THE COMPLETE 8 BOOK COLLECTION
John Macallen Davis
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical people, events or places are used fictitiously. Any other names, places, events or characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual places, events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 John Michael Davis
Editing by: Daniél Lecoq
All rights reserved, including the right to copy this book or portions of this book in any form. For more information, please email [email protected]
First edition January 2017
If you are an author in search of quality professional editing, please email [email protected] and should you encounter any errors during this reading experience, feel free to email us so that we may correct them and improve this work.
Awakening logo is a copyright of John Michael Davis, all rights reserved.
Dedicated to Magnus Dernelius.
“The strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell. It is pounded and struck repeatedly before it’s plunged back into the molten fire. The fire gives it power and flexibility, and the blows give it STRENGTH. Those two thing make the metal pliable and able to withstand every battle it’s called upon to fight.”
― Sherrilyn Kenyon, The Dark-Hunters, Vol. 1
Table of Contents
Dead: Week One of the Living
Man Against Machine
One Last Hero
Reign of the Dead
The Colony (1 & 2)
About the Author
I’d like to tell you a story.
This is a story that was told to me by my dying grandfather. Upon visiting him in the Carrington Place, which is a home for adults in Virginia, he began bestowing onto me information that would prove to change my life. While my cousins would receive his personal belongings, my grandfather said he was giving me the greatest gift of all.
I was his favorite.
I always had been, honestly. As a child, he had taken to me. I can remember countless days of watching football with him on the couch. He would always explain that the game of football was very similar to the art of war, without the intrigue that often took place behind the front lines of war. I didn’t know what that meant at the time. Now I do.
The other kids came around as well, but they usually went off somewhere to play, like typical children did before the internet was mainstream. Meanwhile, I saw fascination in my grandfather’s eyes. He always told the best stories. My friends learned of World War 2 out of necessity – forced to learn its history by high school teachers. I learned through my grandfather’s stories. He often weaved it all together like a good novel and I would gobble it up; listening as I hung from his every word.
Later in life as my cousins all moved on, only visiting him once a year during the Christmas season – I remained. While I did join the United States Army, I stayed in close contact with my family, which included my grandfather. After eight years of service to my country, I returned home to find him aging quite fast. I cared for him as best I could, when I could.
Still, there was a look of past adventure in his eyes.
I’m sad to report that my grandfather went to be with the Lord on February 7th, 2017. But before he did, the man who’d taught me about the second great war divulged a secret onto me that would forever change my life.
Adolf Hitler was alive.
I know what you must think, as I thought it too. But a dying grandfather has no need to lie about such things. Especially given the way he grabbed my shirt and tried his best to make me believe. I saw desperation. I believe that everyone who faces their ultimate demise has something to finish. And my grandfather’s was this.
It was our last conversation and he made me swear to seek out the truth. He had seen Adolf Hitler with his own eyes and narrowly escaped with his life. That was back in 1981, according to my grandfather. I can’t say that I fully believed him at the time, but I did believe that he believed it. And that was enough for me.
My cousins, all of whom were distant when it came to our grandfather, received money, titles to his vehicles and sums of cash. His daughter Clarice, who hadn’t been to visit him in nearly two decades, was given his large house. Complete with seventeen acres of land, a falling barn and some of the prettiest scenery you could imagine. It was picturesque perfect for a life in the deep south.
What a shit deal.
I was straddled with some memory of what he’d seen or what he’d thought he’d seen, along with a leather journal. The type of journal that could have been bought on the cheap at any decent office supply store.
When I left that retirement home my heart told me that I’d never see him again; a man that I had grown to respect and truly look up to. And he’d shafted me in the end.
I had half a mind to throw the damn journal away as soon as I got back home. It was only a two-hour drive – I’d still be pissed when I got there.
Why had he deliberately given me the shit end of the stick? I was the only person outside of his official caretaker to actually care, and she’d been paid to do it. My concern was authentic. It wasn’t the worldly possessions themselves – I had enough money. It was the insult of it. My other relatives didn’t care about Grandpa Carter. He was a smart man, surely he knew that they didn’t care.
There had to be another reason…and there was.
As I discovered when I began reading the journal.
My grandfather had always been obsessed with the study of World War 2. He’d only been a child during the great war, but I can remember countless times when he’d sit alongside me and begin telling me about the greatest battles and their outcomes. Even the romances of field generals and mistresses.
According to his journal, Grandpa Carter first read of Hitler’s survival beyond World War 2 through a small media outlet in Argentina. Just as I hadn’t, or you don’t – my grandfather didn’t believe what he’d read. It wouldn’t be the first time a hoax had been given even the slightest ounce of credibility in the media world.
But this story was different.
A man claiming to have received money in exchange for helping one of the worst dictators in modern day history escape, could also name his accomplices. Moreover, he provided several key pieces of paperwork as proof, along with a small tin box filled with pictures of the man he claimed to be Hitler. Though aged, the man in the pictures’ look was unmistakable.
My grandfather had made his money. Aside from distant family, he was alone in this world – alone with the curiosity that resides in so many of us. So my grandfather left for Argentina in order to seek out a man named Adolf Leipzig – presumably Hitler.
He noted that the FBI themselves were also looking into the numerous eyewitness accounts coming from Argentina. And while their own investigations came up empty, my grandfather, a retired detective, claimed he knew where and how to go about it.
Is it so hard to believe that Russian, at that time Soviet Union troops, rushed to declare Hitler dead? There would certainly be honor in finding the most hated man in the world. It’s possible. If Hitler had the foresight to understand this, then using body doubles which he’d been known to use, probably would have satisfied the Soviets temporarily.
Now imagine the leaders of the Soviet Union, which had lied on previous occasions, coming to the realization that the real Hitler had somehow slipped through their grasp. Is it so hard to believe that they would again lie to their own people in order to deliver Hitler in the proverbial sense and save face in the process?
My grandfather didn’t think so.
For months at a time, he would leave the beautiful countryside of North Carolina and head to Argentina. Within the journal pages were receipts to testify to the fact. And then, by his own admission, he had frozen up during a chance encounter with Hitler while staying in Argentina and preparing to return home.
There was absolutely no mistaking it, he’d written. It was Adolf Hitler.
He’d described Hitler as being much older, but still walking on his own. His hair had lost most of its color, but his soulless eyes remained. Several mysterious men accompanied him. Enough so, that my grandfather was fearful of approaching him. Instead, he chose to place his own life at risk in following them from the gas station in question.
There, under the timid light of the moon, my grandfather watched the man he believed to be Hitler and his escorts, walk into a large tree inside of the seclusion of thick Argentinian forest. My grandfather waited for nearly an hour before easing closer to investigate. It was no tree at all, but rather a doorway.
A doorway where?
My grandfather wasn’t sure. Shortly after returning home he began to grow ill and though he fought like hell for many years, it was an illness that would ultimately claim his life. He’d not return to Argentina, except in his own mind.
But behind the wide smile of a man that I truly respected, was the belief that one day I would be ready to resume his own life’s work. He’d included a map with vivid detail and just as important, a set of numbers followed by a second set of numbers. I would later match them to a bank account in Argentina worth exactly 45,321,460 Argentinian Pesos. According to Argentinian standards, his account was worth nearly $2.9 million. I’m not sure where this money came from and honestly I don’t want to know. The fact was…my grandfather had been living a second life in hopes of catching Hitler.
I almost collapsed when I realized how much money sat in the bank accounts. I could have taken the money and done whatever I saw fit with it, but my grandfather’s instructions were to use the money in order to find Hitler, or his whereabouts. It seems that I was the only relative he trusted – I shared his love of the second great war.
Thoughts of brand new cars and even houses bounced around in my head. I was single – never married. I could have easily purchased a yacht and filled it with good booze and women with ample tits. Easily.
But my grandfather had struck a match to my own interest, just as he’d done so many times before when I was a child, peddling his stories of great heroes and marvelous escapes. The types of stories that I believe are dying too quickly, with the veterans who served during the war, now stranded in a generation that too easily forgets. I suppose that’s why my Grandpa Carter left the journal to me, rather than to another family member. Perhaps he saw the same thirst of adventure in my eyes.
I was at least obligated to give my grandfather’s wishes an honest effort. I would conduct one search and give it due diligence. Then, if I was unable to turn up anything on the mysteries of Hitler, I would use the money to pay off my own home, upgrade my car and begin looking into that yacht filled with nude women.
But before I headed to Argentina, I’d need a plan.
I trusted them with my life.
Hunter Shelton and Mitch “Macho” Harris. Childhood friends and, more importantly, men of military service, just like myself.
“Jack,” Macho said. “You’ve lost it.”
“I know what it sounds like…” I began.
“Do you?” he asked. “Because to me, it sounds like you want us to go trampling around through Argentina looking for a man that’s been dead for decades.”
I took the criticism; it was the least I could do.
