The ice wars of dominia, p.9
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.9

           Hylton Smith
 
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  There was palpable relief around the table and Khaled nodded.

  “Your advice shall be heeded and I accept this invitation. I can tell you that Karim is already assisting with the situation in East Korellia. I do not know exactly how he intends to execute this aid, but his objective is to facilitate the deliverance of Kyklos to the Tor-Azen. When this is achieved we will hopefully have avoided the genocide they threatened, and I will then speak to their leader as I have done to you. When you have briefed your allies I would appreciate a message to signal the time of my visit to your camp.”

  The gathering dispersed more quickly than the air of expectancy. Whether it fuelled hope or scepticism, the proclamation was permanently stored in the cerebral archive of all who attended.

  *

  Kyklos had been the beneficiary of a leak concerning the mission of Thule. The bearer of the information had overheard Thule’s discussion with the three Generals. His opportunism to earn reward swiftly ousted his paper-thin loyalty. He hadn’t expected the reward so soon. Kyklos thanked him personally and told him to accompany one of his aides to receive his payoff. The aide passed him on to a grisly-looking guard who ushered him forward and then directed him to halt. A crossbowman appeared at the other side of a sandpit. The guard explained to him that he had ten seconds, to decide - either the deadly arrow or the pit. He should have chosen the arrow. As he leapt into the pit he noticed a slight undulating movement as the grains fell away. The radiation levels of the cataclysm had not adversely affected the desert scorpions, in fact they had thrived and mutated throughout the period. At least thirty of these creatures – each the size of a giant turtle, converged toward him. The screams were heard back in the tent of Kyklos, whose tongue curled around his upper lip, as he visualised the flesh being torn from the hapless informant. He turned to Curaan, who was his most trusted General and smiled.

  “One’s good fortune must be shared. For even a single citizen of my nation, even an informant, to think that I can be overthrown is not an option. Strength is only preserved by no weakness being perceived. The informant will now understand this and be at peace. We must then turn our attention to this wretch Thule. I should have had him buried alive for his previous treachery, this time there will be no concession to the support he may have. Death will soon be his companion.”

  A contingent of only fourteen warriors plus Kyklos himself, ventured to the secret location given by the informant. The rapid encirclement of Thule’s position left no obvious means of escape for the four who plotted the extradition of Kyklos. Karim however, who had been following these developments appeared at precisely the moment the conspirators were called from their tent. This time they were not quite so shaken by his appearance, even though he was dressed to match perfectly with Thule. As they exited, Kyklos was thrown off-guard, but gathered his thoughts quickly and instead of delivering his pre-prepared speech he ordered the death of all five. Karim’s contingency plan was costly but necessary. He created a diversion by leaping over the cordon and apparently running for cover. Kyklos barked out the countermand to the first order. He could not rationalise why he felt this particular version of Thule was the main threat, but his instinct told him the other one was going nowhere. As ten of the fourteen pursued who they thought was the real Thule, to a distance of around two hundred metres, he stopped, turned and faced them. Karim created a ball of lightning which incinerated the figures within its radius of contact. The charred, skeletal remains of the upright ten, frozen in time, produced bewilderment in the mind of Kyklos. As they crumbled and fell one-by-one, bewilderment was turned to fear, which was then intensified by the immediate reappearance of the quarry, less than spitting distance from him. The remaining four of his warriors had seen enough and fled, casting aside their weapons, in a subconscious plea for mercy. Kyklos found himself surrounded by the genuine Thule and his Generals.

  Before Karim’s final disappearing act, Thule called out, “Who are you, and why do you assist me?” There was no comfort in the reply for him or his captive.

  “My identity is of no consequence, but avoiding delay in completing your mission is paramount. Deliver this apology for a human to the waiting Sendzai, there is absolutely no time to lose.” He was gone.

  Chapter 10

  Sendzai was impressed with the efforts of Thule and vowed to return the favour if the opportunity ever arose. When Thule spoke of the ethereal help he had received, the Tor-Azen leader was intrigued.

  “We must discuss this when we have dispensed justice, in front of the families who were deprived of the loved ones terminated by this pathetic coward.”

  Although Thule had never forgotten the young boy who had rightful claim to lead the nation, the fresh hope ignited by Karim that he may still be alive, catapulted to the forefront of his thoughts.

  “We should perhaps consider such discussion simultaneously with the disposal of Kyklos. This ‘presence’ I have described indicated that our true leader, whose position was usurped by Kyklos, is probably a captive of your prisoner. The favour you offer me could be to help in the search for this young man. If this is true then Kyklos must have knowledge of his whereabouts. Would you consider ways to extract this information from him, before his fate extinguishes this information?”

  Sendzai stroked his chin as he considered the request. This Thule was a man of principle. He could have made good use of being the saviour of East Korellia, but chose the honourable path of restoring the lineage of the ruling bloodline.

  “Perhaps we can achieve both at the same time. You must stay with us overnight and enjoy our hospitality, while I set in motion the ceremony I have in mind.”

