Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chapter 20d: Fight in the Dark

Between gritted teeth, Wellan whispered, "Be...ready to run."

He stepped away, to the left, between her and the wolfhound, walking until he stood just within the edge of the flickering light. He faced the undead, eyes closed and lips pressed tight. He raised his hands high to his sides, reminding Rachelle of a human sacrifice. She had only a second to wonder what the man was doing before having to shift her focus back to the battle at hand.

Ignoring the old man, the wolfhound launched itself at Rachelle, water spraying from his fur as he loped across the pitted floor.

Piet Lithor spun to face the beast, his sword aimed at the creature's heart. The animal stopped and began pacing back and forth before the priest like a caged tiger.

To her right the undead sloshed through the water, but they no longer advanced towards the group. Instead they lumbered in Wellan's direction, crossing just behind the enraged wolfhound. As they advanced he stepped backward, drawing them away, pulling them from the small party of survivors. His eyes remained squeezed shut and his lips trembled as though he silently mumbled in an infernal language. She sensed a bond between Wellan and the undead as if he were a shepherd calling in his flock. Like good sheep the congregated toward him.

The wolfhound lunged at the Piet. He stumbled backward, bringing his sword down on the creatures shoulder before falling to his back on the rough stone. The beast roared and twisted away. The smell of burnt meat filled the air from the creature's smoldering wound.

With hatred and rage in its eyes the beast launched himself at the priest again, a berserker bloodlust over riding its sense of self preservation. Before it could sink its teeth into the Piet Rachelle sent a blast of energy slammed into the beast and sent it flying into the darkness with a howl of rage and pain.

Dropping her hands to her side, Rachelle reached down to help the priest to his feet. Her eyes stayed on Wellan and the undead who stumbled toward him.

The old wizard backed away from the exit as the ghouls crowded around him, running their limp hands over his arms, face and shoulders. They reminded Rachelle of religious fanatics, worshipper's in the presence of a messiah. His arms quivered and shook, lips turned up in a snarl. His eyes squeezed down to cracked slotted shadows. An internal war took place in the old man, one that Rachelle couldn't begin to imagine.

As he reaches the edge of the shadow, undead falling over themselves to reach him, his hoarse scream tore through the chamber. "Run! I...can't...fight it any...Longerrrrrrrr."

Piet Lithor grabbed her arm and pulled her to the water logged exit. Survivors splashed in the water all around her, running for the exit.

Wellan's eyes opened wide, his mouth followed. The dead suddenly lost interest in him, turning to the survivors, sensing warm flesh. Within moments the old man became lost in a mass of grey flesh and tattered clothing.

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Chapter 20c: Of Stone and Water

Rachelle followed ten feet behind Wellan, as he had requested. His dark form shifted and bobbed in the flicker of her torch as he slowly stumbled through the rough hewn stone pathway. The walls glittered with moisture as though coated with orange and yellow diamonds in the shifting glow of her torch light. She could hear the shuffle and echo of the survivor's feet echoing in the tunnel behind her.

She had found Wellan as soon as she entered the tunnels. He stood slouched against a wall, his pale hands coved his face and eyes. She had reached out for him, but he pushed her away, hissing once again about his desires and how he teetered on the brink of loosing control. She didn’t argue, only asked him to lead the way. She would follow. With cracked lips pinched tight and a nod he had turned and strolled into the darkness ahead of her. The survivors gave them both a significant lead and watched Wellan as though he were a wolf within their midst.

As they progressed farther down the narrow and winding stone path the walls became rougher and the floors less even, as though the stone cutters had lost interest in their craft as the tunnel progressed. At several times she had to turn sideways and squeeze between cold, slimy walls of stone. She had no idea how the heavier survivors, such as the Piet, would squeeze through, but somehow he always did. Within a short while the passageway opened again, the nicks and chips of chisel work completely gone. They had entered a natural cavern that cut its way below the Barclave Mountain.

Wellan stopped. Listened. His eyes squeezed into narrow slits.

He glanced at he over his shoulder. His pupil as small as a pin head, the yellowed orb around it glinting in the dim light. The hiss of his voice echoed against stone. "The are before us."

"Who? The undead?"

The tarnished eye bounced up and down as he nodded. "Yesss...and...something else..."

A hand fell on her shoulder. She jumped, heart racing, power surging from her core to the ends of her fingers. Then the Dukes troubled voice whispered. "What else, my friend. What is blocking our escape?"

