Friday, August 8, 2008

Chapter 19b: Shanai's Run I

Shannai listened to the mandolin fade into the distance. As the frantic jig dissolved into the early morning her sense of loss grew. I might never hear him play that song again. She wiped a forearm across her tear blurred eyes as she pulled Ash along behind her.

The soldier didn't look good. His face had taken on the color of a pale cheese, beads of sweat sparkled in the dim light. Ash tried to remain vigilant, his eyes darting between buildings and into shops, but his gaze took everything in with a melancholy despondence, as if he couldn't process the things he saw. When his eyes fell on her it was with a questioning look, as though he didn't know her.

She feared that he would turn without warning, her hand locked with his. Would his fingers go slack and release her, or would his grasp tighten and hold her till he could sink his teeth into her flesh? Shanai tried to put her fears away, holding fast to her moral obligation to help Ash, but those thoughts continued to worm their way to the surface.

She thought of her brother and continued on, darting through the middle of the streets, until the music faded to a dim rhythmic hum and finally disappeared altogether. Still she ran, her breath hitching in her throat, more from grief over her brother than any exertion she underwent from running.

He will be there at the gate. He has a plan. Marchas will be at the gate. The thought played in her head like a mantra, a prayer, a hope that she couldn't give up.

She remembered back to when they were children. She couldn't have been more than six. She sat between two buildings hugging a doll he had made her from rags and crying because Lorenze Post, the bully of the block, had pushed her down and teased her about being a street urchin. Marchas had sat next to her, his arm around her shoulder, telling her that he would take care of her. He had a plan. She wouldn't always be a street urchin. Their future would be full of excitement and adventure, she just had to hang in there and trust him. After that he had gotten up and walked off. Later that afternoon she had seen Lorenze Post again. He sported a black eye and a different attitude. It would be years later before the two would give up their life on the streets and begin playing songs and telling tales for money. Marchas had a plan and it had worked out eventually.

A movement in a doorway pulled her from her memories. A man stumbled out of a small trinket shop. His mouth worked up and down. Strands of stringy spittle dangled from his teeth as his arms flayed about in front of him. He moved slowly, mechanically. Shanai pulled Ash to the far side of the street, intending to walk around the man.

A woman stepped out of an alley. Her bloodied dress torn down the front displaying full breasts coated in blood. Her teeth clattered as they clashed together. A half dozen others followed her from the alley into the street, blocking the road.

Ash fumbled with his sword, struggling to pull it from its sheath. She pushed his hand away from the hilt. The soldier could barely walk, much less fight off a half-dozen people. He started to protest, but she didn't listen. Instead she pulled him into a narrow alley, planning to walk to the next street over and continue to the gate by a different route.

They walked to the halfway point between the buildings before more undead poured into the other end of the alley. She turned, but the undead they fled from moments before had blocked her retreat.

Ash groaned and struggled to pull his sword from its sheath. Shanai pulled him across the alleyway to a wooden door. She pulled on the handle. Locked. Turning, she dragging him across the alley to a door built into the facing building. She yanked on the C-shaped handle. Locked.

The crowed pushed in from either side.

With a frustrated scream she yanked on the handle in a series of frantic jerks. The frame rattled against its stone support, but held firm.

Metal touched her shoulder, and Ash's voice rasped, "Use my sword. Pry it open."

Taking the sword from ash, she slipped the blade into the door handle and wedged the sword against the frame at a sharp angle. She pushed against the handle as hard as she could, until the blade began to bend and the steel bit a deep gouge into the wood. Still the door held.

The shuffle of the dead became louder, mere feet from them.

She screamed and threw herself against the hilt. The sword resisted for a fraction of a second then she slammed into the wall, the door-handle sailed across the alley. She didn't have time to thing about what happened as Ash grabbed her and yanked her through the door, only pausing long enough to whisp his sword off the ground and slam the door shut once they were inside.

With his foot at the base of the door and his legs spread wide for leverage he moaned. "Find something to hold the door."

Still trying to catch her bearings after knocking herself almost senseless against the wall, she gave him a blank look. "The handle broke. Need something the hold the door closed."

She looked about the room, a store room. Barrels, bags, and boxes covered almost every bit of floor space except for a path that led to a door and ladder on the far wall. The passage resembled a mountain pass with all the items stacked higher than her head to each side of the walkway. She didn't see anything that could be moved to block the door, not anything she would be strong enough to move anyway.

Something slammed into the door, knocking Ash back several inches and causing dust to drift down from the frame. He slammed his thin body against the door and yelled, "The broom! Give me the broom."

To her right a straw broom leaned against a wall of barrels. She grabbed it and handed it to Ash. Fists pounded against the door as he took the broom and wedged it between the door and a stack of boxes. "Go..." He took a deep, rasping breath. "Go to the ladder and climb."

She grabbed his arm and pulled him with her to the far side of the room. The door banged and shook behind her as the undead pushed against it.

Within seconds they stood at the base of the ladder. Ash stepped to the side and motioned for her to start climbing as he drew his sword. "That won't hold them for long. Start climbing. I'll hold them off it they break through."

Ash's hair stuck to his sweaty forehead and he leaned against a stack of barrels to keep himself in an upright position. The man didn't look as though he would be able to climb the ladder, much less fight off the dead when they broke through the door. She knew he wouldn't climb the ladder first. She saw it in his eyes, pride. She didn't waste time arguing with him about it and began to climb. She only ascended five rungs when the broom handle gave way and the undead poured into the room.

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