A Novel of the Lost Times
Countless months have disappeared into years. Life and living has gone on and a good deal has slipped from my recollections grasp. Inconsequential facts have stayed with me while significant things have escaped. Many things I know only from second hand witnesses and more had to be deduced. How often have observers been mistaken about events and happenings, stretched the truth beyond reason, or outright lied?
It never crossed my mind, till this time of unusual idleness came calling, that an imperative institution was being forgotten, that no one was recording the Chronicles of Life. I hesitated upon this reflection. It seemed a necessary assumption for me to take up the recording of the particulars. I have no training in the art of story telling or the recording of history. I am no schooled recorder of history nor even trained in the art of communicating with written script. Absolutely, I don’t have the perception, learning or wit of previous chroniclers of life.
I will confine myself to the listing of the details as I recollect them. The tale is long and hopefully not too altered by my own attendance upon the stage, nor by the effects the events have had on me.
Accept my apology, before we begin, for my additions to the Chronicles of Life. In the tradition of generations of scholars before me, I humbly accept the destiny life has put before me and continue the Annals of the Lost Times.
Their hilltop vantage point wasn’t the best. The distance to the clouds of dust was great. But Sarmon Roe understood what he was watching. “Their backs face the Great Divide and the Eternal Spaceman silently waits. Many Jenite were ferried across to oblivion today.”
Armies spared in front of the city of Origen, at the center of an egg shaped plain surrounded by rolling lowland hills covered by a yellow carpet of arwow on three sides, and the river Jaro, the life of the Lheine Del Sorro Plateau, on the other. Sarmon Roe and four fellow adventurers watched and wondered.
Rhom grunted agreement through the raised faceplate of his armored suit’s helmet. Gere, Sarmon Roe’s newest acquaintance, frowned through his silence. Fredar, the real mystery of the five, hadn’t moved in minutes. Sirine, Sarmon Roe’s oldest companion punted a rock down the hill and into a pool of rain water settling in a depression.
The battle was going against the forces they preferred victorious in the disaster occurring below. They felt helpless as they watched friends die, below.
Sarmon Roe and Sirine were humans, blond and brunette, born in the city of Harbinger, on the planet Eirriin, a planet three thousand light years closer to the galactic center than the killing ground below. Rhom was a Vendar of uncertain origins and notorious events, a dangerous and fatalistic individual use to saying little and doing a lot. Sarmon Roe and Sirine had rescued him from a certain fate as dinner for cragars a few years ago. He had stayed. The three had a bond soaked in Forgotten blood and forged in the fire of battle.
Sarmon Roe cursed softly through his dry lips, repeatedly, as the battle continued to unfold.
The fourth and fifth members were of human stock but out of place. The band included them out of necessity and survival, even if they wouldn’t have normally accepted them if they volunteered. The fourth member, Geer Seer, people called Io. Officially, he was a minor official of Phendor, the nation whose army was losing the battle to repel the forces of the Darkness. In reality he was the Phendorian court Djejorian, having been trained on the planet Feymhour by Ilsien himself. He was a sun-red little runt whose very existence annoyed Sarmon Roe. The fifth member, Fredar, had been wandering about the hills and had joined the party because they were the only ones he had met that hadn’t tried to kill him, yet.
“That’s your city’s army getting routed down there, Geer,” Sarmon Roe hissed. “Your family and friends last hope, it goes down, you go down. Bet the Darkness would love to lay hands on you.” Powers howled and screeched on the battlefield below. “Make you one of the Forgotten. But maybe you and the Darkness have already come to an agreement.”
“Slow down a bit, Roe,” Sirine said. “The old coedger is doing something.”
Roe looked at the red tinted squirt in his dusty attire. “Whatever. But for whom?”
Geer had his eyes shut. He mumbled and muttered. Sometimes his voice crackled and sizzled like bree sap burning on a log in an open fire and his facial expressions changed slightly as he focused.
“He isn’t doing anything to help the Jenites. You quit talking to yourself, you old wensel. We got a problem. Our guys are getting raked over hot coals down there. How about you do something to switch that around? Before I throw you over my lap?”
Geer opened his eyes. He stared across the plain. His facial expression was unpleasant. Sarmon Roe doubted that the old man’s eyes were good enough to make out details. But experience had taught him you never know with the runt. With his kind everything was smoke and mirrors, mask and pretense, cover and duck.
“Don’t be a fool, Sarmon. I’m a minor power, too little and too old. There is Darkness down there. They can swallow me whole like a dried pochpoach”. A pochpoach is a small insect-like life form that lives a nervous existence as a menu item for most local life forms.
Sarmon was nervous and grumbled as he shifted his feet and passed his armored suit’s helmet to his other arm. People he knew and cared about were dying.
Gere snapped, “All I can do – all any of us can do – is distract attention. Do you really want the Darkness to come looking for you?”
“They’re just the Jenites, eh? They took their commission, they take their chances? Even if forty thousand soldiers of Phendor were ferried across the Great Divide with them?
Gere’s lips shrank into a mean little pueene.
On the plain a living tidal wave swirled around a shallow hill where the Jenite standard had been planted for the final act. The tidal wave passed over the shallow hill and continued on toward the remaining hills.
