Written By: Feral of Pacific
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Set in the good old days, when the undead hoards of Jou'nar sacked the fair city of Trinsic. Based loosely on my experience with a little "creative embelishment". The names have (mostly) been changed.
Undead attacking Trinsic. Complete surprise. More ghosts than living after first wave. Guards unable to repel. Holding out on top of bank. Guild and I OK for now. Creatures I've never seen before. City running low on defenders - send some, if you know any. Got to go.
I hadn't believed the dark rumors drifting out to the island of Moonglow from the mainland - they were just rumors after all - but then, not all rumors come with refugees and couriers bearing hastily scrawled notes for loved ones. I read the scrap of parchment again. It didn't sound possible. Could the majority of the great warrior's city really be already dead?
"Kurin!" I turned to see Elri running up, her long, dark hair bouncing around her blue mage's robe. "Did you hear?"
I handed her the letter. "I just got word."
Her eyes widened as she read the note.
"I have to go there."
She looked up. "This is really bad. I'm going to my father's house - it's north of Trinsic along the road. He'll know what to do. You can come with me; we'll gather the rest of the guild from there and see if we can help with this," she paused. "Don't worry about your brother. He's a great warrior. I'm sure he'll be fine."
"Yeah, I know." Everyone knew that.
"I have to gather some things. Hurry and get your gear - we'll leave as soon as we can."
We weren't the only ones. Though it was night, the bustle in town was as great as any day. Stores were reopened to supply the parties of adventurers forming up. Guild wars that regularly left blood on the streets were momentarily forgotten in favor of a greater cause. Britannia's best were headed to Trinsic. Surely my brother had exaggerated (as he had a knack for doing, especially about his own achievements, though no one but me ever seemed to notice). Surely with reinforcements coming from all over the world this crisis would be ended swiftly. The City of Honor could not fall to a hoard of glorified corpses.
Elri returned, loosening the chord on her reagent pouch as she spoke. "Ready?"
I hefted my silver kryss and kite shield - blue for our guild color - and nodded.
She dug her hand into the pouch and came up with a pinch of various powders. "Vas Rel Por!" She ground the powder in her fingers and tossed it up, her words igniting it into a shimmering blue rip in the air large enough to step through.
"After you," she said.
On the other side of the gate it was just after sunset on a road though the forest, near the eastern coast of the mainland. Elri stepped out of the air right next to me, and the blue glow from the gate fizzled and disappeared. She led me south along the road. There were fires ahead. And that was my guildmaster's small wooden house those ratmen were attacking. Almost before we could react the last of them ran screaming and cursing into the forest, all the fur singed off his backside.
"That's right! Tell your friends about this place!" Elrick called after him. Clapping the reagent dust from his hands he turned to us as we ran up, and smiled grimly. "So you're here, Elri."
"We heard about Trinsic. Is everything ok here?"
"Yes, except for the rat and lizard raiding parties popping up from Trinsic to Britain, among worse things. The road isn't safe of late. You best come inside. You too, Kur."
"Don't worry, we're quite safe in here," he no doubt had some form of magical protection on the house. He sat us down at his table, moved to a cabinet and returned with a bottle and three cups. "So, how are things in Moonglow?"
"Better than here, I'm afraid," said Elri. "Kurin's brother, Crondor - you've heard of him - he and his guild are trapped there. We came to see what we can do."
Elrick placed two cups before each of us and one at the head of the table for himself and poured the drink. "I was thinking I would come to visit, especially now, but since you've come I suppose we can wait this out here."
My glass and my stomach dropped to the table.
"Here? But father, we have to gather the guild; we have to get moving as soon as possible! Trinsic -"
"Is not the place to be right now. I'm afraid the city is already lost. We will not gather the guild."
He took a drink from his goblet, like that was that, and I momentarily forgot my low rank. "But we have to!" I nearly shouted in his face, "They need help and I can't just leave my brother there. How can we do nothing?"
