Misurata is one of the most peaceful and secure provinces of the Holy Grypharim Empire. On three sides it’s surrounded by imperial lands, and neither military nor trade routes pass through the maritime domains. No one expected the appearance of a whole army of the dead so far from the western borders.
The monastery of Saint Eufemia was surrounded by a legion of undead. Disgusting decaying creatures, once human, came out of the sea without any boats, killed everyone they saw, and now aimlessly wander around the stone walls of the monastery. Those people who weren’t fortunate enough to be outside were killed and raised by evil magic, adding their numbers to the army of the dead.
“Listen to me, Hestia.” the Mother Superior grabbed the shoulders of the young nun by her bony old fingers. “Only you have a chance! No one else.”
Hestia’s sobs echoed through the empty basement. A few days ago there were barrels of monastery wine here, and the undead attacked the day before the harvest festival when all the barrels were rolled out into the yard, all but one. The largest and oldest oak barrel was in the far corner. The Mother Superior went up to her, turned on the tap and pulled it towards herself. The bottom of the barrel slid to the side, revealing a narrow passage carved in stone for the young nun.
“I’m too old, and the others are sick or injured. Take this lamp. The passage will lead you into the forest behind the monastery. From there, run north. You will reach the city before dawn. Come back with help! Aria’s blessings to you!”
The old woman pushed Hestia forward and closed the door behind her. The young nun ran away, seeing practically nothing as tears blurred her sight. The dim light of an oil lamp barely illuminated the narrow tunnel. Several times the girl touched the walls with her hands but ran forward without noticing the abrasions. After a time that seemed like an eternity, a way out finally appeared. Still crying, the girl put out the lamp to not attract too much attention. The ominous light of the full moon illuminated her path through the forest. To the north. Towards the Blinking Star.
Something stirred in the darkness. Hestia crouched to the ground and tried to hold her breath. The tall dead man slowly walked out onto the moonlit path. A long Imperial blade hung from his belt. With horror, the young nun recognized Otes, an imperial legionnaire who had stopped by the monastery a few days ago to confess. The zombie came dangerously close. He sniffed the air, though Hestia realized that the dead don’t need air, so the zombie apparently searched for the fresh blood. Another second and he would smell the girl.
Without even realizing her actions, the nun rushed forward and drew her sword from the sheath of Otes. The dead man wheezed and moved towards her with outstretched arms. Swinging that long heavy sword with difficulty, Hestia struck the monster and black blood splattered. The zombie staggered but tried to attack the girl again. She screamed, striking the dead man one awkward blow after another until he finally fell.
The girl looked around. Other deaths rushed to the sounds of the battle and her scream. Eyes glowing with otherworldly light were appearing in the darkness here and there as Hestia started to run. Fear didn’t allow her to feel exhaustion and the undead kept pursuing the girl. Gradually, the creatures of necromancy lagged so she eventually managed to outrun them on foot. Before dawn, the nun ran out to the city. Two guards who stood at the gates of the city immediately rushed to her. The girl fell to her knees, only now noticing that all this time a heavy sword, stained with the black blood of a dead man, remained in her hands.
“There.” Hestia gasped. She was trembling. The onset of fatigue did not allow her to raise her head. “In the monastery. There are undead soldiers. From Styx.”
The guards looked at each other. A guard with a grey moustache bent down and took the sword from the weakened hands of the nun.
“This blood …” He ran his finger along the blade. “It’s not human. Oh, Gods! She’s not lying!”
The second guard covered the girl with his cloak and helped her up, asking about the details of what had happened. The moustache guard was already running towards the guard tower. A few minutes later, a warning bell rang out. By sunrise, all the city guards and several detachments of the militia, armed with whatever they had to, were ready to march towards the monastery. Several messengers on horseback were sent to neighbouring towns for help. It meant the quiet life of the province was coming to an end as a long war with the legions of the undead commenced.
The guard, who had taken the weapon from Hestia, approached her and held out his sword. The nun looked at him in surprise.
“This blade will be easier for you to handle. It’s lighter.”
“But I’m not a warrior…” Hestia answered.
“You survived their attack, fought an undead living, ran several miles to warn others. I think Aria herself wants you to fight them.” The guard winked, and something in his gaze gave Hestia confidence in her abilities.