CHAPTER 5 - WHEN THE DEAD WALKS

Amelia screamed.

"ANGEL'S SMITE!"

His mace burst into a blinding white light and he brought it down on the shambling corpse, ripping its decayed flesh apart before it disintegrated into ashes completely.

"Aunt Silvia, take care of the children!" Wilson yelled.

"What do you think I'm doing?" she said.

A ring of white light emerged on the ground, surrounding the twenty children and her. She waved her crooked walking stick in the air, muttering an incantation under her breath, and a burst of light transformed the walking stick into an ivory staff embedded with five ivory gems at the head. Aunt Silvia brought the end of the staff down on the ground and a wall of misty white light surged up from the ring.

The hundreds of corpses that surrounded them shied away.

"Everyone," Wilson shouted, "into the barrier!"

Ironsville had a population of eighty-three. Most of them were here and half of them were armed with swords, hammers, steel rods, spears, rakes, shovels - anything that was pointy or looked like it could do some smashing.

Wilson swung his mace and mauled the faces off three corpses. He heard Amelia scream his name and turned around just in time to take out two more of them. Good. Now he was surrounded by five less corpses. Bad. Fifty more were still coming towards him. He needed help.

"Wilson, get in the circle!" Aunt Silvia yelled. "You cannot slay them all!"

"Says who?" he shouted, swinging his mace and killing two more.

He punched and elbowed, swung and smashed, and when the walking corpses got too close, he snapped his fingers and set forth a burst of light. The corpses stumbled backwards and he continued to dispatched them two by two, three by three, as many at a time as he could. But they just kept coming. A few of the town folks dared a few steps out of the circle and took down a few of the undead. But they weren't properly trained to fight and without magic, they were quickly pushed back into the circle. Throwing up a shield was easy for Silvia, but the size of it worried Wilson. Aunt Silvia was too old now. Her physical stamina could not keep up.

"Behind you!" someone shouted.

Wilson swung his mace around but hit nothing. Instead, he came face to face with a werewolf.

"Sera, help me. "

The werewolf swiped at him but not before Fayte thrust his blade into the werewolf's back.

His sword burst from the werewolf's chest and Fayte twisted it hard. When the blade was pulled out, the werewolf crumbled to bits and pieces to the ground, no more than just earth and stones now. He stood before Wilson, panting hard and covered with dirt and sweat. Right beside him was Lord Jacob, looking just as dirty but busy swinging his sword all over the place. Wilson and Fayte met eyes.

Without a word to the other, the same plan formed in their heads.

"Preston!" Wilson shouted and his dragon flew out from behind the barrier, where he had been taking care of Amelia.

The white dragon dropped Wilson's book into his hand and landed on his back. Preston breathed fire and melted the face of a walking corpse, then he whipped his tail and took the head off another. Wilson opened the tome and waved his hand across the pages, flipping the book to the exact page he wanted. His eyes ran across the lines and when he was done, he smacked his palm onto the page and the verses of texts flared with power.

Fayte stabbed his sword into one of the corpses and charged with it, impaling three more before he threw his weight and cut his sword out, swinging himself into a spiral, slicing up four other decayed bodies. He charged again and slammed into two more with his shield. The pair of corpses crashed into the ground with their limbs all over the place. He straightened up and just as he was about to swing his sword, a white circle appeared before him, followed by inscriptions and more flaring lines that formed a star.

Sera, lend me your strength. Fayte jumped through Wilson's blessing glyph and felt empowered immediately. White aura surrounded him as he felt his weight lessen, and his fatigue eased off quickly as though hot water ran down his head after a long day of training. His shield felt lighter while his sword felt swifter in his hand. With renewed vigour, Fayte charged the horde.

The corpses moved too slowly to keep up with him. He slashed and he stabbed, he rolled and he jumped, he blocked and he smashed, and they fell and they fell and they kept falling one after the other. There were a lot of them but the two of them along with Lord Jacob were doing well. It was tiring no doubt but they felt empowered not just from Wilson's blessings, but also from a deep desire to protect the town folks and Ironsville, their home.

Hundreds became a hundred and a hundred became tens. The townsmen began charging at the corpses when the undead's numbers were thin enough, and soon their numbers became no more. At first they cheered and slapped one another on the back, but when they found Fayte and Wilson laying on the ground amongst the no longer walking dead, they fell silent. Melanie and Amelia rushed up to them with Aunt Silvia right behind.

