Chapter 25. Passing Time. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

After returning to their rooms, the night slipped by silently as tension between the three boys hung thick in the air. Morning came and as Billy awoke he noticed that Zak wasn’t in his bed, or in the room at all. He listened to see if he could hear him but could only hear Trey’s heavy breathing.

Returning to the bedroom after searching for Zak and eating breakfast, Billy shook Trey to wake him. It failed. He grabbed Trey’s mattress and tipped it. Trey fell onto the hard floor. He still lay fast asleep.

“By the sprites, he is hard to wake up,” Billy muttered to himself.

Next Billy held Trey’s nose closed but the sleeping boy just started breathing through his mouth instead. Billy placed his other hand over Trey’s mouth but still his chest rose and fell and he did not seem to be suffocating. Billy could still hear Trey’s breathing and upon closer inspection realised he was breathing through his ears.

“What the hell?” was all Billy managed to say.

Billy could no longer be bothered with messing around. He lifted Trey’s body over his shoulder and left their room. A servant passed him along the corridor and gave him a suspicious look.

“I’m taking out the laundry,” he stated as he shoved Trey through the laundry chute. There was a series of loud thuds then quiet. Billy smiled pleasantly to the servant then headed for the laundry room.

As he arrived there, Trey opened the door and sleepily rubbed his eyes and yawned.

“Why did I wake up in a laundry basket?” Trey asked.

Billy ignored his question. “Never mind that, Zak has gone and so has his axe. To make matters worse, he’s taken the Nimula book.”

“That can’t be good.”

“No it can’t.”

They checked in with Dawn to see if she knew where he was, but she didn’t. They were about to leave the inn to search outside when one of the servants stopped them.

“Can I help you with anything?” he asked in a slightly disapproving, snobbish manner.

“Yes, you can,” answered Trey. “Have you seen a boy our age, black hair with blond streaks, carrying an axe about as tall as he is?”

“I have,” stated the man with disgust. “He is in the study.” He pointed down a corridor to their left. “Third door on the right.”

They ran to the study and barged through the door. They entered a relatively large room occupied with five square tables, a candle in the centre of each, and a large chandelier taking up most of the roof. Books lined every wall.

Zak was sitting in the far corner of the room, his axe leant against the wall at his side. He seemed to be intently studying his grandfather’s book of Nimula. Pux stood nearby, a mess of materials at his feet and several open books that dwarfed him were laid out around him.

“What are you planning?” asked Billy suspiciously.

Zak looked up at the looming figure of Billy and smiled sweetly. “Nothing,” he replied innocently.

“What are you using the book for?” asked Trey.

“I’m broadening my horizons.”

“More like preparing an imminent catastrophe,” sneered Billy.

Sounding hurt, Zak replied “What gave you that idea?”

“You’re a walking disaster,” said Billy

“I’m clearly sitting.”

Trey sighed. “If you promise not to cause destruction and panic you can stay and keep the book.”

“I promise.”

“Fine,” said Trey. “Me and Billy are heading out to see Avocado Dusk perform tonight, and Dawn said something about an important meeting, so if you blow something up or summon a bloodthirsty monster, you’re on your own.”

The day passed by uneventfully after that. Neither Zak nor Dawn were seen during the rest of the morning. The time of the performance arrived and Trey and Billy set off, feeling excitement for the first time in over a week, the horrors of the past few days and the task before them forgotten for a scant few hours.

The streets were filled with groups of happy youths, all heading to the stadium where the concert was being held. The adults shunned the kind of music that the troupe played, preferring the classical lute performers of their childhood.

As they walked, Trey bent down and scooped up a smooth stone. This was the fifth he had picked up since their arrival into the city but he offered no explanation when asked.

The stadium was located at the very centre of the city and was Onlasar’s most popular form of entertainment. When it was first constructed it served as a battleground for warriors to test their strength and skill and criminals to face their punishments. Huge audiences had gathered to sit in the many tiers and enjoy the blood. Times grew more civilised and the stadium became home to events like races, plays and performances.

Trey gazed upon the stadium in amazement. The entrance was a magnificent door as high as ten men were tall and so wide five broad shouldered men could walk alongside each other without even brushing shoulders. The wall continued for another five men’s worth of height above the door.

Carvings of the stadium’s history and the feats of those who fought within it covered the wall’s surface. A smaller door was dwarfed by the old main entrance, but this was the door the crowd was heading for. It was just wide enough for two men to walk shoulder to shoulder through it but a man took up half that space collecting tickets.

After handing their tickets to the man they entered the main building. It was like walking into another world. The roof was painted like a perfect night sky. Every star was a small white flame, as was the moon which hung in a netted cage and filled the room with heat like the warmth of a thick cover on a cold night. Five tiers ringed the central area although only the first two were in use by the crowd.

When everyone had taken their seats a chatter of anticipation arose. A burst of flames near a side door attracted the crowd’s attention. Three men stepped out onto the central stage and the crowd exploded with cheers. The men made their way to the middle where a drum and two new model lutes, named lutars, were placed.

The noise decreased slightly as the band said a brief introduction. It soon picked up again as a steady melody was played on the lutars, increasing in volume and pace. Trey took a stone from his pocket and whispered to it. It glowed for the briefest second then faded back to being a normal stone.

Many songs were played, including ones that Trey and Billy had never heard before. Billy had noticed that Trey was acting strange and kept bringing out various different stones. If Billy thought right, he was casting Nimula on them too.

The concert ended and the crowds began to disperse, their spirits high after a wonderful night. Trey headed off back to the Silver Chalice saying he had some things to attend to but Billy stayed to try and talk to the band.

When Trey returned he could hear Dawn’s ‘nonexistent’ snores from within her room. He entered the boys’ room but it was empty. Zak still wasn’t back.

Trey found a basket and placed all the different stones from his pockets into it. He spoke some strange words and a green fire erupted around the stones. It died down but, defying logic, the stones still gently burned with the jade flames. He shoved the basket under his bed then climbed into the sheets and fell asleep.

Previous – Chapter 24. Dreams of the Past.

Next – Chapter 26. Preparation.

Chapter 24. Dreams of the Past. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

Sarah Stead stared unbelievingly at the man making all the commotion, her body completely froze. Anger rose within her.

“Y-you. I-it’s you. YOU!” she screamed.

The man looked over to Sarah and flinched. He tried to quickly escape back down into the basement like a rodent scurrying back into its hole after sighting an eagle. Sarah grabbed him by the hair, hauled him out, then threw him against a wall. The other slaves looked on in fear and amusement. Many of the more elderly captives looked surprised, some even showing anger towards the man. Lieutenant Gapon looked ready to strike out at him the second that Sarah let him loose.

“You traitor! You cold hearted scumbag! You Sprite rejected waste of air!” roared Sarah at the man’s face.

“Hi honey,” replied the man weakly. Sarah’s hand hit him in the face with a satisfying slap sound.

“I’ll show you ‘hi honey’ in a minute!” she screamed, drawing back her hand for another attack. The man visibly flinched.

Sarah’s hand was stopped mid swing. Maklar held her arm with one hand, his slender fingers digging into her skin. He pulled her back with an ease which showed strength far exceeding what his thin arms should have been capable of exerting.

“Fighting, unless for a master’s amusement or by a superior’s orders, is strictly prohibited,” droned Maklar. “This is a very poor start for you, slave-168. As punishment, your quarters will be in the under level,” he motioned to the trap door that the man had emerged from.

She gave the man in her grasp a death glare then stomped down the ladders at Maklar’s beckoning. The man stepped around and headed outside unhindered by the guards.

Sarah found herself in a large, circular room with a few mats laid on the ground that she guessed were the beds. That was the only contents of the whole room other than some discarded clothes that littered the floor around a well used mat. The walls and ground were plain earth. A single lit torch was fixed onto the wall beside the ladder.

She guessed that the bed in the centre of the clothes belonged to the man so she chose the bed furthest away and lay on her back, finally resting her tired feet. Her mind wandered through different thoughts and feelings. Eventually she slipped into an uneasy sleep filled with all her waking doubts and fears.

* * *

The world was in darkness. Even the pale face of the moon was hidden behind a solid wall of clouds. The mournful cry of a nocturnal bloodbird sounded nearby that broke the unnatural silence.

Blake Hunter walked slowly towards the slave quarters in deep thought. When the new troop of slaves had arrived it had turned his life upside down. Again. His life had been turned upside down so many times that he no longer knew the sky from the ground.

He had done nothing wrong yet she had hit him anyway. Then that damned fool Maklar had put her in the same room as him for trying to kill him. Logic wasn’t something the freak seemed to understand.

The door opened with the faintest of creaks as Blake stepped inside. Everyone in the room was asleep but they all looked to be suffering from nightmares. Blake could sympathise with them. He remembered his first few months in this hell hole. He got off easy compared to most but fate had made up for that by keeping him here nearly fifteen years. The rest usually died before five years had passed.

He made his way down the ladder and found the woman asleep on the mat furthest away from his own. He sighed and slumped onto his bed. From a tattered bag under his uncomfortable pillow Blake removed a small mirror. Its surface was scratched terribly but it still served its purpose.

Through its reflective surface he gazed upon the familiar face. His long brown hair had become black due to the foul air that surrounded him for over a decade. It was overgrown, untidy and knotted. His brown eyes, once so bright and full of life were now empty shells of what they had once been. The scar across his face was as prominent as ever.

“No use dwelling on the past,” he muttered to himself as he put the mirror back into the bag. He lay down, looked over to the women and sighed again. With a small smile still on his face sleep took him.

* * *

The sun shone brightly in the sky and a gentle wind played across the landscape. The last of the winter leaves waltzed through the grass while still damp clothes swayed upon hundreds of washing lines. Vivid flowers were blooming everywhere and young children played in the fields. Spring was reaching full bloom.

The older children were still stuck in school. The pupils in their last year had their final graduation tests to complete then it would be left to them to find their own ways in the world. The tests consisted of knowledge, combat and general sense.

“This is too easy,” moaned a tall, black haired boy with a handsome face and a lean, muscular body as he released an arrow from his bow with a satisfying twang. The arrow hit the exact centre of the target.

“You shouldn’t be moaning that it’s easy. This is a test, easy is good,” smiled a slightly shorter boy with dark brown hair and roguish good looks. He too shot an arrow and hit just shy of the bullseye on his own target.

“Yes, but you would say that, you’re lazy. I happen to enjoy a challenge,” replied the first boy “It looks like we’re not the only ones finding it easy anyway.” He motioned to several people who were also scoring high with every shot. “That Brian Delb is scary with a bow.”

A few people down the line from the two boys was Brian Delb. He had his target further away from him than the others and it was only half the size. As soon as he picked up an arrow his movement became a blur. Each one hit the bullseye.

“He sure is,” agreed the second boy. “Those girls aren’t half bad either.”

The two girls further down the line were laughing together playfully despite them being in their final tests. They both released arrows without effort, all the time talking. Each arrow stuck around the smallest ring. Both had athletic builds and long hair.

“Not at all. Stunning bodies,” answered the black haired boy with a mischievous smirk as he admired them in the sports shorts and loose tops.

“I meant their archery skills.”

“I know.”

A shout broke their daydreaming. “Hey! Dillon, Blake, stop spying on the girls and get shooting.”

“Yes, sir!” answered both boys in unison.

They both released their final arrow and watched as they hit home. After the teacher had walked off to inspect the other students the boys continued their previous conversation.

“Just give me another week and I’ll have at least one of them going out with me,” said Dill.

“You’d be lucky. You’ve been saying that for over a year now. Plus Laura is already going out with that Brian. Also, what do you mean by ‘at least one of them’?”

“Oh, nothing,” replied Dill. He was saved from further questioning by the teacher blowing the whistle, signalling the end of the test.

“You’ve all got an hour to do what you want. After the time is over, return to the school hall to receive your final scores,” announced the teacher. The crowd of students began to excitedly disperse from the school grounds.

“Blake, I’m gonna go get some food. I’ll meet you at the park and we’ll just relax and eat away our final hour of school life,” said Dill

“Sounds good. I’ll see you there,” replied Blake as they set out in different directions.

