Friday, June 27, 2008

Chapter 16a: The Wizard and the Warrior

“Men, this is war! Today some of you will fall and not get up. Fear not for you will be remembered as heroes. Should that happen to you then have a cup of mead with the god of war and share your bloody stories with him, for I guarantee we will be victorious!”

~General Faygen (Famous battle speech)

The undead didn't notice the wizard's approach until he stood a few yards behind them. They turned to him. A few shuffled out of rank, eager to devour the old man. The breeze wafted a mildly sweet smell of soured meat toward Wellan. They are starting to rot. It won't be long until their putrid bodies begin to affect the few who still live with a more natural form of plague.

They stopped and a deep voice bellowed a name that the wizard hadn't heard in centuries. "Welkgund!"

Wellan dipped his head down in a guarded bow. "Faygen, old friend. Why have you invaded this city?"

The ranks of undead parted as the general walked through their midst. He didn't speak until he had passed the rows of corpses and stood before Wellan. Instead of replying in the common tongue he spoke Croshan. "Welkgund, why don't we continue this conversation in the tongue of men, instead of the yapping of dogs."

Faygen looked terrible. His skin stretched over his bones like parchment placed against a rock and his eyes, if they still existed, sat far back in their sockets. The heavy armor rode his frame loosely, as if built for a much larger man.

The wizard replied in the same language, though the harsh vocabulary no longer rode easily on his tongue. "As you wish. Now, why are you here?"

The general smiled, pitted yellow teeth shone between time cracked lips. "Always right to the point with you, Welkgund. No asking me how I've been doing. No pleasantries."

Faygen's flippant attitude surprised and angered the wizard. The man Wellan had known would never have taken the current situation so casually.

The undead began to shuffle, becoming restless.

"Unfortunately neither this city nor I have the time to spend on the nicer things in life."

The ranks of ghouls became unorganized as bodies moved back and forth, slowly merging with the rear formation.

Thin arms crossed over an armored chest, elbow joints pushing the grainy skin tight. "I've noticed that, so I'm going to let you know how my life's been going without you having to ask. As you can probably tell from my appearance I haven't been doing so well. To be honest with you I've been dead. Some might say I've gotten better in the last month, but I wouldn't agree with them. I would love to return to the slumber of death, but the necromatic bastard that brought me back won't allow that."

Wellan opened his mouth to speak, but Faygen held a joint knotted hand up to silence him. "Let me finish. You might also be asking yourself how the noble general of the mighty Croshan's found himself leading an army of undead. I can assure you it is not out of choice. Do you remember my daughter, Welkgund? Eyliasa?"

He nodded. Her death had haunted him for years. He remembered Faygen's pain and guilt.

The edges of the rear formation of corpses crumbled as they bumped and pushed against one another, slowly surrounding the two old friends.

The wizard looked into the the general's face and saw the pain again. He saw it even through the dry, cracked skin.

"He has raised her, Welkgund. Raised her from the dead. She lives. Not like myself, but whole and unblemished. If I don't take this city, if I don't turn this city over to that monster, he will do it to her again. She will be cut into pieces and tortured, her head brought before me once more. I can't do that to her, not again." His hand rose to his eyes as his head lowered, as if to wipe away tears that didn't exist.

Wellan and Faygen stood in a ring of the undead, dozens deep. They swayed back and forth, but made no menacing motions. He saw the danger, but remained hopeful that his old friend wouldn’t harm him.

Wellan's arm rose, fingers splayed, as if to comfort an old friend, then it dropped back to his side. "Let me help you, Faygen. Let these people go and let me help you."

The general's shoulders shook and a raspy laugh escaped his throat, making Wellan wonder if he had gone mad. "No. There is no escape from this demon. I'm not afraid for myself. I fear for her. If I don't do as commanded he can piece her up again. Not only that, but I wouldn't put it past this creature to raise her again and again to get his revenge, making my precious Eyliasa live through that hell time after time. I think it would enjoy not only her suffering, but my own as well, maybe even more so."

He didn't know what to say, didn't know how to help. As he watched Faygen he realized that there would be no talking the general out of taking the city, but he had to try. "Let these people through. Allow them to go to the palace. I will talk to Duke Renier about leaving the city. There is no reason to harm anyone else."

The armored head shook left and right. "My master doesn't allow mercy. I may be risking my daughter's suffering even by speaking to you of these things. Besides, as you may have guessed, the refugees are only the bait. You or the Duke are the actual targets of this gathering. Still, I can't allow anyone to leave. My master wants them all."

With that he drew his sword, red dust puffed out as the ancient blade left its worn scabbard. Five of the armored undead burst through the ranks with surprising speed and agility, racing to Wellan with swords drawn.

His arms sprang up at his side, fingers twitching archaic symbols, a long dead language spewed from his mouth. His fists closed then pounced open. A bubble of force flashed from him, throwing Faygen and his five undead into the mass of corpses.

“Run, Stiles! Get those people to the palace.”

Flames erupted from his fingertips, torching the nearest undead, but there were too many. Within seconds he disappeared under a mass of flesh.

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