Chapter 6: The Girl

I had interdimensional travel lag all night long. I drifted in and out of a light slumber, but never fell into a deep sleep. Low-voiced commands and the clink of metal on metal woke me. The full moon was almost down, but I low crawled to the crest of the hill so I wouldn’t skyline myself. There were three large reed boats beached by the village. One group of armed men moved directly into the village, while another group circled around to take the village from behind.

I couldn’t be certain in the low light, but it looked like they all had the dark complexion and black hair that I’d expect to see in an Egyptian dimension. They were dressed in linen kilts and sandals. Most were armed with spears, but some had bows and short swords. A couple of village dogs started barking and charged the first group. The dogs never got close; it only took one arrow apiece to take them out.

A big villager ran out of his hut, a huge hammer in hand. Five raiders surrounded him, quickly disarmed him with the butts of their spears and beat him to the ground. The guy wouldn’t quit. He grabbed a raider around the knees and dragged him down. Another spearman quickly reversed his spear and skewered him from behind.

Other villagers armed with spears, sickles, and knives rushed out of their homes, only to be greeted by squads of five men who expertly used their spear butts to disarm and subdue them. Once the villager was down, the spearmen bound their captive’s elbows behind them, got them to their feet, and used the police arm bar to lead them off to where the other villagers were being noosed together into groups of ten.

The raiders were tactically savvy. None of them entered huts where their long spears would be a disadvantage. Instead they ordered the villagers who remained in their homes to come out. Two homeowners were defiant and refused. The raiders torched the thatched roofs, and when the flames forced the villagers out, they got the same spear-butt-and-bound-elbows treatment as everybody else.

Three unarmed men with shaven heads and full-length white linen robes walked off the biggest boat. The one with a huge golden torc looked like he was in charge. The other two without any jewelry examined all the prisoners and then reported back to Mister-I-Got-Bling. He nodded his head and the bound villagers were herded onto the boats. After that the raiders moved even faster; they went through the village, stripped it bare and loaded everything onto the boats. After a last sweep through the village, the raiders boarded the boats, took up oars and rowed their way back south.

There’d been no unnecessary destruction or violence. Only one villager had been killed, and he’d essentially caused his own death. These guys were pros—all business, no wasted motion. Beat them, restrain them, and lead them off.

This really drove home the fact that I’m in a different dimension now. On Earth, Jehovah’s compulsions would have forced me to defend the weak. A year of being Jehovah’s bitch had affected me more than I expected. I had to fight the urge to help the villagers.

After the boats got out of sight, I left everything except my oosik just behind the crest of the hill and headed down to the deserted village. Even with my hearing dialed all the way up, the village was almost completely silent. All I heard was a few cowardly dogs that hadn’t tried to defend their masters and the ubiquitous pests that infest human homes—rats and cockroaches.

I checked out the huts that weren’t burning. There wasn’t enough light to see anything inside the huts; I had to use echolocation. They weren’t made of mud brick like I initially thought. The walls were daub and wattle construction, which figures—there’s no shortage of reeds and mud here. The raiders had taken everything of value. The huts still had pottery, a few wooden utensils, and woven cane furniture, but everything made of metal or cloth was gone. Other than a few scattered grains of wheat and barley here and there, there was no food. I couldn’t find any salt, oil, or spices. Just outside of each hut were clay pots with neatly stacked dried manure the villagers used for cooking fuel.

This didn’t surprise me, but didn’t particularly thrill me either. I like barbecue, and I’m willing to try slow-smoked anything, but manure-smoked unseasoned crocodile was probably not going to be my new favorite.

All the huts had a simple water filtration system. Two unglazed fired clay pots sat one on top of the other. The top pot had a large hole in the bottom covered by a woven reed screen, and was about half filled with a layer of sand over a layer of crushed charcoal. River water poured into the top pot filtered through the sand and charcoal into the bottom pot. The filtered water didn’t smell or taste like the beach at low tide, and evaporation through the unglazed pottery kept the filtered water cooler than the ambient temperature. I drank three different filtered water containers dry; cold beer on a hot day never tasted any better. It was worth the hike down here just for the drink of clean, cool water.

The big guy who’d committed suicide-by-raider had come out of the largest, nicest home in the village. His hut had an attached, covered dirt floor patio with a clay blacksmith’s forge. The raiders had taken his tools, working stock, and bellows. They’d even taken the charcoal. There were drag marks where the anvils and other heavy equipment had been hauled away. The only good news was that they’d neglected to take the charcoal that’d already been loaded into the forge.

They’d taken the villager’s reed boats, but they’d left the thirty-by-thirty foot wicker fish trap by the village undamaged. I could hear the fish surfacing in the trap. It sounded like there were a decent number in there.

