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The Rise
prose [ ]
Part One, chapter two

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by [Macs ]

2008-07-02  |     | 



It was the start of a perfect summer’s day. The kind that people dream about in need, and overlook in times of harmony. The heavens in Mornis glittered with flakes of dew that smelled a delightfully beautiful first light. Streets usually crowded by swarms of people were empty channels of forgotten prints, left in the dirt by feet so consumed with haste and carelessness that they could hardly see in their mind’s eye a chance that a single stump on the ground could one day become the only testimony of their ever having drawn breath. So peaceful seemed the world at large, with trees shivering under the sway of a gentile stream and houses bored by endless years of exercise, that in my still fragile mind lingered an old, undying thought that it would never change. Foolish are mortals in their beliefs and more foolish still are those for who the gift of leading a careless life is not enough. That one, cold-hearted day was to leave its imprint on many souls as it formed and shattered the traces of a false belief. Alone on my gallery I grew ever more unaware of dangers I had no warning of.
Sheltered by mist, Menuan forces approached Negel, the city blessed with having taken part in my upbringing, and by night-fall we saw the flames, heard the cries, and smelt the flesh of those who were swept away in the onslaught. Putrid ash raced to cover living skin, burning and transmuting it into a dead cocoon. Screams pierced, shook and splintered the moonlight which seemed to grow brighter as if to light the way for whoever fled. The night gloomed as carnage settled in, and Menuan frenzy continued unquenched by blood until it fell into bewildering madness that stormed and unleashed the beast in every man and raged on so furiously that few recovered in time to see they had been halted. Forward divisions hit the inner defensive belt and in their bloodlust lost all judgment and drove on blindly to be slaughtered. Man by man they fell and routed, clambering ruins stained with red and running ever faster until officers drew their weapons in an effort to rally them. For fresh conscripts those hours of darkness provided first blood; the first taste of battle. By morning, less than half of the city could still call itself “free”, but in truth we had only by a miracle been spared capture on that first inward push.
My enrolment was a measure of necessity, brought about by desperate need of men able to weald arms. At first I felt the patriotic flame that motivates all enthusiasts to greater deeds. A proud sense of duty prompted me to dwell on reflecting that no matter what we faced, through courage and commitment, we would, in the end, reign victorious, and I would be in the vanguard of success: a totem of strength and inspiration to all those who follow me into combat…Romantic hypocrisy! The truth of war does not take much time or effort to come to light and the image it leaves behind is one that forever haunts and disturbs even the sanest of individuals. This I learned from first light on the second day. Few had slept after the Menuan withdrawal, yet few had stood still as they made way through the rubble, scouring among charcoaled remains for anything of use, many bearing testimony of war freshly engraved in flesh. A disfigured body being rolled into a mass grave, buried alongside living or dead while another was stripped to provide aid for those strong enough to cry for help…such scenes were common and disturbing. Whatever was, had hardly begun, and to see such monstrous manifestations and such unscrupulous ruthlessness from a people that should have been called civilized just by being part of the Old World distorted all visions in which I was thought to believe in relation to war: “Nothing is more terrifying than the lack of emotion!”
