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The Dogs Of War
The Dogs Of War

© Aniruddh Iyer


23 Minutes   25.1K    301

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Suicide Legion Psyche Reports

1.Quentin, commonly known to the men as The Town Bull.

Report compiled by Commander Johnathan Sakrom after completion of service training by the above mentioned: updated after tour 7. Description for the Death Squad:

Eyes: cinder-grey.

Hair: rust-brown.

Nose: squashed and pulped like a mushy plum.

Physique: tallest man in the Legion standing over 7’ tall. Hands covered in tear-tracks of scarring. One identifying tattoo on his right forearm; a dagger with a writhing serpent around it. Has a hulking physique with a spade-shaped beard and a gladiator’s biceps.

Other attributes: Quentin is a sadist who gets pleasure from inflicting pain on others. He also causes anarchy with his utter disregard for normal social boundaries. He has great physical strength and stamina and is particularly effective in the shield wall against a superior force. His preferred weapon is the axe but the Legion doesn’t allow this. More of a brawler than a soldier, he has nonetheless proven effective against a variety of foes. He uses his powerful voice to great effect, both as a means to undermine and overpower his opponents. It booms out like a boar-horn and can stun someone who is unprepared for it. Quentin also has the greatest range of insults I have witnessed. Behind my back, he refers to me as The PORG, a moniker which the men find hilarious, apparently. It has yet to be established by myself what that means. I suspect he is cleverer that he pretends to be but his weakness is his temper. Sometimes I wonder if he is not two different men in one hulking shell.

The best clue to Quentin’s behaviour lies in his nickname. It was given to him after he killed eight townsfolk in a barroom scrape. During this altercation, many of Quentin’s attackers ended up in a heap on the floor with him.

One of the attackers was heard to roar: “Who let out the town bull?”.

Some of the men relaxed their guard with Quentin, finding the comment either ludicrous or funny. While the patrons in the bar were laughing, Quentin managed to thrust a dagger into three of his foes. He then regathered his feet, grabbed an axe from the wall and butchered anyone who didn’t run for the door. One of those who escaped testified to a ‘swivel-eyed loon with a bloody beard and a tombstone voice’. ‘Possessed’ was another description. In the subsequent court case, it transpired that Quentin himself had made this remark about the town bull in order to buy time. He was given the option of death, the Coliseum or the Suicide Legion. His response was:

“The Legion, m’lud. At least there I can kill ‘em all legally- harder than this lot proved.”

The relatives of the dead townsfolk then tried to overwhelm the marshals guarding Quentin. Reinforcements were called from neighbouring villages. Quentin had to be locked in his cell for two days until a contingent of the Legion came to requisition him. A Legion veteran made remarks to my person that it was the first time he had seen a town hostile to the Legion. He told me Quentin had the manners of a yard dog and the morals of a wharf rat.

The average soldier in Quentin’s unit killed four men while in training. Quentin killed thirteen. This caused some bitterness with the other soldiers as they detest a man who dispenses death in such a brutal, unforgiving fashion. Over 4,000 men are required before a new Legion can be formed. A fraction of these make it into the Legion proper. In our legion, Quentin and Gaban were by far the most hated of those men.

Initial training for the Legion requires hand-to-hand combat, known as death combat, without rules. It is a time-honoured tradition and weeds out the weak and the unsuited. It is the decision of the victor whether to take the life of his defeated opponent in these contests. In all cases, Quentin showed no mercy to the vanquished, whether they were brave or not. He insults even the training officers and doesn’t appear to have any room for flowers in that ploughed field of a mind of his.

It is obvious that he had been given some formal training in combat before his time in the Legion. He is equally competent with fist, axe or sword. We are forbidden by oath to ask each other about our pasts. Having assessed his battle patterns, my theory has always been that, in his previous life, Quentin was a mercenary fighting for coin. His methods of attack are crude and brutal but ultimately successful. He combines this style with an ability to goad an opponent into making a mistake. Quentin is a braggart and a bully. He sees power as a food pyramid of predators and prey. Consequently, he will always try to get to the top of the pyramid- or destroy it. He lives only for the moment and gives no thought for the consequences of his actions. If he were to meet a priest in a tavern, it is my firm belief that the priest would try to kill him before the candle wicks were doused at last call.

