Two soldiers question the use of their new weapons and their murderous capabilities, leading to a journey across the hostile forest of Stranglethorn to the Great Tree itself.
|This writing has been rated by 3 members, resulting in a rating of 90.133333333333% overall. Below is a breakdown of these results:|
|Spelling & Grammar:||86.666666666667%|
The morning sunlight pierced the gaps in the trees above the soldiers' camp. It illuminated the wagons entering the clearing and gave them a surreal quality. A middle aged man opened the flap of his tent, which was covered in little droplets of dew. He was holding a pan and ladle and began bashing them together. He shouted," Wake up, wake up, it's a new day and HQ has got a delivery for us!"At this a couple of soldiers tumbled out of their tents half dressed, anxious to see these "weapons', about which many rumours were circling. I've heard just by moving your finger you can defeat your enemy, Fire-sticks that's what they are Fire-sticks. Where's the honour with a weapon of that much power;
Soon the camp was alive, breakfast being made and lively conversation taking place with the wagon drivers. The middle aged captain strode up to the wagons and ordered the weapons to be unloaded. The excited soldiers piled the boxes out of the rear of the wagons. The captain drew his sword and split open the lid. Inside lay long thin rifles, powder and musket balls, all these padded out by straw. The soldiers gazed in disappointment at them, how were these staves going to help them? The captain however had received instructions prior to the arrival of the wagons and quickly lifted, loaded and fired the rifle. The soldiers jumped and most swore. The cloud of smoke still surrounded the captain and he gave a hacking cough as he swiped it away. The captain picked two of his best soldiers and taught them how to load, aim and fire. He taught them how to unclog the rifle using a cleaning rod and how to shoot moving targets. He then instructed these two each to teach another two and so on. By evening the whole regiment had the rifle mastered.
The captain gathered together his men by the bashing of the pot. "Today there is a mission of most import for us. We must take part in the sweeping of the northern branch of Stranglethorn forest. A contingent of fifty men, most of you here, will march north into enemy territory. From there you sweep back in a south easterly direction, forcing any enemies back towards Mound 119. Stationed here will be the rest of this regiment, myself and ten others. With assistance from 33rd regiment the northern section should be cleared by tomorrow. Those are you orders. Stanley, Geoffrey and the forest squadron follow me to the wagons!"
Stanley grumbled and waved his arm signifying to the rest of the "forest squadron' to come. They approached the last unopened wagon and soon had laid three large boxes on the ground. In a similar fashion as before the captain broke upon the top with his sword. Inside instead of rifles surrounded in straw lay a large cannon, a twelve pounder. In the other two lay similar cannons though smaller, at the bottom of each box were cannonballs and a cleaning rod. For most of the night the forest group were drilled extensively in the art of firing cannon. They were still awake when the infantry contingent set off north and after a few hours they set off themselves.
The early morning provided essential coolness for lugging the heavy cannon up Mound 119. The dirt was ploughed by the rear of the cannon as it was tugged, pushed and pulled up the slope. After a brief rest the forest squadron made the last push to the top of the hill. Here they greeted another cannon group already set up from the 33rd regiment. After exchanging pleasantries, the captain looked for the best place to setup his cannons. The twelve pounder, he decided, was to be placed behind a natural dirt wall on the northern facing side. For the six pounders he decided to place them 2 metres below the summit on the north east and west facing sides. The cannons were prepared and loaded facing at the clearing the mound overlooked.
In the distance clouds of dust and smoke ringed themselves around the northern forest. The regiments causing this destruction were slowly advancing, tightening the ring. The first unlucky soul to stumble into the clearing was a hooded figure. The green hood and tree insignia proved she was one of the forest people, the crew aimed. Just as in training the cannonball flew true, slicing through her body like a warm knife through butter. The hard sphere of iron cast her shining armour aside and plummeted through her stomach. Stanley retched. A shout pierced the sound of battle and five helmless individuals stumbled out of the tree line. This time the six pounders got off first as Geoffrey was just reloading the twelve. The first cannon ball shot through the head of the closest and straight into the abdomen of another. Because the six pounder didn't pack so much of a punch as the twelve the warriors armour held firm although dented. The four looked up at the mound in bewilderment and fear. They turned to escape back into the tree line, yet at that moment the synchronised shots of the adjacent gun team shredded the once proud warriors. Geoffrey vomited on the barrel of the cannon uncontrollably. There is no honour in this way of war he thought. A lone figure broke the tree line; all the cannons were reloading so the captain lifted a rifle from his back. From his belt he withdrew a pouch of gunpowder and poured it into the rifle, then stuffed the lead ball in and put the stock against his shoulder. In the hunting style of his great, great grandsons he followed his target with his sights. And, just before the runner immersed himself into the foliage, he fired. He did not miss.
