|By Robin Johnston (Codetz) on Monday, April 29, 2002 - 01:41 pm:|
An old man wakes up in the shadow of a ruined Cathedral. He is naked apart from some scraps of cloth. The sky above him is unnaturally dark. Scars of lighting erupt on mountain ranges in the distance, made visible for split seconds at a time. The ruins rear up behind the old man, as he painfully tries to lift himself of the ground. Nearby he can hear crying. A baby lies on a black marble tomb. It is also unclothed.
As the old man tries to nurse the baby, they are confronted by a group of travellers, who call themselves 'nomads'. Each of them carries a crossbow and they all have bright white hair, and strange scars on their forehead. Their eyes shine in the darkness. Out of the shelter of the Cathedral, a Nomad named Benidict shows the old man the world outside. The earth is a deep brown, and something in it shimmers eerily. The sky a shade less than pitch. A frozen desert of rubble and grit is all that is left.
The Nomads light torches and continue on their journey, taking the old man and the baby with them.
Marching through the desert, the Nomads stop below a huge dune. Strong winds blow carbon dust storms at them. The Nomads arm their crossbows and put out their torches and stealthily climb the dune. The old man and Benedict stare into the valley below. It seems to squirm and writhe like the undulations of a huge oily sea.
Noises can be heard above the dust storms, inhuman screams and howls. The leader of the Nomads holds his crossbow aloft. They take aim in a long row across the peak of the dune. The Leader holds up a small gun. He fires and a pale yellow flare ignites the sky.
When the old man looks down he witnesses the sight of hundreds of monstrous creatures writhing on the ground. Giant fanged heads rear up and scream. Snake eyes gleam in the light. The Nomads fire their crossbows into the swarming horde. Many of the monsters fall beneath the bolts. Under the glow of the flares, the Nomads start to descend and reload. They fire again and more fall. The swarm breaks and starts to run, shrieking as they go. The Nomads make chase, unsheathing short, gleaming curved blades. They cut down a number of the monsters, beheading all that they kill.
Afterwards they burn the bodies in a huge bonfire. Benedict tells the old man that the undead creatures they are burning are all that is left of the human race, and that the Nomads are the only surviving humans left.
They have dedicated what is left of their natural lives to freeing as many souls of the night creatures as they can. The old man refuses to believe them. The Nomad leader instructs Benedict to take him to the rocky hills nearby. On top of the highest hill Benedict fires another flare into the sky. As it descends it reveals the bodies of thousands of beings, hanging suspended in the shadows above them by huge tendrils that seem to be made of the darkness itself. A graveyard for the last of the living, left in the night sky to rot forever.
The old man is shocked at the sight. He decides to join the Nomads in their suicidal task, for the sake, he says, of the child he found at the tomb. Keeping to the Rock Hills the Nomads travel through the midnight deserts searching for more nests of the unliving.
Waking from his sleep the old man hears the baby crying. He looks down into the dark valley. Someone hovers above him, floating silently across the surface of the desert. The thing is not a creature. It is clothed in a long stormcloak and a tall black Cocked hat. The spectre disappears from sight into the sky above sheets of lightning. Benedict tells him that he had seen the shape of an Undertaker, a shepherd of the dead. The Nomads decide to move on, since the enemy now must know where they are hiding, and the Undertaker will draw his minions to them.
The Nomads press on into the night. A woman known as Ellsela carries the baby to an alcove inside the rock hills. She asks the old man to follow her. Inside is a torch-lit cavern. She places the baby on an altar and stands back.
Ellsela tells the old man that the child is the last human being that will ever be born on this world. The old man swears to her that he will do his best to keep him alive. Ellsela and Benedict reply that they will teach the old man the method to survive in the frost desert, so that it may be passed on to the child. The Nomads intend the child to be the last to harvest the undead souls. The old man is sceptical of the Nomads faith in the child's future. He tells them he will do his best.
Benedict and Ellsela take turns in carrying the child on their backs as the Nomads continue on their journey. The old man is trained to use the crossbow and short blade that the Nomads use.
After stopping for the night, on a high ridge the Nomads light a large bonfire. Two more fires can be seen in the distance, in a line towards the horizon. Benedict mumbles, 'only two left.' The old man overhears.
The night after, Benedict saves the old man during an attack on another nest. Ellsela is wounded in the attack. Her hair is stained red by her own blood. She begs Benedict to pierce her heart and behead her before she becomes 'one of them.'
After Ellsela dies Benedict is grief stricken by the sight of her blood on his hands, and he cannot bring himself to behead her. He stares up at the sky, as if hoping for his own death.
