Legend of Axiatés
Copyright 2016 by J.B. Kleynhans
They were set to depart Bellatoir Manor in very early hours of the morning. After staying put for a week after the Goddess had killed her own detachment of Sepulchra troops, she suddenly decided it was time to get going.
Delegan had not mingled with the Goddess too much during that time and had kept himself preoccupied with the books to be found in the manor. During his exploration of the building he had heard the ramblings of the Lord Charlan about the devastation the Goddess had inflicted on his antechamber. Of course, face to face with the woman called Axiatés he did not raise a single word of protest about the happenings of that night. Still, his foul mood was evident in that he did not emerge to see them off, except for the keeper of his house that bade them best wishes and a good deal of supplies for the road. Till the moment Delegan exited the manner that day, he was not yet sure what their departure here would entail.
Delegan hovered unsure as he came trudging down the steps, outside at the back of the building of Lord Charlan’s Manor. He lifted his gaze up the driveway to see huge a carriage of intricate design and opulent woods, framed with silver alloy polished to a degree where the moonlight made it glisten like steel, and when the sun rose it would be blazoned gold for the first two hours of dawn, Delegan was sure. Reined to the contraption were four dark horses of extraordinary size. They were thick and muscled in stature, their legs looking short in proportion to their body, more reminiscent to the log-like limps of a rhino than any kind of racehorse. They snarled these beasts, and blew angry gusts of moist from their noses like raging bulls. Their eyes too were as black as night and when their lips curled back Delegan was surprised to see fangs in the mouth of a horse. Even as Delegan stood and stared one of the horses tried to take a bite of one of the others. He sensed a malice within these creatures and an inherent impatience that was not becoming of a beast of burden.
On the front of carriage, waiting with the reins in his hands, and also a long willow-like switch, was what Delegan recognized as one of the Mesauwee beast handlers. Their kind must’ve gone through a vigorous process of amnesty to appear anywhere in Sepulchra, let alone here. It brought disquieting premonitions of how this journey was going to play out.
The Mesauwee were descendants of practices frowned upon the world over, ever since mankind had realized how violent the monstra were compared to normal animal life. Beast handlers are what the Mesauwee called themselves, often promoting the idea that they had a mental link with the creatures and even a measure of control over them. To Delegan’s mind and eyes, they were little better than a lion-tamer confronting a lion with a chair and whip whilst reassuring everyone everything is under control. The Mesauwee man sitting there observed every tradition appearance-wise; a clean shaven head and a naked torso that had tattoos explaining what kind of creatures he had mastery of. If he did not have a raging black horse imprinted on his chest, across his heart, Delegan’s worry would have been worse manifold. Onto that he wore an assortment of ornaments that Delegan had not yet made a study of. Most of the little charms the Mesauwee man wore were probably superstitious things, but today Delegan hoped there was more to it than he would ordinarily believe – anything to keep the four great horses in check.
‘Those things are monstra!’ stammered Delegan, hoping he was not pointing this out to the ignorance of the rest. Surely they must know!
‘Monstra has become a term used so often and it is bestowed upon every little creature that has the courage to bare its teeth,’ said Axiatés, who walked only a pace behind Delegan, and with the quiet commander Libras at her side, the last of the Sepulchra Mortar soldiers.
Delegan looked at the Goddess in surprise, waiting for her to overtake him. ‘Well, I guess your Excellency fears very little, but to me anything bigger than a cat poses a problem. And no animal has ever taken a liking to me, even though I pose no threat.’
Axiatés laughed. ‘The fiercest of beings may yet be the smallest ones Delegan. Have you ever seen bat-eared foxes?’
‘Once, not frightening at all. But really your Excellency, before we start talking about bat-eared foxes, can we rather discuss where this carriage has come from?’
‘Did you believe I was waiting at the manor for nothing, not planning my best way onwards to the Imperial Empire, dear Delegan?’ said Axiatés.
Delegan was a little unsettled; given the boldness of being transported by a Mesauwee steering a carriage he wished the Goddess had consulted him about it. Never mind the Madura beasts (that’s what the giant black horses were known as), how did they hope to pass through civilizations without being confronted or even persecuted?
‘Can the Lord Charlan not provide something more… safe?’
‘He only has modern automobiles and they will be no good in the desert.’
Delegan conceded. No modern vehicle was going to make it through Tulan, and Tulan as it were, being a hostile land, valued pragmatic things above the outcry over vilified beasts. If something could pass through Tulan and survive and then morally it was justified, so they might yet pass through the deserts without scrutiny. Delegan could only assume they would abandon the carriage once they came across the first borders of Doma Arak, or else they truly operated in folly. The Imperials would not tolerate any kind of monstra or the Mesauwee who pretended to control them.
Approaching the carriage Delegan urged the Goddess to climb the fold-out steps before him, the Mesauwee coachman offering his hand to guide her up and through the doors. Delegan carefully ascended, and the closest of the Madura looked back at the librarian, the fierce but cloudy eyes of the creature startling Delegan so that he froze and almost missed his next step when he got going again. When the carriage door shut behind him, he felt relieved to be out of the same space as the Madura. Still their impatient whinnies, snorts and stamp of hooves came through muffled to the carriage interior, but it was not as unnerving as walking past in front of them.
