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Heroes Never Panic, Part Four. Chapter 22 now up
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2006 8:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Voted to go with the general, more because he has the resources to keep us alive longer in the imperiled city than for revenge.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 29, 2006 10:40 am    Post subject: Chapter 23, Heroes Never Panic Reply with quote

Chapter 23, Heroes Never Panic

As inviting as the opportunity to escape is, Manning realizes that staying with General Taggert is the safest choice, and it eases the tremor of vengeance that has been rumbling inside. Manning pushes through the frightened people that crowd him like a nightmare, and passes between the rigid Cassian and Tiersleyen soldiers, to stand by General Taggert. Taggert’s indignation diminishes when he sees Manning approach.

“Proceed,” the general says gently. He looks across the dark streets. He followed the captain last time he left the station, though he thought he remembered where they went. The night still lingers over Tiersley and the lamplighters have been less than vigilant in this time of crisis. They expect him to take them to Stanimir, but how should he know where Stanimir is? He hardly knows the way back to Tackers! Manning clears his throat, which is closing up on him. “Proceed!” General Taggert demands, the force of his voice enough to push Manning forward, though the first step stumbles. He keeps moving and the adjutants call out their orders. The Tiersleyens fall into step. Very soon, everyone follows Manning, and he feels the pressure as though they were all stacked on his shoulders. He keeps rhythm with the march, the way he was trained to, and though he stands alone in front, he feels comforted, as though it was a mother’s heartbeat. Keep in time and forget the pressure and uncertainty is Manning’s strategy.

“You know, Manning,” the general says. “You remind me of my son when I first sent him to his military academy. You even have the look of him.”

Manning swallows. How is he supposed to respond? The general patronizes him and honors him at the same time.

“He was determined, but afraid. I told him what I always told him, ‘Good men live and die, but heroes never panic’.”

And he must have been sick of hearing it, Manning thinks to himself. The general always pressed heavily on the captain’s mind. This man, the cruel warlord, haunted the captain as a living ghost, one that could still find him in real life with the power of the greatest army in the world; a ghost that could even outlive his son.

“Do you understand what that means?” General Taggert asks Manning like a teacher testing a student. He waits only for a moment, to let the question sink in and see if he indeed had an answer. Manning has no interest in trying to answer the question and would rather not encourage any sort of conversation. The general answers his own question, “It means terrible things happen, but a hero does what he must do with dignity and valor. John never really understood that.”

Manning burns as the general continues to spurn Captain Taggert, but locks his thoughts inside and tries to breathe evenly. He can’t keep calm. Helplessness, frustration, vengeance, injustice, they writhe inside him like a cesspool, churning and putrefying his thoughts. A shaking balance of wrath and fear wash back and forth over him. He wants it to end! He can think of nothing else! He forgets his steps and direction and if he could look out of his cloud of furious fear for even a second he would realize he did not know where he was.

“I showed my son what it took to be more than a man. I helped him rise in rank and reputation and he glowed like a man on fire when he became a captain. I let him alone from there, thinking he could take care of himself and my duty as a father was complete. He distinguished himself time and again in war, at Cainen, at Danfora, at Hedgewin Bridge, in Desbon…”

Manning remembers. He knows what the general means when he said the captain glowed. He was proud of his men, proud of his station in the army.

“He sent me a letter during the Corissan Campaign, asking me to stop using my influence to compel his superiors to offer promotions and commendations. I did ask them to do anything, he earned it all himself. Then he wrote he was ‘happy’ as a captain and had no desire to rise any higher.”

Manning remembers hearing about the captain turning down promotions. It gave the men more to fight for knowing they were more important to the captain than rank and power.

