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Legend of Axiatés Episode 6

 

Legend of Axiatés

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

J.B. Kleynhans

 

 

 

Legend of Axiatés

Episode 6

Copyright 2017 by J.B. Kleynhans

Shakespir Edition

 

 

Episode 6

 

Fedaro woke up not knowing where he was. Above him hovered the figure of Gloria, having already opened his capsule. With the sleeping gasses still sitting heavily in his system, it took Fedaro a moment to realize she was slapping his face very lightly, his vision of her drifting in and out of focus.

‘Are you done napping now?’ she asked.

‘I think so,’ said Fedaro sitting up. ‘Did you wait long?’

She considered her answer, then shook her head. ‘But I got bored.’

‘Where are we?’ he asked.

‘The town sign outside says Bodka,’ said Gloria, ‘I had a look around while you were out, but I didn’t go too far,’ she added.

Fedaro breathed out in relieve, having had his doubts about whether the controls at the capsule system was still functioning accurately.

Just for a second Fedaro thought it strange that Gloria had not run off in a bid to get back to her ruined kingdom. Maybe she was already giving that idea up. Or maybe, she realized that even with her powers she needed someone like Fedaro to escort her there. No one less than the mercenary would do, barring of course a contingent of men.

He was however more worried that the girl woke so much earlier than he; her being much lighter of build should have knocked her out longer if the capsules issued a similar amount of sleeping gas.

That hit from the wendigo, the way he slammed Fedaro’s head against the ice… I can be lucky to get away with only a concussion.

Composing himself Fedaro clambered out. He slung his rile across his back, knowing he would need to make a plan with it as soon as they entered the town confines. It would be greatly out of place here and they needed to keep a low profile.

‘Where’s the Hippo?’ asked Gloria.

Fedaro anticipated the inevitability of the question. Still he was uncomfortable answering it. He looked around, as though he was sincerely hoping to see the Hippo’s capsule somewhere.

‘This is what I was afraid off. I think there was an error on the computer, the capsule system might’ve sent him to a different destination.’

‘So he might be anywhere?’ asked Gloria, her voice croaking.

‘Yes,’ said Fedaro.

Gloria started sniffing.

‘I’m sure he’s alright,’ said Fedaro frowning.

She turned on the waterworks, wiping at her face. He did not quite expect this.

‘Can we please go look for him?’

‘I wouldn’t know where to start,’ he lied.

‘I can send one of my spirits to go and look for him!’

‘Where would you send it off to?’ asked Fedaro.

Gloria looked unsure.

‘He’ll be alright, okay?’ We’ll meet up with him sooner or later. His capsule would simply have gone to another town. If he can survive the Desolates on his own, nothing surrounding the Imperial empire is going to get him down.

Gloria nodded, looking appeased for the moment, but would carry some worry all the same.

‘Are we within the Imperial empire now?’ she asked.

‘Not quite. Bodka and the associate holdings surrounding it are considered a province, quite tiny at that, but they still lie south of a heavily fortified border. We have some way to go yet.’

Gloria nodded numbly.

‘Come I’ll show you the town,’ said Fedaro, hoping to distract her. He didn’t think she would care that much about the Beluka.

Before that however Fedaro stashed their more precarious items in the first sealed-off mine entrance they could find, no different from the enclosure of the underground capsule chamber they just emerged from. Unlike the capsule chamber however he didn’t think anyone would poke around here. The weeds that grew in tunnel entrance was a quick solution to putting weapons out of sight for the moment, even though it was not the most original hideaway Fedaro had ever conceived. He had to work with what he had.

They entered the town proper after that.

The houses, especially the older ones were built with grey stone, cut and fitted with clinical precision that went well with the clean streets and fresh air that rolled in from the hills cradling the town in the east.

‘These are odd people,’ here said Gloria, looking suspiciously at the pedestrians passing them by.

Fedaro smirked.

The people here were perfectly normal, boringly so, thought Fedaro. It was Gloria herself that was not in tune with how the Imperial Empire looked like. Not that he was going to tell her that.

The town was peculiar in no way. It had tripled storied buildings throughout its scope, the ground floor buildings being shops and the like, while the upper stories were residential, small sets of stairs wedged between the buildings evidence of this as no one wanted to come home entering through someone else’s business.

Bodka was famous for nothing other than being the remains of a mining town, once threatened to become a ghost town in its entirety before experiencing some resurgence from being one of the few places shielded from the solar flares scarpering over the landscape. Small-time tech developers and a few retirements’ villages against the lake kept this place alive, which gladdened Fedaro. There was simply not many places left in Doma Arak that were this tranquil or civilized for that matter.

‘The surrounding hills have a high aluminium content, it buffets the town from solar waves,’ explained Fedaro. ‘All the mine tunnels are shut completely, the exception being the capsules tunnel we came through.’

Gloria was frowning at him, wondering why he was telling her this. He only then remembered she would have little appreciation solar flares damaging electrical devices.

He resolved to explain to her exactly how the Goddess and her suns helped power the world, their consequences, and the lengths everyone went to shield their precious technology. He would have a few things to explain he mused by himself.

‘Why are we here?’ asked Gloria.

‘We’ll catch an airship north of here. It’s one of the few places on the Imperial border that do not do customs, and more importantly in our case, they do not use personal identification measures.

‘Why is that?’ she asked.

