A father. A mentor. A leader. Still, a soldier.
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Wayward Soldiers: The Tyrus Chronicle, Book Two
Tyrus expected his world to change once the Geneshan War ended. He expected it to change more once he finally reunited with his family.
He did not foresee that the biggest upheaval to his world would be caused by Turine sorcerers tampering with an ancient Geneshan artifact in the capital city of Hol.
The land stands devastated and covered in a haze. Sorcerers are unable to use their power. The king and capital are likely destroyed. Raiders seek to profit in a world without law.
Tyrus decides that he must get his loved ones to the safety of the Southern Kingdoms if they are to have any chance of surviving. The quick flight he plans turns into a labored journey when local townsfolk join his party. Expecting only new dangers now before him, Tyrus fails to anticipate old ones haunting his steps.
Wayward Soldiers is the second volume in The Tyrus Chronicle.
If there was one positive thing to say about the end of the world, it was that it held my attention. Finding two things however, took a little more thought.
Tears of fire rained down from heaven. They lit up the night sky while streaming to earth. Most of the fire dissipated before striking the ground, but those balls of white-hot fury that failed to disintegrate, pockmarked the land. The largest of the holes brought forth a red glow that bubbled from below.
The imagery was incredible, even if it could’ve been the cause of my death at any moment. Only recently could I even recognize that splendor. I watched the destruction of the landscape from the cellar of The Hemlock Inn with an emptiness that was hard to escape. The window I peered out of faced away from Main Street, hiding other parts of Denu Creek. What I could see left me enthralled as much as it left my bones trembling deep within me.
I had taken inventory of our supplies some time ago. We had food and water for days, and about as good a shelter as anyone in town. I outlined several options of escape to the group should the need arise, but hoped we’d have to carry out none. Having a plan in place seemed to do wonders for calming the nervous sweating and labored breathing that had become the new status quo.
I was helpless for the time being, unable to do anything but watch and be ready to react to any drastic change.
A ball of fire crashed into the shed behind the inn. Wood splintered into thousands of pieces, spreading out like buzzing flies as flames engulfed what little of the shed remained.
A tornado-like gust of wind howled, bringing with it a draft that snuck into the cracks around the window, carrying a sulfuric odor. The wind kicked dirt into the air and shook the inn above us, causing the support braces to creak and moan. I continued to question whether the building would be able to withstand the endless onslaught.
I turned from the window as the wind shifted and dust whipped toward the cracked panes. I closed the inside shutters.
“Everything alright, Tyrus?” whispered Boaz to my right as he groggily eyed the window.
“Think so. A little worried the glass might break,” I whispered back.
Specks of dirt ticked against the panes, punctuating my worry.
“Yeah.” He sighed and looked away, likely feeling as helpless as I did.
A single light from an oil lamp illuminated the cluttered cellar where everyone slept on the dirt floor amid old blankets, potato sacks, canvas, and clothes. Considering the racket outside, the scene spoke of how tired everyone was after the last day trapped inside.
My sister, Ava, huddled next to me against the outside wall. Her short, brown hair was matted on one side from leaning against the rough surface. Thankfully, the second eruption hadn’t caused her to lose consciousness as did the first. Nor did it seem to have as strong of an effect on anyone else. Only some general feelings of weakness.
I craned my neck back up to the basement window as the screaming wind momentarily lapsed. Each pause between the whipping gusts reminded me of a child holding her breath in as an act of defiance.
Peeling back the shutter, I saw the random bouts of falling fire had lessened. That brought me little comfort though as small brushfires blazed unchecked.
The last thing we needed was for fire to spread into town.
As if Molak decided to smile down on us for once, dark clouds rolled in, bringing with them cracks of thunder and brilliant flashes of lightning. The sky opened up and rain came in torrents. Large drops struck the ground, stifling the fires before any had a chance to grow. Smoke rose as flames died.
The cloud cover seemed endless, so I closed the shutters again.
In the cellar, water began trickling through the boards of the main floor. Several drops struck Ira.
He hissed a curse as he stirred awake. His hand rubbed at where his right ear should have been, another loss from the Geneshan war. “Like I wasn’t uncomfortable enough.”
I hurried over and helped him to his feet. I then gestured to the four main leaks. “Give me a hand with these, will you?”
He nodded. Somehow we managed to shore up the three biggest leaks without waking anyone. The last we placed a barrel beneath to collect rain water for drinking.
Satisfied with our work, I gestured back to the floor. “Why don’t you get some more rest?”
“What about you?” he asked with a yawn.
“Soon,” I said, staring at the barrel.
The leaks weren’t a good sign. There were supposed to be a roof and three floors above us. I wondered what the exposure would do to the belongings we had to leave behind upstairs. I balled my hands into fists, realizing I had left the letters from Lasha in my bag.
Though I had each word memorized, it just wasn’t the same as reading the letters in her hand. I swore silently, angry I had been so careless. But then again, we hadn’t had the time to grab anything personal before rushing downstairs.
I had so little of my wife left.
