“Dargos and Herga. Rise. You are now one with the soul of nature.” Tapping them on the shoulder with his knarlwood cane, the cleric’s green and white robes fold as he ends the short and sweet indoctrination ceremony. Bowing to each other and the cleric, Dargos and Herga swiftly leave the auditorium of the city-tree.
“We are now servants of nature,” Dargos whispers excitedly to Herga, “and we have a place in this great city tree. The Forgag will provide us with everything we need. As one of them, we will have the chance to serve the soul of nature. I am so proud, and I can’t wait.” Entering the assignment center, Dargos and Herga rush to the desk of the old sage seated in the room.
“Welcome, Dargos and Herga. Your first assignment will be guarding against the Rogar. You must defend our enclave of nature against their advance. Their so-called progress encroaches on our land. As members of the Forgag, it is your responsibility to protect all of nature. Pick up your weapons and meet the rest of your patrol squad in an hour,” the sage softly speaks.
Bowing to the sage, Dargos rubs his hand against the soft wood of the room, feeling the pulse of the tree’s life. Turning around, Herga leans into a small knot in the tree. “Hlegor leg. Hlegor leg. Hlegor leg. Great soul of the tree, provide us with weapons,” she chants. Two swords of wood form out of the tree, and Dargos and Herga grab them both.
Rushing downstairs to the plaza where they’re going to meet their squad, Dargos looks out a window of sap. “Just look at the beauty. The perfection,” he says in awe.
Herga joins in with a, “And I can’t wait to crush Rogar scum.”
Dargos nods, but a shadow of doubt begins to creep into his mind. All he’s ever known is what the clerics have told him. “But not everything in the Forgag is perfect. You haven’t seen the prison blocks like I have. Maybe the Rogar aren’t as bad as were told,” he mumbles.
“We’ve trained all our lives for the moment. I can’t wait.”
“Herga, can I let you in on a secret?”
“Always. What is it?”
“In the prison blocks, they torture the Rogar prisoners. Everyone of them captured is encased into the tree and slowly crushed to death while being ripped apart. That’s how the tree gets nutrients. There isn’t really a point, since the tree can get nutrients from the sun. It just likes the torture.”
“Good. The Rogar have it coming.”
Dargos bites his lip as they exit into the plaza. “Attention, guards. You two will be joining the assault team. Over there. After the rogar burned down our catapults, we’re going to destroy their labs in revenge. Two wolf mounts are waiting for you,” a brightly dressed officer shouts.
Hurrying over to the rest of the assault team, Dargos whispers to Herga “We weren’t told anything about an attack. Aren’t we supposed to just be guarding?”
“I, for one, am excited to attack. Let’s go kill some Rogar scum.”
Dargos just nods, biting his lip so it bleeds. The two mount the wolves as the commander begins to address the squad. “We are about to attack the Rogar, and I need to make sure you know what to do. What do the Rogar prize most?”
“What do you do if you see a Rogar?”
“Kill or capture, sir!”
“Good. Very good. Now, none of us have ever attacked the Rogar before. But knowledge gained when the last squad died… Oops. Anyway, information gathered from several secret, hidden, nondescript, and unknown sources tells us that their buildings are armed with fire shooting cannons that can burn straight through a wolf. Be strong and decisive in your attack. The Rogar are armed with strange and unrighteous mechanical devices. In order to beat them, half of our wolf riders will go straight into their compound as bait, while the other half will dismount and destroy their labs. But those who are bait, don’t worry. The soul of nature will protect you. Does everyone understand?”
“Good. Then we strike at once. Onward!”
Rushing out of the gates of the tree, Dargos feels the wind blowing through his hair and the soft touch of the wolf’s fur against his skin. Tightly grasping onto the reins, Dargos confides in his wolf.
“Hey, boy. Listen up, okay? Did you hear what the commandant said about the Rogar compound? How did they get all that information? I feel like this isn’t the first attack, or there’s something they’re not telling us. Anyway, thanks for listening.”
As the squad crosses the bridge leading out of Forgag territory, they look at the horizon. The area right in front of their noses is a deserted wasteland, ruined by centuries of war. Scorched bodies of wolves, clerics and warriors in the traditional Forgag robes, Rogar creations, and Rogar agents litter the ground. The earth is scorched to a crisp. All around, houses are crushed to the ground. All that can be seen left standing are the waves of tombstones seemingly stretching endlessly. Dargos leans closer into one, reading the words on a single tombstone out of the many, bearing neither the Rogar nor Forgag emblems.
