Chapter I: The Temptation
Copyright © 1999 C.E. by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: June 6th, 2018]
13th Month, 19th Night, 4,632nd Year
Note: All of this is going through heavy revisions.
Lodiyu awoke slowly unknowing at first what was about him, and his eyes could not avail him. He felt weight above him. Uncomfortable, heavy, hard to breathe. An elbow in his chest, a knee in his gut. Bodies lying atop him. Cold. Nary a sound alit his ears. He wrested an arm free and felt about his surrounds for whatever he might grasp to hoise himself loose from under the corpses.
Inwardly Lodiyu praised The Gods as he freed himself enough that he took his first breath of fresh air.
Lodiyu tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids felt stuck.
Another deep, full, thankful breath.
It was so difficult to move.
Would it be cowardice to keep resting? He'd fought hard. Had he not earned a moment's leisure?
Was it over?
Had they won?
Enough strength had returned to him that Lodiyu finally managed his other arm free, and he began to rub the encrustation from his eyes. His vision blurry, his eyes were greeted by a sky of stars and moonlight gleaming through glinting white gossamer clouds, with just enough myst in the air to bear the moonbeams down upon the piles of broken bodies about him.
With a determined grunt, Lodiyu pulled himself free of the bodies. Exhausted he lay limply, his head down, and as his clarity of vision came gradually back to him, he saw beneath him as he looked down the face of his friend Komayu staring back up at him with one dead eye, his skull broken, warped, flattened and bent side-wise, face distorted and brains half-spilt.
Lodiyu gasped and turned away, seeing now before him the face of his friend Lataya, her glimmering green eyes staring back at him from what of her once-beautiful face now remained, for her jaw had been torn crudely from her, and her tongue hung slack from her throat.
Slowly Lodiyu rose to his knees, trying not to break at the sight. In pain he cried out.
He looked down at his hands to discover the encrustation he'd rubbed from his eyes was dried blood.
Shakily he managed to get the sole of his right foot planted beneath him, and attempted to clambor to his feet, but no sooner did he begin to raise up off his left knee than the crunch of ribs breaking resounded as his foot fell fast through with a loud slosh into Lataya's torso.
Lodiyu screamed angrily, as loudly and for as long as he could, doubling over as he belted out every last bit of breath from his lungs before collapsing back down onto his hands and knees, weeping like a frightened child.
Then he collapsed utterly, sobbing and wailing.
Whenas he awoke, Lodiyu was uncertain as to how long he'd been unconscious, this time or the last.
There was no-one tending to the bodies, and they'd already grown cold by the first time he awoke. Neither side had yet returned to collect their own dead, nor to dispose of the enemy corpses. Either both sides were still fighting somewhere and hadn't yet the chance to return, or both sides had devastated one another utterly, for there was no victor here.
Lodiyu looked up at the Moon to confirm She was still full, though far higher in the night sky than She was whenas the battle transpired. At least this was still the same night. Lodiyu inly thanked The Gods, for only hours had passed.
He was near the old barracks.
Fires still burned in the distance.
In the distance he heard a man scream, followed by the whooping and cackling of hyenas. Crows cawed in the night. The scavengers had begun to feast. If there were still a standing military force, it had moved far from here by now.
Lodiyu pushed forth, trampling the broken bodies and rent faces of fallen friends paving the path before him.
§β¶I. Lodilu gerendetilu vonyuvima Takanipando, volakenetilu tariolnoka berendetiolno daatiniikya. Toariolyoi vithiondu daataerenetioloi kipanianimi,
Lodiyu found himself drifting through the streets of Takanipayo, haunted by the battle that had taken place mere hours before. The horrid stench of blood and entrails lingered in his nostrils, churning his bowels as the foul odor violated his pallet. Pale moonlight from above fell short of the vacant alleys below, painting an already eerie atmosphere with a blood-chilling calm. Lodiyu was left reminisce the battle in which his brigade had been exterminated; a squadron sent to Takanipayo by the Knights of Aradiya to retrieve the Grimoire of Chthonicus from the Temple of Mortifer, and from the Mortiferean Knights who guarded it there.
Now Lodiyu was utterly alone to wander the ancient city in complete solitude. He didn’t even have the company of his fellow Valatanuyu u. There was nothing but the chilling silence of a cold, empty ghost town.
