Dalen stirred. He didn't know if it was safe to move about yet, and hadn't dared to dig himself out of the pile of stinking corpses he had hidden in for some hours already. The smell of sour blood and bile was rank on each breath, and though the only light afforded him on this terrible night was the flickering flames that gnawed on the remnants of his hometown granted some illimination, he would much rather not see.
Not see the blood soaking into the course woolen shirt he wore, soaked into the pants of the same material that dragged at his waist with the wait of blood they had soaked. None of it was his, of course. He was a coward, and had fled like the rest before the assault.
And so, as he shrugged the last of the dead from his body and rose, he surveyed what was left of his home. A few streets, none of them cobbled or paved in any way, lay smirched with blood and littered with the dead. Men and women, children, it had made little difference to the infidels who raided in the night. Not a single structure stood, now. Charred timnbers reached ghostly fingers to the heavens, as if clawing at the sky while the crackling echoed screams that only hours before their occupants had uttered before being silenced forever.
And Dalen was alone, staring at the devastation that remained of this once peaceful town, a community dedicated to the farming and mining heritage it had carried for generations beyond counting. All of it gone, in the span of one horror filled afternoon.
He shook himself, trying to get a grip. All around him was death, but he was still alive. Maybe others were, too, though....he quashed the thought. Nothing lay down that path but madness and death, and he had no desire to do either. Instead, he cast about on the ground near the piled bodies he had hidden among, until he found a sword. The blade was simple steel and already notched and battered with hard use. Its weight in his hands was odd and uncertain, and though he was twenty-four years old and had the strength to wield it, a few practice cuts in the air showed him that the reality of the weapon was far different from expectation. Shaking his head slowly - him, with a sword! - he reached down and pulled a sheathed knife, its blade a foot long and wickedly curved, from the corpse of one of the assailants. The bandits' glazed eyes stared unblinkingly at the heavens, and Dalen's hope that he burned in hell lacked much force.
Wiping the sword fruitlessly on his sodden clothing, Dalen moved along the street. Not a soul moved, and nothing save for the feather-light whispers of the dead disturbed the silence, unless you wanted to include the dark crackling of fire as it fed on timber and flesh, and the occasional sound of a building collapsing a little further in on itself, sending showers of rosy red sparks and embers dancing in the updrafts to be lost amid the smoky field of stars.
He made his way past the Inn, or what was left of it - blackened stone footings and foundation supporting nothing but charred ruins, now. A blackened, skeletal hand draped over one of the lower story stone windows made him shiver, and he crept back further into the dark places between the fitful glow of the flames, his course zeroing in on the only place left to him.
Home was several miles out of town, further on down a valley flanked by steep, pine carpeted ridges. Home was where is da and ma tended sheep and cattle, and raised crops for themselves and for market. His sister - half sister, really, younger than him by eight years, and a half brother who was six years his junior. Thoughts of home spurred him on, hope and despair warring with each other with each step, especially after he had left the last of the ruined homes behind, heading out onto a dark, rutted wagon track that led off into the wilds of his homeland.
He hoped he wasn't too late.
When he finally broke through the trees into the clearing of their farm, he stopped in his tracks, and stared at the carnage left in the wake of the marauding army. The fences were all down - it was funny how little things like that stood out stark in the mind, when other things were far more pressing. The cattle were gone, and in their place piles of offal drew flies in sickening clouds. The horses were gone too - they, like his own in town, had been stolen. His eyes traveled across the churned fields, shying away from dark shapes on the ground that drew their own attendants, creatures of the night that fed on carrion. They traveled to the house, and his sharp eyes could see from here that it still stood. Breaking into a run, he couldn't even summon panic or terror at what he might find. His mind was numb, too much to deal with coming at him in such a short time.
Arriving at the front porch, he saw that the screen door hung crookedly by one hinge, and the dry, sun bleached boards were stained with something dark and sticky. His home was silent, silent like a house of the dead. It probably was. He pushed at the screen and winced when the hinge that held it gave, and the door clattered to the floor with a racket that seemed to echo into the hills like a clap of doom. Silence returned, more oppressive than before. Taking a deep breath, he entered the place he had called home for his twenty plus years, prepared to find the worst.
He wasn't disappointed.
