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Willem's Stand Page 1

Part 15Edit

General Tiburon,

That is all the written evidence we were able to recover. There undoubtedly was more, but it has been forever lost in the ruins of old Targonor. We were, however, able to secure testimony from the last known person to have left Targonor and lived, a royal scribe by the name of Pepran Baldarus. His account, as authored by him, is as follows...

"The dead are within three day's march of the city," Commander Askalon said grimly, as I recall.

Commander Winston Askalon marched down the length of the dim chamber, his military boots falling heavily on the stone floor. Torchlight flickered off the walls unevenly, dancing through the commander's shadow. Askalon was in late middle age, he was a proud man who had served Targonor for his entire adult life. His short, silvery hair was thinning now though. While there was still a youthful twinkle in his brown eyes, he was no longer the feared warrior from years past. Age had softened Askalon.

His sword still hung boldly from his side, its blade as sharp as it had been twenty years ago. He drew it much less now, instead preferring diplomacy to resolve conflict. Soon though, he would unsheathe his sword again. The dead had driven the Vulmane from their lands and exacted a catastrophic defeat onto the human's assault. Now they came for Targonor.

"We need more time," the commander said. There was a profound worry in his voice, one that had never been there before. "We'll never finish getting everyone out before they reach us."

There were three others including myself in the council chamber. Askalon turned towards us, a grave look on his face.

"We need to slow the dead down," he said.

"What are you suggesting?" asked a deep voice. It was King Horus Targonor-Furth. He had been sitting in quiet contemplation for several minutes. The king wore simple clothing, having long since abandoned the more formal royal attire. His crown rested on the table before him, next to it lay his sword.

The king and the commander had been boyhood playmates. Askalon was now King Targonor's closest friend and most trusted advisor. The two men had been through much together. They were both big, sturdy, family men and respected leaders. Time had been equally hard on the king.

The first time I saw him, many years ago when I was still in my youth he had a full head of dark blond hair and a short, thick beard. Much like Askalon though, it was now mostly gray and deep wrinkles lined his kind eyes. Every new grey hair or wrinkle brought with it more wisdom, the king was fond of joking.

"What I am suggesting is..." Askalon struggled to find the words, "...My lord I request permission to stay behind with a few units of men and try to slow the undead advance."

The king rolled his eyes. "Winston, if you call me 'my lord' one more time I am going to talk to Marla and make sure you get nothing but raw beets to eat for a month. So stop it," he said with a grin.

I knew the grin to be a mask though. Askalon always became much more formal when times were serious but he also had meant every word he said. The king knew it too.

"Horus..." Askalon said, "A full third of the city has yet to evacuate and the dead will be here in a matter of days. Even if we were able to get everyone out in that time, they would be right behind us. Three more days, we need three more days. We can close the southern half of the city and my men and I can hold them off. That will be all the time we need to get you and the rest of the citizens out."

The king gave his friend a serious look. "A noble gesture, my friend," he said gently, "But most of the army has already gone. Besides, staying behind is certain death - you know that. I will not willingly order any more to their grave, enough have died already."

The commander returned his solemn look. "Even if it means saving thousands of others?"

A dreadful silence hung in the room for several seconds, finally another voice spoke up.

"He's right father." It was Horus' eldest son, Garus. He was a mirror image of the king -- powerfully built, broad shoulders and that thick blond head of hair, though he lacked his father's beard. I was privileged to have been his personal tutor for a number of years while he was a boy and was very proud at the young man Garus had grown to be.

Horus looked to his son, who sat next to him.

"If we don't, we risk losing everyone. The dead would simply just follow us north. They march day and night, it would not be long until they overtook us," the prince continued, "I can see no other way."

The king closed his eyes and sighed, bracing his forehead with both hands. He sat quietly for a moment, and then looked up. "What of you, Captain Willem?" he asked pointedly, "You've more experience against them than any of us, can they be held for three days?"

Captain Rastus Willem of the Red Blade Unit sat at the end of the table, his chair was turned around and he leaned heavily against the front of it. The Captain looked to be half-dead himself. He was unshaven and dark circles sagged under his deeply bloodshot eyes. Willem had a stocky, strong build and his dark hair was knotted and dirty and fell into his eyes. He looked pale. His skin had a sickly, almost yellow tinge to it. He lifted his head slowly and looked down the table at the other men.

"Probably not," he said, his voice was rough and dry, "but it's the only shot we've got."

The king nodded slowly and thought quietly for a moment more.

"Very well then," he said. "Thank you all for your input, as always. Winston, Garus, please call an assembly of all those who are left. I wish to address them before nightfall."

Garus nodded.

"Of course," Commander Askalon said as he and the Prince hurried out of the chamber.

The king then turned to Rastus. "Captain Willem, the Red Blades are the best we have left..." he began to trail off.

"We'll stay until the end, if need be." Rastus responded.

Horus nodded. "Thank you," he said simply.

The meeting had taken place during the early afternoon. Prince Garus and Commander Askalon spent the next few hours hurriedly assembling what remained of the city's population. Captain Willem had left to, I can only assume, go talk to his troops. I stayed in the council chamber and continued to write. It was my job to document the evacuation and there was still much work to be done if there was to be any order at all once we arrived at the rebuilding site along the northern coast.

The king stayed in the chamber with me for a time, he sat quietly in deep contemplation. I know he was wrestling with the decision whether or not to leave a deployment of soldiers behind. I'm sure the thought that when he left for the new site that he'd be leaving behind men to die weighed more heavily on him that I can possibly imagine. Horus had been wracked with guilt upon the army's initial defeat at the hands of the dead, even though to a man, each of his advisors - Commander Askalon included - had agreed the best solution to the threat would be to eliminate it before they got to Targonor.

They had failed to do that, and Horus had made the hard decision to abandon the city and rebuild in the north. He had pledged that he would not leave until everyone had safely fled the city, that no man would be left behind. Now, it seemed as though he would have to go back on his word and I know that it was not sitting well with him.

I continued to work quietly, not wanted to disturb his thoughts, until there was a polite knock from the other side of the chamber's large doors.

"Enter, please." the king called out, as he was drawn from his thoughts.

The chamber's wooden door opened a bit and Garus peeked in. "The crowd has been assembled, father. It will be dark soon."

"Thank you," Horus replied, "I will be out in a moment."

Garus nodded and backed out of the room, closing the door softly. The king sighed and shot me a tired glance.

"I'm not really looking forward to this," he said.

I forced a smile. "Don't worry, you'll do fine. You always do."

In truth, I had absolutely no idea how he would do, or what he was even going to say. I was more than a little curious to hear it, myself and suddenly wished that I were not stuck in that room still working. Horus Targonor was a wise leader though, and I had faith that whatever he decided on would be the right thing to do. He always did the right thing.

The king sat up from his chair slowly and looked down at the table before him, as if considering something. He reached down and picked up his broadsword. He held it in his hand for a moment, deliberately turning the hilt in his palm before sheathing it across his back. The king reached down again to pick up his crown, but stopped. He looked over towards me.

"Would you mind telling Garus that I'll be a few more minutes?" he asked.

"Of course, my lord." I said and began to stand up.

A wry grin crept across his face, "You can stay out and listen if you'd like too."

He'd read me as if I were no more than a child. "Thank you," I blurted out stupidly and began to rush towards the door, embarrassed. I stopped abruptly though and turned back. "...my lord," I added quickly.

Horus just laughed. "Go," he said with a wave of his hand. "I will see you out there."

I exited the room hurriedly and made my way towards the balcony from which the king would be speaking. I cursed myself along the way for my incompetence. This was not the first time I'd forgotten to address him as my lord. I knew Horus did not care if anyone addressed him properly or not... but it was just that, proper. He just had a way of disarming you though, of making you forget that you were talking to your king. I consider myself an intelligent man, who is not easily influenced by others. But being around Horus always had that effect, it was a humbling experience to say the least.

The balcony was on the edge of the third story of the keep and was where the king gave all of his speeches. Its door was propped open against the end of the hallway. A thin curtain now separated me from the outside. I could hear the crowd down below, anxiously awaiting their king to speak. I poked my head through the curtain.

Prince Garus and Commander Askalon were both there, each standing in a position to flank Horus when he spoke, as they always did. I was surprised to see that Captain Willem also stood outside, directly behind the commander. He looked to be no better than at our meeting before.

"He's on his way, he'll be another minute or two," I whispered loudly to Askalon.

The commander looked towards me and nodded. He then walked to the center of the balcony and looked out over the crowd. I slipped back behind the curtain and leaned against the wall. Soon, I heard a heavy walking and turned to see the king coming towards me. He'd donned a chain mail tunic and over it he wore his bright, gold embroidered breastplate. His crown wrested atop his head and over his shoulders was draped a dark cape of magnificent blue threading. Now he looked like a king.

He caught my eye and grinned. "It itches," he said. "Have I ever told you that?"

I shook my head. "No, my lord, you haven't."

"Well it does," he frowned and scratched at his neck, "I should really have it looked at sometime."

"Are you ready to go then?" I asked.

Horus looked himself over and straightened his cape. "I suppose so," he said somewhat reluctantly. I could tell he was not looking forward to going out. I poked through the curtain once again and told Askalon that the king was prepared.

He barked an order and from outside we heard deep drums begin a steady beat. Their cadence echoed through the halls loudly, and silenced the crowd.

"Good citizens of Targonor," Commander Askalon bellowed loudly.

Horus silently mouthed the words as his old friend spoke.

"He always says the same thing," the king joked good-naturedly.

"It is my honor," Askalon continued, "to present to you..."

A chorus of horns began to sing out the royal fan fair, the crowd outside erupted into a frenzied cheer. I glanced at the king, who could not help but to smile in spite of himself.

"Your King... his royal majesty Horus Targonor-Furth!" the commander finished.

The king patted me on the shoulder and then made his way through the curtain as the fan fair continued to blaze throughout the assembly grounds. As he stepped out onto the balcony, the roaring cheers intensified. The overwhelming ovation was not insincere. The citizens of Targonor dearly loved their king and in these desperate times eagerly awaited any word from him.

He stood at the edge of the balcony before his subjects for several seconds. The fan faire stopped but the thunderous cheering only became louder. I could not make out much through the thin curtain, but I saw the king hold up his hands, as if to quiet the crowd. It had no effect. He smiled and let them continue to cheer for a small time longer, and then tried again. Still, they did not stop.