“Morie Yehar. C.E.730-C.E.738. Killed in a Forgag prison, for healing wounded Rogar soldiers. May she rest in peace for all the people she healed by such a young age. She will never be forgotten as long as we tread this land.”
Pulling away the vines covering the tombstone, a shudder goes down Dargos’ spine. He looks down at his wolf. A single tear rolls down his cheek, but it’s wiped away by the wind. Looking down at the Forgag emblem on his robe, it no longer stirs up the same pride in him.
As his squad slowly passes through the wastelands, Dargos drops to the back of the pack. He is no longer excited to be part of the Forgag. Pulling up to talk to Herga, at the front of the pack, Dargos leans over and begins to speak. “Hey, Herga! Listen up! Do you see those tombstones?”
“How could I miss them?”
“A lot of them were probably killed by the Forgag.”
“I bet a lot were killed by the Rogar too. Definitely more.”
Clenching his hand into a fist, frustrated by Herga’s blind devotion to the Forgag, Dargos falls to the back of the pack, yet again.
“Halt!” the commander shouts, “We are right in front of the gates to the Rogar lands. Once in there, everyone is an enemy. Do you understand?”
“Good. The compound is about a mile into Rogar lands. There is one town along the way. We will stop there for the night and — ” The commander raises his fingers for air quotes. “ — respectfully mingle with the enemy citizenry. If you, um, acquire any objects while respectfully mingling with the enemy citizenry and/or cause immense destruction and pain to them, you will be pardoned of all of your crimes while fighting these heretic infidels who do not honor the soul of nature.”
“Then let us begin.”
The commander unhooks his equipment from the wolf’s saddle and puts it on. Throwing a barbed vine up to the roof of the gate house, the commander pulls it taught. Climbing up the vine, sword in hand, the commander quickly scales up to the roof and silently slices off the guard’s heads, and he wipes the blood on the dead mens’ robes. Beckoning for two more men to come up, the commander pulls a little vial out of the pouch pocket.
“Now this here is a very potent sap-based acid. Just a drop or two on anything made of nature, like our wooden swords, will make them strong enough to cut through a roof or wall,” the commander whispers.
Crouching down, he smears a little bit of the liquid all over his sword, plunges it through the roof silently in the corner, and almost cuts out a whole circle, leaving it holding onto the roof by a little bit. Pulling out his sword in one hand, the commander slams through the roof, sword in hand, and spins 360 degrees. Killing all the guards in one clean stroke, he beckons for the other men to come down and sheaths his sword. The three men pull up the gate, and the squad goes through.
Riding along the countryside, the Forgag soldiers slice up the Rogar creations tending to the fields as they go along, and sow weeds into the ground. Collecting whatever supplies the Rogar had and breaking them, they ride into the Rogar town like kings. Dismounting, they quickly kill the local Rogar garrison with the loss of only two men and begin to sack and pillage the town. Knocking down houses, destroying equipment in items, looting valuables, pillaging, shops, murdering the local inhabitants, and just generally causing destruction. Staying for the night, they begin to turn into harsher, more crueler versions of themselves. Dargos runs around, desperately trying to find Herga.
“Arrg!” Herga yells, stabbing a local family through the chest.
“One second of cruelty, four lives ended.” Dargos mentions casually, but with a serious tone in his voice.
“They deserved it.”
“But you just killed two innocent children!”
“They must pay for the crimes of their parents.”
A fire begins to burn in Herga’s eyes.
“How does that justify killing? What makes their lives worth less than ours?”
“Because they’re Rogar,” Herga replies, with more than shadow of malice and cruelty in her voice. Beginning to hollar, Herga yells, “All Rogar deserve to die! I granted them mercy with a painless death.”
“Herga, snap out of it!!”
Getting down on his knees and begging with Herga, Dargos began to plead.
“Make it stop! All this bloodshed, for nothing. We have been taught from a very young age that all of nature is valuable. What makes the Rogar any less? What?!”
Herga twists her heel, kicking dust into Dargos’ face and spits on the ground.
“You deserved that for even questioning the Forgag.”
“Enough with the looting and pillaging! It’s time to make camp for the night. In the name of the soul of nature, I hereby declare this town thoroughly destroyed and pardon you all. We set off tomorrow at four in the morning, sharp.”
Pulling the bedroll off his wolf, Dargos quickly sets up camp. Dropping it onto the ground, he clears the bloodstained dirt. Collapsing, he looks up at the bright starry night. Scooting over to let his wolf lie down next to him, he begins to whisper to it.
