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Nomads The Risen God

Chapter 1.

 

The Hagars.

 

The people of the North are not humans, and although they have many similarities in looks and movements their viciousness and instinct to destroy makes them an outcast to any civilization. From what I have seen of their remains they appear to be an offshoot of the Nomads but lacking in a higher form of culture other than a primitive will to survive. The Outlander spit at the mention of their names and called them Hagars, in their old language it means people without a soul.

 

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

 

 

Down from the lands of the North thundered those that knew no Gods.

They were not demons but knew their ways, they were not Sandjar but fed on the bodies of the dead, they were not immortal but they did not die easily.

They were Hagars.

Creatures without souls, they were as old as the Outlanders, older some said but they never heard the word of the Goddess and killed all those that were not of their kind. They lived in the far ice-covered reaches of the harsh Northern lands and did not come down from their frozen fortress homes till the Great sun Karus grew dim and all the lands of Gorn were shrouded in ice and snow.

The Hagars were bulky creatures and their hard bodies covered in thick hair the color of dirty snow, in looks they closely resembled the Galu from the jungles of Yug but they were far larger, half again the height of a tall Nomad. Their heads were thick with bone and their eyes were small and set deep under heavy brows above a large mouth filled with jagged teeth, their arms were knotted with thick muscle and their hands were wide and could easily crush a man’s skull. They wore furs with plates of steel armor tied here and there to their massive bodies with strong stripes of Rimar hide and they carried weapons that were taken from slain Nomads or sometimes crudely made from bits of metal from fallen Dropships or ancient machinery of the Outlands.

They rode huge four legged beasts that were also covered from their large thick-skull heads to their massive hind legs with thick fur. These creatures are called Hagar-Ran; they were very powerful and use their massive teeth and sharp claws as efficient killing weapons. They feared almost nothing and could stand on their own even against a Whiptail. They lived in the North and killed whatever they found for food, be it Ice-worms or Sea-sliders or humans, it was all the same to them, they have only one fear, fire. But a wise Nomad will listen for their roaring and pray to the Goddess that they were not the ones being hunted. And around the campfires they would sing.

 

“Fear those that dwell in the Northern lands.

For they will come with steel in bloody hand.

When Ice-Gods scream with frozen breath.

Warriors know the skies will fill with death.”

The Eternal Goddess will dance in light.

We stand beside her and join the fight.

And with her gift fire shall fill the sky.

Then all who fear the sun will die.”

 

“Death to the Hagars!” Arn shouted as he dug his long iron spurs into the armored flanks of his roaring Whiptail, “show no mercy for you shall find none!”

The sharp claws of the Kings Whiptail dug deep into the soft ground sending up clouds of snowflakes as it charged for the oncoming icemen, it opened its gaping mouth and emitted a loud roar in anticipation of the carnage that was to come.

“Kill them all!” cried the woman that rode by his side.

Andra or Moonbud as she was called by the Outlanders lifted her war ax high above her helmeted head and made herself ready for the battle, she, like her mate was filled with the killing madness and neither of them would turn away.

In front of them rode a hundred or more Ice-warriors; their animal cries could be heard echoing through the narrow icicle shrouded canyon that the two armies now raced down. The Nomads were the same in numbers but when it came to fighting skill they far exceeded the primitive instincts of the Icemen. But they knew that many would be killed, then as the canyon walls rumbled with the sound of pounding feet the two sides met in a din that echoed in the chilled air.

At first it was the warriors from the North who had the advantage for the weight of their beasts were greater than the mounts of the Outlanders. They crashed full force into the oncoming Whiptails and their claws began to rip them deeply. Several of the Nomads were killed outright and the Hagar’s victory cries could be heard above the bedlam, but it was not to last long for the Outlanders had a weapon that could not be beaten.

Fire.

Behind the first wave of Nomads was a row of mounted warriors each holding a chain that was attached to a large clay pot of burning Eul and oil, they swung them over their heads around and around making ribbons of flame and waited for the King to give the order to release them.

“Force them together” Arn called out to his blood mad warriors as he hacked right and left with his heavy ax, and with each powerful swing a Hagar died screaming. He glanced over to see his mate being attacked from both sides by two howling Icemen so he pulled on the reins hard and turning his Whiptail around sharply he saw its long spike tail strike out and rake the side of one of the Hagar-Ran wounding it gravely. With a loud roar it rose up on its heavy hind legs and shook the huge iceman from its back, and then it brought its massive paw down upon the warriors head crushing it like a field melon. Now with only one Iceman to deal with Moonbud faced her opponent. His features was a mask of animal fury, eyes burning with hate and a gaping mouth that showed sharp teeth ready to rip into her soft flesh. Any woman of the Outer Rim would have screamed in terror and waited for her life to end but Andra was no such female. Trained as a soldier and accepted as a warrior of the Almadra she killed many enemies and earned the name Moonbud, the flower that kills.

Now she evaded the crude weapon of the roaring Hagar and swung out with her deadly ax, her aim was true and it caught the Iceman at the neck and sent his thick skull flying through the air and showering her with its blood.

Seeing that his mate was safe the King shouted out to his warriors behind.

“Let go the fire!”

And hearing his command the Outlanders obeyed, with one last swing they let go of the holding chains and the firepots sailed over the heads of the forward warriors and landed in the middle of the charging Icemen. When they hit the soft clay broke apart and fire spewed out like a rain of death, the Icemen roared in fury as the oil engulfed their hairy flesh, in an instant the battle turned to the side of the Outlanders and they charged forward shouting their terrifying battle cries.

Enraged by the fire the Hagars began to turn and run and those that stood their ground were cut down and their bodies trampled over by the oncoming Whiptails. Now it was only a matter of watching the remaining Icemen run from the canyon and disappearing into the mist. Arn and his warriors watched them go and when nothing more could be seen of their enemy they shouted out the victory cry of their tribe.

For a moment Andra wanted to race after them. But her soldiers training had taught her to think before she acted and knowing that more of the Icemen might be lurking just beyond the mist made her lower her weapon and breathe in the cold air to cool her hot blood.

“Are you hurt?” asked Arn as he shook the blood from his war ax.

“No, I’m fine” Andra replied as she wiped the dead Hagar’s life fluid from her face.

Seeing his mate covered in the blood of an Iceman made the Nomad King feel very proud, she is a strong warrior he thought, and she is mine.

And it was true, Moonbud was indeed the mate of the King and there were no warriors who would challenge that, and although she was not one of their kind she had proven herself over and over again in battle and with her wise words.

And in turn Andra was content to share a tent with the Nomad, she loved him very much and would have gladly given her life for his. Now they sat easy on their mounts and waited till the warriors of the Almadra were gathered around them.

“See to the wounded and gather up the dead” the King ordered.

And his words were obeyed quickly, for Arn was the son of a King and possessed that unique power that gave him control over his people. After the King made sure the narrow canyon was safe he sent word back to their camp to tell everyone that the Hargars had been defeated.

 

The Almadra had wandered through the Outlands since they had left the emerald forests of Caltarine and they did this without the King for he had left them to find his way through a dark time in his life. But they did not give up hope and when the first snows of winter began to fall he had returned to them, rescued by Andra his mate. He needed the healing powers of the Touchtenders and the magic of Grana the green salt to make his body strong again. Add to this the love of Moonbud and he was brought back from that place that was beyond pain, but it was done and now he was King once more, now all prayed to Isarie for her mercy and her wisdom for the return of their wise leader.

And none prayed stronger then Egmar the Holy Mother for it was her son that was brought back from the pit of despair.

The speaker of the Gods sat in her chamber surrounded by her loyal Thungodra, it was warm inside for the outside openings had been closed and small braziers added much needed heat to the great wagon. Still the old woman wrapped herself in a long cape of fur and sipped a freshly brewed cup of Deep root tea. The rare tea was very hard to find and should not have been drunk by a Holy Mother for it would have been seen as an indulgence by the faithful. But Egmar saw it as only a slight sin and always prayed very hard afterwards to satisfy the Gods.

She took another slow sip of the delicious brew then put the delicate golden cup on the small table before her, she sat there for a moment or two letting the taste of the tea fill her senses then she turned to look at the ornate book lying before her.

The Book of Isarie she told her mind, its wisdom is complete; it was not an easy thing she did now for the former Queen still remembered her madness when she turned from the face of the Goddess and walked in the darkness of sin. I was forgiven for by Isarie herself.

And it was true for the Goddess did indeed show herself to the old woman in the forests of Caltarine and there she told her of the love that would always be hers and why she had been used by the Gods to save her world.

As the old woman placed her hands on the ancient scriptures she looked over at a small wooden table in the corner of her chamber, there sitting beside a small golden statue of the Goddess was a strange site. The quarters of the Holy Mother were for her comfort and a place where she could reflect on the writings of Isarie and the wisdom of the Gods so in keeping with that tradition it was furnished to suit those ends, a soft bed, a few tables and chairs, a chest for clothing and many well-carved statures depicting all the different Gods and Goddesses that the Outlanders prayed too. It was not a place of luxury and did not have the trappings of a Kings tent or even those of a wealthy family. But it was enough for Egmar for she found riches in her faith but never the less the thing that sat on the table was strange indeed for it was a severed head.

Looking at it you would have thought it was a helmet of some kind. Well fashioned from steel and iron and made to fit the whole head rather than the helmet that most Nomads wore. It had no horns like most Outlanders armor possessed and it seemed a bit too large for a human head, but the most startling thing about it was its eyes. They were not the eyes of anything natural, they were made of glass and steel and looking into them you saw no soul.

My son, Egmar said in her mind, my forgotten son.

And it was true for the strange metal head once belonged to the one she named Rahash, but known to others as the Darkman, the Shadowman that caused so much pain and death before being destroyed by his twin, King Arn.

The Holy Mother found the ruined head on the smoldering battlefield and brought it back to be buried, but she found that she could not bring herself to entomb the last remains of her abandoned child in the cold earth. So breaking the sacred laws of her tribe she place the relic in her chambers so that she might look at it and remember the great wrong that she had done to her dead offspring.

“I am sorry my son” she whispered, “but I had to choose and the Gods guided my hand”.

But her words did not ease her pain for she knew that the choosing was hers and hers alone, so turning away she opened the book of the Goddess and began to read.

 

Some distance from the Holy Mother another wagon sat alone, it was not a large Karrack my any means and only one small Trofar pulled it. But was far greater than what should have been needed for only one man and a companion. Beside it was a tent that was also very plain in appearance, without markings or symbols to ward off demons or other dark creatures of the Outlands. The wagon itself was not ornately painted like all the others of the tribe, but it did bare a simple appearance that told everyone that it was the home of the wise man from the stars.

But for all its plainness on the outside the inside was a treasure-trove of knowledge for the old man was a gatherer of wisdom. Filling much of the wagon along with the necessities of life were artifacts and samples of the many places and things that the Callaxion had seen and done. There were baskets full of carved stones and rare animal bones, racks of different plant species and minerals, glass bottles of colored liquids and powders of all kinds. But what filled the greater part of the Karrack was a large amount of Rimar hide scrolls all of them written by the Off-World scholar. The information contained in those parchments would have been greatly prized on any planet of the Outer Rim and would have surely garnered the author a richly deserved prize by any of the great universities, but for now they would belong to a little known seeker of truth who sat huddled against the bitterness of winter.

Osh was not use to the cold for his Homeworld had a constant temperature and saw no winter or summer, and although he had spent considerable time on other worlds he had never adapted to the extremes that Gorn was subject too. Now the old Callaxion sat near a burning fire of Eul by his tent trying his best not to let the cold wind chill his tired bones.

“Why do the Gods always find me to torment?” it was not a real question for the old man knew that the cold wind and the adverse climate was only the result of the planet moving further away from its primary star and not the wonton act of vengeful deities. But knowing this did little to cool his anger. “Endo, Endo! Where is that boy?” then he remembered that his adopted son was no longer traveling with him for he was mated now and had his own tribe to care for.

You are getting to be a silly old man, he told himself as he pulled the thick fur robe tighter around his slim shoulders, and took a deep sip of his tea that gave him some comfort against the biting cold. But knowing that the odds of seeing his son again were very small made the chilling wind seem even colder.

But the aged man did not travel alone for with him was the strange girl that was born from the body of the Kings mate.

She was called Niana, it was not a name that a Nomad would give to a female of the tribe, but her mother was Andra and that was the name of her mother. And Moonbud loved her mother very much and saw the same look of love in the eyes of her daughter, and being a mother she overlooked the other things that set her apart.

All Nomads no matter what tribe they belonged too were similar, tall, strong and able to withstand the hardships of their world without complaint, they lived off the land and the land cared for them. They sang and danced and loved the feel of the warm suns on their faces.

But Niana did not.

The young girl was small and thin with pale almost translucent skin; her features were delicate and bore a resemblance to the images of the Goddess Isarie. And while the eyes of the Outlanders were dark her eyes were a deep blue and seemed to look beyond into a world that only she could know. She did not venture out in the light of day and only when the moons rose in the night sky would she emerge from hiding and walk under the stars.

She spoke very little and her answers seemed to have a hidden meaning, but what set her apart from all others was the fact that she did not eat.

Nomads relished the taste of fresh Rimar and the smell of warm Kasha bread; they ate heartily and drank deep of well-aged Po. But the strange girl would not fill her mouth with such things; she only consumed the precious green salt called Grana. The crystal was considered a gift from the Gods, to be taken with ceremony and used as an offering at religious gatherings. The Salt of the Earth they called it and no living thing on Gorn could survive without it that was because of the Plague that infected everyone and that had no cure, consuming Grana at regular intervals was the only way to keep the Angel of Death at bay.

All these things and the fact that she was born from a union of a King and an Off-Worlder made her an Outcast, someone that should be avoided. And seeing that she would be in danger if left on her own Moonbud asked her old friend to let her ride in his wagon and make sure she was not alone. And to make certain that she would not be harmed by an overzealous Nomad the King ordered that no Almadra should cause her harm under penalty of death.

Now the young girl sat quietly in the back of the old man’s Karrack, near her was a small Washa, the indispensable stove that all Nomads carried with them. Mostly used for preparing meals it now occupied a corner of the vehicle and sent out a radiant heat from the Eul that it burned. But Niana did not feel the heat or the cold, she simply sat and looked into nothingness, but that nothingness was filled with wisdom that only she could understand.

 

When the battle with the Hagars was over the Nomads gathered up their dead and bore them with them as they returned to their camp, there they would be washed and dressed in their finest armor and laid to rest. The golden Journey-nail that hung around their necks would be driven into their hands so that they might hold their weapons as they moved into the Afterlife. The Handmaidens would sing songs and the Holy Mother would bless their devotion to the Goddess and write their names in the Book of Isarie so that generations to come would remember their names and know that they died defending their tribe.

And then the King would speak of their strength and how they had fought well and died well and ask the Goddess to give them a place of honor in the Golden Hall. And when all was done they would put them into the earth with a cup of Well-aged Po and a plate filled with succulent Rimar and fresh Kasha bread. And then all the members of the tribe old and young would place a stone on top of their graves and weep for them and ask the Gods to welcome them.

And so it was done and when it was over the Elders returned to their tents and the children went with them but the warriors sat long into the night and told stories of their courage.

 

Andra sat near a large fire of burning Eul, she had removed most of her armor but retained the closely-knit chain mail worn over a woven body suit of soft cloth. On her feet was a pair of heavy skin-boots with fur lining and over her shoulders hung a warm cape of white fur. Like all Nomads her war ax or Tooth as it was known lay near her, always ready in case of attack, she sipped a tankard of warm Po and listened to the other warriors as they recounted the events of the day.

“I was the first into battle,” said one warrior as he took a deep draft of his sour brew.

“That is because you were behind me!” said a tall female near him.

“I had already killed three Hagars by the time you both entered the fight” bragged another as he bit into a chunk of juicy meat in his thick hand.

Moonbud had to smile as she listened to the talk around the campfire, no matter where you go all soldiers tell the same stories of courage and bravery.

And having been a lieutenant in the army of the Selcarie her words were true, she had fought in many battles and sat around many campfires and listened to men and women tell of their heroics. But she also knew that it was mostly to hide their fear and the sorrow that they felt for those that did not return.

Next to her sat the King, he too was listening to the stories of bravery and how they had defeated their enemy. He still wore his armor and here and there it was stained with the blood of a Hagar, on his head he wore the horned helmet of the Nomads and around his waist hung the two daggers that the Outlanders called the dragon’s teeth. Over his wide shoulders hung a dark fur cape and it seemed to add even more size to his strong frame. He took a deep drink of his Po then he turned and looked into the eyes of his mate and suddenly stood up and spoke in a loud clear voice.

“We are victorious, but we have paid a price”, he lifted his cup to the night sky, “may the Gods smile on those who died and may they sit in the golden hall of Isarie until the end of time”.

And hearing the words of their wise King the warriors stood up and lifted their cups skyward and spoke as one.

“Isarie roc torgo, Isarie is great!”

Andra had also spoken the words for she was learning the ancient language of the Nomads, she found that certain words held more meaning then the common language of the Outer Rim planets which was the way that most humans communicated now.

When the toast was over and the warriors once more returned to their tales of courage Arn suddenly got up and moved away from the blazing fire, and seeing her mate do this Andra did the same. They both walked some distance from the others and then stopped by a large jagged bolder that had fallen from the high cliffs, they did not speak for a time but looked up at the night moons that moved slowly through the star speckled heavens.

“It will be a clear sky tomorrow,” said the King in a soft voice, and he was glad of that for the skies had been strange lately and hard to predict.

“Yes it will”, replied Andra, but she knew that the weather was not what was on the mind of her mate, ever since they had lay together in the Hollow Hills during the Burning Time they had shared the ability to know what the other was feeling. That power had proved itself a blessing and a curse, but it was something that they had together and now the Off-World girl reached out and saw the image in the mind of her mate.

Darkness, he sees only darkness.

It had taken a very long time for the King to return to what he once was, when he had eaten the Death Shadow flower he had forgotten all that he was and became a warrior of death and destruction. He had wandered the Outlands killing all that crossed his path and would have continued on that dark road if not for Andra finding him and returning him to his people. All through the long dark winter she stayed by his side, nursing him, talking to him, forcing him to remember all that he once was. Sometimes it seemed that he would never see the light of reason again, but their love was strong and in the end they were reunited.

But with light there comes darkness and no matter how hard she tried the shadows were always near.

“Look at me” she said.

Slowly Arn turned his gaze from the night sky and looked into her eyes. She lifted her hand and touched his cheek.

“I will always be here for you”, her voice held more than words, it was filled with love.

The King did not speak but he took her into his strong arms and held her tight, as they stood there high overhead the tiny moon that had risen when the Goddess gave birth slowly moved through the night sky. The Nomads had named it Andra after the mate of their King and all who looked at it knew that Isarie was watching them and that they were not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2.

 

The Golden cup.

 

DATE:19776-3, reference point central registry.AA1.

PLACE: inter chamber of the Mac-Mar Alliance.

PURPOSE——RESTRICTED.

 

All further inquirers must have a LEVEL ONE or above to have access, knowledge of subject is coded with an active recognition hunter, upon finding none-cleared inquirer it will TERMINATE said person or persons and all information of their existence will be erased from Data-coms.

 

By order of the Supreme Chairman of the central ambassadorial representatives of the M-M-A.

 

CONTINUE.

 

 

The Outer Rim consortium of the Mac-Mar Alliance were used to having things their way, after all they were one of the most powerful inter-planetary transporters and had a majority share in the first and secondary commodities exchange of the gathering of civilized worlds. It also had agreements with the Prymax trading unions and the Markins. Its wealth was not easily estimated but it was surely on the same level of the Supreme Believers in Capitalism, or the underground vaults of the Trolons, even a single share in that vast organization would have granted you a lifetime of pleasure and having your every wish granted.

But to some it was not enough.

A wise man once said, “Greed is a golden cup that cannot be filled”, but there are some who would argue that point.

 

 

The commerce planet for the profit organizations of the Outer Rim had once been an

unremarkable world without any inherent value or worth. But its location put it in a perfect orbit to be used as a gathering point for trading unions and other profit motivated consortiums. What had once been little more than a barren orb was now one of the most luxurious worlds ever inhabited, great houses built from the rarest of materials were common and nowhere did you see the slightest sign of decay. And by far its most imposing structure was the Great Hall of Prosperity.

“Why have our efforts proved futile, and who is responsible for this failure?”

Those in the ornate chamber of the inter-counsel were very reluctant to answer the Chairman because they remembered the last person who had failed and what had happened to him.

After an uncomfortable silence one nervous official spoke up.

“The fault is not with our efforts but with the obstacles that must be overcome my lord”. The person who spoke was a Margalian by the named Cortus-Tor, tall and razor thin, he had a hook nose and unrevealing eyes. He was one of those countless officials that littered the chambers of the Outer Rim governments, shrewd, calculating and unwilling to take the blame for anything. He now stood with his head bowed hoping that his words would not offend the Chairman.

The Supreme Chairman went by the name Vocarus-Prodonus; his homeworld was a planet called Negodra 4, a rather unpleasant biosphere where only those who could take what they wanted would live to rise to the top. Having raised very high, the Supreme Chairman was not one who took failure well. He was not a tall man by any means, but his girth and demeanor made him a formidable opponent, he had a fat face and a wide flat nose and behind closed doors they referred to him as a Borbo. A named that was given to a large foul smelling grub eater of the Outer Rim planets but few ever dared to utter that name least they vanish without a trace.

Vorcarus leaned his massive golden robed bulk over the huge conference table and stared down on the holographic map showing a great primary star with a smaller secondary sun and a large planet with several orbiting moons.

“How can this one little world stand between us and our profits?” then he turned to look into the face of Cortus once more, “send in our collectors and take what we need”. If the planet is acquired I will be able to complete the agreements with the Prymax and double my profits, he thought.

Again there was silence, then another official came forward, and this one was a Callaxion, a humanoid with the ability to interface with the powerful Trolacian computers and Data-Coms. His name was Prodor Morgan Dorporcorian and like all of his species he had a large head with an import connection and slim nail-less fingers, he cleared his throat then spoke in a soft intelligent voice. “If I may clarify, the celestial body you refer to is not an ordinary planet; it has a very unique Electro-magnetic pulse that renders all advanced mechanical systems useless, all efforts to place a permanent station on the surface have ended in disaster”.

“Have these losses been substantial?” having the Chairman ask this was not good, for if the losses were too great it meant that someone would pay with their life. But luckily Cortus-Tor found the courage to speak.

“The losses have not been sufficient enough to warrant retribution, and we have acquired substantial profits by using the world as a depository for unwanted populations and outmoded warships, our agreement with the Markins assures us a more than adequate margin of growth”.

This seemed to satisfy the leader of the alliance and so the Callaxion moved to the table and adjusted several knobs so that the image of the planet was enlarged. “As you can see the planet has deep oceans, large fertile plains and a vast amount of valuable mineral deposits, we place its wealth at a level two or above”.

Anything above a level four made the Chairman’s mouth water and hearing that it could yield a level two or more in riches made him even more eager to acquire it.

“Simply bring in the orbital enforcers and blast whatever is sending out the pulses and destroy it!” the Chairman said, we have done this many times before and the profits have been worth it. His voice was slowly filling with frustration and everyone waited for the Callaxion to remain the target of that anger, and they were happy when he spoke again.

“I am sorry to say but the pulses emanate from deep within the planet itself, a naturally accruing phenomenon some say while others have a theory that it’s due to some kind of lifeform”. Again the Callaxion manipulated some dials and several moons appeared in the image, “we have been monitoring the planet for some time now and have sent down jumper-ships to collect samples of animal life and scientific information. We have more than one thousand genetic cross-references starting with a very interesting form of…”

“Yes, yes all very well and good”, the Chairman’s voice was becoming angrier, “but are there any obstacles that we need to eliminate?”

The word “obstacles” was a polite way of saying if there were any intelligent creatures that might put up a fight when they came to take what they wanted. It was at this time that a General of the combined Forces of Peace stepped forward. His name was Ivar-Anoon known throughout the Outer Rim as Ivar the victorious, a name that fit him very well because he had never lost a war and prided himself on the casualties that he could inflict on his enemy. He was not a tall man and if it was not for the overly ornate uniform that he wore you might take him for a seller of hover ships or perhaps a dealer in pleasure perfumes, his face was impassive, and with his shaven head he looked rather forgettable for the most part.

But he had practiced long and hard before a reflection plate and could cause fear with just a glance. He marched up to the Chairman and after giving an overzealous salute he spoke.

“I have studied the intel-coms and can say that the indigenous humanoids that now inhabit that planet are little more than savages and would be of no concern to a contingent of well-armed pacifiers”. Victory would come quickly.

Again the word “pacifiers” was not a truthful interpretation, but it was more easily excepted then an invading army of well-paid mercenaries, trained to kill anything in their way.

“Then I don’t see the problem?” the Chairman smiled.

Once more the Callaxion stepped forward, “might I remind you that the electromagnetic pulses would disable any machinery, targeting devices and directional equipment, and then there is the matter of the plague”.

“Plague?” Vorcarus asked, for all the Chairman’s forceful mannerisms he was dreadfully afraid of diseases of any kind so much so that he had long given up his sexual activities least he catch CMA or Vermanyon syndrome. But he still used his personal gratifier of course.

Prodor tapped more buttons on the holographic table and a molecular configuration appeared, “this disease infests all creatures on the planet, it has no cure but regular intakes of a certain complex mineral will stave off death and restore good health, the natives call it Grana”.

“And this Grana will enable our pacifiers to complete their assignment?” the Supreme Chairmans voice sounded hopeful.

“Yes it would” the Callaxion replied, “but it is only found on the planet and cannot be duplicated, and without mass-drilling equipment we cannot extract it from the ground”.

The Supreme Chairman began to move away from the table and pace up and down, it was a sign that he was thinking and everyone understood not to question him at this time. At last he returned to the table and looked at his officials and spoke, this time his voice was soft but it still carried a great deal of menace.

“So our problem is this, we have a planet rich in wealth but with no way of extracting it, is this correct?”

“That is correct” replied the Callaxion.

“THEN WHY ARE YOU WASTING MY TIME!” he yelled pounding his fat fist upon the Hologram table causing it to short out for a moment. Fools, I’m surrounded by fools and wasting profits.

There was silence for a time then Prodor found the courage to speak, “if I may my lord, as I said we have been monitoring the planet for a great deal of time now and we have detected something that may work to our advantage”.

“And what is that?”

“The Callaxion adjusted the Hologram until it showed a clear picture of the world in question, “the Electromagnetic pulses are declining”.

For a moment the information didn’t register in the mind of the Chairman then with a sudden flash of understanding he smiled.

“So you’re saying that soon we will be able to land on the planet and reap its rewards?”

Prodor nodded his large head (yes).

“How soon?” the obese creature asked.

“The orbit of the planet has reached its furthest apogee from its primary star and is now moving into a closer proximity, if the magnetic impulses continue to subside at their current rate we should be able to take control in six point nine standard time references”.

Knowing what the Supreme Chairman was about to say General Ivar stepped forward, “I can have a fleet of our most powerful enforcer ships in orbit over the planet filled with our best men when that time comes”, it will be a glorious victory.

Vorcarus-Prodonus began to rub his thick hands together in anticipation of the wealth that would soon be filling them. Seeing that their Chairman was content the officials in the room began to smile.

Then the wealthiest man in the Outer Rim gazed at the image of the world that would soon be his, and turning to the Callaxion he asked, “And what is the name of this prize?”

“The planet is in the Gornogal section with a file number of one, one, nine, seven, six, U,P,O, but commonly known as Gorn.

“Gorn?” the Chairman asked, “a rather silly name”.

And hoping the head of the Alliance had made a jest the others in the room began to laugh softly.

 

The world of Gorn was emerging from its frozen sleep, its orbit had taken it far from its primary sun and was now returning it to its warm embrace, the heat of Karus the larger sun was welcomed by the creatures of the world, now they could come out of there hibernation and live in the brightness once more. Micos the smaller secondary sun had traveled with Gorn as she moved through the outer darkness but her meager light was only enough to keep life going and not strong enough for it to grow. Together the two brother suns would join and the land would flurish.

 

Rimar, Ax-breakers, Doff birds, Dagger-mouths, and all the other strange life forms that made Gorn their home once more began to move over the hard ground, even the all-powerful Earthshakers rose up filling the sky with their awesome presents. Bark Bees, Blaze ants, Arrowtails, even the tiny Burrow Babies began to scurry about in their never-ending search for food, from the far off forests of Caltarine to the shores of the Western Sea life was waking. But there was one place that the twin suns never shone, the place the Egan-Mar called home.

 

Deep beneath the ground was the domain of the Earth-Eaters, they spent their entire lives toiling with hand and tool and without the warmth of the sky, they ate Brillcaps and any creature that crossed their path, their bodies were heavily muscled and their skulls were thick, to look at them you would see, little difference between the males and females other than the fact that the females were a bit smaller. Their jaws were massive but their eyes were small and of little use for they relied on smell and hearing rather than site, they wore the dried skins of the Giant Rockworm, the viscous creature the Sandjar miners call Gorno, to this they added small bits of metal for protection, their tools consisted of crude picks and shovels and other digging devices.

 

They dug endlessly for that was their nature but there was one other reason, Grana, the green salt that all creatures of Gorn must consume to live, most animals obtained it from eating the grasses or roots that absorbed the mineral, others like the Norgonie of the Caltarine forests got it from eating worms that burrowed in the ground, but the Nomads had only one way of obtaining the needed salt, they traded with the Ergan for it. The Miners dug it out and gave it to the Outlanders and in return the diggers got loaves of Stone Bread, heavily spiced baked dough that the Nomads made just for them, to them it was a fair trade for they relished the taste of the hard fare. The Miners lived throughout the lands of Gorn, but no one had ever ventured into their underground homes and returned to tell what they have seen, if they did they would have seen a marvel of construction, miles upon miles of intricate tunnels and caves, endless levels that went from just below the surface to far below, if they had not possessed the same power of direction that the Nomads had they would have been hopelessly lost. The tunnels were lite in a dim glow by Starfall, an organic moss that gives off a cool light and allows the Ergan to see a little in the darkness.

 

Now a small band of Miners dug in a section of earth they had never ventured into, the group was led by a large man whose name was Tark, names mattered little to the Egan but having a label meant that you were strong and a leader, and Tark was that by any standard, he was a head taller than most of his kind and his strength was massive, he could do the work of any two of his species and took the pick of the females in his tribe.

“Hunnnk!” the leader growled as he swung his heavy pick, and as he did the chunks of rock spun through the air and showered the other miners with chocking dust, again and again he attacked the hard stone and more fragments fell to the ground, then with one last blow a large section of earth gave way and tumbled to the floor of the tunnel. In doing so one of the miners was crushed to death but this had little effect on the others for death was common and they paid little notice.

But when the dust had cleared the Earth-Eaters saw a strange site for there before them was a large metal door.

Ergan-Mar have no use for doors or anything of the kind, their tunnels were always open unless there was a cave in so seeing such an obstacle momentary stopped them from their work, then after a moment or two Tark moved forward and places his large hand on the steel access, it was rough and cold to the touch, the surface was pitted with age and there was no sign of a handle or latch, again this meant nothing to the miners and with a growl Tark swung his pick hard at the thing baring his way. It rang out with a loud “ding” but it did not give way, again and again he struck at the door but nothing happened, then as the large Ergan was about to swing again there was a loud “click” and the door slowly opened. The diggers was hesitant and waited for the first to enter, then Tark moved forward and poked his large skull inside the doorway, what he saw his tiny brain could scarcely imagine.

It was a room, but a room like he had never seen, its walls were not made of rock or any other material he had ever seen, the surface was smooth and shiny and had strange mechanisms protruding outwards, the ceiling was high and it too had weird machinery hanging down like the tentacles of an Earthshaker and everything was covered in ice. Egans were familiar with ice for their tunnels ran far into the North and sometimes intersected with ice flows so Tark understood what he was looking at, now with slow steps he entered the vast chamber. He moved carefully holding his pick like a weapon and ready to strike at any sign of danger, when he had stepped further into the room the other Miners followed their leader.

Tark stopped for a moment to feel the floor under him, having spent his entire life deep underground and traveling through tunnels cut from rock he never experienced the feel of a totally smooth floor and being covered in ice made his progress even slower, he was also confused by the light in the room, it wasn’t from Starfall or torch but seemed to be from some sort of cold light emanating from fixtures on the walls? A cold bluish luminance that gave the whole room an eerie feeling, but he continued to move forward, and then he saw it.

There in the middle of the room was a round object made of a clear substance that looked like ice, but what made the Earth-Eater stop in his tracks was the thing inside, it resembled a man of sorts but grotesque and misshapen, a huge bulbous head with beady eyes that were closed and a small opening that could have been called a mouth, its body was reptilian with two small legs and two tiny arms but how that creature managed to move about with such feeble appendages was unknown?

Looking at it made even the strong Ergan leader feel afraid, there was something about it that made the skin crawl and a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach, it was like looking at some vile thing from some other time and place, and if the dwellers in the earth had a demon God to fear, this would be it. Tark had seen enough and was about to turn and leave this forbidden place when he once more looked into the face of the creature, and as he looked the eyes opened.

Ergan-Mar are strong fearless creatures, they die without complaint and never run from danger but looking into the cold dead eyes of the thing that now gazed at him made the Miners scream in terror.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3.

 

The Sun Dance.

 

Karus and Micos were once bothers, great Ice Hunters of the Outlands for in those before days the sky was without a sun and darkness ruled the world.

Together the brothers could kill any beast that walked the lands and even the great Earthshakers feared them. Karus was the older of the two and always cared for his younger brother and kept him from harm, but soon Karus grew so strong that he thought himself even greater than the Gods and no longer prayed to them. He forgot the laws of Isarie and lifting his weapon to the heavens he shouted that he no longer needed the wisdom of the Goddess and from that day forward he would not obey her.

Micos heard his brother’s vow and said that he should not have spoken so and that the Gods would punish him for his blasphemy. And growing angry Karus struck out at his brother and killed him, and seeing what he had done he began to weep and beg the Goddess to forgive him.

And because of his love for his brother the Goddess turned them into burning orbs and put them into the heavens so they might give light to their world and show others the way.

 

Old Nomad story.

 

The Almadra like all Nomads spent the deep winter in one of the many thermo-canyons and deep caves that dotted the lands West of the great Chasm. There they could spend the coldest months of Gorn’s elliptical orbit because it was a place where the inner core’s heat reached the surface. Steam vents and cracks in the earth spewed up warmth and made it the perfect place for waiting out the dark days and nights.

The Outlanders called it Yomar, a word in the ancient language that meant “nest”, and it was there that the Almadra made camp, food was plentiful because the huge herds of Rimar also migrated West. They would fill some of the canyons with their kind and then go into a deep hibernation, living off their fat reserves that they had built up over the warm summer. They were easy to kill in that trance like state but the Nomads thought that it was a cowardly way of hunting but they needed meat for themselves and the Whiptails so they had no other choice.

The Trofar on the other hand needed very little to eat for like the Rimar they entered a sleep cycle and with the thick fur that now covered them they could slumber without concern. Now that time was over and with the return of the Great Sun they would begin their journey once more.

 

Andra had spent the night in the arms of her lover and to her there could be no other contentment greater than that. The strong arms of Arn her mate held her close and together they shared the same dreams and felt the same love that they had once known. And it was with much reluctance that Moonbud rose from their warm bed and began to put on her cold armor for she dearly wish to remain in the comfort of their tent and enjoy the passions that they shared the night before.

“I don’t see why we have to wake before Sunbirth?” the chain mail that she drew around her chest felt like ice in her fingers, “can’t this wait until it warms up?”

The King adjusted the two daggers that hung from his wide belt, “the ceremony of the coming of Karus must be performed as the first rays of sunlight enter the night sky, it is only then that the dance of the brothers must be done”.

Moonbud fastened her steel leg guards and took up the helmet lying next to the bed, “oh all right, but I don’t see why the Gods can’t pick a better time for their rituals”.

The Off-World girl was still not convinced of the existence of the Gods but after arriving on Gorn she had seen many things that she could not explain in a rational world so she decided that the Gods might be real but she still questioned their wisdom. But there was one thing that she understood as the truth and that was the love she felt for her mate.

When at last Arn and Andra were dressed in their finest armor the two exited the Kings tent and as they did the cold air of the night sky touched the face of the girl.

I think I prefer the Gods of my Homeworld, she thought. Thinking back on the times that her mother had dragged her brother and her to some religious ceremony or other when they would rather be playing in the open fields behind their home made her wish that she could return to those warm carefree days of her youth.

I miss you mother, I miss you brother. But then she remembered who she was and what her life was now, so she held her head high and conducted herself like a strong warrior of the Almadra.

Outside the tent the King was met by several warriors, and with them was the Captain of the Spikebacks a big man by the name Kuno, the loyal Captain had been the Leader of the tribe when Arn wandered the Outlands as a Death Rider. Capable and wise he would have made a strong King but his love of drink and the ladies of the tribe kept him from wearing the helmet of Monarchy. But he was still a trusted friend and one who would have gladly sacrificed his life for his friend.

“Everything has been made ready” he said, “the warriors have cleared the ground and the Elders will be protected”.

“Very well” the King smiled, “send word to the Holy Mother that she and her Handmaidens can begin”.

“As you wish my lord”.

Andra had to smile at hearing all this stiff talk for she knew that in private the two were close friends, but she also understood that this was a formal ritual and that certain amenities must be observed. Still it made her chuckle under her breath.

They act as if the Gods listened to every conversation; she heard her mind say, you would think that all powerful beings would have better things to do?”

 

The strange young girl called Niana had spent the frigid night walking under the moonlit sky and feeling no discomfort at the biting cold. She wore only a thin robe of plain cloth and no jewelry of any kind; her long thin hair was showing more and more traces of green in its coloring and this along with her strange ways made the Nomads shun her. Her travels that night caused her sorrow, for she looked up at the night moons that moved across the heavens and in her heart she understood that they feared the future. How could rock feel you may ask? That is a question that human minds cannot understand but Niana was only part human the other measure only a God is meant to know.

Now as the night drew to its close she returned to the wagon of the old man as he was coming out of his tent to greet the day.

“Good morning” the old Callaxion asked, “how did you…?” he was about to ask how she slept but he knew that the young girl did not sleep and so he rephrased his question, “I trust the night went well with you?”

“Yes, very well” the girl said without emotion, and she started for their Karrack and her isolation.

But like all of his species Osh was very curious about her movements and why she wandered alone in the dark, “where you looking for something last night?”

This caused the young girl to stop and look at the old man; “No” she said calmly, “I only wished to be with my mother”.

This brought a smile to the thin lips of the Callaxion, “your mother sleeps in the tent of the King, I can show you the way if you like?”

There was a short pause as the girl looked into the wrinkled face of her companion, “Andra is the woman who gave me birth, but she is not my mother, and where I go you cannot follow”.

Osh was use to precise answers and not riddles and he was about to ask for clarification when the girl turned and climbed into the back of the wagon. This was not the Karrack that Osh and Andra once shared, it was a brand new carrier constructed for the Callaxion and the young girl. Andra cared for her daughter and knew that the old wagon was becoming crowded with the artifacts and scrolls that the old man collected so she asked her mate the King if a new Karrack could be made? And knowing that Moonbud was a strong willed women and would make it cold in their tent if he disagreed he ordered the Ironworkers and woodcarvers to construct a new wagon and obeying the will of their Leader they fashioned a much larger carriage with a section in the back for Niana and her needs. They also gave Osh a larger Trofar to pull it and even a smaller cart attached to the back for storage of Kasha wheat, Eul and all matter of things, it was then painted with bright colors and a Handmaiden of Isarie came to bless it.

But even a new wagon could not cool the inquisitive mind of the old man so with no one to talk too he picked up a scroll of fresh parchment, writing tool and ink and set off to record the ritual that the Nomads called the Sun Dance.

 

The Holy Mother and her Handmaidens had spent the entire night in prayer and chanting, they laid offerings of food and drink before the stature of Isarie that stood inside the great tent and read passages from the Holy Book. Egmar led the women in prayer and although her strength was not that of her youth she still spoke every word with conviction and lifted her arms to the sky as high as any of the novices. She wore a heavy robe of green set with silver trim with a great golden sun symbol on the back; on her head she wore the traditional golden headdress of the twin suns. Her knees were bent but knowing that the floor was cold the Handmaidens had laid a large pillow on the ground so that their Holy Mother would not be unduly taxed in her devotion.

“Oh great Goddess, may we be worthy of your wisdom” she said loudly “and may we feel the warmth of your love”. Then the former Queen took a small handful of green crystals in her thin fingers and tossed them onto a small ritual fire burning before the golden statue.

“togasttra emo entralac, give to us your strength” she called out.

And in response the Handmaidens repeated her words. “togasttra emo entralac, give to us your strength”.

The faithful of the Goddess had performed this ritual a thousand times, and each time they offered the precious salt called Grana to the Gods. To them it was life itself, a gift from Isarie and kept them from entering the Afterlife before their time. They wore thin robes and their faces were decorated with gold markings and sacred symbols.

Now with the offering accepted they rose up on their feet and one by one they left the meeting chamber leaving Egmar to herself. The old woman stood there looking into the face of the Goddess and feeling her loving presence in her heart.

“May I be worthy of your love,” she said softly.

 

I know your book.

I follow its teachings.

I believe.

 

She turned and walked away, inside her she carried the mercy of the Gods and the warmth of her love.

 

The location where the Almadra waited out the long winter had once been the boiling caldron of a huge volcano. The molten rock that once spewed out from deep in the earth had twisted themselves into hunks of stone that dotted the landscape and gave the place a haunted look. Along with the huge monoliths were bubbling pools of warm water and geysers of steam intermittently sending streams of scalding vapor into the sky, but with all its strange appearance it also supplied the Nomads with much needed gifts, between the inhospitable places were open fields of vegetation, trees that bore fruit and small lakes with a large species of fish whose flesh was sweet to the taste. Here was also found the seedpods that yielded the rare Ulon spice that was used in everyday cooking.

It was also a good training place for the young of the tribe, they were now entering there middle growth, no longer small and helpless the winter months had seen them grow tall and strong. It was at this time that they began their training as warriors, Ironworkers or healers, and some were chosen as Handmaidens to the Goddess. They of course would not be fully developed until the next Burning Time when they slept in the Hollow Hills to be reborn, but it was here that they set their futures.

But above all there was only one way in and one way out of Yomar, this narrow opening was guarded day and night for just outside the Hagars roamed the land, it was one such raiding party that tried to enter and had been driven off just the day before.

But soon the place called the Nest would see the last of the Nomads for it was the time of the Sun Dance and the beginning of a new cycle for the Outlanders. Over the many centuries that the followers of Isarie had been coming there they had constructed a large temple made from the dark rock of the valley, it resembled a circle of tall columns much like the Eye of Isarie in the plains of Darmock but smaller in size. Each tower was topped by a large golden dish connected to a set of gears and pulleys that ran down the sides of the columns. Each column surrounded a large stone wheel set off the ground by a center hub, it was as thick as a man is tall and its edge was inlaid with bone, and along this edge were dozens of short handles sticking out. These were also of ivory and were worn in places as if hands had gripped them over the ages. The wheel itself was a dozen meters across and carved with intricate images of animals and creatures of fantastic design, and at its center was a raised platform that was covered in layers of gold. But it was not carved in any design and seemed to be nothing more than layers of metal as if something had been poured there. On the outer rim of the wheel were the signs of the different faces of the moons and astrological numbers that were of great importance to the Nomads.

It was at this place that the Almadra would pay tribute to the Gods, for as the night was about to end the Nomads gathered around the temple and began chanting. As they did the King and his mate slowly made their way, followed close behind by the warriors who held burning torches in their hands. Each warrior was also wearing their best armor; this was not the thick blood stained protection that covered their strong bodies when going into battle, this was their brightly polished ceremonial dress that they wore for religious occasions. But one thing that they refused to do was leave their weapons in the tents, each one held his war-ax or Tooth as it was known in his free hand, for danger was always present and a wise warrior would never be caught off guard. As they walked they also chanted and with each step they beat their weapons on the ground to add power to their cadence.

Behind the warriors marched the Thungodra, the protectors of the Holy Mother; they wore their dark armor as always and likewise held weapons and torches. The sang as the Nomads did but they were not like them for they had, man and woman alike taken a vow of celibacy and devoted their lives to training for battle and for filling their oath to keep their Holy Mother from harm.

And behind the devoted warriors walked the Handmaidens of Isarie, they wore robes of brightly colored cloth in a rainbow pattern and their faces still bore the golden markings from before. On their heads they wore elaborate headdresses set with the feathers from Doffbird’s also dyed in beautiful colors, but in the darkness of night their true effect was lost. Each young girl held a small but well-made statue of a man in her hands, they were made of gold and if you looked at them closely they would have matched the features of Karus and Micos, the bothers of the suns.

The last to make her way to the temple was the Holy Mother, she sat on a golden litter held up by several of her Thungodra, she wore the same clothing as before except she held a staff in her hand topped by a large golden disk. Egmar held her head high for it was the first time that she would be presiding over this important ritual, the last time they were here Obec the treacherous former Holy Mother had sat in this chair.

Obec betrayed her people Egmar mused, for that she should burn in the Pit of Marloon, then remembering her vow of kindness she rephrased her words, perhaps Isarie will grant her mercy——but I doubt it.

 

Far enough away to not be noticed but close enough to observe all that was taking place Osh stood on a large flat rock that was overhanging a small pool of boiling water. One slip and he would plunge to a horrible death, but the feel of warm air on his chilled bones was enough to make him take the risk. Besides he had already calculated the odds of such a thing happening and found them in his favor, so to him there was nothing to fear. Now he held his parchment and writing tool in his thin hands and smiled in anticipation of seeing something that no other scholar of the Outer Rim had ever witnessed.

If only I could mind-link, he thought, it would save time and be far more accurate then writing.

The old man was referring to the Callaxions ability to interface with the powerful Trolacian computers and feed his thoughts directly into their memory banks rather than the infinitely slower method of writing. But of course there were no such computers on Gorn so if he wanted to record what he saw he would have to do it the old fashion way.

In the moonlight he watch the Nomads gather around the temple and when all the tribe were in their places he saw Arn stand up on a large carved rock formation and speak to his people.

 

“We have endured the long night and the cold hand of winter,” the King said in a loud clear voice, “and now the return of Karus is at hand, so as our ancestors did before us we will pay tribute to the Gods and their wisdom.”

When he had finished speaking the Almadra turned to the Holy Mother who was now standing with her Handmaidens close to the great wheel.

“Isarie in her wisdom as given us the cycles of our lives and we as her children have followed her laws, we now show our love with the dance of the sun”. The Holy Mother lifted her staff and pointed to the snowcapped mountains in the distance, there could be seen the first faint traces of light. As they waited the light started to grow and the drums of the Outlanders began to beat, and with their pounding a song filled the air, it was the song of the Brothers.

 

“Brothers of light we shed the night.

Hunters of the day we feel your might.

Night has gone and the suns will shine.

Leaving all sadness in dreams behind.”

 

As they sang the Almadra began to beat their feet upon the cold ground and taking up the tempo the warriors lifted their weapons and struck the hard earth with them, all the while calling out to their Gods. Arn and Andra also sang for the Off-World girl had learned many of the traditional chants of the Outlanders and felt their power in her heart, and she lifted her voice as loud as anyone’s.

One by one the Handmaids walked up to the great wheel and stood upon it, each in turn placed the small golden stature that they carried on its center point, then whispering a prayer they removed their robes. When their colorful garment had fallen away you could see that each of them was naked save for their headdresses, but their slim bodies were covered in gold dust giving them the appearance of ritual statues. And like statues they stood unmoving in the cold night.

As the first light began to fill the valley dozens of warriors put down their torches and weapons and moved to the great wheel, they grasped the protruding handles tightly and with all their might they began to push. As they did a grinding sound began to emanate from the stone dais for it had been a long time sense it had been turned. With the muscles on their arms and backs straining with effort, the ancient wheel began to move, and as it did the disks on the tops of the columns also began to move. They turned in unison until they were precisely aligned with the rays of the rising sun and the astrological markings on the wheel’s edge were where they should be. When at last the dais and dicks were in their proper places the warriors moved away from the temple.

The singing continued as more and more of Karus light filled the land, then it rose up the tall columns and at last touched the disks on their tops. When it did a great burst of light poured down upon the center of the wheel and reflected on the faces of those who watched. In a few moments the light grew more intense and it was at this time that the Handmaidens of Isarie began their dance.

They moved together, each lifting her arms and legs and catching the reflecting light from the beams that now burn hotly upon the center of the round stone; soon the golden statues began to melt for the intense heat that was now concentrated down from the towers. As Andra watched her heart began to beat in fear for the young Handmaidens.

One missed step she thought and they will burn.

And her fear was justified for the rays were as deadly as any Blaze-canon fire, but this didn’t stop the maidens from showing their devotions to the Gods and as the drums beat louder and the singing grew so did their movements. Soon they leaped high in the air and bounding between the deadly shafts of light like they were dancing on the open grasslands of the Plains of Darmock. And with every step the Off-World girl held her breath and fear burned in her heart but she stood beside the King and did not show her feeling on her face.

Soon the golden statues that had once stood so proudly were reduced to pools of molten metal, what had once been an offering to their Gods was now nothing more than another layering upon the ancient stone. And with one last pounding of the drums the ceremony was done.

“The brothers of the sky are once more together” the Holy Mother proclaimed, “and now comes the time that we leave this place and go where Isarie commands us to go and we will……”.

It was then that something strange happened for Egmar suddenly stopped as if she was made of stone, she did not speak or show any sign of life in her face. And it was not just the Holy Mother for those around her also stood frozen in time and seeing this Andra turned to her mate.

“What is happening?” she asked, but as she looked into the face of the man she loved she saw the same dead features. And seeing this she shook him by the arm, “wake up!” she called out and was about to say it again when life returned to him and those that had been frozen. And once more the Holy Mother’s words could be heard.

“…follow her will”.

Then as if nothing had happened the Almadra began to move away from the great wheel unaware of what had just transpired.

The King smiled at his mate, “come the ritual is done” and he began to walk away, but seeing a strange look in the eyes of Moonbud he turned to her once more, “why do you stay, there is nothing more that must be done”.

For a moment the girl did not know what to say, “Didn’t you see what just happened?” She asked.

“I saw the dance of the brothers, nothing more” he said with a laugh, “all was done as it should be and the Gods are content”.

And seeing that it would be useless to argue she went with her mate and said nothing more, but in her mind burned a question that she knew must be answered.

 

Osh had witnessed the ritual of the return of Gorn’s primary sun and the dance of the brothers and it was with great pride that he wrote down all that he had seen.

If only the master recorders on Callax knew of the things that I have seen, and he smiled broadly for he knew that they would have been very jealous of his good fortune.

But as he finished marking his parchment he looked up to see the Almadra standing like cloth-dressed mannequins and it caused him to take a step backwards, but when he did his foot slipped on the wet rock and he tumbled off the outcropping and fell towards the pool of burning water. He should have died then and there but it seems that his luck was holding and he missed the boiling death by inches, never the less his right hand touched the scalding water and he cried out in pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4.

 

The Tribe of Many.

 

 

There are some Outlanders who do not have tribes, they are called Waste Wanderers or Outcasts and travel the lands of Gorn alone and friendless, the other tribes do not speak of them and they are given a wide birth if seen. But those that are driven from their people sometimes gather together for survival and although the Gods do not protect them they endure all the same.

 

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

 

 

Anais and Kela had survived the great cold of winter, they managed to find a small cave in the Hollow Hills and there they stayed till the captive ice began to melt and the great sun Karus made his return.

And with the coming of the suns they ventured out and once more began their journey, the traveling was slow at first for the ground was still packed with ice and snow and there were strange atmospheric events such as wind storms and small shakings of the ground but with each passing day they found patches of green and enough Rimar to fill their bellies. Now it would have been impossible for a blind man and a Handmaiden of Isarie to bring down a full grown Thundra beast but they had the help of the two Drogs that the Norgonie had given them before they left the forest of Caltarine. The two fierce creatures were well-trained and would obey the wishes of their masters, but it was not all conditioning on the part of Kela for she always possessed a liking for animals and it did not matter that the two ferocious hunting Drogs could have killed her without effort. Never the less she showered them with affection and even sang songs to them as if they were harmless Burrow-Babies and not powerful hunters of Sagar cats. So when they chanced upon a lone Rimar the two Drogs would fall upon it and using their strong teeth and claws they would bring it down and supply enough meat for many days. She even went so far as to give them names so now Jumo and Dalgar would pace back and forth beside the wagon and now and then let out with a loud howl giving a strong warning to travelers not to cross their path.

But in the days and nights since they left their cave the two Outcast Nomads found others of their kind, wanderers of the land without tribes or families to care for them, and because there was strength in many they let them travel with them. And soon their numbers grew for Anais had learned a bitter lesson when he was a cruel King of the Almadra and now that he followed the teaching of a Star-Gazer he looked for better in those he met and help them find their way. And although Kela was no longer a Handmaiden of Isarie she still followed her writings and opened her heart to those that had closed theirs.

Now they all traveled together, warriors and wayfarers, hunters and craftsmen, the old and the young, it did not matter if they had been members of different tribes, Ozendra, Maringar, Bal-Borie or Armrod. They all worked together for survival, and with the Blind Prince leading them they slowly made their path across the land.

 

They made their way across the Sirolian Plains and managed to stay out of the way of the giant Earthshakers and fearsome wild Whiptails, then through the mazelike Pass of Moke and into the vast openness of Darmock, they continued onward heading for the Eye of Isarie. The Eye is a Holy Place to the Outlanders for it was the meeting place that held the sacred Talk Stone, the huge columns of rock that surrounded the alter had been damaged in the great Landquack but never the less it was still a place that the Outlanders held in great esteem and a place to pray to the Gods for strength and wisdom.

 

“I do not think the snow will fall tonight,” Kela said as she looked up at the open sky, “the wind is blowing from the south and I see a Sundropper circling”.

It was true that seeing a Sundropper was a good omen for weather for the flying reptiles used warm air currents to stay aloft and they never flew when there was a chance of ice. But as the Handmaiden held the reins of their wagon in her hands the man who had stolen her heart was not so sure.

“One Sundropper does not seal a fate,” Anais said as he sat beside her, “and they do not lay all their eggs in the same nest”.

Hearing such words of understanding spoken by her mate made the young girl laugh for she knew that it was a passage from the thirty nine Books of Wisdom that the forest dwellers had given to them before they left the great Fortress.

“I see that you were listening as I read” Kela said for she had indeed used the long winter to read to her companion, “and I am surprised that you have remembered”.

“Yes I remember” the blind man replied, I remember all that you said to me and all that you gave me. And his mind returned to those dark nights when they did not know if they would ever see the sunlight again or smell the sweet grass of the open plain, all that I am I owe to her.

To look at her you would have not said that the young Handmaiden had changed much, she till bore the terrible facial scar that had kept her from performing many of the sacred rituals of the tribe when she was a servant of the Goddess. And she no longer wore the traditional garments that all Handmaidens adorned themselves with but looking at her you could still see the brightness in her eyes and know that she had not turned away from Isarie and continued to pray to her for forgiveness. And each night she would bend her knees and lifted her arms and uttered a prayer to the man she killed.

“Valen,” she would say, “I am sorry that I took your life, can you find it in your heart to forgive me.”

It did not matter if she had followed a vow that she made to her father to avenge his death she still felt great pain in her heart, but with the passing of time she hope that it would lessen and that she could at last find peace.

And now as the days grew warmer so did their love and from that warmth a new world would grow.

 

Unknown to Anais and Kela there was another tribe near the Holy Place but they were not Nomads and did not pray to the same Gods.

Sandjars led by Endo and his mate slowly moved south across the ground the Nomads called Darmock, they were not a large tribe but they knew the land and how to survive, they were once slaves, forced to mine the earth for the burning rock called Eul by their masters the Norgonie, the forest dwellers of Caltarine, but they were freed and with Endo as their Coraw or leader they managed to endure through the bitter cold of the dim time and now lived the life of freedom.

The wagon of Endo and Rawna led the way as they moved southward, they and traveled through the Poisoned Lands but did not see any sign of dreaded Shadowmen, why they did not emerge from their underground homes the Sandjar did not know, perhaps they were not awake yet or maybe they simply saw no need to attack a small band of Scavengers who were just crossing their land? But whatever reason Endo was thankful for the peace for this gave him time to teach his people what they needed to know about the Outlands and the dangers waiting there. It took some time but he finally felt that his people were now strong enough to face foes or attacks by creatures that would gladly feed on them, so with pride and courage he lead the way and beside him sat his one love.

Rawna had also grown, she was no longer the frightened little slave that knew only cruelty and the darkness of the mines, she could speak clearly now and had a quick mind, she also learned the fundamentals of reading and writing but found them tiresome and therefore did not devote much time to learning more, she would rather tend to the needs of her mate and feel his warmth lying beside her.

“Would you like a nice bowl of soup for your evening meal?” she asked her mate, she hoped that he would say yes for she prided herself on her cooking and had already gathered all the needed ingredients for the thick concoction.

Endo turned to look into the bright loving eyes of his mate, Hagar soup again? He thought, we had soup last night and the night before, but he knew that it was her favorite food and even though she did not use enough Ulon spice to enhance the flavor he smiled at her. “Soup would be wonderful” he said. And hearing this Rawna put her arm around his and began to hum in contentment.

Endo took one hand from the reins of his Trofar and placed it on the belly of his mate, there he felt the roundness that had been growing for some time and knew that his offspring was also content.

“Have you been eating enough rough worms?” he asked, “they will help with the growing pains and give our child strong teeth”.

But Rawna only smiled at him, “of course I have, do you think I do not know how to care for a little one?’

“I did not mean to question your ability; I simply wanted to make sure we had enough crawlers left?

Hearing this the young Sandjar female reached behind her into the wagon and drew out a painted jar and opened the lid, she reached inside and pulled out a large handful of green worms that wiggled in her thin fingers.

“Look for yourself” she said and put her hand in front of her mates face, “I have dug up enough and more” then she put the handful of worms into her mouth and chewed them slowly, when she had finished her meal she whipped her face and began to hum once more.

It is often said that Sandjars are vile creatures without a soul and that they care little for others or their children, but those that said such things are looking through a mist of superiority that clouds the mind.

 

All that day the Tribe of Many traveled without incident, they saw a small herd of Ax-Breakers but their meat was tuff and their hard shell backs made them very difficult to kill, they did however come across a group of young Rimar and the warriors quickly brought them down and their tender meat was given to the tribe.

Now as evening began to fall the Blind Prince spoke to his mate, “Over that next rise we will find shelter and a good place to camp”.

Kela had long ago accepted the fact that Anais could know things when others could not, perhaps his senses had been enhanced by his lack of site so that he could smell the scent of Balbar trees or fresh water? Or maybe his mind could now reach out beyond others to know what could not be known, or perhaps it was luck? But whatever the reason the Handmaiden knew that he spoke the truth.

“Very well” she said and signaled to the others following their wagon that they would be stopping for the night then she turned back to her mate, “tonight I will prepare fresh Rimar with a bowl of Hagar soup and Kasha bread with Meadowcane biscuits”, and saying this she waited for her mate to smile and praise her for she knew that it was his favorite meal and he had not eaten it in a long time. But as she waited she did not see a smile on his face and he seemed to be thinking deep thoughts.

“Is there something wrong?” she finally asked.

Then after a time the Prince turned his head towards her, “no, there is nothing wrong, I was just…..”.

But he did not speak again and when their wagon rose up and over the small ridge ahead of them there on the other side was the perfect place to settle the wagons and set up their tents so Kela decided to let the matter go but in the back of her head a small voice kept calling out to her, there is something he is not telling me.

 

The Nomads of the Outlands had lived the same way for countless generations, wandering the land and following their traditions, not because they had too but because they wanted too. They saw no need to change for they had everything they needed, food, water, and the Gods to look over them and over the many cycles of their lives they were content.

The wagons or Karracks as they were sometimes called were marvels of engineering, strong and sturdy they were handed down from one generation to another. They had massive wheels, they were very wide so as to not become bogged down in snow or sand, they carried everything the Outlanders needed and if they became too filled they had smaller carts added to their back ends to take the surplus. Likewise their tents were exceptional in design, they could be round or triangle in shape, and because they were made of tough Rimar hide they could withstand a strong wind or rain. They had an opening in the top to let out smoke when Washa’s were taken inside for warmth and the sides could be lifted to allow a cool breeze in the heat of summer. So when the time came for setting up camp it took the Nomads only a short time to have everything in its place and the fires burning brightly.

Sentries were posted for even in the open lands an enemy could be close at hand. There were always Sandjars or wild beasts and even the sky could bring down death in the form of a Dropship or some other unwanted spacecraft from a distant world. So warriors kept a lookout and they set their weapons close at hand.

 

Anais sniffed the air inside his tent and smiled, “make sure you do not put in too much Ulon spice in the soup” he said.

This brought an immediate response from Kela who had been stirring the cooking pot sitting on their Washa, “I will have you know I put the perfect amount of seasoning for this time of the cycle”. And indeed that was true for in winter you added a bit more of the pungent seasoning to add warmth to a meal were as in summer you put in less.

The Blind Prince also knew that it was true but he delighted in teasing his mate about her cooking, so when she handed him his eating bowl filled with soup and another plate heaped with succulent Rimar meat he took a spoonful into his mouth, let the warm broth run into his belly then apologized.

“I can see that I was once again mistaken in questioning your cooking skills” and he filled his mouth with another spoonful of the excellent concoction.

Kela’s face showed a large smile as she listened to the kind words of her mate, she knew that his former words were only made in jest but like all women she liked to hear that she was not taken for granted and that her efforts were greatly appreciated.

And so they ate their evening meal all the while talking about the day’s events and what tomorrow might bring, and when the food was gone they sat near the warm cooking stove and she read to him from one of the thirty nine Books of Wisdom until they were tired. And then they lay in each other’s arms and let themselves be taken by love to a place that only lovers know.

 

Kela had been correct in her prediction about it not snowing for when the twin suns rose in the morning sky there was no new ice on the ground. The Nomads had many words to describe snow and ice for it took many forms, there is snow when it is hard or soft, snow that is freshly fallen or had been on the ground for a long time. They had a word for snow of different colors or tints, words for ice when it is cracked or sharp or piled in heaps, ice that is moving or still, ice that is thick or thin. All and all they had over two dozen words that could describe what they were looking at, but listing them would tire the mind and will not be spoken of now.

After the Nomads had eaten their morning meal Kela stood outside her tent and tossed chunks of raw Rimar to Jumo and Dalgar, and as they devoured the succulent meat she smiled.

“Do not eat so fast or you will regret it later”, she said as Dalgar the male and larger of the two Drogs tore at the offering with his massive teeth. “Leave some for your mate”, and to make sure that Jumo the female would not go hungry she tossed a large cut of meat to her. When she did a fight broke out between the two and howls filled the air, and seeing that her guardians were hurting each other the Handmaiden picked up a small rock from the ground and threw it at them, “STOP IT!” she called out and to make her point she threw yet another stone.

Hearing such a commotion Anais quickly came out of their dwelling, “I told you before do not treat them like Lap-Petters, they were bred for killing”.

But before he could warn his mate another time the howling stopped and all was quiet once more, and thinking that his words found their mark he smiled and nodded his head.

“You see, I told you that they should be treated like the dangerous creatures they are”.

“Yes, you are right” Kela said quietly, “you are a very wise man”.

But what he could not see was his mate standing beside the two beasts stroking them on their massive heads and they in turn licking the fingers of her delicate hands.

 

By mid-day the Tribe of Many had traveled a great distance, the day was warmer and soon the bits of snow and ice had vanished and the air smelled of growing things. They continued onward and made sure to avoid any sign of Earthshakers or trails left by scavengers. Sandjar’s would probably not attack a group as large as the Outcasts but it was always wise to be careful so the Nomads sent out riders to search for danger and scan the terrain for another suitable place to make their camp.

But as Kela held the reins of their wagon she looked down at Dalgar who was moving with labored strides and growling as if he smelled a Sagar cat.

“I told you not to eat so fast,” she said shaking her head, “but do not worry, I will brew you a soothing potion made of Safic-berries and Rockworm”.

Anais who was sitting beside her shook his head and was about to say something concerning her treatment of their Drogs but he stopped himself, she cares for all living things he thought, and it is not your place to question the gifts of Isarie.

And hearing his mind say such things he remembered all the past events of his life, his troubled childhood and the torments of his youth, the jealousy that cost him the use of his eyes and the deaths of so many. But then he also remembered the softening of his heart and the kindness that had saved him from himself, and now here he was, alive and sitting beside the one he loved.

It has been a strange journey. And he was about to tell Kela how much she meant to him when his mind touched on something cold, “something is coming” he said.

And no sooner had he said this then one of the Outriders raced up to him on his Whiptail.

“Sandjar” the warrior said, and immediately Anais spoke back to him.

“Tell the warriors to guard the wagons and form a defense”.

Nomads warriors spend most of their time in training and knew how to defend their tribe, they would gladly lay down their lives for their people and it did not matter if they had grown up under another leader or flag so as the news of Sandjar near they spread out to encircle the wagons and made sure that the women and children were safe.

The Tribe waited silently but the warriors tensed their muscles in anticipation of a fight, they knew that Sandjars could be vicious in battle but they also knew that the Scavengers rarely attacked Nomads and preferred to run from trouble.

Anais reached out with his mind, it is strange, I feel Sandjars but I do not feel danger?

Beside him Kela waited, Dalgar growled and snapped this massive jaws together hoping that they would soon tasted flesh as all thoughts of pain vanished from his belly.

Slowly the Handmaiden raised her hand as a signal to the warriors to ready themselves for the charge, then she saw a Karrack rise up over the hill.

If they are foe we will defend ourselves, being a follower of Isarie she had respect for all things living but it was written in the Holy Book.

 

Hold out one hand in friendship.

But in the other grip your weapon.

 

And Kela knew they were wise words indeed as she waited to give the signal, then she saw whose hands were holding the Trofars reins and slowly lowered her hand.

“Endo” she said turning to her mate, “it is Endo and his tribe” then she raised her hand to the oncoming wagon and called out in a loud voice. “FRIENDS!” and to a follower of the Goddess there are no better words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5.

 

Guardians.

 

I will follow the teaching of Isarie and bow down to no other God before her.

I will not lay with another and taste the bitter fruit of sin.

I will stand beside the Holy Mother and protect her from all harm.

And should I break any laws of the Goddess may my soul burn forever in the Pit of

Marloon.

 

The Oath of the Thungodra.

 

Kalgar-Rune was the bravest of the Thungodra, his strong body bore innumerable wounds. Over the cycles his dark eyes had looked into the face of the Angel of Death many times. He was one of the few survivors who stood by Obec, the treacherous former Holy Mother when she betrayed the tribe in the war with the Talsonar. At that time he did not know of her plans to destroy all those who stood in her way regardless of their loyalty to the Goddess or the King. Even if he had known he would have still stood by her side for like all the holy warriors he had sworn a blood oath and would fulfill that vow even at the cost of his eternal soul.

Kalgar had been chosen at a very early age to become one of the dark warriors for he was brave and strong and followed the teachings of Isarie without question. Over the cycles he rose in the leadership of the Guardians and all looked up to him, and in return he fought by their sides and led them in prayers and his voice rose above the others in songs to the Gods.

It was not unusual to see the great warrior rise long before Sunbirth and walk away from the camp. He would sit in solitude and pray to the moons and the stars and ask them to forgive his many sins, and make him worthy to enter the Golden Hall of Isarie. Above all he wish to sit at the right hand of the Goddess and defend her against demons from the Pit of Marloon or the wrath of jealous rival Gods.

And to accomplish this feat he knew that he must keep himself strong and not fall victim to the ways of sin or the weakness of the flesh. So over his lifetime he trained with ax and dagger and never let the warmth of a woman’s body touch him.

He sat there under the clear sky and repeated the vow that he took so long ago.

 

“I will follow the teaching of Isarie and bow down to no other God before her.

I will not lay with another and taste the bitter fruit of sin.

I will stand beside the Holy Mother and protect her from all harm.

And should I break any laws of the Goddess may my soul burn forever in the Pit of Marloon”.

 

But on this night the words did not fill his heart as they should have, and he said the verses once again, but as he finished the oath again he still felt empty.

Why do I not feel as I once did? He asked his mind and then he looked down on his hands, they were rough and bore many deep scars he had received in vicious battle. As he looked at them he remembered the many times that they were bathed in the blood of the enemies of the tribe.

I have protected my tribe and the Holy Mother, he thought, I have fulfilled my oath and when I die I will sit beside Isarie in the Golden Hall.

And he pictured himself in his gleaming armor and holding his war-ax in his hand and for a moment his heart felt glad, and then it suddenly grew heavy.

But will I stand alone?

He knew that there would be many other warriors with him but they had mates that would hold them and listen to them speak of gentler times and on long cold nights they would have a lover to keep them warm.

Nonsence!

Try as he might he could not drive the feeling that he would be without love for all eternity. He stood up and took up his war-ax and began to practice the moves of combat. There was no one better to learn the complex movements from than Kalgar-Rune, he was a master of the ax and might have stood his ground even against the King. Right, left, high and low he swung the powerful weapon, and with each move his heart beat faster and faster, soon the fighting madness was upon him and he would have cut down anyone that was foolish enough to come near him.

I will obey my oath, he screamed in his mind, I will not sin, I will not sin!

At last he let the madness depart and stood there taking in the clear air in great gulps, the sweat ran down his face in ringlets and his hands trembled.

After a time he turned and began walking back to his lonely tent, as he did, a blot of lightening flashed in the night sky and he took this as an omen that the Gods did hear his prayer. He could not stop his mind from seeing himself holding a caring woman in his strong arms.

 

“OUCH!” Osh called out as the Touchtender applied a compress of soothing Rockworm juice to his burned hand, as the ointment began to work its magic his pain quickly ceased and he no longer felt so annoyed. “Well it seems that you do have some knowledge of healing after all,” he said reluctantly.

Now Alune had been a healer for many cycles, and over that time she had treated battle wounds and infections of all kinds, her knowledge of herbs and potions was unsurpassed and she never turned away from a person in need. Adding to all this was her skill with weapons for her father had been one of the best warriors of the Outlands and had trained her so that she could protect herself from danger.

People of the tribe called her Tormor-Varuck, the steel maiden, this in its self was a jest, for she had been mated three times and it was said that her men were always reluctant to leave her bed. Even though she was showing her cycles she still possessed a certain attractiveness that brought a smile to the faces of many of the older warriors and the young as well.

“There now, you will be healed in a few days” Alune said as she adjusted the bandage on the old man’s hand. “But do not hold a weapon for that time”. As the woman looked about the small tent, she saw no ax or dagger, only a writing desk and many rolled parchments. “They said you were not a warrior but some kind of Half-Soul teacher, is that correct?” she asked.

Osh had heard the name (Half-Soul) many times when people spoke about him or others like him, at first he was offended but over time he learned to ignore the derogatory comment. “I am a Callaxion, we interface with Trolacian computers and program advanced Data-coms”.

But hearing such gibberish only brought a smile to the face of the Touchtender, “I am sorry but I can only cure maladies of the flesh and not the mind”, she said as she rose from the bed where the old man lay and began gathering up her medicines. “I suggest that you pray for guidance and maybe Isarie will grant you wisdom and you will no longer speak like a Frail-Leg”.

Osh did not appreciate being called demented and he rose up from where he lay and shook a thin finger from his good hand at the healer. “I’ll have you know that I have received several commendations for my precise knowledge of Mind-lock inter-work coding and data filings!”

Alune placed her hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eyes, “I will pray for you” she said, then with a laugh she turned and left the tent.

The old man was about to go after her and tell her that she was an ignorant, un-enlightened annoying woman but then he remembered that he was no longer wearing any pants and he did not want to expose himself to even more ridicule.

 

The morning suns were rising fast and the Almadra had been preparing for their journey for some time. They fed the Whiptails and Trofars and began taking down their tents and loading their wagons, there was much to do and everyone lent a hand as they always did. The Elders prepared the morning meal, making sure it was hot and nourishing and would fortify them against the cold of the day. The warriors checked and re-checked their weapons and made sure that their armor was well oiled so that it would move with them and not become a hindrance in battle. Even the children had their tasks, they gathered up Eul and filled the water containers and made sure that nothing was left behind, not a sign of their being here would be tolerated for an enemy might use that knowledge against them. It was also a tradition of the Outlanders to leave things as they were and show respect for the land that sustained them.

 

Andra’s mind had been troubled all through the night but she did not speak of it to her mate because she was certain that he would not understand. Even now as they prepared to leave Yomar she could not bring herself to tell Arn about what she had witnessed.

Why did they stop moving? She asked her mind, and afterwards they didn’t seem to know that something had happened to them.

As she pondered this question she loaded up her Whiptail with all the necessities for travel, a water canteen, a bedroll, and a carry bag filled with a fire starter, food and other items for survival in the Outlands. These possessions would probably not be needed but it was a wise thing to be prepared for the unexpected.

And as she attached an extra dagger to her riding saddle the King came up behind her and without warning placed his strong arms around her waist, not realizing that it was her mate, her soldiers training took over and she swung her arm around and caught him on the side of his face.

Arn felt the blow and quickly withdrew his hands, “you are as quick as a meadow snake,” he said rubbing the side of his aching jaw.

“I’m sorry” Andra said holding up her hands, “but you shouldn’t come up behind me like that”.

“You should have known it was me by my footfalls” the King replied. And he was indeed correct for any good warrior knows the sound of a friend from a foe, “were you distracted?”

“Yes I was, I was just thinking about the strange thing that happened yesterday at the ceremony”.

“What strange thing?” he asked.

Andra was about to answer when she saw the look in the eyes of her mate, it told her that he would not understand, “forget it, it was nothing” she answered. Something did happen but what exactly I can’t say.

“You should not fill your mind with nothing” Arn said, “Emptiness is the domain of demons”. And the King moved to his mount and began loading it.

But the young girl’s mind still dwelled on what had happened and when her Whiptail was loaded she turned to her mate, “I’m going to see if Osh is ready to leave, I’ll be back soon”. And she began to walk towards the tent of her old companion.

As she moved away Arn’s face showed a smile, she is a good woman, and I am lucky to have her at my side.

But as he stood there a strange feeling began to rise up inside him, it was not something that could be easily spoken of for it was not hunger or fear or lust, it was more than that, a feeling of something to come, some shadow on the future, a feeling that he was not himself, he was?

But then in a flash the feeling vanished and he was once more standing beside his Whiptail and preparing to leave.

A strange thing? He told his mind, but there is work to be done, and I am still King.

 

Andra had not been at the wagon of her old friend for some time; it was not because of some misunderstanding between them, but rather the feeling that came over her when she saw her daughter. A strange mixture of love and fear, love because she was her offspring but also apprehension at the young girls knowledge of things that should have been far beyond her. And the more she thought about it the more her mind became troubled so she drove them deep inside and found other more pleasant things to think about.

It was only a short time later when Andra found Osh’s wagon and to her surprise the old man’s tent was still up, he isn’t packed yet? And as she wondered why his Karrack was not loaded and the Trofar hitched up the old man emerged from his Rimar hide shelter.

“Hello old friend” she called out and in return the Callaxion raised his right hand to her.

“Welcome” he said.

It was then that the Selcarie girl saw the bandage around his fist and knew that something had gone terribly wrong. “What has happened to you?” she asked as they sat down on a carry box and she examined his injury.

