Chapter 4 ; Stirred
She was running. She couldn't remember why or from what, but she knew she mustn't stop. She didn't even dare to look behind as she pressed on through dark corridors of an underground cave, trying to escape before he'd catch her. He… ? Who was he ? Who was she ? She didn't remember and trying would be a waste of valuable time, but above all she knew that if he'd catch her and take her in his arms, her worse fear would come to pass.
Abruptly she turned around the next corner - not a corner really, just a turn in an endless cave – and faced a man she knew to be dead. The digger smiled at her as large black scorpions crawled over him in skittering waves. Every inch of his flesh was swollen with scorpion stings and he rocked back and forth on his heels as if in some perverted dance. He still wore a brown turban and a torn sheet of cloth for his garments, and one golden tooth sparkled amidst the crooked jaw, nestled within the smile that leaked a thin stream of white spit down his chest :
" Welcome… "; he wheezed ;" … mistress. "
Something closed in around her and she screamed. With violent trashing she finally realized that it was her bed sheet and that she had almost torn it apart. This was not a cave ; it was a tent. A bad dream. It was just a bad dream. Her tent was cold and mostly dark, but despite the chill her face was still bathed in glistening sweat. Nights in the desert were cooler than the scorching furnace of its days, but this night was unusually more so. Thick clouds had gathered in above them sometimes around sunset and began draining away the heat with their shade. Storm clouds during the dry season in Sahara were a bit odd which made the diggers nervous, but for Eidolon it had been a welcoming sight, however unusual. Anything to reduce the glare of sunlight was bliss in itself. She had gone to bed very pleased and hoping for a nice night of sleep without sweating out her shift for once.
And now she was covered in cold sweat from head to toe. Just bloody wonderful. Eidolon made a few large sighs, almost gulping for air, and than placed a palm over her face, slumping against it in relief. A nightmare. It had only been a nightmare.
The tent was made of white cloth, big and spacey, an entire room with its flaps closed and a skinny light whispering from the lantern hooked on a peg in a wooden supporting pole. Due to plentiful pacing, sand was now covering the red carpet that was placed on the floor. Next to her simple bed – a green hammock stretched hanging over a support of planks, shielded from insects by a mosquito net - the work table and the night cabinet with the washstand seemed almost too civilized. Jack and Yrona had tents like this one too, though Jack's was always as messy as a college student's dorm room.
Once her heart had finally slowed down to its usual pace she realized that cold sweat the nightmare left her with had not only dampened her shift but her sheets as well. It certainly was a most disturbing nightmare, and… And pondering it now, she couldn't remember most of it. A glass of water was what she needed. Yes, some water and then dry sheets before she went back to sleep. Tomorrow would be a busy day of studying the recovered artifacts and she had to be ready for it. A medieval knight thousands of years old in Africa ? A female knight ? It still seemed too remarkable to be conceived. Her colleagues back in London would swallow their tongues once she'd present it to them. Here's to hoping they won't accuse her of falsifying it somehow.
She swung her feet off the hammock into a pair of crude leather sandals to get herself a glass of water, and it was than that she realized that she was not alone. Abruptly she backed away and pulled the cover over her again. She was in a night gown, but it had been a reflex.
" Guten abend, frau Barker. "; the man spoke from the shades
He was above average height, garbed in black and standing a few feet outside the mosquito-net that surrounded her hammock. He chose to stand instead of sit, even though there was a perfectly serviceable chair of bonded vines next to him, so he could loom over her like that no doubt. The voice was cold but definitely amused, perhaps by her instinctive response, and was tinged with a distinct European accent. Other than that, she noticed that the stranger was in a tight black leather coat and with a matching fedora hat, a garment that merged him with the shadows he stood in. Clearly he was seldom venturing on expeditions such as these ; Eidolon imagined he would be half-broiled by noon tomorrow wearing that coat.
But none of that mattered considering he had just strolled into her tent in the middle of the night while she was sleeping.
" Who are you ?"; she asked trying not to sound intimidated :" How dare you enter my tent in this… "
" You've made a discovery today, frau Barker… "; the man resumed. Even through shades she could see his smile. God, how long was he standing there like that ?
" If you don't leave now, I'll call for my men to get you… "
He lifted his hand and she could see faint light reflect off the edges of a gun he held. His hand was in a glove, also black, and a bit of white cuff was peering from under the coat sleeve, but it was the black pistol that held her attention.
