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 (6 page)

BOOK: The Silent Army
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He felt his skin blush a bit. “I’ve been trying to remember exactly what the Pilgrim looked like.” He gestured to the closest of the Silent Army, a female. “Before he turned into one of these.”

Nachia did not bother answering him, but instead stood face to face with the feminine statue, looking up to stare it in the eyes. Male and female alike, all of them were taller than the Empress.

“I am the Empress Nachia Krous of the Fellein,” she said formally. “I would speak to the one who called himself the Pilgrim and I would do it as soon as possible. Please convey that message to him.”

Merros stared at her, not quite sure when she had lost her faculties.

Nachia looked back at him and frowned. “It can’t hurt to ask.”

“They’re
statues
, Nachia.” He shook his head, immediately regretting the tone. A wise man did not scold his Empress, especially in a public setting, and doubly so if her name was Nachia Krous.

Nachia shot him a withering stare. “I know they’re statues, Merros. I wasn’t the one trying to find one out of a thousand or more. Also, they’re statues that
move
.”

“Well, yes, there is that. It’s why I was hoping it might be possible to talk to the one called the Pilgrim.”

Nachia stepped back and so did her guards. It only took a moment for Merros to understand why. To his right and slightly behind him a stone man was rising from the ground. The shape was definitely one of the Silent Army.

He was tall and he stood straight, one hand resting on the hilt of a sword made from the same substance as everything else. His face was familiar, but if Merros were honest with himself, he would never have located the one from the thousand others. There simply weren’t enough remarkable features.

The expression, however, he would have remembered. The face twisted into a cold scowl.

“You have called me, Empress. I have come.” The Pilgrim’s voice was oddly hollow, as if coming from a vast distance. There was a faint echo as well, making Merros think that the source of the voice came not from the mouth but from deep within the chest. Merros repressed a shudder. Sorcery.

Nachia stared up into the Pilgrim’s visage and then pointed a finger toward Merros. “He wanted to speak with you.”

The Pilgrim regarded him coldly. “You are General Merros Dulver.”

“Yes.”

“I remember you. What do you ask?”

“I was, well, I was hoping you could explain to me why you have come here and where you are taking Canhoon.”

“The gods have summoned us to come and protect their city.”

“But where are we going?”

“Where the gods command.” The Pilgrim stared to the east.

“Can you tell us what the gods want?”

“What they have always wanted. The safety and fealty of their children.”

Without waiting another moment, the Pilgrim started to melt back into the stone.

“Wait! We have more questions!”

The stone face turned to look at him again, and that scowl deepened. “We are here to protect the Empress of Fellein. For that reason I answered your query, but we do not serve you, nor do we serve the Empress. We serve only the gods. This body is not designed for speech. We are called the Silent Army for a reason. No more questions will be answered.”

With that, the form of the Pilgrim melted once more into the Mid Wall.

Merros stared at the spot where the stone man had been and made an obscene gesture. When one considered his position in the city it certainly seemed there were a lot of rude people around him.

The Empress spoke. “Well, I’d wanted to know if you’d had any luck figuring out where we are going. I guess I have my answer.”

Merros shook his head. “Near as I can guess we are going straight east. If that does not change, the only thing we are going to meet is the mountains. After that the only thing we are going to see for quite some time is the river below and then Lake Gerhaim and Goltha.”

“How do we get out of this, Merros?” Nachia’s voice was soft and worried.

“We work on solutions. If that doesn’t work I might suggest that the Sisters teach us how they fly.”

“The Sisters fly?”

Merros nodded. “Oh, yes. Apparently it’s contagious. They’ve lifted the entire damned city.”

Nachia swatted his arm and laughed. “For that humor alone I’d keep you in my court, Merros.”

He had no response for her.

Instead of speaking he merely broke protocol and put a companionable arm around her shoulders. She did not protest, but instead leaned into him. It was only for a moment that they acted human, and then only because they could trust the witnesses.

The columns of the Sa’ba Taalor moved along at a steady clip: the riders with mounts to the front, the rest behind them, trudging over terrain that was sometimes rough and rocky and often pleasantly flat near the edge of the river.

