by Mark Justice
by Mark Justice
N’Fa’alu stopped the Hummer in the center of the narrow dirt road a few miles out of Charikar. Three men approached him, their bearded faces grim beneath the traditional Lungee turbans. Each carried a Russian Kalashnikov rifle. They could be bandits or militia. Or locals, protecting what small existence they managed to claw from the desert. It did not matter. He would not be stopped.
Even with his strength still depleted, he would not be stopped.
The first to reach the Hummer made a rolling motion with one hand. The other hand held his weapon, pointed at the vehicle. N’Fa’alu nodded and lowered the driver’s window. The heat, like a dragon’s breath, poured into the Hummer.
The man drew closer. “Who are you?” he said, speaking Dari. The language was fairly new to N’Fa’alu. But it wasn’t a problem. He could see the words in the bearded man’s mind.
“I am Red Cross,” he said, using the human voice box and speaking in the old language of his people. The bearded man heard the reply in his own tongue.
“Show me your credentials.”
N’Fa’alu smiled in his human skin. He produced the laminated badge and papers the little man in Karachi had prepared for him.
The bearded man jerked the identification from N’Fa’alu’s hand and turned to his companions. They began to jabber in a dialect that N’Fa’alu was unfamiliar with. He skimmed their thoughts and drew forth an image of his body, riddled with bullet holes, quickly covered by the blowing sand.
So bandits it was.
They probably couldn’t actually kill him. But in his weakened state he could be slowed down, perhaps even hurt. And he didn’t have time for that.
The first man returned to the Hummer, dropping the fake ID and raising his Kalashnikov.
N’Fa’alu whispered a word in his true voice.
The bearded man turned and fired upon his two companions before they could raise their own rifles.
A wave of nausea rolled through N’Fa’alu, causing his vision to blur. He couldn’t afford to expend more energy this soon. There was much work ahead of him today.
He stepped out of the Hummer, staggering a bit. The bearded man wheeled on him, confusion twisting his features.
N’Fa’alu grabbed the man’s neck and squeezed until bones snapped. He let he body fall to the ground and climbed back in the Hummer. He rested against the leather seats and let the air conditioning wash over him for a moment.
What a blessed device, he thought.
He sat that way for five more minutes, then straightened up, put the vehicle in gear and drove past the bodies toward the mountains. Toward his past.
And his future.
He had awakened nearly a year ago, weak as a newborn, unaware of who he was. It had always been that way. The sleep lasted centuries; the awakening happened at its own pace.
He was in a cavern, deep within the earth. The room was filled with a light the type of which he had never seen. It seared his eyes and he lashed out, shattering the source of the illumination. It was dark again. But he had weakened even more, forced to lay immobile for several days. In that time, his memory began to return. And something else.
The beacon, deep within his mind. There had been only one voice when he went to sleep so long ago. Now there were many. The voices were prolific, yet weak. He had to reach them.
After he had been awake for nearly a week, someone finally came to him, a descendant of the family he had charged with the task of his protection during the sleep.
The old man carried a torch in his hand, a torch without flame. He examined the broken lights and then realized that N’Fa’alu was awake.
The man fell to his knees and touched his forehead to the stone floor. His illuminated tube rolled away from him, casting a mosaic of shadows within the chamber.
N’Fa’alu hissed and the man looked up, fear in his eyes. N’Fa’alu hissed again and the man arose. He quickly lit candles and helped N’Fa’alu to sit up.
“How–how long have you been awake?” The man was old, dressed in unfamiliar garments. The tongue was also unknown. However, N’Fa’alu could see the meaning in the man’s mind, though it taxed him greatly. But he needed information.
“It does not matter,” he told the man, using the old language. He sent the words into the old man’s head. “When is it?”
“It has been over two thousand years, Master.”
N’Fa’alu was not surprised. It was near enough to when he had expected to waken.
“I need information,” he said.
At the base of the mountain, he stopped the Hummer and got out.
The desert heat bothered him less than it had before, and he felt stronger.
He knew it was his proximity to her. And to them. The voices were closer now, though diminished in volume. Weak. There wasn’t much time.
