April 21st, 2002
Escape - By Orban (Lingdi Zhou)
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,
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
"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.
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
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
Your ardent supporter, zealous devotee, and adoring lover,
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
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