"Your brother is smart. I'm sure he and his folk will have already left for some place more safe," Elrick said calmly. "If there is anyone still alive in that city… well, we can't help them. I'm afraid the darkness scourging Trinsic and spreading beyond is an infection that must run its course. Until the likes of the Lord British himself and others of his caliber deal with this situation, the best we can do is lay low and keep our heads."
I began a protest, but Elrick raised his hand. "I have already sent word to the guild advising them to stay away from this region until further notice. I am sorry Kurin, but we will do nothing about this because that is all we can do. We have plenty of stores to last us here, so I suggest you get comfortable and pray for the best."
I sat there gaping at him. Elrick thought practically like that. He named his guild "The Dark Knights of Mondain" to intimidate potential enemies. I didn't even know who Mondain was, and I'd certainly never seen a "dark knight" in the guild. There would be no arguing with him. "Well… I have to go," I said at last.
"I'm going with him," said Elri.
"I don't see how dying will help your brother, but I will not stop you from going, Kurin. At least, you can leave in the morning. If you even want to get there alive you'll need daylight on your side. On the other hand, you, Elrilion, will not be going anywhere until this is over. Understand?"
Again, there was no arguing. A sturdy cot was provided me for the night, but I slept little and anxiously. I got up at dawn, before Elrick and Elri. Quickly dressing, I donned my armor, cloak, and backpack, strapped on my shield and secured my sword at my side. I walked out the door, planning to eat a bite from my rations on the road south.
"Wait, Kurin," it was Elri. "What are you doing? I was planning to leave here with a war party. You can't go there alone."
"Looks like I have to. Unless you're coming with me."
"I can't. You heard my father."
I nodded. "It's ok, I understand. You've got to defend your home, and I've got to go defend mine." I turned again to leave.
"Wait. I've been thinking. My dad was probably right. Crondor must have left by now. Are you sure you have to go?"
"That patriot? He'd never leave. He's got his reputation to think about. He'll fight to the last. I've got to go."
"If we had the whole guild together we might be able to do some good, but what's the point in you going off by yourself and getting killed? I hear your brother doesn't even care for you that much." Her face reddened. "Are you just planning to one-up him or something? You think if you saved your big brother and stole his glory for once it'd prove something?"
"No, I'm planning to kill some undead." She looked unsatisfied. So was I. "So my brother chose to make connections in town and I chose to wander. If I wanted fame, I wouldn't have left in the first place. I don't have a problem with the path either of us has chosen."
"I don't." So the thought of being the one to save him had crossed my mind. So what? "My hometown is under attack. How could I not go to help?" My brother told me to send some defenders if I knew any. He didn't expect me to come. It made me angrier every time I thought of it.
"It's not your home anymore. You said you never belonged there and that's why you left. So what if that makes you a 'deserter'? I thought you didn't care what they think."
"I don't. I'm just… I'm going, all right?"
She shook her head and sighed. "I can't let you go alone."
"Come on, Elri, don't try to stop me."
"Did I say I was stopping you? I just said you weren't going alone. I'm coming with you."
"What about your father?"
"What's he going to do, demote me? Nah, let's go before he wakes up."
We made our way cautiously down the road, dodging the bands of rat and lizard men Elrick had spoken of. Unlike their usual strategy of hiding in the woods to ambush unsuspecting passersby, these bands boldly made their presence known, building bonfires in the middle of the road and waiting there for anyone who dared pass. It was as though they were attempting to hold the road for themselves, or perhaps for someone else, to prevent travel. A fighter with some experience like myself together with a competent mage like Elrilion could have chased them off, but there were bigger things at hand. So we left the road and slinked around them at need, running when they noticed us in order to make time.
Soon we began to encounter other warriors, but they were all heading away from Trinsic. Haggard, burdened with broken shields, notched swords and wrapped with reddened bandages they staggered from battle. Some escorted cartloads of civilians and other warriors, disturbingly few of whom were still alive.