“‘Happy’? Ha! As if happiness had anything to do with it! John saw how high he could climb and he got dizzy. God knows why, it scared him. I saw that my work was not done. That’s why I brought him with me to Brennig. I could see the potential for greatness in him and I would not let it sleep in him out of fear! And what does my son do to me? He runs like a militia of peasants, like an inept coward! And like the peasants, he was cut down. You run away, you die! That’s how it is in this world! You’re either charging forward or trampled down! And Taggerts’ don’t run! Taggerts’ don’t panic!”

Every indignation, humiliation and injustice that ever outraged Manning erupts from within and he screams as he draws his sword. General Taggert dodges aside, drawing his saber. He deflects Manning’s assault deftly, hardly exerting himself as he parries the graceless thrusts and swings. Perhaps he could kill Manning at any time, but the general waits for the soldiers to knock Manning down and hold him on the ground. Taggert stands over him.

“At least you have rage in your blood. Let him up.”

Manning coughs as they get off of him. He stands up and faces the general.

“Would you like another try?” the general says. “Give him his weapons.”

Manning looks at the general defiantly. He looks at the soldiers and sees the futility. He sheathes his sword.

“How close are we?” the general asks. Manning doesn’t answer. He just keeps walking. He doesn’t know how far and he’s only vaguely certain he’s even going the right direction.

People run toward them as they get farther east. The soldiers aim at them, but let them pass when it becomes clear that they are not undead. Anyone who begs for help, for themselves or for a loved one still in trouble, gets a swift butt of a rifle to their face or stomach. Manning knows if they persist after that, they will be executed right there, without a word of warning or reply. According to military procedure, soldiers must not be distracted by anything in these situations. Fortunately, anyone can tell when the soldiers have their cold war faces on.

A wave of tension like a searing desert wind sweeps over the soldiers when they know they’re close to the undead. A bonfire throws its cape across the city as the wind turns against Tiersley. Manning is taking them straight to it, as if it made sense. Stanimir must be where the city is dying.

The popping of distant shots grows steadily. Then the first zombie appears. Fresh and bleeding, full of power and fury, it sees the soldiers as though a colony of ants and charges at it screaming. They do not stop marching as three flankmen take a knee and carefully aim. They let it get closer and in quick succession fire at the zombie. Head heart and body, those are the shots they take, and they hit their marks. The zombie collapses. Scrappers rush up and decapitate it, all in standard procedure, but that is just one zombie.

A few more scattered zombies, wandering solitarily, become the warm-up practice of the soldiers, but the dark mass of zombies ahead will not be so easy. They move as a mob, seeking vengeance on the living as a collective. If they find someone they attack together and only when it is dead will they move on. And they’re getting closer. Then the mob is immediately aware of the soldiers and there is a pause as every zombie turns its attention.

“Make ready!” General Taggert calls out. The soldiers form a thick line that blocks the street with men taking a knee and rifles poised over their shoulders from the soldiers behind them. Taggert casually walks with Manning through the line and waits in the back. The zombies charge.

“Fire!” the general yells and hot lead rips through the zombies. Some of them fall, some of them stagger, and many continue running. “First line, Fix Bayonets!” The front line, still on their knees, quickly attach bayonets to their rifles while the second line reloads. “Fire when ready!”

A sporadic succession of shots occur as the zombies reach the line, according to how fast the individual soldier could reload. Then a war cry as the first line thrusts their bayonets in the remaining zombies. None of the zombies get through and the scrappers clean up the ones that still cling to survival. Then suddenly it is quiet and the soldiers reload and stand ready.

“Where are we going?” The general asks.

“I’m taking you as close as I can to Stanimir. I told you I don’t know exactly where he went. He was heading this way.”

“Fine. You lead.”

“That’s what I’m doing.”

“You misunderstand me. Take command of these brave soldiers.”

“Sir I have no training for this.”

“You’re a leader, I can see it in you.”

“You only see a reflection of your son. You’re putting the lives of these men into the hands of a shadow!”

But the general’s stubbornness will not stand aside, and though the soldiers’ faces mask their apprehension Manning can see the fear in their averted eyes.

