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THE TALE OF TWO GUARDS (Epilogue)

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neverness:
Here’s a fun exercise. Years ago, I was on a BBS and from time to time we wrote a creative piece where one person would start a story and then, entry by entry, others would add to it. I figured this would be perfect here, and I’m not sure something like this had been done here before or not with exception to the Rufas Letters from last year.

The rules are simple: I’ve started a story. Some one else continues where I left off. So on and so forth. You can totally change the tone and add what you like by throwing in whatever curve ball that you wish.

However I’m going to ask that you adhere to a few guidelines:
 
Stick to the genre (no Space Marines landing and nuking the world please).

Keep the two protagonists in character and alive (relatively).

You can only post again after at least one* other has posted after you, or if a week* has passed without activity on this thread (regardless to whether you posted last) but you don’t have to post again if you choose not too.

*Changed due to low participation at this point.

Every post that adds an episode to the story should start with a CHAPTER number. Length is up to you, but as a participant I’d appreciate a conservative length.

And please CHECK YOUR SPELLING .

Alright, lets have fun!

neverness:
THE TALE OF TWO GUARDS
   
PRELUDE

It was the night of Geheimnisnacht and people from all over the land were pouring out of the forest and following the road to the castle. Peasants abandoned their hovels and brought what they could spare, merchants redirected their caravans, huntsmen retreated from the forests, and the village shut down and locked up. All men possessing an instinct for survival and an ounce of sanity sought out the sanctity of the castle walls before darkness fell.
   The knightly order, whose castle this was, was prepared for the worst. The annual night of damnation was soon to be at hand. The dark moon Morrslieb would make it’s closest pass to the world this night, and for this one night chaos would be at it’s strongest. The Grand Master of the Order decreed that all soldiers of the Empire be on duty to protect the castle and the people within from whatever damnable foulness tried to enter it from without. The walls were lined with handgunners, priests walked the ramparts, blessing bullets, the guns, and anything else requested. The last rays of sunlight faded to orange and purple, and were soon replaced by the night. Quiet fear descended upon the castle, as the soldiers waited to have their souls tested.
   Hanz and Dieter were the two unlucky guards assigned to the guard post on the other side of the crevasse that surrounded the castle. The booth sat beside the point where the drawbridge would rest when lowered. Armed with handguns, and spears that would normally feel like state issued empowerment felt instead like symbols of underwhelming futility. Behind them, an alert bastion of defense awaited the worst that chaos could summon on this night. Their job, was to stop, and turn away anyone –or thing- that approached the castle after nightfall and send them packing down the road and back into the forest. If they were attacked they’re to ring the bell mounted to the outside of the booth and alert the defenders of the castle. But no matter what, the drawbridge would not, and will not, lower until dawn. They were utterly alone.

   CHAPTER 1   
“So, um, what time do you reckon it is?”
   Hanz sighed and said flatly to Dieter without diverting his attention from the road. ”It’s been no more than 20 minutes past sunset, and less than 5 minutes since you last asked me that.”
   ‘Oh.” Dieter said while sinking his head. “This quiet really is torturous isn’t it?”
   “It can be, but ye best pray that the night doesn’t decide to become noisy mate, or we could end up like the two chaps from last year."
   The memory raced through Dieter’s mind of the last Geheimnisnacht. He was with the unit that checked this booth when the drawbridge was lowered. They found one of the guards, curled up in a ball, naked, covered in blood and mud, and shaking with terror. That guy ended up institutionalized in an asylum in Salzenmund. The other guard was never found. It was Dieter’s first year in the Imperial Army, and that night left quite an impression on him.
   They continued to wait and soon the light of Morrslieb could be seen lighting the forest mist with it’s vile illumination. Hanz was older. A veteran of many battles, he was happy to be assigned to this castle away from brutal conflicts he experience before. But the stability of this post by no means softened his combat reflexes. He was always prepared for the worst. But even the steeliest warrior remembers how to sweat on this night. Seeing Morrslieb’s light illuminate the forest road made him feel bittersweet about their situation, and almost yearned to be in pitched battle, where at least he had comrades around him and a weapon that could actually kill something.
   “I need to stretch my legs,” sighed Dieter as he went to unbolt the booth.
   Hanz whipped around, slapping Dieter’s hand away from the door and said sternly: “You will NOT step outside this booth! Do you want to end up dead lad, do ya?”
   “I was just going ta move about a bit not-“
   Then they heard it.
Coming down the road a sound that sent a chill straight through to their souls. Both men, snapped to attention immediately erased all signs of their previous argument, and scrambled to bring their guns to bear on the road.
In the faint light of Morrslieb, moving toward them, about 1000 yards way, they saw it.
   



Padre:
On the parapet of the castle's gatetower, the largest bastion on the outer wall which also supported the drawbridge, young Ernst peered through the gloom.

