The name escapes me at the moment but there’s a book the premise of which is that some shifty alchemist comes up with a formula that can turn people invisible for long periods of time. Wizards and such can turn people invisible obviously, but it’s only for a short time and also then you have to deal with a wizard – and who wants that? The alchemist injects his serum into a squad (or whatever) of soldiers so they can invisibly murder the enemy. But the serum is bad for you man. After the first few times most of the soldiers start getting all twisted in the brainpan and eventually they go totally crazy. There’s one guy though who’s able to keep his shit together and while all his squadmates (or whatever) go mad he keeps going on missions of invisible slaughter. Eventually they learn that that guy is dying because even though he’s able to maintain his sanity the juice is eating away all his organs. But he keeps doing it because otherwise it was “all for nothing”.
The book is renowned in certain circles for a couple of reasons. One is that the author just made the book about the Kingdom – they didn’t invent a new place and make it exactly like the Kingdom like most people do, they just called it the Kingdom. The second reason is that people of a certain ilk regard it as an ultimate expression of the pointlessness of armed conflict and of the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class while at the same time being held up by others as a perfect example of a citizen doing his duty to the bitter end and honor and glory and all that. And thirdly some other people love this book because it allows them to argue endlessly if the main guy really was crazy because he kept going on the missions – and if that made him the craziest of all.
At the time I first read it I thought it was fine. It seemed to me like one of those books that people like because of the idea more than the execution of the idea. I don’t think it’s a great book, but invisible soldiers are way cool so people pretend like it’s some monumental work of art. Now that I’ve actually spent a decent amount of time invisible I retroactively find this work annoying because a squad of invisible people? That doesn’t work. You know because they’re invisible. I had that issue all the time when Martialla and I were trying to do stuff invisibly. Even if you attempy something as simple as “hey let’s both turn invisible and attack those people by that tree” you end up both showing up at different times or you bump into each other or some other damn thing. A whole squad of people? No way in Hells that works. It would only work if you were invisible but could see other invisible people, or if you had telepathy or something maybe.
Not only that but in the book the soldiers were invisible for days or weeks at a time and there’s a bunch of chapters were they’re having conversations with each other during those times. I didn’t notice it at the time, but now I realize that the writer was talking about their body language and facial expression and so forth during the invisible conversations. Which makes no damn sense. I bet if I asked the author about it he’d say “oh it’s a metaphor” or some other chickenshit thing like that. Writers are the worst.
“Ela what does this have to do with anything?”
Nothing really. I just often think about that book whenever I’m around a bunch of soldiers.
My tattoos were glowing on account of the people coming out of the river. Lliterally walking out of the water, not like all the other people that were on boats. They were obese fellows with grey-white eel-like skin. You know how the flesh of an eel looks like it’s pudding or something? It’s not like fish scales or like skin or anything proper, it looks like if you touched it your hand would sink into it. And also like you would never want your hand to sink into whatever it was. They appeared to have no genitals but they may have been hidden behind their pendulous flabby belly that swayed like holiday dessert in a bowl. They for sure didn’t have ears, nor eyelids – and they really needed eyelids because they had eyeballs the size of my fist. Actually no, not my fist seeing as how dainty and wonderful my fists are, more like the gnarly first of a bulky longshoreman. Their necks were like a mass of skin flaps like one of those weird wrinkly dogs you see sometimes, only with skin. Maybe those are gills of some kind? I would wager that other people who saw them would say they were “fish-men”. They looked nothing like fish. They looked like abominations.
What the Hells is going on in Ulpine? First they have horned women crewing their ships and now they have these walking nightmares working for them as well? I feel like the Kingdom propagandists are really missing their mark. Instead of talking about how Ulpine violated the Treay of Cole Loch by collecting taxes in the Northern Marches three times a year instead of two times a year how about we focus on how they’re monster-lovers? You know what people don’t care about? The taxation of noblemen in border lands. You know what they do tend to get riled up about? Monsters eating their faces.
I have no idea why he did it since we were getting out of there anyway, but one of the villagers ran at the creatures as they slowly and inexorably came out of the river and impaled it with a spear. The creature didn’t seem to care in the least. Or maybe it cared a little big since it ripped the guy’s head off like a farmer does with chicken, but it didn’t seem to cause it any pain or damage.
Although as it turned out we were not getting out of there. We ran through the village only to find the bellringer and the shouter coming back our way with about a score of other people. The fleet must have landed some men further down the river and they doubletimed it up to block the path to the north. Not wanting to get caught between them and the eel-monsters coming out of the river I made the command decision to head north. My reasoning was that even though the bridge to the north was their target none of the Ulpine ships had made it past the village so I figured that was our best bet. But there were soldiers blocking that route as well. There was no time to head back to the south, we were trapped. We took cover in the sturdiest building in Peacevast – a stone storehouse of some kind that we kidded ourselves into thinking would be able to stand up to a magically exploding ballista bolt.
I was looking for a good opportunity to take on the form of an Ulpine soldier and slip away while the rest of the group prepared for a last stand. I’ve never been one for last stands myself, it’s just not my style. But the attack never came. We huddled amongst sacks of moldy grain while the village was flattened building by building. Every forty seconds or so another mighty boom and a building was gone. Once our shelter was the last thing left though the artillery stopped. Soldiers surrounded us at a safe distance but there was no charge.
After a while a small woman (not a Halfling, she was just short) came forward out of the line of soldiers. She had on those baggy pants sailors seem to like but over that was a rich red check patterned garment that would have looked great on me except for the fact that it would have barely come down to the middle of my back. Her hair was ridiculously coiffed for a battlefield and she was chewing on an apple. I wanted to shoot it out of her face just because it was such an obvious move to show how casual and unconcerned she was. I detest that kind of playacting.
She tossed the apple core away with calculated nonchalance, for a small woman her voice was strong and clear “Who’s in command here?”
I stayed well back but tossed my voice out to her “Master Sergeant Hala Tankelthorn at your service.”
She smiled indulgently “I wasn’t aware that the Kingdom was enlightened enough to allow women serving in the ranks of their renowned military.”
“It’s a recent change, we’ve got a queen running the place now you know so women are being afforded more opportunity. It’s terrible, as you well know it’s woman’s duty to stay at home and be the primary care giver because the Gods created us to bear children. And yet here I am fighting and dying like a man. I mean I have a sword in my hand instead of a knitting needle – what is even happening?”
She shook her head sadly “What is the world coming to?”
“It’s tragic is what it is. Hey what’s the deal with those guys that came out of the river?”
“You know of it is in wartime, alliance are made with all sorts. Strange bedfellows and all that.”
“You get into bed with those things?”
“Figure of speech. I’m here to talk about the terms of your surrender.”
“I’d love to hear them.”
“Surrender now or we’ll kill you.”
“Well that’s simple enough. I give you credit for not trying to fancy things up.”