The scene was a veritable shock to the senses. The sight of broken buildings, smashed fortifications, houses set ablaze, ripped and mangled body parts and blood soaking into the very earth upon which this disaster had taken place would have filled the bravest hearts with despair. The smell was far worse of course, the stench of souring blood, rotted meat and burnt flesh and lumber was veritably choking to any who inhaled it, disease hanging in the air like a putrid cloud. The wort of it all though was the silence, the sight was horrifying, the smell was revolting, but the dead, nearly empty silence was terrifying. Beyond the sound of fires and winds, there was nothing. No painful moaning, no sorrowed sobbing, no distressed wailing, no victorious cheering, no sounds of hurried footsteps or shouting men trying to rebuild or save what is not already lost. No, it was silence; dreadful, dead silence, broken only by the irregular and periodic halfhearted groans of straggling hollowmen, left over by the passing of the plague.
No, not ONLY the stragglers. The killing had been brutal, systematic, relentless and horrid, but not absolute. There were a few, a handful of survivors, left to tell the tale of Namban, the tale of its fall. The few who had witnessed the rolling in of the fog that morning. A thick, heavy, greenish miasma coming from the south that filled the lungs with what felt like pure evil and malice when breathed in; a pale screen that blinded one from seeing where their next step would take them. The survivors had witnessed how, only a couple short hours after dawn had broken (the very fact being noticeable only by the illumination of the fog that hung around them) the mages of the college in Codai warned the knights of the approaching mass of death. They saw how the knights had mobilized, regardless of the poor visibility, trusting the Mages to clear up the fog with their incantations once the battle was underway. They witnessed all this, and all of the hell that would ensue.
Five minutes after the warnings from the mages they began hearing them; low, long, heavy moans, a symphony of rot and decay as the dead made a steady, slow advance on the nourishment they could feel lying in wait before them; the unending, melding, sounds of mindless famine growing louder and louder as the still unseen mass approached the defensive line set up by the knights, sowing the seeds of terror within the hearts of those who did not yet fully understand that this would be their last day to live. Soon thereafter, the Mages banished the fog surrounding the immediate vicinity of Nambai and finally the knights caught the first glimpse of their enemy. Advancing like a solid mass out of the wall of mist that had been pushed back behind them were over a hundred Hollowmen, their mouths agape and their eye sockets alight with the necromantic magics that animated them.
On order the bowmen at the walls drew their flaming arrows and aimed for the mass of dead. As soon as the call had been given by the knight lieutenant who commanded them, they let fly the blazing projectiles into the enemy lines. Volleys of normal arrows fired blindly into a group of hollowmen were bound to be mostly ineffective as only a shot that pierced the skull ad sufficiently damaged the brain would kill them, but flaming arrows were another matter entirely. Hollowmen did not feel or register pain, nor did they possess the faculties to extinguish themselves. Provided the fire from the arrows caught onto their clothes or flesh well enough, they would eventually burn away to a crisp, not even having the forethought to put themselves out as the flames licked them to the bone. Not only this but dozens of cauldrons of oil had been dumped into the field and across the road south of Namban the night before; so as the first few hollowmen fell to the arrows that luckily lodged themselves in their brains the very ground beneath them caught fire and spread across the ranks of their fellow monsters, setting fire to the horde itself, the blaze even spreading back into the mist.
This at first seemed like a plan perfectly executed and a crushing first blow to the undead enemy but what came next would have everyone wondering if they had not simply provoked the beast that was slowly descending upon them. Hollowmen, after all, could not feel or register pain, screaming in pain was something thy could and should not do. So then what could the deafening, collective scream that came shortly following the lighting of the oil have been other than roars of rage? To reinforce this notion several undead then came charging out of the mist, their bodies and limbs engulfed in flames as they made their way towards the knights, caring only to kill and feed, ignoring their own imminent demise. Keeping a cool head Captain-Commander Gismere, the woman leading the knights for this battle, ordered her cavalry to follow the battle plan and charge into the oncoming hollowmen. However, rather than meet them head on, they were told to circle around from the sides and run them through in a pincer formation so as to avoid getting lost in the fog where more enemies doubtlessly awaited. The knights' lances, backed by the velocity of their powerful mounts, effortlessly skewered the unarmored corpses and their steeds themselves knocked down and trampled to death several more undead, leaving nearly none unharmed by the pincer charge once the Cavalry had entered and exited the mass of hollowmen. However, yet still more rushed out of the mist, still ablaze and (for all intents and purposes) furious.
As the cavalry needed to get back into formation before attempting another charge Gismere ordered another volley be fired into the mass of undead; regular steel tipped arrows raining down into the enemy crowd shortly thereafter, serving largely as no more than an inconvenience but thinning out their numbers somewhat none the less. The hollowmen who made it through the volley without being struck down or collapsing to the flames threw themselves against the kite shields of the heavy infantry that made up the first line, attempting in vain to claw at the heavily armored knights behind. The knights at first did nothing more than hold the line steadfastly, not letting a single hollowman through, but upon hearing the command from Gismere, the knights pushed back the hollowmen in one united motion, following with powerful overhead blows to their enemies' heads with their maces.
Now, typically, a charge of this nature would have been met with pike-men and a defensive line would have been armed with spears or swords, not crude maces, but it was under the advice of the Mages that the knights had adopted different strategies specialized for dealing specifically with hollowmen as thrusting attacks( especially those directed to the chest)would have been largely ineffective in halting the horde.
The first line pushed back and lobotomized, the knights pulled back their shields into another solid wall as the second line of hollowmen climbed over the bodies of their fallen and burning comrades and once again threw themselves at the knights. The whole process repeated itself as, further back, the cavalry was again charging through the mass of undead coming out of the mist and this action was followed by yet another volley of arrows from the walls.
