The Lost City: The Isle

This sixteen-chapter novel is a work of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series and the Lost City D&D module. I do not profit from it. It’s a story set prior to the events of the television seasons, before the boys met Eleven. If I learn that the Duffer Brothers or Wizards of the Coast do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if either of them order a cease-and-desist, I will pull the story down.

                                           The Lost City — Chapter Nine:

                                      The Isle

 

The island rose like an awful promise. A cairn of old rock, no more than a hundred twenty feet in diameter; a mound of homage to some terrible deed. Remarkably small, and yet reputedly more fatal than any place in the city. The longboat kept its distance as the crew watched and waited. Demetrius stood in the prow, readying himself for his task.

Mike hung back in the stern, feeling ruin close in on him. The whole mission seemed foolish now that they were here. He hadn’t risked his life like this since crawling the lower pyramid tiers. That first day – the last in Hawkins, Indiana – was an eternity ago. He and his friends had been twelve. Now only one of them was. Mike looked down at that person standing next to him. William Byers was the only member of the quest who appeared moderately calm. If anything happened to him, Mike would kill Auriga before Lucas could.

The twelve of them had assembled at the lakeside only minutes ago. The Usamigarans were six: Auriga (leading), Demetrius (priest), Shanti, Kemse, Lija, and Will. The Gormish also six: Lucas (leading), Atsu (priest), Mike, Dracut, Coval, and Azariah. Five Magi and a priest; five Brothers and a priest. The boat required four rowers. Lucas had assigned Dracut, Coval, Azariah, and himself. Azariah had strenuously objected to Lucas rowing: he was a deity, and a god did not deign to such tasks when he had others at his command. Mike should row, he said. Lucas reminded Azariah of The Creed of Gorm, which commanded even kings to assume servile roles – and as indeed Gorm had done as the first king of Cynidicea. Azariah had flushed red with shame and bowed to Lucas, accepting his chastisement.

“When will he start tripping?” asked Will quietly.

Mike watched Demetrius. “We’ll soon find out.”

Will looked up at him. “You never said how you learned about this trick.”

“Nor will I,” said Mike curtly. “You never said why a kid your age has a death wish. Now shut up.”

“Sure Mike,” said Will. “Whatever you say.”

The question of Will’s inclusion had almost killed the mission in its crib. Mike and Lucas had gone to the Magi yesterday in order to strategize with Auriga and Demetrius. When they entered Auriga’s chamber and saw Will there, they exploded.

“What the hell is this?” Mike had shouted.

“This,” said Auriga, “is my best student. I invited him to this meeting, and he will joining our mission.”

“Like hell he will!” said Lucas.

Auriga’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Watch yourself, warrior. You’re a guest over here.”

“He’s a kid, Auriga,” said Lucas, not intimidated by Auriga in the least. “He’s not going, no matter how many walls he’s climbed.”

“You can talk to me like I’m here, Lucas,” said Will.

Auriga placed a hand on Will’s shoulder as he faced Lucas. “The decision of who represents the Magi rests with me. I don’t run your house and you don’t run mine.”

Lucas shot back: “No decision regarding this mission can be made unless both you and I agree! Kanadius made that clear. Will’s participation requires my assent. I don’t give it.”

Demetrius cleared his throat. “Can I offer an opinion?”

“No, you can’t!” said Lucas.

“Well, I’m going to anyway,” said the priest. “I would respectfully submit that excluding Will would be severely disrespectful to both him and the Magi community. Will has proven himself to be a talented mage, to the extent of earning his own personal bed chamber. Even you – Gorm’s Chosen – share a room with Mike. The Magi love Will and have given him a special title. If Will is mature enough to have accomplished all this, then he’s surely mature enough to be assigned whatever task any of his colleagues take on. Don’t shame him by belittling him.”

“Nice words, Demetrius,” said Lucas, “but twelve years old is just that.”

“Unfit for life-threatening missions,” agreed Mike.

“Shut up, you guys!” yelled Will. “I’m going whether you like it or not!”

Well, well, thought Mike. Will’s grown some teeth.

Lucas was shaking his head. “Don’t get me wrong, Will. I’m proud of how far you’ve come in the Magi. I really am. But I’m not agreeing to this.”

“I don’t care if you agree or not,” said Will. “You’re not stopping me.”

“Indeed,” said Auriga. “I’ll suspend the mission if you really want to push this, Lucas. Will has been appointed, and that’s the end of it.”

Lucas had furiously relented, not having much choice. He had bottled his rage for the duration of their two hour-long meeting, and when he and Mike returned to the Brothers’ part of the tier, he seethed. In the revolving passage Mike asked him if we was okay. Lucas had finally answered:

“I’ll be fine, Mike. You just watch over Will when we’re at the Isle. Ignore what Kanadius said about protecting me. I’ve got every Brother yapping to be my personal bodyguard. Especially Azariah. If anything happens to Will, I’m going to kill both you and Auriga. Oh, and Demetrius too.”

“Are you kidding?” said Mike. “I’m already on that. Your ass isn’t worth protecting anyway.”

“Can you believe that fucking snake?” said Lucas. “He all but admits we’re walking into a trap, and he wants to take his precious Spider Child along for the ride. What the hell’s so important about Will coming along?”

