Forgotten Soldiers: The Tyrus Chronicle, Book One

A great war. A changed world. A soldier through it all.



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Forgotten Soldiers: The Tyrus Chronicle, Book One
The Turine army is on the brink of victory against the Geneshans. Sergeant Tyrus and his unit are tasked to steal an artifact from the enemy that some believe has the power to destroy the world. Taking such power from the Geneshans would end the decade long war.

Upon their success, Tyrus’s unit is among the first wave of soldiers discharged from the army. War has robbed him of time with his wife and children, but now the life he has dreamed of every day for the last ten years is just a long journey away.

Traveling home, Tyrus finds the world he left behind changed in ways he never expected. His own countrymen view returning soldiers as a threat. His own townsmen want to forget he even existed. Danger is everywhere. His dream is in jeopardy.

Forgotten Soldiers is the first volume in The Tyrus Chronicle. The next two books in the series will be released in 2015.



Forgotten Soldiers

Chapter 1

Not even hell could be this bad.

I heard that phrase repeated above all others in the decade I spent in the army. During the early years, those few words sent a cold shiver down a man’s back. It often did mine for what they implied.

I heard a private say it while dragging his dead buddy over to a funeral pyre after a battle. I heard it pass through a captain’s lips as he watched survivors from a burned out town beg for bread or offer their emaciated bodies up to passing soldiers in exchange for the smallest morsel of food. I heard that same captain say it again, correcting himself, when one of those survivors got their food and refused to divide it with the sickly children pleading for their share.

The captain’s whisper still echoed in my mind. “Gods Tyrus, I was wrong. Not even hell could be this bad.”

I heard soldiers and mages of all ranks in the infirmary say the phrase, usually between sobs while they stared at a missing limb. I heard physicians and healers mumble the words over and over after their shifts, drowning themselves in a bottle of whiskey, hoping they might forget the horrors of their profession for at least a little while.

Not even hell could be this bad.

In time, the saying slowly changed, taking on a new flavor and becoming something lighter, too light in my opinion.

Dealt a bad hand of cards? Not even hell could be this bad.

Got a bad bowl of stew? Not even hell could be this bad.

That same stew gave you the drizzles? Not even hell could be this bad.

In-grown toenail? Not even hell could be this bad.

I’m ashamed to admit that even I uttered those words a few times myself over the years in the context they were never intended. It was hard not to when you heard them used so often without real conviction.

Those few words nearly rolled off my tongue once more as I watched unit leaders clamor inside General Balak’s command tent. I clamped my lips down before the expression tumbled from my mouth, bitter I had subconsciously treated the phrase with the same irreverent attitude I loathed so much in others.

The back of the tent allowed me a good view of unit leaders acting like unseasoned fools. They fought to gain the position closest to the general in hopes he’d notice them. I shook my head, letting them waste their time. If they hadn’t yet figured out that Balak hated men who kissed up to him, they never would.

Only one thing got Balak’s attention and that was success. Excel or fail in your mission, he’d remember you. Therefore, the best course of action was to succeed, but with as little fanfare as possible.

Looking back on the early years of my forced enlistment, I wish I had taken that middle of the road approach. Gaining command of my own unit early on had done strange things to me. Traits I had never shown before the army became defining characteristics. The chip I wore on my shoulder grew with each success until I had to draft others to help me bear its weight.

Everyone under my command had taken their share of the load with pleasure. Being part of my unit became a point of pride because we didn’t just excel, we outclassed everyone to the point of causing resentment among other units. Admittedly, rubbing our success in their faces didn’t do much to ingratiate us to them.

If I could go back in time, I’d probably punch that version of myself in the jaw, but not before telling him to get his head out of his arrogant rear.

Over the years as I matured and others died, forgot, or just plain didn’t care anymore, I managed to smooth things out with many of those who once resented us. As a result, my unit didn’t stand out as glaringly.

Balak, though, never forgot about us or what we could do.

He expected more out of us.

