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  #51  
Unread 28th of March, 2011, 13:11
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Darkness sets in early here. The sun disappears behind the mountains to the west long before it passes below the horizon. It leaves the land covered in an eerie prolonged twilight where the sky bruises from pink to purple and at last black. The stars that shine above are slowly covered by an advancing armada of clouds. Fires are stoked high and men huddle close around the pits. It will be a cold night.

The bard spins his tale, one of a commoner and a landed gentry falling in love only to have their joy shattered by tradition. Nicos tells it all with a practiced, almost lazy, ease forcing Cadrius to wonder why the man simply did not take up residence at an inn or to be taken on with some lord as a personal entertainer. But the answer is the same as why any of them travel together, spurring home and heart, comfort and love.

Blarth busies himself carving something out of wood. Cadrius asks no questions of him, figuring the process to be the product of either idle hands or some orcish tradition that a man such as he could not understand. There has always been a touch of something mystical about Blarth, something orphic, and Cadrius has not been able to determine what it is but trusts it to be something that runs in the mingling bloodlines. The combination of the two is greater than either part.

Nearby, Shade idly scrapes a whetstone against the edges of a sword, its edge already honed to perfection. Their eyes meet for a moment before she looks away, putting the edge of the stone back at the blade, seeking redemption in its reflection.

As the night draws in thick, watches are set, and men bed down around the fire. Cadrius and Nicos draw the first watch alongside another pair of guardsmen. They toss a few logs onto the fire, hearing the wet wood hiss and spit as it is consumed by flame. From there they split into pairs, each making slow circuits around the perimeter of the camp. Nicos and Cadrius walk their part, carrying a torch in one hand, its weak light struggling against the encroaching dark. Their voices are low and their shoulders are hunched by the cold as they make their slow circuit.

The hours pass slowly, breath fogging in the air. The pacing keeps their blood flowing at least. At last they wake Shade, Blarth, and the next pair of men for their turn at watch.

“Anything?”

Cadrius shakes his head. “All quiet.”

Shade nods and cinches her sword belt while Blarth grabs a spare log with a massive calloused hand and drops it into the fire. He stays by the flames as he removes his armor, letting the heat warm his skin again and relishing its comfort. As he finishes he carries the pieces of steel back to the wagon nearby where he and Sarra sleep. The day before he had fashioned a small makeshift bed for her by removing several panels of the bench laying a bedroll and worn woolen blanket inside. It isn’t much, but it is better than sleeping on the cold ground. As quietly as he can manage he props his sword and shield in the corner of the wagon before unrolling his own bedroll on the floor of the wagon and crawls inside, grateful for the sleep that quickly overtakes him.



A wind comes up from the east, sweeping through Shade’s hair as she walks side-by-side with Blarth around the camp. The half-orc’s eyes flit over the trees nearby as she keeps her torch held aloft as a curse to the dark. It is getting colder, but she has never let a chill bother her before and has no plans to start. Her thoughts turn to Isac, as they are wont to do these nights, and the sacrifice he had made, made specifically for her. The smallest of things remind her—a phrase said, a gesture made—and she is back there at the ceremony once more, watching the priest give his life so that she could regain her own. Her mind turns and turns, thinking of the good fortune to have a second chance.

A heartbeat before Blarth’s hand closes on her arm, the small hairs on the back of her neck rise. The half-orc’s grip is a silent warning of danger. He makes the faintest tip of his head, almost imperceptible in its slightness, toward the trees. They keep walking, Shade looking out the corner of her eyes. It is there that she can see it, the shadowy outlines of men moving slowly toward the camp. From a quick count she spies a score, perhaps higher, out in the dark, and that says nothing of the other side of the camp where the other two guards patrol. They do not shamble, nor do they run, they simply walk with quiet intent. They are not far now and though Shade cannot see the men clearly, she needs but to only look at Blarth and see him mouth two words.

Dead men.
  #52  
Unread 29th of March, 2011, 01:41
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Faced with a major stressor, your average human has several physiological reactions: adrenaline floods out of the adrenal glands, dilating blood vessels and bronchial passages; the respiration rate increases, purging carbon dioxide and saturating the blood with extra oxygen; the heart rate elevates, delivering that extra oxygen to the muscles in preparation for exertion; and the nervous system primes itself to direct that exertion causing muscles to twitch and the human to shake, a physical symptom often associated with fear. In your average orc, the reactions are much the same, though the ultimate reaction, the shaking is usually associated with anticipation rather than fear. For an individual with Blarth's unusual metabolism, however, these reactions are muted. While not suppressed entirely, much of the stress response is subverted into causing a different and widely varied set of physical changes. For the untrained, these changes are of dubious benefit, especially in a half-orc like Blarth. While all are geared towards survival, those changes which are spurred by human heritage see escape as the preferred method of survival, while those spurred by orcish heritage lean more towards victory.

Blarth is far from untrained, however, and is able to direct those changes as he wills. Having been raised amongst orcs, he instinctively directs those changes towards fighting.

