While the storm brewed over the Chamber of Skills, the Sister of Terror seized the City of Tyrines. She surrounded it with the rumbling giant machines and then pulled in cage after cage of Soul Eaters. Like wild animals, the Soul Eaters vehemently gurgled and clawed at the soldiers. Wary eyes were passed between Derkbocas, wondering if their future lie in death or transformed into those creatures.
Sister of Terror walked atop the tallest machine, her shadow passing between hoarding gaps. Screeching commands, her voice grated against the baritone wind. She ordered the remaining Derkbocas to accumulate stones in separate piles; obsidian, black diamond, slate, coal and white chalk.
While the Sister of Terror brewed, the Blentiun soldiers napped against rampart walls, taking advantage of the lull in combat and recognizing that once the storm was finished that Terror would continue her assault. The Queen waited for the change, too exhausted to sleep and eat; her adrenaline trumped her needs. While considering her next move, she rubbed knuckles against her shield and sucked on her leather strap. It tasted sour.
On the top of the mountain and behind the walls of the fortress, many soldiers were more confident in their defensibility against the Sister’s attack, especially with the abundance of supplies reserved in the Chamber. Fenarius wanted their supplies behind them, rather than with them. She horded the extra supplies in the Chamber of Skills, too tall for the fodder to reach its height from the enemy’s original northern position.
She found this strategy helped strengthen their chances, allowing them to pull their supplies whenever they needed and avoiding the risk of them smashed. And it worked. When they retreated, they entered a stronger and heavier supplied fortress. They had the high point overlooking their enemy, the walls were better fortified and there was less territory for the Sister to hit. Even the Mastadonians felt more comfortable in the encampment. But it was a lie and Queen Fenarius knew it. The Sister of Terror gained better ground and the Tree of Sorrow.
Known as the Chamber of Skills, the fortress crowned the mountain. A few towers were erected on crests, and the back wall was lined with catapults. The floor was mountain stone, no planking was set down to make the walks between towers and ramparts easier to tread. Only rough paths crisscrossed between walls and battlements throughout the encampment. An elongated building stored most of the supplies to the south. The fortress’ simplicity made it easy to defend.
In the past, the Warlock used the fortress to experiment on Droll slaves with his dark weapons. When the Blentiun army had delivered it from the Warlock’s control, nothing had prepared them for the masses of dead souls abandoned in the fortress, stacked and piled like rotten planks. The Warlock’s soldiers had slept in the fortress, the farthest point they were allowed to keep from the Dominion. The Derkbocas had sacrificed sweet dreams for ghoulish nightmares to suffer while surrounded by carnage, just so they could put some distance between them and the Warlock’s evil. Still, their bodies’ stink permeated from the walls, even after so many years.
Histirin did his best to present his normal happy self while taking trips back and forth with a pot of stew for the hungry soldiers. Some of them refused to eat, but he placed a bowl next to their legs, hoping they would change their mind. He understood that their adrenaline from battle fed them a false sense of strength. He took on the burden to console their woes with food and laughter like he was still tending to his customers.
Histirin’s heart saddened when roaming its walls. The stone felt like hollow vessels like the life’s energy had been scared away and drained. It was a causality of so many innocent people sacrificed at evil’s altar. On other days, he felt embarrassment that his people could perform such horrible tragedies. It was a crime; they carried their sins for centuries before fully purged.
As they slept, night crept over the Tree of Sorrow. The storm drizzled down to a strong gust of winds and a few crackles of green. After rounding up the last of the Soul Eaters and locking them away, Sister of Terror stationed the machines around the Tree of Sorrow and shrilled new orders to the Derkbocas.
