Chapter 12 – The trap (Part 1)
Patrick LeFevre gave the order to stop as soon as they reached the clearing in front of the burned east façade of the palace. The column stopped at his command. Following rodent martial traditions, it was divided into three squadrons: vanguard, commanded by the blue lizard himself; center, where the cage wagon was escorted under Monterey Jack's orders; rear, where the rest of the musketeers marched at the rhythm imposed by a rat lieutenant named Gideon.
The fifty-three soldiers came to a halt which gave them time to better appreciate the surroundings. Of course, the first thing everybody posed their eyes on was the burned building that loomed over them like an injured, yet menacing beast. Many were the tales of woe and ignominy which occurred in its bowels, with humans and smallfolk alike serving as victims of that violent zealotry disguised as heavenly justice.
And, as if these tales were not enough to unsettle the soldiers, a strange lack of noise enveloped the whole area. There were no birds, insects or rodents nearby, nobody to welcome them. Only silence. Silence and a strange feeling of sorrow that seemed to emanate from the rocks themselves.
After some uncomfortable moments in which the lizard glanced all around him with increasing discontent, something got his attention right at the doors of the rodent building. Something that made him sweat and grit his teeth quite disturbed.
From the distance it was just a common rock, big and out of place but a rock nonetheless. However, as soon as one got closer, features decidedly inherent only to living beings could be appreciated. Eyes, a nose, ears and paws. A robe, belt and sandals. This rock was nothing but a priest turned to stone with a horrified expression in his face. An arm up in the air, reaching for help that never came.
The blue lizard immediately summoned the three scouts in the battalion – insects all of them-. "Zipper, Grimkell, Asmund!"
Grimkell and Asmund were a pair of wasps with many years in service of Rouen's smallfolk army. They hovered to their commander's side as fast as they could, and their heart also skipped a beat at the sight of the petrified mouse. It was even worse for Zipper, as the memory of Julien Montblanc and that fateful night in the fields of Saint Pierre assaulted him, and couldn't help but drop to the ground overcome with disbelief.
These scouts were followed by many of their comrades, Monterey Jack among them. "Lil' pally!" The big mouse quickly picked the fly up and placed on his broad shoulder. "Easy, easy… rest here"
Zipper noticed, as he drew breaths to regain his calm, that the musketeers who had gathered around were in the same state of agitation as him. Whispering one another, reaching for religious tokens and sending quick prayers. Some others turning around and leaving the spot with trembling knees. Even his mighty friend was pursing his lips anxiously.
"Pull yourself together, men!" Patrick ordered with his trademark hissing accent. "Everybody, back to their posts! Scouts, follow me this way"
He also pulled Monterey by the shirt and whispered to him. "Sir Jack, keep the girls in the cage safe. Nobody touches them until I command so"
"Aye, sir!" The bulky knight saluted and hurried back to the wagon cage.
"Scouts, this is a grim turn of events" Patrick concluded peering at the distance. "And I'm
not just talking about this woeful scribe turned to stone. A whole garrison of mice musketeers is supposed to be posted here, but they are nowhere in sight. I don't like it. I don't like it one bit"
The insects nodded in understanding.
"Spread out" He waved. "Zipper, check out the interior of the palace. Grimkell, look out for the garrison's fort beyond these bushes. Asmund, check out our surroundings. Look for any sight of the inquisitors or the musketeers stationed here. Come back to report to me in one hour"
With buzzing speed, Zipper and his comrades got to work. The fly cautiously entered the darkened palace, praying he didn't bump face to face with the devilish sister of Gadget while navigating that pitch-black obscurity. He was lucky on that regard, as he found no one in there, only a considerable amount of blood splattered all over the place, as well as claw marks in the doors and walls, ravaged furniture, broken portraits and other destroyed valuables. All of it told the tale of a massacre that should have happened barely one or two days ago. And just like the ranger who walked these corridors hours before, the scout fly couldn't find any trace of dead or living rodents around. As if the corpses had simply banished. However, the off-putting smell of death and violence still permeated that underground palace like a silent witness that urged the fly to leave. It was frightening, to say the least.