Horus' shoulders slumped slightly and he turned his head from the edge of the balcony, bringing a hand to his face. Prince Garus leaned towards his father but the king held out a hand.

"I'm fine." He said quietly, I could barely hear him over the crowd. "They aren't making this any easier though."

He took a long, deep breath and turned back to again face his subjects. He held his arms up highly and gestured for quiet, this time the cheers gradually subsided.

The king lowered his hands, letting them come to a rest on the polished railing and gazed out into the mass of people before him. He paused for a moment, letting the silence seep into every corner, and then began to speak.

"I must thank you for the welcome," he began, "It was overwhelming, to say the least."

His tone then turned much more serious.

"My friends... we have been through much recently. Within a matter of weeks, we were thrust from peace and stability into a state of war against an aggressor whom we did not even know. Our family, and our friends, went to do battle with this enemy and met with disaster. Many of our beloved now walk the long, starry road to the heavens.

"And while they go to regain their peace, we remain here. Our home, our great city of Targonor is being threatened... threatened by an enemy we cannot defeat. The army of the dead marches upon us... never stopping, never resting, and never yielding. Their evil relentlessly pushes north, through the lands of the Vulmane and now into our very homes.

"In two days time, the dead will arrive at the gates of Targonor," the king paused as startled gasps rose from the crowd, "They have come faster than we anticipated and they have caught us off guard. This does not leave you with much time. Tonight you must make haste and pack what you can. For tomorrow at sunrise, the final caravans to the north shall depart. Prince Garus will lead and will be charged with burning the fields, and evidence of any passage, behind you."

I saw Garus and Commander Askalon exchange an anxious look, but neither moved. A murmur began to run through the crowd, slowly growing in volume. The king continued.

"My friends, I have asked much of you. I asked you to fight this evil, and you did... valiantly. I asked you to abandon your homes, and you did so without complaint. Now I must call upon you to rise up one last time.

"The dead storm Targonor in two days, what they will find is a city abandoned and a trail leading north. That cannot be allowed to happen. The fires must be given time to burn and you must be given time to escape.

"It was not long ago, I pledged to you that so long as a single man remained in Targonor that I would not leave. That pledge holds true to this day. I call upon all able bodied and willing men to join me, and stay -- to buy the time that is needed."

My mouth dropped as a shocked silence fell over both the assembly grounds and the balcony alike.

"We will stay and we will fight...we will fight for the very survival of our people."

The king then slowly, so that all could see, reached across his shoulder and drew his sword. He held the blade high, pointing it upwards into the air.

"Let them come!" he called out to the stunned crowd, "Targonor will be waiting."

Part 16Edit

"Absolutely not," King Targonor said, "You are going."

"But father-" It was Prince Garus.

"We are not having this discussion, Garus," the king responded, "You will lead the rest of our people to the rebuilding site. That is an order."

Garus stood in front of his father, helpless. Tears began to well up in his eyes.

"You have much preparing to do, there's no time to waste arguing with me," the king continued, "Now go."

The Prince's shoulders stiffened. "Yes, my lord," he said, his voice making no attempt to mask his emotions. Garus then turned sharply and left the chamber, letting the heavy wooden door slam shut behind him.

It had been nearly two hours since King Horus Targonor-Furth had addressed those who remained in Targonor. He now sat back in his private chambers, thinking. He had removed the more formal attire and was again dressed in simple workman's clothing. Horus had requested that I come with him, though why I could not say. Commander Askalon was, of course, present, as was the haggard looking Captain Willem.

Captain Willem's presence was curious to me, but I was not about to question it as the need for me to be there was debatable at best. I strongly suspect the king wanted the captain there though because he commanded the largest force left in Targonor, the Red Blade Unit. They weren't the youngest or the quickest soldiers, but they very well may have been the toughest. Rastus himself looked no better now than he had before. The man was built like an ox, but his face appeared gaunt and pale. He did not look well. I wondered to myself if he was even capable of wielding the large sword he managed to carry around.

"I am sorry you had to see that," Horus apologized. "Garus is still young..."

"You have no need to apologize, my lord" Commander Askalon said quickly. "I'm more than twice as old as he and Prince Garus handled it better than I would have," he added with a slight grin. The commander sighed and looked towards the ground. "Marla and Heston are going to have a rough time of it."

King Targonor looked at his old friend, sympathy in his eyes. "Make sure you take some time to speak with them before they depart in the morning."

Askalon nodded. "I know, I will."

The King then turned to Captain Willem. "And you Rastus? Do you have family?"

The Captain looked up from the spot on the floor he seemed to have been fixated on. "No." he said simply, "I don't."

"Oh," Horus sounded somewhat surprised. "Well, if you have any friends you wish to bid farewell please don't forget to make time to do so."

"Thank you, my lord." Willem said, his response more courtesy than of genuine thanks. I will never know, but I strongly suspect the captain had no one to say goodbye to. I actually felt a bit sorry for Rastus.

"And you Pepran," the king said to me. "I am sure you have much packing to do. I apologize for wasting valuable time. You may leave if you wish."

To this point, I had had every intention of leaving, of fleeing to the north and starting again under the leadership of Prince Garus. I still do not know why I said what I did next. I was no warrior. Maybe it was out of admiration for the king. Perhaps I was just caught up in the moment. I don't think I will ever know.

"I am not going anywhere, my lord," I said, "I will stay and fight."

The king, Commander Askalon and even Captain Willem all looked at me with some surprise. Then the king nodded seriously.

"Very well, Pepran," he said, "That is your decision to make. Know though that if at any time between now and the evacuation tomorrow morning that you should happen to change your mind, I will think no less of you."

"You are very kind, my lord," I responded, "But I do not intend to change my mind."

I had just agreed to fight in a battle of pure desperation, in which even if we, somehow against the greatest odds managed to win, the best I could hope for was a quick death - yet I felt somehow liberated.

"Well," Horus said, as he stood up from the simple wooden chair he had been sitting in, "There is much work to be done. We had best get going."

"What would you have us do, my lord?" Askalon asked.

The king thought for a moment. "You can start making plans for our defense. You will need every minute you can get. Captain Willem, please have your men aid those who are leaving tomorrow in whatever capacity they can. Pepran, you can go with the captain."

The rest of us stood up and exited the chambers, the king right behind us. I do not know where he went, and felt it inappropriate to ask but I suspect he went to speak with his son. Queen Annabelle had passed years ago and Garus was the king's only son... his heir. Soon he would be king of a beat and frightened people, who would be desperate for leadership in their new land. I am sure this weighed heavily upon both Horus and the prince. Were Garus a lesser man I would have been worried, but the king had raised him well. I was confident he would grow into a revered and wise ruler, just as his father had.

I followed Captain Willem out of the keep and down into the city. Rastus did not speak much, had I just met him I would have thought he was angry at having to share my company but I know he had many other things on his mind. I certainly did.

The mood in the city was a somber one, it was quiet. People were out in the streets, but none spoke. They worked in an eerie silence as night fully enshrouded our home. Rastus lead me to a large barracks. Soft whispers blew through the inside of the building but stopped as hundreds of eyes focused directly on us as we entered the soldier's gathering hall. Then Willem spoke, his rough voice resounded throughout the long building.

"We are to aid those fleeing the city in whatever means we can. Taggart, take half of the men and head to the north side of the city, I will take the rest to the south end."

A plain looking, tall man who looked to be slightly older than me stepped forward and nodded. "At once, Captain" he said and ran off to go start collecting the men.

It took only a few minutes for Willem to have the entire unit ready to go. Taggart took half into the northern section of the city and I accompanied the rest to the south with the captain. We worked throughout the night, moving through the streets helping all those who needed it. It was both physically and emotionally exhausting work, and there were many teary thank you's.

I also learned many interesting things about the Captain that night from some of his men. Very few of them were good and I will not repeat them, but suffice it to say he was not as popular or respected by the men as his predecessor had been. I had no reason to dislike him though.

Despite how tiring it was, the night seemed to slip away quickly. A nervous anticipation fell over the city of Targonor as the remaining citizens frantically rushed to finish packing whatever possessions they could into their carts and wagons.

Just before sunrise, Captain Willem ordered us to start moving the people still packing towards the gates of the city. Many were not finished, and had to be dragged away from their homes. It was not easy work and was done in a grim silence.

As the sun began to peak over the horizon all those who remained in the city had gathered at the eastern gates. One of the Red Blades told me the king was to speak before they left. Shortly after, a brief commotion in the crowd signaled his arrival as he was spotted climbing the stone steps to the top of the eastern gate.

He was again dressed in the regal looking armor he had spoke in the day before. His sword was slung across his back and his crown caught the first rays of light that were beginning to stream into the city, reflecting them brightly into the crowd. Commander Askalon and Prince Garus followed him closely. I looked over to Captain Willem, who stood near me. He watched the three ascend the steps intensely, through his deeply bloodshot eyes.

The crowd quieted as the king reached the top of the gate where all could see him. Garus and Askalon stood in their usual places, flanking the king. He waited for a moment, and then began to speak.

"Yesterday I asked much of you. I asked you leave your homes and start anew, and I asked you to be ready by sunrise today... and you were. Even now, in our most desperate hour you continue to make me proud.

"It has truly been an honor greater than I could ever say, to be your king for all these years. But now, you go to rebuild in the north. You will have new homes, a new city, new families... a new life. A safer life. And to lead you to it, you will have a new king. My son and my heir, Prince Garus Targonor-Furth will lead you to your new lives.

"You will face many obstacles and countless challenges, but you will prevail. Because you will wield all the glory that is Targonor. The dead may raze our city, but they will never kill our spirit. It journeys with you to the north and it is there in the rocky cliffs that you will build a new Targonor.

"So now I bid you one last farewell. For every passing breath, the dead come closer. You will need all the time you can get, so I ask you now to go. To follow your new king north and restore the spirit of Targonor, so that it may grow and thrive where not even the dead can touch it. Go now, and may the gods quicken your steps."

When the king was finished speaking he turned to his son. Slowly, he removed the crown from his head and deliberately, so that all could see place it on Garus. Horus placed a large, mailed hand on his son's shoulder and gave him a sad look. He said something then, but I was too far away to hear. The two then embraced tightly until Horus backed away. Garus, the king, slowly turned and descended the long stone steps to the gates.

