Seals of darkness

Chapter 14 ; It is I, Your Lord

With the next flash of thunder, the heavens broke opened and a thick curtain of rain begun descending upon the hill. All throughout the ruined camp, tiny puddles of muddy water were flowing in small streams amidst the torn down tents and the half packed trucks. To the west, the black pillar of smoke no longer stood. It had been clearly visible even against the night but not any longer through the shower of water droplets. It was still there though, just out of common sight. And hers.

Oldmamah was sprawled on her back trying to force her arms and legs to work. The rain helped ease the pain but she was still broken, beaten down on the ground. Tears were being washed away from her face. Even now the Void gaped inside her and the pain of that loss was far worse than any other injury she received. She couldn't see. She had been blind since she could remember, but always she had her juju to guide her, the benevolent spirits of her Ancestors to be her eyes and guide her down her path. It was a payment for the sight that was denied to her, another sight, the Farsight, a rare and precious gift for anyone, more so for any tribe. And now it was ripped from her. The ache in her flesh was nothing compared to the agony of that loss. She was blind. For the first time in her life she was utterly blind and the Spirits would not come back. Ever.

A slow rustle of grass to her left told her that the Beast had moved away from her. But she didn't need her ears to tell her that. In a way she could still… sense it. The Beast was everywhere in the blackness around her. Its presence was so vast she barely felt anything else, as if the entire hill was dwarfed by the sheer immensity of it and she could not stop the tides of despair and terror that were washing over her. There was no safety, no place to hide. The entire world was not big enough. All her life she was thought how to resist the snare of such dark bleakness yet now those teachings seemed like hollow words. How was anyone to fight something like that ? It was madness to even try ! But she had to. Ancestors' mercy, she had to.

At least her attempt had not been a complete failure. The second creature was gone. She felt that one expire moments before… her sight was torn from her ; Before the Nightlord ripped it out ! He ripped it out ! But at least his first spawn was destroyed as well. He had made her into a crippled old woman, but at least one of them was dead. At least that if nothing else. A small solace, but the only solace she had.

The Nightlord was moving away. He had lost interest in her since he… did what he had done. He was there still amidst the blackness that now covered her eyes, clogging all the senses she had left with his presence. Everywhere around her. Abowe and beyond and through. She wanted to back away but her arms and legs only floundered meekly. No escape. And than a strong hand sized her by her shoulder, jerking her up on her feet.

Sigmund didn't know how long he had been unconscious or what had happened after the shooting started but he wagered it wasn't good nor that it didn't have anything to do with professor Barker. The rain that had woken him was washing the blood in murky red streams away from the heap of roughly piled bodies of German soldiers surrounded by a ring of dying torches. The pile was at least four paces high and six paces wide. He wasn't all too clear of how he got there in the first place but wasting time on finding out was another thing he could do without.

Professor Barker was less than ten paces away staring at the horizon. Her red eyes blazed so brightly in the night she appeared to have a crimson halo and the medallion around her neck was like a disc of hot magma, somehow holding on to its shape instead of melting or burning her. It made his skin crawl. She was the one who had killed these men. There was no doubt about it. And worse, what was left of the unit now seemed to be under her influence. It was Captain Kenner that had knocked him out and Jorgen… Christ, Jorgen wasn't Jorgen any more. He looked more like… Like that thing professor Barker had become. Well, he did say he wanted to be like her, and now he got his wish for all the good it did him.

As distasteful as it was, there was only one thing to do ; to get the hell out of there. And he seemed to have an idea of how to do that. That old woman appeared to have managed to hold the monster away somehow. Not that he understood how she did it. He came around just in time to see them facing each other and there was no doubt that she had managed to hold it back. Therefore, she was his ticket out of here.

It was now or never. Professor Barker was distracted, or as close to it as she would ever be. Hell, she probably knew already what he intended, but he had to try. Scrambling to his feet, he forced his muscles to propel him as fast as they ever did. He must have broken a record or two in those few strides, yet it was all it took to reach the old woman.

Oh, the monster knew he was up, just didn't seem to care. Before it could change its mind, he grabbed the old woman by her shoulder and brought her up before him like a shield. She was light and so frail he wondered whether he had hurt her by jerking her like that. Not that he was concerned for one of her kind. Certainly not ! He just wanted to use her. That was all. Though he was glad that none of the Gestapo-officers were alive to see him touch this filthy creature.

