No one in the camp slept that night. No one could. The men huddled together around small dungfires, as if shielding the small flames. The sentries, alone in the pitch black night, knew that something horrible was out there.
"You know what we are, don't you? What we really are?" The Alamani sergeant pokes the embers of the fire slowly. No one seems to have an answer. He is one of the old guard. In a way, they are the backbone of the Host. He lets a fistful of dry, red earth run from his hand like sand in an hourglass.
The siege of Assari had looked to be a grim job. A nasty piece of soldiery. Those regiments picked to break those walls were the hardest men on this continent. Each man a professional soldier, with experience from several wars. Now old enemies share fire.
The rumor had it that the Pius Cabal would deliver the city by morning. Pickets had been drawn close, and there were no shelling. The screaming had started around midnight. Now it was like the screams of those within the walls were pouring into the night like flames rising from a great fire.
These men had realized that what they were part of was something that struck deep. There were plenty of religious types who preached about the Covenant. Many had started to think of themselves as part if an old plan.
Here they were, Macharites and Templars, mercenaries and drafted men. Some had come to Cora for gold, some because the alternative was to lose the only trade they knew. All because the Marshall invoked the Covenant before the kings in Freeport. In effect, they were here because no one could lose face.
As if by magic ships and guns had been made available. The Knights of Cora had made sure the entire mass of men, horses, baggage and followers, could assemble. The ships of the Wezellian guilds had brought them in by the thousands.
Then came the Wolf Lords. They had kept their own camp on Cora, but they had also kept the herd in line once the pressure rose. Their patrols after dark seemed to deter a lot of mischief. Of course, no one had trusted them back then. More than one had agreed that the only good wolf was a dead wolf. They sure wish there were more wolfs guarding them tonight.
Most here had actually never thought they'd even leave Cora. The Aragonians had gotten the keel of their navy broken by the Black Ships trying to reach the Dark Continent. Many men had died in vain. No one believed any other kingdom would risk its ships against such an enemy. An enemy no one lived to describe.
Then the Pius Cabal had appeared with a solution. An ancient artefact had been used to march the entire Host of Man, from the island of Cora, accross the Bay of Oden, and to the red soil of the Dark Continent.
"You know, one of the slaves told me the reason for why the earth is red here." The old guardsman brushes the rest of the dirt of his hand. He picks a pipe out of his hatband and lights it with the glowing tip of his stick. "He told me the earth is red because it has absorbed so much blood."
"But we," he says after a pause. "We are a weapon. An old weapon crafted long ago. Crafted so that it would be ready if it was needed."
"Only to bad the goatraping fucks they set to keep it, let it rust?" The man speaking isn't the type who speaks much. Now he's putting words on something many are feeling.
"They slept on guard, and now the spear is broken. Because the pigfucking kings slept on their posts!" He just sat there. No one seemed to have anything to say.
The city still screams.
"You're wrong, lad."
"It's like a great trap, set long ago, see. The goal isn't to kill the enemy with the trap. It is to make sure it's hurt before it's ready, isn't it? We are like the head of the spear, broken in the belly of the beast. Our job is to make sure it bleeds hard."
If you listen to the screams, you can hear that they almost drown deep growls, as if from great hounds.
The men sit quietly, shielding the flame.
"I was told something strange by a Green Dragoon today," says the sergeant.