Her open eye saw white and purple phantoms everywhere, and she resisted the temptation to open her left. She scarcely noticed that the temperature had changed dramatically; she shivered before it dawned on her that she felt chilly. She waited, just inside, as the light phantoms faded, and opened her other eye gratefully, but still she could see almost nothing, just a bit of floor and little lines of piled gravel. Since she couldn’t see, she listened, breathing deep to quiet her racing heart. She heard only the blood rushing through her ears, but though her heart trembled, she saw a gleam on her sword, and noticed that the blade did not shake. This realization calmed her, as did the expansion of the area she could see. As her eyes adjusted her range of vision opened out to about a dozen feet, and to her left she saw the corner of an animal pen of some sort, too low for a horse but too finely made for pigs. She listened more intently as her heart quieted, and then she heard something more than the roaring silence. Something moved in the animal pen to her left, a slow, shuffling sound, almost scratchy, like hooves dragging over hard earth. Did something carry a sheep or goat?

A black shape loomed in the darkness. It had one arm lifted above it, like a man poised for a blow. She stabbed hard where she thought the heart would be. She felt queasy at the odd sound the thrust made; she heard ribs snap like dried sticks, and a foul odor assailed her, but her foe made no sound. She jerked her sword free and backed away. It didn’t fall, and she felt the wind of a blow that missed her by inches. Though her eyes had grown more accustomed to the dimness she could not make out who or what she fought.

She slashed as she saw its arm go up again. The arm flew away, and at last the creature made a sound, a strange sort of hissing cough, nothing like the shriek of a wounded man. Her heart rose to her teeth, but she fought on, slashing at its legs and arms until it lay in a heap before her. She took another step back, dismayed at the hissing sound it still made. She had severed its legs and arms, but heard no splash of blood and her blade remained clean. She waited, her sword thrust out before her, and kicked as something touched her foot. She could see the outline of its limbs on the ground, and it looked like they were still moving. She glanced around, desperately, and saw a lantern hanging from a hook behind one of the great sandstone blocks. She hurried to it and found a spark-maker on a table just below. She shook the lantern and found that it nearly full. She lit the two wicks within and turned back to her foe. She gagged, retched, and then stood panting, the lantern held in her shield hand while the buckler dangled from her elbow. She fought a corpse, long dead, desiccated by the dry air of the desert. It still moved, its dead eyes glaring at her with strangely dull intensity. It hissed louder at the light of the lantern. She kicked arms and legs out into the sunlight, where they instantly went limp, lending her a thrilling sense of victory. She severed the head and kicked it out as well, and saw the dim light die in its eyes. She looked at the twitching torso a moment then shrugged and left it where it lay.

Tearing a strip of cloth from her tunic she rigged the lantern onto the front of her shield. She hesitated a moment, feeling an urge to yank her skirt down toward her knees, but resisted. Her loincloth would just have to do.

The iron lantern had small diamond-shaped openings for the light to spill out of in a spangled pattern. It seemed strong enough to bear combat, provided she didn’t shake it loose or drop the shield. She foresaw burning oil spattering on her bare legs and sandaled feet, but shook her head. She saw no other option.

She moved into the darkness, her light going before her with its many fingers, and saw more corpses coming towards her. Rats, a couple of dogs and cats, goats, and sheep shambled towards her with teeth bared in skeletal faces. The hooves of the sheep and goats made the strange scraping sound she’d heard earlier, and it surprised her how slowly they moved. They looked like they struggled underwater, moving in a weird, eery slow motion, and chills ran down her spine.

She heaved a sigh and moved forward, her sword flashing in the lantern-light. The rats proved easiest and came fastest. She danced among them, skewering them one by one and tossing them into the light beyond the barn, where they went limp, finally dead forever.

The dogs and cats came next, and she managed to sever each head without a tooth or claw touching her, though the last cat clung to her shield and forced her to retreat a few steps before she could hew off its head. She kicked or batted the heads into the light, and watched with satisfaction as the bodies could only twitch aimlessly as soon as the heads entered the sunlight.

When she turned to face the sheep and goats, she found herself nearly surrounded, and though blunt ruminant teeth wouldn’t usually frighten her they looked quite sharp in the light of her lantern. She saw at least thirty of them, and before they could cut her off she backed out into the sunlight, and the undead herd skidded to a halt in slowly They glared at her with more than animal understanding as she stood sweating once more under the hot sun.

She glared back for a moment, wondering at the sharp difference in temperature, and then began slashing at their heads from the safety of the daylight. Some backed away, but she killed more than a dozen before they managed to turn around. She chased the others into the darkness, hacking off heads and batting them into the light as if it were a game. Soon they all lay dead, a heap of skulls without and skeletal bodies within, still twitching but unable to find or hurt her.

A long, slow bellow sounded from deep within the building. She tried to spotlight the sound, but could not. Then heavy hoofbeats rang on the hard-packed earth in a slow, steady gait. After a few moments a huge bull came into her spotlight, charging at her with lowered horns. It came faster than even the rats, but far slower than any living bull. She saw flaps of hide hanging from its throat and sides, so she stepped back till she stood only a few feet from the outside. It had almost reached her when she leapt suddenly to her left, and the bull tripped over the heap of sheep and goats and tumbled into the sunlight. It went instantly limp, but she hacked at its neck just to be sure. It took a couple of blows to chop through the thick spine, but she felt a vast relief when the big horned head rolled away in the sand. She took up her lanterned shield again and strode confidently back into the darkness. She’d won a victory against far greater numbers. She would not be stopped.

0 0 votes
Article Rating