12.2 \\\ Red Snow

A mass of frost crusted stone towered high above Fenrir, much to his indignation. The storm howled as his and his ward’s back, and he debated whether he should have tried to scale it. For a Demi-god such as himself, it was doable. Trying, but doable; if it were just himself. He snarled at the wall, baring his teeth as if that would force it to part. It wouldn’t and Fenrir couldn’t level it with the undead forces at their back.

He’d aimed for the western part of the city, as per his memories, it’d been less than fifty feet tall. The wall before him was nearly double that height and no doubt in thickness as well. Moments like this were when he messed being a computer. His flesh mind couldn’t process information at the speeds it used too. As his mind tried to figure a solution, Layla hailed him.

“Can you get over?!” Layla yelled over the fierce howls of the magical blizzard.

“No! It’s higher than the last time I was here!” Fenrir reported.

What Fenrir didn’t tell her, was that he wasn’t too sure he was on the right side. The storm had gained momentum close to the city. Which meant, the storm hadn’t just been a cloaking tactic; it was being weaponized.

He looked side to side. He then chose to head left. He hoped it would lead him to the Western-Gate. The trail to his Mistress was strong, but with the amount of mana in the air now; he couldn’t pin it down. The signature he’d been following was mixed in with this putrid mana. So, he would go through the gate and run around until he found her. Not an efficient plan, or a good one. But it was the best he could do for now.

Without warning, Fenrir bolted to the left; following the crystal topped stones. The snow was piling against the wall, and this forced him to run at a distance. It was certainly problematic – the visibility had been cut down to nearly five feet. Fenrir had to constantly wave in and out of the piling snowbank just to make sure he was following the wall. And this, the two made their way towards the Western Gate – Until a large mass appeared from the snow.

Fenrir was quick on his paws and sidestepped the mass. A mass that turned out to be poorly assembled shacks.

“This isn’t the Western part of the city!” Layla screamed over the raging storm. “This is East Bank! This is shantytown, we’re in the suburbs!”

Fenrir growled with mounting frustration. He had believed he’d gone to the western side of the city. However, he had to dodge quickly a few obstacles. The wolf reasoned this must have been where it went off course. Yes… The Great White Wolf does not make such mistakes easily. Fenrir followed the wall of mismatched wooden buildings until he came to an opening. A small alley that was just wide enough for him to squeeze his large frame through. He took that opening and trotted through.

One he passed through the first street, Fenrir was relieved to see the air clear up slightly. While the storm blew overhead, the cramped layout of the slums made it hard for the wind to blow through. However, it also made it hard for Fenrir to speed through it. The shacks around him varied in construction drastically. One home would be a single box-like construction and leave him unimpeded; another would be a two-story slightly leaning hazard with covers.

Nothing was uniform, and nothing made sense – much to Fenrir’s mounting anger as he slithered down the snaking street. After a minute of navigating the labyrinth of shacks, Fenrir noticed the emptiness of it all. He could hear… Things. They were in the shacks, but none of it sounded like humans. He also couldn’t hear the sound of fire. With the storm here, it was a given that fires would be sprouting around.

But there was none.

A light layer of snow covered the ground. It was well beaten and freshly used by many, but there was no one… Fenrir stopped to access the bad feeling that was welling in his stomach. He smelled dead.

“Why did–” Layla spoke up, but was cut short by a blood-curling shriek.

As if responding to Fenrir’s instinct, or Layla’s voice, several figures exploded out of the shacks around them. Their calls were nothing human, and they smelled of death. Fenrir didn’t hesitate. He did not fight. He ran.

Layla screamed as the monsters scrambling after them. Their in-human calls stirred the nests. And more undead began to burst from the homes around them. Fenrir barreled through the tight corridors haphazardly. One corner, Fenrir took too fast. He slid on the frozen ground, barreled through the shack. He fought hard to keep himself from turning over and harming Layla. Though, she was bleeding from splinters already. A nasty cut had appeared on her upper left arm.

To his luck, this had put him on the edge of the slums. In the distance, he could see the rise of uniform buildings. Without pause, the moment he caught his traction, he barreled towards it… And the undead was there too. In fact, the undead was still fighting against the living. Fires raged around them. The smoke pulled away by the fierce wind above. Blood colored the snow. So much blood that all the new snow became red.

Bodies littered the streets. All of them had their heads destroyed.

Fenrir continued, and Layla listened to the screams that began to build around them. Men. Women. Children. None were spared from the horrible nightmares that had appeared in the whiteout. However, neither did the middle-class district die without a peep. People were fighting in their homes. People were fighting in the streets. On their roofs. Fires rage across the homes along with the undead.

