Chapter 13 ; Nameless One
Like a roaring wave crushing down upon sharp reefs, the Twisted collapsed at the base of the hill in a thick crowd which knew no tolerance. Even a herd of mad caribous at full troth would take more care of each other than these people did, clawing and running through one another without care what so ever of who might get hurt in the chaos. That was what the Zulu wanted. That was what Oldmamah said would happen, and what the plan had been from the start. Kaheina wished he could stop shuddering, though. His mind could not comprehend what had been done to those poor people. What kind of evil could do such a thing to a man, to so many men ?
Arriving at the base, Kaheina led his warriors further away from the stench. The air was awful down there, clinging to the inside of their lungs and as they ran amidst the still fresh ponds, the mud was sticking to their feet in a grouse manner. What ever it was that they had spilt on the ground was not something he wanted near himself. It was unfortunate that there was no wind, despite the billowing black clouds above, or the foul odor could have been dispersed somewhat. If only the Twisted would not stray away from it…
As the last of the Bushmen crossed the agreed line, they allowed themselves to gaze behind at their pursuers, some twenty paces away. Each and every one of them had no eyes, rather than infinitely deep caverns of blackness, faces twisted with beastly rage and unnatural dementia and all that was once human in them replaced by soulless bloodlust. Even the front lines of this falling malice seemed so thick with shoving and pushing they looked more like a bunch of bushes caught in a storm than a group of men swiftly rolling down the slope.
A second later and the Twisted were crashing at the base in an unbelievably awkward heap, collapsing in the mud and ponds of the vile liquid that was still not absorbed in the earth, struggling to crawl from underneath one another and after their pray. It was the moment they had been waiting for.
His special arrow nocked, Kaheina took the aim as his friend Tsufu lit the head using his small tinderbox, and fired. As the arrow streaked through the air, the flame only took hold more strongly, making it seem like a yellowish blurry line that stood against the night in Kaheina's eyes. But as it hit the ground its fire leapt so brightly and suddenly the Bushmen had to avert their eyes.
Whatever it was that Oldmamah made them extract from those big-metal-things-on-wheels, it welcomed flame a hundred times more swiftly than dry grass. In less than an instant the entire southern base of the hill was consumed in a roaring wall of bright fire which engulfed the helpless people soaked in the smelly substance. Most of them died within seconds, their flesh burning out like tinder. Other still struggled to brake loose. Some even managed to get up and leave the fire, walking a few steps like living torches before collapsing down stabbed trough with spears and arrows.
But even as the warriors cheered their success, the horror at the sight of these burning men chilled their hearts. The Twisted didn't scream, nor squeal, nor flail in the embrace of the searing heat. Instead, despite their deaths, despite the crackling flame which swallowed them, they simply resumed their pursuit as if nothing was wrong still moaning like the wind on barren rock as they did in their descent. In the end, they all died, and none of them even noticed ; A sight too horrible to look at, too revolting to cheer at, and too unearthly to be believed.
Charred black smoke was steaming up into darkness among the golden tongues as the last of the calcified forms stopped twitching and the smell of burning meat overwhelmed the odor of the vile liquid. But even than the thing which the warriors smelled the most was the stench of death.
Kaheina stepped closer to the crackling flame, but stopped dead in his tracks as the sound of clapping reached him from behind. All of them instantly turned, weapons at the ready, shields facing the lone man behind them. He had the elaborate green suit that most of the Twisted wore, and short black hair thickly shrouding his ears and forehead. Corpse-pale white skin was cracked by a web of blue and green veins and burning red eyes watched them nestled between blackened eyelids.
Slowly clapping in an amused fashion, Sardas stepped forth from the night, facing the humans and the wall of fire. His hands were already turning into claws, aching to rend human flesh. But not just yet.
" Bravo, bravo. "; he grinned flashing his glittering fangs. Kaheina took an arrow and fired at his heart, but Sardas caught it right before it reached his chest :" I love it when my dinner struggles so on my plate. "
They started circling around him, spears and leather shields in their hands, and Sardas just stood there, peaceful, grinning at their pitiful efforts. And than he began to play with them.
That was all the effort he put into it, a simple casual dance. The humans were shouting, waving their spears as fast as they could but not one ever so much as touched him. His speed and agility was so far beyond theirs they might as well have been stuck in mud. He enjoyed doing this, flaunting his superiority like this, watching their hope fade bit by bit. It was his favorite kind of torture.
