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Kaede

posted Jun 25, 2014, 6:38 PM by Christopher Ellison
This is a short story set in the world of my current D&D/Pathfinder mashup campaign.  Like all the others, I abstain on whether or not it is canonical, though it does concern an NPC who is an active participant in the current campaign.  For anyone reading this who is not familiar with the campaign (who am I kidding - who's gonna read this?), the title references the NPC's home city, the elven city of Kaede.

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They were coming.  The tension up and down the line spoke of that certainty.  This would not be a drill, not a practice run using bag-tipped arrows or blunted spears.  This was real, and everyone on the wall thrummed with nervous, terrified excitement, their gazes firmly fixed on the forest dozens of yards away.

Their savior, their spy, stood atop the wall just two stations from her.  Yoshirou-Mura didn't know her name, barely knew anything about her; she only knew her as The Ghost.  She was small, though she carried herself as a much taller woman would; Youshirou-Mura, though tall, towered over her by more than a full head.  The Ghost wore her traditional brown-grey cloak pulled tight around her as always, and as always, she carried nothing but a bow, a quiver, and a simple pack of woodsman's gear.  She'd only come to the city a few times, always quietly and usually at night.  Always, Yoshirou-Mura would be gazing out into the night, seeing nothing of note, and then suddenly, The Ghost would be at the base of the wall.  She would call out the standard challenge, and The Ghost would respond in a soft, quiet voice.  The Ghost would patiently wait for the gate to open and would slip into the city, disappearing among the buildings not to be seen again for months.

This night had been different.  When Yoshirou-Mura had called out, The Ghost whistled back the highest-priority code Youshirou-Mura had been taught.  More importantly, The Ghost had seemed nervous.  Every time Yoshirou-Mura had seen her before, she'd been stoic, cool, collected.  Tonight she was obviously disturbed, harried.  She hid it quite well, but there was a slight tremor in her high, soft voice that gave away her fear.  The Ghost hadn't waited for the gate this time; she'd slipped through as soon as it cracked open, commanded that it immediately be closed and barred, and stormed up the stairs to see the captain.  Once there, The Ghost had whispered something to him, but Yoshirou-Mura had been just close enough to overhear:  "The Demon is coming."

The memory of the captain's near-panic was burned into Yoshirou-Mura's mind; she'd never seen him in anything less than full control.  As she'd been nearest, he'd told her "Hold the wall at all costs!" as he sprinted off toward the town sounding the alarms.  So she'd stood beside The Ghost, heart pounding, eyes hungrily scanning the forest for any sign of motion, until the captain had returned and stepped between them.  Had it been minutes?  Hours?  It was impossible for her to tell with her fight-or-flight response peaked as it was.

The wall next to her exploded into flame.  She barely registered the yell of her captain, the thump as he hit the ground ten feet below.  There was no time to think, no time to feel.  In a numb haze, she felt her bowstring snap against her arm again and again as her arrows flew at the ember-red demons boiling out of the forest.  Dimly, she became aware of motion, chanting, beside her as the shadows of the forest itself rose to smite the demons, but still more came.

Interminable seconds later, Yoshirou-Mura's fingers closed on air as she reached for her next arrow.  A screech just below her triggered more training.  Creatures she’d never seen before poured out of the shadows and streamed up the walls in a mad rush.  She barely had time to register what they were even fighting; their small, wiry, red-scaled bodies flooded the clearing as they hissed unintelligible curses at her and her fellow guards.  She realized she'd thrown her bow onto the wall and drawn her sword and dagger just in time to separate the head from the demon that leapt up the wall toward her face. 

Yoshirou-Mura's sword flicked back and forth, back and forth for an unknowable time as the demons, barely half her height but impossibly strong and fast, swarmed the walls.  Around her, she heard more explosions, more screeching, and screams coming from her fellow guards, but she could not process any of it; she could only focus on the scrambling demons whipping through the air at her face and arms.  When one would rake at her sword arm, she'd drive her dagger into it, all the while whipping her sword at any motion that caught her eye. 

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the attack was over.  Yoshirou-Mura was suddenly aware of other... things moving outside the walls, shadowy forms that were thankfully pursuing the remaining demons back into the forest.  She glimpsed a large, glowing bear-dog slipping into the forest ahead of the other monkey-demons just before her legs gave out under her.  As she crumpled against the exterior walls, she realized that she'd been injured, bitten and scratched dozens of times.  She glanced down and saw dozens of scales had been torn from her mail.  Under each rent in her armor, her lacerated skin oozed thick, dark blood.  Her head spinning, she struggled to regain her feet, seeing the fires burning around her and her injured comrades.  Her vision was fading; she couldn't seem to get her legs under her.  An arm caught her under her sword arm, and she heard the faint whisper of the voice of The Ghost in her ear.  "Drink this.  It will purge the poison.  Drink this, and rest."  The last thing she remembered before her world went to darkness was the harsh, fiery liquid coursing down her throat.

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I wrote this story yesterday and took a brief revision pass at it today to clarify some of the descriptions.  I still feel like I didn't really adequately portray the confusion, brutality, and tempo of the attack on the city; perhaps I need to revise the setup paragraphs and provide a little more detail and scene-setting to better contrast the pace of the setup and the wait with the pace of the actual battle.  I also feel like I need to work on Yoshirou-Mura's characterization in the story; she was intended to be early in her career as a guard (relatively speaking), when she was still untested (though very well trained).  A third and final observation just off the top of my head:  I didn't do a good job of describing The Ghost, probably, though Yoshirou-Mura knows little of her except for her physical appearance.
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