Chapter 40. The Yuxova. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

Trees sped by around them as the two Yuxova captains darted through the labyrinth of branches. They had joined up with sixty of Kenux’s surviving warriors then rounded up Pux’s platoon before even heading towards their destination. Without their captain, the hundred Yuxova warriors had been kept in reserve so were eager to enter the fight. Along the way several warriors from other squads had joined them after having been routed from the battle. A great mass of bird mounted Yuxova warriors now followed them towards the Tree of Ages in a living cloud of angry two inch high soldiers.

Pux was horrified by the damage that lay all around him. Tree trunks littered the leaf strewn ground where they had been roughly felled. Charcoal stained sectors of the forest black. These scorched patches looked to have been well contained but there were many of them. The corpses of Forukks usually accompanied the damage, tainting the ground where they lay. A handful of tiny bodies were scattered around most of these areas.

The sound of combat came before any sighting of the current battleground. Pux burst through the leaves of an oak tree and was confronted with the scene of thirty or so Forukks advancing toward the nearby Yuxova settlement with blades and blazing torches. Yuxova swirled around the monsters but were spread too thinly to truly damage the thick-skinned beasts.

“Initiate the Razor-wind formation,” Kenux ordered. The warriors behind him grouped closer together as they flew, forming a great, shapeless mass of life. The host of birds dove at the Forukks, the cloud of feathers piling into the howling creatures and absorbing them into the heart of the swarm. Forukks thrashed and roared, striking down birds with every swing.

As one, the birds rocketed back into the skies. The Forukks were sprawled motionless below, ripped clean of all of their tainted flesh. Dull grey bones could be glimpsed where the armour did not cover. Small groups of Yuxova on pigeons rushed with buckets of water to douse the torches before their flames could spread.

The leader of the Yuxova who had been engaging the Forukks drew his bird up beside Kenux and Pux. “Glad you came when you did, sirs. We were holding back the Forukks easily until those damned traitors showed up. The Lord Prophet ordered most of the soldiers to pull back and defend the Tree of Ages. The second that our forces were split, the Forukks launched another attack. It makes no sense but everything is screaming at me that the Fallen must be working with the Forukks.”

“Do we have any clear numbers yet?” Kenux asked briskly.

“I’m no captain so I don’t know for sure,” the Yuxova began. “From what I’ve seen and heard though, I’d say we’re dealing with at least another fifty Forukks and upwards of five hundred Fallen. We should have the numbers to force them back but we are too scattered and cannot regroup.”

“Who is in-charge here?” Pux put to the sergeant.

“Captain Lexisow and her Night-Riders command the defence against the Forukks. She is south-west of here by the root bridge,” answered the sergeant wearily.

Kenux made a quick guess of his own numbers. They had gathered over two hundred soldiers but had suffered losses against the Forukks. “Take a hundred men and join up with Captain Lexisow. Tell her that we went on ahead. Kill the brutes as fast as is possible then swing back around to help us.”

“As you command, Captain.”

After quickly splitting their forces, Pux and Kenux led what remained of their soldiers north-west. The Tree of Ages stood alone in a small clearing that was holy ground to all Yuxova. The city of Iliox had been constructed around the vast tree and was home to nearly every Yuxova in Farava. The Lord Prophet himself resided within the mighty tree.

Screams and shouts filled the clearing and the nearby trees that formed vast structures within Iliox. Yuxova battled everywhere. Combat raged across the forest ground while birds fought fiercely in midair. The very trees swarmed with soldiers who leapt from branch to branch, darting in and out of trunks and gliding from one platform to another with webbed coats.

Warriors in the dull green and brown clothes of the Forest Guardians were locked in battle with red clad Yuxova who wore black metal armour over their bright attire. Unlike the tanned skin of the local Yuxova, the Fallen had ash grey flesh that seemed unable to sweat. Despite what the sergeant had said, the invaders seemed to outnumber the defenders by a fair margin.

“Looks like they’ve captured the area surrounding the palace and have prepared a welcome party for us.” Pux smiled grimly as he watched the forest erupt with black and red armoured traitors. They seemed to ooze from behind every leaf and out of every crevasse that the trees had to offer.

“Just how I like it,” murmured Kenux. “Takes me back to my youth.”

Kenux lifted his blade high then roared a battle-cry. The other Yuxova took up the cry and charged into the battle to help the beleaguered defenders. The two forces met at breakneck speed. Several birds fell from the sky as the two solid masses came together. The centre became a swirling storm of shouts, screams, feathers, weapons, blood and death.

Pux lost sight of Kenux almost immediately. A crow had flown into him at full speed, its beak only held back by Pux’s sword. The crow’s rider advanced upon Pux with his mace raised. With one hand holding his sword, Pux grabbed his crossbow from his back and shot a single bolt at his opponent. Then with his other hand he slashed at the crow, sending it hurtling into another Fallen’s gull.

Sending Bo-bo into a vertical dive, Pux grabbed onto the tail of a finch that was heading in the opposite direction. Bo-bo continued his descent as Pux climbed onto the finch’s back and threw off its rider, watching him fall into the maelstrom below. Pux followed him by jumping off the bird. As he fell he clipped many birds’ wings with skilful slashes of his blade.

Mere feet from the ground he was scooped up by Bo-bo and they soon had regained their former altitude. They continued to rise until they broke from the melee into the sky beyond. Pux observed the battle from above and sighed as he watched a group of Fallen fly in perfect formation, defeating any Guardian they came into contact with.

Pux removed a bag from his rucksack and examined its contents. Mini boom-balls, so small that Pux could hold half-a-dozen in each hand. Liam had had no spare powder but upon learning its contents, Pux had been able to create a similar mix from plants and minerals around the forest. The formula was not as potent but it should do the job. Following the Fallen from above he lit the explosives as quickly as he could then let them drop. For a second it looked like they might miss and destroy anything unlucky enough to be below him but to his relief they rained down upon the crows. A series of very small bangs followed then charred birds fell from the sky. Most looked to be stunned rather than dead.

Pux’s victory was short-lived as a huge hawk darted from the clouds. The Fallen atop of it was a black haired Yuxova woman with a barbed whip flowing beside her. Pux only had a split second’s notice to try and dodge the attack. Bo-bo swerved to avoid the talons but was not quick enough. Rather than grabbing Pux and Bo-bo like the attacker intended, the hawk clipped Bo-bo’s wing, causing the small bird to spiral down to earth.

The woman made to follow but was blocked by hundreds of small birds as they flew like one entity across the battle. By the time they had passed, Pux and his bird were nowhere in sight.

The ground was closing in on them far too fast for Pux’s liking. Bo-bo had lost consciousness and made no attempt to avoid the forest floor. Desperately Pux slapped his blade into the bird’s side causing the bird to twitch. The pain brought consciousness back but it was too late.

They hit the ground with a thud and crack. Light filtered through Pux’s eyes. With a groan and a large headache he rose to his feet. He looked over to Bo-bo. The bird’s feathers were ruffled and its left leg looked broken. Comforting the bird by stroking its head, Pux looked at the carnage around him. A large black mass moving down a nearby hill drew his attention from the sky.

It was a spider swarm. Vicious forest arachnids rode by tough looking Fallen. Red war paint dashed their faces and armour and jagged blades waved around in vice like hands. They were heading straight for Pux.

“Damn!” shouted Pux as the spiders closed in. Using all of his strength he threw the bird onto his back and began to run. It was no use though; Bo-bo was too heavy.

A sharp whistle pierced the air. Pux dropped Bo-bo and drew his sword. He whistled again and waited as the sea of death sped towards them. The spiders were feet away now. Pux could make out their beady eyes and blade like fangs. Sharp screeches shattered the air as the spiders howled at the prospect of blood.

Pux stepped aside as a lizard leapt from a tree and landed where he had been standing. It was three times larger than Bo-bo, had gore red skin and black lines that were scattered around its body.

“Took your time,” snapped Pux as he hauled Bo-bo onto the lizard’s back. The lizard made an apologetic sound as it eyed the coming assault. Pux climbed up and sat in front of the bird.

“Hold on tight my feathered friend,” Pux roared as he gave the lizard a tap. In a show of power the lizard’s muscles rippled then it shot off towards the enemy. Bo-bo squawked in displeasure as he held on for dear life with his wings, feet and beak.

The spider riders did not seem the slightest bit fazed at the counter attack. If anything they were more enthusiastic now that their prey was going to put up a fight. It was suicide. The chance of survival was one in a million. Even a captain could not face a full spider battalion. Even so Pux had a greater chance of survival charging them than waiting for them to rip him limb from limb.

The lizard reached full speed just as the spiders were in attack range. With a mighty leap the lizard flew over the front line and landed several feet into the spiders’ ranks, crushing an unlucky warrior and his mount under its bulk, all without missing a step.

Spears lunged from all directions, most breaking as they hit the lizard’s armour like scales, but some hit flesh. As Pux rode through the maelstrom of eight legged tanks at lightning speed he spotted what he was looking for. Beyond the spiders was a huge twisted tree. On closer inspection Pux could see it was actually three trees, grown together to form one spiralling trunk. Its golden leaves shone out like a beacon, guiding Pux towards it. The Tree of Ages.

A barbed sword caught Pux on the thigh, bringing him from his reverence. He hacked to his side, severing a hairy leg from a spider’s torso.

“Full speed ahead,” Pux called to the lizard. Making a sharp left turn they headed straight for the great tree, ploughing through any spiders that got in their way. The spider riders continued to throw themselves towards Pux. For every ten attacks that failed, one managed to inflict damage. The lizard began to slow as blood dripped from several small cuts that crisscrossed its body.

One arachnid with stilt-like legs vaulted into the air to land on the lizard’s back and kill Pux directly. As the spider flew through the air, Pux drew his crossbow and fired. The bolt struck the bug in the eye, causing it to flail in pain. With its balance off it missed the lizard altogether, instead cannoning into one of its comrades.

Pux was through most of the spiders now. He had a horde on his tail but as long as he made it to the Tree of Ages, that did not matter. The battle around him was merely a distraction. The real fight was going on deep inside the ancient plant’s halls. That was the fight Pux was needed in.

A screech unlike anything any mortal should ever hear pulsed through Pux’s soul causing the lizard and Bo-bo to flinch. With all of his senses on full alert Pux looked to his right, knowing what he would see.

Standing amidst the chaos was a Yuxova almost twice the size of Pux. He wore no shirt and he had no hair other than a short ponytail that billowed in the wind. On his right shoulder sat a plain iron shoulder guard held onto him by a strap that ran across his chest and back then connected to his belt. On his left hand he wore a gauntlet.

Pux grinned with relief. It was the Silent Captain. A mute, with an unknown name and calm demeanour yet deadly skills in combat. Strength wise, he was the top captain. He killed without a word or a hint of emotion.

Below the Silent Captain stood his mount, a huge tarantula with talon-like fangs, eight bloodshot eyes and a spiked exoskeleton. Ironically it was the loudest, most vicious creature in the forest. More spiders carrying Guardians scurried behind him.

Releasing an otherworldly scream the tarantula shot forwards. Its rider raised his flail and directed the mount towards the oncoming tide of arachnids. Spider met spider in a clash of legs and venom. Pux raced by, offering the mute captain a salute as they passed each other.

A shadow blacked out the sun. Pux glanced up and cursed. A jumping spider bounded through the air above, spiked armour strapped to its stomach. It landed where Pux’s lizard had been a moment before and was instantly back in the air for a second attempt at the captain’s life. Pux fired his crossbow but unlike the last jumper, his bolt pinged harmlessly against armour.

It landed ahead of the lizard and spun around to face Pux, pouncing within the same breath. Pux swerved the lizard and the spider rammed into the lizard’s side instead. The Fallen did not hesitate, swinging his morning-star into the reptile’s scaled leg. The lizard reeled up and flipped as it collapsed to the ground.

Pux parried a blow as the lizard shakily rose to its feet. He fired a shot at the spider’s face. It struck but only caused a shallow wound that hardly made the arachnid falter. The spider lunged forwards with its fangs bared.

At the last second the lizard sprang into the air, avoiding the attack and landing on a thin tree. The Fallen motioned for his mount to follow and it too sprang up to join Pux. The spider horde swarmed towards the tree, covering it like tar.

With all the speed he could muster, the reptile raced along a branch, the spider riders in close pursuit. Vaulting from branch to branch, Pux suffered an assault of twigs and thorns. His Fallen opponent rode along Pux’s side and a vicious melee began. The grey skinned Yuxova must have been the equivalent of a captain with how hard he pressed Pux. He hissed and bayed with the same venom as his eight-legged mount.

At breakneck speed they shot through the leaves exchanging a barrage of attacks. Stray birds swooped through the skies, occasionally skirmishing with the crawling sea below them, the bigger  birds plucking up the spiders to swallow whole.

