Authors: Andrew Wood
The Zulani Empire
Book Two : The New Chronicles of Elemental Magic
Copyright© Andrew G. Wood
All Rights Reserved.
The long dark timbered ships moved slowly, cutting through the waves as they moved. The triple masts with their vast sails bulged in wind, powered them ever nearer. The armada, nearly two score in number kept away from sight of the coastline they were following. The flags of the Zulani Empire fluttered overhead, as they turned northwards.
This large group was carrying the next phase of the Zulani invasion force. The first having successfully landed in Murati, had now secured a firm foothold. This next stage would see the Zulani make landings in Corlan and Darekia, ensuring these people and their lands were bought into the Empire.
Aboard the ships were a multitude of creatures and soldiers, all under the leadership of two Zulani priests. Their plans for the armada to split into smaller groups would see them go their separate ways. The first would lead the larger force into Corlan, the other would continue onwards to the lesser power of Darekia.
Keeping away from the sight of those upon the lands they planned to invade, so as to ensure their attack was nothing short of total surprise. Landing sites for their large craft were few and far between in these nations. Should the defenders learn of their coming, making such landings would prove much more difficult.
Hope pulled her cloak tightly around her body, in a futile attempt at keeping out the bitter wind. Her travelling companion Arran, walking at her side, seemed far less concerned. The first drops of rain landed on her face, and she cursed loudly. Arran turned to look at her, and smiled. She thought it a pity that the weather could not match the warmth shown by his look.
This was now their second day climbing up the winding passes of the Ulga Mountains. The ascent had not looked half as tiring as it was turning out to be. The low cloud was covering the top, and so she could not even tell how much further they needed to go before reaching the summit. The previous night had seen them finish off the last of the supplies they had taken with them. Arran had managed to find a few wild berries, which they had eaten that morning for breakfast. Quite what they were going to eat later Hope had no idea.
Arran had told her not to worry about the food situation, as he would easily catch a rabbit, or bird. Hope however, was not quite so optimistic. She had not seen sight of either all morning, and the very thought of food was already making her feel hungry. In truth, she felt completely miserable.
Arran appeared to pick up on her mood, and placed a comforting arm around her shoulder. "Cheer up Hope", he said with far too much enthusiasm. "We should be reaching the summit in the next few hours. After that it's all downhill..." he chuckled. Despite not really feeling like doing so, Hope did manage at least a small smile. She realised that without Arran's help she would not have made it this far. Quite how she could ever repay him for what he was doing, she did not know.
By mid-day, they found themselves disappearing amongst the low cloud. The wind appeared to be blowing even harder, and the rain it carried coming down with force. Visibility was down to just a few feet, and Arran made Hope hold on to his arm, to ensure they stayed safe. With the pathway turning one way then the other, it was difficult to even see if they were making any progress at all.
Arran, suggested they need not bother stopping for lunch, being as they did not have any. They did however just pause for a few minutes to take on water, but what Hope's stomach craved was something more substantial. She was wet, tired, hungry, cold and damn right miserable. The only thing that made her feel like going on was the young man at her side. She knew all too well, that if she stopped now, it would be doubtful she would be able to start again. Her legs were so weak and sore that she hoped each step would be the last.
They both stopped as they stepped clear of the low hanging cloud. "Welcome to Corlan," Hope said looking at the wondrous sight before her. Spread out before them was the way down the mountain pass, and beyond that her home land. Of course, this still did not improve their current predicament of having no food, but at least the end was now in sight.
With their fruitless trip to the Isle of Kelan, now firmly behind them. Darak, Taylor, Luca and Oliver sat once more in the comfort of the Royal guest apartment in New Easton. On their return, they had been informed of the latest news from Murati. As they had feared it was now clear that troubled times, were once more well and truly upon them. They had just received the first sketchy reports of a massive army landing on the south coast of their neighbour. Despite them all wanting to head back home to Forwich, Caldar had requested they rest for a few days. The King may have used the word rest, rather loosely. The real reason was to keep Luca close to hand, should the bad news keep coming.
The group sat in the lounge taking afternoon tea and refreshments. The topic of conversation was that of the invasion. They had always assumed the danger would be from the north. It was thought this Dalia woman from Darekia, would be the one to cause all the problems. Joined by the King, Queen and the young Prince Sethin, they chatted about where these invaders might have come from. "I believe there is apparently another entire continent far to the south, just as there is supposedly one far to the west of us," Caldar exclaimed whilst pointing to the large map on the table before them.
Taylor studied the map, "I assume the Murati are seeking our help Uncle?" he asked lifting his gaze to the King. "Well we already have a thousand troops on the border, although they have not yet asked for any aid. We will help them if they need, just as they once did for us." Sethin, always the observant youth pointed out what they were all thinking but dare not say. "If the Murati fail to stop them Father, then we will be next in line anyway," he said looking to his parents to verify his thinking.
Darak was continuing with his drinking, and as a result was sat slightly away from the rest of the group. Whilst the others drank tea and ate, he found his contentment in a bottle of wine. The discussion had moved on to the subject of Besemia. The king had sent a messenger with a warning when he had first found out about the potential threat. However, just that afternoon he had been given an unexpected reply.
