From dark fantasy I venture into Sword and Sorcery for the first time. I expect this tale to be novella length once completed. Hope you enjoy this teaser.
The Dawn of Limcat
Saya, Year 1043 Octalamus Dynasty – The Night of Blue Fire
Two of The Enlightened were missing, Grandmaster Virgil in Venegese and Grandmaster Shamak in Rottoman. This was no coincidence, surely. This was a power play, but by whom and for what cause? The Enlightened did not normally interfere in politics or with other sorcery factions. Yet, now The Hand or another house of sorcery, or perhaps even a king, meant the Order of The Enlightened harm. It was these heavy thoughts that weighed on Grandmaster Ganaqui’s mind as he sat in his study.
He sat cross legged within a circle of powered dragon marrow. He was levitated by a few inches, his eyes closed, his mind soaring above The Hand’s headquarters inside the gates of Paladine. It was a raven’s wings that guided him and through raven’s eyes he now spied the activity of The Hand. Yet, from above nothing within the compound appeared out of the ordinary. Sorcerers of various rank, clad in their black robes, moved about casually between several buildings including The Hand’s academy. Others, labourers and servants, performed mundane tasks. Several carriages came and went making deliveries. Armoured guards stood at the east and west gates.
Ganaqui had the raven circle above the compound several times, then perch high upon The Hand’s tower. The magic is strong around these buildings. I could be detected at any time. Yet, perhaps the right window sill could prove advantageous. But I must not linger-
Pain. Suddenly he was falling and Ganaqui could not regain control of the raven. A crossbow bolt had struck the bird. He quickly broke the bond.
Ganaqui’s eyes opened.
“Father.” A toddler of four stood in the doorway of the study. She was a beautiful child with bronze skin and large ebon eyes. Her black locks shimmered in the golden light of the room’s orb.
“Limcat, you should be asleep, dreaming of Fentasian fairies and sweet noodles.”
She scampered up to him and climbed into his lap. “Tell me a story, one about the north people.”
“Ah, the north people, you say. Did you know they have pale spotted skin and hair as red as fire? And eyes blue as the Capsuni Sea?”
“Blue eyes – for true?”
Ganaqui took his daughter back to her bed chamber and told her a grand adventure tale of the north people’s Gods, which left her satisfied and heavy-eyed.
Back in his study, the Grandmaster peered into his Well of Illumination, a stone podium supporting a pool of water. The water was still and dark and reflected Ganaqui’s likeness under the orb’s light. Soon, Praxis, my old friend. Come to me soon.
He gestured to the orb hovering close to the ceiling, increasing its brilliance, and then took his seat at his desk. A summons to appear before Emperor Octalamus lay discarded in front of him. It was speaking with Praxis that was most urgent. He must know the rest of The Enlightened were safe and what had been learned of those responsible for Virgil’s and Shamak’s disappearance. Octalamus shall wait a day.
He removed a sheet of parchment from a drawer. If not The Hand, then who? Ganaqui dipped his quill in his inkwell and wrote “The Hand” at the top of the sheet and “The Judar Magi” at the bottom. He then inscribed “The Japsalon Cabal” half way down the sheet at the left margin. He stared at the sheet – at the void to the right and pondered for a moment. Then, with a fresh dip of ink, halfway down the sheet at the right margin, he wrote, “Figon Sorcery?” Finally he placed a Giant Varanus Monitor tooth in the center of the sheet.
He closed his eyes and began to recite the conjurer’s rite in the language of the ancients. Could Vespacia tell him anything?
Suddenly a cool current of air swept into the room. Ganaqui ceased his words. Praxis. He rose from his seat and watched the Well of Illumination.
A spiraling cone of water rose from the well, the air current strong around it. It rose to six feet. Then, with a sudden glimmer of silver light, the spiraling water took the form of Praxis. “Ganaqui, we are under attack. Here at the school. You must flee Saya at once. They have found us!” spoke the aqueous figure.
“Who – The Hand? Who has found you?”
“It has Sanazer’s stench to it, alright. A combined force of mercenaries and sorcerers. Save yourself, Ganaqui. Flee Saya.”
Praxis – the rest?” Something distracted the liquid form and it turned and looked over its right shoulder, then quickly its colorless eyes were back on Ganaqui.
“Safe, in hiding. I will save all I can that are here.” Again something distracted Praxis.
