Chapter 11: A Visitor in the Night
Delivering the final blow to a third slime, he was simply brimming with self-satisfaction. He'd not felt this good ever. In this moment he truly felt master of his own destiny. Turning at the sound of what he assumed was another slime, he raised his sword to attack and saw that two slimes were in fact coming his general direction. A small part of him almost felt bad, as were he to ignore them the slimes would just continue along their way, occasionally stopping to pick up whatever shiny thing they came across per Guile. Knowing however that these slimes were merely constructs of the world's overflowing magic kept him from worrying about it too much.
Having only taken on the slimes one at a time thus far, he figured this was a good opportunity to show that he'd mastered the use of the sword. Stepping towards them, he took a swing at the closest blue slime, his sword cutting through the air in a downward slice that knocked it back closer to the green slime that almost seemed to have been following it. Stepping forward before it had the chance to retaliate, he swung the blade sideways catching both slimes in a single slice. Continuing his attack his next slice was an upward cut that thrummed along the blade as he caught both slimes once more mid-jump. Moving in, his next angled cut missed the blue slime but caught the green one tearing it apart on contact.
The blue slime had compressed itself to the side causing his cut to miss it. Angling its jump from its sideways form, it managed to catch his arms from underneath as he was finishing his swing. Latching on to his arms and lower torso, which momentarily prevented him from attacking and pulled him forward on top of it, the slime snapped its body up taking his breath away and knocking him and his sword separately to the ground in the process. Pushing himself up, he didn't manage to move quick enough and the slime was on top of him once more.
This time the slime managed to fasten itself to his face and the force of its blow, while dangerous no matter where it connected, was even more violent when his skull was the target of it assault. The almost sonic impact resounded through his entire frame shaking him up as much as it hurt him. The world was now a spinning mess of colors and sounds that he was incapable of deciphering. On the one hand he knew that he was in danger, and that the slime would take this opportunity to cause him even more harm, but he was incapable of finding his hands, let alone the weapon or the slime. Flaying wildly with whatever he could move in his current state, he felt the misleadingly soft pliable surface of the slime's embrace before it used him as a springboard once again, now taking the remainder of his breath, which he direly needed.
Rolling sideways, he tried scrambling to a standing state while desperately gasping for air, but was rewarded by the slime's affections on his back, driving him face first into the dirt. This was not how it was supposed to go. He'd mastered the sword, he was in charge of his fate, and yet... the slime seemed not to have been let in on that. His head and ears pounded with the bass of the slimes attacks, his vision swam, still not coming into focus.
The second time he was forced to the ground was once more than he thought he could endure. With every blow his body felt more and more like mush. Perhaps this was how slimes were actually formed... from the remains of the unwary travelers that they managed to catch. Reaching out and praying for his sword, his vision still not fully returned, he could have cried when his hands closed around the hilt. Rolling onto his back and bringing the sword up, he'd barely managed to get the point into the air when the slime came down once more, this time landing on the blade and exploding into a shower of goop that he was only too happy to wear.
Suffering no more blows, the first thing he noticed as his vision slowly began to refocus was that the sun had begun hiding beyond the hills. In his excitement over winning against the slimes he'd lost track of time and now after his near loss, it was far darker than he liked. Climbing unsteadily to his feet, he noticed that his wooden sword was still lying on the ground nearby. Looking at the weapon in his hand, he realized that he'd actually pulled out his metal sword earlier. He thought that perhaps it would be a good idea to keep two weapons on him going forward.
As the ringing in his ears began to subside and he could reorient himself, he discerned that he was not too far from the structure he'd built. He was about halfway down the hill, and just a little more towards the mountains than he'd previously been. Putting up the metal sword, and picking up his wooden one, he realized that he was also out far later than he liked and he started for the structure as fast as he trusted himself to go.
The sounds of the forest that only moments ago had been mere background noise were heavy with potential violence. Every rustle a zombie waiting to come crawling out from the brush, every low moan of the wind carried a demon eye simply biding its time before descending upon him. All the courage he'd felt while fighting the slimes was washed away by the chill night air that came with the setting of the sun. The light was mostly gone and fading fast, and he quickened his pace.
A low moan that could have seeped from the very trees punctuated his journey and added a sense of urgency to his already hurried pace. Rustling that now was obviously not just in his dark imaginings was coming from the trees in a direction he was hard pressed to identify, and less concerned with on any account. He was now running through the trees, hoping that he'd not overshot his structure by some life ending degree and realizing now how foolish he'd been to think he'd mastered the sword before.
