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A Fighter's Tale

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I carry a sword. An Astral Blade +1 to be exact. It’s such a beautiful blade. We’ve seen a lot together. Pain and suffering. Joy. Sorrow. It’s a better companion than any to have.

Oh, I apologize. Let me introduce myself. My name is Card Daelin. I’m from everywhere, yet nowhere. I don’t really have a home. I’ve always been a blade for hire. Well, ever since the beginning. Most people count time from birth. I’ve never been one to do that. It never seemed that important to me. Maybe because I never knew when I was born. There was no one to tell me.

Time, and my life, started the day I answered the summons. This was the day I had waited for. I had spent my young years in Neverwinter, in the beggars quarter. We called it the Beggar’s Nest. That name didn’t do justice to how ugly it was. At least in a sense you have something that belongs to you. I had several nests living there. All made of rags and garbage and rat crap. But it was home and I didn’t know any different. I remember the other kids and I used to go down into the sewers and make our way over to the pipes in Blacklake. We would go down there and feast on the “trash” from the nobles. Half eaten loaves of bread, apple cores, the fat from their steaks. That was good fare for a beggar boy, in that time.

Anyway, back to my story. I remember that I was in the courtyard area in the Beggar’s Nest. There was a large group of people. Mostly shopkeepers, and the higher-level beggars. There were the prostitutes, the door-guards, the pirates. Everyone was gathered and there was this Castle Guard on a pedestal. I remember thinking that was very strange because these people usually fled when someone like that came near. But, I was hungry and not about to let this opportunity pass me by. So, I did what most adolescent beggars do when there is a large gathering. I picked pockets. It was great. No one paid any attention to me, they were all so wrapped up in what they were doing. I must have made 80 gold pieces that day! That was a lot of money for me. More than I had ever had before.

Then, something cut through my excitement. One word, crushed my vision of the future. “Plague.” I can’t explain, but that word sent a shock of panic directly to my core. I knew about sickness and disease. I had seen quite a bit of it, as you can imagine. But, plague was unilaterally associated with death. There was no escape. I dropped the knife and the purse I had just picked and started to listen.

“... has overcome Neverwinter. We do not know it’s source. We do not know of a cure. We only know that it is not of natural origin. The Kingdom has fought this sickness for weeks now. None have been able to find it’s source or divine it’s agents. Lord Nasher of Neverwinter is calling for Heroes. The Kingdom has been severely weakened. All who wish to present themselves for training and evaluation must do so before dawn tomorrow. That is all.”

With those words, the Castle Guard stepped down from the pedastal, his bright armor chinking as he walked. I heard the booming of his steps followed by the staccatto of his armor clink. Each sound was like a hammer driving panic into my heart. I fled.

I don’t remember what happened or how I arrived at the gates of Castle Never. But I did. I was in line, in the back. The noble sons had pushed us riff-raff to the rear. Pompous morons. Few made the cut. I think that I came to my senses again when I arrived at my bunk in the barracks. There was a training tunic laid out on my bunk, fresh and gray. The fabric was worn in parts and it had obviously been used before. The others in the barracks were scrambling about, putting on their tunics and standing at the end of their beds. Right then, the Drill Master walked into the room.

I grabbed the tunic and tried to slip it on and get to the end of my bunk at the same time. Unfortunately, my legs got tangled up and I fell. I must have had a stupid look on my face when I finally got up, because the Drill Master marched right up to me. I looked around and did what the other boys were doing. I stood still and looked straight ahead. I must have missed a class or something, because I had no clue what I was supposed to do.

Anyway, “Sir”, as we were later told to name him, came right up to me and stared. He was about a head shorter than me, but about twice as wide. His leather armor creaked as he turned to face me and I could smell the fresh wax he had applied. His brown beard encircled his hard lips. I stared at those lips. I couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact. I could smell the garlic coming off his breath. He just stood there, staring at me.

After what seemed like an eternity, he inhaled and asked, “What, in all the four stars, do you think you are doing, recruit?” Naturally, I was very confused. I was standing there. I told him so. His eyes hardened and his stone lips turned up just a bit. “Not for long your not.” Then he grabbed the front of my tunic and dragged/kicked me all the way out the door. After all these years, I think I still have bruises from the beating I got that day. I don’t remember how I got back to the barracks, but the next morning, I woke up in my bunk.

