The Catacombs of Edendorn
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Hallion stared in silent fear at the huge yellow-white mandibles of his captor. He felt the Bowman's words echo in his bald dome skull, "These are the Gates of Edendorn", through his chattering teeth and rumbling down his spine as his stomach leapt up into his throat in protest.
The colossus, who had saved them from the menacing Sythe, bared his teeth in a predatory snarl. Hallion's eyes were saucer-sized as the giant stood back to chew on a juicy shank. Hallion presumed it to be the remnants of one of the men who had previously been their guardians. They had been taken by surprise and knocked out by their apparent saviour. Then their bodies were dragged away while the children were bound and gagged. Sounds of cutting and chopping preceded a fire and the smell of cooking meat. The boy was still in shock and awe of the giant.
Hallion and his sister, who were trussed up with rough chord and hanging suspended from some overhead hook could only see part of the cave interior, dimly lit from a flickering fire in a nearby chamber. Alexia was sobbing quietly. Hallion slowly swivelled around to face his sister and look upon her tear streaked face. Her mouth, like his, was gagged with a ball of black hide tied round by Sythe chord, virtually unbreakable.
At the sight of Hallion's face, his sister smiled a sad smile through her tears. She started humming the melodious tune to a song their mother often sang to them. Hallion smiled back at Alexia as he swivelled away from her on another rotation. The red wall of the cave was covered with long legged silver-bodied spiders that lived in crevasses in the uneven rock surface. Long blue tongues shot out tasting the air. Hallion shut his eyes to listen to his sisters song and think about his mother Lucia and remember her silky long midnight black hair and soft guiding hands and the way her gentle face crinkled into a thin-lipped smile.
"What are you doing?" The Bowmen demanded of Alexia. The fact that her mouth was gagged and she could not speak accounted for her not replying.
Hallion wished the giant bowman would just let them go. He did not wish to be eaten, nor his sister. As Hallion swung around slowly again he saw the huge figure bent over his sister poking her with a massive finger. Alexia had ceased her humming and she cringed away from the Bowman, throwing her head back.
"I did not say to stop." The blind bowman said, rubbing his nose with a finger. Everything above the nose was covered by a green and blue bandana, knotted at the back of the giant’s huge cranium accenting the sloped forehead and protruding brow bones. Hallion wondered how the Bowman saw if he had no eyes.
But the Bowman himself would not have been able to explain and relied on instinct, logic and cunning. Blind since birth his super sense of hearing allowed the bowman to see in a different way. The range of sound frequencies he could detect extended way beyond that of normal human hearing. His body acted much like a satellite dish as well, picking up vibrations sent out from the beating of his own heart and radiated out before bouncing back off the objects or landscape around him. The shape of his upper torso winged by huge lateral muscles gave his upper body an almost circular receiving area. Refining and training has enabled the sharpshooter to tune in or out any frequency he wanted and focus upon any sonic or motive wave within his range. He can even stop his heart to filter out his own vibration waves and shoot his bow without the slightest deviation due to the beating of his heart.
The bowman's sense of smell is also much more acute than the human capacity. Molecules left behind by his quarry are sensed by receptors in his large nostrils and this information is processed and combined with the information from the sound waves to create a visual type interpretation or three-dimensional map in his mind. He can even analyse how an individual moves from the information brought by his sensors and predict where it might be in a moments time.
The big man looked even larger in the confines of the cavern towering over Hallion's sister Alexia. Every muscle seemed to spout more muscles that bunched and tensed with every motion of the goliath. He pushed the girl back and set her swinging back and forth while holding on to one of the chords that bound her as the horrified Hallion watched on helplessly.
Alexia began to hum again the ancient lullaby their mother would always sing when they were sick or sad. The Bowman began to swing the rope that held Alexia slowly now, in time to the song that Alexia hummed. The figure stopped her and Hallion held his breath as the Bowman reached up to his sisters with his hands and then opened his mouth as if to swallow her head whole. The giant paused with his jaws open spanning the girls braided head. Then Hallion thought he saw something move under the blue-green bandana. It looked like one eyelid closing and opening, sliding along the fabric. Alexia had given in to the song and whatever fate had brought her and the huge jaws of the bowman did not disturb her in that disembodied state. It was all a dream, happening to someone else and she was protected within the shell of the song itself.
As Hallion rotated away again he saw the Bowman step back and reach around to the back of his sisters head. Hallion turned his head around the other way and tried wiggling and twisting his hips to increase his rotation in an effort to see what was happening. The distorted shadows on the rough walls played tricks with his imagination, but it was the full sound of Alexia's rich voice ringing around the chamber that brought Hallion relief first.
"Hustar-ah-ah-ah kudey ti shu chigh.
Amuraha zu-hu jinoohara sooh kum-bye."
When Hallion finally did revolve enough to see his sister again he found the Bowman seated in front of her cross-legged, chewing on his bone and sucking the marrow out. When the girl stopped singing the Bowman's head snapped up sharply and he patted her stomach her with the glistening bone making Hallion want to retch. He could not imagine how his sister was managing.
