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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.
Aerol had failed to enter the mega-fortress, and that didn’t mean another key couldn’t be found; maybe one had been left and forgotten about. Galouch had said something about there being many keys. Galouch … the traitorous, filthy, pitiable and cowardly … grrrrrr!
Arch Banuk had never possessed a great fighting force, relying on a few mercenaries in their brief encounters with him. Mostly he had thrived because he had made excellent use of the fear and rumour of his power. And so as Aerol drifted towards his fortress, it was not with apprehension. He half hoped the arrogant sorcerer would be there so that he could rip him apart with his bare hands, and catch him out at an unexpected moment, but would Majesty be as kind to deliver such.
However, the rounded small ‘fortress’ was abandoned, and uncared for. Ornaments of value were strewn everywhere, as if the place had been ransacked, but who would have dared come when the sorcerer was in his prime? Aerol did not know. Raising his feet to step over the carelessly smashed vases, painting frames, and mirrors, he made his way to a secluded room at the back, ducking under an overhanging arch that was much too low for even a Tekromun of average height.
Here, the walls were painted with a slick red … blood. So the sorcerer was not only arrogant, ambitious, and power-hungry; he was sick, perhaps insane too. Where had the sorcerer found the blood? Who had he killed to attain it? No single Tekromun, if the blood was his own, would be able to store as much blood, and spilling it would reduce them to a sagging heap. Balancing to step into the centre of the secluded room, in front of a wide seating bench, Aerol’s hand brushed against the wall, and he made it to the space. Looking at his bloody fingertips, he wouldn’t be surprised if the blood was a curse but then reminded himself that any mythology of sorcerers wouldn’t necessarily be true.
He looked everywhere, pulled the seating bench up, ripping it from its fixings, and opened cabinet with rapid eagerness. At one point he removed a painting that still hung and behind it was a brown bag, with no keys inside. It must have been the same bag Galouch had told him had held all the keys. Somehow the sorcerer must have found a means to take them with him, or destroy them. The chasm was good for getting rid of unwanted items, and Tekromun now that he thought of it. It wasn’t likely he would have found evidence of murdered Tekromun to paint these walls if they had all been thrown off the edge.
The texture of the bag was rough and made his fingertips feel funny, or was that just the blood? He threw the bag back in the small square hole, and drawing his fingernails on the unbloodied section of walls, started a spark. Then, he dragged his long fingernails with force amid many sparks, and flames were conjured, lighting the area around the square hole and the painting, which he now noticed was of a Tekromun who looked very much like Arch Banuk, but it was only a likeness and not an exact portrait. Flames burst around the edges of the gilt frame and held the painting in its grasp.
‘Your legacy left a fire in your wake, and then that fire held you in its grasp and would not let go.’
The picture began to peel amid sooty marks. Aerol stamped onto the white-painted face of his nemesis, and his foot went through the painting and the wall behind, hitting something solid.
Peering into the space where the sorcerer’s face had been was another section of the fortress. It must have been crafted of sorcery because he had seen and catalogued the exact dimensions of the building before entering and there was no way the concealed dark space beyond could have expanded beyond the main wall without him noticing. Cautiously, his arm moved into the dark space and closed around something hard and rectangular. Feeling around with his hand more and it made contact with a cool protruding object sticking up from the surface of the rectangle. By now, he was convinced it was a smaller framed painting, and it was: another portrait, and of a female whose beauty took his breath away.
Her light purple skin made her features clearly discernible. Dark blue eyes shone from the face like gems, beseeching him. She held a metallic symbol – a standard of a sun with rays attached on an irregularly shaped stalk. On her head was the protruding emblem he had felt before – a dark blue oval. Had Arch Banuk been looking for a bride, or was she some relation? It was clear he had hidden this painting, so that nobody would find it, and Aerol understood why. The emblem was of Warlord Nemea, and this must be his daughter. If an enemy happened upon it in the sorcerer’s room, it could start a war. Warlord Nemea would see it as evidence of a direct threat or planned invasion against his dominion.
Holding the painting against the hard muscles of his abdomen, Aerol pondered.
