Seals of darkness

Chapter 11 ; On the northern hill

The camp had been emptied but there were many tracks leading north. The evil storm looming above hadn't managed to erase them yet. Night was painted in thick boiling clouds, swiftly rolling above their heads, vomiting sizzling lightnings every now and then, yet there wasn't enough wind beneath to stir dust off the main path through the ruined camp.

Nm'bopo was crouched, examining the footprints in the dirt. There had been a lot of movement here recently, some on foot, some being dragged, but all towards north. The chaos left behind was difficult to sort through from the battle that had happened the night before, yet these recent tracks were plain even in the dark.

Almost all the tents were ravaged and destroyed now, their white canopies torn and mangled, and broken poles sticking out like spears on an ancient battlefield. The invaders brought their own tents, and had set them up on the other side of the excavation area, yet from here he could see that camp too being dismantled. They had been packing to leave not long ago, but something happened that interrupted them.

Nm'bopo groaned to himself silently ; His aching knees felt like they were filled with nails and his feet were on fire. All the running to the tribe and back had sapped his strength dry. The cool moist air at once turned hot and useless like sulfur fume upon reaching his lungs and his heart was trying to race it self out of his chest. Sweat was leaking from him in a flood, and he was already using up his third water bag.

But he wouldn't rest yet. Even on the brink of collapsing he wouldn't allow himself to linger for a moment ! Not when Ms. Barker was in trouble. He had failed his kin once before and he wouldn't fail anyone again ! Especially not her and her friends. It was an effort to get up, bending those burning knees that seamed as if they would grind them selves to dust within his legs, but there was no other choice.

Kaheina and the other six warriors were scattered around, examining tracks as he did and no doubt, reaching the same conclusions. They were coming closer to him, rather than have him walk to them, which was a merciful gesture. During this race, they all thought he would slow them down, yet now they were beginning to regard him with… a measure of respect. However, his stamina was no reason to disregard the past.

" The fire on the northern hill burns bright against this foul darkness. "; Kaheina spoke, while testing his bowstring. The other warriors took up their spears and bucklers :" Or perhaps it burns with it. "

" With it. "; Nm'bopo said

" The woman is there. "; said one younger warrior. Nm'bopo didn't bother to learn their names. There were many new faces in the tribe, but none of those would converse with him :" All who still live are there now. "

" There's a lot of blood. "; said the other, looking around :" As if they have killed each other in some kind of frenzy. "

Suddenly, another voice came to them, an old woman riding a gray animal that was very fast. Nm'bopo barely heard her, next to the pounding his heart was making in his ears, and it took the others' turning to make him notice. It was Oldmamah :

" Wait !"; she shouted, waving :" By your Ancestors, wait !"

The village medicinewoman was riding a strange beast which appeared like a zebra… only without stripes… What ever it was, its speed was impressive. How could she have ridden it after them, blind as she was, was beyond Nm'bopo. The woman had strong ju-ju and medicine to achieve such a thing. But if she had such a creature, she could have offered the animal to him, instead of having him run all across savanna on foot !

The warriors made the animal room to stop, helping their medicinewoman dismount, and once she assured them she was uninjured, she turned straight for Nm'bopo, her glassy eyes fixed upon him.

" Hear me, Nameless One, son of Ma'gahn and Chala "; her bony finger pointing at him as if she could see him before her :" Hear me and listen, for upon your back, the Ancestors have decided to place the burden of our fate ! On your acts will the world's destiny brake and yours will be the will that must stand up to this Evil !"

Nm'bopo took a few deep breaths, but didn't respond. It was his task to save his friend. As for anything else, he wasn't sure he had the strength.

" Hear me all of you, Children of the Old Law ; the time has come to prove to our fathers and mothers that we are of their blood, and face what they have faced in an age beyond memory. An evil which has plagued them, now seeks to plague us, and given the chance, it will consume the world in its hunger ! Listen well now, and learn how to fight !"

