The Dusting of Alonso
Once you smell burning flesh you never forget it. It penetrates your nose and throat with a semi-sweet, pungent odor reminiscent of boiling fat and burned kidney. It leaves a haunting film of humanity on your skin and clothes that lingers for days, almost impossible to wash off.
That’s what I smelled long before I got to Adujar a small town half way between Madrid and Seville. I had been following Alonso de Hojeda the Dominican monk who had convinced Queen Isabel to authorize the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition two years earlier in 1478. I suspected he was one of the UnDead, a UD, recently reanimated and possessed by a demon. If I could get close enough to verify my suspicion I planned to dust him.
From the edge of town I could see the glow from the fires against the dark moonless night sky. I raised the collar of my coat to cover my nose and mouth filtering out some of the sickening smell. I weaved my way through the dark and dusty streets of Adujar toward the center of town where I’d been told I could find lodging at the Cerveza, a small tavern. The burning stakes served as a beacon to guide me much like the Christians that Nero burned on the streets of Rome almost 1300 years ago. That was when I first smelled burning flesh something in the intervening centuries I have run across all too frequently.
I found the Cerveza a block down from the center of town. I paused before three large stakes still burning at the base, clear human forms attached to poles engulfed in flames. I said a prayer for their innocent souls as I thought about that day. The day I stood on the hill and watched Jesus die just a week after He had raised me from the dead. I shook my head in equal parts anger and disappointment that we still could kill so easily.
I entered the tavern. The place was full. A burning always attracts a crowd, a thirsty crowd, just the type of crowd that is full of information and lose tongues. I found a table with two very talkative men.
“Mind if I sit here, I just came in from Madrid and I’m tired and thirsty. In fact, let me buy all of us something to drink.”
The one on my right was short and stocky with long brown hair and a scar on his chin. “Sure, if you’re buying. My name is Abundio and this is my friend Ignacio.
I nodded to Ignacio. He smiled back. Like Abundio he was short but there the resemblance ended. He was thin with a narrow face and very dark complexion. He was the younger of the two. “Thanks, my name is Lazarus.”
Abundio laughed, “Like the guy in the Bible? Have you come back from the dead.”
I knew I shouldn’t have used my real name.
“Yeh, like the guy in the Bible, not dead yet though.”
We spent time in small talk. Both men were interested in what was happening in Madrid. Finally, it was my turn to get information. “I saw the burnings as I came in. When did they start?”
Ignacio frowned. I wasn’t going to get much from him. Abundio on the other hand was the talker. “A Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition …”
Ignacio cleared his throat and spit on the ground. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or a comment on the Tribunal. If it was a comment, it was a dangerous thing to do.
Abundio continued, “… anyway they came yesterday and wasted no time finding three heretics. Those are the ones you saw as you came in.”
Ignacio whispered “victims.”
He’s either brave or stupid.
It was Abundio’s turn to frown. “Don’t mind Ignacio, one of them was his cousin.”
“Are they done?”
“No, I heard they have four people to try tomorrow.” Abundio shrugged, “I don’t know if there will be more.”
I smiled. I’m not too late. “Do you know if Alonso de Hojeda was one of the judges?”
Ignacio sneered at the name and split on the floor again. “No, but he came in with them.”
I finished the rest of my drink setting the glass down on the table with a clunk. “Well gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure. It has been a long journey so I think I’ll go upstairs to my room.” I put my hand on Ignacio’s shoulder. “Young man, you better learn to hide your emotions or I’m afraid I’ll find that you have been burned.”
I walked up to my room. Tonight I needed to come up with a plan to disrupt tomorrow’s trial and dust Alonso without breaking the three laws of UD hunting.
I woke up in the early morning to the sounds of workmen cleaning the site of last night’s burning. I dressed in a monk’s habit with the hood pulled down over my face and walked outside to find the church where the trial was to be held. The charred bones of those unfortunate souls were being collected and tossed into a small cart. They were to be buried, their bones intermixed, in a single grave on unconsecrated ground, the final indignity of their punishment.
I scanned the crowd as I walked to the church searching for any UD. It was possible that one of the judges might be a UD but unlikely because the UDs got far more enjoyment out of watching men judging each other. My real concern was Alonso. If he saw me first and looked into my eyes he’d know what I was. I had to see him before he saw me.
