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The Lich Emerges

Cor Leonis Requiem

“Brother Kanos!” shouted a voice from the other side of the camp. Several humans raised their heads or looked around at the sound of the alarmed voice.

“Yes? What is it?” replied the deep voice of a large and muscular man.

Brother Kanos, wearing a basic tunic and lion emblazoned tabard of the Order of Arnath’s Fist, set down the box of supplies he had been moving. The Battle Brothers of the Order had set up a forward camp near the Onsallas Village. They did not want to intrude on the Ulven territory, so they made their own camp.

“Brother Kanos! The Eagles bring news, the Lich has been sighted. It is here, in the swamp, and it is close. They are tailing it now.” yelled a younger man in a basic tunic.

“Finally!” boomed Kanos, “This hunt comes to a close. Brothers! Prepare for battle, we move out now.”

Kanos walked towards his tent and began to don his armor. The small camp exploded into action as Battle Brothers and the volunteer militia of the Order prepared for battle.

A younger man jogged towards the tent, his healer’s robe swishing around him as he went.

“Kanos,” he said, “why do we move out so quickly? We should send Eagles to call in the other Battle Brothers in the nearby settlements. Cedrick would not want to miss out on this chance now that we are so close.”

It was customary in the Order to address each other by the title Brother before their name, but in this case it was not needed. Kanos was the older and more experienced brother amongst three siblings. Cedrick was the middle brother and Mahlik being the youngest. The fact that blood bound them together gave Mahlik a bit of leeway outside of the traditional customs of the Order, such as properly addressing one’s superiors or giving them tactical advice.

“Brother Mahlik, we move immediately. This has been the first confirmed sighting since the spring and the Lich is on the move. This is the best opportunity we have to ending it for good. I won’t lose it by sitting back and letting it slip through my fingers.” said Kanos as he strapped on platemail bracers.

He had already put on his gambeson and chainmail and would soon be covered head to toe in full metal armor.

“Brother Kanos, don’t you think it wise to bring all of our battle brothers together for this in case we need them? We have yet to get in contact with Aeden. The Masters sent us out here to find him too.” replied Mahlik.

“Enough, Brother.” said Kanos, “Your concerns are valid, but I have made my decision. Without other greater undead or a gravestone powering it, the Lich will be weak enough that we can end the plague now on Mardrun before it has a chance to even truly begin. Send a message to Cedrick and let him know that I will meet you both back here tomorrow evening. This ends tonight.”

Kanos finished buckling on his platemail breastplate and grabbed his great helm from the stand in his tent. Even without his armor, Kanos was a mountain of a man and in full platemail he dwarfed most of his fellow battle clerics.

“Wait, brother, I am going with you! I am not going to stay in camp while you hunt down the Lich.” protested Mahlik.

“Brother, you know your place is here.” he said, hefting his tower shield. “You are new to the studies and this fight will be dangerous, even if the Lich is weakened. Oversee the camp and prepare for our return. That is an order.”

*

“No, no no!” protested Cedrick as he read the message sent from the Order’s encampment.

The look of horror on his face was enough to rattle anyone around him. He read the words written by his younger brother, Mahlik, that the Battle Brothers were marching against the Lich at that very moment. Cedrick understood the decision. Kanos was making the best judgement call based on the information he had, but there was one very critical piece that was missing. It had just been discovered by the Pack Longfang hunters of the Onsallas village. The Lich was not weakened from months of being on the run. The Lich had killed enough people to make a small army, and harnessed enough dark mana to create a gravestone. The gravestone fed the Lich all the dark mana it needed to be at full strength, and Kanos was marching on it with a small group of battle brothers. There was nothing Cedrick could do to help. It was too late. The Order was already on the move.

“Unless,” thought Cedrick, “we can find the source of its power.”

