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 Vox Clamantis

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Vox

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PostSubject: Vox Clamantis   Wed May 27, 2015 9:18 pm

Vox I

Vox’s ear rang with a high pitched whine. His head pounded and he dropped his sword as he put a hand to his head, feeling for a bruise. Markus stood opposite him, leaning on a wooden sword. He looked on with disapproval. “I swear, a blind man would have seen that attack coming,” Markus sighed, “You need to move faster if you want to live through a real fight.” Vox bent down to pick up his own wooden sword. It was nearly as big as he was, and was reinforced with an iron rod in its core. Vox hated that iron core. “It’s too heavy.” Vox said, trying to remember how to properly grip the glorified club. Markus picked up his own sword and reset his footing, opposite Vox. “You said the same thing of the practice shield and insisted I teach you how to fight holding a sword with two hands, so here we are.” Markus looked at Vox for a time before lowering his sword. “Tell me again, why are you so eager to learn?”
   “So that I can protect people.” Vox replied.
   “A noble enough purpose. You will meet many people who are unable to protect themselves. I suppose you wish to help them?”
   “I will try.”
   “You will try, but first you must learn how to fight,” Markus laughed, readying his sword again, “But before that,
    you need to learn to move faster. Again.”



* * *


Vox looked over the corpses laid before him. He heard Pontius sigh from behind as a Boros soldier removed the rough blanket covering the faces of the dead, revealing the faces of two women and one man. The women were human, while the male was a tiefling. Iona, Eddi, and Chant. Where was I when these three fell? The Boros soldier looked back at Vox and Pontius, awaiting a response. Vox turned his head to face Pontius, who nodded solemnly. Vox nodded back, and turned to face the footsoldier. “It’s them,” he told the man, “We will handle things from here. You are dismissed.” The soldier saluted before leaving. Vox noticed the young man give him a strange look as he departed, but chose to ignore it. The man was likely confused to be given orders by a pair of men no longer with the Boros.

Vox turned back to the dead, and knelt down to cover their faces under the cloth. He could see spots where blood had begun to stain the blanket. The battle had only ended a few hours prior, and even now outfits of Boros soldiers were driving away the remaining Broken Spine. All that remained of the fighting were the corpses, littering the fields around Vox. He was thankful the bodies of these three had been recovered so soon, before any crows or looters could arrive. He would be more thankful if they were still alive. Pontius moved to Vox, stepping around the blankets. He watched as Vox stood back up to meet him. “What now?” Pontius asked, “I imagine you’d like to get them out of here and bury them.”

“I’d like to, yes.” Vox could see the smoke of his breath as he talked. It was still Redmoot, but the days were getting shorter and the weather was getting colder, even more so up north. Soon, it would start snowing over most of Daernika. It’s too cold to bury them up here, the ground is too hard and the fields are too crowded with the dead. Pontius looked around, surveying the landscape. He was likely thinking the same thing as Vox, or something similar enough. “There are some trees over there,” Pontius pointed at a small cluster of pines, “I can get Stig and Mars to chop some down. If we can’t bury them, we can at least cremate them.”

Before Vox could respond, another voice interrupted him. “Vox! Your presence is requested by Legate Mormont!” Vox turned to see another Boros soldier. He was not the same one from before, but he looked similar enough. In uniform, Boros footsoldiers defied individuality; they looked faceless. Vox couldn’t help but think of Benjem’s comment, that soldiers were just insignificant, nameless people whose only useful contribution would be their deaths. Vox wondered if Benjem would still say that with men and women like Chant, Effi, and Iona laid before him.

“Go with the kid, Vox, I can handle things from here.” Pontius put his hand on Vox’s shoulder, snapping Vox back into the present. Vox jumped slightly, and he uncurled his fingers which had formed tightly into a fist. He had not remembered moving them like that. Vox walked to the Boros soldier, and motioned for him to lead the way. As he followed the young soldier into the Boros camps, he turned once more to look at the bodies of Chant, Effi, and Iona. They had pledged to serve him, and he had pledged to protect them. They had held up their end of the bargain, which was more than Vox could say for himself.

The Legate was waiting for Vox outside his tent. He was outfitted in armor appropriate for his rank, but it was still polished and clean. Mormont had likely not participated in the battle himself. To some, that may have appeared dishonorable or cowardly, but Vox thought little of it. A commander leading the charge against the enemy would only get himself killed, leaving the remaining army without a leader. Vox and the Flaming Cart found Bjorn not on the field, but in a tent of his own. It had been Vox who had ended Bjorn’s life himself. Commander Mormont stepped forward, and Vox saluted him. What does he want me for? The battle’s over. Mormont wordlessly motioned for Vox to be at ease, before turning to walk inside the tent. Vox followed him, ducking under the tent flap as it rippled in the wind.

Inside, Mormont sat down behind a desk of sorts, and started to pour himself a cup of wine from a carafe to his left. To his right were a pile of maps and markers, creating a crude overview of the area. He looked up at Vox. “Please, sit down. Wine? Consider it a post-battle celebration drink.” He started to pour a second glass before Vox could answer.

Vox sat opposite the Legate, “Usually, these meetings had more people than just us.”
   “Usually. This meeting concerns only you.” The Legate handed Vox a cup of wine.
   “My thanks,” Vox took a sip of wine to be polite, “So, why just me?”
   “I called you here to discuss the problem of your men,” The Legate looked at Vox from across the desk, “Not
   your Flaming Cart group or whatever nonsense you call yourselves. I’m talking about Pontius and his soldiers.”
   Vox shifted in his chair, “They’ve sworn their service to me. What are we discussing?”
   The Legate sat forward, his eyes still on Vox, “What we are discussing is what we are going to do with them.”


Last edited by Vox on Sun Jun 07, 2015 11:27 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Vox Clamantis   Sun Jun 07, 2015 12:39 am

Vox II

“Vox,” Markus stood over the young child, towering above him, “Put them back.”
   Vox looked back up at the man, and clutched the pastries tighter to his chest. “No. I want them. I’m
   hungry.”
   Markus sighed, “Vox, put them back. Do not make me repeat myself.”
   Vox held the pastries even tighter, and he could feel the frosting run down his fingers. “Why? I want
   them and I’m hungry.”
   “I know, but you must listen to me.”
   “Why?”
   “Because I said so.”
   “Why?”
   Markus sighed in frustration, and he began to massage his temples with one of his hands, “Vox,
   please, just do as you are told.”


* * *


Vox tensed up at the Legate’s words. "What to do with them? I'm not sure I understand.”
   “Perhaps I should've phrased it better.” Mormont laughed, “What I meant to say was that we should
   discuss the matters of their desertion.”
   Vox relaxed, but remained on guard. “Desertion? I suppose I should've expected this. You will let me
   defend them, yes?”

Mormont took another sip of wine, “That won't be necessary. Due to their service in the battle, your men will be pardoned. I will allow your new men to continue their service to you, but I want to discuss the potential problem of future desertions. The Legion is already quite unpopular in this region, and I do not want every other soldier to run off while we are needed to keep the peace.”

“I thank you for your kindness.” Vox replied, a bit relieved. “Those that joined me did so under odd  
   circumstances. I do not think that the men and women under your command would just suddenly  
   abandon their posts en masse.”
   “You say that, but can you guarantee it?” Mormont looked at Vox for a long time. Vox looked back,
   unsure if the Legate was accusing him of something.

For a while neither one spoke. Silence hung over the tent like a stormcloud ready to rain down at any moment. The two military men, so skilled at rousing soldiers with words, dared not speak. Vox could not help but remember a lesson Markus had taught him: the man who spoke first when negotiating would lose. The lesson had always meant to apply to bartering with a stubborn shopkeeper, but Vox had found uses for it in the war room.

Mormont looked at Vox, aware of his strategy. However, the man had an army to supervise and a region to protect. His schedule could not afford to waste time. Mormont shifted in his seat. “You would have made an excellent Commander if you had stayed with the Boros, Vox. You and the other members of the Flaming Cart proved to be an unexpected yet resourceful asset." He paused, momentarily deep in thought, "Perhaps what the Legion needs are smaller, focused groups when our vast and unsubtle armies do not fit the job description.”

Mormont was going somewhere with his ramblings, and Vox had an idea of where he would fit in. The Legate continued talking as his hands moved to pour himself another glass of the wine. “Smaller groups could operate in ways an army never could. If you and the Flaming Cart did not sneak into the enemy camp, then the battle would have likely lasted until tomorrow, and there would be many more dead men out there on the fields. Thanks to you and the efforts of your companions, Bjorn is dead and we have sent the Broken Spine on the run ahead of schedule. However, the Legion is still needed here to keep the peace. There have been reports of increased bandit activity in the area. I cannot send soldiers who could be heard coming from miles away, so I want you and your soldiers to act on behalf of the Boros. You will leave as soon as you are ready.”

