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RelatedLurking Memory

News of Halonan’s disappearance cast a pall among the Rose at Wintergarde. The Blacksmith’s recent return brought a flurry of smiles and enthusiasm. Such news was rare in times when words such as the Burning Legion were so readily uttered on soldier’s lips. But as quickly as an old Templars face appeared, it was gone again in an instant.

Withdrawing to her quarters for the night, Arialynn was stony faced as she tended to the fire that warmed her bunk. Many preparations were made in attempt to locate Halonan: traditional scouting teams, led by the Rose’s finest; scryers, divined by the Rose’s most talented. But days had already passed with no hint of Halonan and a familiar grey settled over the Rose. It was a grey pall too felt often in the drone of war: Familiar faces gone, smiles and laughter a distant memory, replaced by a cheerless, unmarked grave and solemn words that couldn’t fill the void.

It was such a void that was too familiar this night. Staring into the flame of the hearth, the lady knight betrayed no expression, mirthful or solemn. Her stoniness was felt from outward and within, a quiet change that she kept to herself. At the news of Halonan’s disappearance, Arialynn felt neither surprise nor grief. Search parties and scrying efforts were quickly coordinated and dispatched, along with a slew of other routine and necessary reactions to the loss of a soldier. But deep within, the lady knight’s only sensation was a void grown one more soldier wider. One more Templar, one more death. In a world obsessed with war, more bound to come.

It was within these dark thoughts and the flicker of the fire that unchecked thoughts drew backward, remembering an expanse of time years ago.

—-

Lit by the moon, two soldiers ran through the forest. The serene scent of pine was tainted by the stench of the dead. With a teaming horde behind them, Arialynn and Koryander ran breathless, with every intent to shake the dead from their trail. Their live scent betrayed them; tugged the dead through the forest like a leash.

“This ridge…” Arialynn began, speaking between breaths. “It’s going to stop soon. There’s a drop up a –“

Shit!” Koryander’s curse and the sudden sheer drop off the cliff interrupted her. Scrabbling for purchase, both women came to a clumsy halt, eyes pouring over the drop for a potential path of escape.

“It is better that we keep the high ground,” Arialynn breathed. The dead’s oncoming shrieks punctuated her sentence.

“Yeah. We go down there, we die. Run north, we run into them. Go south, who knows?” Koryander said bitterly.

“South will lead us through unchartered forest, perhaps vykrul camps.”

“Good! Then maybe we can get those heart-eating bastards to fight them for us!”

Not another word was spoken. They turned southward, keeping the cliff face to their right. Their countless pursuers reached the cliff side with the same hungering abandon as their chase. Many poured into the sea below, crashing into the white waves and gorily piercing themselves upon sharp rocks. This partial thinning of their numbers was a blessing but far too many remained.

“There! A fire up ahead. That should be a vyrkul c –” Arialynn was cut off as the ground beneath her abruptly gave way. 

She tumbled, hitting frigid soil and root, until finally she poured into a black cavern. At least, she assumed as such from the sound of echoes on the unseen walls about her. Dirt matted her hair and she felt the warm, fresh cut of blood across a cheek. Her hands fumbling for her weapon, the lady knight was greeted by the sound of hollow chittering. Four pairs of eyes appeared from close by, each far too close to one another to be atop anything other than the same head. Another four pairs appeared, then another. The cavern was teeming with unblinking eyes slowly turning her direction.

A hiss against her ear made her move. Without turning toward her opponent, she struck out with her warhammer. Its metal head struck true. Familiar with grotesque crack of armor or bone from her hammer’s strike, the lady knight was momentarily struck dumb by the bizarre armor her hammer collided with. Neither metal nor bone, it cracked yet flexed at her touch. Her unseen opponent hissed and sputtered in an distinctly arachnoid tongue. 

Finally, Arialynn understood the spidery horror that surrounded her. Thoughts of the Scourge left her as she unsteadily rose and turned to face the latest death set upon her.

Author Ari
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