None of that, however, races through the half-orc's mind. All he sees is the scratches that the not-dead he faced in Gilgal put into the door of the stable and the slaughtered remains of the horses and his skin thickens in response.

Releasing Shade's arm, Blarth reaches for the club slung at his waist and looks ahead, trying to predict the point where their patrol route will first intersect with the forms and figure out if they can raise the alarm without drawing attention to themselves.
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  #53  
Unread 30th of March, 2011, 05:26
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Shade's insides flutter with fear as she beholds those silent figures of menace, creeping forward on dead limbs with deadly intent. It was a moment long dreaded, face to face with her fear for the first time since Skathros had assaulted them during Isac's ritual. The horror of it all was that she had grasped the inevitability of this confrontation even then, yet for all her preparation she was unprepared. There was no running now, no hiding, no room for doubt or fear. There was only the fight, where they would live or die; the past ended here and it was here the future would be decided.

Fear drowns as the human well of determination rises abruptly within, flooding her body with the will to live, the desire to put an end to that which would end them. In a sudden explosive movement, she rips the twin blades from their sheaths and brandishes them high; they glitter in the moonlight, cold and deadly.

"'Ware the camp! Wake! Wake, lest evil take us!"

She charges back toward the camp, the time for stealth long gone, shouting the while. As she gets there, the others are streaming confusedly from the wagons, in various states of readiness. Tucking one blade under her arm, she hurls several logs onto the fire; it wanes for a few moments before blazing up brighter than before.

"To the fire; anyone who can wield a weapon on the outside!"
  #54  
Unread 1st of April, 2011, 01:04
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Blarth can't help but smile at the thought of a straight up fight. Shade, especially, usually favored more subtle tactics, but Blarth had been raised amongst orcs.

Letting Shade rouse the camp, Blarth works on delaying at least some of the not-dead, giving those in the camp time to rouse and ready themselves. He charges the closest one, roaring as he does so, smiling as his club makes contact with a resounding thud and some of the other not-dead divert in his direction.
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  #55  
Unread 7th of April, 2011, 15:03
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Nicos didn’t recognise the voice at first. It sounded like Shade, only loud. Afraid. She was sometimes angry and quiet, sad and quiet, or simply quiet. Loud was new and shocked him enough to bring him from his truncated sleep.

As the camp erupted into chaos, Nicos quickly spotted Lynn rushing across still wearing the purple nightcap she had scrounged from somewhere. Waving her down, the bard snatched the garment from her head, bringing it to his lips and singing a short snatch of verse at it, not taking the time to hide his actions. The headpiece began to glow, and he slammed it back onto the poor girl’s head.

“Come on,” he shouted, slinging his sword belt around his neck. There wasn't time to put on boots or armour, suddenly the bard began to regret not sleeping in his mail, discomfort be damned. “Keep it on and stay to my left.”
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  #56  
Unread 9th of April, 2011, 22:47
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Juni sits bolt upright in near total darkness, woken from a deep sleep by...

What was it?

I thought I heard shouting.


Nothing but silence now. Dead silence.

It must have been a dream again.

The calm reason of her psi-crystal slows the hammering of her heart. But she does not relax yet.

A dream? Or a presentiment of something?

She continues to listen to nothing, straining her ears for the slightest rustle in the grass or sigh of wind. It had sounded like a woman's voice shouting an alarm. It had sounded like Shade.

Juni had been having so many strange and confusing dreams lately, most of which she could not remember clearly when she woke. They echoed in her head afterwords though, disturbing images or feelings of fear and dread. She rarely managed to get a decent night's sleep any more.

But this had sounded real, and she could remember it vividly, unlike the dreams. Not the words, no. But that sense of alarm and, and.. urgency.

'Ware!

'Wake!'


Something like that. Something about the fire? 'To the fire'?

Well, I'm wide awake anyway. I might as well have a look outside.

Juni braces herself and then flings away the warmth of her blankets and bedroll. Even inside the wagon the air was icy cold most nights and stung her unprotected skin. She typically wore several layers of undergarments beneath her night clothes, plus a couple pair of woolen stockings for her feet, plus a cap for her head, plus a scarf for her face. She could hardly remember the last time she had felt really warm when she slept.

But she barely notices the frigid air now as a feeling of dread begins to creep over her.

'Ware!' echoes in her mind.

Urgently, she feels around in the dark for her boots and her sword.

'Wake, lest evil take us!'

Where is her bow? And her cloak?

'To the fire!'

She has gathered her things and is just sticking her head out the back of the wagon when the real shouting begins.
  #57  
Unread 16th of April, 2011, 00:05
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Once, when Cadrius was young, he went to the great river that wended its way by Somerest. Wading into an eddy where the current was slow but the water still deep, deep enough to be over his head, he stood there for a time and watched the river flow. The summer sun was high, blazing with warmth, and illuminated the usually dark riverbed. Small fish swam to and fro in the slow water. As the sand settled around his feet they flocked to his toes and began picking at it, his presence having stirred up something that they liked to eat. It tickled.

