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This story is the third in the Edendorn series following on from Catacombs of Edendorn. They feature the blind Bowman based upon the character created by artist John Lynch.
The Reapers of Edendorn
Zurvan, a special caste of tribesman from the Berell Plateau called a jalugar or Birdmaster approached the hulking mass of muscle that was the man mountain known only as the Bowman. The jalugar has an unusual sensitivity to certain emotions regardless of the animal, though particularly attuned to birds. The sensation he received from the Bowman made him shudder. He peered at the cloth hood that hid the giant's face down to his nose and wondered what could cause this goliath to emote fear!
Hallion and Alexia followed hand in hand behind Chi the foreigner as they crossed the dimly lit cave which once served as an ancient castle's dungeon, to where the huge Bowman and jalugar were standing. The two children huddled closer to Chi.
"What manner of being exists here?" The jalugar asked searching the Bowman's face, but the purple-green hood covering his features betrayed nothing. Zurvan was referring to the large cavern, which lay beyond stone gates set into the wall of the cave.
The Bowman walked through the gates to stand on the edge of a precipice that looked out over the spacious cavern. He took out the plugs of leather from his ears and scanned the massive cavity. Finally he answered in a deep growl. His good mood had gone and his body had the electrical intensity of a caged animal.
"Like the girl said - sorcerers and ghosts." The Bowman said turning to face Alexia who hid her face behind Chi's legs.
Zurvan could tell there was a lot more that the big fellow wasn't saying but guessed the Bowman would not be persuaded to expand or explain further. They had no choice. Back was the desert, the Sythe and their Sofian pursuers. Above was a harsh range of unrelenting mountainous peaks. The path to Edendorn lay through the ancient catacombs and the underground river that led to the new city where the two children, Hallion and Alexia, would find safety with their family. The Jalugar looked upwards at the domed ceiling that glowed with an amber light and longed for the open sky and his birds again.
Hallion edged forward to look over the precipice and marvelled at the immense dimensions of the cavern. At the base of the spacious amphitheatre there was the fabled City at the Centre of the Sun; a glittering city of gold, the catacombs of the ancient caste that dwelt in the once grand city now consumed by drought and the desert. Far below the small cliff ledge from where the party of five were assembled shone the golden spires and turrets of the tombs of long dead kings, queens and nobles. A narrow path spiralled around the cavern wall and led down to the mausoleums far below. Unlike the rough red-rock walls of the dungeon the walls here were smooth and had a reflective nature like water or a mirror.
There were torches burning along the pathway and at the base of the massive chamber and these reflected off the huge golden domes and edifices to the lost empire builders and the shimmering silver sides of the cavern interior. They began to descend the staircase staying close to the wall for in places the edge was cracked and portions had crumbled away. The edge was sheer and at least twelve stories high.
The Bowmen led them, scanning left and right, ever alert and tensed, but his bow remained slung over his shoulder. Chi followed, with the children between and Zurvan bringing up the rear. Flames leapt up from the depths below. Shadows long and grotesque were cast upon the strange mirrored walls of the large underground cavern. The great edifices of the City at the Centre of the Sun loomed as the party continued around the spiral staircase that wound around the walls of the chamber down to the cavern floor.
"What did he mean by meet my ancestors?" Hallion whispered, tugging on Alexia's sleeve.
Alexia wanted to talk for in silence her imagination was turning these things over and running wild with possibilities inside her head.
"From what I know Hallie." She said. "Elemancers like that Elrok we saw are able to use and harness elemental forces. They can create servants or slaves from these elementals but they need departed souls to animate or..or make these objects move. That's why they inhabit tombs and graveyards. They need to summon souls and harness them within some compulsion." She finished with a shrug."Some of them may be our ancestors."
Chi had been listening and as a foreigner he knew nothing of the stories or of elemancers or of the City and quizzed Alexia about the amazing City itself. Zurvan smiled, wondering if Chi had done this on purpose to turn the conversation from the talk of trapped souls and elemental magicians.
Halfway down, they could now see the beautiful architecture of the buildings themselves. Huge pillars with intricate reliefs surrounded many of the larger tombs. Marble archways and ornate statues stood guard at the entrances and some had armies of stone warriors protecting there eternal sleep. The domes and turrets were gold but the full majesty of the building designs could not be glimpsed from above and blue red and green gemstones sparkled from every possible space available forming mosaic pictures telling stories of the deeds of the fallen inside their walls.
