States of Light

Episode 9

Approaching the Devastation

While Gorun remained behind to help Byron and his family fortify their home, Amalaun and Jiki Mal connected with another League agent named Akra. Noting the urgency of their missions, the three of them decided to proceed despite being under-strength.

Though their lack of stealth lead to several unwanted encounters, they ultimately did negotiate the treacherous outer city limits and came within sight of their target.

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The three figures moved quickly down the shattered street, ducking from doorway to doorway. The ever present fog of dust helped to shroud their movement somewhat, which was fortunate. Their breath was shallow, movements painful. They were all three of them ragged with fatigue.

Finally, after ducking along several alleyways, stopping only for the most slender of the trio to occasionally clamber to a balcony and scout ahead, they came to a quiet courtyard, away from the main avenues.

Jiki Mal peered into the dirty fountain gracing the centre of the courtyard. He grunted.

“No water,” he announced to his two companions.

Neither replied. Amalaun had dropped to the ground off to one side, eyes shut and face drawn. Akra, the big dragonborn leaned against a wall, catching his breath.

Jiki Mal limped over to the two.

“Any more wounds from that ambush?” he asked, eying mostly the dark elf. Akra, he had come to see, could take care of himself.

Indeed, the muscled dragonborn shook his head. Looking up, he rasped, “Nyet. Just hard to breath. This…bone dust, as you called it.” Disgusted, he waved a hand at the fine particulates that hovered everywhere around them.

“Amalaun?”

“Peachy.”

Jiki Mal dug into his pack and pulled out pemmican. “Eat then. We move in five.” He tossed a chunk to Akra, who devoured it gratefully. Amalaun barely moved when the ration dropped on his chest. He groped for it blindly, uncaring, then lobbed it back in Jiki Mal’s direction when he found it.

“Can’t. I’ll just throw it back up anyways.”

“Suit yourself.” Jiki Mal scooped up the pemmican, blew on it, then ate it himself. He settled back, quietly reflecting on their perilous day.

The morning had begun with a shock already, after having dealt with the demise of Ulis the day before. Akra had suddenly appeared in their midst, while Jiki Mal, Amalaun, and Gorun were discussing the next course of action. The blunt dragonborn wasted little time or words in introducing himself as an agent of the League, and with intentions of heading to Hofveld. Akra’s arrival changed things, allowing Gorun to remain behind to protect the vulnerable Byron and his family while the others continued forging ahead towards the beleaguered city.

From the get go, Amalaun was having a troubled day. Pallid and irritable, Amalaun started by announcing that today would be the day of their deaths, then followed that up by vomiting. Jiki Mal reassured an alarmed Akra, having experienced before the dark elf’s unpredictable mood swings, this one in particular. Despite his sickly appearance, Amalaun pushed forward quickly, his rapid pace setting a positive tone to the long trek the trio faced.

It was not long, however, before the three companions came across trouble. Ghouls, and many of them, were wandering the countryside. The trio was forced to double back and around time and again to avoid the roving packs. The land leading to Hofveld was now full of abandoned farmlands whose former residents had either fled, or had become ghouls themselves.

Despite precautions and slowed travel, they were discovered on more than once occasion. Able to outrun them the first time, they were not so fortunate the second, as an unlucky bramble root ensnared Amalaun, and forced the group to fight. The fray was brief, but intense. The lethal, grappling attacks by the ravenous ghouls reinforced the fact that only an armed force of numbers would be able to confront the hordes of undead directly. Stealth and misdirection became their trio’s best allies.

Into the outskirts of the city, travel became even more arduous. The air was full of an odd, clinging dust, making breathing difficult, if not downright impossible. It had a peculiar, unsettling taste; not magical, Amalaun noted, although the faint presence of arcane did linger nearby. It was later that Jiki Mal finally remembered what seemed so familiar about the dust.

It was bone. Finely ground. And, as the group moved farther into the outskirts of the Hofveld, they could see it coming from somewhere in the center of the ruined city.

