There are fates worse than death…
Hello, this is the fourth chapter in my serialisation of my latest novel, Accidental Immortal, on my blog. While for the first week it will be published every day, after the first seven posts they will be published four times a week so that the serialisation will be completed at the same time as on Wattpad, if not a little sooner!
If you would like to start from the beginning, please head over to chapter one. There is also a contents list at the bottom of each post.
Chapter 4 – Nomads
Lynsey cracked open her eyes in the gloom and snapped them shut again. Confusion clouded her mind. Where was she? Her bed was hard and the blinking green light of her retro alarm clock was missing. She yawned and stretched as the memories from yesterday flooded back. Oh God. It had actually happened. Her eyes once again flew open to meet darkness. Considering the bed was made of mud, it was surprisingly comfortable. She reached out with her hand and grabbed her jumper under her head as she rose to sit up, wobbling slightly as she remembered that her makeshift bed was on a slant. As she sat up, lights began to glow dimly around her.
Everything that happened yesterday became clearer as she focussed on it. London, the pyramid… Pico. The low ceilings in the low light began to feel as though they were closing in.
“Careful Lynsey, your heart rate has started to increase.“
He was real. Bloody hell. She started to breath in and out quickly. She couldn’t catch her breath! The room began to move around her.
“Hold your breath Lynsey you are starting to hyperventilate. You will make yourself ill. That’s it, hold it for 15 second. 1 – 2 – 3…“
Anger flashed in her mind but she did as he said feeling herself calm down. She put her hands down on the edge of the bed beside her. She felt calmer but weak. What was she going to do She’d never felt claustrophobic before but she needed to get out. The air was dry but felt cloying and at the same time filled with centuries of dust and sand. The air swirled around her with particles as she pulled her jumper off the bed making her lungs feel tight.
The way out was simple, she was able to navigate the passageways with ease until she felt a breeze and then she was outside. Red and gold rays of the sunrise reflected on pristine sand dunes.
She immediately felt better and stretched a little more to remove the kinks from sleeping on the strange bed. She automatically moved into some deep lunges until she felt more limber. Wow, she’d never felt so good. Scratch that, she hadn’t felt so good since she had been taken ill.
“Are you feeling improved Lynsey?”
“Are you ready to explore?”
“Absolutely.” She felt her smile grow as the exercise lightened her mood. “I am starving, but I really could do with a drink first.”
She headed to the fourth pyramid, tying her jumper around her waist as she walked. This was the one which Pico had suggested might contain water. Lynsey began to hum as she went. The sun was warm on her back and she had a plan. When she saw the front of the pyramid, her mouth dropped in horror. While the other pyramids had escaped build-ups of sand, probably because of where the entrances were, in this pyramid … Oh God. She could barely see the doorway. It was covered in mounds of sand. How was she going to get in? She held back tears and fell to the ground at the sight. Her stomach ached with hunger and her mouth felt like she’d been sucking paper. What else was this place going to throw at her? Get a grip Lynsey she thought to herself. You can do this. No one else will. There was no other way for it but to dig through the sand.
Lynsey rushed back to the toy room. There had to be a shovel or something to move all that sand but there was nothing in the room she could use. She felt her eyes burn as tears come to her eyes at the futility of the search, she was going to die here! Then she saw it. Discarded, half-hidden by a statue she saw a tiny shovel no bigger than her hand. She bent down to grab it and strode back to the water pyramid.
It was hours before she managed to remove enough sand to get through to the door. The sun was high in the sky and every time she moved some sand, more fell to fill the gap. It didn’t help that the shovel was minuscule. It was more like a garden trowel than a spade but she did it. Lynsey wiped the sweat from her forehead as he surveyed the mounds of sand around her. There had better be water in there!
Beyond the small wooden door was a set of stone steps. She descended slowly to get used to the reduced light, feeling the walls as she stepped down. It was getting cooler the further she went and her body began to shiver. She untied her jumper from around her waist and shrugged into it again. The curved stairway seemed endless and it was the sound of lapping water that told her she was near. How was that possible? Surely, it should be stagnant?
“They were planning to dig down to see if they were any aquifers here, they must have found one.” Came Pico’s voice from all around her.
“Can you stop that?”
“That! It is very confusing, can you sound like you are coming from one direction or something. And not behind either. That would creep me out.”
There was silence for a moment and then Pico’s voice came through again from her right hand side.
“Is that better? I have detached from your auditory nerves on your left side.”
