Number One looked about him. He was the last man standing. There were dead bodies everywhere. Or, rather, un-undead bodies. Except, no, that would mean brought back to life. Proper life. Wouldn’t it? Re-dead. Was that a word? Multiply life-challenged?
He reached for a bottle of wine. Wine always helped when he felt a headache coming on. Then he looked outside.
Number Three was in the tree next door, where Number Three, Levinchius and Unthal were watching nervously.
“Good shot?” suggested Number Three.
Number Two was standing up in the snow below the tree-house, looking confused. A minute ago, he’d been face down in the snow, not moving, about to be eaten by zombies. Now there were just a lot of dead zombies and some skinny-looking woman with slightly scaly, slightly coppery skin who Number One had never seen before. Who shouldn’t have been there. Who was. . .
Who was really, really hot.
Number One swallowed hard. “Hello there, mysterious yet unusually beguiling lady of slightly draconic appearance.”
She was standing next to Number Two. Number Two was, unexpectedly, not dead. Not half-eaten. The unusually beguiling lady of slightly draconic appearance, she’d. . . She must have cured him! Which meant. . .
She’d touched him.
Number Two grinned up at him. “’Awright?” Number One shuddered. Never, ever in his life had he so wished that he had been the one to be pulled bodily out of a window by a tree-climbing zombie, plummeted twenty feet to the ground, missed all available snow-drifts and landed head first on the only rock for miles around in the midst of a horde of ravening zombies.
“Oh for pity’s sake!” The woman vanished in a flash of light and appeared in the tree-house. She had Number Two beside her.
“Whoa. . .”
“Shut up!” She pointed a finger at the three elves in the other tree. “You let, get over here.”
It was, Number One decided, time to try again. “Hello there, mysterious yet unusually beguiling lady of slightly draconic appearance. . .”
The woman rolled her eyes. “And you,” she said, and then ignored him.
The other elves crossed from the other tree. There was a rope. Number One didn’t remember there being a rope, but apparently one of the newcomers had found that to be a more useful thing to do than stay and fight the hordes of the undead. Ah well. That was diplomats on secret missions for you.
“My name is Ublosda,” said the woman as soon as they were across, “and now that I’ve saved your skins, I’ve got a job for you.”
“We are. . .” began Number One. The woman shot him a look that was like being very slowly grated through a really sharp cheese-grater for a very long time and then rolled in fresh lemon juice.
“What’s your name?”
“I am Number One,” beamed Number One proudly.
“Your full name.”
“Er, Private Second Class Expendable Border Guard Number One.”
“Right. Think about that while you shut up and ponder your utter irrelevance to me.” She shook her head in exasperation
Uthan was sniggering.
“And don’t think you’re much better.” She rolled her eyes to the sky. “What on earth possessed her to use you as her tool of choice is quite beyond me. I can only assume she’s lost all grasp of sanity. But then I suppose I should have seen that coming after the last lot she picked. I mean really, if ever a more shambolic disaster of an adventuring party stained this beautiful island, it has been mercifully wiped from history. Right.” She turned to look at Uthan and Levinchius. “This should be easy enough that even you two can remember it. This is what you have to do. Go to the north coast. Find a bard called Vale, a Knight of. . .” she scratched her head and looked slightly embarrassed for a moment. “Something and an elvish wizard. And a few others I can’t remember. Finding them should be easy enough. Look for trouble. Then run away from it to the nearest tavern full of whores and cheap spirits. You’ll find the bard there if nothing else, and there can’t be that many elvish wizards on the north coast. Got that.”
The two elves nodded. “North coast. Elvish wizard. Bard called Vale. Knight of Something.”
“Right. Then give them a message.” She rounded on the border guards. “You lot, you can help. Right. Don’t dawdle.” She snapped her fingers and vanished in a flash of light.
“What’s the message?”
The elves looked at one another.
There was another flash. “Just tell them. . . Just tell them to get on with it!”
The elves looked at one another some more, before a disembodied voice called out in the night. “And tell that bard that he’s useless!”
NEXT WEEK: INTERLUDE ON THE ELVISH BORDER PART FOUR