–Lullaby, ch. 6–
In which few survive a fight with a zombie horde and our heroes are asked once again to risk their lives by returning to Lullaby.
“I really want to stay here and rest,” said Elendithas. “But I’m worried about Norros. What if he turns into one of those awful zombies? We should get him away from the island. See if it helps.”
Danath tapped the sending stone. “Kirra’s message said that reinforcements would be here tonight, though.”
“What if he doesn’t have that much time? You saw how Falor was. Norros is nearly that bad now!”
“I am tired,” said Nadarr, “But I believe I can row us towards Cliffwatch and see if it helps his mental state. Perhaps we’ll meet whatever reinforcements are coming our way and join up with them.”
They pushed the boat into the surf and stowed the bound Norros in the bow. Nadarr took up the oars and with a grunt of exertion started rowing along the coast back towards Abundance. The sun was high in the sky when they reached the town and struck out due west into the open sea.
After an hour’s hard row, Nadarr spoke up. “I’m fighting the current going this direction. At this rate, we won’t be anywhere close to Cliffwatch by tonight, and I will be dead of exhaustion.”
“Let’s at least get farther out and see if it helps Norros.”
“Affirmative.” Nadarr put his back into each stroke, and another hour’s rowing did see some distance from Lullaby. “I hate to admit it, friends, but I am flagging. Remember, I did carry the rogue on my shoulder all night, too.”
“Let me spell you,” said Elendithas.
“Your offer is generous, but the current is strong.”
Both Elendithas and Danath tried their hands at rowing, but neither managed to move the boat forward. The best they could do was maintain their current location. As they returned the oars to Nadarr, the boat drifted on the current back toward Lullaby. The second it started moving closer to the island, a wave of psychic pain washed over them, weaker than the others, but still unsettling. Norros, sleeping fitfully in the bow, cried out and sat bolt upright, breathing hard. “The Eye…is…gone. I am…myself…again.” He looked around. “When did we get out in the middle of the ocean?”
“You see, I told you it would work.” Elendithas strummed her lyre with great joy and vigor.
“Welcome back, buddy,” said Danath.
“I’m not convinced,” said Nadarr. “Leave him tied up for the time being. This might be a trick.”
“Come on, Greenscales, it’s me…Steven!”
“Just a precaut…” But he cut his words short when something in the distance caught his attention. “Look, the skyship!”
Elendithas and Danath turned towards the cliffs and saw Moonrise glide into the air, no larger than an insect taking off from a table. The skyship grew rapidly as it approached. “That contraption is so fast,” said Danath.
“What? What do you see?” Norros was still trussed up and lying on his side.
“The reinforcements,” said Elendithas. Within minutes Moonrise flew past them, but it was too high in the sky to hear their shouts.
“Let’s head back to Lullaby and meet them.” Nadarr took up the oars once again. “Ah, much easier going this way. Like a knife through butter.”
Even with the current, it was another hour before they nosed into the shallows on the beach just north of Abundance. The skyship had landed south of town, so after untying Norros, they struck off with the beach on their right.
“Can I have my weapons, please,” said the rogue.
“Not yet.” Nadarr grasped Norros’s sword and bow tighter.
A ten minute walk brought them along the coast to downtown, where they started hearing shouts and the sounds of metal on metal. They picked up speed, weaving through town and back out onto the beach. They were unprepared for the scene that met them.
The skyship Moonrise hovered about thirty feet off the ground. Beneath it and stretching out for a hundred yards in all directions were bodies, hundreds of them. Most were the same decaying corpses wearing old rustic clothing that the companions had encountered two days before. But among the hacked and slashed zombies, they saw splashes of blue and yellow. The uniforms of the garrison gleamed but for the bloody streaks and gashes.
Elendithas’s voice was shallow and hoarse. “Do you…do you think any survived?”
“At least one is still fighting, there!” Nadarr pointed up the beach. “But not for long. Come on!”
“Can I have my weapons now.” Norros broke into a run beside the paladin.