His father lay just inside the door, sightless eyes staring into eternity, filmed over in death. He clutched an old sword - the one that had hung over the fireplace since time immemorial, in his bloodstained hands. His ears were missing, shorn from the side of his skull - they had been one of the few features he had shared with his father, the only true evidence of the watered elven blood that flowed through his veins. His shirt was soaked with blood, a gaping hole yawning where his heart had been.
Dalen looked on without speaking, without even thinking for a time. And then he continued into his home, each step dragging as if his feet were weighted with lead. A faint whimper escaped him as he entered the kitchen, where his step mother rested in eternal repose. Another corpse lay there, disfigured into an inrecognizable mass of char where it lay, and the floorboards around it were as blackened as he had been. The lump of melted steel in the - presumably - hands of the dead man proclaimed him or her to be one of the assailants. He had not died easy.
Aisha hung from the shaft of an arrow that transfixed her, pinning her to the wall. There was surprisingly little blood from the wound, although blood or no blood she was just as dead. Just as dead as Father. Feeling cold and empty, he turned from the ransacked kitchen, and made his way to the rear of the house. It was only then that he heard the faint whimper, the sobbing. With a strangled shout, he rushed down the hallway, pushing past another dead body, not of their family, and rounded the corner, standing in his sisters' doorway.
Where he stood in stupified silence.
The room was a mess that defied description. Whatever had happened here had been violent, extraordinarily violent. Blood coated the walls in dark swaths, bits of torn flesh sticking to the congealing mass. Shattered bone glinted darkly from the remnants of the bodies of men.
Unable to help himself, he looked upwards. A man was pinned there by a knife or dagger through his heart. He wasn't wearing his trousers, either. An undignified end for an undignified man, no doubt.
His younger step-brother lay in a broken heap in a corner of the room, clearly beaten to death. Likely, the young man wouldn't let them get close to his sister. His sister, who lay on her bed, arms tied to the frame. Her gore-streaked face bore eyes open wide but strangely blank. Her chest rose and fell slowly, bare flesh stained from the slow drip of blood from the corpse on the ceiling. Hands bound, she had drawn her legs up to her chest, body twisted in an odd way to accomadate the posture.
"Luna!" He spoke, and found his voice to be little more than a croak. He tripped over limbs and bodies in his haste to reach the bed. It really was a sickening ocean of death; he slipped on blood and stuff he didn't let his imagine dwell too terribly much on before he reached her side, already scrabbling franticly at the rope that held her bound and helpless. As the knot came free her arm fell, rubbed raw where the rope had dug in. Before it hit the bed, it was snatched sluggishly back, joining the growing ball of flesh that was his sister. When she moved her arm, it moved blood matted hair away, and his efforts at the second knot fell away.
Her throat was slit rather messily. He couldn't believe for a second that she was still alive, and yet she breathed and moved of her own will. Blood leaked from the edges of the wound - it had been done hastily, frantically almost. He looked up at the ceiling, imagining that man sliding the edged steel across her throat, and somehow missing the arteries running through her neck. He shuddered.
"Its ok, Luna, I'm here. I'm here. Hold on." The girl said nothing, never uttering a single sound the whole time. Her breathing had quickened, though, to a panicked panting. She lay curled in a fetal ball, pale skin stained dark red among other things, elegant ears pointing through bloodied hair. He tried to get a closer look at the cut in her throat, but she wouldn't let hgim get any closer. Trying just made it blade worse, anyway, and so he set himself convincing her to get up.
She never made a sound. She also refused to move, or perhaps - he shivered - that blank, wide-eyed stare meant that there was no one at home. His first attempt to pick her up ended in failure, weak struggles and silence, while fresh tears ran down her face and the vacant look was replaced with feral, animal terror. They had to get out of that room, the smell was nauseating him, and couldn't possibly good for her, in her state of mind. Despite protests, which made the footing even more treacherous, he managed to pick her up. She didn't weigh much, and even if she did he would never abandon his sister in that horro-filled room. He knew he would have nightmares about this day, but it would bethat room of torn bodies that would haunt him the most. He didn't want to know what had happened there, really.
Skirting around the dead, he made his way back outside into fresh air, taking deep heaving gulps of it to wash the scent and taste of death from his mouth. Luna remained a quivering ball in his arms. He had to get out of the open, bed down for the night. Looking at the bundle in his arms, he shook his head in disbelief and despair.
He had to figure out what to do before the morning, too.
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