Ash & Fog

Wyrmrest Accord
"We don't go to Falconhurst."

The phrase kept repeating in Viezra's head as her horse meandered along the path. The forest itself was cool and quiet, but felt oppressive and claustrophobic thanks to the ancient trees looming overhead. Their weathered branches interwove at points, forming arches and massive knotted gnarls that were at first glance beautiful, but unpleasant after one's eyes lingered too long. Hollows in many of the trees yawned wide, adding to the unsettling effect, creating the image of hundreds of warped, twisted old men leering at her. Low-hanging branches kept just out of reach above, as if waiting to snatch anyone who wandered the road.

What had the old woman meant? With the world's troubles beginning again, there were so many things she could have been referring to. Were there Horde soldiers lurking in the forests along the way to the coastal town? Had the discovery of azerite sparked conflict even this far away from the battlefront?

It seemed unlikely in this land of old growth forests and glaciers. But azerite had a way of popping up in unlikely places and causing skirmishes or outright war even in the most far-flung of places. The people in Boralus did not mention anything about it, however, and there had been no obvious signs of a Horde presence in Drustvar.

People were superstitious, though. Even without azerite complicating things, the area seemed to have its own share of troubles. Aggressive wildlife, unpleasant sorts living in the woods outside the reach of the law, old magics still lingering...
Perhaps that's what the woman in town had meant. Superstitions and legends had little place in Viezra's mind, but she also knew they were often rooted in distant truths. The Scourge had seen to it that ghost stories would never truly be considered child's play again.

A stillborn breeze picked up briefly as Viezra pondered. It made her horse's ears stand alert; the whistling wind rattled brittle, dying branches and thin leaves enough to put the animal on edge. As soon as it had come the breeze was gone, but it left behind a chill that was just slightly too cold to be comfortable. Goosebumps formed beneath her clothes. Even that reminded her of the Scourge.

It had taken her a long time to get over the worst of her feelings and memories regarding the things that happened in Lordaeron. The fingers of undeath that crept southward had turned so much to ash, and despite the resilience of the living, there would always be scars.
It was easy to put those thoughts aside on a temporary basis, even if they always resurfaced eventually. But that required focusing on something else, and the relatively smooth and uneventful journey did not help matters there. Thankfully it occurred to her that she would have to settle down and make a camp for the night. The lands of Kul Tiras weren't the largest, but getting from one place to another was rarely a straight shot. Setting up a place to stay for the night would suppress those memories for now.

With that in mind she gracefully slid down off the horse, her boots connecting with the ground in an unsteady manner, almost slipping. It was then that she noticed the road was wet. In fact, the ground itself was wet. The trees were wet. Their leaves were wet.

Despite no obvious signs of rain, everything was damp. Combined with the sometimes-present breeze, it explained why things were so still and quiet. If she were in Stranglethorn, or Elwynn, or any number of other places, it might be a soothing, serene sort of stillness.

Here, the silence was deafening.

Viezra steered her horse to the side of the road, gently rubbing his neck to keep him listening. It was a trick she had learned in the Crusade working with the warhorses. Following combat, even the bravest and steadiest of horses would become skittish and hyper thanks to the adrenaline. Petting them helped to calm them down and get them under control more quickly.

It usually helped to sing their name in a crooning manner as well, but to be perfectly honest she had not paid much attention to the stocky man she'd bought the horse from, nor even the horse itself at first. At the time she just wanted to get a horse--any horse--and move on. While her business in Falconhurst was not particularly pressing, Fallhaven's residents were the first people in Drustvar she had encountered. They exemplified the cautious, even paranoid attitude she had been told about. The feeling of so many eyes on her did not quite make her nervous, but even the bravest and steadiest of paladins could feel uneasy amongst strangers.

In a way, one could consider the woods more comforting like that. Normally, at least. These woods were no more comforting than the small town had been. It was a very, very small blessing that there were no staring people. That she knew of, anyhow. It would not be shocking for her to learn that bandits or bounty hunters lacking scruples had been following her the whole way.
Viezra's first goal was to find a proper place for setting up camp. It did not take long, for just a short walk from the road a large boulder provided a satisfactory shelter. It would not stop a sudden rainstorm from drenching her or shelter her from the cold, but it would stop some of the wind. More importantly, it was something to put her back against. Anyone or anything coming after her could only come from the front.