He stared at the ancient path that snaked up the mountain. The hillside was full of caves. And humans. He could smell them.
Inside his human skin, N’Fa’alu yearned to make the humans pay.
He began his trek up the mountain.
This was an age of wonders.
In addition to the fascinating indoor lights, his caretaker, who, he learned, was named Abidin, showed him television, indoor running water–hot and cold–, the telephone and, that most blessed innovation, air conditioning.
N’Fa’alu found television to be the most disturbing revelation of this amazing future. He watched while he recovered in a bedroom of Abidin’s apartment. On this television, an organization called CNN told him what had become of what he thought of as his homeland. It had a different name today.
The land he had known as Bactria was now called Afghanistan
According to this CNN, a few men had caused hell itself to be rained down on the country where his future–his destiny–lay hidden. The weapons the humans now had at their disposal could rival his own power, could destroy that which he held most dear.
But not yet.
The voices still spoke to him, distantly, like screams across the desert wastes.
This CNN constantly displayed a image of a human who had claimed responsibility for the near-annihilation of Bactria . N’Fa’alu studied the picture carefully. He wanted to know this human if ever he encountered him.
The humans attacked before he had covered a mile.
He knew they were there long before they revealed themselves. Since he had begun his trek to the caves, each step he took made him stronger. He seemed to be drawing potency from the land itself. He knew, though, that his strength was coming from them.
He sensed the two humans crouching behind the brush. He walked past their place of concealment then stopped in the center of the path. As they stood and approached, he touched their minds. They saw an old man, wearing the face of Abidin, helpless and harmless.
N’Fa’alu was almost amused.
Instead of firearms, these humans carried short blades.
N’Fa’alu turned and faced the two men, both bearded and dressed for the desert. Both smiling.
The man on the right ran at him and lunged with his knife. N’Fa’alu extended his arm and allowed the blade to pass through his hand. He closed his grip around his attackers hand and squeezed. N’Fa’alu ignored the scream and only released his grip when a pulpy fluid leaked from between his fingers.
The second human dropped his own blade and ran away. N’Fa’alu pulled the first man’s blade from his own hand and casually tossed it toward the fleeing attacker. It lodged between the shoulder blades. The man dropped to the ground and did not move again.
N’Fa’alu was disappointed. He had expected more resistance.
“I must go now,” N’Fa’alu told Abidin.
“Master,” the old man said, “you are not strong enough.”
N’Fa’alu shook his head. “I cannot wait. They need me now.”
Abidin lowered his gaze. He had been a faithful servant. N’Fa’alu would miss him.
“I will need a few things,” N’Fa’alu said.
Abidin listened to his master’s orders, then went to carry out his tasks.
Three days later, N’Fa’alu was prepared to leave. The Hummer was parked outside and Abidin had given him the name of the man in Pakistan who would prepare the documents he would need. In the front seat of the Hummer was a small briefcase filled with gold coins.
There was only one more detail to take care of.
“Abidin, you have served me well,” N’Fa’alu told the frail man.
“Thank you, Master.”
“You know what I must do?”
“Yes,” Abidin said, without a trace of fear in his voice. At that moment, N’Fa’alu felt something akin to affection for the elderly human.
“I will make it as painless as possible.”
“Thank you, Master.”
N’Fa’alu leaned close to Abidin and whispered in his true voice.
It was over quickly.
He reached the cave at dark. He stopped a short distance from the entrance and he listened.
The voices were here, weaker than ever. But close. Very close.
There were more humans, as well. At least three. He could feel their small, angry thoughts scuttling through his head like cockroaches.
N’Fa’alu walked into the cave. The interior was unlit. It smelled of dampness, which he found oddly refreshing in the desert.
About fifty yards in, the cavern made a sharp turn to the left. Here, he knew, two humans waited for him.
N’Fa’alu spoke a few words in his true voice, words from the earliest days of his people. Almost instantly, he heard two gunshots.
He rounded the turn and saw the humans, now dead, their brains splattered on the cavern’s walls.
The cave floor slanted downward. N’Fa’alu followed the path for almost two hundred yards before he saw the glow of the lamp. He soon entered a large chamber, one he recalled from nearly two thousand years before. Three cots had been set up. One of them was occupied.