As they dashed to aid the last remaining soldier, they watched as she backed into the shallows, holding off three hulking zombies with dizzying and virtuosic swordplay. She might have succeeded if a wave hadn’t crashed into her from behind, tipping her off balance. The largest zombie swung a vicious clawed hand and a spurt of blood arced from the soldier’s chest, catching the late afternoon sun. The soldier fell in the shallows just as Danath’s first arrow found purchase in the neck of one undead menace.
Norros let fly an arrow, and it hit the same spot as Danath’s. The zombie’s head, already precariously attached by dessicated sinew, launched into the air and splashed in the water. “That’s one,” said the rogue.
While the two archers finished off the third, Nadarr and Elend engaged the largest zombie. The bard kept it off balance with psychic taunts as Nadarr’s silvered longsword hacked it to pieces. But even with several wounds opened up across its body, revealing an oozing black ichor, the zombie kept attacking. Nadarr drove his foe into the shallows and stepped on something other than sand. “El, the soldier. I feel her stir. She lives still.”
Elendithas dived to the soldier’s aid. A pool of dark water, stained with blood, drifted around the prone body, but a hand rose feebly into the air and Elend grabbed it. Channeling healing energy into her hands, she sang a soft lilting melody. The wounds closed, and the soldier coughed up blood and water.
“Major Gabirel, thank the stars you’re alive!”
Just then, another headless zombie body hit the shallows next to them, splashing them with water and ichor.
The Major sat up, still coughing. “Your report mentioned a Rexavydar, not an army of zombies. We were caught off guard and overrun in minutes. We came to investigate and confirm, not battle. There were so many of them.”
“And I hate to break it to you,” shouted Norros. “But there’s more coming this way.” He pointed toward town, and sure enough, the streets were teeming with corpses shambling towards them.
“We must go” Danath hoisted Glissa to her feet. “Can you run, Major?”
“I can, with aid.”
Elendithas was already dashing ahead. “Is anyone else still alive? Please, please call out. Raise an arm. We have little time!”
Three more soldiers stirred, and Elend flashed small jolts of healing light their way as she raced by. “To the skyship. Now!”
“Dalvin Torn!” cried Norros. “Let down the rope ladder. Hurry!”
The horde of zombies, a hundred strong or more, had left town and gained the beach. Mercifully, walking among the bodies of their fallen brethren slowed them, and the companions had enough time to send the wounded soldiers up the rope ladder. Nadarr kept his sword drawn at the base of the ladder while his companions scrambled up. The first zombie was upon him as he sheathed his sword. Kicking out at it, he grabbed the ladder. “Go!”
The skyship rose into the air out of the zombies’ reach and drifted away across the water. Danath and Elendithas pulled the rope ladder up until Nadarr’s scaled hands gripped the gunwale. Norros helped the Dragonborn over the side to safety. Major Glissa Gabirel joined them as they looked out at the scene of carnage below them. Dots of blue and yellow were all they could distinguish of her fallen comrades. “I have failed them,” was all she said, as she walked away to be alone.
They reached Cliffwatch as the sun was setting, and Dalvin Torn landed Moonrise in the middle of the parade ground. “The infirmary is off that way. I’ll see to it that these survivors are checked out.”
“Thanks, friend,” said Norros.
“And thank you for not abandoning the troops on the island,” said Nadarr. “That was honorably done. You could have flown away, but you did not. I salute that.”
“I just wish there was more I could’ve done. Had a weapon aboard or something. Instead I just watched them die.” A shadow crossed Dalvin’s features, and he sucked his empty pipe reflexively. Glissa walked past silently. “Major, I am glad you are alive.”
“I am not.”
“Glissa,” said Elendithas. “Major Gabirel, you mustn’t blame yourself for this.”
The major rounded on Elend. “I don’t. I blame you, and your ‘intelligence.’ A Rexavydar. A likely story. A warning about a zombie horde would have been more helpful.” She turned to walk away. “Amateurs. The death of us all.”
Nadarr bristled, but Danath stayed his hand. “Let her be, friend. She’s lost many today. She’s lost nearly all.”
