…” Neil said.
“There’s no need to feel sorry for me,” Alder coldly replied. “You see, that tainted Sardius blood runs deep in me. I’m capable of using black magic as well.”
Silence filled the cabin. “Wait, you haven’t used any of that stuff have you?” Crow asked. “It shouldn’t count, right?” Alder remained silent. He could not answer no. “What is it, Alder?” Neil said. “What did you do?”
Alder didn’t want to say too much. It would be a lot to take in for them, so he decided to be more vague. “It’s my family curse. If we don’t regularly kill others, we slowly descend into total madness and lose our minds.”
“Wait, so have you actually-” Neil said.
“Killed anyone?” Alder said. “Yes, but I was just an executioner.” Was that really the right word to use? Already, he could see their eyes widening. He even noticed Lynette jumping slightly.
“So wait, then,” Crow said. “Did you join the Militia so that you can kill more people without going to jail?”
Alder did not answer. Lynette stood up from her seat and leaned into Alder hugging him, taking him by surprise. He jumped in startlement.
“Lynette? What are you doing?” That same warm sensation again. What is this? Why was he feeling it?
“You’re so cold, Alder…” Lynette muttered. “Like I’m hugging an iceberg. Let me warm you up.”
Alder started to get uncomfortable when Lynette wasn’t letting go. “C’mon, Lynette. That’s enough,” he said wriggling a little then slightly pushing her away.
“Maybe we can break the curse and save you,” she said. “I may not be a black magic user, but I’m sure I can figure something out.”
“I don’t need your help,” Alder replied aloofly. “I’ve accepted my fate. And very soon, you’ll all be accepting yours.”
“There’s gotta be some way we can help though!” Neil pleaded.
“There is a way: Don’t tell anyone about this, not even Sergeant Hezurda or the commander. I don’t want those witchhunters getting in my way.”
“I’m not a snitch,” Crow said. “Don’t have to worry about me telling anyone.”
The sun reached the horizon, painting the sky a pale, lemony hue. The boat made its way into the ocean and just before stood the island where a city stood with towering walls surrounded by a sandless, rocky coast at the base. A portside citadel with black and pink smoke rising from within. A heavily polluted city, and that rotten egg smell of miraculum filled the air. The reactor leak was close. Lynette couldn’t help but cough a few times to catch her breath.
After passing through a portcullis, the boat stopped and everyone unloaded. Jacinth was an ugly city. Bland colors with no real decorations. Many buildings dilapidated and a pungent, ashy smell in the air. Captain Gardisto and Sergeant Hezurda led them down some metal stairs that led to the ground. And before them, they could see thousands of people holding up signs scribbled with words of anger, gathered at a towering metallic door almost as high as the wall itself. Alder got a glimpse of a couple signs. “Free the mages!”, “We’re not witches, we’re people!”. And there were a few signs from the opposing point of view. “Burn the ghouls!”, “Asmos smite all magic”. A very confused, jumbled mess.
And then, finally, they got their first look at the Jacinth Guard. A lot scarier to look at than any of the baby-faced Militia members. The Guard’s uniform - clad from head to toe in dark grey body armor, beady yellow-eyed gas masks covering their faces entirely, large shields and retractable pikes. That was just the main troopers. Towards the back, the heavier units which bore large lever-controlled metallic exoskeletons equipped with a twin set of cannons on the sides.
“Geez, is it really that bad out here?” Crow asked.
“Bad enough for them to actually need all that equipment,” Alder remarked. “People are still upset over the way mages are being treated these days.”
"You know, they really ought to have built their reactors further away," Neil said. "None of this would have happened if they did that."
"Poor planning if you ask me," Alder said. "But really it's more efficient if they have their own source of energy. Only so many places you can put reactors on a small island."
“Alright, you guys.” Sergeant Hezurda explained. “Right now, the Legion hasn’t given us specific instructions. For now, you are all on standby.”
“...so, what are we supposed to be doing, then?” Neil said.
“Well, I’m going to be very occupied talking with all these Legion guys. For now, just stay away from the rioters...and the walls. Oh, and these are for you. You need to get more from the quartermaster before the end of the day.” Sergeant Hezurda removed a set of cylindrical glass vials full of dark green liquid and handed one to each of them along with a syringe.
They each carefully examined the vials. Warm to the touch, and it defrosted his hands a little from the chilly late autumn air. Alder didn’t feel anything. It was supposedly warm, but not in the same warmness of a human hand.
“Adamantide. My father studied this stuff all the time in the lab.”
“You need a dose of that every hour you spend in M radiation. Otherwise, your skin will begin to peel off,” Sergeant Hezurda explained. “I’m sure you’d like to keep your pretty faces for as long as you can.”
-more to come