Report of Pompous Maximilians, governor of the rich province of Egypt to the imperial academy in Rome.
What is a monster? Actually, how to define one?
Some people, mainly those that call themselves Christians would say that it is easy, anyone that hurts and maim creatures of a thinking species only for pleasure is a monster.
Perhaps, but and if the violence is done for other reasons? If it is for vengeance, to leave a message or any other of the reasons of war?
In truth I say that as in many other things, this new religion is simplistic in its philosophy with its clear definition of good and evil.
Someone said that if you kill one man you are a murderer, if you kill thousands and call it an act of war you are a hero. Does it apply to monsters either?
To illustrate my thesis, look at this report sent to me by Valerus Ilustratus, centurion of the XXII Centuria, the so-called monster hunters.
In this day 15 of April of the year of 1200 since the foundation of Rome, I, Valerus Ilustratus, Centurion responsible for the XXII Centuria of the august Romanish Empire write this report to take full responsibility for my failure.
Our Centuria is called by the title of monster hunters and we are proud of it. Among my men I have a variety of races: cat men of Egypt, Elfs from Italy, Dwarves from Germania and, obviously, good roman human legionaries. I am proud to say that most of my men have some magical abilities. We are the best Centuria in all Roman Empire and the emperor recognized this with the best equipment. Our shields are the best long magical shields, our weapons are magical, same for our armour and we accept only the better-trained men in our group.
So, why did we fail? Well … let me explain the facts.
We left Alexandria at the twentieth day of December of the present year, right after the Saturnalia.
Our orders were simple: Go to the city of Heron, at the shore of the great lake to find out why no ship, caravan or messenger had come back from this city in the past three months. Locate the source of the trouble and eliminate it.
We had crossed the dangerous Western Internal Sea coming from our base in Rome just for this purpose.
I must add that my men made the required sacrifices to Jupiter and to Mars in that month, and that my men participated of the festivities in honor of Saturn (including the more “sexual” ones) even though the god of agriculture has little appeal to a soldier. And that we were feeling refreshed and ready to travel trough Egypt.
The gods smiled on the first part of our journey. We followed the imperial road, keeping close to shore until we got to the hills and from there we faced the desert for only ten stadia (about one hour of march) before we reached the pass.
We signaled to the garrison at the fort on top of one of the hills that surround the pass and got no answer. So, I’ve sent some elven and cat men scouts to see what had happened.
Since it was getting dark I ordered my men to make camp while we waited. It was done in the standard way, but since there were very few trees around we had to dig only the trench around the camp, no palisade. This worried me and I ordered the men to use the earth from the trench to make a small earthen wall. My men are good and finished the job before the return of the scouts.
The scouts reported what I already expected, the fort had been attacked and the men eaten by a large group of beasts. The massacre had been recent and some of the creatures were still around.
These creatures were giant lizards, capable of walking erect and to give huge jumps, dilacerating their prey with their strong claws. We had already fought against these in the past and I call them veloci raptors due to their speed and fury.
These beasts were certainly not the responsible for the lack of communications with Heron. I figured that they had probably moved from the jungle to the hills because of the creature or creatures that were the real trouble.
Knowing veloci-raptors as I did, I knew that they would test the defenses of our camp during the night. If they found a breach they would attack. Any kind of usual trap would be useless against them since they were too smart, but we could deceive them easily.
I always order my men to make a “dung trench” a bit out of camp. That is, a group of holes of the right size for men to satisfy the physical needs.
I ordered the dwarves to dig a hole for themselves close to this trench, and to make it so that the raptors would not be able to detect it. The smell of the dung nearby would be important for this purpose.
We armed larger tents than usual, and waited inside these tents in turtle formation.
We placed elven archers and mages over earthen towers in strategic positions.
Our food carts were placed at the center of the camp.
Groups of cat men were organized and we waited.
And waited …
It is not a good thing, to wait huddled in a tent without talk and always nervous. Worst because we couldn’t light any fire or else the raptors would see our profile against the walls of the tents.
It was about the middle of the night when the raptors surrounded our tents and jumped into them. It was a dark night, but we had noticed their presence due to a lot of small noises, including some “birds” that were in truth our companions hidden in the earthen towers.
So, when the raptors jumped, they met enchanted shields and well positioned lances in the hands of experienced fighters. I impaled one with my pilo (heavy lance), dropped the now struck weapon and took the sword. Now, the tent had already collapsed, but outward, as it was planed to do. And the would-be predators found themselves enclosed by men arranged in impenetrable turtle formations. Worst, while we moved our formations to surround the beasts they were hit by archers and mages, the dwarfes closed their retreat route and the cat men went out of their hiding places in our tents and got into the fray with pleasure, cutting raptors faster than the eye could see.
Raptors are fast and if we had used magic to enhance our abilities they might have sensed it or heard our chant and the surprise would be lost, but we had magical weapons and some of us (like myself) have used magic so many times to enhance their bodies that they are already a bit enhanced all the time. The raptors didn’t stand a chance.