One hour or so had passed and Zipper had just peered into a room with cloth-covered furniture and a shattered mirror when he heard trumpets resounding at the distance. The call to come back! The fly quickly made his way to the outside, his mind still trying to make sense of the evidence – and lack of evidence – of whatever had occurred in that place.
Once the three insects gathered around him safe and sound, the lizard took his hat off and run a paw over the scaly head. "All right scouts, what did you find?"
"Signs of a battle in the clearing and beyond, sir!" Grimkell, a more experienced tracker than Zipper or even Chip, informed assuredly. "Something big happened in this field very recently. However, I couldn't find anyone, living or dead. Only weapons scattered here and there" Then he turned in the direction of the gardens. "There is a sensation here… an uncomfortable feeling on the tip of my antennae. I can't just pinpoint it…"
The lizard's sight fell on Zipper, and he promptly stood straight and declared. "The
inquisitorial palace was ravaged, sir! There is evidence of a slaughter which occurred recently, but no corpses or survivors left. They… banished"
Patrick walked towards the petrified priest and crossed his arms over his chest. "It's the witch, isn't she? The witch did this before we captured her. There is no other explanation"
"No, Gadget is innocent!" Zipper raised his voice. His fellow scouts looked at him with disapproving stares, but the fly, nevertheless, continued. "Monterey already told you about her twin sister, Lawhinie Hackwrench, and what she did to Julien Montblanc! She would totally do something as cruel and savage as this"
"Oh please! Again with that tale of the evil twin sister?" The lizard turned and met the fly eye to eye. "And we just happened to imprison the good-natured, kind and harmless sister, didn't we?"
"Sir, but we did! Gadget…"
"Gadget Hackwrench is a witch!" Patrick roared. "A most devious one! Don't you remember that night at the graveyard when she filled our minds with false images of ghosts and hauntings? Don't you remember how she froze me and let me there in the cold until the sunrise broke the spell?"
"I… yes, I remember, sir" the fly slumped his shoulders.
"I do remember you poked at me, waved goodbye and left me there defenseless…"
Zipper got pale and even ¬fluttered a step back. "I… had to report back to Julien…"
"Relax, I hold no grudge against you or Sir Jack anymore. But make no mistake, there are no good witches in this world. And the prettier ones, like the one in that cage, are the worst of all. A little smile here, some sweet words there and soon they have got an entire village against us, making their capture a bloodbath" At that point the lizard made an evil grin.
"Chip Maplewood fell into the trap of these candid blue eyes, that much was clear to all who looked at him that night"
An uproar cut short the captain's admonishing tale. Back at the wagon, a small group of musketeers were arguing back and forth with Monterey Jack demanding the prisoners to be taken out and lynched. The mutiny escalated when a mouse of black fur and gray eyes named Zahid took the lead and incited others to force the doors open. Tammy and Foxglove defended themselves and their sleeping friend the best they could, scared as they were from the frenzied soldiers.
"Back off, mate!" The mustachioed knight pushed Zahid away from the cage's door, then defiantly placed himself between them and the prisoners, one hand ready to unleash his greatsword on the unruly musketeers. "Leave these girls alone, you cowards!"
"You moron!" The black mouse, owner of a penetrating and strident bass voice, threatened and insulted the Scottish knight. "Didn't you see the petrified mouse back there? That witch did it! Just like she turned captain Montblanc to stone! I was there… yes, there in the fire that devoured my friends!"
On that moment, the captain arrived at the scene followed by the trio of scouts. "What the hell is going on here?"
As one concerned teammate helped the distressed mouse to stand straight, the others rushed to meet their commander. Gideon was the first to speak up. "Sir! We've heard the inquisitors are nowhere to be found, that the entire guard is also missing. Is that true?"