The city of Takanipayo was obviously a once proud and majestic one, yet now decomposed by centuries of neglect. The streets were filled with rubble, filth, and decay. This, however, was the least of Lodiyu’s concerns. Reputedly, the city’s name was changed to “Takanipayo” when travelers returned with stories of undead creatures, ghosts, ghouls, and demons roaming its streets in the depths of nightfall. Even the most valiant of Valatanuyu u feared the city and would avoid it at all costs, save for necessity itself; hence the difficulty his brigade had in locating the forsaken metropolis. Lodiyu could do nothing more on his journey to Takanipayo than wonder why anyone -- even Dark Valatanuyu u -- would want to set base in a city of such vile repute. Lodiyu’s only guess could be that the Order of Mortiferean Knights was more concerned with their desired secrecy than their own well-being. So truly disturbing was the air here that Lodiyu swore he could hear the wretched, taunting laughter of wicked beings echoing through his mind.
It wasn’t long, however, before Lodiyu realized that he wasn’t hearing some distant demonic laughter -- it was breathing. The breathing wasn’t quiet either; it was the sort of deep, bellowing breaths breathed by unfathomably monstrous beings told of only in the campfire tales of brave old warriors. With sword drawn, Lodiyu closed his eyes so that he might ken the direction of the beast’s exhales. It was coming from one of the buildings, slightly ahead and to the left. As a Valatanuyu , it was Lodiyu’s mission to find the creature and slay it with a holy vengeance. Such a being could not be allowed to wander freely and consume either the living bodies or carcasses of innocent men and women. The breathing faded.
‘Calm down’ Lodiyu said to himself silently, ‘it’s probably just a dire rat,’ he concluded.
Lodiyu eventually reached the building, though his heart had beaten as slowly and steadily as each careful footstep along the way. He could feel the hairs of his arms attempting to stand on end beneath his heavy scale mail. His body felt weak, numb, and utterly vulnerable. His heart was pounding hard and slow in his chest, as he choked back the bile creeping up from his knotted stomach. In the depths of his mind he knew that no mere rat could make such noises, even if it were the size of a bear. What sort of creature could he be stalking? He would have his answer in the brevity of the next few moments. The door creaked slightly as he pulled it open, causing Lodiyu’s heart to race. His instincts were to jump when the centuries of dust that had settled began to rain upon his head. It wasn’t like a Valatanuyu to be so affrayed, though circumstances certainly dictated caution.
‘It must be some sort of gargantuan demon...’ the young knight feared.
He was wrong.
As Lodiyu peered into the room, he could see a petite young girl sleeping next to a dying lantern -- her bundle of provisions acting as a pillow. She appeared rather cold, although any maiden who’d willingly wander into the interior of Takanipayo could probably handle the frigid nights here.
Just then, the door sprang from its hinges and crashed coarsely against the ground, scraping and banging, as its weight settled itself inside the room. The girl was awakened with a start as Lodiyu moved swiftly to conceal himself behind the wall. Lodiyu watched through the clouded window as the girl sat up and slowly clambered to her feet.
She was a breathtakingly beautiful creature. The Valatanuyu had been taught never to objectify someone based on the aesthetic prowess of her physique, but in this instance he could not prevent himself from doing so. He simply couldn’t help but stare.
This fair young maid had the sort of devastating beauty that most men could never even conceive of -- the absolute pinnacle of femininity personified. No more than five and a quarter feet in height with an astonishingly tith frame, and an unfittingly curvaceous figure. Her face was rounded with soft, delicate features, her skin looked as smooth as satin, her complexion was without flaw, her chin was modest and her nose was small and buttonish. Her eyes were almost shockingly large and breathtakingly vibrant; shades of sparkling blue seemed to burn with the intensity of the hottest of flames, yet were so chillingly cool that to gaze upon them was as calming as looking into a clear, icy pool. Her thick, dark eyelashes formed an outline around her brilliant rime-blue eyes, making them even more stunning by contrast. Her lips appeared full and pouting, and yet as tender and soft as the finest silk. Her elegant, hip-length, dark auburn hair flowed mistfully down over her ears as a golden blonde lock trailed down each side of her face, and the graceful brown mane provided a perfect backdrop for her thin, swanlike neck. The young woman’s torso was exceptionally lean and slender, and equipped with a chest so implausibly replete and buoyant it looked as though she were cloaking a pair of enormous, splendidly rotund musk melons within her bodice. Her waist was extraordinarily tapered and trim, almost inhumanly so, and her sleek, slightly concave stomach looked surprisingly solid and firm. Contrast against her tiny waist and stomach were her strapping hips and buttocks, beautifully robust and impeccably sculpted as if by some legendary artist; her hips sloping faultlessly into her strong, perfectly-rounded and generously proportioned hindquarters. Then of course there were her exquisite legs; exceedingly long, diminutively slender, yet at the same time quite muscular and shapely.
