Have you ever had a dream so unimaginably horrifying that it woke you up, but you didn’t stop dreaming? However, I don’t mean you awoke with a scream in your bed but that you became aware that you were dreaming out of sheer disbelief. Whatever happened or whatever you saw couldn’t possibly be real and you suddenly knew you had to wake up to make it stop. I ask if you’ve experienced this because I’ve been waiting to wake up from this nightmare for days now, and at this rate I’m worried I never will.
We’d just arrived in the town of Valamire. Vodarr, Ursa and I had come there seeking a means of transport as the party was down a wagon. What greeted us was empty homes, quiet streets, and a flaming pile of corpses. Trying our best to ignore the implications of this sign, we elected to get what we could and leave as quickly as possible. Vodarr and I skirted the town’s edge towards a barn, while Ursa patrolled the opposite side. We got to the barn, opened the door and the odor of death crashed over us like a wave. Vodarr couldn’t help but keel over, and I nearly did myself. There were more bodies in this place though not all human. Several livestock littered the ground like festering piles of meat. Still, amongst all the ruin there stood hope: a wagon. It looked to be in good condition, although I was unsure how we would attempt to move it with nothing to pull it. After making sure the dead stayed dead I made my way towards the wagon, and that’s when the darkness rushed up to greet me.
The next moments are all a blur: falling, drowning, a grip on my arm, gasping for breath, and then waking. It took me a moment to remember where I was, why I was damp and why I could barely breathe from the stench. As my brother used to say it would seem I was up the preverbal “shit creek” without a paddle. I can’t think of a more literal definition as I had fallen into the waste pit for the barn. What worried me more was that someone or something wanted me down there. Those hatches have to be manually opened and closed. It was no accident. I also became acutely aware of how dark it was. It was night. I had no idea how long I’d been down there but judging from the dull throb in the back of my head, it could have been hours or even days. What had become of the others? I wanted to call out but I had a feeling I wasn’t alone down there. I donned my shield and halberd (which I was pleasantly surprised hadn’t been lost in the fall) and started to move. I could barely see in that pit but I could make out a dim tunnel with three side doors and a main exit. It didn’t make sense, those passages. Storage in this area would be disastrous, and what other purpose could they serve? Most of me wanted to barrel towards the exit and start shouting for Vodarr or Ursa, but I couldn’t risk it. For all I knew they’d been ambushed too and might very well be beyond one of these doors. I carefully opened the first door. A rough, weak voice cried out. It was neither Vodarr nor Ursa, but a man named Jerrard. Upon closer inspection I found him to be human. He told me of the woman in red, how she came to this town seeking aid, and brought nothing but famine and pestilence with her. I tried to move him but he was in severe pain, though not from whatever illness had ravaged this town. He spoke of the sickness of mankind. He described the symptoms and told me how it felt. I didn’t-I couldn’t know, not now. I had never seen a case of it myself, only heard rumors first through Reiley and then basic training. I told him so and he called my family blessed, something I could never hope to do. I wanted to get him out, but he urged me to go find my friends. He had no idea how close I came to ending him as the judge’s words echoed in my mind. “They will only be a burden.”
I made for the next door and opened it, hoping to find nothing. Instead I found-even still I don’t know what I found. It was a small orb, crystal of some kind, and it glowed a soft, eerie green. I felt drawn to it and, against my better judgement, I placed a hand on it. Voices, whispers echoed in this small room. I looked but saw no one. As I feared, they emanated from the orb. I feared it might be the cause of this town’s sickness and needed to know more about it. Vodarr, Norand, Kestrel, someone would know. I wrapped it in some spare cloth and tucked it away. Finally I came to the third door. This room was pitch black and quiet, though I could just make out a large basin at the far end. It was filled with still, clear water. Honestly, I didn’t even hesitate. I needed to wash off the memories of the last few days, let alone hours spent in this pit. I splashed some water on my arms and face and scrubbed hard to forget the smell that seemed to permeate my armor now. Then I heard it. The door behind me slammed shut hard. I armed myself and turned to face the darkness. I saw nothing, but I clearly felt something. Something primal rose up and burned inside me, telling me to run. I turned around to see a grim figure rising from the water in the basin. Another undead, I hoped. This one was different. It carried a great axe with a purpose and water was gushing from its legs. I couldn’t run. If I turned to open the door it would split me from neck to navel. I remember getting a few good hits in, but after a trip attempt splashed through him like nothing, I lost my nerve to down the monster. My mind went to the gem. Doing my best to dodge the sickening, green tint of the axe, I rolled the gem onto the floor and brought my halberd down upon it. After the second hit it shattered and, much to my relief, the monster fell back to the pool and melted.
Not one to question good fortune, I made a break for the exit. What I saw was not a relief. The town was overrun and all the undead were fleeing. They were headed for the main road. The company had to be warned, but I couldn’t just abandon Vodarr and…URSA! He lay in the middle of the town square. I rushed to him but found him de-powered down. His arm was in shambles. I had to get him on the cart, but my earlier attempts to move it solo had failed miserably. So with as much strength as I could muster I began to drag him to the wagon. As I approached the open door, another sharp fear caused me to turn around. I’m ashamed to say I dropped Ursa out of shock. The little girls stood shadowed in the doorway, but their red eyes were all too clear. I picked Ursa back up and began to frantically back away, when she emerged from the blackness. The woman in red, crimson as blood on white cloth, gazed into me..I don’t know any other way to describe it. I was done. I don’t know how I knew it or why, but even as I scrambled with my companion in tow, I was a dead man. But, if I was to die, I would know why and who would put me in the ground. I layed Ursa down and walked towards them with fake confidence, unsure of who I was or what I was doing. I put on my best soldier voice and asked the woman her purpose. She spoke of helping her people, of them being unable to find the afterlife, and of my ignorance. I knew too little to contradict her and too little still to comprehend what she could possibly mean by all this. She seemed almost more disappointed than angry, like a mother upset at stupid child. With utter distaste on her face, she turned towards the barn, and with a flick of her wrist the two little girls bolted after me. I made one last feeble attempt to offer my services in some vein hope of stopping her, but she didn’t falter and neither did the girls. I reached for my halberd but as they neared me all I could see were the twins, Ciara and Claire, and I knew I couldn’t kill them. I remember trying to run, and then nothing.
They tortured me, for how long I’m not sure. I remember a leeching pain and something like my heart trying to burst out of my chest. I remember the woman in red. She was furious about the stone as she seemed to treasure them. I think she pitied me, although her actions didn’t show it. I remember little but sickening pain, and then blackness. I awoke to Norrund and Kestrel. I wanted to tell them to run. I wanted to tell them to find Vodarr and Ursa and leave me here but I was broken. As I felt the last of my strength waning, I begged Norrund to return my shield to Ma. I begged him to find Reiley. Impossible tasks, an unimaginable burden, but I didn’t care. I regret asking so much of him, but it was all I could think to say as the light faded. The last image I saw was Norrund brandishing a ray of light that was swiftly swallowed up by the darkness. I was brought back to the feeling after I fell into the pit: drowning. I could only think of my family, and all I haven’t done as I accepted what I knew had finally found me: death. The grip took hold of me, and again I broke the surface. I awoke again, suddenly, gasping for breath and so very afraid I would drift between the limbo of the living and the dead forever, when I saw Norrund still brandishing his light. As he did I felt my pain recede, though there’s an ache in my chest I cannot place.