Captain Jed Nalton nodded to his men as he stepped up to the bar in the Grasshopper Pub. It had been a difficult but highly successful campaign so far, and it was good of Lord Kratia and General Messick to allow the troops a bit of R&R. Four Lords of the Circle were confirmed killed; open warfare had erupted between Condeu and Mileu at the twin cities of Ferylis and Fengorus. Banks everywhere had closed down, bringing the paranoia of economic collapse down to nearly all the common citizens. Selected enemies of the new order had been cut down quickly and efficiently by his company, spurring on the chaos ordered from the high command.
They had earned their relaxation for the evening.
Jed ordered a cloud topper; a highly intoxicating bluish liquor topped with a foam of a mild hallucinogenic guaranteed to induce a feeling of painless euphoria. He could see the cloud swirl as he tipped the glass up and drank the sky. He laughed, and ordered another as he waited for the drugs to kick in. Jed thought about the kills he had made today. One in particular stood out. The teenage girl; daughter of the mayor of Ferylis. He had been ordered to kill her himself. (Who had given the order?) His troops came in with him, all dressed as Mileu soldiers ‑ common enough, with the garrison of Fengorus only a mile away. He had raped her first (why? Because. Just because.) as her father was forced to watch.
Jed drained the second cloud topper with one tip, anxious for the healing forgetfulness it promised. The foam splashed onto his face and he banged the glass down a bit too hard. It shattered, the shards of glass cutting him several places on the hand and arm. “Damn cheap glasses!” he roared. “Get me another one!”
The innkeeper, wide‑eyed and fearful of the troops, quickly poured another, giving it to the captain and immediately sweeping the broken glass off the bar and onto his apron.
Kratia made me do it, Jed mused angrily. He looked into the drink and saw storm clouds above an angry sea. He laughed bitterly and stirred the drink with his finger; a god of the sea come to destroy it with a mighty cyclone. The blood oozing from his finger began to streak through the light blue of the liquor.
The girl was like that, he remembered. She bled on me, and I wiped myself clean with her long golden hair. Jed drained the mixture of blood, drugs and alcohol. She was crying. Crying in a low whimper like (Tunnea) someone I can’t remember. Orders. (Kratia) To kill.
Cold and silent his sword had opened a new smile on the girl’s neck. Blood trickled down the sword (the bitch Kratia the bitch) and the warm stickiness had matted his fingers.
Jed stared at the blood on his fingers and dropped the glass with another crash. One of his lieutenants laughed.
“Jed, you not only can’t hold your liquor, you can’t even hold your glass!” Several of the troops joined in the laughter. Jed heard it dimly, but was absorbed with the sudden bursting of a mental dam. He reached for his sword, and in a smooth motion, swung it about and through the lieutenant’s neck. The blood sprayed as the lieutenant fell and pandemonium erupted.
Jed took out fourteen of Kratia’s elite soldiers before he was cut down himself.
There were many other scenes of violence being played out in the towns and cities of Salmineria. News of the violence spread slowly; pain and fear that accompanied the carnage spread much faster, and soon almost all global communication via sensiball was lost. Rumors spread almost as quickly as the fear, and were fueled by it.
The rumors all had a local slant, since long range communication by nonwizards was virtually eliminated with the closing of the main sensiball center at the wizards guild. Even General Corsordas didn’t learn how wide spread the carnage had become until the next day. But in Retil, Tolan, and several other towns where Kratia’s army was quartered, the violence was taking an unusual twist. A small minority of the troops were suddenly losing their conditioning.
Many deserted, sneaking off and seeking refuge with whatever family or friends they had in more distant lands. Some, like Jed Nalton, went berserk and killed many of their fellow soldiers. With the characteristic reluctance found in many dictatorial hierarchies, bad news was sent up the command chain very slowly and with many qualifiers on the “very minor impact” caused by the fights and desertions. Each unit commander felt that he could control the situation; to admit otherwise could reflect negatively on their ability to command.
A young lieutenant working the night shift in the communications and logistics center of Messick’s headquarters first noted the inordinate number and the widespread nature of the troop behavior problem. He was smart enough to realize there was a pattern, and it was neither expected nor beneficial. Fearful yet eager to make a name for himself, he woke General Messick at two A.M.
At two fifteen, the general woke Kratia.