"Aye, that much is true, lieutenant"
The officer gulped down. "T-then, I advise to get rid of these witches ourselves. Let's prepare a bonfire, let's burn them before it's too late!"
Many musketeers nodded in approval, but Patrick would have none of that. He grabbed Gideon by the collar and met his trembling eyes. "Control yourself, soldier! All of you, will follow my commands! Our orders are to deliver these witches to the inquisitors and we will do just that, understood?"
"But sir… the sun is setting down, the blonde witch will wake up soon! Then… then…"
"Then you will still do nothing but to follow orders!"
"Yes, yes sir" The trembling officer nodded and stepped back.
It was clear to Patrick that his troops were growing restless. This was not the outcome any of them were waiting for. It didn't help that a good portion of the column were survivors from the expedition to Saint Pierre, soldiers who suffered greatly at the fire and illusions cast by that blonde witch without an ounce of mercy. After some moments of careful thought which made everybody held their breath in anticipation the captain finally issued a fateful order. "Let's go back to the stables!"
The troops cheered and hurried back into a marching formation. Each of them knew that the journey back would take at least four hours treading through dark streets filled with undesirable humans and smallfolk. That was still a better option than to spend the night in that forsaken garden next to a scene of witchcraft and slaughter. With that in mind, the column of rodent musketeers began to make their way back to the exterior walls.
Not far away, the pair of chipmunks followed the soldier's movements with interest from their hiding spot under a thick shrubbery. "Chip, they are turning around! They aren't staying! What do we do now!"
"Dale, calm down!"
"Calm down you say? When are we going to rescue Foxy and the others, then?"
"We stand no chance against a whole battalion of soldiers" The ranger stepped out and looked at the red sky. "We must be patient"
The shadows of twilight finally crept through the bars of the slowly moving wagon and made Gadget Hackwrench stir and draw a long, lazy breath in. Then a mighty yawn overcame her, which in turn caused her to shyly bring her paw to the mouth. Only then she acknowledged her wrists were tied together again, this time fastened with leather strips that used to belong to a belt. "Ah yes, I was captured again" She whispered to herself with a sad smile of resignation.
"Gadget darling, are you all right?" Foxglove, who was looking beyond the bars with the big ears perked up, turned to hold the mouse's paws on hers.
While Tammy, curled on the opposite corner of the cage, wasn't in the mood to greet her companion as enthusiastically. "Hey witch, so you finally woke up?"
"Indeed I did" The blonde mouse rubbed her eyes as best as she could. "Where are we now? Oh!" The witch's jaw fell open, for beyond the cage the first thing she saw was the scorched east wing of the inquisitorial palace of Paris. "This place!"
"This is the place where your master killed my parents" Tammy declared in a slow monotonous voice, devoid of hate or sorrow.
"Yes, it was here" The guilt-struck Gadget lowered her gaze. "I'm so very sorry, Tammy"
The girl just shrugged in response. "I've been awake all day long. I think I've passed through the five stages of grief by now. There are no more tears left in me"
"Aww, Tammy!" The bat quickly went and gave her friend a heartfelt, compassionate hug. "Please, don't bear this sorrow alone. Gerald and Elizabeth were my friends as well, remember?"
After a moment of hesitation, the squirrel finally warmed up and wrapped her arms around Foxglove. "At least we are together" She whispered with a pained tone.
"But if we arrived at the palace, then why are we leaving? And in such a hurry?" Gadget inquired quite confused. "What happened today?"
Tammy shook her head. "I'm not sure. At first looked like there were no inquisitors here to receive us. Then a bunch of panicked soldiers came and tried to take us out by force. They even spoke of execute us right here and now. If it weren't for Monterey Jack who defended us…"
"Their hearts are racing in fear now, I can hear them thumping mad" Foxglove added with concern.