The immense stone was as ancient and worn as the surrounding trees. Its surface had been eroded over the many years it had sat there and it was unlikely she was the first to utilize it as a campsite. Near its base, parts had been chipped off, probably by other travelers looking to create makeshift tools for their stay. Unlike everything else nearby, it was hard to tell if it was wet. Its natural coloration was such a deep, dark grey that in the dying light (what little light filtered through the treetops) it might as well have been pure black.

Viezra did not have the luxury of a hitching post, but the horse seemed content to stand by the boulder as well. He too knew that it represented at least some degree of safety. This made it much easier for the paladin to find firewood. If she had to babysit the horse while searching, things would have been much more irritating.

Luckily, she also had the foresight to prepare for a short journey. She had not brought anything in the way of long-term supplies, but a pack half-full with food, a canteen, and some other assorted tools was more than enough. After arranging some of the few dry sticks she could find into position, a basic lighter she had brought along was all she needed to get a fire going. If for some reason the small fire wasn't enough, she could always fall back on her connection to the Light when things grew dire.

The Light had never abandoned her in the past and though she did not actually call upon its power, just the thought made her feel a little more comfortable. The horse helped, too. A fire represented a primeval human luxury, but even animals could appreciate warmth. He did not quite snuggle up to her, but he was close enough to fight off any creeping feelings of loneliness, not that she often felt them. Out here, though...

Despite the thoughts of bandits and ne'er-do-wells lurking in the woods, the night went on without complications. Viezra had collected enough wood to keep the fire going strong as the darkness closed in, so there was no threat of being lost in the pitch black dancing at the edges of the firelight. The uneasy sensations that the forest instilled had not faded completely, but her four legged companion and the fire itself helped to mask her cynical expectations.

It would be a mistake to fall asleep even if she was safe, but drowsiness began to set in. She knew that she could not actually give herself the gift of a nap no matter how brief it was, but she was certainly tempted. Staring into the fire, patting the horse's leg, listening to him breathe, thinking of more pleasant times... all of these things dulled her senses little by little. Her eyelids started to grow heavy.

Then she heard the rustling in the underbrush.
To say the stag was massive would have been an understatement: he was nearly the size of her horse. The dampness of the forest clung to his dull white fur, causing him to look slightly haggard, but otherwise he appeared to be in very good health. A rack of antlers the the span of a table stretched above his head like a crown, making her wonder how he'd been able to navigate the forest so quietly and easily.

After the initial shock of being intruded upon passed, Viezra sat back against the rock. It was hardly a concern to find a deer (however large) in the middle of the woods, though the fact that he had not spooked and run off yet left her curious. She stood up slowly, making sure she was not the one to scare him, and reached for her pack. It took a moment of rummaging but she found a piece of bread she could break off and tossed it at the deer's hooves.

He did not seem entirely impressed. Not at first. The stag just stared her down, making her feel like she'd wasted her food, even if it was only a bite's worth. Her horse did not look very pleased either; he could have eaten that. After the temporary staring contest ended with some unspoken victor, the deer lowered his head to take the chunk of bread in one quick flick of his tongue. Now he was satisfied, and without any other interaction, he simply turned to disappear into the trees.

Watching him leave inspired some strange thoughts. Sure, finding deer in the forest was not something to be worried over, but the animal's appearance left her feeling like she'd just witnessed an omen. His size, his coloration, and his seemingly fearless attitude had to mean something. Magical animals were always white; mundane animals with white coats, true albinos or not, rarely lived to adulthood. Whether he was truly magical or simply lucky, he was an impressive specimen and part of her wished that the presumed King of the Forest had stayed a little longer. Her horse probably felt otherwise.

Sleep was definitely not on her mind anymore, but there was not much else to do. Unless she was visited by another strange woodland creature (perhaps one of the King's courtiers?), the night would soon pass undisturbed. Her internal clock told her it was well past midnight, so it would be only a few hours more until the sun rose. She would have to settle for staring into the fire a little longer.

