Avalon 6.6 The Count, part 4 of 6

When Muhamed woke, he found the young farm wife sitting beside him, watching him sleep.  His booby-trap by the curtain looked undisturbed.

“Good evening,” she said.

“Have I slept until dark?” he asked. “I had not planned on sleeping that long.”  He sat up and turned from her.  He felt the clay bottle with the last few drops of his elixir still in his vest pocket, and his knife still hidden in his cloak.

“The darkness fell a half-hour ago.”

“Good.  We need to go talk to people, to see if my work had any effect.”

“No need.  I have already talked to many,” the woman said.  “There are thirty of all ages ready to follow you to Babylon, to destroy your enemies.  Shall we go?” She seemed anxious.

Muhamed shook his head.  “You may have eaten, but I suspect it will take all night to walk to Babylon.”  He pushed his booby-trap aside and went into the other room.  The meat, bread, and broth looked untouched.  He shrugged.  These people did not exactly have a refrigerator.  He looked at the cup of water, and this time, he thought to skip it.  The woman noticed, but did not seem to care one way or the other.

“I will tell the others we will be ready, shortly,” she said, and stepped outside.

When Muhamed had eaten his fill, he questioned the broth.  But he checked again, and his few drops of elixir remained.  And besides, he told himself the vegetable broth, now cold, had not moved since supper.

He did not have to wait long.  The woman returned, and he rose to see what volunteers she managed to get him.  Outside, it looked like an ordinary enough crowd.  She was right.  They came in all ages and sizes.  One looked like a crippled old woman.  One little girl looked like a five-year-old.

“These are the result of your elixir. They suffered all day, but when the elixir expanded and came to rest in every part of their body, they came alive. They are ready now to kill whomever you wish.”  The woman smiled in such a way, Muhamed almost told her to stay in the village with the people until he sent for her.  He imagined moving on, alone, but he suspected they would follow and do who knew what.

“Does anyone know the best route and what gate we would best enter without causing suspicion?” he asked, as he considered losing the crowd once they got to the city.

“We have discussed this,” the young woman said.  “One man’s nephew oversees a small gate in the north.  We will go there.”

“Good.  Good,” Muhamed said.  “Lead the way,” he said, and two men and a woman went out front.  He followed, and decided he did not want to look closely at what damage and mayhem these people committed when they came alive, as the young farm wife called it.  He saw one old man, pale and lifeless, sitting against a wall.  He saw blood splattered on the wall, but he told himself it was just mud.  He told himself the man was sleeping, just sleeping.  He did not look up again until they left the village behind.

All night long, Muhamed felt more and more afraid.  The old ones did not complain.  The ones he considered children did not run and play, or do anything he expected from children.  They did not stop for food or rest, and he dared not make them stop.  He felt exhausted when about two hours before sunrise, they arrived at a copse of trees within sight of the city gate.  The farmer’s wife said they could rest there, and hide from whatever morning traffic might come to the gate.  They would go when the nephew came on duty in the late afternoon.  It sounded reasonable, but Muhamed put his back to a big tree when he sat, so he could keep his eyes on the others.  He feared to sleep, but he felt so worn, he could not imagine how he could keep himself awake.

Muhamed did wake, just before the sun came up.  Several men held him while they tied his arm and legs.  He saw the farm wife with his clay jar of elixir.  She held it up and smiled.  He tried to protest.

“It will do you no good.  You don’t know how to use it.  You haven’t the magic of Ashtoreth to make it work…” They gagged his mouth, and he fell silent.  Then the farm wife spoke.

“I will explain this in a way that you may understand.  This elixir has expanded into every cell in my body.  I can heal any wound.  You can cut me, puncture me, even my head or heart, and I can heal.  The only system not functioning correctly is the making of new blood cells.  It is like nature herself is fighting back against me.  We should be anemic, pale, weak, and as cold as death.  But we have found, if we drink the blood of the living, we can assimilate it into our systems.  You see?  You have made me virtually immortal.  And now that I have the elixir, I can bring more of us into flesh and blood. and we will at last be able to destroy all that is.

Muhamed’s eyes got big.  His mouth continued to protest, but all anyone could hear was muffled noises.  His modern mind told him such creatures did not exist.  It was not possible.  It was not real.  Thus, in the modern way, he denied the very reality that stared him in the face. Vampires did exist, and he created them.