The general noticed me in the shadows, bushy eyebrows meeting as he glared around the tent. He scowled, making the lines on his face deepen. “Tyrus, close that tent flap and get up here.”

“Yes, sir.”

My attempt to avoid his notice failed again.

I found a place around the table filled with maps and reports. Two lamps secured to posts above our heads, provided decent enough light. The smell of burning oil made my eyes water.

Many considered the eleven other unit leaders at the table the elite of the army. We answered to no one but Balak, and I guess the king. However, the king never left Hol, the capital of our great country Turine, so that technicality never came into play.

Most unit leaders thought we were special because we circumvented the normal chain of command. Not me. That just meant if Balak was in a bad mood, we received his wrath directly rather than having it filtered down to us.

The tent grew quiet.

The Geneshans had invaded Turine nearly a decade ago in the hopes of expanding its ever growing empire. We weren’t as easy to conquer as they thought. All of their other military efforts had ceased in order to focus on defeating us. Battles had been fought on both Turine and Geneshan soil, each side having the upper hand at some point or another.

Momentum had swung to our side once again, and the last thing we wanted was to lose it.

Balak handed out slips of parchment, detailing our orders. Each unit received a series of targets to take down behind enemy lines. Most focused on Geneshan supply caches or communication outposts. Standard military tactics to hinder our enemy.

Some unit leaders asked questions, a few pertinent, the rest an obvious attempt to suck up to the old general. I kept quiet. The orders seemed straightforward enough.

Balak answered questions calmly, carefully enunciating each and every word. After questions, he knocked on the table, punctuating the end.

A small grunt escaped my throat. I knew that behavior well enough to see he was holding something back. I didn’t bother raising the concern. It wouldn’t prompt him to share anything new.

Balak cleared his throat, and tapped the table once more. “Dismissed.”

I mixed in with the others filing out. We’d all be leaving in little over an hour, and I was anxious to get my unit ready.

“Sergeant Tyrus. Stay behind. I’d like a word with you.”

I had almost escaped.

I stepped aside. Several of the younger unit leaders looked jealous as they filed past. I had tried to set them straight before, but they still clamored for a private audience with the general. They thought of their role as a stepping-stone into a higher-paying officer’s position. I remembered thinking the same in the beginning. It didn’t take me long to realize the foolishness in that. Eight years after my appointment without a single promotion or pay increase only validated my current cynicism.

Balak walked around the table, posture perfect, hands behind his back.

“Sergeant, you seemed disinterested.”

“No, sir. Not at all,” I lied.

“Then why didn’t you ask any questions?”

“The orders aren’t anything we haven’t done before.”

I thought it unfitting to add I also wanted to get the heck out of there.

Balak and I had a love-hate relationship. We both knew it, but neither of us admitted it openly. The general loved that my unit never failed a mission. However, I think he also hated having to rely on us so much.

I hated getting stuck with the most dangerous jobs simply because we were good at what we did.

Every day in the army was one away from my family. Each new mission reduced the likelihood I would ever make it back to them. Needless to say, I never got excited about risking my life.

The only thing I loved about General Balak was that he was easy to read and fairly predictable. After learning how to read him, our conversations were not nearly as painful as they had been.

Balak grunted. “This mission isn’t as routine as you might think. The Geneshans managed to form another alliance with the Malduks.”

I shrugged. “We’ve beaten the Malduks before.”

The Malduks are a nasty people full of determined fighters from the far north. The ever-expanding Geneshan Empire had tried using them in the early years of the war. Because the Malduks consisted of individual tribes rather than a unified nation, the Geneshans had struggled to gain more than a thousand of them in support, not nearly enough to swing the war in their favor.

Balak shook his head. “It’s different this time. I’m not sure how, but our reports indicate that the Geneshans brought up eight thousand fighters.”

My mouth dropped. That did change things. “I didn’t think the Malduks had that many men of fighting age. There must not be anyone left in the mountains but women and children.”

“There’s more,” said Balak.