" Why ?"; Nm'bopo asked, drawing all the attention :" Why me, a nameless outcast, with a sin to bear ? I can barely stand. What kind of Ancestors would choose me of all their descendants ?"

" I agree. "; Kaheina spoke :" Give me the task. I have both strength and a name. I am the right choice. "

" Do not question !"; Oldmamah shrieked and the bottom of her large staff hit the ground. At once, the seemingly never-blowing wind howled at them from all sides, making clouds of dust leap off the ground, startling the warriors. The wind died along with Oldmamah's yell, and she resumed :" The time for choosing is done and the scale has measured ! Do you dare dispute the Wisdom of the Spirits ? Now ?"

Nm'bopo sighed. Upon his back was the fate of his people suppose to brake, was it ? And he should be glad to jump at the task ? His people, who labeled him an outcast, exiled him from the tribe and rejected him. His people, who broke his heart and the heart of the woman he loved. And now his people needed his help ? After all this time, he didn't feel all that eager to rush to their aid.

" Let go of the bitterness, Nm'bopo. "; Oldmamah said, as if she knew what he was thinking, and Kaheina gasped at the fact that she had used his name. Only the Chief could call upon the name of a Nameless One, and only if he'd choose to revoke their punishment.

Taking a few long breaths, Nm'bopo met her gaze on equal terms.

" I will do as you ask. "; he said :" So long as you help the woman. "

The tightness seamed to enter her eyes, but they couldn't be sure with that black wooden mask on her face :" I will do what I can to bring her back, "; she spoke hesitantly :" but she may be beyond aid. "

Nm'bopo nodded, and they all gathered around to listen as Oldmamah explained the means to fight the Evil One and his minions. He listened intently while she talked, ignoring his ailing legs. Pain didn't matter. Only Ms. Barker's safety metered. And beyond that, he would try to do what he could for his tribe.

About five or six long torches were stabbed around the huge pile of at least fifty dead people, most of them in German uniforms. Not even on the height of the hilltop was the wind blowing, though clouds still rolled across the sky, exchanging a flash of thunder between them every now and then. People on the slopes had stopped chanting, just kneeling calmly with their black shadowy orbs for eyes staring bluntly in front of them. Some of them were bleeding or dribbling. Others were acting like they were deranged, some trying to cut their hair off with their nails, having muscle spasms, or giggling uncontrollably. Some were chewing their clothes, or even raw bleeding flesh that didn't seem to have any recognizable source. But the only two real persons didn't see any of that.

" … Eidolon ?"; Yrona stammered as Jack dropped down next to her, staring in revulsion at what he saw before him.

On top of the pile of bodies was Eidolon, hovering in the air a foot above the top like she was suspended on invisible ropes, her now completely black hair spilling loose across her shoulders like oil. Except for an occasional twitch, she seemed completely absent, with red, almost burning eyes fixed straight before her and her head tilted left. It appeared as if she was hanged but there was no rope and nothing to hang her from ! Even in the darkness of the night, it was clear that her skin had gone completely white, with a broken web of blue veins all over its surface.

And around her neck was the medallion they had uncovered in the night's tomb, a coin of black silver with a copper line engraved on it. The thing was glowing like molten metal !

Blood of corpses beneath her was flowing up the pile, like it was being collected through a network of veins, and on up jumping to her boots and over her clothes into her wide opened mouth full of sharp teeth. No, not mouth ; a maw !

As Yrona spoke, the blood flow stirred and ended, splashing back down over the bodies and Eidolon slowly descended on the pile, landing on her arms and legs. Swiftly like some kind of a huge spider, she crawled on all fours down to the ground. And than she paused. For a moment she seemed like she was struggling with something, her eyes growing less crimson, and she whispered :

" … frrrr…gv… "; before the amber in her pupils rekindled again

She stood up in jerky motions as if she didn't know how to use her wrists and knees, and snarled in anger, spitting hot steam through those awful jaws :

" Silence, whelp !"; came the angry voice from her, a dual voice as if a man and a woman were speaking together in an echo :" I am the Master !"