Commander Libras of the Sepulchra climbed in silently and Delegan had a great deal of sympathy for the man. He had tried his best to avert a disaster, failed to do so, essentially betrayed by his own men, but still heartbroken that the detachment of men left in his care were slaughtered mercilessly. To compound the matter, he owed absolute loyalty to the Goddess, as did most men, because she represented the salvation of the world.
Delegan himself sat opposite of the Goddess, the benches wide and comfortable, some form of expensive leather, hand-stitched stylistically to the extent that Delegan glided his hand over the deep cushion, feeling the outline tentatively.
‘The embroidery amuses you?’ asked Axiatés with a wry smile.
‘This is Sillivier handiwork. A province of the Imperials.’
‘Quite right, librarian,’ said a rather familiar voice from just outside the carriage. Delegan was surprised to the utmost as a man with a rather large frame came squeezing legs first through the open window of the carriage door. That he proved to be so limber was but the first of many surprises.
‘What… what are you doing here?’ asked Delegan, recognizing a cult figure he had hoped he would never again run into.
‘I summoned him. We need transport at least until we reach Tulan,’ said Axiatés.
‘This is your carriage?’ asked Delegan.
‘Indeed so,’ said the man known as Dulcan. ‘An Imperial carriage, steered by a Mesauwee lad bearing a Sepulchra woman and her consorts. It is a sign of times old one, that folk of all corners of the world come together to ensure the sun rises on all nations. Unlikely allies are at the order of the day. You should know that better than most!’
Delegan was not ready to ask this man where he had come across the Mesauwee or how he had come to enlist his services. Trying to form a relationship or being caught harbouring a monstra was punishable by death in both Sepulchra and Doma Arak, so for the moment the less Delegan knew the better.
Dulcan looked like he had picked up some weight, though not an ungainly man, and a dangerous one even if he were not the athletic figure he was some years back. Delegan felt he tried to hide this by wearing a big black coat. Age catches up to all of us, and all those ill-considered treats too! thought Delegan. Dulcan’s voice however was still rich and his hair still wavy, which contributed to his charm which Delegan knew he used more often than not. He was the kind of man that had friends everywhere he went.
‘Thank you for responding to my call so urgently, even in these times I would have been hard pressed to find someone else,’ said Axiatés.
‘And if I can, I will convince you to ride along the border of Tulan instead of through it, the benefit of course being you can remain on my carriage,’ said Dulcan.
Axiatés shook her head. ‘There is an errand I need to see to in Tulan.’
Dulcan raised his eyebrow questioningly, but before he could protest the Mesauwee man called him from the outside. ‘What is it now?’ he murmured impatiently, exiting by the door as one should.
When Dulcan exited the coach, Delegan asked: ‘How did you summon this man?’
‘Money,’ said Axiatés as though it was very obvious.
‘He is not just some mercenary your Excellency. He is a brother of the Aeyog!’
‘He does not observe their belief.’
‘He will if it suits him!’ Delegan thought he didn’t need to explain exactly what the Aeyog believed about women with power, even though he felt like if he reiterated it to Axiatés she might rethink the entire idea.
‘Are you worried about me Delegan?’ asked Axiatés.
Delegan sat back. ‘I’m worried about myself,’ he said unconvincingly, but which was not entirely untrue of course. Since the Goddess had burnt the cancer from his body he felt resurgent in both mind and body, and there was maybe just a hint of true self-preservation returning to his priorities.
Dulcan came back into the carriage, slamming the carriage door behind with unnecessary force, and Axiatés said to Delegan in the elder tongue: ‘Daea ma kilan iel thelstra vols nattuwera oel res mael loyeri.’
Put your trust in me, and I will safely take you to the stars.
Delegan shuddered. It wasn’t her own words even though she had said it to reassure him specifically. Stars in the old sense was a metaphor for end destination, but whether it meant it as a destination somewhere on Ellion or a destination in the next life was not specified.
Dulcan again raised that dark thick eyebrow of his; making the conclusion that Delegan understood what the Goddess had said just now.
‘My sister and I had a secret language, one we spoke in front of my father when wanted to discuss things not meant for his ears. Very useful. I still use a secret language to this day. I must admit that being on the receiving of such an exchange is not the most pleasant of experiences, being naturally curious as I am.’
‘Concern yourself not Dulcan. My subject and I are talking trivial things, and I need to brush up on my knowledge of the elder tongue.’
‘That is a dead language and of no use. Are you still making a study of a cults old one?’ asked Dulcan.
Delegan shook his head. ‘I’m afraid after learning too much about the cults I have realized that the balance of my life is better spent studying something else.’
‘A pity then, I appreciated the notoriety you brought my brothers.’
‘You did not need me to gain notoriety,’ said Delegan.
Dulcan did not respond to that.
‘And why are you so quiet?’ said Dulcan, directing his question at Libras.
‘The commander here is going through a hard time. He lost most of his men, and is struggling to make peace with the fact that he had traitors under his command,’ answered Axiatés.
Dulcan outright laughed. ‘You see Delegan, you don’t trust me, but the very escort Sepulchra gave the Goddess was as corrupt as I know all government militaries to be.’
‘Those men were exceptions,’ uttered Libras. ‘They were not men of the Sepulchra way.’