Professor Barker was smiling at him in a way which made his hair stand on its end but he determinedly held the old woman before him like a shield. All she did though was whimper. He frowned. Why wasn't she doing anything ? She was suppose to keep the monster at bay ! He knew she could ! He saw her do it ! Why…

" I love you, red. "

Those words chilled him to the bone giving him only an instant of warning before she struck. He didn't see how it happened, but at once the old woman was flying through the night and the next he was gasping for air on the ground a few paces away, struggling to see through the white flash that came over his eyes. Why didn't the old woman do something ? Why didn't she hold it back ? She was supposed to hold the demon back !

" I love you, red. "

He was dangling from her grasp facing her nightmarish grin. She was about to… Air going away… He had to… Hand fumbling through his uniform… No breath… Last chance… There on his chest… Right there !

Professor Barker shrieked in her weird voice and he was once again tossed away, but this time because she was repelled. Maybe even hurt. The fall didn't hurt him very much, as he was sliding through mud most of the way. Scrambling to his feet, he extended his hand and the chain of a little golden crucifix he carried around his neck. His superiors were pagans, maybe even his entire squad, but, by God, he was a Christian ! And he always carried his lucky charm close to his heart – a little golden cross given to him by his mother.

The monster snarled at him again but didn't advance. Everything was spinning around him and it was a great difficulty to keep erect, yet he was facing her, placing all his faith into a little chunk of a gilded metal.

" You will die, screaming !" The monster spoke. It spoke in German in that dual voice as if a man and a woman were speaking together through a tin-can or something.

But she was keeping her distance. She stood back ! Maybe he should have just backed away. Maybe he should have just found his way down and used the trucks to escape. Maybe he should have left this place and never looked back. But instead he made a step towards her. It felt like the hardest thing he had ever done, but the next one came easier.

She backed away. Snarling again she rose her arms up before her as if to shield herself from the glee. It made a spark of hope dance inside him. If he could only figure out how to kill her… He wished his head would stop spinning.

In an impossibly fast motion, she bent down and grabbing one of the corpses from the pile by its ankle, she hurled it straight at him. It was all it took for him to lose balance and the ground welcomed him hard, his flesh meeting the harness of protruding stones this time rather than soft mud. Had he kept his fragile balance for a heartbeat longer, the corpse she hurled at him would have swept him away even harder. A splash of water, a white flash all over again and the crucifix vanished in the dark ponds. His hand scrambled through rain and mud trying to grasp it again but he knew it would be too late. It was already too late.

And just as he thought he was done for, another man appeared, a Bushman with a bow and a flaming arrow nocked in a bow aiming at Professor Barker. More came behind the first, armed with torches standing around Sigmund as if to defend him. One offered him a hand. Unlike the others, this one was dressed in a leather vest and short pants and he seemed to be in worse shape than Sigmund, using a branch for a support to help him walk.

At last, Sigmund's fingers felt the metal chain amidst the mud and as the Bushman pulled him up he once more held his now muddy cross as a ward against this hellspawn. Taking this man's hand was difficult and against all his principles, but at that moment he hardly cared about the teachings of the swastika. Perhaps together with them he'd be able to kill her. Perhaps now he'd be able to find a way.

Yet her sinister laughter almost finished off his hopes.

" Is this it ?" she mocked :" Is this all that is left to block Dumah's path ?"

" Not quite. "; someone spoke in English.

The one who spoke was a woman, shouldering a man and helping him climb up the hill so they could join Sigmund and his strange army. They were Professor Barker's friends and colleagues, and their prisoners while Sigmund's unit was still whole and strong. Both wet from the heavy rain they seemed as if they were being tossed around like sacks. Herr Jack barely stood on his feet. If it were not for the support of Frauline Yrona, he would have been on the ground.

Sigmund took a look at this small host. Not much, but all he had. Ether they'd stop this evil now or perish trying. There was no other choice. And not much to hope for, given the odds.

And last but not least, the old hag crawled back from the dark to complete the circle. Reaching towards Frauline Yrona's leg, she spoke some gibberish Sigmund couldn't understand, but the girl only nodded.

" Yes, I know. He is weakened now. " she spoke to all of them. " He wasted much of his strength. "

The smile slowly turned into a grimace on Professor Barker's face, her garments, soaked in blood and rain clinging wetly to her. And another detail Sigmund noticed, a peculiar thing ; she seemed to be gripping something in her fist, like a necklace on a leather cord. A small and insignificant thing, considering she was wearing a medallion of white-hot glowing metal.