The top of a nearby tree shuddered with the impact of an unseen eye, and he stumbled upon hearing it, but caught himself and continued his run for the questionable safety of his structure. His entire mind focused on the path ahead, the underbrush was now a set of obstacles rife with danger.
The clearing came into view, and his structure was a shining beacon unto his sight. As he hurtled towards the door, his eyes couldn't help but to track a bright glowing form falling from the heavens casting off prismatic shards of light as it hurtled toward the ground behind his structure. Almost falling over himself in his distraction, he refocused on his building as the glowing form crashed into the ground in a shower of light, brightening the entire clearing with its multicolored glow. As unnerving as this was, the danger he felt was greater than his curiosity. Throwing open the door upon reaching it, he slammed it shut behind him before falling in an exhausted heap on the floor.
"I was beginning to wonder if you were coming home tonight," Guile said from across the room, causing him to chuckle in a defeated manner.
"I wouldn't really call this place a home," he breathed out, too happy just to be there in one piece to let Guile's cheek bother him at the moment. He was also trying to catch the remnants of his breath that had begun eluding him as he'd neared the structure, only now realizing how much he'd missed them, "but I guess it's as good as I've got," he appended.
Pulling himself up, he looked around the sparsely decorated room that he was just realizing could actually be considered his home for the time being. That was not a thought he'd had the last time he was here, and not a thought he was sure how to process. On the one hand, it was nice to have a home… on the other, Guile also seemed to insist on residing here, and he wasn't too keen on that. As his pulse slowly moved towards something resembling a normal rate, and the terror that had been building on his mad dash towards his home, bled itself off, he took in the room anew.
A workbench, two chairs, and a torch… so this was home? Looking towards Guile, he was distracted by the prismatic light coming in from the hole in the wall behind him. Remembering the object that has come careening out of the sky while he was running toward the structure, he started walking over to the opening for a better look.
The sound of a Demon Eye knocking on the walls brought him out of his momentary daze. A Zombie's empty moans provided the backdrop to what otherwise might have been a solo bass beat against the structure. Stopping to shake off the chill that raced along his spine with these new sounds, he decided to trust in the strength of the structure he'd built. Taking a calming breath, he continued to the opening, careful not to stand too close, and looked out to see what that glowing thing was.
"It's a fallen star," Guile answered the question he hadn't managed to ask.
The name did nothing to normalize the object laying in the dirt none too far from the structure. Its shape was hard to discern due to the ever changing spectrum of light and prismatic shards that it cast off, coating the entire clearing and inside the structure in its opulent glow. He was mesmerized by it, enough so that it took him a moment to register the noise coming from outside.
It was screaming, but not a moaning kind of screech like the zombies made. It was a full throated, warm blooded, scream of terror that had to have come from another person. And it was outside… in the night… where the walking, flying dead staked their claim. The sounds of the demon eye, with zombie backing, faded with that scream. They had heard it too… and they were going to investigate.
"Guile! What do we do?!" he shouted, looking at his guide for some kind of answer.
"I will stay inside the structure where there is a distinct lack of the undead. You may do whatever you feel necessary," was the answer he got.
"I thought you said you had nothing to fear from the things of the night?!" he retorted, not believing… though also not surprised by Guile's answer.
"I also have nothing to fear from long walks off of short cliffs, and that is in large part due to my choice of walking routes."
"So you're just going to sit here and let someone possibly die…" he started, but then stopped as soon as he realized that it wasn't really Guile that he was arguing with. Guile's stance was nothing new, or really surprising. The truth was that he was afraid to go out there, but he couldn't just ignore the screaming he heard…
"Wrrraaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrgggggh hhhhaaaaaaa!" the scream picked back up, coming from what couldn't have been too far away.
He didn't give himself time to think, as he wasn't sure he'd like the answer he came up with. The terror he'd only barely managed to shake was back in full force as he opened the door and ran towards where he thought the screams were coming from.
He had made it halfway up the hill before his mind even took a moment to register where he was headed, thankfully before the structure had completely left his field of vision. Continuing up the hill, he hadn't really considered what it was exactly that he intended to do. He was doing good in just pushing on with the fear holding tightly to his insides. The thought of coming face to face with one the walking dead without a wall between them... was not something he had to imagine anymore.