“You can’t do this,” Manning says lowly, trying to spare the men from demoralization.

“It’s done. You can deal with it or run from it.”

“You’re insane! This has nothing to do with them! And it shouldn’t have anything to do with me!”

Manning can say nothing that will persuade the general. He’s a man who would truly lose everything before admitting he wasn’t absolutely right. As the fires burn and innocents are lost, the undead will grow stronger. One definite thing the undead has over the living is inexhaustibility. The undead do not sleep or grow weary, and while the soldiers stand in uncertainty, the dead reap the souls of the living. Manning gets away from the general by pushing to the front, where the soldiers can see him. They’re waiting to hear their fate, knowing that whatever he asks them to do, they must do.

Manning searches his thoughts for the words to save him. He jumped forward, hoping that the words would come in the moment of truth, but now he’s jumped he can find nothing. They want to hear from a brilliant daring leader, but Manning isn’t a leader. He’s never been a leader in all his life and when he looks into his memories, he can find nothing but times he let others do the leading for him.

Then the captain stands up in his memory of the battle of Desbon. Like a beacon at sea, he stands tall and shows the way. He led his company to victory with the words that Manning repeats,

“You are the heroes of Cassia. You are the strength that defends the weak, the dark that protects the light. The heroes of our childhood fought when fear and distrust divided us. They were the fools who believed we could live a glorious life in a world that hated us. They faced hatred with courage and won because they refused to surrender. Those heroes never died and never will die. They are here with us this very moment. We are the heroes who fought against hatred and we will never surrender!”

Manning’s soul sets his body on fire till it feels there is no body at all, just an indestructible entity without limit. The men say and do nothing. Some of them want to believe that Manning’s words had no effect on them, that they were not so easily fooled by lofty pretenses, but when Manning calls for them to march, determination carries all of them forward.

The undead are unimpressed and in the wake of the last battle, they can feel the swing of Death’s sickle and know exactly where the source is. They close on it like a hand around a candle’s flame. Manning sees it happening and orders to form squares. The numbers easily accommodate the formation, which is impressive to behold and a testament to the discipline of the soldiers that they can form up so quickly. When the hand closes onto the flame, it is not extinguished. It burns the hand. The undead come from everywhere, from the alleys, the broken windows, from behind and on all sides, but the shots tear them down. The bodies make small barricades, but the undead in this area, only a few hundred, have no more fight in them. The scrappers finish the squirming remains while the rest form ranks again and press on.

Deep inside the Baron District, Manning moves at an even pace, stopping anytime a threat approaches. But a terrible warning stops his heart in his chest and calls a halt on instinct. He feels like his heart has truly stopped and he can not loosen the pain. The building to the left of the formation starts cracking and shaking as though caught between a hurricane and an earthquake. The walls buckle and topple over the men, who break formation to escape, but some are too late. The fires explode in place of the building and the undead flow out like lava. Many of the zombies have caught fire, and reach with flaming arms for the soldiers. The formation flies apart and a real battle begins. They shoot and stab with ferocity of demons and the undead meet them furiously with unmatchable strength. Feeding on the death, the undead are not easily dispatched. A single stab with a bayonet will not finish them and soldiers must fight closely together to keep them at bay. The screams of the undead or screams of the wounded soldiers bleed together, but there is nothing to do but fight or run. The most brilliant strategist of the world could not turn the tide in favor of either side at this point. Manning joins them fervently and even the general does not feel himself above fighting. It takes vigilance to keep them down, and more are coming from the inflamed city, like soldiers from the gates of Hell fighting on home territory.

No quarter offered, none accepted, the fight is in the hands of fate, until every zombie seizes up as though struck by chains of lightning, then hold entirely still. The soldiers do not hesitate to take advantage, but hack the nearby frozen zombies down before taking an open moment to reload or just breath and regain strength. The flames diminish around a figure, as though their heat and energy were being sucked into him. It seems to make sense to Manning that at this moment their prey would find them.

