Pavil and her squad were crossing the square when the ghouls spilled from the meeting hall. There were six of them in the first rush and before any of us could react, one of the young men was pulled from his horse. The other horses reared and panicked. A second boy was thrown, landing just a few strides from the first but the ghouls were too busy attacking the first lad to notice right away.
First of all, let me be clearer. These young men deserve to be remembered. The first lad who was pulled off his horse was named Riven. The second lad who fell was named Gordon and the third boy was named Droo.
It’s important to me that I take the time to put their names down here in case this is the last place they are ever remembered. I cannot bear the thought of so many nameless, faceless deaths in this world any longer.
Ghouls are creatures of evil, risen from the dead by a practitioner of the vilest arts. Of course that is why Eronel had burned Broadmire. She needed the bodies to build her army. She no longer looked for the malcontents and thugs in her valley, she just killed people and made them into what she wanted. The implications were chilling.
If you recall. There was no tradition of clerics in the Tranquil valley. Healers were only of the mundane sort, and any who could exhibit any overt magic were either explained away like the Quietus, killed for their heresy and damning sins, or vilified and feared like Eronel. Those who she could she made into priests, snatching the damned from their stockades or buying gifted children from villagers who did not want to deal with the trouble makers.
What Eronel did not know, nor did she teach, was that a true cleric can turn the undead away, causing them to flee before the true glory of the divine. I wheeled my horse around as those staked on the crosses began to pull themselves free of their spikes and lurch forward to kill us. Zombies and ghouls were more than we could handle. The young ones were my first priority. Chloe and Liz hacked at the zombies that lumbered toward us as I spurred my horse around the central well to get a clear view of Pavil, Riven, Droo and Gordon.
What I saw in that split second was heart breaking.
In the order of events. Riven hit the ground, pulled off his horse by the ghouls and disappeared under the weight of their bodies I could not see how he fared in that moment. Gordon had struck his head when the horse threw him, and he did not rise. Droo was fighting to get his horse under control and was attempting to draw his sword.
And Pavil, bless that girl. She not only kept full control of her horse, but she drove the animal into the midst of the ghouls, scattering them while she lashed out with her sword, taking the head off the ghoul she’d struck. Then, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t witnessed it myself; a bolt of blue light shot from the girl’s off hand and a second ghoul crumbled to the ground, collapsing into nothing more than rotted flesh and bones. For one moment she had them routed, but ghouls are creatures of death, fearing nothing.
That is, of course, until they met me.
I held up a fistful of holy symbols and called out in celestial, imploring the deities to save my new friends and send the monsters into the abyss. Not my most eloquent phrasing but I don’t think the divine cared to the level of my poetic abilities. White light flashed, illuminating the clearing, burning away the dusk and replacing it with the glorious light of the noon day sun for the span of twelve heartbeats, but that’s all it took. Any undead in my vicinity staggered away from me. Several of the zombies actually collapsed with the power of my faith, but not all. Those that were not outright destroyed fled in all directions, moving away from the harsh light of the living.
Before I could dismount and see to the wounded, Pavil was off her horse and working on Riven. Somehow the boy lived, but for how long was unknown. Pavil was attempting to staunch the slashes and bites that covered the boy. There were chunks of his flesh missing and he shrieked uncontrollably. Pavil had his head in her lap and was singing to him, a song I had not heard, but I distinctly heard the words “ship” and “sea”.
“He’s going to become one of those things,” Pavil wailed, staring at me. “I have seen it before in my village. I think I have to kill him.” She reached for the knife at her belt. “But I am afraid it will not stop him from becoming a monster.” Tears rolled through the dust on her cheeks as she pulled the blade free of its sheath.
I placed a hand on her arm, catching her gaze. “Let me,” I said, knowing that look of horror and guilt. She watched me for a breath then nodded, closing her eyes and turning her head.
That was the curse that Eronel had cast upon this village. The dead would rise and make more undead, building an army that would scour the valley. I could not let this curse stand. But I could also not save this boy. He had been too badly hurt. He wanted relief from the pain. How was I to choose otherwise for him?
I placed my hand upon Riven’s chest and called forth his spirit, whispering a prayer I had read once as a child in the monastery, Father. One of the tomes on dealing with grief. I recalled it was centered around a dance with twelve steps, but I had no memory of those. Still, the prayer caught the boys spirit and helped it shake loose from its mortal shell.
When he had drawn his last breath, Pavil choked out a single sob, but she did not release his head. I entreated the spirit to hie away to the Far Shore. It hung back for a moment, watching Pavil cry, radiating sadness. Then it was drawn away from the living and passed into the light.
Pavil rose before I did, gently laying Riven’s head down on the dirt and went to Gordon. He yet lived. But the fall had cracked his neck. Without intervention he would be paralyzed, which in this world was as good as dead.
I told Pavil not to move him, not to touch him and I knelt, examining him with the green sight. The bones in his neck could be mended, and the nerves healed if they were not severed by being moved. So that is what I did. It would take a full on conjuring, channeling the divine with a delicate but forceful hand.
And speaking of hand, of course, I only had the one. It was something I constantly forgot and regretted. I would reach for something and stumble when my right arm was not there. Damn those foul vines. So while I pulled in the divine, I could not properly channel it for the purposes of this level of healing. I could not balance the green and the white in such a way to heal the young man without burning away his spirit. Luckily I thought back to Liz and how she had been my hands. I explained to Pavil what we needed to do, and she looked at me for a moment, deciding, then nodded. She knelt before the boy’s head, not moving him, but placing her hands on both sides of his neck.
I rested the stump of my right arm on her shoulder and placed my hand on the top of her head. I pushed the divine through her, and by using her body to diffuse and channel the energy, the healing power of my deities was able to save the boy. I don’t know who was more shocked. Gordon for coming to his senses sound and whole, or Pavil for being a divine vessel used to heal.
By this time Chloe and Liz had destroyed the zombies that remained in the town. It was full dark before we realized that those in the town meeting hall would have also been undead if they had not burned. That had not been Eronel’s work. She would have wanted the most undead to slow us down.
While we gathered the horses and strapped Riven’s body over his mount, Liz and Chloe discovered tracks of a group that had been through the village within the last couple of days. These were not Eronel’s lot, Liz had decided, but another group that had gone into the woods to the east. That was a mystery for another day. Right now I wanted to get back to our camp before any more undead showed up to wreak havoc on our people.