Soudabah, Part 3

Posted on Friday, January 27th, 2012

by Sean McNeil

Blank mannequin sits behind toolboxPart one. Part two.

Even if I had listened to the stories about the Umbral, though, I would have thought I was safe in a crowd, safe in Grayarc.

It’s the largest settlement on Möbius Six. I wouldn’t call it a city, but it’s a good place to sell my excess crops. It looks like it could have been named for the stone all the buildings are built from, but it actually refers to the bizarre granite arch that served as the ‘door’ for the first pergressors who came here.

You can tell the place doesn’t completely belong to the order because it’s not called Möbius Six Point Five or something.

I… yes. Sorry. I was in town when it happened. To be honest it’s not all that clear in my head. The market was crowded, and loud, but then the people just… parted. There was a frantic order to it, the way a school of fish moving away from a shark is panicked on an individual level, but precise and orderly if you can pull back and look at the whole thing.

I guess I lacked whatever instincts got everyone else out of the way. I don’t remember moving away like the others, just sort of noticing the way the crowd was acting, and then being transfixed by the weird, loping movements of the thing. Also, I remember how hard it hit me.

The ribs on my right side bent as the air went out of me, and bizarrely I felt sure they were about to spring back into place, like a rubber tire briefly distended.

They broke instead, and I felt a dozen variations on the same pain as I bounced and skidded across the street, eventually–mercifully–coming to rest on my back. People had started screaming. I wanted to scream too, but there wasn’t any air left in me. Every time I tried to take in a breath there was more pain, and the right side of my chest rose and fell fitfully, with a tempo independent of the left side.

I finally realized the monster had followed, that it was standing over me.

The Umbral was mostly obscured, wrapped in a stained, brown robe that looked like it could have come from any home or workshop on the planet. All I could really see were the hands–huge, gnarled things with fingers that looked like tree roots–and the head. From the nose up, the pale skin had shrank around the thing’s skull, outlining each ridge of bone in terrible detail. The flesh had split in some places, but these cuts were as bloodless as the rest of its pale skin.

The rest of its face had been covered with a stained metal plate, pierced with a single, perfectly round hole where the mouth should have been. As I watched, triangular metal teeth snapped across the hole, all six points meeting in the center of the gap.

Someone tapped it on the shoulder.

It was amazing. The screaming seemed to quiet for moment. I forgot some of my pain, or possibly just started to go into shock. But even the Umbral, deathless and implacable, knit its brow in confusion. It turned, directly into a right cross that rang the metal mask like a bell and launched the undead thing fifteen meters up the street to land in a heap.

My savior was a woman, taller than anyone I had ever seen. Beyond that, all detail was lost in the sudden glare from the tiny, golden sun where her left eye should have been. It was as if someone had plucked a star from the sky and uncovered it as the woman’s fist had connected, and I was forced to avert my eyes from the blinding light.

“Keep your head down,” she said calmly as she walked past me.

That’s how I met Soudabah.

***

You might be wondering how today’s installment of Building Character fits in with our Lost and Found theme week. If you take a moment to check out this link, I think you’ll make the connection.


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