Unclean by Richard Lee Byers

Book: Unclean by Richard Lee Byers Read Free Book Online
Authors: Richard Lee Byers
shriveled from existence. Freed from its crippling, excruciating embrace, Brightwing instantly furled her wings and dived, seeking to evade as she had before.
    She failed. The bandaged horror missed the killing strike to the body it had probably intended, but one of its claws pierced her wing.
    The undead creature scrabbled at her, trying to achieve a better grip and rend her in the process. Beak snapping, she bit at it. Shouting in fury and terror, Aoth stabbed with his lance.
    Finally the huge thing stopped moving. Unfortunately, that meant it fell with its talon still transfixing the griffon’s wing, and she and her rider plummeted along with it. For a moment, they were all in danger of crashing to the ground together, but then Btightwing bit completely through the claw, freeing herself. Wings hammering, shaking the severed tip of the talon out of her wound in the process, she leveled off.
    Aoth peered about. It was too late to help the priests. They were gone, yet the Thayans on the ground had at least succeeded in eliminating the undead from the midst of their formation, and mages and warriors, all battling furiously, had thus far held back the rest of the undead host. For the next little while, as he and his injured mount did their best to avoid danger, he dared to hope the legions might still carry the day.
    Then the surface of the Thazarim churned, and hunched, gaunt shapes waded ashore. They charged the Thayan flank.
    Aoth cursed. He knew of lacedons, as the aquatic ghouls were called. They were relatively common, but so far as he’d ever heard, they were sea creatures. It made no sense for them to come swimming down from the Sunrise Mountains.
    Yet they had, without him or any of the other scouts spotting them in the water, and swarms of undead rats had swum along with them. Like a tide of filthy fur, rotting flesh, exposed bone, and gnashing teeth, the vermin streamed in among the legionnaires, and men who might have stood bravely against any one foe, or even a pair of them, panicked at the onslaught of five or ten or twenty small, scurrying horrors assailing them all at once.
    It was the end. The formation began to disintegrate. Warriors turned to run, sometimes throwing away their weapons and shields. Their leaders bellowed commands, trying to make them retreat with some semblance of order. Slashing with his scimitar, a blood-orc sergeant cut down two members of his squad to frighten the rest sufficiently to heed him.
    “Set me down,” said Aoth.
    “Don’t be stupid,” Brightwing replied.
    “I won’t take you back into the middle of that, hurt as you are, but none of the men on the ground is going to escape unless every wizard we have left does all he can to cover the retreat.”
    “We haven’t fallen out of the sky, have we? I can still fly and fight. We’ll do it together.”
    He discerned he had no hope of talking her out of it. “All right, have it your way.”
    Brightwing maneuvered, and when necessary, she battled with talon and beak to keep them both alive. He used every spell in his head and every trace of magic he carried bound in an amulet, scroll, or tattoo to hold the enemy back. To no avail, he suspected, because below him, moment by moment, men were dying anyway.
    Then, however, the morning brightened. The clouds turned from slate to a milder gray, a luminous white spot appeared in the east, and at last the undead faltered in their harrying pursuit.
    Ysval could bear the touch of daylight without actual harm, yet it made his skin crawl, and soaring above his host, the better to survey the battle, he stiffened in repugnance.
    Some of his warriors froze or flinched, their reaction akin to his own. Specters faded to invisibility, to mere impotent memories of pain and hate. Still other creatures began to smolder and steam and hastily shrouded themselves in their graveclothes or scrambled for shade.
    Ysval closed his pallid eyes and took stock of himself. His assessment, though it came as no

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