The flames that were meant to thin out the horde, while admittedly performing their duty well, were also becoming a bother for the knights, as every burning line that fell did so on top of the bodies of its predecessors, the blazing corpses piling together to make a foul smelling bonfire that scalded the flesh within the metal armors and produced a black smoke that choked the lungs and stung the eyes, forcing the knights to pullback their own line rather than push the enemy back; even as they rotated between 3 formations, each taking its turn at pushing back and eliminating several lines of hollowmen that kept ineffectually throwing themselves against their shields. Over all, however, everything was going according to plan, the knight were systematically decimating the hollow plague, soon the procession of necromancers would run out of corpses to throw at the knight and would have to show themselves and be destroyed for their transgression against the Atlusian Empire's holy Kingdom.
Something felt wrong however, the numbers were too great, and the attack too repetitive. Gismere wondered what the necromancers were thinking, clearly this tactic would lead only to their own demise, did they hope to simply tire out the knights till they could fight no more? Admittedly the knights numbered less than 200 men and women, and even now the fields piled up with enough hollowmen bodies that cavalry charges would soon become impossible, but the knights had the aid of the entire Nambanian Guard, the mages of the college, and many able bodied men and women of Namban (and even a few well-intentioned visitors from other cities in the kingdom) had offered their hands in service to the battle as well (most of them up on the wall this instant serving as support archers). The battle was an assured victory, no number of shambling undead would take Namban. Even if Gismere's men did tire out, they could simply retreat to the city proper and rest as the undead horde clawed ineffectively at the town gates. So why did such unrest plague the Captain-Commander's heart as she overlooked the battle? She could not wait for the mages to push back the last of this fog so she could fully assess what was left of the enemy and put her mind at ease. Ease, however, would be the last thing to come to the brave knight's mind this day.
A short while after the fourth cavalry charge the undead finally stopped coming from the wall of mist wherein the oil fires still raged. The majority of knights and archers took this as a sign of them having finally slain the last of the undead horde, but the quietness of the mages let Gismere know something was wrong and she ordered her men to keep in formation as well as having the cavalry pull back to her. Right on queue she received the signal that the mages were ready to banish the rest of the fog between Namban and the mouth of the silver road that led into the mountains to the south. She gave them the signal to do so and shortly after their united chant reverberated through the air around them, their voice alone seeming to push the mist back farther and farther. This latest spell finally revealed to the forces of Namban the true face of their enemy and, to many of them, made them realize the truth about their fate that day.
What stood to the south of Namban was a simple sea of flesh. The knights had been told that they were to fend off a small army of undead and a clan of necromancers that would be controlling them. However what they were truly faced with was not an army, it was a legion, and nowhere in sight was the kingdom's worth of necromancers that should have been there controlling them, giving them power. It was impossible for this to be the entire work of a single group. It would take all the necromancers in the empire to summon up and sustain such a number of horrid undead and it would be impossible for them to do so from any remote location. This procession defied all sense on what should have been expected. How had they even managed to gather such a number in the first place? It was as if every villager from the southern farmlands they had killed was risen to join them; and even then the plague would have had to be joined by yet more hollowmen from neighboring kingdoms to attain the number displayed before the soldiers of Namban.
It was not but a few moments after the mist had cleared that screams of despair came from the walls, the volunteering villagers seeing the enemy before them and being unable to cope with the realization that they would never be able to fend off such an enemy. Even some knights looked at what was before them and fell to their knees, beginning what they felt would be their final prayer. Most ominous of all was that, among the legion of undead that was waiting patiently behind the burning rows of oil, were three immobile mountains of corpses stacked as high as 3 men, each with several dozen bulbs, hanging off their sides. Gismere could not fathom what their purpose would be but she knew she had to take control of the situation before her men lost all morale. she had been assigned to the defense of Namban and of her kingdom as a whole, and she would see that mission through to its end even if this 'assured victory' became a months-long siege. She shouted an order to her men to keep calm and then ordered that a mage be brought to her so that they may explain what the hell was going on. Lucky for her the legion was still immobile, perhaps having realized what a danger the flames would be to them if thy attempted to cross. This would give her time to develop a strategy around this horrendous new development.
The mage who was brought to her was none other than one of the 5 Magus Scholars who were leading the two dozen college mages in this endeavor, if anyone could answer her question, it was this man, and answer them he did. It appeared that, from what the mages could sense, there was indeed not a single necromancer commanding the hollow plague. The plague itself seemed to be drawing magical energy from the very ground they walked on, killing all the vegetation around them and converting that life force into fuel for their sustenance. Additionally, the mages could feel several nexuses of magical energy being radiated from specific points in the legion. By all means it seemed that a certain few of these hollowmen had been turned into magical energy generators that further supplied fuel to their undead comrades. The 3 mountains of flesh were 3 such nexuses as well, generating far more death energy than any of the others and were theorized to serve as simple 'generator towers' meant to sustain this impossible amount of hollowmen through their procession.
All this confirmed that there would be no quick and easy end to the battle by seeking out and finding the necromancers commanding the army. Each and every one of these mostly self-sustained hollowmen would have to be dealt with individually. However, Gismere concluded that destroying the generator towers could very well be the key to weakening the legion enough to win this battle. all hope was not yet lost. The tactics were in need of change, but at the very least the Captain-commander was confident that she could stop their advance here and stall them long enough for the king to send his real army here and wipe out the legion once and for all.