Part 17Edit

After the remaining citizens had left the city Commander Askalon broke what was left, about a thousand men - some trained military, many not -- into groups and put us to work. We made preparations non-stop for the next two days. I don't think I had more than an hour of sleep the entire time, strangely though I did not tire.

It was odd seeing the city I had grown up in abandoned. It was not just that it was quiet, but that it was a still silence. No merchants hawked their wares from the street side and no children ran playing through the alleys. I had never seen my home this way before... and it was unsettling.

Further unsettling still though, was the constant presence of the dead. We could not see them, but we knew they were coming closer. The field fires had created large, dark billows of smoke. Many times the wind picked up and sent waves of ash crashing through the city. The day sky was beginning to darken around Targonor and it provided us some small measure of comfort knowing that the fires were burning well, the orange glow from their flames barely visible through the thick smoke.

I worked under Captain Willem, he and the Red Blades were among the few of the trained military left in the city and we constructed and placed several ballistae and catapults. We then tested them and set discreet markers in the fields outside the city so we would know when the dead entered our range.

Others were put to work digging pits outside the walls, reinforcing the southern gates, mixing pitch, destroying the stairs inside the larger buildings and constructing makeshift ramps from roof to roof. The plan was to stay on the rooftops once the dead breached the city walls and stall them with small ambushes.

King Targonor, Commander Askalon and Captain Willem would all lead separate forces based on the roofs that would attempt to split the dead's ranks and coral them each into separate sections of the city. The plan was well thought out for such short notice, and I was somewhat surprised to hear that it had been Willem who had come up with it.

It was late afternoon on the third day when the first was spotted. It was one at the beginning. It staggered rigidly out of the brush into the fields surrounding the city. Soon though, many, many more began to appear, seemingly materializing out of the smoke.

A deep horn echoed through the city, alerting all to the fallen army's presence. I rushed back to the barracks and donned the chain mail shirt and skullcap I had been given and grabbed my longsword. For the first time in the past three days the city seemed alive, men ran every direction desperately finishing the last of their preparations. From the barracks, I made my way back to the southern walls and onto the parapets.

A deep sinking feeling formed in my stomach when I gazed out over the wall. For as far as I could see, both east and west, the dead emerged into the fields. They marched in no particular order towards us with a grim and unwavering determination that sent chills coursing through my body.

Soon, the bulk of our forces were lined up on the parapets. The king commanded the soldiers on the wall, while Askalon was in charge of the catapults back on the city ground. Willem and the Red Blades manned the ballistae. Even with the thick smoke billowing in from the north, we could see a goodly ways across the fields. While they were visible, the dead were still out of our range, so we waited.

With each passing second my dread grew as their numbers swelled. They began to funnel together, into a large, loose group that lurched steadily towards our gates. I could begin to make out their twisted and rotting features. I had heard the dead described many times, but no words could quite prepare me for their ghastly appearance.

I heard Askalon bark an order from behind me. There was a great groaning of wood and a massive stone whizzed by far over my head. It sailed over me in a long, sweeping arc and crashed into a small group of the fallen, rolling several times before coming to a stop. Two were obliterated instantly, crushed into the dirt by the heavy boulder. Several others were tossed aside or pinned to the ground.

"I'd say that puts them just about in our range," Horus bellowed from atop the wall, "Fire away, Commander."

With that, a barrage of boulders was sent careening over the city's walls. The dead made no attempt to avoid the impacts and several direct hits were scored. Dozens of the attackers were flattened into the ground as the giant rocks rolled through their lines. The enemy ranks quickly filled again though as still more of the dead poured into the fields.

"Captain Willem," the king called out, "your turn."

Willem shouted an order and the Red Blades fired off a volley from their ballistae. The massive bolts rained down upon the dead, skewering many into the ground or other attackers. Another round from the catapults followed, the boulders again rolled through the enemy lines crushing all that lay in their path.

The alternating barrages continued for some time as the sun set over Targonor. Soon it was dark, torches lit the city but the smoke from the fires to the north had created a dark cloud over the surrounding area, obscuring any moonlight. The dead were packing in around the southern walls. They were now no more than a few hundred paces from the gates. Captain Willem and Commander Askalon joined the king on the parapets. I was barely within earshot.

"If there weren't so many of them this might actually be going well," Horus observed grimly.

Askalon nodded in agreement. "They don't seem to care how many casualties they suffer. I don't know how many we have killed, I don't know if they can be killed, but we've at the very least we have de-habilitated hundreds."

"That isn't bad for an afternoon's work," the king replied. "I suppose they'll try to surround us now."

"We could slow them considerably if we had some light," Captain Willem observed dryly.

"Now is as good a time as any," Askalon added.

Horus grinned. "Very well, why don't we light things up a bit?" He turned. "Archers," the king commanded, "ready your bows!"

A long line of small flames ignited along the top of the parapets as several scores of bowmen lit the ends of their arrows.

"Ready!" the king shouted as the archers drew back their bowstrings. Horus looked back to the commander and Willem. "Is it wrong that I am having a tremendous amount of fun?" he asked.

"Absolutely not," Askalon answered with a perfectly straight face.

The king nodded. "Good," he said. "Fire!"

Brilliant streaks of flame darted through the air as the burning arrows descended upon the horde below. The dead, however, were not the targets. We already knew arrows were of little use against them. The oil we'd soaked portions of the field with earlier, however, took to the flames quite nicely.

It had been spread across moderate sized patches of the ground a few dozen paces apart around the entire southern perimeter of the walls. Stacks of timber had been placed in the patches to ensure the fires would burn through the night.

The grounds before Targonor's gates were lit brightly as almost instantly hundreds of the dead were consumed by fire. Many staggered from the blaze, flames crawling over their bodies, only to collapse a short distance later. But to my horror, even more seemed to shrug off the effects of the fire, even as it slowly burned through what remained of their rotting skin.

The fire did succeed in providing us with illumination though. We could see our enemies clearly now. Portions of the horde seemed to be breaking off to the east and the west - surely to surround the city. What remained surged forward away from the flames towards the southern walls. All the while, the horde's numbers grew as more continued to lurch into the fields from the surrounding area. For as far as I could see in all directions, staggering heads bobbed up and down in the tall grass as they worked their way towards the city, all in a nearly perfect silence.

The stench was nearly unbearable. I tried to breathe through my mouth but it seemed I could even taste the smell of burning flesh. I saw several men around me gag or begin to vomit.

Captain Willem stood stone-like on the walls, gazing out at the attackers. "Who is leading them?" he asked aloud.

Askalon peered over the edge and scanned the area. "You're right," he said, "they're splitting to surround the city but I don't see anyone directing them."

"Whoever is commanding must be staying beyond our sight," Horus observed. "Nevertheless, they are splitting. Commander, take the east gate, Willem take the west. The fires should keep them away from the north gate, they were almost at the walls last I heard."

Rastus and Askalon both nodded and rushed off the gather their respective troops. Captain Willem led the Red Blades to the west gate to Askalon took a contingent of men to the east. I was told to stay at the southern walls with the king, and took over for one of the commander's men helping to load the catapults.

For the rest of the night I worked in shifts, pushing the heavy slabs of stone into the massive basket. Occasionally we would instead load it with a barrel of oil. After launching them I could sometimes see the tips of flames leaping from over the wall and judging from the reactions of the archers on the parapets, it was easy to tell when a good hit was scored.

We continued to bombard them for the remainder of the night, they tried futilely several times to gain entrance to the city with grotesque battering rams but each attempt was thwarted as boiling pitch was dumped over the walls onto those below. As the sun rose a new unit was brought into take our place and we were told to try to go get some sleep in a nearby building. I was exhausted, but ventured up to the top of the walls before taking my leave. The early morning sun shone through the smoke, illuminating the battlefield with a hazy glow.

The fires were still burning strongly, though the dead simply maneuvered between them now. The ground was littered with charred or crushed remains, whether their former owners were up and walking somewhere in the horde, I did not know. The dead themselves now surrounded the walls completely. Their numbers were astounding. The fields below were a literal sea of bodies but I was pleased to see they had not made much progress on the walls over the course of the night. And while that fact should have comforted me I was instead worried. They had seemingly taken whatever lay in their path with ease up to this point... surely a wall wouldn't be able to stop them.

After a few minutes, I headed back down to the empty building with the rest of my loading team and tried to get some rest. It was impossible to sleep, even in my state of exhaustion the sounds of the catapults continually launching, or the ballistae firing their giant wooden bolts kept my eyes open and the gnawing presence of the dead just outside our gates kept my mind alert. Finally though, I was able to drift off.

I awoke a time later to a loud crashing sound. Men were shouting outside. I sat up quickly and looked around. Many of the other men were waking up and gazing around with the same look of confusion as me. Then we heard the sound again, we collectively jumped to our feet and raced towards the door.

Part 18Edit

"The Red Blades have withdrawn from the west gate," he shouted back over the street. "We are positioned on the rooftops and await your order."

"The eastern defenses are lost," Horus choked up a bit, "Askalon is dead. The east gate is wide open and the southern will not hold long undefended. My forces are largely in tact and in place. Stay off the streets and try to stay hidden."

"Is that all, my lord?"

"Captain Willem will know what to do, just instruct him to head towards the center of the city."

"I will, my lord." the soldier replied, "Be safe."

The king waved as the Red Blade turned and ran back over the makeshift ramps to the western end of the city. Horus breathed deeply. "I guess we had better get started then," he said.

"What would you have us do, my lord?" one of the men asked.

"Unfortunately there isn't much we can do other than bide our time. We will stay low on the roofs so as to remain undetected when the dead flood the city. Most of the stairs have been destroyed, save for a few warehouses such as this one. We will lure the dead inside, seal the entrance and then burn them. If we get separated, remember that any building with a pulley like that," he pointed to the device holding the cabinet above the door on the ground below, "has oil placed inside of it and can be burned. Break the barrels, spread the oil, then lure the dead in, lower the barricade in front of the door and then set the building ablaze. Use the ramps to move on to the next roof," the king finished, "just make sure to pull them in behind you."

I will admit I was skeptical when the king first told us of the plan, that was until I saw it work. Within a matter of hours, the city streets were completely overrun with the dead. They slowly staggered down alleys and into buildings. We lay flat on our roof, only occasionally peaking over the edge to see what was there. Finally, the king knelt up.

"Its time," he said.

A small group of men slipped back down into the building to spread the oil. Once they returned Horus waited a few moments, and then jumped to his feet. "Now" he yelled.

