Tinder set up a makeshift hospital in the Square Rigger pub. When she had returned and found the tavern still standing, she opened its doors to the wounded. Soon the room was filled with citizens injured in the kraken attack. She seated them and ran from one to another applying cloths to bleeding wounds, offering water and food, or simply reassuring the dazed. She worked through the afternoon to the point of exhaustion and still she worked, losing herself in the labor.
It was late in the afternoon when she finally was able to pause. She immediately walked to the bar and grabbed a bottle of wine. She filled a glass and was about to take a sip when she realized that she didn’t want it. She was tired and thirsty, but she did not want the drink. Or did she? She usually began drinking earlier than this, and she was not usually this thirsty. But what had the dwarf said about laying off the drink and staying busy? Practicing magic? Well, she wasn’t about to do that but she had been busy. She had helped a lot of people and there were still a few hours before nightfall. A little drink would calm her nerves. Prepare her for the hours of work to come
She raised the glass to her lips, but before she could drink she heard an explosion.
Several of the wounded screamed at the sound. One young man, who had lost his hand, began to chant “The monster the monster the monster.” Another called for quiet. A few children began to cry.
A man about Tinder’s age with a nasty wound in his side moved over to the children and tried to quiet them. He had told her that he was a stonemason and that he had lost his wife in the attack. For all the pain he must have been in, he was more concerned for the other wounded. Tinder marked him as someone she could trust if things got worse.
Tinder put down the glass. The explosion had not come from the harbor. It was distant, across town. Somewhere in the Shade or even on the Wall itself.
She ran to quiet the people upset by the sound, the wine left untouched. When it was clear that the sound was not coming from the harbor, most of the wounded fell silent though the children still needed reassuring. Once they were quiet Tinder moved to the door of the tavern and looked out at the wreckage.
The Seaguards were working with a number of men to dig through the rubble and look for survivors. There were so many collapsed buildings that she didn’t think they would be able to search even half of them before night fell. She turned to go back into the tavern when she heard one of the guards working on a collapsed building down the block shout “Someone’s alive!” Instantly other workers were scrambling across the rubble to help this guard.
“I’ve found him,” the guard shouted. He was lifting some sort of timber to get to the person trapped beneath. Tinder felt her hope rise as the guard pushed the rubble aside and bent down to help the injured man. Other guards were arriving at the scene.
Suddenly the other guards stopped. Tinder could not see clearly, but there was something wrong with the first guard. He was stumbling backwards, falling, clutching at his throat. And there was blood all over his hands.
The other guards were shouting and pointing at something in the rubble. One guard pulled his sword and sliced at something where the injured guard had been digging.
Now there was chaos. The guards were shouting and running through the wrecked buildings. Farther down the road a wagon that was being used to transport bodies suddenly tipped over. Corpses, many of them crushed and mangled, sprawled onto the cobblestones.
And then they began to move.
He could animate the dead. It was his first trick. It was his best. He was bringing the dead of Seatorn to life.
The undead would find them, drawn by the scent of their wounds. And if any of them died, they might become undead.
Tinder looked back to the guard with the bleeding throat. He was lying on his back, sprawled at an impossible angle over the rubble. He was clearly dead.
But then his hand began to twitch.
Tinder closed the tavern door and locked it.
“What’s happening?” asked a woman with a broken leg.
“Nothing,” said Tinder. “They’re trying to help people caught in the rubble. That’s all.”
She stepped to the window and looked out through its dimpled, distorting glass. The guard with the ripped throat was flopping around in the rubble, trying to stand. Many bodies would be crawling out of the wreckage in the next few hours. And what would happen when it got dark? Where would be safe?
The Necklace. The undead couldn’t swim, could they? If she and the wounded made it to one of the islands while the tide was still low, they would be sealed off by the water from the mainland when the tide came up. The undead might not even know they were there.
She realized with a start that she had not been on the Necklace since she was a child. She and Edwin had gone there a few times. Once they borrowed a rowboat and gone all the way to the lighthouse. They had sat in front of the great tank and watched the sun go down. The green light of the tank had illuminated their backs and in that eerie light Edwin had kissed her for the first and last time.
The lighthouse. Edwin.
She looked at the distant structure, miraculously untouched during the kraken’s attack. Was it her imagination, the distortion of the glass, or did she see a figure standing there in front of the tank, staring at the city? At her?
Voltag, Yolanthe, and Kerimos ran through the panicked city. Kerimos was trying to find a direct a route to the harbor but many of the streets were blocked. Citizens were erecting makeshift barricades to keep out the undead. Some of these had been set on fire.
