Rest of story: Here.
The Desert Ro occupies most of southeast Tunaria. It runs as far north as Freeport and as far south as Hazinak. It takes several days to cross the dunes and there are few cities that offer refuge. Anytime spent in Ro is miserable. The days are as hot as those in the Lavastorm Mountains and the nights are as cold as those in Permafrost. The only creatures that live in the sandy hills are disgusting ones that prey on the weak. Deathfist orcs are some of these. They have been living in this area since they arrived in Tunaria. The Deathfist clan has their central compound a few miles west of the Tea Garden. They also occupy neighboring desert regions. Their numbers are astounding. In fact, a few years ago, they got as bold as to try to raid Freeport. This ultimately ended up being a major failure that forced the orcs back to their main camp at the Deathfist Citadel.
Inside of their Citadel, over three hundred of the clan’s best warriors roam. It’s a dangerous place for anyone and is not to be approached alone. Thus, when I woke up on the second floor of the Deathfist headquarters building, I was a bit uneasy to find myself unaccompanied by my father or Snyde.
I sat up and leaned against the wall. Resting my arm on my knee, I pulled out a canteen of water and took a swig. It’s dry as hell in Ro. My vision was blurred and my head was pounding. Whatever I was hit with about cracked my skull open. Thankfully my helmet took most of the blow.
After several minutes, I was able to standup and take a look around the room. The chair where my father had been tied up was now lying on its side.
I stumbled out of the room and back into the hallway. All of the doors were still open from when Snyde and I had checked each room. No one was in them. The place was eerily quiet.
The top floor, where the King had been, was vacant. Same went for the bottom floor. I walked to the building’s entrance. The morning attacked my face and I had to shield my eyes until they adjusted.
Once out on the walkway, I slowly searched the horizon for signs of any Deathfist. None were there. The Citadel was abandoned and there were no traces of an attack. I began to wonder how long I had been out.
I pulled out my compass and gained my bearings. Muniel’s Tea Garden was the closest city to the Deathfist headquarters and so I began to walk east.
The usual creatures were out, wandering around the dunes. Crag wisps floated by without interest. The little balls of energy only crackled as they moved out of my way. I avoided the occasional fire drake or death rattler and continued until I reached the final dune. I was standing on its peak, looking over the Garden when I noticed that there were no monks guarding the Garden’s gates. “They must be inside,” I thought.
I weakly ran down the hill, my armor felt heavy and my legs were mushy. I was dehydrated and my head was still killing me. The pounding hadn’t stopped. When I arrived at the Tea Garden entrance, there was no coachman. I walked into the main building and looked around the gardens. Not a single monk was around. Hell, not a single traveler was there. The place was a ghost town.
Walking back out to the stables, I found an abandoned coach cart. Growing up under a coachman like Quicksteed, I was more than capable of guiding my own coach. I rigged it up and began to head north to Freeport.
In an hour, I was pulling into the south gate of the Western Human city. The guards that usually occupy the towers outside of the city walls were missing. The gates, too, had no Human protectors. As I made my way into the Coaching Quarter, there was no coachman. No citizens were by the well. No citizens were by the rock. Captain Scilond was gone as well. A city of a couple thousand was empty and completely quiet.
I ran through to the main hallway and down its long corridor until I was in the Market Quarter where Banker Cordin resided. I passed through the long archway and before I ran down the small hill to the bank, I was stopped by something horrible. Behind the bank, countless bloodied corpses were strewn out. Hundreds were piled upon each other like rags. From the doorway, I could see that they were Deathfists.
The city was empty and its only residents were a ton of dead Deathfist orcs? I shook my head trying to put together the possibilities. My gaze was still fixed on the bodies when I saw some movement within the pile. I wielded my rapiers and moved closer.
One of the bodies was moving. Or at least that’s what I thought until I got closer and saw that the body wasn’t moving, but was being moved. A faint gnawing sound came from the pile.
There was a horrible stench of rotting flesh in the area and when I was close enough, I saw the most disgusting creature I have ever witnessed devouring the orc corpses. An undead creature was sinking its teeth into the thigh of one of the Deathfist. I almost vomited.
I stumbled and caught myself on the wall of the bank. The noise of my rapiers clashing together caught the attention of the undead creature. It stuck its head up. A low growl rolled through the Market Quarter as it took a step forward and sized me up. The blood and bacteria were caked in its jowls. I took a step back. A noise came from behind me. And then another from the North Gate. Pouring into the Quarter were waves of undead creatures. All types, some were floating, others were crawling, while some were just sets of skeletons, hulking their way towards me.
I called forth accelerando, a Bard song that allows me to run at a full sprint for as long as I need. Before one of the undead could lay an infected hand on me, I was making my way back down the hallway of which I had just come down. I sprinted back into the Coaching Quarter and instead of heading south to the Tea Garden, I turned to follow the East Ocean north.
Running with the spirit of a wolf, I could hear the undead ambling behind me. Each one was panting with a moan only fit for a mummy. They weren’t quick enough and in a few minutes, I was alone in the grasslands of Temby.