Of course.

“The Geneshans managed to maneuver a small force around our western front. A few thousand.”

I nodded. Since he was being so generous with information I took that as a sign that asking questions just might yield me answers. “Do they know that we know?”

“All information from scouts and mages says no. But busting their communication lines is more important than ever if they’re planning something major for tomorrow.”

“How are we going to counter their movement, sir?”

“I’m moving the Seventh Regiment to the western front. They should be able to defend it while the rest of the army focuses on the main assault at dawn.”

I clicked my tongue.

He cocked an eyebrow. “What is it?”

“We might be underestimating them.”

“How so?”

“The Geneshans have always been the most resourceful when their backs are against the wall. Isn’t that where they are now? We hold the better position and have better numbers. Yet, they managed a last minute alliance with the Malduks and brought around a regiment to flank us with little warning. We’re missing something.” I paused. “I know you don’t want another Wadlow Hill, General.”

He clenched his jaw.

No one on our side wanted another Wadlow Hill. Five years ago we had nearly lost the war despite having a better position and better numbers. Casualties set us back for years. A little luck from weather and my unit’s assassination of their top general bought our army the time it needed to make it out with enough strength to regroup.

In the aftermath of the battle, the Geneshans recovered most of their lands and had even begun to gain a foothold into Turine again.

Balak’s jaw relaxed and he grunted. I knew that grunt. It meant he wanted my thoughts on what to do next, but was too prideful to ask for it. I walked to the map. He came up beside me, smelling of sweat and worry.

“Would it be possible to add the Eighth and Ninth regiments to the Seventh, sir?”

“And pull away a full third of our forces from the main lines?”

“Well, it’s likely the Geneshans have more than what the reports indicate. You know they’re good at masking troop movement. Why not throw them off guard and attack? Those three regiments won’t break unless the entire Geneshan front swings that way. There’s no way they could conceal that.”

“But what if it’s only the few thousand we know about?”

“Then have the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth keep pushing through. Have them clear the area then break off back toward the main line while our other forces hold their ground.”

I doubted it would come to that. It was probably a hunch, but I just knew the Geneshans were planning something big along the western front.

“I’ll give it some thought,” Balak said. That was code for “I agree but I won’t start issuing orders until after you leave.”

I backed away from the table. “Sir, I really need to get to my unit.” I raised my hand, which held the parchment he gave me earlier. “Orders and all.”

He stared at the map, waving a hand at me.

I took my first step toward the tent flap when he called again. “Tyrus.”

“Sir?”

“Those targets are crucial. Even more so if your hunch is correct.”

“Yes, sir.”

I left the general’s tent in a hurry, noting that despite the late hour, the camp bustled with life. Men took advantage of light offered by the moon, stars, and raging campfires to complete their work. Officers barked orders while messengers darted between gaps in the chow line to reach their destination. Everyone seemed to move with purpose, even if their purpose was simply to find a place to eat their steaming bowl of stew. A lot still needed to be done before soldiers tied down for the night.

Hamath, my second, met me a few steps outside of the command tent. He shook his head, red hair flopping over thick sideburns as we walked. A couple inches over six feet, he had me by as many, easily matching my gait. Like most in my unit, he didn’t carry a lot of extra weight, but what he did carry was solid.

“The old whoreson kept you back so you could tell him how to run his army again, I see.”

I chuckled. “Depends on how you look at it. He never has come out and asked me for advice.”

Hamath spat. “Why should he? You tell him everything he needs to know, and after it works, he takes all the credit. He never would have become a general if not for you. He’d probably still be stuck as a captain.”

“That’s not true. He’s good at getting men to fight for a cause. He just needs a little help now and then when it comes to strategy.”

“More than a little,” Hamath muttered. “I don’t see how it doesn’t bother you.”

I shrugged. “It did in the beginning. But at this point, Balak can have all the glory he wants so long as it means ending the war. Gods, it’s been ten years since I’ve seen Lasha and the kids. Four since I’ve gotten a letter from them thanks to the army’s mandatory silence with outside communication.”

