Author Topic: Short story - There is not even silence in the mountains [library]  (Read 1460 times)

Offline rufus sparkfire

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[More self-indulgent, slightly morbid fiction from my occasional Averland series. Apologies to T.S. Eliot for ripping off his poetry. :tongue: ]

There is not even silence in the mountains

By Rufus Sparkfire

‘Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit’

“Two more were wounded on the last patrol. See if you can do anything for them this time.” They brought the men in swiftly and with little care, virtually dropping them onto the narrow beds. It took Wenzel only a glance to tell that they were as badly injured as the others had been, and as unlikely to live. He didn’t ask Sergeant Vinzenz if these were the only survivors from the ten-man patrol; the answer was clear from the set of the man’s jaw, and the mingled anger and frustration in his eyes. Instead he nodded wearily to the Sergeant and set about tending to the men as best he could. As he had feared, there was little to be done – the wounds could be closed with stitching and bandaging, but there was a poison at work within their blood for which Wenzel had no antidote.

When at last he was finished, when the gaping rents in their flesh had been drawn together and the leaches had been set to draining their befouled blood, Wenzel went out onto the battlements and looked off into the night. The darkness here was so much more complete than anything he had known in Averheim; the stars looked so much brighter, sharper. The only light came from the sparsely-placed sentry fires, and from the torches carried by the soldiers on duty. There were few enough left of them. He yawned then, the sound echoing back and forth between the cliff faces, diminishing finally into nothing. Wenzel was tired, tired past anything he had ever though possible. His mind was a dense fog, his eyes dry as death. He hoped that tonight he might actually be tired enough to sleep.

“Doktor Gerlach?” The voice came from directly behind him. Wenzel spun around, his heart flipping neatly over in his chest. “Did I startle you Doktor? I’m sorry.” The young soldier looked familiar, but Wenzel’s vision was too blurred for him to recognise the face. “Wyss, Doktor. You stitched up that cut in my arm last week.”
“Oh yes, Wyss, of course. Is the wound healing well?”
“Yes Doktor, but that’s not why I came over. You shouldn’t be on the battlements. It isn’t safe, especially not at night.” The young soldier shuddered, despite himself. “There are things that come only at night: sometimes they climb the walls, reach over, pull men down to their deaths. You can hear them, if you listen hard.”

Wenzel listened. He felt suddenly awake and alert, as he had not for days, and realised that he could hear something. It was faint, but the more he strained to listen the louder it seemed. There, in what he had taken first for silence, was a chittering, buzzing sound like a vast chorus of insects. “What are they?” As he said the words, he winced at their panicked tone.
“We don’t know, Doktor. What are any of the horrors we face here? Shadows and bogeymen.” He made the sign of the hammer across his chest, “Lord Sigmar grant us courage.”
“Pray for us now, at the hour of our death.”
The solder scowled disapprovingly. “Doktor, that isn’t funny.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just so tired. I’d better get to bed.”

Does Sigmar only grant courage to the brave, Wenzel thought as he lay on his less than comfortable bed? Does he give his strength only to those who have it already? I am afraid and I am weak and he sends me nothing. Only more wounds to stitch, more limbs to amputate; more spilt blood and agonised bodies. I save the life of the Elector himself, right here in this accursed mountain pass, after that great green beast had struck him down. I tend him for weeks at his bedside; he begins to get better, to show signs that he will awaken from his sleep. How am I repaid? I am dismissed from Count Leitdorf’s service and sent to the Blackfire Pass as a physician to the Mountainguard. The irony is so sickening that I wonder if the gods have a very bad sense of humour.

“Drink this. It will help, believe me.” The halberdier took the half-full bottle of brandy and drained it. He gasped as he finished it, and dropped the empty bottle onto the floor where it smashed. Let it lie there, thought Wenzel, among the dirty bandages and the pooling blood; I have no time to be neat now. Taking his knife, Wenzel cut quickly though the flesh of the leg, all the way around but leaving a large flap of skin that he would be able to use to cover the stump. With a saw he removed what was left of the man’s lower leg – not a great deal, since much of the flesh had been torn away by large, savage claws. To his credit, the halberdier stayed relatively still during the procedure – he barely needed to be held down at all. He wouldn’t be using a halberd anymore Wenzel mused, as he tied off the blood vessels and roughly sewed the flap of skin across the wound, not with only one leg. Perhaps he was lucky in a way. He would be sent home, crippled but alive, while Wenzel would have to stay and die.