  He issued orders in his own tongue to a subordinate, and Thule noticed the reaction in his entire entourage; it produced tangible electricity amongst the Tor-Azen elite. The resultant celebration provided insight for Thule and his cohorts into the order and strength of this nation. Exotic vegetables and spices, exhilarating beverages and a display of master swordsmanship would endure in their memory. This was not a nation to provoke unnecessarily.

  When morning came Sendzai informed his guests that everything was arranged. The event was to take place in a circle which had been carved out of the forest overnight, cleared except for four trees. The families of the victims were settled in a place of prominence. The crowd which had gathered were impatient but orderly. Kyklos was led to face the families and given a chance to kneel before them. Thule could scarcely believe the next few minutes, as he was receiving commentary from Sendzai, which was running fractionally ahead of what was unfolding.

  “This is an information extraction technique we acquired when we moved through China. The tribe was known as ‘Chen Xiou’, and the procedure as ‘Han Zitsu’. You can be assured that if he knows where your boy is he will tell us.”

  Large wooden constructions appeared and it was soon apparent that they were to be the secondary application of restraining force which would elicit the information required. Loops of rough rope were thrown over each young tree and the machine operators began to wind handles which caused the trees to bend toward a central point. It became obvious that each one was to be attached to a different limb of Kyklos. The tyrant’s eyes began to betray his panic. He was yelling his innocence and insisting that he had been the victim of a cruel charade.

  “I will personally hunt down this imposter from my own lands and cut his heart out. You must believe me, I am not the beast who committed these acts of violence against your people.”

  The procedure continued as if he had never uttered a word. He was then acquainted with the order of events. When his arms and legs had been secured to the arc of each tree, a slight easing of the machine force was applied. Kyklos abandoned his protest in favour of involuntarily screaming at the onset of searing pain. Sendzai indicated that this was not the point of interruption. Two more notches on the devices were reached, and the agony Kyklos suffered was felt by every single spectator, in absolute silence, other than the echoe
s of his own voice. The next stage of enlightenment for Kyklos was that if he told of the whereabouts of the young heir, he could look forward to being instantly ripped apart, and it would be over. If he did not, each hour would see another notch of power returned to the trees. The lingering, agonising death he could visualise was sufficient for him to elect for the brevity of dismemberment, and he divulged a location where he said the boy could be found. He was told he would be returned to a level of acceptable pain while his disclosure was investigated. If it proved to be false, then the quick way out of his mortal coil would be rescinded, and hours if not days of unbearable agony would be irreversibly set to claim his wicked soul.

  Thule wandered to the cover of a thicket and surprised himself by talking to the apparition in an attempt to summon it, or him. He simply couldn’t watch more of the procedure, even though he despised the recipient of the pain. He was relieved when Karim appeared as Karim, and was still indulging in self-congratulation, at his lucky guess that the boy still lived.

  “I know what your request is Thule. I can check the veracity of Kyklos’ confession very quickly. What I am wondering is what the incentive is for this third act of indispensible assistance I will have given to you. Even if we find and restore the boy to sit as the figurehead of your nation, you will be perceived as the hero of the people, and surely retained in an advisory capacity to him. I would like to think we could work together on achieving this, without anyone else knowing of our agreement to do so. Is this a reasonable request?”

  Thule was impatient to conclude the awful procedure, and despite the thirst to know more about the apparition, he wanted to get to the boy as soon as possible. He agreed and Karim disappeared once more.

  *

  The boy was in detention in a cave close to the ice wall to the extreme north of East Korellia. It was such an inhospitable location that those guarding him only stayed there for one month at a time. Karim feared that if he could be proven to be the heir, and not a decoy, he could well be mentally scarred, and this would be very unfortunate. He appeared in the corner of the cramped, cold enclosure as a rat. The boy instinctively looked for some loose stone or suitable implement with which he could bludgeon the vermin to death. He was stopped in his tracks when the rat spoke.

  “It would be unwise to kill your best chance of escape. I am only disguised as a rat in case the guards arrive suddenly. I am an emissary from your former people; they know of your predicament and I am here to verify your identity. What is your name?”

  The boy backed away and buried his head in his hands, believing that he was hallucinating. Karim began again.

  “We have to be sure who you are before any further steps to your rehabilitation can commence. Now, what is your name?”

  He curled further into the corner and refused to speak, and this prompted Karim to be more sympathetic.

  “Have you been ill-treated by these guards?”

  A nod was the only response.

  “We must therefore act quickly to get you out of here, your name can wait for now. Call the guard and tell him there is an intruder in the enclosure. Leave the rest to me.”

  Nervously the boy complied. The guard ran down the ramp to the covered entrance and slid back the outer skin of the enclosure. What he saw was the boy looking in astonishment at a scantily clad young woman. The guard shouted at the boy to move to the far wall and sit in a squat position on the floor. He then opened the door with his heavy set of keys on a thick stone ring. His eyes were now fixed on the young woman.

  “How did you get in here?”

  She shrugged her shoulders.

  “Answer me or you will be flogged.”