After seeing the Nomads fight, their speed, agility and ability to leap great distances between the stony outcrops during the fighting, the old man is doubtful of their humanity. He confronts Benedict, who admits that they are 'messengers'. The old man asks for who, but Benedict refuses to answer this. His eyes shine brightly, and it is clear that the old man is as afraid of his saviours as he is of the dark that surrounds him and the small child in his custody. That night no fires answer the Nomads bonfire.
'The others are lost,' is all Antares, the leader of the Nomads, will say.
The Nomads split up into two groups for another assault, and the old man is asked to carry the child back up into the rock hills. Beneath them, he sees the funeral pyre of Ellsela being set. The Nomads stand in a circle around her and hold their crossbows in the air.
Suddenly the Crossbows burst into blue flames. With an unholy shriek an Undertaker descends on them from above. The Nomads are attacked on all sides by the unliving, who flow down from the clouds amidst shafts of lightning that illuminate their learing faces. The old man looks on helpless.
Benedict and Antares manage to fight their way through the hordes with a few others. The old man follows them as they escape. Behind them the Undertaker drags Ellsela's body into the clouds above. Its screams echo and die, and are replaced by an unholy silence. The unliving start to creep soundlessly towards the small group of fleeing survivors.
Antares convinces them to keep going, as the vampires give chase. They evade the enemy but lose more of their number. Benedict lags behind, perhaps on purpose, and is captured. The old man arrives, but not in time to save Benedict from being bitten.
The two take turns to carry the child as they track the remainder of the Nomads. They arrive just in time to see Antares kill himself before the creatures can overrun them.
The old man and Benedict hide and wait for the unliving to disperse. They are joined by the last surviving Nomads, Jol and Sard, who hid in a cave nearby.
The Nomads are now vastly outnumbered, but Benedict refuses to give up the chase. He believes that he can save Ellsella's soul from the Undertakers. Jol and Sard agree to help him. They try to convince the old man that he should journey onwards 'to find the dawn'.
The old man refuses to leave them. Jol and Sard die as they attempt to fend off another attack. Benedict is taunted by the Undertakers with the dead body of Ellsela which they hang from dark tendrils above him. Her limp body drifts back and forth in the darkness as he tries desperately to reach her. Grief stricken, Benedict slowly changes into an unliving, poisoned by the festering bite. The old man is forced to leave. He asks the old man to 'reach the dawn'.
Armed with his crossbow and knife, and with the child on his back, the old man continues his journey. In the charred remnants of a withered ruin, he encounters a host of tortured souls trapped within its walls. The wraiths within scream at him, and invite him inside to share their loneliness. The old man can do nothing as he is sucked inside the wall.
The child is left below a wall of churning, twisted bodies. An Undertaker descends silently from the sky and plucks the child up and away. The noise of its crying drifts down to the trapped old man.
From within the wall, amidst the swirling contortions and howls of the ghosts trapped in the old buildings, the old man watches in horror. Then he sees a new face grinning at him. It is the sneering face of Benedict. Benedict reaches in through the wall and grabs hold of the old man's wrist. He pulls and there is a tug of war between Benedict and the wall wraiths. As the old man flops onto the ground in front of Benedict the wall wraiths scream their disappointment.
Benedict taunts them, baring his sharp new teeth. He reaches down and grabs the old man by the arm again. The old man is terrified as Benedict leers down at him. Benedict whispers to him not to be afraid, suddenly lurching up into the sky. They both sail up through the dark webs full of dangling bodies through to the lair of the Undertakers.
Three Undertakers confront them with the screaming child. Benedict fires his crossbow at the first. A bolt of blue fire penetrates the Undertaker cloak and a skeletal face rears up from within it and bursts apart in flame. The Undertaker's cloak and hat fall towards the ground, resting on the frozen earth. The two other Undertakers fall back into the shadows.
The old man grabs the baby and then he and Benedict fall back towards the earth. When they reach the ground Benedict tells the old man to kill and behead him. The old man reluctantly agrees.
The creeping dead are closing in, as the old man starts to die from exhaustion. The child's starts to wander off into the night, and the old man is too weak to stop him. The child's giggles slightly, and gestures upwards at the churning clouds above. A dull orange glow seeps through the dark sky, and illuminates the child's smile.
Two huge columns of sunlight suddenly burst through the sheets of night, and flow across a perfectly still ocean that stretches out farther than the old man can see. Something is burning on the horizon. The baby smiles again as the sun starts to rise behind the dissipating clouds and its light wipes the land clean of the scattered unliving, who dissolve into ashes.
Their screams echo in the swish of a breeze that rushes out over the sea, as the clouds part completely. The old mans eyes close for the last time. The child turns towards him, smiling.
The sun rises behind him.
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