Saturday, November 7, 2009


Chapter 7 – The Homecoming

With the party rested after their eventful night, they began their trek towards the capital. It would have merely taken another two moons to make the journey had they still had their horses but now it would take them at least a week. Snaking to the southwest, the days began to get warmer and warmer as they left the cold northern latitudes behind them. The forests gave way to plains, which gave way to rollings hills as the mountains surrounding Belnor grew steadily larger with each passing step.

After each day of walking from sun-up to sundown, they would make camp in a secluded area off of the road. Night watch was a nerve racking experience after the attack, every sound in the darkness could be a signal to their end. Shen was looking worse for wear as he trudged through the days. He mainly kept to himself now, falling straight asleep as soon as his watch ended and waking with nary a complaint.

All along the road they found signs of attacks. Overturned wagons and charred bodies could be found every couple of miles. It was disconcerting to see the bodies of innocent merchants so savagely cut down. Having lost most of their goods in the original attack, these wagons were also a welcome find. The goods found inside often allowed them the luxury of a warm dinner rather than going to sleep on an empty stomach.

Finally, after nearly a week's worth of travel through the low country, the journey entered its final portion, the trek through the Orth Mountains. This would be the most grueling portion, traveling narrow, switchbacks in the high altitude. The weather had also turned bad once again, so much of the trek would be through swirling winds and blinding snows. More than once the group was nearly run over by over anxious wagon drivers, pushing too fast for the limited visibility. Each time they had only noticed just in time to dive to the side of the road to avoid being trampled.

They made their final camp a day's journey away from the city, under a rock overhang on the side of the road. The weather had finally cleared and they could see for miles in the crystal clear mountain air. As night fell over the mountains, they noticed something strange off in the distance.

“What is that glow?” Shen said, standing up to get a better view of the horizon.

Keladkha turned around and looked out, noticing an ominous orange glow on the horizon in the direction that Belnor lie. “I don't know. Has it been there before?”

“How would be able to tell. I could barely see my hand in front of my face last night,” Arynn piped up.

“I don't like the look of it. Too bad we won't get a better view until we get damn near on top of the city,” Shen muttered, referencing the fact that city was well sheltered on all sides.

The group glumly finished off their meal of cold waybread, the last of their rations. The night was going to be a long one, as clear night skies made for a much colder night. The overhang also seemed to catch every errant wind gust and funnel them straight past their bedrolls. During their fitful periods of sleep, each of them constantly tugged at the ragged woolen blankets, trying to completely seal themselves off from the outside world.

The morning never seemed to get any closer, but when the first morning rays hit their campsite, they began packing up the few belongings. Each was eager to return to a warm hearth and a full meal in the barracks. Thoughts of glory for divining the reason behind the plague briefly flitted through their thoughts. It was early evening when they reached the last ridge blocking their view of the city.

But as they cleared the ridge, their breath caught in the throat. The glow they had seen the previous night was the city in flames. They could see fires burning brightly from all districts of the town. Even the castle at the heart was unable to escape the flames.

“No... This can't be...” Arynn muttered breathlessly.

“What happened? An attack or an uprising?” Keladkha said uncertainly.

They picked up their pace, stopping just short of an all-out sprint down the slope towards the city. As they closed in on the city, the stench of burnt wood and bodies filled their nostrils. It was enough to make them gag. They were unable to see any signs of life as they approached the gates, which were swung wide open. The gates were never left open, making it look less like an uprising.

Bodies covered the ground surrounding the gates. Close enough to get an identification, they realized that there were many orcish bodies among the dead. The horde had beaten them back to the city and ransacked it. The carnage grew even worse as they entered the city proper. The bodies of citizens, mercilessly cut down as they ran, lined the gutters. Flies buzzed over the piles of corpses as smoke from the many fires wafted through the streets. They were barely able to see as far as a block in the haze.

The bodies of the empire's soldiers grew in number as they approached the defensive wall surrounding the castle. As they approached this barrier, they noticed that while the gate had obviously been burst open, a makeshift barrier had been erected in its place. Maybe some people and even the king had survived the onslaught. They stepped amongst the bodies of humans and orcs alike as they worked their way over to the barrier.

“Who goes there?” a wavering voice called out from the other side of the wall.
“Keladkha Silverkin and Shen Matale of the King's Army. Let us through.”

At these words, the makeshift barrier parted just enough for the three of them to squeeze through. They made their way in and looked at the nervous faces of half a dozen guards.

“What happened here Lieutenant?” Keladkha questioned the nearest officer.

“They came out of nowhere two days ago. Not even the sentries saw them coming. We were overwhelmed so fast. They breached the castle and...”

“And what?”

“The royal family... is dead.”

“No... That can't be...”

“Let me take you to Grand Marshall Torkin. He has taken control of the situation.”
“How did he survive? He should have been with the King to the end.”
“Tiethal sent him out to one of the lowland towns just hours before the attack. He didn't return till yesterday.”

With that, he led him into the castle. The main hall had been turned into a refugee living area for the citizens that had survived the onslaught and it didn't look like many had. He was led upstairs to the guards room, which had been made into a makeshift command post. Here he saw the Grand Marshall, leader of the King's Army, studying some charts. Upon their entrance, he looked up and a look of relief came over his face as he saw the two of them.

“Shen, you're alive. We thought for sure you had run into these bastards and bitten it.”

“We did, nearly died too. They took Taliel along with them.”

“Don't speak the traitor's name in this place.”

“Traitor? But how?”

“The few guards that lived reported seeing him leading the charge into the castle. Rumor has it that his hand slew the king and queen.”
“No... That can't be...”

“The men don't lie Sergeant.”

“Are the bodies still around? I want to pay my last respects.”

“They are being held in the King's bedroom prior to cremation. I'll have one of the recruits take you up there.”

He motioned to one of the guards at the door and the three of them followed him up another flight of stairs. He led them into what used to be the King's bedroom. Five cloth covered bodies were laid upon the bed.

“Five? Why only five?” Keladkha asked the guard. The King and his wife had had three sons and one daughter. There should have been six bodies on the bed, but one was missing.

“No one has found Isabella. We are fearing the worst,” the guard replied, leaving the room and heading back down to his post.

Shen slowly walked over to the lifeless forms on the bed. He had served in the army long enough to have received personal thanks from the King on multiple occasions for services rendered. He was never one to openly disrespect the royal family and had long felt close to the family. He lowered his self down to one knee, tears streaming down his face. He slowly spoke the Maker's hymn, in respect of the fallen. Keladkha stayed at the far end of the room, standing at attention until Shen had finished.
When finished, the trio slowly made their way back down the stairs towards the guard room. Once inside they approached Torkin to compare information gathered.

“Did your search find anything useful?” he asked as they entered the room.

“Yes, the plague is a creation of the orcs or whoever they are working with.”


“Creatures from the Shade. They haven't been seen outside of it since before humans came around. But they are unable to transport here with out help, which means something or someone has summoned them to attack us.”

“How do you know this?”

“The witch of the wilds isn't a mere fairy tale. We have brought back her daughter on the witch's orders to help with information regarding the creatures.” As he said this, Arynn stepped forward and removed her hood.

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