I turned my attention to the larger of the two. Hunter was as well-framed as a man could be. He lifted weights on a regular basis – he lifted at home. Hunter had always made it a point to tell me that. Gyms were full of tanning lotion and beautiful women, and that pissed him off. Not that he didn’t like the idea of women, but rather the disrespect for man against weights. For him, it was a ritual of becoming a man.
Unfortunately, Macho was anything but macho. He’d earned the nickname in high school after standing up to two football players and getting his ass kicked in the process. Macho was as mouthy as the day was long but barely stout enough to hold his own britches up. He also happened to be good with guns. He had been quite the sportsman prior to his military service and they had doubled his proficiency with a decent gun.
“Well,” Hunter began. The North Carolina breeze did little to sway the buzzed hair atop his head as his mind pondered my offer. “Could be trouble if they catch us bringing weapons into the country. We’re talking big trouble. But I’m in.”
“You’re in?” Macho couldn’t believe it.
Honestly, neither could I.
“The way I figure it,” Hunter replied. “Jack’s a friend and he’d do the same for us. I’m not saying I believe the scumbag is out there somewhere, alive…but friends help friends. So yea, I’m in.”
I turned my attention away from the former U.S. Army infantryman and back to our thin friend.
“Ah shit,” Macho grumbled. “The Panthers play the Cowboys on Sunday. I want to be back to watch the game.”
I smiled, understanding that it was as close to saying yes as he’d get.
Over the course of the next two hours, the three of us began making a list of things we’d need for the trip to Argentina. Most of the supplies would need to be purchased after we landed, otherwise there would be a hell of a lot of explaining to do when we hit customs. Printed information on Adolf Hitler, a bag filled with sidearms and rum soaked cigars would draw the wrong kind of attention.
The cigars…all Macho’s idea.
My first impression of Argentina was the fact that it was absolutely gorgeous.
After my bout with love at first sight came the realization that I wasn’t in the United States anymore. We arrived in Buenos Aires and it was a rather large city, which came complete with the normal problems that large cities face. Buses sped through the streets much faster than I was used to and the sidewalks were heavily cracked. Plus, as I painfully discovered, the ATM machines were few and far between.
I was essentially a millionaire with no means of getting my money. The few places we found had strict limits on how much cash could be withdrawn. Setting us back even further and factoring in perfectly with the bitching.
“Damn this heat.” Macho complained.
“It’s summertime.” Hunter replied.
“Summertime in Buenos Aires.” I added.
“Y’all can hit me with all of this complicated talk until you’re blue in the face,” Macho said. “All I know is it’s fucking hot.”
We’d take a cab around the city and pretend to be sight seeing. Meanwhile, we each looked for a suitable hotel that was located within walking distance of any stores that we thought might sell the type of equipment we needed.
Finally, we stopped at the Buenos Aires Grand Hotel. It was very nice. Even Macho couldn’t find anything to complain about, which was unusual. He’d quickly gotten out of his traveling clothes and slipped his skinny frame into an overstuffed hotel robe.
“It’s best if we go in one at a time,” Hunter said. “It’ll look a lot less suspicious if we’re not buying everything on this list in a single haul.”
I agreed with a nod. A part of me felt like a common criminal, although we were doing nothing illegal. But our intent was to go off and search for possibly the most notorious man in the history of the world. That carried weight and for a moment, I felt that weight bearing down on me.
Breathing deep, I readied myself to go shopping.
The plan was a simple one. We’d arrived around midday, which was the hottest time of the day and the root of Macho’s bitching. I would go into a large store that stood at the opposite end of the city block and casually gather a third of the things on our list. Later, just as the sun began to set, Hunter would go in and do the same. We’d both pose as tourists with no knowledge of the other. Macho was to go in the following morning and complete the list.
Then, from the hotel lobby, we’d flag down a taxi and make our way to the edge of the city. We’d use the excuse of hiking, which we’d surely be doing a lot of. There was approximately seven miles of terrain to cover on foot once we left the city. From there, according to my grandfather’s map, we’d encounter a relatively thick forest and upon locating a double waterfall, the tree would be visible.
Beyond that…we had nothing.
The more I kicked the idea around in my head, the more it felt like we were chasing fool’s gold. For nearly an hour, I fought the urge to quit and go back home. Hell, I was rich! What need did I have for proving my grandfather right?
But then I remembered he surely had felt the same way. I began to remember myself as a child, seated next to my grandfather as he told me stories of the great war.
Something or someone had crossed his path and changed the work of his life in the process. Finding Hitler and proving it to the world had become my grandfather’s obsession in his later years. There had to be something to his theory. I knew my grandfather well enough to know that he wouldn’t have chased this theory of his without good reason.
He wouldn’t have chased fool’s gold.
So, I swallowed my pride and went shopping.
While the trip itself had been just as uneventful as I had hoped, a large truck nearly struck me down in the street near in front of the hotel. And it would have been my own fault. The large bag of supplies had hoarded just enough of my vision to let me walk recklessly in front of the truck, who’s driver looked pissed as he drove past. It was an event that could have killed me, and it did take my breath for a moment – I could feel my hands shaking with fear.
I returned to the hotel with a bag filled with flashlights, ample batteries, a week’s supply of dry socks, three blankets, a lock-blade knife, a case of bottled water, gloves and boots, both leather.
“You looked like Santa Claus carrying that bag of shit down the street.” Macho laughed. And I expected it.
“Most of the heavy stuff is on your list.” I replied.
Suddenly, his wide smile turned to the frown of a lottery loser. There would be no grand fortune as he scratched his proverbial ticket, only a bad back and a continuing hatred for the sweltering heat.
Hunter’s haul would go in much the same way that evening. He, too, looked like a jolly man with a sack of toys draped across his shoulder, though I dare say the carried them much better than I had.
As he returned, the city of Buenos Aires was beneath a full moon and paper thin clouds, which only added to the experience.
What exactly had I been thinking? I’d somehow managed to drag my friends halfway around the globe in search for history’s most ruthless dictator when I should have stayed home and made plans. I’d been given a lot of money. Spending it wisely would surely be no easy task. Yet here I was, looking across the shiny railing that boxed our large balcony in.
It was the Grand Hotel’s largest suite, but I’d not paid heavily for it. It had taken nearly a thousand pesos to fetch the massive room, roughly sixty-three bucks, and the room looked like something from a movie. The floor was made of shiny wood that barely showed any age, while two couches rested in perfect positioning to one another. One was a sectional, the other was very long. There was a community table in what served as the kitchen area and it, too, looked like something that had been plucked straight from a home design magazine.
But above all else, the balcony spoke to me.
It’s very hard to explain, but outside in that fresh Argentinian air, beneath a hovering moon that brimmed with neon white, I felt my grandfather’s presence. While my two friends tried their best to watch local television on the large flat screen mounted to the living room wall, pretending to understand what was being said. Hunter spoke a bit of Spanish, but certainly not enough to follow the soap opera in front of them. Macho spoke nothing – broken English, on his best day. I supposed he was just watching in hopes of catching a glimpse of nudity. He’d never shied away from his lust for women. The damning fact was that women had a way of shying away from him.
And so, with beers lined up on the coffee table in front of them, my two most trusted friends watched on. Not me. My own skin crawled with nervousness and my gut instinct was that we were about to become part of something incredible.
The map itself was crude and there were what I believed to be hidden clues throughout my grandfather’s journal. But it had been the look on my grandfather’s face that had sold me on the idea. I saw adventure – I saw fear.
For the remainder of the evening, I would pray. Right there on the massive balcony beneath my feet, I would ask that God watched over us and, if my grandfather could somehow hear me, that he would point us into the right direction.
The next morning seemed to pick up in an instant. From nowhere, the streets of Buenos Aires were once again filled with bodies on their way to and from. We’d becoming nothing more than three more tourists, in a manner of speaking.
Three and a half, if you included the massive sack on the back of our scrawny-legged friend. He looked like a small ant carrying a full-brown apple – nearly pushing him to the ground entirely as his legs bowed out under the pressure. The list had been a long one, but not that long. I suspected that our good friend had added a few extra items himself.
“Don’t ask.” Macho said.
And we didn’t have to. The sound of glass bottles clanging around was enough to clue us in on the fact that he’d fetched a good amount of booze. And while we’d tried to limit our list to only the essentials, I knew that Macho would only argue the fact. He’d claim the booze was in case of an emergency toothache or something. Plus, he’d followed me halfway around the world. So I let it go.
A cab had been easy enough to spot. It was solid black until you reached the top, which became bright yellow. And they were literally everywhere. It didn’t take very long to hold a hand in the air and have a cab screech to a halt. Though it did take almost ten full minutes to pack our belongings into the cab’s trunk.
The driver was nice enough, yet very quiet. The cab itself smelled of heavy beef and noodles, which could have been seen as good or bad, depending. Most importantly, the driver had a pistol holstered near the car’s transmission shifter.