Searing pain lanced through Pux’s arm as the ball of the Fallen’s morning-star struck his shoulder. With an agonising crack Pux felt the bone shatter. Losing some of his control the lizard swayed to the left and almost toppled from the branch. Pux quickly adjusted their direction as he tried to avoid another strike aimed at his head.

They were on the last branch. Pux could see the entrance clearly now. It was not big enough to fit the lizard through or even Bo-bo. Only a Yuxova could enter.

The lizard dived off of the very tip of the branch. Pux dove off the reptile and landed with a roll through the open door. At the last second the lizard extended its arms and revealed it had thin wing like webbing on its joints. They caught the wind and it and Bo-bo glided up, around the tree then were lost to sight in the forest.

The spiders did not have any such tricks. The Fallen captain and a few of the wiser riders skidded to a halt before jumping. The rest leapt towards the door. Those that did not miss the platform crashed into the tree’s trunk. Those nearest to the entrance tried in vain to squeeze through or reach Pux until Guardians forced them back into the battle.

As the riders began to dismount and charge towards the opening, Pux quickly heaved the thick door closed and locked it with the only suitable thing he had: his sword. It would not hold them forever but it would have to do.

Previous – Chapter 39. Through the Mines.

Next – Chapter 41. Onlasarian Pride.

Chapter 39. Through the Mines. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

After an hour they arrived at the mine entrance and saw it was guarded by a large Forukk with three horns. Billy was about to shoot it with his bow when Zak walked up to it. Before it had a chance to do anything but laugh at the puny human before it, its body was cleaved in two by Zak’s great axe. 

No other Forukks seemed to be around so they continued into the dark earth. The tunnel was wide but not very tall. The walls were rough rock that still bore the marks of pickaxes. The further they headed forwards the smaller the light behind them became. As Zak led them around a corner the light vanished. Liam preferred the dark but the others opted for a light source. Billy went to light a lantern when Zak stopped him.

“I came prepared for dark places.” He mumbled a few unintelligible words and nothing seemed to happen. He then snapped his fingers and a radiant light issued forth from his axe. It died down to a level that did not blind the eye but still lit up the area around them.

“It’s my new idea,” he stated happily. “It’s called a snapper. When I snap my fingers it lights up. I originally wanted a clapper but I found I couldn’t clap while holding the axe.”

The mine shafts were more like a labyrinth than a former place of work. Tunnels headed this way and that, some were a mere dozen yards long, others stretched for several miles. None in the group knew the tunnels at all, they just knew to head south west. Many times they hit dead ends and had to retrace their steps to find a new path.

Progress was slow, the sound of their footsteps echoed terribly and all talking had ended. No matter how quietly they moved the echoes always sounded unnaturally loud.

Zak motioned with his hand and the group halted. Echoed footsteps continued briefly after all feet had stilled.

“We’re being followed.”

“Maybe it’s that assassin that came after me,” said Dawn.

“I doubt it,” replied Billy. “An assassin would mask his steps better than that. I’d guess it’s a Forukk.”

From behind them came an angered howl that resonated throughout every tunnel. It was impossible to tell how near it was to them but they all guessed it was close. Seconds later, answering calls bellowed in the distance, merging together to form one deep and hellish noise.

“I think it’s time to run,” said Billy as a large shadow charged around the corner behind them. A black shafted bolt skewered the wall behind him as the last word left his lips.

Another bolt narrowly missed Trey as he ducked into a bend to his right. No sooner had he turned the corner he crashed into a large, growling object. In the faint glow of Zak’s axe, Trey gazed upon a Forukk of titanic proportions. Its bulk blocked the whole tunnel and its fists were like giant blocks of concrete with a single jagged claw protruding from the centre of each.

A split second before the creature’s fist impacted with Trey’s chest, he managed to manoeuvre his sword to defend himself. It was completely ineffective. A sickening crack echoed around the mines and Trey’s feet left the ground as his body flew backward then hit a wall. He slumped to the ground.

Zak ran at the giant Forukk and embedded his axe in the things chest. It made a series of noises that were its twisted version of a laugh. It swung its arm at Zak and he leapt backwards, leaving his axe in its chest.

Billy dodged another bolt and fired an arrow of his own. It tore into the first Forukk’s skull, killing it instantly. His moment of pride was beaten down when three more appeared in his view.

“We have to go!” he shouted.

“What about Trey?” answered Dawn as she knelt by the boy’s unconscious body.

“What about my axe?” shouted Zak in agitation as he jumped over a low swing by his opponent.

“You and Liam will have to carry him,” Billy stated to the girl. “Zak, unless you want to stay and fight them all for the axe, get over here and help me guard those three while we escape.”

“Screw that! I want my axe!” replied Zak as he leapt back, drew both his swords then dived forward again in one swift motion.

Billy was about to argue when four bolts sped past him, one glancing across his left arm. Another Forukk had joined them, he noted with displeasure as he clenched his teeth against the sharp pain.

“Go!” he commanded, firing at the Forukks, narrowly missing one. The injury was throwing off his aim.

All of the group except for Zak ran through the tunnels and away from the Forukks. Without Zak’s axe there was no light but a hastily lit candle in Liam’s hand.

Meanwhile Zak was still attempting to recover his weapon while trying to survive. As well as the giant Forukk, the smaller creatures had turned their attention onto the boy. All but one. The other followed in the group’s footsteps towards easier prey.

“Gimme back my axe, dammit!” shouted Zak as he simultaneously avoided three bolts and a lunge from the giant. He did not foresee the huge Forukk head butting him so when their foreheads met, Zak was sent hurtling backwards into a wall causing the tunnel to shake and dust to fall from the ceiling.

Slowly he picked himself up, swept away the dust from his clothes and shook his head in agitation. “Screw this!” he roared as he pulled a stolen boom-ball from his rucksack.

A startled, un-Forukk like squeak escaped the lesser Forukks snouts. The greater Forukk laughed, then with startling speed for such bulk, charged down the tunnel towards the boy. The other Forukks had all begun to flee.

Zak lit the boom-ball with a spark of Nimula, held it in one hand and ran to meet the Forukk. When they were within range of each other, the Forukk punched towards Zak, its fist almost the same size as the boy while Zak punched out with the hand holding the explosive. The walls shook and fire shot through the passageways. As the smoke spread out over the ceiling the centre of the carnage became visible. There were two bodies sprawled out on the floor. The Forukk, or what was left of it, lay at one end of the shaft and Zak lay at the other.

The support beams strained perilously as dust rained down upon the two bodies. The dust that fell around the Forukk was engulfed in thick, tar like blood while that which landed upon Zak fizzled out of existence.

The boy’s body glowed with a shimmering purple light that covered every inch of him. Beneath it, Zak was unharmed. He pulled himself to his feet using a fallen support beam and looked around him. The purple shield began to crackle and flicker before dying out completely.

Panting, he sighted his axe embedded into a nearby wall. Striding over to it he pulled it out with ease, despite the fact it was a good few inches into the stone. After hearing an agonized groan from above him, Zak slowly looked up. The roof was seconds away from collapsing onto him.

“Ah.”

Previous – Chapter 38. Trouble in the Trees.

Next – Chapter 40. The Yuxova.

Chapter 38. Trouble in the Trees. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

Wood and metal littered the sand around the five teenagers. They picked their way through the debris, kicking aside scrap and skirting around anything too big to step over. Their destination was the monstrous form of shapeless carnage that had recently been two sand fortresses. Now they formed one tangled wreckage.

The third ship had turned and was making a hasty retreat back the way it had come from, leaving the small group the only ones in sight still standing. Several bodies were dotted around, some dead but many not. Trey ignored the groans and screams as best as he could. Zak strolled through the mayhem, admiring the destruction like a personal achievement.

“Over here,” Dawn called from around the corner of the crashed ships. “We might be able to salvage something.”

The boys jogged over to her. She stood before a wide hole in one hull that was filled with an assortment of twisted silhouettes. Billy grabbed a lantern from a nearby pile and relit it before entering the ship. The faint light revealed a cluster of sand speeders and carriers that had been smashed together and wedged into one corner of the half collapsed hanger.

Dawn circled the pile as best as she could and inspected the ships for anything that could be used. Under her direction, Zak carried the bigger bits of scrap away while Trey and Liam managed the smaller rubbish. Billy hung the lamp from a jutting out pipe and helped to dig through the wood.

It took the better part of an hour but eventually they had freed a battered carrier from the wreckage and had managed to push it out onto the sand. That had even strained Zak but once it was outside they were able to repair what they could until the last rays of the sun began to fade.

“Will it work?” asked Trey. They’d replaced one broken wheel and retied several strings but it still looked like a miracle that it remained standing under its own weight.

Dawn ran a hand through her hair and clicked her tongue thoughtfully. Her other hand did not stray from its place over the split skin in her throat where she kept a cloth over the wound. “If we can get it moving then it should make it to the forest. That is as long as we don’t push it in any way, shape or form. A steady speed with minimal turning should be fine.”

“It will have to do,” shrugged Trey. “We’ve already lost too much time.”

They climbed into the carrier and after several attempts, Dawn and Liam managed to get the carrier to lurch into motion. It moved at a snail’s pace compared to the carrier they had travelled in previously but they were moving toward Miankkuth once again and Trey was strangely grateful for that.

Liam took the first shift at the helm while the others took some well needed sleep. When daylight returned, Dawn took over and Liam collapsed into a corner to get some rest of his own. Most of the day passed in utter silence. Trey tried playing more of his ‘rock’ music but it did not improve the reflective mood that had descended upon the carrier.

It was not until dusk came around once more that they sighted the first signs of green upon the horizon. The sand gradually gave way to grass and trees and the carrier had to be stopped at the edge of the desert. To the left were the wide cliffs that Trey Billy and Zak had leapt from after their flight from Pastrino. Luckily for them, the cliffs petered out about two miles further up, leaving the land here relatively flat and easy to traverse. They climbed from the vessel with everything they could carry and cautiously entered the forest

They were in a different section of the forest than where they had came from but it mattered little as Billy and Trey had explored much of the forest during childhood adventures. The two directed the others west until they recognised their surroundings.

For an hour they walked in the darkness of the night, guided only by the waxy light of the moon. Deciding it best to camp for the night, Trey led them through closely packed trees to a good place to rest. The distant sound of roaring water drifted on the wind. As they continued the sound became greater and the air became damper. Up ahead a waterfall came into view. It ran down a cliff, into a small pond which led to a gentle stream.

Trey walked up to the waterfall and revealed that the cliff was hollow behind it. Hidden from view by the raging water was a roomy cave. Once inside the water doubled in volume as the cave echoed the noise.

“There’s plenty of room and we can talk as loudly as we want as the sound is covered up by the waterfall,” Trey announced, his voice just audible over the incessant water.

The boys tried to get comfy and without further conversation they attempted to find sleep. The roar of the waterfall was the only thing that they could hear as they slowly drifted off into troubled dreams. Sleep without nightmares seemed a distant memory.

Dawn did not feel like sleeping as she had so much on her mind. She crept out of the cave and gazed into the shimmering water of the pond. She stood motionless, tracing the raw cut across the left side of her throat, lost in thought for several minutes until a sigh at her side snapped her back to reality.

Liam stood at her side staring at his flickering reflection on the water’s surface. Dawn hadn’t even noticed him approach. He too seemed to have something on his mind that he couldn’t voice.

“I forgive you,” said Dawn softly.

Liam turned towards her. “What’s to forgive?”

“I know you have problems but that’s no excuse to be so rude and cold hearted. An apology, or at least understanding isn’t that much to ask for,” she snapped angrily.

“You know nothing,” stated the young man. “You grew up as a pampered princess. You were given everything you could ever want and had the love and respect of everyone in your tribe. I have nothing.”

“You’re the commander’s brother. You live in a big house and have plenty of money. What is there to be depressed about?” Dawn asked testily. Because of her departure she too now had nothing.

Liam knelt, letting his black nailed hand dip into the cold water. His reflection rippled, becoming distorted and unrecognisable. “My father was the commander before my brother and my mother was the greatest healer the city had ever known. Both were extremely talented and well respected. Then my brother was born and he showed the makings of being as great as his parents. My parents tried for many years to have a second child and fifteen years after Mike was born, my mother became pregnant again.”

“There were complications at my birth and no one could stop my mother from dying. My father was consumed by grief and eventually took his own life. I was blamed for their deaths. I tried to earn the respect of the city but no matter how hard I tried I was useless at everything. People just hated me more and I had no place to fit in.  I have been alone all of my life. Only Mike cares for me and as commander he is always busy.” He finished his story with a sad smile.

