Chapter 28 — Wednesday Morning, June 11 — The Inquisition
Animus arrived at the South Bridge Gate shortly after dawn. He was dragging one end of a pole behind him, from which was suspended the kicking and snarling person of young Spud Autumn. Not surprisingly, the gate was still locked, so he rang the bell.
Shortly, Doug appeared, muttering as usual. His jaw dropped as Animus passed through the gate, and he saw Spud, but he just shook his head, and turned and followed Animus uptown. A surprising number of people were heading in the direction of the castle.
The castle gate was open, and many people were passing through, all heading for the Great Hall. Animus, however, took an abrupt left and headed for the lab building with his burden. Squeezing inside without knocking, he dropped his thrashing burden on the floor and looked around.
He was shocked to see the yellow robes of The Monk in deep discussion at the conference table with Dr. Zhivaga and the two Withers vampires. Flit the bat was sitting on Master Withers’s shoulders. None of them gave Animus any attention.
(Yes, it was I, the narrator. I will, however, continue to describe the events of the day from the point of view of Animus and the other adventurers. My role was a modest one, after all, in alerting Master Withers to the problems of the day.)
Animus snorted. “Allow me to introduce Autumn Spud. I think you ought to clear one of the barred cells back there — the rest of your patients seem relatively sedate. Oh – and you should probably get a blood sample before you untie him. He’s going to be awfully hungry, so better have plenty of food there when you do let him loose, to hold his attention.”
Suddenly, the four at the table stood up. The Monk addressed Animus. “You’ll want to come along to the Great Hall. There is much to cover at the Earl’s little ‘inquest’.” He held out his hand towards the door, so Animus led the way out and across the courtyard, into the Great Hall.
Animus saw the rest of the gang halfway up the crowded hall towards the great fireplace, before which the Earl sat, and so he rushed forward to the seat they had saved. The others took seats in the back, wrapped thoroughly in their cloaks, though more than a few people stared at them and started whispering in alarm.
This had the desired effect, and the Earl smiled at Sir Richard. “First order of business: has anybody seen Capone, Bubba, or Bo?” Everyone looked around in puzzlement.
“So, what did you see happen down on the beach?”
“Beggin’ your pardon, sir, he specifically asked us not to watch. Eastwood and I, we was only too happy not to. If you ask me, they got what was comin’ to them. Things was getting’ pretty ugly between them and those on the beach.”
The Earl shook his head and looked down at the table. “Very well, we will make getting rid of our beach visitors a high priority. But I want them watched, mind you, no more turning a blind eye. Sir Richard, you work out communications with Grief and our high sentries. They are to be considered highly dangerous and I want to know their every move off that beach.” He took a breath. “The troop of entertainers — settled in on Market Square okay?”
“Yes sir. What about the travelers staying at the inn?”
“I’ll have to thank Tinker for sorting out the civilized ones for us. Innocent until accused. Um, how about Tinker and the Asians?”
“Tinker’s selling what he can to the beach bums, and moving his wagons to the market as well. The Asians are kind of stand-off-ish. They’re camped up against the west castle wall and don’t want to move. I think they can take care of themselves.”
“Very well. I don’t suppose we’ll get any details of what happened to those three, but if anything more comes to light, we’ll take it up then.”
He rustled some papers. “Let us now take up the complaints of an apparent undead assault on the town last night. Preliminary interviews have identified a rough time line, but the details are very thin. I’m going to want to hear these accounts, in full, and in order. So let’s start with Doug at the gate.”
Doug stood up. “I was in my nice warm bed last night, when I heard the bell ring. Two humans and an Elf wanted in — got me out of bed to open the bog-loving gate, at that obscene hour. So I stayed out there and smoked a bit, waitin’ to see if there was any others, when a whole swarm of zombies came runnin’ out of the dark across the bridge at me. Well, I slammed the gate and locked it, but I had to jump back real quick, ‘cause they was reachin’ through the bars at me. I told that demon spawn to go back to the hell they came from, but that just made ‘em madder. ‘Bout that time they realized I hadn’t had time to pull the key outta the lock, and, reachin’ through, they got the gate unlocked. Well, I turned and ran for my life, and they all came tearin’ after me.”
