The cloud covered sky transformed the summer afternoon into early evening as the group of Fieldwardens continued their patrol of the western edge of the Moot. The group of seven Halflings had been patrolling the edge of the Moot for six days, after a caravan from the Empire reported sighting a large tribe of Orcs migrating through the Moot.
The Halfling at the head of the group pulled hard on the reins of his mount, “Whoa Oskar.”, he said, stopping the shaggy pony at the top of a rise. The hill offered an unobstructed view of the valley below, a majestic view marred by the thick plumes of smoke rising from the southern edge of the valley. Behind him the six other members of the group followed suit with their leader.
“Is that the tribe the caravan spoke of?”, asked Timith, the youngest member of the patrol. He had just recently joined the group, after sneaking off from his father’s pig farm.
“It might be,” said Otto, a tall Halfling who was renowned for his strength and appetite through out the Moot, “or maybe it is Axel’s wife cooking supper again.”
Everyone in the group had a good chuckle at that, except Axel whose wife had almost burnt down their small cottage twice, the most recent time trying to smoke a whole pig in their small fireplace. “That’s enough foolishness for the moment,” Furor said from the head of the group, “it’s time to go and take a look around.”
The group set off again, though a palpable change had overcome the group. The cheerful air had disappeared, the mood of the group now mirroring the sky above them, grim and brooding. They moved forward in a line, each of them intent on the woods that surround the group on all sides.
It was almost night by the time the group of riders reached the area the smoke appeared to be coming from, a densely overgrown section of forest almost out of the valley. Throughout the ride the forest had become eerily silent, it had started out with an absence of animals and had progressed until even the bird song and insect noise had fallen away to leave only the mournful wail of the wind through the treetops.
Now even that had faded, leaving a sepulcher-like stillness to pervade the densely overgrown area of trees and underbrush through which the group of weary Fieldwardens were traveling.
The stillness was broken by the angry call of a startled crow, the first animal the group had seen since entering this area of forest, as it took wing and flew past the shaken riders. “I thought the Grim had come to take me for sure,” stated Ludo, the old man forcing a mirthless smile to help calm his frayed nerves.
The group slowly started forward again, their eyes alert for what the crow had been feasting on. The sight that met their eyes was enough to shake even the most battle hardened of men, though the face and eyes were missing there was no mistaking that the pile of half eaten meat in front of the wardens had once been a Halfling.
The group was off like an arrow through the tightly pack undergrowth, eyes and ears searching for anything out of place in the forest. Then, as if through a curtain, the group caught sight of the source of the column of smoke that had summoned them. A small glade in the forest, wreathed with fog and smoke, held the ruins of a once prosperous village.
Furor pushed his mount faster, distancing his companions as he rushed in to the remains of the town’s square. The town was familiar to him. It had been a welcoming place where he had stopped in the past to rest himself and Oskar, and the people of the village had quickly become friends to the Fieldwarden. The other riders spread out when they saw what remained of the village, each one searching for some sign of survivors and what had befallen the village.
“Was it the Orcs?” Timith asked, nearly overcome by the sight and smell of charred bodies that had been left lying in the rubble of what had once been the town chapel.
“If it was they will soon learn the folly of their warlike ways,” growled Axel.
“Over here!” The shout had come from Ludo who had been searching the remains of what had been the town’s guild house and town hall. The group of stoic Halflings quickly assembled around the old timer, each one hoping a survivor had been found, and each one knowing that there would be only more bodies. The gathering place in front of the guild house appeared to have been the site of a major battle, while the structure itself seemed to be the last defensive position of the now dead villagers. The courtyard was littered with fallen weapons and the diminutive corpses of Halflings.
“Well, was it Orcs?” asked Axel.
“No.” The answer came from Furor who had just appeared behind the assembled Fieldwardens.
As he passed in between them each saw the item he held clutched between his hands, an ancient axe. The weapon was covered in rust and strapped on to a haft that appeared to be fashioned from a human leg bone. “If it were Orcs we would have found bodies, even these townspeople weren’t totally defenseless. And the houses weren’t looted; they were simply put to the torch, as if to ward away new settlers. There is only one enemy I know of that fights like that… Undead.”
The name sent a shiver through the assembled Halflings, several of whom took a nervous glance around as if to ascertain that none of the dead had risen from the ground. The undead had long haunted this part of the Moot and it now appeared to Furor that they had claimed another town. “We will avenge you,” Furor whispered as he let the charred bones of a child slip from his hand.
It wasn’t hard for the group of Fieldwardens to pick up the trail of the marching lines of abominations, a wide path that lead them off to the south and east. Their shaggy mounts made quick work of the distance separating the Halflings from their prey and soon the trail they were seeing was no more than a few minutes old.
At that the group became more cautions, scanning the surrounding woods for the signs of an ambush or trap. Their searching wasn’t in vain, because, with an earsplitting scream, Axel’s mount collapsed; a half buried spike neatly piercing its front hoof.
It was as though that scream was the signal to attack, for before the echoes had even begun to fade into the eerily still night air a host of shambling corpse warriors lumbered out from behind the trees. Each warrior was armed with weapons that were at the same moment individual in style and size but uniform in the amount of decay and rust encasing them, had the same baleful green fire burning in the depths of their empty eyes. What was truly unnerving about these warriors was the silence with which they went about their attack.
