Company Unknown - Sample

Note: This is only a draft. It has note been professionally edited and there is no guarantee any of the information contained within will not change by the time it is published.

Chapter 1

Block. Smash. Block. Smash. Repeat.


Those simple directions had been beaten into me since I was barely able to walk—or rather the more accurate and less catchy, “Brace for impact, accept hit, counter attack, and repeat until no enemies stand.” Boring? Oh, gods yes. But the results were the fun thing. Well, the attacking part. I liked the attacking part. The screams of my enemies as I put new and unwanted holes in them. The feeling of breaking bones. The glee of watching them run when they realized my awesomeness. The glee from ending their lives with a well-placed blow to the back of their skulls . . . What? Don’t look at me that way. They wanted to do the same thing. I just got there first.


Now that I was squad leader, I didn’t get to do too much of that anyway; I only got to watch that part and make sure the morons in my charge didn’t screw up too badly. Oh look, the battle just turned exciting. Ha ha. Not for me.


The deep, roaring screams of the part bear, part ape, and part human monstrosity called a “yeren” reinforced that the plan both worked and was being implemented properly. I would have called it an odd combination of exciting and terrifying, but from back here it was kind of boring. Being promoted to squad leader was supposed to be a real step up in the world. It had turned out to be a step back. Far to the back with the new recruits who hadn’t even memorized our basic motto of the line and the near endless list of other mottos that all members of our mercenary company, The Crew, were forced to learn. To reinforce my point, one of our spears plopped on the ground to my left.


Warbles gave me an apologetic look, though that did not stop him from picking his nose. “Me be sorries, boss.”


“Inner nostril hygiene is still not a thing, troll,” Ugly Jim said.


“Warbles do yours next and be proving you wrong, pointy ears.”


“It is times like this I am glad I do not have a nose,” Lex’s voice echoed through the hollowness of her armor.


“Nose guards work like nose, me thinks. Even specter-ees be needing good cleaning now and ’gain.”


I figured now was a good time to break them up. A little jabbering does wonders for the nerves, but too much leads to mistakes. I did something I promised I wouldn’t do anymore and gave Warbles a swift kick. If I wasn’t going to get to hit the enemy, I had to hit something, right? Whatever, it worked; Warbles spear was in his hands in record time. His back wasn’t quite as straight when he stood back up but with the way he was wincing, I decided not to correct him. The important part of being a squad leader was to know when to be fierce and when to be relaxed. It was one of the first things my mom taught me when she promoted me.


My sergeant, Metric, didn’t correct me like I’d told her to when I did this, but like all of her birdlike kind known as the tepu, she didn’t grasp most of the basic social aspects shared by nearly all of the sapient races. They learned those things from observation and often badly.  Still wasn’t sure why Mom had assigned me the tepu instead of someone normal like Lion or Zulm, but she always had a good reason.


Not that Metric was all bad; she was good at training and maintaining order. Her eyesight was also impeccable. Case in point, her small hand talon was already pointing before the bellow came from somewhere ahead. Warbles spine was as straight as a flag pole, his spear at a perfect forty-five-degree angle. The rest of our front line matched him perfectly. The only person out of line was me, but as squad leader I had other concerns. My eyes were on the real front line of the company, fifteen feet ahead. That wasn’t something I’d been trained to do, just something I’d learned from a lifetime of observing the best.


“Grwwww!” a deep voice bellowed across the canyon.


“Grwwww!” came a response from the yeren in front.


The Crew did not respond. The Crew did not need to respond except with steel.


The fifteen-foot-tall, two-ton piles of muscle and hair were incredibly dangerous due to their ability to leap great distances in the air and slam down where you least expected them. However, once you got them on the ground, they were fairly easy to handle, at least for us. We had tactics and strategies for nearly every type of monster there was to hunt.


Case in point, the front of our lines surrounded the beast, waited for its massive arm to sweep across them to be absorbed into their massive tower shields, and then stabbed it with the weapon of their choice. The combined weapons didn’t do a whole lot of damage, but that wasn’t the point. Each of our front-line tanks had the provoke skill activate and that kept the beast firmly focused on them—and not leaping to who knows where, especially not into the seconds line where our archers and casters were. They were where most of our damage came from.


My squad was, however, in neither of those lines. We were the reserves. Which usually meant we got the “exciting” job of observing and not getting any experience points. However, with a second yeren entering the battlefield, that might have just changed.


I summoned my magic and clapped my hands together. A small, disembodied eye appeared and I guided it upward. When it got about ten feet above, I switched my vision to its vantage point. Tiny Eye was the level one spell you got when you learned your first magic skill, probably so apprentice wizards could practice and not hurt anyone, yet it was the one I probably used the most. Nothing more valuable on a battlefield than being able to see everything that’s going on.


As I guided the floating eyeball above our lines and around the first yeren, a quick realization hit me.


“Squad eight, form for battle,” I said.


“I thinking we already beeees in the formation for battling,” Warbles said.