“Just look at the sky. It’s probably the only place here free from the blood. Why do we have to fight? They’re not so different from us. Underneath, we are all sort of the same. While there may be some differences, it’s not worth all this fighting. Who decided to divide the world into Forgag and Rogar anyway? Just look at this massacre. The little town here isn’t that different from the ones we saw in Forgag territory. There doesn’t always have to be a them and an us, a Forgag and a Rogar. Why can’t there just be people?”
Turning over, Dargos falls soundly asleep, dreaming of a world where there isn’t so much bloodshed.
“Rise and shine! It’s time to move out. Just leave the bedrolls. You won’t need them. We leave in five minutes! Five minutes!” the commander shouts. Shaking his head and slowly standing up, Dargos sees Herga towering over him.
“It’s our first battle! I can’t wait.”
“I can. This isn’t what I trained for, you know? A cleric’s supposed to heal people, not kill them. They had us sign an oath never to take lives. Now they send me into battle?”
“So you can heal people. Duh. You should no better than to question the Forgag.”
Sneering at Dargos, Herga spits in the dirt. Stomping off, Dargos climbs onto his wolf, leaning in.
“What’s the matter with her? Can’t she see what is happening? Urrg. At least you understand, boy.”
Pulling out his sword, Dargos sticks it into the ground and snaps it under his foot.
“I won’t be needing that.”
“Let’s move out! Everybody, we’re going!” the commander shouts and then hops onto his wolf. Riding out, the squad all mount their wolves and ride out towards the Rogar compound. “The right half of the company here will go straight in as bait, and I will lead you. Left half, you’ll be commanded by our loyal and faithful Herga. Praise the soul of nature!”
“Praise the soul of nature!”
Veering off to the left, Dargos charges forward with the rest of the pack, dismounts, and rushes into the Rogar laboratory. Pulling out the same bottle the commander had earlier, one of the Forgag soldiers smears it all over his sword, cutting through the wall into a Rogar lab. Nocking an arrow, another Forgag soldier shoots the two Rogar agents in the room, and they sweep into the building. Glass flying everywhere, they smash Rogar petri dishes, break beakers, and crack vials. Charging forward, the Forgag team rushes further into the building, wrecking as the go. Dargos, however, stays behind.
Raising his staff over two dying Rogar agents, Dargos begins to utter a powerful life saving incantation. “Alhost nep. Alhost nep. Alhost nep. Save these two agents.”
“Thank you. You are a very good man. But why are you helping us, since you are Forgag?”
“I’m not Forgag. I’m not Rogar. I’m just a human, and so are you,” Dargos declares, helping them up from the ground.
“Now, this special tree grows incredibly fast. Plant this seed anywhere, and it will go straight up through anything. Plant it below this Rogar laboratory. Dargos has a special spell to blow through the floor. Where is he? You two. Over there. Go find him,” Herga orders. “We can’t get down to the basement to plant the seed until Dargos gets here, unless we cut through. You two. Start cutting. I hope they find Dargos.”
Panting, Dargos frantically searches for a Rogar officer.
“Rogar officer! Somebody! Anybody! You need to listen! The Forgag are going to destroy your labs! The other team is bait! It’s a trap!”
Hwap! A blindfold and gag are thrown over Dargos’ head. He blacks out.
A blinding light shines into Dargos’ eyes.
“You betrayed the Forgag!” Herga yells into Dargos’ face. “Your petty warnings were worthless. We cut through the floor and destroyed the Rogar labs. You failed. Dargos, you are a disgrace to the Forgag. I pity you.”
Herga turns around and spits on the floor.
“Where are we?”
“In a house in the wastelands. You were so interested and horrified at the wasteland graves, we decided to have you join them. Goodbye Dargos.”
“I thought you were my friend. We’ve been raised together since we were born.” Dargos cries, tears gushing like rivers and flowing down his robe, pulling out the dye. Pools of now green tears form on the floor, flooding the half-destroyed house.
“We’ve never been friends. Merely accomplices in serving the soul of nature.”
Pulling out her sword, high above his head, Herga touches the sword onto Dargos’ chest. Heartbroken, Dargos’ eyes drop. He falls onto the floor. He sinks slowly into the pool of his own tears. His arms droop. His head falls onto his chest.
“Why? Why, Herga? Why?” Dargos chokes out through the tears.
“Because the soul of nature is above all, and you are a traitor. Goodbye, Dargos.”
Herga picks up her sword, brandishing the wood. Dargos looks up to see any hint of remorse in her eyes. All he sees is cold, hard hatred. Herga raises the sword high above her head and —