“You could not just hire mercenaries to take out these bandits?” Vox inquired.
   “Hire mercenaries? Perhaps I should! Pay one group of thieves to kill another! Hah!” Mormont shook
   with laughter at his own joke. Wine splashed out from his goblet and landed on the maps spread over
   the desk, leaving a red stain on the drawn landscape. Vox silently took another sip of wine, not
   wanting to point out that he had become a mercenary after his time as a soldier. Mormont’s laughter  
   died down, and he straightened up in his chair. “No, if I can’t send Boros to take care of these ruffians
   then I suppose ex-boros are the next best option. There’s a reason I called for you and your men.”

“I’m flattered, sir.” Vox politely replied. It was only a half-truth. He was indeed flattered that Mormont seemed to have faith in his abilities, and yet he could not shake the feeling that something was off about Mormont’s proposal. Why would Mormont want to talk about the ‘problem’ the Pontius and his men posed, only to give them a job offer moments later? Job offer probably isn’t the right term. I doubt Mormont wants to give me a choice in the matter. Vox realized he would have to accept Mormont’s proposal if he wanted Pontius and the others to truly be free of any future harassment from the Boros. Vox also reasoned that this would mean they would have to do the job without pay. He forced a slight smile, and stood up.

“Legate, it would be my honor to do as you command.” Vox reached out to shake Mormont’s hand. “I’m sure
   my men will be happy to serve the Boros, if only for one last time.”
   “Good. Good.” The Legate seemed pleased. “Gather your men. You will leave for the town of
   Conmheim as soon as you can. It is a small village to the southwest of here. It is not on the main
   roads, but it should not take you more than a few days to travel there. Once you arrive, I imagine the
   local population can point you towards the bandits harassing them. Good luck and godspeed.”

Vox left the Legate’s tent to go find his men. He wondered how they would react to the news. No doubt they would be surprised to be going on a Boros mission so soon after leaving the Legion. He walked along the rows of tents of the Boros Camps, trying to find his way back to where he had left Pontius. The air was crisp, and the sun was beginning to set over the tents and fields. The ground, previously muddy with the footprints of the Boros soldiers, was now beginning to freeze over into irregular shapes. Vox struggled to find his footing on the rough terrain as he left the main campgrounds and moved into the remains of the battlefield. Vox zigzagged through the fields, taking care to avoid stepping on the deceased. Soon, the fields would be stained with the stench of rotting flesh. Vox hoped to leave for Conmheim before that happened.

Vox found Ponitus at the edge of a group of trees, barking orders at the other soldiers who now followed Vox. Mars and Stig were finishing chopping down a tree, Darrak shaving the branches off the fallen logs, and Petronia was building a campfire from the remaining sticks. Each stopped their respective work as Vox stepped forward. Vox noticed a handcart off to the side, filled with three corpses. They're just piled in there like waste. He turned to Pontius, who was now standing at attention.

   “What is the progress on the pyre?” He asked the captain.
   “Nearly ready.” Pontius responded.
   “Good. Someone help me move the pour souls from this damn cart.”

The sun was almost fully beyond the horizon as they put the last few logs into place. Vox picked up a large stick from Petronia’s campfire, and held it as a torch above the unlit pyre. Chant, Effi, and Iona were laid out along the logs, side by side. Vox, Pontius, and the others stood above the pyre in a line. For a while no one spoke. Mars stifled a cough as the smoke of the campfire was blown in his face.

Vox broke the silence, “Chant, Effi, and Iona served under me for only a short time, but I could not be prouder of their service. They fell to protect Norngard from the Broken Spine, and we who remain will work to make sure their sacrifice was not made in vain. I ask that those who served alongside them as brothers-in-arms say a few words, if they are willing.”

Petronia stepped forward, “Chant was a soldier, but he was also a musician. We often played together as a duet in the camps as entertainment, but now…” Her voice trailed off, and she stood silently for a moment before stepping back to the others.

Stig was next, “Effi and I trained together as bowmen since we were recruits. Her aim was always true, even in the end.” With that, he returned to the others.

Finally, Mars stepped towards the pyre, his hands fidgeting with his long sideburns as he struggled to find the right words, “Iona was always kind to me, even when others were not. She understood that sometimes, I don’t... understand… things... but...” Tears began to well in Mars’ eyes, and he struggled even more to find the correct words. Darrak stepped forward and put an arm around the man, leading him back to the line.

Vox stepped forward again, holding the torch above the pyre. Though the faces of Chant, Effi, and Iona were covered by sheets, Vox could still see their faces clearly in his head. They stared at him in silence as he slowly lowered the torch, and they continued to do so even when the flames began to consume them. Soon, there was nothing left but the blazing inferno and three pairs of cold, dead eyes.
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PostSubject: Re: Vox Clamantis   Mon Jun 22, 2015 7:01 pm

Vox III

The small bell above the doorframe jingled as the store’s door opened and closed. Markus watched the man fumble with his necklace, trying to get the links and beads to untangle as he shoved it into his pocket. As the man walked down the street and out of view, Markus scoffed, “Blasted fool. If he tries to come back I want you to throw him out. I have no time for swindlers.”
Vox looked up from his book, “Markus, the poor man was trying to sell his grandmother’s necklace. I don’t want to imagine the hardships that would make a person do that.”
Markus furrowed his brow in anger, “That was no heirloom. That wasn’t even stolen jewelry. The fool probably made the damn thing yesterday, along with a dozen others. He’ll go from store to store and spout the same lie to every merchant in town.”
“He seemed to believe his story.”
“He’s heard the lie more than anyone else. I bet the poor fool is starting to think it’s the truth.”


***

Vox stepped into the grove. It was quiet here. Peaceful. The wind rustled through the trees ever so slightly, and the air was warm and clear. As the leaves above Vox danced in the wind, rays of light shined through the openings onto the ground below. The light shimmered and when Vox looked up he could feel the warmth of the sunlight contrast with the cool shade of the trees. He would sit here awhile and take in the beauty of this place.

Vox undid the buckles that held his greatsword to his belt. He leaned the massive weapon against a tree, and he sat down at the base of the truck. Somewhere above him, he could hear a bird chirp and sing. He could not remember the last time he had done something like this, sitting in the woods without a care in the world. He wasn’t sure where his companions had gotten off to, but he wasn’t worried. They could function without him for a time. Vox yawned, and closed his eyes.

Vox felt that he had done little more than blink, yet when he opened his eyes the sky was turning a brilliant orange. Is the sun setting already? Vox got up on his feet and stretched. His back was a little stiff from sitting against the gnarled bark of the tree, but he felt rested. Still, Vox wanted to find the other’s camp before it got too dark. He hadn’t planned on napping, and and they might begin to wonder where he was.

As Vox stepped forward, his foot splashed in a small brook. Vox looked at his boot, now dripping with water from the stream. He hadn’t remembered seeing any water before falling asleep. He turned in the direction he believed his camp was and began to move. Not two steps later, his foot splashed in another brook. Vox sighed in frustration, angry that he would be making the walk back to camp in wet shoes. He cursed himself for not watching his step, yet he also swore to himself that neither stream had been there earlier.

Vox noticed that the sounds of the wind or the songbird were now being drowned out by a new noise. He turned to see that the first mysterious brook had somehow become a coursing river, its water rushing with the violence and force of a great typhoon. Water was all around Vox now, seemingly out of nowhere. A particularly strong tide of water splashed Vox, drenching his entire body. Vox spat out river water that had gotten into his mouth, and he wiped his face with his sleeve. When he opened his eyes, the water was all gone. In its place was mud, as far as Vox could see.

Something was wrong. The sky was turning from orange to a dark red. The trees, previously so tall and beautiful, had warped into crooked and dead things that reached into the sky like boney fingers. The sound of the wind became the near deafening noise of swords clashing, and the songbird’s tune had become the screaming of men and horses. Vox wanted to run. He turned to grab his greatsword, but it was half submerged in the muddy ground. He pulled on it with all his might, but it would not budge. Vox’s footing gave way and the ground under him became muddier and muddier. Bodies began to surface as Vox waded through the muck, each step more tiring than the last. With them came a stench that made Vox gag and choke. He wheezed as he pushed forward, though he was no longer sure of the direction he was heading. Hew had to find his men. They were somewhere out there.