‘Idiots cut their funding – the bigwigs I mean up in Doma Arak. They basically told the docks on the outlying regions, “take care of yourself, be creative” – and the docks’ response was “we’ll do exactly that.” So for a nominal fee, they ship anyone or anything short of a monstra.’

Gloria frowned. ‘That doesn’t sound very secure.’

‘No it isn’t. But make no mistake; the hardest part is getting close to Doma Arak itself. The true security lies around the heart of the empire.’

Fedaro rushed them into the first sports shop he could find. ‘You had stores in Arterra right? Don’t take anything unless we pay for it.’

‘Of course we did!’ she said, slightly outraged.

Dimly aware that he had lost Gloria somewhere along the way, he was content that she would not cause trouble and was more than in her rights to have a look about the place. On his own mission he quickly got two sports bags suited to the task and marched to the cashier. Done, he went to look for Gloria, finding her observing the wall where all the sporting equipment were displayed, more specifically, the rackets, bats and hockey sticks. Fedaro came to fetch her, having gotten what he needed. ‘These people are not ready,’ she said seriously, shaking her head.

‘Ready?’ asked Fedaro.

For battle!’ she insisted. ‘These weapons are extremely clumsy and they have no sharp edges! And they cannot use these woods as blunt weapons. They will shatter! And what’s this?’ she said taking a golf club. ‘Why would a war hammer be made like this!?’

Her mixture of dismay and amusement reached its peak when she picked up a tennis ball, smelt it and squeezed it as though probing its fitness for war and by the look of her face, she had some serious reservations whether it could be a deadly projectile. ‘They are not ready,’ she repeated gravely.

Fedaro smiled at her, maybe a little more fondly than he would typically allow. Fedaro had never been to Arterra – few people have, their borders being largely closed and all. But he imagined the backwater kingdom’s contrast to a modern world were quite vast. Gloria’s innocence was refreshing.

‘One day I’ll show what these are really used for,’ said Fedaro, leading her out of the store, having a hard time not laughing the more he thought of her tirade on the sport’s shop low quality weapons. He was certain that with her being in the Hold she must’ve seen some electronic devices, the Hold being a very modernized prison with keypad security doors and high quality medical centres that did mandatory scans on all of its inmates. But to her eyes those devices might just as well be propelled by magic rather than micro chips and electricity. She most likely didn’t even know how a rifle like Fedaro’s worked. Seeing equipment that looked like weapons in her native country was probably the first time she could comment on anything modern.

Fedaro led them back to the mine entrance and the placed all their weapons they could not hide on their person in the bags, taking off the barrel from his Musket so that it would fit. Coming back into town, Fedaro took another route, and made a beeline for the northern border, each of them carrying a bag now with their supplies and weapons. Fedaro though Gloria was looked especially thoughtful as she shifted the strap of the bag from one shoulder to the other.

‘Am I a wretch that should carry my own weight?’ asked Gloria.

Fedaro was very surprised by the question and had to think back a little to what she was referring to; that’s what he said about himself back in the Desolates – that he wasn’t someone who needed to be carried. At the time he had said that not taking in consideration that Gloria was stricken with a leg injury, and she was carried by Beluka for virtually most of their journey through the Gardens.

Fedaro shook his head. ‘That was in no way aimed at you. My father… was a man physically superior to most men, strong like Beluka but fast and with great endurance. He set standards to other men that they could not live up to. Growing up in his shadow, could … create some ideas of what man should and should not be. When I said that, I was echoing what he would’ve said.’

Gloria nodded with a slight smile, feeling a little better.

‘I hope you’re up for some walking. Although we should be able to hitchhike with a passing by truck or such; I won’t have us walk all the way.’

‘I am happy walking for a while,’ agreed Gloria.

Fedaro came to the north border of the town, and then saw a heavy blockade. The Imperials were here; blue-grey uniforms stood here in the numbers carrying assault rifles and their trademark helms. They had erected twin lines of wooden fencing on each side of a railway track that marked the boundaries of the town. Armoured vehicles were parked every dozen yards, of which three were Ganzer artillery units (they were very much like howitzers, with an arc to their projectiles reminiscent of a mortar, which made them useful for targets on the other side of the hills). On either side of the street leading out, sentry towers were erected, the look-outs on them more than likely to have a sniper at the ready.

They were clearly geared for some small army at the least. Regardless Fedaro was wary that this blockade might very well be aimed at them. Could that bastard Sternroe have called in support this quickly? Fedaro would rather not find out.

A paltry few civilian vehicles were lined up to pass through, but were checked thoroughly by the Imperials as they slowly went through.

This blockade could be set up for anyone, but he wasn’t going to try and stroll right out of town with the current setup in place. Gloria of course would be identifiable by their system and that too would be problem. He explained this much to her.

‘What now?’

‘We’re going to have to sit tight for a few days. Just as well. We can do with the rest.’

Fedaro turned away, before one of those sentries trained their binoculars on them. Leading them back into town, Fedaro sought out the best hotel he could find, which was still pretty modest, although well-furnished and as neat and well-kept as the rest of the town. He got them adjoining rooms. Should the Imperials raid the place, they could at least rendezvous within a moment. Not that he expected any trouble.

Throwing down his things in his room, Fedaro realized how badly they needed the rest. This is maybe not such bad turn of events after all, he thought, dismissing the blockade as tomorrow’s problem. He heard Gloria fiddle with the bathroom’s taps on her side, and thought he too might wash off before hitting the hay.

