Friday, August 15, 2008

Chapter 19d: Shanai's Run III

Time seemed to slow down as she worked her way down the board. Every bouncing second seemed like minutes as she pulled herself forward with her hands and arms. She used her knees, feeling the edge of the plank to assure herself that she wasn't about to slide off. With every pull she imagined the lumber slipping off the edge of the windowsill. She saw herself tumbling down into the alley, hearing bone crack as her leg struck the hard packed dirt. Screaming through the pain of a broken leg as the alley filled with hungry eyes and gore crusted mouths.

Stop thinking about it, Shanai. You ain't helpin' yourself with those thoughts. Just keep pulling. The other roof has to be inches away.

Her finger scraped stone. She pushed herself forward, grabbed the gritty lip of a ledge and pulled until her chin touched stone. Shanai opened her eyes and drug herself onto the roof where she lay facing the sky and panting. Her heart pounded to a crazy rhythm in her chest as she stared up at the sky and thanked luck for getting her this far. The rigid edge of her bow pushed uncomfortably against her back, arrow feathers tickled her sweaty neck.

Rolling over to her stomach, she pushed herself up, not waiting for her heart to settle down. She lacked the luxury of time, knowing she had to get to the next roof and down to the street fast. The longer she waited the more crowded the streets would get.

A dozen paces brought her to the stone lip of the far edge of the building. A rickety wooden ladder poked above the roof and led down to the alleyway twenty feet below. No one walked between the narrow walls. The alley created a six foot gap between the buildings, an easy jump.

She walked backward five paces and took a deep breath. Though the jump would be an easy one the distance to the alley below still needled her mind. Images of her falling to the alley floor after missing the far ledge by a hairs breadth kept flashing through her mind. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. You've got enough to worry about without adding imaginary fears. This is a jump any five year old could make and if Marchas were here right now he would have me in tears with his laughter.

Well, Marchas isn't here now. It's just me.

Before she could feed more fuel to her fears, without giving any more thought to her nagging worries, she ran and leapt. Shanai cleared the edge of the far building with a foot to spare, taking a few steps to slow her momentum down. She looked back and smiled. See, nothing to it.

Ten paces brought her to the far edge of the next building, where another rickety ladder poked over the edge of the building like piers. A stone building faced her, a story taller than the one she stood on, separated by another six foot alleyway. She leaned over the edge and peered into the dark alley. Other than garbage piled next to the ladder the way looked clear.

Before climbing down the ladder she walked to the front of the building and slowly peaked over it's edge into the street below. A few undead meandered down the street to the East, lurching toward the building where Ash died. Her destination led West.

Shanai straightened her bow against her back, returned to the ladder and mounted the top rung. With a final look below she descended into the alley.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chapter 19c: Shanai's Run II

"Come on, Ash!" she screamed down to him as she grabbed the next rung.

He glanced up at her with determined eyes and shook his head.

He's not coming. He has to come.

She stopped ascending and held her hand down to him. "No, Ash! Don't do this. I need you..."

His sword slashed down as the first of them slammed into him, cutting a deep gash from the woman's collar bone to her chest. Her left arm dropped as the tendons and bone became severed, but her right hand grabbed him by the back of the neck. He futilely pushed her hand only to be grabbed on his sword arm by a burly man.

"Climb, girl climb!" he screamed just before the burly man's teeth sank into his throat. His scream turned into a gurgling wail.

A hand swiped across her boot. With a roar, part fear and part frustration, she pulled herself up the ladder until she met the ceiling, where a trap door prevented her from going any further. Gods, don't let this door be locked. She pushed against the wooden door and sighed as it gave way.

Dust drifted down through the crack.

Shanai gave a last look below before climbing through the hatch. The three ghouls at the base of the ladder had given up on her and joined their comrades in their feast at the base of the wall of barrels, a pool of blood spread and smeared around their feet as they tore chunks of flesh from Ash's cooling corpse twenty feet below her.

She slammed the door shut, pulling the hasp over the catch before looking around for something to push through it. Planks of wood lay stacked on the far wall, opposite to a worktable littered with tools. Early morning moonlight shone through two windows, one facing the street and the other facing the alleyway - just below the sharp pitch of the roof. The floor was soft with sawdust. She ran to the table and fumbled through the tools, small metal hardware and sawdust until she grasped a long nail. She ran back to the hatch and shoved it through the door hasp.

That should keep them out. At least for now.

With the trap door secured she walked to the table and leaned back against it, palms flat on the its surface with her fingers curled around the edge, white knuckled. She stared at the wood sliver textured floor, taking several deep breaths.

I'm all alone now. A shiver ran up her spine as the thought worked its way through her. Ash could have made it. I would have helped. He didn't have to sacrifice himself for me. Shanai kept telling herself that as tears warped her vision and ran down the bridge of her nose, but she knew differently. The bite had made Ash too weak to climb the ladder, even with her help and he couldn't have gotten above the corpse's reach fast enough. It's all gonna go to waste, his sacrifice. I can't do this alone. I need...Marchas.

Thinking about her brother reminded her of the adventures they had shared, the bar fights they had lived through, the brushes with death that occasionally followed them.

This is different.

No, it's just another bar fight, another close call. Think, Shanai! There is a way out of this, you just have to think it through. Her brother's voice echoed through her mind, berating her in the dark workroom.

"Yeah, Marchas. I'm open to any suggestions." she whispered to the wooden planks across from her.

Well, I'm not gonna get out of here if I just sit and sulk. What would Marchas do in this situation? She smiled to herself and wiped a sweaty forearm across her eyes.

Treading lightly, trying to make as little noise as possible in the hope that the monsters below her would forget about her, she crept to the window facing the street. The pile of lumber lay stacked before the window, preventing her from getting closer than a few feet. She leaned forward with her hands on the top of the boards and looked down. Half a dozen people wobbled and limped through the streets, converging on the building.