I lost track of time while I was being trained. They said that we spent no more than a month there, but it seemed like a couple of years to me. Every day we’d wake up and train. We tried to find our abilities. Some washed out of the fighting program. Lots of those guys went over to the rogue class. Sissys. We had some graduate to the magic-user program as well. It never really interested me. There was one time where, I heard, a student moved his hand the wrong way in an incantation and blew up a mage tower. The blast flattened all of us in the courtyard and rained rock down on us. But, Sir just had us get up and keep training.

At the end of the training, I had changed. My lean frame had beefed up and my shoulders were broad and my waist trim. My arms had developed muscle and grace. My eyes were more alert, seeking out threats for my shield arm to come crashing down on them. I was a Fighter.

I will never forget graduation day. I had just completed my melee test. I bested Sir and knocked him to the ground. He actually called me by my name after that. I was so proud of myself. I walked into the Hall of Ceremony to join the other graduates. There weren’t very many of us. I think there was only one magic user, the others of his class had been killed in the explosion. There may have been a rogue, but I’m not sure. I think I saw him skulking in the corner.

When I walked in, I was greeted by the doorman who told me that Aribeth wished to speak with me. He pointed me out to the sexiest elf I had ever seen. I didn’t think that armor could be arousing, but she sure pulled it off. I approached her directly, trying to keep my eyes on her face. I don’t think I was very successful because she kind of rolled her eyes and smiled. She greeted me and congratulated me on a job well done. She said that Sir had told her that I progressed very rapidly and was the first in my class. I had never heard Sir say one good thing, so this came as a bit of a shock. She went on to speak about the plague and a possible cure, or some-such. My attention was divided between pride that Sir would say anything about me, let alone anything GOOD, and her breasts. Aribeth sure was a sight for sore eyes.

Sadly, I didn’t get to finish my occular feast. All of a sudden, I was blinded and deafened by an explosion of some sort. Instinct had my sword drawn in my hand and I was crouched down, ready for danger. I stayed this way for the next couple seconds, feeling very afraid as I couldn’t see or hear anything. Then, I heard Aribeth’s voice, cutting through the haze. I felt power course through me and my vision began to clear. I saw to my left a strange magic-user, one who had not been in the room before the flash. I saw his hands move in the intricate patterns of the arcane, his lips moving to form the necessary words. His eyes glowed red and his face was contorted in hatred. I saw Aribeth’s sword glowing blue and she wielded it in defense of the poor boy lying on the ground beside her. I thought he must have been dazed as he was so close to the mage when he appeared. I was already in motion towards the wizard while this thought flew through my mind, and the dull blade of my training short sword whistled as it swept through the air. My hasty swing severed the mage’s left hand just before Aribeth’s thrust entered his chest. In a burbling scream, he fell to the ground and the red glow faded from his eyes.

I turned in time to see two blue, magical balls of light coming towards me. I tried to dodge to the right, but they seemed to follow me and hit me straight in the chest. I fell to my knees, trying to catch my breath and ignore the burning in my chest. I stood up, holding my sword in front of me, and began to run once more. I found my target and powered myself in his direction. It was another wizard. I could see his surprise and alarm as he saw me coming his way. He began another incantation, but I arrived before he could finish. Putting my hand on his shoulder, I rammed my blade into his gut, just below his chest and forced the metal up into his heart, just like Sir had trained me. His warm blood ran down the hilt of my practice weapon and covered my hand as I watched the glint of life leave his eyes.

Yanking my sword free and letting the corpse fall to the ground, I turned to see the last mage fall in two pieces, with Aribeth standing in between them. She stood there for a moment, gasping for breath with a look of utter concern on her face. Blood covered the length of her sword and dripped onto the cold stone floor. As the battle faded from my mind, I looked around and discovered that she and I were the only two left standing. “Card”, Aribeth said, calling my attention and beckoning me to her. “I must speak with you!”

I walked over to where she was standing, very aware of the gore around me. I stepped over a head-less body that used to be a rogue and stood in front of her. I started to smile at her, elation was starting to set in after the excitement, but stopped when I saw the caged look in her eyes. Even though we were alone, her eyes shifted from left to right, as if she was still in the middle of the battle, looking for threats. Then, immediately, her attention shifted, intensely focusing on me. Her hand came up to grip my bicep, pulling me into her clear blue eyes. Her grip was surprisingly strong.