Wellan turned away, walking into the darkness. "The dead. I...I don't know what the other presence's powerful. calls to me, pulls me like a moth to a flame."

Duke Renier looked down at Rachelle as the undead wizard disappeared into the darkness, his expression serious, worried. Though she couldn't read minds his face told her his thoughts. He wanted to turn back, but retreat no longer remained an option. With a slight push and a nod of his head toward Wellan sent her ahead as he waved the others to follow.

Rachelle caught up to Wellan as he stumbled through the tunnel and finally came out into a larger area. She damp air smelled of sea water. Her light faded and disappeared as it stretched out into the void around her. Stalactites and stalagmites rose from the floor and roof like jagged teeth. Water dripped in the distance echoing through the shadows like amplified rain.

Wellan angled to the right, cautiously walking across the uneven floor. He didn't turn to see if they followed, oblivious to everything but the path in front of him.

A splash broke the silence of the stone chamber. Her light reflected off the water coated floor in bouncing yellow and orange.

Wellan stopped and pointed out over the water covered floor, into the black beyond. "They are here...lurking in the darkness."

A deep growl rumbled through the chamber. The echo made it sound as though it came from all around them. The survivors crowded behind her. Water splashed. Something waded towards them with an even, confident stride. Two pinpoints of white shone in the darkness before then, getting closer, growing into a huge shaggy head, shoulders, waist. A wolfhound, larger than any other she had ever seen before. It sloshed forward in knee deep water, studying the group, but paying close attention to Wellan as though sensing a threat, or maybe a kindred spirit.

Wellan took a step back and the group followed. Metal slid against leather as the soldier's pulled their swords from sheaths.

Piet Lithor stepped to the front of the group to stand at her shoulder, his sword drawn and pointed into the shadows.

The wolfhound turned to glare at the priest. His growl lowered in pitch, lips curling up to display yellow daggers of teeth and black spotted gums.

Rachelle felt the power surge from the center of her being, pulsing through her arms to focus in the palm of her hands.

With a roar the wolfhound launched himself at the priest.

Her hands flew up releasing the power stored in her palms. The air warped and crackled as swirls of energy burst through the air and slammed into the side of the beast, blasting him into the air where he sailed across the room and became lost in black. The sound of flesh striking stone resounded through the endless chamber.

Water erupted further down the tunnel. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of bodies lumbered into the light. Water sloshed and churned as they stumbled forward, mouths open and hungry for flesh.

The wolfhound burst from the shadows at her right, streaking straight towards her. The guards brought up their swords and prepared to make their final stand.

The small group was hopelessly outnumbered. Rachelle felt all hope leave her as she looked into the eyes of the beast.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Chapter 20b: The West Gate

Shanai crouched beneath a window in an empty store and studied the west gate.

Her trip from the roof had been almost uneventful. She had spotted a dozen or so ghouls, but most hadn't seen her and she outran the rest. Everything had gone almost too well until she reached the gate. Dozens of undead milled about in the morning darkness before the thick wooden door, almost as though they had been positioned there to prevent escape. Dew glittered under the moonlight on their pale skin.

Knowing she wouldn't just be able to stroll through the gate, and wanting to stay out of sight, she had ducked into a small shop with a window that faced the wooden door. She watched the undead through a window, a block from the gate, trying to think of a way through them. Nothing came to mind.

Seeing all that she needed to, she turned and slumped to the floor. Ideas for escape formed and just as quickly vanished as flaws blew holes in every idea she came up with. I need a distraction, but what?

Her eyelids had become heavy and her mind floated sleepily in the ether when an explosion startled her back to wakefulness. Spinning around she turned and squatted below the window, pushing herself up until only the top of her head and eyes poked above the sill.

The orange and yellow flicker of a bonfire broke the early morning darkness. A corpse burned in front of the gate and several others, burning like human torches stumbled back and forth. Most hadn't been harmed by the explosion, but all of them faced toward the buildings to her right, watching something just out of her line of sight. One of the ghouls broke from the others and began a stiff legged march toward the mysterious distraction.

A bottle sailed through the air trailing flames and crashed into the ground to the right of the crowd of undead. The moment it shattered another explosion shook the ground and flames erupted in a great whoosh. Some of the flames singed the hair on one of the closest zombies, but other than that it did no harm.

Shanai didn't understand what was going on, but it did give her the distraction she had been looking for as the ghouls stumbled and limped in the direction the bottle had come from.