" Looks like you're alone against us. " Frauline Yrona said eyes bravely fixed on what had once been her friend.

Angry steam rushed on every breath the creature made while those blazing red eyes darted from one to another, counting those who now stood to oppose it. But strangely enough, Sigmund wasn't terrified. Despite all the horror he endured, all the trials he suffered, he was resigned to see this through to the end. And looking at the others with him, he saw they shared his feelings.

The creature was not hissing any more, but was instead growling with every breath, louder and louder so much that it made Sigmund uncomfortable. Whatever was to come, he was willing to face it, but he wished she would stop doing that. It made the hair on his back try to stand.

" Alone…? " it grated. " ALONE ? Dumah is NEVER alone !"

With a roar, Professor Barker threw up her hands and the night seemed to come alive around her. That was all Sigmund could call it. With a shrill wind, shadows suddenly became thick around her merging together on top of each other, encasing her in a black husk. That tiny frail girl became encased in solid darkness that at once grew to a monstrous size and form, looming over them like a giant. A giant made of shadows. And barely visible, the form of Professor Barker floated in its chest, the medallion around her neck still glowing with molten heat. But it was this giant that now gazed at them through ruby eyes, rather than Professor Barker.

At once fire was everywhere, incinerating Sigmund's clothes and dissolving his skin. He screamed and his scream joined other screams around him. No, not the fire ! Anything but the fire ! Terror raced through him. This was not happening ! She had done this to him before. It was just an illusion. She had already done this to him. He tried to tell himself that but the fire burned. It BURNED ! The crucifix was melting in his palm, and he screamed while the fire burned around him and through him.

Through the flames he saw others huddled on the ground or running in mad circles or squirming in the mud trying to escape whatever madness they were seeing, and the black Giant reveling at their display.

" Never alone !" It roared and turned to the horizon " Awaken my children ! Your slumber is done ! Come back to this world ! It is I, Your Lord ! Follow me back into the land of the living ! Let the Dumahim rule again !"

It was the thunders that rained now, beating along with Dumah's mighty voice, booming in the distance along with his words. One great flash across the horizon banished the night in harsh glare. And the sky ignited. Where clouds were black they now became crimson red, coloring the lands underneath in blood. And where the forked lightning would strike the ground, the earth would crack, giving in to the bulging rage beneath it. Thousands of shrill voices echoed on the icy wind growing louder and louder with each boom in the distance. Compelled by their master, the Dumahim were braking through their bonds.

Struggling through the agony of her Farsight being torn from her again and again in a continuous cycle, Oldmamah was crawling through the mud. She knew what was happening to the others. She knew that the Beast had brought forth their nightmares to conquer them, but more importantly, she knew what he was doing now. She didn't need to see or to sense to know what he was doing. All his energy was being focused on one thing now ; to plunge into the spirit world and tear through the chains which kept the others like him at bay.

This was the Awakening, the thing feared by her loving Spirits, Ancestors and predecessors, the thing which meant the end of life as it had been until now, the thing she was hoping to prevent, hoping she could still prevent. Nm'bopo was the key, the Spirits had told her, and the key would have to perish so the Beast would perish. But that was not so. Only a poet had a chance to truly grasp the cryptic meaning of that omen before now.

And now she knew. She knew what she had to do even though those who taught her had forbidden of even attempting it. Ancestors' mercy, her Juju might be gone completely, but she had nothing left to lose.

Again and again the link between her and the spirits was severed in a continuous stab of agony but she staggered to her feat still. She didn't need to see the beast at all. It was everywhere around her, his presence radiating so powerfully in the vast dark she could have pointed her finger straight at it. And it was oblivious to her. The effort of the dark Juju he was burning, the sheer immensity of it was more than enough to distract him. She didn't need to see him as long as she could feel him. Above and beyond and through.

One last time she endured the pain of Farsight being cleaved from her, and with the next staggering step, she sacrificed herself leaping headlong into the dark presence letting it absorb her frail form into its vast bleakness. Someone shouted her name behind her. It was the last thing she heard on this world.

Dark. Cold. Alone. So alone. She was huddled on the cold floor. So cold. Unyielding. Grief and sorrow held her by the hands. Agony and ecstasy tightened their chains around her. She couldn't remember her name or anything else that came with it but she knew there was more to her than what she was. She had been something more. Something more than this. So alone and empty.

