Friday, February 28, 2014

Toward the Slatefall

Gurran's hammer crushed helmet and skull, forcing decayed brain out of the nostrils and mouth of the Damned One.  Rutter called out to watch his left side.  He swung blindly, battering aside a long-rotted shambler, feeling the wet crack of breaking ribs through the haft of his weapon.  It wasn't a killing blow, but the creature would stay down for the short term. 

Gurran advanced on a cluster of the Damned that were pulling apart Carlan.  Carlan had hooked his thumbs into a pair of moldering eyesockets and gouged the thing into true death even as his innards were pulled from him.  Blood sprayed from his mouth as he sighed, "Die, fucker!" and then died himself.  Rutter waded in, cleaving skulls with his axe.  Gurran pulverized head after head until all they were faced with was the ravaged head and torso of Carlan.  "Do it," said Rutter, breathing heavy from the work.

Gurran brought the hammer down on Carlan's forehead before he became another of the Damned.   "Finishing crew!" he yelled, loosening the strap of his helmet.  A few skinny recruits scrambled forward with pikes to kill off the wounded.  They'd need to march a good half-day before setting up camp;  the stench of the battlefield was already rising with the suns. 

He looked north toward the Slatefall.  When the company had set out they'd been twenty men with twice that many retainers.  Now there was just Rutter and him along with Aubroan and Farley, both on litters with pissblood fever.  They'd either make it or be twice dead in a day or two, but neither would be in fighting shape for a week at least.  Of the dozen henchmen left one was always posted over the sick men, just in case.

Rutter shielded his eyes and followed Gurran's gaze.  "The Slatefall in winter.  Perfect timing." 

"It's that or the grave in spring," said Gurran, wiping clotted gore from the head of his hammer.  "Should we give the men a choice?"

"Or have them desert on the slopes?  They'd die on the way back down.  I suppose we should."

So they pressed on and called the men together around that night's cookfire.  Only five took their pay and headed west.  Aubroan woke for a moment and croaked out, "No shame . . . in shitting yourself," before making his own retreat into delirium.    

--Steve Kilian