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.
When the small army returned, it was with crestfallen faces, weighed down by heavy helms. Aerol walked at the head of the company, trying to keep his head raised and boldly face whatever future remained, but the truth was that he knew it was all over. His great ambition, and dream, to enter the mega-fortress was not the only thing that kept his soldiers loyal and united, but it was what gave them hope and battle fervour. They were content fighting for him and put aside his violent attacks, but now Aerol would witness upheaval from factions within his fortress, and much blood would be spilt. He hated it when that happened. No Tekromun with a heart could take pride in it, but when they did go against him he saw them as enemies without any moral scruples, and he had to put them down immediately. He could never stand the sight of the stupidity behind their eyes. This is what he was walking back to.
No enemy soldiers dared attack them on the way back, having been displaced with metal on the way, but a number of interested parties did approach to ask them of the outcome of their great march. A few curses from the soldiers or glares from Aerol were enough to send them away, and they ran off to share the morale raising news with their leaders. Whether they would stills see Aerol as a threat would be debatable. For eleven years Aerol had been a mighty warlord that none but the foolish would attack, but after this demoralising failure, this crushing defeat at the hands of a sorcerer, there would be fools aplenty to massacre. Aerol wondered how much pleasure his own soldiers would take in dispensing the punishment necessary to remind their enemies they were still a major force.
If only Aerol had one single soldier he could confide in or trust then it would make all the difference: one of them whose loyalty and mindset he could rely on to grow his fortress and his forces, but instead cruelty, physical prowess, and intellectual acumen were needed.
It was dark and gloomy now, with the light having dimmed, causing the sky to go a dark bluish colour. It looked heavy, and it matched Aerol’s heavy heart. The main body of the army followed Aerol to the fortress’ openings, but several of the ranks to the left and right broke off and went left to the series of squat dilapidated structures attached to the fortress proper, where they went to meet their families. Aerol didn’t stop them.
When he entered the fortress, he found his chair and sat down with a sigh. A bold apprentice walked in, heedless of the soldiers’ attitude, and came towards Aerol.
‘Warlord Aerol, I require your signature for these edicts.’
‘I can read. What do they mean?’ Aerol asked, only half-listening.
Exhaustion had taken precedence.
‘They are to announce a new election for a Mentor to lead all of us.’
‘I’m your leader,’ Aerol said and waved him away.
‘I’m afraid we need a leader who understands us, but only your signature carries any weight. All other Tekromun are diminished or subjected to your will. You must understand the need.
Aerol stood up and swiped the back of his hand against the apprentice, who was sent sliding back across the floor. The edict clanged and rolled away. Several surly soldiers entered the openings, as if to see what was afoot, and a few concerned apprentices peered around the leftmost corner. Aerol stooped and picked up the apprentice by the robes.
‘Soldiers, there are new orders. The apprentices are attacking the sovereignty of this warlordship, and are seeking to usurp our positions with scrolls and edicts. Take this apprentice, and take the rest, and shove them over the edge, in ceremony. Do it ahead, where I can get a full view of their demise.’
The soldiers didn’t hesitate and homed in on the apprentice, who Aerol shrugged off. Aerol stalked towards the back of the fortress, where the square windows looked out upon a bleak and desolate bridge to the north, where Galouch had arrived to cheers earlier in the day. The bridge was now occupied with the clatter of heavy soldiers as they spat orders at the hunched apprentices in their white face paint and robes, shoving them and wrestling them towards the centre of the bridge. Both sides were purple masses of soldiers, poking and prodding the mass of frightened apprentices with weapons.
‘This is Great Barbarism, and for those who do not understand the military way of life, the “warrior ethic”, there is no time to abide by them.’
Aerol said to himself, and then raised his arm to the Guard Captain, and then slammed it down upon the ledge of the window, causing it to crumble and fall apart. White robed Tekromun were forced off the bridge by the metal spears and axes of the Tekromun. One by one they screamed as they were sent spiralling down towards the abyss of chasm, which could not at this moment be seen. The darkness above stretched to cover the scene, and yet the soldiers had been late lighting the scones anew.Dozens at a time dropped, and still the soldiers bullied their way onto the bridge. Shouts of alarm came from the other end of the bridge; protests against this unseemly violence against Tekromun who weren’t even soldiers.
