First thing I've written in a while, critiques welcome. A short time ago the northern border of our great nation fell under siege by the marauding army known as the Black Scourge. Our best intelligence suggests it is an army driven by the Sylan Empire to destabilize our control over the region. The Scourge has already destroyed our outermost defenses and has begun to lay siege to the city of Tarkan. Captain Rezmir is especially suited to this assignment and we will have no other command the 318th in this battle. No data is available on force strength but there is reason to believe that there are commanders hiding in the Ysmal Forest, Rezmir is to take the legion and hunt them down as well as gather any information on the source of our enemy’s strength. Signed, Commander Bryn Captain Rezmir rolled up the scroll and secured it on his belt. “Another day, another army needs to be crushed. I wonder if these will be worth any more as soldiers than the last rebels were,” Rezmir mused, glancing over at the swords sitting in his command tent that had come from fallen enemy commanders. He pulled the opening flap away and looked out to the encampment. The morning sun was peeking over the tree line and between the clouds. Yellow beams cut through the cloud cover and cast streaks of light on the ground. One beam landed on the red and yellow banner of the legion, the stylized boar glistened in the light as a slight breeze caused the banner to flutter. The sentries were changing shifts and beyond the encampment Rezmir could see some of the men playing. The athletic games were encouraged by Rezmir, they kept the men in shape without the need for dull marches, though of course they completed the marches as per command, but there were no more fit men anywhere in the empire. Rezmir moved at a quick pace towards the operations tent, the wind pulling back his long brown hair and his tunic bristled in the breeze. His face was clear of particles and hair. His stern expression, complimented by his strong jaw, hid his happiness to serve the empire. His thirty five years did not show, he had neither lines on his head nor circle s or bags beneath his eyes. He opened the flap and stepped inside. The men inside clutched their right fist to their chest and gave a slight bow. Rezmir returned the salute. Rezmir handed the scroll to Lieutenant Nirn, a man in his twenties with dark blonde hair and blue eyes that shined when Rezmir addressed him. “I am to head this one Nirn, I’m sure there will be plenty of battles ahead to prove your abilities.” “Thank you captain, it is always an honor to serve under you.” With a smile and a nod Rezmir continued, “How far are we to the forests of Ysmal?” The other man in the tent, a short pot-bellied man with a balding head, answered, “About two day’s march, captain, we are but a stone’s throw away from there. “ “Perfect, we need to be prepared to move out as soon as possible.” Rezmir hated interrupting the men’s athletic time, it did wonders for morale. He focused his attention on the map in front of him, concentrating on it and trying to visualize the terrain. “That lake and the river supplying it are the only sources of water around where the edge meets the territory around Tarkan therefor it is likely that there is either a base or a supply chain leading from there.” Rezmir sat down on the floor and faced the direction of the lake. He steeped his hands with about three inches between the palms and rested his chin on his outstretched thumbs and his forehead against the fingers. He closed his eyes and stretched his mind out across the plains and the forest and to the lake. The lake and forest were pristine and alive with the sounds of birds filling the sky. The forests hummed with insect and animal life, bees buzzed while collecting pollen from wildflowers, a brown bear lumbered nearby foraging for berries, a pair of deer skittishly leapt away and into the thicket. The trees themselves were in full spring splendor, their beautiful reddish brown bark contrasting with the deep green of the leaves perched on branches towering fifty feet in the air above the lake. The lake itself was also fairly alive with silver carp leaping out of the water and dragonflies skimming over the surface. Upon closer inspection striders can be seen skittering across the surface of the lake and tiny crabs advanced and retreated out of their small holes in the shore. Rezmir scanned along the shore, dirt patches, and grasses for any unusual disturbances. There were plenty of signs of animals but nothing remotely humanoid. He turned his gaze to the river and rapidly began to travel upwards, past the rocky rapids and eddies, past the gentle sheltered water and up to the headwater spring, glancing either way for any signs of a supply train or outpost. His mind’s ears perked up at