Where There's a Will

Join Brother Austin as he and his squad help protect the construction of a brand new canal outside Serncar from encroaching Beasts. Written in 28 A.S.




We were on a Hunt near Serncar. After our iron stores had run dangerously low, the Council of Fenblith had agreed that we needed better access to Serncar’s deposits. Easier said than done, as the reason we didn’t get much iron out of Serncar was that its only waterway was a thin stream that didn’t become anywhere near useful until it reached the river. All winter, the best Makers in Fenblith struggled and argued, until finally they came up with a suitable plan by early spring. A bold plan, too, as they meant to redirect the entire river flowing near Serncar so that it would directly pass by the town. Smart, sure: Serncar’s Miners would be able to simply offload iron next to where they mined it, saving them from a whole lot of dragging and pushing through dangerous terrain. Of course, the catch was that someone would have to actually dig a new river in that dangerous terrain, which meant that two squads of Hunters would have to be on guard together.


The Miners would dig away from Serncar – first to one side, then the other – until they formed an arc with its crest at the town. Then they would break through the last piece of earth and let the river flow in. So, each morning they set out from Serncar, some forty Miners all told. Accompanying them were myself and ten other Hunters – two squads and Master Louise to oversee us – all of us armed with muskets, daggers, and sabres and wearing broad-brimmed helmets and cuirasses. The Miners took up their tools and began working, digging out the canal and strengthening its sides with rocks. We Hunters took up positions around them, forming a perimeter to keep them safe.


My squad – consisting of me, Sibling Marion, Sister Ann, Brother Ernest, and our squad leader Sister Nancy – would guard the back of the operation, towards Serncar, as well as the forestside left flank. The other squad – led by Brother Warren – would protect the front and hillside right flank. We did this by splitting up into teams of two, our squad leaders positioned on the corners between the duos under their supervision, Master Louise circling the entire operation. I was in the back with Ernest, the position expected to be the least eventful.


It was the second day when we had our first encounter with a Beast. Marion and Ann had seen something skulking in the woods. Master Louise instructed them not to go after it lest they walk into an ambush, but to fire at will if they saw it again. Sure enough, later that same day a volley of musket fire suddenly burst up from the site’s left flank. The Miners startled and backed away from the firing Hunters, but I could tell the shots had found their mark by my Siblings’ demeanour. Calm and satisfied, they clapped each other’s shoulders as they walked just beyond the treeline, soon returning with the carcass of a Beast dragged behind them. It reminded me strongly of a fox, with red-brown fur and slender body, but its features were elongated, more vicious, and I saw the hints of uncomfortably long teeth protruding from its stretched out snout. Master Louise ordered Marion and Ann to retrieve their ammunition from its body and burn the remains, which they did right there next to the site, to the astonished horror of several Miners, who had to be spurred on to continue their work.


Three days later, we encountered yet more Beasts. This time, they came from underground. Three Beasts burst forth from the riverside earth as the Miners dug away at it, sending them scattering as two were grabbed and mangled. Master Louise blew her whistle in a signal of full assault, and all Hunters immediately rushed in, drawing their sabres. I glimpsed the Beasts as we approached through the fleeing Miners and was reminded of a report we were recited in training about the Knockers in the mines of Gladill: stout, with splayed legs and wriggling tentacles on their noses. I was eager to test myself against a Beast I had heard of as a Novice, but it wasn’t to be: except for Nancy, all the others were much closer to the Beasts, and three Knockers stood no chance against eight Hunters, especially with a Master among them. We brought the bodies of the two fallen Miners back to Serncar and let the town burn and mourn their dead for the day, only returning to the worksite the next morning.


By then, I was eager for some action. It was the sixth day of our duties, and there had been two encounters with Beasts, but me, Ernest, and Nancy were the only ones to not be involved in either of them. I wrung my one hand around my musket’s barrel as I scanned our surroundings for movement, fingering my sabre’s hilt with the other. Ernest was routinely picking up stones and hurling them into the rock-covered hills, causing miniature rockslides that were setting the Miners on edge. Nancy told us off, ordering us to steady our minds, but I could see in the set of her jaw that she was feeling the itch as well.


