Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chapter 12b: Observations

"How long are we to sit here and wait?” Lurok Bos Spielter grumbled. He squatted on the tiled alter steps with his hand propped under his chin, staring at his feet. Lithor didn’t care for his choice of seats, the alter being the holiest of ground, but under the circumstances he didn’t think it worth mentioning. Brother Cylus, on the other hand, fumed and glared at the merchant. His mouth had even opened once or twice to say something, but the rant never got past his wrinkled lips. Bos Spielter didn’t move and no one, not even Brother Cylus, wanted to start an argument that wasn’t necessary.

“If Duke Renier is still alive, and I have no doubt that he is, then help will come as soon as he can arrange something.” Though he spoke to the group with confidence, his words were spoken to comfort himself as much as the others.

When no one replied, Lithor walked to the window. He could only take so much of the merchants’ growling and complaining. Thank Vaspar the man had finally tired of his own grumblings. He desperately wanted to put the merchant in his place, to do what the old Piet would have done, but he didn’t want to return to being that man, the one who ran. He didn’t want to ever see himself cowering behind a bed again while a friend, a brother in Vaspar, stood in his place against the forces of evil. No, he wanted that man to be gone forever. If he had to sacrifice his pride in order for that to happen then so be it. The loss of his status would just be one of the many penances he planned on paying for a lifetime of sin and arrogance.

He watched the mass of pale bodies meander aimlessly back and forth at the edge of the safe zone. Their numbers had decreased, but not knowing where they all were bothered the Piet more than watching them stumbling about in front of the temple. Maybe they will get bored and find somewhere else to haunt. Or should I be doing something? Did the lord Vaspar save me and give me a weapon to combat them? If so then why do I cower behind the walls of His temple? What does He have destined for me? What is Your will, my lord?

Brother Cylus’ liver spotted hand grasped the window frame, interrupting the Piet’s thoughts. His raspy voice asked, “Why do they stay? What are they waiting for?”

“Us, I think.”

Two of the bodies walked into one another’s path. Each turned to avoid a collision.

“Why don’t they attack their own?”

Lithor’s thumb rubbed up and down the pommel of the sword. His eyes focused on the crowd. “I don’t know.”

“Why do they hate us?”

He pulled his gaze from the window and looked at Brother Cylus. “I don’t believe they do. I’ve looked into their eyes. I didn’t see hatred; longing perhaps. Hunger, desire, need maybe, but not hatred. I believe I even saw fear or revulsion when they looked upon the holy sword, but hatred…no that I haven’t yet seen.”

“Do you think they still have souls?”

Lithor returned his gaze to the window. Since entering the temple he had asked himself that question over and over again. He wanted to think they still had souls, a part of themselves that could be redeemed and brought back. He shuddered to think that they could be lost in the void, without any hope of return or salvation. Or worse yet, trapped within those mindless bodies, forced to see themselves committing atrocities they couldn’t control. He tried to tell himself that they were still in there somewhere, blind to their actions and desperately trying to escape the prison of their own bodies. He wanted to see them returned to the lives they had lived only hours earlier. He wanted to put the world back where it had been less than a day ago. Though he wanted to put everything back like it was, he couldn’t’ see how things could be put right as he watched them aimlessly stumble through their environment. They ignored everything, walking around objects and occasionally into them, only becoming driven in the presence of the uninfected. Violence and desire seemed to be their only motivation.

“Piet Lithor, do you think they still have souls?”

“I wish I could tell you that they do, Brother Cylus. I honestly do, but to be honest with myself…I don’t think so. I don’t know what evil causes them to hunt us, but I think their souls are gone. I only hope that they are in a better place and not devoured by the force that created them.”

“Where do…”

“Please, Brother Cylus. No more questions. I’m…”

Footsteps pounded on the bell tower stairs. Both priests turned as Tollis raced down the steps. Everyone stood. The newborn let out a whimper in his mother’s arms. Two hands clasped as the newlywed couple tried to comfort one another. A mother pulled her two sons close to her sides.

