The Good Soldier
The Good Soldier
A sea of soldiers stood at attention atop a barren plateau, each warrior garbed in full battle gear with his armor polished to perfection. The dark steel of the armor faintly reflected the pale light of the full moon as they stood, still as statues. One man stood apart from the others; he was tall and muscular, his short black beard barely distinguishable from his dark skin. He stared expressionless, toward a small unattended altar erected at the edge of the plateau. The only distinguishing difference between him and the army was that his left shoulder guard was painted a flat red, signifying his command. He held his helmet under his left arm, while his other hand was braced on the sword hilt, just barely visible under his black cloak.
A thick cloud passed over the moon, and for a moment all was concealed in a veil of darkness. Everything instantly turned to silence; not even the wind dared to lift its voice. Moments later the cloud wisped away. In its wake, a pillar of shadow lingered, completely obscuring the altar from view. The clash of a thousand armored fists hitting the ground echoed through the stale air, as the once glimmering sea of moonlight transformed into a blanket of darkness. The black silk cloaks of the soldiers mimicked the night sky as every warrior bowed toward the pillar.
The man in front lifted his head toward the pillar of darkness. He rose to his feet, leaving the black helmet on the ground where he knelt.
“I have done as thou requested; I led this legion into battle and slaughtered my enemy.” The man’s voice echoed loudly across the mountainside, unchallenged by even the slightest noise. Several of the soldiers behind him shuffled uneasily as the silence continued to drag on for several minutes.
The silence was finally broken by the man’s unfaltering voice as he called toward the pillar again. “I come before you to request my reward, a promotion and a mission of my own. I vanquished my challenger and his army without losing a single man, that has never been done before.”
A soft but deafening boom vibrated through the air, causing a small ledge at the edge of the plateau to break away and fall down the mountain. The man and all the soldiers were pushed back as the pillar erupted into wisps of black smoke. The smoke then gathered back towards the altar; it twisted in on itself, condensing into a solid form. The silhouette of a man nearly ten feet tall towered over the army of men. The eyes of the soldiers glazed over at the sight of the creature, their empty stares trailing to the invisible horizon.
A voice slithered through the man who had spoken, piercing his heart and mind with pure terror as the shadowy figure walked toward him.
“You did defeat your foes, but your challengers were weak; as such, your victory is meaningless. As for you . . . your promotion will come when you have earned it. You cannot receive more power until you have mastered or destroyed something greater than yourself.”
The man lifted his eyes to the beast who was now standing between him and the moon. Darkness enveloped him.
“Oh great shadow, what would you have me do? Whom would you have me destroy?”
The figure reached out a hand, touching the man’s head.
“You are of a strong mind, do not let that control you. You will go to the foot of the mountains near Rabanath, and find a path through them. I desire the lands beyond, and the pass is too narrow and too far from the enemy.”
A feeling rose in the man, something foreign . . . not fear, for he had felt that before. Just as quickly as it had come, it was gone, wiped away by the voice of the figure before him.
“Do not question your orders, you are to take a force of one-hundred and find safe passage through the mountains. If you return but with one man, you will have your reward. . . . You will become a shadow warrior.”
No sooner had the voice stopped than the first rays of the sunrise peaked over the plateau. The man opened his eyes, looking around at his men. Life was beginning to return to their eyes, as they turned to one-another, whispering about the events that had just transpired.
“Men!” the man called. “It is not ours to question the commandments of our god. Follow to the camp at the entrance to this sacred place. There I will share with you our orders.”
The hot noon sun was baking the soldiers in their armor by the time they reached the camp.
“Commander,” called a man, as he walked up beside the man with the red shoulder guard. “If you would, what has the great Resaguka given for us to do?”
“We are to travel to Rabanath, and from there find a path through The Dragon Fang Mountains.”
The man stopped at this news whispering, “But that is dragon territory.”
“It is not ours to question. He has commanded it, and so we shall do.” The commander walked casually, further into the camp.
“Yes, so we shall do,” exclaimed the man, as though all his past misgivings were forgotten.
To Be Continued…
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UP NEXT - From The Eyes Of A Dragon, introducing the backstory of Vakinari, a young dragon who will play a major role in the series
Tales From Albrene
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