Power was all around her. Moving, twisting turning, if flowed everywhere around her, cruel and relentless and thirsty. So terribly thirsty. Thirst was burning through it. Thirst and hunger. And rage. So much rage. It was hurting her but she couldn't fight it any longer. Fighting was hurting her. She didn't know why she was fighting but she knew she had to. It was all she had left. Cold. Floor. Alone.

Than something shifted. She could feel it. The power which was storming in every direction was suddenly flowing in a continuous straight flow. All of it at once. It was more endurable now. She felt the straining, the effort of that she was fighting against. She felt it turn away from her and as it did her torment was relieved. She could almost see past the dark. She could almost feel beyond the rage. She could almost fight back. Almost. Even so, it was a bliss in it self. The first in a long while.

Whatever was happening, it was draining the dark. It was siphoning the power around her. She could feel the strain. But it was not enough. She was weak. Tired. Alone. So vast. Fire. Dark.

" Eidolon… "

That word had some meaning. She knew it meant something. Something important. If she could only remember…

" Child… Hear me… "

Something was reaching through the dark. Something that wasn't part of the dark. She had no name for it but she knew it was different. It was new and wonderful and…

" Hear me… Eidolon… "

She was sitting on a throne made of sculls in a dark room overlooking the dying lands. It was her domain. As far as she could see, all was hers to rule by whim. Except the old woman.

" Hear me child… " the old woman spoke. The one who was outside her rule.

" Who are you. " she asked slowly. Confusion. She ruled everything. Everything and everyone and yet she didn't rule this woman. Puzzled.

" I am the one who knows who you are. " she said gently.

" You know who I am… ?" She spoke. Confusion. Loneliness. " I try to remember… I try but it… it isn't there… don't know... where… "

" You have suffered so. " the woman stepped forth and gently placed her palm on her cheek. Yes, the old woman. Her touch was… different… " And you have endured for so long. Now I know I have chosen wisely. "

Her touch was different. Strength. Warm. Friends. Need. Danger. Light. Eidolon. So much strength. So strong. So much of it poring into her she thought she would burst. But it wasn't like that. It was nowhere near the strength she once had. She could remember now. But it was at least more than she had been. Far more than what he had left her with to scratch her nails in the dark on unyielding stone of his prison. Friends. Danger. Faith. Fight !

" What do you think you are doing ?" The rage spoke. He was the rage. " You weak pathetic fool ! How dare you attack your master !?"

" You are not my master !" Eidolon shouted. Eidolon ! Yes ; Eidolon ! " You thought you have broken me, but I am back. And I will never kneel to you !"

" You are MINE ! Forever and always !" Rage raging at her. Searing her. But she withstood. She endured. She had to endure. " We are one ! Now and forever !"

" Never !" Eidolon screamed. " You are vulnerable now ! I know it ! Your power is wasted elsewhere !" Fight. Warm. Light. Friends. Love. LOVE !

" No ! You can not do this !" Rage. Anger. Terror. Malice. " I am DUMAH ! The Unstoppable ! No one can defeat me !" Evil. Darkness. Cold. Flame. Despair !

" I can !" she screamed. " I know I can !" Suffering. Agony. Sorrow ! Endure ! She had to endure ! Help. Friends ! Save ! Fight !

"Stop !" Rage. Despair. Pain. "I can not… ! I can… n… not… !"

Yrona. Jack. Bo. Help. Save. Withstand. " I… have… had… enough… of… YOU !" Shout. Joy. Home. Love. Warmth ! Fight ! Love ! Love ! LOVE !

" Noooooooooo ! " Rage, dwindling. Dark, fading. Cold, vanishing. Warm. Light. Joy. Freedom ! Eidolon !

At first, Sigmund couldn't realize why the fire had gone, why the burning had stopped. But than he saw the Shadow Giant writhing and twisting in agony. The darkness which was encasing Professor Barker was boiling, fracturing like stained glass in a swift web of brilliant cracks. The monster roared and screamed as its eyes blazed against the night.

And than it went quiet, frozen in its tracks. Those crimson eyes burned out. Thunder and wind fell silent along with it and the fire which was in the clouds slowly faded into blackness again. Sigmund and the others were getting to their feet watching the monster fall apart. It was crumbling like a statue made of ash and ember, blown apart on a slow breeze. Gently evaporating in the night, it left the form of Professor Barker huddled on the scorched ground lying there motionless and calm.

