She woke to instant terror. Her memories rushed in on her, and she shuddered uncontrollably. She felt only one cold hand, touching her face very gently, and familiarly. Tears rolled out of her closed eyes.

"No, no, no, no," she croaked from a parched throat, "no, lovey, no."

"Wake up, little mamma," said a voice, hollow and dead, yet familiar.

She wept then, sobs shaking her in the darkness.

"Kally," she whispered, "oh my love, no!"

"It’s okay little mamma," said the beloved but distant voice in her ear. "You have to be strong for my little brother."

She sat bolt upright and opened her eyes. A pale, shining, translucent girl knelt beside her. A ring of other ghostly children stood around them, still too near for her comfort, but she would never be comfortable again. She wanted to die. She had failed.

"No, little mamma," said the ghost of her lost daughter, "poppa is already gone on, and I’ll follow soon, but you have my little brother to protect. He’ll be along soon."

"I should’ve known," she gasped, "but then I haven’t been thinking for quite a while. Oh Kally, was it very terrible?"

"Yes," said the little ghost, mournful voice ringing with pain, "it was terrible. That’s why you’re here, little mamma. You’re going to stop her."

"Tell me where she is, I’ll more than stop her," she growled, anger blazing up to overcome her agony, "do you know where she is, lovey?"

"Yes," said Kally, "He told me. He said that you would stop her and we could all go home."

"Who is that?" she asked.

"Ithos," said the her little ghost, "he promised."

She shivered again, from a different kind of fear, but felt confidence growing. Saint Ithos was an Archangel, patron of travelers. He often intervened to stop evil, but almost always used human angels to do the actual deed. She, the chosen angel of Ithos?

"She murdered all these children?"

"Yes, she did," said Kally, "she is old, mamma, Rikkini over there was murdered a hundred years ago.

"Why couldn’t Saint Ithos have found another to champion him?" she asked bitterly, "a hundred years ago."

"He’s tried," said Kally’s ghost, "you’re the seventh. He says it never takes more than seven."

"The seventh?" she shook her head. "No, just the last. Where is she lovey?"

"Back there," said Kally, pointing back to the entry, "there’s a hidden door on the wall up there. Come, we’ll show you."

She walked back along the tomb-gallery to the little round entryway. Dozens of ghostly fingers pointed out a hidden lever on the seemingly natural cave wall.

"Wait!" said a voice from far back. Her shield floated to her, carried by several insubstantial ghosts. The battered lantern emitted no light.

"You won’t need the lantern in there," whispered Kally, "she keeps her own place light, to keep us out."

"Does she have any more servants?"

"You killed Hurk," said a ghost beside her daughter’s, "so she only has one more, Yeugh. He’s a sewer gob too."

"What is she?" she asked.

"Don’t know," said several voices.

"Goblin, though," came a whisper, "she has pointed ears."

"What’s her name?"

"Shayhulmi," whispered every ghost at once.

"Sounds Elvish," she muttered, "except for the ‘u.’ They don’t use ‘u,’ I think."

She sheathed her sword, wiped her hand and the hilt, then drew again. She pulled the lever with her left hand and then gripped her buckler, falling into a fighting crouch. The door grated inward, then pulled to one side. Beyond was a room dazzling with candlelight. The ghosts fled wailing as the light spilled out. She went forward alone.

The room lay empty except for hundreds of candles, some hanging from a dozen wooden chandeliers, some no more than ankle-high. The air felt stiflingly hot, unlike the chilly air just outside. She looked around in wonder, trying to imagine how they came by all those candles. She saw another door at the end of a narrow path through the candles, this one only about five feet high. She lifted a foot to kick the door, then shook her head and leaned down to look at the latch. She found a thumb-worked level, and saw nothing dangerous about it. She tried it and it opened quietly, the door pulling toward her on oiled hinges. She ducked through the doorway into another bright room beyond.

She saw a large hearth with a blazing fire that made the already intense heat even worse, and candles burned in every corner. She found a table, a sideboard and three chairs close to her, with a sink with a large urn and pipe above it against the far wall. A couple of large cupboards stood against on either side of the sink, and three doors led out. They narrow door opposite her stood ajar, and she could see a string of sausages hanging from the ceiling within. The larder, she guessed.

Two doors remained, one on the right beside the fireplace and the other to her left only a few feet from where she stood. She turned left and saw that no handle or latch for the door, and it appeared to swing freely on its hinges. She slipped through noiselessly, and found a small natural chamber with a large, clear pool at the far end. Water dribbled from a couple of stalactites into the pool, and candles ensconced in every possible nook and cranny kept the room lit. She found nobody within, but saw a shelf full of clothes set precariously near the pool.