He let the fish have their feast for a time before drawing a deep breath and sinking beneath the surface. Grabbing hold of a nearby rock the size of a melon, he sank to the bottom and looked upward through the sun-drenched water and into the sky above. He wondered if this was what fish saw when they looked to the heavens, if they looked at all. It was quieter than he had expected and sitting there at the bottom of a river he felt a great sweeping peace settle over his shoulders. For a few moments, or an eternity, time lost its meaning and he existed not as a man but as a soul unchained from flesh, bathing in the light beneath a thin membrane of water.

One his father’s men appeared, blocking out the sun. His voice was muddled, sounding as if it was coming from another age than a few feet away.

“Cadrius!” He had yelled. “Wake up!”

No, that wasn’t right. That wasn’t what he had said.

“Wake up!”

Sarra’s hand is like a whip, lashing his face and leaving it stinging. He bolts upright reaching for the great blade propped in the corner while looking at his ward. Her eyes are lit by fear.

“To the fire! Anyone who can wield a weapon on the outside!”

Shade. There is trouble.

“Come!” he says. Fetching his shield and stepping outside the wagon. Other men are staggering out of their tiny pockets of warmth, rubbing sleep from their eyes and fumbling with weapons. Cadrius draws his sword, throwing its scabbard aside. The scrape of steel against draws the men’s attention.

“Are you daft?” He bellows. “To the fire!”

In the cold night air, terror crystalizes and takes shape. Dead men move with deadly purpose. Reaching the outer ring of the camp they continue their silent advance. Upon coming across a wagon, one climbs up and enters it while the others march on. And there are many.

Sarra stands next to him, frozen in place, watching dead men come for her as they had come for her family months ago before she had been snatched up out of her home and everything she knew and loved.

“Go,” Cadrius whispers, his voice suddenly feeling weak. Sarra keeps staring.

“I said go!” He shoves her with his shield arm, sending her stumbling but breaking the spell. She runs toward the fire, a pale skinned ghost fleeing for salvation.

Cadrius turns back, seeing a pair of men cornered by the advance of the men. Their backs are against shoved against a wagon and they clutch their swords with a shaking dread. Ringed by a dozen, perhaps more, they slash at the air trying to stave off death for a precious few more seconds. Each breath becomes precious; each new heartbeat is a miracle. Cadrius only knows them only in passing, whether they frantically cling to life because of family, because of love, or because they simply yearn to see the sunrise again, he does not know. All the fallen paladin knows is that they seek to live when Cadrius had given up many times before and they deserve that chance.

He takes the first dead man on the blade, running him clean through the back and out through his belly before planting a foot on the squirming corpse and wrenching his sword free. The next loses an arm at the elbow and then a leg at the knee. His havoc draws some of the dead men’s attention and they turn to face him like living men might turn to look at an approaching stranger. A few begin moving toward him and he scurries backward, shield up, and blade tracing a fatal arc in the air as it takes the head of a third.

But there are many, too many, and there are more coming. They have closed in on the guards who had taken one or two before the dead came too close for swords and have put their hands on them. The men thrash and curse, their lives blazing bright for a few more seconds. But the black that flows out of the eyes, nose, and mouth of the dead men is a harbinger of the darkness to come.

He smashes the ridge of his shield into a dead man’s face, sending him staggering backward. His sword cuts through the air and opens its neck. This is his chance. This is his redemption. To die here, saving these two men, is a good death, a noble death, and it cannot wash his soul clean of the stains of his sins, but it can be a shining end to a troubled life.

“Cadrius!”

Sarra’s voice is shrill. She’s scared and he has an obligation, a promise, to see this through and her to safety. He cannot die here, not yet.

And so he runs to the fire, turning his back on the men as their flames gutter and then are blown out.
  #58  
Unread 17th of April, 2011, 10:55
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*thock* *thwack*

At first the sound of each impact of his club brings Blarth a feeling of satisfaction. These not-dead have little sense of self preservation and it is easy to hit one after another. That sense of satisfaction is short lived, however, as Blarth begins to realize that broken bones and bruises which would normally have a man writhing on the ground in pain, have little effect on the not-dead. Indeed, they seem not to feel the pain at all. Sure, when he caves in a skull they drop to the ground, but more often Blarth finds that he has to break both legs and sometimes even an arm before the creatures are incapacitated enough for him to ignore them.

And they just keep coming. Looking around, Blarth realizes that he definitely has their attention now and there are a lot more than he had realized. He has no choice really, he has to head towards the fire and whatever reinforcements he can find there.
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  #59  
Unread 20th of April, 2011, 23:38
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It was hard to see anything outside the ring of light generated by the now blazing fire, yet Shade can hear the sound of fighting from sporadic points around the camp. Her gut tells her to run, while her heart tells her to join one of those fights and try to save the people from their fate. But here her head must win out - small groups would fail, overwhelmed by the sheer numbers she had seen in the dappled moonlight. They must stand together or perish; the knowledge did nothing to ease the shuddering anger that coursed through her as she heard choking cries of terror as people fell beneath the heartless assault of the undead.