The young woman’s dress was scant, to say the least. Her upper body sported a thin, unpadded linen bust-bodice with a shoulderless scooping neckline, lace-up front, and long bell sleeves. However, the bodice was obviously made for a woman of far less sonsie proportions, which apparently prevented the girl from pulling the bodice together as far as it was designed. Resultantly, remarkable expanses of her round, gravity-defying bust was exposed as the fraying laces which spanned the bodice’s gaping aperture strained so hard to hold together they threatened to give way at any moment. The sheer immensity of the girl’s chest and the consequential manner in which the bodice was forced to fit left her taut midriff completely bare as well. Covering her long, sensuous legs were exceptionally low-risen, black leather, belled-bottom trousers. The pants rode so low that her round, voluptuous haunches were left mostly uncovered, as were several inches of skin below her naval; in fact, the trousers covered very little aside from her legs. Unbeknownst to Lodiyu, however, the girl had a most practical reason for her attire.
“Who’s out there?” she demanded, a frightened quiver in her voice; yet even so, the sound was as heavenly as the songs of a thousand sirens.
She watched Lodiyu reveal himself, moving into the doorway and removing the hood of his coif from his nigrous hair. Although the lighting was dim, she could see that the mysterious figure she’d feared just moments ago was quite an attractive man.
She had no idea who this person was, though she couldn’t help but feel an intense attraction for him.
“My name’s Kalnyuu Lodiyu [Ka Lodin] Aradiyatanundyuu [of the Knights of Aradiya], and of the Kingdom of Béowyn,” the Valatanuyu stated with his head held high in a confident stance.
“Is that what I shall call you then, Kalnyuu Lodiyulu Aradiyatanundyuu, and of the Kingdom of Béowyn?” the girl inquired in a semi-mocking tone, though secretly she couldn’t help but think how familiar the name seemed to her, as though she recognized if from somewhere.
Suddenly, Lodiyu’s self-possessed bravado crumbled and he withdrew, crossing his arms at once and then awkwardly scratching the back of his head.
“Well, no, I mean...” he stammered for a moment, “of course you can call me Lodiyu.”
“Pleased to meet you, Lodiyu” the girl responded, picking up her provisions bag and taking a few steps toward the Valatanuyu as her sharply curved hips swayed hypnotically, each step swinging her pelvis from side to side almost as if independently from the rest of her body, like a beautifully formed womanly pendulum.
“Huh? Wait, I mean...” Lodiyu began, nearly choking on his own pounding heart, “what’s your name?”
“My name’s Akanaraya [Wind-sung], though I much prefer to be addressed as ‘Nakaya’ [Gailed],” the beautiful young woman answered, her large, vibrant eyes peering deeply into Lodiyu’s.
Nakaya’s seductive gait was broken for a moment as she nearly tripped over the fallen door, causing her to drop her backpack. She couldn’t help but laugh at herself, and of course Lodiyu couldn’t help but laugh at her either. Suddenly the atmosphere was a great deal more comfortable, and the two frightened youngsters fell into tension-breaking hysterics.
Nakaya managed to regain her composure long enough to take a step back from the handsome Valatanuyu and comment, “I don’t know how you found me here, Valatanuyu , but thank you.”
“I think you and I should get out of here,” Lodiyu suggested, extending his hand to the maiden.
“Give me a moment,” Nakaya responded, as she picked up her pack and went back to the dying lantern.
Bending over to access the lamp, Nakaya unbuckled her backpack and pulled out a canister of oil, which she promptly administered into the modest lightning device. The object’s glow grew brighter until it was illuminating the entire room in soft, warm light.
Nakaya threw her pack on, sliding her thin, perfectly shaped arms through each strap as she picked up the lantern and proceeded back to Lodiyu. She took the novice knight’s hand and the two walked out the doorway together -- careful not to trip over the door itself, of course.
“So, what possessed you to come to Takanipayo?” Lodiyu asked.
“I was searching for one of my sisters.”
Lodiyu examined Nakaya’s face more closely. There was something very familiar about her soft, innocent features -- her exaggeratedly large blue eyes, her full, beautiful lips, her long eyelashes, her dainty chin, and her button nose.
“What’s your surname?” Lodiyu asked.
“Raadanaya [Rowan; the Little Red One]. Akanarala Raadanandye [Wind-sung of the Rowan].”
Suddenly it struck Lodiyu why she looked so familiar.
“Are you related to Kiraya [Kyrie] and Kariya [Jady] Rowan?”
“Yes,” Nakaya answered with a curious expression on her face. “Kariya and Kiraya are my sisters -- how could you know that?”