the crunching of fallen branches off to his left. A man with a light complexion and a deep brown beard called out that he had found water and several men also appeared from the brush. Rezmir panned around and tried to find any military or discriminatory markings. He found none. These could be scouts or just a group of hikers. This was the mostly likely place to find the enemy so he decided to stay and follow them when they left. The five men sat down around the spring, taking packs off as they did so and began to fill canteens. Rezmir put more of his energy into the spell and opened one of their packs to begin to look through the things. He found basic travel equipment, albeit prepaired for a month’s worth of pre-cooked energy bars. A little odd for hikers, but they spoke the same language as the northern imperial provinces so they may well just be hikers. He poked around the other dropped packs, but found much the same. Rezmir closed the packs as best he could, the snaps were fiddly as eighty kilometers, and retreated a ways to watch the group and then followed them at a distance when they left. The journey was uneventful, but the conversation was telling. Rezmir was following the right people. The group entered a clearing north of the river’s head. The clearing was filled with troops. Bingo. He followed the men into a tent and saw a woman outfitted in chainmail, a black patch with a red phoenix emblazoned on it, a sword hanging by her side. She wore a wry smile across her tan face. She was studying a map just like the one Rezmir had. Rezmir grunted as he opened up a second consciousness beside him. As the scouts addressed her he moved the pieces in his own tent to indicate enemy positions. He waited in the first consciousness until after the scouts had left and until the commander issued orders. Rezmir noted them with his second consciousness, his lieutenant noting the movements and began to formulate a plan for Rezmir to approve of after he returned to his body. As the last orders were given he sent a message telekinetically to the portly fellow to make haste in preparation to move the legion. Rezmir let go of the dual consciousnesses and returned to himself. The omment he returned his hands dropped and he fell over, gasping for air. It was a testament to hi ability that he wasn’t in a coma after opening a second consciousness, travelling eighty kilometers, and to have maintained it for the better part of an hour. “Welcome back captain.” “Thank you,” Rezmir said as his breathing normalized. “Let me help you up.” “No, I’m alright, just give me a minute lieutenant. How long till we are ready to leave?” “Thirty minutes, tops.” “Are we leaving the tents of packing them?” “Packing.” “Alright.” *** The troops split into two companies and began their two day march to the edge of the forest, precisely at the point the Scourge was planning at exiting the forest at the moment they were set to arrive. The plan was to catch them off guard and unready to fight. They expected the enemy to flee back into the forest where Rezmir could track down and kill the commander as she tries to rally her troops. The trip was smooth for the first day and a half. The troop was just starting off after the mid-day break and lunch, feeling ready for the battle that evening when they came to the last valley between hills. Rezmir strode with the front ranks, wanting to see if the enemy was where he had planned them to be. The lieutenant was in the rear, ready to command if necessary. The portly fellow was somewhere in the middle. A volley of arrows appeared from over the hill and rained on the first ranks. An arrow caught Rezmir in the shoulder, who closed his eyes and pulled it out, and laid low tens of men. “Rank up! Testudo formation!” The cry came from the three officers. The legion complied as quickly as possible, dispursing into groups of thirty, five by six, and overlapped shields. A second volley cut down tens of men before the formation could be completed. However, the legion was nigh invulnerable to the fusillade once they completed the order. Rezmir was annoyed. “How? There is no way for them to know unless… they knew I was following them, no clan has that ability,” he thought. Rezmir knew exactly why this was when the enemy came over the hill. Pikes and swords gathered at the top of the hill. Rezmir could see individual faces clearly and came to a realization. They were all female. “Sylans!” He called out. He tried to rush off a telepathic message to command when a fireball erupted from the hill, headed straight for the legion. “Oh great, they have a fire mage too,” Rezmire muttered as he quickly gathered the moisture from the ground and brought up a wave of water that dissipated the fireball. A second ball of flame impacted the army’s flank. “Shit, a second?” Another