The squirrel cleric looked again back at the palace and couldn't help but to squeeze her long tail out of apprehensiveness. "We should be afraid too"
At the vanguard of the marching column were a pair of field mice of short stature but big dreams. Arlo and Giles, both natives of the rodent village of Preaux and both eager to rose through the ranks of the musketeer army of Rouen. They young mice were a promising addition to Patrick's army unit. The adventuring pair had distinguished themselves during the siege of Stone Coffer, and now Arlo had the distinction of lead the column as bannerman with Giles as his backup and guardian. It was Giles, in fact, who first warned Arlo that there was someone on the distance, right where the wall met the exit fence.
"Do you see him, Arlo?" The musketeer pointed at the darkened figure. "That mouse is running towards us"
"Aye, is he a musketeer? I think he is wearing a musketeer uniform".
"You are right! The colors of the inquisitorial guard! I must tell captain LeFevre!" The excited Giles broke formation. Everybody, stop! There is a musketeer coming to us!"
The vanguard halted and watched in growing suspense at the mouse who tried desperately to reach them. So desperate he tripped over a exposed tile and rolled around a few strides forward growling in pain.
"Go help him!" Patrick ordered and some volunteers stepped forward, only to stop short and witness the mouse raise again and resume his crazed run towards them, arms stretched out and jaw hanging down.
Those who also stretched out their arms to receive him quickly recoiled in horror and disbelief. Half the mouse's face was gone. The left side of his face was nothing but muscle and an empty socket where the eye should be. The rest of the head was covered in dirt and blood. A whole section of his stomach was missing below the stained uniform and the intestines were hanging down and swinging side to side with every step. And yet that lost musketeer somehow was able to growl and run like a rabid animal. It jumped at Arlo with open mouth and bared fangs as soon as his bloody right eye met the bannerman's shivering own, while the troopers just stood there too frightened to even move aside.
On the very last moment Giles pushed Arlo aside and took the blow himself. By the time his teammates reacted the creature was already feasting madly on the brave musketeer's neck, even though a knife had broken through its rotting heart and burst out at the creaking back. Giles even threw a few weak blows at the head and ribs before falling victim to the monster's hunger.
"Giles!" A raging Arlo pulled the creature off the lifeless body of his friend, then stabbed it viciously with the help of his comrades as everybody struggled to hold it pinned to the ground. However, only until the head was cut off completely the chilling screams ceased and the claws stopped to move.
Words of the gruesome incident spread like fire among the center and rear ranks of the military column. Amid the confusion Zipper buzzed hectically from one extreme to the other and finally towards the cage-wagon, where his comrade Monterey Jack was already engaged in another incensed argument with Zahid and his supporters.
"Did you hear?" The grey-eyed mouse was fuming by that moment. "A monster just appeared in the darkness and killed Giles! That witch just awoke mere minutes ago and now one of us is dead! Now, let us kill her before it happens again!"
"No, you are wrong!" The blonde witch defended herself from inside the cage. "I didn't summon anything! I'm not that kind of witch!"
"You liar! You spawn of satan!" The frantic Zahid drew his blade as his grey eyes sparked with hate. "By the grace of God, I sentence you three witches to death!"
While the girls retreated to the opposite extreme of the cage, Monterey Jack and Zipper drew their blades to defend them. The length and weight of the mercenary's greatsword dwarfed the musketeer's rapier but even then, Zahid didn't concede a single step back. "Stand aside, Sir Jack! I warn you!"
"Nay, mate. Put your weapon down!"
"You double-faced foreigners" His voice trembled with resentment. "Changing sides as you see fit! Just like that night when you betrayed all of us and walked away with the witch, only to show yourselves later with that cursed chipmunk as a peace offering! They captain might have forgiven you, but we, the survivors of the massacre, sure didn't! Isn't that right, comrades?"
"Aye!" Many other musketeers answered and soon encircled the wagon and the pair of scottish knights guarding it, while the few undecided ones took a step back. Swords were unsheathed, spears pointed forward and crossbows armed and tensed up. "The charade is over, Sir Jack" The black mouse declared emboldened. "You'll regret betraying the Rouen's army!"