Hamath grunted. “Sorry. It’s just that you should be the one leading us, not him.”

“I’ve got enough to worry about already. I don’t want to think about looking after the tens of thousands Balak has to.”

He took a deep breath. “Speaking of worrying, I came over here because we have a bit of a problem.”

I stopped and closed my eyes. “What is it now?”

“Your sister caught a new recruit in unit three roughing up one of the camp whores.”

I pressed my lips together, shaking my head as I opened my eyes. “Let me guess. She couldn’t let things go.”

“You know Ava.”

I did. “What happened?”

“She confronted the recruit, and they had words. He didn’t know not to argue with her. By the time I got there she had his pants around his ankles and some sort of spell squeezing at his crotch. I swear I’m going to have nightmares about that. It was all swollen and turning purple.” He shivered. “I got her to stop, and the healers said the boy would recover, but it’ll take weeks. Unit three is going to be short-handed until then. I managed to smooth things over as best I could, but their unit leader is calling for your sister’s head. Those she’s wronged in the past are supporting him. They plan to take it all the way to the Council of High Mages this time.”

“Did you tell her any of that?”

“Gods, no. You know she won’t listen to anyone but you. As worked up as she was, I was worried she might do the same to me as she did to the recruit. I calmed her down a bit and then let her go.”

I sighed. “See what I mean, Hamath? You want me to manage an army when it’s a struggle to keep my own unit in line.”

“Not your whole unit. Just Ava. And you only have one sister.”

“Thankfully.” I handed the general’s orders to Hamath. “Here, start getting the others ready while I talk to her.” I nodded to the full moon. “Make sure everyone’s mudded up.”

Hamath swore. “I was worried you’d say that.”

* * *

I found Ava pacing back and forth at the edge of the forest outside of camp, stomping the ground with such determination it looked like she was trying to put out a fire. The guards on patrol made sure to give her a wide berth.

Without her cloak, moonlight shimmered off her black leathers. She ran a thin hand through short, brown hair, and rubbed the back of her neck—a tell-tale sign that her run-in with the recruit bothered her more than usual. When I saw the faintest hints of sorcery crackling at her long fingertips I knew Hamath did right by letting me talk to her. She was having a hard time controlling herself.

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about any serious injury if she lost her temper. I was one of the rare cases of someone born with a resistance to sorcery. Each of our special units had someone resistant among them. Considering the crap Ava tried to pull on me as kids, it’s a good thing I had the gift. Otherwise, I would have ended up missing a limb or worse a long time ago. It was also a good thing for others near me in battle as one of the nice things my resistance afforded me was the ability to draw sorcery out of others injured by some spell.

“Well?” I asked as I came upon her.

She stopped and gave me a bitter look. Tall for a woman, she could almost give me that look at eye level. “Well, what? I’m ready. Lay into me if that’s what you’re here for.”

“I’d like to know what happened first.”

“Hamath didn’t tell you?”

“I want to hear your side.”

She put her hands on her hips. “Some idiot wanted to prove how tough he was by beating on one of the camp followers.”

“Whores.”

“What?”

“Call them what they are. Unlike the merchants that come and go, the only thing she was peddling was what’s between her legs.”

She grit her teeth. “Fine. Whores.”

“Did you find out what prompted him to lay into her like that?”

“No.”

“Don’t you think you should have?”

“No.”

A long breath passed through my lips. “You know, we’ve had this conversation far too many times over the years.”

“We’re going to keep on having it if little men continue to think they can mistreat a lady.”

I snorted. “A lady? Look, you know I don’t condone hitting women, and I would never put up with someone in my unit doing it, but I’d hardly call a whore a lady. You need to be more concerned with protecting those fighting alongside us, not someone who can’t stay off her back. Quit taking matters into your own hands. You should have reported the incident to the soldier’s sergeant. Now, his unit is shorthanded for tonight.”

