Chapter Three: Well, That Escalated Quickly
Outside was worse than any of them could have imagined. The faint veil of confidence they’d all possessed had all but disappeared; seeing a decapitated head the second you leave a building would do that, and to say their tunes had changed would be an understatement, June had almost thrown up just from the sight of it.
“What the hell did this?” said V, trying her best to keep her cool. Her question had been rhetorical, though she’d still get an answer. A panicked peasant came running down the street, letting out a loud, ear-splitting scream similar to the one they’d heard before.
“One of them’s coming this way!” she shouted, before tripping up and getting a mouthful of mud in return. The thing she was referring to came hurling around the same corner the lady had appeared from previously, though it was faster, so much faster. With its abundance of long, almost spider-like limbs, it lunged forward toward the woman. Before the four even had the chance to react, the shade impaled the peasant through the back, lifting her into the air with the two sharp limbs it had done the deed with.
The four looked on with fear, realising that these were the shades the glowing orb had mentioned. The shade seemed to have had its fun with the peasant who’s screaming had now halted, deciding to split the poor woman’s now lifeless body into two parts that came crashing down to the mud below, her insides now a sick and unnerving shade of black. That had been enough for V and Jamal, who both ran away in opposite directions. Neither wanted to fall under the same fate the woman had. Even if it meant disregarding the promise they’d made.
June looked to her left to see Otis still standing there, hands visibly shaking out of fear. He wasn’t exactly the person she’d have chosen to stay behind out of the three, but she supposed it was better than nothing. She looked back toward the shade to find it staring right at her through the two enormous craters on its face, which she assumed were its eyes. She gulped, trying her best to have faith. She took a few steps forward.
Otis also took a few steps, though his weren’t toward the creature. June turned around and caught him stepping back in the direction she’d seen V run down. He paused when she spotted him.
“I thought you were going to stay? We still have a promise to keep,” she shouted over, trying to fight back the shakiness present in her voice.
“Maybe with the four of us, but us two? I don’t like those chances, sorry,” Otis replied, throwing his arms up, making a hasty retreat.
June’s breath hitched momentarily, before looking back at the shade, who’d obviously gotten sick of waiting for her and Otis to finish their little conversation. She had almost no time to react as it pounced at her, grabbing her with two of its limbs before herling her down the street. Luckily the mud softened the landing, though only a little as her arm, which had taken the weight of the fall, wasn’t exactly feeling great. She looked back toward the shade. It looked like it was readying to pounce once more. June would not take a chance. She doubted it would just keep throwing her around all day. No, this next attack was to kill. As it jumped, she quickly got up and leapt out of its way just as it landed. She retreated into a nearby house and shut the door behind her, hoping it would buy her some time to plan something out. But, guessing by the harsh banging at the door, she wouldn’t have long.
V hadn’t gotten nearly as far as she would’ve liked to. The streets past the jailhouse were in worse shape than the scene she’d run from. It looked like the end of the world, and it was. Bodies peppered the ground around her, each was split into more pieces than the last.
The shades were even more numerous down there as well, to the point that V had even considered going back at one point. But she couldn’t. Running away was an addiction she’d yet to kick, and today wasn’t the day that dependency stopped.
She scanned the street ahead of her, looking for the best route, but all of them ended up being duds.
The shades covered the street. All wore a differing shape, each more terrifying than the last. They were slamming on doors, the muffled whimpers of families coming from behind them, getting louder with every harsh thud. The shades hadn’t noticed V yet, she’d made sure of that. Hiding behind some crates at a storefront, only peeping up occasionally to check if there was an opening. Much to her dismay, so far there hadn’t been.
She went back down, slouching against the crate. She could still hear the pounding at the door accompanied with the various whimpers. From the sounds they were making, they were just as scared as she felt, if not more so. She shouldn’t have cared. These weren’t people she knew, but it was hard to hear nonetheless. She didn’t understand why she did what she did next. It was like an out-of-body experience; and not the cool, trippy kind. She rose from her hiding spot, and stood on the crate, placing two fingers in her mouth before letting out a high-pitched whistle.
The sound caught the attention of the three shades. Their attention was now diverted to V solely as their gaze fixed on her. The family would be safe now, at least for a little longer. V, on the other hand, she had some running to do.
