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Book of the Stars

Gazing at the stars had become a habit of late. Their unique formations, patterns capturing his interest. He was once again looking for familiar patterns, searching for new and interesting pictures to draw from them. At the back of his mind however it was still bothering him that he in actual fact did not have any information on them. He wished to find out more of their names and their groupings. It was not long before he decided to take action: he would find a book, a book about stars, and he would finally know their names. It was late however, so he retired for the evening instead, trying to make as little noise as he could so as not to wake his companions. They would need their energy for the journey ahead and for looking for what he planned for them to search for.

 He woke early and, his mind set, he did not waste time; strapping his equipment to his person and removing the evidence of his encampment with efficiency and practice. He then patiently waited for his fellow travellers to ready themselves. It was not long before they moved out, searching for a city or town. It had been a while since they had seen road, for the stars in the wilderness were clearer and brighter. During the night however an idea had come to him. The first of his companions he sent out to find a prominent astrologist within the area. Once she had left, he asked the other companion to follow her and gather information on the security of the residence.

 Realising that all that was needed was done he decided instead to wander the woods for some time. They weren’t quite like the ones from his childhood, however nevertheless they were peaceful. It was not long however before the peace was interrupted by a raven. Wishing to get back to the peace he found earlier he quickly detached the message on its leg and got to replying. The message had irritated him. However, knowing that some peace would remove that, he kept his message short and sent it along with the raven. Finally he could relax again and so as the day passed he headed back to the encampment they had used the previous day. Knowing not when his fellow travellers would return, he set out to setup the camp once more and not before long headed out to find food.

 As he wandered the woods once more he found evidence of some animals nearby. Not having a hunting bow available he started setting up a small trap and moved into cover to wait. To his luck it was not long before a deer approached; it had, seemingly, been separated from its herd. To his dismay however it had stopped just before the trap he had set and so he tried to move closer to it. Maybe the dagger he had would help him more. Whether due to his bad luck or hunger (?) the leaves around him had dried so that he could not help but make some noise. The sudden rustle of leaves startled the deer and, in its panic, it ran directly into the trap. Realising what had happened he got up from his cover and moved to the animal and with efficiency of the blade cut its throat.

 It was not long after he had gotten back and had started making the food that his fellow travellers returned. Listening to what they had discovered while all were enjoying the food that had been provided the plan was set. Tonight he would need his rest, but not before he finished enjoying the interests the night’s sky had brought.

 The next day he woke to the cries of another raven. It seemed his message had been answered. He pocketed the paper and sent the bird away. He had work to do. Letting his companions know he would be catching up with them at a later stage, he headed off with the information they had provided him. He soon arrived at the house of the astrologist and to his luck he was easily able to acquire a book on the stars. Now he could head back and regroup with his companions and hopefully read what he had found. His interest would be sated and his mind could be at peace once more.

– written by BW Muller –

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Event 16 – Purges

Her heart was pounding, her breathing fast and she desperately tried to hide the sound of both. She hid in the darkened doorway, down a back alley of a street she wasn’t familiar with. She thought she knew what part of town she might be in, but every turn seemed to make her more and more lost. And they never gave her any time to think.

Peering out, she watched the people rush down the main thoroughfare, alert for those pursuing her. Her breathing slowed a little, but her heart still beat so fast. Nervously, she inched out of the shadow, further down the alley, towards the main street.

She saw his face. He smiled at her. Oh blessed father, that smile. The young, well dressed was leaning against the store front on the other side of the street and he just smiled at her. There was no warmth in that smile. There was hatred. There was scorn.

He glanced to his right, nodded, signalling the others. Then started towards her, through the traffic, almost casually.

She fled again.

—————————————————

It was well past dark now. She had never been out this late in the city before without her parents, but they were both now gone. And she would be, too, if she was not careful. But she was tired, oh so tired. Why couldn’t they leave her be? It was not her fault she was the way she was. And she was only nine summers old.

But they didn’t like her. And they would not let her be.

It had taken hours, but she managed to loop back to familiar points in the city without being spotted again. Her home was just ahead, the empty street lit by torches. She waited a long time, waited to see if anyone moved, but no one did.

She crept along the wall, then scurried across the street to her house, quickly turning the steel key in the lock, dreading every sound and scrape. Slamming the door behind her, the young girl peered out the window to see if she was followed. She saw no one, and relaxed, letting out a long, deep sigh.

“Thank you for coming home. It saved me a lot of chasing around.”

She spun and froze, terrified. He was sitting in the chair, her father’s chair, but she had not noticed him in the dark. She stood stock still … there was nowhere else to run to.