They fought with all their might. A fruitless endeavor Fenrir mocked. The undead was quickly building in numbers, and it was just a question of time. The undead did not tire. The living did. And block by block, the destruction continued. No one spared the large wolf much attention, only startled screams. They were not the threats right now.

Soon, Fenrir made it onto the main road where the living were rushing towards the city. Fenrir followed suit, much to their dismay. It was only when Layla sat up did people stopped screaming and just continued their mad dash to the city gates. Yet again, misfortune struck when the gates were not open. The massive crowd called out to the guards above, but no one appeared.

“We should have gone in when they told us!” A woman cried

“They’re just going to let us die!?” A man yelled.

“Momm!” A child cried.

Uneasy eyes rested on the wolf-human duo, but none of them dared to approach them.

“Anything we can do?” Layla asked as she looked around as the crowd easily reached nearly a hundred people.

“We can knock through that gate,” Fenrir huffed as he eyed the inky sky above them.

Moonlight had been well enough, but the smoke blotted out any chance of it getting through. Lanterns, torches, and scrap wood lit the crowd. A few low-level mages cast their own little light spells. All of them pushed on the gate to get through.

“We can’t do that!” Layla hissed. “The undead will get through if we do!”

“And the undead will kill all of these mortals and get through.” Fenrir retorted.

“So, we just endanger the city just so you can found your Mistress?” Layla spat.

“She’s your Mistress too now,” Fenrir said in a calm voice.

But he wasn’t calm at all. His emotions flared violently. Keeping his distance from the mass of panicking humans, Fenrir was having his own panic attack. The thread of mana that connected to his Mistress had disappeared completely. The storm was slowly growing stronger. Mana was thick in the air as it forced the blizzard to push harder against something.

Something…

His Mistress!

The thought was like an explosion of focused delight that cut away all the swirling thoughts in his head. He knew what he needed to do. Instead of following the faint, and not obscured thread –  he only had to go to the epicenter of this storm. But that presented another problem, dulling the idea’s blade.

“We have to get inside the city still!” Fenrir said as the mass of humans long forgot about the duo as they packed themselves tighter in the street.

“Then we’re going to have to get past that.” Layla leaned forward and pointed to the mass bodies. Now, people – armed with swords, axes, and anything remotely effective enough to fight with; they had begun to hack away at anything that tried to break through onto the main road.

Fenrir looked back to the gate and examined the layout. The buildings were three stories tall. And with how the street snaked, the storm had a hard time bearing down on them. There were no alleys on this last two-hundred-foot stretch of buildings. He could easily reach the rooftops, but the building line ended short of the wall by fifty feet. The wall itself was double that at the least. And instead of a low patch for guards to talk to people, there were portholes in the stonework.

“We’re going to have to try and get through the sea,” Fenrir said and began to turn back in a hurry.

“We can’t!” Layla barked. “The current lord had extended the walls out into the sea! We’re going to freeze before we get around that! It’s also going to take too long!”

And the two fell back into arguing.

The in-human like shrieks had ended that. Because unlike before, it was not a single one or a few. The shrieks rose from all around them like a massive hoard of demonic pigs.

The mass of mortals began to clamor over one another. Each desperate to save themselves. Women, children, and the old were push aside. While Fenrir stared down the street in the way they had come, towards the only ground entrances; Layla watched as the sudden fight for self-preservation angered her.

Women were pushed away, and the elderly fell underfoot. Children cried at the back as their parents abandoned them. The mother bear in her began to sunder into her thoughts, just like it had done back in Iron Horn. The intense desire to protect those children roared. Before Fenrir could catch her, Layla had flung herself off his back. She heads the ground in a stumble before she sprinted with all her might towards the crowd.

More children had been thrown away; eventually finding themselves at the back of the crazed crowd. Fear had gripped them all, and it was a free for all now.

“Come!” Layla cried as she ushered the children to whatever shelter she could. Which happened to be the third story building next to them. Build from red brick, and it’s lower floor windows barred with iron, it was the best place she could think to stick them. “Get in the building!”

She would not let them die. Even she knew what she had done was akin to throwing her life away. But she couldn’t leave now. Not after she had seen it.

“What are you doing?!” Fenrir appeared behind her and startled the children as they cried out in terror.

“He’s fine!” Layla tried to calm them. “We need to save the children!”

Layla gave him a quick pleading glance.

“We cannot!” Fenrir snarled. The children slowly calmed seeing their helper speak to the large wolf. And they too looked to him for help. “We cannot save them! I have to get to Cyril!”

“She can help herself!” Layla snapped at him. “She gave me powers! If the myths are true, she gave you powers too! She can handle herself, but these children are powerless!”

