The_ORDER_of_SHADDAI, страница 1
The Order of Shaddai
2010© James Somers
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When the demon born conqueror rises to power and darkness rules in the land of Shaddai, then shall come the Deliverer walking seen and unseen. Salemâ€™s son who shall be a rod in the hand of the Lord to smite the wickedâ€”and Shaddaiâ€™s priest shall be a sword of judgment and a king to bring the hearts of the people back to their God.
HALL OF BONES
A thunderstorm threatened the city of Emmanuel for the better part of the day, but it never materialized on the ground. A little thunder and a bit of lightning and then it moved on. The possibility of not getting to hear more of the Old Storytellerâ€™s tale, concerning Ethan, would have been nearly unbearable for the children after the portion to which we had already been privy.
All of us, present the day before, had gathered again at the Kingâ€™s Fountain, waiting. Everyone looked in different directions for the old man. Many grumbled that he should have been here by now. And we murmured amongst ourselves as to what direction he should come from, since it was the noon hour already.
Almost no one actually watched the place at the fountainâ€™s edge where he had been sitting the day before. I happened to turn back, hoping to spot the man among the market-goers when, out of the corner of my eye, there he was.
The Old Storyteller sat, grinning at me while my jaw droppedâ€”astonished by his appearance as though from the very air itself. He clapped his large hands together. â€œWell, children, are we ready to begin?â€�
All eyes were immediately drawn to his voice. There were more children today than the day before. The word had spread quickly, and at least fifteen more children had been added to our eager numbers. Surprisingly, no one asked the question. But everyone was thinking the same thing: how did he get there without us noticing?
Realizing he had our undivided attention, the old man began almost immediately. The idol god, Dyfore, towered ten feet above the storyteller, in the Kingâ€™s fountain, but no one paid any attention to the golden statue. All eyes fixed upon the white, bushy beard, scarlet robes, and twinkling, kind eyes. The Old Storyteller placed his large, rough hands on his knees, leaned forward, and began to speak yet again of Shaddaiâ€™s Deliverer from so many years before.
Many weapons might be used to defeat a man in battle, but one of the most effective had to be discouragement. At three weeks into their journey, Ethan remained sullen. Gideon had tried to be encouraging about their situation. But Ethan could not see past the defeat they had suffered. King Stephen had dragged his army back to Wayland, and Mordred still lived. The Deliverer had failed.
Ethan walked down a stone corridor. Torches, mounted every twenty feet on the wall, cast a pale orange light over everything. A set of large, wooden doors stood at the end of the hallway. Ethan felt drawn to it. As he cautiously approached, the doors began to part.
Ethan walked into the sunlit room beyond. He found himself back in the throne room of Mordred, in the white palace in Emmanuel City. A party was in progress. Lively music filled the room as revelers danced and mingled in the throne room of Mordred, current Lord of the House of Nod.
Ethan watched as skeletal hands fastened to golden goblets and pieces of mutton. Faces without skin, muscle, or sinew tore at the meat, laughed, and drank wine. All of it spilled down through their garments and over their laps. Eyeless sockets gazed round to find their equally horrid companions across the buffet tables, and friendly waves were exchanged. Party gowns hung upon white bone while other patrons clattered and clanked, covered in rusty suits of armor.
To Ethanâ€™s surprise, he was not afraid of these ghastly specters. Rather, he pitied their condition. Such is man apart from Shaddai. Though he may move and have his being, there is no life, he thought.
The music suddenly changed. Trumpets sounded, heralding the arrival of someone important to the feast. Ethan turned to see whom the dead waited for. From a door behind the throne, Mordred entered the room. Ethan had never laid eyes on the man, to his knowledge, but still he knew him.
Mordred was quite handsome to look uponâ€”his features chiseled and roguish. Dark hair fell to his shoulders, and he walked with a haughty demeanor. He wore highly polished armor and a breastplate embellished with ebony.
Ethan appeared in his own liquid, silver armorâ€”its mercury form fitted precisely to his lithe body. His sword hung suspended in the air at his side. Ethan drew the weapon into his hand, preparing to charge the dark lord. He felt confidence fill him.
Mordred had fled before when he, Gideon, and Captain Bonifast had stormed the palace throne room through the drain tunnel. He may have been larger than Ethan, but the prophecy stated Mordred would fall to him.
Ethan held his sword aloft and charged toward the warlord. Mordred did not even regard his attacker. He was too busy waving and gesturing to the crowd of skeletons making obeisance to him.
Ethan did not care if he noticed him or not. He intended to end this war right now. When he got within spitting distance of the dark lord, Mordred jerked backward, and a demon of immense power sprang out of the man. Ethan almost fell over his own feet as he skidded to a halt. He had seen this demon beforeâ€”the wild raven hair, the piercing eyes with wide pupils ringed by stark, yellow irises. It was the demon who called himself Jerichoâ€”the same who had inflicted Ethanâ€™s painful wounds.