“You wouldn’t be happy about the way things are going, would you?” Sarmon Roe’s voice had a sharp edge to it, no longer critical. Gere was a political creature, worse than a semile. Semiles might eat their young but their schemes and maneuverings were predictable.
Though irritated, Gere replied in a voice almost warm. “They achieved more against the Darkness than we thought possible.”
The plain was dense with the dead and dying, man and Jenite. Mad battle Kreen pinball around, recognizing no loyalty. Only one Jenite force was able to keep its veracity. It had fought its way to one of the three city entrances and was covering the retreat through the protective energy screens surrounding the entrance into the city. Flames rose beyond the city from an encampment overrun by forces of the Jenites. The Jenites had achieved that much success against the forces of the Darkness.
Gere said, “They’ve lost a battle but they saved Phendor. They eliminated one of the Forgotten. They’ve made it unfeasible for the Darkness to continue the campaign against Phendor. The Darkness will use its remaining strength trying to recapture Origen.”
Sarmon Roe snarled through a sneer. “Pardon me if I don’t dance and hum a happy tune. I liked some of those people. I don’t like the way you schemed to hoist them with their own lanch.”
Gere’s temper was stretched to its snapping point. “The Jenites weren’t fighting for Phendor, Sarmon. They wanted to use the things promised them to continue on to Djo Ko Dych. Which could be a worse fate than the enemy conquering the planet? Sarrin is only one of many planets that will fall if we do not stop the Darkness. The dark history and future of the Jenite’s could be a far worse fate for the galaxy.”
Sarmon knew rationalization when he stepped in it. “And because they wouldn’t lick your boots, even if they managed to pull your asses from the Darkness, you figured it handy, them getting caught like a gravor in a trap. A shame, say I. Would’ve been an entertaining two-step, watching your nervous footwork if they’d come up victorious and you had to fulfill your end of the agreement.”
“Ease up a bit, Sarmon,” Sirine said.
Sarmon ignored him. “Call me a cynic, Gere. But I’d bet everything you and Price had it figured out to back stab them from the beginning. Eh? Wouldn’t do to have them knife through the Darkness, but why the hell not? I never did get that part of the figuring.”
The battle and the war isn’t over yet, Sarmon,” Rhom said. “Wait. Io’s going to get his turn to rant and cry.”
The four just stared at Rhom. He spoke so little that when he did utter something the others knew it was likely significant. What did he know or figure out?
Sarmon asked, “You see something I missed?”
Sirine reacted, “Damn it, will you calm down?”
“Why the hell would I do that? The damned galaxy is overrun with conniving old devils like Gere. They’ve been scheming to screw us since Talla created life. Look at the little pint. Keeps complaining about how he’s got to keep a low profile and not let the Darkness find out he’s here. I think that means he’s got no guts, lacks the balls. That woman … you know who she was before? She had strength enough to confront the Darkness. You ponder that for awhile and you’ll realize she put more at risk than this little fart ever could.”
“Calm down, heaven and damnation. It ain’t right. Somebody has got to tell smelly farts like this to suck rotten eggs.”
Rhom smiled and nodded agreement. But Rhom didn’t get along with anybody in charge.
Sarmon, pretending to be distraught, noticed that Rhom was situated so he could smack the old man if he thought he was being insufferable.
Gere smiled. “Sarmon, once along time ago all of us wise old-farts were young bigmouths like you.”
Sirine put her body between them. “Enough nonsense! Instead of arguing like kids, how about we get the hell out of here before the battle catches up with us?” Parts of the battle swirled around the toes of the foothills they were viewing the battle from. “We can gather together all the garrisons from the towns north and south of here and collect everybody at Khoja.”
Sarmon nodded agreement, sourly. “Yeah. Maybe some of the Jenites survived.” He glared at Gere.
“Yeah. And if Price and the President were to get off their asses they might even line up a few real allies. Maybe come up with a power with a little hair on his chest and balls between his legs. One who wouldn’t spend his life and the whole battle hiding like a wensel in the arwow?”
Sirine headed down the back of the rise. “Come on, Rhom. Let them bicker.”
After a few seconds Gere confessed, “He’s right, Sarmon. We should get on with it.”
Sarmon tossed his golden hair, looked at Rhom. Rhom turned his head toward the ghants below the rise. “All right.” Sarmon turned to take one last look at the city and plain where the Jenites had perished. “We all know the difference between right and wrong and what is right is right and what’s wrong is wrong.”
“And what’s practical is practical and what’s needful is necessary Sarmon. Time to go,” said Gere.
Sarmon headed down the rise. He would remember that comment. He was determined to have the final word with the runt. “Bullshit, Gere. That’s pure bullshit. I saw an unwanted side of you today. I don’t like it one bit and I don’t trust you. I’m going to watch you like your conscience should.”
They mounted up and headed north.
In the first days of the present struggle the Jenites’ were under contract to the President of Phendor. A president that was too easygoing to master a numerous, factious people like the citizens of Phendor. But his natural optimism and forgiving nature were offset by his right hand women, Price. A large, oppressive, dark woman, Price had willpower of steel and the conscience of an earthquake to supplement her natural insecurity and inherited fear. Price wielded power through fear and intimidation.
While the Jenites’ and the Darkness battled for possession of Origen, the president held a press conference a thousand miles to the north.
