“Not somebody I know,” she said, finally. “What can you tell me about the investigation?”
“Well, what happened had puzzled me at the time, but in light of what you just told us about general investigations, it makes a lot more sense now. She had generally kept me out of the way and did most of the investigation on her own, so there’s only so much I can tell you.” Lena seemed to turn inward then. Brendan imagined her reliving the memories as though watching a movie in her head.
“We’d been drawn to the town by reports of a plague that had struck the inhabitants. Myra said it was nothing that would have required our attention, except that there had been several deaths, followed by some sort of trouble after the disease had run its course. News got around the people of the village were terrified, and within a week a notice had gone up at the Hall.
“When we got there, we got rooms at the inn, and Myra all but confined me to mine. She refused to let me get involved in the investigation at all, didn’t even want me talking to anyone from the village. If the villagers themselves hadn’t been so desperate for help that they all but thrust their story at me, I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything at all.”
Sorcha chuckled. “Chattering maids?”
“Yes, and a particularly talkative barkeep,” Lena added. “All scared out of their wits and hoping that the outsider might know something that could help.” She sighed. “Myra wasn’t nearly as amused as you are. When she found out the village folk had talked me to me, she accused me of disobeying her, and that’s when she left me behind.”
The Ilthem Saeri clucked disapprovingly. “I may not know her, but I’m growing to dislike this Myra more and more. If what you say is true, and I’m afraid the picture you’re painting is distressingly consistent, then she’s a blight on our people’s name. That’s not good cause to cease her duties as your guide, and it’s certainly no excuse to leave you stranded.” Her voice got angrier as she spoke; the last was virtually spit upon the ground they walked on.
“What was it that the people in the village told you?” Brendan asked. Lena was silent a moment.
“They’d lost half a dozen people to the plague outbreak. People were sick for several weeks, and the whole village was terrified. It had been several decades since the last plague hit, and that one hadn’t been as bad. Almost everyone had gotten sick to some extent, and they were afraid it might return.
“What really scared them though were disturbances of the graves.”
Sorcha and Brendan both turned to stare at her a moment. Brendan was pretty sure he knew how this story played out. He couldn’t banish the thought of zombies and vampires from his head. Sorcha glanced at him, then, and he caught the distinct impression that she was thinking the same thing. He found it far from reassuring.
“Disturbances?” he asked, knowing someone had to.
“Graves dug up and re-filled during the night. Always the graves of the recently deceased. They performed some sort of superstitious rites over the disturbed graves, and if that had been the end of it, they could have got on with their lives.”
“That wasn’t the end of it though,” Sorcha said, her voice flat.
“No. They lost several of the living, as well. Willem, the drunk. He vanished one night, nobody ever saw him again. Nobody really seemed to miss him much, except for the barkeep; he’d been a steady customer for years. Said he just up and vanished, no trace. No sign in his house that anything was wrong, except that he wasn’t there.
“The others were similar, except that they weren’t so easily dismissed. Willem was the sort of man they could have thought had wandered off drunk into the woods and hurt himself, maybe died. The others had families, were respected and well-liked. Nobody seemed to believe they could have gotten lost or died accidentally, and certainly not with such suspicious timing.”
The story hadn’t done anything to set Brendan’s mind at ease about the zombies and vampires. “It sounds like—”
“—a set up for a zombie story,” Sorcha finished for him. “I wish I could tell you that it’s a silly thought, that things like that don’t happen. Unfortunately, it’s all too possible in some parts of the world, and this part that we’re going to … I’m not ready to dismiss it just yet.”
He swallowed a lump in his throat. “That’s … good to know. What are the rules?”
“Rules?” Lena asked with a raised eyebrow. “I assume the same rules I had before; stay in our rooms and don’t get involved.”
“I think he means the rules of the zombie apocalypse, actually,” Sorcha said with a grin, which she lost after a moment. “And it’s a very good question.
“The rules aren’t quite what you’d expect, Brendan. It’s a lot harder to be turned into a zombie than the movies you’ve seen would suggest. If it weren’t, the whole world would have succumbed a long time ago. That said, they are still incredibly dangerous, and if they bite or scratch you, you will need medical treatment immediately. If you don’t get it, you’re almost guaranteed to die a painful death from infection in short order.
“The infection won’t turn you into a zombie, but dead is dead, and if the one who raised the zombie in the first place is around, there’s no guarantee he won’t raise you into one too.”
“Sounds like you’ve dealt with this before,” he commented. He hoped his voice didn’t sound as nervous as he felt.
“I have,” she confirmed. “And Lena’s right, at least at first. When we arrive, we’ll take rooms, and I’d like the two of you to stay there, at least for a short time while I check out the situation. Unlike Myra, though,” she smiled, “I’d actually appreciate it if you could learn anything you can from the locals. I’m not sure they’ll be any more help now than they were before, but at the very least they should be able to confirm that there have been no more incidents recently.”
“You don’t think there will have been any more attacks?”
“Not if I’m right that someone was raising zombies. It fits the pattern perfectly, and that tells me that a village is too small to remain a viable source for long. Whoever it is will have to have moved on to a larger population center.”
“Unless their needs were served with just a few zombies,” Lena said. Sorcha cast an impressed, appraising look at her.
“You’re quick, that’s good. Yes, it’s possible,” she agreed, “but it’d be pretty weird, at least in my experience. Usually people who bother to raise zombies at all need a fair number of them for whatever it is they’re up to.”
With that cheery thought in mind, they passed the fork on the road, keeping to the right and headed into who knew what kind of trouble.