The human was tall and very thin. N’Fa’alu read fear in his thoughts, and confusion at the site of this elderly form. He pointed a handgun at N’Fa’alu.
The man was ill. He had lost quite a bit of weight. But N’Fa’alu recognized him at once from the television reports.
The man who had started a war that caused this country to almost be obliterated.
The man who had almost destroyed everything N’Fa’alu held dear.
“Who are you?” the man said in Arabic.
“Your destroyer,” N’Fa’alu said.
The man fired. The projectile struck N’Fa’alu in the chest. He stumbled back half a step, then regained his footing and grabbed the man by the throat. With his other hand he removed the handgun from the man’s grasp and tossed it into the passageway.
He pulled the tall man off the cot and slammed him against the chamber’s wall, still holding him by the throat. He wanted to kill the human now, but that would have to wait. He slammed the man’s head against the wall a second time. The man went limp in N’Fa’alu’s grasp.
As the unconscious human slumped to the floor, N’Fa’alu stepped to the back wall of the chamber.
And he stepped through it. The illusion had held for these many years.
She was stretched out on the floor, so beautiful to him even in her desiccated condition.
Her eyes were luminous in the dimness, and filled with love. She recognized him even in his human casing.
“I knew you’d come,” she said.
The joy of hearing another voice speak the language of their people made him gasp.
“N’Fa’alu”, she said, her voice growing smaller, “I’ve done all I could. Take care of them.”
Her life slipped away, leaving only an empty husk on the cave floor.
He silently wished her speed on her final journey. He would grieve for her another time.
N’Fa’alu stepped over the body of his mate, crossing to a pit in the floor of the cavern.
For the first time, he viewed his children, awake now after two millennia of gestation.
A dozen grey-veined egg pods had flowered open, and N’Fa’alu could see his children looking back at him.
He could feel their weakness. Several of them were close to expiring. He stepped down into the pit and walked among the egg pods, softly touching each child on the head or the wings, transferring a bit of his strength to each one.
With each touch he also sent a message:
**I am your father. I am here to give you this world.**
He felt their young minds reach for his, eager and fearful. He did what he could to soothe them.
One by one, the infants lapsed into sleep.
N’Fa’alu watched for a moment longer before he leapt from the pit.
It was time to finish this.
“Wake up,” he said to the human.
The tall man shook his head, his eyes fluttering open.
“Look at me,” N’Fa’alu said.
The architect of this cavern’s near destruction stared up at N’Fa’alu. There was no hint of the smug expression N’Fa’alu had seen in the images on television.
N’Fa’alu let his human form fall away.
The tall man screamed and covered his eyes, but it was too late.
The angles and shapes of N’Fa’alu’s true body were incomprehensible to the human mind. The tall man’s eyes had been vaporized. The liquid remains of the orbs flowed down his cheeks.
The human uttered a word. It was the name N’Fa’alu had been known by centuries earlier, a bastardization of his true name.
He squatted next to the blind human.
“You know who I am,” he said in Arabic. “ I came here to guide your kind. Yet you twisted my words and my teachings to justify the blackness and the pettiness in your soul.”
The human whimpered. His shaking hands covered his dead eyes.
“Even worse, you jeopardized my children and their mother, who lay here tending to them for two thousand years. I do this for them.”
N’Fa’alu sang in his true voice, in his true language. The tall man trembled, then burst apart. His viscera coated the walls and splattered upon N’Fa’alu.
The blood was hot. N’Fa’alu liked the way it felt.
He stood and walked back to the pit. He checked on the children, sleeping safely in their egg pods.
He stopped for a moment at the body of his mate. Her work was over now. He would make sure it had not been in vain.
N’Fa’alu walked to the cave’s entrance. He wanted to feel the desert’s night air on his face. His true face.
The stars and the quiet of the desert were soothing, But he also knew it was deceptive. Though their leader was gone, there were many men left who twisted his tenets to their own ends.
That would change.
Soon the world would know of his presence and of his children. They would know him by the name the humans had given him.
Allah was back.
And he was angry.
© 2008 Mark Justice