She pulled the bow from her back and notched an arrow as she slowly rose to her feet and walked to the front door in the wall to her left. A quick look out the door told her that none of the undead stood in front of the building so she crept out and slunk to the corner facing the gate.

Another bottle sailed through the air on a tail of flames, a whiskey bottle. It slammed into the chest of a ghoul then fell to the ground before shattering in an eruption of flame that knocked the bald corpse onto its back. A human shaped flame pushed itself up and rose to its feet, black smoke billowing from its burnt flesh. The overweight zombie took three steps before his stomach erupted, showering the cobbled ground and several of his mates in greasy gore.

The destruction of a fellow ghoul didn't slow the crowd down as they continued their morbid march toward their attacker. The sweet smell of burnt flesh drifted through the air with the force of a greasy fog. Shanai felt her stomach roll as the smell assaulted her nostrils.

Her way to the gate was clear of ghouls and she crept around the corner, bow held ready. The wooden door sat tightly flush to the ground, but she would work that when she got to that point.

Another bottle sailed through the air and exploded in the midst of the zombies, throwing several to the ground where tongues of flame began to eat into their rotting flesh.

She looked back at where the bottle had come from and a smile lit her dirty face. Marchas stood in the opening of an alley holding a torch. Next to him sat a cart full of whiskey bottles, white cloth stuck from the bottles making them look odd shaped candles with oversized wicks. With a smile on his face he holds one hand to his lips in the universal sign for quiet and waves her to the gate with the torch.

Shanai raised her bow to acknowledge his request then continued creeping toward the gate. I should have known my crazy brother would be too sneaky to get caught by these morons. I'm just surprised he is willing to throw away so much quality whiskey just to save his hide. The thought made her grin, the first time she had felt like grinning since the whole ordeal started.

Within moments she stood before the gate and began looking for the mechanism that would open it back up. Just to the right sat a great wheel with a chain wrapped around it extending from the wheel to the dark recesses at the top of the gate.

Another explosion shattered the silence behind her.

Dropping her bow she grabbed the bar on the side of the wheel that would raise the gate. She pushed with all her might, but the wheel only turned a little, opening the gate up only wide enough for an ant to slip through. With a curse she turned and screamed. "I'm gonna need a little help here!"

The dead turned to face her, forgetting about Marchas. She heard him yell something about her not being able to keep her damned mouth shut then the torch waved over the top of the whiskey cart. With a roar Marchas kicked the back of the cart, sending it rolling toward the dozen or so undead that remained before diving to the ground to cover his head. Shanai watched as the cart rocked along the rough street and slammed into the back of the first ghoul, knocking it to the ground before dipping over and shattering the bottles in an explosion that engulfed the whole crowd. Flaming arms, legs and torsos flew through the air, peppering the street with flaming meat.

Black smoke and bright flame covered the road, not allowing her to see her brother. She was almost ready to step away from the gate and find him when his shadowy form materialized through the black cloud of smoke. "Miss me, sis?"

Shanai didn't say a word. Her bow dropped to the ground and she run up to him, putting her arms around his chest and giving him the tightest hug she could.

He patted her back then pushed her away. "Hey, enough of that. Your gonna ruin my reputation."

She slugged him on the shoulder. "You must have been desperate to burn all that liquor."

He smiled and patted the pack on his back. The tinkle of glass told her that it hadn't all gone to waste. "Now, let's get this gate open and get the hell out of here."

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Chapter 20a: Rachelle's Flight

"I heard he was as old as mankind, a protector or guardian or somethin'. Legend has it that he didn't die, but only waits in the shadows for when he is needed again."

"The legends are wrong."

~Two old men discussing the legend of Wellan the Wizard

creams invaded the castle of Renier. Rachelle heard most of them as distant cries that echoed through the dark cooridors, but some came from nearby closed doors and passageways. The dead had taken over the once beautiful palace.

She followed close behind Wellan as he stumbled through the darkness. He wouldn't let her get too close though. At first she hadn't understood why, but every once in a while he would glance behind him with a cold glint in his eye. She told herself he was only looking after her, making sure they hadn't become separated in the darkness, but she knew better. The glint spoke of hunger and an internal battle being fought for her life. At one point she opened her eyes to his aura, a chore she now loathed. Her gaze revealed a human void, the outline of an old man in black, blacker than the darkness in the cooridor, as devoid of light as any other of the undead she had seen. His aura didn't shine reveal anything about his condition, on what he thought or fought within.