Maybe the horse had a good story.
The morning dew seemed to have summoned in some heavy fog. Scientifically speaking, fog was essentially a very low-lying cloud formed by water vapor, but this fog especially felt like a cloud had simply fallen and died on the forest floor. Somehow this area struck the perfect balance of humidity and coolness--without actually touching the freezing point--to produce these blankets of impenetrable mist.

Fortunately, a couple of feet of visibility were all she needed. The horse did not care, either; he could see the road, and that's all he needed. Together they would make it through the seemingly-missing world. It would take a while, however. She wasn't sure how far they'd come from Fallhaven and she wasn't sure how far they had left to go. Even with the road beneath their feet (or more accurately, the horse's hooves), they were still basically just wandering in one direction until they bumped into something.

After maybe an hour or two, she wasn't exactly positive, the fog started to clear. It still hovered behind her, but the air was becoming cold enough that the water vapor couldn't help but fall as snow. She had expected to make her way over the region's resident glacier eventually, and now it stretched before her. It was impossible to tell where the glacial ice ended and cold stone began.

This part of Drustvar was almost completely uninhabited but for a few outposts, likely abandoned, and the native yetis. In fact, it was probably the yetis that made everyone leave. They were neither the smartest nor most aggressive creatures, but when they got hungry enough...

With the visibility clear, Viezra was mostly confident she wouldn't have to worry about hostile yetis. They were too unintelligent to stage ambushes, and not sneaky enough to stalk her. The most they could do would be charging down the slopes, roaring as loud as they could, which would make them easy to handle.

She was more concerned about the cold. It was not the most bitter cold she'd ever felt, but her coat was not thick enough to allow her to stay on the glacier for too long. Viezra was well-read, but had never quite focused on climatology. She wasn't sure how a glacier could form here or what the metrics were for long-term survival, since this was a relatively unique area; not many places had glaciers sitting in the middle without also being frozen wastelands. To see a temperate forest with a giant chunk of ice sitting at its heart was very peculiar.

When she and her horse crested over an especially steep hill, her heart swelled with relief. It was still far, but she could see the shore of the island in the distance. She knew that just under the treetops, Falconhurst awaited her. Her time in the snow would last a while longer, but she already felt warmer just thinking about finally reaching her destination.
Viezra and her horse had traveled from the deep, dark forest towards the eastern portion of Drustvar, through its frosty core, and finally to the western forest. Though just as dark as the other thanks to an equally thick, overgrown canopy, the western woodland was known as the Crimson Forest for a reason. The leaves of the trees there were always a deep rusty red color, as if Autumn never left.

The Crimson Forest was still cool, but as the coast came nearer and nearer, the temperature evened out. Moisture clung to everything here as well, but it was harder to tell which parts of the ground were soaked and which weren't thanks to the dense carpet of fallen red leaves. Curiously, there were no sounds of animals there, either.

The trees stretched all the way to the water in front of her. In the distance, she could see the town of Falconhurst--her goal--and to the east she could see a massive, ancient tree rising up out of the heart of the forest. Even from so far away, its boughs visibly bore the weight of countless centuries. Viezra admired the old tree's resilience as she urged her horse onward.

After a few minutes of trotting, Viezra noticed something along the pathway. When she and the horse neared the suspicious lump half-buried beneath the leaves, it became clear that she was looking at a backpack. Half curious and half concerned, the paladin jumped down off her mount to check it out.

The pack had seen better days, but it was intact and mostly clean. Whoever left it behind had dropped it in a rush or intentionally left it; there were no signs of a struggle. Bandits would not have left it behind if they had attacked someone, and animals would have rooted through it. Viezra lifted it from the ground, brushing away the leaves, and peeked inside. There was a well-loved journal within and she wasted no time in opening it to the last page.

"This is the third night that our Maggie has secreted away when she thought her father and I were asleep. I tried to follow, but I lost her outside the courtyard to Waycrest Manor.

The Daveys said that their girl has also gone missing some nights, only to return as mysteriously as she left, acting as if nothing is the matter.

Her father swears he saw her enter the manor, but that's preposterous. Nobody has been in or out of that manor in weeks!"

Disappearing children? Some things were starting to pull together in Viezra's mind concerning the paranoia of Drustvar's citizens, but the sleuthing would have to wait. The gates of Falconhurst were too close to ignore.

