Authors: Terry Goodkind
The young men looked as shocked as everyone else to see the corpses with glowing red eyes approaching, but they stood their ground and met them with the kind of fury and confidence that only invincible youth and simple ignorance could muster.
The young man in command who had spoken for the others drove his sword through the chest of the first of the walking dead to reach him, a putrefied corpse that smelled bad enough to gag half the men waiting to stop him. The sword jutted from the back of the dead man. The corpse twisted, yanking the hilt of the sword embedded through his chest from the young man's grip.
With surprising speed, the dead man seized the leader by the throat with one hand. With his other hand, he grabbed the young man's muscular arm and with a mighty twist tore it off at the shoulder.
Everyone, including Gerald, flinched in disbelief. It was an act of occult strength that no living man could perform.
Without delay, other men charged forward and drove their swords through the dead man still holding his victim. He soon had half a dozen more blades stuck through his chest to go with the first. None of them slowed him any more than did the first.
The dead man tossed the screaming young soldier down on the ground at his feet. Even as other men hacked at him with swords and stabbed him with knives, the attacker seized his one-armed victim by the ankle and threw him into the side of a building with such force it cracked the clapboard walls. The man fell unconscious at the edge of the road, bleeding his life away.
Others of the dead, from the dried and brittle to the slimy and bloated, advanced into the midst of the young defensive guard trying to keep them back. Axes driven by powerfully strong men failed to bring down even one of the dead. Confidence swiftly turned to terror and screams, both from the young men and from the townspeople watching.
The battle was as brief as it was one-sided. In moments it was over and any confidence or hope the townspeople had that their home guard could protect them was shattered. All of the young men lay bleeding, most of them dead, at the feet of the dead come back to life standing over them. And the Shun-tuk had yet to descend on the town.
Lord Arc, the spirit king, the Mord-Sith, and the untold thousands of half people waiting behind watched without reaction. The townspeople watched with unbridled terror. Some screamed. Some fell to their knees and prayed to the Creator to spare them. Some begged Lord Arc for mercy. Many tried to run and hide.
Then the king of the dead, the greenish glow wavering over his worldly corpse, turned back to the sea of whitewashed figures behind.
The spirit king said but one word.
With that single command, the silent Shun-tuk instantly turned into a howling mass of killers leaping ahead toward the townspeople. People screamed as they scattered in a panic to escape, but it was too late. To the sides, a flood of the half people spilled in from between buildings. At the far end of town the road was inundated with the half-naked figures. They poured around Gerald as if he were a boulder in a raging river.
Some of the invading throng knocked into him on their way past him, spinning him around, making him stumble as he was buffeted first one way and then another. They ignored him in their madness to get beyond him to the people of Insley.
When they reached those frightened people, they fell on them with the savagery of wolves taking down terrified prey.
It was shocking how quickly the muddy road through town turned red. Everywhere people shrieked in panic. The Shun-tuk barged into buildings, going after people who ran inside seeking safety. People cowered inside, but Gerald could tell by the shrieks that there had been no safety in trying to hide.
In other places, people dove headlong out of windows on the second floors of buildings to escape those coming after them inside. Chalky white arms stretched out of those windows, trying to catch the fleeing people. Those who jumped escaped for only the brief moments they were in midair. Once they crashed to the ground, the Shun-tuk pounced on them, closing in so tightly that no more could get in on the ferocious feast.
Clothes were torn off to get at flesh. Teeth sank into victims. The howling, whitewashed figures strained, pulling their heads back with the effort of ravenously tearing off the stretching chunks of flesh. Others stretched in to lick at the blood gushing from open wounds. The chalky faces with the blackened eyes were swiftly stained a bright red.
It appeared to matter not to them what part of the victim they could get at. They bit into every part of their thrashing, suffering prey with equal intensity. Mouths of others opened wide as they tried to get in for their share. Teeth raked over faces, skinning off the features. Skin and muscle of legs and arms were pulled off in a savage feeding frenzy. As the soft part of the bodies were torn open, bloody hands reached in and pulled the viscera out past those crowded in close so that they could get a bite of something for themselves.
Gerald had always thought he was numb to death. But now he felt like he was going to vomit as he stood watching, unable to do anything for anyone. He had never felt so helpless in his entire life. His whole body trembled. Tears ran down his cheeks as he panted in horror.
He didn't want to live to see any more of it. He would rather die. He wanted death to take him so he would not have to endure it.
The screams finally died out when there was no one left alive to scream, but the feeding frenzy continued. Every scrap of flesh was consumed, leaving only bloody bones. Those were pulled and twisted apart and taken by those crowded around so that they could be licked clean of the blood or bashed open to suck out the marrow. There didn't seem to be enough to go around, leaving the Shun-tuk who hadn't been able to feed to fight over any scraps that were left.
Gerald turned back to Lord Arc, rage filling his voice. “Why would they do this? There is no possible purpose for such savage murder!”
Lord Arc's face was shaded with a dark and terrible look.
“The Shun-tuk are half people. They look human, and in some ways they are human, but they have no soul.” His calm voice seemed unaffected by what had just happened. “Having no soul, they feel empty and incomplete. They feel that those people with souls only have them because they were born lucky. They covet that connection to the Grace that a soul provides others. They are jealous. So, whenever they get a chance, they try to take a soul for themselves.”
Gerald glared bitterly. “They think they can steal the souls of the people they eat?”
“That's right. They feel that the world has unfairly cheated them. They feel that they deserve what they covet, what others have.” Lord Arc shrugged. “So they are intent on taking a soul, intent on having that which they want.
“They believe that the only way to get the soul they feel they are entitled to is to eat the flesh or drink the blood of those who have one and consume it before it flees the body on its way beyond the veil of life.”
“You get a soul by being born human, through the Creator,” Gerald insisted. “You can't get one by eating people.”