Tollis looked at each person, searching. A grin lit his face as his eyes fell on the Piet. “They want us to wait.”

Bos Spielter growled, “What are you talking about, boy? Who wants us to wait?”

His smile faltered. “The guards, Bos. The guards want us to wait.”

Lithor spoke up, before Bos Spielter could snarl at the boy again, “How do you know this, Tollis?”

“A sign, your excellency. They spelled out ‘wait’ on a sheet and unfolded it down the side of the castle wall.”

The Piet turned to Bos Spielter, “I told you the Duke wouldn’t let us down.”

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Chapter 12a: Awakening

"Who can know the depths of evil, and is there an equally good force to compare it with?"

~Secret Holy Scriptures of the Waken Book

"Come here, Tanilla. Come to mommy.”

The baby took a wobbly step forward. A pudgy hand stretched out, narrowing the gap between mother and toddler. The other stayed on the chair seat.

“Come on, honey. Let go of the chair and come to Mommy.” Rachelle motioned the baby to her, arms open, enticing the child with promises of a hug.

She smiled as the toddler took two awkward steps then stopped. Tanilla looked at her mommy as if to say, where seat go? The baby glanced over her shoulder at the chair. She tipped back and forth as she kept her newfound balance, and then turned back to Rachelle. Her face lit up with a triumphant grin. See what I did, Mommy! With a squeal of delight the baby gave herself a single clap, almost falling over, and then looked down at her feet to verify the truth of matters.

The room darkened. The golden glow of sunlight shifted to the hazy light of dusk. Shadows crawled across the floor and walls, giving the quaint room an ominous appearance.

Tanilla’s head snapped up, far quicker than a baby should have been capable of. Her once happy eyes turned completely white, the faint hint of pupils hidden beneath layers of milky film. None of the blue showed. Blood coated her mouth and dripped from her chin as lips pinched together in an ominous grin. The toddler opened her arms and walked toward Rachelle. The unsure stagger gone, heal to toe, heal to toe. The child moved like a predator. Her mouth opened, revealing dozens of narrow bloodstained fangs, more teeth than could possibly fit within the child’s closed mouth. In a deep voice that reverberated throughout the room the child screamed, “MOMMMMMEEEEEEEE!”

“Madame Rachelle. Are you alright?”

She jerked away from the voice, shifting to the center of the bed. Her heart pounded in her chest. A scream threatened to leap from her throat.

Wellan stood beside her, his brows furrowed together with worry.

She sat up in the bed. Tears dribbled from the corners of her eyes and became diluted in the sweat that covered her cheeks. The gray light of dusk shone through the window, filling the small room with long, menacing shadows.

Wellan’s knobby hand gently touched her shoulder. Rachelle jumped. “You must have had a bad dream. It’s not surprising…considering…”

She pulled the covers to her chest and held them tight, a thin wall against the horrible nightmare, against a world gone mad.

The wizard’s voice softened to a gentle whisper, “I…I need to talk to you, to ask you a few questions. Are you up to it?”

She turned away. My baby, Tanilla. Gone, taken away by disease, a plague…or the man with the bow. No, she was gone before he shot her, but had she moved. I felt her move within the blankets. I saw her stand. I saw her try…try and…bite. Fresh tears rolled down her cheek, starting a flow she couldn’t stop, a flood of grief that couldn’t be dammed away with glad thoughts or logic. Her shoulders shook. Her breath hitched in her throat. My baby lost her soul.

She shook her head. No, I can’t talk right now. I just lost the only thing that meant anything to me, and I’m having a little trouble putting it behind me right now. If you could come back in say…a year or two then maybe, just maybe I will have something to say.

Though she faced away from Wellan she could almost feel him nod his head as he said. “I understand. I will come back later when you feel better.”

The door creaked open.