The increasingly suspicious woman placed the pack among her own things and kept the journal in her jacket. It was certainly something to look into later. She pulled herself up onto the horse, gave him a pat on the neck, and pushed him onward. Falconhurst was finally ready to welcome her.

When she arrived at the town, the gate guards blocked her way and approached her with weapons drawn. Maybe Falconhurst wasn't as welcoming as she'd hoped.
"I am Viezra de Herrera," she began. "I am a paladin of the Alliance and I have come to see master Ashton. I assume there is a good reason for drawing your weapons on me."

The two guards looked at each other. As a pair, they would not be out of place in a children's puppet play, two simple-minded characters ready to slap and punch one another for a crowd's amusement. Their halberds were not quite so child-friendly, unfortunately. Any reason seemed to be a good enough reason for them, but they appeared to at least consider that they were somewhat out of line. Both guards pulled their halberds back.

On of the guards spoke up. "Everyone is on edge because of strange happenings in the forest. People have been disappearing, animals are scarce, even the woods seem off." His voice was steady, but lined with concern. Perhaps he did not fully buy into the idea that something was happening, but the coincidences were hard to ignore.

"Strangers are rare even when things are good, and with all of this going on, anyone could be a troublemaker," spoke the other guard much more firmly, trying to simultaneously reassure and intimidate her.

"I am the most trustworthy of the trustworthy," Viezra stated matter-of-factly. "Paladins are not allowed to lie. Master Ashton is my first stop, but if you allow me into town I may be able to help with Falconhurst's other problems." She flipped her hair back over her shoulder for added effect. Whether or not it helped remained unclear.

The guards looked at each other once more, relaying some unspoken agreement--they must have been long-term partners--and stepped aside. Viezra bowed to each of the men in turn from atop the horse and patted him on the neck to get him back into the spirit of walking. He could probably smell food coming from the town, so he needed little encouragement.

Falconhurst itself was not very large. The town-greater was no more than ten buildings, with the locals' houses spread out behind. Laundry hung from lines strung up between homes, and chimney smoke snaked up into the sky. Each and every building was yellowed and faded by time and weather, and their tiled roofing was chipped but functional.

The town inspired a vaguely rustic, homey feeling. Viezra could imagine people having parties down the main street during the summer... though that idea was thrown off slightly by the sight of a pig pen right there in the open. It was generally a bad idea to have livestock--particularly pigs--in the middle of town. Typically the stench would drive everyone crazy, but the smell of homecooked food overpowered any pig-related stink.

The inn was on the far side of town, so Viezra kept the horse going, his ears flicking this way and that as he heard the townspeople going about their business. Master Ashton was here somewhere, and V would have to ask around to locate just where he was. She had heard that he was somewhat eccentric, so he wouldn't be too hard to find.

The sound of an explosion from behind, near the guards, told her she'd found him.
(( this is super good so far! ))
Debris rained down upon the town square. Pieces of a table landed here, durable beakers landed there, and a few books flopped into the dirt, still smoldering. The townspeople seemed all-too-accustomed to this; some of them briefly looked up to make sure no one was hurt, but immediately went back to their business.

Viezra's horse was not especially happy about heading towards the explosion, but as a beast of burden he had little choice. For her part, Viezra was not too enthused about willingly approaching what was obviously a volatile site of numerous safety violations, but it was more or less a guarantee that Ashton was the source.

Wispy tendrils of smoke crept upwards from the side of the man's home and the ground was scorched like the launch site of a rocket. This explosion was certainly not the first. Viezra could hear commotion coming from within the house and it sounded like a mild shouting match between who she assumed to be Ashton and a much younger man.

Seeing that the door was open, Viezra slipped down from her horse and crept forward to peek inside. She was right: a middle-aged man with only some of his hair left had his back turned to her, gesticulating frantically towards a very thin, runty looking younger man, who noticed the visitor.

"MASTER ASHTON, THERE'S SOMEONE AT THE DOOR." He had the voice of someone whiny who had inhaled too much smoke.

Now she understood the presumed shouting match. Both men had been rattled by the explosion outside. She could only imagine how long they would be hearing the distant ringing in their ears.

Ashton turned to face her and threw his hands up in the air excitedly. "AH! YES. HERE SHE IS AFTER ALL. COME-COME! WE HAVE BEEN EXPECTING YOU."