Instantly the rest of us were standing - the archers with their bows drawn and aimed. They began firing down upon the dead below. The streets were thick with them, and the sharp points of the arrows bit deeply into their rotting flesh. It did not take the dead long to surround the building and soon more began appearing out of alleys and side streets and making their way towards us.

The door to the warehouse was beaten down quickly and they poured inside. I could hear them beating on the walls beneath us, trying to find a way up. A soldier to my right stood over a torch, striking his sword with a small piece of flint. After a few tries, a spark caught the reeds and the torch began to burn.

More and more of the dead pushed their way into the entrance, until finally those outside could no longer enter. Horus pulled open the trapdoor leading down into the building.

"Quickly," he said, "drop it."

The king slammed the trapdoor shut as soon as the soldier had tossed the torch in. Horus then drew his sword from its sheath and sliced at the tightly bound rope on the pulley. It snapped easily and the large cabinet suspended over the warehouse's doorway plummeted towards the ground. With a sickening crunch, it crushed two of the dead beneath and settled directly in front of the door.

The king grinned at me. "You didn't think that would work," he said.

I struggled to find a response. But before I had time to worry too much about him reading me again I noticed smoke seeping out from the other side of the building. "Smoke!" I said, pointing at it frantically. So much for saving my dignity.

Horus nodded. "Let's get off this roof. It won't be long before it collapses entirely."

We carefully pushed the ramp over the alley to the next building and dashed across, pulling it in once again behind us. We repeated the process until our small group of soldiers was several buildings away.

Once we stopped, I stared back at the warehouse. Flames leapt from its windows and thick smoke poured out from every opening. Horus was right though, I couldn't believe that had actually worked. Over the next few hours, I began to notice more and more similar fires off in other directions. The other groups were lighting their own buildings, and I suspected the Red Blades were doing much the same several blocks to the west.

For the remainder of the day, and long into the night we repeated the process, filling and then burning a handful more buildings. The dead knew where we were, they simply could not reach us. We traveled in small groups that could move quickly. Several times dead had managed to find their way onto the rooftops, but we either just avoided them entirely or pushed them back down if they numbered small enough.

It was nearing morning when they brought the catapults into the city streets. I had been fortunate enough to have been able to sleep for a few hours during the night and was now on watch with several other soldiers.

It was very dark, the only source of light being the heavily obscured fires that still raged on to the north. I could not see the dead on the streets below very well, but I knew they were there. I could hear them shuffling about the base of the building.

In the distance, I heard a deep grating. As if something very heavy were being dragged along the stone roads. Then, down the street a ways, just within my vision, I saw a bright glow. It was a flame. Frantic shouts echoed through the streets as it suddenly jerked back, and then shot out towards a building. It exploded into its target and disappeared with a deep rumble. I rushed to wake the others as I began to hear more crashes off in other directions.

In only a few moments, we had woken the rest of our group. They were groggy and still very tired but became alert quickly.

"We need to move," Horus stated, "If they're firing on other groups we have to assume that they will be firing upon us too. We're lucky we made it farther into the city than most yesterday."

"Which direction?" one of the soldiers asked, "Keep heading inward?"

The king nodded. "Yes," he said as another loud crash sounded out in the darkness. "Hopefully we'll be able to meet some of Willem's men near the center of the city. We need to move now though, that last one was much closer. Did anyone see it?"

"No, my lord." I answered, "But I think it came from the other side of the block and down a few buildings. It was very close."

Horus briefly peeked over the edge of the roof. "We can't risk torches, but we won't be able to go far or very fast without light," he observed. "We had better go now."

And we did. For the rest of the night we quietly slid our ramp over alleys or walkways and slipped across as silently as possible. We had not gone very far when a bright flame flared up near the building we'd been resting on and then smashed into the wall. The entire ground beneath us seemed to shake as the roof was brought down, collapsing inwards. I exhaled nervously and looked to the king.

"The joke is on them," he said, flashing a quick grin. "That building was going to be torn down anyway."

The morning came much too fast for my liking, and our progress slowed substantially. There still wasn't very much light penetrating the thick clouds of smoke that hovered over the city, but even in the dim glow of the rising sun we had to be much more careful when we moved.

The dead continued to demolish the city around us. Their attacks during the night had been devastating, dozens of buildings lay in complete ruin and our already meager forces had sustained heavy losses. We saw only one other group of soldiers hiding on the roofs that day, and they were too far away to communicate with.

By midday, the decision had been made to stay put until nightfall, when it was safer to move about again. To be completely honest, I don't know if the dark even affected the dead at all, it did give us a small amount of comfort though.

We decided to stop on one of the marked buildings. Something had caused the rope holding a heavy stack of wooden boards above the door to snap though, so as a trap the building was useless to us but it was nice to know that no dead could gain entrance to the ground level without first taking care of the barricade.

We were nearly to the meeting point, but there were no sign of Captain Willem or the Red Blades. Horus insisted that they'd meet us the following day but I don't think many of us really believed it.

The truth was that we were in our sixth day of battle. We had fought for nearly a week. Emotions had been high before, and there had not been much time to stop and think. While lying down on the rooftops in complete silence waiting for nightfall, there was not much to do other than think. For me, and most of the mere two score of men who remained with us, that fact began to sink in along with a realization of what would come next. We had all known it would happen, but before there had been that slim glimmer of hope that maybe, maybe we would win. But with the dead now thick among the streets our fates seemed inescapable, and though no one spoke of it, a cloak of sorrowful dread had fallen over us.

Horus knew it. He tried to keep our spirits up, making sardonic observations with that wry grin. He felt it too though, and there was nothing he could do about it.

It was nearly dusk when we heard movement from inside the building. It was faint at first, it sounded as if something had bumped the ceiling directly below us. The noise caused many of us to jump, startled. The king gestured for us to remain quiet and drew his sword, we all followed suit.

Then we heard it again, it was definitely directly beneath us. A small tuft of ash sat slightly displaced near the center of the roof. The coating was inches thick by now and a moderate sized crease had formed in it.

"Trapdoor," Horus said quietly.

I tensed as another bump deepened the crease in the ash. We all stood in silence, swords drawn and bows aimed. A short burst of wind caught a dense plume of falling ash and sent it cascading through our ranks.

Whatever came through that door was not going anywhere without a fight. My mind raced as I tried to think of a way the dead could have entered the building without us noticing. The back door had been boarded up and sealed before the evacuation and the front had been blocked for as long as we had been there. A shiver coursed through my body as I realized that the barricade was not meant to keep more dead out, but to keep whatever was beneath us in.

Another strike thumped the door from below, this one more forceful. We waited. A series of short blows followed, as if it were being rattled from beneath. After a moment, it stopped abruptly and for several long seconds there was nothing. I held my breath and leaned in closer, trying to make out any movement in the dying light.

Suddenly, the wooden bolt lock splintered cleanly in half as the door was jolted open from a tremendous blast below. The trapdoor snapped back against the roof and thumped forcefully into the ash.

It was dark inside. I strained to see anything. Then I heard a curse. The dead had never cursed before. A mailed gauntlet emerged from the darkness, followed shortly by another. I watched as a large, haggard looking man in full mail armor with a heavy sword strapped across his back pulled himself onto the roof. I finally let out my breath, relieved. I could not completely make out his face, but I knew to whom it belonged. It was Captain Willem.

"Rastus!" Horus exclaimed in a hushed tone as he rushed to help pull the captain through the door. With the king's help, Willem squeezed through the trap door and collapsed back onto the roof. He did not look very well, even for Rastus. Tattered mail hung loosely around several deep cuts across his torso.

"Are you all right?" The king asked quickly, "What happened?"

"I'm fine." Rastus held up a hand. "My men..."

"Your men?" Horus replied, "What about them? Where are they?"

Just then, another set of hands appeared in the door. I looked down to see a dirty, blood streaked face squinting back up at me. It was the tall man I'd met the final night of the evacuations. I helped him up through the opening. In total, six of the Red Blades were with Willem. They were all in better shape than the captain, but not by a very wide margin.

We tended to their wounds the best we could. Unfortunately, there was not much we could do other than bind them tightly with small rags.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Horus asked the captain again, eyeing the large gashes across his chest.

Willem grunted. "They look worse than they are."

The king did not look convinced, but he let it drop. "So what happened to you? Where are the rest of your men?"

"These are the rest of my men," Willem said sourly. "They surrounded our building with catapults during the night. We got across to the next roof over but they just blew that one up too."

"But how did you get here?"

"Well after our roof collapsed, there weren't many places to go but down." He sighed, "We lost most of the men then. They fought well though, they fought very well." Rastus pointed to the tall man, "Edonus saw a hole in the rubble and we rallied around it, thinking it would be an easier position to defend..." Before he could finish, Willem erupted into a fit of coughing, specs of blood dripped from his mouth.

"Turns out it was an entrance to the aqueducts," Edonus cut in quickly, finishing for the captain. "We scouted around a bit, and the dead don't have much of a presence down there."

"Well that is a bit ironic." Horus observed, "The rotting corpses don't like the sewers. There is an entrance to them below this building then, I presume?"

Edonus nodded. "Yes, my lord. And it gets better, it's pretty much a straight shot from here to the north wall. From there we could get to the old armory."

The king grinned, gaining enthusiasm. "Its back is against the city wall, and its own walls are the thickest in Targonor next to the keep. How close will the aqueducts get us?"

"The closest we could feasibly get out would be across the street, my lord."

Horus paused a moment, considering the options. "Well," he said finally. "I still like that better than just sitting here waiting for the catapults to come."

"We thought you might." Willem coughed. "How many men do you have?" the captain asked, peering around the roof.

"Forty-eight counting you seven," the king answered. "We saw a group down this street a ways this morning though. They looked to have another two scores, at least."

"I know the group you're talking about," Willem replied grimly. "They fell in the early evening. We watched from a sewer grate. There wasn't anything we could do."

The king gazed out over the streets and shook his head. "Damn them," he said quietly.

Within a matter of minutes, we were making our way down into the building. I dropped through the trapdoor onto a creaky wooden floor and looked about nervously, I could not see much.

"Don't worry, we cleared the building." Edonus said from behind me, sensing my discomfort, "There's nothing in here."

Captain Willem led the way back to the staircase. If his wounds were bothering him, he didn't show it. The stairs themselves had been destroyed. The building was almost completely bare, even the walls had been stripped of any furnishings. Only a few barrels of oil stood near what would have been the top step. Instead, a knotted rope was tied to the banister and dangled down to the ground floor.