“Auriga is a slippery shit,” said Mike. “It’s not beyond him to risk the life of his favorite student just so he can show him off in a mission like this.” They got off the revolving passage and headed up to their room on the second tier.

“You’ve been slippery yourself lately,” said Lucas. “Don’t think I’m blind to it.”

“Excuse me?”

“All your disappearing acts this past week. And I don’t buy for a moment – anymore than Demetrius did, I’m sure – that you just ‘overheard’ that explosive news about mushroom combinations.”

“I’m telling you, Lucas, I was in the candle shop, and a customer was going on about it.” Which was the truth: Mike and Jilanka had been shopping in that store on the day they met, when she explained the details of the drug combo that she had used to rape him in the alley.

“Yeah,” said Lucas. “And where have you been all week? You’re hardly ever in our room anymore.”

“Lucas, I told you -”

“Are you doing drugs?” Lucas asked bluntly.

“No!” said Mike, flushing red.

“So then who knows if drug combinations are really safe or not,” said Lucas. “Or if they can be switched on and off. Sounds like an urban legend. Demetrius is crazy to put it to the test tomorrow.”

Now everyone in the boat watched Demetrius closely. The Usamigarans had hopeful and approving looks, the Gormish less so, believing drugs to be an abomination. Demetrius had eaten his mushrooms back on shore, as the drug effects took anywhere between ten to forty minutes to kick in. When this combo kicked in, it would produce some interesting results.

They were rare priestly mushrooms, seldom seen outside the Temple of Zargon, and almost never in the hands of anyone except a Zargonite priest. Raen, the high priest of Usamigaras, had obtained a few of them off the black market. It was time to put a couple of them to use. Last night Demetrius had told him what Mike said about shrooms being safe and convenient when used in combinations, and so Raen had given him two shrooms for the island mission: a grade-1 priestly and a grade-3 priestly.

A grade-1 priestly mushroom enabled the eater to speak with dead souls or with undead. There was plenty of both on the isle, and who knows what they might reveal to someone asking them questions. A grade-3 priestly mushroom gave one the astounding power to spirit walk – to leave his physical body and travel about invisibly; or to have, in other words, “out of body experiences”. This was a perfect way of scouting the isle without setting foot on it – to get a peek at what was waiting there while everyone stayed safe in the boat.

Mike saw that Demetrius was staring out over the water. Lucas and Auriga stood close by him and Lucas asked him something. Demetrius nodded slowly. Then he looked back at Mike and beckoned him to the prow.

Mike swore. What does he want? Just get on with it. He went to the front of the boat and Will followed him. Will was under strict orders to stay close to Mike.

“Is it working?” asked Will when they got to the prow.

“Shit, is it working,” said Demetrius. He looked a bit dazed.

“Well, get going then,” said Mike.

“I already have,” said Demetrius. “Or rather Dustin has.”

“Say what?” asked Lucas.

Spirit walk lets the spirit leave the body. This body, as you know, is being shared by two spirits. I’m sending Dustin’s along. He asked me to this morning and I said yes. He wants to participate in the mission.”

“Well good for Dustin,” said Lucas. “He’s earning his keep for a change.”

“That’s not fair,” said Will.

“Hopefully he won’t bungle the job,” said Auriga. “Does he know what he’s doing?”

“Dustin cast a spell that brought him and his friends to this world,” said Demetrius. “Don’t underestimate him. He knows to be thorough and search the whole island.”

“Can you speak with any dead?” asked Lucas.

“Funny you ask,” said Demetrius. “I need a dead body or an undead creature present to do that.”

“Why is it funny I ask?” asked Lucas.

“Because this,” said the priest.

Lucas’s eyes widened. “Whoa,” he said.

“What happened?” asked Auriga.

“Demetrius just spoke to me in my head,” said Lucas.

“He has telepathy?” asked Mike.

Demetrius shook his head. “Not with anyone. Just the dead and the undead.”

“What do you mean?” said Lucas. “I’m not – oh, please!”

The Gormish priest Atsu had been listening closely and joined the conversation at the prow. “Indeed, you are undead, Lucas. Just as your Brothers have told you all along. But you’re not evil. Gorm has chosen you, as a zoombie, for special purpose.”

“Well, praise be to fucking Gorm,” muttered Mike.

Atsu whirled on Mike. “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” said Mike, cursing himself for the impious slip.

“Blasphemy will not be tolerated!” boomed the priest. “Gorm will not be mocked!”

“Relax, Atsu,” said Lucas. “I’m sure Mike wishes to withdraw his vulgar remark and do whatever penance you prescribe.” He was glaring at Mike.

Fuck both of you. “Yes, of course. I meant no disrespect to our god.”

Atsu still looked affronted. “On your knees, Mike, and say the ‘Our Judge’ three times. And pray for the success of this mission as you atone for your impiety.”

Mike knelt and began praying. Not for himself but Lucas. He didn’t like the implications of the telepathic speech with Lucas. Or at least not from a mushroom that enabled communication with dead or undead. Mike had always thought the zoombie doctrine – and the Brothers’s phobia of resurrection – to be superstitious crap. And he knew Demetrius had thought it was silly too. He wondered what he thought about it now.