  She spat on the floor and showed no trace of fear. The instant the guard decided he was going to have this woman, after her eviction from the confinement chamber he effectively signed his own death warrant. He stretched out his free hand to grip her arm and felt the key-ring leave the other. The speed of Karim’s execution was a blur to both the guard and the watching prisoner. The guard was beaten about the head with the key-ring until he was unrecognisable. They left him on the floor and Karim began the silent ascent of the ramp. He knew there was only one other guard to deal with and decided to retain the form of the woman.

  “Stay here until I call you. Do you understand?”

  The boy nodded. Karim took the key-ring and swaggered into the warmer upper level room.

  “Hey, I found these keys beside my uncle. He seems to be ill.”

  The second guard had been half-asleep and did not react immediately.

  “I think he needs help and I did not want to leave the keys down there.”

  He jumped to his feet and brushed past her in his panic to get to his colleague. When he saw the door of the enclosure open and the guard on the floor with blood oozing from his head he turned to return for some article with which to beat the boy. The stone ring cracked his skull and he slumped to the floor. The woman reverted to Karim and he dragged the unconscious guard to join his deceased partner and shouted for the boy to exit the prison. He locked the door and threw the keys inside through the vent. The two of them scampered up to the surface. They walked for several miles before they came across a dwelling. Karim explained to the occupants that he needed to get medical help for the boy.

  “It would be much appreciated by my master if you could do something about his malnutrition before he is collected. I realise food is scarce but you will be amply rewarded if you can keep him safe.”

  They vaguely recognised the boy and were glad to be able to help. Just as Karim prepared to leave the boy whispered his name.

  “I am Jaden. I was always told that to tell anyone would cost me my life, but you have rescued me. Why can’t I come with you?” Karim explained that he could travel very fast.

  “I mean extremely fast, like nothing you have ever seen, and this means the master will come for you sooner. He will make you safer than you have ever been. Your new life begins now.”

  He smiled and tousled the boy’s hair, but this didn’t put him at ease. The second reason he needed to get to Thule immediately was down to his little stunt with the lightning ball. He had consumed much more energy than he should have, and he desperately wanted to get to orbit after setting Thule on his way.

  When he appeared in front of Thule he stressed the need for his imminent departure.

  “I can only tell you that he was reluctant to utter his name, which after the rescue, he claimed was Jaden. I can now shift my shape to his, rather than that of your painting, and you will have to decide if we have the boy we seek. The people looking after him seem reliable.”

  Thule was happy with the likeness of the polymorph to the boy that he remembered. There was a birthmark which he could only check when they were face-to-face at the location given by Karim.

  *

  When Salamand had briefed the other alliance leaders he was mildly surprised that there was no beating of the chest and outright dismissal of Khaled’s proposal. Even Berbus, who he had thought would be vociferous in his objection, was quite rational.

  “We all want to see an end to suffering, and that includes war. We have also learned that T’slane was much more ruthless than Khaled. My major concern is to be able to distinguish between fine words and actions which follow. We would need to plot verifiable checkpoints which satisfy everyone. It is up to him to demonstrate that he can make them available.”

  Salamand agreed and the others followed suit. It was Altocotl who suggested Salamand should extend his military role to become the diplomatic representative of the alliance, if Khaled could deliver on the checkpoints Berbus had called for.

  *

  Thule was ready to set off to meet the boy. He made a parting request to Sendzai.

  “I believe from the information given by the apparition, that we have the boy in safe hands. I therefore ask if you would honour your bargain to Kyklos and cut the restraints on the trees.”

  Sendzai looked
confused and pointed to the families who had suffered worst by the actions of this man.

  “This is not the way of the Tor-Azen. As long as you have doubt the bargain is not made. Then there is the unfairness he thrust upon you. How can you forgive this?”

  Thule shook his head wistfully and then looked Sendzai directly in the eyes. “I agree he has to die, and suffer, while he passes to the next world, but this has already occurred to an extent that I feel further prolonging of his suffering is meaningless. If you freed him now he would still die. The apparition’s description of the boy matches my own, and I can’t see how Kyklos could have fabricated a decoy with such convincing accuracy from his tortuous position, when you offered him a quick death.”

  Sendzai walked to the affected families and put Thule’s point to them. They didn’t take long to agree with the plea – they had seen enough. The cutting of the ropes, although practised didn’t quite guarantee even torque on each limb of the adhesive - namely Kyklos. The grating noise of the separating joints wasn’t completely masked by his weak verbal response to even more pain. Although it could be described as swift when compared to the mundane splintering of an inanimate object, this separation lingered in the retinal capture of the spectator. Kyklos’ agony was over before the first portion, a leg with various dangling organs, allowed the respective tree to resume vertical pose. The spine gave way to allow almost synchronous rupture of the tissues preventing the other three trees from emulating the first. The final arrangement, which was etched in Thule’s memory, was that the process had created an illusion that the separate parts could not possibly have come from the more compact whole. This was primarily because of the dripping blood, conceding to gravity and marking every step of its way over tissue and organs, to reach the ground. As Thule cast his mind to the journey ahead, the parts of Kyklos were being loaded for delivery to East Korellia. Only his head was cleaned up, so that recognition would complete the lesson.

 
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