“It was nothing” he said, “just a slight miscalculation in gravity that’s all”.

It was hard to believe that a Callaxion could make a mistake in science but the proof was right in front of her. After checking to make sure that he had been cared for properly and a few comments on his wellbeing and other formalities she finally spoke of the real reason that she was paying him a visit.

“Did you see anything unusual at the ceremony yesterday?” she asked.

“Yes I did” he replied. “The Outlanders froze as if they had been caught in a static defense beam”. And he rose up and began to pour some hot tea into two silver cups for them to drink; “at first it looked like part of the ceremony, perhaps a gesture to their Gods that they were moved only by their hands. Not unlike the ritual on Brogorus prime were the inhabitants gather under a full moon and strip themselves so that they can….”

“Osh” Andra cut in.

“Yes?”

“Time is short,” the girl said.

The old man was about to correct her because he knew very definitely that time was infinite, then he realized what his old friend was really saying.

“Please forgive me” and he handed her a cup of warm tea, “the Nomads seemed to be in some kind of trance or nuro-shutdown and it only seemed to affect them. From this I surmise that it has something to do with their telepathic abilities and the connection to the planet”.

“You’re talking about the creature they call Isarie”, Andra took a sip of her tea, “and they don’t seem to be aware that something happened to them”.

“Of course not, from their point of view no time had passed”.

They both sat there for a few moments sipping their drink, and then Moonbud put down her cup and rose to her feet. “I better help you pack your things, were going soon”.

“Oh don’t worry about that”, the old man said, “I can do what needs to be done” and he began fumbling with his belongings, but with only one good hand it was easy to see that it was going to be hopeless.

And seeing that he would not be able to load his wagon let alone handle the reins of his Trofar Andra put her hand on his shoulder and looked into his eyes, “are all Callaxions so stubborn?”

Osh’s face showed a slight smile, “Yes, it’s part of our training”, then seeing that it would be a great error to continue with a hopeless task he sat down near his Washa.

“Perhaps I could use some help after all”.

“I’ll have the King send you someone” and Andra began walking away, but she had only gone a few steps when she stopped and looked at the Karrack where she knew her child sat out of the morning sun, and after a moment she walked to the wagon and climbed inside.

 

As before the vehicle was loaded with the old man’s vast collection of artifacts, things haven’t changed much, she thought, and then she saw the small figure sitting quietly in one corner. Niana wore only a thin robe about her small frame and although the morning was cold she did not feel the chill and sat as if she was under a warm sky.

“Do not worry, I am well” she said.

Andra had not spoken but she was about to ask her daughter how she was feeling, she knew what I was going to say, she thought, but not wanting to ask her how she had done this she spoke. “I’m sorry that I haven’t come to see you but I was…”

“It is alright,” the young girl spoke, “you do not wish to look at me because it reminds you that we are so different”.

The words the pale girl spoke were indeed true for Andra did find it hard looking into the blue eyes of her daughter and hearing her speak words so far beyond a girl of her age should be saying. Still she moved to her daughter’s side and sat down, she did not speak for a time then she turned and looked into the face of the young girl.

“Will we always be so apart?” she asked.

Niana smiled and took her mother’s hand in her own, “we are never apart, our bond is eternal, I see through your eyes and feel through your heart, we will always be together even if we are far apart”.

Again Andra did not speak but she put her arms around her daughter and held her close.

“I am your mother”, Moonbud said softly, “and like all mothers I sometimes don’t understand what goes on inside a daughter, but remember that I will always love you”.

The pale skinned girl looked into the warm eyes of the woman who held her close.

“You believed your mother loved you very much, and when you and she were parted it wounded your heart greatly”. Niana said, “And I know that you feel guilty for leaving her and not being with her when she died”.

Hearing these words cut deep into Andra’s heart, “no, I never felt that way I just…”

The young girl put her hand to the face of her mother and the voice that came from her mouth was the voice of Andra’s mother.

“Don’t cry for me my child, live your life and remember”.

Hearing those words melted the heart of Moonbud and she laid her head on her daughter’s shoulder and wept.

“I love you,” she said softly.

“And I love you”, replied the young girl. “And I will always love you no matter what parts us.”

Moonbud heard the words of her daughter and strange though they were she did not speak and simply held her daughter in her arms.

 

When the morning came the tribe made themselves ready to travel, as always the tents were lowered and packed into the wagons, the Whiptails and Spikeback were fed and any sign that an Outlander had been there was wiped form the land, and as the last details were being arranged Osh’s wagon was far from being ready.

“Curse this hand” the old man called out as he fumbled with a woven basket, as hard as he tried it still pained him too much to use his injured arm. He knew that Niana was sitting inside their Karrack but he also knew that she never came out into the sunlight so any help from her would not be forth coming. He tried once more to lift the heavy basket but it fell from his grip and its contents spilled over the hard ground.

“Artock!” he called out, then he sat down for he had never used the curse expression of the Nomads before, he knew several words in different languages from other Outer Rim worlds such as “Tromasic” a foul name from a seldom visited world called Brocalus, in translation it meant that you were a breeder with the woman who gave you birth, but Callaxions had no mothers so the word would not be used by the old man. Then there was a very unpleasant expression from Nicorran Four, “uropor-bus-jarko” but the translation is far too horrible to be uttered here.

“I must be getting old” Osh said shaking his head then started to get up to try and finish what he had started.

“You should not be doing that” a voice said.

Osh turned to see Alune standing there with a disapproving look on her wrinkled face, “I told you not to use that hand for a few days, but I guess a Half-Soul like you can never learn” and then she walked over to the elderly man and took the basket from his hand and began picking up the fallen items.

The old man looked at her, “what are you doing here?” he asked, “I didn’t asked for your help”

The Touchtender stood up and looked in square in the face, “no you did not it was the King who commanded me to come here and I obey my leader”, and she once more began to load the basket, this made Osh very angry.

“I forbid you to help me, do you hear, forbid!”

This made the old woman laugh, “HA! Do you think that an old Frail-Leg like yourself can give me orders? Now sit down and let me do my work”.

The old man had never been so angry, his face turn red and he clenched his good hand into a fist, “why you old, empty-headed, milk-dripper, I, I…..” and he was about to utter another foul word when he heard the signal horns blare and that meant that there was very little time before the tribe began their journey once more, “very well” Osh said with clenched teeth, “you may help load the wagon but I shall do the driving and you shall sit and say nothing, do you understand?”

Hearing the Callaxions words made the old woman smiled, “I have heard everything you have said”. And picking up the last of the fallen items she loaded them into the Karrack and quickly did the same with all the other things lying about, and when the Trofar was hitched up and everything was ready she climbed into the driver’s seat and took the reins in her wrinkled hands.

“Are you coming” she said to the old man “or are you going to stay here and let the Hagars use your hard head as a drinking cup?”

Osh said nothing as his mind began reeling from the many things that he wished to say, but he held them in and sat himself in the seat next to the old witch, then the signal horns sounded once more and the tribe of the Almadra was on the move.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6.

 

The Land of Plenty.

 

Traveling westward from the wintering land of the Almadra you will soon come to a wide and green valley; this place is a welcomed site from the ice and snow that has for so long held us in its frozen grip. The Nomads call this place The Valley of Jedar or the Land of Plenty, but I have learned that there is no place of peace on Gorn and death always walks beside you.

 

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

 

 

Gorn’s unusual climate was the result of its swing around the huge central star that they called Karus , Micos the smaller of the twin suns also made that orbit and traveled with Gorn on its long journey. It gave light and some warmth to the planet but not enough to keep it from falling into a frozen winter, now it moved towards its brother star once more and soon the two would bring an abundance of life. But although the land began to grow once more there were more strange occurrences, field flowers that should have not have bloomed yet did so, Arrowtails the deadly flying reptiles that lived in the great Balbar trees began to build their nest much too early, and many of the Elders said that the air smelled of strange orders and their dreams were filled with troubling images. All these things caused much talk around the Washa’s but most of the tribe put it down to coincidence and put their trust in Isarie.

 

The land to the West of Yomar is dotted with canyons and open spaces, there you still find the occasional ancient war machine or Dropship but it is mostly a place of great beauty and wonder. All over the land there were the remnants of long abandoned fortresses, stone and metal dwellings that a sometime must have held great numbers of people. In the sides of cliffs could be seen carvings and half-finished statuary, gigantic monuments to long forgotten Gods. Large frozen lakes are plentiful and the wheels of the Nomads wagons were fitted with iron spikes that would let them travel over the frozen terrain with ease. With each passing day the air became warmer but it was still far from the warmth of the Green Time, and ice and snow covered great patches of land. The warriors watched the landscape for any sign of Hagars for the creatures of the North had not returned to their frozen homes and would readily fall on any unwary tribe.

 

The Almadra traveled for three more days without incident, they made their camp at night and sat by their Washa’s singing songs and preparing themselves for what lay ahead. The long winter was over now and the warmer days meant that they would need their summer clothing and the wagons would have to be cleaned and repainted for they would soon be entering into the land of the Sea People.

 

The Wave Riders or Sea People as they were called were related to the Outlanders but there were still great differences between them, not as heavily muscled as the Nomads they were still tall and strong, but rather than the dark hair that most Nomads had the ocean people possessed fair hair. There was also a light greenish ting to their skin and their eyes were mostly the color of the sea, Egmar was one of the water dwellers but she had dark hair and eyes. Her skin had long ago lost the coloring that marked her as one of that tribe, her ears had also changed, they were not elongated like the Sea People and gone was the involuntary response to close off her nose to water, these and other related abilities had vanished when she left her home and began her life as a Nomad. Most would say it was the will of Isaire but a scholar of the Outer Rim would say it was an adaption her new surroundings, while still other would say it was the effects of the Grana that they ingested, the treasured mineral that all people on the planet must ingest to keep from getting the Plague that infests all of Gorn. But although the Holy Mother was a Nomad she now and then still yearned for the sound of the waves and the smell of the ocean breeze.

 

The Holy Mother sat in her chamber surrounded by the things she loved most, a small gold statue of Isarie that she prayed before, her ancestor chest filled with the treasures of her past, a simple carved wooden bed, a table, chair and a silver lamp.

As the great wagon that bore her moved over the hard earth, she sat quietly enjoying a warm cup of Deep-root tea. She wore a simple but warm robe and did not adorn herself with the normal gold and silver jewels that a speaker for the Gods normally wore. One thing she did wear was a small silver bell that her mate had given her, it was well made with a Rimar hide cord holding it around the neck, Karn the great King of the Almadra had given it to her when they first met. At that time he was not yet the King just a Prince of the tribe but he fell for the beauty of the young Egmar and she longed to have him as her mate.

How much I loved him, she thought as she touched the small silver bell, and how much he loved me.

But as she heard her mind say those words she also knew that she was forgetting many things that had taken place. Over the long cycles that she had not returned to her home, she let her mind forget what had really transpired but now as they traveled towards her long ago tribe those images began to rise up inside her.

Dennor, she must have forgiven me by now? She asked herself, she must have known that love cannot be guided like a Whiptail, it must be followed like a wagon behind a Trofar.

She took a long sip of her warm tea, and then looked at the metal object that sat on a table at one end of her room.

“I am sorry my son for so many things.” She said softly.

The cold head that had once belonged to her forgotten son did not speak to her, how could it? It was just a thing of metal and wires cut from its bionic body by the King in the great battle with Atos the God of war.

But she still felt something for the strange object, it was just metal and wires but it was all she had left of her son. And as she looked into its emotionless robotic eyes she thought that she heard her dead son calling her name? She listened for a moment or two then shook her head.

“It was just the wind speaking to the earth” she said and took another sip of her delicious tea.

But outside the wind was still and the earth was frozen and could not listen.

 

Riding beside the great Karrack of the Holy Mother Kalgar-Rune sat tall in his saddle and watched the surrounding land for any sign of danger; he held his War-ax in his strong hand and made sure that his warriors were doing the same. If any guardian of the speaker of the Gods failed to do this he or she would have to face the wrath of the old warrior and they would rather face a full-grown Sagar cat instead of their commander.

Normally Kalgar would fill his mind with the words of the Book of Isarie for he had long ago memorize all the chapters and could recite them word for word if need be. But now he did not think of the wisdom of the Goddess and his mind was filled with things that had not troubled him in the past.

Am I to live out my life without a mate at my side? If he had said these words outright or had heard any of his warriors say such a thing he would have struck them hard on the face for a Thungodra is sworn to never think of mating, nor show that they have any interest other than the protection of the Holy Mother. Kalgar had avowed this as a young man and had trained his mind to never think of such things, but now he did.

Why now? He asked himself, why do I fill my mind with such things? And he tried to drive the evil out of his head. I am a Thungodra, I am pledged to the Goddess, I will not go against my vow.

And he began to recite one of his favorite passages in the Holy Book.

 

You are my strong right hand.

You will sit beside me in the Golden Hall.

My love will warm you and you will never die.

 

But no matter how hard he tried the day was cold and there would be no one waiting in his shelter, my tent is a good one he thought it has kept me safe and warm for many cycles, but as he pictured his dwelling in his mind he saw a figure waiting for him at the entrance, a strong woman with dark eyes and a kind smile, and as he looked into her face it seemed to take on the features of someone he knew well, but who? Is this woman meant for me? But then his Whiptail let out a roar and the image vanished.

The old warrior quickly looked about him seeking any sign of danger but when he saw there was none he thought again of his tent, but this time there was no woman waiting for him, it is as it should be, he told his mind, for a Thungodra is a servant of the Gods and not a weakling who needs the comfort of a mate. But the image of the woman still lingered in his mind and no matter how hard he tried he could not erase it from his memory.

 

More days of travel passed and then the Tribe of the Almadra entered the Valley of Jedar. As always Arn lead his people on their travels, he rode his Whiptail proudly and beside him rode his mate. Behind him was the tribe of the Almadra and all who looked at them said that they had the blessings of the Gods.

 

It was late in the day when Andra’s mount rose up over a small rise and there on the other side lay the green lands of Jedar.

“So green” she said out loud for it had been a long time since she had seen a land of grass and growing things and the wonder of all the warm life filled her heart with contentment. She turned to the man who road beside her, “this place reminds me of home”.

And indeed it was true for her Homeworld was once green and filled with life, and being a farm girl she had a close bond with the land and knew of its many gifts.

The great valley was ringed by high snowcapped mountains; it was filled with many small lakes and one large body of water in the middle, all about were huge Balbar trees with knotted limbs that seemed to reach into the sky. Vast fields of green grass, Kasha wheat and Meadow cane were everywhere and with the greenery were great herds of Rimar and other Thundra beasts that were growing fat on the succulent grass.

Doff birds, Ax-breakers, Dagger-mouths; Sagar cats, all the large creatures of Gorn were there down to the tiny Burrow babies and Dot-flies, it was a place of plenty for all who called it home. And now the Outlanders would make their camp here and pray to the Gods for their kindness.

 

Seeing the Land of Plenty brought smiles to the faces of the Nomads but there was one who did not seem content.

Osh had to sit in the passenger side of his wagon and listen to the endless stories of the Touchtender who was his companion and although he was a patient man he was about to reach the end of his endurance, Alune had been told by the King to care for the old man and she would obey that wish, so she dressed his wound and prepared his food and did his washing without complaint, but in return for her efforts she felt it was only fair that he should listen to her many stories of her past life and the men that had shared her bed. She didn’t mean it to be a burden to the old man it was just her way, she loved to talk and she loved to listen and for all her outward hardness she was a caring person, a Cup-sharer and someone that would stand by your side in friendship.

But there was also the matter of the strange young girl, the Nomads had been ordered by the King not to harm the child, and no one would disobey the orders of the King and although the Touchtender had cared for many she was not content to know that the girl would be riding in the wagon with them. She knew that the girl only left the darkness of the Karrack at night and never showed her pale face to the twin suns but that was of little comfort for she was not one of the Chosen that was a certainty but she held her tongue and did as she was ordered, so she concentrated on the old man and left the girl to the will of the Gods.

“Tebor-Con was my third mate, he was a great hunter and knew how to hold a woman, but he was also very fond of Po and that proved to be his undoing for one day he was out hunting when his Whiptail stumbled and sent him flying to….”

“Enough!” cried the Callaxion, “I have been prodded and poked and fed Hagar soup with too much Ulon spice and I have not spoken out because my people believe that listening is knowledge but I will not sit still and have my tired head filled with the yammering of your adventures with men long dead!”

For a time Alune said nothing then turned to look at the old man riding beside her, he is a sour man she thought, “very well perhaps it is time that you told me of your mates?”

This question annoyed Osh even further, “my what?” he asked.

“Tell me of the women that have shared your bed, I’m sure a man of your advanced age has had many”.

Osh held up his wounded hand and shook it at the overbearing Touchtender, “that is my concern not yours” he said gruffly then turned and stared at the green valley.

Once again Alune said nothing for a time, then she spoke, “you have not shared a bed have you?” she asked.

But the old man did not answer.

“I can see now why you are so angry; a bed is more content when it is shared”.

All this talk of beds and sharing them made the old man grind his teeth and wish that he had never left his home planet.

“Very well” the Touchtender said, “now where was I? Oh yes, Targar the Tall was my second mate, he had lovely eyes and a strong back, I remember one cold night he came to our bed and lifted me in his arms and we…”

Listening to the yammering’s of the old woman made Osh thankful that being a Touchtender Alune was not bound by the law of the Outlands that said if a person brings you food you are mated, but that was of little comfort to him as she continued on her remembering of her erotic past.

“Yes Targar was a fine man although he was a bit to found of drink when I met him but that soon changed when I told him I was not going too…”.

Osh considered throwing himself from the wagon but the ground was hard and he knew that he would only damage himself, and that would mean spending even more time with the annoying woman.

 

The night moons of Gorn found the tribe of the Almadra dancing outside their tents and singing songs to the stars.

They had made their camp beside a small lake that had no Daggermouths and would be a safe place to let the Whiptails roam free, there the beasts could feed on fat Rimar and satisfy their ravenous appetites, they would be called back by the signal horns for hunting or defense for they had been trained to obey its call but in the mean time they could run free and strong. With the coming of warmth it was also the time that the Whiptails gave birth to their young. The fertile lands would supply enough Rimar meat for them to grow strong and there were few predators, now and then a Doff bird would carry off one of the young reptiles and some ventured to close to water were Daggermouths lived, but those that managed to survive were treasured for they would be trained and given to the young warriors to ride. Choosing a Whiptail and training them is no easy task but I will not speak of it now.

The Torfar could also eat to their hearts content for the land was filled with young grass and all the tasty morsels that they loved so much, over the next days they would shed their thick fur that kept them warm through the cold and replace it with the tough hide that was their natural covering. The castoff fur would be gathered up by the tribe, cleaned and separated, then given to the Elders to be woven into robes to wear and other helpful items, the Outlanders had learned long ago to never throw anything away, and the soft hair would be of great use.

Now as the air filled with laughter and song Arn and Andra sat outside their tent and looked up at the night sky.

“It’s good to see the clear sky” the young girl said, “I was growing tired of ice clouds and snowshapes”.

“Yes” Arn replied, “Too much cold can chill the mind”.

The King reached down with one of his daggers and cut a large piece of Rimar meat that had been slowly roasting on the open fire of Eul, he checked to make sure it was cooked to his liking then stuffed it into his mouth, he chewed loudly then swallowed, and after that he picked up a large tankard of Well-aged Po and drank deeply. The meat was delicious and help erase some bad dreams that the King had been having, they were strange visions of his womb brother the twin that all Nomads have when they are born, but following the laws of Isarie one of them was put to death and the other saved. The Darkman as he was called was a Shadowman and an enemy of all Outlanders, he died by the Kings hand in the battle with the metal God, that did not ease the mind of the King, but the Rimar was good and soon the taste of it along with a goodly amount of Well-aged Po would help vanish the dreams from Arn’s mind.

Andra’s eating habits were a bit more subdued, she cut a smaller piece of the tender meat and put it into a silver plate, then cutting it into smaller pieces she ate it slowly with sips of her sour drink.

“How long before we reach the sea?” she asked as she slowly chewed.

“There is much to do before then, we have to mend the wagons, fill the grainary carts with Kasha wheat and fatten the Trofars, and then there is the matter of the selections of the young”.

“Selections of the young?”

“Yes, we must choose who Horcon the God of destiny, has determined what lives they should lead”.

Andra took a sip of her Po, “you mean you leave the fate of your offspring’s in the hands of a religious ritual?”

“Of course, how else should we know who will be a warrior, an ironworker, a healer and all the things needed to make the tribe strong?”

Long ago the Selcarie girl had learned never to question the ways of her adopted tribe for they had been doing things their way for a great many cycles and it had proven to be the right way for them, but still the idea of some strange God choosing how you should live your life seemed very odd. But then she began to think of her own traditions and how things were done on her Homeworld and after a short time she realized that she should not be a judge in a court that is not her own.

 

At the campsite of Osh and Alune there was finally peace and quiet, the old man decided that he would begin his rest early and avoid any more confrontations with the overbearing woman he was forced to share his wagon with. The talkative Handmaiden also found the solitude of her tent a much better place than the sharing a campfire with such a hardened Frail-leg, so she cleaned their food plates, put fresh bandages on her companions hand, said a short prayer to Isarie for wisdom and perseverance then fell asleep on her mattress and dreamed of the warm embrace of men.

Shortly after a small figure climbed out of their wagon and slowly made its way out of the campsite of the Almadra.

Niana did not walk in the daylight, the harshness of the twin suns was something that the pale skinned girl could not tolerate, so she waited until Karus and Micos fell from the sky and then she began her nightly walks. She moved like a phantom among the tribe, and although she passed very near the guards that patrolled the outermost ring of wagons, she was not challenged, for they followed the commands of their King that no harm should come to the girl. Added to that was their fear that this young adolescent would cast a spell on them, or do some mischief to their loved ones. For they thought of her as a Soulseer a witch of the Outlands so Niana moved quietly passed them and they did not look at her.

Now any child of the Nomads knew that danger is always present and the night is the home of demons and wild beasts but that did not seem to matter to the young girl and she walked with confidence and soon the light from the Outlanders camp grew faint in the distance.

But there was another wanderer of the land that night for Kalgar-Rune could not sleep and now sought comfort in the open air, he wore his armor and carried his weapon as he always did, he watched as Niana moved through the camp and into the land beyond.

She is a strange creature he thought, and without knowing why he decided to follow in her footsteps and see where she was heading and why? He watched her as she continued on her path and now and then she would glance up at the night sky and smile at seeing the different moons making their way across the heavens.

Where can she be going? He asked himself, there is only danger and death waiting for the weak.

But Niana was unaware of being watched and she continued on, then as she passed a group of large boulders she came face to face with terror.

Two large Sagar cats stood only a few feet away and stared at her with their great yellow eyes, their massive canine teeth showed like twin daggers as they drew back their lips in a dripping snarl, and from their throats came a low growl that could only mean one thing.

Hunger.

Kalgar saw that his warning’s were correct and now he was faced with a dilemma, the commands of the King were clear, “let no harm come to the girl” but the old warrior could see that this was of her own making and was not caused by any member of the tribe.

It is the will of Isarie that she should perish. And deep inside him he found contentment with this for he never trusted the strange girl or the influence that she seemed to have over the King and his mate. Let her die, it is her destiny.

There was no warrior strong enough to defeat two Sagar cats, even Arn the King would never be able to bring down such a deadly pair but the small girl did not fall to her knees in terror and wait for her life to end, instead she stood looking back into the menacing gaze of the huge beasts and they in turn glared back at her.

Then a strange thing happened.

The two feline stopped their growling and lowered their massive heads, they waited for a moment or two and watched at the small girl walked to them and place her tiny hands on their heads, she patted them like a child would pet a Burrow-baby and then she once more began her walk.

All this Kalgar watched with unbelieving eyes.

“Valcoush!” he said under his breath, it was a word in the old language meaning sacrilege,

She is not a human thing, she is a witch of the Outlands, and being a servant of the Goddess he knew that she should be destroyed, her body burned and her ashes spread to the winds, but how could he do this with two strong Sagar cats under her spell? He decided to wait for a better time to strike her down.

The small girl continued into the night, all creatures that saw her bowed their heads for they seemed to understand that this was not a being that would do them harm, rather they knew that she was a part of them, and looking at her would be like looking into a pool of clear water and seeing their refections. Soon there was a great trail of Outland creatures following the frail human into the night and beasts that would normally fall prey to each other now lived in harmony.

Kalgar followed behind always out of site and keeping his hand tightly holding the handle of his ax, how can the King not know of this demon in our tribe? Perhaps he has fallen under her spell? This brought a cold hand to his heart for if the King cannot be trusted what dire faith waited for the tribe? I made a pledge to the King but my oath as one of the Thungodra oversees that, I will not let any harm come to the Holy Mother! And hearing his mind say this he griped his tooth even harder.

 

The old warrior continued to trail the pale girl then after a time they came to an open space in the land, it was not covered by grass and the ground was smoother than any other place in Jedar, Niana stood there without saying a word and her animal companions did not howl or make any sound of the night, then the young female looked down at the ground and spoke a single word.

“Mother”.

Slowly there was a low rumbling sound from deep underground, a Nomad would have said that they had awakened an Earthshaker and that they should run for their lives but the girl only stood quietly and waited. The sound grew more intense then the earth itself began to move.

What is happening? Kalgar thought, is she summoning more demons from the Pit of Marloon?

Slowly an outcropping broke from the earth, a monolith that was not made of rock or Eul or any normal formation on the surface of the planet. It was the height of three tall men and had an octagonal construction to it, it was easy to see that no human hand had shaped this crystal monument; its surface was smooth and looked like it had been polished by the goldsmiths of the forest people and in the moonlight it seemed to glow with an inner light.

Niana moved to the luminescent projection and placed her small hands on its graceful surface and as she did the rocks light grew in intensity, soon the surrounding landscape was bathed in a soft warm glow, then the girl began to speak.

“Yes, I hear and understand” she said softly, “I will do what must be done”. There was a pause as the girl placed her arms around the strange object and hugged it like a loved one, “there can be no endings only a new beginning”. The girl put her face to the glowing stone and closed her eyes.

From his hiding place Kalgar saw all that had been done.

She is indeed a demon from the pit, then he turned and slowly made his way back to camp and as he walked his mind filled with questions, should he go against the King and kill the girl or should he trust in Isarie? More questions filled his mind as he walked under the night moons and those only brought more pain to his heart.

 

That night the dreams of the Outlanders were troubled, and that was a strange thing for their sleep time usually brought contentment and images of wonderful places and peaceful thoughts. But this night saw them tossing and turning in their tents and some even cried out in pain and fear and all through the darkness they found no relief.

Even the King and his mate did not fare well, Andra dreamt of her mother and her brother but she saw them screaming in pain and reaching out to her and she in turn tried to reach them but she could not. The King saw his younger brother Agart alive once more but he was not the contented sibling that he knew in his younger days, this man was worn and tired and the cycles weighted heavy on him, he tried to speak to him but all he received in return was a warning to beware, beware of what he did not know?

Osh also dreamed and that was something that he never did for Callaxions minds were to orderd to see images they did not want to see, only once before did he see things in his sleep but those were sent by Isarie herself to guide him and give him the knowledge to save her world from the God-Machine that fell from the sky.

Egmar also had her rest invaded, she saw mind worlds that she did not understand, things that brought fear to her heart and caused her to wake from her sleep and rush to her small statue of the Goddess and begin praying to her for wisdom to know what she had seen.

The only one who did not fear was Kalgar-Rune, a short time before dawn he fell asleep and his visions were of fire and death, warriors rushing to battle with the smell of death in the air. It was the dream that the Thungodra leader welcomed for it was the prayer of their faith that they should die fighting, and have their souls find the golden hall of Isarie and there spend all eternity.

Yes the Outlanders did dream and old or young, wise or foolish, warrior or workman, all of them saw a dark figure surrounded by mist, a figure that was bent and misshapen, a creature of dark power and without a soul. They heard it calling to them but not in a voice filled with hope or love, this voice spoke of war and death, of worlds to be conquered and enemies to destroy. They did not know who or what this new power was but they knew that they would see it again.

 

 

Chapter 7.

 

Rules of War.

 

The first rule of warfare is to win, all other considerations are obsolete.

 

From the observations of Ivar-Anoon, first General of the combined forces of the Mac-Mar Alliance.

 

The battle fleet of the Mac-Mar Alliance was as large as any force in the Outer Rim, its engager ships were armored with triple fazic plating and had advanced molecular blaze cannons that could penetrate the repulse shielding of most oppositions. They were manned by highly trained mercenaries from all the different worlds of the Outer Rim, Bolec’s, Youngonrie, Sinorgans, and Corrans. They were well paid for their loyalty and equally well punished for any infractions of the rules of war, and the Alliance was always at war with someone.

Being the wealthiest consortium in the Outer Rim planets it had enemies at every turn, most of them well deserved for their commerce tactics were just as ruthless as their strategy in warfare. They would single out what they wanted and if they could not acquire it by negotiations or intimidation they took it by force. And leading this army was a man well suited for the task, Ivar-Anoon, or Red-Ivar as he was known throughout the Outer Rim. His father was Ivar the Merceless the highly decorated commander of the combined battle force of the First Republic. When that republic crumbled he took the title of General of the Mac-Mar Alliance. When he died he handed that formidable power to his son. And Ivar-Anoon proved to be a worthy successor to his father, he engaged the enemy and showed no mercy, but for all his ruthlessness he also knew how to gain what he wanted without bloodshed, he was a man who could look into another’s soul and see what could be offered to gain that persons trust and therefore their power. Now as the battle fleet made its way towards its objective Ivar sat in his command chair and thought about what was to come.

Gorn should not be underestimated, he thought, all those who haven’t realized that have lost, I will not be one of them.

The General shifted his position in his chair and looked around the room at his officers, they all had been with him on other campaigns, they had been watched, molded and tested, like any good weapon. And if they did not they would be replaced, once again the word “replaced” had another meaning, in reality what would happen is that they would be taken to a punishment chamber and there they would experience pain like they had never known.

Pain is a good motivator, Ivar mused, it can make a coward a hero.

Ivar began thinking of all the times that he had seen this proven correct when the first officer came forward and addressed his commander. “Sir, we have reached the Outer Rim planet in the Gornogal section with a file number of one, one, nine, seven, six, upo, commonly known as Gorn”.

Ivar’s face showed a slight smile, “very well, contact the fleet and prepare for a standard orbit over the planets equator”.

The first officer made a salute, “as you command” but as he was about to go he turned once more to his commander; “I should also report that we have detected slight variations in the orbits of several of the planets moons”.

“Do they pose any threat to us?”

“No commander, we can compensate for any anomalies”.

“Very well” Ivar said, “you may go”.

The first officer turned and hurried to carry out the orders.

The instructions of the commander were quickly transferred to the many ships in the flotilla, and as the armada reached the correct orbit above the planet it formed itself into a formation that would allow it to invade. But all the Captains knew that Gorn was a forbidden place and should be given a wide birth, least they be caught in one of the ir- regular electromagnetic pulses that emanated from deep within the core. So heeding this regulation they waited until the Commander gave the edict to send down the invader ships and the Pacifiers that manned them.

Ivar looked over the many reports on the planet below; he saw the data and readouts on gravity, air content, temperature and humidity, geological anomalies, atmospheric disturbances and all the other boring scientific information that was known to him, in the end he knew that it was all for show, he had been given an order and he would carry it out no matter what. But he was not a fool.

“What are the readouts on the electromagnetic pulses?” he asked.

A response was quick in coming, “as reported the pulses have weakened and the spacing between them has lengthen greatly”.

“Will the shielding on the invaders be sufficient to allow landings and liftoffs?

The officer in charged knew that if he gave the wrong answer he would spend many days and nights in a punishment chamber so he looked of his data very carefully, “yes General, the shielding will hold”.

The General took a few moments to think things over, he already knew his answer but he also recognized that his officers would respect him more if it appeared that he was weighing every option.

“Send down the first wave and report on their progress” he finally said.

And following his orders the first invader ships began their descent to the planet below.

 

The place that the Nomads called Del-Godar had once been a powerful city state of Gorn. The massive stone fortress was in the standard pyramid shape of the other ancient cities that ringed the planet, but its glory days had long since passed; now it was a broken and crumbling mountain of steel and rock and the home of monsters, and any Nomad would heed the words that were spoken about it.

 

“Do not walk in the shadow of Del-Godar.

For there live the demons of the dark.

Do not breathe the air of Del-Godar.

For it holds the vapor of death.

Do not speak the name of Del-Godar.

For it is shunned by the Gods.”

 

These were wise words and not to be taken lightly for reckless Nomads in the past had ventured to that dark place and never returned, it was said that those who dwelled there were eaters of man-flesh and all sorts of vile things. No Gods called that place home and Isarie’s love did not live in the hearts of those that called Del-Godar home.

The flashing beacon that once shown so brightly on its highest most top was broken and would never again show travelers the way home, around it base was only dead land, no trace of life could be seen only long forgotten Dropships and the remains of unlucky Scavengers who once ventured near the great mountain of stone. But although the doomed city was a place to be shunned by Outlanders others saw it as an opportunity.

Ivar had ordered a detailed diagram of the planet and after much consideration he decided that the ruined would be an ideal place for his first attack. And the reasons for this were plain, first it would have very little opposition to an invasion, who or whatever opposed them could be eliminated by his shock troops. Second it had raw materials that could be exploited for the core was made from Itarian steel and that would be needed for armaments and fortifications. And thirdly readouts showed that the electromagnetic pulses were weakest at that point so the standard fazic shielding would suffice well enough for this point in the conflict.

Now the General stood looking at the large view-screen on his command vessel and watched as the first of his reconnaissance ships made their way to the planet’s surface.

It has begun he heard his mind say, and knowing this made him smile for a true soldier is only content when they are at war.

 

Far from the crumbling city the Tribe of Many was enjoying the warming weather and all that it promised.

The Eye of Isarie was a sacred place, there the different tribes of the Outlands would meet and discuss their grievances and hopefully do it without bloodshed, long ago a wise Star-gazer had written down a set of rules that all should follow, those rules were spoken around the Talk-Stone, a holy relic that some said was a direct link to the ear of Isarie and all who spoke there must tell the truth. And over the cycles it had proven to be a good thing and many wars had been averted by negotiations but still weapons remained sharp for a treaty is often trampled on by angry feet.

 

Some distance from the great circle of stone the Tribe of Many made their campsite, they did this out of reverence for the sacred place for the land around the marker was only used during the great Gathering and only then would Karracks be permitted to transverse the holy ground. The Outlanders tolerated the presence of the Sandjar and traveled with them but they found their odor far too pungent and therefor did not place their tents near them. For this reason the Nomads and Scavengers camped some distance from each other and allowed a space of free air between them.

The Blind Prince and the Handmaiden had pitched their tent besides a large outcropping of Eul so there would be plenty of fuel for their fires and now sat dressed in soft summer robes, near them lay the two great beasts Jumo and Dalgar sleeping soundly with their bellies full of roasted Rimar meat.

“it is a good sky tonight” Kela said as she drew a ladle of warm Hagar soup from her Washa and poured it into a painted bowl for her hungry mate, she handed it to him and he immediately began spooning mouthfuls of the tasty concoction between his teeth, “the air smells of life and the Gods are content”.

Anais swallowed then lifted his head upwards, “yes, the Meadow cane is almost ripe and properly mixed with the right amount of Kasha wheat will make wonderful sweet cakes”.

Kela knew that this was his way of saying that he would like her to bake up some of the confections for him.

“Tomorrow I will gather the ripest cane and bake some treats for us both” she said as she ate her soup.

This made Anais smile, “that would be wonderful but make sure you do not let the cakes bake to long, over cooking can make the wheat hard and the cane lose much of its flavor”.

Now everyone knew that Kela prided herself on her cooking for she had prepared meals for the Holy Mother herself and hearing such words from a man who had never lifted a baking bowl in his life caused her to speak in an uncommonly harsh tone.

“Are you saying that my sweet cakes are not fit to be eaten?”

Anais shook his head as he ate another portion of hot soup, “of course not, I am only saying that sweet cakes must be watched or they will burn”.

Hearing this only made the Handmaiden angrier, “so now I am as blind as you!”

Her loud voice made the two sleeping Drogs open their eyes and sit up.

The Prince put down his bowl and turned to his mate, “if you cannot see you can always smell when the time is right”.

This made Kela rise to her feet, “I am the one who reads to you so that you can put something into that empty head of yours and I am the one who drives the wagon so we do not end up in the belly of a Whiptail and I am the woman who shares your bed…..but not tonight!”

And saying those words the young girl hurried into their tent and closed the flap.

Anais sat there for a time wondering what he had said that made the one he loved so angry?

“What words did I say that were so hard?” there was no one around to reply to this but the two Drogs drew near their master and put their large heads into his lap, “are all women so…so unreasonable?”

But there was no reply from the huge creatures, instead they just sat there and made mewing sounds deep in their throats.

 

On the other side of the encampment Endo and Rawna were just finishing their evening food, but unlike Kela the Sandjar girl had little experience in food preparation but that did not matter to her mate for Endo did the cooking and this made them both content.

The Coraw or leader of the Scavengers put down his bowl and took at long gulp from his drinking cup, satisfied he sat back on a blanket near the fire and watched as his mate came and lay beside him. Rawna put her arms around him and lay like a Burrow-baby in its subterranean home.

“it is good to see the moons and stars” Endo said with a smile, “my father once said that there are more stars in the sky then grains of wheat in all the lands of this world”.

Hearing this made the young girl chuckle, “you told me that your father was a very wise man but I think that he knows very little about stars”.

“And what do you know about the heavens and what lives under them?” he asked.

“It was said by my people that the sky is a great rock cave and that the stars are torches high up and they light the way for those who die and are no longer slaves”.

This made Endo’s heart pain for he knew that his mate had spent all her life in the underground mines of the Forest People as their slave and it was only recently that she had come out into the world and breathed the free air.

She as suffered much in her young life he thought, but now I will care for her and no harm will find her.

The young Sandjar looked up at the stars once more and there he saw a streak of light burn its way across the blackness.

“My father once told me that there are some who think that falling stars can grant wishes”. Then he turned to look into the bright eyes of his mate, “make a wish for us both but do not tell me what you wished for”.

“What is a wish?” she asked.

“A wish is asking for the thing you want most”.

Rawna gazed at the bright light in the sky and made her wish, and then she closed her eyes and soon was fast asleep in her lover’s arms.

 

In the blackness of night the city of Del-Godar seemed an even more evil place, strange sounds filled the air and eyes that knew no kindness peered out of hiding places in the broken rocks and steel, the very air hung heavy with death and decay and nowhere was the sound of contentment.

It was once one of the great pyramid cities of Gorn, the beacon atop its towering panicle flashed day and night guiding travelers to its safety, the Governor was a man of wisdom and its inhabitance content. Then things began to change for a creeping evil seemed to take hold of the massive structure and soon its people began to vanish, some said it was the will of the Gods while others said it was the work of some dark demon that had risen up from the lower depths, but whatever the reason the stone city became a forbidden place and no Outlander dared come near.

 

From a hiding place in the broken rocks emerged a strange creature, in appearance it resembled a man but its features were far to distorted to be called human, it had a large misshapen body with strong arms and legs but was covered in thick matted hair and plating that seemed reptilian, it had two small yellow eyes and a large mouth set with rows of sharp teeth and it stirred in a lumbering stride as it moved into the open. There it saw a group of Rockrunners, small creatures that move fast and feast on whatever they can find, and this time they found a nice rotting carcass to fill their tiny bellies, but the thing that had come out of the rocks sounded a loud roar and the small creatures scattered like fallen leaves in a windstorm. The large thing began to feed on the rotting flesh when a sound was heard from overhead and looking up with it beady eyes it saw a metal monster descending from the darkened sky, with a terrible roar it dropped its food and raced back into the rock and safety.

The thing from the sky was not a monster but how could such a lonesome creature know a scout ship of the Mac-Mar Alliance from a demon of the night?

 

There was a roaring of descent engines and flashing of landing lights as the armored recon craft touched down on the hard ground, it sat there for a time like some great metal bug then a hatch open and out raced a dozen or more well-trained troopers wearing survival suits and carrying heavy weapons, they quickly made a defense ring around their ship and waited for anything to challenge them.

Nothing did.

Then from the transport emerged a tall soldier with a hand scanner, he moved slowly around the ship all the while checking readings and pushing buttons on his device, and when he was sure that all was as it should be he signaled to his confederates and they slowly fanned out and began checking the surrounding area.

The tall soldier took a voice-tec device from his belt and put it to his mouth.

“First trans-ship on surface, no resistance met, initial readings are stable, electromagnetic waves are at acceptable levels, second and third trans-ships are cleared to land”.

The soldier continued to check and recheck his information as his brethren cautiously surveyed the crumbling ruins, as they approached the broken rocks the thing that had watched them fall from the sky backed up in his hiding space and dislodged a piece of rubble that fell to the ground with a heavy “thud”, immediately the soldiers open fire with their hand weapons and in an instant the creature and the surrounding rocks were blown to atoms.

The first rule of war is to win; you do this by following the second rule, leave nothing alive.

 

Far from the victorious invaders Anais sat outside his tent, his mate had not returned and the thought of spending the night without her by his side began to eat at him, but being a man he was slow to realize his mistake.

“What did I say that drove her to anger?” he asked, “I was simply pointing out some potential mistakes that she might encounter in her cooking” then he patted the two Drogs on their massive heads, “was I asking too much?”

It was only recently in his life that the Blind Prince had taken the feeling of others into his decisions, for many cycles he had been a selfish, self-centered hedonist who cared only for himself and let everyone else suffer if it would bring the results that he wanted. But that was before he lost his site and his power and had to find a new path to walk.

“Were my words so hard that it caused her to turn her back on me? She said that she loved me many times and I told her that I…..”.

And at last he saw that no matter how many questions he asked his mind he would never find an answer so he once more patted his companions. “You are lucky, the Gods gave you strength and cunning and a straight road to travel, but they gave humans a head that is forever at war with the heart”.

He rose up and walked to his tent, he drew back the worn flap and went inside, there he found his mate lying on their sleeping mattress but he knew that she was not slumbering, he moved to her and lay down beside her, and then he put his arm around her warm body and held her tight.

“I was a fool” he whispered.

Kela turned and put her arms around him and kissed him on the lips.

“Yes” she said softly, “but fool or not I still love you”.

 

Warfare can be cruel and filled with pain and anguish, and so can love, they both wound deeply and those that engage in them can never forget the events surrounding them, Outer Rim scholars have debated the rules of both for eons but they have never been able to agree on exactly what those rules should be, but they did decide that both war and love are things that humans will have to bare until the Gods in their infinite wisdom decide otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8.

 

The Hand of Horcon.

 

The Hand of Horcon controls all things, but his movements are guided by the will of Isarie.

You travel through your lives like so many countless pebbles on an endless beach as the tide of destiny washes over all.

 

From the Book of Isarie.

 

 

Sunbirth found the Land of Plenty filled with an abundance of laughter and contentment for the tribe of the Almadra were busy preparing for the ceremony of Horcon.

They rose up even before the Dawn-callers cried out and although the night brought them bad dreams they did not speak of them and soon began preparing the great feast that would mark the end of the ritual and the air was filled with the smell of baking bread and roasting Rimar meat, add to this the sweet fragrance of growing grass and freshly open casts of Po and there could be very little that any Outlander could find fault with.

Kuno, the stout Captain of the Spike-backs and Disrupters and now and then leader of the tribe sat outside his tent sipping a large tankard of Po and taking in the fresh morning air, he was dressed like always in his well-worn armor and his gruff features showed that he had spent the night in the warm arms of a willing companion and at the corners of his mouth you could see a slight smile for she had left long before dawn and returned to her own tent without conversation about when he was to call on her again or if he would think of her when she was gone? To the Captain this was a perfect woman.

If I were a God I would have made all women like her, but then he had to chuckle for he pictured himself sitting on a golden throne surrounded by smiling worshippers and looking to him for wisdom and guidance, I have very little wisdom to share and I guide my own feet, then he looked up at the morning sky, “forgive me great Gods for I know that I am just a hapless warrior and far too fond of drink to be a threat to you”. And he lifted his cup to the sky in a toast to any deities that might be watching.

It was then that he saw his King approaching so he put down his tankard and stood up like any good warrior of the tribe, “it is a fine day for Horcon to make his choice” he said as Arn drew near.

“Yes, a fine day” the King replied, “have you more Po to share with your old friend?

Smiling the old Nomad quickly poured a round of the sour drink into a large silver cup and handed it to his friend, then he picked up his vessel and they both drank deeply. When they had satisfied their thirsts they put down their drinks and the King looked at his trusted friend.

“Did the night bring you troubled dreams?” he asked.

To this question the big warrior only laughed, “I do not know for I was too busy comforting a lonely companion”.

Arn shook his head, “you are a brave warrior and my good friend but sometimes I think the Gods find you when they have nothing better to do”.

“Well if they do I am thankful to them for they fill my needs”.

Hearing those words the King lifted his cup, “then let us drink to the wisdom of the Gods!”

“To the Gods” Kuno smiled then thrust his mussel into the sour wine.

Arn gulped down his cup then whipped his face with the back of his hand, “and now my good friend I will leave you to your drink and ladies for I was chosen King and I must act like one” and he turned and walked away, but not before Kuno had the last word.

“The Gods chose you and they are wise” he said then drained the last of his cup.

 

When the twin suns were high in the morning sky the tribe of the Almadra gathered to see who Horcon would give his blessing to.

All the tribe was in attendance, the Warriors and Elders, the Ironworkers and Weavers, even the ancient Frail-Legs were there and although their minds had grown weary they could still remember back to that long ago time when they too stood before the Gods and were given their paths to follow. Everyone wore their best garments, robes of summer weaves and bright colors and the Elders held the cherished items of their families in their hands so that they would remember who gave them birth. The warrior’s armor was cleaned and shone brightly in the sunlight and in their strong hands they held the Judgments of Isarie, the heavy ax or “tooth” as it was known and on their heads were the great horned helmets that brought fear into the hearts of their enemies.

 

Inside her chamber Egmar the High Priestess of the tribe made ready for the day’s events, surrounding her were the ever present and always attentive Handmaidens, they help their mistress put on the long flowing robe of green set with golden trim and embroidered with the sacred symbols of the Gods, her arms were adorned with bands of silver and gold and on her head she wore a headdress of colored Doff-bird feathers. When finally dressed she stood and looked at herself in a large refection plate.

I am not the young woman I once was she told her mind, and her face still bore the scars that she had received when she was captive of the Shadowmen, but they could not diminish the bright eyes and the kind smile that would always be hers.

“Leave me” she said. And obeying her wishes the Handmaidens left her chambers and she was alone looking at her reflection.

The long cycles have left their mark she heard her mind say, how I miss my home.

Sitting on a small table near her was a Trouble vessel, the small ornate vase that Nomads placed their concerns in and then offered them to the Gods, but there was no need for the container now but Egmar knew that it would be there if needed.

The old woman began to remember the soft nights beside the sea and the smell of the air and the warm arms that once held her close.

“Karn” she said softly, “I will come soon.”

Egmar was thinking of her mate, the great King of the tribe that her offspring had defeated in battle so that the leadership of the Almadra could be passed down from father to son, she bore no ill will towards her child for that was their way and the will of Isarie. But along with the images of her past she saw a face that brought pain to her heart.

Dennor forgive me.

“Forgive me your Holyness” a voice said and Egmar turned to see a young Handmaiden standing at the entrance to her chamber.

“What is it my child?” she asked.

“The King is here and he wishes to speak to you”.

“Send him to me” the Holy Mother replied and bowing low the young Handmaiden left to do her mistresses biding.

My son here? Egmar thought, it was a bit strange for although she was his mother she was also the High Priestess of Isarie and that meant keeping a distance from the King in order to show that the leader was not under the will of the Holy Mother and she was not being influenced by the Monarch. But deep in her heart she was glad that he had come for she loved him very much and she was after all his mother.

Arn was not permitted to enter the Holy Wagon or the tent of the High Priestess without her permission, being King had its many privileges but they ended at the threshold of the Holy Mother’s quarters and to make sure that tradition was obeyed the ever present Thungodra were standing guard, but with the consent of the Holy Mother Arn made his way to the inner chamber and entered.

The King bowed as was the custom, “May I speak to you Holy Mother” he said.

And bowing herself she replied, “You may”.

But Egmar could no longer hold back her feelings and took her son into her arms, “I have missed you my son, I have missed your face and hearing your voice speaking to me as my son and not the King”.

And holding his mother in his strong arms Arn was also overcome with feelings, “and I have longed to see the face of my mother”.

They stood holding each other for a time then remembering their positions in the tribe they parted and stood looking at each other.

“Why have you come to see me my King?” Egmar asked.

“We have not spoken of my womb brother” the Kind said softly, “and for several nights now I have had dreams of him and I wish to know all there is”.

Egmar turned and walked to the table that held the metal head of Arn’s dead brother, she put out her hand and touched the cold metal then she turned and looked into her son’s face, “I loved him as I loved you, and because of that I went against the will of the Goddess and the result were countless deaths, the dead are beyond out help, the living are our responsibility”.

It was clear to the King that his mother did not wish to peak of his dead brother so Arn went to the table and picked up the metal head that his ax had cut off in the battle with Atos near the fortress of the Forrest People. He looked into the dead eyes and as he did he seemed to hear a voice calling his name?

“Yes?” he said not understanding who had spoken, then he realized what he had said and put down the metal object and turned to his mother, “I am King and you are the Holy Mother, such things are meant to be, but we are also bound by our flesh and I will always be your son and you will always be my mother”.

He moved to the chamber entrance and with one last look at his mother he left, then the High Priestess heard the sound of drums and she knew that the ceremony of Horcon was about to commence.

 

Andra had seen many rituals of the tribe and she was always fascinated about how the Nomads justified what they did, most of the time she understood the reasoning behind it all but at other times she rebelled and spoke her mind, this often brought her trouble not only from the Outlanders but from her mate, now she stood in their tent and put questions into her mind.

I don’t see how they can simply leave it all in the hands of some ritual? She thought as she drew on her armor and began adjusting the many straps that would hold it in place on her slim but strong body, everyone should choose for themselves as I did! Then after some grumbling she fastened the last bindings and placed her helmet on her head, she took a quick glance in her reflecting plate and adjusted her long hair as all women must do and taking up her weapon she left her quarters.

 

Osh was also preparing himself for the ritual but he would be recording it for posterity rather than questioning the reasoning behind it, he wore a plain robe with a hood to protect his large head from the sunlight and on his small feet he wore sandals of Rimar hide. And helping him was Alune for it was her nature to care for those in need, but this did not sit well with the old Callaxion.

“Will you stop that infernal assisting?” He shouted.

But the woman paid him little heed, “your robe is adjusted wrong and I will not have a person in my care be seen like that”.

“I will wear my robe as I wish” was the reply.

“Very well but the opening on the side should be worn left to right not the other way around, it makes you look like a Frail-Leg”.

“Right or left a robe is a robe” the old man said as he pulled the tie around his waist.

To this the old woman just shook her head, “have it your way, I was just trying to help you understand our ways, you did say that you were a scribe of sorts and writers of wisdom should know what they set down in words”.

Osh was about to again lash out at the interfering Touchtender when he began to think about her words. She is correct, you are a historian now and there are things you need to learn, then he looked at the smiling face of his companion, even if they do come from such an annoying creature. So gathering up his pride and setting it in a safe place he spoke, “left to right you say?”

“Yes” the woman said with a smile.

Reluctantly the old man began retying the robe but his wounded hand got in the way and seeing his difficulties Alune stepped in.

“Let me do that for you” she said and began correcting the wardrobe mistake.

And looking into the face of the woman Osh couldn’t help but see that she did have kind eyes and the smell of field flowers, but he shook that silliness from his mind and quickly looked about him.

“Where are my marking pens, ink and scroll?” he asked.

And just as quickly Alune picked up his writing tools that were sitting on a small table near them, “I have them here, are you ready now?” she asked.

The old man nodded his head.

“Very well” she said, “I have a place picked out for you so that you can see all that happens”.

And without more words the two began to walk to the place where the ritual of Horcon would take place, and Osh did not protest when the Touchtender put her hand on his arm to help.

 

The ritual drums pounded, the signal horns blew loudly and the children of the Outlanders lined up to see how the Gods would choose them, to call them children would be a mistake if you were an adult of the Outer Rim for the offspring were tall and well-formed and would have seemed more like young adults rather than youngsters that needed looking after and they would have been correct. But these were not the prodigy of other worlds these were Nomads.

The strange way the Outlanders gave birth was a wonder of the heavens for they could only bare infants once in the cycle of their planet, the females got pregnant a short time before their hibernation period and during the long sleep of the Burning Time the children were born, but they continued to slumber as the Crystal Spiders did their work and grow by their mothers side and when the time came for them to enter the world they could walk and speak. Then during the long winter they would continue to grow and learn what they needed to understand, writing and reading of sorts was taught by the elders but most Nomads considered it of minor use for their wisdom was passed by word of mouth from the Elders but it was useful in the reading of the Book of Isaire, the book that guided their lives and taught them the path that the Goddess had chosen for them. They were also shown the workings of the Touchtenders, Ironworkers, Warriors and all the other professions that made up the tribe, in that way they could understand the needs of others and how they all worked together to keep the tribe strong, and now as the warming days came they would take their place alongside their parents and add their strength to the tribe.

And an important part of the time was finding their destinies.

 

Kalgar-Rune lead the Thungodra as they marched alongside the High Priestess and her Handmaidens, they walked in precision for they knew that the Gods would be watching and they did not want to appear lacking in their duties, they looked powerful in their armor and holding their weapons and everyone knew that it would be a foolish thing to challenge them. They paraded from the Holy Wagon, across the green pasture and to the place that was selected for the ceremony.

As they did the sky once more flashed with lightening a being that there were no storm clouds it brought concern to many of the tribe, but there were far more important things ahead and arguments about the weather could wait until later.

The gathering place for the ritual was a cluster of large boulders that was called Katara in the old language or the Family in the wordings of the Outer Rim, it resembled a man and a woman with two small children at their sides, the rocks were worn and ancient for they had been blown by fierce winds and baked under the burning sky, they had seen many cycles of the Nomads come and go and the journey of the moons overhead and yet they still survived. And for that reason the Outlanders worshiped them for they wished to be like them, strong and lasting.

In front of the group of stones was set a long ornate table, it looked much like the one that sat in the great longhouse of the Nomads in Omar-Ran but this one was strewn with wonderful things, a great battle ax with a golden blade and a handle made from carved Balbar wood, next to it sat a pair of heavy tongs like those used by the skilled Ironworkers of the tribe, but unlike those useful items this one was made of fine silver with handles fashioned from Sagar cats teeth, further down the table was a weavers shuttle, this one was beautifully made with inlays of fine shell workmanship and it was clear to see that it was never meant for manufacturing.

The Touchtenders also had left their mark, it was a large golden bowl with markings of the many Gods and Goddess the looked over the Nomads, it was much like those use to heal the sick and wounded but this vessel never held any herbs or potions.

And the Handmaidens were not left out, there laying on the wooden counter was the sacred Book of Isarie, the very words of the Goddess set down in writing and the laws that governed the tribe and all who wish to live in the shadow of her love.

There were more icons on the tabletop, items that related to the many crafts and vocations that made up the life of a Nomad and now they would be used to know what fate was in store for those who the Hand of Horcon moved.

 

Andra stood close to her mate, she looked every bit the consort of a King, her armor shone in the bright light and she held her head high, but inside she was still troubled by what was about to take place.

They should be allowed to make up their own minds, and the more she thought about it the more angry she became, but she held her tongue and reached out with her thoughts to the one who stood beside her.

Arn stood proud and strong and anyone who looked at him would have said the he was indeed the chosen King, but deep in his mind he still wished to know more of his dead brother, my mother is wise and a favorite of the Gods, he thought, but then he felt the touch of someone else in his mind.

Ever since they had been reborn at the end of the Burning Time Arn and Andra had shared a power that made them very formidable and help give them the name Moric-Kan, the Twin Dragons, they could read each other’s mind. But before the young girl could touch the thoughts of her mate deeply the signal horns gave out with a loud blast, the Holy Mother moved forward and the ritual began.

Egmar held a staff in her slim hand, it was made of fine wood and topped with the symbol of Horcon, a well fashioned head of gold set with eyes of crystal, she stood silent for a time then began to speak.

“The time has come for us to witness who the Gods choose, it is a time of great sadness for those that were once called child will now be called by the names you shall give them. And in the cycles to come they will add to our tribe and make us stronger in the eyes of Isarie for she and only she can know our fate and start us on our path to serve her, Tar orgar mar Horcon row, Horcon guide their hand!”

And with those words the young began to come forward one by one, they were dressed in simple robes of white for they did not want to disturbed the wisdom of the Gods with bright colors or flashes of jewelry, the first to the long table was a strongly built male he stood there for a time looking at the many items on display then slowly put out his hand and placed it on a warriors ax.

“It is done” Egmar called out, “Horcon has chosen a warrior!”

After the male came a female, she had a kind face and bright eyes, she also stood looking at the many symbols before her then put out her hand and placed it on the Golden bowl of the Touchtenders.

“It is done” Egmar said again, “Horcon has chosen a healer!”

And so it went one after the other, each child put their hand on an emblem and each knew their fate.

Andra watched as the ritual took place and soon it brought a smile to her face, I worried for nothing, the children aren’t force into a life they do not want, they choose for themselves.

But she knew better than to say this to her mate or any member of the tribe for they believed as they believed and would never call into question the wisdom of the Gods.

 

From a high rock above the gathering Osh watched the ritual of Horcon take place, Alune had selected a perfect place to see everything that was going on and she had also helped the old man reach the top with his writing tools. Now the Callaxion hurried to mark down all that had taken place and it was easy to see that he was very content.

“The Nomads mix religion with wisdom and together they make a strong outcome”, Osh said this out loud forgetting that the Handmaiden was standing nearby.

“Of course” Alune said, “the Gods are all powerful and we must follow in their footsteps”.

“Yes of course” said the old man but it was easy to see that his words bore a goodly amount of sarcasm.

“You do not believe in the Gods?” the woman said.

“Well that is a matter of how you define a God, you see there are many different thoughts on the definition of a deity, take for instance the writings of Tormor Ratal of Magnicon four, he said that…” But then Osh stopped talking for he could see that all his knowledge would be useless in the face of a devote worshipper, “perhaps we could discuss all this back at our wagon with a hot cup of tea?”

“Yes, that would be nice” Alune said, and taking the hand of the old man she helped him back to their Karrack and there she quickly began brewing a pot of her finniest Deep-root tea.

 

In the back of the wagon Niana sat quietly for the daylight was not her home and she rested during the day, she had a small place for herself among the many artifacts and scrolls that Osh had collected in his journeys, it wasn’t much but it was enough for her, it was a curious thing to see, for she did not sleep on a soft mattress of Doff-bird feathers like most Outlanders, her bed consisted of nothing more than earth. A layer of soft dirt was her comfort space and she lay on it like a Burrow-baby, what dreams she had we cannot say for her thoughts were not those of a creature of flesh and bone and although she was bore from a human each passing day moved her closer to her real mother and closer the greatest event in the long history of Gorn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9.

 

The Broga.

In order to travel to the Western Sea you must venture through a place the Nomads call Gardoo, this is a high concentration of snow-capped mountains and rocky canyons that are cut with passages made by long ago humans, they are also the dwelling place of the Broga, small mostly harmless hairy humanoids that live in the many great caves and fallen structures that dot the inhospitable landscape. In the old language of the Nomads the name Gardoo means harmless, but it is a fact that all things change in the universe and the land of Gorn is not immune to that law.

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

The coming days passed quietly in the Land of Plenty, there were still strange manifestations in the sky, wind and rain, the Trofar grew fat as did the Whiptails and Spikebacks and it would not be a lie to say that the Nomads found great contentment in food and drink as well. Soon the Outlanders grew restless, for they knew that they could not spend their lives in one place even a place as inviting as Jedar, so when fights began to break out amongst the warriors Arn knew that it was from boredom and it was time to depart and travel to the Western Sea. But before that could be accomplished there was something that must be done or they would not be welcomed by the riders of the waves.

The Sea People or Akuna as they called themselves were masters of the water but on land they lacked the equipment necessary to travel a great distance for they had no large creatures that could pull a wagon but they were always in need of tall masts for their sailing ships and although they had access to great Balbar trees they were too massive and twisted to be of any use. But in the Land of Plenty there were tall straight trees that were perfect for their enormous ships so the Nomads selected the best of them and cut them down with their sharp axes, once fallen they constructed great wheeled carriers for each tree, it was no easy task for they were the homes of Arrow-tails, swift flying creatures that can inflict a nasty wound and with the warming weather the deadly Sun-droppers were beginning to circle but they rarely attacked when there were a large number of warriors, the Nomads also needed to build a tower to hoist the huge trunk high enough in the air so that the carriages could be drawn under them and then slowly lowered into place, they worked fast but carefully but still there was danger. The carriages where huge, their massive wheels were many times the height of a Nomad, but the Holy Wagon had such wheels, so constructing them was not something new.

The chains used to fix the huge trunks to the carriages and to attached to the Trofars were forged by the Ironworkers, this took them most of the winter but the Land of Plenty had a place where Eulmar, molten rock bubbled to the surface, it mostly consisted of raw iron from deep within the planets core, it was not hard enough for making weapons, for that task they needed Itarian steel from the Outlands, but it was good enough for pulling chains and it was in great abundance. They worked long and hard pounding the hot metal into the links then forging them together in long strong chains, it was very hard work but the Ironworkers were used to that and it help pass the long winter days.

 

As the last of the great trees were being loaded a tower support broke and the heavy trunk came crashing to the ground, three Nomads were killed and several wounded, the dead were buried with honor for they had died for their tribe and everyone was sure that they would have a place in the Golden Hall of Isarie in the Afterlife. But at last the great trees were lashed to their carriers and with strong Trofar pulling them they would be able to travel to the land of the Akuna. Now with everything in place and the wagons loaded, the Almadra once again were about to set out on their never-ending journey.

 

Arn sat on his Whiptail at the head of his tribe and beside him as always was Andra his mate, they both wore their traveling armor and helmets, hanging from their saddles were the great battle axes or Tooth as the Nomads called them that were never far from their strong hands. The King looked back at his clan to make sure that all was in readiness then he turned to the woman beside him.

“Do you know the way to the sea?” Arn asked.

Andra took a moment to look up at the sky and then at the surrounding land before her, “yes” she said pointing to her left, “We need to go in that direction”.

This brought a smile to the lips of the King for he knew that the power to know where you were at all times is what made the Outlanders masters of Gorn and what kept all others from invading for only a Nomad had that ability and there was no electronic device or ground mapping that would give that power to the Half-soul outsiders, and now Andra also had that gift for the mind-link between them grew stronger each day and the Selcarie girl was able to travel as well as any planet bred Nomad.

“How long will it take to reach the sea?” the girl asked as she adjusted herself in the saddle.

“Many days and nights” the King replied as he looked up at the day moons, “there are countless dangers to be faced and many prayers to be said before we smell the salt of the water”.

Danger and prayer Andra thought with a smile for she knew that those two things were always a part of a Nomads life.

Arn raised his hand to the sky, “FORWARD!” he shouted and his command was quickly echoed by the warriors and soon the wagons of the Almadra rolled to the West.

 

They traveled past the great lake and onto the winding path through the mountains of Gardoo, this took several days and the road was difficult but with everyone doing their duty they managed. Once or twice a wagon wheel would break but it was quickly repaired and they moved on. Pulling the great trees was an arduous task for they were heavy and unwieldy, but the Trofars hitched to them were well-fed and strong and never slowed even as the path turned upward adding to the weight of their burden.

 

As they rode side by side Osh and Alune began to speak at greater lengths, at first the conversations were regulated to the matters at hand, the condition of the path, the well fare of their Trofar and what was being prepared for the evening meal, this seemed to be a sore spot between them for Alune prided herself on her cooking as well as the old man, and they often disagreed about how much Ulon spice should be added or how long to cook Rimar meat and his dislike of Fish-sauce but the strong willed woman frequently won the argument and although Osh would have never admitted it her choice was often the correct one. But what made the Callaxion the angriest was the fact that Alune never believed him when he began explaining the facts of the universe.

“There’re are thousands of habitable worlds in this section of the outer rim and each one has their own spiritual beliefs and they all believe that their god is the greatest of all, so it stands to reason that one cannot disregard another’s religion solely on the fact that they don’t believe as you do” Osh seemed very proud of his remarks and sat smiling at his companion as she held the reins of their Trofar.

Alune had listened to the misguided words of the old man beside her and did not speak, what can one expect from a half-soul, they are not the chosen of Isarie. Then she turned and looked him in the face, “Isarie is the Goddess of the universe and because we are her Chosen we follow her will”. She said proudly.

The old Callaxion wanted to say more but he knew it was useless; she is just an old woman he thought, but as he looked at her something stirred in his heart, he had felt this before when he looked at Andra or his Sandjar son Endo, he had long ago admitted to himself that he was capable of having feelings for someone even if it went against his training as an Interface, and being a man of logic he had placed his feeling for the Salcarie girl in the trusted friends category, perhaps a bit more, and as for his adopted son that was something far greater, that he had to admit was what they called love.

He once heard his mind say a universe of knowledge is nothing without love, but he was sure that he was not capable of having such feeling for this woman no matter how attractive he found her. Then he turned his head away and rubbed his bandaged hand.

“Is your hand itching?” Alune asked.

Osh nodded his head (yes) and continued to scratch his bandaged hand.

“That is good” the woman replied.

These words made the old man angry and this time he did speak loudly, “so you want me to suffer do you? A fine nurse you are”.

Alune was not familiar with the word “nurse” but she understood what her companion was saying, “I am a Touchtenders chosen by Horcon and well skilled in the healing arts, I have cared for many warriors, Elders and Frail-legs, I know all the seven hundred and seventy three herbs of the Outlands and Yemon the wise was my mentor, there is no one greater in the ways of healing potions then I, your hand itches because it is mending, a few more days and you will be well again and able to travel alone once more”, there was a pause as the old women let her words sink into the stubborn mind of her companion then she spoke again, “and we will be having Rimar soup with Fish-sauce for the evening meal!”

Osh was about to say something but caught himself, do not speak for it would only be a useless endeavor, she is….? And yet again a strange feeling began to tug at his heart.

 

 

Kalgar-Rune was also having feelings, he had spent most of his time shouting at his Thungodra warriors and making sure that they feared seeing his scarred face if something they did displeased him. The old warrior knew that it was the only way to keep order and train the younger warriors in the ways of their following, now as he rode his strong Whiptail at the head of his men he looked up at the Holy Wagon that he would guard with his life. There at the top most level he could see the Holy Mother Egmar surrounded by her ever present Handmaidens, she wore a simple traveling dress and held her head high.

She is a strong and wise woman the old warrior thought, any man would call himself proud to have her as his mate, the he suddenly realized what he was thinking and struck himself in the face with his thick hand causing his lip to bleed some, you are acting like a weak hearted fool he told his mind for he had taken a sacred oath never to think of mating let alone with the High Priestess of the tribe, such a thing would be Valcoush! a sacrilege before the Gods and he would surely spent all eternity in the Pit of Marloon. Now as the warm blood flowed onto his lips he wished with all his heart that there was an enemy to fight so that he might drown his desirers in the heat of battle.

War is my mate he thought, and he lifted his heavy Tooth to look at it, you are enough to fill my heart, and he swung the weapon through the air listening to its cold voice, you are enough, but as he lowered the ax to his side he knew that he had spoken a lie, and a lie that you tell to yourself is the worst of all.

So he uttered a quick prayer to Isarie asking for guidance and forgiveness, his mind then returned to what he saw the night he had followed the strange child they called Niana, she is not one of us, she is something evil he thought, he knew the orders of the King that said that no harm should come to the girl but how could he stand by and see his tribe destroyed by a witch? He was a servant of the Goddess, a Thungodra warrior, he had killed many in defense of his tribe, she is not one of us, the more the thought the more it seemed that his world was crumbling, I wish to share my bed, the girl should be killed, I must not betray my oath, I am a Thungodra warrior, I am…..?

“ARTOCK!”

He shouted at the top of his lungs causing the warriors around him to turn and look but seeing his angry face they quickly turned away and pretended that they heard nothing. Kalgar smoothed his mind, adjusted himself in his saddle and began to utter another short prayer.

“Forgive my sins, forgive my heart, forgive my mind, I know your book, I follow its teachings, I believe”. The old warrior continued to say these words over and over as the land pasted under the feet of his Whiptail.

The break in the mountains was not a natural occurrence for the steep sides were smooth and surely were cut by machines and not by nature. In the light of the noonday suns it was easy to see the remnants of digging equipment, huge rusting hulks that were hundreds if not thousands of cycles old, they resembled long dead beasts and were the home of strange creature both human and otherwise.

The creatures that dwelled in the caves and rock wells were called Broga, they were half as tall as an Outlander but strongly built with thick arms and powerful legs. In some respects they resembled the Galu of the Jungles of Yug but these beings did not possess the overwhelming urge to kill that drove the ape-men of that land. They lived in caves and crude rock structures and survived on whatever they could find but mostly they raided the nests of Screechers, large reptilian flyers that lived in the mountains nearby, these flying creatures were deadly but over the cycles the Broga had learned how to hide themselves from them and snatch an egg from their nests, they never took more than one from any nest and in that way the Screechers could still have several eggs to hatch and thus assure more food for Broga. When a Nomad tribe entered their land they would leave a few dead Rimars as an offering and that seemed to placate the Broga and they would allow the Nomads to cross their land in peace. The Broga were no match for the Nomads and leaving an offering was not something they needed to do but words from the Book of Isarie guided them.

 

Although you are my chosen people.

Care for those who are not.

For in that mercy you shall know me better.

 

Now as the tribe entered the main cluster of the Broga’s rock homes they waited for the small creatures to emerge from their hiding places but it was not to be. There were signs of recent cooking for there were small Eul fires and some remnants of recently eaten beasts, but as the King looked closer he could see that these were not the bones of Rimar or Doff-birds or even Burrow-babies, these were human.

“HAULT!”Arn called out lifting his hand, and obeying the wagons of the Almadra came to a stop, it took a little time for the dust of their Karracks wheels to disperse but when all was quiet everyone could see that the caves of the Broga were empty, or where they?

Slowly creatures began to emerge from the dark portals, and as they did the King could see that they were indeed the Broga, but not the harmless little men that he knew so well, these creatures were not wearing their usual animal skins and holding crude weapons, they were dressed in hardened steel with thick helmets on their misshapen skulls, in their hands they carried well-made spears and swords, these were warriors.

Beside him Andra could also feel that something was wrong, her mind-link with her mate had given her an added sense and she knew never to disregard it, she gripped her weapon and turned to look at Arn, “is there danger?” she asked in a whisper.

And in return the King nodded his head, “Much” he replied.

The Kings instincts told him to be wary and so he lifted his war ax as a signal to the warriors to make ready for battle and this proved to be a wise move for no sooner did the fighters close their ranks the Broga attacked.

They came in a great wave caring little for their own safety, they screamed at the top of their lungs and their shouts of anger filled the air with a terrible din, and in turn the Almadra warriors dug their spurs in and filled the sky with their own battle cries.

Arn and Andra were the first into battle, they swung their war axes in wide arks and when they came into contact with flesh they cut through it as easily as a warm knife in Kasha bread. At the same time their Whiptails kicked forward with their hind legs using their long spurs like reaping blades cutting the small creatures in two, but still the Broga advanced screaming like blood mad demons.

Back at the wagon of Osh and Alune things were also heating up, as the little men rushed for them Osh tried to reach under his seat to take out the Chamber-rifle that he kept there but his damaged hand prevented him from reaching the weapon and defending himself. Alune put herself between the advancing little warriors and her companion and lifted her robe to take out a long dagger and as the first of the Borga leaped for them she drove her weapon into the neck of the little man and killed him instantly, then she turned to her companion, “under the Karrack!” she shouted, and dragging the old man by his robe they both leaped from their seats and huddled under the massive wooden vehicle.

Kalgar-Rune was in his element, he smiled and laughed as his Tooth cut through armor and flesh, his Whiptail swung its spiked tail from side to side flinging screaming Broga into the air like leaves in a windstorm. He and his Thungodra circled the Holy Wagon and killed all who came close, they had taken an oath to guard the Holy Mother and they would die before breaking that pledge.

Egmar watched the attack from the high level of the Holy Wagon, surrounded by her Handmaidens and together they said a prayer to the Goddess.

 

“Protect us from harm.

Keep us in your arms.

Show us your mercy.

We are your children.”

 

They continued this prayer over and over again and hoped that Isarie would hear them. The Holy Mother also prayed but she knew for certain that the Goddess did hear her children, but being one of children she could not know what filled the mind of her God.

 

Kuno the Captain of the Spikbacks was a tried and true warrior and knew that there was no time to load and fire the Long-range guns or fire up the Distruptors so he ordered that his men draw themselves into a defensive ring around the Grana wagons and keep the precious green mineral safe.

“Let no harm come to the gift from the Goddess or you will answer to me!” he shouted, and everyone knew that he meant what he said.

 

Now the killing madness fell on the mind of Arn and Andra, they leaped from their Whiptails and fought on foot side by side, wave after wave of Broga advanced on them screaming in anger and when one of them was cut down by the swinging weapons another took its place. But the two Outlander had long ago been given the title the Twin-Dragons and now they would prove that name was not just an empty one, with their mind-link they could fight as one, both knowing when and where to strike, and soon the bodies of the slain were pile around them like so much Kasha wheat and the ground everywhere turned red with blood.

All along the line of wagons the battle raged, but the Outlanders closed their ranks and fought like demons from the Pit, the warriors never gave an inch and those few that managed to penetrate into the center where the Elders and other members of the tribe stood were stopped by Nomads on their feet who were well trained in fighting.

Kalgar-Rune also felt the killing madness it was a part of all Nomads, something that was born into them, the urge to fight, to kill and never give up, it was that ability to forget all other things, self-preservation, morality, mercy that made them the most formidable warriors in the Outer Rim. The Thungodra leader stood beside the Holy Wagon dealing out death to anyone who came near, and all the while his heart sang a battle song and his face showed a smile.

Then as quickly as the attack began the Broga ran away, it was if some signal horn had been blown but the Borga had no such device, yet they turned and ran in unison leaving behind their dead and dying, the Nomads did not follow them into their caves and hiding places for they knew that they had won the day and revenge was not part of their thinking.

Arn and Moonbud stood side by side sucking in great lungful’s of air and shaking the blood from their eyes, the killing-madness was vanishing and they felt the return of sanity to their minds.

“Are you injured?” the King asked between gasps of air.

Andra shook her head (no) and steadied herself with her Tooth.

Arn could see that few of the Karrack had been damaged and there’re appeared to be few loss of life to the Outlanders, then looking down he saw that one of the Broga at his feet was not dead but he was gravely wounded and would not last long, he bent down and looked the little man in the eyes, “Eto carnas morca tomay” he said in the old language, “why attack us? We meant no harm”.

The wounded creature ground his jagged teeth then opened his bloody mouth to speak, “Narga ne Garna” he grunted, then with a look of terror in his eyes he died.

Andra had learned much of the old language over the Frozen Time but she couldn’t make out what the dying creature had uttered, “What did he say?” she asked.

Arn rose to his feet, “obey or die.”

Chapter 10.

Invasion.

