Rage of the Old Gods, Chapter Ten: Leave It All Behind

We now come to chapter ten of Rage of the Old Gods, the first book of my epic science fantasy trilogy the World Spectrum. In the coming weeks, I will be posting the entire book for free on this blog. If you’re just joining us, you can get caught up with the previous chapters now.

Cover art for "Rage of the Old Gods, the First Book of the World Spectrum" by Tyler F.M. Edwards“Leave It All Behind” sees Yarnig return to Tor Som with much-needed aid… only to discover that he is too late, and Leha has already decided to abandon the country.

———————

Chapter ten: Leave It All Behind

As night fell and the village grew quiet, Leha and her roommates retired for the night, but Leha found she couldn’t sleep. Her mind roiled with thoughts of what the future held, and what lingered in the past. Images and memories chased each other around in an unending cycle.

At times, she thought of Sosk, and her throat would tighten. She hadn’t had the chance to know him well, but she knew the Lost One had been a good man. That he had become a casualty of this war without ever seeing the enemy made her flush with anger. It was all so unjust.

At other times, her mind turned to Drogin. She didn’t understand why he had grown so distant since her transformation. At first, she’d thought it was just an odd mood of his, and by the time she’d realized it was something greater, the gulf between them had grown too wide to bridge. She desperately wanted their old closeness back, but she was also angry with him. She didn’t know what to do.

During those instances when she drifted closer to sleep, her thoughts crept toward the dark visage of the Machine King, and the fury with which it had destroyed Marlhem. She could still feel the force of its eyes upon her.

Sometimes, she would think of the battles to come, or her need to decide whether to create more people like her, and her stomach would tighten anxiously. Or her mind would drift to the entity that lived beneath Sy’om. Barria, Sy’om, and Tyzu were all radically different from each other. She couldn’t help but wonder what such a distant, alien place would be like.

The weather didn’t make sleeping any easier. The rain had stopped, but the humidity lingered over the village like a hot, moist blanket. The damp seeped into everything. It plastered her sheets to her skin and turned her hair to a greasy mop. She tried drawing Sy’om’s energy to cool herself, but it had little impact.

Sleep proved too elusive, and she found herself staring at the ceiling, listening to the breathing of her companions. Eranna’s was a slow, steady rhythm, but Natoma’s was quicker and more forceful.

Leha turned within the dank cocoon formed by her pallet and sheets. “Are you awake?” she whispered.

The dark blob that was Natoma’s head nodded.

Leha made a questioning gesture toward the door with her head, and the Urannan nodded again. The two women pulled themselves out of their bedding, dressed quietly, and slipped outside.

Out on the platform, a gentle breeze helped to compensate for the oppressive humidity. Thick clouds obscured the moon and the stars, and a dense fog made it seem that the village existed in the middle of a fathomless void. Neither the Lost Ones in the homes around them nor the refugees camped below them made any noise, and the only sounds to be heard were the unending drone of insects, the calls of nocturnal birds, and the rustling of the wind through the platform and the leaves of the trees.

The women made their way into the center of the green circle, moving at as leisurely a pace as the world would permit.

“So, what’s keeping you up?” Leha asked softly.

Natoma shrugged. “The same things that would keep up anyone in our situation, I suppose. Thoughts of impending dangers, uncertainty. I’m generally better at living in the moment, but tonight my mind seems to have other plans.” She swiveled her head to face Leha. “What about you?”

Leha ran a toe over a vine in the net. The foliage was moist and cool. “Same as you. This seems to be becoming a habit of mine – staying up late.”

“And not a good one,” Natoma said with a hint of a chuckle.

They stood in silence for some time, listening to the sounds of Tyzu at night. Occasionally, lightning would flicker in the distance, its light rippling through the fog like some strange apparition. There was something serene, something otherworldly, about nights like this. It was mysterious, but also comforting. Leha did her best to live in the moment, as Natoma had said.