The president stood six and half feet tall. Though dark skinned, his features were old-earth Caucasia. He stood glowering at the priests, engineers and citizens before him. He wanted to remove them, throw them out, but in god-infested Phendor, you insulted the priesthoods at your peril.
He saw Price signaling from the shadowed rear of the hall. “Excuse me.” He walked toward Price. Bad manners they would put up with. He joined Price. “What is it?”
“Not now.” Price said. “The priests looked unhappy.”
“They got their hands caught in a brabar trap; a brabar is a vicious animal that never thinks before acting. They insisted we build a temple as an offering because Tzazny has been having holy visions. But once the other priesthoods demanded a share he sang a different tune. I asked if Tzazny had begun having un-visions. They weren’t amused.”
“Good”, said Price.
Price led the president through frustrating passages beneath the city. Additions had been added during the reign of each president. No one knew the dark and twisting corridors completely, accept Gere.
Price made his way to one of Gere’s secret hideaways, a shelter protected from prying ears and eyes by Gere’s powers. The president closed the door. “Well?”
“A flere brought a note. From Gere.”
“The Jenites’ have felt defeat at T’szu Lau.” The good citizens of Phendor referred to Origen as T’szu Lau.
“Do you know another way…?”
“Yes.” Before the appearance of the Darkness T’szu Lau had been a peaceful state of farmers, fisherman, and miners. But when that evil first beckoned the president had exhumed the old contracts with the Jenites’. “Were the Jenite’s’ wiped out? Fleeing? How much damage did they do to the Darkness? Is Phendor in peril?”
“If only they hadn’t crossed the Alba.”
“They had to harass the survivors from Khoja ford. They’re the professionals, Price. We said we would let them handle the situation and not second guess or interfere. We never thought they could actually win at Khoja, so actually were way ahead of the game. Give me details.”
“A fleer isn’t a Thandor.” The president frowned in response. “The Jenites’ marched to T’szu Lau, took the city by sneakiness, eliminated the Forgotten Screamer and wounded the Forgotten Darkcloud. Unfortunately, today Forgotten Oblivion showed up with new forces, just arrived from the Dead Zone. Losses were severe on both sides. Oblivion may have been removed from the picture. But we clearly lost. Large forces of troops were able to retreat into Origen, the rest scattered. Almost all of the mercenaries, including the captain and his lady friend, are probably dead.”
“Lady Chamorain is dead? That’s a crying shame; she was a long night of pleasure.”
“You’re a lustful primate.”
“Guilty as charged. But she did draw eyes and stop men thinking wherever she went.
“And never seemed to notice. The only man she saw was her captain. That Windwalker character.”
“Are you upset because Windwalker only had time for Lady Chamorain?” said the president.
Price gave him a vicious glance.
The president didn’t seem to notice, “What’s Gere been up to?”
“Escaping north. Sarmon, Rhom, and Sirine will attempt to collect the survivors on the way and then rally them at Khoja.”
“This is not satisfactory. Gere should have remained close to Origen. Rallied the survivors there, to support the remaining Jenite in the city. The first rule is you never give up hard won territory covered with the blood of your fallen.”
“Gere is terrified the Darkness will learn of his existence.”
“They must know? If they didn’t it would certainly be a revelation to me.” The president frowned. “What’s he waiting for? I’m heading that way now.”
“Not a good idea. Those moron priests would steal you blind. Better stay. Keep them working on their stupid offering to the gods. I’ll go take care of it. And I’ll whip Gere’s rear end until he can’t sit on it anymore and comes out of hiding.”
“The president sighed. “You’re right. Go before they notice. They act better when they think you’re scrutinizing them.”
“They didn’t notice my absence last time.”
“Don’t leave me hanging on a cliff. They’re difficult to handle when they have more information then I do.”
“I’ll keep them teetering.” Price smiled. “Go amaze them with your new found confidence. Work them into a temple-building frenzy. Show appreciation to whichever sect produces the most. Get them working against each other, cutting each other apart.”
The president grinned mischievously. That was the game he thrived in. That allowed him to accumulate power. Manoeuvre the opposition into throwing down their weapons.
It was a macabre little procession. At its front was a shadowy thing that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be corporeal, or mist and shadow with intermittent physical forms. Behind that the figure of a man hovered two yards above the ground, feet foremost, carefully spread out. A seared wound visible on his chest. A ragged hole in his chest. Somehow, he was alive.
To the rear of the floating man was a grotesque humanoid with two long, thin, metal cylinders criss-crossed through its trunk. It drifted three meters above the ground, alive and writhing in pain, occasionally staring murderously at the shadowy figure at the columns head, or squirming like a worm on a hook. Two riderless ghants followed it, both red mounts larger than any natural ghant.
Black, red, and yellow tarrows by the thousands circled above the precession, traveling back and fourth reconnoitering the area ahead.
The column ascended the hills west of Origen, moving in shadowy dusk, once it paused, stood completely motionless thirty minutes while a ragged group of Origen fugitives passed. They noticed nothing. There were powers at work here.
The column continued moving within the darkness of night. The tarrows kept circling around, forming a rearguard, and scrutinized the surroundings for something. Many times they screamed at moving shadows, but calmed down rapidly. False alarms?