“Better.” She grumbled
As she moved even further down, lights began to turn on and she could hear something slithering in the dark further on, then a splash. Was that a snake? She shivered and this time not from the cold. There was no going back now, she needed some water and there was no one here to help her.
The cavern was vast. The same torches that had peppered the pyramids were here but in smaller number. The real light was coming from lichen on the wall which was reflecting the glow and increasing it exponentially. Taking one of the jugs from her bag, she moved cautiously to the water’s edge. It was rippling gently as it touched the stone. If there had been something there it was gone now. She filled the jug to the brim and gently put it down next to the steps and took out the second jug. She touched the lip of the jug to the water and the water erupted around her. A huge two-headed serpent rose from the water’s depth, its long neck towered above her and it glared at her, water flowing from its body. Its fangs glistened in the light.
She fell back on to the floor, still clutching the jug with her right hand. She let it go as the impact reverberated through her fingers. The stone sent shock waves through her body and her left hand grazed against the floor. Her fingers searched and felt a stone beneath her and she grabbed it to hurl it at the creature. It struck the head and the other head hissed in retaliation. It bore down to bite her but she twisted and rolled out of the way at the last second. She heard something crack as one of its heads hit the floor. She looked back and it was lop-sided as one of the heads dangled beside the other one dragging it down by its dead weight. She felt around her and found more stones, never taking her eyes from it. She hurled the stones one after the other with all her strength. Thunk, thunk, she heard something crunch and a strange sound came from the snake before it turned away slithering back to where it had come from.
Lynsey breathed hard, adrenaline coursing through her. This was better than ju jitsu! The first jug of water was still upright and full with water so she lowered the second jug quickly to fill it as she took out the bottle from her bag with her free hand. Maybe the snake had friends. That was pure luck how she dealt with that one. When everything was full, she put the bottle back in the bag, grabbed the jugs and ran out of there as fast as she could.
The moment she got outside she drank thirstily from one of the jugs. The water was cool but had a strange taste to it. Before she could spit it out, Pico’s voices reassured her.
“It’s okay Lynsey. It is safe to drink.”
“How do you know?”
“I scanned the water using your bracelet while we were down by the aquifer. It is fine.”
She wasn’t sure if she believed him but she drank what she needed quickly to avoid tasting too much. When she was done, she poured some of the water into a bowl she’d brought out at the same time as the jugs and dunked her hands into it to splash her face. That felt so good!
Lynsey was shaking when she put the jug back down. If she hadn’t rolled when she did, if that rock hadn’t been there.
“Pico! Why didn’t you tell me about the snake!”
“I didn’t know about it Lynsey. A lot has changed in the centuries. That creature may not have been discovered or it may have evolved from another creature that my creators didn’t think was worth me knowing about. It is impossible to say.”
Lynsey’s pulse was slowing and with it her anger seeped away. “Wait, the Egyptians didn’t tell you everything they knew?”
“I cannot say what they didn’t tell me, I can only tell you what I know.”
That settled it, they had to find that oasis tonight. She wasn’t going to stick around to be food for that snake when it recovered! Besides her stomach was beginning to growl in earnest.
It was still hours before it would get dark. She went back to the sleeping pyramid and went for a nap. The digging had taken it out of her and it was going to be a long trek tonight.
Hours later, she woke up refreshed. Nothing like a detox and a life or death even to make you feel better she thought as she readied herself to leave the pyramid for the final time.
Taking a last look at the pyramids behind her, Lynsey paused and as an afterthought she headed back to the toy pyramid. She took a moment to get oriented but she found what she wanted quickly. A lightweight wagon which would be far too small for a horse or ox but it was a perfect size to carry water enough for a couple of days. She loaded the cart, putting in several jugs and some linen shot with gold thread. She also picked up a bow and arrow, it was half the size as a man would need but perhaps she could learn to use it and a dagger. She bound the handles of the cart with some cloth and pulled the material over her shoulders to pull it outside. She rushed to get an urn and headed back down to the water pyramid. If she was quick and quiet she might be able to get away with it. The snake would need longer than a few hours to recover from this morning. She filled the jugs quickly, struggling with the heavy weight on the way back and filled the smaller jugs in the wagon from it.
This was it. She didn’t know what she would find but looking back at the pyramids behind her, she was glad to be moving on.
The trees she had spied on arrival were deceptively far away. As she trudged along in the ever shifting sand, the sun beat down on her. Sweat poured off her face until she took one of the cloths taken from the pyramids and wrapped it around her head and shoulders. It was still too hot but the cloth protected her skin.