At last, she came back to herself. “Would you like a drink?” she asked suddenly.

“Hmm?” Natoma, who had been looking into the distance, turned to her. “What kind of drink?”

“Let me show you.”

She crossed to the southern edge of the platform, Natoma following a few paces behind. Leha hopped off the netting and onto the branch of one of one of the village’s trees. Then, spider-like, she crawled underneath the hut the tree supported. She found a series of sacks formed out of living vines and shrubs and suspended from the floor of the hut and the surrounding branches. The sacks were used to store things like tools and food stores for use by the community. She reached into the nearest one, withdrew a small keg, and, carrying it under one arm, she made her way back to Natoma.

She deposited the keg onto the platform. “It’s called fejo. It’s quite nice; I’ve had it before.”

Natoma leaned forward, but Leha held up a hand.

“One moment,” she said. She scrabbled back to the storage sacks and retrieved two finely carved cups made from bone.

Upon returning to the platform, she scooped up the keg of fejo and led Natoma closer to the center of the platform. They sat down on the damp net, and Leha filled the two cups, handing one to Natoma. “The Lost Ones usually save this for special occasions, but I’m sure they won’t mind if we have some.”

Natoma sniffed at the liquid. “What’s it made of?”

“Flower nectar, water, and something similar to honey. They add fruit rinds to it while it’s fermenting to give it extra flavor.” She took a sip. The fejo was mild and light. It had a sweet, fruity flavor with a slight alcoholic tang.

Natoma took a hesitant sip. She seemed to enjoy it, and she took another.

Leha considered the woman before her. The Urannan’s hair was unbound, forming a dark frame around her oval face. Even disheveled from bed and concealed by darkness, Natoma was beautiful.

“That was a good idea of yours – training Benefactor’s people to use silver,” she said.

Natoma bowed her head. “Thank you.” She drank from her cup.

They spoke for a time, trading stories of their lives before the war and comparing life in Eastenhold to life in Uranna.

Some time later – it may have been an hour or three; the overcast sky prevented telling time by the moon or the stars, and the fejo had left Leha’s mind slightly muddled – a bright flash illuminated the forest to the south. For a moment, Leha thought it might have been lightning bolt, but there was no thunder, and the color had been closer to green than the blue-white of lightning.

The reality of what it was dawned on her, and she stood. The flash had come from the jumping point glade. Someone had come from Barria. She strode to the edge of the platform. Natoma, who had also recognized the flash, moved alongside her.

Reaching the edge of the net, Leha glanced down and saw a dark shape climbing the rope ladder that had been installed to accommodate the Barrians. She stepped aside, and the figure, a man in the uniform of a Tor soldier, stepped onto the platform, looking uncertain of its stability this close to the edge.

“Greetings,” Leha said.

“Greetings,” the soldier answered quickly. “I have an urgent message for Leha.”

“That’s me,” she said, tensing. She ordered her brain to clear itself of alcohol, and the fog in her head lessened.

The messenger did a double take. He hadn’t recognized her in the darkness. He made a hasty bow. “My apologies. I bare a message from the emperor of Tor Som.”

Leha raised her eyebrows. “Yarnig?”

The soldier nodded. “He has brought reinforcements to the front. He sends his deepest regrets that they did not arrive in time to save Marlhem.”

“Reinforcements?” Leha blurted.

The messenger smiled. “Yes. They have just arrived at Kerhem.”

Where did he find reinforcements? Everyone was committed to the front, Leha thought, her mind still not fully clear.

“I want to inspect these reinforcements immediately. Did the wizard who sent you come as well?” she said.

The soldier smiled further. “Yes. The emperor anticipated your desire.”

She gestured for him to lead the way, but he held up a hand.

“It’s much colder on Barria. You may want to put on some warmer clothes.”

“Oh. Right,” she said.