“The farm wife smiled.  “It is so much more frightening and satisfying when the victim knows what is happening to him.”  One big man tilted Muhamed’s head to the side.  He screamed.  He yelled for help, a kind of automatic reflex word.  But no one was there to help him.  She bit his neck to puncture the carotid artery—the easiest, most blood-filled spot on the human body, and the blood dutifully began to flow.  She drank some, and some of the others had some, but she stopped the feast before Muhamed died.  She spit on the wound, and the wound closed up.

“Open it,” she said.  Two men grabbed him, and one removed the gag and forced his mouth open.  They did not need to do much forcing.  He felt so dizzy from lack of blood and oxygen to the brain, he almost passed out. The young farm wife leaned over and spit blood into his mouth.  He swallowed much of it, his own now tainted blood, though he gagged and could not swear some of it did not end up in his lungs.

The gag got replaced, and Muhamed felt the infection of blood and elixir filling his body.  He cried as the woman spoke.  “Now we wait until sundown.”  Muhamed died, and some unspeakable evil entered his body.

Avalon 6.0 Monkey Brain Fever, part 4 of 6

Everyone got some sleep, and no one bothered them in the night, which made them all feel better over breakfast.

“I don’t know why the monkey god, and whoever is with him, would want to wipe out all the humans in their jurisdiction,” Alexis began the conversation.

“Chaotic god?” Decker suggested.

“More of a trickster,” Lincoln said, pulling out the database. “Sort of like Loki, I suppose.”

“It happened elsewhere,” Katie spoke up.  “Domnu once wiped out all the earliest people in the British Isles. Sekhmet,” Katie said, paused and turned to Lockhart with a smile.  “She almost wiped out everyone in Egypt, and would have if Amun Junior had not gotten her stinking drunk.”

“She still complains about the hangover,” Lockhart nodded.

“In the middle-east, the gods once complained the humans were making too much noise.  It was Enki, or Enlil, I forget who saved the humans there,” Katie finished.

Lockhart nodded again.  “God himself once wiped out everyone except Noah and his family.”

“I know that story,” Elder Stow said, and watched Sukki nod.  “At that same time, the Gott-Druk, and other early human-like peoples were taken elsewhere.  In the case of the Gott-Druk, we went into space, with Agdaline help, to make a new home on another world.”

“But why here and now?” Alexis did not feel satisfied.  She still felt terrible about killing all those children. “What is the point?  What are they gaining?”

“No way of knowing,” Katie answered.

Boston said what she had heard many times on their journey.  “Who can fathom the way of the gods?”

Mister Crow fluttered down from the branch of the nearest tree where he spent the night.  He offered a thought.  “You people speak of the gods with such ease.  Most people placate the gods with offerings and otherwise try to keep a safe distance.  But, I figure, with your horses and guns and such, you may be closer to the gods than we are.”

No one chose to respond, so that pretty much ended the conversation. The group packed up breakfast and the camp.  They moved slowly into the trees.  They did not go very far, however, before Boston remembered.

“Don’t pick any apples unless you want to make the tree angry.” She laughed, but Lincoln said something she had not considered.

“No telling what that necromancer’s elixir of life might be capable of doing.”

“Oh yeah,” Boston squeaked.  “I hadn’t thought of that.  Thanks,” she gave it her sarcastic best.

Alexis turned to talk to Boston as she patted Lincoln on the arm. “My husband is good at thinking of things like that.  It is his special talent.”

Lincoln wisely kept his mouth closed.

The group stopped when they came to a place where a couple of huts lined the road.

“I see carbon forms there,” Elder Stow said, staring at his scanner. “I can’t tell if any are living.”

It looked like a small hamlet, not even a village, and it looked deserted.  Decker waited for them at the outskirts, and the group moved up slowly, eyes and ears looking for anything that might indicate life.  They were not disappointed.

A man, holding a large stone axe, stepped into the roadway and stopped to stare at them, like he wondered if they might be infected.  The group stopped.  Decker reached for his rifle.  The man looked covered in blood and sweat.

“Wait,” Captain Katherine Harper Lockhart yelled at her superior officer, and Major Decker kindly waited.  She got down, and carried her canteen.  Lockhart pulled his shotgun, just in case.

