The Provinces of Veterumterrum

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Chapter 27

On the Wall

Baron Von Riker

Riker and Azariah rode hard with a pair of stolen horses they took from the Feudal Lands. The countryside was wild and unkempt outside the city walls. Riker became reminiscent of old memories of the Feudal Lands. He and Raven ran away there some days to get away from the bards’ college in the city. Just thinking of Raven again warmed his heart. I must succeed. For her, he thought as they galloped through the pine forest that boarded the Feudal Lands and the city. Riker glanced at Azariah and noticed the urgency on her face. She was a lot surer of herself compared to when he first met her just days ago.

“I didn’t realize how quick you are to becoming a thief,” he said to her. Stealing the horses had been Azariah’s idea.

“It is my kingdom, therefore my horses,” she had argued. When they came near the city gates Azariah slowed her horse’s pace.

“What’s the matter?” Riker asked stopping with her.

“I…have not been this close since I left,” she replied.

Riker looked ahead, then back at her. “Azariah, we really don’t have time for this,” he protested. “A lot of people will die unless we warn them ahead of time.”

“You are right,” Azariah agreed but she just sat petrified.

Riker paused for a moment before saying, “Look, I know my word has not meant much to you in the days we’ve known each other. But trust me when I say you will not be alone when facing your father.” Azariah only stared ahead of the path in silence. “Think about your sister. She needs you right now Azariah. Your people need you.”

“Right…” she sighed as she guided her horse along.

Riker road beside her and watched her with concern. Would she run away at a moment’s notice. She was scared but so was he, albeit for a separate reason. In the last few days he had done things he had never done before; horrible things that he found strangely comforting. Killing and torturing that posse of thieves was exhilarating to him. He had never really used his magic to purposely kill before. The control it gave him made him feel power he had never felt before; this both excited and worried him. Now he may kill again and he feared that he would cross a line could not come back from. When they came upon the tall gates to the city, Azariah wore her hood up to veil her face. The surrounding forest blocking away the low sun made the scene even more ominous to Riker. Soon they were approached by a halfblood guard.

“Are you visitors or residents?” the guard asked.

“Ummm…ahhh…” Riker suddenly was at a loss of words. He technically has not been a resident since he graduated from Lone Oak and this is technically not a casual visit. “We need to speak with the constable of the royal household, or a rank with the military immediately.”

“By who’s orders?” the guard asked surprised.

“By order of the elf princess,” Azariah said unveiling her face.

“Great heavens and Phoenix!” the guard exclaimed. “Princess you have returned!”

“Aye, on an unfortunate account I am afraid,” Azariah replied. Riker noticed her Southern elfish accent returning in her voice. “The kingdom will be under attack and we need every sir and madam capable to defend the walls and a heavy militia to defend the Feudal Lands.”

The guard stood confused, “Are you sure about this malady?”

“Do I look unsure?” Azariah asked rhetorically. “The longer we wait here the closer the enemy arrives.”

The guard narrowed his eyes and said, “Perhaps⏤”

“Perhaps you should do as she says,” Riker interrupted with a smile.

The guard scolded Riker and rode his horse to the gates. “Alert the royal guard! The kingdom may be under attack!” he shouted to the other guard at the post.

“What?” a second guard exclaimed. He was a middle-aged human dressed in a ranked uniform. “What are you talking about?

“We’re warned by the princess herself,” the halfblood explained as Azariah and Riker caught up.

“We need to collect the city guard and spread the news of the invasion. The more people to know. the better prepared we will be,” Azariah said to the human.

The man raised his hairy eyebrows, “Princess Azariah, where have you been?”

Riker noticed Azariah’s face flushing red again. “Are you deaf man? I just said that we’re under attack,” she said.

“Forgive me your grace. It’s just we’ve been looking for you for weeks,” the man replied.

“And here I am. Can we now address what I just said?” she said frustratingly.

“Right away your grace!” the human guard said as he opened the gates and ran into the city.

“You,” she said referring to the halfblood. “Take us to the nearest watchtower on the wall. We will need archers on the ready.”

“Yes, your grace,” he obliged. “Should I also send word of your arrival to⏤”

“No,” Azariah interrupted. “They will soon learn of my presence, but first we need to prepare for battle.”

“Of course, I will take you to the closest tower then,” the guard said dismounting his horse before reopening the gate for them.

“I think you make a better diplomat than an adventurer,” Riker said to Azariah with a smile.

“Shut-up before I push thee off thy horse,” she replied smiling before leading ahead.

