Friday, August 15, 2008

Chapter 20a: Rachelle's Flight

"I heard he was as old as mankind, a protector or guardian or somethin'. Legend has it that he didn't die, but only waits in the shadows for when he is needed again."


"The legends are wrong."


~Two old men discussing the legend of Wellan the Wizard





S
creams invaded the castle of Renier. Rachelle heard most of them as distant cries that echoed through the dark cooridors, but some came from nearby closed doors and passageways. The dead had taken over the once beautiful palace.


She followed close behind Wellan as he stumbled through the darkness. He wouldn't let her get too close though. At first she hadn't understood why, but every once in a while he would glance behind him with a cold glint in his eye. She told herself he was only looking after her, making sure they hadn't become separated in the darkness, but she knew better. The glint spoke of hunger and an internal battle being fought for her life. At one point she opened her eyes to his aura, a chore she now loathed. Her gaze revealed a human void, the outline of an old man in black, blacker than the darkness in the cooridor, as devoid of light as any other of the undead she had seen. His aura didn't shine reveal anything about his condition, on what he thought or fought within.


Rachelle had to trust the old wizard or fight her way through the palace. The only good that had come of his condition was that he could sense the undead and lead her through safe passageways.


Watching Wellan as he stumbled through the cooridors reminded her that she was not only seeing the end of the wizard, but the beginning of a new age or the end of an old one. The memories still pounded through her mind, causing confusion and dizziness, but as she slowly assimulated and sorted the information the world gradually became clearer and her headaches grew fewer.


A whisper, like a mosquito buzzing in her ear, pulled her from her thoughts. "Be wary of the black man. He didn't die. I can sense his self serving evil...can see it burning with hatred and the desire for revenge."


"Is...is he close?"


The back of Wellan's hear rotated back and forth, barely perceptable. "No, but that one loves to kill and I can no longer protect you. With my...my conversion...the powers I once had are gone. What little powers I have are being used to...ugh...quench...my desires. I am like them now, the undead. I hun...hunger for the fleshhhhh."


He stopped and shook his head back and forth several times. His hand rose to his lips then rubbed his eyes. He shook his head once more. "I don't...don't need to talk about that anymore, it only makes the desire harder to supress. I still have some of my wits about me, so I...ugh...I suppose I'm not exactly like the rest of them."


She reached out for his shouder, to give him a comforting squeeze.


"Don't touch me!"


She yanked her hand to her chest, as if pulling it from the snap of a rabid dog.


"I...I'm sorry, Rachelle. I didn't mean...mean to be so harsh, but you don't need to touch me in any way. I'm afraid my will...that I might..."


"No, Wellan. I understand."


He glanced over his shoulder. Behind the hungry glint in his eye she also saw sadness. He shuffled on.


Within moments they stood in the kitchen, facing the open doorway and stairs that led to the cellar. Nothing looked amiss. The pots and spoons hung from a rack over a wooden working counter. Black ashes layed in a pile in the middle of the fire pit. The kitchen looked just like she imagined it would at any early morning hour.


Footsteps pounded toward them from a cooridor on the other side of the kitchen. She drew in a breath that felt like ice water, fear chilling the sensative nerves of her spine. Wellan stepped before her as she held her hands out to her sides, preparing to use her new found powers.


A figure burst through the shadowy arch of the cooridor. Rachell raised her hands over her head, the spell warping the air and sending light bending between her spread fingers.


The figure held his sword before him. More figures burst from the darkness behind him. Everyone gasped.


"Stiles?" Wellan croaked. Rachelle lowered her hands, hoping no one noticed the way they shook.


The Duke and Piet rushed around Stiles with greetings on their lips for the wizard. They froze to each side of the soldier, horror creased their brows.


Duke Renier's voice cracked as he spoke. "Wellan? I...I don't..."


The wizard backed away, towards the cellar stairs, his hands held up before him, palms out. "Stay back...my...friend. All of you...please stay back. I...I...I can't...so hung..." His palms rose to his temples as he bent over at the waist. A struggle took place within the old man, one that Rachelle and the others couldn't understand. She wanted to go to him, to comfort him, but she knew that would be a grave mistake.


Stiles stepped forward with his sword drawn. Another soldier walked from the dark cooridor to join him. Rachelle spun to face them, standing between the soldiers and the wizard, the air crackled and warped between her fingers. She didn't want to fight the soldiers, but she wasn't about to let them harm Wellan.


Duke Renier put a hand on the soldier's shoulders and pulled them back. "No. Let him be."


Stiles lowered his sword, but the other soldier stuttered, "But, my lord Duke...he's one of them. He'll eat us alive first chance he gets."


"Just stay away from him."


In the dark cooridor a terrified female voice moaned. "I hear them, they are coming up the cooridor. W...we have to flee."


With that the crowd moved forward, into the kitchen propper. Rachelle's heart almost broke. She performed a quick head count of the survivors, no more than twenty civillians, and five soldiers, plus Duke Renier and Piet Lithor. How could the city have been whittled down to so few so fast?


She turned to check on Wellan as the Duke walked to her, but he was gone.


The Duke gently nudged her forward while looking into the dark cellar. "He went into the cellar, probably all the way into the escape tunnels." He looked back at the little group. "Go on ahead. Look after my old friend, would you? We will get into the cellar and barricade the door behind us, then follow."


With a quick nod to Duke Renier she stepped into the darkness and followed the steps down into the cellar.

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