Cover art by R. Chaney
Copyright J.A. Laughlin 2011 ? All Rights Reserved. No part of this text may
be copied except for promotional use or reviews without the express permission
of the author.
Published by J.A. Laughlin at Smashwords ? http://www.smashwords.com
All characters in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance of characters to
real people ? living or dead ? is purely coincidental.
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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This book is dedicated to my lovely and supportive wife, Lisa
Kibwe and Imani stood on the edge
of the desert, looking over the green valley of the
?Good morning Kibwe, Imani! How was the hunting last night?? Turuk called as they entered the edge of the village. He was washing his clothing at the stream that ran along the south side of the village.
?Sparse.? Kibwe called back with a smile. They had found only eight goats in the desert and so had each only fed off of one.
?Wrong time of year for goats.? Turuk called back, shaking his head and smiling. ?Might try some crocs or hippos down by the river though, it is a good time for them.?? Kibwe nodded and called back before the tents blocked his view of Turuk,
?Maybe tomorrow night.? He answered. Imani smiled up at her man and squeezed his hand.
They made it to Sanaa and Sefu?s tent without anyone else intercepting them and stepped inside. Chausiku and Kamaria were playing on the floor with bones, sticks and rocks while Sanaa and Sefu were sewing leather pieces together to make clothes for the children.
?How was the hunt?? Sefu asked without looking up from his sewing.
?Not very good. I think the goats have gotten wise to our hunting area.? Kibwe answered as he squatted and extended his arms to his daughter. She grabbed his hands and he lifted her to his shoulder where she could see from his perspective. She wrapped her little fingers into his thick hair and looked at her mother who was smiling at her.
?Sanaa and I will try further north tonight while you two baby sit.? Sefu grinned at Kibwe. Kibwe nodded in agreement and looked at his sister. It was hard to believe that raucous woman was a mother. He wondered weather it would mellow her out or not. Sanaa looked up at his contemplative face.
?What?? She asked. It seemed to her that he was seeing into her deepest soul.
?Nothing, sister. Just wondering if being a mother will calm you down or not.? Kibwe smiled at her. She shook her head with a mirthful grin and went back to finishing the clothes she sewed on.
?Bandits!? A woman?s voice called from the north east edge of the village. The tent was suddenly empty with just the sound of rushing air and the tent flap slowly falling back into place. As they ran, Kibwe wondered how he and Imani had missed picking out bandits on their way to the village just minutes ago. There was no time to worry about it now, the other Vim-Pyr were joining the four in the dash for the edge of the tent village. Kibwe hoped they were in time to get to the bandits before any villagers were hurt or killed.
Fifteen hungry, adult vampires ran for the north east edge of the tent village. Already they could smell the spilled blood of their friends and neighbors. Kibwe knew they were too late to prevent any losses. Again he wondered how he and his mate had missed them. In the grassy field were eight hairy men that wielded heavy clubs with deadly efficiency. There were four dead grain gatherers further out in the fields and the women were running for the safety of the tents. Kibwe stopped in front of a very surprised woman and handed Chausiku to her as nearby Sanaa did the same with Kamaria. The brother and sister quickly rejoined the others in the dash for the raiding invaders. They were not Neanderthal, but were nearly as large. Their stringy blond hair and pale skins were filthy and the heavy brows hid their blue eyes deep in their faces. The raiders never knew what hit them. Kibwe slammed into the lead man with a force that would shatter stone and latched onto the side of his greasy neck with deadly sharp teeth. He felt his venom inject into the man?s flesh and felt the broken bones of that greasy body collapse in his grip. He drank quickly; knowing that in just moments the man?s heart would stop pumping and the blood would be harder to get to. Each of the other raiders was shared by two Vim-Pyr. In seconds the raiding party was exterminated, though the toll on the village was far too high. Kibwe lost himself in the satisfaction of human blood filing his belly. It had been nearly a year since any of them had fed off of a human. He indulged the sensation of it flowing through him and warming his entire body. Then it was done. There was none left to drink. He dropped the lifeless body into the sea of waving grass. It hit the earth with an unceremonious thump and sprawled in an unnatural way, the broken bones lending it a flexibility it never had in life. He looked around to find the other Vim-Pyr and noted all of their locations.
Kibwe and Imani walked back to the village hand in hand. They were met at the edge of the tents by Ashmael, who held a spear that he had not had an opportunity to use.
?Once again, we owe you for our safety, Kibwe. If you had not been here the raiders would have taken many more lives before we could have stopped them.? Ashmael spoke evenly. Kibwe wondered if the villagers would have been able to stop them at all.
?If we had been watching there would have been no deaths to sadden our village. It will not happen again.? Kibwe answered. One dead villager was too many for his conscience. Four men lay dead in the fields. Ashmael let Kibwe and Imani walk past him, looking for their child. Chausiku was safe in the arms of the woman Kibwe had handed her to. He had no fears of leaving his child with any of the villagers, he trusted them implicitly.
?Thank you.? He said as he took his daughter from the woman?s arms. The family walked back to their tent. When they got inside Kibwe set Chausiku on the ground. Sullenly he sat on a small, leather square that acted as a chair.
?What?s wrong, Kibwe?? Imani asked. Her narrow face framed by her jet black hair in neat corn row braids mirrored his expression of sullen disappointment.
?We should have known they were there, Imani. Their stench could have been smelled by anyone with a nose; we should have caught it before we ever got to the village this morning.? He answered. Imani nodded her agreement. Neither of them spoke for some time after that. Chausiku played quietly while her parents thought in silence. After some time she got up and walked to her father.
?I?m hungry daddy.? She said quietly, watching his eyes. As he focused on her, they changed from copper to silver. A smile slowly lit his powerful face. His daughter had his heart almost as much as her mother did.
?All right, Chausiku. Let?s go find you something to feed off of.? Kibwe said as he rose to his feet. He scooped the little girl up onto his shoulders as Imani stood to join them.
The trio went out of the tent in the bright morning sunlight to hunt up a snack for the hungry child. They left the village and went to where the raiders had been in the fields. Quickly Imani found and captured a rabbit for her daughter. Kibwe set the child down in the grass as Imani returned with the rabbit. It kicked and squirmed as she held it by the nape of the neck. Chausiku crouched in a ready stance.
?It?s going to be fast!? Imani giggled as she held the rabbit out to her side. Chausiku?s eyes turned from silver to gold as her hunger swelled in her. Her mouth was already slightly open in anticipation. Imani dropped the struggling rabbit. The frightened creature bolted just as soon as its back feet hit the ground and Chausiku was right behind it. She followed it through twists and turns until she finally overtook it just seconds after the chase had begun. She sank her sharp little teeth into its neck and held it pinned to the ground with her powerful little hands. It struggled only for a moment as she began to suck the life giving blood out of it. Then it was still. Slowly it stopped breathing. Chausiku kneaded the body, moving what little blood was left in it to the wounds in its neck where she could get to it. She stood up, leaving the lifeless corpse where it lay and looked at her mother.
?Another?? Imani asked, somewhat surprised. Chausiku nodded with a bloody smile. Imani shook her head and smiled, ?You are growing so fast!? She headed back into the fields while Kibwe kept a watchful eye on his child.
When Chausiku was finished with her third rabbit, she was full. The three of them turned south west and walked back to the village. Instead of going back to their tent, they went to the center of the village where Chausiku could play with the other children and the adults helped the villagers in their daily tasks.
At dusk Sefu and Sanaa dropped Kamaria off to Kibwe and Imani so they could go hunting.
?Since you?re going north, keep an
eye out for more of those raiders.? Kibwe instructed the couple. He was very
concerned that more would be following the first raiders, wondering why they
had not returned to wherever it was that they were from. They were not
residents of the
?Absolutely.? Sefu replied with a grin. The hunters left as the two children began to play together. Kibwe and Imani watched the children play until the return of Sefu and Sanaa at dawn.
??????????? Akam-Ra sat
on his throne as the sun broke the eastern horizon. His eyes were heavy from
lack of sleep. Surrounded by guards, the king of the East Bank pondered how to get
his men ready for the challenges they would face. Taking the
??????????? ?Who are you, woman, that you approach my throne unbidden?? Akam-Ra asked forcefully.
?Bow your head, mortal. You are in the presence of Nebet-Het!? The woman?s voice echoed through the tent village. Against his will, Akam-Ra?s head tilted foreword and his shoulders dipped.
?I come with consultation for you,
Akam-Ra. The course you are on will carry you into the jaws of death. You
cannot fight the creatures on the
??????????? ?My lord! I felt something the likes of which I have never felt before!? He stammered out to Akam-Ra.
??????????? ?I know. Get the toolmaker.? Akam-Ra commanded. The priest bowed again and left the king to retrieve the toolmaker. Akam-Ra sat thinking of the words that Nebet-Het had spoken while he waited for the arrival of the toolmaker. He decided that he didn?t need fighting men to go with him.
??????????? The priest returned with the toolmaker in tow and approached Akam-Ra. The two of them waited for several minutes with heads bowed for Akam-Ra to address them. Finally he spoke.
??????????? ?Leave us, priest.? The old priest rose and left, confusion swirling around him. Akam-Ra regarded the toolmaker kneeling before him with bowed head. The powerfully built man could probably kill him with a single blow, if he could connect with it.
??????????? ?Rise, toolmaker, and look at me.? The toolmaker did as instructed, but did not make eye contact with the king. ?Look at my face, my eyes.? Akam-Ra waited for the toolmaker to comply. As he did, Akam-Ra continued. ?What do you see when you look at me??
??????????? ?I see my king, lord Akam-Ra.? The toolmaker flatly replied.
??????????? ?You hate me, do you not? You despise me, I think.? Akam-Ra read beyond the man?s stoic face. He was seething inside with anger and hatred. Even though he never allowed it to show on his chiseled features or even in his bearing, some times it slipped through in his soft voice. Akam-Ra saw deeper somehow. He knew he was right.
??????????? ?I do. I both hate and despise you.? The man stated boldly. No change in expression moved his face. His conviction was true.
??????????? ?That is what you feel for me, but what do you see??
??????????? ?I see a king. A powerful man that keeps all of the people of the East Bank together and understands the minds of men.? The toolmaker sighed as he admitted the ruler?s quality.
??????????? ?I know, and always have known that you hate me. Do you know why I keep you around?? Akam-Ra continued.
??????????? ?No. I do not know why you have not killed me as you did my son.? The toolmaker answered honestly. He had wondered the same thing many nights. Why had Akam-Ra not killed him as he had his son?
??????????? ?Because if I ask you a question, you answer honestly, and I can tell that you are as intelligent and observant as you are strong. You are exactly the type of man that I respect.? Akam-Ra let his words sink into the toolmakers mind. ?I am going to require you to accompany me on a very important and long hunt. Before we go, you are going to help me find an interim king. Someone that is between us in attitude. What do you have to say, toolmaker?? The burly man thought for a moment before speaking to the king.
??????????? ?Why not have your priest rule while you are gone?? But he already knew the answer. The priest was concerned only with things spiritual and was not even aware of many of the corporeal things going on around him.
??????????? ?I would not let that man rule an anthill. He would preach to them about his dog-god while the ants ran amok. We need to find someone sensible and pragmatic. I was going to ask you to rule in my stead until I decided to take you with me.? Akam-Ra looked hard at the toolmaker. It was clear that the man was beginning to understand what was going on. ?We are going to search through the kingdom and find the right person.? The toolmaker looked at Akam-Ra. This was going to be a long search. The toolmaker drew a deep breath. He did not relish being with the king for an extended period of time.
?When shall we start, Lord?? The toolmaker asked resignedly.
?This very day. We shall need to get some provisions together and assemble some guards to accompany us. I suggest you get your equipment together, toolmaker. We will be very busy for some time.? Akam-Ra waved a dismissal to the toolmaker, who gladly took it. He bowed his head as he backed away from the throne. When he reached the first corpse of the guards, he turned on his heel and headed for his hut. Though he kept his face in its customary blank expression, his chest seethed with anger. He wished he could just smash Akam-Ra?s head in and free his people from the slavery of the people that came from the north. He didn?t even know where they really came from; just that it was north east of the valley. He pushed his rage back down into his belly and attempted to quell it. He and the remaining people that had been in this valley were outnumbered and outweaponed by the people that Akam-Ra brought with him to the valley. Now all he could do was make the best of the situation and try to be a good example for what remained of his people.