After a short walk, Blake arrived at the park. It was deserted despite the good weather, most likely because most families were in the city hall preparing for the end of school celebration. He walked to the top of a nearby hill and saw that the park wasn’t entirely empty. Sarah Sted and Laura Fletcher both sat laughing on the swings. Blake decided to wait for Dill at the top of the hill so he sat down and relaxed while watching the two girls swing gently.

The swinging suddenly stopped and Blake’s attention was drawn to a group of men who entered the park and headed towards the girls. Blake couldn’t hear what was happening but by the looks of it, it was nothing good.

They seemed to be having a heated conversation which led to the man closest to the girls grabbing Sarah’s shoulders. He quickly let go after she punched him in the nose. Laura followed up by kneeing him in the gut. The man staggered backwards but the other four closed in around the girls.

Blake stood up and ran down the hill at full speed, consequently falling and cartwheeling down to the bottom. Without a moment’s pause he launched himself off the floor and resumed his sprint towards the swings.

By the time he reached the scene the girls were already in trouble. Despite having hurt a second man they were now being held from behind by two of the remaining men. The two injured men had recovered and had joined the last man who stood in front of the girls.

Without stopping, Blake charged straight at the men, still at full speed. He leapt into the air and drop kicked the closest of the men. The two other thugs not holding the girls pulled out daggers and advanced towards Blake. They both lunged at him from either side. Blake dodged one but the other caught him in his arm. Suppressing a cry of pain, Blake spun around and punched the one who had hit him in the stomach, winding him.

The girls used this distraction to their advantage and both elbowed their captors and stomped on their feet. They quickly made their escape as these two men also drew their daggers. The thugs stood thinking whether to help fight Blake or get the girls. Sarah made the decision for them when she grabbed a branch and smacked one in the face with it.

The thug howled in pain and anger. Restraint left him as he ran towards Sarah with his dagger raised. She had no time to react.

Sarah screamed as blood splashed across the grass. The thug’s smile disappeared when he opened his eyes though. Standing in front of Sarah was Blake. Blood covered his face and had begun to soak into his clothes. A vicious cut marked from his left eye down diagonally to the right side of his chin. His eyes held a look that could kill and his mouth had the expression of a snarl. He then passed out.

A rock descended from above and hit the thug on the head. As he fell he revealed Dill standing behind him holding the rock with both hands. He threw the rock to the ground then kicked the thug. The other men turned and fled, clutching at their injuries as they ran.

“It’s not like you to be taken down by such small fry like them. Was the sight of two lovely ladies too distracting for you?” he said to Blake with a laugh. In a more serious tone he asked “Are you all alright?”

“We’re all a bit shaken but only Blake got hurt,” answered Laura.

Sarah was knelt down at Blake’s side. She ripped the sleeve from her shirt and cleaned his wound. She couldn’t bandage it though as the injury covered his full face. “We’ve got to get you to the healer,” she said.

“I’m fine,” murmured Blake faintly. “The only place we need to be is back at school,” he said as he slowly sat up.

“Thank you for saving us. I don’t want to imagine what would have happened if you weren’t there to help,” said Sarah faintly.

“It was nothing. No worri…” Blake’s words were cut off as Sarah planted a soft kiss on his lips.

“Hey! I saved you too. Don’t I get a kiss,” pouted Dill.

“Thank you for saving us Dillon,” said Laura.

“And the kiss?

“No.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Tough.”

Sarah parted their lips and stood up then helped Blake to his feet. He exhaled deeply then said, “I feel much better now.”

After eating the food Dill had brought as a picnic, the four of them headed back to school to receive their scores. Blake received several concerned stares and questions but he brushed them off with a carefree smile despite the blood. The hall was packed with nervous students and teachers. They were made to form a line in alphabetical order then wait to be given a folder with all their scores in it.

After receiving the folders Blake, Dill, Sarah, Laura and Brian slipped outside to read their results peacefully. With great apprehension the folders were slowly opened and the sheet within slid out.

Blake read all that was on the sheet. His scores were better than he had expected. He read aloud the summery from the head teacher.

“Blake is a very skilled student who will do well in the world outside of school. He should stay in Pastrino or Onlasar though as his ability to speak other languages is poor. He also has a short concentration span. Other than those faults he is a model pupil.

Blake grinned. “Shouldn’t be hard getting a good job with these scores. Shame about my language score though,” he said to himself. He looked over at Dill’s sheet. It looked very similar to his own, only slightly better in every way.

Dillon has it in him to do whatever he wants if he puts his mind into it. Aim high and you will go far,” Blake read aloud. “Very nice.”

“See. I said that I could do whatever I wanted. How does ‘Conqueror of the Universe’ sound?” Dill asked with satisfaction.

“Far-fetched,” was Blake’s reply.

“Shut up! I stand a better chance than you. If you try and take a place over you’d have no idea what they are saying,” Dill joked. “The only person worse at languages than you is that Xion fellow.”

“True, but world domination takes a lot of effort. You know I couldn’t be bothered with all the hassle…”

Previous – Chapter 23. Delays.

Next – Chapter 25. Passing Time.

Chapter 23. Delays. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

Trey, Billy, Zak and Dawn were led from the castle to a nearby inn named the ‘Silver Chalice’. It was a large wooden building that stood out among its mostly stone neighbours. The majority of its patrons were minor nobles or well-off merchants.

They had a week-long stay. That was seven days without being able to do anything constructive. They had been invited to a noble’s birthday celebrations the next day because of Dawn’s status and for the remains of the current day they needed to rest, but that still left five days.

“Here are your rooms,” stated the inn’s owner after she had led them upstairs.

She was a portly woman by the name of Clarabelle Jaile who had a kind face but sharp, calculating eyes. Her inn was kept tidy and if it wasn’t to the standard of kings and lords, the rooms were still grander than any place that the boys had ever stayed before.

“Miss Rayin, yours is the one on the right and your escorts’ are the one on the left. If there is anything you need just ask a member of staff. We hope you have a pleasant stay.”

“If one more person addresses me as an escort I’m gonna destroy something,” growled Billy angrily.

Dawn made a sad face. “Don’t you want to be the person who keeps me safe on our travels? That’s all an escort is,” she said innocently.

Billy’s face turned a shade of red as he tried to stutter a response. Zak and Trey could barely contain their laughter.

Pux pulled himself from Zak’s rucksack and hopped onto the boy’s shoulder. “This city is unfamiliar to me. I need to get to know it. Try not to create too much chaos while I’m gone,” he said before releasing a shrill whistle. A mouse darted from under a cupboard and stood beside the Yuxova. Pux mounted then took off out of sight at a gallop.

“Exploring will have to wait. Let’s get some rest until the party tomorrow when we can get some good food. I’m going straight to bed. I’ve missed too much sleep recently so don’t bug me. Goodnight,” yawned Trey as he headed into the boys’ room. The others followed suit.

When Zak and Billy walked into the bedroom, Trey was already in bed and asleep. The problem was that there were only two beds in the room, one occupied by Trey, one spare.

“Dibs on the bed,” shouted both boys simultaneously. They glared at each other angrily.

“Rock, paper, scissors. Winner gets the bed,” challenged Billy.

“Sure,” replied Zak. “You should know though that I’m immensely lucky.”

“We’ll see,” Billy said.

Round one: Billy chose scissors, Zak chose rock.

“Damn it,” muttered Billy. “Best two out of three.”

Round two: Billy chose rock, Zak chose paper.

Billy swore. “Best three out of five,” Billy offered. Zak hefted his axe. Billy took the hint. “Fine. I’ll sleep on the chair,” he said gloomily.

The next day passed by uneventfully. The boys had a well earned and overdue bath after a few choice words from Dawn. The staff seemed to look more kindly on them now they didn’t have a layer of grime over their skin and didn’t smell like they had been dead for a few weeks. Forukk blood was a pain to wash clean.

The rest of the day was spent looking around the city then cleaning their gear. Dawn had rented some clothes for the fancy party with her own Rhen. For herself she chose a flowing jade gown that fitted her form perfectly.

For her “escorts” she chose fine silk trousers and lace heavy shirts with colourful jackets that were worth more alone than Trey’s entire wardrobe back home. Trey’s jacket was a deep blue with silver embossing while Billy’s was a leaf green number with slightly puffy sleeves. Zak managed to wriggle his way out of a ruby red article and into a black long coat with golden flames sown into the flowing silk. Billy added a thin red scarf that had the symbol of his favourite musicians, Avocado Dusk, after learning they had a performance arranged for the day after tomorrow.

After dressing they set off to the castle which was where the event was being held. The boys had scrubbed up rather well and even looked quite handsome. The clothes were uncomfortable, but Trey couldn’t help but feel good about himself while wearing them.

As they walked the short distance to the castle, Trey picked up a stone from the floor and put it in his pocket, giving no explanation.

They entered the castle and the sounds of a large crowd and background music seeped through a closed door to their right. After showing the guard their tickets they entered. It was a large room filled with brightly clad men and women who danced around the chamber to the sound of lutes, flutes and harps.

Magnetically the boys veered towards a magnificent buffet table that had enough food to feed the entire room and still have leftovers. Dawn sighed and followed so that she wouldn’t have to talk to the nobles around her.

Smaller tables were set up around the hall for the guests to sit and eat at but the boys just pulled chairs up to the buffet table and started to stuff their faces. One of the guests complained but Billy flashed a series of throwing knives that seemed to appear from nowhere. The man retreated quickly.

“Ah, Miss Rayin. I’m glad you could make it,” said Lord Baranox.

He seemed to just appear at Dawn’s side. He wore a flowing red cloak today that looked weighted down by gold and jewels.

“I would like to introduce you to my colleague, Commander Michael Nakai. I believe you briefly met yesterday in the audience chamber.”

“Good evening Miss Rayin,” said the Commander politely. His pure white suit was pressed perfectly while silver armour with elegant engravings were positioned over the formal wear.

Before Dawn could reply, Lord Baranox started to speak again. “I have many things to attend to but I wish for you to meet some of the distinguished guests so I leave you in the capable hands of the Commander. Enjoy your evening,” he turned and left, casting Dawn from his mind the second that she was out of his sight.

The Commander sighed when the Lord was out of hearing range. “Sometimes that man can be so vexing. Not that it isn’t an honour to show a princess around but I have my own duties to attend to.”

“I understand. Don’t worry about it. I don’t like the whole princess thing anyway,” replied Dawn sourly.

“Hey! Liam, get over here,” he called over to a lanky, long black haired, black clothed boy who looked about seventeen.

The boy’s skin looked unhealthily pale. He stood out terribly compared to the brightly dressed people around him. Even his nails had been painted black. Despite this he had bright blue eyes, their colour suggesting that his real hair colour was a light brown or blond.

“What?” he asked in a dull, emotionless tone.

“Miss Rayin, this is my little brother Liam Nakai. Liam, this is Miss Rayin. She is a desert princess, an honoured guest of the city. Those three boys scaring everyone away from the buffet table are her companions. Could you spare a few minutes and introduce her to the other guests?”

“Sure,” he answered in that same deadpan tone. “Please follow me, Miss Rayin.”

“Just call me Dawn please,” said Dawn.

On closer inspection she could see a similarity in his features to his brother. Had he cared about his looks he would have been rather handsome, if the commander was anything to go by.

Liam led Dawn around the hall, introducing her to various important people. Every one of them greeted Dawn with respect but not one spoke a word to the black obsessed young man. They gave him looks of disdain or disappointment. Liam kept his eyes low and his expression blank.

After being introduced to everyone the night was in full swing. The sense of tension between the various nobles and other distinguished guests had melted as the night drew on and the ale supplies were starting to run low. The guests were now laughing and joking and making other merriments. People danced freely to the music rather than sitting, making snobbish comments about others and nibbling at their food.

Commander Nakai joined Dawn again. He had a gentle smile on his face. “The Buffet table was set for five hundred people with enough food to spare. Your friends have single-handedly eaten half of it.” He chuckled softly. Dawn smiled in return.

“Good people of Onlasar,” announced a man on the stage. “I hope you’ve all had a good evening.” There was a general cheer from the crowd. “I’m afraid that this party is coming to a close but we have enough time for one more song.”

The music started once more but it was slow and relaxing. Many couples made their way to the dance floor and began to sway together in the rhythm of the music. Soon, most of the hall was up and dancing.