The major kept walking, but called back. “I’d gladly trade you four for my entire garrison.” She stopped, turned, looked at them for a long moment. Scorn and thankfulness skirmished across her face. “But you did arrive in time to save me and three others. For that, you may stay here.” She turned again, her shoulders sagging. “There are plenty of empty beds, after all.”
Glissa entered her barracks and closed the door behind her.
“All those brave soldiers,” said Elendithas. “I can’t imagine. Their families live here in town. Their children. It’s horrible.”
“You wanted to see the world,” said Nadarr. “You wanted to escape from your comfortable life in the big city. This is it.”
Elendithas wiped her eyes with a dirty sleeve. “It only strengthens my resolve to help people, to not sit by, wealthy and idle, while people suffer.”
“Here, here,” said Danath.
The four companions found an empty barracks and fell asleep with their boots on.
The next morning, Norros woke early and wandered across the parade ground to the main gate of the garrison’s compound. Looking to slip out and have a quiet walk around town, he was startled to find people clamoring at the gate for news.
“Where’s the garrison?”
“Have they really gone to Lullaby?”
“What’s the problem? Has the monster risen?”
“When will they be back?”
“Where’s my daddy?”
Norros blanched. “There is nothing I can report. Please be patient.” He flipped up his hood, ran around a corner, and disappeared into the shadows.
In the meantime, Elendithas had awoken and was tenderly arranging the belongings of the soldier in whose bed she had fallen asleep. “Corporal Linora Vest,” she said when Danath and Nadarr came around. “She liked to collect seashells.”
Danath put his arm around his friend. “Let’s honor her memory by putting an end to whatever is on that island.”
“Right. You’re right.”
“Let’s go see the major,” said Nadarr. “Maybe a night of sleep and some military perspective have put her in a more reasonable state of mind.”
They left the barracks and headed across the parade ground. “Where’s Norros?”
“Don’t know. Hopefully not on his way back to Lullaby,” said Danath.
“What if that thing still has a hold of him,” said Nadarr. “I knew we should have tied him up again.”
“I’m right behind you, guys.” Norros appeared from the shadows. “And I promise you, I am perfectly in my right mind.”
“How do you do that?” said Danath.
Elendithas knocked on Glissa’s door. There was no answer. Motioning the other three to remain outside, she crept in. As she did so, she noticed Moonrise once again coming in for a landing.
“Major Glissa.” A guttering candle had given out sometime during the night, and the room was dark. Elend balled her fists and then opened them. Lights danced out, illuminating the room. “There you are.”
Glissa Gabirel lay abed, still wearing her bloodstained uniform. A large glass bottle rested on its side on the floor next to her, with but a few sips of copper liquid remaining in it. Glissa looked up at Elend, then turned away.
“Major, you have missed morning reveille.”
“There’s no garrison. Therefore, there’s no muster.”
“You are still the leader of this garrison. The town needs you. The soldiers’ families need you.”
“If they see me, they will see only the person who survived when their loved ones did not. I cannot help them.”
Elendithas dragged a chair over to Glissa’s beside and sat down. “So you’re just giving up? Their deaths will be in vain if you do.”
“I am 297 years old, Miss Day, I have seen death. This was not death. This was slaughter.”
They sat in silence for a minute. Elendithas could hear voices outside. Her companions were talking to someone with a loud, dwarvish brogue. Comprehension dawned on her face. She stood up and pulled the bedsheets from Glissa’s body.
“Major Gabirel. You still command three soldiers. They are traumatized but alive. They require your leadership. And unless I’m very much mistaken, your commanding officer requires you, present and correct, on the parade ground, this moment.”
Glissa turned back to Elendithas. “Yes. You’re right, of course. I still have troops to command.” She stood up. “It’s a good thing elves can hold their liquor.” She looked down at her uniform. “Nothing to be down about my appearance at this stage. Let’s go face the music.”
The major tried to flatten her crumpled uniform as she and Elendithas stepped outside. When she saw General Axehaft, she snapped to attention. “Major Gabirel reporting for duty, sir.”
