After a long chase, the spirit was out of reach, wriggling its way to the center of the city and outside the radius of our spells.
Tem reached down to help Zeno up on the roof of their slightly collapsing building. The bard brushed the dirt off of himself after his fall and shouted, “Lizardfolk, dragonfolk, easy way or hard way?”
“The way out that gets us out alive,” Harry called back.
“Okay,” Zeno said.
Then he low-tackled Tem and transformed into a giant mammoth, somehow ending up with Tem on his back. Then he trumpeted, stomping on adjacent zombies as he moved through the crowd.
Felegum’s furniture arrived on the scene and also began wreaking havoc on zombies and Tem hoisted her sword into a defensive position atop her mount.
The animated balcony ornaments continued their quest to defend Felegum at all costs, whaling into zombie after zombie. The umbrella, table, and chair were all making solid attacks against the zombies seeking to barricade us on this street.
Felegum had clearly woken up and chosen violence, because the next thing he did was invoke an ice storm on the escaping red slither. Using only some dust and his seemingly perpetually sweating brow, he spun the storm into motion overhead. The red slither flickered but remained.
Then he attempted to jump on Mammoth Zeno and fell down onto the beast’s back after a missed grab at the tufts of hair.
“Which way are we going?” Harry shouted.
I was tempted to answer “the way that gets us out alive” but I was too caught up in hoping that Felegum’s ice storm would destroy the Red Eye. No one else must have said anything either because Harry sighed, gathered up Hat-Broom Man’s headless body, and leapt for the sewer.
He did not take the head.
Meanwhile, Helli leapt over buildings and Tem switched to a two-handed grip on her sword and squeezed the mammoth’s neck as she would direct a horse toward their foes. “Whoa, steady, Zeno!” She called as the mammoth trumpeted.
As all that was going on, I flew over to where the head was and, picking it up, used some of the blood to write “one down” in Csipherian on a side of a two-story building. Was it gross? Yes.
Was it necessary? I thought so. My people had lived in fear for so long of these red-eyed monsters. It was high time to show them that monsters could be beaten.
I also just felt really good. Maybe it was the battle high or something, but the gross sick feeling I’d had earlier had disappeared. I didn’t even mind that much that I was covered in blood up to my arms.
The zombies attacked the umbrella that Felegum had animated, but a few blows from the undead were not enough to bring it down. The two-legged table (somehow stable and also one of the sorcerer’s best fighters) was also proving quite hardy. Four zombies laid into it, and Felegum cried out, “Two legs!”
Perhaps this inspired it to keep on surviving, because it did. His chair also was bobbing and moving, avoiding the clumsy motions of the undead around it.
Less small and nimble was the mammoth. Harry also sustained a blow, and more and more zombies flooded into the area. This was, I had to admit, the part of the operation I had given less thought to. It did make sense that we’d be surrounded.
Somewhere above us, the little red slither that had once been Hat-Broom Man continued to arc up and up toward the city’s center.
Zeno-as-mammoth reached valiantly toward it with his trunk, but alas: it was too far for him, even in this impressive form. Realizing this, he charged west, creating a path for us.
Two Legs the Table was kicking ass, zombie-wise. I didn’t even know how that thing had been functional as a table beforehand, but it had clearly found its calling as a zombie-slaying animation. Likewise, the umbrella and chair held their own.
Felegum himself crushed a chip of mica and screamed at the area in front of the mammoth, blasting obstacles ahead into dust. “Good job!” he called out to his furniture warriors. “Keep doing what you’re doing, furniture!”
Harry hunched his shoulders. “Move,” he growled.
They did not comply with his request, so he melted them. A few still stood.
“I said move!” He yelled, and then breathed out another line of acid onto them before planting a foot into the zombie in front of him. Then he punted the zombie while still holding onto its body. I was not entirely sure what was going on here, but definitely that zombie was having about as bad a day as Hat-Broom Man was.
And that was saying a lot, considering that Harry was still dragging Hat-Broom Man’s lifeless body with him through the zombie mob.