‘At ease commander. I meant no offence.’
‘I have no doubt that it is your kind, one cult or another, that have infiltrated and commanded the Sepulchra to harm the Goddess,’ said Delegan pointedly.
Dulcan shrugged. ‘Not that the cults see eye to eye old one. The motives of one cult is often directly opposite of the others.’
On that note, the Mesauwee got the horses moving, cracking his whip and the Madura sounding loudly in response, their whinnies crashing over one another. As though it had been but a brief protest, the carriage pulled away with a force that certainly inspired the term horsepower in earlier years.
It took Delegan some time to get used to the incredible pounding the four horses inflicted on the road. That said, the ride was remarkably smooth and the carriage was probably one of the best of its kind, a luxury vehicle in so many words, more evidently so as Dulcan did not wait long to open a fully stocked mini fridge hidden behind one of the surrounding cabinets. After offering everyone a can of ready-mix vodka and lime – which everyone declined – he cracked one open himself, drinking it in one long draught. Though everyone was thinking it, no one asked the obvious “isn’t it bit early to start drinking?” question.
Deciding to ignore the antics of Dulcan, Delegan was just starting to wonder where they were going to sleep. He had no doubt that he and the Commander would not be provided for, but surely the Goddess was not going to be alright just sleeping on the carriage benches?
There was one thing that Delegan was not uncertain off, and that was why they were riding in this kind of vehicle at this day and age.
Cars were plentiful, or at least they would’ve been had technology not fallen prey to such a strange turn of events. Fossil fuels had provided the backbone of vehicles of all kinds for such a long time. There were growing concerns about pollution the world over and alternative means did not make the inroads required to displace fossil fuels entirely as a chief means of energy production. Still, the transition from internal combustion engines to batteries within cars slowly became more and more prevalent, until the fuel burning engines started falling away completely.
Then came the Goddess in her 26th incarnation, Axiatés. Of all her powers (of which there was truly many) the ability to create suns was at the forefront of technological development.
They were saying that the Goddess was going to create a second sun for the earth, but the truth was that she had created many suns for the earth since the dawn of the original. The only difference now was that she was going to try and create a sun big enough to replace the one in the sky and therein lied all the complications and intrigue of their current day and age.
The smaller suns, sometimes no larger than a football, were to be found in all kinds of power stations and the greater ships and aircraft that roamed the seas and skies of Ellion. They simply suspended these smaller suns in electromagnetic fields, leaving it hanging away from anything and everything. From thereon they could be used to generate huge amount of energy, put either to immediate use or stored away.
Philosophers oriented toward futurism Delegan had known through the years had always wondered how humanity would react if they came across a technological advancement that was not quite their own doing, proposing that mankind would not necessarily be ready for such an advent. They were right; and so the suns of the Goddess had not come without consequence.
The smaller ones, just like the big one in sky, gave off waves of radiation and electromagnetic pulses. The latter was very much like the equivalent of a solar flare in that it wipes out all kinds of electronics. There was one little problem with batteries and anything electrical in that the two had become somewhat inseparable in the last few decades except for the few rudimentary technologies that could still use batteries without any computerized components. It was too expensive to try and shield a car for your everyday consumer, meaning automobiles other than those still operating on fossil fuels and non-computerized components were largely hampered. It was just not cars that felt the wrath of the suns.
It was quite ironic to think that one of the greatest advancements of mankind was also wreaking serious havoc on their systems, essentially having mankind oscillating through a motley of technologies ranging from the dark ages, space age and advanced robotics every now and then.
In the modern world, the aircraft and ships were big enough to accommodate precautionary measures to house a small sun, and the trains could be powered on electric rails that were shielded to large degrees. The car industry however was often struggling to get back its former glory outside of the richer areas of Doma Arak. The Tulan deserts were rife with sun-driven power stations and even made deliberate use of the EMP’s to ward off unfriendly targets that might be passing through with any vehicle using electronics. So with no train passing their immediate vicinity, they were confined to using a carriage pulled by four horses that could’ve come galloping out of hell itself.
Delegan watched through the window as the morning sun slowly crested the horizon. He looked at the Goddess and thought about the impossibility of the task she had undertaken. Sometimes she looks little more than a girl, but when the time comes, she is going to put a star in the sky enormous beyond human reckoning and save every wretch that walks the face of Ellion.
Later in the day Dulcan pulled out an electronic tablet, tapping the screen with his meaty fingers until he found what he was looking for.
‘We’re moving at fifty-one miles an hour. Not bad. The Mesauwee lad did not overstate the speed of these creatures.’
‘We’ll go much slower once we are in the desert,’ commented the Goddess.
‘That you are, but it will be mostly because I won’t take you all the way through Tulan, my Lady. When the time comes, if you do not agree to our route along the northern border, I will leave you at a certain point. These steeds are not camels and the sheer weight of this carriage was never made for any desert. Most important of all, I won’t be caught dead in the heartland of Tulan. Too many interesting foemen that I would like to avoid. ’
‘And I thought I made it clear I have things to see to in Tulan. Do as you wish Dulcan, but your conscience must be clear if I happen to fall in Tulan because you were not part of my escort.’
Delegan thought appealing to the man’s conscience was the worst approach to take.