The Earl raised his hand. “You may be the only one that got a good count. How many exactly were there?”
Doug counted on his fingers. “Five, my lord. Two men, a woman, and two littler ones. Anyway, they chased me through the garden, trampling plants and breakin’ stuff as they went. I ducked in the back door into the church and locked it behind me. I don’t know if they saw me, but they ran on by then. I barely got away with my life – I wasn’t going out there again. Where were all the soldiers when we needed them?”
The Earl shuffled his papers. “I gather they continued on around the back of the church and rampaged through Market Square. Who will speak on what happened there?”
Socrates stood. “I will speak for our group. Most of us were still awake, thank goodness, trying to get things straightened out after our move. We had a number of curtains hung, for privacy. Well, they — the zombies — charged in and started ripping at our curtains. Some of the ladies were getting ready to retire, you know. A great deal of screaming ensued, and the men, well we sprang to the defense of the ladies, of course. We confronted them, perhaps landed a blow or two, and ran them off.”
The Earl knit his brow. “Was anyone hurt?”
“Thankfully, the only injuries were a sprained ankle and one deep gash when Gracia hit Casanova with a stage prop by accident, or so he says. Everyone will be fine.”
The Earl shuffled another paper. “Madam Claire?”
Madam Claire stood up. “Well, I heard the ruckus, of course. I went to the door to see what was goin’ on – like to scare me to death seeing that mob of zombies running at me across the market and my son off to who knows where. With nobody to protect me, I just hid, and they ran on by. What’s a poor old lady to do?”
“Still, you filed a complaint. Do you have anything else to tell?”
“Well, they were hollerin’ and screamin’ something fierce – that could stop a body’s heart a beatin’ by itself. But no, I hid and they ran by.”
The Earl looked at his papers. “Captain Flang, you were on the docks?”
Captain Flang stood, gripping the table with one hand, his staff with the other. “Yes sir, checking the status of repairs on the Narwhal. It’s in pretty bad shape, my lord. We’ve salvaged most of the ropes and hardware, but we’re going to need all new sailcloth and a lot of the spars are busted.”
“So what happened.”
“Well, first that tin man came in and said there was trouble and grabbed the scarecrow from me. Being a concerned citizen I asked what the trouble was, and he said the zombies were running amok. The two of them rushed off together, leaving me all alone on the docks.”
“Well, the zombie came, snuck up on me he did. Tried to get on board and I yelled at him. When I told him the ship was going nowhere, and wasn’t fit to sail he hissed at me. Like as to scare the poo out of me. Well, next thing I know, he was gone. Jumped in the water and sank away, as far as I could tell. Anyway, he either got away, or was still lurking in the shadows. Of course I was prepared to fend him off with my stick.” He demonstrated by waving his stick bravely in the air. “But it didn’t seem prudent, to stay out there alone, so I headed back home.”
“Thank you.” The Earl shuffled another paper. “Beryl, you had some trouble at the inn?”
Beryl stood up. “Yes sir, that Mr. Autumn fellow came in and demanded a drink without paying. I was telling him ‘no way’, when that Flummox fellow showed up. He bought the zombie a drink, but made him promise to go on home when he finished it. Well, Flummox left and Autumn drank his beer, then said he wanted another, never mind what Flummox didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. I told him he had to go back home now, and he got really mad. Started smashing up furniture, when I said ‘no’. Well, I picked up a busted chair and chased after him. He ran down the hallway screaming bloody murder, waking up all my paying guests at the inn. Well, he got out and ran away. I hope he never comes back. Who’s going to pay for my broken chairs?”
The Earl nodded. “Well, prepare an itemized list of the damages and we’ll settle that post-haste.” He shuffled papers. “Master Yeah, you filed a complaint. Tell us about it.”