“Card,” she said, “You must help protect the Waterdavian Creatures! Our enemies must know their here or they would not have attacked us! Tyr alone knows how they gained entrance.” Her hand dropped as she surveyed the destruction around us. “All right,” I said, “where do I go from here?” Of course, I knew about the Waterdavian Creatures. It was too big a secret to actually keep a secret in such a small community as the training barracks. “Go to the barn. There you will meet Fenthick, who will give you more instructions.” She said. She gripped my arm once again and the intensity returned to her clear eyes. “You must save them, Card! All of Neverwinter is counting on you!”

She released my arm and turned to look at the carnage we had left in the Ceremonial Hall. As I turned to walk to the door, I think I saw her bow her head and her shoulder’s shook.

Many people think that they know my story from that point. Countless bards have sung it and it has been passed around in all the ale halls. It’s actually rather embarrassing. I am portrayed as invincible. I am portrayed as good-hearted. A champion of the weak. The truth be told, I did it for myself. I was tired of being a nobody, having to steal and beg. I felt powerful with the new training that I had gained. I worked hard and trained harder. I also had a severly inflated head, at that time. I had just survived a pitched battle. I was the champion. I’d escaped with minor injuries. I think that’s what hurt the most.

My guard was down while I closed the door behind me. The impending attack was entirely a surprise. My only warning was a grunt and some gibberish. I turned, confused more than anything just when the goblins blade slice through my thigh. Gasping, I fell to my knee, my wounded leg unable to support my weight. Anger clouded my vision; anger at both myself for being so stupid and anger and the slimy goblin who had so cowardly attacked me. I looked up and terror struck my soul. I saw a wizard standing in front of me, with a wicked grin creasing his face. I saw him finish his incantation and thrust his hands towards me. Twin balls of light burst from his palms and sped towards me, impacting me squarely in the face. The impact seared my eyes and burned my face. I fell to the ground screaming in agony. I had never felt such pain! Rage burned hot through me and I force myself off the ground, clutching my short sword in both hands. Blinded by the magic, I could not see my foes. I swung wildly and stumbled around. I slammed the blade into the coarse stone walls, jarring my shoulders. I continued to swing blindy, trying to keep my attackers at bay. My blade connected and warm blood spurted onto my face at the same time a high pitched wail broke free from the throat of my victim. I heard him fall to the ground and writhe in agony as his life’s blood spilled from the wound I had made.

I swung wildly, a terrified and raging beast, for who knows how long. When I realized that there were no other sounds apart from my ragged cries, I stood still, trying to concentrate on hearing my opponents. There was nothing to hear. My fear finally broke loose and I collapsed, sobbing in relief that I was alive. I must have sat there, relishing the feeling of blood pumping through my veins for an hour. I gained a new respect for the enemy.

When my head cleared, I began to assess my injuries. I still couldn’t see, and I could feel that my face was blistered from the heat of the magic. I felt my thigh and the bleeding had stopped because my tunic had stuck in the wound. I tried to pull it out and part came away causing so much pain it brought tears to my eyes. I decided to leave the cloth there. I probably didn’t have much blood to lose anyway.

I stood up a little too quickly and had to use the cold stone wall for balance. I could feel the coarseness of the stone as my hand ran along the wall, guiding me. I had traveled this hallway so many times that, I thought, as long as I keep my hand on the wall, I’ll know where I am. I was trying to make my way to the magic-user classroom. I had never been there, but I had heard they stored potions there and I hoped to find something to heal my injuries, or at least restore my sight. I limped my way down the hall.

I finally made my way down the treacherously slick stone walkway to the door of the magic room. I knew it was the right room due to the arcane symbols cut into the oaken door. The door was rough and heavy, but it was leaning open and I could tell that it had been broken by a forced entry. I stood outside the door, straining my ears for any sounds of life inside. The last thing I wanted to do was stumble into a battle while I was blind. I couldn’t hear anything so I leaned heavily into the oaken door. It squealed off it’s already weakened hinges and slammed to the stone floor with a boom. I stood ready for any attack, but none came.