launched from the front as Rezmir rushed to stand at the corner to cover both sides. He summoned the moisture from the air and threw balls of water elemental magic at the incoming fireballs. “Get to high ground,” Rezmir yelled. The army charged forward in disarray trying to get to the high ground. The veterans knew what Rezmir had up his sleeve. Rezmir was unable to focus his psionic energy while trying to fend off two mages and too distracted to launch any offensive. This was a battle of attrition he would not win. The success would depend on them taking the hill. A third fireball appeared from a bunch of bushes they had passed, vaporizing a testudo formation in a single blast. “Hurry!” Pikes lowered as the Sylans readied to take the Imperial charge. The imperials hit the line piecemeal and many were skewered. Rezmir looked over the hill to see several thousand Sylan warriors. He slammed his fist into the ground and the earth buckled as a large wave of water rose up and rushed down the reverse side of the hill, knocking the entire army over. The flank erupted with another army rising from a small depression where they were perfectly camouflaged and charged up the hill at the rear guard. With the army up front knocked over Rezmir had the relief he needed to deal with the rear elements. With a a word the ground in the valley turned to water and waves lashed out and grabbed the Sylans, dragging them into the depths. The very rear of the army fell into the lake and drowned, maybe fifty good men. A blast knocked Rezmir over and he tumbled down while the main Sylan army fire into the Imperials as they crossed over the hill, felling many. “Top! Stay on top of the hill!” Rezmir cried as he hurried back up the hill. The moment he made it to the top he saw the troops did not obey his commands and had rushed to engage the enemy. An arrow wizzed by his ear and another fireball detonated, killing a score of men. Rezmir focused and slammed his hand on the ground. A tsunami rose up before him and proceeded to drown the Sylan force and half the remaining imperial army. A white fireball emerged from the wae, allowing the caster to survive. The woman was a brunette with black warpaint across her face. She charged up the hill. Plate armor appeared on her body, dancing with flames. A volley of arrows was fired at her, but with a flash disintegrated prior to reaching her. Fireballs erupted from her hand at the troops, each blocked by Rezmir’s water blasts until she reached Rezmir. The pair dueled furiously. She landed a fierce blow to his jaw, breaking it and causing the skin around it to melt. In agony Rezmir replied by grabber her and extinguishing her armor with a burst of water. He received a headbutt for his trouble. She stepped close to Rezmir, who was struggling from both the headbutt and his dwindling energy reserved. She ignited her hand and grabbed his face, her other hand grabbed his throat and choked him. Rezmir instinctively grabbed at the choking hand and struggled violently against her to no avail. Suddenly, the flames stopped burning and her grip slackened. Rezmir felt it in his gut, a spear had penetrated through her abdomen and into him. She screamed in pain and rage. Rezmir’s vision blurred and he slumped forward, landing against her chest. She shoved him back and he lay still while the lieutenant hacked the woman’s head off. “Rezmir…” the lieutenant gasped. His face was gone, the skin had largely evaporated exposing muscle and bone. His forehead and around the eyes remained, but nowhere else. His jaw was hanging loose on the left side. The lieutenant was horrified that he may have just fatally wounded his commanding officer and his personal hero. Rezmir whispered, “Blood to water” as he expended the last bit of energy he had to cause his body to lose water instead of blood. The world grew dark and Rezmir blacked out. His mission was a failure and the Sylan supported Scourge were free to reinforce the siege ongoing at Tarkan. **** Rezmir stood before a military panel, he was bandaged heavily and could barely talk, his skull bone poked out from behind the bandages around his cheeks .The man in the judge’s seat was a middle aged man with a balding head. The judge was holding his head in his hands and sighed. “Captain Rezmir, commander of the 318th legion during supporting actions against the Scourge in the Battle for Tarkan has been charged with a failure to follow orders and incompetency. What say you?” Beside the captain Lieutenant Nirn and the pot-bellied corporal stood. The lieutenant spoke before Rezmir could reply, “Your honor, with the permission of the captain and yourself I would like to answer questions on his behalf given the captain’s wounds.” Rezmir nodded and the judge replied sternly, “Lieutenant Nirn, you were not given permission to speak, however