I’ve just re-read the last few journal entries. I want to keep those details fresh as I finish recording all that has happened up until this point. I’ve been writing for hours, and I need a break, but I’m afraid if I take one I may forget some detail that proves crucial later on.
We couldn’t stay in the railpool. The subrail was gone, and I had no idea when, or even if, one would return. We had no food. We desperately needed something to drink, but we couldn’t drink the seawater without it first being purified. What’s more, I needed morphine, or something, for the pain. Even though the blood had stopped flowing, I was in agony. I had a headache, and every part of my skin was tingling with fever and ache. I needed something, and I needed it now.
I wondered if what I was experiencing was anything at all like what Jonah was experiencing. Was my agony similar to his? Were they torturing him? Harvesting his blood? Hurting his body?
And what about Liz? Her torture was probably the most painful of all: separated from her family, worried for her son, angry at her idiot-husband.
I had to get out of here. I had to get back to my family.
I staggered to my feet. “No!” Iara said, immediately trying to pull me back down. Lithe was up straight away, though, and placed his hand gently on her arm. They spoke in insistent, but hushed, coos and finally Iara got to her feet as well. “Slow,” she said to me, motioning downwards with her hands.
“We need to get to the Sea Monk,” I said, nodding. I cupped my hands together, foolishly attempting to make them into the shape of a submarine.
“Lin?” Iara asked.
“Yes!” I said. “We need to get to Chris and Lin.”
Iara shook her head, looking worried. “Chris,” she said gravely. “No.”
“Is Chris dead?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. Then, looking to Lithe, Iara began to explain something to him in their funny language. Lithe looked angry, and Iara looked like she was trying to get him to understand. Finally, Lithe shook his head and took a step back. Iara turned toward me. “We go,” she said.
I wasn’t sure what that was all about. At least I knew better than to expect that everything was fine back at the Monk. I think. Who knows? Maybe Lin and Chris had been fortunate enough to seal themselves in before whatever happened happened. There was clean water, food, and medical supplies on board as well, all of which we needed urgently.
We would have to make it there to find out, a task which was far from certain and far more urgent regardless. There were a lot of infected between here and there.
I was the first through the jelly wall, with Lithe and Iara coming along behind me. The entrance to the tunnel was clear, and with a finger to his lips indicating silence, Lithe crept along into the open. We went slowly and silently, initially encountering no one else. We stepped gingerly over each corpse. With every step my body felt weaker and heavier, and my eyelids blipped and glued together in fits and starts. I walked unevenly, and Iara had to continually reassure me by squeezing my arm. Lithe started to move a down an adjacent path, opting for better cover, but I hissed at him. I got him to look and pointed at the Monk. It was about a quarter mile away, and only a few of the infected loitered nearby. We probably couldn’t make that distance at a dead run, but we could make it slowly and carefully.
Lithe nodded, and we began. Hiding here and there in caves, sometimes even sliding into pools and making our way under the water to the far side, we got closer and closer. The infected stayed clear of the water. We stuck to the shallows for as long as possible.
Once we came very close to discovery, but Iara spotted a recess and we ducked in with her. A woman passed by, older and with only one needle. She was thrashing at the spike stuck in her back, snarling, and generally looking demon-possessed. When she was gone, we started to come out of the cave, but Lithe stopped us. Turning around, I saw two bodies in the cave, both wearing armor with weapons lying tossed upon the floor. Their throats had been ripped out and they were long dead, but we still took extra precaution as we peeled off their gear. We split the armor between the three of us. Lithe went without a helmet and I went without shoulder plates. Lithe took both spear and iron while Iara took the remaining iron. I clutched my spear like it could keep away death itself.
We were fortunate, though we did see other fallen hunters. But always there were too many nearby infected to risk running out and grabbing something. Such a move would certainly have drawn their attention, and we’d have been dog meat in a heartbeat.
The Sea Monk was only about fifty yards away now, but there were no pools or hiding spots anywhere between us and our goal. Tired and beat up as we were, we were still going to have to try to make it there in one go. We all understood this, silently agreeing to do it as noiselessly and as briskly as possible.
This wasn’t going to be pretty.