 

The next day Fedaro didn’t confront the blockade problem. Rather he made a few stops that he felt was necessary now that they were given the time. He stocked up on additional supplies (he couldn’t find one single gunsmith in town, although that did not surprise him) and then let Gloria browse a couple of shops for new clothes. He hung around until she was ready to pay and then punched in his account pin.

‘Won’t the Imperials find us?’ she asked , ‘if you keep doing that she added,’ lifting her eyebrows at the keypad.

Fedaro smiled. The girl’s grasp on technology, and its implications, were quite startling for someone from her milieu. ‘No worries. In the Desolates I had to use an account linked to the military to access that supply depot. Here I can use any private account. They can trace it, but only if they know about it, which they don’t.’

Gloria didn’t look like she entirely followed the concept, having latched onto Fedaro’s previous admission that him buying things on the keypad equalled to alerting the authorities. She did however trust that he knew what he was doing so did not raise any further concern.

Going about town they treaded carefully, but other than the blockade itself the Imperial presence in town was truly minimum.

Fedaro’s most important stop for the day was at a little tech shop, which was better stocked than he hoped. He marched right by any of the stores’ premium products packed out in front, which of course differed very little from the slightly older things in the back. Worming through the aisles Fedaro found the vitality bracelets. He took the very first one he could lay his hands on, a garish yellow one, did a double take, put it back, and turned to Gloria. ‘Which one do you like?’ he asked. Surprised, she hunched down and scanned the varieties.

‘The red one,’ she said finally.

‘Red it is.’

Taking Gloria’s preferred bracelet, they were pestered by a salesman before they could move on.

‘Those work wonderfully if you pair them with Opulus unit, which can be used to regulate most of your household…’

Fedaro held up his hand. ‘This will do just fine, the last thing I need is a toilet that backchats me. I just need to measure some vitals.’

The young man swallowed hard, probably realizing Fedaro wasn’t the type of customer to try and embroil in a sales pitch.

‘Do you have some notebooks, the shielded series? I might pass through some areas with flare activity ’

‘Of course sir, just follow me. We’ll ring up a discount for the paired purchase anyway.’

Outside Fedaro gave the bracelet to Gloria after removing it from its packaging.

‘Is this expensive?’ asked Gloria.

‘It doesn’t matter.’

Gloria looked fondly at the bracelet as she started affixing it to her wrist, but then narrowed her eyes.

‘So what’s all this for? Is it like your bracelet?’

Fedaro chuckled. Like you could possibly find my bracelet in your run of the mill computer shop, he thought in amusement.

‘No. It’ll help monitor your vitals; you know your heart-rate and such, which will come in handy in determining exactly what is happening when you can actually use your powers. I’d rather of course hook you up to some proper machinery, an EEG if I could have my way…’

Gloria immediately stuck the bracelet back into Fedaro’s hands. He guessed he should’ve been grateful she didn’t just toss it into the river.

Fedaro was a little surprised, but it dawned on him soon enough why she had that reaction.

‘They tested you back in The Hold, didn’t they?’

Gloria nodded.

‘This won’t be anything like that. This is to help you understand what is necessary for you to use your power.’

‘I told you it; is the will of the people.’

That explanation was a little too mystical for Fedaro. He needed to be sure how all of this works before they confronted the Goddess.

‘Let’s try it for a while okay? You liked the bracelet just a minute ago,’ he said holding it out back at her.

She reluctantly put it back on.

They retired back to the hotel after that, waiting out the rest of the day there, Fedaro starting up the notebook and pairing it with Gloria’s bracelet. Should she ever be able to summon her powers again he would be able to check on her physiological data to see if there’s any kind of trick to it. For his purposes, he was going to need her to be able to summon the power at will.

Having had some leisure time for a change they were in higher spirits and before hitting the hay Fedaro suggested they took a quick stroll through town just to see how the military presence looked like throughout the evenings.

At twilight the town was blissful, and maybe made for their first moment of peace since meeting each other. It also helped that they didn’t carry any weapons for a change, except for the knife in Fedaro’s coat.

They took a stroll through the park, a longer route to the city boundary, but worthwhile this time of the year, the sun still sitting on the horizon for a while more, filtering through so many trees and glistening on the duck ponds like golden sheets.

‘I might have to get myself a house here someday. It’s a much better environment than I thought.’

‘So you have a home?’

Fedaro opened his mouth. ‘Sort of. I’m out on the road half of the year at least, and I was born in a different city altogether.’

‘You were born in the capitol?’ she guessed.

‘Yes.’

‘Maybe when we go there we can visit your family?’

That’s not the type of journey me and you are on, Gloria.

They saw that the blockade was still standing in full force, floodlights scanning the area up and down from the towers, and dark figures patrolling between the fencing and the heavy vehicles.

‘I thought as much. The town’s under some heavy surveillance, at least more than it’s used to. Let’s go back, maybe get something to eat. Stranded here, and with no idea on how they were going to get past the blockade yet, Fedaro took them to a little restaurant at the corner of Bodka’s main street. It had a deck on the outside that was well lit, and they got a table with a view of the street ending right before the lake. Resigning himself to their fate for the moment, Fedaro decided they could just as well indulge a bit. He started them off with a bottle of champagne, and helped her study the menu as they planned out a three-course meal. Gloria seemed both amused and delighted by all of this, and the food itself was very good if her wolfing down of her venison was any indication.

