Chapter Twenty-six – Death of a Tyrant
With Max, Shansur, Manesh, and Akkad successfully transformed by the Krattu, Shu’s army of berserker warriors now numbered nine. On their return journey, Akkad told of Hoetep’s violent takeover of New Cydon. Both Akhen and Seti swore vengeance for their murdered loved ones, but Shu put all thoughts of retribution out of their minds as they steadily drew near to the community. To defeat Hoetep they had to stay focused, cool, and sharp witted. Despite their new-found strength, they were not equipped to deal with his magic. By now he would surely have turned the rest of the community into blindly obedient servants, willing to die for him if need be. No! Akhen and the rest must follow her commands to the letter. A mighty battle was about to begin and there could be only one winner.
Hoetep sat on a rock in the winter sunlight being fed by his semi-naked concubine Nefer, while the rest of his servants built a fortified stockade wall around the lodge and surrounding buildings. Outside the wooden stockade, they had dug a deep ditch filled with sharpened stakes. Between the ditch and the stockade wall, concealed pits full of Punji sticks lay in wait. On the board walk around the top of the stockade wall, rocks lay in piles ready to be thrown.
Kapinski and a few hand-picked members of the community stood guard, manning all the weapons brought out of the ships at Hoetep’s command. Tosar sat ready with the plasma-meridium torch, sweeping across the forest edge to the north with its blue targeting laser. Llokk and Orz stood behind mobile disrupter cannon with a commanding view of the fields behind the stockade to the east. Jamal and Nemaar checked and rechecked the laser minefields between the stakes in the ditch before returning to the relative safety of the stockade. Mdjat, Benton, and Misakk spread themselves along the board walk, armed with disrupter rifles, watching the western approach to the stockade past the ships. In a hastily dug deep pit at the centre of the stockade, sealed by a door from one of the crawlers and weighed down with rocks, Khan was imprisoned in total darkness in the tight confines of his damp cold cell, unable to stand. The stump of his right arm throbbed agonizingly with pain. He vowed to escape somehow and join Akhen the way the others had.
Nine shadows merged with the trees on the ridge line to the south. Their keen eyesight surveyed the preparations far below in the valley. Shu and Akhen both agreed that Hoetep would only look north for their return. After he had consigned Akhen and his crew to the depths below the tundra in a fit of anger and sheer insanity, Shu finally lost all patience and cast him out from her protection forever. Hoetep was beyond her help now. She could not reverse the Pimaar and he was fast mutating into pure evil. She could no longer influence him. Each time he grew angry the strain of controlling the monstrous berserker’s violent outbursts drained her very being. Cursing her for deserting him he headed south bent on destruction. The last vestiges of the gentle man who she had first encountered that day in the enclosure months earlier, were gone forever.
To help her combat him and to protect the innocent lives he would encounter, Shu had to create an army of warriors physically his equal. The inevitable conflict troubled her greatly. She slipped into the unconscious thoughts of Hoetep’s followers in the stockade below, searching for anything that would work to her advantage. She found Khan. “Khan is the only one who is not under Hoetep’s control,” she told her warriors. “He is beneath the ground in a dark hole and badly injured. Stay here until I return.” The nine berserkers watched her transform into a mist, which rolled down the steep forested side of the valley, drifting across the valley floor to envelope New Cydon blocking it from view.
Under cover of the thick mist, the rocks holding down the door to Khan’s cell quietly floated away and gently lowered themselves to the ground. The door opened temporarily, blinding Khan as light flooded the cell. He felt himself being lifted and drift across the ground towards the stockade wall. He rose soundlessly, floating over the wall. Then gently dropped to the ground away from danger. ‘Follow!’ the voice in his head commanded. The door to the empty cell silently closed while the rocks repositioned themselves. He began running across the valley floor towards the edge of the forest. ‘Follow!’ the voice urged him, as his lungs reached bursting point from the exertion. Climbing steadily up through the thick forest, Khan slipped from time to time, jarring his mutilated arm. Unseen hands picked him up each time until he drew close to the ridge. With his muscles on fire and gasping for breath, Khan struggled to his feet in the course grass of the ridge. The sight that met his eyes made his already overstretched heart nearly give up. Before him stood nine berserkers, each as powerful as Hoetep, grim faced, brandishing swords like the one that had cleaved his right hand from his arm.
“Akhen? Is that you? Khan asked, unconvinced. The big berserker hugged Khan to his massive chest as the others reintroduced themselves to their old friend. When Shu reappeared from the mist, that now completely covered the valley, Hoetep’s spine chilling insane war cry filled the air. In answer, the nine berserkers uttered their equally terrifying song of death, drowning out Hoetep and sending shivers through his followers and Khan, who sat safe behind the formidable warriors inside Shu’s protective green cloak.
My cousin Tuluk cowered in the shadows. He watched them disappear over the ridge line into the forest beyond. The battle had begun for New Cydon.
The nine berserkers rapidly descended the wooded slope of the valley like shadowy wraiths in the thick mist. Kapinski cradled the plasma grenade launcher nervously in his arms as he tried to see through the haze. Hoetep knew it was Shu’s doing. She had conjured up the mist to hide the approaching men he had previously buried. What he had not realized till now, was that she had created an army of warriors, each equal to himself. For the first time since he had transformed he felt uncomfortable. He was as blind as his followers in the impenetrable blanket that covered the valley. Despite his powers, like them, he was unable to sense the direction of the berserker army’s war cry. The defenders anxiously looked to where Hoetep now stood on top of the rocks in the centre of the stockade, each one of them shaking with fear. The valley stood silent for over an hour and the defenders began to relax. Then from all around them the air began to pulse with the steady rhythmic beat of swords on shields.