Warlord Nemea had been an utter fool as long as he had been alive. His dominion had survived because it had been smaller, squashed as it had been between two larger dominions who fought aggressively over the surface. He had not had need of any military ambitions, other than for basic defence, and some say his civilian squares were teeming with objects of value. Looking around at the tacky gold and silver smashed or knocked over around him, he inferred that the sorcerer must have visited and returned, selling the objects in return for favours, food, or goodness knows what else a sorcerer wanted.
But the daughter … any male would seek such beauty. Those supple cheeks, and slender shoulders with bones visible. Inside, Aerol shuddered with delight at seeing her. The way of the warlord was to take the females he wanted, but he had never seen value in any female — this one he wanted to hold and treasure. His enemy’s painting too.
On his way to Warlord Nemea’s dominion, he had been going to pass the mega-fortress so thought he would try again, taking the long walk across the hated platform to look up towards the height of the palatial fortress, and make his demands.
Enough feeling of the unfairness of life, hatred of his trapped circumstances, and the suffering shared by his Tekromun brothers were sufficient.
‘You sorcerer, who acted selfishly, in your need to seize power and leave the world trapped into poverty: shame on you. Each time I shall come here, and speak with extreme vehemence. The surface itself shall never forget. You, who has cowardice to run from a fight, decided to make use of treachery and trickery to enter the mega-fortress, and shall never be forgiven or forgotten. The battle over the surface has not ended. In my veins runs a passion you have not extinguished in your success, and the time will come again, if not in my life then in another’s who has remembered the truth, when they shall wreak vengeance upon you and execute you with great pain and torture. Until you kill me, I will insult you. Until you kill me, you have never won the right to occupy the mega-fortress!’
Silence responded, and there was nothing – no movement, answering call, or noise whatsoever, but for his own exhilarated breaths.
What did Arch Banuk do inside? Did he plan the ruination of all life, twisting everything to his malevolent desire? Nothing had yet changed. And Galouch was there too, but would he let Arch Banuk have his way?
An intense feeling of warmth and … presence emanated from the painting he had clipped to his belt. It was like a warm weight beaming with intensity, and he clutched at it to view the painting of the beauty of Nemea, wondering why he was drawn to her again at this time. The dark blue eyes still drew his gaze, but the dark blue oval above her dreamy eyes was glowing, and now sparkling white. Aerol had a good memory for how things appeared, and he didn’t recall the gem on her forehead glowing; indeed it had been dark blue like the colour of her eyes.
His thick forefinger and thumb was pressed onto the surface of the painting as he peered closer, but this did not deceive him: the glowing was not an irregular quirk of the painting so much as something elemental, like sorcery. It was three dimensional, as if communicating with something external of the painting, and Aerol was spooked.
Looking up again at the expressionless mighty palace of the mega-fortress, with its brown marble and golden edges, he stared at the open-windows high above the entrance archway before him, and wondered.
Some sorcery trick of Arch Banuk’s, but for what purpose?
Aerol’s fine senses then detected tremors tingling his feet and realised they must be powerful originating from far away to affect the massive sparkling platform he stood on.
Night was falling now, and the dark purple blankets of clouds rested to hide the beams of the two white suns, and Aerol was comforted by the change in weather, feeling protected under cover of darkness, as long as he held onto the shadows, yet the gem on her forehead still shone, bright as the mid-point, as when both suns crossed, one over the other, and blasted their full force upon Majesty, making the surface sparkle with splendour and repeating the cycle of barbaric bloodshed or plotting that would follow, much as the day before.
Moving the painting around, shaking it even, did nothing to snuff the flame of its force, and Aerol now pointed it away, a light to guide to him in the darkness, as he decided the mega-fortress wasn’t responding, and he moved to walk and continue his journey. And with that thought came the realisation that he had a few choices: to think about how to find a key to the mega-fortress, seek out Nemea to see if she had some answers; after all a painting of her had been in Arch Banuk’s hut; or to return to his fortress. If he did return he would not be sharing his failure to find a key with any of his soldiers, and the painting he would keep to himself.
Like the torch of a sconce he moved the intense beam of dark blue light, which was shaped like an oval cylinder that pierced the darkness in all directions, and reflected when he positioned it against the marble of the platform he stood on. Tactically it was foolish to make his presence known, but there was a strong part of him that didn’t care, and that wanted to be found; to fight, die, and seek blood to release his frustration with the state of life on Majesty after his defeat.