The Queen watched the ranks of the Sister’s army take formations, preoccupied with the Blentiun army staring from above. The Queen spotted Terror descending down the machine’s staircase, holding a strange creature in her claws. The Sister was a Grismer with silvery spots delicately marking her body. Her clothing altered shape and material like it evaporated into a gas and then reformed into something else. Her clothing seemed translucent at times as it shimmered and altered. She moved confidently through the conquered city. Terror did not concern herself with the Chamber and was preoccupied with the Derkbocas digging under the slate and obsidian mounds where the entrance led into the Tree’s underground tunnels.
After pondering Terror’s actions, Fenarius realized that Histirin was correct; the Sister was interested in the Tree and not the city. Although, she destroyed the city. Queen gritted her teeth, thinking they may have a lost a chance to impair the Sisters if they had burnt it down. But then again, she knew the Derkbocas would never have allowed it.
“They pursue the undergrounds of the Tree,” the leading Mastadonian spoke to her, giving out a wild yawn that shook his head. “How can we perceive their evil devices to conquer them?”
“I do not know. But we better think of something.” Fenarius sighed.
“Another approaches. It is of Death.”
Shrouded in four layers of garments from head to foot, Sister of Death emerged from the south forest, and a centipede wagon crawled after her with a content Esnor strapped to it. “That’s two of them. Where’s the third?” Fenarius whispered the comment to herself more than to the others who were crouched around her.
The Mastadonian glared towards the south once again and announced to her, “She curses to the south, guided by the lost souls of the two. They will die on their journey and they will fall. Many will perish in their wake, by Pain.”
Fenarius concluded that the Mastadonian had some psychic connection with Pain to divulge such accurate knowledge. “The two?”
“Yes.” He turned back to her, his eyes glowing and then diminishing.
“You have some sight?”
“No, I have a specific sight. That is why I came here with my regiment. The others travel another secret route to steal away our precious things. My people sometimes have a specific connection to others. We commonly have such sights with Trellids, but mine seems to gather around two.”
“Ka and Grodic.”
The Mastadonian nodded. “They are being incited to leave their people by Pain. And she will follow them.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
The Mastadonian took a moment to comprehend the statement that the Queen said. “No, it is not.”
The Queen gave a wry smile, understanding that her people’s way of speaking sounded just as strange to them as they to her. “Are they in any immediate danger?”
“When the initial course took form five years ago, my people and I did not understand it, until much later. Then my visions closed in on the two creatures, an honored Trellid and his friend, the Nagling. My waves are present, not psychic. They tell me what has happened, not what is to come. Only the power of Firths can wield such thoughts. However at a young age, I was recorded to say ‘that a young creature was born to change.’ I am the Chropikae. The follower of Ka.”
Silently listening, Histirin then pointed out, “She can’t be far. These are the Three Sisters from Estillianes. They are not known to travel far from each other. And I’m not talking about distances. The Sister of Power uses the Three Sisters from Estillianes as one. Whatever one of them is doing, the other two are a part of it.”
Chropikae looked painfully at the Derkboca. The Queen noticed that the Mastadonians had a distasteful look that always expressed on their faces concerning Derkbocas; they pulled back their anger towards the Derks like swallowing a piece of vomit trying to make its way up the pipe. A prejudice clung to their minds; they hated the Derkbocas for the suffering of their people. In the beginning, many of her own people had to exercise tolerance from the same heated, angry burdens. But Chropikae was matching this challenge better than his comrades.
Chropikae asked the Derkboca, “How do you know such things about them?”
“Frizzel,” Histirin said the name, like he had just remembered it. “One of the Warlock’s personal agents, until he and the others were drowned in the magic pool to revive his life. The agents were my most frequent customers, and they would tell stories of the fall of Estillianes.”
Histirin inhaled slowly before he recited the tale. “The Three Sisters, who made the Temple of the Three and once maidens in a brothel, destroyed the Thist nobility. They apparently killed the other maidens by gas, fire and ice water. The one known as the Sister of Pain flood the basement with freezing water and trapped some maidens in there. The one known as the Sister of Terror gassed some others in their sleep. And the last, Sister of Death burned the brothel down. The three stood outside the walls as the fire consumed the last of the living and the dead. No one could save them. The doors were locked.