“I thought you looked familiar! I knew them when I was younger. So, which sister were you looking for?”
“Well, I was actually searching for Kariya. I decided to seek her out when I discovered a lead on Kiraya’s whereabouts. Last time we spoke was in the summer whilst we were robbing the Harcroft Estate; she’d been planning to make a trip to Takanipayo around this time.”
“Well,” Lodiyu began, “I’d be happy to help you search for her, I haven’t seen her in over a year. Though I should tell you that my mission here must take top priority. It’s imperative that I complete my task.”
“And what task would that be, brave knight?” Nakaya asked in her most facetious tone.
“I’ll tell you, once we get moving,” he responded with a smile, noticing that they’d just been standing outside of the building the entire time.
With the exchange of a silent, respectful nod to one another, Lodiyu and Nakaya began walking in the direction that they would’ve guessed lead to the center of town.
Neither the thief nor the Valatanuyu could’ve previously imagined the incomprehensible emptiness of Takanipayo. The streets were completely without life. The stars and moon set in the black sky ceased to prevail against the shadows of the abandoned city. There were no sounds; no crickets, no wolves howling, nothing but an eerie silence under-shadowed by the imagined moans, screams, and laughter of restless spirits. Never had these two encountered such an imposing darkness; just the idea of such an invasive void would’ve been regarded as logically contradictory in scholarly circles, but not here. This was the sort of darkness that veiled a world of infinite terrors; the sort of darkness that children see under their beds. The darkness itself seemed to breathe, seemed to move, seemed to think.
“So?” Nakaya prompted, awaiting Lodiyu’s answer.
“My Valatanuyu camp in Béowyn heard rumors that the Order of Mortiferean Knights had set up some barracks in the Valley of Necropia. Normally we would’ve left them alone until they became a threat, but we were informed by a defector that the Unseelie Court had requisitioned the Mortiferean Knights to come here to find the ancient grimoire that supposedly holds the secret to bringing about the return of Mortifer. We were sent here on a reconnaissance mission. Unfortunately, the Mortiferean Knights were ready for us, and I was the only survivor of the ambush. Now it’s up to me to find the Temple of Mortifer and see if I can’t retrieve the Grimoire of Chthonicus and take it to Hathor to keep the Unseelie Court from getting their hands on it,” Lodiyu explained, realizing how ridiculous it all sounded.
“That ... that is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard!” Nakaya exclaimed, an expression of wide-eyed laughter blanketing her pretty young face.
“I swear it’s true! You know that a Valatanuyu can’t lie.”
“Whatever...” Nakaya agreed reluctantly, “are you cold?” She didn’t think he would be. Not only did he appear comfortable, he actually looked as though he were a little warm. Nakaya, on the other hand, obviously wasn’t dressed for comfort -- but as a thief, her style of dress allowed for the dexterity and agility she needed.
“No, are you?” Lodiyu answered.
Nakaya’s head bowed as she blushed slightly.
“Oh, I see,” Lodiyu said nervously, having let his eyes drift downward to Nakaya’s chest.
Lodiyu and Nakaya kept walking until they reached a forested area of town. It was difficult to believe that anything -- even a tree -- could survive in this foul and barren city. The wind howled between the limbs as the branches danced about. The shadows cast by the Nakaya’s lantern seemed to come alive as they moved through the trees in almost sentient motions.
By now, tiny goose bumps were forming on Nakaya’s arms and she was unconsciously shaking a bit. Though she tried to pass it off as merely being cold, the truth was that she was also feeling very frightened -- a feeling that most thieves are unaccustomed to. After all, it takes a certain degree of fearlessness to succeed in the plundering business. There was just something about this cold, empty city that wouldn’t let her breathe. Thankfully, though, Lodiyu was there. Nakaya had been taught from a young age to trust the Priests, Priestesses, and Valatanuyu u of Aradiya. Her stepmother, an Aradiyan Priestess, and her father, a Takaluviyio defector, had both instilled in her the virtues that worshippers of Aradiya were obligated to follow. This, and the fact that it’d been quite some time since she’d last seen a person’s face, was her primary motivation for trusting Lodiyu almost instantly the way she did. Even so, Nakaya wasn’t sure this young Aradiyan knight would be able to defend her if something truly evil crossed their path.
