The City in Shadows
Part Four – Night Falls
Peregrine watched with guarded expressions as their former adversaries entered the mausoleum, leading their horses up the stairs and through a gap made in the barricade for them. Earlier, she had helped construct the barricades when the first ghouls had surprised them. Quick reflexes alone had put the ghouls down, preventing any being taken by them.
She did not trust Barazi, no matter his oaths, and watched him with a wary purpose. Her sword never left her hand, just in case he proved deceitful. Blade too seemed to share the same concerns.
“Is this wise?” he asked of Kharjii. Barazi and his men entered a side chamber off from the main entrance hall, taking their hoses with them, there to stable the mounts. “Once already has this man deceived us with tactics most underhand. That he would do so again, even in our current dire predicament, is a concern that we must take most seriously.”
Kharjii responded with a patient smile. “What you say may indeed be true, and it may be that later on he could decide to renege upon our arrangement, but for the now we need each other to survive this night. We shall keep our eyes on him, to be safe.”
Before more could be said, a warning cry came from those watching out over the courtyard from behind the makeshift barricade that they had made to fortify the entrance to the mausoleum. The ghouls were on the move, swarming forward through the long shadows, their chill wails echoing across the courtyard.
Peregrine and Blade, among the few of Kharjii’s men who had retained their weapons during the long, gruelling flight across the desert, reacted in a moment. They took position behind the barricade, making ready to repulse the attack. The first of Barazi’s men emerged from the room where they had stabled their horses, and in their hands they carried horsebows, while quivers of arrows were at their hips.
No sooner had they reached the barricade than arrows began to whip through the air, humming towards the ghouls as fast as they could be drawn and shot. The shafts slammed home, causing each ghoul hit to lose the momentum of their charge, yet these were not mortal foes so easily dealt with and, arrows or not, they continue forward with their disturbing cries rising into the dim of evening.
“Hraega’s Beard, but I do so dislike these accursed beasts,” snarled Peregrine, limbering up her sword arm. Her scimitar flashed like cold fire as it spun and swirled about.
As the first ghoul made it to the makeshift wall through the withering sleet of arrows, she leapt forward, scimitar gripped in both hands, and hewed at it with a formidable blow, driven by an iron arm and will. The fell strike cleaved it in twain, sending the parts of the body slumping to the ground. From it arose a foul miasma of wretched odours that cloyed at the nose and mouth of those nearby. More ghouls reached the wall behind the first, seeking to clamber over it and come to grips with the defenders.
Bows were cast aside and curved blades whispered free of scabbards to engage the foe. Peregrine stood at the centre of the defence, her feet set wide apart, an immovable object, her scimitar dancing as she sought to drive the ghouls back. Blade stood at her side, his slender rapier snaking forth to fend aside blows, but the piercing weapon had about as much effect upon the ghouls as the arrows had, unlike the cleaving blows that rained down from Peregrine’s scimitar, hewing the ghouls asunder.
Challenging shouts echoed through the entrance hall of the mausoleum as men who had been foes but earlier in the day now stood shoulder to shoulder, fighting alongside each other with a desperate ferocity. They hacked at hands and arms that reached over the stone barricade, or struck down upon ghoulish heads that appeared.
Despite their most valiant efforts, the ghouls came spilling over the barricade, climbing over the dismembered bodies of their fellows to broach the defences. They leapt full upon their victims with gnashing teeth and ripping claws. Men went down screaming as the creatures tore into their flesh, shredding it from their bodies.
They fought on, for there was naught else that they could do but fight. There could be no surrender to these creatures, no retreat and no place of safety from the ravenous monsters that assaulted them with relentless cravings. The clash raged on as the sun sunk beneath the horizon, plunging the city into deep gloom.
“We need light!” Peregrine yelled, even as she drove down a ghoul with a shoulder charge and hewed its head from its body with one tremendous strike.
Blade withdrew back out of the raging fight to a safe distance, sheathing his rapier. His hand darted to the small pouch that hung at his belt. When his fingers withdrew, they held a small amount of red powder. He dropped it into the open palm of his hand and then raised it up before his face. From his lips there issued forth a faint whistling tune, both light and piercing in nature. The dust on his hand reacted to the sound, beginning to swirl around and around upon his palm as if caught up by a breeze. Tighter and faster it span about until at last it collapsed in on itself into a tight packed ball from which began to glow a soft bronzed luminance. An orb of light emerged, rising to hover above Blade’s hand. He tossed it aloft, leaving it to float high in the entrance hall, to cast its light down over the hall and the steps beyond, illuminating the onrushing ghouls.
At the appearance of the light, the ghouls ceased their attacks, slinking away into the shadows again, yet still lurking close at hand, their eyes shining out of the gloom.
“They will be back,” Peregrine warned, taking the time granted by the respite to wipe down her scimitar and snatch a drink of water. “Let us see if we can’t find something that burns with which to make some proper fires.”
From behind them, deeper back into the mausoleum, a shout startled the darkness, followed by a hollow, echoing laughter, of a kind different to that of the ghouls, for in it was a malignant awareness that scraped across the raw nerves of the soul of all those that heard it. They spun about to spot, barely visible in the shadows, a number of men being dragged away, those that had been wounded during the fighting and had been carried back away from the entrance. They had been attacked from behind, and such was the severity of their wounds that they had little strength remaining with which to fight of their assailants.
“After them!” Peregrine yelled, leaping forward with no forethought as to whom or what had carried out the abductions, nor the dangers that might be before her. Hers were a people of action, not reflection, of deeds and not words. She could not stand by while others were in danger, not while strength remained and cold steel was to hand.
Blade followed after her, the glowing ball of light trailing him, and others too took up the pursuit, swept along by it, all those who were not already dead.
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