“Praxis, how did they find -“
Suddenly, a liquescent long sword burst through the figure’s chest and Praxis’ likeness collapsed into the well, splashing over the podium. Praxis! Ganaqui stood staring at the well of Illumination, at the water pooled around the podium. Praxis.
“Master Ganaqui!” Vindelso, the estate’s steward, had rushed into the room. “Riders approach. Something is happening in the city – sorcery!”
Ganaqui turned toward the study’s window and reeled one hand back over his shoulder, slamming open its shutters. Beyond his estate’s walls and the Rolling Hills, the capital city of Paladine and the Emperor’s palace could be seen, albeit far off, clear of Fane’s Valley and walled up and against Ciceran Bay. Tendrils of cerulean light moved at a vicious pace above and within the royal palace. And indeed riders were approaching, yet still far off – only visible from their torch lights winding through the Rolling Hills.
Sanazer. A coup d’etat. I am witnessing a coup d’etat.
“Get the servants and guards out the tunnels now – go!” Ganaqui ordered his manservant.
“As you say, Grandmaster.” Vindelso quickly disappeared down a hallway.
Ganaqui’s gaze fell on his wife’s tomb in the estate’s yard. Under twilight, he watched the torch lights disappear behind a pass and then reappear again. The Hand’s sorcery engulfed the palace and now streams of cerulean light emerged in other pockets of the city, spiralling over rooftops with a graceful, deadly intent. Ganaqui raised his hands in front of himself and slowly pulled his arms backward in a semicircle, speaking, “Alla da brumtos vi tallia!” And as he did, a ring of fire rose from the earth and surrounded his estate. Flames soared to thirty feet, the intense heat strong enough to keep the riders at bay.
Ganaqui’s eyes fell back on his wife’s crypt. Farewell.
He rushed to Limcat’s bed chamber and scooped his sleepy daughter into his arms, then made his way down a hidden passage to a spiralled staircase. “Where are we going, father?”
“We must leave Saya. Something very bad has happened.”
“Will we come back?”
“Perhaps, one day. But it may not be for a long time.”
The staircase descended into a circular chamber. Wooden shelves – stacked with scrolls, glass and ceramic jars, and metal boxes of all shapes and sizes – lined most of the circular stone wall.
Ganaqui set Limcat down on the bottom stair. The ring of fire would burn indefinitely – for years if necessary. The servants and guards would all be safely away by the time the riders arrived. Still, the estate was vulnerable if the tunnels were found or new ones were dug. A last precaution was necessary. Ganaqui activated an orb and retrieved a sealed glass jar from lower shelf.
“Where are we going to go?” Limcat asked rubbing her eyes, seated on the iron and wood stair.
“Chinchora. We visited there when you were two,” Ganaqui said holding up the jar and studying the black inky shapeless mass suspended in the fluid.
“I don’t remember.”
Ganaqui suddenly hurled the jar to the floor, smashing it. A black mist rose from the shards, quickly gathering into a vaporous form.
“Father, what is it?”
“Be still. It won’t harm us.” Ganaqui crouched to the level of the metamorphasizing spectre. It was becoming more solid now, a large black head attached to small body with tiny limbs. “It is a demon of the Shadowlands. It is called Orcu Dal.” Limcat thought it looked like a baby dipped in the stain Vindelso used on father’s desk.
Ganaqui watched as the demon’s face formed. Its mouth stretched open baring tiny teeth and a protruding tongue. Then, as it mouth relaxed, as its nostrils flared, the demon’s eyelids opened and Ganaqui stared into the thing’s
luminescent eyes. Wolves eyes, thought Limcat.
“Greetings Orcu Dal.”
“You release me, Master. What is your will?”
“Protect this estate. Slay all who breach the wall of fire. Raiders will arrive soon. Remain until I return.”
The creature scratched a pointed ear, peering behind Ganaqui and catching a smile from Limcat. “May I have the child, Master?”
“You may not. The child is my daughter. Now go.”
“Your will is Orcu Dal’s.” Then, with a quick surge of speed, the creature ascended to the ceiling and in an instant vanished with a loud “pop,” leaving a trace of black mist in the air.
“Time to leave,” Ganaqui said taking his daughter into his arms.
“Is Chin. . .Chin. . .”