It had taken nearly thirty minutes for the driver to get us to the spot we needed to be – just a few miles outside of the city, but far enough that it looked distant. It took only thirty seconds or so to convince the driver to sell us the pistol.
At first, he didn’t understand. Hunter spoke very bad Spanish and he was the best of our bunch. But after pointing to the pistol and then to the landscape we’d be hiking, I held a wad of money up and ready. Approximately fourteen-hundred pesos, which is all that we had left. The rest sat comfortably in the bank somewhere and besides, we’d no use for cash in the countryside of Argentina.
The driver eagerly took the money and it didn’t take us long to figure out why. The revolver looked as though it were centuries old. It appeared to be some sort of military revolver with splashes of Old West influence thrown in. The handle was made of scarred wood and the gun itself was dingy blue steel.
It came with six rounds.
Apparently, the driver was exuberant about getting the money. He sped away so quickly that a thick cloud of dust romped us away from where we stood. He’d been grinning like an idiot throughout his drive away. A point that Macho didn’t care for.
“I’ll knock that damn smile from his face when I see him again.”
He then spit a mouthful of dust and forming mud from his mouth and continued to stare at the cab, which had now gotten far enough away to be forgotten.
“We should go. There’s a long hike in front of us.” I said.
“Jack’s right. We need to get moving.” Hunter added.
Macho nodded, finally turning away from the small cab and the large trail of dust it had left behind.
“Who’s carrying all the shit?”
The hike had taken hours. It had been much harder than any of us had anticipated. Especially for Hunter, who carried the bulk of the heavy supplies, while Macho bitched beneath the lightest load.
As we came onto a double waterfall, it didn’t take us long to rest our supplies onto the ground and stand with exhaustion. Still, the sight of two towering waterfalls was one of pure magnificence. The faint sound of splashing water quickly grew into a thunderous roar and only seemed to add to what felt like a magical moment for me personally.
Macho rested himself onto the ground with a cigar to his lips. The massive smoke stick could have doubled as an elephant’s tusk, had it been white. Moments later, with sweat pooling on his forehead, Macho laid back down in the tall grass and drew deep breaths, cursing beneath his breath and smoke rose up.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” I said.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Macho didn’t seem too concerned.
Had a bolt of lightning hit my friend? Macho jumped to his feet with a look of fear haunting his eyes. He’d never been that fond of the slithering variety.
“You never said anything about snakes.”
“Well it is Argentina,” Hunter laughed. “Besides, we need to get our packs in order before we head out.”
“Head out…we just stopped?” Macho whined.
I heard the bickering as I panned my set of binoculars around slowly. Nothing seemed out of place. There were no observation decks for tourists around the waterfalls. They were much too small for that. But there were two, just as my grandfather’s journal had sworn, and the surrounding area according to his hand-drawn map was spot on. Grandpa Carter had been here before. There was no doubting the fact.
I did what I could to position myself according to his map. Then, I began looking into the general direction of what he’d claimed had been a hidden tunnel of some sort. A part of me had thought my grandfather had slipped into lunacy during his older years. That was the most logical explanation. But the other part of me wanted to find this tunnel of his. I wanted to believe that the impossible was in fact…possible.
There are few moments in life when you know.
Staring at your first child in the minute that it’s born, you know your place in life. Soul mates know one another at first glance. When a man or woman gets right with God above – they know. These are the types of moments I will use to describe it.
As my eyes caught sight of a very large tree – I knew.
It was surrounded by others and I had nearly missed it. In fact, I would have missed it, had I not been looking for it. The tree in questions was slightly different in both shade and texture. Its brown was paler. Its bark was too shiny.
“There.” I said.
At first, neither of my friends saw the difference between the tree in question and the hundreds more around it. Perhaps I was slipping into lunacy as well.
“He’s right,” Hunter said. Staring hard through the binoculars while easing my mind a bit. “There’s something off about it.”
“Looks like a damn tree to me.” Macho testified.
“It looks too much like a tree,” Hunter disputed. “I don’t see any flaws or imperfections. There are no vines hanging. The trees around it have plenty.”
“Yea.” I added.
“Well let’s go, then.” Macho demanded.
“Our packs first.” I said.
Nodding to Hunter, I was OK with him keeping the pistol. He nodded in return and tucked it behind him, beneath the waist of his jeans.
“We can’t carry all of this water.” Hunter said.
“No,” I agreed. “We’ll need to take a few bottles each and leave the rest. We need to focus on things that will help us. Things like rope and-”
“Knives,” Macho said proudly. “Ain’t nobody trying to die.”
I wanted to laugh and I would have, if not for my nerves. Instead, each of us packed our own bag, which was a professional grade hiking pack. We each took a hand ax, very high quality pocket knife and, of course, Hunter had the pistol. We agreed on three bottles of water each, along with a fistful of meal replacement bars. It didn’t leave us much room for anything else, but we each took something we believed would be of use. Hunter took a small fire starting kit, I took a bundle of rock climbing rope, along with the clasps, and Macho took two bottles of sherry and a hard box of cigars.
“For toothaches.” he insisted.
After getting ourselves together, we rested for an hour or so. Keeping a very close eye on the tree in the process. Finally, we mustered enough courage to begin walking toward the large tree and did so with the utmost caution.
Upon arriving, it seemed very normal. But Hunter spiked our caution as he dug his knife into the bark of the tree. Removing a small piece of the brittle bark exposed solid steel! This was no tree at all, but rather a doorway of some type. Just as my grandfather had sworn.
We’d found an elevator.
It was the type of elevator that you’d normally find in a large factory. A cargo elevator with two sets of doors that would have taken dynamite in order to breach. In this case, they stood open and waiting. With only a single button on its interior, the elevator seemed to invite us; if not taunt us.
Hunter entered, followed by myself and then Macho. We stood there in silence for at least a minute solid. I watched as clouds passed over, reminding me of the prettiest sky I’d ever seen. Fresh air brushed against us. I wondered exactly how long it would be before my lungs drenched themselves in air this fresh again.
With a deep sigh and a silent nod from each of my friends, I pressed the large green button and watched as both sets of steel doors closed by themselves. There were several openings – windows without glass – which allowed us to look outside of the elevator, which only added to the peril of the descent.
We fell at a rate of speed that would be hard to estimate. Damn fast, I imagined Macho thought. He’d certainly be right. The elevator dropped swiftly enough for my lunch to begin making its way back up. Hunter held the walls as best he could and Macho squatted in the corner. Refusing to look, like a child cowering from the boogeyman.
Steel passed by the small windows of the elevator at first. Then dirt, accompanied by large white lights. If the elevator would have been an airplane, it would have fallen from the sky fifty times over, and at about the same speed.
Finally, after coming to the end of what I’d believed to be our very last moments alive, Macho, Hunter and I loosened our grips of the thick railing inside of the elevator, which began stopping as it had been programmed.
As the doors opened, each of us sprinted out of the deathtrap and staggered with disorientation, splashing into a large body of water. The coldest water that a person could fathom. My heart nearly exploded; burst, even, as my lungs began to gasp for breath in instinctive fashion.
With the hellacious ride down, I cannot say how long it took me to swim ashore. Less than a minute, all things considered, though it seemed like an eternity against the torture of freezing cold water. My mind worried for my friends – my body collapsed against the bed of soft clay that surrounded the cold water.
My eyes took in a most intriguing sight.
The ceiling of the cave, or whatever we had discovered, glowed iridescent blue. Not slightly, but with utter magnificence. It rivaled the brightest sky I had ever seen, yet it was no sky at all. Nothing more than hard rock.
Then, moments later, my vision was brought to attention by a large black blur of movement. The kind that is indistinguishable, yet telling.
We were not alone.
My body was too exhausted to jump alive. As I turned my head, I could see Macho laying in pretty much the same condition – watching as Hunter rose to his feet and began defending himself. He’d always been the strongest of the three.
I know what you must be thinking, yet I must speak the truth. These were ape men in every fashion imaginable, and they wore shiny armor. There must have been at least fifty of these beasts and we were completely at their mercy, there was no getting around it. But Hunter would not be convinced of it.
My good friend put up one hell of a fight, lashing punches onto the closest ape man and eventually drawing our only pistol – firing onto several of them and ending them. Shortly after, Hunter was ended, too. Bludgeoned to death by wooden sticks. The weapons were designed in much the same fashion as a ball bat would have been, only much thicker and very crude in appearance. At first, Hunter’s hand went up with defense. Eventually it fell. He was dead, yet the creatures continued to wail on his body for several minutes.
By now, I was up to my feet. Preparing to enter into the same fate.
One of the ape men uttered something loudly. Its language was unlike anything I’d heard before. Tribal, yet advanced. I presumed this beast was trying to warn me, in fact, I bet my life on it. I held a hand out and knelt down. Praying that it was not the end for me.