The apprentices had infuriated him long enough. Their leader had.
The cries of alarm died down, and the last few apprentices were cast away. An unnatural silence followed as the soldiers returned to their posts within the fortress, or went to the eastern outbuilding where the families were housed. What would their families think of today’s madness?
Aerol’s heart beat rapidly, and he couldn’t find comfort or solace in the silence, in the extension of the opening hall that looked north, upon the dead he had showed no mercy. He needed to get away from the fortress proper, and turned back south within to do a turn west and north to get out of the main opening hall where his.
It was all Arch Banuk’s fault. No, he shouldn’t blame anybody for his actions. His actions were normal for the times they were in, even if they were considered extreme. But if he had been allowed to enter the mega-fortress, or chanced to attempt to enter it without the sorcerer then maybe he could have changed life for all of them and earned reprieve for soldiers and families. There was a chance for a better life and he would use any means at his disposal to achieve it. Tonight, or tomorrow because he was too tired, he would chance to enter the mega-fortress alone.
When he arrived at the mega-fortress, despite being fatigued beyond measure, he was able to adapt his processes and discipline his mind to carry on, well into the night. The sparkling surface felt hard, and the dark walls of the mega-fortress were now implacable. The windows’ patterns were eerie and ghostly, instead of magnificent and coloured with reflecting light.
A few whistles and hoots caught his attention, but they were from far away. There was always somebody else about, but none came too close to the mega-fortress, especially after they had learnt of what had happened.
Aerol crept towards the huge archway, and traced the edge of his finger against the hole that was supposed to house the key. If there was even a black curved hole in the first place, then why was it here if a key wasn’t necessary? It didn’t make sense, unless it was just a creation of Arch Banuk’s. The lock had always been there, as long as Aerol had been alive, but how long the sorcerer had lived for and how long he head been creating matter and crafting trickery was not known.
A concentrated thrust against the door did nothing, and when he lightly touched the outer brown marble of the walls, despite their cool texture, he didn’t learn anything new. Climbing was a particular skill he had, but the texture was too smooth and slippery to climb, and the windows above were simply too high, nearly thirty feet above.
He found himself wandering around the edges and looking up, but from the sides and the back the mega-fortress was even less welcoming, as if it had its back to Aerol and hid its main features for the front entrance and windows. The windows, ledges, and strange protrusions beside the window ledges could scarcely be seen from the sides and the back. On a few occasions he wondered what those protrusions were and where they came from. Perhaps they were something sorcery related. It was unassailable, by individual or army. Only sorcerers could enter, or those sorcerers wished to enter, and Aerol wondered if he had been a complete fool to think otherwise. His misplaced dream had resulted in unnecessary bloodshed and the building of hopes that were disappointed.
He collapsed to his knees, being no longer interested in appraising the mega-fortress. His body faced north, as he kneeled behind the back of the mega-fortress, away from his fortress and everything he knew. Strangely, he could sense his fortress from afar and it felt small and insignificant, as if the foundation of all his achievements and his progress through life were trivial compared with the greater forces out there. There were warlords aplenty, but he could deal with them. Mysterious buildings and sorcery were things he had never had to or dreamed of contending with before, and he found himself out of his depth.
I wonder if Galouch felt the same way, before he joined Arch Banuk. Did he feel small and diminished, crushed by events?
It may not explain his betrayal. Aerol wondered what had really happened in Arch Banuk’s fortress, or at least where he was rumoured to reside. That’s when Aerol decided he would quite like to find out. First he lay down supine, and shut down his mind and the psychological processes that took their toll. Hands clasped before him, he slept in the midst of the burgeoning darkness, sheltered by it and unwilling to face the light.
In his last moments awake coursed a feeling that it was not over yet, and that there could be answers to be found at Arch Banuk’s fortress.
Chapter Two prize list
- *1 discount code for 20% off copy editing services at www.alexjameseditor.co.uk
- Roc Isle: The Descent by Alex James – ebook – .mobi, .epub, .pdf, or Smashwords coupon
- Leros of the Underworld: The Tournament by Nathan Anton – ebook – .mobi, .epub, .pdf
*This Chapter Two (C2) code is valid until April 1st 2018, and can be used by winners or passed on to friends or family to be used.