She and Natoma went to their hut, where they alerted Eranna to the situation and dressed. Both had lost their cloaks in Marlhem, so they put on extra shirts and whatever winter accoutrements they could find. The extra clothing made Tyzu’s heat all the more stifling. Leha comforted herself with images of the icy conditions she would soon experience.

She returned to the messenger, and he went back onto the ladder, trying not to look down. The two of them descended, Natoma following wordlessly. They reached the ground and crossed the silent refugee camps to arrive at the jumping point glade, the same place Leha had departed from to join the Battle of Heart more than six months previously. There, they met a wizard Leha recognized as Erik, Yarnig’s personal battle wizard. They took up their positions for transport.

She pondered what Yarnig had done. He’d always struck her as little more than a lost child. Maybe that kid is more resourceful than he looks, she thought. Then, she smiled wryly. “That kid” was more than a year older than her.

Erik began the spell.

* * *

Late on the day after their arrival, Brodar brought them his decision.

They’d been put up in a few tiny but surprisingly well-appointed rooms to wait, and Yarnig had spent much of the time pacing and fretting. Taldin had told Yarnig to calm down, saying that worrying would not help things, but the advice had gone unnoticed.

The Clanspeople had brought them food and ulu, and a Clan physician had treated those with frostbite, but otherwise there had been little contact between the two groups.

In appearance, the people of the Northern Clans were little different from the Tors. Not long after its founding, Tor Som had been conquered by the Clans, and the occupation had lasted nearly a century. As a result, most Tors now displayed the impressive height, fair hair, and blue eyes of the Northern Clans. Even Yarnig was not free of Clan blood. Though he had the small stature and earth-toned hair common among the original Tors, he had the sapphire eyes of a Clansman.

The Marg clan village continued moving, driving their herds across the plains. The weather had cleared after the first day, and Yarnig was granted a clear view through his window of the vast arctic lands and the herds of reindeer and thick-furred cattle kept by the Clanspeople.

The efficiency of the Clan village continually amazed the Tor emperor. They had their nomadic lifestyle down to a science. Everyone knew exactly what to do and when to do it, and the structures they lived in were no less organized. Beds doubled as couches, shelves and counters folded into the walls when not in use, and storage compartments were hidden in floors, ceilings, and walls.

Then, on the second day, the chieftain made his decision.

“Though our history tells me not to trust you, I believe you are speaking the truth, leader of Tors,” Brodar said. “Your tale is too fantastic to be fiction, and if you wanted to lure me into an ambush, I cannot believe that you would have risked yourself in the attempt.” The chieftain had taken a deep breath and looked into Yarnig’s eyes solemnly. “I will commit the forces of my clan to this cause, and I will call an Althing to present your case to the rest of my people.”

Yarnig offered his heartfelt thanks, but Brodar held up a hand. “I will send messengers back to my people regularly. If this turns out to be a deception, they will know, and you will face the consequences.”

Yarnig assured him there was no deception.

The chieftain left, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

The next morning, the Marg clan split. Two of the floating halls – filled with the clan’s best fighters and some civilian supporters – went south, commanded by Brodar, while Eskwel and Tergor took the remainder of the village to contact the other clans and gather the Althing. Taldin and several of his people accompanied them to represent Yarnig. Most of the Marg herds stayed in the north as well. Only the swifter reindeer herds were taken south.

They traveled with remarkable speed. The reindeer hitched to the halls displayed heroic endurance, pulling them across tundra, road, and hill alike. Not even rivers slowed them; they simply swam across, the halls hovering just above the water. The thunder of hooves became a constant backdrop to their journey.

As they traveled, Yarnig did his best to teach Brodar about Tor Som, the other lands, and the current situation in the war, and he, in turn, learned more of the ways of the Northern clans. Brodar began to teach him their methods of fighting machines.

“With your machines turned against you, there’s no worry of you learning to adapt them to our tactics,” Brodar said. Yarnig feared the chieftain was making fun of him, but the man’s demeanor was serious.

