Monday, July 28, 2008

Chapter 18c: The Wizard's Apprentice

Rachelle didn't think she had any tears left, but they soaked the chest of Wellan's tattered robe. She didn't know if the tears came from the stabbing pain in her head or her sense of loss with the passing of the wizard. Probably both.

Sharp spikes of torment shot through her head every few seconds and when the sharp pains ended a throbbing ache remained. Her mind fought to sort through the pictures that pulsed within her imagination, memories of ancient times, Wellan's life. Her thoughts remained a jumbled assortment of information, each piece floated in her mind like a single sentence or paragraph from a book, individually making sense, but not forming a whole story. Rachelle moaned as pain shot through her head with the force of an icicle being slammed between her eyes. Her mind tried to sort and catalogue centuries worth of knowledge and feelings. It overloaded her senses, making her brain feel as though it would explode at any second. Her existence had become pain and confusion, lost in a place between her world and Wellan's.

The creaking of hinges penetrated through the dull ache. The Duke, a guard, a memory? She didn't lift her head; a sphere of pain enfolded her and left little room for anything else.

Footsteps padded across the stone floor. The smell of mulch and decay filled her nose. A gurgling chuckle intruded on the pain, menacing. She looked up with bloodshot eyes.

A naked man stood at the foot of the bed. A silhouette stood before her, its skin glistened, slick and black like oil. Teeth that matched his skin shone from obsidian gums. Two black marbles glittered as they stared down at the wizard, studying the deceased with a proud smile.

The black eyes travelled to Rachelle. "Ud move, goshling. Der Shaaaman est mine."

She stood on legs that that threatened to betray her. The room tilted and the nude man disappeared from her vision as memories again flooded her mind. A thin man in baggy robes sat leaning against the gnarled tree bark looking up at her with a smile. He held out a smoking pipe with an inviting smile. The flash lasted mere seconds and when she returned a guard stood in the doorway.

She opened her mouth to call to him, beg him to help, but stopped. The armored man gazed at her with blank eyes. His mouth opened and closed, drool slid down his chin and dangled precariously as it swayed with the rolling of his jaw. The abominations are here, in the palace. All is lost.

The black man stepped around the bed with the grace of a dance and faced Rachelle, a black dagger pointed before him. "Ud move, goshling."

Without a seconds thought she lifted the chair and held it before her, the legs pointed at the black horror. Her pain betrayed her and she wobbled to the side as another spike of pain drove between her brows. Images flashed before her eyes for a mere fraction of a second. A night sky full of stars filled her vision. This slim light of a crescent moon shone in the heavens as a shooting star streaked across the sky and plunged into the earth with a blasting roar several miles away. The scene changed to a small dim room, a menacing chuckle greeted her return to the present. Black hands held a leg of the chair and jerked if from her hands, almost pulling her to the ground.

The black dagger rose into the air, poised to plunge into her heart. She cried out. Her hands rose before her face to block the blow she knew she couldn't prevent.

A bloodied hand, middle finger bitten to a stub, struck out from the bed, grasping the black arm and pulling the blade away from its target. The obsidian man snarled and turned to Wellan, driving the knife deep into his stomach. Runes on the knife glinted green then faded.

The wizard grunted, ignoring his attacker and turning his head to Rachelle. His eyes remained glazed over, but no pain shone from them. He grunted as the knife struck home again, then whispered, "Remember the demon in the cave...the wolf..."

Her mind grasped Wellan's words, flew through the images and information until they locked onto that one instant in the Wellan’s life. Again she saw the five men, the enormous wolf with red hot coals burning deep within his throat. Smoke drifted out between it’s yellow fangs. Once more she felt the power flare up within her, brought forth by her will. She felt it burst out of her and slam the demon into the wall. Power, raw energy flashed from her being, brought forth by her will to use it.

Before she realized it she stood before Wellan again. His weak hands tried to grasp his attacker’s arms as they plunged the dagger into his stomach over and over again. His hands slid off under the black man’s frenzied attack.

With a scream she reached deep into herself and grasped the golden light that represented that power. She sucked it up into a tight ball and sent it racing down her arm and through her hand. It burst forth with the sound of thunder, raw energy barely controlled. A golden radiance unleashed with the fury of the nine hells. It slammed into the obsidian man and sent him flying into the air, crashing through the window and sailing backwards to land somewhere in the courtyard three stories below. The bed flipped over and slammeded against the wall, trapping Wellan beneath it. The undead guard at the door flew four feet across the hall, slamming head first into the stone as though he were launched from a catapult, cracking bricks and splattering gore in a red spray across the rough surface.

Weakness touched her muscles, she felt drained. The room became a blur and she tasted blood. Bracing herself against the wall she wiped her forearm beneath her nose. Blood smeared the back of her arm.

Ignoring her exhaustion and blood for the moment she stumbled to the overturned bed. It wobbled and tipped over as Wellan crawled from beneath it. He knelt on the ground with his intestines hanging from his gutted stomach, the gashes he received outside the city walls opened again and dripping pus.