“Thus the beginning of the fall of Estillianes. No one’s called it by that name for years. Just knew the place as the Temple of Three. And that’s another wonderful story.”
Fenarius raised her hand. “I don’t need to hear that story. My husband spoke of it once and that was enough.” The Queen nodded. “Shardife, I think they are here to take back the Eastern lands. But they might see Ka and Grodic’s legacy to be something they have to quash.” She thought to herself, realizing that the empty city and the crumbled walls were not enough to gloat over their accomplishment. “There might be something else.”
“Estillianes?” Chropikae asked.
The Queen answered, “Small town south of here; east of the Brandy Shop. There’s a small inn that was built about three years ago, since the curse was lifted by Ka’s victory over the Warlock.”
“If she has power, perhaps such a small creature with the greatness of the Trellid can overcome the Sisters?” Chropikae inquired of the Queen.
“No. That was different. Her gifts were needed to destroy the Warlock.”
The Tree of Sorrow shuddered. The Sister of Death, the Esnor package and the Sister of Terror entered the underground passages. A calm whispered in sighs from the enemy Derkbocas as the Sisters left the battlefield. Once the Sisters were deep underground, their shoulders relaxed and they started to murmur to each other. Evidently, their fear of the Sisters kept them in disciplined lines.
The Derkboca from Tyrines, the Grismer from Gren and the Mastadonian from Masto were glued against the wall, failing to notice Jostil who approached from behind. Beaming with excitement, Jostil waddled up to the three introspective comrades. “We can do it.”
The Queen knew from experience that Jostil had a tendency to speak in sentences that were missing prologues and explanations. “You can do what?”
“We can fire on the machines without hitting the Tree.”
“You pounded the machines as they entered, but you couldn’t make a dent in that armor. I think you may have bent a couple of tubes…?”
“From the front, but not from the top. I inverted the catapults. They will toss them straight up, arc, and then land on those crowns. There is no armor around those areas on top.”
Fenarius turned to the besieged Tyrines and noticed the platforms filled with Derkboca archers and erected tents but no roof was present to cover their heads from the storm. The crenellation was made of wood and stone, but no hoarding protected from above, and the deck was simple wood planking. She beamed a bright smile. “Are you ready?”
“Well. Almost, yes… we’re aiming now. Twelve cats for eight machines.”
Histirin wrinkled a brow at the Queen. “Are you intending to hit them now?”
“They are stationary and very handsome targets.” Fenarius then spun to Jostil. “On my signal.”
“Yes my Queen. Catapults!” Jostil shouted as he ran back to position.
Histirin shrugged and looked back at the Tree of Sorrow. “I hope we miss the Tree.”
“I’m sure it will forgive us.”
When the enthused Jostil reached his station, he conferred with his operators. One by one they gave thumbs up signaling that they were aimed, armed and ready. Shuffling soldiers along walls and patting backs, the Queen wrestled to keep her people alert and prepared for another onslaught from the Sister. An excitement stirred in her as she anticipated the preemptive strike derailing the Sisters’ plans.
Once finished addressing her people, the Queen gave the first signal and the fodder was lit. She waited for the fires to consume most of the oil before signaling to release them into the air. At first glance, twelve balls of fire shot straight into the sky twirling like lost suns. The first fireball tumbled down and smashed into the closest machine’s crown. The ball of fire simmered for a few seconds as Derks rushed to quench it with water but then the crown collapsed. The fire spread throughout the mechanisms, and the Derkbocas jumped from the machine in sporadic directions.
The other balls fell, destroying five of the nine machines. The fire warmed Fenarius’ face as she smiled brightly at the mayhem that ensued throughout the city. She had angered the enemy so critically that the Sister of Terror stormed out of the Tree’s underground. She eyed the wrecked machines splintering and collapsing. Two machines timbered to the earth with a violent rumble, and the fire spread into the Soul Eater cages; the creatures screamed in violent frenzies as they were consumed in green flames.