Ben Yeah stood up, clutching his daughter Petunia to his side. “Well, one of those zombies came after my girl. I heard her cat hissing and spitting, and I came down to see what was happening. There was that zombie, in my shop! Poor Petunia was inches away from her claws when I arrived to save her. The creature ran away.”
Petunia shrugged off her father’s grip on her shoulders. “It wasn’t a creature, it was Gloss. Gloss Rouge. She just wanted to play.”
The Earl cleared his throat. “Were there any damages? Did it break in?”
“No, it witched the door somehow.”
“I let her in, Daddy.”
“Petunia! What are you saying?”
The Earl shook his head. “No damages. Next we have… the Ironborgs. Give us your part of the story.”
Madam Ironborg burst in. “One of those creatures busted into our house and tried to grab Downsie! The pair of them were down in the shop with ribbons scattered everywhere, and that monster was tying up Downsie, to drag her away.”
“Tied up… in ribbons?”
“Well, she was covered in ribbons. Maybe it had trouble tying knots. It was the devil’s work, though, I tell you!”
“And then what happened?”
Master Ironborg placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Dear. I scared it off, my lord, when I heard my wife screaming. None may dare threaten the Ironborg family.”
The Earl nodded. “Yes, of course. Was the door locked?”
Ironborg and his wife exchanged glances. “I’m not really sure, my lord.”
Ironborg looked at his wife, who glared. “Well, nobody is going to buy ribbons that have been dragged around on the floor by a zombie. They’re spoiled, and we’ll never sell them.”
The Earl sighed. “Make a list of the damages. Next, Olivia and Dahlia.”
Olivia stood up. “Dahlia heard some noise downstairs and sent me to investigate. One of the zombies was going through all the potions. I yelled at her, and she got mad at me, yelled back, and knocked over a whole shelf full of potions. I chased her out of the shop, and she attacked someone in the street, then ran away.”
“A whole lot of potions were ruined. It was vandalism pure and simple. I’ll make a list.”
“Anybody else have something to say, that didn’t file a complaint? Who was attacked in the street?”
Flummox stood up. “Not attacked, sir, just pushed out of the way. My lord, I think all this is a waste of time. The undead are harmless.” There was an angry outcry from the hall. “No really! Hear me out! You all know the Rouge girls, and the Autumns. Sure, Mr Autumn is a crabby drunk, but he’s always been that way. Mrs. Autumn was clearly looking for something she needed in the apothacary, probably just trying to help someone, and knocked over the shelf by accident. The girls were just trying to play with their friends. I repeat, no one was hurt. No one! But, that said, you have much bigger trouble brewing across the river. The Trogs are getting ready to march to war against the wolves, holed up in caves there. Half of them were your friends and children – still are, I should say. You have to intervene and save them. We are so close to a cure.”
The Earl raised his index finger. “One thing at a time. It is true that the zombies have hurt no one, but considerable damage was done. We will put together a total list of claims and submit them to the Withers estate all in good time; I’m sure the damages will be paid. In the mean time, we will post a permanent guard at the South Bridge Gate, to keep the zombies out.”
“But what about the wolves? You must intervene before there is serious bloodshed.”
The Earl shook his head. “Intervene how? Founder’s Valley has no standing army. Furthermore, we have no jurisdiction in the mountains. In fact, we have treaties with the Trogs that demand we mind our own affairs. The zombie problem will be dealt with as I said. We have no control over the other.”
“Enough of this nonsense! This is no way for a son of my sons to talk!” Everyone turned around, to see the master vampire striding forward with a bat clinging to his shoulder. “Two hundred years and you’re the best my descendants have produced? Why did they ever ask you back here?”
The Earl seemed to shrink into his chair. “I never asked for this job. So why did you abdicate, anyway? ”
Withers reached the front of the room and whirled around. “You all are afraid of the Undead now, are you? I can see you pampered snobs from uptown squirming in your seats. How many zombies have you raised to serve you and your families? No limit, it would seem. And now, it’s out of control.”