‘So you didn’t have people bringing you food?’ asked Fedaro.

‘Around the King’s table, sure. It’s just… this is different. The people here are not royalty.’

Fedaro nodded, more or less getting what she was trying to say. ‘So where did you fit in around the King’s table?’

She was quiet before saying, ‘my father was cousin to the king, so the King was my uncle. The last time we sat with him, was when my brother summoned the will of the people. My household was honoured across Arterra for my brother’s heroics. Not long after, the Imperials invaded…’

‘I’m very sorry about that Gloria. The Imperials have had their way with the rest of the world for so long that they think anything not ruled by them is better off being invaded, regardless of human loss. What I can tell you is that the majority of people in Doma Arak do not share that view – it is unfortunately the position of the men in power.’

‘They are like you, the people?’

‘They are much more innocent than me, even if they are a bit ignorant of the world outside Doma Arak.’

Putting down her knife and fork, and meeting Fedaro’s eyes, Gloria said, ‘thank you.’

‘For what?’ said Fedaro, taking pause himself.

‘You saved me from your own country’s military.’

I answer to a calling Gloria. One that I had put aside in the past. You changed that.

‘Don’t think too much on it. I have my selfish reasons as well.’

Thankfully Gloria did not seem interested in asking him why he was so hell-bent on confronting a Goddess.

‘So, how do we get past the blockade?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know yet. I’m afraid I’m going to have to resort to one of my contacts, although he really is a last resort. I’ve put off contacting him right away.’

‘But you don’t have another solution yet?’

Fedaro nodded.

After dessert and admitting they both had too much to eat they paid and left.

They went back to the hotel taking a different route, crossing the bridge, where the lake glided through the sluices into a small stream that quickly dispersed into the vegetation of the low-lying areas.

The bridge however was mistake, Fedaro spotting from afar two Imperial soldiers patrolling, coming from the street perpendicular to the bridge, from the other side, and then coming right at them.

A horde of scenario’s ran through Fedaro’s mind, least of which was the facial recognition scanners those infernal helmets of the Imperials had built in. If Sternroe had uploaded Fedaro’s file, or Gloria’s, to the Imperial database then those soldiers wearing the overpriced helms would receive notification of a wanted target should the camera lens pass over their faces. He knew he couldn’t just turn around and head the other way, for the want of not looking suspicious and being chased down anyway.

Realizing the patrol was going to spot them, Fedaro had no alternative but to resort to the most appropriate disguise given the time and place. Surprising her greatly, he lifted Gloria onto the bridge rail, right next to stone column that rose out of the bridge rail every few feet, acting as a pedestal for the iron lamps that adorned them.

Imperials, just be quiet until they pass,’ he whispered.

Where she sat, he stood somewhat between her legs, and with Fedaro’s left hand side being blocked off by the column, Fedaro could lean in to Gloria’s left, giving the illusion of the two of kissing, or frolicking at the very least, maybe as though he was standing there whispering sweet nothings into her ear. It was a few very tense moments however, as Fedaro knew several outraged thoughts had to be coursing through Gloria. Although he had never really seen her angry.

The Imperials passed by close and Fedaro was starting to think his desperate disguise was in vain. Their footsteps stopped not far behind the two of them.

Damn it.

‘Hey man, do you have some smokes?’ asked the Imperial soldier at Fedaro. A brief surge of relief came through Fedaro. Without turning away from Gloria he waved the man off with his left hand, as though completely dismissive of the authorities while busy with his lover.

‘Bastard,’ muttered the Imperial soldier, but that’s all he did and walked off with his companion in disgust.

Fedaro peeked over his shoulder as the Imperials left, turning a corner.

He turned back to her and could stand back a little now. ‘That was close,’ he sighed in relief.

Gloria however was just sitting there, and Fedaro was surprised to find her looking at Fedaro quite intently. They were very close to each other. Her great brown eyes were fully fixated on him, sparkling with some beauty not often seen in the world, her straight blond hair caught both in the gentle lamplight from above and the moon, the latter’s image also reflected on the surface of the lake. The water rushing down below underneath the bridge talked while the two of them found each other staring longingly at one another. Fedaro wasn’t sure he had ever been caught staring so senselessly at something, and enjoying it so.

She leaned forward, closing her eyes.

But her grabbed her by the arms, stopping her. ‘We… still have a lot to see to,’ he stammered.

Her gaze instantly went to the ground, almost like something had struck her.

‘I’m sorry Gloria, let me help you down…’

‘No,’ she said, jumping off and sliding past him, instantly walking on and away.

‘Gloria I…’ he called after her, slightly stunned.

‘I didn’t mean to do anything, I fell forward,’ she denied extremely clumsily.

He ran up to catch up to her, his mind rushing through an explanation of what just happened.

‘You have been through a lot and I think you miss your people, its normal to act strangely when you go through things like this.’ Now Fedaro was the one sounding clumsy.

She didn’t stop for anything, downcast, marching straight to their hotel, saying nothing, and Fedaro felt he could nothing but follow in tow, thinking of things to say but finding nothing.

He caught sight of her face as they entered the hotel. She looked utterly dejected.

He couldn’t help but summon her face on the bridge over and over again. It had been a very long time since someone had enticed him so.

Silly girl, why on earth would you fall for me? She however was not the only one who got caught up in the moment.

He went to bed bitterly angry, not knowing if he’d ever regret something more than this.