I could hear several of the ape men conversing and it sounded like an argument, in all honesty. Two of their own lay as dead as Hunter, in a pool of their own thick red blood. As one of them approached, perhaps a superior among their people, I closed my eyes.
The creature began to spout off words to me, yet I could not understand. I did understand its demeanor. Anger…frustration.
“I can’t understand you.” I said with apology.
The beast looked me up and down. Eventually spouting off more derelict language. Then, as abruptly as it had confronted me, the monster walked away. Its subordinates would soon place my hands in shackles, as well as my neck. They were not kind in doing so, either, and I did not care. The rough manner in which they shackled me was a far better fate than death. I was simply happy to be alive.
I watched as the ape men searched our bags and even Hunter’s body. Then, having shackled us both together, we were chained together closely enough that I could smell the rank cigar smoke on Macho’s skin. I’d no idea what this place was, but I did know that it was something undiscovered. A world within our own world, miles below the surface.
One of the beasts shoved me in the back with a threatening manner. Therefore, against my will, I began to walk. Realizing that I may never again be able to find my way back to the elevator which had led us to this subterranean hell.
We had marched for several hours without pause, finally stopping to rest on a series of large rocks near an ocean. Was it a real ocean? That wasn’t for me to decide. But it looked real enough. Waves of cold water crashed ashore and as far as the eye could see, buckles of water swirled about. As I looked to the sky, or cave ceiling in this case, it now seemed further out of reach than the sky of cotton clouds that I last remembered over the city of Buenos Aries. If this were only a cave, it was indeed the largest on record.
But I believe it was much more than that. For all intent and purposes, this place seemed vaster than my own world, which rested miles above us. The luminous blue stone was everywhere, giving a slightly brighter atmosphere than I had grown to expect back on the surface.
This place was inconceivable, yet real.
I first learned of its true vastness the moment that I noticed other ape men began bringing their own captured to our position. Not one group, or even two; but rather enough groups that I could not count them on both hands. The ape men now easily numbered in the hundreds and the captured, myself included, were at least fifty or so.
I could see the ape man who’d looked me over, speaking to another. It seemed apologetic and for a moment, the other glanced into my direction. It was certainly explaining how two of their own had been killed.
And then, beneath the scorching light of these mysterious blue stones, I caught sight of the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. From my home back in the United States to my travels around the world, I had never laid eyes on a woman so utterly complete.
Brandy colored hair flowed down to the bottoms of her shoulders. And while she was clothed in tattered white material, her flawless curves were still visible. In fact, as I quickly began to discover, most of the slaves were virtually perfect in every way. They were lean – muscular, even. Their looks could have been viewed as beautiful or handsome, respectively. But this particular woman had eyes that were the most brilliant of browns that I’d ever seen. Her look froze me, in a manner of speaking, as my heart would not allow my mind to concentrate. I had to know more about her.
“Her name is Tara.” a strange voice said.
I turned to this nearby captive with utter surprise.
“You speak my language?”
Though it was partially broken and heavy with slang, this complete stranger spoke well enough to be understood.
“Of course. We are all Brapok, are we not?”
I did everything in my power to explain to my new friend that I was not of this world. Well, perhaps in the technical sense I was, but my world above was much different than the one my feet now trode.
“You do not believe me?” I asked.
“It is not that I do not believe you,” he replied. “But I have never seen anyone like us who was not a Brapok, other than the feared.”
“They look like we do, but are highly militarized. Often, they wear black and carry weapons of wonder. Some call them magic.”
“Where can I find these feared?”
He looked upon me with the eyes of madness.
“You do not find the feared – they find you. And may the gods be with you if that ever happens. These bonds that enslave us to the Gorgum are child’s play compared to what the feared would do to us.”
“The Gorgum?” I asked. Glancing to the ape men.
“Yes,” he replied. “They can be a brutal species at times but more oft than not, they treat their Brapok slaves with dignity.”
He held up his wrists, which, like mine, were in chains.
“It’s what they mean to do with us. Caudium was not built in a single day and it wasn’t built by the hands of Gorgum.”
“By slaves?” I asked.
“Aye,” he replied. “This world improves because of our hard work and struggle. But they feed us and allow us to live, so the trade is fair.”
“Like hell it is,” I announced. “My friend, Macho.”
Macho lifted his head for a moment. I had never seen my talkative friend so quiet and imagined that he still thought it to be a dream. And perhaps it was. But the long march had certainly brought pain to my feet.
“I mean to escape.”
The stranger looked me over closely.
“Is escape possible?” I asked.
“Perhaps,” he replied. “But it would have to come at the right time. The Brapok are a mighty race all their own, but what stands beyond the mountains around us can be far worse. There are unspeakable things.”
“We cannot defeat them head-to-head.” I admitted.
“No,” he replied. “It would take ten slaves to bring down a single Gorgum. And they outnumber us by a great many. Our escape will need to be fast and during a period of time when the Gorgum do not expect it.”
“If we don’t make it?” I asked.
“Then they will kill us in the presence of the other slaves as a warning.”
I nodded. Pulling myself into deep thought.
“There is no shame in calling this off.” he said.
I glanced to him for a moment, eventually smiling.
“You say her name is Tara?”
“Aye,” he grinned. “Princess of Odelia.”
“Aye,” he replied. “And I am Lenzu, her sworn protector. We were besieged by the Gorgum nearly a week ago. Her father commands a mighty army and they are sure to be searching all of Caudium for her.”
“We have an army?”
“How long have you been in Caudium?” Lenzu asked.
“Half a fucking day,” Macho grumbled. Watching as the ape men made quick work of the liquor he’d brought along. “Damn thieves.”
Lenzu joined him in watching the Gorgum pass around the spoils of plunder. Food, cigars and fine alcohol.
“You’ve much to learn about Caudium.” Lenzu finally replied.
I nodded. Finding it increasingly hard to take my eyes off of Tara, the princess of Odelia and its mighty army.
I had only started to realize how vast this underworld known as Caudium was. But when we began marching once more, that’s when I understood that my eyes, my imagination, even, had only started to scratch the surface.
All around us were the sights you would normally expect to see from a world above. There were no skyscrapers or airplanes cluttering the sky, granted. But everything else seemed to be as it should have been in the nineteenth century back where I came from.
There were fields of tall grass and heavily wooded areas as far as the eye could see. In the other direction, water filled the horizon in what I still believe to be a full-brown ocean. Caudium, or whatever in the hell this place at the center of our planet was, had proven itself to be a living, thriving world.
How? I’m still unsure of the specifics.
I spoke to Lenzu as I could during the march, which wasn’t often. While our captors seemed to relax during periods of rest, they were strict during the march. Lenzu had admitted that even he did not know where these mysterious glowing stones had first originated. Only that they were known universally by the people of Caudium as wonderstones.
As for the water, one could only speculate that it had been beneath our surface the entire time. Pooling together in order to form an ocean. But Lenzu had testified that there were several oceans and lands far beyond the water. He’d seen them with his own eyes.
From what I could see, the weaponry throughout this strange land seemed to be primitive at best. A few of the Gorgum carried swords, while most of them carried blunt objects made of wood. Lenzu spoke of projectile weapons of magic that were in the hands of the feared, and I assumed he spoke of guns. He also said that the feared were very secretive and often left no survivors in their wake. The stories he told me had been passed down through the years and I can only imagine that much of it was added along the way.
I learned of a great war between the Gorgum and the feared. It had taken place many years ago and while the feared had much better weaponry, the Gorgum had great numbers. Ultimately, the war had drawn to a standstill and both sides had gone their own way. Though they would still engage in battle upon the sight of the other.
Lenzu spoke of Tara very little, only to say that she’d been a great princess to her people. Looking upon her, I would have guessed that Tara was in her early twenties and her eyes, as beautiful as they may have been, had seen uncounted horrors.
Along the way, should a captive fall with exhaustion, he or she would be beaten…sometimes to death. The ape men had no tolerance for weakness. My legs ached with the sharp pains that would accompany any long march without water. More than once I thought about quitting and taking whatever punishment the Gorgum saw fit. But each time I would glance over to Macho, who remained quiet and remained on his feet.
Eventually we reached what I believed would be our final destination. A large castle structure encompassed by several rings of stone. I could see plenty of ape men patrolling across the flat rings. Water surrounded much of the castle and there was a heavy sense of military there, along with hundreds of slaves working in the land around the castle.
As we passed by, the slaves would raise their head momentarily. With curiosity, I suppose, though they wouldn’t stop long enough to draw the attention of their superiors. Perhaps they also felt sorrow for us. The rest of those with us seemed to look at the castle with ultimate defeat. They would either live a very short time against the back breaking work or they would live many years. Either way, they had no hope of ever leaving. But I looked at this castle with great curiosity. I, along with my scrawny friend, knew of the world above. I could not justify remaining a slave for the rest of my life when my life was above ground.