She went back into the kitchen chamber and found herself face to face with a cringing sewer gob, it’s eyes slitted against the light. The goblin grimaced as if from pain, and turned to flee, dropping a bowl of greasy stew. She leapt across the room and stabbed it right through the liver. It fell with a gasp, and she stamped hard on its neck with a sandaled foot. She heard a crack, and the sewer gob lay still. A croaking voice came through the now-ajar door beside the fireplace.

"Curse you Yeurgh! Hurry with that stew! I’m hungry."

A snarling smile split her face at the words.

"I’m hungry too," she whispered very softly, "I’m going to eat your heart!"

She squeezed through the open door without touching it and found herself in a rough antechamber, lit by only a few candles, with two burlap pallets on the floor. Opposite the door she’d come stood another, this one ornate with silver-flecked carvings of woodlands and naked nymphs, and to her terrible joy, ajar. She gave it a kick and rushed through.

The chamber beyond was a welter of confused opulence. A huge canopied bed with a crimson velvet curtain dominated the room, but it did not stand alone. Garish tapestries of woodland scenes covered the walls. A pile of wealth lay in a chest below a rack of weapons, and the mantelpiece over the blazing fire was of fine marble. Several coyote skins served as carpets, and a silver ewer sat beside a silver goblet on a table of carved golden dees-wood. The curtains of the bed stirred, and she slashed them aside. In the bed lay a wizened creature, old and sad, gnarled and gaunt, with pointed ears, almond-shaped eyes, and nut-brown skin gone pale from too little sunlight. Shrunken hands gripped the blanket with white-knuckled intensity, and watery brown eyes stared up at her.

"You’re a wood-dwarf!" she cried in disbelief.

"Shayhulmi they called me," said the wood-dwarf in a quavering, angry voice, "when I was a little thing in the woods long ago. My name was different, once. I have lived till they were all dead, they that banished me to this wasteland. Who are you? Why have you come?"

"I am vengeance," she said, "and my name is Estrith of clan MacBardulph. You killed my daughter, and a hundred more besides. I’m here to feed your bones to the rats and vultures."

"They’d choke!" Shayhulmi cackled, "my bones are too hard for them. So your brat is one of my little ones? Good! She is dead like all your kind should be! This world is for the Fair Kindreds!"

Estrith blinked and shook her head.

"No wonder they threw you out," she said, "the Fair Kindreds are better friends to humans than other humans. But you chose wrong this time. I’m a Jeddart woman, and we can fight as well as men. The vultures may choke, but it won’t matter to you." She lifted her sword.

Then dropped it. The ancient Wood-dwarf had only gestured and Estrith’s hand became encompassed by flame. She dropped back against the wall, her hand blistered but not destroyed. The wood-dwarf cackled again, wheezing from the force of her laughter.

"Six others have tried," Shayhulmi said, "with righteous wrath on their side. There!" she pointed to a row of six skulls that lay on a shelf above her head, "that was their fate. What makes your wrath more righteous, girl? I’ll eat your liver and make a wig of your hair!" She pulled herself up, and stood on the bed, her hands clenching eagerly before her.

Estrith sobbed, sinking down, but her burnt hand was busy. Her blistered fingers curled about the haft of an axe that lay on the floor. With one motion she stood, screaming as her blisters burst, and hurled the axe at the gloating wood-dwarf. The coppery axe flew true, and struck full in the chest. A ragged scream rent the hot air, as Shayhulmi flew back from the force of the blow. Estrith stooped and picked up another sword, ignoring her agony, and strode over to the bed. The wood-dwarf lay in her blood, the handle of the axe quivering with her gasps.

Estrith pushed her sword slowly into the wood-dwarf’s belly, eliciting another shriek. The she took the axe handle and yanked Shayhulmi from the bed to the stony floor. The wood-dwarf looked pitiful, blood seeping from one wound and gushing from another, sword and axe vibrating from gasps and spasms of pain.

"This is not justice," Estrith said, "no, only vengeance. The Judge will work justice on you. Burn in the Hot Hell or freeze in the Cold! It’s all the same to me!" She drew the sword out of the wood-dwarf’s body and smote off the head. Shayhulmi managed a tiny croaking scream just as the blow fell, then her voice stilled forever.

Estrith threw the body into the fire, but took the head and staggered back out of the room. She didn’t see the other rooms, but found herself suddenly in the Tombs, the head in her left hand, and a hundred or more ghosts crying out in awe and wonder. She threw the head down the room, and ghosts became streaks of light, vanishing into the ceiling. She fell to her already bruised knees and wept.

"You’re free, my Kally, you’re free!" She sobbed, feeling completely lost and alone.

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