Chronicles of Arborell, Copyright Wayne Densley 2008 All Rights Reserved
Each of the Kalboreans looked to the other and then turned towards the Hresh. In the bright light of the day Hallan'Denmar stood apart, staring down the steep slope towards the base of the ridge. Although Mallen did not like it their safety had been given over to the Hordim, and as they waited for him to speak none knew whether he has forming a plan for their escape, or deciding instead the best way to abandon them to the Hresh encampment. Mallen could wait only so long before he approached the warrior.
"Hallan, we must decide what it is we shall do. It can only be a matter of time before we are discovered here."
The Hresh nodded, then motioned for all to draw closer. He had a plan, though it would not be an easy one to effect.
"The Hresh you see beyond are Tomsk, enemies of the Denmar and willing servants of the Clavern'Sigh. In truth I cannot say why they are here. They are in the lands of the Denmar and have no call to be, though it is my suspicion that they are here to cause harm to my Kraal."
Tomas looked at the Hresh and could see a burning fire in his usually indefinable eyes.
"What is your plan Hallan? Can we get beyond this camp and into the tpesh?"
The warrior looked hard at the Kalborean and shrugged his shoulders. "It is possible, but it will require a deception, and one that will be difficult to achieve."
Before any of the men and woman could ask what he meant, Hallan pulled a length of rope from his hip bag and played out its frayed ends.
"There is only one way into the camp that will see you alive, and that is as captives. If we are to make it to the tpesh you must be restrained and spoiled of all your equipment and food. Only if you appear as prisoners will the Tomsk give me right of way to lock you within the shelter, and having done that my responsibility will cease. What you do once there is not my concern."
Both Mallen and Tomas turned to Enika and Shemwe. It was a plan, but to place the women back into captivity, no matter how fleeting or voluntary, seemed cruel.
"And what will stop you from simply handing us to the Tomsk?" asked Tomas. "Are we not a prize worth betrayal?"
Hallan'Denmar moved forward as if he was about to assault the younger Cael but stopped with his face very close to that of Tomas'. Neither blinked.
"Those Hresh are my enemy, vehmin. Too many of my brothers have been lost to their snivelling obedience to the Sigh, and I would be just as dead if I walked into their midst as yourselves. It is what I will say to the Tomsk that will keep us all alive. You need only concern yourself with looking helpless. A task, I think, that will suit you well."
At the insult Tomas pushed the Hresh away and moved for his scimitar, but the Hresh proved faster. Before the Kalborean could lay a hand on the hilt of his blade the warrior had the edge of his own hovering against Tomas' neck. It was Mallen who pushed aside the Hresh's sword and stood between the two of them.
"Remember your duty, Hresh." he said firmly. "We will do as you say, but it will be a hard thing to ask of the women."
The Hordim backed up and placed his sword in its leather sheath. "I do not need reminding of my duty. And do not be concerned for your women-folk, it will not be as hard for them as you may think."
Mallen did not ask what the Hresh meant but turned and looked at Tomas. "Care is needed here Tomas. There will be no time in our lives more dangerous than this and we need Hallan's help to survive it. Try not to antagonise the Hresh, I believe he is in as much danger as ourselves."
The younger Kalborean shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry Mallen, the Hordim just gets up my nose, that's all."
Mallen smiled and then turned to Enika. "Are you alright with this?"
Enika looked to the warrior. It was plain that she could not disguise her misgivings.
"Can we trust this Hresh? Will he not give us up if it serves his purpose to do so?"
Mallen touched her hand and moved closer. "I cannot tell you what is in the mind of the Hresh. Know only that there are reasons why this Hordim will carry out his orders. If nothing else we must trust in ourselves, and hope that Hallan's plan will see us all safe."
Enika nodded her agreement. "Let us go home then."
Deliberately the Hresh went about the process of returning the Kalboreans to a state of captivity, and it proved an unsettling experience. As the wind eddied about the barren hills, Hallan took all their bags and rummaged through them, taking anything of value that would have normally been spoiled from them upon capture. The women had nothing, but from Tomas and Mallen he took everything of use and placed the equipment in a bag of his own. Their weapons he threw down the slope, though he kept Mallen's sword. This Hallan placed in his belt.
Mallen did not give over the Gatheringstone, it was the key to their return to Kalborea and as far as he knew it was a secret, one that he preferred to keep close. With all the equipment taken Hallan'Denmar then used the rope to bind the party together, taking one end to fasten himself firmly to the line of captives by a small metal fitting attached to a chain at his side. It was only once this was done, and the Kalboreans were effectively bound, that the warrior advanced upon Mallen.