We made it almost a third of the way before we were spotted, but Iara had already whirled her iron at the zombie in question and buried it into his forehead like it was a six-pound throwing star. Her move was impressive, but she didn’t acknowledge it any more than by nipping over and pulling the weapon out of his face. We moved on, coming upon another with his back to us, one I almost didn’t even see, but Lithe drove his spear through the fellow’s neck from behind, silencing him.
When we were within only about twenty feet, we encountered two more of the infected, and then a third came round the Monk from the far side. Lithe shoved me toward the sub, and I made a break for it. I tried to grab Iara but she had gone to Lithe and was guarding his back while he fought. One he dispatched quickly and neatly, but I thought the other two would certainly get him. He danced around like some legendary warrior, pushing both back before giving me a dirty look. I took my cue while he continued to fight and got to the hatch of the Monk.
It was locked. I began banging loudly right away for Lin to open up and let us in. I could hear commotion and yelling inside, but I couldn’t process those noises just then. I banged and banged and screamed until I felt something over my mouth. It was Iara, insisting I shut up.
I saw that Lithe had killed the other two infected, but more were coming quickly. I had drawn them with my stupid yelling, and still no help came from inside the Sea Monk.
I motioned for Iara to continue pounding on the door. Now that it was too late for caution, she beat and bashed and called out loud like there was no tomorrow.
There likely wasn’t.
Lithe and I took up positions a few feet away from the sub, about twice an arm’s length between us. Iara had given me her iron, so we were both fully armed. I could see about a half dozen of the infected running toward us, but before they arrived, one leaped out from my left side and raked me with his nails. I jerked back, more by instinct than athleticism, and stuck my spear in his guts. I kicked him off and stared as he rolled a few feet away and then lay still.
It was Jailer.
The rest were on us then. There were maybe eight or ten of them. Only a few looked like hunters, thankfully, but even the farmers fought with a crazed energy. Iara was yelling something I couldn’t hear. I looked up, though, and saw one more lumbering our way. I couldn’t imagine a more disheartening sight if I had nightmares for a hundred years.
“cd!” Lithe yelled, and though I couldn’t understand his words, I understood his meaning clear enough and leapt out of the way.
This was a great cannonball of a man, stuck all over with a thousand-thousand needles. He was fast. I could feel his footfalls, even at this distance, like the foreshocks of an earthquake. They grew louder even as he brushed aside two of the other infected before reaching us. I might have been thankful for that little courtesy except that I would rather have faced a horde of Zebulani undead than paired my ten worst enemies against this beast, this incredible hulk, this…Goliath.
Lithe tried to intervene, but the other zombie-things were in his way. In between ducking and dodging and diving, I saw Lithe twirling and whisking and flourishing his blades. He could have clipped the wings of a fairy and pinned them to a butterfly. But I couldn’t let myself be distracted. Goliath was intent on smearing me into paste. He swiped his big paw at me, bristling with needles. I dipped my head, mostly avoiding him, but he still clipped me and sent me flying. The momentum of his swing carried him into the Monk, causing reverberations all throughout the cavern. He was momentarily incapacitated. Clearing my head, I seized this moment and slammed my iron into the front side of his shin. I was aiming for his foot, but this worked out better. He dropped in pain, but that left us eye to eye. His were blister-red and looked like they were about to pop out of his face and attack me on their own. Mine were wet and shaking.
Goliath reached for me and I fell backwards, my spine against the Monk. I didn’t have my iron, and the space was too small for me to grab my spear, so I yanked my helmet off my head and beat it into the giant’s face. Lithe appeared then, behind Goliath, and I saw him bring down both hands with his iron onto the back of the monster’s head. Goliath reared up and swatted Lithe out of the way. In that moment I grabbed my spear and shoved it into his chest, but the haft broke and it barely went in. I grabbed the broken point and ripped it out of his chest as he turned around. I poked him in the eye with the jagged end, but once again it didn’t go in very far. Goliath grabbed me as he gained his feet, lifting me off my feet. He slammed me against the Monk. Again. And again. Then Lithe was back in the fray, leaping up and over something behind the giant —back arching just like it did in spear polo—heaving his weapon with all his might and burying it into Goliath’s back. The giant’s eyes widened and his grip faltered. Squirming my way loose and scrambling off to the side, I grabbed my iron and swung it like a hammer into his shoulder, then his side, then his back and hips as the brute slowly sank. The glow in his eyes dimmed like two old bulbs.