"Hey Girl." The seated figure tapped her on top of the head with the bone. “Why you stop? You broke?"
"Why don't you let us go? We would hardly fill your belly." Alexia said
"Quiet down miss." The figure rose quickly to his feet despite his size and mass, his huge sinewed thews were like springs and he was soon standing covering his ears. "It hurts when others talk in closed spaces. " The Bowmen waved a large arm around the chamber. Then he tapped himself on his bulging pectorals. "Not my voice. I like the sound of my own voice. Lucky me. I like too when you are like a bird. That does not hurt. It does ..I..Hmm " the Bowman tapped the top of his blue green bandana. "Times that were good come back to me. "
"You should hear my brother when he is like a bird." Alexia said.
Hallion shrank back as much as he could as the bronze skinned Bowman approached and reached around to undo the chord around his face that held the gag in his mouth. He pushed the ball of hide out of his mouth with his tongue and coughed.
"Make like the birds little one." The bowman said towering over him.
Hallion tried to comply but his throat was dry and the gag had left a sticky feeling on his tongue. He opened his mouth and tried to force the words out but they wouldn’t and there was just a rush of air.
"Humph. Like birds, not snakes I said." The Bowman grabbed Hallion's head in one meaty paw, five thick digits clamping down on his skull and twisted it first one way and then the other as if he were trying to open a screw-top jar and did not know which way gained access to the interior. "Better I eat you now." He concluded.
"Come on Hallion. You can do it." Alexia enthused and encouraged him She would have said more but the Bowman silenced her with a glance and a finger to his lips.
"Why ..don't you just .." Hallion said. The rocklike square jaw of the giant was immediately thrust into his face but Hallion drew strength from the actions of his sisters, bit down the bile that threatened to choke the words in his throat and forced himself to continue carefully in a near whisper. "...put something....in your ears to muffle the sound?"
The Bowman's face twitched and Hallion felt his heart thumping loudly in his chest. The Bowman tapped him on the shoulder with the bone he had been feasting upon. Hallion noticed how large it was. Too big and long to be human. It had just looked smaller in proportion to the prodigious size of the Bowman. It was a Sythe thighbone. Maybe he wasn't going to end up in the blind man's belly, if he was a man.
The Bowman was still tapping him on the shoulder as if lost in thought, and then he suddenly stopped and brought out a large bone handled knife with a long curved blade. He used the tip to lever and unknot the twine rather than cut the tough Sythe chord. Hallion rubbed at his wrists and ankles when he was free.
Moments later his sister was in his arms hugging him. Sobs wracked her body as she embraced him and Hallion cried in response. The Bowmen stood up with the two black balls of hide which they had been gagged with sticking out of his ears and a strange look, almost a grin on his lower face.
"Speak" He said.
But Alexia started giggling at the sight of the figure. For a moment Hallion worried that this might aggravate the massive figure but then he too started giggling at the comical sight and the big man finally turned and stomped away,
"I wake your friends them. That makes no sense to me." He said his remark referring to their laughter, which was more a release of the tension they had been under.
So, Hallion thought as he and his sister sat down still holding hands and leaning there heads together, 'the Jalugar and the foreigner Chi were still alive somewhere.'
"You are brave sister." He said embracing her again.
"You are my little hero. How smart you are too." She said returning the compliment and holding him out to smile into his eyes.
They looked up at the sounds of loud voices and then what sounded like conversation. The jalugar came running into the chamber where the children were huddled together.
"They're in here." The jalugar yelled back over his shoulder. "He didn't eat them."
The children reached up as the Jalugar opened his arms and knelt down to embrace and kiss them each on the top of their heads, once twice and then thrice.
"Are you okay? Did he hurt you?" His weathered face wrinkled into a frown of concern.
"No. Not really. Just scared the living daylights out of us though. " Alexia said with a shake of her head sending her ponytail swishing from side to side.
"Yes I can imagine." The jugular said rubbing the back of his head and looking back to the cavern entrance where the foreigner appeared still rubbing the back of his head and stumbled before grabbing the cavern wall. He jumped and flicked his hand to dislodge the silver spider, which had latched onto his skin with its barbed feet. It fell to the floor and Chi crushed it beneath his boot. He shook his head and walk gingerly towards them.
"He told us he had you for breakfast." The pilot said lifting Hallion up into his arms. Then he sat back down with the effort and reached across to grab Alexia's hand.
"Seems our new friend has a strange sense of hospitality or humour." The jalugar said. He stood up and started to search around the cave keeping clear of the walls where the little silver spiders scampered and wrestled over the small flying bugs that came within reach of their long skinny legs which had little barbed hooks on the end. While he was doing this Chi questioned them about what had happened from the moment the two men were knocked unconscious. Alexia and Hallion related the events and explained what the bowman had told them about his sensitivity to sounds in confined spaces.
"Well that would explain some of his behaviour." The pilot said, stroking his stubbled chin. "I think he's been living alone in a cave too long. No social graces."
Zurvan returned from his investigations to report the Bowman was now apparently cooking them a huge feast of roasted Sythe wing.
