20 Chapters
“In their castle beyond nightGather the Gods in Darkness,With darkness to pattern man’s fate.The colors of darkness are no monotonous hue-For the blackness of Evil knows various shades,Full many as Evil has names.”Karl Edward Wagner
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PREFACEBlood across the stone slab, blood flying in the air, August saw nothing righteous in this place of worship.Dismemberment didn’t evoke nightmares in August Arminius, Decurion of the Ninth Roman Legion. As a youth, he’d seen tribal leaders in his Germanic homeland chopped to pieces, either in clan warfare or by the encroaching Roman forces from afar. Once, in Iberia, he witnessed an attempt to pull a man apart using four horses, but that operation came off hitched when one animal failed to run at an equal speed to his kindred. Never, though, had August watched an arm being ripped loose from a living man. Sliced off with a sword at the mid-bicep or chopped crudely free with an axe, yes. The sight of one of his auxiliaries shoved against a standing slab in the stone circle, pinned at the waist by the huge foot of a monstrous shape and then having his sword arm torn out of the socket would stick in August’s mind for all time.August found that he couldn’t blink, couldn’t move,
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Chapter I
CHAPTER IGeneral Malitus didn’t care for how his day began. He had been roused from a drunken sleep due to the arrival of a frantic messenger. The rider, sliding down from the frothy horse like he’d been born to perform the act, announced himself from the scouting party, one dispatched ahead of Malitus’ Legion at Eboracum.The General sat on a folding bench and frowned as he listened to the report. The messenger, a young man of barely eighteen by the look of him, wasn’t familiar to Malitus. His breaths came out hurried, and the youth spoke so quick Malitus reprimanded him twice with sharp words. Head still full of wine, the General tried to even out his thoughts. His mouth dry, Malitus reached for some morning wine. His head throbbed as a dire fear swam in the messenger’s eyes beyond the uneasiness of one so low ranked reporting to a General. That fright ran deeper and more primal, Malitus mused, as if the hounds of Tartartus themselves chewed at the puppy’s heels during the long jo
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Chapter II
CHAPTER IIAugust’s men and the cavalry detachment, brought up by the General, rose with the sun. Trumpets sounded out as the men were called to assemble and prepare themselves to move out.In a low voice, August noted to Quintus, “Thought the original plan was for us to wait for the rest of the Legion here. The General has decided to move on?”Quintus replied in a quiet voice, “Not far. Just a few miles north to the town of Rutland that lies beyond the empty village.”“It’s the closest town,” Malitus explained, mindful of their talk even if he, Quintus, and August rode at the front of the column of advancing troops. “That druid had to come from somewhere close. The populace there may know something about what happened to your scouts and this empty village. Send a runner back to the Legion and inform them to start their advance.”“Their deaths should not go unavenged,” Quintus added, eying the forest about their road. “Besides, we still need to know what happened to them. If there
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Chapter III
CHAPTER IIIAugust dreamt of his youth. The snowy steppes of his home in Germania before the Romans came were a lovely landscape not all could excel in creating. His peoples were toughened by the climate, a thick skin that served him his entire life, not just to the warm humidity of Rome, but on the road across Iberia, Gaul, and now Britannia, where many natives of Italy in the Legion shuddered at the slightest drop in temperature.What interrupted his pleasant dreams wasn’t the cold, although the temperature had fallen during the summer night. The putrid odor in the air made his dream of snowy romps with his childhood friends change to them finding rotten deer. The dream quickly stopped and he awoke, nostrils filled with a stench he couldn’t quite place. He mused at the humor that reality seeped into his imaginings and changed what he dreamed.He heard an unsociable commotion all about his tent. As he rose, Rufus opened his tent with a fast flourish.“Sir, something moves in the n
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Chapter IV