As he finished praying, Demetrius shouted to everyone on the boat: “He’s back!”

Everyone faced front and paid attention.

“Listen up!” said Demetrius to the entire crew. “I’m turning this body over to Dustin Henderson, so that he can report directly what he has seen on the island. You all know the story of Dustin and how I came to possess his body. But most of you have never heard him speak. He has a peculiar sense of humor, so you might be offended. Dustin, the show is yours.”

Dustin’s eyes blinked rapidly and then Dustin was in control. “Well, all-righty, everyone! It’s a privilege to be on this mission with you. And I’ll tell you that spirit-walking is one fucking hell of a trip. Jesus Christ. But I got to say this island’s reputation is either a hoax, or the undead inhabitants are invisible. I’ve passed over every square foot of the damn place – looked down into caves, everywhere – and I can’t spot a single creature. No skeletons, no zombies, no ghouls, nothing.”

“No tombs anywhere?” asked Auriga.

“Nada,” said Dustin. “The island is as barren as the desert surface.”

“What about Vark’s Ring?” asked Auriga.

They could see the ring of stone archways from where they were. They had stopped the boat about thirty feet from shore, and the archways were about forty feet inland. But no one could make out details or what was inside the ring.

“Well, this you’re going to like,” said Dustin. “Though maybe you shouldn’t. Inside those archways is a stone altar. Guess what’s on it?”

“The Eye and the Hand?” asked Auriga eagerly.

Dustin nodded.

“Are you serious?” said Lucas. “They’re just lying there out in the open?”

“No shit,” said Dustin. “I mean, this can’t be a more obvious trap. I think we should turn the boat around and go home.”

“Absolutely not,” said Auriga. “We came for Gaius’s artifacts and we’re leaving with them.”

“I agree,” said Lucas, “but Dustin’s right. No one has ever left this island, and two ultra-powerful artifacts are just sitting there begging to be taken. Ideas anyone?”

“Dustin, what do they look like?” asked Mike.

“Pretty fucking creepy,” said Dustin. “The Eye is all bloodshot and fleshy. I mean, it’s not a jewel or anything like that – it’s an actual human eye. The Hand looked withered and blackened, and also like real flesh.”

Mike once again wondered how these artifacts were wielded. Did their users wear them around the neck, like a talisman?

“As the legends say,” said Auriga. “They’re the real thing, all right.”

“Okay,” said Lucas. “So someone has gone through a lot of trouble to get us out here and take the Eye and Hand. They want us to have them. Maybe they are just lying there without any traps.”

“The traps are the Eye and Hand themselves,” said Atsu.

“And so I reiterate,” said Dustin. “We’re being played for fools and tools.”

“Perhaps so,” said Auriga. “But we’ve already weighed these risks, in hours of debate. The decision remains unaltered: we’re getting the Eye and Hand.”

“That we are,” said Lucas. “Enough talk. Team One, we’re going ashore. Team Two, hang back until we give the all clear.”

Lucas and Auriga had agreed to send in only half the mission at first. It would be foolish to sink all their eggs in one basket, given the isle’s reputation. If something ugly happened to Team One, then at least Team Two would be forewarned and forearmed.

The rowers brought the boat in more until they heard the scraping of rock and stopped. Then Team One debarked and started wading ashore: Lucas, Atsu, Dracut, Shanti, Kemse, and Lija. They were bravely taking the biggest risk.

Team Two stayed in the boat: Auriga, Demetrius (now Dustin), Mike, Coval, Azariah, and Will. Each team had a commander (Lucas or Auriga) as well as a priest (Atsu or Demetrius), and three representatives from each cult. Mike had known that it would be Lucas riding the first wave and not Auriga. The chief mage was a despicable save ass. There had been no question of allowing Will to put himself on the front line. Mike’s place was by his side. Mike wondered why Demetrius hadn’t reasserted himself in Dustin’s body.

The team reached the shore. Lucas turned around and waved at the boat, indicating they were okay so far. He began leading them up the slope of the isle.

Mike was all nerves. Everyone in the boat watched the isle closely.

“Lucas is brave,” said Will.

“He is Gorm come again,” said Azariah with pride. “He was the first to step on the isle and he will be the last to leave it.”

I wish he was Gorm, thought Mike. We could use a god on this cursed rock.

“Uh-oh,” said Dustin.

Everyone gasped.

Something was happening on the slope. The team members had stopped and were acting strangely. Their bodies shook and their heads jerked about. They dropped their weapons. One of them – it looked like Lija the mage – clutched the sides of her head, croaking something inaudible. Someone else, the warrior Dracut, began having an epileptic seizure. The priest Atsu fought himself in vain, falling to the ground. Then they all collapsed and began shrieking like animals.

All except Lucas. He was still himself and had his sword drawn. He shouted at his team members, desperately trying to reach them – when Atsu suddenly stood up and lunged at him like a rabid beast. Lucas barely leaped back in time. He must have been horrified but he didn’t hesitate: he ran the priest through with his sword, yanked the blade free, and then chopped Atsu’s head off.