Our successful defense was the prodigy of a colonel who had been in service since Eeleger’s early campaigns. At that time, Eeleger’s greatest achievement still lay only in the dreams of a young ruler, crowned in a centuries’ old rite by a bedazzled mob sill unable to conceive how they found themselves at the mercy of a boy favored above others with an eagle look and skillful arm. Throughout his rule Follom rose to glory and came to overshadow much of the splendor previously strutted before the eyes of the common man. With iron fist he carved his way against divergent wills and left deep marks forever grinded in the core of his successors’ dreams. Thus, Agermon broke faith and all allegiance to the Union and took up arms to crush opposition to his established right.
Mornis and Menua were ancient cultures, separated by the river Teris and eons of differing evolution. They shared little background and had rarely intervened in issues concerning the other even in despair. Mornis had never been a priority in Eeleger’s policy of expansion and was seen as a buffer, ever looking to ward off incursions by aggressors from beyond the Trup. It was a solid farming society proud of its heritage and past achievements that looked to the future with hope, believing in a peaceful cooperation with Eeleger’s dismantled empire, now a Union, after so many aspirant “successors” tore the mighty state into frigid lands void of solitary power. Mornisians were tough, robust people with no taste for blood but no shyness towards it. A lifetime of struggle twisted muscle and hardened bone to produce stone bodied masses with some degree of elastic thought to remain open to the influx of ideas pouring in a never-ending stream of talents. Of all, the colonel proved more emblematic than most others had ever expected. He was a champion of the people, schooled in the art of defense and backed by enough experience to contest the judgment of any general. He felt most accomplished in the field and often illustrated distinct abilities and a keen instinct for unraveling enemy intentions from the very start of operations. He had foreseen events unfurling before Menua had even broken from the Union, but his appeal to erect battlements and fortify the Teris riverbank fell on deaf ears as so often happens with the words of lesser men. With this in mind it came as no surprise to me that Negel was enclosed after only a single day’s charge and that by the time fresh reserves cannoned to rescue whatever positions remained favorable for resistance, the bulk of the city rested defiantly as a strong citadel carved in stone; a bulwark, rising through clouds and smoke to hail the shout of freedom from beleaguered lungs.
Forever an instinct relying architect, the colonel had exiled all discontent he bore and empowered lines to hold before the city’s end a slim road of brass to whisper life. Metal and stone alike can hold no foe at bay unless tamed by arm and gut. For that purpose I offered the remainder of my days in service of higher ideals. My identity as one ceased to matter from then on in favor of collective endurance. We, the men for whom death dared not await, rested in sorrow resignation as collapsed steel bent and petrified mass withered into dust like specters from an ancient globe. Feral rage spewed at the uproar of every impact, thundering doubtful concern regarding a brother’s living days. Like rhythmic heartbeats the bombardment tormented flesh with fire and reason with remorse. Mischievous Devils danced and selectively took into care the crippled bliss of he who had succumbed. And the pain went on in an anguished gasp followed my more.
Could I have imagined myself scared on the day of my birth? Do I have any Gods to blame for my dread? How can a god spew fear onto the world if He has never imagined it? How can a god imagine fear if He has never felt it? How can one create a universe if it does not bare resemblance to one’s own? How can one change the fate of many? How can living defeat mechanical? Flawed men cannot create flawless machines. Charging into the torrent of life, bear in mind to live such as to look at what has been and smile. When all your expectations are made redundant, know that the value of existence is measured in the memories you remain with, and the morning after your life will have ended remember to shed your gaze upon the earth and throw out your blessings.

