Dark Times 3: In defence of Cryptwood Watch

Journal of Althas Binder

20th Fivemoon, 732 DT

Servan High Binder was grim faced when I reported in to him. 

“I had a simple scouting mission in mind for you, but we have just received report from Cryptwood Watch of aggressive attacks by undead horrors. Such incidents usually occur when a pillar manifests in or near an ancient burial site, and we had already had word from the Burners of increased Darkwild encroachment in the region. You are to travel to the Cryptwood and investigate. If you can neutralise the threat yourself, all the better, but at the very least discover the situation and we can send a squad of Ironguard in as well. I would send a squad with you now but they are stretched thin with the recent Forsaken attacks and we must know more about what we face there first.”

He relayed more information on the mission to me and I swore the Iron Oath to see it done.

I arrived at the settlement of Cryptwood Watch on the border of the wilds as the sun was beginning to sink into the horizon and found the people there desperate and exhausted. Children hid in their mother’s skirts and the adults looked pale and sunken eyed. On questioning they took me to the north section of the palisades where a hasty repair was underway. The night before had seen an attack by a large group of bonewalkers that had brought down the wall. Such attacks had happened the past few nights and indeed as the sun sunk below the horizon I heard the blood chilling wails from the wilds beyond. It is little wonder those here looked so forlorn.

I swore to help then defend the settlement this night, though in truth I needed rest from my travels and time to prepare to enter the Darkwilds. I had no choice.

I positioned myself atop a raised platform at the palisades and kept watch over the wilds. The pale moonlight cast dark shadows across the landscape and I could see that the Darkwilds had already encroached into the fields and paddocks, a definite sign that a new pillar had arrived near the border. Another wail pierced the air then out of the shadows, silent and lurching, came the ghastly shambles of bone and corpse and shroud. They did not wail, no-one has ever found the source of those maddening shrieks that so often emanate from the wilds at night, but came on with grim determination. Some were clearly ancients, long forgotten, but amongst them there were fresher corpses, still with rotting flesh, some clad in Ironlander garb and others the skins and furs of the Forsaken. Poor souls who fell victim to the Darkwilds and had no comrades left able to burn their bodies to give them eternal rest.

I looked down at the villagers, their ill-slept faces looking corpse-like themselves in the moon’s shadow. They gripped their simple weapons, no more than farming implements and clubs with a few old family spears, shields and hunting bows. I considered a few rousing words, but I am no Iron Priest and would likely have only made things worse. I called for those with bows to take positions at the wall and await my instructions.

The bonewalkers lurched across the fields towards the palisades. I whistled to Tala, my dear hawk, and she swoops from her circling position overhead, diving and clawing at the oncoming horrors. They swipe clumsily at her but she glides away with ease. She does, however, succeed in bunching them together so they trip and stumble over one another in their haste to destroy living flesh and make an easier target. 

I took a deep breath, waiting until they entered bow range, concentrating on lining up my shot. I call out to the other archers to hold their fire until I loose. Thank the iron but they heeded my calls and when I knew the shambling terrors were close enough I unleashed my arrow, with the rest loosing theirs a short moment later.

My arrow found it’s mark, taking my target through the hollow eye socket. Yet on it came. The others were the same, those arrows that find their mark do little damage. I called out for more volleys and while it slowed them down it did not do the damage I had hoped. I could feel my spirit draining as while I am a fair archer, my skills in close fighting are not particularly notable. The frontrunners were at the walls now, their cold dead body’s almost glowing in the dusky moonlight. 

They slammed against the hastily repaired palisades, which thankfully held fast for moment. There were gaps between the wooden posts and I saw the villagers surge forward, stabbing and thrusting through them at the monsters hammering and clawing at their walls. They managed to inflict some damage and incapacitated some of the horrors but the hastily erected repairs soon gave way and I heard the screams of terror as the wall gave in and the villagers scattered from the lurching monsters now inside the settlement.

I leapt from my platform, throwing caution to the wind, and rolled across the compacted earth as I landed. I cast my eyes about trying to find a way to drive them back, their pale flesh and bones now lit up a horrifying red hue by the braziers and lanterns inside the…it was at that moment I realised what a fool I had been. Fire!

I grabbed a villager running past me and screamed at them to bring rags and oil. The light of understanding shone in their eyes and others nearby stopped and thought the same thing.

“Burn them, use the fire!” I screamed and those around me felt a new surge of hope. I grabbed a nearby lantern and flung it with all my might at the nearest monster, but to my horror it rebounded off without smashing and instead burst upon the side of someone’s house, the thatched roof quickly going up in flame and smoke. Similar scenes were playing out across the village where the fires were sometimes catching the bonewalkers but often resulting in buildings alighting too.

“Water, put out those fires before they spread! Focus our efforts and watch the fire.”

The villager I had screamed at to bring rags appeared with a few of her companions and started ripping strips of cloth and soaking them in oil. I spilled my arrows out and shouted for any nearby archers to do the same, showing them how to wrap the arrows in the oiled cloth and set it alight in a nearby brazier. 

I focused my breathing, waiting for the others to be ready then started firing as fast as I could, the flaming darts flying through the night to strike the monsters already bathed in the red firelight from the burning buildings. Their dry shrouds catch fire easily and soon many are on the ground in pieces, the flames burning away whatever dark magicks gave them motion.

Those few that stumble about aflame are easily beaten down by the remaining villagers until their bodies are broken and battered and all unlife has left them.

I took a moment to catch my breath then looked around at the carnage. A number of the buildings around the attack were smouldering but the fires were well under control. Thankfully many here worked with the Burners when they cleared the Darkwilds around here and learned how to manage fire well. Though some homes and the wall would need extensive repairs.

The villagers thanked me for my efforts, though in truth I only offered a small contribution, it was they who fought hard. They did, however, beg me to find the source of these attacks and do what I can to end it and I intend to do so. I am writing this not long after the battle, for while my body is sore and weary, I still feel the energy of battle upon me. Though as I pour these words onto the page I feel that energy leaving me and I will rest soon.

There are a few hours until dawn still and my journey into the Darkwilds themselves to find the source of his horror. If this is a taste of what is out there, there will truly be dark and dangerous times ahead.

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