He paced side to side. “My wife and I just wanted to live in peace, but not you. You made this place sound like everyone was totally happy with zombies running around, serving you hand and foot, and so you attracted attention from the outside. Of course there are things to fear when control is lost, and the Undead are shunned as pariahs. And so of course other undead have come here, thinking this place would be a haven for them. Now, Grim and his close family have been model guests, behaving just as I have over these last 200 years, keeping to ourselves. Two hundred years, we have lived in peace. But unfortunately Grim brought his ambitious nephew, Bloody. Was it my place to stop him, after you drew him here? And now, he has caused you tremendous grief, and for that I am truly sorry. I did not act until it was too late. However, our friends here, from out of town, Cleo and Rufus, have put an end to Bloody and his ambitions, and those minions he already recruited from among you are now under control. The Rouge girls and the Autumns have exhausted themselves and are now laid out in the crypts beneath my home. They will not be given more manna – more energy – until a cure has been developed.”
Wither paused and swept the crowd with his gaze. “A cure for what, you ask? Undead blood? Flummox there is right; that’s not your problem, when properly controlled. I repeat. When properly controlled.”
He pulled a large book out of his robes and slammed it on the table. “I wrote the BOOK on this! I warned you of the dangers. You can bind undead people to your will, but not unreasoning animals. By raising your embalmed dogs as undead guards, whatever provoked you, you have given up control. That was not supposed to happen.”
Withers feigned a look of puzzlement. “Undead blood loose? What has that to do with werewolves, you ask? I warned that the pets could not be trusted, and would spread the blood. I warned that those not ready to receive it could become violent. But even I did not realize it would release a plague of werewolves upon your heads. Yes, the two bloods are one and the same. An undead dog fought with a wolf, and that one swam the river and began to spread the infection to the Trogs, and they to the humans.”
Wither’s look became one of surprise. “Yes, both diseases are from the same blood. You need proof? Look at poor Dan and Dora Charles, locked up in the lab. Both scratched by Bloody before he died. One is showing signs of undead, the other… why, she is turning into a werewolf. From the same infection.”
Withers glared. “Oh yes, they’re learning a lot in that laboratory the Earl set up. Undead blood was first only used on the freshly dead by our ancestors. I was the first to see it would work on the old and dying as well. But now we know, the infection breaks down the cocoon that holds developing metablolic cells and unleashes and magnifies whatever sort of metabolism is already present. In the old and weak, where the brain rules the body, we get reasoning undead, like myself.” He gave a little bow. “But in the young and strong, where the body rules the mind, you awaken a terrible hunger. You awaken… the animal that lives in every one of you. You create – the werewolf. Control. It is all about control.”
Withers went to pacing back and forth again. “Flummox is right. The undead can be controlled. They pose no threat. The werewolves, on the other hand… wolf blood could destroy this valley. It must be stamped out, whatever the cost, and you of the uptown families must never raise pets as guardians again. Oh, great, great, great, great grandson of mine – how many greats is it? You must bend your will to saving your people. You must help them root out the menace in these caves, and you must do it quickly.”
Withers spun on his heels and marched down the aisle. Halfway to the door, he paused to steady Flit the bat right beside Flummox, and whispered from the side of his mouth. “You lot had better find Caboose.” He continued on down the aisle, took his wife’s hand, and together they exited the Great Hall. There were ten seconds of silence, and then everyone burst out talking at once. No one, even Sir Richard, could quiet the crowd.
The Earl eventually gave up in disgust and stomped out of the hall. In the middle of the courtyard, he began his usual incantations, calling for experts in cave fighting to render assistance. All those exiting the hall fell quiet and watched. The smoke rose, and cleared. Then, a general groan went up.
The caveman in silver-gray skins said, “Gaar? Huh-huh?”
The cavewoman took a bite out of a gourd she was holding, and spit seeds on the ground as she surveyed the crowd, chewing slowly.
Animus shook his head. “He’s done it again.”
Flummox looked around at the crowd, and spotted a familiar face. He waved and pointed at the cave dwellers. “Dorothy! A few more lost children for you to take in.” He went on, sending a mental call to his comrades. The rest of you, we must meet in the inn, now!