“Wait.” The whispered word left her mouth before she could stop it. She didn’t want him there. She didn’t want to speak with anyone. She couldn’t bear sharing her grief, but she couldn’t be alone. The thought of not having someone near frightened her more than letting him see her pain.

“Do you want to talk?”

“No...Yes…I…I just don’t want to be alone. Not right now.”

“I understand.”

She paused, staring at the floor, she needed to tell him something, say anything. Nothing came to mind, nothing but her baby lying on the floor of her cottage, the look in her eyes as she came back to life, the hunger. She couldn’t just sit and stare at the wall. Wellan had more important things to do than console her.

She focused on a dark corner of the room and tried to clear her mind.

“My daughter. I found her in my house. Dead.”

Light footsteps followed by the rustle of robes, a chair creaked. “I’m so sorry.”

She thanked him for his sympathy with a single nod. Her eyes closed, taking away the distraction of the dim light shining through the window, the texture of the wall. She visualized the morning again as she spoke, stepping through every heart wrenching moment. “I raised Tanilla by myself. Her father disappeared at sea when she was small. Maybe he’s dead. Maybe he just didn’t want to be a father. I don’t know and I don’t guess it really matters. She was all that mattered, the only thing I cared about. Now she’s gone.”

“Madam Rachelle, I…”

“I picked her up, held her close. Cold. She was so cold. I don’t know how long I sat like that, I lost track of time. I wrapped her in a blanket, the blanket that Miss Whorton made. It had little animals all over it. Tanilla loved animals. I wrapped her up like a baby, an infant, with only her face showing. She always reminded me that she was a big girl, but at that moment she was my baby. I think I wiped the blood from her mouth. I’m not sure.”

“I carried her outside. I don’t know where I planned to go, maybe nowhere, maybe to bring her to you. I don’t know. I just walked.”

“People, blood covered people, followed us. I became afraid. I thought they would try and take my little girl. I couldn’t allow that, but I couldn’t prevent it. She started moving, struggling beneath the blanket. My heart surged with hope. I think I sat her down.”

Seconds passed in silence. Madame Rachelle wiped her closed eyes with the palms of her hand. The memory of those next moments twisted her stomach. A fresh wave of despair washed over her. Her shoulders shook with renewed sobs.

Finish the story. Get it all out. It will consume me if I don’t release it.

“I don’t remember…I…her face. Her eyes, the dead eyes, they looked at me with a need, a hunger. Like…like an addict. I can’t explain the feeling that came over me. Fear. Shock. Despair. It was then that she…her head…an arrow. That…that’s all I can remember.”

She turned to the wizard, her eyes swollen and bleary with tears. “That’s all I can remember.”

“Madame Rachelle, I’m so sorry.”

She nodded once and turned away.

“I do have some news that might make you feel better.”

Air stuttered to her lungs. New tears trickled down her cheeks. She hadn’t thought there were any left.

“I think the…the situation awoke the magic within you. I think you could be a wizard.”

She didn’t smile. She didn’t care.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chapter 11b: The Unwilling Servant

Guilt wracked him. Years before the battle of Sipha, Eyliasa had been abducted by the Ryshans. They were a barbaric people men who would hold a fifteen-year-old girl for ransom as blackmail to assure their victory, men who sent pieces of her as evidence with taunting messages of how they abused her in every way imaginable. He hadn’t given in then. His heart had felt like it would burst through his chest, but he hadn’t given in. The good of the kingdom weighed heavier than the abuse and murder of his daughter. Or so he kept telling himself. He wanted to believe it, but underneath the hard exterior, it tore his soul apart.

In the end she had died, her head mounted to a staff at the forefront of the enemy formation. He made them pay for the abuses. With tears wetting his cheeks, he had made every one of those bastards pay. When the battle ended corpses covered the field. They showed the enemy no mercy. He had their villages razed and their people killed; down to the last child. The vengeance only fueled his self-loathing, but he couldn’t make himself stop, torn between mercy and a hatred he couldn’t stop.