His Brother’s maneuver could create an opportunity for them. The Lich would respond to the attack and move away from the gravestone. It was dangerous but he knew that he could help his brother by attacking the gravestone. Cedrick grabbed the recently recovered May’Kar Paladin’s artifacts and ran off to meet with the Vandregon Soldiers of the garrison and the group of adventurers that had helped retrieve the sacred blade.

*

“Hold your line, Brothers!” roared Kanos as the wave of undead slammed into the Order’s shield wall.

Kanos was in the middle of the line with two other Lions at his side. The flanks of the wall were made up of more lightly armored Starkhaven militia. The far flank was held by another fully armored Lion so that the discipline of the line would hold even if they took losses. The zombies pressed in on the line, their stiffly curled hands clawing broken fingernails across the tower shields of the Order. They groaned and pressed, and reached over the shields to grab at the humans, but the men of Starkhaven maintained their line and held their ground. After the initial wave had hit and lost momentum, weapons flashed out as swords and hammers crashed down on the undead. Again and again, the steel weapons of the Order struck out to chip and grind away at the dark energy that kept each corpse together.

Kanos expected the Lich to have zombies guarding him but he didn’t expect he would have quite this many. The shield wall containing the lions and militia were being pressed hard by horde of zombies about two times their size. They were doing well holding the line and even managed to drop a handful of the zombies already. Kanos knew that most of them would rise again, but knocking them down was a sign of progress. Repeatedly, the lion-etched warhammer rained down on the bodies in front of his shield, smashing aside the zombies and shattering dried bits of flesh from their dessicated bodies. Kanos glanced to his right and saw two militia members get grappled, the sheer number of undead dragging them to the ground. One zombie had already sank its teeth into the shoulder and neck of a lightly armored volunteer as he cried out in pain. Kanos knew it was time.

“Brother Geshin, now!” yelled Kanos as he hammered a zombie in the face and heaved another back with his shield.

The Lion to Kanos’ left dropped back and cast his shield aside to mutter a divine prayer. Brother Geshin finished the prayer by shooting his arms out perpendicular to his body and casting a divine barrier. The sudden aura of divine energy pushed the undead on the shield wall back. The zombies currently grappling the two fallen militia men reeled in shock as holy energy wracked their forms and they were brutally cut to pieces by the other men of the shield wall. As they fell writhing to the ground, the Lions of the Order finished them with blessed weapons and dispelled the dark energy holding the corpses together. The bloodied militia men clenched their teeth in pain as they staggered back to resume their positions in the shield wall. With the divine barrier giving them some respite, the Lions began to bless their weapons again or rejuvenate their comrades with divine energy. The fight was long from over but the Order was prepared for this. The Lions stepped forward and began to strike at the undead from the safety of the barrier.

“Brothers, I can maintain the barrier for a bit long-GURK!” started Brother Geshin, before his words were cut short and ended in a gurgled cry.

Kanos spun around to see Brother Geshin fall to his knees. Geshin’s arms faltered as blood gushed out of the smoking hole in the side of his breastplate. He wheezed, and coughed a voiceless and bloody cry as he dropped the barrier that had been protecting the group. Brother Kanos watched as Geshin collapsed lifelessly to the ground, clutching at the empty sky. Behind the fallen Lion stood the Lich, clad in tattered black, its hand still extended from casting the death bolt that smote Brother Geshin. Flanking the Lich were several undead bodyguards. These armored undead held weapons and shields, and moved with intelligence and speed surpassing the common zombies of the horde. Knowing they had stepped into a trap was bad enough, but after witnessing the sheer power of the Lich and his greater undead guards, Kanos knew that something was wrong. The Lich was not in a weakened state. It must have created a gravestone in the swamp. Mahlik was right. Kanos should have listened to him.

“Behind us!” roared Kanos as he shifted his tower shield. The armored Lion holding the left flank stepped in towards the Lich and cast a divine spell.

“Divine ba…” was all he managed to say before the Lich flicked a wrist out and rammed the cleric in the chest with a magical push.

