Geren heard the rider before he saw him, and didn’t bother to unsheathe his sword or get up from where he sat by the campfire. Neither did any member of his party. They were an experienced group of scouts and warriors, and knew they had little to fear from a single rider, even in this dangerous territory. In a moment, the lone horseman came into view and reined his horse to a stop at the edge of the firelight.
“Greetings friend,” said Geren, standing at last and walking towards the figure.
The man atop the horse pushed back the cowl of his black traveling cloak, and Geren caught just a glimpse of silver at the stranger’s throat as he did so.
“And greetings to you ranger. Is there space at your fireside for a weary traveler?”
“We’d be remiss to turn any away in this country, friend. Please, join us,” said Geren, gesturing towards the fire.
The young man dismounted, exchanging nods with each of the silent men around the campfire, and took a seat. The grizzled scouts sized him up in an instant, he was no threat to them, and they settled into an easy silence as Geren fetched a flagon of mead for the newcomer. The young man thanked Geren for it and drank deeply from the cup. For a moment he warmed his hands by the fire before speaking.
“Your fire is quite refreshing, gentlemen. It is a cold night, with barely a sliver of moon for company.”
Geren looked the young man up and down before responding. “The moon is precious little company in this land, lad. ‘Tis a dangerous road you’ve chosen to ride alone. I’d say you’re either a brave man or a fool to be in these parts without other men at your side.”
The young man laughed. “Fair enough, fair enough. But rarely do we choose our own road. Duty has brought me to this desolate land, and I have not the time to worry about the danger of it.”
“Very well,” responded Geren, “your business is none of mine. But guests are a rare occurrence around this campfire, and you seem like a good sort. You’re welcome to travel with us if you like, at least as far as the Velunan frontier. Trust me, young friend, you’ll be safer for it. This really is no place to be traveling alone.”
The stranger looked thoughtful for a moment, and then nodded. “Thank you ranger, that is much appreciated, much appreciated. But now, gentlemen, I think it is best that you prepare yourselves, because you’re about to have a few more guests, and I hazard you won’t find them as pleasant company as myself.”
The scouts exchanged quick glances and moved their hands towards their sword hilts and bows.
“What do you mean?” asked Geren.
“It’s why I’m here, I’ve been tracking them… and I sense that they are near. Yes, very near. Look to the treeline!”
The scouts looked up the small slope on the north side of their campfire towards the edge of the forest. For a moment they saw nothing, but then they caught glimpses of movement here and there. An instant later a horrific sight met their eyes: lurching from the cover of the trees were the most hideous of abominations, clad in rags with only bits and pieces of rotting flesh clinging to their skeletal frames. In an instant the scouts were on their feet and loosing arrows at the advancing score of the undead. Still, the black clad stranger sat, unperturbed, staring into the fire.
Geren clasped a hand to the stranger’s shoulder urgently “Don’t just sit there, man, get up and fight!”
The young man smiled up at Geren and said “Oh, I intend to friend… it’s just I wanted to savor the moment.”
He rose, and pushed apart his cloak for the first time. Underneath, he wore a mithril breastplate, emblazoned with a symbol that Geren had not seen before: A full moon, inlaid with the shape of a lantern containing a tiny sun. On his left hip swung a small silver lantern which glowed with an ethereal blue light. On his right hip, he wore a heavy mace that sparked slightly as he rose. His garments were all black, with silver trim.
The young man turned away from the fire and walked briskly towards the advancing undead. Around him, the party of scouts continued to loose arrows into their ranks, but to little avail. He stopped, a large grin spreading across his face, raised his right hand and spoke a short incantation. A bluish white mist began to gather around his outstretched hand, glowing from within. The mist began to swirl rapidly and then coalesced into an orb in front of the young man’s raised palm. The orb became denser and appeared almost solid, in each fraction of a second growing brighter and brighter, until it exploded in a brilliant cone of the purest and brightest white light that Geren had ever seen. The skeletal forms advancing across the field disintegrated, screaming as the light reached them, and as soon as it had begun, it was over. The scouts lowered their bows and stared in astonishment as where seconds before twenty undead warriors had stood, now only clouds of dust hung in the air and fragments of bone littered the grass.
The young cleric looked around at the party and shrugged “It’s never quite as fun as you anticipate,” he said. “Still, one does one’s duty.” And without another word, he turned and walked back to the fire.