“At least you can make your own way through life. My life has been planned out like every other Heptalli royal blood in history. Born and trained as a Princess, learning the skills for the future. When my Grandmother, the Elder, dies, my mother will become the new Elder and I will be forced to become the Matriarch of the tribe. I then live to have a single daughter as is written in my blood. Then I become the Elder while my daughter becomes the leader, then I die. The cycle will never end,” she sighed. “It is my destiny.”

“Destiny is not written,” replied Liam. “Life is sand in the fingers of time. A few grains will always fall loose and land where the hand does not want it. Whatever, I’m heading off to bed. Night.”

He left Dawn standing alone, feeling she now knew Liam as a person, not just a face. Still, she could not help feel that his words sounded far too close to what Mellow had been preaching.

* * *

As the morning came they decided to use their last moment of peace well. Knowing full well that later that day they would see the remains of Pastrino, they all decided to prepare as best as they could.

“While we’re here you lot can head downstream and wash. You stink!” informed Dawn briskly.

“What’s wrong with bathing here?” asked Billy.

“I’m here,” replied Dawn. “I need to wash as well. If you dare to even think of peeping you will not leave here alive. You will find you would rather have the Abyss Sprite of Torture stood before you than me. Got it?” she said with a look in her eyes and a tone in her voice that said she really meant it too. Women had an uncanny talent for turning their eyes into poisoned daggers.

“Yes Miss,” said Trey, Billy and Zak together with the same fear in their words. Liam just turned and followed the stream away from the camp. The others quickly followed. After about five minutes they found a suitable place to wash and decided to relax for the last time before they confronted the Forukks again. Pux left on his own to hunt for food, his knowledge of the forest and its creatures far greater than any of the others.

***

Things seemed peaceful but little did anyone realise that an evil presence had been tracking them through the forest and even now kept its eyes on the current weakest member of the group, all by herself and with no weapons. Assassinating children was too easy for such a greatly talented killer, but orders were orders. Shuriken sat ready between skilled fingers. The girl suspected nothing. The assassin’s movement stopped as a shout erupted from nearby.

“Hey Dawn, you done yet?”

Dawn sighed after just getting relaxed then shouted back, “Just give me a minute.”

It was strike now or lose the chance, thought the assassin. It threw one of the throwing stars and watched it fly towards the girl’s jugular. Before it reached its target a bird swooped by and caught it. Another three shuriken were thrown but three more birds halted their journey. By this time Dawn had gotten out of the pond, dried off and was just finishing tying her robes securely.

This was the assassin’s last chance at an easy target. Six shuriken left the tree and sped towards the girl. Only one bird came this time but it was larger than the others, some kind of eagle. With an almighty beat of its wings the wind knocked the throwing stars off course. The boys came stamping through the trees and into view. The assassin knew that the chance had been missed and quietly left to avoid detection while pondering the birds.

***

Pux was just returning with a large squirrel slung over his shoulder when from out of the sky a wide-winged eagle swooped down and landed on Billy’s head. From its back jumped a battered looking Yuxova that hopped down upon Billy’s shoulder then onto a low tree branch. Pux joined him and bowed his head. The new Yuxova returned the bow but a mere fraction of what Pux had.

“Glad to see you, Captain,” said the injured warrior. “Things have gone to the Abyss since you left.” He was taller than Pux by a few hairs and had a more muscular build. Leather armour covered his fine clothes and short dark hair topped his head. A broad, well trimmed beard hung from a chiseled chin.

“What do you mean, Captain Kenux?” asked Pux, fearing the answer. Whatever could injure Captain Kenux was something to worry about.

The other Yuxova sneered and spat with angry disgust. “Forukks have been felling trees and burning patches of forest since they reared their ugly faces. We’d been fighting them for days when our flanks were hit by a new force from the north.”

Pux frowned. “North? The Ghibok have no reason to fight us.”

“Not Ghibok,” Kenux all but hissed. “The Fallen have returned.”

“What! I thought they were just a legend.”

“Well this legend is destroying our army. They are already pressing upon the Tree of Ages. First Forukks, then the Fallen. Now to top it off we have an assassin lurking around. If my men and I had turned up a moment later then your human girl would be a pincushion right now.”

Dawn looked shocked at hearing someone had tried to kill her. The boys scanned the trees darkly, hands on their weapons.

Pux turned to Trey. “I must aid my own people; I fear I must leave you now.”

“We understand,” Trey said.

“Farewell, Trey, Zak. Stay safe Miss Dawn. Find happiness Liam,” said Pux. He then turned to Billy. “Bill, you have a bird on your head.”

“Shut up!” growled Billy.

Both Yuxova Captains mounted, Kenux onto the eagle, Pux onto Bo-bo and made ready to leave. The birds took to the air and circled the group a few times as they gained altitude.

The teens cleared the camp and set off southwest through the forest. Any movement or sound caused fear only to reveal small forest animals or branches moving in the wind. Around dusk the end of the trees was in sight and open fields stood before them. Beyond them was a ruined city that bore some resemblances with what Trey, Zak and Billy had once called home.

Fine mist pooled around the buildings’ remnants giving them a ghostlike quality. All seemed still within the city’s walls. The only sign of life was the collection of carrion birds that had swarmed the ruins. Craters had cleared numerous areas of buildings while fire had burned up anything wooden or material. The white walls were plagued with black patches like a cancer. Far off at the city’s centre, Trey could make out the bell tower and beside it, his home. Both looked untouched by the carnage to his relief.

“If only Pux was still here, he could scout out the city and tell us if it’s guarded,” sighed Dawn.

“It is guarded,” stated Trey. “If we try to go through the city we’ll have a fight on our hands.”

“The area around the city will be guarded for miles. To get around them could take days,” said Liam.

“I have an idea,” said Trey quietly, then paused in thought. “The city got its raw iron from mines beneath it and its surrounding area. Several severe accidents occurred and the mines were closed. This was before we were even born.”

“I know what you’re talking about but the mine only has one entrance. We’d only reach a dead end,” muttered Billy.

Zak shook his head. “No. It has a second exit. Before the last accident happened, the miners dug too far and breached the cliffs that separate us from Miankkuth. The last ‘accident’ was actually a cover-up just to close the mine and block the hole. Out of the fifty miners down there, only seven returned from the cover-up. My granddad was one of them,” Zak informed them. “We could find the blocked exit then just unblock it,” he added with a smile as he swung his axe.

“It can’t be any worse than marching through the city,” said Dawn.

“Are we decided?” Trey asked. When everyone confirmed he continued. “Time to head underground then,” he said as he started to head north.

Previous – Chapter 37. Loyalty.

Next – Chapter 39. Through the Mines.

Chapter 37. Loyalty. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

As Nakai sprinted through the city things did not look good. The enemy siege weapons had taken their toll and he could see combat taking place on every battlement. Things were only going to get worse. Any men that he passed he sent forward to the gate to help his lieutenant.

The familiar streets that he had known all of his life looked so different now. As the castle came into view despair hit the commander. He could see flames through some of the castle’s windows. It did not look like it had been hit by any projectiles and surely no barbarians could have gotten inside yet.

He increased his pace and hurried towards the mountain fortress. Confusion struck him when he saw the doors were still firmly shut. He bounded up the steps leading to the door and knew that they were locked. He knocked, shouting his name, rank and business and that he must be let in. No answer came.

“Damn it,” he muttered. He could get in by blowing the door down with boom-balls then he could stop the traitor and any other threats within the castle but then the stronghold would be left open to enemies, or he could keep the door shut and stop the barbarians getting in but let the castle fall by some internal threat. When he thought about it the answer seemed obvious.

The doors were reduced to a pile of splinters as he threw a boomball at them. A jagged hole, large enough for Nakai to easily clamber through had been smashed into the once sturdy wood. Inside the castle was deathly silent.

There were no guards in sight; nobody was in view, dead or alive. Nakai did not encounter anyone on his journey to the audience chamber where the Lord should be. He eased open the chamber’s door and cautiously entered.

A sigh of relief passed his lips. Lord Baranox was seated on his throne just as he should be. His personal assistant, Miss Falati stood faithfully by his side.

“My Lord, where are all the guards and why do parts of the castle burn?” asked Nakai, doing all he could to keep his voice calm.

“The guards are down with the civilians. As for the fires, we had some small trouble. It is over now,” Baranox replied. “How goes the battle?”

“Not well. Parts of the city were destroyed by the siege weapons and the barbarians are slowly winning the fights for the battlements.” Nakai paused, thinking how to phrase his next few words. “They also enter by the main entrance to the city but the doors weren’t broken, nor were they opened from down there. They must have been opened by the device in the castle…which would mean there is a traitor among us.”

“Really?” said Lord Baranox in a strange tone. His eyes seemed to have a dull sheen to them.

“My Lord?” said Nakai in an uncertain voice.

A smile formed upon the Lord’s face, not a pleasant one, not even a mocking one, Nakai could not find words to describe it. Before Nakai had time to contemplate the strange behaviour he felt a

sharp pain in his stomach. He looked down and saw a knife embedded into his gut, held by the lord that Nakai had served his entire life.

Lord Baranox removed the knife and let it clatter onto the ground. He sat back in his throne and had a sip of wine. “We were always going to lose this battle. If it wasn’t for me every last citizen of Onlasar would have been butchered. I made a deal with the barbarian, Serka, that if I opened the gates then he would let me and a few others live, that way the blood of Onlasar would live on even after the city was destroyed. Can’t you see my logic?”

Nakai spat on the lord’s shoes and began to get to his feet. He had had many worse wounds than a stab from a dagger. After fighting barbarians for a decade, a knife wound was nothing. He would still live and he could still fight. Lord Baranox seemed to show no fear that Nakai was not dying, rather he seemed amused.

Pain stormed through Nakai’s body. He collapsed to the floor. His veins felt like fire coursed through them. Burning needles stabbed at every inch of his skin and his limbs felt like lead. The traitor had used poison on the blade.

“Soon the world will be enveloped in a wave of darkness and all light will be extinguished. Better to hide light in a cloak of black rather than let it die. Don’t you agree with me, Commander?”

Nakai could not hear anything his traitorous lord was saying. The only thing in the world for him at the moment was pain. His mind felt like it was being forced from his body. A small voice in his head kept telling him that if he stopped resisting the pain would disappear. Nakai managed a bitter laugh. He had been close to death too many times to listen to that voice. This was an occasion where pain was better than the void.

Laughing seemed to give him a small measure of strength. His mind fought its way back into control. He was not about to live through several battles just to die from something he could not fight. Life was often cruel in that kind of way.

“If I’m going to die then I’m going to do it fighting,” growled Nakai. It was the hardest fight in his life just to stand. Every moment felt like his last but against the odds he managed to pull himself to his feet, leaning on his sword like a walking stick, face to face with his former lord.

Lord Baranox could not believe his eyes as he watched the commander struggle to his feet. The sheer willpower needed to accomplish that was phenomenal. Baranox rose from his throne and placed his hand on his sword’s pommel, unsure what to expect.

“How about a duel to settle this argument on the fate of the city,” Nakai managed, turning a cough into a cocky chuckle with difficulty.

Under normal circumstances, Baranox would never have accepted as Nakai far outmatched him, but with the commander barely able to stand, he figured he had a very good chance at victory. “A duel it is then.” His slender sword slid from its elegant sheath with slow purpose.

Both men’s swords clashed together. The weight of the blade seemed almost too much for Nakai. He parried a blow at the last second then lunged at his opponent’s chest. It was easily blocked and countered. He cursed as he narrowly dodged a blow aimed at his head. Sweat ran down his face, blurring his vision. His every movement felt slow as though he was trying to fight under water.

Baranox aimed a blow at Nakai’s head that was sluggishly dodged, then he swung for his chest which was parried. Blow after blow struck Nakai’s blade until it escaped his grip and flew across the room.

The Commander collapsed to the floor, the strain of the fight had been too much for him. Baranox knew he had won. He leered down at the defeated man and placed the tip of his sword against his neck.

“How the mighty fall,” mocked Baranox.

Before he could register what happened next the former lord had Nakai’s boot in his groin. Using his last reserves of energy the commander jumped to his feet, punched Baranox in the nose then grabbed his sword arm, twisting it until it broke, taking his sword in the process.

Instinct took over. Nakai’s body reacted without conscious thought. Baranox was at his mercy yet his arms still swung the sword into his chest. He watched as the former lord’s body crumpled to the floor, blood pooling around him. Nakai himself dropped to the ground as the adrenaline began to drain away and the pain of the poison flooded his senses.

Miss Falati raced over to her Lord’s side with a cry, tears falling from her eyes. She dropped to her knees and embraced his body.

“My Lord. Don’t die! Please don’t leave me,” she sobbed. Baranox was still breathing. He opened his eyes and grasped his assistant’s hand.

An idea struck Nakai. He pulled a small combat knife from a sheath on his arm and crawled over to the woman and Baranox. He roughly pushed her to the side then grabbed hold of the injured man, putting the knife blade against his throat. He heard the woman take a sharp intake of air into her lungs.