They followed a path that hugged the city walls. Not fifteen meters away the nearest tower hid behind tall timber trees on the other side of the wall. While climbing the stairs to the top, Riker and Azariah explained the situation to the guard.

“But why now?” the guard asked.

“Because descendants of its follows released the Dark Realm Dwarf,” Azariah explained.

“And it has been alive and undead this whole time waiting to be freed from its prison and destroy its ancient enemies. If it succeeds in Flos Sergens, it will lay waist across the provinces,” Riker followed.

When they reached the top, the guard hurriedly opened the door. Inside a pair of elf guards in leather armor sat playing cards at a small table.

“Get lost halfblood! We said we will not let thee play with us,” one of them said.

“Man the walls we will soon be under attack by an army,” the halfblood guard explained to them.

“What are you talking about? There is no attacking army half breed,” the second replied.

“By order of the princess I command thee to obey,” Azariah said raising her voice. It became obvious to Riker that the inefficiency of the plan began to annoy Azariah. He just observed with crossed arms. He was even amused.

“Princess Azariah!” one of the elves exclaimed standing on his feet so quickly he nearly knocked the table over. “How? why⏤”

“Never mind that! There is an army of undead soldiers on their way right now to kill you dead and unless you desire to have the ravens pick your sorry corpse clean, I suggest you do what the ‘half breed’ said and prepare the walls,” Azariah impatiently interrupted. Her fair skinned face turned beat red with anger. The two elves froze fearfully. They surely did not expect this, Riker concluded, an attack on the city and the missing princess braking orders at them on the same day. They obeyed though, taking their quivers, and bows and rushing out the tower to warn other rangers of the attack. “Go to the city hall and alert the elven court,” Azariah ordered the halfblood guard.

“At once your grace,” the guard replied before descending the stairs.

From below the sound of a team of horses approached. “Your grace, this is Lord Vaderok of the royal guard,” a voiced called from the ground.

“Lord Vaderok, is my father with you?” Azariah asked crouched on the floor near the tower’s window.

“No, your grace. Your father be at home in his castle with your mother and sister,” Vaderok replied. “Come princess, allow me to escort you and your protector to safety.”

“I am afraid I cannot go till I have prepared the city and the Feudal Lands for battle,” Azariah replied.

“That is our job princess, but we cannot do our job and protect the city till you are out of harm’s way,” Lord Vaderok said. Riker detected genuine concern in his voice.

“I suspect they’re not going away till you come down,” Riker suggested to Azariah.

“I am exactly where I need to be Lord Vaderok. On the line with my soldiers,” Azariah said looking at Riker. She waited but heard no reply from outside. “Lord Vaderok are you there?”

“Aye princess,” Vaderok finally said. “We are coming up,” he continued followed by heavy footsteps on the stairs leading up the tower. The door opened revealing an older halfblooded orc dressed in shining paladin armor. His hair was grey and his worn tusks were polished. Behind him were two other guards, a human and a younger halfblood orc.

He paused at the sight of Azariah, taking in her image. He knelt before her and the two behind him followed suit. “It is… good to see you are unharmed. Welcome home your grace,” Vaderok said.

“Stand valor knights, I am most gracious for your quick arrival,” Azariah said with an extended hand. “The enemy we will soon face is most powerful with dark magic and⏤”

“Your hands,” Vaderok interrupted. “They are scarred.”

“I⏤” Azariah started but Vaderok stood to his feet and stepped toward Riker.

“What did you have her do?” he growled.

“Nothing, she earned those scars fighting beside me and our group,” Riker replied defensively.

“Fighting?” Vaderok replied shockingly and looked over at Azariah.

“Yes, fighting. My group fought the Nekodarz once and survived. And we shall do it again,” Azariah said confidently. “Now if we⏤”

“Your father will have my head if I allowed you fight an invasion,” Vaderok interrupted again.

“I am giving you an order Lord Vaderok,” Azariah began but a faint sound in the distance caught her attention.

“What is it?” Riker asked. Vaderok and his men went to the wall and looked out into the distance. They could not see anything but the sound rung again; it was coming from the north.

“It’s a…war horn.”

Chapter28

Band the Militia

Vylasgarden

The Baron wrote as quickly as he could on a piece of parchment as Vylasgarden finished explaining the situation to him. “Are you sure the attack is now?” he asked her perhaps a fourth time.

“Yes my lord, the Dark Realm Dwarf and its army should be nearing by the minute,” Vylasgarden explained. She grew increasingly impatient.

