The Rising – Part Eight
By: Jeff R. Young

Mace and the group had a whole range of questions they wanted to ask when Deall placed the dagger on that table, but no one could work past the stunned silence that had fallen over the room. They had only begun to determine the importance of the item, not even having the chance to formulate a plan to find it. But by the grace of the gods, there it was, delivered by Cora's would-be messenger.

No one argued when Mace took control of the weapon. He felt a sense of urgency and a need to study it. Cora even offered her place so he could work in privacy. He readily took her up on the offer, and together they quickly made their way there. After unlocking the door, she wished him luck before speeding back toward the guardhouse, intent on gathering more answers from Deall.

Mace sat at the table and held the dagger in front of him. He left it sheathed and spun it around, carefully studying every detail of the decorated handle. Nothing special caught his attention. He was impressed by the delicate cut of the gems, including the ruby which capped the end of the handle.

Holding it a bit away from his body, he pulled the handle and exposed a small portion of the blade. He furrowed his brows in interest when he noticed the beginning of some sort of carving etched into the metal. Mace pulled the blade out further, revealing more runes engraved into the flat of the knife on both sides.

Though he'd seen many symbols carved into various items, these were of a language he didn't recognize, nor was he certain of their importance. What he was sure of was that runes were used to infuse magical qualities into an item.

Mace placed the dagger back on the table, then raised his right hand, hovering it over the knife. Closing his eyes, he forced his mind to concentrate. A thin tendril of white magic grew from his palm and traveled to the blade. Using a spell that would detect the presence of dark powers, it took only a heartbeat for him to find what he hoped he would not. The blade was indeed cursed with powerful dark magic.

He closed his hand into a fist and ended the spell before sitting back in the chair, uncertain of what he should do. All evidence pointed toward the dagger as the catalyst for the plague of undead Deall claimed had fallen on Caelfall. He also knew that if one was bitten, the curse was quickly transmitted to them, causing their bodies to rapidly decompose. The other known fact was that the undead cannot be destroyed by conventional means. It wasn't the heart they needed to target; it was the head.

Mace growled in frustration. For all they knew about this curse, there were many questions yet to be answers. Draven had been bitten, and despite all he had figured out, he wasn't sure how long the ranger had before this curse overtook him. And what of those who have already been turned? Was there a cure for them, or were they forever lost?

"My Lord Ubus," Mace whispered, "I have no greater need for your wisdom than I do now." He closed his eyes and bowed his head, desperately hoping the lord of the dead would hear his plea.

For hours, he sat at the table, praying in reverence, but he sensed no one was listening, which only served to intensify his determination. With every ounce of his soul, he cried out to his Lord, begging to be heard.

His body suddenly jerked when an intense and powerful voice invaded in his mind. It was too much power for his senses to handle, and his eyes rolled back into his head before he fell out of the chair and landed hard on the floor. For a moment, he felt dizzy, his mind clouded in a fog. He pushed himself upright and made it to his knees when the mist dissolved with the words echoing in his thoughts became clear.

Adrenalin coursed through his veins as he stood quickly. Mace carefully sheathed the dagger and hurried to the door with renewed determination.

Ubus had answered his call.

***

Draven found Zythos upon the ramparts. He was leaning against a post while watching the edge of the distant woods absently. The walkway along the wall was quite empty with the guards who had been posted there off to find some rest. Word had traveled throughout the town that there was no evidence of a goblin invasion and it relieved a lot of tension, especially for those performing the town watch. But he and Zythos knew the truth about what was out there, and the elf took to standing watch himself.

Even though the skies were clouded over, Draven knew it was after mid-day. He was tired, and his lack of sleep was catching up with him. He gave the elf's arm a friendly smack then leaned against the wall next to him.

"Anything interesting out there?" Draven asked, following his friend's gaze.

"Not really," Zythos replied with a shake of his head.