Cresting the crown of the hill, a zombie was seemingly waiting for him behind one of the trees at the top. He'd not even managed to catch a glimpse of what was going on up here before a vision of rotting sloughing flesh came to take his attention away. Calling the zombie undead came with the implication that it had previously been un-undead at one point. This creature only resembled a living thing in the loosest of fashions. As if the bodies of unlucky travelers which is what he assumed they must have been, were being controlled by a consciousness that had only seen humans once they'd ceased being, and wasn't quite sure how to move all the limbs. The result was a shambling mess of a creature.
He hadn't been prepared for this. Stopping long enough to get a solid whiff of putrid flesh, he pulled the sword out just as the zombie seemed to realize it had been staring at something it could eat. His sword came up in time for his hands to sink into the soft rotted flesh of the zombie's core as the blade pressed cleanly through and the clawed remains of its hands came up to rake the soft flesh of his face before the sword coaxed it back from him.
The creature really didn't like the sword any more than he liked the new decorations it left on his face. As he cut into it the zombie took what he could only describe as a hop, backwards. The impulse to draw the sword surprised him as much as the fact that he didn't run as soon as the thing came out from behind a tree. He could only imagine that it tied in with the same impulse that drove him out of his shelter and into the night when he heard the screaming. An impulse that he was quickly realizing was probably going to get him killed.
Trusting whatever it was that kept him fighting where he was certain he should not be, he moved forward bringing the sword up to bite once more into the zombie's rotted core. The thing, while terrifying, wasn't really that sharp and it stepped forward into his blade, before once more "hopping" back after being struck by the blade.
"Help Me!" an obviously panicked man's voice came blaring out of the darkness at the top of the hill.
Looking up at the sound of another voice, he was distracted long enough for the zombie to sneak a friendly claw into his shoulder, making it difficult for him to share the thing's camaraderie by inviting it to play with his blade. In fact, with the undead humanoid creature now standing far closer than his comfort level allowed, it was difficult to do too much more than holler at it in what was not a very friendly manner as it sunk another skeletal finger into his other arm.
The source of the screaming that had brought him here to the top of the hill was a very well dressed man who was currently sitting up in a tree holding a largish branch as if it were a club. Thankfully the gentleman must have realized that helping the guy with the real weapon was probably his best chance for survival, and he jumped down from the tree rushing the zombie currently holding him in what otherwise may have turned into a final hug.
As the well-dressed gentleman clubbed the thing what's clothing was no longer discernible in the skull, its reaction was as sudden as it was terrifying. As the branch connected, the zombie's arm snapped backwards from their grip on his arms, tearing their way out, and latched onto the new attacker, causing him to drop the makeshift weapon. Its head also pivoted completely around so that the horror could fix its new playmate with a terrible grimace.
Screaming both at the scene he'd just witnessed as well as the pain he was now enduring, the "new playmate" was in no condition to defend himself from the sudden attack, which just left a now wounded and questionably capable rescuer to do something about all this. With his arms freshly gouged by the creature he was supposed to be doing something about, his only real ideas all involved running as fast as his thus far undamaged legs would allow him.
Thankfully he'd managed to keep a tenuous grip on his sword, which still worked as all blamed things in this place worked, by his intent. As at least a portion of his intentions currently involved forcibly removing the zombie from the well-dressed gentleman, the weapon didn't resist his meager attempt at swinging it, and in fact, cut cleanly into the thing's torso. Reacting as it had the last two times, the zombie hopped away from his blade, leaving its new playmate to collapse.
Realizing that there was no time for this, he grabbed the falling fellow with a hand not currently holding the sword and pulled the gentleman to his feet, ready to drag him towards the relative security of the structure he'd built if need be. Thankfully, there was enough of the gentleman's sense left to follow along, and within two rapid heartbeats the duo were scrambling off through the trees less than a hands width in front of the now pursuing zombie.
"Where are we going?" the gentleman shouted, half crazed and with pain in his voice.
"I've got a… safer… we'll be…" he tried to answer, but really didn't feel like any of the things he was trying to say were particularly true, so instead he replied, "Just follow me!"