"Maybe I was wrong." Chi said raising his eyebrows. "Just socially awkward."
"There's also a sandstorm raging outside. No way out there and I can't find any other tunnels here."
"So it looks like we're here for dinner."
"Looks like it."
Suddenly Hallion broke into their conversation.
"Who ....who is that?" He said pointing towards the far side of the cavern where a man in brown robes had appeared, his face hidden by a peaked hood.
He reminded Chi of a monk with his long smock and sandalled feet. He looked up and seemed surprised to see them there. Then his face opened into a wide smile and he beamed at them for a moment before turning with a flourish and walked straight towards the walls of the cavern which suddenly opened and then swallowed him again closing with a thud and a puff of red dust.
"Quickly. Follow him." Zurvan cried, leaping in a single bound across the chamber to the wall where the figure had disappeared. His caste, the Jalugar or Bird masters, had larger than normal calves and forearms, the former giving them the ability to leap great distances. The latter gave him great strength and dexterity and his arms were also covered by thick layers of epidermis tough enough to withstand the sharp talons of the predatory birds the jalugar was master of. He also spoke the language of birds and had other hidden talents that the children had no knowledge off. He searched the wall of the cave and then his eyes dropped to view the floor of the cavern. He spotted an unusually grey stone amongst the red rock, surrounded by three other raised stones so that a foot would not normally stand on it. Zurvan pressed his bare foot into the space and felt the stone depress under his toe.
The walls of the cave opened to reveal another huge chamber. Zurvan stepped in and stopped.
"Whoa!"He said looking up and around the massive cavity.
Chi joined him and stood there, hands on hips, taking in the breath-taking panorama.
"What is it?" Hallion said pushing through between Chi and his sister.
"The Catacombs of Edendorn. This is where your ancestors lie. These must be part of the ancient city but I've heard they are linked to the new."
“Yes!” Alexia said. “ Some of my friends have been to the ancient city. Never this far though. The tombs are said to be inhabited by sorcerers and ghosts." She shuddered at the thought of having to journey through the tombs.
"So these are the Gates to Edendorn." Hallion reasoned looking back at the cave where the smell of smoke and roasted meat grew stronger. "I know what this place is now."
"The dungeon of the ancient castle." His sister said
"You knew?" Hallion said looking up at his sister.
Alexia nodded her head. “It was rumoured to be accessible through the ancient catacombs. That and the ancient brass rings in the roof from which we were hung reminded me of descriptions the scribes had recorded. The castle was built facing northwards, where we came in and looked out upon a great river in its day. The ancient city of Edendorn was spread around the banks of the river. But when it stopped flowing the city died and over time the elements wore it down. The people migrated across the mountains to rebuilt Edendorn anew on the southern side of the range."
Suddenly they noticed the Bowman standing in the middle of the cave, bow drawn and arrow poised ready to fire, his jaw set square and forearm and triceps bunched and bulging. The arrow lit and then sizzled through the air. The jalugar ducked though it was much too late. The arrow was not aimed for him though and it whistled past his cheeks before he had even flinched, the flames close enough to scorch an eyelid and the frazzle the ends of his bushy moustache. It stopped in mid air with a loud smack and a trickle of some clear liquid sizzled against the flame and then something like glass shimmered and fell backwards. It shattered into a thousand pieces as it slammed back into the stone floor of the path that twisted down the side of the chamber of the catacomb. The arrow fell to the ground and the flame fizzled out.
The Bowman lay down his bow and sat down. He offered up a stone dish full of freshly cooked meat and took another large titbit in his mighty grasp.
"Eat first." He said munching down. "Many dangers within. Need to eat now. No time then."
"We saw someone." Zurvan said to the Bowman who sniffed at the air and nodded.
"Elrok. An elemancer." The bowman continued eating while his munching echoing around the chamber.
The four travellers looked down at the arrow and Hallion picked up the bone arrow, another part of the Sythe utilised by the Bowman. These were the struts that supported the large bat-wings. They took one last look around the glorious chamber room and took the Bowman's advice joining him to eat. He even had fresh water in abundance. The bowmen squeezed Hallion skinny legs when he sat too near the goliath.
"Hmmn. Not much meat there anyway." He scoffed, and bit down splintering the bone with his teeth. Hallion scampered away as he bit into the flesh himself. The food tasted good in his belly.
When they had finished the Bowman made them sing again for him. He rocked back and forth and the tension on his face seemed to fade. They could see he now wore smaller plugs of leather in his ears instead of the round balls of hide. When they had finished he rose and approached the doorway. He slung his quiver over his prodigious back and his Sythe skull bow over his shoulder and waited while the others prepared themselves and gathered back in the centre of the cave grouped together at what they considered a safe distance from the goliath. Then he slid the tip of his hide boot into the depression and pressed the stone opening the wall entrance. The stone gates swung back.
"Let us go meet more of your ancestors." He said in a bassy rumble and Hallion was sure this time that the Bowman had winked at him under that green bandana.
Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus should we do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.