As the toolmaker reached his hut, he paused to look around at the people in the streets. They carried bundles and hauled water, pulled carts, dragged lumber, mixed mud and straw for bricks and carved stone for the people of Akam-Ra. They were slaves and most were treated as unthinking property. It disgusted him to his very core that his once proud and free people were now under the yoke of such masters, but this is what it had become, and the toolmaker didn?t see the valley being free again any time soon. He stepped into his hut and let his eyes adjust to the dim interior. Slaves were not allowed to have more than one candle or lamp in their huts at any given time. Granted before Akam-Ra came, they had no such things as candles or oil lamps or huts for that matter. He moved through the tiny hut and began packing his few belongings into a leather sack.
As the toolmaker shoved the last of his clothes into the sack, he heard the guards approaching his hut. He could tell it was them by the sounds their armor made as they walked. The hard plates of rhino hide banging against each other with heavy thuds. The common slaves didn?t have weapons that could pierce that armor, but the toolmaker did. He patted the copper dagger that rested under his robes against his hip. It was there if he decided he needed it.
?Toolmaker!? The foreigners voice called from outside. ?Akam-Ra wishes you to hurry.? The impatience was plain in his voice. The same tones were used by all of Akam-Ra?s people toward the valley natives. The toolmaker shouldered his almost full bag and looked around his tiny, dim hut one last time. It would be a long time before he saw it again, if he ever saw it again. Composing his expression once more to stoicism, he exited his hut. Immediately the two guards turned their backs to him and began leading the way to Akam-Ra?s compound. The toolmaker followed without any words, he knew that none were expected nor welcome. It wasn?t even and the toolmaker was ready for a new day, this one was entirely disappointing.
??????????? Sefu and Sanaa stood atop a small outcropping of rock in the desert. They watched the lines of people to the north, moving in the early dawn light. This was where they had followed the scent of the eight raiders to. They didn?t bother to follow any further as they could plainly see that the raiders had come from this group that the two of them were now watching. The nomads moved across the rock and dust of the desert like army ants moved through the jungle. There seemed to be nothing that would stand in their way and there seemed to be no end to their numbers. From two miles away, they seemed to move very slowly, but the Vim-Pyr watching could see that they were covering a good amount of ground at a decent pace. They could also see that there were both male and female nomads, but no elderly and none too young to fight. This was a war party. They came for a fight.
Sanaa and Sefu were late to pick up Kamaria from Kibwe and Imani, but this was important, and she was safe in the village under the protection of the other Vim-Pyr.
The travelers wore hides like the ones the raiders had worn and carried rough weapons along with skins packed with their belongings. The couple could smell their body odor from their observation point almost two miles south of the large band. Sanaa counted in her head the ones she could see that were not obscured by the rolling terrain. The line seemed endless.
??????????? ?I?ve already counted four thousand, Sefu. What do you want to do?? The first of the travelers would reach the valley in just a few hours.
?We have to go let Kibwe know. This may change things for the people of the valley.? The two spun off of their observation point and ran as fast as they could to the south. It would still be two hours before they reached the village.
??????????? Kibwe watched the bluff line to the west while the children played in the short grass at the edge of the village. The girls were hunting grasshoppers and pouncing on them. Sefu and Sanaa were still out and it was already two hours past dawn. The girls found a harmless egg snake and pounced on it. Kibwe turned to the village and watched as Imani, Tieno and Homrhod walked towards him. Imani was laughing and rubbing Tieno?s flat belly. As the trio got closer, Kibwe could see why. Tieno was pregnant. She was less than a month so, but the tiny life changed the heat and blood flow patterns in her body. Tieno would give birth as the children of Ruun and Suul had their first birthdays. She would give birth in the winter lands, far to the south.
??????????? ?Congratulations, Tieno!? Kibwe offered as the group reached him. Tieno smiled and took Homrhod?s hand.
??????????? ?Thank you, Kibwe!?
??????????? ?This makes all of us now.? Imani said in low tones, looking at Kibwe.
??????????? ?Yes, it does. Our clan is growing.? Kibwe said as he turned to address the rushing breeze approaching from the west. There would be eight Vim-Pyr children when Tieno gave birth.
All four adults watched as Sefu and Sanaa raced across the fields, heading for the group. Their expressions were serious.
The girls had now killed the snake and were drinking its blood. Chausiku had the snakes head in her hand and was drinking from its neck. Kamaria had the snakes mid section and was drinking from its side. The two of them had no quarrel as the shared the snack.
??????????? ?There are travelers by the thousands, Kibwe.? Sanaa stated clearly. The concern was evident in her voice. ?I counted four thousand before we left. They are two hours run north and are headed for the valley. The first of them will reach the edge of the valley within the hour. They are dressed and smell like the raiders.? Kibwe watched her face intently as she spoke. Sefu stood silently by her side.
??????????? ?Your turn to baby sit.? Kibwe ordered Sanaa. ?Imani, will you come with me to meet the new people?? Kibwe asked his mate.
??????????? ?I think we should all go. The children can stay with the villagers. It?s safe enough.? She walked to the children and scooped them both up easily. The girls had already finished with the snake and gasped a little as they were snatched into Imani?s slim but strong arms. The group walked to the center of the village, collecting the other Vim-Pyr and the children as they went. Leaving the seven children among the grain grinders and weavers, the group left the village running north.
??????????? The nomads stopped at the edge of the green valley. They surveyed its expanse before them. After many days of walking through the desert and seeing nothing but sand and dust spattered with slim palm trees by the sea, the lush valley looked very inviting. There were two tent villages visible from the rocky slope they stood upon. Ugat pushed past the hunters at the front of the group. He was a huge man, standing a head and a half above the others of his tribe. He looked over the green valley that the others had been surveying. He could tell that there was fresh water down there and his people were thirsty.
??????????? ?Take the villages.? He ordered in his guttural language. The building mass of men and women began to pour down the slope, heading in two lines for the two tent villages. Ugat stood stationary and watched as his people swarmed to the villages. It would be over soon. There would be water, food and new tents for the nomads today. He turned and looked over the lines of people still coming from the desert. They stretched as far as he could see and he knew that they stretched twice that far. There were two other tribes behind his, but he was here first, they would have to find their own places in the valley.
It took nearly an hour for the first of his hunters to reach the nearest of the two villages. Once they were there, though it took just minutes for the fight to be over. Even though the villagers had spears, they were no match for the northerners, whom had seen many battles over the years. It was apparent to Ugat that these people had never had to fight for their land - or their lives. He smiled to himself as he watched the battle begin from his vantage point. He couldn?t make out the details from this distance, but he could see that his people in their heavy skin clothes were overpowering the villagers in their light colored robes. Soon there were no robes left in the village, they were being piled into a wall outside the edge of the village. They would burn the dead later.
??????????? Kibwe led the Vim-Pyr north through the grasslands. He wanted to get to the two northernmost tent villages before the travelers did. The fifteen of them blurred past other villages as they raced through the copses of trees. The villagers in the fields digging roots and gathering grains noticed only a breeze after the passing of the Vim-Pyr. They ran as fast as Homrhod could go, as he was now the slowest of them. They stopped two hours and ten minutes after leaving the village. They were still a distance from the two northern tent villages, but they could see that they were too late. The invaders were piling bodies outside the village. Men and women were dumped unceremoniously in piles, but Kibwe saw no children?s bodies. The invaders had pale skin and wore hides for clothing. The smell of blood and body odor wafted to the Vim-Pyr on the gentle breeze. The group set in motion once again, heading for the sacked village.
??????????? They stopped in front of the wall of bodies. Kibwe looked over the bodies of the dead, inspecting the rough wounds. It was apparent to him that while the travelers were fierce, they were by no means precise in their killing. Most of the bodies of the peaceful villagers had multiple wounds from spears and clubs. He also noted that mixed in with the bodies of the villagers were bodies of invaders. Not many invaders had died, but that was likely to change shortly. The Vim-Pyr skirted the mounds of dead and stood looking into the village from the east while invaders continued to swarm in from the west. There was hardly room for the invaders to walk among the tents; they were so packed into the village. The Vim-Pyr just stood looking and listening. The ground had become mud from all the blood mixed into the dirt. The language being spoken was as gruff and harsh as the people who spoke it. Finally one of the invaders noticed the group of black skinned men and women standing at the edge of the village. Without a word he rushed at them, swinging a club. Kibwe easily caught the club in mid-swing with his left hand and using his right grabbed the attacker by the face, hurling him back into the crowd of invaders, knocking down and scattering many before the man stopped. Silence spread through the crowd like fire in a dry field. They stopped their pillaging and fighting over new finds to face the people that stood at the edge of the village. The man that had attacked Kibwe slowly regained his feet. He glared at the intruding Vim-Pyr and shouted something in his tongue. The invaders reacted immediately and with a group shout charged at the fifteen calm watchers. The Vim-Pyr stood, waiting for Kibwe?s signal as the invaders massed toward them like a sea of smelly bodies. Kibwe nodded and the Vim-Pyr blurred into motion, meeting the invaders head on. Kibwe and Imani danced into the invaders, punching, kicking and biting. Imani ripped throats out with her claw-like nails, releasing yet more blood into the soaked ground. Kibwe?s arms lashed out so fast that they were a blur, yet despite their efficient deadliness, they found themselves backing up in front of the invaders. These people had no fear and showed no regard for the dead among them. They simply pushed the dead or dying out of their way and continued to attack the Vim-Pyr. In just minutes the deadly group was forced back to the edge of the village. They had to change from attacking to defending simply because of sheer numbers of the heavy bodied nomads. They had killed hundreds, and yet more seemed to pour into the fight by the second. Imani caught a stone axe to the back of her head, opening a small wound.??????????
??????????? ?Retreat.? Kibwe grumbled. The fifteen blurred out of the fight and regrouped a hundred yards from the village. The invaders poured out of the village and swarmed toward the Vim-Pyr.
??????????? ?Anyone have any suggestions?? Kibwe asked quickly. No one answered quickly enough and the attackers swarmed over them once more, ready to die without a thought about it. The Vim-Pyr fought for several minutes, killing hundreds more before Kibwe called a retreat once again. They regrouped two hundred yards east this time.
??????????? ?Fire maybe?? Zuberi offered up as a potential suggestion. The mass of attackers rolled across the lush green grass in pursuit of the Vim-Pyr.
??????????? ?I do not know if we can win this fight, Kibwe.? Homrhod stated. He sported many injuries that were trying to heal and his heavy cloak was shredded. Even though he was acclimated to the sun now, he still wore the protective cloak. Kibwe snarled at the suggestion that they might be incapable of winning this or any fight. The group braced to fight as once again the invaders surrounded them in a sea of bodies. The Vim-Pyr fought ferociously, killing with every movement of their blurring bodies, but still they were forced back. Bodies piled around them, but the sea of invaders seemed unending. They were now entering the village from the west and running straight through the village to join the battle in the east.
??????????? ?Retreat!? Kibwe called as he took a blow to the left shoulder from a club. This time the Vim-Pyr regrouped three hundred yards away, doubling their distance from the village. The invaders did not follow. They stood their ground half way between the village and the Vim-Pyr and let out a victorious roar as one, shaking spears and clubs in the air. Kibwe stood looking at the invading people, pondering what to do. They were too aggressive and dangerous to the peaceful villages of the valley to leave them here, and there were too many to fight off. The invaders turned as a group and walked back to the village, stepping over the dead without even looking at them. Kibwe tallied the dead as they appeared behind the withdrawing crowd. There were over a thousand dead from the short, ferocious battle.
??????????? Ugat stood watching from the ridge. He had thought the battle was finished in the southern tent village, but now there was renewed activity. He strained to see the fight, though it was too far for him to make out details. He could tell something big was happening by the way his people sped up as they approached the western edge of the village and poured out the eastern edge. It unsettled him a bit. There shouldn?t be enough people left to cause a problem for his hunters. He made his way down the slope and joined the lines going to the south village. It would be almost dark before he got there, but there would be plenty awake to tell him what happened.
??????????? Kibwe looked over his Vim-Pyr. Homrhod had taken the worst damage of the fifteen, but he was healing quickly. The small gash on Imani?s scalp had completely healed, though such intense battle was beginning to wear on the Vim-Pyr. They needed some energy to continue such ferocious activity.
