Authors: T C Southwell
Tags: #destiny, #kidnapping, #fate, #rescue, #blackmail, #weapon, #magic sword, #natural laws, #broken world, #sword of power
out of the ground and snagged several of the chosen. Chasms opened
with a dull ripping and swallowed two people. The rest jumped up
with cries of fear. A few brave men tried to extricate the trapped
people, and the rest fled, many more falling foul of the whipping
roots. Kieran drew his sword and chopped through the thick roots
that bound a young girl to the ground, and the severed ends writhed
like infuriated snakes. Those who were trapped screamed in pain and
fear as the roots tightened with deadly intent, and the chasms
started to close. The soil beneath their feet rippled, seeking more
prey, and roots erupted like giant ropes, blindly groping for
frozen with shock, amazed by the sudden chaos and the animation of
nearby trees, whose branches whipped about as if a hurricane lashed
them. She had seen something like it before, and turned to
He shook his
head, frowning. "Kuran and Dargon."
looked pensive, then marched into the melee of struggling people.
He placed his palms on the ground, and the icy hush of Dolana
clamped down as a ripple of it spread from him, freezing all the
activity of earth and trees within its sphere. As the manifestation
ended, the roots fell away and the chasms stopped deepening,
allowing those within to be hauled out. The chosen gasped and wept,
clinging to each other. Sheera hurried amongst them to tend to the
injured, soothing sobbing girls. They all cast worried glances at
Chanter, their eyes darting around for danger. Kieran sheathed his
sword and approached Chanter as Talsy ran over.
on?" she demanded as Kieran opened his mouth.
his head. "I'm not sure. There is intense hatred here, a lust for
the death of Truemen."
Kuran, but of the earth. More powerful than Kuran, but much slower
around at the stillness that surrounded them. "What did you
control of this area. None may defy my will."
Talsy relaxed a
little, grateful for his presence. He moved a short distance away,
"I must find
out what's going on," he explained, when Talsy joined him.
"Are you going
to summon them?"
They're already here."
her mind awhirl with visions of strange, monstrous beings as ugly
as the Kuran were beautiful. The chosen's sobbing hysteria calmed
as they waited, and, after what seemed like a long time, a faint
mist rose from the soil. It hung over the ground in a low, circular
layer. It thickened, changing from opalescent white to a deep ruby
red streaked with brown, grey, dull green and amber. The colours
took on the hard glitter of Dolana. Unlike the Kuran's soft,
velvety texture, the Dargon reflected the solidity of earth.
swelled, taking on a shape and form that defied description. Like
the Kuran, it left only an impression of form, for her eyes could
not seem to focus on it properly. The colours swirled into
glittering order, a grey sheath with a deep red core whence angry
amber eyes burnt. A formless brown swelling supported this, balled
in fury atop massive, dragging roots of rich black loathing. Cold
hatred flowed from it in icy waves and swirling tendrils that
crawled and clung, a carpet of dark hard colour that held the
distant glow of a bottomless pit.
from its dark strength and the power of its fury.
his head. "Earth brother."
voice moaned deep within the earth, a soft groan so faint and low
that Talsy strained to hear it. "Release me, Blessed One, vengeance
"No. Walk not
in death, giver of life."
"We bleed, we
suffer, we heed the call to defend."
considered this. "Granted are you, but these few are mine."
swelled, its colours becoming more vibrant. "Blood must feed the
dying, death will walk within."
Life, bring you death."
shook his head. "Let them be, or you will fight me, and neither you
nor your brothers will prevail, nor sister Kuran. Death comes from
the ocean. You will be saved."
"We will not
fight you. Death is already here. They will stray and die."
stamped his foot, and a wave of Dolana rolled away from the impact,
jolting the Dargon into a momentary smear. It recovered, flattening
a little. "Heed me well," Chanter said. "These are chosen, no harm
will you cause them."
then, like this one."
Talsy yelped as
the ground under her sagged.
her arm, steadying her. "No, Dargon, be afraid, know them all and
do them no harm. This is law!" He stamped again, harder, and a
flash of Earthpower rippled away, causing the Dargon to shudder and
lose its form. It sank into the ground, its colours paling until
only the mist remained, then that settled on the grass like dew,
leaving a circle of lush herbage glittering with droplets of
to survey the group of frightened people who gazed at him with wide
eyes. A tremor passed under Talsy's feet, and she glanced at the
Mujar, but he seemed unconcerned. The roots that had risen from the
earth writhed and retreated. The chasms closed, leaving the ground
undisturbed. The trembling settled, and peace descended on the
Chanter gave a
curt nod and turned away, but Talsy grabbed him. "Wait a minute!
Will you explain what just happened?"
He took her
hand and led her away from the group, perching on a rock while she
stood before him.
"The souls here
are angry; furious, in fact. Kuran and Dargon, especially, lust for
Lowmen's death. Your people have committed some heinous crime, and
now they are at war with the land. The souls are so angry that I
was forced to make it law in order to protect you. Asking was not
enough, which in itself is very strange."
"So we're safe
"They cannot defy Mujar law. It's forbidden. He said that death is
already here, so the Hashon Jahar have arrived ahead of us."
"How can people
be at war with the land and survive?"
"I don't know,
but I think we'll find out."
around at the serene landscape. "It seems so normal, not like the
forest next to Jishan."
souls have won. There are no Lowmen, so they're content. But near
cities you'll see their rage. The Dargon have risen up from deep
within the earth, and the pulse of Dolana you feel is theirs. They
don't normally dwell so close to the surface. They're here to
"Guardians of the earth, as Kuran are guardians of the
can't be any chosen in this land. These people must have done worse
than any of mine."
his head. "There will be chosen, but we may have to free them."
