The horns were blowing in her dreams again.
In her dreams, they all sounded together: the alarm and the battle march and the frenzied call to retreat. The calls overlapped into chaos, yet Veldrienne heard them all distinctly, and she understood with the perfect, crazed, crystal logic of dreams that of course the battle march was wild with panic, and of course the first call to alarm was a dolorous cry played over the bloody field of a lost battle, and of course it all began and ended with a weak, wounded note that broke on the thrust of a dead man’s spear.
Because this was Lastwall, where the knights of her order had trained for nearly a thousand years to meet the Whispering Tyrant’s threat, and where the Tyrant had destroyed them effortlessly. Every battle worthy of the name had been lost before the Watcher-Lord’s armies had mustered. They’d been defeated before they’d begun.
That hurt the worst of all. All their pride, all their valor, and they’d never had a chance.
And so Veldrienne dreamed, again and again, of a call to arms that was a call to mourning, and of battlefields she would never see.
She kicked off the blanket covering her legs. Watery gray sunlight, the only light that shone on the Gravelands anymore, filtered through the burned rafters of the farmhouse they’d sheltered in overnight.
Yeran held up a battered kettle. He’d been up for a while, long enough to have warmed water and made an attempt at shaving. “Porridge?”
“Thank you.” Veldrienne spooned the stale mush out of the kettle. They didn’t have any bowls left. “Save any of that wash water for me?”
Yeran nodded. He’d missed a few patches, shaving with just that dented kettle for a mirror. The stubble was white in the weak light. It made him look old, and almost as worn down as Veldrienne felt. “Plenty to go around, now that there are only two of us left.”
Two. Out of a full company. Veldrienne shook her head. They were the last two left, and yet they still pretended to uphold the niceties of their order. Yeran still tried to keep clean-shaven. Veldrienne still polished the pins of rank on the filthy rags of her uniform.
She wasn’t sure why they bothered. Habits died harder than people, evidently.
Veldrienne paused, the spoon halfway to her mouth. There was smoke on the wind. Wood smoke. The Tyrant’s rotting minions had no need to cook, and certainly never washed. They didn’t light campfires.
Yeran was already buckling on his sword. He’d smelled it too. “East?”
Together they walked through the weed-choked fields and abandoned hovels to the last intact farmhouse in town. It was where Veldrienne would have sheltered, if she’d had to shelter here. If she hadn’t known that ghouls, and worse, hunted these grounds.
She knocked at the door. “Veldrienne of Vigil and Yeran Dhoskan, Knights of Lastwall.” It almost didn’t hurt to say that last part anymore. “Is anyone living here? Can we aid you?”
Scurrying inside. Hushed voices, fear and hope warring between them. Then a woman’s voice: “Can you… can you get us somewhere safe?”
Veldrienne closed her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see Yeran’s look. “Yes. If you trust us.”
They came out. A man, a woman, six young children. Plainly the children were not all theirs by blood. Just as plainly, they were by necessity. Veldrienne’s determination hardened, looking at the family that the Tyrant’s menace had driven together. If these people had managed to protect their children this far, she wouldn’t see them fail now.
“We can get you to the camp at Kassen,” she told them, “and from there you can take a boat to Vellumis. The Tyrant’s creatures don’t hold the water as fiercely as they do the land.”
“Thank you,” the woman said.
The man hesitated, then drew out a pendant he’d hidden inside the seam of his coat sleeve. He offered it to Veldrienne, who shook her head. “I can’t take your money.”
“It isn’t money. It’s… I was a jeweler. Before all this.” He laughed bleakly. “I thought I’d use some of my pieces to bribe our way out of the Gravelands, but there’s no bribing the dead. I want you to have it, instead. I can’t buy safety. None of us can. But I can, at least, offer this. Please. Take it and tell me that—that you understand.”
Veldrienne took the pendant. It was an octagon of rose gold, holding a pressed flower under glass in a ring of white seed pearls. The flower was familiar. Star alyssum. It had bloomed around the Watcher-Lord’s palace and spilled from the window boxes of Vigil’s tidy whitewashed homes, perfuming the city in summer. If she closed her eyes, she could almost breathe its delicate, honeyed sweetness again.
“I made them for crusaders traveling up to the Worldwound,” the man explained. “For them to remember the homes and loved ones they left behind. I never thought that crusade would be won, or that I’d need to preserve the memory of Vigil on its own ground instead. But — look. The back.”
Veldrienne turned the pendant around. In the back, under a panel of rose gold inscribed “Vigil’s blessing,” was a compartment full of tiny black seeds.
Mendev and the Sarkoris Scar were dotted with battlefield graves where star alyssum bloomed. Veldrienne knew those marked the final rest of knights from Lastwall, but she had never considered who carried the seeds there, or what it meant for a knight to lie beneath a bier of flowers on ground so grimly sanctified.
Now, holding the pendant, she understood. “Thank you.”
The man started to say something else, but Veldrienne held up a hand. “Quiet.” She’d smelled something on the wind. Not the remembered fragrance of alyssum.
Ghouls. The stench was unmistakable. The Tyrant’s minions didn’t breathe, and thus had no sense of smell — that was why Veldrienne had scented the family’s woodsmoke first, and why the ghouls’ foulness didn’t incapacitate their fellow undead — but they could see well enough, and the weak sun in the Gravelands didn’t cow them. They must have seen the smoke rising from the chimney once the family was too distracted to fan it away.
“Get inside,” Veldrienne ordered, drawing her sword. She could see the ghouls coming now, loping feral and hideous through the crumbling town. Yeran fell in beside her, and she was glad to have him at her side. There was no better feeling than standing beside a fellow knight, true and trustworthy, against a clear-cut foe.
She’d been wrong earlier. There were still battles worth fighting in the Gravelands. The knights of Lastwall hadn’t been utterly defeated. They hadn’t lost everything yet.
About the Author
Liane Merciel is the author of the Pathfinder Tales novels Nightglass, Nightblade, and Hellknight, and a contributor to other books including Nidal: Land of Shadows, Faiths of Golarion, and the Lost Omens World Guide. She has also written for Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and Bioware’s Dragon Age franchise. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two dogs, and an adventure toddler who is extremely into Spider-Man.
About Tales of Lost Omens
The Tales of Lost Omens series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into Pathfinder’s Age of Lost Omens setting. Written by some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, including Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales line of novels and short fiction, the Tales of Lost Omens series promises to explore the characters, deities, history, locations, and organizations of the Pathfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.
Tales of Lost Omens: Seeds of Hope
Thursday, September 12, 2019