A hand reached out from the mud and grabbed Vox’s hand. He turned sharply to see a Boros soldier looking up at him. The soldier’s face was covered by a hood, but he screamed at Vox, “Help me! Don’t leave me here!” Two more Boros soldiers emerged from the mud, clinging onto Vox as they began to sink back into the swampy earth. The hoods of the soldiers fell back as they shook Vox, and he saw the faces of Effi, Chant, and Iona. Their pleas for help became unintelligible babble, and Vox wrenched himself free in horror. He fell on his back and began to sink into the bog. Vox tried to scream, but the mud flowed into his mouth before any sound could come out. He sank into the cold darkness.

***

Vox woke up to see the interior of his tent. For a while, he couldn’t move. His breaths were quick little gasps for air. His body felt tense, paralyzed from what he had just experienced. All he could do was look around. Vox could see his sword was leaning against a small weapon stand, and his pack was at the foot of his bedroll. It was early morning as far as he could tell from the light shining through the tent’s fabrics, and he could feel the cold Norngardian air. Vox clenched his hand into a fist, and he struggled to move his arm. He reached out beside him and picked up his pipe, some pipeweed, and a match. His hands shook as he tried to pack his pipe and light the match. When he finally lit his pipe, he too a long, slow inhalation, letting the smoke fill his mouth. He took an even slower exhalation, and it was only then that he could begin to feel his muscles relax.

Vox had told his men and the Flaming Cart about the visions. He had not told them about the nightmares.
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PostSubject: Re: Vox Clamantis   Sun Jul 05, 2015 9:21 pm

Vox IV

The 16th Legion stood at attention. The ranking officers walked up and down the rows of men and tents, making sure the camp was up to their standards. They walked on wooden planks laid down to make crude walkways in the marsh, while most of the footsoldiers stood in the mud. Vox could feel the swampy muck covering his boots, but he remained still as the commanding officers looked at him and the men beside him. The officer continued to walk down the row of tents, barking gruff orders at some poor souls who had gotten their helmets caked in mud. Vox had grown up nearby, and he knew that in less than a week everyone’s uniforms would be filthy from the murky climate. If the officer kept yelling at soldiers for getting covered in mud while they stood in the damn stuff then he was an idiot, but Vox kept his mouth shut and his eyes forward.



* * *

Vox chewed on the mouthpiece of his pipe while Mars and Stig packed up the last of the tents. He wondered if anyone had noticed how shaken he had been when he left his tent that morning after waking from the nightmare. He had tried to hide it, but it was sometimes easier said than done. It had snowed during the night, and the ashes of the campfire had already been buried under a layer of frost. This was the third consecutive day of snowfall, and the days were getting shorter and shorter. Mormont had said that the village of Conmheim was only a few days travel, but it seemed he had not accounted for the snow blocking the roads. The pace was slow, and Vox and Pontius were the only ones with horses. The others, along with a pack mule, had to walk behind them as their horses packed down the snow with their hooves. It was not an ideal way to travel, but they made the best with what they had.

Ulysses snorted as Vox climbed into the saddle. Vox could feel the horse’s chest expand with each breath it took in the cold air. Pontius had been smart enough to call in a favor with a Boros quartermaster he knew, and he had managed to obtain a half dozen wool blankets and hats for the journey. The group used the blankets as additional bedding while sleeping, and while marching they draped them over their armor and cloaks. Most also wore the hats as often as they could save for Darrak, the dwarf, who had more hair and beard than the rest of the group combined. Stig, who kept his head and jawline shaved had traded for Darrak’s hat in exchange for a pair of large gloves Stig had no use for as an archer. Vox watched as the man struggled to put the second hat evenly over the first before picking up his pack. Vox then ran his fingers along the side of his face to get his hair under his own hat. He had not had a chance to shave since they had left Norngard, and his cheeks now sported a rough layer of stubble. If he kept this up he’d have a full beard by the time he would re-unite with the other members of the Flaming Cart. Vox didn’t like to look to unkempt, but it seemed to help keep his face warm in the cold winds. Maybe it was just placebo…

When Pontius was sure he’d found the trail under the snow, they continued onwards. His horse was larger than Ulysses so it led the way, stomping down the powdery snow that accumulated with each new day. Vox, a southerner from the marshes, was often amazed at how early it seemed to snow in the Frostfells. Why anyone would want to live in a place where snow seemed to be on the ground for half a year bewildered him. All the same, he would have to endure the weather, as would his men. Pontius had assured him that the Boros had marched North with little problems, but Vox was not convinced. That had been on larger roads, and before the weather truly changed for the season. When the Boros marched back south, he doubted the journey would be nearly as easy.

They continued in a line; Pontius riding his rouncey at the head, followed by Vox sitting on Ulysses, followed by the footsoldiers. Mars hummed quietly to himself in a tune that didn’t quite match the pace they walked at. Stig and Petronia scanned the tundras surrounding the path, bows ready. With luck, they’d find the town before they found the bandits. The ass of the group held the rear, led by Darrak who kept one hand on the mule’s reins as often as he could manage. Their pace was slow, but steady. They didn’t talk much, and Vox figured that they wouldn’t have much to converse about anyways. If anything, Vox was the new addition to the group despite being the leader. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, but Vox knew he was thankful Pontius had vouched for him after they had all seen that bizarre vision from the changeling Gemina. To distract himself from this line of thought, Vox made mental notes comparing this group to the Flaming Cart, going so far as to try and think of names he could call this group. He could not think of a title that he liked, and he decided to temporarily drop the matter.

They would travel for most of the day, stopping to make camp when the sun would begin to set and the weather would somehow grew colder. They would make a circle of tents around a fire, and a watchman would feed the flames with the others slept. Darrak would cook, and it was a wonder that he could turn Boros trail rations into something semi-edible. Stig and Petronia would hunt if possible, and one night they brought back an elk for Darrak to add to a stew. They then made jerky out of the leftover meat. Extra food was kept salted and dried, wrapped up outside the tents and buried in the snow to freeze it. They would bury the food some several meters from the camp, marking the spot with a wooden stake. The bears were in hibernation, but if a wolf found the food it would be sniffing around away from the camp and not in someone’s tent. It was hard to find proper kindling for a fire in the tundra, but they had brought some lumber from Norngard to account for this. Though no matter how well prepared they seemed to be, Vox couldn’t help but get frustrated at the weather’s ability to slow them down regardless. They had been travelling for almost half a week now, and Conmheim seemed only just out of reach. Perhaps tomorrow, they would finally arrive in the damn town.

Two days later, Pontius spotted something on the horizon. Vox rode up beside him, reaching into a pouch to pull out a small spyglass. Extending it, he looked through the lens to see a grouping of small buildings. The village was almost entirely comprised of circular yurts, and some had smoke rising from thin chimneys protruding from the center. “Thank the Gods,” Stig muttered, “I was starting to think the place didn’t exist.” They shuffled onwards a bit faster now, eager to reach the village. Vox wondered how long they would need to stay here, and who they would need to talk to in order to find the outlaws. Hopefully this village had an elder or a leader that they could converse with. There were few people outdoors to greet them, but one of the larger yurts had some signage outside marking it as a tavern and a hostel. It was as good a place as any to start asking around. At the very least, they could take shelter from the cold winds. Vox and Pontius dismounted in a small stable branching off from the hostel, and the six soldiers walked inside.
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PostSubject: Re: Vox Clamantis   Wed Jul 22, 2015 12:25 am

Vox V

The Boros quartermaster sat at a small bench on a small stool. Behind him, several soldiers unloaded crates from a line of carts and piled them behind the man.

“Next.” he said, without looking up from the parchment in front of him.

Vox walked up to the desk. The quartermaster looked at him from behind a small pair of spectacles. A soldier pried open a crate and laid a uniform on the desk. It was a tabard with chainmail gauntlets and leather boots. The red sun of the Senate was emblazoned on the chest, burning red behind the white fist of the Legion.

“This is your uniform. There are many like it but this one is yours. Without you, the uniform is nothing. Without the uniform, you are nothing. As a Boros soldier, you will wear this and represent the strength, unity, and power of the Legion. You will wear it with pride as you fight those who would wish to undermine Daernika and the Legion. Strength through Unity.” It was a rehearsed speech, but the quartermaster said it with enough conviction that, for a moment, made Vox feel as though what he said was the truth.

“Strength through Unity.” Vox responded, as he took the uniform.