"That must have been hard to do in the dark," Horus quipped, eyeing the rope.

"It took a while," Rastus replied dryly.

After we had all made our way to the main floor, Willem spoke up. "The only thing separating us from the dead right now is the front door, and a stack of wood," he whispered, "Sound also carries a long ways in the aqueducts. From here on out we must be as quiet as possible."

We nodded our heads in understanding.

"And stay close together once we are down there," he added, "it is very dark and we cannot afford to light torches. Step carefully."

We followed him silently to the back of the building, where an opened grate revealed a sturdy ladder leading down into the darkness. I waited my turn and then began to slowly descend, carefully locating each rung with my foot before setting down. I was blind here and it terrified me. Eventually, my foot hit solid ground. The sewers were dank and much cooler than the surface.

The tunnel was narrow, but widened considerably when it met with the main sewer. I clasped the shoulder of the Red Blade in front of me to keep myself with the group. The soldier behind me did the same.

Time seemed to drag on in the darkness, especially at our slow pace. I don't know for how long we walked. Several times the tunnel opened into a larger, wider room. I could not see the walls, but could feel them expanding outwards. It left me feeling exposed and uncomfortable. Unfortunately there wasn't anything I could do about it but stay quiet and keep going.

Once, we passed almost directly under a grating to the streets above. The sun had long since sank below the horizon, leaving the surface nearly as dark as the aqueducts. Nonetheless, we could hear the dead shuffling around over our heads, and prayed that they could not hear us as well.

After what seemed like hours, the walls opened into another wide room. We continued to trudge through as silently as possible, taking slow and deliberate steps in our boots and holding our weapons close to ensure they made no unwanted noise. The darkness was impenetrable, even having been in the sewers for a fair amount of time I could still not see past my nose. Suddenly, we stopped.

I stood perfectly still, afraid to breathe. Nobody said a word. There was silence. I wanted to ask why we'd stopped, my mind was certainly coming up with plenty of reasons why on its own and none of them were very pleasant. But I remained quiet. I wasn't going to be the one who broke the silence. Then I heard it.

Walking, it was close.

At first I thought it was just one of our men, but we were walking single-file and it was coming from our side. The steps were irregular. It scuffed and sounded as if whatever it was, was dragging its feet along the hard ground. A few paces ahead of me I heard a sword slowly slide from its sheath. I desperately wanted to do the same, but was petrified to make any sort of noise.

Instead, I waited. My chest burned, I needed to breathe. Carefully, I slowly exhaled and drew in a deep breath without so much as making a sound. The steps were coming closer. They couldn't be more than a dozen feet away, ahead and to my right. Then I felt a sharp tug from the soldier behind me, before he let go of my shoulder. There was a painful cry several feet behind me. Instantly I heard more swords being drawn, quickly this time though and suddenly there was movement all around me.

"Taggart" I heard Willem's voice bark out sharply, "We need light."

There was a faint spark somewhere in front of me.

"I'm trying." I heard Edonus reply.

There were several more screams, much louder this time. I could hear the unmistakable sounds of a blade tearing into flesh. I frantically spun around, trying desperately to make out any movement. There was no one in my immediate range, yet all around me I heard the sounds of battle. Hands shaking, I drew my sword and held it guardedly in front of me, probing the darkness.

As I turned, it hit something. Before I could react my blade was slapped away violently, nearly out of my hands. I staggered back a step, falling down. I caught myself at the last moment with my free hand. It gripped tightly onto the gritty, cold ground. As I pushed myself back up I felt a sharp wisp of air blow by over my head.

I leapt forward, lunging blindly into the darkness with my long sword. With a revolting sucking noise it plunged into something in front of me. I withdrew the blade immediately and chopped it downwards in the same direction. I again felt it sink into something.

"I got it!" Edonus exclaimed from somewhere behind me as a flickering light suddenly flooded the room.

I was staring directly into the rotting face of one of the dead. Its decaying body was littered with knots and sinewy strips of ligament hung string-like, from its frame. It wore ragged remnants of ring mail and clutched a small axe tightly in one of its lifeless hands. Its eyes were sunken deeply into its skull, and were glossed over with a pearly white. The creature's mouth had rotted away completely, exposing a grotesque jaw that seemed to be locked eternally into a twisted grin.

It had a gaping wound near the center of its torso, and my sword was embedded several inches deep into its neck, separating a good deal of the head from the body. It stared at me intensely, radiating hatred. Its bony fist began to rise, bringing the axe up with it. Instinctively, I pulled my sword from its neck and summoned forth every bit of strength I had to bring my blade down upon the creature again.

My long sword ripped through what little remained of the neck and removed a sizeable portion of the shoulder as its head casually twisted, then rolled down off its back. In a stunned disbelief, I quickly stepped out of the way as the rest of the body toppled forward onto the ground.

I whirled around. The room was thick with the dead. At least a dozen of our men had already fallen, and lay still on the cold ground. With the light, it became plainly evident that we were outnumbered, the dead funneled in from two small side tunnels faster than we could cut them down. All around me, our men fought fiercely.

Then the light suddenly dimmed, I looked back towards Edonus. He had dropped the torch and had a stunned look on his face. He stared down wide-eyed at the blade protruding from his chest and fell to his knees, one of the dead stood behind him menacingly. Immediately, Willem was there. With his large sword, he tore into the creature savagely, lobbing off both its head and an arm before it crumbled to the ground.

"We can't win this." Horus shouted, "We must find a way out."

I scanned the room. It was large and had four exits, one on each wall. The two smaller tunnels on the sides we both clogged with the dead and going back the way we came wasn't really an option. That only left us with one choice.

I dashed to where Edonus had fallen and picked up the torch. I pointed it towards the hallway leading to the north.

"We've got to go this way." I called out as I felt something jab painfully into my leg. I looked down to see one of the dead on the ground. It had been severed in two at the abdomen and was dragging itself towards me. Its frigid hand gripped my lower leg tightly, squeezing with a surprising strength. I jerked my leg backwards, but was unable to break its hold.

Another appeared to my right. It lurched towards me in a deathly silence. I waved my sword at it, trying to keep it at bay, but it had no effect. It drew closer as the other slowly pulled itself onto me, reaching upwards towards my throat. Then I heard Horus' voice.

"You can't kill Pepran," he said matter-of-factly, as a sword blade suddenly split the dead latched onto me's skull into two from behind, "He's got the torch."

The creature wilted off me and back onto the ground. The king flashed me a quick grin, and then turned his attention towards the dead to my right. In a few slices, he had separated the fiend from its head. He kicked the body backwards as it fell away into the darkness.

Horus looked back to me. "Quickly," he said, "go."

Without hesitation, I took off towards the northern tunnel, jumping over the corpses of both the dead and our soldiers alike. A small number of our men were already at the entrance, they were in formation around Willem and fought back any of the dead who attempted to get past. They parted briefly and I rushed through them, with a few other men directly behind me.

I turned to see the dead tightening their grip on the room. Only a few soldiers remained separated from our group and they were falling quickly. A wave of the dead surged forward out of the side tunnels. They spilled into the room, forcing any remaining combatants towards the center. Willem and the others struggled to keep them back.

I heard Horus curse loudly from somewhere in the fray. Two of the dead were suddenly sent sprawling into the wall as the king emerged from the crowd perhaps a dozen paces to our left, he was wounded. The dead were filling in around him quickly. He looked back at us and frowned.

"This is a bit of a mess," he shouted to us as he beat away several attacks.

The horde pressed in on us tightly, we were losing ground, slowly being forced back into the tunnel. The king was almost out of sight.

"My lord," Willem called out as the man next to him fell to one of the dead's attacks, "Hold on."

Horus' back hit the wall. He parried several blows, then I lost sight of him. I heard a scream and pushed forward into the line, swinging my sword wildly in front of me. I caught view of him again. A spear was lodged wickedly in his upper torso, a look of anguish spread across his face as he tried to pull it free while fighting off the attacks. With a violent jerk, he ripped it from his chest and plunged it into the skull of the nearest undead.

"Go," he roared. "Go now!"

Willem cursed loudly and barked an order. The soldiers began to fall back into the tunnel. A wave of sickening nausea swept through me. "We can't just leave him!" I yelled, trying to push forward.

Rastus turned, forcing me back and locked his gaze onto mine. "There's nothing we can do for him now. Don't be a fool. Run."

I stood there shaking, I wanted to cry.

"Run!" Willem said this time, there was a dangerous edge to his voice.

With a sinking dread in my stomach, I turned back into the tunnel and began to run. The soldiers broke off their combat and raced after me. The flickering torchlight danced along the walls as we left the dead, and Horus, trailing behind in the darkness.

Part 19Edit

"The Red Blades have withdrawn from the west gate," he shouted back over the street. "We are positioned on the rooftops and await your order."

"The eastern defenses are lost," Horus choked up a bit, "Askalon is dead. The east gate is wide open and the southern will not hold long undefended. My forces are largely in tact and in place. Stay off the streets and try to stay hidden."

"Is that all, my lord?"

"Captain Willem will know what to do, just instruct him to head towards the center of the city."

"I will, my lord." the soldier replied, "Be safe."

The king waved as the Red Blade turned and ran back over the makeshift ramps to the western end of the city. Horus breathed deeply. "I guess we had better get started then," he said.

"What would you have us do, my lord?" one of the men asked.

"Unfortunately there isn't much we can do other than bide our time. We will stay low on the roofs so as to remain undetected when the dead flood the city. Most of the stairs have been destroyed, save for a few warehouses such as this one. We will lure the dead inside, seal the entrance and then burn them. If we get separated, remember that any building with a pulley like that," he pointed to the device holding the cabinet above the door on the ground below, "has oil placed inside of it and can be burned. Break the barrels, spread the oil, then lure the dead in, lower the barricade in front of the door and then set the building ablaze. Use the ramps to move on to the next roof," the king finished, "just make sure to pull them in behind you."

I will admit I was skeptical when the king first told us of the plan, that was until I saw it work. Within a matter of hours, the city streets were completely overrun with the dead. They slowly staggered down alleys and into buildings. We lay flat on our roof, only occasionally peaking over the edge to see what was there. Finally, the king knelt up.

"Its time," he said.

A small group of men slipped back down into the building to spread the oil. Once they returned Horus waited a few moments, and then jumped to his feet. "Now" he yelled.