Trey and Billy shyly approached Dawn and simultaneously asked “Would you care to dance.” They glared at each other with venomous eyes.

“If you let me have the dance then you can have my wallet. It is worth about ten Vim and has that again inside it. That’s nearly two Rhen,” Trey offered Billy.

“How about you run along and I’ll give you my house keys,” bartered Billy.

“You don’t have a house anymore,” growled Trey.

“It’s the thought that counts,” argued Billy .

“Well it was a lousy thought,” Trey retorted.

Before either could say another word, pain shot through them. They turned, holding their heads in agony. Zak was standing there staring confusedly at a glass bottle in his hand.

“It was supposed to smash when I hit you and knock you out,” Zak stated. “Oh well.” He shoved past the other two boys and took Dawn’s hand in his and dragged her onto the dance floor. “You snooze, you lose,” he shouted over to the blank faced Trey and Billy.

“I hate him,” said Billy slowly.

“Me too,” agreed Trey in the same slow manner.

The two boys picked at the last portions of food soberly as they watched Dawn and Zak dance. The music faded then the guests began to disperse noisily into the night.

Previous – Chapter 22. Onlasar.

Next – Chapter 24. Dreams of the Past.

Chapter 22. Onlasar. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

By the time the sun was between its zenith and the horizon, Dawn had stopped the ship and hid it in the nearby dunes. The vast Endii mountain range reared up in the distance to the east, dominating the skyline. The four teenagers dismounted from the ship and walked the last few miles through the warm sand until they reached the end of the desert. The terrain gradually transferred from gold to green. After a wide area of unkempt tufts of grass, then rugged hills, the surroundings became recognisable as farmland.

Mighty mohorns pulled carts and ploughs through fields while dakdaks and flibles wandered their enclosures searching for food. The boys steered clear of the sheep fields but only shuddered when Dawn asked why.

The farmers in the fields gave the teens inquisitive glances before continuing with their work. They were used to travellers visiting the city, but a group of four teenagers, all dressed in desert tribal robes, three of them looking like they had been through hell while the last looked like a princess, was something they didn’t see every day.

Trey had never been to Onlasar before so he wasn’t sure what to expect. He did know that it was supposed to be the greatest place in modern Farava. In the past, Pastrino was the most pleasant settlement to live in because the other two cities were always at battle with barbarian tribes, but now Pastrino was just a place to live. It was overcrowded and boring. Onlasar was supposed to be the entertainment capital of Farava.

“Onlasar is right ahead now,” informed Billy, who had been several times with his parents.

“Where, I don’t see it?” asked Trey as he looked where everyone else was looking. There were trees and mountains but little else. Then he spotted it, hidden in plain sight.

The walls around the city were all made of the same rocks that made-up the Endii mountains. The tall peaks served as a stunning background for the city. The few sections of buildings that could be seen over the walls were all fashioned to look like the surrounding area too. Trey guessed that many of the smaller mountains had been converted into vast buildings. A diverse array of flags and banners were just visible above the walls.

The massive wood and iron doors into the city were open, welcoming all visitors, but a guard was stationed at either side of the wide entrance. The thick wood looked very sturdy and was further strengthened by metal beams and plates. If closed, the doors looked easily capable of halting an army.

The guards each had a large shield depicting a red field and the image of another shield bearing the Faravian crest to symbolise the city’s position as ‘Farava’s Shield’. In their other hand was a mace. Both were highly decorated, as were the armour plates they wore. The crimson surcoats were embossed with yet more shields.

“How are we going to get to the Lord of Onlasar?” asked Trey. “He’s the only person who can actually help us.”

Billy was about to answer when Zak walked up to one of the guards and said in a strange voice, “Take me to your leader!” The guards looked at each other in a confused manner. Billy ran forwards before Zak could mess the situation up further.

“Excuse my… associate for his strange behaviour. He’s somewhat moonstruck. We need to see your Lord for we have important information.”

“No one may see the Lord without going through the legal procedures first,” answered a guard gruffly.

“How long would that take?” asked Billy, trying to contain his rising anger.

“It would depend on how many other people have appointments ahead of you. It could be weeks before he can see you,” the same guard replied.

“We don’t have weeks,” said Billy, his eyebrow twitching.

“Sorry, there’s nothing I can do. I just stand here and look impressive. You’ll have to petition for an audience with him or something,” said the guard in a bored tone.

“Let’s storm the castle and make him listen to us!” roared Zak, readying his axe.

“Let’s,” agreed the now very annoyed Billy as he drew his sword.

Trey sighed. “The fools,” he mumbled to himself. He was about to take their weapons off them and point out how foolish they were but Dawn beat him to it. She had picked up a nearby branch and smacked them both across the back of the head with it. The guards seemed satisfied as they watched the two boys roll around the ground clutching their heads.

“Does this warrant an audience with your Lord?” asked Dawn as she pulled something from under her robe.

She revealed a necklace. It was masterfully crafted from an extremely rare green metal named kizni. In the centre of that was embellished a finely cut gem that was the very colour of a red sky at dusk or dawn. Inside the gem, Trey could just make out what looked like a small pile of sand.

The guard who had been speaking to them before stayed tense, unsure of what she was holding. The second guard, who was older and had remained silent, lowered his weapon.

“Tommy, keep guard. I’m taking these kids to the castle,” ordered the older man.

The younger guard, Tommy, looked slightly confused but replied “Yes sir.” He knew not to question an order.

“Miss, if you and your escorts would please follow me I’ll take you to my Lord,” the guard said in a respectful manner. “Or at least as close as I can get you.”

“Thank you,” said Dawn as the man began to lead them to the hollowed out mountain at the far side of the city that the guard informed them served as Onlasar’s castle. 

The buildings they passed were a wild array of different designs and cultures. The majority were built from the same brown stones that littered the entire region, but splashes of colour ran rampant at ground level. Banners crisscrossed the streets and posters, wall art and bright fabrics gave a permanently festive feel. All of this was hidden from the outside, any invading enemies only seeing the brown spires of rock. Not that many armies had ever attempted to storm the city. Barbarian hordes from the mountain passes were the main threat now.

No one paid the group any attention along the streets. There were people from all over Farava frequently visiting the city so it was a mixture of different fashions, cultures and tastes. There were even the occasional international travellers revelling in the rich environment. A small group of teens didn’t stand out, even wearing the yellow robes.

As they drew nearer to the castle, there was an increase of guards that they passed. The buildings that lined the streets were becoming more official, like offices, banks and other important looking structures. There were less general shops and more expensive restaurants. The amount of tourists was no less dense though.

Up close the mountain castle was truly magnificent to behold. It was easily the tallest and broadest structure in sight. A nearby sign stated that it was a real mountain that had been dug into and converted into a human stronghold during the Klade War. The city had grown around it after the war until it became the metropolis that it was today. It alone took up a fifth of the city.

The guard turned to address Dawn. “Please remain here while I sort out the necessities. I’ll return as soon as the Lord is notified.” He bowed to the girl then entered the castle without even a glance at the three boys.

“How rude,” complained Billy.

Trey ignored him. “What was that necklace you showed that guard?” he inquired.

Dawn slowly pulled it from her robe as she began to explain. “It’s a family heirloom. There are only three in existence. All of them belong to the Heptalli. It’s a sign of royalty. Anyone who knows of the Heptalli knows that piece of metal is a symbol of power.”

For the next ten minutes nothing happened. Zak and Billy started to argue about paint drying, Trey had seemingly fallen asleep on a nearby bench, while Dawn scribbled thoughtfully on a small note book. The instant the castle door opened she snapped the book shut and rose from the bench. Trey slowly opened one eye and looked at the door as well.

The grizzled old guard stepped out onto the street, followed by a young woman who wore an obviously fake, over exaggerated smile. He bowed his head in respect to Dawn then headed back the way they had come. The young women looked at the small group then motioned them to come inside.

“I am the Lord Baranox’s personal assistant,” she stated. “If you would please follow me then I can take you to the audience chamber for your ‘emergency’ hearing with my Lord.” She added emphasis on the word emergency and spoke down to them in a patronising voice as if they were young children. She was still wearing the fake smile.

The corridors they were led down were magnificent to say the least. Crystal chandeliers hung from the roof every ten yards and the finest of tapestries decorated the surface of the walls. The carpets were of a lush red and the image across the entire roof in between the chandeliers depicted the holy Sprites in many beautiful and glorious positions. The rock walls had been smoothed down to perfection.

The woman didn’t speak a word after her initial introduction. She seemed to be grudgingly taking four teenagers to see her lord. She only spoke after several minutes of traversing the maze of corridors when they arrived at a huge iron door that was stunning to look upon but in the opposite way than the rest of the castle. It was ugly compared to the vast artwork occupying the other areas. It had no decoration and big, bulky beams and rivets blotted its dull surface. In the centre of the iron door was a small but grandly designed entrance, built into the bigger door. It was a masterpiece of craft and art.

“Once through this door you will be in the audience chamber and in the presence of our Lord. You will show him the proper respect. Do as he orders, if not, you will be punished severely.” Her voice was harsh, but her facial expression had yet to change. She gave Trey the impression of a doll.

She rang a small silver bell hung by the door then waited. A few silent seconds passed by then another small bell sounded from the other side of the door. With over exaggerated movements she swung the door open.

The chamber they stepped into was huge. It looked like it could seat the entire city. The space spoke of the ancient tradition of the people gathering together to decide upon policy rather than the select few that had now taken over that role. Padded pews encircled the chamber, leaving only gaps for the door and the throne at the opposite end. A few important looking people were dotted around the pews in silence. Elegant and colourful clothes of finest silk stood in contrast to the stern, arrogant looks that seemed commonplace on the face of nobles.

Opposite the teens was the throne, masterfully carved from the finest of wood and embellished with a gold finish. Sleek lions stood out from the smooth wood like spirits trying to escape. It was cushioned with lush red pillows.

The man who was seated on the throne was no less decorated. He was tall with cropped black hair and a small but neat black beard. Every finger was in possession of a valuable looking ring that caught in the light of elaborately placed torches and decorative candles. They sparkled like tiny stars. His robes were a splendid purple with gold and silver patterns rolling across its material every time he moved. His body was on the slide towards fat.

He rose to meet his guests. “A princess of the sand comes to seek an audience with me, I am truly honoured.” He spoke in a way that said ‘whoever you are, I am above you but to save time and effort I will feign respect and humour you’.

Dawn gave a perfect curtsy to show her respect while the three boys grudgingly gave a low bow. The lord merely inched his head forward, more to acknowledge their respect than to show them it in return.

“I am Dawn Rayin of the Heptalli clan.”

“What brings you before me, my fair maiden?”

Billy rolled his eyes at that comment while Trey was watching the Lord’s face and actions carefully to judge his character. Zak was humming under his breath, causing Billy’s hair to rise magically unbeknown to him. Pux had remained hidden in Zak’s small rucksack to avoid notice.

“I bring grave news, my Lord,” Dawn began in an official sounding voice. “The great city of Pastrino was invaded and destroyed. Its entire populace was killed or taken as slaves by demonic warriors known as Forukks from the westland.”

Lord Baranox gave a laugh and looked at the girl in a humoured way. “You expect me to believe that the second great city of Farava was destroyed without message reaching us sooner? Speak validly or stop wasting my precious time.”

The women who led them in looked ready to usher them out when Dawn spoke again.

“Why would a princess of the sand lie?” She tried to keep her voice calm but her words still had a keen edge. Her amber eyes burned at the suggestion that she was a liar.

The Lord thought about this for a moment then sighed. “After contemplating the circumstances I see that you may have a valid point. If this is true then we are all in terrible danger. Were it anyone else I would have imprisoned them for wasting my time. Let’s hope that I made the right decision in trusting you.”

After taking a sip of wine from a golden cup that had rested on a small table he turned to address one of the men sat nearest to him. He had medium length blond hair, ice like eyes, and his military uniform had several medals positioned upon it.

“Commander Nakai, what do you make of this whole situation?”

The man sighed thoughtfully. “I would recommend you send out a scout team to head up there and check on the city, then make any necessary decisions after they report back.”