Before she could put in motion the plan that was forming in her head however, commotion from the front lines drew her attention. It seemed that five lone, female, nude hollowmen has crossed through the fire and were making their way towards the knights. About them was a sense of foreboding and their eye sockets were glowing a deep velvet red rather than the blueish violet shared by common hollowmen. Gismere wondered what their purpose may have been, to come forth alone. She considered the possibility of them perhaps being messengers of some sort, after all if these hollowmen were already self-sufficient then there was no telling how else they may have been advanced compared to the typical breed. As such she ordered her men to hold the line and not engage the enemy as they kept advancing towards them. It was then to her surprise that a steel tipped arrow suddenly came and buried itself in between the eyes of the middle female hollowman, sending her crumpling to the ground. this was shortly followed by a commotion coming from the walls and Gismere knew that a villager with painfully accurate aim must have disobeyed her order out of desperation, she had a sinking feeling in her stomach that that single act may have cost Namban the battle.
The other four hollowmen looked at their fallen comrade for a moment and then turned their attention back to the knights and grimaced angrily before screeching out in unison, their vocal chords creating a high pitched, ear splitting, inhuman scream that, combined between the four of them, brought most of the knights to their knees, making them throw off their helmets and claps their hands over their bleeding ears. This was, for all intents and purposes, the hollow plague's war horn. The so far stalled legion of death let out a united roar and broke out into a sprint through the fire and flames towards the immobilized knights. A rain of arrows showered the screaming banshees, silencing them, and Gismere knew that her lieutenant must have taken control of the situation up on the walls, but sadly it was for naught; the horde did not break or slow their march even as their envoys stopped screaming.
Gismere called the cavalry to her and ordered the gates of the cities be closed before taking her horse and charging with the cavalry past her recovering infantry, several of them doubtlessly rendered deaf as they did not even seem to register that the banshees were no longer screaming. The captain-commander had no illusions of what was to come, no matter how well trained and well armed she and her knights were there was no way they would be able to stand up against such numbers. She was, however, Gismere of house Orren. She, as a woman, had clawed her way up through the ranks of the male-dominated king's knights until she was granted the title of captain-commander while barely in her thirties, sitting just bellow the position of general, and she had not done so by fearing death and forgetting her mission. She was tasked with defending Namban, the gateway to the rest of her kingdoms, from this horde and she had formed the resolve to fight tooth and nail until her last breath to ensure that she did not fail in her mission. Retreat was out of the question at this moment, all she and her knights could do was stall the rushing horde long enough for the gates to be closed so that hopefully the remainder of her forces inside could mount an appropriate defense with the archers, mages and ballista.
Her cavalry charge met the rushing undead with a violent crash, several of her men's horses lost balance and toppled over, pinning the knight underneath them, allowing the undead to fall upon them and start peeling off their armor so as to get to the flesh that they would begin ripping off the poor souls' bones and feasting on. she and those who remained seated however drew their blades and began hacking and slashing at the hollowmen beneath and around them, slicing their heads in half and sending them crumpling to the ground. This only made room for more of their unending comrades to replace them however, and the starved undead were not above attacking and biting at the horses themselves, feasting on their meat just as with the flesh of the fallen riders. When Gismere noticed that the horde was starting to take bites out of her mount and making it uncontrollable she quickly dismounted and left the animal to its own fate. After clearing out some of the enemies in her immediate vicinity she drew her second blade and began putting her years of relentless training with the knights. Her movements were graceful, precise and deadly, she never carried a shield with her as she knew she would likely never be on the front lines herself ever since becoming captain. she had known that, were she ever to be on the ground fighting like she had been at that instant, it would only be in a situation where she would be alone and most likely surrounded. A shield would only have slowed her down and encumbered her, instead she trained herself to swing two blades with deadly accuracy and grace, sacrificing defense for the ability to cut through everything that came in too close around her. It was a risky philosophy when dealing with armed and armored enemy soldiers, but against the hollowmen whose only advantage was sheer numbers, her decision to specialize in dual wielding was proving to make her far more efficient a warrior than anyone could have hoped.
She was soon joined by several of her cavalrymen who had seen her dismount when her horse was becoming uncontrollable and had done the same. Out of the 50 or so horsemen she had led in the charge only about 20 were still up and fighting but they did so bravely, inspired by their captain-commander's seemingly effortless display of skill and slaughter of the enemy. They showed no fear and brandished their blades by her side, cutting down and decapitating hollowman after hollowman, meeting the rush of evil corpses with no fear. Soon enough they had been surrounded and forced in a circle formation, protecting each other from the enemy that was closing in from all sides, but even then all had not been lost since they were soon joined by several infantry men who had seen them fearlessly charge into the rushing horde and followed after them to provide support. The knights fought bravely, stalling, halting, and even pushing back the horde. Corpse after corpse fell before them and they did not hesitate to meet all the hollowmen who continuously threw themselves at them. They forgot their fatigue and their terror and morale steadily rose in the ranks of the knights. Even as she was hacking and slashing through the undead Gismere's mind was working like clockwork, her instincts and reflexes were handling the task of cutting down the enemy while her mind was preoccupied observing patters, paying attention to the men she led, figuring out how to best utilize their new-found momentum. Her knights had done well so far, but this second wind would not last forever, and would certainly not last long enough to cut through the ten thousand or so hollowmen left before them. She had charged into this battle fully prepared to die, but she thought of ways now to save the lives of her remaining men if it was possible. If perhaps she could organize some sort of retreat in which they could get back to he fortress town and close the gates again before the horde made its way inside. However, as she was absorbed in her thoughts and battle trance, a large shadow spread its inky blackness over her and her men and the Hollowmen stopped attacking them. Gismere and her knights looked up a what was casting such a shadow and saw to their horror that one of the 'generator towers was standing upright!
