The Red Hand Part 15
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Part Fifteen Killing Grounds
I sat for a while in the tunnel. Nirzai’s body motionless. Her blood was on my hands and clothes. To be sure after stabbing her in the head, I severed it which took some doing. It sat there on the floor staring at me. I half expected it to start talking to me, but I guess her immortality didn’t extend to getting stabbed in the brain and having your head cut off. I’m not sure how long I sat there when I heard a voice.
“Serena? Are you there?”
It was Tenth on the other side of the spider’s corpse.
I felt a lump in my throat. “Yeah, I’m here.”
“Is Nirzai dead?”
I stand. “Fairly certain she is. I cut off her head. Are you okay? She sent her children after you.”
“Vanquished. Though a few fled. But I think they know better than to come back.”
“Did you find your brother?”
“Yes, I found him and Ninth. They are alive. Can you get out?”
I look at Nirzai’s body firmly wedged in the tunnel. There wasn’t much space, maybe I could crawl underneath.
“I think I can crawl under her.”
I lie flat on my belly. I could go under on my back, but looking up at that giant spider as I crawl? No thank you. There’s a rotten smell coming from Nirzai’s body. A smell that makes me think she was rotting away long before I killed her. I stop half way underneath her.
What was that?
Coming from above me.
It sounds like…
“I think I hear something.” I say.
“What do you hear?”
“Her heart. It’s still beating.”
Visions of her headless vengeful body rising up, impaling me with one of her hairy spider legs play in my mind.
“Do you still have the gauntlet?”
“Yup, sure do.”
“You will not like this. You must cut out her heart.”
“Your right, I don’t like it. Why the hell would I do that?”
“Nirzai is still living in some way. We do not how. She could heal.”
“I cut off her head. How do you heal that?”
“We must be sure Serena. Do you wish me to do it?”
I think about it. Yes I do want you to do it.
“I got this.” Trying to sound confident. More to convince me then her.
I steady myself, bringing my gloved hand up. I really do want to rush out of here, hand Tenth the damned gauntlet and let her have at it. But I’m here. I can do this shit. Finish what I started. I form a small blade from its back. I really don’t have much energy left to muster. Tentatively with my other hand I reach out, touching Nirzai’s body. I want to get this in one go. Its bad enough have a bug crawl on you. But this? Touching a giant one is a hundred times worse. Her underside is flat and squishy. The stink from her body burns my nose. I run my hand back and forth with no luck, until.
There! I felt it. Okay, time for Dr. Serena to do some surgery.
“How are you doing down there?” Tenth asks.
“Give me a damn minute would you?”
“I will give you a damn minute.”
I wait for it to beat again. Just to be sure. There! Okay. I’m ready now. I raise the blade and start to cut through her underbelly. Her viscous blue blood fluid spurts out. Splattering me on the face. I really want a hot bath right about now. I pull open the stomach, I’m guessing that’s what it is. A stomach or chest. There’s all manner of intestines. Some stay there, but lucky me most of it fell out, landing on my chest, arms and face. Finally I find it. Beating away. I sever the heart’s connections. Not doing that bad a job. I’m no doctor but considering the circumstances I’m impressed. Even cut free from the body, the heart continues beating.
Living heart in hand I crawl out from under Nirzai’s corpse. Tenth stands there waiting. She’s holding my sword, using it for light. I offer her the heart like a student handing their teacher an apple.
“I do not. Perhaps Maebh could have use for it.”
“You don’t happen to know where the nearest hot spring is?”
After freeing the others from the webs we sit. I wash my face and hands with a rag and a little water. It doesn’t get everything but it makes me feel a little better. Ninth has brought along something I’ve never seen before. A small grouping of crystals put together in a metal cylinder to use as lighting. Almost like a lantern you’d use for camping. Maebh, Seventh and Ninth appear to have recovered from getting webbed up. Maebh tells me they were bit by one of Nirzai’s young. Which stunned them. Giving her time to cocoon them. The old woman also clarifies what she was trying to tell be before. That Nirzai used the webs on us to create psychic links. That’s why I was hearing someone call for help and Tenth thought we were being left behind. I’m not the least bit surprised when Maebh did in fact want the spider’s still beating heart. I don’t even want to think about what she might use it for. As long as I don’t have to eat it or drink it, she’s welcome to keep it.
I also try not to think about what I did. Killing Nirzai. Seventh and Tenth both praised me for doing it. Had to be done. I did it. Maybe Nirzai has found some kind of peace. But I just feel dirty. Back home I couldn’t even kill a fly. Mom used to holler at me for trying to catch bugs that got in the house and release them outside instead of killing them. The others talk about what’s to come next. I just stare towards where I know Nirzai’s body lies. I wish we could bury her.
“Is there something we could do for her?” I blurt out. Interrupting whatever they were talking about.
“What?” Maebh’s says in my head.
The others just kind of look at me annoyed.