The line stopped a few miles from besieged Origen. The shadowy figure leading spent hours searching for a pool of ileuma, happily tested the organic acid on nearby vegetation. Then it grabbed the criss-crossed metal cylinders, pulled its victim off, and removed its air-tight armored covering.
A cheated, distant, whispering shadow exclaimed, “This isn’t one of the Forgotten!; when its victim’s helmet was removed.”
The tarrow went wild. Discussing? Arguing? The shadowy figure asked, “Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from?”
The thing did not respond. Maybe it was past communication. Maybe it did not understand that language. Maybe it was born intractable.
Pain produced no answers.
The shadowy questioner threw its victim into the ileuma pool, waved a shadowy appendage. The pool burst into flames. The shadowy figure formed corporeal hands, used the criss-crossed cylinders to keep its quarry from absconding. The burning pile had an endless supply of energy.
There was power at work here.
The burning mass was the Forgotten Oblivion. His forces had won at Origen but his own destiny had been final and humiliating.
The party didn’t continue on till the Forgotten Oblivion was gone, the fire reduced to ashes and the floating ashes cooled. Shadow formed into hands and gathered the remains. As it journeyed it sprinkled the ashes pinch by pinch.
The man with the lanch in his head moved up and down in the shadowy figures wake. The ghants brought up the rear.
The tarrows kept up their rounds. Once a large predator came too near and they screamed and squawked in unison. The shadowy form waved a corporeal appendage. The deadly predator walked off, mind not in attendance.
A slim form in ornate red Armour labored savagely. A body toppled off the pile of cadavers fallen upon the figure. The transfer in load made it possible to squirm out of the pile. Released, the figure rested immobile for a few moments, heaving within a macabre headpiece. Then it lifted itself into a comfortable sitting posture against the blackened stump of a bree.
Several minutes passed before the figure struggled out of metal gloves, exposing elegant, almost dainty, hands. A long, slim, finger pushed the release button for the headpiece. It came away reluctantly from the sweat covering the face, along with the sound of escaping gases, as the air-tight headpiece separated.
Long red hair dropped free around a face designed by nature to take the breath from a man. Within that ugly red metal suit was a young, starting woman.
I must account those moments in this way because I don’t remember them at all. I remember a shadowy and dark dream. A nightmare starring a blood red woman with huge claws and fangs like a laenor, sweeping away armies with a wave of her armored appendage. Little else remains. My first clear picture is of being seated beside the mound of carcasses with my headpiece resting in my lap. I was panting, trying to catch my breath, only partially aware that I had escaped from the mass of dead somehow.
The stink of a thousand nasty wounds hung in the air like a blanket. It was the fragrance of battlefields. I wondered how many times its aroma had filled my senses. A hundred, a thousand? And still it filled me with nausea.
I retched. Nothing materialized. I had emptied my belly into my headpiece while I was confined within the mass of dead. I hazily remember being horrified that I would expire in my own vomit.
I started vibrating uncontrollably. Tears fell, tingling, burning tears of reprieve. I had endured once more! I had survived eons beyond the lifespan of most life forms but I had misplaced none of my love and craving for the joys and flavors of life.
While I found my breath, I attempted to acquire my bearings. What I was doing here. Besides still breathing.
My final memories will rerun in my nightmares. I recall knowing that I was about to leave this existence.
I couldn’t figure out much sitting under the pile of bodies, but I didn’t need to see to know we had been soundly defeated. Had the Jenites’ been successful in turning the tidal wave, Windwalker would have located me long ago.
Why hadn’t the enemy?
There were shadows wandering on the battlefield, I heard low sounds, voices, arguing. Traveling towards me slowly. I had to leave the area.
I stood straight, was able to stumble five steps until I landed on my face, too drained to lift an eyebrow. Thirst was a devil consuming me from within. My gullet was too parched to utter a whine.
I’d stumbled over a body. The shadows were quiet suddenly.
They were creeping slowly toward the noise, intent on one more victim. Where was my weapon?
Death hung over me like a shadow. No weapon and no vitality to wield one if it had suddenly appeared before they discovered me.
I could make out their shadows now, three men back lighted by a shallow glow from Origen. Diminutive men, like most of the enemies soldiers. Neither physically powerful nor exceptionally skilled fighters, but in my current condition they wouldn’t need strength nor skill.
Pretend I’m dead? No. They were veterans of this work. Dead bodies would be cold to the touch now.
Before my final breath they would do more than relieve me of my valuables.
I doubted they would kill me. They would be familiar with the battle suit and insignia. The Darkness was aware of my past lives. They knew the knowledge I carried within my noggin, booty they wished to plunder. There would be a prize for the lucky one to come across me.
Maybe the gods were watching or karma does exist. A commotion broke out to the rear of the shadows. Sounded like a group attacking from within Origen, a raid to make life harder for the enemy soldiers. Kobaga wasn’t resting on his accomplishments waiting for the Darkness to come calling.
One of the shadows uttered something in an excited voice. Another shadow told him to be quiet. The third shadow offered his opinion. They argued briefly. The first shadow wanted to ignore the racket. He’d had his fill of fighting.
The other shadows overruled him.
The gods were sympathetic. Two reliable soldiers gave me back a life.
