Chapter 10 ; Shots and screams
" Ser, we can't just pack up and leave !"; Sigmund was saying to captain Helmut Kenner who took command after Field Marshal's death.
Sigmund was of average height with wide shoulders and large arms. His hair was blond and short, his eyes green and his nose hooked. He was in his early thirties with a few crows feet at the corners of his eyes and was a model soldier for the Third Reich. After he and his friend Jorgen captured professor Barker through their nightmarish trial, his comrades were certain they would get a promotion for their exemplary service as soon as they would return to Berlin. Right now, Jorgen was gone and promotion was the last thing on Sigmund's mind.
His supperior, captain Kenner was also of average height with short dark hair, plastered to his left side by an abundant layer of hair lotion in an attempt to imitate the Fuhrer. He didn't seem quite the veteran, as you would say, but the chain of command was not to be questioned. The man was sweating a lot. He seemed ill and suffering with nausea, but he refused the doctor's inspection, instead using his time to perform the necessary packing arrangements. Captain Kenner seamed very sick so Sigmund stood a few paces away from him.
They were just inside the captain's tent with men and women swarming outside like ants, busy with the final preparations before the departure. Despite the low temperature, wind was not as strong as one would expect, a little more than a breeze. They all half expected to have their tents blown away by now, however the last of the equipment was already being bundled up and loaded onto the trucks.
Night around them was being banished by a number of electric lights placed around the canopy where Kenner stood at his desk, studying the map of the region to choose the best root. Not even the grizzly fate of their previous superior kept him from dispatching most of the men to loading the gear onto trucks, and keeping only a few soldiers around for protection. Sigmund had to give him credit for that. It was a surprise to find him with such a thin guard when he came to speak his mind.
Dawn was still far away with the night swallowing that terrifying black pillar which had obscured the Sun so completely. But that didn't bring any relief at all, for angry black clouds were now rolling above the small camp dispatching lightnings to scrape the earth in their name. Storm was looming over their heads, as if waiting to break the downpour and soak the roads to utter uselessness, and this hadn't even been the rain season. No one noticed from where the clouds gathered. It was as if the stars were at once extinguished, and only the boiling blackness remained. There was no helping it though ; should the rain catch them, they would be stuck in mud for weeks, but it would be better than waiting the storm out with... Frau Barker roaming the area. They had to get to Cairo as soon as possible.
But Sigmund didn't agree. The creature was loose on the world because of them, and they had to hunt it down by any means necessary, before it… He didn't know what, but he was sure it won't be pleasant. In spite of his superiors, of whom he thought only as pagans, he was a devoted catholic and he couldn't help but wonder had they unwittingly unleashed a Hellspawn, if not Lucifer himself. They had to set their sin aright.
" I have permitted you to speak freely, and heard your words, soldier. " captain Kenner spoke, rubbing at his temples with glowed fingers. Did he have a headache as well ?" Believe me, nothing would please me more than to kill Professor Barker, but I cannot risk us being trapped here… "
" Send a radio to Berlin !" Sigmund demanded " Notify them ! Let them know… "
" We've had our orders from Berlin before we set out. " Kenner growled slowly leaning forward with his fists on the map " We are expandable, soldier, next to what we were sent to find !"
Sigmund had to take the next few breaths slowly :" What are you saying… " it was later that he remembered to add " … Ser ?"
" There's no reinforcements, no rescue operation. " he met his eyes with cold determination :" I'm saving who I can save. The sooner we leave this blasted continent the better ! A more equipped force will… "
" Who knows what she'll be up to by than !"; Sigmund protested
" SOLDIER !" Captain Kenner snapped :" I will hear no more of it, or I'll shoot you my self ! Am I understood ?"
" Yes Ser. " Sigmund said bitterly. It seemed that fear had taken deeper roots than he at first thought. How could it not, with all that had happened, that was still happening ? The memory of those phantom flames searing him away a layer of flesh at a time still made his hands tremble and his jaw clench upon a scream. Still, he felt he had to do something once he learned of what had happened in the Field Marshal's tent. But what could he do ? What did he dare do, trapped between his service to the Fatherland and his duty to as a human being ?
Unfortunately, he never got the chance to find out, for yet another scream reached them from somewhere in the camp. Sigmund's chest clenched tight as he turned towards the source of it ; Now what ? What else could possibly go to hell ? Was all this not enough already ? God, he was tired of all these nightmares creeping in on them. A gunshot followed. And another scream. Captain Kenner seemed not to notice, at once having a noticeable difficulty with breathing. Shots were coming from all over the camp as if they were under an attack !
