Black Gate Online Fiction: “Stand at Duben-Geb”
By Ryan Harvey
This is a complete work of fiction presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Ryan Harvey and New Epoch Press, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 by New Epoch Press.
Under a downpour of rain the slate faces of the Dubun-Geb Mountains were dreadful, and they stirred memories in the warriors clustered at their feet of campfire tales of the secrets lurking among the crags. In the days of the Hegemony, the Shapers had carved fortresses in the Dubun-Geb where they worked the magic of the Art on stone and metal. The Shapers had vanished, but no place stained with their sorceries forgot them.
But at that moment, the mountains were the only chance the men of Clan Molghiz had. They sometimes used the narrow canyon cut into the foothills for shelter from the wind during herding season. The steep walls offered modest protection against the downpour that had soaked the plains for two days. The most sheltered spot was a niche deep in the ravine. Generous men might have called it a cave. Desperate men had no choice.
The incessant rain echoed through the gulch, and the only sound the men could hear over it was the bleating of the hadrosaurs in their makeshift pen. One male’s song rose above the others.
Khasar the hadro-tender listened to the call. He had worked with hadros long enough to recognize a mourning song for a lost mate. No one knew if animals felt the Sorrow that afflicted the people of Ahn-Tarqa, but the pain of it lived in that song. Khasar understood how the beast felt.
The talahn lay on a blanket stretched over the driest patch of the cave. Duua, the son of a healer and the closest the clan had left, daubed blood from a wound in tal-Yegu’s shoulder. Duua’s face looked grimmer than normal as he watched the man struggle to breathe.
“The sickness has gone deep,” he said. “The arrow might have been poisoned, but this damp air will do the rest of the work.”
Khasar muttered the battle cry of the Jalasks: “Life is worthless to the living.” He heard others murmur it as well. It seemed the only thing to say. That these last twenty men of Clan Molghiz had survived two days of pursuit was a miracle. The Sky Father had favored them and unleashed rain to slow down the war party behind them. But the Sorrow caught up to the Molghiz when their talahn tal-Yegu fell ill and they had to seek shelter.
A broad-shouldered warrior leaned over tal-Yegu. Alagh wore the feathered shawl of a warger, war party leader, although a mat of rain and mud blotted the green of the raptor plumes. “Can the talahn be moved?”
Duua shook his head. “That would only kill him faster.”
“If the Sorghul have any captives, they’ll torture them to find out places we might hide. They’ll track us here eventually. We must leave.”
“That’s not my decision to make,” Duua said.
Alagh faced his clan brothers. “We move tonight,” he announced. “When the sun sets, we’ll strike for the eastern spur of the mountains and the grazing grounds of our allies in Clan Khamatei.”
Heads shook, but at first no one said anything.
The call of the widowed hadro grew louder. Khasar spoke: “We’ve already lost too much time. If we flee, the Sorghul will catch us in the open. We stand a better chance of surviving if we stay hidden.”
Alagh’s eyes sharpened to spear points. “How dare you speak for the talahn?”
“I don’t speak for him. Neither do you, Alagh.”
“But I’m warger. The last one.”
Khasar pointed to the rise and fall of tal-Yegu’s chest. “The talahn isn’t dead, and he is still our leader. If we move him, he’ll die. Or perhaps that is what you hope for?”
The long-bladed spear appeared in Alagh’s hand so fast that the witchery of the Art might have placed it there. His coppery muscles tensed with the craving to run through the upstart hadro-tender.
Guyuk, the oldest clan brother left, stepped between them. “Stop this, Alagh. You are not talahn, and you know Khasar is a brave warrior. To lose either of you to a petty squabble would only weaken us further.”
“This smear of dung on the grass stinks of Vatrusla and its sorceries,” Alagh snorted. “He is no brother of the Molghiz, he is not even a true Jalask!”
Khasar did not flinch from the insult. He had heard these slurs from Alagh every day since he had joined the clan. But now the warger appeared on the edge of acting on his years of threats.
A wet cough from tal-Yegu pulled attention away from the simmering fight. Spittle clotted with mucus dribbled down the talahn‘s chin. His eyes creaked open, and he spoke in a voice like grinding millstones: “I hear the Sky Father — his Sorrow speaks to me. No more running. We must — face the end — here.”