I heard Iara screaming and craned my head to look over at her. “Are you ok?” I asked. But she was incoherent, cradling Lithe in her arms. He was conscious, but something was wrong.
“Lithe, are you hurt?” I asked, creeping over to see what was wrong. He was hunched over, holding onto his right wrist in obvious pain. Three of the black spikes were stuck into his hand, two in his pinky and one in his ring finger, already turning black and visibly spreading. If what we had just experienced was any indication of his fate, Lithe was as good as dead.
Which is why I didn’t hesitate when I cut his fingers off with the edge of my spear.
I snipped them off like dead branches and scooted them away with my foot. I put pressure on the bleeding stumps and held onto his surprised expression with my own battered and bloodied face. A little of the blackness was already spreading up the veins in his hands, but I hoped I had gotten to it soon enough to stave off the infection. His eyes still looked ok, and he wasn’t acting strangely. Just tired and hurt, which was to be expected.
We stood up, and Iara helped us back to the door of the Sea Monk. It had been opened, but no lights were on inside. I could hear Chris up front, presumably still locked in the bridge, “Hey, ladies,” he called raving like a loon, “help me out!” There was no sign of Lin. “David?!” he yelled again, “Come here. I want to show you something.” And then he laughed. He didn’t sound right. But there were more pressing concerns than Chris. His show-and-tell would have to wait for a few minutes.
We needed medicine.
Iara, Lithe and I made our way back to the dive room, and I locked the door behind us. It was crowded, and both Iara and Lithe had to huddle against a locker while I found the supplies we needed. I gave them both a bottle of rubbing alcohol and showed them how to clean the wounds. We were too tired to howl, but all of us winced and whimpered like abandoned cats.
I put my hands on Lithe’s forehead to check for the spinefish fever. He was warmer than he should have been. There was plenty of gauze and tape, which we almost completely used up, and a shot of morphine which I administered to Lithe in hopes of numbing the pain. I took about a half bottle of ibuprofen and offered some to Iara. She declined, already half asleep and leaning across Lithe, who was in Never-Never Land. I hoped they would both wake up.
Gently I moved Iara off of Lithe. If he was infected, the chances that he’d wake up angry and violent were pretty high. I secured his arms and legs to the table with some zip ties and put a wet cloth on his head to try to keep the fever down. While he was unconscious, I rifled through the medical supplies looking for penicillin. I wasn’t sure how his Atlantean physiognomy would respond to human antibiotics, but I was more willing to risk an adverse reaction than I was willing to risk him turning into a zombie. I jabbed the needle into his arm and shoved the plunger down. He didn’t move.
I had to find out about Lin, so I dragged myself back into the hallway and made sure the door shut behind me. I double-checked the hatch just to ensure no one would be sneaking in after us. God help us all if Goliath had a brother. There was no sign of Lin, so as much as I really, super-lightning did not want to, I made my way to the bridge.
The door was unlocked. “Hello?” I called.
“What?” It was Chris. “Lin’s not dead, I swear.” He almost sounded glad. Peering around the corner from behind the door, I saw him tied into his chair with a lot of rope and some crummy knots. “Seriously. She’s not dead.”
It took me a moment to digest what he was saying, first because I didn’t even see Lin right away, and then because she looked like a porcupine. It was hard to conceive he wasn’t lying. But Lin, slumped into a corner with her legs drawn up to her chest and her head off to the side, slid open her eyes and gave the weakest, faintest lopsided grin. She had a huge gash across the top of her forehead that looked to be a few days old. The bruising had yellowed and most of the blood had scabbed, but it was still swollen and leaking puss.
I ran over to her and started pulling those little black needles out of her. Lin waved me off a few times, trying to tell me it was okay, but I kept picking at those things like I had a nervous tick. I couldn’t stop. None of the needles had turned her skin black, of course. Though the needles had visibly poisoned the Zebulani, on Lin they just left only little red welts, like spider bites.
