(Originally posted 2/1/2002)
Command had warned them that they might face overwhelming odds. But no one could have imagined it would be so bad. One second, they were in formation, singing songs to quell the anxiety and waiting for new intel from the scouts. The next, mass chaos ensued.
There was little warning. The horde of undead “things” swept up the stairwell and simply flowed over their lines. There was no other word for it – the enemy swept past ranks of Roses like they were nothing. Or perhaps the creatures now surrounding them were made of nothing. But their incorporeal wave snapped into hard steel and chilling cries. The black-clad soldiers had nowhere to run, no support from archers and magi now swarmed by nightmarish fiends. Horses and bodies clashed together into a giant melee.
Anne grabbed at Barristan’s cloak as the press pushed him away from her, but it was too late. She saw him slump to the ground an instant later, and the mace-wielding creature that had dropped him spurred some sort of unnatural mount toward her. Her division was scattered or engaged, so there was no one to help her. She threw up her shield to block the first swing and made a desperate thrust at the undead monster. Her sword skipped off an exposed rib and simply chipped off a piece of bone. She pulled the sword back in dismay and then the world went black. She dully remembered a ringing blow to the head, but that was all.
She was slapped with reality again as the healers drew her spirit back. Everything hurt. Her head, her arms, her legs, her body. Even her fingers and toes were lit with agony. But the ressurrection sickness passed, albeit slowly. Then she was just weak and nauseous. She couldn’t stop her limbs from trembling if they strayed more than a few inches from her body. Hugging herself, she stood and saw others of her unit being slammed into new life. The numbers grew until the healers suggested they move the most recovered out.
Somehow, Anne found a way back to headquarters after the healers shooed her out. She had no idea how she got there, but suddenly she was wrapped in the humid warmth of the swamp. She trudged slowly into the tower and found herself a corner away from the other shaken soldiers. She wanted nothing more than to curl into a tiny ball and cry. Her newly reformed body reflected the memories of her death – who said the spirit didn’t affect the flesh? She could see the bruises and cuts and scrapes all up and down her arms. And she could feel them just about everywhere else too. Closing her eyes, she clamped her jaw shut and let the pain wash over her – there was no way to fight it just then.
But after the others drifted back in, and the lieutenant and captain arrived, the pain had lessened enough to let her think. Anne listened to the few words muttered in the darkening tavern room and empathized with the frustration and fury. That was not a battle they saw – it was a rout. Although she was still dazed, she felt a new anger simmering as her own thoughts began to collect themselves. Somewhere deep inside, her usual self was swearing up and down at the stupidity and futility.
When the General arrived, she climbed to her feet out of reflex more than thought. His voice barely registered as her brain tried to comprehend all that had happened to her. By the time he left, Anne was shaking so badly, she thought for sure she would fall down. But the anger kept her on her feet. Forcing her legs up the stairwell to the infirmary, she dug around until she found a spare set of clothes. She changed and tossed the healers’s robe into a rag pile. Climbing another level, she snagged a spare sword from one of the guards who had stayed on-duty outside the General’s quarters. Finally, she reached the roof and painfully straightened her battered frame to draw a deep breath.
They had been obliterated that night, no one could dispute that. So what else could they have done?
Walking with deliberate steps and gritting her teeth to stave off the pain, Anne stalked over to a training dummy and hefted the sword. Her muscles shrieked in agony as she began training exercises, but the routine soon fell over her and she reached a calm. And during that calm, sword prodding and bashing the stuffed target, she sucked up the pain and began to think.