I will grant your request. How do you reply to the charges?” “Not guilty, your honor.” “I see,” the judge said, shuffling papers around on his podium and adjusting his spectacles, “Your orders were to find and destroy the enemy base camp, were they not?” “Yes, your honor, but we were also charged with finding information which we did collect.” “Oh? Could you possibly collect with the captain unconscious, over half your legion dead and not even a single foot stepped into the forest?” “The legion was ambushed sir.” “Ambushed with Rezmir’s ability? I find this hard to believe lieutenant, especially given the nature of the clans forming the Scourge.” “We were not ambushed by clanners, your honor. We were ambushed by solders of the Sylan Empire.” The judge sat upright and took a sharp breath inward, “Come again lieutenant?” Rezmir thought to himself, “Are you deaf, daft, or both?” “Sylan troops your honor.” Nirn continued. “How many?” “My estimate is two thousand for the main force and another thousand on our flank.” “A full imperial legion lost against a force about half its size? Ambushed while a psion led them?” “The Sylans possessed three fire mages, one was likely an illusionist as well. Also we had been on campaign not two months prior in the expedition to Larnath and had yet to receive but a single class of recruits. Our dossier only had slightly over a thousand men. Rezmir is the only reason any of us still breath.” “Your honor,” the bald man spoke “I recognize Warrant Officer Stanley from the Emperor’s Court.” “Rezmir may have beaten the Sylans, but is also directly responsible for the destruction of half the remaining men. Not only was he incapable of stopping the initial fire salvoes that vaporized as many as a company, but his first offensive act killed half a company of his own men and his second killed near half a battalion. Surely they would have been better off with the Sylans.” “Lieutenant Nirn, how do you and the captain reply to this charge?” Nirn opened his mouth but nothing came out. He knew it had happened, he had seen it with his own two eyes. He looked at Rezmir, horrified that he had failed his commander again. Rezmir put his hand on Nirn’s shoulder and thought, “Nirn, you’re too good a man to get me out of this one.” “So I thought. What else does anyone have left to say about this?” Stanley spoke again, “the lieutenant led the Valmir plain battle. Rezmir had given up his command in spite of Nirn’s inexperience and risked the collapse of the entire eastern flank. Nirn nearly failed and could have lost us the mines. Nirn is also responsible for the near fatal stomach wound the captain suffered. The lieutenant is a threat to any commanding officer he assists.” Nirn shrank, his shoulders stooped and stammered, “The captain would not have let the flank fall and I stopped the enemy from killing him.” “Just like he didn’t let the enemy reinforce their siege at Tarkan? Why were you in the fight at all, is Rezmir incapable of stopping a single Sylan?” “She was a fire mage.” “She was a woman and Rezmir is a water mage for Mordrath’s sake, he should have torn her apart with ease if he were competent.” The judge spoke before Nirn could reply, “That is enough. I know the captain is a good man, but this is inexcusable. Captain Rezmir of the 318th legion, normally this requires death by firing squad. You have served your entire adult life in our military so I will not condemn in you in a manner unfitted. By the power invested in me by Mordrath and the pantheon and by the Emperor I demote you to Corporal Rezmir of the second company of the 318th legion. You are hereby sentenced to death by battle, the most honorable for a man with your career. Lieutenant Nirn, for your nearly killing your commanding officer I sentence you to execution by the firing squad of the 318th legion. Warrant Officer Stanley, for your assistance in the manner, bravery under fire, and as a condition of your commission I am naming you captain and will command the 318th legion from this point forward.” Lieutenant Nirn was immediately arrested and Corporal Rezmir was escorted out of the room. Stanley flashed a smug grin as they left. *** The men walked back dejected to the legion camp. Few words were exchanged on the trip. The clouds were dark overhead as it began to rain on the small band. The rain gradually turned into a downpour. Everything was dull and soaked by the time the group reached the camp. Rezmir spoke to the lieutenant as best as he could, “You did your best, I owe you my life.” “It was an honor to serve with you in this life, captain.” Stanley abruptly interrupted, “I care not that you go to die, unless you are talking to me you will not address anyone as captain.While you still live you will respect my position or we will give you a long death. Am I