The young man was well dressed, his styled brown hair sitting under a fine top hat. His dark clothes were unruffled and well made. And in his right hand, dangling from the armrest, he tapped a coiled rope against the side of her father’s chair.

There was nowhere left to go, and this somehow made her a little more bold. “Why?” She asked softly. “Why are you doing this to us?”

The young man was genuinely puzzled by her query. “Why? Why do you think we are doing this?” He stood, slowly walking towards her until he towered over her in the dark, his silhouette an ominious darkness in the empty room. He reached down, lifting her arm gently and without resistance, pulling back the long sleeve away from her glove, revealing the dark veins against her alabaster skin. He was almost kindly as he continued to speak.

“Because, child, you’re filth. You’re a stain. You are … unclean. And there is no place for that in this city.”

His voice had a lulling quality, one tinged with contempt. And, in the dark, she did not see his fist power towards the side of her head.

 – written by Les Allen –

E16 – Unwanted Betrothal

“Do I have no say in this!?” Edith yelled at her father who was standing by the crackling fireplace.

“It is for the good of the family business pumpkin. Edward’s family is powerful and the union will go a long way for us.”

“But you know Edward does terrible things to get his way! I could never love someone like that!” Edith retorts.

“Sweetie, it is not about love, it is about a better future.” her father replies in a sweet voice as if it would make the prospect more appealing.

Edith is stunned speechless. She just scowls at her father angrily before storming out of the room. How could he? He knows she loves Emelio. No amount of power and money would make her change her mind on that.

Before long she reaches her favourite part of the estate’s garden. She paces back and forth in the small clearing, her emotions flickering between anger, grief and fear.

She was so deep in thought that she doesn’t even notice Emelio enter the clearing. Emelio eventually clears his throat to get her attention.  Her heart skips a beat at the small fright the sudden noise gave her. “Emelio!” she exclaimed as she ran into his arms and they embraced. “What is wrong my angel?” Emelio asks as he brushes her hair out of the way.

“Oh Emelio, something terrible has happened! My father has given my hand in marriage to that dastardly Edward! I have tried to make my father see reason, but he would not listen! Whatever shall we do?”

Emelio embraces her tightly “Worry not my love. I will see that we are together.” He grasps her shoulders and looks into her eyes with determination “Give me a day or two. We will leave this retches place and find a new life together.”

Her heart overflowing with love and gratitude, she nods, a tear rolling down her cheek. “I love you.” She embraces him and gives him a quick kiss. “And I love you.” He replies before vanishing into the city again.

–  written by Rushka Venter –

Event 15 – Where have they gone?

They smell terrible. Ever since they came for our village I’ve had the smell with me. I can even smell them when they aren’t around. The few times they just left me and the others in the cage, the smell would linger and give me nightmares.

 Daddy used to tell stories about them; the dead people that attack the living; killing them … eating them. The stories are scarier now. These didn’t kill us. They gathered us up and forced us to walk somewhere. Why did they do that?

 We walked far. Sometimes I struggled to keep up with the big people. Mommy and Daddy would sometimes carry me when I couldn’t walk anymore. They never got tired, but we did. They don’t care, they’re dead.

 We got stuck in a cage. It was very scary. Every now and then they came for people. The people tried to fight, but they couldn’t win and got taken away. Most of the people they took away we never saw again. Uncle Bruce came back a few days after they took him, only … he’s not Uncle Bruce anymore.

 Mommy and Daddy were whispering about a plan to escape. During one of the few times the cage was not closely guarded and everyone else was asleep, they started digging. Mommy made me go through the hole they dug underneath the cage wall when suddenly some of the other people woke up and tried to force their way past Mommy. Those people made a lot of noise. The dead people noticed the noise and came to the cage. A man was stuck in the hole and Mommy and Daddy couldn’t get through.

 Mommy and Daddy yelled for me to run. I didn’t want to leave them, but I listened when the stink became too much. It frightened me, they came too close, so I ran away.

I ran and ran. I’ve never run so much in my life. I will find someone to help Mommy and Daddy before they become the same as Uncle Bruce. I promise…

– Written by Rushka Venter – 

Event 15 – Scouting

Ruso was leading the scouting party. There were only three of them and they had been travelling deeper into the desert ahead of the armies.They managed to avoid various groups of undead, but hadn’t found any gathering that would indicate their origin or purpose. Dusk was starting to settle in as they snuck over another hill.

Before them a hoard of undead stretched out. Skeletons, zombies and all manner of vile corpses stuck together by their masters. Ruso and the other scouts were stunned by the amount of undead they saw before them.