Slowly, captain Kenner took his gun… And pointed it at Sigmund, face baring fixed puzzlement as if he didn't understand what he was seeing before him, mouth half parted and eyes somehow tilted... And than his eyes were gone, replaced by black wool. That was the best word for it – black wool or pockets of black smoke. Large beads of sweat rolled down his brow and his breathing sounded like the squeaking of bad car brakes.
The other guards around them seemed puzzled, but someone started shooting before they could act. Sigmund dropped to the ground, knocking the map table before himself for cover, hoping that one of the armed soldiers would start shooting at Kenner, but within seconds none of them was left alive. He gazed horrified as a hand of a dying guard fell over the edge of the desk, fingers almost brushing him. It was still twitching for a few long heartbeats, before pulling back as the corpse collapsed on the other side of the toppled desk.
There was barely time to realize what had happened before the gun hilt landed furiously to the back of Sigmund's head.
Peter was loading the last of the medical supplies onto the truck number twenty seven. His strong muscles easily lifted the heavy metal box onto the back, with a small 'thud' as it landed on the truck's bed. The only thing left to do was to tear down that hospital tent, bind the boards and the cloth together and load them on too. Next to him Greta was helping herself to some aspirin in the stack. She didn't feel well lately, the poor girl, complaining about nausea and headache. No wonder with all the strange happenings that had been going on and all the running around this bloody camp. Peter himself felt a little sick but he didn't stop to worry about it with so much work thrown at him. While he worked though, he saw others in similar condition as Gretta, and that was worrying him, but he still couldn't drop his work for it. If there was a disease loose, Doctor Gruber would see to it. That was his job.
" Are you feeling better, Greta ?" he asked over his shoulder, easily pulling the long stake out of the ground. He loved displaying his strength before her. Women in uniforms were always attractive to him.
" Much better now… " she spoke while closing the medicine kit. Her long auburn hair did look pretty in the truck lights, especially blown on this soft wind and glistening with her sweat. Without hesitating for her to turn, he grabbed another stake and ripped it out just as easily. Few people here could do such a thing and it was a pleasure to demonstrate such a feet of strength for her. He wanted her to watch him tear this entire tent down to…
A deafening noise filled his ears, and he tossed his head up in annoyance. The truck tire had burst. Well, damn him if he'd be the one to replace it. He turned to ask her to call for someone else to do it, but somewhere in mid step he staggered, dropping the tent stake and grabbing for his chest where the bullet passed right trough his lung. Blood was already filling his big palm. A gun was smoking in Greta's hand and a faint echo of the shot was still in the air around them. Her stare was all twisted, almost insane. She seemed like a lunatic with those twisted eyes…
Someone screamed far away. Noooooo, he smiled to himself. She did not just shoot him. She did not… The gun fired again and this time he felt the bullet piercing his side. The pain made him dizzy, but he had no strength to scream. No strength ? He was the strongest guy here ! He had the strength for anything ! Blood filled his mouth and spilled down his lower lip. He felt as if someone has placed a brick wall between his throat and his chest, leaving him struggling to gasp for a single breath.
Greta… Fair Greta… He wanted to ask her… The gun fired again and he fell to his knee trying to hold his wounds closed with bare hands. She kept on shooting. Distant screams and other shots filled his deaf ears, trying to get to him, to reach him, but he was beyond it. He could see only her and her dead eyes. Dead eyes, like black cotton stuffed in her face. Endless caverns of shadow on her pretty face.
The pain was gone, replaced by a strange floating sensation. He was looking at the foggy scene around him as it was growing more faint and distant. It felt very nice, as if all the weight was lifted off him. He knew everything he chose to know, and saw many of the things that slipped him before, the water in the clouds, the beauty of sparkling dust on the moving air, the smell of his mother's kitchen… He was looking at his bleeding body lying in the dirt, strangely disconnected from it, sinking down into the mist. A woman in a uniform had dropped the gun she had been holding and was beginning to drag his empty body somewhere to the north.
And he saw a long black cord that was touching her, drilling into her like a rope made of transparent tar. It was cutting its way into her heart and mind, crippling her mercilessly, forcing her to do the things she didn't want to do. Other cords were stretching all over the camp, twisting and tightening their grip on all those poor people walking by. He wanted to go and help them somehow, but it got lost somewhere along the way along with the rest of the world… His mother's kitchen…
" Are you all right Jack ?" Yrona asked trying to catch a glimpse of him in his corner of the tent. It was hard to move in her bonds and the gunshot wound in her right arm was throbbing whenever she would move it. Jack was in worse shape, but at least they had stopped using him as a punching sack.
" Just a little dizzy, that's all. "; he whispered from the other side of the tent. The very sound of him was ill. From what she could see, he was near sicking up, all green in his face and almost panting for air. Beads of sweat were glistening on his forehead.
" He needs a doctor. "; she urged to one of the guards in the room hoping they'll understand her. They have treated her arm – they must be willing to treat him as well.
