Brother-Sargent Xoran of the Temple of the Dawn Goddess rode into camp on his Dentre-Bird, the large, flightless birds favored as mounts by the order. He leapt off and cried, “I must see the Mum-Captain, posthaste!”
He moved through the crowds of other holy warriors, priests, squires, and servants, careful to never shove or push as that was a sin, and arrived at the large, gold and orange tent. Two guards admitted him, he was expected.
Mum-Captain Rarven was reading reports when he entered but stopped when she heard him.
“What news do you bring, Brother-Sargent?”
He knelt, genuflected, and spoke, “Mum-Captain, the rumors are true. I saw a great host of the undead are marching south along the old imperial road.”
“That’s a dick move,” she snarked.
“Very true, Mum-Captain, the dickest of moves!” agreed Brother-Sargent Xoran.
For those not familiar with the tenants of the Temple of the Dawn Goddess, they are these: The light of the sun is the source of all life, be polite to others, do not suffer the undead to walk, and when there are no undead to smite, swearing is a healthy way to express stress.
“How many damned abominations were there?”
“I watched for an hour and saw no end to the bastards.”
“F— a duck!”
“As you say, Mum-Captain!”
“Should we rally the troops?”
“How many undead were there?” asked Mum-Captain.
He did some quick calculations in his head and replied, “Lots.”
“We only have thirty-six.”
Brother-Sargent Xoran knelt, held out his spiked mace to the Mum-Captain, and said, “The odds are against us, but I am yours to command!”
“Please stand, Brother-Sargent. I and the dawn goddess appreciate your loyalty and fervor.”
Standing, he declared, “Always and forever!”
“Excellent, excellent,” she said, “Now what do we know about the old imperial road?”
“It was built in the distant past by the Empire of Kraz Mah Taz.”
“Correct. What else?”
“It is rarely used these days. Except by those most desperate.”
He looked around the tent and whispered, “It is said to be accursed. That those who tread upon its stones themselves are forever cursed.”
“Well, it’s being trodden upon by the most cursed of all, the undead,” she said.
Brother-Sargent Xoran’s eyes went wide, “Are you saying they are twice cursed now?”
“I don’t think that’s how it works.”
“How could the undead be twice cursed? What do they fear? Might they come back to life?”
“Brother-Sargent, get ahold of yourself!” shouted the Mum-Captain.
“Apologies your grace.”
“The undead cannot be cured, save with skill at arms and a healthy dose of fire.”
“Of course! How could I forget? What penance shall I perform for my lack of faith?” he asked eagerly.
Wishing she had gotten right to the point, she replied, “We’ll discuss that later. The old imperial road does not lead to or through any inhabited areas.”
“Likely due to its cursed nature,” the Brother-Sargent added helpfully.
“Sure. But what lies south?”
His eyes went wide.
“The Devils’ Underbite, the most savage range of volcanoes in the land. Where it is said that blackened soot falls instead of snow. Where noxious fumes will choke the breath from-”
“Yes, yes. True, but it is also reputed to be the headquarters of the Society of the Night.”
Slapping his fist into his palm, Brother-Sargent Xoran exclaimed, “By the cleansing light of the Sun! Of course! What a devious plot! Bringing their army to their lands, only to turn it around and make war on the living!”
“Let’s call that theory two. I think it more likely that it is a coup from a necromancer.”
“That’s even more likely!” shouted the Brother-Sargent.
“There is a mission for you,” she intoned, knowing that Xoran was a sucker for intoning.
“I am ready to lay my life down for your cause. Shall I attack this horde of the living dead and slay as many as I can before they overwhelm me?”
“Not exactly. I need you to bring a message to the Consortium of the Wise in the Citadel of the Light.”
“It will be done your grace, even if I must die to do so!”
“Ideally not,” remarked the Mum-Captain, who was already writing the message.
“As you wish, Mum-Captain.”
Brother-Sargent Xoran was perhaps the bravest man Rarven had ever met. He was fierce in battle and had the skills to back it up. Additionally, he was unwavering in his faith. This combination made him an astounding holy warrior. A side effect was that he was the most literal person she had ever met. He functioned best when pointed in a direction and told to do one thing. Useful in combat, but he was an excruciatingly dull conversationalist and poor at improvising. Proof that you can’t have everything.
She handed him the wax-sealed scroll and said, ”Take this missive posthaste. The dawn goddess will watch over your journey.”
Kneeling to accept the scroll, he said with fervor, “I shall not rest till I have completed the dawn goddess’s will.”
“You can rest,” she suggested.
“I know that it is in my power, but I will resist the urge, with all my soul!”
“Listen, you can’t complete this if you collapse from exhaustion. So, I suggest…,” the Mum-Captain paused then added, ”No, I order you to rest when needed.”
He bowed his head in acceptance.
“I thank the dawn goddess and you for your wisdom and blessings.”
“C—s—–!” thought the Mum-Captain, who actually forgot to do that. With a gesture and a prayer, she cast a charm of blessing upon Xoran.
“Now, take a fresh Dentre-Bird and deliver this most vital of messages.”
With that, Brother-Sargent Xoran leapt to his feet, ran out to the stable-nests, and began his journey. For the next four days, he traveled over plains, through craggy canyons, marshes, and bogs, resting only when he needed. In fact, once he fell asleep while riding and found himself in a completely different place at dusk. Knowing that his Dentre-Bird needed to be watered and fed, he stopped at a secluded grove, with a stream running through it.
After tending to his mount, he allowed himself to sit down. He did so on some roots, just so it wasn’t too comfortable. Taking out a sun cake from his pack, he began his meal. For those who have never eaten a sun cake, they are a near-tasteless biscuit that can sustain your body over a long journey. They are shaped like the sun so it’s fun.
The hairs on Xoran’s neck stood up. Something was-
“What do we have my friends?” asked an unfamiliar voice, “A weary traveler, all on his lonesome.”
From the shadowy trees emerged four figures, shabbily dressed but armed with clubs and daggers.
“I am a servant of the dawn goddess, leave me be and I will spare you her wrath,” Xoran said in a courteous tone.
“Did you hear that? Lord Templeton here is offering not to harm us!”
This elicited laughter from the others.
“You are wrong about two things. One, I offered to spare you from the dawn goddess’s wrath. Two, I am not Lord Templeton. His lands are many leagues from this grove.”
“It was a joke,” replied the leader of the bandits, whose name was Kinte.
“I don’t think you understand how jokes work. Let me tell you, first-”
“Listen here, I don’t think you get what’s going on here. We are bandits. We rob travelers, sometimes we even kill them,” interrupted Kinte.
Brother-Sargent Xoran considered this as he took a bit of sun cake. After swallowing, he replied, “No thank you.”
“What do you mean?” sputtered the bandit.
“I would ask you to please leave me alone. I am only resting for a short while.”
With a flick of his wrist, Kinte flung a dagger at the root Xoran sat on.
“That’s not an option,” insisted the bandit leader.
“If you wish,” said the Brother-Sargent as he stood and gripped his spiked mace.
There were three important things about the fight that followed. The first is was extremely violent. Bones shattered, blood and viscera splattered everywhere, and the screams of the dying echoed throughout the woods. Second, it lasted less than ten seconds. Third, Kinte, the bandit leader fled once he saw what happened to his companions.
Xoran went to the nearby stream to wash up. Blood was very sticky and hard to get out from under your fingernails if you let it dry. Once done, he moved to his Dentre-Bird, they needed another place to rest that wasn’t filled with the stench of death. It was then he saw that the bag containing the scroll he was sent to deliver was missing.
“Mother f—–!” he said in the manner of his faith.