Read The Silent Army Online

Authors: James A. Moore

Tags: #epic fantasy, #eternal war, #City of Wonders, #Seven Forges, #The Blasted Lands, #Sa'ba Taalor, #Gods of War

The Silent Army (5 page)

BOOK: The Silent Army
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Surely the ship was not as large as the city. He knew that, but it was perspective, really. In comparison to his boat the damned black beast tearing through the waves may as well have been as large. The whales of Cormadun were not as large as that ship and the whales were gigantic, terrifying beasts best thought of only when on the land.

“Hold yourselves to the rails, lads!” He could barely hear Vondum over the wind and the thunderous backdrop of the burning seas. The only way to get where they needed to be was to pass by the land growing where the Guntha used to have their islands. The storms there were always rough but not so dangerous that a good sailor couldn’t manage.

Now this, the ship, that was a different tale entirely. He grabbed hard at the closest rail and felt the boat beneath him shift and buck as his first mate tried to compensate for the waves and the vast nightmare heading for them. He dared another glance and saw the ship of the Sa’ba Taalor slam into the next wave, shrugging off the sea’s attempt to thwart it from its hunt.

One of his men reeled across the deck and grabbed at the railing, barely catching himself before he’d have been tossed over the side. Thimms was a good man, but Callan would not go after him if he went swimming. There was the rest of the crew to consider, and his own hide besides.

“There’s another from the east, Captain!”

“What?” Surely he’d misheard.

“Another of the damn ships comes from the east!” The clouds impaired easy viewing of anything, but he looked where Thimms pointed and cursed. There was, indeed another ship. It matched the scope of the one already chasing them.

A moment later there was a sign of hope, a faint light of potential safety.

The ship to the east was not alone. Several smaller vessels were running around it, moving like cats surrounding a massive bear, but they were there just the same.

The Brellar had arrived.

“Might have a chance at that.” He whispered the words like a secret prayer and watched as the smaller ships moved around their prey.

The Brellar were terrors. They owned the Corinta Ocean and the seas beyond as well, near as he could tell, and they owned them because they were the fiercest warriors on water.

They had also been paid very handsomely to be here and to fight the Sa’ba Taalor. Because they were honorable enough in their way, they had even shown themselves as the enemy approached.

The ship to the east shifted itself. The great black hulking shape took a turn that should have been precarious and in the doing crashed its prow into the closest of the Brellar vessels with an impact that could be heard even over the wind and the storm.

The Brellar was not fast enough and in seconds the greater ship shattered the lesser on impact. Wood and bodies flew away from the crashing ships; both looked exclusively to be Brellar.

Whatever was in the way of the turning ship was ruined or dragged under the keel. Callan looked away, not in horror but out of necessity. The other black ship was gaining on them.

The waves surged, the ship under him shuddered but it rode another crowning wall of water to the crest and dropped down on the other side. Callan held onto the rail and felt the muscles in his hands screaming at him as his body rose and fell at the whims of the water.

The black ship was closer still and he saw one of the forms on that ship holding what might be the longest bow he had ever seen.

A moment later an arm was drawn back and a missile released. He did his best to watch the shaft move through the air. He missed most of the journey but saw it land in the back of Vondum’s skull.

Vondum dropped to the deck. He didn’t need to guess. He knew the man, his friend, was dead.

He also knew they were all dead if he didn’t get to the wheel soon enough to stop the ship from foundering. Wind and rain and waves were his enemy right then, and Callan crouched low and ran along the deck as quickly as he could.

He did not run far before the arrow punched into the meat of his calf. Did he scream? Gods, yes. Did he fall? No. It wasn’t choice. He hopped on one leg and made it to the helm, grabbing at the wheel and missing the first time.

Vondum’s body was in the way. Thimms was there an instant later rolling the corpse to the side. He stayed, too, holding an arm around Callan’s waist and bracing his captain as best he could. Thimms was a smart one. He was carrying a shield.

This was a simple affair. They lived or died together.

The black ship came closer, and Callan turned away from it, intent on riding through the storm and outracing the bastards coming up behind them.