Stanimir has grown taller and his muscles have swelled beyond the limits of his skin. His twin broadswords have returned to his hands and he wears the heads of the Warders like jewelry. He has become the focus of the dark forces that desire the city in ruins, and all the zombies around him bow to his will. He holds them in their place as he struts forward. His vanity must be satisfied and as he commands them through mere thought, the zombies open a path for him.

“That’s him,” General Taggert says, having no doubt that only such a terrible being could have killed his son. Only something of such grand scale and evil majesty could have interrupted his family’s legacy. And now he will destroy Stanimir.

Stanimir’s numerous shadows move around frantically, illogically. Manning sees claw marks left across a wall by one of the shadows.

“Form up! Form up!” Manning yells with no intention of underestimating his adversary. Stanimir smiles. “Fire at will!” Manning yells, Stanimir stretches his enormous arms and exposes his chest. As though made of iron, when the bullets hit him they do not pierce his skin. The men reload quickly, the zombies and Stanimir move forward. “Pull back! Retreat!”

“NO! Hold your ground!” General Taggert barks. The soldiers stir fearfully.

“Don’t listen to him! Pull back!”

“Never surrender!” the General shoots back viciously, using Manning’s words against him. “Hold your ground!”

“This isn’t heroism! It’s insanity!

The general points his pistol at Manning, but it isn’t necessary because the battle has already begun again. They hold off the zombies valiantly, but the unnatural shadows creep up on them and they scream as they’re torn apart with no idea of how or what.

“General for the love of god, you have to save these men!”

“I will,” he says. He drops his pistol and marches forward with his sword. Stanimir lets the general in and stands ready. The old general moves with the vigor of youth, and rushes the last few steps, quickly lunging and slashing. Stanimir easily manages the swordsman skill he had in life and compounds it with the strength of undeath. He blocks the general’s every move and with such force that his arm and wrist feel pain at each attempt, but the general does not relent. Stanimir smiles as he decides to stop playing around and with one solid stroke, shatters the general’s sword. Stanimir kicks the old general to the ground and steps on his chest. General Taggert’s ribs crack, but he refuses to show pain as he struggles to get up again. Stanimir sadistically forces the tip of his sword into the general’s mouth and glares at him. Then with a quick thrust, the sword sinks into the ground through the back of General Taggert’s head. He pulls out the sword and lifts the body over his head with a roar. He throws it over the men’s heads and it falls at Manning’s feet.

Half of the soldiers are dead already and more are dying still, fighting nobly until death or the call of retreat. Manning is about to order the withdrawal, when a hand claps onto his shoulder and he’s looking straight into the eyes of Captain Taggert. Manning breaks away and snatches the general’s discarded pistol.

“Manning,” Captain Taggert rasps with great difficulty. Somehow he is really there, his destroyed body has broken from its coffin and found Manning.

“NO!” Manning screams confronting his nightmare. The pain is unbearable, seeing the captain living in torment. He aims the pistol straight at his captain’s heart, but he might as well be aiming at his own. It hurts to see the captain standing there, the man Manning revered so much he threw his whole life away to follow him, but to kill him goes against every instinct.

“Manning,” he rasps again shaking his head and holding out a warning hand. Manning is paralyzed and confused. It must be Stanimir’s trick. He should shoot. Captain Taggert lifts his forefinger and points to his own eye. “His eye,” he says, then points with his other hand at Stanimir.

Manning remembers every detail of John Taggert’s last moments but he didn’t understand his last words… ‘His eye’…. Manning lowers the pistol. Taggert sinks to his knees.

“I understand,” he says. “Goodbye Captain.” With a flash of gunpowder, Manning fires a bullet into Taggert’s heart. Manning drops to his knees, catching the captain’s body. “Sleep…. Please sleep now.”

