There's a Light in the Darkness
Chained in the dank and noisome dungeon, the iron shackles biting into his wrists, Jonnoe reflected again on how he came to be in these dire straits. He supposed it went back to that day, nearly four months ago, when his mother had married his stepfather. Not being one to speak delicately, she had told him that not many men wanted anything to do with a single mother, so they were both very fortunate.
If his opinion had mattered, he would have begged to differ. Recently his stepfather had lost his factory job and was in a permanently foul mood. Given some of the welts Jonnoe had received from his stepfather in a good mood he could not afford to stay where he was any longer. He had been able to find nothing more than the occasional odd job in the town and at his age, as they told him, he should not still be a burden on them.
He had made his way eastward to the mountains of Mortenzia, hitching a ride on a vegetable wagon, with the vague idea that moving himself far enough away would give him a fresh start. He had stopped that evening in an inn of the average kind - one that served drinkable ale and had a communal dormitory, with beds, that was swept occasionally. The mood in the taproom was sombre. There were mutterings of mysterious disappearances and anathemas against the corrupt rulers of Mortenzia's capital city, Greyguilds, for not doing anything about it. Jonnoe had heard that Greyguilds was essentially run by gangsters, under one Boss Dhaely. It did not surprise him that such a ruling class would not help their citizens. A seedy looking old man with a bushy grey beard sat on the wooden bench opposite Jonnoe. He was chewing tobacco which he now spat out onto the table. "What are you about, boy?" he asked, his wheezy voice heavy with the Mortenzian accent, that sounded as though his mouth were stuffed full of dry bread.
"I had to leave home," said Jonnoe stiffly. "That is, well - my stepfather..."
"Ah," said the old man. "Well don't worry; my heart is soft as pig muck. Perhaps I can help." Jonnoe noticed that his uneven teeth were very brown and he reeked of stale liquor and chewing tobacco.
"I need work, I can be self-sufficient and not a burden," said Jonnoe eagerly.
"You hear that? Worth his weight in silver, this boy is," called the old man. "Here!" he called to the landlord. "I'm covering the boy's meal and board tonight."
"Yeah yeah, four bronze zees," said the landlord in a disinterested tone and the old man handed over four heavy bronze pieces.
"Listen boy, I can tell you where to find work," said the old man and proceeded to give Jonnoe specific directions of where to go at dawn the next day. So it was that night that Jonnoe had his first hot meal in days and bedded down on a straw filled mattress under a ragged blanket in the communal dormitory. The wooden floorboards were clear, as though they had been swept recently, which by Mortenzian standards was something at least. The men and women in the dormitory with him all ignored him, for which he was thankful.
After the generosity he had shown the previous evening, Jonnoe could not doubt the old man's word - which is why, after he had arisen at dawn the following day, he followed his directions without question...
After an hour of treading a little used mountain path he found himself in a mouldering old ruin of a house. He wondered if he could possibly have taken a wrong turning, but then as he stood amidst the dust and ruins, three unkempt, burly men surrounded him and overpowered him, tying him up and shoving him unceremoniously into the back of a clapped out old van. Jonnoe could only lie helplessly trussed up as the van sped down from the mountains and through a dense forest. Soon Jonnoe could see a fore-boding castle built of dark stone, set in a valley between two hills. The thugs gloated about how the boy would fetch a good price and Jonnoe felt a cold sense of dread - he was to be sold to slave traders or perhaps worse...
The van sped on until it reached the castle and screeched to a halt outside arched entrance doors. The thugs dragged Jonnoe out of the van as the castle doors slowly creaked open to reveal a courtyard with people milling about and staggering around in it. He was blindfolded and handed over to an unseen person who led him into the courtyard. He heard groaning voices all around and dogs brushed against his legs, sniffing at him. Someone bumped into him and gave a weird groan that made his skin crawl. A commanding voice drove the mob away and Jonnoe was taken indoors and marched along what must have been a stone corridor and then down a long flight of stairs, until the air grew cool and dank. He was shoved into a bare stone room and manacled to the wall, and finally, his ropes and blindfold were removed. A man stood over him, clad in a suit of armour with a pterodactyl shoulder plate, his eyes covered by a medium helm and his mouth contorted in a sneer. "Welcome ... welcome to the lair of the Dark Disciples," he said, his voice oddly strained. "I am Disciple Yirr. We are going to kill you!" he gave a hollow laugh and kicked Jonnoe in the ribs, and then left, slamming the door shut behind him. Jonnoe could only wait in the darkness, too terrified to move, for what must have been hours until he heard different sounds outside the door; light footfalls, not Yirr's heavy tread. There were whispers and the door creaked and slowly opened allowing a chink of light into the dark cell.
The heavy door swung open and silvery light flooded the dank, stone room. Silhouetted in the light were a small woman of slender build and a muscular young man. The woman was holding a pearl which glowed with a silver light, like the moon and the man held an anbaric torch. What a man he was...! There were statues of the gods that looked like him, only this god had a freckled face, coppery red hair and eyes of the truest emerald green. He could only stare at this vision and gawp in amazement. Despite his wretched position, painfully bound in this foul den of evil, he felt such a stirring in his breast and his loins as could not be mistaken... This man was more than statuesque. He was better than a statue's cold perfection, he was a sex god!