They swung their spears and he watched them pass him by. They tried shooting him with arrows and poisonous thorns from their peashooters and he caught every one. One of them tried to punch him. He humored him and the human groaned as the bones in his hand cracked.
The humans were slowing down considerably, already exhausted and week from all the running they had done to get here. It made him angry. He wanted to play some more. He wanted them to come at him with all their might until he would extract the last shreds of agony from them. He craved it ! He deserved it ! He wanted their suffering even more than their blood, to watch as their will slowly withered and died. It was his by right ! The Dumahim Priests forged the seven Seals in fire and blood ! This age belonged to the Dumahim above all others, even Father himself !
Grabbing one of them, he hurled the useless human into the flame where he vanished with a scream. Fire was a painful thing and the man's scream quickly died out. Maybe that would get their attention.
" Nooooo !"; Kaheina shouted as Tsufu was consumed by the furnace. And the monster just grinned at him. His arrows were gone, his weapons were all but spent but he didn't care any more. That had been his friend that perished there. Casting all warnings aside, he rushed at the fiend barehanded. And it took him only a second to realize his mistake. A second too late.
Sardas had his arm twisted behind him in a painful grip which almost broke it. Kulkhuna tried to jump in from behind, but was simply tossed a few paces away. Pain forced Kaheina to kneel down.
" Do you see it yet ?"; Sardass hissed :" Can you smell it ? Do you sense it in your bones ?"
Ulkata stabbed him with his spear, or tried to at least, before he got hurled away braking on the ground. Shakthi was slowly trying to crawl away with much effort. All of them were on the ground but for Kaheia who was forced to kneel and watch.
" What do you want from me ?"; Kaheina spat out and Sardass' face twisted in rage
" I want you to SEE !"; he snarled and slammed his face in the ground. As he pulled him back up, blood was leaking out of Kaheina's nose. Sardas got some senses back into him by tightening the grip, sending jolts of pain trough his arm :" No, no, no, no, no, don't see it yet ! You will see it, but not yet !"
Ulkata roared and leapt at the monster giving Kaheina barely enough time to shout. And again he was too late.
In a blinding motion, Sardas hurled Kaheina away and as he span around he grabbed Ulkata's head and broke it off completely with a sharp twist.
For an instant, there was still a thick line of dark blood standing clearly against the bright fires connecting Ulkata's head with his neck, but as it grew longer, as his head remained locked in the monster's grip and his body continued flying forward, it thinned and disintegrated into nothing more than drops. The rest of Ulkata's body stopped in its tracks and fell to its knees, still trying to flail his arms before it collapsed in the dust spilling a crimson pound out of its torn neck.
Kaheina could only watch, petrified with horror as the monster took the head of his dead friend by the hair and gazed at it. The face still had the brave defiant expression with mouth opened in a silent snarl. Brave Ulkata. Always too brave for his own good. Why did he have to be so bold ?
But Sardas didn't share those sentiments. Pointy tongue long as an adder slithered out of his jaws, harshly licking the face he was holding and than he tossed it into the flame too.
" Do you see it now… ?"; he hissed, slowly pacing towards them all huddled on the ground shaking in rapture :" …Yes …Now you see it… Now you know what it is. "
In a mighty grab, he reached forth and took Kaheina by the throat lifting him off the ground :
" …Tell me, tiny one… tell me what you see… "; but the grip was too tight and Kaheina could only choke, gasping for air and trying to pry the claw off his neck :" TELL ME !"; Sardas roared sending chill down his back but his sight was already darkening with the lack of air.
" Enough. "; One word and the air was flowing through again. Kaheina was on the ground taking lungs full of it and his warriors were pulling him away from the monster. At once Sardas was ten paces away, face twisted and teeth bared in a snarl, glaring all his malice at the ruined man who was slowly limping to them, as if the very sight of him pushed him back.
It was Nm'bopo. The fall down the hill had tumbled him trough a lot of dirt and dust. Blood was smearing his temples and his right arm was uselessly hanging by his side. With the aid of a long stick to help him lean on his left leg, he slowly paced forward panting through his nose.
Nm'bopo, the Nameless One, all broken up and exhausted. Nm'bopo who could have left his hated kinsmen to fight on their own. Nm'bopo who couldn't aid them one bit in his current condition, and yet here he stood, eager to fall down along with them.