Final Assessment: In short, Quentin is the only man I have met whose inner voice is the same as his outer voice. This tends to inflame the baser emotions of those in his orbit. Without the safeguard of Jack and Gaban to keep him in check, he is a dangerous, undisciplined, snail-brained maniac. He is not to be trusted in any social situation involving alcohol, aggression or arrears of coin. He loves the grape and the leaf in equal measure but desires conflict above all else. The mad blood is in that man and it’s not coming out soon.

I have gone on record with my superiors to this effect. I have also recommended that he be executed for a litany of serious offences committed while Legion training. As I have yet to receive a reply, I can only conclude that his God is greater than mine. Quentin’s biggest problem is that his mind and his mouth travel with him wherever he goes. If they could be left back at the barracks, he would make a fine soldier. He spent more time in the stockade than he did training. This man is never to be left near a flagon of ale or a pitcher of beer.

Report to be updated after tour 8.

2.Gaban. He does not have a nickname as he would kill any man who tried to apply it to him. Quentin refers to him as The Widowmaker when he is out of earshot.

Report compiled by Commander Johnathan Sakrom after completion of service training by the above mentioned: updated after tour 7. Description for the Death Squad:

Eyes: mamba-black and shiny when fighting, joyless and nut-brown when at rest.

Hair: undetermined as he dyes it with blackroot.

Nose: a falcon’s nose.

Physique: above average height, standing at just over 6 feet and one inch. No scars or other identifying features. Imp-thin and has a complexion burnished bronze by the sun.

Other attributes: Gaban is one of those rare beings that you may hear about but never meet. He is an amoral, a one-of-a-kind emotional desert. He is sinister, deadly and cannot be controlled by others. He carries a deep-seated hatred of all men around with him and does nothing to disguise it. He dislikes the company of others so much that he regularly eats a clove of garlic to keep them away. His speed is the subject of much chatter among the officers. He can fight just as well with his left arm as his right and both are whipcord-quick.

He has broken three records in the Legion, two of which were over a thousand years old. He is the deadliest man I have ever seen with knives and darts and constantly twirls them in his fingers. His fatal flaw is his discipline. Whenever the battle seems to be going against the Legion, Gaban will break ranks and wade into the middle of our opponents’ lines. This can have the effect of breaking the spirit of our enemies but it is not Legion practice. On all seven tours, he has done this at the ‘death zone’ phase of the battle when the result could have gone either way. When this happens, he is a force of nature and will only re-join the lines when the man known as Black Jack physically goes in to remove him.

Although it is good for Legion morale to have a soldier of his ability, many a veteran has died because he walked out of the shield wall. He has been disciplined for it on numerous occasions but seems to enjoy the loneliness of the stockade as much as Quentin.

Gaban arrived to the Legion just before Jack. They never acknowledged a connection but it is my belief that they were known to each other. It is curious that rumours of two assassins killing rich merchants and nobility from Vulgate to Andan stopped when they joined the Legion.

The circumstances of his entry to the Legion are interesting. He is what is known in the Legion as a ‘walk-in’. This means he did not commit any crime but still sought to join our ranks. When informed that he would have to be a criminal in order to be admitted, he slew four recruits on duty at the gates. He then sat with his back to the wall waiting for reinforcements to arrive. He had planned to kill these also as he later admitted in the court.

I fear the casualties would have run into much higher numbers had not one level-headed training officer arrived on the scene. He assured him he had done enough to gain entry to the Legion if a judge ruled it so. Gaban then laid his weapons against the wall and surrendered. There were two swords, twenty death stars, fifteen throwing knives, ten darts, a filleting knife and two ankle-knives in his possession. The judge determined that he was mentally insane and that the Legion might cure him one way or the other.