“Knights!” the baron called out.

“Aye, my lord,” a knight near the door answered.

“Take this to the roof and send a carrier pigeon to the Watchtower immediately,” the baron ordered.

“At once my lord,” the knight obliged. “And prepare a carriage for my family to the Mellarius Kingdom.”

“What of you my lord?” Vylasgarden asked.

“I am going to stay and fight on the front lines of course,” the baron replied.

“You?” Kruzco questioned.

“I may be retired and fat, but my training in the elven military is still fresh,” the baron replied taping his head with a finger. “Come Kruzco, you and I need to be dressed in warrior’s armor,” he said taking Kruzco by the shoulder and leading him out the study into the halls. Vylasgarden stayed behind in the study and reviewed the plan in her head. The carrier pigeon was going to deliver the message to the Watchtower, an organization of myrkalfar rangers that safeguarded the rural areas of the entire province. They will spread word of the attack and send for the military to cutoff the invasion before it reached the Flos Sergens. It seemed like the best plan they could have come up with on short notice. Now Riker and Azariah needed to warn the military in the city and that should be easier than her efforts that took place. Vylasgarden played the plan repeatedly in her head; she could not shake the feeling that it would not be so simple. For instance, they were up against magic; and no ordinary magic, dark magic. From what she could remember, dark magic and necromancy was as ancient as all the other forms of magic but it was the most unpredictable of them or mysterious. The monastery spoke of necromantic hexes that had the power to spread powerful plagues across worlds and even left whole realms in darkness. Until that day, Vylasgarden only regarded those tales as just stories but now it felt like legend becoming true.

Vylasgarden took a deep breath and slowly let it out. When this was all over, she was going to take a hiatus before continuing her journey. One cannot fight with little power, she thought to herself and she briefly fantasized about dedicating a couple of days meditating to replenish her qi.

Suddenly a great crash erupted from the north side of the castle and the ceiling and walls collapsed inward onto Vylasgarden. She found herself pinned under rubble on the floor. The cloud of fallen debris obscured her vision as she attempted to catch her bearings. A loud but deep war horn could be heard not far from her position. She looked over and noticed a large boulder wedged between the floor and larger debris from collapsing on top of her. “Catapult,” she groaned.

“My lord baron. Kruzco. Are you all right?” She managed to say as she struggled to lift herself from the floor.

“We on other side Vylasgarden. Can not get to you,” Kruzco said on the other side of a collapsed ceiling that walled her off from the rest of the castle.

“It’s okay, go. I can manage from here,” Vylasgarden shouted.

“Vylasgarden! Go to my bedroom on the second floor. There is an elven longbow in there that best suits you,” The baron’s voice called out to her.

“Go! I will meet with you as soon as I can,” Vylasgarden shouted as she mustered the strength to throw off the debris from on top of her. She stood and looked around her; the study was demolished by the flying bolder. The books were scattered throughout the room and the windows were blown out from the impact. Not wasting any time, Vlasgarden climbed up the rubble to the opening on the second floor of the baron’s castle. Before entering the next floor, she looked out north where the boulder came from. About five-hundred meters away she could make out a legion of dwarves pushing a catapult into the village. They are already here… Vylasgarden thought in disbelief; she thought they had more time. She climbed into the second floor and found herself in the baron’s bedroom. She immediately recognized the longbow mounted on the wall over the fireplace and went to collect it, but was knocked off her feet when a second boulder crashed into the castle. This time on the east side of the structure. “I better hurry,” she said to herself. Vylasgarden collected herself and seized the bow off the wall. She ran for the door but heard the clashing of swords from down stairs. She crouched to the ground and equipped the longbow on her shoulder, then readied her shortbow with an arrow as she stealthily entered the hall. The castle fell silent except for the sounds of creeping feet echoing throughout.

“Are those us or are those them?” she wondered. Vylasgarden peered over the balcony on the second floor and spotted a pair of dwarves searching the first floor. They had grey skin and fire burning through their eyes. There was a dead knight on the ground near the front door, which was wide open. Vylasgarden silently watched the dwarves’ shadows creep deeper into the castle below her. She could not pinpoint their location but she at least knew where they were. She slowly began descending the stairs, carful to not make a sound. Her clawed feet would accidently scratch against the wooden surface every time she took a step. Without warning, a large hand reached through the stairs and grabbed at Vylasgarden, pulling one of her legs through as an armed dwarf came at her from the base of the stairs. Vylasgarden aimed and fired an arrow into the creature’s neck spraying a black liquid from the creature’s body. By now she had a better look at them. They were gaunt yet powerful and they smelled of rotten flesh. More were coming up the stairs and Vylasgarden’s leg was still stuck, making it difficult to reload a second shot. When the undead got near, a flying battleax came and collapsed the rest of the stairs with Vylasgarden and the dwarves still on it.