***

The air of the hostel was a welcome warmth for the group. A fire burned in a pit in the center of the room, and the walls were draped in furs that that kept the heat inside the structure. Some men sat at small tables, drinking and talking amongst themselves. A few heads turned to look at the new arrivals, but few people paid the soldiers any mind. Darrak and Mars strode over to a small counter, where a short man served tall drinks from a large keg. Stig and Petronia walked past the bar and sat beside the hearth, eager to warm themselves. Vox and Pontius stood by the entrance a little while longer, looking out at the room. Vox turned to Pontius, “See if the bartender knows anything. At the very least, buy yourself a drink and see if they have any beds for us. We shouldn’t stay longer than we have to. Let’s find the bandits, kill them, and go home.” Pontius nodded, and he moved towards the counter.

Vox began to move towards Stig and Petronia by the fire when a rough voice behind him caught his attention, “You’re after the bandits? You’ll need a guide if you want any hope of finding them.” Vox turned around to see a man clad in furs and skins. He was shorter than Vox by several inches, and his face was weathered and creased from the elements. His eyes were slightly sunken in his head, and though he looked at Vox his eyes seemed focused elsewhere. His hair was disheveled and seemed to blend with furs that lined the inside of his hood and his beard was knotted and unkempt. A bow was strung across his back, and at his waist was a small quiver filled with arrows. It took Vox a second or two to react to the man, “I’m sorry?” The man scratched at his beard lightly. “A guide. Someone who knows the area and can help you not freeze to death out there.” His voice was somehow rougher than his appearance. His eyes narrowed and he looked at Vox suspiciously, “What business do you have with those men? Are you soldiers? Mercenaries?”

Vox hesitated before answering, “We’re not quite soldiers, but the Boros sent us to deal with bandits that were seen in the area.”
“Hmmm.” The man stopped stroking his beard, and his fingers began to play with a small necklace hanging around his neck, “You’re neither soldier nor sellsword, but the Boros sent you. Hmmm.” As he stood there in thought, the man’s fingers danced around small carved charms that hung from the necklace. Vox saw a small wooden albatross, some animal teeth, and a coin with a hole punched through it, among other various oddities strung around the man’s neck. The man saw Vox looking at the necklace, and he stuffed it into his coat. Vox went back to the subject at hand, “Are you a guide? Do you know where we can find these bandits?”
The man nodded, “I’m something like a ranger for this place. I hunt game for the town, but these bandits are poaching the elk nearby. Bastards don’t seem to realize that this town needs the furs and the meat. We have little else to sell in this barren place.”

They rested a short while before they left town. They fed the horses and the mule some old fruit, while they ate a stew the owner of the hostel had been cooking. It did little to nourish them, but it was the best thing available. James led the group away from the village towards a sparse forest on the horizon. While the others walked with heavy feet and labored breath, James seems to move with an almost unnatural stamina. He never seemed to slow down or lose his breath, and he began to sing while the others gasped for air.


Came a peddler to my door
Said he’s got a sale on war
I said: What have you come here for
Do you think that I forgot?
Last time you showed to me your wares
It left me cold, it left me scared
I’d rather pay for peaceful cares
Than all your gaudy war

James’ voice echoed in the cold wind, and it sounded as though he was all around them. All the while, he moved through the snow as though he did not notice its presence. James continued to sing, louder and lower than before, as the wind howled a song of its own. His voice resounded with bizarre force, and Vox wished the man would shut up.

The last war you sold to me
Was anything but victory
I fought in it myself, you see
Deception’s golden spool
And for a moment I believed
That war is like a clever thief
Takes evil out and good it leaves
But no more will I be fooled

From the corners of his eye, Vox saw Petronia shiver. He wouldn’t have noticed, given the weather, but he could see that she was staring at James as he continued his bizarre show. Vox too, could feel a chill run down his spine that was not caused by the cold winds. He knew the song. It was popular in places where the Boros wasn’t. The Frostfells were no exception, and it seemed like an inevitability so soon after the battle against the Broken Spine, but Vox hadn’t expected to hear it in this place. He wondered if people would have wanted the Norngardians and Boros to fight, rather than band together like they did. James, meanwhile, continued to sing.


This line you sell seems clean and bright
But when I hold it to the light
I can’t ignore its awful blight
It’s rotten to the core
Manufactured by your hands
And woven in with freedom’s strands
Exported then to foreign lands
It’s still a bloody war

When the song finally ended, James slowed his pace to match Vox’s, and he turned his head slightly to face the old soldier. “Do you know what it means? The song?” Vox could see the ranger give a slight smile as he asked this, as though he was amused by an answer Vox had yet to give. Vox gave a short reply, “It’s rather straightforward. War is bad.” He was in no mood to discuss the meaning of songs right now. Frankly, if they didn’t need James’ help they would have ignored him in the hostel. Vox didn’t like the man, but they needed him as a guide.

James, meanwhile, had continued to ramble on, “Well yes, you aren’t wrong. But I think there is so much more to it. The way I see it, the singer is a soldier, a veteran. They fought in war, a ‘bad war’ like you say, and they decided they had had enough. It haunts them, this war. So when their superiors, these peddlers of war and death, come back to drag the soldier into the fray, the soldier defies them. The soldier says no. They see the truth of the matter, and they see through the peddler’s lies and propaganda. Can you believe that? A soldier learning to defy the orders of their superiors? To think for themselves?” He gave a raspy chuckle, “I suppose songs always did blend fiction and reality.” Vox felt his jaw clench tight as he trudged through the snow. Was this man mocking him? Vox had told him he was no longer Boros, but James seemed to be taunting him, goading him, as though he wanted Vox to lose his temper. For a moment, Vox felt the urge to grab the man by the collar and beat some sense into him. James seemed to notice this, and he gave Vox some distance. On his lips was an almost unnoticeable smirk. Vox hoped to find the bandits and then rid himself of James, the sooner the better. Indeed, he wanted to rid himself of the Frostfells as a whole for quite some time when he was done with this cursed job.

As they approached the trees, Vox could see how dense the forest truly was. If anyone wanted to hid in this place, they would do it here. James stopped at the edge of the woods, and he stood there silently, his eyes scanning the area. Vox welcomed his silence. “Hmmm,” James finally grunted, his fingers dancing gracefully over the baubles on his necklace. “They’re in there.”

Mars peered over James’ shoulder. “How can you tell?” he asked, with a mixture of confusion and wonder.

James turned to Mars with a smile, and he motioned out to a patch of condensed snow in the forest. “The tracks! I know when the prey makes a trail.”

James unslung his bow and he ran his fingers down the bowstring, checking to see if it was taut. There seemed to be some kind of routine, and to Vox the whole preparation looked automatic. He has done this before. When James seemed satisfied, he moved into the forest. Vox and his men followed, weapons ready.

"The Peddler" lyrics by Maria Dunn
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PostSubject: Re: Vox Clamantis   Tue Aug 11, 2015 10:06 am

Vox VI

The deer nudged its way through the reeds, ankle deep in the sludge of the marsh. it made its way onto more solid ground and stopped to eat some of the wild grass. Markus and Vox watched from a distance. Neither spoke, lest they startle the creature. Markus strung a shortbow, and took an arrow from his quiver. Vox sat beside him quietly, waiting for Markus.  It was the first time he had accompanied Markus on such an outing. With many of Aldenburn’s farmers struggling to grow proper crops this season, it was often up to people the Markus to gather their own meals. It was not often that a deer would wander this far into the marshes, and the venison would be a welcome dinner. Yet Markus did not shoot the deer. Rather, he held out the bow and arrow to Vox who could only open his mouth in silent protest. He had never been much good with a bow in the first place. Yet Markus firmly believed in knowledge through experience, and he seemed to want to make a lesson out of this hunt. Vox took the bow and nocked the arrow, as Markus had taught him. Markus corrected Vox’s posture with quiet gestures and prodding. Vox drew the bowstring and loosed the arrow. It flew, a blur cutting through the air itself, only to sail past the deer’s head and off into the marshes. The deer jolted upward, and bounded away before Vox could get another arrow. Vox turned slowly to Markus, sheepishly giving the bow back. Markus put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, “When I first went hunting, my arrows barely flew five feet.” He smiled, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you how to properly use a bow and how to track an animal.”
Vox thought about the deer, now out of sight entirely. “What about after that? When I have to…” His voice trailed off, and he saw the smile fade from Markus’ mouth.
“We’ll get there when you feel ready. For now, don’t trouble yourself with such things.”