" Please do. "; the man smiled and a flick of his thumb unlocked the safety :" I do like to hear little does scream before... Well… This is neither the time nor the place for such a talk. I just want one thing from you, and than I'm out of your pretty little hair. "
" Wh… "; she gulped in the face of the gun barrel :" what do you want ?"
" Your friend Jack recovered something from… "
Eidolon didn't see what happened next. One minute she was in her bed and the next, Yrona was yanking her by the hand, running with her among the tents. She vaguely remembered her clay pitcher smashing on the man's head and then her arm being seized. Considering the nightmare and a stranger trying to kill her, she was pretty shaken, but an explorer/archaeologist sooner or later had to learn how to overcome sudden trouble and do what had to be done. So she forced herself to think through her shock and normalized her breathing with an effort of determination.
" …on Eidolon !"; Yrona shouted to her. Not shouted really. More like a loud disturbed hiss :" We have to get to Jack before they do !"
Surprisingly, Yrona was already dressed in her green sleeveless outfit but this time the hat was missing. Maybe it got lost while they were running. And Eidolon was still in her night gown. And barefooted of all things. Barefooted !
" They ?"; she asked
" I don't know how many, but they didn't look friendly to me. I don't think they have simply stopped by for tea. I was lucky to have taken a little walk when I saw them skulking. "
" He said… "; she started when they hid in the shadow of a tent not far from Jack's :" …he wanted the medallion… "
Now, why had she thought that ? Te man said something that Jack recovered, nothing specific.
" Somehow I doubt they would just leave after they get it. "; Yrona spoke
" German !"; Eidolon almost shouted and than covered her mouth with both hands as a pair of strange shadows passed their hiding place in a swift military pace. It made her want to smack herself for being stupid. When they were alone again, she whispered :" The man in my tent had a German accent. "
" Nazis !"; Yrona muttered with a curse :" What could they possibly want… "
Suddenly she went quiet as Jack flew backward through his tent flaps and landing roughly in the sand. Another man with a gun came out, this one in a green uniform which was clearly that of a German army designs. Jack was still in his underwear, and clearly angry with indignation, but he was at least smart enough not to try anything foolish like he usually did. Eidolon prayed that it would last.
" You know, her-Jack… "; the Nazi spoke to him :" I am itching to put a bullet in a Brit, but since certain people want you… MOVE !"
" We have to help… "
" Sie est dort !" (There they are !)
The shout instantly sent frost down Eidolon's spine. That had certainly been meant for them. But her stun didn't last. She was not such a scary cat as she appeared. She had suffered angry tribes, venomous snakes, and whatever dangers of this continent one could name ! She was on a familiar ground, unlike these men.
With a sudden leap she pushed herself out of the shadows and rolled over the sand in a dive, rising dust behind her like a smoke screen. Nm'bopo had taught her that trick. It was handy in such occasions, especially against arrows. Instantly an automatic rifle fired rapid shots, but she was already running the other way while the shooter was aiming at a cloud of sand on the wind, mistaking it for a target.
But not all went well. Yrona wasn't with her. God, she hoped she was alive and uninjured. That rifle had been firing in both of their directions. Worry and fear wrestled for dominance of her thoughts as she ran trough the dark camp, but she knew she couldn't go back. She didn't even see where she was going, but… She had to get to the diggers. She had to warn Nm'bopo. They were like lambs for the slaughter. Maybe together with them she'd be able to save…
Abruptly she realized she had just passed a large white canvas flap and passed into another tent. she took a confused look around ; This wasn't Nm'bopo's tent. Another large room of white sheets with numerous tables and boxes with delicate tools. It was a study. And there in the center of it, on the largest table within, was the knight. Jack had placed her the way she was back in the caves, on her back with arms closed on her chest, shielding the… the medallion.
Why had she come here ? This wasn't that close to the digger's tents. She had to get to Nm'bopo and tell him… But something drew her eyes towards it. A flash of silver cracked through the knight's finger-bones. It was sparkling through, though darkness was suffusing the entire chamber. The glow was growing. The whole medallion was growing… No, it wasn't that ; she was stepping closer to it. Forcing herself to stop, she turned for the exit, but abrupt footsteps in the sand dispersed all intentions of getting out.
