Chapter 12 ; Battle drums
At once the atmosphere had changed. The sky still boiled, the wind was still dead, and the lightnings still refused to reach the land, but one could just taste the shift in the air. The black-eyed people were on their feet fingers clawed and mouth gaping with rage uniting their wails. Next to them, the Zulu warriors seemed like statues with those blank unreadable faces, but still determined, in spite of such an army. They did not seem scared or upset even though they were badly outnumbered. And the zombies, or what ever they were, didn't have guns on them. They must have dropped them so they could drag the bodies up the hill, and considering that, the odds didn't seem so imbalanced any more.
Or maybe Yrona was just kidding herself.
The flame of the torches grew larger and darker, with black chard smoke rising into the clouds. Sardas was hissing through his fangs, his red eyes blazing in the night and the zombies hissed and wailed with him, but Eidolon was simply standing there, her face bleak, and those angry black strips whirling around her. Her eyes were fixed on an old woman in the Zulu warriors's midst. There was something odd about her too… Yrona couldn't tell what it was, but she seemed somehow… peculiar. No, not seemed ; felt.
Suddenly raising her fist, Eidolon silenced Sardas and the others. Yrona used that moment of silence to crawl to Jack and check up on him. He was still breathing but he was unconscious, and unfortunately, Yrona didn't know whether that was good or bad. She only knew that he badly needed a doctor and she was not sure she'd be able to find one in time. Hell, who could tell what this 'Dumah' even did to him, or how to treat it ! As it was, she could only grab hold of his hand and hope.
The old woman was now stepping forth and the other warriors gave her room to pace. When she spoke, it was not on any language Yrona could make out, but it somehow sounded familiar to her :
" I see you, Night Lord !"; Oldmamah spoke, her glassy, colorless eyes fixed on Eidolon :" The land cries beneath you. I hear its woe and I am here to soothe it. "
" I thought I have exterminated your kind, Witch. "; Dumah replied in the same language, no dual voice this time, only his own, merciless, strong and ruthless :" I watched the life fade from the last of your blood's eyes as I destroyed him. In mercy I gave him a swift death, and chewed his flesh and sucked his bones dry. With you, I shall not be so kind. With you, I shall play until you scream and beg me to devour everything you care for. "
" From me, you shall get only what you deserve. "; she said :" No more and no less ! The strength of my ancestors is behind me, and the power of Light unites us across the ages. We shall see you on your way to the abyss before the new day dawns. "
" Deal with the others, Sardas !"; Dumah sneered :" This one is mine !"
" As you command, Sire. "; Sardas replied, though reluctantly. He clearly didn't want to leave Dumah to fight this old woman alone, but he was smart enough not to stand up to him more than once in a single night.
Just like that, the Bushmen ran down the hill, leaving Oldmamah behind, and on Sardas's roar, the zombies stormed after them, a mob of mindless bodies, more beasts than men, more things than beasts, and Sardas herding them on like hounds. They all ran like an angry mob next to Yrona and Jack and as for Eidolon and the old woman, they were apparently pretending to be statues. Before Sardas went after the others, he tossed one last glance of uncertainty at the two of them, struggling between his orders and his loyalty. But in the end he complied and with one last grin at Yrona, he too vanished in the impenetrable darkness.
Yrona could still hear them running down the sloaps, screaming and wailing like lunatics, but her attention was on Eidolon and the old woman. They seemed to just stare at each other, ignoring her and Jack completely.
That was her chance. She could lift Jack on her shoulders and take him away. Surely they'd be able to make it to a truck or some other vehicle. But when she tried to pick herself up, she only groaned and collapsed back down. The pain that Dumah afflicted upon her had drained her of her strength completely. So much that it even hurt to think of moving.
But she HAD to ! There wouldn't be another opportunity. She had to try. It was an extraordinary effort to just stand up, yet she restrained from making a sound as Eidolon stepped closer to the old woman :
" I applaud your bravery, Witch. "; He laughed. It was more than strange to hear Eidolon talk in that voice :" How delicious that your blood still endures in this Age. It will be a great pleasure to feast on it again. "
" You should not have come back, Night Lord !"; she held out her big staff in front of her like she intended to keep Dumah away with it :" This world has disowned you ! Your kind has no place here any more ! Go back to the nothingness from whence you came !"