***

James moved silently between the trees, stopping every so often to kneel down and read the trail. Vox too, could see what appeared to be areas of disturbed snow. He would have assumed it was the tracks of some animal, but James seemed to reach a different conclusion. Vox turned back to look at the others. They followed closely behind, weapons ready. Petronia and Sten had nocked arrows, while the others carried their swords. They all looked tired, on edge. Vox could hardly blame them. If anything, he blamed himself. He should have let them rest a while longer in the town. He should have consulted with them about James. He should have made sure they had gotten beds at the hostel. He should have made sure they were prepared to travel in the snows off the tundra. He should have been there to help Chant or Effi or Iona. He should ha--

Lost in thought, Vox walked into James, who had hunched over yet again to read the trail. Vox regained his balance, but not before knocking James forward into the ground he was trying to investigate. James broke his fall with a quick movement, and he shot a poisonous glare at Vox as he got back on his feet. The man did not speak or cry out in surprise, yet his eyes seemed to be screaming at Vox. Still glaring at the soldier, James brushed the snow off his sleeve and began to move again. He trudged onwards, looking for signs of tracks that had not been destroyed by Vox’s carelessness. Vox stood still for a moment, thinking now of the look James had given him. He could not remember the last time he had seen someone have an expression of such sheer hatred and silent fury. The others seemed to notice it too, and the shuffled nervously amongst themselves as James lead them deeper into the woods. The longer James was with the group, the less Vox wanted him to be near them.

They continued in silence, though now Vox and the others were sure to give James additional space as he worked. He had not spoken since entering the woods, and some members of the group began to almost miss the singing they had condemned only hours prior. When James knelt over tracks, he would squat silently over the disturbed ground, reading it like one might read a parchment or book. The only part of him the moved would be his fingers, always dancing over the tokens and baubles on his necklace. He never seemed to lose the trail, even when Vox and the others struggled to see what he was looking at. They would have been lost without his help, though Vox was not planning on telling this to James. He wondered if James would ask for some kind of payment once his services were finished.

The more Vox thought about it, the stranger it seemed that James had not tried to discuss payment beck in Conmheim. Surely he was not helping them out of charity, even if the bandits seemed to be hurting his livelihood more than others. Indeed, that would be all the more reason to try and extort non-locals out of every gold piece he could squeeze from their pockets. Yet he had not touched on the matter at all. Vox found it unnerving. When he was a Minuteman, payment was often discussed before the details of the job were even detailed. This was… Well, it was very nearly the exact opposite. Vox remembered the look James had given him, and he thought about how long he had been leading them into the woods. Here, they were cut off from the world. Perhaps that was just what the man wanted. Perhaps the man would loot the bandits once Vox and the others were done fighting them. Or maybe…

Vox felt his hand moving almost automatically to his sword. James wasn’t leading them to bandits. There were no bandits. They had been led into a trap. How could he have not realized it sooner? How could he have been so blind? He was so desperate to do his duty that he had failed to sense other potential dangers, even when they were quite literally standing before him. How could he have been so stupid? He wasn’t thinking, and now they would pay for his idiocy. No. I won’t let him think he’s tricked us. There are six of us, and one of him. Vox’s hand had begun to close around the hilt of his greatsword when James stopped once more, holding his hand outward to signal the others behind him. “We’re here.” he said, voice barely above a whisper.

Vox looked out beyond James to see a thin haze of smoke rising from between the trees. A small campfire burned, and around it sat three or four men, huddled together in the cold. Another stood leaning against a tree, keeping watch. His back was facing Vox and the others, and he seemed to be half asleep. Vox’s hand was still around the handle of his sword. Another few seconds and he would have drawn it on James while giving an order for the others to attack. Now, it seemed as though James had been honest with them, taking them exactly to where they needed to be. Truly, I am a fool. Vox quietly drew his sword and he crouched beside James as the ranger drew a crude map on the snow. He would be using it after all, but not against their guide.

The soldiers gathered in a tight circle as James finished his map. He talked softly, but clearly, “There appear to be five in total, grouped here and here,” he drew x’s on the snow marking the approximate locations of the bandits, “They have yet to see us. We can surprise them. Kill them before they know what’s happening.” He looked at Vox and Pontius. “You two, lead the swordsmen to flank,” he then turned to Petronia and Stig, “you two, stay with me and shoot down any who try and run. Wait for the swordsmen to attack before firing.” Vox’s men looked at him. Vox didn’t like the ranger giving out orders, but the plan seemed sound enough. He nodded in approval, and the soldiers began to get into position. Pontius took Darrak to the left while Vox and Mars circled around to the right. James, Petronia, and Stig stayed behind, readying their bows.

They stayed low, moving behind trees and bushes while they circled the camp. As they got closer, Vox noticed that the bandits were all asleep, including the one acting as watchmen. Despite their clear lack of discipline, Vox couldn’t fault them; the cold winds seemed to sap one’s energy right from their core. Vox almost felt sorry for them, if only for a moment. Their time had come to an end, and none of them would even be awake to face it.

The four swordsmen: Vox, Pontius, Darrak, and Mars had positioned themselves on opposite sides of the bandit’s small camp. Slowly and silently, they moved in.
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PostSubject: Re: Vox Clamantis   Thu Aug 13, 2015 8:25 pm

Vox VII

The Broken Spine had attacked at dawn, before the sun had risen. Vox was awoken by a horn, and he fell out of his cot. Him, and a dozen soldiers around him got dressed in a hurried frenzy. Vox had barely gotten his white tabard over his mail when the captain entered the tent, barking orders. The Boros soldiers exited the tent, grabbing spears, swords, and shields as they left. The 16th Legion would not be caught unaware. They made a line in the swamp, spearmen hunched over in the mud ready for the approaching hordes. Distance, Vox could see torches burn through the trees. Or perhaps it was the rising sun. No, it was torches. Torches of thousands of orcs, kobolds, bugbears, among others. The Boros would meet them.

The armies clashed, and all around Vox Boros and Broken Spine wrestled and fought in the mud. The mud covered everyone and everything. And Vox stood alone in the chaos. In the mud, he could not tell who was who.


***

It was dark in the woods. The sun was blocked by both the twisted branches of the trees and the massive grey clouds overhead. Snowflakes fell lightly from the sky, settling on the heads and shoulders of Vox and the others. They hardly noticed. Their attention was focused on the bandits before them. The bandits had not seen them yet. Even the one that seemed to be keeping watch was more interested in the small fire they had built than the area around them. For once, the cold was working in Vox’s favor.

Mars was beside him, and on the other side of the small glade Pontius and Darrak circled around. When a signal was given, James, Petronia, and Stig would reveal themselves in a volley of arrows. The fight would hopefully be over before it had a chance to begin.

Vox heard a noise behind him. A twig breaking or the crunching of snow, he wasn’t sure. He turned to see Mars sprawled out on the ground. He sat up, shaking the snow from his head. “I t-tripped. A root, under the snow.” Vox put a finger to his mouth, signaling him to be quiet. IT was too late. Mars’ eyes shifted past Vox, looking at something. Vox turned to see the watchman, staring at the two of them. His mouth was agape, and for a moment he stood still from the shock. Then, he sprung to action, fumbling with the dagger on his belt. Vox lunged forward as best he could in the snow, driving his greatsword through the watchman’s gut. The man gurgled and fell limp. The other bandits stirred, only to yell in shock as one of their own fell backwards on the fire.

There were four around the fire. One bandit jumped to his feet, knife out, ducking around to the side towards Vox. Vox turned to meet him, but the snows stymied his feet. The bandit ducked under Vox’s sword, continuing to circle closer. He was stopped by Mars, now on his feet, who ran his sword through the bandit’s side. The remaining three grouped together, drawing swords. They backed away from Vox and Mars, only to meet Pontius and Darrak. The two soldiers took down a bandit each as they moved in from behind. That left only one. Only one bandit to find themselves surrounded by four blades.

The bandit threw down his sword. “Wait. Please, I surren--” His words were cut short as three arrows pierced his chest. He groaned weakly, and fell among the other deceased bandits.
Vox and the others jumped back, and they turned to see James striding forward. He was flanked by Stig and Petronia, who both kept scanning the trees as though they expected more bandits to reveal themselves. None came.

Vox stepped over the bodies to James, “That man surrendered. He surrendered and you shot him down.”
James snorted, “Hmmm. Our arrows were in flight before he tried to save himself. He would have shaken your hand while readying a blade in the other.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do.” James’ fingers went again to his necklace. “The way back is simple. You don’t need me anymore.” With that he turned and began to walk in the direction of the village.

