The Rising – Part Eleven
By: Jeff R. Young

Draven sat near the edge of the rooftop, staring down at the rolling mass of growling undead as they pushed or bounced off each other in an attempt to get to the wall. He found their efforts comical when they tried to claw their way up, never gaining purchase. He considered the idea of naming each one, but there were just too many, and the very thought of doing so put a sudden dent in his mirth. Each one of those monsters below used to have an identity, a real name, and a purpose in life, only to be tainted by an awful curse that turned them into abominations.

He scratched below his left ear and considered his own dilemma. Despite Mace's healing magic slowing the curse's effects, the infection had spread up the left side of his neck, and unless Mace and the others were successful, he too would become one of those things. He felt the corruption spreading through his veins, affecting not only his physical appearance but also his mental state. He felt lightheaded and nauseous, and he could feel his muscles tightening. He was running out of time. Once again, he found himself strangely unafraid. He reached up and pulled a leather cord that hung from his neck out from under his armor. The pendant hanging from it was a howling wolf's head surrounded on each side by a fern leaf. This was the symbol of Nyarae, the goddess of nature to whom he was a faithful and loyal servant.

Running a thumb over the charm, he realized then that she was the only reason he had no fear. For as long as he could remember, he worshiped the goddess, obeying her creed with all his heart. His faith was unshakable, and he knew she had blessed him many times over in reward for his dedication. He prayed, even if he turned into an undead creature, she would allow him entrance into the forest of Dyn'ran, her mystical domain where his soul could live in peace for eternity.

A crack of wood drew the Ranger from his thoughts. He looked down, and as he suspected, the force of the undead mob was beginning to take its toll on the building they were staying.

"We need to move," Zythos prompted. He had been sitting quietly in contemplation, as had Kenrith, trying to figure out their next course of action.

"What do you suggest?" Draven asked quietly, still sitting and staring down at the creatures.

He shook off his apathy and slowly stood before looking around at what he could see of the city. The outbuilding they were on was connected to a more substantial and sturdy two-story construction. He craned his neck to look up and saw the pitched roof was not very steep.

Zythos followed his stare. "You thinking what I'm thinking?" he asked, looking back down.

Draven nodded.

"Wait," Kenrith blurted, "thinking what?"

"That we can get up there and move from roof to roof," Draven said, pointing up.

"Alright," Kenrith allowed. "The buildings end at the next avenue, what then?"

"We'll do what we always do," Zythos responded, moving to the wall.

"And that is?" the guard captain asked skeptically.

"We make it up as we go along," Draven said casually, eliciting a frown from Kenrith.

Zythos and Draven took a visual inspection and seemed to be measuring the height of the wall. They both nodded to each other as Draven cupped his hands and lowered them as he squatted. Zythos steadied himself with one hand on the wall then put a foot into the Ranger's cupped hands. With a grunt, Draven hoisted the elf up. Stretching upward, Zythos grabbed the ledge, and as Draven pushed up higher, he was able to climb over the edge.

The Ranger motioned for Kenrith to go next. He performed the same action Zythos had, but as Draven pushed the man up, the muscles in his arms grew weak, and he collapsed, dropping Kenrith back down.

"Hey," Kenrith said as he steadied himself. "You alright?"

"Yeah," Draven answered, hiding the truth with a fake grin. "I'm great. How are you?"

Kenrith looked concerned, but when Draven reassumed his position, he tried for the rooftop again. This time they were lucky. After he was up, Kenrith fell to his stomach and leaned as far off the edge as he could with Zythos holding his legs for added support. It was a short jump for the Ranger to catch his outstretched arms, and with the help of the elf, they pulled him up quickly.

"What now?" Kenrith asked. He stood and dusted himself off.

"We move," Zythos replied, pointing toward the warehouse.

They took off in a hurry, finding it relatively easy to get from one building to another. A few times, they needed to jump a broader alley but were able to with ease until they came to the end of the block.

Zythos and Kenrith stood away from any edge to avoid being seen while Draven crawled up and poked his head over to look at the street below. For once, he was happy with what he saw.

There was a few undead walking the road and those that were seemed intent on either making their way to join the group at the warehouse or the mob still hunting them back down the street.

He quietly turned and motioned the others closer. Together Zythos and Kenrith crawled over to peer over the ledge.

"Well," Draven whispered, "at least they don't know we're here."

"I have a question?" Kenrith asked quietly, drawing a look from the other two. "Do we even know what's in that warehouse?"

All three turned their eyes to the building.

"Now you bring that up," Draven groaned, breaking the silence.

"For all we know, it's empty," Kenrith added.

"Then why are they all massing there?" Zythos pointed out.

