The nights were often the worst.
Working as sentry for the Republic came with its toll of labor but the job was well worth the effort. During an economic recession jobs were scarce, crops this year had burned under the harsh and furious tropical sun, and the storms and pirates have made merchant trade to the island all but impossible this season. With all of these problems, a simple thing as working nightshift didn’t seem so bad. The worst that happens while patrolling at night was the insatiable silence.
Jonas should be happy that he was standing guard here at the Eastern Gate of the city. He knew that he and his comrades held the important role of defending the city from enemies that would loot and pillage them. That is if the city ever had an enemy. Night after night they stood there burning their candles and peering vigilant across the land inside the towers that made up the scaled walls which kept the wilderness at bay.
The young sentry volunteered for roving duty this evening after standing countless hours in the small columned towers on the wall all week. Something about the confining area on the tower platforms made him feel nervous. The roving duty gave him the ability to stretch his legs and to mingle with the evening patrons and merchants before the dusk. But, now it was quiet and he was alone in the darkness while those he mingled with slept in peace knowing they were safeguarded.
Something about the moon seemed peculiar this particular evening or so Jonas had thought to himself. The haze of the moon was a subtle red and the size of the orb was remarkably larger than it should be.
There was an old saying he repeated out loud which reminded him of his childhood, “The blood moon’s crop, and the dead man’s field. Be graced by heaven’s greatest meal. ”He didn’t really know what the lullaby meant, but his mother said it to him on nights like this and it always brought him comfort.
The sound of something falling clamored in the blackness of a nearby alley. Jonas shook his head and snapped out of his dazed dreaming state. The sentry took a steady jog toward the alley remaining in the light. He clutched to his sidearm preparing to draw his blade and fire at a moment’s notice. This time of night thugs and bandits roam looking for easy prey that should have long since gone home.
“Hello?” He ordered toward the shadows. There was no reply and so he repeated himself, “By order of the King’s Order, come out of the darkness!” He directed with all the authority given to him as a sentry.
He only received silence.
Jonas tightened his grip on the hilt of his sidearm. The weapon was made of steel, iron, and wood. It resembled a short stock sawed shotgun with a long two-handed handle grip. The wood stretched around to form the trigger-well and the stock clamped tightly to the iron steel of the barrel. The barrel stopped short of two feet but from where the barrel ended, the metal melded to the top of the barrel converged to form a blade that extended an additional foot. These gun-blades had become more common in recent years. The discovery of gunpowder illuminated the fascination of artists and militants alike.
The sentry took great care in each step as he entered the alley. Jonas kicked over a wooden box. He had withdrawn his gun-blade and aimlessly held it in front of him into the darkness. The box made a cumbersome noise as it fell and flipped to the ground. A fat sewer rat scurried away from the sentry and made a mad dash to a nearby flood drain.
Jonas jumped back, “Gods damn it!” He took in a deep breath and shook his head while sliding his blade back into his hilt.
A voice yelled toward Jonas from the lit quarter of the eastern gate. Jonas stepped back into the light and waved toward the voice. He took another look down that alley not completely satisfied with the thought that the tiny rodent was capable of such tremendous racket.
Stop imagining things, he thought to himself.
Jonas returned to his post near the gate. He planted one of his iron boots into the dirt beneath him and lifted his other boot to rest on a wooden pillar holding up an overhang for a merchant market that was busy with patrons during the early morning. But it was strange to see everything so vacant and immobile at night. He had never grown accustomed to it, not really. Something about it often reminded him of ghost towns. It left him with a sunken unwelcoming feeling.
The sound of sand and boots scratching cobblestone came from Jonas’ right. He perks his ears and turns his head to notice the other roving guard for the night’s round. Jonas didn’t care for him as much as other guards in his squad and he couldn’t quite place why. Perhaps it could be the way his smug face poised patronizing smirks after each sarcastic remark, or maybe it was the way he spat obscenities as if he were a pirate they were defending the city from. Either way, there was something deep in Jonas’ core that would never accept Geradi as part of his squad.
“Seen anything worth mentioning Jonas?” Geradi’s voice was burly and scratched as if he drank too much and smoked the heaviest weed.
Geradi removes his helmet and shakes his head. His hair flails about and he combs it a little. He walks towards the opposite side of the street and poses similar to Jonas. He lifts his leg on a pillar for an overhang. He crosses his arms and holds his helm lazily in one of his metal-gloved hands.
“Aye, damn night shifts Jonas. There isn't 'nothing fuckin’ good of ‘em!” Geradi looks towards Jonas and gives him one of those smug grins that he loathed.
Jonas shuddered a little and nodded back to him, “Aye.”
The obnoxious sentry lifts off his post and goes toward a corner of an exterior table where he must have placed his belongings for the evening, “Eh. Jonas, I figured – The night be young and hell of a good breeze, nay?”
“I figured why not, eh?” He asked the question but he continued talking expecting or not caring for a response. Geradi pulled some bloated lambskin bladder. He turns around to Jonas and grins again, “This should warm things up a little Lad – at the least keep us busy!”
Geradi tips the bladder up and pours the liquid into his mouth. Moments later the loathsome guard clenched his teeth together taking in a deep breath, his eyes large and watering. He clears his throat and extends his hand toward Jonas, holding the lambskin bladder and swinging the contents to and fro, “Try some, it’ll grow ye into a man yet Jonas!”
“Nay, that’s alright – we shouldn’t be drinking on duty Geradi. Ye' know this.”