Ever since his comrades had told him what had become of the two guards posted the previous year in the outer booth, he had been thinking of their fate. What had the survivor - a raving lunatic according to those that saw him, a gibbering wreck of a man unable even to look anyone in the eye - what had he seen? What had become of the other gaurd? Ernst's fascination had grown, until he dreamed of that night over and over, though each dream showed some new nightmare enemy, each nightly vision mutated into a novel monstrous form. And he became (though he hid it from everyone he knew) utterly obsessed by these thoughts.

He looked out again, but all he could see was the light of the lantern that hung on a pole by the booth. It swung lazily from side to side. He couldn't even see Hans and Dieter silhouetted against the light - they must be in the booth. Would he have wanted to be where they were? Of course not, he thought, that would be madness. All he wanted was to know what was coming.

For nearly a year, Ernst had dreamt of wolves, orcs, or of men warped into rats, approaching the booth in the darkness. All these had appeared in his dreams once each, but never again. He dreamt of dead men walking, of menschenfrescher, of elves with hateful eyes and pale skins. He dreamt of every monstrous creature he had ever heard of, and many more that were unknown to him. Each appeared once and once alone.

Then about a month ago he started to dream of demons, and there was no end to those dreams. He had umpteen nightmares every night. He dreamt of demons of every colour and size, with ever more hideous faces. In every dream one guard was maimed, killed, dragged away, while the other was driven insane by the sight of the deed and the thing that did it. And then the monster, whatever wicked form it took that night, would stand on the edge of the crevasse to glare at the castle, and howl or whine or sing or squeel or roar it's frustration at  being unable to get any closer to the castle.

Yet the dreams, though they tried a new story every night, never settled on a form that felt right. The story, such as it was, was identical each time - the monster would kill, frighten, and yell out their anger, vanish as he awoke, only to be replaced the next night night with some new beast.

Until last week. That was when, for the first time ever, his dream showed him the same beast as that of the night before. Not that he truly saw it, for it was a beast made of shadows, a black thing shrouded in shadows which seemed to drink up the light that fell near it. Just as wicked, maybe moreso, than all the beasts that had come before, but a secret creature, who desired to hide from other's eyes with a yearning so strong that it had become a powerful spell.

This dark beast had come for seven nights in a row, last night being the last. Each time the dream lasted a bit longer, so that when the beast stopped howling, it spoke some words, a few more each night. Upon waking however, Ernst could never quite recall what it said.

Ernst was getting tired. He'd offered to take this watch from a guard he knew wouldn't argue, but it meant he'd been on watch twice as long as normal. And after a week's worth of multitudinous nightmares, he hadn't exactly been sleeping well. So Ernst's eyes slowly closed, and his thoughts drifted off as his grip on the parapet weakened. His head lolled, his hands weakened their grip on his handgun, and in that still sleepy moment, he thought what could it hurt to lie down and take just a little nap.

This he did.

Moments later he was dreaming. This time the night demon stood direct before him, and spoke its words clearly. It was making a demand, laced with an awful threat and a hypnotic potency that came from having repeated the words many times before, the power of the suggestion growing with each utterence.

What were the words? They were these ...

"Ersnt, I am your master. Obey me. I command you to lower the drawbridge. Do it now. Let me in."

Warlord:
Great Idea. I loved the Tavern writing exercise Karl Voss set up last year (or beginning of this year) and I can see myself trying to contribute the odd bit to this piece.

*****

CHAPTER 3

"It's just a rock!" dismissed Hanz with a shake of his head.

"I swear to Sigmar that is not a rock!" said Dieter, not taking his eyes off the suspicious shadowy object in the distance. "It moved. Besides, what was that noise then?"

"T'was probably just a wolf." responded Hanz trying to make light of the dire situation they were placed in this night of nights. Raising his eyebrow, "You wanted to stretch your legs..." suggested Hanz with an enthusiastic slap on his younger companions back.

"Just one minute ago you were telling me I couldn't leave!" cut in Dieter while retaining his fixation on the distant shadow.

"Up to you lad." responded Hanz with a sly grin on his face. He knew full well Dieter would not be going anywhere. However he also knew that if he was unable to refocus his companion, this cursed night would at the very least turn Dieter insane.

Dieter nodded and without saying another word continued gazing out the booth window toward the moonlit road.

-----

"Wake up you lazy piece of Snotling turd!" Griff Hausbergen grumbled as he kicked the young layabout guardsman in ribs he found sleeping at his post on the Gatetower. Griff was an experienced guardsman, so much so that the knights had been employing him as Sargeant to charge their tower defenses for many summers. He was only ever truly tested one night of the year, this night of Geheimnisnacht, and one slacking soldier could cause kinds of hell to break loose.

"Sorry Sir" coughed the youth, strangely with very little regret.

He couldn't have been older than 17 summers, and why he was in Friedrech's post was unknown. "Where is Friedrech?" demanded Griff impatiently as the boy-barely-man rose to his feet.

"He wanted a rest..." started the boy.

"You mean like the rest you were getting?" Griff asked with annoyance apparant in his voice. The boy opened his mounth to continue, but before he could speak Griff cut him off. "Go find Kurt on the Northern tower and tell him to report to me here."

