The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 6
The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 6
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
Arlin awoke shivering. Without the warmth of a fire and little to eat he’d slept restlessly and couldn’t snap out of his lethargy. The others had a similar experience, except for Orla, whose rotund form offered much insulation. He lay wrapped up like a cocoon in his bed cover, happily snoring and snorting while Jaff had spent the entire twilight prodding him, trying to keep him quiet. Orla in response, would startle, roll over, then after only a few minutes start the whole cycle again.
The sun rose majestically into the blue, having burst its way over the gully walls. Eventually they all gave up on the idea of sleep and opened their eyes to the new day, a little bedraggled and the worst for wear. Orla, to everyone’s disgust woke up bright and cheerful, oblivious to his nocturnal theatrics. Jaff, still holding a grudge, sneered and cursed at him under his breath while he packed up.
The waking periods were getting darker as the season of cold approached its peak. Thankfully this particular day was clear and again no sign of the white had fallen in the gully. Arlin stretched his legs and mindlessly wandered the camp still trying to wake up. He was leaning against a large tree and haplessly yawning when he noticed a faint moaning sound in the distance. His ears pricked up and he tried to find its whereabouts. He heard it again and quickly moved through the bushes towards the sound. It was a faint elusive sound that seemed to be coming from all directions, teasing but somehow calling him. He became more and more agitated, scouring the scrub but finding nothing. Then, while he was still wandering in search of that elusive sound, Arlin unexpectedly caught his foot on an exposed root, or so he thought and fell flat on his face on the other side of a small, prickly bush. He felt rather embarrassed and angrily got to his feet and dusted himself off. As he did, he heard the sound again.
Beyond where he stood Arlin noticed a stone ledge that extended rather prominently from a small rise. Then from under the ledge, he saw a hand outstretched and pleading for help. He rushed over to find a young male nymph wedged under the stone ledge, he was barely conscious. Arlin pulled him free and gently supported his head. The creature opened his eyes momentarily then passed out again. He was in appalling condition and had a broken wing, so Arlin carefully picked him up and carried him back to the camp.
He gently lay the nymph against a nearby log and carefully poured some water into his mouth. Everyone gathered around. The poor nymph immediately became conscious and pulled the gourd toward him, frantically gulping the life-giving fluid.
‘Easy. Take it slowly,’ said Arlin easing the gourd from his mouth. The creature fell back exhausted, out of breath.
‘Thank you,’ he mumbled, trying to open his eyes.
‘What happened to you?’ enquired Arlin. The nymph pulled the gourd closer and took another drink, then leaned back.
‘I’ve been in the mines with the others,’ he followed in a weak voice.
‘How did you escape?’ asked Kaelin, thinking how unlikely that would have been in his condition.
The creature, now slightly rejuvenated from the water, pulled himself up a little.
‘They released us, all of us,’ he said rather bewildered. He then looked directly at Arlin with a dazed expression. ‘Mangarna let us all go,’ he mumbled, speaking more out of reassurance than to tell anyone else. He then smiled with the realisation that he had survived.
Arlin’s mind suddenly became frantic with possibilities.
‘Did you see a young Artec maiden in the mines?’ he asked with desperation in his voice. The nymph gently shook his head then slumped back, unconscious. Arlin, stricken with disappointment rose to his feet and wandered off aimlessly.
Jaff knelt down and looked at the nymph. ‘Why would Mangarna let them go?’ he asked in confusion. ‘It doesn’t make sense, unless the weapon is complete.’
‘Maybe we’re too late.’
Just then a rustling sound took all of their attention and Arlin dashed to the edge of the clearing and parted the bushes. To his surprise a long, seemingly endless line of creatures wandered wearily toward the creek. Most were sick and undernourished, while others were injured as well and were being carried by the strong.
Arlin burst through the bushes and excitedly looked up and down the line. ‘Have any of you seen a young Artec?’ he pleaded, moving along the line, desperately searching for a response.
‘Please, someone must have seen her, a young Artec! Please?’
Over and over he pleaded with the bedraggled nymphs, but they just shook their heads weakly and trudged mindlessly on. Then Arlin heard a weak voice come from a clearing beyond the line and he forced his way past to find an older half-conscious nymph in the scrub.