Dulcan shrugged, a gesture of dismissal he seemed to be way too fond of. ‘Very well. I have faith in your Excellency. I am sure you can navigate yourself through Tulan.’
‘What is the Mesauwee man’s name?’ asked Axiatés suddenly, and just a for a second Delegan wondered if the Goddess was considering talking to the Mesauwee man behind Dulcan’s back, leaving him stranded somewhere maybe while the beast handler guided them through the desert. That at least would make Delegan feel slightly better about his present company.
‘I thought you know everything?’ said Dulcan
‘I sometimes dwell the Truth of Everything, yet sometimes without reward,’ admitted Axiatés.
Delegan so wished he knew more about how omniscient this Goddess really was without having to speculate about it. One day, he would certainly try and have a private discussion about it with her. But that time had not yet come.
‘His name is Ibris. As dumb as his kind, as brave as his kind, and as disobedient as his kind. But he has served me well up and till now,’ answered Dulcan.
‘He is a good man,’ said Axiatés, her eyes narrowing as though she had just gleaned something about the man when Dulcan mentioned those qualities about him.
The carriage sprung in the air like it hit a rock and came to a sudden halt. It was strange because the roads in these parts of the world were still very well paved and they did not expect any rough terrain for at least another day’s travel. They heard Ibris’ feet outside as he probably checked the undercarriage for any damage. Seconds later he came knocking on the little wooden sliding panel
‘What is it now?’ said Dulcan irritably, not walking to talk through the panel, but popping his head out the window again to speak to Ibris. When Dulcan slid back in, Delegan could see there was some puzzlement on his face.
‘We have some… trouble outside,’ he said too diplomatically, which had Delegan worried.
They all clambered out of the carriage, Delegan jumping out just because Axiatés herself wasn’t going to sit still and let Dulcan deal with it. Delegan himself was surprised. Despite his discomfiture with the beasts pulling their carriage he did not expect any trouble before they were well away from the Lord Charlan’s Manor.
Delegan scanned the surrounding land, seeing nothing but open plain, and other than the horses that still frightened him, there was not a hint of an enemy.
They all gathered at the back of the carriage, where Ibris was sitting on his haunches, watching the underside sternly.
Seeming frustrated with the rest of them for their ignorance he pointed at the shadows between the carriage wheels. Delegan actually jumped pack, even though he was already standing twenty feet away. Something was stuck to the underside of the carriage!
Dulcan walked up closer and looked in under the carriage, almost in a push up position. The thing gave a deep hiss that had Delegan’s tummy twisting. Its almond shaped eyes were at least a foot apart, glowing purple as it hung upside-down underneath the carriage. It made clicking sounds, moving a little bit this way and little bit that way, its dark form otherwise indiscernible in the shadows.
‘It’s a fucking a crawler fiend!’ said Dulcan as he came to his feet.
The Goddess clamped her ears momentarily in response to Dulcan swearing and he looked bemused at Axiatés. Delegan had to admit that he too found the gesture strange coming from someone who had taken many lives without batting an eye.
‘I guess this is not one of yours, Mesauwee?’ asked Dulcan.
‘No,’ said Ibris simply, as though he had taken Dulcan’s question seriously.
‘Am I right in saying that this thing won’t budge until it can scamper into the shadows?’ said Dulcan, looking unimpressed with the their surroundings, not even the smallest hint of a tree-shadow visible in the plain that slowly transitioned into the nothingness of the Tulan deserts.
Ibris nodded. ‘Very venomous too, shoots needles from its pincers. Coated with poisons.’
‘Hmm, can we keep on going until nightfall?’ asked Dulcan.
‘Wait it out?’
‘You should really start practising saying yes, I hear they say it brings positive fortunes across one’s road.’
The Mesauwee gave Dulcan an indifferent look.
‘It will kill the horses as soon as night falls. And maybe kill us too, it is too dangerous,’ said Ibris.
‘It must’ve been hiding somewhere in the Manor of Lord Charlan and then scuttled in underneath the carriage when we arrived,’ speculated Dulcan.
A cold child ran over Delegan hearing that. It was bad enough they had to be anywhere near the Madura, but this thing…
‘Can you take care of it your Excellency?’ asked Dulcan.
‘Not without harming the carriage,’ said Axiatés.
‘So how do I get it to leave the shelter of the carriage? Can I shoot it?’ asked Dulcan
Ibris was thoughtful for a moment. Then nodded. ‘It hates the sun, but it will emerge once threatened. But you won’t kill it. Not with that weapon. Hard carapace.’
Dulcan turned to the Goddess. ‘If I can pry our friend here into daylight, I assume the Highlady will give us one act of magic that will save the day?’
‘If I have enough time to work with, yes,’ said Axiatés.
‘Well, better get on with it before everyone loses their nerve; and remember, if this thing chases you, they can’t run in a straight line,’ said Dulcan with a sadistic grin, pulling a handgun from his waist and opened fire, mostly at the ground right beneath the carriage, bouncing bullets into the creature.
Delegan was pitifully terrified, taking cover behind the Mesauwee man who stood primed for action with a curved knife that was going to prove sufficiently useless against a beast of that nature. Commander Libras also had his rifle at the ready, but even that seemed too meagre for this task. The creature came hissing angrily, first crawling up the side of the back of the carriage, turning around and then coming to ground with its pincers snapping violently.