Doubtless, Fenarius had her archers save their arrows, expecting the charging attack that was to march up the mountain. She didn’t want to attempt hitting the enemies circling in chaos. There would have been wasted arrows missing their targets. At least in a single file march, they would be able to bottleneck them.
The Sister of Terror may have been angered, but she soon honed her evil senses and herded her soldiers to gather obsidian in small canoe-shaped structures.
To the Queen’s left, Histirin remarked under his breath, “What is she doing?”
Shaking her head in agreement, the Queen knew it wasn’t good, whatever Terror was scheming. When the canoes were filled, Terror poured a liquid over them that melded the stones into solid spikes, and then the Derkbocas loaded the spikes into the four remaining machines. Before Jostil had time to reposition the catapults for another assault, four spikes speared through the air and landed beneath the Chamber walls, burrowing into the rock. Then the spears stopped. The stones sparked and sizzled into thousands of crystals converting, teeming like ants, and then burrowing farther into the mountain.
Signaling aggressively and yelling in accord, Fenarius waved frantically while pulling Histirin behind her, “Back off, back off, back off!”
Some of the soldiers heeded quick enough, pulling away from the battlements before it erupted into chunks of stone raining over the mountain, forest and city. Scraping hands and knees against the rock floor, Fenarius stumbled back to her feet and leaned into a fallen stone. She had no time to gather her senses when a fluttering sound thumped through the air, and she looked up to see two engrossed sapphires wobbling towards them. They plopped onto the mountain with a thud. The Queen waved for her people to back away while keeping a weary eye on the sapphires, awaiting for whatever dark magic to discharge.
Hundreds of smaller sapphires were congealed into one large sapphire, inherently sewed together. The sapphires began thumping in a reverberant heartbeat that grew in intensity. As the hearts pounded, the surrounding debris gravitated towards them and formed around the sapphire hearts. Soon, the sapphires and debris assembled into towering Mud Stalkers with hearts the size of wagons, and arms and legs the length of towers. As the debris pulled together, a poor soul was trapped between a crate and wood beam; he screamed to be set free while he dangling from the creature. Behemoths of bulk towered over the Blentiun army, heaving the final pieces of debris like inhaling a gulp of air, before triggering chaos through the Chamber fortress.
The first Mud Stalker swept across two towers, crushing them to earth. Arrows and slung stones were fired at them but nothing penetrated the naturally armored behemoths.
Fenarius knew how to destroy the creatures by shattering their hearts and stammered towards Jostil to get into shouting range. “The hearts! Smash the hearts!”
The second Stalker smeared the east wall as its partner raked away soldiers before dumping them over the mountain’s edge. Bodies and debris flew in aimless directions as the Stalkers tore into every wall, tower and catapult that was in their path. Getting a catapult in functioning order, Jostil released a collage of swords, spokes, and balls into the Stalker’s chest. The collage bounced off the heart and scattered into its belly.
“We are done,” Chropikae proclaimed to the heavily panting Queen. It took her a moment to realize the truth of it and then she nodded heavily.
The Blentiun army once stood strong over the Eastern lands, defending them from the terrors of the Sisters; but today, they were weakened and fled while the Sister’s creatures wreaked havoc on the mountain fortress. In the hurry to retreat, soldiers pulled bodies from wreckage and then rushed down the mountain side, plunging into the south forest. Halfway down the mountain, Fenarius began coupling soldiers together to refortify their numbers into one unit before anyone was lost in the frenzied escape from the Chamber.
All at once, the army stopped near a circular stone sculpture. Soldiers checked the dragged bodies, some dead and others barely breathing free. They scrambled to tend to the wounded and buried the dead under a blanket of snow.