He looked down to the ground outside the wall, then over at Draven's injured arm. Reaching out, he grabbed the ranger's wrist and frowned at what he saw. The bandage covered the wound entirely, but it was the flesh beyond the dressing that drew the elf's interest. The veins under his skin were growing discolored, almost black.

"The infection is spreading," Zythos remarked with a hint of worry.

"Yeah, I know," Draven answered ruefully, pulling his arm away. "But it doesn't hurt as much as it used to; so, that's a good thing, right?"

"If you say so," The elf returned. He looked back to the forest. "When is the last time you rested?"

"A while. I was waiting for Mace to…" He stopped mid-sentence; his eyes locked on the woods. Zythos stiffened when he noticed what Draven had. Something was moving just off the road, a few yards into the trees.

Together they watched one form turned into two, then three, each one ambling out of the woods with the familiar awkward gait of the undead. And they were heading straight for the town. Soon there was a dozen, with more following.

"Oh, crap," Draven cursed. He and Zythos traded looks.

Zythos burst into action, spinning around to find the nearest guard who, by the luck of the gods, happened to be strolling past. He yelled down, startling the man, "You, sound the alarm, we're under attack!"

The guard responded instantly by charging full speed to the bell post. He started ringing it to alert the town to danger.

The elf spun back around to find Draven was already in action. With incredible speed, the ranger sent arrow after arrow flying out into the crowd of creatures, each missile piercing their intended targets through the head. Unfortunately, even with all the speed and accuracy he could muster, he was barely making a dent in their numbers.

Zythos sped past him and snatched up a discarded bow left by a guard. He shouldered a quiver of arrows and begun his barrage as well. Though his accuracy was nowhere near as good as Draven's, he was able to strike several beasts through the head. But, where Draven's shots dropped the monsters, the ones Zythos hit kept coming. The elf looked at his bow, then at the one in Draven's hands.

Soon the wall was a flurry of archers as the town guard arrived. To their credit, they barely hesitated before filling the air with a volley of projectiles that rained down on the undead, even as more come from the woods. Draven's heart began to race as he realized his shots were the only ones having any effect, and the hoard was getting ever closer to the wall.

"Draven!" Zythos shouted.

"I know," Draven yelled back, continuing to launch his arrows. "I'm almost out!"

"Here," the elf cried. He ran to the ranger and shook off the full quiver strapped to his back. After firing off his last, Draven quickly grabbed the offered arrows and flung the strap over his shoulder.

"By the gods!" Cora shouted after she made it to the top of the wall.

Down below, a mass of the grotesque creatures had reached the wall, growling, intent on clawing their way up. Most of them were peppered with arrows as over a dozen bowmen continued their assault.

Mace, Kenrith, and Gwent reached the wall at the same time to see the same awful sight Cora now saw. Zythos sped over and grabbed Mace by the arm.

"Draven's bow is the only one that can kill them!" Zythos blurted, going straight to the point.

Mace frowned as he leaned over the wall where a large group of the things had crowded in, attacking the wall with bloody, torn hands. None seemed to be able to climb, but he knew if they stormed the gate, the hoard might quickly crash through under their combined weight.

"Gwent," Mace shouted as he spun on the dwarf, "find a way to fortify that gate! If they get through, we're all in trouble."

"Aye," the dwarf agreed. "I have just ‘o thing!"

Gwent rushed off toward the ladder. He grabbed two guards in the process, forcing them to follow.

"Look!" Cora pointed down at the ground. "They're moving toward the gate!"

Draven heard her cry and turned his focus to the creatures she pointed out. His bow sang, sending out a relentless volley of arrows that continued to drop the infected beasts. They all knew he was only buying them a little time, but Draven prayed that's all Gwent needed. Whatever the dwarf had planned, he was running out of time.

Down below, inside the protective walls, Gwent and his two recruits rush toward the gate. The dwarf had done much to fortify the walls against the goblin should they attack, and knew the entrance was by far the weakest point. Though he hadn't had a lot of time to get creative, he was able to come up with a simple sort of plan.