It was very crab-like, indeed with an oval shaped carapace at least six feet wide, a cloudy blue colour. Contrary to most of its kind however its legs were very short – and plentiful too – thirty-two of them to be exact, looking like claws that moved with the same suddenness as the little hammers on a typewriter, all working in unison to propel the creature forward with great speed.
During all of this a mysterious an emblem appeared in the air, like someone had managed to project an image on nothing but an arbitrary slice of the sky. Before Delegan could make a study of all the dozens of symbols captured in the circle, its light grew to an intensity too harsh to look at. From the centre of the emblem, came blasting a bolt of energy of crackling heat. Delegan closed his eyes for a second and opened them just as the brunt of the energy collided with the crawler. The creature only writhed for a second, being reduced to ash and nothingness within a short few moments. What remained of it were charred remains, its mighty carapace sundered so easily. They all looked at it in silence and awe.
‘You are quite something your Excellency,’ said Dulcan finally with a blood hungry grin.
Delegan looked at the mad cult-man, and then the Mesauwee man who is more than likely to be persecuted in any other country other than the one they were headed, and then finally the Goddess who had more power than any one being should ever have, and he thought by himself: whatever did I get myself into?
Somewhere in the gardens some fury had been released. Mestarés sincerely believed that an earthquake rippled through the already troublesome forests, sending all kinds of birdlife and critters running, presumably away from the epicentre of all the noise and tremors. Among these was a triple-tusk boar, a big creature, which they let pass through their ranks seeing that it only meant to flee the disturbance. Had it been charging at them it would have been a different scenario all together and Mestarés wasn’t sure anyone wanted to test how many bullets it could take before being brought to a standstill. So no, the boar, despite crashing through the undergrowth with all the alarm it could bring was not the problem.
Then came a noise that made Mestarés think he had lost his mind. it was some kind keening noise, and clicking too, like it carried with it not the hurry of fear as much as the hurry of hunger. Maybe they had been following the boar all along and by wretched luck had been led straight across the path of the Imperials: the spiders were not a welcome sight.
Among the monstra, the giant arachnid were some of the worst breeds of creatures Mestarés had ever encountered. They were not a garden variety pest, (Mestarés would rather not use that pun, but then again he’d also rather be doing anything else than be stuck here hunted down by something he should ordinarily be able to crush beneath his shoes). Whatever variety these creatures came in – and yes they were found right across the face of the planet – were of a breed that if you did not hate or fear them immediately, would do their best to win you over to the legions of men and women who could not even stand the smallest of their kind.
His men certainly had seen enough, and now being confronted with something that had half of them rooted to the spot was almost as bad as the men who jumped into action, firing wildly without order and without coordination.
Looking at how the spiders operated, Mestarés saw exactly why Fedaro ran around the world with the bayonet blade at the tip of his Musket. Unlike smaller spiders, these forest monstra came in a coordinated pack, and was as likely to come flying from above from a length of web as it was leaping from the ground.
The men who were not paralyzed with mortal fear shot at the spiders, very ineffectively, and they did not contain the threat without wounding one of their own.
The encounter did not last long, but in that brief period of time the spiders had wounded three men fatally and at least one of the Imperials was captured on a web, and then hauled up into the forest canopies until he was invisible. The last they ever saw of the young man were parts of him raining down on the rest of him as the spiders feasted. In response to all of that, the desperate gun-fire of a hundred men quickly reduced the spiders to obscene remains of hairy legs and carcasses mutilated and ruptured with spider blood.
When the last of the hordes of spiders were dealt with, Mestarés rushed to the man who had gone down in friendly fire.
Blasted amateurs! thought Mestarés in fury as he tried to stay calm, kneeling at the wounded soldier’s side and assuring him he was going to be alright. Jemead, the medic among them, was also there in a rush, and Mestarés was greatly relieved that he could take over, as his knowledge of treating wounds were limited to stopping the bleeding.
Sternroe did not keep his dismay in check. ‘Where in Belantine’s name did you learn to shoot?’ he demanded from the soldier who had shot his own.
‘Who’s Belantine?’ muttered Tony.
‘Shut up,’ mouthed Mestarés at Tony. Tony had been one of those who had almost shot one his own men. In fact he was very lucky he did not kill a few Imperials the way he was slinging his rifle around. On the bright side, his fervour, and the way he stood his ground, did down many spiders. Mestarés however was never, ever going to tell Tony that his recklessness had probably saved a few men.
When things had quieted down, Pryro, the man Mestarés had earlier given a promotion, came carrying a spider corpse like a sports bag, and threw it at the Captain’s feet.
‘Did you see the markings on the spider sir?’ he asked seriously.
Mestarés looked at the creature then, recognizing for the first time the big bold white markings on the bulbous torso of the spider. It was an intricate diagram in the form of a block – a maze or warren was the best way to describe it – painted in such a way that it represented the passages of death, a concept of the peoples of the Nillhe era, and since then its myth and rituals had permeated through many cultures and civilizations. Its premise was that those who strayed into death could walk the maze and come back to life, and command the creatures of death, like the spiders here.