One diversion forced them into a narrow, curving alleyway behind the stores of Shop Street. The lane was not paved and a small stream of water ran down its center. The height of the buildings on each side kept the lane in shadow. They could hear screams and the sounds of smashing glass from the main streets.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” asked Yolanthe.
“Yes,” said Kerimos over his shoulder. “As long as we’re going downhill we’ll reach the water and then the harbor.”
He stopped running. Ahead of them a dozen undead were tearing something apart.
“Go back or go through?” asked Voltag.
“Go through,” said Kerimos.
“Good lad,” said the dwarf charging forward with his axe held high.
“Wait,” said Yolanthe, aiming her arrow. “Me first.”
She fired her arrow just as one of the undead raised its head in their direction, a piece of bloody meat in its mouth. The arrow caught it in the chest, knocking it back on top of the creature the zombies were feasting on. Then it burst into flames. The rags on the closest undead also caught fire. Within seconds half of the creatures were in flames, stumbling into walls or rolling on the ground in mindless confusion.
“Now me,” said Voltag and attacked. He cleaved a flaming creature in two on the first swing then brought his axe up in an arc that decapitated another. There wasn’t room between the alley walls to bring his axe up to full speed so he chose his targets selectively. He was just about to hack another of the flaming creatures when its head seem to fly off of its own accord. Kerimos had entered the fight without a word and had neatly decapitated the creature with his sword.
The two men waded into the undead and hacked at them until there was only a pile of body parts, some still moving, on the ground. Yolanthe came up to join them.
“It will be dark soon,” said Kerimos.
“I can see in the dark,” said Voltag. “Just point the way.”
Kerimos nodded and the three took off at a run down the alley.
In a minute they emerged into what was left of the main city square. It had become a war zone. Undead were stumbling around, clawing at boarded up windows and descending in packs on any people unlucky enough to be caught in the open. Two of the roads leading from the square had been blockaded with overturned wagons, one of which was on fire. Citizens behind the wagons were hurling ineffective weapons at the zombies. Others threw heavy articles from their upper story windows onto the creatures in the square. A few citizens, mad with fright, were stumbling around the square raving. They quickly fell prey to the zombies.
Voltag noticed a child alone near the center of the square. She was clutching a doll and crying quietly. There were no adults around her. A group of undead shambled up behind her.
“By Moradin’s kneecaps,” he muttered under his breath.
“West toward the harbor,” said Kerimos, but when he turned around to check on his companions, Voltag was gone.
“Where?” he began to ask Yolanthe but then he caught site of the dwarf, already halfway towards the little girl. The first of the undead were almost upon her.
Yolanthe nocked an arrow and let fly. It passed over the head of Voltag, over the child, and slammed into the chest of zombie that was rearing up behind her. Yolanthe spoke a quick incantation and the arrows burst into flames, partially exploding the zombie. The little girl, startled by the noise, turned around to see a living corpse with a fire burning in its chest falling towards her. Her scream was cut short by Voltag who grabbed her up just as the flaming corpse fell to the ground.
Voltag found himself in the center of a square peopled with the undead, holding a small child in his arms. He looked over to Kerimos and Yolanthe but they had turned their backs on him to deal with some bloody mouthed creatures that had come out of a nearby building.
“Right,” said Voltag to the little girl. “No crying now. It’s time for a ride. Up on my back.”
“But what about dolly?” asked the child through her tears.
Voltag gritted his teeth but managed to pull his lips back in what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “Put him in sheath on my back. He’ll be nice and snug.”
“It’s a girl,” said the child. “Her name is Buttons.”
“Right. Buttons into the sheath. You up on my back. Here we go.”
The girl climbed onto his back and hung on to his shoulders. Voltag reaffirmed the grip on his axe and surveyed the square. There were four zombies coming up quickly from the same direction the one Yolanthe had shot. Some of the undead that were menacing Kerimos and Yolanthe had noticed him and were beginning to stumble his way. Other creatures around the edge of the square were beginning to turn in his direction.
“Well little miss,” he said in as cheery a voice as he could muster. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Ruyla,” said the little voice beside his ear. “I’m six.”
“Right, Ruyla,” said Voltag. “I want you to wrap your hands in my hair as hard as you can, then close your eyes and hang on, because we’re going to do a dance. Okay?”
“Okay,” said Ruyla. Voltag felt her tiny fists curling into his hair.
“Close your eyes,” he said, “because here we go.”