THREE

The veils became a necessity. The winds were gone but the dust and grit of the Blasted Lands remained, and wherever the waters had receded, the dust lifted with each step they took and grew in clouds that surrounded them.

They had no food and very little water, but for the mounts that seemed not to matter.

Andover stared at the Edge as it grew closer. When he had entered the Blasted Lands, an eternity or so earlier, the storms had kept him from seeing anything at all. He had no real scope for how vast the barrier was. It was not as towering as the mountains, but it seemed to go on forever in both directions.

“Do we know where to climb this great thing?” He spoke in his usual slightly puzzled tones.

“The Temmis Pass is that way.” Delil pointed south. “Another three days at this speed. If we let them run we will be there tonight.”

He nodded and looked along the great stone wall. There were spots where they could climb. “We can go up here if you like.” Again that ghost of his former self railed at the notion. There were large stretches where the climb was easy, especially now that the winds were gone, but other places where they would struggle.

Delil looked to him. “Don’t ask me. I love climbing. Are you up to the challenge?”

He grinned. There was no more to say. Within minutes they were scaling the sheer stone surface. The way was much harder than he’d expected initially. The endless winds had scoured large areas nearly smooth.

Iron hands dug into stone where necessary. The mounts took the walls in leaps and bounds, their thick claws allowing purchase, their powerful bodies perfectly designed for pushing themselves in areas where human forms could not compete.

There were no Broken here. The Pra-Moresh did not attack. The winds did not slow them. The way was hard but without the challenge and risk of possible attack, Andover found himself oddly disappointed.

Life is pain. Life is struggle. A life of ease was no longer what he wanted from the world.

When they finished the arduous climb he looked down into the vast, motionless valley of the Blasted Lands and frowned. Far, far away he could make out the Seven Forges.

When he turned and scanned the desolate horizon in front of him he frowned again. Far to the south a column of smoke painted the air. Far to the north a caul of lighter colored smoke hazed the skyline into a soft blur.

He pointed to the finger of black smoke in the south. “That was Tyrne, I think.”

Delil nodded. “Yes. It is so. Durhallem now rests there.”

“How can a mountain be in two places at once?”

“Not the mountain. There are two mountains, yes, but Durhallem, the Wounder, the god, now rests where Tyrne once stood.”

Completely unaware of the action, Andover tilted his head in the way of the Sa’ba Taalor, asking a silent question.

“We move to the desires of the Daxar Taalor, Andover. They do not abandon us, they move with us. They are claiming Fellein as theirs. They are making themselves comfortable in their new lands.”

Andover nodded. “So the first of the gods to move? Which was that?”

“You do not know the shapes of the Forges as well as most. You have also not seen it, but the first to move was Wheklam. Donaie Swarl took her black ships out into the waters and found the spot that Wheklam wanted. I saw it in a dream. It was impressive to see.”

“Are you a follower of Wheklam now?”

“I follow all of the gods, but Wheklam has asked that I learn his ways.”

“And will you?”

“Why would I ever deny a god, Andover?”

He nodded his head, expecting no other answer from her. Gorwich moved close and nudged Andover’s arm with his muzzle. He scratched idly at the broad face.

The Forges were still alive, still active, even if the gods were moving from one place to another. Both he and Delil had asked for and received the “Blood of the Mountain,” literally the white-hot metal they pulled from Durhallem.

Andover had metal hands. Delil did not. Neither of them were burned by the metal as they pulled it out and shaped it like so much clay. Both of them should have been ruined by the contact, but that was the blessing of the Daxar Taalor. They were given wondrous gifts in exchange for their loyalty.

Gorwich likewise had been rewarded. The armored mask over the head of his mount was crafted in short order. Gorwich’s mask closely resembled the shape of his face, but Andover had lined the edges with barbs, the better to dissuade fools from trying to cut at the mount’s muzzle or head. Was it necessary? No, but Gorwich seemed to like it.

“Delil?”

“Yes, Andover?” She was currently climbing onto her mount, and preparing to ride again.