Lord Baranox nodded his head. “Miss Falati, have a scout team dispatched to Pastrino to check on its status.” After receiving a nod from his assistant he went on. “It will take between seven to ten days at the earliest for the scouts to get there and back again. You are welcome to stay here in the meantime.”

“What!” shouted Billy. “Seven days! Our parents could be dead by then. So could everyone else. We need an army and we need one now!”

“Even if what you have said is all true, we aren’t going to drop everything and march off to war,” stated Lord Baranox angrily. “Take the rooms and hospitality we have given you or go. Whichever you choose, no more discussion on it will be had until the scouts return. Now if you would kindly leave I have other pressing business to attend to.”

Dawn gave another small curtsy, turned and left, followed by the three boys who neglected bowing and just walked away.

***

After the door had closed and the sound of footsteps faded into the distance, Commander Nakai turned to Lord Baranox.

“You don’t think that the demonic warriors she mentioned were from Lanstiro like the last time,” he asked in a low voice that only Baranox could hear.

“I doubt one word she said was true. Pastrino destroyed. Ha!” laughed Baranox as he drank deeply from his goblet.

“If what she said was true though we are in deep water,” Nakai argued. “There could be a large barbarian horde assembling in the mountains without our knowledge. Those savages are always waiting to attack in times of trouble. I would also recommend sending scouts there just in case.”

“Fine,” Lord Baranox agreed. “This will probably be a total waste of time and resources but I will send out the scouts so you can sleep easy at night in the knowledge that the city is safe,” he mocked.

Previous – Chapter 21. Royal Destiny.

Next – Chapter 23. Delays.

Chapter 21. Royal Destiny. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

The meal continued with only trivial conversations that steered clear of the topics on everyone’s mind. The last scraps of food soon vanished and the Fledglings returned to clear away the plates.

The Matriarch stood, regal and full of grace, despite Trey feeling like he could explode from overeating. “Go now and rest. You will have a busy day tomorrow since we cannot convince you to stay. Everything you need will be provided for you so don’t worry.” She turned to Dawn. “Please escort our guests back to their lodgings.”

Dawn curtsied respectfully then motioned for the boys to follow her again. They passed through the palace in silence, moving considerably slower than before the meal. The second that they reached the surface, the cold hit them like a physical blow. The dark sky and blowing wind felt like ice against the skin. Dawn hadn’t been joking when she had said that the boiling days were countered by freezing nights. Trey was thankful for the many layered robes that he wore over his normal clothes.

Snuggling deeper into their robes, the teens made their way back to the guest lodging at a brisk walk. The village was empty of people now. Once there, they thanked Dawn and bid her a good night. Dawn muttered a reply then sped off back toward the Teiidae Palace.

Once they were inside the boys found that their weapons had been returned during their absence. Small packs filled with basic survival gear and food had also been prepared for them and had been left beside the door. They were worries for tomorrow though.

Deciding to make the most of what comfort was available before they hit the road again, the boys all slumped off to bed. The strange hammock was surprisingly comfortable after the fight to get on it had been won.

An hour passed and a bitter coldness filled the air. Unable to get comfortable in the chill, Trey flipped himself out of the hammock and padded back into the common room. Pux was asleep on one of the shelves at the back of the room. There was a fireplace which Trey filled with tumbleweed from a nearby bucket then set it alight. A warm glow began to emit as the flames gained ground. He gazed out of the window to see similar glows from the other buildings.

So many thoughts and feelings drifted through his head in a confused mess but weariness clouded them. Trey collapsed onto a cushy armchair as his strength left him. The warmth of the fire washed over him like a heated blanket. Before he had even realised it, he was asleep.

Trey was woken by the loud voices and bangs of Billy and Zak moving around the room, arguing as always. Groggily, he rose from the chair and yawned. Judging by the light flooding through the window it must have been around midmorning. Heat was already thick in the air.

Billy and Zak were both already packed up and ready to go. Between the yellow robes, the multiple weapons, and the new supply packs, the teens were looking somewhat encumbered. Seeing Trey on his feet they ceased their bickering and turned to him.

“Dawn is waiting outside. There is a ship waiting to take us to the outskirts of the desert as soon as we’re ready,” said Billy. He finished inspecting his bow then threw it over his shoulder before fastening his short sword to his belt.

“Right,” nodded Trey.

He quickly set about collecting his gear. A few minutes later he too was loaded up. “Come on,” he said, fearing that he had already wasted too much time. He silently cursed his own inability to wake up.

They left the building and found Dawn waiting patiently outside. The morning sun made her skin shine and her amber eyes seemed to sparkle when she looked up as they approached her. The rest of her face remained impassive.

“Are you ready?” she asked. The boys nodded so she turned and walked away, motioning for them to follow.

She led them around the domes to try and avoid the other Heptalli and stop them from noticing her. After a brisk walk they reached the dunes that formed the village’s walls but still the girl didn’t slow.

Before them was a fifteen foot wide sandstone slab set within the dune. A smaller section had been cut into a door that slid inwards as Dawn pushed it. They entered and Trey closed the door behind him as he stepped into a simple corridor with a single door at the end which the girl was already walking through. The boys jogged to catch up with her.

They emerged into a small hanger that contained six of the transport speeders and about twenty of the smaller skirmishers. Even the biggest was many times smaller than the imposing ships that were nestled into the four corners of the village. A guard stood at either side of the door they had come through while some mechanics busied themselves with various things around the room. The thing that Trey was focused on was the ship in the centre. It was painted in the same red as what the royal family wore and was overlaid with a golden lizard at either side.

“Ready the ship,” Dawn ordered the men around her.

“Yes milady,” chorused every mechanic in the room. 

The mechanics did checks on the crimson ship and the launching platform that it was connected to, then opened the wall in front of the ship that was actually a movable sandstone slab that blended in with the rest of the dune. All of this took several long minutes that the teens spent watching the magnificent engineering. Pastrino didn’t have anything comparable.

“The ship is ready to launch milady,” informed one of the mechanics. 

Without a moment’s hesitation, Dawn climbed up onto the ships deck and waited for Trey, Billy and Zak to join her. It was big enough to comfortably carry around a dozen men. Once they were all up she gave the order to launch and moved to a spindly wooden wheel that was fixed to a stand. Several levers were positioned around it.

A mechanic started a countdown. “Launching in: Three. Two. One. Release!”

One of the men pulled a lever on the launch pad, there was a click then the ship shot forwards. Trey and Billy clung to the railing to fight the intense momentum that pulled at them while Zak waved enthusiastically to the diminishing village. Dawn stood proudly at the helm, completely unfazed by the speed, drinking from her flask with eyes fixed firmly on the horizon ahead.

After adjusting to the speed, Trey and Billy stood up straight and staggered to the helm which Dawn was turning to steer the ship just like a captain would at sea.

“Geez, I’m glad I’m out of there,” Dawn stated as she adjusted some levers and turned the helm.

“Why?” asked Trey. “You keep saying that you want to leave and I understand your reasons but it’s a dangerous world. I don’t want to be away from home like this. Once you come of age you can do whatever you want anyway.”

Dawn shook her head, the movement causing some of her red hair to fall across her face. “From the moment I was born I was ‘destined’ to be the Matriarch, then the Elder of the Heptalli. I want to be an adventurer, travel the world, explore new places, that kind of thing. Nobody cares about that though. I was born into the alpha bloodline, I have to live and die like one. I have to stay in the desert all my life, which is the exact opposite of what I want. I’m trapped in a cage of sand and destiny. My mother and grandmother will never let me see the world, that’s why I’m coming with you,” she added in a happy voice.

“You’re doing what!” exclaimed Billy. “The Elder, your own grandmother, said you had to return once you escorted us to the desert’s edge.”

“This is my chance for freedom and adventure.”

“Your people will think we kidnapped you and will kill us.” She just smiled sweetly and shrugged.

“I say she comes with us,” Zak shouted in an over dramatic way.

“I don’t even know why you’re with us, you just keep following us,” complained Billy.

“Oh yeah?” roared Zak. He spat at Billy’s face but they were going so fast it shot back and hit Zak in his own face, causing him to stagger backwards and fall off the ship.

Billy only just managed to catch him by the ankle. Zak’s head was still in the sand below though, being dragged along. He looked quite comical hanging from the ship, head in the sand, arms flailing, being dragged at high speed while constantly spitting sand from his mouth. Billy thought about pulling him up but decided against it. He was having way too much fun.

Trey was watching the scene in front of him and turned to look at the girl. She was smiling and laughing, looking truly happy for the first time since they met. It was then Trey made his decision.

He walked over to the girl. “I know we’ve done the whole introduction thing but let’s call this a non-business meeting.” He held out his hand. “My name’s Trey and for lack of a better person, I guess I’m in charge. We probably should return you to your village, but I’m not going to. You can come with us as long as you want. Just remember we’re going on more or less a suicide mission.”

He kept telling himself that he was helping her because it was the right thing to do and not because she made his head feel light.

Dawn leapt to her feet and hugged Trey tightly. His face turned a deep red.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she repeated excitedly. She pulled away and recomposed herself. With a small smile she took his hand and shook it. “I’m Dawn. It’s nice to meet you all.”

Zak was back on deck and he and Billy had just watched the sudden mood change in the girl. Zak laughed at the look on Trey’s face when she hugged him while Billy looked rather jealous.

“I’m Zak and this is my subordinate, Billy,” was Zak’s introduction. Billy smacked him in the head.

She chuckled slightly before scanning the area around them. It all just looked like sand to Trey but Dawn seemed to know where they were. “

We’re not far from Onlasar. This is our fastest speeder so we should be at the desert’s edge before the end of the day,” she informed them. “I don’t know what kind of reception we’ll receive when we get there though.”

“Wait,” said Billy, his eyebrows furrowing. “If you can’t leave the village then how come you can work this ship and know exactly where you are?”

“I’m a Matriarch in training. We lead battles from the front lines. With the Flesh Eroders becoming increasingly more aggressive, the Heptalli need a strong leader. I need to know the desert like the back of my hand and need to learn every skill that I expect my men to know.”

“That sounds pretty adventurous to me,” Billy countered.

“The other tribes are only causing us trouble because my mother refuses to make any decisive actions against them. When I take charge I’ll take over the entire desert. I won’t have the knowledge though unless I learn from real warriors. I need ideas, strategies and inventions from the rest of the world to succeed. If not, the Heptalli might not see another generation.”

“So you want to become a warlord?” smirked Zak. “That’s cool. Pretty hot too.”

Billy moved to hit him again but this time Zak countered and flipped him to the deck. As he gloated Trey smacked him across the back of the head instead.

“So, great mistress of the sands, what do you know about Onlasar?” Trey asked, turning to Dawn.

“Everything that is in a book,” she replied with a frown. “The Heptalli have trade links with the city and on occasion our leaders will meet so I know everything a leader should know about a neighbouring power. I’ll tell you what I can.”

Previous – Chapter 20. Heptalli.

Next – Chapter 22. Onlasar.

Chapter 20. Heptalli. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

As it happened, the market was a minute’s walk from the guest lodgings. It was a wide open area filled with wooden stalls that displayed all manner of wares. Mostly it was foods of different varieties, intermittent with more specialised stalls like the tailors and blacksmith. Sweet smells drifted from perfume and lotion vials while crafted reptiles were being created left, right and centre. Everything sold was local to the desert. Trey only recognised a few items that travelling merchants had brought to Pastrino to trade.

They approached the first vendor who sold scraps of brown meat skewered on long cactus needles. Dawn bought three and handed them to the boys. The taste by normal standards was fairly bland but they tasted heavenly to a hungry teenager.

“It’s napka meat,” Dawn informed them as she continued to lead them through the market. She pointed to a strange looking animal beside one of the stalls. It looked like a giant hairless rat with leathery skin. “We raise them for food and leather. Since the only meat in this desert are lizards and napka we don’t have much choice in the matter. Lizards are holy so we couldn’t eat them.”

She showed them some bamboo like stems that grew nearby. Each stalk had several bright red flowers dotted randomly along it.

“This is the gafui plant. It grows quickly and is full of nutrients when you eat the main stem. It tastes foul but luckily those flowers are filled with flavour so when you cook them up together it isn’t too bad.”