General Faygen had his revenge, but it didn’t matter. He had wanted to die. A boon he didn’t receive until decades later.

He couldn’t live through that again. Undead or not, he couldn’t repeat that burden.

He raised his clouded eyes and glared into the necromancer’s cowl. Hatred burned in his heart that he hadn’t felt in ages.

The wolf smile widened, fueling Faygen’s anger and hate.

The creature motioned him off the table with a wave of his hand. “Dispise me all you want, General. I wouldn’t expect any less, but act on that hatred and you will find your daughter’s head once again left on a pike. Now, do as I told you and stand up.”

The plight of his daughter broken his will. He kept a hand on the stone to support himself as he slid off the table and stood on legs that wobbled, legs that hadn’t been used in centuries. He would obey.

He pushed the dark memories to the back of his mind and watched his two companions step off the ship. They were an odd pair. The first one looked like a wolfhound that had been crossed with a saber tooth tiger, a massive creature whose shoulders stood almost chest high. The beast carried itself like a predator, shoulders swaying with each step, sniffing the air and constantly glancing back and forth as if in search of something to hunt. Huge fangs stretched and deformed its lips and jutted below its lower jaw. Faygen would have thought it was alive if not for the gray, mold-covered skin showing through the creature’s thin hair and the milky eyes that didn’t miss anything.

His other companion seemed to be more wraith than human as it glided down the gangplank to the dock. Cloaked like its dark master, nothing could be seen of the creature beneath. Unlike the necromancer, it gave nothing away within the blackness of its cowl. Neither the eyes or teeth gleamed. The robe contained a moving void as far as Faygen could tell.

I wonder if that demon has some hold over him, something the wraith would do anything for, or is the creature helping for its own ends?

During the voyage they had stayed in their separate quarters. Faygen could sense everyone on the ship, the five lower undead and these other two, as if their return from death created a bond in their souls, shining like a sickly green beacon in the darkness. None of the undead had made any attempt to communicate with the others. He hadn’t expected the lower undead to even try. They only lived to feast on living flesh. Of coarse, he hadn’t expected the mutated wolfhound to try and communicate either, but he had expected more from the wraith creature. It seemed to have a mind of its own, like himself, having desires for things other than the destruction that the necromancer pursued.

He turned away from his companions, following the dock along the waterfront toward Renier’s Port Gate. For the last two days he had heard the sound of men working on the dock, ships coming in full of cargo or fish. Now all he heard was the lapping of the water, the wind gusting over the ocean waters, and the boards of the dock occasionally creak as his companions followed behind him. Are they following me, or do we just happen to be going in the same direction?

He didn’t know their purpose and didn’t really care. He only knew that they had nothing to do with him directly. No orders had been given to him concerning them.

Within minutes the three stood before the Port Gate. Faygen looked through the gates and saw a silent city, a dead city. If his ancient tear ducts hadn’t dried up centuries ago, he would have cried.

A thing that was once a man trudged through the drizzle further down the road, aimlessly walking from one side of the street to the other in a haphazard, zigzag pattern. Faygen sent out a mental command. Come. The thing stopped, its balding head turning toward the three. It turned and stumbled toward Faygen, eyes locked on the general. The creature didn’t zigzag or deviate, walking straight to the three. The ghoul’s feet drug along the ground, making even the straight path take some time. Within moments he stood before Faygen.

He had just started to turn, to see what his companions were going to do, when the wolfhound bolted around him and grasped the mindless undead in its wide jaws. Bone cracked as fangs sank deep into its skull. The wolfhound swung the undead back and forth, popping vertebrae and slinging half-congealed blood. The beast slung it back and forth several more times before allowing the corpse to fall onto the ground. Without a pause, the creature’s head dove to the ghoul’s stomach. Massive teeth bit into the soft flesh and pulled. The corpse jerked up and down with the jerking of the wolfhound’s head, until flesh ripped and a stew of organs oozed out of the ragged hole. The beast swallowed the flap of skin then dove into the quivering innards, yanking out a length of intestine and devouring it, as any dog would do to a string of sausages.