This was probably the first time in her life someone said that they'd been expecting her without it being followed by a villainous monologue. Strangely, she did not feel safer knowing that.

Master Ashton was missing most of his hair. It was hard to tell if he had gone bald naturally, or if his bare scalp was the result of similar experiments gone awry. His face was friendly, but weathered--the effects of a life spent fanning away toxic chemicals--and his hands were leathery like a pair of boots. He probably didn't bother with gloves very often.

Viezra cleared her throat. "Yes! Well, I have to say that while it's very flattering, I was not expecting a fireworks show to celebrate my arrival." She gave her best I'm-joking-but-really-what's-the-deal smile.

Both men stared at her blankly. Neither of them could actually hear her. This would be a long, long visit.
Thankfully the shell shock did not last very long, all things considered. Within an hour or two of shouting, the alchemist and his apprentice-turned-assistant were back to normal--or what passed as normal for the pair--and business could be done properly.

Viezra was by no means the world's most studied or advanced alchemist, but her goal all along had been to come and share recipes, experiments, and concepts with Ashton. His assistant, Webb, was surprisingly on top of his game for someone who appeared to largely be a glorified coffee-fetcher.

As the hours of shop talk passed, Viezra started to lose focus. Looking outside at the forest became her way to mentally survive Ashton's rambling and wandering lectures, his ideas jumping wildly from point to point. He knew what he was talking about, but he was not a very good teacher.

Through the window she could see the sun sinking below the treetops. The dying light cast final rays through the branches, creating stretched shadows that looked as though they were dancing across the ground. The longer she watched, the longer the shadows grew until they reached the town itself. Her vision swam a little from staring too long and the edges of the shadows began to creep and crawl, as if trying to break free from the light itself.

Viezra's attention was yanked back to the conversation at hand by a stern ahem from Ashton. "Perhaps we should finish for the night," the man began, gesturing towards his apprentice. "I am sure you had a long and tiresome trip here and Mr. Webb would be happy to get you something to take to bed. Wouldn't you, Marten?"

The younger man was already up and on his feet by the time Ashton finished his sentence. The poor boy was used to fetching things like a beloved dog taken for granted.

"It was a very long day," she confessed. "I suppose I wouldn't mind lying down for the night."

"Ah! Good. Webb will see you to the spare room upstairs when you are ready."

Viezra had not really anticipated staying with the man, but it would be a free bed versus sleeping at the relatively small, cramped inn. When Marten came back down with her drink, she gave it a quick sip out of politeness and stood up from her chair. The man wordlessly motioned up the stairs and so she followed, drink in hand.

Upstairs the house was significantly cleaner and less disheveled. All of Ashton's experiments took place downstairs or outside, so the only unpleasant thing up near the bedrooms was the ever-present chemical scent wafting up the stairs. The comfortable decor, from the tidy bed to the tasteful curtains, made Viezra think that Ashton had been married at one time. Or maybe he'd purchased the house from someone else; there was no way such a jumbled man could have picked out the matching vanity... nor would he have reason to, unless he was hiding some peculiar habits.

The woman set her pack down at the side of the bed and collapsed onto the sheets without bothering to strip down. It would be good enough for now.
Tap. Taptap. Tap. Taptap.

Tap. Taptap.

Viezra's eyes slowly opened to take in the sight of the ceiling. The tapping sound that woke her up came from her side, a rapping noise at the window. She sat up on the bed languidly, aggravated, and stood with a relieved groan from the mattress. Her boots silenced the tapping as she made her way to the window to see what had interrupted her semi-decent sleep.

Viezra was somewhat surprised to see a crow peering back at her, head cocked to one side. Typically birds followed the same schedule as people (or vice versa) and so seeing a crow awake at night was more than a little peculiar. It was also very, very large. Its beak was at least as long as her hand and all she could see of the animal was its massive head. Wherever the bird had come from, it was exceptionally well fed.

The crow blinked as it regarded Viezra with its lone eye and Viezra blinked back. She extended a finger to tap gently on the window to see if he would return the gesture or, hopefully, just fly away.

A bloody hand smashed against the glass, rattling the pane in its frame. The hand looked like it had been run through a thresher, with several fingers missing and deep gashes crisscrossing the pallid flesh. It was hard to legitimately shock or frighten Viezra given how much she had seen in her short life, but this was more than enough.