As Lodiyu looked at Nakaya as she walked beside him, he couldn’t help but notice how much she and Kariya looked alike. Kariya had thick, wavy red hair, a freckled complexion, no points on her ears, and green eyes rather than blue -- but the two sisters were unerringly indistinguishable in every other imaginable way. Each curve and contour of their bodies were wholly identical -- from the curvature of their jaws and the shape of their eyes and lips, to the daintiness of their arms, hands, and feet, to their incredible bust measurements, there were simply no detectable dissimilarities between them. The two girls were so completely and invariably the same that it was as if they were two perfectly identical mannequins, one painted with a solid complexion and the other with freckles, one whose eyes were painted blue and the other whose eyes had been painted green, each given a different style and color of hair, and one to whom pointed ears were added.
Of course, by now Lodiyu was finding himself very attracted to the unusually sonsy girl, just as he had been to her sister once before. Sufficive to say, any fully functional man in the whole of Gaia would’ve unquestionably found himself feeling the same way. But for the eternally moral and faithful Valatanuyu , there was no excuse. Feelings of guilt were beginning to overwhelm him. Just as Lodiyu knew that any man in the world would be attracted to Nakaya, he was also sure that any man in the world would count himself lucky to have an intelligent, beautiful, caring woman such as Źadiya waiting for him at home.
‘How did I keep myself from lusting after Kariya in those days?’ Lodiyu thought.
When Lodiyu and Źadiya had first been betrothed to one another, it was difficult for Lodiyu to hide his obvious attraction to Kariya. Źadiya had an astonishingly gorgeous face and a curvy, athletic, voluptuous body. Regardless, not even the alluring Źadiya Elizabeth Foxley could’ve been fairly compared to a woman of Kariya or Nakaya’s proportions any more than she could’ve been fairly compared to a Dryad. Lodiyu often found himself remarking to Źadiya that Kariya’s immense breasts and petite body were actually highly amusing rather than arousing -- and although Lodiyu tried with all he could muster to see Kariya that way, he was bound to fail. In the end, it was the love for him that Lodiyu saw in Źadiya’s eyes, the feelings he felt when they embraced, and the overwhelming respect and commitment he had for his beloved Źadiya that kept Kariya from being able to turn Lodiyu’s head. The question was: without Źadiya’s touch, the sound of her voice, nor the mere ability to look upon her face -- without these things, could Lodiyu still remain faithful? The temptation may have been strong, but Lodiyu was a good, upstanding man who could never allow himself -- nay, he could never lower himself to going behind the back of his one true love.
Nakaya, on the other hand, didn’t have any of Lodiyu’s reservations. She didn’t have a husband, fiancé, or even a male companion to return home to. Nakaya didn’t even have a home at all. She was a drifter, a rogue with no material ties to any place or emotional ties to any person. It’d been years since a man had embraced her, and she had yet to ever experience the physical act of love. But now there was Lodiyu, a literal knight in shining armor who’d come to rescue her -- and since he’d mentioned nothing of Źadiya thus far, Nakaya was left to assume that Lodiyu was available. The sexy, auburn-haired thief couldn’t help but be attracted to him; he was tall, muscular, and ruggedly handsome with beautiful green eyes and long, flowing black hair. Not only was he one of the most striking men she’d ever laid eyes upon, but he was a Valatanuyu as well. Perhaps it was the loneliness getting to her, but she was beginning to think Lodiyu was the man she’d waited her entire life for.
It was probably just the loneliness speaking. Nakaya didn’t really care at this point, though -- all she knew was that she was feeling a fiery attraction to Lodiyu, to phrase it mildly, and planned to pursue him once they were safely out of Takanipayo City.
“So, Lodiyu, how is it you know my sisters?”
“It’s a long story,” Lodiyu began, “I don’t really know Kiraya. I hadn’t seen either of them since I was about ten years old, until I met up with Kariya again a little over three years ago.”
“Aren’t you wondering why you’ve never heard Kariya mention me?”
“She probably has mentioned you once or twice and I just didn’t notice,” Lodiyu concluded.
“Actually, Lodiyu, Kariya and I just met for the first time less than a year ago.”
“Quiet!” Lodiyu whispered, signaling Nakaya to stop by brushing her arm with his hand.
Once again, Lodiyu was alerted to the sound of deep, rumbling inhalations. They were more sonorous now than the first time the ghastly drones defiled his ears, audibly wheezing and panting as if more pronounced, nearer than before. The resonant yet ailing reverberations were far too monstrous, phlegmy, and disturbing to have originated from any animal, even man. Only the most lurid of monsters could produce sounds like these; certainly nothing of a natural sort was capable of such vile bellows as those being heard now. Lodiyu lamented that he ever could’ve presumed these sounds to have derived from an entity as enchanting as Nakaya.
“What’s that?” asked Nakaya, holding up her lantern in an attempt to ascertain the monster’s position.
“I have no idea,” replied Lodiyu, readying his sword.