“Chinchora,” Ganaqui reminded her.
“Is Chinchora far?”
“Yes, quite far by ship. But we will not travel by ship,” Ganaqui said, placing a palm against a large stone slab fixed in the wall.
“How will we go?”
“Watch.” The stone slab began to glow white in the center, bleeding out to an amber brilliance creeping up to and around the stone’s edges. Gone was the stone’s rough exterior. It was no longer a solid mass, now an infinite channel. A dark almond shape then appeared in the center of the gateway, which quickly grew, dilating like a cat’s iris, peeling back the white and amber radiance to reveal the Shadowlands: sand dunes under an eternal nightfall illuminated by starlight. A stature of Samara, the transgendered warrior god of the Shadowlands, emerged at her thighs from the sand. Skewed backward, the statue held a long sword aloft in each hand. Closer, the stone head of the winged Jackal, Korfen, surfaced from the dune. All this distorted as if by a wave of heat. “A short cut through the Shadowlands.”
“It is hot” Limcat said, sensing the warmth around the gateway.
“Yes, it is a little warm at first. Ready?”
Limcat smiled. “Ready. Will they have sweet noodles in Chinchora?”
Ganaqui grinned. “Would I take you to new city with no sweet noodles?” With Limcat’s arms around his neck, Ganaqui stepped into the gateway to the Shadowlands, wondering if Octalamus had actually summoned him? Had the emperor suspected treachery among the sorcerers sworn to serve him or had the summons been a deception – a ploy to deliver himself to Sanazer?
Saya, Year 1059 Tibaxum Dynasty
Emperor Sanazer Tibaxum, the first of his name, sat comfortably in his lavish suite overlooking the sands of the Paladine arena, surrounded by his Royal Guard, his consort, Naevia, his sons Darion and Cyrus, and Grandmaster Kaygar, the Commandant of the military branch of The Hand. It was mid morning and already the sands were well bloodied. Teams of men now cleared the sands of the fallen from the preceding melee – prisoners taken from Jarkarta and Goria in the northern campaign. Subsequently a sorcerer had reanimated the corpses and had them march about the arena to the wicked delight of the crowd.
“Wine,” spoke the bloated Kaygar, jutting out his goblet, his eyes still fixed on the sands. A serving girl briskly appeared and poured a generous amount of the Rottoman Syrah into the Gandmaster`s goblet. Kaygar drew a mouthful of the wine, dapped at the sweat on his brow, then leaned to his right to address the emperor. “We must discuss Figon. With the Northern campaign all but concluded and the rest of the empire at peace, the time is ripe for an expedition.”
“Expedition? You are aware no expedition has ever returned from Figon shores. Octalamus sent eight expeditions – all lost,” Sanazer said, amused, reaching for a spiced lamb kebab from the silver platter before him. “And all those sent by his predecessors – lost!”
“Yes, there lies an unknown power, for sure, one that should not be misjudged or ignored.”
“This unknown power is contained. Whatever power lies in Figon, remains in Figon. Our ships circumnavigate that great continent regularly. No ships ever leave its shores. There are no ports or seaside villages. The Land of Teeth – ”
“- The Eater of Men,” Naevia finished, making the sign of Vespacia, mocking the pious population. Sanazer gave her an endearing look and continued.
“. . . remains a mystery, but not necessarily a threat. It only strikes on its own shores when encroached upon. Left alone, it leaves our empire to thrive and pursue other conquests.” Sanazer signalled the serving girl. “Is Figon not a small price to pay for the rest of Lanza?” he said, gesturing with his kebab before extracting a morsel of meat with his teeth.
“It has been nearly twenty years since the last expedition, Emperor. Does it not vex you that our magic cannot penetrate this land, even under the influence of the healthiest doses of rechee – that this land has kept the empire at bay for so long?”
“It does, my friend. I would unravel the Figon mystery and open up that continent’s resources to the empire if I had the power to do so,” Sanazer said, turning to Kaygar. “Yet, to send ships, men, and sorcerers to certain doom with no looming threat to the empire, is recklessness. Unless.” The emperor considered for a moment. “Unless, some advantage was gained.”
“Intelligence on the Figon power will only be found in Figon,” Kaygar urged.
“Yes, and no one returns from Figon. You appreciate the dilemma?”
“Twenty years, Emperor. We must return. We must learn what we can and uncover that, which will give us our advantage.”
