Veniset Town Square: 7:13 pm
A ragged cry breaks from the throats of the village men and lumberjacks as the last of the shambling undead fall beneath the keen edges of Alma and Lornaal’s blades. The men hoist their weapons in the air and shout their victory into the screaming face of the blizzard.
Beyond the barricades, the last of the wights melt away into the snow-driven night.
Matrim, moving swiftly across the ice-caked makeshift bridges and over roof tops, searches the night for any sign of further assault. Even as the men below slap each other on the shoulder and cheer their victory a growing knot of unease settles in the leader of the company’s belly.
Below, other members of the Manticore share their commander’s concern. This was too easy.
T’alen and Alma exchange a look after the last of the enemy is driven to the ground. While Alma turns to attend to the pile of bodies on the western barricade, the young mage hurries to where Father Talton stands by the northern barricade.
Brother we need to speak. I have heard stories of members of faith being able to detect the energy that powers the walking dead, is this possible, and if so at what range can it be done? I fear this was merely a leading jab and that there is a larger force on the verge, just outside of our sight, waiting to roll over us in a wave of darkness when our guard has fallen from this victory. I for one do not want my soul doomed to an eternity of never touching the glory that is magic again. Please say you are able to detect them so we may prepare for their doom, or surge forth like one of Coras daggers into their heart, ending this threat once and for all.
Talton’s reply is cut short, however, by the powerful sound of large wings beating fiercely against the howling wind. All eyes in the square turn as a large white owl seems to coalesce out of the driving snow. The great bird does a half circle around the square before alighting near the bon fire. Even before it has fully touched the ground, the owl’s shape blurs and begins to run, the sharp ebony beak becoming a drawn mouth and thin nose while the dark eyes develop heavy lids and a knowing hazel stare. White feathers become curly red locks and the powerful wings transform into arms clutching a polished oaken staff. Within a heartbeat the white owl is replaced by a short brauman woman of dignified bearing wrapped in a white fur cloak and patterned shawl. Her age is difficult to guess, for though her skin is marred by only the lightest of blemish, her eyes and posture reveal a wisdom and confidence that usually accompanies age.
Stop this foolish crowing at once!
,she snaps at the gaped-mouth men of the village,
What you have faced so far were merely the gentlest of probings from what lies in the woods north of here. The full might of it will yet come down upon you this night. Return to your vigil!
The woman’s voice is sharp, her tone used to giving commands. Turning towards the council hall she stalks towards it with a quick stride.
I will meet with those in command here immediately.
While Lornaal and several of the villagers continue removing the corpses from the barricades, piling them on the pyre, a hasty meeting convenes in the cramped chambers.
Mayor Cultiss, his pale face rimmed with dark circles, stands by the fire warming his thin hands and listening intently to everything being said. By the door Captain Gregor stands with his hand upon the pommel of his sword, smiling-despite the woman’s warnings-at the victory that has yet been had. Matrim, T’alen, Alma, Terrence and Sebastian stand, looking at the stranger curiously, each of them grateful for the reprieve from the miserable weather. Father Talton and Father Teldon are the last two to crowd into the room.
The woman calmly brushes snow from her clothing before taking a seat by the table and fixing her steady gaze upon each of those gathered in turn.
I am Kaberllee, a member of the Order of the Sacred Oak, and I have come to assist you. A half dozen of my companions are making their way here from the south. They should arrive well within the hour. I would have your men on the barricades look out for them, and allow them to pass unmolested.
Her eyes resting on the two Lucidian priests she asks:
Where is Father Gordon? He should be at this council.
Father Teldon, his eyes full of fear and suspicion can not seem to find his voice. Rather it is Mayor Cultiss who answers:
Father Gordon died last winter. Father Teldon Sim is his replacement, sent to us from Bellweather.
Kaberllee considers this for a moment before saying,
That is a shame. Father Gordon was a good man, well disposed towards the older faiths of the north. He was ever an ally of those who would bolster this land against evil.
Turning her thoughts from that matter, she continues:
In the woods to the north, a large host of undead yet awaits to fall upon this village. Those leading this horde are wights who are being controlled by a powerful priest of death. By now you will have realized that not all of those that you face are wights. The priest is only able to control a limited number of those foul creatures, thank the spirits, so those that are raised beyond that limit are of a more mindless form of undeath, though in great numbers they can prove just as deadly.
You must return to the barricades and be wary. The enemy has tested your strength and will now begin to assault with force. Great effort must be taken to destroy the wights. They are cunning and clever, though they can prove rash. If at all possible, the priest at the centre of this force must be destroyed. If that is accomplished, the will holding this army together shall dissolve and they will prove much less disciplined.
Whither is the Widow Selma? I should like to speak with her.
An uncomfortable silence falls over the chamber as all eyes slowly settle on Gregor. The smile dissolving from his face, Gregor raises his hands and says:
Men were sent to bring her to the church, but she refused to open her door. She threatened to turn them into toads should they disturb her again!
So you left her in her house alone while an army of undead crashed down upon the town?
Kaberllee’s voice was even, though it dripped with scorn.
Someone must fetch her immediately. She may have items that could help us now. Make no mistake. You are not only fighting for your lives, gentlemen, but also for your very souls.
As her voice falls silent, Kaberllee once more fixes each of you with her gaze, seeming to see each of your fears and weaknesses and daring you to rise beyond them.
From the shadows you observe the ragged remains of some poor villager as it silently watches the barricades, its eyes burning with a malevolent un-life. The cheers from the village square carry on the howling wind, heralding their victory. A sickly smile spreads across the blackened lips and shrivelled visage of the watcher.
For several long minutes it stands motionless, staring at the barricades. No emotion but hate dares touch its rictus features and you can nearly feel the thirst of murder that boils beneath the surface. Finally-almost reluctantly-the wight turns, gliding north down the street. It moves with purpose, stalking past the empty buildings and shuttered doors, paying them no heed. Soon it will be out of your sight. You wonder for a moment if it might not be wise to turn yourself south and make for warmer lands with all haste.