Guard Captain Harris Quinton.
Harris liked the sound of it. It would be his request to the King after he brought back not only a moderate salvage from the Ruin of Free City, but also a survivor.
It sounded better than Scout Captain Quinton anyway.
The pay was certainly better not matter what way you looked at the name.
As the unit moved further south, away from the ruins, the men were getting more and more exhausted as time went by. They had split a small amount of the salvage between each other and another pile was put aside for 'private sales'.
Harris' feet felt like like his boots were filled with shattered glass, rusty nails and some old aged salt to tie the whole package together. He sighed and wiped the sweat from his brow, sliding his hand through his greasy black hair.
Gods I could use a hot bath, he thought.
He sighed again and crunched down on another seed he had popped into his mouth on instinct. The next village was not that far away and they would have beds and food for military personnel and a holding cell for the survivor. Harris refused to call the boy he had rescued a prisoner, prisoner implied that he had done something wrong and was in his custody for the right reasons.
The village that they reached was called Stone Haven, a small but precious village to the nearby city of Fernhelm since it supplied a lot of the cities precious stone that were buried deep below the earth and a quarry and mining operation had been set up to ensure the village could still do this.
The elder of the village greeted them with some surprise at a unit moving back to the city so soon but assured Quinton that his men would be accommodated for, and those that were not needed at that moment moved towards the local inn. Quinton asked the elder if there was any place where they could have so privacy and the elder pointed Quinton in the direction of a storage hut that wasn't used any longer. Quinton then ordered two of his men to carry the boy there and to secure him until Quinton came to check on them and interrogate the boy.
After finally sitting down Quinton took off his boots, once he was inside a comfortable room, and undressed and slid into a hot bath that one of the elders daughters had prepared for him. What disturbed Quinton was the look of slight fear as she had left the room and how a lot of the villagers had avoided both him and his troops. Although the army of Fernhelm mainly kept the peace, corruption always existed where a chain of command too was present.
Some of the other villages were taxed hard and had money taken from them that was not even needed to pay for the normal tax rate and when things got even worse the army would get violent.
Quinton pushed those thoughts from his head and focused on his bath, washing his mud covered skin and cleaning his dirt filled pours as the heat soothed and relaxed him. He listened carefully to the noises outside. You could never be too careful when being a soldier and so he had to be constantly listening out for anything, a squeaky floor board, the drawing of a knife.
Quinton heard no such things so he relaxed a bit more but instead he heard the distant flapping of reptilian wings and low roars and mumbling distant roars.
This was not rare. The dragons ruled all, some even considered them merciful Gods, merciful because they have allowed us to live on this world as their humble servants rather than to wipe us out in glorious flames.
Quinton hated the preaching shit that the priests in Fernhelm spouted out. It was always about the mercy and about the worship. Although they did speak a lot of gutter shite they did get one thing right, they were to be feared. Quinton had never seen a dragon but had heard them fly by or heard their roars in the distance. Small villages like this had to supply live stock once a week to satisfy the local dragon that would claim the village as it's own and if they did not meet this tribute then all that would await them would be fire and death.
Quinton did not know much about dragons, he left that to the Ember Priests who walked the halls of Fernhelm's forbidden library where only those who wished to become a preacher of the dragons would study, but he knew that dragon fire burned like no other.
Quinton left his bath and once again went through the ingrained process of putting his uniform on and once he was happy he left his room and made his way to the storage shed.
The guard who was standing on watch gave him a quick crisp salute then opened the door for him nodding to Quinton as he walked into the cold musty storage hut. The wood was rotten and apart from a fear barrels and a bag of grain the room was bare and the smell was even worse than how it looked.
In the middle of the room, seated in a chair and bonded with rope was the boy, standing beside him were two of Quinton's best men, including Bear, a massive mountain of a man that lived up to his name in combat and was Quinton's most trusted friend. Bear's eyes seemed to watch over the room constantly and he would shuffle slightly but never move from behind the chair that the boy sat in.
Quinton pulled up a chair in front of the boy and sat down,he noticed the boy's breathing was heavy and if Quinton had not known better it seemed that the white streaks in the boys hair had grown longer.
"Are you okay there son?" He asked in as caring a voice as he could.
The boy look up his pale grey eyes looks into Quinton's, a cold expression on his face.
"Where is Priss?" The boy asked.
"Well let's start with your name first son. Mine is Harris Quinton, what is yours?".
