Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Warrior's Tale Part Two

The pitch-eyed dead come at him faster than he'd like, a slow lumbering gate that while not exactly fast, promises that it will never slow down. All three have similar wounds, a simple torn out throat, and a carving of the Horned One’s emblem upon their foreheads. James recognizes one of them to be his comrade in arms Heinrich a fraction too late as he is forced to raise his arm in defense of the grasping fingers of the first of the groaning corpses.
As these zombies were once soldiers, all of them seem to have retained their strength and then some. James had hoped the leather handle of the whip would have been enough when draped over his arm, but the hungering maw of the dead merely bit into it, the bloodied teeth scraping so close to James’s arm in the process, and begins to chew through the tough leather like it’s a slice of roasted ham.
Ignoring the jeering crowd above, James kicks Heinrich in the stomach, sending him tumbling back into his fellows, and makes a break for one of the spears lying on the ground some ten feet away. The dwarf squawks in fear, and runs back with me, scooping up a sword with both hands. He looks to James in desperation, the dull gleam that James had grown accustomed to seeing in the dim jailers eyes pleading him for aid.
James merely nods before moving forward, slowly. The downed dead right themselves seamlessly, requiring neither hands nor knees to pull themselves up from the ground, merely the muscles of their body working in complete and utter concert together.
“That is not right,” James grumbles at the sight, choking back the bile billowing in his throat from the smell of the rotten flesh pervading the air, as well as whatever fluid they were covered in… ale?
The undead move in unison, shambling forward, one with a whip dangling from its mouth as it continues to choke the weapon down, the long cords of leather slowly disappearing down the dried gullet of my former friend.
Before they even get within striking distance, James lunges forward with the bronze-tipped spear, sinking it deep into the throat of the largest undead, yanking it to the side to sever the esophagus and vocal cords, but sadly not the spinal column. Some damage was done it would seem, as the ghoul drops to the ground, seemingly forced to drag itself with one arm while kicking out with one leg to propel itself in a truly bizarre shuffle.
The Dwarf is trying his best to handle Heinrich, and failing utterly due to my former-allies superior strength. The Dwarf sank the blade deep into Heinrich’s hip, causing his right leg to go slack. Sadly, going slack doesn’t prevent Heinrich’s probing hands to gain purchase on the Dwarf’s leather jerkin, ripping into it with the full ferocity of a starving wolf, the whip now waggling about like some obscene tongue. The other undead, a hulking mass of rotting flesh that could have only been Baldric, reached over Heinrich and grabbed at the dwarf as well, his jagged nails tearing a deep gouge into the hapless jailer’s semi-exposed chest, blood spurting out from the wound in thick gouts, splattering across the cold floor in a messy streak that only seemed to excite the dead further.
James whirled his spear around and once more stabbed at his crippled foe, this time scoring a solid meaty wound into the beasts swollen back, the bronze tip sinking into the creatures back like a knife slicing into undercooked meat, black blood welling up from the wound, dribbling onto the cold floor like heated tar. The dead thrashed about at the end of his blade, but it allowed him enough leverage to kick the beast in the side of the head, cracking it’s skull open and dislocating its jaw with a meaty thump. The creature shuddered and collapsed, its energy spent and its body done.
James released the spears haft and made his way to the two undead ripping into the jailer. His jerkin had finally been peeled off; revealing his hairy folds of greasy fat to the hungering dead’s questing fingers. Heinrich, the tail of the whip now dangling past his swollen and torn lips, was twisting and pulling on the screaming dwarfs arm with a fervor bordering on the mad, the arm in question cracking and snapping at the rough treatment it was receiving, already dislocated from a brutal yank.
Baldric’s titanic form had pushed Heinrich out of the way, lifting the dwarf bodily into the air as he sank his rotten teeth into the jailers flank, tearing away a wide strip of flesh with wild thrashings of the head, chewing on the meat noisily as the Dwarf screamed and pleaded for aid. Above it all, this disfigured man had begun a sermon concerning the Horned One’s kindness, his love for us all, and how we could repay it.
Wrenching the sword from Heinrich’s hip, James brought the gore-spattered blade in a high arc before flashing it low, sinking it deep into the back of Heinrich’s neck, tearing through sinew and spine alike as he yanked it free to stab once more into the rapidly expanding wound. By the third strike Heinrich fell to the floor truly lifeless, his head dangling from his neck by mere strips of worn and leathery flesh.
