Sunday, April 14, 2013

[prose] - Harp's Tale

Harp is a man of average height, with brown hair, a white scar along the right side of his jaw, and the watery blue eyes of a drunk. He appears reasonably strong, but carries an inch or two of fat over his musculature. Indio claims that Harp is on everyone's shit list due to his drinking, and is only tolerated because of his skill with a sword. His answers to my questions were terse, and he rarely met my eyes during our talk.

Lieutenant Barvus had kept Harp's sword arm close to his side for much of their time in the ruins, but it didn't seem to do him much good in the end, as the first attack on the marine's group was an attack of personality coming from within the party itself. Barvus, being recently promoted and somewhat disliked by the marines, chose a Sergeant Varik to act as his squad leader and second. Varik was popular among the troops, and possessed a commanding personality that Barvus apparently thought he could control. Upon reaching the ruins proper, Barvus ordered the troop to move through the ruins and up to an imposing structure of white stone on the high ground several miles from the beach. Varik countered the order, claiming to have spotted the ruins of a marketplace off to the north, and began leading a small group of the men to go after the booty that would doubtlessly be found there. Instead of contesting this usurpation of authority, Barvus reportedly revoked his original command of sticking together and surveying the ruins, and split the group even further. Varik, Indio and five other marines headed to the marketplace, and Barvus, Harp, Harvard, Unger and a young marine named Jessup, continued northeast along the steaming, terrace covered road. After a ways Barvus spotted golden filigree in the ruins of a mansion and called for himself, Harp and Jessup to investigate, ordering Harvard and Unger to continue up the road. When I asked Harp why Barvus had sent Harvard and Unger away, his answer was a curt, "How should I know?".

Indio offered more possible insight into this split when I asked about it during his interview. "Ahh, that's easy! Jesse's fresh so he's assed out of the cut, and good ole Harp's only a cunt hair away from the deep so Lieutenant Swingin' Dick gets all the swag if'i'n he keeps Harvard and Unger away. Shit call though. Shoulda been laced up proper down that stretch, but new boss is too focused on a handy and can't run the race."

What follows is a copy of Zilbee's transcription of my meeting with Harp where he talks about the curiosities of the ruins and mansion. His responses, while terse, were filled with information and I would hate to unintentionally omit any information subtleties.

Matthias: "What happened once Harvard and Unger were gone?"
Harp: "Barvus had us help him pry some long pieces of gold off the front entryway of the compound."

M: "He didn't have you investigate it?"
H: "Not 'till the gold was in his pack. Then we went through the gate and started looking."

M: "Looking for what?"
H: "I dunno. More gold I s'pose."

M: "You weren't told what you were looking for?"
H: "No. I'm not there for looking. Jus' have to do it sometimes."

M: "What are you there for?"
H: "Fighting."

M: "Should we skip to that?"
H: "You're the one asking these questions."

M: "What did you see in the mansion grounds? Please be as detailed as you can."
H: "I was in first. The courtyard was overgrown but some of the brick walk leading to the house was still visible. The house was nice looking, or was once nice looking. Shitty now though. Barvus was behind me most of the time and he told me to go into the mansion and look around, so I did."

M: "What did you see when you looked around?"
H: "Most of the inside of the house was covered in some orange crystal. Like a layer of ice, right?"

M: "Were there any statues on the grounds or symbols on the doors?"
H: "Yeah. There was the top half of a statue sittin' in a raised flower bed. I don't know why. It was covered in orange too. No signs on the door."

M: "Orange crystal?"
H: "No, and they're not crystals. It's like ice I said. Like in the morning when there is dew on the grass and it's frozen. This orange wasn't like that. It was all wet. Like goo."

M: "What was inside?"
H: "It was a big house. Furniture and stuff. The entry was very large and there was a small statue of a skinny kid, or maybe an elf. It whistled as I walked past and a door opened to one of them rooms where rich people drink with their drinkin' coats on. Paintings of naked elves everywhere. Some, mid fuckin'. Others dressed all funny. Most everything in that place was coated in orange."

M: "Orange goo? Or orange solid?"
H: "Orange solid."

M: "What happened next?"
H: "I stole a statue of a fat naked dame touchin' herself."

M: "What?"
H: "This."

At this point, Harp pulled a small platinum statue of a nude, pregnant, elf from his pack. The reclining figure's back is arched, belly thrust up and legs splayed. Her face conveys ecstasy and one hand cups a breast while the other is pressed to her genitals.

H: "As I snagged the statue I heard Barvus calling for help. I stowed it in my pack and ran outside. There was a large lizardman with green scales and dark, bubbly tattoos fighting Barvus and Jesse."

M: "What did you do?"
H: "I killed it."

M: "Was it hard?"
H: "Not for me."

M: "I hear you're a talented warrior. Where did you learn to fight?"
H: "Been in a couple of armies. Just paid attention when people talked about how to fight. Always been good at it."

M: "Good at what?"
H: "Killing."

M: "How do you feel about that?"
H: "I've seen the crew you sail with. You keep with killers. How do you feel about that?"