From a distance they could see the City of Wonders as it moved steadily through the sky.

Tusk moved along beside Tarag Paedori, who rode his mount contemplating the vast stone cloud on the horizon as if it might be an apple he wanted to take a bite from.

Their scouts had prepared them. Up ahead was a small town. Beyond that was a great stone structure, the likes of which none of them had ever seen before. All they knew was that both were occupied. The scouts had been warned not to engage the enemy.

The King in Iron shrugged his shoulders and rattled in his armor. Tusk smiled. He knew he was not the only one who was restless.

“Durhallem says the city ahead is for me. The tower is for you.” He spoke conversationally, knowing full well that Paedori’s god had spoken to him as well.

“So it shall be, Tusk.”

“I think we should send the scouts ahead a day or more, to see if there are opportunities to reach the city in the sky.”

“You are thinking of the mountains ahead.” Tarag Paedori nodded his head as he spoke. “This is wise. Send Stastha with them if you like. She is a good strategist and can assess better than most, I think.”

Tusk made a small gesture and Stastha immediately rode forward. “My kings.” She lowered her head for only a moment. The horns on her helmet rose from near her neck and thrust upward like the tusks of a great boar. She looked toward Tusk and studied his face.

“We will send you ahead, Stastha. Go to the mountains. Seek weaknesses and ways that we might reach that city. They will not escape us for long.”

Stastha looked toward the horizon. The mountains were several days away at a guess, but the city only moved at one speed and the mounts were capable of covering the distance at a much greater pace.

She nodded and Tuskandru continued. “Be aware. They must know we are here, and arrows from that height would cut through any possible armor.”

“I will only approach the city in darkness, my king.” Tusk felt himself stir. Stastha was a woman he admired for her strength and her tactical skills. Her scars fairly glowed in the sunlight and he found himself in a mood to examine them closely.

Now was not the time.

“Make Durhallem proud, as you make me proud, Stastha.”

She smiled at that and nodded her head. A moment later she was moving forward, calling names. Several other riders obeyed her summons and joined her.

“It is a small town?” Tusk asked.

Tarag nodded.

Tusk sighed. “I want that city, but this should whet the palate, yes?”

“I am curious about the tower. Why is it all alone? What is there and who protects it?”

“It is my experience that something all alone is more deadly than a gathering of like minds.”

Tarag nodded and frowned. “Unless you are talking of the Pra-Moresh. They are much worse in packs.”

Tusk chuckled deep in his chest and then spurred Brodem forward. The beast let out a rumble and charged forward at great speed. Behind him others began to ride faster, a few pulling out their horns for when the time came to announce themselves.

Tarag Paedori looked to Kallir Lundt, the Fellein who now sported a face of iron and served him loyally. “It is time, Kallir. Find four others to come with us, the rest will continue on the path and seek whatever they can find by way of combat.”

Kallir nodded his metal face and then looked over his shoulder, seeking the ones he felt best qualified and deserving. He had watched all of the Sa’ba Taalor close to Tarag. “Ehnole, Tenna, Mardus, Kopora!” he called and the followers of the King in Iron responded, sitting straighter on their mounts and looking toward him.

It was Tarag who finished what he started. “We ride!” There was nothing more to say. The six of them moved forward and the rest of the long columns moved on. The followers of Tarag Paedori were, easily, the most disciplined of all the Sa’ba Taalor, that is to say, the best at following orders they did not like. None would dare disobey a king. To do so was to disobey a god. Still, Paedori’s army waited with more patience than most, fully prepared to take down the vast, floating city above them.

Andover Lashk looked at the lake where Canhoon should have been. It was an impressive lake, to be sure, but it was not what he’d been expecting to see. A few buildings remained around the edge of the water. Most had been destroyed by whatever catastrophe had removed the city itself.

The lake’s waters were clear enough, but along the vast shoreline the remains of hundreds, possibly thousands of people had been stacked in heaps and then burned. Ashes coated stacks of bones and partially ruined meat. Andover did not have to guess what had happened to the dead. The Sa’ba Taalor sacrificed the dead to the gods, preferably by tossing them into the heart of one of the forges. When that was not possible they were burned. On occasions when necessity demanded, he knew that the dead were eaten. The Daxar Taalor did not believe in waste.