‘From which province do you come from Pryro?’
‘That explains at least how you know,’ said Mestarés. Epossos was an outlying province of Doma Arak, where the last of the soul-eaters were seen; those that returned from the dead. Pryro was too young to have been part of that conflict, but maybe he had been a boy at the time and it would’ve been hard to forget the horrors of that particular time. ‘Thank you private, keep yourself alive through this, I would like to see you do well in the force,’ said Mestarés with a nod and quickly walked over to Sternroe.
‘That was not a quake.’
‘It certainly was a quake of some kind,’ said Sternroe snidely.
‘It was a temple being ripped open,’ said Mestarés.
‘Another one of those Stonegald beasts?’
Mestarés shook his head, knowing Sternroe was insinuating that another great lizard had ravaged one of the many ruins scattered throughout Scithea.
‘Me and my second in command recognize the markings on the spiders. They are commanded by a soul-eater. They are doing the bidding of a Sigotor that’s escaped its own burial confines.’
‘How do you know so much about this?’ asked Sternroe.
‘We don’t need to get into that right now. I learned all I need to know when I saw Fedaro face one of these things down in Epossos.’
‘Has Fedaro then killed one of these soul-eater dilemmas?’ asked Sternroe.
‘Yes, but not without a lot of help. Also they come in different varieties. This one will be older, and has drained upon many hapless souls, and because it has lain for such a long time in its own ritual it will be stronger than anything else to be found in the gardens.’
‘So this beastie is like whiskey, they lock him up in a cellar and he gets a little more flavour, eh?’ said Tony, uninvited to their conversation.
‘Get back in line,’ snapped Sternroe at Tony.
The short man stomped off muttering angrily.
‘The important thing to know here is that the soul-eater will be drawn to Gloria’s dead spirits. That might be exactly the reason it has woken in the first place,’ said Mestarés.
Sternroe frowned and then seemed emboldened by an idea as comprehension dawned on his face. ‘So we if chase this soul- eater creature, it will lead us to the girl?’ asked Sternroe.
Mestarés could not believe what he was hearing. ‘Or, it gives us the perfect chance to escape. The soul-eater, as it gets its bearings together, will rather chase Gloria than us, and in doing so will take care of our target for us.’
Fedaro was right. Sternroe was given orders to capture Gloria alive at all costs.
‘We can’t take that chance, we can’t delegate our responsibility to some fiend from a ghost story,’ said Sternroe.
‘The Soul-eater is nigh un-killable,’ said Mestarés flatly at one last attempt to dissuade Sternroe.
‘Grow a pair, Captain, or take a walk. I need every man available. Who knows, maybe I’ll return home such a hero everyone will forget your misdeeds in the shadows my accomplishments.’
A flicker of rage passed over Mestarés that he did not act upon, but he was convinced then that Sternroe had made his last remark without repercussion.
An inhuman roar rang in the forest confines, and if there were any doubt that the Imperial men would count this as the most gruelling first mission ever, it was swept away by that very sound.
A roar sounded somewhere in the gardens.
‘Something very angry is pursuing us,’ said Gloria frightfully.
‘I guess I would be angry too if I was lying awake in a tomb for so long, unable to die from hunger or thirst,’ said Fedaro.
‘Can you tell us more about Ultair?’ asked Beluka.
‘I can tell you this much, I intend not to run into him.’
‘Is he a man?’
‘Sort of. Sacrificed by his own people, his heart was cut from his body. They wrapped his body in cloths washed by the blood of many virgins. The people that lived here, believed that if you go through the same process as a caterpillar, you will emerge as something greater. I guess they wanted to create some kind of god. Their priests cast many spells on him and he awoke as something no one quite expected. Being able to command creatures like the spiders and feasting on the souls of his victims I guess were his rewards. for participating in such an ordeal.’
‘Blood of many virgins?’ asked Beluka as though that’s all he had taken from what Fedaro just said.
‘I might’ve made that part up, but the rest of it is certainly true. ’
‘Can he be killed? asked Beluka.
‘I hate to admit this, but I don’t think anything I carry on me currently is going to do it any harm.’ Having said that, Fedaro noticed Beluka walked all the more faster.
I can’t agree more big man, let’s get out of here.
Fedaro fiddled with his Musket, not voicing aloud the fact that he had less than a hundred and fifty rounds left. Of these at least some were some specialized bullets of which he made sure the most appropriate ones were all set in a magazine he would only slam into the Musket when face-to-face with Ultair. The bullets in that one would deliver a cocktail of agents that had worked for Fedaro against a variety of deadly things in the past, including a soul-eater, albeit a much weaker one than the one they now faced. The three types of bullets Fedaro thought would most effective here was a high dosage acid round, a tessenair shot that was known to undo magical protection, and a bullet with a toxin that supercharged the rate at which blood coagulates. If this Ultair had any blood to speak off, Fedaro was going to do his best to slow him down by petrifying his insides with his own blood.
‘Can you use your powers?’ he asked Gloria, not feeling too confident about his special bullets.
She shook her head frantically.
Fedaro sighed. ‘Can you use your bow?’
She looked unsure.
‘We might need you to fight too okay? I’ve seen you kill a giant lizard. Now I can only assume you are shy of using your powers against something that drinks the very essence of your kind bond with dead spirits, but I need you to show some courage and use the bow and arrow. Alright?’
