The lurching corpses didn’t walk like men, nor did they crawl like beasts. They shambled along the ground, crawling with unnatural motions that stretched their feet too far forwards, their hands too far back. Every motion was jerking and halting, and by all rights the undead should have been moving at a slow, faltering gait. Somehow, however, the motions gave the horrors a sense of fluidity when combined, and their progress was faster than Armin would have expected It was a mockery of human motion, a nightmare symphony composed by someone that wanted to deliberately twist and prevert the very nature of movement itself.
Armin finally got the arccell into place, the satisfying click letting him know it was finally connected. The lines along the side and butt of his arcwand began to glow a bright crimson as it drew power. He took a deep breath to steady his hands then, in a sing swift motion, raised the weapon and took aim.
He wasn’t the only one making preparations. Clarcia had raised her right hand into the air and clenched her left into a fist. Armin recognized the motion – it was meant to draw in light, inviting the energy to flow into the lumcasters open palm and travel through their body so it could condense within their clenched hand. The veins of the closed hand were already starting to glow with the energy trapped within them. Beside her, Guiart had drawn his own arcwand and was raising it towards the approaching monstrosities. His hands weren’t as steady as Armin’s – he was a driver, not a shooter, and it showed in the unease way the tip of his arcwand weaved back and forth.
Aildreda faded into the shadows of a nearby alcove, not yet powering up her weaponry. She would strike when the moment was right, and not an instant sooner. Knowing she was there was a comfort for Armin – it reminded him of fighting alongside Eupheme. Aildreda might not have the umbrist’s ability to walk through the Shadow, but she was more than capable of hiding in darkness and stabbing at the opportune moment.
Ossman bellowed a wordless challenge and drew his axe, charging the abominations head on.
Armin cursed and fired a beam of unlight into the lead undead. It hit the necrotised flesh and sizzled. The creature was completely unphased by the injury and continued to advance. Of course, Armin thought, and then Ossman was in among them, his axe coming down on the lead undead. It split the creature’s skull in twain, the two halve flopping to the side as Ossman’s arcbladed axe was able to cut it all the way down to the neck.
Ossman stood there for a moment, looking both disgusted and pleased with what he’d accomplished.
Then the undead’s two eyes – now far wider apart than they had been – looked up at Ossman, and the former man reached for him was hands that grasped like claws.
Ossman stumbled back, batting away the grasping arms with the flat of his axe.
Armin opened fire again, this one catching one of the undead in the elbow. It separated the arm from the limb and set the corpse tumbling to the ground. Ossman’s axe flashed, and the creature lost a leg as well.
Somehow, it still managed to lurch towards Ossman. Armin knew his friend well. He could see fear was beginning to settle in, and Ossman took several quick steps back, sweat beginning to bead on his brow. The severed arm began to inch forward along the ground by its fingers, the rest of the limb growing flexible and slithering like a snake.
Armin cursed under his breath. The undead could only be destroyed permanently if they were reduced to ash. Only one person had that power, and Clarcia was still drawing power. Guiart was firing, although he didn’t have Armin’s aim. His shots were mostly those of a soldier – hitting the undead in their torsos. While it managed to cut out huge chunks of flesh, it did nothing to impede them.
They needed to buy more time. As much as he hated doing so, Armin took another deep breath and drew a bit of Light.
In front of him, lines began to emerge along the skin of the undead.
He hadn’t told anyone about this yet. Ever since he’d drawn light directly from the sunstone, ever since his eyes had been changed to glow like the corona of an eclipse, he could use light in one way that he’d never heard before – by holding onto it, he could see the lines of power that flowed with any lumcasting.
It was heretical to even attempt it. Man was not meant to see the flow of light, only its effects. He was playing in the realm of the Little Gods – and even they would surely think twice before such blasphemy.
But what he could see, he could target. Arcwands shot beams of concentrated light. It should be enough to disrupt the field containing the shadow. Free it, allow it to disperse.
He just had to commit blasphemy to allow it happen.
Forgive me, Armin begged as he took aim.
He focused on one of the uninjured undead. The node of light that contained the trapped shadow was located directly under the creature’s right armpit. Armin took aim at the node and let loose a blast.
His aim was off. He hit the undead just under the armpit. That arm now hung limply, strands of flesh barely connecting it to the larger body, but it still remained animate. Armin waivered. It gave the undead an opportunity to reach out and wrap brittle fingers around Ossman’s ankles. Another undead surged forward and drew lines of blood along Ossman’s chest with fingers that ended in wickedly curved claws.
Armin took a deep, steadying breath, and fired again.
This time, his aim was true. The beam of arcfire intersected the node perfectly. The undead paused for a moment.
Then darkness exploded outward from it, a long-trapped shadow freed from the creature’s corpse. It swirled in the air like a hungry cloud of smoke, searching for a vessel and finding none.
And it was broken. Webs of something akin to light crisscrossed its mass, spiderwebs binding and containing the darkness, trying to force it into action.
Unlight, Armin thought, his breathing stopping. Ossman cleaved the head from the undead that had attacked him, and stepped back over the broken corpse of the one that Armin had broken. “How did you manage that shot?” Clarcia asked.
“Luck!” Armin said, hoping he didn’t sound as disingenuous as he felt. “Was just trying to finish off the arm.”
The shadow should have dispersed. The shadow would have dispersed if it had been ordinary necromancy. But the unlight trapped the shadow, bound it, and forced it to action. It floated up to the ceiling, where it waited.
Waited for a new body to inhabit.
Guiart screamed in sudden pain. One of the undead had slipped past Ossman while Armin was woolgathering. A beam of arclight shot out, severing the hand that had gripped Guiart’s arm, fingers digging into his bicep.
Aildreda had emerged from the alcove she’d stepped into. She drew her sword and charged in, the blade singing through the air.
“I need just a few more seconds!” Clarcia said, her voice straining from the power she was holding. Armin could see it clearly now. She glowed to his eyes like the sun – warm and painful to look at for more than an instant.
Armin just hoped they could buy her the time she needed.