 

 

The next day Fedaro was quietly dealing with some turmoil. By now all his instincts had been tuned to poke holes into any kind of romantic endeavours. Enjoying yourself with a woman was one thing, but he no doubt felt incredibly protective toward the girl, and possibly something more. The little event the previous night convinced Fedaro they needed to get moving again as soon as possible, and so he decided to visit that contact he was so reluctant to visit. Truth was he couldn’t spend too much time like this with Gloria. If she was going to face down a Goddess then she would need to be expendable to a certain measure. Fedaro paused on that thought, stopping what he was doing completely. Expendable? Of course I would not let her come to harm if it’s in my power… it’s just…

He pushed all of that aside. He didn’t need to remind himself what was at stake – the girl had to be expendable. He had his doubts all the same, trying his best to silence them and let things play out like it was meant to.

Fedaro’s contact turned out to be a dud. They came to a small apartment, its door kicked in, and immediately he took out his knife, as always feeling incredibly vulnerable not having his musket with him. That was maybe the only disadvantage of the weapon, not being able to carry it with him in civilian areas. He held the knife in an overhand position, indicating for Gloria to be quiet and cautious over his shoulder. Fedaro entered swiftly, his eyes scanning a dim room, the windows covered, and the place a mess, the furniture strewn about by careless invaders.

His contact had obviously been raided, and hopefully, he fled the city like Fedaro expected he would. Fedaro cleared all the rooms, his thumping heart quieting down when he was satisfied that this had happened not too recently and the raiders had left by now. There was no sign of his contact either. Fedaro scoured the place, but he found nothing which the interlopers wouldn’t have.

‘What happened here?’ asked Gloria.

‘My friend is a smuggler of sorts. It could be just an Imperial raid. Maybe he is the reason the place is so tightly guarded. Although I doubt it, he mostly does small time stuff. They came down the stairs only to be surprised in the streets by a sudden gathering of people. Most of them wore jackets with a badge of a bold red leaf.

Of all the jack-asses in the world to run into…

Their silver-haired ringleader stepped up, the group blocking off Fedaro and Gloria from going any further.

‘You tripped our beam up there. Not exactly who we expected to find, but maybe not altogether a bad find.’

Fedaro cursed under his breath. If the man was to be believed they had put a security beam up there somewhere out of sight, hoping their prey would return to its den, only for Fedaro and Gloria to trip the blasted thing.

‘Who are they?’ asked Gloria quietly, clearing feeling that the situation bade them no good fortune.

Vendetta,’ said Fedaro, ‘they’re a group concerned with purifying the streets of misshapen and monstra, but they have criminal spins–offs like these bunch aplenty.’ What Fedaro did not have the time to tell Gloria right away was that Vendetta was formed as some twisted idea of people who lost loved ones to persons with special powers and then got together in fun little groups to incense and enflame each other until they simply overflowed with a hatred for all things mystical. Instead of getting real jobs, they headhunted people like Gloria. They would especially be active exactly since Gloria got out of the Hold, having little doubt that the shadowy masters of Doma Arak were offering rewards for her capture.

‘You have something to say boy? Speak up.’

‘I was just telling the lady here that she has nothing to worry about as the men from the local chapter would not assault an innocent person such as herself.’

Innocent? Interesting. We have a Quralier walking with us, and he says she smells of something, but it is certainly not innocence. He says she smells like death.’

Fedaro’s grip tightened on his knife. The Quralier they spoke of walked forward among their ranks, standing out from his peers as he came closer. A Quralier was a strange breed – silent men (or creatures) who wore bronze masks, the facial features almost reminding one of a cat, but the eyes covered by gems, completing the creature’s dispassionate look. Its white ceremonial dress covered the entirety of its body and then some, almost as though it was wearing a curtain improvised to a human body.

They were like a lodestone for things that normal humans did not have, magic most specifically. That they had some kind of ability was undeniable. How else did they pinpoint Gloria so easily? Fedaro didn’t have any trouble with them before, but while he kept company with Gloria they were undoubtedly going to pose a problem, especially in the service of Vendetta.

Fedaro looked up at the sky.

‘What are you looking at?’ asked the ringleader.

‘I’m just trying to determine the time, I’m going to need it later on.’

‘Guys a nut, l’d say leave him beaten senseless but there is nothing to beat out of him. Take the girl,’ ordered the ringleader.

Fedaro, even if he had his rifle, had little chance. This is what he so appreciated about being out in the wild; the beasts he hunted, no matter how fearsome, would never surrounding him pointing firearms back at him. Fedaro saw something that gave him hope, prickling his subconscious; the sky was overcast, and the alley was quite shadowy. In the back of his mind he remembered how the Gloria’s ghosts would come from darkness, or darkened areas. He wasn’t sure exactly, but it looked be a familiar precursor.

They came with impeccable timing, surrounding the members of Vendetta from behind. The men thought back, but were deeply unsettled by these ghosts who had come from nowhere. As shocking as their sudden appearance was their dress, the armours, maces and swords not something these men had not seen in their lives previously. Trusting Gloria to hold her own, and essentially stayed out of conflict, Fedaro leapt in among the ghosts of her kingdom, his knife slitting throats and puncturing arteries of the embattled Vendetta men. He did not have much trouble, their attention being vested pre-dominantly on the warriors of Arterra. He could not blame them; the deadliness of the katanas and the brute force by which the maces fell had the members of Vendetta floundering. There was little for Fedaro to add beyond the four men that fell to his efforts and he was grateful for that.

