When Meredith woke up there was a guard and an orderly hovering by the side of her, the orderly was a young boy, slim and innocent looking, the guard on the other hand was large and brutish dressed in blacks and dark browns a pot helm and a spear in his hand. She could smell soap and was in a bed that was far to large for her, she looked at the two of them.
“Ah she’s awake!” The boy in white exclaimed and immediately headed out of the tent before she could collect her thoughts. The guard looked at her a solemn look on their face dark brown eyes and a nasty scar across their face, a silver ring around one finger a lot like her own. She sat up and he watched her without any noticable reaction as the blanket almost fell away from her and the cold hit her back.
“Where are my clothes?” She asked looking around the tents interior.
“Probably burnt by now.” He replied looking ahead.
“And replacements.” She was starting to feel a bit tetchy. He didnt’ seem to have much interst in her mood.
“I’m just a guard, I dont’ do laundery” He grunted.
“Wodnerful” she rolled her eyes and collapsed back into the bed and stared at the ceiling.
“Took the orderlies a good horur to get the grime off you.” He noted.
“That would explain the smell.” She glanced at the guard again. “How long was I asleep?”
“No idea, I’m not a clock.” He replied with a slight grin.
“You’re a funny one.” She muttered.
“Always helps to have a smile on your face when you’re at the end of the world.” He looked at her with a sorry grin.
“Did any others show up after me?” She asked a hopeful look on her face.
“Fangs?” He queried.
“mmhmm” She prompted.
“No, just you.” He shook his head.
“Anyone else?” She asked with a disinterested pout.
“Not been on the gates, but even if I had been I’d not be at liberty to say.” He answered with an apologetic tone.
“Of course not.” She let out a sigh and waited for whoever the boy had gone off to call.
What felt like an eternity passed when the tent flaps were pulled too and the commander walked in her face a grim mask of monsterous determination and dedication. A second person followed her, their face completely covered by a veil of white fabric, gold emrbodiery the most significant of which was an eye on the centre. Meredith felt a cold tingle down her spine.
“Officer Kisini” she used Meredith last name and placed her finger on a bejewelled ring.
“Yes Commander.” Meredith answered.
A pair of young men brought an ornate chair into the room which the commander sat in and then turned her full attention to Meredith.
“I need you to recall everything that happend on you mission. Only the truth and the facts now girl.” Meredith nodded, she felt a slightly fuzzy sensation, the veiled woman seemed to stare at her despite the headdress. Meredith recited the events and activities to the best of her somewhat fragmented memory and the commander showed no signs of judgement she would nod and prompt Meredith through the bizare tale and the recall continued as most debriefings until Meredith brought up the memory of the floating fleshy eyeball and its domain, the moment that memory was accessed the deafening shriek of a woman and the white cloaked figure collapsed wailing as vomit exploded from beneath the veil and then she collapsed to the ground the and sobbed and screamed in horror.
The Commander looked at the figure on the ground and then looked at Meredith, “Get that thing out of here, I’ll hear the rest myself.” She pointed at the figure on the ground a look of disgust and disdain on her face as she looked back at Meredith and prompted her to continue. The old woman had many questions and dug through every part of the story looking to find issues and inconsistencies.
After finishing her questioning the old woman sat tapping her finger against the arm of her chair.
“I have to say officer I am quite concerned about everything you told me. There are many strange gaps and missing moments as well as the downright impossible, yet you cannot lie to me.” The old crone sat back in her chair and looked at the girl as though weighing her value.
“They say the bridge had been destroyed?” Meredith asked.
“Yes. Months ago and yet you say you walked across it just two days ago and you are not lying, which means there is undoubtebly some greater trickery at play.” The old crone’s one good eye glared at her. “Don’t worry child I don’t think that you are any more then an unkonwing pawn in whatever game is being played.”
“What do you think happend to the other two who escaped with me?” As the Commander contemplated that question she put her withered old hands together infront of her face and looked at the girl.
“To that I will not speculate, I have sent riders out to scour the countryside in case they have fled though I don’t think that likely.”
“I will not speculate. You are in need of clothing and food, I will have both sent to you, plus an orderly to clean up this mess, and I feel you’ll no longer be needing a guard.” She waved a hand at the guard and orderly.
“So, what’s the situation here.” Meredith’s turn to ask questions.
“Hmm, yes, you have debriefed me I should no doubt debrief you. Your troop left the capital some six months ago.”
“but” Meredith mermered and the commander flared, Meredith ducked her head.
“Yes, six months ago. As you were leaving there was a great disturbance in Corrinth the city burnt for weeks, the gates were shuttered and word of a great plague began to spill forth but there were no details, no birds, nothing, when they finally did open their gates once more we heard of horrifying plague in which they had to burn their dead, a new cult had emerged that worshiped the purifying fire. Then after about a month we received the bird indicating you had reached Florens and that the city had been besieged, then shortly after all the birds returned. As you can imagine with Corrinth a flame a strange new illness and with that it seemed clear something had happend to your troop and I had a retinue of troops march up here while the Kingdom had another sent to Corrinth.” The old lady took a sip of water and eyed Meredith.