‘I know of the Artec,’ he said exhausted. Arlin knelt by the creature hardly believing his ears.
‘She was on Sinnor’s work gang,’ he followed, pointing over to his right. Arlin rushed quickly to another group of creatures that lay huddled together, cold and exhausted.
‘Sinnor? Is Sinnor here?’ A pained face slowly appeared from the clump of bodies. It was a female, her eyes swollen and only half opened.
‘I am Sinnor.’
Arlin approached her with some apprehension. He crouched down and spoke softly. ‘Do you know the young Artec?’ he asked nervously.
‘Desta?’ she replied. Arlin’s face lit up.
‘She’s alive?’ he said excitedly. Sinnor slowly pulled herself up to a sitting position. She was weak and exhausted from her ordeal.
‘Desta was on my work gang,’ she explained. ‘She’s alive, but only just. Mangarna would not let her go. He keeps her still in the cells of his chamber.’
Sinnor began to sob quietly. ‘She was my friend,’ she cried, the tears rolling down her face.
Arlin touched her gently on her shoulder. ‘I have come for her,’ he said with reassurance. Sinnor, with all her energy, smiled weakly and then lay back down to rest and Arlin, after thanking her, made his way back to the camp.
Orla and Nolt had fashioned a makeshift splint and secured it to the nymph’s broken wing. It wasn’t pretty but it gave the wing a good chance of healing. The nymph was now clear, his name was Nord and he was most appreciative for the care they had given him. But looking around at the flood of refugees, they quickly realised the battle was lost before it had begun. The injuries and the suffering before them was on such a scale that it was hard to imagine what these poor creatures had been through.
Arlin excitedly burst into the camp. ’She’s alive, I knew it!’ he shouted in a strong and determined voice. ‘Desta’s alive!’
Orla looked nervously at the other Terras. ‘This could be a trap. If Mangarna knows we have come, he could well be using Desta as bait. If the weapon is complete and we mindlessly walk into a trap,’ said Orla in a panicked voice.
‘No!’ snapped Arlin. ‘We will take the crystals and rescue Desta,’ he said with great resolve. ‘Whatever Mangarna’s reason for holding Desta, we will turn it to our advantage. We shall wait until all the nymphs have left Mangarna’s encampment and then on the morrow find a vantage point from which to assess our next move and plan. Meanwhile we need to collect food and to make ready, we will need all of our strength,’ he said confidently.
Arlin took Kaelin with him to search for food. The Terras sat together not knowing how to react to the development.
‘This young Artec, I worry, will lead us to our end,’ said a disgruntled Jaff.
‘Orla, You must see it. He was to help us on this quest. He is no warrior, but a child. Why are we taking orders from a child?’ he asked.
Orla, a little unsure of how to answer, turned to Jaff. ‘He spoke to the Diva himself, we must trust the Diva’s judgement.’
‘I think we should return to our caves, to see what has happened,’ said Jaff, looking to the others for support.
‘I agree,’ said Orla. ‘But we should at least go to the encampment first, before we make our plans.’
Nolt, breaking the mood, suddenly stood up with a broad smile on his face. ‘We could all do with a good meal first,’ he quipped. The others agreed and decided to let their grievances rest for the moment. They collected their weapons and headed into the scrub in search of fresh game.
Throughout the waking hours the endless stream of creatures fleeing the slave camps wandered through the gully toward the creek. They were sorry creatures, beaten and sickly. Their scales were dull with barely any colour, lacking their usual lustre. Some had few scales at all, their bodies raw and bleeding. Arlin watched their sad procession and knew many of them would not survive.
The creek itself was in no better condition and even after the surviving nymphs had recuperated it would take some time to restore the waters to health and to return the natural balance. The work to be done was overwhelming.
No-one had sighted any Morlon parties and considering Mangarna had let the slaves go free, they had no reason to be out in the gully or near the creek any more. It was therefore safe to light a fire and to at last keep warm during the twilight cold. The Terras looked forward to a long-awaited hearty meal and would wait no longer.
After having to sit through many meals with the Terras, Arlin had grown used to the smell and sight of meat. Although he could never have partaken of it, at least now he wasn’t physically sick when confronted with it. Tolerance was never an easy lesson to learn, but always a worthwhile one.