The cannons were reloaded and the crews waited in silence. The uniform of their infantry was now visible in the ever shrinking ring. The third gun crew emerged from a dip in the mound and explained they had had to fight off some caravan raiders. With their guns set up the mound was capable of a full barrage of 9 cannonballs and thrice that number in musket balls. At this moment the tree line was obscured by hundreds of armoured figures sprinting away from the combined regiments, now only metres away. The captain lifted his hand, then dropped it swiftly, "Fire!"The cannon balls ripped through the fleeing figures. In one case an armoured figure had just been smashed by a cannonball, twisting his body ninety degrees. Then in mid air his face was hit by another ball, the impact forcing the back of his head to explode. The blood flew through the air and splattered over the captain's cheek. The captain wiped the blood off with his hand, stared at it and jumped of Mound 119's northern face into the crossfire where he was immediately torn to pieces, all the while shouting, "God save me!"
The 31st and 33rd regiment had now lined the tree line, picking off the cowering remains of the mighty warriors. The battlefield was ordered to be left as it was, as a warning to the forest peoples that if they do not surrender Stranglethorn will fall bloody like this.
That evening nine of the fifteen soldiers that had taken place at the slaughter of Mound 119 defected. Stanley and Geoffrey packed light and in the dead of night they ran to the battlefield. On approach they heard strange songs of woe and saw white clothed people gliding across the clearing, the hems of their robes stained red. They walked out upon the clearing, expecting to be punished for their cowardly slaughter. However the figures were too engrossed in mourning to register anything. Stanley approached one, forcing himself to inhale the death he had caused. Something under his foot gave a creaking, crunching sound and snapped. He lifted his foot and he found himself looking into the eyes of his captain's severed head. This already gruesome sight was now accompanied by a broken nose.
Geoffrey made a gurgling sound and as Stanley looked up he himself found a dagger to his throat in the hand of a cloaked figure. The figure croaked, as if he had been weeping, "You shall suffer as these here suffered."At that a pain coursed through his body from his head and he blacked out. He awoke a few times, only to the sensation of moving and then nothing. The second time he awoke he saw Geoffrey in a cage next to him and then nothing. The third time he was awakened by some of his captors in the dead of night. They shook him roughly and poured scalding water over his face. His eyes widened as a fist materialised from the darkness and smashed his nose. His feet followed as his body was dragged through the dirt to a thick oak tree. Then his captors pinned him to the tree and one of them drew a long sword which flickered in the moonlit glade. The sword flew towards him, and then just as he expected the ultimate punishment for his crimes the sword stopped. The arm which controlled it snapped back and another figure appeared beside it. "Stop Eorvyn, these filthy Imperials shall face a fate worse than a quick death." The arm holding the sword relaxed and everything faded into darkness.
Stanley awoke. He found himself tied to a thick beam of wood and surrounded by tall graceful figures. Many of the forest people wore proudly the breastplate with the great tree on its front, others wore green hooded cloaks. All of them were chanting and the crowd parted to reveal a silver haired black garbed man holding a shining, hungry dirk. The man set about it like a man skinning a deer. Starting at the back he slit the dirk down Stanley's back in a cut just deeper than his skin. The searing pain of the shining metal pierced Stanley's mind until all that his eyes could see was pure pain, his back arched with every strike. The man flashed the dirk around his back and set about peeling Stanley's skin from the flesh and bone beneath. The forest people then treated the open flesh with an oozing dark green liquid which clogged the blood and made it so he would live to experience every single ounce of pain. Beforehand they had also given him a stimulant which would keep him from blacking out. As the old man carved his masterpiece the crowd shouted, "Feel the pain you have caused our brothers and sisters with your satanic machines, feel the bewilderment of our tricked cousins, and feel the loss of our children to dishonourable machines;" The chanting continued but Stanley now only heard his own screams. The waves of pain broke upon him eroding his defences and rendering him utterly helpless. After what seemed like years Stanley felt himself being untied. He saw Geoffrey across the glade for a brief second and saw he had suffered a similar fate. Geoffrey looked like a green monster, yet when closer one saw that in fact the green was just the pigment of the salve combining with his blood dripping down his ravaged back.
Stanley was pushed and stabbed with long poles until he reached a large hole in the forest floor. He detected a large presence in the area, not unlike someone breathing down your back. However his eyes were now blurry for he had no eyelids from which to refresh his eyes. Among the roots of the great tree Stanley and Geoffrey, now unrecognisable, were brought to The Pit. Roars and echoes of screams reached the mouth of the pit from the utter darkness below. The silver haired man, covered in Stanley's blood raised the knife upwards to the great tree which stood miles above him and said, "Oh mighty world protector here are our offerings;" With that he leapt forwards and pushed them both into the pit.