The breathing stopped, and Lodiyu and Nakaya continued their excursion through the dark warrens of Takanipayo’s timbered piazza. It wasn’t long before the trees became interspersed with gravestones, and as the trees grew thinner, the gravestones seemed to multiply.
Lodiyu and Nakaya found themselves at the perimeter of a vast paddock illuminated by moonlight, teeming with headstones that blanketed the countryside. It was the most inexhaustibly copious cemetery either of them had ever seen, expanding almost perpetually as it diminished into the towering crags beyond. The graveyard itself was completely dissolute, littered with rotting trees and memorial statues in thorough disrepair reaching writhely above the sea of fog swathing the cemetery floor. Scattered among the broken, crumbling tombstones were ancient and ruined mausoleums, some as great as four stories in height. It was unquestionably the most harrowing sight either Lodiyu or Nakaya had ever beheld.
Shortly ahead, a willowy yet surpassingly full-bosomed woman with flaming red hair seemed to manifest from within the heavy fog. The figure was remarkably familiar, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Nakaya, aside from her crimson hair and freckled face. She stared coldly at both Nakaya and Lodiyu, remaining eerily motionless as her eyes shifted between them.
“Kariya!” Nakaya shouted, “It’s me! Your sister! Rakaya!”
“Rakaya?” Lodiyu asked, raising his brow in a quizzical furrow.
“That’s just what Kariya calls me. If you ever even think about calling me that I’ll --”
Suddenly, Kariya bolted toward the innermost plots, leaping over the graveyard’s surrounding iron-bar grille. The nimble young redhead moved swiftly through the tombstone jungle, sprinting no less than one hundred yards in a mere moment, before vanishing once more into the mist near one of the large mausoleums directly ahead. Lodiyu carefully sheathed his longsword as he and Nakaya gave chase.
“I never knew she could move so quickly!” Lodiyu gasped, stopping to catch his breath.
“Why would she run?” asked Nakaya, catching up to the winded Valatanuyu .
As Lodiyu continued to pant with his head between his knees, Nakaya dangled her lantern above the milky haze in an attempt to gather her bearings through the cemetery’s enveloping miasma. Lodiyu and Nakaya were still breathing rather heavily, though not from fatigue alone. The fog here seemed murky and fecal, reeking with the putrid stench of death. The rancid, nauseating odor began to suffocate the two youngsters with the rank tang of stale flesh.
“What have we done...” breathed a distressed, wide-eyed Lodiyu.
“What…what’s wr...wrong?” Nakaya choked out, petrified by Lodiyu’s panicked expression.
Lodiyu gestured straight ahead, and as Nakaya squinted to see what he was so frightened of, she began to make out a shape. At first it looked somewhat like the back of a wrinkled old man hunched over a grave, but as the mist began to clear slightly, she could see the grave had been exhumed and that the ‘old man’ wasn’t a man at all. Its skin was a translucent flesh tone made gray by the fat blue veins beneath, glistening with a coat of clear slime. The creature was so bony that it was nearly skeletal in appearance; spindly as an emaciated, disheveled cadaver, but with ganglier limbs and a stout, sagging torso. The creature was hideously out of proportion; it would’ve only been five feet in height standing straight up yet each arm must’ve been six and a half feet long. Although its backside was facing Lodiyu and Nakaya, they could see that the creature was slumping in order to feed -- it grunted and slurped noisily as it devoured its meal. But what was it eating?
“Ghoul,” said Lodiyu, unsheathing his longsword, “we should’ve known better than to wander into a cemetery of this size, especially one that has been abandoned for so long. This place must be swarming with Ghouls.”
The creature turned around sharply, raising the proportionately large, bat-like ears on either side of its slimy, hairless head. The creature’s face was even more hideous than its disgusting body. Its teeth were like long, crooked daggers -- some broken, some rotting, some growing straight through the creature’s cheeks. It had no discernable eyes, and an enormous pair of nostrils, each surrounded by a lobe somewhat resembling the ear of a hare -- so large it was as if the monster had an extra set of ears on the front of its face. The Ghoul sniffed the air slightly, and turned the rest of its body to face Lodiyu and Nakaya, however it then seemed to ignore them as it gnawed vigorously on a femur.
The way the creature fed was even more grotesque. It would bite off a chunk of bone at a time, suck out the rotting marrow, chew up the shell, and then bite off another piece. Sometimes, however, it would slide its slender, tentacle-like tongue into the hollow bone after sucking out the marrow, and slurp out several fat maggots, gobbling them up with even greater enthusiasm. Each time the creature finished a bone or a body part, it would simply reach its long, spidery arm into the grave and pull something else out.
