The Enemy Within
“It is my sad duty today.” The small radio in the mess hall buzzed to life, sounding out the proud voice of King Jereziah. “To bring you the bad news of the war.” Every head in the crowded room turned to the device.
“Here we go again,” one soldier snorted before their leader continued.
“As many of you know, daemon activity in the Crossing of Grimm increased overnight and we sent a battalion to protect the vital supply chain that runs through the area.” A few warriors returned to their meagre rations, some morosely, others continued eating, indifferent to the news.
“The men who bravely fought the Hellbourne at Grimm's Crossing have lost contact with us. We can therefore only assume that they have fallen in battle and...” The king paused for a moment. “And that their commanding officer, the last of the Legionnaires, has been captured or killed.”
At this announcement, the clattering of steel cutlery on tables resounded in the barracks. At one point or another, many of them had fought alongside the Legionnaire and they all felt safer with him on the battlefield: he never flinched in the face of the demonic horde and never left a man behind. Several soldiers left plates half-eaten and left the hall.
“Another one bites the dust,” one of the larger males grumbled resentfully into his plate.
“Come on, Myrmidon. This is war. There's bound to be casualties,” a significantly smaller man said to the creature that sat beside him. “I don't like it either! But it's a fact,” he added hastily after his companion bared his teeth.
“It's a war we should not be in. We haven't won a single major skirmish against these demons. The king is just feeding us to them one at a time,” the fish drawled out. “When have you seen him fight, huh?” A hand lined with razor sharp claws encircled a mug before Myrmidon downed his drink and swept out of the room.
Night had set in quickly over the palace city, Caldavar, that had been recently fortified in response to the demon threat. Its placement atop a hill overlooking the dense forest to which it gave its namesake made it an ideal military stronghold but already the Horde was beginning to converge on its location. People could, on clear nights, be seen at the edge of the hill, watching the flashes of light and glow of flames grow larger and more pronounced as the corruption that spread across the land made its way toward them.
The frog priest from the Marshlands was one such person on this night. He stood, with a stoicism belying wartime, casting a pensive gaze over the land before him. A firefly buzzed past him, spreading its sombre yellow glow over his slimy skin.
“You too?” a gruff voice said behind him. Despite this, the Pollywog Priest did not break his meditative stare.
“I was asked by the king to help him in this war,” he started, slowly. “'Bring your warriors, come to Caldavar and defend Newerth – we need your help,' he said.” The priest sighed. Myrmidon stood alongside the amphibian. “I told them they'd be safe in the marsh. Women. Children. My people.” He sighed again. “My family.” At this his gaze faltered and he hung his head in defeat.
“Hn. Where is your marsh?” Myrmidon asked. He wondered if the king had faced the reality they faced outside his glorious palace.
His response was a raised finger, pointing to the eastern regions of the forest. Myrmidon traced the line and found a remote clearing where the trees were less dense that rested on the cusp of the lush forest of full, beautiful flora and the barren, dead canopies that were the hallmark of the demons.
A sympathetic hand was removed from the frog's shoulder as Myrmidon headed back to the barracks. His short-lived stroll in the town was not as refreshing as first planned; escaping the downtrodden foot soldiers in the mess had only lead him to a melancholy frog. Night had fully taken over the sky, with the only lights coming from the windows of the homes. He resolved to get some sleep and pray for a more hopeful tomorrow.
The barracks was nearly deserted when Myrmidon entered the dull, grey corridor – he assumed that this must be the building with the least effort put into its construction. Compared to even the most commonplace of civic buildings, the barracks was decidedly sterile. A couple of men could be seen walking down the corridor, either returning from the mess or venturing into another's quarters for communal card games or to share in alcohol that had been smuggled in from the tavern.
Myrmidon made his way back to the room that he shared with several others and collapsed onto his bunk. He cursed the primitive lodgings as they were built with humanoids in mind, not creatures more comfortable in the water. He had once petitioned to the general to have a bath to relax in rather than a bed, but it was refused.
The smooth fabric of the pillow was broken by a course note. Lamenting the irritating sensation, Myrmidon sat up and retrieved the paper, reading it carefully, making sure to keep it hidden from the others preparing for sleep.
This war has only just begun but they have gone too far. Meet me in the main square at midnight and we will do what must be done.
Stunned, Myrmidon hastily hid the note inside his pillowcase. The prospect of someone else sharing his feelings on the war was exciting but was he ready to commit treason? Where would it end? All this without a thought as to how he and whoever this friend was would accomplish their task.
