Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chapter 21a: The Priest and the Beast

…and Jovias looked to the light, knowing that it was holy and righteous. His spirit told him to move forward, but his thoughts pulled him back, whispering to him that righteousness is not without its cost. To live in the light meant obeying the rules and dictates of the holy, but to succumb to the darkness would give him eternal freedom.

~Parable of Jovias, the Never Dying

Rachelle stood while pale arms, groping fingers, and grey faces bounce and swing in the dim light as the small army of undead worked their way towards the little group of survivors. Wellan marched with them, or what once had been Wellan. He had the true eyes of a corpse now, the slack mouth of someone who no longer breaths, the grasping fingers of starving desire.

A roar pulled her focus from the dead flesh. The wolfhound pushed itself off the floor, his rage replaced by intelligent instinct. A hunter looked out of its milky eyes as it strutted across the cavern, toward the retreating survivors.

Piet Lithor yanked her arm, pulling her to the exit. The Duke stood between her and the undead, the rearguard position. Splashing resounded from further up the tunnel. Stiles coaxed the survivors to keep running, yellow light flickered and danced as he retreated further into the watery exit.

Lithor yelled, "Go, my Duke. Catch up with the others. My sword and Madame Rachelle's magic will keep them at bay."

The Duke opened his mouth to protest, but the priest stopped him. "You can't help us now. This battle will take faith and magic. Go. Trust us."

Duke Renier's nostrils flared wide, an inner turmoil took place that finally saw reason. With a nod of his head he squeezed the Piet's shoulder and splashed through the water, chasing the yellow flicker on the damp walls that receded a little more every second.

The priest turned to the wolfhound and swung his sword through empty air, threatening the beast to come any closer. The monster remained a sword-length away, pacing itself as they stumbled through the water, waiting for an opportunity to attack, an opening that it could use to its advantage. The dead advanced behind the creature, a wall of pale arms and grasping fingers.

Now Rachelle pulled the priest through the tunnel as he walked backward with the sword held before him. She tried to bring forth the power of her magic, but it only fizzled and sputtered within her, a glowing ember where there once raged a burning fire. Too much energy had been expended in her first two attacks. It would be a while before she could call it forth again with any effect. Rachelle didn't have the heart to tell Lithor.

With each swing of the priest's sword the beast came a hair’s width closer, the ranks on the dead close upon the creatures heals. She didn't think the dead would approach the sword, but the wolfhound didn't seem to have the same aversion. He paced left and right, always moving forward, waiting for any opening.

The dancing light and splashing of water faded to nothing as the survivors outdistanced her and Lithor. They stood alone before the undead nightmare.

With a cry the Piet tripped and fell on his back. Rachelle reached out to catch him, but missed, fingers grazing his robe as he went down with a splash.

A triumphant roar filled the cave as the wolfhound lunged forward, just in time to catch Lithor as his sputtering head broke the surface of the thigh deep water. Teeth flashed. The priest’s arms struck out, grabbing the monster by its matted neck, stopping the creature in mid lunge. The water churned and boiled as the priest held the creature back. Just behind them the dead advanced.

Rachelle screamed as she dove forward, one hand raking the rough stone three feet below the water while the other held the torch up over her head. Cold, salty water splashed against her cheek and chin as her hand groped for the metal blade.

Piet Lithor screamed then gurgled as the beast pushed against the hands that held him, shoving the overweight priest under the water.

Knowing she no longer had time to find the sword she stood. She dropped the torch, with a hiss and a splash, to grasp the monster by its ears. In the blink of an eye the tunnel became black. The desperate watery struggle taking place at the end of her hand and the wiry hair were the only things in the void. She pulled and yanked at the beast, but it did no good. With an echoing shriek she pulled up her power, every little spark that ember of power could produce and sent it surging into her palms. Wild magic ran from one hand to the next, crossing the barrier of flesh and fur to slam together in the center of the monsters skull.

She felt the creature lurch and convulse just before her consciousness retreated to the void.

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