Foreword: Yep, this is a new serial. No, the Twilight of the Second Age serial isn't done. I just don't like working on only one thing, and I've been wanting to put these guys together for a while. Plus, people can start reading from the beginning.
Also, free points to the first person to figure out the origin of the name.
"I'm pretty sure that north is that way."
Deserting had not been a good idea. Terrek sighed, looking through the thick underbrush and waving at the mosquitos buzzing around him, and turned to his companions. Six men and women, trying to trek through the jungles of the southeast. They must have been crazy. "Look, north is clearly that way. You can tell by the moon. This time of year, it passes from northwest to northeast. This time of night, it's almost due north."
"There is no moon!" Marsas yelled, as the troop started up a hill. In the back, Lenia was helping to support Verlan, who had been injured in the initial flight. Zalos and Marthi were watching Terrek and Marsas worriedly. "There's just jungle! Jungle and trees and bugs!" He growled, waving a hand around him. "You cannot possibly know where the moon is."
"I can." Terrek paused doubtfully, before speaking with more force. "Regardless, that is north. And, usefully, it is up the hill. The jungle is clearing up, so we should be able to get our bearings."
"Who put you in charge?" Zalos frowned, thoughtfully, looking backwards through the murky night. "Lenia's a lieutenant."
"Lenia's busy, and I know jungles." That seemed like enough of a statement, and the soldiers all fell silent. After a few moments, Terrek sighed. "What matters now is pressing on. Verlan needs medical attention, and quickly." He frowned, almost stalking up the hill. "If my numbers are right, we're no more than ten miles from Hagren, and it's a neutral town." This plan had been a disaster from the start, but it was starting to look as though they might actually make it.
With which thought, of course, the six crested the hill, and Terrek cursed his luck.
The jungle had indeed cleared. Unfortunately, what it revealed under the light of a full moon was extremely unpromising. Below, on the slope, a pair of covered wagons were staggering along, surrounded by foes; the donkeys pulling them seemed exhausted almost to the point of death, and they were moving so slowly that Terrek wondered, for a moment, if it wouldn't have been better for the inhabitants to get out and run. Each wagon had a pair of drivers, who were more occupied with trying to repel attackers than controlling their steeds. Standing on the back of the second cart, a young woman and a middle-aged man armed with spears were engaged in brutal combat, their weapons weaving around each other in a desperate defense. Terrek barely spared them a glance, his attention drawn by their attackers.
The wagons were surrounded by almost twenty enemies. At first glance, they might have been mistaken for humans, but their terrible wounds belied that. Terrek felt his heart clench with fear, watching the zombies fight steadily, in complete silence, everything not committed to the fight immobile. Heedless of the danger, they were trying to kill the drivers and the last. Just behind them, a single warrior strolled, his armor glinting in the moonlight, seven feet of muscle and steel with a great dark helmet covering his eyes. Terrek couldn't tell if he was living or dead, and he looked back to his companions worriedly.
"Oh, dear." Zalos looked down the hill, and to the east. "I think they're coming this way." Indeed, the running battle was continuing across the hill, towards where the soldiers stood.
"Back in the forest, back in the forest!" Marsas turned to run, but the dead had already noticed them. Ten of the zombies peeled off from the others, stalking uphill, and Terrek grabbed Marsas by the shoulder.
"Move for the wagons. If we have help from them, we might survive. Zombies are strong, but stupid."
"They outnumber us four to one! What are we going to..." Marsas trailed off, and nodded glumly. "Right. Let's go." Together, the six started stumbling downhill, moving to intercept the wagons. Terrek gauged the distances, and frowned. The armoured figure had noticed the group, too, and had begun moving, charging towards the soldiers. It wasn't going to be enough. Without waiting for his friends, he drew his sword and ran down the hill, barrelling towards the leader. Even as he started, he realized that this was a terrible plan. He was tired, and his opponent at least believed that he could fight six armed soldiers. Worse, the two leading zombies were almost to him already. Clearly, he needed a new plan...