Metric slapped the back of his shin with the side of her zweihander, ostensibly to get him into a tighter position, though mostly just to shut him up. Perhaps she wasn’t so bad at all. Unfortunately, the next voice that came wasn’t one she could o much about.


“What’dya think yer babbling about,” the crusty old dwarf in the squad in front yelled back. “Me lads and lasses have this here yerrrren locked up fine. Ye’ll have ta settle fer getting’ yer experience on whatever easy crap we come across on the way back, like good newbies.”


“That’s not—”


I was saved from answering Twinkle, or from having to look at his disgusting beard anymore, when the second yeren landed in between us. As satisfying as it was to hear his yelp, I hoped it wasn’t his last one. He was as good at his job as he was at getting drunk and peeing in inappropriate places. Dirty shoes are temporary, but death is more a tad more permanent—or at least is a lot more expensive to fix than it is to clean a pair of basic shoes.


I gave the order to attack, but the front line of my squad was already on it. The yeren bellowed as their first blows struck. The first few rounds were always the tensest. The power of provoke magnified the hate a strike would generate, but with our defensive style of fighting, our blows didn’t usually generate much. Case in point, the first yeren had leapt three times before one of the squads had managed to get it to focus on them. Fortunately, this time someone got its attention immediately.


The floating pile of armor that was Lex took a fist nearly as big as her against her shield. It was no surprise as she was our highest level and had by far the most skills. The large shields that were our hallmark could absorb a ton of damage, but not a blow that size. She was also the perfect target for another reason. If a specter like her took enough damage to hit zero, they didn’t die. They were already technically dead, after all. The armor that made up the visible part of her body would just crash to the ground until someone healed her.


As was expected, she didn’t even have to worry about that. The plan called for her to stop attacking immediately, which is what she did. The rest of the line landed a third set of blows and the yeren focused on another member, this time Flowers. Though it was supposed to be my primary job, Metric cast a heal on Lex. It was a good call as I had been too focused on watching. Life had been so much simpler when I was a common soldier. Paying attention to heals and leading were sometimes too much for me. The other squad leaders had told me it would get easier eventually, but I wasn’t sure. Unfortunately, being that the Flowers was a ghoul, Metric had to heal her as well. Unlike nearly every other race, ghouls needed the dark magic skill to heal, which I did not possess. Metric did have the role of the squad’s primary healer, but it had my decision to have me do the first few rounds, so she wouldn’t run out of mana later on when I would probably be needed as a leader most.


The next blow landed on Butters, and then on our newest members, the wood elf twins, Dink and Dank. When its attention returned to Lex, I gave the order everyone was hoping for.


“DPS, open up,” I said. “And slowly this time, Buttons.”


“You’re right as always, sir,” a squeaky, energetic voice came from far to my left.


“What level do we get that spell?” Dank asked with his high-pitched, melodic voice.


Buttons as a much smaller amount of blue energy pooled in his hands. “What spell is that?”


“Why, the one that lets him lick Finn’s boots all the way through the rest of the squad,” Dank’s twin, Dink, replied. “Trans-dimensional boot suck!”


“Hehe. Don’t forget the upgrade, spectral butt kiss.”


The twins’ laughter sounded like someone was strangling a bagpipe.


Though I couldn’t see him, I knew the source of their mirth was sulking. While Buttons was only a couple years younger than me, people still treated him like he was a kid. Didn’t help that as a quarterling (half-human, half-halfling), he looked like he was ten years younger than even that. I’d learned that sticking up for him as his squad leader only made it worse. Another tactic would be needed. Something I’d picked up from my mom.


“How many spells do you two know, by the way?” I asked casually.


Their laughter stopped.


“I’ll take that silence to mean none. And weapons skills?”


“Is at bottom of category too,” Metric said.


“Sergeant, do you have some spare time to teach these two the finer points of spear and spell?”


Metric long, thin beak clacked open twice, her race’s sign of excitement. “Can find five hours for that.”


“Well as long as they can cast that . . . What was that spell you mentioned called, Dink?”


“Trans-dimensional boot suck, sir.” The music in the wood elf’s voice sounded more like a funeral march.


“Yes, as long as they can cast that by the end of the week, you can cut the extra training down by an hour. I’m feeling so generous.”


“Will do.” Metric saluted me.


Grins and snickers emerged from every remaining mouth . . . except for the twins, obviously, and Lex didn’t have a visible mouth, but I’m sure if she didn’t have a full-cover helmet and wasn’t ethereal below that, I would have seen a grin. It was times like this that I loved being in charge. (The other twenty-nine hours and fifty-nine minutes a day, not so much.)


My mirth was short lived. Though our tanks had managed to perfectly get the beast to switch targets on every blow so far, it suddenly spun around. While it did make a perfect target for our DPS to unload on, it also meant it had now focused on their counterparts in the other squads. We kept the DPS in the back line for a reason.


“Umm, Buttons and Metric, light show.” I flipped to my floating-eye-o-vision. “Aim at eye level.”