The woman was kneeling beside him; "are you alright?" she asked, a note of anxiety in her voice. She brought her face close to his and her blue eyes seemed to scan him. Jonnoe could see that she had a little cleft in the tip of her nose.
He blinked. "Disciple Yirr did this," he managed. "He is a Dark Disciple, whatever on Earth they might be. I'm Jonnoe, from the west."
"I'm Rebecca, a witch," said the woman. "This is my pal, Jay," she added, indicating the magnificen specimen of a man.
"You can heal this one I take it, Becky?" said the gorgeous man who stood silhouetted in the doorway as Becky fumbled with Jonnoe's manacles and prised them open.
"Yes, of course," said Becky. She began to rub an unguent of some kind into the wounds the manacles had left on Jonnoe's wrists. "The Dark Disciples are death worshippers," said Becky to Jonnoe. "They want to purge all life." Jonnoe grimaced. They sounded like the worst people in the world. Just his luck that he should have ended up in their lair. Becky continued, "they have allied with a dark witch who has shared with them the ancient black art of undeath. They have been building an army of zombies. Their intention is all too clear..."
Zombies! So there had been zombies barging into him in the courtyard... Jonnoe's heart began to pound.
The sex god addressed Jonnoe; "They must have marked you as a conscript for their undead army," he said. "Rely on us to get you out of your mess though, that's what we do now. Only good. Thanks to you Becky." He added, addressing the woman.
"Mm hmm, thank you Jay," said Becky with a slightly exasperated smile. She linked arms with Jonnoe. "Can you stand?" she asked. "I'm sorry, but we are all in grave danger here. We must move quickly. We could hardly be in graver danger wherever we go."
Jonnoe stood up at once, towering above Becky. She looked up at him and smiled. "Well you are a big, strong lad," she said as Jay rolled his green eyes.
"Let's get going," said Jay. "The zombies will find us soon. Can you take the heat, boy?" he added, a quizzical expression on his freckled face. Jonnoe's insides squirmed. He could not admit that he was already terrified.
Becky squeezed Jonnoe's hand. "Jay and I are more than a match for a group of zombies, Jon." she said, glancing up at him. Jonnoe could read anxiety in her blue eyes.
At that moment there was a shuffling sound from the corridor. "We're discovered!" cried Jay. Becky and Jay leapt into the corridor and Jonnoe threw himself to the floor of the cell and covered his ears, but he couldn't block out the sound of gunfire or the weird gurgling screams... Silence fell. He got to his feet and peered cautiously out of the cell. The corridor was littered with broken cadavers, some leaking steaming viscera onto the cold stone floor. Becky and Jay stood together, Jay holding a large and heavy gun that was still smoking and Becky, what appeared to be a string of bright pearls, giving off a dazzling light. "Nothing we couldn't handle this time, but suppose there are more of them? We have to get them while they're holed up in their stinking pens," said Jay, his coppery hair gleaming in the silvery light.
Becky turned as Jonnoe stepped gingerly into the corridor. "The Dark Disciples have been abducting innocents in order to transform them into zombies," she said, taking him by the hand. "The dark witch told them how to turn physically weakened people into zombies and if they are allowed to unleash an undead army on the world... well-"
"The point is, we've got to kill them all, every last one," said Jay. "And there can be no delay and no slip ups." Jonnoe nodded, his throat tight. He was grateful that Becky linked hands with him as they picked their way tentatively past the zombie cadavers. They passed a number of large and empty cells with their iron gates hanging wide open. "Something's wrong," said Jay. "It looks like they've been released. They're all on the loose now."
"Well then, we've got to find my apprentices, they're both upstairs," said Becky a note of urgency in her voice. Jonnoe noticed her turn quite pale. His stomach clenched. Could she not deal with a whole horde of zombies at once? He knew little enough of witches. They climbed a steep stone staircase and then emerged in a hall with a bare stone floor. Sunlight streamed through the high windows. After hours in the dark, Jonnoe blinked and took a few moments to adjust. He gave a little start as he caught sight of a life size portrait on the wall. It depicted a man in steel armour, with long black hair, his lips drawn back in a fiendish grin and his black eyes bulging from their sockets, as though staring at them fixatedly. The plaque beneath it read :"Gangrich Carcescu."
"The leader of the Dark Disciples," whispered Becky. "That madman hates everyone so much that he intends to purge all life."
They advanced to the foot of the wide stone staircase onto the first floor landing and with an icy sense of dread, Jonnoe heard a terrible uproar yet again... A pair of girls in matching sky blue outfits sped towards them, their long blond hair streaming out behind them. Jonnoe noticed they had little wheels on their boots. They were pursued by a crowd of people dressed only in rags, with dessicated, peeling skin, some missing eyes, teeth and even limbs and all of them uttering those terrible groans. "Franzi! Astrid! To me," cried Becky. "We'll make a stand together."