Turning on Baldric as he tore into the Jailer, James took a moment of ignoring the dwarf’s dying screams to take in all that Baldric had become. Pitch black eyes, with skin pale enough to see the dead veins beneath his cold flesh, heavily muscled limbs seeming to strain with every movement as Baldric’s body and muscles moved in complete tandem, unlike James’s own living body, which would scream in agony should he try and move like Baldric.
Despite his terrifying size and strength, he was dispatched easily enough as he was too enthralled by his captured dwarf, the light sword taking four hearty chops to fully remove his head from his taut shoulders, the dwarf falling to the ground like a forgotten chicken bone. James stomped on the poor dead things head, just to make sure he wouldn’t have to fight a diminutive zombie next.
“The Champion of Light has showed us the way!” The disfigured priest declared before a distraught audience, silencing their growing anger with his jubilant praise. “The Horned One desires the merchants to be better tested upon later, gifted with a more potent plague perhaps or some other amazing boon from the Horned One. For now, Champion of Light… what is your name?”
“Uh… James. James Hartglow.” He calls up, a tad embarrassed, and confused. He’d never had so many eyes upon him at once.
“Well than praise to James, Champion of the Light of Truth, shining unto us the true will of the Horned One through sacrifice, going so far as top slay the jailer that held him for us.” The disfigured man bellowed, clapping his hands three times in a slow rhythmic way that his congregation followed. “Go now my children, and come back once the New Moon has come, when the eyes of jealous God’s will be turned away.”
As the crowd apparently began to disperse, James looked up to see the smiling face of the disfigured priest. “Go on then Champion, the jaw is also a set of stairs to the kennel. I will have someone meet you there.”
The climb up the stone stairwell was slippery, slick with whatever the three walking dead had been soaking in, the sweet smell of decay mixed with the strange alcoholic stench confusing James’s senses far too much for him to hazard a guess. After climbing perhaps forty steps, he arose in a well lit room inside a high walled bowl of sorts, the thick glass walls of the bowl reaching the ceiling almost.
When he leaned in to look at the glass closely, he heard the grinding of gears and the clatter of chains once more, the path behind him closing up with a smooth piece of stone rolling over the stairwell, and undoubtedly the jaw was closing outside. A closer rattling of chains began, spinning off of a pulley and being pulled by some sort of cloven animal, from all the commotion going on past the glass barrier.
Which was slowly sinking into the ground until it was only knee high, revealing the disfigured priest and a pair of armed guards wearing the same grey robes. The room was long, carved from the same stone his jail cell had been made of, and containing a number of iron-wrought jail cells, deeply cut alcoves with iron bars and doors covering them, holding back the moaning dead, at least forty to fifty of them between four such cells. Opposite of the lowered glass barrier was a turn sty with a bound horse, the flank hairless and torn into by some savage beasts, or men, before it had died. Now the dray beast served eternally as a beast of burden, an iron muzzle strapped over its mouth and an iron backing keeping the creature from rearing up and hoofing people to death, or trying to eat people.
James could not even imagine how terrifying a flesh-starved horse from beyond the grave could be, and prayed to God he’d never find out.
“Here’s our dear Champion.” The disfigured Priest said happily, holding out his arms as if presenting James a present. “How are you feeling James, are you hungry? Thirsty?”
Looking around at all of the rotting meat, James swallowed the bile in his throat before clearing his throat. “A, um, a little thirsty?” He half said, half asked.
“Of course!” The priest said, his hearty voice not something James would expect from the emaciated, diseased body standing before him. “Let’s get you out of here and into some more comfortable clothes, get some food and wine into you!” 
James couldn’t argue, save for when the priest slung his arm over James’s shoulder, patting him on the chest with a leprous hand as he guided him out of the kennel and down a well-lit corridor, the two guards following them, but at a respectable distance.
They entered a smaller room, two long wooden tables adorned with bowls of fruit and small casks of wine dominating the majority of the room, both curved around the center which held a roasting pit, red hot embers cooking what appeared to be a sheep or hornless goat, slowly being turned on a spit by the skeletal remains of some poor soul.
“Spicer, is the mutton ready yet?” The Priest asked the skeleton as he forced James into a seat, and to James’s horror the skeleton remained silent while an unseen boy, emerging from a shadowed alcove he hadn’t noticed, probably due to the presence of a skeleton that upon closer inspection as it moved around the fiery pit and into a better source of light, looked like it was wet with recently spilled blood. Yet he left no sanguine smears as he patted the boy on his shaven head, running his fingers almost lovingly down his bare back. The boy was clad merely in stitched leather pants, with a leather cloak and hood that he wore, which were folded over his tiny arm.