Good riddance. Vox thought to himself. He went back to his men, who were now arranging the corpses in a line. “Should we bury them?” Darrak asked as he and stig lowered the fifth and last bandit to the ground. Pontius stood at the other end of the corpses, furrowing his brow. “No,” Pontius said, “We’d have to dig through both snow and frozen ground. Besides, we’ll need to get proof for Mormont showing that we killed the bandits.”
“What are you suggesting?” Stig inquired.
Pontius sighed, “We’ll, uh, we’ll need something from their bodies. A finger, or a…” his voice trailed off, as though he expected the others to figure out what he meant.
“Gods.” Darrak breathed, “I did not leave the Boros for this.”
Pontius turned to the dwarf, “None of us did. But if we want to see this job thro--”
“We’ll give Mormont what he wants, aye, but I’ll not defile a corpse to do it, bandit or no.” Darrak bent over one of the corpses. “Mars, come help me take their swords. They'll serve as proof.” Mars moved to help him.

They had only taken the first blade from the bandit’s cold hands when Darrak stopped. His lips, barely visible behind his beard quivered as he held it out before him. “I know this steel.” He said, voice barely above a whisper. “It’s Boros. Standard issue.”
“Let me see.” Vox pushed past Mars and knelt beside Darrak. The dwarf handed him the weapon. It was of a simple design yet it was far better than any sword a bandit should have, and it was indeed Boros. Looters from after the battle outside Norngard? No, Vox and the others had left before the battle had even truly ended. These bandits couldn’t have possibly traveled faster than them.

“Stig. Petronia. Check their bags. Now.” Vox ordered. They moved to the embers of the fire where some knapsacks lay half buried in snow. They rummaged around in them before stopping.

“Vox.”

Vox turned to see Petronia. Her face was as pale as the snow and she was holding a white tabard with a red fist proudly displayed on it.

No. No. No no no no. Gods, please, no. Vox took the tabard and held it gently, as though it would disintegrate in his hands. James. He knew. Vox’s gauntleted fists closed tightly around the tabard, and he found realized that he was speaking, barking commands before they were fully processed in his head. “Pontius, burn these bodies. Mars. Darrak. Help him. Stig. Petronia. Keep watch. And for the Gods’ sake, cover their faces. I’m going after him.”

Vox began to leave the glade. Behind him, the others began to move. They moved slowly, dazed and sickened by the revelation. Vox stopped at the edge of the clearing and leaved against a tree, catching his breath. The bandits in a row, Pontius covering their faces. The pile of sticks slowly becoming the base for a pyre. Images of Chant, Iona, and Effi, invaded his thoughts. He could see their faces on the corpses of the bandits. It was happening all over again. But this, this was different. Now, he truly was responsible for the deaths of Boros soldiers. He then hunched over, gagging, until he vomited.

“Sir? Are you ok?” It was Mars, gathering sticks for the pyre.

“I’m… I’m fine.” He was not fine.

“Sir?” Vox could see Mars fumbling with the sticks, afraid to ask his next question. “Are we… Are we the bad guys?”
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PostSubject: Re: Vox Clamantis   Sat Aug 22, 2015 5:57 pm

Vox VIII

Markus and Vox walked by the stalls of the market. Merchants and traders from all walks of life mingled, selling and buying each other’s wares. It was Vox’s first time with Markus. Though only a child, Vox would be the apprentice to the man, helping him manage the Falcon’s Findings, Markus' store. Markus had told Vox that in order to better understand trade, he should spend time at the market, where the haggling was more important than the actual sale.

Vox heard a clamor, and he turned to see a merchant yelling at another man. The merchant was speaking in a language Vox could not understand, but Vox could hear the fury in his voice. The merchant roughly put his hand on the man’s shoulder, jerking him around. Out of the thief’s clothing fell a number of potatoes, cabbages, and other vegetables. The thief took a step back, and something shiny flashed at his belt.

Markus’ hands were around Vox before the child could see anything more. He held Vox in a way that prevented him from looking back. When Vox began to struggle, Markus held him tighter, “Don’t look, child. I don’t want you to see this.” Vox heard screaming behind him as Markus ushered him away. Someone called for a guard. Another voice called for a priest. Some voices were cries of anguish, wordless, yet more informative than anything Vox would have seen had he looked.


***

Vox trudged through the snow. He did not feel the cold. He did not feel the wind. He felt only a burning rage. His head pounded as the faces of the dead Boros flashed through his thoughts. Their images were distorted, and their faces were warped as their mouths opened with a scream that only he could hear. New faces appeared among them, and Vox could now see Chant, Effi, and Iona join the other dead soldiers. They screamed, and stared at Vox as he pushed through the cold.

Vox fell to his knees, sobbing. Behind him, Pontius and the others burned the fallen. Ahead of him, James was slipping away. Vox was in the middle, alone among the dead trees and fallen snow. His head ached, and he could feel a knot in his stomach that felt as though his insides were twisted and deformed. It was a pain he feared more than the cuts and bruises he received on the battlefield. But this was no battlefield.

He could still see the dead in his mind. They surrounded him, looking at him. They began to melt away into the cold, leaving only a single shape among the trees. Vox looked to see James, standing before him. The man did not move, even as Vox slowly climbed to his feet and held out his blade. Vox staggered forward, swinging his greatsword with what little strength he had left. James stepped to the side of the stroke, but not before the tip of Vox’s blade caught on the string of the ranger’s bow. The bowstring snapped and the limbs of the bow vibrated from the sudden lack of tension. It wobbled of of James’ hand, landing in the snow. Vox had hoped to kill the man, but disarming him was a better result than nothing.

Vox reset his stance. He struggled to hold the weight of his greatsword. James looked at his broken bow on the ground, and then looked at Vox. “Hmmm.” Was all the man grunted out. James kicked out, sending snow flying at Vox. Vox held out an arm to block the snow from hitting his face. His sword lowered, too heavy for the other other arm to hold at the ready. Vox tried to move to where he thought the bow had fallen, hoping to block James from reaching it.

But James did not move toward the bow, and instead circled from the other side, drawing a dagger from a sheath on his belt. With his free hand he grabbed onto Vox’s wrist, pushing away the soldier’s sword. He tackled Vox, and Vox felt the blade against his cheek as he fell. Blood trickled down the side of his face as he landed on his back. James pinned him to the ground, holding the knife at Vox’s throat. He held the knife there for a moment, catching his breath. His breathing was raspy and uneven. Vox was careful not to breath in too deeply, worried that his throat might catch the edge of James’ knife.

For a moment it seemed that neither dared to move. James put the knife back in its sheath. “No,” the ranger sighed, “No, I surrender.” He rolled off of Vox, and took a few steps backward. Vox scrambled to his feet, but dropped down to one knee. He supported himself with his sword and James sat down against a tree.

“Why?” Vox asked,

“I don’t want to kill you, and I don’t want you to kill me. I surrender.”

“Why do you think I won’t kill you?”

“Fighting those men, the last one tried to surrender before your archers and I shot him down. You were furious with me for not honoring his wishes.” James’ fingers began to play with the charms on his necklace, “I figure you must have have a sense of obligation not slaughter someone who surrenders themselves to you. That, and you can barely stand.”

Vox thought of the promise he had made to Arva, but he said nothing. He wanted to kill this man. He wanted to stand up and run the man through with his sword. But James was right; even if Vox decided to go against his promise to Arva, he did not have the strength to lift his sword.

Vox stared at James. “If you surrender, I suppose you also have some terms as well?”

“Hmmm. Yes.” The ranger replied, “I want to talk. I want you to listen.”

Vox wiped his cheek, and it left a smear of blood on his glove. “What could you possibly say that I would want to hear?”

James sat up, “I don’t care about what you want to hear. Just listen to me.”

Vox scowled, “Fine. Say what you’re going to say.”
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PostSubject: Re: Vox Clamantis   Sat Sep 05, 2015 5:07 am

Vox IX

Markus and the customer spoke faster than Vox had ever heard. The two bartered and bargained with each other, seemingly drowning out all other distractions. They were only focused on the possibility of a deal. Vox tried to listen, but he could barely keep up. Soon, the customer produced a bag of gold, and Markus handed over a small crate of tea leaves. When the customer left, Vox turned to Markus, “That was amazing. What was that?”

Markus chuckled, “Why, we were sparring, of course. Words were always my weapon of choice.”


***

Vox knelt against his sword, his breathing heavy and labored. James sat across from him, only a few feet away. His lips were curled upwards ever so slightly into a smirk, while Vox’s quivered in silent anger. “You lied to me, Vox, when you said your were not Boros.”

“I am not a Boros soldier. Not anymore.”

“A lie. One apparently so convincing that you yourself believe it.” Vox opened his mouth in protest, but James cut him off, “Ah! I talk, you listen. That was our little treaty.”