"Give me the Gatheringstone, Mallen Cael. It will do you no good to keep it from me."
Mallen went to protest but the Hresh swung his fist before he could say anything. With a sickening thud his gloved hand struck the Kalborean across the side of the face and toppled him onto the loose slope. Tomas moved forward to help his brother but the Hresh turned and punched him cleanly in the stomach. Hunched over by the pain Hallan them hit him again, this time with an open palm across the head, dropping him like a stone. Held firmly by the ropes his body slid down the loose incline, dragging both of the women behind him. All would have continued down the slope but for the Hresh anchoring the line and dragging them back to their feet.
"Why are you doing this?" whispered Mallen, blood dripping from his mouth.
Roughly Hallan searched the Kalborean's clothing, located the artifact and took it for himself.
"If you want to live vehmin, you are going to have to look the part. The women appear as they should after such a long journey. You however, are untouched and it will not pass the notice of those we wish to fool that your condition is better than it should be. If I had told you of my intention you would not have had the courage to allow it."
Mallen spat a mouthful of blood onto the ground and looked the Hresh in the eye. "Do what you think..."
Before he could finish the Hresh hit him again, this time across the shoulders and neck. As the rest watched the Hordim beat his captive, being sure not to break bones but not holding back either. When he was done Mallen could barely stand, let alone put up any resistance.
"Now you look like a captive of the Oera'dim Master Cael. The damage you have received will heal, and perhaps it will leave you with a few scars you can tell your grandchildren about."
"And what of the Gatheringstone, Hallan. You know we need it to find our way home. What is your intention."
The Hresh smiled. "Don't concern yourself with my intentions. You are the one tied up. I'll do what I damn well please."
With the rope properly secured to his captives, Hallan stood close, his voice now low and conspiratorial.
"Listen carefully. You are captives of the Oera'dim and you must not forget it for a moment. Do not raise your head. Do not talk. Do not look at any other Hresh, or make any expression that could be construed as defiance. Do not notice anything going on around you. Do not appear to listen to conversations, or try to help each other. Do any of these things and the nearest warrior who takes offence will kill you out of hand. Do you understand?"
All the Kalboreans nodded, the men bloodied and bruised, the women bound and frightened by the Hresh's brutality. For Hallan'Denmar there was nothing else that could be done, and although he would not tell his charges he was looking forward to what was about to transpire. He had seen something in the camp that could not have been recognised by the Men of the South, and it was an opportunity he was going to grab with both hands. With luck this day would pass with the vehmin out of his hair, and a few old scores settled as well. Pulling at the rope he dragged his captives along the trail and out into full view of an approaching Tomsk patrol.
The news of the approach of Hallan'Denmar ran through the camp like a wave. Mallen kept his head down, but he could feel the malevolence and the sheer numbers of the Hresh crowding them as they were dragged unceremoniously through the encampment. About him the Tomsk shouted abuse, though he could not be sure if it was directed at the captives or Hallan himself. For his part the Denmar Hresh gave no sign that he cared for the taunts of the Tomsk. Instead he strode purposefully for the centre of the camp and ever closer to the tpesh which lay only a short distance beyond.
As they made their way into the heart of the camp Mallen kept his head low, but from a few fleeting glimpses he was able to make out much of its general organisation. It was apparent once he was within its borders that the Hresh spread their bivouac in a structured and disciplined manner. At the outer perimeter stood the tents and equipment of the warriors themselves. Each row of black canvas lined a narrow avenue that stretched towards a central parade area, and as Mallen found his way further into its centre he began to also see temporary armouries, cooking houses, aid stations and all the supporting functions of an army on the march.
Amongst the activity of the camp there was one tent in particular that took his attention. At the edge of the parade ground there arose a smell, an odour of which he was well familiar. Years working as a labourer in the mines of the Iron Hills had taught him to recognise the tang of Black Powder, an explosive dust used to blast rock deep within the earth, and as he passed the Powder Tent's flapping entrance he could see at least a dozen barrels of the unstable substance, closely guarded by heavily armed warriors and locked by chains to long iron pegs driven into the frozen ground. It was a recognition that proved momentary as he was pushed roughly forward and then out onto the parade ground.