The Youth nodded, starring at the Booth in the distance. There appeared to be something on his mind, but that was not Griff's concern. "NOW!" shouted the Sargeant.

Within a moment, Ernst was gone the gatetower, leaving Griff alone on the parapet.

neverness:
Chapter 4

The four horses stopped almost suddenly, yet no rider sat upon the old imperial war wagon to issue their command. Indeed, if a rider commanded this vehicle he was fortified within it. These old wagons haven’t been in service for decades, but even Hanz knew to expect men to be mounted on it’s top. Yet it was bare. The wagon had come down the road so fast that the two guards were actually caught by surprise. Dieter was stumbling about in the booth and shaking so bad that Hanz even entertained the thought of shooting him. How could any army accept this man into it’s ranks? Hanz was feeling embarrassed that this virtual youth was assigned to be with him, a veteran of actual battles, when the kid couldn’t even hold his handgun steady. Now this wagon, still, quiet, and unmoving sat next to their booth waiting the lowering of the drawbridge. And wait it would. Hanz was prepared to be the barer of some very bad news.

The door had an imperial crest with the letter ‘M’ emblazoned on it. The door opened. The two guards tensed. Weapons aimed and intensely focused. Hanz noted that Dieter was now very quiet as if the opening of the door triggered his inner soldier. ‘Good, there was hope yet for the lad.’ thought Hanz.

A wooden window on the door slid open, yet iron bars still covered it. A man glared back at them. Noting that he appeared human, the two guards did not fire. The man was incredibly old, and Hanz had to wonder how he opened that door with such force. So feeble was this geriatric that the ornate hat he wore, overly festooned with the most lavish feathers he’d ever seen, almost appeared to be crushing him.
“Guard…” the old man croaked in an unsteady yet proper voice. Clearly, a stately fellow accustomed to issuing commands without ever assuming anyone could hesitate to carry them out. “Tell your people to lower their drawbridge.”
“The bridge is closed until dawn.” Stated Hanz.
“Not for me.” Said the old man while producing a scroll parchment. As he held his hand out, Dieter was fascinated by the old man’s venerable skin, which seemed to cling to his bones like some sort of splotchy transparent papier-mâché draped tightly over a skeletal hand. Hanz reached out and snatched the scroll, held it under the lantern light. Dieter noted that his expression changed, and Hanz actually appeared worried for the first time this evening.
“I’m afraid my Lord, even for you.” Said Hanz with disappointment in his voice.
“Come now man! Do you not know what terrible fate is in store for me if I’m left out here on this night? This most unholy of nights!”
“I’m truly sorry,” Said Hanz while handing back the scroll. “But the drawbridge does not, will not, and can not lower until sunrise. Orders from the Elector Count, to the Lord.”
“I’m-“ The old man was clearly agitated and was manipulating the door’s locks as he spoke, “in the employ of the Electors, you saw my credentials! I’m a tax collector, returning from a special assignment to Salzenmund. I sent forth news of my pending arrival! Your lord expected me this evening but we had a wheel brake and we had to stop back at the village for repairs..!”
“The village is abandoned!” interrupted Dieter, who surprised himself with his sudden outburst.
“Cretin!” snapped the old man toward Dieter who for the first time made eye contact with him. Dieter was snapped back and his bravado squashed by the sheer hate that burned in those ancient eyes and the venomous sting of that one word.

The door swung open, the old man reached out. Hanz held firm and gestured threateningly with his handgun, while Dieter stood next to him in a confused mess.
“Get back in and leave, Sir.” Hanz ordered.
“No one gives orders to Lord Mi...”
His sentence stopped in mid word. As he reached toward the men, his fingertips passed the threshold of the booth’s window, and they ignited in flames!

With a hiss, the old man spat at the two soldiers, both of whom had stepped back as they too were surprised by the brilliant flame, and flinched to protect their eyes. In a series of actions that took hardly any time to perform, the wild eyed old man gasped out, surprised, looked at his burning fingers, looked at the two guards, stepped back in what appeared to be one step into the wagon, the door shut, and the horses reversed unnaturally back down the road from which it had come at an incredible speed.

Dieter released his bowels.

Hanz whistled, as he leaned out the window of the booth, looking up the road.
“Now, that’s an impressive trick!’ Exclaimed Hanz, whose adrenaline made him more thrilled and bemused as opposed to Dieter’s obvious terror.
 “Lad have you ever seen anything like that? A four-horse drawn wagon going backwards? I mean is that even possible? I wonder if the boys saw that too?”
 He looked toward the castle wall, but as he did so, his eyes spotted a glow on the booth’s rail. He looked at it more closely, and noticed that there were carvings in the wood that now glowed a bright golden light. The words were clearly some sort of protective ward, perhaps in elvish, that must’ve of caused the old man's fingers to burn. It did seem to suddenly make sense why the booth itself never seemed harmed in it’s decades of existence, just the souls within it. It also reinforced what he’d been told about staying in it.
Smiling, he looked at Dieter and pointed to the now fading symbols.
“You see why you don’t want to leave this booth lad? Ha! And the night is only just started!”

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