Vox let out a frustrated sigh. James continued, “Our experiences define us, Vox. What we do, or say, or even feel builds an image of who we are. You, Vox, are Boros. Your service in the Legion changed you from whoever you were before. You may no longer wear the uniform, but your past is something you can’t take off and change.”

Vox spoke, “And what of your past?”

James leaned forward, “An excellent question. What indeed?” His fingers danced over the baubles on his necklace. “I suppose you deserve to know. I was born in a small village. Where it was isn’t important. I lived there my whole life, working the fields to grow crops. It was a quiet place, except for the Boros. They were there to enforce the law, as they always are, but they seemed to think that this put them above their own rules. They wanted to use my fields for military exercises, as it was the only good open space for miles. I refused. I needed to harvest crops for the winter. They didn’t like this answer, so they arrested me and trained there anyways. They told me that preventing the military from conducting its business was as severe as taking up arms against the Legion. And so, though I had never held a weapon before in my life, I was branded an enemy of the Boros.”

James’ fingered tightened around his necklace. He fell silent for a moment before continuing. “I was arrested alongside some Broken Spine raiders. This was my doom, as my goalers soon associated me with them. I think they thought I was some kind of civilian spy. It was all the reason they needed to torture me. They demanded I answer questions I didn’t know, and soon I found myself confessing to falsehoods simply because it was what they wanted to hear. In time I escaped, only to find my village burned and my farm destroyed. It was the Boros, no doubt, looking for more “spies.” There was nothing there anymore, so I changed my name and left. The Boros broke me, Vox, but the also rebuilt me.”

With his knife, James cut his necklace. The charms on it fell in the snow, scattered wildly between the two. Vox looked at the charms on the ground, and then looked back at James. But now he looked different. Much of his face was scarred and burned, and his hair now only existed in wispy patches. He was missing several teeth, and his nose was crooked as a result of various fractures.
Only his eyes remained unchanged, but they burned with an intensity Vox had never seen.

“They took my home. They took my face. They took my name.” James’ voice was now raspy, and each word he spoke seemed to cause him pain. “I died in their prisons, Vox. I have been dead ever since.”

“So you blame me because I was once Boros?”

James laughed. “No, to blame every individual soldier would be exhausting. I blame the Boros as a whole. Nobody wants to believe they’re the villain, Vox, but sometimes we get caught in the mob. Forgive me for the metaphor but though you may be a ripe apple, this does not mean that the tree is not rotten. The Boros is quite rotten, Vox. I’d say it’s only a matter of time before the Legion collapses upon itself.”

“And what’s your alternative?”

James’ fingers instinctively went for his necklace, but then he remembered he had cut it off, “Hmmm,” he said, “Burn it down, start over fresh. Don’t worry, I don’t literally mean a literal burning. More of a political shift. Tell me, what happened in the Battle of Norngard?”

Vox answered honestly, “The Boros and Norngardians defeated the Broken Spine.”

“And will Norngard gain its independence?”

“It is possible, yes.”

James smiled, “Hmmm. It’s already happening. Other regions will soon see that they do not need the Boros to rule over them.”

“What about the Broken Spine?” Vox needed to ask, “Only a group as large as the Boros can defeat them.”

James sat back, “The way I see it, the Broken Spine only raid and pillage because the Boros is a worthy adversary. Smaller independent regions are no fun for them. They’ll lose interest in time.”

Vox wondered if Pontius and the others were looking for them. They would fight James, and likely kill him. Then they could leave this damned forest.

“Vox, are you listening to me?” James asked, frowning, “I said, what are you afraid of?”

“Excuse me?

“What are you afraid of?”

“I don’t know what you mean.

“Yes you do.”

Vox sighed, “I’m afraid of losing those close to me. And mud. I don’t like mud.”

James scratched at the few unburnt hairs on his chin, “I see. Your men, they look up to you even if you don’t realize it. You scare me, Vox.”

Vox blinked, “What?”

“You told me about your fears, so I told you mine. I am afraid of you.”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure what to make of you. I’m not even sure if you yourself know who you are. You are ex-Boros, or so you claim. Tell me, why are you here? Bandits, right?”

“My men and I were tasked with finding and destroying a group of outlaws.”

James spat, “There are no outlaws here. There’s not much of anything here, except ice and snow.”

“Those Boros soldiers, why were they here?” Vox needed to know, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer.

“Deserters, I think. Norngardian born Boros, unwillinging to fight their kinsmen. A waste, since it seems the Norngardians and Boros found compromise.” James’ brow furrowed, as though he had come to some realization. “Hmmm.” Was all he said.

James looked at Vox, “The Boros sent you to find these non-existent bandits?”

“Yes. A Boros General gave me the task.”

“Did you talk about anything else?”

Vox thought back to his conversation with Mormont, “We talked… We talked about his concerns regarding my men.”

James’ eyes flickered, “Hmmm. You were deceived. This general knew there were no bandits, but I would wager he knew there were deserters. They sent you to do their dirty work.”

“You’re wrong.” Vox’s voice was feeble, “They wouldn’t…”

“Have you heard nothing of what I have told you? They sent vermin to kill vermin, and they told you it would be honorable and glorious. The Boros think that anyone who is not with them is an enemy. In the eyes of the Legion, deserters are utter filth. Deserving of only the worst punishments.”

James ran a finger down the burnt side of his head. “Look at me. This is nothing compared to the crime of desertion. You told me you fear the loss of those close to you. If you truly mean what you say, you will take your men and save them from the Boros. If they capture you, they will make you beg for death.”

“You would like that, wouldn’t you?”

James stared at Vox, but his eyes were less intense now. They seemed almost wounded. “Hmmm. I would never wish torture on another person. My past has made me cold, but I still have some humanity in me.” He sighed a slow, tired sigh. “Earlier I said I was afraid of you. I’m sorry. What I meant was that I am afraid of who you are, and what you will be. You have a chance to sever yourself from the Boros, and I’m afraid you won’t do it. I’m afraid you’re too entrenched in your past to let go. I’m afraid the Boros have made you their puppet, and you can’t even see the strings.”

Vox bristled at the comment. “There are no strings on me.”

James grunted, “Listen to me Vox. The Boros have indoctrinated you and so many others. They made you believe that their existence is necessary, when really their power is fading with each day. They are becoming obsolete, and people like you and your men are the key the their demise. Your past experience with Boros makes you an ideal instrument for their destruction. You are living proof of individuals willing and able to leave the Legion in the past where they belong. You can create something new in its place.”

“This is your dream?”

“Hmmm. I suppose it is, though I am not able to see it through. But you are, Vox. I said earlier that the Legion was a rotten tree and you an apple. Let the old tree die, and let something new be planted in it place. Something beautiful.”

As James talked, Vox wondered if he knew about the Dimir. All of James’ anger toward the Boros seemed to come so close to uncovering the truth, only to slip by. The Legion was indeed rotten, but not in the way he thought. If anything, all of Daernika was slowly rotting away. Vox considered if James was an agent of the Dimir, but that didn’t seem quite right. If he was, he was one of the poor fools who unknowingly served the shadowy group. Like Benjem.

“Vox.” James broke Vox’s concentration. “What is it?”

Vox wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “You remind me of someone I know.”

“Are there other people out there, tortured and deformed, living under a different name than the one they were given?” James seemed skeptical.

Vox almost couldn’t help but smile, “I know of at least one other who fits the description.”

“Do you know where he is?”

If a smile had indeed formed on Vox’s lips, it was now gone, ”No. We parted ways not long ago. If I know him, he’s probably using yet another false name.”

James stood up, and knelt directly in front of Vox, “Then for Gods’ sake, find him. He does not know the damage he is doing to himself.”

Vox was taken aback, “Damage?”

“When I told you I died in the Boros prison I meant it. I use my new name partly as protection, and partly because I can’t remember my old one. I can’t remember it Vox, no matter how hard I try. Help this person, Vox. Help him before he becomes like me.”

“He may not accept the help I am able to give.”

“That is no reason not to try.” Vox could see James’ eyes, closer than ever, begin to form tears.

Vox sat down, putting his sword across his lap. “Ok,” he said to the ranger, “Ok, I’ll try.”

“Thank you, Vox. Please, take this.” James held out one of his daggers, handle first.

“Is this some kind of gift?”

“It’s not a gift. It’s a weapon. You want to protect your men. You want to help your friends. Yet that sword you carry is unwieldy. Too large for my tastes. Sometimes, smaller is bigger.”

Vox looked at James. James looked at Vox. “Is that the only reason?” Vox asked.