The paladin took a step back and when she did, the crow turned its head towards her fully. One half of its face was mostly normal, at least for an oversized bird, while the other side looked like it was half melted. Bare, pox-riddled flesh hung loosely from the misshapen skull, and when it opened its beak-mouth against the window, it looked as though it might just fall apart.

Thin lines formed in the glass, creating a spider web pattern as the pressure mounted and the window started to break. Without needing to think, Viezra turned towards a small table against the wall and kicked at one of its legs. A loud crack announced her success in breaking the wood and she wrenched the leg away from its rightful place.

By the time she whirled back around to face the window, it had been shattered completely by the bizarre crow monster and the creature was in the process of climbing inside. Broken glass along the bottom of the windowsill cut at its distinctly human chest and stomach, but it showed no signs of pain. As it managed to get halfway through, it reached out to grab Viezra, grasping at the air in front of her.

The woman made herself vulnerable by getting closer, but she was prepared. The creature groped at her coat uselessly when she neared, making it easy to grab the monster's arm, and she twisted it to the side with a sickening pop. With the beast held in place, she slammed the splintered end of the table leg against the monster's head, sinking it into the soft, spongy flesh. A follow-up kick drove the makeshift weapon right through the creature's skull with a muted crunch.

Even in death--perhaps not its first--the monster did not make a sound. Not a whimper, not a gurgle, nothing. Perhaps it had never been truly alive.
Viezra looked over the remains of the monster briefly, noting stitches at the base of its throat and around its limbs, before she heard screaming from outside. She had not been the only person to receive a midnight surprise.

She snatched her sword from the foot of her bed and rushed downstairs, leaving her first kill of the night to rot in her room. With her sword in hand she felt supremely confident in her ability to cut down more of the creatures; they weren't exactly the most skilled or intelligent combatants. Her armor had been left behind, though, so she would have to be more careful than usual.

Outside, a handful of similar creatures scampered through the street. Some of them had the heads of pigs or human corpses. Some had knives or axe blades strapped to their malformed limbs. They chased the townsfolk who chose to flee and did what little they could to attack the more well-armed people. All it took to keep them at bay was a pitchfork or shovel; even the baker was able to successfully defend himself with an ordinary rolling pin.

But Viezra knew these disgusting things were not meant to be soldiers. They were too useless in combat; they were only here to distract and spread panic. Despite their lack of fighting ability, the stitched-together corpses did a decent job of inciting chaos, which meant someone or something nearby had to be letting them loose. There would be a second wave.

The paladin drew her sword and rushed towards the first group of monsters she saw. A farmer had his back to a building and had to defend himself with a garden rake against three of the abominations. Viezra's sword, though not magical, was much more suited to this grisly business. One stroke bisected two of the nasty things, while a firm kick caused the third to literally fall to pieces.

Even as the ugly creatures died (again?) they made no sound, just like the one that had attacked her in her room. It was only the screams of the terrified townsfolk that rose above the shouting of the town's defenders.

Across the square, on the other side of the town's figurehead fountain, guards and brave townies had formed a defensive line. The two men from the gates used their halberds to devastating effect against the charging monsters while a tall, stocky woman barked orders. She was dressed differently than anyone else Viezra had seen in Drustvar so far, looking like she'd walked right out of an old Gilnean history book. Her high collar almost touched her ears and her thick leather armor bulged around her biceps. She slashed at approaching monsters with an arming sword and threw in blasts here and there from an old, worn pistol.

Truth be told, the townsfolk were handling themselves well enough that the corpse beasts really had no chance to inflict any damage. A few unfortunate people had fallen, but compared to how bad things could have been, this was a blessing. One by one the attackers fell, forming a field of moldering corpses across the town square.

Of course, just as victory seemed inevitable, the scales of battle shifted. The forest at the edge of town echoed with a strange creaking sound, as if a herd of startled animals were rushing through the underbrush.

The second wave had arrived.
Small, wolf-like constructs rushed out of the forest, splintering and cracking ahead of much larger golem-like monsters. The "wolves" were no larger than their namesakes, but each of them had an oversized skull in place of an actual fleshy head. Some were the skulls of actual canine animals, while others had the skulls of pigs or big cats - whatever their creators could get their hands on. Their bodies, and those of the golems behind them, were composed of small sticks and twigs woven together with vines, rope, and magic.

