‘Wild’ Erp: Episode 4: Hunt for a Traitor
I made my way as quickly as I could to the gates of the city. The undead wandered the streets but it was a small matter to stay in the shadows and remain undetected. Finally I could see the massive front gates of Mathosia, gates I had heard about in stories since I was a boy. They were broken and crumbling, guarded by only two men, a Mathosian and a Dwarf, neither of which looked like they were fighters. Suddenly the very earth shook, dropping me to a knee as a bolder slammed into the stone wall of the city only a block away, sending massive stones showering down into the streets.
A shout rang out from the gate and I looked up in time to see four men, dressed in rags and carrying tools that could barely be called weapons. They rushed the guards at the gate, but the Mathosian met them head on, charging into them with his shield and knocked two of them to the ground. Before they could get up the Dwarf brought his mace down and caved in the skull of one, while the Mathosian stabbed his short sword into the belly of the second. The other two glanced at each other and took off running back into the forest. They made it fifteen feet before their bodies caught fire, and they died screaming and rolling on the floor. The Dwarf smirked, a magical fire dying in his hands, and he looked over at me. I stood back up and dusted off my leathers before jogging over to them, feeling extremely unimpressive all of a sudden.
“Oy Gents!” I called as I approached the gate, forcing an air of calmness into my voice that I didn’t quite feel. “Name’s Erp, glad to make your acquaintance,” I threw a little flourish into my bow for good measure.
“Aye, what ye be wanting then Ascended? Headin out to the big battle?” The Dwarven cleric asked, his voice was as gruff as his face was ugly, but he had a conviction that few even of the clergy could match. The Mathosian glanced at me for a moment, taking stock of the situation and any possible threat, then turned back to the gates to keep an eye on things. I walked closer until the only thing separating me and the cleric was the dead body on the ground.
“I’m tryin’ to find a man named Orphiel, a powerful stupid man that needs a lesson taught.” The Mathosian glanced back over his shoulder, his eyes staring at me curiously, before he chuckled and turned back around.
“He’s just another yellow belly. Probably just hanging fire so he don’t have to go to the big brawl,” The Mathosian said, but the Dwarf shook his head and looked me up and down.
“That the case? If you’re skippin’ out on us I’ll knock you same as this one got, make no mistake Ascended.” I let my lips slide into a smile.
“And you’d be right to do it, but I hear Orphiel got himself a machine that’s lookin’ to give Regulos the power of the Ascended.” As I spoke the words the Mathosian turned back around and looked from me to his Dwarven comrade. “That’s right, and I’m lookin’ ta put a spoke in that wheel, if you get my meaning.”
“Why would Orphiel and his Defiant scum side with Regulos? They’re a foul bunch, to be sure, but not lookin’ ta obliterate all of Telara,” The Mathosian said.
“That something we can take a chance with right now?” They looked at each other again, then the Dwarf shrugged and pointed out of the gate with his mace.
“If what ye say is true, and I’m not sayin’ it is, it bears mentioning to Cyril Kalmar. He’s in charge o’ the main war host down the road. You report there and inform Cyril of your suspicions and see what he has ta say.” The cleric kept his mace pointed down the road and into the wooded area beyond the wall.
The forest didn’t stretch very far, but the trees cast shadows long enough for near anything to hide in. I set out at a jog, eager to reach the legendary Cyril Kalmar, but not wanting to get caught in a fight already winded. I made my way along the path, a small cobblestone street flanked by torches, most of which had gone out long ago. Soon the trees parted and I came upon the war camp of those Mathosians who hadn’t lost their minds to Regulos. The camp was only a dozen tents, but the commotion was near deafening. To the west soldiers gathered to form a living wall, holding back the tide of undead that threatened to break through the barrier on that side. To the east three men in brightly colored robes stood guard on another barrier. A host of skeletons near ran toward them, their pilfered swords raised above their heads.
I grabbed my daggers and turned to sprint over to the barrier, but one of the mages finally looked up from the massive book in his hands. He raised his right arm, left still supporting the book in the crook, and a wall of flame shot up in front of the skeletal horde. They charged through, several of them losing bones to the searing heat. One of the other mages shook his head at the display, then waved his hands in the air, his lips working to form words I couldn’t hear, and a massive chunk of earth lifted from the battlefield, nearly the size of a wagon, and slammed into the skeletons like a hammer. Their bones burst or were crushed to dust, and the younger mage, the one that had wielded the fire, turned back to his book.