It seemed long but it was a time measured in seconds before people were streaming toward her in various states of readiness. Some held swords, others makeshift weapons, and some with nothing. Her eyes went flat and hard. There was no time for anything but the fight. She raises her voice for them to hear, a black silhouette limned against the red flames of the bonfire.

"If you have no weapon, make torches and get them lit. Fire is our ally. Face outward and call out when you see them. Whatever happens, don't let them in the circle."
  #60  
Unread 23rd of April, 2011, 01:19
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The disorientating swirl of people and flickering lights cast a chaotic puzzle of shadows as Lynn and Nicos struggled to make they way across the camp. Confusion and panic vied for supremacy as people leapt half-dressed from tents while others dived into the false safety of canvas covered protection. A tangled knot of people formed between them and their destination, Shade’s form heroically silhouetted against the fire like a character fresh from legend.

The pair skirted around the snarl and were near to being free when one of the figures stepped out into their path. The figure, a woman, contorted her head until its anaemic eyes were fixed upon them. She moved on sure seeming feet, step after calm step with the steady patience of inevitable fate. Some substance, rendered dark and colourless in the uncertain light, coated the twisted contours of her face, through which a swollen bloated worm of a tongue swayed. An arm, in an echo of Nicos' own, hung useless from her, ruined beyond any human endurance.

It was only in that moment, confronted by the embodiment of nightmares, that the half awake bard realised who and what foe was besieging the camp. Undead. Horror. Zombie.

The creature strode closer and reached out, a gesture almost gentle enough to bely the inherent violence behind the stained hand grasping for them. Reacting without time for thought, plan or preparation, Nicos stretched forth, took the proffered hand in his own, and released the power channelling through him.

Magical healing, when used on others, was painful. It perverted reality with an arcane energy that exacted an equal price in retribution. Now he used it, not to heal a stab wound or set a broken bone, but to rebuff a creature whose very existence was one of unnatural disease and death, with none of the customary rituals to rout and limit the force. It tore through his body and into the fiend like a bolt of lightening.

Nicos tilted back his head and screamed an animal sound of unvarnished suffering into the heavens. His blood stopped coursing through his veins and began to boil. Lava licked its way through his flesh, tortuously consuming sinews one at a time. His bones exploded and flames danced in his eyes. His limbs shrivelled and crumbled into dust - until at last he extracted his grip from the creature and fell away, exhausted, drenched in sweat, but whole. A pair of arms arrested his decent and helped him retreat until his legs began to work again.

Looking back, he saw the defeated body of his foe slumped in the dirt. A woman with all trace of the necrotic corruption exacted from her and an expression of what he thought was peace.
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  #61  
Unread 24th of April, 2011, 22:37
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What is it? Bandits? Wolves? Juni can see dark shapes moving at the edge of camp. There is something in the air, some scent that she can't quite place. Reaching out with tentative fingers of telepathy, she searches for the minds of the attackers. How many? How far?

She feels nothing. There is nothing there.

She ought to be comforted by that fact, but she is not. After all, Shade wouldn't have sounded an alarm for no reason. And if Juni can't sense any hostile minds out there it can only mean...

A large figure lumbers into view. One of the caravan guards, Juni thinks, though it is too dark to tell which one it is for sure. Probably Bastis; he is a big man and none too graceful on his feet. Oddly, he seems lost and a bit disoriented, as if he is looking for something but doesn't know exactly what it is. Why isn't he heading for the watch fire like everyone else in camp?

"This way!" she calls to him, pointing.

The man - who is not Bastis or even one of the other guards - turns toward her. And Juni knows with sudden certainty that he has found what he was looking for.

Juni, your sword! her psi-crystal shouts in her head.

Despite his size, the man moves more quickly than she would have thought possible, and she barely has time to draw her sword before he is upon her. He looks like an ordinary man, like any smith or farmer or caravan guard. He holds his arms out and reaches for her, as if longing for an embrace. Juni backs away. She can see now that there is no spark of life left in his dark, dead eyes. A fetid smell of rot and decay hangs about him, reminding her of Skathros, though the stench is not as strong or as sickening. Not yet.

And there is fresh blood on his hands. And on his mouth.

"Ungh!" Juni yells as she swings her sword around and hacks into the zombie's side with it. Her stroke has little effect except to cause the thing to stumble slightly. She steps back and swings again, but it's like chopping at a slab of meat. The zombie ignores her sword and makes a grab for her shoulder, catching a handful of her cloak before she can sidestep out of the way.

If it gets its hands on me, I'm done for!

She manages to pull her cloak free and take another step back. The zombie has two gaping wounds in its side, but it comes at her as if the wounds meant nothing at all. Desperate, Juni grips her sword in both hands and raises it high. She brings the blade down in a whistling arc, slicing into the monster's neck with all her strength, and finally the thing falls to the ground.

She doesn't stop to make sure that it is finished - Is it dead, really dead? It doesn't matter, just RUN! - but flees blindly toward the fire. There are other dark figures moving through the camp now. They look like ordinary men.

But they are not.