Within an hour, the sun had dropped to the horizon. The sunset was just as beautiful as the day before although muted compared to the sunrise. She would have loved to share it with someone. She had never felt so alone. Even those days she had lain in a hospital bed and no one had found the time to visit, she knew it was because they were busy or they just couldn’t. There was no one here to care if she lived or died, except maybe Pico and he wasn’t really alive no matter what he said.
The shadows lengthened against the sand drawing her eyes up to the sky. She was surprised at how much light the stars gave off. The sky was filled with pin-points of light, creating unfamiliar shapes. You could get lost in their beauty. She breathed out slowly, tearing her eyes away. There would be plenty of time to star gaze, now she needed to get to food, water and safety.
Every now and again, Pico would break in to her thoughts to tell her to go one way or the other but he was mercifully quiet for the most part. Maybe he knew how much she resented his presence.
After a few hours the ground under her feet felt different, the sand was packed together tighter making the ground harder. She had to watch her footing over the occasional plant and the cart jarred and bumped making her shoulders ache as the strap pulled on them. How the vegetation survived in these conditions, she didn’t know.
She was so tired! She needed to rest and get some protection from the constant breeze that was sweeping over the desert. Lynsey rummaged in the cart and pulled out the linen. She weighted the end in the cart with the jugs and folded the linen under her to make a small tent. It wasn’t the best shelter she’d seen but she was proud of it. She took some water and settled down for s small nap. She wasn’t used to this much walking.
Lynsey fell asleep as soon as her head touched her jumper but her dreams were fractured. She felt trapped in a small featureless white room, then she was running away from creatures but she couldn’t see them clearly. People turned towards her but they had animal heads and human bodies. Now, she was running down the street that led to her parent’s house and they were gaining. Dark shadows slid silently and relentlessly behind her. She sobbed as she searched for some keys in her pockets but she dropped them as soon as found them. She picked up the keys and her hands were shaking as she put the key in the lock. The door opened and she burst into the house pulling the door closed behind her. She panted with her eyes closed and opened them to greet her parents. They had jackal heads, their jaws opened wide and they leapt towards her. She screamed and found herself back in the water pyramid but the water had all gone.
Lynsey woke up, sitting bolt upright. She reached for the jug she’d rested against the cart earlier. The water slid down her throat, cool as if from a fridge. She was never so grateful to take a drink as she was then. I should probably have started earlier in the day she mused.
“It wasn’t safe, it was too hot. It is better to travel at night when it is cooler.” Pico replied.
“Are you always going to do that?”
“Answer a question I haven’t asked.”
“Your supposition was incorrect, I was merely correcting it.”
“Where have you been?”
“There was something different about your physiology. I thought it had something to do with the hundreds of years between your time and the time I was created but there is more to it than that. This journey had given me time to collect data about how your body deals with stress.”
“You are healing too quickly without my help. You should have been severely burned but you are not. You haven’t been drinking enough and your sleep has restored your energy levels. These are not normal responses.”
She was intrigued despite herself, “What are you saying?”
“It is still too early to say too much but let’s just say that the manner of your transfer here has given you miraculous healing abilities beyond what I’ve seen before.”
Lynsey yawned and stretched in the confined space.
“How long was I asleep?”
“About two hours. It is time to get moving.”
The next few hours went quicker than the last. Sparse vegetation grew more numerous. More colourful plants began to appear the further she went. Lynsey stopped abruptly. Right in front of her was a beautiful fuchsia-pink plant. Its wide flat green leaves and long pink petals were arranged in a seductive clump. As she got closer, the petals gently opened to reveal large white seeds in a circle in the centre. She was about to get even closer when Pico shouted in Lynsey’s mind. She jerked back.
“What was that about?” grumbled Lynsey. “I was only looking.”
“Pick up a stick and prod the flower.”
“Okay.” Fortunately there was one within reach, she picked it up. It was a branch about a finger thickness wide and the length of her forearm. She gently poked the centre of the plant. She had just the amount of time to see a hole with teeth and the plant’s petals clamped shut over the tip of the stick. The petals had looked fragile before but now they had the strength of steel. She pulled at the branch to get it back but the plant would not let go.
There was a grinding sound and the plant spat out the branch. Lynsey hefted the branch up and examined it closer. The end was all mangled.
“I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.”