During all of this the Quralier stood perfectly still, and so neither the ghosts nor Fedaro harmed him. Everything came to a weary rest, and Fedaro faced the creature.

‘Are you their prisoner?’

The Quralier looked about the bodies, as though checking that they were all dead.

No,’ it said, its voice a detached echo in the sky that brought dread over Fedaro. All his instinct warning him, he pounced at the Quralier, but had maybe delayed a moment too long as the Quralier shot out his hand. Fedaro stood a full thirty feet from the creature, but the gesture alone swept up a vast amount of air, like gust funnelled through narrow streets, all focused on Fedaro. It first just pulled his ankles from under him, floundering almost, and then like a wave the wind tumbled him a good twenty feet, skidding on the road, until he smashed into an alley dumpster. He fought to regain his feet, which was a struggle seeing that he had trouble just staying conscious. He saw enough that, facing Gloria’s ghosts, the creature decided on flight, spreading its arms wide and it seemed the same wind that had just smashed Fedaro caught the voluminous white fabric of the Quralier and carried it away like he was whimsical seedling caught in draft. It disappeared from sight. Gloria came running to Fedaro, helping him sit upright

‘We haven’t seen the last of that thing,’ said Fedaro.

‘Are you okay!?’ she fussed.

‘Something is very wrong,’ said Fedaro, the edge of his vision darkening.

‘What!?’

‘Those creatures, they don’t have powers of their own, except… he looked up at Gloria, his vision swimming, ‘…when they copy a tiny part of those with real power. Something big must have happened for that creature to do what it just did Gloria. Something really big,’ his voice trailing off, and then blacked out.

 

***

 

 

The heavy rotary blades beating on the air was hypnotic, and after leaving Scithea, relaxing even. Mestarés and what remained of his company joined Sternroe’s men in a tandem helicopter, a behemoth of the twin rotor variety. The pilot called Bobby had gathered them all at the precipice of point Vacra, finding a ridiculously small clearing to put down the machine. If there was ever a reason why robotic pilots had not taken over, then men like Bobby were it. No computer program concerned with the safety soldiers would crunch out favourable fighting odds of landing the chopper in that particular area among the trees. Bobby however was in a way the military’s most valuable kind, whose appreciation of odds were about as evolved as his tact.

The journey back felt dreadfully long for some reason, even though they were covering many miles a minute. Looking at the treetops of Scithea from on high, Mestarés thought it didn’t give much of an indication of what horrors lied beneath those mighty canopies. He lifted his tablet and took a photo – quite a magnificent sight of an endless sea of trees and a dying sun floundering on toward the end of day. He looked fondly at his successful attempt at photography, which was a rare achievement for him. The worst for him was going back having no one to share it with. They were not going home yet however, radioing in their intentions to land and regroup at Calsa airbase.

Calsa airbase was not one of Mestarés favourites. The cooks here were terrible, but you were not allowed to say that, because the minute you did, you’d be making your own food. Add to that the chain of command here were old vets that had partaken in most of the Imperial campaigns in the last forty years, and being isolated from the command structures in Doma Arak, they frowned on every little change and newcomer that entered the military, as though Doma Arak was better off being defended by its oldest personal and most outdated weaponry for at least another hundred years.

They don’t make them like they used to,” was a cliché used here in abundance. They didn’t get much of a rest before Sternroe called for a meeting in the war room. Mestarés had little doubt he was going to enact some plan to catch the girl, Gloria – it was clearly a career defining mission for him.

Mestarés stood at the back of the war room, in the shadows and away from the map-table, trying to keep out of sight, as no part of Sternroe’s briefing was going to paint him in a good light. In fact Sternroe himself had a torrid time trying to explain to these backwater veterans every little detail of what went wrong in Scithea.

Wincing every time his name was mentioned Mestarés didn’t even realize that the young officer Pryro had snuck up on him, and pulled him by the sleeve to get his attention. Looking up to his side, he saw Pryro beckoning a private word with him, further into the darkened corner of the room.

‘What is it?’ asked Mestarés impatiently, not wanting to seem indifferent to the meeting proceedings while he was one of the main focus points.

‘Sir, did you say Fedaro and the others used the capsule system?’

Mestarés looked hard at Pryro, nodding yes. That he had survived the toxic breath of Ultair had been some kind of wonder. Lad is tougher than he looks.

Quietly Pryro said, ‘Sir, I think I know where they might’ve gone.’

‘What? Where? And you would know?’

‘I think we should keep it quiet sir. We’ll vindicate your name yet. I suggest you tell Captain Sternroe its better our forces split up. That way we get him out of our way, and we track down the girl.’

Pryro was speaking very boldly.

‘Where would they have gone?’ asked Mestarés pointedly, but in a whisper.

‘Bodka. It’s one of only five working destinations if one uses the capsules leaving the Desolates.’

Mestarés shook his head. ‘They wouldn’t be in the Imperial lands so to speak, Fedaro would have chosen a destination where they crossed the border already.’

‘Of which there is only one viable option and he knows that’s the first place we’ll go looking. Let Sternroe go look for him there, he won’t find him.’

‘Fedaro might still go there…’ said Mestarés

‘Sir, there is an old launchtower not thirty miles from Bodka. I bet Fedaro will go there. He has his base of operations in Vatari, is it not? He’ll need to restock after all.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘He has a file sir.’