Monterey gripped his sword firmly and threw the black mouse a darting glance. "Haud yer wheesht, mate! I'm the one obeying the cap'n's orders to the letter. Nobody touches these lasses, much less a lily-livered excuse of a soldier like you"
"Lies! You are deceiving us again, I know it!"
"Brin' it on, then!"
"To me, brothers! Down with the witch and the foreigners!"
On the last moment screams of alarm outshouted the renegades' battle cry and made them stop their charge and turn their heads around. Musketeers from the vanguard were retreating towards them in panic and disorder. The scout Asmund was first among them, buzzing his way to Zipper yelling over and over three single words. "Giles killed Arlo! Giles killed Arlo!"
"Asmund!" The fly promptly caught his comrade and helped him land on the cage's roof. "Asmund calm down! What are you talking about? Giles is dead!"
"Yes, dead!" The wasp declared on the verge of tears. "And yet he rose again, like a monster! He tore off Arlo's throat and devoured him in front of us! Then the captain… the captain cut his head off!"
Those who listened at that revelation could only answer with a quiet prayer. "God have mercy…"
It was then that hell broke loose. No sooner had the soldiers gathered their wits after witnessing the murder of the bannerman than the ground below them trembled so fierce and with such a roaring noise that made the whole battalion fall to their knees amid screams of terror and cries for help. The wagon-cage with the three girls inside swayed back and forth violently and finally got loose from its bonds. It ran downhill a short distance and at least over two unsuspecting musketeers until the tremors made it hit a boulder and crashed down on its left side. Only the fluffy and cushioned tail of Tammy prevented the girls to sustain other injuries than a few bruises and scratches. The three of them opened their eyes and found themselves holding each other tightly. "Oh, wow" Tammy stuttered quite blushed the moment she noticed Gadget resting on top of her. "I… you can let me go now, witch"
"Huh? I believe you are the one hugging me, Tammy. My paws are still bound, see?"
"Just go away already!" The embarrassed squirrel pushed the mouse away and sprang up to her feet. Only then she realized there was no cage anymore, just piles of debris around her.
"Hey, look at this, we are free!"
Foxglove, still collecting her spinning thoughts, helped Gadget to stand up as well. "Holy cow, what just happened? Wait… What's this smell?"
By then the earthquake had subdued leaving behind a heavy cloud of dust that obscured the whole garden in a gray mist. A mist blocking a clear line of sight from anything more than five or so strides away. Along with the fog came a peculiar stench that reminded the bat of rotting carcasses. The stench of death. "Did someone die?"
A series of screams coming from every direction in that foul-smelling mist put the girl's fur on edge. Not only were soldiers yelling orders and warnings one to another – Foxglove could even distinguish the gruff voice of Monterey calling out for Zipper - but also blood-chilling shrieks that even a wild and nocturnal creature like her couldn't exactly identify. "Girls, we really must get out of here!"
"Where to?" Tammy looked around and everything she could see were shadows of people appearing and disappearing in the fog. "We are surrounded!" She declared growing anxious at the cacophony of horrid noises around her.
Another voice was heard on the distance, one that filled Foxglove's heart with instant joy. "Foxy! Foxy! Where are you!?"
"Oh my god! Dale?" Tears welled up on the bat's eyes. She jumped up down and agitated the wings on the direction she believed her beloved boyfriend was coming. "Dale! Dale, over here, darling!"
But the rodent that stepped out from the mist in front of Foxglove wasn't Dale Oakmont at all. It was none other than Zahid, with his gray eyes bulging out and his face covered in fresh blood. Suffering from body tremors and rasping breaths, he could barely put one feet ahead of the other but this changed the moment he fixed his sight on the trio of girls. Then his nostrils flared with boiling rage and a guttural sound came out from his gritting teeth.
"I found you… I found you, witch!" He raised his rapier with shaking paws but a complete murderous intention. Tension crept into his penetrating voice. "Now I'll kill you and this madness will stop!"
