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▶  More from Fiction Yusef of the Dusk
Draft, Yusef of the Dusk, 1

“The Moon is brilliant because she reflects the light of the Sun.”

-Beautiful Woman at Sunset

The dung-brown and iron-gray rocks of this damned, dry land vexed him as another shadowed night crept near. Above, the blue-eyed sky slowly deepened as the sun shimmered down behind the many torturous rocks that had been both his torment and his deliverance.

For those that followed, shambling necromantically in his living wake, knew not thirst—save for his soul,

nor hunger—save for his flesh,

nor want—save for his death!

So many times over this past day and night and day, and into the falling night, he had wished to turn and smash them, to re-kill them one last time, to splinter their shins so that they could shamble no more after him. But that was a fool’s pit, too willingly walked into, would drain his life force. So he had hotfooted it on, breaches torn, robe now dry of sweat, cloak in tatters, his turban long since torn from his head by that hellish bird. But his boots stood him well, as did the camel hair stockings within.

Another in the endless arches of stone, promising a view of the long-imagined sea and never delivering, yawned ahead even as dusk fell over the cracked and broken land.

A shard of stone crunched under a footfall, and he turned to face it, to face what he sensed was the last one of them. One eye gone, the other dangling, standing fetidly draped in a Frankish murder cloak hanging from its wasted, mail-shod frame, a stone clutched in each half-fleshed hand, loomed one of the hungry dead. Through the rotting hole that had once been a nose, it sniffed, only to sound like a fakir blowing upon his pipe.

Yusuf sneered over his shoulder as he continued up and through the arch, between the crumbling creases of the long dead mountain—and it charged, footless legs stabbing the flaking stone of the pitiless earth, running him down like a hand from the grave turned spider.

Yusef’s mind lit with a rageful fire, and he drew his shamishar and charged downhill at the most relentless of the dead as it charged upward.

Back to Hell with you, Stubbs.

Drawing his half knife, off he sheered the head with a backhand slash of the heavy sword even as he stabbed home with his half knife, a foot of jagged-tipped steel, all that remained of a badly bought blade that had failed but for his own ruthless heart. As the head sailed above them, he bulled the animate corpse downward with the flat-pointed thrust and cleaved right and left, sheering first one, then another arm off, below the mailed sleeves, leaving but a hand of putrid flesh and slimy bone dangling beneath the sleeves.

Then it clamped on his booted toe, the grinning cadaver skull, biting down on the seven layers of camel hide, until the heel of bull horn that sheathed the bottom of the other boot turned the gnawing horror into a ruin, even of its former self.

Kicking the shattered head with its withered mass within down the incline seemed to trigger an outpouring of noxious gas from the oft-pierced corpse, causing Yusef to retch if not for the rasp in his throat and the chasm in his sunken belly.

Run, fool, run! urged some quince-thieving voice from his youth, as he tore up and over the incline, not sparing a glance for the hissing horror behind, and gazed at last on a spreading sea, spreading like a flesh-house girl’s legs before him as he tumble-ran down the face of this sorry excuse for a mountain.

In fewer moments than it once took him to leap out of a flesh house window ahead of the Sultan’s busy bodies, Yusef, once called The Jew, but ever again by any who would live to utter it anew, stood tremble-legged at the edge of the Sea of False Red, which lapped gently in two soft hues of blue before him.

The beating of great wings came to him on the falling breeze and he looked upward to see the wind-skulking vulture that had bedeviled him so over these past days circling above, head tilted leeringly in his direction.

Half out of his mind, the man who had once been a boy afraid of dogs and was now a swordsman feared by Turks wished dearly that he could mouth a curse on the wind, but lacking the facility of wit and the spittle to hurl any curse meaningfully into the night, he shook both filled fists and snarled silently as the vile fakir’s bird banked off for the west, with what he knew was his turban still clutched between its talons, trailing like a dream tail behind the advocate of the dead.

And so his course was set by defiance itself, and he turned to head east along the left arm of the sea-sundered land, only to see her milky face rising from her daily slumber.

Agony dry was his throat, but speak he must to his darling.

“Good evening, patron of my art, goddess of my heart,” he croaked like a dead man, not for an instant doubting that under the watchful eye of the Murderer’s Mistress, he would find unsalted water ahead, where Neptune’s undrinkable brine met the Deliverer’s inedible dust.

Reverent Chandler: The Saga of Fend

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