“Ah, cultural reference from your 20th century. Very apt. You may be able to heal fast but you still need to be careful. There are still a lot of dangerous creatures and plants out here.”
Looking at the chewed branch, Lynsey could only agree at his understatement. Moving on, the sparse plants were soon covered by a canopy of trees. She was struck by the view. This is amazing, she thought. This desert must be quite small.
Pico laughed sending shards of colours shooting through Lynsey’s mind. “We’ve reached an oasis.”
“Oh yes, I’ve heard of those.” She felt embarrassed but then she knew the creature inside her knew everything stupid she’d ever done anyway. It was going to take a long time to get over that. She cringed at what Pico had seen.
“I know. Your blood sugars are dangerously low.” There are some plants I recognise a few feet away. It’s the first I have seen which can be eaten raw. You don’t want to build a fire here. We were drawn to the oasis for a reason but so has every animal that needs water to survive.”
“What is it?”
“A barygsre. It was a delicacy during my time. It contains all the essential nutrients you need to keep going.”
“What does it taste like?”
“There was quite a complicated cooking process but it can be eaten raw. There are no records as to its actual taste. Maybe it tastes like chicken?”
“Is that a small joke?”
“Yes, and one which you found mildly amazing from your brain chemicals.”
“Mildly amusing, Pico, mildly.”
Lynsey leaned close to the plant and touched it gingerly. It didn’t move. She grabbed the stem and pulled. A long cord of root came out of the ground with the plant.
“Cut it close to the stem. These plants are rare. You want to give it a chance to grow again.”
“Right!” Lynsey grabbed a small, jewelled knife with a bronze blade from the cart, which was probably meant to be a sword and severed the stem neatly. “Do I just eat the leaves, or the flower? Should I shove the lot in my mouth?”
“It is up to you. It is all edible.”
Lynsey delicately pulled one of its blue petals and gingerly placed it on her tongue and then spat it out.”
“What are you doing!”
“That probably explains the drawn out cooking methods but you still need to eat it.”
“Oh God, I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Because the alternative of killing us from hunger is so much better?”
“Just shut up will you! I’ll do it, I just need a moment!”
Lynsey grabbed a handful of the petals and crushed them in her hands and stuffed them in her mouth. She chewed voraciously, her whole body scrunched up as she made herself eat the disgusting leaves. Eventually she chewed them enough that she could swallow. Tears were streaming down her cheeks when she finished and she was exhausted. She felt strangely alive though.
“That wasn’t so bad was it?”
“Not for you maybe. Didn’t you taste that?”
“Well I did disconnect myself from your taste centres for a moment.”
“Great, just great.”
She sat on the grass for a moment letting the hunger cramps subside. She leant back, letting her mind wander, feeling at peace as she watched leaves from giant red-barked trees tickling nearby branches under the gentle breeze. They were as tall as any skyscraper in London.
After half an hour Lynsey fully rested. Reluctantly, she rolled to her feet and packed the cart again. She looked at the straps doubtfully. They had really dug into her shoulders on the way in. She pulled her shirt down her shoulder to have s look but the skin was clear and unbroken. In fact, she twisted her neck to get a closer look, there had been a mole there for as long as could remember. It wasn’t there anymore.
“Sorry, I removed that, there was a small chance it could have become cancerous.”
“Oh okay.” What could she say to that? Bring back my cancerous lump? Lynsey picked up the straps and positioned them over her shoulders again. It was better to ignore him, and pulled the cart. It was a lot easier going with the firmer ground.
“Didn’t they bring seeds from Earth?”
“They did but most of them did not survive. There was quite a bit of time between the first and second pyramids and they would have starved if they hadn’t learnt about the local plant life.”
“Interesting.” she puffed. There appeared to be a break in the trees just ahead. She increased her speed but then had to break sharply. The cart hit the back of her legs.
The view was breath-taking. Pico had described it as an oasis but it was nearer a lake. Lynsey scanned the expanse. She could barely see to the other side. It had to be fed by underground springs because she couldn’t see any rivers.
The water was blue and clear and there were some shapes almost obscured by plant life at the far side which were probably animals.
“Why did you bring me here?”
“It is a few days walking to get to the nearest known settlement from here. You should stock up on food and water.”
“I can’t survive just on plants.”
“You can, but as I said before, there are animals here. There is no rush. Learn how to hunt. We don’t know what kind of civilisation this land has any more. You need to be prepared. Your life studying won’t help here. Remember I have a vested interest that we both survive.”