In a confrontation with an enemy many variations must be taken into account, the size and strength of the opposing army, its weaponry and supplies, but the main factor is the will to win, without that you have been defeated before you have begun.

From the observations of Ivar-Anoon, first General of the combined forces of the Mac-Mar Alliance.

High above the planet found on standard navigational charts as file number 11976UPO of the Gornogal section commonly known as Gorn a great fleet of warships hung like huge misshapen moons in the dark sky. This was the formidable battle fleet of the Mac-Mar Alliance, they were scarred from may wars and manned by veterans of the Calaban confrontation and the offensive against the Uraians so they were no soft recruits to warfare. They numbered in the thousands, each one carried a compliment of soldiers and weaponry capable of facing whatever enemy they might encounter, the larger ships could rain down death without laying a foot on whatever planet they wanted to destroy for the each carried a powerful armament called a “Grinder” this was a weapon that could rip up the surface like some gigantic plow turning everything upside down and smashing anything it came into contact with. And the Commander of the formidable army was a man that knew precisely when and how to use the massive power given to him.

General Ivar-Anoon sat in his command chair calmly looking over data screens and info readouts, he wore a standard uniform without any frills or insignias to denote him as a General, he made this decision many cycles ago when he saw his Commander taken down by a field sniper as he stood looking over the battle field, ever scene then he made it a point not to brand himself a target and relied on a simple emblem on his right shoulder and the fact that everyone knew his appearance.

“Is the fleet in position?” he asked not looking up.

“Almost” the man replied.

Ivar looked up and into the hard edged face of his subordinate and second in command; his name was Captain Haus Rocon a capable but rather green bridge officer who got where he was because his father was a member of the inner counsel of the Alliance.

“Almost?” Ivar asked, “Almost is not what I wanted to hear, what is the problem?”

Captain Rocon cleared his throat and spoke, “Captain Romar of the landing ship seven nine one says that he will be in position in approximately seventeen point eight time cycles due to a malfunction in his navigation program.”

Ivar-Anoon sat there for a moment or two staring into his readout screen, he knew that problems with navigation was inevitable when you came within the orbit of Gorn but he also knew that discipline must be enforced or he would appear to be weak and that was something that he could never tolerate no matter what it may cost him, “have him report to me as soon as possible.” The commander returned to his info-screen and noticed some strange anomalies, “observation, what are the locations on the planets orbiting moons”.

Gorn had five moons, Eubano, Ashsana, Italus, Eka, and the smallest Andra, they were the children of Gorn but to the general they were just obstacles in his way.

The Observation technicians scanned his readouts and spoke, “obits of planetary moons seem to be slightly erratic commander, this may be caused by a number of influences but they will not be a problem to the overall invasion plan.”

Ivar doubled checked his console to make sure that the information was correct then turned to Rocon his second in command. “Ready all landers and support teams and alert my command center that I will be going down with the first wave.”

The Captain knew that it was against all his training at the Academy to allow the general to land on a hostile planet with the first installments but he also knew how Ivar the terrible got his name so he held his tongue, “at once Commander” he said.

 

The holding bay of the Alliance command ship was enormous, far greater than even the massive cargo holds of the planet hopping Markins, it held the Generals landing craft and several support carriers that would escort it to the surface, its design was based on the Dropships that were used by other to deposit unwanted cargo on Gorn but this one was armor plated and had several Blasters to defend itself from attack and the capability to lift off if needed. Inside were sleeping quarters for a large staff, a small medical center, communications and food preparation, everything needed for a headquarters, Ivar had used this same command centers in other campaigns and it always served him well.

Hundreds of soldiers were busy checking their survival packs and weapons, they came from all corners of the Outer Rim, Bolec’s, Youngonrie, Salocans, Hidraga, Upars and many more, all of them hard veterans of wars won and lost, some of them were Outcasts from their Homewords, driven out for some crime or because they did not follow the rules of their civilization, they found a life with the Alliance because they asked no questions and the spoils were good. And although they hailed from different worlds they all had one thing in common, they loved to fight, killing was in their blood be it red or blue, green or yellow, they were fighters, and they had learned to obey. That was a feat in itself for rules were not something they found pleasing, but the Alliance knew how to control them, they gave then rewards when they did as they were told and pain when they did not, two simple rules that worked very well. And Ivar was their Leader, and as he entered the hold the usual clamor died away and all turned to look at the man that would dole out pain and pleasure as he saw fit.

The General walked slowly to a gathering of supply containers and climbed atop them and looked out over his men, he liked what he saw, they are hungry for war he thought that is good, hungry men make good soldiers, he stood there for a time making sure that everyone could see him and the look in his eyes then when he decided the stage was right he spoke.

“Death!” he said calmly, “death is a little thing, death is what small men fear, you are not small, you are soldiers of the Alliance, you are my warriors, and I say that death is afraid of us!”

And hearing those words the soldiers in the chamber let out a loud roar of approval, it shook the walls and went on for a long time, when at last it subsided Ivar spoke once more.

“Below is a planet that weak men fear, they say it holds terror for those who walk its land, they say that it can never be conquered, I say they lie, I say that world is ours for the taking, am I wrong?”

Another great cheer rose up from the mass of soldiers then died away.

“Well what are you waiting for? Are you small men or are you great?”

Another cheer.

“I promise you a great fight, a proud fight that you say talk about in the long cycles to come, and I also promise that you will share in the greatest treasure of the Outer Rim!”

Then with a roar of approval ringing in his ears Ivar-Anoon entered his command ship and walked to his control chair and as he did the soldiers that he passed stood arrow straight and lifted their hands in salutations to their leader, and when he sat down he looked around him.

Men are such strange creatures, he told himself, they will die for a promise. “Signal all transport ships, on my command they will launch and proceed to their separate coordinates.”

“Yes commander” was the reply from the bridge officer.

It was then that a squad of men entered the bridge and in the center of them was Captain Romar the commander of the ship that had problems with its navigations, Romar looked very nervous as he stood there waiting for acknowledgement from his leader.

Ivar did not turn to look at the Captain, “take him to my quarters and wait for further orders” he said, and obeying his orders they took Romar away, Ivar waited for a time then spoke, “I will be in my quarters, stand by launch until I return.” Then he stood up and left the bridge, he walked the short distance to his quarters and returning a salute from the two soldiers guarding the door he entered.

The room was sparsely decorated, a bed, table and two chairs, charts and a selection of unremarkable uniforms hanging from a metal rack, it was the room of an officers but far from a Commanders but that was the way Ivar wanted it. Standing at attention was Captain Romar and as he quickly saluted and stiffened himself even further.

The Captain was a well-made man with clean features and short dark hair, his eyes were also dark and there was a small scar on his left cheek that he got in a skirmish on Praxama 7, but he somehow looked out of place for his eyes held little warmth and gave the impression that he was somewhere else.

“Ease yourself” Ivar said then slowly moved to the small table and began looking at some report papers laying on it, “you were late in taking your place in formation.”

“Yes sir!” was the reply from the Captain.

“Failure will not be tolerated.”

“Yes sir!”

Ivar moved from the table and looked into the face of the Captain, “do you have anything to say in your defense?”

“No sir.”

The Commander continued to stare into the unmoving face of the younger man, “when you were a boy I thought I had taught you order and discipline, I can see now that I failed.”

Hearing those words the Captains face soften some, “you didn’t fail sir, I did.”

Ivar had trained himself to be a leader at all times, he always stood tall and took command of any room he entered; now as he stood before his son he forgot that training.

“I raised you as I saw fit, I tried to teach you that only the strong are worthy of living, the weak don’t matter.”

Jon’s listened to the words of his father like he always did but they were words that he had heard a hundred times before.

“Is that all there is, just the strong and nothing more?” the young man asked.

“Would you rather be weak and be destroyed like so many others?”

Ivar had heard these questions from his son many times, he must learn that only the strong are worth caring for he thought, I must make him strong, the Commander stiffened himself once more, “after the landing you will report to punishment” he ordered.

The Captain saluted, “yes sir!” then he turned and moved to the door, he stood there for a moment or two as if he wanted to say more, then the door slid open and he left the room, the door closed leaving only the father alone with his thoughts.

Failure will not be tolerated, he told his mind, the only problem was who had failed?

 

Sunfall found the Almadra still in the land of the Broga, after the attack by the little men they formed themselves into a defensive circle with the wagon of the Holy Mother at the center along and the precious Grana, this was ringed by the trusted Thungodra who would be the last defense of the High Priestess in case an enemy managed to penetrate that far. The Karracks of the Elders came next then the bulk of the tribe made up of Ironworkers, Weavers, Craftspeople and Frail-legs. Lastly were the Spikebacks and their Long-range weapons, the warriors made up the outer rim and there they would sit awake all night long guarding their tribe.

The massive trees that were being taken to the Western Sea stayed where they were but the Trofar that pulled them were taken to safety and well fed, after all who could take the mammoth trunks away, the Broga had no large Thundra’s and what would they do with such titanic trees? And there were no other tribes around and even if there were they would not dare anger the Alamdra least they start a war of clans that would only to lead many deaths on both sides.

 

Kuno the Captain of the Spikbacks made sure that the Long-range guns were loaded and the Disruptors ready to fire, if they were attacked they would be ready to spew out death to any and all intruders, and even though he consumed many tankards of Well-age Po it would not affect his judgment for his large body was more then used to the sour drink.

 

On the other hand Kalgar never drank alcohol of any kind, it was part of his oath as a Thungodra and although he sometimes envied those who could because as a youth he loved the taste of the fiery brew he knew that prayer to the Goddess should be enough. But now as he sat on large rock near the side of the Holy Wagon looking out over the fires of the camp he could not help but think back to his carefree childhood. He was the son of a great warrior, and his grandfather was also a protector of the tribe as was his father and his father before him, a long line of great warriors stretching back over the long cycles into the dim past.

How many have died by my linage? He asked his mind, a thousand, ten thousand, more? And as he thought he lifted the heavy war ax in his hand and looked deep into its pitted surface and in the torch light he could see his own face looking back at him, where have the cycles gone, how many more will I see?

This was a question that should not be asked by a Thungodra, they should be content to serve the Goddess and know that when they die they will travel to the Golden Hall and sit by her side, this is what they believed and what made them strong, to fill your head with questions best left to the Elders of the tribe will only make you weak, and a Thungodra must never be weak.

And so the warrior began to pray once more, “My Goddess, make me strong to do your will, make me strong to protect your chosen, make me strong to protect the Holy Mother from harm.”

“And may I be worthy of your strength” said a woman’s voice.

Kalgar turned to see Egmar the Holy Mother standing near him, she was dress plainly and wore no headdress or trappings that would mark her as the speaker of the Goddess only a long flowing robe and matel to protect against the cold of the night.

“Holy Mother” Kalgar said suddenly standing tall and bowing his helmeted head low, “forgive me for disturbing you.” The leader of the Thungodra had never been this close to the Holy Mother before, it was not a custom of their kind to speak directly to the High Priestess and he was as a loss for words.

But Egmar was not born a Holy Mother and when she was not preforming one of the rituals for the Gods she was a woman of simple ways, “it should be I asking for your forgiveness you were praying and I interrupted.”

This seemed to put Kalgar at ease some but he still stood hard and dared not look in the eyes of the High Priestess, “forgive me Holy Mother but you should not be outside alone and without your Handmaidens, there is danger all around and it is my duty to protect you.”

“The confine of my quarters sometimes presses me and it has been a hard day for the tribe and

I must walk among my people for a time” she replied.

“Then I must accompany you to make sure you return safely” the old warrior said, “If harm should come to you it would mean my death”.

“I would not want such a thing to happen to such a great warrior so walk by my side and keep me safe”.

Kalgar bowed once more and gripping his Tooth in his strong hand he began to walk with the woman who spoke for the Gods.

A great honor the old warrior told his mind, she is smiled upon by the Gods and being in her presents meant that the Gods might also see him, but would they smile or would that see into his heart and the feeling that now rose up as he walked beside this woman?

 

Not far away Osh was having a discussion with the woman who saved his life.

“Hiding under the wagon was a logical place of safety, you did well” the old man said as he sat near their Washa to warm himself.

“I did it to save you not me” the woman replied as she dipped a ladle into the Hagar soup that was boiling on the ornate clay stove, “I can care for myself”, she took at bowl and poured the hot soup into it and handed it to the old man, “My father was a warrior and taught me how to defend myself and as a Touchtender I took a vow to protect those in my care, it was the will of Isarie that we survived”.

Osh took the bowl and put a spoonful of the thick soup into his mouth, it was warm and delightful but he did not want to admit that to his caretaker, “never the less your actions were quite commendable and I thank you for that, whether or not there was an actual deity involved is a matter of opinion”.

Alune had grown use to the ramblings of the old man and mostly ignored his ignorance but when it came to questioning the reality of the Goddess she drew the line, “being a Half-soul you are not of the Chosen and it is written in the Book of Isaire that we should pity those who are not like us and do all we can to help them, you say you are a wise man and know many things, I know what I believe and follow those teachings, what do you follow?”

For a moment the Callaxion unable to reply for he knew that despite all his knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry and all matter of other Outer Rim intelligence he was not sure just what he believed when it came to all powerful beings, so he decided to change the subject.

“The soup is very good tonight” he finally said.

“Yes” the Touchtender replied, “I was always good at cooking Hagar soup, you must put in the proper amount of Ulon spice for the time of the cycle, more in the cold time and less when Karus the father sun is close”.

Osh was about to say that he thought there was too much spice in spite of it being cold but decided that he was far too hungry to protest.

 

Arn and Andra had finished their evening meal of roasted Rimar and fresh baked Kasha wheat bread and together they moved through the outer ring of warriors checking to make sure that all was in order, they both wore their traveling armor and horned helmets, and of course they carried their axes for what good is a warrior without their tooth? As they moved the younger fighters stood up and bowed before their King, but the older warriors knew better than to call attention to their Leader least an enemy be nearby ready to strike, but Arn did not reprimand them for their lack of judgment he would leave that to the older warriors and simply nodded his head in recognition. The continued onward under the clear evening sky listening to the Night-criers and the far off roar of some mountain beast.

Andra always loved looking up at the stars and now and then she would hunt for the star that warmed her Homeworld.

It seems so far away now she thought, all her people gone, her mother and brother dead, but then she shook the sadness from her mind, you are no longer a school girl, you are here and now “how many more days until we reach the sea? She asked.

“As many days as it will take” the King replied, “we must pass through the mouth of the winds, then across the long road of salt and then we will come to the sea”.

Mouth of the winds, the road of salt, Moonbud wanted to ask more but the King stopped before a young female warrior who stood up before her Leader.

She is very attractive Andra thought, and indeed for she was gifted with a strong slim body and clear eyes and although she was hardly more than a child Andra knew she was a strong as any grown man of her Homeworld.

“What is your name?” Arn asked.

“Jarrue, daughter of Nar and Oben the Ironworker” the girl answered.

Then the King held out his hand, “give me your tooth” he ordered.

The young warrior stood there for a moment or two then spoke, “I cannot, the Judgment of Isarie is mine only and must not be touch by another”.

Arn lowered his hand, “you spoke the truth and neither King nor enemy must take it from you”.

Andra knew the laws of the tribe and understood that once your ax is given to you no other may touch it, then she lifted her hand to her neck and touched the golden spike that hung there, it was her Journey-nail, a shard of gold that is driven into the hand to hold her weapon into the Afterlife.

The King put out his hand again and touched the thick armor on the shoulder of Jarrue, “you defend the tribe, you will be strong”.

Arn and his mate continued walking but the image of the attractive young warrior was still in the mind of Andra, “she is very young for a warrior” she said as they passed by a group of Whiptails feasting on their evening meal of Rimar meat.

“Yes” the King replied.

There was a long pause as Moonbud stiffened her walk, “she was also very attractive don’t you think?”

“Yes” the King replied once more.

There was another long pause, “do you think she is more attractive them me?” the Selcarie girl asked.

This time Arn stopped in his tracks and turned to the woman by his side, the King knew many things about being a leader but he was also a man and although a man can never fully understand the workings of a females mind he did know when to hold his tongue, she is casting a net and hoping to snare you, but Arn was wise enough not to be caught, “you are Moonbud, the flower that kills, you have fought at my side and defended the tribe, you have lain beside me and we have made shared our bodies, you brought me back from the darkness of the Death-shadow and together we are Moric-Kan, the twin dragons, together we are strong, we will be together in this life and the next”.

Suddenly Andra felt very foolish, you may not be a schoolgirl anymore, but sometimes you act like one then she reached up and kiss her mate hard, they stood there for a time letting their love surround them, and then they parted.

They did not speak for some time after that for there were no words that needed saying.

 

Niana the strange young girl also said nothing as she climbed out of the Karrack of the old Callaxion and the Touchtender, she moved like a shadow away from the camp and out into the darkness of the night, she did not fear being attacked by the Broga or any other creature of the night for she was one with them. She walked slowly and looked up at the moons overhead, Eubano, Ashsana, Italus, Eka and tiny Andra, the children of Isarie, the air was cold but she did not feel it, the wind blew on her face and if you had seen that face you would have understood why she walked alone, her eyes were clear now, with a pupil, pale green orbs in a skin that reflected the moonlike like moonbeams on water. She wore only a thin robe but if you had looked beneath that garment you would have seen a body changing, the outer flesh was almost transparent and echoed a greenish tint. Her head was without hair now, smooth and pale, but for all her strangeness she still radiated warmth.

She walked further into the night until she came to a place removed from site where she stood alone; she removed her robe and lifted her arms to the sky.

“Mother” she said, “I will come to you soon, I will come and we will be as one, until then guard our people, keep them safe”.

When she had finished speaking those words a rumbling grew in the earth, it started slowly then matured until the rock surrounding the young woman began to split and crumble, then came a sound like a woman crying, Niana bent down and placed her hands on the cold ground.

“Eairla, as one” she said softly.

 

“Launch!” Ivar ordered as he sat in his command chair, and his well-trained officers quickly transferred his commands to the different sections of the orbiting invaders.

And like so many metal space creatures giving birth the orbiting spaceships spewed out dozens of landing craft, they fanned out, each following a precise trajectory so that they might land in their designated areas, most would land near the broken city of Del-Godar and there set up a fortified enclave of soldiers, weapons and supplies, others would land further away than spread out and look for suitable locations for reinforcements. But most of all they would seek out the rare mineral that the natives called “Grana” for that and only that would allow them to stay on Gorn and not contract the dreaded Plague that weakens and eventually kills all who do not possess the precious green salt.

The command ship of Ivar-Anoon began to shake as it hit the outer atmosphere of the planet, this was to be expected but what happened next was not!

“BANG”

Suddenly a massive jolted shook the ship, the bridge lights darkened then after a few moments they came back online followed my more shuttering.

“REPORT!” Ivar shouted as he held tightly to his command chair.

“We’ve been hit by a level six EMP pulse, shielding is holding but we have significant loss in maneuvering!” the helm officer reported.

“Reroute all power to maneuvering, hold on course!” Ivar replied, but again the lights dimmed as another wave hit the ship, “REPORT, REPORT!”

Then all was darkness.

Chapter 11.

The Mouth of the Winds.

Gargus-Ral was a giant of old times, he was as tall as a mountain and as strong as the sea, he spent his days feasting on herds of Rimar and washing it down with a lake of clear water, when at last he slept he would open his great mouth and suck in the winds from the sea and blow them out to the lands beyond the rocks.

Old Nomad story.

The light of the twin suns found the Almadra preparing for the journey to the Western Sea. They had risen early, attached the Trofars to their wagons and the offerings of great trees for the Ackuna, as they labored they also noticed that the night sky was filled with falling lights. This in itself was not unusual, for all Nomads understood that their world was a dumping place for unwanted materials and people. The Outlands were littered with broken space craft, and other metallic objects that had fallen there in ages long past, these mixed with the ancient war machines or as the Nomads called them “the Toys of Isarie”.

 

The King and his mate had spent the night in each other’s arms as they always did, Arn was a strong man and at times his lovemaking was rough but Andra did not complain and being a sturdy woman herself she found their nights together quite satisfying. As they stood outside their tent checking their saddles and making sure that nothing could pull loose Moonbud looked up at the waning night sky.

“Look!” she said pointing to the small lights crossing the darkness, “sky-fall”.

Andra knew that the lights were most likely not meteorites but Dropships, the very kind of space craft that had transported her and Osh to Gorn as outcasts, but why they would appear now worried her for the city of the Talsonar was destroyed by Atos before the cold time and that was the main landing site for those type of crafts.

Glancing up the King was not impressed, “the stars are always bringing us gifts” he said as he adjusted the saddle on his Whiptail, “we have a hard day ahead of us so hold your eyes on the task ahead”.

A hard day the girl thought, when is there a day without danger? Then she picked up her Tooth and mounted her Whiptail, “A hard day you say? Well then what are you waiting for?” she dug her spurs into the sides of her reptilian mount and rode off fast leaving the King to catch up.

She is a prize for any man let alone a King, Arn’s mind said, and he knew it was true for what other woman would have risked her life so many times standing at his side? But as he was about to mount his saddle a voice called out in his head, she is your enemy! Hearing this the King turned to see who had spoken, “who speaks to me!?” his voice was filled with anger for those words were an insult to his mate and the woman he loved, but looking around he saw only his warriors preparing for the trip ahead and nothing more so shaking his head he lifted himself into his saddle and gripped the reins tightly and looking up at the stars once more he smiled, the stars brought her to me and for that I thank you. Urging his Whiptail forward he rode as fast as he could to reach the woman he loved.

 

Many others noticed the lights but none of this seemed to matter to the Outlanders for they trusted in the will of the Goddess and focused on the task before them, and that was formidable for ahead of them lay the Mouth of the Winds. Knowing this the Nomads lashed everything tightly to their Karracks with heavy strands of Rimar hide, and items that would have hung from the sides of the wagons were placed inside and there they would be secured so that nothing would move freely. The great wagon of the Holy Mother was treated the same, banners and flags were rolled up and put away, the large sunshade on the highest level was removed along with offerings to the Goddess for those were meant for Isarie and not for the mouth of Gargus-Ral.

 

But what neither Osh nor Andra knew was that as they slept the Nomads were once again seized by the immobility that had overtaken them before, those on guard stood like statues and those that sat by their campfires did the same, it was a lucky thing that no one was injured badly but there were a few burns for those who had been standing to close to their Wahsa’s when the strange event took place.

 

Osh had slept soundly and was now too busy arguing with Alune to look up at the stars let alone the tiny lights streaking across the darkness.

“What did you do with my favorite drinking cup” the old man grumbled, “I distinctly remember placing it right here” and he pointed to the small table that stood next to a carved stool that the Callaxion liked to sit on when he was writing on his scrolls.

But the Touchtender shook her head and moved to where her companion stood and lifting a scroll of Rimar skin she picked up the small silver cup that lay hidden, “if it was a Rockworm it would have bitten you” she said with a smile, “now we have a rough ride ahead so you should….” Her words trailed off for she noticed a small woman drawing near, as the figure came closer she realized that it was the girl named Niana, the strange creature that rode in the back of their Karrack and never came out in the daylight. Being a Touchtender Alune had taken an oath to tend for all in need but even her caring heart was put to the test whenever she was near the bizarre young girl.

She is not one of the Chosen Alune thought, she is something that should not be, and as the girl stood near them the old woman could not help but feel a cold shiver up her spine.

On the other hand Osh had grown use to the girl, to him she was a creature of great interest and being a Callaxion he wished to learn all he could about her but their conversations brought him little information. Now the old man waited for the girl to climb into their wagon but she did not, instead she just stood there with a look of longing on her pale face.

“Soon there is a thing to be done” Niana said softly, “a thing of pain and suffering, but when all is done a better world will be born.” The young girl lowered her head and stared at the ground, “my mother is calling me” then without another word she climbed into the Karrack and disappeared from site.

Osh and Alune stood there for a moment or two neither one knowing what to say or do then at last the Touchtender spoke, “we must go now” and she put the last of their items into their wagon, climbed into the driver seat and waited until her companion did the same, when all was ready she snapped the reins and off they went to join in the long column moving towards the sea.

 

All that morning the Almadra journeyed the path before them, they had traveled this road a hundred times before and would do so a hundred times more if the Gods willed it, to them it was their life, endless travel, across the Sirolian Plains, through the Pass of Moke to the Eye of Isarie, then to the land of Omargash, ever onward, it was their way and it would continue for all time, it was as it should be, the path and the will of the Goddess.

“Strange?’ Osh said as he took in the landscape surrounding him, “This road was not made by nature, it was made by humans, you can tell from the layering of the rock and the un-natural contouring of the hillsides”.

Any learned man of the Outer Rim would have agreed with the Callaxion, the path was wide and cut through the mountain range with a precision that could not have come naturally, but they would have also said that the knowledge of the old man was elementary for all about were the remains of drilling machines and rock cutters and even a first level student would have come to the same conclusion, the road rose upwards with a long fall into a chasm on one side and jagged cliffs rising upwards on the other, it was wide enough for the Holy Wagon to travel and more, however one miss step and a Nomad would find a quick death at the bottom of a long fall. All of this did not matter to the Touchtender for she stood strong by her beliefs and knew that it was all the work of the Goddess.

As Osh made notes on his writing pad he continued to talk, “it must have taken many cycles to complete the task, countless work days and perhaps many deaths, it reminds me of the great constructions on Totarus seven, they have a city that was cut from a mountain and has stood for ten thousand of their cycles, a truly great work of labor.” Osh was about to go into details when a strong gust of wind hit his face and blew the Rimar skin scroll out of his hands.

“Valcoush!” he cried as he grabbed for his writings but it was hopeless and he watched as the strong wind carried his inscribed thoughts away, saving what he could Osh put away his writing utensils and smelled the air, “ we must be near the water, there is a smell of salt in the air”.

“That is the breath of Gargus-Ral” Alune said, “Soon he will empty his lungs and the wind will blow hard”.

Osh was about to say that the wind is a result of the lowering and rising of barometric air pressure but he decided that he did not have the energy for a prolonged argument and let it go.

 

As the day progressed the gusts continued to rise so by late afternoon the air was like an invisible wall slowing down the column of riders and the wagons that followed behind, both Arn and Andra lowered their face shields and when they talked they had to shout so that their voices could be heard over the howling wind.

“We must make camp for the night!” Andra called out, “the winds are too strong for us to continue”.

But the King shook his head, “No, the winds will only grow stronger with nightfall; we must pass through the mouth before we can stop”.

 

In the Holy Wagon the High Priestess Egmar and her devoted Handmaidens sat in a circle around a statue of the Goddess and chanted an ardent payer to Isarie.

 

“The mouth of the winds blows from the sea.

The winds of the world are now set free.

Protect us from the giant of the rocks.

Protect us from the breath that mocks.

Keep us safe in your strong hand.

Keep us safe as we cross the land.”

 

There were others in the tribe that prayed for they had come this way before and knew of the dangers. Kalgar-Rune lead his warriors and made sure that the Karrack of the Holy Mother would be safe.

I will keep my vow the Thungodra warrior thought, I will keep the Holy Mother safe”.

 

And behind the moving temple Kuno the stalwart Captain of the Spikeback warriors called out in mocking laughter to the howling winds.

“Blow your worst old man of the mountain, we will pass and none will stop us!” and to make sure his voice could be heard he reached down and took a long draft of sour Po from a Rimar skin container that hung from his heavy saddle, “Blow your worst!” he shouted once more.

 

Osh pulled the hood of his winter robe securely around his wrinkled face and gripped the wooden hand rail of the wagon tightly; beside him Alune kept a taut rein on their Trofar and made sure that they did not stray from their place in the long column of Karracks.

“How long before the winds stops?” the old man called out loudly.

“When we pass through the mouth of Gargus-Ral” the Handmaiden replied.

 

At the head of the Nomad column Arn and Andra found it difficult to control their Whiptails for the reptilian beasts would rather have stopped and turned away from the blowing air.

“Steady!” Andra called out as she fought to hold onto her saddle as her Whiptail rose up high on his strong hind legs and tried to shake her from its back, but she was a tested rider and dug her spurs into the flanks of the bucking creature and soon the huge beast settled down once more.

Then as she raised her face shield and rubbed the dust from her eyes she saw a huge face looming up before her, it was cut from solid rock and bore a resemblance to an old man that lived near their farm back on her Homeworld, but this façade was tremendous in size, rising up from the path and high up the rock cliff, its mouth was open and through it their route lay, and from the gaping grin a rush of air flowed that blew with the force stronger than a wind storm on the Sirolian plains.

Andra did not have to ask what had to be done for she knew that they would have to go into that blast of air no matter what the cost. Turning to her mate she saw him lift his hand and those following behind him stopped and waited. No words were spoken but each member of the tribe knew what needed to be done and with hand signals from their King they proceeded forward. The column opened up to let pass the Holy Wagon transporting the Speaker of the Gods, and leading the way was Kalgar-Rune.

“Forward!” the leader of the Thungodra shouted, and obeying his words the holy warriors surrounded the huge wagon and watched as the Trofars pulled hard at the front, the great moving shine creaked and groaned as it moved up the path and into the roaring winds, and inside Egmar and her Handmaidens continued to pray hard least they be found wanting and at the mercy of Horcon the sand dragon headed God of destiny, and so they held hands and lifted their voices to the Goddess.

 

“Forgive our sins, forgive our weakness.

Grant us mercy in your eyes and in your heart.

Let us live another day to serve you and your people.

Forgive us oh Goddess, forgive us, forgive.”

 

The huge wagon moved onward with the Malock behind, the Rimar that would be used at the Mating ritual that was to come later in the cycle and of course the Karracks of Grana, the precious green salt that was needed by the Nomads and used in all their sacred ceremonies, And Isarie must have heard their pleas for they entered the great mouth unharmed.

 

Next came the Elders and the wagons of the Frail Legs, and although Osh was neither his Karrack moved with the rest and at the reins of the carriage was Alune.

“Move!” she called out striking the hard skin of their Trofar with the reins, “Move you foul smelling Romarcar!”

Osh had to smile some at hearing such words from the Touchtender for calling anything a Romarcar was language that was not spoken around the campfires, its precise meaning is hard to describe but it has to do with being so stubborn that you would rather suffer than submit to a bodily function having to do with waste removal, but the Trofar must have understood for it moved forward without further complaint. The Callaxion was hard pressed as the fierce winds buffeted his wrinkled face and although he would not have admitted it he was very glad that Alune was by his side.

 

After the wagons of the Elders and the Frail-Legs came all the others, the Ironworkers, potters, weavers, wood carvers, all the many craftspeople that any tribe of the Outlands must have. And when they had entered the rock carved tunnel the Trofars pulling the great trees came next and bringing up the rear were the Spikbacks with their Long-range weapons and Disrupters. The weight of the massive tree trunks were many times that of the Holy Wagon and dozens of strong Trofars pulled at the thick chains moving them ever forward but the path rose up and that added to their burden so they roared and grunted and those guiding them shouted commands and struck them with dense whips, of course the hide of a Rimar was very thick so the whips did no damage but the loud “crack” made the Thundra beasts jump.

Arn and Andra along with a goodly number of warriors stayed behind to make sure the offerings of wood passed safely through the mouth, the King watched as three of the massive trunks entered the tunnel but when it came to the last a loud “CRACK!” was heard.

“LOOK OUT!” Andra cried as she witnessed one of the pulling chains snap, the remaining chain and the Trofars and riders attached to them began to slowly move back down the hillside.

The King did not hesitate and racing his Whiptail to the sliding tree he leaped from his saddle and landed square on the place where the iron links connected with the wooden trunk, his hand still gripped his heavy ax and with a powerful swing he struck the binding link cutting deep into the iron.

Andra knew in an instant what he was trying to do for the huge log was beginning to pick up speed as it dragged the Trofars and Outlanders backwards and into the abyss that was waiting, the Salcarie girl moved her Whiptail to where her mate continued to strike at the thick chain and seeing what she was about to do Arn called out in a loud voice.

“Away!” and waved his free hand indicating that he wanted her to turn and go.

But being who she was and knowing that two are stronger than one she ignored his orders and jumping hard she landed beside him, and immediately began hacking at the iron link with all her might.

Kuno saw what was happening and signaled his Spikebacks to move around the shifting trunk,

There was nothing else he could do, the tree was picking up speed and there would be no time for him to come to the aid of his friend.

Again and again Arn and Andra struck at the iron link and each time their axe’s bit deep for Itarian steel is far harder than deep iron but it still would take time to cut through and time was something they did not have for with each passing second the titanic tree trunk moved closer to the cliff edge.

“Leave me!” the King called out to his mate knowing that there was little use in both of them dying.

“Never!” Andra replied and looking at her mate she smiled, “Together….Always!”

Isarie must have been listening for with one last blow the link parted and the huge log began to race towards the cliff edge, dust and rock filled the air along with the howling wind as the Twin Dragons jumped high into the air and landed on the ground just in time to see the wooden pillar tumble into the yawning canyon, wood cracked and splintered as it smashed against hard rock outcroppings and the sound of nesting Arrowtails could be heard as they were awakened from their slumbering, after what seemed to be forever the great tree landed at the bottom bursting into a million fragments. But there would be little rejoicing for the huge trunk pivoted on its axes and as it did it struck the Spikbacks carrying the Distrupters and they and their riders plummeted headlong into the arms of the Angel of Death.

 

The King stood for a time knowing that his warriors had given their lives for the tribe and bowing his head he whispered a prayer, “grant them a place by your side in the Golden Hall and may they serve you as well as they did me”, then he turned to his mate, “you disobeyed my command” he said dryly.

Andra just looked at him then smiled, “are you going to kill me now or later?” she asked.

“Let me sleep on it” the King replied.

 

It was sometime later that the Almadra emerged from the tunnel through the mountain and onto a wide plateau, it had been a long travel in the darkness but they sang songs to bolster their courage and their way was lit by warriors carrying Eul torches.

The King and his mate were the first to see the light and in the waning golden rays Andra looked out and in the distance she saw a great expanse of lush green land and beyond that a shimmering horizon of blue green water.

“Beautiful” she said softly.

Chapter 12.

Call of Duty.

In any conflict it is imperative that you win, it is the first rule of warfare and your duty as a soldier in that arena, to win you must stay alive, death is for those weaklings who no longer wish to fight.

From the observations of Ivar-Anoon, first General of the combined forces of the Mac-Mar Alliance.

The Youngarie have a high tolerance to pain, it was one of the factors that make them ideal for soldiers but Ivar-Anoon still grimaced as consciousness began to fill his mind, at first he saw only darkness then as he cleared his eyes of blood he looked around at what remained of his smoked filled command bridge.

“Report!” he called out in his usual commanding voice but there was no reply for those that were not dead were too badly injured to respond, “Report!” he said again all the while punching his thick finger on the communicator button on his command chair, but he got no response. He rose up on shaky legs and began to move about the rubble of the chamber all the while hacking and coughing from the arid smoke filling his lungs. His movements were halting and he stumbled over a body lying on the floor, looking down he saw what remained of the face of Haus Rocon but the General had seen far worse in his time and paid it little heed and moving on he found the ships navigator badly wounded but still alive.

“Report!” he shouted and he shook the man by his bloody arm, “Report now!”

Slowly opening his eyes the well trained navigator began to speak, “hit by a level five EMI, damage to guidance, no control, landing close to primary, power is…..” his voice trailed off as he slipped into unconsciousness.

“Report, report!” Ivar screamed but no amount of shaking could bring what he wanted and moving on he went to the bridge access and picking up a shard of metal he began to pry open the heavy metal doors, as he did he heard a voice calling out from the other side.

“Is anyone alive?” the voice asked.

“Here” the General replied then stood back as sounds of men working at the entrance filled the air, a shower of sparks and a grinding of metal and the door opened, several men quickly moved inside carrying weapons and other items of survival gear.

“Are you injured General?” one of the officers asked as he snapped to attention.

“What is our damage?” the General asked ignoring his wounds.

“Damage on all levels, heavy casualties and many badly wounded but we are stabilizing”.

Ivar wiped more blood from his eyes, “begin repairs, all able bodied men are to report to their commanders, I want a full list of damage and field strength in one hour”.

“And the wounded?” the officer asked.

The General stood up as straight as he could and looked the man in his eyes, “expendable” he said coldly.

“Yes sir” the officer replied and went off to do as he was ordered.

Ivar sat down on a the broken bulkhead and said nothing as a healer began to treat his wounds, to win at all costs he thought, that is the first rule of combat.

 

Far from Del-Godar and the damaged forces of the Alliance, in a place near the Eye of Isarie the Tribe of Many were rising up to meet the new day. They also had seen the lights in the night sky and experienced the immobility of their brethren but unlike the Almadra there were none that were not affected so there was nothing to be concerned about, but it was not so with the Sandjars for they were not Outlanders, they were of a different breed and although they had many of the same attributes of a human they were not. Instead they talked about the falling star that had crashed to the ground very near to their camp which was away from the fires of the Nomads and being creatures that preferred the dim light rather than the bright day they wanted to rush out into the darkness and take whatever spoils they could before some other Sandjars filled their wagons before they did. But the night also held many dangers and although they were fierce creatures when need be, they were not warriors so wiser minds prevailed and they waited for the early light of day and now that Sunbirth had come they were preparing to investigate the gift from the sky.

 

The morning sky could not be seen for a strange mist hung over the land of Darmock but unlike the low fog that sometimes comes with the changing of the seasons this one was thick and smelled of un-natural things. And in that vapor there could be heard the cries of Thundra beasts great and small, even the wild roars of Sagar cats who did not frequent the land around the Eye of Isarie carried through the haze and all that heard them could not help being frightened. Many of the Elders said that it was a warning from the Goddess to keep by their fires and pray, other said that it was just a land-shadow and would vanish as the twin suns climbed higher, but the warriors still held tightly to their weapons and kept a watchful eye.

 

The Sandjars were creatures of the Outlands and understood the dangers waiting there so they covered their scaly bodies with thick Rimar hide armor and carried weapons made of steel, these were not the superior made war axes of the Nomads, these were crudely fashioned clubs and spears that suited their needs much better, but even without weapons they were a deadly breed for their strong fingers had sharp claws and their teeth could bite through the toughest flesh.

“It is a Dropship filled with treasure” Endo said as he and several of his Sandjars prepared a cart and Trofar, “in it we shall find many wonderful things”.

“Do not go, the air carries danger” his mate replied for Rawna felt that something was wrong and wanted her life companion to stay in the safety of the camp and not risk his being for trinkets.

“You are a trouble vessel that walks” Endo laughed, “am I not the Coraw and a leader of our people?”

“You are my mate and that is all my heart knows”, the Sandjar female replied.

There is none who cares more Endo thought, “there are many with me and the tribe is strong”.

“Strength alone is a poor weapon” Rawna said clutching her mate’s clawed hand.

But the Sandjar leader only laughed, “Now you are sounding like an Elder” and hugging her one last time he turned to the others of his kind, “follow me” he said and being their Coraw the other Sandjars began to move with their leader.

Rawna watched him go and as he disappeared into the mist she felt a cold hand grip her heart.

 

The Outlanders in the tribe had also seen the ship crash and wanted to see what the sky Goddess had given them but being Nomads they would go prepared for battle, each warrior was dressed in strong armor and mounted on an eager Whiptail, they held sharpened axes in their toughened hands and at the lead was their “Coraw” but unlike the Scavengers this one was blind and carried no weapon.

Anais sat waiting on the wooden seat of their Karrack as Kela his mate tossed large juicy cuts of Rimar meat to their two hungry Drogs.

“Do not feed them more than they need” the blind Prince said angrily, “they eat too much already”.

But the scarred Handmaiden only laughed, “Better to fill their bellies or become their meal”.

And tossing one last offering to their four legged guardians Kela patted them on their massive heads, “Now that you have eaten you can earn you keep”, and wiping her hands on her traveling robe she climbed into the seat beside her mate and took up the reins, “now my wise leader what is the way you wish to go?”

To some this would have seemed a joke for Anais was indeed blind but the thick air made the other Nomads his equal and they also knew that although the Gods had taken away his site they had given him the gift of knowing what they could not, add that to the uncanny ability to know where you were at all times and a wise man would follow him. Anais lifted his head and pointed with his hand, “that way”.

And snapping the guiding reins hard Kela shouted to the warriors and Sandjars surrounding them, “Forward!” she called out loudly and as they had done in the past the Tribe of Many followed their wise leader.

 

But as her mate moved away Rawna felt that something was different, something that her simple mind could not comprehend, what it was she did not know but deep in her heart she knew that their time together would be different now.

 

It was some time later when the Nomads and Scavengers drew near the Eye of Isarie, to the Outlanders this was a sacred place, a place that was ancient and proud, a place that was to be feared and desired at the same time. The great circle of stone columns was still mostly undamaged save for one of the towers that had fallen in the Landquake at the last great gathering of the tribes. Here stood the ancient Talk-stone, the carved alter where all Nomads could speak their mind without fear of reprisal, it was also the place where the Holy Mother could converse with the Gods and know their will.

As the column of Nomads and Sandjar’s moved through the heavy air they could just make out that this was not a Dropship carrying outcasts or unwanted cargo to their world, they had seen others like this one but those were rusting hulks from the Before-time that many called “The Toys of Isarie”, ancient war machines used in the great battle of the Gods.

Now and then a distant planet would rid themselves of outdated weapons of war or as a dumping ground for victorious armies to strip their enemies of power, but those ships were not like this one, they were stripped of useful machinery before they were brought here, this one appeared to be whole but what caught the attention of the travelers was the unmistakable smell of death. It hung in the air like the perfumed veil of a Sincraver, a strong pungent odor of raw meat and bone and that aroma the Sandjars knew well.

As Endo caught the first wave of ravaged flesh his instincts as a Sandjar began to take control of his mind, a strong feeling of need raced to the top of his emotions, the need to feed, the need to rip and tear and kill, it was the way their people survived in the harsh Outlands and it did not matter that they were now members of a tribe that forbad the eating of humans.

No! He told his mind, you are not a mindless Scavenger anymore, you are not that creature but again he wanted to race to the wreckage and take what he wanted, and looking about him he saw that his people were also obsessed by the very same desire, they began to hoot and bark and beat their weapons on the ground and Endo knew that if he did not stop them they would rush headlong and fill their bellies with forbidden food.

“STOP!” he called out, “we are not Scavengers anymore, we are more than that, we cannot let our past guide our future, I am your Coraw and I say hold your ground!”

Anais and Kela also inhaled the wind of death as did the two Drogs but Jumo and Dalgar were well trained and would not leave the side of their masters unless commanded, now they growled and barked as they observed Endo fight to control his people, the blind Prince and the Handmaiden watched as the Nomads lifted their weapons in case the Sandjars forgot their pack and fell upon them as other of their kind had done in the past.

One of the Sandjar came forward and let out a loud cry in the face of their Coraw, he beat his chest and weapon on the ground and threw dirt and rock into the air.

A challenge Endo thought, a challenge must be answered, and taking his weapon he leaped high in the air, screamed loudly and bore his sharp teeth to his opponent.

The two combatants stood there for a time growling and hissing then the one who had tested his leader backed down and moved away leaving Endo as their Coraw and the one who they would obey. And turning to Anais and Kela Endo nodded his head and they understood that they could continue forward.

It was a short time later that they arrived at the fallen ship, all about were broken bits of metal mixed with what remained of its crew and swarms of Dot-flies, some bodies were intact but others had been torn apart by the impact and still more had their remains desecrated by creatures of the night and Sundroppers who followed the scent of raw meat. The flying reptiles took to the air and disappeared into the mist as the Nomads drew near making screeching cries and snapping their blooded jaws in defiance. The sound of snorting Whiptails also forced a large Sagar cat from his hiding place and rather than face a force of well-armed Nomads the great feline escaped into the mist carrying a severed arm in its massive jaws.

 

Anais did not have to see to know that they had entered a place where the Angel of Death had recently visited and although he was no stranger to death having given orders to kill his own people when he was briefly King of the Almadra his newly found conscious brought pain to his heart.

“Look for survivors” he said to Kela as he began climbing down from their Karrack, Jumo and Delgar stood beside their master and made sure that no harm would come to him as he began moving among the dead, and it was a good thing that the Drogs bellies were full for there were many bodies to feast on.

Although Kela was a Handmaiden and took an oath to care for all living things she was also a practical woman and understood that death did not separate those that were faithful from those that sinned so she carried a long dagger in her wide belt, but never the less seeing the carnage surrounding her she whispered a short prayer to Isarie. Anais carried nothing and put his trust in their Drogs and their senses.

A wars ship he thought, the Half-souls have sent an army to our world, this troubled him greatly for he knew as did all Nomads that Isarie would protect them from outsiders and render their weapons of war useless, but now here was evidence that something was different, their shield was cracking, the Goddess was weakening, and what would happen if she turned away from them? “We should go” he said turning to his mate, “there is only death here”.

“We cannot go until we are certain that all are dead” she replied.

Those that did not know the Nomads would have found those words strange for an Outlander would have no doubts about killing an intruder into their lands, but they also lived by the words written in the Book of Isarie.

 

Do not turn away from those in need.

There is no glory in killing a weak enemy.

 

Anais knew that Kela was right and if death had overlooked someone it was their duty to find them and do what they could to save their life and being a wise person the Prince knew that they might obtain information on why they had come to their world and if there would be others falling from the sky.

“Very well” Anais said, “continue the search but do it quickly when the mist clears there will be others eager to take what they want”.

 

Taking what they wanted was something that Sandjars understood very well, and being ex-slaves of the Norgonie had little effect on the instincts of the Scavengers, now as they moved further into the broken hull of the warship they began gathering up items that they found useful. They took small bits of metal, scraps of clothing, wire, colorful fragments of plasta-cast, anything that caught their eye or something that they could trade at a later date. Endo did not bother with such trifles and he was somewhat embarrassed by the childish attitude of his brethren and turning from them he moved down a corridor and into a section of the ship through a heavy door that had broken from its hinges, inside it was dark with only a narrow shaft of dim light coming from a crack overhead.

Remember they do not have your learning he told his mind, and for a moment he thought back on his youthful days and the time he had spent with Osh his father, how he had learned to read and write, to know his past and how to prepare for his future, how they had fought side by side in the war with the Talsonar, then something caught his eye in the shallow light, something that would change his fate and the fate of his people. There lying on the buckled floor was a weapon, but this was not an ax or spear, it was a weapon made by those who understood the efficiency of killing. Picking it up slowly he ran his clawed hands over the smooth metal surface then lifted it to his shoulder and looked down the straight barrel.

Chamber rifle he thought, he was half right, it was a rifle of sorts but this one did not fire crude metal pellets like the arms taken from the Pyramid people, this one could send out a beam of energy that would slice through flesh like a hot knife through Bark-bee wax. Looking about and seeing that his people were occupied in their own hunt for treasure Endo put the weapon to his shoulder and aiming at a torn bulkhead he slowly pulled the trigger.

There was nothing.

Disappointed he lowered the rifle and was about to toss it away when he saw a faint glow from a small readout screen on the weapons stock, he had little knowledge of off-world languages but could see that there was a graft of sorts and an indicator that flashed red so he slung the blaster over his shoulder and was about to leave the room when he noticed a fallen section of ceiling covering an overturned storage rack, grabbing the metallic paneling he lifted with all his might, straining to his limit he moved the rubble to one side and saw what it had been covering. There on the cluttered grating were several dozen more weapons like the one he carried and looking at the rifles a sudden thought came into his mind.

Power!

 

The Nomads also found weapons in the hands of dead soldiers but they did not gather them up, to them killing an enemy from a distance was a cowardly thing to do and brought no glory to one who did so, they preferred hand to hand combat testing their strength and skill and letting the Gods decide who would be victorious. So tossing the blasters aside they searched for signs of life as they were commanded to do but they found only the dead or dying and rather than see them suffer they drew one of the ivory-handled daggers at their belts and ended the anguish of passing from this life to the next.

It was the same with Anais and Kela, they looked as best they could and now and then one of the Drogs would bark loudly but no sign of the living were found.

Outlanders were people of earth and sky and being inside made them very uneasy, it was true that they slept in tents and sometimes took to caves for protection but there was always an easy way out, being inside an alien ship with heavy metal doors and no access to the open air was frightening so it was no easy thing for Anais and Kela to move about in the strange vessel.

“This is a place filled only with death” the Handmaiden said, “We will find no life here”.

“Perhaps you are right” Anais replied.

The two Nomads were about to leave when Jumo growled at something that caught her ear and taking a few steps forward she bore her large teeth and snapped her jaws, a few moments later Delgar did the same.

“They have found something” the Handmaiden said.

The direction that the two Drogs faced was down a darkened corridor, there was debris on the floor but not enough to hamper access, but it was rather narrow and what lay at the end was unknown, the two Nomads waited for any sign of life emanating from the darkness but no sound could be heard.

“There is nothing” the Blind-prince said, “it was a Rockrunner or a Burrow-baby, let us go”.

And once more they were about to leave when a faint metallic tapping caught their ears.

“Rockrunners do not have metal feet” Kela said, and with their two Drogs leading the way the Nomads slowly made their way down the hallway.

As they entered the fallen craft further Kela felt her world was closing in on her, the air seemed to grow heavy and no matter how hard she filled her lungs it seemed that she needed more, it was not the same with Anais for his mind was focused on what might lay ahead, in the past he had known things that were to happen but that power seemed to be hiding from him, but power or not he would stay with his mate and share whatever fate lay ahead.

There were several twists and turns as the pair moved forward and more than once the Drogs came upon a dead invader but the faint tapping called them forward, then they came to a massive door that was torn open just wide enough for a person to enter, but the gap would not let the thick bodies of Jumo and Delgar pass. There was a moment of doubt when Kela felt that the walls were about to close in about her and that she would spend the rest of her life in a darkened cage but then the faint tapping was heard again.

I was once a Handmaiden of the Goddess she thought; I took a vow to help all those in need.

And gathering up her courage she slipped between the door crack and entered the room beyond, Anais waited for a moment then he also forced his body through the narrow opening leaving their two four-legged guardians to roar in frustration.

The chamber on the other side was filled with instrumentation and chairs holding dead men, to any soldier of the Outer Rim it was easy to see that this was the command center of the warship, but to a Nomad it was just a room filled with useless machinery. Looking around Kela could see that there had been a fire for the walls were blackened and many of the bodies were heavily burned, at the center of the room there was a large metal chair and sitting in that chair was a man that the fire had not consumed. Moving closer Kela saw that one arm of the human was hanging limply but still clutching a hand weapon of some kind, looking closer she saw the arm move slightly causing the short barrel of the weapon to strike one of the support beams on the chair, as she came even closer she saw the eyes of the man open suddenly and looking at her he slowly raised the gun to his head, Kela could see that the man was summoning up all his remaining will for his mouth grimiest and blood began to ooze from his lips but half way through the motion the last of his strength left him and the weapon fell to the floor.

Anais heard the sound of metal on metal and moved to the side of his mate and reaching out he touched the injured man’s body, “is there life?” he asked.

“Yes, but he will need much care”.

Together the Nomads loosened the straps that held the man and each taking one of his arms they began to carry him to safety, the man opened his eyes once more and seeing that he was awake Kela spoke to him.

“Who are you, what is your name?”

The man’s voice was low and without emotion, “my name is Romar, I have lost”.

 

All people hear a voice in their heads, it calls to them and they must listen, that voice can speak to them of power and strength, or it can tell them of mercy and forgiveness, wisdom or folly, love or hate, the past and the present, good and evil, that voice has many names, the voice of the stars, words of the Gods, even Demons from the Pit, still others think that it is past lives calling to us over the ages and guiding us to a future filled with sunlight and joy, and there are some who believe that it is a Call of Duty and they must obey, but whatever that voice is good or evil it is up to the individual to decide if they will listen.

 

Chapter 13.

The Akuna.

The Akuna are much like the Nomads but their handsome bodies have adapted to a life at sea, they are tall but not as heavily muscled as the Outlanders, they are quick and very agile, but unlike the Nomads their lives are focused on pleasure rather than warfare and prayer, and from my observations they seem to have little concept of modesty for they take every opportunity to indulge their senses.

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

The Almadra spent the night on the high plateau looking down on the lush landscape that spread-out below, it was a quiet evening with only the sounds of night-criers and small creatures that made their homes in the emerald vegetation that surrounded them. They posted guards but everyone knew that there was little chance of being attacked for the Akuna were a peaceful tribe and seldom raised their hands to another, but for all their contentment their dreams were filled with strange visions.

Outlanders understood that the night was the time that the Goddess came to them in dreams and showed them images that were pleasing to them, night-terrors were something that only affected Half-souls and not the Chosen, never the less their dreams were not content, for they saw a face of deformity and malice, a face that filled them not only with terror but drew their souls from their bodies and held them in its cold hand. There was also a sensation that they must follow and obey the apparition no matter what the cost. The grotesque creature did not speak but in their minds they heard a malicious voice and that voice echoed of vast knowledge and understanding but it was not understanding of love or mercy like the gentle voice of Isarie, it only spoke of death and power and obedience.

But there was one who did not dream that dream for he was a Callaxion and his sleep was undisturbed by images or voices, still if he had risen in the night he would have seen Alune standing over him with a dagger in her hands and nothing in her eyes but hatred, but as she lifted her arm to strike a figure appeared behind her, a slim pale girl who spoke to her.

“No” Niana said softly, “he is not your enemy”.

And hearing her soothing words the Touchtender lowered her weapon and it dropped to the wooden floor of the Karrack.

“Sleep” the girl said.

And Alune returned to her soft mattress and laying her head down and closing her eyes she was soon asleep once more and no evil dreams plagued her mind.

Niana moved into the open air of the night and stood looking up at the stars, she lifted her arms to the moons overhead and spoke once more, “sleep now my children, sleep and be content”.

And those that were troubled found comfort and saw no more visions of evil.

 

The rising suns cast a warm glow on the land below the plateau turning the forest into a blanket of emerald green that flowed downward to a vast ocean of shimmering blue.

“Is there a better site in the Outer Rim?” Andra asked as she stood outside their tent and stretched her arms, she wore only a thin robe and not the heavy traveling armor that had weighted her down for so long.

“I have not seen this rim you speak of” Arn replied as he washed his strong body in a bucket of cold water.

“Well I have” Andra said, “Well a great deal of it anyway and I can say that I have never seen such a wonderful site”, she knew that that was a lie for she still remembered the green fields of her Homeworld and the little farm where she grew up, and for a moment the faces of her mother and brother flashed in her mind, I will remember you always.

The King patted his face dry with a coarse woven cloth and moved to a small three-legged table where a silver plate lay filled with freshly roasted Rimar and a tankard of Po, he took a chunk and put it into his mouth, chewed, swallowed and washed it all down with a large gulp of the sour drink.

Andra watched him filling his stomach and put her hand on her hips, “is that all you think about, eating and drinking, what about all that wonderful view?” and she pointed to the land below.

The King waited before speaking for he knew that these were a woman’s word-traps and he must consider his answer carefully or his bed would be empty that night, at last he came up with a proper reply and taking her into his arms he held her tightly, “seeing you has blinded me to all else”.

Andra may have grown up on a farm but she was also a soldier, not only skilled in the art of combat but also trained in the tangled web of romance so hearing such a lie from the man she loved did not send her into a rage, and beside it was much too nice a morning to start a fight, so reaching up she kissed him on the lips.

What neither of them spoke about was the strange dreams that had come to them in the night, the face that spoke to them and the feeling of terror that tried to inter their souls, to Andra it was just a bad dream but to the King the face reminded him of another one that he had seen in the deep chambers of the Forbidden City.

 

Kalgar-Run did not sleep that night for every time he closed his eyes he saw the face of the Holy Mother and an unwanted feeling rose up in his heart. He understood that it was correct to have feelings for the one he had taken an oath to protect but that emotion should have been one that did not evolve taking her into his arms. So rather than sleep he marched round and round the Holy Wagon holding his ax and reciting verses from the Book of Isarie, now with the morning light he saddled his Whiptail and shouted orders to his Thungodra.

“Let no warrior fall behind or they will feel my fist in their face!”

But as he tightened the saddle strap he once again remembered the face in his dreams and once again he began to pray for guidance.

Egmar did sleep but like the others of her tribe she saw the face and heard the voice and waking in the middle of the night she went to the small golden statue of the Goddess in the corner of her chamber and bending her knees she prayed. But even as she spoke the words they seemed distant and empty and calling to her was another voice, a voice that she knew very well for it was her son that spoke to her, but this was not the King or even Seeda nor Agart her lost offspring, this voice was Rahash her forgotten child, the one known as the Darkman, and later Atos the god of war. And this frightened her more than the hideous dream-demon for the head of Rahash sat on a pedestal near where she prayed, the metal skull was all that was left of her spawn, a grim reminder of what jealousy and hatred can do to your soul. She tried to pray once more but the presence of the head disturbed her and moving to the pedestal she placed a cloth over the metallic cranium.

“I am sorry my son” she said softly, and then turning away she left the chamber to seek solace elsewhere.

 

The path to the lower lands was open and clear and the Almadra moved towards the sea without difficulty, as always the King rode at the head of the long column with his mate at his side but rather than wearing the heavy armor that protected them if attacked the Nomads wore thin plating over Rimar skin and not the ringed chain mail that they would wear in the Outlands. They still carried their weapons for what was a warrior without their Tooth, and their heads were covered by the ornate horned helmets that added to their already impressive height.

The heavy traveling robes of the tribe were also discarded for the air was warm and there was no need for the thick woven garments, instead they covered their bodies in a thin costume of fine thread that had no head covering and was shorter in length, the females adorned themselves in their best jewelry, necklaces of Sagar cat teeth set with gold and silver, medallions of carved sea shells and all manner of finely wroth bracelets and rings. Those that had mates polished their ear rings so that all would know that they were taken and had someone to share their beds with, but the younger females of the tribe took great care in arranging their hair and applying sweet smelling ointments to their strong supple limbs. The Elders of the tribe frowned on such behavior for they had forgotten their youth and did not remember doing the very same thing.

The Thungodra did not change, they continued to dress in their heavy dark armor for they had taken a vow of chastity and considered the behavior of their brethren a sin and if they caught a glimpse of exposed flesh they turned their heads and offered up a prayer to the Goddess to make them strong against temptation. And there was none who prayed harder for Kalgar-Rune had continued to have thoughts that troubled his mind.

Stop this thinking he told his mind, but his mind did not listen and like all strong men he knew that it was not his fault but rather the power of something outside him, something dark and evil that somehow had entered his mind and found a home there, but just what that evil was he did not know?

 

Andra’s mind was clear and content, for all around her was splendor that filled her with longing and desire, “this place is fantastic” she smiled as she spoke and hung her ax from her saddle horn rather than holding it in her hand, “the Akuna must be a wonderful tribe to live in such a wonderful place”.

Arn had told her of the sea people and their ways as best he could but he did not go into great detail about their customs or way of life saying only that they were a strong and proud people who knew a great deal about the ocean and the creatures that dwelled there.

“The Akuna are our brothers and sisters but they do not follow the teaching of Isarie, they worship Dietas the water Goddess”.

“Yes, you told me about her, she brings the rain and renews the land”.

All of that was true but what the King left out was the fact that Dietas was also the Goddess of fertility and desire, and there were some who said that she danced naked in all the green places of the land and her lustful song could be heard on long summer nights.

Andra was no stranger to love or desire for she had traveled that road and had her heart broken now and then but that was long ago and now her love belonged only to the man riding beside her and nothing could break that bond, or so she thought.

Osh’s heart did not control his mind at that moment for he was more interested in the myriad of plant life that now surrounded him.

“Look! there is a wonderful example of a cortus-calulianus, I haven’t seen that species since I was commissioned to do an inventory of plants on Brogarus minor, and over there is a fine specimen of Hargan-tromas, that plant was thought extinct!”

Alune had seen her companion excited before for it seemed that every jagged rock or unusual creature held a fascination that she had long ago grown use to, but seeing him scribbling on one of his scrolls made her feel content.

“Your hand is better?” she asked as their Karrack moved slowly through the lush vegetation.

“Yes, much better” the old man said looking up from his writing.

“Then I will be leaving you on your own when we reach the sea” the Touchtender replied.

Hearing this caused the Callaxion to stop his lettering and put down his Rimar skin, “Leaving?” he asked.

“Of course” the older woman said, “I am a healer and you are healed, now I must go to another who needs my help”.

“But who will cook my meals and drive the wagon and who will I talk too when I need too….” His words trailed off when he realized that he would miss her very much if she went away, but like all men his pride was too great to let him speak the truth.

Alune had been mated several times and all her men suffered from the same affliction so she understood what his heart was trying to say but his mouth would not speak.

“Perhaps I could stay a while longer, after all you are weak in the mind and it is my duty to care for those who do not know wisdom”.

In the past those words would have caused Osh to rise up and speak his mind but looking at the warm eyes of the woman next to him he simply smiled.

“Yes” he said, “everyone has wisdom and no one has it all”.

And settling back the old man and the wise woman continued onward without speaking.

 

 

Emerging from the green lands the Almadra moved to a great wall that separated the jungle from the sea, in appearance it looked much like the massive structure call The Belt of Isarie that crossed the land between the mountains of Gorash and marked the entrance to the land of the Norgonie, but unlike that huge stone fortification this barrier was broken and the parapet that would have supported warriors was missing, the rock honed façade was pitted with age and thick twisted vines now clung like desperate ground snakes to its windblown surface. There was an entrance but the great door that had once hung there was gone, only rusted hinges marked its place.

Seeing the useless blockade Andra shook her head, “These Akuna don’t seem to care about their safety”.

Arn said nothing and lifted his arm, when he did there was a loud blast from the signal horns that echoed through the jungle sending flocks of Arrow-tails into the noonday sky. There was a pause as the tribe waited then the King lifted his arm once more and again the horns sounded, when all was silent a group of men and women began to emerge from the opening in the ruined partition. They were several dozen in number and each of them sat upon a strange looking creature called an Emor, in appearance they resembled a Rimar but their bodies did not bare the heavy plating that protected the Outland grass eater, instead they were smooth skinned and the hide was blue-green in coloring, the head was large as was the toothed mouth but instead off their nostrils being at the end of their noses they were positioned on the tops of their short-horned heads.

At the head of the procession was a tall man wearing only a strip of fine cloth around his trim waist and a headdress made of colorful feathers and tiny seashells, his features were handsome by any standard with deep blue eyes and flaxen hair, he was wide chested and there were natural markings on the skin in blue and green, but on either side of his long neck were what looked like gill slits and there was skin-webbing between his long fingers. In his hand he held a long weapon whose design was reminiscent of the Kagars of the Norgonie, but rather than one sharp point on the tip this shaft at three.

Handsome was the thought running through the Andra’s mind and in spite of herself she felt a stirring in her loins but it quickly passed when Arn began to speak.

“We are the Almadra, we bring strong wood and wish to trade with your people, may we enter?”

The golden haired leader of the Akuna moved his mount forward until he was just a few paces from the King; he waited for a moment as he looked into the Outlanders eyes.

“It has been a long time Arn of the Almadra, tell me does your stomach still empty when there is seawater under your feet?” the he glanced at the woman riding beside his old friend, she is not an Outlander but her features are pleasant to look at.

The King’s face did not move as he leaned forward in his saddle, “empty or full I can still outfight you Cian of the Akuna”.

And saying that the two warriors jumped down from their saddles and grasped each other in a hug that would have broken the bones of lesser men, they parted and the Nomad King lifted his arm and spoke in a loud voice so that all could hear, “The Akuna have given us permission to enter their land, let no Outlander bring disgrace to the tribe or they will answer to me!”

A great cheer rose up from the Nomads and a few moments later they followed their King into the land of the Sea People.

 

And a great land it was for it stretched from the stone barrier down to a vast inlet surrounded by rocky cliffs with an opening to the sea, the portal was more of a tunnel than anything else and there was an overhang of cliffs were large boulders were positioned so they might be dropped on any invaders from the sea. In the center was a lagoon of blue green water that broke upon the sand strewn shore in gentle waves, in that culvert were five great domes each supported on a huge pillar of steel and rock and at the midpoint of those massive vaults was yet another dome greater than all the others combined. Each of them were connected to the center by bridges and the largest one had a wide causeway that ran from it to the water’s edge, together they made a magnificent dwelling for the Akuna.

But the marvels of that land were not confined to the lagoon, the land around the bay was lush and green with smaller inlets fanning out like delicate fingers and the jagged cliffs around those still pools were laced with thundering waterfalls. Not all of the wonders of that place were carved by nature for there were magnificent stone temples filled with skillfully carved statues of naked men and women in the embraces of love, beyond those pools were caves cut into solid rock and here and there were the remnants of ancient machines that must have been used to make those portals in the hard stone.

As Andra rode towards the water she was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the landscape, wherever she looked her eyes were filled with wonders of nature, trees with slim tapering trunks that were topped with great palms filled with ripen fruit, foliage of twisted vines and patches of huge flowers that gave off a scent that called up images of soft flesh in warm hands. There were colorful flying creatures both great and small and they mixed with Tree-huggers and Vine-swingers who called to each other in long hoots and short barks, soon Andra’s head was spinning with thoughts that brought beads of sweat to her brow even though the day was not hot.

A paradise, she thought and she had to admit that if she was never allowed to leave it would not have been a great burden. “Who is this man you call Cian?” Andra asked trying to focus her mind on things other than the lustful feelings that now held her.

“Cian is their Kandrac, they have no King for judgments, for they have very few laws to break, Cian is a man they look up too because he is a great hunter and a favorite of their women”.

“He has no mate?” Andra asked before she realized just what she was saying.

“The Akuna do not take a mate for life, they do not follow the teaching of Isarie and therefore are not judged by the Goddess, but even if they are sinners we trade with them and they with us”.

Arn had told her of the ways of the Wave-riders, how they traded shells and food from the sea for things the Nomads had, Fish-sauce was a stable of the Outlanders and eaten at most meals, it did not rot in the heat or go stale in the cold and the Akuna were masters at preparing that delicious treat. But there were others pleasures that the people of the sea had to offer but the King did not go into detail about such things.

“I think I will enjoy our time here” Andra said as she felt the warm air on her skin, what she did not say was the images that flashed in her mind as she looked at the Kandrac of the Akuna.

 

Contentment was far from the mind of Kalgar-Rune for he knew that all about him were the children of sin.

They do not follow the Book of Isarie, he mind spoke, and if he were King they would be punished for their blasphemies against the Goddess, so he kept his eyes on the path ahead and did not smell the flowers or see the lascivious images surrounding him.

Egmar on the other hand sat on the highest level of the Holy Wagon and smiled at the wonders that Isarie had given to all, she wore a lightly woven robe and upon her head was a headband made of sea shells and silver, around her neck hung a finely crafted gold chain that had several pink shells of great size. Her Handmaidens were also similarly dressed in fine robes and jewelry and they held great fans of Doff-bird feathers that waved back and forth in the light wind.

The Holy Mother did not turn away from the lustful statues for she knew that love was a gift from Isarie and that true love was never a sin, but as those words echoed in her mind she remembered a time long ago when she was a young girl of the Akuna, she remembered the love that came to her and how she followed it no matter where it lead.

“Dennor”, my sister forgive me for what I did”, she said softly so that none of the Handmaidens could hear her words then she watched the faces of the cheering Akuna that passed by in hopes of seeing the sister she had wronged.

That night there would be feasting and dancing and songs to fill the air, stories of courage and bravery would be told and retold and many tankard of Well-aged Po drained, the night would be warm and the tribe of the Almadra would sit with the tribe of the Akuna and all would be contentment for how could they know that soon a dark force would invade their paradise, a force not of warriors and weapons but a power ancient and malignant that had been festering over the long ages and now was set free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14.

 

 

The Weak and the Strong.

 

 

 

Efan-gog was a giant warrior of the Outlands, he roamed the land killing Rimar with one blow of his mighty fist, his thirst was such that he could drain a lake in one draft and when he shouted the ground shook and all ran from him in fear. Then one day he came upon a young Nomad boy and seeing the weak child he spoke.

Why do you cross my path, do you not know who I am?”

Thinking quickly the boy looked about him as if searching for something, “did someone speak, is someone there?”

Angry the giant pounded his huge foot upon the ground, “foolish child it is I Efan-gog the strongest of all!”

And again the boy looked around still searching, “has there been a Landquack, did the ground shake?”

Angrier than before the Giant shouted in rage, “look at me, hear me, I am the most powerful of all”.

The boy shook his head, “I see the mountains and I hear the wind, what is stronger than that?”

And leaving the giant to think over his words the wise boy went his way unharmed.

 

Old Nomad story.

 

 

 

Ivar-Anoon was no stranger to pain for over his long combat career he had five ribs replaced with Itarian steel fabrications along with his lower jaw, his right leg femur, both hip joints and his left forearm, then there were the heart valves and kidneys and the back part of his skull, and of course the countless plasta-skin coverings and several dangerous head traumas. Through most of these procedures he had refused pain-dams for he believed that agony made a warrior stronger and he wished to be the strongest of all, now as he sat unmoving the med-tec injected an anti-infection pellet into his shoulder then stood back.

“Completed” the med-tec said.

Standing up on shaky legs the General turned to a subordinate at his side; the man was not use to dealing with an officer of such high rank and was visibly nervous.

“Report” the commander said.

Clearing his dry throat the man began to speak, “Heavy casualties, seventeen landers destroyed, five unaccounted for, communications intermittent, warrior strength is at twenty percent, all gravely wounded eliminated”.

It was a clear and precise report but Ivar made a grumbling sound in his throat that told the subordinate that he should have done more, but the General was in no mood to bandy words so he let it go and left the damaged medical chamber and began to look over his crashed command ship. As he moved down the corridor it was easy to see that he was lucky to be alive for many of the bulkheads were buckled and there was a definite smell of plasma-coolant in the air. There were no bodies for they had already been disposed of but not by burial or cremation, the Youngarie were practical people when it came to warfare and they understood that a dead body contained many useable items the least of which was consumable meat, and being that their food containers had been damaged in the crash they made use of what they had.

At the moment Ivar was not feeling hungry and he proceeded to his command bridge, when he entered an officer by the name of Pargras snapped to attention.

“Commander in chamber!” he called out and immediately the other officers and repair-tec’s saluted and waited for orders from their leader.

Ivar moved to his chair and sat down, he looked around at the damaged bridge then spoke, “We are wounded but not dead, we will heal and when ready we will attack, work hard or you will be punished”.

Hearing those words the soldiers about him returned to their many tasks with renewed vigor.

The General watched them for a moment then turned to Pargars, “Has there been any report from lander seven nine one?”

“No sir, the last signal from seven nine one was a weak communication saying they were far off course and without power”.

“Very well” Ivar said in a low voice, “if any new signals come in report to me immediately, dismissed”.

“Understood General” the officer said then saluting smartly he turned and left.

If any of the officers or technicians had dared to look at the Generals face they would have perceived nothing unusual, just the stern countenance they had seen so many times before, but beneath that unmoving exterior a battle was taking place for lander seven nine one was directed by Captain Romar, their commanders son and now that ship was lost and possibly destroyed.

Is it my fault or his? Ivar thought but there was no emotion in his mind, nothing to show if he cared for his son or was concerned at the possible loss of combat strength, if the fault was mine in not making sure that his training was sufficient then I have paid the price for my underestimation, but if the responsibility was his then he will be punished.

And that seemed to satisfy his mind for he began to punch the buttons on his console and when he got nothing in return he shouted for a repair-tec to make things right.

 

There were no repair-tec’s in the tribes of the Nomads for there were no advanced machines to mend, and now that they had searched for survivors and found only one the warriors of the Tribe of Many began their trek back to their campsite. The strange fog was slowly lifting and soon it would be gone but abnormal sounds could still be heard and no Outlander dare think of their campfires until they were sitting beside them.

Anais sat quietly as Kela followed their two Drogs as they barked ahead of them, she knew the way back to camp but she understood that it was a wise person who listens to the cries of animals for they live closer to the land.

“What shall be done with the Off-worlder” the Handmaiden asked, and she turned her head to look at the injured man lying in the back of their wagon.

“First we shall see if the Angel of Death has passed him by or later return for him” replied her mate.

“He is young and strong, he will live” Kela said this with confidence for she had treated many wounded in her short life and always knew if their souls would be summoned to the Afterlife and even though the wounded man was not one of the Chosen her teachings had taught her that life holds tight to the young.

Just then Jumo and Dalgar stopped suddenly and began to bark loudly bracing their clawed feet on the hard packed dirt; they stood there with their huge heads low to the ground and nostrils flaring. Immediately the long column of Nomads and Sandjars halted their forward movements and waited for a signal from their leader.

Anais sat quietly and reached out with his mind but he found no enemy only a strange feeling that something was different, after a few moments more he began to speak.

“There is no enemy in the mist, but there is danger”.

Knowing that her mate was never wrong about such things Kela called out to those behind her, “There is danger, be ready!”

Now they waited.

Endo did not have the power of the Blind-prince but he was a Sandjar and they were born with sharp senses and now his acute nose was telling him that the mist around them was hiding something from him so he pulled back his robe and tried as best he could to see what lay before him knowing that his vision was not meant for the bright light of day.

Muscles tensed, keen eyes watched carefully and strong hands held weapons at the ready, then as Kela was about to signal that the way was clear a huge shadow began to move in the mist, slowly it came forward, slower than any charging Rimar or angry Thundra beast of the Outlands. Then the two Drogs raced forward and leaping high into the air they attacked!

The warriors lifted their weapons and the Whiptails began to paw at the ground eager for battle, then a sudden wind blew through the mist revealing the attackers.

Ax-breakers.

But these were not a small family group of the thick shelled beasts, these numbered in the hundreds, the adults were as tall as a Whiptail and had armored heads with jaws that could snap a Rimars leg with one bite, and their long tails ended in a club like growth that would smash a Trofars heavy skull in an instant.

All Nomads knew that striking an Ax-breaker with a weapon was useless for their thick shells covered them from head to rear leaving only a small opening just behind their wide heads where a Tooth could bite. But never the less the two Drogs clamped their massive jaws on the oncoming creature and never let go.

“Circle” Anais called out knowing that Ax-breakers were mostly docile creatures and would go around rather than confront an obstacle in their path.

“Defensive circle!” Kela shouted to the warriors behind and they in turn called out to the Sandjars who’s Leader lifted his arm.

“Defend the wagons” Endo cried and to some it would have seemed a strange command for a Sandjar would look out for himself rather than risk his life for the contents of a Karrack, but Endo knew what one of the wagons carried and to him it was worth the peril.

But as the Tribe of Many formed themselves into a strong combat circle the lumbering Thundra beasts did not turn away, they continued forward in a straight line grunting and snorting with their jaws snapping the air. The leading Ax-breaker showed no sign of slowing even with the two Drogs attached to his spiked shell, it moved to the Trofar pulling Anais and Kela’s wagon and tried to bit its thick leg, luckily the heavy jaws missed the appendage and the Trofar jerked to one side pulling the Karrack with him.

“Hang on!” Kela screamed as the wagon began to tip but she pulled hard on the guide reins and the wooden carrier righted itself without damage.

The warriors would not stand idly by and see their leaders injured and although they knew that their weapons were meager in the face of the armored creatures of Isarie they shouted out their battle cries and fell upon the oncoming wall. Striking right and left the Nomads pounded the heavy armor of the Ax-breakers but they continued forward unharmed, now and then one of the Whiptails would slam his spiked tail against the thick plating of the turtle like beast but it did little damage and in return three of the two legged reptiles had their legs broken and fell to the ground leaving their riders to fight on foot. And fight they did for a Nomad never turned from a battle and fought with all the strength given to him by the Goddess, several of the frustrated Outlanders jumped on the backs of the hard shelled beasts and hacked at their protective armor chipping away little by little until there was a small opening where their sharp weapons could bite.