CHAPTER IVWhile fear ran amok amongst most of the men secluded in the Fogou, time cured many of their mental ailments. The soldiers kept moving, restless, not wanting to betray fear to their superiors, few as they were, but the feeling of being backed in a corner ran wild. The couple servants shook in primal fear. Rufus, however, held his usual placid demeanor. The soldiers all muttered of taking to the caves below them as an escape, but others wondered what lurked in those tunnels, and the fear returned.The General, who sat against a sack of wheat, wore a tart look, and chided the servants and soldiers to calm down.“They will, in time,” August told him, but didn’t know if that was true. “They’ve seen the manifestation of a hundred childhood tales and fears.”Malitus scowled. “They are soldiers.”“Sir, they aren’t trained to fight those things. The slaves, well, they have not that nerve or ability to fall back.” August gestured at the soldiers. “Even they tremble, trying to for
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Chapter V
CHAPTER VSuited up in fresh togs and light armor, August walked from one burnt out home to another looking at the openings discovered underneath. Rufus followed his master, and Porcius and Flavius soon joined them in their quest.August peered back at the hunk of the Legion that joined them, numbering in the thousands scattering across the village grounds, and asked, “Where’s Lucius?”Flavius replied, “Helping them set up a good perimeter and stabling the cavalry for the night.”August’s eyes scanned what used to be the town of Rutland, and saw a mini version of the Roman fort assembled up fast. Tents, tiny and for individual dwellings, peppered the street and surrounding country, all tightly knit together. Larger tents also sprang up, all laid out in the usual manner of a Legion on the move. When he saw one of the slingers try and hit a raven that perched on one of the carts, he suddenly felt ill. They missed.Porcius chewed on something and wiped his right hand on a cloth near
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Chapter VI
CHAPTER VINear sunset, Porcius had mounted his steed, and rode along with two others as they did a patrol. They rode to the stone circle they’d visited before, but found no one about. Porcius rode alone over to the lip of the forest, to where they’d seen the altar and where the Picts had died. After a few moments of looking for the slain men, Porcius turned back.“Huh, not a fly, nothing.”“What lies beyond these woods, down about the side of this great leg of the forest?” one asked Porcius.He sipped from his wine flask and shrugged. “I’ve been wondering the same thing, Severus, but I really don’t want to be caught there after dark. I figure when the Legion marches as one, we’ll discover it together, aye?”The two exchanged a glance before Severus stated, “You must not comprehend the purpose of recon and patrol?”After a swig, Porcius replied, “I understand just fine, but getting my ass killed for foolish curiosity isn’t in the handbook, is it?”Severus said smartly, “We’ll ri
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Chapter VII
CHAPTER VIIPorcius charged into the forest, still in pursuit of Tavia. The white furred thing wouldn’t be tough to track, he wagered. The beast bounced off this tree and that, breaking branches and swiping things aside. Porcius kept at them, quickly following the path laid in its wake.His mind spun at how he’d kill the thing, but Porcius felt confident he could as he dodged the wiry trees about him. In his mind Porcius traced out a plan on how he’d do it, too. His plans seldom played out perfectly in real battle, and this was against a monster. Of course, Porcius reasoned, he could just run like hell and let the demons take that girl. Still, he had not once shrunk from a fight, as a kid, as an adult, as a slave or a soldier.But it breathed, it bled, he’d cut its fool ear off. That gave him confidence. He knew they could perish, and he hungered to take its life.Of course, that thing his teacher called cowardice lurked in the rear of his head, telling him to just go on, run away
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Chapter VIII
CHAPTER VIIIRufus sat on General Malitus’ folding chair, inside the Roman’s tent. The commander didn’t need it at the moment. His frenzy of movement ran, too busy outside trying to direct which of his men of the veteran caste died next. The boy thought of the tent around him, made of a canvas fabric foreign to Britannia, or at least it was before these red crested pricks showed up. They changed most things with their arrival. Even the trails from town to town had rougher, flatter surfaces . . . better to wheel their cargoes of death with. This was called progress and civilization to them. In all of their technical brilliance, they marveled at the stone henges and couldn’t fathom how such primitives transported the slabs without good roads. Such was their folly.He pondered the simple tents of his people, ones they used on hunting trips or camped in after quickly fought battles. They were of the earth, hides mostly, common and warm, sewn to perfection by nimble fingers. These tents f
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