The low carbon steel from the saucer is too soft to make a good blade. I don’t have the blacksmithing skills to smelt my own steel and forge my own weapons from scratch, and all the blacksmithing tools were gone anyway. But the forge was still here, and if I could rig up a bellows I could add some more carbon and temper my salvaged steel so it’d make a good blade.

There were plenty of dead dogs I could render for fat, and I could probably make lye by burning bundles of reeds and the cane furniture down to white ash. It’d be great to have soap and finally get clean. It looked like there’d also be more than enough dog brains to tan Akil’s hide so I could make leather armor. It had been a long time since I’d had some quiet time and solitude. This was a good place for me to lay up for a couple of weeks until I got my bearings.

I went to the blacksmith’s body to drag it out into the river—it was easier than burying it. I’d just grabbed his ankle when I heard a high-pitched voice behind me, demanding “The girl—where is she, demon!” I turned and saw an incredibly ugly bald woman—no, make that an incredibly ugly bald guy wearing bad makeup. His eyes were heavily rimmed with kohl and his cheeks were rouged a gaudy bright red. He wore a long sleeved, neck-to-ankle white linen robe, just as the three unarmed raiders had worn. His head was completely hairless; he didn’t even have eyebrows or eyelashes. He also had eight of the biggest, ugliest, meanest looking junkyard dogs I have ever seen.

I just wanted to find out what was going on, and I really did NOT want another fight. I replied as calmly and as soothingly as I could. “I’m sorry but I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

I thought my response was completely reasonable. He didn’t agree. “Do not try my patience. Where is the GIRL? Where is she? WHAT have you DONE with HER?”

I made the ‘don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about’ face, shrugged my shoulders, and spread my hands wide—while still keeping a grip on my oosik. “Look, I just got here, and I don’t know anything about any girl. I’m not looking for trouble; all I want is a place to rest.”

Spittle flew from his lips as he shrieked, “You DARE to LIE to ME, monster? You seek to deceive ME while you FOUL THE AIR with the REEK of another dimension’s magic? Enough, then! My patience ENDS!” He spread his arms and waved his animals forward. “Tear off his hands and feet, but do not slay him; I wish to put him to the question.” The pack swarmed toward me.

As the lead dog jumped for me, I side stepped and whipped the butt of the oosik into the side of its head. Its skull exploded away from the force of the strike in a spray of blood, teeth, and bone. I speared the next one that came at me through the neck and used its momentum to whip it past me. Then I realized that these weren’t big ugly dogs; they were hyenas.

One of them clamped its jaws around my right ankle. I felt AND heard the crunch as my ankle bones splintered. I thrust my oosik through its skull with enough force to pin it to the ground before it could bite all the way through.

I let go of the oosik, fell to the ground and rolled onto my back as two more hyenas lunged at me. I caught them both by the throat, sunk my claws in, and gave them both a good jolt of coral snake venom. It didn’t even slow them down. My crushed ankle had healed within seconds but I remained on the ground. The hyenas were almost as long as I am tall; when I pulled my knees to my chest, their bodies covered mine. I used the two struggling animals as shields against the rest of the pack.

My two shields scrabbled their claws against me, but a hyena’s primary weapon is its teeth. Their claws tore my skin but they weren’t long enough or sharp enough to seriously injure me. Their struggling attempts to escape my grip made it difficult for their pack mates to get to me.

I was stronger than the hyenas, but they were huge and weighed almost as much as me. If I had just been choking one, I wouldn’t have been able to keep it immobilized over me—I wouldn’t have had the leverage or weight to keep it place. Because I was holding on to two that were doing their best pull away from me in different directions, I was able to keep both on top of me. I twisted my body or moved my shields to keep the other hyenas off me. My shields went crazy as I choked the life out of them; they snapped at everything that came in biting range.

It was complete chaos. I was the epicenter of a vicious, snapping, snarling mass. I jammed my right shield’s head into the mouth of one of his buddies that was going for my shoulder. It tore off my shield’s ear and a big chunk of hair and hide and tissue right down to the bare skull. The ear and missing tissue regenerated within seconds. They were healing as fast as I was. FUCK! Therianthropes —werehyenas, and me without a silver weapon.

There was no way I could win this fight. There were too many of them. The hyena I was choking with my right hand suddenly stopped struggling. I let go and grabbed a different one. Instead of choking it, I ripped its throat out. The sucker wouldn’t quit, blood fountained from its neck but it still came at me. I made a spear hand, sank my claws in further and grabbed its neck bones from the inside. I twisted my wrist a hundred and eighty degrees, felt its vertebrae separate, and it went limp.

One of the sons-a-bitches got hold of my right ankle again and crunched through the bones; this one tore my foot off. My left hand reflexively tightened as my foot ripped away; my claws tore through my left shield’s throat. It didn’t bleed; it’d been ‘dead’ for a while. After that, it was just a blur of snouts, teeth, and claws. I clawed at everything that came at me.

