In the slow hour before dawn, six Aceans entered the village at Fisher’s Point. There, in the shadow of the village well, a vexillary was planted and a horn was blown. Fierce men of the tribe of Garra woke to the sound of battle and the smell of smoke. They rushed to the fight. But nine and forty barbarians, disoriented and disorganized, could not match six Aceans girded by a death pledge, shriven and anointed for their own graves.
On this night, against terrible odds, the legionaries unexpectedly prevailed. The men of Garra never turned the tide of battle. Their numbers broke like waves upon Acean shields. They were drawn after the formation, lured into tight quarters and smoke-choked alleys. They were split by the charge and driven onto caltroped fields. Their ranks were harried and flanked by two mastiffs to prevent a rally. And they were shredded by crossbow volleys when they tried to retreat. At the dawn, every man of the tribe of Garra lay dead.
Although no Aceans perished in the fight, every one of them became dead. They became ex mortis. Legionaries who survive a death pledge, a suicide pact made ahead of an impossible battle, are still mourned as fallen and their holdings passed on to their heirs. The ex mortis are retired with great honors to one of the outer colonies, allowed to pass their remaining days in peace and relative comfort. But they can never again assert the rights of the living. For to do so would be to cheat death and demean the death pledge, inviting Fate’s retribution.
A quiet life is what these legionaries are due. But this is not the end Fate has is store for the contubernium. For even in the quiet, far-flung territories of the Acean empire, the specter of war can descend like lightning from the heavens.