Grimm Tidings

By Doctor B

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 31

When the sun set the streets of Seatorn became a maze of terror. The street lamps had not been lit and no citizens dared light candles in their windows for fear of attracting the undead. The narrows streets into which the starlight could not pierce quickly became warrens of black shadows. The undead stumbled back and forth in them, attacking buildings that contained the living, and quickly surrounding anyone foolish enough to come outside. Screams mingled with groans and the sounds of flesh being torn. The air smelled of fire and fear.

As the three fighters ran through the streets Yolanthe called out, “Tonight will be a half moon. But it won’t rise for another hour.”

“I don’t need the moon,” shouted Voltag. “Follow me.”

He took the lead from Kerimos. The girl on his back did not slow him down – she weighed next to nothing – but she made it difficult for him to lead with his axe. The Grimm Mountain fighters were taught that to swing their axes in a broad figure eight across their chests when they had to attack on the run. Voltag would have liked to use that pattern now. It would have virtually filled some of the alleys he was running down. But the girl on his back meant that he would have to carry the axe prone and only bring it into movement when a target presented itself.

As Voltag ran he calculated their chances of survival. If the people killed by the undead turned undead themselves, they might be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. On the other hand, they were moving faster than any zombie could. That also meant that they didn’t have to worry about attacks from behind as long as they kept moving. He could take out most monsters they might encounter, and Kerimos could dispatch the ones that he missed. Yolanthe, running in last place, did not have much to do, but that was fine. She should conserve her arrows.

There were only two potential problems. The first was getting caught in a dead end and being overwhelmed by undead. The second was reaching the lighthouse only to have Baltrog take over Yolanthe’s mind. Voltag might have to kill her.

If Baltrog was there.

An hour later they stumbled out of the lane and found themselves at the harbor. The rubble of the destroyed buildings glowed under the rising moon. Voltag scanned the area for undead, but could see none in the immediate area.

Kerimos whistled. When Voltag looked over at him, he lifted his chin at the girl on the dwarf’s back. Voltag had almost forgotten about her.

“Right,” he said. “I’ll find her a place.”

‘We’ll meet you at the water,’ said Kerimos. He and Yolanthe began to scrabble over the destroyed buildings towards the bay.

Voltag looked around for a structure that would keep out any undead that stumbled into the area. Down the street was a row of buildings that looked unhurt. He ran towards them. The tallest was a pub, the Square Rigger. Voltag kicked open the door. It was empty.

“Alright little miss,” he said. “Time to get down. And don’t forget Buttons.”

The little girls extracted her hands from his hair and pulled the doll from his axe sheath. She clambered off his back.

“It’s scary here,” she said, looking around the deserted tavern.

‘Scary? No, not scary at all,” said Voltag. “See, we just need to light some lanterns.”

He pulled flint and steel from his pocket and struck some sparks onto some tinder that he used to light candles and oil lamps. Soon the room was filled with light.

“Don’t go,” said Ruyla.

“Now, little miss, I need to go for a short while. And while I’m gone I need you to look after Buttons. Keep her warm and all that.”

Ruyla looked doubtful, but finally said, “Okay.”

“Right,” said Voltag. “You get Buttons all cozy, and I’m going to go out and lock the door so none of those things can get in here, right? Then I’ll come get you later.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Voltag hurried out of the tavern and dragged several beams from a destroyed building across the street to its door. He quickly cut notches into them with his axe and set them one into another to create a barricade that blocked the tavern door entirely. Satisfied that the door could only be opened by destroying his handiwork – something the undead did not seem to have the intelligence to do – he sheathed his axe and ran towards the water in search of his companions.

He found them scrabbling across the rubble-strewn waterfront.

Kerimos turned to him as he ran up.

“The tide is up,” he said. “We won’t be able to use the Necklace.”

He pointed to the chain of islands that ran on their left out to the lighthouse. Voltag thought he could see a crowd of people on the first of those islands. Zombies caught there by the tide? Or people hiding from the zombies?

“We’ll need a boat,” said Kerimos.

Voltag whipped his head around. “A boat?” he asked. “We’re going to float across the harbor?”

Kerimos looked askance at the dwarf. “Unless you can fly,” he said. “Come on. There must be something we can use here.”

He ran along the rubble-strewn shore, searching among the timbers and collapsed building for anything that would take them to the lighthouse. Yolanthe followed him. Voltag lagged behind, muttering to himself.

Ten minutes later they found a small dingy wedged between some lumber that had collapsed into the ocean. Kerimos ran down one of the broken beams and jumped into the small craft. Its bottom was full of water and scraps of wood.

“I don’t think it’s leaking,” said Kerimos. “If we can find something to bail it, we should be fine.”

While Voltag stared at the tiny craft, Yolanthe searched through the rubble. She came back with a large metal jug, dented in one side, and ran down the beam to join Kerimos in the dingy. He took the jug and began to bail.

“Find an oar!” he shouted to Voltag as he continued to scoop water out of the dingy.

Grateful for something to do, Voltag began to poke through the rubble. “An oar?” he muttered to himself. “Best get a coffin if we’re going to ride in that thing.” He found a plank that he trimmed with his axe into what he thought an oar looked like and climbed back over the rubble to the dingy. Kerimos had finished bailing and was inspecting the craft.

“It is leaking,” he said. “But slowly. If one of us bails while we row, we should be fine.”

“Leaking,” repeated Voltag.

“Not badly,” said Kerimos. He looked up at the dwarf on the shore. Voltag was holding the oar and chewing at his bottom lip. Kerimos turned to Yolanthe for an explanation of the dwarf’s strange reticence. When Voltag saw her lean forward to whisper something to Kerimos, he shouted out, “I’m coming. Make way.”

He clambered down the beam and jumped into the dingy, setting it rocking. Forcing a smile he said, “Well, let’s get this tub on the water. No time like the present.”

Kerimos handed Voltag the jug. “You bail,” he said.

Yolanthe pushed the dingy off. Kerimos stood at the back and used the single oar to push then off.

As soon as they were clear of the wharf, Voltag felt his stomach lurch. They were floating in the ocean! There was nothing between them and the bottom of the harbor except for yards of cold water and a few scraps of fragile wood. The dingy rocked alarmingly and Voltag was sure that Kerimos would upset it with his awkward paddling. The dwarf began to bail frantically to take his mind off the retreating safety of the shore.

What could be more unnatural, he thought, as he scooped the cold salt water out of the rickety craft, than floating on the water? I’m not a duck or a fish. I’m a man. A man wearing chain mail. I would sink like a stone if the boat overturned. Or the kraken came back and knocked the dingy into splinters. Like a stone to the bottom of the sea. How long could a man hold his breath? When would the water rush into his lungs and suffocate him? Would he know he was drowning? Would he feel the weight of the water on his body? How cold would it be beneath the waves?

Yolanthe placed a hand on his shoulder. “Slow your breathing,” she whispered in his ear.

Voltag realized that he was gasping for breath. His mouth felt dry while his skin was hot and flushed.

“I don’t feel well,” he muttered.

“Breathe slowly,” Yolanthe repeated. “Bail slowly.”

Voltag tried to control his breath. He scooped more water out of the bottom of the boat.

“We’ll be there soon,” said Yolanthe quietly.

“Must be seasick,” said Voltag.

“Must be,” agreed the half-elf.

Voltag set to work at a controlled methodical pace. It was better that way, he decided. Less chance of tipping the boat. Slow and steady. That was the way.


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