She ignored my last point. “Nothing would have happened if I had reported it. You know that.”

I said nothing. She was right. I hated it when she was right.

“There were still better ways to handle the situation than how you did. Ways that would have punished the soldier without possibly crippling him for life.”

She shrugged. “See if I care. Her face is no less important than his manhood.”

“Don’t make me out to be the bad guy here. I’m not trying to defend his actions, I’m just mad at how you handled things.” I shook my head. “Well, maybe the woman will get out of the trade now that she knows the risks.”

“I’m sure she knew the risks, and she chose the trade anyway. What does that tell you?”

“That she doesn’t have her head on straight.”

She frowned. “Could be. Maybe she just saw the money she’d make and didn’t care about getting slapped around. But how many choose that life because they feel that’s the only chance they have to survive?”

“Here you go again.”

Ava cocked her head to the side. “What if that had been Lasha?”

My eyes narrowed. Hypothetical or not, if anyone other than Ava had suggested such a thing I would have been all over them. “Don’t. It wouldn’t happen.”

“You don’t know that. We’ve been gone almost a decade. Neither one of us knows what things are like back home.”

“Stop, Ava. I know my wife. She’d never stoop to that. She’s too smart. Too resourceful.” I opened and closed my hands. “Besides, Lasha’s got friends to look after her and the kids if it came down to it.”

Somewhere in the last few exchanges I had closed the distance between us. I realized that because I saw fear creep into Ava’s eyes. It was odd. I hadn’t hit her since we were kids just being kids, yet I guess part of that older brother and younger sister dynamic remained.

I backed away a step. I hated to see that look in her eyes. She could make me angrier than anyone, but I loved her.

“Sorry,” I muttered. “Look, I’m done arguing. We’ve got orders, so we’ll have to continue this later. But I’m going to have to do something. This is getting elevated to the High Mages. Maybe if I take care of it on my own first, they’ll be more lenient.”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t do me any favors, big brother. Ao can curse the High Mages as far as I’m concerned. All the gods can,” she snapped.

Ao, goddess of sorcery, was the mother of the gods within the Turine pantheon. All other gods and goddesses descended from her and her husband Molak, god of all things nature. They ruled the heavens according to our culture.

However, ask any other nation and you’d find a completely different set of beliefs. Genesha’s religion was the most puzzling. One and only one god, Beel. A mean piece of garbage who, according to the Geneshans, cultivated power through human sacrifices.

It seemed that they would have wised up long ago and suppressed Beel’s power by just ceasing the sacrifices. I’ve always been of the opinion that the fewer people meddling in my life, god or otherwise, the better.

I shook my head in response to Ava’s curse. “I thought you’d say something like that.”

Had she not burned so many bridges, she could have been a High Mage. She had the talent, just not the tutelage. No one wanted to take Ava on as an apprentice knowing they would have to contend with her temper.

“Return to the unit and get mudded up,” I added.

“I don’t need to do that. I can just cast a spell.”

“Call it pre-punishment. Besides, no sorcery unless I say otherwise.”

“Fine.” She stormed off with fire in her eyes.

Nearby guards on patrol halted as they watched her depart. None wanted to cross her path.

* * *

In the woods, a night sky filled with stars and a full moon could be a blessing by making it easier to find water, shelter, or perhaps even some food. If nothing else, the extra light could go a long way in preventing a twisted ankle.

None of that mattered when leading a unit behind enemy lines. Stealth was crucial. Light reflecting off the steel attached to each person could get a soldier killed.

By the time I got back to my unit, Hamath had most everyone covered in mud. If someone missed a spot, another person eagerly helped conceal it. No one wanted to die because of another’s laziness.

I jumped right in with the others and began picking up handfuls of sludge, slathering it on my legs. Before I even finished, hands from the other members of my unit were all over me. What I received from them came on extra thick.

I took it in stride. Let them have their fun.

