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Chapter One

The wind was cold and biting, heralding in the early encroachment of winter. With it came the foul scent of the strange orange mist now starting to cover Lorderon, both sickly sweet and acridly repulsive at the same time. The sun above was dim and cold seeming, obscured by the unnatural gloom also descending upon the shattered realm. Jon Danworth pulled his blue scarf tighter around his mouth and nose in an attempt to keep out the smell, shivering at seeing what his once proud homeland had been reduced to. Bellow the hill they stood upon lay sprawled the broken remains of the town of Brill. Once a thriving community it now stood silent, some smoke from a newly reignited ember drifting lazily over the fire damaged and dilapidated houses and buildings abandoned by their owners either in retreat or death. Beyond Brill lay a large and sprawling graveyard, one of the largest in the Kingdom as a testament to the destruction it suffered in the Second War. The disaster that had befallen it though had been more insidious and far more destructive. Nothing living except for vermin stirred within by Jon caught movement skulking in the shadows or between houses.

Brill too like nearly all of Lorderon had fallen to the Scourge. Undead now overran the land, vastly outnumbering the living. By the looks of things most of the undead on the surface appeared to be skeletons, mindless drones unable to act without command except under the most blatant situation. Most had probably been taken from the war dead of the cemetery, wearing outdated and deteriorating amour and clenching rusted weapons in bony claws. Undoubtedly there was probably fresher, more feral ghouls lurking within the unseen places and inside the shattered shells of buildings. Faster and more intelligent than the skeletons the ghouls could be threats in packs, able to lay ambushes. Possibly there was worse things within, more powerful creatures such as the nightmarish nerubians.

Jon glanced around him, reassured by the presence of his fellow soldiers. There was eight of them, a small but self sufficient patrol. Each worse steel chain mail, with blue gloves, boots, cloaks and plated pauldrons. On their chests they wore the white tabards emblazoned with a blue two headed eagle- the sign of the Crusade of Lorderon. The last few months had been harsh on the soldiers and they looked ragged, carrying a varied selection of weapons, their amour dented and worn from travel and combat. More than a few of them carried wounds. At their head stood their leader, Sir Balthus, a paladin. Balthus had his warhammer slung over one shoulder, diligently and calculatingly studying Brill bellow. His posture was upright and proud, serving as an inspiration to his men, one of the few things along with hatred of the invaders keeping their morale strong. Behind Balthus was the only member of their party not in amour, Tyrol the mage. He was dressed in rich blue robes, increasingly thread-worn, with the Crusade's tabard across his chest. Formerly a wizard of Dalaraan he now followed the Crusade, acting as Balthus' right hand man. Tyrol leaned on his ebony staff, his face as impassive as ever as he waited on the paladin's orders.

Jon stood among them, near the back. He wore the same amour as the others although it looked bulky on his smaller frame. He was still only seventeen years old, only just entering adulthood, the destruction of his homeland had thrust him into action and forced him to take up the sword. Before the war he was just a runner for his shop keeper father in Capital City which had kept him fit, giving him a lean, slender body. His home had been raised to the ground by the traitor prince though, he'd been lucky to make it out at all. Alone and wandering, hope replaced by a cold desire for justice. That's when he'd been rescued by the Crusaders. They'd taken him, fed him, clothed him and trained him up to fight the Scourge. Jon glanced down and caught his reflection in a muddy puddle. He was still tall and lean although he was quickly starting to flesh out with muscles. Despite the hardships he'd gone through his face still retained youth and vigour, even if it was now permanently matted with dirt and grime. Dark eyes glimmered keenly from under a tangled mop of sandy hair. A broadsword hung by his side, his hand gripped reassuringly around it.

Balthus' voice boomed, snapping him out of his revive. “There does not seem to be many of the abominations on the streets, I can only guess how many are in hiding,” the paladin grumbled, “But there can't be that many. You all know our job, we'll scout the village for the main army. If there's only a few we'll handle it, if not we'll simply fall back to safer ground before calling in the cavalry.” Tyrol nodded quietly at his friend's plan. The rest of the men seemed at easy with it too, they trusted their leader. “Abbendis is not far from here. They can lead a force to purge this land if the resistance is too much,” Balthus stroked his beard, further explaining the situation. “Which one? The elder or the younger?” Danworth asked slightly faster than he'd have cared for, shrinking away a little before he hoped anyone noticed. “Does it matter?” Greensward, one of the older troopers, asked with half annoyance and half curiosity. “I believe it to be the daughter in command of the force near us,” Tyrol answered with a subtle note of admiration, “Her zeal and strategic skill is surprising for her youth. A real treasure for her father and the Crusade.” Jon's face flushed red and he tugged his scarf up more in an attempt to hide it at the thought of seeing her again. “Her zeal may get the better of her,” Jon was sure he caught Balthus muttering and gave the grizzled paladin a cautious glance.

“Let's make our way down now,” Balthus ordered trying to keep their minds back on the job, “Keep alert and quiet, we don't want to be stirring those monsters up. Krieger, keep us covered.” Krieger, a thin and grim faced soldier nodded once at their leader and notched an arrow in the ash bow he carried everywhere with him. With that the small patrol of Crusaders carefully descended the hill, weapons drawn and watchful for attackers and headed for the dead village preparing themselves for any unknown horrors within it's shadowed streets.

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