The two locked eyes, eyes of silver and eyes of brown. But the undead didn’t see fit to give them their little power game more than a few seconds. The shrieks rang out much louder as they poured through the alleyways on the eastern end of the snaking street.

Fenrir glanced over his shoulder before he turned back to Layla. He gave her one sharp growl. His head lowered dangerously to her face. She did not back down. After a moment, Fenrir turned back to the undead.

“Fine,” Fenrir snarled. “We’ll discuss this when its over.”

Layla let out a staggered breath of relief and rushed through the open door of the building. Which turned out to be a store. The ground shook as the horde, bolstered by the hundreds living in the suburbs, charged with insatiable hunger towards the living.

Layla took one last glance at the Great White Wolf. His snowy fur shimmered with silver as armor formed from mana. He faced the mass of dead, ready to kill.

“Thank you…” Layla muttered before she went about grabbing the weak and young from the crowd. She would save as many as she could.

 

º  †  º

Cyril planted herself on the steps of the cathedral; her mind abuzz with pleading prayers and fearful wishes. As tens of voices plagued her, she lashed out at the magical storm that encroached on her. The first time she had stopped the storm, it had been by pure luck. The second time, she had figured it out. Now, she was pushing back against it – whilst trying not to lose her mind to the voices.

This was why she had to leave. The voices wouldn’t stop, even when she was trying to stop this storm from coming closer. She had already pushed it back a few blocks from the plaza on all sides. In its wake, the conquered ground had been left frosted over and covered in snow up to her thigh. A few frozen figures were barely visible in the snow. People who had tried to escape the blizzard. The ones who thought their homes would be safe.

Moonlight and lanterns illuminated the plaza and the structure behind her. It was the last bastion of safety from the storm as she had created a vast eye in the storm. Heat and cold clashed all around. Life and death. The living and the dead. Cyril wasn’t ignorant of what lurked in the storm. What waited on the cusp should she fail. She could feel their thick black taint in the wind. It wasn’t a feeling she knew before, but when she felt it, she knew what it was.

Miasma. Corrupted Mana. The perversion of life itself, and it was controlling the storm. Cyril knew it was not the one who cast it, no, the mana that stirred the wind was different from its. It was mindless and mechanical. It only mended and added more mana when needed.

Soon, the voices began to go silent. One by one. As if embers where being snuffed out by the winds, or the undead. And with silenced voice, the storm grew stronger. It grew faster. Then it began to push back. The invisible clashing of mana as Cyril tried to bend the storm to her will. It was not that she lacked the power, this she could feel in her draw; it was that she was a large clumsy bull to an agile lion. She could beat it with skill and agility, but she just didn’t have that.

It was only with pouring so much mana, so much will, that she had fought it back. Now, she was being pushed back. She gave up on pushing back and lashed out wildly at the mana. She went for a different approach. She would cut at it and see what happened. Instead of trying to control the entire area, she began to focus the mana into blade-like weapons that flew.

Faint golden blades, as big as log mill saws, cut across the sky. One after another, as quick as she could throw them. At first, the storm took the opening to advance, but the being controlling the storm hadn’t expected Cyril to change tactics. The storm was disrupted as condensed mana cut through it. Left, right, center. High. Low. She disrupted the mana, and it proved to be a better tactic than stonewalling.

The snow fluttered wildly where she hit it, and the wind would change direction. Visibly, she saw the being slowly nit the spell back together. By the time it did though, she had cut two more. Then four more. By the time it fixed one cut, she had made two more each time. Cyril saw her way to victory here now.

The Goddess was slowly understanding this construct called Magic in this battle. The way it was weaved. The way it could be used. Slowly, she adapted it and her golden blades began to take on more vivid appearances. They lost their faint translucent luster and became thick half-moon blades of golden light. But while she became more adept, the storm was slowing coming back together. Within a minutes, the storm was not fixing itself faster then she could damage.

And she could feel why – – it was Souls. The storm was being strengthened with souls. It was not by the sight of the blank inky lines in the wind she could tell; it was how the wind began to cry when cut. Their anguish was on a different plane, one that resonated with Cyril. It was like the prayers, but closer. Louder. They cried for freedom. They cried for respite. She could not give it to them as she cut them.

Each attack, a soul ceased to exist. Cutting the mana was akin to taking a life now. Still, she persisted even as the flurry of screams echoed in her head.

DING-DING-DING-DING-DING-DING —-

Cyril was pulled from her battle as the cathedral’s bells rang frantically. She turned to see what. A figure stood on top of one of the spires, to her left where the bell hung – just in time to see him tackled by another and both of them fell from the tower. His screams grew louder as he fell towards the cobblestone. The other figure unperturbed as it tore into him, sending scarlet rain as it ripped into the man’s throat.

