"Tie her up nice and tight," the man in front whispered. "We don't want her squirming during the ceremony, or he would have words to say."
The man beside him shuddered. "Goddess, no. I don't want him nowhere near me. You saw what he did to the last bloke that displeased him."
"Aye," the other nodded. "I did indeed. Nothing left but bones, and e'en that was eaten up. His magic's always hungry, it is."
"Yes, it is," a new voice right beside her spoke, hoarse and raspy. "And if you don't hurry up, you'll see exactly how hungry."
"Sir!" the two quickly turned around and fell to one knee, heads bowed.
"Get up! Didn't I just say to hurry?"
Catriona craned her neck, curious to see just who was talking, but she could make out nothing of his features save for his robes--oh. No. That, and his eyes, which glowed an acid green in the dark. She froze, unable to think of anything in that moment. It was as if she had locked gazes with a viper.
"Like what you see?" he chuckled. "Enjoy it while it lasts. Not too long now and your eyes will be closed...forever." He swept past, and the moment was broken, the woman taking in deep gulps of air, only then realizing that she had been holding her breath.
"Goddess, I almost shit my pants there," one of the men muttered as soon as he had left.
"Look, even the princess is scared stiff. Don't blame you," the other turned to address her, shaking his head. "You're in for a world of pain soon."
"Don't go feeling sorry for her. She's from that country, ya know."
"I know. We'd best get on with it."
Catriona woke up with a gasp, heart pounding wildly. She lay there, stiff and unmoving, until her heart finally settled down. Sighing, the woman turned over, hoping to get some sleep that wouldn't be plagued by nightmares. Though that was less a nightmare, and more a...memory. Of a living nightmare.
It felt as if she had blinked before she sat upright, sleep disturbed yet again, this time by her own party members. It didn't take long for the lord to gather her equipment and join the others at the northern edge of the shrine. "By the dragon," she whispered, seeing just what had prompted the early awakening.
By now, the enemy had come close enough that the lord could make out exactly what it looked like. Or rather, "they." For it was a horde of what could only be called monsters. At first glance they looked like normal human beings in armor, though they walked stiffly, as if unused to it. But their skin ranged from pale as chalk to a dark bruise-colored purple, and their eyes glowed blood red.
"The Awakened. I did not think I would see them in my lifetime," Licorice spoke from beside her. The Protean had woken up as well in the chaos.
"Awakened?" The word sounded...familiar, though Catriona wasn't sure where she had heard it.
"Yes. In the past, it is what the people of Mysia called those that the goddess revived to carry out Her will, as she has "woken" them from the eternal slumber of death. The revival is usually temporary, and for good reason, for they are stronger in undeath than they were in life. It is said that blows that would kill a man grown will only stymie an Awakened, but give it enough force and they'll die again, same as any man."
The princess nodded seriously. "Many thanks for your advice. If ever there was a time and place for such knowledge, it would be here and now."
"You're welcome," Licorice smiled thinly, before stepping back and transforming into her bestial form. "Though I have more to offer than knowledge alone. Their blades may be sharp, but my claws and teeth are sharper yet."
"Of course." Catriona resumed her watch northward, one hand resting over the handle of her sword. The horde approached, and it was unlikely they would survive this unscathed, if they survived at all. There were far too many enemies, too many to count. But their party had the high ground and the desperation of the living on their side. But...what about the other side? Did the dead even feel pain? She didn't have the leisure to dwell on that, for in the next second, she heard the clanking of weapons and armor...from the south side.
Whipping around, the lord cried out, "Behind us!" But it was too late. While they had been distracted at the north end, more foes had taken the opportunity to come in from the south. Charging forward, she whipped out her blade, ready to attack the mounted lance-wielder in front. However, before she could do so, the enemy stepped forward and...held its hands out?
The woman came to a halt, staring at the monster before her in puzzlement. It was then that she noticed that, rather than blood-red, its eyes were white, shining like stars. "You mean no harm?" she asked.
The man nodded, and gestured toward Edrick before speaking in a raspy, halting voice, as if it were unused to using its vocal chords. "Believer...brought rest...will help...return the others to sleep." The ones behind him nodded.
"So you were the spirits appeased in the ceremony..." Catriona realized, sheathing her sword. It was odd, but she knew immediately that they were telling the truth. They gave off the same feeling the shrine did--sadness, but also peace. Their bodies did not release the stench of rot, but the sweet scent of flowers, the same kind she had smelled earlier after the ceremony. "Thank you for your aid. We shall have need of it within the hour." She glanced at her sister. "Our tactician is over there. She will give you direction."
The group nodded, and approached Penelope. The lord followed, still not quite sure what to make of these strange happenings, but ready to act if necessary. As she walked, she observed the group. There were five overall--the lance cavalier in front, a barbarian, an archer, a knife thief, and a priest. The cavalier's horse looked just like a normal horse, save for its dark purple-colored coat and white eyes like its owner. An interesting group, and not those who would usually band together. There was a story here, but there was no time to ask.
"These...people...are allies," it was a difficult concept for the lord to grasp, but she could not afford to be picky. "They are here to fight against the..." what was that word that Licorice had used? "The Awakened." The white-haired woman lingered nearby, unsure if she wanted to leave these strange men alone with her sister. Though it appeared as if the archer and thief were female, regardless, she didn't quite trust them around Penelope.
Meanwhile, the horde drew ever closer. By now, those in front would be able to identify their class and pick up on their odor--that of dirt and decay.