‘That you suddenly have clearance to?’

Pryro shrugged. ‘I did some digging and I saw something that I wasn’t meant to. But me knowing is going to help in this instance.’

‘Why Bodka?’ asked Mestarés, folding his arms.

‘From the launchtower he can easily commandeer an airship and make a straight dash for Vatari across the inland sea. They’ll fly right over the border without any stoppages.’

Mestarés chewed on the thought for awhile, realizing Pryro’s reasoning was very sound. ‘If you’re right, I’ll be putting in some serious recommendations for you going forward. Assuming of course I can win back some credibility as you suggest,’ added Mestarés with a smile.

Turning his attention back to the meeting, Sternroe had just about finished explaining what had happened on their mission to date.

In response to that Colonel Bristle stood forward with some questions, who was maybe the most famous of the Calsa stereotype, being an old-school veteran with little regard for the modern military.

Bristle was an interesting name, and fitting Mestarés found himself thinking, as the man’s thick moustache bristled with every emotion that struck the old veteran. It was quite impossible that his parents named him so and upon adulthood grew the most animate facial hair anyone had ever seen, so most men simply alleged that Bristle had been born with that moustache.

Mestarés more aptly assumed that Bristle was nickname rather than a real one.

‘Wait a minute, so you’re saying after all that you let the girl escape!?’ asked Bristle in distress, his moustache essentially dancing on his upper lip.

Sternroe didn’t answer.

Bristle turned to the officer standing next to him, saying, ‘they don’t make them like they used to,’ much to Sternroe’s ire, and this time, to Mestarés’ amusement.

 

 

***

 

The Madura laboured. They stopped at whatever little place offered them water, as their road began to veer more and more into the heart of Tulan, the infinite sands of its great desert sprawling ahead of them.

Covering many miles they passed by one of the infamous Sun-towers. It was an energy station, where the Goddess, in one incarnation of another, had created a smallish sun so to speak, which could hang suspended in the air forever more. It was hot, it emitted light and electric magnetic waves, and seemingly had an abundance of properties a proper star would have.

The tower needless to say was massive array of solar panels pending toward the sun that stood in the centre, hovering above a great metal spire. Underneath the sands, a network of cables fed whatever energy the station harvested back to Sepulchra. Likewise, there were other stations here in Tulan that fed energy back to Doma Arak and its associated provinces. In effect that made Tulan much more powerful than they would ordinarily be. They paid a price however, being only one of the only parts of the world that had installations like these, for many reasons, if not for one single truth; solar flares. The flares from these suns were much smaller than anything the real one put out, but could not be blocked by the earth’s electromagnetic field. Anything in the vicinity then was prone to a fierce surge that could wipe out electronic devices and wiring. The station itself took immense precautions in shielding its components other than the surface area of the panels themselves.

What made this so special was that they passed by here during night-time, so the immediate surroundings were bathed in twilight, never seeing true night. Not everyone was content looking at the diminutive sun and its hypnotic glare, accentuated by the fact that the lands’ horizons were bathed in night.

Inside the carriage Dulcan had made so many pleas to skip the journey through Tulan altogether. The horses, or Madura rather, were already having trouble with the sands, much more so because of the sheer weight of the carriage. His warnings persisted the next day as well.

‘This is not even the worst of it, the sands here are only foot deep laying tightly packed on a bedrock. When we come to the desert in all its glory this carriage and us will sink away. Not counting the fact that the sun is so ferocious out here that the carriage might actually burst into flames!’ said Dulcan dramatically, losing a bit of his cool.

‘We have to go there,’ is all what Axiatés said.

‘I won’t take you further than what this carriage can endure. If you intend to go through Tulan’s desert instead of around it, you will have to find different transportation.’

Axiatés looked sternly at Dulcan. ‘I know you, there is little chance you will let me go off on my own now that you have my audience.’

‘I’m holding to the vain hope that you come to your senses,’ grumbled Dulcan.

Delegan remained silent, pretty sure that Dulcan was the only person in the world who would talk so casually with Goddess while knowing full well what she was capable of.

‘I will show you the way clansman. You would do well to place your trust in me.’

Dulcan cracked an amused smile. ‘It’s not that I do not trust your abilities, Your Excellency. It’s that I know your wont; you would take the hard road, not wanting to disturb our little world with wanton magic. For us tasked with keeping your company however, it means we have to deal with the dangers of your road, without having the full powers of a Goddess.’

‘Then trust my judgement, not my magic.’

Dulcan chortled, and left it at that.

A tremor spread across the land, so faint at first that they all thought they had merely come across a rocky section of the road. In tandem however with hooves of the Madura there was another disturbance on the outside, and Dulcan poked his head out of the window. Sitting back down, he was flustered while addressing them. ‘Wonderful, now we have a sandstorm on our heels!’

Ibris wheeled the carriage so that they could see the approaching cloud and Axiatés squinted through window.

‘That’s no sandstorm. Tell your man to stop the carriage. If we continue on it will look as though we are fleeing from a Sepulchra patrol, and they’ll crush us with that machine of theirs.’

Delegan wasn’t sure what the Goddess was getting at but it didn’t sound good by any measure.

Cursing, Dulcan obeyed sticking his head and telling the Mesauwee driver to come to a halt. Doing so, Axiatés climbed out of the carriage, the rest of them following her outside. She faced the cloud of dust moving toward them, and it was only seconds later that they saw what she was talking about.

