The sound of cracking glass came as the makeshift bag struck the stone ground below. Almost immediately, the deep rich aroma of the tallow rose through the air, quickly permeating everything with its rich scent. With both hands holding the frame of the window the girl began to lower herself down from the second floor. It would be a large drop for someone her size, but there was no way around it. Looking over her shoulder to double check beneath herself, Esper let go of the frame of the window and dropped down to the street below.
Something gave way in her ankle, as she landed from the drop and she tumbled down to the ground, feeling all of the blood leave her face in that instant as she flew down in pain. Wincing she lay there, the searing hurt shooting up through her body now too intense to simply ignore. The thought came to her that she should have listened to the woman Johanna from Achtel or to Deryk just now before. She should have been more patient and let her leg heal properly. This was punishment.
Confused shouts continued ringing out from the front of the tavern, where more naive passersby seemed to be attracted by the shouts of the others like them, who had been there sooner as they were pulled into the fray. Esper placed a hand on the stone ground and began to push herself up off of it. The normally pleasant smell of the traveler's food seeping through her bag, leaving a grease stain on the street was completely unwanted and out of place now and was almost nauseating in its persistence.
A fresh memory of only a few days before, in Neuntel, returned to her. This was like then. The night-people were coming, she had to go. She had to go higher or they would find her. As she heard the dire wail ringing out through the windows of the tavern, a new wave of adrenaline coursed through her body. The deathly banshee shriek of the undead creatures an omen of what was to come. As the morbid cry rang out, echoing through the streets, the hearts of a hundred men and women in the area fell into their stomachs, as if trying to escape to the abyss below. They had heard this sound before.
More screams came now from further, as the resonating shriek echoed down the streets, bringing back grim memories of old nights which lay long forgotten and repressed, buried in the secret places in their hearts and minds. Windows shot open and doors were flung wide as people ran out into the streets without thought of any of their material possessions. Some slowed their pace to collect their families and others did no such thing, bolting away from their spouses, mothers and children as if they didn’t hear their pleading cries to wait for them. Something else had taken control of their bodies and souls now. The old fear.
Chaos erupted in the streets in a manner of seconds. Esper had only managed to reach a standing position, aware of the incredible pain coming from above her foot, but the blood rushing through her veins in a raging torrent screaming at her to ignore it. To move, to run. The injury was secondary, proper healing was secondary, long lasting damage was secondary. If she didn’t run, then she would die here. This was punishment, she hadn’t stayed true to the pact. They were coming.
Tearing the dripping bag up off of the ground, she went as quickly as she could down the small shopping street outside her window. The girl stuck closely to the sides, leaning against the many stalls and posts as she went, to relieve her leg of her weight, minuscule as it was, as often as she could. Every motion shot up her bones like fire and every breath after that suppressed it back down just a little more until the next came. Step after step, motion after motion this process repeated itself. She hadn’t even reached half way across the street, when she saw the people charging and rampaging in all directions.
They shoved and bashed each other out of the way in disregard for anyone or anything else. Their numbers somehow never decreased as more and more people flooded out of the houses, joining the stampede through the roads one by one. Their faces and bodies blurred together, as the mass of people ran every which way as if unsure where to go. Some away from the source of death and others running directly towards it. The ruthless crowds behind them too lost in their terror to stop their charge into the waiting arms of the dead just around the corner, no matter how few or many they might be by now.
She hugged the walls of the buildings closely, sticking to the edge, but the crowd was growing denser. Soon the people began to run into her, to shove her out of the way as if her tiny body on the side of the road was an obstacle in their paths. In desperation, she held herself upright, grabbing the post of a vendor's stall. Her eyes shifted towards the crowd, more than once she saw figures vanish and disappear under it, as they were crushed by the horde. The larger men bashing their way through, the women furiously pushing and clawing at every face to make space for their own retreat. The occasional silhouette about her size, more than once sunk beneath the boots of the many, their cries and screams quickly silenced as they were trampled by other mothers and fathers.
Esper pulled herself over the wooden counter of the tent stall, quickly lowering herself down behind the counter. She wouldn’t make it out there like this. An idea hit her and she began to tear open the bag. The knot was slippery with grease and refused to give way quite so easily, as she fumbled with it in panic. Her heart still racing and blood still streaming in a raging torrent through her eyes and mind which observed this new anarchic world in a fever. She let out an exasperated scream, pursing her lips tightly shut as she did so, while her fingers kept trying to undo the bag.
After a moment's further work, the knot gave way and she tore out the mask, shaking several drops of grease and tallow off of it and wiping it on a cloth that lay behind the counter. As before, she slipped the mask on and resealed the bag. Pulling her hood up, she peeked over the counter. The crowd was still moving. How many people lived here? There seemed to be an endless amount running down the roads in both directions. She shuddered, as another wail came from the direction of the tavern, followed by another and then one more. All three crying out in terrible synchronicity, like a pack of starving wolves.