Then the others were on him.

Chaos erupted on the boat as everyone urged a different course of action. Mike shouted at Lucas to come back. Coval advised rushing the shore to aid Lucas. Azariah was on his knees, crying praises to Lucas/Gorm, insisting this was proof that Lucas was the god – the only one who could stand safely on the isle. Will was screaming Shanti’s name, and begging Lucas not to kill his friend. Auriga said they should calm down and keep watching the shore; there was nothing to be done for their former friends; they were undead now and lost.

Dustin ignored them all – and leaped over the prow.

“Dustin!” yelled Mike. “Don’t!”

Dustin splashed thigh-deep into the water. He called back at everyone in the boat: “Stay there and wait! I have an idea!”

Mike couldn’t believe this. They were all going to die. Demetrius, where the fuck are you?

On the shore, Lucas dispatched two more of the savage undead. One of them was Shanti, and Will fell to his knees, sobbing hysterically. By the time Dustin arrived on the shore, Lucas had slain all five. He saw Dustin and started shouting furiously, waving him back. Dustin held up something in his hand. The necklace. Of course.

A stupid gamble, you idiot.

Dustin’s necklace warded against undead attacks and kept undead creatures fifteen feet away – the five who were now slain would not have been able to assault Dustin as they did Lucas – but there’s no way Dustin (or Demetrius) could have known that the necklace would protect anyone from turning into an undead after stepping on the island. It certainly hadn’t protected them from the terror gaze of a ghost who aged them into adults. Dustin was lucky.

Mike watched as Dustin and Lucas conferred on the shore. Will’s wailing and Azariah’s pious chants were driving him insane. He grabbed Will and pulled him up. He didn’t want to do this but he had to.

“On your feet, Will,” he said bluntly. “And get your shit together. You don’t get to scream about your rights to come on this mission and then cry like a kid when your friends get killed.” He is a kid, you asshole. He needs his mom and Jonathan. But Will had consciously rejected that option. He wanted with all his heart to be a mage. So be it. “Any one of us could die. Me. Dustin. Lucas. Be ready for that someday. You’re the Spider, and spiders don’t cry or make obnoxious noise. They’re silent and deadly. Understand?”

Will nodded, quieting down.

And if Will is the Spider, and Lucas the Chosen, and Dustin the Holy Vessel, what does that make me? As far as Mike could tell, he was the Twice Traitor, who savored the Zargonite drug and slept with the enemy. A fine one to lecture.

There was a cry from the shore. Lucas and Dustin had resolved their argument, and Lucas was giving the signal.

Auriga addressed everyone on the boat. “Now it’s our turn. Apparently Dustin’s necklace will protect us if we stay close to him – within fifteen feet. Let’s go.”

They all left the boat – Auriga, Coval, Azariah, Mike, and Will – and went ashore. Dustin came right down to the waterline to ensure their protection. Then they went up the slope to where Lucas looked over the dead bodies.

“What are they, Lucas?” asked Mike.

“No undead I’ve ever seen,” said Lucas, shaking his head.

“Zoombies,” said Dustin.

“Yes,” said Auriga.

“What?” said Azariah.

“Zoombies,” repeated Dustin. “Zombies that can move fast – even faster than mortals. But where are they all? Where do they dwell? When I spirit walked, I didn’t see any of them – any creatures at all – anywhere on the island.”

“I don’t know, but they’re savage,” said Lucas. “Strong as motherfuckers. Lija and Kemse were frail women, but when they turned, they were as strong as Kanadius.”

“You beat them, sir,” said Coval.

“If this had happened two months ago, or even one month ago, they might have torn me apart,” said Lucas. Ninety days in the Brotherhood had made him and Mike formidable warriors.

Azariah was distressed. “But, sir!” he said. “These cannot be zoombies, as Dustin claims. Zoombies are raised by the blasphemy of resurrection, and the result is more subtle – less ferocious. Like the body you have chosen to reveal yourself in.”

Mike couldn’t help himself. “That’s superstitious crap! Resurrection doesn’t turn people into undead.”

Azariah drew his sword. “Sir,” he said to Lucas, his eyes never leaving Mike’s, “I request the right to avenge Mike’s insult.”

Lucas stepped between them. “Azariah, put away your sword. Mike, put away your opinions. We have a job to do here.”

“But sir!” shouted Azariah. “He denies The Creed of Gorm – your creed! – and contradicts our doctrine!”

And then Lucas one-upped Kanadius. He sucker punched Azariah and sent him flying backwards. For the third time in two days, Azariah was on the ground with a bleeding mouth.

Lucas stood over the fanatic. “Question me again, for any reason at all, and you’ll be joining this pile of corpses. Am I clear?”

Azariah scrambled to prostrate himself on his knees. “Yes sir!” he screamed.

“Not trying to stir the pot,” said Dustin, “but I confess I don’t know what to make of resurrection. You’re clearly not like these animals who attacked you, Lucas. On the other hand, you can walk this island safely. You don’t need my necklace protection. The island accepts you, even if its inhabitants don’t.”

“A fascinating paradox I admit,” said Auriga. “But as Lucas said, we have a job to do. Let’s get up to the Ring.”