“This man deserves death for the crimes he has committed against this great city. I might be willing to spare his life, providing you bring me the antidote to this damn poison.”

Miss Falati considered this for a moment. It looked like she might grab one of the swords and charge at him for hurting her Lord but she knew that Nakai would slit Baranox’s throat at a moment’s notice.

“Fine!” she snapped in defeat. “I will bring you the antidote.”

“If it’s not here in five minutes I will die but I’ll be taking this traitor with me. Do you understand?”

The woman nodded her head and ran out of the chamber. Nakai felt like sleeping despite the immense pain he was in but he knew he had to wait a little while longer. Baranox’s unconscious body was still bleeding, causing the mosaic floor to become slippery.

Each minute seemed an eternity to the commander. Every breath was a trip through the Abyss. He knew he could only stay alive for another minute at max. He tightened his grip on the knife, pushing it

more onto the traitor’s neck, drawing small beads of blood.

Just as Nakai prepared to deliver the deathblow, the door slammed open and hurrying feet clattered across the room. The assistant came into his view holding a vial of purple liquid. She handed it to him then stepped back.

“What have I got to lose,” he muttered to himself as he downed the substance. At first nothing changed. He had an aftertaste of wax but little else.

Pain unlike anything else he had ever felt rushed through his body causing the knife to grind deeper into Baranox’s throat. His assistant screamed at this. Slowly the pain ebbed away leaving only numbness in his limbs, a lack of strength and the pain he would expect from the fighting he had been doing. He dropped the knife onto the floor and rolled away from Baranox.

Miss Falati rushed to her lord’s side and checked his pulse. She sighed a breath of relief when she found it then began to lovingly clean his wounds.

“If we somehow survive this battle you will not be executed, merely exiled. You can go where you wish, just never show your faces here again,” growled Nakai as he stood and limped towards his sword.

He could have laid down and slept where he was the way he felt but there was still an invading army that needed to be crushed. He left the traitors and made his way up to the supply room of the castle. There he grabbed some energy pills and some bandages. Within a few moments he was ready to re-enter the battle.

Previous – Chapter 36. Blood in the Sand.

Chapter 38. Trouble in the Trees.

Chapter 36. Blood in the Sand. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

“Are you scared?” Mellow whispered into Dawn’s ear. She tried to speak but her voice wouldn’t work. Instead she shook her head and tried to give the man a defiant glare.

“So much pride. What is it worth though? How far can that pride be pulled before you shatter and become a snivelling beast?” as he spoke, Mellow ran a hand through her fire red hair. She tried but could not contain a sudden shiver. He smelled of death, not putrid like the Forukks but dry and old like an ancient tomb where hundreds had been buried.

“Get away from me!” she tried to yell but her voice was little more than a squeak. She pushed him away drawing only an amused laugh from the man. Dawn turned to run only to be whipped back when Mellow grabbed at her hair and yanked her to his side.

“I have an idea,” Mellow began. His voice took on an oily tone, slick and smooth but somehow greasy and vile. “I have two of your friends in a pit of corpses whose lives they have won but not their freedom. Just behind us is another friend who has been badly beaten and will continue to be beaten until he dies a slow painful death and somewhere on this ship is a fourth who has caused us damage. He will be caught and the penalty for damaging a sand fortress is to be boiled alive. My offer to you is simple. You can leave your friends here to their fate and have your life and freedom, or, you can sacrifice yourself for their freedom. What will it be?”

Dawn struggled to break free despite knowing it was a futile gesture. Mellow started to hum to the tune of an old children’s rhyme that she could no longer remember the words to. The crowd had grown quiet, eager to hear every word and whimper.

This was her chance to flee, to see the world without chains. Where would she go though? The Heptalli would never take her back after what she had done and even if they were to then it would be to a life of stricter rules than ever before. Pastrino was destroyed, Onlasar was under siege and all the while the shadow of Lanstiro loomed over all. Between Forukks, bandits and barbarians, what chance did she have in the wild?

She felt a sudden sickening lurch in her stomach. All she had thought of was herself, never considering Trey, Billy, Zak and Liam. She had been about to abandon her friends to torment and death without a single thought. Self loathing flooded through her.

Trey, Billy and Zak had been so kind to her. They had pulled her out from her cage, made her laugh and feel like a girl instead of a future queen. They had a noble purpose, what did she have? Her own selfish desires.

Mellow looked down at her, still humming the tune. Dawn vaguely remembered her mother singing the rhyme at night to help her to sleep as a young child.

“I have decided,” she stated with queenly dignity. She looked Mellow straight in his cold blue eyes. “Release them.”

“Are you sure?” Mellow asked, his eyebrow raised. “Death is not a pleasant experience.”

“Yes. I owe them so much. They deserve to live, or at the least to die doing what they believe in. What is my life compared to the dreams of saving those that they love?” Dawn spoke softly, her eyes closed.

Mellow took her hand and moved her the few steps to the dead centre of the Bloodground. “How touching. Is it pride that stops you from running?” he asked as they walked.

Dawn shook her head slowly. Unbidden, she found that a faint smile graced her lips. “Pride is just another emotion. It can be destructive, but it can also keep you on the right path when an easier path seems preferable. If pride ensures that I do what is required of me, then I will die a proud woman.”

“Such a noble decision. You are a true ruler of the sands. Kneel,” ordered Mellow. His voice was not hard though. It was almost soothing. Dawn obeyed, lowering herself onto her knees with all the dignity that her years as a royal princess had taught her. She

straightened her robes out calmly, more to steady her hands than through any real need for tidiness.

Mellow took Dawn’s scimitar from one of the warriors beside him. Holding the sword in his left hand, Mellow grasped the sharpened steel with his right and cut a deep furrow into his palm. Dark blood dripped down the blade.

“Thus my blood is spilt to seal my end of the deal,” intoned Mellow without the slightest wince. “Your blood is a given. Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

Dawn felt cold steel against her throat. She could feel her blood pumping, the veins of her neck pulsing beneath the blade. She released her breath and braced herself for what was to come.

The sand fortress seemed to jump into the air, in an instant throwing everything into chaos. The ship swayed, swerved and shuddered until no one was left standing except for Mellow. He had a sour look upon what scraps of his face could be seen. Dawn was sprawled out before him, blood pouring from a gash in her throat.

“That is three wheels now that your friend has taken down. Any more damage and I fear that this vessel will not make it to Onlasar.” He pulled Dawn back onto her knees. Blood was spreading along her robe now, darkening the already crimson fabric. “Sorry about that. It won’t pain you for long.”

“That’s what you think!” came a roar from behind them. Zak was back on his feet, sprinting toward them with his axe back in hand. He shouted words without meaning and the wind became a raging torrent. Pointing at Dawn, the wind span around her, ripping her and the scimitar away from Mellow and tossing her over to the grate that contained Billy and Trey.

“Get them out!” he shouted just before his axe struck Mellow’s arm. Again nothing happened. That didn’t deter Zak in the slightest though. He jumped and spun, kicking the chief in the head before slamming the axe vertically down upon his skull. Neither attack seemed to hurt the man.

Zak danced back frowning. “What gives? You cut yourself so I know you can bleed. That sword is just a regular blade too so I should be able to hurt you.”

Mellow rolled his shoulders idly. “Since you got back up I’ll let you in on a secret. I can control the minerals within my blood. I can create sections of iron and other hard composites to shield myself or strengthen my attacks.”

Zak heard the metal of the grate clang and smiled. “Interesting. So what you are saying is that relentless attacks from multiple directions is all that it takes to kill you?”

“Don’t think that your friends are in any condition to help you,” Mellow snorted.

Zak barked laughter. “I have no intention of letting them in on the fun. Mass devastation is my strong point.”

The teen launched himself at Mellow. At the last moment he threw the axe and drew his katana. Lightning crackled across the twin blades that shot out, overtaking the axe in a heartbeat. Sand rushed up around Mellow, turning to glass where the lightning struck. The axe shattered the wall just as Zak flew past it with both blades flashing. Mellow swayed away only to have his kneecap kicked by an armour plated foot. He staggered, blocked a stroke with one arm then doubled over as Zak’s knee pounded into his gut.

Mellow punched at Zak, knuckles smashing into a quickly recovered axe head. Flames snaked around him and lashed out at the younger man who summoned his own to combat the threat. The man’s smile revealed white teeth. He was genuinely happy with the challenge of the fight. Zak too seemed ecstatic at the fight between life and death on the edge of a razor.

A sword was knocked clean out of Zak’s hand when Mellow grabbed his arm in an attempt to break it. Zak managed to pull his arm free but was knocked to the ground by a sweeping kick from Mellow. Zak tried to flip back to his feet only to be punched in the stomach in midair. He skidded through the sand, coming to a sudden stop when Mellow landed on his chest after a running jump. Blood spewed from the teen’s mouth.

Mellow took a few steps away, picking up Zak’s fallen axe with barely any sign of effort. He examined it as though inspecting a cheap trinket. “Nothing that you could ever achieve would come close to my strength. The power of my blood is locked into place while yours will drain away.”

“What d-do you m-mean?” choked Zak.

The axe began to spin through Mellow’s fingers with an ease that even Zak would struggle with. “Life is an energy. As we produce life it creates new energy but it is also used. Your power is weaker than mine because the power in you has become diluted but your ancestors would also be weaker than me because for power to grow within a life it needs to be placed there first like a seed. Each child than a human produces weakens them slightly. I have discovered how to cap that. None of my descendants are born with power so I will never face a decline. Very prudent, wouldn’t you agree?”

Without warning he spluttered suddenly. The axe fell from his fingers. With a startled slowness, Mellow looked down to see the tip of a blade protruding from his chest. Blood flowed freely, already pooling around his feet. He jerked, staggering away to turn to his attacker.

Dawn stood there, her neck still drenched in blood. “Don’t you understand. Strength isn’t about what blood you have. Does it take special blood to face your fears? To keep standing back up as long as you still live? To fight and grow stronger for a cause? No.”

“You would know,” smirked Mellow as he fell face first into the sand.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Dawn shouted. She took a step toward him but he made no sign of moving. Instead she went to Zak’s side and helped him to his feet.

Zak groaned at first although within seconds he was walking unaided to retrieve his axe. He wiped it clean, doing the same after recovering his remaining weapons. The crowd had broken from their stupor and were beginning to rush down the tiers. Zak ignored them,

instead limping over to where Billy and Trey were laid near to the hole they had been kept in. Neither looked up as he approached.

“I don’t want to rush you guys but in about fifteen seconds we’re gonna be ripped to shreds.”

Dawn joined them, placing a comforting hand upon each of them. “Come on. You have to snap out of this. I won’t leave you here to die so help me!”

Trey turned blank eyes to her. She grabbed his hand in hers and gave him the most intense look that she could manage. “You still have promises to keep. Don’t lose your remaining honour by ignoring them.”

His eyes drifted from her amber orbs to the hand that held his. He blinked a few times and took several deep breaths. “Promises? Yes. We have to keep going, no matter what it takes. That is the path of humanity.” He had snapped into motion but his eyes and tone were still distant and cold.

Tears pricked in Dawn’s eyes. “Trey…”

“Let’s move,” he ordered, now all too aware of the charging horde of tribesmen. He grabbed Billy’s arm and pulled his friend up. Zak handed them both their weapons back with a faint, sympathetic smile.

“For Pastrino,” Trey said softly.

“For Pastrino,” Billy answered, seeming to draw strength from the words.

“This way!” Zak called, running down the closest passageway out of the Bloodgrounds. The other’s followed on his tail.

Dawn took one last look back as she ran and nearly stumbled. Mellow’s body was gone. None of the Flesh Eroders had had time to even touch the body yet. He was a strange man indeed, she grudgingly admitted before shifting all focus to their current predicament.

“Where is Liam and Pux?” asked Trey over the sound of their pounding footfalls. “I think there were three explosions below, though things were a bit fuzzy back there.”

“Finding him by chance would be a miracle,” grunted Billy. “That aside we’ve still got to stop this ship. I say move higher up while the Eroders are down below searching out Liam. If we can take the control room then this behemoth belongs to us.”

“Sounds like a plan,” nodded Trey. “Any idea how to get up there?” This met with frowns and angry looks.

“Easy,” stated Zak. “We need to go up so we just blast our way there.”

“And how would you plan to do that?” asked Billy bluntly.

“Simple,” he grinned. He pointed up at the roof directly above them. Green flames that took the form of a dragon shot from his hand and tore through the wood above like paper. Splinters and ash rained down on the teens. Level after level was punctured then searing light flooded down the hole as the magical flame arced high into the sky and soared away.

Billy gawped. “Holy Sprites above.”

