The Return of the Brothers
 

Jasper McCarrin

UP: Britannia

   

Have ye ever felt a shiver while walking late on a moonless night? Felt thy heart leap when hearing a strange sound while sitting alone in an empty room? Known the fear of being pursued despite no one… or no thing… being anywhere in sight? Imagine having to actually face a source of such terror. Would thy knees weaken? Would thy bladder empty itself and stain thy boots? Would ye flee with a breathless scream?

From the depths of the stale earth, they came. A cold hand that reached its chilling grasp toward our hearts. A burning gaze that sought to sear our flesh. A noxious breath that desired to corrupt and destroy our lives. Born in despair. Raised in hatred. Schooled in madness. Three brothers returned to the land of Britannia to again seek vengeance.

Their names have been lost in the annals of history. If not for the disquieting visions of an oracle, they would have been known only in silent nightmares from which dreamers never awoke. The oracle saw the three brothers born to a peasant woman of modest magical power. She saw them watch as her mother was brutally torn apart by superstitious folk who believed her to be a witch. The oracle watched as the fled to live as animals in the hills. She felt terror as they grew in hatred and as that hatred fed the powers within them. The oracle then gazed helplessly as they attacked Trinsic with an army of fetid creatures and began to breath again as she witnessed their defeat at the hand of the paladins and mages of Trinsic.

But the oracle knew there was a reason she was shown this vision. She knew the day was approaching when the three brothers would throw off the sleep of death and rise with thoughts only of obliterating all life. She had felt their minds and knew they were empty of all sanity. Hatred and rage had driven out all else. The oracle began to spread word of her vision. Beware the Day of the Dead!

Days passed. The Day of the Dead arrived. Night fell with fiendish suddenness. The wind was stagnant. The accustomed sounds of wildlife and commerce faded into a terrifying stillness. Anticipation mounted dreadfully. But… nothing happened. One by one, shutters began to unlatch. Taverns and Inns reopened. A murmur of voices mixed with hushed and embarrassed laughter as business returned to normal. A phrase like “collective sigh of relief” comes to mind. But would be premature…

In a small graveyard, the ground split as a decayed and soiled hand was thrust up though the mottled earth and into the air. The hand, as well as the arm to which it was attached, was then tossed aside, no longer needed, as two other hands appeared in the earthen gash. A misshapen form slowly and deliberately pulled itself from the grave. Across the burial ground, two more undead wombs split open. All three crawled out in rebirth. Or perhaps… undeath.

In wordless agreement, the three brothers began gathering minions of death around them. As their armies grew, each set of in a different direction. One was bound for the city of Spirituality. One for the city of Sacrifice, and the final for the city of Honor… the city they hated most. Zombies and ghouls and skeletons began to rise in these cities even before the brothers drew near.

The citizens on Skara Brae, Minoc, and Trinsic quickly realized that they had been in error when they believed themselves safe. Undead began to attack. Hordes of them. The corrupted dead were quickly overrunning the cities. Panic followed. In the darkness of night with both of the two moons shrouded in gloom, merchants and beggars alike sought to find refuge of any kind.

I spoke with a butcher from Trinsic at the Keg and Anchor shortly after it was all over. His hand shook unconsciously as he held a mug of ale and told me his tale. A golden spray of ale washed over the lip of the pewter mug and left jittery trails running down across his hand… unnoticed by any but me.

“It began with a stench. I wrinkled me nose wondering what among me stock had turned. It was then that the bell on me front door jinged. I glanced up, sighing that a customer would come in so late yet not willing to lose business, but froze straight away when I saw what had entered. It was then that an even stronger stench struck me like a stag at full run. I knew immediately that it was not me product that had turned.

The thing had blotchy skin that seemed to be more like a thick putrid liquid than like flesh. Raw bone poked through the rotten flesh. Empty eye sockets stared from a partially exposed skull, and I felt that gaze almost physically.

I had no weapon. Me cleaver was on the table by the door... no way for me to reach it. The zombie stumbled across to the counter and emitted a gaseous roar. I felt sure ‘twas I who would be butchered.