“I think I’m going to vomit!” whispered Nakaya.
The Ghoul ceased its scavenging for a moment and raised its ears again. This time, it dashed toward Nakaya with alarming celerity, running on all fours. Nakaya was far too frightened to move. It stopped itself just a yard or so away from her and stood erect, with its portly little body balancing clumsily atop its gaunt legs and its long cadaverous arms tucked to its side. The Ghoul flung its arms forward, shoving Nakaya hard against the ground. Lodiyu attempted to hack at the creature with his blade, when it whipped its arm out to the side, striking Lodiyu violently enough to hurl him against a headstone, temporarily immobilizing the Valatanuyu . The ghoul postured itself onto all fours; its legs bowed out to the sides as its stocky little body was suspended mainly by its long forelimbs like an ape, with its elbows sticking up behind it not unlike the wings of a bat. The creature positioned itself over Nakaya and pinned her down before she had a chance to scramble away, and began twitching its nostril-lobes like antennae as it sniffed at her helpless body. As the ghoul continued to scan the teenager’s figure, it inevitably made its way to her face, where its nostril-lobes came forward into a v-shape, feeling out the shape of her visage as it soaked up every available scent. After a few moments of this, the ghoul simply scampered off.
“It must only be interested in corpses,” Nakaya said with a sigh of relief, looking over at Lodiyu as he clambered to his feet.
“Usually in cemeteries like these, there isn’t enough meat left on the bodies to satisfy the ghouls,” Lodiyu explained, sorely making his way to Nakaya, “so they resort to trying to bring down living prey whenever it wanders in.”
“Well there’s obviously something very strange about this particular cemetery,” Nakaya commented, grasping Lodiyu’s now outstretched hand and pulling herself to her feet, “the ‘meat’ that Ghoul was eating seemed a bit too fresh for a cemetery that’s as old as this one. Either the cemetery is still in use, or there’s something keeping these bodies fresh.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Lodiyu confessed. “We should be careful, there may be undead creatures lurking in the cemetery as well.”
Lodiyu and Nakaya continued to move toward the mausoleum, a bit more carefully so as not to catch any more ghouls off-guard.
Unexpectedly, the soil over one of the nearby graves began to billow as a hand reached up from beneath the loam. Nakaya shrieked briefly when she beheld the festering appendage extending from the headstone’s shadow, as more of the limb unearthed itself. Soon, a head became visible -- then its other shoulder, then part of its thorax, then the other arm. It was obvious at this point that the monstrosity now unearthing itself from the grave was a living human corpse -- a zombie.
Lodiyu ran back to retrieve the sword he’d dropped when the ghoul shoved him, leaving Nakaya behind for a moment.
“Don’t leave me! What the hell are you doing?” screamed Nakaya.
The now almost wholly resurrected undead man stumbled feebly as he struggled to pull his leg from the ground. Nakaya trembled slightly at the sight of it; a horribly decomposed human carcass, covered in rotting skin and muscle, worms and maggots gorging themselves on the rancid flesh as the zombie staggered toward the teenager.
Nakaya had seen a few apparitions since she arrived in Takanipayo; a ghost here, a specter there. She’d seen some frightening things, things that most people lived their entire lives only hearing anecdotes about. But now, she was facing something more than just some incorporeal spirit floating about an abandoned inn -- she was facing a very tangible undead creature. Her heart seemed as though it were trying to climb out through her throat as her palms became sweaty. The ghoul had paralyzed her in fear before, yet that seemed more like a disgusting animal than anything else -- this was a reanimated cadaver, a soulless abomination of a man’s body incarnated with darkness.
“Brains!” the zombie cried, tottering toward Nakaya at a slightly faster pace now, endeavoring to run as its frail body threatened to collapse with each step. “Braaaaiiinnnns!!”
All of a sudden, the zombie’s head was severed from its body. Lodiyu had returned with his longsword, as well as Nakaya’s lantern. Nakaya let out an exultant sigh of relief when the decaying carcass fell to the ground, twitching and convulsing without any evidence of conscious thought as its head rolled past along the ground.
“I’ve ... I’ve never seen one of those before,” gasped Nakaya, her lavishly prodigious breasts heaving fiercely upon her comparatively tiny, petite upper body as she labored to catch her breath.
“I have,” said Lodiyu.