Instantly the rest of us were standing - the archers with their bows drawn and aimed. They began firing down upon the dead below. The streets were thick with them, and the sharp points of the arrows bit deeply into their rotting flesh. It did not take the dead long to surround the building and soon more began appearing out of alleys and side streets and making their way towards us.

The door to the warehouse was beaten down quickly and they poured inside. I could hear them beating on the walls beneath us, trying to find a way up. A soldier to my right stood over a torch, striking his sword with a small piece of flint. After a few tries, a spark caught the reeds and the torch began to burn.

More and more of the dead pushed their way into the entrance, until finally those outside could no longer enter. Horus pulled open the trapdoor leading down into the building.

"Quickly," he said, "drop it."

The king slammed the trapdoor shut as soon as the soldier had tossed the torch in. Horus then drew his sword from its sheath and sliced at the tightly bound rope on the pulley. It snapped easily and the large cabinet suspended over the warehouse's doorway plummeted towards the ground. With a sickening crunch, it crushed two of the dead beneath and settled directly in front of the door.

The king grinned at me. "You didn't think that would work," he said.

I struggled to find a response. But before I had time to worry too much about him reading me again I noticed smoke seeping out from the other side of the building. "Smoke!" I said, pointing at it frantically. So much for saving my dignity.

Horus nodded. "Let's get off this roof. It won't be long before it collapses entirely."

We carefully pushed the ramp over the alley to the next building and dashed across, pulling it in once again behind us. We repeated the process until our small group of soldiers was several buildings away.

Once we stopped, I stared back at the warehouse. Flames leapt from its windows and thick smoke poured out from every opening. Horus was right though, I couldn't believe that had actually worked. Over the next few hours, I began to notice more and more similar fires off in other directions. The other groups were lighting their own buildings, and I suspected the Red Blades were doing much the same several blocks to the west.

For the remainder of the day, and long into the night we repeated the process, filling and then burning a handful more buildings. The dead knew where we were, they simply could not reach us. We traveled in small groups that could move quickly. Several times dead had managed to find their way onto the rooftops, but we either just avoided them entirely or pushed them back down if they numbered small enough.

It was nearing morning when they brought the catapults into the city streets. I had been fortunate enough to have been able to sleep for a few hours during the night and was now on watch with several other soldiers.

It was very dark, the only source of light being the heavily obscured fires that still raged on to the north. I could not see the dead on the streets below very well, but I knew they were there. I could hear them shuffling about the base of the building.

In the distance, I heard a deep grating. As if something very heavy were being dragged along the stone roads. Then, down the street a ways, just within my vision, I saw a bright glow. It was a flame. Frantic shouts echoed through the streets as it suddenly jerked back, and then shot out towards a building. It exploded into its target and disappeared with a deep rumble. I rushed to wake the others as I began to hear more crashes off in other directions.

In only a few moments, we had woken the rest of our group. They were groggy and still very tired but became alert quickly.

"We need to move," Horus stated, "If they're firing on other groups we have to assume that they will be firing upon us too. We're lucky we made it farther into the city than most yesterday."

"Which direction?" one of the soldiers asked, "Keep heading inward?"

The king nodded. "Yes," he said as another loud crash sounded out in the darkness. "Hopefully we'll be able to meet some of Willem's men near the center of the city. We need to move now though, that last one was much closer. Did anyone see it?"

"No, my lord." I answered, "But I think it came from the other side of the block and down a few buildings. It was very close."

Horus briefly peeked over the edge of the roof. "We can't risk torches, but we won't be able to go far or very fast without light," he observed. "We had better go now."

And we did. For the rest of the night we quietly slid our ramp over alleys or walkways and slipped across as silently as possible. We had not gone very far when a bright flame flared up near the building we'd been resting on and then smashed into the wall. The entire ground beneath us seemed to shake as the roof was brought down, collapsing inwards. I exhaled nervously and looked to the king.

"The joke is on them," he said, flashing a quick grin. "That building was going to be torn down anyway."

The morning came much too fast for my liking, and our progress slowed substantially. There still wasn't very much light penetrating the thick clouds of smoke that hovered over the city, but even in the dim glow of the rising sun we had to be much more careful when we moved.

The dead continued to demolish the city around us. Their attacks during the night had been devastating, dozens of buildings lay in complete ruin and our already meager forces had sustained heavy losses. We saw only one other group of soldiers hiding on the roofs that day, and they were too far away to communicate with.

By midday, the decision had been made to stay put until nightfall, when it was safer to move about again. To be completely honest, I don't know if the dark even affected the dead at all, it did give us a small amount of comfort though.

We decided to stop on one of the marked buildings. Something had caused the rope holding a heavy stack of wooden boards above the door to snap though, so as a trap the building was useless to us but it was nice to know that no dead could gain entrance to the ground level without first taking care of the barricade.

We were nearly to the meeting point, but there were no sign of Captain Willem or the Red Blades. Horus insisted that they'd meet us the following day but I don't think many of us really believed it.

The truth was that we were in our sixth day of battle. We had fought for nearly a week. Emotions had been high before, and there had not been much time to stop and think. While lying down on the rooftops in complete silence waiting for nightfall, there was not much to do other than think. For me, and most of the mere two score of men who remained with us, that fact began to sink in along with a realization of what would come next. We had all known it would happen, but before there had been that slim glimmer of hope that maybe, maybe we would win. But with the dead now thick among the streets our fates seemed inescapable, and though no one spoke of it, a cloak of sorrowful dread had fallen over us.

Horus knew it. He tried to keep our spirits up, making sardonic observations with that wry grin. He felt it too though, and there was nothing he could do about it.

It was nearly dusk when we heard movement from inside the building. It was faint at first, it sounded as if something had bumped the ceiling directly below us. The noise caused many of us to jump, startled. The king gestured for us to remain quiet and drew his sword, we all followed suit.

Then we heard it again, it was definitely directly beneath us. A small tuft of ash sat slightly displaced near the center of the roof. The coating was inches thick by now and a moderate sized crease had formed in it.

"Trapdoor," Horus said quietly.

I tensed as another bump deepened the crease in the ash. We all stood in silence, swords drawn and bows aimed. A short burst of wind caught a dense plume of falling ash and sent it cascading through our ranks.

Whatever came through that door was not going anywhere without a fight. My mind raced as I tried to think of a way the dead could have entered the building without us noticing. The back door had been boarded up and sealed before the evacuation and the front had been blocked for as long as we had been there. A shiver coursed through my body as I realized that the barricade was not meant to keep more dead out, but to keep whatever was beneath us in.

Another strike thumped the door from below, this one more forceful. We waited. A series of short blows followed, as if it were being rattled from beneath. After a moment, it stopped abruptly and for several long seconds there was nothing. I held my breath and leaned in closer, trying to make out any movement in the dying light.

Suddenly, the wooden bolt lock splintered cleanly in half as the door was jolted open from a tremendous blast below. The trapdoor snapped back against the roof and thumped forcefully into the ash.

It was dark inside. I strained to see anything. Then I heard a curse. The dead had never cursed before. A mailed gauntlet emerged from the darkness, followed shortly by another. I watched as a large, haggard looking man in full mail armor with a heavy sword strapped across his back pulled himself onto the roof. I finally let out my breath, relieved. I could not completely make out his face, but I knew to whom it belonged. It was Captain Willem.

"Rastus!" Horus exclaimed in a hushed tone as he rushed to help pull the captain through the door. With the king's help, Willem squeezed through the trap door and collapsed back onto the roof. He did not look very well, even for Rastus. Tattered mail hung loosely around several deep cuts across his torso.

"Are you all right?" The king asked quickly, "What happened?"

"I'm fine." Rastus held up a hand. "My men..."

"Your men?" Horus replied, "What about them? Where are they?"

Just then, another set of hands appeared in the door. I looked down to see a dirty, blood streaked face squinting back up at me. It was the tall man I'd met the final night of the evacuations. I helped him up through the opening. In total, six of the Red Blades were with Willem. They were all in better shape than the captain, but not by a very wide margin.

We tended to their wounds the best we could. Unfortunately, there was not much we could do other than bind them tightly with small rags.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Horus asked the captain again, eyeing the large gashes across his chest.

Willem grunted. "They look worse than they are."

The king did not look convinced, but he let it drop. "So what happened to you? Where are the rest of your men?"

"These are the rest of my men," Willem said sourly. "They surrounded our building with catapults during the night. We got across to the next roof over but they just blew that one up too."

"But how did you get here?"

"Well after our roof collapsed, there weren't many places to go but down." He sighed, "We lost most of the men then. They fought well though, they fought very well." Rastus pointed to the tall man, "Edonus saw a hole in the rubble and we rallied around it, thinking it would be an easier position to defend..." Before he could finish, Willem erupted into a fit of coughing, specs of blood dripped from his mouth.

"Turns out it was an entrance to the aqueducts," Edonus cut in quickly, finishing for the captain. "We scouted around a bit, and the dead don't have much of a presence down there."

"Well that is a bit ironic." Horus observed, "The rotting corpses don't like the sewers. There is an entrance to them below this building then, I presume?"

Edonus nodded. "Yes, my lord. And it gets better, it's pretty much a straight shot from here to the north wall. From there we could get to the old armory."

The king grinned, gaining enthusiasm. "Its back is against the city wall, and its own walls are the thickest in Targonor next to the keep. How close will the aqueducts get us?"

"The closest we could feasibly get out would be across the street, my lord."

Horus paused a moment, considering the options. "Well," he said finally. "I still like that better than just sitting here waiting for the catapults to come."

"We thought you might." Willem coughed. "How many men do you have?" the captain asked, peering around the roof.

"Forty-eight counting you seven," the king answered. "We saw a group down this street a ways this morning though. They looked to have another two scores, at least."

"I know the group you're talking about," Willem replied grimly. "They fell in the early evening. We watched from a sewer grate. There wasn't anything we could do."

The king gazed out over the streets and shook his head. "Damn them," he said quietly.

Within a matter of minutes, we were making our way down into the building. I dropped through the trapdoor onto a creaky wooden floor and looked about nervously, I could not see much.

"Don't worry, we cleared the building." Edonus said from behind me, sensing my discomfort, "There's nothing in here."