clear?” “Perfectly.” “You address a commanding officer as sir.” “You are no officer, you are scum.” “Take him to the interrogation tent and chain him. We have several hours until his execution, let us make them drag. Rezmir will suffer the same fate if he even thinks about usurping me, not to mention the dishonor that will come to the legion if it rebels.” Rezmir thought to himself, “The legion will not respect the threat of blackmail.” Rezmir looks at him but remains silent. The group splits, Rezmir heads towards his new barracks and enters. Nirn is taken to the interrogation tent. Upon entering the barrack all fifteen of the men stand up and salute him, the sergeant spoke,”Welcome back captain, what are your orders tonight?” Rezmir salutes him, “Corporal Rezmir reporting for duty, sir.” A sense of shock spreads around the tent, the soldiers glance at one another, uncertain. “What? You jest captain, surely?” Rezmir just shook his head and hung his head. Incredulous the sergeant continued, “So, who is in charge now?” “Stanley is cap-i-tan now.” “No, no way am I following any order given by him. You are the captain, period. Anyone else with me?” “Aye” the men said one at a time. “Lieutenant Nirn is going to be executed for saving my life.” “Nirn,” the sergeant spoke in disgust, “I refuse to participate in this, if it is treason then so it is, I’m with Rezmir till the end. Has he not saved those of us who listened? Has he not saved us from forces triple our size? Till death I am loyal to my commander, who is with me?” A rowdy ramble of a shout went up. “Alright, each of you to another tent, spread the news about our new leader.” So it started, each man to a different tent, sharing the story and getting every veteran riled up and they all meet outside and assembled into battle lines. They marched to just outside the interrogation tent where Rezmir led them. The sergeants rushed into the tent to find Nirn strapped upside down with his back facing them, his back was a bloody mess from the whippings he had been given by the two men now turned to face them. With a short melee the interrogators were ripped open and gushing blood and dying, quietly with gags in their mouths. Nirn was missing huge streaks of flesh from his back, blood was still flowing from his wounds when they took him down. Seeing his face it appeared he had been crying and looked at the sergeants confused from behind his bloody tears. “We are with Rezmir.” The lieutenant didn’t quite understand until he was outside and found the legion standing at the ready with Rezmir at the front. The bandages had been taken off, the bone of his skull and lower jaw was largely exposed. Nirn swore that he looked into the face of Death. The skeleton that was Rezmir’s face was horrigying, the muscle exposed as streaks of red hur on his cheeks. Rezmir spoke, “Welcome friend to a new era among the legion, we would be honored if you would join us.” Nirn thought, “An honor? Me? From the captain after I nearly killed him twice?” Nirn opened his mouth, “Yes, captain, I would love to serve at your side once more.” “Excellent, we’re going to wipe that smug grin off of Stanley’s face, want to come?” Nirn rand to join them. When he arrived at Rezmir’s side Rezmir said, “You don’t have to call me captain anymore, Nirn. Rezmir will do.” They marched through the camp roaring in anger for the injustice done to their commander. Any grass that remained was stomped into mud in the rain, any creature caught underfoot was crushed, such was the unrelenting force of the march. Stanley and a new cadre of lieutenants burst from the tent. “So treason it is, Rezmir.” “Captain Stanley, in response to the charge of undercutting your commanding officer and being a scheming swine you are hereby sentenced to death at the hands of the legion.” “You seem to be missing information Rezmir, I am disappointed.” As he stated it a shout came up from the distance. The legion’s reinforcements had arrive. The four hundred veterans were suddenly outnumbered by four thousand and five hundred fresh recruits. Rezmir remained calm. “Must I take care of them Stanley? Will you consign so many lives to death?” “Ha! Lieutenant Aersmik and Ysmaldor will take care of you easily, the legion will crush your army.” Rezmir shot a thin, high pressure stream of water from his finger at Stanley. A wall of ice burst from the ground to block the stream from cutting Stanley in half. A cry exclaimed from behind the block and the ice was cut in half. As they wall fell he could see Stanley crouched on the ground with half of his hat missing. The remaining legion arrived but stopped short of the battle, the veterans also backed off and watched Rezmir fight for his life once again. Aersmik extended his hand and ice shards flew out towards Rezmir. Rezmir raised a pillar of water, catching