Gaban gets fixated on anyone who is better than him with a particular weapon. He will observe a warrior who impresses him, for weeks if necessary, and befriend him. In this phase, he can be quite charming and will deliver compliments. When he has acquired the knowledge he seeks, and surpasses that warrior, he is as liable to kill him as talk to him. I feel sometimes that he is on a constant search for knowledge on how to improve his battle skills. He is incapable of forming emotional attachments. It is my belief that Black Jack is seen by Gaban as an ally rather than a friend. Although Gaban sparred with many of the Legion soldiers, normally inflicting life-threatening injuries, he has never cut the flesh of Jack.

In the initial battle training, he reminded his instructors of a spider more than a man. Sometimes he would toy with his opponent, other times killing him with a swift stroke. Although Quentin killed thirteen men, Gaban killed twenty-seven. He is as cold and chilling as a moorpool in winter. Eventually, the Legion made the decision that he be banned from fighting the other men in death combat. He wasn’t just culling the weak. He was starting to cull our entire herd. There is a touch of the night about that man. If I didn’t know better, I’d consider him to be a warmonger. That would result in his immediate death.

Although a Legion commander recommending execution is uncommon, I found myself in this position twice. One was for Quentin and the other for Gaban. Discipline is paramount when dealing with the calibre of men sent to the Legion. To this end, I do not understand the refusal of the king to respond to my orders regarding these two. They undermine my authority and are disdainful towards the highly-skilled training officers. They refuse to comply with the most basic of orders and possess a wild spirit that is against everything the Legions’ foundation represents.

Were it not for the presence of Jack, I would have rid myself of these two quite some time ago through other means. He has a hold over them that is strange.

Perhaps the Investigator has some purpose for them that I cannot fathom. He appeared to display a keen interest in these two and the man known as Black Jack. If so, I would ask that they be removed from the Legion on king’s orders forthwith. I see a bad end to all this if the present situation remains unchecked. The last few battles have grown in intensity to a level we have not seen before. Our opponents were better organised than is normal, motivated by starvation, and nearly undid us with their force of numbers. Only Legion discipline and order can sustain us in the face of such odds.

It would help considerably if the soldiers at my disposal were loyal to the Legion more than to their ego’s. At least then we might all die an honourable death.

I trust I shall receive a response to my dilemma.

The Winds of War

The morning mist swirled like the devil’s milk: soundless, voiceless and soulless. It glided away in shreds of white as the rabbit-light got brighter. The men of the Legion waited under the shadow of the hill, their lungs stung by the icy air. Over the mountains, the low-slung moon flung one last, despairing spear and died.

Eventually, even the moth flutter faded and the shadows shifted and opened up the dawn. The creak of leather and the screak of the Commander’s sword being drawn crept into their ears.

Then the enemy spilled out of the pine forest. Some were howling, others yelling insults in their foreign tongue. Blood was dripping from some of their axes. It was rumoured that the berserkers worked themselves into a frenzy before fighting. So much so, that they would often kill each other before a battle. Jack could see for himself it was true.

He got his first close look at them now. The men were all pop-eyed, wild of beard and had deep, bullhorn voices. They were Vulgates, the men of the south: brazen, stupid and smelling of cave bear. He hated them for their sweaty hands and clammy skin. He hated them for their bogman roars and lice-infected hair. Most of all, he hated them because he hated everything and everyone when he was fighting, including most of the men on his own side.

The Legion lined up against them in three rows of 140 and kept their backs to the high, grassy hill. On the hill, the 80 slingers waited for the Vulgates to come into range and the Commander’s permission to fire. There were at least two thousand Vulgates after spilling out from the forest and more were arriving. Black Jack looked up and saw that the sky pressed down upon them like a giant shield. It was as dark as a witch’s soul up there and, in the distance, lightning wriggled and hissed. The soldier’s called it a widow’s sky because it was grim and weeping. The sunless sky would make this a long day, he thought to himself.