He looked up at Rachelle and gave her a crooked smile. "Get me something to wrap my waist in and I will try and get myself pulled back together. Then..." His nostils flared, sniffing the air like a hungry wolf, milky eyes open wide. His tongue licked cracked lips then he shivered and squeezed his eyes closed. His voice returned in a rough rasp, "Then we must flee."

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Chapter 18b: A Simple Sermon

Piet Lithor stood behind the pulpit, rubbing his stubble ridden chin and looking at the fifteen or so people who sat in the dozen pews before him. He had been asked to speak to the people in the duke's private chapel, a dining room sized affair and seldom used. Everything in the chapel was at least as grand as the main temple with carved pews, a marble pulpit, soft cushioned chairs and pews, but somehow it didn't feel the same any longer. He felt as though he didn't belong in front of these people, he no longer felt worthy of representing Lord Vaspar.

An echoing cough and shuffle of feet pulled him from his thoughts. The people were getting anxious. He had been staring at them, consumed by his doubts, far too long. His hand ran from his rough beard to nervously comb through his greasy thinning hair. Lord Vaspar, what do I say to these people, men and women who are relying on me to guide them through these troubled times?

Deep down he had hoped that Lord Vaspar would tell him what to say, give him some direction. Silence answered him.

With a sigh he grasped the front of the pulpit and began. "I...I no longer feel worthy of leading you in Lord Vaspar's light. Time and again he has tested my metal and found me unworthy, but I ignored him. I went about my business, strutting around like the lead cock when in reality I was the lowest of you. My arrogance and my pride blinded me to the truth that is Lord Vaspar. You good people probably know him better than I do. You follow him in blind faith. You meet now expecting the grand Piet to give you words of comfort, something that will ease your troubled souls and allow you to sleep at night. I am sorry, but I can't give you people that. I would like to, but..but Lord Vaspar hasn't given me any great words of wisdom to impart on you. He hasn't told me comforting words that will ease your fears or loss.

"All I can do is relate my personal experience and tell you that Lord Vaspar saved me from this ravaged city. When my priests, Vaspar bless their lost souls, tried to get me and turn me into one of them Lord Vaspar was there to save me. He didn't show up in a golden ray of light as he did in the holy book of Chronis. He didn't offer his blessing upon me, didn't bestow upon me the power to beat my enemies. He didn't speak to me and tell me how this is going to turn out."

Piet Lithor rubbed his tired eyes. Hope. These people need hope and all I now do is blather on about how we are lost and Lord Vaspar has offered no aid. Get it together priest. Lead your people, Piet.

He looked at the small group gathered before him and shook his head. Is this all that is left? Are these the last followers of the faith within Renier?

Reaching down to his side he pulled the Holy Sword out of its scabbard and held it high before the people. He gazed at the silver sword, Vaspar's talisman. "This, my friends, is what the Lord Vaspar bestowed upon me. This holy sword is anathema to those retched souls. They can't touch it and are even distraught by the site of it. That is the power of Lord Vaspar. That is the power that saved me when all hope was gone."

He again looked through the group of people, hoping to see someone who survived from the Temple. He didn't recognize anyone. Surely someone else survived. I will need to find out as soon as I am done here.

"Another gift from the Lord Vaspar is his Temple, and I assume this chapel also. They are incapable of touching holy ground. It kills them faster than any sword will. Remember that in the days to come. Lord Vaspar still holds power over what is his and this madness can't take that away. Though the forces of evil...

The chapel doors burst open, banging against the wall like a sledge hammer and echoing through the room. Bos Spielter stumbled through, his hand on his neck and blood oozing between his fingers. He took a few steps into the chapel, his eyes never leaving the Piets, then fell on his knees as though about to pray.

"Nowhere is safe." He wheezed and coughed, blood coating his teeth and sprinkling the floor with red dew. "They're here, here in the palace. We're all gonna die..." The last words distorted and gurgled as blood welled up the Bos' throat and spilled over his bottom teeth. His eyes grew wide and he fell forward, blood formed a widening pool around his head.

Two men jumped up and ran to Bos' Spielter.

"Stop! Don't touch him." Piet Lithor sprang from the pulpit and stood between the two men and the body.

The men's eyes grew wide as they stared behind the Piet. A woman screamed. A nauseating stench filled the room, rotting meat cooked over coals of garbage. He turned. A greasy black smoke rose from the Bos' convulsing body, billowing to the ceiling and covering it like a thunder cloud.

Piet Lithor almost told everyone to run from the Chapel, then remembered his sermon. They stood on holy ground, untouchable by the abominations. They would remain safe in the chapel.

He spoke through clenched teeth, fighting nausea brought about by the stench and watching the Bos' skin and organs dissolve until only charred bones remained. "Everyone stay here. You will be safe until I return. I'm going to inform the duke."

Everyone stared at the blackened bones. No one offered to accompany him. No one needed to. The well being of their souls was his duty. The preservation of their lives his responsibility, his penance for the vulgar life he had lived.