Wherever the group passed, eyes followed them. Whether this was due to the boys being outsiders or Dawn being with them, Trey wasn’t sure. Probably a bit of both. He looked over to the girl. She had said a lot but it had all been information. Not once had she stopped acting the dignitary and revealed her own personality. Her eyes never took in her surroundings, always just fixed at an indeterminate spot ahead of her.

Billy seemed to be thinking along similar lines. “How come you’re so intent on leaving here. It’s a nice place and you have everyone’s respect. That’s all I’ve ever wanted from life. This action lifestyle we’ve been living the past few days is just too much to cope with.”

“You’ve never wanted to see the world? Meet new people? Experience everything the world has to offer?” the girl rounded on him. Her attitude was fiery, showing real emotion for the first time.

Her questions startled Trey. He had never really wanted to leave Pastrino. Leaving his bed was trouble enough. He didn’t feel any need to explore the city, let alone the world. As long as he had a bed and food then he could not see what could be better elsewhere. 

“I hear you,” remarked Zak loudly. “No single place can contain my energy and ambition. Staying in one place is pointless as there is nobody new to fight. I’ll battle the strongest men and monsters that the Sprites can throw at me and I’ll never stop moving! We have eyes in the front of our head to see what is before us and aspire for the horizon rather than looking back at what we have left behind! That and it would look kind of funny if they weren’t.”

“I’m not sure if that was deep or just crazy,” commented Billy passively. It was clear that he was considering the words though.

Dawn shook her head with a sigh. Looking up at the sky she pushed the subject aside. “It will soon be dusk. When the sun goes, so does the heat. She paused for a moment then sighed. “The Matriarch wishes to speak with you. You have all been invited to feast at the Teiidae Palace.”

Trey’s ears suddenly perked. “Feast?”

“Yes. As the leader of the Heptalli it is her duty to meet with visitors and to make any decisions that may be needed. The Elder is more like an advisor,” Dawn explained.

“I suppose we can’t decline without causing insult,” sighed Billy. He looked like Trey felt: tired, dirty and weary of their situation. Zak looked as though he was on a field trip.

Dawn shook her head. “That would cause grave insult indeed.”

Trey shrugged. “We need all of the support we can get. If eating a feast pleases a ruler then I suppose we just have to make that sacrifice. Anyway, how bad can talking with one woman be?” A raised eyebrow was Dawn’s only response. The three boys exchanged glances but the appeal of a real meal was too good to pass up.

“Lead on.”

The Heptalli princess led Trey’s group back through the cluster of buildings until they once again stood before the large dome where the Elder resided.

“Is this your palace?” asked Billy. “It didn’t look big enough to contain much more than we saw earlier.”

Dawn frowned. She motioned for the boys to follow her as she made her way around the dome, away from the entrance that they had used earlier.

“Heptalli legend says that the Amion Desert was formed long ago when the ocean rushed forth to deliver our saviours into the heart of Farava. That is why we refer to this land as the sands of deliverance. The ocean receded over the years but this area remained flooded. It became known as the ‘little sea’. The first Heptalli settled beside this giant lake and continued to move with the water as the lake slowly faded. After hundreds of years, only this section where our village is retained any water. three hundred years ago that too faded..”

“That’s interesting and all but what does it have to do with this palace?” Billy pressed.

At that moment they reached the opposite side of the dome and came face to face with two giant lizards in battle, standing on hind legs forming an arch. They were made of smoothed sandstone and formed a second doorway between their colourful bodies. Two armed guards stood before the lizards but bowed as Dawn approached and let them through unhindered.

She led them into another large chamber set out for guests to wait within, much like the one at the other end of the building. This one was decorated with a vast array of colours and statues though to contrast the modesty of the Elder’s side.

Rather than the single door opposite them, there was a stone staircase that descended down into the earth. Two more guards blocked the way but again moved aside to let them past.

“After settling here our ancestors discovered several buildings buried underneath the sand. Over several generations these were excavated and renovated to form the Teiidae Palace for the royal family’s use,” Dawn continued as she took them down the lantern lit passage.

The stairway ended and Trey, Billy and Zak gaped collectively. The room before them was a long chamber with walls of purest white inlaid with pictures in gold and crystal. Reptiles and Sprites populated the room in masterful works of art while strange glowing stones bathed the room in a gentle amber light. At the far side of the room was a slender throne made of solid gold. Upon it was sat a crimson robed woman that could be none other than the Heptalli Matriarch.

Trey recognised her as the woman they had met on the ship. The woman was tall and slim with dark, red-brown hair and a face that was a near match to Dawn’s. The same amber eyes watched them while identical red lips smiled lightly. Despite her beauty she had an air of command that permeated every feature and movement.

Dawn stepped forward. “I bring the guests from Pastrino, Matriarch,” she said formally. “I present you the young masters Trey Sted, Billy Delb, and Zak Malma.”

The three teens bowed clumsily. Under the woman’s stare they became very self aware.

“Greetings,” said the woman in a melodious voice. “I am Rose Rayin, Matriarch of the Heptalli. I have been informed of your plight and would like to offer you the utmost support while you are passing through our land.

“Thank you,” Trey managed, unsure of the correct responses when addressing royalty.

Zak had no such problems. “So, where’s this feast then?”

The Matriarch offered them a small smile. She stood and descended from the throne. Nodding to Dawn, the girl opened a door to their left. The Matriarch glided through then Dawn ushered the boys in behind her before closing the door after herself.

Within was a single, large circular table of polished wood. The white walls were broken by coloured panels while the ceiling was painted to depict a midday sky. More of the glowing crystals offered calming light throughout the room.

Out of the dozen chairs around the table, only one was occupied. The Elder was seated on an overly cushioned chair at the far side of the room beside a small fireplace that spread warmth through the air. The Matriarch placed herself on the older woman’s left while Dawn sat to the Matriarch’s other side.

Zak swung himself into the seat directly opposite Rose. Trey and Billy took the chairs to either side of him nervously.

Pux scrambled from Zak’s pocket and stood upon the table. “Begging your pardon, my ladies. Is a smaller chair available?”

Dawn looked shocked by the tiny man’s appearance. Rose’s features remained carefully neutral but Solaris’ wrinkled face lit up with recognition. “A Yuxova. How interesting. Your kind has not walked the desert for many years now.”

“We are in troubled times, Elder,” said Pux respectfully. “It is good to know that the ancient ties are not forgotten though.” He bowed with a smile and a small flourish of his arms. “I am Captain Puxalotu Wutoxa, at your service.”

“What ties would these be?” queried Dawn. Her eyes had yet to cease their study of Pux.

The Elder settled deeper into her chair and took the tone of a teacher. “When the Heptalli first moved to this land they made an alliance with the native Yuxova. They taught us how to train the desert animals while we gave them knowledge.”

“It was the Heptalli that brought us out of the dark days. Until then, all knowledge outside of survival had been lost to us,” added Pux reverently.

“In that case,” spoke Rose, “You are welcome at our table, Captain Wutoxa.” She rang a small silver bell and the door opened as a young woman around Dawn’s age entered. Her yellow robes were tied with a crimson cloth around her waist and right arm while her raven black hair was braided and wrapped with a red ribbon.

“Sky, tell the other Fledglings to bring out the food. Be sure to bring Captain Wutoxa suitable seating and cutlery,” Rose instructed.

“Yes, Matriarch,” the girl replied before rushing from the room.

Silence hung for a moment until Billy tried to break the ice. “What did you mean by ‘Fledglings’?” he asked, more to pass time than through genuine curiosity. He just wanted to eat then go to sleep. Trey was grateful as he himself was no good with words while he was sure that Zak could offer no suitable conversation.

Rose paused to piece together an answer that they would understand. “In your culture I suppose that the Fledglings would fill the role of servants. We don’t condone such a life of servitude though. Being a Fledgling is more of a rite of passage. When Heptalli children reach their first decade of life they become Fledglings, serving the royal family until their fourteenth year, when they take up an apprenticeship in their chosen field. Even Dawn served her time as a Fledgling to learn the key skills of life.”

Trey was about to continue the topic when the door opened again and a dozen Fledglings, both male and female, swept into the room carrying plates, platters, cups and bowls piled high with all manner of food. One carried what looked to be a doll’s table and chair that were placed beside Pux. The table was set and each person was given an empty ceramic plate and five small thimble-like items made from bone or ivory with conical points that were several inches long. The assortment of food all smelled so nice to an empty stomach.

Trey didn’t recognise most of what was on offer but he didn’t care. Some of it was clearly meat and that was all that mattered. A Fledgling filled his glass up with a pale, sweet smelling wine while the Elder recited a prayer of gratitude to the Sprites.

After a brief hesitation, the three boys followed the women’s example by placing the small bone cones onto each of one hand’s fingers. Securely in place, they were able to pick up the sliced food and eat it with their hands.

There were portions of napka meat, bulbs from a large desert flower that tasted faintly sour, brightly coloured petals that were like sweets on the tongue, and juicy wings and breast from some oversized bird or other. Trey also noted some things that he recognised, most likely traded produce from outside of the desert.

It took an annoyingly long time to master the strange eating implements. While the concept of picking food up with fingers seemed simple, getting the food from the plate to the mouth was surprisingly tricky. Trey fumbled clumsily but determinedly while Zak simply stabbed the food. Billy was the only one with the finesse and patience required, his nimble hands making light work of the task.

“About Pastrino,” began Rose. This brought instant silence. “I am sorry. Pastrino was once a close ally to us. These are dark times indeed.”

Billy set his food down and fixed the matriarch with burning eyes. “Will you help us to save them?”

Dawn looked expectantly over at her mother while the Elder simply continued eating, her eyes firmly upon the food.

Rose met his eyes levelly. “My duty is to my people,” she answered calmly. “If we were under threat then we would fight, but to leave our homes to fight on foreign soil against an enemy that we have little chance to defeat would be a callous waste of life. If the Seshikedasu was here to lead us then we would know that it was the time of war. We will support you, but I cannot force my men to die in a far off land to save people who have long since cast us off as savages. Pastrino certainly wouldn’t exert itself to protect us,” she finished impassively.

Dawn’s face tightened, taken aback by the words. “But they are innocent people in need. I thought that our creed was to protect life!”

“Exactly,” stated her mother. “You must understand, Dawn, that all life is precious. If a single man was in danger, would you risk the lives of many others knowing that while you may save that first man, others might die to achieve it? If I send our warriors into the Shadow Lands to free the Pastrinians, many would die. Perhaps more than we could ever save.”

“But…” started Billy but the Matriarch continued over him.

“That isn’t to say that I don’t care, nor am I ungrateful for the help that you three provided against the Eroders. You bought me enough time to create a counter strike and helped to lessen their numbers.”

Billy’s face paled and he shoved his remaining food aside. The Elder noticed and offered him a small smile. “Your first kill?” she asked gently.

“First person,” nodded Billy weakly.

“It becomes easier over time. Too easy I fear. It’s when killing no longer sickens you that you should become worried.”

Zak shrugged. “It’s kill or be killed. Never worry about living,” he muttered between mouthfuls of food. Trey really couldn’t get his head around the boy.

Previous – Chapter 19. Village in the Dunes.

Next – Chapter 21. Royal Destiny.

Chapter 19. Village in the Dunes. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

Trey opened his eyes and a wave of confusion hit him. He wasn’t on the Heptalli ship anymore. He was out in the middle of the desert. He couldn’t recall the transition from one to the other. The last thing he remembered was the Heptalli in red saying ‘lunch time’ then his fingers began to glow blue. Her fingers started to glow blue, he corrected himself. The voice was definitely a woman’s.

“Hey, Trey, you’re finally awake,” said Billy. Trey shielded his eyes against the light and looked around. Billy was standing beside him, wearing a yellow robe rather than his normal woollen attire. He helped Trey get to his feet.

“What happened?” Trey asked, trying to fill in the blank spots in his memory.

“That woman put a sleeping spell on us to keep us out of the way while they sorted the aftermath of the battle. We’re at their village now. The spell wore off ages ago, you just naturally slept afterwards.”

“Oh,” Trey muttered. “Why would they need a camp when they have a huge ship?”

“It’s a big tribe,” replied Billy simply.

