Lucard stopped and took a moment to survey his surroundings. A musty smell filled the air of the ancient catacombs; its way had not been tread in many centuries and, in fact, for the majority of the people of Kur Maeth, the tunnels had been erased from their collective memory. Lucard would take a soft step in and leave an imprint in the dust an inch thick. He grimaced; he did not know what horrors might lie asleep in these dark halls, yet he knew his new calling demanded that he tread where others would dare not go.
The elf formally known as Lucard Wildstep of the Order of Caerne, had become the first Avenger of Arpelos. He had been called by the mighty Sun God himself, a sign that the threat of undead on Gaeleth had become such a calamity that the gods themselves must go to extreme measures to quell such unnatural beings. Lucard was no paladin, the knighthood and clergy of Arpelos were far too strict in the codes for what needed to be done. His role as the Avenger of Arpelos required him to tread in the darkness, to gaze deep into the eyes of the hungry abyss, and to bring the dark abominations that lurked in dark corners of the world to the radiant vengeance of the Sun God.
This fact caused no small amount of trouble for the established clergy of the House of Arpelos. Many high ranking clerics and paladins found the idea of a glorified assassin lurking in shadows to root out the darkness incompatible with the orthodoxy of the established church. However, Lucard had one very powerful ally in his bid to sway the church officials; Artannis, the mighty silver dragon and the mount of the legendary Chosen of Arpelos, had personally gone and retrieved Lucard near the hamlet where he and his family had been forging the tiny village of Rivercrown into a beacon of prosperity in the nation of Rakore.
Lucard had chuckled to himself when the booming voice of the ancient silver dragon rose above the din of bickering clerics.
Yet, despite Artannis’ vouching, the clerics were still hesitant to put their faith into an elf barely past his sapling years. So, they had instructed him to investigate a potential outbreak of undead in the catacombs beneath Kur-Maeth, as his first mission to see if this new “Avenger of Arpelos” was really worth his weight in salt.
What the clerics and paladins did not know was that despite his age, Lucard had seen many a battle against the undead and his signature weapon, a simple farming scythe, had drunk deep the grotesque ichors of the undead. For he was a member of the Order of Caerne, a young group of family members whose deeds stretched far and wide.
So, deep in the dark corridors, Lucard strained his ear for unnatural sounds as sweat beaded across his brow. His pulse quickened for the excitement of battle, he was no longer beside his brothers in the Order of Caerne, but he reveled in thought of eradicating a nest of the undead with great vengeance.
He smiled at the possibilities that were presented to him. Undead had claimed most of his family, now he was in a position to truly eradicate the scourge of undeath from the face of Gaeleth altogether. He was determined to avenge his fallen family members no matter the cost.
His torchlight flickered, and the hairs pricked up on the back of his neck; he had felt this feeling before, the tense moments before he would be locked in a life and death struggle. He greeted it with equal parts hesitation and excitement. However, this time his brothers would not be next to him, for the first time, in fact, yet he was eager to prove to himself that he could survive without his cousins’ Telemon's and Liam'ssword arms and his brother Aelar’s healing winds.
He was at the designated corridor that the scouts had marked on his map of the catacombs, and he could feel the stench of death hang around his him like a mantle. A moan emitted from behind a set of ancient rusted gates, Lucard peered forward, torch in one hand and the radiant light of Arpelos filling the other.
“Help…me…” a voiced groaned from behind the gate. The sound of chewing followed soon after.
With one swift motion Lucard’s thunderous kick blasted the rusted gates away, and he swung his orb of radiant light to fill the chamber and the sight he saw shook him to his core.
Bodies were strewn across the chamber, innards flowing freely from the corpses, a horrid monument to the corruption of the undead. As his eyes scanned the chamber he found the source of the distress call. A man, filthy and dressed in rags lay propped up against the far wall, his belly ripped open, and four nightmares feasting upon his grotesque bounty.
The nightmares turned their attention to this new intruder, temporarily blinded by the searing light of Arpelos. That was when Lucard was able to see what he had just stumbled upon. The creatures were vaguely humanoid, pale and naked, except they were down on all fours, and their joints broken and twisted, giving the monsters a vague resemblance to a spider, with limbs akimbo. The creatures bared their sharpened fangs, covered in gore, and Lucard quickly discerned by their pale, opaque eyes that they could more than likely navigate the dark with no trouble. The stunned moment quickly passed for all parties involved. The nightmare creatures let out a terrible screech from the bowels of hell itself and quickly skittered towards the newly ordained Avenger of Arpelos. Yet, Lucard was not caught flat-footed; he had seen such horrors before, and a potent elixir of hatred, adrenaline, and fear flowed through his veins.