The fire fueling the masses erupted now and the animal behavior they had shown just a moment before, became now primal savagery. The pushing escalated to fights, several people had drawn weapons now. Old blades and knives and axes and were swinging wildly at the crowd, seemingly at random in a survival fueled frenzy. The few guardsmen that managed to work their way through, were not able to get far, as they too were shoved and pushed aside, their gigantic tower shields serving as more of a hindrance than a help as they didn’t even have the time or space to plant them in front of themselves.
Nobody seemed to notice the obscured girl climbing back over the counter. The strange smells of fats and grease in the street was perceived, but not high enough on the list of thoughts to be a worry now for any of them. Esper stuck to the side of the stalls again, as she went on down the road with the quickest pace that she could muster, but it was slow going. People, despite their panic, seemed to go around her as before, as if there was some invisible force surrounding her that told them they couldn’t tread here. They didn’t seem to notice, they just absentmindedly avoided her in their frenzy, as if she was another obstacle in their way that they couldn’t trample.
Esper was grateful that she had the new shoes to walk in, it was a strange feeling but she bet her leg would have hurt a lot more without them. A deep sting of regret rose in her, as she realized this was all her fault. The nice man Deryk, this pretty town and the nice people she had met in the tavern, who had filled it with that brilliant warm feeling that she got to see. It was all gone because of her. Suppressing that rage towards herself, she went on, coming closer to the bridge. Looking to the right, she saw the empty stand where the nice old man was who she bought her shoes from, she hoped he would be alright.
The bridge here was not as wide as the constructions leading in and out of the town and people bashed and ran into each other as much here, as they did on the road. More than one terrified shout rang through the air before vanishing deep down into the darkness below. Esper took a deep breath and hobbled towards the bridge, her bad leg basically dragging her foot along as she went. The crowd parted here, as she placed a hand on the stone railing, which came to just under her shoulders. Holding it tightly, she began to hobble across.
Icy surges of wind shot through the chasm, as if the dead that slept deep below all let out their final breathes together at once. The roaring violent surge so loud that it overpowered the screams of the people with its torrential cry. Her cloak and dress flew wildly around her, her hair beneath the hood tossing as far as it could. Her eyes shot up to the tower rising before her on the far end of the other side, the great cloth tapestry hanging from its top level, flying high, straight into the air as if it were an extension of the tower itself, reaching up towards the still distant sky. She knew it was telling her that this was her fault, she had stayed too long. Punishment.
Suppressing another scream behind her pursed lips, she hobbled on down the bridge, managing to avoid all of the people surging around her. Any one of them had the capacity to throw the small, frail girl off of it to secure more space for themselves and she was sure they would if they noticed her. Keeping her head down and the hood up as the wind howled on, now somewhat slower, she soon reached the other side. The smell was growing now. The smell of something sour and old. The smells of fire, anarchy of death and of fungus all coming together into the recipe of the night-people.
The far bridge, the way out was before her now, but people seemed to be collecting themselves before it, rather than crossing. The crowd grew larger and larger, louder and louder. Esper pressed her way through the crowd which almost seemed to part for her as she came close. Reaching the near front, she peered through the large men in front of her and saw them. The line of guardsmen standing on the far side of the railingless bridge out of town. Their shields lined up in tight arrow formation with the point in the middle, before widening out in an angle towards the edge of the bridge. The formation of shields building a several layer thick wall, blocking the only way out and up.
More than once, people tried to rush their formation, but the heavy metal shields that were stuck into the grooves of the stone bridge didn’t budge an inch. Another wave of people pressed forward in their assault for freedom against the shield wall. Esper looked on in horror, as the men and women behind the shields gave a violent push forward all together at once, sending several people stumbling back, others sliding along the shield wall, as the panicked behind them pressed and shoved them against the glossy, slick metal until they slid off over the wide bridge, falling into the abyss.
She understood now why the two bridges in and out of town didn’t have railings.
Support "Oratoria: Bury the Dead"
- Floor 69 of the metaphorical-dungeon
- Novice Writer
Socially awkward witches, sad hugs, dramatic adventures, spooky stuff, and comfy dungeons: My name is D.M. Rhodes, but I love to write about those things under the moniker 'Razzmatazz'. (Hopefully full-time, one day soon!) I’m a hobby occultist and, more boringly, I’m an XR expert, as well as a government-trained media and information specialist.
The main genres that I write in are litRPG-fantasy, action, adventure, romance, tragedy, horror, and slice-of-life. I seriously vibe with religious and occult overtones mixed in with super obscure story concepts. °( ~ )°
Thanks for taking an interest! Because of supportive readers like yourself, I can keep following my socially unacceptable dream! (I'm going to become the wizard-king.)
– Always open for feedback!