I stayed where I’d collapsed, resting for several moments before I made it onto hands and knees and struggled back to the pile of cadavers. I stumbled across my weapon, an ancient and consecrated item created by the Karqui in the first days of the Darkness. A legendary weapon, but no one, not even Windwalker, had been told its beginnings.
I slowly crawled toward the area where, when last I saw him, my love had been making a last stand, just him and Yirgin and the Jenite standard, attempting to hold back the Darkness. It seemed an endless journey. I came across a mutilated Jenite with water in his container. I swallow it and continued on. My strength returned as I walked. By the time I reached the area where I had seen Windwalker fall I could stagger along nicely.
There was nothing of my love to be found there. Just more maimed bodies. Windwalker was not among the bodies. The Jenite standard was missing. I felt empty. Had the Darkness captured my love?
The Darkness would value him terribly for humiliating their soldiers at Khoja, for liberating Origen, for butchering the Forgotten magicians, Screamer and Oblivion.
I didn’t want to believe they had him. It had taken me my life to find my love. No deity, no destiny, could be so heartless.
The dark of the shadows grew quiet. The attack from within Origen had retreated. Looters would come back now.
I began to walk, stumbled into a dead ghant and almost wailed, thinking I had staggered accidentally into a monster.
The ghants had carried soldiers and all types of items. Some might be necessary for survival. I borrowed a few morsels of dried meat, a container of water, a power pack for my weapon, a few sparkling trinkets, whatever caught my eye. Then I walked northward, determined to reach the distant mountains before the sun ascended into the green sky. I threw away half my loot before I reached them.
I rushed. Enemy patrols would be searching for important cadavers once the sun came up.
The only thing I could do now, was survive? I was the last of the Jenite. There was little left…something entered me like a forgotten memory reappearing. I would turn back time. I would become what I had once been.
Attempting not to think did not relieve the feeling. I collected old memories. And the more I recalled the more furious I became. The emotion of anger fashioned me till my feelings were of vengeance.
As I walked into the mountains I yielded. Those creatures who had raped my aspirations had inscribed their destiny of downfall in my mind. I would do whatever it took to achieve this.
The Darkness floated across an alcove illuminated with white light so blinding he seemed a dark form caught in the maw of the sun. He hugged the one metal wall in a reflective alcove where no Darkness ever appeared unless beckoned to appear by dire need. His fear of the Darkness was absolute, pathological.
The alcove was the highest in the tallest spire of the city Altair, south of Origen, a city resting on the southern edge of the Elterian continent. South of Altair lay a wide expanse of glittering metal resting on a carpet of yellow arwow, a place where metal pillars rose into the sky like forgotten supports. Construction of the new section of the city had begun there nineteen years ago, Altair wasn’t finished. Changes would continue through out the life of the city. Once the current additions were made, no natural or supernatural force would be able to breach it.
Weird and strange, deadly and fatal, terrifying beings hungered within the Darkness, yearned for freedom from the expanse of shimmering metal. They were dark, insubstantial, things that could snuff the energy from a living being as quickly as death if it didn’t stay within the light.
His power had shown him the results of the fight at Origen, twenty-five hundred miles north of Altair. He was satisfied. His competitors Oblivion and Screamer had expired. Darkcloud had been severely wounded. A tap here, a stroke there, subtly, would leave Darkcloud drained.
He should be allowed to live for now, he couldn’t be eliminated just yet. Oh, no. Not yet. Dangerous powers were laboring. Darkcloud would be the breakwater against which the tidal wave depleted its remaining forces.
Those remaining Jenite in Origen will be given every opportunity to deplete Darkcloud’s troop strength. Now that Darkcloud had control of all three Darkness forces, Darkcloud was a lot more dangerous.
Quietly and overtly, subtlety was required. Every move needed to be decided carefully. Darkcloud was a genius. He understood who his most dangerous opponent was. Once he eliminated the Origens and the Jenites’ he would instantly send his army against Altair.
She was out there somewhere, moving her pieces across the board in her own game, not in the peak of her power but as fatal as a krate despite this. Then there was the woman whose mind carried information that could be priceless, a treasure to be collected by any inquisitor.
He required a cat’s-paw. He couldn’t leave Altair. The Darkness was out there lingering, endlessly waiting. There was a force in the jungle north of Origen. It rankled with complaints genuine and dreamed. I could be drawn into the play.
He caught a shimmer of shadow from the side of his eye. He shrieked and flew away.
Just a tarrow, a damned curious tarrow flapping about outside.
It was time this power was brought into the game.
But how to do this without departing Altair?
Energy and forces stirred on the expanse of shimmering metal.
The Darkness was observing, hanging around. It felt the growing passion of the game.
I passed out in a growth of yellow and green brush in a hollow bree. I’d run through stark white almera and past dangerously hanging poison darth, losing belief, till I happened onto that hollow jungle in a gully. I was way past tired, just crawled in, thinking chance would be sympathetic.
A tarrow’s cry brought me out of another dreadful dream. I opened my eyes. Sunlight touched me on the arm through the thick brush. It covered me with specks of reddish light. I’d thought that nobody could see me in the midst of the thick brush but that was optimistic thinking.
