Shouts rang out from every direction, the violently panicking crowd growing louder and more rowdy by the second, outraged and confused about the actions of the guardsman who they had assumed were there to protect them. Bottles, stones, anything that could be grabbed and thrown was catapulted towards the far side of the bridge out of town. Some stayed and kept pelting the shield wall with anything they could find, others ran down the left bend, going towards the lowest pillar, where the other bridge out of town was.
Esper looked on in some confusion, not quite understanding the situation, but mortified by the actions of the people around her. Everyone was willing to sacrifice the ones next to them if it meant they could keep going. The people on the road, the men and women with shields on the bridge. They were all the same animals, following the same behaviors of self preservation. Looking across the bridge she saw the silhouettes of the strangely clothed people walking around behind the guardsman, preparing something behind the metal wall that was blocking the only reasonable path of escape. Hollow screams made by dead things rang out in the night, fueling the mob with fresh panic. More split off to the side to head towards the lower area, others increased the tenacity of their frontal assault on the blockade.
There was no point in staying here. She could try to go across the bridge, but even if the people didn’t notice her, which seemed impossible, she would never get past the arrowhead of shields blocking the way. The last thing she wanted was to be thrown into the pit. But what else was there to do? The screaming intensified, as a man called out from behind. “They’re here!” With that the vague semblance of coordination by the people here, banding together to fight their way to freedom, shattered and all hell let loose. One wet scream after the other rang out from behind the crowd, followed by more deathly wails. They were here. They were coming for her.
The stampede regained its momentum, the people splitting off in separate waves. Some ran down the bridge towards the angled wall waiting for them. Others ran towards the left, towards the lower level down a road that no longer served the living. Esper’s mind raced and she too thought about which path she should take, neither seemed like a good choice and behind her was only the slow death of being eaten alive. Wretched screams flew all around her, merging and melding into a great wailing, as if the dead god itself were crying in the black night. Where would she go? They were coming.
Ice touched her skin, the metal necklace was so cold, that it would leave a mark similar to a burn beneath it on her chest. The pain didn’t reach her in that moment, instead her mind focused on the idea that had been reanimated in her mind. Returning to the world once more, like the clawing deceased tearing at the people. Esper turned right. Ducking and weaving through the running crowd and they around her, she went as fast as she could towards the great tower. The staircase was clear, the two men who had stood guard were no longer there. Presumably on the other side, in safety.
She wondered why they weren’t helping the people, why they were stopping them from leaving? Her mind went to the pictures of the two men she had met when she came here, the ones who were so nice to her. Who had brought her to meet Deryk and Aline who were so also so kind to her. They were dead now, because she stayed too long. Punishment. The girl took her first steps up the narrow staircase. Neither side had a railing here either and led to a sharply downward angled surface, that would send any unfortunate enough to stumble here, sliding down into the darkness below. Her eyes were wet and her heart pounded like a striking hammer against her chest as she went up.
At the top of the stairs was a heavy looking wooden door banded with dark, almost rust colored metal across its sides. A window at the top made of several thick, metal bars next to each other. A large metal ring sat on the side in place of a handle. She reached up and placed her hand on it and pulled with all her strength, praying the door wasn’t locked. A gentle stream of wind came past her, quietly, slowly seeping through the cracks in the tower and the barred window. Esper didn’t hear the gentle click on the other side, all she felt was the door swinging open towards her. Inside was a round room, with a simple round table in the middle, a winding stone staircase in the back leading upwards.
Turning around, she looked back towards the anarchy outside and behind her. The people had scattered in all directions, those who could at least. Others lay pinned to the ground, swarmed by the hungry things tearing and gnawing at their screaming writhing selves. Tearing out the meat from their legs and their guts. Anywhere they could grab and bite, they tore into. Esper couldn’t tell how many there were, but there were more than she had ever seen in Neuntel. The people barred themselves in houses and stalls that the dead tore into with ease, spilling through them like water from a broken floodgate. They consumed and took everything, stopping only to eat before rising to find more. The screams slowly became more and more high pitched, the wails of the dead now outnumbering those of the still living.
Tightly, she closed the door, slamming it shut as quickly as she could. Punishment. This was her fault. All of these people were dead and dying because of her. She had to go higher, she had to rise. They were coming. She slammed the bar down behind the door, sealing it behind her before turning to run up the spiral stairs of the tower. Her pace was crooked and climbing the stairs took great effort, every step introducing a new pain to her body. She reached the first floor, the furnishings here were luxurious. Made out of fabrics and colors that she had never seen before.
Running her hand over a large cloth covered chair as she went, her eyes shot wide. It was the smoothest she had ever felt. There was no time. She kept going, rising up another flight now into a room filled from head to toe with books of all shape and size. Her eyes took in the sights, her mind hungry and curious. She denied herself them however, and ran on towards the stairs, stopping only to look out of the small window on the side of the circular room. The bridge was still packed with people hammering on the shields of the guards. They seemed to be still living, judging by their movements and body language, their desperation.
