Saturday, January 2, 2016

Road to Zard Kuh (Part II)

Zalaz noted how Sorenan and Marcos divided the fighting men of Dacia between themselves and left a third group for him. Marcos motioned towards the right as Sorenan moved off towards the left. The column of the army of Dacia divided into three. Zalaz, realizing he was to take the center part of the wedge they formed, shook his head. A sound of thunder split the night as eerie light moved down the western flank of Zard Kuh. Zalaz took the spear handed to him by his lieutenant even as he made sure his sword was loose in its sheath.

"Forward!" Zalaz bellowed, "Give no quarter!" The fighting men of Dacia did as he ordered. As they rolled into the camp of Temna's weary, terrified troops, the men before them were all but crushed beneath their feet. Zalaz gave a silent prayer to Ashur that his sword-bearers lived through the night, knowing that Mina's grief would be more terrible than her anger. His half distracted consideration of the situation was abruptly dropped once he encountered an opponent that actually was organized enough to defend himself.

Zalaz's spear was abandoned somewhere behind him along his path through the campsite. He instead hewed his way forward with his sword. Now, the black haired man was facing an opponent with had more than his trousers in hand. The Temnian man swung an axe at Zalaz, who stepped back. The notched blade whistled past him. As Zalaz came forward to attempt to land a blow on his opponent's right side, the axe man reversed his swing. Zalaz stepped inside the man's swing, where the man's hands and the haft of the axe met struck the general's side. Zalaz elbowed his opponent in the face and pushed him off his stance with the force of the blow.

As the axe man staggered back, Zalaz made three swift strikes. The forearms of the axe wielding man spouted great a great gout of blood where the first of the blows landed across them. The second blow took his foe in the right side. The third came down on the man's right leg at the knee. The axe man dropped his weapon and fell to the ground. His screaming was silenced with Zalaz's sharp kick to the head. Another warrior of Temna came forward. As Zalaz engaged him, he felt the wild rush of battle madness strike him.

Somewhere between his cleaving the man's spear haft in two and Zalaz reaching a place where he could hear Sorenan singing a northern battle song, the general had acquired a slowly bleeding wound at his left temple and his right arm burned as though someone had thrust a fire heated blade into his bicep. Zalaz, however, had left all of the men who came against him dead. The battle madness lifted when Zalaz found himself at the center of the camp with an eerie calm all around him.

Though his wits felt thick and his body hurt, Zalaz looked around himself attempting to determine what changed. He felt more than saw the spear hurling towards him from the right. Despite his injuries and exhaustion, Zalaz managed to step back, shift his grip on his sword to his left hand, and catch the spear as it whisked past him. Zalaz turned and faced the man at his right that had thrown the spear. He didn't think. He didn't try to judge how far away the opponent was or guess where the running man was going. Zalaz simply rode the eerie calm that flooded through him. He threw the spear and took the fleeing man in the back. As he dropped to the ground, the general turned to see Sorenan stride into the zone of dead calm where he stood.

Sorenan's black leather armor gleamed in the light of the burning pavilions about them. "Althar is dead," Sorenan called to him. Zalaz nodded. They started to move towards the far side of the central circle of the encampment when a cold wind began to blow about them. Zalaz's gut told him that this battle was taking too long. The wind began to circle around them and the flames of the burning pavilions began to stretch higher up towards the dark sky.

"Omauranth's sons," Zalaz said, looking towards the right left where Marcos fought somewhere in the chaos, "One of them is a sorcerer," Zalaz said, "We must find them and kill all of them, to be sure." As Zalaz began to move towards the otherside of the encampment, the flames became a wall of fire before him. Zalaz stumbled backwards away from the roaring inferno that suddenly stood before him. As the two men looked around themselves, they realized that they stood within a column of flame.

Zalaz stooped to pick up one of the corpses to throw it into the flames and make a brief breach for them to pass through. Then the dead man's eyes blinked. Zalaz stepped back. The bodies of Temna's dead general and his senior commanded twitched on the ground before them. The calm that came of Ashur's touch for a moment was pushed back with unreasoning fear. Men who fell on the field of battle were supposed to remain dead. Especially if they had a limb or two hacked off. But the headless Temnian general still moved and groped about. When the grisly head was taken in hands and set upon the stump of the neck, eyes the color of witchfire opened and turned towards them.

The animated corpse opened its mouth and the two men watched in horror as the teeth lengthened and sharpened. The corpse of the other warrior took hold of its missing half of its lower leg and pulled it to meet the stump with its left hand before dragging the severed right arm to its shoulder. The second corpse also took on the same strange green flame colored gaze and its teeth changed as well. Rising from the ground, the creature reached for Zalaz. Zalaz's sword gleamed in the firelight and decapitated the commander, again. The body continued to shamble forward, hands grasping for Zalaz's neck.

Sorenan's sword came down and the hands dropped to the earth, scrabbling over the sand like some strange creature. After a time, the hands met the ankles of their previous owner and began to work their way up the body. The head gnashed its teeth and glared at Zalaz with a look of hatred so pure that it was clearly inhuman. Zalaz dropped his sword and took hold of the animated corpse. He threw it into the burning ring of fire about them. The body stumbled about, the clothes catching fire even as the hands made their way to the wrists.

The body of the general grasped Zalaz's fallen weapon and came at him. Zalaz gave a choking noise of pain as the sword cut through him. Sorenan knocked the dead man away from the general. Zalaz watched as the blond haired man known as the Lion of the North fought with the living dead. As Zalaz felt a terrible thirst and weariness fill him, he knew he was going to die. He thought of Yaeli, his beloved concubine, and prayed that Sorenan or Marcos would see to that she was cared for.

And then the hot breath of the desert at midday filled his nostrils. Zalaz looked about himself and discovered it was daylight and that he was alone in the white sands north of where the battle was taking place. He moved to sit up and groaned with pain at how his abdomen felt. A man stepped up to him, his face hidden in shadow as he knet beside Zalaz's head. He put a hand under Zalaz's head and lifted him up some.

Holding a vial of some liquid to Zalaz's mouth, the man ignored the question that Zalaz attempted to croak out of a mouth that was painfully dry. The liquid dripped from the vial and Zalaz felt as though fire burned through him as it slid down his throat. The wounded general screamed in pure agony but still, the liquid was poured in his mouth. A desert eagle hopped on the ground beside him. It's sharp beak pulled at his wound, only furthering Zalaz's anguish.

The man made a dismissive motion to the bird and it hopped away. He set a hand down on Zalaz's stomach and the wound knit itself closed. Zalaz stared up in the face of the man kneeling over him and his eyes opened wide in amazement. The one kneeling over him looked as though he was brother to Marcos and Sorenan. As the heat of the world cooled and everything began to change, the man rumbled, "Arise."

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