the shards and sent them flying back towards Aersmik who dodged out of the way and countered by summoning a watery hand to grab Rezmir. It thrust him upwards and began to crush him while in its grip when Rezmir turned to water and reformed to the side of the watery hand and blasted the hand into nothingness. Rezmir dodged another wave of ice shards and countered with a psionic pulse, throwing Aersmik into the air and slamming him down on his head, creating a small crater and knocking him unconscious. Rezmir filled the crater with water and drowned the fellow water mage. Rezmir charged at Stanley, ice coating his fists. “ Lieutenant Ysmaldor!” Stanley shouted. The other lietenant formed a sigil and a block of the ground rose up and crushed Rezmir. Rezmir formed into water but did not reappear. Taking this as a sign of his defeat the legion charged and the veterans braced themselves to take it when an ice dome appeared over the veterans, shielding them from legion as well. Ysmaldor shook thr ground beneath them, trying to cause a fissure that would crack the ice, but the ice held. A massive chunk of earth was lifted by Ysmaldor and flung at the ice, cracking it but not breaking through. A roar sounded from somewhere deep below and a crash was heard off in the distance. A wall of water sprung from the cracked ground on the outside of the dome and rushed into the army. Water kept pouring out and it quickly swept away the legion, drowning many. The earth beneath the veterans cracked and they readied their weapons for an attack from the earth mage, but instead Rezmir crawled out of the whole, doing his best to smile, or what passed for smiling when you have no face. “Well men, you saw for yourself that the legion was planning on attacking us prior to our setting foot in aggression. We move now to find a new home far from here, away from unjust judges, away from Imperial decress, and away from the empire that damned your lieutenant and your captian, away from the empire that abandoned you. In response to your loyalty to your captain in the face of death I knight all of you men. We are knights that will become a thorn in the empire’s side, knights that will oppose the empire at every phase of expansion and aggression, and oppose the empire at every injustice. We will be as a thorn that the empire steps on at every turn, I hereby commemorate the Knights of the Thorn. Come now, we offer membership to the repentant among our enemies that survived and offer them safe travel if they do not. For the four hundred of us have taken on four thousand enemies and come out victorious, we have taken out an entire legion in our founding, let us go and make recruits.” With that the ice walls melted, revealing a flooded plain to the veterans with men and armor strewn everywhere in various states of death, struggling to force water from their lungs to survive. The Knights of the Thorn searched for survivors and offered membership in their organization or were let to go home. Rezmir found the lieutenant floating down from the sky, surveying the carnage with a look of despair on his face. He kneeled as Rezmir approached. “Choose one lieutenant, join us or go home to your family.” “I have no family, sir. The emperor killed them. If you would have me I will go with you.” “Rise. Ysmaldor, was it?” “Yes, sir.” Nirn arrived at Rezmir’s side. “Rezmir, one in ten survived, about half of which are going home as soon as they recover.” “So we number seven hundred. A good number with a pair of mages.” Nirn glanced at Ysmaldor. He was clad in leather armor with a sword handing at his side. Thick stubble decorated his chine below his thin lips and high cheekbones. Looking closely Nirn could see emerald green eyes. Rezmir talked,” So what is it that you wish for Ysmaldor?” “The death of the emperor.” “Blunt and to the point. I like that. How about you Nirn?” “A chance to prove myself in command of an army, sir.” “What about personally?” “I always wanted to lead an army. It’s been my lifelong goal to become a general.” “And lead you shall. We will see we can do about your wish Ysmaldor, in the meantime we need to build a nation capable of such a feat.” “What about you, Rezmir?” Rezmir looked into the distance thoughtfully, “The death of Tarence White. The Sylans are the reason for any of this. They are responsible for our death sentence, they are responsible for our dishonor in the eyes of the empire, and they are the reason we will be hunted for the rest of our days. I apologize for ruining your chance of leading a legion into the capital Ysmaldor, but you will have your vengeance as I will have mine.” The trio left off, the army gathered what supplies they could and headed northeast. They were bound for the wild lands to make a new home, a new nation, and a new enemy for the Asgarian Empire.