And in the sight of it all, and all the horrors they suffered, a new kind of respect and understanding for their shunned tribesman began to take form among Kaheina and his warriors. They had given up all hope they would live to see the next dawn, yet seeing him now gave them a new kind of strength as hope for tomorrow was cast away for a chance to fight by the side of such a brave warrior. And suddenly dying did not seem that hard any more.
Sardas was snarling in anger. How dare this pathetic creature, this insect, challenge him so ! How dare he undo all the crippling he wrought upon these men, restoring their will and mending their broken souls ! How dare he ! But it was not what was infuriating him the most. It was the fact that this broken worm had tapped into his inner light, the one which they called Faith, and his aura was radiating with searing glee upon Sardas. How DARE he !
" Fools !"; the monster hissed :" Worms ! I shall devour your marrow ! I shall suck your veins dry ! I shall craft your screaming bones into my throne !"
The others were now standing by Nm'bopo's side calm in spirit and pose, a bunch of tired wounded men who had nothing to loose. It did not matter what would come next, as long as they'd face it together.
It heated Sardas's rage. He didn't care about breaking them any more. All he wanted was to see them all dead. So be it ! If that was how they wanted to play, he was willing to oblige. And now, finally, they would see what he was. They would see him ! They would KNOW him !
His hiss grew into a growl, and than to a roar as he tossed his head up. They asked for this ! They provoked him into this ! The pathetic humans watched in shock as he transformed, his claws growing twice as long and muscles inflating, bulging, tearing the green fabric of his clothes to shreds. His neck thickened and face altered with his jaw growing in a muzzle full of sharp teeth. They would see him !
What emerged before the humans was a nightmare clothed in sickly pale flesh, resembling a cross reference between a bat, a jackal and a lizard, all pumped with hard muscle. Now they knew him. He didn't care about breaking them any more, as long as he could kill them.
Snorting laughter emerged from the beast as it charged for the helpless humans. The aura around the newcomer was still burning it, but the beast could ignore it. He was the beast ! Nothing could deter the beast from its path. And nothing could withstand the full charge of the true Dumahim.
Kaheina had already reconciled himself with dying, yet as he looked at Nm'bopo's face he saw something there, something which he did not have yet. And the others saw it too. Nm'bopo did not dwell on dying or surviving, he dwelt on his task, on fulfilling his mission. He was loyal and true and dedicated to his goal and nothing else concerned him. Living and dying did not fit into his equation.
And again they felt that strange devotion to their former kinsman, admiring him and his many qualities, and as the beast charged towards them, he thus unknowingly shared with them his strength. And his Light.
At the last instant before the beast's mighty strike which should have torn right through them, they all tapped into their inner light guided by Nm'bopo's example, their Faith in their Ancestors and the Spirit of Mother Africa, the stories which stayed with them as they grew up and the songs of their tribe and their home, and summoning it all, they ignited. One moment of true realization was all it took.
The beast squealed like a wounded pray and for a split second its skin steamed tendrils of thin smoke as the Light before it flared up many times, and instead of storming trough them it hid from the glee of their faith, the blinding agony of their pure hearts. But it could not stop its charge. It simply rushed by them, claws scratching through dirt in a futile attempt to stop, and with a shrill whine flew head on in the fiery inferno where the Twisted met their end.
At once the fire grew from yellow to crimson red and the monster's roar shook the night. A swarm of ignited black bats exploded out, knocking the warriors on the ground and swiftly vanishing in the distance like a herd of red fireflies.
Several minutes of strange silence ensued, before battered Zulu warriors managed to pick them selves up. The fires next to them were clean yellow again. Kaheina, Kulkhuna and Shakti helped Nm'bopo to his feet and for a moment longer he studied their eyes. Their respectful eyes. Slowly he nodded acknowledging it and they nodded back. For them he was no longer a Nameless One. From this day on, they were blood brothers, a family, and no one could deny them that, not even chief Ungala even if he would banish them all.
But the sigh of relief which Shakti gave was more than premature for suddenly the ground shifted beneath their feet in an earthquake, and a cry of rage reached them from the top of the hill dispersing the tall curtain of fire like a gust of hard wind.
" SARDAAAASSSsss !"
" Oldmamah. "; Kaheina whispered like a dagger sheeted in grief.