Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Road to Zard Kuh. (Part I)

The soldiers of Temna were exhausted but they couldn't rest. Dacia's forces continued after them like a band of howling demons. As dusk faded into darkness, Sorenan looked at them from the dunes. General Zalaz knelt beside him. As they looked at the watch fires gleaming in the dark, the pair considered their tactical options. "You don't need to lead them personally," Zalaz said, "I have men who can do this."

Sorenan nodded. "I'm sick of riding and doing nothing. I have the men and the experience," the Lion of the North said, "For the past three nights, you've sent in your own men. Now, I am bringing mine. I expect we'll cut a good sized swath through them before they get organized enough to come after us." Zalaz frowned.

"And how do you expect to get out?" he said, "The plan is hit them and fall back." Sorenan nodded. "Don't you start doing the madman's errand too," Zalaz warned Sorenan. Marcos had turned bold to the point where Zalaz wasn't sure if he was quite in his right mind. Sorenan, however, remained sober and solemn. He was focused enough that he was generally able to talk Marcos out of some of his more rash ideas. Zalaz was fairly sure that Marcos's problem was that he was god bothered. Ashur was not known for being careful with his chosen and old stories spoke of priests that descended into madness before walking out into the desert to seek the god of the eagles. Zalaz was concerned that his emperor was upon such a path.

Sorenan reached over and clapped Zalaz on the shoulder. "Don't worry," he said, "We'll get out. If nothing more, because Theon wants to get back to his drinking." Zalaz scoffed at Sorenan's mention of his band mate. Theon was quickly reaching semi-legendary status with his capacity to drink and remain clear headed. Despite Sorenan's warnings of the big man's temper, Theon had proven remarkably well suited to the work of serving as part of the emperor's personal guard. Sorenan stood up and moved down the dune to where the man in question stood waiting.

Theon's curly black hair looked to be the color of pure darkness in the wan light of the triple moons. His eyes were otherworldly in their darkness, giving him an ominous air. It was a thing that made some of the rank and file soldiers of Dacia's army uneasy around him after the sun had set. Between the whispers that passed through in the wake of Sorenan's battle prowess and Theon's appearance, the pair frequently found themselves being avoided or having battle hardened soldiers making subtle warding gestures against evil when they passed. Sorenan was annoyed with it but Theon was amused.

His great booming laugh often followed the superstitious gestures, making people all the more unsettled. Now, however, Theon's expression was sober. Sorenan noted that Theon had gathered the others from their company. All dressed in dark colors, they blended shockingly well into the dark colored sands under the cover of night. "We go around from the west," Sorenan said, "Stay together. We want to get in  at least three rings of their encampment before we fall back. I want to take down a few of their captains."

"Three rings is pretty deep," Theon said. The fresh faced man at his right opened his mouth to make a crude remark when Theon fixed him with a dark look. "What if alarm is raised faster than you expect it?" Theon said. Sorenan gave a quick grin. Theon shook his head with a look of disbelief. "This is a stupid plan," he said, "This is a really stupid plan."

Sorenan motioned them forward. The party of eight men moved around the western flank of Temna's army. As they observed the guards, a pattern to their watch emerged. Silently, Sorenan motioned them forward. Passing between the guards when their backs were turned, Sorenan's party penetrated Temna's outer most defense. They moved with apparent ease and command through the soldiers who were bedded down for their rest. They passed the first ring of fires with out challenge. As they reached the second, a few eyes looked up at them.

Looking to be the mercenary party that they had always been, they were ignored. At the third ring of fires, Sorenan spotted a few captains lounging at their ease. One of them sat up at Sorenan's approach. "What news is there from the guard?" he said lazily. Sorenan walked up to the black haired man. He leaned down, as though to speak with him, while his men came to the fire in apparent desire for the warmth and light. Shielded from the view of the second and third captains of Temna, Sorenan parted the throat of the first. What would have been a scream came out as a breathy gurgle as Sorenan looked about himself.

His men dispatched the other two at the fireside with equal stealth. Soon, they were bundled up in their blankets and seemed asleep at the fire. Theon motioned Sorenan over as they moved towards the next fire. Theon muttered to Sorenan, "Stay back out of the light." Theon then lead the remainder of the party into the circle of the second fire. Their fight was quick. The second trio gave more resistance but not enough to draw the attention of others around them. Sorenan motioned towards the third and Theon shook his head.

Sorenan wanted to cut a few more of them down but decided that Theon probably had the better idea. With all the same air of confidence as their entrance held, Sorenan and his party found their way out of the camp. They were a short distance past the edge of the perimeter when a cry went up. The warriors of Dacia ran. When they reached the dune closest to their own camp, Sorenan paused and looked back. A knot of points of light was seen moving around where they had penetrated the encampment. Sorenan watched the searchers of Temna in their desperate effort to find who had killed their number. Sorenan was about to consider his work done when he saw a few of those points of light move out away from the encampment along the path that his party had followed.

Theon stood at Sorenan's side and spat in the direction of the searchers. "Told you this was a stupid idea," he said. Sorenan looked over at him. "This isn't the mountains," Theon said, "Sound will carry." Sorenan's quick grin returned. Theon shook his head but readied his weapons. At the fact that their leaders weren't moving with them, the rest of Sorenan's band doubled back. Drawing their own weapons, they waited. "There's going to be more than six of them," Theon said, counting the points of light bobbing as their pursuer's moved along the sands.

"Good," Sorenan said, "Then you'll get a few after all." Theon scoffed. The men from Temna soon had reached them. Their party was of almost twelve. When Theon saw the number, he spat at the ground near Sorenan's feet, silently conveying he blamed Sorenan for their ill luck. There was no time for anything more. In the dark, the men of Dacia clashed with the men of Temna in brutal fashion. The soldiers of Temna were not as experienced as the mercenaries cum guardsmen that they fought. Though they were out numbered, Sorenan's men managed to strike mighty blows on their foes.

An impasse arose between the two groups. And then Zalaz's party arrived. The warriors of Temna were cut down like grass before a scythe. Zalaz walked up to Sorenan, glowering. "Was that your idea of clean work?" he demanded. Sorenan's expression sobered. "What in the black sands are you trying to do?" Zalaz hissed, "Scratching your itch could have opened our flank up to trouble, and you know it."

Sorenan raised his hand and tipped his head slightly to the right. A sound came from over the sands to the east that didn't meet those of the night that he heard earlier. They looked towards Zard Kuh, a squat mountain that stood like a hulking creature. Sand was blown towards them from the mountain's direction. The noise of a catastrophic crash in the distance awakened the forces of Temna and Dacia alike. Where Temna's men scrambled for weapons and some looked towards the mountain agog with confusion, Dacia's arose with their weapons in hand.

Zalaz looked over and noticed that the encampment behind him was abuzz with activity. "Now for part two," Sorenan said to Zalaz, clapping him on the shoulder. Zalaz watched Sorenan walk into the encampment with confused irritation. Little did he know that Sorenan and Marcos knew that Zard Kuh was to awaken and that he stood on the even of a slaughter beneath the Mother moon and her children's eyes.

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