The Sandjars had no such weapons only spears and clubs and a few well-made knives for defense, but they followed the commands of their Coraw and did what they could to keep safe their wagons. Endo had learned from his days as a Scavenger that there was a weak spot just behind the head of an Ax-breaker so when one of the hulking beasts drew near his wagon he leaped high and landed on the wide head of the attacker and taking a spear he drove it with all his might into the thick neck and with a loud roar the creature fell to the ground dead.

A great dust cloud began to rise as the Nomads and Sandjars continued to combat the huge herd of Ax-breakers, Anais and Kela maneuvered their wagon in and out of harm’s way and Dalgar and Jumo let go of their prey and returned to their masters where they howled and barked at any creature who threatened their owners.

After some time and a hard fought battle the Ax-breakers went their way leaving their dead and wounded behind, the Outlanders also had casualties, two warriors were dead and many wounded, three Whiptails had to be destroyed for their wounds were too great to mend but the Nomads took the spikes on their tails so they could be made into dagger handles and their teeth would be worn as necklaces and their strength added to the strength of those who wore them. The dead warriors would be buried with honor and their journey nails driven deep into their hands to hold their weapons forever in the Afterlife and because they had died defending their tribe there would be a place of glory in the Golden Hall of Asarie.

 

There was no glory for Ivar-Anoon for he had failed in his mission to secure a landing base in tactically areas around the broken city of Del-Godar, his command ship and three other were within acceptable distance from the pyramid complex but the crafts were heavily damaged and lifting off again was impossible. He also understood that his attack force had been greatly weakened and there would be no reinforcements until the erratic electromagnetic pulses could be categorized and windows for safe landings could be verified. But the General was a man who would never admit defeat so as the twin suns began to set he stood outside his command ship and surveyed the fortifications that were being put into place, they were weak by his standards for detection-fields and barrior-rims would not work at full strength and there were no hover-ships for patrolling, and adding to his difficulties was the problem with the blast-rifles for they were intact but some outside force was keeping them from fully charging. But he could still rely on his soldiers for they were highly skilled in hand to hand combat and each carried an old style projectile weapon, primitive but still deadly at close range.

I am weak in power but strong in will he thought, and that was enough to satisfy him for the moment but soon he would need much more for he had studied the information about Gorn and its inhabitance and understood that soon his forces would be detected and then the battle would begin but that was not what he feared most. He had the utmost confidence in his warriors and in himself to overcome whatever was sent against him, no, what he was afraid of was the unseen defenders of this world, those microscopic creatures that invade the body without a wound and slowly sap the strength and leave death in their wake.

The Plague.

Once before he had encountered such a thing, it was on the Outer-Rim world known as Tartalus 7, he was only a third class captain then but he never forgot the screams of the dying and the look on their faces as their skin burst and their organs turned black and hard as stone. He was one of the lucky ones and escaped before they turned that planet into a smoldering ruin.

I will win he told his mind, I will win because I am the strongest.

And looking out from his vantage point he stood proud and tall and thought about the cheering that he would receive when he returned as a conquering hero.

 

There was no cheering around the campfires of the Tribe of Many for they had buried their dead and preformed all the sacred rituals set down in the Book of Isaire. As they had no Holy Mother, it was left up to Kela to say the words that would guide the slain to their reward in the Afterlife. This she was proud to do and now she sat on a small stool beside their burning Washa and cleaned the wounds of Jumo and Delgar and sang them a song that her mother had sung to her.

The days are warm and the winds are caring.

I will sing to you of kind hearts sharing.

Come sit beside me and hold my hand.

The nights are still and silent is the land.”

 

Anais could also hear the soft words of his mate and it brought great comfort to know that he would not have to spend his life alone, then as she finished her song his mind returned to the events of the day and that troubled him.

“Have you ever heard of Ax-breakers acting in such a way” he asked.

“No, it was a very strange thing for them to do” she replied as she finished with their four legged guardians and stood up, “but I am not an Elder of the Outlands and know very little about the habits of Thundra beasts” then she moved to their wagon and drew back the woven coverings and looked down on the man lying there, “he said his name was Romar and he had lost something, I wonder what that could be?”

“Come away from there” Anais said, “you have done all you can do, the rest is up to the Goddess”.

“Perhaps you are right” Kela replied lowering the covering, she had prepared a cup of Po laced with a goodly amount of Grana, the green crystal that fended off the Plague and brought strength to those who consumed it, “but in the thirty-nine Books of Wisdom it says that the strong should care for the weak”.

Kela was referring to the Rimar bound books that the Norgonie had given them when they left the forest of Caltarine, they were indeed many wise words written in them and over the long cold nights of the last cycle the Handmaiden had read to her mate and he had listen with a close ear.

“You are correct in your words” the Blind-prince said, “but it also says that even the weak can destroy the strong if the Gods will it”.

Kela opened a bulky clay pot sitting beside their wagon and pulled out two very large cuts of Rimar meat and tossed them to their hungry guardians who began to devourer them with growls and grunts.

“You are a wise man” the Handmaiden said, then she drew close to her mate and put her head on his shoulder, “do you love me?” she asked.

This made Anais laugh, “of course, but do not feed the Drogs so much”.

Kela smiled and pulled her mate to the ground and began kissing him like a first cycle maiden but Delgar and Jumo were too busy eating to notice.

 

“Come and eat” Rawma called out seeing her mate standing near their carry wagon, “I have prepared your favorite” and indeed she had for a plate sat near their fire overflowing with choice cuts of Rimar meat, warm Kasha bread and the intestines from a Borrow-baby, ordinarily a Sandjar would not cook their food for a fire would give away their location and other of their kind might come and take what they had, but there was no chance of that happening for no Scavenger would dare attack a tribe of Nomads.

Endo did not hear the words of his mate for he was too focused on the contents of the Karack for it was full of the Blast-rifles that he had found in the crashed warship, they cannot destroy but there is still real power here he thought, and power was something that Endo wanted very much, it was true that he was the Coraw of his people but a small group of Sandjars could hardly be called powerful. I was a slave once, and never again, and he thought back on his time in the Eul mines of the Norgonie, the pain and suffering at their hands and he vowed that it would never happen to the ones he loved.

“Come and eat!” Rawna called out once more.

And this time Endo heard her words and pulling the cover over the weapons of war he moved close to the fire and began to chew on the succulent meat that had been prepared for him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15.

 

 

Friend or Enemy.

 

 

 

Those that were once your friend can become your enemy, those that were your enemy can become your friend; they need only time to change their faces.

 

From the Book of Isarie.

 

 

The main gathering dome of the Akuna had entertained many Outlander tribes for the hospitality of the Sea-people was renowned across all the lands of Gorn, their food was the tastiest for it came fresh from the sea and consisted of Grail-fish, Shore-crawlers, Brita-weed, Uragans, and Procaros, the Akuna preferred to eat their food raw but the Nomads found this to be very unsatisfying so they Sea-people served them well cooked ocean dwellers, being served ones meal was never done by the Outlanders for if you brought another food and or drink and they excepted it you were mated. But this custom was not followed by the Wave-riders and it seemed to bring them much joy so the Nomads enjoyed a rare treat and filled their bellies, they also drank a very strong concoction called Dral made from the fruit and berries that were abundant in the land and there were many large Balbar trees with twisted limbs bursting with ripe produce. The Akuna were all well trained in music making be it string or wind instrument and there were no better dancers although the Handmaidens of Isarie would argue that their movements were far too sensual to be viewed by a true follower of the Goddess.

Unlike the feasting halls of the Nomads the Akuna did not sit on hard wooden benches around carved banquet tables, they preferred to recline on soft cushions stuffed with dried water-vine with platters made from giant shells filled to overflowing with succulent foods surrounding them, they bore no weapons when feasting so the Nomads reluctantly agreed that their ax’s would lay on racks at the entrance but they insisted on keeping the Twin-dragons, the long daggers that hung from their belts with them.

There are no words to describe the beauty of the great dome for its walls glistened in the flickering torch lite and the smooth stone they were made of had streaks of coral, emerald and crystal running through it like the webbing of cave spiders. The floor was a mosaic of all the colors of the eye, and the patterns were those of the air, sea and sky mixed with animals and humans of all shapes and sizes.

Scattered about the huge chamber were delicately carved statues of the Goddess Dietas for she was ruler of the sea and the one that the Akuna set above all other Gods, but unlike the Outlanders they had no book of wisdom to guide them and they did not pray like the Nomads, they simply laid offerings of flowers or food at the foot of their Goddess and only when it seemed right to them, they had no Holy Mother or any other speaker for the Gods. And once again this lack of faith cut deep into the conviction of the Elders but Nomads let others worship as they like as long as they did not trample on the beliefs they held dear.

 

 

 

 

Like the Nomads the Akuna had no slaves or servants, each man or woman cared for themselves but unlike the Outlanders the Sea-people did not mate for life, they chose their companions when the cycle turned warm but most selected another when the cold time began. And even if they did have a mate by their side for producing an offspring that did not hamper them from laying with another for pleasure, of course this was a sin to the Elders of the Nomads and they positioned their Karacks far from the domes in a safe place where they did not have to listen to the music and hear the laughter of immorality, but from time to time many of the old would come close and hearing the merriment they would remember with sad hearts when they were young and strong and danced away the night with no thoughts of sin or modesty.

 

“Will you join me in a toast Cian of the Akuna?” Arn said as he lifted his golden cup to his host, it was easy to see that the King had drunk deeply of the wine and was feeling very content.

“What shall we drink too?” replied the Kandrac of the Wave-riders, Cian had also dived deep into the Dral but after all it was a celebration and a perfect time to test ones fortitude against the fermented brain-clouder.

Andra had also finished several cups of the stout brew but she was always a strong drinker and always the last one standing when her old platoon celebrated a victory, “I say we drink to warm nights and a warm sea” she called out lifting her mug.

This made Cian smile, “you are a wise woman Andra of the Almadra, and your beauty matches your mind”, she does not have the markings of the sea but she is still beautiful.

If the King had heard those words from one of his warriors he would have struck the man for disrespecting their leaders mate but these were the Akuna and a certain amount of lea way was granted to them, still it did sting a bit in Arn’s heart.

“Very well” the King replied, “to warm nights and a warm sea” and lifting his cup he gulped down what was left of his Dral.

As Andra listened to the hypnotic music and watched the practiced dancers she gazed about her and wherever she looked she saw only loveliness, the high walls of the dome were rich in color and the ribs of giant sea creatures were used as support beams, in the center of the chamber was a star shaped pool filled with sea water and in that water were smoothly carved rocks that resembled strange sea monsters and each statue held a naked Akuna of both sexes and seeing them holding each other tightly made the Dral drenched blood in Andra’s veins flow hot and fast.

The blood in Kuno’s veins always burned with he was near a willing female and seeing so many opportunities around him his head spun like a Wind-whirl of the Outlands, add to that the large amount of Dral he had consumed and it was easy to see that the big Nomad was feeling very content.

 

Kalgar-Rune was not one of the revelers that night for the Holy Wagon was not placed near the domes of the Akuna, the great Karack was some distance away and surrounded by the Thungodra who plugged their ears with Bark-bee wax lease they hear the lilting melodies and forget their vows of chastity, but never the less Kalgar sat away from his warriors and this night his ears were open.

Blasphemy he thought, they are not true followers of the Goddess for they allow their bodies to control their souls, and lifting his heavy ax he brought it down hard on the soft ground, “the tribe has forgotten the ways of Isarie, something has made the Goddess turn away from us” he said softly. He continued to beat his Tooth on the ground and with each stroke his anger grew more and more because with each strike a vision of the Holy Mother flashed in his mind, “something evil has come to us”.

Then an echo spoke to him, “She is your enemy” it said.

For a moment the Thungodra leader thought someone had called out to him, “who speaks?” he asked, but there was not reply then a sudden thought replaced the face of Egmar, no, not something…someone! and then all became clear, “the pale girl, she is not one of us”, of course, how could he have been so foolish, the strange young girl who walks in the night and who’s eyes are cold as stone, she must be the one, the evil one! She must be the demon responsible for his sinful thoughts, destroy her and all will be as it was.

But the King had commanded that no harm should come to her and a warrior does not go against the words of the King, if that were done he would have to challenge him for leadership and if he lost he would die.

“Am I not a Thungodra, a warrior in the service of Isarie?” he asked his mind and standing up he began to pace back and forth like a caged Sagar-cat and gripped his ax with a force that would break a man’s neck, “and the words of the Goddess are surely above the words of the King are they not?”. He stopped and looked at the great dome and thought of those inside, “They are all sinners in the eyes of Isarie”. And he listened to the soft music in the warm night air, “they dance and sing when they should be praying”, and he smelled the sweet fragrance of food and flesh, “they feast when they should be fasting, they embrace when they should be on their knees praying for the Goddess to forgive them”. It was clear to him now, he must save his people, he must show them the way back to the Goddess, he must do this no matter what the price and lifting his ax he brought it down on a small water keg near him shattering it into fragments and those that will not listen will be destroyed.

 

Egmar also heard the rhythmic music but she did not turn away for she remembered when she was young and strong and one of the naked dancers in the great dome.

So long ago she thought as she sat quietly in her chamber inside the great wagon, the air carried the scent of love and it mixed with the sweet fragrance of the Deep-root tea that she had been sipping, at this time of night she would have been sleeping soundly in her bed but slumber had eluded her for her head was filled with memories.

She closed her eyes and let the night carry her to a place in her mind that lately had been calling to her. She was a young girl once more, alive and filled with the energy of youth; she ran along the sand and felt the sea wind in her tangled hair, there were no weighted thoughts of Gods or Demons, no life burden upon her strong sun browned shoulders, no responsibilities for the souls of others.

There was only freedom.

Freedom to swim in the water and feel the gentle caress of the soft sea, to laugh at nothing and sing when there was no music playing, to shout your anger and cry your pain, to question, to hold or let go, to be what you will be. But that was gone now, she was the Holy Mother of the Almadra and all looked to her for guidance in time of need. Suddenly the room seemed very small and the air heavy in the lungs, but it was the same room, the same air as before? And to make herself feel better she moved to the large carved wooden box at the foot of her bed, the Ancestor-chest that all Nomads kept in their wagons and filled with the objects of those who came before them, she ran her wrinkled hands over the ornate lid then lifting it she looked inside. There she found items that her mother and others of her family had placed there for safe keeping, there were rings and bracelets made of fine gold and silver, a highly prized necklace of Sagar cat teeth and a small wooden toy that had value only to the child who once held it. Then Egmar found what she was looking for, the small silver bell and chain that was given to her by her mate, Karn the great King of the Almadra and father of her children, she put the trinket away when she left the forests of the Norgonie but now she wished to hang it around her neck once more and taking it in her hands she placed it so it rested on her chest.

“Ting, ting” the tiny bell sounded and hearing its sweet music once more lifted the veil of sadness from her mind, but only for a moment.

She glanced at the metal head sitting on the pedestal in the corner of her chamber, the severed head of her forgotten son, looking at it brought a strange sensation to her mind, the cold steel lips did not move but she heard a faint whispering in her ear.

“You betrayed her” it spoke.

“Who speaks?” she asked but of course there was no one to reply. You betrayed her the words echoed in her mind over and over, “I was so young, I was in love” but the words cut deep into her heart and suddenly the chamber felt even smaller and the air turned to a foul vapor and standing up she drew on a simple Handmaidens robe and pulled up the cowl so that it covered her face, she moved to the metal head and looked once more into its vacant eyes.

“I am sorry for your pain but you are dead now and the dead must rest”, and taking the metallic head she wrapped it in a table covering and tucked it under her arm then checking to see if she was noticed she left her chamber and proceeded down the corridor that led to the open air. Twice she was seen but with the robe and head covering the servants of Isarie thought she was one of them and paid her no heed.

She moved quickly through the large gathering room where a delicately fashioned golden statue of the Goddess stood flickering in the light from a large brassier of Eul and a young Handmaiden who prayed day and night and made sure that the sacred fire was kept burning, then stopping only once to bow her head to a symbol of the Goddess she passed by the two Thungodra warriors who kept watch at the entrance and disappeared into the night.

 

Osh also heard the music but unlike the Nomads it had no effect on him save for the fact that it was very much like the ancient melodies of the Zagnadars, a people that did not have a written language but recorded their thoughts and history in musical notations.

“I wonder if the Akuna realize that any music scholar of the Outer Rim would pay dearly for their compositions”, Osh had very little musical abilities, just enough to access information that was recorded in lyrical form rather than the usual Mind-say that was the common transfer of data used by Callaxions.

“The Akuna care nothing for wealth” Alune replied, “they live as the live but when they die they will not sit in the Golden Hall beside the Goddess for they live by sin”.

“There are many Gods in the Outer Rim and what is a sin to one is a virtue to another” the old man said as he sat beside their Washa and once more scribbled on a Rimar scroll. “Take for example the rituals of the Corcorians, their many armed God demands that all young females take at least one…”

“There is only one true God and her name is Isarie, all others live in her shadow”, the old Touchtender said this with certainty and the look in her eyes as she washed the platters from the evening meal told her companion that she was in no mood for a religious debate. Seeing this the Callaxion put away his writing instruments and lifted his hands to warm them by the clay cooking stove.

Finishing her work Alune came near him and took his bandaged appendage in hers, “how does your hand feel?” she asked as she touched each nail less finger carefully.

“Much better” Osh replied.

The Touchtender slowly removed the thin bandage and seeing the results of her restorative medicines she smiled, “your hand is healed” she proclaimed and it was easy to see that she was proud of her work.

The old man wiggled his thin fingers and looked at each closely, “not a sign of a scar and there was never any pain”.

“Of course not” Alune said, “the juice of Rockworms takes all discomfort away and Grana will heal all, it is the gift of the Goddess”.

Indeed Grana was a miracle but Osh understood that the green salt was a complex gathering of minerals and organic matter rather than a divine offering of some all-powerful deity, “the Nomads trade Stone-bread to the Ergan-Mar for their supply of Grana, do the Akuna trade with us for theirs?”

“Certainly not” the Touchtender said as she took out a needle and thread from a small box at her feet and began mending a rip in her winter robe, “the Sea-people cannot consume our Grana, they are different from us, we are the Chosen, they are not”.

Osh knew that that was not all together true for there were many genetic similarities between the Akuna and the Outlanders and they surely must have come from the same basic species but the Callaxion was not about to engage in an evolutionary debate with his companion. But he also knew that every creature on Gorn needed Grana in some form or another, the Norgonie found it in Troca, the forest worms that they consumed with gusto at their meals, but Osh saw no such worms in his preliminary investigation of the landscape.

“If the Akuna do not trade for Grana where does it come from?” the old man asked.

“From the sea” Alune said as she stitched her garment, “from the sea”.

 

The night moons were bright as Egmar stood on a rocky cliff near the edge of the quite lagoon, a soft wind blew and the air was sweet with the scent of night bloomers and lands that never knew the foot of Outlanders. Looking down the Holy Mother saw a small cluster of Moonbuds, the delicate white flower whose thorns can bring pain and death.

“I will not trample on you” she said as if the blossoms could understand her words, “although you are small and your touch is deadly you are a gift of Isarie” so stepping lightly she moved further down the sandy path to a small lagoon surrounded by beautifully carved figurine rocks and a small open place just an arm’s length above the lapping water, it was a place that she knew well for she use to sit there on warm nights and listen to the waves and dream the dreams of all young girls who wish to feel the touch of a man.

She placed the cloth wrapped burden she carried beside her and sat down on a flat rock near the water’s edge.

“So long ago” she whispered, “so many cycles” and looking down into the water she saw a reflection, the face she saw was not the one she remembered, it was old and scarred from the days of her life and she wanted to turn away and run back to the comfort of her chamber for memories can be cruel and the water of the sea unforgiving, but looking back she saw her eyes, the eyes that had seen the horrors of war and the deaths of her children and they had not changed, they were still mirrors of hope.

And suddenly her mind returned to long ago when she was just a girl in love. She closed her eyes and saw the face of her lover and for her the dream became real.

“Why do you resist my love?” Karn spoke like any other young warrior of the Outlands whose heart was filled with longing.

“I cannot love you” Egmar replied sadly, “you are chosen by another”.

“Someday I will be King of the Almadra and I will need a strong mate at my side” they young prince said.

“Dennor is strong and she will make a strong queen”.

“Dennor is strong of body but her heart is weak”.

Egmar knew that Karn’s words where true for she grew up with her older sister and accepted the fact that her heart was torn between love and hate, but looking into the eyes of the young prince she was helpless to speak the truth about her feelings.

“Karn my love, I…I…”

Then a voice spoke and the dream was ended.

“My sister?” the voice spoke softly.

Rising to her feet the Holy Mother turned and before her was the sister she left behind, she wore a simple robe and her hair was elaborately woven with sea shells and silver wire as was her style from long ago.

“Dennor?” Egmar’s voice was loving as it should be but behind that love was a shadow of something more for looking at her sister she saw a face that bore very little markings of the past cycles, the eyes were bright and the body still strong and unlike her Dennor still bore all the feature of a true Akuna, the skin colorings and the gill slits at the neck.

“Yes it is I” the woman said, “It is your sister from long ago”.

Coming closer Egmar held out her arms and wrapped them around the woman from her past, they stood there in the moonlight and time seemed to stand still, then they parted.

The Holy Mothers eyes were wet with tears of joy but as Egmar looked into the eyes of her sister she saw they were not, “are you not glad to see me sister?” she asked.

Slowly a smile pulled at the lips of Dennor, “of course sister, all is forgiven, you could not help taking Karn away from me, it was the will of your Goddess Isarie as you must surly know”.

“Yes, yes the will of the Goddess” but as she said those words Egmar felt something tug at her heart, she speaks of forgiveness but does she speak the truth?

The Holy Mother watched her sister walk to the edge of the water and look out over the sea, “after you left us I traveled to the south and there I made a home for myself but always I heard the stories of the great Almadra and their wanderings in the Outlands, and so when I heard that the tribe was returning to the land of the Sea-people with a new Holy Mother whose name was Egmar I came knowing that you would be here”.

Egmar listened to the words of her sister and smiled, “over the cycles I have thought of you many times and prayed that you would be safe, I am content now knowing that my prayers were answered”.

Looking back at her sister Dennor put a hand to her mouth as if thinking, “but is it not strange that your Goddess answered your prayers while mine went unheeded?” for a moment there was a hard look in the eyes of the woman then it vanished like the morning mist, “but now is not the time to question which is more powerful, Isarie or Dietas”.

Egmar did not speak for the words from her sister were not like the ones she had spoken when they were children, back then Dennor was wild and free like her and they thought very little of the Gods and their ways. The Holy Mother watched as her sister picked up the bundle of cloth lying on the sandy ground.

“What have you brought to the sea, an offering to the water Goddess?” Dennor asked.

Egmar quickly took the wrapping from her hand, “Yes” she said nervously, “it is a gift that I was going to toss to the waves”.

Before she could stop her Dennor grabbed the bundle from her hands, “here let me help you” and she flung the hidden head into the water. Egmar stood and watched the last fragment of her lost son vanish beneath the surface.

Good bye my son she thought, and then turned to her sister who smiled at her, “Thank you sister, now will you come with me and share a cup of Deep-root tea in my chamber?”

“No” Dennor said, “the night is growing late and I must sleep but I will see you again soon”, and reaching over she kissed her sister on the forehead then began walking away. But she had taken only a few steps when she turned and spoke once more, “it is hard to lose a son, is it not?” then smiling she vanished into the night.

Egmar stood there for a time looking out to sea then she slowly walked back to the Holy Wagon, passed the guards and the statue of the Goddess and into her chamber, she removed her robe and sat down on her bed closed her eyes and uttered a short prayer to Isarie.

“Forgive me oh Goddess, forgive my weakness and grant peace to my forgotten son”.

But when she opened them again she saw the metallic head of her lost child sitting on its pedestal once more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16.

 

 

Life and Death.

 

 

Beating drums and warriors cry.

Smoke and fire in morning sky.

Steel on steel and warriors Tooth.

Life and Death are the only truths.

 

Old Nomad saying.

 

 

The once great city of Del-Godar now cast a shadow over the barren landscape reminding all that power is a fleeting thing and that those who climb must someday fall, for hundreds of cycles it had stood and watched as warriors and wayfarers came and went bringing wealth and power. The great halls echoed with the sound of merriment and laughter and all gave praise to the Gods for their gifts of peace and plenty. Then the Darkness arose and the city became a place of death and despair, those that found shelter inside the great stones watched as it became their prison. Instead of laughter there was weeping, brutality replaced kindness and curses to the sky filled the air rather than song. People left the city and wandered into the Outlands for they preferred a clean death instead of the horrors that waited for them inside their once proud home, those that were left made sacrifices of blood and flesh and tossed their own onto flaming pyre’s in a blind hope that the Gods would rid them of the thing from the darkness. What that abomination was none could say for those that saw it died screaming, soon there were none left except for a few castaways from other worlds, strong, hardened creatures that could live by terror and sustain themselves by eating the flesh of their kind. And so the name of Del-Godar became a cursed word, a place that no follower of the Gods would come near, a place that was empty and dark until fate stepped in and sent the ruined city warriors from the stars, strong in armaments but weak in wisdom.

 

“Where is my communication?” Ivar-Anoon was in no mood for excuses as he sat at his make-shift command table that had been set up outside, he was surrounded by the surviving officers of his crashed lander ship, his piercing eyes scanned the faces of his men looking for any sign of defiance, there were none for they all knew that their lives depended on their Commanders whims. “Without communications we are vulnerable and I will not be weak!”

There was an uneasy silence around the table then one of the officers finally summoned up the courage to speak, “we are trying to contact the main fleet right now but so far we have only been able to establish intermittent connections”.

Intermittent connections the words hung in Ivar’s mind like lead and he would have had that officer punished and supplanted but there were no others to take his place so he had to suppress his anger, “work day and night, I want full communications” then he turned to a parchment surface map on the table, “we are here” pointing to a marking in red “but our forces are scattered, I want recons sent out to find them and consolidate our forces”.

Once more there was silence before another officer found his bravery, “we cannot move from our base without guiders if we do we won’t be able to find our way back”.

The officer was correct in bringing this matter to his commander’s attention for it was well known that the planet emitted some sort of mind-scramble on those that tried to cross it surface and they never returned. It would not have been a problem if their electronic guiders were functioning but they were rendered useless when the ship and its contents were struck by the powerful EMP.

Ivar gave him a cold glance, “send them out in stages, each one within eye-link to the other, find our troopers and build our strength”.

It was a simple enough plan but to the officers it seemed that the General was risking his limited soldiers in an effort to find more that may or may not exist, a plan that would have been un-thinkable in any other situation and many said that it was a weakness in him for his lost son, but they would have been wrong, for finding his son was not first on his list of obstacles to overcome.

Plague, that was the thought that filled his mind, the sickness and death that would come for them soon if they could not find the green salt that held back the virus, Ivar had hoped that once on the planet his medical team would find a substitute or perhaps a cure but the crash had ended that hope, now there was only one chance, they must find the rare mineral.

“I want our best men to go into the stone city and recon for plague-salt, search every level, every chamber but find it”.

All eyes focused on a large man with a bald head, his name was Major Grevas, he was well known among the troopers for he was the only survivor of the battle of Caras-Nor, ten thousand died in a single day in that conflict but the Major had lived, some said it was his willingness to kill without mercy while others said it was his ability to withstand pain, whatever the reason he was a perfect candidate for the mission and he knew it so rising from his chair he snapped to attention.

“I volunteer for the mission sir!” he said smartly.

This was not a shock to the General for Grevas was one of his best men and a man who got the job done, “pick you men and report to me when ready.”

Ivar stood up indicating that the meeting was over and watched without speaking until everyone had left then he turned to gaze at the huge stone city that had been used as a landing site marker, to him it seemed of little concern for how could an ancient fortification be a threat to him? It had no armaments or warriors, even the powerful beacon that once adorned its pinnacle had long ago smashed to the ground.

Even stone is weak, the thought amused him for he knew that rock can be crushed, but what he did not know was the terror that still lived within those forgotten stones.

 

 

The Tribe of Many had spent a restless night for there were strange winds that blew and carried a scent of decay rather than the sweet smell of growing Kasha wheat and Moonbuds The wheat would bring life for it was the main staple of the Nomads and used for making bread but the Gods in their wisdom also made Moonbuds, the flower that kills, and all knew the old saying.

 

“Flower of night, petals of white.

Jewel of beauty under the moon lit sky.

Touch not the stem or you shall die.”

 

Wise words to any ear, and a well-chosen name for the mate of their former King. Now they were a tribe of their own and they followed a blind man and a cast out Handmaiden.

Anais sat near their Washa warming himself and quietly waited for his morning meal, the wind still blew but it was gentle now and the foul odor had diminished, “Am I to be fed or shall I die of starvation?” his words were meant to be angry but Kela knew that he was a thorny riser in the morning.

“You have too much fat on your ribs to starve” the Handmaiden replied as she drew out to chucks of meat and tossed them to their hungry Drogs.

“You feed them too much” Anais called out shaking his head, “Drogs are hunters and need to find their own food”, she is a true follower of the Goddess, she cares for all living things.

Kela shook her head and patted their guardians on their massive skulls, “Do not listen to him” she said smiling, “You will never go hungry as long as I am here” and bending down she gave them each a kiss on the head, something that would have brought screams from the Elders of the tribe. Wiping her hands she picked up a bowl from a small table by their wagon and ladled it full of warm Hagar soup then handed it to her mate, “eat it slowly or it might break on that hard tongue of yours”. A man is like a Trofar, you must be firm with them when needed.

Anais took the bowl and put a warm spoonful into his mouth then smiled, “My tongue is content for you are the best….” His words trailed off and he lowered his bowl, “Our guest is awake”.

Kela quickly moved to their wagon and lifting the flap she saw dark eyes looking at her, “Can you speak?” she asked, for a moment the man said nothing, “Can you understand my words?”

The man blinked twice then spoke, “Yes” he said softly.

“You are injured but you will survive”, Kela put out her hand to touch his face but the man drew back as if from fire and seeing his reaction the Handmaiden pulled her hand away, “Are you hungry Romar?”

“How do you know my name?” the man asked.

“You spoke and said you lost something, what have you lost?”

The Captain shook his head, “Everything”.

 

The winds did not hinder the rest of the Sandjars for they were used to harsh environments and foul smells but there was one among them who did not rest well for his mind was filled with dreams of power. Endo did not sleep beside his mate but rather made his bed next to the supply wagon that carried the weapons of the Off-Worlders, and all through the long night he thought he heard footsteps coming to take the spoils away from him and if he did close his eyes his mind filled with strange images of fire and death and a voice calling to him, what the voice said or why he did not know? Now he stood looking into the Karrack, staring at the small blinking lights to absorb in thought, to hear the approaching feet.

“Are you well?” a voice asked.

Endo spun around holding a sharpened length of steel in his hands and would have attacked if it had been any face other than his mate. Seeing that it was Rawna he lowered the weapon.

“Yes I am well” he said nodding his large head.

The young Sandjar female looked frighten for she had never seen such a look in the eyes of her mate but that look quickly vanished and she came close and put her arms around him, “I was cold last night and you were not there to warm me”.

“Forgive me” her mate replied, “my mind was far away but it has returned now” and he lifted her up and held her close, it was not something that a Sandjar would do for they treated their woman harshly but Endo was raised by Nomads and followed their traditions rather than his own kind, putting her down he pointed to the wagons contents, “see what I have found” he said smiling.

Rawna tilted her head to look into the wagon hoping to find fresh Rimar meat or a basket of ripe Balbar fruit but all she saw where metal shafts of no use, “are we to trade these for something of value?” she asked.

Rawna had been born and raised in the dark Eul mines of the Norgonie and knew nothing of advanced weaponry or blaster rifles, but she did know pain and suffering far greater than most and although many scholars of the Outer Rim would have argued that Sandjars were too primitive a species to have real feelings her heart was kind and loving. Endo was also a Sandjar but he had fought in Outland wars and understood what power meant and what happens to those that did not possess it.

“These are not for trading” he said pulling the covering back over the wagon, “we were once slaves and I took a vow that would never happen again”, I will keep that vow or die.

“We cannot eat them and we will not trade them, they are useless” she replied.

Seeing that a long explanation of weapons and war would have little success Endo decided to end the conversation, “you must trust me, do you trust me?”

Rawna smiled and held him close once more, “yes, I trust you, you are my Coraw”, you are more than my leader you are my world.

And making sure that the wagon was secured Endo and Rawna sat down and enjoyed a morning meal of fresh ground worms and warm Burrow baby.

 

Jumo and Delgar were very uneasy as they sat near their owners and carefully watched the man who was neither Nomad or Sandjar, and if it wasn’t for the presence of their masters they would have fallen on the intruder and torn him to pieces, but they were well trained and the man was left untouched but still they growled and bore their fangs in displeasure.

 

Anais could not see the man but he reached out with his mind and tried to find understanding, “you say your name is Romar, where do you come from?”

But the man only sat leaning against a water cast near the Washa and said nothing, it was easy to see that he was weak and in need of care but he held his head high. His leg and arm were bandaged and there was dried blood from small wounds on his face, his eyes were dark and they kept a close watch on the two huge beasts that crouched ready to spring at any time.

Kela poured some warm soup into a bowl and held it out to the man she had tended, “Eat” she said, but the man did not reply so she spoke again, “It is Hagar soup with Ulon spice and a portion of Grana, it will make you strong”, but again the man said nothing so the Handmaiden put the bowl near him so that the fragrance could reach his nose, then she turned to her mate, “Perhaps he has gone deaf or maybe weak in mind and can no longer speak”.

“Perhaps so” replied the Blind-prince, “Half-Souls are not the chosen and therefore weak”.

This statement seemed to trigger something in the man, “I’m not weak!” he said.

Hearing words from the man brought a smile to Kela, “I was mistaken he can speak, well know that you have found your tongue can you tell us who you are?”

“I am Captain Romar-Anoon, coded number seven nine one of the combined forces of the Mac-Mar Alliance and that is all I’m required to tell you”.

Neither Kela or Anais had heard of the Mac-Mar Alliance and found it strange that a man would have numbers after his name rather than his tribe but they understood that he had recently been injured and that might have accounted for his strange words.

“You are an Off-Worlder” Kela said, “All who were with you are dead, but you may travel with us if you wish”.

Romar tilted his head “you aren’t going to kill me?”

“Of course not” the Handmaiden smiled, “on our world we have a law saying that what you bring from the Outlands is yours, we found you and brought you here, you now belong to us and we must care for you, it is our way”.

The Captain had never heard such nonsense in his entire life but he knew he was too weak to escape, at least for now, “very well” he said, “I will be your prisoner”.

Once again the Nomads looked at each other confused, “we do not take prisoners, and you are free to leave when you like” Anais said.

This enemy is strange Romar thought, they show weakness, that I can use.

Kela drew near the man and picked up the bowl of soup, “you will need your strength to leave us and this will make you strong” and she held out the fragrant concoction to their uneasy guest.

At first the man turned his head away but after a moment or two the smell of hot soup overcame all objections and taking it he began to eat, as she watched the man put spoonful’s after spoonful’s into his mouth the Handmaiden remembered a saying that her mother often said, “first you win a man stomach then you win his heart” and seeing how the man consumed her food she knew that her mother was a very wise woman indeed.

 

The twin suns were going down as General Ivar stood beside a large fragment of fallen rock and watched as a dozen of his best men enter the stone city, they had supplies and weapons of sorts for the Blasters they would have carried were un-useable and had been replaced by simple projectile arms, lethal at close range bur far from the stopping power of a fully charged force beam. Adding to their strength were explosive hand detonators using chemical rather than electronic integrators, voice-tec and scanners were useless but Ivar knew that Grevas would not return without the needed materials.

The Commander placed his hand on the hard stone next to him, it was warm to the touch but soon it would be night and the stone would not keep its heat, Ivar could see strange markings on the surface and although he had obtained a goodly amount of knowledge in Outer-Rim languages this inscription was unknown to him and that was a sad thing for if he had understood what the lettering said he might have thought twice about sending men into the crumbled city for they read.

 

Del-Godar a place of death.

Travel on and take no rest.

Demons live within its walls.

Evil stalks its darken halls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 17.

 

 

The Voice of the Sea.

 

 

Dietas the water Goddess was given dominion over the oceans by Isarie and told to care for them and all that dwelled beneath the surface, she did so for ten thousand cycles but she grew lonely and to ease her pain she sat beside the water and let the warm touch of the waves caress her supple body and from the depths a merman rose up and spoke to her.

You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen” he said.

And seeing that he was very fair of face the Goddess smiled, “I am alone, will you stay with me?” she asked.

And so they held each other in their arms and love filled their hearts and from their rapture the Akuna were born, but turning from her duty to care for the water a great wind rose up and towering waves crashed on the rocks and seeing that Dietas had forsaken her wishes Isarie turned the man into a great fish whose home was deep beneath the surface.

And so Dietas never saw him again and she wept and her tears became the tides and on still nights you can hear her calling to her lover who swims in her blue waters for she is the voice of the sea.

 

Old Akuna legend.

 

 

Andra’s mind was deep in dreaming and that vision was one that she had many times before, she was in the home where she grew up and surrounded by all the things that a young girl cherished most, a warm bed, a loving mother and caring brother and a life waiting to be lived, the smell of fresh baked bread filled the air as she stood looking out her window at the rolling green hills and the endless blue sky.

Is there a better life than this? she thought, then she heard her mother calling to her and suddenly she was in their kitchen and watching her mother fill her plate with favorite food then place it on the worn wooden table.

“Eat it all” her mother said, “You will need it in battle”.

Those words were strange to hear for her life was one of an innocent farm girl and her world was at peace with itself, it was only later that war entered her lifecycle and she was trained to fight, how could her mother know of her future life?

“Mother” she said, “Do you know what is to come?”

Her mother smiled, “I know many things, I know when the sun will rise and when the winter will come, I know the sound of the meadow-birds and I know who you really are”.

“But I am me mother, who else can I be?

Her mother smiled, “silly girl, you can be many things, but there is only one real you”.

Andra sat down and began eating her morning meal, it tasted like all the other morning meals she had eaten, but then it occurred to her that every morning she ate the very same food, cooked field wheat and honey cakes, but it was her favorite fare when the sun rose in the sky so why wouldn’t she like it? The girl ate a few bites then remembered what her mother had said.

“Mother, you said there was only one real me, what did you mean by that?”

Her mother began cleaning the brass cooking pots as she spoke, “You have many dreams in you, all of them are real or unreal as you see fit”.

This made Andra laugh, “Dreams are just dreams they can’t be real”.

Her mother turned and looked into her eyes, That is where you are wrong, dreams are as real as you make them” she laughed then her eyes narrowed and a cold look filled them, “And you will follow orders!”

The face began to change, softly at first, just a bit around the eyes, a flicker of modification that would not have been noticed by anyone other than a loving daughter.

“Your eyes mother” the girl said, “they changed”.

“We all change” Niana replied, “some more than others”.

The morning light in the small kitchen began to dim, the table melted away like honey wax, the smell of warm food gave way to an antiseptic stench and the oil of machinery and wire. The woman who was her mother buckled and flattened into a black mist, then from that mist another image came forward, a tall man in a starched military uniform, short cropped hair and cool eyes, it was her old drill instructor, Sargent Reynolds, “The enemy is all around” he said with a stern face, “do your duty”.

“Yes sir” she heard herself say then she watched as the flesh melted away revealing a metal skull with hollow eyes and a voice that was cold and unfeeling.

“They are your enemy” it said.

Andra woke with a start and looked around the darkened tent, how she got there she didn’t know but beside her lay Arn, her mate and knowing he was there ended her fear and she laid her head beside his but she did not sleep for her dream words kept calling to her.

“Do your duty” it said, “do your duty”.

 

The merriment of the great dome gave way to the light of day and those that had drunk deep of Po and Dral were unsteady on their feet and their head spun like a Dot-fly in a wind storm.

The morning sky was clear and the day moons looked down on their mother and whispered of the stars and dreams that were meant only for the Gods.

Osh’s head was reeling but not from Po or Dral, his mind was filled with excitement at the prospect of recording the culture of the Akuna and learning all he could about their beliefs and values, his only regret was that he was unable to transfer his wisdom directly into a memory bank of a Trollacian computer using the Mind-say technique application. But there were no such computers on the planet and if there were they would not function because of the electromagnetic dampening waves, until then he would have to store everything in his magnificent brain and on his hundreds of Rimar hide scrolls.

“I am almost out of ink” the old man said as he lifted the silver storage cup and noticed its meager contents, “how will I continue with my findings without writing?”

“The sand will give you what you need” Alune replied as she handed her companion a bowl of hot morning soup.

“The sand?” Osh was very skeptical of her words, “how is that possible?” she is a good cook and her knowledge of healing is superb but she knows very little of recording.

“First eat your soup then I will show you”.

Osh shook his large head, “The sand cannot give ink, you are mistaken”.

Alune sat down beside her companion and began eating a small loaf of freshly baked Kasha bread, “you think you are a wise man because you have traveled the stars and you see me as a silly old woman, yet if it was not for me you would have died, Isarie has given me knowledge to keep you alive, for what purpose I do not know but she is all knowing and the future will speak to me”.

Osh spooned some warm soup into his mouth and swallowed, “it is true that you did save my life and for that I am grateful”, how can I tell her that her Goddess is a genetically altered virus that has mutated into a conscious lifeform?

The Touchtender’s face smiled at hearing kind words, “you are wise I will grant you that but even the wisest of men need to listen now and then”.

“Then tell me of the Akuna” Osh said between spoonful’s of delicious broth.

Alune put a small amount of fish sauce on her bread, “Very well, the Akuna are our kin but not followers of the Goddess, they sin whenever and wherever they can, they are people of the sea and must return there or die for the water gives them life”.

“I see” the old man said, “do they also hibernate in caves when the Burning time comes?”

“Yes, but their caves are by the sea and water is their bed, Dietas the Goddess of the sea gives them renewal and supplies them with what they need”.

Clearly they are an aquatic species and must remain by the sea to survive, Osh thought as he swallowed more of Alune’s freshly cooked nutriments, “do they reproduce using the female womb principle or a more efficient variation such as gyno-separation and encasement?” for a moment the Callaxion had forgotten who he was talking to and looking up from his serving bowl he saw a stern look on his companions face, “I am sorry if I have said too much, please forgive me”.

The old woman put the last of her bread down and cleaned her fingers with a cloth, “not at all, you wish to know more about the Akuna and I agreed to speak of them”, there was a pause as the old woman made sure her hands where well cleaned then she placed them in her lap and held her head high, “the Akuna are creatures of the flesh and when one sins they all do, it is called Trilling”.

“Trilling?” the old man asked, “what does that mean?”

Alune looked a bit flushed but did not turn away, she cleared her throat and spoke, “Thrilling is their word for, well, fulfillment during mating, the people of the sea have a power that can capture the body and the mind so you must be careful least you lose yourself”. But from the look on Osh’s face the Touchtender knew that he did not understand her words, “I’m sure there is a word for it with your people”. But again the old man just looked at her, then the answer sprung into her mind like a leaping Rockrunner, “You have not mated have you?”

Osh put down his bowl at hearing her invasive question, “Well you see, on my world we do not, well that is to say that we don’t, as you have put it, well—-mate”.

Alune face went through many changes in a matter of seconds, surprise, questioning, doubt and at last sympathy for she was raised as a Cup-sharer and her heart felt for all living things, “If you do not mate how do you reproduce?”

This question was easier for Osh to answer for his brain was genetically enhanced and once remembered it never forgot, “We regenerate by taking a genetically selected sample of material, and inclosing it in a nutritional surroundings where it is nurtured until hatching and then the fetus is transferred to an incubation facility where it undergo’s more scrutiny until it is…” the old man stopped speaking for he could see his words were not gaining any favor with his companion, “well there is more to tell but I think I have said enough”.

For a time the Touchtender did not speak but from the look in her eyes you could see that many thoughts were running through her head, he is a wise man that is certain but he has not been loved by a woman and that is sad, at last the silence was broken by the female, “Your mind is a great one and filled with wisdom but there are things that are beyond wisdom that you will need to learn”.

“Then teach me” Osh replied.

The Touchtender reached inside her simple robe at the neck and took out a small silver container set with small holes, “this is a Togar a talisman that all Nomads must wear who do not wish to be tainted by the sins of the Akuna” the old woman opened the delicately fashioned locket, “inside are herbs and spices that counteract the power of the Sea People”.

“And what power is that?” asked the Callaxion.

“The Akuna can emit a fragrance from their bodies that clouds the mind and warms the body so that you are helpless and think only of the flesh”.

Osh shook his large head, “I have been in contact with the Akuna and felt no such feelings”.

Alune hung her head and did not look into the eyes of her companion, “That is because the females do not think you are a suitable male for coupling”.

Despite his training to put aside personal feelings and concentrate on the task before him the Callaxion’s face showed definite signs of disappointment and seeing this the Touchtender added to her statement, “ They are wrong, I think you are a most suitable male in all respects”, he is a good man, wise and kind.

Osh understood all too well that he was not the young man he once was and that soon the cycles would catch up to him but until that time he would conduct himself as he always had, “Thank you for your kind words but it is no secret that my genetic qualities are only useful if you require a recorder or programmer and nothing more”.

Alune was a Cup-sharer, a Healer, one who put others above herself that is why Horcon the God of destiny chose her to be a Touchtender and seeing a person in need compelled her into action so she moved to where her companion stood and kissed him gently on the cheek.

“Any woman of the Outlands would be proud to have you share her tent”.

Nothing more was said and as Osh gathered his carry pack and Alune dressed herself in a fine robe and a necklace of shells that her second mate had given her, and when all was ready they set off for the water.

As they walked Osh continued to feel the lips of his companion on his cheek and although he was too proud to say so he wished for more.

 

When Osh and Alune were gone and all was quite around the Karrack a strange figure emerged from the wagon, she was covered from head to toe in a heavy winter robe and no part of her skin showed, there was no one around to see her for the wagon of the Callaxion and the Touchtender were given a wide berth by the Nomads for they knew that the creature called Niana dwelled there. The girl climbed slowly out of the back and placed her feet upon the ground and after a few moments she began walking towards the sea.

 

Egmar did not sleep that night for there were questions that she could not answer; she simply sat on the edge of her sleeping mattress and stared at the silent metallic head across the chamber.

How can it be so? She thought it fell into the sea, perhaps it was a dream? But looking down at her feet she saw that her walking shoes were caked with sand and if that were so she must have walked along the shore. Yet what was left of the head of her son was looking back at her and if it had fallen into the water how could it return? And what of her sister, did she not speak with her; did they not hold each other? Questions, many questions.

“Holy Mother?” a voice said and turning Egmar saw a young Handmaiden standing at her chambers entrance.

“Yes my child, what is it?” she replied.

“It is time Holy Mother”, the young girl said.

“Time, what time is that?”

“The ceremony of the sea, it is time for you to be dressed” the Handmaiden spoke.

I had forgotten the Holy Mother thought then she stood up, “Yes it is time”.

And hearing her words the Handmaiden open the curtain and gestured with her hand and she was joined by three other servants of Isarie and they began to dress their Holy Mother in the proper garments required for the ritual, a light robe of blue cloth embroidered in silver with creatures of the sea, a necklace of magnificent polished shells and a headdress of Arrowtail feathers, then when all was ready they stood back and let the speaker of the Gods see herself in a reflecting plate.

As Egmar stared at the aged face looking back at her she turned her head to gaze at the metal head once more then she walked from her chamber followed by her Handmaidens.

 

Kalgar-Rune had assembled his warriors and made sure that each man and woman had spent the morning in prayer and that all thoughts of the Akuna and their sinful ways were driven from their minds, but as he walked up and down the rows of dark armored guardians his mind was full of doubts.

These riders of the sea are not the chosen of the Goddess, he knew very well if he had said these words out loud it would have been blasphemy for the Book of Isarie clearly states that ALL Nomads are her chosen people and even if the Akuna did not travel the Outlands they were considered her children, but they sin and how could the Goddess forgive them for that? This was something that the old warrior would not have thought about in his younger days for back then he would have said it was so and never troubled his mind further, but now he was old and old men often question their young beliefs. Then another blast from the signal horns ended his ponderings and he stood at attention as the Holy Mother emerged from her tent.

Looking at her seemed to calm his mind and as his warriors surrounded her his heart felt more content, I will not let anything harm her, she is precious to me.

Another call from the horns and the procession began to move towards the water and the air was filled with the chanting of the Handmaidens.

 

“Water of life we come to you.

Giver of life we sing to you.

Beneath your waves life will hide.

Rise up to us so that we may ride.”

 

It was an ancient song whose meaning would soon be known.

 

Andra’s felt that her stomach was going to rise up and betray her as she stood with her mate surrounded by the tribe of the Almadra, the Po and Dral that she had drunk the night before seemed to be fighting each other and neither one was willing to call off the battle, but despite her discomfort she stood tall and concentrated on the ritual ahead. They like all the Almadra were dressed in their light armor consisting of a Rimar hide breastplate and leggings, knee high boots and armbands, they still covered their head with the horned helmet that all Outlanders wore and of course their golden Journey nails hung from their thick necks. Some also wore wonderful necklaces of colored sea shells that they had traded for or were given by the Akuna and a few lucky ones possessed the great prize of a deep water shell, these shells were as big as a man’s hand and were symbols of great affection, Arn had given one to his first mate Ishea, Queen of the Norgonie and she cherished it all her life. Around the Nomads waists were wide belts that carried the Twin-dragons, the long knives that all Outlanders kept near them, these would be used in battle and as a last resort to being captured by an enemy for death was far better than dishonor, and no Nomad would walk in the sunlight without their Tooth, the heavy war axe that made the Chosen of Isarie masters of their world.

 

Arn was not affected by the previous night’s feasting for a Nomads body was not like other humans, it was made to repair itself quickly and be ready for battle at any time but although his body was rested his mind was not for he also had strange dreams the night before.

He was standing in full armor and holding his Tooth in a barren place surrounded by voices he could not understand, there was no sky and no ground to stand on, it was an empty place between worlds and beyond memory.

“Is there anyone there?” he heard his voice say, but there was only silence and nothing more so again he spoke, “if you are a friend come forth and we shall talk, but if you are an enemy stand before me and we will fight!”

Then from the emptiness a figure moved towards him, he lifted his ax and braced his feet for a Nomads is a warrior before a friend, “who comes?” he shouted, “are you a demon from the pit or are you a God fallen from the sky?” The figure did not speak and Arn made ready to strike when suddenly the phantom spoke to him.

“I am neither friend nor enemy, I am dead”.

The mist before his eyes cleared and he saw a tall man with a face much like his standing before him, on the man’s right cheek were three tattooed marks, the sign of a King of the Outlands, he was well muscled and bore the same armor as he did with a helmet baring the horns of a Leader.

“Who are you?” Arn said still holding his ax and watching for any sign of an attack.

The image looked at him and turned his head to one side, “Do you not know me brother? Look close and tell me what you see”, and as the King looked at him the face changed into one of horror, disfigured and ruined, and the eyes glowed with an inner evil, it was a face he had seen before, it was Atos, God of war and the brother he never knew, “I am not your enemy” the creature said, “she is!” and as the King lifted his ax the face changed once more and before him stood his mate and the woman he loved, the weapon fell and a scream filled his mind, then he woke.

It was a dream the King told himself as he stood beside Moonbud, it was a demon dream and nothing else.

But it all seemed so real and the image of his brother would not let go of his mind.

The great inlet that held the massive domes of the Akuna was calm, for the towering walls of rock that surrounded it were an impregnable barrier against storms and massive waves that sometimes rose up on the Western Sea. Although they were still vulnerable to the fluctuating tides due to the many moons that pulled at their mother the Sea People had learned to use it to their advantage. They constructed holding pools that filled with fresh fish when the water was high and allowed them to harvest that succulent bounty when the tide subsided, the rising and falling currents also powered the machinery that were used to lower and lift the domes as needed thus leaving the Akuna to enjoy their lives in comfort.

Now those very same people stood beside the water, they were scantily dressed with just enough cloth to cover their endowments but their long arms and legs were circled with colorful shells and smoothly rubbed bottom stones, and each one had a magnificent ornament around their necks that would have been worth a fortune to any Outlander. The women painted their slim bodies in the red juice from palm berries while the men used the blue stain from the hearts of Jaw-snappers, a deadly fast swimming fish that consumed everything in its path and was sometimes called Strikers for they were drawn to the scent of blood.

The ceremony itself was performed in a great circle of cut and polished stones each as tall as a dozen men and each embedded with markings and symbols that had lost all their meaning over the ages. At the center of the ring of stones was a fountain made in the shape of a large strange looking fish that must have been connected to some sort of pressure chamber for the water spewed up endlessly and cascaded over smaller statues of forgotten Gods, then flowed along a man-made causeway to the sea were a great many Emor waded and ate tender water plants.

As the long procession of the Holy Mother grew near, the Akuna lifted palm branches in respect to their brethren and filled the air with a strange high pitched whistling, at the same time the Nomads held their ax’s high and blew their signal horns. The Elders of both tribes bowed their heads in remembrance of other times when they were young and strong and life was calling to them.

Along with the Elders and young of the tribe there were many Frail-legs, the men and women who had grown very old and sat by themselves and listened to the murmurings of the sky, Star-singers they were sometimes called for only they could hear the song of eternity and only they could understand its meaning.

At the back of the gathering and keeping a close watch on the surroundings was Kuno the Captain of the Spikebacks, he also had drunk deep of the wines from the night before but his stout body had grown use to the effects of fire brew and his head felt as fresh as a mountain flower, that is to say he did not enjoy himself for he had found a very willing Akuna female to spend the night with and she never asked about his past or if she was going to be part of his future.

 

The Thungodra moved to the circle of stones and made a pathway for their Holy Mother to walk; Egmar was carried to the place on a litter held high by tall female warriors surrounded by her Handmaidens who wore flimsy coverings over their slim bodies that were stained blue. When the litter was placed on the ground the speaker of the Gods moved to the fountain and began to speak.

“Aratis-nargo-tromalaca Dietas, we bring offerings to the great Dietas for she is the guardian of the waters and the rain”, and taking a golden vessel from one of her Handmaidens she began to pour its contents into the water, “Take this offering and give us your many gifts”.

And from a vantage point Osh watched with fascination as the ritual played out before his eyes, “Egmar is offering a gift of water to the deity hoping that it will influence the future” the old man said and he began writing on one of his many scrolls, “there are many similarities between this ritual and the customs of the Balgarnoca”.

Beside him Alune just shook her head, “You should be feeling instead of writing”.

 

Andra was experiencing only one thing, sick, but she held her head high and tried not to show her true feelings, stand your ground, it will all be over soon”.

Then as the vessel emptied the Holy Mother froze like a statue as did all the other Nomads and Akuna for it was the very same affliction that had seized them before, only Andra and Osh were not affected.

Andra thought her mind was playing tricks on her or perhaps her eyes were talking to her stomach and what she was seeing was only the outcome of that meeting, something had happened she thought, and slowly she moved forward and turned to look at her mate, but it was clear to see that Arn did not see her, she lifted her hand and waved it before his eyes but he showed no sign of recognition, “look at me!” she called out but again there was nothing so she reached out and touched his arm, it was warm so she knew he was not dead but his eyes still showed no life. “I am here, look at me, do you know who I am?” but the King remained silent and in desperation Andra swung her free hand and struck him on his wide chest, still nothing, it won’t last long, it’s like it was before and she waited hoping that the effect would vanish like it had done before but after a few moments with nothing changing she knew it was something more.

The sky began to change in color, what was once blue with wisps of white clouds now became a red canopy where streaks of orange lightening flashed, the wind also began to rise up turning the waves from gentle caresses of the sand into hammers pounding the water’s edge.

In desperation Andra began shaking her mate, “wake up!” she cried over and over but he stood like a rock and his eyes did not move.

Osh also was in a panic for his companion was not responding to his questions, “can you hear me? Do you understand my words?” but there was no sign of understanding in the eyes of the Handmaiden, and not knowing what else to do he put his then arms around her and hoped that the power that controlled her would end.

Andra did not know what to do as the wind continued to rise and the crackle of lightening fill the air, she stood looking into her lovers eyes, “what can I do?, what can I do?” then she heard footsteps and turning she saw a line of figures slowly moving towards the water, they moved like the dead, not speaking as they marched in a long line with their heads high.

“Frail-legs” Andra said in a low voice and indeed they were the old and the weak that made their way to the water’s edge but when they reached the sand and their feet touched the water they continued to walk! The water rose up to their waists but they continued forward, higher and higher but still they did not turn back.

“STOP!” the girl cried out but her words fell on deaf ears and seeing they were not about to heed her words she ran to the column and grabbed the closest elder a woman with hair the color of Trofar milk, “stop, you’re going to die if you keep walking” but the woman did not hear her and with a strength that should not have been hers she pulled away and continued into the water. Andra tried over and over again to stop the suicidal behavior but each time she failed and as the churning water engulfed the last of the Frail-legs she fell upon the sand and cried.

“Why is this happening?” she said in a sobbing voice, “what can I do?”

Then she felt a soft hand on her shoulder and leaping to her feet she turned thinking it was an enemy come to kill her but instead she saw a figure clad in a heavy robe that covered her face.

“Do not fear” the figure said and she pulled back the hood enough to show her features.

“You?” Andra said as she recognized the face of her daughter but it was not the one she remembered for it was older now and changed.

“Do not fear” Niana said again, “it must be as it is” and turning the strange girl held up her arms and began to sing, it was not a song that could be sung by a Nomad or any creature known to a scholar of the Outer Rim for it had no words and the vocal range was well beyond the ability of even the Uronki who were known for being the greatest chorales of all. The sound was both sweet and terrifying, hard as rock and soft as an Arrow-tail feather.

Andra’s ears had never heard such a melodious song, she stood unmoving and her heart longed to hear more for it seemed to answer all the questions of her mind and connect her with everything around her, then the song ended and Niana walked into the water and vanished beneath the waves. Moonbud stood looking out to sea and after a moment or two all memory of her daughter entering the water and her singing vanished from her mind, the winds began to subside and the lightening that broke the atmosphere vanished and once again the sky turned blue and it was if nothing had happened at all, Andra looked back to the line of Nomads and saw them moving.

Egmar put down the golden vessel and lifting her arms she spoke in a loud voice “Thank you Dietas, your waters bring the gift of life!”

And hearing her words the Nomads and Akuna repeated her words.

“Thank you Dietas, your waters bring the gift of life!”

 

 

 

Chapter 18.

The Beast of Del-Godar.

My world is filled with wonders both great and small, those creatures that live there are within my care, but there are others that dwell beneath the earth and they are beyond my power and listen only the Dark Gods.

From the Book of Isarie.

Major Grevas was not a coward for he had faced horrible death dozens of times on many different worlds and never ran from it, his strong body bore numerous scars from grave wounds and his bravery was well known in the drinking dens of warriors of the Outer Rim, but for all his glory he found that the darkness of Del-Godar pulled at his courage like a drunken weaver unraveling a fragile cloth.

Following the orders of his commander Grevas led his men into the crumbling city and made his way deep within its haunted chambers, he gave orders to leave directional markings as they moved deeper into the maze of connecting rooms assuring that they would be able to find their way back when their mission was completed. That mission was to find the precious green mineral called Grana, the only substance that would stave off sickness and death but as they moved ever deeper into the complex the glow from their chemical lights found only death and decay.

“Halt!” the major called out lifting his hand, “rest”.

His weary troopers had been on their feet all night long and even in the endless darkness it was reaching near dawn and they needed to break for a time and re-new their strength. The place where they stopped was filled with rubble and bits of broken metal but there was enough open space to set up a perimeter and make sure that they would not be set upon unnoticed, the dim light from their lamps cast bizarre images on the buckled walls and added to the strangeness of the once great city.

Grevas took a sip from his liquid carrier and removed his heavy steel helmet then he ran his hand over his bald head and splashed a bit of water onto his face.

This is no place for a soldier he thought as he took another small sip but orders must be followed and he had never disobeyed a command in his life, he began to think back over his long career and the times when he was sure that his end had come. The time he was surrounded by Ocarians and he was the only one alive in his squadron, then the time he had to fight a Bolbec hand to hand, and lastly the time he was trapped in a pit of Dortalmorian blood suckers. He would never had admitted it but it was the only time he had been truly frightened, there was something about their slimy undulating worm-like bodies and their raw gaping mouths and the imagined feel of their rasping tongues that made his blood run cold, if it was not for his quick rescue he was sure he would have gone mad with fright.

We’re not on Dortalmora he told himself and that eased his mind some and gathering up his courage he stood up and called out to his men.

“Forward!”

And obeying his orders the warriors rose up and began following their leader, but they had only gone a few steps when a strange sound was perceived and immediately they all stopped in their tracks and aimed their weapons into the darkness. A few tense moments passed and Major Grevas was about to give the signal to move ahead when the sound was heard once more, it wasn’t footsteps or an animal sound, it was more of a grating sucking noise, like a dull knife over rough metal. The sound grew louder and Grevas lifted his rifle and pressed his thick finger ever so slightly on the cold trigger.

“Stand and fight!” he shouted, but there was no reply from the intruder, “if you surrender to us we will not kill you!” the Major knew this was a lie but it had worked in the past and he hoped it would work now, “if you don’t come forward we will fire, we’re soldiers of the Alliance and not afraid of you!”

It was then that the thing showed itself.

Grevas was certain that they were not on Dortalmora but never the less before him stood a blood-sucker, but whereas the plasma drinkers on that far off planet were only the size of a man’s arm this one was a hundred times that big! It’s oozing red stained body moved forward with undulating movements and all the while its huge maw opened and closed exposing row upon row of razor sharp teeth, it had no arms to speak of only dozens of clawed tentacles each one capable of grasping a man and crushing him like so much rotten fruit.

Major Grevas was too frightened to give the order to fire but in an instant the air was filled with projectiles and screaming, soon smoke filled the chamber as the soldiers weapons spewed out round after round and that firefight continued until all their ammunition was depleted.

But in the dense smoke the sound of men screaming for mercy continued until nothing more was heard.

 

Anais and Kela had no memory of the sudden power that had taken over their bodies but their human companion was well aware of their incapacitation, Romar had been sitting near their fire as the Handmaiden placed a new dressing on his wounded leg, she had told him that soon he would be healed and able to go his own way if he wished when suddenly she stopped talking and stood like a stone statue, it was the same with her cohort and thinking it was some kind of trick the Captain said nothing for a time. But soon it was plain to see that this was not a hoax for they stood up and began walking in circles and lifting their arms as if they were some kind of string-dolls.

The wounded man decided that this was a perfect time to make his escape for he never believed the story about his being able to leave on his own, so he stood up on his painful leg and began moving from the fire, he had only taken a few steps when he was confronted by Jomo and Delgar who bore their huge teeth and growled at him until he returned to where he started. He stayed there while the sky changed color and lightning bolts began to strike the ground near the great circle of stones the Nomads called the Eye of Isarie. The two Drogs howled and snapped at the crackling winds but they had been well-trained and did not leave the sides of their masters. At last the winds subsided and the sky cleared and as it did the two Nomads that had given him shelter began to move once more.

Kela opened and closed her eyes then looked at the Off-worlder and the two beasts that surrounded him, “Delgar, Jumo, what is the matter with you? She said putting aside the wound dressing in her hand, “He is our guest not our enemy”. And she came close and slapped the huge head of the male, “go now Jumo and look for fat Burrow-babies to chase”, and hearing her words the two Drogs ran off in search of the small furry creatures. “I am sorry if they scared you” the Handmaiden said, “they will not harm you”.

“As long as you do not bring harm” Anais added for he was no longer held in a frozen grip.

Romar felt more at ease now that the two watch-beasts were gone but he still held back from asking questions about what had just occurred and there were many racing around in his mind the least of which was the fact that he was not in the same place he was before the strange occurrence began, he had been sitting near the fire and now he was standing by the wagon, something that would surely raise questions in anyone’s mind.

Anais was blind, a gift from the Goddess some would say for when his vision was taken from him he was a bitter, angry man who thought only of himself and his own comforts, and the road from that hardened man to the person he was now was a long and rocky one, but Isarie works in strange ways the faithful would say and all things change. Now that blind man reached out with his mind and focused his feelings on the outsider.

“Why do you fear us?” Anais suddenly asked.

Romar was not use to anyone asking such a blunt question for his world was filled with deceptions and half-truths, it was the way you survived, “I don’t fear you” replied the young man, but it was easy to see to anyone with sight that he was indeed afraid and to Kela it was more than obvious for part of her training as a Handmaiden of Isarie was to know when a person was in fear for the Holy Book’s words were plain.

 

Fear is the ground where hate grows.

Anger is the water that feeds that hate.

Death is the bitter fruit of that hate.

 

The Blind-prince also knew that his question had been answered with a lie, “we found you in a warship and it is plain that you are a soldier who seeks war but your efforts have failed because we are in the protection of the Goddess and her power is beyond yours”.

Romar was well aware of the primitive beliefs of the Nomad people, it was part of the gathered intel that all commanders had to familiarize themselves before the invasion, but it had no real meaning to the Captain for he had no religious beliefs, “if you know that I have come to conquer you why do you let me live?”

Anais took a small stone from the ground and began rubbing his finger over the smooth surface, “as I have already told you we took you into our care and now we are responsible for your welfare, you are weak and it is up to us too…”

“I’m not weak!” Romar screamed as he rose to his feet.

Kela was a Handmaiden of Isarie and took an oath to care for all living things but her travels in the Outlands had also taught her how to survive and she reached for a small cutting knife that she kept hidden under her robe and mentally selected the most vulnerable place to strike if they were attacked by the angry man, the neck is best, cutting the blood line there will end his life quickly she thought and despite her promise to the Goddess her love for her mate was stronger than her fear of damnation. Kela whispered a short prayer of thanks as the young man calmed himself and sat down on a carry box.

“There is no shame in weakness” Anais said as he turned the smooth stone over in his hand then held it up between his thumb and first finger, “look at his rock, I cannot crush it in my hand but apply enough pressure to it and it will crumble to dust” then he pointed to the tall pillars in the distance, “there is the Eye of Isarie, it has stood there for eons yet it will someday fall and it’s great towers will return to the sand”, then he turned his head up to the sky, “the twin suns have burned since before life walked upon this world yet they will slowly fade and return to the cold and darkness of the universe, all things are weak in time, all things must die”.

Romars face did not show any sign of interest in what the man was saying for he had long ago trained himself to hide his soul beneath a hard exterior, “your goddess?” he said quietly “are you talking about the electromagnetic pulses that emanate from your planet and render all advanced forms of mechanisms useless”, then it seemed he forgot his training for his eyes showed a sign of humor, “we are well aware of your so called god-power but what you don’t know is….” He suddenly realized that he was giving away pertinent information to an enemy and stopped talking.

Fool he told his mind, just because they saved your life is no reason to think they can be trusted; they are your enemy nothing more.

Anais dropped the stone in his hand, he is afraid and hiding something and for a moment he was drawn back to his former life and what drove his mind, he should be killed, his presents is a danger too…then he returned to the present and the lessons that he had learned, he may be an enemy but things change.

 

The light from the waning suns filtering down thru thick clouds cast a red glow over the crumbling stones of Del-Godar and this contributed to the overall weirdest of the day, lightning storms, winds and a rumbling of the ground only added to the displeasure that Ivar-Anoon was already feeling. The men he had sent into the interior of the outlands had not returned and he feared that they had met with enemy resistance, communication with the invasion fleet was sporadic at best and there was no word of Major Grevas, and despite his admiration for his combat history he had to assume that he had also failed in his attempt to find the green mineral that would stave off the effects of the devastating Plague that infested this world.

As he sat near his crashed command ship surrounded by a squad of his best troopers he looked down at the skin on his right arm that was not covered by the survival suit he was wearing, there he could see small red spots that were not there when the day started. The urge to scratch them was very compelling but he knew that it would only accelerate the disease so he tried to think of something else and not the fact that if something was not done soon he would end up as a rotting corpse.

I’m not going to die like that he thought, I’ll end it myself if need be. And he placed his hand on the primitive projectile gun that he carried around his waist, not the best way for a commander of the Alliance to die but better than the alternative. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine what a metal fragment tearing through his skull and brain might feel like, they say there would be no pain but no one had ever healed from wound like that so it was only speculation, you would hear the blast that was certain, but how long would it take before you stopped thinking, they say time slows down in the presence of danger, what if that applied here and a splinter of time was an eternity The idea that he might have to endure a prolonged death placed another layer of displeasure on his already taxed emotions.

“Commander?”

The voice ended Ivar’s dark vision and opening his eyes he saw an officer standing before him at attention, “what is it?” he said coldly.

“Sir, there is activity at the entrance to the city” the ranking soldier said.

Ivar rose to his feet, “show me” he said, and without further words the Commander and his guardians marched to the broken remains of the once proud city.

There was very little light left when the leader of the Pacifiers reached the entrance to Del-Godar, chemical lights had already been dispersed in a half circle and their soft glow sent long shadows over the broken rocks and fragments that littered the area, there was also a whole company of projectile armed soldiers who were trained to fight in darkness or light, they stood pointing their primitive weapons at the dark hole in the side of the crumbling city wall and waited for orders to fire on whatever emerged from that dim portal.

Ivar stood waiting and focused his eyes on the entrance, his face was calm but inside he was excited for he longed for battle as any good soldier should and if he had to die he’d rather end his life this way then laying on a med-table hooked up to pumps and wires. A strange quiet filled the air and even the wind seemed to vanish as a figure slowly emerged from the broken battlement.

The creature was tall and humanoid for it had two legs and two arms and a head, its heavy body was covered in some kind of reflective material that shimmered and seemed to return back more light then it was exposed too, its movements were supple and assured and it came forward without making a sound of any kind. As it approached the features of the thing could be seen in greater detail, it had a brutish face with heavy brows and a large jaw, its eyes were small and close set and its hands were overly bulky with claw-like fingers, if Ivar-Anoon had been a member of any tribe of the Outlands he would have instantly recognized the creature as an Earth-Eater, a dweller of the darkness, an Ergan-Mar.

And if you were a member of those underground miners you would have seen that this was no nameless minion, this was the powerful leader of the earth dwellers, this was Tark who was known to all who lived in darkness.

The Commander watched intently as the creature advanced towards him sizing up the situation and making decisions in an instant, he is unarmed he thought he is alone, he is surrounded, he may have knowledge that can be useful, if not he can be killed. Ivar knew his men were well trained and would not fire unless ordered too and at this close range they would find their marks so he moved a few paces forward making sure that he did not come between rifle range and the target, when the creature was only a few paces from him it stopped and waited.

Ivar knew how to use power, when and how to implement a plan and when to wait, he recognized that the first to speak would be subordinate to the other so he waited and he was prepared to wait for as long as it took.

It was not long.

“You are the leader of these humans are you not?” the creature said, his words were precise and articulate something that an Ergan-Mar would never do for they had a primitive language consisting of grunts, body movements and very little more, a few could roughly speak in the common language of the Outer-Rim for they needed to communicate with the Outlanders for trading but in their dark tunnels there was little need for precise details in communication.

“Yes” Ivar replied, “who are you?”

Tark made a gesture with his hand pointing to himself, “what I am would be difficult for you to understand, who I am would be far easier, I am a conduit between you and my master, what you say to me will be known and conveyed, but if you need a name there are several in your language that would have enough meaning to be useful in our transactions, the list is a long one but I will submit a few for that you may choose from, Transmitter, Translator, Connector, Ambassador, Envoy, Emissary, Messenger, Corvor, Itartac, Morogoran, but you may refer to me as Servant for that best conveys the intentions of my Master”.

“Why should I speak to you, what will I gain?” Ivar’s words were calm but inside his mind was racing, who is this master, what are his weaknesses, how can I use him to win?

The creature known as Servant took a pace forward and removed a small pouch from his garments, his sudden movements caused a stirring among the nervous guardsmen but they did not attack, their Commander watched as the thing held out the small container to him, slowly Ivar moved forward and took the bag and opened it, he poured its contents into his hand and what he saw made his heart race.

Grana, there could be no mistake for Ivar had studied samples of the mineral carried in Dropships that had made a return from Gorn, the small green crystals were annulled but its healing power could not be duplicated by any means available, I must have more of this, I must find a weakness in this man and use it to my advantage, but he must not know that I am weak, Ivar looked at the precious salt for a time then poured it onto the hard ground, he must not know my weakness.

Seeing the human dismiss his gift so readily brought a smile to the thin lips of Servant, “your actions are brave but your body shows the need for wisdom, you are in the first stages of a biological infection and it will only increase until you are rendered useless.”

The General paused for a moment to think, he knows more, let him speak, “there is a minor infection but it is of little concern to us.”

Servant did not hesitate “you will not find the substance you seek and your efforts to enter the city have proven useless, I offer you what you need, if you do not trust my words I have sufficient evidence to show that I am telling the truth.”

Evidence, what can he mean? Ivar studied the man’s face hard trying to finds signs of weakness or anything that he could use to his advantage but the more he looked the more he began to fear that he would find nothing, “if you have evidence bring it forward”.

Again the Ergan-Mar raised his hand and when he did several other of his kind began to emerge from the portal, they did not wear the same garments as their leader, they were covered in a thick armor that could not have been forged by any creature on Gorn, it fit them like scales on a Fang-fish making their lumbering movements seem more like a Crab-crawler than anything else, they bore no weapons yet they move unafraid, they each carried a metal box in their heavy hands and when they were beside their leader they stopped and placed the containers on the ground, stood at attention and said nothing.

Ivar again scanned the faces of these new intruders but unlike the tall man their faces were blank and expressionless, no sign of recognition showed in their beady eyes, no emotion, nothing, they were mindless drones doing as they were told.

“You wished for evidence and you shall have it” Servant said then without saying a word an underground dweller opened one of the containers and lifted out its contents with its thick hand.

Ivar held back his face from reveling what was in his mind for he stood looking at the severed head of Major Grevas, the eyes were wide in fear and the mouth hung open in a silent scream of terror.

A lesser warrior would have given the order to fire and liquidate those monster who had killed one of their finest soldiers but Ivar-Anoon was no such person, he had risen up in the ranks because he knew how to find weakness and use it to win, if he killed those in front of him he would have a momentary victory but he would loss the war and that was more than enough to hold back the order to kill.

“He entered the darkness seeking” Servant continued, “he found something more, you can send another and yet another and still you will not find what you seek”.

“And what is that?” the General asked folding his arm across his chest in an effort to show confidence.

“What all of your kind seek wealth and power” replied the stranger, “many have come to this world but few leave. The self-assured envoy moved another pace forward, “the loss of one warrior is insignificant in a confrontation with an enemy, a thousand is nothing when you are waging a battle and a million is miniscule when the victory is a world, my master can help you destroy your enemies, my master can help you win”.

“I can destroy my enemies now” Ivar replied, my battle fleet has destroyed planets before but that would make little profit for the Alliance. The General was thinking of the Grinders on the orbiting warships, they could tear the upper crust apart and crush all things moving but it was something that the commander would use only as a last resort, this man is not the person I need to find, he is a string-puppet, I need to find the hand that moves him, I need time. Ivar moved one space towards his adversary, “I have power”.

“Your power is weak, your battle fleet in orbit overhead cannot land until you overcome the electromagnetic fluctuations that emanate from the planets core, those pulses are diminishing but they can still be lethal to your plans, and you will need to overcome the indigenous humanoid inhabitances, no easy task without your advanced weaponry, for the time being you need to stabilize your warriors and I can give you that power”.