We stopped a grim veteran who, along with a few others, was leading a cart of casualties northward. We warned him about the rat and lizardmen ahead, but he seemed past caring. "That's nothing compared to what's behind us," he glanced back with his remaining eye, "You'd do more good to help us get these folks to Britain. We've got survivors, and the bodies need proper rites and burial to keep them from coming back on the other side. You might even survive this way."
I respectfully declined, explaining my situation and asking if he happened to know anything about my brother.
"Last I heard they were still fighting it out around the bank. Don't know if he made it out in time. Still, I bet we could use your help more than the mighty Crondor."
I pressed on. Elri apologized to the man and followed. Farther south those trudging away from battle became those hurrying away, and then those running away. Suddenly a young fighter rounded a bend in the road and ran past us holding his side.
"There!" Elri pointed down the road, where a thin, stick like figure emerged around the bend, sporting a glistening metallic buckler and a scimitar - a bone knight. My kryss was coated with silver, the bane of undead. I held it ready and tensed for action, but Elri called her spell, flinging dust that sizzled and shot into a bolt of blue energy. It sliced through the skeleton's shield and struck its chest. The skeleton staggered, and melted into a pile of bones.
Elri rubbed her fingers together. "Hmph. Singed me."
Guardedly we hastened on. Cries and clatter began to echo through the woods as the territory became familiar to me, and smoke rose above the trees, from Trinsic. Scattered human resistors ran through the trees, some chasing undead, some being chased. Elri and I alternately fought and ran as we neared the city, its great sandstone walls finally peeking out through the trees. As we ran along the road towards the city gate fear was seeping into me that those we had seen fleeing were the only remnants of resistance and the battle was already over, already lost.
Then at last I heard the rallying cry: "For Trinsic!" a chorus of hurrahs, "For Trinsic!" another, even louder battle cry. My heart soared with hope, and taken up in the glory of the battle I ran ahead to join. The bravado, often arrogance, which permeates the city of warriors was one thing that drove me away, but there are times when it is exactly what is called for.
The trees opened into the field before the massive gate. The field was littered with bones and bodies, the grass trampled to mud. The walls were blackened with fires and reddened with blood, and skeletons patrolled the parapets. It was so foreign, so unlike my hometown with its tournaments and games, its sandstone walls blinding in the sunlight, that I was stopped in my tracks, shocked. Here were the elite of Trinsic's professional warriors along with adventurers from around the world already charging, streaming out from the trees and over the field into the massed ranks of undead in a desperate bid to regain a foothold in my home, the City of Honor, the city of warriors, one of the great strong places of the world of light, now ruled by darkness.
Surrounding the gate like a ring were the undead, Zombies lumbering in the front as fodder while armored skeletons waited motionless behind, with bone magi and powerful undead sorcerers - liches - in the center. Archers volleyed arrows from the rear of the human ranks, cutting down most of the zombies before the charging warriors reached them. When they did, they finished them off without slowing their pace. But magic shrieked from the center of the undead ring, and some warriors staggered, suddenly poisoned; there was an explosion, my abiding image of which is the sight of a severed sword arm, still clutching a katana, sailing high across the sky, and blood-icing lich laughter rang out as arcs of electricity leaped from warrior to warrior, thinning the ranks. Human mages answered back, however, with healing spells returning wounded warriors to the fight, and with offensive spells of their own.
I jumped as Elri slapped me on the back. "This way!" she pointed, "The line's weak over here."
I ran ahead, towards this flank of the enemy, searching for a target as I neared the line. Elri called a spell and the dust sang from her fingers, arcing orange over my head and landing behind the undead line where it burst into a broad area of searing flame. The undead reserves there fell into chaos as the fiends blindly flailed about, barging into each other and impeding their own escape. The skeletons withstood it better than the living would, but many were destroyed nonetheless and the rest fled the area. I would join the battle there, where the enemy front line still fought.