“I do have that bow and those arrows. But I can’t hurt anything.”
Reds and oranges began to swirl in Lynsey’s mind. Was Pico getting annoyed? “How did you think your burgers and roast chicken got in the shops? Did you think they grew on trees?”
“Of course not, but killing is different.”
“No it isn’t. A creature is dying so you can live. Respect the animal, respect its death but don’t kid yourself it is any different. Look around, there are no shops here.”
Lynsey balked at the idea. She’d been on farms. She knew that a cow led to beef in the refrigeration section in a shop but to kill?”
“Well, we can at least practice. Do you have any objection to hitting trees for practice?”
“Of course not.”
Lynsey reached behind her and picked up the bow and arrow from the cart. How hard could it be? She picked a tree about few feet away and pulled the string on the bow. She pulled back so her hand was next to her chin and let the arrow fly. On the plus side, she hit a tree on the minus it was nowhere near the one where it was supposed to go. Her heart sank. This wasn’t going to be as easy as she thought.
“Don’t worry, it will come.”
Suddenly a peal of laughter sounded from behind her. Lynsey whirled to find a figure dressed in a long brown robe with her hands around her mouth. She could see the woman was shaking with laughter.
Around her more people were appearing from the trees. A small boy picked up the arrow and brought it to the woman who examined it with interest.
“Who are you?” Asked Lynsey.
The woman who had laughed approached her and bowed.
“Greetings. My name is Illyara. We are the Bardoon.” She bowed, twisting her arms in front of her and to the sides.
“Greetings.” She echoed. “I am Lynsey Walker.”
“Lynsey Walker, we would like to invite you to have supper with us.”
Lynsey cocked her head to one side. Pico? Pico” Can you hear my thoughts? Should I trust them?”
“Of course, what have you got to lose? Your archery skills are not going to net you any food tonight and your energy levels are starting to fall again.”
“I would be delighted Illyara.” Lynsey smiled back.
The woman nodded and indicated for Lynsey to follow. Lynsey took one more look at the sun setting over the oasis and followed the troop. They didn’t walk far. Lynsey trailed after them in the direction of the lake until she spotted some brown tents surrounding a camp fire. They passed the tents to stand before an old lady and man, their faces creased like old leather from years of desert life.
“Deleem, we welcome you to our camp.” They performed the same genuflection that Illyara had done, so Lynsey attempted the same. The man gasped as he saw her bracelet poking out from her jumper sleeve. Osiris, he breathed. The camp went silent.
“This?” Lynsey pointed to her arm. “I can’t get it off. I found it at the pyramids. I’m sorry if I offended you.” She hurriedly pulled the sleeve to conceal the bracelet. The man and woman seemed to relax a bit but they still looked concerned.
“That is the mark of Osiris. The God of Death of the people before. You should not be wearing that.”
“Believe me, I would get rid of it if I could. I tried to take it off but it just won’t.”
“Please forgive us, we need to confer.” The two beckoned Illyara who smiled hesitantly at Lynsey before moving past her. They walked into the nearest tent and Lynsey was left to stand alone.
“I’m sorry?” She said to the camp but people began to wander away. Life began again and she saw a woman begin to stir pots and children were running around ignoring her.
“Do you know what is happening?” She asked Pico silently.
“I do not, but I believe these people may have been afraid of who you called the Egyptians. While the priests were held back by the Pharaoh’s power in your world, in this there was no such balance. They would not have been gentle with enemies. They held all the knowledge, the technology and they wielded religion like a sword.
I suspect that these people would have been descended from slaves. They may have kept their memories alive with what happened.”
“What did happen?”
Pico’s voice grew quiet. “They were building a new world, a new civilization. They had to be strict. It wasn’t all about building power. Many people died who didn’t follow the rules. People had to change to survive.”
“I’m glad I didn’t end up back there then!”
Just then Illyara returned. “Lynsey Walker, you may stay with us. We may know someone who can help you in Ghinari. We will take you there but you must hide your bracelet at all times. It is a sign of power that frightens us.
“Why are you helping me?”
“You are a stranger in need. We would help anyone in trouble.” She reproved. “Your hunting skills would mean you would be dead without us in weeks. It would damage our Chi if we were to let that happen and it was in our power to help you.” She said simply.
Lynsey bowed. “Illyara, I hope we can be friends.”
Illyara’s eyes widened. “I hope so traveller but I fear that bracelet does not bode well.”