It was no 'tower', it was a humanoid giant seemingly created from the piling together of dozens of corpses and limbs, and it was coming towards them. The other hollowmen were even clearing a path for it and farther back Gismere saw the other two 'towers' unfold and rise as well, the 'bulbs' that had been clinging to them uncurling and revealing to be clawed, child-like hollowmen that dropped from their ride and now joined their brothers on the battlefield.
When she saw that nameless abomination make its way towards her and her men, all doubts of what to do next were cleared from Gismere's mind. She let out a proud, powerful battle cry and rushed forward, her men, ever loyal to their captain-commander, following bravely behind as they rushed to their heroic deaths.
This noble sacrifice, however, would ultimately be in vain. It took little time for Gismere and her knights to be overtaken by the enemy and either crushed to death by the abomination, or dragged to the ground and feasted on by the hollowmen. Up on the tower volley after volley of arrows were being rained down upon the charging enemies. The mages called down fire, frost and thunder to thin out the legions of charging hollowmen. The ballistas, which had been rolled out and prepared ever since the army had first caught glimpse of the true size of the undead legion, were fired time and again at the marching giants, often time piercing through limbs and shoulders without doing much damage. It was only under the advice of the mages that the artillery men began aiming for the center of their chest from which the source of their magical energy was radiating. It was this way that they skewered the first abomination, the bolt piercing through its core and immediately sending it crashing down, lifelessly. The information had come to them too late however. The second abomination was close behind and, before it could be brought down as well, reared its arm back and broke down the town gates with a mighty blow, letting the horde swarm into Namban. Its offense would not come without a price however; only moments after is broke down the gate and made its way into the town with its brethren the abominations was engulfed in a magical inferno conjured by the mages of Codai who were determined to halt its advance through the town. Before it could be burned to a crisp however, the child-like hollowmen who had originally been riding on the backs of the abominations scaled the walls quickly with their sharp claws and began ripping the archers and mages stationed there to shreds, interrupting the incantation. as a result the flaming abomination began wreaking havoc in the town, swinging its powerful arms into any nearby building it could find as it was slowly consumed by the magical fire that would not let go of its body until all life had left the monstrous husk.
Thief (and Adventurer)
One such building that was victim the abomination's fury was the town prison. As it was smashed by the furious monster, its structure gave way to the force of the blows and it collapsed, killing several of the inmates within. One rather opportune thief, however, only saw the ceiling in front of his cell and a mall part of the wall above him leading to the outside collapse. the hole that was created in the wall was just about big enough to crawl through if he managed to get up there, something a man with his dexterity and intelligence would find easy enough to accomplish, but for now the cage he had been put in for his imprisonment would serve as his greatest defense against the hell that was going on outside. He decided it was best to wait for things to blow over and make his escape then than to go out now and simply become part of the slaughter. Dralon would know where to go to recover the tools of his trade once this all blew over.
He looked over to his cell mate, a more than passingly attractive woman he had kept his distance from regardless. Woman as she may have been, one did not spend as much time on the roads and amongst thieves and traitors as Dralon did without learning to spot at a glance if someone knew how to handle themselves in a fight. From what he'd overheard when she was dragged in here; the girl had been throw in under the supposedly false accusation of starting a fight at a local bar. Dralon knew the bar she had supposedly frequented quite well though; the patron there were lying, cheating, gambling thieves who cared for nothing more than making coin, decent enough fellows really. They did, however, have a nasty habit of roughing up anyone who was beating them too badly at whatever game of 'chance' they were playing that night, regardless of whether or not said person was cheating. Looking at the woman's state though, he could tell that this time they'd been given a taste of their own medicine, all the more reason not to antagonize her when she was put in the cell with him regardless of her protests.
He'd noticed she had quite the way with words when she addressed him. Rather than fearing for the fact that she was put in an enclosed space with a man when she took note of his presence, she tried to chat him up. She was a smooth talker that one, he could tell that much just from the tone she took with her first few words. Not the lying deceiving type he was used to dealing with, but rather the (seemingly) stupidly honest and forthright type who was used to making friends out of drinking buddies. Still, it was best for him to keep a low profile and be alert until he could seize his opportunity to escape and making idle chatter with some girl who probably wouldn't even have the decency of opening up her legs in return for his troubles just seemed like a waste of energy, so he shut her out with silence and a smirk and she quickly took the hint, leaving him be.
Now that hell was splitting the earth outside though he took another glance at her and noticed she was much less composed about the situation than he was. she wasn't panicking, but she was afraid, and the screams of the innocent she couldn't help were clearly affecting her. He simply smirked again and went back to pretending to be asleep. At the end of the day, a woman was still just a woman.
Soren cursed every god, spirit and demon whose name he knew for the misfortune that befell his city now as he worked with the few remaining knights who had been stationed on the walls to cut through the hollowmen that were scaling the walls as they'd begun attacking the archers and mages. It disturbed him how they all looked so small and childish, how their yellow eye sockets glowed with something almost resembling the spark of human intelligence, how for an instant they each showed fear when his blade came down on them. But his own children and family were at stake, as were all the citizens of Namban, he could not, would not, let them down.
Thinking of this he turned to look in the direction of his home and saw to his horror that the hollowmen had broken through the line of guardsmen defending that direction. His paternal instincts took over and he left command of his men o the imperial knight lieutenant, cutting his way down the walls onto the streets and rushing as fast as he could through the enemy. he knew he had a duty to his men, to Namban, to all its citizens. He swore to protect them and uphold the king's laws for the good of all the townspeople, he knew all that, but now none of it mattered. Mia, Kay, Garet, protecting them was all that mattered to him now abs he would do so even if it meant being an oath breaker.