Helli crept across building tops until she had the misfortune to fall through one. Further evidence of the sadsack and decrepit state of my beloved city’s architecture, this would no doubt never have happened in a regular, functional Csipherus.
Tem summoned down the power of Bahamut in the form of a moonbeam in front of the mammoth to clear a path.
It was at this point in my frankly brilliant plan that I remembered that I had left the head by the wall. So I grabbed it, flew it over to a wall, and staked it on an umbrella on an adjacent building.
Another zombie hit Zeno, buy Ol’ Two Legs the Table was really holding its own. As was the umbrella.
Zeno himself kept moving forward and trampled those who attempted to thwart his progress. This proved incredibly successful. Many zombies were no longer a problem, though the gaps in their ranks were quickly filled by new arrivals.
Felegum’s furniture continued to mount an impressive assault against the horde, the umbrella flapping around in victory as it felled another foe. Its compatriot the chair was not so lucky, alas, and crumbled under the weight of the zombies’ strikes.
Once again, a mighty shattering spell erupted in front of the mammoth and Felegum shouted out a command to his remaining furniture. “Fight to your last twitch!”
Harry again breathed out in acid onto the zombies ahead of the main group. He kicked a zombie, which was pretty normal, except that this time the zombie he kicked got frosty.
The ice melted away in the hot Csipherian air a moment later, but the mystery remained. Harry was not normally the ice person. In fact, he and Helli were relatively removed from magical things, which was what make this even weirder.
He disappeared into the sewer with Hat-Broom Man before I could ponder too deeply on that, though.
Tem’s moonbeam swung out in front of the mammoth again as Tem slashed her sword through the undead trying to grab onto Zeno’s woolly sides.
Meanwhile, I covertly snagged an eye from the head. Sometimes that medical expertise from helping my parents out with unpleasant surgeries came in handy.
Then I flew back to the group and held up my holy symbol, still surprised when the undead backed off. It still made me feel guilty sometimes to be able to do this now, when I hadn’t been able to do it before.
Two new zombies who hadn’t been dazzled by me (or slashed by Tem or broken into little bits by Felegum) lashed out at the most offensive thing in the area (the mammoth) and the woolen creature vanished in a cloud of smoke.
Both Felegum and Tem hit the ground, and Zeno landed gracefully next to them.
“Zeno!” Felegum yelled over the battle chaos. “I remember the plan!”
Zeno looked thrilled and also surprised. “What was the plan?”
“Into the sewer grate!” the sorcerer called and headed over that way after Harry.
The bard nodded, and then must have done something provoking toward the zombies around him, because a lot of them moved away like he was the revolting one. He tried staring down the one behind him as he backed off, but his mysterious aura must not have worked on it because the creature hit him anyway.
Zeno slid into the sewer grate and offered words of encouragement to Felegum. “You look squishy but you’re gonna make it!”
To be fair, Felegum’s furniture was still putting up quite the fight: Two Legs the Table wasn’t giving up at all, and while his chair missed, the table leg was spindly enough not to be easily destroyed by the zombies.
I couldn’t see super well, but it seemed like Zeno had gotten stuck and that Felegum was attempting to push him through the grate. This should have been my first sign that the sewer was a poor idea, but I ignored it because I thought this was a great example of teamwork in times of distress.
The mage managed to get Zeno maybe halfway through the hole. “Goddamn it, Zeno.”
Zeno made a noise of disbelief. “You wedged me in here!”
“You wedged yourself.” Felegum scowled, still on his stomach on the street. He wriggled to address the furniture. “Keep up the good fight! Keep killing zombies forever!”
That would be a nice dream. It would be kind of cool to run across this renegade table kicking butt and taking names in our travels through the city.
Tem took up a guardian stance by the sewer hole, slicing at zombies who tried to get too close. I put my holy symbol away and pushed Zeno the rest of the way through the hole.
There. Job done.
Down in the sewer, it seemed like Harry and Zeno were exchanging some choice words. I couldn’t make out what they were, above the zombies all around us, but they didn’t sound like teamwork.