They all agreed and went to the top. Lucas led them, and everyone followed near Dustin. At the island’s center they came to the arches.

“Wow,” said Dustin.

“Stonehenge,” said Will.

It was indeed a Stonehenge-like group of arches made from large stone blocks. Mike knew from the gaming module that they dated from the time before the Cynidiceans excavated the Lost City. But no one knew their original purpose.

Lucas was looking through one of the arches. “I see the altar you mentioned, Dustin.” He squinted. “Yeah… the Eye and Hand are there.” He faced everyone. “All right, people, this is what we came for. I’m going in first. Wait for my signal.”

What we came for. We came for punishment, is what we came for. For pride, if not treachery. He realized then that he did love Jilanka – and wished they’d never met.

As Lucas went under an archway, Mike half-expected a wall of fire to appear and incinerate his friend on the spot, but nothing happened. Inside the circle, Lucas approached the stone altar, but he didn’t touch or take anything. He turned and looked around inside. After a minute he called everyone in.

They filed through the same archway, in an order that kept Dustin strategically placed: Auriga, Will, Mike, Dustin, Coval and Azariah. In the circle they fanned out while keeping close. It was a thirty-foot diameter area, and the altar was a five by ten-foot stone table.

Everyone saw the body parts and fell silent. No one moved or spoke for over a minute. Mike’s heart began to race. He remembered making love last night on an altar just as forbidden. And his silent vow.

“The Gifts of Gaius,” Auriga breathed in awe. “I hardly dared believe it.”

The Eye and Hand were much as Dustin had described them: a hideous looking bloodshot eye, and a withered blackened hand. They didn’t look like magical artifacts. They looked like serial killer trophies.

“I don’t get it,” said Mike. “How are you supposed to use these things?”

“We’ll worry about that later,” said Lucas. “Right now I just want to pick the damn things off the table without getting blasted by a death spell.” He looked at Auriga. “Well?”

Auriga cast a spell that identified magic and traps. When he was finished he shook his head. “The altar appears harmless.”

Lucas breathed deeply. “Shall we do this then? Same time?”

Auriga nodded, his eyes hungry.

As one, the Magi Chief and Gorm’s Chosen reached and claimed their prizes. Auriga lifted the Eye and held it reverently. Lucas took the Hand and inspected it. Everyone else looked around nervously, fearing a sudden attack of some kind.

“Mike,” said Lucas.

Mike nodded, taking from his belt the bag of holding that belonged to the Brotherhood, and to which he’d been entrusted. Lucas handed over the Hand, and Mike almost cried out revolted. It felt cold, rubbery, and repulsive. He dropped it in the bag of holding and fastened it back at his belt.

“Guard it with your life,” said Lucas.

Oh, I will. And you’ll never forgive me for it.

Will was taking out his own bag of holding to secure the Eye for Auriga, when the archways started to glow. Coval was the first to notice and shouted a warning. The stones were turning red as burning coals. And in the space of the eight archways, the air shimmered.

“Out of the circle!” yelled Lucas, leaping towards an archway. “Follow me!”

But it was too late. A second later the air under the archways turned a misty red, and hordes of savages poured through.

Zoombies.

And not dozens, but hundreds; the army which gave the Isle its name. They snarled and shrieked as they threw themselves at the altar thieves, only to be stopped by the power of Dustin’s necklace. Their eyes burned with madness; their mouths spat saliva strings surely crawling with contagion. They knew only one purpose, to kill and feed; and they never fled their prey.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” yelled Dustin. “We are certifiably in a world of shit!”

“Don’t panic!” shouted Lucas. “Stay close to Dustin!”

Everyone did that. Without the necklace, they’d be torn to shreds and eaten alive. The zoombies were so numerous that the horde extended halfway down the hill to the shore. There was no way of “walking through them” with the power of the necklace. They were stuck in the circle; protected but unable to leave.

Mike was enraged. “Dustin! Where the fuck is Demetrius? There’s an undead army here, and we need a goddamn priest!”

Dustin’s eyes fluttered and Demetrius was back. “Right you are, Mike. But I haven’t been sleeping. I’ve been using the drug to speak with these undead, and try to convince them to let us pass. I’m afraid my communication with them has just enraged them more. In any case, I’m afraid there’s little I can do. Between my spells and turning prayers, I could probably get rid of a score of these zoombies. There are hundreds.”

“Well then what the fuck do we do?” yelled Mike.

“There’s only one thing to do,” said Auriga, looking at Demetrius. The priest nodded.

“I hope you have a mighty spell up your sleeve,” said Lucas.

“I have many offensive spells at my disposal,” said the mage. “Magic missile, color spray, scorching ray, wave of exhaustion – all of which would hardly put a dent in the army surrounding us.”

“So what are you saying?” said Lucas.

“We need the Eye and we need it now,” said Auriga.

“I don’t follow,” said Lucas. “Don’t you need time to study the Eye and figure out how to use it? Not to mention ascertain its dangers?”

“Time is what we don’t have,” said Demetrius. “Auriga is right.”

“Well, then do it already,” said Mike. He couldn’t care less if Auriga fell under some curse. If he could save their asses from this mess, that’s all that mattered.