??????????? ?We are going to rush in, each grab a person and meet back here. These are to feed off of. When we are finished we will rush in and grab another until we are all satisfied. Then we will discuss once again what to do.? All the Vim-Pyr nodded their consent. They were hungry. Kibwe hoped he or someone would have some ideas by then.
??????????? In less than half an hour, the Vim-Pyr were satisfied and forty five bodies were added to the dead. They had struck so fast that the invaders had not known what was happening. Kibwe surmised that they could keep snatching and killing until they had destroyed the invaders, but that would take days, and he wasn?t sure how many more were coming. There was still a steady stream of hundreds of people per minute pouring into the village. Sunset was still two hours away.
??????????? ?Any ideas?? Kibwe put out the question to the group. No one answered. Silence reigned over the small group. Finally Zuberi broke it.
??????????? ?There would have to be more of us. Ten times more of us to be effective.? Kibwe shook his head. He didn?t like that idea.
??????????? ?We can wait until dark, when they go to sleep and then kill them.? Tieno offered. The idea sounded reasonable, but Kibwe didn?t want to wait that long, the children were at the village with no Vim-Pyr there to watch over them. Kibwe looked back to the village. They still had not posted any guards or lookouts, even after the battle.
??????????? ?We could wait until dark.? Kibwe acknowledged Tieno?s suggestion. ?Someone will need to go back to the village and care for the children. This is just the south village. There are more of them in the north village. It could take weeks to remove them.?
??????????? ?Their numbers are overwhelming.? Sefu stated calmly. ?They fight like nothing we have ever encountered before.?
??????????? ?They seem to have no fear of death.? Nuru added. She shook her head slowly.
??????????? ?They?re from the west world.? Frule began. ?If they are here, then there is a reason. They may have been forced from their homelands and are looking for a place to settle. This is much like our people fought when we were defending our hunting lands from invading clans. All that matters is the survival of the clan, not the survival of one person. They?re desperate and so they fight with a ferocity that is hard to match.? Kibwe looked at Frule and then Malor. Malor simply nodded his agreement, looking at the village.
??????????? ?They?re not speaking your language.? Kibwe said pointedly.
??????????? ?No, they are probably from further north, judging from their clothing and weapons. The snows most likely drove them south and they haven?t been able to find a place to settle.? Malor deduced.
??????????? ?Still, they attack without provocation and kill without mercy.? Kibwe looked again at the growing piles of dead on the south side of the village.
??????????? ?I?m not defending them, just understanding their ways.? Malor replied.
??????????? ?I know, Malor. I?m just trying to fight off the compassion for them. I?m at a loss as to how to deal with these people.? Kibwe reassured Malor. The Vim-Pyr stood quietly, watching the village for some time. It seemed that killing them all might be out of the question.
The toolmaker arrived at Akam-Ra?s throne just after the sun was at its height. The king stood ready with his ten guards in two perfectly spaced columns. The guards that had escorted the toolmaker left with a bow to Akam-Ra, who nodded in return. Akam-Ra then turned to face the toolmaker squarely. The toolmaker stood in front of Akam-Ra with his head bowed and his eyes on his toes, as was commanded of slaves.
?Look up at me, toolmaker.? Akam-Ra ordered. The toolmaker obeyed. Akam-Ra wore armor similar to the guards, but much more ornate. It was studded with shiny stones and bits of colored bone that made patterns on the hide. It also looked a bit lighter and more flexible than the heavy rhino hide the guards wore. He carried the knife and spear that the toolmaker had fashioned from the soft stone known now as copper. He also carried a small pack on his back that looked to weigh no more than a few pounds. ?Are you ready for a hike?? Akam-Ra questioned the toolmaker.
?If that is what we are going to do.? The toolmaker replied flatly. He was sure he was in much better shape than the king.
?Good, I don?t want you to slow me down. We will start with the small villages to the north. I hope to cover at least three before we stop to sleep. We?ll eat as we walk.? The king laid out the basic plan, then turned and headed out of his compound toward the north.
Akam-Ra walked openly at the head of the small force. It would take the better part of what was left of the day to reach the next village north from his seat of power. The toolmaker walked to his right and a step behind, followed by the ten guards that accompanied them.
??????????? ?Toolmaker, your true name is Tekka, is it not?? Akam-Ra asked as they walked.
??????????? ?It is, my lord.? The massive man answered simply.
??????????? ?Then that is what I shall call you. You are no longer the toolmaker to me.? The group walked on in silence for a time more. The guards maintained a two column formation with perfect spacing, as Akam-Ra demanded, but they were beginning to fall behind the two leading men. Akam-Ra and Tekka set a fast pace.
??????????? ?Tell me what life was like for you before I came with my people to the valley.? Akam-Ra demanded of Tekka.
??????????? ?Peaceful. We gathered grains and hunted game animals. We raised our families in our villages and enjoyed each others company.? Tekka replied tersely. The past was a sore subject for him. He missed his son terribly and his wife moaned for vengeance in his heart. Her soul haunted him in death as her love had been his constant companion when she had been alive. The two of them were never apart. They had the perfect love in the most beautiful valley in the world. Akam-Ra?s warriors had taken all that away from Tekka. Because she was beyond what they considered child bearing age, the soldiers had burned her along with the other women and the old men of the villages. Anyone that was not useful was killed. The rest were bound with ropes and stripped of their belongings. Husbands and wives were separated from each other and from children. Only nursing children were allowed to stay with their mothers and then only until they could be weaned. Tekka?s people were sold to the invading people for pretty stones and colored bits of bone. It had taken weeks for Tekka to find his son, his only child, after the valley had been taken. When he had found him, his son was being caught for taking food from the table of his master. That evening he was beheaded. All of Tekka?s love had been crushed out of the world. He had no one left. As the grieving turned to apathy he began to gain his reputation among the new masters. He sank himself into his given job. He was to make tools for use of the other slaves so they could do the work their new masters bid them do. Having nothing else to focus on, he focused all his pain and rage and sorrow and love into those tools. His work became so exquisite that his master became extremely wealthy from the tool trade. It was shortly after Tekka?s master had sold the five hundredth such ornate and exquisite tool that Akam-Ra became interested in ?The Toolmaker? formerly called Tekka. Akam-Ra?s words broke through Tekka?s memories.
??????????? ?Boring. Life in the valley was boring.? Akam-Ra concluded. ?You did not build anything, you did not make life better, and you did not explore what wonders were around you. How could you miss that??
??????????? ?Life was no where near boring. We had games and music. We sat and told stories around the fire while we cooked our bread and meat. We learned of all the creatures and plants that were here in the valley. How could you call that boring? How could we not miss it?? Tekka retorted. Akam-Ra shrugged.
??????????? ?Not that it matters much. Things can never go back to what they were. Even if I left, another would take my place. Change is what the world thrives on. And change has come to your valley.?
??????????? ?Change is coming again, soon.? Tekka mumbled more to himself than to Akam-Ra.
??????????? The group walked in silence again for a time. Then Tekka broke the silence with the return question for Akam-Ra.
?What of your people. Where did you come from and why did you come here?? Tekka asked boldly.
?So you have found your tongue?
Very well, I?ll humor you. My people come from a land north east of here as I?m
sure you know. Our land is known as
As they approached the northern village in the river delta, Tekka noticed that there were sentinels watching them. The people moved silently among the trees, shadowing the king and his entourage. It was a reminder to Tekka how much his people despised the rule of the king and his people. He knew that in the village, people would be hiding their food and any items the kings men might want. Many would be getting their daughters out of the village as well for fear that the people of Akam-Ra would take them as slaves or rape them and leave. This wasn?t the first time that the king?s people had come here.
??????????? ?Do you think they are doing the right thing, by resisting my rule?? Akam-Ra directed to Tekka.
??????????? ?No. I think it is futile.? The large man replied.
??????????? ?Do you believe that my rule in the valley is a bad thing??
??????????? ?I think your rule in the valley is a temporary thing.? Tekka snarled.
??????????? ?I think that is just a false hope.? Akam-Ra paid no attention to the hostile tone Tekka used with him. ?My people are here to stay and so is our way of life. Soon your people will become accustomed to it and will accept it as normal.?
??????????? ?My people will never fully accept that. We will always be independent in spirit.? The group was now within sight of the tent village. The guards pulled closer to the pair that was leading them into the village. The environment was decidedly hostile and the sentinels that had been flanking them were drawing closer.
??????????? The Vim-Pyr considered their options as they watched the invaders moving about in the southern of the two villages they had taken over.
??????????? ?Who is going to go home and take care of the children?? Kibwe asked the group. Tieno, Homrhod, Asha and Sauda stepped foreword. Kibwe turned toward them.
??????????? ?Go then. The rest of us will try to find a solution here.? The volunteers left the group and ran south as fast as they could. ?Does anyone have an idea how we can stop these people?? Kibwe asked again as the four volunteers disappeared on the south horizon.
??????????? ?How do you stop a river?? Tendaji asked quietly. ?This may be something we can not stop. We could kill everyone in the south village, but it would take days. Then we would still have to deal with the north village.?
??????????? ?I agree with Tendaji.? Sanaa stated. ?It may be time for change in the peaceful valley. Who are we to make that decision?? Kibwe shook his head. He didn?t want to accept that. Imani looked at his face and smiled.
??????????? ?We have to do what we can, my love. First we need to know how many more are coming and why they are here.? Imani?s calm voice soothed Kibwe?s mind. He understood the logic of her observation.
??????????? ?Time to learn their language.? He said with a wry grin. The Vim-Pyr moved as one to approach the village. They reached the edge in seconds, stopping on the road and lining up as if to block the exit to the east. They waited until the first of the invaders noticed them. The man?s face wrinkled into a grimace of annoyance. He raised his club and squared his shoulders to the Vim-Pyr. As he was about to roar, Kibwe held his hands up, palms outward as if to say ?wait.? The man didn?t roar, but instead lowered his club to his side and walked straight at Kibwe without fear or hesitation. The Vim-Pyr listened to the almost unintelligible noises coming from the people of the village. Slowly the sounds revealed patterns and rhythm. The sounds started to become words. The man with the club stopped six feet from Kibwe.
??????????? ?What do you want here?? He snapped at the group.
??????????? ?We want to know why you have come here and why you killed these people.? Kibwe responded. The man swept his shaggy blond hair out of his blue eyes and regarded the tall black man with silver eyes in front of him.
??????????? ?We didn?t think you savages cared about what happened to each other. We also didn?t think you could speak.? He allowed grudgingly. ?We came here because the winter drove us out of our homes. We traveled across the desert thinking it would end soon, but it didn?t until we got here. Now we are staying. This is home now.? His face never softened, nor did his voice. Kibwe absorbed his words for a moment.
??????????? ?Do you kill peaceful people wherever you go?? He asked as calmly as he could in their language.
??????????? ?If we need, we take. We are survivors. We needed a new home, we took it. Now we have it and we will keep it.? Kibwe held his temper in check. He took a deep breath and asked his next question.
??????????? ?How many of you are there??
??????????? ?How many grains of sand are there in the desert? Why such a stupid question? This is one tribe that you see. There are more tribes coming through the desert now. There are even more that are still in the north that will be coming.? The man looked as if the conversation was at an end.
??????????? ?Who is your leader?? Kibwe asked quickly. The man began to turn away from Kibwe, but answered over his shoulder.
?Ugat.? He stated simply, as if everyone should have known that. He walked back into the crowd of his tribe and there were no roars of attack. Many of the invaders watched the Vim-Pyr, but none attacked.
?Now we have more information to make a decision.? Imani said quietly. The situation did not look good. Kibwe shook his head.
?I think Tendaji may be right, Kibwe.? Zuberi stated. ?We may not be able to change the outcome here. I have been thinking about changing the course of the river instead of trying to stop it, but I?m not even sure we could accomplish that. We may be able to hold an island though.?
?I disagree. We can kill them all. Then when the others arrive, they won?t want to stay here.? Sefu snarled.
?Calm, Sefu.? Kibwe intervened. ?Let me hear your idea, Zuberi.?
?That was most of it. We go back to the village, warning others on the way and try to get them to move together where we and they can defend one place rather than trying to defend all of the spread out villages. Make an island and defend it.? Zuberi explained. ?The drawback is that if we can not hold them back, all the villagers are in one place.?