Tal-Yegu’s eyes closed again, and his breath started to come in an even rhythm. Duua rested his ear against the talahn‘s chest. His stormy look lightened. “Some of the heaviness is passing. He may live through the night.”
“‘May’ is not enough,” Alagh said. “We must move.”
“Tal-Yegu said we stay,” snapped Khasar. “Is there water in your ears Alagh, or do you imagine that you already are the talahn?”
Alagh’s brows tightened over hate-filled eyes. He growled under his breath so only Khasar heard: “Not yet. But soon, city-worm. Soon.”
No one else spoke to support Alagh. Eyes flicked to Khasar, who had unwittingly offered himself as a rival for leadership. But he did not take up the unspoken offer. Instead he looked to Guyuk.
The old warrior faced the rest of the clan. “Our talahn has commanded. We remain here. The Sorghul may miss us, and if they don’t… then we will return to the Earth Mother as the Sorrow says is best, our spears reddened with blood and our eyes open to the Sky Father.”
The clan muttered agreement. Alagh had venomous stares for all of them, but he did not speak against the choice. He shoved his way from the hollow, and as he brushed past Khasar, he said: “Pray to the Sky Father that the talahn lives, city worm.”
A man born into the Jalask clans of the southern plains remains a Jalask no matter how far he might wander across the lonely continent of Ahn-Tarqa. But Khasar felt the taint of his years as a slave among the polluted alleys of the Vatruslan cities. He could not remember life before slavery. A Vatruslan raid carried him off when he was three years old, and he never lived among his own people until he escaped thirteen years later. The brand of Clan Molghiz burnt onto his wrist on his first birthday led him across the plains until he found his people. The Molghiz came to accept him for his hard work and natural skill with the hadrosaurs. But Alagh bristled with a loathing for the newcomer that grew stronger as the others’ grew weaker. He could never forget how Altani, the clan beauty, had turned her almond eyes from him and toward the handsome hadro-tender. Altani’s death from shaking fever two summers ago hardened Alagh’s hate into a thing of granite. His hate became his Sorrow.
Khasar did not understand his own Sorrow, except that it was different from those of other Jalasks. It seemed to come from the Art that he had slaved over in Vatrusla at the command of his owner, a grizzled artificer and sorcerer quick with a lash.
In his nightmares, Khasar often felt those whippings in his master’s workshop. But the dreams that now disturbed his snatches of sleep were of a closer horror. The rain on the hide stretched over his head sounded like the tramp of a hundred hadros galloping over the flatlands. Riding on their backs was a howling war party of Clan Sorghul. Under the cloak of night they fell on the unsuspecting camp of Clan Molghiz. Spears and arrows plunged into the tents. The thunder of the hadros drowned the screams of women and children. Then came the sounds of ripping and tearing flesh. The dying Molghiz cursed the traitorous Sorghul as iron shredded them. They cried for the Sky Father’s vengeance on the treaty-breakers as they died under stampeding feet.
Khasar suddenly shook his head from sleep. The quaking from the stampede continued, and it took him a bleary moment to realize it wasn’t a holdover from his dream. He knocked away his scrap of shelter and lurched to his feet with his spear in hand to see what was happening.
His clan brothers were already rushing to defend the narrow gap of their sanctuary. Jelmez, the lookout, waved to them from his perch over the ravine. “Stay back!”
“What is it?” Guyuk yelled. “The Sorghul?”
“I don’t know. It may be a trick, but it looks like a landslide on the eastern hills. I’ll go see.” Jelmez slipped from his post and disappeared. The others remained on guard near the entrance until the lookout gave a hadro-call to signal ‘all clear.’
Khasar and Guyuk walked into the open first, the others clustered behind. Visibility to the south was poor, but nothing within sight moved except for the grass of the plains rustling under the rain. Jelmez waved them along the hills to the east, keeping in the shadow of the mountains. “You’ll have to see this for yourselves. Only an old tale-spinner could describe such a thing.”
A hundred feet along they reached a stretch of sheer limestone wall. Centuries of erosion from winter storms had caused a landslide that ripped a wound in the mountains’ roots.