Amid the rubble great storm crows hopped and lurked, mostly silent save for occasional caws, eyeing everything with cold contempt. He had never seen so many gathered in one spot before. It was a sight to behold.

Delil looked at the birds, too. They did not exist in Taalor. They were large and gray and gave off a certain air of menace.

“Where is Canhoon?” Andover spoke out loud, simply because he was surprised. There had been a vast wall around the city, at least according to the paintings he had seen. He had never once left Tyrne before he came to the Blasted Lands, and could only trust his memories of a life he had almost forgotten. There was evidence of the wall, broken stones and shattered gates, but mostly there was debris.

Ydramil’s voice filled his head. THE GODS OF FELLEIN HAVE MADE THEIR FIRST MOVE. THEY WOULD FIGHT US AND THWART US. THE CITY OF CANHOON RIDES THROUGH THE SKIES, MOVING TO ESCAPE THE SA’BA TAALOR.

Movement from the right made him look that way. Several people were gathered together near one of the portions of the wall that had not collapsed. They were ragged and scared. Their clothes did not match and if he had to guess, they were as confused by the lack of a city as he was.

He slid from Gorwich’s broad back and landed with ease. “Why are you here?” he called out in his native tongue and the group flinched.

They understood him. He had been like them once upon a time. Now he felt like he was staring at a different species entirely. They were so pale, so pink. It was not long ago that he was the same. It was an eternity ago.

“There is nowhere else to go.” It was a woman who spoke from beside him. She shivered as she looked up at him. Her hair was fair, her skin sunburned from seeing more of the daylight than she usually did, and her clothes were the sort of finery he remembered from Tyrne, only now they were badly weathered. There was a time she would have held his eye and he’d have thought her lovely. Now she was dirty, unkempt, and shivered with fright at the sight of him. She was weak, and that weakness made her ugly in his eyes.

“You come from Tyrne?”

“From where it was.” Dark blue eyes looked up at him with dread. She did not see a person from her home. She did not see a Fellein. She saw a Sa’ba Taalor, one of the people who had come into her world and started shattering it. Her eyelashes fluttered rapidly as she attempted to blink back tears. “Everything I had is gone. And now Canhoon has gone as well.”

“You have your life and your health. If I followed Durhallem, you would no longer have those.” He tried to keep the contempt from his voice. She was one of the wealthy, one who had likely never worked a day and could not understand a world that did not adore her for her looks.

“You… You won’t kill us?” There was something about her tone that set his nerves on edge and he moved his right hand, stretched the fingers as if to relax tension, and then did it three more times, quickly.

That was all the warning that Delil needed. She drew her sword and moved into a crouch.

Andover grabbed the woman by her arm and brought her in front of him, striding hard toward the small gathering of people and the wall where they waited. Iron hands crushed soft flesh with bruising force.

She wailed out her fears as he pushed her along in front of him, holding most of her weight with ease. Her feet scuffed and dragged and tried to hold the ground but he did not afford her that level of control.

“I will kill her! I will gut her and let her bleed in the dirt. Show yourselves!”

The three men who came from behind the wall were fighters. They were hurt and they were desperate, but they were armed and carried themselves like experienced soldiers.

Swords. Three swords. For a moment he’d been worried about arrows. That was still a possibility, but not as likely now.

“Don’t! Don’t do that!” The man who yelled at him was heavier than his fellow refugees. Likely he was well trained, but he was also in bad shape. Somewhere along the way he’d earned a deep cut along his left thigh and the wound was festering. His eyes were too shiny and he licked his chapped lips constantly. He was suffering from the Plague Winds.

“Drop your weapons or I’ll kill all of you.” Andover’s tone was conversational.

He looked them over. There were ten people all told, three armed, and only two of them seemed likely to last more than a few seconds in a fight. The man with plague shook his head and muttered to himself.

BOOK: The Silent Army
7.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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