Yrona barely managed to lift jack up placing his arm around her shoulders. Her muscles were screaming but she clenched her teeth and kept the scream within. Just a hint of noise and Eidolon might notice. God, she might notice anyway ! But she had to try ! And why did this idiot have to be so heavy ? If he had only kept his big mouth shut they wouldn't have bean in this situation ! She'd make him pay for that yet, and for having to drag his dumb ass on her back on top of all the crap that happened to her ! Mark her, he would !
Before she could take three steps, something exploded behind her and knocked the two of them on the ground. She barely had time to tip Jack on the left instead of having him land over her. That would be too much weight to get out of. And as she landed on soft grass she saw what happened… what was happening.
It was not an explosion of any kind, but a duel. Eidolon's black shadowy tentacles were reaching towards the old woman, and she was replying in kind. Yrona could see it all so clearly in her mind like a vague second image just behind the real one even though her eyes saw nothing of the sort. The old woman too had this… this aura of tentacles mostly concentrated around her staff, only hers were made of bright sparks, not shadow. Nether she nor Eidolon were making any movement but they were grappling as clearly as a pair of sumo-wrestlers.
Yrona thought she was going out of her mind, but the picture was there. She could see it plainly. And every time the black tentacle would touch the white, as they would entwine in a struggle, there was a flash of energy, an explosion, a burst like the one which had knocked Yrona off her feet. Trying to stand up near that would be like trying to stand against waves of a stormy sea.
But she wouldn't give up. Her every muscle ached, but she managed to get behind Jack and started to drag him down the slope bit by bit. She had to make it to the trucks ! She had to !
Next to the agile Zulu warriors, the retarded, half-minded, black-eyed people – Twisted was how Oldmamah had named them – seemed more like an avalanche down the steep sides of the hill, collapsing in a heap and rolling behind them. They no longer had a concept of pain or injury, but the dark ju-ju which rid them of that, crippled them in other ways. That was the first part of the plan. Many of them would break their necks or worse in this run, but not nearly enough. Those who don't would have a hard time getting out of the pile which would arrive at hill's base, and there they would engage them.
Making his way swiftly like a mountain goat jumping over the rocks, Kaheina took up his bow again and took aim. His arrow struck the first rank of Twisted right trough the knee of their leader making him collapse and trip most of those near, with him. The more chaos in this descent, the better.
But than he saw Nm'bopo rolling down the hill too. Exhausted as he was, he must have tripped in this run. For a mere moment he allowed himself to pause and watch as Nm'bopo's body was painfully making its way trough the half buried rocks and ferns, and two different urges collided within Kaheina's chest – to help him and to run on. He had disgraced their village, but he was still Kaheina's friend, and the more of them that would survive this run, the better. But how useful could Nm'bopo be at the end of his strengths ? Oldmamah seem to think he was, but Kaheina couldn't see it.
Unfortunately, he didn't have time to ponder his options any more. The Twisted were closing in on him, moaning and hissing like wild beasts. The sight of them made his skin crawl. He had to go on. If Nm'bopo didn't survive this descent, he prayed that his ancestors would welcome him back. If he did, he would be too broken up to do any good and they would have to deal with him after… if they survive the Twisted.
A testament that Oldmamah had been wrong about him. Kaheina should have been given this task from the start, yet Oldmamah kept pushing Nm'bopo in. Such a man was not going to be useful in the battle to come. It still felt wrong though, but it was the most reasonable thing he could come up with. And besides, he never expected them to make through this without losses.
And so he ran on, pursued by the Evil Ones and praying that he had made the right choice.