Or awaken a terrible power trying. “And as commandant of The Trident, you would lead such an expedition?”
“I would, Emperor,” Kaygar said.
“Very well. Consult with the Sea Lord, Heracles. Show me how your expedition will avoid the fate of all before you. Then, perhaps, your strategy approved, in the spring we will prod Figon’s shores.
“As you say, Emperor. It is my honor,” Kaygar said, beaming.
Suddenly horns sounded, announcing the next exhibition. Eight pairs of prisoners, chained together at the waist, were marched out onto the sands and positioned in a circle in the centre of the arena, all facing outward. Each prisoner was then awarded a battle axe or a long sword. As the escorting guard exited the sands, the arena went eerily silent, the mob anticipating the coming bloody spectacle.
“These pale north men do look quite fierce,” Naevia observed, studying the large, strange men with their thick breads of red and amber hair.
“Fierce and disciplined,” Kaygar said.
“The same could not be said for their magic,” Sanazer jested.
“Hah, what magic?” Kaygar spewed.
A single horn blew and at once three portcullises were raised, each equally spaced out around the arena – around the condemned. A pair of feathered beasts, the size of large dogs, emerged from each gate and ran out onto the sands, and the crowd erupted in furor. The feathered, half lizard creatures closed on their prey in tandem.
“Father,” Darion said, turning around from the row of seats below and ahead of the emperor. “Velociraptors!” Sanazer smiled back at his son.
The circle held as the velociraptors advanced. They moved fluidly, their hind legs and long tails crisscrossing the sands, sickle-shaped claws prominent on their hind feet, their lengthy heads, lowered, their reptilian eyes, fearless. Jagged teeth were bared along their jaw lines. One creature pounced, taking a blunt blow from a battle axe as it took a Jarkartian warrior down, tearing into his entrails. Simultaneously, the warrior’s chained companion was pulled to knees. Attempting to regain his stance, he quickly readied his long sword. Yet, the next velociraptor was upon him, driving a sickle shaped claw into the man’s throat. Blood jetted upward and the mob roared with frenzied approval – the circle collapsing as another pair of velociraptors attacked.
The Jarkartians quickly reformed their circle just as the third pair of velociraptors attacked from the opposite side of the arena, pouncing one after another. Again, a velociraptor took a blow from a battle axe as it took down a northern warrior, rolling and scrambling back to its feet, albeit injured. As another velociraptor leapt, a long sword drove up into its belly and the thing, impaled, chomped at the Jarkartian swordsman. As the other side of the circle broke again, Jarkartian warriors, under attack, surrounded one beast and with swift swings of axe and sword, cut down another velociraptor, the beast wailing and thrashing on the sand.
“Fierce and disciplined, indeed.” Naevia said, nodding to Kaygar. The north men tightened their circle, their numbers reduced now to eleven, one man chained to a corpse. Four velociraptors circled, one with a limp and gaping wound in its thigh.
“Emperor,” Grandmaster Maxim said, entering the Royal suite.
“Ah, Maxim, Commandant of secrets and shadows. Tell me, is the empire safe from all foreign sorcery?” Sanazer asked, affably.
“Yes, what of this Blue Wizard in Vandelar we have heard so much of?” Naevia pressed, as she playfully embraced Sanazer with one arm and leaned back to kiss his neck.
“Neutralized, Empress,” Maxim said as he seated himself beside her, his eyes immediately drawn to the spectacle out on the sands. A velociraptor leaped over a wall of men, landing within the circle, then raced forward, snagging an unaware warrior’s leg in its jaws and dragged him away from the circle of warriors, the north man’s chained cohort, hauled too, just outside the circle as two more velociraptors hasten toward him – as four warriors hacked at an injured velociraptor .
“Neutralized?” Sanazer asked.
“Imprisoned in Mount Aeron, Emperor.” Maxim tore himself away from the brutal display on the sands. “I have news from Chinchora. A possible sighting of Gannaqui.”
“Gannaqui?” Sanazer said, surprised. “Sixteen years and the fires still burn around his stronghold. Are we sure?”
“Sure? No. Only a report of a man who looks very much like Gannuqui and who has a daughter about the right age. An officer garrisoned in Kinshawa, drinking in a tavern in a nearby town of Chivano, witnessed a man working in this tavern who appeared to be Gannuqui.”