“Ready enough for the killer over there, yes. I prefer mine more burned, and I know the child prefers it well done.” The little boy spoke in a flat tone, looking at James the entire time with a lost, dead stare. James took a moment to stare at the boy before realizing with a terrifying revulsion that the bloody skeleton somehow spoke through the child.
The skeleton seemed to pick up on James’s thoughts, and the child merely shook its head. “You misunderstand Champion, the boy was a needed sacrifice to grant me a voice, true. But he was also a volunteer from amongst the followers of the Horned One. He has served me now for a little over a week, and probably will survive a full year as my voice before I must select another child.”
“That’s horrible!” James cried, looking on in revulsion as the young child moved to tend to the spit sheep, grasping the handle and turning it slowly.
“That’s debatable, but most would agree that I’ve spared the poor boy a horrid life of disease and famine that seem to run through this region fairly often. Even when we’re not spreading the disease ourselves.” The skeleton said with the child’s voice, the small body of the boy straining as it spoke for the unholy creature. “And afterwards, he’ll go to the afterlife to be with the Horned One. You’re Christian I assume?”
“Yes? What’s that have to do with anything?” James hotly demanded, looking between the speaking child and the seated skeleton.
“Just look at me, not the boy,” The boy said as he finally managed to get a rhythm to the spit sheep. “It just means you’re familiar with sacrifices and slavery is all. I find it strange you view this so poorly.”
“What the Hell do you mean?” James asks again, this time focusing on the skeleton, and the baleful green glow that radiated from the empty sockets.
“Well let’s see…how about the story of Jephthah, who burns his daughter alive for God as an offering, in thanks for his great luck as a competent general? Surely that’s far worse than what I’m doing here, especially as the young lass hadn’t accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior, and so she went to Hell afterwards for essentially committing suicide by allowing her father to do such a thing.”
“That… that’s different! The Lord commanded that!” James protested, only to see the skeleton go into a fit of convulsions as the boy let loose a string of high pitched laughter.
“That… That is rich. Your Lord commands it, so it must be fine. Well I serve a different Lord and no,” the skeleton rose its bony hand before James could interrupt, “I don’t serve Satan or whatever. Hardly a point in siding with the losing team after its already lost.”
“Then who the Hell is this Horned One supposed to be?” James demanded, taking an apple from one of the fruit baskets as he only now realized how hungry he truly was.
“A God that backs up his word with actions, not just sending his son in some lame excuse for a loophole out of eternal punishment that hadn’t been known before said son came about.” The boy snorted as he took a long fork and a sharpened dagger and began slicing off long juicy pieces of flank, placing them on a wooden platter at his feet. “I mean really, why the sudden need for a Hell?”
“It’s always been there, we just didn’t know about it!” James cried, not really knowing how to argue with a skeleton and his boy-puppet. That seared sheep did smell good though, and the disfigured priest smiled as he nudged a small decanter of wine towards James with his elbow. “Thanks, I guess.”
“Don’t mention it,” He waved a thin hand at my thanks before pointing at the skeleton. “And don’t argue religion with Spicer, he’s as cruel with his words as he is knowledgeable. You’ll regret debating him about your God or his existence.”
“So you all are Atheists?” James asked, remembering the word from the Latin Mass.
“Please,” the boy laughed as the skeleton convulsed once again. “We know of your God’s existence, that’s why we denounce Him. After all, He’s just one of many to choose from.”
“He’s the one true God!” James argues, giving the priest a pointed glare as he chuckles and shakes his head.
“According to him.” The boy says dully, placing the platter of steaming sheep flank before me. “Dig in, more than enough to go around. And to quote your God in reference to other deities, ‘You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.’”
“Yeah,” The priest says around a mouthful of pear. “That just shows he’s not the only God.”
“And that he’s jealous of other deities taking what he views as his.” The boy said with a tone of finality to his words, slicing away a rather crispy piece of leg meat, and chewing on it thoughtfully.
James found that he knew no way to argue as he ate, especially against a Pagan priest and a skeleton using some sort of twisted magic to use a boy as his voice. It was all too surreal for him to even try and argue.
The food was good, at least.