At once, that creature which led them there ran to aid her, but something stopped him like he hit an invisible barrier, and Eidolon gave him an icy frown. It made him avert his eyes in a respectful manner.

Yrona was too abhorred to speak. This creature, which seemed bathed in blood, this was not Eidolon. She could see it. She could see the mass of angry black strips emanating from her like shadowy tentacles, losing them selves in the distance. Perhaps it was the result of her fractured sanity, but she could see it. The things made the night seem bright ! And she thought she could barely see Eidolon, trapped and entwined within them, futile struggling to brake free, as if she was a layer behind the thing which now stood before them. In a blink, the image was gone, and only demonized Eidolon stood before them. Another blink and the angry mass of tentacles was choking the true Eidolon. At least, Yrona thought she could see all that, just beyond the corner of her eye. Maybe she was going mad.

" Eidolon… ?"; she asked, and the thing that used to be her friend grinned at her. The horrid grin made her shiver to her toes.

" Not any more. "; she spoke and the others started chanting again :

" Dumah… Dumah… Dumah… "

She rose her arm, just that, and they stopped.

" Dumah, mortals. "; she… he… whatever… hissed in delight :" Dumah, the Unstoppable, Herald of Endings, Harvester of Hopeless, The Third Son of Almighty Kain !"

The crowd rose their voices again :

" Dumah… Dumah… Dumah… "; and Eidolon silenced them the same way as she did before.

Yrona finally found her tongue :" What do you want ?!"; she barely uttered, though she wanted to scream

" CHAOS !"; the monster boomed :" Destruction ! All the flesh in the world will be stone, and stone will be flesh !"; it laughed, the medallion flaring like the thunders around them :" And the sun which rises above the earth each day will set, never to rise again ! And you two… "; Yrona drew back before the clawed finger, now pointing at her :" … you two shall find your fate, enslaved by chains of my brothers' will !"

" Sire. "; the creature which led them here, spoke :" Let me have the girl ! Leave your brothers to fend for themselves !"

Eidolon swayed and the red in her eyes flickered again, and she seemed to clench something in her fist… Yes, it was Nm'bopo's necklace ! But if it was here, than Nm'bopo must be... Yrona averted her eyes. Dead like everyone else. She and Jack were the only two left. An instant later, Dumah returned :

" You want this woman, Sardas ?"; he asked.

" I'll make her into my queen and a warrior for your glory !"; Sardas grinned at Yrona, making her cringe :" And I promise you Sire, under my care, she will make you proud. Your faithful servant, and first-born asks this small favor of you ; let me have her. "

Silence stretched for a while, as Eidolon's head shook and shivered chaotically, and when she opened her eyes, she turned that psychotic gaze on the pair on the ground. Yrona tried to back away as Dumah reached for her. She really did try, but she was at once frozen to the spot as the demon gripped her face and started to examine it with little to no gentleness.

" I will give her to you, my child… "; Dumah said putting a smile on Sardas's face :" If you manage to find a replacement for her, before I hand her over to my brothers. "

But his smile didn't slacken, as Sardas shouted : " Bring forth the replacement !"

Jack was attempting to stand again, and wasn't managing, but Yrona couldn't notice. They were treating her as a pig on the market ! A replacement was being brought instead of her ! Honestly, she didn't know whether to scream or cry or just sit down and laugh ! They were arguing about owning her ! And where would she end up in the end ? She didn't want for this Sardas to have her, but she wasn't all too eager to fall into Eidolon's… that was Dumah's hands either. Oh God ; she was being sold to slavery ! And worse yet, it was her soul that was being sold ! She wanted to cry.

