“Stop! Please, Light make her stop!” whispered the woman furiously to the others. She was desperately trying to restrain Ulua, struggling to hide her below the top of the rubble pile. Her arms were wrapped around her in an effort to keep her from climbing over and beyond and into the heart of the beating drums and the abyssal glow. She knew what Ulua did not, that beyond that pile was certain death.
Even in the dim glow it was obvious she had wildly curly hair and more satchels and bags draped over her then body to hold them all. At first this had been part of the shock for the monk, because the outline in the reddish backlight looked like a creature with snakes for hair, or a many tentacled thing from myth. Yet as Zy’an came closer he realized that it was nothing more than unmanageable hair and there was a pale face, freckled, in betwixt and underneath it all. She was a human and pretty, but not strikingly so, and her gear was sensible. She looked as if she was prepared for just about anything he thought. And in a quick instant, Zy’an realized this woman, with her hand around Ulua’s mouth, was trying to stop the princess, and silence her, just as he had earlier. She wasn’t an attacker, she was a savior. And she was clearly saving Ulua from certain death running into the unknown of this place. Without thinking, he closed the distance to them and put his hand over the princess’ mouth too, deciding just as fast that whoever this stranger was, she wasn’t a present danger.
The others helped the two of them bring Ulua back from where she was attempting to climb out and into the open of the entire congregation behind them. They pushed her to the ground, beside the rubble they were hiding behind. Beyond, in the red glow, Areia peeked out to see hundreds, maybe thousands of undulating bodies swaying to the rhythm of the drums. She whistled to herself, Well that’s a lot of bad dancing she lamented. Doesn’t look like I’ll find a decent partner in the lot. She waited for her elvish eyes to adjust and took in a clearer picture. Oh look, it gets worse.
What Areia saw was a crowd, chanting and moving as one. It felt wrong immediately, but that was only the beginning. It was hard to see beyond the many rows of those gathered, but it seemed like there was something in the middle of them all, and certainly that was where the drums beat, ba bum ba bum. A pair of odd statues made of some dark material rose above the crowd, and what appeared to be a throne. She couldn’t be sure never having seen an Ata tomb before. The crowded people groaned and grunted in an odd chant like animals, which under the drums she was able to detect with her ears. Her senses were alert in all ways and she knew that the woman who had caught Ulua had indeed saved her from certain death. Perhaps, she had saved all of them as well. The air was stale here and the smell of death hung thickly. Ulua’s people were here, that was for certain, but they were no longer her people. Even from yards away, they could see that the bodies swaying side to side were little more than corpses and the smells of decomposition made them gag.
The woman who had been holding Ulua back, moved next to her and that’s when Zy’an noticed that she had an ointment below her nose. He had seen those who prepared the dead do the same. Who is she? he wondered inwardly. She placed a hand on Ulua’s chest and spoke a few words in a chant. At first it reminded Thrak of Inara Goldpetal’s songs, and as her traitorous lures had nearly cost him his life, he started then, reaching for his axe! But he loosened his grip. For the words clearly calmed Ulua. The woman spoke in a hushed whisper to the native princess, and Thrak realized that she was speaking Ata, the island’s tongue, a language he spoke himself. “Daughter of Olor’han, these people are not your people. Just as my companions are no longer themselves either. I nearly thought you were the same, but for your tears, I would have missed you!”
“They are now of the darkness, not the light. Be at peace. Be at peace.”
Ulua’s eyes, so wide with anxiety, with melancholy and confusion, softened and became sparkling crescents once more. Full of tears, but no longer full of alarm. She looked at all the others. “I am….I am sorry, my friends. I thought…”
“You thought you had found your tribe, those whom you have longed to see princess,” said Frank in the Realm’s tongue. “But they have gone now, only their power remains. That which was good is now lost to them at least. They are the…un-dead.”