Auriga nodded. “Will, come here.”

“Me?” asked Will, surprised.

The chief mage nodded.

All eyes were on Auriga as he guided his prodigy to the altar and sat him upon it.

“Around the altar, everyone,” said Demetrius. “Form a circle around me, Auriga, and Will.”

“Whoa!” said Lucas. “What the hell is going on here? What are you doing with Will?”

Mike had his sword out. “He’s not doing anything with Will. Let him go, Auriga!”

Auriga looked at Mike coldly. “Lucas, order your Brother to cease threatening me. I command this mission.”

“So do I,” said Lucas, “and I’m still waiting for an answer. Don’t even dream of telling me that you intend Will to use the Eye.”

“That’s exactly what I intend,” said Auriga.

“Then I intend to order Mike to chop your fucking head off.”

“Demetrius,” said Auriga. “Back me up.”

The priest nodded. “We foresaw this eventuality. Ideally we wanted time to study the Eye, so the Usamigaran community could make a judicious decision. But Lucas, given our situation here, there’s no way we’re leaving this Isle without the power of the Eye. And that means bonding someone to it.”

“Fine!” shouted Lucas. “Auriga can bond himself to it! Where the fuck does he – both of you – get off trying to shove a cursed artifact down a kid’s throat?”

“The eye socket, you mean,” said Auriga.

“What?” said Lucas.

“We’re not shoving the Eye down Will’s throat,” said the chief mage. “We’re going to place it in his eye socket. We have to remove his left eye and put the Eye of Gaius in its place.”

“What?!” screamed Mike.

“One thing is clear in the legends of the Eye,” explained Demetrius. “Younger people stand a much better chance of surviving the transplant and resisting the Eye’s evil. Old people tend to die, go insane, or commit unspeakably evil acts. A child like Will – indeed a prodigy like him – is best suited to wield the Eye. If anyone is.”

“Am I the only one here who is sane?” demanded Mike. “This isn’t happening.”

Will was looking at everyone, confused and scared. Clearly he hadn’t expected this role to be thrust on him. “Auriga, I… I don’t want my eye taken out.”

“Oh don’t worry, Will,” said Mike. “This piece of shit isn’t touching your eye.” He still had his sword drawn, and he looked at Lucas expectantly.

Lucas was shaking his head, trying to digest everything. “You’re saying, Demetrius, that a child can avoid the Eye’s curse?”

“No one can avoid the curse of Gaius,” said Demetrius. “But a child stands the best chance of being able to, how shall I say it, curb the excesses of the Eye.”

“You both intended this all along!” shouted Mike.

“No,” said the priest. “Auriga and I knew this eventuality might arise, which is why we both wanted Will on the mission. No one has ever left the Isle, and now we can see why.”

Fifteen feet away in all directions, the zoombies snarled, pressing their bodies against the invisible wall of protection.

“But you don’t even know what the Eye does,” said Lucas. “What do you expect Will to do here?”

“The legends are consistent on a few points,” said Auriga. “One of those points is that the one who wields the Eye can wreak massive devastation with an ‘eye bite’ – killing any number of creatures just by looking at them.”

Everyone gasped in unbelief. That kind of power was unheard of. And terribly obscene for anyone to use.

Coval shuddered. “I for one do not trust these ‘gifts of Gaius’.”

“You’re not required to,” said Auriga. “Only to do as your told.”

“Let me get this straight,” said Lucas. “You’re going to cut out Will’s eye, give him Gaius’s Eye and he’s going to destroy this army of undead just by looking at them? And he’ll be stuck with the Eye, what, for the rest of his life?”

“That’s kind of the whole point,” said Demetrius.

“No!” cried Will. He looked pleadingly at Auriga. “Please don’t make me do this! You should wear the Eye.”

Auriga put his hand on Will’s shoulder. “This is the role for which you’ve been prepared. I will help you and guide you, don’t worry.”

“Lucas!” said Mike. “This stops right now!”

“Be quiet, Mike!” yelled Lucas, clearly torn between duty and his feelings. “Auriga, I asked you a question. Is wearing the Eye for life?”

“Yes,” said Auriga. “Once someone has bonded with the Eye or Hand, it’s absolutely for life. If you remove it after transplanting it, the patient dies immediately.”

“What about the Hand?” asked Azariah. “Can one of us use it to defeat the zoombies, instead of having Will use the Eye?”

“Not a chance,” said Demetrius. “The Hand isn’t nearly as powerful as the Eye. It’s supposed to make a warrior nearly invincible, that’s true, but even a super-warrior would have a hard time cutting down hundreds of zoombies.”

“There’s another problem with the Hand,” said Auriga. “The legends say that it takes five days for its power to kick in. But the Eye’s power should be accessible right away.”

“We’re not using the Hand in any case,” said Lucas. “The Hand belongs to the Brothers and as a group we need to decide carefully who the wielder is going to be. That’s going to be more Kanadius’s decision than mine.”

“And I assume the wielder must have his hand removed in order to use it?” asked Coval.

Demetrius nodded.

“We need to get started,” said Auriga, his hand still on Will’s shoulder. Will looked at Mike in desperate appeal.

