Happy Saturday and welcome to the 26th installment of my novel Dark Soul. Things are looking dark for the City of Rushing Water. Come on in and find out what is going on. As always any input good, bad or ugly on the novel is greatly appreciated.

If you have just come in in the middle and are dying to know how we got to this point (just let me dream okay?) you can find the previous chapters at the links below:
Dark Soul, Chapter One
Dark Soul, Chapter Two
Dark Soul, Chapter Three
Dark Soul, Chapter Four
Dark Soul, Chapter Five
Dark Soul, Chapter Six
Dark Soul, Chapter Seven
Dark Soul, Chapter Eight
Dark Soul, Chapter Nine
Dark Soul, Chapter Ten
Dark Soul, Chapter Eleven
Dark Soul, Chapter Twelve
Dark Soul, Chapter Thirteen

Dark Soul, Chapter Fourteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Fifteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Sixteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Seventeen
Dark Soul, Chapter Eighteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Nineteen
Dark Soul, Chapter Twenty
Dark Soul, Chapter Twenty Two
Dark Soul, Chapter Twenty Three
Dark Soul – Chapter Twenty Four
Dark Soul – Chapter Twenty Five


Chapter Twenty Six

Brother Carlinus was unhappy and there was nothing he could do about it. Somehow the opportunity that had been so promising when the Celesti decided they would embrace the Word of the Lord had turned. He was sure it was the fault of that demon-spawn the Shadow, even though everyone seemed to think it was his actions in the pass that had allowed the army of Evil to invade the valley.

As if prayer could ever be a bad thing, especially when it was in the service of a Holy Quest! Be that as it may, Carlinus knew that he still had a long way to go with converting the entire Celesti people and there could only be benefits to being seen help in the defense of the City.

Still it galled him to have to work so closely with the Shadow. As much as he appreciated what the Archangel Michael had done in forcing the snidely evil sorcerer to accompany him, Carlinus had really enjoyed being away from the constant jibes and remarks that flowed from the Shadow liked the river beside the City.

There as also something about the work he was doing that bothered the monk. The blessing of weapons went on and on and on. Carlinus had never thought about the act of blessing something, back at the monastery it did not come up that much and when it did it was a rather perfunctory act. Here in the City of Rushing Water it was different. With every blessing it felt as though something was passing through Carlinus into the weapon. Which at any other time would have made him supremely happy in the knowledge of an obviously special connection with the Lord. However, there as also some effort required in the act of blessing and it seemed to be taking something out of him as well.

It would be one thing if there were more trainee priests who could assist him, but to the chagrin of all involved none of the senior Sczenchi among his students had managed to make any weapon “smell” blessed according to the Shadow. Even after complaining bitterly to Tyrone, Carlinus still suspected the dark one of lying to make things harder on him and embarrass the Sczenchi who had seen the Light. Tyrone’s assurances to the contrary and pointing out that the Shadow had as much to lose as anyone in the City only went to prove that the poor lad had let his new position as general of the City go to his head, and prolonged exposure to the words and works of the dammed had begun to corrupt him.

With a sigh Carlinus focused back on what he was doing. Before him were a batch of war arrows. They had heavy bronze tips with a cross inscribed in each side and filled with salted silver. Placing one on the small concreted alter he had built for the purpose, Carlinus raised his right hand and while making the Sign of the Cross intoned the blessing he had devised “Lord God of Hosts, Bless this weapon for use against your Foes. Imbue it with the strength of the Fiery Sword of the Archangel Michael that is may smite Evil Ones with your wrath as Satan Merikeg, Amen”

As he said Amen, the monk could feel that pulling, almost a burning sensation in his mind. It was mildly painful, but Carlinus told himself it was refining fire that he was feeling and was becoming that much better an instrument of God.

He put the arrow in the pile of finished ones and repeated the process again, and again, and again. He fell into a kind of trance state where all the existed was the next arrow and the mild burning of the blessing flowing through him. He could not say how much time had passed when a hand fell on his shoulder and Trowche, one of his Sczenchi acolytes, said “Brother Carlinus?”

Jumping just a little, Carlinus turned and with a wide eyed stare said, “What! Oh, it is you my son. Is it time to go to the cistern already?” Looking around he could see that the shadows in the room had moved and that huge stack of arrows was down to a mere handful. Taking in a huge breath and letting it out in a shaky sigh Carlinus scrubbed his hands over his face.

“Are you alright Brother?”

“Oh, aye, just working hard on these weapons. Communing with the Lord is a good thing but it can be… challenging at times. I am sure you will understand when you have completed your training. Could you bring me some water?”

“Of course” said the younger man. He walked over to a stone jar and dipped out a tin mug of water. He handed it to Carlinus who gulped down the water as if he had not drunk in a week. Holding the cup out and silently asking for more, Carlinus tried to gather his wits.

After sipping the second glass more slowly the little priest felt he was ready to go to the next task of the day.

As the two men walked along the streets of the City Carlinus mussed on how much it had changed in just a few days. When he had come to this place it seemed an idyllic land, a City of tradesmen, for all their talk of having been a warrior people and Astiabo’s instance they might have been killed. Carlinus had never really believed that they were in mortal danger, after all what peril could three travelers pose to an entire city? So why would they ever need to harm them?