Stanley felt not the air rushing past his face as he fell but a strange sensation of someone brushing past you. The fall ended abruptly and quicker than expected, Stanley felt a rib snap yet Geoffrey was not so lucky. He had landed on his head and as Stanley lay next to him he knew he was alone. He turned his head to look upwards at the mouth of the hole yet he found only darkness. He pushed himself up painfully; the ground seemed so steady compared to his flight through the air. He felt around him blindly, hoping for something other than emptiness. His hands touched only the cold, dry air. He edged forward in the darkness very slowly and unsurely as his instincts told him he should.
The pain still enveloped him, each step more painful than the last. Though he found some conciliation in seeing his pain as a punishment for the terrible deeds he committed on that mound. Mound 119, 5 kilometres north of the imperial outpost; this information emerged from its well-drilled place within his mind as soon as he thought about that hill. Each step he relished in the excruciating pain of his raw flesh and protruding rib. He felt with each step into the limitless darkness his terrible guilt was seeping away from him, yet he also felt his life trickling from him. He was cracked pot carrying vital water, the crack growing wider each minute.
A burning anger at himself grew within Stanley, he was determined to walk each painful step until he felt his guilt had been repaid. Alone in the darkness Stanley strode on, his life draining from him. However painful each minute of this ceaseless walking was, Stanley always felt the presence of his guilt on his back. So he walked on repenting, releasing his unending guilt.
His next step dropped below the flat plain he had been walking on and his next also followed suit. He was walking down long steps, his pain unloading guilt which seemed as if it flowed from his body, hung in the air and clung back on. Stanley persisted by trying to suffer all the pain of all the forest people, in the past, present and future. He stamped each foot down, relishing in the immense pain as a short term cure for his weighty burden.
Noise then reached Stanley's ears, the noise of a massive river, surging over the steps a few paces ahead. Now he gave himself up to the elements in despair and flung himself into the river. The cold enveloped him bonding the creature on his back to himself, making it become a part of him. In this moment Stanley realised with clarity that his guilt was a loop, everlasting, eternal. Now he was no longer in the river but again on a flat plain. Yet this time Stanley noticed that it was, in some way, less dark. He felt someone brush past him and turned to face them. A firm hand clamped on his shoulder.
"Who are you?"Stanley asked, his voice dry as it had not been used for some time.
"You ask the wrong question." The darkness replied.
"Why are you here?"Stanley tried; there was silence for an answer."Where am I?"The firm grip was maintained. Stanley stood there for a long time, it seemed like hours. Finally he asked, "I have done a terrible thing, this guilt is burns me from inside by head, how do I repent? How do I get rid of it?"
The darkness retreated, and Stanley was standing at the exit of a dark chasm with a large river flowing by it. The golden sunlight told him it was sundown, yet he had no memory of how long he had walked in darkness. He set off in the uphill direction to get a view of his surroundings. As he walked he noticed that the same dark green foliage surrounded him as there was near the glade with the where he had started his ordeal.
He heard the shouting and sounds of activity before he saw them, there were the grunts of men, the groaning of branches and the crackling of fires. It was evident that the imperials had over run the forest people, Stanley let out a cry of despair. As he reached the rim of the hill he saw the great tree towering over the glade with ropes dangling off its branches like drugged snakes. Suddenly the snakes became alive and tightened and more groaning was heard from the imperial workers, "Heave!" The branches groaned once more but the trunk did not give in. Stanley watched in amazement yet also sadness as such a magnificent thing was slowly torn down. Stanley felt the tree was connected to the forest intimately and thus to its inhabitants. He felt a pang in his gut for every branch ripped off. He saw some of his own unit stoking a fire beneath the fifty metre thick trunk, pouring oil onto it. Eventually the trunk was ablaze and as twilight approached the fire was halfway up the trunk, not burning in to the core but just on the surface.
As the tree was gradually being destroyed by the imperial military, Stanley realised that while he was in the dark chasms beneath the tree he had made a connection with it or the spirit within it. For every metre of the tree burned, cut or pulled down Stanley felt his life force ebbing away. He felt resolved as his life force ebbed away because he had decided that he had to live with his guilt for eternity, not exorcise it through pain. The fire was now two thirds up the tree and from the depths of the trunk there was an explosion. However this was not an explosion of fire but an explosion of pollen, stored deep within the tree until it died. The pollen spread through the air like snow, each particle going to create another tree like its parent. Night had come now and the last patches of light were disappearing over the horizon. The pollen caught the last light and contrasted against the black sky, like snow in the winter. Stanley felt a firm hand gripping his shoulder, "Goodbye." As Stanley watched the pollen he smiled then, at peace with his guilt and his pain, died.