Lifting the holy sword before him he stepped out into the corridor to find the Duke.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Chapter 18a: The Mandolin

Part III

"“Men, the children of God, share a common trait as the beast of the field. It is their ‘fight of flight’ instinct, the difference between being a predator or becoming prey.

~From Shantazar’s treatise on human behavior

For almost an hour Shanai had been looking over the edge of the counter, watching as people stumbled back and forth in front of the bakery window. Her nose slowly became immune to the enticing aroma of fresh baked bread until she hardly noticed the smell though her stomach still grumbled from time to time. The streets almost seemed like a busy city night, except for the blank stares and the lurching movements of the citizens. They searched for her as she watched in hiding, like a rabbit cornered in its burrow. She needed to get out there and find her brother, make sure nothing had happened to him. Of coarse, knowing Marchas, he's probably already outside the city walls guzzling down ale and telling the tale of his grand escape. She almost smiled at the thought, but deep down she knew better. Marchas wasn't going anywhere without his little sister.

"You're gonna have to do it." Ash whispered.

For the entire hour he had been sitting on the floor, staring at the wall and rubbing his bite. He had moved very little and said nothing.

She looked down at his pale face. Beads of sweat coated his forehead. "Do what?"

He looked up at her with bloodshot eyes and held up his bloody arm. "Off me. I ain't gonna be around much longer and when I come back I...I'm gonna be just like them. Don't want to be like them. You got to kill me before that can happen."

Grabbing his hand, she pushed his arm back down. "Don't talk about that. You aren't going to die from a single bite. We'll get out of here. Get you some help."

His brows arched and his mouth turned to a sneer. She didn't buy her own pep talk so how could she expect him to.

"You don't know what you're talking about. You haven't seen them, haven't seen people return once they die." He grabbed her arm with his bitten one. "If you don't agree to do it then I won't go any further with you."

She opened her mouth to protest, but he continued on. "I mean it. In here I can't get out and hurt anyone when I change, but if I go with you and you don't kill me when the time comes then I won't only be a danger to you, but to everyone in the city. I can't let that..."

He stopped and turned his head to the shop door, listening.

Following his lead she turned and listened too. Music. Mandolin music. One of Marchas' favorite tunes floated down the street on plucked strings. A fast paced dancing jig that, when accompanied by song, spoke of adventure, ale, women, and riches. A grin spread across her face. That crazy bastard!

Ash leaned back against the counter. "Well, it looks like your brother is doing all right, but if he doesn't stop playing he's gonna draw every undead in the city to himself."

Already the dead were picking up on the sound, shuffling across the front window by the droves, stumbling toward the music.

"Well, I give your brother points for having guts, but not so many in the brains department."

She smiled down at Ash. "Yeah, that's my brother. Always thinking with his..."

The music stopped and fear for her brother grabbed the back of her neck with icy fingers.

She breathed a sigh of relief when Marchas' voice echoed through the streets. "Shanai. Don't yell back, but I'm guessing you are still around here somewhere and thinkin' I've finally lost my mind. You might be right, but I got a plan. I'm gonna play this mandolin for a little longer, maybe go through some more of my favorite tunes, a naughty limerick or two, and then I'm gonna tell you to run. When I do go get your ass headed for the West gate as fast as you can. Don't stop for me. You get outside the gate and keep going till it's safe. If I don't meet up with you right away then head to the Baron Milchev’s town and I will meet you there. Stay safe, sis."

The music resumed with a racy dancing jig.

Ash looked over the counter and shook his head. "Your brother's definitely not paddling with both oars, but he's got guts. I'll give him that"

Watching the dead lumber across the window she smiled. "He never was all that good with paddles. I just hope he doesn't get himself killed with this plan of his."

The dead began to crowd the streets as they headed in the direction of the sound, hundreds of them lumbering in front of the bakery, a stream of flesh moving north, bumping into one another and falling to the ground in their quest for the player of the music.

Ash scratched his cheek and eased around the counter. "This plan might just work. They are starting to thin out, headed for wherever he is holed up. He's drawing them like flies to a carcass."

She cringed at his choice of words, but continued watching the last of the undead as they began to trickle past the backery. Without looking at Ash, Shanai replied, "I just hope he isn't getting himself cornered."

Ash wiped sweat from his brow and walked to the door as the last of the undead stumbled past the window. Shanai noticed his unsteady steps, telling herself that it was because of the long sit and not anything else.

A new song began, one that Marchas added his deep voice too. A song entitled Running with Sin, A fast song about a wild girl who lives life for the moment, always running from the law. A song that Shanai could certainly relate to, but she guessed Marchas had chosen it to let her know that the time to flee was close.

As soon as the song ended Marchas screamed in the distance. "Move your ass, sis! I'll see you on the other side of the gate."

Ash cracked the door opened and looked outside, then waved her to him.

Doing as her brother said she ran, grabbing Ash's clammy hand as she passed through the door.

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