Breathing a sigh or relief, I picked my way through the mess in the classroom, using my short sword to find my way. There were several bodies lying on the ground, but I didn’t want to touch them to find out if they were human or goblin. I finally bumped into the wall and groped around for the alchemy table. I knew there was one there. There had to be! Isn’t that what mages did? I couldn’t find it. I started to panic. Had it been destroyed? If there wasn’t a cure there, what would I do?! Just then, in my flailing, the wrist of my sword arm crashed into the sturdy wooden table. The shock of the impact left my right hand numb and my sword clattered to the ground. I didn’t care, I have found my cure! I practically dove onto the table, sending glass bottles crashing to the ground. I grabbed a full bottle and unstopped it. I brought it to my nose and smelled it’s contents. It smelled too sweet, it couldn’t be the healing potion. I threw it over my shoulder and it shattered on the stone behind me. I did the same thing with several more potions until I found one that smelled bitter enough to be a healing potion. I brought it to my lips and drank it all. It felt warm in my belly. Then, the warmth turned to fire. The fire turned to lightning pain that shot from my center to the very tips of my fingers. I felt as if light were shooting from my center, trying to find a way out of my body, and scorching my very being in the process. I screamed and screamed. The pain was intense. Fortunately, my body came to it’s limit and I lost consciousness.

I fought against the fog in my head, struggling to make sense of the chaos that assaulted me. My vision swam in front of me, concentric circles blurring the lines before me. I felt heavy, unable to lift my arms or my head. The fog began to clear and I saw a shape before me. It was a face. I heard some words of the arcane being spoken. I tried to run, tried to roll over, anything to escape the death that was forming before me. Pain sucker-punched me, sapping all my strength as I groaned and rolled onto my back. The incantation ended and I saw a bright light. A warmth filled me and I slept.

I awoke staring at a damp stone ceiling. I lay there and listened, hoping I would hear some clue that the horrors from before had left me. There was nothing to hear save a small drip. I sat up and took in my surroundings. I was laying on the floor. There was evidence of carnage all around me, but it looked like someone had attempted to clean up. The bodies were gone, leaving only bloody smears on the stone as if to remind me of what had passed. I stood up and had to lean on the wall as my head swam around the room. My balance returned and I stood up straight. The door had been picked up and leaned against the wall to the side of the doorway. There were fresh torches in each rack on the walls and their merry dance laughed at my confusion. The book cases were stood up, but the books they had once contained were pushed into piles at the walls. Blood streaked the stone just about everywhere there was to look.

That’s when I realized it. I could see! I had been cured! But... who had done the curing? I found my sword leaning against the wall next to where I had been lying and grabbed it up. I checked the buckles on my armor and found that they were all closed and holding the leather strips together. I saw then that the chest of my armor was scorched from the force of the magic missles that had hit me. The leather was cracked and dry and crumbled away from my fingers at the touch. Grateful that I had been wearing it, I moved to the door.

Once again, my training saved me. I stepped out the door, not really paying attention (you would think that I had already learned my lesson... apparently not!) and I heard a startled outburst. My sword was out and I was crouching down just as an arrow shaft shattered on the stone behind where my chest should have been. I propelled myself towards the aggressor, to put an end to his miserable life. As he saw me flying towards him, he took a step back and his face paled in terror. I saw his pupils dialate as he dropped his crossbow and scrabbled to pull his dagger from his waist.

My sword came up with a roar. I was going to punish this idiot who dared challenge me. I was feeling invincible. I had cheated death, somehow, and I felt strong. A sudden burst of light changed my direction mid-air and slammed me into the wall beside me. With a groan and stars splashing in front of my eyes, I slid down the stone and came to a rest on the floor. I looked up at the ceiling, watching the lights flash and sparkle in front of me. That’s when I realized that I really hate being blind.

I sat up and held my sword before me. I listened. I heard my attacker breathing, the shallow, shuddering breath of one who has just escaped bodily harm. “Stand back!” I yelled. That’s when I heard someone snicker. It was more of an explosive snort, followed by a snicker. I recognized that laugh and a triumphant grin split my face. “Thomas, help, I can’t see! Come kill this bastard!” I cried. That just set him off and he roared with laughter. I felt a cool breeze and a blue light wiped my vision clean. I saw a trembling guard, probably one of the local militia, Thomas, my training partner and best friend and, the Lady Aribeth. I now realized that it was the militia-man who had attacked me, against whom I had sought vengeance. He looked like the nervous type, which probably accounted for his assault on me.

Thomas was red-faced, doubled over and lost in laughter. His eyes twinkled in my direction as he held his ribs together. His howls echoed against the cold stone. My sense of pride reared it’s head, refusing to be the subject of his laughter. But my friendship with him was deeper and my mouth started to twitch upward, infected with his cackles. Lady Aribeth wore a facade of seriousness, but her eyes twinkled with mischief.