None of the Legion had fought against the Vulgates before. What was that the King’s Investigator used to say?

“When you make first contact with the Vulgates, strategy dies and it’s down to guts, willpower and luck.”

He never said how to win, of course. Any fool could give advice like that. Hell, even he could come out with that one if he thought about it enough. He was an interesting man, that Investigator, but he wasn’t worth a king’s copper as a soldier.

His eyes narrowed as they kept pouring from the forest and Jack hoped that the smell in the air wasn’t their recruits emptying their bladders and bowels. Fires were lit by the enemy and the waft of oil drifted towards him. It’s thick, tarry smoke filled their vision and the Vulgates were lost for a moment in its bat-black haze. Their shouts could still be heard, low and violent, a grit-and-gravel mix of threats and curses. Then they broke into a run, pouring out from the oily fumes of their fires.

Every Legion soldier took note of the weapons they carried: clunky war hammers, cruel battle axes and broadswords as long as Legion spears. Other weapons hung from their belts: scalp-hatchets, heart-daggers and bone-maces among others. The belts held the after-battle weapons and it made them even more determined not to lose to these savages. Curiously, not a few of them carried Indian swords and daggers.

When they got to a thousand yards, the commander gave the order.

“Slingers!” was the cry and the lead weights screamed through the air.

Grunts, curses and snarls came from the Vulgate ranks as the lead balls ripped through flesh and cracked bone. The slingers got five volleys in before the Vulgate archers at the front came into bow range and let fly their oil arrows.

Then the hail came down upon the Legion.

The Vulgate fire-arrows whistled first, hung in the air, wailed down and began plunking and bouncing from the Legion’s armour. Burning arrows screamed above them, sizzled over their heads and thunked off the shields, hitting stray bits of flesh. They glinted and fizzed, their shafts causing the air around them to frizzle and crisp. They were like little pins of hissing silver and struck like cobra-spit, scorching the skin. Black Jack watched through a tiny gap in the turtle of shields as another volley began.

A few grunts and cries of pain rose up into the cellar-black sky and were swallowed.

Twelve Legion men didn’t get up again. The ranks re-formed as the men were dragged out of the lines.

A lot of the Vulgates were carrying their shields in front of them. The weird ones, the ones with the spittle-flecked lips and the rolling eyes of a wild horse, didn’t use shields at all. They galloped naked towards the Legion, bellowing curses and shaking their axes and penises. “Berserkers” Jack’s lips curled up in disgust. “Didn’t care if they lived or died. Minds addled by mushrooms and wine. Barbarians. The whole stinking lot of them.”

The garlic breath of Gaban crouched to his right was overpowering and Jack threw up his shoulder. Seven tours with the man and he still smelled like a baboon. Gaban’s head clattered into the shield wall above them and most of the men laughed. The tension eased.

Quentin smiled and looked up at the storm of clouds rolling in. Thunder boomed and clashed so hard it stun-clapped the sky into silence for a moment. A scar of light opened up and veined lightning squirmed through to singe the earth. A pregnant silence hung in the air. Quentin’s voice broke it.

“The hunting hounds of hell are coming to get us, lads, and the trumpets of the damned follow in their wake.”

“Hell is everyone else, Quentin. You should know that by now,” Jack said in response.

Jack could see the Vulgates had enough of firing arrows and were tensing for a charge. They threw away their bows and blasted the air with a battle cry.

“Shields down!” was the cry that carried down the line. “Formation two!” They changed formation just as they had done a thousand times in training.

The last two ranks pulled their shields down from above them and the 2nd row poked their metal spears through the wall. The slingers changed to bows and targeted the berserkers. None of them wanted to see these madmen crashing into the lines and causing carnage.

One by one, the berserkers at the front were picked off by the archers. They killed a lot, but not enough to make Jack comfortable. He dipped his right hand into the bag of pine resin he had on his belt. He smeared it on both hands and waited for the bedlam to come. He took three lung-chilling breaths. Then he was ready. When the Vulgates hit the fifty-yard mark, the same voice called out again:

“Formation one!”