I don't believe I will be going out through the front door any time soon.

She pushed herself upright and walked to the side window facing the alleyway and looked down. Two undead strolled between the narrow walkway between the buildings, one walking to the front and the other lumbering toward the back.

Across the alleyway a flat stone roof sat almost even with her feet, eight feet from her window. On the other side of that building sat another single story building with a matching flat roof.

If I can make it to the second building without attracting their attention I might be able to climb down and get out of this hot spot before they catch me, but can I make that jump. Can I make the jump without making any noise? The answer came instantly. Not likely.

She turned to look around the little attic workshop, checking for anything she could use. Her eyes fell on the planks. They were almost ten feet long, more than enough to bridge the gap. But will they support my weight. They had to.

Turning back to the window she flipped the brass catch securing the panes closed and pushed the window open. Damp early morning air blew in sending a fine layer of sawdust from the window seal to the floor. Shanai crept to the pile of lumber and hefted a plank, almost as wide as herself, to the window. Placing the end of the plank on the window seal she slid to the other end and pushed it out, using her weight to prevent it from tipping down lower than the far roof. The board groaned as it slid across the wood dusted surface. When only a foot of board remained in the room she gently pulled her weight from it and let the far end settle onto the roof. The board sat at a slightly downward angle, but not so steep that she couldn't crawl to the other roof.

Peering over the edge of the window she looked into the alley. The filthy hair of an undead waddled directly under her plank, while two more undead stumbled towards each end of the alleyway. They hadn't noticed her.

Taking a deep breath she grasped the sides of the plank and pulled herself onto the board. It bounced as she landed on top of it. An icy fist of fear squeezed her stomach and she gripped the edge of the plank as tight as she could. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the pulsing rhythm of her heartbeat as it pounded in her ears. The drumbeat of blood continued to count the time, time she knew that she didn't have. With another deep breath to calm herself she pulled herself down until she lay across the board and began pulling herself forward with closed eyes. Heights had always bothered her some, but laying across the board as it bounced with each pull of her arms filled her with an almost paralyzing vertigo. The only thing that kept her moving was knowing that she couldn't stop. If she didn't get across before they spotted her she would never be able to get to the second roof and escape.

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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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Monday, July 28, 2008

Chapter 19a: A Walk Down the Corridor

“…and the chosen crept into the darkness, not knowing the way. There they did abide, by the Lord’s will and did discard their riches, giving up their worldly selves as commanded by the Lord.”

~Secret Holy Scriptures of the Waken Book

The wall torches formed shadows that danced and leapt as Piet Lithor crept along the silent corridor, his sword held before him in trembling hands. Calm yourself Piet. Have faith in Lord Vaspar. He didn't get you this far just to have to be eaten alive here in this dark passageway.

He wished he hadn't thought about being eaten alive.

His thoughts turned to Bos Spielter. The man had certainly been an arrogant bastard, but he didn't deserve to die in the way he had, his neck ripped open and his blood staining the chapel floor. I wonder if Lord Vaspar took his soul, or if it remained trapped within his body. If it stayed within his body then where did it go when his flesh disintegrated? A shiver ran down his spine as he thought about that.

There you go working yourself up again, priest. Think about something else, something pleasant.

Nothing came to mind.

A figure moved in the corridor far behind him. The sound of metal sliding against stone ripped through the darkness. In the silent passageway it echoed with the sound of torn fabric. His imagination created a lumbering monster dragging a leg behind it as the creature advanced upon him one sliding step at a time. He turned around with the holy sword held high, vibrating with his fear, and walked backwards, glancing over his shoulder every couple of seconds to make sure he didn't run into anything - or anyone.

Another scrape, flesh slapped stone.

The Piet turned and ran down the corridor. His breath wheezed through terrified lungs, heart beating with a dangerously rapid rhythm.

Footsteps before him, dozens of footsteps.

Oh Lord Vaspar, is this the end of me? An undead monster behind me and a horde in front of me...

He slowed to a stop and dropped to his knees in prayer, grasping the hilt of the sword until his knuckles turned white. Please Lord Vaspar, spare my life and if not that then don't let them turn me into an abomination. Take my soul. I've changed, Lord. I'm a different man. I...

"Piet Lithor?"

He looked up and saw figured approaching through eyes filmed with tears.

Duke Renier walked toward him from the shadows with Stiles close behind. Another soldier stood back with a group of twenty or so civilians.

Thank you, Lord Vaspar!

The Duke held out a hand and helped the Piet to his feet. "You need to come with us, Piet Lithor. The palace is no longer safe."

Piet Lithor nodded then pointed back behind him. "Something is in the passageway. I think it is stalking me."

The Duke squinted in concentration as he looked down the dark corridor. "I don't see anything, but we will deal with it if it gets between us and the escape tunnel."

The Piet’s heart filled with hope, as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. They are going to the escape tunnel. Again, thank you Lord Vaspar.

He suddenly remembered his small congregation at the Chapel. "We need to return to the Chapel, Duke Renier. There are almost fifteen souls waiting for me to return and bring them to safety."

The Duke grasped the Piet's shoulder. "We will, my friend. We'll make that our last stop on the way to the tunnel. It's not far out of our way."

The soldier who had been standing with the group of civilians marched up to the Duke and whispered. "My Lord, we need to get you to safety. We shouldn't be taking on another rescue miss..."

"No, General. Did you hear him? There are fifteen more men and women, residents of Renier that we can save. We will make this detour and then be on our way."

"My Lord, we need to get you..."

"I said 'no', General. We will rescue these people first."

With that he walked past the Piet and into the darkened corridor.

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