Otis ran as fast as he could, not daring to look back. For all he knew, he’d just left June to be torn in two. He didn’t want to picture it, he couldn’t handle the guilt of leaving, but he didn’t know what choice he had. That thing was terrifying. Little did he know, however, that it may have been better for him to have stayed, because he was about to not only run into V but her newly acquired friends. Their reunion couldn’t have been any less smooth as well. With both of them colliding with such force, it sent them both to the muddy ground below.
V was the first to get up, looking down at Otis who still seemed quite dazed. She grabbed him, quickly pulling him up and pushing him back the way he came.
“C’mon run!” she shouted.
The shades turned around the corner just behind them, giving Otis even more of an incentive to listen to V. The two of them fled back toward the jailhouse, noticing June’s absence.
Otis’ heart sunk, assuming the worst. He couldn’t feel too bad now though. He had to utilise the head start he had and keep running, or at least make sure he was faster than V, which seemed like a tall order with how almost inhumanly fast she seemed. The two ran through a little more of the town, trying their best not to trip up on any corpses or stray body parts they stumbled across.
As they kept running, however, they’d come to a path with no exit, no other pathways for them to run down, they’d hit a dead end. The two turned back, but it was too late for them to try to correct their mistake. The shades were already there.
“Listen, I’m sorry about unintentionally getting you involved in this mess,” said V, deciding that if she was going to ease her conscience, even just a little, this would be the moment to do so. “And that exploding rabbit trick, even if it wasn’t on purpose, it was pretty cool,” she continued, finishing it with a conclusive sigh.
A compliment regarding his magic was an unfamiliar concept to Otis. He supposed it was nice to finally get one in his last moments, even if it was for blowing up a rabbit he’d really been trying to resurrect. In fact, he had a habit of blowing things up when he wasn’t supposed to.
“That’s it!” he exclaimed suddenly, causing V to jump at his unexpected level of volume.
“What?” she asked, wondering what revelation he’d pulled out of his arse, and if it could help them now he’d left it so late. Otis wouldn’t answer her though, instead, he simply recommended for her to stand back, and that was enough for her to get the gist.
He readied his wand, aiming it toward the shades who were approaching at a teasingly slow pace, I suppose this was their way of playing with their food. Otis prepared himself, closing his eyes.
“Just imagine they’re rabbits. Three terrifying, bloodthirsty rabbits,” he whispered to himself quietly, taking a deep breath before reciting the incantation, bracing himself in case it didn’t work; or in this case, if it did.
There was a lengthy pause. Both V and Otis felt every millisecond that passed before sparks flew out from the tip of his wand. A pulsing flash of light shot out toward the shade, which was in between the other two. It let out what Otis and V could’ve sworn was a scream before it burst into a dark puddle of oozing liquid. The other two were thrown against the building either side of the alley, though they hadn’t dodged Otis’s spell entirely, V could see that one was missing a limb as a result of it.
The two shades glanced quickly at one another as if to say “oh shit” before they retreated out of sight.
“Did I do it?” asked Otis, not daring to open both his eyes fully yet.
“Yeah, I’d say so,” replied V, chuckling in relief. Before the two could cherish the moment, though, they heard a loud scream that sounded suspiciously like Jamal.
The shade was almost through the door, June was almost out of time. Being a cleric, she’d been taught in the art of divine magic, the kind of sorcery that could produce miracles, though its defensive capabilities were definitely a low point of the package. She clutched onto her staff, almost hugging it as the door burst off its hinges as the shade finally made its grand entrance.
It stared her down, and she swung around her staff, slamming the butt of it on the wooden floor. She hadn’t been patiently waiting for this thing to stumble in. She’d hatched an idea, though not one she was particularly proud of. This was surely not what her teacher had intended this magic for, but she had little choice as she prepared herself, whispering the incantation.
A glowing, golden sphere surrounded the shade and it couldn’t escape from its boundaries, no matter how hard it tried. She raised one of her hands before she started slowly bringing it closer to the orb at the end of her staff. As her hand grew closer to the orb, the glowing sphere around the shade began to gradually decrease in size.