The Lion flew backwards, away from the line, and crashed into the zombies on the other side. In seconds they were on him. Several bodies piled on top of the Lion and the sheer weight pinned him to the ground. Teeth broke and rotten fingernails tore upon his plate-mail. The heavy armor would keep him alive for a while but it was only a matter of time before the ravening horde found the chinks in his armor. The cleric was unarmed, having lost his weapon and shield when he was pushed back.

The Lich stepped in towards the lines. Kanos charged, slamming his warhammer into the creature several times before he too was blasted with a kinetic push that sent him flying backwards, rolling and bouncing as he went. Kanos crashed into the zombie horde, his massive figure sending them flying like bowling pins. In moments other zombies descended upon him like they did the previous Lion, and Kanos was in a desperate struggle. He couldn’t see anything except for some part of the inside of his great helm other than the visor. He could hear rotting nails screeching on his shield and armor and the grating and wet cracking of broken teeth on the platemail gorget protecting his neck. Roaring in rage, the Lion warrior shoved several zombies aside and began to blindly attack with his hammer from the ground. Every swing landed on his opponents but there were just too many of them.

Just then, one of the militia members charged in and tried to clear the zombies away. He was brave, but his action would cost him his life. Rotten and withered arms reached out and grabbed him, pulling him closer into the mass of undead on top of Kanos. The lightly armored militia man was dragged down, screaming for help, until he fell on top of Kanos’ tower shield. The zombies tore into the man, clawing and biting and tearing his flesh. Within moments the man was torn to shreds, his entrails and blood pouring down onto Kanos and his armor all at once, like someone had dumped out a bucket at a slaughterhouse. While the undead feasted on the man’s body on top of Kanos, The Lion continued to struggle to find a way out from the tangled horde. He was able to turn to his side and get one arm and one leg under him. With every ounce of strength he had, Kanos roared and power lifted up, sending several zombies flying through the air and crashing into the swamp around him. He lost his tower shield somewhere under the mass of bodies, but there was no time to retrieve it.

Covered in swamp muck and gore, Kanos fixed his helm and finally got a glimpse of how the fight was going. The Lion taken to the ground had stopped struggling and had either suffocated or been torn to shreds, his body still covered in a mass of undead. Brother Geshin stared into the sky with dead eyes. A handful of militia were still standing, bloodied and fighting back to back, while others struggled on the ground with their attackers. Several more lay on the ground motionless. Brother Dayson was struggling, trying to fight one of the Lich’s guards and block its attacks. He would have been doing well if it were not for the zombie that had grappled his back and was tearing into his exposed shoulder where his armor had been broken open. Judging by his slow movements, Brother Dayson would soon fall. The final Lion was maintaining a divine barrier, giving the last couple militia time to regroup. It was working until the Lich stepped forward and blasted a hand sized fist through the Lion’s thigh with a bolt of death and black energy. The Lion went down in a scream of pain and the undead wasted no time shambling into attacking range.

They were losing, fast, and everything that led up to this moment fueled Kanos’ rage. He walked forward with a growl and bellowed a prayer to Arnath before calling forth the flow of mana.

“I am his shield and his strength! I banish you with divine wrath!” Kanos yelled as he pressed his palms out towards the nearest zombie in his way.

The air rippled with energy as a blast of pure divine power burst out and slammed into the zombie, ripping the dark energy from its body and sending it tumbled into a broken mass of flesh some fifteen feet away. He stepped past the body and walked quickly towards Brother Dayson who finally collapsed under the wounds sustained by the lich guard’s rusty blade. A zombie stepped in Kanos’ way but a full on punch to the temple with a plate gauntlet sent the zombie crashing to the ground and Kanos never broke stride.

“I am the light in the darkness! I banish you with divine wrath!” Kanos yelled again as he pressed his palms out towards the back of the guard.

