Part 5. The Broken Wagon
THE GREEN LIGHTNING EXPLODED wherever it struck, blasting Madam Spew and company tumbling to the muck. The horse and its rider tore off through, dragging the wrackolyte traitor behind, hooves thudding, fading off into darkness. Heavy smoke hung in asphyxiating tentacles, the stench of singed flesh and burnt wood penetrating, entwining, permeating the fetid swamp air.
“Izula…?” Madam Spew groaned, cracked an eye, puked off to the side. That was … impressive. The others groaned on the ground. Yet… No one had been hit. No one killed. No one even a little maimed. “Urgh…”
Something trudged off in the sizzling mist.
“Gimpy…?” Madam Spew sniffed, taking in the intoxicating aroma of residual dark magic. Of necromancy. Of raw power. “Izula…?”
The something unseen trudged closer. Thick, heavy footsteps.
“Izula!” Madam Spew clambered to her feet. “Donvannos! Mindel! Gimpy!” A thought struck her numb. They had not been the targets. “On your feet!” The lightning had struck what it was supposed to strike. It had struck everyone in the town. Everyone not living. “Run!”
A thick-bodied monstrosity trudged suddenly out from the smoke — a flensed troll, its musculature still sizzling, cracking with each movement. The rope round his neck was cooked into its flesh. Other figures approached from behind, shambling zombies stutter-shuffling through the muck and mist.
“The whole town…” Madam Spew stepped back in awe.
“Help…” Donvannos gasped from the ground. His leg was caught beneath a fallen corpse-pole. “M-My leg. Madam, please!”
Madam Spew shook off the awe. “Is it broken?” Because if it was…
The zombie-troll lurched their way, long taloned arms reaching.
“No… Rrrg… Just stuck,” Donvannos grunted. The muck underneath was soft and though Donvannos looked contorted, it was possible the leg was intact.
But if it wasn’t…
Izula raised her saw-sword again, stricken with gore, and stepped in the path of the zombie-troll.
THUD… THUD… THUD…
The zombie troll stomped loomed above Izula, the undead horde at its back.
“Back. Into the barn!” Madam Spew pointed up the hill. “It’s the only way!”
“Croak…?” Izula eyed back at Donvannos.
“Leave him!” Madam Spew commanded.
“Damn you, Spew!” Donvannos ripped a steak knife from its sheathe and placed it between his yellow teeth. He struggled, trying to free his leg, his mullet shivering like a spastic porcupine. But it was no use. The corpse-pole was too massive. “Izula, Kill me!” he begged. “Please.”
Izula flinched for a second then looked to Madam Spew.
“Damn you!” Madam Spew spat. “Go! I shall see to Donvannos. Get inside. Secure that door and be ready when we come. Do it!”
“Croaaaak…” Izula croaked, but she obeyed, ducking a swipe of the zombie-troll that would have split her in twain.
Mindel was already halfway up the hill.
“GLAAH…!” The zombie-troll loomed gigantic, the stench of undeath, the perfume of some cyanotic flower, preceding it.
Madam Spew gulped.
Donvannos tore open his collar and wrenched the steak knife from his teeth. “See you in Hades, Spew!” he growled, holding the knife to his own throat. He closed his eyes, tensing.
“Put the knife down, you fool.” Madam Spew didn’t even offer a sneer, she just pushed her sleeves back, cracked her knuckles, and stepped into the path of the zombie-troll. “And it’s Madam Spew.”
As the undead troll reached for her, Madam Spew raised her hands before her and grasped the zombie-troll’s head in effigy, “*@!THE CRAVEN LORD COMMANDS YOU!@* ”
A spasm wrenched the troll-zombie from head to toe — Madam Spew as well — a battle of wills ensuing. The other zombies closed in all the while, stumbling, clambering, clawing onward.
“*@!DAMN IT, I COMMAND YOU!@* ”
The air froze, cracking, fissuring, as the zombie-troll’s will crumbled and it succumbed to her.
Madam Spew pointed at the corpse-pole — “*@!LIFT!@*” — she croaked as she turned, stumbling up the hill for the barn.
“GLAAAH!” The massive troll-zombie grasped the corpse pole and lifted it slowly, inexorably, like some machine, until it was tipped higher than its head. “GLAH!”
“Ha!” Teeth gleaming like a wolf, Donvannos was on his feet sprinting the instant the weight lifted. He weaved up the hill through the closing snare of dead flesh. As the barn door closed, he dove through the barn door — smashing Madam Spew aside — the instant before it clogged open with the limbs and biting heads of the walking dead.
Izula fought to close the door. “Croak?!” She ducked as an arcane beam shot past her.
From within the recessed darkness, Mindel stood, his enraptured face illuminated by his glowing hands, the yellow sizzle of arcane powers. He opened his clenched fists and shot the yellow light at the zombie horde. The light seared into flesh, sizzling like cooked bacon but the door was still open. Chipped nails and crooked teeth bit and chewed and pulled ever closer through the jam-packed door.
Unconscious, Madam Spew lay upon the floor, blood seeping from the corners of her crimson eyes, mere inches from the reach of the zombies.
Izula stepped back, grunting as she hacked her massive saw-sword down into the tangled mass of arms and legs. The wall of the barn groaned, bowing inward under the press. Timbers sagged. Squealed. Shuddered. Izula’s massive fists pulled the saw-sword halfway to the ground as it cut through flesh and bone but then halted, grasped by dozens of fleshless hands.
Foam started pouring from Izula’s mouth, her huge eyes constricting to pinpricks. She grunted like a musk-ape as she lumber-jacked her sword back and forth, sawing back and forth, limbs and heads and hands raining down in thuds and chunks. But it served only to dislodge some, and on they came pouring in an avalanche of grasping, pulling, gnawing, and drawing her bodily into the amoeba of undeath.