“Still nothing came from across the border and we decided to send more significant scouting parties into the area, none returned. So we stopped. Then about three months ago I received reports that some kind pestillance arrived as things began to cross the bridge, another I cursed. The shambling dead as you had described began to cross the bridge and dead lights drifted across the river. You can imagine how that and the unexpected happenings in Corrinth would rustle this old birds feathers.” The old lady stroked her bristly chin. A man came in to the tent with clothes and food and Meredith immediately jumped out of bed and got dressed with one hand while stuffing food into her mouth with the other.
“For over two hundred years old you certinaly are spritely!” The old crone laughed and Meredith looked at her as her trousers up.
“If you recognise how old I am, stop calling me girl!” Meredith said and pulled a light buttonless top over her head. The old crone laughed. A rare sight indeed and Meredith smiled.
“Ah, what’s a few hundred years to an Iri? Are you ready for the rest of the debriefing yet?” The black clad commander watched at Meredith hurriedly get into her clothes. The orderlies tended to the food and brought in a stool for Meredith to sit on.
“Ah it’s divine to be in clean clothes again!” She beemed and shouvled meat and vegetebles into her face.
“I really will miss how refined Flacidious was in comparison with most of my litter” the Commander shook her head. Meredith looked up and then back at the food.
“You can carry on, it’s been a while since I’ve eaten real food.”
“Well don’t get used to it, there are things for you to be doing alas, but I will contiune. With that people in the surrounding villages were killed and came back to life.”
“Is it being killed by the corpses that does it?” Meredith interuppted.
“That’s what we thought at first. But no. No it isn’t. All the dead now come back to life.”
“Like the dead lights?”
The Commander nodded “Indeed, except now every single one and every single beast return to life, you recall that before heading out you all eliminated a group of bandits?” Meredit nodded, “well they came back to life and began to reap havock in the surrounding towns and villages, for the most part it is mindless rampage like a fox in a chicken coup. Yet at the same time all things that die return to spread this mindless violence, it becomes an endless cycle, for now it seems to only be this region. I fear now due to your report that it something much worse then a simple plague or a mad necromancer or even sheer chance. Now I fear that something divine is in motion. Anyway I arrived here a couple of months ago and we set up these furnaces and two new cults have exploded in members as they are want to do, one worshiping the cleansing fire, the other worshiping the Fiend of the Dead. Both were small and insignificant before the outbreak but, as you may guess their practices and rites sing to people now.”
Meredith nodded and sighed.
“So now we burn our dead and not just ours any livestock or horses or other large animals, they all go into the fires. These crematorium are mostly operated by the worshipers of the cleansing fire so they double as place of worship and work, a nuisance indeed. The Fiend of the Dead worshipers though” She shook her head “they don’t even seem human anymore, we tend to find them by the trail of horrifying ritual murder they commit.” Meredith fronwned then pondered a moment.
“Before I left for Vicini I came across some kind of trade in body parts?”
“Yes, we rescued some children from the bandits and took them to the temple of children here, the rites master was in league with some group and had the children butchered and boxed, I killed the rite master and some of the others but.”
“Yes indeed, I was intending on having you infiltrate this group for me. Though I had not heard of them before this dreadful plague fell upon us.”
“Oh, what was that person with the veil?” Meredith was curious.
“I truth seer, they can see into your mind and relive your memories I rarely work with them but some of the higher ups were insistent. Clearly whatever you experianced wass far beyond her feeble minds ability to comprehend.” The old hag grinned and looked at Meredith. “But of course one of my litter wouldn’t be phased by a visit to all the layers of hells.” She stood up.
“Has word spread of what is happening?” Meredith looked up at her and asked.
“Of course, such a vast issue is hard to conceal.” The Commander shrugged.
“So I guess there isn’t going to be much of a brake?”
“No, likely not, but for today rest, then tomorrow we will plan for how you’re going to infiltrate these Fiend worshipers. You’re free to go about your business as you please, this tent is your for the night and report to me in the afternoon tomorrow.” The Commander left the tent and Meredith stood up and checked that her new clothes were properly fitted and the right way around she slipped on her boots, grabbed her new short sword and headed out of the tent the bright sun slighly hazey thanks to the smoke from the chimneys. The orderly gave her a little bow, despire how young he was he was still almost a foot taller than her.
She headed up to Icini paved path underfoot where she was pleased to find that the baths were still there, deciding that it would be a fine place to spend the last of her day off she entered and enjoyed an obsenely long bath and a fine meal to finish it off.