He and Kaelin had collected many fruits and a few root vegetables, which they quickly prepared to make a simple stew before the Terras returned. When the stew was done Toran and the others arrived with a large valen in tow. The fire was blazing and the spit set up and ready for the carcass. Orla, impressed by Arlin’s thoughtfulness and his acceptance of their ways, smiled with appreciation after seeing the prepared spit.
They were all fed and well rested and the fire blazing in the darkness had taken the edge off the chilled air. The captives had now completed their journey to their homeland and all was quiet and peaceful.
The next morning they woke to dark brooding clouds overhead. The chill in the air was devastating and they packed up the camp early, keen to make a start on their trek to Mangarna’s camp. As they trudged through the bushes and trees, small creatures of the ground and air scratched and flittered about them as if the new day held a glimmer of hope. The gully seemed more alive somehow after the return of the water creatures and all felt glad for the oncoming process of renewal.
After an exhaustive trek up from the lowlands, they first spied Mangarna’s stone fortress about a mile in the distance. It looked like it had been cut out of the cliffs themselves, cleverly disguising its whereabouts. If it weren’t for the rising smoke from the fires they may well have missed it. As they got closer its detail came into view, revealing a rectangular building with an upper floor and single spire at the north-western corner. Up high in the spire sat an arched window, overlooking the entire encampment and down into the lowlands.
Arlin led the group under cover of the thick vegetation, to the east-side of the cliff face. There, a rocky outcrop sat high above the camp but out of sight from the spire lookout. They made their way up the coarse stone and finally arrived at the top, remaining flat on their bellies and peering down into the camp. All was quiet.
Down below two Morlon guards stood either side of the main entrance. Several fires smouldered in the clearing beyond and only a few creatures ambled about. A figure suddenly came into view from the entrance. The guards respectfully bowed and moved aside.
‘Is that Mangarna?’ asked Arlin, a little taken aback.
‘Look at him,’ followed Orla. ‘He has changed.’
Mangarna had indeed transformed himself with his magic. He was no longer a short, thickset Terra-Theban, but a tall, slender and elegant creature, adorned with fine jewel encrusted robes. His long grey hair was neatly tied back and his beard trimmed. He scoured the camp with his dark cold eyes and it was obvious from his manner, despite his elegant outward appearance, he was a heartless and evil creature.
Arlin was mesmerised by Mangarna. Here was this creature that had inflicted such suffering on the defenceless creatures of Thebos and who had taken his Desta from him. What could possibly drive a creature to such atrocities and how could a Terra have developed such a disregard for life? As Arlin considered his enemy, he felt anger welling up inside him and an even greater determination that he would succeed.
On the western side of the compound was the largest of the open camps. It sat in a clearing not far from a huge opening in the cliff, which they assumed must have been the mine entrance. There was a stirring in the camp and all eyes, including Mangarna’s turned to see what was afoot.
Two lines of Morlons, maybe thirty of the brutes, silently marched from the camp site carrying torches. As they grew nearer to the mine entrance they turned toward it and eventually disappeared down the incline and into the darkness. Mangarna smiled, then turned and withdrew into his chamber.
A smile crept across Arlin’s face. ‘The weapon has not been completed,’ he said, relieved. He then turned to Orla.
‘I cannot believe the Morlons would agree to work like this. He must have tricked them somehow,’ Arlin followed.
‘If the Morlons are in the mines, then few are guarding the camp?’ realised Orla. Toran moved a little closer.
‘This could be our chance. We must return to the caves and free our people. With reinforcements we could take the settlement for sure,’ said Toran excitedly.
Arlin smiled. ‘Yes, you’re right. How far to the caves?’
‘We could be back before twilight,’ replied Orla.
‘There is no time to lose, we must make our move before the Morlons return. Kaelin and I will remain here and keep an eye on things. Good luck.’
The four Terras nodded and made their way back down the outcrop and on toward their caves, while Arlin and Kaelin settled in for the long wait.
Meanwhile Mangarna remained in his chamber and in the corner of the room stood the weapon, as yet incomplete. Mangarna moved over and removed the fabric that covered it. With pride, he ran his slender fingers across its surface, admiring its form.