When finally Mallen came to a halt most of the encampment had surrounded the small party. Enclose within a dark ring of hundreds of Hresh Hallan stopped before a large tent and called out clearly for all to hear.
"Here stands Hallan'Denmar, Brother-Chief of the Denmar and ally of the Tomsk. If there is any Hresh in this camp worthy to stand before me let him come forward now!"
For a moment there was no movement, then from within the tent came a single Hresh Chieftain. Large in size and tattooed heavily about his right arm he stood dressed in an ornate battle-suit of black leather armour embossed with silver sigils. Pausing only to command quiet from his warriors the Hresh moved in front of Hallan and looked him up and down.
"Hallan'Denmar. It has been a long time since I have heard any of your Kraal call himself an ally of the Tomsk. What is your purpose here?"
Mallen risked a quick glance at the two Hresh and he could see that the Tomsk Chief might have been speaking to Hallan, but he was looking at his captives, and he could not disguise his curiosity. Hallan must have noticed the interest as well and immediately decided to use it to his advantage.
"Hear me Hresh'na of the Tomsk, whilst you wander these barren lands and tend your Yunta-beasts the Denmar have been taking war to the vehmin of the south. Let it be known that the plague-port of Callenfrey has been destroyed, its citizens and buildings put to the torment of hera'pyrim. This was done by Ansolon'Denmar and in his name I claim a battle honour for our Kraal. As proof of our victory I bring before you captives, and a sword taken as trophy from a Captain of the vehmin."
As he spoke his last words he threw the sword onto the ground and dragged the Kalboreans close to him. About them the camp erupted into what Mallen could only assume was a raucous applause. Within the cacophony of shouts and foot stomping Hallan provoked the crowd, knocking Tomas to the ground and exhorting them with his raised fists to a greater enthusiasm. Within all this the Chieftain stood quietly, but only for a moment.
Raising his arms he called for quiet and the camp fell into an expectant pause.
"You have not yet answered the question Denmar. What is your purpose here?"
Hallan turned again to the Chief and gave no obedience to his question. "I need no purpose to travel within the lands of the Denmar. These are my lands and I journey upon them as I will. I see your banners Feltig'Tomsk. I know who you are and I see the strength of the warriors you command. It leaves me to ask why you wander upon ground that plainly belongs to others."
Feltig'Tomsk smirked, but before he could respond the attention of all turned to a darkly robed figure that emerged quietly from the tent beyond. Tall and grey-skinned the Being moved to stand next to the Tomsk Chieftain and all about him kneeled at his emergence. Even though Mallen could not raise his head fully he felt a prickling aura of power radiating from the creature, and to a fashion it reminded him of the magic harnessed by Gremorgan. But it was indeed something else and far different from the Hordim surrounding them. It was a Mutan, and unlike the LoreMaster it proved an unsettling presence, one that seemed to stifle the very wind itself.
"Hallan'Denmar." came a voice soft and whispered. "You stand before Canen'Set, Dominus of the Clavern'Sigh and Imperator of all things in these Lands of Perdition. In this world I own all, and grant it upon license alone to those who dwell here. The Tomsk are here on my authority and I will not have it questioned by one such as you. Tell me, Hresh'na, why should I not kill you now and take your captives for my own?"
Hallan'Denmar stepped back and for a moment Mallen thought he had lost his resolve. He was not prepared for the seeming betrayal that was to come.
"Dominus, I mean no disobedience to the Clavern'Sigh. I am here on a mission given by my Chief to pass on intelligence gained, and give over the gift of these vehmin for your pleasure."
Canen'Set bent down to look upon the face of the Hresh. "The vehmin I accept. But what is the knowledge deemed so important that it should be delivered into my presence by a Brother-Chief?"
Hallan looked at the Kalboreans and smiled, then turned back to the Mutan.
"I have news of the passage of a LoreMaster, Dominus; one known as Gremorgan Hedj, who even now trespasses within the lands of the Oera'dim. In this intelligence is both his path and objective."
Tomas yelled at the Hresh to keep his mouth shut, and Mallen would have done the same, but there was something in Hallan's answer to the Mutan that was not right. Even Gremorgan did not know why he was going to the Horns of Gorgoroth, and it bade the Kalborean to play along with whatever the Hresh was planning. For Tomas the distinction was not apparent, and for his trouble a warrior stepped from the surrounding throng and clubbed him to the ground. To a raucous cheer he fell, Enika behind him being dragged to the cold earth as well.