The attacks lasted forever. Then they slowed down, tapered off, and eventually stopped altogether. With a growling feint at my face, the last one withdrew. This made no sense—why would they back off? Then I noticed that the moon had set, and the sun was just starting to edge over the horizon. Maybe they’re vulnerable now?

The hairless transvestite was gone. The pack members approached me in a half-circle. They got just close enough to drag away the three I’d ‘killed’, but no closer. There was no growling and snarling; they just maintained a perimeter. The largest one morphed into Mr. Baldy. His linen dress was gone.

Unselfconsciously naked, he made his way to the hyena that my oosik still pinned to the ground. He was a eunuch; there was just a scar where his scrotum should have been. Why hadn’t he healed from that?

He gripped the oosik with one hand and effortlessly pulled it out. His eyes narrowed as he looked at me, and he dropped the oosik on the ground between us. He gripped the fourth hyena by the ruff and backed away from me, dragging over two hundred pounds of hyena with one hand. He set it down with the other three, and continued to watch me as he resumed his hyena form.

I got up on my knees as my lacerations and wounds healed. The pack lay down in a semi-circle and watched me watch them. After a few minutes of nothing happening, the four ‘dead’ werehyenas twitched back into life, and as they unsteadily got to their feet the rest of the pack stood up too.

I crawled to my oosik, being careful to not to make any sudden or threatening moves. They warily backed away from me. They moved to the blacksmith’s body and started feeding, all the while keeping watch on me. They reduced him to nothing in no time, bones and all, with none of that ‘Animal Planet’ snapping and snarling and fighting over the kill.

When they finished, they all faced me. I sensed anger but also grudging respect and no particular desire for a rematch any time soon. I was fine with that.

They trotted off as a pack and ran south. Werehyena Baldy was last off, and took the time to give me one last hard look. I muttered, “Yeah, you better run, you nutless overgrown poodle!”—but only after he’d vanished from sight.

I got up and carefully put weight on my stump. It didn’t hurt. I used my oosik as a staff and limped over to one of the dead dogs. I wasn’t happy about eating man’s best friend, but I needed protein fast. In the last two days, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of raw meat. Dog does NOT taste like chicken.

I ate until I was full. I looked down at my stump; there was still no sign of a new foot. The foot they’d torn off was still in my rawhide sandal. Good thing the pack had been too focused on swarming me for any of them to eat it. I gimped over to it, picked it up and brushed the flies off it. I sat on the ground and I raked the skin off the end of my stump as quickly as I could. I had to jam the raw end of my severed foot against the raw end of my stump before it completely healed over. I aligned everything as best I could, and held my foot in place with both hands. At first, it looked like nothing was going to happen, but then I felt something change. Within a few minutes, it became clear my body was reattaching my foot. A quarter of an hour later, it felt like my foot had never been ripped off.

I was hungry again but I’d had enough of raw meat. Every hut had a cooking area near the entrance, with open fire pits and fired clay stoves. I loaded a stove with manure and fired it up. While it was preheating, I waded into the fish trap and rinsed off all the blood and dirt that covered me AGAIN, and then used echolocation to snag a three-and-a-half foot long catfish. Even without salt or any spices the hot-off-the-pottery-griddle catfish steaks were awesome.

As I ate, I thought about the girl the eunuch had been so insistent about. I’d checked out every hut in the village and hadn’t heard or seen any signs of her, but I also hadn’t heard or seen any signs of the pack until they appeared behind me. All of my physical enhancements were up and running just fine, but my metaphysical powers were still locked out—I couldn’t sense magic.

The werehyenas had used magic to sneak up on me. Could they talk in hyena form? Maybe they could only do magic when they had their human shape, which might be why Baldy had been in human form. Or maybe he’d shown himself in human form just so he could be a strident, short-tempered, demanding prick. Regardless, if the girl was hiding in the village, she had way more magic oomph than the hyenas. If I were a girl with power, where would I hide?

I walked over to the first burnt out hut and searched it closely; there was no evidence of any girl. When I used the butt of my oosik to tap the dirt floor in the second burnt out hut, there was a hollow thump next to the water filtration pots. I moved the pots out of the way. Under an inch of dirt was an eighteen inch by eighteen inch trap door. I lifted it up. A skinny prepubescent blonde lay curled up in a small pit with her face pressed up against a pipe. She was smudged and dirty, but her hair glinted like spun gold. She turned her head, and tears welled up in blue eyes that reminded me of…no best to SHUT that thought off now. “Please don’t hurt me.”

Her lips and words were in synch. She was speaking Standard American English with a Midwestern accent. What was a girl from the US doing here and why were the werehyenas looking for her?

Go to Chapter 7.