Draven stared across, judging the distance between them and the warehouse, figuring it was just over a block. He looked to the building across the street, but knew without a doubt there was no way they could climb down, scoot across the road and climb back up two stories. Zythos would have a hard-enough time, and he doubted Kenrith could make the climb. And he certainly knew in his deteriorating condition he couldn't either.

He turned his attention back to the warehouse. It was a tall three-story building, and it had several windows up higher along the walls. He could barely make out a door on the first floor behind the mob of creatures and wondered if that was the only one. He drew his attention back to those windows as a plan started to form.

He crawled back away from the ledge before he risked sitting up. The others followed, both looking at the Ranger intently.

"You have some sort of plan?" Zythos asked.

Draven nodded. He reached into a pocket of his belt and pulled out a rolled piece of parchment, then searched through a few more pouches before finding what he was looking for: a chunk of black chalk and a thin leather cord. Ignoring the odd looks from his partners, he unrolled the paper and began to write. He finished quickly then pulled an arrow from his quiver. He wrapped the paper around the shaft and tied it tight with the cord.

Draven stood, unshouldering his bow and notched the arrow as the others watched. Their faces showed how curious and confused they were. He pulled back hard on the string, raised the bow to aim higher as he judged both distance and wind, then released it. The missile flew off, arching over the vast space between them and the warehouse before piercing through one of the glass windows.

"Perfect," Draven beamed, then frowned. "Let's just hope I didn't hit anyone!"

"What in the hells?" Kenrith muttered.

"What did the message say?" Zythos laughed in understanding.

"Are you dead?" Draven shrugged, reciting his written words.

It took a moment for Kenrith to catch on, and when he did, he couldn't help but smile. It was an odd plan, but he had to admit it was an ingenious one nonetheless. A zombie couldn't read or write.

It didn't take long before Draven and Zythos spotted movement. It was hard to see, but they could make out a human form waving frantically out of the broken window.

"Hey, it worked!" Draven beamed, rather proud of himself. He looked to Kenrith. "You seem to know the building; how many doors are there?"

"Several, With double doors on the left end."

"It would also be safe to assume they are massing at all the doors," Zythos added, motioning back the way they came. "They seem to remember the last place they saw a living being."

"Right, like the mass still trying to get up the building we were on," Draven put in.

"Ok, then," Kenrith asked reluctantly. "Now what?"

"We save those people," Zythos stated succinctly.


Their plan was simple, climb down to the street, charge the group of undead in front of the warehouse to get their attention and hopefully kill or draw off as many as they could to create an opening so they could get to a door and slip in. Once inside the warehouse, they would be able to formulate some sort of plan to keep everyone safe.

First, they had to find a way down. Jumping two stories was no option, Kenrith lacked the dexterity to land the fall gracefully, and Draven's condition was deteriorating quickly. Instead, they chose to take advantage of the narrow and thankfully empty alley between the building next to them that ran up the cross street.

With a hand and a leg on either wall, they shimmied their way down. Zythos was the first to set foot on solid ground, Draven followed, though his progress was a bit slow. Slower yet was Kenrith. With a meter to go, he lost his grip on the wall and fell, landing hard and twisting his left ankle.

Draven and Zythos steadied him as he stood and worked his injured foot around, testing its range of motion. They could tell by his grimace the movement caused no small amount of pain.

Leaving Zythos to attend to Kenrith, Draven moved off down the alley, slipping through the shadows to peer out into the street. Behind him, the elf grabbed Kenrith by the arm, his eyes filled with concern.

"You going to be ok?"

"Yeah," Kenrith grunted. "I got this!"

"If you need to stay behind, Draven and I will handle it," Zythos suggested.

Kenrith would have none of that; he shook the elf's hand off in determination. "I said I got this," he growled, ending the debate.

By then, Draven had made his way back to the pair, looking between the two for a moment before he motioned behind him.

"There are only a few on the street outside the alley, but way down the street to the left, there seems to be a crowd growing," Draven whispered. "All headed the other way."

"Mace," Zythos frowned.

"That would be my guess," Draven acknowledged.

"What do we do?" Kenrith asked with concern.

Zythos hesitated, his thoughts were the same as the others: their friends were out there, possibly in grave danger. Yet they knew there were survivors in that warehouse who were in just as much trouble.

"We follow the plan," Zythos decided for the group. "We came this way looking for people, and we know there are some in that building." That drew nods from the other two.

"There is one other problem," Draven stated. He motioned to the quiver on his back. It was near empty, holding only a handful of arrows. "But, don't worry, I have a plan."

"Who's worried," Zythos joked, his humor dark. "What's your plan?"

"There is a guard out in the street, with a full stock of arrows strapped to his back. I'll just steal them from him."

"Steal from a guard?" Kenrith balked.

"He's a zombie, what's he going to care?" Draven said with a roll of his eyes.