“Water?”  Katie held it out to the man.  The man stood like a statue for a few more seconds before he dropped to his knees and began to weep.  Katie gave him the water, and Alexis and Lincoln stepped up.  Alexis to see if the man might be injured.  Lincoln, because he would not let Alexis get into a dangerous situation without him.

They all heard a human-like cry beside one of the huts.  Alexis turned to go there, but Lincoln grabbed her as Boston yelled.

“Don’t leave the path.”

“They won’t stay dead,” The man muttered through his tears.

Decker and Lockhart opened up with the rifle and shotgun as three men, two women, and two children came staggering out from behind the house. The whole group, already missing arms and great chunks of their bodies, went down from multiple bullet wounds. Somehow, Decker and Lockhart did not doubt they would get back up again.

“Quickly.  To your horses,” Lockhart commanded.  “Katie, bring him.”

Katie already started bringing the man to her horse.  Lockhart waited, while Decker led the others down the road.  Katie practically lifted the confused man up behind Lockhart before she mounted. Lockhart barely took the time to say hang on, before he, Katie, Alexis and Lincoln started after the others.

The man only wailed once or twice, before he closed his eyes and decided not to watch.

Well down the road, they dismounted again to walk their horses. The man, still holding his axe in an iron-like grip, walked with them, his head pointed down, his eyes dragging on the dirt in front of him.  He did not open up until they stopped around eleven for an early lunch.  The forest started becoming jungle dark, and it began to close in on them.  The travelers thought they should eat quickly to spare as much daylight as possible. No telling how long they would be in the gloom.

“I am Ota,” the man said.  “I had the fever for seven days, and all of my village became infected. My fever broke three days ago, and I recovered, but some died, and some came near death when a man came into the village.  I brought out to him the ones who still lived.  He said he had a way to heal them, but he could not leave the path.  I felt so grateful.  I did not ask questions.  He placed a few drops of some water on the tongue and said they would recover.  Then he said he had to move on because others needed his help.

“I watched.  I prayed. They all died.  Then they all un-died, and they tried to kill me because I still lived.  Yesterday, and last night, I killed them again and again, but they kept getting undead.”  The man shivered, looked down, and appeared to run out of words.

Lockhart looked at Boston, and she spoke.  “We are going to the City of Jade to see the wizardess of Oz.  We have to go there to find our way home. Mister Crow wants to go to be made human again.  I am sure there are other survivors there and Ozma will find a good place for you among the people.  Go with us.” She looked at the others to evaluate her performance.  Decker laughed.  Katie and Alexis smiled.  Lincoln shook his head, and Lockhart shrugged.  Of course, Sukki and Elder Stow had no idea what she was talking about.

Ota nodded.  “Maybe the Oz can find a way to make the dead rest again, as they should.”

Ota opted to ride behind Lincoln, not that he felt more comfortable behind the smaller man, but so he could converse with Mister Crow, someone from his own time and place, even if the words came out of the mouth of a bird.

With that settled, the travelers entered the dark under the jungle canopy, and Lockhart bit his tongue, but Boston said it.

“Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!”

“Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons,” Mister Crow corrected.  “And owls,” he added.

Early in the afternoon, when the sun in the cloudless sky should have made things appear bright and cheery, the road, which had been single file, at least opened up again to where they could ride two by two.  They appeared to be in a swampy area where the sun all but disappeared.  Rays of light, like rays from one of Lockhart’s alien heat rays, only showed here and there.  It seemed enough to keep them from moving in darkness, but they moved in the shadows all the same.

They paused when something roared off to their right.  Every eye tried to pierce the shadows and look through trees.

“Keep moving,” Lockhart insisted, and the horses walked on.

Another roar came moments later, and it sounded closer than before.

“Don’t stop,” Lockhart insisted.

“I don’t see anything on the scanner,” Elder Stow admitted

“I don’t sense a spiritual creature,” Boston spoke up.

Lockhart looked at Katie.  She nodded, then shook her head, like she might be getting mixed signals.

“Keep moving,” Lockhart said.

The travelers kept moving, until they heard a third roar very close, and much louder than any animal they could think of.

One moment later, Decker came racing back from the point.  He did not have to yell, “Dragon!”  The ball of fire said it all.