The outpost shouldn’t have been much further but it was difficult to see through the fog that was coming in by sea. A small shiver made its way through my body as the air turned cooler. The jungle we had left behind was night and day compared to the dead land we had just stepped into. Boots and shoes on the bridge were a cacophony of clanks and creaks. Ragnvaldr lead at the front. He not only was easy to follow, but seemed to know where he was going in this sudden fog. Tobih and I were sandwiched in between him and Angel. Under Ragnvaldr and Angel’s guidance, we agreed to let Angel guard us two humans from behind while we traveled.
Ragnvaldr halted suddenly, causing me to bump into him. He looked behind at me; when he turned to face forward again, he walked slowly forward. “This doesn’t look good. Keep your wits.”
He kneeled down at the body of an asura on the ground. He lifted the asura’s hand and let it fall back to the ground. “This was recent. I hope they’re still alive inside.” He stood up and motioned for us to stay back. Angel pulled the greatsword from her back.
When Ragnvaldr returned, though hesitant with his words, he kept his voice low, “They’re all dead.” He turned his head to the side, “It isn’t safe or right to leave their bodies out here.”
I sighed, trying to get rid of the sinking feeling that I kept feeling in my heart, but I finally found words, “Agreed. We should… We should take care of them.”
“There’s no good place for it,” Angel replied, “You aren’t wrong, though. It isn’t safe keeping them around.”
“We’ll fortify the outpost; there seems to be a gate that can be closed on this side at least…. It must have happened so quickly… We should take those that are outside in with us. Tobih, help me move them. Angel, Claire, see if you can’t find a way to seal us off a safe zone.” Ragnvaldr took charge again. He nodded towards Tobih, who was able to pick up the asura. For a brief moment, I could see a hand that was covered in blood.
Angel patted my shoulder. We both walked into the walled outpost. The circular archway was carved into a wall of stone. It was just as Ragnvaldr had said, there was a makeshift door that could be pushed in front of it. It must have been something the pact had come up with while they were set up here. It seemed to be one part charr steel and one part salvaged wood. Angel gave it a push and it moved across a couple of tracks. It was clear that it could have been used to block the passageway. It really must have been a sudden attack.
I walked further into the outpost. While it seemed as if it was surrounded on all sides by the same stone wall, there were several doorways. Some of them just lead into a building which, after a quick look, appeared to be a mausoleum of some sort. It somehow felt foreboding in a land full of death. I would ask Ragnvaldr about checking it out after I had finished looking around the rest of the outpost. The door directly opposite to the one we had come in was covered by a massive stone door. After pressing my entire weight against it, I came to the conclusion that it was unmovable.
Angel met up with me as I was surveying the area. “There seems to be only one archway that hasn’t already been covered by some sort of door. Also, there’s a bunch of coffins… a mausoleum of some sort I suppose, in the building next to the entrance. I think we should look it over and make sure there’s no bodies in the caskets.” It felt wrong having to say those words together.
She nodded and began to walk off but instead stopped and turned halfway around, “I hope you can see that I’m trying.”
“I can,” Was all I could muster for the situation.
“Angel says there’s a building you want us to check out?” Ragnvaldr questioned as I found myself towards our entrance.
“First, I think we need to decide what to do about the doorway that isn’t protected,” I replied, thinking it was probably the more important business at hand.
“That, too.” He rested his hand on my shoulder as I stood closer. “So, no doors or barricades on it?” I shook my head. “I wonder why the pact decided not to deal with it. It must not have seemed important to them so maybe the area behind it is blocked off. Regardless, we’ll need to take shifts watching it for our duration here.”
“We have to burn the bodies. If we close the doors and watch that one for as long as the smoke is going, we can determine how vulnerable it is,” Tobih spoke up.
“The building I was talking about… We can’t burn the bodies in there; it has a lot of wood in it, but we could use it to sleep in. If there are a lot of undead, we are trapped in this outpost anyway. We can use the limited small entrances to building as a choke point.”
“Sounds like we should go check the building out now to make sure we don’t need to add more to the body pile before burning them,” Angel lifted her greatsword as she planned this out loud.
“Claire and I can go check it out. You two do a final sweep for bodies.” Ragnvaldr tightened his hand on my shoulder.
Tobih leaned against his silver staff, “Be safe, you two.”
Ragnvaldr and I left to take a closer look at the building I suspected to house the dead. He had to duck as we entered the empty doorway. I almost expected dust, but was greeted instead by mushy ground that had seeped inside over time. Mud covered the heel of my boot. A quick look-around confirmed that I was correct about the amount of wood in the place. It was filled with coffins and barrels. It looked as if the Pact camp was also using this place as a place to sleep. It was likely, then, that the coffins were empty.
Ragnvaldr suddenly spoke up, which caused me to jump, “Claire.”
“Y-yes? Did you find something?”
“I wanted to talk to you.”
“..About what?” I continued to check the boxes beside him.
“I know you already see it so I might as well tell you outright,” He kneeled down to check another, “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you are safe. Everyone else, too, but you come first. I will probably tell you to stay back and I will probably be firm with my directions to you.”
Though most of the lids had been closed, every box we opened was clear. Zhaitan had already taken them all, it would seem.
“I don’t want you to think that I see you as an obstacle in our journey. That’s not why I’m doing this.”
I sighed before looking up to smile at him, “I know.” I stood up and rubbed my hands together to get rid of the mud. “I’m not very strong and I don’t know very much about battle. I’m still learning. Don’t think for a moment, though, that I won’t be protecting you as well.”
When I saw that hesitant but genuine smile cross his face, I knew what it meant and I wish I could have assured him that I wouldn’t put my life at risk for his.
It was but a brief moment that was broken by the sound on Angel’s greatsword hitting the ground and the sound of fighting erupted in the camp. We were too late after all.