Men continue to die while he mourns and their screams wake him to his duty. Stanimir turns his wrath upon the soldiers and Manning knows he must stop him. Manning knows his strength, but to ensure a direct hit, he has to be close. He takes a gleaming silver bullet from the general’s pouch. He reloads the pistol, now noticing ‘Taggert’ engraved on its side. He brushes his finger across the letters before stuffing the pistol in the back of his belt. Then he draws his sword and runs forward.

“Stanimir!” he yells, and Stanimir is not so dead that he can not recognize his own name. In fact it seems he remembers everything, and he recognizes the face of the man who shot him and brought him to his current state. All vanity is cast aside. Stanimir looks at himself and though he is powerful it comes at a terrible price. He is hideous and trapped in a body that hates him, burning with pain and endlessly writhing. He is a monster and there is nothing that can change that now, but he can have vengeance on the man who put him there, and he will have it by his own hands. He lets Manning approach with his sword, and one of the shadows informs Stanimir of the pistol, as though it was anything to be worried about.

Manning dwindles in the presence of the undead giant, but he is not afraid. He knows that if he misses, he will die. The eye of Stanimir, gateway to his soul and the convergence of the life and death, is his anchor in the world of mortals. Manning draws the pistol and fires. Stanimir lets it happen, believing himself to immortal. His smile dies as the bullet ruptures his eye. And in an instant the shadows swallow themselves. Stanimir smashes onto the ground with all of his inhuman strength fleeing in all directions. Manning steps forward and separates the Stanimir’s heart from his mind by cutting off his head.

The fighting continues, for the battle does not end with the death of the leaders, but without the shadows, the men do what they were born to do. Manning calls a withdrawal and the survivors of the Cassian and Tiersleyen companies regroup, but do not surrender. They join reinforcing soldiers, but always pushing from the front and never slowing. They push through the Baron District to the soldiers trapped in the barracks, and with the sun rising before them, they push the undead back to the breached gate. They fought till the blood in their veins turned black and they lost all sense of themselves. By the end of the night, Manning called himself Captain Taggert, for he felt that only if the captain was truly fighting with him and through him, could he be able to do what he had done.

With the promise of the morning sun, the undead lost their hold of Tiersley and for the first time in history, Death’s Cloak, the black flag they raise over a doomed city, was lowered again. Tiersley was forsaken even by its own citizens, but through the heroism of its defenders, it survived.

The events of those days in Tiersley turned Manning’s hair grey, and his unusual resemblance to Captain Taggert led anyone who knew the decorated captain to believe that he did not die, but rather proved himself to be hero once again on the field of battle. In honor of the captain’s life and his last wishes, Gregory Manning embraced the mistaken identity and became Captain John Taggert, the defender of Tiersley, and national hero of Cassia.

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Revered IFian

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 29, 2006 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's over? That was unexpectedly fast.
Punishment leads to Fear. Fear leads to Obedience. Obedience leads to Freedom. Therefore, Punishment leads to Freedom.
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Venerable IFian

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 30, 2006 8:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great chapter, great ending.

Hoorah! You're finished! Very Happy Cheers

Anyway- there was one slight mistake where you forgot to add a word, but nothing to worry about. It is interesting that Manning became Taggert (By the way, I'm using that name in my story- did you notice?), makes you realize the guy really had an obsession.

This story was great. It was fun being part of it. Congratulations. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 30, 2006 9:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Congrats Lebby!!!

A bit sudden, but a worth end non-the less.

Now, I suppose you will be wanting a 1000Fables.

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Tiersley imperiled
Go with the General and avenge Captain Taggert
 80%  [ 4 ]
Get away from the General, find the Warders
 0%  [ 0 ]
Get back on the train
 0%  [ 0 ]
Join the first big group of slayers you encounter
 20%  [ 1 ]
Total Votes : 5
Who Voted: Chinaren, D-Lotus, dragon_fire372, jnmrcs, LordoftheNight

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