Trey yawned as he surveyed their surroundings. They seemed to be inside a giant sand crater. Then he realised it was more of a valley made from two giant dunes. He looked to the side and saw that another dune started at either side, effectively boxing them in. The valley was filled with sand domes which he presumed were the Heptalli buildings. At the corners where the dunes met were slight gaps that the Heptalli had used as shelters for their sand ships. At one corner was the big ship that the boys had travelled on. In the other three corners were smaller ships, about half the size of the first one. That put it into perspective how enormous the valley truly was.

“How come they left me outside instead of in one of the domes?” Trey asked. Every movement brought a sharp stinging pain from his sunburned skin. “It’s baking out here.”

“We were left outside too. It’s because they’re not sure of us yet. They want us to see their Elder to determine if we’re trustworthy. Now you’re awake we’re going to be led to that big dome in the middle of the camp,” Billy said as he pointed towards the biggest dome.

A young man dressed in the yellow robes walked towards them. He had a lean build and a mass of dark hair that framed his angular face. “I will take you to the Elder.”

They were just about to set off when Trey realised that they were missing companions. “Wait, where are Zak and Pux?”

“Oh, yes,” stated Billy. “They think he’s our leader. He wouldn’t let go of that damn axe when they confiscated our weapons and somehow he ended up in a duel with the Heptalli champion and has been sparring with him since.”

“Is he safe?” asked Trey.

“Yes he’s safe. These dumb people almost worship him,” replied Billy bitterly.

“Seriously?”

“I’m afraid so. He’s meeting us at that big dome. Pux is with him.”

Trey decided to don the yellow robes that were offered to him like Billy as the sun shone brightly above, roasting anything unprotected. The robes covered his entire body except for his head, yet they were pleasantly cool. The material was a thin silk that sat in many layers, each movement sending air twisting through the individual folds and overlays of fabric.

In the time it took to reach the Elder’s dome, Trey had learnt that the Heptalli guiding them was called Soih. He explained that his name was a Heptalli word for great heat. He was born on the hottest day for generations. Out of all the births that week he was the only survivor because the heat had killed the rest. He informed them that most Heptalli names had meanings behind them.

Trey also learned that the Heptalli were lizard worshipers. Most of the sandstone domes that they passed had decorations depicting various reptiles. He had even seen a few live lizards roaming the village. 

Tan skinned, yellow robed men, women and children went about their lives but kept their distance from the two boys. They eyed them cautiously with nervous glances.

When they reached the Elder’s dome, Trey was amazed. The entire surface had patterns and images of reptiles and people, strange flowing writing, and what looked like bloody handprints clustered across the wall which Soih informed them were left by every Elder since the dome was built. The entrance inside was a huge lizard head with its mouth open. Its tongue was stuck out and rested on the ground, acting as a ramp into the building. They stepped inside into a spacious chamber that had a desk in the centre and stone benches in a ring around the wall. At the opposite side from where Trey stood was another door that bore no decoration at all, just plain wood.

A few of the benches were occupied by Heptalli members. One was taken up by Zak and his axe. He sat happily swinging his legs and sucking on a large pink lollypop. Pux was standing on his shoulder, his eyes constantly scanning the room for any sign of danger. Sat on the next bench was a tough looking Heptalli who was pouting. Soih went to the desk at the centre to speak with the women behind it. Trey and Billy went to join Zak.

“So, what have you been up to?” Trey asked after a brief nod of greeting.

Zak removed the lollipop from his mouth then took a deep breath. “They tried to take my axe off of me but I wouldn’t give it them and then I annoyed the tribe’s champion and we had a duel but he was under orders not to hurt me so I won him then he got moody so I got to keep my axe then he said he’ll give me a lollipop if I shut up but that just made me more hyper and then we came here and met you and started talking about how I won him and got a lollipop and came here and met you.” He finished his rant and began to breathe again.

“Oh, by the way, they think I’m the leader so I don’t want to disappoint them.”

“Nice try,” answered Billy.

Soih returned from the desk. “Now you may enter through the Elder’s door. Show respect. If you try anything funny, you will die,” he said in a serious tone.

They stood up and approached the Elder’s door with all the eyes in the room following them. Trey slowly opened the door and stepped inside. The room beyond was small and dark, lit only by candles. Around the room’s circular walls were shelves holding strange items that Trey couldn’t begin to guess the purpose of. On the floor were several well-stuffed pillows, and on the pillow furthest from the boys sat an elderly woman. Behind the woman, another door.

The woman looked ancient. While Mr Malma had been very old but retained a level of youthful appearance, she seemed to have embraced age, her face a mass of wrinkles and her hair a pure white. She was small and frail looking but her general manner was imposing all the same. Everything about her screamed knowledge and wisdom. She wore crimson robes rather than the commonplace yellow ones.

“Welcome,” she croaked. “Please take a seat.”

The boys complied. The candles burned with a strange scent and the items on the walls were casting flickering shadows across the room. The whole scene looked strangely ethereal as though they had just stepped into a dream.

“Welcome to Reptia, home of the Heptalli tribe. I am Solaris Rayin, Elder of the Heptalli. What brings you young men to the desert?” she asked, getting straight to the point. Despite her age, her voice was powerful. “It is a dangerous time to travel alone.”

“I am Trey Sted and these are my friends Billy Delb and Zak Malma. Our home was destroyed and our people killed or taken by monsters,” Trey answered sadly. In all the recent chaos he had had little time to dwell on the matter. In the peace of the room, the memories screamed in his head.

“And where might that be?” she questioned. “Your accent suggests the West country.”

“Pastrino,” Trey replied.

Worry lines began to etch the old woman’s face. “Do you speak the truth?”

“Yes,” answered Billy.

“By what force could such a city have been destroyed?” she inquired, her voice tightening.

“Big scary demonic people with cool weapons,” chipped in Zak enthusiastically.

The Elder frowned. “It sounds like you are speaking of the Forukks. If that is true then we are all in grave danger. The last time they openly walked through Farava the land was nearly destroyed. We were only saved because of the Seshikedasu.”

“The what?” asked Billy.

Her frown deepened. “The ignorant people of old called him the Sword Summoner because of his ability to call forth an ancient and magical blade. They couldn’t think of a more original name.”

“We know of him. In-fact, Zak here is his descendant,” said Trey, his mind working overtime. He had learnt more history over the past few days than his entire lifetime of schooling.

“That would explain a lot. It can be no coincidence that he is standing with us now,” mused the woman as she eyed Zak. “But what is it that you are trying to achieve. Do you want safety, revenge or maybe a new life somewhere else?”

“We head for Onlasar to warn them, then with their aid we’re going to go and free our people,” Trey explained. In all honesty he hadn’t thought much about the next step, but he knew that he couldn’t live with himself unless he had at least tried to save his mother. Now that he said it aloud it all seemed a bit unrealistic.

“That is a noble cause, but a foolish one which will end in certain death without a Sword Summoner. One of those hasn’t been seen in this land since the fall of Lanstiro almost eight hundred years ago.”

“I don’t care,” answered Trey bluntly. “They destroyed my home, massacred innocents and took my mother into slavery. I can’t stand back and do nothing.”

“I would advise you not to go into battle without the Sword Summoner but I will gladly give you transport to Onlasar and a bed for the night.” She rang a small bell by her side and waited.

The door behind her opened and in walked a girl. Her fiery ruby red hair flowed around her body as she walked. Amber eyes shone from her lightly tanned face. Red robes adorned her body like the Elder and the woman who cast the sleeping spell on them back on the ship.

The Elder spoke to the boys. “This is Dawn Rayin, my granddaughter and heir to the Heptalli throne, so to speak.” She turned to the girl. “Take these young men to the guest lodgings so that they may rest. In the morning I want you to get a pilot to transport these boys to the outskirts of the desert near to Onlasar.”

The girl hesitated. “I heard your conversation about the Forukks and how these boys are going to try and fight them.” She looked to the Elder for some reaction but the woman simply sat there with an expressionless face so the girl continued. “I was hoping that I could escort them. I need experience if I’m ever going to become Matriarch and it will show they have the blessing of the Heptalli so the lizard Gods will look kindly upon them.”

“You must one day become Matriarch of the Heptalli, then the Elder, so we need you to be kept safe.”

“Yes but without experience how will I become a good leader or Elder,” she argued.

“How will you be a good leader or Elder if you are dead,” the Elder countered.

The girl sighed. “Better dead than caged for life.”

For a few minutes the Elder seemed to fall into deep thought. She finally sighed. “I will allow you to take them to the desert’s edge but then you must return.”

“Thank you Elder,” the girl replied respectfully.

“I know this isn’t the life you wanted, but it’s the path that destiny has laid down for you. The fate of our entire tribe rests on your shoulders. You are the only one who can lead them when I die and your mother becomes Elder.” The old woman spoke with a delicate understanding but made her intentions clear. The girl’s life was already decided.

“I understand.”

The old woman finally turned back to the boys. “Is this alright with you?” she asked them.

“Yeah, sure,” answered Trey nervously.

She addressed the girl again. “Then go. After all, these boys are representatives of their city so this can count as your experience. Show them the village and give them what equipment they need,” commanded the Elder.

The girl nodded then left without another word. Trey, Zak and Billy bowed respectfully to the Elder before following. She led them through the assortment of buildings at a brisk pace. People gathered as they passed, all bowing their heads to the girl. She snorted and increased her pace. An awkward silence fell between the group as the girl didn’t seem to want to talk while Trey, Billy and Zak were too intimidated to attempt a conversation.

She stopped outside of a highly decorated dome that was set slightly apart from the other structures. Flags, shields and symbols bearing various emblems marked the place out as a shelter for foreign dignitaries.

Dawn took a small key from her robe and slid it into the lock. She opened the door then took another key that hung just inside and passed it to Trey before motioning them through. Inside was a mess of different styles and designs. Practical elements of Heptalli desert design formed the basic layout but everything else was a mesh of mixed cultures. The floor was covered by Pastrinian wool carpets, the curtains were made from Onlasarian silk, the wooden furniture seemed ornate and unnecessarily complicated, a sign of an overseas design. The bookshelf contained leather bound volumes in a dozen different languages.

“We rarely have guests but when we do we learn what we can about their culture and try to make them feel at home without making things feel too familiar,” explained Dawn. “It’s all too gaudy if you ask me, but most tend to find it interesting if nothing else.”

The bedrooms were similarly disjointed, but unlike the common room, they were sparsely filled, a hammock, desk and draws being the extent of each room’s furniture. The boys each claimed one as their own before rejoining the girl in the corridor.

“Is there any food?” Trey asked, his stomach strongly informing him that they hadn’t eaten in days.

“I have an emergency Mega-bar that’s been in my pocket for three years,” Zak offered, holding out a crushed bar of fat, oats and an assortment of other unidentifiable ingredients. It looked like the kind of thing that would cure hunger permanently, assuming that hunger was not a problem in the afterlife.

“I’ll pass,” muttered Trey. Just the look of the thing made him feel sick. 

Dawn looked faintly disgusted at Zak then turned to the door. “You can get some food from the market. The Elder asked me to give you a tour so the market is as good as any place to start.”

Previous – Chapter 18. Slaves or Slaughter.

Next – Chapter 20. Heptalli.

Chapter 18. Slaves or Slaughter. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

The march was becoming unbearable. The further west that they were led, the more the sky was hidden behind a brooding black storm cloud that consumed the heavens. The air tasted acidic and was thick and heavy, each breath like a lungful of stale broth. Very little light managed to evade the dust and what did seemed somehow duller. Everything appeared as a faint grey.

Several of the Pastrinians that had been taken had now died. The gruelling march, lack of food, water, sleep, and the constant fear of the Forukks had gotten to the people. Their leader had been killed and they had lost all hope.

Sarah helped those she could but it made little difference. She was still hopeful that somehow they would return home, she had to be, but her forced enthusiasm did nothing to alter the minds of the others. She was attending to Mrs Daine, the baker, who had sprained her ankle on the uneven ground, when suddenly a strange dizziness overcame her.

Her vision became wavy, then in the next second she could no longer see what was in front of her, but rather behind her. She felt as though she was moving at great speed back the way they had come. She saw Pastrino zip past, then the fields and woods beyond. Then, when she reached the desert, she abruptly halted.