?Making it easy for the invaders to eliminate them.? Sanaa finished for him.
?Does anyone think we can, or should, try to eliminate these invading people?? Kibwe asked the group. No heads nodded, no voices spoke.
?Back to the village then. We will go with Zuberi?s idea. We hit all the villages on the way and warn them.? Kibwe finished. The group turned to the south and burst into motion.
??????????? Sien ran alone on the road to the great desert. She followed the path of a group that she knew little about. All she really knew of them was that they tried to kill her. She wasn?t out for vengeance; she was just out to learn what she had become. She had been paralyzed in bed with her master by the one they called Kibwe. He had then pierced her hand with a knife that was covered with his blood. He had said something to her, something that burned as much as his fiery blood had. More than the flames that had engulfed her in her master?s home. He had said,
?That is for willingly entertaining a man who treats people like dirt.? He had no idea how wrong he was.
Sien had been a captive in the prison before Alandri had taken her as a slave. She wanted to tell Kibwe that. She wanted to make sure that he understood what she had been in the city that he had destroyed. It had taken her a long time to heal from those fires.
After the poison had left her, she was charred from head to toe. There was not a single patch of skin on her body that wasn't burnt. They had thrown her out into the water with the burnt timbers and charred stoneware. The sea had cooled her flesh. She floated in it for days before she washed back up on shore. Vultures and seagulls had fed her during that time, slowly allowing her the energy to heal.
When it no longer hurt to move Sien hunted a jackal down and fed off of it. Once she began hunting, she didn?t stop. She fed off of apes and dear and finally found a group of nomadic hunter/gatherers. After she had fed off of them, she felt complete again. That was when her thoughts turned to tracking the ones that had done this to her. The one that had changed her. She didn?t know what she was, but she knew she was different. She was faster and stronger than she had ever been or ever dreamed of. Her senses were heightened to a frightening degree. As soon as she found the trail, she knew. The smell of Kibwe was very different from the smell of humans. She could tell how many were with him and what sex they were. She didn?t let the scents of the Baska interfere with her trail. For three days she followed the faint scent trail north toward the great desert.
In the last town before the great desert, Sien found the trader that Kibwe had dealt with. The bone spear was right there, in the front of the booth. She walked to him and stood staring at it.
?That spear is too big for you, little woman.? The trader said. She looked at him. He was a frail man to her eyes. His heart beat feebly in his chest, but she sensed no malice from him.
?I want it.? She stated plainly.
?What do you have to trade?? The trader asked with mirth. The diminutive woman had nothing at all, not even clothes.
?Your life. I give you your life in exchange for that spear.? Sien glared at the man?s eyes. His skin paled as her eyes turned from silver to copper and he nodded.
?Take it. It is yours.? He stammered. She snatched the spear and headed for the desert.
Sien raced through the desert during the rainy season. For twelve days she ran due north through rain and storms. She deviated from her path only twice to hunt. She found desert raiders to feed off of. When she reached the cliffs over the sea she stopped. The stones and sand had not held the scent through the rains. She looked west at the city that sat on the beach. It was in flames and the scent of burning flesh wafted to her nostrils. She headed for the pathway down. Maybe the ones she tracked were destroying another city. Though her trail was more than a year old, they might have stayed in the city or even crossed to the northlands and come back. She would find out soon enough.
??????????? Akam-Ra and his group entered the small village. They were met by Nebet-Het at the entrance. The guards froze in place as she walked up to them. Akam-Ra knew his men were already dead. He wished Nebet-Het would quit killing his men. The villagers watched curiously, knowing the old woman?s power.
??????????? ?What are you doing here, Akam-Ra?? She bellowed as she reached them. Both Akam-Ra and Tekka dropped to their knees and bowed. Tekka out of respect and Akam-Ra by force. ?Answer my question, Akam-Ra!? She commanded.
??????????? ?Searching for an interim ruler.? He choked out despite himself.
??????????? ?You have no time for such foolery! The time is very near. You need to get across the river and find the ones you need to find. The world stirs and change waits for no man. A new menace is already entering the valley from the west and if you do not act swiftly your chance will be gone forever.? She turned her fierce gaze on Tekka. She looked at the toolmaker for a long time. Her face softened as she peered into his heart. Her wild hair seemed to settle to her shoulders and the deep wrinkles of her face filled in with color and substance. In that minute she looked twenty years younger.
??????????? ?Do not fight the change so hard, Tekka. Your time will be soon. You have a special destiny to follow. Go where you are lead and act appropriately. Fate smiles on your devout heart.? She turned her back on the two of them and walked away. Once her power released him, Akam-Ra stood. Tekka stood as well, looking at the area where Nebet-Het had disappeared. The two looked at each other for a moment and then turned to the guards who lay prone on the ground. They were quite dead.
??????????? ?We need to go back and gather our things, Tekka.? Akam-Ra said as he bent down to retrieve one of the spears from the dead guards. As he stood, Tekka began walking for the village to the south. He would not defy the words of such a powerful witch. There were things to prepare and little time to prepare in.
??????????? Sefu ran with the rest of the Vim-Pyr, but his heart was screaming for him to rid the land of the invaders that had killed so many of the people he called friends. His loyalty and honor demanded not just their vengeance, but safety for the friends and families of the dead. As the group approached the first village on their way south, he spun in stride and raced back to the north. The others were so preoccupied with finding leaders and friends that they didn?t even notice.
??????????? Sefu approached the overtaken village from the south west side. He was hidden by the wall of bodies form the occupants of the village. He knew that if he charged in, he would loose his effectiveness and speed. He decided to start with the still growing line of people entering from the west. He would use their linear formation to do the most damage he could.
He wheeled around the edge of the wall of bodies and raced along the line of invaders, cutting them down with the knife Zuberi had made for him. He held the blade out to the side and raised and lowered it according to the height of the next target. His speed was great enough to carry the knife cleanly through their necks. In his first pass, he turned away from the line at the foot of the slope leading to the desert. He continued to run full speed south along the growing bluff for a minute before turning back to the east to intercept his original approach path. Following the same path, he used the same tactic. In his first pass he had killed three hundred, but this pass was different. The confusion caused by an unseen enemy took the line of travelers? focus off of the village and onto defense. The warrior tribe had taken defensive postures with bodies lowered and weapons raised. The killing was more difficult and Sefu finished his second pass claiming only fifty lives. Changing course and tactic, he cut north across the line of invaders and east down the far side of the lines. His attack was much more effective as the now defenders were facing south where all the bodies were. He finished his run along the north edge of the line with three hundred seventy bodies behind him. The smell of the blood drove his anger at these people higher and he decided to make another pass, but this time up the middle of the lines of people. With his left hand he drew his old stone knife. Tearing through the lines of people, Sefu slashed as he ran. His two knives dancing independently of each other, each taking lives and leaving behind a rainstorm of blood to soak the ground.
At the end of the slope, the travelers were piling up. The incoming people stopped at the edge of the killing path to look at the lines of dead stretching from there to the village.?
Sefu saw the mass of men and women before he plowed into them, but he did not change his course. He saw sets of eyes locking on him as he approached, dropping bodies in his wake, but he did not turn. He saw the massive man step out of the crowd with two axes raised, but he was set on what he wanted to do. He watched as the man stepped sideways and leaned back, axes swinging at two different heights, but he did not see the club coming from the other side that caught him in the right side of his head. There was no pain. Sefu went from full speed to a back flip ending in a sudden stop so quickly that the pain could not warn him in time. The axes came down one after another.
Ugat looked down at the dismembered man at his feet. His separated parts were still moving, twitching. He reached down and picked up the head of his enemy. One of the men reached for the deadly sharp knife, still clutched in the right hand of the dead man. Ugat snarled at him.
?Mine.? The man backed off. Ugat stepped to the knife and put his foot on the still twitching arm. He reached down with his left hand and grabbed the knife. It cut the palm of his hand as soon as he touched it. He pulled his hand back quickly, slicing it even deeper. The injured left hand went immediately to the right hand that still held the bloody head and his palm smacked into the blood covered neck stump. Shards of bone and strips of torn flesh invaded the open wound and forced the blood of Sefu into the unsuspecting Ugat. Immediately the burn began to spread through his arm and up his shoulder. Frustrated and angry, the huge man thrust his fists into the air and let out a roar of fury! When he finished venting his rage, he looked around at his shocked people.
?Burn it! Burn the remains of the black man! I want his bones to be ash!? He threw the head onto the pile of body parts. It was then that he saw the fangs, as Sefu?s mouth opened and he locked eyes with Ugat. Ugat was sure that his future was about to change.
??????????? Kibwe led his group further south towards the next village after leaving the one they had just warned. He was painfully aware that Sefu was missing, as were the rest of the Vim-Pyr, but they all knew Sefu could more than take care of himself. They ran like the wind, wanting to get to the village by the slow creek so they could continue on their way home. As they topped a small rise where they could see the next village, they all stopped as one. They were too late. Another group of the barbaric invaders had already made their entrance. There were stacks of bodies reminiscent of the two north-most villages. Smoke rose slowly from the fire in the middle of the tent village. This invasion group was not anywhere near as large as the one to the north, but they had run over the peaceful villagers none the less. Kibwe?s stomach turned. The smell of the blood on the air stirred his thirst, but the sight of so many more people that he called friends stacked as if they were bundles of grass stalks sickened him.
??????????? ?Do you think the others made it past before the attack or not?? Imani queried as she squeezed Kibwe?s hand.
??????????? ?Look for Homrhod, Imani.? Kibwe responded after a moment of silent contemplation. She nodded and gazed to the south.
??????????? ?They are past the invaders and running for home. I can?t tell if they know or not.? She blinked a few times to clear the vision and turned to look back up at her mate. ?There?s something else, Kibwe. I saw a dark shadow hanging over Homrhod as he was running. It was strange, like the sunlight just didn?t hit him. It gave me a bad feeling.? Kibwe listened, but his true focus was on the murderous invaders that now occupied the once serene village by the slow stream. His anger was replacing the sick feeling in his stomach. His fists clenched as he thought of the loss of all those good people.
??????????? ?Kibwe,? Zuberi snapped, bringing Kibwe out of his angry trance. ?What do you want to do? Fight or go on?? Kibwe let his anger subside and his logic take over.
??????????? ?First we go home. We continue the plan we made, warning the other villages. Then we will come back.? He led the group down the gentle slope at a furious pace. They skirted the village by about two hundred yards and continued to the last village before they would reach home. As they approached the village they could see that all was well. The Vim-Pyr raced through the village, warning the residents as they went, urging them to pick up and move to the south. As they reached the south edge of the village, they regrouped and sped south for home. On the last rise, Sanaa stopped in her tracks. Her eyes widened and her skin paled even further than normal. Throwing her head back and reaching for the sky she let out a scream that carried pain and heartache across the valley.
??????????? ?Sefu!? She dragged the name of her lover out until her considerable breath ran short. Sucking another breath into her lungs, she let the sobs rack her body. ?Goodbye, my lover, my love.? The others had frozen in their tracks as they heard her scream begin and then had gathered around her as she bid Sefu farewell.
??????????? On reaching their village, Tekka made his way without distraction to his tiny home. He had things to get ready. Akam-Ra scowled at the back of Tekka?s retreating bald head, but also made his way home to prepare for the crossing. Tekka threw his skin door open and stopped moving. The old priest was sitting inside, waiting.
?Sit, Tekka.? He said calmly. Tekka stepped in and let the flap swing closed. The priest sat cross-legged on a fur spread out on the floor. He had a small pile of bones in front of him that glinted in the light of the oil lamp. Tekka sat facing him across the tiny collection of bird and lizard bones. The priest looked him in the eyes and smiled.
?No need to worry. I have words for only you to hear.? The priest soothed Tekka?s concerns.
?What is it, priest?? Tekka asked grudgingly.
?This trip is not about Akam-Ra. Pay close attention to the details I am about to disclose to you. These people that you are going to hunt, they have a name. The villagers call them vampires; they call themselves Vim-Pyr. They are well loved by their villagers and by the entire west bank people. They consider them to be heroes. When you reach the village they live in, Akam-Ra will incur their disdain. He will be searching for a way to get one alone and take his blood. You will be presented with an opportunity. The way you take their power into you is by getting some of their blood into your body through a wound. You will have to cut yourself and force some blood from the one that you are presented with into it. Then you need to leave quickly. If you hurt a villager, all the Vim-Pyr will release their wrath upon your head. Be cautious, but be yourself. For some reason the Vim-Pyr will like you.? He fell silent.
