Friday, June 27, 2008

Chapter 16b: The Brave Piet

Venomous hatred rose within Piet Lithor when he saw Wellan approaching from the castle walls. He gripped his sword tighter as the ghoulish leader walked through the mass of undead to meet the wizard. Righteous anger heated his blood as the two exchanged words in a language that the Piet found totally incomprehensible. He stood too far away to hear their talk very well, but what he did hear sounded like the speech of devils. The demon wizard is betraying us, selling our souls to that ghoul in exchange for more evil tricks and power. I mustn’t let that happen.

With his pulse pounding in his head and his sword gripped tight enough to whiten his knuckles he walked over to Stiles. He would warn the brave soldier of the sorcerer’s trechery.

The undead ranks began to shuffle and break apart.

Stiles watched, his gaze intently studying the twin demons as their talk took on a became louder and more heated.

Lithor raised his hand to Stiles’ shoulder. "Stiles, there is something I...."

A roar erupted in the midst of the corpses. The undead pushed against one another, trying to get to their master, to Wellan. The blue peak of the wizard’s cowl could be seen between the decomposing heads, but the large commander had disappeared in the throng.

"Run, Stiles! Get those people to the palace."

Wellan? Like water thrown over an open fire, the Piet’s hatred and anger vanished, leaving only the smoke of shame and despair. Oh, Vaspar. He didn’t conspire with the undead. Once again anger, prejudice and hatred have blinded me to the truth. How could I have been so wrong? How could I stand by while another man sacrifices himself for me? It’s not too late to pay my penance. I owe it to that man for the hatred I have felt and lies I have spread. I will not let another die in my place.

Something slammed into him, almost knocking him from his feet, pulling him from his thoughts. The woman with the baby, its cries tearing through the night, picked herself up and raced toward the castle. Others flashed by as they sped along with her. Stiles stood in place, waving the group through, encouraging them to run.

The Piet held the sword before him, pointed to where he had last seen Wellan. He began to walk into the mass of cold flesh.

Stiles screamed, "No, Piet Lithor. This way, there’s nothing you can do for Wellan now."

He continued walking, sparing a glance at Stiles. "Go, do as Wellan said and get those people to the castle." He let go of the sword with one hand to point at the undead that had broken from the mass to intercept the escaping refugees.

Stiles followed the Piet’s pointing finger as more ghouls poured in from the forest, already beginning to grab people as they passed. The newly married man became a widower as undead arms pulled his wife from her feet. He watched in horror, listening to hear screams, as they ate her alive. The young man stepped forward to help her, then turned and ran.

Stiles gave the priest a single nod then ran to protect the refugees.

The Piet continued his walk.

The undead paid no attention to him until he stood at their backs. They turned, scrambling out of his way, parting before him and his holy relic. He continued to walk through the corridor of dead bodies until the last ones fell to the side, revealing a torn and bloody wizard.

Wellan looked up. A smile touched his lips then disappeared in a grimace of pain. "I...I didn’t think you liked me, Lithor."

The priest spun around, presenting the sword like a shield to the cold reaching hands. "I didn’t like you. I was wrong." He reached down to help Wellan stand.

The wizard held his arm up, not in an effort to be helped, but to keep the priest back. Blood dribbled down the corner of his mouth as he rasped "Leave me. I’ve been infected. Get out of here with that sword. Help the Duke."

He reached down, grabbing the wizard’s robes and pulling him to his feet. Either the old man didn’t weight anything, or the priests adrenalin fueled system ignored the weight. When the wizard stood, leaning against the priest, Lithor said, "No one else is dying in my place, Wellan. Now, let’s get you..."

"Put him down." The large ghoul roared as he stepped through the surrounding undead.

Lithor’s sword flashed up. The parchment-skinned man flinched then relaxed, slowly bringing his own sword up. "I’m not one of these simpletons. I won’t be cowered by your relic."

The Piet backed away, swinging his sword as much as he could to push back the reaching corpses, dragging Wellan with him as he went.

The undead leader stepped up, sword raised for a killing blow.

Wellan’s hand shot out from beneath his robes. Lightning flew from his fingers, slamming into the armored chest and trailing the metal around the large body. The man let out a grunt and fell to his knees, sword dropping from his contracting fingers.

Without seeing if the thing had finally been killed Lithor turned and sped through the ghoulish crowd as they parted before his outstretched sword. Within seconds the gate came into sight. The priest almost stopped when he looked to the left and saw that more than half of the refugees didn’t make it. Ghouls stood over their torn bodies stuffing chunks of flesh into their red rimmed mouths. Cylus’ head and torso lay on the cobbled road in a puddle of blood as a woman with the skin color of a fish’s belly gnawed on his severed arm.

"Keep running, Piet Lithor. Run for the gate." The frantic scream of Stiles’ familiar voice bellowing from the castle walls pulled him from the horrid sight before him. He turned and sped to the gate. Armored soldiers, bows held ready, guarded the opening, awaiting his return.

Wellan mumbled phrases that didn’t make sense, in an incomprehensible language, as the Piet drug his body toward the gate. Bow strings twanged. Lines of death streaked overhead. The sounds of falling bodies close behind him. He ran the last fifty yards to the gate with the sword dragging behind him; too weak to hold it upright, but needing it’s presence to guard his back.

He crashed through the line of soldiers. They formed up around him and helped him pull Wellan through the gate as the wizard mumbled, "The blood...don’t"

The Duke pushed through the crowd of guards as the gate boomed closed, kneeling beside the blood covered wizard. He cradled Wellan’s head in his arms and whispered, "It’s going to be all right, my friend. You’re safe with us now."

The Piet knelt on the other side of the wizard, noticing how old the man looked. Though he had never liked the old sorcerer he still had held a grudging respect for the man. Now, it broke his heart to see him like this.

Duke Renier turned to Lithor. Tears brimmed in the red spider web etched eyes. "Thank you, Lithor. Thank you for bringing my friend back to me."

Lithor nodded, for the first time in his life he didn’t know what to say.

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