" Oldmamah. " Kaheina grated. He ran to the spot but only Professor Barker was there. The old medicine-woman was gone.

" Where is she ?" Nm'bopo asked, staggering to gain his foothold back.

" She sacrificed herself. " Yrona spoke quietly. " She gave her strength to Eidolon… so Eidolon could defeat it. I saw it. " she faced Kaheina and spoke a few words to him to which he only nodded.

" I didn't know you speak the language of my tribe, Ms. Yrona. " Nm'bopo said and it caught her somewhat by surprise obviously, since her lips parted and her eyes clouded in confusion.

Jack was slowly coming to, shaking his head and muttering under his breath and what few of the Zulu warriors remained were trying to pull their peaces together as well. But it was over. Praised be the Lord, it was finally over. Sigmund would have laughed and danced right there if he wasn't sure he would fall face-down if he'd try. It was over ! Hallelujah, it was over !

Yet the one thing that saddened Herr Jack and Frauline Yrona was the death of their friend. Professor Barker was dead and the medallion around her neck, now just a black silver coin, was broken in two right down the middle. That Bushman, Kaheina was seemingly insistent to take her head back with him while the pair of them protested that they should bring her along with them to London to give her a proper burial. Sigmund stayed out of that. All he cared about was getting back home to Berlin. If he was lucky enough, the trucks were still usable.

Rays of the blazing sun cracked through the clouds and banished the darkness in harsh light. The pillar of black smoke which stood against the horizon dissipated leaving the sky once more free of its grip and the new day finally spilled loose upon the land. Life and hope almost visibly washed across the planes of Africa as the long night came to its end.

Or so it would seem.

Scratching through the mud and rabble, the once mighty Sardas Ecnematim, Maker of Hopeless, was taking his final moments on this earth mourning for the death of his master. Dumah was gone. His power was broken. Impossible. It was impossible ! He couldn't have been broken. Not Dumah ! And yet he had felt it, felt the moment when his Sire's life winked out.

Sharp pain in his side ended his thoughts. The fire had drained him completely and even as he formed back, he was at the end of his strength. There was nothing he could have done. And now he was dying. There was nothing left to do… but to die…

No ! This could not be happening ! He was Sardas Ecnematim ! He could NOT be defeated ! He could not die ! He was a Dumahim ! He could NEVER die !

Blood ! Like liquid bliss, blood streamed down his throat. He almost chocked and gagged trying to gorge himself on it. Yesssss… Strong blood… Making him stronger… Taking the pain away… Restoring him… Mending broken bones and seared flesh... More… Crimson bliss… Haze…

It ended, cruelly torn from his jaws. He screamed and raged, clawing for it, struggling to get it back but he was helpless against that iron grip. Clawing, scratching, attacking, clamoring for it, yet it may have all been floundering for all the good it did him. And than, through his futile efforts he recognized the one who held him. One brief moment of realization, and the shock made him want to vomit all the blood he had just devoured.

The arm which held him loosened its grip and he fell on his back gazing in horror at his savior. It took him a while before his words finally passed his lips but he forced them out :

" Why…?" he asked. " Why didn't you help him ? He is gone now. Dumah is gone, and you did nothing !"

Instead of an answer he received laughter. Vicious malignant laughter, which was dripping with contempt. It made his bones ache. Never in all his centuries had he heard that laughter, because its owner never laughed. Its owner only destroyed.

" Dumah was a fool and he got what he deserved. We have always known that his appetites would get the better of him sooner or later but i never imagined it would be so amusing. "

Rage and despair flared within Sardas. He lunged himself into battle, clawing, attacking, anything to end that laugh. Anything ! But pain embraced him, consumed him until there was nothing left. He screamed amidst the pain and that mocking laugh and once it was finally over he was again on the ground struggling for his life. And the laughter was still there.

" You now belong to me. All that is left of your clan belongs to me. "

Sardas looked at him broken and defeated. It was true. He knew it in his core now. Dumah was gone and the proud Dumahim were no more. And as much as he was devoted to his Sire, he wanted to live, not to perish in a futile act of defiance. At least not without a chance for vengeance.

" You will be of good use, Sardas… " That laughter again. Dark sinister laughter. He wanted to run to the ends of the earth and face the sun it self to get away from that laugh. " …Brother, brother… What wonderful shame have you brought upon yourself… " Laughing on and on, his new master left Sardas alone in his misery.

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