Then she saw it. Behind the guards. The strangely dressed figures, who had come out of this tower were standing in a small circle, a large sigil beneath them glowing in the mud; shining brightly like a beacon in the night. A vivid green light shone forth from the circle, silhouetting the guardsman as it shone past them. She saw the crack. Her heart skipped a beat. Something green moved through the bridge, winding through the stone like a snake on the hunt. Two, then three times this light pulsed out in a matter of seconds. The bridge gave way, shattering in an instant, as if someone, some godly fist, had smashed a giant hammer down onto it from the sky above.
Even through the walls of the tower, the glass of the window, she could hear the wretched screams for that single second, before they vanished forever below, sinking down deep for the old darkness to keep. With tears in her eyes, she turned and ran up the next flight of stairs. Punishment. She didn’t listen. One room came after the other came, each filled with strange objects from strange places. This was punishment. She forgot the rope. She should have cut it. No person met her on her way up the stairs, all of them out in safety, most likely. How did they move so fast? How did they prepare their blockade, send men to the tavern only seconds after the night-people came?
Another flight of stairs. Esper felt a burning in her chest, her lungs gasping for air and her legs aching to the point of going numb. She looked out the next window facing the bridge. The guardsman, the strange people they seemed to have loosened their formation now. Their lines shifting in preparation to move higher, now that the way was closed. Some stood on the precipice and watched the chaos, others turned away and sat on the rocks. A pang of anger came to her heart. The nice men, Wilmont, Botulf were they a part of this back there? She couldn’t tell, all she saw were the vague shapes of the men moving around. All of them a blur to her eyes.
Gritting her teeth she went on, up the next flight of stairs still. How many had she gone up so far? How high was a tower? She didn’t know. Her mind raced faster than her body could. Her stomach felt uneasy and more than once she had to brace herself, feeling like she would throw up, but nothing came out. Finally, she reached a room where no staircase led higher. An ornate desk sat on the far side, the giant ornate windows behind it. A dark green rug, with gold embroidery sat below two chairs before it. Several shelves with more books, these less colorful, lined the walls next to paintings of men and women who she didn’t recognize. Save for one.
On the left side of the room, between two bookshelves, as if being hidden from the world, was a small painting, relatively at least. It was grizzly and almost out of place with the rest of the furnishings, but seeing it made her feel the strangest pang of happiness and a deep yearning for her old home and family. A single human skull with deep, thickly blackened out eye sockets. The edges were jagged and rough, miniature spires growing out of the bone. Insects that she couldn’t comprehend, swarmed in and around the openings of the maw, coating some parts of it so fully, as if it were the man's own flesh. The obscured girl looked towards the painting of Anheischig, the dead god and licked her thumb, before pressing it against the depiction of the skull. She nodded. Anheischig nodded back. The pact had been sealed long ago, down deep at the bottom of that cold river.
A sting like that of a wasp burrowing behind her eye, caused her to drop her head into her hands, as the pain shot through her body. A celestial knife carving through her flesh from top to bottom. After a moment, it subsided and she raised her gaze, lowering her hands. A streak of black goo coated her fingers, a string of the viscous liquid still clinging to her eye, like a strand of saliva from a rabid animal's maw. Her gaze rose back up the painting before her. The picture of some gentle woman in a flowing colorful dress was there, as it had always been. She rubbed her eyes, trying to understand what had happened. Something was wrong. She stopped breathing and listened. It was quiet.
There was nothing. There was no screaming, not from the living and not from the dead. Dread silence floated through the air, an arbiter of that which had been done. She knew it was over now. She had to hurry. They would come soon. They could smell her, hear her. Esper ran to the ornate window, dropping the robe-bag on the ground and pushing the large chair behind the desk back against the wall. Climbing up onto the seat, she pushed open the double window, which swung outward to each side and looked outside down onto the red streets far, far below. The orange lights dotting the city still burned bright, giving way to a grim display of the decimation that lay below them. Something sank in her stomach, as she looked down from the great height onto the destruction that she had wrought.
It was quiet. All she heard was the gentle stream of the wind, rising from the chasm like an upward flowing river. The flap of the large cloth banner hanging below her and her heart pounding in her breast. Those were the only sounds in the world. She saw them, the dead. Their ambling shapes swaying into a blur down in the distance. Filling the streets as they moved on in their strange fluid ambulations, flowing like foul water seeping out from old meat. Hundreds of them, thousands like many droplets making up the body of a black, oozing river, flowing through the dead city. Nothing remained alive, except for her. It had been quick. The world stopped for a second then and she felt their eyes.
The river flowed no more. A thousand bodies stopped in the streets and alleys, on bridges and balconies. A thousand heads turned upwards towards the tower, towards the obscured girl standing before the window. A percussion of their bones snapping in synchronicity, as their heads turned far too far for the necks to allow. All at once they saw her. They smelt her. All at once, the river changed course and began to trickle towards the tower. The thousand dead bodies, leading the way for the thousand more behind them, their legs sliding across the wet stone streets like a great centipede. The eyes of the many, never leaving the window, never leaving her for a moment, as their bodies shifted with the flow.
There was no time left. Esper reached over the window and grabbed the thick cloth dangling beneath her, before leaning back and starting to hoist the heavy thing up and into the window. The ever so slightest touch of relief came to her, as she felt the silky smooth texture beneath her fingers.
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!