“Hello, Card. You really gave poor David here a fright.” She said, and I could see the corners of her mouth twitch upward.

“He shot me!” I cried, indignantly. That set Thomas to howling again. I gave him a glare, but I couldn’t keep my face serious and I broke out into a grin.

Aribeth visually shook herself, and I saw the remains of her humor shatter and fall to the floor. “Well, you would have killed him had I not stopped you.” She said. “Now, we have more important things to worry about. The Waterdavian creatures have all fled. We do not know where they are, but you must find them.” My eyebrow raised in wonder and I glanced over at Thomas, who shrugged.

“Excuse me, My Lady.” I said. “I was just incapacitated twice. I don’t have a very good track record. What makes you think that I will be able to complete this task?”

Bitterness showed from her gorgeous eyes. “Because,” she said, with a wry smile. “There is no one left.”

“Well... why can’t YOU do it?” I demanded, bewildered by her doomsday proclamation. “You’re Tyr’s Paladin. You have power!”

Aribeth shook her head. “Card... I must stay and help in researching a cure. In all likely-hood, the creatures may never be found. You are the only one available to conduct the search.”

I was amazed. I had just graduated. I’d just about gotten myself killed twice, in the same day! And she was asking ME to help save Neverwinter?! I looked at Thomas, who gave me his non-committal shrug again. “Well.” I said, with a sigh. “I guess I really don’t have a choice, do I?”

Aribeth took on a pleading look, one that I imagine she’d practiced often in the past. “Please don’t take it like that, Card. It’s really not that. You are extremely qualified for this task. We will depend on you. But, we can’t put all our eggs in one basket, as the old adage goes. I need to concentrate on other methods.” She sighed. “My training and experience makes me indispensable in the search for a cure. You, I’m afraid, are all we can spare to go search.”

I sighed. “Fine, I’ll do it!” She flashed me a perfect smile and cocked her head, which made her brown waves frame her beautiful face perfectly. I instantly hated her for manipulating me like that. Well, maybe not for manipulating me, but for making me like it. It was impossible NOT to do what she’d asked. She was a master at her art.

I stood up, sheathing my sword in one smooth motion. I looked over at Thomas, who wore a bemused expression, his left eyebrow was slightly raised. I glared daggers at him, which only caused his enjoyment of my situation to increase. He winked at me as Aribeth turned to walk back down the hall. I smiled and said, “Don’t enjoy this too much, Thomas. You’re coming with me!” He smiled as he put his arm around my shoulders. “I already knew that, Card.” He said. “I already knew.” Despite my decision to be angry with him, I smiled.

We turned to follow Aribeth, supporting each other and talking about nothing of consequence. Once he caught me watching Aribeth’s shapely legs as we followed her down the hall and punched my arm while giving me a questioning look. I winked back and tripped him. He went down, but came right back up, with a hungry smile on his face. It had been awhile since we’d sparred and an impromptu session began right there. It only lasted a couple of seconds because Aribeth cleared her throat. We stopped, still locked in hand-to-hand combat and looked over at her. I felt like a small boy being scolded by his mother.

Her hands were on her hips and she wore a haughty look on her face. “The enemy is outside these walls, boys.” She flipped her brown tresses over her shoulder. “Now, come with me.” She turned and continued to walk down the hall. I felt anger flicker and burn hot within me. I couldn’t stand that woman. Throwing a dark glance at Thomas, I turned and followed her down the hallway.

She led us into the VIP room. Even though it was spartanly sparse, it looked wonderfully decorated. The walls were still the cold, hard stone of the Academy and there were only two tapestries and four torch brackets. But everything was clean. There was no layer of dust settled on the stone floor, and the light from the torches danced cheerfully on all four walls. The room was bright. Except for a dark cloud around the man who stood in the center.

He had a commanding presence. His face held a frown that was accentuated by his drooping brown mustache. The course hairs rebelled against gravity, jutting out or his face. His blue eyes were clouded with some inner turbulence. His fine but utilitarian clothing marked him from the upper class. His hands were scarred and calloused. At the sound of our entrance, his blue eyes darted up to look at us. His mood only darkened.

Aribeth went up to him and said, “Lord Nasher, I present to you Card Daelin. He is our most recent graduate from the Academy.” He eyed me and gave a curt nod, which was equally returned. “Lord Nasher.” I said, acknowledging his look of disgust.