Before Vylasgarden could register what was happening, she was swarmed by dwarves that dog piled her. Their mouths secreted the same black liquid that escaped the one she shot in the neck, and their eyes burned from the magical kindling within them. The black salivating liquid oozed all over Vylasgarden as more undead dwarves piled on top of her obscuring the light around her. But just as the pile was getting heavy, it began to lighten as dwarves were being thrown off. It was Kruzco that came to her aid. He grappled and threw the monsters like sacks of flour. He too was covered in the same black liquid as she when the last of the dwarves were thrown off. Kruzco reached for Vylasgarden’s hand to help her on her feet. He wore an iron breast plate with an emblem of the Phoenix across the chest. “Ready for another?” he asked half-jokingly.

“Not particularly,” Vylasgarden moaned. “I am going to meditate for weeks after this.”

“Not over yet,” Kruzco replied taking her out the castle to the gardens. Kruzco used his ax to collapse the only standing exit of the castle so that they weren’t to be followed by the undead. Vylasgarden looked around and saw that the entire Feudal Lands were under attack by the invading army. Farms, serfs, and knights alike fought back against thousands of undead dwarves that swarmed the region.

“Look at it,” Vylasgarden muttered. “There wasn’t enough time.”

“Quick! This way,” Kruzco said heading to the left of the castle.

“Where is the baron?” Vylasgarden asked.

“Said go without. Protect family,” Kruzco replied. He took her to the side of the castle that had the baron’s stable. A carriage was parked inside the stable with the remaining castle guards fighting off a horde of undead. Kruzco and Vylasgarden took a careful look and noticed the baroness and her children getting inside the carriage while the same servant from before attempting to attach two startled horses to the harnesses. Kruzco charged into the fight with ax in hand. He slashed and bludgeoned the enemy while Vylasgarden shot down dwarves that managed to climb the stable walls. Between Kruzco, Vylasgarden, and the knights; the small horde of dwarves did not stand a chance. Bodies and necrotic blood covered the ground.

“Quickly! Before more come,” the servant said attempting to calm the horses. Kruzco came to assist while Vylasgarden went with the knights to the carriage.

“Malady, are you and the children okay,” Vylasgarden asked peaking her head in the window.

“Yes, madam sarkany. We are just frightened is all,” the baroness replied. She held her daughter in her arms as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Your knights and my friend and I are going to escort your family out of here to safety, malady,” Vylasgarden said to her calmly.

“Thank you,” the baroness said softly in a hushed tone meeting Vylasgarden’s eyes. “Our lives are in your hands, brave warrior.”

Vylasgarden gave her a nod and regrouped with Kruzco. He and the servant managed to subdue and ready the horses. “What’s the plan?” Vylasgarden asked.

“We need to get then as far south as possible,” the servant replied.

“South where army go,” Kruzco objected.

“He’s right. The attackers are on their way to the city,” Vylasgarden agreed.

“The baron said to take his family to the Mellarius Kingdom which is south on the other side of the mountains,” the servant explained.

“We will have to go another way because going straight south will be suicide,” Vylasgarden argued.

“She is right,” one of the knights agreed. “The plan has changed. The baron made that order when we were not under attack. We head east and around the fight.”

“Very well, I am not one to argue with trained soldiers,” the servant said giving up and climbed up to drive the carriage.

“Will the two of you come with us?” the knight asked Kruzco and Vylasgarden.

“Our duty is on the front line, I’m afraid. We will help get you out the village but after that he and I head for the city,” Vylasgarden replied.

“Take the mule,” the knight insisted to Kruzco. “Since you are an archer, you take the front with the driver,” he said to Vylasgaden. “The rest of us will ride beside the carriage.” Kruzco went over and found a mule held in the stable. He had never seen a mule before and it certainly was not what he expected but he convinced himself that it will have to do. He brought the mule over to the carriage and mounted it next to the knights a top their horses.

“Are we ready?” one of the knights announced. “Forward,” he commanded as the carriage and a team of riders entered the chaos the Feudal Lands were now in.

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