Two Samples from Salvation Earth.
1 Expedition North
The Moon was full, orange and low as if it was an effort to escape the horizon. There was a chill in the night air, but he did not feel it. The warrior knelt and scooped up some soil, which he rubbed between his fingers, put to his nose and then smelt. This was supposed to be the cleanest soil in all the lands. The wind whistled through the bushes. He glanced back across the commune; he had his own bitterness to shield him from realities. Razzan and Jarrad walked the outer walls like ghosts. It wasn’t his watch, but he couldn’t sleep again and Harrad was glad of the rest. His mind drifted back to the hill due south. The gatehouse tower was level with it and the cross was visible in moonlight. For nights, he had stood up there watching the cross. Now, he had only to close his eyes to see it again. He had no tears of grief, only a cold deep hatred. He wanted to kill. He could fight now with a fury before unknown. He could fight without fear, he wanted to die. Such a warrior makes a fearsome opponent.
He never understood the taboo of taking a life in anything but combat. “They never told me it would be like this,” he thought. Revulsion tore at his soul.
He had seen so many of his people die a slow lingering death from the poison spread on their lands in the great war many generations before. His enemies had better lie low for he would not rest until he bathed in their blood or died in the attempt. Death now obsessed him. What was the point of living only to die a death of pain and horror that lasted six months? A death which took most by the age of forty-five. Even in the commune, with its clean soil, the death took his father at fifty. He felt cheated, there was still so much unsaid, things he should have done. He felt an overwhelming loss, leaving him an empty shell. “They never said it would be like this.” He cried. “It must have been the kindest thing to have done. None survived it. Father had seen three months’ pain, crying out for release. Yet when it came, the look of horror on his face would be with me forever. Did he blame me? It was so quick, one thrust of the blade and it was over. Was it not the release he wanted? But the look on his face, disbelief, almost accusing me. I couldn’t even explain. They didn’t tell me it would be like this. The pain,” he thought in torment. “I have slain my own father.” He cried again.
“He has completed his cycle,” a voice behind him said. “It is the way. You have always told us that good can come from evil. His passing makes way for you to bring your woman here.” Arran turned.
“And that, Harrad, gives me a good reason for killing him?”
“We all know why you did it. It was the kindest thing to do.”
“But I did not realise that having such a benefit from my father’s death would cause so much guilt. I cannot live with it, Harrad.”
“It will pass. Send for her. She will take your mind off your worries.”
“Harrad, she can’t travel, the baby.”
“That’s what I came to tell you, stillborn.”
“Not another,” said Arran. “We can hardly give her a joyous welcome. It’s a wonder the women don’t give up. The birth rate is so low I sometimes think one good war and humanity would die out.”
“Perhaps it is the will of the Gods.”
“Fool, Harrad. Why should the Gods punish us?”
“Our law says that we must not exceed a particular population level, or the Com will suffer. Does it not seem strange that we have never had a problem with the number born? If they all survived, we would have to be turning them out to a harsher, shorter life. The Gods only allow the strongest through. Goodnight, Arran.”
The sun burnt its way into Arran’s room when he eventually fell out of bed “Ooh,” he moaned. “Must stop drinking. But I can’t sleep without it.” He steadied himself on the bedpost. A knock at the door and Harrad stepped in.
“So, you’re awake, eh? Everyone is getting a little restless. It’s been two weeks and you’re supposed to be our leader now. You should show them strength.”
“Is there still no sign of Zeb?” asked Arran.
“Stop this foolishness,” said Harrad. “In three days, you must lead the trek to Cam.”
“But he promised he would come this moon.”
“You must call on Nadine and tell her the news. She has waited a long time.”
“Only Zeb will know, he knows all, Harrad. He has travelled these lands and more.”
“He knows nothing,” said Harrad. “You must give up these ideas, life must go on. Cast off this gloom, Arran.”
“I will revenge us all, Harrad.”
“Maybe, but I would find it a great help if I knew what you were talking about or if you even knew yourself. You’re not going to achieve anything like this, not enough sleep and too much wine. You were the most able amongst us. You must resume your martial training, double your programme. You must be in shape in five days. It will keep your mind from other things and help you sleep.”