"See the tall gold tower on the left." Alexia said pointing. A grunt from the Bowman caused her to grimace. He motioned for her to speak softer with a meaty hand.
"That is called the Sola Falray." She said quietly.
Chi looked across at the tallest spire ringed by gold relief in the shape of the constellations of the ancient horoscope. Nothing struck Chi as familiar. He had told the others he was a foreigner but that was not exactly true. The constellations on the tower were not the ones that watched over his childhood home. Intricate figures cast in the gold pillar showed the ascension of the soul through the spirit worlds to the seat of the Great Spirit high above.
The gold spire of the Sola Falray stands six stories high, a monumental feat of engineering in its day, some say never again equalled though the existence of the City itself and the Sola Falray had themselves been a matter of debate. No screws, or nails or bonding materials were used to construct the great tomb and spire with the sections interlocking into place and gravity holding everthing together. The spire simply sat on a square based platform, a gleaming black and white marble base, which Alexia believed housed the bodies of the king and queen of the third dynasty. Chi estimated the golden spire measured two meters wide at the thinnest and ten metres in diameter at the broad base. The top of the spire was saucer shaped with a thin spike pointing upwards towards the roof of the cavern and heavens beyond.
Hallion noticed the walls here were not mirrored but a smooth grey stone around the base of the chamber. He ran a finger along the stone and jumped back when his fingerprint glowed luminescent yellow.
"Touch nothing!" The Bowman boomed in a low command without even looking backwards, which made Hallion scamper forward and almost bowl Zurvan over down the stairs.
Amongst the tall and glittering structures there was one pure white building located in the centre of the city. Chi asked Alexia what she knew about it.
"That must be the Temple of Kiami, I think." Alexia said, hesitating on the step to look at the building and rub her lip before continuing her descent with the others.
Shaped like a square based pyramid that has been cut in half so three sides lead up in a series of steps to the square top and the other side is a sheer wall. Of all the structures it is the smallest and the only white building surrounded by the grey stone pillars of the tombs of the First Citizens, and the marble mausoleums and bejewelled golden spires that housed the Ancients, second of the generations to rule over Edendorn.
On the walls are frescos of all the totem animals of the forests, deserts and sea as well as birds and some insects and even reptiles and snakes. They were faded now into the white of the walls still relatively pure in hue. Strangely the only black spot on the building consisted of a dark and dapper Sythe statue that stood guard over the archway that led to the crypt within.
Alexia checked to see how Hallion was faring and grabbing his hand she gave it a squeeze. His big brown eyes looked up into hers and he smiled.
"I remember something." Hallion said, recalling something of the mythological history as told by the chroniclers. "It is the only tomb made with mud and reed brick walls, built by the unknown king for his queen before his mysterious disappearance."
His sister nodded her agreement. "Kiami was first queen and high priestess of Edendorn." Alexia told them as they descended the last quarter of the stairs. Sounds of heavy objects scrapings and fragmented voices seemed to rise up from the city of tombs but the Bowman seemed unconcerned so Alexia continued, happier to hear her own voice over the unknown noise makers below.
Alexia smiled back at her brother. "She was the beloved wife of the unknown king who of all the royals of that and future dynasties, is the only one with no tomb in the city. When Kiami died from a fever, the unknown king is said to have become inconsolable and then records of him became scarce. After completing the tomb he disappeared. Some say he left and his soul still haunts the deserts. Others say his son murdered him and disposed of his body to hide the truth." Alexia noticed a change in the manner of the Bowman and the jalugar. Chi noticed it too. They had sensed something.
As they neared the bottom of the stairs the Bowman tensed. He grabbed an arrow and readied his bow. Suddenly the walls exploded outwards and stone arms and fingers reached for Alexia. Chi grabbed her and threw her to the Bowman out of reach of the huge fingers of stone that clashed together in an explosion of dust.
A head appeared in the wall and then it came to life as a stone giant larger even than the Bowman emerged from the wall between Hallion and Zurvan and the remainder of the group.
As the Bowman caught Alexia with one arm hand the rock creature grabbed Hallion in its stone fingers and jumped back towards the wall disappearing in a crunch of stone with the young boy. When Zurvan looked into the impression it curved inwards to a point as if sucked into the wall.