Dawn remained composed, instead eying the hole skeptically. “And how do we get up there? We can’t climb it.”

Zak winked at her, lowering his arm to point at the ground.

“Dear Sprite no!” Dawn screamed. It was too late. Energy flooded out of Zak, ripping out the section of ground where the group stood and forcing it to rise as harsh light drove into the ship below them.

What started as a slow rise became a stomach curling freefall upwards. The circular section of floor rocketed skyward so fast that their surroundings were nothing more than a blur.

“Our stop,” said Zak suddenly. He hopped off the side of the platform and reached out, grabbing its edge before it shot past him. It stopped while the momentum meant that Trey, Billy and Dawn did not. It was another second before they landed in a heap. Zak heaved the platform away from the hole, his muscles straining and his face red.

Trey staggered onto solid ground. It took several seconds for the world to stop spinning. When it did he wished that it had not. They were in a room full of levers, pipes and wheels but it also contained twenty startled looking Flesh Eroders.

The man directly in front of Trey dropped dead with an arrow in his chest. Beside him Billy nocked another arrow. He looked around and saw Zak panting, hands onto his knees. The tribesmen were recovering from shock now and had drawn their weapons. Trey moved to defend Zak but Dawn beat him to it.

Billy downed men as fast as he could pull back his bowstring. Trey positioned himself close to his friend, cutting down any men who threatened to reach Billy. Men fell but soon the combat was too close pressed for the bow. Dropping it, Billy let fly a handful of small throwing knives then turned to his rapier.

One thing Trey had learned since all of this chaos started was never to look at the faces that came and went during battle. Watch the blade, the feet and eyes but never put them together to form a man. With that in mind, the death seemed strangely tolerable. The last man fell with Dawn’s scimitar lodged into his heart. Zak was now on the floor, clutching his ribs.

“Zak, what’s wrong?”

The boy did not answer straight away. Slowly he relaxed his muscles and sat cross legged. “It’s just the side effects of the Nimula. My quick recovery must be caused by Nimula or I wouldn’t be this drained. I should be fine now.”

A door slammed open. Billy aimed his bow in a heartbeat. Liam raised his arms, slowing his jog to a walk.

“The party over?” he asked, his tone completely deadpan. “I’d have been here sooner but I made a detour to recover these,” he added, holding out his halberd and ‘The Arts of Nimula’. Several rucksacks hung from his back too. Pux stood upon his shoulder and offered the group a casual salute of greeting.

“Not yet,” replied Trey. “We’ve still got to take down these ships.”

Liam took a look around, tweaking controls and checking on the gauges. “Well we are here in the control room. It looks to be just a bigger, more complex version of the carrier’s controls.” He looked through the grimy window to the sand fortress to their right. “Mass destruction in an over dramatic style. I like it.”

Zak grinned at him, his eyes glinting mischievously. “You’ll fit in yet, Liam. The controls are yours.”

It only took Liam a moment to get to grips with the controls. A few flicks of his wrist set everything to max power. Being three wheels down meant that stability and speed was compromised but it still moved well enough for what they wanted. Everything shuddered, threatening to fall apart at any moment. The ship looked ready to shake itself to pieces.

Liam spun the helm causing the sand fortress to swerve sharply to the right. By the time the second ship tried to veer away there was no time to manoeuvre.

“Shouldn’t we try and run?” pointed out Billy as the sand fortress filled their view.

“Probably,” nodded Zak. He made no move to go though.

Trey approached Liam. “Liam, Pux, either of you know the way to the main deck?”

“Yeah. I can get us out there,” answered Pux. “Not in time to avoid that though.”

Zak raised an arm. Light flared in the room, filling the air with a tangled mix of thunder and wood chips. The wall to their left exploded. Everyone else ducked, covering their faces with arms.

“There’s a door,” Zak told them innocently.

Trey and Billy stood by the ragged hole and stared out at the rolling expanse of desert. Below them was a substantial drop to the dunes. The fall would easily be fatal.

“And how do you propose we get down there, idiot,” Billy snapped.

“We jump, obviously. It’ll be fun.”

Billy looked ready to throw Zak over himself. “That is insanity. Pure suicide!”

“Yeah. The best kind of fun,” Zak beamed. “Trust me.”

Trey took a deep breath and pushed himself clean off the edge. He turned to see Dawn falling beside him. Liam was right behind them. Billy shook his head with a sigh then took the dive as well. Zak hopped off the edge laughing and wooting excitedly.

The wind rushed around them, snagging at hair and clothes and stealing air from lungs that battled vainly to breathe. The ground was rushing toward them far too fast. Then the wind felt more like a hurricane from underneath, trying to force Trey back skywards. When he hit the sand it felt more like he had jumped a few feet than the bone-breaking distance of reality.

The others thudded to the ground around him. Zak was visibly shaky due to using Nimula to slow their fall but everyone else seemed fine.

“We should run,” said Billy with a hasty backwards glance at the two ships. “They’ll hit any second.”

“No,” Zak said sternly. “Real men never run in this situation. We walk away all suave and sophisticated. Everything blows up behind us and we just keep our eyes forward. It will look badass.”

A unanimous shrug led to the five teens walking with purpose away from the two sand fortresses as they collided with each other at high speed. Wood and metal howled and thunder shook the earth. Smoke, screams and splinters enveloped the area but the teens just kept walking.

“Badass,” Zak repeated, satisfaction coating the word.

Previous – Chapter 35. Holding the Line.

Next – Chapter 37. Loyalty.

Chapter 35. Holding the Line. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

Suzy Fireblood led her ten brave soldiers forwards as the barbarians charged towards them with murderous intent. With a sigh she slid her spear from her shoulder and in one fluent movement lunged at the warrior fronting the horde. The metal tip pierced through leather and flesh like butter and embedded itself in the man’s heart. Even before she withdrew it she broke another man’s nose with the metal plated end of the shaft.

The small squad forced its way forward through the vicious tide of savages until they reached the gates. A carpet of blood and bodies followed in their wake. They held their ground against the seemingly unstoppable army like a rock parting the waters of a raging river.

Suzy dodged and lunged seamlessly, her spear lashing out in wide arching slashes and viper like stabs that cleared a ring around her. While she defended with one half of the spear she killed with the other in a constant blur of motion.

A lanky barbarian with a weasel-like face and greasy hair managed to stick one of his two swords into one of Suzy’s men while he parried a blow with his second. He was cut down by a slash through his throat. Another of the defenders fell when a crossbowman picked him off while staying safely out of the combat. A well aimed throwing dagger ended his threat but the damage had been done.

With two men dead they could no longer hold their ground. Slowly they were pushed back. Suzy made sure every step was paid for dearly in blood. Another of her men was killed then another. The barbarians started to seep around them into the city. Suzy was about to send some men to stop them when something caught her eye.

Walking through the gate was the enemy leader, Serka. He smiled and laughed jollily as he spotted the seven defenders almost halting his entire army. He walked forwards drawing every eye in Suzy’s squad. None of them dared to move even to stop the flow of warriors leaking into the city.

The wind seemed to become wild as the man got ever nearer to them. Suzy’s raven hair whipped across her face and covered her eyes. This blocked her eye contact with Serka and snapped her out of the trance-like state she had been in.

Serka laughed louder when he saw Suzy regain her wits and ready her spear. Seeing their leader prepare to face the barbarian brought back feelings to her men and they too readied themselves to fight. The passing barbarians no longer meant anything to them.

Suzy met each one of her men’s eyes and each nodded to the unasked question. They charged at Serka, weapons raised, roaring a wordless battle cry. The other barbarian warriors paid them no heed as the group ran past them. Only Serka watched them, grinning maliciously as they approached.

A man went into a flanking position at either side of Serka, two stayed in front of him, two stayed back to be support, and Suzy had leapt into the air to take him from above by using her spear to vault herself upward.

Before any of them even had the chance to attack, Serka lashed out at the two men facing him, crumpling their chests with the colossal club. The men at the side used this opportunity to lunge at him with their swords. The first hit amour and merely scraped off. The second found flesh. At the same time Suzy’s spear descended towards his head.

Holding his mighty club in one hand he swung at the man that had just stabbed, hitting him in the head, causing it to explode like a melon. In the same space of time he grabbed Suzy’s spear that was inches from his face with his other hand and threw her at a nearby wall. She impacted it with a sickening crack.

As Serka watched the woman hit the wall one of the support troops charged him. Just before the sword struck him Serka head butted the man square in the nose. Blood sprayed forth and the man dropped to the floor. Only two men remained now.

The soldier at Serka’s side dropped his sword and staggered backwards. “I surrender. Please just don’t hurt me,” he pleaded. Tears flooded from his eyes and his entire body shook with terror.

A gentle look filled the barbarian’s eyes. “I understand,” he said sympathetically.

“R-really?” stammered the man.

“Of course,” replied Serka calmly.

In one great movement Serka swung his club with all his strength in an upward sweep at the man. The soldier flew through the air and slammed into a wall. The last man turned and ran but was cut down by the barbarians that still poured past.

“Cowards,” muttered Serka. He was about to continue on into the city when he realised that the woman was back on her feet. Only just, he noted.

Suzy’s name stake flared up within her. She was not known as Fireblood for nothing. Anger coursed through her, giving her strength. She slowly pulled herself up from the floor and staggered to her feet. Her right arm was broken and she was severely bruised in many places and could barely stand. She did not care. She smiled over to Serka but he seemed to have lost interest.

“Surely there is someone in the Sprite damned city who is worthy of fighting me,” the barbarian grumbled. “Gritz, finish off our friend here while I try and find a good fight.” Serka turned and left.

Seemingly out of nowhere the green bearded sorcerer appeared. Other than his beard he was totally bald. His eyes had no pupils, just eternal white that seemed to draw any lookers into them. He sighed then held out his hand. The last thing Suzy saw was a blazing inferno flying towards her.

Previous – Chapter 34. Sacrifices.

Next – Chapter 36. Blood in the Sand.

Chapter 34. Sacrifices. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

Trey stared wide eyed at the chamber they had been corralled into after Liam’s escape. It was at the very heart of the sand fortress and was easily big enough to contain every Flesh Eroder on the ship. Just like the stadium in Onlasar, it was a huge ring of tiered watch stands leading to a central ground that could be seen by all. Every inch of it was made of wood while crude lanterns offered a weak light that set the room into constant gloom. Sand coated the central area, dark stains in the golden grains hinting at the arena’s main purpose.

Hundreds of men and women stood along the tiers, baying for blood. The stands were nowhere near to capacity so Trey guessed that many tribesmen were required for the running of the sand fortress and the search for Liam.

Trey and the others were being held in cells that were connected to the main stage of the Bloodground. Several warriors flanked the group but Trey’s sole attention was on Mellow. He stood before them, separating the teens from the blood soaked sand.

The man leant casually against the bars that contained them, but his eyes sparkled with malice and a faint, taunting grin never left his lips.

“Death offers very little for all parties involved,” the man had begun. “I could slit your throats and watch you bleed out, but that doesn’t improve me, and nor does it improve you. Life is the battle with death. If there is no battle, what merit has the death and in turn the life? No. Instead I will break you, reduce you to your core to see what it is made of, to watch if you will shatter or rebuild. Shall I tell you the best part? I’ll enjoy every second of it.”

“And I’ll enjoy punching you so hard that you cough out your own intestines,” commented Zak dryly. Mellow ignored him.

The Flesh Eroder’s leader began to walk around them, assessing them like cattle. “What do we have though? Two boys with strong morals who believe that there is always a better path. A young man who strives to be the best and can accept nothing less, and a proud princess who wants nothing more than to run from her problems. I think that I have just the solutions.”

Mellow leaned toward one of the warriors and spoke something in his ear that was too quiet for Trey to hear. The warrior nodded and left them at a jog. Mellow now stood between Trey and Billy, placing a wrapped hand upon both boys’ shoulders.

“You two men of honour shall be first to break.” As he spoke, their bonds were cut and the iron bars lowered to allow access to the Bloodground. Mellow walked them forward to the roar of the crowd. Once they stood in the centre of the sand, two more Flesh Eroders appeared at their side, the teens’ weapons held in their hands.

“Take your weapons,” ordered Mellow. Trey and Billy complied, taking their blades from the men. Mellow continued as the men turned to leave the arena. “The rules are simple. Kill those that seek to kill you, or die. Four opponents, four deaths in return for your two lives.”

Trey clutched his sword nervously. Mellow left them without another word. The crowd still howled and jeered, drowning out all other sound, the enclosed area amplified the noise to near unbearable levels. Billy had an arrow nocked in his bow and was swinging it between the different entrances to the combat zone.

“Four men. Two each. We might just manage this if they fight fair,” Billy said as calmly as he could. Despite his words he didn’t sound confident in their chances.

Trey frowned. “Why did he put such an emphasis on breaking us? In a fight we either live or die. Unless he means to cripple us it makes no sense.”

