“I need a few more seconds!” Clarcia shouted. Ossman stepped out of range of the nearest undead and swung his axe in a wide arc, the scratches in his chest burning lines of heat from where the undead had drawn blood. The unlight blade bit into undead flesh, but didn’t sever anything. In the stories he had grown up hearing, he would have paused in the battle and raised his axe towards Armin as a gesture of respect for freeing him from the clutches of the monster. Armin would have given him a solemn nod of camaraderie, and they would have resumed fighting.
Ossman had seen people do such stupid things in battle. Acts of bravado and foolish wastes of time. Saluting while the enemy was still fighting, attempting dramatic speeches, heroic last stands.
Every single one of them was now dead. Heroism, as far as Ossman could tell, was usually used as a synonym for stupidity. True heroes should fight for what matters. Being a moron should not be a prerequisite. So long as it was, Ossman was fine not being a hero. He’d settle for being a soldier with morals.
And what Clarcia didn’t seem to understand was that a few seconds was an eternity in a fight like this. Battles could last for days, weeks, even months. But in the heat of the moment, grappling for life or death with an implacable foe, things were often decided in a fraction of a second.
So he did what he always did. He did what he’d done in those dark days of the Collegium Rebellion, when he’d stood aside Armin and countless others – most of whom were dead now, none of them old enough to have earned the title of ‘adulthood’ yet. He did what he’d done at the Pass of Uramih, when the soldiers of the Alohym had first deployed their unlight weapons against a rebellion still wearing mail and carrying wooden shields and steel blades. He did what he’d done at the battle outside the Alohym factory alongside Armin, and Eupheme, and Tythel.
He did what he’d always done in the face of terrible odds and impossible tasks. He planted his feet on the ground and said “I will not bend.” To avoid giving a lie to his earlier thoughts on heroism, he punctuated each word with a swing from his axe.
Necrotized flesh was sent flying, fingers still twitching with an unholy desire to dig into mortal flesh, hands still grasping at throats they could not reach.
If the undead creatures understood his words, they cared about them as little as they did the slow dismemberment he was inflicting upon them. He saw no flicker of recognition on those still human faces, no acknowledgement he’d even spoken. They continued their mindless advance, crawling along the floor with a gait no living creature had ever matched.
It was disquieting. Ossman was used to his axe being the final word in any argument. He’d had it bounce off of imperiplate, only cracking the Alohym-forged armor, but that was expected. Imperiplate had been nigh-indestructible most of his life. It was like expecting his axe to slice through a block of solid granite.
He wasn’t used to slicing the head off a creature and having the creature’s torso continue to advance on him with malign purpose.
And to make matters worse, there were the voices. Twisted wrong don’t belong slice and smash and cut release the wrong cut the wrong holding wrong so much wrong slice their necks turn on flesh free us free us the taint the rot the corrupt kill and maim and slay. They’d been omnipresent every since his near-dunk in the Lumwell, lurking on the edges of his consciousness.
He hadn’t told Armin or Tythel. They would have just worried about him, insisted he sit on the sideline. LIke Armin hadn’t kept fighting when his eyes had turned black and gold. Like Tythel hadn’t kept fighting when she’d been poisoned by unlight. They wouldn’t have seen it that way – they would say it was different. He certainly hadn’t told Eupheme. The idea of the sick concern on her face was too much to bear – almost as bad as the idea that she might think less of him.
They didn’t understand. The three of them were imbued, each, with powers beyond the ken of normal men. Light, Shadow, and Dragonic might. They could recover from injuries that would leave Ossman a broken shell of who he had been.
That did not mean he was made of glass.
Ossman brought his axe down on the headless torso with enough fury that his axe bit into the stone beneath the abomination. He felt a sudden pressure at his back. Kill! The voice demanded.
Ossman ignored the order. A quick glance told him who was there.
Aildreda had managed to reach him. She pressed her back against his, and together they began to dance with the undead that swarmed around them. Ossman’s steps were firm and heavy, hers were light and nimble, yet they found a rhythm. There were so many undead, many of them formed from the pieces of the creatures. There was a hand on the end of a leg, here was a decapitated head striding on three arms. They kept finding each other, forming new horrors to create, and advancing.
Together, Aildreda and Ossman cut them down, as arcbeams from Armin and Guiart flew through the air.
It was too much. They were being overrun. These undead beings were tireless, but Ossman and Aildreda were made of only flesh and blood. They would tire. They were tiring. It was…
..it was getting brighter. Clarcia held up her hand that had been balled into a fist. It glowed like a miniature sun, but Ossman could see through the glow, see how her hand was cracking under the strain.
For the first time in weeks, the voices in his head went silent.
Ossman shut his eyes against the intense surge of light, but it shone through his lids so intensely, he had to cover them with his hands. Even then, the intensity shone through.
Then it started to fade, and with it came the greatest thing for a soldier to hear after a long battle. Silence. Blessed, beautiful, silence.
Calm but wary use and find and kill and kill and kill and…
Ossman sighed, heaving his axe onto his shoulder. At least he’d gotten a little bit of quiet.
He opened his eyes to darkness. Pure, pitch black darkness, far deeper than it had been before. He pulled forward his axe again, and even the unlight did not pierce the darkness.
“I think I’m blind,” Ossman said, desperately hoping the effect was temporary.