It was indeed not a sandstorm on its own. Ploughing through and over the dune was a Sepulchra Sawgower, a relic of a war machine that used fossil fuels. Its approach was terrifying, and Delegan could see how it would have caught up to them and simply pulverized them and the carriage had they continued on.

The Sawgower was a monstrous machine, its engine throwing four streaks of pitch black smoke into the air, like horns on both sides of its armoured facade. It was propelled by only one giant steel wheel at the front, riddle with spikes and paddles that gave it traction in the sand, the rest of its body sliding along like a worm on many smaller wheels, almost invisible. It was built lopsidedly, as though its front half was heavily laden with muscle, while in comparison the back end was much lower and smaller. Delegan understood why; every time this contraption crested a dune or a hill, the much heavier front needed to come ground immediately so that its only wheel with power could make contract with the ground again, or get stranded otherwise.

The thing came to halt not far from them, its cloak of sands overtaking it and flying forward toward them. With the Goddess standing at the front, the sands split about them even as Delegan was already preparing to cover his face. He was grateful being spared from a smattering of sand grains as he anticipated. From the hulk of the machine the Sepulchra mortar soldiers jumped down, twenty of them, armed with assault rifles. Commander Libras ran with his hands up, standing protectively in front of the Goddess, his own Sepulchra uniform doing a lot to placate the mortar soldiers.

You just won yourself a lot more favour with the Goddess, Delegan found himself thinking.

‘Stand down men! I’m Commander Libras of the City Fae, and escort to her Excellency, the Goddess herself.’

The Sepulchra soldiers looked at each other as though silently communicating. With their insect-like helms, Delegan had no idea what they were thinking. Eventually their captain, who had stood on high on the Sawgower still, came down as well. He walked by Commander Libras, and stood facing Axiatés.

‘This is a land of lies and mirages, and tricksters who would sabotage the sun-towers. You say you are the Goddess? Prove it,’ came the man’s voice coolly through the helm.

Delegan had dreaded the man would say such a thing, fearing deep down that Axiatés had absolute loathing of insolence. He didn’t want to see these men face a wrathful Goddess again.

But it seemed that Axiatés was content to play their game.

There was alley between two mighty dunes and Axiatés stared toward it. And she spoke; ‘the wind creates the desert and grows it. It carries the sands and covers new areas, killing off vegetation and eventually even reducing rock to become one of its own. The sand has spread so far that cities and roads have gone lost in its blanket. Only the wind too can take it away.’

The very first thing they noticed were the Goddess’ dark hair swept up, even though the breeze was very faint. Ahead of them however, where the Goddess stared, winds of the east came together, seemingly funnelling into alley between the dunes. Their silence was prolonged as the wind grew as fierce as any storm, scooping up and sucking an inordinate amount of sand from the desert floor, cleaning the gulley, and deposing many tons of sand into the sky. The more welcoming sight however was the stone road revealed at the very bottom of the alley of the dunes, winding into the heart of Tulan. It must’ve been the first time in decades, if not more, that road stood under the face of daylight. More impressive than the wind itself, was the Goddess knowing that it lay there, that much was not lost on even one of the Sepulchra soldiers, who all stood at ease now, clearly awed by the act of Axiatés.

‘The road is laid open,’ said Axiatés to Dulcan in particular.

‘Hah, finally some wanton magic,’ he said, clearly satisfied.

Delegan found this very curious. He knew the Goddess didn’t do something for nothing, and furthermore, when she did do something, it usually served dual purposes. She had just soothed the Sepulchra patrol and opened a road for them, convincing Dulcan there was hospitable path for the carriage after all.

But Dulcan’s observation of wanton magic was accurate. The Goddess had just explained it; whatever sand she had just displaced would be carried away, and potentially further expand the borders of the desert in a process widely known as desertification. It seemed that even for her there was no wielding great power without consequence.

‘Forgive us Your Excellency. We had not expected you to come through with such a humble escort and certainly not through these lands to begin with!’

‘Do not concern yourself, if all I have to do to win your trust is a show of force, then you are already much better than those who have turned against me for doing as much.’

Hearing those words, Delegan couldn’t help but think of the Sepulchra soldiers who had turned against the Goddess at the Bellatoir Manor. He had no doubt she had in part referred to them, seeing that these too were Mortar soldiers.

‘Is there anything we can add to you cause Your Excellency?’ asked the captain of the Sepulchra. ‘Might we escort you somewhere?’

‘Go about your duties as usual. Anonymity is a good status for my mission. Though it be hard, do not spread word that you’ve encountered the Goddess,’ instructed Axiatés.

The captain agreed to her request and ordered the men back onto the Sawgower, leaving the Goddess and her entourage free to travel the newly opened road.

 

Thank you for reading Legend of Axiatés! Keep an eye out for Episode 7 coming soon! For updates, book info and promotions please visit https://www.facebook.com/Road2Exodus/

 


Legend of Axiatés Episode 6

Waking up from their journey through the capsule system, Fedaro and Gloria scour the tranquil town of Bodka, but find more trouble than they were prepared for, their road to the Imperial empire blocked. Elsewhere the Goddess herself tries to find a way through the Tulan desert, and Captain Mestarés must track down Fedaro if he is to save his career.

  • Author: J.B. Kleynhans
  • Published: 2017-03-22 19:35:09
  • Words: 8889
Legend of Axiatés Episode 6 Legend of Axiatés Episode 6