“Good old Harrad,” said Arran as the door closed. “He is so organised. Not the best of warriors, but he could run a good war. Make a bloody good general he would. I just wish he would not fuss so.”
The next five days were spent in vigorous training and exercise. Arran was still excused his chores. On the third night in the workroom he was making a new sheath for his knife when he was approached by Elven “You know that you promised to take me this time.”
“Elven, I have enough on my hands.”
“I am fifteen now, a warrior. I won’t be a burden.”
“Ah, a warrior. Have I ever broken a promise to a warrior? You shall have your wish. We leave on the dawn in two suns. Do you think you can be ready, young warrior?”
“Why, yes. Does the sun fail to rise each day?”
The first rays of sun struck the gatehouse from over the east hills. The rest of the Com was in half-light, but there was plenty of activity. Hands hauled on ropes, pulleys squeaked, timbers creaked as the barrows were lowered to the ground. The tower faced west, its gateway filled in with stone many generations ago to keep out robbers and marauding bands. Everything had to be lowered from the tower. The whole complex was contained within a huge oval wall sixty feet high. Terraced gardens stepped down from the top of the wall to a central oval garden, all of it given to growing food. On the top levels, fish were bred in large tanks. The fish waste was used as a source of nutrients for the plants. Thus, they had a contained system with no outside contamination. Beneath the terraces were dwellings, workshops, a gym and the rabbit pens, the peoples main source of meat, though most of it went for trade. Legend has it that the place was built for games, but no one knew what sort. The central gardens, stretching over a quarter of a mile, were planted with soya, other beans and vegetables. The terraces were planted with potatoes and food for the rabbits. This smallholding only supported four hundred people. This number was strictly adhered to. Rabbits goats and sheep were the only domestic animals left. There were plenty of rats of course, and the people in the small towns would happily devour them.
People were starting to move about in the lower gardens. Smoke drifted from the forge chimney. Nazine and Maleem were turning the capstan that pumped water up to the terrace cisterns. The women did not take their men’s name exactly, but something similar, perhaps what they thought the female version would be.
“I hate this job. I think it’s the worst job on rota,” grunted Nazine.
“We all do a turn, Naz,” replied Maleem. “Even the men take a turn.”
“This is men’s work, it’s too heavy for women.”
“Are you implying that we are weaker?” asked Maleem.
“What’s the point in pretence, Mal? Give in and make use of your feminine talents. Why make hard work of life? Is it not hard enough?” hissed Nazine.
“Because we are not ordinary women. We are warrior women. Part of the greatest warrior clan in the lands and we should be proud of it,” spat back Maleem.
“So where does pride get you, I ask?” countered Nazine.
“We are better than most men outside of this Com.”
“So what? Where does it get you? Hard work, that’s all. I tell you it’s not the way,” said Nadine. “Look at that Gemma. You see the cut on her new tunic she just ran up?”
“Yeah, it suits her. She has a fine figure, she should show it off.”
“Show it off,” laughed Nazine. “She is practically giving it away. And do you see the way she limps a lot and faints occasionally. The men all rush to catch her in their arms.”
“Well, she is on the slight side, Naz,” said Maleem.
“Slight! I wouldn’t call her chest slight. It probably drains her strength dragging it around.”
“Oh, grow up, Naz. I do believe you are jealous,” laughed Maleem.
“Just you take heed. She gets out of all the heavy work, and Gem does not like the way the others look at her. I tell you, no good will come of it.”
“Nonsense,” retorted Maleem.
“Have you noticed how thick she is with Tarrak? There is something going on between those two.”
“You are stupid. Tarrak is as queer as they come. Everybody knows that. Most women relate to Tarrak.”
“I’m not so sure about him. The times are a changing, Mal. Take Arran, killing his own father. It is written not to kill in anything other than combat. No good will come of it, you’ll see.”
“Well, I think it was a brave thing to do. I’m surprised no one’s done it before. There is enough killing outside of these walls. I think it was a strong thing for him to do. He has now got to bear the burden of that.”
“Times are a changing, you mark my words,” warned Nazine….