Captain Willem led the way back to the staircase. If his wounds were bothering him, he didn't show it. The stairs themselves had been destroyed. The building was almost completely bare, even the walls had been stripped of any furnishings. Only a few barrels of oil stood near what would have been the top step. Instead, a knotted rope was tied to the banister and dangled down to the ground floor.

"That must have been hard to do in the dark," Horus quipped, eyeing the rope.

"It took a while," Rastus replied dryly.

After we had all made our way to the main floor, Willem spoke up. "The only thing separating us from the dead right now is the front door, and a stack of wood," he whispered, "Sound also carries a long ways in the aqueducts. From here on out we must be as quiet as possible."

We nodded our heads in understanding.

"And stay close together once we are down there," he added, "it is very dark and we cannot afford to light torches. Step carefully."

We followed him silently to the back of the building, where an opened grate revealed a sturdy ladder leading down into the darkness. I waited my turn and then began to slowly descend, carefully locating each rung with my foot before setting down. I was blind here and it terrified me. Eventually, my foot hit solid ground. The sewers were dank and much cooler than the surface.

The tunnel was narrow, but widened considerably when it met with the main sewer. I clasped the shoulder of the Red Blade in front of me to keep myself with the group. The soldier behind me did the same.

Time seemed to drag on in the darkness, especially at our slow pace. I don't know for how long we walked. Several times the tunnel opened into a larger, wider room. I could not see the walls, but could feel them expanding outwards. It left me feeling exposed and uncomfortable. Unfortunately there wasn't anything I could do about it but stay quiet and keep going.

Once, we passed almost directly under a grating to the streets above. The sun had long since sank below the horizon, leaving the surface nearly as dark as the aqueducts. Nonetheless, we could hear the dead shuffling around over our heads, and prayed that they could not hear us as well.

After what seemed like hours, the walls opened into another wide room. We continued to trudge through as silently as possible, taking slow and deliberate steps in our boots and holding our weapons close to ensure they made no unwanted noise. The darkness was impenetrable, even having been in the sewers for a fair amount of time I could still not see past my nose. Suddenly, we stopped.

I stood perfectly still, afraid to breathe. Nobody said a word. There was silence. I wanted to ask why we'd stopped, my mind was certainly coming up with plenty of reasons why on its own and none of them were very pleasant. But I remained quiet. I wasn't going to be the one who broke the silence. Then I heard it.

Walking, it was close.

At first I thought it was just one of our men, but we were walking single-file and it was coming from our side. The steps were irregular. It scuffed and sounded as if whatever it was, was dragging its feet along the hard ground. A few paces ahead of me I heard a sword slowly slide from its sheath. I desperately wanted to do the same, but was petrified to make any sort of noise.

Instead, I waited. My chest burned, I needed to breathe. Carefully, I slowly exhaled and drew in a deep breath without so much as making a sound. The steps were coming closer. They couldn't be more than a dozen feet away, ahead and to my right. Then I felt a sharp tug from the soldier behind me, before he let go of my shoulder. There was a painful cry several feet behind me. Instantly I heard more swords being drawn, quickly this time though and suddenly there was movement all around me.

"Taggart" I heard Willem's voice bark out sharply, "We need light."

There was a faint spark somewhere in front of me.

"I'm trying." I heard Edonus reply.

There were several more screams, much louder this time. I could hear the unmistakable sounds of a blade tearing into flesh. I frantically spun around, trying desperately to make out any movement. There was no one in my immediate range, yet all around me I heard the sounds of battle. Hands shaking, I drew my sword and held it guardedly in front of me, probing the darkness.

As I turned, it hit something. Before I could react my blade was slapped away violently, nearly out of my hands. I staggered back a step, falling down. I caught myself at the last moment with my free hand. It gripped tightly onto the gritty, cold ground. As I pushed myself back up I felt a sharp wisp of air blow by over my head.

I leapt forward, lunging blindly into the darkness with my long sword. With a revolting sucking noise it plunged into something in front of me. I withdrew the blade immediately and chopped it downwards in the same direction. I again felt it sink into something.

"I got it!" Edonus exclaimed from somewhere behind me as a flickering light suddenly flooded the room.

I was staring directly into the rotting face of one of the dead. Its decaying body was littered with knots and sinewy strips of ligament hung string-like, from its frame. It wore ragged remnants of ring mail and clutched a small axe tightly in one of its lifeless hands. Its eyes were sunken deeply into its skull, and were glossed over with a pearly white. The creature's mouth had rotted away completely, exposing a grotesque jaw that seemed to be locked eternally into a twisted grin.

It had a gaping wound near the center of its torso, and my sword was embedded several inches deep into its neck, separating a good deal of the head from the body. It stared at me intensely, radiating hatred. Its bony fist began to rise, bringing the axe up with it. Instinctively, I pulled my sword from its neck and summoned forth every bit of strength I had to bring my blade down upon the creature again.

My long sword ripped through what little remained of the neck and removed a sizeable portion of the shoulder as its head casually twisted, then rolled down off its back. In a stunned disbelief, I quickly stepped out of the way as the rest of the body toppled forward onto the ground.

I whirled around. The room was thick with the dead. At least a dozen of our men had already fallen, and lay still on the cold ground. With the light, it became plainly evident that we were outnumbered, the dead funneled in from two small side tunnels faster than we could cut them down. All around me, our men fought fiercely.

Then the light suddenly dimmed, I looked back towards Edonus. He had dropped the torch and had a stunned look on his face. He stared down wide-eyed at the blade protruding from his chest and fell to his knees, one of the dead stood behind him menacingly. Immediately, Willem was there. With his large sword, he tore into the creature savagely, lobbing off both its head and an arm before it crumbled to the ground.

"We can't win this." Horus shouted, "We must find a way out."

I scanned the room. It was large and had four exits, one on each wall. The two smaller tunnels on the sides we both clogged with the dead and going back the way we came wasn't really an option. That only left us with one choice.

I dashed to where Edonus had fallen and picked up the torch. I pointed it towards the hallway leading to the north.

"We've got to go this way." I called out as I felt something jab painfully into my leg. I looked down to see one of the dead on the ground. It had been severed in two at the abdomen and was dragging itself towards me. Its frigid hand gripped my lower leg tightly, squeezing with a surprising strength. I jerked my leg backwards, but was unable to break its hold.

Another appeared to my right. It lurched towards me in a deathly silence. I waved my sword at it, trying to keep it at bay, but it had no effect. It drew closer as the other slowly pulled itself onto me, reaching upwards towards my throat. Then I heard Horus' voice.

"You can't kill Pepran," he said matter-of-factly, as a sword blade suddenly split the dead latched onto me's skull into two from behind, "He's got the torch."

The creature wilted off me and back onto the ground. The king flashed me a quick grin, and then turned his attention towards the dead to my right. In a few slices, he had separated the fiend from its head. He kicked the body backwards as it fell away into the darkness.

Horus looked back to me. "Quickly," he said, "go."

Without hesitation, I took off towards the northern tunnel, jumping over the corpses of both the dead and our soldiers alike. A small number of our men were already at the entrance, they were in formation around Willem and fought back any of the dead who attempted to get past. They parted briefly and I rushed through them, with a few other men directly behind me.

I turned to see the dead tightening their grip on the room. Only a few soldiers remained separated from our group and they were falling quickly. A wave of the dead surged forward out of the side tunnels. They spilled into the room, forcing any remaining combatants towards the center. Willem and the others struggled to keep them back.

I heard Horus curse loudly from somewhere in the fray. Two of the dead were suddenly sent sprawling into the wall as the king emerged from the crowd perhaps a dozen paces to our left, he was wounded. The dead were filling in around him quickly. He looked back at us and frowned.

"This is a bit of a mess," he shouted to us as he beat away several attacks.

The horde pressed in on us tightly, we were losing ground, slowly being forced back into the tunnel. The king was almost out of sight.

"My lord," Willem called out as the man next to him fell to one of the dead's attacks, "Hold on."

Horus' back hit the wall. He parried several blows, then I lost sight of him. I heard a scream and pushed forward into the line, swinging my sword wildly in front of me. I caught view of him again. A spear was lodged wickedly in his upper torso, a look of anguish spread across his face as he tried to pull it free while fighting off the attacks. With a violent jerk, he ripped it from his chest and plunged it into the skull of the nearest undead.

"Go," he roared. "Go now!"

Willem cursed loudly and barked an order. The soldiers began to fall back into the tunnel. A wave of sickening nausea swept through me. "We can't just leave him!" I yelled, trying to push forward.

Rastus turned, forcing me back and locked his gaze onto mine. "There's nothing we can do for him now. Don't be a fool. Run."

I stood there shaking, I wanted to cry.

"Run!" Willem said this time, there was a dangerous edge to his voice.

With a sinking dread in my stomach, I turned back into the tunnel and began to run. The soldiers broke off their combat and raced after me. The flickering torchlight danced along the walls as we left the dead, and Horus, trailing behind in the darkness.

Part 20Edit

I collapsed against the wall. Tears streamed down my face. The world around me was a haze, I couldn't think. I vaguely remember someone pulling me to my feet, and running again. I was aware of my feet pounding on the hard ground of the tunnel, but little else.

The next thing I can clearly recall is standing under a sewer grate. Willem was there, he looked up carefully into the street for a moment then back to us, shaking his head.

"It's too dark," he said in a raspy voice, "I don't hear anything, but that doesn't mean they aren't there."

I still clenched my sword tightly in my right fist. The torch was gone though. I looked around at our group. We were now only eleven strong. Just two of the Red Blades besides Captain Willem remained. Nearly everyone was injured and bleeding from somewhere or another, though no one complained.

"So what do you think?" one of the Red Blades asked.

"We don't really have much of a choice," Willem responded, "We can't stay here. Once we're on the surface, the armory is just across the street."

"What if there's dead inside?"

Willem grunted. "Then we'll make them more dead." The captain looked in my direction, "Are you all right?"

I nodded, attempting to regain my composure. "Yes," I replied, "I'm sorry-"

Rastus shook his head and cut me off. "It's fine. I've seen trained soldiers do worse. You wanted to save your king. You never need to be sorry for that."

The words were nice to hear, but I still felt like a fool. Willem squinted up at the grating. "Removing that is going to make a lot of noise," he observed, "So once we do it we've got to be quick. As soon as we are on the streets, we have to assume they will be after us. I've got the feeling we're all that's left."

I sheathed my sword as Captain Willem and the remaining Red Blades began to push on the grating. It screeched and moaned in protest, but eventually gave way and flopped out onto the street, landing noisily. Rastus frowned.