Faygen knew the sight should have sickened him, but he felt nothing, or at best puzzled. Why would the creature kill one of the undead? Is the beast that vicious, or does it need food before continuing its mission?

He turned to the wraith, hoping to get an answer, but the mysterious man simply bowed his head and walked down the wall, away from the gate.

The wet snapping and swallowing continued for several more seconds before it pulled its bloody muzzle up and trotted after the other.

He watched the two walk down the wall until they disappeared around the corner, towards the mountains. Their presence would remain a mystery until another day.

Without sparing any more thought for his companions, Faygen walked into Renier. He had work of his own to do.

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Chapter 11a: General Faygen's Return

Part II

"Who can know the depths of evil, and is there an equally good force to compare it with?"

~Secret Holy Scriptures of the Waken Book

General Faygen placed his feet on solid ground for the first time in almost two weeks.

During the ten-day sea voyage he had stayed in the hold, staring at the plank ceiling and thinking about the hell his resurrection had become. He had done little else as the ship rocked across the ocean. Once the craft had docked he remained in the hold for two more days listening to workers yell back and forth across the docks, while the five lower undead entered the city to perform their terrible deed. He was glad to have land underneath him once again. He hated the hold, a dark and humid place that swelled the gasses within him, making his innards gurgle and swell.

Thankfully he couldn’t smell the gaseous expulsions or his rotting carcass. The sense of smell hadn’t returned to him with his resurrection, though his other senses seemed to work just fine. The constant itch of larvae rooting beneath his skin made him wish his sense of touch had been removed as well. Occasionally he would catch one as it bore through his flesh, or cough one of the little white buggers up as it tickled the back of his throat. He took his frustrations out on the tiny vermin with a pinch of his fingers.

The rain began almost fourteen hours ago, the screaming started shortly after that, then died down to an occasional screech, breaking the lulling rhythm of the rain. He had ignored the distant cries, concentrating on his mission. He listened to the screams and blocked them out, willing them away. He had enough self-loathing to deal with; he didn’t need the added guilt of more victims he couldn’t help. The screams of men being transformed into his mindless army were more than he could bear.

Twelve days in the hold had given him a lot of time to reflect on his situation, both his first life and this new one. Death had claimed his soul almost a thousand years ago in the glorious battle of Sipha. Outnumbered two to one, the Croshans had still claimed victory, thanks to General Faygen’s military genius. They won, but at a high cost; almost two thirds of his men would never walk away from the battlefield and a sword through the back for himself. He died moments after victory had been proclaimed - a glorious death, a warrior’s death.

Faygens last moments consisted of terrible pain then darkness. Not only the absence of light, but of smell, sound, touch, self …everything. Almost a thousand years of nothing. No glorious warrior’s greeting by Roke, the god of war. No glorious mansion for the great leader of the Croshans. No gold and jewels. No beautiful concubines. No great meeting with long lost relatives and no reconciliation with his daughter. Nothing.

His god granted him a thankless death for years of service and loyalty.

Consciousness. No great swirling lights or a voice from heaven, only self-awareness. A dim thought in the center of his mind, I am. The thought grew into complex ideas, then foggy pieces of memory that fit together to form a puzzle of a man. The puzzle displayed a man with friends, comrades, lovers, and a daughter. A man named Faygen.

He became aware, but darkness still held reign over his vision. No sounds. No smells. No feeling, no pounding of a beating heart to contrast the silence. Even with the panic he felt there was still no heartbeat. Am I still dead?

The pain started as pinpricks in his joints. The stinging grew and multiplied until burning torment flooded his body, focusing where bone met bone. His body twitched and convulsed, grinding joints and increasing the torture. He suddenly realized he could feel, though he wished he couldn’t.