“Eye level or at the eyes themselves, sir?” Buttons asked.


Warbles’s snicker only got halfway out before he yelped again.


“The eyes,” I said. “We need to distract it to give whoever got its attention some time to not, well not be its attention.”


The quaterling smiled somehow grew bigger at the order. The tepu didn’t bother wasting the time to acknowledge me; the multi-colored lights of her spell had already obscured his fingertips.


“Good job,” I said. “Ugly Jim, arrow storm, please.”


The far-from-ugly elf seethed. He did not like any order that might cause him to actually miss. Rain of arrows put a lot of shafts into the air at once, at a significant price for accuracy and damage per hit. But hitting wasn’t my primary goal. I’d learned from way too much personal experience how hard it was to focus on much of anything else when dozens of arrows were falling all around you, even if they weren’t doing a whole lot of damage.


When the dazzling array of colors merged with the descending swarm of feathered shafts, the yeren stopped mid swing and brought his massive hands up to try to deflect the mess in front of his oddly small eyes. I caught a strand of magic out of the corner of my eye to the right and turned. Ruby and two of her crew had joined in as well. Was she trying to steal credit or genuinely helping out? A problem for later.


The beast spun back around. One problem down. Now for the next one. Obviously, the thing was not too happy with whoever had caused his new eye pains. That person wasn’t one of Twinkle’s DPS anymore, but mine was another story. We had a plan for this . . . which was . . . oh!


Before the words could escape my mouth, Lex’s flail glowed brightly and then buried itself into a meaty toe. I was about to put her down for a commendation when the words that had left Metric’s beak seconds before finally registered. My sergeant had saved my bacon again. Time for me to make up for it.


“Cut the lights and hold fire, DPS,” I said. Our counterparts in Ruby’s squad followed a few seconds later.


“Thank the gods,” Ugly Jim said probably a bit louder than he’d intended. The sound of a scaly palm smacking into an elven cheek followed a second later. For once, Metric’s “bad cop” persona was deserved.


This time I did get a heal in on Lex. Using her level-three, targeted provoke ability meant she’d need it. No one else in my inexperienced squad had the skill up that high. It took another four swings of their weapons before Warbles got the beast’s attention. By the time I felt safe to order our DPS back in, the sound of weapons impacting on the beast from the opposite side began ringing through the air. Ruby had naturally ordered her DPS in a few seconds earlier. I sighed. She always had to beat me to everything.


“The kill shot will be mine this time, Ugly Jim,” Buttons said as his Lightning Bolt slammed into the beast’s chest. Though it roared in the quaterling’s direction, its fist landed on one of the tanks.


The elf’s golden eyebrow arched at the challenge. “Unlikely.”


His arrow landed directly in the yeren’s left eye. I’d call the shot perfect, though high elf would likely disagree. It had landed in the white part instead of dead center in the pupil. It still caused the yeren to release a panicked roar and swing its arms uncontrollably.


With a nod from me, Metric abandoned her duty as healer and joined in with her personal zweihander. I pulled out the more mundane bow that I’d taken from the company equipment bag. I still didn’t have a good weapon of my own, but one of these days I’d earn one as a reward. That was getting less and less likely now that most of my time was absorbed making sure no one under my care died, but maybe I’d get lucky?


Today was not that day. Ruby of all people landed the final blow. Whoever got the kill shot was always the most likely to get a special commendation and thus a reward of whatever equipment the beast had on it. There were of course other ways to get a reward, but that was the surest one.


Unlike most squad leaders, she stayed in a tank spot, instead of in the back line where you could survey the battle more easily and give orders without the distraction of constantly swinging your weapon and getting hit. She said it was to inspire her squad’s confidence by showing them she would share in their hardship and pain. It may have worked for them, but the other squad leaders knew it was because tanks typically gained more experience. (Even though it wasn’t a lot per use, you had the chance to gain an experience point every time you used a learned skill, with a much greater chance in combat. And since tanks, used their weapons, provoke, and shield constantly, they tended to gain those bonus points quite a bit.)


“Buttons, cast Blow now,” I said, though halfway through I realized I was too late again.


The wind of the quaterling’s spell combined with those of his counterparts in the other squads to push the huge, tumbling beast the other way. I drew some satisfaction in seeing that Ruby’s caster, Hocus, was the last one in. The massive yeren landed almost parallel to his kin. His face looked so peaceful, even though his blood- and burn-covered body made it obvious he was anything but.


“Woo-hoo,” Buttons yelled like he did after every successful battle.


“Yeah, that,” Dink said as he shrugged and dropped his spear in exhaustion.


His twin stared open-mouthed at the giant beast and scratched his head. “Now what?”


I looked to my mom, or Commander as everyone else called her. She was looking in my direction, though her second, Garin, was. He smiled at me and pointed at the yeren. I’d hoped our performance had impressed them, but evidently not.


I sighed. “Loot duty everyone.”