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This is chapter 7 and the penultimate episode in the Edendorn series. Having escaped from political arrest by the Sofians, two young royals Hallion and Alexia and two wanderers Chi and Zurvan, a jalugar (or bird master) are rescued from scavenging Sythe by a giant blind bowman. After leading them into the City at the Center of the Sun, in an effort to make passage under the mountainous ranges where the Sythe ruled, the party was split up and attacked by elemental mages and Sofian mercenaries. With one party member dead; another trapped and unconscious; the boy Hallion drugged and held captive, and the bowman battling all comers, it is now Crunch time!
The Blind Bowman scanned the steps of the Temple of Kiami. Although his ears were plugged with leather balls, he could still "hear" the reverberations of those around him. The goliath's thickly muscled torso acted like a satellite dish, picking up the slightest motion or vibration. His ears themselves improved his hearing to a supersense so acute he could literally hear a blink from over the horizon. Another consequence of his talent enabled him to create a pressure bubble around himself much like that of some sharks. This was his close-combat killing zone. His reactions were instinctive to anything breaking into this bubble, but it was only effective within a few meters. With ears blocked his overall scanning range was limited to a hundred yards. Observing the movements of the black Sythe statue which had suddenly come to life, and the reactions of the Terrikan warriors, his intuitive mind calculated and compiled another battle-plan.
The black Sythe twisted it's claw round and up, tearing the head from the shoulders of another warrior before rearing back and screeching. The Bowman considered his options. The giant Sythe had the attention now of all the tribesman. The creature could be attacked with one of the three remaining arrows but the Bowman could not be sure that his arrow would be effective against such a creature. Another plan hatching in his mind saw him using this creature as a diversion.
Two of the men scattered and began to jump down the steps while the others spread out, trying to put some distance between them and threatening Sythe, now stalking up the temple steps. The two men were met at the bottom of temple by throwing stars from Urgan that struck both in the neck severing their jugulars. They dropped their weapons, blood spurting from the main artery as they clutched their necks, before one toppled and writhed around in a circle on the floor. The other man kept stumbling forward until he slumped against a tall statue of a dog-faced god and slipped further and further down.
The Bowman had tucked the body of Chi under one arm and had beaten a path across the temple. In one hand he used an arrow thrusting and slashing with the arrow head while his bow was slung over his shoulder. He picked up a double-headed battles axes from a fallen warrior and flung it ahead spinning until it caught a bearded warrior in the chest. Four more fell with wounds to their eyes, neck and heart from the arrow head. As one fell forward leaning on his sword, his back swiped by the claw of the Sythe bloody and raw strips, the bowman grabbed his sword and stabbed another warrior, leaving it stuck fast through his body. With his other hand he punched the arrow-head through the eye and brain of another warrior and it broke as it punctured through the back his skull.
"Don't let him get away!" Urgan shouted. He picked up one of the bows from the fallen archers but it was broken and useless. He threw it away in disgust. "SUFUUU!" He called out for the tracker who had gone off in search of the jalugar Zurvan.
As the warriors turned towards the bowman now leaping clear of the bottom of the steps, the great black statue stepped between him and them. The remainder that had grouped in a semi- circle above the advancing Sythe, were cut off from their quarry . The Sythe struck out as charged it, their weapons thudding into it's armored skin making no impression in the surface. It's razor talons in turn sliced through bone and flesh like they were balloons of blood.
The bowman called to Alexis. "Hey. Little Bird, climb aboard." A dread-locked head appeared and her tear-streaked face looked around. As she clambered out, the bowman swung her up and she hung around his broad neck as he piggy-backed her. They jumped down the steps to the base of the temple of Kiami. With a couple of leaps and bounds the Bowman was around a tower and out of sight.
The tracker Sufu had found the place where Zurvan the jalugar first feinted. From there no trace of jalugar could be found. It was if he had disappeared. Sufu looked up and around at the golden spires and domes of the City of Gold. Unless someone or something took him. Up. He thought. Sufu began systematically climbing each of the towers and temples. Although he was old and his eyesight poor compared to what it had been, he could climb almost impossible sheer walls and cliffs. He climbed using all four hands and feet to grip and scaled the towers as quick as most could walk.
He was halfway up the tallest of the spires when he heard the screech of some unknown beast. He could not see what was happening on the far side of the white temple but he could hear the cries of men and the occasional clash of steel. He gripped onto the thin outlines of figures and symbols etched into the tower side with his nails and clambered higher.
From a higher purchase just below the saucer section of the tower, Sufu could see the Bowman and the figures surrounding him. He watched with awe as the giant statue began moving and swatting the creatures. Then he heard the Marshall call his name. Sufu dragged his crossbow out and holding on with toenails and his right hand fingernails, he drew a bolt and loaded it one- handed into the crossbow. He tracked the Bowman as he made his escape through the ring of mercenaries and locked on.