The king stood and paced around the room as he explained what had taken place in his meeting with the Besemian Ambassador. With a teacup in one hand, he gesticulated with the other as he spoke. "Apparently our so called allies are 'sitting this one out' I think was phrase he used." It was clear the others were as puzzled as he had been on hearing the news. "Why would they do that?" Taylor asked. "Do they really think these invaders are going to stop with Murati or Corlan?" He added. Caldar shrugged, "I really do not understand their train of thought Taylor. It seems to me they are burying their heads, and hoping this entire thing just goes away."
As a result of his meeting, the king did inform the others he had written another letter. This time he had sent it directly to his old friend Lord Willem, hoping to appeal to the man on a personal level. The country of Besemia maybe intent on sitting by and watching its neighbours fight off an attacker, but Caldar was certain he could rely Lord Willem. The two had gone through so much together in the past war, fighting against the North Besemians under the control of the Darekian Overlord.
It was soon apparent Darak was becoming agitated at being asked to remain in New Easton. Caldar slowly walked over to him, and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Darak, I can tell you want to get back to Sarena, it has been selfish of me to ask you to stay. Why not head back tomorrow? I do however need Luca to stay with me a few more days." The man looked up at his king and took another drink of his wine, before nodding. In one way Luca was glad to be away from Darak for a while, in another he would have liked to have gone back home to his family. Despite knowing the dangerous situations that Caldar may ask him to face, he would do right by his king and country, as his father had done before him.
Caldar turned quickly as he heard his wife shout out a rather un-queen like expletive. In the far corner of the room a large shimmering light had appeared. At first Luca panicked, thinking he had seen this sort of shimmering light before. He quickly jumped to his feet, and could feel his pulse racing, as he held out a hand, ready to cast his magic should anything appear through the light. The queen quickly stood in front of her son, as any protective parent would do, and Caldar was just about to shout for the guards outside the door when the light changed.
Rather than a doorway appear, as had happened when Hope had been abducted, a flickering image of an old man hovered just a few inches from the floor. In a strange warbling voice, the image spoke. "Fear not young King of Corlan. I mean you and yours no harm." The room was stunned into silence, as the figure appeared to look around those in the room. The man's gaze stopped at Luca, and appeared to smile. "Good," it said, "I see you are all here."
Luca thought there was no threat, so sat back down beside Oliver. After a moment's pause, the figure introduced himself to his captivated audience. His name was Ardred, one of five brothers, whose duty it was to keep the continents of the world free from evil. "You're the brother of Sandred?" Luca asked thinking aloud. The man nodded, explaining he was from a continent far from their position. "So you see young King of Corlan, we both lost a brother in your nation's previous war." He went on to explain that of the four remaining, the youngest had turned against them. Instead of fighting against the powers of evil, the brother known as Gordred had become all that the others fought against. "This Gordred is leading these Invaders?" Vanessa asked standing and walking nearer to the image.
Just out of curiosity, Sethin had stood up beside his mother. Although, whereas she walked around the shimmering light of Ardred, Sethin decided to place his hand right through it. "You are the one who sent us the letter warning us," Luca said, "Oh and the ring and book also." Once more Ardred nodded, "I had to try and help you somehow. The Zulani as they are known are many, and with Gordred guiding them and supplying them with the most terrifying of beasts, you will need all the help you can get. I give you this warning now, that Zulani ships are heading for your lands. Be prepared to meet them when they do." Darak spoke up for the first time. "Well instead of talking in riddles, why could you not just come out and warn us what was happening. In fact, why can't you stop them, if you are so powerful?"
The image turned and looked Darak's direction. The old man portrayed in the light, looked sadly at him. "I am so far away even doing this is pushing my power to the absolute limit. I have been watching Lord Darak, and waiting for them to make their move." Darak scoffed and took another large swig of his wine. "You will find no answers in the bottom of a wine bottle Lord Darak. Now is the time to be strong not wallowing in self pity." Darak waved a dismissive hand at the figure, before storming out of the room, and slamming the door shut behind him.
Ardred told them he could not speak for long, as his power was draining. He did tell them that the neighbouring countries needed to stick together. If they tried fighting the Zulani individually, they would all lose. "The Besemian's are not willing to fight, Darekia is our enemy. That just leaves us and the Murati; there are no others to aid us in our plight," said Caldar. "You must make the Besemian's see sense then. As for Darekia, it maybe a case of better the devil you know." Ardred then looked towards Oliver and Luca, "The extra help you need maybe closer to hand than you realise." With those final words, the image flickered out of existence.
Sethin was first to speak, once the light had gone. "So does he want us to ally with the Darekians?" the young prince asked, turning to his father. "I think that's what he was getting at Sethin. Though I am not sure I could trust such an alliance." The room fell silent once more, nobody even bothering to check whether Darak was all right or even where he had stormed off too. "What did he mean by the 'help closer than we realise' part?" Vanessa asked, throwing the question out to the room. "I don't know mother," Sethin replied, "But he appeared to be looking at Luca and Oliver when he said it."
As it happened, Darak had merely gone to his room. He sat on the side of his bed, feeling as alone as he had ever felt in his entire life. He held his head in hands, and sighed heavily. In the morning, he would start the trip back north to his home. Tomorrow he would have to tell his wife that he had failed in bringing their daughter home as he had promised. Not only that, but now he would also return home without her son as well.
Despite turning to drink for some small comfort, he actually hated himself for doing so. He knew the answers were not in a bottle. The image had spoken some sense at least. With all that was happening however, drink was the only thing that kept him going. How could he even go home, and tell his beloved wife of his failings. Why had his peaceful and happy life suddenly been turned on its head?