“The Abomination of Corvintown”

20:58 Wed 21 May 2014. Updated: 17:26 09 Apr 2015
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I was in the Duke’s army for a year, didn’t like it. Shitty food, pay was only a promise, and the officers were all stuck-up bastards. I had to see out my year, and a little more from the stockade. Then I went looking for my brother in the Greymark.

He was seeking his fortune as the leader of a small fighting band, hiring out to protect villages abandoned due to the Duke’s Eastern ambitions. He was building a reputation as a mercenary who could be trusted, whose men were restrained, and who wouldn’t turn to banditry once the job was done. They’d put down highwaymen and brigands, but also worse: undead, sorcerers, unnamed beasts, and even ogres.

They’d been there for a year when I found them, and had a string of successes behind them. My brother had the right mix of daring and cleverness, and won several battles by trickery, the most famous when he beheaded the Scarred Necromancer after being delivered to his stronghold as a cadaver.

But he was not, as I pointed out when I found him, rich. A year of defending the downtrodden and he had perhaps a few hundred gold, most of that needed as an emergency fund. After a few months with them, I saw why. These villages had little, and always claimed poverty when negotiating the fee. And the enemy always seemed to spend their plundered gold before we found them. It didn’t help that my brother insisted on returning stolen horses and livestock to the original owners—in just those months I swear we gave up thousands in cattle and sheep alone. But he held it was the way it should be done, and that was that.

I’d been with them maybe five or six months when we came to Corvintown. We’d heard the usual rumors: an isolated town, once a thriving trading post, now without a garrison and beset by some awful horror. Like in every town, they were superstitious shits and seemed to think that describing their enemies would bring those enemies to their homes. But we eventually got out of them that the occupants of deserted farms turned up later as servants of their enemy, often without personality and in a state of rot. Undead, although they hated when we used the word. My brother laughed and told them we’d handled them before. They were as bad as all the rest at telling us anything useful. These were their friends and neighbors, each known to all of them for years, and yet counting them so we had an idea of the numbers against us seemed too much of a strain. Twice I stormed out in frustration, but was unable to get my brother to follow. He said they were just frightened and needed to be helped along.

I almost stormed out again when they told us they could offer no more than three hundred gold. Their priest told us that the three hundred was everything they had, and, when I challenged him, that not all of the villagers were contributing. Just a small group who were putting their hopes in us. The rest had given up already and were preparing to leave—or had already given what they had to a mercenary group three months before. He said he’d sold every gold item in his church to pay for those mercenaries, and in the end they had simply left. Three hundred was all that the meager few who still held out hope could offer.

My brother laughed and said we’d take it, and told me that afterwards they’d be grateful, and that the hopeful few would shame the rest into contributing. We told them we’d exterminate their undead and set their town back on the road to prosperity.

After much questioning and cajoling, one of the villagers admitted he knew where the undead seemed to gather. He was shamed into guiding us there, and so on a grey autumnal afternoon the seven of us, plus this peasant, crept through the trees up a steep hillside. We would take them by surprise and either kill some and run or strike a harder blow if we could. But the enemy was closer to the town than our idiot guide had expected, and we caught sight of them earlier than we’d planned. They hadn’t seen us, but that peasant had enough fool and coward in him for a dozen men. He let out a moan you could have heard in the town, and then stood, rooted to the spot, eyes the size of shields. Undead or not, they heard that, and surprise was gone. A few moved towards us, and my brother told us to stand and fight.

We’d fought undead before, and stood our ground. When they came into close quarters, the peasant fainted, but we didn’t shy from the dirty work. They were grey-faced and rotten, but had good armor and equipment. We were faster and better, and cut them down quickly enough. But more emerged from the trees, perhaps 20, and retreat became difficult. We were still faster and better. The fighting grew chaotic, and neither side could hold a formation. They were falling quickly, but not quite quickly enough.

