Cord put her pauldron back on her shoulder, and snapped it back into place. The brands that told the world of her crimes against the empire were covered once again by hard leather and mail.
“And that” she said “Is how I fell in with these lot”
Junior Reporter Jaycee Knab, now affectionately known as Bug by the members of 10th Company, continued scribbling in her notebook.
“Alright. That should just about do it”. She scanned her notes to make sure no detail had escaped her. Not an easy task, given that she was reading by the flickering firelight of the camp’s cookfire. The physical description of Cord was thorough. Indeed, it had to be – all the soldiers of the 10th company looked and dressed unconventionally, and Cord was certainly no exception. The young soldier’s face was covered in black war paint. Her long, braided her was adorned with feathers and fetishes. Not a single part of her kit seemed standard issue – leather armor, belts of daggers, and a bow slung across her back. She seemed more suited for an ancient skirmish with slings and arrows rather than a modern war with bullets and artillery.
The reporter reluctantly flicked her wrist and closed her notebook. It was useless. She had been with the “Underminers” for only a week now, and although she had captured their appearance and deeds, nothing she wrote seemed to capture their raw intensity.
“I did have one more question”
“I’m not telling you because I don’t know myself” replied Cord, smiling.
“Figured I’d still try” said Jaycee, also grinning. One of this company’s many quirks, was that every soldier referred to one another exclusively by nickname. No one knew the origin of their own nickname, and yet everyone knew the origin of everyone else’s. How this tradition had started was a mystery, although there were many theories. Some said it was a way to build a stronger bond, others said it was a way to root out spies. A few even suggested that it evolved as a way to protect against Imperial Mages. Jaycee’s own theory was that it was a way for this motley company of outcasts to forget their pasts and forge a new future for themselves. Although, that may have just been the feelings of her inner romantic. In any case, she wasn’t even sure most soldiers remembered their own real names.
Cord slid to the side of her log, and motioned for the young journalist to sit beside her. Jaycee joined the young scout, and together they looked across the fire at the rest of the camp. Most soldiers were in their bedrolls, taking full advantage of this rare moment of respite. Others were engaged in a variety of activities. A couple were whittling, a few others were wrestling. A bound and gagged mage was being questioned in an uncharacteristically polite way, which is to say no blades or blunt objects were involved. The sappers and engineers were in yet another of their trademark arguments – the sort that started off with a civil disagreement about some inconsequential detail about some engine and quickly devolved into a fistfight.
“I know what you are thinking.” Cord said after some time.
“And what would that be?”
“How are we still alive?” Cord laughed “Don’t worry I thought about it when I first got here too. I think we all have.”
They stared out at the camp a while longer. The fire crackled. The mage squealed. One of the engineers grabbed a wrench, and started swinging it wildly while the others pled with him. One man sewed. A few others laughed at one soldier’s undoubtedly rude story.
“See, I saw all this and I thought ‘chaos’. What took me some time to realize, is that this is one of the most well organized fighting units the world has ever seen”
Jaycee’s laugh was halfway out her mouth before she saw her companion, normally good-humoured and laughing, was deadly serious. She tried desperately disguise the rushing air as a cough. She didn’t have many friends in the Company, and one finally seemed to be opening up to her.
“Oh” she said. It was the only word she managed to strangle out without collapsing into a fit of giggling.
“Every man and woman in this company has a role to play. It just takes a bit of time to realize it, and a bit more to trust in it. That’s why we are so effective. Each of us does what we are best at, and we trust that everyone else will do the same. No commanders. No orders. Just trust.”
“Alright” said the reporter, now under control. “What’s his roll?” she pointed at Winch, the lecherous old ex-mummer.
“Too easy. Infiltration, recon, and propaganda. Look, you can see him sewing together some Imperial uniforms right there. Believe me, he’s quite convincing when he isn’t being a dirty old man.” Cord winked at her.
Jaycee shuddered, and tried to change the subject “Okay. Those two.” she said, pointing at Flint and Shale. The firelight cast their enormous, misshapen, sleeping forms on the wall behind them, and made them look more like bears than men.
“Logistics, resupply, and heavy infantry. I’ve seen those two carry an Aten-damned cannon. The imperials were in for quite a shock when we shelled them from behind their own lines. Yet again too easy.Every Company in the world has infiltrators and infantry. I’m talking about the other roles. The ones no one talks about. The ones that other army in the world has”
“Well, take a look at Grimly over there.” Cord motioned to the Engineer brawl. It seemed like they had all reached a truce. Except, one engineer grabbed the wrench again with a triumphant roar. Cord seemed to be pointing at him.
“I don’t think I’ve talked to him yet. What’s his story?”
“Well as far as we can tell, classic story of a Kelothi miner wanting to see a bit of the world, rather than the depths of it. It’s hard to say though. He’s a bit spotty.”
“Well. He’s taken a few blows to the head. Falling rocks. Axes. Symptoms of soldiering – you know how it is.” Jaycee didn’t, but allowed Cord to continue. "
“Now, throw in a few explosions and make him breathe a few too many breaths of alchemical fumes. He is an engineer too, after all.”
“Ah. I see what you mean”
“I don’t think you do. All things considered, he’s pretty normal for an engineer, if you can ignore all the stories about his frozen gorilla of an ex-wife.” Jaycee nodded politely. Cord gestured at Grimly again, this time he was under a pile of engineers, who had seemed to have finally wrestled the wrench away from him.
“See – uh, well now you can’t since he’s covered underneath that pile getting the shit kicked out of him. But, you’ve seen him before, right?. Short, squat Grimly, rattling away all covered in trinkets? Do you know where those trinkets come from?”
“Is he a kleptomaniac?”
“No, which believe me is a rare quality in the Underminers. When one of us dies, he takes something off our bodies to remember us.”
“So he’s the company museum? Company chronicler?”
“Ha. No. Grimly can’t write, and he can barely remember what we had for breakfast despite the fact it’s porridge every Aten-damned day. It’s different. It’s more. See, when one of us dies he takes a bit of us inside of him.”
“I don’t think I understand”
“Well, it’s like this. Spoke was the last decent person in this company. He was the sort that gave everything he could spare to the children whose parents we slaughtered. The day after he was killed, we rolled into an imperial village, and did what we do best to draw the local garrison out. When we killed them, I saw Grimly going through the village doing exactly as Spoke did so many times before. He’s not a chronicler. He’s our memorial. He’s our soul keeper. He’s a wildcard, charging into battle recklessly one moment, meticulously planning his actions the next. Is that because of a broken skull? Or is it because he’s not a single soul but many?”
Before Cord could continue, both of them were shaken by the small explosion emnating from the Engineers.
A small grenado sailed through the air, and bounced right next to the log where Jaycee had left her notebook.
She and Cord looked at the angry fire consume more and more of the fuse.
“Looks like they’ve resolved their differences” Cord said, as she calmly dived for cover.
Jaycee was seriously conflicted between jumping for her notebook, or jumping for cover. The fact that she only just decided to dive for cover told her she was probably a better fit for the company than she originally thought. Bug wasn’t such a bad name after all.