It never even saw him as the second divine blast cracked its spine and ripped apart its body. The broken lich guard sailed through the air over Brother Dayson’s body and crumpled when it landed. With the guard fallen, there was nothing standing between Kanos and his intended target… the Lich. Even at full strength, a Lich would be severely damaged by the pure and raw energy of his god’s divine wrath, and Kanos had enough mana and hatred to pummel it again and hopefully finish the job. As Kanos stopped close enough for the spell to work he began to call upon the flow of mana. The Lich turned to face him but it was too late. Kanos was too close.

“I am a Lion of Arnath’s Fist! I banish you from this realm with divine wrath!” Kanos yelled as he pushed the energy straight into the Lich.

The blast slammed into its chest and it reeled back several steps, shrieking as the dark energy keeping it animated was almost torn completely from its body. It was not enough to destroy it outright, but the blast wounded it badly. Knowing it would take more, Kanos wasted no time in channeling forth more mana.

“Not here, not again, Lich! For my fallen Battle Brothers! I banish you from this realm with divine wrath!” roared Kanos as he dug deep into his faith and harnessed the raw power of his god’s wrath.

His rage at losing Brothers to the lich helped harness the energy, and Kanos hated the lich with the core fibers of his being. In the split second it took Kanos to extend his arms towards the lich, though, a lich guard rushed in and placed its own body in between the Lich and Kanos. Instead of releasing his god’s wrath into the Lich again, the lich guard’s body took the blast at point blank range. The attack instantly shattered the corpse, destroying it outright and sent it tumbling away. Kanos stumbled in surprise at what happened and then regained his composure to call upon more mana.

“You will not escape judgement! I banish you with div…” was all Kanos could get out as a prismatic blast of energy struck him head on and cut him short.

The Lich had stunned him with a simple, rudimentary arcane spell and Kanos stumbled backwards clutching his head. For what seemed like an eternity, the only thing that Kanos could comprehend was piercing light and the muffled sounds of all that was around him. The sound of the militia being torn limb from limb, the gnashing teeth on fresh bloody meat, the sword screeching through the plate armor of Brother Dayson as he was finished off, and the slowed beating of Kanos’s own heart under the effects of the spell. During the final dying breaths of a brave few, ten seconds can seem like forever.

When his senses returned to normal, Kanos opened his eyes to the extended palm of the Lich at his chest. Time returned to normal speed. A kinetic blast of energy rammed him in the gut and sent him flying backwards into the dirt. He landed with a thud and his great helm was knocked clean off his head. With a hacking cough, Kanos regained his breath and tried to stand. The Lich walked closer to him and summoned forth blue tinted energy in its hands. Flicking its wrists forward, it assaulted the cleric with bolts of energy that struck him as hard as any forged blade. The furious rain of bolts dented and bent his armor and rent his flesh until finally one cracked his breasplate and tore into his stomach. Blood oozed out of the cleric’s armor and he knew the wound was deep.

“Cedrick… Mahlik… I am sorry. I should have listened…” choked Kanos as he looked at the pool of his own blood forming at his feet.

He was mortally wounded and there was only one thing left to do.

“I pray that you somehow know that I died a good death. I am Arnath’s Fist!” roared Kanos as he filled himself with intense rage and charged at the Lich, completely ignoring his grievous wounds.

His death was imminent, but he would not meet it while on his knees.

————————————————————————–

“It’s ok, Elise! I will hold them back, grab Venator and go!” struggled Cedrick as his arms threatened to fall, the sheer weight of maintaining so many divine barriers proving to be too much.

“But I’m scared!” cried the little Ulven girl. Elise was inside the divine barrier. She and Cedrick were the last two left near the gravestone. With the lich away, the soldiers of Vandregon and their Ulven allies were able to perform a ritual and destroy the gravestone. Venator had flown into a rage and charged the undead surrounding them to try to take as many down before the group had to flee.