Last edited by Kelemyn; 24th of April, 2011 at 22:43.
  #62  
Unread 1st of May, 2011, 05:24
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Shade barks her orders with equal parts bite and sense as surely as any captain shout at his men. The guards respond in a panic drenched with fear but they follow her orders, used to obeying the command even if they are not used to it coming from a woman. Some gather what torches they can, and when those run out they snatch up what few solid branches remain by the side of the fire pit. Steel in hand, the blazing fire shrouds her in shadows that Cadrius no longer thinks suit her, just as her moniker does not suit her.

“Stay by the fire,” he says, grabbing Sarra by the arm. “Everything will be fine.”

But there no time to think about the lie and he avoids looking the girl in the eyes so that he does not see the truth mirrored back to him. He only hopes that if it comes to it, he will have the strength to do what needs to be done. He isn’t certain if a good man would follow through or stay his hand.

Two men shift nervously next to him, swords clutched in their hands. They aren’t green, but neither are they old campaigners. Like as not they have signed on with merchants, perhaps killing a bandit or two, but it is much different when the dead stalk you. They do not bleed like men. They do not act like men. They do not kill like men.

“Form a line by me and stay by the fire,” he says. “When they come, you must strike for the head or neck. Taking an arm or leg is good, but it will only slow, not stop.”

He feels fear setting in about him but detached, distant, like the feel of a winter’s chill through a pane of glass. It is not the fear of the dead, of the unnatural, of the corrupt, that these men should fear, and it is not that dread that stirs in Cadrius’ own heart. It is not the specter of a dark presence that might lurk in the shadows, guiding them. It is not even cold, mindless way that they move. It is the simple fact that these dead men will curse, contaminate, and infect with the abomination that blights their own flesh. A man will be robbed of his mind and his soul and left as nothing more than a husk that craves to make more. It is a perversion of what life is, stealing the joy of creation and tainting it, violating it, until it is mockery of the world of men. That is what each and every one of them should fear. It is not the monster before them. It is that they, too, will become one.

A scream rends the air and Cadrius’ whips his head around to see Nicos lit up by a pure incandescence and rolls in a series of fast crashing alabaster waves into the dead woman before him. She, too, is set alight and Cadrius can see the black burning from her eyes and mouth, turning into ash and disappearing into the night air. She collapses to the ground, as does Nicos and Cadrius very nearly leaves his spot but Lynn is there to pull upon her mentor’s arms, dragging him to safety.

A shadow flits through the dark and Cadrius’ hand clenches tighter on the hilt of his blade, raising his arm. The men with him do the same. Arms rise, ready to set to their grisly work. Muscles tense and the swords poise to fall downward, wreaking bloody havoc on the corpse coming their way.

But it is Juni that darts out instead. Cadrius checks his swing at the last moment, but one of the guards swings wildly, terror overtaking him. Juni ducks her head and the sword slashes overhead, slicing through a single stray hair that lingers just a moment too longer than the others. It falls to the ground as Cadrius curses the guardsman.

“Arjuna!” Shade yells. “Get over here!”

Cadrius and the men turn back to the dark, eyes straining against the night. They can hear them out there, the soft footfalls of boots on stone and hard packed dirt. They rifle through the wagons, searching for something but Cadrius knows not what.

They come like ships sailing in on the nighttide, their shapes slowly emerging out of the dark. They walk as men, as women, as children, walk but they care not for the doom that awaits them by the fire, naked steel in hand.

Then they are upon them, silent in their attack. Some bear the marks of putrefaction, skin drawn taut across their face like parchment, others look as fresh as the day they were born, their only tell being the black slowly oozing out from their mouths and eyes. The first set are cut down in short order, swords set to their purpose. Cadrius shoves one dead man back with his shield arm while the guardsman next to him hacks off an arm at the elbow while the other guardsman takes a leg off at the knee. Again and again, the line holds, shoving back those that get too close and dismembering the dead before they can violate more innocent souls. Soon, they are breathing hard and feel nothing of the cold anymore, sweat dampening their arms, legs, and backs.

But there are so many more.

Too many.
  #63  
Unread 10th of May, 2011, 00:30
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Two more steps closer to the fire. Blarth shivered as a cold breeze washed over his back, instantly chilling the long path of sweat that soaked through his shirt. A stark reminder of the onset of winter, and one which was entirely out of place with the intensity of the fight that he was currently engaged in.

Two more steps closer to the fire. Blarth was getting desperate now. It wasn't that the not-dead were especially dangerous individually. Even with their seeming indifference to normally crippling blows, Blarth was taking each one out of the fight with just a few blows. The problem was that for each not-dead that he dispatched, it seemed like two others came forward to take its place.

Two more steps closer to the fire. A flash of light in front of him revealed one of the not-dead carried a sword as opposed to the farm implements, or even just bare hands, that most had. The discrepancy immediately forces Blarth to focus his attention. Hoes and shovels and clawing hands were relatively harmless when compared with an actual weapon, despite the collection of scratches and bruises that Blarth was slowly accumulating.