All this passed unnoticed before the gaze of the Mutan. Canen'Set had no capacity for humour, his focus centred instead upon the name of Gremorgan Hedj.
"How have you come by such knowledge?" The creature hissed into the wind.
Hallan turned and pointed at Mallen. "This vehmin was in his company till two days ago. A Denmar scout followed them until they parted and overheard their purposes in the lands of Perdition. For a reason I have not yet been able to determine their party split and this one began to move south, back towards the Mountains of the Divide. I captured him and placed him with the rest of these captives. They are now yours to do with as you wish."
Canen'Set paused and then motioned towards the tent.
"Bring the captives Hallan'Denmar." Then he pointed to Feltig. "What must be spoken within cannot be heard by others. Create a cordon about this place and let none come near. Once this is done return to the tent and bring a tearing-frame."
Feltig'Tomsk nodded and then began to bark orders. Immediately the camp became a commotion of running warriors and moving equipment. Against this backdrop the four Kalboreans were pushed towards the billowing entrance of the Chieftain's tent and then forced into its dark interior.
Within the shadows of Feltig's home Mallen found himself surprised by the Hresh's taste in fabric and furniture. The tent was in all respects a mobile home, fashioned of blackened Sempaca skins and supported at its centre by a thick pole of white timber, carved and inlaid with symbols and pictograms. From the central pole a series of thinner limbs branched out, radiating from the support's apex in long curves down to the ground. Each thinner limb had been dug into the earth and the edges of the tent-skin itself set into a trench that ran about the diameter of the abode. Beneath this the floor spread as a patchwork of grey and russet hides and all about there lay scattered the furniture and accoutrement of a powerful Chieftain. Mallen could not help but notice that much of the Hresh's possessions were Kalborean made and he could only imagine how the Hordim had acquired them.
Outside the wind had begun to gather strength, sending dust and desiccated brush cascading through the camp. Within Feltig's tent the bluster was held at bay, not a breath of the rising gale finding its way inside. Except for the undulating motion of the tightly sown Sempaca skins above the air remained unnaturally still. Beneath this canopy the Mutan settled itself upon a high-backed chair and motioned for Hallan to push the Kalboreans into a corner. This the Hresh did, but there was something in the Hordim's demeanour that Mallen recognised as the warrior preparing himself. The Hresh had a plan and it was about to be initiated.
"Hallan'Denmar," the Mutan whispered. "You say that you found this vehmin heading south. How is it that you could not take the LoreMaster as well?"
The warrior stood at attention and looked to the creature without emotion.
"Once we had the vehmin we tracked his movements back to the boulder field at Ell'ash. There the mists closed in upon us and the trail dissipated on the hard ground to the east. As we were unable to find any further sign I left my scouts to continue searching and came on to Erenthel."
Canen'Set stroked at the corner of his cloak then looked towards the Kalboreans. "That is as it may be. But tell me sub-chief, by what device of coincidence is it that these vehmin all have red hair? It is neither common nor desired amongst their ilk and it seems strange that so many should be found together."
Mallen looked to the Hresh and wondered what could be his answer. Hallan however, seemed to have thought long on what he was going to say.
"It was Ansolon's idea, Dominus. After putting Callenfrey to the flames we took many captives. Unfortunately the requirement to move quickly in our retreat meant that we had to kill most of them. My chief decided that as trophies we should keep only the red-haired ones. It is not coincidental that the vehmin we captured in our own lands also has red hair for he is in fact the brother of one of the original captives. We can only assume his purpose in these lands was to recover his brother from captivity."
"And it would seem that he did not succeed." mused the Mutan. Before he could speak again Feltig shouldered his way back into the tent, hauling a large wooden frame behind him. None of the Kalboreans could recognise it for what it was, but as the Hresh Chieftain began to work on it, it became clear that it was a restraint of some type.
For a moment Canen'Set watched the Tomsk work at the device then rose and moved to stand before Hallan.
"Tell me now, Denmar, what is your intelligence on Gremorgan Hedj?"
"Dominus, it has been reported to me that the LoreMaster entered the Lands of Perdition some two days past, using the Durgoz Gate to find his way undetected into our homelands. From what was heard by my scout he is heading east towards the Morglands, specifically to find a ruin beneath the Barak'Tor. The reason for his search is unknown but it was identified that he was carrying a Gatheringstone, and that he had one other companion, a Korep'mutan acting as a guide."
In the pause that followed Canen'Set seemed to fall into a deep reverie, almost as if he was conferring with others unseen. When he opened his eyes he looked carefully at the Kalboreans then returned his gaze to Hallan.