“It’s all mind games,” grunted Billy. “We just need to focus and stay calm.”

There was a sharp sound from behind them causing both boys to whip around. One set of iron bars dropped and figures loomed in the darkness beyond. Billy was about to loose an arrow when the figures rushed into the light with near feral battle-cries. Long hair swayed with every movement and small hands held wicked daggers or short swords.

Billy lowered the bow. “Women,” he breathed, almost blankly. 

Trey was equally stunned but managed to keep a loose grip on his broadsword. The crowd cheered louder than ever now but the noise seemed to fall flat in his ears. This was what Mellow had meant. Trey cursed and looked for a way out but couldn’t see any.

The first woman, a twenty something year old with blonde hair, pounced at Billy who was still in a daze. Trey shoved him out of the way and deflected the sword thrust with his own blade. The other women circled around them, covering each flank like wolves stalking bear cubs.

Billy staggered back to his feet, drawing his rapier as he did. The women chose that moment to strike, flashing steel darting in every direction at once. Both teens blocked what they could but without aiming to injure they achieved little. Cuts began to crisscross their skin as blood splashed onto the sand again and again like the start of a spring rain.

“We can’t keep this up forever!” Trey managed to shout between hisses of pain. His sword was not designed to defend against several faster weapons. Its purpose was heavy killing strokes.

“I won’t kill them!” Billy growled under his breath. He was having a better time of defending himself but he was tiring faster than the relentless attacks of the female Flesh Eroders. “I won’t,” he kept repeating beneath his breath.

Never pick on the girls, Billy, came his mother’s voice. You’re bigger than them for a reason. It’s your job to look after them, protect them. You’re a good boy and you’ll grow to be a good man. Look after us girls and you’ll be glad afterwards, mark my words.

A knife slid between the joints in Trey’s armour, piercing his skin and muscle. He screamed out in pain. Blood flowed freely from the wound. Another used his distraction and sliced across his face. He could feel himself weakening with every second. He heard a harsh thud beside him and turned to see Billy clutching his ribs and a woman with a hammer readying a second swing. Trey knocked the hammer women away with the flat of his blade and received a slash across the back of his calf for his efforts.

“I don’t want to die,” Billy wheezed through pained breaths. “Not now. Not like this.”

Distant memories began to race through Trey’s head, the images of his past somehow forming a barrier between him and the pain. A tiredness that carried with it a comforting warmth washed over his body. Consciousness began to fade. His mother’s face rose from the darkness, smiling and loving, only to be replaced by the struggling, defeated Sarah as she was dragged away from him by the Forukks.

Trey took a staggered step forward, his shoulders slumped and his head hung. “If I give up then that means I have given up on her, on everyone. I…Will…Save her!”

He swung his sword with the strength that he had feared he had lost. The steel tore into flesh and sprayed blood across the sand in a wide arc. The woman he had hit crumpled to the floor and shook violently for several seconds before becoming still forever. Billy stared at him in a lost bewilderment and the remaining women took a few steps back, now eying Trey cautiously.

“B-but we are the good guys. Killing women is never the answer. There has to be another way.”

“There is no other way,” Trey began coldly. “If you want to save your family you have to kill them. If not, your family dies with you. I will make any sacrifice to protect Mum. Never forget that!” he ended, sprinting at the Flesh Eroders. They too burst into action.

Red eyed, Trey cut into whoever came within his sight. One jumped at Billy with a mallet. He closed his eyes and threw a knife, the woman’s body crashing down at his feet. His rapier flashed brutally, glassy eyes watching in deadened horror at his actions.

Then as fast as it had started, bodies stopped jumping at their blades. three of the four women lay dead in the sand while the final one writhed, clutching at her gut. Trey’s blood soaked blade was the only thing keeping him standing. He dropped to his knees, throwing up until nothing else remained in his stomach. Billy threw his weapons to the ground, disgusted by the sight of them. Silent tears streamed down his face.

Mellow appeared through one of the gateways, surveying the carnage with a smile. “You have done well. Your task is not finished yet though.”

“We won!” Trey screamed. He doubled over again and started to dry retch. Billy did not move. He stared into the distance as though in a dream.

“My deal was four lives in exchange for your existence. Only three have been taken,” Mellow explained, pointing at the injured woman.

Trey followed his finger and shook his head. “No. Sprites be damned. I won’t do it. Never again.”

The woman reached out her hand toward Trey. It was glossy with her own blood. She coughed then began to spasm. The next second, she too had joined the dead.

Mellow shrugged. “Oh well. That is four lives. You two can live.” He whistled and men emerged onto the sand to collect the bodies. A grate in the floor was opened and the women’s corpses were unceremoniously dumped within it.

“I hope you boys don’t mind being locked away until the other challenges are complete,” Mellow said almost pleasantly. He motioned to his men who grabbed Trey and Billy. They too were carried over to the grate and were dropped into the hole. The bars slammed shut above them. “I want you to truly soak in your sin,” Mellow laughed on his way back to Zak and Dawn.

“You’re sick!” Dawn almost sobbed. “Does life mean nothing to you?”

“Not really. Life is easy enough to replicate,” the chief said with a mocking grin.

Zak snorted. “You better have something better than a few women to throw at me.”

“Of course.” Mellow’s grin widened and his eyes glistened. “You get to fight me.”

Zak’s eyes lit up. He willingly walked to the centre of the Bloodground and almost whooped when he was handed his axe and katana back. Mellow stood opposite him completely unarmed. If the assemblage of Flesh Eroders had been wild before, now they were in a frenzy. They screamed and yelled at the top of their voices, feet stomping and arms a blur of movement.

There was a crash and the ship lurched. The ground shook for a few seconds then returned to its former equilibrium. The tribesmen had stopped cheering but when Mellow showed no reaction they resumed with refreshed vigour.

“It seems that your friend is causing us some trouble,” stated the chief blandly.

“It’s what we do best,” Zak boasted. “Now you better grab a weapon. I won’t falter just because you’re unarmed,” Zak said angrily. Despite this, his eyes searched every inch of the man, taking in every strength and weakness that he might possess.

Mellow laughed in his face. “Don’t worry. I don’t need any.”

Zak snapped. He leapt at Mellow and released a flurry of axe blows that would have matched the speed of any fencer. Every swing failed to hit its target though. Mellow swayed and ducked almost lazily, flowing around the attacks like they were coming at him in slow motion. The axe flashed down in a vertical cut and Mellow grabbed the blade with his hand. With a quick movement of his wrist he pushed at the blade and made the tip of the handle smash into Zak’s face.

Mellow released the axe but there was no trace of blood on his skin. Zak swung the axe again but Mellow did not even attempt to dodge this time. He blocked it with his arm and the blade struck and slid off as though it had hit metal. Mellow stepped closer and kneed Zak in the gut before punching him across the arena.

“Damn!” Zak managed to spit. He forced himself into a kneeling position but could not get his legs to support the rest of his body. “Think damn it! How can he be this strong?”

Mellow came into his view, followed shortly by a kick to the ribs so powerful that Zak smashed into the wall of the tiered stands. His axe lay in the sand where he had been kicked. With a grunt he struggled up, using the wall for support, then drew his twin katana. Previous pain forgotten, he dashed at the man, his blades like lightning strikes in his hands. Mellow blocked each with a deft movement of his hand.

“My turn,” the chief said. In an instant he switched to the offensive.

Like a pro boxer, Mellow pummelled Zak with precision punches that shook the teen to his core with every impact. For every attack that Zak managed to defend against, another two passed through.

A hand grabbed at Zak’s throat with a vice like grip and lifted him from the ground. With his free hand, Mellow laid into Zak as though he was a punching bag. Another explosion shook the sand fortress but Mellow did not miss a single beat even as half of the crowd toppled. When Zak stopped struggling, Mellow threw him at the ground with enough force to make him bounce a foot back into the air.

“Do you now realise just how weak you are? Thrown around like a rag-doll by an unarmed man. You are pathetic.”

Zak twitched but could manage nothing more. Mellow gave him a sharp parting kick to the ribs then turned his back on the boy. He clicked his fingers and Dawn was led out to him. She was giving her best attempt at stately serenity but that calm did not reflect within her eyes. They darted between Zak’s unmoving body and the grate where Billy and Trey were being kept.

Previous – Chapter 33. The Price of Life.

Next – Chapter 35. Holding the Line.

Chapter 33. The Price of Life. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

Light flared and Liam felt the arms that held him suddenly tense then fall away. He couldn’t see a thing but he had committed the ship’s deck to memory. Five steps forward, three to the left to avoid a pile of crates, duck under some hanging ropes, then a clean sprint to the door that led downstairs into the bowels of the vessel. Fumbling blindly, he found the handle and swung the door open, slamming it shut just as the light began to die away.

The steps were a shabby collection of wooden planks that ranged in height from baby strides to sudden drops. If it wasn’t for Liam’s attunement to the gloom then he would have stumbled more than once. Scant lanterns provided a dirty light which struggled to pierce through the soot stained glass that surrounded the flames.

Liam felt something scurry up his leg then Pux appeared upon his shoulder. “Do you have any idea on the layout of a giant land ship?” Liam shook his head. “As a tree dweller the size of an acorn, neither do I. I do however know that to take down something bigger than you, you need to take out its feet. In this case, we should destroy some of the wheels.”

“What about the controls?” offered Liam. “That was what lost us the carrier after all.”

Pux nodded slowly. “Yes. That would work. We would need to find them though. I didn’t see any external controls when I flew over the ship. They must be in one of the rooms above.” He made a series of clicking sounds with his tongue. A moment later more clicks responded from all around them. “This place is swarming with rats. Luckily for us they know this ship well. They tell me that we can get to several of the engine rooms from here but they are all guarded.”

“We need to get around them where possible. I doubt we’ll avoid them all though. I’ll need a weapon,” Liam said. He continued down the passageway cautiously, pausing with every crack and groan that came from the vessel.

Under the rats’ squeaked directions, Pux led them through the garbled maze of shanty corridors and cluttered storerooms. Three times Liam had to hastily hide when Flesh Eroders swept through in search of him. More times than he could count he’d had to avoid rooms entirely or sneak like a shadow past muttering men and women.

“The rats are saying that the room up ahead to the right is filled with metal death. That means weapons of some kind,” explained Pux.

“What do they say?” Liam asked out of the blue. “Rats, creatures hated by man yet never far apart. Hated because they survive. We call them vermin when really they only mirror us.”

Pux laughed lowly, almost bitterly. “A human who can think past himself? Your race is always so full of surprises. I was brought up to view humans as egotistical tyrants willing to destroy anything for their own gain. While I’ve seen too many examples of this to dismiss it, you, Trey and the others really are on a whole different level.”

“The rats don’t care about how they are viewed. As you stated, they survive. That is what matters to them. However much they are hunted, the more humans grow, the more they will,” Pux finished. “This door here,” he added.

Liam eased the door open and Pux darted in to check for life. It was clear so Liam entered. There was no light inside but with the door open he could just make out a row of chests against the back wall and an array of various crude looking cudgels and mallets hanging from the walls.

Pux climbed up to the lock on the first chest and set to work unlocking it with his sword. Liam inspected the weapons around him and couldn’t help but shudder. These weapons were designed to break bones. No armour offered protection from blunt force trauma. 

The lock clicked, snapping Liam away from his dark thoughts. He heaved the chest open to reveal a pile of hundreds of knives and daggers thrown together without care. Their varied sizes and designs suggested that they were taken from cultures all across the world. That was unusual for a remote desert tribe.

Liam started to search through the knives for something he felt comfortable with while Pux made a start on the next chest when there was a sharp hiss behind them. Liam whipped around just in time to avoid a thrown dagger aimed at his head. It thunked into a wooden beam behind him. Opposite him was a wild haired woman wrapped in loose furs.

The woman readied a hatchet. As she advanced she began to scream at the top of her lungs. She was going to bring the entire tribe down upon them. Still screeching, the woman charged at Liam. He grabbed her wrists and held her in place. He had no weapon but needed to silence her. Unthinkingly he tossed the hatchet to the side and grabbed her head. He twisted. There was a sharp snap, then silence.

Liam watched the woman slide to the floor. Her fierce blue eyes stared up at him unblinkingly. Only now did he see that she was a scant few years older than himself. By most standards she would have been attractive, but Liam couldn’t force his eyes away from those glassy orbs that stared into his soul.

What was death? What defined that fleeting moment between a living, moving, thinking being and a corpse? What gave him the power to decide who should cease to exist? One person had to die but why should it have been her? He had killed her with his bare hands, looked into her eyes as he removed her from the world.