However, none of this fazed the wardens who, with the exception of Timith, had each become quite familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the walking dead through many encounters with these crimes against nature. Each one unlimbered the maces that they left hanging next to their saddles for just this kind of event, each one preparing to sell his soul as dearly as possible. With a hearty war cry that would make a Norse Berserker swell with pride, the seven wardens charged into the shambling lines of undead. Seven maces rose and fell in rapid succession each time caving the skull of an undead warrior; but those that fell to the inhuman fury of the Fieldwarden were a mere fraction of the host of horrors that had gathered in the forests of the Moot, and for each one that fell another stepped forward to fill the gap its destruction created.
The undead countercharged shattered the line of Halflings, breaking it into individual swirls of combat. Each Fieldwarden was soon surrounded by undead warriors, forced to fight off multiple attacks before delivering crushing counterblows. The odds, however, were still stacked against the brave members of the Fieldwardens and before long the group had lost its first member under an avalanche of axe and hammer blows. The sight of their fallen comrade drove the warriors further into their berserkers’ rage, but the enemy continued its relentless assault and soon had the group whittled down until only Furor, Timith, and Ludo remained.
“We must find the Necromancer commanding these monstrosities,” shouted Furor over the din of crashing steel and splintering bone. “If we don’t we will never be able to stop this horde from sacking every village between here and the Black Mountains.”
“There!” Furor looked up to see Timith pointing at a tightly packed stand of trees some thirty paces from were they were fighting. As he watched a flash of unnatural light glinted from between the trees and another group of undead stumbled out to do battle with the surviving Halflings.
“That is our target, then! Get behind me and move fast!” Furor shouted to the other two, “We won’t be stopping ‘til we reach those trees. If you fall behind hold fast, this vile mage won’t be commanding for much longer.”
Giving an almost primeval roar the three friends made what each individually thought would be their final charge. The maces again rose and fell before them and the undead fell as wheat to the scythe, but no matter how fierce the attack the enemy would not break and soon the charge began to lose momentum. By the time the charge had slowed to a stand still Furor was within three yards of the clump of trees sheltering the mage. “Damn these foul beasts!” Furor cursed as a fleshless claw slashed through the cloth and skin of his arm. “We must not stop!”
With a final rush the trio of wardens managed to force their passage into cluster of trees. The instant they entered the stand of trees the world seemed to freeze for Furor. The interior was lit with an intense green light, giving each detail incredible clarity. As if in a dream Furor turned to see Timith and Ludo suspended in a beam of scarlet energy. With a crash the world returned to normal and Furor rushed to the sides of his friends, but before he could reach their sides they had aged and withered until nothing but emptied husks remained.
“Ye’ll pay for that” Furor said quietly, still kneeling beside the remains of Ludo.
The necromancer smiled darkly. He was tall, even for a human, and appeared to have suffered from some wasting disease. The bones of his face and hands were clearly visible through the almost transparent skin covering them, giving his face a skull like appearance. His eyes, which had shrunken into his skull, were an unsettling shade of violet shot through with streaks of green.
“And just what are you going to do about it runt? You have already seen the easy with which I destroyed your friends, how could you possibly hope to hurt me?”
“You will see soon enough, vile mage!”
Like a coiled spring Furor leaped, closing the distance between himself and the necromancer in an instant. At the same moment the necromancer let loose another burst of destructive energy, missing the hurtling Halfling missile by less than a hand span. Furor struck the wizard with the force an out of control steam tank, funneling all of his rage and sadness into the swing of his mace.
The blow hurled the mage to the floor of the grove, however he had not attained the power he had by being weak. He leapt back to his feet and with a contemptuous flick of his wrist called a glowing, violet scythe into existence in his hand. Weapon in hand he marched towards Furor, the blood from his head streaming down his arms to leave a vivid, red trail behind him. The first slash of the scythe was meant to decapitate Furor, but the Halfling easily rolled under the blow and countered with a bone crushing blow to the necromancer’s kneecap. The mage stumbled but caught himself, again advancing on his opponent though cautiously this time, forced to reevaluate his adversary.
His next attack was a mixture of feints and thrust that were meant to unbalance and probe Furor, forcing him to make a mistake. However, each feint and thrust was met with a similar tactic and every attack met nothing more substantial than air as Furor dodged and wove around the frustrated necromage. It only took one more blow from the Fieldwarden’s mace before the wizard could no longer maintain the concentration needed to keep his scythe from disappearing back into the Winds.
Gasping for breath the necromancer looked upon the man before him and what he saw chilled him. Despite the murderous strain the fight had put on both of the combatants the Halfling was barely breathing hard and none of the deadly intensity had left his eyes. The necromancer knew that the only chance of survival he had left was to beseech the Halfling’s merciful side. But before he could so much as breathe in to ask for mercy Furor drew back his mace and drove the five inch spike on its top into the mage’s skull, silencing his question forever. Outside Furor watched the undead monsters crumble into dust as the magic that had forced them from their graves faded away.
Furor’s heart and body were heavy with fatigue as he left the grove, walking back to his shaggy mount, Oskar. It was going to take the touch of a skilled woman and several tankards of ale for him to be able to forget the nights events. And he knew just the spot for both…