Made from a combination of metals, the recipe of which only Mangarna knew, the weapon was tubular in shape, about four feet long. Supported at its fulcrum by a hinged metal bracket atop a wooden stand, it incorporated a base plate with wheels. The tube casing was incomplete, awaiting metal that was still being mined.
At the end of the tubular casing was a shiny metal housing, semi-spherical in shape that was to house the crystals, the source of its power. This, with the secret blend of metals, intensified the life-force to such an extent that any life subjected to its rays would simply fall apart. The secret to harnessing this enormous energy was a metal alloy that in essence absorbed the energy, rather than intensifying it. When the tube was blocked with several discs of this alloy, the energy would dwindle to nothing and be contained.
Removing the discs one by one slowly unleashed the devastation. Mangarna revelled in the thought of his impending conquest. ‘Soon my pretty,’ he whispered. ‘Soon.’
Norbit made his way down the dank corridor toward the small holding cells, then quickly checking to make sure that no-one was watching, opened one of the cell doors and slipped inside. Desta lay on a pile of rags in the corner and jumped at the sound of the cell door opening, then sat up with her eyes wide. Norbit crouched down beside her and removed several pieces of fruit from his vest. Desta snatched the food desperately and began to eat.
‘Why do you do this for me?’ she asked gratefully, but a little confused. ‘You risk your life for me?’
‘Can I ask you a question?’ Norbit said softly. Desta nodded, still eating. ‘What do I look like?’ he asked in a serious voice. Desta stopped eating and looked up at him strangely.
‘Am I...handsome?’ he enquired, his head lowered with embarrassment.
Desta thought about the question and with compassion in her heart answered him. ‘Beauty lies within us, Norbit,’ she replied, trying not to hurt his feelings.
‘I thought so,’ said Norbit with a sigh. He went to leave but Desta reached out and grabbed his thin bony arm.
‘Thank you’ she said sincerely. ‘There is good in you, Norbit. No-one can ever take that away.’
Norbit got to his feet and broke Desta’s grip, looking soulfully into her delicate face. She smiled sweetly and then Norbit quietly left the cell.
He shuffled quickly to his chamber and slammed the door behind him. He hung his head momentarily, notably agitated then looked over to the gilded mirror on the wall opposite. His heart was thumping and his hand trembling as he hesitantly approached it. As his reflection came into view he studied ever inch of his face. He saw a handsome, finely chiselled face before him. Large intelligent eyes, a proud straight nose and a strong square jaw confronted him. His flashing eyes and deeply tanned smooth skin were something to behold. But like a dream the reflection was just that, only a reflection. ‘How easily we see only what we want to see,’ he thought.
As Norbit studied his face it began to change before his eyes. First, it happened like a flash, then piece by piece each feature began to transform. A face, pale and gaunt slowly came into focus. Small beady eyes, a long hooked nose and coarse, blemished skin were now all that he could see. In only moments the transformation was complete and Norbit saw himself as he had always been. He was an Ellok, no more and no less.
He looked sadly at himself, slowly realising with the truth. Then suddenly, his sadness turned to anger and self-loathing, for having been such a fool. In a moment of sheer frustration he picked up the candle from the table and hurled it at the mirror, smashing it to pieces. He was as much angry at himself as he was Mangarna, knowing that he wanted nothing more in his life than to be normal, accepted and loved. Norbit had spent his entire existence being targeted with cruel jokes and taunting. When he was offered a position of importance, commanding admiration and respect, it was just too good to refuse. He jumped at the chance. Mangarna had given him everything, or so he had thought.
Norbit sat back on the old chair in his chamber, realising everything had been just an illusion. The darkness in his master’s soul became more obvious than before and he realised the loyalty he had given him would never be rewarded. Just like the Morlons, Norbit too was expendable. When his usefulness had ended, so then would his life.
The truth hit Norbit hard. He could not believe how vain and foolish he had been and he now saw beyond himself. If Mangarna’s plan succeeded, he would lay waste to their home of Thebos, turning it into a desolate placed filled with fear and oppression. Norbit paced up and down in his chamber. ‘What have I done?’ he muttered with panic in his voice.
Norbit stopped dead. When he thought this couldn’t get any worse, he realised that he had just started a plan to hasten the weapon’s completion. ‘No,‘ he gasped, falling back down on to the chair. The Morlons could mine in one day what the sylphs would take a full moon cycle to mine. That meant the weapon could be completed in only days. This realisation hit him harder than anything else and he slumped down in his chair unclear about what he could do to correct what he had done.
