Medievia Mudslinger

April 21st, 2002

Escape - By Orban (Lingdi Zhou)

Dearest Arylin,

We have failed. The power of the monstrous hordes has defeated us. Though we have slain countless numbers of the foe, their strength and numbers remain overwhelming, and we now no longer have the men to fight or the strength to flee. I am afraid of dying here, on these desecrated battlefields, to join the restless souls who haunt every inch of this ground. Most of our brethren have already succumbed to the mighty swords of the undead, and even I write this letter in agony from my wounds. There is not one of us left who has not suffered. I have prayed to the gods for mercy, for reprieve, for hope, but it seems that the earth itself prevents even my prayers from escaping.

I know we are doomed if we stay, but there is no way past the relentless enemy who prevent our departure. Every day we struggle to defend the weak and injured, only to lose more men. Even with the clerics devoting their full powers to healing, we are steadily decreasing in number. Soon we will have no more warriors, and death will claim us all.

But there may be hope. I have decided the time has come to leave the injured and save ourselves. For the men whose wounds are the lightest, there may still be time to slip away before we join the dead. The escape will involve high risk, and I write this letter knowing these may be my final words to you. Should I perish, know that I loved you till the end. Your smile, your care, your gentle heart, I owe them all for the happiness they have given me. I crave to feel them again, yet I know that may not be possible. I know you will pray for me, cling to every ounce of hope for my safe return. I will try my best not to let you down.

With the greatest of love,

Orban




You slip through the grounds unnoticed. Surreptitiously, you enter the ramshackle hut, noticing the others have already arrived. Returning their nods of acknowledgment, you take your place in the crowd. Seconds later, Orban appears from a rear room. Scanning the crowd, he begins.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no doubt anymore why we are here. The battle has been lost. The expedition is a failure. This wasteland of Alcordia holds not what we sought, and to fight anymore now is only to send good men to their deaths. All the treasures these merciless battlefields harbor are not worth a single life, yet we have already lost so many in the blind pursuit of riches and wealth. We must act, for sooner or later the undead will renew their assault and find we have no warriors left to confront them. And hell will be brought to this camp.

"I am not without compassion, but the weak and injured can only hinder our hopes of survival. The only choice we have is to cut our losses and save those who can be saved. There is no more courage; no more honor in staying. Do not let greed cloud your decisions. To stay is only to perish - namelessly and pointlessly. I leave tomorrow.

"Join me, or die."



As the sun approaches its zenith the next day, and the glimmering shields of the departed mages fade and fall, the undead storm through the thin line of resistance into the camp. The screams of the dying cut through the air, penetrating even the forest. Guilt washes over your conscience, yet the decision has been made, and the deed is done. Nothing will bring the many friends left behind back from the dead. All there is now is flight, hope, and the endless swamp.



The insignia of Alcordia emblazoned on the undead knight's chest shines with blood as he cleaves the head from the warrior beside you. Turning, it slashes fiercely, drawing a gush of blood from your arm before you can take a defensive step backwards. As you miss a clumsily prepared counterattack, Muniasí flaming dagger clangs heavily on the knightís armor. You both curse. Meters away, Orban strands in concentration, hands and lips combining to churn out the shockwave that signals the death of one of the undead. Taking more blows on your battered armor, you retreat, shouting for help. A warrior responds, charging from behind you into the fray, and you silently thank the man while you recover from the onslaught. Sensing victory, the clerics cease their healing and begin assaulting the remaining undead with a cacophony of spells. The undead pack die, but not before taking a dozen of your brethren with them. Grimly, the remaining warriors gather up any useful items from the dead, regroup into their ever-thinning formations, and resume their march. Looking back to the bloodied ground, your heart grieves for the dead, but there is no choice but to continue onwards.



The last portion of bread is given to a woman barely able to stand. Even with the numbers of dead increasing by the day, food has inevitably run out. Your eyes follow every movement of her jaws, knowing that hope fades with each bite, each chew. A thousand times your mind coaxes you to rip that morsel from her hands. You are more worthy, your mind tells you. At least you are still of use - why keep the weak nourished when the warriors starve? But your conscience, already burdened by the deaths of so many, cannot bear to take more. Gritting your teeth, you wait mutely until the bread is no more. Sipping precious drops from your waterskin, the howls of pursuing undead send chills through your body. You start again on the long walk of escape, wondering how long it will be before your luck runs out and those howls claim your life.



A vine trips you, and you fall. The rough, swampy ground greets you, and with a whoosh the air is knocked from your beleaguered lungs. Your companions, lumbering ahead, take no notice of your sprawled form until you manage to gather enough oxygen for a hoarse groan. Battle sharpened wits bring the instant attention of your weary comrades, but they sigh as they realize it is one of their own. The memory of when last a sound was heard from behind still lingers painfully with the group Ė a phantom had ambushed the party through the thick jungle. Two men lost their lives, and Giorgi his right arm. As you struggle to rise from the damp earth, Orban steps over and stretches out a worn, creased hand. With your remaining strength you grab and pull, muttering a semblance of a thanks with your parched throat. The remainder of the band trod on silently. Noone speaks much anymore - of the dead or those left behind. There is just too much grief and not enough strength to spare. You once again concentrate your steps behind the already disappearing figure of Orban, and prepare for another long dayís trek to freedom.