I turned and crawled into the back room where me bed was, slamming the door. I leaned against the door, hoping to hold the retched creature at bay and cursing m’self for not fixing the lock. It pounded on the door, and I was knocked onto the floor and slid back into the armoire. The zombie roared again, louder this time, and shuffled forward. It lurched suddenly and fell toward me. I drew in air to scream, but the zombie landed heavily on top of me, and me breath escaped in a soundless groan. I struggled in a blackness of pain and disgust. Trying to get away. Trying to get a breath of air that did not burn me lungs.

Suddenly the weight of the zombie disappeared. I looked up into the armor of a paladin. The zombie lay unmoving to the side. I scrambled up quickly and thanked the paladin breathlessly. She nodded without a word, turned, and left the shop. Outside I heard the sounds of more fighting.

I limped over to the front display and grabbed me cleaver. When I looked outside, the streets were choked with skeletons, zombies and liches as well as paladins, warriors, and mages fighting them.. I backed away and slid down behind the counter with a sandstone wall at my back. Hoping no more undead would enter me shop.”
Similar battles raged across Trinsic and in Skara Brae and Minoc. Bands of warriors and mages battled the undead, with healers helping the wounded. The undead were being pushed out of the cities. But it was then that the brothers entered the fray. One in each of the three cities.

One brother brought the power of deep cold. All around him radiated a piercing winter. Warriors’ and mages’ hands went numb which made swinging an axe or casting a spell difficult at best. He walked on legs with bones protruding at awkward angles. His painful blue skin gripped tightly onto his decaying muscle. A humorless grin split his lips as warriors recoiled in horror.

Another brother burned with an intense heat. Armor and weapons turned against their owners as they turned red from the undead fire in his presence. His bloated, bulbous body steamed constantly as he walked. His blood red skin seemed to seethe having a life of its own with erratic twitches and oozing blisters. His mouth was a dark tear in his swollen face, and his eyes smoldered with loathing for all he could see.

The final brother gave off an aura of venom. All who came near him fell away ill and nauseous. His putrid green skin almost glowed in the darkness. His eyes and manner appeared to conceal a strong intelligence at first glance, but that quickly evaporated into raging insanity as he turned and bellowed in mocking laughter. He scowled as glanced at the carnage around him, and then bellowed again.

Even the bravest of warriors retreated before the brothers. Facing them directly seemed foolhardy and suicidal. Many turned and fled. Undead flowing constantly around the three brothers killed some. The rest stood mesmerized in terror as in each of the three cities, the brothers began lending their own considerable power to the attack.

Within seconds the bloodshed increased. Warriors and mages alike fell to the brothers or to their undead minions. As the defenders fought, they realized that to stop the undead, the brothers had to be destroyed. Marshalling their valor, they transferred their attention to the brother in their city. Fighting down the rising bile that was bitter in their throats, courageous warriors faced the brothers in combat. Mages cast spells to heal the warriors and to hold off other undead creatures. As one warrior reached his limit and fell back, another took his place. Some fell to the ground unmoving. Others fled as their terror got the best of them. The bravest and best of the warriors regained their breath and stamina and jumped back into the fray.

With unmatched valor and sacrifice and by working together, the defenders began to beat back the three brothers. The hordes of undead began to lessen until only the brothers themselves remained. With their attention on their own battle, the brothers were unable to summon any more of their undead followers. They realized that the tide of battle had turned against them. The last spark of coherent intelligence in each of them realized that by separating, they had reduced their strength. A cry of anguish forced its way out of each brother in unison and was heard across the realm.

The defenders found renewed strength at the despair of the brothers and pressed them even harder. The clang and clash of swords and axes rose to a crescendo matched only by the zing and whistle of flashing spells. Each brother, in turn, crumpled to the ground at this assault, glaring at his destroyers in fierce hatred. Felled at last, their foul remains stained the earth on which the lay. On each was found a weapon of the undead. Perhaps a token of another time that they carried with them, or perhaps just a weapon tainted with the odor of the walking dead.

At the small graveyard from whence the brothers had come, a gust of wind roared across the broken tombstones. If one did not know better, it might have sounded like a frustrated sigh...





From the Town Cryer - The Journal of Ultima Online,
Wednesday, November 10th, 2000