There is not much more to say about this battle, in one hour it was finished and we had lizard meat for breakfast next day. We didn’t lose one man. But I had the weird feeling that this had been a test, that somehow the real enemy had observed us.
Next day we went to the pass, I sent scouts to check if all was clear and they signaled that we could go.
I was not surprised to find that at the other side of the pass the jungle had been scorched in many places, something had clearly herded the raptors in our direction and I strongly suspected a certain red dragon named Cianomir. If I had imagined …
No surprise to find that the fertile land between jungle and Heron had been “cleaned”. The plantations had been destroyed, cattle killed and only Pluto knows where the people went.
With no better option we continued to march to the city. It was a clear and hot day, but we were attentive and wearing full armour.
This is when we lost.
Two attacks. It took only this.
We saw the dragon coming, first as a speck in the sky, fast becoming a huge beast. We barely had time to scatter in a pre-established pattern, before it flew over us.
Our arrows and spells did no damage. When it got close I could see why. It was wearing armour!!! Not a physical armour of metal scales, it was wearing a kind of net of magical stones over its body, probably each one had a spell on it.
Perhaps we could find a breach in its defenses if we had time, but it didn’t land or try to use its breath, it simply flew over us and to my surprise I saw that it was carrying a large piece of cloth between its four legs, it was painted to camouflage with the body of the beast, so that when we saw this cloth, it was already too late. The monster lowered the back part of the cloth and from it a shower of balls of clay fell on us, each one containing an amount of some strongly corrosive substance.
We were in a scattered formation, but not scattered enough.
There were many balls of clay and even the ones that hit the floor opened forming stinking puddles that liberated strongly poisonous gas. Even then, few of us died on this first attack and more might have survived if I had time to order the men to scatter. But the dragon didn’t give any time to us. It came back, this time using its fire breath, and got us unprepared and dizzy from the gas. Our armour was damaged from the acid and many magical stones that should have protected us from heat were inactive. So, the fire that usually would have done almost no damage caught us unprotected.
I lost half of my men to this second pass. I don’t know how the dragon did this, but it was the longest breath of fire that I ever saw and I have fought bigger dragons before.
I was lucky to escape, I had enhanced my speed when I saw that we were getting close to the city (call it instinct) and ordered my group of men to break formation as soon as I saw the clay balls falling. Unfortunately my words didn’t get far due to the incredible noise made by the sheer speed of the dragon.
After this second pass the dragon continued flying and disappeared in the distance.
If it had come back and landed, I don’t know if any of us would survive.
We tended the wounded as best as we could and marched fast to the protection of town.
I was surprised to see that the city had not been destroyed; we were welcomed by the sentries at the gates and went into the city as heroes not as a centuria that had just lost half of its men.
The mayor of the city received us at the gates and amid a nice welcome speech confiscated our supply carts (undamaged by the dragon on purpose, I think) and sent us to reinforce their depleted garrison.
As soon as we had time to rest in the barracks we found that the city had not been attacked directly. The ships had been burned at the port and soldiers sent outside the city hadn’t come back, but the only thing that the monster did against the city was to drop a creature on it from time to time.
Last time had been a big, wounded and completely insane triceratops. A creature almost as heavy as the dragon itself and that should be impossible for the dragon to lift.
The worst was the hunger of the population though, since the supplies of the city were at an end.
We didn’t have much to do for now, my primary directive was to send news to Rome and I made it very clear to the mayor, but I had to wait for the best moment. The advantage was with the dragon because he knew its enemy. We didn’t.
I had fought dragons before and they are very smart beasts, but in a fight they usually let their instincts take control and, in the end, this makes them a bit better than raptors.
My Centuria killed Cianomir’s brother, Grandavur, ten years ago. This dragon tried to claim a part of Egypt as his territory after it lost a fight against Cianomir for the rule of Dragon Island. Many tales are told about this fight between brothers and I am starting to believe that they are true.
In the whole battle against Grandavur we lost only ten men. In one fast attack of Cianomir we lost half of the Centuria.
And Grandavur was the biggest elder brother of Cianomir.
In the day following our defeat Cianomir landed some distance from the city and displayed a gigantic parley flag that he waved in a mockery of our own procedures of war.
The mayor hid under his bed (or something similar, I don’t care), but I went to talk alone.
As I approached the dragon I couldn’t avoid a comparison between him and his elder brother. Cianomir is not big for a great dragon, this doesn’t mean that it is small in any human scale though. It was waiting for me seated over its hind legs and tail, in a position that would be funny if it wasn’t for the fact that it has at least four times my height. But it is clearly smaller than his brother was, shorter by at least the length of two men. It is not as massive also. Cianomir has a big head but fewer horns than his brother and its body is not as broad either. Its scales shine with a darker red and its body looks more elongated than broad, which may explain the speed of its flight.