Mike lunged at Auriga. He threw the mage off Will with his free arm. Lucas barked a command. Mike raised his sword over Auriga – and then the sword went flying. Mike found himself being restrained by Coval and Azariah. He let out a deluge of vulgarity and threatened to kill everyone in the circle.

“That’s enough, Mike!” said Lucas.

“Let me go, you fucking shits!” screamed Mike.

Lucas got up close to him. “I’m sorry, Mike. We need the Eye, and now.”

“Then let Auriga rip out his own eye!” yelled Mike, in tears.

“And let me ask you this,” said Lucas softly. “Do you really want Auriga Sirkinos to be the wielder of the Eye of Gaius?”

“I sure don’t,” said Demetrius.

“Your low opinions of me are noted,” said Auriga contemptuously.

“Our low opinions of you are shared by many,” Lucas slammed back at him. “You’re a snake who’d sell his own mother. The only reason I’m agreeing to this is because we literally have no choice. I don’t trust a mage like you wearing the Eye. There’s not an evil bone in Will’s body. I’m hoping that will make a huge difference in offsetting whatever curse this Eye will bring.”

“And I would add, Auriga, ” said Demetrius, “that I believe the only reason a power-monger like you isn’t taking the Eye for yourself is because you could die or go insane from it. It’s self-preservation that’s driving you here. The rest of us are trying to preserve the best possible outcome for everyone – and I’m talking both the short-term and the long. We – and when I say ‘we’, I mean the Usamigarans – agreed as a community that the Eye could enable us to bring down Zargon and his priesthood. We have to be very careful in our selection of the victor who prevails over Zargon. And I trust William Byers.”

“At least we agree on something,” said Auriga smoothly. “I too have every confidence in Will. And despite what you think of me as a person, I will be there for him constantly. Now please allow me to begin.”

Auriga then took a knife from his belt, and started to push Will down on his back. Will rebelled, crying for Mike. Lucas and Demetrius moved to restrain him. They positioned themselves on each side of the table, holding Will down. Auriga stood at the head of the table, looking down on Will’s face. Mike thrashed in the grips of Coval and Azariah. Auriga positioned the knife over Will’s left eye.

Mike’s fury escalated. “Jesus, at least put him to sleep, you assholes! Use a fucking sleep spell!”

“I don’t have a sleep spell,” said Auriga. “Lija did. But in case you didn’t realize it, we need Will wide awake. We have an army waiting to eat us.”

“Anesthesia is out of the question,” agreed Demetrius.

“I’m sorry, Will,” said Auriga. “I’ll make this quick as I can.” He sank the blade firmly and up into the bottom of Will’s eyeball.

Will screamed as blood went everywhere. He thrashed on the table, scissoring his legs. Lucas and Demetrius tightened down. Auriga cut deeper and under, and with the flat of the blade tried to force out the eyeball. Will howled – horribly. His agony filled the island’s air, blending with the shrieks of the undead. Auriga swore as he lost hold of the eyeball, then dug and got it again. Will screamed and begged for help. The chief mage paused, wiping sweat from his forehead. Then he cut deeper – and with a firm hold flicked upwards. With a sickening noise, Will’s eyeball popped out and fell to the ground.

Mike’s body felt numb. He was living a nightmare and wanted to wake up in his bed on Maple Street. To be a kid again in America, where horrors like this were enjoyed safely on movie screens. And where friends went home afterwards, to eat pizza and play games.

“Now for the easy part,” said Auriga. He reached into Will’s bag of holding and produced the Eye, positioning over the bloody socket. To Mike it looked thoroughly evil. What Will saw in it at that moment, Mike never wanted to know for the rest of his life. He looked as if Death itself had come knocking for him:

“Keep it away!” he shrieked. “Keep it away! Keep that thing away from me!”

Lucas and Demetrius could barely hold him down. Lucas shouted at Auriga to hurry up. Auriga obliged, wanting the surgery over and done with. He touched the Eye of Gaius to Will’s empty socket, and waited to see what would happen. Everyone in the circle held their breath.

The transition was instantaneous. The fight left Will completely. The Eye, of its own accord, attached itself and nested inside his socket. Will moaned, sounding like a catatonic, as the new body part settled in.

“Very good, Will,” said Auriga, propping him up on the table. “Are you able to stand?”

Will looked around the circle at everyone. His manner suggested the victim of a stroke. He was dazed, clumsily slow, not speaking, and his right hand twitched.

“What’s wrong with him?” demanded Lucas.

“What the fuck do you think, Lucas?” said Mike, throwing Coval and Azariah’s hands off him. “He has a piece of lich in his head now. He’s practically been lobotomized.”

The Eye of Gaius was undeniably a part of Will now: his left eye. The right was as hazel and normal as ever. The left was red, bloodshot, and unblinking.

“There’s nothing wrong,” said Auriga. “There may be an adjustment period after the surgery.”

“What do you mean?” said Lucas. “I thought you said the Eye’s power would be accessible right away?”

“It should be,” said Auriga. “Will just needs a little… prodding. I’m going to remove him from the field of Demetrius’s necklace protection.”

“Come again?” asked Lucas.