June kept on doing this until it was so compressed it couldn’t have moved a muscle if it tried. She looked up at it one more time, even considering giving the thing mercy for a moment or two. That was the righteous thing to do, to show mercy. Or so she’d thought. But why would she give it something that it hadn’t given the rest of these poor citizens, the screams of which she’d heard from her cell.
“Gods, please forgive me for what I’m about to do,” she said to herself, shrinking the orb until she heard the cracking of the creature’s bones, if it even had them. Basically, it was safe to say that she’d killed it.
Jamal had been having about the same luck as the others and had quickly found himself cornered down a rather claustrophobic street by two shades. He swung his sword wildly, giving his best attempt of a war cry whilst doing so, displaying a similar level of swordsmanship to that he’d shown at the bar beforehand.
The shades knew to keep their distance though, even with his inaccurate swings they knew he was still capable of getting a lucky hit if they got close enough. So they kept back, patiently standing by as they waited for Jamal to tire himself out; which, at this rate, wouldn’t take too long.
With every swing, he grew slower, and his breath shorter and shorter till he couldn’t swing anymore. Gasping for air, he looked at the shade in front of him. He could’ve sworn he saw a face beneath the darkness. He dropped his sword, and it landed on the ground beneath him with a heavy thud.
“I guess it’s finally my turn, huh?” Jamal said solemnly, slowly tilting his head. So he was now watching the clouds go by. He’d been waiting for this day to arrive. The blue skies soon turned black as one of the shades pounced on top of him, tearing the left shoulder piece of his spotless armour clean off before it really sunk its teeth in. Its teeth were impossibly long, and the pain more so.
Jamal thought it couldn’t get worse, but that’s when the other shade joined the fun, piercing two tendrils through the space between his armour, ripping two sizable holes into his chest. The one who had attacked him first had moved on from his shoulder and now stood with its salivating mouth mere inches from Jamal’s face. He looked at it. Its mouth was a void.
Jamal heard a loud scream from somewhere ahead, or now that he thought of it, it sounded more like a warcry. A genuine one, unlike his.
The shade had heard it too. But before it could turn to see what had made the racket, two daggers dug into the back of its head. It started flailing around, trying to shake off its attacker. As it started desperately trying to rid itself of this aggressor, Jamal spotted V participating in a kind of deadly piggyback with the shade. He let out a laugh despite the pain he was in, which the other shade quickly stopped as it pulled out its tendrils from his stomach. It started to run toward V, though it wouldn’t reach its destination.
An explosion went off by the side of it, sending scorched timber and brick its way in a painful-looking manner. It was Otis, and whilst he’d been aiming for a direct hit, Otis supposed this wasn’t too bad of an alternative.
“I meant to do that,” he lied. The shade, after failing a few times, eventually managed to throw V off, sending her rolling to the side of Otis.
V and Otis prepared themselves, striking a battle pose that the two had admittedly done just for cool points. The two shades stumbled next together as well, almost as if they were trying to achieve a similar display, one that failed, not that it made V and Otis any less scared of them. But as the two of them prepared themselves, the two shades froze on the spot, looking at something behind them. Neither V nor Otis were sure what could quite elicit this reaction from the shades, and the two of them feared to find out what. Yet they turned, both gripping their weapons tightly as they went to see what it was.
Much to their relief, especially Otis’s, they spotted June, who was alive and well, or maybe just alive. Walking toward them with a glowing orb similar to the one they’d seen her use at the bar to protect those people.
The orb was smaller, however, much smaller, and seemed to be filled with what looked like pure darkness. In fact, it looked similar to the ooze that had been released when Otis and V had defeated that shade. That’s when it dawned on them, why the two shades had frozen in place. They were scared, or at the very least surprised; I don’t actually know; they have little in the terms of conventional facial features. But June was carrying the remains of one of their friends, and she released it right in front of them, which gave them enough of a reason to retreat off into the distance. Otis and V celebrated for June, jumping up and down in joy.
“Dude, that was badass!” V praised, spotting June’s devilish grin before she quickly returned to her factory setting.
People started peeping out from their doors to check if the coast was clear and, slowly but surely, the number of living citizens on the street outnumbered the dead. They all ran toward each other, playing out their own celebrations too. Otis had stopped his celebrations early, however, when he’d spotted Jamal lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood. Soon to be another corpse lying across the streets of Bellkeep.