“Can we do something for Nirzai, her body? I don’t know I don’t want to just leave it there.”
“She does not deserve the respect you would give her Serena.” Tenth says.
Seventh surprises me. “No.” He says. “Serena slayed her in combat. If she wishes to honor her foe, then we shall.”
“Thank you.” I say, feeling a little self-conscious.
“We can’t bury her. But perhaps there is something else we can do.”
Seventh says we’ll burn her body. Something akin to those Viking bonfires I remember seeing on the History Channel. He sends a disgruntled Tenth to find some wood or anything we can use to start a fire. I give her the gauntlet back before she heads out. She looks at me like I kicked her puppy. The rest of us have the unenviable job of dragging Nirzai’s body out of the tunnel and into the middle of the chamber. Getting the body out was easier than I thought it would be. The hard part was dragging it. Maebh gets the honor of carrying the severed head. By the time we get it there and take a breather Tenth returns with a bundle of scraps cradled in her arms. Wood and cloth mostly. We lay it out under and around the body. If it’ll burn though, that’s another story. Maebh of course has something to help it. A little potion that’s very flammable. We make a torch and light it. Seventh lets me do the honors. I light up the bonfire and back off. Her potion goes up quick. I can feel the heat of the fire whoosh up. With Nirzai’s body burning it’s time to leave.
We head down the tunnel on the far side of Nirzai’s chamber. Tenth explored it a little looking for wood and she’s sure there’s an exit there we can use. Although she doesn’t think we’ll like it very much. I feel a slight rift growing between us and I don’t want it to widen. So I drop back a little as we walk and make small talk.
“You guys have wood here, but I never see any trees. Where does it come from?”
She doesn’t say anything, so I just keep walking in silence.
“Long ago the trees were plentiful.” Tenth says finally. “The land was not like it is now. The elders tell that our people had many great machines. We had thinking machines. Like that sphere. Machines to do our work. But there were great wars and great plagues. Everything was laid to ruin. Our people were different then as well. We looked not as we do now. The survivors of the wars had to adapt to live on. And then Isr came. She came out of the great wastelands, showed us a new way. Isr changed us in many ways. There are areas were trees still grow. Like the valley Maebh lived in. But they are rare. Much of that time is ruins now.”
“Is this why you guys don’t like Hallie?”
“Yes, the thinking machines were seen as one of the causes of the great wars.”
I could picture these wars she spoke of in my head. Leveling their cities and leaving everything like some Post Apocalypse movie. It was a lot to take in.
Now that I got her talking it was time. “I don’t want there to be any tension to be between us, okay? I know you’re a bit angry with me.”
“Yes. You are correct. I am. It is my problem not yours. Nirzai betrayed our people, betrayed Isr. To me she is contemptible. I do not expect you to understand. How you could honor her or feel anything for her is beyond my understanding.”
“I hated her too, for different reasons. Because she was a giant spider monster wanting to kill us, but in those last moments she sounded so sad, lost and tired. I killed her to release her, not because she was my enemy or a monster. But instead of feeling like I did something that needed to be done, I feel dirty. Empty. I can’t believe I killed her.”
“It was your first kill?”
“Yeah. We don’t run around killing people where I come from. Well some of us don’t anyway.”
“I cannot take away what troubles you, know I am your friend and I am proud of how you handled yourself. You saved us. You showed great courage and honor.”
“Thanks. I had a great teacher.”
“You are correct.”
I laugh. And I feel the rift fill in. This world I’ve I’m on, it’s been a trial. Every waking moment I feel on guard. It’s been the rare moment I can stop and laugh about something. If I do make it home I’ll miss the friends I’ve made. Tenth and Maebh know more about me as a person then any of my friends back home. Hell this place has shown me my limits and what I’m capable of. Going back to a 9 to 5 is going to be a cakewalk compared to fighting big ass spiders. Could it be I don’t want to go back? Seeing my mom? A warm bed? Decent food? How could I not want that again? I’d be nuts to stay here.
We come to the way out Tenth mentioned. It’s another large chamber. A shaft of light streams down from outside. It’s readily apparent why Tenth thought we wouldn’t like this exit. Hundreds of sand bleached skulls stare at us. The skulls aren’t the only thing here. Some are still attached to their skeletal bodies. How many bodies are here? Hundreds? Thousands? Just piled up. Left where they fell until they formed a hill of bodies.
“God what is this?” I lean against the wall of the tunnel.
“By Isr’s grace.” Ninth says. He makes a gesture and starts to pray.
Seventh goes forward. His foot hits ones of the skulls, causing it to crumble.
“This is where they threw the bodies of our leaders and their families. During the uprising. Left to rot.” Seventh says. His voice full of anger. He kicks another of the skulls and regret plays across his face. He kneels down and touches one of the skulls, making the same gesture Ninth did.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.” I say.
Seventh stands. “Yes let us leave here.”
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