Jericho leaped right out of Mordred toward Ethan with a broadsword of his own. He bared his teeth at the boy, and their swords clashed as the demon fell into him full force. Ethan staggered backwards from the mighty blow. Fear flooded his heart like a river bursting through a dam. He remembered his defeat at Jerichoâ€™s hands before. His wounds had ached to him every night since, reminding him of his failure.
Jericho instantly had the advantage and began to drive Ethan back. The demon batted Ethanâ€™s sword away with every powerful blow. The crowd of bones began to part as their duel surged from one end of the throne room to the other. Ethan felt his arms begin to ache with fatigue.
A massive stained glass pane filtered multicolored light into the room, warming Ethanâ€™s back. Then Jericho did something unexpected. He stood still, allowing Ethan to back away more. The demon raised his hand, almost as though he would wave at his opponent. Then Ethanâ€™s sword obeyed an unvoiced command from his enemy and flew out of his hand to Jericho.
Ethan stood defenseless. Jericho launched his weapon at the Deliverer as he had in their battle before. Ethan couldnâ€™t think. There was no time. The broadsword struck him in the chest just as it had before. Pain coursed through his body as the spiritual armor deflected the weapon but not the wound.
The explosive power of the strike sent Ethanâ€™s body into the air and through the stained glass window behind him. He fell, his body turning and twisting in the air. Colors swirled in his vision, but he could not plant his eyes on anything distinguishable.
Ethan landed in a small clearing among a dense forest of huge trees. He had expected to die or at least to break every bone in his body. However, apart from the pain from Jerichoâ€™s attack, he felt nothing. Before him, any sig
A low, rumbling vibration traveled through the ground where he lay trying to get up. An intermittent, steady pulse throbbed through the ground, growing louder. Ethan heard the sound of wood twisting and snapping under duress. Then everything became silentâ€”deathly silent. There did not sound so much as the chirping of a bird.
Wood splintered, exploding into the clearing. Ethan saw several giants rush through the trees, holding massive clubs in their hands. Ethan jumped to his feet and ran away toward the trees ahead. A club, the size of a small tree, smashed into the ground where Ethan had just leapt from, spraying earth over the boy as he ran.
Four Anakims, like those contained on the slaver ship, chased him into the trees. Ethan leaped into the branches, springing from one to another as quickly as he could manage. The massive clubs smashed through limbs and tore away great swathes of the green foliage, sending it in every direction, as the bulky Anakims pursued their small prey.
The giants ducked and weaved around the larger trunks they could not push their way through and kept up the onslaught. Pieces of wood battered Ethan as he fled from the Anakims. Finally, they closed the gap, and one of the men swept up with his club of stone, smashing through the large branch where Ethan had just landed. The splintered wood blew upward, flinging him into the air over the treetops.
Ethan cleared the edge of the forest, tumbling, and landed in a wet field. The ground was so saturated that he actually splashed into it. He lay there with his face sideways on the ground, breathing bubbles through the fluid collecting around his body. He opened his eyeâ€”the one not submergedâ€”saw the tree line and listened. The giants did not follow him beyond the edge of the forest. He listened for the sound of their footstepsâ€”nothing.
Ethan closed his eye again, breathing. As he tensed, attempting to stand, Ethan realized the pain. Every part of his body ached against his best intentions to move. He relaxed again, taking a moment to rest first.
Ethan blew the warm water away with each exhale, then he noticed the taste. It was bitter and familiar. A sudden, putrid odor threatened to nauseate him. Ethan sprang upright, despite the pain. The field was a dark crimson. Bodies littered the landscape along with spent weapons of war. Horrified, Ethan swiped the liquid from his face and hair, finding blood upon his hands.
He jumped to his feet and saw that the ground was saturated with the lifeblood of these countless souls. A great battle had taken place and the carnage was apparently fresh. A great cloud of birds hovered over the battlefield, sending down feeders and receiving others having taken their fill.
Something attached itself to Ethanâ€™s ankle. He looked down and found a man reaching out from his prone position. When the man turned his head upward to meet Ethanâ€™s gaze, he gasped in horror at the manâ€™s condition. Most of his face was goneâ€”though he moved, he was not alive.
Ethan leaped from his grasp, just as a trembling moan swept across the entire field. Bodies pulled themselves up from the places where they had fallen in battle. They cast horrid expressions at Ethan, trying to reach the place where he stood. He recognized their armor and uniforms as those of King Stephenâ€™s army.
A lament carried from voice to voice throughout them all. â€œDeliverer, you have failed us! Why have you done this to us? We trusted that you would save us!â€�
Over again the mournful cry of these war victims assailed Ethan. His fear of failure fell upon him as a crushing weight. His legs refused to move. His feet planted firmly as though roots had sprung from them into the earth. The dead staggered on, dragging their broken bodies, reaching for Ethan. He looked for a weapon. His sword was goneâ€”his quicksilver armor missing. Ethan cried out with soundless screams toward the heavens, receiving no reply as countless dead took hold.
Ethan sprang from his bedroll, screaming and drenched with sweat. Gideon and Levi sat up where they had been sleeping, their hands upon their weapons looking for attackers. There were noneâ€”only a frightened boy having nightmares.
â€œAre you all right, Ethan?â€� Gideon asked.
