Friday, January 15, 2016

Road to Zard Kuh (part III)

Mina stood facing south, her eyes open wide and staring. Her right hand twitched, as though pulling upon threads. It was the dead of night but the high priestess of Julara, her chosen daughter, was awake. She had not slept in the six days that Marcos and Sorenan had been away. It was not grief or anxiety that kept her away. Mina's gaze was not her own, for Julara had reached through her into the world of men.

Brown eyes looked past the night scene of Dacia city towards the deep desert beyond the plain. They had been fixed on the horizon since the moment Mina walked to the balcony to try to see Marcos and Sorenan's horses going into the distance. The moment she walked through the doorway in the upper portion of the temple, a change came over her. It was subtle at first. The acolyte with her noticed that she had unbound her hair beneath her veil. It was thought that she was observing the traditional gestures of grief. Then her veil slipped from her head and the filet it was pinned to fluttered to the floor with out any hands to remove the pins. Indeed, when the acolyte stooped to pick them up, she found that the pins remained in the veil.

The acolyte fetched the priestess that was presumed to eventually be Mina's successor. As the black haired and green eyed woman approached, she could feel the energy in the air, as though she was standing at the banks of the river Is when it was in a flood. "Lady," she said, but there was no answer. She reached forward to set a hand on Mina's shoulder when Mina lifted her hand. A voice that rang with power spoke from Mina's lips.

"Pray for the sword-bearers of Ashur," Julara said, "Go to the desert priests and instruct them to give offerings for victory. Battle is at hand." The priestess and acolyte looked between themselves uncomfortably. Mina's right hand twitched and moved as though plucking and pulling threads in the air. The hand did not fall or cease its motion. For six days, Julara-Mina stood at the balcony and gazed southward, seeing the first battle unfurl, the pursuit, and, now, the second battle in the black sands about Zard Kuh though they were beyond the distance that human eyes might gaze.

Earlier in the night, Julara-Mina spoke for the second time since she had stepped on to the balcony. "In the sand mirror of the priests, scribe that Zard Kuh awakes." The priests of Ashur, with their arcane might and the strange magics of the desert wrote their message. Away to the south, Marcos heard it blown on the wind and began his preparations for the attack upon Temna's weary army. Now, another acolyte and priestess stood vigil. They waited with food and wine for Mina. They were weary but their fear of Julara was great enough that neither woman shirked their duty. Many were the tales of fallen servants of the river goddess of the fertile flood plains, none of them ended well.

Now it was past the time that the mother moon was at her zenith. The children of the mother rose to their apex as the mother strode towards the west. It was deep in the night. Watch fires about the city were burning low as the third watch were relieved by the fourth watch. On the balcony, Julara-Mina twisted and manipulated the threads of magic that were about them. Away to the south, the sorcerer son of Omauranth did his best to summon the demons of the black sands to his will. Their blood hunger was infamous.

His ward of flame around the sword-bearer of Ashur that he could see lit the night brilliantly. As the dead rose to his command as the spirits inhabited them, the battle turned against Dacia. At the same time, the living of Temna's army found themselves trapped between the horror of the dark desert's monsters and the fury of Dacia's army. Those who could flee ran off heedlessly into the night. Clouds had gathered over them, but the sorcerer paid them no mind. He was sure it was the clouds of ash blown from Zard Kuh, as he had been told came when the mountain shook and light with unnatural fire. His focus was upon controlling and directing the monsters he rose from the dead.

The fire before him burned and unnatural color. Within it, a man's hand smoked and charred. It was the hand of the sorcerer that stood before it, sacrificed for his magics. The bloody stump closed itself as though it healed or was sealed by fire when the spell began. Weakened by his bloody sacrifice, however, the sorcerer was vulnerable to influences. He was so concerned with the direction and command of the demons that he didn't realize the air about him was changing.

When the first fat drops of rain fell, the sorcerer wave a hand to bat them away, as though they were insects. The rain began to fall harder at a shockingly quick rate. The sorcerer grew angry with the situation and began to throwing what he could onto the fire to make it burn hotter. About him, the demon possessed corpses began to move less smoothly. For a moment, the fire flared up bright and hot when the sorcerer threw a wine skin into the flames. In that moment of brilliant light, he saw a man cutting through his defenders. As the bodies of the dead men reanimated, the man laid about himself with a fury that was inhuman.

The sorcerer shrieked at his defenders to kill the man, but all of their blows were turned aside and they were slain. The undead soldiers reached for him. He cut them down as they came, somehow continuing forward. Marcos reached the sorcerer. The man gave a scream of terror that was silenced with a swift blow. The fire persisted and the demons ran free. They attacked each other and all of the living. Marcos kicked the sands into the fire as the rain came down harder. As he did so, he was fending off the repeated attacks of the animated corpses. After what felt to be an eternity, the fire was out.

With the extinguishing of that fire, all of the corpses dropped to the ground like puppets with their strings cut. Bodies that were hacked apart fell to the ground in pieces. The ring of fire about Sorenan and Zalaz went out with the witch fire of the sorcerer. For a moment, they groped in the darkness. Then, as their eyes adjusted to the burning encampment's gloom, they realized that victory had been achieved, though they were not sure what the cost was.

Away at Dacia city, Julara-Mina collapsed with her spells complete. The women with her dropped their goods and rushed to her side. As they lifted her up, they feared she had died. The faint rise and fall of her chest told them she lived. They did not know for how long though as they carried her away to her chambers.

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