Arran was just approaching camp when he noticed another shooting star streak over the town. Again it seemed to slow and drop just beyond town. There were too many lights in the sky of late, not natural. Stowing his chest under a barrow, he set of for the far side of town. There was no sign of lights in the hills now. He made his way through the dark smelly streets, which had been evacuated now but not fired yet. He thought it seemed spooky and unnaturally quiet. Near to the far edge of town he heard screams and stopped. A chill came over him. They did not sound very nice. Then there were people running across the end of the street. Must be a work party. He ran down a side ally, through a sparse vegetable patch, over a wall and dropped down behind a fence. He was overlooking a square right on the edge of town where it was more open than the tight streets he had just come through. There were bodies laying around, and his eyes nearly popped out when he saw the two giants clad in black with smooth featureless helms. They must have stood a full head over him. Then one of the Barons patrols entered the square. A captain and two others drew their blades, raised their shields and advanced.
“Who are you and what is your business?” Asked the captain not getting any nearer than he had to.
“You are of authority here?” Said one of the black giants. “We are looking for someone. Perhaps you can help us. He is using an unusually powerful new weapon that I am sure you would be aware of.”
“I know nothing of strange weapons.”
“We know it is here. Do not protect it. You cannot resist us.”
“You enter our city without invitation and threaten us. You must leave immediately. I order it so.”
“Your orders and authority means nothing to us. We move as we please. You must give us the information we want or suffer the consequences.”
“Leave us strangers. We cannot bargain with invaders.”
One of the black figures pointed at the captain, a red flash left a smoking hole in his shield. He showed no sign of impact, but just crumpled to the ground, revealing another smoking hole in his chest. The others shrank back. Arran jumped so much that he pushed the fence down. The black figure turned and pointed at him, he dived to the ground as the wall behind him howled and showered him with sparks and splinters. Without a pause he jumped up and bounded over the wall, which howled again behind him. Pausing a second to regain control, he ran for his life back through town and did not stop until he reached his tent.
Nadine came out of the tent “What ever has happened to you?”
Arran was too out of breath to speak for a moment.
“I have never seen you so winded.”
The others began to appear.
“What is wrong?” Asked Malone.
“We have, I think, just had a visit from the gods.”
At that moment there was the rumble of distant thunder and a light faded up into the night sky. They all looked at each other.
“What the?” Remarked Vargen, running up.
Everybody was out of their tents now and all throwing questions at Arran, who told them what he had seen.
“Wow,” said Elven, “I wish I had been there.”
“What might this weapon be then Arran?” Asked Jarrad. “You don’t think…”
“I am trying not to think anything at the moment.
“Well I have heard lots of rumours about the gods,” said Harrad “But I have never actually met anyone that has seen them. Till now.”
“They were not gods” put in Arran there was something very human about them, despite the size.”
“Oh yea,” cut in Tarrak “What about the thunderbolt then?”
“I don’t know, some sort of wizardry. I dare say Zeb could conjure up something like that.”
“Not something that would go straight through a shield and your body.”
“Well I don’t believe they are gods. And we can’t let this delay us we leave for the Com first light.”
Arran and Jarrad stood in silence as everyone went back to their tents.
“This weapon, I can only think of one strange new weapon in these lands.”
“Yes, you’re right Jarrad. It must be very important to someone. After centuries hidden, I use it for an hour and the ‘Gods’ appear. Spooky wouldn’t you say. It must truly be a weapon of the gods. We will need this weapon in the coming battles. But I must be careful how I use it.”
“Is it wise to use it at all?”
“Possibly not. But I will take the chance. We had better get some sleep, I want an early start in the morning.”
First light saw Arran, Nadine, Jordan and Vargen fed and on their way. They met Captain Onaska and fifty soldiers with half the barrows of grain. After a brief greeting they set off South. The road was busier than normal. Most people were fleeing south, taking as many of their belongings as possible. People were in a state of mild panic. Rumour was rife, like a thousand demons had already sacked Cam. Some were going north, like robbers looking for the fortunes of war. Whole villages had gone to fight for their lands. All this to and fro slowed them down somewhat, much to Arran’s annoyance. But there were no incidents on the journey and they made it in just over three days.
Hal came out to greet them as they ground into the courtyard.
“Arran. Nadine I am so glad you are OK. Come, food, rest. Tell me all, I can’t wait for the news. I have heard some. That old wizard friend of yours was snooping around here the other day.”