Shunk! The bolt flew from the bow. Instead of burying into the neck of the giant bowman where the tracker had aimed, the bolt smashed harmlessly into the back of the head of a carved stone warrior standing guard outside another of the temple. Sufu looked up. The tower was swaying slightly. It had moved just as he fired. Then he realized the saucer section was rocking slightly, causing the rest of the tower to sway. He hooked his crossbow onto his belt and resumed the climb.
Hallion opened one eye and looked around the chamber where he had been left alone by Elrok. He was not nearly so affected by the potion he had been given by the earth elemancer as he had pretended. The young royal swung his legs over the side of the rock ledge that served as a bed. He ran his hand over his bald head and wiped the sweat from his brow. He was alone.
Hallion jumped down and began to explore the walls of his chamber. The elemancer seemed to disappear directly through the wall and Hallion himself had been brought there by some sort of bubble that burst open and then closed into rock behind him. As the young boy felt the along the light pink rock he thought he felt his finger slide into a hole. He stopped and looked at the wall but could not make out any imperfection. The wall appeared quite solid.
Hallion was about to move on when his hand slid along and slipped into the open space again. He left it there but couldn't work out where it had slid into. He tried slipping his hand further in and was rewarded with his entire arm sliding into the strange space in the rock wall. He pushed and his shoulder popped in and then his head and in a second his entire body was inside the rock wall. It was like being stuck between two giant balloons. He could feel the pressure but could still manage to push through the resistance.
In an long moment Hallion found himself outside, in a long corridor than seemed to run both left and right with no door or entrance. For a moment he stood and wondered which way to go. The slightest sound of running water prompted him to head left and he set off at a trot to find his sister Alexia and the remainder of his party. He hoped.
The three elemancers Elrok of Earth, Naas of Fire and Orinaiya of Water met just as another high pitched shriek resounded through the City at the Center of the Sun. They all looked up at once.
"That sounds like a Sythe." Naas said clicking his fingers and bringing three Sparks whizzing to his shoulders. They crackled and hissed as he spoke to them and then they sped off again leaping from statue to tower to ground.
At the same time Orinaiya began explaining to Elrok what had happened during the last summoning when one soul had mysteriously escaped. Elrok's boyish face was set in a half smile. He chuckled at Orinaiya's dilemma though that was just his way. He was deeply concerned.
Things were not going the way he had planned.
"What have you done with the boy?" Naas demanded spreading his large frame and piercing Elrok with his fiery gaze. It was met with a chuckle and a placid expression.
"He is safe." Elrok said. He turned and looked up as another shriek and the scream of a man reached them.
"That is a reply. Not an answer." Naas said grabbing his shoulder.
The wall behind Naas rumbled and a rock giant half stepped out and gripped Naas by the shoulder. He winced in pain and let go of Elrok.
"Curse you Earthmance!" Naas spat. He rubbed his shoulder with his other hand as the rock giant let go and slid back into the wall leaving a ring of concentric circles behind him.
"Will you two cease bickering." Orinaiya said, "We have to...Ooof!" but she was cut off when the lower torso of some unfortunate individual flew into her. She crumpled under it's weight and momentum until Naas pulled the blood gushing semi-torso off her and Elrok helped her up. She shook her head and then gave a wild shake. Before the others could speak she had turned to pure fluid and her liquid form slithered swiftly away like a little snaking river.
"This matter is not finished with Elrok." Naas warned the earth elemancer, but Elrok just smiled back kindly. Naas cursed at his unflappable manner as they took off on foot after her.
The Bowman came to an abrupt stop. Alexia was hanging her arms around his neck piggy-back style and the limp form of Chi was tucked under his left arm. He stopped and Alexis felt him tense. His body was absolutely still for a few seconds.
"The boy. He is alone and moving."
"Hallion? You can sense him?"
"Ugh." The bowman grunted and Alexis guessed it meant yes. They were moving again.
"Is that a river?" Alexis asked as they rounded a corner and a dark mass seemed to be moving beside them.
"That is way out." The Bowman answered.
The Bowman stopped again. "Here comes boy." He said and sure enough Alexia looked ahead and in the dim light here on the outskirts of the City at the Center of the Sun she saw a small figure moving towards them.
"Hallion!" Alexia cried out and started to slide down the back of the giant Bowman. He reached around and lowered her for the fall from his neck was quite a distance.