"A Korep'mutan you say?"
"Yes Dominus, and from what I can gather this vehmin knows all regarding the plans of your Enemy."
Hallan stood with his head bowed as he spoke. As a spectator Mallen was impressed. The Hresh had lied through his teeth and pulled it off convincingly. But as he wondered what a Korep'mutan might be the Mutan continued his interrogation of Hallan.
"You say Denmar," said Canen'Set, "that the LoreMaster used the Durgoz Gate? If your story is true it must be tested on evidence that can be verified. Feltig, take the Denmar's weapons and place him with the vehmin."
Quickly Feltig took Hallan's blades and threw them out onto the ground beyond the tent's threshold. Unarmed, the Hresh backed up and waited beside the Kalboreans as the Tomsk brandished a scimitar in his face. He seemed unworried and calm in the face of the lack of trust placed upon him.
As Mallen watched the Mutan pulled a small sphere from his cloak and settled it upon the ground. Stepping back he whispered something quietly and then waited as the globe began to crackle with a vigorous energy. All the Kalboreans took in a breath when it rose into the air and then burst outwards, spinning rapidly as it enveloped itself within a bright multicoloured light. At first it was too glaring to look at directly, but as the energy diminished there arose before them the projection of a highly detailed map of the entire breadth of the Hordelands.
From the mountains of the far west to the oceans in the east the dominion of the Horde spread in an infinite detail that seemed to Mallen as if they were hovering above, looking down with the capacity to see everything in crystal clarity. At first the map coalesced as a vast depiction of the terrain, however as the Mutan continued to murmur to himself there began to appear bright points of light scattering across its surface like stars upon a clear night sky. Except for Mallen none of the others knew it for what it was. He had seen Gremorgan's Dirge-compass at work and recognised the points of light as traces of movement, the spectral trails of every living thing that moved within the Hordelands, and all now identifiable beneath the Mutan's cold gaze.
One point however, was brightest of all. It was a single focus of light that blazed upon the map and at first Mallen thought it might be Gremorgan, caught by magic and uncovered for the Dominus to track. As he looked closer though, he realised that it was something else, an after-image of power that resonated on the map, pointing directly to the Gate that they had used to enter the lands of Perdition.
When the apparition had solidified completely the Mutan touched the bright point with his finger. Immediately the map rushed outwards, the shining light expanding and focusing into an image of the Gate standing upon the desolate hill that had been their entry point into Perdition. Once surveyed a click of the Mutan's fingers dissolved the map, its form and imagery falling away like dust.
"You have been proven truthful Denmar, the Gate has been used and I feel the presence of the LoreMaster, as do my brothers in the Sigh. The purpose of our Enemy must be uncovered, and to do so we must start with the vehmin."
With a quick gesture of his finger the Mutan pointed at Mallen and then towards the frame that the Tomsk Hresh had erected. Feltig pushed Hallan aside and grabbed at the Kalborean, dragging him by the arm towards the frame. Tomas could do nothing and Shemwe and Enika struggled weakly as they protested the cruelty they knew was to come. With no chance to defend himself Mallen was roughly fixed to the structure, his arms and legs secured by strong leather belts. When the Hresh had finished the Kalborean could not move and the intention of the frame became apparent. It was a torture rack, and as the Mutan moved purposefully towards him Mallen could see the creature relishing the pain that he was about to inflict.
"What is Gremorgan Hedj's purpose here, vehmin?" the Dominus hissed as he leant over Mallen's bound form.
"We know he travels within the lands of the Oera'dim, but we must have his intent as well. Tell me all that you know and I may spare your countrymen the pain that will be yours to endure."
Mallen looked to the others and saw the helplessness on their faces. He could not know what Hallan was planning but it did not look like his comfort had been factored as a part of it. He did know however, that he had come through too many encounters with the Hordim to be intimidated by the Mutan, no matter how powerful.
"I will tell you nothing you pile of Kreel dung." With that he spat at the Mutan, but the creature's face was a blank canvas, one that radiated malice like a forest fire.
"It is curious," the Mutan whispered in Mallen's ear, "that Hallan'Denmar should mention in his claim of battle honours over Callenfrey the torment of hera'pyrim. It is an old term, and one that is used to describe any trial by fire. It occurs to me that such a trial might be useful here as well."