“Let go the sword!” Donvannos danced back as a zombie crashed forward.
Another arcane flare sizzled into the zombies.
“CRRROOOAAK!” Izula roared as black teeth tore into her arms and legs. But then she bit back! Dead muscle sloughed off between her needled jaws. Her huge fists still grasped the massive saw-sword in the tug-of-war between her and the horde. Her doughty form fast disappeared beneath the crushing of wave.
And then she was gone.
“Let go the sword!” Donvannos slashed with his knife.
“Donvannos!” Madam Spew clambered to her feet. “Get back!” She wiped blood from her lip. “!@*GRAB IZULA*@!” Madam Spew pointed, black energies pouring off her hellfire.
The mound of scrambling dead exploded instantly as though a giant mole had burrowed beneath its midst. Bodies flew, scattered, broke. The dead wailed.
The zombie-troll tore through the surface of lesser dead. In its massive arms lay Izula.
“!@*NOW GO*@!” Madam Spew commanded, and the very air warped with power as the zombie-troll disappeared beneath the dead press.
Corpses rained down. Through. Clambering across the floor. Scattering like pins.
The three retreated.
“Grab a lantern!” Madam Spew croaked as she climbed the lone high point in the midst of the barn, the broken wagon. “Donvannos! Mindel! Up here!”
“Arrgh!” Donvannos lost his cape as he tore back against the grasping dead and pulled himself up the wagon’s side.
Atop the wagon bed, Mindel blasted another zombie, but he was worn, near finished, his arms and fingers cooked to a quivering black.
“The lantern!” Madam Spew screamed from her perch atop of the wagon, an oasis in a desert of flensed dead, an island amidst a sea of striated meat. Arms reached from all around, cracked nails scraping runnels in the wood as the dead hauled themselves up.
“I have it!” Donvannos snatched a lantern from a hook.
The wagon rocked, threatening to tip. Donvannos nearly fell. And the sea of dead clawed their way up.
“Break it!” Madam Spew tore her whip free. Amidst the sea of grasping arms, she sidestepped, ducked, tore a leg free then slung her whip straight upwards with a CRACK! It wrapped snug round a beam. Then, despite her soft hands, her skinny arms, and her blobulous frame, she began to climb.
Mindel scrambled up after, practically on her back.
Glass shattered below as Madam Spew reached the beam.
Mindel hauled himself up and collapsed across next to Madam Spew. He was as pale as a corpse, hanging across the beam limp as a dishrag.
“I’ll get Donvannos!” she croaked. “Then you light the oil!”
Then she was scrambling across the beam, holding onto supports as she made her way towards the door. She tied off the whip and dangled it down. Below, Donvannos leapt from the wagon, grabbing it, dangling inches above the sea of grasping claws.
“Mindel!” Madam Spew bellowed.
A sickly yellow flash illuminated the air below, exploding shadowed light across the roiling rage of meat and teeth beneath. The flash lasted an instant, replaced a moment later by a roaring inferno that swept out in all directions.
The wagon was on fire. So were the zombies. So was the barn.
“Ahhhhh!” The three yelled.
Donvannos clawed his way up the whip, to the beam, half of his mulleted mane torn free of his blistered skull.
Behind, Mindel swayed, his eyes closing—
“Mindel!” Donvannos nearly fell grabbing him, steadying him through force of will alone. “Madam?!”
“Wait!” Madam Spew screeched through black smoke.
“What?!” Donvannos clutched onto the comatose sorcerer.
Below, some vestigial mechanism of the fear of fire had instilled a vigorous madness into the dead. They began tearing into one another in some attempt to escape the conflagration. Smoke billowed up in gouts. Flames roared up the posts, across their beam. Black soot stained the ceiling, choked the air.
“Get ready !” Madam Spew tore her wig off her head and tucked it into her cloak.
“For what?” Donvannos gagged.
“!@*COME*@!” Madam Spew bellowed above the cacophony of death.
“Madam!” Donvannos could barely hold Mindel up.
A massive troll-like blur smashed in through the doorway, bowling aside zombies and driving a wedge of trampled dead ten feet into the barn. A momentary wedge. Right below them.
“NOW!” Madam Spew gulped.
Madam Spew fell like a stone and crashed into the clearing below. Two thuds landed beside.
“GLAAAAAHHH!” The horde of conflagrated dead stampeded toward them.
“Hurry!” Madam Spew hacked and coughed and spat black ash as she scrabbled blind over twitching corpses and pulled herself out through the door. She sputtered and tripped and rolled herself out into the cool night air. She couldn’t move. She was done for.
“GLLLLAAAAHHHH!” The conflagrated horde struggled out the doorway.
Donvannos and Mindel lay beside her, dead to the world.
Madam Spew closed her eyes as she collapsed, spent, giving herself to infinity.
Madam Spew’s heart leapt!
Between her and the burning horde, Izula stood waiting, bent, busted, covered in bite marks but the massive two-handed bone saw-sword poised yet in her gnarled fists.
Huffing and puffing and puking, Madam Spew crawled on hands and knees away.
Izula’s grunting and croaking coupled with the SWISH and the THUNK of her saw-sword, followed by the THUD of zombie limbs raining into the muck, was a medicinal balm.
Mindel lay upon the ground, smoking like a dying ember. Whether he was dead or not, Madam Spew did not care. Donvannos lay … somewhere. There. His chest rose and fell as Izula killed the dead.
Madam Spew hacked and spat char and smoke. As she drooled precious clear fluid into the muck, she fished her purple wig out from her cloak. It was stained. Singed. Smoking. But still whole. Madam Spew clutching the ragged scrap to her breast, weeping thanks to the Dark Lord for another chance.