It galled more than a little to find that both Tyrone and the Shadow had been completely right, that everyone he could see on the street was trained for war first and foremost then had a profession in keeping the City functioning. That image was surely as dead as yesterday. Where there had been a happy bustling city there was now a deadly serious military camp. Weapons were worn at every hip or slung over shoulders. The massive bronze axes of the miners or the heavy headed hammers of the smiths were more than a little intimidating.
Bows and quivers of arrows were leaned against the walls of bakeries and weavers halls; youngsters carried heavy shields with them everywhere in an attempt to build up their strength for the coming battles. In all the craft shops production had changed from goods for the city to the machinery of war. Catapults and man high cross bows were taking shape in the woodcrafters shop as they passed by.

Even the youngest of children were hard at work, straightening and shaping what seemed like a entire forest worth of branches. Older children were fletching and cutting notches, while eldest of the Tralevet were attaching the arrow heads. Seeing the cart load of arrows being prepared made Carlinus sigh at the thought of blessing them all.

“Does this all seem excessive to you Towche? All this preparation and we don’t know for sure yet how big the threat will be. Surely the walls of the City will hold off any attackers and we have a whole harvest of food in the store houses.”

This earned him a startled look “Brother, there is no such thing as having enough weapons in a battle, ever. They break, things like arrows are used and whether they hit or not they are gone and have to be replaced.”

“Ahh, well I was never of a military mind,” said Carlinus with a vague wave of his hand. He was still thinking furiously at how the City had changed, even the food was different, Less, surely and the baked goods had changed from light fluffy bread to a harder biscuit that would keep for a good long time. Even the meat had changed. From where he was Carlinus could smell cooking meat everywhere, but it was being smoked. The herds that had been turned out into winter pastures had been brought into the City in the last couple of days and for the most part had been slaughtered or awaited slaughter.

There were stores that were being socked away to replant and rebuild the flocks and herds, but if the Celesti did stand off the coming storm it would still be a lean time for them for quite a while.

The turn the corner and started up a fairly step street, the cistern they were going to was sensibly located high up in the city, to provide pressure to send it where it was needed. This made the priest huff and puff as he leaned forward into the slope. As they rose above the level of most of the City Carlinus saw another major change. Where the walls around the fields had been topped with just flat stone there now stood tall crenellations, rising seven feet and more above each set of walls. It made the smooth lines he had seen when he first arrived look like gap toothed mouths, one atop the other.

Arriving at the cistern the men found the others who could perform a blessing that the Shadow could detect waiting for them. Among them was Atriol, the young woman who had embarrassed the elder Sczenchi. She had what Carlinus could only call a simple and beautiful faith. That she was on the of the Dolimath healers and not a Sczench at all only complicated matters. The real problem, which that damned Shadow had immediately pounced on was that she was a woman and could not be made a priest. Carlinus had not mentioned it to the Celesti, knowing they would not understanding that there were some offices that women just were not suited for because of Eve and original sin. That could wait until the Church was more established in here in the City.

“I see we are all ready” said Carlinus and lead the group into the cool darkness of the cistern building.

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Gartragog of the Captain of the Wolvers knew that this would be a good day, not matter if they caught the horse riders ahead of them or not. There before his unit was one of the prey, the foe the stinking undead General wanted to crush! Being the unit that took the first prisoner would excuse a great many failings and it would mean that he could rest his men for a while, until the General came!

It was not as though he expected the prey beast to surrender, but he was still startled at the number of arrows he was able to get off. All three of the creatures bolts had felled some of his pack. He would surely be made to pay for their lives when he was questioned, but it presented the Wolvers Captain with a problem. He pack normally would tear any creature to shreds who even wounded one of their own. Snarling orders in the growling tongue of his people he said “Damn you hides, he must be taken alive! The one who kills him will be fed to Xenocox himself! Circle him then disarm you fools!”

As angry as his troops were, they were all in absolute dread of the great demon wolf and more or less obeyed the pack leaders orders. The man had dropped his bow, knowing he would not be able to keep them back or turn fast enough with the weapon to ward them off at all. Instead he had a long serrated bronze knife and kept his back more or less to the pile of cat-lizard dung behind him. It would only keep the Wolvers away for a couple of moments, but he slashed at the air in front of him making them keep their circle lose. No matter, it would be over in moments.

Captain Gartragog, looked the man’s face, expecting to see fear of the wolf-men surrounding him. Instead there was a thin smile, and then the beast winked! Was he trying to make them kill him the arrogant thing?

At that point all thoughts a this being a good day ended. An arrow buzzed by the Captains long pointed ears and slammed into his prisoner. The man fell like a rag doll, dead before he could hit the ground. Gartragog raised his muzzle in a howl of despair. Still he had not become leader by being slow. He growled out “There is an archer, find him! Now!”

His troops were not dumb they could hear the rage in their leaders voice and knew that the General was not one to forgive mistakes, even mistakes that were not their fault. With a will the score or so Wolvers ran into the woods looking for the archer.