“If the Forges are moving so far apart from each other, does that mean the Sa’ba Taalor will have to choose only one god each? Fellein is vast. A thousand or more times the size of the Taalor Valley.”

Delil shook her head. “The distance we rode to the Seven Forges. How long was it?”

“I could not say. The storms of the Blasted Lands hid so much from us.”

“They hid nothing the gods did not want hidden. Sometimes a trip to the Taalor Valley is a trip that takes months. Other times a day or only a few hours.”

Andover frowned, considering that.

Delil continued. “The time it takes to reach any place we are required to go is changed by the gods themselves, Andover. If they wanted us at Canhoon now, if they needed us there, we would be within sight of the city. That is their way.”

Andover rubbed his iron palm on Gorwich’s neck and then climbed onto the mount’s back. If his weight bothered the great beast, it gave no sign.

“So let us see how quickly they want us there,” he said. “But let us be careful. We are now in a land where the Daxar Taalor are not the only gods, and there are enemies here who would see us dead.”

Delil smiled and patted the hilt of her long, thin sword. “Finally,” she sighed. “A war.”

Drask Silver Hand raised his eyes from the ground before him and frowned.

“I tire of this.” Neither of his companions spoke. He was not completely sure that either could any more.

“Brackka! To me!” Drask roared the words and the air around them shimmered as the dust at their feet rippled, impacted by the sound waves.

His voice echoed far further than should have been possible. In the far distant remains of the Mounds, half hidden by the settled ash and soot, a shadow was burned into the very stone where Brackka had stood when Drask and the others fell into the glowing essences that powered the endless caverns of the forbidden underground realm. The resulting contact between living flesh and reservoirs of power locked away in the Mounds had been… explosive.

Drask was not even now completely certain what the energies had been. He only knew that they were still changing him, altering his mind and his body alike. One look at his silver hand was enough to make that point clearly. Striations of silver ran all the way up to his bicep now, slithering slowly up from his wrist like arteries of liquid silver.

He knew something else as well. He knew that Brackka was dead, and how he had died, burnt into naught but a shadow.

One last thing he knew. He knew that when he called for Brackka, his mount would come to him.

In the distance, in the Mounds, left far behind, the shadow of Brackka rose, and pulled itself away from the stone. It moved quickly and took on flesh as it ran toward Drask’s voice. Flesh, and familiar armor, leather and straps and supplies and a dozen weapons long since forged by Drask.

By rights it should have been days or at the very least a long night before Brackka could reach Drask.

It took only minutes.

Drask did not wish to wait for his mount, and so he did not have to. For some beings, time works differently.

There was a moment of joy when Brackka got there. He patted his friend’s thick neck and ran his flesh fingers through the thick mane and murmured nonsense to his longtime companion.

And all the while he contemplated what it meant that he was able to so easily bring his friend back from complete destruction.

What, he wondered, makes a god a god?

Merros walked the Mid Wall, looking into the stone faces of each of the Silent Army. They were easy to tell apart. Some were male, others female. All wore the same armor, archaic breastplates and helmets that did not cover their faces. Each looked slightly rough, reflecting the fact that they appeared carved from the very stone of the wall. But each had a different face.

Each still had the features of the person who had died for them, that they might live again.

Now if he could only remember the face of the Pilgrim, a man he had all but ignored, Merros might be able to get somewhere with the notion of speaking to the literal army of stone men surrounding the city.

The top of the wall was clear of refugees. It seemed the notion of staying near the moving statues unsettled them. Merros could understand that. Sorcery of any sort made him uncomfortable.

“I called for you.” Nachia’s voice, coming from behind him, was more amused than annoyed.

“I have not received a message, Majesty.” He turned and bowed formally. Nachia stood with two soldiers: Darfel, her bodyguard – chosen by Merros himself – and Lauro Larn, the grandson of General Dataro Larn, who before his death had been one of the men who held the seat Merros himself now claimed. Both men nodded and stayed properly at the Empress’s side.

“Likely the messengers are looking in and around your offices.” Nachia raised one eyebrow and crossed her arms. “Where one would expect to find a commander of the armies in a crisis situation.”

BOOK: The Silent Army
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