The city was taken and they marched in triumph through the street. But something was wrong, they had given up too easy and their smiles seemed unnatural — otherworldly
The town cried and waved happily at the soldiers marching through the city. Commander Vergan waved his hand back at the cheering crowd, grinning excitedly. The satisfaction in taking a city was only dwarfed by the relief he felt of taking it without a fight.
They had expected fierce resistance, but none came. Even the soldiers that were reportedly stationed here mysteriously disappeared.
Fighting in a city environment is not something an honourable soldier should do. It was impossible to keep formation in such conditions, and the battle often descended into chaos when the ranks were shattered. He recalled the dread of never knowing what lie around the corner, always glancing at the windows for an ambush. He shuddered at the experience, but he had survived.
He held his helmet under his arm as he looked around the crowd. The crowd smiling and cheering as they went on.
A foul but familiar stench suddenly entered his nostrils, warning him that John was nearby. Vergan kept looking ahead as John lurched next to him with a dour expression on his face. John leaned his head closer, forcing Vergan to breathe through his mouth as he whispered. “I don’t like this Vergan. None of this makes any sense,” he said in a hoarse voice, clearing his throat at every other word.
Vergan hated that he called him by his first name, but the man’s swordplay was second to none, and he didn’t want to argue. Vergan sighed, removing the man’s breath from his face. ”It is not uncalled for villages to switch sides, John. They must not have been very satisfied with their former masters. Taxing them heavily I reckon. Just get back in line and enjoy yourself; something you are exceptionally good at.”
John frowned and ignored the last remark. “Look at their houses, Verg,” John said, purposely shortening the name, losing the formality in his tone. “Do they look famished? do they look ragged? No, they don’t look like they had a bad year in their lives! Everything is too… polished. You should tell the men to be vigilant. I know I will.”
Vergan rolled his eyes. “You do that, but I will not give such a command. Just look at their faces. Have you ever seen a happier bunch of—“ Vergan cut himself short and his hand was slowly lowered as he pointed at the crowd in front of him. Suddenly, something whisked by his face, feeling the air pressure as it passed. A man behind screeched in pain and crashed into his comrades as he fell. Vergan darted his head towards his men and then back at the crowd in front.
Steel gleamed by their hands and bowmen stood by the windows, their bowstrings drawn. He peered at the mass of people, their faces unchanged – all smiling, somehow cheerfully. A shiver went down his spine as he saw them, their eyes wide and unblinking.
Vergan opened his mouth to shout a command when another shaft launched in his direction, making his words die by his lips. With a loud bang, the bolt hit against an iron shield that was placed in its trajectory; John holding the shield in defence of his commander.
Muted, and at a loss of breath, Vergan remained silent and stared at John who grinned wryly, showing the rotten teeth that he refused to pull out.
With a hoarse roar, John bellowed a command, making his voice growl like a beast. “Shields up you Wrygler scum, time to show the metal of the king’s men!”
The men responded instantly, collecting themselves from the initial shock quickly; but the shafts were already flying, breaking holes in the lines on all sides.
A few dozen of the soldiers fell face down into the ground as they got pierced by the arrows; pushed aside by their comrades to fill out the gaps in the wall of shields. John dragged Vergan inside the mobile fortress and let the arrows rain over them.
Vergan kept his head low, but a few arrows found their way in between the cracks of the shields and killed whoever stood behind it.
Suddenly, the arrows stopped coming. The loud clatter of iron against iron seized and was replaced by an unnerving humming, coming from all around.
As they lowered their shields, Vergan rose wearily, frightened that the archers would have a second set of arrows waiting for them, but nothing came. He straightened his back and peered across the now deserted streets and windows.
He winced as he felt John’s hand pressed against his shoulder. “You should be watching ahead, commander,” John said, putting emphasis on the last word.
He shrugged John’s hand off and stared at the enemy ahead. But, his heart sank again as he saw every man and woman forming a great cluster at the other end of the street. Their mouths grinning happily as if it was the only expression they could make.
The crowd hummed rhythmically making the soldiers hesitate. Suddenly, the sun was shaded, and a darkness soon enveloped the town. The men looked around, searching for the light, but it was gone.
As everything darkened, the townspeople's eyes began to glow in red, and soon after, an even darker mist formed above their heads. Vergan could feel his knees tremble as a face formed in the mist. His very being wanted to run, but he was frozen, kneeling on the ground as he stared at the monstrous eyes glowing above the townspeople’s heads.
The townspeople lurched forward, but the soldiers remained still, unable to think or run away.