Again without speaking the Ergan-Mar opened the containers at their feet and poured their contents on the ground, enough Grana to supply a large army for a long time.

Ivar stared at the green crystals knowing that it was his only hope of survival, but he also knew its value.

“Cost?” he ask without emotion.

Again the arrogant ambassador took a step forward until he was only an arm’s length from the human and his voice became soft for it was meant only for the ears of the human, “you and my master have the same enemy, kill them all and your debt is paid”.

There have been many tales of creatures who have made packs with demons; it is a story that is well known on many worlds of the Outer-Rim and beyond, some ask for help in punishing a rival while other seek revenge for a wrongdoing, still others want to gain wealth or fame or power, demons know this and are called forth from beyond the Black Gulf to grant those wishes. When those who ask receive what they want it is not an end to their needs, they go on and on asking for yet more and more and demons are content to give them what the ask, but in the end those who are granted power loose themselves in its endless depths and they become demons and sit in the silent blackness waiting to be called and so the cycle continues round and round until the end of eternity meets the birth of creation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 19.

 

 

Masters of the Sea.

 

 

The Akuna travel the oceans on great ships built mostly from the hardwood supplied to them by the Outlanders, these huge multi-hulled vessels are used in the hunting of massive sea creatures called Leviathans, the Akuna hunt them not for food for they look upon them as Aranus-Trigor, Gods of the Deep.

 

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

“What do you mean you don’t remember?” Andra’s words were filled not only with anger but with fear for she had witnessed the death of the Frail-legs with her own eyes.

Arn tilted his head to one side and his hard eyes told his mate that her question was not a valid one, “I do not know these people you call frail legs for our Elders are treated with kindness and we would never allow such harm to come to them”. The King had little time for nonsense for Sunbirth had come and the hunt was on his mind.

Andra had spent the better part of the night wondering if she should bring up the events of the previous day and the strange deaths of the older men and women as they walked into the sea and vanished from site, she wanted to find her learned old friend Osh and ask him what to do but she dared not leave the side of the man she loved least he suddenly wished to end his life as did those poor elders. But with the twin suns morning light filtering into their tent she could not hold back her frustration any longer, “are you telling me that you have no memory of them?”

This brought a smile to Arn’s lips as he began dressing himself in heavy armor, “I am King and must have knowledge of many things, the time to travel and the time to rest, where danger lives and when an enemy might attack, I know the faces of my people and their needs and sometimes I must stand in judgment of their actions, all this and more I must know but the answer to your question does not live in my mind”.

“And what about the lightning and thunder and the winds, did that never happen?”

Again the King smiled, “I am a Monarch of the Outlands, I rule my people and see that they follow the laws of our tribe, I do not have power over the sky or the winds that is the responsibility of Gods under Isarie.”

He has forgotten everything she thought, or maybe he never saw it? Andra moved close to her mate and put her warm arms around his hard body and looked deeply into his dark eyes, she knew that they shared a bond that no other possessed, a weaving of their minds that let the other know ones feelings and that power made them Moric-Kan the Twin Dragons and invincible in battle, but now she hope that ability would lift the veil from her lovers mind and let him see the truth.

They stood there for an interval neither one speaking or moving, time seemed to stand still and their thoughts became one and in that mind-mist the Selcarie girl heard the voice of her lover singing in her heart. She did not need to think only feel and what she felt was love. Then from the distant corner of thought she heard another voice, one that was not her lovers for it carried no affection.

‘She is your enemy” it said.

And in an instant Andra let go of her mind-link and drew back from her mate as she would a Hord-wolf on her Homeworld. Something has entered his mind, what that thing was she did not know, she only knew that she loved him with all her heart and would fight for him, but she also remembered the words of her old drill instructor Sargent Reynolds.

“Strike when the time is right”.

And now was not the time so even though her heart felt for the loss of the Frail-legs Andra

said nothing and quickly changed the subject, “perhaps I was mistaken, or maybe I drank too much Po, now tell me about this hunt we are going on, will we be tracking Sagar Cats like we did with the Norgonie?” that expedition was something that Moonbud did not want to remember for it ended with her badly injured and set in motion events that almost cost the life of her mate.

The King had to laugh as he drew on his gold inlaid leg braces and adjusted them, “there are no Sagar Cats in the land of the Akuna, we will be on the water and searching for Aranus-Trigor the Gods of the Deep”.

Andra began dressing in her heavy armor and realized that she had never hunted a God before but she knew there was a time and place for everything.

 

Osh had also questioned the strange manifestations with his traveling companion and received the same response, so he began taking samples of the ground around their wagon and cataloging anything he found unusual or out of the ordinary, bits of vegetation or rock, insects great and small, ground worms, Dot-flies, Whisper-wings, all things that Alune considered useless and far worse just more clutter to be added to the contents of their Karack and carrier. Still she said nothing for it brought contentment to the old man and went about her morning rituals as she did every Sunbirth, cooking the early meal and adding a bit of Grana to stave off sickness and show respect to the Goddess for her gift.

“Togasttra emo entralac, give us your strength” she said softly as she dropped two small bits of green salt into the bubbling concoction warming atop their Washa, then looking over she saw her companion returning with an armful of castoff items in his thin arms.

The old man’s face showed a broad smile and his voice was filled with excitement, “wait till you see what I have found” he said as he began laying out his treasures on a small table that had clay bowls of food stuffs laid out upon it, “I found the most interesting sample of a leaf spider with very unusual markings and a magnificent example of a day bloomer much like the night variety of the poisonous moonbud”.

The Touchtender was about to complain that her last container of fish-sauce was almost spilled when her companion reached into his summer robe and pulled out a pink sea shell larger than his hand.

“Just look at this specimen” he said with great excitement, “have you ever seen such a beautiful creation of nature?”

Alune’s face lost all its color as she gazed on the artifact; “put it on the ground” her voice was etched with fear.

Osh could see the look in her eyes but why she should be so terrified of such a harmless thing eluded him, “what is there to fear? It is merely one section of a two sided sea-mollusk and cannot harm you” and he held it out to her.

Alune pulled back as if he was offering fire to her, “put it back where you found it and pray that no one has seen you take it”.

The Callaxion suddenly stopped smiling and put the shell on the table, “have I done something wrong?” he asked.

The Touchtender moved to the Washa and motioned for the old man to come near, when he had done so she spoke in a voice that only they could hear, “this is the land of the Akuna, all things belong to them, it is the same with the Outlands for there we are masters and have been granted that place as ours by the Goddess, it is the law that no Outlander may take anything from here without permission or have it given to them as a gift”.

“But there are millions of shells in the sea surely it would make no difference if one were missing?”

“Countless or rare the law is the same, if you take that shell and it became known by our tribe you would be made Outcast and all would shun you and if your theft were known to the Akuna you would die”.

Osh thought he knew all there was to know of the ways of the Nomads for he considered himself far more intelligent than the inhabitants of Gorn, after all he was created as a programmer of Tollacian computers and his mind could remember all that he had seen or heard or smelled, he had traveled the stars and sat beside many rulers on numerous worlds who trusted his judgment on information vital to their survival but now things were different, he was an outcast of the stars and he must rely on others for wisdom.

“I will return it to where I found it” Osh said without complaint and in that moment he remembered the words of his companion. Writers of wisdom should know what they set down in words. “You are a very wise woman” the old man said.

“And you are a wise man for knowing that” smiled the old woman.

Osh gathered up his specimens and began to place them into their wagon, there was a step and cut in the side of the Karack so that the old man could enter the ornate wooden vehicle easily, inside there were racks filled with all manner of items gathered in his long journey across the lands of Gorn. The collection would have been prized by any museum of the Outer-Rim and would have made the Callaxion the center of attention in any of the great thinking halls, adding to his treasures was a great joy to Osh and that along with his priceless scrolls recording his findings and observations of the Nomads filled his heart with pride.

I have done well for an old Cypher he thought, and when he had finished his work he moved to the back of the wagon to make sure that the daughter of his old friend was safe and sleeping away the day as she always did, but when he drew back the curtain that separated the front from the small section in the back he saw only a layer of earth and a bowl filled with Grana, the only nourishment the strange young girl needed.

Gone, but where? Osh knew that she could not tolerate the sunlight and no other Nomad would have given her shelter for they feared her, there are always the caves nearby but it did not seem logical that she would have taken refuse there and not the home that she always returned too.

Osh turned, moved to the opening and climbed down to the ground and stood there rubbing his large head.

“Is there something wrong?” Alune asked seeing the look of concern on her companions face.

“Perhaps” the old man said, “perhaps”.

 

The hunting ships of the Akuna were marvels of construction, named Procal-torus or dry space, their massive twin hulls were the length of many men and were connected by a flat decking that extended from the bow to the stern, at each corner a tall mast rose up baring a square cut sail that could be turned to the wind using ropes made from very tuff fibers gathered from the bark of Balbar trees. Two half-moon shaped rudders were fixed to the back of the curving hulls and joined together by a series of pulleys that allowed the huge vessel to be guided over the water. The hulls were thickly made so they could withstand the pounding waves of a storm and painted in bright colors of blue and green to camouflage them against raiders who prowled the Western Sea looking for anything to sustain their lives for they existed on the water and had no land to call their own. Over the side of each outside hull hung a dozen smaller crafts that could hold several men and women and be lowered into the sea and raised up once the expedition was done, these boats were known as Boomers or Lightening boats because they could move very fast and catch up to the prey and return the spoils to the slower mother ship.

 

Two of those great vessels stood waiting as both Nomad and Akuna loaded provisions onto their decks and placed them in braced structures at their centers, the greater of the ships was called the Cronos, and it would lead the hunters to their prey and was twice the size of the other craft that bore the name Brillia the first born daughter of Dietas. Together they could carry a hundred or more of the strongest warriors of the Akuna and Outlander for only they were capable of the arduous task ahead, and now those very same men and women brought food, drink and weapons aboard for the Western Sea was a dangerous place and only the strong would survive, and watching carefully was the King of the Almadra and his mate both dressed in their heavy armor and horned helmets.

Andra stood beside Arn bubbling with excitement mixed with fear, “I’ve never been on an ocean vessel before, are you sure it’s safe?”

Arn had been on Leviathan hunts before and he knew that danger rode in every ship but together they had faced greater peril so he saw no need to hide the truth, “Procal-torus are well built but Dietas has many moods and some cannot be withstood”.

Andra pondered his words for a few moments, “so what you’re saying is there is a good chance we might be killed?”

The King faced the woman beside him and put his hand on her arm, “each day can end a life and the Angel of Death can travel on the water as well as the land”, he raised his hand and held up the heavy ax that marked him as a warrior of the Outlands, “if death wishes to fight, I am ready”.

Andra lifted her Tooth and smiled, “no, WE are ready!”

Is there a braver woman in all the Outlands? The King searched his mind for an answer but could not find one to counter what he knew already, “each day with you brings more contentment and lying with you at night brings me…”

His words were cut short by another voice, “I bring a strong gift for the King!”

Arn knew without looking who had called out to him for he had sat and listened to that man on many long nights as they warmed themselves around a campfire drinking and telling outrageous tales of their past adventures, “Kuno my old friend” the King said as he faced the stalwart Captain of the Spikebacks, “what have you brought me?”

Andra’s feelings were hurt by the sudden interest in something other than herself but she knew that men are easily distracted, but never the less her feelings for her mate switched from deep affection to pointed anger, he will pay later, and she conjured up images of what she would do when the time came for them to sleep together and he wanted the comfort that only a woman could provide, then she reminded herself that she was no longer a jealous school girl but it did little to cool her mind.

As Kuno drew closer the King could see that he had two large silver mugs in his rough hands and from the broad smile on his bearded face it could only mean that he was bringing a goodly measure of well-aged Po to share, and from the unsteady way he was walking it was a certainty that he had been sampling many barrels of the strong brew to find just the right potency for his friend.

“Hail to our King” the big man said as he stopped before Arn and Andra, “and hail to the mate of our King” bowing his hairy head at the Selcarie female.

Arn took the tankard from his friends hand and took a deep gulp of the sour wine then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “your gift is a good one” the King said with a smile, “the day is warm and I am thirsty”.

“I have more if you wish it?” Kuno replied, “I know your stomach is not content with the sea so you will need strong drink to appease it”, the Captain knew that his friend was not comfortable on the water for they had hunted Leviathans in their youth.

“My thirst it great”, the King replied, “are you sure you have enough to share?”

Kuno shrugged his wide shoulders, “if not we will find more”.

The King gave a glance to the woman at his side and Andra replied before he had time to ask the question, “go on without me, I’m not thirsty” that was a lie of course because the day was warm and the heavy armor she wore made her even warmer.

Nodding his helmeted head Arn walked away with the Captain leaving the girl standing by herself, “of all the dull-headed, scramble-brained, drum-dumb…” Andra tried to find just the right wordings to describe her feelings for all men at that moment but her search was suddenly cut short.

“Are you seeking comfort?” Cian said in a calm voice.

Turning to see the Kandrac of the Akuna standing near her caused Andra’s heart to jump, he was wearing only a woven cloth about his slim waist held up by a wide belt with a strong knife hanging from a scabbard stitched with small colorful sea shells, around his long neck was a chain of shells set with gold and on his upper arms were matching armbands.

“Comfort? What makes you think I need comforting?” she asked involuntarily adjusting a hair from her face.

“I could not help but notice the actions of your mate and the decision to leave your side and go off with his friend”, the Akuna male said as he drew nearer, “I can also tell from the color of your face-cheeks and the stress-level in your voice that he has hurt your feelings”, her mind and body are in battle, she is not content.

Andra looked in the deep blue pigment of Cian’s eyes and the breath of his wide shoulders and for a moment her mind was filled with an image that she was not proud of, she was laying on the sand naked and Cian was standing over her as the warm sea air caressed her body, but the image vanished as quickly as it had come and an instant later she returned to the present, “you seem to know a lot about me, what else do you know?” it was a silly question and as soon as it left her mouth she regretted saying it. What’s the matter with you she asked her mind, pull yourself together, remember you are or were Lieutenant Andra Oseira first infantry division, Omega 5.

The Kandrac smiled and put out his hand, “I’m sure you have many questions about our ways and the voyage to come, let me try and answer them for you”.

Andra could see little harm in going with the Akuna leader after all she was a strong grown woman and knew how to care for herself if things got out of hand, why would I think that something could happen between us? It was another silly question but one that remained in a dim section of her mind as she walked off with the man from the sea.

As they strolled along the ancient dock Moonbud looked down to see many young Akuna frolicking in the water, they laughed and splashed and dove under the water again and again bringing up bits of vegetation or a small fish that they would fling into the air and race after it. With them were the second cycle men and woman of the Nomads who did their best to keep pace with the much faster Akuna swimmers, their hard young bodies were naked and the sunlight glistened off of them like Flutter-fish scales.

How free they are Andra thought, no cares, no responsibilities, no command orders to follow, why she should be thinking of battle orders at such at time seemed odd to the Selcarie girl but the question vanished quickly when she heard Cian speak.

“I have asked many in your tribe and they say you are a Half-Soul and fell from the sky”.

Half-Soul was a name that Andra had not heard in a long time, it was used by the Nomads to describe a person who is not of the Chosen and was meant more as an insult than anything else, “I didn’t fall”, she said tightening her grip on her ax, “I crashed in a Dropship and was rescued by the Almadra, and I’ll have you know our Gods are just as powerful as yours!” Andra had never been a great believer in the Deities of her world but she felt a need to defend herself.

“I meant no harm and if my words pained you I am sorry”, Cian could see that he had indeed wounded the Off-worlder and tried to make amends, “you were given the name Moonbud, the flower that kills, it seems a hard name for such a beautiful woman”.

Andra loosened the grip on her Tooth, “no harm done”, he thinks I am beautiful, a warm feeling ran up her spine.

They continued to the ocean sand and walked along the beach listening to the waves break and the sound of Emor as they waded about in the swirling water munching on floating surge-plants, Andra wished she had removed her heavy riding boots so that she could feel the warm sand between her toes and the weight of her armor bore down on her like the heat of the morning suns. Now and then they would come across a man and woman embracing on the sand or in a coven of rocks unaware or uncaring if anyone was watching them and even though Andra was far from an innocent field maiden of her Homeworld a blush of emotion swept over her at seeing their wanton nakedness.

“Do you have a mate?” Andra suddenly blurted out and hearing her own words she regretted saying them, what were you thinking? Next time think before you speak.

Cian seemed unaffected by her question, “if you are asking do we mate for life the answer is no, we believe that Trilling is meant for all and withholding that from another is an insult to them”.

“Trilling, what is that?” Andra asked.

“Trilling is the act of giving another pleasure of the body and mind”, the Kandrac replied, she is in need and I must help her.

For a few moments Moonbud did not understand what the tall Akuna was saying then the meaning suddenly appeared in her mind causing her heart to jump and this time she thought before she spoke, he must know a great deal about pleasing a woman, I wonder if he…? She cut off her thinking for it was taking her into a place she did not want to go and concentrated on the sand and sea.

“Your land is very beautiful” she said with a smile for she had successfully changed the subject and she would not have to think about entwining bodies and pleasures of the flesh, or so she thought.

“It is a gift from Dietas, she cares for us and we care for the land”.

They continued walking until they came to a cluster of rocks that were carved with images of men and woman in the act of making love, the details had been marred by the rising and falling of the tides and several of the great stones were covered in sea vegetation but there was still enough left to show that the artist had a vast knowledge of sexual positions both common and uncommon. The Akuna and the Outlander sat down on one of the smaller outcroppings close enough to the water to hear its crashing waves but under an overhang so that they were out of the twin suns heat, Andra leaned her sharp ax against a crusted bolder and removed her horned helmet freeing her long dark hair.

Cian watched her every move and sat close to her but not near enough to cause her discomfort, “the air is cool here” he said softly, “we can rest and you can tell me of your life”.

A small laugh escaped Andra’s lips, “that would take a very long time and I’m sure you have more important things to do”.

The Akuna leader shook his head, “we cannot sail until supplies are loaded and the tide has turned, and I wish to know your past”.

“There is not much to say really, I was born on a green world that no longer exists” Moonbud said shrugging her shoulders, hearing her own words brought shame to her heart, have you forgotten your mother and brother so easily. “I became a soldier and fought the enemy but we lost the war and I was sent to this world”.

“Your life was a hard one” Cian said, “but you are here now and I wish to soften your days with us”.

As Moonbud looked into the deep eyes of her companion a strange feeling began to come over her, the warm ocean air mixed with a sweet fragrance seemed to fill her mind removing all thoughts of past hardships and suffering, all memories of lost loves and family leaving only the here and now. What is happening to me? As her nostril inhaled the beckoning aroma her mind floated in a sea of pleasure and all thoughts of guilt or betrayal vanished like the morning mist on the water.

 

As Arn stood on the pitching bow-deck of the Cronos he regretted having gone with his old friend for they had found far too much Po and lifted more than their share of tankards and now that potent wine was playing havoc with his stomach, that added to the fact that he never felt comfortable on the water made him wish that he was back in the Outlands and far from the rolling waves of the Western Sea.

Ahead of him was a vast openness of a forever changing landscape, always moving, swirling, churning, endless blue valleys that rose and fell with the winds and tides, reflections of sky, clouds and day moons, a place that showed no markings or trails or anything that an Outlander could recall to find his way home again. It was true that the power of knowing where you were at all times was a gift that all Nomads had but it was always mixed with knowledge of rock and sand, mountains and remains of ancient warships sent to Gorn for disposal by other worlds. Here there was nothing, no markers, no well-traveled passes, no memories of battlefields or victories, no home, only endless water, the only thing that broke the monotony of the waves was the hull of the Brila that rose and fell with the waves.

The King drew in a deep lungful of crisp ocean air hoping to clear his muddled mind, there is work to be done and you are King he thought, and indeed he was King, leader of the Almadra the most powerful tribe in all the Outlands, eldest son of Karn who’s victories in battle could not be counted, he had been trained to rule and defend his tribe but unlike his father he sometimes longed for a day when he was just a warrior, one of the many that fought and died for their Monarch without the burden of leadership.

But you are King, it is the will of the Gods, he knew this because the Gods had granted him victory over the Talsonar and they would not have done that if he were not meant to be Ruler, he also had the favor of the Holy Mother, but many would say that she could do nothing less for he was her son. Yes, I am her son but I have never used her love for me to intervene with the Gods.

Arn began to think of all the other Kings before him and whether the Gods favored them also? And what about all the other worlds he had heard about, what do the Kings of those worlds ask of their Gods? Is Isarie stronger than them? The Kings head began to ache and he wished that he had an enemy before him that he could fight rather than endless questions and a rolling sea.

An enemy, yes an enemy to vanquish and a soul to send to the Afterlife, enemies are everywhere, waiting to strike, watching for weakness, ready to kill, it is the way of our world. Arn looked down over the bow-sprint and watched the Akuna racing with waves set up by the wooden keel, their strong slim bodies cut through the cresting water like a sharp knife, they hurdled, leaped and frolicked like wave-jumpers for they were creatures of the sea and as much at home in the water as a Nomads in the Outlands.

Arn’s skull reeled so he did not feel the present of his mate as she drew near, “I have brought you something for your head” Andra said holding up a silver cup.

The King turned his aching mind to see his bed companion and the gift she was bringing him, “if that is more Po cast it into the water”.

“This is not sour wine” Moonbud said laughing, “this is a remedy for your pain; a cupful will settle any arguments in your head and body”.

Arn took the cup and looked deep into its contents, it smelled and looked like day old urine from a Whiptail, but anything would be better than the throbbing in his temples so he stiffened himself and emptied the beaker in one long draft, much to his relief the effects were felt in moments for his belly stopped turning over and his head began to loosen. “I did not know you had the skill of a Touchtender” he said smiling.

“I don’t” replied Andra, “Cian mixed its contents and said it would heal you”.

The Kings head was still sore but as his vision cleared he looked at his mate and saw the large sea shell hanging from her neck, “did the Kandrac give you that” pointing to the pink ornament.

“Yes” Moonbud said holding up the gift in her hand, “isn’t it beautiful”.

Arn knew that such a great treasure would not have been given lightly for it would bring a great price in the Outlands, what did she do to be so rewarded? It was a question that the King did not want an answer too and although his head was feeling much better a thought entered there that once again brought great pain, perhaps she is your enemy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 20.

 

The Blood of Warriors.

The blood of a warrior is a gift from the Goddess; it is a debt that must be repaid to her in battle and through The Mouth of Pain.

The law of the Thungodra.

Kalgar-Rune watched from the high bluff near the Holy Wagon as the Cronos and the Brila, the great hunter ships of the Akuna passed through the narrow opening to the sea and as they disappeared over the horizon along with the setting suns the Thungodra leader’s head was filled with many thoughts.

The King goes with the Sincravers when he should be defending his people against the evil that is among us, the Thungodra leaders mind focused on the strange young girl that lived in darkness, darkness is where demons dwell and looking up he saw the night moons beginning their journey across the heavens and knew that soon the evil one would be emerging. Kalgar moved away from the steep cliff and began walking to the circle of tents that surrounded the huge Karack that was the home of Egmar and her Handmaidens.

The Thungodra had made their camp away from the Akuna for they dare not risk their souls being contaminated with the sins of the Wave-riders, they had taken a vow to remain pure of flesh and put all their strength into battle tactics and conditioning their minds and bodies to defend the Holy Mother and the laws set down in the Book of Isarie for in those pages was the word of the Goddess and her wishes must be obeyed. Most of the warriors were young for many of the older ones had been killed in the battles with the Talsonar and Kalgar-Rune was chosen from those that remained as their leader for he was the strongest and his victories were many.

In the long cycles of their never-ending journeys the Nomads followed a strict set of traditions, they must be in a certain place at a precise time to perform an ancient ritual and to avoid contact with a rival tribe, these hardened laws had been set down ages ago and had guided the actions of the Outlanders for as long as anyone could remember and now the time had come to execute the ceremony of The Mouth of Pain.

The warriors of the Goddess had been preparing all day for the events that were to come, they had washed themselves in clear water from a spring blessed by the Holy Mother and braided their long hair in the way set down by their laws, they had eaten and drank nothing for it was said that some demons entered the body through the mouth on ritual days and so they uttered prayers to ward them away. They wore their traditional dark armor with overlapping plating that gave them the look of great sand beetles known for their toughness and ferocity and on their heads sat the tall horned helmets that struck fear into the hearts of their enemies, but they left their right arms bear rather than covering them with the usual Itarian steel.

There were both men and women among the holy warriors for it was well known that a female could fight as well as a male and those that disputed that fact soon regretted their words when they found themselves facing one of that gender, and the history of the Thungodra was filled with countless tales of strong women who had defeated many enemies and found a place of honor in the Golden Hall of Isarie. As Kalgar-Rune walked past the rows of holy warriors they bowed their heads and gave the secret sign of the Thungodra with their hand, what manner of movement they presented I will not speak of here for it is theirs and theirs alone.

They are strong Kalgar thought; they will defend the laws of Isarie when called upon.

The powerful Leader continued passed the armored guardians and into an open place that had been prepared for the ritual to come, the ground was flat and all rock and vegetation had been removed and the earth consecrated with holy water, silver torches fashioned in the shape of great Sand Dragons circled the outer edge, their warm light came from crushed Eul rock placed in the heads of the metal creatures giving them the look of mythical monsters. At the center of the ring stood a configuration that could only be viewed by the trusted sentinels, in appearance it resembled a Caracana or Chimera, a beast of ancient lore for it had the body of a Sagar Cat but with the head of a Whiptail, its long body was made from bone inlayed with gold and silver as was the ferocious looking head, the long tail ended in rows of sharp spikes that continued up the curved spine.

Near the sacred object sat a silver bowl upon a pile of human skulls, it measured a forearms length across and was filled with red blood, that blood had come from the Thungodra who were about to take part in the ritual to come, they had cut their arms and given enough of their life fluid to fill the vessel and satisfy their oaths.

The somber Leader moved around the ritual creature satisfying himself that all was in its proper place then he looked up at the night sky and made sure that the orbiting moons were in their appropriate positions for only then could he continue, all is as it should be he thought then he moved forward and lifted his great war ax, “I hold the judgment of Isarie in my hand, with it we destroy those who make themselves our enemies, with this weapon we are invincible, but it is only wood and steel, real power comes from within, it is a gift from Isarie for the Goddess is our strength!”

“Togasttra emo entralac, give us your strength” repeated the Thungodra warriors.

Kalgar lowered his ax but not his voice, “Isarie looks to us to protect her servant from those that would bring her harm, but we must be strong for that task and show her that we do not fear pain!”

“Karus morto metak, we do not fear pain” spoke the warriors.

“We have shown our strength in battle for our victories are many and now the time has come for the mouth of pain!”

“Che megarto ra metak, we show no fear!” called out the guardians, then they marched forward one by one and faced the great skull of the bone beast, at the same time a group of four warriors both male and female moved into the circle carrying an ornate ivory box set upon a litter made from the leg bones of giant Doff-birds. The box itself was finely made with carved sides and a lid secured with hinges of beaten gold, it bore mystical markings and the white ivory had discolored over the centuries but the figures cut into the sides were still clearly seen showing warriors in battle.

The armor and helmets of the carriers were different than those of the others for they were smeared with blood and their faces were hidden behind Rimar hide masks that gave them the look of demons, they moved with measured steps around the circle so that all could see the ancient container and hear the sounds from within, that noise was one that all Nomads knew well for they were taught at an early age to be on guard when that chattering song filled the air, when it was certain that they had accomplished their task they sat the litter and box down near their Leader and waited.

Kalgar-Rune moved to the elaborately carved strongbox and placing his Tooth on the ground he lifted the ornate container high in the air, “honor is nothing without pain!”

“Karus morto metak, we do not fear pain” repeated the warriors.

The Thungodra leader faced the skull of the Whiptail and nodding his head two of the blood smeared warriors moved forward and placing their hands on the skull they lifted the top jaw up exposing the long dead creatures overlapping teeth, Kalgar then opened the ivory container and began pouring its contents into the gaping mouth.

Rockworms.

The wiggling insects snapped their powerful jaws together signaling to any intruder that they were ready to inject them with potent venom that would bring excruciating pain, when the box was emptied Kalgar nodded his head again and the two attendants lowered the jaw trapping the vile creatures inside were they continued to hiss and snap.

“Pain is nothing for we are the chosen of the chosen”, Kalgar placed the box on the ground and took up his great ax, “come forward and show the Goddess that you are not afraid”.

After a moment or two a young warrior moved forward, his name was Barcar and he had shown great courage in the past, he moved to the huge skull, put out his right arm and spoke in a clear voice, “Karus morto metak, we do not fear pain”.

Once again the two warriors lifted the skull of the dead Whiptail causing the Rockworms to sing their song of warning and as they did Kalgar moved behind the young fighter and lifted his weapon in the air, without hesitation Barcar placed his arm into the mouth and into the mass of hissing angry creatures. At once the vile beasts sunk their dripping jaws into the unguarded flesh of the young Thungodra but he did not cry out and his faced showed no sign of discomfort and this was good for if he had Kalgar-Rune would have cut off his head for it was the way of their order.

“Karus morto metak, we do not fear pain” spoke Barcar as he withdrew his arm then turning his eyes met those of his Leader and he spoke in a low voice, “am I worthy of the Goddess love?”

“You are worthy” Kalgar replied as he lowered his ax and then he called out again, “Come forward and show the Goddess that you are not afraid”.

And so they drew forward one by one, put their arms into the skull and those that showed no pain had their armor smeared with blood and those that failed had their blood spilled and their heads added to the number beneath the silver bowl.

 

Romar was amazed how quickly his arm and leg had healed and he longed to know more about the restorative powers that Kela possessed but he still considered her an enemy and said nothing has he stood up and began walking around their campsite. Delgar and Jumo followed his every movement and it was clear that they would have loved nothing better than to sink their strong teeth into the flesh of the outsider.

“How do you feel?” The Handmaiden asked seeing the progress of the handsome young man as she handed two large cuts of Rimar meat to the big woodland beasts who began to devoir the succulent offerings.

The former Youngonrie Captain said nothing until he returned to where he had begun and sat down on a water barrel near the ever burning Washa, “I’m better” he said curtly.

Anais had stayed close to the young soldier over the past few days listening to his words and reaching out with his mind in an effort to know more about the man and the world he came from, at times it had been frustrating for his thoughts were sometimes broken by strange images he could not understand and his body felt like it was being pushed and pulled like two Trofars hitched to opposite ends of a Karack. In the past The Blind Prince would have never troubled his mind with the Off-worlder he would have simply had him killed for being an enemy of the tribe and invading the sacred land around the Eye of Isarie but now things were different, he was no longer the King of the Almadra or any other strong clan for that matter, he was the path-guider of a band of outcasts and Sandjars and shared his power with a Handmaiden who was no longer recognized by any Holy Mother, now as he sat calmly with eyes closed he decided the time was right for blunt words.

“Go now” he said to the healed warrior.

Kela was somewhat taken aback by the sudden demands of her mate and she was about to speak up when she looked into his eyes and saw that they did not hold hatred, He speaks words that do not come from his heart, he is laying a trail that he wishes the man to follow.

And indeed the Captain did follow, “you wish me to leave?” Romar asked.

“It is not my wish but yours, did you not say that you would go as soon as you were well enough to travel?” replied Anais.

Thinking back over his days with the Nomads he remembered saying no such words, “I said nothing of leaving”.

“Then you will be staying?” the Blind Prince asked.

Romar knew this word game was meant to confuse him, he would make a good interrogator but the Captain had undergone questioning in his soldiers training and spent many hours on a pain table, “I will go when the time is right” he said with an air of superiority.

Anais turned his head from side to side as if his blind eyes were taking in the sky and land, “the air is calm and Karus and Micos have not yet traveled half way in their day journey, you could cover much land by Sunfall”.

Kela understood what her mate was trying to do and added her own words to the conversation, “I will pack you a strong knife, Kasha bread and dried Rimar, water will be plentiful but you must remember to stay away from Whiptails for they follow the summer herds this time of the cycle, and Doff-birds will be a problem as well as Sagar cats but I am sure you are familiar with how to avoid them all” and she began gathering up supplies from a carry box near her.

As the Handmaiden began to fill a survival pack with provisions Romar stood up quickly, “I don’t need your rations or your weapons; I can endure on my own”.

“Then you are strong?” asked Anais.

“Strong enough to defend myself” replied the young man quickly.

Anais had lead the man to a place he wanted him and now he would aim his words to hit there mark, “you say you are strong” he said with a smile, “are you strong enough to say…fight this female” and he pointed to Kela standing near him.

This brought a laugh from the lips of the Youngonrie, “of course, she is no match for me”.

Kela heard his laughter and saw the look of distain on his face, “are you well trained in blade dancing?” she asked and quickly withdrew the small dagger from under her robe, it was by no means a weapon that would bring down an armored foe but it was well honed and deadly at close range.

Again the young man laughed, “Fighting a female is beneath a Captain of the Mac-Mar Alliance” his words were heavy with distain; she is no match for me.

Anais stood up “perhaps you are right, she is just a female, and maybe you think you can defeat me?”

Romar could not believe what he was hearing, a blind man and a female wish to fight me? it was beyond his comprehension, “you’re both in need of brain repair if you think you can defeat me, I was trained by the best in close combat and my father is…..” he stopped himself before he could reveal more to his enemy, if they wish to fight then I will teach them a lesson, “very well I will show you how strong we are, first I will need a weapon” and he stood waiting for he was used to others following his orders.

Kela went to the wagon and after a short search she pulled out a heavy field knife, it was half the length of a man’s arm and used for cutting Kasha wheat, the handle was made of hard Balbar wood and the blade was Itarian steel, “will this be enough for you?” the Handmaiden asked smiling.

Romar nodded his head (yes) and Kela placed the weapon in his hand, when she did this the two Drogs began to growl and paw the hard ground, “will I have to fight them too?” the young man asked mockingly as he hefted the long knife in his hand.

Anais moved to the four-legged guardians and began rubbing their huge heads, “I will keep them calm while you teach my mate for I can see that she is eager to learn”.

Romar watched as Kela began removing her robe revealing a strong well-formed body and if it were not for the scars on her face the Captain would have found her very attractive, “so you wish me to fight the female first?”

The Blind Prince shrugged his shoulders, “your wounds are recently healed and I do not wish to tax them further, she will be enough to test your wisdom”.

Kela removed the gold stays from her long hair allowing it to flow freely in the light wind and she also took the sandals from her feet leaving her naked, but having been a Handmaiden of Isarie she was used to being unclothed for many of the sacred rituals were performed in the nude.

Romar took in the supple curves of her body, enemy or not she would be a prize for anyone, but he dared not show his weakness before going into battle “if you think you can distract me with your body it won’t work”.

The Handmaiden ignored his words for she was preparing her mind for the confrontation ahead, she closed her eyes and held her small knife with both hands and touched it to her forehead, a weapon is useless if it does not find a place to bite, I will be like the wind. She then opened her eyes and moved to an uncluttered place where she could move freely and the ground was even and without stones, she braced her feet and lifted the sharp blade, “I am ready” she said.

The Captain did not grip the handle of his weapon tightly for he had been trained to use a light grasp so that his knife would be an extension of his arm rather than a tool in his fingers; he moved slowly sizing up his foe and acknowledging the points where he could find weakness. He did not wish to kill the girl only disarm her and show his superiority.

Kela moved like a young she cat placing her feet firmly on the ground with each step and transferring her weight easily, she made no sound and kept her eyes focused on the man before her, he is over confident and that will be his undoing.

Anais stood beside the two Drogs and continued to speak to them in a soft voice in an effort to keep them from attacking, “do not fear you will be fed and no harm will come to your mistress”.

Romar heard the confidence in the blind man’s voice and decided it was time to show his prowess, with a quick move he lunged forward aiming at the right hand of the girl so as to dislodge her weapon and end the fight quickly but he found only empty space as his prey darted out of his path and as she turned she inflicted a small cut across his upper right arm, it was barely a hit but blood did show.

The wounded Youngonrie looked down at the red stain on his survival uniform, “a lucky scratch” he said with a smile and began to circle once more, a small misstep that’s all it was, he thought, she will be mine soon. His movements were more cautious this time making sure he made no mistakes.

Kela also did not want to gravely wound her challenger she only wished to show him that the females of the Outlands can stand their ground with any male and the fact that she was the daughter of a great warrior of the Almadra whose name is proudly written in the Book of Isarie and was trained by him in the supple art of blade dancing before she became a Handmaiden only added to her abilities.

I have pricked his courage she thought, but he will need more than a tickle, she began moving back the way she came seeing that the man favored his left side then it was her time to strike, she moved like lightening leaping high into the air as Romars long knife tried to block her blade but once again he was to slow and this time his left arm was cut lightly.

Romar’s face did not smile and his eyes began to burn with resentment, she think she will defeat me, she is wrong! And he lashed out hard and if his weapon had found flesh it would have caused great harm, but like his other attempts it failed and this time his anger found words, “stand and face me like a man not a pond-jumper!”

But Kela only smiled at him, “but I am not a man as you so clearly said and if you cannot jump as high as I it is the fault of your body and not mine”.

Again and again he struck but Kela moved like a leaf in a windstorm, leaping, spinning, moving like a temple dancer and with each movement another small cut was inflicted causing the

Youngonie Commander to become more and more agitated.

She is a woman he thought she is weak and I won’t let her defeat me!

But his mind-boost was just empty words for his weapon never found its mark and his training was useless against the phantom that danced before him. At last the Captain ground his teeth in rage and with sweat dripping from his eyes he swung for the woman knowing that his attack would surely kill her, but like before his blade found nothing and before he could balance himself he was swept off his feet by the swinging leg of the Handmaiden and in an instant her strong legs were around his waist pinning his arms to his side and he felt her knife at his throat.

“You have much to learn about us and our ways” Kela whispered in his ear, “I will teach you if you wish to learn” then she slowly removed her knife, stood up then put out her hand to the defeated young man, “there is no shame in admitting defeat, it is the beginning of wisdom”.

Romar finally understood that it was useless to continue the fight, he was bleeding from numerous small wounds and he was very thirsty so grasping the hand of the naked woman he stood up on shaky legs, “you are stronger then you look” he said, “and perhaps there are things that you know that I don’t”.

Anais was sure of the outcome of the battle but he had to admit that his heart was calmer now and he did not breathe as deep, “Now if that is settled perhaps we can have a cup of Po and talk”.

 

Ivar-Anoon was feeling much better now that the green crystal was flowing through his infected body, at first he was skeptical that such a tiny bit of emerald salt could cure his sores and pain in such a short time but as he stood looking at his healing arms and the energy that was returning to him he had to admit that he had been wrong, of course he kept this realization to himself for a leader must never acknowledge errors in his judgment. Now as he sat in the small command tent he looked across the charting table at the strange individual that had saved his life.

“You have kept your word” Ivar said to the creature known as Servant, “and I shall keep mine, I will hunt down the enemy and kill him then this world will be…ours”. The Commander was about to say the word “mine” but he stopped himself for he knew that the Thing before him would not have agreed with his terminology.

Servant knew all too well what the human wanted to say but he never questioned him for it mattered very little, “your soldiers will be healthy very soon but they are not enough to overcome the Outlanders for that you will need much more men and supplies”.

“I have thousands of troopers in orbit waiting my orders but I can’t bring them down until it is safe”.

The Ergan-Mar leaned forward a bit in his chair and spoke in a voice that could be heard only by the General and not the ever present armed guards that were positioned about the tent, “soon there will be a break in the protective shielding around this world, you will have sufficient time to send down a small contingent of your warriors”.

How can he know this? Ivar thought, he must have access to a field-ranger but looking at him he could see no communication device or any other sign of advanced mechanisms but if there was the slightest chance of securing more men he would take it, “when?” it was a short and precise question asked in the same low voice as his opponent.

Servant moved back in his seat and appeared to close his eyes, “you will have control in precisely nine point one cragars in a collected scale that will coincide with aliments of the orbiting moons”.

Ivar was a warrior and had very little knowledge of gravitational fields and their effects on moon trajectories; he had technicians to do that thinking, “you can relay that intel to my staff when the time comes”.

“Very well” Servant said, “but they will not be able to fire their energy weapons for some time, but primitive projectile arms will be functioning”.

Ivar had many questions that he still wished answered and now that he was feeling better he saw no need to wait, “if your master is so strong why does he hide in the darkness?”

This question brought a smile to the Earth-Eaters face, “is it wrong to hold secrets, do you not have many that you keep within you, we are both retainers in our way, you serve a master whose home is on a far off world, is Vocarus-Prodonus hiding or is he simply waiting for his orders to be followed?”

How does he know about the Chairman of the Alliance? Hearing the name of his superior made the hairs on the back of Ivars neck stand up but he managed to keep his face calm, “I applaud your skill in gathering information.”

“Thank you” Servant replied, “but I have to correct you in your use of the word “He”, my Master is not confined to a simple definition of genders, suffice to say that male and female are just random accidents of an unruly universe but if that name has meaning to you then my Master will not object”.

The General was about to ask further questions when an officer entered the tent, saluted and spoke, “Report as you commanded”.

“What is it?” Ivar was very much annoyed by this sudden intrusion.

The officer moved a few steps forward and saluted again, “your command was to inform you when the test subjects were in their last stages”.

Ivar made a gesture with his hand and the officer left the room, then he stood up, “will you join me?” he asked looking at the creature across the table.

Servant rose to his feet signaling his willingness to accompany the human and after a few moments they were outside the command tent and heading for the make shift medical center.

“Will there be any danger?” the General asked.

“No” replied the Ergan-Mar, “you have consumed the green crystal and are therefore immune to the plague, at least for a while”.

They continued across the barren ground passed recovering soldiers who snapped to attention as their Commander came into view, this lasted until they came to a structure that was attached to the fallen warship, it was covered in a clear canopy that sealed in the air and kept the interior as free of contaminates as possible. At the door stood to guards who saluted and opened the entryway for the human and his strange looking companion.

Upon entering the chamber the General was immediately struck with a wave of nausea for the air was very foul and carried the heavy scent of death and decay, but the old warrior had smelled that air many times and although he had to fight down the urge to empty his stomack he did not turn back. In front of him stood several tables upon which lay soldiers of his own battalion, they were from different species, Bolec’s, Youngonrie, Salocans, Hidraga, Upars and more and although they had little in common in civilizations they shared one thing now, they were dying.

Their bodies were covered in open sores that oozed with all manner of liquids, their limbs were twisted with spasms and they had to be restrained by heavy bindings, some of them screamed in pain while others whimpered and drooled, around them stood what was left of the medical teams but they did nothing to ease their pain for they had been given strict orders not to administer the green crystal.

Ivar moved slowly among the dying looking into their pain ridden faces and checking to see who still had life in them and those that were beyond suffering, and then he turned to an overworked technician beside him, “have you been keeping precise data on the speed and potency of the disease?”

“Yes” replied the fearful med-team member, “as per your orders they have not been given medication of any kind”.

“Very good” and seeing that his orders were being carried out he turned and looked into the face of Servant, “the loss of one warrior is insignificant in a confrontation with an enemy, a thousand is nothing when you are waging a battle and a million is miniscule when the victory is a world”.

 

The blood of a warrior is a precious thing, it is called upon when your world is in danger and it is given in defense of that home, sometimes it flows needlessly over some trivial insult to a follower of a God or Goddess long forgotten, at times it covers a battlefield were brave warriors have fought and died just to settle an argument on who had the more powerful army. The history of humans and their many offshoots are littered with stories written in blood so that the Scholars of the Outer Rim have agreed that it is a part of that species and that costly river will flow as long as humans dwell under the stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 21.

 

 

Leviathans.

 

Leviathans or Aranus-Trigor, the Gods of the Deep are one of the largest creatures of the Outer-Rim planets, they live deep in the waters of the Western Sea and rarely come to the surface, they are worshiped by the Akuna for they bare life and death on their backs.

 

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

The great undulating waves of the morning sea rose and fell like some huge watery beast seeking to rid itself of annoying insects, but the Cronos and the Brilla continued bravely onward in their quest to find the Deities of the waters and return with their prize. High in the sky and unaffected by the temperaments of the water hungry Sundroppers and giant Screechers whirled and sored filling the air with their piercing cries. The air hung heavy with salt and the scent of far off islands, gone were all traces of cooking pots, Karacks and creatures of the land replaced by an endless vista of rolling blue and green.

In the last few days Arn’s stomach had become friends with the sea and as he stood at the prow of the Cronos it seemed to him that all worries had been left far behind, he was no longer King of the Almadra and burdened with all that leadership required, he was just an ordinary warrior eager for the hunt and to test his strength against the great Gods of the Sea.

But I am King he told his mind, I am the son of Karn and my word is law, lifting his head up he drew in a deep lungful of sweet air then looked down at the water where he saw sharped toothed Blood-fish slicing through the prow waves for they had learned that where the hunting ships of the Akuna go death will soon follow. We follow our prey and they follow us he thought, all things live on the death of others and this brought a small smile to his face but not for irony but rather the idea that he was sounding like an Elder of the tribe, “not yet” he said in a voice to himself, “there are enemies to defeat and Leviathans to hunt before you grow old”. And to add weight to his words he gripped the handrail he was leaning upon and squeezed hard causing the dense wood to creek under the pressure, an enemy to face in battle, an enemy to defeat and bring glory to your name, enemies are all around you…..she is your enemy” and suddenly he found his hands grasping the rail so tightly it broke in two. He looked at the splintered guardrail and tried to erase the image that had appeared in his mind. He dropped the broken bits to the deck and looked out over the waters but it did not ease his memory for the face that he saw belonged to Moonbud.

All about him moved the hurry and bustle of a life at sea; the strongest warriors of both the Akuna and Almadra worked side by side pulling guide ropes, lashing down supplies and all the other monotonous routines that were need to keep the great ship on course. The Outlanders wore their heavy armor even in the heat of day and they were never far from their war axes for they never knew when a raiding ship might cross their path or some other danger rise up from the waves. The Nomads made sure their heads were covered by their horned helmets and even the scantily dressed sea-people wore metal plating on their skulls for they knew that Sundroppers were collectors of heads. The stout crew consisted equally of men and women for both were worthy of the task ahead and at night they could while away the time in each other’s embrace and count the stars in the heavens.

The off-world girl that had been given the name Moonbud was fascinated with the working of the huge sea vessel and was eager to learn the ways of the ship for she had grown up on a small farm and far from the oceans waves. On long summer nights she had often dreamed of leaving her dull home and sailing to far off lands filled with strange people and learning their ways, but then came the Trajon war and her battles with the Youngonie and when she heard of the destruction of her Homeworld she thought her dreams would never come true. Never the less here she was standing on the deck of a great Akuna ship, riding the dark waters of a forbidden world, hunting one of the most powerful creatures in all the Outer-Rim.

If only my mother and brother where here she thought and images of Simon and Niana sprang into her mind, I will miss them. But something strange occurred to her as she looked into their faces with her mind’s eye, my mother’s eyes were blue not brown or was it my brother who had the darker eyes? She shook her head thinking it was the fault of the clear air and not her recollection for she knew that she loved them both very much in her heart, then an old lullaby came to mind.

 

“Ocean of blue and clouds of white.

Mermaids swim in waters bright.

Darting fish in colors so bold.

Laughter sings in sea’s untold.

Lay your head and go to sleep.

Dreams of love are yours to keep.”

 

It was a song that her mother had sung to her and it made her smile, “yes, my mother whose eyes were the color of gold”, and smiling she moved to where her mate was looking out to the sea.

“When will we find the Leviathans?” Her voice was filled with anticipation for she longed to see the huge beasts and decide for herself if the grandiose tales she had heard matched their actual size.

“They will find us” replied the King his eyes remaining focused on the churning water, “the sky-flyers will warn us when the time is right”.

“Are they really as big as some say, I know it is forbidden to kill one so why do we hunt them?’

“On their backs they carry crystals that the Akuna need for survival, it is like our Grana but theirs is much more concentrated, a single shard no bigger than a Dot-fly can keep them healthy for an entire cycle”.

Moonbud quickly calculated the relationship of that substance to the amount of Grana needed by the Outlanders and although she was no Callaxion like her friend Osh she knew that it was surely a hundred times more powerful than the green salt the Nomads consumed.

“That’s fantastic” Andra said her voice filled with a sudden realization, “then with our share of the crystals we won’t need to trade with the Ergan-Mar or any other tribe for Grana, we can be free!”

Arn turned to her face her and saw the large pink shell the Cian had given her hang from her neck and this caused him to speak in a harsh tone to his mate, “have you learned nothing in our life together, we are Outlanders and bound by our laws, we will risk our lives for our brothers and sisters but the crystals belong to them, the sea belongs to the Akuna just as the land belongs to us, they are people of the sea and their gift from the Goddess is poison to us just as our Grana would kill them, we help them because it is our way and theirs, we must follow the trail set down by our past”. But even as the words left his mouth he knew they were not true, if I had followed our laws I would not have her as my mate, perhaps I was wrong in choosing her?

The words that her mate had spoken to her cut deep into Andra’s heart, he talks to me like I was a child, “you saved my life and I have saved yours” she said angrily, “we have shared our bodies and our minds and now you act like we never met!” and shaking her head she walked away.

The King watched her go but did not follow as a small voice in his head called out to him, let her go, she is not one of the chosen.

 

The twin suns were high in the sky when the Sundroppers began to chatter loudly.

Cian had spent the morning preparing his warriors for the task ahead for he understood the movements of the water like a temple performer understands the dance. The waves became even more intense and there was a smell of bottom sand and rotting vegetation on the wind, Blood-fish began to gather in great numbers leaping high into the air and snapping their powerful jaws together while huge Screechers dipped their great wings enabling them to sore only an arm’s length above the waves.

The Kandrac of the Sea-people stood before his warriors dressed in a close fitting body harness made of stout Rimar hide set with sharp metal studs, it had a steel ring the size of a man’s hand at the back and a sheath that carried a strong knife around the waist, gone were all ornamentations of gold, silver and shells leaving only a strong slim body that would easily cut through the water. The rest of the Akuna wore the same garments and as they stood together they bowed their heads and uttered a prayer to the Goddess of the Sea.

 

“Giver of life we thank you for your gift.

Taker of life we return what you give.

Aranus-Trigor rise up to the suns.

God of the deep we come to you.”

 

Nearby the Outlanders were also preparing themselves, they sharpened their axe’s and lubricated their armor with fish oil so that they would move swiftly, they attached Itarian steel plates to the souls of their riding boots and secured them with strong lacing that ran over the foot and up the leg, the metal was thick and heavy and would surely drag an unlucky warrior to the bottom if they fell into the water.

Andra had said very little to her mate for she was still burning over the words that he had spoken earlier but as she walked a few steps in her heavy boots she shook her head in dismay, “This will never work, and beside what do we need metal souls for?”

Arn lifted his boot and brought it down hard on the wooden deck checking to make sure that the metal was attached securely, “when we jump from the Boomers we will need the protection”.

“Jump?” Moonbud asked, “Why would we jump from a perfectly good boat?”

The King knew that it was time to explain just what was about to happen, “I feared telling you because it holds great danger and I did not want to trouble your mind”.

Andra’s anger cooled some hearing that her mate did not wish to worry her, he can be such a milk-brain sometimes, “Didn’t we face the Talsonar together and what about the Sagar-Cats in the Caltarine forest and the time I had to fight Ashra-Doom, don’t tell me that this can be worse?”

The King moved close to her and looked into her eyes, “Those were men and creatures of the land, Aranus-Trigor is a God of the deep, he is an island that swims, his breath is like a windstorm, and death follows him everywhere”. Arn moved to the railing and pointed to the water, “the sky-flyers tell us that he will soon rise there, and it will begin”.

Moonbud saw the Sundroppers winging closer to the waves, “but you still haven’t told me what the metal on our boots is for?”

“When the God rises we will go out to meet him in the Lightening boats, they will be pulled by the Akuna for only they possess enough speed to overcome the Blood-fish, when we reach the Leviathan we jump on its back, but you must be wary for it is covered in sharp crystals and poison creatures brought up from the depths, then it is a race against time for we must find a large blue crystal and remove it with our weapons then carry it to the boats before the God returns to the darkness”.

“And if we don’t reach the boats in time what then?” Andra asked.

“We will be taken by the water and the Blood-fish will strip our bones of flesh” Arn replied.

“Oh is that all” Moonbud laughed nervously.

“No” answered the King, “while we walk on the God’s back Sundroppers will attack seeking the creatures that live there and Screechers will seek to carry off those warriors that are wounded”.

Andra ceased to smile, “so we can be killed by flesh-eating fish or cut to shreds on the backs of Leviathans and if that isn’t enough we have to watch the sky for birds that will rip off our heads”.

The King nodded his head, “Yes, but there is no shame if you decide not to go”.

Moonbud moved close to her mate “where you go, I go” she said with a smile, “besides we’re Moric-Kan, what’s the worst that can happen?”

Arn looked down at the shell around her neck, losing her would be more terrible then death.

 

A loud cry was heard from the mast lookouts followed by a penetrating blast from the signal horns of the Nomads for the sky-birds began to form themselves into tight groups and fighting amongst the clusters broke out as they competed for the best positions for attack. The sky itself began to change for the air was filled with electric sparks and a strange humming sound, the water ahead of the ships became calm and the rising and falling waves that a short time before had filled the sea began to subside.

“DROP SAIL” Cian shouted and a few moments later the great wind sheets of the Cronos and the Brilla were lowered to their decks. The Kandrac of the Akuna watched the sea as it started to bubble and churn, “the God comes!” he called out pointing to a great whirlpool of swirling water some distance from the bow of the ship, then he called out to the Outlander King, “are you prepared for death my old friend?”

Arn smiled at the tall Akuna and held up his ax, “Tragi Dar Ramana, death is afraid”.

And hearing the words of their King the Nomads repeated the old saying.

“Tragi Dar Ramana, death is afraid”, they echoed.

Ahead the water continued to boil and churn like a great caldron of Hagar soup, water spouts shot from the surface and then it all began to wash away as a vast something rose up from the depths.

Andra watched wide eyed as the horizon became a wall of water filled with a bright rainbow of colors, blue, green, orange, and red, great beams of light flashed from the water into the sky almost blinding the Selcarie girl. At the same time the sky-birds began to dive skimming the water and flapping their featherless wings as they grasped squirming life forms in their strong beaks and claws. The lights continued to rise until what looked like an island was born from the water; it had no mountains or hills, only a landscape of jagged crystals reflecting the burning rays of the twin suns.

It can’t be that big? Andra thought for it dwarfed even the mighty Earthshakers that were the lords of the Outlands, and then she realized that she was seeing only the top of the creature, it must be many times larger under the water. Moonbud suddenly felt very small and the ax in her hand seemed like a toy, I might as well be armed with a root-skinner. For a moment or two she thought over her decision to accompany her mate on the hunt but she knew that she could never live with herself if she did, you ran once from death, never again, an image of her past flashed in her mind, the time she forgot her training and left her troopers to die in the war with the Youngonrie, it took her a long time to forgive herself for that betrayal and she vowed that her courage would never fail her again.

The air filled with a thunderous blast as the great sea beast let out a tower of spent air from three of its blowholes; the monstrous columns rose up many times the height of the masts of the Cronos and showered down a blanket of water across the decks of the hunter ships. This was the moment the Akuna had been waiting for and they began lowering the Boomers to the water below.

Arn lifted his heavy ax high in the air and shouted so that all could hear him, “warriors of the Outland, the Gods are watching, show them your courage!” and with his mate by his side he jumped into the first boat and stood at its bow as it rested on the water. As soon as that happened the Outlanders threw long ropes with hooks on their ends into the sea and a moment later several Akuna splashed into the water and quickly attached them to their harnesses.

Andra watched as Cian and his people began pulling the trim vessel through the water at a very fast speed, far greater than any oar-haulers of her Homeworld could have done, she gripped the rails of the boat feeling the ocean spray on her face and the rapid beating of her heart and as they moved toward their prey the warriors began to sing.

 

“Death rides the waves in colors that dance”.

Live and die are the children of chance.

Strong are our arms and sharp is our tooth.

Life and death are the guardians of truth.”

 

With each passing moment the Lightening boat baring the King and his mate drew closer to the living God, Andra glanced over her shoulder and saw many other vessels from the Cronos and the Brilla closing in behind as the air continued to crackle with electricity. Cian and his people leaped high out of the water and back again as they glided through the water like Wave-cutters on a lake.

They are truly creatures of the sea Andra thought as she watched the Akuna bounding over the waves and as she observed their Kandrac leading them onward her admiration for him grew. He is a strong man, and then she realized that her mind was drifting and she turned her head away.

Following close behind the Boombers were the Blood-fish for they sensed that soon they would be feasting on human flesh, like the Akuna they were creatures of the sea but they possessed no feelings other than the need to feed, they were the length of a man with a large mouth filled with razor sharp teeth but they had no eyes and relied solely on their keen sense of smell to guide them to their prey, the pheromone that the Sea-people emitted acted like a repellant but if they were wounded their blood would draw the flesh eaters to them, they moved swiftly but they lacked agility and a strong Akuna could defend themselves with their knife.

Arn stood at the prow of the Boomer and as they drew nearer to the great ocean dweller he reached down to pick up a long steel shaft with a barbed hook on its end, attached to the opposite end of the lance was a heavily braided rope that wound into a woven basket at his feet, the javelin was used to pierce the thick outer skin of the God-fish and hold fast while the Outlanders pulled hard on the rope drawing then close to their prey but there was always a chance that the monster would roll and lift one of its huge fins and send them all to a crashing death. It took great skill to aim the harpoon so that it didn’t strike one of the crystals and bounce off, there would be no ill effects from the spear for Aranus-Trigor felt nothing.

The shafts of light grew more intense as the hunters drew near causing Andra to shield her eyes with her hand then through her fingers she saw Arn lift his spear, draw back his arm and swing forward with all his strength, the shaft curved high in the air then down landing between two large crystals one green and one red, it bit deep into the skin and held fast.

“PULL!” the King shouted, grasping the heavy rope the Outlanders began pulling hard, as soon as the steel shaft struck home Cian signaled to his people and they detached the lines from their backs and drew their weapons, they swam around the boat watching for any approaching Blood-fish. The Boomer reached the harden back of the monster and the Nomads pulled harder lifting the boat from the water and at the same time Arn jumped onto the back of the great beast followed closely by Andra, and as her boot collided with the huge animal she looked down to see it swarming with creatures of all shapes and sizes, there were small crustaceans with waving arms and grasping claws, twisting worms, sand-crawlers, brittle-fish and hard shelled grabbers, poison-tooth bottom dwellers and strange looking tentacle blobs.

The Outlanders fanned out over the crystalline landscape leaving one behind to tend the boat, they moved swiftly for they had very little time to find what they came for. Andra moved to one of the tall green crystals and lifted her ax to strike at the base of the column, but Arn grasped her arm.

“Only the blue ones!” he had to shout his words for the air shook with another blast of wind as the great sea creature exhaled once again, “twice more and he will return to the depths”.

Andra quickly understood that the Leviathan was filling his enormous lungs with air and that he would only remain afloat for two more refilling of his body. Moonbud nodded her head in understanding then followed her mate as he moved across the monsters back. Their footsteps were well chosen for one misstep could spell disaster, but the Gods were on their side for the found what they had come for, a tall crystal that was the color of the winter sky. Arn planted his feet and drew back his ax and swung it with all his might, the edge bit deep and a crack appeared in the hard mineral, now it was Andra’s turn and she swung her Tooth cutting deeper into the crystal, back and forth it went until the King struck one more time cutting the base through and toppling the prize, but by chance a shard of the crystal broke off and sailed through the air cutting the exposed flesh just above Andra’s riding boot. The wound was not deep but blood began to flow trickling down the leg and onto the jagged skin of the huge beast, immediately the creatures that had made their home on the back of the Leviathan swarmed around the injured human, one small crab-crawler moved up the reddened limb and began biting.

“ARTOCK!” Moonbud screamed and swung her free hand down to swat away the annoying vermin then lifted one end of the crystal to carry it back to their boat.

She is injured Arn thought but he knew there would be no time to dress the wound, you are King, your people come first. It was a lesson that he had learned well for he was once a Deathrider, an outcast of the tribe for putting himself above his oath to his people so he lifted the heavy prize and said nothing as they began moving back the way they came.

And as they did the Sundroppers plummeted downwards and began striking at the small sea creatures and the humans that moved upon the mountain of flesh, out of the corner of her helmet Andra could see two Nomads each carrying a blue crystal in their arms. Then one of them stumbled and fell forward impaling his neck on a sharp outcropping, blood flowed freely and drew the attention of a huge Screecher that dropped from the sky, lifted him up and carried him off screaming, the other Outlander continued on for there was nothing he could do for his comrade.

It was hard going for the King and his mate, the huge creature that they stood on began to shake violently and the heavy weight of the crystal they carried threw them off balance causing them to almost tumble onto the sharp spikes but they somehow managed to stay on their feet and continue their hazardous journey to the relative safety of the boat. But the Brilla was not so lucky, the great beast lifted its massive tail fluke and the tip caught the stern of the hunting ship turning it end over end, the mast broke from their moorings and the twin hulls cracked open sending Outlanders and Akuna to their deaths as the tail of the Leviathan crashed down upon them.

Out of the corner of his eye Arn saw the destruction of the great ship, May Isarie grant them place in the Golden Hall he thought but here was little time to grieve.

“BLAAAARUPPP!” another sharp blast of air filled the sky, signaling to the Outlanders that they must reach the Boomers before the God of the Deep returned to its sunless home.

Breathing hard Arn and Andra succeeded in reaching the Lightening boat but as they were lifting the large blue crystal into the vessel a great shutter from the Leviathan caused Moonbud to lose her footing and tumble into the water. Weighted down by the steel plating on her riding boots she began to sink quickly, Arn had only moments to react, he drew one of the twin daggers from his belt and cut the binding holding the metal souls to his boots and then he leaped into the churning sea after his mate. Moonbud only had time to draw in a quick lungful of oxygen before toppling into the water and although she was a good swimmer having spent many summer days near a clear lake by her farm the cold water quickly drain her but rather than panic she strangely accepted her fate somehow feeling that it was the way it should be.

I’m going to die she thought and she waited for images of her past to flash before her eyes for she heard many times that when your life was about to end you thought of those dearest to you, but all she saw was a cold room filled with machines and a figure standing before her, Sergeant Reynolds her old drill instructor and words filling her mind.

Obey your orders”.

Down, ever down she drifted feeling the darkness engulfing her, I did my duty she thought, I followed orders. Her body felt light, no weight at all, a feather in the wind, all pain, all concern drifting away leaving only contentment, I did my duty, I followed orders.

Then a hand gripped her leg and looking down she saw not the man she loved but Cian cutting the straps holding the metal to her boot and a moment or two later the steel dropped into the darkness and she felt herself being lifted towards the light. Up, up she rose then she broke the surface and filled her lungs with priceless air. But she was not out of danger yet for the Blood-fish smelled the fresh sent of plasma and gathered round the injured human, Andra kicked for the Boomer that was just a short distance away but then the Leviathan began to submerge drawing in water and causing waves to rise up and crash over her head, her heavy armor would have been her end if it wasn’t for the Akuna leader for only his sea-altered strength could have sustained both himself and the girl in the surging water.

Round and round they swirled as Blood-fish made charges for the flesh of the girl, but Cian’s quick movements saved them time after time until he managed to strike one of the flesh-eaters with his knife and sensing a wounded rival the Blood-fish fell upon the weakened creature and began to devour him. It took every ounce of strength in the body of the Kandrac to reach the Boomer and lift Moonbud into the boat, she lay there eyes closed gasping for breath as waves broke over the side and the air thundered with the sound of Aranus-Trigor returning to the unsounded depths of the Western Sea. Moonbud’s head spun with dizziness and opening her eyes she tried to see the face leaning over her, after a moment or two it came into focus but the image was not of the man she hope would be there, it was the face of Cian and not her mate. Lifting herself up on one arm she glanced around the small boat looking for any sign of Arn but all she could see were tired Outlanders and blue crystals.

“Where is he?” she asked franticly.

The Akuna leader knew who she was asking for but he did not reply.

Andra pulled herself up and stood on shaky legs as wind and waves rocked the Boomer, “ARN!” she called out to the churning waters, “WHERE ARE YOU?” but no voice answered her pleas only the sound of feasting Sundroppers and the wild cries of hungry Screecher.

 

At that very moment Egmar and her Handmaidens sat on bended knees before the golden statue of Isarie in the great tent and lifted their arms in prayer.

“Etaro niashto emargorana Isarie tar agro may, Isarie forgive my sins and make me whole”, they spoke filling the scented air with their voices, “we are your children and look to you for guidance, we are the chosen and follow your teachings”.

And standing up the Holy Mother continued the inclination, “we are your servants and we are your……” then she stopped and her body began to shake and tears began to fall from her eyes, “my son” she called out, “MY SON!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 22.

 

 

The Will of the Gods.

 

 

The Will of the Gods is sometimes hard to follow for only they know the past and the future, those that are not Gods live in the present and see only what is before them and not what lies ahead.

 

From the Book of Isarie.

 

For three days and nights Kalgar-Rune had not slept nor eaten, now as the twin suns were about to vanish he sat alone on a ledge overlooking the Western Sea reading from the Holy Book, there was really no need to do this for he had long ago memorized each word of every line and could recall them without hesitation when needed but holding the sacred writings in his hand brought him comfort. Being a Thungodra he had no need to learn to read for they simply followed the will of the Holy Mother who was the speaker for Isarie and whose wisdom is beyond measure, but before being chosen as a guardians of truth he spend his time at the side of his father who was an Elder of the Tribe and learned the skill of translating markings. Having the Holy Book in his possession violated the laws of his order for a Thungodra was meant to live without the burden of ownership save for their weapons and their armor but Kalgar had inherited the manuscript from his father and saw no harm in keeping the words of the Goddess near him.

There is only one truth he thought, and the Goddess has shown us the way. He put down the Rimar hide bound manuscript on a heavy rock near him and looked down at the great domes of the Akuna, they are the demons here, they do not follow the teaching of the Goddess and they will be punished for their sins, standing up he moved closer to the edge of the steep cliff knowing that any slight mistake would send him plummeting to the ground, he closed his eyes and his right foot balancing on the remaining one, if I have sinned take my life then he waited.

Nothing happened, and he slowly lowered his foot.

He stood there for a time knowing that the Goddess had chosen him to live, there could be no other explanation, he was meant to lead the Thungodra and keep safe the Holy Mother. An image of Egmar filled his mind but this time he did not drive it away as he had done countless times before, this time he embraced it. I was chosen to care for her and I will honor my oath. Once more he looked down at the domes and heard the singing of the revelers.

“They are the demons here” he said in a low voice, “they will be punished”, then something entered his mind, a single word that would change his world.

“When?”

 

Earlier that day Osh and Alune had returned the taken shell to the place where the old man had found it, they were unseen and the Touchtender breathed a sigh of relief when she realized that her companion would not be punished for his lack of knowledge in the laws of the tribe, and knowing that he would remain with her she took him to a secluded cove where the sound of the waves breaking on rock filled the air along with the cries of sea-birds and the smell of the ocean, it was a place that was frequented by the Akuna and the fragrant aroma of their bodies was still present.

“There is your ink” she said pointing to a boneless creature lying in a pool of shallow water, “carefully remove the dark sack behind the head but do not touch the tentacles for they carry a poison that burns like fire”.

Osh bent down to examine the many armed sea life, “ah yes, a prime example of a Corartus-Melalie, it will do nicely”, then he realized that he had forgotten to bring a dissecting tool or any means of transporting the creature to their wagon, “it seems I will have to return later for my writing fluid”.

But Alune smiled and took a small clay pot from her robe along with a cutting knife, “traveling with you has taught me many things the least of which is the fact that you are a very learned man who needs someone to care for him”.

Hearing this the Callaxion lifted his head and was about to reprimand the woman for suggesting that he was incapable of looking after himself, then he regarded her kind face and her warm eyes and something in the air made all thoughts of defiance leave his mind, she is correct, you do need tending then he smiled, “Yes, my head is filled with information but sometimes lacks wisdom”.

Alune drew close to him and spoke in a soft voice, “and what of your heart, does it feel love?”

Osh was at a loss for words and before he could find them the Touchtender leaned over and kissed him gently on the mouth, perhaps it was the pheromones of the Akuna or maybe it was an emptiness in his heart that longed to be filled but for whatever reason the Callaxion did not turn away from the touch of the woman’s lips, and when at last they parted he stood there trying to understand the disturbing feelings that were racing through his body and mind.

It is a modest reaction to an elevated heart beat brought on by an unexpected show of affection from a female. It was a simple, soulless, calculated explanation of the event that would be completely reasonable to a member of his species, then why did he wish to kiss her back?

Alune could see that her companion was having trouble finding words to express his feelings, men of this world or another are all the same, and reaching down she quickly removed the desired organs from the bottom dweller and put them into her bowl, “shall we go now?” she asked smiling.

Osh did not want to leave for he hoped that there would be a repeat of lip-pressing but the logic side of his oversized brain overload his better judgment, “Yes” he said clearing his throat, “ there is much that needs doing” and saying nothing more they began walking towards the trading place of the Sea-people.

The Touchtender and the Callaxion spent the rest of the day interacting with the Akuna traders, the Outlanders had brought them the much needed hardwood and would risk their lives in the hunt for the great Leviathans and in exchange the Wave-riders would give them goods in return. The main object of trade was Fish-sauce, the salty concoction of fish, herbs, spices and secret ingredients mixed together and placed in sealed clay pots, the Nomads loved this ocean gift very much but used it sparingly for it had to last them a whole cycle. Along with the tasty treat they traded shells and corals of all colors for the Outlanders wore them as prized possessions and traded them to other tribes for things they wish to have.

Alune was a hard trader for she knew the value of a pot of Fish-sauce and what she was entitled to as a member of the Almadra, she haggled for some time before she settled on just the right size containers with a taste that suited her discerning palate. Osh on the other hand saw a large sea shell much like the one he had returned and took it as his only payment, and as he carried it away he had to laugh knowing that just a short time before he would have been made Outcast for having such a shell and now he could show it proudly without any ill effect. And when they both returned to their wagon the suns was going down and the old man once again check to see if the girl had returned but he found the Karack empty, and spoke to the woman at his side.

“She has not returned” he said.

Alune could see the concern in his eyes and even though she feared the strange young girl she knew that she must help, “Tebor-Con was my third mate and a strong hunter, he taught me how to track quarry and if you wish to look for her I will come with you”.

Osh knew nothing about tracking prey and understood from his calculations that the odds of finding her was very slim but he had been delegated the responsibility by Andra to look after her daughter and he did not wish to betray that trust. “The suns have set and the chances of finding her will be slightly better with the darkness, I wish to find her and any help you can give would be greatly appreciated”.

Alune reached into the wagon and took a handful of Grana from a small carry pot and tossed it on the ground, “an offering to the Goddess for her help in finding what we seek”.

Osh was about to say that such primitive rituals would not alter the mathematical predictions of a favorable outcome, but he stopped himself before he spoke and reaching in he also took a small portion of the green salt and threw it in the air then smiling he turned to the old woman, “lead the way”.

And so they set out to find the odd young girl and return her to the safety of her home.

Kalgar-Rune continued to pace back and forth with one word ringing in his head, when?, when?, when?, over and over, the demons are among us and I have been chosen to guard the Holy Mother, he moved to where his ax lay and took it up in his strong hands, this is the judgment of Isarie and he swung the Tooth back and forth in the warm night air, I will not be weak, I will be strong!

He turned to see the great tent of the Holy Mother, she is righteous but what of her Handmaidens, he knew that demons could appear in many guises, and that they could hide themselves in even the purest of hearts, perhaps the servants of the Gods have been possessed by sin and have cast a spell over her? Soulseers, witches of the Outlands! How could he be sure they were who they appeared to be? “I cannot play Chance-cards when the fate of our tribe is in the balance, I must protect the Holy Mother and punish those that wish her harm”. Back and forth, back and forth.

“When?” he said out loud, “when will the sinful be punished and the righteous take their place under the stars?” he looked up at the night moons slowly making their way across the heavens, “they follow the will of Isarie, they are the children of the heavens” his voice began to rise in strength, “I have been chosen to guard her laws, when will the sinful be punished?” and he spread his powerful arms wide and shouted out in a voice that carried on the wind, “When?” then the answer flashed in his mind and answer as clear as the stars in the sky.

“NOW!”

And lowering his weapon he looked down on the city of the Akuna, “I will follow the will of the Goddess and those that have sinned will be punished”, and turning from the cliff he marched towards the tents of the Thungodra all the while calling loudly, “gather your weapons, the enemy is here and we must fight!”

And hearing the words of their Leader the warriors of Isarie made themselves ready for war.

 

There was no thought of combat on the mind of Osh as he and Alune looked for any sign of Niana, the old man knew that she would not be in the great pleasure dome of the Akuna or likely to be anywhere near them for if they had seen her they would have sounded the alarm. She might have been in one of the caves cut from the rock by the waves so they decided to look for her along the sand but after several entering and exits they found only a few naked Outlanders and Akuna seeking a place from prying eyes to embrace.

“I fear we will not find her” the old man said, “perhaps she has returned to where she was born?”

The Touchtender knew of the strange circumstances under which she came into this world for Osh had told her of his past and the time that he had spent as an Outcast and sought shelter in the Hollow Hills during the Burning Time and how the Off-world girl had given birth only to have that offspring taken from her and their time with the Norgonie and the return of that very same child to its mother.

“We must trust in the Goddess” Alune said, “only she knows what is to come”.

“Perhaps you are right” Osh replied, “but what will I say when the King and Andra return?”

This brought a smile to the face of the Touchtender, “as I have said you are a wise man and will think of something”, she leaned over and was about to kiss him once more when a sound was heard from the water.

Out in the bay the Emor grazed on water plants under the night sky, they lifted their massive heads grunting and hooting as they consumed great mouthfuls of succulent vegetation, then they stopped and began shaking their blubbery bodies and opening a space in the tangle of the huge herd. The water swirled and uplifted like some great creature was about to break the surface then a tower of water sprang into the air and dispersed leaving only a layer of calm. And from that mirror like sea a small figure began to emerge, it rose up and stood on top of the water like some shimmering Pond-strider.

As it drew nearer Osh could make out its features and knew that it was Niana who had risen from the water, how could she survive under the sea for so long? The pressure, the dangers, the..? Then he shook his head, foolish man, she is a creature beyond even your understanding.

The reaction from the Touchtender was very different for seeing a girl rise from the water then walk upon it without effort only brought fear to her mind, how can she do this? She must be a demon who has escaped the Pit of Marloon.

The two humans watched as the young girl drew near them, one with wonder in his mind the other with fear in her heart.

Niana walked from the sea and stood before the old man and the woman, she was taller than before and naked but her body was not that of a human any longer, it shimmered with crystal-like scales reflecting the light from the night moons and her eyes were green portals that seemed to reach into your soul. Her head was elongated with crystalline shafts rising up half an arm’s length or more adding to her unnatural stature, her slender fingers had also grown in length and as she walked her feet left no impression in the soft sand.

“Do not fear me” she said in a voice filled with compassion, “I will not harm you, I have returned to do that which must be done”.

Osh gazed at the crystal woman with many thoughts racing through his ordered mind, she has mutated, her body structure must be based on carbon but it is rejecting organic life for a mineral one, “ wwwwe thought you had gone” the old man’s voice could not help but stammer for he too felt fear.