“They do not pursue us further,” Chropikae assured the Queen. She nodded in agreement; her heart pounding to aggressively to verbally respond.
Fenarius surveyed her surviving army and tried to pull a smile to her lips to extend some cheer into their hearts. She was accustomed to seeing looks of pride and joy in their faces, but today they felt their first defeat. She was uncomfortable being relied upon to focus their moods like a gear’s lever switching tracks. But it was her duty to drive their spirits high so it did not burden their bodies. A sad soldier could determine his own deathly fate by his mood.
Even under the blanket of a heavy winter, Queen Fenarius recognized the forest land. In her younger days, the forest would be flocked with leaping Dorves, and the tree branches would be filled with the whistling tunes from birds. As she reminisced, she saw the stiff body of a fallen bird buried in snow. Its glass eye was frozen like a jewelry bead.
For years, her family would track and hunt through most of the northeast forest. The trees and forest life were their backyards. They ate in the woodland at their own pleasure and spent more time out there than in their own home. Her grandfather would joke that they only returned home to clean out the cobwebs.
If someone had told her twenty years ago that she would marry into royalty, she would have laughed her socks off and knocked him from a bar stool. She could only imagine her future continuing the family lineage as trackers and trainers of lylecats. Nothing in her soul would have warned her of a different future.
She noticed a soldier making himself comfortable within the circle of the stone sculpture. Fenarius kicked him out of the hole, trying to avoid desecrating something she knew little about its origins. Even her family evaded the sculptures that marked the territory like vague memories of a lost race. Whatever fate that had befallen the ancient race, it drew a shiver down spines.
Ka had analyzed the mysterious sculptures for the Queen, but she had gathered little information about the remnants of the people who created the underground chambers under the Two River of Sauns and the many structures throughout the East and West. All the races knew that they were a powerful and secretive race that wielded magic at their leisure and destroyed at their pace. They offered gifts when it suited them and took what they wanted when they desired it. Other than that, they were a complete mystery to the races. Ka did learn that they were older than the Sisters. Fenarius never liked dealing with old remnants of a forgotten world. It made her weary of curses and things that she felt should be left to remain dead or asleep.
Copyright 2008, 2010, 2014
Written by Jax E. Garson
The second volume of the Fires Trilogy
The Three Sisters return to the east to re-conquer it. The loss of the Warlock and the advent of a stronger Eastern army has them troubled. Tree of Sorrow is a powerful symbol to the East and now it will be lost in the hands of the Three Sisters.
Queen Fenarius leads a mixed army of races to defend against the Three Sisters. With all their strengths, they are no match against the Sisters of Terror, Pain, and Death.
As the Blentiun army fights to maintain control over the Tree of Sorrow, the Pendle is causing Ka (the liberator of the East) immense pain. The magic weapon that helped destroy the Warlock is now useless in her hands and she must remove it before it kills her. Ka and Grodic seek out the Firthtins, hoping the power of such tree creatures can alleviate her of the mysterious weapon.
King Grove investigates the isolation of Parisonia. Many allies joined the Blentiun Kingdom in wake of the Warlock‘s fall, but now their alliance is fraying . His grasp on his kingdom is only skin deep but his loyal General is always there to prop him up. Between the oddly long and violent winter, the missing messages from Parisonia and the lack of news from his wife has King Grove concerned. He tries to present a hopeful outlook on the face in the midst of so much doubt, dread and dismal thinking.
The Three Sisters conjure a vile creature to stalk Ka. They know that Ka’s destiny interferes with the desires of the Sisters. Stalked by a monster, shunned by her people, burdened with pain, worshipped by believers and followed by a thief, Ka feels trapped between her hopes and her destiny, in the face of so many believers.
She now must make a choice to follow her destiny or abandon the races. Both choices leave her alone and abandoned.
Contains fantasy action
Watch this trailer:
Barnes and Noble:
Buy on paperback: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1478246421