Meanwhile, Arlin waited patiently with Kaelin on the ridge, out of sight but carefully watching all the comings and goings in the camp. During the work periods in the mine only a few guards were about. Most in the camp were members of the Morlon families going about their daily duties. Small groups of children played happily around the huts and campfires, their squeals of delight and their squabbles echoed across the clearing. Occasionally they saw Mangarna peering out of the upper window and several times in conversation with an Ellok, who freely roamed the camp talking to guards and other Morlons. They decided that he was of some importance.
As the time slowly drained away, Arlin grew more and more impatient. Somewhere down there, in a cell, probably chained up, was his chosen one, Desta. He kept looking over his shoulder thinking he heard the Terras returning, but it was just his imagination. He became agitated, not able to sit still any longer.
‘Kaelin, I’m going down. I just can’t wait- Desta’s down there! Anyway, if I slip in unnoticed I could find the weapon, the crystals and the cells. It will make our job easier when the Terras return,’ whispered Arlin.
‘I’ll come too,’ replied Kaelin.
‘No,’ replied Arlin. ‘It will be safer if you stay here, the Terras will soon return.’
Arlin placed his hands firmly on Kaelin’s shoulders. ‘Wish me luck,’ he whispered, then edged his way down from the ridge and around to the side of the building. There were several large trees at the eastern perimeter that provided camouflage so Arlin crept along the cliff face and crouched down under their cover. He slowly moved to the front corner of the grey stoned fortress and cautiously peered around to the main entrance. The two Morlon guards remained at their posts but no-one else was around.
Arlin quickly stepped back, spread his wings and lifted up to the roof. Waiting for a moment to make sure that he hadn’t been seen, he crept silently across the roof, behind the spire and to the western rear corner of the building. Arlin gingerly looked over the edge. Below, almost next to the adjoining cliff face was a doorway and as he leaned further over to get a better look two figures came outside. He quickly edged back out of sight, then carefully lifted his eyes over the side to see one of the guards talking to the Ellok he had seen from the ridge. He couldn’t work out what they were saying but after a short conversation the guard left and the Ellok withdrew into the corridor.
Arlin waited for a moment, but all remained quiet. He removed the bone-handled knife that Orla had given him and looked down at its razor-sharp edge. It was a weapon, not something that he would ever be comfortable with. What if he had to use it? The reality of their imminent attack and the thought of combat hadn’t occurred to him. The only thing that had occupied his mind was Desta, her rescue and of course returning the crystals. All else he was simply taking as it came.
With the enormity of his task and the responsibility of the quest he had wilfully undertaken, Arlin suddenly began to feel the pressure. Then, as quickly as these thoughts had taken him, he quickly pulled himself together and snapped himself out of it, trying to focus. He could ill afford distraction now.
He took a deep breath and wiped his brow, then flew silently down to the doorway and stealthily slipped inside. With his back against the cold stone wall of the corridor, he edged his way in, step by step. The corridor was damp and dark, with only a few torches on the walls every twenty feet or so. He passed several doorways of chambers in darkness, the doors unlocked or even open. Then up ahead, he saw a light from under a door. Arlin, holding tightly on to his knife, approached the door and peered into a crack under the upper hinge. It was the Ellok’s chamber and he was seated at a table.
Just then the sound of several Morlons approaching echoed down the passageway. They were heading his way and the sound of their huge feet pounding on the stone floor resonated in the darkness. Arlin’s heart began to thump and a sudden panic overcame him. In a split-second decision he flung the Ellok’s door open and burst inside, waving his knife around threateningly. Norbit didn’t even get up- in fact Arlin’s entrance was amusing if anything.
‘Shhhh,’ Arlin whispered nervously. Norbit looked at him calmly, rather perplexed.
The sound of the Morlon’s footsteps slowly faded as they passed the room and moved further into the building. Arlin breathed a sigh of relief.
‘Who are you Artec?’ enquired Norbit.
‘I have come for the maiden and the sacred crystals,’ he replied in a bold and determined voice.
‘Ah, Desta,’ followed Norbit.
