The Dragon Tongue War Part IV

by Paul Davis

Part I
Part II
Part III

Tai Shi was appreciating the quiet day. Off in the distance, on the Dragon Tongue, boats arrived at port and left port, all from the south. Drinking his tea, Tai watched the dock hands strain under large crates and sacks of goods. No doubt some were food for his own soldiers. A few may have been the tea leaves he would use the following morning, or perhaps in a month.

Children took off across the beaches, ducking and weaving between the beams supporting the docks. Now and then, an adventurous one would climb crates to ambush friends, the youths sprawling out in the sand, laughing until a dock worker yelled at them. Most didn’t care, but the older workers lectured children on the dangers of playing about the heavy equipment. It did little to persuade them to stop playing.

Outside of the room there was the sound of crowds moving about. Vendors shouted about goods loud enough Tai could hear them. Mothers hollered after their children to not run so fast and stop bumping into people. Tai couldn’t help but grin, remembering his own youth. His brothers would go out into the streets with wood swords and fight with each other, making a spectacle for coin. It didn’t take long for them to gather quite the crowd and purse, though mother had disapproved very vocally on the matter.

Then there was an unfamiliar sound. Curses were issued, women were crying, and the vendors went silent. Soon everyone started to whisper, with the occasional call that a child gets away from that man. Tai took a final sip from his tea and set it down. “Just one nice day?” He stood and went to the door, but the door flung open before Tai was half across the room.

Ming stood there, eyes wide, body bloody and dirty. His hair was matted to his forehead, and sweat soaked his tattered clothing. “They ate them.”

“Where is everyone else? What happened?” Tai went to the man and closed the door. He brought Ming to a chair, but Ming fell and laid huddled on the floor.

“Dead. Eaten. The mouths just opened and. And in they went.” Ming looked up into Tai’s eyes, the bulging whites and dilated pupils sending a shiver down the captain’s spine. “Teeth. They stole our skin.” His body started to tremor, and his lower lip shook. “They took our flesh.”

Ming started to crawl across the floor, the captain backing away. The battered arm reached out, touching Tai’s boot. Ming’s body tensed, he gave out a grunt, and then went limp, color and temperature leaving his body.

Tai Shi stood there, looking at the corpse. He placed a hand on his sword out of habit. There was no danger, he knew this, but something about this news had him on edge. Soldiers filed into the room a few moments later, Tai still staring at the scout.

The front soldier shouted, “Is everything okay, Captain?” Swords were drawn, the bronze weapons pulled.

“Yes. I think we have a problem.”

***

It had been a beautiful day. The sky was still blue and the sun was still shining high above, but the brilliance was muted by the silence. As word spread of the mad man, Ming, traveling into the city shouting about creatures which looked like humans but ate them whole, people hid. Captain Tai Shi couldn’t blame them for the action: it was unsettling even for him.

The barracks sprung to life as soon as the horns sounded. Then entire military was assembled, approximately two hundred. A reserve of three hundred citizens could be brought if it was found the troubles were truly difficult. However, the three hundred would be slaughtered by any but the greenest force, and were treated as shock troops. It was bad for the city to lose the foundation of workers.

Tai sighed, looking up at the warm sun. The soldiers fidgeted in formation, lacking discipline in the face of fairy tales. It was a sad time. “Spring, I want strike teams to hit Lu Tan. Create chaos over killing specific targets. You have trained for this, now put it in practice. Civilians to be eliminated along with any military personnel.” The crowd started to mutter. “Discipline! Is this what we have been reduced to? A man comes in spouting about superstitions, and we lose our sense and our inability to maintain order? I assure you, in these times order is what we require.”

The military went silent. Tai said, “Summer, you will wait one day after Spring arrives. Strike and clean out the streets. If you notice any major struggles before then, interfere that Spring might retreat. We will need them when we start finding priority targets. Autumn, you are to cover Summer from afar. Retreat if required, but do not engage the enemy. If the fighting becomes unruly, Winter will advance with fire. If needed, burn it to the ground.”

Tai paced a few times in silence, letting the orders set in. The military of Zu had trained for numerous engagements, but the only action seen had consisted of small territory skirmishes. The men looked nervous. “This will be a moment we have waited for. It is a moment to test our meddle. We are facing an unknown foe, and we will be victorious. You will be known as great warriors, the greatest of this new age of fish. Hold firm in this, and we will not fail. The spirits be with you.”

The comments weren’t quiet as the men went to their posts. Tai heard clearly the worry that the spirits were what they fought. If the spirits were not with them, there was no victory to be had.

Tai took up his armor and went to the head of the army as it started to assemble. Spring would have left minutes after the assembly. The rest were a hundred fifty strong, with a hundred of them being Summer. Winter was a small group well versed in the use of creating and using highly volatile substances. There were only ten of them, but from the power of their explosives, that was all they needed to burn down Lu Tan.

A younger man, in his thirties, approached Tai. Jung was Tai’s second. He had long black hair braided behind him, leather armor with bronze plates, and two curved swords. “Captain, we will be prepared by sunset. Should we wait the night?”

Long ago Tai mentored Jung, showing him how to survive in Zu. When Tai joined the military, Jung followed in his footsteps, lost on the streets without his sworn brother. The two swore an oath in blood a few years after Jung was accepted into the ranks.

Tai responded, “No, we must leave now. I don’t want Spring by themselves too long. I’ll be charging beside summer.”

“Captain, I suggest against it. If you die, who will….”

“You will. Stay back with Autumn. You were always good with those cursed bows.”

Jung smirked, “Sir, you pull on them too hard. It requires both strength and restraint.”

“I think you kept weakening them on me so I’d snap them.”

“Only the first couple times.” Jung looked back over the men. “But seriously, sir, you should not be advancing with Summer.”

“I’ve waited a long time for this sort of conflict. I won’t shy from it. You’ll do well and get your own house name. Few people can say they have a house name.”

“You haven’t spread yours yet, Tai,” Jung looked to his friend. “You aren’t married, and with you the name dies.”

“I accepted that long ago. Sound the horn. The ranks are ready.” And so they marched forth, towards Lu Tan.

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One Comment to “The Dragon Tongue War Part IV”

  1. Reblogged this on Paul Davis and commented:

    Here is my writing for the day. Enjoy it! The real war is about to begin.

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