The north wall of the great hall was a ruin, the blocks tumbled outward, as if a siege engine had been fired from the inside of the room. The cold wind came howling through it, stirring up snow and sending stinging flecks of ice into the patches of exposed skin around my eyes. Show piled in banks against the heavy furniture that the wind had tumbled and scattered across the room.
Crouching down in the lee of an overturned table, I found a bit of relief. A sudden gust swirled the snow on the floor away, uncovering a body both preserved and mummified by the cold. Sightless frozen eyes stared past me at some unnamed horror. The tip of a blackened tongue peeked out from the corpse's open, snow-filled mouth.
There was a soft crunch of old snow behind me as the prefect eased himself down behind the table with me. Janus was as bundled up as we all were, in heavy cold-weather gear and a balaclava pulled up to leave only his eyes exposed. His gaze flickered across the room, checking on the rest of the men before focusing in on the body sharing our temporary refuge.
I gestured at the body, and whispered just loud enough so that Janus could hear me over the noise of the wind. "Died screaming."
He nodded, and leaned past me to carefully brush more of the snow away from the corpse. A few passes, and he had revealed the corpse's hands, clasped together over its heart.
Clasped so tightly that the jagged ends of broken finger bones jutted from the dead, twisted hands.
Janus closed his eyes, and I heard him sigh out a soft word in a language I wasn't familiar with. While I couldn't understand he said, I knew exactly what he meant. A corpse in this place was bad enough, but a corpse in this condition?
I had not found a happy thing.
Now that I knew what I was looking for, I peered around the room. There, over by where the Twins were making their way down the right hand side of the hall - more bodies in a pile of snow and broken chairs. To the left, where Valish and Bear had slipped off to flank the broken oak door leading off to an adjoining room, another mound that had to be at least a dozen corpses, piled up against a raised stone platform.
We were silent living men, moving among the screaming dead.
Not the sort of thing that a recruiter for Her Majesty's Imperial Legions would ever bring up, I don't think. Not that I got to talk to a recruiter, mind you. If I had, though, I'm pretty sure that they would have left out the bits about traveling through the Outlands to the dead keep of a mad baron. No, they would have told me that every day in the legion was a day filled with wine, women and song.
By pure coincidence, in my case, they would have been absolutely correct. It's just that in the 13th Legion, the wine tastes of wormwood, the women are hags, and the song is a funeral dirge.
NaNoWriMo begins today. I'm not participating, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to at least put something creative down on paper. Or... magnetic media. You know what I mean.