Finding evidence of Hitler was now in the back of my mind. I no longer cared to discover the truth. Now, my only sense of purpose was doing whatever I had to do in order to get back to the surface and tell this story.
My time among the ape men had not been easy.
While they did feed us and treat us with the proper amount of respect at times, there were also many times in which I witnessed the beatings of male slaves, while the female slaves had been taken to the chambers of those in charge, without consent.
As best I could figure, a person’s chances of having their time go smoothly depended upon the guards who oversaw them and the temperament of those guards. I had been lucky in that respect. The guards posted to us both during living hours and working hours were mild, whereas many were not.
The work itself was backbreaking in most cases. Either we’d plow the fields using the crudest of tools or we’d forge stones into blocks for building using nothing more than heavy hammers and the sweat of our brows.
I honestly can not tell you how long I’ve been among the ape people. Or in this savage land, for that matter. Here, there is no differential between day or night – we only have the bright blue glow above us, every single moment.
At times, it has proven to be maddening. They say that a man does not know what he has until it has been taken away from him. What I would give for a single night of darkness! As much as I want to remember my life before we entered that cursed tree, I cannot. At least not in specific details. I remind myself of the bright sunshine of Argentina and the thought of bacon frying back home in the United States. Yet I cannot remember how it smells. This place had started to strip everything human away from me.
And then came the witchers.
I could see it in my guardsman’s eyes as the small horde of hoofed feet came, trailed by a thick cloud of dust. Not intimidation, nor fear; but a very real sense of urgency. I saw it across the ape man’s face as he looked to several of his own kind. Each of them bore the same look and tightened hands to their weapons.
Approaching swiftly on horseback, seven riders came. Their armor was unique and held many resemblances to that of dark knights of a much earlier century. Their leader, as he seemed to be, held a bladed weapon high into the sky and commanded the other riders to halt. Wings of bone protruded from their helmets, particularly their leader. After several moments of staring across the fields with ghostly white eyes, which dared through a black mask and accompanying red handprint, their leader dismounted his horse and began taking stock upon us.
The ape men lined the nearest slaves up, myself included, to be inspected more thoroughly. Why, I did not know.
Their leader said nothing at first. He merely grabbed hold of each slave’s face by the chin and tilted our heads back and forth with authority. In some cases, he would then grab a slave by the shirt and pull them forward. Choosing them.
And then came my turn.
Though I had fear, I refused to show it. If I were to be selected for death, or whatever fate awaited me – so be it. Hunter had died for less. The witcher grabbed hold of my chin and flailed my head about. His eyes stared through me with bastard conviction. Finally, with a thick glove that was spiked by the thorns of a devil, he pulled me forward.
“This one is strong.” he said.
And to my surprise, he sounded human. His throat was deep and was certainly here on business, but I was more like him than I expected.
“Tell me, slave,” he said. Staring into my soul. “I am to pick one more of you. Who here is of your same strength.”
I turned with well-hidden timidness. Macho looked to me with friendship and I knew in my heart that I should pick him. After all, he was here, in this God forsaken place because of me. But there was also Lenzu. A man who seemed to know so much about this place that was still so very foreign to me. With his help, it was possible that I could once again see the surface and return home. Finally, I glanced to Tara and though we’d not formally spoken to one another, I had certainly watched from a distance. She was extraordinarily passionate about helping those around her. As a princess should be. The thoughts of ape men eventually having their way with her did not sit well with me, either.
“Her.” I said. Pointing Tara out.
“What?” Macho lashed out. Much to the disappointment of the ape men, who did what they could to silence him. “You’re leaving me here? I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you! We’ve been friends since-”
His words tapered off as the ape men smashed a blunt hammer of wood into his stomach. From there, they dragged my friend away. Ripping my conscience apart in the process. I understood that my choice had likely condemned him to death.
“We’ll have her, too,” the witcher said. “That’s five slaves in all.”
The leader of the ape men did what math he could in his head. I understood at that point that our sorry asses were being bartered off to the witchers. For what, I wasn’t sure. But it hadn’t been the first time. The two haggling men were far too comfortable with the act.
The ape man spouted off a mouthful of language that I could not understand. But I did understand what it had entailed.
“That’s ridiculous!” the witcher cried out. “I’ll not trade three of my horses and a hundred shinies for five slaves!”
Again, a translator among the witchers relayed the message. The speaker of the ape men grew irate, as shown on his face. He’d not be cheated and swindled out of slaves that he’d himself stolen.
He countered with another offer and several tense breaths. I do not know what the offer was, as the witcher did not repeat it. But he took it as unacceptable as well. The stout man behind the evil mask looked us up and down once more. Finally, he looked to the ape men.
“You tell him that I’ll surrender two horses and eighty shinies. Nothing more. He either takes my offer or we will begin dealing with another tribe of Gorgum.”
His translator gave the final proposal in the the ape men’s primitive language. Their leader not only grew angry, but he also began pacing. Resting his hand upon the hilt of his sword, I thought for a moment that battle would surely ensue.
It did not.
The Gorgum nodded in agreement and the currency of this underworld changed hands. They were small and looked to be gemstones. Different colors, but certainly worth something. The same fistful of shinies would have fetched a hundred thousand dollars on the surface, but here, they were much more plentiful.
“Tara is your responsibility now,” Lenzu said. “You watch after her, no matter what happens.”
“Perhaps one day I will return for both of my friends,” I replied. “Please look after Macho for me.”
He smiled at the gesture, but I could see supreme doubt in his eyes. This was goodbye forever, as far as he was concerned, and he certainly knew more about this savage land than I did.
A fact that rested hard in the pit of my stomach.
The journey had been much longer than I had expected. Much of it was due to us walking, rather than riding a horse. When I first set off on what would become the journey of my lifetime, I didn’t believe it was possible. No one could survive underground.
But I was truly mistaken.
Not only did I now believe that Hitler’s escape to Argentina and subsequently his escape to a world beneath the surface was possible – I thought that it was very likely. The feared, in how they had been described to me, fit the profile of what we’d known as the Nazi regime, right down to the standard MP 40 machine gun.
Engulfing the importance of that a thousand times over was my belief that this strange, prehistoric world in front of me had been here the entire time. Beneath my own feet as I served my country with military service and walked the streets of countless cities across our globe. I found it humorous that mankind has long been obsessed with the idea of finding life on another planet, even going so far as to develop space ships to get us there. When, this whole time, a world undreamed of was right below us.
As we traveled with the witchers, my eyes saw the purest waters, mountains of sand, forests as far as my eyes could see and even strange creatures that lurked about with curiosity. None of which I’d ever seen before.
For some, there was a resemblance to the animals of the surface. Tiger-like creatures hovered near the tree line of the jungle and looked for a moment. Yet they left us be, either from a primal understanding that they would be bested or from a pure lack of interest. At times, I could see what appeared to be fish zipping from the ocean water and splashing back in moments later. But I also saw things that frightened me. Creatures reminding me of the Loch Ness monster stories back on the surface.
During our short time in passing the sand dunes, I spotted a very strange creature that could best be described as a mixed breed of scorpion and giant crab. Even the witchers became nervous – I could sense it on them. I also believe that it’s the reason we left the sight of dunes shortly after, as sand stretched the length of the horizon.
These witchers were very strange men indeed, but I also found them to be a fair people. Much more so than the ape men had been. They shared equal portions of food and water with us. Indeed, during times of rest, the witchers would build a large fire and have us sit with them. For many days, none of us had the courage to speak. We listened to them speak amongst themselves in our language, though they never spoke of us.
“What is to become of us?” I asked.
The bright orange light of flame licked our faces and I believe the rest of the slaves felt afraid for me. I had likely sealed my own doom by speaking.
Still, I needed to know.
“I think that much would be obvious by now.” one of them replied.
For the witchers, my question brought smiles, but I continued to look to them with a long, determined face.
“You’re to become one of us,” a witcher finally added. Sipping momentarily from a steel cup filled with campfire coffee. “Look around you. At one time we were all slaves, too. I doubt the apes fear us, but they respect us enough to barter. You will be trained in the arts of war and survival. Once that happens, you will help our people do what we can to free more slaves and grow our race.”
“Why?” I asked. Both shocked and relieved.
“Because we don’t have the means to free them all at once,” the strange man replied. “If we had our way, we’d overrun the ape men and free everyone. But in doing so, we’d spark a war that we could not win. Not yet, anyway. But our numbers grow.”
“We left friends back there,” I said. Having grown a bit more courage. “I didn’t want to choose, but I honestly didn’t know what the Gorgum intended to do to her,” I glance to Tara. “I can only imagine what our other friends must think of me.”
“Making hard choices is the mark of a leader,” the witcher said. “We’ve all had to make them. Many of us had to leave family members behind in hopes of one day returning to free them.”