“Our pilot, Torn, has informed me of the situation, so he has.” Grem Axehaft returned Glissa’s salute. “Hopelessly outnumbered by undead fiends, and you still gave four times as good as you got. Those were some soldiers we lost on Lullaby yesterday. Fine men and women.”
“I am proud they wore the colors of my house into battle.” Duchess Samara Esris came down the gangplank of the skyship. “Major, I wish we had prepared you better. None of us knew. Not even these – what did you call them – ‘amateurs.’”
“The question is, what do we do now,” said the Duchess. “I feel a sense of dread that the entire population of Lullaby, as it existed all those years ago, must have been turned into these creatures. That’s around 700 people, according to our records.”
General Axehaft spoke up: “Cliffwatch Garrison was the largest military unit we have in the land of Torniel. Other units of the Sularin Joint Force guard the western coast, watching for orcs. We’re as far from them as possible. We have the griffin riders in the city, a few pockets of other troops, but we could never defeat so many undead foes.”
“I have an idea,” said Norros. “Watch.” He shot a tiny mote of fire from his hand towards the side of Glissa’s barracks. “That’s all I can do with fire. But there must be wizards in the region who can wield flame much more destructively. Let’s just gather them up, send them to Lullaby on Moonrise, and have them rain destruction on those zombie fiends.”
“It isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard,” said Nadarr. “Even if I do prefer the up close fight.”
“The idea has merit,” said Samara. “I’m afraid practitioners of the arcane arts as you describe are quite rare. Silvern was one. The head of Cold Harbor University, Halmir Haeron, is another. Besides that, we’d have to petition the Spire Council. That will take time.”
“How about archers then?” said Danath. “Get as many archers as you can with as many arrows as they can carry. They don’t even need to be soldiers. They can be hunters, sportsmen. Anyone really. We could even light the arrows on fire to do more damage. It’s not like we’re going to kill anyone who isn’t already dead.”
“That is more feasible,” said General Axehaft. “I will begin the preparations for the extermination of Lullaby. Major, you’re with me. Duchess, remember what we discussed.” He bowed and stalked off.
When they had gone, Samara ushered the four companions to a sitting room aboard Moonrise. “My friends, you have done remarkably well, and I’m glad to see you still alive. But Grem and I must ask you once again for your service.”
“Here we go again,” said Norros, but Samara had poise enough to let it pass.
“Based on your message, Elendithas, and the intelligence you scrounged from this ship when it was still in Calder’s possession, we think you are right in your assessment that a Rexavydar is at the bottom of this. The trouble is, Rexavydar are rare creatures of incredible power. They’re cunning, charismatic, and evil. And they nest. They take over a place and make it their own, and when they are in that place they are even more powerful.”
“Hence a Rexavydar wanting an entire island for itself,” said Danath.
“And having no qualms with killing everything on it,” said Nadarr.
“But why the zombies then?” asked Elendithas. “Why not just kill everyone outright?”
“That is a question I cannot begin to fathom,” said Samara. “What I do know is this. If we have a hope of destroying the Rexavydar, we need to lure it from its place of hiding. You know where that is. I’m afraid I’m asking you to go back to Lullaby. Coax the Rexavydar from its lair by any means necessary. Try not to engage it. Get it out in the open, and I will have as much firepower at the ready as possible.”
“No way,” said Norros.
“I will be happy to reward you.”
“What good is gold when you’re dead?”
“Well, I’m in,” said Nadarr.
“I want to make sure those soldiers’ deaths meant something,” said Elendithas.
“Let’s finish what we started,” said Danath.
They all looked at Norros, who had backed into a corner. They waited expectantly. After a minute, his shoulders sagged. “It better be a lot of gold.”
Lullaby, Ch. 7 “The Tomb” Coming Soon!
Written by Adam Thomas, Dungeonmaster
Jarrod Antkowiak as Norros Arborshade
Allissa Leonard as Nadarr Kasdann
Jack Leonard as Danath Errandir
Leah Thomas as Elendithas Day