Quinton could not shake this chill that seem to crawl up his spine from looking at the boy but he assumed it was just his imagination playing trick on him during this cold night.
"Where is Priss?" The boy repeated, emphasizing each word to Quinton as if the roles had been reversed.
"I am afraid I have no idea what you are talking about son. I don't know a Priss. Do you know where you are? What do you remember?"
The candles in the room flickered and seemed to shake, pointing away from the center of the room as if a ghostly breeze had blown in an haunted them.
"I remember feeling, cold." The boy said his head hanging down once again. "But before that I remember the heat, the heat was so bad I could not stand it. I felt myself burning, melting away like I was a twig in a furnace, then nothing. Then the cold came." The boy met Quinton's eyes once more, a small build up of tears was behind them and Quinton felt a lump in his stomach."Please just tell me where Priss is."
"Listen, I am going to guess this Priss is somone very dear to you and I hate to give bad new but the city we found you in was destroyed when we got there." Quinton swallowed nervously."Most of the bodies we found were burned beyond recognition, and the only person we found alive was you son." The boy's eyes begin to water more. "I am afraid this girl of yours is dead, boy."
"No, no she is not dead,don't you lie to me!" The boys shout seemed to echo and the candles in the room went out as even Bear shifted slightly, his hand reaching down to his dagger before Quinton shook his head at him and he moved back to his starting position.
"I know it is hard to accept." Quinton slowly put a hand on the boys shoulder "I don't think I could even begin to understand what you are going through, but I can help you through it, but first I have to know your name because I can't keep calling you boy now can I?" Quinton took out a small but grubby cloth from his pocket and used it to dab the boys tears away from his face as they began to slide down his pale skin and they both met eyes once more and the boy nodded at him.
"Hatham. My name is Hatham" Hatham said.
"Do you believe the boy's story, Bear?" Quinton asked as he looked at Hatham being brought some hot soup and a blanket as they all at by the fire.
Bear sat there and sighed slightly.
"I believe that boy has seen more than any man should see during war."
Quinton took a swig from his cup and swallowed the foul broth down.
"You really think we are at war Bear?" Quinton laughed slightly but it did not seem to improve the mood.
"We have always been at war Quinton, whether it be against ourselves or with nature. These dragons are a pain in the ass, making us worship them as Gods and burning anything they don't like. If you don't call that war, I don't know what is".
They sat in silence for a while.
"You really know how to kill the mood more, don't you Bear?"
"You hardly hired me for my enthusiastic personality did you Captain?"
They smiled at each other and Quinton patted Bear on the back as he got up from his seat and moved towards Hatham. It was a cold night tonight and the fire was welcomed by everyone. The village itself was quiet another, the houses of poor construction but enough to provide shelter from the elements and most of the villagers tended to keep to themselves.
Hatham sat there looking into the fire, his eyes looked vacant and he pulled the blanket close around his thin for, he did not appear to be shivering like any of the others, rather he just sat there slowly letting out deep sighs.
Quinton sat down by Hatham and took another drink from his cup and looking into the fire, trying to avoid the urge to break the awkward silence. Quinton hated silences like this, you never knew what the other people were thinking of what was about to happen.
It gave Quinton a shiver that ran down his neck and spine, it made him feel uneasy.
Quinton chuckled at the realization that this boy next to him was making him uneasy for no logical reason whatsoever so he tried to relax back and stretch out his legs to look casual.
"So what will happen to me now?" Hatham asked, not even turning to look at Quinton but merely continued to stare into the flames, every so often poking the outer embers with a stick he had picked off the ground causing the tiny parts of burning ash to float into the air and into the sky where their spark seemed to just disappear.
"I don't have any family that didn't live in the city, well none that I know of."
"Well since you are the only witness we have of that event I have orders to bring you back to Fernhelm and after that we could probably set you up in one of the poor houses in the lower districts."
The poor houses were infamous for being overly harsh on anyone that was put there, food was scarce and illness was common. It was either that or the slave market. No one was willing to house a refugee in times like these especially not one that looked like Hatham. The boys hair was turning almost bright white and his silver eyes held an emptiness that even made a battle hardened veteran like Bear cautious around him. In times of superstition, dragons burning down villages and cities on a whim and magic that was not under the control of the Ember Priests, people could barely trust their neighbors let alone random strangers who look like they themselves have become a ghost.
Fear was everywhere.