“No, it isn’t.” James answered, “You followed me to kill me. I enjoyed our talk, but my time is up.”

“You want to die?”

“I told you, I’m already dead.”

Vox took the knife slowly and held it in his hand. It was a long and thin blade, sharper than anything Vox had ever seen. The edge glistened red from the cut it had made on Vox’s cheek only minutes earlier.

“The way I see it,” James mused, “I’m the outlaw you came here to kill. So you can do your duty as a Boros soldier, or you can kill me for putting your men’s lives in danger. I leave the reasoning to you. All I ask is that you act, and think, for yourself. Take control of your life, Vox.”

Vox held the knife tightly, and he thrust it through the ranger’s heart. James grunted, and his breathing grew weaker. He looked at Vox, his eyes shining. “Vox, do you remember the faces of those you kill?”

“I do. They’re all in here.” Vox pointed to his head with his free hand.

“Hmmm. At least I won’t be alone anymore.” James laughed a weak laugh, which turned into a weak cough, which turned into cold silence.

Vox sat back, looking at the ranger’s corpse. True, he had followed the man to kill him, but now that he had, it felt like a hollow victory. Vox wasn’t sure he’d ever truly understand the conversation the two had here. His head started to ache as he sat there, and it seemed that his exhaustion had finally caught up with him. He fell into a trance, and the last thing he saw while still conscious were the shapes of Pontius and the others, pushing their way to him through the snow.
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PostSubject: Re: Vox Clamantis   Mon Sep 07, 2015 5:08 pm

Vox X

Vox looked over the corpses laid before him. He heard Pontius sigh from behind as a Boros soldier removed the rough blanket covering the faces of the dead, revealing the faces of two women and one man. The women were human, while the male was a tiefling. Iona, Eddi, and Chant. Where was he when these three fell? The Boros soldier looked back at Vox and Pontius, awaiting a response. Vox turned his head to face Pontius, who nodded solemnly. Vox nodded back, and turned to face the footsoldier. “It’s them,” he told the man, “We will handle things from here.”

***


Vox jolted upright. It was dark, too dark to see. Vox wasn’t sure where he was. Had he been asleep? He was sitting on what felt like a bed. His eyes began to adjust to the darkness. He was inside a room. Some light was sneaking into the space from under a door. He heard a noise, and before he knew it his hand grabbed onto something. The door opened, and light flooded into the room. Vox’s eyes stung, and he held up an arm to block the sudden rush of light.

“Vox?” A voice said. It was Darrak. His broad shoulders nearly touched either side of the doorframe, and Vox could see that he was wearing mail underneath seemingly plain clothing.


Vox could now see what he had grabbed in the darkness. It was James’ knife, and he was pointing it at Darrak. He dropped it, and it tumbled down onto the bedsheets.

“Sorry.” He said weakly. He wanted to ask where they were, or what had happened, but he found his mouth too dry to make the words. He needed his pipe.

“No harm done,” The dwarf chuckled, “I’ll fetch Pontius.” Darrak left, giving Vox a view of the what of the hall. It was dusty, and most of the light came from windows lining the far wall. Vox couldn’t get a good view of the outside from where he sat, but it appeared to be mid day. He didn’t seem to be up in the north either, judging by the temperature, and for that he was thankful. The cold made for poor sleep. But if he wasn’t in the north, where was he?

Vox hadn’t noticed Pontius enter, and the soldier gave a small cough to announce his presence. “Welcome back to the land of the living, Vox.” The soldier said, “Some of us weren’t sure if you were gonna pull through.”

“Sorry if I scared you,” Vox move to sit on the edge of the bed and reach in his bag for his pipe, “How long was I out?”

Pontius scratched his beard in thought, “About a week I’d say. All the way from Conmheim to here.”

Vox felt a knot in his gut. A week? Gods, what had happened? He looked up at Pontius, “Where are we?”

Pontius moved to the window, struggling with the rusty latch on the shutters. “I’m actually not sure. We’ve been going from town to town these past few days, inching our way south. This is something like the fourth or fifth inn.”

Pontius pushed the latch open, and pushed the shutters out. For a second time, Vox shielded his eyes from the sudden increase in light. Vox lit his pipe and got up on his feet. He shuffled over beside Pontius. The two looked out the window into the small town. It all looked rather generic. Little wooden houses were scattered about, with dirt roads and paths running between them. Below them was a small courtyard when Stig and Petronia were fletching new arrows. Stig looked up and nudged Petronia on the shoulder. The two looked up at Vox and saluted before returning to their work.

“How have they been doing?” Vox asked.

“Well enough, but you gave some of them a bit of a scare. Mars was a bit distraught but he’ll be happy to see you awake. Darrak insisted on guarding your door while you slept.

That explains the chainmail. “Am I in any danger?” Vox puffed his pipe.

“Well, I’m not sure.” Pontius moved away from the window, “When we joined you we had just seen Gemina’s vision. If the Dimir are as bad as they say they are, we’ve no doubt angered them. It was one of our reasons for leaving the north actually. Lay low, hope from town to town. So far, it seems to be working.”

Vox kept smoking his pipe. He wondered if anyone in the Flaming Cart was less lucky. He had been in the middle of nowhere since the Battle at Norngard, but the others seemed to have gone in all directions. He wondered when he would see them again, if at all.

“Where do you think we should we go from here?” Vox asked.

“Well, now that you’re awake, that’s really up to you.” Pontius looked at the dagger still lying on the bed. “My advice? See a doctor. I want to make sure you’re recovered before we hit the road.”

“A doctor?”

“Yeah, we went to a few while you were unconscious, but they weren’t much help. They said that beyond the cut on your cheek, you weren’t wounded or injured. I kept telling them if that were true you’d be awake. You weren't feverish, but you still seemed sick.”

Vox tried thinking back to when he collapsed. The memory was foggy. “I remember being tired. Really tired, yet alert. Beyond the cut I wasn’t outwardly wounded, but my head felt like it was going to tear itself apart. When you found me, my body just…” His voice trailed off.

“Well if only you were awake to tell those incompetent healers.” Pontius looked at him solemnly, “Vox, I know you’re now technically my boss so forgive me if I’m speaking out of line, but I want you to take care of yourself. The others and I are will try to help how we can.”

“Thanks.” Vox gave a weak smile. He wished he could express his gratitude more, but at the moment he couldn’t find the words. He was still getting his bearings after being asleep for a week.

“When you think you’re fit to travel, just give the order and we’ll be packed before you know it. What’s the Minuteman motto? ‘Always ready?’ I have an idea of our route on this map here.” Pontius patted one of pouches on his belt, where a folded piece of parchment was sticking out.

“I trust your judgement. We’ll keep heading south for now.”

“That’s the plan. Glad you’re back, Vox.” Pontius started to head to the door, but stopped. “Oh, one more thing.”

Vox raised an eyebrow, “What is it?”

Pontius chuckled to himself as he turned, “It’s the men. Somewhere on the road they got the idea that they should have a name for our little group. I guess as a little sibling to the Flaming Cart if I understand their intentions.”

“Oh? They want to be mercenaries?” Vox wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that.

“Well, they said being mercs wasn’t quite right. They said they wanted to be more than hired swords. They want to help people like the Flaming Cart did. I told them I’d ask you first.”

“I’ll gladly do that. But I hope they realize we’ll still need payment for any contracts taken. Inns and food cost money.” Vox laughed. “And a name. You can’t really be a group without a name.”

Pontius shared in the laughter, “Oh believe me, they already have that covered. They said they want to be called Redline.”

Vox chewed the mouthpiece of his pipe, “And where did they get a name like that?”

Pontius’ smile faded, “Well, uh, from your…” he ran a finger along his cheek. Vox rummaged through his bag, finding and removing a small rectangular mirror he normally used for shaving. He held it up to his face to see a bandage on his left cheek where James had cut him. A thin red line of blood soaked through the gauze where the cut was. It would likely leave a scar.

“I can make them vote for a new name if you’d like,” Pontius said nervously, “Mars even painted a damn red stripe on his spaulders. I can order him to clean them if you want.”

Vox put the mirror back. “It’s alright, Pontius. It’s a good name. They were thinking of me when they made it.”

Pontius sighed, “They were never mercenaries like we were, Vox. They’ve always been soldiers. I’m afraid they may get ahead of themselves.”

Vox looked out the window. The sun was shining overhead, and the air felt warm. He took one last drag on his pipe.

“We’ll be there to lead them,” Vox told Pontius, “Make sure they don’t make the mistakes we made. That should count for something, right?”

-End-
Vox will return!
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