Goodbye To The Cross Part 1

The Order of the Chief Goddess’ 5th regiment had made camp a few miles within the border of Russleb, a kingdom allied with the Order that had recently begun to experience Mamono incursions. Sentries marched around and kept watch around the perimeter as the rest of the troops cooked, bathed, and attended to other necessary tasks.

For Franz, his task at hand was some much-needed sleep.The sun was not quite able to get through the thick canvas of the tent, and the sounds of an army camp were more or less drowned out by the dreams of the weary soldier. That was until a knight in full plate threw open the tent flap. 

“Oy, wake up!”, the gruff veteran shouted, his armor clanking as he moved. Franz groaned, shielding his eyes from the sunlight as he turned to face the knight. The knight’s dace was fully obscured by a great helm with a golden Cross of the Order marked along the visor, and the rest of his plate kept up with the flamboyant design. 

“Yes?”, Franz asked, rubbing the sleep out of his blue eyes. 

“All scouts are to report to the general’s tent immediately”, the knight said before walking off, the tent flap falling back into place and the sudden darkness blinding Franz once more. 

Franz was of average height, though he had a slimmer build that made him suited to being a scout. Well toned and decently visible muscles coupled with short blond hair, fair skin and a sharp nose, he was quite handsome as far as the ladies back home were concerned. While growing up as the sun of a hunter did mean he had a penchant for peasant girls, tracking down wild beasts for days on and end being covered in gore after butchering meant he had very little time to properly court any of them. 

His opportunities to do so were further diminished when he was conscripted into the Order’s army. The alderman of his village told the knights of his upbringing as a hunter, and thus he was inducted into the Scouting Corps. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t much different from his life as a hunter, only he tracked Men and Monsters, whosoever opposed the Order. 

His instructor was Lawrence An Faros, perhaps the very definition of a grizzled veteran by appearance alone as his many scars, tattered armor and gravely voice meant anything. Lawrence had spent his entire life as a scout, carrying out his orders without question. However, one caveat he always made sure his pupils learned followed as such. 

“While you may be hunters, you are soldiers first, last and always. If I ever hear of any of you killing a wounded enemy, I’ll gut you myself”

———

Franz had crawled out of the tent, fully dressed in his dark green leather gambeson, galligaskins of the same color and well-worn leather boots stained with mud as he walked. On either shoulder of his gambeson was the Cross of the Order, shining brightly in contrast to the dark colors of the rest o this attire. 

The walk to the general’s tent was relatively short when one considered the hustle and bustle of an army camp, and Franz was immediately let inside by the sentries. The other scouts were already inside, some wearing hoods despite being indoors. The general, a noble but a low ranking one dressed in full plate similar to the rest of the knights, though with a few more baubles here and there to denote his superior rank, looked about the assembled men and stood. 

“As you understand”, he began in a very tired voice, “We encountered Monster forces a few days ago. There have been some skirmishes with few casualties on either side. The plan is to move further into Russleb in order to purge the lands of corruption, at the behest of their monarch, King Vallete. The camp will move again in a few days, and once more, you are needed to scout out the area. I expect you all back here in a week. May Heaven watch over you”

“May Heaven watch over you”, the scouts repeated, saluting as they did before exiting the tent. 

——

The Scouts operated largely independent from one another, often venturing into the wilderness alone so as not to attract attention. Each man had an assigned direction they would travel in, Franz’s being East. There was very little talk between them as they waited at the camp’s kitchen for their ration, including what was grimly called their last meal. 

While scouts often had to travel light, their rations were not that different from the average foot soldier, they just had to make it go further. They received a pound of salted pork, a pound of flour instead of bread, and a pint of water. Scouts carried no cooking items aside from a small wooden bowel and spoon. 

Franz held his bowl out and the cook filled it with a ladle full of a thin beef soup, the broth largely clear save for the bits of meat and potatoes, as well as a few fragments of bay leaves floating around. Franz sighed dejectedly as he found a quiet spot to eat and put a spoonful in his mouth. Despite its simple and minimalist style, it went down well enough with the scout as the warmth filled his belly. 

As with any pleasures he came across now, it passed much sooner than he would have liked. His dinner in his belly, Franz retrieved his short bow, quiver full of arrows and steel dagger from his tent and se out to the East, further into Russleb. 

————

He crept through the woods slowly like a wildcat, his footsteps barely audible as he moved through the grass and leaves, bow at the ready. He had been out for two days now, barely eating through a quarter of his salted pork and only two ash cakes made from his pound of flour the night before at his campfire. 

Franz grit his ground his molars as he stopped suddenly, a nervous habit he developed waiting for an attack. He had come upon signs of movement, and none of them indicated it was made by humans. Up above in the tree was a series of broken branches, from a height no human would rest at. At the base of the oak tree were many feathers, all of a deep chestnut color and of too large a color for even a bird of prey worthy of a monarch. The scout knew of many Monsters that had feathers, and it would be dangerous to assume it was anything less dangerous than a powerful scourge from the Demon Realm, as Mamono were not opposed to outrageous frippery. 