Hallion saw only black as he was grabbed by the rock monster and held in an unbreakable grip and then cocooned within some earth and rock bubble. In the blackness he tested the walls of the cell but he was completely enclosed. He wondered how long the air would last when with a sudden sharp crack, the rock and stone split apart and light flooded into his prison.
Hallion emerged from the egg-like bubble and jumped down to the floor below. He found himself in a meekly furnished room with long maroon drapes hanging on the walls. Glowing orange bulbs that stood on thin cone-shaped pedestals of granite provided light for the room. A long wooden table was set against one wall and two large ornately carved and crafted chairs were set next to the table.
It was then that Hallion noticed the cloaked figure seated in one of the chairs. He was sitting cross-legged reading a book and seemed oblivious to the boy's presence. Hallion could not see beneath the shadowed hood of the cloak but from the brown robe and sandalled feet Hallion recognised him as the elemancer the Bowman had identified as Elrok.
Suddenly the figure sprang up slamming the large volume shut in a shower of dust. He dropped the book onto the table and turned to face Hallion spreading his arms widely.
"Hallion. How nice of you to visit me." The figure said jovially. His voice had a lilt to it as if he was smiling but his features were still shrouded in darkness.
"You are Elrok?" Hallion asked in a whisper.
"Yes." The figure threw back the cloak to reveal an open boyish face, blemish-less olive skin and white teeth. He had looked large at first but Hallion realised he was average height and build with jet-black hair cropped bowl-like to his head.
"Let me introduce myself properly." The elemancer bowed theatrically. "Elrok of Petapalinio of the Tiagar, son and student of Karaman the Rockbreaker, at your service my lord. Please, forgive my manners and me." He gestured towards the other chair.
"Have a seat my lord." The elemancer Elrok said before opening his hands. "You must be famished. Can I offer you some food or wine? No not wine, water perhaps?"
"No thankyou. We just ate. " Hallion replied eyeing the chair. It would be good to rest for just a moment he thought and find out what this Elrok wanted with him. He hesitated before stammering out his question.
"Do..do you steal the souls of my ancestors?" He asked determined to find out as much as he could about the elemancer.
"Steal?" Elrok feigned surprise, stumbling backwards, eyes wide open before his eyelids started fluttering and his hand went up to his forehead as if the thought were too much to take.
"Of course not." He shook his head and with a great effort and a shudder seemed to make a big effort of pulling himself together. "I merely use them for a while and then they are free to return to their eternal rest." He chuckled before continuing. "Or their endless wanderings. I don't steal them Hallion. I just harness their energy....for a while..."
The elemancer chuckled and smiled broadly which terrified Hallion.
"My boy." Elrok said softly. "Don't fear the reaper."
At the base of the staircase the party of four were trying to quiet Alexis who had fallen into a hysterical state. She was screaming out her brotherís name and lashing out fighting with fists and knees against the stone walls and anyone who came near her. The Bowman picked her up and simply held in one mammoth arm while she spent her fury on him. Finally she stopped her barrage and began sobbing, throwing her arms around the Bowmans shoulders until he put her down. The jalugar who was particularly sensitive to emotions was also crying and drew her close.
"Don't worry child." Zurvan said kissing the top of her head. He wiped away his tears and a fierce new determination came into his eyes. "We'll find him!"
"I may be able to help you with that."
An ethereal voice came from behind the jalugar and he felt the child in his arms gasp. He turned to see a naked woman, her skin a translucent white, curvaceously feminine but with nipple-less breasts and also noticeably absent were any genitals. Long thick white hair extended from her head in all direction defying gravity. Zurvan ran his gaze over her symmetrical oval face gleaming like white porcelain. A small upturned nose wrinkled occasionally as if the smell of them gave some offence. The floating woman peered back at Zurvan with bright orange eyes and pursed her full gold lips.
Suddenly Zurvan was struck by another wave of fear from the Bowman and he realised with a jump of his heart that the blind man with his super sense did not seem to hear or see the woman as the others could. Whoever she was, she was off the Bowman's radar and the goliath was emoting his unease and confusion. For the first time Zurvan saw sweat rolling down the big man's cheek.
He turned to face the floating apparition and saw the pale woman begin to move off between the tombs hovering some distance off the ground and beckoning for them to follow with a long white finger.
Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus should we do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.