Before she knew, her back hit the edge of the table upon which the knight was placed. Too late did she remember not to turn, and the medallion was glittering before her eyes again, its light laughing at her through blackened finger bones. This close… This close she only felt more compelled to… to what ? Take it ? Is that what she had to do ? No… Jack and… She had to warn… to warn…
The night seemed very cold all of a sudden. Why was she so afraid ? Something about a dream, a bad dream... Her shaking hands reached, and took the arms of the knight. There was something she had to do outside... Something important... Why was she here ? Bony fingers parted at long last exposing the small disc of copper and silver. It was beautiful. She stared at it like in a dream, listening to footsteps drawing closer, but she was helpless to do anything but watch. The necklace was all that metered, like all of her desires and longings compressed into one small circle of metal. It whispered to her in pleasant murmur she couldn't make out and the sound of it consumed the boots approaching along with the last shreds of her fear. She reached for it, unaware of what she was doing and…
" Turn around slowly !"; A man said behind her in a strange but strong accent and the light of his flashlight assaulted her back.
Eidolon felt strange. Like the past few minutes had all been a dim dream. Slowly she turned and faced the man behind her. It was astounding ; she could see him clearly like he was in daylight… No ; more than that. She heard hundreds of noises with startling clarity, both those she recognized as well as those she had never heard before, but the abundance was nowhere near confusing. Making them out seemed a simple matter of focus, but than she became aware of one sound beyond others. The beating of a heart…
" Well miss Barker… "
The rest of his words, she didn't hear. It trailed away into the background amidst all other sensations. The darkness was so pleasant all of the sudden and his flashlight was starting to get on her nerves. She could smell him distinctly even this far. He was sweaty from the trip, with a touch of kerosene from the plane, and a bit of cigarette smoke clinging to his clothes, just enough to make out that he'd been in the presence of a smoker for a few minutes, two hours ago.
But the thing that really reeked was something else. Something beneath the surface. Something that pulsed and coursed and flowed trough him… Something sweet and red… So sweet she felt her lips part and drool running down her chin… It had bean thousands of years of hunger and the blood whispered strong and commanding. Commanding !
The man was slow. He was suddenly slower than her to that measure, she could walk up to him between his breaths and…
Before he finished the sentence she was grabbing his throat and lifting him above the ground ! With one hand ! Her grip was paralyzing him. Not to mention that a second ago, she had been ten paces away. But the thing that really took his heart were her eyes, now bright red, glowing like dying amber. He tried to scream, but she just hurled him away and he crashed over the knight's corpse breaking the desk to peaces, scattering bits of tarnished armor and broken bones. As he opened his eyes, she was on top of him, with a swift snarl of a deranged beast on her jaws. With an effort he reached for his gun, but darkness befell him and the last thing he heard was his spine snapping.
She didn't know what had happened. One moment she had been in a tent and now she was pacing trough the jungle. Pacing along like on a stroll. Stranger still, she was now clothed. This area was known to her. Just a bit to the south away from the camp. What was she doing here ? And why was she so calm all of the sudden, relieved like everything was all right ? But she was all right, wasn't she ? What did the rest matter when she was strong and fearless like a ruler should be. Still, Jack and Yrona weren't safe, and after all, they were her friends. So first order of business was to stir things up. She had to get to Nm'bopo and…
" Ms. Barker… "
Speak of the devil… She turned and faced him with strange tranquility. He came from the woods behind her. In fact, he was still far away, but to her eyes it was a minor distance. To her ears, his distant whisper was like a shout. She just stood there letting him come to her, though it took a while. No matter. There was no hurry.
" Ms. Barker… "; he had to catch his breath when he finally caught up with her, and as he saw his eyes went very wide :" Are you hurt ?"
" No, Bo. "; she spoke in an irrelevant breath :" I take it, you know that our camp was intruded upon. "
" Ms. Barker... "
He came to her frowning and his fingers reached for her face. Despite the fact that it was inappropriate, she didn't back away. He couldn't harm her, nothing could harm her. And if he'd try, she would make sure that he learns the proper way of things. So she just gave him a warning frown and waited to see what he would do. Nm'bopo hesitated for a moment, and then passed his finger over her chin and presented it to her. In such a clear night, colors were stark and vibrant to her more vivid than ever, and this one she knew well. It was the crimson, sweet-smelling liquid stained all over her chin mouth and cheeks, reeking with calmness and satisfaction.
At this display she too bulged her eyes wide like they were coffee cups. It was what remained of… and the rest, she had… Like in a flash, memories of what went on in the tent blossomed in her mind and it caused her to convulse and heave. She wretched, her stomach trying to empty itself completely but nothing was coming out. She strained and strained trying to rid herself of the horror within her and in the end she was left on the ground on dry sand, her efforts futile. Nm'bopo knelt next to her and she grabbed hold of his arm seeking comfort desperately, as her mouth constantly repeated over and over :
" … madness …It's madness …It's madness … madness… "