Voltag began swinging his axe. He couldn’t do all the patterns he would have liked with the girl on his back, but he could set a slashing wall of steel in front of him. As long as he moved forward faster than the undead could walk, he should be able to keep them off his back. Soon the axe began to whistle in the air as it described a vicious figure eight in front of him. He moved forward. The axe bit into the first of the four creatures that had been following the one Yolanthe shot. It was a teetering mass of putrefying flesh, long in the grave, and it exploded in a burst of stinking fluids when Voltag’s axe sliced through it. Voltag gagged on the liquids that rained down on his head.
He stepped forward into the last three of this pack of undead, deftly moving sideways so that his axe blade became a moving wall of steel into which all three of the creatures blundered. They fell apart, their sundered limbs twitching on the ground,
Voltag turned around and began to make his way back to his companions at the edge of the square. Blocking his way was a very large undead. The thing had been half-orc or half-bugbear when it was alive and it had not been dead long. It moved more quickly than the other creatures. It swung a claw at Voltag and was rewarded by having its hand severed in the maelstrom of steel that was the dwarf’s ceaselessly moving axe. Unconcerned with the loss of its appendage, the creature lurched forward into the circuit of the blade. It happened so fast that Voltag was not able to redirect his blade at the thing’s neck, and his axe slammed into the creature’s side, embedding itself between its heavy ribs.
Voltag stepped backward and tugged at the axe. It was stuck. As he pulled the creature swung its other arm at his head. He ducked and heard the little girl scream in his ear.
“Keep your eyes closed,” he shouted.
Voltag let go of the handle of his axe, letting his wrist lock in the leather loop that extended from its base. This gave him a bit more distance from the creature without having to relinquish his weapon.
But it was not enough. The creature swung its wounded arm, clipping Voltag on the top of the head with its bloody forearm so that the dwarf stumbled and almost lost his grip on the axe. Now the other hand came up in a vicious raking blow. Voltag saw it coming. He reached his left hand over his right to block the arm. The creature grabbed Voltag’s wrist.
Voltag now found himself with his arms crossed in front of his body. His right hand was in the loop of the axe stuck in the side of the creature. His left was held in the claw of the monster. The girl on his back continued to scream. He looked up and saw that the creature was lowering its mouth to bite him.
He gave a muttered curse then jerked his head to the side just as the creature snapped at him. He spun around so that his arms were uncrossed, but now he had his back to the creature. Before the thing could snap at the girl on his back, Voltag dropped to his knees, pulling the creature off balance. He brought both his hands to the ground and could feel the monster falling forward on top of him and the girl. Pushing himself backward just as it toppled, he passed between the thing’s legs as it flipped over him and landed on its back on the stone pavement. It released his left hand during the fall. Voltag jumped to his feet, planted one foot on the creature’s chest, and pulled his axe out of its rib cage. Before the creature could move, he decapitated it.
The girl continued to scream in his ear.
“Missy,” he growled, “if you scream you’ll upset Buttons.”
The girl fell silent. Voltag surveyed the square. The two closest undead were coming from the direction of Kerimos and Yolanthe. His companions still had their hands full battling creatures that were shambling out of one of the buildings that fronted the square.
Voltag brought his axe up to speed and charged. He cut the head off the first creature then directed the axe to sever the arm of its companion. That didn’t stop the creature so Voltag spun around with the momentum of the axe and cleaved its legs in two. As the thing toppled, he swung once more and decapitated the monster.
He ran to his friends at the edge of the square. Kerimos was laying into the lurching undead with his sword, cleaving heads from shoulders with business-like vigor. Yolanthe had put away her bow and was slashing at the creatures with a knife, but its reach was so short that she had to be careful not to be bitten as she attacked.
“Let me,” shouted Voltag, stepping in front of her and swinging his axe through two undead. As they toppled he turned on the group converging on Kerimos. In seconds he had decapitated four of them.
When Voltag and Kerimos sheathed their weapons, a dozen dismember corpses lay at their feet. They scanned the square. The nearest zombie was at the far edge, blundering into a flaming barricade.
“Ruyla,” said Voltag, “where are your parents?”
“The things got them,” said the girl.
“Right,” he said. “Then you stay on my back for a while longer.” He turned to Kerimos and Yolanthe. “Well, let’s get going.”
Kerimos grimaced. “It will be hard carrying the girl.”
“That’s my concern,” said the dwarf. “I won’t fall behind. Just need to get her somewhere safe.”
“Alright,” said Kerimos. “We’ll take the high street to the harbor. If it’s blocked, there are alleys. We stay together.”
The three looked at each other. Each nodded, then they turned and began to run.
As they reached the edge of the square, the sun went down.