Lord Arc shrugged again. “They believe they can, so they continue to try.”
Gerald gazed out at the bloody scene. “Why have you not killed me as well? Why have you made me witness such evil?”
Hannis Arc spread his hands. “You, gravedigger, have the honor of being the first crier to announce me as the new ruler.”
“The new ruler of the D'Haran Empire?”
“Yes, that's right, but also the new ruler of the world of life. You are to announce the beginning of a new era.
“Others will soon join you, but you are the first of many who will follow. Go from place to place and announce what is to come. Bear witness to the horrors you have seen with your own eyes. Let people know that those who do not bow down and swear allegiance in life, will serve me in death.
“The world of the dead, you see, will be joined with us in the world of life. Both worlds will be united as one.
“Since there will no longer be need for gravediggers, you have a new job. You are to go on ahead and tell those places before us that we come with our Shun-tuk warriors, and we come to rule the world. Give witness to what you have seen along with what others will see in other places that will also be taught this lesson.”
Gerald's jaw was set with bitter determination. “I would rather dieâI will kill myself.”
The man's tattooed hand rose and he put a finger under Gerald's chin, lifting his face. “Then you will be responsible for a great many more deaths. If you warn people, if you convince people, then many will see how hopeless resistance would be and so decide to surrender to the inevitable. Those people will live. You must recount to people what you have seen, convince them of the futility of resistance.
“If you kill yourself, then you can't warn them and as a result you will be responsible for countless more people dying needlessly because you did not do your part to help them see what must be. If you die with that blood on your hands, then the spirit king will see to it that your soul is pulled back from the underworld and sent to wander the world of life, lost and unable ever to find peace, forever doomed to witness the suffering you allowed to come about by failing to do your part.
“Perhaps the worst of it for you will be the utter emptiness of your pointless gesture because, you see, you are not special. I can choose anyone to be a witness to warn the places that lie before our advancing army. If not you, then I will simply select others, in other places.”
Gerald swallowed, now more terrified even than he had been, if that was even possible.
Lord Arc lifted Gerald's chin even farther, and reached a clawed hand out to push it against his soft middle. Gerald felt a pain such as he never imagined. It was a pain down to his soul. It was the pain of that man's occult power clutching his soul and threatening to rip it out.
“Do you now see the importance of your mission?”
Gerald nodded, as best he could with the finger still under his chin.
“Good.” Hannis Arc smiled a deadly smile. “You see? I know what is best for people.”
“Yes, Lord Arc,” Gerald managed.
“Now, rush off on your way. Warn others what will happen if they choose to resist. As we visit other places, others will be enlisted to join you. Armies of criers will join you and help spread the word. Pray you all succeed. I will show mercy to none who think to resist.”
Gerald wet his lips. “Yes, Lord Arc.”
“And gravedigger,” Lord Arc said as he leaned closer, his red eyes looking like coals burning in his soul, “you be sure to tell them all at the People's Palace. You tell them that I am now their ruler, and I am coming. You tell them there that we are bringing the entire Shun-tuk nation with us, and that they had better welcome me on their knees. You tell them what will happen if they don't.”
Gerald nodded. And then he was running. Running to warn people of what was comingâwarn them to surrender and not resist what they could not stop or they would suffer an unimaginable death
Lord Arc had said that he intended to unite the world of life and the world of the dead.
Gerald believed him.
Kahlan opened her eyes.
It was night. In the flickering firelight, as she tried to will her vision into focus, she saw fuzzy faces bent down over her. She felt as if she was a great distance away, and it was proving to be a long and difficult journey back.
As her focus began to resolve, she recognized Zedd's weathered, worried face bent over her. His wavy white hair looked more unruly than usual. The tips of his bony fingers pressed firmly against her forehead. That explained the persistent tingling sensation down her spine. Seeing Zedd, she realized that what she felt was the healing power of the gift.
She saw Nicci, then, kneeling down close to her on the opposite side from Zedd. The sorceress looked no less concerned. Nicci squeezed Kahlan's hand as she offered a reassuring smile to welcome her back from the dark world of the lost.
Samantha crowded in close behind Nicci, with her mother Irena, leaning in over her shoulder, watching intently.
Then, in the fluttering light from a nearby campfire, Kahlan spotted Richard a little farther back in the center of the other faces. She saw the relief in his eyes as he let out a deep breath.
As soon as she saw him, Kahlan sat up and threw her arms around his neck, squeezing him tightly to her. She had feared he had been killed by the half people and she would never see him again.
Now that she had her arms around his muscular neck, her cheek against his stubble, she let the joy and relief of seeing him alive run rampant through her. She put a hand to the back of his head and held him to her, thankful that he was all right and there with her. She wanted to envelop him.
“It's so good to see you,” she whispered privately in the midst of the crowd. When she held him, there was no crowd, there was only him. There was always only him in her heart and soul.
His arms tightened around her. “You can't imagine how glad I am to see you wake up.”
She finally parted from him, holding his shoulders, and saw that he had cleaned off all the blood of the half people he had fought. She looked around at all the grim faces, their bleak expressions finally easing.
“Well,” Zedd said, “it would seem that I have done it again.”
Richard laughed. Everyone else looked like they had thought for a time that they would never smile again.
“What happened?” Kahlan asked.
“I healed you,” Zedd announced, as if that should be explanation enough.
Kahlan waved a hand as she sat up the rest of the way. “No, I mean what happened with the half people that were after us?”
She saw firelight from a nearby fire reflecting up the face of the cliff. As she looked around, she saw that there were two more campfires, one to either side of them, their light also reflecting off the cliff and helping to light the general area and the trees nearby. The men of the First File were close by all around them. The fires were large, meant to keep the darkness at bay so that no one could easily sneak up.