No sooner did Lodiyu utter those words than the sounds of rumbling, roaring breaths returned. This time, the breathing was louder than ever, and mounting steadily upon their ears. As Lodiyu and Nakaya listened intently to the emergent respirations, individual patterns began to evolve. The sound grew ever louder, until it soon seemed as though it would consume them entirely. The rhythms of the breathing became clearer with each passing moment, until voices began to surface from within the echoing chaos. Unable to move, Lodiyu and Nakaya awaited their immanent ingestion by the torrential furor racing toward them. As the tumult drew nearer, Lodiyu and Nakaya were able to make out a single, distinct word being chanted fervently over and over again in a round.
“Oh Gods ... no....” Nakaya panted.
Lodiyu tightened his grip on his longsword, as he handed the lantern back to Nakaya. The sounds grew closer until finally an army of undead corpses poured into the clearing from behind their foggy veil. The zombies spit and gnashed their teeth, tripping over one another as the brain-starved creatures flooded the area. Crackling, crunching as their bones collapsed under their own weight, the creatures were slowing down as they closed in on the helpless youngsters.
“Run!” Lodiyu commanded, grabbing Nakaya’s free hand, he then towed her behind him as he took off in the opposite direction, back toward the cemetery’s entrance.
They didn’t make it very far before they found themselves face-to-face with a clan of very hungry-looking ghouls racing toward them at breakneck speed. The ravenous scavengers slobbered and growled like rabid wolves; each running on all fours and yet flocking together so fluidly they appeared almost as one great mass of predators.
Nakaya tugged at Lodiyu’s arm as she attempted to halt herself, pulling Lodiyu to a dead stop along with her. Looking behind her to see the zombies rapidly closing in on them, Nakaya let out a blood-curdling scream in anticipation of the slaughter that would soon be upon them.
“Get down!” Lodiyu bellowed, hunkering to the cemetery floor as low as he could, pulling Nakaya to the ground with him.
Nakaya braced herself for the attack, but was surprised when the Ghouls began attacking the zombies. The ghouls were soon ripping the limbs from the trunks of their undead foes, tearing the flesh from their bones and devouring them ‘alive’, so to speak.
The zombies naturally fought back against their carrion-consuming assailants, grabbing hold of the ghouls and biting into their skulls. The ghouls screeched in agony as the zombies grappled with them, yet the zombies made no sound at all when torn limb from limb by the ghouls. The ghouls seemed to have figured out very quickly that decapitated zombie bodies lacked the conscious ability to fight back, and instead only twitched mindlessly. The zombie heads, although remaining conscious once disembodied, lacked the equipment with which to return any sort of assault. The ghouls used this to their advantage, ripping the heads from the zombies in order to freely devour the dismembered, animated cadavers. Zombie heads were rolling past Lodiyu and Nakaya as they watched the battle from within. The cemetery had turned into a war zone.
The ghouls hadn’t a clear advantage however, as being living creatures made them susceptible to the zombies’ preferred form of attack; it seemed a single bite to the skull, penetrating into the succulent gray organ concealed within, was enough to kill each ghoul more or less instantly.
Some of the ghouls had found yet another rather efficient method of immobilizing their assailants. Though their arms were spindly and weak, their sheer length allowed them alarmingly superior leverage, which they used to grab any zombie they could and spin them around, flinging them up into the air far enough that the corpses shattered once they hit the ground.
Once Lodiyu and Nakaya found an opening in the mayhem, they darted toward the mausoleum. Maneuvering through the battleground as if it were an obstacle course, they weaved in and out of headstones while dodging injured and fighting monsters.
The screams and moans of the creatures gradually became quieter as the two began putting distance between themselves and the hideous monsters masticating each other behind them. Within a few moments, they’d managed to escape the combat totally.
“Look, Lodiyu, there she is!” Nakaya shouted, running toward the mausoleum even more quickly now as the Valatanuyu followed closely behind.
Kariya was standing just outside the three-story-tall crypt, as if awaiting Lodiyu and Nakaya’s arrival. Her eyes cold and lifeless, she remained as static as a mannequin frozen in ice.
Before they could even reach her, Kariya opened one of the large mausoleum doors, stepped inside, and slammed it shut behind her.
Nakaya stopped just outside as Lodiyu caught up to her, and the two simply stared up at the awe-inspiring structure. It was a humbling sight, with ornate marble columns on either side of the massive bronze doorway, stone gargoyles perched menacingly upon the eaves, and a large stain-glass window encompassing the front of the second and third stories. The building was an intolerably daunting bastion, whose face seemed to arc forebodingly over Lodiyu and Nakaya as it towered above them, as if waiting to crush them under its mass.
Nakaya’s jaw went slack as she continued look upon the mausoleum’s perilously grim ambience.
Lodiyu stood there, motionless, as he gazed up at the sheer imperviousness of the baneful fortress before them. “What do you suppose we do now?”