The fighter in front of me fell as I reached the line and I took his place, quickly finishing off the already staggering bone knight there. In front of me the fire field dissipated into air, and here was a sudden break in the enemy line. I rushed through, followed by Elri and others, and flanked an embattled skeleton, helping to widen the gap. Elri had created a fifteen-foot stretch of enemy line that was without reserves, and that was soon the size of the hole through which human fighters were trickling in.
A lich strode over to put a stop to it. A warrior beside me bravely advanced to oppose him. In close quarters, the lich swung his heavy gnarled staff and it connected with a crack on the warrior's face. The warrior spun and fell, but the attack left the lich open, and I lunged in, slicing with my kryss. I missed his head but caught his hand, and the silver blade slid through his necrid flesh like a hot knife through butter. The sorcerer staggered back, loosing his staff and shriveled hand with it, but the dead, tall man stood suddenly firm as an old tree and looked down at me, into me, and his sunken eyes pierced me with their hate. I was struck to stillness and held fast, whether by his magic or evil will or by my own fear I know not, but I was petrified as a stone and unable to break from the grasp of his gaze. He raised his other hand above his head, gathering a dark, red light to it. I watched the glow in his hand grow. His eyes froze me; his hand would kill me.
Nauseated and lightheaded at the thought, despair and angry defiance both grew in me, and at the last I thought to raise my sword in the air and proclaim "For Trinsic!" so that I might at least spite this thing and perish in some inspiringly honorable fashion. But a blue bolt like lightening came down on the lich and it was he who cried out, his spell fizzling as half a dozen warriors swarmed in to strike him down. I blinked, free of the spell, and turned to see Elri backing me up as always. "He was about to flamestrike you. You can thank me later," she smirked.
Human combatants now flooded through a wide breach in the line, driving into the center to cut down the physically weak enemy spellcasters and hit their warriors from behind. Gutted, the undead formation fractured and we gained the upper hand. "To the gate!" I called as Elri and I, together with a small band, broke free and charged down the center, in-between the crumbling enemy lines, to the gateway of the city. A hurrah cheered us on as we ran down the final stretch of road to its terminus at the gate.
Bodies of citizens, people I once knew, hung on pikes on either side of the road, fires licking the meat off their toes. The imposing gate was gone; a massive wooden barricade was raised in its place. We spread out at the barricade, looking for a way around, or over, or through, but there was none. "Hurry Elri, set fire to it!" I said but someone had already thought of it. A mage nearby threw a ball of flame at the wooden wall, but the fire bounced off like a child's toy, bursting to cinders on the ground. Elri tried a fire field such as she had used before, but the barricade wouldn't light, its thick timbers wouldn't scorch or singe. The barrier was more than wood.
"Can you make a gate to the other side?" I pleaded. Elri and the few other mages all tried their spells, and all fizzled uselessly. "What about Teleport, or Recall?"
She shook her head. "I already tried. Nothing's working. There's magic on this barrier that's stronger than mine. I'm sorry, Kurin."
One of the mages nearby, along with numerous other warriors, erupted in flame and fell screaming.
"Liches!" a fighter shouted and ran back towards the line. In the distance, a fresh battalion of liches, together with their entourages of bone knights, magi, and zombies emerged from the tree line, surrounding our forces. It was a trap.
"No, NO!" I stabbed my kryss into the wood and let it stick there as I slumped against the barricade.
"We have to get out of here, Kurin," said Elri.
"No," my fists clinched, "We have to fight."
"Damn you Trinsicites and your damn honor. Fight with what? I'm drained; I have to meditate. I have maybe one good spell left in me, and you… you've gone and stuck your sword in the wall. Can't you see the battle's lost?"
I looked through a thin seam in the barricade. On the other side, the familiar main street businesses smoldered in ruin. Beyond them, some strange new thing, a building like a temple, black and glistening like obsidian, was rising. One-upping my brother and getting a little recognition for once did not seem at all important. Even as an ulterior motive it left my mind. "We have to fight this evil," I said, "We have to win."