?Why me? What is my part in this thing??
?I do not know why. The gods speak to me, but do not tell me all. I just know that you have to do this and that Akam-Ra will not know until it is too late.? The priest stood as he finished scooping his bones together. Without any further exchange of words, the priest left and Tekka gathered his things. He tried not to think of what was to come, but he couldn?t help it. If the people of the west bank thought of these Vim-Pyr as heroes, then maybe they were different than the priest made them out to be when he spoke to Akam-Ra. Thoughts rolled through Tekka?s mind as he packed food and clothes into a skin bag. Maybe he would stay on the west bank for a time.
Akam-Ra had his slaves packing his clothing and weapons. He himself carried his spear and wore his knife in his belt, watching as they packed. He dreamed of the new powers he was going to claim and wondered what they would be like. Would he be able to fly? See the future? Would he be able to conjure fire or storms? Would the beasts of the world bow to him? He relished in his daydreams as his slaves finished packing the last of five skin bags.
?We are done, master.? One of the slaves sheepishly approached. Akam-Ra thought is was a shame that all of these people did not have the strength of Tekka. Then he decided it was a good thing. If all of the people of the East Bank had been like Tekka, his people never would have defeated them. Akam-Ra regarded the slave.
?You and two others will come with us. Pick the other two and each of you take a bag to carry. Meet us at the fire.? Akam-Ra picked up two of the bags and left the room. He went to his throne in front of the fire to wait for Tekka and the three slaves.
Tekka strode to the fire, bowing his head as he approached Akam-Ra.
?You do not have much, Tekka. Where are the weapons? You are lightly armed.?
?We will need few weapons. We are not going to wage a war. I have all that I need.? Tekka responded shortly. The three slaves approached the throne, bowed and humble. They carried the remaining bags that Akam-Ra was taking on the journey. Tekka looked at the heavy bags Akam-Ra?s slaves had packed for him. Words started to make their way up his throat. He wondered at the conceit of the man and how easily he could put the innocent slaves in the path of danger for his own vanity.
?All is ready. Tekka, you will carry this bag for me.? Akam-Ra said as he tossed a heavy bag at Tekka, who easily plucked it from the air with his left hand. He did not respond. He let the words he wanted to speak die on his tongue. Akam-Ra looked to one of his few remaining guards. ?We will need a boat. Get to the fishing village and prepare one.? He then turned to a second guard as the first left. ?Replenish the guard force while I am gone. Make sure there are at least forty trained and ready upon my return.? The guard bowed in understanding. Akam-Ra stepped lightly off of his throne, carrying his one bag and led the group through the village toward the fishing village. They were escorted by four guards on the short journey.
When the traveling party arrived in the fishing village, the guard that had preceded them had their boat ready. The three slaves looked nervous. They would be leaving in the night hours, when the crocodiles were active in the river.
?What are you waiting for? Put the bags in the boat and get in. You three will be paddling.? Tekka had already embarked on the tiny, wood vessel and had taken the point with his hammer in his hand. He had dealt with crocs before, but being on the water at night made him nervous as well.
Once everyone else was on the boat, Akam-Ra stepped into the back with his spear at the ready. He also had dealt with crocs many times in his life.
?Push us off.? He ordered the
guards that waited next to them. The guards obeyed and the small group was off
to cross the
The others led Sanaa off of the rise and to the village where her child waited. As she gathered Kamaria into her arms, her sobs increased, wracking her body. Kibwe knelt beside her and wrapped his sister in his arms.
?Go warn the villagers.? He instructed the others. They dispersed quickly to do as instructed. Neither spoke after that. Sanaa cried for a few minutes and Kibwe held her silently as she did. Kamaria was unaffected by the crying or the hugging. It was Imani that broke the silence as she returned from warning the villagers.
?Kibwe, Sanaa, there are invaders on the western bluff line. The villagers don?t know yet.? At Imani?s words, Sanaa dried her eyes. She let Kamaria go and stood up.
?What are they doing?? Kibwe asked in a rumbling voice.
?They have stopped at the bluff. They seem to be camping. Torches are lit and campfires are being started.? Imani answered. Kibwe nodded and looked at Sanaa.
?I just lost my mate, my love. I don?t want to loose a brother tonight.? Sanaa stated firmly.
?What would you have us do, Sanaa? Wait until morning and be buried by them as they rush into the village in the daylight?? Kibwe asked.
?No. We should leave. Take the village and go south to the winter lands.?
?We couldn?t have the whole village packed by dawn. There are too many people here.? Imani voiced in response to Sanaa?s suggestion.
?I?m not talking about the whole village.? Sanaa let the words set for a moment before finishing. ?I?m talking about the Vim-Pyr. Us and our children. This is a fight we can?t win. If they can kill Sefu, they can kill any of us.? Kibwe and Imani stared at her in shock and disbelief. To suggest that they abandon the friends that they had made, that had accepted them into their village and trusted them with their lives, their children?s lives and the safety of their village, was beyond comprehension to the pair.
?Sanaa, we can?t just leave these people to be slaughtered! That would be wrong!? Imani whispered.
?If we were never here. If we had never come here and had instead gone to the west world, what would the outcome have been? Would these invaders still have come here? Would they still have slaughtered these people? Yes. This is not our fight. It is the way it is supposed to be. We can?t stop the spread of these people. Why should we die for something that was going to happen no matter what? I see no point in sacrificing my life and Kamaria?s life in a fight that can?t be won. We can fight again another day.?
?Take Kamaria and any of the others that would go with you. I am staying. If any of the other Vim-Pyr stay, then we will try to meet up with you in the southlands after this is over. If we can?t win, then I will stay until the last villager that showed us hospitality is dead.? Kibwe answered Sanaa?s suggestion. Imani shook her head. She looked as though she were about to cry.
?I can?t leave these people either. Take Chausiku with you, Sanaa. Keep her safe for me. If I don?t make it, I want you to be her mother for me.? Imani fought the tears, but one managed to escape and roll down her perfect, black cheek, tracing a line from her almond shaped eye to her delicate chin before dropping to the ground.
?I?ll gather the others. Each must make their own choice in this. Sanaa is right, we can?t win this fight, but we can do our best to help these people before we loose.? Kibwe turned to face the center of the village.
?I?ll go get Chausiku ready.? Imani affirmed. The two departed from Sanaa in different directions, leaving her to her own thoughts.
????????? Darkness was falling as Ugat watched the parts of the black man-beast burn. He didn?t know who the man-beast was, but he knew he was different from any other man the fierce warrior had killed. Even now, hours after being dismembered and being in the hot fire, body parts writhed and squirmed. The parts should have been ash long ago, but the skin was just scorched and seemed to be trying to heal whenever the fire was not directly in contact with it. Ugat scowled at the burning face of his enemy.
??????????? ?More wood! Put more wood on the fire!? He bellowed. He wanted the man-beast burnt and gone before mornings first light arrived. As people brought wood to throw on the fire, Ugat looked at his wounded hand. It was already healing. He looked back to the burning pieces of should-be-corpse. They were slowing in their movements under the intense heat of the fire. What little was left of the fingers were trembling in the flames as their flesh began to fall away into the bed of coals.
??????????? As darkness completed its conquest of the lush valley, Ugat turned to look over his seriously diminished tribe. Three entire clans had been killed by whatever these people were. He looked for some of the survivors of the first attacks among all the tired faces.
?Grell. Come over here.? He spoke loudly to be heard over the cacophony of voices in the village. Grell made his way through the crowd toward his leader. Ugat was well aware Grell?s dislike of his leading style.
?What, Ugat?? Grell grumbled out as he reached the edge of the fire.
?Tell me what happened when these,? he waved his hand toward the slowly disintegrating body parts in the fire, ?people came. Why did they kill so many and loose none?? Grell furrowed his brow at the thought of how many of his people had died. He despised how easily Ugat sent the brave tribesmen to their deaths.
?They are demons. They strike like lightning and disappear like wind. They drank the blood of our people. I hit one with my club in his shoulder, and it did not even make him blink. We only drove them back because we are many. If they come back too many more times, they will kill us all.? Grell warned menacingly.
?I did not want your thoughts about what happened. I can see clearly the loss we have suffered.? Ugat quietly reprimanded Grell. With a motion of dismissal to the warrior, he turned back to the fire. Only the thickest parts of the legs and torso were left, and the skull with its long, sharp teeth. He dipped his axe into the flames to bat the blackened skull out and onto the cool ground. He watched the smoke roll off of it until it cooled sufficiently, then poured some water over it. He would keep this one. He had never kept the skull of a man before, but he had never killed a man with fangs before, either.
Most of the clan were lying down or had already fallen asleep. Only the watchers were still wandering in the sacked village, keeping an eye out for enemies. Ugat looked around. He hadn?t realized he had been standing motionless for hours. He thought he should be tired after such a long day, but he wasn?t. He was not tired at all. He also realized that he could see better in the night than usual. Thinking there must be a bright moon, he turned his eyes to the heavens. The moon sat low on the western horizon, a thin crescent that shed little in the way of light.
?Hmm.? He muttered to himself. He looked back to the skull on the ground and squatted beside it. The dying fire cast little more than a glow, but he could clearly see the details as he peeled away the charred flesh from the off-white bone. He threw the lower jaw bone into the coals of the fire and continued to clean the pieces of flesh that stuck firmly to the bone, tossing them into the fire in turn as he freed them. Soon he had a clean skull, gleaming in the low firelight.
Sien walked through the desolate streets littered with bodies. Whoever had done this had been thorough. Bodies lay in various positions of death. The wounds were horrific. Some had bashed in skulls; others had gaping wounds from heavy stone weapons. Broken bones protruded from limbs and blood ran in the streets. Not one of the dead had the signs of being fed off of though. She determined that it was not Kibwe and his group that had been here. The smells of charring flesh and filthy bodies assaulted her nose with every breath, so she stopped breathing.
Sien stood quietly on the stone extension that was used as a dock in the sea. She watched the water darkening as the sun slipped below the western horizon. She thought again of what she would say to Kibwe when she caught up to him. She had gone over it in her head thousands of times, but it was never exactly what she wanted. As she thought, her ears strained, alerting her to the sounds of a body being dragged across stone. A mangled survivor was approaching her from behind.
?Help.? The aged man croaked in a dry, painful voice. Sien slowly turned to regard the man dragging himself across the stone road toward her. His legs were broken and he had a horrible gash that cut into his throat and angled down his neck to his left collar bone. He reached his right hand toward her from fifteen feet away, a gesture for help from a slowly dying man. Sien took a step toward him and began speaking.
?What would you have me do? You are dead and I know nothing of healing old man.? She took another step, her slender foot making not a whisper as it settled on the warm stone.
?Finish me then. I do not wish to suffer any more!? Sien took another step, setting her black skinned foot on the off white stone.
?You would rather I kill you than take the chance that you might heal?? She knew he had no chance of healing, his leg bones protruded grotesquely from his flesh.
?Please do not tease me. I will not heal from this before I die. End my life now and stop my pain.? Sien took the last slow step and squatted in front of the man.
?I will do as you ask old man, but I need to know something first.? She spoke soothingly.
?Ask, I will answer if I can. Please be quick?? The agony was obvious on his face and his muscles shuddered with the pain and exhaustion.
?Who did this to you? Who destroyed your city?? Sien asked firmly.
?People from the north. I think they were Berber?s, but I am not certain. They did not speak a language I know. They went east after they killed everyone and took what they could carry. Now please end my pain?? The old man begged. Sien stood, grabbing the man by the chin and lifting him easily off the ground. She pulled him close and bit into his neck, sucking vigorously at the wounds her sharp teeth had opened. She drained him of blood and held him until his heart had stopped. Gently she laid him on the ground. She stepped back and looked at the old man?s body lying on the ground. He looked peaceful now, the torments of pain wiped from his face. She looked over her shoulder across the sea once more and then walked back into the city.
After walking through the ruins of the city one last time, Sien turned east. She had found no hint as to the direction her quarry had went, but a feeling tugged at her to follow the Berbers. She hoped her feeling was not leading her astray, but her trail was already a year old and only aging more with each hour that passed.