The first thing he learned was that the Clans were perhaps the most fit and highly trained fighting force in the world. Virtually every adult was given at least some training in combat, and many practiced several times weekly. Much of their drilling focused on the narvik, the omnipresent crowbar-like weapon, but they also employed crossbows and a handful of other weapons.

While the narvik was an effective weapon against human beings, it had been designed for use in a special anti-Automaton maneuver that Yarnig saw demonstrated on a dead tree during the third day of their journey south.

First, a pair of Clanspeople trained for speed would run ahead, each carrying a small sphere of silver. A heavy rope connected the two globes. Upon reaching the Automaton – or the tree, in the case of the drill – the two would hurl their globes. At that moment, a battle wizard would use their powers to accelerate the projectiles to either side of the target machine; the rope would then wrap itself around the Automaton’s neck or chest and pull it to the ground.

The other soldiers, who would have been following behind the first two, would then swarm in and use their narviks to attack the weak points, such as the joints, in the machine’s armor.

If they were as effective at disassembling Automatons as they were at trees, Yarnig expected that they would prove a valuable addition to the human forces.

The entire maneuver hinged on the wizards. If they were to guide the silver spheres the entire time, they would quickly exhaust themselves, and they wouldn’t be able to do anything else. They had to watch the battlefield closely, while fighting and doing other things, and push the globes forward just as they were released and then stop exerting their powers the moment the Automaton toppled. This was why no one had ever successfully learned the Clans’ tactics. To the untrained eye, it seemed that the infantry simply swarmed the Automatons. The wizards’ part was barely noticeable.

The people of the Northern Clans were far from the barbarians the Tor scholars tended to paint them as.

Shortly after reentering Tor Som, Yarnig received word of the looming assault on Marlhem. Brodar immediately ordered his people to quicken their pace, and they raced south.

A few days later, they learned that the worst had happened. Marlhem had fallen.

It took all of Yarnig’s court training to maintain his poise. Marlhem had been the lynchpin of Tor Som’s defenses. It had been the center point of the frontier, and it had guarded the heart of the nation. Now it had fallen, and Tor Som’s soft belly lay exposed and undefended.

A hard lump of worry settled in the emperor’s stomach. He tended to break out in cold sweats, and he struggled to control his fear. He felt as if he himself had been exposed. He felt naked and vulnerable.

The people in Kerhem and Yotgard were scrambling to organize some kind of new defense, but they had yet to accomplish anything. Only the Automatons’ determination to destroy all traces of Marlhem’s existence had prevented them from ravaging the interior of Tor Som.

The Clans would help, but they could only be in one place at a time, and there was a lot of land to defend. Yarnig could only hope that Leha and her people would have some solution.

And so he waited, standing on the platform at the fore of Brodar’s hall, watching the sun approach the horizon.

He leaned against the railing. To his left, he was treated to a view of the Northern Spur of the Gormorra Range. The mountains glowed red and orange in the sunset. Below the foothills, in a notch between two bands of evergreen forest, the stone mass of Kerhem stood. The city had been considered to be one of Tor Som’s most beautiful before the war; its architecture had been praised, and its natural beauty renowned. It still carried a certain dignity, though its walls had been shattered and many of its buildings burned. Within the center of the city, rising toward the sky, a pair of towers, formerly part of the city’s university, had survived. They seemed to stand in defiance of the machines’ mission of destruction.

To his right, the land descended in rolling hills of alternating fields and forests, lowering towards the plain where Marlhem had been situated. The wind sighed back and forth, sometimes knocking clumps of snow from tree limbs. The land seemed too serene for such a dark time.

The weather was mild – by the standards of a Tor Som winter – and Yarnig kept back the hood of his thick cloak. After the bitter winds of the tundra, the air seemed almost balmy.

He rubbed his chin, feeling the smoothness of the skin. During his journey north, he had not been able to shave. On the southward trip, one of the Clansmen had given him a spare razor, and he still hadn’t gotten over his relief at being able to remove the scraggly fur that had grown along his jaw.