The sound they made when they landed was a sick crunchy slap. Only the bell-ringer had died. The attacker still dug madly into the deadman with gleeful hunger, almost sounding pig-like as the… Zombie dug into the man’s innards. Cyril froze. Her mind tried to compute the situation. Her breath heavy as her mind grinded against the screaming souls in the air and the —

The prayers went silent.

Cyril cut down the feeding monster with a shimmering light blue blade – Excalibur. Her golden eyes radiated anger. Fear. Bloodlust. The silence of tens of voices had allowed her mind to catch up, and she knew that it meant something horrible had happened. She no longer held herself back now. The air around her began to shimmer as she bolted to the large cathedral doors and pushed them open.

The door roared open, revealing the massacre that was taking place. The pews were full of fighting. People with blood dripping mouths and mutilated faces clawed and snapped at terrified women. Blood pooled around the doors where those who tried to run were caught. Several of the undead were by the door, feasting to their little ugly hearts’ content.

They turned to her, then scrambled at her. Their swine like screams were cut short as Cyril burned one with a ball of fire, and hacked through the rest. The whole room began to stir. The people were now trying to run towards her – towards perceived safety. With it, the undead followed greedily as they pounced on the human-sheeps.

“Save me!” Someone cried

“Help us!” Another called with hope.

The voices were no longer in her head. They were in front of her. Within her grasp. She brought down the swift blade of wrath upon the first zombie that came close. People swarmed past her and she did her best kill what she could, but it wasn’t enough. People were being pushed down. People were being eaten, and others were bitten. And then they too became the hulking monsters they had tried to run from.

Cyril began to panic. She couldn’t see Priscilla, but she could feel her. She was near. She no longer sought out the undead. She began to push through the throng of soon to be undead people, cutting down any undead that crossed passively.  She looked up, and she saw Priscilla at the very back, on the elevated altar platform with the Bishop. They were fending off the undead with the few guards that had stayed.

“Priscilla!” Cyril called out as she began to navigate towards her.

The throng slowed her, much her dismay. She had put away her sword, and just pushed people aside now. She no longer bothered to kill the undead, and simply slapped them aside; where they bit into someone else with sick pleasure.

Nearly halfway through the building, Cyril looked up to see how they were doing. Her heart sunk as she saw Priscilla being held up by her throat. A tall, blue-skinned armored mummy monster held her. Its eyes burned with flames as it smiled at Priscilla, and plunged its sword into her stomach.

The cathedral roared with flames as Cyril unfurled her wings, her rage-filled screams filled the air as she charged, disintegrating anyone who stood in her path.

 

º  †  º

 

Layla stared with dread at the small arm that dangled from her hand. The little girl she had been pulling along to safety… Was ripped from her. The little girl’s screams had only sounded out for a second before she felt a massive tug that pulled Layla back. Then, nothing. Layla looked up to see a hulking, zombified bear munching on the headless body of the little girl now. The bear’s blue eyes burned with sick satisfaction with each crunch of the girl’s body in its maw.

The bear dropped dead a moment later. Half it’s body missing as Fenrir’s claws dropped to the ground before striking at its next target.

“Get yourself together!” Fenrir snarled as he mull-kicked a lunging zombie behind him.

Layla stared at the half-eaten girl. She stared in horror, her mind filled with one thing

She couldn’t protect them… She was weak… She couldn’t protect if she was —

A scream filled the air, sending ripples through the air. The scream was different from the dying and the undead. It was like a call to her and the wolf. It was a warcry. A call to arms. A command, layered with deep-seated emotions that filled both of them – Wrath and hatred.

Kill the undead. Kill them. Burn them. Destroy them. 

The air shimmered as Fenrir let out a howl, a response. It was deep and demonic. He had heeded the command with glee as his silvery mana armor shimmered. Then, it burst into golden flames that licked out at everything. Fenrir then looked down to Layla, a sick toothy grin.

“She has called,” He said with unadulterated glee. “We will answer,”

A zombie pounced onto Fenrir’s back. The flames wrapped around it and burned it to a crisp within seconds, then it crumbled to ashes a moment later. Fenrir’s attacks came faster – stronger. He killed everything in reach now, even the living. They would just join the undead regardless, and thus, no longer cared. It was to be destroyed.

Layla was about to cry out – demand that he stop killing the living when it filled her too.

Kill them all – burn them. Destroy them… 

The commands were faint whispers, but they were like a siren’s call. She no longer felt horrified, and she no longer felt afraid. Flames danced off her arms, golden like the sun. Golden like her Mistress. She was an avatar of destruction, as she looked onto the thinned crowd of the living, and her eyes locked onto the child that curled up into a ball next to his dead mother. The body began to twitch.

No… Layla said. I am an avatar of life…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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