Even the oppressive Dubun-Geb could not diminish the majesty of the forty-foot giant revealed inside that gash. It had the outlines of a man, but there was nothing of warmth or life to its gargantuan frame of bronze and steel. Rubble buried its feet, but the rest stood free. Arms wide around as a hadro’s chest hung past its knees so that if it walked it could lean on its knuckles to make league-devouring strides. Bolts with sharpened ends studded the seams of its joints. A flattened oval served as a head, and the rain washed over an obsidian visor that covered the place where eyes should be. The absence of eyes was a blessing: no sane man would want to meet this monstrosity’s gaze.
Clan Molghiz huddled in the lee of the cliff and gawked at the metal eidolon. Like any creation of the Art, it exuded the Sorrow. None of them had felt it so potently before; it crushed the breath from their lungs.
“A colossus,” Khasar exclaimed.
He immediately regretted saying the word. It reminded his clan brothers that he had spent half his life around the Art. He expected a retort from Alagh, but the warger did not seem to be among the men.
“You know what this thing is?” Duua asked.
“Yes, but I’ve never seen a real one. Only smaller imitations hardly bigger than a man. The Shapers made these weapons for their wars.”
The mention of the Shapers made the Sorrow from the colossus swell around them like a highland gale. “But, that was in ancient days, during the Hegemony,” gasped the youngest clan brother.
“It looks like this was buried that long ago,” Khasar answered. “The Shapers must have hidden it during the wars and planned to return for it.”
When he fled from Vatrusla, the young Khasar had hidden for days in the ruins of the mansions the Shapers had raised during the Hegemony, when they gripped all Ahn-Tarqa in their pale hands. He had stared in fear and wonder at the frescoes filled with images of the masked wizards who had wielded the Art with cold tyranny. Tale-spinners spoke of rumors that the Shapers survived on a peninsula in the northwest, cloistered in towers where they continued to practice foul enchantments. Their Sorrow certainly still survived in those ruins. At night Khasar wondered if they might reach out from the wall paintings and throttle him. But it was also a marvel to him that such creatures had once walked among insignificant men.
Khasar again felt the hypnotism of Shaper magic. The colossus’ Sorrow called to his own, and he started to walk toward it.
Guyuk shouted, “Stay away from it! It’s cursed!”
Khasar did not listen. He climbed the mound of rubble and laid his hand onto the steel of the leg. Guyuk and the other clan brothers kept screaming at him not to bring a Shaper curse down on them. But Khasar wrapped his hand around a spiked bolt, pulled himself up so his foot rested on another, and started to move like a louse scaling a ravager’s carcass. The other Molghiz watched aghast, certain that the metal man would spring to life and swat away the insect pestering it.
Khasar gave no thought to the clan. He wanted only to reach the squat head of the colossus and find out if its workings were similar to the miniatures he had once helped his Vatruslan master repair.
He did give a brief thought to the weather when a fork of lightning split the sky to the south. Staying exposed during a thunderstorm atop a tower of metal was madness that not even a berserk Jalask warrior would dare, and common sense almost forced him back. But then he reached the colossus’s shoulder and spied the panel set in the back of its head, just where he expected it, and the mesmerism of the Art again made him forget everything else.
Using the knife strapped to his belt, he unscrewed the bolts that held down the panel, as he had done a hundred times on smaller constructs under the eye of his master. The panel creaked open, and inside Khasar found a mesh of wires and gears. He had seen nothing so intricate before. The witchery of the Shapers would have dumbfounded the most brilliant artificer in Vatrusla.
No heat came from the innards. The colossus must not have the life spark. Even if it were able to move, the thoughts that its builders had fashioned into its mind probably no longer spoke. The thing was a scrap heap, useful only to make axe blades and spearheads — if any Jalask could endure its Sorrow long enough to approach it.
The hadro-tender spent a few frustrating minutes tampering with the wires, but his knowledge of the Art was good only for following instructions. His muscles shivered, and the growing storm started to worry him; the gap between lightning and thunder was lessening.