His eyes snapped open, grating his corneas like sandpaper rubbed over a grape. They burned but didn’t moisten. Through fog clouded vision he saw two mummified arms, skin as broken and dry as bark, frantically rising and falling, striking a hard surface. A dim beat came to his ears, wood striking stone. The arm rose for another strike. Through slowly ebbing pain he willed the arm to stop. The appendage stayed in the air, thin fingers outstretched like twigs. He willed them to flex and they twitched, sending fresh tendrils of pain to his throbbing mind. My fingers. My arm. What have I become?

The deep rumble of laughter, low and mirthless, erupted to his right. His hearing hadn’t completely returned, making the laughter sound as though it came through a thick wall. He willed his head to turn. His chin swung an inch to the right before pain knifed down his spine from the base of his skull to the middle of his shoulders. The sound of popping vertebrae crackled like thunder, traveling through his dry flesh directly to his ears. An involuntary gasp escaped his mouth. The attempt to move air through the withered bags of his lungs created a new torture from deep within his chest. Dust filled his throat.

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” the voice whispered with a smoker’s rasp. It was a deep and grating sound, two rocks being rubbed together to create words. A face leered over him, hidden within the shadows of a cowl. Only a wide smile shown, filled with yellowed wolfish teeth.

Fear of creating more anguish for himself stopped Faygen from nodding his head in reply.

The creature seemed to understand. “You awakened sooner than I expected, though I really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, it is the mighty General Faygen that I have brought back from the darkness. I will try and work quicker to make your entry back into the land of the living more accommodating.”

A hand reached from a black sleeve and lay on his forehead, while the other hand reached out to grasp his knee. The hand that grasped Faygen’s forehead was black with rot. Knuckles stood out like the ends of cypress roots, stretching the skin until it looked ready to rip. Hundreds of small boils covered the tendons that tried to protrude from the skin at the wrist, lightening the dark skin stretched over then at the head.

He didn’t want the vile thing touching him.

The foul thing began to chant in a guttural language that Faygen didn’t understand. He tensed as ice filled his veins, running from where the creature touched his forehead to the other hand at his knee. A pain far greater than any he had yet experienced flashed through his body. His back arched and his fingers clenched against the chill. He didn’t notice the aching in his joints; a greater pain had taken its place. The hands stayed on him, holding him down against the torment, until warmth began to melt the ice. Like the ice the warmth began at the hand on his head and flowed down his body, thawing the icy pain and replacing it with warm relief.

The chanting stopped. The diseased hands pulled away from him.

“Feel better now, General?”

When Faygen didn’t turn his head or respond his healer said, “You can look at me now. The pain is gone and your body is restored to its former state.”

He turned his head and faced the thing that had brought him back. It stood hunched over a foot or so away from him, surrounded by walls of stone, a thing hidden beneath tattered robes, face hidden within a deep cowl.

In a low voice the diseased thing said, “I think you should know what has happened since your demise. How the world has changed and how I expect you to help me change it even more.”

Before Faygen could reply the creature mouthed another guttural word and the room suddenly became overlaid with images. Events that had taken place over the past thousand years flashed across a backdrop of stone. Thousands of images, important evens, everything of significance that he had missed while sleeping. Then he saw the future. A future where the his resurrector controlled everything, a future of death, where the undead became ghouls like himself. Some roamed around as mindless things, performing simple tasks or stumbling forward until given instructions. Others were more like himself, with the capability to think, but everyone could be controlled at any time by the horrid creature. A world full of abominations like himself.

He didn’t try and fool himself. He was still dead. No heartbeat, no breathing. He had been made into a ghoul, an abomination in the eyes of the gods.

Next, the creature showed him a city named Renier, a city full of undead waiting for a leader; an army in need of someone who could breach the walls of the castle, piercing the heart of the once beautiful city and claiming it for the necromancer.

He wouldn’t do it!

The toothy smile widened and images of his daughter flooded his mind. Eyliasa! Her body lay on a stone table much like his, but unlike himself, she had been restored to her former beauty. His precious fifteen-year-old daughter.

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