(( This week’s story prompt is a story set during a war. I decided to write part of Nessna’s backstory. She is no stranger to battles, but this was her first. ))
Nessna Lightmist was proud of her job as a ranger. She had trained for years for this, and was elated when she was put on a patrol with one of the Eversong groups. She was still able to stay in the city with her family, but spent most of the day out in the woods with her patrol partner, Ellinta, an older woman who had been in that squad for nearly a century.
Lately though, the rangers had been on edge. They had heard of trouble to the south, and not just with the trolls. Word had been that the human kingdoms had begun to fall to a plague, and that a legion of undead scourge was ravaging the land, taking all who stood in their way with them. Of course, the Kingdom of Quel’thalas was well protected. The large enchanted runestones to the south kept the Kingdom safe, and patrols were continued as usual. Though Nessna and Ellinta thought there was little reason to worry, they both kept a vigilant watch for anything out of the usual.
Nessna had just arrived this morning by portal. Her oldest sister had just passed her mage exam and was proud to show off her abilities that she had learned while staying at one of the larger magic academies in Silvermoon. Nessna didn’t mind the walk to the ranger building, but neither did she mind the portal, and if it put Vallindra in a pleasant mood for the day, then it was all for the better.
Nessna stopped at her locker first, changing her shoes for her boots which were more suitable to walking through the woods. Her mother forbade her to bring them home, due to the mud that would get stuck to them without fail every day. The Lightmist house was part home, part medical clinic run by her father and another sister. Their mother forbade a lot of things that could cause dirt to appear; boots, pets, even certain friends! Nessna wasn’t bothered too much about it, but she often saw rangers who had animal companions to work with them, and she longed to learn to work with one. It wasn’t something that would happen until she managed to move out into her own place. She knew that much. Now that she was working, she could start saving up.
She was lacing up her second boot, when she heard footsteps approaching behind her.
“Almost ready to go?” Ellinta asked.
“Yes.” Nessna said hopping to her feet and picking up her bow. “I’m ready now.”
“Good. Some of the overnight patrols have reported some odd noises and such, but they couldn’t find anything when they investigated where they thought the noises were from.”
“What kind of noise was it?”
“They said it sounded like trees falling.”
“You’d think they’d notice something then.”
“It may have been too dark. Anyway, we’ve been asked to look into it.”
Nessna nodded. Great, look into falling trees. She hated how, as the newest recruit, she and Ellinta were always given what seemed to be the easiest and silliest assignments. She couldn’t wait for more people to join so that she wouldn’t be at the bottom anymore.
She and Ellinta set out along the route towards where the night patrol had heard the strange noises. She had to slow down more than once while waiting for the older woman to catch up. She didn’t mind. There were times the older woman would need to stop along the path, and it was during those times that Nessna learned the most from her. She would share stories of her early days as a ranger, and of the mistakes she made when she was first starting. Nessna was grateful that the ranger captain had seen it fit to pair them for patrol even if he didn’t give them any real assignments.
Nessna went ahead further along the path, glancing back now and then to see where Ellinta was. They should be coming up on the spot where the others had heard noise soon. She stood and waited for Ellinta to catch up while watching the woods keenly, her ears perked listening for noise of any sort. She heard nothing but the regular forest sounds. Birds, wind through the trees, and a bubbling stream nearby.
Ellinta joined her. “They said it was off the path just to the south a bit, but they couldn’t find anything.”
Nessna started picking her way through the woods off the path. Luckily, the undergrowth wasn’t too heavy in this section of the forest. She was careful not to go too quickly, and made sure that Ellinta was right behind her at all times.
They had gone some distance when Nessna stopped. “Did they say how far? I haven’t seen anything yet.”
“You’re right. We should have found something by now. Let’s head back to-”
Ellinta paused, looking up through the canopy overhead. Nessna did as well as they both heard it. The sound of flapping wings. At first, they saw nothing, but then, through the openings between the leafy branches, the sky was blotted out by a dark, moving, flapping cloud. Under the cover of the trees, they couldn’t tell how many there were, but the forest grew dark as though it was night.
“Ellinta?” Nessna managed to squeak.
“It can’t be.” Ellinta murmured quietly, “The Scourge is here. We need to make our way back, remain under the cover of the trees. Don’t use the path.”
Nessna whispered back, “We need to hurry. Those things are moving fast.” She started heading towards the north, but was stopped when Ellinta grabbed her arm. “You’re right. It’s already too late. If we’re to fight these things, we need to head to the city where most of our forces are. We should stay where the woods are thick, and only cross roads and clearings as we need to. Let’s go.”
Nessna’s heart raced. The city. They weren’t even returning to the ranger building. Anyone there would die. She glanced up again. Of course it meant that if she went there, she would also die. Ellinta’s plan to go the the city was sound, and they may be of more use there than in any of the small towns that were going to fall whether or not they had two more people helping them. She started along the thickest parts of the woods again. She had the maps almost memorized now and knew the places where the trees and plant growth was strongest. The dark cloud overhead continued to move north as well. There must have been thousands of them. She checked behind her, surprised that Ellinta was right on her heels. The old woman could move fast if it was necessary.
Nessna stopped to sniff the air. Something was burning nearby.
“The forest. They’re burning the forest to stop the Scourge on the ground. I doubt it will stop them completely, but it will delay them. Let’s hurry.”
Nessna did as told, continuing towards the city. They crossed two paths without incident, the dark cloud of moving creatures in the sky seemed to hover now behind them. Nessna knew what was happening, though she didn’t want to admit it. She would glance back now and then to see some of the creatures swooping down, others were climbing upwards into the sky, and still others were dropping things that looked an awfully lot like an elf. She decided not to look back again.
The city was already being fortified. Anyone who could fight was being called to fight. She noticed a lot of shabby drunks had been given dull swords and pushed out in front of the gate. Some of them were trying to get back in, but the gate had been closed. Ellinta stopped her from nearing the mob which had obviously been pulled out of the Row. “Let’s head to one of the other gates, maybe they haven’t closed yet.
They found their way in through a service gate, the guards manning it welcoming two rangers into the fighting force assembled in the city. They hurried to the square where the ranger headquarters was, and checked in for an assignment. It took a few minutes as the office was buzzing with activity, and few staff stayed behind to manage it. Both of them were given instructions to go to the wall facing the south.
The gargoyles came first. They arrived in their dark cloud, swooping and dropping just as they had in towns in the forest. Nessna trained her arrows on them. Shooting one just before it picked up one of the other archers on the wall. It tumbled backwards and fell to the ground outside the city. She shot another that was mid-swoop towards the group on the ground. This one did not stop despite the arrow sinking into its chest, and instead grabbed one of the people. Despite the elf’s best attempts to stab it with his dull sword, he was lifted high and dropped.
Nessna’s eyes widened as she glanced out towards the woods. An undead army approached, stomping a path through the forest straight to the city gate.
Nessna had no time to react as Ellinta threw herself on top of her. Almost as soon as she felt Ellinta’s full weight fall upon her, she felt it lift.
No. It couldn’t be, but she looked up to see that it was. The gargoyle carried her patrol partner higher and higher, as Ellinta pulled out her dagger, and began slashing at its thick skin.
“No!” Nessna yelled, but her words couldn’t stop what was happening. Ellinta’s dagger pierced in one of the right places. The gargoyle let her go as it dropped to the ground. Nessna watched in horror. She screamed again, “No!”
This had to be a bad dream. She had to wake up. She looked around her. Everywhere they were under attack. How could this happen? They were supposed to be safe.
Someone yelled at her from the side, “Keep shooting, keep shooting!”