“I heard them call you witchers-”
“Yea,” he grinned. “And you think we’re witches?”
I looked at them with blank eyes. One of the witchers, the largest by far, began bellowing out with heavy laughter. His head was as slick-shaven as a well used penny and his skin tone was nearly the same.
“It’s because we fight like there’s magic involved, kid.”
I nodded. That much made sense.
“The Gorgum think we’re magic and we let them believe it. We even play the part with this armor,” the thin one said. Holding his winged helmet up for a moment. “It helps us negotiate better deals and free more slaves. We have names, too; but they are irrelevant among friends. We simply call one another brothers.”
I was appreciative of everything they had done for us, and I believe my face showed it. Still, I tipped my head for a moment with gratitude.
“You all need to get some rest. At the end of our next hike, we’ll arrive at the city of Toma. You will find plenty of our kind there, but not all of them will be as hospitable as we have been. You are to stay close and say little.”
“Understood.” I said.
“And rub some damn dirt on your faces,” the larger witcher said. Much to the enjoyment of the group, which began laughing. “You’re too clean. The men of Toma will try to take you all as their lovers.”
That was a thought that didn’t sit well with me. To each his own, but I had no plans of being another man’s lover. Not now – not ever. I lay onto my side and did what I could to swatch dirt into my hand and brush it across my face. Doing everything in my power to look anything but presentable.
Quickly, the mouth of a hand ax bit into the ground beside me. Scaring the hell out of me in the process.
“I’ve nothing better to offer you,” the thin witcher said. “But should a fight ensue, we’ll need every able body we have. The code of a witcher is to fight. No matter the odds. Is that understood?”
“It is.” I replied.
I could hear several more weapons digging into the soil, one for each of the freed slaves. As I glanced to Tara, who also lay resting, I could see the fear in her eyes beneath the bastard blue glow above, that kept most sleepy men awake.
I worried for her. She was as beautiful as a woman could possibly be, yet Tara was no warrior. I would need to fight hard enough for the both of us.
And I planned to.
Toma was nothing like I had expected.
I had imagined a very small community or, at best, a thriving village. Instead what it became before my very eyes was a spectacle to behold. A towering castle, at least thirty stories high, surrounded by a small city – a city!
Toma had been crafted with crude materials, rather than seamless steel and fancy glass, as it would have been on the surface; not that I cared. My eyes nearly started watering as we approached the city, which was marked with several plumes of smoke. I could smell the keen satisfaction of fine meat being grilled and I could hear the chatter of human voices. In fact, much to my approval, a majority of the faces I saw inside of Toma were human. There were, on occasion, other beings that were completely foreign to me, but I dared not ask about it. I was just happy to be alive.
I also thought of my friend Hunter, who’d been killed soon after arriving. What would he think right now, at this very moment? A castle towered above me as finely crafted as any historic church back on the surface. It was very pale black in color and the tips of its towers looked like the heads of spears.
The city of Toma was bustling. We were freed slaves and certainly new faces among the crowd, yet no one seemed to notice us. No one seemed to care. Everyone had their own affairs to tend to. For some, that means bartering for things to eat or garments to wear. Weapons dealers had tables filled with swords, pikes, knives of all varieties and even a few bows; hailing anyone they could with carny-type pitches.
I saw no other witchers.
It was at that points that I realized the witchers were a very small group. A mere fish among the sea of civilization known as Toma.
“Is Toma the largest city?” I asked.
The thinner of the group’s leaders turned to me.
“Toma is the largest of our area, yes,” he replied. “But much smaller than Destin or Calamar. I’ve also heard stories of cities across the water, but my own eyes have not seen them. I suspect they are real enough. Weapons from these far away lands make their way to Toma from time to time.”
For me, this was incredible news. I was not alone in being human and our small group was not alone. Humanity was flourishing, even in a world of very strange creatures. Every human face improved my chances of living and I needed to live in order to find my way back to the surface. There had to be a way.
I had come to the conclusion that these so called feared were part of the Nazi regime, at least to some capacity. Though the citizens of the savage land were none the wiser. In my mind, it made sense. I also knew that if my grandfather had seen them, which he most certainly had, in order to track them back to the mysterious tree which had led me there, then the feared had a way of getting back and forth. But how?
If these feared had a way of returning to the surface, it wasn’t to be found inside of the elevator. We’d only seen one button – down. I could only conclude that the tree had been designed as an entry-only station and there were likely many of them spread across the land, but damned if I knew where.
I dared not ask the witchers about the feared. While I trusted them to keep us alive, I preferred to keep it that way. Bringing up the feared may have sparked suspicion upon me and, God forbid, they may have thought me to be one of the feared.
I had no real plan. I would train enough to stay alive and learn about this savage land in the process. When I was deemed ready, I would then return to free my friends and set off in search of the feared and ultimately, the surface. This would take me a lot longer than simply running away in search of my way to the surface, but doing the latter would be a fool’s errand. It would be suicide, in a world of many dangers. At least I had a chance of survival by taking it slow and awaiting the perfect opportunity.
I would speak of the surface to no one. How could I? They would deem me insane and either make a fool out of me or kill me outright! The surface, the place I had lived my entire life, would remain a secret for now. Locked inside of my own head.
“Why did you choose me?” Tara asked.
She’d said very little since the witchers had taken us and had said nothing to me. Her words took me by surprise.
“Why me over your friend?”
“I didn’t know how the Gorgum would treat you,” I said. “I thought it would be better to have your near.”
“Further away from my protector?” she questioned.
“I can fill that role now.”
“You?” she asked. With both surprise and shame. “You can’t protect yourself. Even now you carry your ax too far up the handle.”
I said nothing. Easing my hand down on the handle a bit.
“I do not mean to offend you-”
“I care for you, that’s why.” I replied.
It’s the only defense I had. Obviously I was no fighter. Even a captured princess had seen that I held my weapon incorrectly.
“I see.” she replied.
There was no thoughtful response to follow, which frightened me. Had I said something to offend her in some way?
“You see?” I asked. “You’ve nothing else to say?”
“In the custom of my people, a woman will have a protector one of two ways. First, her father can deem someone a protector, which was the case with Lenzu. He was one of the finest soldiers my father had-”
“And the other way?”
“If you aim to protect a woman and her father has not chosen it, you must prove yourself worthy.”
“How?” I asked.
“Normally, you would face a soldier of my father’s choosing. But we are slaves. Return me to my father and I should think that would be test enough.”
“Then I will return you to your father.”
For the first time, Tara smiled wide.
“Then you need to learn how to hold your ax,” reaching over, she helped me with my grip. “Lower your hand near the bottom, but not completely. It will give you a better swing, which in turn brings more bite.”
I felt like a fool. A fool in love.
“I’m more of a sword man.” I lied.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I would come to know the witchers much better; though only the two who spoke directly to us. The rest seemed uninterested in us as freed slaves or people – preoccupied with themselves. Everyone had struggles.
The biggest of the witchers, known as Stubbs, had proven himself to be the best fighter of the group. There wasn’t a man he wouldn’t go sword-to-sword with, and in some cases, multiple men at once. He was as ferocious as a lion during the fight, but for everything he possessed, Stubbs lacked the temperament.
The thinner witcher, known as Clary, was also an incredible warrior. But he and Stubbs differed greatly in their approach. Stubbs’ frame was packed out with muscle, as it should have been. The copper skinned brute ate like a team of starved horses. He generally charged in and clobbered his opponents with a sense of strength that could not be matched. Clary, who became the leader of the small group, though it was never officially spoken as such, was equally as good in a fight. He was a thinker first. Clary would measure his opponent and then counterstrike accordingly.
Toma was filled with fresh faces, many of which I believed to be either wanted men or fugitives in some fashion. You could always tell a wanted man by his actions in public. They tended to keep one hand on their weapon and fully expected the other shoe to fall at any time. A wanted man searched the faces of those around him, and most people I had encountered in the city of Toma had done just that.
The mighty castle had been proven off-limits, even to the witchers. While I did see a few men come and go from its gates, they were clad in official armor and cared nothing for the lot of us, as long as we moved from their path.
I had taken to this city and the man I once was…he was slowly being lost along the way. I couldn’t even remember the food I once enjoyed. Sure, I remembered the name lasagna, but my memory could no longer remember what it tasted like. The rules of football, a sport that I had once been captivated by, now escaped me entirely. I couldn’t have explained it to another person if my life depended on it.
Moreover, I no longer cared.
I had accepted my place among the witchers in this savage land of medieval living. Up until a moment that would forever change my standing among these people. We were to be given the official armor of the witchers and in accepting it, we were to unclothe completely as they looked on.
It was a fact that did not sit too well with me. I could not bear the idea of Tara standing nude in front of them and suspected that Stubbs had waited a very long time to see her without clothes. She wasn’t mine in a traditional sense of speaking, but I had to do something. Protecting her had become my responsibility.