Two ships stood before her locked in combat. Her perspective zoomed further in to focus on a figure on the larger of the two. Though blurry, she could tell it was Trey. She tried to shout but found she had no voice or body. In the distance the sand began to come together to form a giant shark. It sped towards the ships, exploded and engulfed the vessels, Trey and Sarah included.

After a period of darkness, colour flashed back into existence. Blurred images fought for dominance. Sarah managed to fully awaken herself. Mrs Daine was standing over her with a worried look on her aging face.

“Sarah, what happened? Are you okay?” she asked in a concerned voice.

“I’m fine. I just had a dizzy spell,” she replied as she rose to her feet, supported by Mrs Daine.

“Are you sure you’re okay? Your body became rigid and your eyes went all funny, then you started to mumble ‘Trey’ and fell to the ground. His loss must be a huge burden on your mind.”

After Sarah had finished persuading Mrs Daine that she was fine, she moved onto the other ill or injured people. Her mind was off task the whole time but she kept up a brave, hopeful front for all the lost souls thrust into a seemingly hopeless situation. It seemed appreciated and slightly lifted the moral in the makeshift camp.

“Form a line, maggots,” roared one of the Forukks. Mr Xion stood at his side, as he had been since his betrayal. “We march in two minutes. If you’re not ready, you’re the next meal. This is the last march to the outskirts of Lanstiro.”

There was a hustle of activity as the captives gathered what few possessions they owned and formed a line two people wide. The line shuffled forward with mixed emotion. Some were dreading their arrival, others were just relieved the march was coming to an end.

They walked through the night and the early hours of the morning until the Forukks halted the march. A few feet ahead of the front pair was an imposing cliff that appeared to drop away into thick darkness. The bottom couldn’t be seen by human eyes.

“This cliff marks the edge of Lanstiro territory. As soon as there is enough light for you gut bags to see by, we head down,” growled the lead beast.

The humans waited anxiously as the sun slowly rose through the sky, like a ghost when seen through the thickening cloud. Only faint light made it through but that was all that was needed to see the desolation around them. No sign of nature remained..

“Make your way down,” instructed the Forukk snappily.

Carefully the slaves began their descent. The rocks were easy enough to grip and there were plenty of foot holes but the sheer effort was taking its toll on the weary humans. To make matters worse, many of the gaps were inhabited by a wealth of distorted insects that were easily the stuff of nightmares. Many a hand had groped for a hold and quickly withdrew after feeling something move or hiss.

Sarah was making good progress. She almost lost her footing and fell when she heard a horrific scream. She whipped her head around just in time to see to see the priest, James Homme, fall from the rock wall, trying to regain a grip. When he realised it was useless he brought his arms in from their frantic flailing and positioned them in prayer. No Sprites came to his aid. He hit the floor with a bone chilling crack. Sarah actually wished she couldn’t see the ground now.

The rest of the climb went by without another incident. Sarah worried about how the lieutenant would manage in his condition but the man arrived at the bottom without trouble. Once everyone was back on the ground they were about to bury James’ body like the religious man would have wanted, but the Forukks took the body and threw it on the food cart.

Just visible on the horizon was a black tower. As they walked closer a gigantic wall also came into view, blocking sight of the main castle. It was a massive construct of stone and metal that looked capable of withstanding any siege weaponry imaginable. Warped roots covered the ground where grass should be, their blood red hue the only sign of colour in sight. They spread out from the fortress like a cancer.

The captives carried on until the wall towered over them, casting an imposing shadow across the already darkened land. Spikes jutted out at random angles, many with odd decapitated heads from various creatures, most of which nobody had never seen before. They were led around the fortress’s outer wall until they reached a colossal door.

After a brief moment the door silently eased open. It was surreal watching such a large, heavy door open without a single creak or groan. As it opened, hot air gushed out, hitting the captives like a hammer after they had been in icy cold since entering Lanstiro territory.

If the human’s breath hadn’t been taken by the hot air, it was by the now visible fortress. It was a monstrous pentagon taking up a vast amount of the room inside the outer wall. Buildings surrounded the castle in a ring, huddled up to the main fortress like flies to a corpse. They ranged between rundown shacks and solid stone constructs. There was nothing to provide colour anywhere. The only movement came from the Forukks that skulked around the buildings. Other humans could be seen too, some dejected slaves on errands while others glared at the newcomers from grimy windows, quality black robes cloaking their well-fed frames.

Stood just within the door was the strangest human Sarah had ever seen. He was unnaturally tall at almost eight foot high, but was not well proportioned. It was as though his body had been stretched out, making him thinner than should have been possible. His eyes were entirely black and his skin was the purest of white. Needles adorned his mouth rather than teeth and his nails were like a great bird’s talons. No hair covered his head. He wore fine, jet black robes with a blood red inner lining. An intricate design of white spirals were carved into his skin, blending perfectly together and looking somehow natural.

“Welcome to Lanstiro. My name is Maklar and I shall by your guide, adviser and general information dispenser,” the curious man droned in a strange, indescribable tone that sounded like several bugs rapidly flapping and scraping their wings together. The sound seemed to get inside the very bones, grating against the mind with enough force to feel almost physical.

“It is your given task as slaves to do as your masters request, be they human or Forukk. Jobs you will be attending to include construction, personal service, cleaning, pleasure, entertainment, and any other tasks that your masters can imagine. You will be housed with the other slaves in the slave barracks, unless you are chosen to serve a specific master, then you will be accommodated accordingly.”

“Other slaves?” asked Dennis Riley, a young teacher.

The strange man, Maklar, smiled. “Yes. Other raids were carried out on minor towns and villages within the local vicinity, and we also have a few scouts and travellers that were foolish enough to have wandered too close for the Lord’s liking. Now if there are no more questions I will show you to the building that will become your home.”

Maklar led them without speaking again. Little groups started quiet conversations as Maklar didn’t seem to care, unlike the Forukks who had punished talking. He led them to the opposite side of the city from where they had entered, then motioned to a large, three story building built from half rotted wood.

Opening the flimsy door, Maklar broke his silence. “This is where you will be staying while not working or attending to other activities. As well as the three visible stories there is also a basement. Housing within the building works on a class system. You will start on the ground floor which is simple and cramped. If you do good work or are recommended by a Master you will move onto the second level and so on. If you displease the Masters you will be moved down to the basement. That is not advisable,” he added.

The Pastrinians made their way inside and took their places next to any unoccupied beds. They were simple beds with thin grey covers and an uncomfortable looking thin mattress. There were no windows. The slaves already there wore plain grey robes. Some had slight variations or accessories. In a corner near the door was a staircase, leading to the upper levels, whereas in a back corner was a trap door, which led to the basement.

The trap door was suddenly thrown open and a man’s head popped out. “Oi! What the hell going on? I’m trying to sleep, you inconsiderate pigs.”

Sarah looked to where the man making all the commotion was and froze. Anger rose within her. “Y-you. I-it’s you. You!” she screamed.

Previous – Chapter 17. Tribal Wars.

Next – Chapter 19. Village in the Dunes.

Chapter 17. Tribal Wars. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

“Damn!” Billy muttered. 

The skull wearing leader stepped forwards. He held a jagged sword in his hand that had serrated edges along its serrated edges. It was also permanently stained in dry blood from his past victims. He made a throat slitting gesture while growling. “Time to die,” he sneered.

“Sorry. I don’t feel like dying today, or anytime soon. I’ve got places to go, people to see and you’re not one of them. See ya!” Trey called as he quickly chanted some words and shot a purple bolt of lightning at the leader before sagging against the crate.

It seemed to have no effect. The leader laughed coldly. Then all the skulls he was wearing suddenly came alive, and considering he was wearing a lot, he became very worried rather quickly. They all started to chatter and bite at him as he tried to pull them off to no avail. He was being eaten alive by his own armour.

Zak rubbed his hands together and grabbed the handle of the axe by his feet. With a great amount of strain he lifted it up. “Time to have some fun!” he shouted as he began to spin around in circles with the axe extended out in front of him. Both Trey and Billy threw themselves to the deck to avoid being hit. Some of the warriors tried to defend against the blows but it was futile. Bodies flew everywhere until they got the idea to stay away from Zak.

“Come on! We need to help that Heptalli ship,” Trey called to Zak and Billy. Glancing at the battlefield below, they saw the wrecks of the fishlike sand speeders and more Flesh Eroder craft swarming across the dunes. Bigger speeders packed full of warriors were dotted among the smaller skirmishers. Heptalli cannons fired, devastating what targets they hit but few reached their mark. Soon the cannibal forces would be storming the Heptalli ship.

There was an ear-splitting whoosh as a fiery explosion engulfed half the Flesh Eroders’ main ship. Flames and smoke spiralled into the sky and began to consume the remaining sections of the vessel. Men and women screamed, turning attention from the battle to combat the blaze.

“Zak, what did you do?” asked Billy angrily.

“It wasn’t me,” replied Zak. “I’d have gone with a bigger bang.”

“Thank the Sprites it wasn’t you then. That explosion was too big. Any bigger and we’d be dead.”

“I know. Whoever did it took all the fun out of it.”

“You scare me.”

“That explosion was my doing and it’s called a distraction so use it well,” said Pux from his heroic pose over on the crate Trey had been sat on. “Your weapons are in that chest over there. We should head down to try and escape. Now get moving.”

Pux picked the crude lock on the chest using his sword and waited for the boys to equip themselves. Zak slid both his swords through his belt and opted, much to everyone’s terror, to use the battle axe. They ran through several corridors before finding an undamaged way down to the lower levels. They met very little resistance as most of the warriors were trying to extinguish the inferno.

Two club wielding Flesh Eroders turned a corner at the same time as the teens and instantly went on the attack. Zak used his new axe as a shield. The man’s club hit it, causing his attacking arm to jar. Before he could recover, Zak drew a katana with his free arm and slid it between his opponent’s ribs. The second man had swung straight for Trey’s head. The teen ducked just in time then leapt back to avoid a downward stroke. Billy lunged but only nicked the man’s arm before the brute countered, knocking the weapon away. Billy moved back into a doorway and slid his knife from his belt. The man tried to attack again but the area was too narrow to effectively swing his weapon.

Seeing his chance, Billy lobbed the knife, his mother’s training paying off. It thudded blade first into his chest, dropping him like a stone. At the sight of the blood Billy threw up. Now that the adrenaline was fading, the realisation that he had just killed a man struck him with a wave of nausea. Zak recovered the knife for him and passed it back after wiping it clean of blood. Death seemed to hold no sway over him. His eyes were so deep that Trey could not begin to read his emotions. The boy held more secrets than his manic personality hinted at.

Trey grabbed Billy’s shoulder, snapping him back to reality. He too felt sick and suddenly very weary, but more voices were coming down the corridor. He motioned for the group to move on, leaving the scene behind them. After some reassurances, Billy regained his calm, although his eyes were visibly still troubled. Eventually they reached what they presumed was the hanger. Five more speeder ships were being launched as the boys stepped out through the bulky wooden door. Only one wrecked vehicle remained in the room.

The large open space was filled with strange metal gears and levers connected by wooden beams and ropes. Crude tools littered the floor while all manner of spare parts hung from the walls. The far wall had been dropped down to form a ramp that hung just above the dune tops, leaving a large gap through which a raging wind howled inside.

“Damn. I was hoping we could hijack a few of them. Looks like we’ll have to walk,” growled Pux.

“What’s wrong with this one?” asked Zak, pointing to the wrecked speeder.

“Um, it only has three wheels, lots of the structural bars are broken and that important looking thing there is held on by string,” answered Billy.

“So?”

“Maybe we could fix it,” offered Trey.

“Maybe,” said Pux. His sharp eyes scanned the scattered parts but it was obvious that he knew little of their purposes.

They shoved the vehicle over to the launch platform to make the repairs. After scouring the hanger for any materials that they thought were needed, then everyone except for Zak climbed up onto the vehicle’s metal bar structure. . 

Billy clambered into the driver’s seat with Pux while Trey checked the important looking thing held on by string. Zak quietly snuck around to the firing lever. Billy, who had a good technical mind was just saying how it could take hours to fix when the vehicle shuddered.

Billy roared, “Zak! What have you done?”

The vehicle shot off into the sand. Zak leapt on at the last second, holding onto a back bar with one hand, dragging his axe with his other. It zoomed forwards at a terrifying speed towards the Heptalli ship with so much momentum that tears streamed across the boys’ faces.