No man is more powerful than the rest of humanity.

Such is the ravage of war, when all those who have fled are left to taste serenity once more, at the cost of those who most deserve it. They are the foundation of the pyramid and thus feel the burden more acutely than whichever may stand above. The makers of history are left in the end to suffer the flaws of their misdoing and bathe in the juices that up to then had only sporadically surged from an opened gash.
One can only become sacred through torment and redemption, and as the Sun’s early rays amassed to overflow across lands of sublime bereavement they drowned the ashes of seven men in a cloak of guilt that impaled my innocence with a spear of bone. Games played by the divine unraveled an abysmal path whose ensuing would forever shift the balance of power by my coming of age. Something had awakened perfidious hunger among upper strength and that pinned two proud nations to a chart of aggression, now, constantly changing under the weight of brutality.
Menua knew the sense of being pressured, as it emerged into history more as a figment of obscure dimness. Gallopers from remote steppes told of ancient migrates which had left to uncover rich lands and returned centuries later with gifts of gold and incense as testimony to the finding of a better place.
A warrior state by definition, it had survived countless assaults and learned the true art of war by means of necessity. Menuans were disciplined and capable, aptitudes they applied in war with bewildering effects. Eeleger held deep sympathy for these men, to whom he entrusted the role of elites, drawing from among them the backbone of the most sacred martial orders: the Guard and Protectors. Years of occupation and nearly constant belligerence led to the Menuans being immensely successful mercenaries that sought to prove their dominance over other races. They were people in pursuit of an identity, and Agermon keenly prompted the return of estranged members of this upper-class to the homeland.
Few were daunted by Agermon’s ascent to power. He was seen a judicious and compassionate leader, born of prestigious seed and cultured in such manner as to avoid useless turmoil. When Eeleger’s final act of sacrament was played out, Agermon’s calling resonated through the vanes of his followers who gathered in Menua to proclaim him king. The Old World was starved of unity by one man’s commanding will; a will that shaped from steel and stone a marvel for all to behold in awe. Much sound would from then on be heard from Menua on still nights…Fire, tools and muscle molded empty mud into cities and raw brain into citadels of confidence and intellect as Menua became a living state awoken after centuries of numbness.
It was hence unconceivable that a race of men so advanced and educated could bring about sudden aggression upon people with whom they had no dispute. But in the horrid filth that masked Negel I began to get a sense of why such spurred antagonisms aimed to seize this foreign earth: Menuans acted on the impulse of people who had no intention of ever submitting themselves to servitude again.
Gone are the days when one could both dream and hope. There is a saying that hope is last to perish…but when it does, it leaves behind an empty crust, a soulless figure of something that had once stood tall and firm, and often drives to depravation and self-induced fatality. Hope is a lifeline, many times, the only one that remains to cling onto. It is a binding, driving force that unites and motivates; an undying expectation that somehow, when all logic dictates otherwise, events will churn in favorable manner.
But hope alone amounts to nothing for those caught in the fierce tide of war. They must answer to a grim fate that searches to draw out even the slimmest of chocking breaths. To look within their most animalist of selves and find enough savagery to survive is a process from which many cannot reverse. Many more never get the opportunity to, and it is they whose names will never linger.
The three thrusts of attack, aimed to cripple and quickly subdue Mornis, bogged and halted at the gates that preceded the great capital Cubuserit. Atnas Noc and the opening to the sea stood firm and Negel survived, through desperate resistance emerging, as air filled with winter’s breath shrouded lungs blockaded my months of isolation, a piercing thorn to cut short any further proceedings.
Atnas Noc lay where the Teris met the sea, near the foothills of ancient stone and the abyss of bloodied water. It grew by rule of shores, and spread to dwarf the banks of the river that now looked a tiny vane of royal seed. Menuans, freed from crossing racing waves stormed across the opened land in frenzy and drowned in the dust of common graves. Mariners, congregated to haven, took arms and cut down their offering to celestial watchers; a morbid altar, decaying under bristling gems smiled before the spirits of damnation by distant asters.
I pity those who do not value the brave, and more so those who have no fear of them. Atnas Noc proved to the world that a mob, cold, starving and outnumbered can overthrow designs of empire if motivated by even the most obscure repayment. Seeds of such stimulus germinated at Cubuserit, where the city immersed the blow in mutilation and struck back with savagery until the legions that desecrated grew weary of slaughter and succumbed to naked hordes cloaked in rabid hate. But nowhere along the front did any sorrow match that felt as frost bit through cloth and flesh among Negel’s saturated borders.
Few times have I been as desolate as during the shortest dais whose hours we felt dripping ever slower into the twilight. Menua’s siege fed Negel to flame and smoke. Not a wall stood firm to shelter from the coil of rime the bearers of rancid disgust, now insane from being deprived of sunlight.
What kept us vibrant was “the altar” of Marad, a fortress chosen to be a look-out, which marked the outer limit of the colonel’s string of dugouts. It had firstly been a key watch point over peacetime exchange but came under pressure as heavy slugs reduced it to a maze of corridors crusted by a rusty shell. Its very being stood tall testimony to the refuge of old ideals: Mornisian might and independence. It had to be razed and its foundation left to the dawdling, demonic passage that turns peaks to sand and love to grief, for its legend to fade and allow the spirits it held together to shatter.
The attack bent on seizing it came fiercer than ever. No more would Menua bog down massive numbers. In the night after the first thaw, hundreds of veteran elites stormed the broken wrecks around Marad and pressed on. I remember stopping at the edge of a trench and looking in disbelief how the blaze roared and thundered in agony, but refused to yield. The beast amassed at Cubuserit dripped fanatically to avenge the fallen in equal measure.
How few failed to shed a tear when butchered trophies blemished beneath the morning sky told silent tails of horrors we had been rendered blind to. And the war went on just as it had, only the spark that distinguished man from corpse faded abruptly into a sentiment of futility, drifting through every level of realization…
But Mornis would not slumber further. Thawing freed the roads from hibernation and brought the promise of aid and an end to seclusion. Soon the ground would animate with howls of battle and debut the spring campaigns in which Agermon would invest complete energy to establish himself deserving. After a winter of accumulation, Mornis prepared to give way to its first blow.

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