Galrad And The Infinite Watch

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Galrad joined the City Watch. He pulled a tunic over ring mail, strapped his sword to his waist. He shined his helm until his reflection glinted in it, then realized an archer might take the sheen of metal as invitation. He scuffed it on the ground. His boots were thick leather and the laces were of a tough and sturdy cord. Galrad was ready to serve.

The Watch. The City Guard. The Night Keepers. The Iron Fist. The Flaming Gauntlet. The Children of Light. Galrad had joined an ancient and noble order. An order dedicated to the protection of The City. An order that broke up bar fights started by antagonists, punched organized crime in the face, and executed roguish highwaymen. Oh, yes, Galrad was a stalwart defender of The City. His City. The only place he'd ever known. He wouldn't let some elf ride in and start asking about the tunnels below The Magisterium. He wouldn't let a dwarf delve into the catacombs which were, in an odd design choice, below the royal palace of the Dawn King, The Winter Priest, The Court of Sapphire and Bronze. That woman from a distant land with face tattoos! Oh! No! He wouldn't tell her a thing. So what if her arms were as wide as Galrad's neck. If she wanted to explore The Forbidden Labyrinth, The Maze of Time, The Halls of Self she'd have to go through him first. He didn't care how many tattoos she had or how big her hammer was! This was Galrad's city. He called the shots.

At the gates of the City of Whispers, The Jewel of The East, The Metroplia De Luca, Galrad stood atop the wall. He looked out over mountains and plains. Over oceans and rivers. Defying armies and bandit hordes as they crashed upon his wall like a sparrow against a window. Catapults might fell the buildings within, but trebuchets would never break the spirits of The Watch. They would, Galrad knew, defend the city to its last days and beyond.

In the tavern called the Rusted Bucket, The Angered Dragon, The Bullied Bard, Galrad took his evenings. He had no woman to return to, neither wife nor mistress nor man—and perhaps he would have taken either, or both, but no one waited for him. The Half-Orc Bartender, the Veiled Innkeep, the Dwarven Brewer. These were his night mates, not in bed but in drink and smoke, and no matter how many times he visited, they neither knew his name nor asked—though he gave it every time.

While in the tavern Galrad spoke to no one. But then that elf would come along and offer him a drink. Sure, just one drink. Why did he join The Watch? And the dwarf would offer to play some dice. Fine, but not for too long. What news within the palace? And the tattooed woman would flex her muscles and make Galrad shake in his tight boots. Do you know of the Blue Spirit? Galrad opened his mouth and information would flow out like a river to a sea. That was, as long as his cup was always filled, the dice rolled in his favor, and that big woman didn't beat him to a pulp.

He would say: I joined the city watch to make a difference. Things inside the palace were not so good—there were rumors of experiments in the deepest chambers. The Blue Spirit had struck again and now Madam Boliar's poodle was being held for ransom. The adventurers from a distant land would leave, smiles on their faces. This, more than any other act, made Galrad feel as though he had played his part. But there was one last thing.

The next day Galrad went to The Palace of Fallen Leaves, The Cathedral of Darkstone, The Sepulcher of Lost Pages. There was a disturbance in the lowest chamber. The common folk heard beastly sounds echoing up from below, through the sewer grates. An otherworldly light of gold and violet pierced the stone, shooting skyward. Nobody, not even Galrad, dared approach the Lab of Magi with the thick veil of night over the city. But now, by the light of day, Galrad knew his duty.

The descent to the low passages was not an easy one, especially in full mail. At first, he spoke with his guard-brothers, as they lowered themselves, step by step, down the spiral stair. They passed stories and torches in equal measure, lightening their way down the steps. But it wasn't long before the only sounds were their heavy breathing, their tramp of feet, and the howling that came from below. Galrad's knees ached under the weight of his armor each time he lowered himself a step. The air was damp. Cold sweat ran down his back. The screams were louder down here. The walls and ceiling shook. Dust fell from above. The temperature dropped and it wasn't long before Galrad was shivering. Some of that was fear, but within him glinted a spark of pride. He would defeat whatever fell beast the Council of Demonology had accidentally summoned. He would throw shut The Gates of Nether, The Portal of Fey, The Rift of Doom.

They came to the last stair. There was a door and it was shut.

The foyer was wide and Galrad and the rest of the Knights of Gold Watch, flowed into it, lined up in a defensive formation. Light pulsed from every crack around the door frame. So did the screams. Inside Galrad's heart, he was nearly numb. But a spark of unwavering resolve remained. This, this, is why he'd joined The Crystal Blade, The Hawk's Talon, The King's Wardens.

The door burst open.

Was it a lion or a serpent? A flamed demon or a cloaked devil? Was it an undead lich or a mad mage?

Galrad never found out. The blast that came with the opening of the door threw him from his feet. A bolt of power, a death ray, Avada Kadavra! Power rent through his brothers and sisters in armor. Screams erupted. Blood splashed across the perfect white stone floor, the walls.

Galrad couldn't move his legs. There was a spreading burn near his stomach. His head was wet. Was it raining? His eyes flickered, trying to see, but a haze prevented it.

And then, through the mists of death, Galrad saw them. The strangers from a distant land. The large woman with tattoos and the huge hammer, the lithe elf with bow and knives, and the dwarf with axes wreathed in fiery magics. They had come to fight the monster that had killed everyone Galrad had ever known. It took half a minute. There was a flurry of blades, gnashing teeth. The smell of sulfur and then of rot. An arrow flew true to its mark. The beast—whatever it was, wherever it came from, screeched a final time. The walls of The Cavern Temple, The Yawning Portal, The Place That Shall Not Be Named, shook as the monster fell.

Galrad tried to cheer, but only coughed up blood. He'd done it. He'd served The Granite Eye with honor.

"Help?" he asked, but the adventurers didn't hear him, though they stood only feet away.

He watched the strangers embrace, celebrate among the carnage of his order. He was unnoticed, drifting in an infinite void. Had they known his name? He wanted them to. This had all happened before, Galrad thought. Not to him, but to someone like him, and they should be remembered also.

"Galrad!" he coughed up his own name with a final breath.

The adventurers started at the yell and looked around. They saw nothing but the bodies of the broken.

"Galrad," they said. "Finally, we know the name of our true enemy."

Galrad tried to correct them, but it was too late. He was dead and joined The Long March, The Gray Land, The Mountain of Souls. He was in rags and the trek to life was infinite, or so it felt.

Galrad glared at the highest peak, the sprawling dunes, the winding path. He would continue on. Be reborn. Find his way to. . . what city was he from again? It didn't matter now. Galrad would return. He would pull on his armor and strap on his sword. He would defend The City. The only place he'd ever known. And maybe someday, someday, he'd get to be the hero. 

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