And ruined it was. Torn asunder, almost randomly. Everywhere, under the layers of bone dust, blood stains.

And then, the ambush. They’d been skirting through a series of alleyways when suddenly, movement off to the side.

Jiki Mal tossed aside the remainder of his pemmican, appetite gone. “Let’s go,” he said to the others. “We’ve a church to find.”

Amalaun sat up suddenly. “Library.”

“I thought we’d agreed church first.”

“Library.” As Jiki Mal began to dispute, Amalaun quickly added “It was the last wish of Ulis.”

Jiki Mal paused. “Oh. Library, then.” Akra shouldered his pack and began to prepare to leave.

Suddenly the dragonborn stopped. “Wait,” he rumbled in a low voice. Jiki Mal and Amalaun halted at his warning, alert.

“What?”

Akra pointed back down the alley that had lead them to the courtyard. “Heard something. Heavy feet…” he whispered.

Jiki Mal motioned Akra to one side of the entrance way to the alley as he quickly took cover around the corner of the opposite. Amalaun was already gone, melting into the shadows on the far side of the courtyard.

A few moments later, Jiki Mal and Amalaun could hear what had alerted their dragonborn companion. Heavy footsteps indeed, more than one pair, treading slowly, carefully. Along with the not quite so muffled scrape of metal.

Jiki Mal signaled for readiness, and lined up his katana deliberately. Akra, too, gripped his maul and settled into wide stance, prepared to unless a devastating blow. They looked to Amalaun, who could see down the alley.

Even with his darkvision, Amalaun found it difficult to pierce the dark covering of shadows keeping him from getting a good look at their approaching foes. One hulking brute to be sure, probably one of the older zombies to have grown so large. And another beside him, quieter and smaller. Both smart enough to try to keep their presence a secret, he realized. Ah well, he thought grimly, not for long. He raised his hand.

“Do it and die, drow,” a hard whisper came from behind. In elven.

Amalaun froze. He was acutely aware of the point of a knife pressed against the nape of his neck, at the base of his skull.

“Call out. Tell the dragonborn to drop his weapon.”

Jiki Mal hadn’t been seen, Amalaun realized. The two other figures had almost reached the entrance way.

“Of course,” he murmured. “You have me, friend.”

An explosion of light erupted, and Amalaun disappeared. A millisecond later the light was engulfed in a globe of darkness as the dark elf called upon his innate drow power.

“Ambush!” Amalaun called out to his companions as he quickly pressed his knife against the neck of his assailant, who started. The flash of light had teleported Amalaun to the other side of his attacker, and he was immune to the darkness in which he had plunged them. From behind, Amalaun could see pointed, elvish ears, and he leaned in with a grin. “Well, cousin, it seems the tables have turned,” he said, also in elven.

Meanwhile, at Amalaun’s call, the two figures burst from the alleyway into the courtyard, to be met by a leaping and roaring Akra and Jiki Mal. Akra smashed his maul down, and only a swift move by the dark human to get his shield up prevented the human’s head from being crushed. Jiki Mal readied his sword and challenged the hulking giant—

“Gorun!” he gasped.

The goliath, startled, managed at the last second to flatten his axe as his tremendous swing was already in full motion. It hammered off Jiki Mal’s face, dropping the unfortunate skaeling, unconscious.

“Jiki Mal!” he howled, dropping his axe.

Amalaun stared, surprised. His distraction was costly. His globe of darkness evaporated and a moment later, his dagger hand was twisted awkwardly around behind his back. With a sudden jerk, Amalaun was flung head over heels. He tumbled to the ground, landing with a explosive grunt, the air blasted from his lungs.

Amalaun groaned, and tried to get up. He halted suddenly, a dagger pointed directly in his face. He was less shocked by that, though, than by the realization his glaring assailant was, in fact, female.

“Please, tell me you don’t work for the League. I really want to run you through.”

Amalaun managed a crooked grin.

“Pleased to meet you…colleague.”

Episode 9
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