The squirrel and the bat quickly moved to protect Gadget from the approaching musketeer. "Stay away from us, I warn you!" The cleric boldly said even though her legs were shaking in fear.
"Tammy, Foxy, be careful!"
The black mouse's veins and muscles strained against his skin as he lunged at the girls. "Die, monsters!"
Fate, however, wouldn't let Zahid get close enough to hurt them. From the mist behind a pair of claws held him by the cape and pulled him back violently. "Hnng!" He uttered as he hit the ground.
For some seconds everything the scared girls could see was the silhouette of the mouse defending himself against a wild beast that kept gnawing the flesh off his arm. "No, no! Let me go!"
For their absolute shock and horror, the beast they were gazing at was actually a cadaver - the cadaver of an inquisitor that somehow was alive and feasting on the musketeer's body ferociously-. This putrid abomination was dressed in ragged dirty clerical robes with bits of rib cage and internal organs peeking through. Patches of bare skin showed signs of gangrene and both his arms had turned black due to the decomposing flesh. Still, he kept on devouring the black mouse of grey eyes with an insatiable hunger.
Tammy and Foxglove shut their eyes closed and looked away the moment this animated corpse cracked open the chest of Zahid and ripped out the still beating heart in order to eat it. Only Gadget kept on staring at the scene with a mix of revulsion and fascination. For she had never seen a zombie before, a being that nature and reason stated couldn't – shouldn't – exist. Her admiration was short lived, however, as the undead priest turned towards her and her alone with its blood-spilling mouth contrived into a sort of mocking smile.
"U-untie me…" The witch pleaded in a quivering whisper first, which grew in volume and urgency as the zombie stood straight and stretched its black putrid arms towards her. "Untie me, please!"
Straight out of the mist, a figure rushed past the fear-stunned girls and struck at the priest's head with an iron bar previously picked up from the wagon's wreckage. "All yours, Chip!" This savior - dressed in peackokish red-yellow garments - shouted as he hid again in the mist.
And the ranger himself made an entrance with a jump on the blind side of the staggered zombie, cutting down the head of the undead creature with his fabled swords without an ounce of mercy or doubt. The rotten body then crumpled at the black-nosed chipmunk's feet in a second, final death. Chip kept his eyes and guard fixed on it, as if expecting the headless zombie to somehow continue fighting on.
"Yeah!" Dale joined his victorious yet brooding friend with a slap on the back. "With a bang and a boom! That's what I call teamwork!" Both chipmunks then turned to help of the speechless trio of girls. "Foxglove, Tammy, Gadget!" The bard beamed the biggest smile of his life. "Are you all right?"
"D-D…" Foxglove's eyes watered up as she looked for words, then literally flew at the arms of her red-nosed fiancée and wrapped her wings around him, not wanting to let go never again. "Dale! Dale my love, you are here at last!"
"At last and forever!" The bard eagerly declared, then leaned forward to pay his loved one a long due kiss. "I missed you so much, Foxy!"
Chip, meanwhile, was assaulted and almost tackled down by the euphoric young squirrel. "Chip! Oh god, Chip, it's really you!"
"Tammy! You are safe!" The chipmunk hugged the squirrel back, patted her head tenderly but not much else, as his attention was soon drawn to the mouse that was silently smiling at him. Tammy was just about to tell Chip how much she missed him when the ranger broke the embrace and stepped away, leaving the cleric with the words on the tip of her tongue.
"Gadget…" His voice trembled with a myriad of suppressed emotions and suddenly, he had no idea what to say. "I… it's been…"
"Sorry if I don't hug you like Tammy did" The blonde mouse blushed looking down tenderly. "But my paws are bound, see?"
"Don't worry about it" Chip sighed and took her paws on his. With the other paw he drew one of his dual magical longswords upside down and cautiously, very cautiously cut down the leather strips what tied her paws together. "Done!"