She said nothing, but Fedaro saw some kind of agreement in her eyes, as though she was resigned to the fact that they would not leave the gardens easily, which Fedaro considered to be a healthy attitude at the time.
‘What’s your bow called?’ asked Fedaro.
‘All weapons of Arterra are of the moon. My bow is called the Crescent,’ said Gloria.
‘Crescent moon?’ asked Fedaro thinking of the shape of the moon. That’s quite clever. Did you name it that?’
‘No, it was my father. ’
Fedaro nodded. ‘From now on, that bow of yours carries the fury of your people. Anything your people had ever done, is now reduced to you getting out of this place and use your bow the way it was meant to be used. It’s your survival and your instrument by which the world will know your people. Do you get that?’
‘Yes,’ said Gloria.
‘Good girl,’ said Fedaro, and moved on with as much speed as circumstances allowed. He hoped Beluka had some stamina in him, not sure that Gloria could move any real distance yet with her ankle.
Their trouble came again the form of spiders, homing in on what Fedaro thought was all Gloria’s doing. He considered asking her if there was some facet of her ability that she could mute, so that Ultair and his spiders would not smell her out so easily so to speak. But given her limited control he had seen her exercise so far he was guessing that that was not really an option for her. The first few spiders Fedaro dealt with promptly and they seemed to make a good deal of ground without trouble. Fedaro’s instincts told him this was all wrong and that even though they were heading in the right direction, something bad was already waiting across their very road.
Things had grown quiet and then the creature treaded across their path, its patient approach a horrifying aspect.
Of all the creatures in this Jungle, Ultair was the very worst of them. It identified itself as an eater of souls. It was not a monstra; it was sinister creation of the rituals mankind had practiced here eons ago. Fedaro was certain its man-like shape was at least eight feet tall. It looked like most of its skin had been turned inside out, with flesh having rotten over the course of time, in essence being a walking carcass, its eyes literally looking like glowing coals. It had war paints on its body, all white shapes like those on the spiders; its only clothing being a loincloth and a rudimentary belt. The aforementioned flesh of its body was a mahogany colour, and he looked as hard and unbendable as the tree that inspired that colour.
‘Do not run!’ it commanded in an inhuman voice, its rotten teeth bared in a lipless mouth, and the sound of its voice carried a component as paralyzing as any toxin made for that purpose. Fedaro pushed at Beluka’s shoulder. ‘Now is not the time to start listening to dead things, go!’ While he said it Fedaro traded the magazine of his musket with the one holding the cocktail of special bullets.
‘Such insolence! I, king of Scithea, come awake with mankind not obeying my commands? What has time done to my world that peasants live for their own purposes?’ it roared as it came trudging forward, its movements still jerky and disjointed as though the centuries of sleep had not been kind to its limps. With Ultair’s approach Beluka was off in a different direction, disappearing from sight with Gloria and Fedaro lifted his Musket at the incoming creature.
Fedaro steadily fired, knowing he was simply wasting lead, not even sure he was causing Ultair pain even though his flesh exploded where the bullets struck. The mercenary could not make a study of it given the circumstances, but he was certain the body of Ultair was renewing itself by some dark art. Coming too close for comfort, Fedaro also turned and ran.
Fedaro had no idea how long or how far they fled the creature, moving just fast enough to stay ahead of it, and the petrifying agent of Fedaro’s bullets surely gave them some space to work with. But they were moving haphazardly now and were more likely to go further into the gardens instead of getting out of it. Also, they were tiring, while Ultair was simply regaining his strength and becoming faster by the minute. All of that was not even counting the hordes of spiders that seemed to hunt them now. They came from all sides, and from above of course and sometimes emerging from places like they had burrowed themselves into the most unlikely hiding spots. Fedaro had trouble following their movements, dedicating his efforts to warding off the spiders of greatest threat and keep on moving at all costs.
Beluka stomped some of the spiders, again, which seemed to be an amicable solution given that his hands were occupied.
Gloria had seemingly found some volition, climbing onto Beluka’s shoulders, with her moon bow which had been strapped to the Hippo’s backpack, holding herself in place by wrapping her legs in underneath the Hippo’s arms. While the hippo kept moving, she was stinging the spiders were her arrows. Fedaro was very impressed; she had to his guess at least ten years of practice with a bow, missing her target less than once every five shots, which under the circumstances was still quite amazing. Add to that Fedaro did not need to waste all his ammunition.
The girl has courage. If only she could maintain this, we might escape here. She also pulled the makeshift spear Fedaro had cut for Beluka from his backpack and handed it to him, who, now with his hands free, could use it effectively against some of the spiders who came too close. Had it not been such a dire situation, Fedaro would certainly have stopped and laughed at how the Hippo’s spear was starting to resemble a giant spider-kabob as he skewered creature after creature. Between the three of them they did a good enough job to fight through the worst of it.
But the spiders also laid traps, stray webbing laid across their road. Fedaro cut through the webbing with his bayonet and used a fire-shot to blast his way through where the spiders had weaved a giant circular web waiting to seemingly swallow them. Fedaro and the rest crashed through the cinders as the fire consumed it.