As I approached, though, a single look at those weird eyes proved that I was dealing with the most dangerous dragon in the Empire.
Cianomir doesn’t have snake eyes, its pupils change shape according to the need and at that bright sunny day his dark iris looked remarkably human. The intelligence that can be perceived in this monster is astonishing, especially if you remember that it is young for a dragon.
And it was wearing weapons!
Metallic gloves covered its paws with attached blades capable of cutting a man in half with one stroke.
It was not using that weird armour, but this meant that it wanted freedom to make magic and even a weak body-mage like myself could feel a strong magical aura around the beast. Its meaning was clear: threaten me and Heron will burn.
I went on foot to meet it. As soon as I was at a reasonable distance the dragon said:
- It is a hot day, I will understand if you prefer to stay in the shadow. And it pointed to a nearby tree.
- Thank you, I will accept the invitation. And I went there.
Cianomir changed position then, lowering himself to a quadruped position and lowering its head almost to my level. He waited until I got to a good spot in the shadow and seated myself over a rock, then said:
- Do you have any idea why I went to all this trouble?
- No, I don’t know why you destroyed the local economy and killed my men. I answered.
- No? Really not?!? And the roman attempted invasion of dragon island? And my people that you slaughtered? It said this emphasizing its words hitting the floor with its front paw, which resulted in a loud metallic noise.
- So, this was the reason? An invasion five years ago? I said, very low to test his hearing.
- No, this would justify taking down only one or two of your boats. But you also sent mercenaries to kill me after that. He said in a loud, angry voice.
- And you sent spies and assassins to the governor. What is the problem with this? I said in a normal volume.
- What is wrong? Sending your mercenaries you forced me to lose time with spy games, to pay spies and assassins and, worst, even to act in some extreme cases. I have much more interesting things to do than to worry with human politics. Your games let me tired and angry. He said with an almost human face of disgust.
- So, what are your terms? It is obvious that you have control of the situation here (for now, I thought).
- You have control of the situation here! He sang in a mockery. I felt blood hushing to my temples, I don’t remember being so angry in life, but kept control.
- Yes, I have control, of more than what you imagine. He answered himself with a booming voice.
- And I could destroy Heron. He continued in more subdued tones.
- But, why bother? This city is not worthy the trouble. He said.
- So, why did you bother enough to do all this damage? I asked.
- Because you tried to invade my lands, you sent assassins to kill me and, more important, Ieras, governor of Sicily, killed a female dragon named Azule. She was my mate and he knew it.
- So, your mate is killed far away and you ruin a province? I said.
- Why not? Now Ieras will fall in disgrace with the emperor because of the situation that he created. And I am sending a clear message that Azule will be avenged by more direct means one day.
- So, it ends here? You “wrote” your message, talked to me and now you are leaving?
- No, I also want details of the death of my brother.
- Why? Are you going to avenge him also?
- Of course not. I know that you helped to defeat him and I thank you very much for it. Less one moron in the family.
- And why would I tell the details and teach to you how to avoid a similar death?
- Because you would avoid losing more men if you did this. There is a long way to go until Egypt.
- OK, he tried to get us with rocks and fire; our shields protected most of us. We hit him with spells and he fell, than we used magical arrows and finished with spears. Satisfied?
- No, but it is enough. You are a worthy foe and I give free passage to you. I will come back to Dragon Island. Now you may go. He followed this by sitting again and imitating the gesture of an emperor dismissing a peasant.
I was not stupid enough to take offense.
This is the tale.
I trusted the honor of the dragon and was right. We came back to Egypt without problems, I’ve heard that commerce with Heron is reestablished and now, restricted to this fortress I wait your judgment my lord.
It was my mistake, only mine. I underestimated the enemy. In my dreams every night I see the attack again, I see my men hit by acid and killed by fire and I see my mistakes…
Due to these facts I Pompous Maximilians was left in a difficult situation.
Different from Valerus Ilustratus I don’t think that there was anything that he could do to prevent defeat. But I couldn’t openly state that a dragon outmatched the XXII Centuria, the so-called monster hunters. People must believe that our army can defeat anything.
So, I congratulated him by his “diplomatic ability” as if he had convinced the dragon to leave Heron and reduced his penalty from death to the confiscation of his lands and money.
I talked with the emperor yesterday and we decided to use these lands and money to compensate the families of the men that died in this mission, this way we expect to quench the conscience of Valerus Ilustratus and, at the same time, guarantee that he won’t fail again.
He has a family after all, and he must succeed to get enough money to feed them.
I advised the emperor to depose Ieras from the government of Sicily and send him to rest a while somewhere close to the lands of Cianomir. Call it nice and deserved vacations.
But my question remains.
Cianomir destroyed, killed, used acid against soldiers that hadn’t done any harm to him and don’t think that this was because we “killed his beloved” or some stupid thing like this.
Is he a monster or just a governor defending his lands? Was it personal or an act of war? Does it matter?
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