"The rate in which this infection is spreading suggests that it was specifically arcane engineered for a high death and spread rate. Low level purification measures are only effective as deterrents. Therefore, standing orders are to purge areas of extreme necromantic influence by whatever means necessary. All consumed organic material is to be viewed as dry grass in the path of wildfire. Evacuate living citizens and prioritize them above all else."
A Terran elementalist by the name of Roque snapped his head to the side in search of his CO, lips flaring to reveal teeth mashed together and an expression of half buried shock on his dark skinned face. In hearing those orders, he could feel a mountain of responsibility establishing itself square over his shoulders by virtue of his role in the military. His swift intellect often endowed him with a damnable understanding of cause and effect and right now, he could see the next sequence of events clear as day.
The squad leader returned his glance at about the same moment that Roque turned, all but confirming that what he was anticipating was on the money. He didn't even need to hear it. The sound of the world could have been dialed to zero at that very moment and he would have appeared like a master lip reader in how he so accurately interpreted the orders he was given. Zera's dark purple lips, a common trait of the Drow people, uttered the words without enthusiasm or hesitation.
"Burn it, Roq."
They stood before a scene of suffering so stark that it was unimaginable only because in climbing into the minds of the victims and attempting to understand the degree of pain and dread they experienced, good men and women only succeeded in tempting madness. The neighborhood had been devoured by a mass of necrotized organic material. It was like a carpet of flesh and bone draped across the landscape, occasionally dotted with a half devoured corpse that still groaned in pain and cried for loved ones.
"Roq. Burn it. It's going to rain soon and your flames wont be as effective."
A flash of lightning cut across the sky followed shortly by the first thunderous reverberation echoing through the city. One of the corpses that had previously been dormant was awakened by the snap, unceremoniously yanked back into this living nightmare. It was a woman. Her features were so thoroughly devoured that it was difficult to guess an age range. Two things identified her as a member of the fairer sex; one being her feminine voice and the other a single breast fat with milk for her unborn child, which lay in rest about ten feet away from her now, having spilled from her belly before being carried away by the creeping mass like it was in a river of mud. In her delirium, all she remembered was her responsibilities as a mother and reached for her child, trying desperately to crawl to it and failing to move an inch. She went where the creep went and there was nothing she could do.
Roaring flames emanated from his person and shot forth, washing over the area the same way a tidal wave might overtake a coast. In an instant, the stench of burned bodies and the shrieks of living beings consumed by the purging wave of searing light assaulted the spirit. Roq's eyes flared open, screaming out in a mix of condemnation and resignation. Whenever the screams weakened his resolve, he strengthened the flames, gave them more life and made them blow like flaming hurricanes.
The others watched as he screamed and waved his hands, guiding the flames in such a way as to minimize suffering as best he could. When it was over, his arms hung at his sides as if they had been conducting a morbid orchestra for days without rest. His chest grew and shrunk slowly, the glow of his flames reflecting from his body. Then he looked up at the dark clouds hanging over the city. He knew it'd get worse. When the showers came, the torrents would carry the disease over greater distances. Dedicated as Roq was to his role, a small realistic piece inside of him knew they would fail.
Panic had overtaken the city. Masses of people scrambled for safety, fueled by memories of the horrors that had devoured towns and even cities in recent days. News of Ashville being reduced to ruins was fresh in their minds and remained palpable enough that the victory in Last Chance conferred little hope. It was hard not to see their success as good fortune in the face of this string of deadly events all across the country, especially when so many of the defense efforts had ended in failure.
Among them walked a man clad in obsidian robes that covered him from the neck down. Though the motions of his legs were hardly noticeable beneath the earthen fabrics he wore, the way he moved was strong and purposeful. It was like he was surrounded by an aura that guided everyone and everything out of his path. Even as the citizens of Casper crawled like ants all around him, he somehow managed a straight path towards his destination. He only stopped when an individual of particularly strong will stepped before him and held up his hands. He was a Gaian Priest, expression full of concern and someone who recognized the Cardinal's semblance within the sea of terrified faces.
"Cardinal, cardinal! What is the status of our city? Will all be well?"
Zeph stopped and responded effortlessly, needing not a single moment to think through his response, "No. All will not be well. However I assure you, son of Gaia, that life will continue." Placing a hand on the priest's shoulder, he peered deep into his eyes and guided him out of his path before continuing onward.
He arrived at Valvale Garden, one of the few locations of interest in the whole town of Casper that had gone unperturbed for so many years. Perhaps there had simply been nobody wretched enough to target a zone that the people of this city had turned into a symbol of companionship. Whatever the reason, it stood there, this whole time awaiting the return of the man who had breathed life into it.
At the end of his journey, he placed himself at the very center of the garden, which had been intentionally left uninhabited by the artificial flora that thrived in this place. Giant blue plants resembling orchids and purple bell flowers with hazy mists of golden light encircling them surrounded him.
Zeph took a deep breath, thoughts of the state of the world swirling in his mind. Unlike those that ran in fear, he was one of the few that did indeed find hope in the accomplishments of the soldiers that defended the coast of Last Chance even if, like the rest of the world, he identified that death was more rampant than it had been in a long time. The military had failed the people in many places in many instances.
But soldiers weren't the ones who always won, only the ones who always fought.
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