He turned the look to Aribeth. “Are you suggesting we put the salvation of our great city in the hands of this greener!?” He demanded from her.

With a carefree flip of her hair, Aribeth replied, “Who else is there, My Lord? You know that the Helmites and I are giving up on that ‘cure’ and we are working on finding the source of this curse.” She put her hands on her hips, “If not Card, then who?”

Lord Nasher crossed his massive arms across his chest, looking at me from under his bushy eyebrows. His eyes flitted to Thomas, who was standing behind me and I felt Thomas stand up straighter. Lord Nasher heaved an enormous sigh and put his hand to his forehead, cradling his head as he shook it.

“Aribeth, this is madness!” He turned his piercing gaze on her. “You can’t send him out there! It would be his death!” I could tell that he was very angry, but at exactly what, I couldn’t say.

Aribeth, for all her talk of responsibility, was surprisingly unaffected by Nasher’s obvious displeasure at the whole situation. “My Lord,” she said, a note of exasperation creeping into her voice, “He is all there is left. We have no one else!”

Lord Nasher snorted in disgust and looked away at the wall. He obviously saw some merit in her arguement, even though any logical reason was escaping me at the moment.

I called their attention back to my existence by clearing my throat. “Excuse me My Lord, Lady.” I said, nodding at each in their turn. “Is this about the Waterdavian Creatures?”

Lord Nasher’s eyes flared dangerously and his head whipped over to look at Aribeth. “You’ve already told him!” he choked through the muscles in his neck, which had tightened in anger. His hands flexed at his sides while his face burned a bright red.

Aribeth met his gaze. “Yes. Like I said, there is no one else. Give him your blessing and send him on his way.” I didn’t miss the commanding note in her voice and I was surprised to see the color in Lord Nasher’s face melt instantly away as his shoulders fell, dejectedly. But the angry fire still flared behind those steel cold blue eyes.

“Very well, My Lady Aribeth.” His words came out, almost as a hiss. “You will have your champion.”

Those eyes, filled with cold fire, turned their burning light to me. “Card, you are hereby charged with the duty of locating and recovering all the missing Waterdavian Creatures. Once we have recovered them, we will formulate the needed cure for the Wailing Death and be rid of this pestilence that asphyxiates our city!” He threw one more angry gaze and Aribeth and turned on his heel and walked out of the room. The heavy oak door boomed from the force with which he closed it.

Aribeth looked after him, a small pout on her lips. She inhaled and turned to me. “Card, you will find the Waterdavian Creatures. I have total faith in you.” Her face no longer displayed her haughty nature, but was wrought in steel. “I know you don’t feel you can do it.”

“Oh, we can do it!” Began Thomas, but Aribeth cut him off with a raised hand.

“You can and you will. But it will not be easy.” Her eyes filled with compassion and they captivated mine. “Our City Guard and Militia have lost control in many parts of Neverwinter.” She shook her head. “You cannot count on help from anyone else. You are on your own.” She grasped my hand. Her eyes dug deeper into my soul. I felt stripped of being, yet it was a sweet sensation. In that moment, I was dominated by Aribeth. I would have done anything for her.

The moment ended. She dropped my hand and took a step back away from me. “I would suggest you start in the Beggar’s Quarter.” She said, apparently all business again. “We’ve had some particularly disturbing news from that sector, but I don’t want to spread false rumors.” She waved negligently toward the general direction of the Beggar’s Nest. “The Captain of the Gate can give you more intelligence.”

“But first,” She said, eyeing the gear Thomas and I had on, “Let’s get you some real weapons and armor.” She smiled her sweet smile and her eyes twinkled with mischief. “We can’t send you off to save Neverwinter looking like that!”

We walked out of The Academy to the setting sun. The clouds were orange in the sky. As the giant double doors closed roughly behind us, our ears were assaulted by the silence of the courtyard. What should have been a busy place of meeting and business, had been stilled by the poison that had attacked all of Neverwinter. Exchanging a grim look with Thomas, I started to cross the courtyard, tightening the shiny metal buckles of my new leather armor.

Thomas was similarly equiped, with a light leather armor cinched tightly about his chest. His short sword was on his belt opposed by a dagger on the other side. He wore his crossbow, by far his favorite weapon, slung across his back.

We had trained together, both in the arts of melee and ranged combat. Thomas, however, had shown quite an aptitude for using a blade in both hands effectively. As much as I tried during my training, I would cut myself more often than my enemy, and so dropped the second blade for the added protection of a shield. It was the subject of an ongoing debate between us.