Two more steps closer to the fire. Blarth ducked the not-dead's first sword slice, a clumsy blow designed to decapitate some one frozen in fright. At least, that is what it first appeared to be. Blarth, however, found a knee rushing up to meet his face has he attempted to use his duck to get inside the not-dead's blade. Rolling quickly left, Blarth pops up outside the blade's reach again. Relentless and immune to distraction these not-dead might be, but they were not stupid. It would not pay to forget that.

Two steps closer to the fire. Blarth dispatched another of the unarmed not-dead that had gotten between himself and the one with the sword. Using the dead bulk to catch the next sword blow, Blarth landed a solid blow, hearing the sound of breaking bones in the sword wielder's left leg. Still, it came on. It might limp now, but pain that would have debilitated a normal person didn't phase these not-dead.

Two more steps closer to the fire, but even the ring of wagons still felt so far away.
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  #64  
Unread 14th of May, 2011, 04:12
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She is on the edge, the gray area, the shadow between the light and the dark. Behind her the fire blazes with red light and withering heat, a furnace blast at her back. In front all is dark - a frozen, blackened wasteland filled with creatures cold and dead. It was here that it would be decided, here in the netherworld that had been her home for so long. Neither good nor evil had she wholly been before, yet with each passing day she had felt herself slipping into the dark. Little by little, all of the important things in her life had eroded away, until she'd been left alone and empty, with nothing left except the will to live a little longer.

Yet all of that had changed, when one man had given everything he had and everything that was to come in order to save her from a fate that she may well have deserved. That act had woken within her some ember of passion that had lay hidden for so long. It burned now within her, brighter than the bonfire at her back, filling her with the knowledge that whatever might come, she needn't concern herself with doubt. She had purpose. She had strength. She had worth.

Out of the night they came and her blades sprang forth to meet them, dusky gray like the whole of her world, cutting through the night as easily as they sliced through rotting flesh. Chaos was raised before her, as the dead fell like wheat beneath the scythe. Her world became the dance of combat, her blades whirling and spinning, trailing the ichor of the damned. A dagger slashed her armor, teeth latched onto her calf, claws raked at her face and still there was no pause.

She forgot the guards, the fire, the camp. Her muscles ached and burned, her vision blurred, and still they came on. It didn't matter; her heart sang in her chest for here and now was all there was, and she would give all she had to make even the smallest difference.

Isac, she hoped, would be proud.
  #65  
Unread 20th of May, 2011, 20:45
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Nicos swung his sword at one of the creatures as it loomed out of the darkness in front of him, lodging his blade deep in the creature's shoulder.

His skin still crawled with pain from the remnants of the magic he had summoned, and while there was a limit to how much of the energy he could channel over a period of time, he had yet to reach it. The magic was a healing power primarily and he had held it back to deal with any injury after they survived the battle.

The monster ignored the blow and tried to claw its way to the bard, until Lynn lunged from his side to bury a dagger deep within its check, bringing the creature down. To his right, one of the drivers screamed as a pair of zombies broke past his inexpert swinging, grabbing the man with teeth and claws and begin to drag him off the line and into the darkness.

The man's name was Alberto, terrible at cards but never minded losing. Three nights back he shared a watch with Nicos, the two of them passing the time by sharing tales. Nicos vaguely remembered him talking about a girl, but the context escaped him. The bard shifted his weight half a step forward, swung his sword up and around, and brought it down into the back of the man's neck, stilling his struggling screams as the shadows swallowed him.

He was holding back his magic for the injured he silently told himself. For after the battle. It wasn't because he was afraid, he repeated, desperate to believe.
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Unread 22nd of May, 2011, 22:35
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Juni looks around at the small group of defenders, trying to count heads. Who is here? Who made it to the fire and who did not?

The flames of the watch fire flicker and leap, casting strange shadows on the scene. Cadrius and Shade are easy to spot, but is that Nicos over there? A glimpse of purple nightcap reassures Juni that Lynn is there too, so it must be the bard. Little Sarra huddles by the fire. The only one missing is Blarth. Is it too much to hope that all of her friends have made their way to the fire safely?

Juni steps up onto a nearby wagon to look outside the circle of defenders at the jumble of dark shapes moving there. Most of the zombies seem to have homed in on the watch fire by now and are steadily advancing toward it. But wait... There is a small knot of figures off to the right, a cluster of zombies that seem to have something nearly surrounded.

Almost before she can think what she is doing, Juni has drawn her bow and fitted an arrow to the string. Shade had taught her the use of the bow, and they had even managed to get some practice shooting at straw targets lately. But Juni has never taken a shot at a living creature before. She hesitates.

These are not living creatures either, her psi-crystal reminds her. Their backs will be as easy for you to hit as straw targets.

Juni nods and takes a deep breath.

Just don't hit Blarth!

Juni frowns. Then she fires.
  #67  
Unread 17th of June, 2011, 05:08
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*thump* *thump* *thump*

Another of the not-dead is incapacitated, but there are plenty more to take its place. Looking around, Blarth realizes that he's fighting a losing battle at this point. He is no longer inside a closing ring of not-dead. The front of the ring has closed on the ring of wagons, passing him by and cutting him off. He's alone, forcing his way through a growing see of not-dead as the caravan's casualties rise to reinforce the ranks of their attackers.