A flash to the left drew his attention. Four figures had appeared between him and the city, striding forward. One was his messenger, and he knew Erik by his shining staff. Leha’s strong, graceful gait, a side effect of the enhancements she had given herself, and short stature immediately identified her, but he did not recognize the fourth. As they came closer, he saw that she was a lithe Urannan woman of startling beauty. He raised an eyebrow. They had not heard from Uranna since the beginning of the war.

Neither of the women wore proper winter gear. They seemed to have bundled into a number of shirts. They shivered and hugged themselves, rubbing their arms.

Yarnig sent one of the Clansmen to summon Brodar, and he descended the steps at the edge of the platform and hopped into the snow, watching as the setting sun silhouetted the approaching figures.

He had only met Leha a handful of times before. She had never seemed impressed by him, but he could hardly blame her for that.

Brodar took a place beside him just as the four arrived. Yarnig dismissed the messenger and nodded a quick greeting to Erik. Leha stared at the floating halls, her mouth hanging slightly open. Yarnig couldn’t help but feel a hint of a smile touch his lips as he saw her reaction. Beside her, the Urannan woman considered the structures with a more understated expression. Yarnig’s eyes wanted to linger on her artful face, but he had encountered many beautiful women in his life as a royal, and he was experienced in maintaining a polite composure.

He half-bowed to Leha. “Greetings. Your presence honors me,” he said, speaking Eastenholder. He straightened and gestured to Brodar. “Allow me to present Brodar, chieftain of the Marg clan.”

Brodar’s gaze kept flitting between Leha’s claws and her blue pupils. He hastily bowed his head.

Leha acknowledged him. She raised an eyebrow and turned to Yarnig. “The Northern Clans?”

“Yes. He has pledged his clan to our cause.”

“We come to fulfill our duty against the enemies of humanity,” the chieftain said, speaking the Tor language.

Over the journey south, Yarnig had studied Brodar and come to the conclusion that he set much store by honor, diplomacy, and proper conduct. He’d gathered that the Clans had some complicated code of honor about meeting with strangers, one that Brodar paid special attention to. It was probably why Yarnig’s group hadn’t been killed on sight.

Leha nodded to him respectfully. “Thank you,” she said, also using Tor. She indicated the Urannan. “This is Natoma, formerly the captain of the guard for Nettoh province in Uranna.”

“Emperor. Chieftain,” Natoma said, bowing to each in turn. Her bluish hair shone in the fading light.

“I offer you the hospitality of my home,” Brodar said, gesturing towards the nearer hall.

Leha thanked him, and they headed inside. Yarnig took a moment to thank Erik before dismissing him, and the four of them made their way through the hall. The air was warmer here, and it smelled of wood and pelts. Yarnig undid his cloak, and Leha and Natoma stopped shivering. Leha’s gaze darted about, drinking in the details of the Clan hall.

They arrived in the same chamber where Yarnig had first met with the chieftain. Servants had been there ahead of them and laid out a ring of the reindeer hide cushions. Within the center of the ring, a large flagon, no doubt filled with ulu, and several cups rested on an ornate wooden platter.

They took their seats, and Brodar poured four cups of ulu and handed one to each. Yarnig struggled not to bombard Leha with questions. “How will we protect my country?” he wanted to ask.

“What is this?” Leha asked.

“Ulu. Reindeer milk, honey, and reindeer blood,” Brodar responded.

Yarnig took a deep draught of the thick, warm liquid, making sure that Leha noticed him.

She took the hint and drank from her cup. A surprised expression appeared on her face, and she took a larger gulp. “Thank you,” she said.

Natoma nursed her drink.

Leha set down her cup. She paused, her mouth half open, as if she wasn’t sure what to say. “Ah, thank you for coming to our aid, chieftain.”

Brodar set his ulu upon the floor and placed a hand on each of his knees. “If what Yarnig has told me is true, then we have come to the aid of humanity.”