As much as I wanted to listen in, there were zombies to defend against. One made it past my guard, but I was able to hold off the others. Also, Tem slashed the one who got me, so that was something.
Old Two Legs was not as lucky: the table had put up a great fight, but with this last push of zombies, it was overwhelmed. It fell to the ground, a table once more. Likewise, the umbrella did not outlast the first strike of the newcomer zombies.
The table leg survived, though, which was a bright spot.
From the sewer, I finally heard Zeno’s incredulous voice. “Harry, why is he naked?”
Suddenly I did not want to know what was going on. Surely Harry understood that finding things on a person was an art and had not attempted it himself. He was a very smart person and I had trusted him on many occasions to make the most sensible decision.
The chair leg, meanwhile, was doing an admirable job being our front line as Felegum jammed himself into the sewer grate and then sculpted the earth around him to ease his passage through it. That was also pretty smart.
So now it was just me and Tem, since Felegum had also gotten the chair leg with him into the sewer somehow. Magic.
I had imagined that Tem would insist on being the last one out of some sense of paladin nobility, or just like “protect the kid” nobility that people seemed to espouse whenever it was convenient. But no, she slashed a few zombies to pieces, and then promptly got her big golden body stuck in the sewer grate, just like Zeno.
I sighed, evaded a strike from a zombie, and then flew up and slammed into her, trying to push her into the hole the rest of the way.
It didn’t seem to be doing very much, but it did look damn cool.
This should have been my second sign that the sewer plan was doomed and that I should abandon everyone to save myself. I contemplated running off to the streets invisibly and linking up with Helli, who presumably had found another way out.
But Tem was stuck here in all her plate and armor and bulk. And as much as Zeno mocked me for it, I didn’t like giving up on people in a tough place.
Even if zombies were attacking us and there was this weird crackle of red electricity overhead with bolts of red lightning.
That definitely meant bad things.
“Hurry, hurry,” I hissed down to the rest of the sewer people, “backup is coming! Help!”
In retrospect, perhaps that should have been my clue that I was getting desperate. Asking for help was something I only recently started doing (granted, most often with my deity, who had specifically requested this of me; also granted, with a deity whose relationship with me was not easily definable) and only in times of extreme duress. It was not comfortable. I hoped they got the message that things were Bad.
Escaping invisibly was looking better and better. I could be cool, I could avoid trouble, and I wouldn’t have to go in a sewer.
But I’d also leave Tem in a vulnerable position for a very bad thing, especially considering how long it had taken us to get a much lither Zeno out of this.
So, I stayed, for the same reason I’d flown in after Lankin in the Glittering: I didn’t want to not be around to help in case things went sideways.
“You could totally fit in that!” Zeno called up encouragingly to Tem. “Yeah, definitely!”
Felegum’s remaining furniture was still flying across the streets and attempting to make it toward us. They didn’t move super fast, but if we managed to hang around long enough maybe really would follow us down.
“What direction do I go, Zeno?” Felegum yelled from below.
“North, dear,” came the bored response.
Then there was a sound like ice crystalizing out of thin air and slamming into something.
Down in the sewer I could hear Harry grabbing onto Tem to try to pull her through and the clink as one of the chains on her armor broke with the force of it. She was able to wriggle herself the rest of the way through, leaving a space for me.
And here’s the third stupid thing.
I should have run, but I didn’t. I just wanted to be with my friends.
And definitely why I got stuck, wings out, in that same stupid hole that everyone except weirdly Harry, had gotten stuck in. In my defense, I was wedged sideways, which made it even harder to get through.
I should have done what I was best at and cut and run.
Because then the crackling overhead stopped, and the lich in red appeared and pointed at me and that was it.
“Shit, that was scary,” Zeno said.
My eyes flicked open; I was still caught in the hole and hurt so badly.
But then someone pulled at my ankle, and I tumbled through in a messy heap next to Zeno.
There was arguably the worst Red-Eye outside, I felt like hell, and we were in a sewer surrounded by zombies.
I looked up at the bard.
But I’d been in trouble and someone had helped.