It seemed to be originating from inside the village. If they wanted to go further, they’d have to get past the undead and over the walls surrounding the village.

Who or what would have the power to gather so many undead? He could see in his companion’s pale faces that they also feared what was behind such a gathering.

They were so frozen with fear, almost mesmerized by what they saw, that they didn’t hear the footsteps behind them, until the creatures announced their presence with vicious snarling.

They spun around, drawing swords as they did so. Before them was a tall humanoid figure with rotting flesh and lupine facial features. He was flanked by two huge wolves, their flesh rotting and missing in places. “Intruder!s” the large figure growled. His features changed into what seems to be a grotesque grin, revealing fangs and rotting gums. “Fresh meat!” he barked as he gestured at the wolves to attack.

His two companions engaged the wolves. “Run! Warn the others!” Devan yelled at Ruso as his sword caught in the jaws of one of the wolves. Ruso hesitated for a second, before clutching his sword and dodging past the wolves. Walter let out a scream of pain as one of the wolves bit into his arm.

Ruso tried to run past the big figure, but the figure brought down its sword with surprising speed and cut a gash in Ruso’s arm. He screamed and dropped his sword but kept running, he had to get away.

He had to warn the others…

Devan’s screams were muffled as the other wolf tore out his throat. The figure turned in the direction Ruso ran in. “HA HA HA!” it laughed in a guttural growl.

“The hunt begins.”

– Written by Rushka Venter –

Event 15 – Cold Memories

Almira sat alone on  the porch of her ramshackle hovel on the edges  of Domicile Veneficii. In the distance she watched  the glimmering red sun slide slowly to rest across the distant desert sands.  She was busy dozing off thinking of her younger days, filled with fond memories of warm nights in tavern halls and even warmer nights in the rooms upstairs.

For a moment she lost himself, deep in nostalgic thought, when she was jerked back to reality by the creeping chill of the evening air. Not buffered by youth’s vigor, the cold got to her sooner these days. ”Time to turn in” she mused to herself, as she sipped the last lukewarm dregs of her tea from the old clay mug. She rose slowly from her seat, grasping her battered cane for support. She placed her mug delicately upon its place and made her way across the tiny room to her bed. She placed her cane upon its hook and pulled her blankets across her elderly frame. She rolled to her side getting comfortable and was about to drift off to sleep when a cold breeze started to creep along her back.

”Darn window” she muttered as she flung off the blanket, she crossed her room to a window, scarcely more than a pane of glass sandwiched in  a wooden frame. Its rusty hinges complained vigorously as she drew it shut struggling to secure an ancient and rickety latch. She was heading back to bed when the cold once again blew up around her; annoyed, she turned around grumbling about the latch and strange weather.

Her mutterings stopped suddenly as she stared into the face of an old friend, only this one was gaunt and near translucent, wreathed in a blueish mist. The figure reached out to touch her, but she was already dead, her face frozen between surprise and recognition; frost already slowly creeping along the peripheries of her features.

The ghastly creature stared long at her body through unseeing eyes, opening its mouth as if  to say something but no sound did it utter.  Its hands clutching at its face it turned with speed, passing straight through Almira’s bed and wall, its horrific screeching echoing into the empty night.

– Written by Duane Havenga –

Event 15 – The First Approach

Silus’ feet moved swiftly across the scrubland as he began what was to be a long circling of the outskirts of the village, his eyes constantly surveyed his surroundings and his hands remained constantly ready upon his knocked bow.

The Corvinian scout had made quick progress, ranging through the forests of Domicile Veneficii and into the scrubland which edged the desert of the Burning Sands, and was already three days ahead of the vanguard of the various allied forces marching toward the town. Ever since he had begun his long approach the hair on the back of his neck had not ceased bristling and he had been catching glimpses of various shambling shapes off in the darkness, likely a small measure of the foul undead that the Duchies combined forces were marching against. Even the land seemed against him here: it was dry, dusty and contained little in the way of foliage. Water and cover were both scarce commodities, and it had appeared as though darkness was his only ally during his approach.

As he stopped to catch his breath, hunched low behind a small rocky outcrop, he felt his unease at being in such a place grow and wanted nothing more than to leave this blight behind and return to his army and the safety of numbers and comradery.

Yet it was his duty to scout out the darkened city and locate any weakness’ its defences may contain, and a Corvinian always did their duty. With a small and barely audible sigh, Silus steeled his will and gathered his courage; and with that he stalked silently once more into the black of the night.

– Written by Patrick Gordon –