“Tara will change in private.” I said.
It was bold, considering these people had rescued us from a life of slavery and been nothing but kind to us.
“She’ll do what’s asked of her,” Stubbs began laughing in mocking fashion. “And I, for one, will thoroughly enjoy it.”
“She’ll do no such thing.” I concluded.
More importantly, I sunk a good deal of my blade into the soil near my feet. I had seen the witchers do this on occasion. It was their way of showing utmost seriousness. And, as foolish as it may have been…I was serious.
“You’ll want to pick that sword of yours up. Now.” Stubbs warned.
What was I to do? The entire group of witchers now stood close and watched on. Tara had seen me defend her honor, and she’d smiled during the whole event. Likewise, Stubbs could have killed me without breaking a sweat. He knew it. I knew it. Hell, a half-blind bird flying a thousand feet in the air would have known it. But if I backed down now, the witchers would never accept me as a warrior.
“I mean no disrespect,” I said. Standing my ground. “But I speak for Tara. As a warrior and perhaps one day as a lover.”
“I could snap you like a half-grown string of beans.” he boasted.
“I know.” I replied. Refusing to back down.
“Back off, Stubbs.” Clary said.
It was at that very moment that I knew for certain that he was the group’s leader. It was in his voice.
“He pulled his weapon on-”
“He is new to our ways. You know this.”
“You know our code.” Stubbs blasted.
“Yes, but he does not. He defends the girl in the same fashion that I’m prepared to defend him.” he threatened.
Stubbs was filled with fury, I could see it. But even he was smart enough to know that Clary had at least a decent chance of winning.
“We are going to let it go this time. And we’re going to turn our backs to the girl while she dresses herself in armor. Is that clear?”
Stubbs’ expression did not falter.
“The next time he pulls his weapon, I will follow our code. And I’ll fight through anyone who stands in my way, including you.”
“Fair enough.” Clary said.
Slowly, each of the men began to turn their backs to Tara in order to give her a smidgen of privacy. I turned as well, though I did so slowly. I honestly believe she wanted me to watch her and I was torn between my lust for her and the chivalry inside of my heart. Just as she removed her clothes, I joined the other witchers in facing away.
“Where I come from, boy,” Stubbs said. “We enjoy the sight of those we speak for in the nude.”
I listened, but didn’t respond. It wasn’t my place. Already, I had done something incredibly stupid and nearly paid the ultimate price for it. Plus, I could see Clary glancing into my direction. I wanted to remain on his good side.
I realized that earning my freedom from shackles had been pure luck.
I would not be as lucky when it came to earning the witchers’ respect.
But today had been my first step toward achieving that. I had stood up to the largest warrior they had and lived to tell the story.
“A sword is the most perfect weapon you could ask for.” Clary said.
“An ax is capable, yet heavy,” he said. “Bows require more than one piece. Spears can miss. Hammers, and other blunt weapons can leave an opponent wounded, yet alive. But a sword is steel crafted to perfection. The right sword is light enough to swing, while heavy enough to cut an enemy down. It is but a single piece that should become one with your mind. Your sword should work as an extra limb of your body.”
For several days, he had worked with me on my skills with a sword. Skills that were seriously lacking in me. Wearing the armor of a witcher would bring the respect of many whom we crossed paths with, but there would always be the exceptions to that rule. Men who prided themselves with being killers. Gorgum or the lizard men of Banshi, who Clary reminded me were not so far away. Even the predatory animals of the savage land who knew not of respect, only blood.
He swung quickly. I found myself barely able to hoist my own sword up in time, blocking his attack as two the two trunks of steel clanged.
“Good.” Clary said.
I could feel the numbness of impact throughout my arms. Still, we parried back and forth before Clary finally nodded his approval – placing his sword back into its sheath.
“You’ve done well,” he began. “You’ve learned enough about the weapon to keep yourself alive. That’s all I can ask.”
“Why are you helping me?” I asked.
I had to know. Clary had befriended me in a way that was unusual among the witchers. He’d went above and beyond for me.
“Walk with me,” he replied. And we did. Walking away from our small group and into the busy streets of Toma, Clary’s words were genuine. “You remind me of myself, once upon a time. I’m from a very small town and I had no one to show me the way of survival. Most of those around me either felt shame for me or felt nothing at all. But the one who used to lead the witcher…he taught me. I figured I would return the favor by helping you. It took the courage of a leader to leave your friend behind in order to save the woman. For that alone, I must prepare you for the role of leader – just in case.”
“What do you know about the feared?”
Clary looked at me with suspicion.
“I consider you a good friend,” I admitted. “But there are many things I do not understand. The feared are among them.”
“The feared are not something that most of us wish to talk about,” he replied. “They are demigods…or magic…I’m not sure how to explain them. But they are evil. Few have escaped their grasp and those who have are never quite the same.”
“I am going to tell you something and I need you to believe me, rather than think I’ve gone mad.” I said. Clary had become the truest friend I had.
For a moment, I looked across the busy streets and it seemed dreamlike to me. People carried fresh bread and ancient weapons. The entire city was a place of trade. Some dealt in legal goods and others made deals in the shadows.
Clary looked on – waiting.
“The feared are not demigods,” I said. “They come from a world above this one. A place we call the surface. I know this because I come from there, too.”
His gaze onto me was not reassuring. Either he now feared me or completely doubted my story. Perhaps both.
“I am not one of the feared,” I began. “But I was seeking them out on the surface in order to prove their existence. The armies of the surface would have ended them. Not only did I find the feared, but I, along with two of my friends, found our way here. I wish to return, but the only way to get home is to find the feared. I believe they have a way back to the surface, for me…a way home.””
“I am not sure what to say.” Clary replied.
I could hear supreme doubt in his voice.
“I know what this story must sound like…but it’s true.”
“Most of us know where the feared live, but we wouldn’t dare journey there. To attempt such a journey would be foolish. Tomorrow we will speak more. I can put you in the right direction, but I will not accompany you.”
“Thank you.” I replied.
“This place…this surface-”
“In many ways it’s just like the world around us know,” I began. “There are cities and there are many people, all of them different. Some of them can be trusted and others can not. We also know of war and hunger; things that a civilized world should have cured long ago.”
“We study on the belief that there is a world in our sky. A place where people live together in unison. A world without suffering.” Clary admitted.
“There is a world above yours,” I reached into my pocket and pulled a quarter out. It was as shiny as I’d ever seen, with the face of George Washington on its front. “This is all I have to remind me of that world above. I want you to have it.”
“Yea,” I said. “In my world, this can buy a great many things.” I lied.
Clary clinched the quarter as though it were a hundred bricks of gold. I had fully expected my next quarter to be spent on overpriced coffee somewhere back in North Carolina – not given to a primitive warrior who’d trained me to be the same.
But they say that every quarter has a story.
As we returned to the small campsite the witchers had called their own, I felt a tremendous bond with Clary. Each group or traveler inside Toma had their place. Those with a great deal of money stayed in the lavish hotels in and around the city’s center. Most of those who came to the city, ourselves included, camped in large spots designated for camping. Ours included a thick wooden table, a fire pit and several tents, which we’d brought along ourselves.
Instantly, rage stuck through me.
We returned to see several of the witchers groping Tara against her will. They’d apparently wasted very little time after Clary and I had left, and her body was now at the mercy of horny men and their wondering hands. Most importantly, Stubbs was involved. He grinned ear to ear, holding her in place.
I sprinted with panic and without thinking, pushed Stubbs, causing him to stumble awkwardly and ultimately fall. I then drew my sword on the rest and they held out hands of apology. I didn’t care. Seeing Tara crying was enough cause for me to slay the lot of them, or die trying.
“Jack!” Clary shouted with warning.
I held my sword at the ready, but eased up just a bit. Realizing exactly what I’d done out of pure emotion. By now, Stubbs was back to his feet and preparing his ax for battle. A few lessons with the sword wouldn’t be enough to save my life. I doubted that Clary himself could have bested the brute of a warrior.
“Tara is spoken for!” I shouted. Hoping to reason with them.
Stubbs was having none of it. He was preparing himself to die, if needed be, though I could tell by looking at him that he believed he’d live long after this fight. It would be me who did the dying.
“Stubbs!” Clary said loudly.
“Don’t,” the big man cautioned. Pointing his finger at Clary while never taking his eyes off of me. “You know our code.”
“But he doesn’t.”
“Well I plan to educate him the hard way.”
“Stubbs, I’m warning you.” Clary said. Drawing his own weapon.
“Fine,” Stubbs growled. “I’ll fight the lot of you if that’s what it takes. But the rules are simple. When a woman travels with witchers, she either kills in our defense or she gives herself to the strongest warrior. She earns her keep. Now if the newcomer wants to test me as to who the strongest warrior is, I’m happy to oblige. That goes for any of you!” he shouted. “But rules are rules.”