Within seconds, the dead servants of Dumah brought the replacement. A pair of those black-eyed zombies brought – dragged, was a more accurate term – a barely conscious German soldier with short blond hair and a blood smear on the back of his head. He was still moving, floundering in their grasp, but he was struggling at the brink of consciousness, groaning with pain. The two zombies – Yrona thought that was what they were – simply dropped him on the ground, stepping back as respectfully as they could in their retarded condition.

Sardas took the German by the hair, yanking his head up, making him groan again :

" A fitting replacement, isn't it ?"; he flashed that fanged smile back at Dumah.

" … Jorgen… "; the German spoke, but hissing like a viper, Sardas slapped him with the back of his hand, making blood spray out of his mouth.

Eidolon was smiling sadistically as she stepped closer. At once she roughly pressed two fingers on the man's head dragging them through the blood smear so strongly, it seemed like she was trying to rip his scalp off with that gesture. Those dark tentacles flared wildly in Yrona's mind's eye as she tasted the blood from her fingers. She seemed like she was in ecstasy !

Yrona was on the verge of turning and running into the mass of dead people, to give in and finally snap under all these horrors, when she found Jack standing by her. He finally managed to stand up, though he still seemed unsteady like he was near fainting. Yet, he was determined. He was angry. He wasn't afraid or panicking. Instead he just stood there, glaring at Eidolon and Sardas like he wanted to pick a fight with them !

Yrona's mouth worked soundlessly as she tried to tell him to get down before they'd notice, or to drop the farce when he could barely stand, or… anything, just not to have him killed for his hotheadedness. But she never managed.

" I have had enough !"; the fool snarled, a roar to clench Yrona's heart :" I don't know if you are drugged, or brainwashed, bitten by a malaria mosquito, or if you've simply had a load of strange mushrooms for dinner, but I won't tolerate this nonsense any more Eidolon !"

Yrona's eyes were bulging out of her head. She was still trying to say something, anything, but no understandable words came out. The fool, the stubborn fool, was going to end up dead ! Yes, he was going to die and leave her alone in this madness !

" No, Jack, don't… "; she managed finally, but he wouldn't heed her.

" Now, you drop this lunatic charade right this instant, "; he growled :" or, so help me, I'll smack your bottom till you sit tender for a month !"

Too late. Both of the monsters were looking at him with those red-glowing eyes burning against the night. They were looking at him somewhat puzzled as if they'd never seen his like before, but there was also anger. Life threatening anger. Yrona tried to grab for his sleeve and pull him back, but Jack didn't even flinch. He was meeting that gaze levelly, panting through the nose, grim as if he'd just come out of a street brawl and was ready to leap head forth into the next !

Sardas stepped into the torchlight, his face all outrage and fury. His eyes flared like red amber and his lips peeled back revealing his clenched jowl :

" Please let me hurt him, Sire !"; he hissed :" Let me show him pain !"; but there was no answer. " Sire ?"; Sardas turned.

Eidolon was unsteady. She was swaying, her eyes losing that intense reddish flame, the medallion around her neck apparently growing cooler :

" …No..o… "; she uttered, sounding like herself :" … can't… can't let… youhhhh… "; that dual echo was gone. The black strips of shadow emanating from her body were whipping around angrily now, as if struggling or choking on something.

" Sire !"; Sardas shouted and ran to her as she collapsed. He managed to catch her and pull her back on her feet :" Sire, please, devour her ! You are still weak from the Forces you've unleashed. The Magic you have used has drained you. Your powers have just woken ! Don't let her torture you any more !"

" ENOUGH !"; Dumah shouted, slapping Sardas so strong he flew a dozen paces, crashing into the pile of corpses :" Do you dare doubt me, Sardas ? Do you question my power ? Do you doubt my strength ? You think I can't brake her pathetic soul ?"

And against all expectation, Sardas stood right up. That blow should have broken his neck !

" Forgive me, Sire… "; he whimpered: " It is only out of concern for your well being that I urge you to… "

" No !"; Dumah snarled :" I want to own her ! I want to wield her ! She is my pet, and I'll tame her, Sardas !"; Sardas uttered to say something, but her voice fell to a hiss :" Do not dare bring this up again !"

