It had been a long day of training at the monastery, and I was just happy for it all to be over. The warm evening air that at other times could have been pleasant now felt incredibly oppressive against my sweaty skin, and all I wanted at that moment was to cool off. Too tired to even remove my armor, I trudged down the winding, sloped path from the training grounds to the creek. I sat down heavily on the bank of the river and dipped my hands into the water, savoring its cool temperature. Relaxing, I closed my eyes…
Only to be disturbed by a sharp tap to the back of my head.
“You know Varen, normal people wash their hands in a basin,”
I turned around and smiled at my new company.
“Well Tali, normal people don’t knock out half of the monastery with a wooden sword in combat drills,” I teased as I flicked water at her. “So as an extraordinary person, I’m sure you must have come here to wash your hands, unless I owe something else to your visit?” I grinned cheekily up at her.
“Father Daugherty sent me to come get you,” she said while trying and failing to contain a smile. “It’s dinnertime now, and if you don’t get a move on, there won’t be any left. Come on, we’ll walk on up together,”
Slowly, I brought myself to my feet and followed her up the path when she suddenly stopped, her eyes focused on something rising above the line of trees. I followed her gaze to see a billowing, thick, black cloud wafting over the trees.
“Smoke…” her voice trailed off and her face went pale. The next thing I knew, she was running far ahead of me on the path. Frightened and confused, I followed her as closely as I could, worried about losing her in the clouds of smoke that had started to descend upon the path. Assaulted from all ends by the choking fumes, my eyes began to water and my breath became short and labored.
No, it couldn’t be! It just wasn’t possible!
But is was. As I dashed out of the choking smoke, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of the priory, ablaze. I watched in terrified fascination as the flames quickly climbed over the monastery, engulfing it all in flame.
Even worse, though, was what I saw happening around the burning wreck of my home. A massive horde of barbarians, both human and orc, wearing the skulls of animals as helmets, were locked in combat with my brothers and sisters at-arms. Dead bodies were strewn about the grounds haphazardly, illuminated by the flames and much to my horror, most of them were of people I knew. I knelt down next to the corpse of an old friend, and muttered a quick prayer for his soul as I took his sword and shield. He wouldn’t be needing them anymore.
“Oh gods, Natalia,” I said softly, trying to hold the back my choking sobs. “What are we going to do?”
No answer. I looked up in alarm, just in time to see Natalia disappear into the abbey.
“Tali! Wait!” I screamed, as I prepared to give chase. But as I went to move after her, the giant Eight-Pointed Star, the sign of our order, fell from the roof, blocking the entry into the abbey. Disheartened, I turned around, only find that my around had been cut off by two of the strange tribesmen, one wearing a bear’s skull, the other a wolf‘s. The skull masks they wore were illuminated eerily by the light of the flames as they began to close in around me. I brought up my shield just in time to deflect an axe blow from the orc wearing a bear skull. He snarled and hefted his weapon, preparing for another strike.
“This ‘un looks like he’ll be a lot of fun!” the slender human wearing a wolf skull cackled menacingly as he circled behind me, twirling two thin blades in his hands. He lashed at me, and I ducked one dagger easily, only to be caught by the second as he whipped it upwards. I staggered backwards as blood dripped from my forehead across my face. Blinking my eyes to keep my vision clear, I turned towards my new assailant, only to be struck in the back by the orc as he rammed me. I fell to the ground at the feet of the human, who jabbed at me with both blades at once. I lashed back with my shield and heard two satisfying tings as I knocked the daggers from his hands. Using the momentum from the block, I spun upwards and caught him in the neck with my sword. He fell to ground as I regained my footing, turning to face the orc. The orc screamed in rage and brought his axe around in a vicious arc which I neatly sidestepped. Taking advantage of his opening, I rammed into him, sword first. By the time he hit the ground, I was already gone, trying to get into the abbey some other way.
“Natalia!? Tali!? Where are you!?” I shouted at the top of my lungs, trying to make myself heard over the clamor of the battle. A woman’s chilling scream was the only reply I received. I ran as fast as I could in the direction of the cry, arriving just in time to see the screaming woman driven to the ground. I moved as quickly as I could to try and save her, but I was too late. Her opponent casually slammed his two sword through her chest, before turning to me. Cold sweat ran down my neck as I gazed at him in complete and utter fear. He was truly a figure straight out of a nightmare, wearing a horrible mask crafted from the fused skulls of a variety of monsters. Over his rusted chain link was the skull of a dragon, and a tattered hide cloak lay draped over his shoulders. Worst of all, he was covered in blood. The blood of my friends.
“You will know fear, tool of the emperor,” he said as he stalked towards me, his voice garbled by some strange magic in his mask. Coolly, he unsheathed a second sword, twirling one in each hand. “For I am the Deathwind. Know my name well, for it shall be the only thing you will remember in the afterlife,” I hid behind my shield, tensing myself in preparation for his inevitable assault. He unleashed blow after blow, each powerful strike hammering into my shield, pushing me back. Before I knew it, I had been driven to my knees, my shield the only thing keeping his blades away. Then, with a loud crack, why shield was shattered into splinters and his sword was embedded deep into my left arm.
I screamed in agony, only to be cut short by the flat of his other blade as he brought it full-force into my face. My head hit the ground, and as I laid there, stunned and prone, he slowly twirled his blades once more, preparing for the coup de grace. I closed my eyes, and heard the whoosh of the air as he brought his blades downward.
Blinking, I opened my eyes to see why I was not yet dead. Natalia stood over me, a greatsword in her hands. The Deathwind stood opposite her, a large gash in his side, blood dripping down his armor.
“Bitch!” he shrieked as he whipped his swords up. “I will make you regret this interference! With that, he charged, blades held high. He brought his left around in a wide circle, which Natalia easily parried. As his right came around, she twisted herself, knocking his blade aside with her shoulder pad. But this threw off her balance, bringing her too close to him to use her blade. To my utter horror, the Deathwind took advantage of this opening, grasping her tightly in a bear hug.
“Varen, get up!” she screamed at me. “RUN!” I tried to move, but couldn't, my body far beyond my control. Lying there on the ground, I could only watch in dismay as the Deathwind slammed his head into hers with a sickening crunch. She went limp in his arms before he dropped her nonchalantly to the ground, making his way over to me.
“She’s cute,” the Deathwind said, his voice taking on a strange, high-pitched, mocking tone, far removed from his previous manner of speaking. “Don’t worry though. She’s not dead,” he chuckled darkly. “I’ll just make her wish she was. She‘ll make a great souvenir! And the best part is, she couldn’t even protect you!” he rammed one of his swords deep into my gut to emphasize his point. “She will regret this day... for as long as I decide to keep her alive. As for you…” his voice suddenly became deep once more “Any last words, boy?!”
“I…” I coughed weakly. “Will… h-hunt you to the ends of the earth… The n-next t-time I see you… I will kill you…” I swore. “And gods help you, if you lay one hand on Natalia, there will not be a piece of you left for anyone to find! It is you who will regret this day!”
“You are brave,” the Deathwind murmured. “I will await our confrontation, should you truly survive,” With that, he drove his second blade through my chest, before turning and walking away, only stopping to carry Tali away.
Lying on the ground, my vision began to blur, then darken, but I refused to die. Not here. Not now. Not like this. The barbarian army slowly pulled away, and I was left among the dead. Yet I refused to join them. With all my strength, I screamed in defiance.