Rachelle had to trust the old wizard or fight her way through the palace. The only good that had come of his condition was that he could sense the undead and lead her through safe passageways.

Watching Wellan as he stumbled through the cooridors reminded her that she was not only seeing the end of the wizard, but the beginning of a new age or the end of an old one. The memories still pounded through her mind, causing confusion and dizziness, but as she slowly assimulated and sorted the information the world gradually became clearer and her headaches grew fewer.

A whisper, like a mosquito buzzing in her ear, pulled her from her thoughts. "Be wary of the black man. He didn't die. I can sense his self serving evil...can see it burning with hatred and the desire for revenge."

" he close?"

The back of Wellan's hear rotated back and forth, barely perceptable. "No, but that one loves to kill and I can no longer protect you. With conversion...the powers I once had are gone. What little powers I have are being used desires. I am like them now, the undead. I hun...hunger for the fleshhhhh."

He stopped and shook his head back and forth several times. His hand rose to his lips then rubbed his eyes. He shook his head once more. "I don't...don't need to talk about that anymore, it only makes the desire harder to supress. I still have some of my wits about me, so I...ugh...I suppose I'm not exactly like the rest of them."

She reached out for his shouder, to give him a comforting squeeze.

"Don't touch me!"

She yanked her hand to her chest, as if pulling it from the snap of a rabid dog.

"I...I'm sorry, Rachelle. I didn't mean...mean to be so harsh, but you don't need to touch me in any way. I'm afraid my will...that I might..."

"No, Wellan. I understand."

He glanced over his shoulder. Behind the hungry glint in his eye she also saw sadness. He shuffled on.

Within moments they stood in the kitchen, facing the open doorway and stairs that led to the cellar. Nothing looked amiss. The pots and spoons hung from a rack over a wooden working counter. Black ashes layed in a pile in the middle of the fire pit. The kitchen looked just like she imagined it would at any early morning hour.

Footsteps pounded toward them from a cooridor on the other side of the kitchen. She drew in a breath that felt like ice water, fear chilling the sensative nerves of her spine. Wellan stepped before her as she held her hands out to her sides, preparing to use her new found powers.

A figure burst through the shadowy arch of the cooridor. Rachell raised her hands over her head, the spell warping the air and sending light bending between her spread fingers.

The figure held his sword before him. More figures burst from the darkness behind him. Everyone gasped.

"Stiles?" Wellan croaked. Rachelle lowered her hands, hoping no one noticed the way they shook.

The Duke and Piet rushed around Stiles with greetings on their lips for the wizard. They froze to each side of the soldier, horror creased their brows.

Duke Renier's voice cracked as he spoke. "Wellan? I...I don't..."

The wizard backed away, towards the cellar stairs, his hands held up before him, palms out. "Stay All of you...please stay back. I...I...I can' hung..." His palms rose to his temples as he bent over at the waist. A struggle took place within the old man, one that Rachelle and the others couldn't understand. She wanted to go to him, to comfort him, but she knew that would be a grave mistake.

Stiles stepped forward with his sword drawn. Another soldier walked from the dark cooridor to join him. Rachelle spun to face them, standing between the soldiers and the wizard, the air crackled and warped between her fingers. She didn't want to fight the soldiers, but she wasn't about to let them harm Wellan.

Duke Renier put a hand on the soldier's shoulders and pulled them back. "No. Let him be."

Stiles lowered his sword, but the other soldier stuttered, "But, my lord Duke...he's one of them. He'll eat us alive first chance he gets."

"Just stay away from him."

In the dark cooridor a terrified female voice moaned. "I hear them, they are coming up the cooridor. W...we have to flee."

With that the crowd moved forward, into the kitchen propper. Rachelle's heart almost broke. She performed a quick head count of the survivors, no more than twenty civillians, and five soldiers, plus Duke Renier and Piet Lithor. How could the city have been whittled down to so few so fast?

She turned to check on Wellan as the Duke walked to her, but he was gone.

The Duke gently nudged her forward while looking into the dark cellar. "He went into the cellar, probably all the way into the escape tunnels." He looked back at the little group. "Go on ahead. Look after my old friend, would you? We will get into the cellar and barricade the door behind us, then follow."

With a quick nod to Duke Renier she stepped into the darkness and followed the steps down into the cellar.

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