Carrying the spear easily, Sien ran east along the coast, unknowingly following the same path that Kibwe and his clan had traveled a year before. She ran at full speed without stopping until she had to feed.
??????????? Kibwe gathered the Vim-Pyr together in the center of he village. He waited a few minutes until Imani arrived before starting the conversation. As Imani sat next to him, he spoke to the clan.
?You each have a decision to make. This is something that each must decide for themselves. We all know that we can not win a fight against these invaders. We can not save all of the people of the valley. Sanaa is going to take the children and anyone who wishes to go with her to the winter lands. Any of you that wish to go, you may without reproach.? I am staying to do what I can to protect these people. I would like to convince the villagers to go south as well, but I am not sure they will. Even if they do, they may not be fast enough to escape the horde.? Kibwe shook his head as he spoke. The others stared at him in silence. He was proposing splitting the clan, possibly for an extended period of time. It was not an idea that any of them relished. Zuberi looked around at each of his clan mates before speaking.
?I for one will stay and fight. These people matter to me and I believe I need to help them in every way I can.? He fell silent and waited for the others to make their own decisions. Sauda spoke next.
?I love these people too. I am going to try to convince as many as I can to come to the winter lands with us. I will go with Sanaa and the children.?
?I?m staying.? Tieno piped up. ?I have to do what I can.? She fell silent quickly with a sad look over her countenance.
?Me too.? Tendaji agreed. He smiled wistfully as he looked at the others. Homrhod simply nodded in agreement and leaned into Tieno. Asha spoke quietly to the Vim-Pyr,
?I will go south with Sanaa and the children. As much as I want to fight, I think I would best serve the cause by encouraging as many as I can to go to the winter lands.? Her face looked pained at the thought of the group separating. Frule and Malor looked at each other across the group.
?We?ll fight.? Malor announced confidently. ?Right is right and these invaders are wrong.? Frule nodded his agreement with Malor. Ruun smiled before she spoke.
?Where our men go, so do we.? She stated as she looked at her sister. Suul nodded and looked to the children who sat quietly in the ring of adults.
?Take the children with you to the south, sisters. We will come when we can.? A tear traced Suul?s cheek as she spoke.
?I, too shall go south with the children.? Nuru made her decision known. ?We will care for them until their parents return.?
?Everyone has made a decision.? Kibwe announced. ?If you change your mind, be sure to inform us. Those going to the winter lands need to begin preparations and try to convince a many of the people of the valley to go as they can tomorrow. I want you to leave the following morning. Those that are staying to fight say your goodbyes and get the children?s things together. We leave tomorrow to defend as much as we can of the valley.? He rose from his squatting position and picked Chausiku up from the group of children. Hugging her close, he kissed the top of her head.
?I love you, my beautiful daughter.? He whispered to her.
?I know, daddy.? She replied cheerfully. The smile Kibwe gave his child was not one of happiness. He handed the girl to her mother, who already had tears running down her cheeks.
?Listen to what the mothers say and obey them, little one. Know that your mother loves you with all her heart.? She whispered tearfully to the child.
?Yes mommy. Why are you and daddy so sad?? Chausiku asked her mother.
?Because we are going to be apart from you for a time. We have to stay and protect our friends while you go to the winter lands and help our friends there. We will miss you very much.? Imani struggled to keep her voice from breaking into sobs.
?It won?t seem long, mommy. When you are busy time goes fast. I?ll keep our friends safe in the south until you get there.? Chausiku replied calmly. Kibwe was shocked at how easily his daughter grasped the concepts of time and separation. She was not even two years old yet. He grabbed his daughter up in a hug. When he released her, Chausiku looked at his eyes with a stern expression on her tiny face.
?Daddy, try to keep mommy busy so time will go fast for her.? She said with all seriousness. ?I will see you both when you are done killing the stinky people.? Kibwe set her feet on the ground and she turned to Imani. Looking up at her mother?s soft face, Chausiku smiled. ?I love you. I will be waiting in the winter lands with Sanaa.? She finished, returning to the group of children. As Kibwe and Imani left their daughter with the group of children, both had tears streaking their faces. They walked quickly, looking for Ashmael as they went.
Ashmael sat scraping a goat hide in front of his tent when Kibwe and Imani found him. He looked up at them in the bright morning light and smiled.
?We need to talk to you, Ashmael.? Kibwe stated sternly.
The slaves paddled the long boat as quickly as they could. They could see the far bank in the moonlight and wanted to be there as soon as they could. Akam-Ra said nothing at the back of the boat, but just stared at the eyes of the crocodiles in the night. Tekka stood calm and quiet at the front of the boat with his hammer in his massive hands. The entire crossing was less than two hours, but it felt like years to all of them. Despite the threat of all the eyes in the water, the crocodiles did not attack the boat.
As soon as the keel scraped the bank, Tekka was out and looking for any of the large reptiles that might be on the bank. There were none in immediately threatening range, so he turned to help the slaves unload Akam-Ra?s packs. The unloading was carried out in silence. The group left the boat in some bushes ten paces out of the water. Once it was safely concealed, Akam-Ra looked both north and south. To the north there was a small point of fire on the horizon. To the south, darkness was all there was to be seen.
?We?ll go north, to that fire.? Akam-Ra declared after a few moments.
?Perhaps we should wait until light to decide.? Tekka offered, knowing it would only irritate the king.
?North.? Akam-Ra reiterated, casting a hard look at Tekka. Tekka shrugged and began to lead the way.
It took until dawn for the group to get far enough to be able to see the enormity of the fire. It was huge. Greasy black smoke wafted up into the dawn painted sky, making a dissipating cloud above. As they walked a little further the group began to smell burning meat. It was sickeningly sweet and made all of their stomachs turn. Struggling through the odor the group continued to approach the massive fire. Akam-Ra suddenly held his arm out and quietly announced a stop. No one else said a word.
?Those are people, bodies.? Akam-Ra said quietly. ?I doubt the people we are looking for would burn so many at once.? Tekka turned and looked at the king?s face. It was ashen and held a sorrowful look. Tekka was moved by the display of decency from Akam-Ra. Tekka turned to look back at the fire. He focused for a minute, trying to see what Akam-Ra saw. As the light filled the grassy fields the group could make out the wall of bodies that burned. There were hundreds of bodies stacked and flanked with wood to keep them burning.
?Are you sure you want to continue north?? Tekka asked without any hostility.
?No.? Akam-Ra answered calmly. ?Let us turn south.? He shouldered his bag and the group turned as one to retrace their steps to the south.
Several hours after sunrise, the
tired group came over a rise and looked down the hillside to a small village of
tents. There was normal activity of gathering food, cooking, washing laundry in
a small stream, and chasing children. Akam-Ra frowned slightly at the same time
Tekka smiled. Tekka still remembered his home village before the people of
Akam-Ra came to the east bank of the
?How do these people live like this?? Akam-Ra muttered. To him the village represented poverty. There were no permanent structures and no sign of the master-servant society he was accustomed to.
?Very happily.? Tekka answered the king. Akam-Ra shot him a look of disgust.
?I would call it ignorant.? He frowned even more. Tekka did not look at the surly king. He contentedly watched the village activity, lost in nostalgia. ?Let us go meet them.? Akam-Ra broke the silence. He motioned for Tekka to lead down to the tents.
Tekka strode down toward the village and stopped when he reached a well worn road. This was not the worn path of a nomadic village. This was a road that had seen many years of travel and work to clear the way.
?Why are you stopping?? Akam-Ra questioned the smith. He sounded irritated and impatient. Tekka looked over his broad shoulder at the king and realized that the thin man was exhausted. Akam-Ra was not used to going more than sixteen hours or so without sleep. The group was well past twenty four hours of being awake. Tekka grinned a little.
?Just absorbing a bit about the culture of the people we are about to meet.? He responded patiently. By this time the villagers had begun to take notice of the strangers approaching. Tekka looked back to the village and took note of the faces that were now focused on the group of five men that stood on the edge of the road. Tekka took a step onto the road and turned to follow it into the village. The servants and Akam-Ra followed.
As the travelers reached the edge of the village, they were greeted cautiously by two men with simple spears. While they were armed and wary, they were not threatening or rude. One of the two spoke directly to Tekka.
?Welcome, but who are you?? The man asked. He wore plain robes and sandals with no other weapons apparent on his person. Tekka held his arms slightly out from his sides and gripped the spear he carried loosely, so as not to appear threatening. The dialect spoken by the man was similar to Tekka?s own native tongue. Enough so that he could understand what was being asked of him. He spoke slowly and clearly as he responded.
?We are travelers, just arrived here. We thought we should introduce ourselves before we made a camp. I am Tekka, this is Akam-Ra,? he motioned slightly to the king standing behind and to his right, ?and these men are his servants.? Tekka concluded the introduction. The second man spoke up.
?You are welcome to set up a camp close to us. We will not bother you.? He also spoke slowly and clearly, trying to bridge the dialects.
?We will need to get water.? Akam-Ra said in a halting tongue. He was not used to speaking the language of the valley. The two village men stared at him blankly. Tekka shook his head, thinking that Akam-Ra had just offended them with his demeanor. After a moment the first villager waved west along the edge of the tent village.
?Get water from upstream of the village.? He stated flatly. There was no hostility in his voice, but it had lost the cautious curiosity it had held before. Now it was emotionless, cold. Tekka was sure Akam-Ra had already set the tone for any further interactions with this small village. There were more men approaching now, one of them was older than the rest and was most likely the village leader. Akam-Ra turned away from the approaching men and began walking along the edge of the village toward the west. The villagers watched him and the servants departing as they continued to approach Tekka, who remained where he was. As the men arrived at the entrance of the village, the older man?s attention turned tightly on Tekka.
?They are not from the valley.? He stated flatly. ?My name is Carbas. I welcome you to our home, but you come at a bad time.? The older man announced. ?Do you have a name??
?Tekka. I thank you for your patience.? Tekka responded politely. ?You are right. They?re not from the valley. He motioned with his bald head toward the departing king and servants.
?Our friends, the Vampire, just freed our valley from the grip of a foreign king a year ago.? The elder gazed at the back of the king who now rounded the edge of the village as he approached the stream. ?We have no taste for another.? He finished the thought. ?You would be welcome, but as I stated before, it is a bad time. Barbarians have invaded from the west and have sacked several of the larger villages. Our friends have warned us to go to the winter lands as soon as possible while they try to secure the valley and drive the invaders out.?
?Will you be leaving or staying to fight?? Tekka asked slowly.
?We will be leaving for the winter lands today. We have no chance of defeating these people. The Vampire will fight them if they can. If not, we will have to look for another place to live.? Carbas responded with some reservation in his voice. Tekka nodded his understanding to the elder.
?Where can I find your friends, the Vampire?? He asked Carbas.
?Right now, to the south. They stay in a large village there, but they are carrying the message to all the villages. They will be on the move, and they move very fast. Faster than any creature in the valley.? Carbas offered easily. He had no fear for the safety of his friends.
?I thank you again, Carbas.? Tekka bowed slightly. He turned and followed Akam-Ra to the west edge of the village in search of clear water. As he approached the king of the east bank, his anger seethed in the pit of his stomach. Akam-Ra had snubbed the elder of this village in his arrogance. He pushed the anger down and held his temper. Kneeling at the bank of the clear water, he dipped his water skin in and filled it. Then he drank from his hand, watching the horizon to the south. Tekka knew that the Vampire would not receive Akam-Ra well because of the man?s arrogance. As he drank the cool water he decided he would have to be the one to approach the Vampire if they were to have any chance of interacting with them.
?Set up my tent right here.? Akam-Ra snapped at his servants as he pointed to a relatively flat spot just feet from the stream. Tekka shook his head as the two servants jumped to obey. He moved off thirty feet or so from the king?s tent and spread his simple bed roll out on the grass. As Akam-Ra entered his tent to rest, Tekka lay on his bed roll and contemplated the cloud spattered sky. He drifted into a soft sleep thinking about staying among the people of the west bank and driving Akam-Ra off or even killing him.