“What, Zeb, here.”
“Yes, he left two days ago. Come on let’s go in and catch up.
He led them into the dinning hall and sat them round the table. Gave instructions for the soldiers to be billeted in the barn and for some hot food for their guests.
“So Arran, how bad is it? We have noticed more travellers than normal, outlanders crossing our borders. Things are really stirred up I would guess.”
Arran told him of their adventures and all the events from leaving him before. Hal sat there in silence shaking his head now and again.
“So Cam will be under siege soon. And if it falls we are all in trouble.”
“That’s right Hal. We must all go and help its defence. We must go back to the Com and come back with every man we have.”
“We will join you with every man we have.”
“That’s good Hall, we will need them.”
“But what of these black Gods? I have heard of them, stories of sightings in the west. Although I know of no one that has returned. And where do they fit in? They have never been seen in our lands before.”
“We don’t know. We will have to wait and see. But I would suggest avoiding them at all costs.”
“Don’t worry about that, I will. Just as I thought things were getting better. Do you know that our crops have produced a better yield every year for the past five years? I believe the land is a lot cleaner than it was. But now this. Will there never be any rest for us?”
“We will do what we have to. We are not lost yet. Things will get better have no fear. It’s just that they may have to get worse first.”
“That is good news about your harvest.” Said Jordan. “It must mean less work to feed everyone.”
“It does, it means we can spend more time on improving our conditions and have more recreational time. If we come through this, life won’t be nearly as bad as it used to be.”
“So where is Zeb going?”
“I don’t know. I told him you were in Cam, but should be back soon.”
“He won’t go there. Calls it a den of thieves he does. He may go on to the Com to wait for us. Although I think he has a pretty good idea of our movements anyway. We will leave at first light; maybe we will catch him up. Come on Nad; let’s get to bed. Good night.”
They got up and walked to the stairs taking a jug of wine with them and leaving the others drinking and exchanging stories. Once they were in bed and Nadine snuggled up, entwining here body around Arran’s, she asked Arran what he thought chance he thought the house had saying that Hall had worked so hard for years to bring the estate around and how he deserved to succeed. But Arran had already drifted into sleep. Knowing that he was in a safe house, he allowed himself to go into a much-needed deep sleep for on the move he only half slept, listening out for danger. This meant he was not always as rested, as he should be. Now he was almost unwakeable. Nadine lay there with thoughts of the ape-men. She could still see its face. Tomorrow they would pass that place again. She hoped her dreams would not come back and decided to make Arran give it a wide berth. Still she wondered what they were, besides tortured souls.
Arran was awoken by movement in the courtyard and house. The whole place seemed alive. He had never heard so much activity. Nadine was up and he could hear water being poured. He lay there and tensed every muscle in his body as hard as he could, until he tingled all over. Then he stretched every way he could.
“If that waters hot, save me some Nad, please.”
“You can use it after I have finished.”
They found Hal in the courtyard, bade their farewells and ordered the troupe into some sort of formation. It was a clear bright morning as they marched out of the gate. Nadine remarked on how wonderful everything looked, but Arran was miles away in thought. Jordan agreed with her with a grunt.
“Well we don’t have to be so gloomy do we?”
The troupe consisted of more women now, going to the greater safety of the Commune.
“Arran, tomorrow will bring us close to the ape men again.”
“You would sooner we go round it?”
“I’m not sure. I think they need help more than being a threat. I think I would like to try and make contact.”
“Nadine, there was no one there.”
“They are in that small hill we camped by.”
“Please let me try.”
“OK, if it makes you happy. But we will not camp as close this time.”
The following day they came upon the little hill. It had been a dull journey and all were familiar with this route.” Arran ordered camp and was asked why stop so soon, but he ignored the question and Vargen put in for an early dinner to a round of groans. Camp was soon set up and some of the grain was made into porridge for supper. Once they were fed Arran and Jordan went with Nadine to the hill. She walked around it, stopping now and again and closed her eyes. Eventually she went up to the top of the hill and knelt. Arran followed her up. She looked like she was praying. But she was chanting something he couldn’t make out. After what seemed ages she moaned some and slumped to the ground. Arran rushed over, quite alarmed, and picked her up. She was moaning, but seemed well. He carried her back to camp and laid her on her bed.