M: "What happened next?"
H: "Two more lizards blocked the exit to the compound. Barvus told me to break through, so I did. I bowled into them, and when we all came up from the mess I saw Barvus and Jess runnin' up the street which was fine by me."

M: "Why?"
H: "I caught Harvard out of the corner of my eye. He's a better sword arm than both of them. Unger ain't half bad either."

M: "You like Harvard? He seems a little regimental for your tastes."
H: "I've only got tastes for good ale 'n bad whores. I don't like Harvard, but he's a good soldier. Would'a probably been runnin' our company if Barvus hadn't'a been shipped in on a family ticket. Harvard's a good sword hand."

M: " What happened once Unger got to you?"
H: "Killed the two lizards. Unger got a spear in the gut though. Wound like that may take hours to kill you, but it will. I went to get others while Harvard helped Unger."

M: "You volunteered to do that?"
H: " No. Harvard told me to help Unger while he went for the others, but I told him no. I'm no good at lying."

M: "Lying?"
H: "Yeah. Lying. If I gotta wrap someone up 'n tell him he's gonna be alright when I know he won't, he'll know he's dead. Unger's the type that'll think bearable pain ain't killable pain, and Harvard's the type that can keep him ignorant. I ain't."

M: "Then what happened?"
H: "Got a little lost looking for Barvus. When I found him, he was bleedin' from the head, and Jesse was trying to bandage it. Barvus yelled at me that everyone was dead, even Harvard and Unger. Then we ran from some lizardmen."

M: "Why didn't you tell him Harvard and Unger were alive?"
H: "Martel pays me to follow orders, not contradict 'em."

Harp, Barvus and Jesse ran northwest through the ruins, skirting the ruined marketplace which now billowed the clouds of black smoke we'd seen from the ships and headed towards the city walls. They seemed to have evaded the lizards that had given them chase, and were able to pass through a crumbled section of wall and flee into the jungle. The group hacked its way through the jungle, heading northwest and aiming for the coast so they could backtrack to the skiffs once night fell. After traveling for four hours, Barvus sent Harp up a tree to get a lay of the land."

M: "What did you see?"
H: "The coast wasn't far off, with the beach runnin' northeast and southwest so I knew we'd gone the right way. That's when the attack happened."

M: "Attack?"
H: "Yeah. We hadn't lost those lizards after all. While I was monkeyed up that tree one ran a spear through Jesse while he was pissin', but it killed him so quick that I didn't hear it."

M: "How did you realize there was an attack then?"
H: "Barvus started screamin' and tried to take on the two scale jobs."

M: "Seems he didn't win?"
H: "Heh. No. Tripped on a tail and took an obsidian spear through the neck."

M: "But how'd you kill them?"
H: "Sword to the jaw. Spear to the face."

M: "You used one of their spears?"
H: "Yes."

M: "Are you sure these were the same lizardmen that chased you in the ruins?"
H: "No. But they had the same type of black, bubbly tattoos."

M: "Tattoos? How can you tattoo scales?"
H: "Well, they didn't have 'em anymore when they was dead. Looked like they'd pulled out their scales in those black patches."

M: "And you keep saying the tattoos were bubbling? We've seen a few lizardmen so far while sailing around these islands, both with blue scales and green, but none with tattoos. Let alone bubbling tattoos."
H: "Guess these are different then."

M: "What do you mean, bubbling?"
H: "I dunno. It's like… It's like they bubble off their bodies but never get any lighter, right?"

M: "I see. And you say they vanished when they died?"
H: "The tattoos? Yeah. Gone."

Pulling detail out of Harp continued to be a painful process and his information about these lizardmen continued to leave me wanting. I found myself wishing I could have witnessed the combat directly and not been forced to rely on this second hand account as I had begun to realize I was already applying a great deal of my own bias to his report. When the other marines had praised Harp's skill with the sword, I had assumed he fought in a manner similar to Captain Rand. Jeremy rarely uses anything but his sword, a dagger, or his "mitts", as Stonejaw calls them. Hearing that Harp was just as lethal with an obsidian tipped spear scooped off the battlefield as he was with his own sword made me wonder what other nuances I might have missed in his retelling of events.

In an attempt to squeeze more detail out of Harp I had been steadily plying him with ale, but instead of making him more verbose, the alcohol began slurring his speech to such an extent that both Zilbee's quill and myself began to have a hard time keeping up. After the battle, Harp headed towards the beach he'd seen earlier. He reached it round about sunset and based on his descriptions, seems to have discovered a large lagoon. The barrier island is covered in mangrove trees, and the two spits of land reaching out two it reminded him of the mandibles on a crab's mouth when he viewed it from above. Once traveling alone, Harp had taken to climbing trees more frequently to keep his bearings and watch for possible attacks. He spent the night up in a tree just off the beach of black sand and drifted off to sleep as the sun began to set.

M: "The lagoon at sunset must have been a beautiful sight."
H: "Yeah. The way the sun hit those low waves made the black sand look like it was covered in orange diamonds. I'm gonna remember that sight for a long time."

Harp left the lagoon several hours before dawn, following the coastline south to the ruins and the skiffs where he ran into the other survivors.


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