Wenzel threw the discarded limb into a bucket and mopped his face with a cloth. He smiled to himself, a smile of desperation. This man wouldn’t be going anywhere. Not for as long as the fortress was under siege.

He couldn’t sleep. The chorus of not-insects had grown louder every night, and now it was almost deafening. Last night Wenzel had seen a sentry disappear over the battlements; had heard the man’s scream fade into the night as he fell to the ground far below. Wenzel knew what had taken him, and he did not go any closer.

Every night he lay exhausted in his bed. Every morning he dragged himself to his feet, more tired than he had been the night before. He was used up. There was nothing left in him to give – he no longer tried to comfort his patients, no longer spoke to anyone beyond the unavoidable. What was the point after all? What do dead men have to say to each other?

When the day came, it was almost a relief. Almost, because there was still so much horror and pain to face. They came over the walls as the sun set, while at the same time others broke down the gate with a ram. Wenzel stood by the door to his surgery and simply stared. The chittering things were like flies, but with human proportions. They lacked wings, having instead sickle-like claws on their many arms. They slaughtered the remaining soldiers with ridiculous ease, cutting them down and ripping at the bodies with tri-partite mouths. In through the shattered gate meanwhile marched armoured warriors, the chosen of the Ruinous Powers. It was strange: Wenzel had thought that he would embrace this death, but now that it was here to claim him he could only think of how to escape it. Consumed with mortal terror, he ran into the surgery and barricaded the door behind him

The door couldn’t hold for long of course, and he had trapped himself in the room. One great blow struck the door from the other side, shaking the walls and straining the hinges. Then another; then a third. With the fourth the door came away completely from the frame and fell into the room. Stepping over the wreckage came a huge man in full armour, armour that was rusted and covered with dirt. He carried a jagged sword in one hand, a shield marked with the crude image of a fly in the other.

Wenzel backed away until he was squarely up against the wall. There was a bone saw by his hand, hanging on a hook – he took it and held it tightly. He could still tell himself that there was hope, that there was yet a chance of leaving this place alive. Believing it though; now that would be too much. The chaos warrior raised his serrated sword in a salute, and then swept it down – the air hissed as it passed. Wenzel looked from that terrible weapon to the surgical saw in his own hand, and laughed. Such a joke the gods had played on him, worthy of Ranald himself. He raised the saw and held it before him in a fencer’s attitude. Never let it be said that Wenzel Gerlach is not able to take a jest in the spirit it was intended!
« Last Edit: August 17, 2007, 03:41:46 PM by rufus sparkfire »
Hey, I could still beat up a woman!
If I wanted to.

Offline Benedictus

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Short story - There is not even silence in the mountains
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2004, 12:37:59 PM »
You git[/b]. You absolute, horrid git. What happened next? I can imagine...but...but...don't do that to me!

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Offline rufus sparkfire

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Short story - There is not even silence in the mountains
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2004, 01:00:12 PM »
...and they all lived happily ever after.  :largh:

OK, so I don't go much for resolution. I did say it was self-indulgent. :biggriin:
Hey, I could still beat up a woman!
If I wanted to.

Offline Fafnir

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Short story - There is not even silence in the mountains
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2004, 10:12:40 PM »
Great stuff, as always. If you had included an ending on this one I would have had to hunt you down like a dog :-D

Really great, the "incomplete" ending gives the story a nice edge and sets it appart from others who are 13 on the dozen.
EDIT: see Africa for more examples ...

Offline Kaz

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Short story - There is not even silence in the mountains
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2004, 04:45:09 AM »
Really nice writing  :clap:

As always, I liked it, good you didn't write and ending though!
It is better to be silent and have people think you're stupid, than to open your mouth and prove them right.