She nodded. “Yes, you have. The Automatons are the Old Gods resurrected. They’re out to destroy us.”

Brodar set his jaw. “We will do what we can. With luck, more of my people will join us soon.” He explained about the Althing, pausing to let Leha translate for Natoma, who did not understand Tor.

Leha downed a mouthful of ulu and said, “I read about your people in the library at Heart. What exactly do you do that’s so effective against Automatons?”

“I can arrange a demonstration. My people will soon begin to train the soldiers here. You could observe.”

Upon hearing Leha’s translation, Natoma looked up. “I’d like to see that,” she said.

Leha relayed her words.

The chieftain nodded.

He turned to Leha. “Now, I have heard great tales of you. I wish to know more. Please, tell me of your trials.”

She took a deep breath. Slowly at first, then speaking faster, she told him of her journeys across Barria and the other worlds. She glossed over the first few months, omitting some of the less relevant details, such as her near death on Sy’om. As her narrative grew closer to the present day, she grew more thorough, depicting in depth the final days of Marlhem. She spoke of the terror that was the Automaton Lord, describing its baleful gaze and titanic power, and a hint of fear appeared in her eyes. Yarnig’s blood chilled.

When she finished, Brodar took a moment to respond. “That is a fantastic tale. But I see the proof of it.” His eyes flickered over her claws.

The chieftain stared into the depths of his drink. “My people have always known that the minds of machines cannot be trusted, but I never imagined a disaster such as this.”

Leha stared down, running a finger over the smooth floorboards. Yarnig’s cheeks warmed.

He thought over the ruination this war had wrought, and his thoughts returned to Marlhem. He leaned forward. “Have you formulated any new plans? The machines could move on from Marlhem at any time,” he said to Leha, trying to keep his voice under control.

She nodded grimly. “Yes. We have a plan.” She seemed to steel herself. “We’re going to abandon the settlements. We’re going to take to the wilderness.”

“That is a wise course to take,” Brodar said.

Yarnig hardly heard him. His mind reeled. He forced out a few words. “You’re going to abandon them? Flee?”

“We can’t hold against the machines. They’re too strong,” Leha said.

Natoma said nothing, but her eyes showed she agreed.

Yarnig could hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears. He had dedicated himself to defending his nation, and now it was to disband and take to the hills? “But we’ve already lost so much. If we stop defending what we have left, the Automatons will destroy everything humanity has built.”

Natoma sat with one knee held close to her midsection. “Cities and towns can be rebuilt. If we head for the mountains and the forests, perhaps enough of our people will survive to do so.”

Yarnig thought of his country home to the north, of his artwork therein, and the beautiful lands around it. He thought of the ancient government buildings in Retgard – some had survived – and the majestic towers of Kerhem. He thought of all the humble dwellings, all the cottages and farmhouses, and all other the places his people called home. He wanted to cry.

“What about supplies?” he said. “We need the infrastructure of the cities; we need the known jumping points. We need the storage space. We’re barely getting by as it is.” He sputtered and gestured with his hands. “What about the accumulated knowledge in our libraries? What about our culture and history? Is it all going to go to nothing?”

Leha’s face had a pained expression. She ran her fingers through her hair. “We have no other choice.” She sighed and shook her head. “Maybe we can dispatch some people to save what they can. We might be able to bring some books with us. As for supplies, we’ll manage. Phanto’s people did.”

“It’s not so hard to live off the land. My people can help,” Brodar chimed in.

Yarnig drew in a deep, slow breath and tried to force his emotions to the back of his mind. He gulped his ulu and wished it was brandy. “Okay. We’ll go into the wilderness. I understand.”

The conversation shifted away from him, and the others began to plot out the details of their plan. Messengers would be sent via the jumping points – jumping first to Tyzu and then jumping to another location on Barria – to the various cities and still-occupied settlements in Tor Som to inform people of the new course of action.