Armed with the knowledge Shu gave them about the laser mined ditch and mantraps, Akhen and his brothers steadily approached the outer limit of the defences. Stopping a little way from them, Akhen picked up and threw a boulder in a high arc. The boulder descended towards the ditch and entered the mine filled interior, breaking some of the laser beams. A chain reaction quickly spread around the ditch encircling the stockade, sending a deadly mix of splintered stakes and hundreds of tonnes of rock and dirt high into the air that reigned down indiscriminately, crushing, and maiming all beneath it. Burning pieces of splintered stake set alight by the huge explosion impaled themselves in the wooden wall and the roofs of the buildings inside, turning the stockade into a raging inferno.
From outside Akhen and his brothers could hear the screams of the defenders. His heightened sense of smell detected the sickly sweet odour of burning flesh. Many of his friends were seriously injured or dying. “Hoetep, your army is defeated. Come out and face your end!” Akhen boomed. The heat of the inferno slowly cleared the mist from the scene. New Cydon would soon be nothing more than a blackened patch of dirt on the valley floor.
A lone figure emerged from the smoke, eyes burning with pure hatred. Seti, Akkad, Max, and Shansur stood ready an arm’s width apart from each other on Akhen’s left, while Nusaan, Manesh, Besal, and Apis took up their position at his right in a similar fashion, forming the two horns of a crescent with Akhen at its centre. Hoetep stopped twenty meters in front of them, his eyes sweeping across the assembled warriors. His gaze slowed while his fevered brain registered the identities of each warrior. Buried deep in dark recesses of his mind the last remaining molecule of the old Hoetep recognized his former friends. The warriors watched as he drove the bird headed staff into the ground beside him. He sat cross-legged in front of them, silently entering his customary trance. His sword lay across his powerful legs while his shield stood propped up against the staff.
High on the ridge, Khan looked down from Shu’s protective cloak at the terrible scene about to unfold in the valley below. The triple suns’ rays reflected back to him from the swords and shields of the nine warriors below. Shu watched the firstborn berserker rise to his feet. Hoetep lifted his shield and shifted the grip of his right hand around the sword hilt. The warriors who faced him raised their swords in salute as Hoetep charged. Shu, Khan, and Tuluk witnessed sword strike shield as Hoetep entered the crescent which quickly closed about him, completing the circle of death. The combined war cry of the warriors rose up towards where the witnesses stood in silence. Almost as soon as it started, the fight ended. Hoetep’s bloody body lay writhing on the ground, his severed head held high by Akhen, signalling their triumph with a spine chilling howl. The nightmare was finally over…
In the days following the bloody defeat of Hoetep, while Shu transformed Khan using the Krattu, Akhen and his brothers buried their dead friends and loved ones who had survived the rigors of Jalnuur and the many hardships of life on this dangerous yet beautiful planet. Of the small band of survivors, mercenaries, and assorted others who had come to Kallorn, only the ten berserkers were now left alive.
Shu and her army had work to do far from Kallorn but first there was one last task for Akhen and his brothers to perform before they departed. They needed transport off the planet. The small fleet of ships lay in smouldering ruins beyond repair. Hoetep had seen to that!
Tuluk’s description of the battle and the berserker’s potential as a future weapon intrigued our high council. There was one among my cousins who would use this new weapon for his own ends – Hesket.
Without a backward glance, the berserker brothers followed Shu to the south, spending weeks crossing high mountain ranges, fast flowing rivers, and wide grass and scrub covered plains. The seasons were changing once more and soon they felt the warmth from the triple suns’ rays on their skin as winter turned to spring, then into the early days of summer as they drew closer to their objective at the most southerly tip of the continent. Khan, Akkad, Manesh, and Shansur sniffed the air. They could smell salt. “Fear salt and its effects no longer,” Shu told them in answer to their unspoken concerns. “You are no longer Drana.” The berserker brothers stopped on a hill overlooking a long isthmus that stretched south into the distance like a giant finger in the vast ocean that bordered it. “Our journey ends on the cliffs at the end of the land you see before you,” Shu said, from inside the pyramid. Seti and Max ran forward ahead of the rest, their eyes searching the ground around them for hidden traps. Shu said that their objective was guarded but by what she did not know.
They camped on the last night of their epic journey south, in sight of the cliffs that stood guard against the ocean below. The ten brothers sat around the fire at their centre within the protection of Shu’s green cloak. “What is it we’ll find on the cliffs lady?” Nusaan asked.
“Not on? Inside, deep inside,” she softly replied. “It has remained hidden since the warring tribes left Kallorn to conquer the far reaches of the universe beyond. It waits to be reawakened from its long slumber…”
“Shu, what is it that we seek?” Seti asked. She no longer answered any more of their questions. Instead, she turned her whole being over to the task of locating that which she had brought them here to find, so far from their dead companions and the place they had named New Cydon. They must find the Kaliyuga.
Next time – Chapter Twenty-Seven