“Stay where you are, Demetrius,” said Auriga. He took Will’s hand and guided him to the circumference of the magical protection barrier. The zoombies snarled, ready to tear him and Will apart.

“Uh, are you sure this is a good idea, Auriga?” asked Demetrius.

“I’m sure,” said the mage, “that this is the only way we’ll precipitate a use of the Eye.” And with that, he threw Will into the horde of undead. The zoombies fell on him immediately.

Everyone exploded in anger and rushed to help Will.

“Wait!” yelled Auriga, holding his hand up.

Mike was seconds away from taking Auriga’s head off, when the shrieks of hunger became roars of pain. Zoombies that were on Will were now on fire, burning as if kerosene had been poured on them. It was a black fire that roasted them to a crisp in seconds. Four zoombies; then three more. The horde backed away from Will, yowling in outrage.

“Well, that did work rather well,” conceded Demetrius.

“Are you sure about that?” asked Mike. “What the hell is happening to Will?”

Will was no longer the dazed victim of a lobotomy. He stood facing the zoombie horde stiff as a pole – his legs close together, arms rigid at his sides, but shaking too. His face contorted and his left Eye burned with incandescent rage. Mike thought of the horror film from his home world, Scanners. Will looked a bit like that guy on the movie poster.

And then Will began to scream. Not like his usual screams, but a ferocious one that didn’t stop. It went on and on – a scream of such violence that had no business coming from a child. Will never paused for breath. One minute, then two. His body shook as if possessed. The zoombies were livid. Everyone in the circle was terrified. Whatever the Eye was doing to him, it was an evil artifact that craved harm.

Three minutes, then four. Will still hadn’t come up for air. His scream rolled on as he stared straight ahead, oblivious to everything. The zoombies shrieked defiance, but wouldn’t come near him.

Five minutes. Will’s scream got even louder, working its way to a crescendo. The zoombies began to skip about and yip, in some kind of pain. And then everyone yelled in shock as one of the zoombie’s heads exploded. Three seconds later, another creature’s body split down the middle, sliced in half. One second. Another’s stomach swelled, and its mouth vomited its innards. Two seconds. A neck twisted clockwise, as the torso went counterclockwise. Will never stopped.

He shook and screamed like that for a long time, and the zoombies died one by one. Each died differently, but it was always hideous. They broke, snapped, twisted, and exploded all the way down the hill of the isle, until the undead were dead. Still, Will didn’t stop. His rage needed more. Mike feared they would all be next. He came up to Will and knelt in front of him, yelling into a face that wouldn’t stop making such maddening noise.

“It’s okay, Will! You did it! They’re all dead!”

Will didn’t register Mike in any way. He raged on, as if intent on bringing down the island itself.

Which is exactly what began to happen.

A thundering crack made everyone jump. Outside the archways, a part of the ground blew upwards like a geyser, showering the air with rubble. Not far from that, an earthquake began, splitting the island across its diameter. In minutes it would divide the island in two.

Lucas raised his voice above Will’s as best he could: “Everyone back to the boat! Now!”

No one needed telling twice. They all began rushing through the archways to go down the hill, except Lucas and Mike. They couldn’t leave Will – though gods knew the kid was probably safer than anyone in the city. Mike kept telling Will to stop. Will either wouldn’t or couldn’t stop. Lucas grabbed Will by one side and Mike the other. They lifted on count of three… but Will wouldn’t budge. His Eye burned with a hunger yet unsatisfied; it wouldn’t allow him to be moved or hushed.

Another explosion erupted. Some of the debris fell close to them.

Lucas yelled in Mike’s ear: “We can’t stay here!” A sharper convulsion shook the ground, and they both ducked. Hunks of rock fell around them. Lucas’s shoulder was hit.

So this is where it ends.

And Mike felt that he had indeed reached the end, of all he could take. He hugged Will’s body and cried for his friend. And as Will shook and screamed in his arms, Mike strove to muster words: You have to stop this, Will. Come back. We need you. I need you.

The concussions became a constant, shaking the isle. Will was unreachable. The stone archways were the next to go: they pitched and crumbled, some into the circle, some outside it. One of them almost hit Mike as he hugged Will, but he was hardly aware of it. Lucas’s shoulder was bleeding. He yelled something at Mike. Mike had no ears for Lucas.

I’m sorry, Will. I failed you. We all did. We should have sent you home. To your mom. And Jonathan.

Something happened then. The island’s tremors slowly faded. Will’s body suddenly began to relax, and his scream dwindled to a soft moan. Unbelieving, Mike looked him over. He shook him gently and said his name. The rage was gone from Will’s face. In its place was a dumb confusion. His bloodshot eye stared at Mike like a parody of catatonia.

“Will?” said Mike. “Hey, are you okay?”

Is he okay?” asked Lucas, holding his shoulder.

“Say something, Will,” said Mike. “Please.”

Will moved his lips as if mentally retarded. His hand twitched as he reached up and touched Mike’s face. He worked his mouth some more, and then croaked like a sick parrot: “Mike?”

Mike cried all over again. Will was back. But the light of his mind had gone out.

 

Next Chapter: Eyebite

(Previous Chapter: Maiden of Madarua)

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