"What do you
"You'll see. We
must move on quickly if we are to save any."
downcast chosen were chivvied into moving on once more, herded by
Kieran and Sheera. Talsy walked ahead with the Mujar, who set a
relentless pace until dark, when they were all ready to drop from
exhaustion, except him. They camped in a tranquil glade that
everyone regarded with deep suspicion. People who were used to the
threat of dire bears and wolves now found themselves in a land
where the trees and ground were potential threats.
Two more days
of travel brought them to a road, which led to a ghost town. While
empty, it had not been abandoned, for no one had left it. Skulls
gaped from the ground, buried to the neck and crushed. Knotted
roots held many skeletons; others were impaled on branches or
crushed under fallen boughs. The town had perished when the land
had attacked, and several years had passed since then.
hurried through the ghoulish village, eager to escape its grim
decorations of Trueman demise. Beyond it, they followed the road
once more, which trees and weeds invaded as the angry land
reclaimed it. Along the way, they passed other victims, hapless
travellers who had fallen prey to the land's attack. Over the next
week, they passed through another three dead villages, nothing left
of their inhabitants but whitening bones. Talsy wondered if anyone
was left alive on this continent. It seemed impossible for anyone
to survive the land's rage.
On the eighth
day, Talsy followed Chanter out of the forest and onto a tract of
cleared ground, where she stopped to stare at the amazing sight
before them. The ruins of a city rose from a black web. The ebon
substance surrounded the town and spread outward from it in narrow
lines, like a spider's web of pathways. Within these lines, sickly
plants with yellow leaves and small fruits grew. Kieran strode
forward to squat next to the nearest pathway and examine it. Talsy
came to stand beside him, but the Mujar and chosen hung back.
Kieran looked up at her.
"Tar. It's made
from oil." He gazed at the ruins. "They must have a refinery
"But why do
this?" Talsy gestured at the odd maze of pathways.
He shook his
head. "Ask the Mujar."
to Chanter, who stood beside Sheera, regarding the black web with
narrowed eyes. His aversion to it told her that he knew what it
blood would shield them. It's the only thing that the souls, like
Mujar, are afraid of. As long as they walked upon it, they were
safe, yet I think that it's the reason for the war in the first
"What do you
to take blood from the earth, as it is forbidden to kill the
creatures of this world." He pondered, frowning. "I would say that
they found a way to extract earth blood, and used it for something
terrible. The two crimes have enraged the souls."
Talsy gazed at
the silent city. "There doesn't appear to be anyone here,
"No. They are
all dead. The Hashon Jahar have been here."
"So the earth blood protected them from the souls, but not the
stop the Hashon Jahar."
Talsy flung him
a tight smile. "Except a Mujar."
"Go and take what you wish from the city, I'll meet you on the
With a rush of
Ashmar and the soft beating of wings he vanished. A glossy raven
rose into the air in his place, flapping away on long pinions.
at her sleeve. "There must be many dead there. See the birds."
Talsy looked up
at the vultures and crows that circled above the ruins, squabbling
and cawing. The city had only fallen a few days ago.
"We don't have
to go in. Let those with strong stomachs go, we'll walk
A few mature
men and older youths elected to go, primarily to gather food.
Kieran led the gang of looters into the ruined city while Talsy
went with the rest around its perimeter. On the far side, the Mujar
re-joined them, and they waited for the looters. Two hours passed
before the band straggled from the city, pulling a handcart piled
high with all manner of welcome foodstuffs, and carrying many
bulging sacks and satchels.
The chosen made
camp out of sight of the ruins, in a pleasant glade that tall
red-leafed trees surrounded. A patch of grass provided the children
with a place to play, and a rivulet chuckled through it. The
looters had pilfered a veritable feast of nuts, sweets, dried meat
and flour, even eggs and a few fruits. The strange, delicious
sweetmeats delighted the youngsters, and Talsy sampled quite a few,
finding them wonderfully sweet. The women baked fresh bread and
fried the eggs for a hot feast. The men had also collected knives,
pots and all manner of useful utensils. Bloated with the spoils of
Trueman's downfall, the chosen slept while Chanter roamed the
In a wolf's
lean shape, he padded ahead to see what they would encounter on the
next day's journey. He found only forest and wild grassland, and
the road they would travel was wide and well worn. Leaping into the
air, he changed into a hawk and winged onward, covering ground that
would take the chosen two or three days to traverse. There, he
found a great walled metropolis paved with earth blood and
surrounded by a moat of it. Close-packed houses with grey slate
roofs lined narrow lanes and broader roads, washing strung between
them. Grander edifices in the city centre were either noble
mansions or government buildings. Guards patrolled the walls, and
foul black smoke rose from mighty metal containers on roaring
furnaces. From the smell of it, they were boiling earth blood, and
a deep rage grew in him. Turning away, he flew eastward through
valleys that led more directly to the sea than the roads the chosen
Far to the
east, not long risen from the sea, a black column thundered through
the forest. The Hashon Jahar moved at a gallop night and day, over
hills and through valleys, untiring and unswerving in their course.
They forded great rivers and leapt un-bridged ravines, barely
slowing for obstacles, and delayed only when they found Lowmen to
kill. The ones that had destroyed the tar town the chosen had
encountered must have taken a course that led them past the city he
had seen, but these were headed straight for it. If they were to
rescue any chosen from the city, they would have to move fast.
Alighting on a
branch, he watched the Riders thunder past while he pondered this
quandary. The chosen were safe from the land now even if he left
them, but not from the Hashon Jahar. They would be in grave danger,
and they were too few to risk. Yet there would be chosen in the
city who would perish if he did not free them.