He finally gave up and clambered down from the colossus. His clan brothers had already returned to their shelter. The hadro-tender gave a last look at the abandoned sentinel, and then splashed through the grass back to the clan.
He found greater Sorrow waiting for him in the ravine. It clung across the entrance like strands of a spider’s web. The other Molghiz had again gathered around the cave where the talahn lay. Their fallen faces and shoulders told the story, but Khasar waited for Guyuk to approach with the news.
“The talahn is dead. While we wasted time with that Shaper devilry, tal-Yegu went to the Earth Mother’s realm.”
“Was anyone here with him?”
“Alagh discovered the body when he returned.”
Khasar’s nape prickled. He looked toward the cave and saw Alagh striding through the mourners around the talahn‘s body. The warger had washed the grime from his feathered cloak and strutted with his head raised high. No Sorrow seemed to touch him.
Khasar charged past Guyuk toward the cave. “You found the talahn dead, did you Alagh?”
Alagh crossed his arms over his chest. “You will call me tal-Alagh now.”
“You are not talahn. You are a talahn‘s murderer!”
The accusation echoed through the ravine. The clan brothers turned their heads toward the warger and the hadro-tender.
Alagh’s hand gripped his spear. “I warned you, dung-scraper, to pray that the talahn lived.”
“What good are prayers when a traitor’s hands do the work? Tell me, did you slink back to strangle the talahn when no one was looking, or did you hide and wait for your first chance?”
Alagh hurled his spear. Khasar had anticipated the warger‘s impulsiveness and leaped from its path. It struck a boulder and clattered to the ground. Alagh was already charging with his dagger raised to stab at Khasar’s heart. Khasar drew his own knife and leaped to meet him.
Clan Molghiz watched the warger and hadro-tender fly and stab their ravager-fang knives at each other’s exposed flesh. Most suspected that Alagh had helped tal-Yegu to his death. Now it no longer mattered: a duel for leadership of the Molghiz was underway, and blood would settle the issue. The winner would have the right to lead. Victory in a fair fight would wash away any crime or cowardice.
Alagh made hasty stabs, and Khasar wove easily out of his way. But his moccasins slipped in the mud, and he could make no deep strike at Alagh, who had a secure footing on a granite slab.
By the time Khasar got onto more solid ground and Alagh cooled down and started to fight smarter, the chance for a quick end to the battle was gone. The warriors settled into a long death dance. The bone edges of their knives nicked at ribs, and soon both men had criss-crosses of blood across their chests. But no death blow came. The two strained against each other, locking wrists then shoving away, ducking slashes and weaving from thrusts, then locking together again.
The duel finally stopped with the sound of a weapon plunging into soft flesh. But it came from overhead, not the duelers.
Jelmez groaned from his lookout post, tilted over, and tumbled into the ravine entrance. A red arrow plume sprouted from his chest.
“The Sorghul! An ambush!” shouted Guyuk.
Clan Molghiz sprang into motion. The warriors seized bows, spears, and axes, and dashed to defend the gap to their sanctuary.
Khasar and Alagh stayed frozen in their interrupted duel for a moment. Neither could risk a victory when the clan could not see the outcome. They drew back and sheathed their knives.
“Later, southern filth,” Alagh said.
“If there is a ‘later’ for the Molghiz,” Khasar answered.
Sorghul scouts had slithered through the grass until they had a clear shot at the cleft. Once they knocked Jelmez from his post, their bowmen leaped from the mud and unleashed a volley. Arrows studded the porch of the ravine and forced back the Molghiz who rushed to the defense. The Sorghul retreated into the mist before their enemies could nock their own arrows and return fire.
“They’ll fetch the rest of the war party,” Guyuk shouted to the defenders. “They’ll ride down on us in moments.”
No one suggested fleeing. On the plains they would only die faster, crushed under the Sorghul’s numbers. This redoubt in the hills would be Clan Molghiz’s final stand. They prepared to go in the proper Jalask way: hands grasping spears and axes, eyes burning with the Sorrow. This was the best end the Sorrow could promise, death in hopeless combat.
But as the first silhouettes of the war party appeared in the fog, a lightning bolt forked across the sky, and the thunderclap was almost instantaneous. The light and sound struck Khasar’s thoughts, and he found that he did not feel the Sorrow of a Jalask. He felt the strange Sorrow of the Art, and it made him think of something even stranger.