Upon finally making his way to his home, he found the front windows broken and the door already open. Fearing for the worse he rushed in and heard commotion from the upstairs. Making his way up there he saw a small group of undead crowded around his and his wife's bedroom's door. Soren roared out in anger and charged into the group, cutting them down mercilessly. As they fell he saw his wife inside the room, swinging a cast-iron pan at a hollowman's head with all the strength her muscles as a former blacksmith could give her but not noticing another who was still behind her before it grabbed onto her and bit down deep into her neck, ripping away meat. with a horrified yell Soren finished off the two last hollowmen he was dealing with and dropped his sword, charging at the hollowman and ripping him away from his wife with his bare hands, pushing it to the ground and raining blow after blow of his buckler on its head, caving it in until it stopped moving and the glow left its eye sockets.
Getting back up Soren turned to his bleeding wife, now fallen to the floor, and knelt beside her, taking her in his arms. She weakly motioned to the side of the room with tear-filled eyes and Soren looked over to see the mangled corpse of his daughter laying next to a hollowman with his head beat in. Garet was nowhere to be seen, having been grabbed then dragged off when he took one of his father's swords and tried to fight off the hollowmen that threatened his mother and sister. Soren understood now that he'd been too late, taking too long to get off the walls. Mia was quickly bleeding out and they had both just lost their children. He hadn't been fast enough and now all he could do was hold his dying wife in his arms as he sobbed quietly.
Morigaan was not a 'defender of Namban' nor did she have any great loyalty to her kingdom or its people. This is why when the horde came rushing for Namban and the gates fell, she knew her debt had been plenty repaid. She was brought on to provide an accurate eye to a battle that was 'all but already won' it was never part of the deal that she give her life for the town should the battle go as horrendously as it did. So she made her way off the walls and onto the rooftops of Namban. she was used to running through treetops and under brushes so adapting those skills to an urban locale was simple enough. It annoyed her how everything was so geometric and had no natural 'flow' like her home forest, but now was not the time to think of such things. Not wanting to leave the victims of Namban completely to their own devices, she would often stop on the edge or corner of a roof and take out a few hollowmen bellow to help those fighting them before starting to run again. She had no illusions about making any difference in the imminent fall of Namban, but she was not so cold as to be able to completely ignore the screams of terrified women and children either. She could not save them, but she could at least give them a chance at saving themselves by eliminating the imminent threat in front of them.
It was while she was in the middle of one of these sniping breaks that she spotted a familiar face rushing through the enemy lines. Soren, the very reason she was here in the first place. He was running like a madman and, quite uncharacteristically, ignoring several people in need, simply cutting down everything in front of him if it stood between him and his destination. Morigaan could guess what would drive that kind of man to abandon his duties, and it wasn't cowardice that was for sure. As far as men went Soren was not a bad one, he was passionate about his work, treated everyone like family and knew when to look the other way. He had even helped her in the past and trusted her to come help them for this battle.
Against her better judgement Morigaan followed after Soren from the rooftops. The way he was acting now was too stupid, too emotional, his men would need them if they were going to organize any form of a retreat and save the people of banana from this hell. He was too important to simply let die, Morigaan could make her escape after she had snapped him out of his daze.
She saw him duck into a home, doubtlessly his own and careful observed the situation below. Running across the rooftops was easy enough. getting down? less simple for her, especially with what was going on right now. She slowly made her way back down to street level and then sneaked past the hollowmen and the civilians attempting (and failing to) fight them off and entered Soren's home. He could barely hear anything when she entered and at first thought he may have left the building or died while she was making her way down, but her sharpened hearing did pick up on a low sob coming from upstairs. She quickly made her way upstairs and saw the carnage that had taken place. She made her way to the master bedroom and saw Soren on his knees, holding a dead woman, doubtlessly his wife, in his arms, his hiking shoulders the only indication that he himself was still alive as he cried over her corpse quietly. Morigaan was about to turn and leave the man to his grieving when something caught her attention. A little girl's corpse in the corners began moving, its eyes burning out and being replaced with the bueish violet glow of a hollowman as it rose with a dreadful moan. Without thinking about it twice, Morigaan drew and arrow and fired it between the girl's eyes, sending her back to death's embrace. Better that than leaving her to become another shambling cannibalistic monster.
She saw the woman in Soren's arms eyes begin to burn out, she would soon become a mindless hollowman as well and Soren didn't even seem to be registering what was going on. Morigaan was about to put an arrow between the woman's eyes as well until she noticed a slow movement coming from Soren's right hand. The reanimated woman hadn't even been given the time to let out a full moan before the guard captain quietly sunk a dagger in the back of her head, making the glow fade from her eyes and her body go limp again. Seeing this, Morigaan quietly put away her arrow and walked away from the man, leaving him to drown in his sorrow, he wouldn't be of any use to anyone now.
She made her way back down the stairs so as to leave the premisses but a quick look outside one of the broken windows informed her that things had gotten much much worse outside in the short time she spent in the house. Trying to leave now would practically be suicide. She made her way back up the stairs making as little noise as possible and went to the master bedroom once more. She closed and locked the door behind her and pushed the bed against the door so as to reinforce it. As she did so, Soren didn't say a single word and, respecting his silence, she simply sat on the other side of the room quietly as well. If escape was out of the question then waiting this out with the patience and silence of a hunter was all that was left to her. She did her best not to look at the little girl she had just killed a second time as she sat there quietly.
