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The plague overtook most of what would become Germany and France before the Senate could take any preventative steps. The plague overtook most of our legionnaires violently. Succumbing would be scarily fast and voraciously painful. Like a virus spreading between cells on the micro scale, the plague acted on the macro scale.
They had surrounded us so quickly; we barely had time to get to our swords. Blood red eyes glowing like hot embers in the trees getting larger and larger as even more and more became visible in the distance. The time between their exit from the trees and first contact between us and them seemed to last forever. It was more silent than the instant before a child lets out their first shouts, and then time seemed to accelerate back to normal, but not stop at normal. Everything moved so fast, shouts from behind, horses and men and things running and slashing in all directions.
I fled. A fleeting instinct was all I had to rely on. Downhill, into cover, away. All around me I heard things cracking, the crunches could have been bones or branches, but I knew it was both. I knew fleeing led to decimation, I wondered what staying led to.
Excruciatingly loud screams emanated from the direction in which the auxilia had fled, their instincts evidently worse than mine. When I heard the screams begin to change into something like moans, I took stock of my surroundings. Nothing aroused memory, everywhere it was pitch black. And then again I saw it, red emanating from the holes in the black leaves of the trees, coming into and then leaving my view. Again I took stock, but this time of my resources. I was breathing heavily, my chest rose and fell rapidly and sporadically, I was without armor. But I had my Gladius. The sharp edges had not yet forsaken me, and I expected the Gods too were still with me.
Why I tried hiding, I cannot be sure. It was a mistake. Hiding 20 feet up into a tree, however, was fortunate, though just a stroke of luck. I saw the army walking near my tree, and almost as a unit they stopped. And walked toward me. The slowness of their march was both comforting and terrifying.
At least 800 corpses walked toward me, spears and swords sticking haphazardly out from their arms, legs, and torsos, then suddenly the group stopped. For what seemed like a few moments, long enough for communication to occur, but I heard nothing. Then three bodies moved forward, away from the group. I saw clearly that they held axes. As they approached, I saw more than just the glimmer of their axes in the moonlight, I saw also their half equipped Roman Armor, and even worse than that, their faces and eyes. I recognized one, two, all three of the faces, but the embers that were their unflinching eyes seemed utterly fixated.
I was prepared for the tree to crumble long before my ex-allies began to chop away at it, however no amount of preparation could prepare me for a 20-foot drop. It was by sheer luck that I didn’t break an ankle; I was approaching my max speed immediately after I hit the ground. A brief look behind me informed me of an oncoming torrent of pain, suffering, and Red eyes.
I can’t be sure why, but I easily outran the group. My panic largely abated with the growing distance between them and myself. All I could think about was the time between when the group stopped and the few separated. It had to have been some sort of communication and leadership. Removing the leaders was the only way to help Rome.
Getting behind enemy lines was easy. But I was detected before I was even close to the remains of my old camp, in fact, I don’t think I ever stopped being detected.
With Gladius in hand, I checked one by one the tents that my allies had once occupied. They were empty. It appeared as if the mass of evil moved as one. I expected I would have to forge a confrontation, but how could I sneak up on an enemy that would not lose my scent?
Over the coming hours, I tried what seemed like everything. I forded a river, removed my clothes, stood in smoke, all to no avail. Any period of stillness led to red eyes in the distance. And each time I observed my enemy. It was easy enough to tell apart the converts, my allies, from the long-time infected. And after a bit of time spent observing, I believed I could tell the leaders apart too. I expected that they were the zombies closest to the middle of the pack, with the brightest eyes, and the least amount of decay.
So I had a target: the brightest eyes, and the least worn clothing. I made my way back to the original camp, hoping for something to turn the odds in my favor. I found it in the siege engineer’s tent. A repeating ballista seemed the perfect weapon against such a foe.
I primed the ballista, had ample ammo prepared, when the red eyes began to appear in the distance. I knew my target had a value far greater than my life; and I set the ballista to firing.
A single large bolt could flay an entire string of creatures, and each shot seemed to amass many casualties for my supposed side, but I soon realized that my enemy simply stood up again, even without limbs. I panicked. I decided to panic. I turned to run, but couldn’t.
I had been surrounded. On all sides, the red-hot glowing embers that were the eyes were upon me. I raised my Gladius, decided upon one final charge, and I knew I would die with glory.