Mallen snorted at the Dominus, but the Mutan wanted information and did not care for the Kalborean's defiance. Standing back from the tearing frame the Mutan began to murmur once again, and as the strange, low chant filled the shadowed interior of the tent all could feel the air about them begin to change. Above the Mutan flickers of red light began to emerge, nothing but spectral embers that burned and then died away, however as the intensity of the Dominus' chant increased the flames grew in strength, forming a swirling vortex of fire that quickly concentrated itself above Mallen.
"Do what you will Mutan. You will get nothing from me."
The Mutan moved his finger in front of the Kalborean and by his command the fires followed, drawing a line of burning flame across Mallen's chest. In the dark air the Kalborean cried out in pain, then screamed as the Dominus concentrated his magic upon the hapless Cael. In a conflagration of scorching vapours he worked upon the Kalborean, testing his resolve as he tried to break him. Focused completely upon the task at hand the Mutan could not sense what was coming, and it descended upon him like a lightning bolt.
Out of the shadows Hallan moved with a speed that left Feltig'Tomsk dead even as he fell to the ground with his neck broken. Scooping up the falling Hresh's scimitar the Denmar ran for Canen'Set, bringing the razor-sharp blade down upon the creature's unprotected head. Only at that last moment did the Mutan realise the danger, and in a desperate act brought his arm up to protect himself from the blow. The limb fell to the floor as Hallan brought the full weight of his scimitar down onto the Hordim's skull. In a gush of blood the Dominus reared backwards, then slumped to the ground his head cleaved from crown to collar-bone. Stopping only to spit on Feltig's corpse Hallan checked the dead Hordim then turned to help Mallen from the rack.
The Kalborean was weak but his skin had somehow not been harmed by the Mutan's magic.
"It is a means of creating pain without causing injury." explained the Hresh. "Given time Canen'Set could have worked on you for days and you would have told him everything."
"What are we to do now?" Mallen asked as he rubbed his chest.
"It is time that you left," the Hresh responded, "but to do so we must cause some trouble here."
Quickly he cut the Kalboreans' bonds and gave each a scimitar from a weapon rack. "It is no simple thing that has been done today. A Dominus of the Sigh has been killed and his Brothers of the Clavern will know of it soon enough. In this world my life is forfeit, but there are few of my Kraal who can boast of the honour of such a kill. It will be fitting that the last thing I do in this lifetime is fulfil my mission."
"What must we do Hallan?" Tomas asked as he peered through a split seem in the tent's covering. "There are hundreds of Hresh out there and no way that we can move undetected."
Hallan smiled and grabbed a torch from its sconce.
"The tpesh stands no more than twenty metres beyond the centre of the camp. When you hear me yelling I want you to run for it. Do not stop, and take no time to try and fight your way through. You only chance will be to move quickly within the chaos that is to come. Run and then use the Gatheringstone. If the True Witness gives his blessing you will soon be home."
Deftly the Hresh threw the talisman to Mallen, then without a further word moved carefully out into the light.
Standing within the shadows of Feltig's tent the four Kalboreans waited, unsure of what was to come. Amongst the activity of the camp there came no sign that Hallan had done anything provocative, and as they waited Tomas looked to Mallen for the answer to the one question that was on all their minds.
"Mallen, what must be done once we have reached the tpesh? What is the secret of the Gatheringstone that will see us home?"
Mallen surveyed the camp and explained quietly the directions given by Gremorgan. "It is our only hope." he said at the end. "If we are to escape the clutches of these Hordim it must work, or else we are doomed."
Enika grabbed Mallen's hand and helped him remain stable. The torment of Canen'Set had left the Kalborean uninjured though he had been weakened by the hera'pyrim's touch nonetheless. As they waited he could feel the after-effects of the Mutan's magic still upon him, drawing away his energy like some malignant disease. Only once did he look back at the dead Hordim and Mallen knew that it would be some time before he could forget the pain the creature had inflicted upon him.
For all the Kalboreans the interlude between Hallan's departure and what was to happen next seemed as an eternity, but when it came it was unmistakable. Out of the normal order of the camp arose a single voice, and it carried clearly in the air like a trumpet call. It was Hallan.
'Hear me Hresh'na. I am here to tell you that you have been deceived, the ones you look upon as Masters nothing more than pretenders worthy of dissolution and contempt. In your midst stands a Hresh of the Denmar and we do not cower to the dictates of the Mutan as if we are dogs. Hear me, for a great truth is about to be spoken and it will fall upon this place like a hammer!"
