And I’m all alone and the fire grows.
Outside the City Limits
Foolish men walk the land and nothing can be done about it. Some men were born to be the background, to fall in the ditches and sink further into mud when trying to scramble out. These are the men which greater men are sworn to fight for, sometimes whether they acknowledge it or not.
Baxter sat on the ground and leaned against his pack. Occasionally he’d stretch, kick a rock around, perhaps hum a little tune, tinkering around with amulets and rusty daggers that he swore to the crowd were ancient relics of days long past, but for the most part he remained curled up, unable to find comfort. Eventually he stood up and began to pace, entertaining himself by throwing rocks off into the distance where he heard the shouts of battle, a castle under siege.
Though the storm outside was fierce, Tomlin’s yelling dominated the little cabin. He was a stout man, shorter than Baxter, and his face turned red from the strain of the stress. Baxter wrung his hands together, tall but meek.
“Please Tom, calm yourself! I know, I know, mistakes were made—“
“Just one little rope, that’s all you had to tie! Can’t stay in one play for a goddamn minute.”
Petty. It was always a petty problem, never anything bigger. One little rope can send a horse flying, one little horse can lose a whole lot of goods. Baxter jumped at the sound of a cannon firing within the city limits.
“Well what reason should I have to care—“
A firm push from Tomlinson and Baxter was sent flying backwards. His back hit the wooden desk behind him and he yelped just as thunder hit the sky. Praise to the clouds, for the rain covered the ensuing silence.
“Tell me ya don’t care one more time and I swear ya ain’t gettin’ back up.”
“Yes. Right! You certainly are a man of… um… conviction! Yes,” Baxter said awkwardly as he stood back up. “Yes, I like that, a man of conviction! Admirable, even!” He straightened his back with some strain after stooping down to pick up his small bundle.
The trader clapped the mercenary on the shoulder, but Tomlin was quick to withdraw himself, sure to face away. His footsteps struck notes on the hollow floor as he made his way forward and pulled the door handle. The entire frame flew open, a full blast of wind entering the empty room.
“Jus’ get out before they find ya,” Tomlin over the roar of the storm.
“Really, Tom... you are very kind.” And Baxter left.
He fell down in a patch of mud, a slight misstep and his side was covered in the muck. Baxter paused, remembered that Percy had once fallen in the mud on one of their walks through Sigard. He remembered her plump smile, the bright blush that befell her cheeks alongside the laughter.
Baxter scooted back towards his pack again, sighing as more cannons rang out in the distance. He wondered if the group would really come back for him.
Hours upon hours passed. He’d fallen into his dreams, though lord knows he tried to fight them. A massive groan awoke him with a start, and the gates to the castle were open.
Four Days Later, Star Sanctum, Norgard
Four days, four days, four days of walking forward and little else. Baxter held a slow, erratic pace through the battlefield, taking care to stay as far to the edges as possible. Most of the fallen were in the center, piled upon piles of multicolored flesh and armor, but the color red was most predominant. He was more than grateful that this had not lasted him the entire four days, for by the time he’d emerged Baxter had gagged and nearly fainted more times than he cared to keep a tally of.
Eventually the cold froze the mud upon his clothes, causing him to shiver with more than just his terror. This desire, this compulsion to walk forward felt so contrary to him when he spent more time turning around than anything else. But even Baxter could feel the tension piling up at the end of this mess, the raw power that rattled through his bones from the ground up.
Turn around, a voice told him.
“Yes… yes, I would quite like that.” Yet his trembling voice was not enough to stop him from moving.
He struggled through the icy road, a far more difficult trek even than trudging through the piles of dead.
Baxter saw the undead monsters before he recognized the familiar group. He finally stopped, staring at the writhing crowd of undead and the broken pillar which he did not understand.