Apparently deciding that he was better company than the zombie had been, the gentleman didn't argue. They managed to make it about halfway back, and he was almost feeling confident that they'd arrive in relatively good shape, until he was reminded that not all the horrors of this place went bump in the night. Some of them could fly silently, choosing very inconvenient times to suddenly swim into view and forcibly acquaint themselves with new guests.
"Gruuuuaaaaagggghhhh!" the gentleman replied to demon eye's greeting as he went crashing back towards the zombie, who unfortunately, hadn't given up the pursuit.
Taking no time to let things get worse, and wondering again at how wise all this really was, he jumped towards the zombie sword first to keep it from pouncing on the well-dressed man. Reluctantly, the shuffling dead hopped backwards from the sword's bite, but not before tearing the progressively less nice clothing the gentleman was wearing. Pulling him to his feet, they set off once more, still within spitting distance of the zombie and this time keeping an eye to the air.
"Guaaahhhh…." the recently rescued individual complained as they stumbled into view of the structure.
"Almost there," he responded, before the sparkly bit of light resting behind the structure caught his eye once more. Nearing the structure, another reckless urge came over him.
As they reached the front door, he pulled it open and pushed his charge through it before slamming it back and continuing around the side of the building.
The demon eye checked the door's solidity right behind him, just managing to miss getting in while it was open. As he rounded the corner of the building the brilliance of the… what did Guile call it… fallen star was blinding in its absolute radiance, and for a moment too long he just stood transfixed by the multicolored array playing out around it.
The claws sunk into his shoulder reminded him why this was not such a wise decision, and he fell forward in an attempt at breaking the zombie's grip. Thankfully grappling was not one of the things talents. Unfortunately neither was shock one of its weaknesses, so while he did manage to fall out of its grip, the thing just stumbled forward giving him no time to recover from his ill planned evasion before it was on top of him once more.
This time he was almost ready for it, and his sword greeted the thing as it came crashing into him before hopping back from the blade, but not before it snuck a claw through the front of the rags he was no longer qualified as clothing, as covered in dirt, blood, and dried goop as they were. Scrambling up, blade before him to fend the zombie off, he managed to make his feet. Swinging the sword at the undead creature, he knocked it back once more and quickly turned to run for the fallen star, not sure even as he did that this was the wisest of decisions. Who knew what would happen when he tried to pick it up. Would it burn him?
Following the same drive that had served him so far, he didn't give himself too much time to think on it and just went for the star. Nearing it, he didn't even stop to admire it up close, as beautiful as the thing was, and just grabbed it on the way past. As fluid and quick were his motions that he wasn't even really sure his hand had touched the thing before it was deposited into his bags. Continuing his circuit around the house, he almost ran headlong into the zombie that was apparently a little more strategic than he'd given it credit for.
Plunging his sword directly into the creature's midsection, he didn't even stop moving to see what effect his attack would have. As it hopped back, he only struck it again, and not letting up, again. Letting out some of the fear, the anger, and truth be told, some of the sick excitement that he was feeling was an almost giddy sensation. He was absolutely terrified this entire time, but the zombie was less than threatening in response to his rapid assault.
"Graaaaahhhhhh!" he screamed as he leveled one blow after another, not letting up, with the thing hopping back from each strike. Several blows later as the impulse was beginning to wane, whatever it was that kept the walking dead upright decided that this creature was no longer worth its time and the zombie quite literally just fell apart. One moment it was hopping backwards from his blade, and with his next slice across its chest, the shambling mess of a humanoid creature quite literally fell to pieces.
Having not expected the sudden change, he actually jumped when it happened and just stood there staring down at the thing's remains. Curiously, a metal bracelet attached to a small piece of chain caught his eyes as it wasn't attached to the creature in any manner. Bending down to pick it up, he felt the tendrils that hung from the rear of a demon eye brush the back of his neck, as it just missed striking him and stifling a scream of abject horror at the sensation, he was snapped back to the danger of the situation.
Wasting no time returning to the front of the structure, he plowed through the door without regard to anyone possibly standing on the other side and slammed it shut behind him.
"It looks like you made it back in one piece," Guile commented.
Collapsing in a shuddering puddle of weary muscles and aching wounds as the fear he'd been holding at bay this entire time came washing through him, he finally allowed himself the opportunity to think about what he'd just done, and it was enough to pull him down through the floor into the darkness of sleep that he'd found hiding beneath the earth several times before. As the light of the small room dimmed, he could hear a low chuckle that did nothing to console the fear following him into the darkness.