As he ran, Terrek scanned the hillside until he found what he was looking for. When he did, he smiled grimly. One foot kicked out, catching a fallen branch and sending it careening down towards the zombies. Unable to adapt to the suddenly changed situation, they both fell, tumbling headlong down the hill... and straight into the squad's leader. The leader tripped, his sword flashing down into the ground to steady him, straight through the ribcage of one of the zombies. A moment later, it brought the sword up through the zombie, clanging off of Terrek's own blade as it came slicing downwards towards him. The swords met with a ringing of steel, and Terrek cursed under his breath. The being tilted its head, bringing a heavy fist around, which Terrek ducked under. "So, she planned well. But not well enough. Your skills are weak."
"I don't know who you are. I just don't like banditry." Terrek brought his sword around, slicing cleanly through the figure's arm, and then blinked. As the gauntlet fell off, he could see nothing underneath, and the figure chuckled darkly.
"You have meddled in the affairs of Eye And Seven Despairs, mortal fool. Now, you will die." The war ghost's great sword came up, and Terrek desperately blocked it, realizing that he was doomed. Behind him, he saw the young woman stand, her hair hanging limp around her shoulders as she backed away. His friends had hit the zombies, and the wagoners were battling with renewed vigour, but they were badly outnumbered and doomed. Terrek staggered backwards, parrying desperately, and took a cut across his chest that sent him sprawling. The war ghost tilted back its visor, revealing a faint, translucent face, pocked by plague. It smiled cruelly. "Goodbye, noble warrior."
Then, suddenly, the clearing was bathed in golden light. The war ghost's eyes widened in horror, distracted from Terrek, and the soldier glanced over in confusion.
Standing on the wagon, the woman's aura blazed around her, gold and black spiralling in a translucent ring. She pointed outwards, her words blasting the air, and a hollow golden circle, filled with a dot, and necrotic essence coiled around her arms. As Terrek gaped at the Anathema, the war ghost cursed, spinning, raising its sword as it started a leap towards the girl.
Terrek sprang from his position, leaping after the ghost, his sword coming up and around towards the ghost. Maybe, if he could break through its armor, he could disrupt it. His sword lanced outwards, and as it did, a second golden light grew, matching that growing rapidly around the wagons. Terrek watched in wonder as his sword coiled with light, which spread across the war ghost's armor as the blade struck home. The ghost screamed in pain, and faded from existance. Terrek, crashing through the air behind the ghost, slammed into the side of the wagon and collapsed to the ground.
The woman, barely paying attention, brought her hands together, and a great wave of blackness spread forth with a peal of thunder. Splitting into dozens of dark strands, it exploded outwards, and spiralled into the zombies as they fought. Every zombie slowed, its motions staggering and swaying, and the soldiers fought with renewed vigour. The woman sagged, and then caught herself, grabbing up her spear again and joining in the fray. Terrek forced himself to his feet, slicing a zombie in half, and in moments, the battle was won. Terrek looked to his friends, with a wry smile. "Anathema everywhere we go, aren't there?" He started to turn back to the woman, then paused, confused, at the expressions on his comrades' faces.
"Uh, yeah... that.... Terrek, you might want a mirror or something." Marsas's voice was quiet, and he took a half-step backwards. He gulped faintly.
Terrek frowned, and picked up his sword, catching his reflection in its golden light. After a moment, he spoke. "Oh."
A half-filled golden disc burned on his forehead.
The woman stepped from the cart, her voice faint. "That is new? I assumed that... well... anyone charging against a war ghost would have magic at their disposal."
"I... it... I'm just a solider."
"No longer." She smiled, her face drawn in the light. "I am Sharron, of the Eclipse caste. I owe you my life, sir. I could not have shaped my spells without the aid that you and your companions gave us."
"Well... Seargeant Gremis Terrek of the Twel..." Terrek stopped dead, and sighed. "Of nowhere. We were glad to help." He glanced back at his fellow soldiers, who were still staring with a mix of dread and awe.
"Perhaps." Sharron's voice was tinged with amusement through her fatigue. "We should keep moving, and it is better to travel in groups. Will you join us?"
Terrek looked back at the other soldiers again, and a tense silence filled the clearing. After a moment, Verlan spoke up weakly. "We would be honoured. These are dangerous times."
"Hanged for a loaf, hanged for a sheep." Marsas managed a chuckled.
"Well then, welcome to the Circus Hekara.â€