The bows were discarded and the javelins were hurled by the slingers and the 3rd row. They aimed for the Vulgates with shields and most hit their mark. The angry Vulgates dropped their useless shields once they discovered that the javelin head couldn’t be removed. It didn’t slow them much and Jack could feel the tension in the front rank. The noise was unholy and the sky belched out a dragon’s cough to add to it.

“Pig-stickers!” roared the commander, trying to be heard above the din.

Jack had two spears at his feet. He gathered one, rose up from his knee in a fluid motion and threw it. The first caught a berserker through the chest. The force of it blasted him backward and into the men behind him. He hurled the other spear through the mouth of a hairy brute and raised his shield.

He crouched again and two more volleys came from behind. Every spear-storm was designed to wither the Vulgate front line, making the men behind them either vault over the corpses or tumble to the floor.

“Shield wall!” was the cry that went up from their commander.

The shields came together with a clang and a row of wicked spears bristled in front of them. Jack was up and ready, locking his shield to protect Quentin on his left. If Jack’s shield failed, Quentin was dead. If Gaban’s shield to the right of him failed, Jack was dead. Those were the rules. They lived or died but the rules wouldn’t change.

Within seconds, the Vulgates smashed into the wall, impaling themselves on the spears. Grabbing his broadsword, he stabbed the exposed side of a Vulgate on his right. Then he brought his sword down again, targeting the Vulgate directly in front of him.

He felt it smash through the shield of his target, shattering the centre-boss and breaking the man’s huge paw. As the Vulgate howled with the shock of the blow, Jack whipped his sword through the gap and pierced his stomach. He dropped slowly to Jack’s feet, blocking the Vulgates behind from gaining any leverage to push against the shields.

He could smell the stench of the Vulgates’ armpits as they hammered into the wall, weapons upraised. It was the sickly smell of old pork, rotten roses and salt. They hit the wall like a thunderclap and Jack’s feet slid back two feet with the force of the impact. The Vulgates crashed upon their front line but they couldn’t force a breach. The line held fast with only a few dented shields to worry it.

The Legion shoved back the moment the call came from the Commander. As one, the front line took the pounding and pummelling on their shields and bent their shoulders into the Vulgates, casting them back. Their own shield-bosses were causing maximum damage. Although the Vulgates were reckless, they found it difficult to shove against the metal spike of the boss. Even if the shield bosses didn’t hit the face and scar the enemy, they made it uncomfortable for the Vulgates to push against. Those involved in the first attack were all dead now and clogged up the progress of those behind.

The Vulgates cunningly used the corpses as launching pads instead, leaping into the air over the 1st row and trying to punch holes in the 2nd and 3rd rows. For the time being the spears were doing their job, skewering them and hurling them back into their line. Some of the men cursed as the force of the heavy Vulgates in the air sprained wrists and snapped tendons.

This was the time the younger soldiers would get the cold chills and the body shakes. Vomiting, feeling as weak as a lamb and feelings of unreality came after the first charge. That’s why the soldiers in row one were all older. Jack would love to say they were all veterans but most of them had been wiped out fighting in Heartfall Forest.

Jack’s hand felt sore as a Vulgate axed his shield, hammering blows on it. They were strong, these Vulgates. Strong, stupid and stinky. Their hair smelled of campfire and their breath was worse than Gaban’s. As if to prove his point, he could see through a gap that the Vulgate attacking him had only one eye.

His wife must have gouged it out because of the way he smelled. Jack wanted to take out the other one to give him another lesson.

Instead, he stabbed his sword out, running it through his thigh. As the Vulgate reached down by instinct, Jack’s sword was already out and cutting his hand off. A final jab through the heart and the Vulgate fell back without making a sound.