Ballos Krast had never much been one for archery. His aim was poor to say the least, his meaty, thick fingers had a hard time properly gripping the tail of the arrow and his great, powerful arms had a tendency of cracking the bow when he tried to draw it too far back. Taking all this into consideration he was not among the majority of the recruits sitting at the walls, waiting to pelt the invading army with arrows on the captain-commander's orders. Rather, he was part of the few guardsmen stationed as a precaution on the town streets just behind the gates. There was a tinge of disappointment in him when he learned his position. He hadn't expected to be give an full suit of armor and placed among the ranks of the Imperial Kingdom's finest warriors, but he had made a long trip down to Namban to provide aid in this battle and he was somewhat disappointed that he would most likely serve a purely decorative role back behind the city gates where no undead would likely set foot, what with the knights out in front as well as the skilled mages and archers on the walls. Then the screams came. It was a while after the battle had started and the mages had let loose their second magical chant to dispel the fog that had overcome the fortress town. Ballos and the other guardsmen and militiamen stationed behind the gates could not see far off into the distance like the people in the wall so they could not perceive what the mages had just revealed, but the cries of desperation coming from the people on the walls signaled to him that whatever had happened it was not good. He gripped the shaft of his great axe tightly, now fearing that he may have more than ample opportunity to test out its sharpness in the hours to come.
Shortly afterwards, following some commotion on the walls, hellish shrieks rang out through the air and, despite being a good distance from the source, he and several of his compatriots felt the need to bring their hands to their ears and block out the painful noise. There was an order to fire off a volley of arrows and the shrieks ended but, but this did not seem to alleviate the agitation of the soldiers on the walls. The order was soon given to close the gates as quickly as possible and Ballos rushed forth to aid with this task. It was when he got to the edge of the town and looked out over to the battlefield. He now saw what all the commotion was about. the rushing sea of undead flesh that was charging towards the city and the brave knights that rode off to their inevitable doom in order to stave them off as long as possible. After he made a silent prayer for them, Ballos focused once more on his task, lending his great muscles to the effort of pushing the giant gate of reinforced oak closed and then barring it in place with several wooden beams with the other men.
They were then ordered back to their positions and to draw up arms in waiting for what would come next. The soldiers all stood side by side, looking doom in the eye ad they saw and heard undead throw themselves against the gates shortly after they had closed it off, scratching and moaning angrily at it, willing it to be open for them to enter and wreak havoc. They watched as the mages, knights, guards and archers on the walls all panicked, firing at the enemies on the other side of the walls, slinging spells of destruction at them, even rolling out the ballistas and firing at enemies that the ground soldiers knew not of. Then, after a few thunderous thumps and the panicked screaming of those on the walls a giant of corpses and limbs crashed through the gate with one mighty blow, swinging it open and allowing the undead to flood into the fortress town. They were given he order to charge and Ballos and those of his compatriots who were not too gripped by fear to move ran to meet the rushing hollowmen.
Ballos lost himself to the dutiful, cold, shameless murderer in him; the persona he adopted every time he swung his axe and ended a life in service of the crown and state before. He had been ordered to slay the enemies of Namban, and slay them he did not have years of training as some men here did. In fact he had no martial training what so ever other than his own hours swinging weapons around in his forge. his fighting style was crud and simple, but by gods was he a crude and simple force to be reckoned with. Years as an executioner taught him that there was a trick to cleaving through bones; simply swinging your axe as string as you could, as if you were going to chop wood in half, would only result in an inaccurate, messy chop that would dull your blade quickly. The motion had to start out slow and weak, the beginning of your swing was when one would decide where the axe would go, once it was already set in its trajectory, all one had to do was guide it along its predetermined path. This was the point in which one had to gradually increase the speed of the swing as the blade arced through the air, only putting in the maximum amount of strength into the swing the instant before the blade of one's axe met its target. This would result in a clean, precise chop that would slice through bone like a hot knife through butter (provided one had the muscular stature of a man like Ballos of course). No one was better at swinging an axe than Ballos, and while his swings were slow, they were perfectly timed and he would decapitate three or four hollowmen at a time with a single horizontal swing, bringing harbinger high towards the end of the swing so that gravity would help him in bringing it back down quickly and cleave another 2 hollowmen in half, then followed by a powerful punch or backhand to whatever enemy was nearby, knocking the poor soul back into his undead companions and giving Ballos time to lift his axe back up and start swinging again at whatever mindless group of hollowmen were foolish enough to try and get close to him next.
Perhaps, if every militiaman there had been blessed with the incredible strength and unsettling fearlessness in the face of death that Ballos possessed, maybe somehow the legion could have been pushed back or held off, at least long enough for the mages to conjure some great spell to save them or protect the city from further invasion. maybe annihilation could have been avoided, but many of theme were simply normal men, many of them feared death just as with any animal, many could not face doom wit no fear, instead thy ran away, attempted to flee to safety, broke rank and, as a result, let the hollowmen penetrate deeper into the fortress town. Those like Ballos who kept fighting were then forced to move back deeper and deeper into the town as well, what flimsy line they were holding being pushed back constantly as their numbers diminished and their enemies only grew more numerous with each passing moment.
several civilians were fleeing their homes in sight of the approaching swarm and a great deal of them headed towards the temple of the peace, though whether it was because the building was considered holy ground or whether because it was actually one of the better fortified structures in the city was unclear among all the chaos. Seeing this, the Namban guardsmen ordered Ballos and the other militiamen to follow the refugees and barricade themselves inside the temple while they did their best to stop the hollowmen from pursuing. It was a suicide mission on the part of the guards and Ballos did not want to run away and leave them to die like dogs, but he could recognize the situation for what it was. The civilians came first, they were the ones in need of protection, and if the militiamen AND the guardsmen foolishly died trying to hold a crumbling line then there would be no surviving this massacre for anyone. He gravely nodded in understanding and mentally recited the same prayer for the guardsmen that he had given to the knights as he and the rest of the militiamen fell back deeper into the town. Those guards may never have donned the shimmering, silver imperial armor, but the sacrifice they were making for the greater good was of equal weight and importance.