Divine light screamed forth from his outstretched hand, while the other dropped his torch he was carrying and quickly drew his mighty scythe. The radiant shards ripped into one of the creatures, which emitted another scream of pure pain, yet the divine radiance only slowed the creature momentarily. Two of the creatures headed directly towards the elf, while the fourth skittered up a wall and onto the ceiling, gripping the bare stone by some mysterious force.
Brilliant light ran down the length of the blade on Lucard’s scythe, hungry for corrupt souls to feast upon. His scythe found the first creature and drank deep the dark ichors that ran from the gaping wound in the creature’s side. Lucard just managed to bring the shaft of his scythe to bear against the assault of the other fiend that rushed towards him, yet he was not so lucky when the third creature dropped from the ceiling unto his shoulders and bit deep into his shoulder.
Lucard roared in pain, he could feel poison seeping into his veins from the wound he received, and then quickly felt another blast of pain from his thigh where another creature had latched on. Thinking on his feet, Lucard summoned his greatest power, using his body as a brief conduit for Arpelos’ magnificence. Glowing, angelic wings sprouted from his back and he shot up towards the ceiling, having ripped both creatures’ hold of him, and slammed their bodies into the crumbling stone in a brilliant flash of light.
The two mutated creatures fell to the floor; their skulls caved in and gore seeping around the shattered segments of skull and bone. Like lightning, Lucard soared down from the ceiling bringing his temporary celestial might to bear against one of the two remaining creatures. His scythe singing through the air, the weapon, which was once a simple farming tool, found its place in the shoulder of one of the abominations.
The one creature initially blasted by the wave of divine light, began uttering a high pitched screech, echoing throughout the chamber and the catacombs beyond. The other counterattacked with such vigor that it took Lucard by surprise, and knocked him flat on his back. The creature quickly seized the opportunity, and was on top of Lucard the very next instance. Being so up close and personal, Lucard could see the abomination in all its horrid detail. The razor-like teeth still had chunks of human flesh lodged between them, and a long, sinuous, forked tongue dripped with black saliva.
His weapon flown from his hands, Lucard filled them with piercing white light and proceeded to grasp the neck of the abomination and hold on for dear life. A sickening sound emitted from the touch, like a fatty piece of meat sizzling on a pan, and the creature writhed beneath the Avenger’s firm grip. The creature shrieked and wailed and dark, viscous liquid spewed forth from its disintegrating neck. Eventually, the screams died away, and Lucard held the creature's disembodied head in his hands.
Lucard rolled away and picked up his scythe with one hand, the other still holding the head of the creature. He glanced around the room for the last beast, but it was nowhere to be seen. He was aware of the fact that it had probably gone to get reinforcements, and in his current state, deep gashes to his shoulder and thigh, he would probably be overwhelmed by many more of them. He quickly looked around the room, picking up his fallen torch. He looked for anything that might have conjured the beasts – a book, a scroll, or a necromantic relic, like the one he and his brothers had destroyed in the village of Rivercrown.
He knew he must make haste, so he quickly turned over the corpses looking for anything before the creatures come back. As he was going through the grim task he heard the baneful howl of at least a dozen more creatures heading his way. Lucard eventually turned over one of the mutilated corpses and found a bag that seemed to hold some sort of orb inside of it. He held the bag aloft, as a dozen of the fiends started to pour into the chamber.
There was only one thing to do, with grim resolution he donned the bag, took his scythe and charged straight for the writhing mass of undead limbs. Right as the first abomination leapt for him, he invoked his last power granted to him by Arpelos, phasing out of existence momentarily, as if a ghost, and in this form he moved through the horde unhindered and into the corridors. Then, as he took form again, he raced down the halls back towards the way he came, looking desperately for an exit of the tombs, the maddened creatures close behind. He ran for what seemed like an eternity, and since he was an elf, he was quite fleet of foot and able to lose the creatures in the twisting corridors. Eventually, he found a manhole from which to escape, which was fortunate; the adrenaline was quickly leaving his body, and the poison from the creature’s bites where slowly dulling his senses and causing him extreme lethargy. He popped out behind a tavern, one he was not familiar with, and fortunately no one saw him, for he was sure he cut a strange figure. Covered in black gore, and bleeding profusely from two gaping wounds, he hardly looked like a regal and noble Avenger of Arpelos.
He donned his long travelling cloak, as to not draw attention to himself, and made way to the nearest church of Arpelos, hopefully before the poison overtook him. He was eager to investigate this orb he had found and what connection it had with these new, powerful undead he had encountered. He staggered out of the alley way, pulled his cloak about him, and made way towards the burning beacons atop the main Cathedral of Arpelos.