Shadows were skulking around the bushes near the perimeter of the gully. I caught a glance of one, the sounds of another. Damn! The enemies’ minions. They retreated some and whispered.
I glimpsed them momentarily but they appeared disheartened, less like predators than the prey. Interesting.
They were aware of my presence, I was certain. There was no other reason for them to be behind me talking too shallow for me to pick out anything they uttered.
If I turned toward them they would know I knew they were there. The last thing I wanted to do was surprise them. I was too weak and they might attempt something I would certainly regret. The tarrow cried again. I began to gradually rotate my head.
I stood rock still.
There was a different shadow on the field, a filthy little dark hued man in dirt stained clothing with a scruffy cloth wrapped around his head. He hid behind thin blue and orange talmera brush. He reminded me of one of the slaves Windwalker had released after our triumph at Khoja. Were the soldiers aware of his presence?
Not that it was significant. There wasn’t much chance he would be any help.
I was resting against a bree. My scalp tingled. The sensation reminded me that my powers had shown signs of strengthening since my return to Kalbrean. I had been scared to test it since the signs returned.
I needed to do something. Otherwise they would. My weapon rested inches from my hand…
It was a beginner’s skill, a practice skill, not a weapon at all, just as a cleaver isn’t. In past years no more effort then flicking a switch. Lately it was as difficult as hearing for a deaf and blind person. I attempted forming the power in my mind. The annoyance! The screeching aggravation of knowing the thoughts and energies and being unable to accomplish it.
But the switch flicked. Almost the way it had back in the days of old. Startled, delighted, I focused on the thoughts and energies required, stirred my mind. My thoughts moved to memory.
The Wondrous Lanch appeared in my left hand.
I leaped up, flipped it, and lifted it high. The black lanch flew straight. The shadow made a panicked sound while attempting to block it. It stamped its form on his chest.
It was a euphoric instant. Triumph with that childish enchantment was an important improvement over my previous attempts to get beyond my handicap.
My remains wouldn’t react to my minds orders. Too rigid from exhaustion, too worn out and black-and-blue for escape. I attempted to rush the second soldier. Managed to stagger towards him. He gawked, then sprinted. I was surprised and amazed.
I felt a presence, before I heard a sound like the cough of a ghant to the rear.
A man stepped out of the shadows down the gully. He pitched something at the fleeing soldier. The soldier fell onto his face and was silent.
I pulled myself out of the hollow bree, and then placed myself so I could view the slayer and the filthy little ex-slave who had made the ghant cough. The assassin was an extremely large individual. He wore remnants of a uniform of the Origen regular army.
The small man walked around the brush deliberately, looked at my prey. He was impressed. He uttered something remorseful in Origenian, then something animated, rapidly in a tongue that wasn’t familiar to me, to the huge man, who had started investigating his victim. I caught a word now and then, all seemed to have a cultish hint to them but I wasn’t certain in the current situation. I don’t know whether he was referring to me or making a prayer to one of the many Origenian deities. I picked up something like “the Expected One” and “Spawn of Darkness”, “the Bone Collector” and “the Abyss” and a “Years of Death”. I remembered hearing “Daughter of Death” and “Years of Death” somewhere, in the religious chatter of god-ridden Origenians, but had no idea of their significance.
The big one mumbled. He hadn’t found any valuables. He swore at his victim, kicked him. “Nothing useful.”
The small man groveled. “Beg your pardon, Lady. We’ve been relieving these hounds of their lives all morning, trying to make enough to return home. But these wensel are worse off then I was when a slave.
“You are aware of who I am?”
“Oh, yes, Lady. The Captain’s Lady.” His voice spoke the last two words like he knew the significance, individually and distinctly. He bowed four times. Each time his left hand fingered the end of a length of red cord that was visible over the top of the dirty cloth covering his head. “We watched over you while you dozed. Pardon our impudence. We should have known you would need no guard.”
Wow, did he reek. “Who else have you run into?”
“Yes, Lady. One or two, from a distance. Fleeing, all of them.”
“Have you seen any soldiers of the Darkness?”
“They are hunting, but with no real zest for the job. Their superiors only sent a few. A couple thousand like these wensel,” he pointed to the man I had killed. His larger partner was rummaging the body. “Plus a few hundred ghant-men. They must be occupied with watching the city.
“Kobaga must be giving them trouble, purchasing time for people to escape the carnage.”
The larger one said, “Nothing on this virmen, as well, Kenatar.”
The smaller one cursed.
Kenatar? The Origenian word for leader or commander. The little man had called me this earlier, with a different voice inflection, when he referred to me as the Captain’s Lady.
I already knew the answer, but I asked anyway. “Do you know where the Captain is?”
The odd couple exchanged surprised glances. The little one stared uncomfortably at a blackened bree, then the ground. “Windwalker is dead, Mistress. He fell struggling to unite the army around the standard.” He pointed at his friend, “Bul witnessed it. An energy beam hit him in the chest.”
My legs couldn’t hold me; I sat down on a rise of ground. Nothing to say. I’d seen the energy beam strike him, too. Part of me didn’t want to consider it. Until I’d heard someone else say it, I realized, I’d been carrying some small hope that I was mistaken.
Ridiculous that I could experience such loss and anguish. Damn him, Windwalker was just a human! How did I get so mixed up? Wasn’t supposed to be this complicated.