Ballos and the other militiamen did their best to save what townspeople were being attacked by hollowmen as they steadily made their way back to the temple and guided them to the safe haven as best as they could while keeping up the speed they knew they would need to get to the temple before the flood of undead fully broke through the guards' last stand and caught up to their heels.
Once at the temple, they rushed everyone inside while making sure to kill any advance hollowmen that tried to follow the refugees inside. Before long however, they saw what they had been dreadfully waiting for; a wave of undead turn the street corner and flood into the plaza in front of the temple steps, roaring hungrily as they rushed towards the gathering of fresh meat cramped in the building before them. The militiamen knew that there was no more time. They rushed inside the temple and several of them went to grab benches to stack against the doors while Ballos, the last to enter, took care of actually closing them. He took one last look outside and saw that hollowmen were not the only thing rushing for the temple; a few straggling refugees were rushing up the stairs trying to get to safety before the mass of death behind them caught up. To the forefront of these poor souls who'd omitted no crime other than not being fortunate enough to get to the temple a minute earlier was a woman crying out desperately as she held her baby above he head while she ran, the look on her face pleading for them to at least take her child if not her. The horde was too close behind them however. Ballos closed his eyes and solemnly recited a prayer for these martyrs who needed to be sacrificed against their will in order to protect the people already inside and closed the door, moving out of the way just in time for the other militia me to push a heavy stone bench against the door, other coming in to pile more benches and some armories even as they heard the refugees knock desperately against the door before their screams told them that the hollowmen had fallen upon them.
The scene inside the temple was a horrid one. Many of the refugees were injured, dying, or already dead, having been carried here in the arms of their loved ones, most of these dead being children carried in by desperate parents who were only now awarded the luxury of weeping over their child's death. There were simply not enough sisters to take care of everyone and outside the doors everyone could hear the angry moaning and banging of the hollowmen who raged at the stone and oak separating them from their meal, denying them release from their famine.
May of the men went to help with the wounded and grieving as best as they could while others simply slumped down to their knees, finally letting the horror they just barely survived through ink in. Ballos thought about helping but he looked down an his bloodied axe and thought better. He was no healer, nor was he a caretaker. He was an executioner, he protected the greater good by ensuring and validating the sacrifice of others. He was an agent off the state and crown who wore death as his mantle, he was in no position to go provide support, all he could do was keep standing in front of the door, weapon in hand, ready to cut down any who broke through as he offered silent prayers for the sacrifices made that day.
Andraste was currently experiencing two completely polar opposite states of being. Inside she felt like an absolute wreck. The sisters at the temple had been preparing for wounds and perhaps a few dead for the fallout of the battle, but nothing like this. so much fear, so much horror, so much blood, so much death...
The young adept had no idea how to cope with this kind of stressful situation, her thoughts were scrambled and her emotions were going haywire, but none of it seeped through to her features. The young woman had always placed the good of others, especially those who needed her guidance as a sister of the peace, above her own needs, sometimes even to an unhealthy degree. so when the refugees came, depending on the sisters of peace for guidance and comfort her instincts took over and she simply did what came naturally to her, even if 'what came naturally' was running around taking care of more patients than she could normally handle and wearing herself ragged casting miracles to heal the wounds of those who required it more desperately.
Being so busy with the constant flooding in of refugees along with the other sisters that she barely noticed when the militia men came in and barricaded the temple doors. That is, until the sound of undead on the other side banging and scratching at the doors finally registered to her after she noticed the noise was bothering one of the children. She took a glance over at the door and saw standing there a giant of a man who, honestly, frightened her almost as much as the noise coming from the other side of the door. He was a giant of a man standing there silently, weapon in hand, as if he intended to strike down anything attempting to break through the fortifications. His outfit and demeanor let her know that he was most likely a militiaman and no one to be afraid of, but the air around him was so... heavy... dark. Blood was literally still dripping off the blade of his weapon and looking at him long enough gave the impression that death itself wrapped itself around his shoulders. she did not have time to further examine him, however, as commotion from the refugees caught her attention. she turned her head and saw that a small, excited crowd had formed around some event of notice. Making her way to the crowd she saw that a woman was boldly standing with her arms spread before two militia men with their swords drawn, behind her was her husband who was restraining with all his might a young child who was writing and growling out uncontrollably. Andraste made her way to the front of the crowd to diffuse the situation and inquire as to why the militiamen were threatening the couple and their child but it was then tat she saw what was wrong with the poor boy. His eyes were hollowed out and replaced with an unearthly violet glow, accompanied by pale, sickly skin and a constant attempt to bite at his father's hands and arms. Somehow this poor boy had been turned into a hollowman, come back from the dead as a monster judging by the heated argument between his parents and the guards who were by now almost ready to cut through the parents to get to the demon child. the parents, of course, having just been given back their son, refusing to let any harm come to him.