Ulua looked at the woman who had first held her back, and she nodded in agreement. The strange woman sat back and allowed Ulua to sit up where she stooped like the others and looked over the rubble out into the enormous crowd of creatures that were once Ulua’s family. She looked like she had raided Governor Canton’s bag closet. Oddly shaped things were sticking out of several of them, and each was filled to capacity or more.
“So who are you supposed to be?” said Areia, “Some kind of traveling bag saleslady specializing in island undead fashion?”
The woman actually smiled. “My name is Iricah. I’ve got a fine embroidered look here for you, it’s my last one.”
Thrak rolled his eyes. He was laying down so low that he looked like an armored alligator. “I can’t handle another one of thesssee funny humanssss,” he tried to whisper.
“Okay, she’s a keeper,” said Areia. She and the others were all squatting down. They looked at each other and nodded simultaneously. She pat Iricah on the back, “Welcome to the party, Iricah. Just remember, hands off the the hottie with the wicked side step out there. He’s had his only eye left on me since I got here.”
“He’s all yours,” said Iricah trying to smile casually. Her look though betrayed a deeper sadness, and although she attempted to hide it, Areia detected real fear. Whatever her reasons for being here, Areia sensed she was relieved to have found them.
Without another word, the lot of them crept up to the top of the rubble pile. Marcus motioned to Areia to pull up her hood over her head. Zy’an looked out from his, which Marcus realized he hadn’t remembered ever coming down. The monk’s sparkling eyes veered off in the direction that they both knew they were going. While the others waited, the three crept cautiously out into the crowd where they too began to sway back and forth with the others, facing inward towards the center. Ba bum ba bum beat the drums which were beating slower and slower to what end they knew not. Watching from atop the rubble, Frank’s eyes began to blaze with a deep red glow. “Ever feel like we might actually be the normal ones?” he asked Thrak.
“Not really,” said Thrak, and he popped a finger into his mouth.
Marcus nearly gagged as he stood behind the large crowd of the undead. I must be crazy he thought. Zy’an and Areia were doing the same, except that Areia had her hands out, mimicking some kind of sleepwalker. Marcus’ eyes went wide and he was about to slap her hands down when the drums stopped! Ba boom!!!!!
The undead crowd collectively bowed, prostrating themselves before a giant throne. Quick as they could, they did the same. Marcus looked up through his hood and saw that on the throne sat a large dark form, which grew to the height of two men. It was like an incorporeal thing though, hovering over the ground! Like a shadow he thought and from inside the darkness of it’s form two red malicious eyes gleamed outward. Where they looked shone a crimson light, like beams searching.
A voice boomed around the cavern then. It was ice in this hot humid air, and slippery like mud that oozed from the bottom of the swamp. It was an ancient voice, powerful. It was evil incarnate. None knew what it was saying but they didn’t need to, for the creatures bowing before it, began, ever so slowly to come awake with a vibrancy. Areia could feel it like a crackling energy all around them, and she didn’t need to speak whatever terrible language this was to know what was about to happen. Quickly, Zy’an and Marcus deduced the same, and backed up towards the others behind the pile.
“I think it’s time to go,” said Areia. “Does anyone speak ancient creepy guy?”
“If you are referring to the language of Ket, that would be me apparently,” said Frank, who had just learned that he spoke this infernal language. The others couldn’t help but notice his eyes now blazed like that of the demon beyond, and his head was stained red by his own blood from the horns which sprouted there.
“It is Umani!” declared Ulua, “And he has risen once more!”
“I think we now know why the island is devoid of life,” groaned Frank.
“Why Frank?” asked Marcus. “What did he say?”
He said, “BRRRIIIIINNNNGGG MMEEEEE MMOOOOREEEE!!!!!” He stared at the others, while Umani’s words rang out once more the same hideous message. Icy fingers danced over his spine.
“Last one to leave the ball turns into a creepy monster at midnight!” spat Areia and she turned and ran into the hallway and out into the night. The others followed her quickly. Frank, his heavy armor making it difficult to stand after so long lying low, had just a minute to look back over his shoulder as the hundreds of things in the tomb stood, and slowly began to turn towards the exit!