It was only when Liam felt a slight pressure on his leg that he realised that he was shaking. He looked down to see Pux placing a reassuring hand on his ankle. “You did what you had to.” He chortled to himself. “You said that nothing affects you. Things feel so different when you cannot escape it, don’t they? Holding a body in your arms shows things as they are, not like seeing death at a distance.”

“Dawn’s mother…”

“Would you have been so impassive had you been forced to do this?” Pux asked, indicating the body.

Liam reached out an unsteady hand and gently closed the girl’s eyes. Without a word he stood and grabbed a cudgel from the wall.

“If my life cost that girl hers, then it would be an insult to get myself killed now. I wonder how far through life a person can go, stacking up the deaths they have created in return for their own survival?”

“Ask any soldier. Any man with a soul who kills has to come to terms with it. Come, we still have a job to do.”

Liam took one last look at the dead girl then followed Pux out of the room. The corridors beyond were clustered with Flesh Eroder warriors who had been drawn to the scream. They were searching every room one by one. It was only when Pux snuck into a different room and started to knock items over that Liam was able to slip past into the next level down.

The noise here was much louder than above. Liam didn’t need Pux’s directions to find his way to the closest engine room. A warrior stood guard but after turning to stare at Pux, Liam smacked him in the head. Liam hoped that he had managed to keep him alive but he had little time to make sure. He dragged the man inside and shut the door behind him.

Two more men were inside the room but neither had anything more than a knife. Liam and Pux took care of them in short order and heaped their bodies in one corner.

In the centre of the room was the top quarter of a giant wheel that was turning at a constant steady rate. Steam filled the room and a large furnace burned. A wide pile of coal sat beside the furnace while huge barrels of saltwater lined the walls. Rusted pipes connected everything together creating a bramble like thicket of metal.

Liam eased his way through the pipes to stand beside the mammoth wheel. The furnace heated the water to steam that created pressure that turned the wheel. Liam had to admit that it was a clever setup. 

After a quick scan, he selected the joint where the wheel was connected to a large box that the pipes fed into. From under his shirt he unfastened a flat, flask like metal shape. To any inspection for weapons it would have felt like nothing more than a drinking flask or at the most an armoured plate. The soft rattling of powder within told a different story though. It contained far less powder than a usual boomball and its design made it less effective as a weapon. He placed the explosive container into a nook and lit the fuse with a small steel and flint device.

He made a hasty retreat and was halfway down the hall before a peal of thunder rang out and the sand fortress lurched and shuddered. The colossal ship continued to move though.

“They’ll be on to us now,” said Pux, once again taking to Liam’s shoulder. “The engine rooms will be under heavy guard in a few minutes.”

Liam shrugged. “Well then we’ll just have to move fast.” He broke into a run. “If we take down two more of the wheels then move to the control room that should be enough to bring this ship down.”

“Shame about the other two giant ships really,” muttered Pux. He sighed. “I only hope that we’re quick enough to save the others.”

Previous – Chapter 32. Barbarian Battle.

Next – Chapter 34. Sacrifices.

Chapter 32. Barbarian Battle. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

The very walls seemed to shake as twenty thousand voices roared guttural war cries aimed at the besieged city. Weapons clashed against shields, armour and the ground causing a steady beat among the harsh shouts.

Only days before had the existence of the huge army even been known to the city. In those few days a desperate struggle had ensued to fortify Onlasar. A deep ditch had been dug skirting the city wall and spikes had been placed within it to impale any foes who fell. Additional battle towers had been constructed taking the number from thirty to fifty. Too many of the defences had been left to fade in the peace.

Commander Nakai inspected his newly assembled army and suppressed a sigh. Around eight thousand men stood before him with what weapons and armour could be provided for them. Every guard in the city had been assigned as sergeants as they were at least trained to fight, even if it was not for a pitched battle like this.

The main bulk of the army was just regular citizens conscripted to defend their city. Every person able to lift a sword and pull a bowstring was enlisted to fight, regardless of age. All boys from the age of thirteen had been given a mass produced sword, a shield, a bow and some meagre armour. Men as old as seventy held their weapons in shaking hands. Women were given the option whether to fight. Most declined but many grabbed their armaments and hastened to their given position.

“So, this is how it all ends, eh Mike,” said one of Nakai’s generals and close friend, Robert Barker. Nakai placed a reassuring hand upon his shoulder before taking his place at the head of the gathering of soldiers.

“Everyone listen up,” roared Nakai. “Today we face a storm unlike any that we have faced in our, or our fathers’ lifetime. Much longer in fact but it is us and us alone who must face it, and face it we will! Our families hide in fear. They cry! Will we let harm befall them?”

A huge thunder of ‘No’s erupted and filled the city, drowning out the chaos of noise beyond the walls for the briefest of seconds. Thousands of warriors, peasants, nobles, merchants and soldiers alike were ordered to occupy the battle towers and archer boxes. All had bows aimed at the barbarians, arrows nocked. The remaining soldiers formed ranks in the streets below with weapons at the ready.

The barbarians stayed out of bow range though. They fully surrounded the city, cutting off all routes in and out. A large gap in their ranks suggested that more were expected. Forukks and men in

foreign armour dotted the barbarian horde as well as several mountain beasts captured and trained for battle. Too few of the defenders were even trained to use the weapons they held. The savages below them were profound at the art of killing.

The citizens of Onlasar did have a few advantages. Every few soldiers had boom-balls strapped somewhere on their bodies to throw into the vast gathering of enemies beyond the walls. Each person had a quiver full of arrows and many boxes held refills if all were exhausted. They also had Commander Mike Nakai, leader of the defending forces and the greatest warrior in Onlasar.

Nakai stood in a battle-tower gazing out at the mass of foes that almost reached the horizon. He had a good tactical mind so he knew the options he had and the outcomes that they would bring. He knew that if the barbarians were smart then they would just stay out of bow range and starve the city. It could take months for the food to run out but it inevitably would. The defenders would die of starvation, turn on each other or try and fight the enemy in a last desperate struggle. All ways led to inevitable death.

Luckily, Nakai also knew a lot about the barbarians. They were impatient brutes who loved nothing better than a good fight. They would not limit their own casualties by waiting, where would the fun be in that? Instead they would throw themselves at the defenders in a savage rage that few could stand against.

He scanned the faces of the men around him. They ranged from terror to grim determination but they all had the haunted look that came from knowing that there was nowhere to run. Men never fought harder than when their backs were to the wall. Not that that helped morale at all.

Nakai remembered his first battle. He had been ambushed by barbarians while travelling with his father. Everything was a heightened blur at the time but he remembered coming to his senses afterward, soaked in blood with corpses all around him and a dying man at the end of his blade. He had been no older than Trey and his friends back then.

A movement at the front of the opposing army drew Nakai’s attention. A lone warrior stepped forwards causing a hush among the warriors behind him. He was a huge man built like a bear, arms like

mighty tree trunks and a chest like a barrel. His head was bald and covered in tattoos designed to make his face look like an Abyss Sprite, an evil manifestation of a fallen Sprite. In one hand he held a monstrous club that would take a normal man all his strength to lift two handed, let alone be able to swing it. Huge slabs of black iron served as his armour.

It was the barbarian leader, Serka. He took another few steps forwards so that he was within range of the defenders bows. Smiling savagely he bellowed out his message. “Are you ready for some fun?” 

A single arrow shot out from the wall aimed for Serka’s throat. In a flick of his powerful wrist his club decimated the arrow. His laugh boomed out at the city, almost as loud and powerful as the entire army’s war chants earlier.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” he roared as he turned back to his army. “Charge!”

A tidal wave of warriors rushed forwards screaming threats and challenges to the men above them. Arrows erupted from the walls like a giant ripple mowing down the front line of foes. More and more arrows rained down upon the barbarians but their berserker rage kept them running even after their bodies had been pierced by the projectiles.

“Focus your fire on the monsters! The Forukks cannot be allowed to live!” Nakai ordered at the top of his lungs.

From within the mountain range, Nakai noticed a fearsome sight. Catapults and trebuchets were being pulled into view of the city. Arrows would not reach them but the rocks that they fired could level

the entire city. How had the savages achieved so much without being noticed?

A volley of five rocks descended towards Onlasar. A small portion of the wall in the north crumbled at the impact of one of the huge chunks of stone. Two battle towers fell, a building near the centre of the city collapsed and a crater appeared in the main road. Another few volleys like that and there would be no city left to defend.

“Fifth company, bolster the defences to the north! Keep them out of the city at all costs!” the commander shouted to Barker.

“On it, Sir!” Barker responded with a salute. “Men, move out. Double-time to the breech.”

Nakai contemplated their options. They could not leave the siege weapons intact or they would destroy the city within the day. No archer could get an arrow anywhere near them and the city’s own catapults would hit the mountains unless they got very lucky. A squad of men could not assault them as an army stood between them and all exits from the city were blocked.

More and more rocks fell from the skies reducing parts of the city to rubble. Barbarians fell like leaves from a tree in autumn but it made little difference. Various savages darted through the horde, sharp shooting any visible archers with their crude crossbows.

Flame exploded from the battle tower that neighboured Nakai’s own. As Nakai struggled to his feet his gaze followed a trail of smoke from the wrecked tower to the hands of a strange barbarian standing a few rows away from the front line.

“Great,” muttered Nakai. “They outnumber us, have siege weapons and a sorcerer.” No Nimula had been used openly for centuries after it was outlawed on pain of death by the first order of the Neotites when they had tried to seize control of Farava. Healers were still allowed to practise basic Nimula but even that knowledge was fading. Yet here was a man who could wield it and was helping to destroy the last great city in the land.

“What are we to do, sir?” asked a young woman, Nakai’s lieutenant, Suzy Fireblood.

Nakai had found her living on the streets back when he was only a sergeant. The first time he had seen her was when she was in the middle of a fight with a group of snobby nobles’ kids who had thought they could pick on her. She had made them all run off with their tails between their legs. After they had rounded a corner she collapsed from her injuries and near starvation.

Nakai had given her some of his food rations and offered her a job as a soldier in his regiment where she would receive food and shelter. She accepted and had risen through the ranks along with Nakai.

She looked more than a little worried. She was looking at the sorcerer too. He was easy to pick out because of his green beard and golden robes. Nakai’s mind was racing through ideas that could help but nothing took form into a plausible plan. He watched the men and women around him, knowing that their lives were in his hands.

A terrible explosion threw flames and shrapnel into the air in a large dome. To Nakai’s surprise it was in the enemy’s forces and not in his own. He watched closely and saw one of his sergeants, a violent, battle hungry man by the name of Logar, fill a rucksack with boomballs, soak it in oil, then with a mighty swing of his arm he threw it into the air.

As it arced back down towards the enemy he grabbed a crossbow with a flaming arrow from a man by his side and shot. The arrow flew true and hit the bag, igniting it and the fuses on the boom-balls. As it neared the ground it exploded, killing every man within a ten foot radius. Many more were slaughtered by the jagged metal shrapnel. This gave Nakai a brilliant idea. He turned to face Suzy Fireblood.

“Tell the catapult crew to put several boom-balls in a bag and soak it in oil. Have them launch it toward the enemy siege weapons.”

“Aye, sir,” replied the lieutenant as she rushed down the tower’s ladders.

We just need to live long enough for the enemy siege weapons to be destroyed and we might just stand a chance, thought Nakai. Even as that thought passed through his mind more rocks rained upon the city.

The barbarians had now reached the wall and were bringing ladders to the front. Despite the ladder crew being shot at by every archer, many still managed to raise their ladder to the wall. Men clambered up them like spiders. Within a minute the battlements were swarmed with ruffians.

A soldier ran up to one of the ladders that had risen last and attempted to push it off the wall before the warriors reached the top. As his hand grasped the wood, purple flames roared into existence, consuming the man’s whole body within seconds yet doing nothing to the wood. Nimula had been used to help defend the ladders. All that remained of the man was ash and the smell of burnt flesh. More warriors pulled themselves up and charged towards the city’s troops.

The defenders dropped their bows and drew their swords. Nakai did the same. He leapt from his tower onto the battlement above the main gate, cleaving a barbarian’s head in half as he landed. Blood spurted onto his face but he did not have the time to wipe it off. He ducked under a blow aimed at his head by a muscular man with a spiked mace and stabbed at his gut. Nakai’s blade protruded from the man’s back causing him to spasm briefly then fall to the floor. The commander had just begun to fight with a swordsman when all eyes on the battlefield and in the city were drawn to the mountains.

An explosion of monstrous proportion shook the mountain closest to the enemy siege weapons causing a landslide to swallow them and their crews. Every defender cheered at the change in fortunes. The enemy was far from defeated yet though.

The fighting continued more fiercely than ever. More and more ladders were raised as few defenders continued to shoot out at the seething mass of foes beneath them. Most were fighting for their lives, locked in a deadly melee to defend the battlements and repel the enemy.

