"Did you hear that, sir?" gasped the new warrior. He stopped dead in his tracks, turning his head towards the entrance of the tunnel. "I heard nothing," I replied sternly. I glanced at the new warrior. He looked young, clean-shaven and his black suit was without repairs. He must have come straight from the training camp. "This is your first watch?" I asked him, my tone somewhat milder. He nodded nervously. "What are your instructions?" I continued. "Guard this tunnel with your life, sir," he replied, turning his head toward me. "And guard it with your life you shall," I said. "Guard the tunnel, fight, and if you fall, walk Thoth's halls and hurry back to take your place again." After a moment of silence I added, "You aren't paid to listen to the song of the cranes." "That was no crane's song, sir!" the new warrior objected. "I know a cry from a bird's song." "Nonsense," I replied drily, ending the conversation with, "I heard nothing." The new warrior gripped the hilt of his blades tightly and turned to face the entrance again.
I marched down the tunnel, checking the instructions with each of my warriors, before heading to Nevio Rezesh. "First watch report, captain!" I said as I entered his cave. "All men have their instructions." Rezesh nodded curtly. "How is the new recruit doing?" he asked, pushing back the broken glasses on his nose. "He is nervous, but knows what to do, captain," I answered. "We have not seen any intruders, so he hasn't fought yet." Rezesh tapped the scrolls on his desk and said, "I have received reports about killed coyotes in the area. We should see some action soon." "Very well, captain," I said, "I'll inform the men." With a brief salute, I turned and walked back into the tunnel.
The new warrior turned when he heard me march in. "I heard it again, sir," he said quickly, "Maybe there is trouble at the monastery. Maybe we should go and…" "It is not the monastery," I interrupted him. "The monks sound the bell when they need us. Did you hear a bell?" The new warrior shook his head. "No bell, sir." "Then it was not the monastery," I confirmed matter-of-factly. I could see his mind was not ready to give up the search for an explanation.
A sudden cry followed by a long cackle reached our ears. I shuddered involuntarily and the warrior exclaimed, "There! You heard it too, sir!" I nodded reluctantly. The new warrior spoke slowly as a new thought formed in his head, "The winds are from the west today, sir. Could it come from Mhaldor?" He looked up expectantly, but I shook my head. "We never hear anything from Mhaldor. The red fog dampens each sound. Be thankful that it does. That city is just.."
A serpent jumped out of the shadows and attacked the new warrior with his whip. The warrior managed to turn and swing a blade at the serpent's side, leaving a deep wound. The serpent sipped from a vial and garrotted the warrior again. The new warrior fell and a few gold sovereigns dropped from his pockets. Before I could shout out, the serpent had his whip around my neck. I swung my blade valiantly, trying to deepen the wound on the serpent's side, but met with the same fate as the new recruit. I stumbled to my knees, fell forward into a patch of irid moss and heard Thoth's familiar voice call out to me.
I was still rubbing my neck as I marched into the tunnel. The new warrior had already returned to his assigned spot. "A good sign," I thought to myself and tapped him on the back. "Sir," he greeted me. I half expected him to comment on his first fight, but he didn't. "If not from the monastery, and not from Mhaldor," he continued, "where does the screaming come from?" I studied his face and saw a stubborn persistence in his eyes. "The asylum," I grunted, giving in. The new warrior tilted his head curiously. "Creville Asylum," I added, "It's hidden, halfway between the Dale and Mhaldor."
"I've never heard of an asylum nearby. It's not on our maps," said the warrior in a puzzled tone. I shrugged my shoulders. "We never talk about it." "Why not?" he asked. "It's the place you get sent to when you have walked Thoth's halls too many times," I sighed. "When your mind does not fully return from them. When you do not see the difference between an intruder and your fellow warriors anymore."
The new warrior blinked incredulously as I continued. "And when you are sent there, you don't even recognise the nurses and doctors. They must be mad to want to work there. The screams could be from the patients or the nurses. Who knows. I'm not going to check."
I frowned and examined the effect of my words upon the new warrior. He stared at me for a moment, whispering, "They never told me there was an asylum." A faint shriek interrupted his stare. He gripped his blades, raised them menacingly before him and turned to face the entrance of the tunnel. He added, a little too loudly, "That won't happen to me, sir. Not ever!" "That's what we all think," I muttered to myself. "Guard the tunnel with your life!" I shouted at the new warrior's back as I disappeared deeper into the tunnel to deliver my second watch report.