A Plague

The Guardsman fills in his daily log entry, noting in the book:

–Three men lost, same damn juvenile owlbears. Reminder! Soon they will be adult owlbears!

He thinks about adding another exclamation point, but decides he is too tired.

He just finished a patrol that started with a team of four, unscathed, and with just a scant five-mile hike, he can be back home, half into a tankard of ale, and getting a foot massage from the missus.

“Excuse me?”

He looks up, willing to die instead of having to deal with whatever this ends up being.

The new hell between then and a better now, is a traveler leaning on a long twisted root. Wrapped in a black cloak- like the humidity wasn’t boiling, or as The Guardsman wishes, and not for the first time, he had moved North and not South when he had the opportunity- the traveler shivers violently.

With fever?

Stuck in the Eggy Swamp for decades now, The Guardsman has seen his share of the plague and decides. This man is afflicted with something bad.

“I am looking for a Troll necromancer,” the traveler wheezes- demonstrating damaged lungs.

“Troll Necromancer?” The Guardsman says, absentminded, wondering if he should cover his mouth or ask for Godly protection as a precursor to catching whatever got its claws into this man.

“Yes,” but before the sickly creature can even get the word half out, he succumbs to a coughing fit. Body wracking, veins bold against his glossy flesh, coughing fit.

The Guardsman half expects the traveler to die right in front of him.

Instead, though, he wipes his mouth after the fit, his black sleeve leaving a smear of blood on his gallows-pallor cheek. He holds himself tight as if only slightly in control and proves it when he succumbs to yet another long bout of horrendous coughing.

Blood splattering everywhere.

The guard watches in complete disgust and annoyance- mixed with only a bit of empathy- because he knows how awful it is to have travel when ill.

But may the Gods blight the man’s cock for bringing his sickness here. “I know of a troll with a bounty on his head that keeps returning swamp cats to life, but you don’t look up to opening a door on your own, let alone tracking a half-crazed swamp-dweller down who can pull souls from the Deadlands.

But as the traveler heaves and convulses to rid himself of the infection in his lungs, he seems to, what? The guard asks himself.

Glow?

The Guardsman decides there does seem to be a steady rosy-feverish-glow to the traveler that only gets stronger as he hacks out phlegm and steadies himself on the small camp desk. The desk wobbles dangerously with each cough spraying little droplets of spit-soaked blood everywhere.

The guard has seen this type of glow before. Paladins get it when they pray. Priests also. Maybe even the old crinkling librarian who gets excited about long-ago dates.

It means power.

Hidden deadly power.

Power that could be thrown in balls of fire, or used to weaken a foe right down to nothing. Without removing his eyes from this person who just revealed themselves to be dangerous, he points South. “Follow the main road, look for the zombie cats. If you find yourself swimming in an ocean, you’ve gone too far.”

“Thank you,” the traveler gasps and leaning heavily on his root, he turns to stagger out beyond the door and toward what The Guardsman assumes will be his death.

–Look for a dead man near Troll Necromancer. Careful plague!

He finishes the final note, closes the ledger, and takes his first steps toward home and a much-deserved rest and peace.

Published by Bryan Aiello

Raised on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Bryan served in the Army, graduated from the University of South Florida and now calls Brooklyn home. For more of his fiction and updates on his podcasts, follow him on Twitter: @bryaiello and Reddit: /u/voyage_of_roadkill.

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