The gate initially held two hooks upon which a long thick beam was set, baring the door from being pushed open. Gwent, however, added four more catches, two above the originals and two below. With a combined effort, the dwarf and the men hoisted two more thick beams up from a pile and locked them in place.

They placed the last beam securely in place just as the necrotic creatures began to push and pound on the door, bouncing it open and closed as the mob pressed its weight on it. Even with the strength of the new beams locking the gate, it opened just enough for a few of the monsters to slip their fingers through. They began to claw at the air with hands of rotten flesh. Gwent dashed forward, slamming his shoulder into the doors. The sliver of opening closed with a thud, slicing off whatever undead appendages poked through.

"It'll hold, lads," Gwent promised. He stepped back and drew his shield and hammer, just in case. The other two armed their swords, ready to fight alongside the dwarf if it came to it. Soon enough, a group of the townsfolk began to form a line to either side of the dwarf, swords ready.

Up above, the archers continued their useless assault on the mass of dead. Anyone close enough to Draven kept him supplied with arrows as he endlessly fired into the crowd. Zythos stood at the edge and looked determined to find a way to help. He pulled his swords, steeling himself in preparation to jump down and fight.

He stopped and turned to look at Mace as a thought struck home. He spun his swords around and sheathed them quickly before grabbing the nearest guard.

"I need you to get buckets of water," Zythos demanded. "Grab some others and bring as many as you can, now!" the elf demanded after seeing the hesitation and confusion by the guard.

Wisely, the man darted off. He stopped only long enough to collect two others. Zythos watched them head to the town's well. Mace jumped as Zythos grabbed his arm to spin him around.

"What are you doing?" Mace asked.

"It's the power of his bow," Zythos exclaimed excitedly. "That's why Draven can kill them!" With him being the only one who could kill the creatures, it was apparent to the elf that the holy power of his weapon was what made it possible to destroy them.

Mace, Cora, and Kenrith all looked at each other, apparently confused.

Zythos grunted and grabbed Mace by the shoulders. "Holy power, Mace!" He looked back into town to see three men carrying a bucket apiece. The water was splashing over the sides as they hurried.

The elf looked the priest dead in the eyes, "Bless the water!"

The plan struck Mace like a board to the head. What they needed was holy water blessed by the god of the dead, a god who viewed the undead as abominations.

Zythos darted over near the ladder and fell to his stomach. He reached down to grab the buckets and hoisted them up in a hurry, handing them over to Mace, then Cora, then finally Kenrith. By the time Zythos stood, Mace was already kneeling over the first of the buckets with his holy amulet out and his lips moving with the words of prayer. The amulet glowed and the water seemed to vibrate from the center out.

"Done," Mace barked. He motioned for another pail. Cora handed one over just as Zythos scooped up the first and moved from one archer to another.

"Dip your arrows in the water, aim for the heads!" He repeated the order as he moved down the line. Each bowman heeded his command dutifully. Soon, Cora was doing the same in the opposite direction. Then Kenrith had a bucket of his own, moving across the wall as the archers reloaded.

To all their relief, Zythos realized his plan was working when the zombies began to drop under the renewed assault. It wasn't long before the open area outside the wall was littered with motionless, decaying corpses, and no more walked from the woods. No one bothered to get an accurate count on how many of the undead creatures lay motionless out there; there was just too many.

Draven had never felt more exhausted when he strolled up to the elf and clasped his arm and gave him a pat on the shoulder. "Excellent idea, my friend," he offered with a weak grin.

Everyone one around agreed with him, offering Zythos cheers and congratulations, including Cora and Kenrith. Mace waited until the excitement calmed some before, he set a relaxed hand on the elf's shoulder.

"Thank you, my friend," he said calmly, knowing the elf didn't much care to bask in whatever glory everyone offered. Zythos merely nodded in response.

For now, the group knew the fight was over; Ravenwood was safe, and they prevailed without losing a single man. That was all Zythos cared about. That was all any of them cared about.

To be continued…

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