Abigail, the innkeeper’s daughter, whimpered in her sleep, jarring me from my thoughts. Boaz stirred and held her tighter with one hand while refusing to let go of his wife, Dinah, with the other.
The sight of them caused me to reflect on what I still had rather than what I had lost. Family and friends trumped bits of paper any day.
Ava shifted next to me, her soft snores pausing as I rested my hand on her shoulder. My kids, Myra and Zadok, lay curled around each other, somehow managing to keep their hands on my friends, Dekar and Ira. The darker skin and dark, curly hair of my children contrasted the two blond haired, pale brothers.
Looking at them made me wonder how Hamath, my best friend from my days in the army, had fared in light of the eruptions. It was too bad I could not add his name among those still at my side. I missed him above all others I had left behind.
I squeezed my sister’s hand then reached out to stroke the faces of my children, Myra more carefully than Zadok, since only the gods knew how she’d react to the sign of affection.
“I love you,” I whispered to each of them before closing my own eyes.
The rain continued as I relaxed. I guess if I was going to die, the comfort here was a far better alternative to where I was months ago.
Many things could be found on a battlefield, but comfort was never one of them.
A deafening silence jarred me awake.
I rubbed away sleep with forefinger and thumb. The crud at the corners of my eyes had grown impressively while I slept.
Dekar stood peering out the basement window. Everyone else still slept.
At some point, both Myra and Zadok had snuggled in next to me. Despite the whole end-of-the world problem we were dealing with, I hadn’t been as happy as I was in that moment in a long time. I almost felt as if everything was going to be all right.
Then I thought of Lasha.
Though I loathed leaving the comfort of my children behind, I needed an update on the state of the world. Gently, I peeled away Myra’s and Zadok’s gangly limbs, rose to my feet, and slid over to the window.
“What’s the story?” I asked in a low whisper.
“Everything stopped,” said Dekar without turning. “I didn’t want to wake anyone yet since I expected it to start back up at any moment.”
“What’s it look like?”
He backed away. “It’s something you have to see for yourself.”
We exchanged positions, and I looked outside. The world looked more foreign to me than the first time I set foot on Geneshan soil. “Am I going crazy?”
He shrugged. “If you are, so am I.”
A haze hung in the air. Rays of orange sunlight worked their way through the vapor giving everything a smudged quality. Withered plants, scorched earth, and smoldering remains of small storage sheds on the outskirts of town stood out amongst the haze.
Gray smoke rolled in as brushfires continued to die out. Only fire from the sorcery of the artifact could still have life after the downpour we had gone through.
A small house cat limped its way into sight. The animal collapsed a few feet from the cellar window. Its hollow eyes added to the dread hanging over me.
This was a cruel world, one the Geneshans had warned Balak about when they surrendered.
“The sky would change color,” they had said. “The earth would shake, fire would rain down from the heavens. Plants and animals would change . . . Lots of death. Lots of sickness. Chaos.”
Gods, that seemed like a lifetime ago.
“Stupid cat survived all that only to die now,” I said.
Dekar squeezed in beside me. “Shame.” He grunted and gestured to the landscape. “You ever seen sorcery do something like this?”
“No. Ava might have some insight. I’ll wake her in a bit.”
I couldn’t take my eyes away from the changed world. If the Geneshans had never searched for their ancient artifact we wouldn’t be in the mess we were in. For that matter, if the Geneshans had never started hostilities with Turine, we wouldn’t have gone to war, and therefore would never have threatened the Geneshans enough for them to go off in pursuit of their culture’s legendary weapon.
Cause and effect could be a real pain. If I allowed myself to think about it long enough, I would go insane trying to determine who should have truly received the blame.
Though our vision was limited to the small, rectangular window, Dekar and I sat there quietly and studied the land, probably more out of shock than anything else, until others woke on their own.
Zadok stirred first which in turn disturbed Myra. Their gasps of the new world woke everyone else.
Having seen more than enough of the view, Dekar and I let everyone else take their turn. I don’t think anyone expected to see green pastures and bluebirds singing, but I doubted anyone thought to imagine what was there.
Zadok asked. “When are we going to go up, Pa? You said we’d help after it was all over and we knew it was safe. The worst of it seems to have passed.”
“We don’t know that,” said Ava, rubbing her hands. She seemed on edge. “It could start back up again at any time.”
“But we can’t just wait down here forever,” said Zadok.
“Listen to your aunt, and be patient,” Myra said.
Boaz cleared his throat. “I’ll go up.” His wife grabbed his arm and hissed something under her breath. He shook his head and turned toward me while gesturing to a few buckets we set had up to catch rain water from last night. “You saw the water that got in here. No telling what state this place is in.”
“I’ve been worried about that myself.”
“If one of us goes up, then we probably all should,” said Dekar. “If there’s anything wrong with the structure, the sooner we’re out, the better.”
“All right,” I said. “But we need to use our heads. Just because something was safe before, doesn’t mean that it’ll be safe now.”
I know that seemed like an obvious statement, but it was easy to forget the obvious in stressful situations.