Ethan panted heavily. His eyes darted around, finding his friends, the camp, their horses, and none of Stephenâ€™s slaughtered soldiers from the battle with Mordredâ€™s army. He gulped down his fear. â€œIâ€™m fine, just a nightmareâ€¦again.â€�
These night terrors had been coming with greater frequency in the days since his defeat at the palace. Ethan knew he was not afraid of the demon. It was failure troubling him mostâ€”unshakable failure.
â€œYou should try to get some sleep, if you can,â€� Gideon said. â€œWeâ€™ll be leaving at dawn.â€�
Already the night seemed waning. In little more than an hour the dawn would break, and they would travel north again toward The Order of Shaddai and their mysterious temple. Levi sighed, pulling his blanket back up with a grumble. These regular middle-of-the-night wakeup calls from Ethan had taken its toll on the others.
Gideon lingered, concern written on his face. â€œIâ€™m alright, really,â€� Ethan assured him as he lay down again. He rolled over as Gideon sighed, trying to return to sleep. Ethan breathed deeply, hoping to shake the images heâ€™d just experienced. He knew he had to get control of his fear. In a war where so much depended upon him, a misstep to the wrong side of the razorâ€™s edge could prove devastating.
On a high parapet made of pure, white granite, a foul malevolence crouched upon the edge of the roof like a gargoyle. Jerichoâ€™s yellow-rimmed pupils stared northward, his gaze unblinking. It was trueâ€”the Deliverer had escaped him. Mordred had since sent out numerous patrols, hoping to ascertain the boyâ€™s whereabouts but without success.
Thousands of King Stephenâ€™s army from Wayland, as well as those conscripts made from Nodian dwellers during his march to Emmanuel, lay strewn as far as the eye could see. Now, a full three weeks from the day of that battle, the smell had become unbearable.
In keeping with his nature, Mordred had captured hundreds of laborers from the surrounding villages and cities to do the work of body disposal. Using his network of demon spies, Mordred had trained his vengeful eye particularly upon those who had been known to lend aid to Stephenâ€™s attack.
Hundreds of next-of-kin trudged through the blood soaked plain, gathering the remains of their valiant young menâ€”their last hope at freedom from the reign of the Mordred and his Wraith Riders. Their hopelessness only compounded with their sorrow as their taskmasters kept them busy with the horrid task.
King Stephen had ignited the fire of rebellion in their hearts, but had abandoned them, retreating homeward with the ragtag survivors from his army. Now, the only fire remaining was the massive pyre burning two miles from the white walls of Emmanuel. Body wagons made continuous runs from the fields to the smoking heap and back again.
Jericho sniffed at the air, but not for the sake of the burning. That would have been savor enough in light of their victory over Stephenâ€™s army. There was another scent upon the windâ€”one far less discernableâ€”fear. Its source was human and powerful.
Even though Jericho could not find the Deliverer, he still sensed his fear like ripples spreading through the spiritual plane. Following his defeat, discouragement would certainly gnaw its way into the boyâ€™s mind like wormsâ€”in Jerichoâ€™s experience with humanity, it always did. The boy would be fertile soil in which to cultivate further failure.
Jericho knew well that while the boy trusted in Shaddai, he could not be defeated. However, if he became unfit for his masterâ€™s use: became faithless, defeated, and discouraged, then victory might be attainable and the prophecy nullified. This was Jerichoâ€™s primary goal now.
While Mordred controlled the kingdom, it would be Jerichoâ€™s task to defeat the Deliverer. Mordred, being mortal, would eventually pass from this world, but the seat of power would remain. Jericho desired
True to his word, Gideon urged the others back on the move at dawn. They followed the River Sane, fed from the distant Thornhill Mountains. The river bordered between Nod and Wayland and avoided the main roads. Mordred would almost certainly be looking for them, so they shied from the villages and towns as well.
Ethan tugged at a piece of salt jerky, taking time to chew and savor it as they rode. Levi had managed to get them a third horse from those abandoned by fallen soldiers, found wandering in the grasslands following Stephenâ€™s defeat. Their pace remained brisk as Gideon sought to bring their band to the safety of the Thornhill Mountains and the secret location of The Order of Shaddai.
As the trio continued over a large hill, a town became visible in the distance. Smoke spiraled up from the chimneys of nearly fifty houses and other basic structures, spread out over the next several low-lying hills. The center of town lay in a valley between them all. A well-worn road left the town to the east and another meandered away north toward the Thornhill Mountains in the distance.
They stopped long enough to survey the scene. â€œIs that where weâ€™re going?â€� Ethan asked.
â€œMillertown, yes, I know people in this village,â€� Gideon said. â€œI was responsible for bringing the Word back to them after Mordred began his reign of terror in Nod. It was actually one of my first assignments from The Order.â€�
â€œHow much farther to this temple you were talking about?â€� Levi asked.
â€œWeâ€™ve got another dayâ€™s travel into the Thornhills, but we could use a good home cooked meal and some rest in the meantime. The Thornhills are dangerous territory. Not many people live there, just man-eating snakes, dragon beetles, and ropeweed.â€