“Gannaqui, a tavern proprietor?” Naevia said, amused.
“The officer in question, Markus Rakki, was in Gannuqui’s presence numerous times under Octalamus’ rule,” Maxim said. “The sighting seems credible and warrants-“
“Ah, what a contest!.” Kaygar bellowed, rising to his feet as another velociraptor was torn open and shook the arena with its death cry. And with that, all eyes were back on the sands. Two velociraptors and six men remained, one man of no consequence, on his knees and bleeding out. The velociraptors tested the circle with coordinated strikes of bites and slashing claws. Yet, the remaining north men’s defense proved deadly. Then, in an almost telepathic coordination,the velociraptors attacked. The first moved in on the mortally wounded man on his knees, who gripped his abdomen with one hand, his sword tip buried in the sand. Simultaneously, the other closed from the south on the warrior chained to man on his knees, forcing the Jarkartian to protect himself, thereby opening up a lane to the dying north man. Jaws closed on the fading north man’s neck and dragged him away from the circle; the velocipraptor narrowly escaping an axe swing from the man’s protected side. This, as the other velocipraptor leapt, targeting where the readied warrior was suddenly jolted, claws lacerating the flesh above his left kidney and where his ribs met his spine. Both Jarkartians were devoured away from the circle to the delight of the Sayan crowd.
Two pairs of warriors stood ready, back to back. The velocipraptors circled, stringy strands of flesh caught in their teeth. Then, abruptly, the velocipraptors came at them again, one driving to the space between two men back to back, the other beast close behind. The velocipraptor pounced as the two warriors turned into the creature, each landing a slashing strike before the creature’s jaws closed over one man’s head, and a sickle shaped claw sunk into his chest. A third warrior, thrust his long sword through the creature’s side, finishing the thing, as the second velocipraptor was in the air, slashing a north man in the shoulder and thigh. As the velocipraptor landed and broke way, a warrior made a powerful upswing with his long sword, opening up the creature. It circled, painting the sand crimson, then slowed and dropped with a pitiful wail.
Three bloodied Jarkartian warriors stood over the slain velociraptors and the arena fell silent, the mob stunned. “Father,” Darion said, turning back around once more. “The north men won!” Disquiet filled the arena, saturating the silence under the mid day sun. All felt it. Even the boisterous Kaygar was monetarily silenced.
“Not a good day for a bad omen, my love,” Sanazer said, lightly pressing his forehead to Naevia’s. “Would you mind? The mob does love you.”
Naevia kissed him on the lips, wet and slow. “Of course,” she said, a mischievous smile quickly emerging. She rose, flipped her long silken, black hair back over her shoulders as she descended the steps down to the railing of the Royal suite.
“We are Jarkarta! We are Jarkarta!“ suddenly rose from the sands, breaking the demoralizing stillness.
The empress stood at the railing, visible now to the masses and surviving prisoners alike, the suite’s awning at her back. She wore the Royal headdress, comprised of strands of gold chain, crystal bead work, and the prominent knowing eye of the house Tibaxum. Filigree earrings dangled from her lobes and a chocker teased her cleavage. Gold bracelets adorned her upper arms and hung loosely around her wrists. A white choli, embroidered in gold, confined her breasts while her exposed abdominals and low back were flawless in tone and shape. A golden belt of ornamental coins draped the empress’ waist, which overlaid a full length white, translucent silk skirt with open seams up the sides, revealing strong, shapely bronze legs.
A lascivious and dangerous creature. Kaygar thought, watching, drawing a mouthful of wine.
Upon seeing the empress, two of the warriors directed their sword points at her. The third warrior, wounded, supporting himself on his battle axe, pointed with his free hand. “We are Jarkarta! We are Jarkarta!” they taunted.
“Whatever you are, it is not enough,” Naevia said under her breath as she raised her hands above her shoulders. Then, as a violet glow formed around both her hands – as a sphere of sparkling white light grew and spun within that violet radiance – she extended her arms forward and the mob again roared with approval. “And we are Saya!” she responded.
“Let us be sure,” Sanazer said, turning to Maxim, immune to agonizing cries from the sands. “Draw him out. If it is Gannaqui, he may lead us to other surviving Enlightened.”
“I have an idea just how we might do that, Emperor.”