Niana drew closer to them and watched as they pulled away from her, “you fear me but I have come back to care for you, a time is coming that will test your souls but Eairla will save us all”.

“Eairla?” the Callaxion said, “who is Eairla?” But there was no answer to the old man’s question and the crystal woman began walking towards the great domes, “WAIT!” Osh cried out, “If the Akuna see you they will harm you”.

The strange woman turned to him and smiled, “I must do that which must be done” and continued on her way.

Osh and Alune watched her going, “We cannot let her go alone” the old man said, “I promised to look after her and I will not break that promise”, the odds predict disaster, perhaps you are just a foolish old man after all?

The Touchtender understood the dangers that lay ahead but she had also taken an oath to care for all living creatures and despite her fears she would honor that vow, “I care for you and if the will of the Gods say that we must perish then I will stand by your side as we enter the Afterlife”.

Osh had never told any woman that he loved her for he had never loved any woman, it was a simple fact and therefor he had never seen any reason to say those words, but now the universe had conspired to place him on just the right planet at just the right time to find that one female that the word “love” might hold some meaning.

“I do not believe in an Afterlife” he said softly, “but as you say I have much to learn and if there is such a place as you speak of I would be very content to spend the rest of eternity there with you.”

Alune had been told many times by many men that they loved her, some by simply bringing her food in the tradition of the Outlands, other shouted the word as they were engaged in sexual acts with her, and still there were some who spoke that word with their eyes and gifts in their hands, but she had never heard a more elegant way of saying what was in a man’s heart then that, “then let us travel that road together” she said and taking his hand in hers they followed after the shimmering woman leaving two set of footprints in the sand.

 

The attack on the great dome of the Akuna was swift and deadly, the Thungodra were well trained and their heads were not filled with Dral and Po as were the revelers who they now looked upon as enemies of the Goddess. They moved quietly down to the water and across the bridge that linked the huge structures to land, there were few that apposed them for who would have imagined that danger would come from the followers of Isarie who had taken a pledge to protect the tribe and the Holy Mother from harm. It was only when they entered the pleasure dome that an alarm was sounded but by then it was too late for the all but naked Outlanders had placed their weapons on racks near the entrance and it was the first place the holy warriors attacked. But even without their ax’s the Almadra warriors fought back!

“We have been betrayed!” a warrior called out.

“The Thungodra have turned against us!” cried another.

Kuno who had been busy with two of the Akuna females rose up and holding a large drinking cup in his thick hand as a weapon he leaped upon one of the dark armored guardians and struck him in the face sending blood and Dral flying through the air, then laughing he turned to another and kicked out with his legs bending the man’s leg armor and cracking the bone beneath.

But not all of the fighting was done by the Nomads for there were many strong Akuna of both sexes who joined ranks with the Outlanders and added their speed and strength to the battle. Food and drink mixed with blood from all sides covering the ornate floor and the fountain that sat at the center of the chamber turned red as bodies floated in its water. Although the Outlanders and Akuna outnumbered the Thungodra two to one they could not win for they lacked their strong armor and ax’s but being who they were they would have rather died then surrender.

Kuno knew this better than any warrior for he fought beside the King many times and was ready to die if the battle was lost, but he was also chosen by Arn to guard his people in his absence and seeing that the Angel of Death would surely take them all he stood up on a stout table and called out so that all could hear.

“Lay down your arms, I say this as your acting King!” At first the Outlanders ignored his command and he shouted out once more, “Stop! I command you!” this time the Nomads turned to look at the blood stained face of the Captain of the Spikebacks, “the Golden Hall of Isarie waits for us all but not for those who go against the commands of their King, lay down your arms!”

One by one the Almadra and the Akuna stopped fighting and the Guardians of Isarie bound the hands of the Nomads and the Akuna and seeing that the battle was won the Thungodra allowed a few to care for their injured and soon the great dome grew silent save for the moans of the dying and the prayers that rose up for the gravely wounded.

 

Egmar had been praying in her chambers for she was certain that the life of her eldest child had ended, gone now she thought, Agart, Seeda and now Arn, all gone, she was alone, all her children taken from her, there was nothing that remained of them save for the metal head of her lost child. She looked over at the grotesque relic knowing that it was all she had left of her family. The will of Isarie is sometimes hard.

“You must go!” cried one of the servants of Isarie as she pulled back the curtain to the sacred quarters, “they bare weapons and will harm you”.

“Who is coming?” the Holy Mother asked thinking that a rival tribe had somehow broken thru her loyal warriors.

“The Thungodra,” the Handmaiden gasped, “they come to destroy us all!”

Egmar rose from her knees and stood dumbfounded for a moment or two, “I am the speaker for the Gods, they will not harm me”, and then she looked into the eyes of the young girl and saw that they were filled with terror and the robe of the Handmaiden was streaked with fresh blood.

Covering herself in a simple robe she started her escape then something caused her to take up the metal head of her lost child and hiding it under her garment she left the chamber.

Cries of pain and terror filled the air along with smoke as braziers where overturned and ancient tapestries caught fire; all thoughts of their sacred oaths were forgotten as the Thungodra searched for the Holy Mother and at their head was Kalgar-Rune.

“Find her!” he shouted, “save her from the wicked!”

Egmar hurried from the tent as her Handmaidens sacrificed their lives to protect her, seeing them fall tore at her heart and she longed to die with them but something drove her onward and with smoke filling her lungs and tearful eyes she passed through a small opening at the back of the great tent and into the night. Coughing and feeling the sting in her eyes she stumble through flaming bits of debris falling from the sky all the while hearing the screams of the dying and the shouting of warriors. At last she made it to the cliff overlooking the great domes and saw the chaos below.

How can this be? She thought and looking up at the sky she called out with tears in her eyes, “Isarie, why have you forsaken us?” then she heard a reply that she was not expecting.

“Do not put your trust in the Gods” it said.

Through her weeping Egmar saw Dennor standing near her, “sister?” her voice filled with emotion, “what are you doing here?”

“Did I not say that I would see you again?” she said smiling, “and it seems that I have come at the right moment to save you”, and taking her by the hand she lead her away into the night.

 

Kalgar-Rune stood outside the burning tent surrounded by his loyal warriors, “find the Holy Mother” he screamed and knowing that she was not among the dead he turned and quickly marched towards the great domes followed closely by shouting guardians.

 

The space near the causeway was filled with Nomads and Akuna Elders and those that were not warriors for the Thungodra had rounded them up so they might be watched in case there were demons among them. Ironworkers, Weavers, Musicians, Potters, all the remaining members of the tribe of the Almadra were there mixed with the people of the sea, some cried while others stood frozen with fear. The Thungodra surrounded them holding weapons and torches and none dare move for it would have meant certain death.

 

Niana seemed oblivious to the bedlam around her and continued to move to the very heart of the rebellion, a short distance behind her walked Osh and Alune doing their best to go unnoticed in the confusion, the two humans held each other close taking comfort in the fact that they were together.

The Touchtender’s heart cried out at seeing the wanton destruction of life and being the Cup-sharer she was she longed to help those in need but she realized that it would be a futile attempt as long as the fighting continued. My poor people she thought, but what can I do?

Osh also felt for those around him but he understood that violence breeds violence and the killing madness had taken hold of the Outlanders and it must run its deadly course, it is the price we pay for being human.

Then as the crystal woman drew nearer the conflict the Thungodra began to point at her and shout in many voices.

“It is a demon from the Pit!”

“Destroy the monster before it destroys us!”

“Isarie save us from this creature!”

And those words were echoed by the Nomads and the Akuna for although they were now prisoners of the Holy Warriors they still looked upon the woman as a thing that should be destroyed, but none dared to be the first to strike a blow and they made a pathway for the bizarre looking woman as she moved forward but all the while cries of hatred filled the air as blooded weapons pointed her way. Niana said nothing and stood calmly as they began pelting her with small stones and anything else they could find at hand all the while shouting more insults to her.

“She is not one of the Chosen!”

“Isarie would not create such a thing!”

Osh and Alune melted into the mass of people for all eyes were now fixed on the strange woman and knowing that they had made a vow to stand by her they could not bring themselves to come to her aid.

It would be suicide the Callaxion thought; they would kill me in their rage.

What can one old woman do against such hated Alune told her mind.

So they stood together hoping that others would have the strength to intervene, but none did.

Finally a voice was heard above the outcry, a voice that the Thungodra obeyed.

“What is this thing?” Kalgar cried seeing the strange woman before him, then as he gazed at her in the glowing torch light a sudden realization struck him hard, the demon herself, the one that I was chosen to destroy! Holding his bloodstained ax he moved close to her and looked into her glowing green eyes, “tell me demon, tell me the names of those under your spell!”

But Niana said nothing.

This made the rage inside Kalgar rise up even more, “what have you done with the Holy Mother, tell me or you will die!”

But again the crystal woman refused to speak.

“Bring wood and oil and a stout pole” the leader of the Thungodra shouted, “she will speak or she will perish!”

Following his commands several of his warriors fell upon some wooden barrels and hacked them into pieces with their ax’s then taking up the fragments they carried them to wear a heavy pole had been sunk in the soft earth and piled the wood around it.

Osh watched and heard what was said and he understood what was about to happen and taking Alune by the arm he tried to pull her away, “we must go now” he said trying to be heard over the cries of anger around them.

For a moment the Touchtender couldn’t understand what was going on, then she saw the look of fear in the eyes of her companion and the great mound of wood and the pots of oil that was being carried to it she a last understood, “they cannot burn her, they cannot!” tears began to fall from the eyes of Alune and she shook her head in dismay, “she is not a demon, they must not harm her!”

But that is just what Kalgar-Rune wished for he knew that only fire could send a demon back to its home in the Pit of Marloon, and looking to see that his orders were obeyed he smiled and spoke to the demon once more, “you will not speak so you will die!” he said pointing to the mound of wood.

Then Niana nodded her head and whispered in a voice that only he could hear, “I must do what must be done, as you must do what is commanded of you”.

A strange feeling fell over the mind of the Thungodra leader, he seemed to be standing on a cliff overlooking a deep abyss, above him hung the moons of Gorn, below him was only darkness, what must I do? He asked his mind, and then an image of Egmar flashed before his inner eye and suddenly he knew what path to follow, “BURN HER! He shouted.

And ceasing the crystalline woman they tied her to the pole with strong rope and pouring oil on the dry wood they flung a torch into its center and instantly a great wall of flame rose up engulfing the demon from the pit!

“NOOOOOOO!” cried out Alune but no one heard her above the cheers of the Outlanders and Akuna for they saw her only as a monster and could not see what was in her heart.

Higher and higher the flames rose, a shimmering torch of fire sending out a warm glow on those watching the carnage, the dry wood crackled and popped and embers lifted into the sky and through the flickering inferno Niana stood like a statue. She did not cry out in pain or show any sign of fear as her body became blackened with heat and smoke, the glowing aura surrounding her body began to fade and shafts of light shot from jagged cracks that were breaking all over her crystal skin. A strange humming radiated from the bonfire the sound of which cannot be put into words, suffice to say it filled the ear with a murmuring that seemed to reach into the mind and heart; it was if all creation was gathering together to morn a loss.

A strong wind began to blow out of nowhere as thunder clouds gathered overhead but they were not the color of mist or vapor, they shimmered with rainbow colors casting brilliant flashes of red, blue and green on the land below. Out in the inner cove the rising waves broke hard on the shore causing the Emor to run from the water and seek shelter inland. The ground started to shake and lightening flashed in the heavens, then great bolts of energy exploded from the bonfire shooting upwards in shafts of blue and green and the blast sent Nomads and Akuna fleeing for their lives.

“RUN!” shouted Osh pulling the Handmaiden by the arm, and stumbling and turning the Callaxion and Alune made their way through the terrified masses and into the night.

The only one who did not flee was Kalgar-Rune for he stood braced against the wind watching the sacrificial fire and knowing that he had made the right choice.

I have destroyed the evil among us he thought; I have followed the will of the G

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 23.

 

 

The Storm.

 

 

PRIVATE VIEWING ONLY—-UNAUTHORIZED READING IS PUNISHABLE BY DEATH.

 

The level ten atmospheric disturbance has been raging for the last twenty four time breaks, damage to encampment has been severe and there have been some casualties but I have received information that the storm will subside soon and we will be able to launch landing ships to the surface.

From the personal journal of Ivar-Anoon, first General of the combined forces of the Mac-Mar Alliance.

The world of Gorn had never experienced a storm like the one that now ravaged the land and sea.

Wind, rain and bolts of lightning pounded the ground and water, a great dust storm swirled across the Sirolian Plains sending the herds of Rimar into a panic trampling fields of ripened Kasha wheat under their heavy feet. Doff-birds raced for their lives but there was nowhere to find shelter from the choking dust, Shellbacks drew in their thick armored necks and sat like field stones against the driving winds. Even the massive Earthshakers were affected for the wind blew the layers of earth from their immense backs causing them to rise up and bellow their anger.

What remained of the City of the Talsonar had become a hiding place for outland creatures and roaming Sandjar that found the broken stones a place of safety but it became their grave as sand piled up amongst the huge fragments burying alive those who tried to seek shelter from the pounding gale.

The Breast of Isarie fared somewhat better for the huge dome was able to withstand the raging storm and those Nomads that had come there following their cycle of rituals were protected but they still prayed for mercy for those that were not so fortunate. Still other Outlanders found safety in the Hollow Hills and the twisting canyons of the Pass of Moke, there they would stay uttering prayers and watching for a break in the tempest.

The Land of Smokes became a burning hell as the ground shook and great towers of molten fire rose up to the sky mixing with acid vapors and Eulmar that spewed from fissures in the ground, and just beyond the broken wall the Valley of Dispair became a rock strewn gorge as walls of stone tumbled down filling up the pass and crushing all creatures who made it their home.

The Jungles of Yug were pounded by a driving rain and wind that toppled ancient trees and terrorized the sub-human Galu and all the strange creatures of that emerald land. What remained of the Forbidden City broke apart and the giant Sceechers that dwelled in its haunted levels took to the air circling the crumbling mass of rock and steel calling out their anger to the sky.

Even the fortress of the Norgonie could not withstand the onslaught from the heavens; the great stronghold was rocked by shakings of the ground and bolts of lightning that struck the watchtowers and the God-machine that rose up from the center of the compound and a sacred temple that the forest dwellers came to pray to Armra their God.

The Poisoned lands of the Shadowmen was not spared punishment for it seems that those scarred and disfigured people would have more pain and suffering added to their retched existence, they huddled in their dark caverns as their underground home shook and great chunks of rock fell from caverns ceilings and with no God to pray too they sat silently excepting their fate.

But the place that seemed to be the focus of the storm was the land around the Eye of Isarie for it was there that the land shook the most and the wind blew the hardest.

The great columns of stone that circled the sacred alter tumbled one onto another shattering the ancient markings and covering the Talk-stone under tons of rock, and the destruction was not all centered on the places that had stood for eons for a prodigious crack opened under the fallen warship of the Alliance and it was swallowed up by the earth.

 

“We must seek stronger cover!” Anais shouted as the raging winds hammered the Karack that they huddled in.

“There is no place the winds will not find us” replied Kela as their wagon rocked from side to side.

Romar said nothing as he sat in the back of the wooden vehicle and although he would never admit it he was scared. This is no way for a soldier to die he thought, he always believed that he would be killed in battle bravely commanding his warship in a desperate confrontation against a powerful enemy, but here he was cowering in a primitive wagon as an invisible force of nature took aim at him.

The only ones that seemed unaffected by the storm were the two Drogs for they huddled together under the Karack, heads down, legs drawn in tight and appearing to be asleep. Trofars and Whiptails were used to wind and rain and being the size they were they had no fear of being carried away or drown, but they still roared their defiance and stamped the muddy soil as lightning bolts struck the ground around them. But humans were small creatures compared to the great Thundra beasts so Kela held taut to her mate and whispered an appeal to Isarie.

 

“Pass us through this fear; grant us mercy in your all seeing eyes.

Forgive us for our sins and hold us in your arms.”

 

It was an ancient prayer that she learned as a young Handmaiden and although she was no longer a servant of the Goddess she still held tightly to her beliefs and in them she found strength.

 

Endo and Rawna also held each other in their arms but they did not pray for they believed in no Gods, they were Sandjars, scavengers of the Outlands and therefor unworthy of the love of Isarie, but it was said in the Holy Book that the Goddess knows and sees all and even the lowest of creatures has a place in her heart. Now as the storm raged Endo braced himself against the Karack that held the taken weapons for their tent had been sucked away.

The storm will pass and we will be safe, he spoke those words to his mind hoping it would be true but knowing that at any time a shaft of white hot electricity could end their lives in an instant. Rawna closed her eyes and held tight to her Coraw and feeling the beating of his heart brought her some comfort but something else was pulling at her and not knowing what the next moment might bring she lifted her head and looked into his large eyes.

“I have life inside of me” she said softly.

For a moment Endo did not know what she meant then a sudden realization fell over his face, a child he thought, she is carrying a child inside her, my child.

Nomads would say with certainty that Scavengers have no feelings for their young for they had seen them being abused by the Sandjar and sometimes eaten as food in times of need, but Endo had been raised in the camp of the Almadra by a man who was wise and gentle and he passed that kindness on to the female at his side.

 

Andra had been raised on a small farm but she had learned to fight and never give up but as she looked out at the raging water she wanted to let go of the guide rope and join her mate in the dark depths of the sea.

Gone she thought, dead like my mother and my brother, dead like her Homeworld and her troopers, all gone, what will I do now? She could return to her adopted clan, but was it really her tribe or was she just an orphan from the stars who fell to ground and was taken in by a man who found her attractive? She had fought beside them and was given the name Moonbud, the flower that kills, but what was she really? A young woman who shared a bed and her body with their King and stood beside him on ritual days, why not just let go and end it all?

“Follow your orders” a voice told her and she turned quickly expecting to find Sargent Reynolds standing near her, but there was no one just wind, rain, and the waves crashing against the thick hull of the Cronos. Andra turned back to the water and watched as great waves rose and fell rocking the hunter ship and slowly taking her back to a world she no longer cared for.

Arn is dead she told herself, I am alone but strange as it seemed the pain in her heart that she waited for did not come? Instead she felt only resolve to face the truth and move on, what has happened to me? The face of her dead lover flashed before her eyes but she did no weep as it vanished, she tried to feel his arms around her but she felt only the wind on her skin, did he mean so little to me?

Before she could answer that thought she felt a hand on her shoulder and turning she saw Cian standing close to her, he said nothing as she looked into his beckoning blue eyes and then without thinking she reached out and took him into her arms and kissed him.

The dead are dead she heard her mind say casualties of war, more on.

And so the Off-world girl known to the Outlands as Moonbud let go of the past and embraced the future, her nose filled with a sweet fragrance that took away all pain and guilt and questions and her body shook with the lust that had been pulling at her but in her heart she felt nothing, no love or comfort or need it was if she had died and now walked as a phantom of what use to be.

 

Osh and Alune were unable to return to their wagon for the wind and rain raged outside the small cave they huddled in, the waves broke hard on the rocks near by sending up towers of salty spray adding to the thunderstorm and their fear.

I have failed the Callaxion thought, Andra had entrusted me with her daughter and now she is dead. It was a hard truth but one he had to face, you should have done something to save her but what that something was he could not find in his mind only facts and equations about alternate outcomes that might have been and one of those truths was beside him now, he would have risked the life of Alune. She needs me now and I need her, and that balance of things to come satisfied the old man.

The Touchtender was also thinking of what she had done and what might be in store for her in the future, I should have helped her, I am a Touchtender of Isarie and I have taken an oath to care for her creatures and now I have turned my back on one. Alune had always believed that when she died her soul would enter the Afterlife and find a place in the Golden Hall for all eternity, but now what would happen to her? Will I be worthy or will I fall into the Pit of Marloon?

 

Egmar had no time to think of eternity for she was running for her life; she headed towards the sea avoiding the chaos near the domes of the Akuna and following a little known path that she knew from her long ago childhood, it twisted and turned through jagged rocks and towering outcroppings of dark Eul. At times the going was relatively easy then the rain and wind began and her escape suddenly became very treacherous, the ground turned soft making her footing uncertain and the raging wind blinded her eyes so that she could scarcely see the figure of Dennor leading the way, then a misstep sent her tumbling to the muddy ground and the metal head of her forgotten son tumbled from under her robe and lodged itself between to rocks.

“Wait!” she called out above the storm and she lifted her hand hoping that it would be taken by her sister.

Dennor stopped and turned to look at the fallen woman, “you were once the Queen of the Almadra and their Holy Mother and now you seek my help?”

it was a strange thing to say at such a perilous time but Egmar knew that her sister’s moods could swing from one side to another like a warriors ax so she lowered her hand and gathering up her strength she rose to her feet, she moved to where the metallic artifact sat wedged and taking it into her hand she tried to pull it free but it was stuck hard.

“Help me” she called out but her sister simply looked at her with distain in her eyes.

“It is just a fragment from a child long dead” she said coldly “let the wind and rains have it, perhaps it will make a good offering to your Gods?”

But Egmar was not about to leave the only reminder of her lost son behind and pulling with all her might the head broke free and she quickly placed it back under her robe.

Dennor watched unmoving then seeing that her sister had what she wanted she smiled, “You see dear sister, you saved yourself” and then she turned and continued along the meandering pathway, the Holy Mother shook the droplets of rain from her eyes and followed behind.

They traveled for what seemed like a lifetime avoiding creatures that were also seeking shelter and trying their best not to be eaten as prey, then ahead of them Egmar spotted a small hut made of driftwood and rock, it was little more than a hovel for some outcast fisherman but it would keep them out of the rain and wind so with no other choice in site they headed for the broken shanty and forcing open a heavy door they went inside.

It was barren except for a small table, a rumpled and torn sleeping mattress, two chairs, some barrels and boxes and abandoned fishing paraphernalia, there was a stone fire pit in the center of the room and a smoke shaft made from the hollow leg bone of some great beast, the peaked roof was supported by a half dozen ribs from a large sea creature and had several holes allowing the water to drip inside creating small shimmering pools on the stonework floor, there were two square cut windows on the otherwise uncluttered walls, it smelled of dead fish and rotten vegetation but it was better than facing the elements outside.

But they were not the only living creatures that wanted a place out of the rain and wind for a family of Sand-walkers occupied one corner of the shack, the small furry animals dug for shellfish and Mudworms and were no danger to the humans as long as they kept to their side of the room.

“We will be safe here” Dennor said shaking the water from her robe and sitting down on an upturned barrel in a corner of the darkened room.

Egmar moved to the small table, took the metal head from under her robe and placed it down gently, she stood there for a time looking into the vacant eyes of the metallic skull then she walked to a dry place and sat down. Neither of the sisters said a word for some time they just sat in the darkness as flashes of lightening sent shafts of cold light through the holes in the ceiling illuminating the small hut.

“What will you do now?” Dennor asked finally breaking the long silence.

“Why would you ask such a question?” Egmar replied turning her head in a direction so she would not have to look into the face across the room.

“All your children are dead, your faithful guardians have turned against you and your Gods have abandoned you, what will you do now?”

The Holy Mother was about to say that she spoke deceptions but she knew that some of it was indeed the truth, her children were dead and the Thungodra did try to kill her, but one thing was not a falsehood; Isarie was still by her side.

“The Goddess will protect me” she said proudly turning to look into the eyes of her sister but the darkness of the room prevented her from knowing what lay behind those eyes, instead she heard a faint laughter from her sibling.

“You are a poor Meka after all” Dennor said with great amusement in her voice.

Egmar always hated being called that name by her older sister for Meka was from the old language and meant a small helpless fish, and knowing that the words were meant to hurt her she wanted to return the insult, “and you are an old woman who never found a mate!” as soon as the words left her mouth the Holy Mother regretted saying them but it was too late to take them back but she knew she should try, “forgive me for my words, I am cold, wet and tired, and I wish to sleep”. And she tried to close her eyes hoping that no more would be said.

“No” Dennor said after a moment or two, “what you say is true, I am old and I have no mate, my age is an unwanted gift of time and that hand holds us all in its inevitable grip, only death can end that suffering but as for my being alone that my dear sister was your decision”.

“Karn loved me not you” the Holy Mother replied jerking her head to one side and looking out the window at the raging storm.

Dennor leaned forward on her rotting barrel, “yes he did love you, but he loved me first”.

Egmar did not reply and continued looking out the window as her sister rose to her feet and began moving about the small room speaking as she walked.

“it was many cycles ago and being an old woman yourself your memory may have dimmed so allow me to recall some events for you”, Dennor moved to the cast off fishing gear and picked up a smashed spear, its ivory barbed head was still attached but the long shaft was broken in two leaving only an arms lengths behind, “being your older sister it was my duty to teach you the ways of our people, how to swim, how to hunt and how to dance and how to embrace another”, her fingers touched the tip of the spearhead, “you learned well and we spent many contented days under the warm sky, what I had was yours and what you had was mine, we were sisters and believed that nothing would ever come between us”.

The Holy Mother listened quietly and raised no voice in opposition.

Dennor moved to the small table still holding the broken weapon in her hand, “then the great tribe of the Almadra journeyed to our land and riding beside their King was a handsome young prince whose name was Karn”, the story teller wrapped her arms around herself and smiled as the wind roared outside, “oh what a beautiful creature he was, tall, strong and brave, any Akuna woman would have given all the shells in the sea to be with him, and who do you suppose he chose?” The older sister waited for a response but there was none, “he could have had any woman he wanted but he selected the one who coveted him not for a night or two as is the custom of our people but for a lifetime, do you remember who he prized above all others?”

Again there was only silence.

Dennor moved a little closer to her sister still carrying the spear, “he called me Sulkar, beautiful one and we danced under the night moons and all the stars were jealous of our love!” and she lifted her arms and began dancing about the room not caring if the rain fell on her, she moved like a young girl again, lifting her feet high and swaying her hips to the music of the storm. Once she came to close to the Sand-walkers and they let out a shrill cry as a warning to keep a distance but the Akuna woman ignored their screams the same way she ignored the thunder and lightning outside. “I was the best dancer of all the Akuna perhaps that is why he loved me so much?”

“Karn did not love you” Egmar suddenly said, “he lusted after you that much is true but he did not love you”.

Dennor abruptly stopped her dancing, “false words!” she shouted and drawing back her arm she threw the weapon at her sister missing her head by only a hands width, “he brought me gifts and held me in an embrace that nearly broke my spine”.

Egmar reached up and pulled the spear from the pitted wall and tossed it on the floor, “The Nomads gave favors to all our tribe, it is their custom” the Holy Mother replied, “they are a strong people and their warriors are the strongest of all”.

The older sister moved back to the small table; “Karn said that he would take me with him when his tribe moved on and that I would be his mate for all time”, her voice was heavy with sweet venom that only a woman would recognize. “Then what do you think happened? A young girl found her way into his bed, a girl who I thought would never betray me, a girl who used what I had taught her to steal what was rightfully mine!”

Egmar shook her head, “now who is speaking false, it is true that you taught me the ways of our people, you taught me how to swim but you always made sure that you raced first, you showed me how to hunt but when I speared a fish larger than yours you tossed it back into the sea, you taught me how to dance but when the men looked at Egmar rather than Dennor you cut my foot and told everyone that I had inflicted the wound myself, and when I embraced a man I cared for you whispered to him that I was laughing behind his kiss.” The Holy Mother waited to hear more spiteful words from her sister but none came she just stood and looked at her saying nothing.

The thunder was unrelenting as more flashes of light danced in the cramped shanty, rain showered down through the breaks in the torn roof as the family of Sand-walkers continued to huddle together seeking comfort, at last there was a break in the rumbling and the elder of the two sisters spoke once more.

“Yes I did as you say”, her words were arrogant and held not the slightest bit of remorse, “and because of all those things I did you longed for revenge so when Karn chose me first you found a way to make me suffer so you took him from me”, Dennor picked up the metal head and looked into its vacant eyes, “it is strange how your Goddess rewarded you for your treachery, she selected you mate to the King of the Almadra and her speaker of the truth, still I am sure there was a price to pay” and she tossed the severed skull into her sisters lap.

Egmar said nothing as she took up the relic and held it to her breast, what you say is true and I have been punished”, and then she began to weep and her bitter tears mixed with the raindrops falling on her face.

Outside the tempest continued but it was nothing compared to the storm that now raged in the heart of the Holy Mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 24.

 

 

Death and Ruin.

 

 

All things die, even the Gods must have their endings but others will take their place until they too succumb to the passage of time.

 

From the Book of Isarie.

 

 

The storm weakened and although there was still wind and rumblings the creatures of Gorn could once again move upon the land, the small Rockrunners and Burrow babies emerged from their hiding places and began their endless hunt for scraps of food. Tall Doffbirds shook the remaining raindrops from their magnificent plumage and stretched their flightless wings warming themselves with the rising suns, the wild Rimar and savage Whiptails of the Sirolian Plains eyed each other carefully knowing that they would soon begin their never ending battle of hunter and prey. Shellbacks poked their scaly heads out of their armored homes but the twin suns would have to be high in the sky before they were warm enough to begin feeding on fresh blades of field grass. And like all the other creatures that inhabited the planet humans great and small rose up and looked about them, some thanked the Gods for sparing them from death while others prided themselves for eluding the fate of the dead around them.

 

“How many are fit for duty?” Ivar Anoon asked of the captain standing before him.

It was difficult for the young officer to read the report in his hands for his left eye was covered by a wound dressing, “one hundred and twenty four are well, thirty nine are dead, twenty three wounded and four who are not expected to survive”.

It did not take long for the Commander to reply, “assemble the remaining troopers, bury the dead, treat the wounded and terminate the rest, dismissed”.

The injured soldier saluted and left to carry out the orders of his superior leaving the General alone in the make-shift tent that had been erected when the storm permitted, Ivar had spent the night in his wrecked warship along with what remained of his command, most of them had survived but being so near the haunted city of Del-Godar was dangerous and in the darkness a large section of the stone metropolis tumbled to the ground smashing into the side of the troop carrier killing many of the men.

Ivar sat there for a time looking over the report scattered about the small table, they were the regular charts of energy consumption, tactical information and all the other military bits and pieces that went into an invasion, but deep inside the General knew that so far his conquest of Gorn had been a failure. A crashed warship, troopers dead, supplies ruined, communications sporadic and an alliance with a power that he knew very little about.

Winning he thought, winning is everything, I will be victorious or there will be nothing left of this miserable little planet. He was thinking of the special orbiting platforms equipped with Grinders, the planet killers the tore up the earth destroying everything on the surface leaving the ground upside down. It was a weapon that was banned by treaties with all the civilized worlds of the Outer Rim but that meant little to Ivar for he was a warrior and all warriors know that when defeat is emanate you will use whatever you can to destroy the enemy. Win or die, and with those words echoing in his head he stood up and left the bivouac.

Outside the wind was brisk and bits of sand and rock still pelted the Generals stern face causing him to turn up the collar on his survival jacket and adjust his steel helmet, he began walking towards the entrance to the crumbling city followed by a dozen armed guards that were stationed outside his quarters. Along the way he passed by several infected dead soldiers who were being lowered into newly dug graves, he did not stop to say any words or offer praises on behalf of the Alliance for he knew that the dead are dead and they could no longer hear.

The ruined city of Del-Godar could hardly be damaged further but the raging storm had torn off several of the upper levels of the stone and steel city and sand had removed even more of the outer layering’s exposing the metal inner structure like some long dead giants bones. The small entrance at the bottom level had been covered by sand but following the orders of the General a squadron of men had removed enough of the choking silt to reveal the portal.

Ivar waited outside the opening with his men at the ready, it was a galling situation for him for he always made others wait and now it was him on the other side of power but he did not let his anger show on his grim face. Winning is everything, and I will win in the end.

A short time went by and then a shimmering figure emerged from the portal, he was alone and moved quietly over the sand and rock and stood before the Commander, “the storm has passed and I am here as I promised” Servant showed no sign of discomfort despite the wind pelting his unmoving face.

“Yes” replied Anoon, “and now I wish to bring down my men and supplies as we agreed”, the word “wish” was hard for the General to say for wishing was a word that children used and was not in Ivar’s vocabulary but if that term help bring him victory he would say it never the less.

“The electromagnetic pulses that prevented communications and your ships from landing have ceased for now” Servant said coldly, “you will have sufficient time to dispatch men and equipment to the surface but for how long I cannot say.”

A slight smiled pulled at the corners of Ivar’s mouth, “then I will order my men down and begin operations that will end in victory”.

The Ergan-Mar’s face remained motionless, “the weapons of the Outlanders are no match for your advanced armaments but the inhabitance of this world have been bred for warfare and they will not die easily, you will need cunning and wisdom to overcome them, my master has both and will aid you in your quest”.

He doesn’t know the full power of the Alliance Ivar thought, we have conquered worlds. “I am grateful for your help and rest assured you and your master will be well rewarded”.

Tark shook his ungainly head, “there is nothing that you have that my master needs or requires, as I have already said the destruction of the enemy will be enough.”

I’m no fool Ivar thought, no one needs nothing, I will conquer this world and his so called master, the General turned to an officer near him, “contact the fleet, begin operations”, and as the officer went to carry out the orders of his commander Ivar felt a great rush of excitement coursing through his body, a feeling that only a true warrior knows.

 

Near the great domes of the Sea-people Kalgar-Rune was feeling something quite different, anger!

“Find her!” he shouted above the strong currents of air, “send out warriors, search everywhere but find her!” Nearby the smoldering embers of the fire that consumed the evil one were being blown about in the wind, they rose up like tiny glowing Dot-flies swirling, spinning gracefully only to be snuffed out and disappear. The leader of the Thungodra had stood watch over the cleansing bonfire all night making sure that the demon would not rise from the pyre and continue her path of evil, now all that remained was a blackened husk of a body, “take what remains of the demon and toss it into the sea” pointing to the charred body with his ax.

And doing as he ordered the holy warriors picked up the carcass and began carrying it to the water and although they were strong it took all the strength of the guardians to do the task for strangely the body had the weight of many men. Kalgar and a number of his warriors followed close behind holding their weapons ever ready to attack should the demon rise from the dead.

Evil can never truly die; he knew that for certain for it was written in the Book of Isarie that sin is always among the Chosen and seeks only weakness to live.

But this day the dead remained dead and marching to a secluded cove with a large outcropping of rock overlooking the water the Thungodra warriors summoned up all their remaining strength then lifted the blackened body over their heads and threw it into the crashing waves.

Kalgar-Rune watched as the demon vanished from view then he stood tall upon the rock and called out so that all his warriors could hear. “Let this be a warning to those who would bring evil into our tribe!” he let his words hang in the air before he continued, “we will seek out those who are not of the Chosen, we will find the Holy Mother and bring her back to the safety of our care and we will kill all those who do not stand with us!”

A mighty cheer rose up from the Thungodra and it remained in the air as they marched back to the great domes of the Akuna.

 

Osh and Alune witnessed the body of Niana being disposed of but they dare not come out from their hiding place in the rock for it would have meant certain death for the Callaxion and perhaps the same for the Touchtender, then after a time the cheering ended and the old man and woman knew that it was safe to venture out. They stood their side by side looking out on the water hoping against hope that what they had witnessed the night before and now was just a dream, a dark nightmare that they would soon wake from, but the salt wind on their wrinkled faces and the pain in their hearts told them that it was all too true.

Osh tried to focus his computer like brain on the information at hand and calculate their chances for survival based on proven facts pertinent to the situation that now surrounded them, we are two against the massed power of the Thungodra, we have no weapons, supplies or information that might apply aid to our situation, furthermore we cannot know if…?

He tried to focus but it was useless for his mind was filled with the face of the poor girl whose body he had seen tossed into the sea like so much rotten fruit.

Alune did not possess the incredible mind power of her companion but she had survived in a dangerous world for many cycles and understood the hazards they now faced, she could go back to her tribe and meet the same fate as they would and perhaps die or she could stay with the person that had stolen her heart but there was no assurance that the Angel of Death would not come for her just the same, in the end it was her heart that persuaded her.

“We must reach our Karack” the Touchtender said, “There we will find supplies and weapons”.

The idea of two lone unarmed and elderly humans overpowering the combined force of genetically altered warriors of the Thungodra seemed ludicrous to the Callaxion and he was about to explain the overwhelming odds against that plan of action but he did not want to bring further pain to the woman at his side so he simply nodded is large head in approval.

Drawing hooded robes over their heads and trying their best to look unimportant they slowly made their way back along the sand and through the mass of abandoned tents and wagons, they counted the blooded bodies of old and young along the way, a grim reminder of the events of the night and seeing the slain brought tears to the eyes of the Touchtender but there was no time to pray over them for at any moment they might be discovered and that would mean their end. Once they saw several Thungodra walking towards them but thinking fast Alune drew the small knife she kept under her robe, cut her palm and smeared the blood over her face and Osh’s then pulling him to the ground they laid there like the dead as the Holy Warriors passed them by. Once they were out of sight the old man and woman rose up and continued their escape.

“That was an excellent deception” Osh said as they hurried along.

“It was an old trick to lure in prey” Alune replied, “Tebor-Con my third mate taught it to me”.

“I am sure he must have loved you very much” the Callaxion said nodding his head.

This made the Touchtender smile, “all my mates loved me and I loved them, I am a strong caring woman who knows the needs of my men”, and then she turned to look into the old man’s eyes, “as you should know well by now”.

Osh wanted to stop and further question his companion on just how much she knew about the needs of men but they turned a corner that was familiar to both of them and found themselves at the spot where their Karack should have been.

There was nothing left of their wagon, all that remained was a smoldering heap of chard wood and bits of broken glass, there was no sign of their Trofar or tent and everything of value had been destroyed or taken. But all that was of little matter for it was the contents of the carrier that were priceless, jars filled with the rarest of the rare, small creatures that could be found on no other planet of the Outer Rim, specimens that any scholar would have studied for a life time were now ruined, flasks containing samples of rock and minerals unknown to planet shapers smashed to fragments, but the greatest loss of all were the hundreds of Rimar hide scrolls recording information on the life and movements of the Nomads of Gorn.

Osh stood there unable to speak or move, Gone, all gone he thought, who will know of my life now, who will understand what has happened here.

Alune was no scholar and her knowledge was limited compared to the vast wisdom of the man beside her, she knew that the bits and pieces of her world that he had accumulated over the cycles meant a great deal to him but the time for comforting words would have to wait, at that moment they would need to think of their survival. “We must leave here” she said “collect what you can swiftly, the Thungodra may return at any moment”, and moving to the wreckage she began her search for anything of value.

Sadly there was not much to gather for the fire had ignited the Rimar hides and they burned with a fierce heat, all food stuffs were contaminated with embers leaving only one small sealed jar of Fish-sauce intact, still it was edible and Alune placed it in a pocket of her robe. The Touchtender also found an ax head fashioned from Itarian steel, its wooden handle was gone but the metal head was still sharp and knowing that it would make a good weapon Alune pick out the still warm cleaver and set it aside.

Osh had no heart for searching and he could only stand and gaze at the residues of his shattered dreams, “I wanted to share my knowledge with the whole universe” he said sadly, “I wanted my name to be listed with all the great minds of the Callaxions, now that will never happen”.

The Touchtender could see that her companion was being overwhelmed by regret so she took him by the shoulder and shook him hard, “you weep like a first cycle child!” her voice was stern, “we have no time for tears so put aside your grief over trinkets and save yourself for another day”.

Osh heard the words of the old woman, she is correct, we must leave with what we can, “yes, another day” he said and pulling himself up from despair he started to sift through the rubble, this continued for a time and he was about to give up the search when something caught his eye, a bit of shiny metal in the blackened wreckage then poking his slim nail less fingers into the warm cinders he pulled out a round object that had once saved his life and the lives of the Almadra. The key, the key to power! Indeed it was the medallion that he had stolen from Vitranius, the so called holy man of the Norgonie but who was in fact a Callaxion like himself.

Osh knew that the ornament was far more than just a fashioned bit of jewelry made by the skilled hands of a craftsman; this was constructed by a race far older than even the Nomads, this once belonged to the Overlords, the mysterious creators of the Outlanders and all the life forms on the planet. Cupping the trophy in his hands he saw that the medallion bore no marks of fire or any other damage and seeing that it was the only thing left of his treasures he hung the chain around his neck and hid the rest of it under his robe.

Alune was too busy to notice what her companion had found and even if she had it would have seemed of little consequence to their survival, “time to go” the Touchtender said seeing that there was nothing more of value around her, “the Thungodra will concentrate their forces near the domes, we will travel in the opposite direction, we will go to Tambor we will go south.”

“Tambor?” the old man asked, “what lays in Tambor?”

“Very little” Alune replied for she knew that few Nomads ventured to that desolate place but she also knew that it’s rocky terrain would make an excellent hiding place from the superstitious Thungodra for they believed it was a place that Isaire did not look upon.

And so they set out alone and on foot, they possessed no weapons or supplies for a journey and they had no place of safety to go but Alune trusted in the will of the Goddess and Osh trusted in the woman at his side.

 

The Tribe of Many were fewer now, the storm had ended the lives of many of the Nomads and Scavengers and some had taken shelter at the Eye of Isarie hoping that the Goddess would protect them but that sacred shrine toppled to the ground and became a grave marker rather than the gathering place of the Outlanders. Many of the Sandjar were consumed by fear and they ran into the night screaming and were never seen again, those that were left were shaken and huddled beside their overturned wagons too frightened to move.

Endo and Rawna fared somewhat better, the wagon containing the stolen weapons of the Youngonrie was still upright perhaps do to the weight of the armaments inside, beside it the mated Sandjars shook the sand from their bodies, stood up and looked around.

“Are you injured?” Endo asked softly as he ran his clawed hands over his mate.

“I am not injured” Rawna replied shaking her body and cleaning her eyes by licking the backside of her hand and rubbing it over her face.

“And the child?” Endo asked.

The level of his voice was such that the female tilted her hairless head to one side, “it is well also, why do you ask such a question?”

Rawna knew that male Sandjars were not concerned with the well-being of their offspring, if it lived or die mattered little to them for if it perished they could consume it as food and if it lived it would be taken care of by a Blood-mother by attaching itself to the back of another and sucking the needed fluids to keep it alive.

Endo pulled the young female to him and held her tight, “I care for you and our child, and I make a promise that no harm shall come to you and the life inside you”.

The word “Promise” was relatively new to the young Sandjar, having grown up in the underground mines of the Norgonie there was no president to believe in anyone but over the days and nights beside her mate Rawna had learned the understanding of that expression and now it filled her with hope. As they stood holding each other Endo suddenly heard a faint “beeping” sound, it would have gone unnoticed by a human but the hearing of a Scavenger is far more acute and taking his arms from around his mate he lifted up the cover on their carrier and looked inside, a thin layer of sand had found its way under the Rimar hide protection so he took his clawed hand and wiped some of it from the stolen weapons stored there, when he did he saw that several of the alien armaments were showing a faint glow from their small readout screens. Endo carefully lifted one of the rifles and held it in his hands were it continued to signal.

Power he thought, I have power in my hands.

 

On the other side of the damaged campsite Anais and Kela were giving thanks to Isarie for sparing their lives while Jumo and Dalgar shook their great bodies and licked their eyes with their longs sticky tongues, Romar eyed them carefully as he washed the dust and sand from his face.

“Thank you oh Goddess for your mercy and allowing us to continue in your service”, the Nomads said lifting their arms to the wind swept sky, “you are the light that guides us and the path of truth”.

Hearing the words from his keepers the young Captain had to laugh, “Do you really believe that some all-powerful deity guides your lives?” Romar splashed more water over his dry face from a clay bowl sitting on a makeshift table.

Kela lowered her arms and adjusted her robe, “you do not believe?” she asked.

The Captain patted his eyes with a dry rag, “of course I believe, I believe in a strong hand that holds a powerful weapon”.

Now it was Anais’s time to reply, “yet it was this weak woman who bested you in combat” he said pointing to his mate, “it seems that your hand needs to be stronger”.

Romar did not want to be reminded of his humiliating defeat at the hands of the Handmaiden and decided to change the subject so looking around at the devastation he spoke, “you have been hit hard, you should regroup and calculate your losses, concentrate your strengths and discard your weaknesses”.

“We are not at war” Anais said as he brushed the sand from his robe.

The Captain moved closer to the blind man causing the two Drogs to growl loudly, “we are always at war, life is a war against death”.

“Yes” Anais said, “But in the end death always wins”.

This made the young captain smile, “very true, that is why we fight the harder”.

 

Egmar had survived the storm as did her sister, they sat unmoving inside the abandoned fisherman’s hut as the torrential rain and gusting wind hammered down on them, they never spoke a word nor did they sleep they just sat staring at each other like images in a mirror and waited for the first rays of Sunbirth to filter through the gaping holes in the fragmented roof. The first to show any signs of life were the Sand-walkers that now poked their heads out of their hiding place and seeing that the twin suns were shining they hurried across the cluttered floor and vanished through a hole in the wall.

The Holy Mother watched them go and nodded her head, “Isarie has a special place in her heart for the weak” she said softly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 25.

 

 

 

Bloodfish.

 

 

Bloodfish are the scavengers of the sea, they will eat anything that comes within reach of their powerful jaws, they have no apparatus for vision so they must hunt by their acute sense of smell and the slightest vibrations in the water, they are relentless killers without mercy and are admired by the Nomads for they believe that they share much in common.

 

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

 

 

The planetary storm that ravaged the world of Gorn finally exhausted itself and the towering waves of the Western Sea dwindled into a soft rippling surface reflecting the golden hues of the rising suns. Gone were the lightning and thunder replaced by a gentle breeze and unclouded sky but the day moons seemed far away for a strange calm hung in the air like the circling Sundroppers and although the air was clear it carried a scent of death and something that was not there before. The great Leviathans had returned to their sunless realm leaving behind fragments of shattered Lightening boats and hunter ships, bits of wood and debris floated on the glassy surface mixed with the knife edge trails of Bloodfish for they were always on the prowl for bone and flesh.

Amid that dirge-like main a reminder of the land floated lazily, the ill-fated Brilla had vanished beneath the pounding waves but she left behind one of her towering masts as a marker for any interested Gods looking down from the heavens. The huge tree trunk was broken in two but there was still enough of it left to support one lone survivor.

The King lived.

Arn had managed to reach the fragment of the sunken Hunter ship and grasping the ropes that had twisted themselves around the thick mast he held fast through the storm. Gone was his armor and chain mail for it would have drug him down to the darkness now only a ragged bit of Rimar hide covered his loins exposing his densely muscled frame to the elements, his bronze body was covered in nicks and scratches and a small trickle of blood still oozed from a large cut on his right leg. His right hand held tight to the broken guide rope while the other gripped the ivory handle of a dragon’s tooth, one of two daggers that all Nomads carried around their waists, its tip was buried deep into the hard wooden mast as the makeshift raft rocked back and forth.

As the twin suns rose higher in the sky Arn opened his eyes and took in the wet world around him, his head pounded like an Ironworkers hammer and his throat was dry as he pulled the ivory handled dagger from its wooden sheath and rose to his naked feet on the shaking mast, he lifted one hand to cover his eyes and scanned the rocking horizon for any sign of the Cronos but the place between the sky and sea was empty.

Gone he thought, sunk to the bottom of the sea, a great wave of sorrow washed over him as he thought of his lovely Moonbud laying alone in the cold darkness beneath the water, he looked down at the battle knife in his hand and for a moment he contemplated driving it to its hilt into his heart and joining his lost love in death, she surely has found a place in the Golden Hall and I will sit beside her throughout all eternity. He lifted the weapon and made himself ready for the stinging bite of the hard steel but as he was about the drive the dagger deep into his chest something made him stop, this is no way for a warrior to die he thought, Arn had faced death many times on the battle field, the cry of war and the ring of steel on steel was music to his ears, the smell of sweat and blood was like field flowers to a Handmaiden and when the killing madness swept over him and all became a blur of kill or be killed it was a feeling that only a true warrior of the Outlands can know. Now here he was holding his own weapon to his breast with no enemy in front of him and only the languid sound of rolling waves.

He slowly lowered the dagger, No, he told his mind, I will not die like this!

Then something hit the mast under his feet and looking down he saw several large Bloodfish just below the surface of the water, they had smelled the scent of fresh lifeblood from miles away and now they came for the human feast.

The King smiled with cracked lips and although he was wounded and weak from lack of food and water a sudden rush of excitement ran through his veins for what better way to end his life then to fight a predator much like himself.

“Hungry?” the King asked in a mocking voice for he knew that Bloodfish were always ravenous, “I am Arn son of Karn and King of the Almadra, my flesh is tasty and my bones are strong, but beware I have a tooth like yours!” and he held up his dagger, “blood is what you desire and I still have much to give!” and he cut his arm and let the crimson fluid fall into the water, this brought the scavengers of the sea into a frenzy, they snapped their jaws wildly and churned the water into a boil. Arn braced his legs and was about to leap to a horrible death when something caught his eye, far off in the distance an outline of a ship, but it was far too small to be the Cronos so there could be only one explanation, Sea Raiders, he thought, Brogalie pirates.

The Brogalie were an offshoot of the Akuna but far more primitive, they inhabited the small islands off the main coast but they spent most of their time upon the water hunting for food and attacking any ship that came within their view, they were a rugged people who only respected strength and were ruled only by the strongest.

Seeing the ship turning to head his way Arn stood tall on the broken mast and he smiled, my life will end in battle he thought, I can enter the Golden Hall with my head held high and Andra will be waiting for me. The King stood unmoving but his heart pounded with the blood-fury as he thought of the fight to come, but like any good warrior he knew the strength of his arm had been greatly diminished by the sun and water and looking down at the circling Bloodfish he understood what he had to do so bracing his feet as best he could and holding onto a rope end he grip his dagger tight then he whispered a little prayer to the Gods.

“Togasttra emo entralac, give us your strength”.

 

Then he thrust his bleeding arm into the water, as he expected the hungry predators lunged for his wounded limb with their jaws opened wide, as the first one came within striking distance the King jerked his arm and plunged his weapon into the tuff flesh of the monster just under the head then using all his might he pulled the heavy creature up and onto the rocking mast. The thing bucked and heaved wildly and it razor sharp teeth snapped at the air in a death frenzy to kill whatever was killing it but Arn managed to allude the powerful jaws and drawing his dagger out he let go of the rope and grasping one of the fins of the beast he drove his knife again and again into the thick hide, the Bloodfish trashed about then slowly it gave up its life and lay still across the wooden mast.

Arn had very little strength left but taking what he had he cut deep into the belly of the creature and pushing his arm up to the elbow in warm flesh he found the massive liver of his dead foe and cut it free then he lifted his naked foot and pushed what remained of the dead monster back into the churning water where it was quickly devoured by the remaining scavengers of the sea. The

King wasted no time and sunk his teeth into the spongy flesh, the warm liquid from the salvaged organ tasted like the sweetest of offerings to any God, and his empty belly was more than content to welcome the still warm flesh, Arn ate quickly for he could see that the ship that had been some distance away was now visibly closer, his thirst now satisfied he took up his dagger once more and prepared to face his new enemy like a strong warrior of the Almadra.

 

The blood stained deck of the Vengeance was alive with activity for they had seen the rising of the Leviathans and hoped to profit from its destruction of the Hunter ships, the captain a very tall and seasoned veteran of many sea battles knew that it would have been suicide to attack a ship load of Akuna and Outlanders for they would never be a match for such a pairing, there was however a good chance that they might find some lone survivor to torture for sport and then feast on his flesh or better yet a strong female who could satisfy their animal lust before they killed her. Now the captain whose name was Torcor-nan a word in the old language meaning half-face for his own features had been mutilated by a Nomads ax leaving him with a horrid continence and a deep hatred for all Outlanders.

“Pull the oars you filth” he shouted as he pointed his heavy war club in the direction of the fragment of Hunter ship, “tonight we feast on dry-lander!” and no one defied his orders for he was a strong warrior who had killed many men and who was known for his savage strength and unquenchable desire for blood and he was particularly fond of Dry-lander flesh.

The Dry-lander was a term that the pirates used for a person not of the ocean for most of them were born at sea and considered themselves the rulers of all the water, and there were few who discounted that fact for their ships were fast and carried warriors to all parts of Gorn’s oceans, the ship itself carried a compliment of fifty or more Brogalie and that many and more in slaves, these poor souls were taken from all over and forced to row the ship when the wind was not sufficient, they numbered perhaps sixty or more, more than the pirates themselves but they were chained to their oars and subdued by the lash so they could do little to take revenge for the punishments that they frequently received.

“Faster!” roared the captain for he was eager to reach his goal and see what gift the sea had in store for him and as he licked his lips a thin trail of saliva trickled down chin for half his mouth had been torn way exposing broken teeth and a lapping tongue.

Arn stood quietly on his rocking home, he concentrated on his body and the small weapon in his hand, how he wished that he had his ax and armor, what a battle I would show them he thought but although he didn’t possess the trapping of a warrior of the Outlands he still had their heart, a heart that would not stop beating easily, a heart that did not know fear, I will face them one by one then he remembered the lessons that his father had taught him.

“Find their leader, cut off the head and the body will die”.

They were wise words and would serve him well very soon.

 

It took only a short time before the Vengence had reached its goal and as the slim ship came within an ear shot of its prey Torcor-nan stood on the prow and shouted out to the human, “better to die in the water little man for your blood will be our drink!”

But the King was quick to return, “My blood is far too strong a brew for children like you so far better to turn about and return to the breast of those who gave you birth!”

Hearing those words sent the tall Brogalie into a fury, “you will fill the air with screams when I reach you!”

The slaves were given the order to stop rowing and the ship slowly came to a halt very close to the broken mast of the Hunter ship, and seeing that it was within reach Arn did not hesitate and gathering up his strength he leaped onto one of the outstretched oars with a bound landed on the wooden deck very near the captain, he stood there with his dagger bracing his feet and his eyes burning with fury, “here I am half-face, kill me if you can!”

Ordinary the sea raiders would have instantly killed anyone who dared cross their path but his man had issued a direct challenge to their leader and according to the crud laws of their fellowship the leader must face that intruder alone. Without saying a word the huge captain lifted his club and came charging at the Outlander like a maddened Rimar, Arn waited for him cooling and as he swung his crud weapon he ducked under it and it missed his skull be a fraction of an inch then he struck upwards and cut deep into the side of his opponent, the wounded pirate let out a howl of pain and spun around to attack again but the Nomad was too quick for him and moving like a Sagar cat he avoided a blow that would have crushed in his ribs and again delivered a cut to the left arm of the captain.

All this was being watched not only by the shouting sea raider but by the downtrodden slaves and seeing that one of their kin was getting the best of their tormentor sent them into cheers of encouragement, they beat their fists on their oars and rattled their chains letting loose the blood fury that was inside them for revenge.

Their shouts were music to the ears of the King and jumping to one side to avoid the heavy war club he caught a glance at their bonds and noticed that they were held fast by one long chain running through leg irons and attached to a lock at one end, but that was all he had time for as the captain streaming blood for his wounds lunged for him again, this time Arn caught a blow on his right shoulder that torn the dagger from his hand and sent him flying, that blow would have broken the bones of an ordinary man of the Outer Rim but the King was an Outlander and far tougher then a weak human on another world so lifting himself up quickly he bent his powerful legs and as the Brogalie moved in for the fatal blow he leaped to one side and jumped onto his back then clamped his right arm around the pirates thick neck. Torcor-nan let out a grunt and tried to pull the Nomad off him but Arn had wrapped his strong legs around the bandit and continued to tighten his grip on the captain neck, seeing that his club was useless now Torcor dropped it to the wooden deck and grasping the arm of the Outlander he tried to loosen the stranglehold as the slaves continued their maddened screams, they made so much noise that the Brogalie began to lass them with Rimar hide whips but this only made them howl louder and they began to pull at their holding chains hoping to free themselves and join in the fight.

All the while Arn held fast to the Captains neck, the fighting maddens was on him now and all that mattered was killing his foe, the muscles on his right arm stood out like cords of steel and he clenched his teeth so tightly blood began to trickle down his lips, harder and harder he pulled as the shouts of the slaves filled his ear then he heard a loud “Crack” and he knew that he had broken the neck of the of Torcor-nan.

The King let go as the tall man fell to the deck and stood there as the astounded crewmen looked on and in that instant Arn grabbed the heavy war club of the dead captain and moving to the gunnels he brought it down hard on the rusty lock that held the slaves in check, seeing that they were now free the captives rose up one by one and flung themselves in a fury at the Brogalie, it did not matter if they were unarmed for it was better to die in battle then the slow death of a slave, screaming for blood they took up whatever weapon they could find, boat hooks, bits of steel and wood and use them to bring death upon their persecutors, Arn lead them swinging his club and cracking the skull of anyone within its deadly reach. But the pirates did not give up their lives easily and many of the slaves died, but no matter how many they killed two maddened warriors took their place howling like demons from the Pit of Marloon and one by one they gave up their lives and covered the deck of the Vengeance in blood and torn flesh. As the suns began to set the fight came to an end, all of the Brogalie had been killed and half of the slaves, Arn stood on the quarter deck coved in blood from head to foot and looked at what was left of the combatants.

“You are free now” he called out in a loud voice, “if there are any who would challenge me come forward now and let the Gods decide who should lead!”

None spoke a word for they owed their lives to this man from the sea.

“Very well, those that made you slaves are now dead so throw their bodies into the sea and wash down the deck, warriors do not live in filth!”

The freed warriors were quick to responded with a shout of joy and raced to carry out their new captains orders and when all was done the King washed his wounds in sea water then feasted on dried Rimar meat and drank deep from casts of well-aged Po and when his thirst was quenched he stood on the prow of the Vengence and looked out on the rolling water under the night moons of Gorn.

Moonbud, my mate is gone the told his mind, there is nothing to go home too now. It was true that he was still King of the Almadra but he always found the crown a heavy one, to them he was dead and his body lay at the bottom of the Western Sea, perhaps it should stay there? Kuno was a strong warrior and he knew that he could leave his tribe in capable hands, he would regret not seeing his mother again but he understood that she would find comfort in the arms of her beliefs. Looking out at the vast expanse of water around him he suddenly felt strange as if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders, he was free now, free of all responsibility, free to go where he wanted without thinking of his people first, and freedom was a power he could not turn away from.

King of the Almadra he no longer was perhaps he would become ruler of the Western Sea?

Chapter 26.

South.

The lands south of the Akuna are very unhospitable, it is a rocky land filled with strange vegetation and even stranger animal life and my companion and I are ill equipped to travel such a harsh environment but Alune trusts in the Goddess and I do not want to tarnish that belief by calculating the odds against our survival.

From the memories of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion

Osh and Alune traveled under the night moons southward and into the land called Tambor they managed to elude any detection by the vengeful Thungodra or ravenous wild beast, this was due in no small part to the skill of the Touchtender who had been taught by her husband how to survive and where to find shelter from anyone wishing to do them harm. Now as the twin sun’s rose and the screams of Dawn-callers filled the air they sat in a small cluster of Eul rocks well hidden from view and began to eat what they had at hand and that consisted of one small jar of Fish-sauce and nothing more.

“To an Outlander Fish-sauce is a very tasty ingredient to any meal but if that meal consists of only sauce it fails in many ways”, the Callaxion commented, then he took a finger full of the thick concoction from the ornate little jar that his companion was holding for they had no utensils and reluctantly put the thick paste into his mouth for he hated the pungent taste of the condiment but it was all they had.

“Hunger makes any meal a feast” Alune said as she ate a dab of the Akuna treat, it was a proverb that was often told to her by her mother when she was reluctant about eating her food, “be thankful we have this a least” but the old woman could not help but wish for a some fresh baked Kasha bread and Rimar and a nice hot cup of Deep-root tea to wash it down with, then looking down she saw a small reptilian creature near her foot and quickly reaching down she took up the scaly thing and held it out to her companion, “Rockrunnes are tuff but filling would you care for some?”

Osh smiled and shook his large head, “no thank you” he said politely.

Shrugging her shoulders the old woman put the squirming little creature into her mouth and bit off its horny head with one strong bite then spitting it out she quickly ate what was left.

Soon all the food was gone and Osh wiped his soiled hand on his traveling robe as he spoke, “as I see it we have little to choose from, we can sit here and starve, continue our escape or return from where we came and be killed or taken prisoner”.

“Or we can continue south” the Touchtender added.

“What makes you think that we will have a better chance going in that direction?” Osh asked looking out at the rocky terrain.

“I put my trust in the Goddess….and…” she replied.

“And what?” the old man asked leaning his large head to one side.

It took some time before Alune was willing to answer then at last she turned to her companion and looked him in straight the eyes, “something pulls me” was all she could say.

The earnest reply gave Osh very little to work from for he was always use to precise and calculated responses to questions not vague unknown “something’s”, but he was sure that no matter what path they elected to follow it was destined to end badly.

“Very well” he smiled standing up, “we will head south”.

And armed with only their hopes and an empty jar of Fish-sauce they headed into the unknown.

 

The battered Hunter ship Cronos was also heading south, the great storm had damaged the massive craft and even though the Akuna and Outlanders had managed to make repairs to masts and hull they were unable to maneuver the vessel in the direction from wench they came instead they headed southward for something called to them and they were powerless to resist.

“The wind is at our back and the tides are with us” Cian said as he stood on the master deck with Andra at his side, “ we still have a strong crew and whatever come we shall be ready”, he turned to look at the woman near him who now wore only a thin covering or soft Rimar hide, her dark hair was free and blew softly in the wind, his strong body ached to caress her once more but she seemed to be far away and he knew his words had fallen on deaf ears, she is in pain from the loss of her mate he thought, and although they had lain together he felt that she wished to be alone so he walked away without saying a word and left the Outland woman to her grief, but how could the Kandrac of the Akuna know that the Off-worlder was not thinking of her lost love but of her past.

Andra was trying to remember the face of her brother but it seemed to elude her like a pale ghost in the wind and no matter how hard she tried she could not hold that fleeting image in her mind’s eye. Simon, my brother, why does your face seem so far away? But her question went unanswered and after a time she stopped asking and turned to look out to the undulating waves, as a young farm girl she longed to travel on the sea, to feel the rolling waves under her feet and smell the sweet fresh air that carried the scent of faraway lands but now it all seemed so empty, a memory without substance, nothing really matter, she had her orders and that was enough, my orders? She thought, I’m not a soldier anymore and that part of my life is gone, I follow my own course now, but what path will that be without Arn at her side? She thought of him and reached out with her mind as she had done so many times before, she knew that they shared a strange bond, a mind-link that allowed them to fight as one and know what the other was feeling, but try as she may she had only her own thoughts filling her mind, then she realized that her heart held no more love for her lost mate, he was gone and that is the end of it.

I never really loved him anyway she told her mind, I have my orders now and they must be followed. The sky was clear and hordes of Sundroppers circles overhead, the waves were calm and no enemy was on the horizon, north, west, east, or south what does it matter now? So Moonbud stood unmoving and let the Gods carry her to whatever end they had in store.

 

Endo smiled as he held the power of the Gods in his hands, he was familiar with firearms for he had been taught by Osh his adopted father how to use a Chamber-rifle but those were only crude projectile weapons forged by the Talsonar and not the sophisticated plasma rifle that he now possessed.

“This can make a slave a master” he said with a smile on his reptilian like face, but Rawna standing near him shook her head in dismay.

“Bury the thing before it kills us all” she said wringing her small clawed hands.

But her mate only laughed at her childish innocence, “there is nothing to fear, this will free us from those who wish to enslave us again”. And that dread had been rising inside him for some time now, he remembered his enslavement in the dark caverns of the Forrest people in the far off land of Caltarine and he made a vow that no Sandjar would be made to suffer like that again, “it is only a machine that can be controlled, here I will show you”, he looked at the small readout screen that had stopped blinking and now showed a steady green light then he lifted the heavy weapon to his shoulder, took aim at the dried skull of a Rimar resting near their Karrack and pulled the trigger.

“BLAM!”

A white hot streak of power shot from the barrel and instantly blasted the thick skull into burning fragments, at the same time Rawna utter a loud scream of terror, to her it seemed like her mate had released the lightening of the Gods. Endo saw the terror in her eyes and began to move close to her but she pulled away and seeing her pain he put the rifle on the ground and took her in his arms.

“There is nothing to be afraid of” he said in a soothing voice, “it was just a release of stored up energy nothing more”, and to show his affection he stroked the back of her head and began to make a low grunting sound that all Sandjars found very appealing.

“Promise me that you will rid us of such things” Rawna’s voice was filled with emotion and even with the comforting of her mate her body shook with fear, “we will soon have a young one to care for” she added.

Endo continued to hold her tight, “that is why we need such power, it will protect us from those who wish us harm”.

His mate pulled back from him and looked into his large eyes, “will you do as I asked?” this time her voice was firmer.

Endo smiled and nodded his head, “I will do as you ask, I promise”.

And hearing this Rawna closed her eyes and pulled him close to her body, but as they stood there Endo felt a warm wind that blew from the south and he could not help but gaze at the weapon on the ground and deep inside him he knew that he had made a promise he could not keep.

 

 

Out of ear shot of the Sandjars the two Drogs Jumo and Dalgar sat up and turned their large heads in the direction of the blast that only their keen ears could detect, they growled and showed their massive teeth but when no other sound was heard they turned their attention back to their masters and the morning meal that they hoped would be coming soon.

Anais and Kela had offered up prayers to Isarie for their lives for the storm had ravaged the Tribe of Many and countless Nomads had been killed but when their devotions had been done they turned their attention to the matters at hand namely taking stock of what had been left by the storm and what they had lost.

“The Karrack is intact with only a few broken boards on the left side” Anais said, for although he could not see he had run his sensitive hands over the outside of their wagon and knew what had to be replaced.

Kela was busy seeing if there was enough food and water to fill their needs, their seemed to be a goodly stash of dried Rimar but the large jug containing their fresh water had been smashed, there was still a small cast of Well-aged Po but that was not enough to sustain them for long and the Book of Isaire had a passage that was followed by all sober Nomads.

 

Do not drink of only the brew from wheat and vine

For those that do will forget all my teaching and follow a path

That leads to nothing.

 

“We will need water” Kela called out to her mate, she knew that the closest supply was at a deep well at the Eye of Isarie but she could see that the ancient structure had been destroyed by the storm, “we will have to go south to find what we need”.

“Agreed” her mate called out as he picked up some pots and pans he had found with the end of his foot, “there is always clean water at the Twin Rivers”.

The Twin Rivers were two ribbons of water that ran from Still Water Lake, a large rain filled basin that lay near the passage into the lands of Del-Godar the forbidden place, but they would still be far away from that haunted city and all the terrors that it held.

Captain Romar the refugee from the sky that they had rescued was nowhere to be seen, he had huddled near the wagon as the storm raged and when it subsided he rose up dusted off his uniform and even whipped his boots for it was his manner to be a soilder no matter what surrounds he found himself in. He then walked away from the small camp site but the Nomads knew that he would return very soon for there was nowhere for him to go.

And the Outlanders were proven correct for the outcast soldier was only a short walk away from them sitting on an outcropping of Eul, on the outside he looked calm but on the inside a storm had been raging just as hard as the one he had survived.

My enemy the Nomads have shared their food and treated my wounds he thought, by our rules of war I should have been killed or held as ransom but they see me as a friend, his father Ivar had always told him that an enemy was to kill and nothing more, that was his way and the way that he wanted his son to follow and in the past he had done as his father wished and condemned those who failed in their orders, sending many to be tortured and killed without so much as a thought otherwise but lately he had questioned those beliefs and that made war within him. He looked down to see a large black beetle near his foot, in the past he would have crushed the insect and smiled at the sound it would made as its body was ground to a gooey mass, but now he let it crawl away into the rocks, is this what I have become, a weakling, a coward unfit for duty? He watched another large insect move towards him but this time he lifted up his foot and brought it down hard on the large bug I will not be weak he thought, then he rose up and headed back to his new found friends for after all where else was there to go?

 

Kalgar-Rune had no intentions of going either north, south or any other direction, he had power now and lost no time in using it, he ordered that the Nomads and Akuna who refused to accept his rule be confined in one of the great domes under close watch of the Thungodra, they were given food and water but little else and anyone who showed the slightest sign of rebellion was removed and put into a confining cell that the Leader of the Holy Warriors had ordered constructed, here Kuno sat for he had tried to escape and broke the arm of one of his keepers and blooded several others before he was taken down by sheer numbers, when asked why he would do such a thing he replied that he was thirsty for Po and nothing else. So they placed a heavy chain around his neck and made it fast to a thick lock on the stone wall and told him that if he tried to escape again he would be killed in a most unpleasant way, now he sat unmoving as Kalgar stood looking into his small chamber.

“The King will not return” the Thungodra leader said, “The Gods know that he was a weak leader and sent him and all those with him to the bottom of the sea”.

Kuno said nothing and refused to look at the man.

“You have sinned greatly in the eyes of Isarie but if you repent you will find a place in the Golden Hall” Kalgar continued, “you are a strong warrior and have the respect of the tribe and I would have you at my side as we cleanse this world of all who do not believe”.

Kuno lifted his head and looked into the face of the man who had spoken treason to him, “the Gods know my faults and I will be judged accordingly when my time comes but I would surly find myself in the Pit of Marloon should I betray my King and stand with a traitor like you!”.

Kalgar knew that any further discussion would be useless so he turned and walked away leaving Kuno alone in his cell where after a time the guards brought him a plate of dry Kasha bread and a cup of rather stale water, it was a meal that he ate reluctantly but he knew that he must keep his strength for the battle ahead and his King and friend would return and take back what was rightfully his and after he was done eating he laid down on the stone floor and fell asleep and in that sleep he dreamt of shapely women who served him platefuls of succulent Rimar, sweet cakes and a never ending supply of Well-aged Po, it was a dream that started when his father had told him of a mystic land filled with plenty that dwelled in the distant south. But that dream soon ended and he found himself in a barren wasteland filled with the dead and dying, he looked down to see his body covered in blood and holding a strange looking weapon in his hands, then a voice called out to him.

“Kill your enemy, kill them all!”

And forgetting all that he once was he lifted the weapon and smiled, “Yes” he said, “kill them all!”

 

The great war ships of the Alliance had circled the planet with the galactic file number 11976UPO of the Gornogal section commonly known as Gorn awaiting instructions from their commander but communications had been sporadic and none dared take it upon themselves to do anything without the explicate orders of Ivar the terrible as he was called behind closed doors. They had watched as the huge storm engulfed the land and seas below and their instruments fluctuated wildly as to the exact cause of the disruptions, they were also aware of the strange alterations that the planets moons were undergoing, their orbits had moved out of sink and electromagnetic waves raising up from the planet seemed to be the cause of it but no one could be sure in spite of well-trained technicians using their best scanners.

The soldiers that made up the Mac-Mar Alliance were growing weary of the delay, they wanted to face the enemy and wreak havoc has they had done some many times on other worlds and being confined inside their carrier ships made them quarrelsome and many fights had broken out between Bolec’s, Hidraga and Uparians and even the executions of the trouble makers did little to stem the rising tide of discontent.

Then as the storm cleared a message was received from the primary landing site and the order was given for all legions to begin transport to their designated sections and obeying the captains loaded the landing craft and the warships emptied their holding bays and sent the eager warriors to the planet below.

Ivar-Anoon was wary of the information that the creature who called himself Servant had given him but his words had proven to be true and the electromagnetic pulses that devastated the previous landings had subsided and now the General watched as dozens of landing ships gently touched down on the rocky land surrounding the broken city, opened their cargo hatches and expelled wave after wave of battle tested soldiers , the smell of engine exhaust and the hum of earth roamers filled his heart with excitement, with each company of hardened troopers his tired body was filled with energy, and as he looked up he could see more and more transports penetrating the clouds like giant birds of prey.

Now the war can begin he thought, there would be no more hesitations, no more half measures, no mercy, now he would show this world just what war meant, he stood at attention dressed in a fresh uniform and looking every inch the bold commander he was, surrounding him were several captains eager to begin the conquest and only waiting for their final orders, they did not have to wait long.

“Victory” the General said in a loud clear voice “Victory will be ours, we have never been defeated and this world holds no force as strong as we are” he paused for a moment to let his words sink in, “I want total and complete annihilation of all who oppose us, those that choose to join us will be welcomed but all others will die is that understood?”

“Yes Sir!” they called out in a single voice.

“Good, now I want a perimeter in place by this time tomorrow, I want squads of men and equipment ready to move out at my command, but most of all I want surveillance flyers made ready to fan out and report on any movements of the enemy”.

The captains knew that if the electromagnetic pulses returned those air craft would fall from the sky like so many target birds but none dared bring up that question in fear of the reply from their leader and so they stood silent until they heard the words.

“Dismissed!”

Ivar understood the chances he was taking but war always brings a challenge for after all what is a victory if that triumph comes too easily?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 27.

 

The Dead Live.

 

The Angel of Death lives in a land of snow and frost, his hardened face is ghastly to behold and his wings are crystal, his foul breath is like the north wind and his voice is hollow, he sits alone in his dead world hating all who live and are warm, his master is Horcon the God of destiny and when your name is called he comes to you and puts out his clawed hand to take the last of your life and for an instant he feels the warmth of being and he sheds a single tear that soon turns to ice.

 

Old Nomad story.

 

 

Osh could not walk any further for his advanced age had at long last betrayed him and he could feel death following in his footsteps, a short distance ahead of them lay a cave that would give them shelter but they could go no further.

“Leave me” the old man said weakly as he slowly slumped down on an outcropping of crystalline rock, his tired face was worn and his eyes were dull but like all who are in love the woman at his side refused to see what was before her.

“The Angel of Death is always close behind but it will not take you” the voice of the Touchtender was filled with emotion as she bent down beside her frail companion, she had done what she could to shield him from the harsh land and they had been lucky for no Sundroppers circled overhead and the earth was far too hard for Sandragons.

The old man looked up at the kind face hovering over him, she as sacrificed everything for me he thought, all his long life the Callaxion had completed his work and never thought of an existence outside that which he was programed for and having someone care for him was something beyond his comprehension, he would have been content to see his life end without that person at his side, but his time on Gorn had shown him how precious life really is and something not to be wasted alone, “you have been kind to me and showed me that I was not unaccompanied, I wish to tell you that I have never felt for any woman the way I feel for you”.

Alune knew that it would have been much easier to say “I love you” but she understood that Osh was saying just that but in his own words, “I have been with many men in my days, strong men with strong hearts but none stand before you”.

She bent down and kissed him on his wrinkled forehead then sat down beside him with her strong arm around his frail body, there they would wait for whatever fate Isarie had in store for them and as they waited Alune began to sing.

 

“Worlds away in a sundrenched land a flower grows from out the sand.

In that warm sky are suns that shine and a lover waits to take my hand.

Worlds away where the air is sweet we will walk together beneath the skies.

Together as one for all time and space in endless lands that never dies.”

 

Beautiful the old man thought, “Have I ever told you that your singing is delightful? He said weakly as he looked into the warm eyes of the woman.

This made Alune laugh, “No, but I knew that you enjoyed hearing my songs”.

The old man smiled and closed his eyes, his breathing became labored and being a Touchtender Alune understood that death was very near them now so she held her companion close and began to pray.

“Take me” she said softly, “I have lived a long life and tried to do what I could for my people, if the Angel of Death needs a life then let him take mine, I have a warm heart and that should appease his cold soul, please Isarie take mine instead”, then the old woman waited for the touch of a cold hand on her warm body for it was the way that death comes for the Angel is forever cold and seeks the warmth of the living.