I didn’t see it come out of the woods. I was turning in battle, and then it was simply there, tentacles lashing out. It was as big as a carriage, with mottled grey skin, except on its front. I don’t know how many tentacles it had, but at least eight. Maybe many more. I couldn’t see eyes or a mouth. Its front was the same red you expose when you peel the skin off a man.

It broke Sadrik’s neck with one tentacle, and wrapped another around Ewhan. Then my brother was there.

My brother was the best swordsman I’ve ever seen. The dueling fops in the Duke’s army would have been forced to admit the same. He leapt forward, severing the tentacle around Ewhan with an upswing and then cutting off the one on Sadrik with the down. He pivoted, slashed another, covered the intervening ground in an instant, and delivered a full-strength thrust into the front of the thing. His longsword went in to the hilt.

But it was fast too. And it didn’t die.

Three more tentacles grabbed my brother as he began to yank his sword back. I saw the flash of confusion on his face—he’d expected it to die, or at least shy away in pain. Now he was right next to it, and hesitated a moment before letting go of his sword and going for daggers. Too long a moment.

Even as he slashed at them, the tentacles pulled him closer. And when he touched the awful red front of that thing… there was a red and grey mist, and his clothes, his armor, his flesh—they were all seared away. I saw him wince at the first touch, and lose a dagger. And then he didn’t even have time to scream. It hugged him to itself, and he… dissolved. I could not stop watching, unable to believe my eyes, as my brother died in a way I couldn’t comprehend.

Then I took the sword blow to the face that gave me this scar. I staggered back and realized there were five of them in front of me. One caught me hard on my right side and I staggered to the left, trying to find space. I tripped, rolled, staggered away from a sixth, and then fell backwards down a slope. I lost my sword as I slid on my back, bouncing off rocks and trees, and then one impact jarred me into a ravine.

I don’t know how I survived that fall, but after hitting some rocks I landed in water, and then by sheer luck grabbed a log in the river. Clinging to it through its descent, I broke more ribs and a finger, but it got me away from there. When it met the road, I climbed off of it and walked towards Corvintown.

I passed farmers and villagers. I asked the first few for help, but soon realized none would come. They looked at me with contempt, and some of them spat at me. I had to walk all the way back, the hardest walk of my life. Only hostility greeted me in the town itself. I found the priest in his temple, and when our eyes met I shook my head. Then he looked down and told me I would need to leave.

I laughed and told him I was already almost dead, that I needed help, that I expected the village to help me. It was his turn to shake his head.

There had been a split in the village as he’d described when we’d first met. But the ones he’d said had “given up hope” had done more than that—they’d already pledged loyalty to the thing in the forest. The village elders had decided that the best course was to ally with it. They tolerated hiring us as a hedge, but now that it had failed, would want to demonstrate their loyalty by handing me over.

I told him that my brother was dead, and that I would kill as many as I could of them, including women and children, before I would suffer the same fate. I told him that as weak as I was, I could still do this, and I would start with him unless he held to his side of the bargain and gave me aid for the wounds I’d suffered while defending his village.

He agreed to heal me, and while I expected to die soon after he started his chants, he kept his word. He hurried through it, unwilling to be seen with me when the rest of the elders came calling, but he did the important things, and I was free of broken bones and sprains. I walked out of Corvintown at dusk, passing the village elders in the other direction. They simply stopped and watched me pass, my hands on my daggers. None of the villagers came at me, as even in numbers they were too cowardly for that. Some threw stones when I was far enough away, but luckily no crowd of them hit upon that idea. I slept in hidden spots and didn’t light fires for a week after, eventually reaching Sala’s Cross.

I never went back. While I was drinking away my gold and imagining revenge in my head, the Crusaders of the Burnt Circle rode out to Corvintown in strength, burning it to the ground. The villagers too, for purification. Then they hunted down everything for miles around and brought it back to be burnt as well, including the corpse of what was described as an “abomination the size of a cottage”.

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