Chapter Forty

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Chapter Forty – Shu’s Nemesis

Akhen was unnerved when he lost control of Shu’s personal shuttle, as it drew closer to the cloaked giant planet killer. Kalki automatically took over and the shuttle entered its vast landing bay in the belly of the ship. He carefully opened the hatch and looked around. No one was there to meet him. The only sounds came from the giant ship’s machinery, life support and control systems. He made his way to where the bodies of the three hundred thousand remaining human prisoners were held in stasis, first checking the array of monitors recording the prisoners’ vital signs, before he set off for the control deck.

The dull red light of the wide flight cabin illuminated Kalki’s array of tactical and navigational equipment. Seating himself in the pilot’s position, Akhen tried to get Kalki to leave orbit. But Shu had somehow overridden the normal commands. The second Akhen touched the flight control display the screen changed to a countdown towards destruction.

Racking his brains, frantically trying to figure out how to stop the seemingly irreversible countdown, Akhen searched for some way of overcoming the problem. In desperation, he pulled the dead berserker’s belt from a small bag tied around his waist and put it on. The countdown stopped and manual control was returned. Only a crystal wearer was now able to use anything on board. Breathing a sigh of relief Akhen fed in the coordinates for the Indian sub-continent and the giant ship gently descended through the atmosphere. Kalki came to rest in the Great Indian Desert near Sri Mohangarh, close to the old border separating India and Pakistan. Akhen spent days reviving the unwilling occupants of the stasis units. When they were fit enough to travel, they left Kalki, not looking back or giving thanks for their release. In another time and place, Akhen would have been angered and insulted by their ungrateful, rude behaviour. But he had far more important things on his mind. Kalki returned to stationary orbit above the planet, this time over the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Before he left for the last time, he set the countdown and departed in the shuttle. Stopping over the southernmost tip of India, Akhen and the three hundred thousand ungrateful human survivors, somewhere below on the sub-continent, all that was left from the teeming millions who had once populated the planet, witnessed Kalki’s violently fiery end. She broke up in a series of massive explosions that illuminated the evening sky east of India, scattering her millions of shattered remains like a cloud of burning confetti across hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of the blue-green expanse of salt water.

Entering coordinates for Adab, Akhen sat back as the shuttle flew its zigzag path, following way points across the mountains, jungles, deserts, and plains of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, towards where his brothers waited for him.

~~~

Max was busy gathering up sheets of rusty corrugated iron to reinforce the rammed earth wall he was constructing, when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Dropping the sheets, he ran back to where Akhen, Seti, Besal, and Akkad stood transfixed, staring behind him. Shu’s personal shuttle landed a short way behind Max as he turned to face the enemy alongside his brothers.

A red-eyed, magnificently proportioned giant berserker stepped out of the shuttle. Standing nearly two and a half meters tall, the heavily muscled warrior looked at them with a fierce expression on his face. Around his waist, a red crystal buckled belt covered his muscular abdomen above the cord of his red loincloth. On his raven-haired head, shining in the sunlight, he wore a tight double band of gold. A heavily decorated gold torque enclosed his thick muscular neck. His crystal jewelled double-edged sword was made from the same blue metal as Shu’s. His shield was not like the normal metallic circular berserker’s shield with a studded boss at the centre. While it was circular in shape, it was slightly concave with a boss at its centre rising almost to a point. Part of the outer edge was cut away as if it had been bitten by a wild animal. The whole surface was covered with thousands of tiny blood red crystals that flashed and sparkled like the inside of a geode whenever the shield moved. His powerful hands, forearms, and shins, were covered in pads made from the same crystal covered metal, secured with straps. His eyes flashed intensely as he looked at each of the berserkers standing before him prepared to fight, not ten meters away.

He turned and reached inside the shuttle’s hatch and viciously tugged a rope. The creature at the other end of the rope screamed in agony and a familiar pungent smell filled the air as a terrified Khaz dangled above the ground from the end of the rope, tightly tied around its scrawny neck. The fearsome red-eyed giant berserker threw the hapless Khaz into the air and it landed in a pitiful heap at Khan’s feet.

The giant bowed and began laughing. The sound was so terrifying it made Khan shiver with fear. “What kind of welcome home is this? I bring you a present and you just stand there! My brothers, aren’t you pleased to see me?” the giant’s deep voice boomed.

~~~

The idea that this monster could possibly be Akhen hadn’t dawned on any of the berserker brothers, or my cousins for that matter. They were all convinced that Shu had created a deadly invincible champion to act on her behalf to kill them and return with their heads on his belt!

That evening after Ranek, a distant cousin of mine, had been buried up to his neck, Akhen related what had happened. When he arrived back at Ur, Shu had moved into the ruins where she made camp waiting for her new berserkers to arrive, protected by the nine remaining berserker guards. He listened to the bored conversations of the guards as they stood watch beside braziers, keeping warm while she slept, and heard about the absent guard sent back to create the army, who he had killed before going back to Kalki. He had found my kin Ranek, and interrogated him after he had released the humans. In typical Khaz fashion Ranek swore allegiance to Akhen and happily assisted him in his final act of transformation into the powerful giant he had now become, equal to Shu in every way, inside the chamber on board Kalki. But when Akhen set the countdown to Kalki’s destruction, Ranek returned to the ship hoping to claim it for himself! Akhen caught him trying to stop it, and hauled him aboard the shuttle. Trussing him up tightly, Akhen threw him in a corner of the shuttle for the return journey.

~~~

Besal told Akhen about Seti’s find and showed him the result of their labours. Akhen studied the superbly built weapon and the magnificently crafted Nazpa arrows. His red eyes briefly changed colour to emerald-green as he touched the feathered flights, remembering the mighty bird they had belonged to. Then placing one of the loops of the bowstring over one Ibex horned notch he pushed it into the ground and pressed his powerful right shin against the central curve of the bow. His strong right arm pulled the remaining curved section easily toward him and with his left hand, he strung the bow and plucked the string as if it were a harp. The soft twang of the taught bowstring brought smiles to the faces of all of Akhen’s brothers.

Taking one of the arrows, Akhen fitted it to the bow and took aim at the wall opposite. He pulled back the bowstring with the first two fingers of his right hand and for a brief moment, the horned tips of the bow remained horizontal. Then his fingers straightened, releasing the taught string and the arrow flew across the space with such force that it passed cleanly through the meter thick wall. Akhen frowned as he hefted the bow in his hands. “Tomorrow we begin,” he said calmly, his red eyes flashing in the glow from the fire. (My three kin witnessed the display with satisfaction from the place where they hid, determined to witness the looming bloody battle first hand.)

From the edge of the fire, Seti smiled grimly in the shadowy light, unnoticed by the rest. In his hands, he held the last remaining clay tablet as he studied the ground around Ranek’s head, which was discoloured by the excreted bodily fluids of the Khaz. Nodding to himself, Seti wrapped the tablet in goat hide and carefully secured it to the grip of his shield, and then turned in for the night, content.

~~~

Next time – Chapter Forty-One

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