Before the thunder faded, Khasar turned from the entrance and pressed deeper into the ravine. He stopped at the hadro pen to grab a coil of the metal cord used to fence in the animals and wrapped it over his shoulder. He found the easiest slope of the ravine wall and started to climb.
He reached the top of the east side, and from there he could see the beginning of the fight. Sorghul outriders launched from the mist and met a flurry of arrows. Most bolts missed, but a few mounts went down and spilled their riders. But the defenders’ arrows were limited, and the sharpest aim couldn’t hold back forever the numbers that continued to charge at them. The Sorghul’s warger, wearing a crown of orange feathers, rode among his warriors and shouted an early victory cry as the second wave began.
The valiant fighting of Khasar’s clan brothers at least gave him a chance to try his wild plan. He moved onto a sliver of ledge that crossed the cliffs toward the landslide. The lightning reflected off the skin of the colossus and made it look like a cruel god watching its creations slaughter each other on an altar of mud.
The collapsed hillside had piled boulders across the ledge. Khasar edged onto one slab that jutted above the colossus’s head. A wrong step might rip the slab away and start another slide, but he had no time for caution. His plan was already insane enough.
He laid down his spear and leaped from the edge of the stone. He timed the jump right and landed on top of the colossus’s head, lucky only to have the wind knocked from him. The panel on the back of the head was still open, so he got to work immediately. He scrounged through his memories, and for once was thankful for the beatings his old master had given him whenever he made a mistake. Pain was the only teacher that mattered in a time this desperate.
His eyes flicked away from his work at each lightning strike. More hadro carcasses littered the plain, but fresh Sorghul riders continued to rush the ravine. No more arrows flew from the Molghiz’s position; they were down to staving off their blood-foes with spears and axes.
Khasar finished his task and chinned back onto the ledge. It groaned under his weight but held. He clenched the end of the metal cord between his teeth. He grabbed his spear and found a crack in the boulder near the point that jutted over the colossus. He jammed the shaft into the crack so the spear stood up like a flagpole. He looped the end of the cord around the iron spearhead and let the rest of it dangle toward the giant below.
Khasar stepped back to look at the results. The chance was a slim one — laughable if the life of the clan didn’t depend on it.
He glanced toward the sky. Another bolt lit up the clouds, still too far away. But in the glare, Khasar noticed on the boulder a long shadow holding up a spear. The brief glance gave him enough warning to leap aside before the spear spitted him to the rock.
The promontory shivered as Alagh landed. Khasar stared at the crouched figure of the warger. He had snatched up his spear from where it had struck and had it leveled for the next thrust.
“You are right to run from the fight,” Alagh shouted over the fading thunder. “Only a Molghiz spear will do for a coward.”
“Or a traitor like a talahn-murderer.”
Alagh’s face twisted like a ravager in a feeding frenzy. The rage made his strike go wild, as Khasar had hoped. He stepped aside from Alagh’s charge and kicked his ankles. Alagh tripped, but stopped before the boulder’s edge. His fist still held the spear, but Khasar ran to him and tried to yank it away.
Alagh’s fury made him careless, but it also made him ignore his pain. He strained onto his feet and fought against Khasar. He got both hands around the spear shaft and tried to wrench it away from the hadro-tender.
The wood of the spear cracked in half under the strain. Alagh howled and swung his fragment of the shaft at Khasar’s head, but it was hardly larger than his fist. Khasar stepped back from the crazed blows. At least he had come away with the sharp end.
Then Alagh’s eyes spotted a second spear. It thrust out of the rock like a gift from the Sky Father to finish off the imposter from the cities. He turned from his enemy and ran toward the offered weapon.
“Don’t touch it!” Khasar screamed.
The warning was useless. Alagh grabbed the weapon. He held it over his shoulder and tightened his body into a crouch. He pulled the spear back and held it over his head to make the throw that would pin Khasar against the mountainside.
Then the world exploded.