Mallen looked to the others and saw each turning to him to give the word to run, but for a moment he hesitated. Whatever Hallan was doing was having an effect. From all over the camp warriors were moving to the parade ground, and he definitely had their attention.
"There are those amongst you who must remember the Great Insurrection that brought down the Fallen Masters and left us Free Beings in this world. Do you not turn with longing to those times when the Sigh were nothing but Oera'dim like ourselves? I tell you that these Mutan are piles of Kreel dung unworthy of our reverence. Let it be proclaimed that the Denmar give no allegiance to them, and any Hresh that does is unworthy of calling themselves Hresh'na."
From the throng a great shout arose, catcalls and remonstrations pouring out of the forming crowd, and in its wake an anger grew that seemed barely restrained as Hallan purposefully tormented the warriors and brought them closer. To the sounds of clanging scimitars the Denmar cajoled the entire camp to its feet.
"Hear me Brothers. We are held by a Word of Command alone that binds us to the rule of the Sigh. They use us as fodder for their needs and they are no better than the Fallen Masters themselves. Only one question must be answered, and it separates those who are free from those who are slaves. Are you prepared to live as Free Beings like the Denmar, or are you Tomsk, nothing more than dogs whimpering as the feet of the Mutan?"
The crowd of Hresh exploded into a riot of anger and curses and as they closed in upon the lone Denmar Mallen saw the torch he was carrying thrown purposefully into a tent that sat beside the parade ground. It was then he knew they had to run.
"Run!" he yelled, and with Enika in tow broke out of the shadows and made a rush for the small tpesh. With Tomas and Shemwe behind they had taken no more than five steps before the first explosion rocked the plateau to its root. Mallen had seen the tent that edged the parade ground before and realised in a heartbeat the warrior's plan.
In a coruscation of fire and tremoring earth the Powder Tent exploded, sending burning barrels and flying metal arcing across the length of the encampment. In turn these barrels began to detonate, and although Mallen only had one chance to turn it was a vision of carnage that confronted him. Caught completely within the first blast Hallan died, engulfed in an expanding ball of flame that consumed everything about him. More explosions erupted quickly, throwing bodies and dirt in great flowers of destruction that rained fire and death down upon the survivors.
Within this chaos the Kalboreans ran, obscured by an acrid mist that plumed from burning tents and wind driven dust. All about the running men and women there grew a terrible pandemonium. At all sides detonations crumped the air, flying metal borne upon shockwaves of fire and sound buffeting everything moving on the high plateau. Wounded Hresh staggered out of the mist only to be cut down by Mallen and Tomas as they made their way to the stone shelter. They did not wait nor deviate from the path and within moments they found themselves at the door to the tpesh.
"Inside!" yelled Mallen as each disappeared into its shadows. The older Cael waited until last, turning only to pull a heavy timber door closed behind him as he made his way across its threshold. Immediately the sounds of the destruction outside became muffled, but the stone itself trembled to the explosions as Tomas found a timber beam to bar the door completely.
Turning to his brother the younger Kalborean could see no reason for delay. "Whatever you are going to do, you'd better do it now Mallen. It sounds like the entire camp is going up!"
Quickly Mallen pulled the Gatheringstone from his clothing and placed it in his open palm. Within the darkness of the tpesh it glowed like the horizon at dawn, a smooth soft illumination that seemed to only hint at the power it was about to unleash. As a great crashing sound impacted against the door Mallen focused on his memories of the tpesh that would be their destination, and then carefully whispered the Word that would activate the talisman's power.
In a vortex of light and rushing power the Gatheringstone ignited. Within the confines of the tpesh its brilliant glammer spread outwards, obliterating everything until all Mallen could sense was a void of white and a terrible force that grabbed at his body like a monstrous fist, holding him immobile as the world itself turned on its axis about him.
Unable to speak, or call out to his countrymen, Mallen felt then the inexorable push as he was propelled forward, accelerating into the void until he lost all sense of time or direction. It was a feeling of absolute helplessness that ended in a jolting, broken moment as the Kalborean pitched forward onto his face, landing in a tangled heap amongst Tomas, Enika and Shemwe.
"I am absolutely sure," said Tomas angrily as he tried to get up, "that I shall never do that again. By the Fates I feel ill."
Mallen picked himself up and moved towards the women. Both had emerged from the power of the Gatheringstone disorientated and sickly, and neither could rise for the moment.
"Tomas, you tend to the girls and I'll see where the Gatheringstone has brought us."