As soon as the sword was safely dropped in the scabbard he expected his beloved witch to jump at him just like Foxglove had jumped to Dale but instead, the mouse let her arms fall down to the sides, with her face turning ashen and her lips trembling astonished. This sudden change of mood worried not only Chip, but also Tammy who was right behind him.
"Gosh, Gadget, don't tell me I hurt you! I'm so sorry!"" The chipmunk hurried to grab the female mouse's paws again, but this time she refused to be touched and even took a step away from him.
"Where… Where did you get these swords!?" She asked quite perturbed.
"I don't think that's important right now"
"It is for me! These swords, these… creatures… they are bloodthirsty!"
Chip was carefully considering his next words when Tammy got between him and Gadget. "That's enough, witch! Can't you hold your questioning tongue for a while? We are not exactly safe yet, remember?"
A gust of wind helped dissipate the last remnants of the mist, thus revealing the battle that raged a few meters away from the party of wanted rodents. Patrick's battalion was scattered and fighting disorderly against an entire horde of zombies – living corpses of the inquisitors and guards that used to live in these gardens -. A quick evaluation let Chip conclude the Rouen's army was outnumbered and on the verge of collapsing. To make things worse, every fallen soldier almost immediately raised again as a new hunger-crazy shade that added to the army of undead.
"Oh cripes!" The bard tugged on his collar. "Who else votes for a quick hushed retreat?"
"We do!" Foxglove and Tammy raised their paws.
"Quick hush invisibility spell coming up!" Gadget pushed up her sleeves and started to create symbols in the air with the fingers. Still, she gave Chip a last reproachful stare. "We'll have our talk later, mister!"
The entire party became indiscernible to one another in the blink of an eye right after the witch pronounced the last word of the spell. "Now keep silence" The voice of Gadget floated in the air. "And do not interact with anybody or you'll break the illusion"
"Right" Her companions whispered in agreement.
On that moment a cadaver with a half-exposed skull and foul-smelling rags popped out from the soil right in front of Foxglove. The bat barely suppressed the natural urge to yell, and stood in her place very still and even holding the breath in. However, that wasn't enough to fool the zombie and its predator instincts. The undead creature pounced right at the invisible bat breaking the spell on her by doing so. Only the timely intervention of Chip prevented a tragedy and his cursed swords disposed of the foe before he could taste the fur of the bat. Unfortunately, by the time the corpse had gone back to the dirt everybody in Chip's party was visible again.
"Hmmn… how interesting!" Gadget rubbed her chin looking at the smelly remains. "It's as if zombies could feel their prey not only by sight but also by smell or sound, even without the proper functional organs"
"What does that mean?" Foxglove, now safe in her bard's arms, asked.
"It means we are in great danger!" Tammy pointed out at a large group of zombies who were already rushing downhill towards them. "They noticed us!"
Just like that, what were already grim circumstances turned into a hopeless situation.
"Calm down everyone, I've got this under control!"" The witch weaved another spell: Entangle. Magical grasping weeds and vines sprouted from the ground to stop and restrain the undead fiercely. It worked, at least for a pair of seconds. To the witch's surprise, the vines broke in shiny little fragments under the unreasonable rage of those monsters. "It-it can't be" Gadget gasped, then in a desperate act she cast upon them holding enchantments like the one she put on that murderous lizard many nights ago. It was useless, as the zombies kept on walking undeterred. Just as she suspected, that same holding spell didn't work on undead opponents.
Upon the blonde witch's distressed expression Chip realized there was only one option left. "Guys, leave now! I'll take care of them!" He yelled as he drew the longswords again and ran to engage the entire group of undead musketeers by himself, rather than letting any of them reach his beloved friends.
Dale tried to hold his friend back but it was too late. "Whoa! Chip, what are you doing!?"
"Chip, no!" Gadget and Tammy shouted in unison.
And it was the image of Gadget and Tammy suffering what made the ranger slash his way through the ranks of zombies with an extra ounce of rage. "Come on, you freaks!" He yelled building up courage. "Come dance with me right here!"