You cannot begin to decide which is more horrifying, seeing a man bitten in half, or roasted to ashes. But there is no time to decide as the dragon finishes his prey and resumes his hunt. Where once close to a hundred fearless men and women trod this path, journeying to Alcordia to claim its riches for their own, now barely two dozen warriors and spellcasters retreat. All have been weakened by the lack of food and water, and as the dragon steps closer they scatter like leaves in the wind. The helplessness almost drives you insane as you watch numerous friends succumb to relentless claws and searing flame. When the screaming and horror finally subside, only a small cluster of warriors are left alive. The group assembles to Orbanís call, bruised and dejected. He calls for every soul left to draw upon their last vestiges of strength, to never shed the hope that rescued you all from certain death. You listen with wonder at how he can still utter such valiant words. With the dragon disappearing into a green speck on the horizon, your feet mechanically stride forward, struggling to keep up with the Orban's astounding pace. But still the chasing undead draw nearer, day by day. Civilization and rescue are close, but time has no mercy, and as much as you trust Orban there remains a sense of inevitability in your doom.



The last skeletal enemy swings as if in slow-motion, slicing through Orbanís tattered armor and opening a mortal gash through his torso. With a gasp of pain he steps back, but the undead swordsman presses its advantage and strikes again and again, until the anger of the remaining human warriors is brought onto it, and it collapses itself under the weight of countless blows. Rushing to Orbanís side, his wounds seem almost surreal as you struggle to comprehend what has happened. You always thought your leader was invincible, having fought and survived so much. But as he slowly slips from the mortal plane the dreams of rescue and freedom fade with him, and it dawns on you that the undead have finally prevailed. There was always Orban to rally the survivors, to lift the morale. Now there is no-one left, and the undead have surrounded the party. Your luck has finally run out.

"I am sorry, so sorry." Orban manages to gasp. "I failed all of you. I have sent you to your deaths. I do not ask for your forgiveness, for I know it cannot be given. I only hope all of you can understand why I did what I did, and accept my apology."

Your mind attacks him for these words - of course, you idiot! Your avarice brought us here, and now we die because of it! You pine to curse his soul to the depths of hell, but you realize that you could never utter such blasphemy. Instead you lift his head to your knee and speak your conscience.

"No Orban. You have not failed us. You have tried to bring us glory, and it is we who were the fools for not stopping your foolish quest - in fact we joined you. Alcordia was too strong for us, yet we never lost hope when you led us. You remained humble in victory, inspirational in defeat. You were the wall against doubt, a fountain of strength which we could all draw upon in times of need. You owe us nothing, Orban; only we owe you. Go, and rest in peace knowing that you have done your best. None can ask for more."

The half-dozen warriors, all that are left, now stand in a solemn silence around your crouched form. With the experience forced upon you in these last few weeks of escape, you watch expressionless as Orban takes in his final breath, before collapsing lifeless in your arms. You gently close his glazed eyes, as you have done for so many others, mechanically beginning the search for useful items in his belongings. A small, rolled piece of paper catches your eye, and as you unfurl it Orban's cluttered handwriting beckons you to read his final words.



Dearest Arylin,

I have prepared this letter in the instance of my death; therefore upon receipt you will know that I am no longer with you in this world. Do not be disheartened, for in these weeks of flight I have found harmony with the Gods, and I go in peace. My love for you shall never fade, yet human life is precarious, and if the Gods deem that my time has come then I can but accept my fate.

I will not strive to say all that is in my heart on this page, for it cannot be done. There is too much I wish to explain, to thank you for, but time has defeated me. Once, weeks ago, I thought I could do what many of my comrades could not and escape the deadly grasp of the undead. It seems now that I was wrong. I write because I do not believe the men who remain can survive this torment - at least if none make it back to tell our tale, you will know what became of me.

I am sorry to have failed. It does not excuse my own failure that we all underestimated the undead - nevertheless I hope you will forgive what I have done. I have led a hundred of my fellows to their deaths, and I bear the full weight of their loss on my shoulders. But most of all, I am sorry to you, my love, that I could not fulfill my promise to come home. I long to have you by my side once more, your hand holding mine, your hair flowing in the breeze, your smile lighting the heavens themselves. It is only through my own careless stupidity and unthinking greed that I embarked on this mad quest to find the riches of Alcordia - which has ultimately sealed my own death.

You would laugh at the sight of me here, I am sure. Sitting in a cold, damp tent, writing my last words as if foretelling my own death. Yet how much I would give to hear that laugh, just once more. I pray every night that I may destroy this letter, that I can return to you safely. But if you are reading this, all my wishes and prayers have failed, and I am gone.

I do not ask much in leaving. Take care of yourself and the children, and do not weep too long for me, for I am not worth your tears. Live in peace, knowing I bless you in whatever you choose to do. And never forget to smile, to laugh. It is for your gentle smile and genuine laughter that I loved you, and I could not bear the guilt of haven taken them away.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, always remember that there will be a man waiting, where the dead go, to be with you and love you once more forever. So when your time comes, as mine has, do not be afraid. Only remember that I will be here, welcoming you, to timeless joy and eternal love.

Your ardent supporter, zealous devotee, and adoring lover,

Orban




The screaming of bloodthirsty undead draws near and you know there will be no more flight, no more running. As you give instructions of delivery to the message imp hovering at face level, the men left form a semi-circular guard before Orban's limp body. Entrusting the letter to the imp, you join them, seconds before the wave of undead, in pursuit since you fled Alcordia, charge into view.

You set your shield, raise your sword, and shout the cry of battle one last time.

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