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All the volunteer positions were filled in one day. When the call had gone out, I'd later learn, there was some concern that the response from the able-bodied would be less than encouraging. We came in droves to heed the call; the militia's command needn't have feared. On the day of muster, we stood in rows seven long and in columns of twenty deep. Over six hundred joined that day. Faces young and old pressed together into a rank and file, some for the first time in their lives. All eyes were attentive and sharp. We were all reverent, but tingled with anticipation. We also knew this: Not all of us would be coming home. I was thinking of myself as one of the dead, wondering if I would hold fast when the time came to match blades with the things out there beyond the walls, when Marko shoved passed.
Marko, my friend since we were little, was of a slight build. He was useless for all farm work, save for seeding pumpkins and making scarecrows. He spoke a little of the language of the Khazra, and often traded with a couple near his father's stead before things got bad. Before the star. He was a thinker, was Marko. I was surprised to see him with us. But there he was, in his baggy suit left to him by one of his uncles. I guessed his father had put him up to this adventure, having always found fault with Marko. I didn't ask, however. Marko stood with the steel gaze that the other men and boys wore that day. I went back to wondering my own fate.
In the days that followed, I saw many men fall. I saw some of them rise again. I saw a rare fire glow from a crack in the earth, and spit out corpses and demons. I swung my sword wide, and cut through legions of them. I lived. Marko did not. He died on the second day of our adventure into the woods to the north of New Tristram.
Sometime, as I stand guard here within the town's barricades, I feel like I have resolved what happened. I keep to myself, because I can feel the others judging me. Old Rumsford stands at the center of town. He looks down too often for my tastes, but I can understand. I know what he's thinking. I failed him. I failed them all. I failed Marko. I think that sometimes.
I earned my rank quickly. I did what I was told. I executed my duty and I fell back on my training and I lived. I survived. I have a hard time thinking I'm worthy to stand here when others cannot, but I do. I come here for them. It keeps me from… I keep busy.
I'm a perfectionist now. I wasn't always. I pay attention. I'm vigilant. I'm the one who sees, not them. It's not their fault, really. Just… I know how things go.
I look back at the kid I was. the one who just a few short months ago stood there at the muster, who took the oath, who donned the guard's uniform, who fidgeted with his sword hilt to the point it became lose. My nerves were the only honest thing about me back then.
I never took a chance I didn't have to. Marko did. He was brave, a whole lot braver than I thought he could be. But he wasn't brave the day he died. He was resting against a tree. A body fell from a hangman's rope, burst in two, and crawled right to his side and started biting. We knew the dead who hung from the trees could be trouble, Leoric's Fruit, we called them. Marko knew better, but he didn't pay attention like I did. He lay there hurting for a long time. I told him that I'd keep watch while a runner went to get help. He had a vial to help heal some of his wounds, but it was not enough. I gave him my last vial. Still, he continued to decline into madness. I heard movement. One of the Wretched Mothers shuffled past the tree line. We kept still. We let it pass. Marko asked for water, and I gave him water. He asked me for food, and I gave him food. He asked me to protect him.
I don't know how I can measure up to those fellows who died, not really. One day while I dined at the Slaughtered Calf Inn, a young guardsman came in smelling of a bonfire. I could tell he'd been out near the front gate burning corpses. Without saying anything, he came up next to me, placed his hand on my shoulder, and said, "glad to see you here, Sergeant." He then went to the bar and started writing in a journal. It's hard to hear that rank. I can't see that I've earned it when so many… It was good to hear, though. I needed to hear it. I made a promise.
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