“Perhaps ye be right but when was the last time you saw a fuckin infraction in this city eh?” Geradi had a point. Oddly enough, the city had very little crime and under the circumstances of recession, the kingdom’s propaganda was doing well in sustaining the morale of the people.
Jonas smiled a little and shook his head at him, “You’re just using this as an excuse to drink…” He pointed out the obvious as he often did. He watched Geradi pull the bladder up to his lips to take another helping of whatever putrid sauce was held within.
Something had pulled Jonas’ attention from the drinking sentry to somewhere behind him on the stone wall. The street torches kept the main drive lit clear but left heavy shadows out against the distant perimeter walls. It was somewhere on the wall that Jonas swore he saw the silhouette of a second person walking toward the staggering drunkard.
As quick as the torch’s light flickered in the wind so was the sight of the second form.
“Hey Jonas!” Geradi waved at him.
For the second time that evening the young sentry had become withdrawn and yanked into a paranoid disillusion. He blinked and brought his attention back to Geradi and his bladder of ale.
“I thought I saw something.” He told Geradi. He thought he should have a drink to calm his nerves, as stupid as it may be Geradi might have a point about one thing. Nothing ever happened in this city. The harvest moon must be playing tricks on him this evening.
As if reading his mind, Geradi tossed Jonas the lambskin bag. The sound of liquor sloshing about inside the bladder was welcoming to Jonas’ lips. To resist the temptation was too much and Jonas smiled at Geradi. He nods to him and puts the funnel of the bladder to his lips. To hell with it, the young sentry said to himself. He drains some of the burning liquid down his throat.
His eyes instantly became warm and his belly burned with liquor that fulfilled some gratification he hadn’t had for some time. Jonas wiped his mouth with his forearm and nodded to his comrade.
Before Jonas was able to take his eyes from Geradi back to the lambskin bag a light flickered and a shadow cast again on the wall where he had saw it earlier. The shade was moving sporadic and violently, growing larger as though closing in on Geradi’s cast shadow.
The strange growing shadow suddenly overwhelmed Geradi’s shadow. The black silhouette raised its arms displaying vicious talons that drove down violently into Geradi’s much smaller shadow. Even though the flicker of the fire moved the shadows here and there on the wall, the two forms appeared to dance in unison as though there were some invisible creature behind him, as though they were in a fight, as if Geradi were struggling.
Jonas dropped the bladder in surprise and fear. He shouted his comrade’s name but he didn’t hear a voice come out of his throat. He couldn’t quite hear anything and the sounds around him had become muffled as though he were underwater. It was then it occurred to him to look behind him for similar shadows. How foolish of him not to consider that from the start!
The young sentry turns himself around. The movement felt like it took an eternity. His eyes opened wide as he watched a massive shadow around his own just as he witnessed moments ago. The claws of this massive creature looked capable of tearing meat, and so it came to no surprised to him when they did.
White searing pain blinded Jonas as he could feel countless punctures tearing into his flesh. The pulsing feel of blood vessels popping inside muscle and sinew, the sound of meat ripping from a butcher’s hook reminded him of the market place he had been standing. He looked down to realize that he was no longer standing at all and it felt as though he were being held. Held and torn apart.
Jonas wanted to scream for the attention of the other guards but there was no sound. His body had become paralyzed and he had begun gasping for air. He rolled his eyes up toward the nearest tower and watched a fellow sentry lazily walk back and forth inside. He could think of one word: Helpless.
Tears ran down his face as he listened to his joints popping out of socket. He could feel his blood warming his skin, soaking his tunic. He wanted it all to end already but time seemed to stop for him. Again he attempted to shout but was met with the same conclusion. He was helpless and could only hope for someone to notice him hanging, bleeding, and becoming disassembled in levitation. He had turned his back to look at his shadow and could no better look over his shoulder to see if Geradi was sharing the same fate. He suspected he was, but thinking became fragmented between sessions of pain making it all very pointless.
A tower guard yawned and gazed out into the distance of jungle, forest, fields and farmlands. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. He turned around to look down at the courtyard. It took him a moment to realize what he was witnessing. The sentry had to look twice just to be sure.
From his perspective he could see two sentries twitching and convulsing in the fire light. Pools of blood glinting from the sparkling torches accumulated under their levitating feet. He turned his attention toward the guard tower adjacent and opposite to him from the gate. He saw no one standing in guard. He stood straight up and had attempted to escape and to find help.
The tower guard made two steps toward the center of the tower and toward the hatchway to the ladder before falling to his knees to a burning pain against his throat. He held his neck with both hands and looked down at his body and the floor. A pool of blood had already formed. It was his blood. He knew it was his blood. It was a lot of his blood. As quick as he realized it, he fell against the floor of the tower drifting off to sleep and to his death.
Then there was silence.
The gear system that lifted the east gate began to move on its own. The sound of chains clanging against metal guide-loops interrupted the quiet. The churn of machinery echoed loudly into the city but it seemed it wasn’t enough to gather the attention of the interior guards.
It took no time for the beasts outside the wall to storm within the confinements of the city. The small impish creatures clawed at the wood and stone of the city. These small quick moving monsters were followed by heavier troll-like ferocities that stood twice the height of a man. Store fronts were torn apart and swiped away like a relentless hurricane storming through the city. The terrible crashing noises of metal, wood, and the screams of mortals found in their way flooded the night. Heckle of hyenas and the roar of lions teased the city daring it to awaken and fight back the scourge.