The small group of figures wound their way along the woodland trail that cut through the dense underbrush, their eyes wary, hands on sword hilts. Sweat dripped down Martin Thantus face, soaking the liner of his helmet and stinging his eyes. It was his first field command and the newly minted Bashar's laurels hung heavy on the shoulder of his dark uniform; reminding him of the responsibility he bore to his homeland and to the men under his command. His eyes scanned the woods, unable to shake the unmistakable feeling that he was being watched.
AFC Huller whistled a signal from his position on point and instantly the unit dropped, straining their eyes as they peered into the dense trees. Thantus hustled forwards at a crouch until he drew up alongside Huller.
"What is it, Armsman?" He hissed in a terse whisper. The wiry scout pointed with his chin, motioning to something jutting into open a short way up the path.
"Not sure, sir." He said. "Looks like boots."
Thantus raised an eyebrow and motioned for the others to follow as he took the lead. His apprehension grew as he approached. It was indeed a pair of boots sticking out onto the path. It looked like the solder had simply toppled over as he was walking, falling into the brush with his feet sticking out in the way of passerby.
"One of ours?" Someone asked.
Thantus nodded and turned the body over with the tip of his boot. There was a sharp intake of breath. The dead soldier's uniform matched theirs, the dark insignia of Noxus emblazoned on the left breast. But his face…His carcass was horrifically bloated, his face twisted in a rictus of pain. Greenish purple poison foamed from his silent mouth and oozed from his tear ducts. He had been pumped so full of the vile stuff that it looked like he was ready to burst.
"Don't touch him!" Thantus hissed, but his warning was unnecessary. Already his men were backing away in fear of whatever had done this. With his jaw set in a grin frown Thantus threw his cloak over the body and straightened.
This did not bode well at all. Thantus and his men had been dispatched by the Noxian high command to investigate a small scout outpost on the edge of Yordle territory that had stopped sending in reports. They had expected a flooded road or a lamed messenger. This suggested an attack or worse.
Still, they were getting close and when he saw the sturdy wooden wall of the palisade Thantus began to feel reassured. That is, until he and his men approached the front gate. No sentry challenged them, in fact nobody could be seen at all moving in the high wooden guard tower that overlooked the space that had been cleared around the wall. The front gate hung ajar as if the occupants of the fort had fled and not expected to return.
Using hand signals he silently ordered his men to spread out and search the fort, leaving Huller and Vanch to keep a look out at the entrance. Thantus doubted that the Yordle military command had the gumption or the wherewithal to have wiped out the outpost. No, they must have called in their Demacian allies to head up the attack, perhaps with a unit of Meglings as support. Something wasn't quite right though. There were no signs of battle, no spent shell casings, no bodies, no blood. It was as if the recon group had simply gotten up and left.
Still keeping an eye out for an ambush or a booby trap Thantus made his way to the barracks and opened the door. He immediately regretted it. The overwhelming stench of ripe bodies in summer heat rolled over him. And something else, the sickly sweet odor of poison. Perhaps half of the full compliment of soldiers who had been stationed at the fort were laid out on their bunks, twenty or thirty souls in total. Some were simply dead but most bore the same poison bloated grimaces of agony that had twisted the features of the corpse in the woods. One arm over his mouth Thantus stumbled back out into the daylight, the sun dropping behind the trees throwing long, wiry shadows over the beaten square of the palisade.
"Bashar, you'd better get over here sir." Came a call from the squat armory. "It looks like we have a survivor."
Still fighting not to gag Thantus quickly moved towards the small cluster of men outside the armory. From the doorway he could see the survivor, his proud Noxian uniform filthy and tattered, his frame bent, his features a mask of terror. At the sounds of his bootnails on the planks the survivor jerked his face towards the sound, falling and scuttling backwards in terror. He looked like he was starving and was clearly showing signs of post traumatic stress disorder. He was blind.
"Take the others and set up a perimeter." Thantus said quietly to AFC Lander.
He knelt next to the terrified survivor and put a calming hand on his shoulder. The man jumped, his fingers quickly grasping at Thantus's hauberk.
"Calm down, I'm here to help. What's your name, soldier?" He asked.
"Armsman First Class Donowz, sir." The half crazed survivor replied, clinging to the conventions of military protocol to prevent himself from slipping into oblivion.
Thantus new that it was a bad idea to force a trauma victim to relive his experiences so soon after the incident but he had no choice. He needed information. For all he knew another attack was imminent and his men's lives were in danger. He tried to make his voice as reassuring as possible.
"It's okay Donowz. I need to know what happened here. How many were with the group that attacked you?"
"I don't know. Ten, maybe fifteen. We never got a good look at them."
Thantus's eyebrows shot upwards.
"So few? How were they able to breach the walls?"
"You don't know. You don't know what it was like. They came at night in the beginning. Two men went missing within a week but we assumed they had just stumbled into a sand pit or been attacked by animals. We should have known better. We sent a patrol out to look for them but they ran into some kind of fungus that burst and sent up a cloud of spores. Poisonous. Two of them made it back. They died three days later. You…you can see them in the barracks. We couldn't do anything for them.
"Then they started picking sentries off the walls. One, maybe two a night. Nobody could sleep. People were starting to crack. They used poison darts. You can see for yourself. Blindness. Insomnia. Paranoia. It got to be that a night watch was tantamount to a death sentence. The enlisted men started to talk of making a break for it. Giving up. Going home. The officers executed three of us to keep the rest in line.
"One day we saw something from the wall. Looked like a Yordle. Alone. We figured we could catch it, get some information from it, maybe find out what we were up against. We sent out a unit to hunt it down. Of fifteen men only eight came back. The poisonous fungus was everywhere, growing on trees, in bushes, even in the middle of a path. It blended in. Impossible to see the damn stuff until you blundered into it. Four of the eight died that night from poison. The rest over the next couple of days. They said that the Yordle was fast. And sneaky. It'd run into a clump of bushes and when they went in to flush it out it was just GONE. And when they turned their backs there it was again with it's cursed blinding poison.
"By then there were only a handful of us left. Nobody had slept in days. The officers were trying to keep it together but we could tell that they were cracking. They tried to put Khanson on watch but he killed himself instead. We decided that everyone healthy enough would make a break for it and I would stay with the wounded. I…I guess they didn't make it. I'm the only one left."
Thantus searched for something to say but could not find the words. He was distracted by a commotion from outside. Two figures were hurrying through the gate, a third supported limply between them. It was Lander and Wriggs.
"What happened?" He demanded, hurrying towards the small group.
"It's Huller, sir. He tripped on a…a mushroom or something. Blew up in his face. He's choking."
Thantus froze, a deep sinking feeling growing in the pit of his stomach. The sun was setting. Behind him in the hut Tonowz began to quietly sob.
Scout report to Bandle City High command.
On solo patrol in eastern forest. Encountered minor Noxian expeditionary force. Threat eliminated. No further action necessary.