"Oh, right," Kenrith answered with a roll of his own eyes.

Draven pulled the bow from his shoulder as the other two drew their swords. He gave Kenrith a respectful nod and looked at Zythos with steadfast determination, which was returned in kind. The Ranger knew this could be a suicide mission, especially for himself should Mace fail. But if he was going to die, doing so fighting beside his elven friend made it all seem worthwhile.

Without another word, Draven turned and sprinted to the end of the alley, charging off to the left as he exited. Behind him, Zythos sprang out to the right and headed for the first monster he saw. Kenrith followed, moving as quickly as the injured ankle allowed.

Draven came to a sliding halt after having sprinted a few meters into the street. He spotted his intended target, the undead guard, only now there were two other creatures behind him. As one, the three abominations turned and began to growl. He moved quickly, drawing two arrows at once and twisted his bow horizontally before he notched both side by side. He steadied his aim and fired, then with blinding speed reloaded and fired again. The first two arrows sailed through the air, splitting apart just enough to flash past the ghoulish guard's head to penetrate the skulls of the two behind. The third shot dropped the guard into a heap on the street. With all the speed he could muster, the Ranger ran and snatched up the full quiver then began his dash back toward the other two.

Progress for Zythos and Kenrith was smooth at first. They had little trouble dealing with the scattered monsters in their way. Even though his injury slowed the guard captain, he still possessed the strength to decapitate the few he had to fight. Zythos watched as the edge of the mob by the warehouse turn and started ambling their way. Technically their plan was working, but now that he was close enough to get a look at the size of the crowd, doubt began to set in.

Draven and Kenrith caught up with him at the same time, each coming to a halt with wide-eyed expressions.

"Oh, crap," Draven swore. "That's gotta be half the city!"

"Over exaggerate much?" Kenrith quipped. The group of creatures was significant, but nowhere near the excited estimation.

"Well, we got this far," Zythos stated evenly. "I'm not turning back now."

"Then may the god of war guide our hands!" Draven yelled, drawing an arrow. Next to him, Kenrith let out a war cry and charged forward. Zythos following in his wake.

Draven ran to the right, blasting arrows around his two companions to keep them from getting overwhelmed. Of the two, he saw Kenrith needed the most help. His impaired movement was worsened by his inability to actually kill the monsters. He could still strike hard, but he could not maneuver around quickly.

Zythos didn't seem to need much help. His determination to save those people brought out the vicious warrior in him. He destroyed zombies by the dozens, twisting and twirling his blades with blinding speed, and he moved through the crowd with almost supernatural grace.

Draven kept his attention on Kenrith, who had unfortunately drawn a sizable group of the monsters his way. The captain swung his sword furiously, hacking off limbs and heads as fast as he could. Even with Draven taking down as many of the creatures as he might, they soon began to surround Kenrith.

Draven grew desperate, launching arrow after arrow in an attempt to give Kenrith some space. His plan was working as a hole opened up behind the captain, allowing him an escape.

"Kenrith, run!" Draven shouted as loud as he could. Kenrith spun to take advantage of the opening, but as he twisted, his ankle gave out, dropping him to the ground.

Draven ran toward the man, shouldering his bow and drawing his own swords. He knew they didn't possess the holy power to destroy the monsters, but he planned to fight through none the less. He only made it a few steps before a wave of dizziness washed over him, causing him to stumble. He hit the ground hard, his swords flying from his hands to bounce and clang against the cobblestone. He tried to stand but was too weak and only managed to make it to his knees. With everything he had, he unshouldered his bow again and loaded it. He drew back on the string, his vision cloudy as his head spun. He fired into the crowd, but his arrow only struck the leg of one of the creatures.

Before he could shoot again, he watched in horror as the mob of undead engulfed Kenrith. Screams of terror and pain erupted from the mass, and Draven knew there was nothing he could do. He knelt there helpless, even as the moment of vertigo passed. His thoughts raced as he desperately sought a way to help him, but deep in his soul, he knew it was over. Kenrith was gone.

To his surprise, the guard captain managed to slither his upper body out from below the mob, and Draven's heart sank even more when he saw the man's face: it was torn and bloody from the bites. Even from his considerable distance away, he saw the look in Kenrith's eyes, begging the Ranger for mercy. Consumed with sorrow and sympathy for the man, Draven stood, pulled back on the loaded bow, and took careful aim. It took every ounce of inner strength he could muster for him to let go, but he did. The arrow flew true, ending Kenriths suffering.

The Ranger fell back down to his knees with his head bowed. His will to fight gone, and he could feel himself fading into the shadow consuming his thoughts. He reached for his symbol of Nyarae and kissed it gently as he found the vision of the forest of Dyn'ran in his mind. That was the last thing he saw before the darkness took him, and he collapsed to the ground.

To be continued…


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