The Burgermeister managed to rouse the villagers while I kept quietly aloof from the people. I doubted the villagers would accept my presence among them willingly, and Meister Collins seem like he didn’t want to mention our uneasy alliance.
Personally, I was okay with the idea of the villagers were unaware that I was walking among them, much like how I wished they could have remained unaware of what I have become. I looked over at the priest as he convened in a corner with the acolytes of his faith. An ugly feeling boiled over in my gut as I considered him. While I may have acted rashly in my confrontation with Richten out in the open streets of the village, I felt Priest Henderson put the last nail in the coffin on my secret when he made a public spectacle of me shortly thereafter.
Fury rose within me until, with a forced effort, I relaxed my grip on the hilt of my sword and stood to leave. Around me, I could sense the fear and uncertainty of room, like a herd of spooked deer ready to bolt at a moment's notice. Protecting this village was not going to be easy especially considering the nature of our advisory.
Once outside the tavern I pulled my cloak closer around me and wandered for a bit through the small community in thought. The Dark Lord was a near-immortal and difficult man to kill initially, and I still was unclear as to how my former companions had managed to accomplish the feat. Desperately I wanted some insight that would be useful considering Richten’s display of mastery over some of the Dark Lord’s reputed powers. A dark part of me contemplated what I needed to do to surpass him in strength to defeat him. What of my humanity would I need to surrender?
I reached the edge of the village and glanced toward the tall dark towers of the castle that loomed over the valley. The darkness it emanated seemed welcoming compared to the bitter radiant light of the church that had weakened me so recently. I reached out a hand as if to accept gift or token from the night, or perhaps it was a desperate act on my part to reach out for something to help me escape the loneliness that threatened to envelop me.
Before I could withdraw my hand, something fluttered out of the sky and landed on my arm. I smiled fondly at my new companion, a little bat that squeaked shrilly.
“Do you have some secrets you wish to share little one?” I asked. Carefully I cupped it in my hands and stroked its fur. Absentmindedly I reflected on how the Dark Lord had previously used bat and wolves as familiars and allies at the height of his power.
For several long moments, I stood there at the edge of the village in the quiet contemplation and focus. In the end, I released the bat back into the night to find its brothers and sisters. As I turned to head back I took note of one of the priest’s acolytes standing watch.
“Henderson had asked me to keep an eye on you.”
“Everyone is setting up for a long night.”
He seemed to consider something before continuing, “What do you think is going to happen?”
“Hopefully nothing else for tonight,” I replied.
“And if something were to happen? Then what?”
“We fight and hope your faith in the Goddess is enough.”
A few bats fluttered overhead. I watched as they danced about before turning my attention to the road. A company of wagons approached with Kashmir at its head. I raised a hand in greeting and Kashmir smiled back though I noticed it lacked its usual mirth.
“I am glad to see you are okay my Lady,” he said as he drew close with his horse.
“And I am equally glad to see no further harm came to you and yours.”
He bowed his head solemnly, “I will admit I was disheartened to hear what became of Ashton, but I will not bother you further on the issue.”
I acknowledge his words with a nod of gratitude, “I still wish to rescue your people that are held captive by Richten, if any remain alive.”
“We would be forever indebted to you, but I have further news. Some of my family that tried to leave the valley reported the roads in and out have been cut off. Some of it seems sabotage,” he shook his head mournfully, “and I can confirm the dead have been sight coming down the road towards the village.”
“Goddess help us,” muttered the acylate.
Tensions rose sharply as the gypsie folk pulled up their wagons near the tavern. Harsh words of warning came from the owner of the tavern even as the Burgermeister called for peace. I was worried about needing to intervene personally before an uneasy peace was settled as another rider sped into town with news of the dead soon to converge on the village.
The Burgermeister called everything to order as a majority of the men and some women took up positions along the streets arming themselves with what they had on hand. More than a few held swords and spears, but most however held pitchforks and in some cases clubs. I could see the group of gypsie folk joined their number to villagers. I drew up my hood before I reached for my sword and drew it from its scabbard.
Nervously I glanced skyward toward the small swarm of bats that fluttered over the head. It didn’t seem like anyone else had noticed them gathering. For the next few minutes, an uneasy silence lingered over the village broken only by the cries of a wailing child, or the quiet muttered whispers of someone in the crowd of defenders.