"Fayte," Melanie said, touching his dirt stained cheek. "Fayte, are you all right? Oh Sera, please no, Fayte say something please!"

"You smell like horse poop," Fayte said, cringing his face as he turned away. "Go sit somewhere further please."

Melanie got up and kicked him in the kidney.

"AH! Oh that hurt- that hurt…." He curled into a ball and continued to groan in pain.

The girl stormed away leaving him now with his first and only serious injury.

Once they had both spent a few more minutes resting on the ground, a couple of the townsfolk helped them up and brought them to the only tavern in Ironsville. The owner was more than willing to give them food and plenty of water. Most of the townsfolk were still in shock. The women and children were sent home, while the able men stayed behind to clean up the mess. Aunt Silvia's instructions were simple.

"Gather the corpses, pile them together," she told the men, "and raze it all to ashes."

Wilson and Fayte ate quietly, partly because they were too tired, partly because they were still in shock themselves, and mostly because they didn't know what to say. How could a horde of undead invade a town so quickly without anyone realising? What were the sentries that kept watch outside Ironsville doing? Where did these monsters come from? Wilson was the one who broke the silence.

"Amelia is so going to have nightmares after this."

"Was she hurt?" Fayte asked.

"No," Wilson said, resting his head on the table. "I checked her before the women took the children away."

They were sitting in front of each other. The tavern could entertain around thirty guests at any one time, fifty if the tables outside were opened. Right now only Fayte, Wilson and the tavern keeper's family of four were around. The youngest daughter, Renee, brought them some more water.

"Thank you," Fayte said, smiling at the shy girl.

He knew Renee since he first came to Ironsville with his father, but he never really got the chance to sit down and talk with her. This was clearly not the time either. Renee nodded and quickly went back upstairs to join her family after she refilled their cups.

"You boys rest here as long as you need," Jayden the tavern keeper said. "I'm going out to help with the clean up. I got a wagon at the back that they could use."

They nodded. Jayden would be helpful with a wagon. Neither of them said anything again for the next few minutes. Wilson sat up and rubbed his eyes. He checked himself and healed some scratches and cuts before he went over to Fayte and did the same.

"Where did you think they--"

--the tavern's door slammed open.

The last time a door slammed open, Fayte found himself faced with an undead invasion, so naturally the first thing he did now was to pray and pray really hard to Sera. When he saw Melanie standing by the door he relaxed and turned back to the table.

"Fayte," Melanie said, her voice shaky.

That was when a sudden chill made Fayte get up on his feet.

Whitesong.

"It's Whitesong," she said, her eyes teary. "She was bitten by the undead."

Ironsville's stable was much smaller than the one by Yoliander Gate. The town had only fifteen horses used more often to pull carts and wagons than for travelling. The stable itself was relatively undamaged, but there was a foul stench in the air, a mixture of fresh soil and manure. One of the horses had been killed and flies swarmed the festering wounds of the dead animal. Melanie clung to his arm and dared not look at her poor animals. They came across three more before Fayte saw her.

"Hey, girl," he said, stroking her head as he fed her some hay. "How are you feeling?"

"I lost four of them," Melanie said, her eyes teary, brushing Whitesong's mane. "She put up a good fight. There were severed corpses all around her when I got here."

While he talked to Whitesong, Wilson was examining the bite marks on her body. Along the way Wilson had told Fayte that he had noticed something odd about these undeads, and also that single werewolf that attacked them.

"There's no taint," Wilson said.

Wilson pressed his hand on the wound - Whitesong jerked - and muttered a quick incantation that healed the bites a few seconds later. Preston landed on Whitesong's back and made gurgling noises at her before he patted Whitesong with his tail. She whinnied gratefully in return.

"So… she's going to be fine?" Melanie asked. "And the other horses?"

Wilson nodded as he squatted down to examine one of the corpses that had its head kicked off by Whitesong. He touched the rotten brown flesh of the body. Wilson dug his fingers into it and then brought his fingers to his nose.

"This is not flesh," he said, letting Fayte take a whiff of his fingers too.

"Smells like dirt," Fayte said, confused. These appear to be walking corpses. Is this the dirt that clings to their rotten skin I am smelling? "What's going on here?"

"I don't know but let's just burn these corpses still. I used a holy spell earlier and the entire corpse became ash. It was a reaction. These... things, may be made of dirt, but there is definitely something undead that is making them walk."