"I am sorry kid, it's not my job to look after refugees." Quinton said those words with a lump in his throat. "I can't promise anything but perhaps we can arrange something with one of the local farmer families on the outskirts, but these are hard times bud, people can barely afford to feed themselves."
"No, it is fine I get it." Hatham felt a cold sting of rejection from the people he had not even met yet and because of the events that had happened he was nothing more than a stranger. A Liability.
The wind picked up again but Hatham barely felt the cold anymore, his hair did not stand on end and he never shivered even in the now in the coming of winter only a couple of months away.
He heard footsteps and looked up to see the a girl from the village coming towards them. She was a plain looking girl with dirty brown hair and wearing a green farmers garb cut at the bottom to allow movement of the legs when in the fields. Hatham remembered her as on of the Elders daughters that had greeted them when they arrived.
She jogged up to Quinton and blushed as she whispered something to him quickly then ran back in the direction of the main houses. Quinton suddenly stood up straight and rubbed the back of his head and turned to the company.
"Alright you dogs! Listen up, I want everything packed up and in the storehouse along with you sorry lot within the next couple of minutes!" He paused for breathe and slide his hands into his pockets." You lot understand!?"
"Yes Sir!" The company said in union and immediately started to pack up the small camp with military efficiency and swiftness.
Quinton popped another seed into his mouth and crunched down on it before turning back to Hatham and grabbing his shoulder.
"You need to come with me."
"Where are we going?" Hatham did not argue as Quinton dragged him by his shoulder to the storehouse and along with a few other soldiers they locked the doors and windows before sitting down and trying to make themselves comfy. "Quinton what is going on?"
"Just be quiet for now and stay here"
He pushed Hatham into a sitting position again the store house wall and began to count his men and whatever supplies they had brought with them.
Hatham crossed his hands and huffed. He had never liked being kept in the dark about things, even if it was something small like his friends knowing something he didn't of when Priss made him guess what was behind her back.
The thoughts hit Hatham like a war-hammer and the sadness washed over him like a tidal wave. His eyes began to tear up but he wiped them away and forced himself not cry in front of everyone.
He missed Priss
She would always make him feel better when he cried, even when his own mother couldn't. Hatham missed his mother too.
The charred images of their bodies flashed in his head and he gasped for breath.
What the hell was that?
Hatham pushed those thoughts back and began to focus on his surroundings now. He spotted a small hold in the wooden wall he was leaning again and moved on his knees till he could get low enough to look through it. He could see outside of the store house to the part of the village where they were camping. The village elder was standing out there and was giving directions to two men but Hatham was too far away to hear what they were. A couple of minutes later the men brought back what seemed like a dozen sheep and a couple of cows.
"Quinton what are they doing?"
Quinton did not answer and merely leaned again the wooden wall with his eyes closed and chewed nervously on a seed, his hand in his pockets fiddling about with the spare seeds he kept hidden in them.
Hatham turned back to see that the villagers had gone and that all the lights in the houses had been snuffed out and the windows and doors were bolted shut.
It was then that Hatham heard it.
The flapping of wings that sent gusts of winds that hit the ground,moving the dirt. A impossibly loud roar that made his legs tense up and freeze and finally the ground shoot beneath them as the creature finally landed. It's scales were a metallic grey that shone in the moonlight and that any man with no common sense would think was beautiful to look at.
It swished it's long tail around, the sharp blades at the end casually destroyed one of the smaller shacks, and it began to move forward on it's four legs. The sheep and cows began to run but where not fast enough as massive jaws snapped them up and huge claws raked them in half, blood exploding from the mutilated bodies that were soon devoured by teeth that size of Hatham himself.
Hatham was frozen not only with fear, but with rage. This creature was the thing he had now learned to despise most in the world. It spat fire at a running calf that consumed it immediately and set far to one of the closer hut and soon the doors burst open as the family occupying it ran out only to be cut in half buy the swinging tale of the beat. The father cried out in rage as the body of his daughter, barely six years old Hatham guessed, hit the body like a rage doll and was tossed into the air and fell into the creatures mouth. The man ran forward but his body burst into flame before he could get anywhere near it.
Hatham's rage swelled inside of his body
Kill it. Kill it. Kill it. Kill it.
The voice repeated inside of his head pushing against his terrified and paralyzed body.
This creature was Hatham's enemy and his nightmare that went by a name that could make any soldier run in fear.