Beluka in the meanwhile had started to pant heavily, his legs becoming numb by now and Fedaro knew he could not continue on. Fedaro sympathized with him, knowing most men could not even carry the load he had for a few paces, never mind running with it at long distances. In fact that he had made it this far was a wonder.
He halted his party, knowing Beluka was soon going to fall over anyway, and that the spiders were an endless horde that would sooner or later overwhelm them.
‘What now!?’ said Beluka breathlessly.
‘Sit down a minute,’ said Fedaro as he casually fired dead a spider, hearing the rhythm of the greater horde bearing down on them and surely foreshadowing Ultair’s appearance.
‘We will have to do something about Ultair, or we won’t make it out.’
‘Can’t we keep running!?’ asked Beluka.
Fedaro shook his head, almost in amusement. ‘You certainly can’t. If the opportunity presents itself, make sure you get out of here. But don’t you dare leave the girl behind,’ he added that last part as a firm reminder that the only reason he valued the Hippo was because of the girl, and that without her he would discard him to whatever fate Scithea could conjure.
With resignation Fedaro looked back, the hordes of spiders drawing closer, Ultair himself no doubt making his way through the bush in angst anticipation of feeding on the spirits of Gloria’s people.
I really miss my bike, thought Fedaro, who rarely faced a problem he could not escape by simply burning rubber and strangling the throttle.
The Sigotor beast came crashing through the undergrowth and at least one truth was then confirmed; the spiders having cornered them would not initiate hostilities, at the risk of destroying the anchor that kept the spirits bound to Ellion. Ultair understood this now and his minions formed ranks around them, though not moving in for the kill.
The red eyes came hovering through the thick of woods and Ultair roared at seeing his prey at last within his grasp.
When he emerged Fedaro levelled his musket and peppered him with bullets that partly petrified Ultair’s movements, and when Fedaro was satisfied the incoming creature was as encumbered as he would ever be, he charged straight in.
Fedaro rammed the bayonet into the stomach of Ultair, trying to drive the muzzle of the musket straight into the insides of its chest, and then pulled the trigger. The fire-shot exploded right through the right side of Ultair’s body, that initial blast of flames so violent that the left sleeve of Fedaro’s tail coat caught alight. Yet still wrestling with the beast he ignored his searing arm and ripped the bayonet further through rapidly disintegrating flesh, tearing the right side of the creature’s torso clean off from the sternum to the cuff of the shoulder. With the intact part of its body Ultair retaliated as though oblivious of the pain, and back-handed Fedaro senseless. The only good thing came of it was that Fedaro had taken the fall in such a way that the fire was gone from his arm. The tail coat was meant to take some heat, but still the sting of the flames brought tears of pain to his eyes. He looked up, delirious and worried that his arm had suffered permanent damage, but still very much focussed on the threat at hand – Ultair was not done for yet.
Right then Beluka came charging and with the force he struck Ultair he might as well have been mounted on a great warhorse. To Fedaro’s eyes Beluka looked like one of those enormously strong oafs who were just too clumsy to be of any real use, the kind who knocks something over in the kitchen and then while trying to clean up his mess makes a greater hash of it. But his strike was expertly done and composed, precisely what Fedaro would have done could he replicate the sheer momentum Beluka had. The wooden spear in the hands of Beluka first struck through the outreaching hand of the undead beast and a split second later the spear struck into the body as well, picking the creature up in the process and ramming it to the base of a giant tree, its feet hanging two feet in air, half its torso missing and its hand pinned to its body while the spear was lodged deeply enough into the tree for it hang there, suspended in the air. Ultair roared, as though Beluka had managed to pierce the only nerve that could excite a pain-sensation in its body. Looking at it Fedaro could not believe their luck, seeing a being like Ultair pinned and helpless by a length of wood. It roared and struggled continually.
Now is the time to run! thought Fedaro. He had the impulse to try his arsenal of tricks to see if one of them would be enough to put Ultair out of his misery once and for all. But he was certain nothing he had could entirely destroy Ultair and he did not want to give the thing a chance to come loose and pursue them further. The black blood on the blade of the bayonet would have to be enough for now. Fedaro scooped up Gloria in his arms, knowing Beluka was too tired to keep on carrying her.
‘Run as hard as you can Hippo!’ he cried.
Just as they got moving, the hundreds of spider servant started to pursue them again even though their master was incapacitated, and Fedaro thought they were doomed.
And then Gloria’s people intervened. it became apparent that Ultair was caught up to such an extent that Gloria’s spirits were no longer at threat of being absorbed by the soul-eater. Even as Fedaro ran with the girl in his arms, beings of an otherworldly nature appeared at his peripherals every few paces, and the grey-armoured men stood their ground with their swords and intercepted the incoming spider horde, halting them in a clash where twenty dead warriors hacked and slash through a stampede of arachnid. It was enough for the three of them to escape. Relieve swept through Fedaro. You did it girl, he thought thankfully.
In the distance the first cold winds came sweeping through the forest corridors, the hellish Desolates already breathing into northern edge of Scithea, bidding Fedaro, Beluka and Gloria, a dire welcome.
Thank you for reading Legend of Axiatés! Keep an eye out for Episode 5 coming soon! For updates, book info and promotions visit