(Go back to Part 15)
“There is only one Cure.
This is true. But it is also too simple, because our foe is twofold.
If it were merely the plague we faced, then Curate knights would be armed only with torches. Clearly that is not the case.
No, we fight two foes; the Plague, and the transmission mechanism that encases it—the zombii. As such, a Curate knight must be equipped with a variety of tools and techniques to defeat the zombii and strike at the plague itself.
The zombii do not rot, nor experience corruption. They do not decay except as wind, sand, and surf may tear at them. They have no predators and cannot be intimidated.
However, they do not reason. They can be trapped or tricked. They can be disabled, by removing their limbs. Severed limbs will not seek prey, but may still move.
And they may be destroyed, by destroying the brain.
But that does nothing to cure the Plague. Matter from a destroyed brain still carries the Plague, and never loses its potency. It cannot be dissolved in acid, nor neutralized with potion. There is only one Cure for the Plague—the flame.
Many have felled the zombii only to fall victim to the plague. Take care to note the dual nature of our foe.”
–The Lexicon, Librarian’s Codex, Ch. 4
Soon they left the farmland behind. Each day it was warmer and drier; after half a week the mountains were visible to the right. Alex and McCann followed the line of peaks, heading east along the road.
“Fâl Selim is at the end of the range, where the true desert begins,” explained McCann.
The land was mostly empty, too dry for anything but lean, irritable cattle. Every few days they passed a trading post where the locals exchanged meat, cheese, and hides with the caravans. Most were empty; it was the offseason.
The days stayed warm, but the nights were colder as they climbed into the mountains. The stars were beautiful at the higher altitude; they shimmered down at Alex as she shivered in her bedroll.
They reached Fâl Selim at the end of the second week. The collection of white domes and pointed spires occupied a bluff at the end of the mountain range, where the jagged spine of peaks broke down and rolled off in sullen hills towards the desert. The road snaked around below the city, coming halfway around the bluff before meeting the roads from South and East at a sun-bleached wooden signpost. Alex and McCann turned to follow the winding path up to the city.
The incline was paved with uneven stones and vast quantities of donkey manure. Alex and McCann picked their way through the switchbacks, pressing tight against the rough cut stone walls to let wagons and donkey trains pass in the other direction.
“So many relics . . .” said Alex as one group passed. Their donkeys were laden with pitted plastic sheets and rubber tires.
“Lots of relics in the desert. The dry air keeps them preserved,” answered McCann. Alex gawked at the rusted skeleton of a typewriter.
Two men with rusty swords and headscarves sat chewing long reeds at the edge of the city; Alex wasn’t sure if they were sentries or just bored. They passed through the low gate set into a plastered brick wall and emerged into the bazaar. At the height of the business day, it was packed with yelling vendors and milling crowds; McCann dismounted and Alex followed his lead.
People jostled in every direction—Easterners in white robes and long necklaces, masked men with curved scimitars, barefoot beggar women and brown-skinned children that sprinted through underfoot. The quick, indecipherable jabber of Nimabic filled Alex’s ears, while the dual scents of sweat and animal dung permeated everything.
McCann led them across the square and down an alley next to a long, low building. Handing over the reins, he told Alex to wait with the horses while he went inside. A few minutes later he returned.
“The owner speaks a little Anglic. There’s a caravan that we can join in a week.”
“And until then?”
“I’ve got a friend we can stay with. Come on.”
They led the horses to the other end of the alley, where it was bisected by a larger street. McCann took two steps out into the street; Alex was about to follow him when the sergeant whirled around and pushed her back into the alley.
“Shh!” And McCann pushed her flat against the wall before following suit himself.
Alex heard booted feet approaching. They passed along the street in the opposite direction—a half-dozen soldiers in chain mail and unfamiliar green tunics. They were armed, but relaxed, and dressed differently than the locals.
Once they had passed, Alex dared to speak again. “Who are they?”
“Sinclair’s men.” McCann spat on the ground.
“Is the Baron looking for us?”
“Us, or any other Curate, probably. Looks like Roberts was right, though I didn’t think they’d be this bold.” He glanced at Alex’s grimy brown shirt. “I’m glad we got rid of that tunic of yours.”
“I didn’t know that the Curate had to hide.”
“We don’t, usually.” McCann curled his lip and spat again. “Come on, we’ve got to get off the street.”
(Go on to Part 17)