Sien slowed her pace, her hunger driving her to near frenzy, but her instincts demanding caution. Far ahead of her she could see the stragglers of the northern people she had been following for two days. She knew there was no way they could see her as it was dark and they were literally miles ahead of her, yet she crouched to break her form. The smell both repulsed and attracted the diminutive hunter. They smelled of body odor and oils from failure to bathe but they also smelled of blood. Despite their unclean habits, their blood smelled healthy. She picked up her speed again. She wanted to get a good look at her quarry. Within minutes she was less than a mile from the dirty old women. She thought it was strange that with a group so large, they would let their elder women fall so far behind the main group. The wise ones were resting for the night, but were not yet settled to sleep. They were in the process of gathering what fuel they could to make a small fire. Sien watched, intrigued with their lack of knowledge. There was good fuel all around them that they were ignoring. Shortly she shrugged to herself and dismissed their plight. It was time to feed. Without a fire, it would be less conspicuous when she took one of them. She plunged the spear into the ground and took off toward the old women in a crouching jog. As she closed the distance between herself and the prey, she increased her speed. She singled out the slowest, weakest looking of the women and locked her focus on her. As the last few yards slipped under her stretching legs, she poured on the speed. With her left arm she reached out to the side and grabbed the woman as she made a tight turn from right to left, using the woman?s weight to assist in the sharp directional change. The woman?s ribs crushed under Sien?s arm and then her neck snapped. The other women had no idea anything had happened. Sien was back at the spear and sucking the blood from the old woman?s neck before the dust had settled in the camp, nearly a mile away. Sien drank quickly and deeply, knowing that the heart stopping had made it difficult to get to the rest of the blood. Sien would have to get another to quench her thirst. Discarding the corpse with a simple flick of her wrist, she picked another victim. When she was finished with the second old woman, she yanked Kibwe?s bone spear from the ground and resumed her hard run to the east. She was fairly sure that having passed the straggling group of old women, she would soon catch the main body of the nomadic barbarians.
Sien raced along the beach, watching for signs of the Vim-Pyr that had traveled through here a year before as well as following the barbarians. Soon she came across another encampment of the northerners. This group was comprised of primarily women with young children though there were a few men that were infirm in some way or another. Some missing a hand or with a twisted leg, others were older and weaker than healthy men. Since she was not hungry, she left them in peace as they slept and continued her journey east. As she ran she passed bodies of fallen northern barbarians. They had been let where they fell, stripped of any weapons or equipment that others could use. Sien didn?t pause, but the images stayed in her mind. Shortly before dawn she came over a rocky rise and stopped. Spread out below her was a camp with at least six hundred of the northerners. There were litters everywhere loaded with the possessions of the travelers. Just beyond them to the east was another camp of elderly and mothers with children. One clan had caught up to the trailing stragglers of the one before them. Sien thought of the implications of such large groups traveling such distances.
Recovering from her shock, Sien turned south into the desert. She decided she would skirt the barbarians and parallel the shoreline. She wanted to keep a mile or so between herself and their smelly numbers. She was sure they were headed to the same place she was. She was sure now that when she found the barbarians destination she would also find the Vim-Pyr. Sien ran even harder, pushing her incredible body to its maximum potential. Her legs blurred and her slender feet just barely touched the ground. Her amazing reflexes steered her around obstacles and helped her leap imperfections in the terrain. She felt urgency in her drive to find Kibwe, but she felt joy and pleasure in her body?s unbelievable abilities. The spear made a low humming noise as it vibrated from the air passing over it at such incredible speed.
After two hours of hard running, Sien began to notice a difference in the smells around her, so she slowed her pace. Still running she turned slightly north until she reached the path of the northern barbarians. She was smelling blood. Human blood. She slowed even further and began to follow the scent on the light breezes. As she followed, the aroma grew stronger. Even though she had just fed, she found herself drawn to the scent and her mouth was watering. Passing a camp of hundreds of healthy men and women, she continued north toward the coast. Almost to the beach, just behind the tree line she found the source of the smell. There were several men in robes of light cloth sitting at a fire. They were awake and aware. Over the fire roasted several large chunks of meat on heavy skewers made of bone. Sien?s nose told her that the flesh roasting was human. She didn?t even need to see the piles of skins and stone weapons to know that these men had killed and were eating nomads from the bands she had been following. While it didn?t really bother her that there was such a group in the desert, what did bother her was their smell. They looked human except for the heat they put off was slightly higher. Their smell was unfamiliar though. They did not smell human. The scent they carried was faint, so faint a human would never pick it up, but Sien?s sense of smell was far more efficient than that of a normal human. She crept closer, her curiosity was high now. The men did not speak at all. They hardly looked at each other, but they were not in the least sleepy looking. She crept forward more silently than moonlight on a still pond. One man?s head rose. He scanned the terrain with eyes that glowed with fiery orange from within. Sien stood still as a stone. His eyes locked on her rather than passing her as she had hoped. A deep growl issued forth from his throat. He stood suddenly dropping his bone skewer into the fire, along with his meal.
?What are you?? His bestial voice demanded. Sien held her hands out in a gesture of peace as she took a step forward.
?I am Sien. I do not know what I am, but I am not like I once was.? She continued to walk forward as she spoke. The other five men rose and turned to face her as she spoke. Her intuition warned her that these creatures were dangerous and so she kept her guard up. She stopped just as she entered the edge of the firelight.
?I have not seen one like you before.? The first man spoke. ?But since you have made me drop my dinner, I guess I will find out how you taste!? He finished with a roar. He leapt over the fire and his companions as he roared, his head stretching and shifting in his leap. Sien watched him flying through the air, but also watched his apparently unconcerned companions from her peripheral vision. She could tell from his trajectory that he didn?t quite have the momentum to reach her in that first leap, though it was much further than a human could jump. His feet came down in the dust and stone nearly two body lengths from her. She held her ground but the peaceful gesture she had previously used was replaced by a fighting crouch, powerful hands and sharp teeth at the ready. The dog headed man had stretched to nearly eight feet tall and stood just less than twice that distance from her, sniffing the air with his canine nose.
?You want no part of this fight, dog.? Sien purred out at him in a soft but very confident voice. The dog headed man did not reply but instead bared his teeth and charged. Sien easily side stepped the charge, grabbing his passing arm in her incredibly strong hand and jerking him downward. She felt his shoulder dislocate, though he did not fall. His neck twisted around at her with incredible speed. His long, white teeth parted the air as they sought her face. Sien?s free hand came up so fast that he never saw it. Her fingers gripped the bottom of his jaw and crushed as she stepped back and to the side to avoid his overbalanced lunge. The bones snapped beneath her strong fingers and the dog man toppled, spinning as he hit the ground. Sien stood still and waited patiently as the creature struggled to its feet. He reached up and pulled and tugged on his own jaw with his good arm, the other dangled limply at his side. The bones cracked and ground as he pulled them back into place. Once that was done, he reached across his chest to his dislocated shoulder and with a quick upward and inward movement, popped it back into place. He shook his head like a dog just out of the water. When it stopped his face was human again and his stature was more like six feet high.
?Whatever you are, you do not smell like food, little woman. You do not fight like food either.? The man turned and walked back to his spot at the fire. ?You should leave now, before you have to fight our whole pack.? He said as he crouched to try and fish his skewer from the fire. The other five turned their backs to Sien and sat down on their stones to eat the meat they had cooked.
?I am not ready to leave yet, dog-man. I want to talk with you first.? Sien talked calmly as she approached the fire. Though he did not answer, the man made no further aggressive movements toward Sien. She squatted outside the ring of men facing the one she had fought. He finally retrieved the bone skewer and brought the charred meat up to his face where he could inspect it.
?What is it you would speak with us about?? The man asked without ever looking at Sien.
?Have you always been like you are now?? Sien asked. The man took a bite of the charred meat and looked at Sien over the bone. With his mouth full he replied to her question with another question.
?Hungry? As far as I can tell, most of my life, yes. I have been hungry.? The other five laughed and Sien smiled.
?I mean the dog head thing. Have you always been like that?? She asked again.
?No.? He answered with his mouth still full. ?About a year ago, maybe a little longer, we were hunting jungle foul in the south. Our king had sent us to get feathers for him. We found ourselves surrounded by a very large pack of wild dogs.? He swallowed the mouthful of human flesh. ?We were beside a very clear pool of water, and I knew that the water would give us an advantage over the dogs, so we waded in up to our waists. The dogs kept us surrounded in that pool for two days. We drank from the clear, cold water. It was not until early the second day that I realized there were no fish or frogs or even bugs living in the clear water. Not a snail or mosquito could be seen by the shore. Then after dark on the second day, the dogs just left. They had never drunk from the pool. We stayed in the water until dawn. As the days went on and we continued to hunt fowl, we started to notice changes in ourselves. We were acting more like the dogs. Also we could smell, hear and see far better than we could before. We decided we could not go back to the valley we came from, so we traveled into the desert, this desert, where we have wandered since.? He took another bite of the blackened human meat.
?When did you start eating people?? Sien continued her questioning.
?Oh, that.? He replied around a mouthful of flesh. ?Pretty early on. That was one of the reasons we decided we couldn?t go back to the valley. We didn?t want the weight of guilt that would come from eating our friends and family.? The other five nodded in agreement. What about you, tiny woman. You said you do not know what you are, but you are not as you once were. How long have you been short and skinny?? The six men all laughed. Sien smiled again, the dog-men had humor.
?I have always been small. I was changed just less than a year ago by one called Kibwe. Do you know of him?? Sien began her story with the question, but all the dog-men shook their heads no, so she continued. ?I was a slave in my masters? house when it happened. I was asleep and woke to find Kibwe crouched over my master. My master stuck a knife in Kibwe?s shoulder. Kibwe removed the dagger and stuck it through my hand and told me ?that is for entertaining a man that treats other men like dirt.? Whatever it was that was on that knife burned like fire in my veins. It was so terrible that I hardly noticed the house was on fire. I burned in that house. The people of the city threw my body in the ocean along with the rest of the debris after the fire. I floated in the water for a long time before I healed. I was drinking the blood of whatever birds and animals got close enough to me until I could move again. Those days were torture. The sun scorched my already charred flesh. The salt water invaded me and burned everywhere. I washed up on the beach after a number of days. I do not remember how many. Then I killed a jackal and drank his blood. That helped me heal more quickly. I started hunting and killing anything I could find. It was when I caught a group of humans that everything turned. I couldn?t help myself. Their blood called to me from half a mile away! ?Once I had drunk their blood, my healing was complete. Now I crave the blood of men. I can drink the blood of animals, but it does not satisfy the thirst like the blood of humans. That is how I became what I am.? Sien looked at the six men who were watching her with attentive faces.
?What are you doing now?? Asked the one that Sien had been speaking with.
?Sitting in front of your fire, talking.? She replied with a smirk. The seven of them laughed. When her own laughter stopped, Sien continued. ?I am looking for Kibwe. I want to tell him that he was mistaken. I was not willing nor did I entertain. I was a slave. I was forced to do what I did. I just want him to know and I do not know why.? Sien finished, shaking her head.
?We are opposite.? The dog-man said. ?You have a goal, an objective. We wander aimlessly. We just exist for now.? His brow furrowed. ?Like the dogs of the plains. We have no direction.? The other five dog-men nodded in agreement. For many minutes the seven once-humans sat in silence, pondering their own thoughts. After a time Sien rose from the dust.
?I must be on my way now.? She said quietly. ?Thank you for spending time with me.? The six dog-men looked at her and smiled, but said nothing. Sien walked away from their fire toward the east, toward the valley that the dog-men avoided. It was still a few hours before dawn and she wanted to cover a lot of ground before sunrise. Once out of their sight, Sien pushed her little body to its maximum ability. She streaked across the desert leaving a dust cloud rising behind her for no one to see.