It was hard work, moving the hundreds of corpses out of the town and piling them together. All of the townsfolk they came across gave them a pat on the back and called them the heroes of Ironsville. They didn't find out until it was too late, but Lord Jacob had rode out with a few men to find his son Loren who had gone hunting earlier in the day and had yet to return. It was past midnight and everyone had advised him to stay, however, Lord Jacob was not one to sit around and wait. Fayte could only pray that he would come back safely with Loren. When all of the dirt corpses were finally piled together, they found themselves faced with a new problem. Dirt did not burn well, if at all.

Normal fire was not going to work.

"We require the assistance of a mage," Wilson said, looking at the sweaty men around him. "Where's Randon?"

"We won't be expecting him until nightfall tomorrow," one of the townsfolk said. "He has gone to Oaksblade to attend to matters of his Order."

"Someone will have to stand watch here then," Wilson said, passing on a skin of water to Fayte. "Make sure they don’t rise again. I will take first watch, but I require two others for a pile this large."

Before Fayte could volunteer, Wilson stopped him.

"You need to ride back to Rondiar at first light," he told him. "That means rest. Lots of it."

"I am a squire," Fayte said. "I can handle not sleeping for a night. You should be the one resting. You have been casting blessings all night just now."

In the end, they were both hauled off by men twice their size. The town agreed that they had both worked hard enough, and Wilson was going to be needed the next morning to take over Aunt Silvia with the healing. No one was allowed to ride out until daybreak. It was too dangerous considering what they had just encountered.

Thankfully none of the corpses came back to life over the night. Fayte slept over at Lord Jacob's and he woke at first light as intended. Lady Linda knew him well and already had breakfast waiting for him. She refused let him out of the house until he finished his butter bread and tea stirred with eggs.

"Give this to your father," Wilson said, handing a sealed letter to Fayte. "Aunt Silvia examined a few of the corpses yesterday, including the remnants of the werewolf. Her observations are all in there, including mine. And… and there is another matter."

Fayte put the letter away, sensing something that troubled his friend deeply.

"Last night I checked the corpses and found that most of them were made entirely of earth," Wilson said. "But I also found a few corpses which were… actual corpses."

The nearest corpses would have to come from- "The graveyard?"

Wilson nodded and shook his head as he turned from Fayte.

"Every single body that we buried in the graveyard was raised last night," Wilson said, his back kept to Fayte. "Every single one."

Sera, no… "Your parents…?"

Wilson nodded and said no more.

They made their way to the entrance of Ironsville. Many of the townsfolk had gathered to see Fayte off. Most of them did not sleep well, especially the children, and they were still worried about another attack. Amelia did have a nightmare the previous night, but Preston was always right beside her when she woke. There were no casualties thankfully. Even though many suffered injuries, Silvia Greno was a highly skilled priestess. She was old and her stamina was short, but the woman knew her spells well. It helped that Wilson was with her as well.

"I will stay and help guard the town," said Wilson. "We fear there might be another wave even though the graveyard is now..."

Fayte nodded, taking Whitesong's rein when Melanie brought her over.

"I've added some tonic to her hay," she said, her eyes bloodshot and tired. "She will be good without any rest until you reach Rondiar."

Whitesong burst onto her hind legs to show him just that.

"Thank you," Fayte said, smiling at her. "You should get some rest."

They should all get some more rest.

She nodded but Fayte doubt she would listen. Every one of her animals was precious to her. It was clear that she had spent the whole night tending to them, calming them and mending their wounds… also burying the ones she lost. Aunt Silvia was not interested in healing chickens when there were people who needed healing. Melanie tried to help him mount Whitesong but Fayte did it easily enough alone.

"Are you sure you can defend the town if it gets attacked again?" Fayte asked, worried. "You had Lord Jacob and me last night. Now it's just you."

"You keep forgetting that I am a priest," Wilson said, waving him off. "Yesterday was nothing. Besides…"

No less than a second later, the whole town found themselves standing in the shade, but the shade passed by them quickly and they were in the morning sun again. They looked to the sky and what they saw made them all smile and feel much, much safer.

Ironsville will be safe enough I guess.

"I was wondering where she went yesterday,"  Fayte said, grinning.

"Mount Tirus," Wilson said. "She was running errands for Aunt Silvia."

The mighty white dragon soaring above them let out a roar that echoed across the land.