Foolishness, in hindsight, but it was because of this that I felt a weird mix of horror and relief when I saw a rock suddenly flying out of the hills and striking one of Warren’s Hunters right on the helmet. She sank to her knees, obviously dazed, with Warren quickly coming over to assess the damage. Before he could do anything of the sort, however, more rocks began raining down, pummeling the Hunters as they dove for cover in the canal. Master Louise ordered the rest of us to follow suit, and we swiftly took up positions behind the wall of the canal’s hillside flank, the Miners cowering toward the other side as rocks continued to fly. We stood there, leaning against the wall, muskets protruding from the canal but failing to find anything to shoot at.


And then the rocks stopped falling. Calm returned, so seemingly natural that I felt inclined to believe it had simply been a rockslide, perhaps caused by Ernest’s stone tossing. Master Louise apparently thought differently, however, and ordered a retreat to Serncar. We sent the Miners off to recoup for the day and convened. Master Louise stated she wanted to investigate the hillside. Warren, eager to repay whatever hurt his Hunter, volunteered his squad immediately. Master Louise waved him down, stating that we were all going up the hill; no sense in holding back, she said, and even less in sending in a single squad to show off.


I believe I hid it well, but I was excited. It still wasn’t certain the rockslide hadn’t been just a rockslide, but the prospect of going on an actual Hunt instead of standing guard was a welcome one. The sun still high in the sky, we immediately set out of Serncar again, muskets primed and loaded, sabres loosened in their scabbards. In loose formation, our two squads approached the hillside and began to climb. We maintained similar positions to when we were guarding the worksite, with Warren’s Hunters to the fore and the right, and my squad to the left and the rear. Master Louise walked in the centre, ensuring none of us were ever too far away from her.


We picked our way across the scree of loose rock fragments and began to march. With steady, even steps, eleven Hunters strode up the hill. We were silent, each of us carefully watching our surroundings. The larger rocks provided purchase, helping us climb, but the smaller ones were loose and made it easy to slip. Several of us lost our footing and went down on our knees, but we quickly got back up and kept climbing, searching for what might have caused the rockslide. Two of Warren’s squad reached the hill’s pinnacle, a ridge looming across the sky. They cast around, but saw nothing out of the ordinary, telling Master Louise as much. She responded that she wanted to see for herself, but that it indeed seemed that the rockslide had been just that.


Then two rocks atop the hill lurched up at the Hunters, seemingly sprouting limbs right there to grasp them and jerk them backwards across the ridge. Warren screamed as he saw his Hunters tumble down. He made to go after them but was struck against the side of the head by a flying rock and fell over, clattering down the hillside towards us. Master Louise called for us to form up around her, and all seven remaining Hunters rushed to her as she moved to help Warren up.


As I ran, however, several rocks surrounding Master Louise suddenly jerked to life, leaping up and at us. Finally I saw what we were fighting. They were almost humanoid, but smaller than the average person, and hunched with long arms. Their skin was thick, grey, coarse, and covered in grass and gravel, as if they had been slumbering on the hillside for generations and were only now waking up.


They woke with vicious anger, though, and there was a sudden, chaotic clash as Hunter and Beast rammed into each other and yet more of these Living Rocks revealed themselves to throw stones from afar. Guns fired, shots finding and missing marks in equal measure. Acrid smoke whirled across the hillside as the Beasts let out a yelping roar, banging their chests as they rose to their full height before leaping and striking down with pummeling fists. Helmets clanged as Hunters clubbed at the Living Rocks with musket stocks, tossed their guns away, and drew their sabres.