The sky slowly lightened over the green valley. Ugat watched with new eyes the myriad colors that streaked the high clouds before the orange tints of dawn even began. They were hues he could not name nor even describe in his language. Nothing he had ever seen compared to their beauty. The new colors gave way to the familiar oranges and reds of dawn and still Ugat watched. Even these familiar colors had new depth and highlights that he had never before seen. Then it happened. The first rays of sunlight hit his forehead. Excruciating pain seared through his mind. All thought stopped save one ? get out of the light. Ugat jumped up, exposing more of himself to the sun as he ran to find a shelter. The light seared his newly sensitive skin making it bubble and blister. Less than a second after that first touch of sunlight and Ugat was inside a tent, but it had seemed like hours to him, searching and running from the painful light. He sat inside the comforting veil of darkness and watched his skin heal. The bubbling stopped and the blisters quickly receded. In just a few minutes there was no sign he had ever been burnt by the light. Only his memory of the pain was there to keep him from walking back outside where he belonged. He noted that while his skin used to be light tan, now it was pale and grey. Almost sickly looking. His hands and arms now were paler than his private parts had been that had never seen the sun. It was almost as if the sunlight had burnt his color away. While Ugat thought, a thirst began to grow inside him. He tried to force it away and ponder his current situation.? He knew something was changing about him, and he had a feeling it had to do with the black skinned man with fangs whose skull he kept, though he wasn?t sure about the connection. The thirst pushed at his mind and he forced it out again. He knew that the strange people that had killed so many of his clansmen were out in the sun with no apparent ill effects, so if he was changing into one of them then there was a way for him to be in the sun as well. He nodded to himself in the shelter of the skin tent. He would figure out the way. The thirst began to push at him again, more intense this time. He sensed more than heard Grell approaching the flap of the tent.
?Do not open that flap, Grell.? Ugat growled in low tones. Outside Grell?s hand stopped in mid reach for the edge of the flap. Ugat was always a dangerous and volatile man, but now he sounded somewhat different. His voice was stronger, yet quieter. The hairs rose on the back of Grell?s neck. He pulled his hand back from the tent flap slowly.
?Why are you hiding in a tent when there is so much to do, Ugat?? Grell asked softly.
?Are there any survivors from the valley people?? Ugat ignored Grell?s question.
?Just the children. No adults are left.? Grell answered. He held his voice steady though he began to feel fear creeping through him.
?Bring me one of the children.? Ugat ordered. ?One of the oldest.? He added. Grell nodded silently and turned away from the tent. He was hesitant to obey but fearful not to. He headed for the tents that the clan was keeping the valley children in.
The two guards outside the tent didn?t move as Grell entered. They continued to watch the activity as the clan people around them cleaned up the village. Bodies and trash were being piled away from the tents and soon they would start burning them. The sun showed the blood that was everywhere. The once green grass now glistened crimson in the early morning light. The brown dirt was now black mud from the blood that soaked the earth. The smell of blood was strong in the air and was quickly turning rancid.
Grell looked at the children sitting quietly, frightened. He picked out the oldest looking child in the group. The black haired brown skinned girl was taller than the other children by a few fingers and her face looked to be a year or two older than the next oldest. He motioned to her to stand up and follow him. She did without speaking or hesitation. Grell led her through her own village to the tent that Ugat was sitting in. As he approached Ugat?s voice reached out to him.
?Put her in and leave us.? Grell nodded and did as he was told. He opened the flap slightly and pushed the non-resistant girl into the darkness. Ugat watched the girls face as her eyes adjusted to the darkness inside the tent. His thirst was nearly screaming in his head, but he pushed it down. He allowed her scent to fill his nostrils. He could smell what she had eaten the day before. He could smell that she was hungry. He could smell her fear. He could smell that she was healthy, but not yet a woman. Ugat stood and took her by the shoulders. Gently he lifted her until they were eye to eye. She was afraid, but had great control of her fear for a child. She would not let it show on her face. He put her to his shoulder and wrapped his arms around her in a hug. Slowly she relaxed. The smell of her blood under her skin made Ugat?s mouth water. He turned his bearded face into her frail neck and bit. She stiffened for a moment as he began to suck her blood from her, but then began to relax again as her strength left her small body. Ugat felt the blood flowing down his throat and filling his stomach. He felt its warmth spreading through his body and flooding his skin. As he drained her last drop and her heart faded to a stop, he laid her little body on the skin floor of the tent. Looking at her peaceful form, he almost felt guilty. He sat back down facing her and looked at her quiet face. The feeling of her blood rushing through him was fading, but his thirst was not quenched. He looked down at his hands and realized that the color had returned to his skin. With a sudden movement he was up and stepping out of the tent into the sunlight. It burned and blistered his skin. He stood in the full sun until he could not take the pain any more, and then backed into the shelter of the tent. He watched again as his blisters receded and his skin healed. He had lost a slight amount of color, but not much this time. As soon as his skin was completely healed he did it again.
Grell watched as Ugat stepped out of the tent into the sunlight. He watched Ugat?s skin boil wherever the light struck him. He watched as Ugat stepped back into the tent, just as it seemed the skin would begin falling off. He shook his head. Something had changed the leader of the Berbers, and Grell was sure it was a bad thing. As he tried to retrace the activities that he had seen Ugat involved in, the huge leader stepped back into the sun. His skin was completely healed, but a little paler than before. The bubbling and blistering started again. Grell watched Ugat burn until the huge man couldn?t stand it any more and stepped back into the tent. Grell wondered if this change had anything to do with the skull of the man-beast that Ugat had kept. It was still on the stick by the central fire. He turned away from the tent once more and went to study this skull. Ugat was dangerous enough as he had been. Grell didn?t want to see the huge man become even more dangerous.
Grell stood in front of the skull of Sefu. It was perched atop a stick beside the fire. He looked into the empty eye sockets.
?What were you? What has Ugat become?? He quietly asked the skull. He expected no answer, and none was forthcoming. His eyes traced down form the sockets to the teeth. The bone glittered like hard rock, but the teeth. Those teeth were incredibly sharp. The canines were long and cylindrical, like a cat?s teeth. The other teeth were short but razor sharp. Obviously the canines were for piercing, but the other front teeth were for cutting through flesh. They weren?t like human teeth at all. The back teeth were more of a crushing type tooth than the grinding molars of a human. They looked like the strong, bone crunching back teeth of a wolf or bear. Grell marveled at the teeth for just a few minutes before he was interrupted by another hunter.
?Ugat wants you.? The hunter said before moving off to be about his own business. Grell nodded to no one and turned back to the street that Ugat?s tent was on. He walked slowly, thinking about the skull and its connection to the changes in Ugat.
Ugat could once again sense Grell?s presence outside the tent.
?Bring me the next oldest child.? He murmured to the tent flap. Grell nodded and turned back toward the children?s tent. He got the next oldest child, a boy, and brought him back to Ugat. Again he pushed the child through the tent flap into the darkness and went across the way to wait. Ugat was not so slow or gentle this time. He snatched the boy up from the ground and bit into his small neck. The boy never had a chance to cry out. Ugat quickly drained the blood from him and dropped him next to the corpse of the girl. Once again he felt the blood rush through him, felt the warmth fill his body and flush his skin. He smiled to himself. This is what Grell had meant in his report, that the man-beasts had drank the blood of his people. Ugat now understood that he was becoming like them. He was becoming like those few warriors that had killed thousands of his people. Ugat stepped out of the tent and back into the morning sunlight. His skin blistered but the boiling, wreathing movement did not happen. He was becoming acclimated to the light. He began to walk around, looking at his people with his new vision. He could see their heat. He could see deep into them. He looked at Grell who was not far away and smiled.
?Come over here, Grell.? Ugat called. Grell obeyed and walked to his leader. ?I wish I could show you what I see, Grell. You would not believe it. I can see into people?s bodies. I can see their heat. I can smell things like I have never been able to smell before, and this place stinks. The smell of death and rotting blood is nearly overwhelming.? Grell looked into Ugat?s face. The man stood a full head and a half taller than Grell. His face was a little pale, but not as pale as it had been the first time Ugat had stepped into the sun this morning. The smile on Ugat?s broad face showed that his teeth were still the same. The only noticeable change to Ugat?s appearance was his eyes. They had gone from blue to silver. Silver like the black skinned man that had been at the east entrance of the village yesterday. There had been two pale skinned men in the group that had copper eyes. They were obviously from the north like the Berbers, but they were dressed like the black men of the south. They wore almost nothing. Grell wondered if Ugat would change any more or if he was done and this was it. Something told him that there was still much changing for Ugat to do.
Sanaa, Sauda, Asha and Nuru gathered the seven children to them and prepared to travel to the winter lands in the south while Kibwe led Imani, Tendaji, Tieno, Homrhod, Zuberi, Frule, Malor, Ruun and Suul back to the north. The goal was to go back to the villages that had first been invaded, but in just a few minutes of running, that goal changed. There was a new wave of invaders scaling down the bluffs and rushing into the next village to the north as the group ran. They deviated their course and intercepted the invaders before they could reach the village. The Vim-Pyr formed a line in the path of the Berbers. The ten of them stood unafraid as the invaders rushed across the green fields at them. When the first ones were within hearing range, Kibwe shouted,
?STOP!? The Berbers were so shocked that they did stop. They stared at the ten people that formed a line in front of them for several seconds before one approached Kibwe.
?Who are you and why should we stop?? The blonde headed woman asked harshly.
?We are the Vim-Pyr and you should stop because there is no need for the death that will happen here if you do not stop.? Kibwe answered.
?They are going to die weather we kill them or time kills them. We all die at some time.? The woman responded.
?They are not going to die today.? Kibwe stated in their guttural tongue. ?If you try to harm these people, we will destroy you.? The woman took a step back and looked into Kibwe?s silver eyes. There was something about this black skinned man and his people that made her concerned for her clan. She was not the leader though. She could not make the decision.
?I will talk to my clan leader. He may want to come talk to you. Stay here.? The woman told Kibwe. She turned and made her way back through the milling ranks of her clan to the base of the bluff. Imani looked up at Kibwe.
?There are already more than a thousand down here, Kibwe. I can see at least another three hundred lining the bluff above. This village would be over run in seconds.? She whispered to him.
?I know. We can take this group if we must.? Kibwe answered calmly. The woman reached the base of the bluff and stood talking to a man. The Vim-Pyr all listened even though the conversation was a half mile away.
?These people speak our language and have told us not to attack the village.? The woman told the clan leader. He was a large black haired man with a red beard.
?Why should we listen to them?? The clan leader asked.
?Maybe you should talk to them. They say if we try to hurt the villagers they will destroy us. There is something that makes me believe they can.? The woman finished as the clan leader began walking toward the front of the line of invaders. It took several minutes for him to cross the half mile and stand face to face with Kibwe.
?My name is
?If you value the survival of your clan, you will not attack the village.? Kibwe answered. He kept his face and posture calm, not allowing his anger to rise.
?We should fear ten of you??
?We don?t need weapons to kill you.? Kibwe replied calmly. ?It would be better for everyone if you could peacefully move into the valley. There is no need for us to kill you if you don?t threaten our friends. They can teach you a lot about the land and animals here.?
?I am not concerned about ten of you. We are going to take the village and get the things we want.? Gaul began to raise his arm, but was stopped as Kibwe instantly crossed the fifty foot distance between them and lifted Gaul by his chin into the air.
?This is your last warning. I am
done being polite and restrained with you people. If you attack this or any
other village in this valley, we will destroy all of you!? Kibwe roared. He
?Who is your leader now?? Imani asked in a clear, carrying voice. A man stepped forward.
?I am Ulith. We will not attack the village.? The Berbers all seemed to agree.
?Good, then let me introduce you to the people you almost attacked.? Kibwe said to the new leader. ?They are good people and I am sure they are willing to share their water and their knowledge of what things are good to eat. They can be very valuable friends to your people.? He turned and led Ulith the Berber to the tent village. They sought out Sheddach, the leader of this particular village. The Vim-Pyr stayed with them and helped get the language exchange going before leaving the two peoples to work things out. They left just before heading north for the southern of the two sacked villages. They didn?t make it far before they had to stop again. The next village north of the one they had reconciled the Berbers with was in a different sort of turmoil. There were three strange tents on the west side of the village. The tents were unlike the tents of the valley people that the Vim-Pyr knew. They were more reminiscent of the tents that had belonged to the Nphitic traders. Kibwe led the Vim-Pyr to slow their run and turn into the village. Immediately they could smell the four new people. Kibwe sought out the elderly leader of the village, Liima.
?Liima,? Kibwe hailed the old man as he approached him. ?Is everything well with you?? Liima looked to the approaching Vim-Pyr and smiled broadly.
?Kibwe my friend! Yes, all is well. We have some visitors from the east bank. Their leader and his servants are sleeping in their tents, but I would like to introduce you to Tekka. He seems to be a good man. Why he is in the company of Akam-Ra I do not know.? He led Kibwe and the Vim-Pyr to where Tekka was grinding grain as he spoke. Tekka put the wooden mortar and pestle down and stood as the group approached.