Those thoughts passed through my mind as we began to cross the courtyard. My mind was soon brought back to our present mission by a wretched, filthy woman running up to us. She fell to her knees and bowed before us. She grabbed one of Thomas’ feet in her filthy hand and tried to kiss them. Blushing, Thomas tried to gently kick her off.

“Please, Sirs!” She sobbed. “Please help me! My home is gone! I have nowhere to go!” I looked around to see if her cries were drawing attention while Thomas knelt down to calm the poor woman down.

“Now, now, my girl,” he said softly, stroking the filthy brown mat of hair on her head. “How about you tell us what’s wrong?” His face practically beamed with compassion for the wretched woman.

She pushed herself up on her hands, but remained sitting on the ground. Her tears had turned her face into a mud puddle, but her green eyes sparkled with grief. “My home, in the Beggar’s Nest.” She said. “I can’t go there anymore. No one is left alive.” She choked back a sob.

I knelt down beside Thomas, and looked at her. “Why? What happened?” I asked. “Is it the Wailing Death?”

She shook her head so hard I thought it was going to pop off. “No!” she cried, with all the strength of her soul. “Something much worse!” Her pleading eyes looked into ours. We saw them fill with tears. She strained to speak. A cold chill ran down my spine and I looked at Thomas, to see a similar response showing on his face. Thomas took her face in his hands. “Tell us, love.” He said with all the concern of a mother. “What is it?”

She burst into tears, gripping Thomas’ hand like it was her only link to life. “The dead walk!” she tore from her throat. “My family died of the Wailing Death, only to stand back up, lifeless shells of the people they once were!” She looked up at us, the horror of her words reflected in her eyes as her anguish twisted her face.

A icy hand gripped my heart as her words struck home. Undead! In Neverwinter?!? I turned to Thomas, but saw his own understanding written across his features. What could possibly cause that?

I grabbed the poor woman’s shoulders and pulled her towards me. I was panicked and slightly irrational. “How!?” I demanded of her. “Who could do this?” The horror in her face was replaced by panic as she responded to her most immediate threat. She tried to back away from me, fighting against my grip. I did not let her go, but pulled her closer. “How?” I yelled again. “Is it the Wailing Death?” I cried.

She gurgled in terror still trying to escape. I felt Thomas’ strong hand grip my forearm, returning me to reality. I released the poor woman and she scrambled away, never taking her fear filled gaze away from me.

I stood up and looked over at Thomas, the sound of her feet slapping on the courtyard as she fled echoed eerily in the unnatural stillness. Despite the obvious strain the news was taking on him, he grinned wryly and me and said, “You do have a way with people, don’t you, Card?”

“Yeah, well, you weren’t exactly an example of diplomacy, either.” I retorted, running my hand through my short hair. I sighed and let my hand drop. “So, it looks like we’ve got to fight the Undead!” I said. “If her story is to be believed.”

“Oh, I don’t think we can doubt her.” Thomas replied, shaking his head. He looked off into the fog where the woman had just disappeared. “Not many things can scare a sewer rat like that woman so easy.” He looked back at me and said, “Besides, we need to be cautious.”

I looked into the fog, where Thomas had just been looking. He was right, I knew. We had to take it seriously. She didn’t look like some of the crazy loons that I used to run into in the Nest. She had the look of a fighter who had stared death in the face. It certainly didn’t do her any good at all. Sighing, I rested my hand on the hilt of my sword. “Damn it, then.” I looked at Thomas. “Are you ready to go hunting?” I asked with a small smile. Thomas returned it, his obviously strained.

“I’m game if you are.” He said. “But you’re going in first!”

The massive metal gate shut behind us. The Gate Captain was obviously not taking his chances. I don’t think he believed we were going to be coming back. I’m not sure I believed it. We had been instructed at The Academy on how to best fight the Undead, but that didn’t mean I wanted to. Looking over at Thomas, I could tell he didn’t want to either.

We stood in the globe of torchlight that fell from the torches mounted on the gate. While we stood there, we listened. The only sound was the occasional rustle of a rat as it scurried through and fed on the refuse and decaying bodies that were around us. They were everywhere. Some were clothed in Militia uniform, but most were residents of the Nest and were lucky to have a shirt to cover their backs. Not that they needed to cover their backs any more.

