A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 17: Fight

Gilmir and Hobble almost managed to get to Shacktown before Gilmir slumped to the ground. Clouds gathered in the darkening sky, and the wind picked up. They were at the outskirts of the city’s graveyard, and Gilmir put his back against a mausoleum wall. Hobble stood over him, leaning on his staff.

‘That stone did not help you much, did it? What’s it supposed to do?’ Hobble asked.

‘It will help, but it is not an instant cure,’ Gilmir said, ignoring his companion’s second question.

‘Guess you need food, water and rest. Or is it something more? Are you hurt? Diseased? Poisoned?’

‘Some old wounds, but nothing serious. I think you are right. Some rest, food and wine—fine wine—should fix this. How about you, what is the trick with your foot? Can you deform it at—’

Gilmir broke off his questions and indicated for Hobble to be silent. He strained his ears. Something was coming. Through the woods. With heavy steps. It was moving like a charging bull but without the speed. Going straight through bushes and branches.

‘Someone is coming. Or something.’ He nodded towards the woods. Hobble turned and lifted his staff.

Out of the bushes came a man stumbling. No, not a man, a corpse. Tatters of old clothing hung on him seemingly at random, pale skin bared beneath. His left arm hung limp, probably because of the deep cut below the shoulder. Across his chest, a vicious wound displayed white bones and red-blooded flesh. The living dead came straight towards them.

Hobble rushed forward on quick feet and cracked the staff against the creature’s head, leaving a dent in its skull. The corpse stopped for a moment as if to consider the consequences of the blow. It started forward again, swinging its right arm at the halfling. Hobble jumped back and swung his staff again. This time it hit the already limp arm, not even slowing the creature.

Hobble connected blow after blow, to no effect, and the living dead kept swinging after the agile halfling who kept dodging.

‘Go for his knees!’ Gilmir, shouted. Hobble would soon tire and the creature would eventually land one of its heavy blows and the fight would be over. Hobble would have to cripple him. Gilmir saw the halfling redirecting his strikes. He landed a blow to the side of the corpse’s knee but nothing happened. This would not end well.

The two combatants came close to the wall where Gilmir stood, and Hobble moved a few steps to the side. The undead did not follow. Instead, it continued towards Gilmir and swung at him. Gilmir dodged, and kicked at the creature’s knee. The blow landed solidly, but to no avail. He did not have the strength to damage the joint with a kick.

‘Hit it!’ Gilmir shouted to Hobble. The halfling would tire fast, but Gilmir was not sure he could even evade a few more blows before exhaustion retook him. No help came. He dodged another swing. The halfling was nowhere to be seen. Had he abandoned him? Had he finally cut his losses and left him to deal with the living dead, escaping while the creature was occupied with another victim? It was the wise thing to do. It was what he would have done …

Crack.

Hidden from view by the dead man, Hobble smashed his staff into the creature’s knee. It buckled. Stopped. Straightened up, and turned.

At least Gilmir was safe for a moment. ‘You must strike harder!’

‘Really?’ Hobble jumped. ‘Why …’—Hobble took another swing—‘didn’t I …’—then dodged—‘think …’—backstepped—‘of …’—and sidestepped before taking a final swing—‘that!’

This time, the blow hit the creature’s thigh. To no effect. In the background, two figures emerged from the woods where the creature had come from. Two women, in similarly ragged clothes, dirty skin showing underneath. Balls! More bloody, walking corpses!

Gilmir closed his eyes. There was no way to escape three of the accursed beasts.

‘Hit his knees!’ one of the newly arrived corpses shouted. Shouting corpses now? He opened his eyes. The two women were not dead. They were two of the most sorry-looking beings he had ever seen … Well, at least since he had glimpsed himself in the reflection of the water the day he came out from the sewers. Now the two women were cheering Hobble on.

Once again, the wind picked up and shook in the nearby trees. One of the women shouted something. Hobble danced and jumped. Leaves whirled up from the ground, branches whipped about. Gilmir shielded his eyes. The howling of the wind cancelled out every other sound. Grass, leaves and sand kept spiralling in towards the spot where Hobble and the living dead were fighting. Tighter and tighter, closer and closer. Abruptly, it stopped.

Hobble struck with his staff. Once, twice, three times, in rapid succession. Like strikes of lightning. The sound of cracking bones and dislocating joints followed each blow. The living corpse fell to the ground, unable to stand, unable to swing his mighty blows. In the next moment, Hobble dropped to his knees, breathing hard. The two women did the same. All three were exhausted. There was no sound, no wind, no movement. Everything was still.

The living dead started moving again. It dragged itself over the ground, using its broken arms to pull, and its shattered feet to push. Gilmir rose. He went over to Hobble and took the knife the halfling wore at his belt. The elf walked over to the living dead, placed one foot on the creature’s back and pushed it to the ground. His eyes scanned the body and soon found what he was looking for. Bending down, he stabbed the knife into the creature’s neck. He worked it from side to side for a moment and then plunged his hand into the wound.

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