Without wasting any time, he jumped upwards and pulled himself up through the hole. Once we he was through we heard a startled exclamation followed by a sickening crunch. We all froze anxiously until Willem's head appeared over the opening.

"That was close," he said with a hint of a grin.

One by one, we all quickly made our way up onto the street. It was still very dark outside, but I could clearly make out the headless form of one of the dead lying in the ash-covered street. What was more disturbing though, was the fact that the entire area was littered with footprints. At the rate the ash rained down from the sky, they looked to be fairly fresh.

Once everyone was up, we darted silently across the street to the old armory. It was an old stone building that had been constructed directly into the northern walls of the city. It had three stories, and its roof sat level with the parapets. It served as little more than a guardhouse now, but for generations it had been the city's main armory, almost a keep in itself. The large front doors were made of a heavy wood, and darkened windows lined the building's sides.

Rastus reached the doors first and tried to open them, but they didn't budge.

"They're not locked," he said. The captain looked down at the ground before him. Piles of ash had blown up against the bottom of the door. In places, it must have been over two feet deep. "It's the ash," he remarked urgently, "clear the ash away from the door."

I cautiously looked over my shoulder as we rapidly pushed the piles of ash to the side. I couldn't see the dead through the darkness, but I knew that they were there and making their way towards us.

Finally, Rastus was able to jar the doors open and we rushed inside. The captain closed the door behind us and slid the heavy wooden slab into place, locking it securely.

"Who has the torch?" Willem asked in the darkness.

"I do," one of the soldiers answered.

"Light it."

"Of course, Captain."

After a few sparks the reeds once again caught, and we had light. We were in a large room, with vaulted ceilings. A staircase lead upwards to the right and a hallway lead off in another direction beneath it. Some simple wooden furniture was placed throughout the room.

"That door won't hold for long." Rastus said, "We need to find something else to reinforce it with. "If I remember correctly, there should be some tools in the back room." He started down the hallway and looked back over his shoulder. "Stay together."

We walked cautiously through the hall, weapons drawn, peeking into each room we came across. They were small offices and supply closets for the most part. Near the back of the building, the hallway opened up into a larger room with several sturdy looking worktables and benches. Willem poked around under one of the tables for a moment, before dragging a heavy looking wooden crate out from beneath it. He set it on top of one of the benches and opened the lid.

"Excellent," he said. He tilted the crate so that we could all see it. The wooden box was full of large metal nails and spikes. "I'm glad they didn't take all of them," he murmured.

We quickly secured the rest of the building, and for perhaps the next hour, we broke apart furniture, and after being able to locate a few hammers began to reinforce the door. We could already hear the dead gathering on the other side. They pounded loudly on the thick wood.

When we were finished, one of the soldiers looked back to Captain Willem. "Now what?" he questioned.

"Now we hold them off," Willem answered.

The soldier nodded in understanding. "Until what?" he asked solemnly.

"Until we can't."

For the rest of the night we took turns sleeping. None of us really wanted to, but Rastus insisted, saying that we would need all we could get. The truth was though, that I was exhausted. I hadn't eaten or slept in almost two days and once I lay down, even on the hard stone floor it did not take me long to fall asleep.

I was shaken awake a time later by a somber faced soldier. "You need to come look at this," he said to me.

I followed him to the roof. It was day now. Though with the smoke it was impossible to tell what time. Willem sat off against the parapets, brooding quietly. The other soldiers had gathered at the edge of the building. I walked up behind them. It was obvious what had their attention.

For as far as I could see, the streets were packed tightly with the dead. Their catapults were busy demolishing the city in the distance, working their way ever closer towards us. Fortunately, our door still held strong, though I could already see battering rams being rolled through the streets in our direction. I nearly threw up.

I backed away from the edge a few steps, and looked back to Willem. He appeared to be lost in thought. "Well," I said walking over towards him, "I guess they know we're here." I tried to force a weak grin, it didn't quite work.

"They'll be inside by nightfall," he said simply. The captain did not seem like he was in the mood to do much talking, so I sat down a few steps away quietly.

"What time is it?" I asked after a while.

"It will be dark in a few hours," he answered. Apparently, I had slept for a while. There was not much to do other than simply wait. There was no real equipment to be had in the armory, though a few barrels of oil had been discovered in one of the storerooms. They now sat in a row just beside the opening leading back down into the building. The ladder had long since been pulled out and now lay stretched across the far side of the roof.

So we sat quietly as night again descended upon us, each largely unmoving. I thought about my childhood. Memories of my family and playing in the buildings or alleys that were now teaming with the dead or lying in ruin raced through my head and many of the others' as well, I suspect. Shortly after the sun had fallen, the attack began.

At first it was just the rams, they pounded on our doors again and again -- with each strike, weakening our defense. But it did not take long for the catapults to join in. The first strike was lobbed high into the air and arced sharply before plummeting down onto the roof. It exploded into the stone with a fiery rage, crashing through into the next level, bringing a pile of smoldering stone down behind it. Three of our men were taken in the blast and another lay pinned below the heavy rubble beneath us. Down to seven.

Before the second had time to fire, we heard a loud splintering from the front of the building. The doors had been opened. A second ball of flame from the catapults exploded onto the corner of the roof, sending a shower of stone onto those down below. I braced myself against the parapets, waiting for the next strike.

Instead, I saw one of the dead begin to rise through the rubble below. It lurched up towards the roof. Carefully finding purchases in the stone, it pulled itself upwards. One of the soldiers charged towards it, sword drawn. As another ball of flame arced up above the building I tried to shout a warning, but it was too late.

It slammed into the stone just next to him, and in a violent spray of fire, both he and the undead creature were gone. More of the dead were beginning to reach the roof now, and yet another fiery boulder came flying up from the front of the building. It peaked and then crashed through the greatly weakened roof, taking three men with it. A large stab of stone was blown into one of the barrels of oil, spraying it everywhere.

It ignited almost instantly and a blaze of fire swept over us as a portion of the roof began to collapse. This was not going very well. Willem stood several feet to my side, and one of the Red Blades lay unmoving on the ground a ways in front of me. I did not know if he was unconscious or dead. Either way, the flames would soon consume him.

The captain struck out with his large sword ferociously as one of the dead neared him, cutting it neatly in half. Two more though quickly took its place and another crawled up through a hole to his side. I rushed up behind it and gripping my sword in both hands, swung at the back of its neck. It lurched forward and fell as my blade severed its spinal column. Willem had already dispatched the other two by the time I looked back up.

"Is it just us?" he shouted over the roar of the fire.

"I think so." I yelled back as he cut down another of the dead, removing it from a leg before kicking it back down into the fire.

Then another volley from the catapults came raining down upon us as two more blazing boulders crashed into the building, sending a sharp fragment of stone ripping painfully into Willem's thigh. He cursed furiously and threw his sword to the ground.

"That's it," he growled as he marched over to one of the barrels of oil and hoisted it over his head. He took off towards the front end of the building, narrowly avoiding an attack from one of the dead. I scrambled to where he'd been standing to pick up his sword. It was exceptionally heavy. I balanced it over my shoulder and ran after the captain.

Willem raced towards the edge of the roof, it looked as if he intended to jump off. I began to call out to him but he stopped short and instead hurled the barrel off into the street. As it sailed through the air towards one of the catapults being loaded below I realized what he was doing. I couldn't help but smile wickedly as the barrel exploded onto the catapult, the ball of flames in the basket instantly igniting the oil as it seeped over the machine's frame and onto many of the surrounding dead.

He looked back to me. "My sword," he called out. I tossed it to him, it clattered onto the ground at his feet and he snatched it up just in time to cut down a group of dead emerging onto the roof. "Mind your back," he roared at me.

I spun around in time to catch the very tip of a sword. It nicked into my abdomen painfully, etching a long narrow cut down my side. I cried out and lunged towards the rotting attacker, catching it in the throat with my blade. It jerked back as my sword followed through and I slid the blade through the remainder of its neck.

I turned back towards Willem, swinging my sword at one of the dead emerging before me. I could see Rastus over its shoulder, a large number of the dead were crowding in around him but it did little to slow his vicious assault. He swung his massive sword in broad strokes, sometimes shearing through two of the attackers in a single strike. The captain roared out savagely as one of their swords plunged into his back. He lurched forward as another cut deeply into his right arm.

Willem recovered quickly though and spun, cutting down both attackers. I ducked under a blow and struck out at the creature in front of me. I kept swinging until it toppled over. I could hardly see Rastus now, the dead had formed a wall around him and were pressing in tightly.

Suddenly, another of the fiery boulders sailed up above the building. It streaked high into the air and then began to plummet down towards us. I heard Willem cry out in a rage as an entire line of the dead before him crumpled to the ground in a heap. Seething, he cleaved through a half dozen more in mere seconds.

The ball of fire exploded into the building directly between Rastus and I. I vaguely remember seeing Willem and the crowd around him being blown back out over the edge of the building. Then I felt dizzy, as if I were falling and hit something hard.

When I awoke, it was to a crippling pain my left arm and chest. I drew in a deep breath, ash tumbled into my mouth and I shot up coughing violently. I was sitting waist deep sunk in ash in front of the northern gates. My arm was broken and my entire chest was a deep purple, pain coursed through my body when I moved.

The northern gates remain untouched and there was no sign of the dead near me though debris from the armory was scattered all about the area. I coughed, spitting out blood and looked up to the city walls. A large billow of smoke rose from just over the walls.

I propped myself up on my good arm and looked at the ground surrounding me. The fall should have killed me, had the soft ash not been plastered thickly onto the ground it no doubt would have. Weakly, I tested my legs. They were bruised but did not appear to be broken. Slowly, I brought myself to my feet. I took a small step and was hit with a wave of dizziness. When it passed, I noticed something metallic partially buried sticking out of the ash beside me.

With an audible groan, I leaned down, pulled my sword from ground, and looked to the north. The fires still burned and would for some time to come, deep black smoke rose into the sky, dropping ash back down onto all below as it slowly floated by.

We had needed to stay alive for three days. Commander Askalon, King Targonor and Captain Willem all died, to keep the dead occupied for three days, so that the rest of Targonor could escape. With barely a thousand men, we had given them a week.

I took one last glance back at the ruined city that had been home for my entire life, then took my first painful step north. I had a long way to go.

Willem's Stand Page 1

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