Plagued by a nervous tension, Myrmidon stared at the ceiling. The sounds of bedsprings creaking as others settled down for the night seemed miles away. Would the downfall of Jereziah really spare the innocent lives that had not already fallen? His thoughts rolled over in his head, tormenting him with visions of a seemingly endless stream of different possible futures: successfully saving the men and women of the Legion from the madness of their Jereziah and becoming a hero or failing and finding himself hanging by a rope in the courtyard of the palace.
“You not coming?” A voice broke the ruminations. Myrmidon jumped, startled, looking for the source. His conversation partner from dinner now stood over his bunk, looking at him expectantly, as though he was supposed to know what it was he was supposed to be going to.
“Where?” he snapped, not at all pleased with the unceremonious drag back to reality.
“X12. They've acquired three bottles of rum and are having a memorial night for the Legionnaire.” Myrmidon glanced at the time; it was approaching midnight.
“No. I'll be fine,” he dismissed the invitation, reverting his gaze back to the roof. The solider knew not to press and took his leave. When the sound of doors opening and shutting died down, Myrmidon made his way to the door, peered into the dark hallway and escaped back into the night air.
The lights in the town were dwindling as more and more people went to sleep, extinguishing the lights in their windows. Lurking in the shadows, Myrmidon hurried towards toward the main square. Drunk civilians paraded home, stumbling over each other and shouting obscene words as they did so. Careful to avoid being seen, the aquatic creature skulked past. He was grateful to hear the noise of trickling water that heralded the ornate fountain that decorated the main square.
Myrmidon took the opportunity to splash some water on his face. As he leaned over the pool, a small pebble hit him the back. Whipping round, he spotted, in an alley, a figure shrouded in the shadows. As he approached, no more features became clear. All Myrmidon could see was that it was clearly a human female. A large mask covered most of her face, the rest was swallowed by the shadows.
“Who are you?” he asked, stepping into the shadows himself.
“It is better that you do not know my name. Just know that I, too, miss the rule of King Maliken.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Jereziah is due to make an appearance in a few days. He will be exposed. Your role to play is simple: you must steal the key for the barracks' armoury from Jereziah's most trusted general: the one known as Hammerstorm. Leave the west door unlocked for tonight. Then, on the day of his appearance, you must-”
“How do you expect me to do that!?” he growled, quickly losing faith in this plot.
“I have taken care of him for now. You will not find him much trouble.” Her voice did not betray any emotion; it was eerie. “On the day of the public address, you must wait in the south tower. The medical team will come from there. You must head them off.”
This plan was sounding dangerous but Myrmidon had no chance to rebut; the femme fatale of fate had already vanished into the darkness, leaving him alone with her plan and his reservations. Submitting to the wheels of destiny, he made his way to the general's quarters.
Cursing himself, Myrmidon waited in the designated location, overlooking the main square. Jereziah was on the balcony of his palace, dressed in a royal robe and preparing to address the crowd that had amassed in on the ground. He had done all that mysterious woman had asked of him; it was her turn now.
“Children of Sol,” the king began, stepping to the railing. “Before anything, I call for a moment's silence for the fallen warriors of the Legion since I last spoke to you. Please now, bow your heads and pray for their eternal souls.”
As one, the audience fell into silent prayer. Myrmidon's eyes began to water with the strain of scanning the crowd for anything suspicious. He was ready. No one on the ground was moving.
To his right, a faint click shattered the suspense in his heart like a brick through glass. He whipped round in time to hear a tremendous gunshot that was amplified by the echoes in the streets. Panic and fear gripped the crowd as they ran to shelter in the confusion. Jereziah had slumped below the rails and disappeared from view.
As predicted, the footsteps of the paramedics rushing to his aid could be heard from within the keep. Myrmidon waited, allowing himself a cruel grin, as he knew they would find the door leading to the palace inoperable with his war trident rammed through lock, preventing the deadbolt from being moved.
He descended the stairs to make his exit. At the bottom of the stairs, he could still hear the shouting of the medics as they tried furiously to get to their liege.
“Hey! You!” a voice called over the din. One of the medical staff had turned around as he tried to make his escape through the exterior door. “What were you doing up there?” They began to advance on him. “Did you kill the king? Traitor!”
Out of options, Myrmidon snarled at the group and fled. He would surely be recognised again and so could not remain in the ranks of the Legion. He forced his way through the door and towards the forest, turning his back on the Legion he had rescued from a demon far more terrible than those he would be soon to meet.