Andraste was about to intervene when the son let out what sounded like a cry of pain. his violet eyes turned a sickly yellow and his body began to shift and contort, his bone structure becoming elongated and with a curve back, almost favoring four-legged travel. his nails grew into long, hard claws that he dug into his father's arms, making him yelp out in horror and let go. the son scuttled over to a corner of the room, cowering and folded in upon himself as his transformation reached its conclusion. The militiamen tentatively made their way towards him but his mother threw herself atop her child, refusing to let them hurt him. It was then that, through the folds of the woman's dress, andraste caught a peek of the boy raising his head and smiling a wide, fang-filled, evil grin. Before anyone could react the son unfolded himself and dug his claws into the body of the woman above him and proceeded to start mercilessly tearing her apart. The entire process took no longer than 15 seconds, but those were the longest 15 seconds Andraste had ever experienced as she saw the monstrosity turn his own mother into a bloody mes upon the floor, shoving her still dripping meat into his shark-like mouth with glee. everyone looking had been too stunned by the horrifying display to intervene, but the first person to snap out was the father, he took a sword out of one of the militiamen's hands and ran forth to put down the abominations that had become his child himself, but as soon as the child-like hollowman noticed someone rushing towards him he jumped forward with inhuman speed and agility, landing atop his unprepared father's head and starting to give him the same treatment he'd just given his mother. The second militiaman snapped out of it by this point and ran forth, stabbing his sword through both father and son while they were distracted. This was not enough to kill the son, of course, who was still writing around furiously whilst impaled to his father, but by this time the man who had been standing at the door earlier pushed the crowd aside and made his way over to the struggling monstrosity. without saying a word he lifted up his axe high and then brought it down on the now orphaned hollowman child, severing hi and his father's head in one clean chop.
Andraste had been too shocked by the display to do... anything, really. she was just looking on in horror as three lives had so brutally been ended in front of her. because of her shock it hadn't even occurred to her that some of the blood splatter had hit her when the hollowman orphan had begun murdering his parents, everyone else having backed off in fear but her saying in close enough proximity, silent and stunned. She looked down at the demon child's corpse while the blood slowly drained from it and onto the temple's cobblestone floors. sh slowly reaches up to her face and wiped off a viscous liquid she had only started registering had landed on her face. she looked down at her hands and at first could not fathom why they were so... red. She looked down to her usually pristine, white sister's robes and realized tht they were now red in spots too and could not understand why. it took her looking back at the corpse of the hollowman Orphan and the similar crimson pool spreading from it for everything to finally sink in, and then there was a flash of memory that flooded her psyche, he scene of knights taking her mother away and her standing there, unable to do or say anything, just as she was now.
Andraste could not remember much of what happened after that. She remembered falling to he knees, gripping her head and screaming out as loudly as she could, her will finally having been broken by the horrors of the day. After that everything became hazy and undefined, like a half-remembered dream. There was the sound of windows breaking, and then more screaming. People were running all about and it seemed some had violet eyes and there were more orphans with yellow eyes. There were swords flying and axes swinging and blood. so much more blood, coming from everywhere, coating everything, the world being bathed in crimson around her. Andraste could not remember moving from the place where she had fallen to her knees but she must have because her next lucid memory was of being grabbed roughly by the arm by a great paw and being dragged into a hallway. No, down a flight of stairs. Down a small,cramped flight of cobblestone stairs. She knew she wasn't supposed to take these stairs, but she didn't know why and she found her body just going along with the motions of the man who pulled her along. The man, she looked up and saw his broad, dark back. the staircase was dark as well, illuminated only by fleeting candles. She felt like she was going to die in this darkness, or maybe she was already dead. The dark wasn't as scary as it usually was though, red was a lot worse, and the dark his all the red she had on her hands.
She finally arrived at the bottom of the stairs after a long descent into the darkness and she was shoved into a small room. She remembered why she wasn't supposed to go down those stairs now. This was the sanctuary, This was where the Temple Mother retreated when she needed to commune in silence with the Goddess of Peace. She heard the metal slam behind her and then be locked by the man who'd brought her here to begin with. He wasn't supposed to be here, she wasn't either. Only the Temple Mother could go down the stairs.
Andraste looked up at the statue of the Goddess that was the centerpiece of the small, dark room. Even now the goddess was smiling down on her, but Andraste wasn't supposed to be there. Tears welled up in her eyes and she prostrated herself before the stature, sobbing out apology after apology, not even really knowing what she was apologizing for, simply needing an outlet for the all-consuming feeling of guilt that had washed over her soul. Behind her, she heard the man who brought her here start to recite a familiar prayer, but it only brought more tears to her eyes for some reason.
Andraste could not remember how long it took, but between her apologies and the solemn prayers behind her, she eventually felt the energy drain out of her. The world went all hazy again, and she eventually slipped into unconsciousness.
The Night After
It was now well after nightfall ad the scene was a veritable shock to the senses. The sight of broken buildings, smashed fortifications, houses set ablaze, ripped and mangled body parts and blood soaking into the very earth upon which this disaster had taken place would have filled the bravest hearts with despair. The smell was far worse of course, the stench of souring blood, rotted meat and burnt flesh and lumber was veritably choking to any who inhaled it, disease hanging in the air like a putrid cloud. The wort of it all though was the silence, the sight was horrifying, the smell was revolting, but the dead, nearly empty silence was terrifying. Beyond the sound of fires and winds, there was nothing. No painful moaning, no sorrowed sobbing, no distressed wailing, no victorious cheering, no sounds of hurried footsteps or shouting men trying to rebuild or save what is not already lost. No, it was silence; dreadful, dead silence, broken only by the irregular and periodic halfhearted groans of straggling hollowmen, left over by the passing of the plague.
No, not ONLY the stragglers. There were survivors, witnesses to the horrors of the battle, the massacre, of Namban. Victims who had lost family, faith, fortune and friends to the horrors of the Hollow Plague. Messengers, how now hold the fate of their kingdom in their hands, for they are the only ones who can warn others of the monstrosities they had witnessed.
This night would be theirs, the beginning of their story.