But she felt no chill only the warm sunlight and the soft wind from the south but she kept her eyes closed for she did not want to see the face of death coming near, then as she waited she heard a sound like the rustling of dry leaves on the ground, she opened one eye hoping that it was not a trick of the life taker nor a dark demon ready to take their souls to the Afterlife, but something much worse.

There stretched out before them were hundreds perhaps thousands of wiggling Rockworms the poisonous larvae who’s bite brings excruciating pain and sometimes death, they rose up out of the rocky ground like Kasha wheat after the summer rains, the sound of their powerful jaws rattled through the air and momentarily brought Osh back from the brink of death.

“What is that sound, is it something of interest that should be recorded?” his voice was weak but filled with hope.

“It is nothing” Alune replied holding him like a mother holds her child, “Now sleep and when you wake I will prepare you a meal of tender Rimar and sweet-cakes” she knew it was his favorite meal but she understood that in few moments they would both die a horrible death, the Touchtender quickly took the small knife from under her robe and turned it point towards the heart of the Calaxion, better to die quickly then suffer she thought, and she was about to plunge the sharp weapon into the old man’s chest when she saw that the Rockworms would not be a danger to them, they crawled along the ground angulating their boneless bodies and leaving behind them a trial of foul smelling slime but as they drew near they moved around the humans leaving them unharmed.

As the old woman watched intensely as the vile little creatures moved away into the surrounding rocks, “All praise to the Goddess” Alune whispered for she knew that it must be the work of Isarie and that her prayers had been answered, but her joy soon turned to sorrow for the old man in her arms began to tremble and shake and she knew his time was near, “All things must die” she said sobbing “but why do the good end and the evil thrive?” it was a question that had plagued the scholars of the Outer Rim for ages but no one wise or dull had an answer.

The twin suns began to set and long shadows fell across the ground as Alune and Osh waited, they would be together as they had in life and share whatever ending that the Gods had in store for them.

 

The suns were also setting on the small hut where two sister had taken refuse, Egmar and Dennor had spoken little and although there was much to say the Holy Mother could not find the right words to say what was in her heart, they had eaten nothing but that was not a hardship to Egmar for many times she had fasted on holy days and could satisfy her body with prayers.

“Forgive me Isarie” she whispered with closed eyes, “forgive me for betraying your children and thinking only of myself” Egmar words were directed more to herself then any Goddess for she was racked with guilt over having abandoned her tribe in time of need but she understood the reality of the situation and if she had stayed she would have surely died for once the Thungodra were set free they would kill without mercy.

Across the room Dennor sat unmoving, she also had not eaten or drank since they had entered the hut and she uttered no prayers or asked forgiveness from anyone, “You insist on asking for compassion from a god who does not hear you” the older sister laughed, “your long years in the outlands has made you a silly old woman”. She rose and walked to the table were the metal head sat and laid a wrinkled hand on it, “your people are dead by now as dead as this pitiful reminder of your past failures”, she pick up the head and looked into its dead eyes, “I wonder what he would say if he were alive right now?” she began to mimic a voice that Egmar had heard before, “Why did you choose Arn over me, did you not love me as you did him?”

Egmar opened her eyes and looked at her sister, that voice she thought I know that voice, and indeed it was the voice of her long lost son, “how can this be? You did not know my son”.

Dennor turned the head around so that it was looking at the Holy Mother and although it beyond reason a voice came from its metal mouth, “The end comes” it said.

And before Egmar could speak a rumbling sound rose up from the ground and the fragile hut began to sake, the wall stated to splinter and part of the roof came crashing to the ground, the Holy Mother tried to steady herself by holding onto a support beam near her but the shaking grew more intense and she looked to her sister for help but Dennor only smiled and stood like a statue, “Help me!” Egmar called out, “HELP ME! But no help came as the floor fell away and all that was in the hut was consumed by the earth.

 

Arn stood overlooking the prow of the Vengeance as the waves lapped gently against the wooden hull, they still traveled south for the winds and tide drew them that way, but even if the water and wind were contrary they would still have heading in that direction for something called to them and not knowing why they obeyed.

South, the King thought, we need to go south, and being the captain now the former slaves followed his orders for they all owed him their lives and they had seen what happened to the former Broglaie leader who the Nomad had challenged.

 

Over the horizon another ship headed south for the Cronos and her crew also heard the unseen voice calling to them.

Andra felt nothing inside as she held the wooden railing of the great ship and looked over the water, once she might have wept and her heart would have broken knowing that her great love was now dead but that was in a former life and that life seemed as far away as the morning stars.

I have my orders she thought, and orders must be obeyed! And she suddenly felt the urge to stand at attention and was about too when Cian spoke to her.

“Andra?” the leader of the Akuna stood looking into her face, “are you well?”

Hearing his voice brought her back and she turned to him, “what?”

“I said are you well?”

“Yes” she replied in a cold voice, “I’m fine, why do you ask?”

The Wave Rider came close and took her hand, “I know what troubles you, you are thinking of your King and the love you had for him”.

Love? The Off-world girl thought, soldiers have no time for love, but she didn’t want to argue with this man so she told him what he wanted to hear, “Yes, that’s right, the man I loved is gone”.

Cian took her other hand in his, “A lover may be gone but that does not mean an end to love”.

Then he pulled her close and kissed her on the lips.

It took all of Andra’s strength to keep from striking him in the face, a far cry from the feeling she had only a few short days ago, and when they parted she managed a smile of sorts.

“Yes, you’re right” She said, “but I want to be alone for a while”.

And not wishing to distress her Cain moved away and Moonbud watched him go.

Silly man she mused, in war there is no time for love, there is only time for victory!

 

But there were others on Gorn who still held love in their hearts.

As the twin suns began to set Anais and Kela along with their human companion drew near the Twin Rivers and the fresh water that they dearly needed. Jumo and Delgar howled as they raced ahead of the Tribe of Many for they sniffed the sweet water that lay just ahead of them.

“The Twin Rivers are just over that rise” Anais said as he pulled back the hood covering on his traveling robe.

This brought a laugh from the woman at his side, “ha! Even a blind man could smell the water from here”.

And in return the Nomad Prince laughed also, “ah yes but did you know that there will be a clearing with a patch of Balbar trees to the right and a small herd of Rimar to the left?”

Kela was not a player of Chance-card but she dearly wanted to teach her mate a lesson, “I will wager that you are wrong and to back up my belief I will cook your favorite meal tonight if you are right”.

This pleased Anais very much, “and to show that I respect your offer if I lose the wager I will rub your shoulders until you tell me to stop”.

“Done!” Kela replied,

Then the two Nomads said nothing until their Karrack rose over the hill and they had a clear view of the surrounding land.

There on the other side was a large body of water with a clearing, but the herd of Rimar was on the left and the Balbar trees were on the right.

“Well what do you see?” ask the Blind Prince.

And being the person she was Kela replied, “I should not have doubted you for everything is as you said it would be”.

“Then I will enjoy my meal”.

And as the night moons began their journey across heavens the Tribe of Many sat around their camp fires and filled their stomachs with freshly killed Rimar, cool water and Well-aged Po.

And being the person that he was Anais rubbed his mate’s shoulders until she said stop and then they laid together in contentment.

 

Romar had no one to lie with because he had no love in his heart only his training as a soldier of the Alliance so he made his bed on the other side of the wagon and looked up at the night sky.

Will I ever see my home again? He thought. What will I become if I have to stay here?

The Captians homeworld had only one moon and it looked upon only as a strategic weapons platform and nothing more, and in his travels as a soldier he had little time for star-gazing or any other matters that did not concern war and victory, but a he looked up and the night moons of Gorn he could not help but think of his past life and all it contained.

I have killed many he thought, thousands, millions and what has it brought me, medals, recommendations for heroism, it that all that I am?

This and a thousand other questions ran though his head until he fell asleep as the stars continued to look down on him.

 

Far from the comfort of a full belly and a warm bed two others found security in each other’s arms, in the moonlight Osh and Alune still huddled near the outcropping of crystalline rock and waited for their end to come but they were not afraid for they were together. It did not take a Touchtender or an Outer Rim Scholar to know that this would be their final resting place for they were both very weak and had no more strength to give. The old woman continued to hold the old man close to her and although her voice was weak she still managed to sing to him.

 

“Above the stars and below the ground and together they are one.

For we stand on the ground and look up at the sky and see all the wonders there.

And when we die we will lie in the earth and above us will shine the stars.

We are one with all things and all things are one with us and we give thanks for that.”

 

And that should have been an ending but the Gods must have heard the timeworn woman’s song for the ground began to shake and the air will filled with a soft humming like the beat of a thousand Flutter-wings.

Alune lifted her head and felt a warm wind on her face; this cannot be the Angle of Death for his touch is cold.

Then the wind began to rise and with it the ground, it was like the hand of a great earth giant digging his way out from his underground home, a crack began to emerge several meters from the elderly pair and with it a strange green glow that Alune had never seen before and it frightened her.

 

“Please Goddess if this is our end let it come swiftly!” and she placed herself over body of the old man hopeful that it would protect him from whatever demon might come.

Although very weak Osh’s curiosity could not be stopped and he opened one eye to see the strange illumination, How strange, He thought, an underground phenomenon that has erupted on the surface, and the Callaxion dearly wished that he had a bit or parchment to record the event.

But he would have needed many scrolls of Rimar hide for the crack grew larger and larger and the light became more intense as it shot up into the sky like a beacon atop a pyramid city, the wind grew into a rushing storm and bolts of rainbow colored lightning shot down from the night sky and struck the ground around the two humans.

“Save us Isarie! The Touchtender cried out as she pulled the old man to her breast.

The crack in the earth widened and the light became like the twin suns, Alune and Osh closed their eyes and held each other waiting for their end.

But it did not come.

The wind died down into a gently breeze and the sky sent no more lightening blots, the burning light subsided until it was only a warm glow and the ground no longer shook.

Osh and Alune opened their eyes and looked at the now gentle light that was slowly drawing towards them, at first it was without substance like marsh gas on a quite lake, and then it started to change, coagulate, from itself into an outline that slowly took on a familiar shape, the shape of a female.

Has the Goddess herself come for us? The Touchtender thought.

Osh did not have faith in in deities but this occurrence almost made him a believer.

Then as the both looked on the light dimmed and the figure could be seen clearly in the moonlight, she was strangely tall with a face and body that seemed almost transparent, The eyes glowed with a crystalline light and her pale skin was like Grana in a fire pit, the figure moved ever closer then it held out thin hands to the two humans.

“Do not be afraid” the figure said, “It is I Niana come back to save you, and my world.”

And all fear fell away from Osh and Alune and lifting their arms they took her hands in theirs.

 

Chapter 28.

Love and Loss.

Situation under control, remaining forces intact, perimeter secure, all elements are working at maximum efficiency, I have sent out observation flyers to seek out enemy forces and report on their position and battle strength, I am in constant contact with our remaining forces in orbit and will use them if necessary.

Status report from Ivar-Anoon, first General of the combined forces of the Mac-Mar Alliance.

Ivar-Anoon believed in no Gods be they small or large he only believed in the power at his command and the victories it brought him, there was no afterlife, paradise or golden hall where you spent eternity and no Pit of Marloon where you suffered endlessly, to him there was only this life and death, but if there was any place he wished to be it was the place he stood now.

The General stood outside his well-guarded mobile command station dressed in his armored battle fatigues and looked out over the mass of combat hardened soldiers and superior equipment that covered the rocky ground around the fallen city of Del-Godar, and it was truly a site to bring a smile too the stern lips of the cold-hearted commander for what force could withstand such an army?

There were the warriors of course, strong men and woman from far distant worlds, Hidraga, Upars, Bolec’s, Youngonrie, Salocans and many more, all with one thing in common, they loved to kill, they would kill without mercy, the young, the old, the weak and the strong without hesitation and that suited Ivar very well for what was an army if they stopped to think? No, Ivar did the thinking for them, they need only to obey.

And their weapons were the latest in power and destruction, flesh blasters and sonic pulse guns, hover carriers and flyers, long range cannon and point blast missiles all at his disposal, and if that wasn’t enough he could always contact his massive fleet in high orbit and activate the planet rippers!

It’s a good day the General thought, soon I will be victorious and this world will be mine.

The plague that had infected him and many of his soldiers had been removed thanks to the green crystals that were given to him by the strange man from underground. Tark or Servant as he was known to the General had kept his word and supplied him with the much needed salt, and it was also true that his power weapons now functioned along with his energy based war machinery.

I will destroy all who oppose me, he told his mind, and if anything or anyone stands in my way they will die.

Just then a young lieutenant snapped to attention near the Commander.

“Yes what is it?” Ivar asked.

“Sir, the flyers are awaiting instructions to begin their search”.

“Very well” the General replied, “order them to survey the area within five hundred kilometers and report back what they see, and if they are fired upon they will destroy the attacker”.

“Sir, at once” replied the Lieutenant and then ran off to carry out his orders.

Ivar once again gazed out over his army; it is a very good day, a very good day indeed.

 

Kalgar-Rune also had an army and they were far superior to any warrior of the Outer-Rim for they were genetically created for war and hardship, but they had failed in finding the Holy Mother and this did not sit well with the leader of the Thungodra.

“What do you mean she is gone?” screamed the huge warrior.

Before him stood a young Thungodra and he dare not look Kalgar in the face, “we looked everywhere but we found no trace of her”.

The great meeting dome of the Akuna was now the dwelling of the leader of the protectors of the faith, it had been stripped of all decorations and comfort for that was a sin in the eyes of Kalgar-Rune and he was on a mission to save the righteous and destroy all those who had strayed from the truth of Isarie.

The dark armored warriors stood waiting for an order from their commander. Kalgar-Rune sat on a makeshift dais in the center of the hall and nervously gripped the handle of his war ax.

“She must be found” he shouted, “look behind every rock, search every cave and dome and find her!”

The warrior of the Chosen made their way out of the huge dome leaving behind only a small compliment of guards and they were hardly needed for over the past days they had rounded up anyone who opposed them and placed them in strong cells where they could do no harm, and with the disappearance of Arn and Cian there would be no one to lead them even if they did rebel against the will of the Gods.

But his was of little meaning to Kalgar for he did what he did not for the glory of the Goddess but for his own selfish needs, but this was a revelation that the Thungodra leader had yet to realize.

I will find her he thought; I will find her and keep her safe from those who have been corrupted by sin.

But there was an old Nomad saying, “Those that see sin in others are only looking into a mirror.”

 

The idea of sin was still a rather new concept for Endo and Rawna for they were Sandjars and they lived a hard life and did what was needed to survive, now as they sat around the morning campfire Endo looked over as his mate with new eyes for she was carrying his child.

I must keep her safe the thought, she bares my child and nothing must stop me from becoming a father. The word “father” had no equivalent in the guttural language of the Sandjar for they did not bond with their mates or their offspring, it was merely a demand of nature to carry on the species, but Endo had been raised by Osh a human and that upbringing now showed on the face of the Scavenger for his large eyes held the look of love.

Rawna filled her mouth with fat ground worms for she was going to give birth and every Sandjar knew that worms were the best thing for that, “Is your meal to your liking?” she asked.

“Delightful” replied Endo as he filled his mouth with dried Rimar meat.

Rawna knew it was not his favorite food but it was all she had time to prepare for she had been up before dawn digging for worms, “have you thought of name for our child when it is free of my body?”

Endo shook his head. “No, I thought we could do that together”.

This made Rawna smile for males always picked the name of the newly born and hearing that she would have a say made her very happy, “very well I will be thinking of names as I dig for more rough worms, perhaps I will dip them in Ulon spice to add to the flavor”.

The Idea that she would mix that fiery seasoning to already tasteful rough worms made the Sandjar male shutter, but he knew that females about to give birth have very strange cravings.

It was then that a humming sound caught his sensitive ears, and looking up he saw a dark shadow against the morning sky.

 

There were others who heard the unfamiliar sound for Anais and Kela had just finished their Morning meal of Hagar soup when the woman looked up to see the same dark shape.

“What can it be?” asked Kela as she held up her hand to shade against the rising suns.

Anais had no need of shading for he could not see but that did not stop him from rendering a comment, “it makes no warning call so it cannot be a Screecher”.

“It is large in shape, perhaps it is an Arabus bird?” The former Handmaiden replied.

But the Blind prince shook his head, “we are too far from the Belt of Isarie and that is the only place they hunt in”.

At the back of their Karrack Captain Romar also heard the whirring sound and saw the dark shape in the sky but unlike his companions he knew exactly what the mysterious mass was, flyer he thought, a maned reconnaissance ship out on patrol.

But before anyone could react the dark shape fell from the sky and with a loud rushing sound it swooped down over the camp of the Tribe of Many causing panic for they had never seen such a horrific mechanism before, even the ferocious Drogs Delgar and Jumo took refuse under the wagon and howled like Sagar cats in the night.

“A demon” a warrior cried, “arm your selves!”

“It is a God of the sky” said another.

“All is lost” screamed an old woman as she ran for cover.

Anais and Kela were also afraid but being leaders of their tribe they gathered their courage together.

“It is a machine that flies” Kela shouted to her mate, “but where did such a thing come from?”

“I do not know” replied Anais, “but it caused no harm only noise let it go its way”.

“NO!” Shouted Romar, “it will report back to headquarters and soon soldiers will come to destroy you!”

“How can you know this?” asked the Blind prince.

“Because I was once a commander of such craft”.

 

Endo knew nothing of reconnaissance ships or headquarters, all he understood was the thing from the sky threatened his family. “Hide yourself under the wagon” he called out to his mate as he saw the flying monster curve around towards them, and not wishing any harm to the life inside her Rawna took refuse under the strong timbers of their Karrack, then Endo went to their carry wagon, drew back the covering and took out the blast rifle hidden there.

I have power now he told his mind, and with it I will save those I love.

Hit press the charging button and the metal weapon began to emit a high pitched whine.

The Flyer once again passed over the Nomads camp all the while its crew sent back vital information on the enemy’s troop strength and location.

 

“What are you talking about? Asked Anais to the man they had rescued.

Romar could see the hover craft making another run, “we don’t have time now, that ship might attack at any moment we must find cover”.

But Kela as skeptical of the danger, “attack, what can that machine do to us? It has no claws or beak to tear the flesh”.

The young Captain shook his head, “it can destroy us all!”

Romar could not have known that the Flyer’s crew was under orders not to attack unless fired upon, but that soon changed.

 

Endo saw that the weapon in his clawed hands was ready to fire so he turned and bracing himself against the wheel of their wagon he too carful aim at the intruder from the sky.

“No one will harm to my child” he said under his breath, “I am no longer a slave, now I have the power!”

Then as the Flyer drew near he fired.

“BLAM!”

A bolt of white hot light shot out from the rifle’s end and caused Rawna to scream in terror once again. Endo was expecting the metal bird to fall from the sky but his shot went wide and that would be a mistake he would regret for the rest of his life for the machine swung around once more and began to swoop down on the defenseless Outlanders and this time it would not leave then unscarred.

 

Anais and Kela were still not convinced of the danger drawing near them but when they looked into the eyes of their companion they decided to heed his warning.

“Lead us” the Handmaiden said.

“We will follow” added the Blind prince.

And with Jumo and Delgar howling behind them Romar lead them to a cluster of rocks nearby and they all hide themselves from whatever might come.

 

The crew of Flyer 1390-Beta wing were highly trained in aerial combat, they were both veterans of the Pirmax-3 war and had earned decorations for bravery, so seeing that the inhabitance of this primitive world had nothing in the way of airborne defense they indulged their thirst for destruction, they flew in low and opened fire on anything that moved. The rain of death was unlike anything a Nomad had faced before, they always fought face to face or used long range cannon but none had ever seen a machine kill from the air and it terrified them, it was true that some of the warriors flung their ax’s as the metal bird came near but they inflicted no damage, others fell on their knees and prayed to the Goddess to save them, but both the strong and the weak died under the onslaught of the beast from the sky.

Endo continued to discharge his weapon at the fire spitting foe but the machine was fast and the Sandjar was unexperienced with the lethal armament.

Clouds of dust and debris rose into the air as Karracks caught fire and Trofar’s roared in pain, the blood crazed Whiptails broke loose from their moorings and raced off across the plain as wild Rimar stampeded in panic.

Rawna shook in fright as blast after blast struck the ground, “ENDO!” she called out, “MY LOVE!”

But the Sandjar did not hear her words for his mind was sent on destroying his enemy and as the sky machine came in low and discharged its weapons he fired!

The ground around them blew up in fire and smoke but the Coraw of the Scavengers had found his mark and the Flyer 1390-Beta wing burst into flames and fell crashing to the ground.

A great cheer went up from the remaining Nomads and Sandjar but their gladness was short lived for about them lay the dead and the dying.

A smile crossed the scaled face of Endo for he had destroyed his enemy with the power in his hands, “I am strong” he whispered, “no one will harm me or my family again”. Then he turned happy to see his mate safe and unharmed, “Did you see? I destroyed the monster, you were wrong about the weapon, it saved our lives!”

But as he looked at her he could see that something was wrong so tossing down the rifle he rushed to her side under their Karrack, “Are you well?” he asked softly rubbing the back of her head, “has someone hurt you?”

Rawna said nothing as she lifted her thin hand from her stomach and there her mate could see blood stains on her robe and clawed fingers.

“What have I done?” Endo asked as his eyes began to fill with tears, “I thought I was protecting you but I brought you only pain, forgive me, forgive me!”

Rawna lifted her hand to his face and touched it gently, “there is nothing to forgive, you took me from under the earth and now I shall return there but do not weep for me for I will not be alone I will have our child to comfort me and I will comfort him”.

And saying those words she closed her eyes and passed into another world.

Some say that Scavengers have no feelings, that they are mindless creatures without a soul and without a God, but if anyone saying such things had looked into the eyes of Endo they would have known that love is not for the Chosen but for all beings under the heavens.

 

The attack by the Flyer had been devastating and there was much weeping and prayers as the Tribe of Many buried their dead, those that were injured were taken care of and those who were spared wounds vowed that revenge on those responsible would be swift and strong. But who was there to fight? The monster from the sky had been destroyed and there was no enemy crossing the lands around the great lake so the warriors could only grip their weapons and grumble about what they would do to those they met in battle. But there was one who knew what was to come and face of that enemy.

“We have to move out, Now!” Romar had reverted back to his military training and spoke those words like he was still on his command bridge, but his companion’s only saw it as concern for their wellbeing.

“But we are safe now” said Anais, “the monster is dead and cannot hurt us anymore”.

But the Captain knew the truth, “No, you don’t understand that machine sent back information to its command headquarters and soon others like it will come and when they do the damage will be a hundred fold.”

Kela knew it was impossible for a message to be sent without the aid of signal horns or riders so she put the young man’s comments down to lack of age, “you said you once controlled such a beast but how can a man train a machine?”

Romar knew there was no time for explanations of communication data or attack strategies, “you must trust me, there are many more like that thing and they will be here soon, you must find a place to hide or there will be no one left alive!”

Anais could not see the look on the Captain’s face but Kela could and she knew that he was telling the truth, “I believe you” she said softly, “what must we do?”

“Are there any caves or bunkers nearby?”

Kela knew nothing of Bunkers but she did know of an opening in the earth a short journey away but that was a forbidden place and no Outlander is permitted to seek shelter within that hollow.

“There is only the Cave of Iron but we must not enter”.

“It is you’re only chance” Romar replied.

Anais knew of this place and the law against entering there but what choice did they have?

“We will gather the tribe and travel to the Cave of Iron” but Anis was careful not to say that they would enter for like any good leader he wish to know more before risking the lives of his people.

So gathering up what remained of the tribe and made their way towards the forbidden place and prayed that the Gods would not be angry with them, but it was far from the strong clan they use to be for there were many dead and the Sandjars had run off in panic when the metal creature attack them and as for their Coraw or leader Endo was nowhere to be found, only his burned out wagon, a discarded blaster and a fresh mount of earth remained at his campsite and although they called out for him they heard nothing in return.

 

The tribe traveled by night and being cold blooded the Whiptials and Romar had insisted that Rimar hides should be kept wet and cover all wagons and warriors so that their heat registers would not be picked up by the thermal detectors of the Flyers, still it was a difficult journey for the land was rocky and filled with the remains of ancient machines of war.

 

Chapter 29.

The Call of the Earth.

In the heavens and on the earth are my children, they live in my heart and sing my songs and I am their Mother and I call to them and they listen.

From the Book of Isarie.

Sunbirth came to the world of Gorn as it had done for millennia, the world turned, the day moons rose in the sky and the creatures that roamed its surface went about their endless quest for survival for life and death were a part of everything and in a cave not far from a cluster of crystalline rocks an Old man and woman stood before a creature that they saw die but now returned to them.

When the Callaxion and the Touchtender put out their hands to Niana her touch filled them with a renew strength and once being close to death their worn bodies now surged with vitality. “How can this be?” the old man asked, “we saw you consumed by the flames and then tossed into the sea and now here you are alive and with power that I have not seen before, can you give me a logical explanation of what has accursed?”

The grateful woman at his side asked for nothing but gave all that was within her, “Praised the Goddess for saving our lives”, and she fell on her knees and lifted her arms to the sky in gratitude.

Niana stood looking at the old woman, “do not pray to me for I am not your Goddess, that is something that fate and my children must decide”.

Osh had spoken to Niana in the past but that was when she was a far different creature but even then her words were riddles and he could never receive a precise answer for a specific question but being a Callaxion he had no other choice, “Why did you save us and what is your purpose in coming back?”

The Crystaline women looked into the eyes of the Outer Rim scholar, “There are many questions that you wish to ask me, some I can answer and many I cannot, we have a long journey ahead of us and you must trust in me”.

“Journey?” Osh asked, “Where are we going?”

“To a place that no one of your kind has gone too before,” Niana replied “a place of wonder and terror, a place that will decide the fate of this world and many more”

“Togasttra emo entralac, give us your strength” whispered Alune.

Osh indeed had many more questions but he did not ask them for the words of Niana rang in his ears and that was enough to ponder for a time.

“Come with me” Niana said softly, and turning the strange woman began walking into the darkness of the cave and with nothing more than her faith Alune walked after her and armed only with his curiosity the old man followed.

 

The Tribe of Many managed to escape detection as they made their way to the forbidden place, a great mass of mountains and rock that was near Still Water Lake, but they dared not venture into the Cave if Iron for they feared the wrath of Isarie.

“We must go inside” Romar pleaded as he stood outside the great cave.

“We must not go against the laws of our people” Anais replied.

But Kela had been a Handmaiden and healer and she could see that Romar was telling the truth no matter how hard it was to hear, “if we stay outside they will find us” she told her mate, “and when they do they will kill us, is it not better to risk punishment then certain death?”

Anais could find no fault in her words but still he could not decide, “Death is always with us, but let us not temp the Gods”.

And not wanting to argue after their exhausting journey Kela let the matter go and the Tribe hide themselves under outcropping of rock and waited for their leaders to choose a path to follow, they lite no Washa for they understood that its heat would guide their enemy and they sang no songs for their hearts were still filled with too much sadness for those they left behind.

 

There was not path for the Cronos to follow for the sea has no markings and although the Leader of the Akuna was endowed with the same power as all Nomads, to know where he was at all times that power was slipping away so that he could not be certain of just where his ship was heading, but the wind and waves drew him southward and he knew that they would soon strike land. What he was not certain of was the Off-World girl that had captured his heart for she did not speak to him and when he drew near he could feel her wishing it were otherwise, but still he hoped that it was only a temporary feeling of lose for her mate and she would turn her eyes to him soon. Now as he stood on the prow off the hunter ship he turned his body in her direction for he knew that all Akuna possessed a mating scent that few could resist.

She does not turn to me thought the Wave-rider, she is not the woman from before, she has changed. But before he could think further a loud call rang out from the lookout post.

“Land!”

And looking out over the waves Cian saw the outline of a shore and beyond a great ridge of mountains, Tambor, he thought a land of rock and sand.

And like their Nomad counterparts the Akuna did not travel there for it was a land of little life, barren except for outcroppings of rock and crystal, it had a dangerous shoreline dotted with jagged rocks and riptides and the remains of Brogalie pirate vessels that sailed too close to its shore, but the Sea People had also heard the call in their minds and all thought of danger or forbidden laws vanished like a morning mist.

 

Another ship sailed towards the dangers of Tambor, it was much smaller than the mighty hunter ships of the Akuna for it sought no creature of the deep only gold to satisfy their greed, Po and Dral to quench their thirst and slaves to torture and kill, but the new Captain of the Vengeance was looking for something far more precious.

Arn now wore the dressings of a Pirate of the Western Sea, a shirt of chain mail over a leather vest, arm braces of steel, Rimar hide legging with knee high boots set with armor strips, around his head and holding back his dark main was a red bandana and around his waist was wide belt with a long strong dagger in a golden sheath, to anyone he would have looked like a brigand rather than a King of the Almadra, but King or not he stood looking out over the water and thinking thoughts of what was to come.

I know she is out there somewhere he told his mind, I must find her and… but he could not remember her face or why he wished to find such a woman for his mind was clouded and confused as if he had drank a barrel of Po and washed it down with another barrel of Dral. So now he stood looking out to sea and counting the waves that rose and fell.

The Brogalie raider was much faster than the massive ships of the Akuna for it was built to hit hard and escape fast but the pirates of the Western Sea prayed to no Gods and a true believer would have said it was the cause for their undoing for a Flyer had spotted them as they drew near the shore. Like before this air machine was maned by a well-trained crew but unlike their dead comrades in arms they were given orders to seek and destroy any inhabitance of what they now considered their world.

Arn saw the dark shape in the sky and instantly knew it was not a creature of Gorn, “Arm yourselves!” he called out in a loud voice and hearing his command the Brogalie picked up their weapons and prepared for battle, but they were expecting a fighting craft of the Akuna not a sky fighter from another world.

The Mac-Mar Alliance ship came down low and took careful aim at its target and when the range-finder signaled that it had lock-on it fired all its weapons!

“BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Three direct hits struck the deck and sides of the sea raider and it began listing to one starboard as water poured in through its basted sides, the Pirates onboard ran around in panic for like their Nomad counter parts they had never seen such a craft before only Arn stood his with his feet braced on the quarter deck determined to meet death like a King of the Outlands.

“Come for me!” he called out in a loud voice, “I am Arn, son of Karn and King of the Almadra, kill me if you can!”

But the Flyer crew never heard his words of defiance and taking aim once more they opened fire and the Brogalie ship burst into flames.

 

Sunfall began to come as the Twin Suns gave up their place in the sky to the night moons and stars but as the light began to fade the wind began to rise and not just in the green Sirolian Plains or sacred lands of Omargash or even Darmock they rose up over the entire planet driving animals to shelter and Nomads and Off-Worlders alike, and with the wind came flashes of lighting where there were now clouds, rumblings of the earth like the footfalls of Earthshakers but those great creatures still clung to the ground, what could cause such a phenomenon no one knew not even the General who called himself the master of Gorn.

Ivar sat grumbling inside his shaking command center and listened to the wailing wind outside and what it would mean to his plans for conquest for no Flyer or Landtank would be of any use until the weather once again cooperated.

Delays, delays he thought, why must I be troubled with delays? He of course knew very well that it was simply a problem with air pressure and terrain and for all their advanced technology the Mac-mar Alliance had no control over unruly nature.

 

The Tribe of Many had safely reached the Cave if Iron as the wind began to rise but they did not go in instead they took refuse in the many great steel remains of ancient war machines that dotted the land around that forbidden place.

Kela, Anais and Romar found the broken hull of some monstrous earth walker and with the two Drogs they sat eating a quickly prepared meal of cold Hagar soup, it was somewhat cramped quarters and Jumo and Delgar kept a close eye on the human for they still had doubts about him despite his approval by their human masters.

“We will rest here until the storm has passed” Anais said as he filled his mouth with the disappointing soup.

Romar was too worried to be hungry for not only were the two huge animals eyeing him closely he knew that when the wind died down the Flyers would be out once more, “trust me” he said, “you must find a more defensible fortifications”.

But the Blind Prince shook his head, “I will not go into the forbidden cave unless there is no other way”.

“There is no other way!” Romar strong voice caused the two Drogs to show their dagger like teeth.

“Rest!” Kela called out to them raising her hand.

“Yes rest” Anais said adding his authority to his mates.

“I was not talking only to our guardians” the Handmaiden said, “we have come a long way in a very short time, we all need rest and in the morning our minds will be less cluttered by the events of this day.”

And knowing that she spoke the truth Anais said nothing more and not wanted to raise the ire of the two Drogs Romar moved as far away as he could from them and curled up on his sleeping mattress. Kela moved to where her mate sat and after they finished the soup they lay in each other arms.

 

Sleep was far away from the crew of the sea tossed Cronos for they drew near the sharp rocks of Tambor.

“Keep her prow towards the shore!” Cian called out to the steersman trying to make his voice heard above the howling wind, “look for any opening in the rocks”, but that would be a hard thing to find for the air was thick with mist and ahead lay only shafts of sharp rock jutting out from the pounding waves, a smaller craft might have threaded its way pass them and find safety but the Cronos was a hunter of Leviathans and therefor of great size but her timbers were fashioned from hardened Balbar trees and held together with Iarian steel spikes and with luck they still might escape with their lives.

Andra had little knowledge of ships for she was raised on a farm far from the sea but it did not take a sailor to see that they were on a heading to disaster, I must report to my command she thought, it is my duty.

Then a powerful wave caught up the great ship and with the wind screaming like a demon of the dessert the Cronos slammed into a pillar of rock and tore the left side of the ship away, water began to pour into the hull and as it did one of the mast cracked in two and came crashing to the deck almost crushing the Off-World girl under its massive weight, Andra leaped to one side just in time but in an instance a wave rose up and she was swept into the water.

Cian watched her being carried away and he called out to her.

“Moonbud!” but she could no longer hear and before he could utter another word the great ship struck yet another barrier of rock and it broke apart washing the Akuna leader and his crew into the raging sea.

 

As suddenly as it came the powerful winds drifted away and with it vanished the un-natural lightening and strange colors in the sky, the night moons once more shown down on the lands of Gorn from the forests of Caltarine, across the Sirolian Plains, through the Pass of Moke, into the green fields of Darmock and on to the Western Sea.

Kela was the first of the Tribe of Many to notice the now quiet night and rising up from her makeshift bed she placed her hand on her mates arm for although the air was still things were not as they should be, “Wake” she spoke softly.

“What is it?” Anais asked with a yawn, then shaking his head to clear it he was suddenly aware of his surroundings, “do you hear what I do?” he asked.

“Yes” replied Kela.

If Romar had been awake he would have said that nothing was amiss but he was an Off-worlder or Half-Soul as they were sometimes called by the Nomads and turned over and gone back to sleep but Kela and Anais were Outlanders and it was obvious what was wrong.

There was no sound.

No animals cries, no chirpings of night feeders, no rustling of Burrow-babies looking for food, no fluttering of Whisper-wings or Dot-flies, all was silence.

For a moment both the Outlanders stood like statues, their eyes vacant of thought, it was the same affection that had taken their bodies before but without their knowledge, they stood unmoving then they heard a strange ringing in their ears, at first it was soft but in a moment or two it began to rise, getting stronger and stronger, their paralysis ended and both Kela and Anais put their hands over their ears hoping to shut out the noise.

“What is that sound?” Kela called out.

“A calling in my head!” Anais replied he face contorted with pain.

“It burns like fire!” Kela screamed.

Then the Kela watched as dozens of their best warriors began moving towards the Cave of Iron, they walked like creatures held in the grip of an invisible hand, they did not speak and their eyes were vacant of life, men and woman alike for both were capable of defending the tribe. But the young, old or wounded were not among them, only the fit and strong were drawn to the yawning portal and when they reached its gaping mouth they did not hesitate but walked into the darkness without stopping.

I must stop them Kela thought, but her body would not obey her mind and she was helpless.

Anais could sense his people near him but like his mate he was held in a grip that he could not break.

Jumo and Delgar did not waken from their sleep but they growled and snapped at the air as if they were battling a Sagar Cat in their dreams.

Anais and Kela could do nothing to stop the warriors of their tribe for the sound in their heads prevented them from moving or doing anything that might keep their comrades from leaving, it was only after the last of the warriors vanished into the darkness that the sound subsided then ceased altogether.

“They are gone” Kela said as her legs began to move, “We must go after them”.

“No” the Blind Prince said taking her by the arm, “We are two and they are many, we would not be able to stop them”.

“But why would they enter the forbidden cave? The Handmaiden asked.

“I do not know” Anais replied, “some god or demon has taken their souls”.

Romar had a soul but he did not hear the voice nor did he rise from his bed he continued to dream away the night without care.

 

Far from the Cave of Iron in the land of the Akuna the voice was also heard and like the Tribe of Many they heeded its call.

Kalgar-Rune was awakened from a fitful sleep and rose up from his hard mattress and began walking from his tent, he did not stop to put on the dark armor of the Thungodra or the great horned helmet that would have marked him as their leader, nor did he lift up his heavy war-ax or buckle on his wide belt, he left all that behind and simply wore his Rimar hide vest and breeches and walking boots.

Outside his simple quarters he was met by his personal guard and all the strong men and women that had vowed to follow the teaching of the Goddess, they also left behind their armor and trappings and in their eyes was nothing, they walked like dream people out of their camp and towards the sea, but only the strong, the old the young or weak were left behind.

Kuno who was still locked inside his cell beat his strong fists against the metal bars for he wished to be free and follow the voice in his head and when the bars did not break he let out a roar of frustration and clinched his jaw so hard blood began to flow.

The tribe of the Almadra and the Akuna could do nothing as their best warriors made their way to the caves by the sea and without a word of protest they moved into the darkness and away from the light of the glowing moons.

And it was the same across all the lands of Gorn, every tribe watched their strong guardians vanish into the earth, the Bal-Borie, the Zengarie, what was left of the Caladon and the strong Ozendra, and even in fortress of the Norgonie, all of them heard the voice and all of them heeded its calling, there was only one group that did not bend to the voice, the Sandowmen were spared that trial perhaps they were two weak or the poison lands where they lived had infected their bodies too much to make them of any use or maybe the Gods simply took pity on them for their retched lives, and along with those dark robbed people there were a few others that escaped that unknown fate

 

Andra’s head pounded like an Ironworkers hammer and her mouth tasted of sea water and blood but she was still alive.

She lay face up on the rock strewn sands of Tambor as several Shore-creepers crawled across her bruised but otherwise intact body, her Rimar hide pants were torn at the leg, she lost the belt and knife that was hung around her waist and here and there small cuts oozed crimson but she was a strong soldier of her Homeworld and had experienced far worse in the past so swatting aside the nipping sand creatures she stood up on shaky legs.

It was still dark but the night moons gave off a sufficient light for her to make out her surroundings and any sign of an enemy but she found only broken timbers and footprints on the sand as if a company of men had walked from the sea, and knowing that it could only be her companions on the Cronos she decided to track them even if they were not her kind.

The Selcarie woman marked their trail as it headed up a narrow gorge in the steep cliffs that rose like a great wall separating the land from the water, the footprints where spaced evenly as if the men and women that made them marched in order for she had seen this many times in her years as a combat soldier, she walked with them until they came to a break in the rocks and before her lay a large metal door perhaps a dozen meters tall and as many wide, it had the mark of great age with pitting’s and sea moss on its surface, there was a handle of sorts but it was as thick as a man’s arm and even though she pulled with all her might it would not open, but the footprints and markings on the ground clearly indicated that it was opened and closed very recently, so she turned away and continued up the canyon but she left no footprints for the soft sand had turned to rock.

They have gone underground she told her mind, I am alone.

Some distance from where the Cronos met her fate another survivor struggled for consciousness; his great body was covered in Shore-creepers for he had numerous cuts crisscrossing his iron frame and those creatures of the sand knew an easy meal when they found it.

Like the woman he once called his mate Arn had cheated the Angel of Death yet again, he had lain like a dead man on the sand and did not hear the voice calling to his kind for if he had he would have risen up and followed its call despite his wounds but it seemed that the Gods had other plans for him but just what they might be is something that mortals are forbidden to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 30.

 

 

The Infiltrator

 

 

Information is the greatest weapon of all in war for with it you can defeat an enemy by striking at their weakness.

 

From the observations of Ivar-Anoon, first General of the combined forces of the Mac-Mar Alliance.

Sunburst brought warmth and comfort to the lands of Gorn and those that hid from the wind now embraced the sky.

Andra quenched her thirst at a small spring she had found as she traveled up the narrow canyon away from the sea, she saw no animals only rock and the occasional rusted remains of some ancient machine, she stopped only once to fashion a weapon of sorts from a jagged piece of metal she salvaged from some great landmover, it was about a half an arm’s length long and as wide as three of her fingers, with some effort she sharpened the tip on a rock and wrapped the handle with a strip of Rimar hide from her vest, now she was armed with a crude knife, it wasn’t much but as her old drill Sargent use to say.

“A wet rag is better than nothing”.

So armed as she was Andra set out on her quest, to find her command and make her report.

The enemy is all around she thought, I have seen them and they have seem me.

The canyon walls were marked with strange images and writings they were cut deep into the rock face and were surely made by human hands, but the images were definitely not those of humans, they resembled hideous creatures of some sort, reptilian in parts with scaled faces and large bulbous and malformed limbs, and seeing them the Selcarie girl tighten her grip on her weapon.

Over time Andra had acquired some skill in reading the language of the Nomads but the markings bore little resemblance to anything she had seen before, here and there she could make out some words such as Forbidden or Accursed but little else and what did it matter anyway, she had to survive and this was the only route she could take.

She did see some rather large spiders clinging to the dark rock walls and seeing those hideous creatures did make her rethink her choice of travel for she hated the vile things and seeing them she quickly passed them by.

The narrow canyon opened up into a wide opening, there were steep blackened cliffs on all sides and from the look of the rocks that made up its rugged surface it could have only been made by Eulmar from some long dormant volcano, but what caught the eye of the Selcarie girl was the object that stood at its center for there before her was an incredible site. A colossal pillar of green crystal many times taller than the Finger of Solus, it rose up into the sky almost to the rim of the caldron like some gigantic shaft pointing the way to the stars, the morning light reflected off its smooth surface and danced over the blackened walls of the surrounding rock and sent a beam of intense light high into the cloudless sky.

Andra had no way of knowing that the Nomads called this The Light of Isarie for few had ever seen it and many strange legends had grownup surrounding it. Some said it was a beacon to guide traveling Gods, other said it was a warning to all that this world is guarded by a powerful deity and still others said it was a weapon aimed at the stars to be used in the final conflict that was to come. But any geologist of the Outer-Rim would have said it was a simple outcropping of crystal forced up from below by pressure and nothing more.

Andra has seen huge monuments before when she fought the Drymac but those were built by humans and this was a thing of nature, Moonbud lifted her hand to shield her eyes from the intense glow of the crystalline tower and although she would have marveled at its color and beauty in the past that was forgotten now.

Andra took her makeshift knife and chipped a piece from its surface and put it to her lips hoping it might be the precious Grana and give her strength but although it looked much like that rare mineral it had no effect on her at all and she cast the fragment to the ground.

There is no purpose to this thing she thought, I must find my company.

 

But there were others who saw the green glow and they were under orders to seek out the enemy no matter where it tried to hide.

“This is Flyer nine seven three Alfa wing”, the experienced piolet said over his com-link, “we have spotted a beacon on heading eight six one in beta quadrant and are heading to investigate possible enemy activity”.

“Very well” came the reply over the com, “kill if fired upon but capture for interrogation if possible, understood?”

“Affirmative” was the reply from Flyer Captain.

And turning his ship in the direction of the strange light the metal bird drew near its pry.

 

Andra hearing was quite good and her time with the Nomads had only added to that acute sense for the creatures of Gorn moved on padded feet and gave little warning.

“Flyer” she spoke to no one, and having fought the Mac-Mar before she knew just what that meant, she could run but their sensors would track her and with no cover to speak of she would be killed quickly. She had no blaster or shoulder held missile so fighting back was of little use, she thought about waiting till they landed then charging them and dying like a good soldier but the voice in her head kept her speaking to her.

“Report to your command” it said, “report to Sargent Reynolds”.

So when the air machine came close she held up her hands and waited till it touched down then as the armed crew rushed forward she dropped her weapon, held up her hands and spoke out in a loud clear voice.

“I am Lieutenant Andra Oseira, Selcarie first infantry division Omega five!”

 

The rising suns bore down on Arn as his body lay on the sand, it was now covered by a horde of Shore-creepers and they set about tearing small bits of flesh from the Nomads body but the King was in a faraway place in his mind, a place where pain and sorrow held no sway.

The Golden Hall of Isarie was filled with song and dancing, the Po flowed like a river and the smell of roasting Rimar filled the air, all about were the great warriors that had made their way to the scared hall and there were none that should not have been there.

The golden hall the King thought, I have passed into the afterlife.

He moved forward to the cheers of feasting Nomads as they held up their foaming tankards and shouted out words of welcome and beat their weapons on the stone floor of the shimmering temple, Arn greeted them back and they bowed and parted making a path for him to walk for ahead of him was the throne of the Goddess and around her sat those who she had chosen to be at her side.

Arn’s heart leaped with joy when he saw his father sitting at the right hand of the Goddess and on the left was his sister Seeda, both were dressed in golden armor and in one hand they held their axes and in the other a tankard of well-aged Po, the King smiled at them and making his way through the rollicking mass he stood before the great throne.

“It is good to see you both” Arn said with a smile, “I am content to share the Afterlife with those I loved”.

But Karn his father stood up and looked at his son, “But you do not belong here my son” he said.

“Have I not proved myself brave in battle and a strong King?” Arn asked.

Then Seeda rose and spoke, “You are indeed brave and you have been a strong King”.

“Then way am I denied the Afterlife? He asked.

To this his sister shook her head, “Because you are not dead”.

Arn rose with a start and ripped the biting creatures from his body then rising up he looked about him but saw nothing but empty beach, the wind he remembered, the thing from the sky,

It all returned to him now the golden hall, my father and sister, a dream, but there was little time for memories and thoughts of the Afterlife, he was alive and he vowed to stay that way a least until the Goddess wished him to sit beside her.

 

Ivar-Anoon stood calmly at his command table looking over charts and troop movements and coldly calculating his next move, surrounding him was his personal guard, seasoned troopers who would kill in an instant anyone who threatened their General, the others were rank commanders and lesser personal that were eager to please the commandant. Ivar of course knew what he was going to do because he only had one thing in his mind, wining!

Winning is all that matters he thought as he looked of the charts, and I will win no matter what the cost. “Have we encountered any significant resistance?” Ivar asked to a man on his left.

“Only one Flyer lost” a nervous Lieutenant by his side replied, “and we’re still trying to confirm if it was an enemy hit or mechanical malfunction”.

“What about their troop strength?” the General continued.

“Unknown” replied the Lieutenant.

“Unknown?” asked the General “is there a problem with our sensors?”

“No problem sir it’s just that all we have picked up are weakened life signs and some wounded that can’t be used in combat”.

“But what about their warriors where is the great strength of these outlanders that I’ve heard so much about?”

The officers about Ivar knew it was an open ended question and they feared to speak, but silence would have been even worse for the cold eyes of the General demanded an answer.

“We are unaware of their exact position at this time” an officer across the table replied.

Ivar knew the Nomads had no clocking device or image disrupter so the answer was not satisfactory, “They must be found and soon, I must have their precise number and the level of their weaponry”.

The Lieutenant said nothing for he had no information and he didn’t want to look incompetent in the eyes of his leader and it was a lucky strategy for just then a runner came into the center and after snapped to attention.

“What is it?” growled the General for he was in no mood for interruptions.

The Runner handed a message to the General who looked it over then spoke to the lowly corporal, “take her to interrogation, I will be their shortly” the he turned back to his officers, “You have twenty four time marks to get me the information I need, if not there will be changes”.

Then he left the command center without saying another word.

The officers knew just what the General meant when he said “changes” it was a polite term for having them all killed and replaced with more efficient men.

 

Andra had been a prisoner before in fact it was the reason that she was brought to Gorn in the first place for was the perfect home for armies to rid themselves of unwanted captives when wars were over. The Mac-Mar had removed her clothing and replaced it with a simply uniform but without marking of any kind other than a large yellow circle on the back denoting her as a prisoner, they also attached a tracking collar around her neck so that she could be found if she escaped but that was a very remote possibility for there where now tens of thousands of Alliance warriors surrounding the fallen city of Del-Godar. But even in her dire situation Andra had no fear because she had undergone interrogations at the hands of her enemy before and withstood their tortures so now she sat quietly strapped to a heavy chair and waited for her questioning to begin.

As she waited she looked about her the air was thick with the smell of antiseptic and fear, there were the usual implements of torture, some she recognized like the skin-ticklers, a polite term for a machine that slowly burned the skin off your body, she also noticed a bone sucker, this device could drill slowly drill into your skeleton with fine tendrils and shoot electricity, others she did not and there was one particular machine in a corner of the room that she seemed to know although just where and when she could not remember it was the size of a man with a metal chair and a cover for the head, but the front was turned away from her so he could not get a better view, but she had little time for thinking for the door to the room opened and in marched Red Ivar along with four of his best and strongest soldiers.

Ivar walked up to the bound girl and smiled at her, “Who are you?” he asked for he was a man who wanted to get to the heart of the matter and not toy with his prisoner.

“I am Lieutenant Andra Oseira, Selcarie first infantry division Omega five!” Andra said in loud firm voice for that was what she was trained to say when captured and nothing more.

But rather than being upset with the defiance of the girl Ivar only smiled once more, “No you’re not” he said coldly, “you are one of us”, the girl said nothing but it was clear from the look in her eyes that the General had caught her attention, “How can this be? You may ask, well I shall tell you then we can move along to more important matters”.

He is trying to trick me Andra thought, but I will not be broken.

Ivar moved closer to the girl and paced back and forth like a Sagar cat as he talked, “Whenever we capture an enemy we have them scanned and scrutinized to make sure they are not carriers of biological weapons or explosives of any kind and when we put your genetic print into our analyzer we found out your true history”.

And before she could stop herself Andra spoke, “And what is that?”

Ivar moved within a few feet of his prisoner, “You are nothing; you are a weapon that has no further use”.

This made the girl laugh “If I were free I would show you what a weapon I can be!” and she pulled at her restraints.

“Yes” replied the General, “You have been well trained in hand to hand combat and I’m sure you could kill me with ease, that is way I have these men with me, but you will not break free and you will listen to me carefully, you are an infiltrator, a creation of war and not who you think you are”.

“Lies” the girl replied, “I am Lieutenant Andra Oseira, Selcarie first infantry division Omega five!”

“And you were raised on a farm along with your mother Niana and your brother Simon isn’t that correct?”

How could he know this Andra thought, that was never a part of my service records?

Ivar moved even closer to the girl, “All your memories are implants, put there to give you a background but in reality you were bred in a lab, given strength, endurance, and intelligence and most of all a will to survive, to survive and report back to your commanders, oh you had no idea at the time that you were working for the other side when you fought against your enemy but at given times you would follow your orders and betray those who thought you were one of them”.

Hearing the words from the General cut deep into Andra’s mind, my mother, my brother all lies?

Ivar continued to speak, “The Mac-Mar Alliance supplied many like you to armies throughout the Outer-Rim you are a great commodity in warfare and your cost is substantial but when your usefulness is done you are destroyed because your memories cannot be erased and therefor you cannot be trusted, that is why you were disposed of here, a place that up until now could not be conquered”.

But Andra was still not convinced, “I don’t believe you, I was trained to withstand interrogation whether they are inflicted on the body or the mind, I was trained by…..”

“Sargent Reynolds?” the General asked, “a man you trusted and who gave you good advice on how to fight and how to be loyal to your people?” Ivar signaled to one of his guard to bring the machine in the corner closer and when that was done the soldier turned it around so that its front could be clearly seen by the bound girl, and as it was done a name came into view.

S.A.R.G. Reprograming Orientation

The General put his hand on the device, “the men call this Sargent Reynolds, one like this was used to program you mind and give you your orders and then you were sent out to help destroy all that you thought you were fighting for”.

Andra said nothing as she looked at the machine but forgotten memories started to fill her mind, dark memories of a laboratory, voices ordering her to kill and report, images of faces she did not know and at last she excepted the truth, she was nothing more than weapon, a weapon without a home or a family, she was indeed alone.

Was it all a lie? She thought, am I just a weapon of war and nothing more?

Ivar could see the look in the girls eyes despite her effort to mask what she was thinking, “Now that we understand each other you will report to your commander, me.”

 

There are many places that people do not belong sometimes it is a great Golden Hall and sometimes they become lost in the dark passages of their own minds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 31

Allies and Enemies.

Those that fight by your side are your allies; those that you fight against are your enemies but what of those caught between?

 

From the Book of Isarie

General Ivar had gotten very little information from this prisoner and that frustrated him, if it had been anyone else he would have that person executed without waiting but he knew that it would take time to wear down the defenses of the girl before him.

“Tell me all you know of the enemy!’ his voice was growing tired with asking the same question over and over.

Andra had undergone far more pain that a normal female of the Outer-Rim would have tolerated but although she had accepted the fact that she was not who she thought she was her stubbornness and pride prevented her from saying what the General wished to hear so she kept her lips together and stared into the eyes of her captor.

Ivar nodded to a technician and watched as his prisoner shuttered with pain, “It is useless to resist” the General said, “you have nowhere to go and no one will come to your aid”, but again he got no response, She will break soon enough he thought, so turning he left the interrogation room without asking another question.

Andra watched him go through burry eyes and although she would not admit it to herself she was glad the pain was over, a least for now.

Kela, Anais, Romar and what was left of the Tribe of Many still remained near the Cave of Iron. Without the warriors they would be helpless against the dangers of the Outlands. How could they know that they were not the only ones to see their guardians vanish into the ground, those who were too old or weak to travel looked to their leaders to guide them.

“What shall become of us?” cried out a woman who saw her mate leave her side.

“How will we survive without the warriors?” asked another.

Anais stood upon a large rock so that he could be seen by all, “Isarie will protect us and we will find a way bring our protectors back!”

But his words did not lessen the fears of the old and fragile.

“Isarie has abandoned us” one called out.

“It is because we have taken an unbeliever into our tribe!” said another.

And hearing those words the tribe turned their face towards the Off-Worlder.

“Yes” screamed a woman who saw her son march away in the night, “He is the reason that the Goddess has turned her back on us!”

Kela heard the rising accusations aimed at Romar and tried to squelch their fears, “Isarie has not turned away from us and this man has helped us at the risk of his own life”.

“He is a demon sent to destroy us!”

“Kill him before he kills us!

And seeing that Kela’s words were falling on deaf hears Anais spoke once again, “You have seen fit to make Kela and myself your leaders and we have done the best we could, now we have suffered a great loss but you must trust in us to do what is right”, they are as afraid as I am.

This seemed to quiet the angry words so seeing that there was nothing more to be done the Blind-prince and the Handmaiden took Romar back to their wagon but along the way they were met with cold looks and the air was filled with the grumblings of frighten people.

 

Arn filled his empty belly with those that would have feasted on him for Shore-creepers make an excellent meal cooked or otherwise, now with his hunger forgotten the King set out to find that which he had lost for his memory was no longer clouded and faces that he thought he had forgotten became clear to him once more.

Moonbud he thought, I must find her and together we will be Moric-Kan once more.

Moric-Kan the Twin Dragons a name that once brought fear into the hearts of the enemies of the Almadra for with Andra fighting at his side no warrior could hope to defeat the King and his mate, but that was before, when the world of Gorn was protected by Isarie and no army dared land on its surface, what now, would that name still have meaning? But that would have to wait for Arn was alone and armed only with a knife.

 

The Nomad walked along the shore looking for any sign of his ship or crew but he found only bits of planking and a few remnants of sail cloth and rope. The heavy fabric would be of little use but he cut away the rope from a broken mast and winding it up he carried it over his shoulder, and with his meager supplies he once more set out to find the woman he loved.

 

“He must go” Anais said to his mate as the human listened carefully to his words.

But Kela was not of the same mind, “we cannot turn him away he is our friend and we must help him”.

The Nomads were thankful that they could not be overheard through the thick steel hull of the ancient machine giving them shelter for if the tribe knew that there was doubt between them it would have sent a message that would further weaken the already depleted Outlanders.

Anais understood that Kela had an affinity for all things living but he also knew that the Off-worlder was in great danger, “if he stays the tribe will turn on him.”

“Why would they do that?” Kela asked, “He has done them no harm”.

“No he has not, but they believe he has and belief can be stronger than the truth”.

The Handmaiden knew those words to be true for she had said them herself when she read to him from the Thirty Nine Books of Wisdom, “Very well” Kela said softly, “you have said what is in your mind now let us hear from the man who will suffer the most”, and she turned her eyes to Romar, “We have no Talk Stone here but you are free to speak as you will”.

The Captain looked at Kela then at Anais long and hard before he spoke, “Yes, I must leave” he said quietly, “you took me in when I was dying and healed me, you shared your food and your shelter and didn’t ask for anything in return and for that I am grateful but if I stay your life will be in danger along with mine, it is better that I go and go soon”.

Kela came forward and kissed him on the cheek, “You are a good man and the Gods will protect you”.

And a short time later Romar stood ready to go, the Nomads had supplied him with a carry bag filled with food, a water flask, and a small quantity of Grana for strength, he was also given a strong knife, armored breastplate and helmet as added protection, but both Kela and Anais knew that it would be of little use if he were attacked by one of the large Thundra beasts of the Outlands.

Kela was near tears as Jumo and Delgar sat nearby and being the creatures they were they felt what was in the hearts of their masters. The Handmaiden watched the young man adjusts his belongings, “remember to watch out for Doff-birds and Ax-breakers they may look harmless but do not test them”.

Anais also had sound advice, “always wear your helmet for Sundroppers collect heads!”

“I will remember” Romar said with a smile, “and you remember to hide as best you can, you may be safe for now but there are machines far worse than Flyers”.

He turned to leave when Jumo and Delgar came racing forward, Romar was not sure if they decided that now was the time to attack, but he was much relived when they began licking his hands and making low whimpering’s, “I shall miss you too” he said rubbing them on their massive heads, then without further comment he turned and began his journey into the lands of Gorn.

“Will we ever see him again?” ask Kela.

“Perhaps?” replied Anais, “but it is written that there is a place in the heart of Isarie for those who are willing to give their life for others”.

 

Ivar-Anoon did have a heart, but to him it was merely an organic muscle to circulate his blood and nothing more, now the blood was pumping hot and fast as he watched yet another wave of soldiers disembark from dozen of troop carriers, with this last wave supplies and manpower his army was complete and he could sweep across the land crushing everything in his path, the only thing that spoiled this perfect day was the fact that he had no enemy to fight.

Very soon the girl will tell me all that need to now Ivar thought, I will give her time to accept the inevitable and then I will destroy my enemy, but hearing this in his mind another though entered, where are they, what good is a victory without an enemy to destroy? But as he stood near his command headquarters and looked out over the magnificent army before him he swelled his chest and a smile pulled at the corners of his lips, victory will be mine to hold, but then he look further and saw the fallen pyramid city of Del-Godar and the remains of what must have been a great power, where are those that ruled that place now? Ivar was far from a philosopher of the Outer-Rim and had never read a single book on anything that could not be proven, so that question did not last long in his mind and was quickly replaced by ongoing battle tactics and the causalities that were to be expected, but those pleasant thoughts were replaced by an image that appeared to him at the entrance to the fallen city, a tall creature dressed in a shimmering robe.

“Servant” the General said softly.

 

Arn continued along the dark sand shore for some time, he walked towards the mountains for he knew that Tambor was a strip of land jutting out to the sea and there was only one way back to his people, as he walked he saw more fragments of wood and other debris that more ships had been caught up in the wind or fell victim to the monster from the sky, as he walked he watched the sky for any sign of that flying creature or other dangers but the heavens were strangely vacant of life, here and there he saw a cluster of Dot-flys and a Rockrunner or two but nothing larger than that, being armed with only a dagger and a length of rope he was glad he did not have to contend with anything formidable, then as he rounded a clutter of rocks he saw a section of broken hull and from its markings it could have only been the remains of the Cronos.

One of its huge masts was wedged between two pillars of rock half covered in water and there were many smashed barrels and planking washing back and forth in the gentle waves, and seeing the destruction his heart was gripped by a cold hand.

She must be dead he thought, he had clung to the idea that perhaps the Akuna had recurred her but even if they did what hope could there be now? And he was about to turn away when he caught an image in the corner of his eye and turning he saw an arm reaching out from the water sparking hope inside him once more.

He flung down his rope and wadded into the shallows and when he drew near he saw that it was the arm of a man and looking closer he realized that the arm was attached to a warrior he knew well.

“Cian” he called out but the Kandrac of the Akuna could not hear him for his head was half underwater but being a Wave-Rider Arn knew that Cian was as much at home in the sea as on the land, the King tried to pull him free but his legs were held tight under a heavy beam and taking it in his hands he lifted with all his might, the veins on his corded arms stood out and he grunted like a Trofar but he managed to move the beam just enough to free the Akuna’s legs and pull him to shore, Arn was not sure if he was alive or dead as he checked him over for wounds or broken bones but there were only small cuts and nothing more.

“Wake!” the King called out then slapping his friends face he called out once more, “Wake you soggy eater of fish!”

And hearing the insult Cian half opened his eyes and looked into the Nomads face, “You do not have to shout you smelly rider of beasts” he said weakly.

 

Ivar knew that going to greet the creature rather than having Servant come to him would weaken his bargaining position but he was eager to have their meeting over quickly so he could return to conquering a planet, but as he stood before the strange being he refused to speak first so there was an awkward silence for a time then Servant spoke.

“Greeting Ivar-Anoon, first General of the combined forces of the Mac-Mar Alliance” the emissary said, “You have a powerful army and I am sure you will prevail in your war with the people of this world”.

Ivar stood surrounded by his guardsmen while the Ergan-Mar was alone but there was still a sign of fear in the eyes of the General, “Why have you come?” he asked.

“Your enemy eludes you and without an enemy you cannot have victory” Replied Servant.

How can he know this? Ivar pondered but he was not one to give information away without something in return, “You know where they hide?”

“Yes, they gather under your feet but they will emerge soon and then you may destroy them”.

“When?” the General asked.

“Soon” was the reply, “Then you will have victory and my Master will have what he wants”.

An army that hides in the dark Ivar thought, I fight cowards, “You say they are hiding unground and will come out soon, where will this happen?”

“There is a formation jutting out from the ground in that direction” and the Ergan-Mar lifted his hand, “It was not built by nature and its highest point shine like a beacon, but you must not go there until the time is right”.

“Why not?” ask the impatient warrior.

Servant drew near the human, so near that the guards surrounding the General lifted their weapons but Ivar signaled to them and they lowered their blasters.

“You have conquered many worlds” Servant said in a soft voice, “the Mac-Mar are all powerful in the Outer-Rim but there are some who say that you are still children and need guiding, I am here to be that guide so I tell you not to enter that place until you are told too by my Master”.

Ivar had never been spoken to like this before and he almost raised his hand, it would be a pleasure to see this creature blow into a million fragments, he thought, but he also knew that in the past his information had been correct and had played a significant role in his strategy so far so he decided to let him live and save is revenge for another day, “Then our conversation is at an end”, the General said with a deceptive smile.

But Servant shook his hooded head, “No, there is one more thing that needs to be done”. And when he spoke two addditional creatures emerged from the entrance in the rock, they were large hulking things dressed from head to toe in dark armor plating. On their heads they wore helmets with visors that shielded their eyes for the harsh sunlight, in their misshapen hands they held heavy blasters but of an unknown type. They resembled the rifles of the Mac-Mar but these had been modified and from the looks of them they were surly more powerful. Ivar’s guard grew tense at seeing such opposition but they held their ground but kept their fingers on triggers in case of trouble.

This little man has grown taller Ivar thought.

“You have a female as your prisoner,” Servant continued, “a human that is not human, a weapon of your own making, give her to me”.

The General had taken great pains to insure that no one knew of the Infiltrator, our security is lacks he thought, I will find those responsible and they will pay.

“But she is nothing” Ivar said, “I will dispose of her if you like”.

“Give her to me now”, the Ergan-Mar demanded.

Ivar was going to dissect the girl in the slim hope of finding a way to reprogram her but it was something for a later time so giving up his prisoner was not a difficult thing he just hated others knowing what he did, “If you wish her she is yours” and turning to one of his subordinates he gave an order, “Have the prisoner brought here at once!’

 

It was only the genetic make-up of the Akuna that saved the life of Cian for only a creature bred for the sea could have survived the punishment that he had, for he had gone down with the Cronos when it was hit by the blast from the Mac-Mar Flyer and tangled in its rigging, no human and no Nomad could have spent so long a time underwater without drowning but it had pushed the Akuna’s breath holding to its limits, but some luck was on the side of the Kandrac and he was washed ashore but only to be trapped under the heavy beam until his rescue by the Outlander, he had numerous small cuts about his body and most of his garments had been torn away leaving him only a wrapping about his midsection.

“I was a good thing you came along” Cian said, “I wish to live longer before Dietas calls me to her watery shrine”.

But there were far more important things on the mind of the Nomad King other than the Afterlife, “Moonbud?” he asked in a straightforward voice.

“I do not know” answered Cian somberly as they sat together on a rock near the water, “I saw her being washed into the sea and taken away by the waves”.

“Then she could be alive” Arn replied still hoping that the Gods had spared her life.

Cian knew that there was very little chance of her surviving a storm of that magnitude but he did not wish to trample on his friends optimism, “Dietas is a merciful Goddess so I will not give up hope”.

“Let us go” Arn said as he rose to his feet, then he smiled at his companion, “Or do you need more time to regain your strength?”

The Akuna jumped up like a Wave-skimmer, “I was only waiting for you”.

And taking up his rope the Nomad and the Wave-rider they began their search for a woman they both loved.

 

Andra still remained strapped to the heavy chair in the interrogation center. She sat quietly but her mind was filled with turmoil for she had accepted the fact that she was not who she thought she was.

My home, my family, all of it was a lie she thought, my mother, my brother all phantoms put there by others. But it all seemed so real to her, she could still hear her mother in the kitchen as she lay on her bed in her room, the smell of baking bread, the meadow birds singing outside her window, her bother calling to her that the morning meal was ready, all so real. A lie all lies, deceptions to fool me, my whole life has been a falsehood. And what about her comrades during the war, she fought beside them and watched many of them die, how could she betray them? Gone, all gone, then she was faced with the most troubling thought of all, Arn, my love, was all that also a lie, was there nothing in my heart but programing and deceit?

But there was no further time for questions for she heard the sound of feet approaching and closing her eyes and opening her mouth she made incoherent sounds pretended to be drugged.

“There she is” she heard a man say, “Remove her restraints and take her to the Commander”.

And her deception proved affective for they loosened her straps and when she did she struck!

Lifting her foot quickly she drove it into the midsection of an unwary trooper then freeing her other foot she tore herself free and fell upon the remaining men like a she cat, they fought back but she was too quick for her heavier apponents and one by one she began to dispose of them, taking up a metal tray near her she brought it down on a charging head cracking his skull like an egg and sending him reeling against a wall, another soldier came for her with his arms wide to grab her but she nimbly stepped aside at the last moment and sent one of her fists smashing into his jaw dislocating it.

Andra began to laugh for she was in her element now and took out all her frustrations and doubts on the unlucky men sent to fetch her but it did not last for long, hearing the struggle inside the center other Mac-Mar soldiers came rushing to their comrades in arms aid and by sheer numbers they managed to bring down the girl and with a half dozen strong men holding her thrashing legs and arms a lab technician injected her with enough sedative to keep her unconscious for many hours, so bond and helpless she was taken to the General who in turn gave her to the creature from the earth.

Ivar watched as the two warriors from the darkness carried his prisoner into the entrance, Let them have her he thought, soon I will have a whole planet.

When they had vanished into the opening Servant once more spoke, “Remember, my master is always watching, do not disappoint him”, then he turned and disappeared from site.

Let him give orders for now, The General thought, soon it will give me great pleasure to order his execution.

 

Chapter 32

Rewards.

A young warrior of the Outlands on his first hunt brought down a large Rimar and looking at his prey he wondered how he would carry such a great prize back to his tribe so thinking hard he built a sled from sun bleached bones that were scattered about and attaching it to his Whiptail he began his return to his people, along the way he was attacked by Sandjars but he fought them off, he had to cross sharp rock and sucking sand and the many hazards of the Outlands, “I will be given a great reward for what I have done” he said. But when he stood before his King with his trophy the King said nothing, “Why am I not rewarded?” he ask, “I have used all my skill to bring this food to my tribe; my strength was tested again and again as well as my mind”.

Then you already have your reward” the King replied.

 

Old Nomad story.

 

Captain Romar had been trained in survival tactics in scenarios involving many distant worlds but in those field exercises he was equipped with a Blaster, a body mending kit, ration tables, a directional heading unit and an exposers suit, now all he had to face this harsh world with was a stout knife, a small pouch of Grana, a carry bag with a loaf of Kasha bread, stripes of dried Rimar, and a hammered chest plate and helmet, hardly the weapons he hoped for but he still did not regret his decision to leave the Nomads but his perceptive would not have sat well with his father.

If I had stayed I would have jeopardized the lives of those who took me in, the thought, but the great General Ivar would have said that they were the enemy no matter how misguided their actions were and being the enemy they should die, and a short time ago the Captain would have agreed with that reasoning but that was before, before they had mended his wounds, before they had shared their food, before he had shared their lives, then a thought entered his mind and caused him to stop in his tracks, would I have died for them? But this was a question that tested his mind to its limits so he drove it away and replaced it with a marching song that he knew well.

 

“The sound of battle is sweet to the ears it brings victory to the mind.

We fight for glory and the prize and we destroy all that is not our kind.

Across the heavens we conquered all and our enemies run away in fear.

We are the Mac-Mar the glory of man bow your heads as we draw near.”

 

And all through the day Romar sang this song as he crossed the lands of Gorn, he faced no Thundra beasts nor did he see another traveler but as night began to fall he heard the sound of a Flyers and looking up he saw it’s dark outline etched against a burning sky.

 

Arn and Cian also met no one as they continued their search along the sand, they found only scattered bit of wood and an occasional bottom feeder washed up along the shore, they did stop once to fill their bellies with the liver of a large Bloodfish that they found and refreshed they continued on.

“Do you remember a girl by the name of Brycal?” the Kandrac of the Akuna ask the Nomad warrior at his side.

Arn had to search his memory for it was many cycles ago when he was a young prince of the Almadra, “Yes, I remember, she had a strong body and eyes the color or meadow cane”.

“That was her” Cian replied, “She was a wonderful dancer and had a strong appetite for love”.

“Indeed”, the King said with a smile, “She mated with a warrior from the Bal-Borie tribe and bore him several offspring.”

There was a pause for a time as the two warriors pondered the past, then Cian broke the silence,

“Do you often think of what your life might have been if you were not chosen by the Gods to lead your people?”

It took a moment or two before the King replied, “Now and then, but our path is set for us and it cannot be changed”. This of course was not what Arn really believed for he had questioned the will of the Gods many times but he did not want to start down that twisted road of alternatives with his friend.

Cian could see that his childhood companion was hiding something but he also did not want to challenge their bond, but the Kandrac also had secrets for he had held the Kings mate in his arms and although his tribe would have seen it only as a sign of affection the Outlanders view it much differently, “It is often said that the Gods rewards those who believe in them and punishes those who do not but although they are very knowledgeable it is sometimes hard for them to separate the two.”

Arn knew that the Akuna were followers of the flesh and that their reasoning was often clouded by their emotions but he hoped that what he said was true, if not he would have a hard time entering the Golden Hall of Isarie.

 

Osh and Alune had no idea if it was day or night for they traveled in the earth guided only by a woman who had returned from the dead.

The tunnel they traveled lead them downwards and sometimes the path was rocky or steep but they managed but if it were not for Niana showing them the way they would have become hopelessly lost in the maze of earthen corridors, Osh could see that the tunnels were cut by hand for the walls showed signs of tools and he surmised that it must be the work of the Ergan-Mar or Earth-Eaters as they were known to the Outlanders, large hulking brutes that the Nomads had to trade with for the precious Grana they desperately needed to stave off the plague. Alune also knew of the dwellers in the earth but she put her trust in Isarie and the crystal creature that led them.

Niana said very little as they continued into the bowels of Gorn, their way was lit by Starfall, the luminance fungus that covered the tunnel walls and gave off a cool light, they ate only Brill-caps or Boda as it was known to the Nomads but this mushroom like plant did not give them hallucinations as it normally would, perhaps it was of a different type or maybe it was Niana’s presence that changed them? But whatever the reason for the two humans and if they sometimes felt tired or weak a touch from the hand of Niana renewed their strength.

After a time the corridor opened up into a cavern filled with green crystals of a tremendous size, they shimmered in the glow of the Starfall and seeing them had a strange effect on Niana, she moved to one of the great columns and putting her arms around it she began to weep although no tears fell from her glowing eyes.

A strange thing to do Osh thought, but looking at her the Callaxion could see that there was something very powerful between the tall woman and the emerald mineral.

Alune also began to cry although she did not know why; there is love here the old woman thought.

Niana rested her head on the stone for a time and whispered words that only she could hear, “I am coming mother and we will be one”.

Then lifting her head she turned to the two humans, “we still have a long way to go, come”.

And leading them once more Osh and Alune followed behind.

 

Anais and Kela still had a tribe to care for, and although it had no warriors it was still strong for they were Outlanders and a people that knew loss.

“We have food and shelter here,” Anais said to his mate “if we go we will have to travel over open land and we do not know if the machines from the sky will return”.

“But our best warriors have been taken by a force we cannot fight” Kela replied, “What if the voice calls to us again and we all fall victim to its power?”

But Anais shook his head, “We have the old and the weak to think about first, let us face one problem at a time and not dress wounds that have not yet been inflicted”.

Kela thought this over for a time then spoke, “Very well, we will free the Whiptails and let them roam free they can be called back by signal horns if needed, the Trofar’s can graze and regain their strength and I will see what needs to be done to comfort those who are in fear”.

“I agree” Anais said, “and take Jumo and Delgar with you for protection”.

This made Kela smile, “I will take Jumo and leave Delgar at your side, remember I was trained in fighting while you were only a King”, and she called for Jumo and together they set about their task leaving her mate in the care of Delgar.

Anais listened as she walked away and then turned to the huge Drog as his side, “it is true you know” patting the head of the beast, “I was once King of the Almadra but in my arrogance the Gods blinded me so I might see better, some may say that it was a unjust punishment but I say it was a reward, what do you think?”

Delgar made no reply and simply licked the face of his master.

 

How long she had been asleep Andra did not know for time has no meaning in the world of dreams, now she rose upwards from that dim abode and opened her eyes to a place that only existed in dark visons of the mind.

She was in an enormous room of sorts but the ceiling disappeared into nothingness crisscrossed by a jumble of piping and conduits of all shapes and sizes, the walls were of metal and were filled with machinery and mechanisms that defy description but there was something very strange about them for they seem to ungulate like the skin of a ground snake and their coloring changed from dark to light, the air hung heavy with a peculiar odor like the blending of decay and fear and the whole space was bathed in a sickly blue glow emitting from luminescent tubing that ran along the walls and overhead, in the center of the chamber was a pillar like structure but Andra could not make out its purpose for looking at it made her flesh crawl and she had to turn her eyes away.