*thump*

Blarth's rear connects with the dirt as he trips over something. Reacting more on instinct than tactics, Blarth pours mental energy into reinforcing his defenses, creating invisible barriers between himself and his attackers as he struggles to stand.

*thock*

Feathers sprout from face of a not-dead looming over Blarth, knocking it back and making it's movements uncoordinated and erratic. Taking advantage of the momentary breathing room, Blarth scrambles to his feet and takes stock of his surroundings.

*thock* *thock*

Two more not-dead sprout arrows and are momentarily stalled by the impact and damage that they cause. Glancing towards the ring of wagons, Blarth spots Juni and another figure with bows in hand atop one of the wagons.

Please don't hit me!

Forcing his attention back to the more immediate danger, Blarth spots what he had tripped over earlier: the chopping block that had been set up to cut firewood. On the ground beside it, Blarth spots his club, lying beside the large handled splitting axe. Raising his eyebrows as realization dawns, Blarth shoves a not dead out of the way and reaches for the wooden handle.

*chop* *chop* *chop*

Axe firmly in hand, Blarth begins mowing through not-dead, separating limbs from bodies rather than just breaking them, opening a path and quickly making progress into the ring of wagons.
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  #68  
Unread 17th of June, 2011, 12:52
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The nightmare battle roared around Lynn, stark shadows thrown by the light flowing from her enchanted-purple-nightcap hiding enough to frighten, yet revealing enough to terrify. It would have almost been easier in the dark, battling shadows against the inky nightscape instead of seeing the true horror of their foes.

She held her place on the line, holding back wave after wave of death with blood, sweat and fear. No, not waves, rather a single wave – great terrible and without end – that threw itself at them. Again and again she stepped forward to sink her knife into pallid flesh, quickly learning to strike at face and skull instead of chest, belly and thighs.

Her knife, a suitable and effective companion in against the dangers of taverns, suddenly seemed dwarfed by the task in front of them. Belatedly she cursed herself for not pursuing training with the rapier. The weapon possessed enough noble prestige that surely her father would not have objected to lessons, and right now it would have allowed some precious few feet of steel between herself and the things attacking them.

To her right Nicos danced forward to meet the oncoming charge of a zombie lurking head and shoulders above the rest of its kin, and mindful of his advice to stay by his side, she dutifully followed. Then, so sudden that it took her a moment to comprehend, the situation changed. Her bardic companion was pushed back by the undead creature's rush, the battle shifted, and she found herself on the wrong side of the line, surrounded by the dead.

A seed of panic blossomed in her chest as she spun, expecting an attack at any moment, from any quarter. The fates did not leave her to wait long before one of the creatures loomed into the sphere of light around her. Man or woman, old or young, it was impossible to tell under the blood and grime coating the thing. Black alien eyes regarded her and Lynn dropped into a crouch, her hand clutching her knife with palms drenched in petrified sweat and her throat seized shut, leaving her bereft of breath.

The moment slowed and stretched out with torturous anticipation, her heartbeat rising, growing loud in her ears and sounded out the beat of some strange rhythm that drive the blood surging through her body in a musical symphony just beyond perception.

Then, with an almost audible snap the moment passed, the creature's black eyes shifted away, and it turned to charge the line of defenders, leaving Lynn alone, alive, and very much uncertain.
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  #69  
Unread 8th of July, 2011, 13:59
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The fight does not rage around them, it flows. The living cry and grunt and sweat and bleed and tire but the dead simply march on existing in a double edged state of either single minded pursuit or to fall still to the earth, welling forth the stygian ink that flows through their veins. Cadrius has little enough time to keep track of his companions save for the occasional glance to make certain that they were not being flanked. Shade is thunderstorm made flesh, lashing out with twin blades like forked lightning as she cuts down body after body with a zeal that would make the proudest crusader dip his head in respect. Behind her, Juni feathers the marching horde with arrow after arrow. Her aim is true enough from the bodies that stiffen and fall over, but Cadrius wonders how much she has left in her quiver. Nicos and Lynn work in a tandem with a familiarity as natural as if they were performing on stage together. Blarth even wins his way back to the circle, using his mighty thews to crush, maim, and shove back to his companions. Cadrius’ relief is short-lived as he and his men are pushed a pace closer to the fire.

Fighting the swarm of bodies is akin to waging war against the ocean. No amount of sword swinging can deny the waves their advance upon the beach. So too is the battle against the inexorable tide of corpses bearing down upon them. He knows not where they came from though he suspects that it is from some distance. It matters little though on this field of black bloodshed. Try as they all might, their limbs are growing heavy under the prolonged assault and there look to be no end to the silent host. Being overrun is not a possibility, it is their fate should they remain here. Cadrius and his line are shoved back another step, and then another. He risks a glance at Sarra and sees her sitting by the fire, knees drawn up to her chin, watching with wide eyes as the people she has grown to know over these last days fight like demons.