To make things worse, these anxious thoughts stirred the ravens and their dark cloud of ideas. "Faster, hero, faster! Slay these abominations!" Shouted Huggin.
"Keep on! Don't let them get close to your women!" Munnin added not without sarcasm. "You don't want to see them turned to zombies, do you?"
"Rarrggh!" The chipmunk growled in anger and promptly cut down one foe in a vertical slash, then another one in a flashing horizontal swing. The heads of a third and fourth went rolling to the ground almost at the same time and yet, these monsters just kept coming and coming at him. Priests, musketeers, even dead citizens in clothes of one hundred years ago fell on the ranger like a swarm.
Tammy, Gadget, Foxglove and Dale watched horrified as Chip drowned in a sea of rotted claws and fangs, of hateful shrieks and a whirlwind of purple feathers.
The cleric was the first to sprint off on the ranger's aid. "Chipper! Hold on!" She yanked the iron bar from Dale's paws and ran to join her crush on the battlefield.
With an acrobatic jump the nimble Tammy landed right next to Chip at the center of his hurricane of blades. "Hyaaa!"
"Tammy?" Chip's mouth fell open as he witnessed the young girl landing at his back with pinpoint precision. "What the hell, I told you to run away!" He cursed while chopping down an arm that menaced to strangle him.
"I've lost you many times these past days, darling! It won't happen again!" The girl stated as she pushed back a dead priest that still carried a jeweled collar around his neck. Next, she rose the iron bar like a mace and whacked the zombie right on its rawboned skull.
The last time Chip and Tammy had fought together as a team was on a certain night months ago when a group of drunkards made a big ruckus following one of Dale's late-night performances. And just like on that occasion, the chipmunk found they both shared a synergy that was hard to describe with words. Tammy's blows just came after his own fluently and effortlessly with grace and accuracy. To every opponent Chip turned his gaze Tammy was there to follow the attack in the blink of an eye. The blades cut first and the iron bar smashed next and the chipmunk would twirl around with the squirrel coming in a second later to produce a devastating dual finishing move. It was a beautiful and deadly dance which they engaged in not without a strange delight.
A few steps back, Dale was eager to join the fray but his girlfriend had him secured by the waist. "Foxy, let me go! These zombies want to eat our friends!"
"You don't even have a weapon!" The bat argued not without reason.
"That's because Tammy stole mine! Whatever, I'll just smash my lute on these rotting heads! It's a magical lute, anyway"
"Magical?" The startled girl let her fiancée go as she mulled over the meaning of these words and found that a magical lute truly explained a lot about Dale and his antics.
Gadget, meanwhile, brightened up with a new idea. "Foxy! Where is the bag with my cloak?"
"The bag with the cloak? The one we found yesterday? That horrible lizard gave it to Monterey Jack after you fell asleep"
"Oh, is that so?"
As Foxglove took to the air to join the others in the fray, Gadget looked all around the battlefield for the bulky knight. Everywhere the same gut-wrenching scene repeated over and over under the cold light of the moon: Living beings devoured by the dead, like a scene of that book from Dante Alighieri she loved so much – or used to love-. Then, like in the middle of a nightmare, the fallen would woke up again in fast-decaying flesh and in undead state, just like ancient tomes of that matter described. "If my father's books are accurate then… then…"
"There must be a necromancer nearby" The witch concluded alarmed and quickly cast a simple spell to detect evil in the area around. It didn't mark anything besides the ever-increasing number of monsters. She herself was the only black magic user around. That would only mean the master of this horde was powerful enough to wake them up from a far distance, thus making these gardens a trap in which she and her friends, together with the soldiers from Rouen, had fallen into.
"If only Lawhinie was here!" She lamented. "She would know what to do! Well, on second thought…"
Then she heard it: A battle cry with a heavy scottish accent that pierced through the harsh discordance of sounds caused by the screams of agony and terror.