Another bull of a man took his place, as naked as a skinned deer and screaming his hatred at Jack. His eyes were ‘shroom-crazed and glassy. Jack could see his neck-veins throbbing as the man’s huge war hammer clobbered his shield. His arm numbed up from elbow to shoulder as his shield took the force of the blows. With gritted teeth, Jack flung his shield upwards in a violent motion, catching the berserker under the jaw with the metal rim. He heard the crack as the bull man was lifted off his feet. The jaw became unhinged and dangled uselessly almost to his chest. Jack’s shield came back down in the same motion in order to keep Quentin protected.

He was sorry when he saw his opponent shake his head and renew his attack. He should have followed it up with his sword but there were too many Vulgates trying to break the Legion lines.

“Curse you to hell, Jack” Quentin growled at him. “Keep your shield on me.”

That split-second was enough to cost Quentin a gash on the cheek from a broadsword. It was mayhem in the lines now. There was a constant battering of axes and hammers on shields. Slashing broadswords tried to stab or carve through gaps in the shield wall. Jack did the only thing he could with bull man. He stabbed down through his foot and felt his sword pierce the soft earth.

“Where’s my spear protection?” Jack bawled at the same time. The new recruits were becoming a pain in his arse and the one behind him must have the brain fog.

Bull man yowled but didn’t go down. He swung his axe harder from bottom to top in a wide sweep, coming right under Jack’s shield. Jack was lucky the Vulgate couldn’t swing it in a full arc because of those behind him. As it was, it still catapulted him three feet into the air. Quentin dropped his broadsword and clung to Jack’s cloak in a desperate attempt to keep him in the line. Jack had a clear swing at bull man and took his chance. He lunged at him and plunged his sword through those pulsing neck-veins.

Bull man dropped his axe to clutch at his throat. As Quentin pulled him down, Jack could feel a meaty hand grab him by the neck. Bull man was still coming at him, trying to lift him up and fling him back into the Vulgate ranks. Quentin’s hands held both shield and Jack so he bit bull man in the shins instead. Bull man gave a screech of outrage.

Quentin’s distraction was enough. God bless his savagery, thought Jack. Jack’s sword was pressed against his body but he managed to twist the point up through bull man’s chest from a difficult angle. It sliced through the skin, slid through flesh, hit bone and came out just below the man’s broken jaw. Jack rammed it up with a last effort of strength and he could see it going through the jaw, returning it to its original position.

Bull man squeezed tighter.

Jack could feel his air supply being cut off. Bull man roared, broken jaw and all, and sprayed Jack’s eyes with a jet of blood as he did so. Jack took the only option left. He launched his head forward, feeling his forehead smash the nose cartilage and drive on through to the cheekbones. Through blood-spattered vision, he saw bull man shake his head but he felt the hand constrict his throat even more. What does it take to kill them? Jack thought.

He felt his smallest neck bones begin to crack. As black stars danced in his head, he heaved his sword up with all the might he could muster. The sword tip went through the jaw, through the roof of the mouth, through the mangled nose and into bull man’s eye. Bull man gave one final bellow of rage and kicked at Jack’s shield with his left knee. Quentin was still gnawing on his right leg and flung the bull man back into the Vulgate ranks while he was unbalanced. A spear came from behind and poked weakly at bull man as he fell away dead. Jack cursed at the irony of it.

The grip around his throat was gone and Quentin’s strong hand drew him back down until his feet were back on the ground.

“He was a crusty one”, Quentin roared, trying to be heard above the din.

Jack’s throat was too sore to respond. Another naked gouger took his place and Jack’s shield came up again, ready to defend Quentin’s. The Legion lines had quite a few holes punched into them and it was getting ragged. It was time to try something else or they wouldn’t last another hour, thought Jack.

“Advance!” came the call from behind.

Not before time, Jack said to himself. This was where the Legion shield wall could do the most damage; taking the fight to the enemy. Still outnumbered by at least three to one, they could do with a change of fortune. They formed into two lines for the advance and the Legion men moved quickly to fill the gaps caused by their fallen. It had been a brutal first contact and Jack was beginning to change his mind about the Vulgates as opponents. They weren’t stupid. They were just stinky and ugly.

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