And none of it will matter. They will either die here or, more likely, be turned into the one of silentious dead. He hasn’t the time to wonder if the dead men and women before him feel anything, trapped, or if perhaps they are spared a fate hemmed in behind carnal bars. His shield is growing heavy; his arms burn with each sword stroke. It will not be long now before the dead overwhelm him and the men next to him and the entire camp.

“No,” he says, his breath coming harder.

They are a volatile mash of chaos and order fighting against the ever encroaching night.
He slams the shield, spattered with gore, against another quiet monster before the guard next to him takes it at the neck, separating the head from its body and sending it away. But the man’s swing was slower than it had been a minute earlier. Cadrius can see the steam roiling out of his mouth.

To flee is a death sentence, but to stay here is suicide.

“Shade! Blarth! Cut a hole in the back!” His voice bellows, no salvation, but better than a curse against the dark. “You men, pull to the fire!”
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Unread 9th of July, 2011, 06:00
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The back? Where did one find the back of a circle?

Casting about, Blarth spies the horse picket line. Many of the horses have long since fled in panic, but a few remain, rearing and screaming in fright, but largely ignored by the waves of not-dead intent on the men in the ring. Making a snap decision, Blarth quickly fells the not-dead in front of him and rushes through the center of the ring.

* * *

In a scene which is oddly out of place in the chaos, Blarth kneels quietly in front of Sarra and gently cradles her chin in his hand, forcing her gaze to meet his to the exclusion of the carnage around.

"Sarra, I need you to guide the other children behind me. We're going for the horses."

Seeing her nod in acknowledgement, Blarth stands and turns to the mothers and aunts who clutch the other children around them. Meeting their eyes to make sure they are ready, he nods and then bellows, driving towards the horse line in full fury.
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Unread 3rd of September, 2011, 01:47
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Twin blades cleave a parallel track through the rotting flesh and bone before her and in their wake body parts tumble to the already littered ground. She takes a deep breath of icy air as she slides half a step backward, blades spinning to cover her against the next attack. Time had slowed, giving her ample opportunity to plan each attack, each counter, with expert precision. There were no wasted movements, no elaborate flourishes; every single motion was integral to the dance of life and death that engaged her.

Even so, she could feel the vast inevitability piling upon her consciousness even as the corpses piled themselves around their human wall. A mortal body, no matter how resolute, could only be pushed so far. Her chest was working like a bellows now, her body drenched in sweat despite the cold, her limbs filling slowly with lead. She could keep those things shut out of her mind using the wall of her will, but like the dead around them sooner or later she'd be forced to let them in. And then it would be over.

Cadrius' shout cuts through her thoughts like a shaft of light through the dark. She knew he was right, they weren't going to be able to hold out much longer. Shade could stay and die and be at peace with that, with fighting until she got pulled under by the horrific tide, but that would doom others to the same fate. Others that they might save. She didn't know what he had in mind, but there wasn't any time for debate; the choice was there before her, to do as he bid on faith alone or doubt him and find her own way. Blarth is already moving to obey and she has a moment to make her choice. The old Shade might have been torn, might have hesitated, in selfish fear or stubborn pride, but not now. She wasn't the same anymore.

Shade times her retreat perfectly, spinning away so that she falls in step with Blarth as he rushes by, her blades held high and ready for a devastating attack as they slam into the line.
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Unread 6th of September, 2011, 23:15
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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.
  #73  
Unread 23rd of November, 2011, 03:57
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With a powerful swing, Blarth decapitates the last not-dead between himself and the remaining horses and then pivots into an open space to his left created by Shade cutting the legs out from under another.

Sparing a quick glance over his shoulder, a glance he nearly regrets as a pitchfork scrapes off his mentally hardened skin, Blarth yells to those following him, "Mount up and flee. Ride double or triple if you have to, just get out of here."

Turning his full attention back to the not-dead, Blarth chops through a few more, relying on his ears to track the evacuation behind him.
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  #74  
Unread 24th of November, 2011, 07:36
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To the front, the near ominous silence of black shapes, now silhouetted by the fire, shuffle forward, pressing in on those attempting to hold back what appears to be inevitable.

To the back, the frantic sound of panicked horses and the shouting of men and women trying to calm them enough to mount up and flee with their children.

In the middle a thinning rank of fighters who struggle to maintain a line and protect those more vulnerable than themselves. That line, however, has reached it's breaking point, and in a moment of sheer desperation, the highline is cut to free a horse whose bridle has become entangled. The end result, however, is the flight of the remaining horses and the complete demoralization of the remaining defenders.

It's not clear who was the first to call for a retreat, or even if it was something that was called for by someone with some authority, but in short order the line is broken and fleeing. Not an organized retreat, but the erratic fight and flight of a rout. The exact situation that would normally lead to an organized army picking off the survivors one by one.

The mob of not-dead, however, is not an organized army and while overwhelming in numbers, is slow and unsophisticated, allowing the survivors to escape into the woods and the early morning fog that was settling on the ground.
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