I found a place near the back just in time to see the three judges enter and take their place in the front of the room. While their attention was drawn to the four accused, I was able to study their eyes. They were Naturals as I suspected. That’s good because it means I have no fear of being detected. On the other hand, since I can’t hurt a Natural there was little I could do to disrupt the trial. I can only hope that Alonso shows up.
I didn’t have to wait long. I felt more than heard the crowd stirring like the rising of the sun heralds the morning. Suddenly he was standing up front. It was Alonso. He stood in front unassuming, short and chubby with his hair cut in the typical monks tonsure. He looked … ordinary yet he had a presence that said he was in control. The low buzz of the crowd stopped as soon as he raised his hand and started to speak.
“My children, we are here today to preserve the purity of the faith.” He paused for a moment. I could swear I saw a faint smile flash across his face,”We must free those poor lost souls who have been possessed by demons.”
He and I were the only ones who appreciated the irony in what he said given that he was the only one in the church that was actually possessed.
“We ask God’s blessing on these proceedings. May God save His church.” The crowd remained silent as he made his way to a seat behind the tribunal. He signaled to the judges to start.
The next five hours were pure evil. The four prisoners were questioned by the judges. It came as no surprise that the judges condemned the four to death by burning. All the while Alonso sat with a quiet smile on his face drinking in by the whole carnival.
As the crowd made its way out I inched towards the front of the church with my eyes on Alonso. I was careful to keep some distance so he didn’t see me because I can’t do anything with all these Naturals around. I stopped about 20 feet from him hidden behind by the crowd.
Eventually, he left through a side door. I gave him a few seconds then I slowly pushed the door open. It lead to an alley. Now I’ve got him.
Then I heard laughter to my right. I looked in that direction. Someone was holding Alonso. Their backs were to me but I think I saw the glint of a knife near Alonso’s throat. I moved closer. It was Ignacio.
The fool, he’s going to die if I don’t do something.
The three rules of UD hunting flashed through my mind. One, no Natural can be killed. Two, as much as possible, avoid any Natural witnesses. Three, collect the living dust. If it had only been Alonso and me in the alley I could have easily dusted him but now, as much as this thing that calls itself Alonso must be taken out, my first responsibility was to save Ignacio.
I was close enough to hear what they were saying.
“You’re the monster that started all this insanity. My cousin died yesterday because of you. You are an agent of the devil.”
Alonso chuckled in a sinister kind of way, “You’re more right than you know but you’ll not live to tell it.”
Ignacio sliced the knife across Alonso’s neck. “Then die!”
Ignacio stepped back with a look of horror on his face. There was no blood, there was no wound. He looked down at his knife, frozen. Alonso grabbed the knife out of Ignacio’s hand.
I had to do something or Ignacio would die. I yelled “Stop!” as I raced towards them.
Alonso turned. We locked eyes. He froze. I could see the demon behind those eyes and he could see what I was. He grabbed Ignacio. This time Alonso held the knife up to Ignacio’s throat. “So they sent someone after me. It took you long enough.”
I ignored him, studied his eyes and inched forward.
Alonso smiled, “If you come any closer I’ll slit his throat.
I continued to move towards him.
He turned pale as his smile morphed into fear. “You heard me. If you don’t stop you’ll be responsible for the death of a Natural.”
I stopped maybe four feet from him. Still quiet, still focused on his eyes.
He smiled again. “There. I see we understand each other. Here’s how this is going to work. You’re going to turn around and go back into the church. I’m going to back out of the alley with this fool of a Natural. If I so much as get a glimpse of you or another Awakened, he dies. Do you understand?”
I stood saying nothing.
“Do you under …”
Suddenly Alonso was hit from behind by a cane. It was Abundio coming to his friends aid.
Alonso dropped the knife. I moved forward and grabbed his arm. I pulled him toward me, my head resting on his shoulder, my mouth near his exposed neck.
“Who are you!” Alonso cried out.
“I … am … Lazarus!”
I bit him on the neck. He dissolved into a pile of reddish brown dust, living dust. Abundio and Ignacio stared down at what was once Alonso in horror.
Ignacio looked up at me his mouth quivering. “Vampire … ” he whispered. “… Vampire.” Then he yelled it out “Vampire!” as he and Abundio ran down the alley.
I gathered the dust and shook my head. I had to leave town once again leaving behind a foolish legend.
The Dusting of Alonso, Awakened Incident Manual, AIM, page 193, 1480 A.D.