“Elise, it’s ok, they can’t hurt you if my arms are up. The barrier will hold them back. Trust me, they can’t get you, go over and help Venator get back to the outpost.” said Cedrick through almost gritted teeth. The Ulven girl was terrified but complied and ran out to get the wounded Ulven. She was able to make it away from the zombies and moved through the swamp as fast as she could.

Cedrick maintained the barrier but knew he could not last much longer. The undead were around him but suddenly turned and noticed Raskolf of the Watchwolf Clan and several other wounded allies nearby. Dread realization sunk in when Cedrick saw that if the undead turned their attention on them as they fled, they would be outrun and torn apart. The zombies had to be stopped or distracted so the others could get away.

Cedrick looked down at his mangled legs, wounded from the corruption of the gravestone, and knew he was not getting out of here alive. It was this moment that he knew he could still do something to help… and lowered his arms and dropped the divine barrier.

“Hey! Over here! Come on! Face me!” yelled Cedrick as the zombies turned at the noise and the absence of the barrier that kept them away. With fresh meat closer and within reach, the undead surrounding Cedrick moved in for the kill.

As Raskolf and the others dragged the wounded farther into the swamp, the last thing they heard was Brother Cedrick yelling a prayer to his god in defiance as the zombie horde descended upon him.

——————————————————————–

It had been four days.

“Brother Mahlik? ” asked one of the Order camp’s workers from the tent opening.

“Yes?” said Mahlik from the small study in his tent. To pass the time, Mahlik had taken to studying scrolls and texts to busy his mind and he had a number of them opened and held down by rocks and was reading by candlelight since it was well into the evening. His brothers should be back by now. He knew it even if he refused to admit it.

“The others are worried that if the mordok attack, we will not be able to stop them. We are near Onsallas, but not close enough to be protected by our Ulven allies.” said the worker uncomfortably.

Mahlik knew that he should not have waited this long and that to stay any longer was endangering everyone in the camp. He could not shake the feeling that if he gave in and stopped waiting for their return that it would finally make it real. To give up and leave would admit that his brothers were most likely dead.

“You’re right. We have waited long enough. Start taking down the camp. We will move to the outpost in the morning and link up with allies or other Order members there.” said Mahlik heavily.

The worker nodded and left. Mahlik set the scroll down he was pretending to read and stared blankly into the flickering light of the candles, lost in his inner thoughts.

—————–

Magrat stared silently down upon the man she had known for only a few days. His body was torn and sprawled, the white lion on his chest spattered with blood.

That it should come to this. The Longfang had become a second home to her, but they could never replace her tribe, her family. That this human should be her closest link to her people, it would be hilarious if it wasn’t so damn depressing.

Though she was exhausted from the breaking of the Gravestone and and the healing of the ulven girl, she had work to do, and could not rest.

As silently as she could, she gathered the dead human and his belongings and laid him on a hasty but servicable pyre.

She bowed her head over him, and chanted quietly, invocking the spirits of the land and his ancestors to guide him on his final journey. She prayed for the man whose order had been her people’s enemies for far longer than she had been alive.

“Spirits grant this man honor,

Guide his feet as he journey’s home,

Tell him we honor him,

For an honoured enemy

Is as good as an honoured friend”

She took up her ritual knife and took some of him, taking some of his strength and power into herself.

She took his lion’s tabard, torn and bloody, before setting the pyre ablaze. It might attract the mordok or any zombie’s remaining in the area, but Cedrick would not return, and was laid to rest.

It would take the messenger a few days to find the nearest Order group. His package contained Cedriick’s tabard, and a message, carefully written with the help of some of the more formally educated at the Outpost. At the bottom of the message was a small note:

“We honored him as we did in the past, and set him on his pyre.” Signed was a sigil of the Lost, and she hoped that there would still be a vetran among their number who remembered how the Lost honoured their dead. A grave insult and a grave honor all at once.

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