A blast of white burned the plains and sky and everything in sight into oblivion. Rock splintered below Khasar’s feet and he fell into the white void. His arms flailed and his hands grasped the remains of the ledge. He dangled over emptiness, unable to see, his ears throbbing from the noise that tore the world at the same moment as the light.
He could see only an after-image burned into his eyes. But it told him enough. The spear had drawn a bolt to earth as he had planned. The Sky Father’s fire lanced through the spearhead and the metal cord, crackling down to where its ends meshed into the colossus’s head. The fire also passed through the flesh in its path. All that remained of Alagh was the stench of roasted skin.
Khasar’s eyesight started to return. He strained his muscles to pull himself onto the ledge. The mountain shivered from the blast… but then a second rumble passed through the limestone. Metal ground against rock. The colossus stirred.
It moved sluggishly at first, like a great saurian awakening from a winter slumber. Gargantuan legs pushed away the rubble, and the arms swung forward to plant wide fists on the ground. An actinic glow seeped through the joints, and the head made a shriek of metal on metal as it swiveled back and forth.
Khasar had started back along the ledge by the time the colossus lumbered from its rock crypt. It had stayed motionless after its first movements, and Khasar had wondered if after hundreds of years the metal innards of the thing had crumbled to nothing.
But when the glare left his eyes, he saw the mountain of steel and bronze plodding forward on the flats of its knuckles. The hadro-tender of Clan Molghiz wondered if the lightning had hurled him back into the age of the Hegemony, when the Shapers ruled the plains with their hideous machines and unknowable sorceries.
The battle on the plain pulled him back to his own time. He moved as fast as he safely could to rejoin his clan brothers. He left the colossus to whatever memories it had from the dead past.
At first the Sorghul riders mistook the darkness that moved from the mountains’ edge for the shadow of a boulder and its heavy footfalls for thunder. They were busy with what was certain to be the final charge against the obstinate Molghiz.
Then a warrior at the fringe of the attack saw an unnatural outline against a sheet of lightning. “The Shapers! The Shapers have returned!” he screamed. He did not know what a colossus was, but a behemoth of metal that walked out of a storm could be nothing other than the hammer of those sorcerer-tyrants.
The colossus tilted its head down toward the scuffle of pests before it. A steel hand flashed out and folded around the warrior and mount at its feet. The arm rotated on its joint in a fast circle, and the hand opened again. The hadro and its rider were hurled against the cliff and shattered into a red blotch.
All of the war party could now see the colossus. The Sorrow and terror from it hit them as if a thousand lightning bolts struck the plain in an instant. The hadros panicked. The braver warriors who calmed their mounts lobbed spears at the colossus’s feet and fired arrows that clattered harmlessly against its torso. But most of the war party let their mounts carry them off as fast as the muddy ground allowed.
The colossus swung its arms and battered away the stragglers and the few who tried to fight. Hadros were crushed or sent spinning away. Riders were tossed like children’s dolls stitched from straw.
Only the proud warger of Clan Sorghul stood his ground. He had to show courage, even in the face of the foulest Art he could imagine. He cursed the eyeless face of the giant. The colossus moved toward the defiant speck on the grass, and the warger‘s courage washed away. He spurred his mount, but the colossus’s strides were too long. A foot like a mountain peak crashed onto the warger and pulped him into the grass.
The remaining Sorghul fled out of reach of the metal monster. It did not try to chase after them. Instead, it halted and rose up into a rigid tower. The visor retracted, revealing beneath a radiant blue gem. The light of the Art shimmered from the colossus’s joints, but gradually dimmed. The power shunted upward and gathered in the head. The gem shifted from blue to white, and then spat forth of cone of flame.
The sorcerer-fire swept away half the fleeing war party in a heartbeat. Men and their mounts were burnt into cinders as if they had been spitted over a campfire. The ground was scorched brown, even though it was soaked from days of rain. Steam wafted into the sky.
The colossus waited. It stood still until the last Sorghul vanished into the walls of rain. The visor lowered again, and the light of the art flowed back into its bronze and steel body, dimmer than before.
The colossus rotated its head in a full circle. Nothing else in its sight moved. The metal giant stood alone.