One time I was leading my unit on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines before the battle at Urtok’s Ridge. One of my men, a new private who joined my unit less than a month prior, triggered a trap set by the Geneshans that took off both the man’s legs at the knee. It was a trap we had seen dozens of times already.
Miles away from our healers, and with wounds too great for us to treat, he died within minutes.
I still remembered his last words. With a baffled look, he had said. “I’m sorry, Sergeant. I didn’t think to look.”
I couldn’t understand that response. If he had said, “Sorry, sir. I missed it,” that would have made more sense to me. But, “I didn’t think to look”?
Never again did I neglect to remind my unit of the obvious. The nagging got on people’s nerves, but I decided the tradeoff was well worth it.
At the top of the stairs, we entered a narrow hallway that led to the common room near the inn’s entrance. Something had ripped through the ceiling as well as the floors beneath, leaving a round, four foot hole in its wake. Somehow, the damage hadn’t continued to the cellar.
Boaz did a quick scan of the area. “What could have caused a hole like that? I don’t see anything that could have done it.”
No one gave an answer. We were all equally as baffled.
Eventually, Boaz resigned himself to the fact that the cause didn’t matter nearly as much as the fact the hole existed.
Dekar drifted outside. He stood on the porch, motionless. Myra and Zadok flanked him. Of Ira I saw nothing. I joined Dekar and my kids with Ava at my side.
Our small window facing away from the center of town did not convey just how much Denu Creek had suffered.
No structure remained unscathed. Several were nothing more than piles of splintered and burning timber. Dancing flames on a loose plank of wood cast into the middle of Main Street seemed brighter under the strange orange glow from the sun.
A long crack ran down Main Street with several small fissures branching from it. Faint bubbling sounds and puffs of smoke came from the place where the crack seemed largest. It exhaled heat rotten with that same sulfuric smell. Bursts of steam popped from small holes in the ground.
I realized that amidst it all were bodies.
More than a dozen people and animal alike lay half-buried in rubble as if they had died while trying to claw their way free. Most of the faces were nearly unrecognizable—burned from fire, or bludgeoned by flying debris.
Footsteps startled me. I blinked and wheeled toward them.
Ira came walking up from around the inn, shaking his head. He carried a bloody sword. “Horses are dead. One took a piece of wood through the neck. The other had two broken legs and was barely hanging on. I finished her off.” He wiped off his sword and sheathed it.
I sighed. We wouldn’t be leaving as soon as I had planned.
A faint shout for help came from somewhere. I turned and saw Boaz and his family loping off in the direction of the voice, yelling for us to follow. Other cries from down in the piles of rubble joined in. Pleas and other moans seemed to come from everywhere at once.
“Where do we begin?” asked Zadok, sounding overwhelmed.
I was worried before about straying too far from the inn, but considering the circumstances, I couldn’t ignore the situation. The guilt of initially ignoring those in town after the first eruption still ate at me. “I don’t think it matters. So long as we’re doing something. Ira, stay with Zadok. Myra, you go with Dekar.”
“I’d rather stay with Zadok,” said Myra.
“And I’d rather be at home sleeping on my farm,” I snapped, tired of the same attitude that came back at me with everything I said or did. She flinched. I caught myself before I let my frustration get the better of me, continuing with a softer tone. “Look, it makes more sense for us to split up and I don’t want Ava, Dekar, or Ira roaming about without one of us around. We don’t know if another wave of sorcery is going to hit and knock everyone out again.”
Dekar tapped her on the arm. “C’mon, we can talk about crests while we work.”
The comment seemed a little silly, but it was enough to get Myra moving. Zadok and Ira ran across the street to where a tavern once stood.
I glanced at Ava. Her short, brown hair was wild from sleeping on it. It reminded me of when we were kids. I’m sure mine looked about the same.
“Are you going to be able to help?” I asked.
“I’m weak, not helpless.”
“That’s not what I meant. There aren’t a whole lot of people left in town that you actually cared about before we left. Things didn’t exactly get better while we were gone.”
“I know. I hadn’t said anything because I didn’t want to get into a big moral debate with Zadok, but I was pretty pissed when you told me how much you helped everyone. Now . . .” she said, voice trailing off as she scanned the devastation. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” She paused. “Well, except Jareb. I’d wish ten times this on him. Of course, he’s probably alive and doing well.”
An image flashed before my eyes. Jareb and Lasha lying naked with limbs intertwined. Lasha’s face changed into that of Myra as Jareb’s declarations of her value echoed in my mind. Anger washed over me.
“I don’t think I could bring myself to help him.”
Ava squeezed my arm. “No one with half a mind would question you for that.”
“Maybe. But Lasha wasn’t perfect.”
I shook my head as more shouts grabbed my attention. A small hand rose out of a pile of wood where the blacksmith’s shop once stood.
I took advantage of the distraction, not wanting to continue talking about Lasha. I knew my wife had her faults. Everyone did. But I’d take them all and more to have her with me for just one more day.
“C’mon,” I croaked before sprinting over to the blacksmith.
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