The tent was not so bright any more. Since they'd taken Eidolon's cage away, they took most of the lights as well. Only the oil lamps were left for the rest of the prisoners. Yrona was very worried for Eidolon, and frightened too by her strange behavior. Compared to her, Jack seemed healthy as an ox. At least he could be nurtured back to health, something Yrona wasn't sure she could say for her.
It seamed certain that Eidolon's illness was somehow connected to the uncovering of the knight's tomb, and she couldn't help but review all the horror novels she could think of. As much as she wanted to find some rational explanation for her friend's condition, she couldn't, not after seeing her behavior in the cage. It was a terrifying experience. At one point Yrona thought she would reach trough the bars and… She shuddered despite the warmness in the tent.
So, Eidolon was possessed or something, and the only thing Jack was fit for was a bed at the Intensive Care. It all came down to her. If she could only untie her bonds, she might be able to do something, make a diversion, free Jack, send a radio for help… But the knot was tight and frustrating and she only had her left arm to work with.
Men who were guarding them seamed uneasy, five of them in total, and three had the same symptoms like Jack. Some kind of a Jungle fever, she thought. One of the healthy ones spoke a few words to the others, asking each a question she didn't understand, but it was the same question. The three sick guards barely answered, with one failing to hear it until they shouted it to him three times. He only shook his head in reply.
The guard who did the asking, looked at her and Jack with evident concern, but other than that, he did nothing. Yrona assumed it meant he had orders that were against leaving the tent, even to get the doctor. They all had, regardless of the fear which colored their faces in cold tones. One of them was praying under his breath. It sounded like a prayer. She was loathed by this barbaric cruelty, even to these soldiers. War was always the worst part of history. In her opinion, history was too evident of the greatness of human folly, so unlike geology where one needed her whole wits to do the job. She could never understand Jack's and Eidolon's constant affectation with this... record of humanity's errors. Just look what kind of mess it had gotten them in to now.
A gun fired somewhere within the camp arousing the guards and scattering her thoughts. Even Jack gazed in the direction it came from. Someone screamed, and shots and shouts started to arrive from all directions. A rescue ? Was someone coming to aid them ?
Before Yrona could begin to comprehend, two of the guards fell like logs, shot by their comrades and she screamed in cold terror as three sets of shadowy eyes rested upon her. There were no eyes, just empty sockets full of darkness, bubbling out trough their eyelids. Without a word, they cut the bonds which held her and Jack, dropping them to the ground like sacks, still holding them in the sight of their guns. Landing on her wounded arm made her grunt with pain but she was still recovering from the abruptness of it all. Their eyes... What happened to their eyes ? In a few minutes the fighting died down and now only silence was reaching them from the camp.
And just as she thought it couldn't get any worse, something walked into the tent. The creature was wearing one of the Nazi uniforms and had the resemblance of a man, but it was not a man. Corpse-pale, almost white skin enclosed in a web of faint blue and green veins was marking a face full of evil and malice, all seeping from crimson red eyes in a set of blackened eyelids. Yrona could feel the very air in the room get considerably colder, spraying her skin with goosebumps, and she knew in her bones that this was something unnatural. The thing only had three fingers on each hand with big black nails that seemed wickedly sharp, and as he stretched his lips in a deviant grin, they spilled out a pair of glittering fangs stained with was beyond doubt human blood.
His very presence filled the tent with fear and dominance, but as his eyes fell on her, all the chilliness that engulfed them seemed to waver. For a few moments, surprise entered his gaze as they met her and he became somewhat insecure, just a little crack in his smooth icy surface. Yrona was too terrified to avert her sight but he averted his mercifully.
The three sick guards fell to their knees before him all wearing some kind of demented-zombie expressions, and he, tossing one glance on the prisoners, hissed something half loud which was enough for the others to lift her and Jack – who still seemed very sick – on their feet. At least they were careful of her arm this time.
Yrona was terrified. She didn't have a clue about what was going on, but she didn't want that… Creature anywhere near her, nor to let these black-eyed freaks touch her. She wanted to scream as they grabbed her, but it got stuck in her throat as the Creature came closer, its big amber eyes upon her, and his breath burning her face.
" Master Dumah is expecting you. "; he whispered sounding like a poisonous snake fizzling his forked tongue. And those eyes looked like a filthy flame, all bloody and twisted ; air was refusing to fill her lungs under those eyes.
Hands bound behind their back, she and Jack were showed out into the murky night led by the Creature. Yrona was too horrified to speak. The thing seemed to keep his eye on her even with his back turned. It gave her the chills. God, what was this thing ? It was wearing a German uniform, but it wasn't even a human treading before them. And what did it do to the soldiers who were now pushing them northwards to the hill ? It had to be his doing ! Lightnings licked the distant horizon illuminating briefly their heavy black clouds.
