Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Into the DMZ (Duck Marauding Zone)

From 'I Was a Soldier Once...': the recollections of Kraxus Joon (Grotaron Impressions, Carantes, 7/49). Since placed under scriveners' ban by order of the Imperial War Forum.

"People often speak of the glorious Cleansing of the Durulz Valley and Upland Marsh. Of how it was a good time to be an Imperial soldier; a time of easy duty and few fatigues, where men were made happy in the joyous hunting of the feathered rebels. They don't know augnershit.

"All soldiers did things they regretted in the Duck Cleansing. I don't care what they say. Hell, I've even seen grown great trolls break down and weep. The petrified quackings of ducklings, cradled in their dead mothers' arms, haunt your dreams. Flashbacks of Minor Class mages launching barrage after barrage of death into some harmless old drake's hovel, because some half-wittted officer thought he saw Deathdrakes hiding there. The Valley and Upland Marsh were hell. Sure, we expected a free ride, a bit of fun. But one night in the Duck Marauding Zone cleared all that. It was peaceful at first, of course. The air was stagnant, broken only by the occasional sound of some wading bird. Little did we know that those sounds were heralds of guile-spun death.

"Waves of grimly warbling followers of their cursed Death God coming from all directions. Confusion, as officers vainly attempted to restore order, and men battled to govern their fear and reassert their training and faith in the Goddess. The horror that followed as you realised your comrade had been taken in the misty fray. The sound of his tortured screams, keening in the distant depths of that hellish swamp. You'd find them eventually, of course; their shattered bodies contorted by pain-wracked torment; tarred and feathered in some grotesque duckish savagery. At least Death was ablessing.

"Reprisals naturally followed. Whole nests were butchered. All ducks were fair targets. A duck was a duck, and the only good duck was adead duck. Have you seen what a ballista bolt does to a duckling at close quarters? It ain't pretty. We smashed the eggs of course. Often with their warbling families watching. It was a release, I suppose. Yet it marked us. The sticky, glistening residue of duckblood coating jerkin, hair and weapon alike, impervious to any amount of scrubbing, pervading your very septessence. The piles of grisly trophies taken from debilled ducks for bounty, their once rebellious owners now nought but lifeless corpses burned on massive pyres; or left to rot where they fell, in watery graves.

"Sometimes there were survivors, largely because we were too tired to continue the slaughter. Then there were the cruel scenes of long, manacled lines of plucked and branded prisoners destined for the slave pits, lit by the smouldering fires of burnt reeds and the blessed glow of the Red Moon. Sometimes we marched these pitiful remnants back to the Marsh's edge, only to be overtaken by a staff officer after an hour or so's journey. Stockades were full. So we speared them there and then, casting their bodies to the marsh near some unknown and Goddess-forgotten tumulus rising from the dank waters.

"When we came across a particularly belligerent nest, casualties would be high. Whole companies might be eviscerated by maddened midget warriors, or pulled to their slow-drowned death by any number of traps and hidden guerillas. That was when the true horror began. The garbled notes of horns and magically projected voices crackled across the air, and the eager, murderous glee of waiting came over us. We could sense the magic rising in the mists, the hairs on the back of our necks prickling with anticipation. We were addicted to it, and we always received our fix.

"Every soldier remembers the first time their officers called in support from the Field School of the College of Magic.

"It was as if the world had ended. Whole nests were destroyed by the heavenly fires of the Crater Makers. Burning ducks waddling screaming in the night, their piercing calls rising above the raging fires as they died. Slowly. The sickly smell of burnt feathers hanging like a deathly pall in the foetid Marshland air. Even after a burning we had to collect the bills. Apparently liquidation manifests had to be assessed by the Entelathosium and the College of Magic. We scrambled over the charred, putrescent remains of ducks, frequently fused together in a wretched charnel mass, attempting to saw off our grisly trophies. Sometimes we found ducks, even ducklings, buried half-alive in that stinking, smouldering morass. They died of course, but often slowly, for we only carried saws on those jobs. Hells, I've not been able to eat fowl ever since.

"Hazia-use was rife. It was the only way to gain an even momentary release from the terror. The grim and guilty pleasures of death and murder, the bowel-emptying fear of yet another Humakti Death Song attack shattering the still marsh air. Self-mutilation was initially common, with accidental butt-spike injuries offering a respite to the endless monotony of marshland sweeps and sleepless nights bivouacked in the damp swampland hell. But the Seven Mothers' priests soon got wise to that.

"They tried to keep us happy, of course. Jar-Eel visited us once, apparently, on a morale-raising exercise, but I was on a sweep atthe time. The youngsters adored her, and festooned our reedwrought temporary barracks with images of the Inspiration. You grew used to unsettling sounds in the dead of night as they stared at her images and Onalingi's iniquitous wiles took them. That was punishable by death, of course, but no-one seemed to care. Then there were the trips to the Duck Point brothels, where every young recruit wouldrecall with wonder the words of temptation: 'Ten Loonar!' and 'Me give you quacky-quacky?'

"And then there were the reports of home. Here we were, in this sodden hell. You'd have thought any good Imperial Citizen would have supported us. But no. The tales of violence and rioting in Torang and Induppa, as those cursed bird-lovers protested at the crimes we perpetrated upon their 'kin', further sapped morale. Some students at the Imperial Magical University even went on strike before Tatius called in the Garrison Army and did the ungrateful bastards in."

(Originally posted on HeroQuest-RPG, 2 December 2005.)