Gnashing her teeth in effort, Yrona managed to place Jack on the seat of the nearest cargo truck, all packed and ready to go. Moving didn't hurt so much any more, but she still felt week. The Nazi were packing their gear fast right before the killings started and most of the trucks were fully loaded and set for departure. Those idiots were intending to flee and just leave Eidolon like that. God, Eidolon ! What to do about Eidolon ? She felt awful for leaving her behind, but she could see no other way. She had to get Jack back to Cairo fast.
The key was in the ignition. Slamming the door behind her she managed to turn it despite her shaking hand, and press down on the clutch. But the engine just wined refusing to start, and as hard as she tried, she couldn't force it to. The fuel tank was empty. Already frustrated beyond measure, she got out and went for another truck, but that one too had its tank dry. This was becoming ridiculous ! Running to the next she found the same thing – empty fuel tank. Even the canisters were gone ! That was impossible ! Where would the Nazi go in trucks with no fuel ? There had to be some ! But she couldn't find a drop of it. Where was all the gasoline ? Where was the bloody gasoline ?!
Suddenly, as she was running back to where she had left Jack, she felt another surge of that insane struggle on the hill's top. It did not push her away, merely swaying her somewhat, but to feel it this far, it must have been a big one. Stopping in her tracks, she looked back up at that strange battle only she could perceive and her heart clenched at what she saw.
The clouds were revolving in a loop just above the hill, an angry mass of gray and white with thunders dancing between them, making light of the torches barely necessary next to their flashes. Eidolon and the old woman were too far away to make out, but she could still see the huge auras around them, and right now, Eidolon was winning by far. The bright aura of the old woman seemed like merely a ball surrounded by vast rivers of black tar, squeezing in and chocking its light. That color was so dark to her eyes it stood against the night as much as the bright one did. Dumah was winning.
She had to do something ! She had to help her… No she had to help Jack ! But there was no gas ! She felt like she was going to burst. Yet, despite everything, she couldn't leave this woman to die, or... who knows what. She had had her belly full of death. But what could she do ? Was she able to do anything ?
Dumah was enjoying Oldmamah's whimper like a surge of ecstasy. The battle with her was more than he had expected, but still she wasn't up to him, a frail old crone with a spark of power and arrogance enough to think she could stand up to true masters of this world. The light of her faith still flared brightly, but he was choking it without mercy, watching it fade beneath his power like a fire burning out its final coals. That was what she was using against him – faith in her gods or elders or whatever. It didn't matter in the long run. He would teach her that there was only one true god – him !
Should he rid her of the staff ? It was the focus of her faith and the faith of those before her. It was a powerful relic with at least ten generations of Imbuing and the very sight of it sickened him beyond measure. No. Let her hope. Hope was a wonderful thing, but to watch it fade slowly was an even more wonderful thing as the true agony took hold ! True agony. Like a man falling off a great empty height with nothing to grab for, doomed to spend an eternity in terror before he'd actually end. He would teach her what that was, how deep it could run.
The pet-woman was struggling again. Silence ! He had no time for her now. Such struggle with her. Despite all, she still refused to submit. Remarkable. Down puny one ! He slapped her back like an insignificant fledgling. You will learn some respect ! I am the master ! No. He would not destroy her spirit. She would be his trophy, the prize of his collection, a broken soul unlike any other, and by the time he was through with her, she would laugh at the slaughter along with him. Together behind his eyes, a pet at her master's feet.
The witch had fallen on one knee and her aura was fading. At last. True agony. Wonderful. Beautiful. She knew it now. She knew how deluded she had been to think she could possibly come close to matching him. A drowning woman gasping for air with waves mercilessly crashing down upon her forcing her ever deeper under their embrace. Delicious ! Rapturous ! More ! No air for you. Without knowing it he began to recite, his voice united with the voice of his host :
" I was not the First, nor was I the first to come,
For he who was the First shall be the last to come !
The heavens will weep and the land will tremble !
For the age has returned and the Awakening has begun !
Those whose blood is warm shall freeze with ice in their veins,
and those who enjoy Life shall now learn to worship Death.
The wind will moan and the waters will turn black !
For the age has returned and the Awakening has begun !"
The old gods were back and they would have their due.