"Alexia!" Hallion called back and then ran towards her. They embraced briefly and she smothered the top of his bald head in kisses. "What happened?" She said holding him back at arms distance and looked him over with concern. Hallion was still holding the long plaits of her hair in his hands. He seemed unable to let them go. He certainly didn't want to. Nor could he find the right words.
"I escaped." Was all he could manage with a grin from ear to ear.
"Again." Alexia said beaming back and choking back a sob. "Oh my brave brother. Soon we shall be home. The Bowman said the river is a way out. You will be a hero to our people Hallion. A hero I tell you." She said taking his hand and swinging it as they walked behind the giant Bowman.
The big blind archer seemed to be scanning or searching for something alongside the river. He took out the balls of leather that protected his ears from the sounds that echoed and pierced his super-sensitive aural organs.
"Oh I don't know about that." Hallion replied, but his chest swelled with pride.
They heard a scraping and the Bowman seemed to be pushing something into the dark waters. He was half in shadow. Hallion guessed it was a boat, as he watched the blind bowman put the limp Chi into the boat.
"What is wrong with Chi?" He asked.
Before Alexia could reply, there was a rumbling of the ground and between them and the Bowman, two rock giants sprang out of the walls. They ran straight for Hallion and Alexia. Alexia shrieked and pulled Hallion close to her.
The two creatures were stopped suddenly. They turned to look back at what was impeding them. The Bowman was huge for a man. The rock elementals were even bigger but he held them both. One raised a large stony fist and slammed it into the Bowman's skull knocking his head sideways. The other tried to pull away and reached out for the two children. Hallion and Alecia took off for the boat, ducking under the rock elementals arms.
The Bowman slowly raised his head back straight and then wrenched it sideways with a creaking and crackling of bone and sinew. His scarf had been knocked half off his face. He let go of one of the elementals and with one tremendous blow hammered the other rock giant which had slugged him with his own balled-up fist. It's cragged head exploded in a shower of particles and dust and the headless form then fell sideways to crumble into pieces.
Hallion jumped into the small vessel as the other rock creature made for them. Alexia ducked under a swinging arm and at the same time Hallion swung the paddle with all his might. It hit the bank rather than the earth elemental and Hallion was sure he saw a mocking smile on the Rock elemental's face. In almost the same instant, the bank gave way and the rock elemental slid down and disappeared beneath the turbulent waters.
The bowman came up and scanned the scene. He nodded slowly, expressionless as usual. Then he lifted Alexia into the boat, stepped in himself and pushed them from the bank with a powerful stroke.
Soon they were in far from the city of tombs. They sat in silence as the craft slid through the dark waters. After a while Hallion moved near to Chi and poked him. It was almost as dark as night. Alexis shook her head and looked down at her hands.
"What happened to Zurvan?" Is he dead too, Hallion wondered.
"We saw him being taken by the air elemancer we think. That was the last I saw of him." Alexis said biting her nail and looking at it. She looked up again as Hallion called her name.
"What?" She asked and followed to where he was pointing. At the same time she noticed the growing roar of water and realized it was not coming from ahead but from another broader river which this one was flowing into. Even in the half-light she could see it's reddish color due to the large amounts of soil washed down from the ranges that the river was fed from.
"This must be the Karfan River." Hallion said excitedly. "Do you know what that means? This will take us straight to Edendorn. He clambered across the boat to hug his sister.
She stroked the back of his bald skull. "We will be home soon Hallion. Home soon."
They sat there like that and Alexia sang as Hallion lay in her arms and the Bowman navigated the boat through the waters. In no time they saw a bright light in the distance. Sky! They sat up and wished the rushing current would carry them faster still.
The sunlight was like an ocean of brilliant warm fire, causing them to squint and cover their eyes, except the blind bowman of course. They noticed him stand up stiffly and the boat rocked violently before he steadied it. They heard something that sounded like a sigh.
"What is it?" Hallion asked gazing up at the Bowman and immediately regretting it because he was looking straight into the sun.
"No!" Alexia cried out. "No. No. Nooooooo! "
"What what. What is it?" Hallion asked frantically pulling on his sisters arm. She buried her head in her hands and began to sob. Deep heart wrenching sobs.
Hallion looked towards the city of Edendorn coming into view around a slight bend in the river. His mouth dropped open.
Ahead the dock had been burnt to the waterline and only a few masts from the fleet of ships showed above the water. There were bodies floating face down in the river and bloodied corpses could be seen littering the foreshore.
Behind it the city lay in ruins. Black smoke billowed from the broken buildings and crumbling ramparts. The white castle had black smears on every turret from artillery bombardments. Two of the spires were broken off completely.
The Sofians had razed New Edendorn. Their families would be dead or prisoners. Hallion feinted forward and his head hit the wooden seat in front with a sickening thud!
Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus should we do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.