Vaguely, she became aware of others moving along with them, men and women in uniforms, diggers and workers... She couldn't see far trough the dark, but she heard them all around herself, threading over the branches and leaves, and she could wager at least some had the same shadowy eyes as the three who were herding her. On a few occasions they would pass by close enough for her to make sure. Some were dragging dead soldiers or diggers with little care for the body, sometimes shot trough and mangled like a Swish cheese. One woman with auburn hair was bothering, slowly dragging the corps of a large man by its leg. No one stopped to give her a hand, but nether did she ask for it, dragging her heavy load up the hill an inch at a time.
They were all dead, Yrona realized. As ridiculous as it seemed, she and Jack were the only two people still alive in this whole camp. She could bet every penny on it. And than she thought of something else ; those people were probably as sick as the soldiers who were guarding them. As sick as Jack was ! She tried to catch a glimpse of him, but he got left behind at the base of the slope unable to keep up the pace and probably struggling to climb where they were forcing him. They got separated. She was alone. All alone in the dark and surrounded by monsters. Tears started leaking down her cheeks and she started praying under her breath as they pushed her on oblivious to anything else.
The crowd was denser up the slope. People were falling to their knees near the hill's crest, slowly swaying in the rhythm of a common whisper, spoken like a chant :
" …Dumah… Dumah… Dumah… Dumah… "
Others were still dragging the dead on, and now she could see they were piling the bodies at the very top, after which they would retreat back to kneel and join the chanting. A few small torches set around the pile were just enough to enable her to see it from afar. That was where they were taking her ! To the pile of corpses ? Why ? Did they want to shoot them there and drop them in too ? She wanted to run, but the people were so crammed here she wouldn't get two steps before they'd overwhelm her. No… The Creature said this Dumah was expecting them. Master Dumah ? Over there ? She didn't understand any of this !
As if thinking of him was his summons, the Creature turned and faced her again. Once more did she meet those hard eyes, now taking her in completely, probing, examining… She felt like a freak with him staring at her so. Growled under his breath to their escort was the only thing necessary to have them back away into the shadow with a curt bow, along with the people who were kneeling and chanting all around them. They backed away, leaving them alone. She didn't want to be alone with… that thing !
For a while longer he held his ruby gaze on her, but she didn't dare look back at him. She didn't think he would avert his sight this time. After this short eternity, he whispered to her, drowning all other voices beneath his words :
" I know what you feel… "; he said. It wasn't just that she was more focused on his words, it was as if the whole world at once went mute :" We can feel the emotions in your blood. I don't want you to be afraid. "
" Wh… Wh… "; she tried to utter
" Hush. "; he spoke reaching that horrid three-fingered claw for her hair, but she managed to back away just beyond his reach. Rage flared up again in his eyes, but withdrew the next instant and his presence became somewhat more appealing. And more dominant :" I shall have you, fair Yrona. Master can find others to serve as garments for his brothers. I shall have you even if I have to give up his favor. "
Yrona could only bulge her eyes and hold them that way. She wasn't even afraid to meet his gaze any more. This was getting ridiculous ! She had to be going mad. That was it ; she had simply going mad ! He smiled at her with those awful fangs sticking out of his mouth :
" You will come to believe me, my lovely. You'll be a Goddess in the Garden of Eden and the world will kneel to kiss the ground you walk upon. I shall cast them there to worship it, and they'll offer you their souls to but try and bring smile to your face. "
" I… don't… "; she managed faintly
" You will. "; his grin never wavered offering strange assurances in his claims, and she was frightened all over again :" I want you, fair Yrona, and I always get what I want. "
Sounds assaulted her the moment he turned back and they were in the middle of the crowd once more. Yrona would laugh if she wasn't frozen with terror, panting for cold African air with the appetite of a drowning victim. Jack was back next to her. They'd managed to climb him up the slope, though he still seemed barely able to stand. At least his eyes were still normal. She didn't think she could stand him turning into black-eyed zombie on her. That was, she desperately hoped he wouldn't.
" Are you ho... holding on ?"; she whispered
" Shhh… "; he winked at her :" I'm just faking it. See, I fooled you too. "
She smiled the best she could, but the lie was obvious on his tongue. He was just trying to soothe her.
It was in that moment that the crowd had gone quiet, and the two of them were being forced towards the pile of bodies. The others were making a wide circle kneeling around it, but the two of them, led by the Creature, were taken straight to it, and there Yrona gasped, nearly chocking to death with her own tongue. Her mind almost froze at the sight of what she was seeing before her :
" … Eidolon ?"; she stammered and Jack dropped down next to her, staring in revulsion at what had once been their friend.