The lumbering monstrosities that followed the pack each stood heads taller than the tallest man. Their wicker bodies lacked natural proportions, instead possessing overly long arms ending in hooks and barbs and short legs like tree stumps. Kin to the small constructs, they all had skulls where a head should be. The eye sockets of the cow, deer, and bear skulls all glowed with a bright, malevolent blue flame as the golems lurched into town.

Though they were on the same "side" presumably, the constructs had no concerns about trampling or shredding the remaining corpse beasts. As Viezra initially thought, the stitched-together monsters were meant to be highly disposable fodder. The giant golems crashed into buildings haphazardly, bowling over anything in their path, grasping claws ever outstretched towards the living townsfolk.

To their credit, the remaining people stood their ground even in the face of the huge constructs. Their pitchforks, shovels, and various other cobbled-together weaponry would do little against the seemingly fleshless bodies of the golems, but the threat of dying in defense of home and hearth was preferable to being hunted down and torn apart fleeing.

Viezra was not enthused about dying so far from home, but she also did not intend to die. The grim determination on the faces of the guards and townsfolk was instead a tight-lipped frown on her own thanks to the myriad plans bouncing back and forth in her head. If she had more time, she could have come up with something, but-

An order to brace announced the arrival of the wicker pack. The last line of defense raised their weapons and farm tools up like soldiers forming a wall of pikes, allowing the wicker wolves to crash against them. Though some of the creatures were impaled, their twig bodies barely suffered any actual damage. Having a shovel pierced through their abdomen would slow them down but it would not stop them. It did, however, allow the defenders to begin hacking them apart as the monsters thrashed, using smaller hand weapons to break apart the wooden shells.

This tactic would not work for long, however, because the giant golems stomped their way ever closer across the town. They splintered fences beneath their bulk, kicked aside benches and barrels; some of the unfortunate pigs still panicking in their pen were simply crushed like bugs. The poor animals would probably be picked apart for materials later by whoever had sent the monsters to attack the town.
A golem brushed against the town's fountain and its sheer size and mass made the lovingly carved stone crumble as if it was a sand castle. Viezra could only imagine what one of the titanic monstrosities could do to a living human being.

She was a paladin. She would not stand and wait to be pulped, nor would she allow it to happen to the townsfolk so long as she lived. Viezra did not hesitate to charge forward by herself towards the rampaging golems. Maybe this would be her heroic last stand, her turn to be a paladin-martyr. At the very least she could provide a distraction to the unintelligent creatures, which might allow the townsfolk and guardsmen to find safety.

The etched skulls of the golems tilted to watch her approach, fire still burning in their eye sockets. Each of them, four in total, turned straight towards her, rotating to face Viezra as she tried to lead them away, running as fast as she could towards the other side of town.

In stories and tall tales, giant monsters were always said to be very slow with their movements. It was always embellishment to make their bulk seem more intimidating, when the truth was that the bigger a creature, the bigger the muscle--or whatever passed for muscle in something like these golems--and the faster they could swing their arms, whip their tails, or move in a burst of sudden speed.

These golems were no different. Their stumpy legs were not made for running, but purely by grace of their size alone they were able to spring after Viezra with arms outstretched. Their tree-sized limbs snapped lightposts like toothpicks and tore through market stalls effortlessly as they swiped at Viezra, their barbed claws hungry to rip her apart.

Viezra had experience with fighting enormous beasts, and she knew how they could surprise someone with their actual speed, but she had never had to fight four building-sized golems at once. She dipped here, dodged there, and ducked when necessary but even a paladin could tire out quickly in such circumstances. She knew she would have to strike back at some point, so she turned to run straight at the nearest golem behind.

Unsurprisingly, it was too stupid to anticipate this. Viezra was able to run straight up between its legs before it could react. As it struggled to move backward, or to lift its leg to flatten her, she reared back with her sword and swung with all of her might, aiming at the point closest to the creature's knee.

Viezra's blade, sharp as it was, easily cut through the first layer of sticks and twigs... and then the energy of her swing dissipated immediately. The momentum of her sword was stopped by the layers upon layers of wicker material; the golem's construction was solid enough to provide support for its bulk, but the wickerwork could not simply be chopped through.

