The Man Who Would Be King (Part 2)

Once, the fields of the barrowlands had been bright with wild grasses and flowers. The ponies which ran gaily through the hills were famed for their stamina. The passing of the Lich King’s horde had put an end to all of that.

Now Blake and the Defiant Dust saw a land bereft of all life. Pallid, barren fields and hills topped with little more than mud. They exchanged light words on the road to Estangull. Theriosa knocked an arrow and loosed at a shambling zombie. The corpse was knocked to the ground, groaned and rose again.

Blake diverted his horse towards the straggler. As he approached, he readied his greatsword. In a single swing, he sliced through the zombie’s neck and lifted its head into the air.

“Bow down to your new king!” he exclaimed, as he cut the air in triumphant salute. The other three members of the Defiant Dust remained on the road. Marcello failed to stifle a groan.

Suddenly, four skeletal arms rose from the earth and grabbed the legs of Blake’s horse. It tried to rear up, but was held fast. Blake was tossed forwards by the sudden stop, and fell from the saddle. Another arm rose from the ground to grab him by the leg. He cried out for help.

“You clueless fool!” yelled Grover as he charged in on horseback, axe gleaming in the wan sunlight. At a full gallop, his horse Tempest’s Squall dodged over and around dozens of hands, all rising up to pin him. But as they reached up, they grasped only a firm, clear barrier. Behind, Marcello chanted in deep concentration.

Blake scrambled and stabbed at the skeletal arms as they reached out towards him. But there were too many. They gradually, pull by pull, dragged him down into the muck. His horse whinnied as it was sucked beneath. “Help me, they’re too many!” he cried.

Grover closed the distance rapidly, then swung hard into the earth with his axe as he thundered past Blake, ripping the ground in twain. Still, the dead would not lie. The grasping hands pulled only harder, submerging Blake to his chest in the bog. The dead could not be fought with martial skills alone.

“This will hurt. But if your heart is pure, it will merely test your resolve.” called Marcello, still on horseback on the road. He raised his hand to the heavens and chanted out an incantation.

A blinding pain struck Blake from above. He was enveloped in hard, pure, white light which tore at the very fabric of his being. It was worse than any hangover he had ever experienced. He shut his eyes, but the harsh light was inescapable. The hands released him. He grasped at the arm he felt hold his, and heard a horrendous sucking sound as Grover’s momentum pulled him from the muck and swung him astride Tempest’s Squall.

Blake heard the thunk of arrows hitting the earth in front of him, as the horse charged towards the safety of the road. He blinked hard, but could make out little in the glaring light. He heard a voice, Theriosa’s, cry out, “Hold fast, Grover! Keep to the clear path!” A shrill shriek erupted from behind. He turned, but could only make out the blurry outline of a figure. Tempest’s Squall charged on forward.

A wall of flame erupted behind Grover and Blake. It was immediately snuffed out by an unnaturally chill wind. The figure pierced the air with a warning scream, as Tempest’s Squall reached the road. Blake blinked again, and found his vision returning. The sky was dim, and the hordes were rising. The three remaining horses of the Defiant Dust galloped hard together.

Skeletal hands and figures grasped from the mud at the roadside. But none could pierce the cobblestoned Estrogoth Road. Theriosa said a quiet prayer that this protection would hold until they reached Estangull, at the foot of the Chill Mountains. It was answered only by an inhuman shriek from far behind.