About him Mallen could see only the ancient stone of a tpesh, and in the sudden cold of its interior he had a moment of doubt, his mind racing as to the possibility that they might have ended up anywhere in the world.
Carefully he made for the doorway and then paused for a moment. Listening hard at the threshold he took a deep breath before making his way outside.
Within the tpesh Tomas took the time to regain his balance before moving to Enika and Shemwe. He knew that the magic of the Gatheringstone had worked for he could hear nothing of the tumult that had been raging about them bare seconds before. Gremorgan had been right once again, though where they had been deposited was a question still to be answered. The women however, were not in a good state. Both Enika and Shemwe had been weakened by their treatment at the hands of the Hordim, and the journey they had just taken had left them worse for the experience.
"Where are we?" asked Shemwe.
"I don't know yet," replied Tomas. "but Mallen is out having a look. He should be back soon enough."
When Tomas turned to Enika he found her cradling her arm. She had fallen awkwardly and a quick test of her shoulder proved her collar-bone to be broken.
"I am afraid Enika, that you will have to lay still for a short while. We will have to organise some cloth for a sling." He smiled at her and then rose and called to his brother.
"Mallen! Is everything alright?"
There was no answer, so he motioned the women to quiet and made his way outside.
Only a few metres beyond the threshold Tomas found Mallen standing in the grasses and looking to the south. Above them the sky was clear, though darkening as the suns of Arborell found their rest against the horizon. When Mallen heard his brother he turned and smiled.
"We are here Tomas, where we should be and somehow alive to tell the tale. The Gatheringstone has brought us into the lands of Kalborea and for the first time since I can remember we are safe."
Tomas nodded and stood beside his brother. "Why did he do it?" he asked simply.
"You mean Hallan?"
"Yes. Both he and his brother gave up their lives so that we might make our escape. It seems unaccountable, no matter how you look at it."
The older Cael thought for a moment. It was a good question that did not have a satisfactory answer, but there was a reason nonetheless.
"Gremorgan told me one night that the Hordim are cursed beings, Tomas. He said that the Hresh especially are creatures without purpose, created for war alone and unable to find meaning in peacetime. It is their fate he said, that they live brutally then die by violence, only to be reborn to repeat the cycle forever. In the face of such lives the Hordim have given themselves honour codes, rituals and an unabiding hatred for Mankind to temper the emptiness of it. Hallan and his brother did what all Hresh do, they completed the mission given to them no matter the cost. I am just glad that Hallan succeeded, for here we now stand."
Tomas smiled and looked back towards the tpesh. "For that I am most grateful as well. What do we do now?"
Mallen held up a small bag and gave it to his brother. "It would seem that amongst his many accomplishments the LoreMaster has a talent for divining the future. This is one of his bags. I found it against the threshold of the shelter. He must have left it here when we made our way westwards towards the forests of the Meshaal. It has food, a compass and a small map, enough to get us to the coast if we scrimp it. How he could have known that we would return here is beyond me."
Tomas rummaged through the bag and shook his head. "I wonder if that Dwarvendim ever surprises himself by being wrong."
Mallen laughed and grabbed his brother's shoulder. "Come Tomas. Let us see to Shemwe and Enika. Tomorrow we will start on our journey home and I could do with seeing Callenfrey again, no matter what state it might be in."
Together the brothers returned to the tpesh and the women waiting within. Enika's shoulder needed tending, and as Tomas divided up some of the food left by Gremorgan, Mallen tore a length of fabric from his shirt for a sling.
"Are we safe then?" she asked as he fitted the cloth.
"Yes," Mallen answered. "We are within the borders of Kalborea, though we are still some way from home. It is almost dark so all we can do is rest. In the morning we will get on our way, but for now I am afraid you are going to have to take care with this injury. Your shoulder is going to require the attention of a skilled Healer and the sooner we find one the better."
Enika nodded and leant back carefully against the bare stone. Mallen helped her to settle then found a place to rest himself. In his life he had never felt so tired, yet in the dark confines of the tpesh he found himself planning their route back to the coast. It would indeed be good to see Callenfrey again he mused, but it would be a homecoming fraught with sadness for the many friends they had lost. In that quiet moment he looked to Tomas and listened as he spoke with Shemwe. All that had been important to him had been recovered and for the first time in weeks he felt as if he could relax. As he fell into sleep he knew that he had brought his brother back to safety, and for Mallen that was all that mattered.
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