Sitting here thinking isn’t getting me anywhere. I stood up. “We lost a battle but the conflict continues. The Darkness will wish he never heard of the city Origen and the Jenites’. Tell me your names.”
The smaller one stood a little taller, “I’m Herophan, Lady.” He grinned. I’d come to want to remove that grin. “A joke on me. It’s a Camar name.” He was Gynni, obviously. “Do I look like a Herophan?” He turned his head to his larger friend, who was Camar. Camar men tend to be lofty, huge and totally hairless. This individual had a dirty cloth wrapped around his head also. “I was a farmer before the Darkness came to Khoja and enslaved everyone they didn’t kill during the battle for the city.”
That was before we’d landed at Origen, last year, when Sarmon Roe and Sirine were doing their unskilled best to stop the first wave of the incursion.
“My associate is Bul. Bul was a Plenphary farmer living outside the city of Origen before he joined the army.”
“Why did he call you Kenatar?”
Herophan peeked at Bul, displayed a smirk packed with rotten teeth, moved closer to me, whispered, “Bul wasn’t blessed with great intelligence. Strong as a bull my friend is, and untiring, but his light isn’t always on.”
I indicated agreement but wasn’t convinced. Two odd tarrow they were. Camar and Gynni didn’t normally hang out together. Camar think themselves superior to everybody. Being seen socializing with a Gynni would be considered a social ruination for a Camar. And Herophan was the lowest class of Gynni. Yet Bul allowed him to lead, displayed respect towards him.
I could think of no obvious evil plans they might have towards me. At the time any fellow traveler was a step up on journeying unaided. I mentioned, “We should leave the area, more wensel could come looking… What is he doing?”
Bul had picked up a twenty pound rock. He started smashing the bones of the soldier he’d killed. Herophan said, “Bul. Stop that. We’re going.”
Bul seem to be perplexed. He considered. Then he nodded and disposed of the rock. Herophan never explained his behavior. He said to me, “We glimpsed one larger group at dawn this morning, about twenty individuals. We might be able to catch them.”
“I agree this would be a good beginning.” I could feel my stomach protesting about the need for sustenance. I had last eaten before the battle began. I portioned out what I had retrieved from the dead ghant. It only provided a little energy. Bul tore into it like it was his last meal, now totally uninterested in the dead.
Herophan laughed. “What did I tell you? A bull. Come. Bul bring her battle suit.”
Three hours down the road we found twenty-six escapees hiding in a grove of trees on a hill top. They were defeated souls, indifferent, so defeated they no longer thought about escape. Only one or two had their weapons. I hadn’t known any of them before the battle. Not surprising. The Jenites’ had entered the fray with over one hundred thousand Phendorian and Origenian souls.
They recognized me. Their self respect and outlook improved immediately. It was nice to inspire, to witness belief and faith flower amongst them. They stood at the same time and bowed from the waist.
I could see Origen and the egg shaped plain as I stood on that summit. The invading army was vacating the hills, must have been withdrawn. Excellent. We would gain some time to prepare before they started looking again.
I took a better look at my new companions.
Already I saw signs of their acknowledgement of my leadership. Good.
Herophan had started conversing with each man separately. I saw signs of fear in many of them as he spoke. Why? Couldn’t figure it out? Something was definitely strange about Herophan. “Bul, make a fire. I want to fill the sky with smoke.”
He turned to look at me, volunteered five men, and then started down the rise to gather dry wood.
Herophan ran over, grin in full bloom, tracked by an individual of staggering breadth. As a rule Origenians are so thin your first instinct is to offer them food. This one appeared devoid of any fat. He was built like a Teghir, the biggest predator in that part of the planet. “This is Whindu, Lady, by reputation a good man to have nearby.” Whindu nodded his head a little. I thought him the grim sort. Herophan continued, “Whindu is an excellent candidate to join the army.”
I noticed a brown cord sprouted from the top of the dirty cloth covering his head. He was Gynni. “Anything you can do to improve our situation will be well received, Whindu. You and Herophan organize this group. Make a list of our resources.”
Herophan smiled, nodded his head, left with his new acquaintance.
I sat on a log, apart from the group, stared at the city, forgot about the world. Conjuring the Wondrous Lanch had been easier than I anticipated. I tried again.
I unlocked what residual energy remained. A pebble-size ball of pinkish energy appeared. The power was returning.
The pleasure, the relief, there was no way to communicate it.
I concentrated on ghants.
Fifteen arns later a giant, majestic, red ghant came into view, walked right up and licked my hand. My companions were wide eyed.
I was amazed. I never expected any to come. And that ghant was only the foremost of six to appear. Before the fourth arrived another two hundred men wandered in from all directions. The summit was jam-packed.
I rallied the men around me. “We’ve lost one conflict, men. Some of you have misplaced hope, too. That’s to be expected. You weren’t trained from birth in a warrior custom. But this planet is far from defeated. And now, it doesn’t end until the Darkness and its minions are dead. If you don’t have the strength to do what needs to be done, excuse yourself from my presence. Leave while you can, I won’t let you after this point.”
They traded concerned looks but none offered to journey unaccompanied.