“Is she all right?” Enquired Jordan.
Arran explained that she is often left in a state of exhaustion after a heavy trance and that she would sleep through the night now.
The next morning Nadine awoke early. “There are people down there, in the hill.”
“Come on Nad, that’s a bit far fetched.”
“No, I made contact. They need help. They have extremely powerful psychic powers but they are trapped in there.”
“How could anyone survive underground Nad? You must have been dreaming. We can’t delay, forget it.”
“We can’t just leave them.”
“I’m sorry but we must. Come on.”
They made a good start and expected to reach the Commune the next afternoon. The pace was slow because of the soldiers and barrows. Arran was getting a bit impatient when Vargen, who was trailing, came running up and announced that they were being followed. But he had no idea who it could be. Arran ordered two more rear guards to join him and wondered who could be so good that his men could not see them. Later in the day Arran was so bored he got his chest from a barrow and went off on his own, knowing he could spend a couple of hours practising and still catch up before dark. He travelled two and a half leagues before setting up the chest. Thinking that he was so far south of Cam he should not be bothered by these ‘Gods’. He pressed the red jewel and his blade leapt into his hand, taking him through a training program. Once again he underwent an hour of torturous activity. This time he was more aware of what was happening. But it was still like a dream, vague and unclear. He was totally unable to resist the actions he was performing. He could only marvel at the speed and agility he now demonstrated. At last he came to a stop and fell onto his back. He felt drained and it was all he could do to pull the helm off. I cannot do that too often. He thought. Whilst lying there getting his wind back looking at the sky, he thought he saw a light pass overhead. You can’t see shooting stars in the day. But it was gone in a flash and he heard a roaring scream quite close by. Not again, is there no escape? Overriding his exhaustion he packed the chest up, keeping an eye on the bushy hill between him and the sound. Just as he finished, he heard noises in the bushes, possibly talking. Grabbing the chest he ran in the opposite direction and dived into the nearest bush. No sooner than he move, a bolt of red light struck the ground where he had stood, sending a shower of soil into the air. He rolled into the bushes and kept rolling as more bolts tore through the bush above him. Swinging to his left he came to a halt and waited, not sure of what to do next, he did not have much cover left. Then several loud explosions shook the ground, followed by more shrieks and howls like all hell had opened up. After a while it went quiet. He thought that he ought to get away but wasn’t sure about breaking cover. He pulled his cloak over his head and started to crawl away. He was just thinking that with the cloaks camouflage ability he may just slip away unnoticed, when a voice said
“You do look funny there. Where do you think you are going?”
Arran rolled over and tried to draw his blade at the same time and ended up in a tangled heap. A tall figure stood over him. A huge roar of laughter now added insult to his injury.
“You can come out now.” Said Zeb “I have dealt with them.”
“Heavens, am I glad to see you.” Arran struggled to his feet. “Wizard, I should have known it was only you all along.”
“Err um, well not entirely alone, I had some help.”
“Well must you creep about and sneak up on people?”
“I hear that you’re good at creeping about yourself.”
“Not upon friends I’m not.”
“And prey tell how could I tell friend from foe with you hiding in a bush?”
“With all the goings on over there, you expect me to stand out, where? And waive? Huh.”
“Come, we do not have much time, and we have work to do back there.”
“I’m not sure that I want to go back there.”
“And I thought you were the bravest of the brave.”
“Anyway I have something important for you to look at.”
“We have not the time, hurry.”
“But, but this blade, it has….” Arran pulled out his blade.
“Yes of course, the weapon. If it is what I think it is, it will be very useful in the task to come.”
“Here take it.”
“NO. No I dare not touch it. It is far too powerful. My will is not as strong and incorruptible as yours. It could corrupt my own powers, and then where would we be?”
“But Zeb, surely your power and the blade’s… Who could match that?”
“Exactly young man. Do not even think it. I shall examine it at a more convenient time and place. We are in danger right now. There may be more coming and we have a job to do before we leave here.”
They marched up the hill and into more bushes. Arran noticed two bodies; they were the all-black giants. There was still smoke wafting about and a strong smell of burning that didn’t smell quite right….
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