Wednesday, April 25, 2018

No Better Life - Chapter 3

by Gerard "Gray" Chartier
[Editor's note: click here to read Chapter 1; click here to read Chapter 2]

The door to the Leaping Trout was still swinging from Darvan’s passage when Gray reached it.  He crashed through the it hard enough to break it off one of the hinges.  He used his remaining momentum to hurl his prisoner into one of the robed cultists Darvan was facing.  The pair went down in a heap as Gray stepped shoulder-to-shoulder with the swordsman, drawing his dagger and summoning a ball of lethal energy to his hand.
“Davan!  Gray!  Wait!”
Charwindle stepped forward, calm as a windless day.  “I understand you and Darvan had trouble with some members of the Crescent Coven.  Soft and I did as well, but we have these three…under control.”
Gray hesitated, taking a closer look the still-standing cultists.  Noticing the bloody slashes in their dark cloaks, he examined their faces.  They had the bloodless pallor of the animated dead.  So did Charwindle, come to think of it.
Gray let dissipate the killing energy he’d gathered. “Soft’s doing, I gather?”
“Yes!” chimed Soft from the back of the common room, a wine glass dangling from the fingers of one hand as he fretted over a bloodstained hole in his lacey silk robe.  “Can you believe one of those louts ran me through from behind?  They didn’t account for my recuperative powers though.”
“I killed three of our four assailants,” Charwindle supplied, “Soft evidently took care of the fourth while I was…incapacitated.”
“Oh, I took care of him, all right,” Soft muttered darkly.
Bemused, Gray sheathed his dagger and glanced around the common room.  “Where are Kamilla and Acorn?”
Eion poked his head out of the doorway to the kitchen.  “We’re back here.  Kamilla’s…calming down our hostess.”
“She’s not accustomed to monstrosities barging into her establishment!” the elf called from the other room.”
Soft sprang up from his seat.  “Monstrosities, please!”  He bounced over to one of the undead cultists and draped an arm over his shoulder.  “They were so rude before, and now they’re nice and polite!  Aren’t you boys?”
“Yes, master Soft,” they intoned in unison.
Soft glanced at the one Gray had bowled over with the unconscious cultist.  “Get up off the floor, lazybones!  And what is this?”  He glanced slyly at Gray.  “Did you get me a present?”
Gray shrugged as Killer jumped down from his shoulder and scurried over to the unconscious cultist Soft’s zombie was extricating himself from under, springing atop his chest and chittering about his possession of him.  “I suppose it’d be more accurate to say Killer got you the present.  I just carried it.”
Soft clapped his hands.  “Oh, goody!  What a clever squirrel you have, Gray!”  He pranced to the unconscious cultist and extended a finger to the squirrel.  “Killer, thank you for-”
Killer snapped at his outstretched finger.  Soft snatched his hand away with an outraged gasp.  “Gray!  Instruct this savage beast to turn his prisoner over to me at once!”
Killer chittered about getting nothing for nothing.
Gray tossed Soft a walnut.  “Here.  Try offering a trade.”
Soft bobbled the catch, but managed to snatch the nut out of the air on the rebound.  He shot Gray a dubious look, but extended the nut to Killer in his open hand.  “Here, Killer!  I’ll trade you this nice nut for that nasty man!”
Killer looked at the nut, then at his unconscious cultist, then back at the nut.  Daintily, he plucked it from Soft’s hand, bounded up onto a table with it, and began chewing happily.
Soft grinned and looked at Gray.  “Did you leave any more of these fellows lying around?”
Gray nodded.  “We didn’t leave them in any condition to speak, though.  We brought that one back to question because he’s still alive.”
Soft waved a dismissive hand.  “Oh, Gray!  He’d just refuse to talk, or try to lie to you.  My boys already told me everything about their little cult!  Haven’t you, boys?”
“Yes, Master Soft,” they intoned in unison.
Soft beckoned to the nearest and next nearest zombie cultists.  “You, come here and help me with this one, then go round up his friends.  Where did you leave them?”
Darvan jerked a thumb over his shoulder.  “Take a right out the door, third alley on the left,.”
The two zombies propped the unconscious cultist up in a chair and shambled out the door.  Soft pointed to the remaining one.  “You, tell Gray everything you told me.”
“We are the Cresent Coven,” the zombie cultist droned, “We are the chosen of the Fell God.  Our ways were old when the world was young.  Once, all the races trembled at the coming of the darkest nights, knowing His power would be at its fullest, and His followers would claim what they willed as is our ancient right.  Centuries ago, the Despot came from realms above and upended this natural order.  He rallied the disparate tribes and led the weak to usurp the strong, banishing the Fell God to an abyssal realm.”
Eion and Kamilla emerged from the kitchen.  The elf’s eyes were wide as saucers as she listened to Soft’s servitor.
“But the Despot failed to completely defeat the Fell God, who even now speaks through his chosen acolytes.  We of the Crescent Coven labor to bring about his return.  After our decades of preparations, the time is ripe.  At midnight on a night of the waning moon, a sacrifice of one of the Despot’s celestial subjects can open the door allowing the Fell God to step into the world once more.   We have patiently waited for the Despot’s celestial subjects to come into the world.  Then the Bronze Man came.”
Gray traded a glance with Darvan at the term their assailants had used as well.
“We could have taken him at any time, but we waited to see if he would draw others to him.  Then you arrived, bearing the Despot’s crest as your heraldry.  Your cries of anguish and despair will be as music to the Fell God, who will twist you into weapons to be used against his hated enemy.  Tonight we will enact our ritual in the ruin of the Despot’s palace.  Brothers and sisters from leagues away will gather for this glorious night.  Lower initiates will guard against intrusion.  They will be watched by Acolyte Boll.  He’s easy to recognize because his ears stick out like…”
“That’s enough, Sparky,” Soft called from the table he sat at, leaning back over the unconscious cultist to whisper into his ear.
Silence reigned as the descended Mayerlingers all shot wide-eyed stares at each other.
Gray slammed his palm down on a tabletop, startling them out of their state of shock.  “We’d better stop dicking around and go scoop up that Scholar!”
“Yeah.  About that.”
Gray turned to see Swift in the door, disheveled and dirty, his shoulder under the arm of a bleeding and barely conscious Reed.
“Oh no!” Kamilla gasped, “We’re too late!”
“Not yet, we aren’t.”
Charwindle’s raised chin was the picture of quiet determination as she continued.  “It won’t be midnight for some hours yet.  We still have time to find where they’re keeping this Scholar and take him away from them.”
Soft sprang to his feet.  “And I have a lovely plan for doing just that!”
His two zombies shuffled back into the common room, between them dragging the three corpses Darvan and Gray had left behind.
“And they,” Soft declared, “are exactly what we need for my plan to work!”

To be continued in Chapter 4.....

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