 

 

Near her were several large metal tables covered in what looked like the remains of humans but it was difficult to tell because the bodies was dismembered in several sections and the organs that were once inside now floated in transparent containers that were attached to tubing and other devices, one of the bodies had its head removed and sliced open and all flesh had been removed, the brain itself had been carefully dissected and a machine was scanning each section and relaying that information into a some kind of data collection device. If the face of the man had been intact he might have been recognized as Captain Grevas of the Mac-Mar Alliance but he and the Selcarie girl had never met so did not matter.

As Andra looked closer she could make out dark forms moving about in the darkness, large shadows that disappeared when she tried to see them clearer, they scurried about and the air was filled with unintelligible whisperings.

Where am I? Andra thought for the last image she had was of herself clashing with several slow moving apponents, she tried to move but found herself held tight against a metal table angled upright so that she could see her surrounding and not stare only at the ceiling, has her head cleared more she noticed that her she was naked with several tubes running into her flesh that she surmised were supplying her with nutrition and fluids, but at least she was in no pain and for that small reward she was grateful.

I must be in one of their prisons she thought, and she began planning her escape but she saw no doorways or windows, I will wait until someone comes then I will attack.

What the Selcarie girl did not know was that in the very same chamber but hidden from view was another member of the Almadra tribe, and old woman bound naked and unconscious against yet another table, but if Andra could have seen her she would have instantly recognized the worn face of the Holy Mother and the woman who gave birth to her mate for the Gods had seen fit to place Egmar in the hands of their unknown enemy.

 

Arn and Cian were not challenged as the continued their journey for they met no others human or otherwise along the shoreline but as the light began to fade they came across more broken timbers and sailcloth and footprints in the dark sand and being a hunter as well as a warrior the King knew that they could only have been made by the foot of a woman.

Moonbud, the Nomad thought, but there was no way of knowing if his mate was alive or dead or if there was another female walking as they did, perhaps Andra did make the impressions but now she was dead killed by some beast or enemy? But in his heart he hoped that the Gods had spared her life.

Cian was also a hunter but his knowledge was of the water, but he could see that the planking and other debris came from the Cronos and he had been carried a great distance by the storm.

“The storm has destroyed my ship” the Akuna said, “but I was saved, perhaps Andra’s fate is the same as mine”.

The King eyes followed the marking in the sand, “That way” and he pointed up the beach to a break in the cliffs, and before the Akuna could utter a word Arn moved quickly in the direction the footprints indicated, and like before the Outlander and the Wave-rider made their way up the narrow canyon.

I will find her the King thought, the Gods brought her to me and I will not let her go.

Cian also wished to find her but like his friend he also found it hard to see her leave his side for she had touched his heart along with his body and unlike other females before her he wanted to possess her and forsake all others, but what of Arn, would he betray him? That was something that the Wave-Rider refused to think about and drove that question from his mind.

After a time Arn and Cian came to the great steel door, the ground was marked with many footprints and the King could not know if his mates were among them or not but seeing no other way he took hold of the thick handle and began to pull with all his might.

Cian could see what his friend was trying to do and taking hold of the rusted handle he added his sea born strength to that of the Nomads, it took the combined might of both the strong men to move the massive portal door but with one last tug the barrier swung on its rusty hinges and the way was opened for them.

Arn did not hesitate to enter but the Cian wavered for his people had a natural aversion to going underground, it was true they did hibernate in caves during the Burning Time but they still hated the darkness but summoning up his strength the Akuna leader followed the Outlander into the unknown.

 

When Ivar received word that his son was found alive he gave orders for him to be brought to him at once and overlook the usual medical scanning and intelligence debriefing now he waited in his command center dressed in his formal uniform and all the trappings of his rank for he wished to greet his offspring as a General and reward him for his survival. Surrounding him was his personal guard also wearing their best and the battle flags of the different regiments were shown proudly as they should be.

My son is a true warrior of the Mac-Mar the thought proudly, he will take my place when I am gone and our name will live on and on. The General straightened his officer’s hat as he heard soldiers approaching then the doors to the chamber opened and in walked Captain Romar along with a contingent of troopers.

For a moment or two the General did not know what to think for his son was dressed in the clothing of the enemy? What has he done? He thought, has my son become a traitor, an enemy to our cause? But he held down his anger and watched his son snap to attention.

“Captain Romar-Anoon commander of landing ship seven nine one reporting in sir!” and he waited stiff backed until his father acknowledged his words.

“At ease” the General said, “You were reported missing and your ship lost, can you explain this?’ his voice was stern and held no trace of affection at finding his son alive.

“Sir, my ship was hit by an electromagnetic wave emanating from this planet and despite all efforts we crashed on the surface and most of my crew was killed”, the Captains voice was also devoid of feeling at seeing his father.

“And how is it that you survived?” the General asked.

“The remainder of my men and I set out to find our base but along the way we encountered resistance and they were all killed, I managed to stay alive by killing one of the enemy and taking his garments as a disguise”.

“Understood” replied the General, “and what can you tell me about their weaknesses and their mood of battle?”

“Very little sir” the Captain answered, “they are strong and fierce warriors but other than that I can’t say”.

“Very well, report to medical and take off that ridicules costume and change into a proper uniform”.

“At once sir!” Romar saluted again and left the command center leaving his father behind.

Ivar watched him go, he is alive and a hero and he will be rewarded for his bravery he thought, but being the person he was he would have never said that to his son.

Chapter 33.

Warriors in the Darkness.

 

 

Both the Outlanders and the Akuna share a common thread, although one is bred for warfare on land and the others are at home on the sea they both are warriors and when the fighting madness is upon them there are few who can stand against their fury.

 

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

 

 

Arn and Cian followed the path that others of their kind had made but very soon the soft ground turned hard and they became lost in the many twisting tunnels that lay before them, there were no signs of life other than burrow worms and biting insects, they found no traces of Wormrow, the inhuman creatures that could tear them to pieces if their paths crossed, but the markings on the walls were clearly the work of Ergan-Mar, Earth-Eaters the underground miners that supplied the Nomads with Grana.

The King and the Kandrac tried to rely on their innate ability to know where they were at all times but that power would not hold true for there was something effecting their minds so that they were helpless and had to trust in luck to make their way, at times the path was easy but at other stretches it proved very difficult for the walls widened and closed at random and the Starfall that lit their way sometimes failed and they had to feel their way like the blind Sungazers of the Outlands, this pulled at the courage of the Cian for it only added to his discomfort at being underground but he did not turn and run but stood fast by his friend.

On the other hand Arn had been in this situation before when he entered the Forbidden City in the Caltarine forest in an attempt to rescue his mate from Ral his misguided son, but like all Nomads he wished to be free of the suffocating confines and breathe the open air.

“Let us rest” the King said sitting down on a large rock that had fallen from the tunnel ceiling.

Cian made himself as comfortable as he could and began picking small insects off his skin, “I will be content to wash off these crawling tormentors when we return to the surface”.

“I too wish for the open air” the King replied, “and when I have my mate at my side and return to my tribe I will call for a feast the likes of which the Akuna have never seen”.

This made the Kandrac laugh, “You have never seen the great celebration of the six moons my friend, the Dral flows freely and the dancing last for seven days and nights”.

“That may be true” the King replied, and I will have to make sure the Almadra are there to share in the ceremony”, then the Outlander grew thoughtful, “Tell me, when your people die where do they go?”

Cian stopped his grooming and looked into the dark eyes of his friend, “We lay their bodies in a craft made of seasoned wood and cast them upon the waves where they are taken to a great undersea kingdom filled with delight where all are welcome and we live forever in the embrace of Dietas”.

A Golden Hall or a kingdom under the sea, the King pondered, Nomad or Akuna we both dream of an afterlife, then the King rose to his feet, “That time is far away and we have work to do”, and taking the hand of Cian he pulled him to his side and the two warriors continued their search.

 

Osh and Alune were not searching for anything; they were following a shimmering guide into the darkness.

Niana did not falter in her path and traversed the many tunnels with ease and this fact told Osh that she was being guided by something unseen, there is a purpose in her mind, he thought, but why she would need our help is beyond my knowledge.

Alune accepted the will of the Gods without question and if they wished her to live or die she would do so, Isarie see us even in the darkness. As they turned a corner in the passageway they came face to face with a creature that no human had seen before, there before them was a Gorno, the great wormlike beasts that inhabits the deep layers of the planet, it’s head was huge with two great pincers-like jaws that could easily pick up a full grown Trofar and crush the life from it, its long greenish body was covered in thick armor plating as was its head, it had no eyes and moved on dozens of spider-like legs all the while emitting a high pitched whistling sound.

Alune screamed in terror at the site of the horrendous thing and Osh suddenly held her tight as his heart pounded like an Ironworkers hammer, the only one that showed no fear was Niana for she stood her ground and lifted her hand to the monster, “we will not harm you” she said in a soft voice, “go your way and leave us in peace”.

What good are words to that thing? Osh thought and prepared himself for a gruesome departure, but the Angel of Death did not come and the old man watched as the creature from the dark returned there leaving them unharmed, “How did you accomplish such a feat? ” he asked still holding the Touchtender tightly.

Niana smiled at her companion, “All life is connected, we did not wish to harm him and knowing this it did not wish to harm us”.

The Callaxion was hoping for a more substantial answer but he realized it would have to do so he turned his attention to the woman in his arms and seeing that he was holding her he quickly let her go, “I apologize for my actions I was only making certain you did not stumble and harm yourself”.

But Alune had been around men all her life and she knew that this was no simple reaction, it was a sign of love, and taking the old man in her strong arms she kissed him hard on the lips then after a warm moment or two she let him go and looked into his eyes, “I do not regret my actions anymore then you did, I only hope that someday you will be able to say the words that your heart speaks”. And taking Osh’s hand she turned to the crystalline woman, “we will follow”.

And nodding her head Niana led them forward.

 

Arn and Cian were growing frustrated at their inability to find the girl they sought, they would move down one tunnel only to find another or a dead end, and being warriors they were eager to find a tangible enemy rather than twisting corridors that lead them nowhere, at last the Nomad King could stand it no longer and pounded his heavy fist against the stone wall.

“Come out and fight!” he called out in a loud voice, then realizing that they were armed only with one short knife the Outlander calmed himself, “I know she is alive, if only I could find her”.

Cian also wished to come face to face with an enemy for although the Akuna were a peaceful race they still possessed the fighting madness that is an inbred part of all Gorn’s warriors, “Finding an enemy is one thing” he said calmly, “defeating them is another”.

These words made the Nomad smile, “you speak like a true King and I should have….” But his words were cut short when his ears picked up a faint sound.

A moment later Cian also heard it, a faraway din that was not human or machine but a mixing of the two, “It comes from there” the Akuna leader said and he pointed down a dark tunnel to their right so taking their only weapon into his strong hand Arn lead the way towards what he hoped would be battle or his mate.

The sound slowly grew louder and the two warriors continued forward, and as they did the tunnel grew wider and wider until it width would let many warriors walk shoulder to shoulder, and the walls also changed for they were cut more evenly as if my machine rather than the crude hand of an Ergan-Mar, but what really caught the eye of both Arn and Cian was the fact that the light no longer came from Starfall but from glowing tubes that ran the length of the corridor, the light was not intense but rather a soft blueish glow that bathed their surrounding with eerie shadows.

Although Arn was a giant of a man he could move lightly when needed and as he rounded a corner he saw a site that chilled his heart for there before him lay a vast chamber many times the size of anything he had seen before.

Cian drew in a breath for he also had never seen such a site, the main hall of the Akuna could hold many thousands of warriors if needed but this chamber would have swallowed that and many more, its ceiling rose up into darkness and there were no supporting columns of any kind, the gigantic hall had many great tunnels running in different directions and there were numerous smaller ones like the one the two warriors stood in now, but what really taxed the minds of Arn and Cian was the vast army that covered the floor.

“Who are they?” Cian asked for they wore thick black armor much like the Thungodra but without the trappings of rank and embellishments, their heads were covered with helmets but they bore no horns or symbols of their tribe and rather than ax or spear they held what looked like chamber rifles but of a size and shape that no one had seen before, they did not move but stood like dark statues and they made no sound save for their breathing.

Arn tried to count their numbers but it was useless for it was more than all the Rimar he had ever seen, “they are not Nomads or Akuna” he said in a low voice, “and no Ergan-Mar could fashion armor like that”.

But before the mystery could be solved the two warriors heard footsteps and pressed themselves against the wall hoping that the might not be noticed, they watched at two black armored creatures rounded the corner and immediately saw the two intruders.

Arn did not wait for them to sound an alarm but leaped upon the one nearest him with his knife in his hand, his movements were swift that his blade drove deep into an open space between his opponent’s chest plate and helmet cutting off any cry for help.

Cian also moved quickly but he had no weapon so he leaped high and wrapped his strong legs around his adversaries neck and squeezed with all his might, the dark armored warrior tore at Cian’s limbs cutting him with his jagged fingernails but the fighting madness was on the Wave-rider and he would not lessen his grip and grabbing the man’s helmet in his hands he twisted hard and did not let go until he heard the neck bones crack, with his opponent dead Cian turned to help his companion but the Nomad needed no assistance for the madness had also taken him and he drove his knife again and again into the throat of his enemy until it lay dead at his feet, for a moment the two warriors said nothing for the battle had been a hard one and it was only their strength and quickness that saved their lives.

“It has been a long time since we fought side by side,” Arn said as he filled his lungs with air.

“Yes” replied Cian, “and it is good that you have not lost your strength in your old age”.

The Nomad nodded his head then bent down to remove the helmet from the man he killed, “let us see who our enemy really is”, but as he lifted the head covering he pulled back in disbelief for he was looking into the face of a man he knew well, “Trygor!”.

“You know him?” Cian asked.

“Yes” the King replied, “he was one of my personal guard and a brave warrior, we fought side by side in many battles and now I have killed him”, killing a friend will bar the doors of the Golden Hall forever.

The Akuna leader removed the plating covering the face of the man he defeated, but rather than seeing a friend he looked into the face of an Ergan-Mar, “the dwellers in the earth do not fight beside a Nomad that I know”.

The Outlander King also was confused by the site of the dead man, “Something has bonded them together, something evil for a warrior of the Almadra follows only his king and would never cast his lot with another let alone a creature of the darkness”.

Cian watched as his companion began taking the dark armor from the warrior at his feet and knowing what he had in mind the leader of the Akuna did the same and a short time later they could pass themselves off as soldiers of the underground army and not Kings of the upper lands.

 

Andra drifted in and out of a dark sleep but for how long she could not tell for there was no time underground and no way of knowing if she had been in the dim room for one day or many but when she opened her eyes she looked into the face of a creature she had never encountered before, he was tall and dressed in a shimmering robe with a face set with unfeeling eyes.

Who is this thing? She thought and in a moment she had an answer.

“I am Servant” the figure said.

It’s like he could read my mind, Andra said to herself.

“I can read your mind” the creature answered, “I know all your thoughts and your past, the memories that were real and those that were put there to make you what you are”.

This time the Selcarie girl spoke out loud, “what do you want?”

This made the Ergan-Mar smile a thing that Earth-Eater’s rarely did, “spoken like a true warrior, I do not want anything it is my master who needs what you possess”.

“If you can read my mind then you have all the information you seek” the bound girl replied.

The robed man moved to the dissection tables and look at the remains laying there, “we have all manner of ways to gather the information we need, this organic lifeform has giving us undated chromosomal coding that my master will make good use of, with it he can calculate enhanced breeding techniques and genetic manipulation that will improve your species”, Servant moved closer to the helpless female and reached out with is cold hand and touched her lightly on her skin, “such strange creatures you are, soft on the outside but hard as Itarian steel on the inside”.

The touch of the robed man made Andra’s flesh crawl and she pulled at her binding but they did not give way, but her mind filled with such gruesome images of what she would do if she were free Tark removed his hand and quickly stepped back from his captive.

“You are a true warrior” Servant said, “and when the time is right you will further serve my master as I do”.

“I have never served you” Andra words were filled with determination.

“You are mistaken” Tark replied. “you are Moonbud mate of the King of the Almadra, you have fought by his side many times and are known across the lands of Gorn as Moric-Kan, the twin dragons, there is a bond between you and him, a bond that my master will use to conquer this world and then all the worlds of the Outer-Rim”, Andra said nothing but that did not matter to Servant for he heard her mind and nodding his head he spoke, “Yes, he is coming for you”.

 

Osh and Alune could not be called true warriors for they bore no weapons but their courage was as strong as any Outlanders and if needed the Touchtender could fight hard but for now they walked behind their guide and were safe. They moved slowly but their footsteps were true and they did not waste time down false tunnels and blocked passageways and soon they came to a chamber almost as large as the one the King and his companion had found but this one did not hold an army but something equally as deadly.

Osh had seen a landing ship of the Mac-Mar Alliance before when his services were needed to calculate losses and supply levels needed in a war they were contemplating, but this vessel bore little resemblance to those deadly landing craft for it had been deconstructed until only a bare metal frame was left, surrounding the ship were hundreds of workers separating machinery and removing bits of useful devices.

They are looking for information the Callaxion thought for he had seen this done with captured warships.

Alune thought the craft looked like the remains of an Earthshaker and the workers demons of the darkness for only they would desecrate the body of such a sacred creature, Isarie will punish them for what they have done, she thought, then she remembered that the Goddess was all merciful and would not torture those who did not know her Book.

If Niana had any thoughts she did not share them and continued on her unwavering path.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 34

The Overloads.

 

There are beings so intelligent that their thoughts cannot be measured by any standards of the Outer Rim planet, but they dwell in the darkness and revile all creatures that do not bend to their will for they are devoid of all emotions except their obsession for power.

 

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

 

 

Ivar-Anoon had spent an all but sleepless night for his dreams were dark and filled with images of fire and death, ordinarily this would not have been a problem for the Mac-Mar General for war was his life and death a constant companion, but something was different for he found himself faced with an enemy he could not defeat.

There is no such enemy, he thought as he lay on his hard bed, the Mac-Mar have never lost a battle and never will.

But this did ever little to settle his mind and he rose up and began pacing about in his sparely decorated quarters, he moved to a small table near his bed and pick up an information screen and began checking over the deployment of his unbeatable army.

Everything is in readiness, he thought.

And indeed it was for his trooper were supplied and waiting for orders, the Landmovers were charged and ready, Flyers patrolled overhead and the surrounding area for many parcels and they had found the formation that Servant had warned them about, a mass of rock with a pyramid shape structure jutting out from the ground. Far above the planet massive warships targeted what they thought were an enemy stronghold and if all else failed there were always the Rippers as a last resort.

I cannot fail, Ivar told his mind, why should I wait?” but before he could answer a voice spoke to him.

“The time is now”.

And turning he saw Servant standing a few paces from him, how could he get passed my guards? So seeing he was alone Ivar moved to his bed and removed a Hand-blaster from under his pillow and pointed it at the tall creature.

“You would kill your savior?” Tark said with a smile, “I have come to tell you that your enemy awaits you”.

Reluctantly the General lowered his weapon but kept a tight grip on it, “They have come out from hiding?” he asked.

“They will meet you in the place that I have said”. The Ergan-Mar replied.

“Then I will defeat them and this planet will be mine” the General smiled as he turned to lay his weapon on his bed, “and when all is done you can tell your master that….” But as he turned back to face Servant he found that he hand gone.

 

Captain Romar had also slept badly not because of dream but knowing that he would soon face those who gave him shelter in battle.

Must I kill those who cared for me? He thought as he sat in a chair in his small quarters, Anais and Kela could have killed me but they didn’t, can I return death for the life they gave me?

That and a thousand more questions moved through the soldiers mind but he could find no answers.

 

Wearing the dark armor of the underground army Arn and Cian managed to make their way into the heart of those they once called friend.

The King’s face was covered by the heavy helmet he wore as was the leader of the Akuna but it did not matter for they were not challenged and passed by the warriors with ease for they seemed in a trance as if their minds had been taken from them. In their hands they held the powerful weapons they took from the men they had defeated and after hiding their naked bodies in a dark corner Arn quickly explained their workings to his comrade for he was familiar with chamber rifles having fought the Talsonar, but Cian hoped that he would not have to use them for it all seemed like the work of demons and not a fit weapon for a true warrior to use, Arn was of the same mind and tucked the strong dagger he had into his belt.

It took them some time to transverse the floor of the huge chamber but at last they reached the other side and began to move into it but they stopped for the great chamber was coming alive with activity.

Arn stood still but kept his hand on the trigger of his weapon, I heard no signal horn? He thought, but never the less the great army began to march to an unseen call to war.

Cian also watched as the warriors moved passed him, they follow no leader yet they move as is they do.

The once immobile warriors began to march away into the tunnels, the heavy tread of their feet shook the air and the King was sure that they would be found but they moved passed the two imposters without turning their heads. Arn could not be sure but he thought he caught glimpses of others who had fought by his side or he had fought against in the many conflicts with other tribes, men and woman alike but with their helmets covering most of their faces he could not be certain.

After a time the marchers passed and the Nomad and the Akuna made their way further down the passageway, Arn was certain that he was going the right way but why he thought this could not be said, it was as if something pulled him, perhaps the bond that he and his mate was returning?

She is near he thought, I will find her.

Cian also wished to find Andra but his heart was troubled for he wished to keep her for himself rather than see her in the arms of his boyhood friend.

Can I betray our friendship? he thought, if I take what I want I will have to kill him.

 

Andra had no way of knowing for certain if her mate was coming for her but looking into the cold eyes of Servant was enough to hope that he would and together they would slay this arrogant creature.

“Your King is very near now” Tark said as he toyed with bits of flesh taken from the dissection tables near him, “ He brings another with him, a man you know a man that you betrayed you mate to”.

Cian” and knowing that the creature spoke the truth made her hate him all the more.

“Do not fear me” Servant said as he put the mangled skin back on the table, “if it were not for my Master and I you would be dead by now at the hands of the invaders who think they can take what does not belong to them.”

“Who is this master?” Andra ask, “And why does he hide his face from me?”

“Do not be in such a hurry to see him,” Tark said, “he is not like you or I but something far greater, a being that has seen worlds come and go, civilizations rise and fall, his kind were old when your species howled at the stars in fear, but soon you will meet him and then you will know what power really means and you will know that Gods do exist.”

Andra never really believed in all powerful beings but at the same time she had seen many things that she could not explain by logic or science but she would not admit that to herself let alone her egotistical jailer, but one again Tark could read her thoughts.

“No you do not believe” the Ergan-Mar said, “but there is someone who does”.

Without saying a word two large humans appeared from the darkened corner of the room, they were naked but bore the unmistakable markings of the Outlanders, they pushed a heavy upright table before them and as the light grew brighter Andra could see the body of Egmar bound as she was and it made her heart cold for she once bore a great love for the Holy Mother and although it was in a false life before she knew the truth it still did not lessen the pain she felt at seeing the helpless old woman treated in such a way.

“I know you can read what I’m thinking” Andra words were filled with hate, “but I’ll say this out loud so there won’t be any mistake, I will kill you, do you hear me, I will kill you, and your master!”, and she pulled at her binding with renewed fury but she could not free herself.

Tark remained calm for her bonds could hold a dozen like her, “perhaps it is time you see with your own eyes and come to know what you face”.

And saying this the chamber began to change, the walls began to melt like Bark-bee wax in fire, the light grew dim, the tables holding the ruined remains of captives dissolved into slabs of crystalline rock covered in gore and entrails, the shimmering pillar began to glow with a light that was so painful Andra had to closed her eyes to blot out the painful vison, the air swirled about her head like the beating of Sundropper wings and a sickly aired smell filled her nostrils, echoing sounds like countless voices could be heard mixing with animals cries, the floor was now littered with the remains of innumerable mummified humans of all shapes and sizes like cast off works of some demented sculptor and in their hands they held an evolution of weapons starting with primitive bone through steel and beyond and those mixed with shards of green crystal fallen from ceiling all glowing with some kind of inner light, after a time the Selcarie girl opened her eyes and look upon a thing that brought terror into the darkest corners of her mind.

It hung in the air supported by unseen hands before an enormous obelisk of glowing green crystal surrounded by hundreds of smaller pillars, it was the size of a normal man but with an enormous oversized head, its deformed body was stunted with twisted limbs that were useless for walking or picking up objects, the delicate hands were long and clawed and opened and closed in a peculiar way as if griping some unknown object, the swollen body was naked and covered in ragged scales like a dead fish and it seemed to secrete a vile slim that made it shimmer in the pale greenish light, it had no genitalia of any kind so knowing if it was male or female could not be determined, it breathed in and out painfully and emitted a mewing sound like a wounded Burrow-baby but the most ghastly thing about the creature was its face for it was a thing of nightmares, it had no nose only a slit where one should be and below that was a mouth of sorts but it had no lips or teeth only drool that dripped endlessly down the misshapen chin, the eyes were the color of Rimar milk, without emotion of any kind but they seemed to burrow into your thoughts with images of your most excruciating memories.

Looking at the thing made Andra’s flesh crawl for it seemed like a thousand spiders were moving across her body and she bit her lower lip in an effort to stifle a scream for her hated of those many legged creatures was deep and painful.

Servant remained were he stood and uttered a small laugh; “Are you content to meet you master” he said coldly, “Is it all you hoped it would be?”

Andra said nothing and holding in her scream as long as she could it finally tore out from her mouth and filled the chamber with pain.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

 

Arn heard the cry from his mate for the tunnel that he and his companion occupied was very near the chamber where Andra was held captive, so without thinking the King raced forward followed closely by Cian, their heavy armor did not lessen their speed and soon they came to a large steel door and driven only by the thought that he might at last find the woman he loved the Outlander beat his hardened fist upon the massive steel portal.

“Let me in!” he shouted, “face me if you dare!” and much to his surprise the door began to move on its rusty hinges and soon there was an opening large enough for a man to pass through and holding the unfamiliar weapons in their hands Arn and Cian entered the chamber.

At first it was dark but as they moved forward a light began to grow and soon they were face to face with the same ghastly creature that only a short time before had revealed itself, and like his mate the King was shaken by what he saw.

What demon is this? He thought and raised his weapon to kill the monstrous thing but his arms would not move and he found himself bound by a force his prodigious strength could not overcome.

It was the same with the Kandrac of the Akuna for he tried to move but his body would not obey, what madness is this? He asked his mind, but try as he might he was helpless.

It was then that they both saw the tall slave of the monster turn to them, “You have come at last” Servant said, “Here is the woman that you seek”.

A cloud seemed to clear in the mind of the King and he saw the bound body of his mate, “ Let her go!” he shouted and once more tried to free his limbs for the invisible force holding him but like before he could not.

Andra could also see the man she loved and seeing him so close yet beyond her reach drove her into a fury but her bonds held her tight.

“It is useless to struggle” Tark said calmly, “you are held by your minds and your minds are controled by my master, you are where he wishes you to be at last”.

“Set me free and I will battle this master of yours” the King called out.

This made the Ergan-Mar laugh once more, “Nothing holds you, your bonds are an illusion and soon you will bend to the will of the Overloard”.

“I will bend for now one” the King said his face dripping with sweat from the effort as he tried to move.

Servant moved closer to the Outlander and looked into his eyes, “you already have weak human, my master was with you and your people when they journeyed from the ice and snow and came to the land of Jedar, he traveled with you into the land of the Akuna and filled their dreams with his visions, he molded you and your mate to his will and soon you will lead his army into the Outer-Rim and conquer all the worlds that circle the stars, it is what you were bred for, you are a warrior who’s heart is filled with killing and nothing more”.

“Isarie will not let that happen” Arn replied with hatred in his eyes.

The Ergan-Mar shook his hooded head, “The Goddess you call Isarie is nothing more than a weapon that my master and his kind created from nothing, but her life-force is failing and as she grows weaker my master grows stronger”.

Andra had listened to the words of her captor and knew he was speaking the truth but she still did not give up all hope, “You’re master is a monster and so are you!” she called out.

Servant turned to her, “To him you are the monster, a weak emotional creature without power or purpose other than to serve”.

Hearing this Arn called out loudly, “We are the children of Isarie and we will defend our lands!”

“Is there nothing that will change your mind?” Tark said with a smile and raising his hand the naked body of Egmar came into his view, her eyes were still closed but the King could see that she was still alive.

“Mother” he said without thinking and then he turned to the robed figure before him, “if you harm her you will pay!”

Servant moved to the old woman, “There is no need to harm her I simple wanted to show you that serving my master has its rewards” and once more he lifted his hand and the chamber began to glow with a strange light whether it was real or an illusion the King could not tell but what he saw next made his heart leap for standing before him was his brother Agart and his sister Seeda dressed in the armor of the Almadra but his refused to believe what he saw for he knew were dead.

What dark magic is this? The King thought, “Another lie, both of you have passed into the Afterlife and now you sit in the Golden Hall at the side of the Goddess”.

His sister moved closer to her brother, “Yes we have died but we can live once more, serve the master and I can return to you”.

Then his younger brother spoke to him, “I died before my time, bring me back and we can ride the open lands of Sirolian Plains once more”.

Arn turned his head way, “This is a lie, a trick of the mind, they are dead and the dead cannot return to the living”.

Servant shook his head once more, “What small creatures you are, yes their organic forms have perished but they can be remade and their memories placed into new bodies, all this and more you will have if you will lead my masters army”.

The King turned back to his tormentor, “You can walk in my mind why not take my body and lead them yourself?”

“That can be done as it was completed to your people but you have been bred for leadership and your mind is strong” Tark replied, “Erasing that mind and replacing it with my masters could be accomplished and his army would still be strong enough to defeat his enemies but with your will to survive it would add to that power and power is what my master desires most”.

Arn looked at Andra, “ What of my mate, have you kept her alive to torment me?”

“No” Servant said, “she will be at your side and together you will be Moric-Kan once more, think of it, all the Outer-Rim will fear the name of the Twin-Dragons and bow down before you and her, you can sit by the side of my Master and live forever!”

For a moment or two the King said nothing then he shook his head, “No, we are no one’s slave and Moonbud and I will not bow down before any creature of this world!”

Servant turned to Cian and Andra, “Is that your will also?” he asked.

“I stand beside the King” Cian replied.

“We are Moric-Kan” said Andra, “together we cannot be defeated”.

Tark moved away from the King and the images of Agart and Seeda vanished like the morning mist, “If that is your choice then pain will be your reward”.

And the chamber filled with the screams of those that refused to bend.

 

 

Chapter 35

Clash of Armies.

 

Battles are won by information and the correct deployment of men and equipment, a greater force can be overcome by striking at the heart of the enemy before they have time to react, but the most important quality in a leader is his willingness to sacrifice anything to secure a victory.

 

From the observations of Ivar-Anoon, first General of the combined forces of the Mac-Mar Alliance.

Never had the lands of Gorn seen such an army for they did not travel mounted on Whiptails or Trofar but in great metal machines that shook the ground like the stamping of thousands of Rimar.

Ivar-Anoon stood proudly on the bridge of the gigantic troop carrier that bore his flag, he was dressed in his finest battle uniform with a finely crafted sidearm fixed to his wide belt, surrounding him were the many officers and technicians that kept the armored vehicle on course and scanned the terrain for any sign of an enemy, the huge transporter was twice the size of the lesser armored land cruisers that made up his magnificent attack army, it had multiple long range Blaze-cannons and multilevel targeting missiles and its reinforced hull was constructed from the finest Itarian steel, it also had an electromagnetic shielding that would detonate any incoming armaments aimed at them, in its vast hold were a thousand well equipped ground assault soldiers, the best of the best and each of them held a powerful phase-rifle in their hands.

At last I will have my victory the General thought as he looked out the view window from his command chair.

Standing beside him was his son Captain Romar but his mind was filled with far different thoughts then his father, another war, more dead and for what? Victory is a hollow reward.

It was a good thing that Ivar did not hear those words for his life had been one of constant warfare and he found no fault in that, now as he headed for the place that Servant had told him about he stood up and began to pacing back and forth in an effort to ease the excitement he was feeling.

“How long till we reach the engagement coordinate?” the General asked to his navigator.

“Sir we will be at the designated site in twelve time periods” the navigator replied smartly.

This made the Commander very content for he would soon come face to face with his allusive enemy and the battle he longed for would finally begin.

 

As the vast army moved across the landscape they met no resistance for the terrain was mostly barren without any sign of life, animal or otherwise, the ground was hard and rocky and dotted with the remains of ancient machinery, the same kind that covered many other areas of Gorn, some of them could be recognized as warships from the many planets of the Outer-Rim while other were unknown and must have originated on the planet itself.

Overhead the sky was clear of clouds and the day moons could be seen moving slowly across the heavens as they had done for a millennium or more, and mixing with those orbs were the invasion fleet of the Mac-Mar, ten thousand great ships and more, destroyers, interceptors, huge battle platforms holding the very latest engines of destruction, the main power of the Alliance gathered together in one place, each one of their Captains assured of their invincibility for who was there to challenge their might?

 

Ivar remained quite as his army neared the battlefield then he turned to his son, “Someday all this will be yours” he said proudly, “You will take my place and lead the Mac-Mar to even greater victories until all the Outer-Rim is ours”.

Romar looked into the eyes of his father, “And then?” he asked.

“What are you talking about?” the General replied.

“If we conquer all the planets who will be left to fight?”

This made Ivar smile and he drew nearer to his son, “There will always be a war to fight”.

The Captain made no reply but his mind was not quiet, endless war, it that our fate?

Ivar returned to his view window without further comment then he heard the words he had been waiting for.

“Sir we have reached the designation ordered”.

The General looked over the area but what he saw did not make him content for the land was empty of any army.

“What trick is this!?” he shouted out causing the officers on the bridge to turn their heads away least they be blamed for his anger.

But it was no deception for the land was vacant of human life and all that was visible was a great mound of rock and a pyramid shaped structure that protruded from the ground, the erection itself was exactly like the fallen beacon that once topped the ruined city of Del-Godar but this one was intact and glowed with an inner light.

Ivar’s face turned livid with rage, “I was a fool to trust that Tromac!” that word was rarely used by officers of the Mac-Mar for it was considered far to vulgar even for the battle harden warriors, “Prepare to return to command center and signal all orbiting warships to await my orders!”

Romar knew what his father was thinking but he hoped that he was mistaken for an order from the General would power up the planet Rippers and if activated there would be very little left on the surface of the planet for it was a weapon of last resorts and lifted up the ground and turned it over to fall back and destroy all that once was.

I can’t let that happen the Captain thought; taking revenge on a whole world for the loss of a battle is madness.

But before Ivar could give that command the troop carrier began to shake violently causing the alarms to sound.

“Report! Report!” Ivar shouted as he grabbed hold of his command chair in an effort to steady himself, but before he heard a reply he saw the cause of the powerful tremor.

In clear view in his view window, the pinnacle that rose up from the ground began to move upwards, slowly at first but gaining momentum as it reached skyward, great rocks were pushed away as more and more of the structure became visible, it sides were smooth and metal like without openings of any kind, the power behind this phenomenon must have been enormous for nothing seemed to challenge it, boulders the size of many Trofars were lifted up and cast aside like pebbles, tons of earth fell away from its sides to be picked up once again by the rising pyramid and as it did the air filled with rumbling sounds like the roar of a thousand Earthshakers.

Even Ivar stood watching in disbelief and he had seen the giant fortifications of the Youngonrie, this can’t be he thought, but then he remember the words of Servant that his enemy was under the ground but the General never thought that they would emerge in such a fashion, but he was still the Commander of the greatest army in the Outer-Rim and he would act the part, “Prepare to attack!”

The monstrous fortress continued to rise until it towered over the landscape and cast a shadow like some gigantic God looking down on lesser creatures, at last its movement stopped and the air was still but only for a moment or two then the huge metallic side facing the army of the Mac-Mar opened making a ramp for those inside to exit, and that is exactly what they did, row upon row of dark armored warriors marched forward along with great armored vehicles of a design that no Commander of the Outer-Rim had seen before, they were cold and without any regard for artistic intention, at their fronts if you could call them that were disk like devices and must have been some kind of energy emitter but other than that they were just metal monsters of war created only for death and nothing more.

Ivar watched has his enemy marched to face him and although it did not show on his face he was afraid, this is not an army of peasants he thought, this is a force to be reckoned with.

But being the man he was he stood without emotion and spoke in a voice that was firm, “Signal the attack”.

“At once sir!” was the reply and in an instant the order was sent out and the war begun.

 

At first there was no movement in the lines of the dark warriors, they did not shout or clamor for victory and the air was not filled with the blare of signal horns, they simply stood shoulder to shoulder holding their weapons and saying nothing.

The first blast of phase-cannon from the Mac-Mar came a few seconds later but instead of decimating the enemy the power beams struck an invisible barrier that deflected their energy and did no harm.

They have shielding Ivar thought, and this made the hair on the back of his neck tingle for shielding powerful enough to combat his phase-cannon was something that few worlds possessed let alone this desolate planet.

Several more blasts struck the enemy but they also did no damage but the line of dark warriors made no response and stood unmoving, then several of their black machines moved forward from the structure and stopped ahead of the dark armored warriors, the disks they carried turned towards the troop carriers and suddenly a beam of white hot light shot out and struck the Mac-Mar’s troop carriers.

“BLAM!” A great ball of fire tore through their shielding and blasted several of them into a millions fragments, the force was so intense that Ivar’s huge command ship was shaken to its core, and the General was thrown to the floor.

Romar raced to his father aid and helped him to his feet, “We must withdraw” the Captain said.

“Never!” screamed the Commander then turned to his officers, “Order the men to engage the enemy hand to hand”.

And a moment later streams of Mac-Mar soldiers emerged from the remaining troop carriers and howling like demons they raced forward firing their Blasters, it was then that the dark warriors from the earth began to move.

They marched in step and showed no sign of fear and when they were within range their weapons began to shoot out a wall of destruction, Mac-Mar fell like shafts of Kasha wheat in a harvest but they did not falter and continued forward returning death for death and they were successful for the dark warriors armor could not defect all the intense fire and many of them died but far less than the invaders from the sky and very soon the tide of war began to take its toll on the soldiers of the Alliance.

And no one knew this better than Ivar-Anoon, I am losing he thought, but he had more surprise for his enemies for he had not engaged his Flyer squadrons and since his enemy had shown no command of the air he could rain down death from above, “Order all flyer wings to engage the enemy”.

“At once” came the reply.

The Flyers had been held on the ground and away from detection but now they leaped into the air and headed at full power to the battlefield where their well-trained pilots would target the enemy below and eliminate them.

But in the short time before they would arrive the Mac-Mar were slowly being destroyed, one by one the troop carriers vanished in a holocaust of fire and smoke, likewise the warriors that had conquered a thousand worlds, soon there would be nothing left of a once magnificent army.

Ivar watched the destruction of his men with a cold eye, acceptable losses he told his mind, an army can be rebuilt and that is a small price for victory.

But watching men that had served under him tore at the heart of Romar, is the man who gave me life a monster? He thought, when will this madness end?

“Flyers are overhead commander” an officer reported.

“Order them to attack with all weapons” Ivar replied.

The General was sure of his decision and waited for the Flyers to begin their targeting run, but as soon as they lost altitude the top of the pyramid structure opened and out soared a mass of metal disks the size of an Ax-Breaker, they moved swiftly and headed towards the Mac-Mar airships, they radiated no beam of force but simply smashed into the slow moving Flyers cutting them in half and sending them crashing to the ground, the disks showed no damaged and continued to circle overhead like Sundroppers waiting for their prey.

“We’ve lost” Captain Romar said in a voice that only his father could hear.

“Lost?” replied the General, “I never lose” and he turned to an officer at his side, “Signal the fleet to power up the Rippers!”

“You can’t do this” Romar’s voice was filled with defiance and that was something that his father had never heard from his son.

Ivar looked into the eyes of his offspring, “I am Ivar-Anoon first General of the Mac-Mar Alliance and you will obey me!”

Romar stared into the face of his father, “No” he said.

Ivar slowly removed the handgun from his belt and pointed it at his son, “Are you disobeying a direct order?”

The Captain did not speak or make any gesture to draw the weapon that he also carried he just looked into the face of his father.

“Will you obey!” the General repeated lifting the gun and pointing it at his son’s heart.

Romar shook his head, “No” was the simple reply.

Ivar did not lower his weapon and continued to look into the eyes of his son, “You are not my son, you are a traitor and there is only one punishment for those that will not obey”.

But before that sentence could be carried out a blast of energy struck the command bridge and it was engulfed in flames.

Flames also covered most of the battlefield as the Mac-Mar army broke ranks and ran for their lives, those that managed to survive were soon exterminated, cut down by the spinning disks and their dismembered mangled bodies lay strewn about on the bloody ground, the troop carriers were now only heaps of twisted metal and charred bodies, the great army of the Mac-Mar would conquer no more worlds and the Outer-Rim would never again fear the sound of their marching feet.

 

The dark warriors from the ground stood uncaring, they made no shouts of victory and they did not rush to the aid of their wounded, they felt no joy or sorrow, they were not longer humans, they were only weapons.

The great troop carrier was now just flaming wreckage as a huge column of smoke rose up to the sky, here and there screams of the dying could be heard above the sound of power cells bursting from the intense heat, soon it would be just another rusting hulk littering the lands of Gorn.

On the command bridge of the huge war machine General Ivar was bleeding from numerous wounds and his left arm had been torn away at the elbow by the blast, but flames had cauterized the limb and he would not die of loss of blood and the pain was excruciating but gritting his teeth he rose up on his shaky feet, surrounding him were the remains of his officers still at their stations as any good warrior should be, it was then that he saw his son’s body lying next to him but he did not check for signs of life or shed a single tear.

In war losses are to be expected, were the only thoughts going through his mind, that and his need for victory.

He slowly made his way through the rubble to the communications console and saw that it was still able to function, so using the last of his strength he pressed the com-link.

“This is Gerneral Ivar, activate all Rippers, destroy this world!”

And with a smile on his face Red Ivar passed from this world into whatever fate was waiting for him.

 

 

Chapter 36.

Last of the Overlords

Long before any humans walked the planets of the Outer Rim a race of creatures lived that were unsurpassed in intelligence and power, they sought to rule all the heavens and set about making that a reality and become Gods, but their minds held no mercy or love and therefor they could never reach their goal for what is a God without caring?

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

At the very same time the Mac-Mar met their painful doom three others were also undergoing an excruciating fate for Arn, Andra and Cian were still in the mind control grip of the last of the Overloards.

Thankfully Egmar was spared that painful torment for she remained in the emptiness of her enveloping dreams but her first born son, Off-world mate and the man from the sea were not so fortunate for they wallowed in the darkest regions of their minds.

For Arn was engulfed in a burning landscape filled with the rotting bodies of his people, they cried out to him to end their misery but he was helpless and could only stand frozen in time and watch and listen as his mother shed bitter tears for her son.

“Why do you not help them?” she cried out, “you are their King and yet you do nothing”.

The King pulled against his invisible bonds with all his massive strength but try as he might he could not come to their aid and that pain tormented him more than the eternal fires of the Pit of Marloon.

Andra was in a netherworld of her own, she stood in the kitchen of her country home on Selcarie and looked into the kind faces of her mother and brother and seeing them brought tears to her eyes.

“Silly girl, why do you weep?” Niana smiled, “we’re not real and the love you feel for us is false”.

“No that isn’t true” Andra cried feeling her heart breaking.

“I’m nothing to you” Simon laughed, “all this time you have loved a phantom”.

And those words cut her more painfully then the jaws of a Whiptail.

Cian also lived in a creation forced into his mind by the mind power of the Overlord, he sat on a rocky cliff side looking out on a storm tossed sea and from that boiling water a voice called out to him.

“You are not worthy to inter my Kingdom for you have betrayed one who trusted you”, and it felt like his heart had been torn from his chest for the Akuna knew that it was true.

 

Close to the captive but unknown even to the Overlord two humans and a woman of crystal made their way forward, the trek had been a hard one and even with the help of Niana both Osh and Alune were coming to the end of their strength.

Suddenly the Touchtender fell to the ground and her breath was hard and fast, “Leave me” she said to the old man at her side.

But Osh took her gently by the arm, “Never”, he replied with a smile “I have grown too fond of your cooking to let you go”, and pulling her to her feet they wrapped their arms around each other and continued on.

The tunnel they followed was wide and littered with the castoff garments of the Nomads for they had replaced them with armor and marched away to do battle with the Mac-Mar but they did not leave the corridor unguarded and as the trio rounded a corner they came face to face with a dozen or more of the Dark warriors who immediately blocked their way and lifted their weapons to fire, but like before Niana moved forward and lifted her pale hand.

“We will not harm you,” she said softly, “go your own way and leave us in peace”.

And like the Gorno the passageway guardians lowered their blasters and silently moved away leaving a clear path for Osh, Aluna and their guide to walk.

 

Servant had watched as the three humans lingered in the tortured grip of his master but he felt no pity even though he had undergone the very same torments when he found the chamber in his diggings, but unlike those before him he surrendered to the power of the Overlord and now his mind was that of the vile creature near him.

“Enough!” the Ergan-Mar called out and immediately the mind torments ceased and the hostages retuned to the world of reality. It took a moment or two for Arn, Andra and Cian to regain their senses then their eyes focused on Servant but although they could see him they were still helpless in seeking revenge and knowing what the Earth-eater wanted the King spoke.

“I will not serve” his voice was weaker but still held a great defiance.

“We stand together” Andra words were like her mates and hearing them you knew she would not bend.

Cian said nothing but from the look in his eyes you dared not set him free.

“Very well, if you will not surrender you will die and your bodies inspected to further the power of my master” Servant’s words did nothing to sway the courage of the humans for they all had faced death many times and would do so now with the same strength as before, “Your minds will be emptied and replaced with my masters as he has done with your people”.

The eyes of the Overlord began to glow with a sickening light and once again pain filled the minds of the captives, but before their screams could fill the chamber another voice could be heard.

“Free my children”.

And turning Servant say a crystalline woman and two humans standing near, “You are dead” the Ergan-Mar called out, “your supremacy is fading and my Master shall rule”.

“Your power is ended” Niana replied.

And with those words the pain vanished and likewise the bonds that held the captives and feeling freedom the King drew the knife at his belt and lunged for the hideous Overlord and not the slave under him for he knew that power rested with the deformed creature.

At the same moment Cian was also set free and the Akuna leaped upon Servant and they began to battle for their lives.

Andra was naked and had no weapons but seeing her mate racing for their enemy she picked up a shard of green crystal laying on the floor and holding it in her hand she ran to stand side by side with the man she loved.

Cian’s strength was great but the Ergan-Mar are a powerful race and even without their digging tools as weapons they were a formidable enemy, the Kandrac leaped high and fixed his arm about the thick neck of the Earth-eater but Servant let out a terrible scream and began thrashing about with his long arms and snapping jaws.

The King and his mate came within a body length of the Overlord but they met an invisible barrier that would not let them reach their enemy, Arn had seen this before when he fought the God-machine in the Forrest of Caltarine but this was many times more powerful and although he strained with all his might his knife hand was held fast, Andra also could not reach the monster and they both stood transfixed and looking into the unholy eyes of the ghastly creature before them.

Osh could see what was happening and move forward to aid his friends but Niana held him back with a gentle hand, “you must not help them” she said calmly.

But the old man was frantic to save the Outlander and the Selcarie girl, “You cannot let them die” he called out, “You have great power, save them!”

But the simmering woman shook her head, “They must do this on their own”.

And the Callaxion watched helplessly as Cian was thrown to the ground with the Ergan-Mar standing over him with a great rock held high above his head, “You are slaves and if you will not serve you will die!”

But before he could act the Akuna leaped forward and drove his foot into the midsection of his enemy and he fell backward and the rock that he was holding slipped from his grasp and fell hard upon his thick skull with such force it crushed it like a Doff-bird egg, the Kandrac smiled but the battle had sapped his strength and he was too weak to aid his companions.

Arn and Andra were also growing weaker for the mind shield of the Overlord was too powerful to overcome and the King turned his head to look into the eyes of the woman at his side.

I cannot let her die he thought, I must save her.

And at the very same time the Selcarie girl saw the face of the man she loved.

If he dies. She thought, I shall die.

Then they both reached out with their free arms and let their hands and minds touch.

We are Moric-Kan, the Twin Dragons.

And that gave them the strength they needed and moving forward they both drove their weapons into the misshapen body of the creature that had taken control of their world, a ghastly wail tore form the drooling mouth of the thing and it echoed through the chamber until it faded into nothingness and when it did the eyes of the once all powerful being turned black and the body slowly dissolved into a mass of putrid flesh and whatever life was in it vanished and the last of the Overloards died.

 

Free of the creature Arn took his mate into his arms and kissed her hard on the lips and in that embrace all doubt, suspicions and fear drained from their minds and was replaced by certainty, trust, and courage.

“I will never leave you” the King said softly.

“And I will never part with you” Andra replied.

Cian stood and watched as the two held each other and understood that the girl would never be his and it tore at his heart, but he also knew that Dietas was a loving Goddess and she would fill the days to come with other loves to ease his pain.

Osh and Alune could hold back no longer and they rush to the side of the King and his mate, for a moment Andra did not recognize her old friend but seeing his wrinkled face cleared her mind.

“Osh!” she called out, “How, why?”

And seeing the confusion in her eyes the Callaxion came to her rescue, “The circumstances of how we came here is a long one so let us just say that we are well and very content to see you again”.

Andra could also see Cian close to her and she remembered the things they had done and the feeling that once stirred inside her but those were days of the past and she turned back to her mate and kissed him once more.

Alune had said nothing for she trusted in the will of the Gods to keep them safe and seeing Egmar standing alone she rushed to her side and removing her outer robe she covered the holy woman’s nakedness and feeling the touch of another’s hand Egmar opened her eyes and looked about her.

“What place is this?” she ask for the last thing she remembered was falling into the ground and watching her sister refusing to help her but she still bore a great love for Dennor and franticly looked about for her, “Where is my sister, what has become of her?”

It was now Nian’s turn to speak and although the King, Andra and Cian had not seen her before they did not speak for something told them this was a friend.

“Your sister is dead” the shimmering woman said, “She died many cycles ago and is now with my mother”.

But Egmar refused to believe, “that cannot be for she was with me”.

Niana shook her head, “No, that was a phantom placed in your mind to lure you here”.

Arn came forward still holding the knife in his hand, “Who are you to say such things?”

The crystal woman smiled at the warrior and the woman at his side, “I have changed but perhaps this will stir your memories”, and before their eyes the tall figure transformed into the small child she once was and seeing her daughter Andra went to her and held her in her arms.

“You have come back to me” she said with tears in her eyes.

But again Niana shook her head, “No, I have come seeking my mother for she calls to me”.

“But I am your mother” Andra said.

“You are the mother who gave me birth” the child spoke then turned to Arn, “and you are my father but I have another mother who needs me for there is a great danger”.

Andra looked around her, “We are free and the monster who tortured us is dead, we’re safe now”.

The child changed back into the glowing woman she was. “There is more that needs to be done for a great danger is coming.

“What kind of danger?” Andra asked.

“A danger that only my children can end”.

Chapter 37.

Eairla.

 

There are six moons that orbit the planet Gorn, the Nomads believe they are children of Isarie and protect her but this goes against all logic and the teachings of science and there was a time that I would have scoffed at such a ludicrous notion but I have lived long enough and seen with my own eyes the reality of such a faith.

 

From the writings of Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion.

With the destruction of the Overlord the dark warriors were free of the creatures influence so they cast down their weapons and their helmets and although they were of different tribes they did not fight for they had enough of war and their only thought was to find their way back to their homes.

But high above them others were making ready to turn the world in the Gornogal section with a file number of 11975, U.P.O. into a vast planet of rubble where all life is extinguished.

The Planet Rippers of the Mac-Mar were machines constructed for just one purpose, to destroy worlds, they were massive in design with a compliment of many thousands of soldiers and technicians, its power came from multi-integrating matter transformers and that almost limitless power was conveyed to huge deflector discs that directed the energy downwards to lift up the surface ground and all that it contained and reverses its gravity so that it came crashing back destroying everything, originally designed for mining it was subverted into a weapon of war that most civilized worlds banded, but the Mac-Mar used it to subdue rebelling planets and as a punishment for those who stood against them, and although no further commands came from General Ivar they would follow his last orders and destroy the world below them.

“Are the Rippers fully charged?” asked the central Commandant on the command ship.

“Fully charged and awaiting final orders” was the reply from the battle tactician.

“Then they may commence” the Commandant said with a smile for who was there to stop them?

A moment or two later a dozen Ripper ships began the decimation of Gorn, power beams brighter than the twin suns moved across the lands tearing up the earth with a thunderous noise greater than anything heard before, the trail of destruction was a kilometer and more wide with no regard to animal or human life, those unfortunate creatures caught in its grip were tossed high into the sky only to return ending their life, rivers, mountains, valley all were helpless under the onslaught.

The green forests of Caltarine were not spared and the Norgonie watched as their woodlands were extinguished, Sagar Cats screamed as they ran for their lives, the great fortress was spared destruction but another pass of the death light would see its end.

The Jungles of Yug with their hidden temples and beast men came under the same unstoppable force and creatures that had never know fear hide in dark caves bellowing in rage, the great mountains of Gorash were broken and great chunks of rock plummeted back to the ground to shatter into a million fragments.

The Sirolian Plains with their rolling fields of Kasha wheat and great herds of Rimar were also targeted, the armored creatures stampeded in a mad rush to escape the oncoming light, even the enormous Earthshakers could not survive no matter how deeply they burrowed into the earth, the rusting war machines that had sat for millenniums disappeared under the ground and what was left of the once great city of the Talsonar vanished without a trace. The Shadowmen were spared destruction for the time being for they hide deep in their underground homes and although they prayed to no Gods they called in fear. Darmock, Jedar, Omargash all the lands felt the power of the Mac-Mar and were afraid, far off lands that were unknown to the Nomads also suffered, lands far beyond the Western Sea, strange places filled with powerful creatures inhabiting fabulous cities and ancient temples that never heard of the Outlands or Isarie.

And in the place near the Cave of Iron the Tribe of Many looked out from their hiding places and thought that the Gods had gone mad and all the heavens would soon be in flames.

Kela held tightly to Anais while Jumo and Delgar howled in fear, “What have we done to deserve such a faith?” the Handmaided asked.

The Blind-prince had no answer and all he could do was hold the woman he loved and wait for the burning light to find them.

Those left behind in the land of the Akuna huddled together under the great dome and looked to Kuno to save them for he had taken charge when the Calling robbed the Almadra and the Sea-people of their warriors.

“Do not worry” he called out in a loud voice, “We will be safe here!” but the big warrior knew that his words were untrue but he understood that the people needed hope to survive.

 

The forbidden city of Del-Godar did not have to worry about the destroying beams of light for the targeting technicians would never aim for them so the Mac-Mar soldiers stood outside their barracks waving their weapons and cheering on their comrades overhead.

 

Far below in a crystal cavern a shimmering woman lifted her arms and spoke.

“My children walked upon this world and I care for them but my children also live in the heavens and we whisper to each other of things you would not understand but now I need their help and they will come to my aid”.

And closing her eyes she began to sing a sweet song filled with love and caring in words that could not be understood by the ear but were known to the heart, it told of times long ago and beginnings of great power and desire, of strange creatures long past and those that lived now, it spoke of men and women and their loves and longings and also their sins and evils but mostly it sang of their love and loss and their courage and visons of the future and hearing that song made all who listened to it weep.

I have not been a strong King Arn thought; there are others who could lead the Almadra.

I am who I am Andra told her mind, but is that enough?

Egmar and Alune were of the same mind, Isaire will protect us.

And at last Osh understood what was in his heart, I do love her.

Niana continued her song and as she did an image began to form above the head of the crystal woman, at first it was a mass of light and color then it formed into a map of the heavens showing Gorn and all her moons and above the singing a voice could be heard.

“Eairla save me” it said.

 

High above the crystal chamber the Light of Isarie began to resonate to the song from below, it shimmered and shook sending great shards of emerald rock falling to the ground and then with a great bust of light a green ray shot out into the sky and struck Eubano the closest moon and from that glob it traveled through the heavens striking Ashshana, Italus, Rowgal, and the tiny moon named Andra until all were connected by the glowing shaft of energy, and then they began to move.

They did not follow their regular circles that could be plotted and avoided by the Mac-Mar, now they moved swiftly in a deadly dance that was instantly detected by the orbiting warships and the deadly Rippers, one by one the great globs swept through the heavens and their unstoppable gravity pulled the colossal fleet to their doom.

Trooper ship Captains shouted out orders to withdrawal from the planet but their commands came too late and they died with their crews in the vacuum of space, a few of the smaller ships managed to leave orbit but without the power of the armada they would soon fall victim to planetary pirates or hostile worlds seeking revenge.

 

Osh watched in awe as the war in the heavens played out before his eyes in the dancing images above Niana’s head and suddenly he understood the strange word the crystal woman had spoken, “Eairla” he said softly, “Eubano, Ashshana, Italus, Lomic, and Andra, the moons are her children and the letters of their names is the word, what a fool I have been”.

The song of Niana continued until the treat to her world was gone then it stopped and the image dissolved into nothingness, “It is done” the crystal woman said, “My children have saved me and now they will return to their paths” then she looked at the humans around her, “Now I must go to my destiny for my earth mother is dying and I must take her place”.

Slowly Moonbud moved forward and looked into the face of her child, “Will I ever see you again?” she asked.

Niana smiled at her, “I will always be with you and you will see me in your dreams”, then she turned to the others, “I was born to know the ways of humans, for this world needs to advance and reach out to other worlds and their people. Being one of you has taught me many things that I will remember and I wish to send my memories into the heavens so that others will understand” she turned to look at the old man, “Oshismarie Inastro Sistashion hand me the medallion that you carry”.

Osh drew out the pendant that he had in his robe and gave it to the Crystal woman who took in into her hands and whispered to it, and as she did it began to glow with the same greenish light that surrounded Niana then after a time it vanished, “the Overlords created this device to store their knowledge for it has an infinite capacity and now I have used it to store all that has happened on this world, the memories of those who born here and those that were not, take it and use it wisely for it will speak to you when needed.”

My writings are not lost Osh thought.

Niana smiled at Alune and the Callaxion, “you both have taught me wisdom and faith and what it means to grow older and face the future with dignity”. Then she turned her eyes to Egmar, “you have taught me caring and longing, loss and regret but you never lost your ability to be gentle and understanding ”, she looked at Cian, “your people pray to another Goddess but I have many names and will answer to all,” at last she looked at Arn and Andra “you are my father and the woman who gave me birth, you both have taught me strength and courage but above all love, a love that cannot be broken and that is the greatest power of all”, then she turned and moved to the great column of crystal and as she did her body began to glow with a warm light and merged with the gigantic pillar of rock and soon that column glowed with the same intensity and all the surrounding emerald shafts did the same until the chamber was bursting with luminance, and for an instance Andra saw the face of her child smiling back at her and her heart was filled with gladness.

“Goodbye” she said softly as her daughter vanished then she embraced the man at her side, “She’s gone but I feel she is still with us”.

For a long time the chamber was silent then the King spoke, “We have a long way to go” and he led them all from the great cave and into the tunnels that would eventually bring them into the light.

 

Far from that underground world Kela and Anais emerged from their hiding places and looked up at the sky, the terrible light had disappeared and only the moons hung in the sky.

“We are alive”, the Blind Prince said, “How and why I do not know”.

“Yes, we are alive” Kela said brushing the sand from her robe and hair, “whatever it was is gone and now we have work to do, our people need food and water and they look to us to guide them”.

This made Anais laugh, “a great force has cut the earth and all you can think about is eat and drink?” “Cuts will heal” Kela replied, “in time the ground will heal itself but in order to see that happen we must do what must be done, now help me find food for the Drogs or they will make a meal of us”.

Anais drew near her and took her in his arms, “you are like the earth, you can be scared but you survive and I am a very fortunate man to have you at my side”.

Kela kissed him on the lips, “Yes you are” she said with a smile.

Chapter 38.

A New Day

 

 

Gods perish but are reborn, worlds are destroyed but from their ashes new planets emerge, we are all one in the universe and each soul finds its place in that existence.

 

From the Book of Isarie.

 

 

It took a lengthy time for Arn and Andra along with their companions to reach the surface once more but they were helped by the clothing’s and supplies they found in the tunnels of the Ergan-Mar and the underground dwellers they faced along the way let them pass without challenge for the power that had controlled them was now gone and they returned to their digging ways.

When they once more walked under the twin suns they met other Nomads that had also been freed of the mind control of the Overloard, some were of the same tribe as they were but others were not but they traveled as friends and after many days and nights they returned to the land of the Akuna and were met by faces they knew well.

Kuno had sentries posted to warn him of enemies that might wish to harm the Outlanders or the Sea People but when word came to him that the King and his mate had returned he rushed to greet them and with him the two tribes cheered and carried food and drink in their hands.

“I had given all of you up for dead” the big warrior said shaking his burly head, “how did you survive the storm and the light from the sky and where have you been these pasted days?”

Arn smiled at his old friend, “That story will take many tankards of Po to tell” then he laughed “I trust there is still some left for me?”

“A little” Kuno replied then slapped the King on his back, “Come let us get started”.

And as the King had promised a great feast was held and the Almadra and the Akuna sang and danced and the Po and Dral flowed like a river and when the merriment had ended they sang songs to remember those who did not return and the Holy Mother led them in prayer. After that they set about rebuilding their lives.

The Holy Wagon was destroyed in fire but from its ashes rose a grander vehicle constructed from Balbar wood that would have gone to building ships for the Sea People but they understood that the Outlanders had saved their lives when they killed the Overlord and it was their way of repaying that debt, it took a great many days and nights to complete and they had to work feverishly for the Burning Time was fast approaching and soon they would be leaving for the open lands of Omargash.

The Akuna had also lost much, their great Hunter Ships were at the bottom of the sea and would take a full cycle to rebuild but they had enough Grana to last them that time and more, and with their Kandrac to guide them they would once more be the rulers of the Western Sea.

The Thungodra also returned but without their leader for Kalgar-Rune was not among those who came back. The Holy Warriors were repentant for their actions of the past and found solace in prayer and self-punishment and vowed never to turn against their people and the Holy Mother again. Being a merciful woman Egmar forgave them and set about training new Handmaidens in the ways of Isarie, and when she was feeling the weight of her years she would go down to the sea at Sunfall and look out over the waves and remember the past.

Forgive me my sister she thought as the waves lapped against the rocks, I did betray you but I pray that you will find a place for me in your heart, below where she stood was the cove where she tossed the metal skull of her forgotten son, forgive me also Rahash, I was your mother yet I turned you away. The past can be a bitter memory but all humans are afflicted with that ability, some learn and some do not, Egmar made a promise to Isarie and herself to become a better person in the future the past cannot be changed but the future is ours to mold.

“Holy Mother” a man’s voice said and Egmar turned to see who had called her name.

The figure was large but his body and face were covered by a tattered robe, he bore no weapons other than a long wooden staff and in the dim light nothing more could be said of the man.

“Do I know you?” asked the Holy Mother.

The figure came closer and pulled back his hood revealing a worn face, the face of Kalgar-Rune.

“Kalgar” Egmar said softly, “You have come back to us”.

The Thungodra leader shook his head, “I am here but I have not come back”, his voice was solemn and filled with remorse, “Many cycles ago I took a vow to protect the Holy Mother from all harm and I broke that promise, my arrogance drove me to kill those that I should have protected and sin clouded my judgment, but now my mind is clear and I will spend the rest of my life seeking forgiveness for what I have done”.

Egmar moved to him and took him by the hand, “Come back to us and you will see that the Goddess has forgiven you”.

But Kalgar shook his head, “I will never see again”.

And hearing those words the Holy Mother looked into his eyes but they did not look back and then she understood, “You have blinded yourself”.

“Yes” he replied, “I will spend my last days as a Sun-Gazer and pray that Isarie will forgive me and in my darkness I might see her wisdom, now I must go” and he lifted up his strong hand and touched her on the cheek, “Pray for me”.

Then he turned and left her side and she did not call him back for she knew that each must follow their own path no matter how painful that might be.

 

And there were others who also had paths to follow, Osh and Alune’s wagon had likewise been destroyed but like the Holy Wagon it was restored and filled with gifts and treasures from both the Nomads and the Akuna, hidden treasures, keepsakes, statues, ancient writings, all manner of things enough to keep the Callaxion busy for many cycles to come and as Sunfall came and the air hung heavy with the scent from the water, the pair sat around their Washa and the old man looked at the medallion in his wrinkled hands, all the knowledge of this world he thought, there is great power here but it must be used wisely, and as he gazed into the sparkling crystal at its center a voice spoke to him but it did not originate from the device in is hands but it still held much wisdom.

“If you do not eat now your food will get cold” Alune said as she poured out two large bowls of Hagar soup.

Osh tucked the trinket back into his robe and took his bowl from the Touchtender, “I trust you did not put too much Ulon spice in the soup?” the old man asked with a smile.

Alune smiled back at him “I did not put in too much or too little, I put in just the right amount for this time of year and I made sure the Rimar meat was tender enough for your frail teeth”.

The Callaxion took a spoonful of the thick concoction into his mouth, chewed it slowly then swallowed it, “I was a fool to doubt your cooking” then he paused and thought for a moment or two, “I was also foolish in not telling you how much you mean to me and how much I love you”.

Alune knew how hard it was for Osh to say those words and she could have lived out her life with him and been content to never hear them said but it was wonderful to know just the same, “Finish your meal” the Touchtender said with a smile.

And when they were done they sat side by side looking up at the stars saying nothing more.

 

A distance from the contented elders Arn and Andra also smelled the salted air and felt the wind on their faces but they were not content for something pulled at them from across the sea.

“You feel it don’t you?” Moonbud said as she gazed at the shimmering waves.

“Yes” the King replied, “but it is not the Overlord that has entered our thoughts, it is something else”.

The Mind-link between them had grown strong again allowing them to know what the other was thinking and forge them into the Twin-Dragons in battle making them unbeatable, but the voice was not one calling them to war rather it spoke of faraway lands where no Outlander had set foot, but with that shared mind secrets were revealed, dark secrets that neither of them wish to be known.

“I have something to tell you” Andra said, “Cian and I, we…”

“Do not speak” the King said, “that was in the past; we are together now and will face the future as one”.

Moonbud looked into the eyes of the man at her side, “What lays before us?” she asked.

Arn took her into his strong arms, “A land unknown where they never heard the name Moric-Kan or the book of Isarie, but whatever comes I will stand at your side and you will be at mine and all those who wish us harm will pay a heavy price”.

 

And so Arn placed the welfare of his people in the capable hands of Kuno for he knew that he would be a strong King and lead the Almadra to a bright future and in gratitude the Akuna gave them one of their fastest ships, it was unlike their great hunter ships for it had only one mast set with a square sail and oars for rowing and at the prow was the carved figure of a dragon so an enemy would know what they faced. They loaded it with enough supplies to last them many days and nights and weapons forged from the finest Itarian steel, then Arn sent word to his people and they gathered together near the shore under the Twin-suns.

The warriors dressed themselves in their best armor and polished their horned helmets until they sparkled in the sunlight, in their hands they held the Judgment of Isarie, the heavy war ax that made them masters of Gorn, and once more a golden nail hung around their necks to be driven into their palms to hold the Tooth they needed to enter the Afterlife.

The Elders and Ironworkers also came for they wished to pay homage to the King who guided them and keep them safe in days past and in their hands they held their most cherished objects for they wished to look at them in the days ahead and remember.

The Holy Mother stood with her new Handmaidens dressed in recently fashioned gold and silver robe set with rare shells from the sea and in her hand she held a staff topped with a green crystal that she took from the underground chamber.

Many said that the Thungodra were not welcomed but Egmar insisted that they be there but their dark armor was stained with their own blood and they wore crown formed from prickly vines to show their remorse.

The Akuna also stood with the Outlanders and they carried heavily laden baskets of food and barrels of drink to please their many guests and bring contentment to the day no matter how it might end, and leading them was Cian who held his regal head high and wore a garment of shimmering cloth set with a magnificent neckless of gold and shells.

And when all was ready Arn stood on a platform and spoke out in a loud clear voice.

“Moonbud and I are leaving on a journey across the sea” his words reached the ears of the people and they listened quietly, “if and when we will ever return I cannot say and the voyage will be a hard one and I do not know what we will find at its end, I am your King but I will not command any of you to come but if you wish to stand with us you will have my hand in welcome”.

For a moment no one spoke for they all knew the danger in such a voyage then a tall warrior lifted his ax, “I will go with you!” he shouted.

And hearing that another took up the cry, “I will stand at your side!” he called out.

Then a strong woman who had fought many battles lifted her voice, “I will add my weapon to yours!”

And so that call was taken up by the tribe and soon the shipped was filled with eager men and women ready to stand with their leader and face whatever unknown dangers lay ahead.

They named the ship “Nomad” for they wished all to know who they were facing and as the vessel set off on its journey Osh, Alune, and Egmar stood on the dock and waved them goodbye.

“I wonder what they will find?” the old man asked.

Alune held the hand of the old man, “whatever they face they will face it together, as we do”.

Egmar had tears in her eyes as she saw the ship swiftly move away, “their fate in now in the hands of Isarie as all of ours”.

And far from the dock Arn and Andra stood side by side and looked out to the open sea and although she knew it was a false memory Moonbud still saw the faces of her mother and brother in her mind.

Real or not I still love you both she thought.

Arn was also thinking of days long ago but unlike his mate his past was certain, Karn, Agart, Seeda, you wait for me in the Golden Hall but I and the woman I love will not come soon.

And so they sailed away to whatever fate awaited them but knowing the whims of the Gods it was as certainty that the cycles ahead of them would be filled with adventure, pain, laughter and love and can anyone hope for a better future?

Chapter 39.

Endings and Beginnings

 

 

A full cycle has come and gone sense the King and his Mate began their voyage across the Western Sea, what fate they encountered is for others to write about, what I do know I will tell now.

Osh and Alune were very content with their lives for he had the kindest of women to care for him and she had someone to care for.

The Almadra grew strong under the leadership of Kuno for he proved to be a wise King and took a good woman to be his mate and she bore him a strong son who would someday take his place as the head of the tribe.

The other clans of the Nomads have also prospered and many new ones have come into greatness, the Tribe of Many under the leadership of Anais and Kela thrived and the Blind-Prince became a much listened too Wiseman of the Outlands.

The world of Gorn has also changed, the land has healed from the devastation of the Mac-Mar and without their mighty army they lost their power in the Outer Rim and the once great empire became the prey of those they had prey upon.

The Lifeform that lives under the earth and is known as Isarie by the Outlanders has been renewed and once more her power protects the planet, she speaks to them in their dreams and brings them wisdom in the words of her book, her temples have been rebuilt and Nomads come from all the corners of Gorn to pay her homage and bring gifts to lay at the feet of her statues, and Niana’s influence has allowed Off-Worlders to come and go without destruction, as long as they follow her teaching no harm will come to them. Now the world that was once the place to send those castoffs and unwelcome has become a refuse for those seeking a new life.

The Callaxion sat on an outcropping of rock under the Twin-suns and looked over the wavering fields of Kasha wheat on the Sirolian Plains, he had walked a distance from his Karrack and the watchful eye of Alune for he wished to be alone for a while. He wore his traveling robe and carried a staff made of Balbar wood for he had grown weaker despite the loving care of the Touchtender but although his body was frail his mind was still strong but he wondered for how long?

Who will know of the things I have seen? He mused, all that information and observations will vanish when I am gone, it was true that his stories were welcomed by the Almadra and he proved his worth as an Elder of the tribe but was that enough? Then his still keen eyes saw a lone figure coming towards him, he knew it was not a warrior for there was no glint of armor and the visitor was small in stature and not tall like an Outlander. His first instinct was to run for there were still many dangers in the Outlands but how far would his infirm legs carry him before he was brought down? So rather than flee he sat quietly and waited for whatever might come, and besides his endless curiosity was getting the better of him and he wished to know who the stranger might be.

And he didn’t have to wait long for the figure walked to him and drew back the hood of his tattered robe, at first he thought his eyes were sending him false information but without further study he could not be sure, then he thought that he was simply growing too old and his memory was taking the place of the present so he closed his eyes and opened them once more and this time he was sure of what he saw.

“Endo?’.

“Yes father” the Sandjar replied, “I did not think I would ever see you again but here I am and there you sit”.

Osh wanted to rise and hug him but he was to overcome with emotion, “I thought you had perished but now I find you alive and well and that is a very great gift to me, now you can stay with me and a woman who taught me how to love”.

Endo sat down beside his father and looked into his wrinkled face, “Father I am also glad I have found you but I cannot stay”.

“Why?” the old man asked, “there is plenty of room in our wagon and I have much to tell you about what has happened this passed cycle”.

“I am sorry father but the past holds to much pain for me” Endo’s lifted is head to look into the sky, “I thought that power would bring me contentment and my people would take their rightful place among the Outlanders but that belief cost me the life of the woman I loved and now I have nothing”.

Osh understood loss and the look of pain in the face of his child, “What will you do?” he asked.

“I will find a way off this world and wander the stars and hope that I find a place for myself and when I do I will tell others of the futility of power and how it corrupts all that it touches”.

“Power alone does not destroy” the old man replied “the danger lies in the person who holds it”, then the Callaxion took the medallion that he kept with him and held it out to his son, “Take this with you, it holds all of Gorn and more and it will speak to you when needed, use it to tell my story and the lives of those that have walked this world”.

Endo took the gift from his father and looked at it hard, “I will use it for good and I will remember.”

Then the Sandjar stood up and helped the old man to his feet and hugged him, “I will miss you father” he said softly.

“And I will miss you my son” Osh replied.

They parted and the Callaxion watched his son walk away and he continued to look at him until he vanished into the golden wheat field then he returned to his Karrack and the woman he loved.

 

 

Chapter 40.

Farewell.

And now my story is done and I can say that my life has not been in vain, I have gazed upon many lands filled with ancient temples and weapons of war and felt pain and terror that would freeze your heart and stagger your mind, I have traveled with Kings and Warriors, fools and the wise, I have seen creatures great and small that dwell in haunted jungles and under the earth, I have witnessed moons spinning through the heavens in defense of the mother that created them, I have watched as great machines of war destroy all before them and I have seen those same mechanisms defeated by the power of love.

And greatest of all is the love that at last has found me and I wake each day to her face and lay myself down beside her at night and she has taught me a song that I will always remember.

 

Under the Children of Isarie we cross the lands on paths that are free.

From the green jungles of Caltarine to the vastness of the Western Sea.

We will fight when challenged and stand together side by side as one.

Through heat and cold and the sleep of rebirth and all the days that come.

 

But now the time grows late and I wish to sleep and I do not know if the Angle of Death will come for me in that darkness or pass me by but if he does desire my sole I will smile at him and say.

 

“I do not fear you”.

 

And he will take my hand and lead me into a place I have never been and whether that be a Golden Hall, a Kingdom under the Western Sea or a green land flowing with food and drink I know I will meet those who I loved and who loved me and my heart will be content.


Nomads The Risen God

Nomads the Risen God is the third and the last in my sci-fi adventure trilogy, in the final book the Nomads of Gorn face powerful enemies from within and from the unstoppable army of the Mac-Mar Alliance that covet the riches of their world, we follow Arn, Andra, Osh and the rest of the Outlanders as they face the harsh winter and then travel to the Western Sea to meet old friends and hunt for the gigantic Leviathans the rule the waters. But things are not what they seem and a force that once keep them safe is now turning against them and a war is coming that will decide the fate of Gorn forever.

  • Author: Gary Mark Lee
  • Published: 2017-06-08 20:50:23
  • Words: 147835
Nomads The Risen God Nomads The Risen God