When its head turned back toward the plains, Khasar slinked from the opening of the ravine. He had reached his clan brothers in time to warn of them of the approaching colossus. “No matter what happens,” he cautioned them, “stay hidden.” Through the gates of the hideout, the Molghiz caught glimpses of the horror on the plains, and no one thought to move even one step into the madness.
Khasar remained pressed against the wall of the mountain, but the colossus did not turn its head around again. The way it stood touched Khasar’s Sorrow. Did the magic of the Art in the metal titan’s mind let it think as men did? Did it guess that it was alone, abandoned, with no purpose in a time not its own?
The Sorrow. Maybe at the moment, the colossus felt the Sorrow.
But then the giant started to move, once more a machine fashioned to know only what it creators wanted it to know, following commands they had planted it its mind of metal. The colossus trundled across the plain to the northwest in a slow stride, the light from its joints dim as early evening stars.
Not until the darkness swallowed the colossus and its footsteps were indistinguishable from the storm did the rest of the clan emerge from hiding. Khasar led them onto the porch of the canyon to survey the aftermath. No one spoke: even in victory, the force of the Sorrow oppressed the sodden plain. They scrounged for weapons, found bundles of food, and recovered the stray hadros.
When the sun came out the next day, the eighteen surviving heirs of Clan Molghiz galloped toward the grazing grounds of their allies in Clan Khamatei. Khasar rode at the front. No one remarked on the disappearance of Alagh, and they all accepted Khasar as leader. He did not permit them to call him tal-Khasar, however. Without women and children, there was no Clan Molghiz left for a talahn to lead.
The last of the Molghiz married into the Khamatei, and Khasar rose to become a warger in their adopted clan. His hearing was permanently damaged from the thunderbolt, but he was a staunch fighter and gained the respect of his new brothers. No one again mentioned that he had once lived as a slave, or that he knew more about the Art than was proper for a true Jalask. He married a comely woman of the Khamatei and she gave him strong sons and daughters.
At night Khasar sometimes heard the dying screams of his old clan, and other times saw a hulking shadow of metal rimmed with blue fire. But as he aged, the darker memories faded until all that remained was the Sorrow that all people of Ahn-Tarqa knew. After a long life he died in battle as the Sorrow said that all warriors should.
For years afterwards, the Jalask tribes told tales of a gray giant that strode over the grasslands, lumbering northwest in a silent march. The giant was searching for its old home and the sorcerers who had brought it to life. But if it ever found what it sought, or if it finally ground to a halt in a lonely wilderness, never to move again, not even the wisest sage could say.
Ryan Harvey won the Writers of the Future Contest in 2011 for his story “An Acolyte of Black Spires,” part of the science-fantasy series on the continent of Ahn-Tarqa.
His previous Ahn-Tarqa story for Black Gate, “The Sorrowless Thief,” appeared here on April 7th. Tangent Online described it this way:
The narrator, a beggar nearly given up on life, spends what little money he has in dream-smoke-filled drug dens, indulging in the illusions brought on by the smoke of the mokkah flower. What wanders in one night is no illusion, it is the thief Dyzan Ludd. He seems immune from the smoke, and immune from what has brought so many into the den: the Sorrow. These facts stir the narrator. He and Dyzan find themselves in conversation about Dyzan’s upcoming plan to rob a caravan coming from the north. It is a fool’s errand, but Dyzan doesn’t listen to reason…
Ryan Harvey’s “The Sorrowless Thief” exists as part of a larger science-fantasy series. The world of Dyzan includes few guns and many (magically) tamed dinosaur beasts… These surrounding details thicken the setting and the plot, adding a lot of intrigue.
Ahn-Tarqa is also the setting for Ryan’s e-book novelette “Farewell to Tyrn,” and his upcoming novel Turn over the Moon.
His work has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Beyond Centauri, Aoife’s Kiss (upcoming), and the anthology Candle in the Attic Window. He writes science fiction, fantasy, and the shadowy realm between both, as well as a long stint writing a column at Black Gate.
Ryan lives in Los Angeles with one cat and one less dog, and enjoys the swing dancing and vintage clothing scene when not writing or reading. Find him at his website, www.RyanHarveyWriter.com and follow him on Twitter @RHarveyWriter.
Author photo by Kai Martin.
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