The Captain moved quickly to put a tree between himself and where the arrow had come from. He had on his breast plate but there was no sense in allowing holes in his hide “At least not until Tulguth put them there” he thought sourly. Looking around he realized that the arrow could not have been fired from the ground. There archer must be in the trees like a bird. Well, Gartragog had his own little birds to counter that!

Taking a wooden whistle from the pouch hanging from his sword belt he wrapped his hand-paw around the base and blew as best he could with a muzzle. The note was piercing to his wolfish ears but it carried a great distance in the still mountain air.

Now all he had to do was wait, then he would set a hawk to catch a bird.

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Sheleth waited only long enough to see her shot kill Heplotent, then slung her bow and was moving as fast as she could. She did not know what the wolf-men were but she had been taught that when firing from a hidden position the best thing to assume as the enemy would be there shortly.

Flinging herself through the branches of tress at first she traded stealth for speed. Those creatures looked like they were fast and she planned to use that very speed against them. After ten furious minutes of arboreal sprinting the scout stopped. She was 30 feet into the boughs of a huge beach. It had spread out enough of a canopy that there was a clear line of sight around the massive bole of the trunk.

The wide branch she stood on had grown so big that there were smaller branches sticking up vertically on the edges. It would allow her to be screened, somewhat, from the ground. Panting silently with her mouth wide open she shoved the point of an arrow into the bark of the branch before her, and knocked another on the sting of her bow. Slowing her breaths she listened and was rewarded with the sound of large paws running along the ground. Bringing the bow up and pulling the string to her chin she waited for a target.

There were two of the wolf-men and they were indeed very fast. Sheleth took aim and loosed the arrow. It took the wolf-man running second in at the base of his elongated skull and the creature dropped to the ground rolling in the lose limbed way that only a corpse has. Her hands flying she knocked, aimed and loosed her second arrow.

The wolf-man must have heard his companion fall, because he slowed and turned to look. This threw off the aim of the arrow and instead of hitting him in the neck, it slammed into his arm, then into is chest, pinning the limb to his side. Sadly it did not kill the beast and it let out a howl, that was answered quickly. The beast fell to the forest floor but the damage was done.

Turning to the North Sheleth began another run, hoping that the howling beasts converging on her last perch would never think of heading back towards the pass. She could only keep up the pace for another few minutes, which was just fine as she decided that her luck had come through and the wolves were looking the wrong way. Now it would be time for going as high as she could and being as quite as possible. She doubted that even wolf-men could smell her in the tops of trees.

Working her way gradually upward as much as she could and still have limbs that would bear her weight she made as good time as she could. From time to time the hunting peals of the wolf-men would sound, but they were all to the south and west of her.

The morning was growing hot in the top of the forest canopy when Sheleth decided that she could just about start bending her progress to the east and then, eventually the long circle to the south and the City of Rushing Water. She would never be able to say exactly what warned her but her hand was on the knife she kept in her blouse and she was turning before a conscious thought passed through her mind.

In one motion she drew and threw. This probably saved her life as the target of her knife was so starveling that the veteran scout froze, if only for a second. Coming in from above her was a creature with vast wings of black feathers with red tips. Slung under the wings was the body with a huge fur covered chest. Four sets of talons reached for her, two at the end of bird legs and two at the end of human looking arms. All this was bad enough, but it was the face that had shocked her so.

The creature had the flat face of a man, but the mouth was a wide slit with pointed interlocking teeth. It had its jaws wide open and she could see that there were at least three rows of the razor sharp points. Draped over the yellow teeth was a tongue which was split like a serpent, but where a serpent had only two forks, this had four, and the end wriggled with unpleasant independence.

All this went through her head in a split second, then the hilt of the knife could be seen deep in the throat of the beast, a dark brown blood pumping out. Ducking out of the way of diving nightmare, Sheleth could smell it scent of blood and shit as is tumbled and crashed by her to fall to the floor if the forest.

Her heart surging into her throat Sheleth wasted another second to scan the sky and saw what she feared, there were at least a handful of the evil birds in the air around her. The tops of the trees where no longer the safest place.

It would be kind to call her actions a controlled decent to the lower levels of the tree, but being an honest Celesti, Sheleth would describe it as a fall the ran just short of the ground. In any case she found herself in the lower branches of the trees which would help prevent the flyers from attacking her directly, but that would not stop them from tracking her. Worse, she could hear them calling in some language she had never heard. That did not prevent her from knowing it was something to the affect of “She’s here, she’s here! Come and get the enemy!”

Using all the techniques of the Tralevet deep teaching Sheleth sprinted away. If the air was no longer safe and the forest floor was full of wolf-men what was left? As she swung and ran through the lower branches the scout looked around. She was in an area of the Valley that she knew. A small lake up slope would flood every spring as the mountain snows melted. It left dry gulches here and there through the forest. There were also small fresh water springs that would let her hide her scent, maybe, from the wolf-men. With a wry smile she thought “Well if they have something in the air and on the ground, do they have something that tunnels too?”

Having put herself in the right frame of mind she started looking for the things she needed for her half crazed plan of escape.

Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for Govtrak.org

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