Nasir and Maarika Chronicles Episode III, p.1
Nasir and Maarika Chronicles
By James Mullins
First Edition July 4th, 2017
©2017 James Mullins
Published in association with Longinus Industries
All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without written permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously
August 3rd, 636 Arabia Province, Byzantium
Nasir gasped in horror at Maarika’s revelation. He ran to her as she sat on the ground rubbing her calf where she had been bitten. He dropped to his knees and slid to a stop as he grabbed her bloody leg. The blood was mostly purple in color, “I don’t see a bite mark.”
Maarika sat up and smiled, “I guess I knocked out all of the bastard’s teeth.”
Nasir’s shoulders slumped, and he let out a deep sigh of relief. He took Maarika’s hand in his and held it for a time. The feel of her warm hand in his relaxed him in a way that nothing else could. Ready to continue, he stood and helped Maarika to her feet, “Stay our here and let me make sure there are no more of these damned hungry in the barracks.”
Maarika nodded absently and looked around the courtyard. Spotting a well, she went over to it and brought up the bucket using the rusted iron crank. Next, she ripped a piece of cloth from the tunic of a fallen Skutatoi nearby. Dipping it in the water, she used the cloth to clean the putrid purple fluid from her legs.
Steeling himself for the challenge ahead, Nasir entered the barracks building. As he stepped inside, he paused for several moments to let his eyes adjust to the dim interior. During these moments, he stood absolutely still and listened for any sounds that might betray the location of a hungry one. He heard nothing.
As Nasir’s eyes adjusted, a large room took shape in front of him. Lines of sunlight showed through the cracks of the closed and barred shutters. Beds lined the walls to his left and right separated by a central aisle. Each bed had a modest mattress stuffed with straw, and a foot locker at the end. The smell of the room was horrific. Spattered blood covered the floor, walls, and several of the beds. Bones and other juicy bits were carelessly strewn and scattered about the chamber.
Nasir drew his gladius and smacked it against his shield three times creating a loud banging noise. He tensed waiting for the inevitable moans of hunger and longing to erupt from places unseen. None did.
Nasir slowly made his way across the room to a doorway on the far wall. As he entered the room, a loud screech erupted to his right. Surprised, he pivoted in the direction of the sound and brought up his shield. Instead of the undead minion of Satan he was expecting, he faced a rat whose feast had just been interrupted.
The rat’s body was covered in course gray and black fur. It’s two large yellow teeth were stained red from its meal. Disgusted by the rat and the culinary choice it had made, Nasir swung his gladius in a quick downward arc at it. With lightning quick reflexes the rat dodged the blow and scurried away.
Nasir attempted to pursue the foul little beast, but it made good its escape by disappearing into a hole in the masonry of the wall. The hairless tail of the little fiend swished back and forth as it faded into the darkness. Frustrated, he slipped his gladius back into its sheath and looked around the room.
The room seemed to serve a dual purpose as an office and a bed chamber. On the wall opposite the door was a desk. Just above the desk was a large shuttered window. On the right side of the room was a comfortable looking bed easily triple the size of the beds in the first chamber. On the left wall was a large wardrobe. The wardrobe, made from oak, had once been of high quality, but years in the desert climate had taken their toll on the wood. The once perfect finish of the wood was now flaking and cracking in places.
Nasir walked across the room and opened the shutters. Light flooded into the room momentarily blinding him. Once his eyes adjusted, he looked down at the desk and saw several wax tablets. One of the tablets was only half used. He presumed this was the last partially filled out situation report to the Tourmarches and began reading it.
“To Tourmarches Flavius Rahid Asfour,
This morning a large band of what can only be described as bewitched cannibals erupted from the pass from the Arabian heartlands. At first, it looked as if they would ignore the fort all together and move past us. As they drew nearer, upon seeing men on our walls, they charged the fort. Alerted my Skutatoi spotted the danger immediately and barred the gate to prevent their entry. Sadly, it didn’t slow them down. Not even a little bit. They charged without any fear for their safety. So eager were they to get into the fort, that they climbed atop one another to get over the walls.
There were simply too many. In seconds they were atop the walls and feasting on the guards. Given their numbers, I thought it prudent to retreat into our barracks and attempt to hold them at the door. At first, this seems to work. They have not tried to gain entry with anything other than their bare hands. Stupid savages.
I thought we would be safe in here. Within minutes of letting my last soldier in, he went mad and attempted to eat my other men. Those that were bitten by the crazed ones, went crazy as well. Unfortunately, I too have been bitten, and I feel the madness overtaking me. If this message ever reaches you say a-.”
Nasir stopped reading, the message abruptly ended. What happened?” The unexpected voice startled him, and he flinched. Maarika chuckled, “My hero.” Nasir squared his shoulders and turned to face her. The expression on his face caused her smile to fade, “What’s wrong?”
“The hungry ones slew everyone before a warning could get out.” Nasir slumped his shoulders and collapsed into his former Kentarches’ chair.
Maarika knelt and placed her hands in his and looked up into his eyes. Eyes filled with sorrow gazed back at her, “What must we do love?”
Nasir pondered the question for several moments, “We must continue to Aqaba and warn them. Hopefully the hungry will get themselves lost in the desert, so that we can arrive ahead of them. I fear if they reach Aqaba before we do, this vile plague will be unleashed on the Empire. If that happens, there will be nowhere left to run.”
Nasir and Maarika searched what was left of the bodies and the foot lockers. They took anything of value including coins, jewelry, and polished stones. Their efforts yielded around ten gold solidus and fifty silver nummi. In addition, Nasir found a pair of silver earrings in one of the footlockers.
He showed his find to Maarika, “Can you wear these?”
“What are they?”
“Earrings. You’ve never seen them before?”
“No, we had almost no metal in the desert. A man was considered wealthy if he had more than one or two implements made of iron.”
She took the earrings from him and turned them over several times with a confused look on her face, “You wear these on your ears?”
“Aye, you do. Let me help.” Nasir took the earrings from Maarika’s hands and brushed her long raven colored locks away from her ears. Her perfectly smooth unblemished ear lobes were revealed. He laughed at his foolishness, “I guess if you don’t even know what an earring is that the odds of your ears being pierced are pretty damn low. I’m such a fool.”
Maarika reached up and clasped the hand touching her left earlobe and squeezed it, “You can’t help yourself. You’re a man after all.”
He drew her into an embrace, and their lips met. After a long tender moment the two parted and Maarika asked, “Now what do we do?”
“The road to Aqaba is a dry one. We must search the fort for waterskins and fill them. As many as we can carry.”
Careful not to separate, the two systematically picked their way through the fort. They found dozens of waterskins amongst the dead and piled them up by the well. Completing their search, they worked to fill them all as the sun sank toward the western horizon.
“Shall we set out now or on the ‘morrow?”
Nasir pondered the question for a moment. He looked around at the chaotic scene within the fort. As he did so, the sounds of thick clouds of flies droned in his ears, and the stench from bodies rotting in the August Sun overpowered his senses, “Let’s follow the Aqaba road as far as we are able into the night. We must make haste to Aqaba to arrive ahead of the hungry.”
Maarika smiled with relief, “Praise Bismillah! I did not want to spend another moment in this horrid place.”