I was brought out of my thoughts to the sound of someone retching. I looked over and saw Thomas knelt down with his arms around his middle, losing his last meal into the corner. When he finished he stood and wiped his mouth, coming back to where I stood. His face was drawn and his eyes were haunted.

“There’re so many of them!” He said. “So many dead!”

I looked out on the mass of bodies and nodded. It was obvious that Thomas had never seen a dead body. It was strange to think that, because I always thought of him like me. I realized that I really didn’t know anything about him. We had become brothers in the sword and that was enough. At least at The Academy. Looking at his strained expression, I realized that it may not be enough here.

“Well,” I said, breaking the silence. “At least they’re dead.”

Thomas looked at me, absolutely horrified. I could see that he had misunderstood me.

“They’re dead, Thomas!” I said, driving home my point. “They aren’t undead!” He blinked and I saw the light of understanding in his eyes.

“It smells horrible!” He said with a grimace, covering his mouth and nose. He stared and the bodies before us. The seconds ticked by as we just stood and stared.

I had seen dead bodies before. You couldn’t grow up in the Nest and not see them. It was a fact of life. They were never allowed to lie in the streets as they were there, but I had seen them before. What surprised me the most was that, Thomas, this strong warrior with whom I had trained and fought, was horrified at the sight. I began to look a little deeper than the surface. I realized that I didn’t know him as well as I thought.

I watched him watch the dead bodies while he covered his mouth. I could tell that it was all he could do just to keep from vomiting again. And the fact that he’d already let go of everything inside his stomach. His eyes were watering and I couldn’t quite tell if it was the sting of the rotting corpses, or if they were tears. I didn’t want to know.

I turned and started to pick my way through the bodies. I could tell from the gagging coming from behind me that Thomas had followed. I quickly scanned the faces on the ground, but there were none that I recognized. It was mildly disturbing to see some of the corpses had their lips peeled back from their teeth in a snarl and their eyes open. It wasn’t the normal face of agony that I was used to seeing on a corpse.

We continued to pick our way through the mass grave when I heard Thomas give a shout of horror. I looked back at him, quickly drawing my sword. He was staring at the ground, at one of the corpses at his feet. In exasperation, I started to sheath my sword to yell at him, but he kept screaming and then he started to shake his foot and back away. That’s when I noticed that the corpse had grabbed his ankle and would not let go!

There was a huge groan that filled the air and the mass of bodies lifted up as one from the ground. I yanked my sword out of the sheath and swung at the nearest zombie. I hit his arm and the flesh sloughed off at the blow, but the bone underneath gave my arms a jolt. I kicked the body in the chest, yanking my sword free of its arm and drew back for another swing. I swung my blade again and lopped off it’s head. The head bounced on the ground as the body collapsed.

I turned to meet the opponent that was surely coming up behind me. There was nothing there. I whirled to another side and hacked at another zombie as he passed me. It fell after three chops to the skull. I turned to my right to attack another. It didn’t even raise an arm against me as I decapitated it in one swipe. “Fighting the Undead wasn’t so hard,” I remember thinking to myself. I was actually enjoying it. I grinned as I cut two more down.

I looked over at Thomas and stopped in horror. I stopped fighting and stared. He was being mobbed by the zombies. By all the zombies, I realized as I looked around. They were all shuffling over to him. I started as one brushed passed me, but ignored me completely. I took a step toward him to help, my horror growing to a deep concern, but something stopped me. I stared at Thomas. I couldn’t stop. He was a whirlwind of motion. Arms and heads and bodies dropped to the ground all around him. His blade was white with fire and it seems to slide right through the abominations, like a hot knife through butter.

As quick as he was, he was not quick enough. While he stabbed at one zombie another came from behind and bit his shoulder. He yelled and his sword clattered to the ground, falling out of his hand. The zombies pressed forward and he was buried under the mass of them. I came out of my trance and ran forward with a yell, hoping I would save him, and fearing that it was already too late. I never got there.

There was a flash of light and warmth that threw me to the ground. I was filled with peace. I sat up and shook the stars from my eyes and looked around. There were no more zombies. In their place were smoking piles of ash. In the center of the destruction stood Thomas, his shoulders sagging and his mouth working to pull air into his lungs. He was scratched and bloody and wet with perspiration. I stood up and stared at him in awe. His eyes came up and met mine. Without a word, his eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed.

A Fighter's Tale © Tlorac

Migrate Wizard: 
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