The Waning Moon ----- I made my way down to the weekly market square. I wasn't going there for food. As I limped down there, I could see the waning moon in the bright blue sky. This melancholic beauty seemed to set the mood for tonight's story. As I approached the busy square the swarm of lizards that had amassed parted for me. I liked that. My missing tail had given me a very distinct walk that their keen eyes would notice long before my missing eye and arm severed at the elbow was noticed. I made my way into the centre. I limped up the large boulder. I had done this many times before, yet it always presented a challenge. None would offer to help me, it would not befit my reputation as the proud skink warrior they all viewed me as. I reached the top and silence quickly fell over the crowd. This was even bigger than last time. Nearly the whole city was here. The sun wasn't quite setting, but no matter. Those who wanted to come were here. Some were here hours beforehand to get close to the large boulder and would wait for me. Anyone who was late would miss out. “The chameleon skinks were low on numbers,” I started, with my strong and well-practiced voice, “So we had to help them scout. I took Xiers, Nadix and Ssshinta along too.” Xiers and Nadix really were there with me, but had later died on that campaign. Ssshinta was not, being far too junior at this point in time. A slight nudge on the truth I guess. He had died recently, on a different campaign, under heroic circumstances. I figured this would add to the story. “So there we were, the scout's to the front right of the army. The chameleon's were centre and left. We took the right of the army because Commander Krogkar thought it was less likely we would run into any trouble. And this was how it was for days.” I paused, letting the tension rest. “But... on that fourth day things were to change. This was in campaign I spoke about last time, as we tried to vanquish the chaos scum from the homeland. But it was not the rotted souls of the damned we came across.” “As the four of us slowly crept through the jungle we caught a foul stench. Ssshinta knew that smell, he said it was of the rat-men. We paused. Ssshinta wanted to press on, to discover what we were against. Xiers wanted to report back to command. Nadix and I just looked at each other, unsure of what to do. I am sure that Krogkar never needs to give chameleon's commands, they know the procedure. But we didn't. We didn't expect to find anything, so we hadn't thought to ask. So I decided to send Xiers to report back to command, and the three of us would press on. If we failed, at least Krogkar would get word. Xiers was not happy with that, but he would not argue with my order.” “We pressed forward and slowly came to a clearing. We could see a group of seven rat-men standing around a clearing. They were clearly the scouts for a much larger detachment.” I paused to allow this to sink in, there was dead silence, “So the three of us flashed hand signals to each other. We knew we needed to take them out. It would allow our army to ambush theirs. Armed with only a blowpipe and knives we formulated a plan.” “We slowly moved so three of them were closer to us than the next four. We wedged ourselves between two large trees. Let me assure all of you that, when outnumbered, the position you choose to fight is the most important one you will take. These two trees would make it very hard for them to outflank or surround us.” “Pffffft!” I tried to imitate the sound of a blowpipe, “three shots at close range for three hits. The rat-men heard the sound right away and all seven charged. We stood firm, not wanting to venture a step out from the terrain that favoured us. The poison took forever to kick in, they were right upon us when the three in the front collapsed to the ground. The other four streamed over, tripping over the dead and allow us the chance we needed. Ssshinta drove his knife right through one of their eye, bam!” A murmur of approval came from the crowd, “It distracted me for a second, long enough that I didn't realise my rat-men had not faltered and was upon me in an instance, tackling me straight to the ground. This has never happened at war and I wasn't prepared for it. He was much larger than I, and had taken me by surprise, as we thrashed around on the ground, he soon sat on my chest. I realised he didn't have a weapon, but he had firm grip on my wrist and he scratched and bit my face. I tried to bite back, but he was on top of me and I couldn't seem to move. He drove his claw into my neck which sprung me to life, as I jerked up upwards enough that we once against flailed against each other trying to gain position. Suddenly be punched my head and send me to the ground. It did not hurt but as I looked up I saw him with my knife, in a flash he thrust it at me, then suddenly the knife lost momentum. By the time the knife arched down it had fallen from his hands, the life had gone from his eyes, and he flopped next to me with Ssshinta's knife protruding from his back directly into his heart.” The cheer of the crowd caught me off guard. Yes it was clever to insert Ssshinta into this story. “I looked around and saw the other rat-men had been dealt with. Ssshinta and Nadix were still alive.” I paused here, deliberately. Oh dear crowd, had you forgotten my spawn brother Nadix was unaccounted for? Cheering at the enemy's slaughter, though you did not know what price had been paid? “With this great news I stood back up. We spoke quickly about what to do. We knew our troops were tired. Fighting a new enemy might affect their morale. We wanted to inspire them. So we took our knives to the bodies of the rat-men, and cut their heads off!” The crowd murmured in approval. I struggled with this part of the story, as it was totally true. Except it wasn't true that my reasoning was 'inspiration'. The truth was I don't know why I gave that order. 'Inspiration' was what I told Krogkar later, the best I could figure at the time. What the hell was I thinking? “It turned out to be harder than first thought, and you couldn't help but get that filthy rat-blood all over you. But soon the heads were off, we were drenched, and our knives were slightly blunt. We marched back to the army where we met up with Xiers. We walked up to Krogkar and presented him with the heads, and soon, we marched... to war!!” The cheers were loud and I suppressed any hint of recognition and I climbed down, and slowly made my way back home. It was a year ago I had first told some other skinks about the battles I had been involved in. I had no idea it would grow like this. I certainly did not expect to get word from a skink priest that mighty Slann Mutombo was pleased. These stories had me a purpose again. I loved it so much, it took me a long time to understand the Slann's motives. It was now clear the population of this temple-city craved the chance to march on a long campaign and fight evil. They have no idea what war is like: the blood, the screams, the silence, the exhaustion, the months of marching, the hunger, the tiredness, the pointlessness, the death. They gloss over these details to the point I barely include them. More of us died from hunger and poor logistics than combat. They don't want to hear that, they want to hear of the heroism, the brotherhood, and the assurance that all we do is in the name of the Gods and righteousness. It is like my tales put them all under a spell they cannot break free of. Today was the most exaggerated I have told yet. There were not seven rat-man, there was three. And they were dead when we found them. But what can I say? When it comes to my fantasies, they're not the only ones who can't break free.