Read this chapter and provide Alex James with feedback. Contact or write a comment, and choose your prize from the lists. It’s one prize for one winner. However, if you read all eight chapters you are entitled to an additional prize from the list on Chapter Eight, if it is provided by Alex James, or by permission of the authors/contributors involved in the prizes. The prizes may change to reflect new contributors or an improved system.
There will be eight chapters in total of my WIP Great Barbarism: Arch Banuk and the Mega-Fortress. I’m not sharing a complete story yet.
As Aerol watched the fire burn and burn, the sorcerer sagged, his body a heap of ash bones and peeled skin. His face was no more. A stench came from him, unlike which Aerol had ever smelt. It could have been the sorcery robes. Who cared?
Between the waves of flames, Aerol saw a small purple form. Having lost his senses, and having no awareness of his soldiers’ presence, he was surprised to have been momentarily awakened by the form. It walked awkwardly around the fire, and Aerol had his head down to regard her. So his daughter lived. Those innocent dark blue eyes were large, cute even, and were set on an elongated head. There was a gaping hole underneath her abdomen, uncommon and larger than a belly button. Already she had grown three feet.
‘Father!’ she cried, jubilant, and with hands stretched wide to embrace him.
He bent down and lifted her up into his arms, and kissed her cheek.
‘What’s your name? Did your mother name you?’
Aerol held her tightly, cuddling her snug naked form, knowing he held something precious; a legacy not just of his body but of his new adventure with Nemea. She had been right after all – there were more dreams out there than the occupation of the mega-fortress.
‘What happened to your mother?’
Aerol looked at the fluid marks, now hidden under the sooty timbers, ashes, and scorch marks.
‘She was taken by soldiers – Warlord Nemea’s soldiers. There was a mean Tekromun called Brute, who forced her to stand up.’
‘They didn’t try to take you?’
‘Mother told me to hide behind the pillar when she sensed them come; they didn’t see me. I was scared,’ she admitted.
‘Don’t be scared. Father is here now. I have to find your mother, but I can’t put you in danger until you’ve grown. It’s not safe out there. Even with my soldiers, there will be those who fear you. And yet, I must also save your mother. I have to send you somewhere safe. I regret doing this, but I must take you Underground. There will be somebody to trust, among them, I hope.’
Aerol put her down.
‘Father, I’m scared again. What will happen?’
‘We’ll take you to your Auntie, or Uncle, and you won’t see me for a bit, but I will return,’ and with that he kissed her forehead, picked her up and put her on the ground facing away from him.
‘You will have to not search for me. You’re highly intelligent, for a tyke, and you will learn quickly. I will return for you!’
Leading her towards the dilapidated buildings, he took a shortcut that would take them far down into interconnected series of platforms that were closer to the chasm. One look back revealed nothing but emptiness and despondency in the air where he had left the pillars. The domed tower had now slipped out of view.
‘The Tower of Banuk … Banuk Crossing: a place of bad memories even more now.’
‘What did you say?’ Merish piqued.
Aerol marvelled her at curiosity and intelligence.
Step by step they went lower, past abandoned areas with loose pieces of rusting armour. Sometimes there were clothes and rations, which they would scavenge when they could, but much of it had rotted away. A few passages through windows led inside darkened buildings, more so because the light of day was running out again and Aerol did not want his daughter’s safety compromised.
They paused for a rest, and Aerol showed his daughter how the tops of buildings lowered like two giant staircases beside them, leading towards the setting white sun that was shrouded by orange clouds that looked like a giant eye.
‘Majesty watches our movements, and writes of this day, for times ahead.’
‘What is Majesty?’
‘It’s the surface, the Underground, the sky, and the chasm. It’s everything we hold dear – the balance that gives rise to thoughts, feelings, and … life.’
‘I want to live on Majesty.’
‘You are on Majesty,’ he clarified.
‘But I want to live there,’ she insisted.
‘You will,’ Aerol capitulated.
There was no victory with the tyke.
Oval islets of chasm opened on the flat mostly covered surface ahead. A secluded doorway at the bottom, led to the Underground. Aerol remembered well to avoid it. In all his life, he had not been Underground, but many soldiers had. It was not a place to remain long, but it could hide the hunted. The challenge would be to find somebody he could trust, perhaps somebody who was also hunted or had reason not to be seen on the surface. Rumours had abounded that one who went Underground never returned, which was nonsense of course. If it was true, then he would never see his daughter again, and she could be in great peril. The only way to know was if he stepped inside with her.
‘We’ll have to be brave Merish,’ he said as they landed on the last great step close to the door.
‘That doorway is dark,’ she said.
‘It is, and it’s a secret what is beyond it. Even father does not know.’
‘It must be a puzzle.’
‘Yes, yes it’s probably a puzzle. Are you good with puzzles?’
‘I am. I’m good at working things out. I worked out that you like Mother lots and lots. I worked out that you are strong and big and angry.’
Aerol knelt beside her, and held her hand.
‘We’ll work this puzzle out together, shall we? That way, we can both understand it.’
‘Yay,’ she said, jumping up and down.
Already moving forward and about to breach the surface, a part of Aerol’s mind was screaming in protest. What was he doing? Had he lost his mind?
They were spinning around fast. Aerol felt disoriented and he worried how his daughter felt. She didn’t look happy, in fact she looked anxious as she bit at her index finger.
‘It’s okay, the spinning is slowing down.’
They stopped, in a corridor of darkness. Feeling with walls with his left hand told him it was wet sludge: moist, thick, glutinous sludge.
‘Eww, father, I don’t like it!’
It was amazing. Merish was emulating him. A bubble of happiness lifted in his heart.
‘Let’s continue and see what we find.’
Left and right were Tekromun sleeping or appearing drained of energy. It was a nightmare. Aerol wondered if this was where all those who fell into the chasm ended up. It certainly was another dimension. There was so much unhappiness and suffering. Once or twice, one would get up and grab at Aerol’s robes or try to seize his daughter, before he swatted them away or threatened them. Down every corridor the story was the same. They were in a maze of misery, lost.
‘There is nothing here,’ Aerol lamented. ‘There is no purpose. We have to go back.’
His instincts had gone haywire. A white noise blocked out all sensory input, and he couldn’t make sense of his surroundings. There were no landmarks or points of reference. Everywhere looked the same. He couldn’t share his grief with his daughter. Glancing at her, he saw that she wasn’t troubled. In fact, she was in contemplation.
‘Just a bit further, and watch out for the fighters down in the tunnel.’
Puzzled, Aerol glanced to the left where a massive opening emerged, as if the corridor, and many other such similar corridors, had been sliced away to create a massive spherical area, or arena. On a thin slab, naked Tekromun males were fighting, while groups of males and females watched and gossiped.
None had noticed them, and Aerol hid his daughter behind his body as he continued to the complete part of the corridor that hid them from view.
‘Turn right,’ Merish said. ‘There she is.’