I found myself across a Beast reaching to my chest, leering at me with dust-rimmed eyes. It yelled, and beat its chest, and I aimed and shot it right between its pounding fists. The Living Rock staggered, dark ichor flecking the gravel on its chest, but before I could step in to finish it with my sabre or dagger, another of its kind moved in front of it. It let out a roar of its own, jumping into me as it did so. I fell over backwards, rolling and sliding down the hillside as the Beast struck me, its mouth gnashing at me with immense canines.


We came to a stop against a large boulder and I managed to push myself free and draw my sabre. I was aching, and my joints felt stiff, but I struck through the pain, delivering a dragging cut to the Living Rock’s neck. The Starsteel blade barely cut the skin, nothing but a trickle of ichor dribbling from the wound. The Beast roared again, surging into me and pushing me over once more.


We tumbled down again, limbs unlatching as we scattered small rocks away from us, all the way across the scree at the bottom of the hill. I leapt up as swiftly as I could, my body grazed, my head swimming, my sabre lost in the struggle – not that it had been much use. The Living Rock was but a few steps away and rose to its feet without effort.


Desperate for a weapon, I turned and ran towards the worksite, the Beast howling as it followed. Vaguely, up and in the distance, I heard the shouts of my Siblings, the ringing of steel against stone, the roars of these Living Rocks which refused to be killed.


Painfully, I jumped down into the canal. I landed next to a sledgehammer, which the Miners had been using to break the rocks they used to sturdy the sides of the canal. Realising the opportunity, I seized it, turned, and struck the hammer against the leaping Beast’s head as it descended upon me in a bloodthirsty roar.


It flopped over sideways, its roar ended with a wet crack as its head lolled onto its shoulder and it collapsed in the dirt. Before it could regenerate, I tossed the hammer and drew my Starsteel dagger, all but collapsing onto the Beast and forcing the dagger into its eye and up into its skull. It gave a shivering jerk and lay still.


This was the way.


I grabbed the sledgehammer, another three of its kind, and tossed them out of the canal. Gritting my teeth and straining my battered body, I pulled myself up after the hammers, thanking whoever had decided to not make the canal deeper than I was tall. I grabbed the hammers again and – with burning legs and aching shoulders – began to run uphill. All the endurance training I could have had as a Novice could not have prepared me for the ache I felt as I forced myself up, up, up over scree and rocks and boulders towards my struggling Siblings.


With a final burst of will, I heaved myself next to Nancy, who was standing wide-legged over a bleeding Ann and fending off a Living Rock with her blunted sabre. I dropped three of the hammers and swung for the Beast with the fourth. It was a messy, desperate swing – it would have been a disgrace in the training square, the hammer slipping out of my grasp –, but the blow connected well enough to send the Living Rock staggering. In short gasps, I told Nancy to drop the sabre and use a hammer and dagger. Thankfully, she understood right away, tossing her blade and grabbing my hammer. She struck down the Beast I had staggered, drew her dagger, and finished it. Without pause she then gave me her dagger, took up the hammer again, told me to follow, and went back into the fray.


Summoning reserves I did not know I had, I staggered after her clutching her knife, ending the Living Rocks she struck down. Master Louise, embattled upon a boulder from which she desperately tried to rain musket fire down on the Beasts, saw what Nancy and I were doing and shouted for whoever could wield a hammer to do so. As we freed more Hunters from the clutches of yelping Beasts, they obeyed, taking up the remaining three hammers and pummeling more of the Living Rocks before drawing daggers and ending them for good.


The carnage was complete, and as Master Louise led Nancy and the other three hammer wielding Hunters away to purge the hill of the rest of the Beasts, I sank down on an ichor-spattered boulder, my limbs trembling beyond anything I had ever experienced. I was uncertain of how many of my Siblings were dead or needed aid, and I have no doubt Master Louise would have welcomed another pair of hands, but I felt that my body had nothing more to give, and all I could do was hope that everyone made it.


As the hammer blows slowly died away, and I heard bodies being drug across the hill and groaning Hunters’ wounds being tended, I could finally fully give in to the fatigue that had sunk into my bones.


The Beasts were dead.