In the center of the chaos was a Mathosian that was larger than life. He stood near eight feet tall it seemed, his ornate armor scarred from flame and blade. He raised his massive two handed sword, pointing at the west barrier where men were starting to fall back. One of the mages heard the command and turned, twisting his fingers and causing near half of the attackers to collapse, dead once again, while jets of red magic shot from them into the defenders, sealing cuts and preventing several from dying, at least for a while. Heading down toward the man I knew must be Cyril, I brushed the dust and blood from my leathers as best I could. He barely spared me a glance, his eyes keeping track of everything happening in the camp, but he did nod.
“Ascended I take it? Good, we could use more on the front lines,” he said, before shouting out an order to a young squire readying a horse. “Faster boy, and don’t forget the planarite.”
“Cyril Kalmar I presume,” I said, bowing as low as I could. “Might be there’s something more important for me to do.” Cyril looked down at me, his eyebrow raising in question. “The Defiants are traitors, they are using machines inside the city to turn good folk into the walking dead.”
“Do you have proof of this Ascended?”
“Only that it was Borrin Gammult told me.” That brought a pause to Cyril, whose eyes glazed over for a moment before he put his thumb and forefinger on the bridge of his nose.
“Just what we need, more enemies.” His voice was strong but weary and I felt terrible adding even more to his worries.
“That’s not all, apparently a man named Orphiel is creating another machine to give the power of Ascended to Regulos some how.” This news caused Cyril’s head to shoot up and his head snapped left. I followed his eyes and saw a massive outcropping of rock hanging over the battlefield. Odd lights shone from the structure on top of it, and I knew I would find Orphiel there.
“If that’s the case, and I have no reason to doubt Borrin, then we need to put an end to it as soon as we can. Still, even if he gets his machine working and starts creating Ascended, I can’t imagine it’ll spit out an army in a few minutes, and we have more immediate concerns.”
“Like what?” Cyril looked at me for a moment as if deciding something.
“If the Defiant are against us, that means their machines are more dangerous that we previously thought. They’ve been building perverse machines near the walls that are powered by planarite. They told us the machines were to protect the wall, but…” Cyril let the thought trail off as he looked around the camp. “What’s your name Ascended?” He finally asked.
“Erp, at your service sir.”
“Very well, Erp, I need you to go dismantle one of these machines. I’ll send someone else for the others. Carwin Mathos, the bastard brother of the mad Aedraxis himself, was supposed to be back by now. He should be taking care of a problem near the machine you’re to take out. See if you can find out what happened to him.” He grabbed a map from the young squire that stood next to him and jotted down the position of the machine quickly. With that Cyril turned, grabbing his massive sword, and waded into the battle on the eastern barrier, shouting commands while his sword cut down waves of enemies.
I glanced at the map and turned back toward the forest. I forwent the the lit path this time and went deep into the shadows of the trees. The woods weren’t empty, but if anyone could move quietly from shadow to shadow it was me. I skipped past a patrol of, well to be honest I wasn’t sure what side they were on, and I’d hate to go killing off our soldiers for no reason. Finally I stood before an oddly shaped machine, a large ball on the top glowing with an unholy power. Already I could feel my daggers glowing with the blessing of Bahralt.
As I stepped toward the machine I heard movement behind me. I spun just in time to see a massive man, his chest bare and rippling with muscles, slam into me and send me stumbling. Cursing myself for a fool I let him charge and watched. He raised his dagger over his head while I dropped mine into the dirt and as he neared I pushed out with my legs, slamming my boot right into his groin and sending him over me and into the machine. It tipped but didn’t fall, and I was on my feet daggers in hand before my attacker could recover. As he stood I ducked under his arm and stabbed both my daggers into his stomach, then pulled them wife, carving a massive fissure in his body and spilling his insides onto the ground.
His body fell, the blood soaking into the dirt and grass as quickly as it poured from him. My daggers glowed white hot as I approached the machine, and they slid into the metal like it was hot butter. Sparks flew and I ripped my daggers free just in time to drop to the ground and pull the body of my attacker on top of me. The machine exploded sending sharp metal shrapnel everywhere. I felt the body on top of me spasm as it was stabbed and burned. I didn’t move until the body stopped twitching, then I finally threw it off of me onto the ground. My leathers were covered in blood and even singed in some places, but I was relatively unscathed. I pulled out the map Cyril had given me and left in search of Carwin, the brother of the mad Mathosian King.