He looked about the rest of the area, grip tight on the arrow notched to his bow. Blood had congealed on the trunk of the tree and in the grass. He observed tracks, three distinct pairs. Two avian and one canine. One of the avian tracks was soft, barely noticeable to the untrained eye, while the second were noticeably deeper and uneven. The canine tracks however, were consistently deep. He noticed a filmy sheen on part of the grass. Franz knelt down, allowing the bow to slack as he rubbed his fingers over it. 

“Wolf saliva”, he murmured to himself. “Frothy”, he added sniffing his fingers. “Ugh. More foul than usual. Rabid beast. Dangerous to its own kind as well as other creatures. Must have attacked whatever was down here, but what was it?”

He examined the feathers again, picking one of them up, studying the structure. “Too thin and delicate for a Thunderbird. Not black, so it must belong to a normal Harpy. A scout like myself, perhaps?”

Franz tucked the feather into his belt, a reminder for later. He looked on the ground once more, the same blood he found from before leading away in a faint trail, splattered haphazardly. 

“Harpies are small, but tougher than most humans on average. Wonder how they can stand up to a rabid beast bite?”, he wondered aloud. 

Seeing no other course of action worthwhile, Franz decided to follow the trail of blood deeper into the woods. 

————

It had grown dark by the time the blood trail had come to an end, though the tracks were still able to be followed. Once more, Franz tightened the grip on his bow and arrow, hearing the snarls and growls of a rabid, hungry wolf. And the faint groans and whimpers of a wounded girl. 

At the base of a solid rock wall was a ragged, snarling wolf, frothy drool oozing from its toothy maw in great, terrible globs. It’s bloodshot eyes gazed without end at a limp figure hanging haphazardly over one the smaller edges on the rock wall. 

Franz reasoned that whatever it was on the wall, the rabid wolf was a much more clear and immediate threat. His bow creaked as he pulled back on the bowstring, the steel tip of his arrow glinted in the sun for a moment before he loosed it. The arrow buried its head into the wolf’s hide, piercing its heart. The animal collapsed, convulsing and gurgling up blood as it went into shock. 

The scout approached the cliff as the animal finally went limp. Normally he would make an effort to retrieve his arrows, but infected blood from a rabid animal was too great a risk for a human. On the matter of blood……

Franz looked up towards the cliff, the faint whimpering of whatever it was the wolf had cornered could be heard. He narrowed his eyes, noticing its chestnut colored hair, and the many feather strewn about on the ground. He groaned as his suspicions were rapidly becoming validated, but assuming things was discouraged in the Scout Corps, for reasons too numerous to write down. 

Slinging his bow over his shoulder, he found a few good footholds in the rock and gradually pulled himself up towards the chestnut colored form. His heart jumped when he final found what he and the wolf had been tracking. 

A Harpy, her eyes shut and breathing ragged. She wore a simple flax shirt and a tattered pair of short trousers, honestly much more modest than someone of the Order’s ranks would have suspected, though minimalist without a doubt. Franz grimaced at both the sight of the Mamono woman and the ugly, oozing wound on her left thigh. The wolf must have snuck up on her and gotten a bite in. Despite Monsters being very healthy, foul though they were, perhaps nature was more cunning and stubborn than the Demon Lord in at least some regards. 

Franz drew his knife, thinking of just killing her then and there. Sweat covered the Harpy’s brow, her wings twitched as she whined. He clenched his jaw and the leather wrapped handle of his knife, growling to himself as he wrestled with his thoughts. The words of the clergy and that of his teacher were practically screaming in his head. 

“Graaaah! Damn it!”, he cursed out loud. He replaced the knife into its sheath and looked back down below at the ground. It was a fairly long drop, but nothing he hadn’t had to jump down before. He sighed as he reaffirmed his decision. “First, last and always”, he groaned. 

He grabbed the Harpy by her talon-like hand, forcibly standing her up and wrapping his other hand around her right thigh, placing her firmly on his shoulders. He stiffened up as she groaned shapely, obviously in pain, but he was still alert for her to turn on him. Gulping and ignoring the feeling of dread in his stomach, he jumped down, grunting as he absorbed the impact. Taking a deep breath, he stood back up and carried her for about half a mile, into a small clearing to the north. 

Franz set her down on the grass, shielding his eyes as he looked up at the canopy, the sun still high in the sky as far as he could tell through the trees. Turning his attention back to the wounded girl, he pulled out a small bag from his wallet. He held out his palm and out fell bunches of small, dried yellow flowers, the petals all curled up like little hearts. Franz put the bag back into his pocket and crushed the goldenseal flowers with his thumb into a more powdery form. He then pulled out his canteen, about a fifth of the way empty and opened it. He poured the cool water over her wound to clean it as best he could, much of the dried and fresh blood washing away. He grimaced at his now nearly empty canteen before setting it aside. 

He took a small cloth from his satchel and dried it off, the Harpy moaning again, though the tone made Franz do a double take as it didn’t sound entirely pained. Shaking it off as just his imagination, he smeared the crushed goldenseal over the wolf bite, the Harpy moaning again. Wiping his hands clean, he grabbed a clean bandage from his satchel and began wrapping it around her wounded thigh. The scout sighed as he finished, but knew she was far from recovered, and would never forgive himself if he left her alone, which would most likely be fatal if he did. 

Sighing once more in resignation, he stood back up and set about making a fire. 

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