There are three towns north of Freeport. Temby is a small fishing village full of uninteresting folks. Hodstock sits on the river to Temby’s west. It’s a farming village that’s equally as unimpressive as Temby. Further north is Bobble-By-Water. Bobble is a village run by the Halflings. It’s their second biggest city outside of their headquarters of Riverdale. This would be my best chance of safety since they have a coach.
I abandoned the East Ocean shores and headed northwest, right through the Cracktooth orc, different from the Deathfist, camp and over a mountain. I sprinted down the mountain’s face and right into the Halfling village.
Before I entered the city, a guard stopped me. I was out of breath and was trying to explain myself but the words were only coming out as gibberish. Luckily, Halflings are friendly people. They never mean harm but watch your wallet around them. The guard waited for me to catch my breath and after I had said what I could, he led me to the village mayor, Deputy Deeppockets.
I explained what I had seen to the mayor and he nodded.
“So the orcs tried to raid again?” he asked.
“I guess so.”
“But they were all dead when you got there?”
The little man had gray hair. He had been the mayor of the village for as long as I can remember. He stroked his goatee while he looked to be deep in thought.
“I need to get to Highpass,” I told him.
The mayor agreed and sent me on a coach to Rivervale. The trip to Highpass Hold from Bobble-By-Water requires one to first go through the Halfling headquarters. It’s a long journey, for sure, but I think the Rivervale stop is more so the little people can get customers to their markets.
After passing through Rivervale, I was able to connect to Highpass. It was a few hours ride through the green, rolling hills of central Tunaria. Soon enough, we were pulling up to the West Gate of the Hold.
I hopped out of the cart where Coachman Billfer was still covering for my father. I was reminded of his disappearance and since he was not working, I felt anxiety rise within me.
When I got to the next room, where the bank and blacksmith reside, Captain Drailis was standing with his back to me. He was talking to Trueshot and Quinn.
Quinn’s eyes opened wide as she noticed me running up to them. Drailis turned and took a step back.
“You look like shit,” he said.
“Feel like it too.”
I gave Quinn a hug and shook Trueshot’s hand. He patted me on my shoulder.
“Where’s my father?” I asked, hoping the Coachman would have magically reappeared in town.
Drailis stood quiet for a second. His head was tilted in a way that suggested he was confused.
“I thought you were with him?”
“I saw him but I got knocked out and when I woke up, he was gone. Snyde was with—“
“You saw Snyde?” Trueshot interrupted in surprise.
I nodded. “He joined me at the Deathfist Citadel. Look, I’ve got some things to explain. I was inFreeportand—“
“Freeport?” Drailis sounded shocked.
“Yeah. Everyone’s gone. Same thing at Muniel’s Tea Garden. No one was there. Not a single monk,” I explained.
Drailis’ eyebrow was raised.
I continued, “When I woke up at the Citadel, after getting knocked out, all the orcs were gone. Well, when I got to Freeport, I found them. They were all dead. Like they tried to raid the city. And might have been damn near successful.
“But they were all dead and among the corpse I found one of those undead bastards, gorging himself on the orcs. When he spotted me, tons of them came after me. I had to run out and head north to the Halfling village. They gave me a ride to Rivervale and then to here.” I had been speaking so fast, I hadn’t noticed Drailis smiling.
“What?” I demanded.
“Muniel’s monks and the Freeport citizens are just fine.”
“Excuse me? I saw the cities with my own eyes. There wasn’t a damn person in either of them!” Anger was building up inside me. I felt as if Drailis wasn’t listening to what I had told him.
“Sir Keegan, we found out about a possible Deathfist raid thanks to an intercepted note from one of their Riders. We evacuated all Tea Garden and Freeport citizens to the Temple of Light.” The Temple of Light is to the west of Freeport and sits in a highly fortified side of a mountain. No one bothers to attack it because it’s a day’s journey from any other settlement.
“Huh.” I felt stumped. “What about the orcs? They were all dead.”
“Yes, we’re aware of that too. We think that when the orcs arrived in Freeport, they obviously found it empty of Tunarians. Instead they found an army of undead creatures. We’re not sure where these undead creatures came from, but according to reports from Oasis and Hazinak, they have attacked most cities in the Desert Ro. But,” he started. “We think it has to do with the Third Horseman.”
I laughed inside. It wasn’t possible. The first two Horsemen were single creatures that occupied a small area. To think that one could overrun thousands of square miles of a desert with an army of undead creatures wasn’t possible.
“Is this a joke?” I asked.
“Not at all,” Drailis responded. A look of seriousness was in his eyes. “Someone talked to the Angel of Death and it wasn’t us. We think it happened some time in the past two days. We have questioned as many Highpass citizens as possible if they saw anything suspicious, but nothing has come up.”
“But that would mean…” I trailed off.
“Correct. Someone else has the Amulet of Fire,” said Drailis.
“Impossible!” I reached into my pocket, “It’s right,” I paused. My pocket was empty. My hand searched every corner and seam. Nothing was there. I had lost it.
“Someone took the amulet,” I muttered.