The smell of the mud finally got to me, making me gag as I smoothed the last of it around my nose and lips. “Gods, Hamath. Did you haul this in from the latrines?”

He chuckled. “At least the mosquitoes have finally left us alone.”

Summers in Genesha were brutal. Besides the heat, mosquitoes the size of small birds hounded you.

“Well, I guess that’s one positive.”

Hamath grinned, white teeth rimmed in black muck. “I may not even wash this off when we’re done. Not if it means having a good night’s sleep without that constant buzzing at my ears.”

I inclined my head. “You’re actually thinking of sleep? What about your traditional romp with one of the whores when we get back?”

“I never said I wouldn’t pay them a visit first.”

“Covered in mud?”

“They’re not going to care what I’m covered in so long as my coin is good.”

“You gotta remember, Ty,” said Ira, jumping into the conversation. “Hamath gave up on women long ago. Been giving his coin to the animals last I heard.” He cackled. “He comes walking up covered in all that mud he won’t even need his coin. Pigs might give him a free one.”

Ira stood next to Dekar as usual. The two brothers were a year apart, but they looked like twins. Same blond hair, green eyes, and pale skin. They even had the same tone of voice. The mud only added to their resemblance.

Dekar flashed the rare smile at his brother’s jest. The two looked alike, but their personalities couldn’t have been more different. Ira loud and jesting. Dekar quiet and thinking.

The rest of the squad broke out into laughter as well, including Hamath, helping ward off the somber mood none of us wanted to face. Whether a first or hundredth mission, everyone got anxious before leaving.

We all had friends who had never returned.

“Tyrus. It’s time.”

The laughter faded at the sound of Ava’s voice. Her eyes opened. Her hand dropped away from her temple. Communication with the other mages had been severed.

Each of the twelve elite units that reported to Balak had their own mage in order to speed communications. It was a luxury none of us took for granted.

The ominous mood we had tried to avoid washed over us.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s move out.”

We took only a few steps when I heard a familiar jingling from the man next to me. I paused, grabbed Gal’s arm and pulled him aside as I signaled Hamath to keep the others moving.

Lots of soldiers had their superstitions or religious quirks. However, I’d never met anyone quite as passionate about his accessories as Gal.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

He tried to give me a confused look, but with his mismatched eyes of gray and blue, he just seemed mentally unstable. “What do you mean, Sarge?”

“Don’t start. We’re not doing this again, Gal. You know you can’t bring all that junk with you. You’ll make enough noise to alert the Geneshans long before we get there.”

“Sarge, it ain’t junk. It all has meaning.”

He reached around his neck and started pulling free four pendants that hung there. Each were made of bronze or silver. He started explaining their meanings.

I cut him off. “I don’t care. You know the rule. We do this every blasted time.”

“But Sarge, this time’s different. I got a bad feeling that something is going to happen. The last thing I want to do is turn my back on Molak, Xank, Prax, or even Ao at a time like this.”

Molak and Ao have three children. Prax is the god of war and therefore favored by soldiers. Xank, the second child, is god of death, and therefore cursed by pretty much everyone. Lavi, the last of the three original children, is known as the goddess of love and peace. She is always at odds with her two brothers, even to the point of pitting them against each other, since her domain contradicts everything Xank and Prax stand for. However, their feuds never prevented them from sleeping together since most of the lesser gods—too many to name—descended from those three.

“Gal, you always have a bad feeling. And you’ve made it through each one just fine. Take off the pendants or I will.”

He started muttering prayers of forgiveness to the gods as he did so. I bit my tongue so not to make things worse.

“Don’t forget the ones on your wrists and the one at your belt too.”

“But—”

I narrowed my eyes in a way that said the discussion was over.

“Fine,” he muttered. “But if I die because I didn’t have my charms with me, it’s going to be on you.”

“Just get it done and hurry up.”

I walked away at a brisk pace to catch up with the rest of my unit. I shook my head thinking of Gal’s last words.

If any of my men died, regardless of the reason, it would be on me.

The joy of command.



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