The wall beneath Nakai’s feet started to shake slightly. He knew this feeling. The gates were opening. He kicked the barbarian he was currently fighting off the wall to fall to his doom and vaulted onto the stairs leading from the battlement.

The gate was free of men and the device that opened the gate was left untouched. The only other place where the gate could be opened was inside the castle. That meant that there was a traitor in the same place as the Lord, the women and the children.

Nakai had to warn them but first he needed to close the gate or at least get some soldiers to stop the barbarians flowing into the city. He could not leave to find anyone though or it would be too late to stop them as already barbarians were entering through the gate.

Just as it looked like he would have to choose to either stop the barbarians walking through the city’s front doors or warning the Lord of a traitor in the castle, his lieutenant tapped him on the shoulder. With her were ten men with grim faces.

“We’ll handle these guys while you go and do whatever it is that is causing you trouble,” she said with a smile.

“The whole barbarian army will be coming through here. You and ten men can’t do more than delay them for a few minutes at the most. Your odds of surviving are a million to one,” pointed out the concerned commander.

“When has that ever stopped me before?” answered the woman with a laugh. “More men will come as soon as news gets out. We won’t be alone for long.”

Nakai smiled back at her then sprinted off in the direction of the castle as fast as his feet would carry him.

Previous – Chapter 31. Blacksky.

Next – Chapter 33. The Price of Life.

Chapter 31. Blacksky. (The Sword Summoner: History Repeats)

“Trey. Wake up. Please be okay.”

Searing light assaulted his eyes as the soft voice registered in Trey’s subconscious and drew his mind back to the forefront of his brain. His body screamed out in pain but a quick check confirmed that everything was still functional.

He was standing upright, held straight by thick ropes that tied him to a tall pole. Similar poles held the other teens. They were all conscious and none looked seriously injured. Everyone retained their armour but their weapons were nowhere in sight. Billy’s lutar was in the hands of a dirty tribesman who grinned toothily as he plucked tunelessly at the strings. Dawn, who was on the pole to the right of him, sighed in relief now that Trey’s eyes were open.

“I have the strangest sense of déjà vu,” commented Zak dryly from Trey’s left.

“Shut up,” grunted Billy who was slumped dejectedly beside Zak. “We were lucky to escape last time we were captured. Now it’s all but impossible.” Between downtrodden looks at the floor he flashed the man holding his lutar venomous glares.

“Impossible you say?” asked a bemused voice that was hidden by a group of Flesh Eroder warriors. It was a calm, strong voice that sounded distant, yet felt whispered directly into the ear. Brutal yet as soft as silk. From the cluster of men stepped a slim man wrapped head to foot in ribbons crusted with long dried blood. Tanned skin stood out in a strip across his face from where crystal blue eyes watched the world with calculating amusement. “Time makes all possible.”

Dawn drew a sharp breath. Almost subconsciously she began to speak in a shaking rhyme. “Beware the man all wrapped in blood, whose riddled words aren’t understood, for in those eyes all souls erode, the man whose life the Sprites are owed.”

The wrapped man smiled, pearl white teeth visible through the folds of gory cloth. The blue eyes moved slowly over each of the captives, studying them with an intensity that knew every secret that their minds contained.

“What an interesting assortment we have gathered here,” he said. He directed his attention at Zak. “Who could have predicted that I would stumble across one of the Summoner’s blood.”

Zak looked genuinely surprised. “How did you know?” Trey had never seen the boy be taken aback.

“I see the auras, as I assume you can on occasion,” the man explained. His and Zak’s eyes were locked with a fierce intensity. “You see, I too am a descendant of the last Summoner. You could say that we are distant cousins. Our blood is hardly similar though. The Summoner had two sons to two different women. I belong to one chain, while you are from the other.”

“Just who the hell are you?” Billy managed to growl. Under the man’s attention the harshness of the words sounded more like whimpers.

“How rude of me. I am Mellow Blacksky, chieftain of the Flesh Eroder tribe,” the man introduced himself. His attention was still solely focussed upon Zak. “I have a proposition for you, cousin. Join me. With your strength, you would be my right hand man. You’d have all of the battle and power that you could desire.”

Zak laughed openly. “I already have all the power that I could possibly want and I’ll have more than enough battle between beating you and then marching into Lanstiro to show those Forukks who they’re dealing with. In the past few weeks alone my power has increased massively.”

“How dare you!” snarled one of the Flesh Eroders. He pushed his way forward and slammed his fist into Zak’s stomach. Zak didn’t even flinch.

“If you want to try the old ‘good guard bad guard’ then you may want to get this guy a hammer,” the teen grinned.

Mellow motioned for the warrior to stand down. He took a step closer to Zak. “Such confidence. Can your body support that confidence though?” Lightning fast he drove his fist into Zak’s gut. If Zak hadn’t been tied up then the boy would have doubled over. Blood spewed from his mouth onto the wooden planks beneath him.

“H-how?” Zak wheezed through pained breaths.

“Blood, my dear boy,” Mellow chuckled dryly. “Use your head. You derive your power from the blood passed down from a Summoner. The Summoner himself has no special blood as it is the prolonged use of the sword that infuses his essence. In old age a Summoner may begin to benefit from these changes but it is his children that gain the most. That power is watered down with every generation.”

Zak grit his teeth against the pain. “I am stronger than my gramps ever was!”

Mellow punched him again and Zak’s eyes looked on the verge of popping out of their sockets.

“Stop it!” screamed Dawn. “Leave him alone!” 

The chieftain turned and focussed in on the girl. “And let us not forget you, my dear. Robes the colour of fresh blood and hair like a flame to herald in a new era. I know you, Dawn Rayin of the Heptalli. You were named for your destiny of bringing the dawn of a new chapter in the Heptalli’s history. Nowhere does it state that this new era will be for the better or worse though. Such a mountainous weight for such slender shoulders, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Get away from her!” Trey growled but Mellow ignored him completely.

“Join me, Dawn. Together we can unite the desert as it once was. Think of the peace that would create.”

Dawn fought to keep her face calm, a difficult task under his piercing gaze. “What peace can be found by a man who formed a band of savages named the Flesh Eroders? By a man who wraps himself in the blood of every man, woman, and child that he has ever murdered?”

Mellow laughed a great rumbling laugh. “The world is a contradiction,” he chuckled merrily. “You say that ‘Flesh Eroder’ is savage but what is it that erodes flesh? Time! It is time that reduces kings and paupers to skeletons. This desert that we call home, this wondrous sand as far as the eye can see, all of it is the result of the erosion of time. This desert was a lake, which in turn was once a sea. That sea rubbed against cliffs and mountains, grinding rock into sand. Water eroded mountains to create sand which formed this desert. Life becomes death and that death feeds new life! Life and death, creation and erosion, one is impossible without the other!” he ranted happily as though he was revealing the secret of life to the teens.

“As for these,” Mellow continued, tugging at the blood stained bandages. “Think of them less as a gory trophy and more of a memoriam of the souls that I owe life to. Blood is the essence of humanity, by wearing the blood of every life that I have reaped it serves as a constant reminder of every face, every voice, every set of eyes that I have seen the life drain away from. Look back far enough into the Heptalli’s history and you would see that you wear crimson robes as a reflection of my practice.”

“Our family has worn red for centuries,” Dawn countered. 

Mellow swung around to face Zak again. “And there we have the answer to your question of how my power supersedes your own. I used my talents to extend my life exponentially. The last Summoner was my grandfather.” Like a whip he rounded on Dawn. “Those tales that mothers tell children to scare them about the blood wrapped leader of the Flesh Eroders are not made up stories, nor is it a mask taken up by a new man every few years. I am legend. I am time immaterial.”

Liam yawned. “Enough talking already. If you’re going to kill us, just get it over with.”

“You are quite right, Onlasarian. I have an appointment at your city’s walls to keep.” Mellow nodded. He began to walk away.

Zak snarled at him. “I…am the…strongest!” He hissed a chain of strange words. As his voice picked up tempo, dark clouds boiled above them. Lightning flashed and forked down upon the head of the chieftain. Mellow raised his arm and batted the blazing bolt away like a fly. The lighting scored a deep line of molten glass into the desert to their right.

Tutting under his breath, Mellow pulled a book from his bandages. Its dark crimson leather casing and golden lettering made it instantly recognisable. ‘The Arts of Nimula’. He leafed through the pages then threw it across the deck in disgust.

“You put such faith in a child’s toy,” he grunted. “Books such as that were used to teach children the basics of the power, the words little more than an aid to help concentration.” Mellow raised his arms and the land shook and groaned violently. Sand rose up all around them, enclosing over the ship until it formed a shell that surrounded the three vessels. Mellow lowered his arms and the sand crashed back into its original place.

The Flesh Eroder warriors cackled with raucous laughter at the sheer fear and shock on their captives’ faces. Even Zak seemed stunned by the display. Power still crackled through the air, dissolving slowly in the wind.

“Get the ships moving again,” Mellow ordered the men around him. “Time alone won’t destroy Onlasar. While we have nothing to do other than wait, prepare the Bloodgrounds. Our guests may as well provide us with some manner of entertainment during their demise.”

A chorus of cheers erupted from a thousand throats. Men and women jumped to their tasks, hooting with an eager bloodlust that chilled Trey’s spine.

A tiny voice whispered behind Trey. “A real mess you’ve gotten into this time. How many times can you possible get yourselves captured?”

“Pux!” The Yuxova moved onto Trey’s shoulder, crouching low to avoid detection. “Can you cut the ropes for us?” Trey whispered.

Pux shook his head. “No. The ropes are too thick for my blade. Add to that you are all tied up separately, I would be noticed before everyone was free. Even if I could, there are too many warriors for you to escape from. Remember, there is no battle to distract them this time.”

Trey thought, his mind racing with plans. “Liam, do you still have any boomballs?” he asked in a low voice.

The older boy inched his head forward slightly. “Yeah. A few smaller versions.”

“They will have to untie us to take us to this ‘Bloodground’,” Trey explained. “When they do we need a distraction. Zak, do you think you can keep them busy for a few seconds?”

A shark-like grin spread across the boy’s face. “Oh, I’ll keep them distracted alright. Death is pretty distracting, right?”

“Liam, you break away and run. Pux, guide him through the ship to something important, keep him away from any enemies where possible. Destroy what you can with the boomballs. If this ship stops then Onlasar will have one less army outside of its walls. At least for a while longer.

“And what about us?” grunted Billy. “I didn’t notice the part where we are saved.”

“Neither did I,” Trey replied heavily. He could see no way out, but with so much depending on his actions, he would somehow find a way.

Trey couldn’t be sure how long they hung there, but it felt like an age before anything happened. Judging by the sun, only an hour or so had passed. A group of Eroders finally came for them. Mellow wasn’t among them.

“Cut ‘em loose!” commanded an Eroder. He had hundreds of teeth strung around his body. Men with hatchets scurried to the copse of poles and hacked the ropes apart. Before any of the teens could take a step, each was held firmly by two guards.

Trey made a show of looking defeated. His shoulders sagged and his head hung, his downcast eyes watching the shuffle of his dragging feet. The act wasn’t too difficult. He still couldn’t see any way out of their situation and his body stung everywhere from the carrier’s destruction. His armour had taken the brunt of the damage but now that too pained him. Its weight pulled him down and the shining metal roasted him in the unforgiving glare of the sun.

They were moved across the deck through a tangle of crates, cages and rope coils. Stairs leading both higher up and below deck were scattered seemingly randomly. Flesh Eroders were everywhere but there were plenty of places to hide.

“Now!” Trey shouted.

Zak heaved his shoulders and thrust his head back, breaking his guard’s nose. With a fluid movement he swung around, kneed the man in his gut then threw him at the next closest warrior. Every free man rushed at him. Zak raised his arms and crossed his palms above his head. A blinding light flashed out from his hands, enveloping everything in searing white.

The light faded away. The closest Flesh Eroder smashed a club into Zak’s head. Zak broke his arm in return. Then the rest of the warriors piled onto him, beating the teen down and wrapping him in heavy chains.

A flabby man wearing lots of gaudy jewellery prodded Zak’s chest. “You fool. Did you really think you could run? Ha! Idiot.” A few of the other tribesmen snorted laughter directed at the teen.

“Says the guys who are a prisoner down,” Zak pointed out.

The men whipped around. Liam was gone, his guard dead on the ground with several tiny punctures in his throat. The flabby man roared in anger. “Search the ship! Find him!” Both men and women scurried off to obey the command. “Get these meat-sacks to the Bloodgrounds. Mellow wants a show so we won’t disappoint. The quicker they die, the quicker we can eat.”

Billy groaned. “I hope you know what you’re doing Trey.”

“So do I,” Trey muttered quietly.

Previous – Chapter 30. The Erosion of Time.

Next – Chapter 32. Barbarian Battle.