"We will, just not today. We have to leave right now, do you understand?"
I looked at the battle. Our line was already shattered, our warriors dropping all around as the liches and their laughter, their incessant glee in destruction, drew nearer. "I'm here to help, Elri, for my brother and my home. I can't run away. I can't abandon my home to this."
"This isn't your home anymore."
I halfway felt the futility of it, but among the ideals of home and family and fighting evil at any cost my words had just thrown in my honor as well. I worked my kryss out of the barrier and turned to meet the onslaught. "I can't leave, Elri, I can't."
"I can." I was jerked by my collar off my feet and through a blue hole in the air. I landed in the dirt, on the road, by Elrick's house.
"No!" I scrambled to my feet and would have dived back through the gate, but Elri came through and tackled me. I shoved her aside lunged for the gate. A fist like a mace connected with my cheek and my face met the dirt again. Elrick was standing over me. You don't expect that from a mage. Behind him the gate sealed up, collapsing into a small blue spark that shimmered midair and gradually faded.
On the cot in Elrick's house, Elrick was administering me a healing potion and stitching and bandaging me. "I did not forbid you from going," he said, "But shoving my daughter is worth a demotion. Two demotions."
"Go easy, Father. He's been through a lot today and he lost a lot of blood, too. He's not himself."
"You meditate," he said. "However, that may be. Only one demotion then."
In the heat of battle, skirmishing on the road to Trinsic and battling at the gates, I had not noticed a few blows that slipped past my guard and bit through my armor. Indeed, I might have bled to death from a belly wound if Elri had not returned me to her father's house when she did.
I sighed and shut my eyes. "Trinsic is lost. My brother…"
"I'm sure he's quite safe elsewhere, as I said last night. Now you best rest up, I'm going to see that the ratmen aren't eating from my garden again."
"He was very noble in the battle, Father. Stupidly noble, even. He cut off a lich lord's hand."
"I told you to meditate. Kurin didn't disobey me by going there, but you did. I still have to decide what to do with you. In the mean time meditate. Anyway, I'll keep that in mind. Maybe a commendation would balance out the demotion. I'll be back in a minute." He stepped outside.
I rolled my head to look at Elri, who sat nearby on her cot, erect and cross-legged, her palms open, her eyes shut. "Thanks for… thanks."
She opened an eye briefly, looked at me, smirked, and shut her eye again, finally heeding her father's command. Something in the healing potion Elrick made me drink overcame me, and I quickly slept.
It was as Elrick had said. The great powers of the land, the Lord British and his allies, sensing the strategy of the undead, first fortified Britain and were ready when it was attacked. They won a great victory there, and then turned south to Trinsic. Elri thought it was interesting that while magic fire was reflected, my steel and silver blade bit into the barricade at the city gate. She mentioned this to Elrick, who mentioned it to others, who must have eventually mentioned it to some very important people (I will not go so far as to say Lord British himself) because it became a part of the Britainian army's strategy. The barricade was immune to magical attacks, but not to physical ones. Thus were the warriors eventually able to hack it to pieces and retake the gate, and then the city.
I was not there for those battles, for I was still recovering at Elrick's house. I think it was in the interest of preserving my life that Elrick and Elri would only help me heal through natural means, and denied me the instantaneous healing of magic that would have allowed me to return to the fighting. A week after breaching the barricade fighting continued, but the tide had been turned. And I received another letter:
Greetings. Sorry for the delay, but post is rather slow coming from the town of Serpent's Hold here in the southern isles. Regret that guild and I were forced to relocate when Trinsic fell. At least the weather is nice here. Hope to be back soon as I will not miss the local wildlife. Hope you haven't gone and done anything foolish, but if you have, thanks for trying. I knew you wouldn't abandon your hometown in a time of need. So you'll come help us rebuild Trinsic, right, Brother?