They would move out as soon as they were ready, forming into three groups. One would go east, past Kerhem, and take refuge within the Northern Spur. Another would travel west and head into the foothills of the Mannall Mountains. The third would go north and seek refugee within the forests at the southern edge of the Northern Clans’ territory. With luck, they would be able to meet the Clan reinforcements after the Althing.

The Marg clan would again be divided. One hall would head west with all speed, arriving at Yotgard – the halls were too big to easily go via a jumping point – and accompany the refugees into the Mannall Range. Brodar’s would stay at Kerhem and go west, and a small group of guides and fighters would jump north and join the third grouping.

Yarnig listened, but the information left him almost as soon as it was spoken. All he could think of was what his people would be losing.

Everything.

He thought of his sorrow at losing the country home where he had spent much of his life, and he amplified it a thousand times to imagine what all his subjects would go through as each was forced to abandon all that they had ever known.

Whatever feeling of accomplishment securing the aid of the Marg clan might have given him had crumbled along with the walls of Marlhem. He wished the Clanspeople could have arrived sooner. He wondered if they would have made a difference.

Sometime later, the meeting broke up. Yarnig discovered that, at some point, the sun had set, and someone had lit the magical lanterns favored by the Clans. Their silver wicks glowed like otherworldly fireflies.

As Yarnig prepared to leave, Brodar offered his sympathy. Yarnig thanked him, gave a half-bow, and left.

He found Leha waiting for him in the hallway. She fell into step beside him. “I want you to know that I am sorry,” she said, her bare feet making little noise on the floor planks. “Eastenhold was the first nation lost to the Automatons. I understand how you feel.”

A trickle of shame wormed its way through him as he remembered his nation’s role in the death of hers.

She grabbed his arm. He started slightly. While it was not official law, custom dictated that most people should refrain from touching royalty. He reminded himself that her country had not had royalty. They had elected their magistrates. He wondered if that system had produced better leaders.

She looked up, into his eyes, and he suddenly realized how tiny she was. “Believe me, I do understand,” she said.

“You’re just trying to do what’s best for humanity; I understand,” he said. He managed a little smile. “We’ll survive, somehow.”

She smiled back and released his arm. They resumed walking.

Leha yawned. “Natoma’s waiting for me.” She looked back to where they had come from. “I wonder if Brodar would be willing to set us up for the night. The weather on Tyzu is a bit uncomfortable now.”

Yarnig said the chieftain would probably be willing, adding that Erik could inform the people on Tyzu that she would be spending the night. Leha said her goodbyes and returned to the meeting chamber at a brisk walk.

Yarnig went to find his sketchbook. The moon would be rising soon. It was just past full, bright enough for him to do some sketches of the city. He’d do all he could before the time came to abandon Kerhem. Soon, sketches would be all that remained of it.

* * *

The next morning, the human leaders again met on Tyzu. There, amid the mist and the dripping humidity, they made their final plans. Yeldar, Doga, and Eranna would go west and lead the survivors from Yotgard and the surrounding areas. Drogin, Natoma, and Yarnig would join Brodar and the eastbound group – the largest, consisting of the people of Kerhem, most of Retgard’s citizens, and the majority of the survivors of Marlhem – and a Lost One, Elder Dentu of the Water’s Edge clan, would lead the northern band, the smallest and the one considered to be at the least risk.

Leha would join the eastern group later. But for now, she was bound for Sy’om. From there, she would travel to that dark world beneath and contact the entity she had come to think of as the Watcher.

* * *

Two days later, as one of the Marg halls passed by to the north, just out of sight, the Automatons finished grinding the last bricks of Marlhem into dust, leaving nothing but a great, dark scar upon the earth.

The Automaton Lord gathered the other machines about it and dispatched scouts to the north, east, and west. It was time to begin the next phase of their offensive.

———————

Enjoying the story so far? The next chapter will be posted soon, but if you can’t wait, you also have the opportunity buy the full ebook now!

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