“We’ll head towards the sun. Collect provisions, weapons, and as many men as we find. We’ll prepare. We’re returning by the end of the year. When we do, the Darkness will think the gates to Jholl have swung open.” Even now no one left. “We leave at dawn. If your still here, you never leave.” I attempted to cast a belief of certainty that we would rule the galaxy.
As I prepared to retire for the evening Bul took a spot close by, my unwanted defender.
I closed my eyes considering what had happened to six golden ghants that had not answered. Twelve had come south with us. Specifically designed in the first days of the empire I had discarded for strength and endurance, they were eternal. One was worth more than a thousand soldiers.
I secretly listened to soft voices, listened to the same words Herophan had uttered when we first met. They disturbed the men.
I noted that Bul had his cord peeking from the top of the dirty cloth covering his head, also. His was an off white. He wasn’t as diligent about its appearance as Herophan or Whindu. Three individuals from two spiritual sects, each with a colored cord. There must be a reason?
Herophan tended the fire. Posted guards. He enforced a reasonable order. He was way too prepared for a fish seller and one time slave.
The dark nightmare, the same as before, was vivid, lucid, though when dawn arrived, only the memory of a soft voice repeating my name remained. Disturbing, but I considered it a trap of the mind.
Someway, by some means, the dark compensated Herophan with booty sufficient to supply us all a small feast.
I led my band toward the rising sun at daybreak, while accounts of rival forces searching the hills kept coming in. Order was an agreeable shock, bearing in mind our situation.
Origen is set in a valley surrounded by a protecting cauldron of low foothills that lead upwards into the Talmarian, an unwelcoming and unforgiving land of bandits and lost souls. The low foothills below Origen lead down to fertile lowlands with intertwining rivers fed by the river Jaro. I had camped the band a few miles from Origen, near one of the lesser rivers into which the river Jaro flows.
The Darkness was currently busy trying to secure the lands surrounding Origen, in an effort to keep the souls within contained. I would stop to assess and prepare for the days ahead while they weren’t pushing me and would move the band when necessary. The days and nights ahead would be hard ones with the road I had chosen, the coming battles would test the band. This contest of wills would be no easy conquest. The belief that the forces of the Darkness were close and might appear over the hills would encourage discipline in the men. I would keep this thought in the minds of the men, while I taught the band the military habits necessary for survival and victory in future battles.
“Herophan, walk with me a moment.”
“The band will begin to fall apart once we get settled and the men feel more secure.” I had started referring too Herophan, Bul, and Windhu as extensions of my will. They accepted this without comment or obvious protest.
“I know, My Lady. The men wish to go home to their families and farms. The grand adventure of their lives is over. They once again wish for the simple life they’re use too”. The expression on his face was again grating on my nerves. His sinister grin indicated something my senses had yet to perceive. “We’ll have to convince the men the coming battles are fated encounters destined to determine the future of Phendor. They have a lot to habits and beliefs we must purge from them.”
Phendor culture was a melting pot of religions I had yet to understand, a confusing mess of various sects and social systems which seemed to defy common sense. The questions I asked only seemed to confuse people. Religious confusion was the way things had always been. I would have outlawed the confusion. But this power was beyond my reach, just as it had been in my former empire. Somethings are beyond the reach of any power or dictator.
I would continue to ask questions. A little knowledge of the religious systems in place would allow me to shape it into a tool I could use to sway the men.
“I need to form a group of men we can trust, Herophan. Men we can count on when things really get messy. You’ll find these men for me.”
“My Lady speaks, it shall be so.” His expression once again forming the sinister grin which could be learned from staying positive during a life of troubles. Still… the longer Herophan stayed with me the more mysterious he seemed.
The reason for this escaped me? Herophan was whole heartedly Phendorian. A member of a lower sect and seller of every day household items, with a wife, three children and a few grandchildren running around the countryside, when he had last heard. One of the seemingly common sort that keeps plugging away at life, with a smile. He acted at times more like a father caring for his favorite daughter, or brother looking out for a cherished sister. Yet there was something sinister in the air surrounding him.
Bul had even more of a strange air surrounding him. Thirty-six years of age, he had lost his wife and child during childbirth. Left feeling depressed over the loss of his life and love. He had most likely joined the army hoping to find the death that took his wife and child.
Windhu has the mystery of the three. I had learned little about his life. Windhu only talked when pressed and the sinister air of mystery surrounding him felt even more strange than the grin of Herophan.
My life has been spent in the company of similarly sinister characters. In the service of the ultimate power in the galaxy for millennium. I would handle these sinister characters and bind them to my will.
The funny thing was that none of them showed the religious fervor of Phendorian society. Phendorian life overflows with religious beliefs. Religious obligations fill every moment of life for the average citizen. This fact was a constant worry at the forefront of my consciousness, until I perceived a level of religious fervor in the band below the level I experienced in Origen. I selected a man and questioned him about this.
His answer made sense. “There are no priests in the band.”
Like all religious societies, Phendorian society doesn’t consist of only true believers. The events of the past few weeks, months and years had also shaken the foundations of their religious beliefs. Had pulled them free of their safe lives and thrown them head first into a storm their religious beliefs had no way of explaining. Life as they knew it had changed forever and their experiences would change the fabric of Phendorian life and society once they went back home.