Something else must have happened. “What did you do, Chris?” I asked, picking up Lin in my arms. I suppose normally that would have been no great feat, but given the day’s events, I’m surprised I was able to bend over, let alone carry another person. Laying her on the floor in the hallway, I found some blankets in the dive room and placed them under her to soften the floor. Once I left the bridge Chris started talking again. I guess he figured I hadn’t killed him yet so it was okay to start running his mouth.
“Do I look like I’m in great shape to you?” he asked. And, no, he didn’t. “China doll was getting crazier. I reminded her to stay sane.”
“How many times did you hit her?”
“Not enough. Pee’ed on her, though, after I got her sorted out. Should’ve tied her up. When she came to, she was looking to get even. Still don’t think she knows about her face.” He laughed. Her face was covered in watery, smeared obscenities written in black magic marker. “I never should’ve drunk that black liquor they brought. Little dab’ll do you. It did me good. So did she.”
I was so tired of him, and tired of all we’d come through. It was like Chris had been stung by a different kind of spinefish, like some invisible toxin was turning him into a creature of malice and rage. He attacked everyone he saw. He loved nothing. He recognized no one as being worthy of gentleness or consideration.
And he was getting worse. A little voice in my mind told me this was all because of his brain tumor. But there was another voice, too, this one in my gut, that told me brain tumors don’t turn people evil. They might make them cranky. They might cause shifts in their personality. But this was something categorically different. This was malicious. This was dark. This was sinister. And no matter what condition someone finds himself in, there is no humane rationale for why he would treat another person this way.
I didn’t have the heart for an argument or the energy for a fight, so after I washed Lin’s face and bandaged her wounds, I went back to the infirmary, got another syringe of morphine, and jabbed it into Chris’ neck. He squealed a bit but changed his tune pretty quickly as the morphine worked its way straight into his head.
And then I locked all the doors, checked them twice, and slept for about twenty hours.
I have been awake only long enough now to make dehydrated coffee, write an account of all that has happened since leaving the capital, and try to make sense of the Sea Monk’s bridge. During his isolation, Chris scratched and drew on every inch of every wall. There were symbols, glyphs, and characters written in grease and ink, above and below. He had even scrawled upon the consoles. Every button bore an icon, some in angelic script but most in the pagan hieroglyphs of ancient Gaul or the diamond-shaped logograms of old Scandinavia. This stuff was evil. It was the equation of spells and wards, the summoning sequence of darkness. And, true to form, Chris had crafted nooks into which he had been steadily placing his own cryptozooligical mishaps. A rotting spinefish, almost wholly intact, sat upon a seaweed nest. A saurian tooth bracelet, held together with a bootlace, hung from one of the dive levers. Some of the jelly had been dried into the shape of a pentagram. He wore a necklace of old fingernails. They weren’t his. They were Zebulani, thicker than ours and slightly darker. He had ripped them from the corpses outside.
This place was a terrarium for fiends.
Iara had woken up before either myself or Lithe. She untied Lithe, and he was wandering around the sub. He wasn’t infected, not entirely, but he wasn’t himself either. His veins were black all up and down the arm that had been struck with the spinefish needles. But the infection hadn’t spread any further. His eyes were rimmed red, but not bloodshot like the infected. He didn’t look sick. He looked fierce. Terrifying. He looked like he was ready for a fight.
I had a lurking thought that Lithe’s battle with the infection might not yet be over. Maybe it was the antibiotics, or maybe it was my cutting off the infected bits, or maybe it was both. But something warned me that his transformation wasn’t over. This infection would affect him differently than others somehow. Maybe it was going to be a metamorphorsis. Maybe something else. I made a mental note to keep a close watch on my friend.
Chris is still our hostage, but instead of drugging him again, the Zebulani have gagged him with their dirty bandages. I think that’s about the most unhygienic thing I’ve ever seen, but I couldn’t suppress a laugh when I saw it.
I needed that laugh. It would be my last for some time. I realized that when I saw that Lin had died in her sleep.