Her brave, self-sacrificing attack had been as effective as trying to fell a tree with a frying pan.
Viezra shifted backwards to the golem's rear, causing its hand to crush the cobblestones where she'd just been standing. The golems moved with shocking bursts of speed, but only once they'd made a decision, and that was something they were very clearly not made for. This would be her tactic, she decided. She did not have to move faster, just smarter. She could trick them into doing what she wanted them to do and they did not have the capacity to reconsider.

She could feel another golem stomping up behind, its immense weight shaking the ground with each heavy, plodding step. Viezra chose to stay exactly where she was and turned to face the second monster. This would be the test of her new tactic. If it succeeded, she'd live. If not, she'd be a greasy stain on the ground.

The second creature raised its massive arm and right as it started to come down, Viezra slid backwards once more, to the front of the first golem. The loud crack of snapping wood announced that she'd been successful; the attacking construct ripped open the back of the first one with its mighty swing, causing the damaged monster to fall forward, though it was not "dead." Test successful.

Viezra turned quickly and hopped up onto the fallen construct, baiting her other attacker into finishing off its comrade. Before the final blow was struck, the woman rolled to the side, allowing the toppled golem to take the blow for her once more. Already heavily damaged, this second brutal attack destroyed what remained of the golem's torso so thoroughly that the wooden limbs limply popped off. When such levels of force were applied, even these seemingly sturdy constructs could be disassembled like a child's doll.

As war machines, the golems had no personality or higher thought. The golem still standing above Viezra did not mourn for its lost ally because it could not. It did not pause to consider what it had done. It did not stop to see if the human had been squashed in the process. This was the true strength of constructs: not their size and might, but their unrelenting focus. A golem would never stop until its task was complete or it was destroyed in the process. This left Viezra no breathing room, for another deafening blow tore apart the road right next to her. If she slipped up even once, she would die.

There was one large issue with Viezra's plan. As she skirted crushing fists and rending claws, she considered that one of the four golems was already destroyed. If she proceeded this way, she would have to trick two of the golems into destroying each other at the same time, or else she would be left with one undamaged or at least functional enough to continue its assault.

Getting fancy could easily prove fatal, but there was little choice in the matter.
Even with the warmth of the Light burning inside her, Viezra's engine was starting to putter out. Ducking and weaving did not take much energy on a second-by-second basis, but she had been at her game of cat and mouse for longer than she knew. Each step became a little harder; each backwards hop or sideways dodge took just a tiny bit more out of her. At least she did not have her armor to slow her down this time.

Viezra summoned up what little vitality she had left in her and made a mad dash between the looming golem's legs. If she could just make it to the others, she could trick them into shredding each other. It wouldn't take much, but--

The woman's foot came down on a loose piece of wooden debris right behind the golem standing above her. She had always been sure-footed, but this time it backfired. Rather than trip over the junk itself, she slid on it across a few cobblestones before tumbling forward, spilling herself across the road face-first. With the second golem turning to face her, and the two others more or less close enough to smash her into the dirt, she had no time to pick herself up to try again.

Instead, Viezra focused on herself with such intensity that it made her head hurt. Power welled up inside her and burst outwards as a golem's hand came down. The wicker brute's monstrous swipe stopped short, caught on a barrier of glimmering golden light that emanated from Viezra's core. It radiated from every inch of her, igniting the gloomy townscape with the incandescence of the sun.

Unable to smash the woman, the golem pulled back its hand for another attack. Viezra steeled herself for the blow out of instinct, even with the protective barrier surrounding her. As the golem started to drop its claws once more, it burst into a radiant glow just like Viezra had. Instead of holy Light, however, its body crackled with bright, flickering flames. They rushed across the wooden body of the beast, engulfing it utterly. It stood still as it burned, as if it recognized that it was already as good as ash, despite its lack of intellect. In only a few moments it collapsed into a roaring inferno, the wickerwork popping and crackling.

"Good show, Webb!" a voice called out from somewhere. "Try another, boy! Another!"
((I'm loving this story! Keep it up!))
(("Good show, Bae!" a voice called out from somewhere. "Try another, girl! Another!"))

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