Sardas only bowed his head, yet his expression was more than bitter.

" Don't think I have forgotten about you… "; Dumah pointed his claw towards Jack :" A lot of interesting methods of pain can be learned in a thousand years, and I'll enjoy introducing you to all of them !"

Despite Yrona's tugging, Jack just grinned like a moron :

" And I thought you were licking toads, when in fact you've lived a thousand years, huh,… Dumah ? Could you tell me if Leonardo Da' Vinci was really gay ? I bet you know first hand. Or, did Shakespeare write 'Romeo and Juliet' while you were dating, or after he duped you ?"

Eidolon swayed her head in struggle again. She seemed to be gripping that tooth tighter in her hand. Yrona thought she'd start swaying too, gripping Jack's sleeve tighter, not to faint.

" Uuuuu ; 'a lot of interesting method's of pain'… "; Jack retorted :" Don't tell me you've had a crush at Marquise de Sadde, too ? Couldn't find less kinky boyfriends in those 'thousand years' ?"

Duma's roar shook the creatures around them. All over the hill, the black-eyed people howled half loudly like the wind wines around sharp turns of a canyon, and the clouds above them were at once colored in pale-blue and black. The night boiled even more intensely and the monster hurled something at the two of them. It seemed as though he threw something, but Eidolon's hand had been empty. And Jack screamed.

He fell on the ground in intense seizure, screaming and convulsing, his muscles tight like they wanted to tear themselves to bits.

" Stop it !" Yrona wailed " Stop doing this to him !"

But the thing that was suppose to be her friend just grinned with those shark-like teeth, and those long strips of black flared, bending and twisting. And Yrona could see them flowing into Jack. She saw countless of them, drilling into him. And upon reaching Jack, they turned red, like heated iron pokers, stabbing in from all sides ! It wasn't 'seeing' exactly, more like 'imagining', but it was very easy to imagine.

" Stop it, Eidolon !"; she cried :" Stop… "

That was as far as she managed to say before those strips lunched for her too, and merciless avalanche of pain crashed down upon her. She couldn't speak or move or think, she could only scream under this torrent. The agony was paralyzing, beyond burning or anything else she could imagine. Vaguely, she caught Sardas's face ; he wasn't grinning. He was looking at Eidolon sadly, wondering if he should dare speak. But she couldn't even begin to care.

And suddenly, the pain stopped. Yrona felt the blessed relief instantly, but she was exhausted, barely able to move. She laughed. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. She thought she was bleeding somewhere, but she couldn't care ; the pain was gone… The pain was gone… It... was... gone...

As she managed to regain some hold on her rationality, the question came to her ; why was it gone ? Why did it stop ? As unlikely as it seemed, did the monster simply released them out of whim ? She managed to open her eyes and see…

The black-eyed zombies were on their feet, howling and readying their claws, and Sardas and Dumah were snarling and hissing with burning anger. There were people there ! Real, live, people ! Yrona wanted to cry with relief. She wasn't even sure how she stopped, but there were people there ! They were Africans, Bushmen, and that was Nm'bopo ! It really was him ! He seemed as exhausted as she felt right now, but he was alive ! They were all so beautifully alive !

Among them was an old woman, dressed in a garment of dried grass and raven feathers, with a mask of charred wood over her face. In her right hand she had a big staff that seemed all too heavy for her, but she wielded it with ease, and the other Zulu warriors including Nm'bopo, stood around her in a circle of protection.

And what made Yrona particularly glad, was the fact that at least a dozen zombies lay motionless around them, stabbed through with spears and arrows.

Dumah was steaming with raw anger and cold fury, his black soul rippling its strips around like a twister of black dust, the medallion glaring with angry light :

" That… "; for all the rage, his words were cold as ice and anvil hard as he faced the newcomers :" …was a mistake. "

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