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Unread 7th of September, 2011, 00:15
Cadrius's Avatar
Refusing to Sow [Epic GM]

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Blarth’s axe cleaves black ruin amongst the not-dead, tearing through flesh and splintering bone. Men loom in the darkness, arms outstretched, and then are scattered like autumn leaves before the storm of steel. Falling to the earth they twitch once and then lie still once more, their deathsblood oozing out, making the dirt slick with jet. His swing cuts a brutal swath through their lines, the splitting maul proving its worth equal at severing wood and flesh alike.

Shade is a step behind him, her namesake showing true as she comes and goes in the dark, twin blades flashing as they catch the firelight and she ends another dead man’s life. Blood dark like a scribe’s ink seeps out and down her blade but by then she is on to the next man and the next kill. She spins and plants a foot for the briefest moment as she plunges one sword upward, catching a farmer under the chin and driving it home. The black slowly dripping from her sword like Barrian molasses, she flits around the thewed half-orc as a silhouette of death.

Cadrius’ breath comes as heavy as late winter snow. The men next to him are flagging, swings coming slower and slower. Their steps have become clumsy as they are driven closer and closer to the flames. His old master-at-arm’s voice comes back to him suddenly. Footwork, footwork, Sir Talbot was always fond of saying. It starts and ends with your feet. Cadrius can hear the chaos swirling behind him and he risks a brief glance. Blarth and Shade have vanished from sight. The remaining guards hack at the advancing horde, too tired to shout or cry. The fire is still burning strong and he sees Sarra gathering the few children in the camp to her. Unlike the men of the camp, they have the strength to be afraid. She kneels by the fire, gathering them to her, keeping them from watching the horror.

“Look at the fire. Look at the way it dances,” she whispers, smoothing their hair. “But we have to go soon. Are you ready? You must be ready."

Cadrius’ mouth twists into a grimace as he shoves another dead man backward. Sarra and the other children deserve better than this, to be robbed of all their remaining days by this foul curse. The gods are cruel and this world is all too cold, but they warrant a chance at better days, at the gossamer strands of hope that there are still good things in these lands, things to be cherished and loved. They merit that much, if nothing else. He grits his teeth as a sword stroke cleaves shears through the upper part of a man’s skull, showering a wagon wheel with blood, brain, and bone. The fallen paladin makes a vow, another in a long line of vows, but one he will keep to his dying breath: no child dies tonight.

“Pull back to the fire.” His voice is hard still but now undercut by fragility born of fatigue. “We get the others out and then run. Until then, we hold the line.”

The three of them pull back further toward the fire, the ground slick beneath their boots. The bodies of the dead are piled high where Blarth and Shade were. Nicos, Lynn, and Juni have taken their place, using the corpses as a fortification against the thronging mass. Grim of face and and grim of purpose they bring down another pair of dead. Gods, Cadrius thinks, where are they coming from? Sarra looks up at him, the children still clutching to her. He wants to reach out and assure her that all will be well, that this is one nightmare that will end in waking up to bright golden sunshine and a chorus of birds heralding the morn.

Instead, he drops his shield onto the ground, pulls a dirk from his belt and rests it next to her. Cadrius reaches past and pulls a burning brand from the fire. He turns back to the two men that have stood beside him through this hellish night. Their eyes are haggard and their shoulders slumped. They have fought well and given much, but Cadrius needs more.

“Just a few more moments, lads. I will return,” he says. “Hold the line.”

Cadrius turns and disappears into the night.