A glob of fire arced through the air and crashed into a wagon. The flames surged and someone shouted for water. Amid the confusion, I glanced over the street in the direction the spell had been cast. A cackling hooded figure darted backwards into the shadows. I pulled away from the defensive position the villagers had made and sped towards the assailant. I kept low and to the shadows, hoping to take my victim by surprise. Mages were difficult to fight and a sound tactic was to eliminate them first at the outcome of battle or skirmish. Often an easier thing to say than do. I hoped to gain an advantage before too much chaos
As the hooded figure made to sprint across the road, I made to leap through the air with jump only to surprised myself by jumping too high and too far over my intended target. The cloaked figure swept a hand towards my direct sending a wave of flames.
With a violent hiss, I rolled into my landing letting the heat of the flames cascade over me. As I came to my feet, I pulled off my burning outer cloak and turned towards the fleeing mage.
“I have no intention of letting you escape,” I muttered as I leaped towards my intended victim this time I managed to smash into her. Her hand flew up weaving in complicated symbols as she muttered a new incantation. Seeking to cut her off I trusted my sword into her chest. The smell of the fresh blood heightened my senses as I pulled her dying body into the darkness of the alleyway.
My fangs barely grazed her neck when I spotted the shuffling movement of the dead coming around the corner. I took a desperate quick gulp before tossing her body aside. The undead corpse raised its bloodied hands and staggered towards me. I swung my sword and hacked at it until I managed to dislocate its head.
I took a moment to breathe, or rather, I needed to pause and regather my thoughts. The sound of conflict echoed through the streets. As I stole a glance towards the villagers and gypsy folk I could see they were still holding up a defense against the small collection of the undead. For now, it looked like we had the advantage. However, considering the nature of our opponent that might change.
A sudden flare of bright light illuminated the defenders and I staggered back in pain. I could only assume the priest was calling on the power of the goddess to turn the dead back. As the light receded I considered briefly if I needed to join back with the defenders to repel the attack or turn my focus elsewhere.
The scent of blood wafted through the air coming from a nearby building. I turned toward the source and noted it was easily some distance away from the main group of defenders. Apprehensively, I took off. The building looked to be a general store and I could see hurried and erratic movement from within.
"Somebody help us!"
I quickly struck down the few of the undead that were attempting to enter the shop. One of them clawed at the front of my shirt and I respond with a strong kick that sent the undead corpse through the front entrance. The smell of blood was stronger as I entered the store, my gaze was drawn to the desperate youngster trying to fend off the undead that had already broken in. Next to him, I could see his younger sister clutching at her doll in wide-eyed fear.
I jumped in to help finish dispatching the foul corpses. I noted the surprising ease of strength I possessed that allowed me to dismember my opponents. I couldn’t recall if I was always this strong since the night I had awoken to this curse. However, I was positively certain I had never possessed this strength before my death.
Once I had finished I turned to the boy and the girl, “Flee to the tavern.”
The girl started to cry, “But momma!”
I gave the boy a questioning look as he grabbed his sister’s hand to pull her out the back door. He shook his head in response and disappeared. Fresh anger boiled over me as I departed the general store to hunt and kill more of the undead that encroached up the lives of these villagers.
It was late into the night when the last of the undead crumbled. The Burgermeister ordered the bodies to be gathered and burned. I watched from afar as the villagers go about the gruesome work as the priest and his colleagues organized the final rites.
It wasn’t clear what Richten’s intentions were behind the attack. Though I wouldn’t have put it past him if it was just simply for his amusement. I strapped my sword to my horse and withdrew another cloak from my pack as Priest Henderson approached quietly. Blood smeared his holy robes and scepter that jarred with the overall image he had maintained as the holy authority of the village.
It looked like the night had aged him as he handed over my belongings. Before I could turn to leave he told hold of my shoulder. Our eyes met and he spoke, “I cannot in good faith continue to allow your presence among my flock.”
“I have no intention of preying upon the village.”
“Regardless of your intention as they stand currently you are still a cursed child of the Dark Lord.”
I narrowed my eyes.
“The Dark Ones do not take kindly to their gifts being squandered and either they or the powers of Light will destroy you.”
“Are you?” I asked coldly, “Do you intend to kill me?”
“I should have last night.”
I balk and pulled free of his grip, “Why? I saved your village!”
“Your actions, while admirable, do not absolve you of your sins.”
“I had no control of my actions,” I countered as I turned to depart.
It was a lame excuse and we both knew it. I couldn’t truly place the blame of Sylvia and Ashton’s death on anyone else except myself. Sylvia’s death especially left me feeling cold and ill at ease. Ashton’s in some ways was equally regrettable.