Clary looked to me with defeat.
“You can’t be serious?” I asked.
“Stubbs is right. Our way is that any woman who travels under our protection, warms the bed of the strongest warrior. When two warriors disagree, they fight to the death. It’s customary among our people.”
“Goddammit!” I shouted.
“Now…boy…either you concede or I’ll cut you down like a withering stalk of corn. Your choice, but choose quickly. My crotch throbs.”
“I held up my sword and prepared for the fight.
“I’ll go with Stubbs.” Tara said.
“No-” I began.
“I’ll not watch you die for me.” she replied.
I intended to go after her and stop Stubbs by the trunk of my sword. Instead, Clary grabbed hold of me and did what he could to save my life. Tears flowed from my eyes, but deep inside I knew the truth.
Stubbs was stronger than any of us.
For what felt like at least two hours solid, I sat by our campfire and listened to Tara scream. Stubbs tore into her like a wild animal.
There was no blocking it out – I tried. With their tent only ten or so feet away, I could hear every heavy breath. Every slapping of ass could be heard by dozens of campsites nearby. Finally, as it came to a halt, Stubbs was the first to exit the tent.
He wore nothing but sackcloth across his groin and it was the first time I’d seen his chest. Nearly a hundred scars from past wounds littered across his torso and back. He grinned from ear to ear, finding a bottle of strong wine. Stubbs wasted no time turning it upside down. And I hoped he choked on the concoction of strawberries and hooch.
Tara had taken a bit more time, emerging from the tent fully-clothed. Rather than following Stubbs to his desired spot of drinking, she sat beside me and remained quiet. So did I. What more was there to say?
That night, most of the witchers slept like rocks. Especially Stubbs, who’d snored from the time he first fell in a drunken, sex-crazed stupor. Both Tara and I had been awake much longer, and we both remained quiet. I had finally nodded off a few hours after first laying down on my sleeping roll.
My eyes opened with sudden fear as a sword plunged into the soil, narrowly missing my face in the process.
“You need to go,” Clary said. “Both of you.”
“What-” I began. Returning his whisper with one of my own.
“Stubbs means to kill you.”
“But I let him-”
“I know you did,” he replied to Tara. “And that saved Jack’s life today. But tomorrow will come soon enough. Stubbs intends to give you the same thrashing down below five or six times a day and the first time Jack speaks up – he’ll kill him. The others have confirmed it for me. Stubbs boasted about his plans.”
“I could fight him.” I said.
“And you would die,” Clary replied. “At which point Tara would be a virtual sex slave until someone finally bested Stubbs. And that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. It’s better if you both go now.”
“Where?” she asked.
“Jack…do you remember what we discussed earlier?”
“Yea.” I replied.
“Off into the distance,” he began. “Follow the three largest mountains. There are many things out there, Jack. Things far worse than Stubbs’ addiction to women. You may not survive the journey, but at least you’ll have a chance.”
“I have to try.” I replied.
“I know you do,” Clary said. “I’ll make sure Stubbs doesn’t follow you. He may try, but that’s not part of our code. I can keep him at bay.”
“I’ve put together a small pack of supplies. It’s not much.”
Tara reached over and hugged Clary for his kindness.
“You should get going.”
I nodded my appreciation to the man who’d proven himself to be a true friend. The three mountains he’d spoken of were very far off, but visible. They would serve as our compass going forward.
I wasn’t sure what to say to Tara.
I only tried to be kind and quiet. She’d need time to get past what had happened. So would I. Everything I felt for her remained – and then some.
We had traveled until Toma was completely out of sight. And then, if I were to estimate, we traveled at least three more days.
The hike had been complete hell on my feet and I imagined that it had affected Tara in much the same way. She was too proud to admit it, of course. If anything, I had learned that this rightful princess of a throne somewhere here in the savage land was stubborn.
Tara would have marched until her own death, had I not intervened. She was tough in that respect. For every sliver of beauty, and she had many; Tara was also as tough as they came. She had spoken very little at all since we escaped with our lives, and she’d certainly not spoken of her time with Stubbs.
I dared not bring it up.
“We should rest.” I finally submitted.
Tara offered no resistance. We’d marched solid grasslands for the duration and there were few hills to overcome – thank God for that. But we’d hiked at a very quick pace, whereas Clary had promised to hold Stubbs at bay.
In his opinion, Stubbs was sex-crazed and always had been. But he’d quickly lose interest in Tara and move on to some other poor wench who was none the wiser. Someone who sought his protection and would consider exchanging duties in her bed for it. And, should Clary be wrong about Stubbs’ ambitions, we would have traveled far enough to lose his lust forever. While the big man was one hell of a warrior, he was certainly no tracker. That job fell to Clary and he’d assured us that he would help us escape.
At the end of the day, he and Stubbs were close friends. But, whereas Stubbs lacked a conscience and concerned himself only with the next meal, a swig of man drink and a soft-skinned woman in his bed, Clary understood right and wrong. He wished to remain friends with Stubbs while doing the right thing.
Hence our getaway.
“It would be wise if we avoided using a fire for the next few days…just in case. The smoke will draw attention.” I suggested.
She replied with a nod.
“Are you OK?”
Perhaps it was over the line, but I didn’t care. My heart had ached for Tara since she’d been forced into explicit acts in an effort to save my skin.
Glancing to me for a moment, she offered nothing.
“I just want to make sure you’re-”
“Can we just not speak of it again?” Tara asked.
It was a fair request. I didn’t know the first damn thing about being in her position, nor would I insult her by trying to pretend I did. Instead, I graciously nodded.
“You look beautiful.” I said. Placing a hand to her chin.
And it was a mistake on my part. Quickly, she turned away and said nothing. Rather than press the issue, I did what I could to begin collecting the things we’d need in order to survive the next day or two.
I found it hard to sleep, choosing instead to watch over Tara as she slept soundly. Every ounce of her beauty rested upon a large pile of leaves that I had gathered, with a bedroll atop them.
For me, the thought of seeing Hunter laying dead would not leave my mind. Even as I pressed my eyelids shut and cursed at the memory of it, I couldn’t escape his look of pain and betrayal – all because of me.
Macho had suffered the same fate. Or at least a similar fate, as I had no idea of his health or whereabouts. If Macho was lucky, he was still enslaved by ape men…ape men! And if his luck had turned, I had no doubts about the fact that he, too, was dead.
All because of me.
All because of my burning desire to know the truth.
But why? That was the one thing that haunted me above all else. What could I have possibly done to right the side of history had I found out Adolf Hitler had indeed escaped? The answer is nothing. I could have done nothing.
I had discovered this painfully savage place by mistake. I was lost here, with very little hope of ever returning home. I lay at a small campsite with one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen, yet she had no idea about the man I truly was.
Tara knew nothing about the surface. She’d never celebrated Christmas or watched football. She’d never experienced the serenity of a quiet coffee shop or surfed on the internet. For these people, religion was a belief that there was a world above them. And there was! I know, because I was born and raised there. But the people on the surface had no idea about this savage land below their feet.
How long had this place been intact? Decades? Millennia? Who had constructed it? These were the things that I longed to know. Looking up there were hundreds, if not thousands of feet to the sky of this underworld, this magical blue rock reflected its calming glow. Just as it always did. Who had designed this! Tara couldn’t answer any of these things. She’d only known of this strange world and to her, it wasn’t strange in the least.
I could speak of oceans and sky, yet she would know of her oceans and her sky. How could I possibly explain my world to her? This is the struggle than consumed my thoughts…right up until I fell asleep.
As I awoke the following morning, a strange feeling draped across me – as did puffy flakes of snow that shouldn’t have been there.
Sitting up quickly, I began wondering how snow was possible this far beneath the surface. Surely there had to be an explanation. I could feel the chill in the air; the temperature had certainly changed. At last, I figured that somehow, during the hot stretch of the day before, the water of this strange land had evaporated and then brushed against the blue rocks of the dome above us that was so high up. If the stones were cold enough, in theory, they could have turned the moisture into snow.
And it was snowing heavily.
Tara had dug around inside of our only bag and found two buckskin throws. They were crude, but had been very well stitched and we were glad to have them. I checked them over to assure that Tara had the warmest and then placed the other across my own shivering body. We had slept through the night near both water and thick fields of green grass. Now, we could see neither. Snow whipped thorough our campsite as though we were trapped in some large snow globe of destiny.
Visit: http://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/693149 to purchase this book to continue reading. Show the author you appreciate their work!
There's an adventure for everyone in this 8 book collection. Journey to the underworld in Odyssey or under the sea in Atlantis. Reign of the Dead and Dead: Week One of the Living both deliver gruesome zombie action, while Ghost Planet and One Last Hero will take you on a journey through space and time. Then prepare to defend our race against unique beings in both Man Against Machine and The Colony. This collection can't be missed.