From the Sword-bearer’s journal:
“I watched Crestus die today. He didn’t know who I was, but as he passed he was smiling. Comforted by my words. If he’d still had his mind he would have ridiculed me for even talking about my people’s beliefs as if they had merit, but it comforts me to believe that he will exist in the life after. I fear though that he won’t get there without my help. The Buzzers at our barricades have no interest in taking away the dead. We may have to bring them to Death ourselves.”
I’m getting better at translating the Ratkin’s scribblings as I go. I realise the earlier entries were heavily influenced by my prejudiced opinions of the new species and subspecies that have evolved within me. ‘Death’ has a different contextual meaning than I first thought.
“I find myself thinking back on the lessons he taught me, including the Stunties own observations regarding our beliefs. These lessons were presented as proof that my tribe is backward and dangerously stupid. He showed me stories based on oral traditions thought to be many hundreds of generations old to teach me how to read and write.
“These stories are still told to children to warn them about the dangerous people outside the Stunties’ tunnel-city. Mostly involving an intrepid but foolish young Stunty getting killed by the savages, monsters or beasts in the ‘light places’. The Stunties now keep themselves to themselves and rarely, if ever, venture beyond their halls and homes.
“They fight Buzzers every day, but there are still stories about them too. Mostly about feeding them the dead to keep them from trying to enter the tunnels. Though they no longer seem content with the dead. They’re now after the living.”
The Nymphs have indeed undergone a transformation since coming into contact with the organic matter that was released during Pan’s mistake with the meteor, when the tank containing the quarantined material was ruptured. My current theory is that they’ve been affected by some form of parasite.
“My favourite story among those that Crestus taught me is about a Hero from my tribe of savages. Again the story is supposed to teach the folly of heroics and the fate of the superstitious, but if it’s true it sheds new light on our old customs. According to the story this hero bore the Sword and Shield many generations before my own grandmother did. He believed that Death could be defeated, and when it happened all the dead would be released.
“Perhaps it could be done, though clearly not the way this old Hero did it. Throwing yourself into the Pit of Death would only bind you to her. There must be some way to reach Her that would not enslave you. The Sword and Shield returned somehow, perhaps if I could learn how I could follow the same path back to the life after without handing myself willingly to Death.
“If I defeat Death, Crestus would return to us, along with all the other dead. The friends from my own tribe that were wrongfully sacrificed by the Keepers of the Words. The Stunties slain by the hungry Buzzers. I should search through Crestus’ library for any mention of the Buzzers becoming enraged, of the path by which the Sword and Shield were returned, or a way to slay Death.
“I must also convince the Stunties to help me bring the dead to the pit. To retrieve Crestus from death I must first deliver him too Her. How can this be done? The Stunties primary concern right now is to survive the Buzzers which threaten to kill or sicken all of us. Crestus wasn’t the only one bitten, and not killed. Each left to slowly lose their minds. Three of them had already died. Crestus makes four.
“The Stunty healers can’t stop the sickness, and the dead must be disposed of. Perhaps I can convince them, as an outsider, that I should be the one to take the dead away. There might even be enough foolish and impetuous youths among the Stunties to help me.”
I’m beginning to notice patterns among the behaviour of infected Nymphs that I fear are repeating themselves in the Ratkin. The dementia that the Sword-bearer describes in the bitten is similar to the deterioration in the Nymphs. I’m grateful that not all the Nymphs have been affected, but it is spreading, and too many have died. I must stop this and the Sword-bearer’s account of the events may yet provide more vital clues.