Commander in the Barrier | 2 January 4/685

A soldier stands looking over a valley amongst snowy peaks.
The Mid Gates

Dearest Jowan, Cora, and patrons of the Unarkida

Welcome here. I am G. G. Bailey, the Curator of the Unarkida.

The journal from which the following account was sourced is one of the gems of my collection. This, and what it led me to, significantly influenced my decision to dedicate myself to the Third Age.

Extract from the journal of Ordon Dakastan, Commander, Barrier Division, Black Guild.

12 March 3/131 – Waysmeet

When I was first posted here I felt I was being sidelined, perhaps even punished. The Guild would have you believe Commander in the Barrier is the highest privilege and honour. But most modern Black Coats, my peers included, see it as a career relegated to the scrap heap, the end of the road.

I too felt this way until I arrived and spent time with the men and women under my new command. This is no less a true battleground than any other. The Barrier Division, standing alongside the Brigade of the Free People, face the unknown daily. We hold the line in the Barrier for our brothers and sisters of the Black Guild. In their eyes, with us guarding the rear, they can concentrate on the war with Dax.

In truth, the danger is far greater than they realise. No better example of this is our present enemy, the Ferakrats, whose tactics I’ve had the chance to witness first-hand these past weeks.

Reports of Ferakrat attacks have been thick and fast since my arrival. My curiosity was piqued by several from an isolated outpost in the foothills northwest of the Meetlands. I understand the area to be extremely wild and desolate and that the local officers call the base the Forgotten Post.

The heavily fortified base overlooks a valley. That valley represents the only remotely passable route through the Mid Gates from the Highlands. That is, aside from the pass to the Broken City, which is inaccessible to our enemies at the time of writing.

The only safe route from the nearest village, Moorsmeet, takes a full day’s trek to reach due to the terrain. Motorised transport is strictly limited to tracked motor carriages, used to haul in supplies, and unsuitable for personnel.

Against the recommendations of my staff, I left Waysmeet with reinforcements two weeks ago. It took us four full days before we laid eyes on the encampment. The base and landscape are most impressive, with the valley below and the Mid Gates’s icy peaks looming over ominously.

Understanding how it had come to be known as the Forgotten Post did not take long. The men and women there, an equal split of Brigade and Black Coat, were weathered and well-tested. Several, on both sides, look as though they have long earned their retirement, though I sensed a deep cynicism preventing them from doing so.

It is clear to me now that previous Commanders had never adequately assessed the risk of losing this defensive position. As a result, the base has been left dangerously under-resourced. The valley opens out into the vast and indefensible Darkmoor. If the Ferakrats take control of the valley and, in so doing, gain a foothold in the Darkmoor, they may never be routed.

The outpost has a shared command, one Brigade and one Black Coat, a pair that the officers call the Eyes. I was never able to work out the origin of the moniker. They are a force with a no-nonsense, but fair take on leadership. This is evidenced most visibly by an informal atmosphere inside the base, while those on patrol and guard duty demonstrate immense discipline. I quickly learned that there was little value I could add apart from the reinforcements that accompanied me. Instead, this was to be a learning opportunity.

On the second day, I learned more than I had ever hoped to, perhaps an entire career’s worth, especially in terms of leadership.

The alarm was raised while most were taking breakfast. I ran out of my makeshift quarters, coffee still in hand. Organised chaos is what I feel best describes what I witnessed. I saw half-dressed men and women running around, grabbing their gear and reporting to stations. I found the Eyes overlooking the valley from the fortified gates and joined them.

What I saw that day will stay with me forever. A large force, not of Ferakrats, at least not entirely, advanced on us. The bulk of the force was made up of what the Meetlanders have begun to call the Hollow.

The Hollow…how best to describe them?

The Ferakrats can indoctrinate others through some as-yet-unknown process. However it works, it seems to leave the afflicted entirely open to suggestion, and they will follow the orders of the Ferakrats with no regard for themselves. Until instructions are given, they merely stand blank and devoid of life – the Hollow. I have yet to learn of a case of recovery from this state.

If I’m honest, this has become one of my great fears since I learned of these monsters. The idea of losing all authority over myself fills me with more dread than anything else I’ve faced.

Who is most susceptible is unclear, but what is clear is that there is an abundance of lost and disenfranchised souls in the Barrier for the Ferakrats to tap into. I intend to investigate this more, and I hope to identify ways to cut off their supply in time.

I digress, back to the incident in question.

Marshalled by their Ferakrat masters, the force approached. Armed mostly with rudimentary weapons, only a few scattered amongst them carried firearms, enough to assure that chaos would ensue. The Ferakrats, with their glowing, bleeding eyes, watched on as their subjects mindlessly assaulted the fortress walls.

The soldiers tried to inflict as little injury as possible, though it was inevitable. Focussing our fire on the Ferakrats themselves when they aren’t shielding behind the Hollow, we were able to deal with a majority. What happened next truly disturbed me. I discovered later that this was the first time the tactic had been seen.

A wave of the Hollow approached the wall and began attempting to climb. A futile gesture at first, there being nothing to grip or hold on to, they continued, and before long, the Ferakrat’s true intentions became clear. One by one, the Hollow collapsed at the base of the wall. Exhaustion and trampling took some, but we confirmed later that at least as many were taken in the crossfire. The bodies piled up slowly, and the Hollow kept advancing. Reaching higher and higher up the wall.

At this point, we were left with no choice but to take drastic measures. If they came over the wall, we might lose any advantage that the fortifications provided. The Eyes took it upon themselves, sparing their soldiers, to toss grenades and fire more indiscriminately into the crowd, first slowing but eventually halting their ascent.

This may be one of the more difficult entries I have ever written. I have lost men and women in higher numbers than I care to remember. I have never witnessed something of this nature. The scale, the waste of life.

Once it was safe, the Eyes and select older officers went outside and spent several hours dragging the bodies away from the walls. They excluded me on the grounds of my command, though I couldn’t help feeling they were sparing me the horror.

A plan had to be made to lay the dead to rest, but first, we needed the walls clear in case of another attack. The Eyes told me that they stopped counting at one hundred dead.

They brought one of the dead Ferakrats inside, treating the corpse with immense care. We don’t currently have a good understanding of how these creatures have come to be. Outwardly they are like us in almost every aspect apart from the eyes, blood and skin. The whites of the eyes have a gentle glow, as does the blood, which streams as tears continuously, and their skin is dark and tough.

Aside from the ability to indoctrinate, the only other quality we are aware of is increased strength. They are proving formidable and troublesome opponents, and I understand from intelligence reports that their numbers are increasing. So too, clearly, is their organisation.

In my remaining days at the Forgotten Post we saw another two smaller, more probing attacks expertly rebuffed. I left shortly after with my small security detail and returned to Waysmeet.

I had plenty of time to think on the trek back. We will be dispatching engineers and additional reinforcements to the Darkmoor and the Forgotten Post to establish further fortifications and a more significant presence in the area.

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Illustration by Midjourney & G.G.B.

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