Nhim sat with her back against the wall in a hastily dug trench. Mud was clad to her boots so thick that she could no longer make out the dark blue leather beneath and water had begun to seep through the stitching making her feet icy cold. Her usual rosy completion was hidden by a layer of dried blood and ash whilst her shoulder length bright pink hair had become knotted and infested with Reamer Lice. She had been stationed on the edge of the Red Wastes for three moon cycles and she was exhausted. The smell of gunpowder hung in the air along with the now all too familiar scent of death. A constant reminder of the fate that awaited her unit, as the beaks of the buzzards pecked and tore at those who had fallen in the last few days of battle. Nhim had begun to think they were the lucky ones. No longer did they have to endure the constant sensation of being wet and cold, nor the endless reminder that death could come at any moment. ‘At least they had found some peace’ she thought as she closed her eyes and remembered the day that had brought her to this place.
Nhim had grown up on the sky islands that floated between the village of Linn and Glimmercairn, the entrance to the Dwarven realms. As a young Gnome, Nhim found she had an affiliation for healing. Her grandmother was a spiritual woman and was always telling Nhim how she was special. Before she passed she told her, “You, young girl, have the gift of healing in your hands! One day the people of Talderia will look to you to help them in their hour of need. Will you answer?” Nhim however was fascinated by nature, herbalism and the tales of the ancient druidic guardians that watched over all life in Talderia. After much study and hard work, Nhim had saved enough gold to set up a small natural remedies shop in the quiet town of Linn Skyport. Years passed as she carved out a successful, quiet life for herself and on her one hundred and forty third birthday, which was still relatively young for a Gnome, Nhim decided to do as she always did on her birthday and treat herself to a breakfast at a café she enjoyed by the docks.
It was a day just like any other. She sat at the outside table and ate scones with buckler berry jam as she watched the ships come into town. One particular ship caught Nhims attention as it dwarfed the others in size as it approached the town. It was a military transport ship which bore the markings of the Kings Eighty Seventh Medical Corp along its stern. Nhim asked the couple sat next to her if they knew the ship? They told her that it was ferrying wounded back from ‘the front’ as the soldiers called it. Nhim didn’t know what exactly ‘the front’ was at the time but watched in horror as countless numbers of soldiers, some barely old enough to be called men exited the ship. Some of them wandered without purpose and slumped themselves onto the dockside, others were carried from the ship upon stretchers.
Almost instantly Nhim dropped the buckler berry jam scone and ran forward to assist the overwhelmed nurses and doctors of the Eighty Seventh Medical Corp who were treating the wounded. They were immensely grateful for the help. Most of the soldiers had grievous injuries such as long, deep slashes across their bodies or huge chunks of flesh that had been torn away. Others seemed physically fine but, when she spoke with them they answered in quiet whispers and ineligible sentences. One doctor told her “Whilst these men seem physically fine it seems their minds have been broken somehow, I cannot imagine what sight could do such a thing but I for one never want to whiteness it”.
After assisting throughout the day and into the deep hours of the night, Nhim found herself on the deck of the ship with a group of the Kings Eighty Seventh Medical Corp Nurses. As they all drank solemnly together they told her how desperate they were for healers like her to join their cause. They begged Nhim to sail with them in the morning back to the Red Wastes and continue to assist them. She was happy that she had helped on that day. She even hoped she had saved some of the young men’s lives but Nhim was content with the small part of Talderia she had found for herself. She then remembered the words of her grandmother. Was this the ‘hour of need’ her grandmother had referred to thought Nhim? She spent the rest of the evening gazing over the bow of the ship and continued to think on that question until the sun began to crest on the seas horizon. By the morning Nhim knew she couldn’t abandon the Eighty Seventh or the soldiers on ‘the front’. She had to sail with them.
It was now three years later and Nhim was a full member within the Kings Eighty Seventh Regiment. The unit had been posted in Turraz Ghal, the ruined city which separated the Red Wastes from the Elven kingdoms. It was their job to guard the ruins and ensure nothing made it through to the forests beyond, but they were now desperately low on fighting men and supplies. All expeditions into the Red Wastes had ceased due to this, however the great expanse was far from deserted. From the depths of the ashen landscape came abyssal horrors, each one more horrid than the last. When Nhim had first arrived she did not believe the stories of the un-dead and multi-limbed creatures that she was told by the soldiers, but that all changed within the first week on ‘the front’. She now knew why the men on the dock acted the way they did that day. Seeing fellow comrades ripped apart like paper only to be reanimated and march against you can twist the mind. This is why Nhim tried not to get too close to any of her comrades. Not only did she feel a massive guilt when they were beyond her healing powers, she had seen her close friends die and had become cold towards death. She was reaching her breaking point.
Nhim was so lost in her thoughts of home that she barely noticed the guard horn sound and opened her tired eyes. All around her soldiers ferrying supplies and crouched in the trench line readying muskets. She pushed her fatigued body to its feet and climbed the first two steps of the trench ladder to peer over the top. With squinted eyes she tried to see what horror was making its way towards them. It was hard to make anything out through the smoke and dust that drifted silently across the Red Waste. Then, all of a sudden, she saw a shadow about two hundred meters from the trench. A creature no larger than a horse but with a silhouette that seemed to shift as eerily as the ash clouds that surrounded it. She then noticed a second creature appear beside it, and then came a third, then more. Each creature stopped next to the other and stood silently. ‘Could this be the day?’ thought Nhim. ‘Could this be the day I die?’
As if all at once, the creatures that stood before them began to silently advance towards Nhim and the waiting soldiers of the Kings Eighty Seventh Regiment.