“Zak, you idiot!” screamed Billy.

“Slow it down!” shouted Trey over to Billy. His voice was nearly lost to the wind.

“I don’t know how!”

“Find out!”

They were rapidly drawing near another sand-speeder and the pilot looked ready to kill them. The craft spun to intercept them. Zak somehow dragged himself onto the front of their ship where Trey was, amazingly still with his axe in hand.

“Rock on!” howled Zak as he launched into the air.

Time seemed to slow as he soared through the air with his axe held above his head. As he began his descent he smashed down with all his might. The weight of the axe alone sent the speeder plummeting into the sand. In an explosion of sand and a storm of splinters and metal, the ship shattered.

Zak pushed off the disintegrating craft as his feet hit it, narrowly missing several flying objects, and landed perfectly on the back of the speeding ship Billy was trying to drive, his axe resting on his shoulder.

“…”

Trey snapped out of his amazement and shouted “We need to slow down or we’re going to crash!”

“Too late!” laughed Zak ecstatically.

They flew straight into the Heptalli ship’s hull with a crash then cartwheeled through a second wall before gently rolling to a halt. Debris rained down like a monsoon around them. As dust started to settle the scene was one of total carnage. Mutilated bodies of what they presumed were the Heptalli were littered across the floor. A few of the Flesh Eroders corpses could be spotted within the sea of blood soaked yellow garbs.

The Flesh Eroders’ attack speeders were imbedded in the outer wall of the Heptalli ship, the frontal spikes just touching the next wall that the boys had smashed straight through. That had taken the Flesh Eroders by surprise since they were currently looting in that room. Most had been battered by the heavy debris while others had suffered a direct hit from the ship.

One unlucky man had been skewered by the frontal spike but was still alive. He tried desperately to dislodge himself while screaming and cursing in a language the boys couldn’t understand. None of the men were in any condition to stand and fight. Trey counted fifteen enemy bodies, most still groaning in pain.

When the boys emerged from the under levels into the open sky they saw a full scale battle consuming the entire deck. The heavily armed Flesh Eroders fought the robe wearing, scimitar wielding, Heptalli. The odds weren’t in favour of the defenders.

“Ooh, ooh,” said Zak as he jumped excitedly from one foot to the other. “Please let me do some spells.”

“No,” was Trey’s quick answer.

“Oh come on. It is my gramp’s book so I should get to do stuff with it.”

“No,” Billy replied. “You’ll kill us.”

“He has a point, Billy. It is his granddad’s book,” Trey pointed out.

Before Billy could protest, Zak took the book from Trey and flicked through the pages.

“Most will need too much energy for you to use and the ones you could cast wouldn’t help much,” reasoned Trey. The few spells that he could even use nearly always left him faint.

Zak muttered some words and Billy and Trey braced themselves for some kind of mass destruction. Nothing dramatic happened for a few seconds. Then the ground began to shake. The surrounding desert began to swirl. A shape of sand began to form in the distance, a triangle. It was heading towards the ship with a lot of speed. Suddenly the sand rushed up and, to everyone’s terror, a huge body followed the triangle, or fin as it was now clearly. The fin of a gigantic sand shark.

“You made an enormous shark out of sand!” Billy roared.

“No,” replied Zak. “It’s a dolphin.”

“What?”

“Never mind what it is. It’s about to hit the ship!” Trey pointed out. Zak nodded happily. “The ship we happen to be on,” Trey hinted. Zak just smiled and nodded. Trey gave up with hints. “Just get rid of it.”

Zak sighed. “Fine”.

He snapped his fingers and the shark exploded, sending a wave of sand in every direction.

The fighting had stopped. Every pair of eyes were locked in amazement and terror at the sand shark. When it exploded no one reacted as a wall of sand slammed into the ship. The wave wasn’t big enough to cause serious damage; instead it knocked everyone off their feet and onto the deck. The Heptalli warriors quickly gathered their wits and got back to their feet, brushing sand from their robes.

Trey stood up and shook sand from his hair. Billy spat out a mouthful of sand while Zak stepped from behind his battle axe with nearly no sand on him whatsoever. Trey looked over to where all the tribal people where and noticed a person that he had not seen yet.

The figure was presumably Heptalli as it was surrounded by the yellow robed warriors. The thing that threw Trey off was that it wore a crimson garb that stood out like a rose in a thorn bush. Its head was hooded unlike the others and around its neck hung a thick golden necklace.

Slowly it lifted its arm and the sleeve slid back to reveal a slender, bronze coloured hand. The fingers lit up green, firing bolts of the same green at the Flesh Eroders, who then fell back to the floor and struggled against invisible ropes. When the figure seemed satisfied it ordered several of the men to throw the captured warriors off the ship and into the desert below using swift hand gestures.

The person then turned to the three boys and spoke. “It’s lunch time.”

“Sprite damn it!” muttered Billy.

Previous – Chapter 16. Captured.

Next – Chapter 18. Slaves or Slaughter.

Chapter 16. Captured. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

By Trey’s reckoning it was nearing night. The temperature had slowly been dropping for nearly an hour. There were no windows in the cell the group were being kept in but he could tell that the sun was still out from the light filtering through the gaps in the wood from above.

The mood in the cell was sombre at best. They hadn’t eaten or drank since sun up that morning, their weapons had been confiscated, and they were going to be eaten by a tribe of cannibals. The word unlucky just didn’t quite cut it for the situation.

Other than the thuds from rough skinned feet above and the unintelligible speech of the tribal people, the only other sound was the groan of the wood around them and the constant noise of the sand scraping against the outer walls as the structure pushed through the dry sea.

A new sound echoed into the prison, shattering the uneasy quiet. The three boys looked up, startled. There, stood in-between two of the door’s battered iron bars, was Pux.

“You look like you need a bit of help,” he laughed. He leant casually against the bar, his tiny hand rested lightly upon the pommel of his sword. The weapon was slimmer in design than the usual broad and long swords popular throughout Farava. The Yuxova blade was built to stab more than to slash. The hilt and pommel were polished ivory.

“Pux, thank the Sprites you’re here. Hurry up and get us out of here,” Trey said.

“Quiet!” warned the Yuxova. “Someone’s coming.”

Pux darted behind a bucket as a heavily built man stepped into view. The man had a menacing smile etched onto his ugly face and was licking his lips hungrily. He tapped his crudely made mace onto his hand as he approached the boys. He stopped, pulled out a bulky key, then inserted it into a hole in the cell’s door.

He gave an evil chuckle as he shoved them out of the prison. “What a good day indeed. We will eat well for the first time in weeks,” he said with a greedy smile. His accent was strong, his mouth not quite adapting to the Faravian language.

They were led along the corridors the same way that they had been brought in. As they emerged from the dark under level, the moon greeted them, its full sphere hanging watchfully in the heavens above. Its light cast the surroundings in a mystical silver glow. It gave the gathering of cannibals a spectral appearance. There must have been at least fifty of them.

“We’re almost back to the pit,” announced the skull wearing leader. He spoke in the boys’ own language so they could hear all of the dreaded words he was about to say. “I sent a message forward and an inferno is already ablaze ready for our arrival.” The tribal people all cheered.

“Chief!” called a man from the top of a mast, interrupting the speech. “There’s a Heptalli ship on the horizon. A big one.”

“Oh, this day just keeps getting better,” the leader said with a hungry grin. “Men, the good old Pit’ll have to wait. We’re going hunting!” The surrounding tribal members cheered again, clashing their weapons together as they bayed for blood.

“Full speed straight at them! Soak in the blood of our enemies,” the leader bellowed.

The ship in question came into view after cresting a large dune. It was smaller than the Flesh Eroder’s craft but seemed sturdier built. Its streamlined design looked far closer matched to a real sea faring vessel. It too appeared to have giant wheels to help it through the sand.

A sudden excited hustle began on deck. The boys were tied to the mast with thick rope. One man was left to guard them. He was a large man whose muscles were unnaturally large and his features looked as though they had been sharpened. He held a huge battle axe that looked like it had been stolen from a noble, its black steel etched in silver and gold, while its deadly sharp blades curved elegantly before coming to abruptly brutal points. It looked heavy to even his substantial muscles. The brute sneered at them angrily.

The deck shuddered as a monstrous cannon fired at the Heptalli ship. It boomed like thunder and the crew cheered as they watched the stone sphere hurtle towards its prey. An explosion of sand indicated a miss, but not by far.

“Prepare the Death Riders,” roared a nearby man.

Several thuds reverberated through the ship’s hull. After a second, five small sand vehicles sped into view past the edge of the ship. They were thin, metal constructions with the pilot sat in the middle of them. A large lance like spike reached forwards from the front of the crafts and a triangular blade stuck out at either side. The pilots were no less equipped. Each held a halberd in their hands and seemed to steer the crafts with their legs.

The Heptalli ship released its own fighter craft in defence. The odds seemed against them. They were made from wooden plates and seemed more bulky than their enemy’s counterparts, smaller but less aerodynamic. They did have an outer ring made from metal to aid in attack but their pilots had no visible weapons.

The two forces rapidly reached each other and showed no signs of slowing. At the last available second the Heptalli ships zipped to the side as the enemy ships powered forwards. The ensuing battle was like a deadly dance as the Heptalli wove around the stronger opponents, their speed and manoeuvrability surprising for their size. Offensive capability had obviously been disregarded for an edge in agility. Despite the blocky design, intricate inner mechanics must have been contained within. The plates moved like fishes’ scales, allowing the crafts to flow around the dunes with the grace of dolphins at play.

“There are women and children on that ship,” stated the eagle eyed Billy.

“We have to help them or they won’t stand a chance,” Trey said through clenched teeth.

“We can’t even help ourselves, let alone a whole ship full of people,” replied Billy angrily. He looked at their guard again who was staring hungrily at them. “We won’t even be able to get past this guy, so we can forget trying the rest of the tribe onboard.”

“Maybe if I glare at him and think angry thoughts my will power will kill him,” suggested Zak.

“Good luck with that,” answered Billy sarcastically. Zak glared at the guard with a strained expression on his face as he concentrated on thinking angry thoughts. The guard stood unmoving.

Billy scoffed. “I can’t believe you actually thought that might work you idio-”

The guard dropped to the floor. Blood pooled around his body despite there being no visible wound.

“Ha! See. I’m totally amazing and you thought it was a stupid idea,” laughed Zak. Billy seemed dumbstruck, totally lost for words.

“Now we just need the ropes cutting and we can help,” Trey said into the sudden silence. “Help me try and loosen them.”

“Let me think more angry thoughts at it and then I’ll be the greatest ever,” shouted Zak in a slightly insane voice.

“Or we could just get Pux to cut them once he gets his sword from that man’s spine,” replied Trey as he tried to edge away from Zak. He was not having much luck with it.

“We could do that but I prefer my idea,” pouted Zak.

“Ah, so you noticed me did you, lad?” said Pux as he walked over the guard’s body, wiping crimson blood off of his blade on the man’s shirt. He hopped down and ran over to the ropes which he tried to cut but failed. “It’ll take too long for me to cut it like this. I’ll be back in a minute,” he said as he scurried out of sight.

“How long do you think it’ll take for him to come back?”mused Billy. He looked over to Zak who was still thinking angry thoughts at the rope. He then looked at Trey, and saw nothing. Billy looked all around but couldn’t see any trace of him.

“You can get out anytime now,” said Trey who was sat on a crate near the edge of the ship.

“What? When? How?” Billy stammered. Zak was still staring angrily at the rope, oblivious to everything else around him.

“I used the giant axe that landed near me to cut the ropes,” Trey explained. The mention of the words ‘giant axe’ had snapped Zak out of his angry thoughts and caused him to jump up and charge towards the weapon.

“You won’t even be able to lift it let alone use it, you fool,” scoffed Billy as he collected the ropes for later use.

“Dinner is escaping!” roared a passing by tribal man whose full attention hadn’t been on the battle between the two ships. He dropped the wood he had been carrying and drew his sword with a snarl. Within five seconds about twenty warriors had assembled around the three boys and totally surrounded them.

Previous – Chapter 15. The Sealess Beach.

Next – Chapter 17. Tribal Wars.