‘You know where she is?’
‘She’s all right, at the end of this corridor in fact.’ Norbit rose to his feet with a knowing smile etched on his face.
‘I must go then,’ said Arlin, excitedly heading for the door.
‘You’ll die if you do. The Morlons are returning from the mine. You’d be caught for sure.’
‘Why would I trust you, Mangarna is your master is he not?’
Norbit hesitated for a moment, deep in thought.
‘He was once, but not now. I have no further loyalty to Mangarna. I cannot allow him to succeed. I just hope I am not too late.’
‘Your Desta is fine, I have kept her alive. She would have died, Mangarna is a cruel being.’
Arlin glared at Norbit for a moment; how could he possibly trust this creature? But as he looked into his eyes, there seemed a kindness there and Arlin had to trust his instincts; the Ellok was telling the truth.
‘How many of you are there?’ asked Norbit.
‘The Terras are with us, fifty or so I suppose.’
Norbit smiled. ‘That might just do it.’ A plan was brewing in his opportunistic mind.
‘It will be best to attack while the Morlons are in the mine, only a few guards remain,’ he pondered. ‘With this distraction I can then lead you to the weapon and the crystals and on to Desta’s cell.’
Confused, Arlin looked at Norbit, this all sounded a little too good to be true. ‘Why would you do this, Ellok?’
‘My name is Norbit. Do you want my help or not?’ he said sternly. ‘Believe me, my days of being Mangarna’s scapegoat are over. You are not the only ones with a score to settle. I was a fool to follow him. I know that now.’
Arlin looked deeply into Norbit’s eyes. ‘All right,’ he said, relying solely on instinct. ‘I will see you on the morrow, then.’
‘When the attack begins come here. I will show you the way,’ added Norbit.
‘Until the morrow.’
Norbit checked the passage was clear and Arlin left the way he came. He slowly made his way back to the top of the ridge and to Kaelin who was becoming concerned.
‘I began to think you’d been caught,’ said Kaelin, excitedly embracing his friend.
‘She’s alive Kaelin, Desta’s alive,’ he said. ‘I have much to tell you.’
Arlin filled Kaelin in on all that had happened. Now they had a plan with some promise, not just a pie-eyed scheme. With Norbit’s help they would have a decided advantage, not just the element of surprise but the inside knowledge that would ensure their success. Arlin went through all the details enthusiastically while Kaelin absorbed every word, swept away by Arlin’s new-found confidence.
Moments later there was a rustle from behind and they turned to find some familiar faces beaming up at them. Orla, Jaff, Nolt and Toran stood at the base of the rocks smiling broadly, accompanied by forty or so warriors. Their faces were painted and they wore green clothing with small branches and clumps of foliage attached as camouflage. They carried clubs and spears, bows and arrows as well as leather slings. There couldn’t have been a more willing and ready army.
Arlin slid down the back of the ridge and leapt on to Orla’s square frame, hugging him excitedly and patting him firmly on the back.
‘I’m so glad to see you, I have so much to tell,’ he said, awkwardly removing himself from Orla, who was now a little embarrassed. ‘We must move further away and set up camp, and then we can talk.’
As they moved out away from the ridge Arlin noticed two Morlons, tied and gagged, held by some of the Terras.
‘What’s this?’ he enquired.
‘They were guarding the caves,’ replied Nolt. ‘They may be of some use.’ Jaff looked the Morlons up and down, and then prodded one with his spear.
‘We thought they might be good eating,’ added Jaff with a twinkle in his eye. The two Morlons eyes widened and the Terras could barely contain their laughter.
The group retreated deep into the gully, far from Mangarna’s fortress. After they had set up camp, Arlin sat with the Terra leaders and the envoy and began to explain what had happened. At first they were wary of this Ellok, who had magically appeared to help them. But Arlin was persuasive and was sure of the creature’s intent.
‘Are you certain we can trust this Norbit?’ asked Orla, still needing assurance.
‘We have watched the camp. All that he has said is true. We would have followed this plan anyway. It is his inside knowledge that best advantages us,’ replied Arlin.
‘He wants what we want.’
Orla thought for a moment then looked to the others.
‘All right, we attack when the Morlons are in the mines. But I want control of the assault; I decide where and how it will be done. Do you agree?’
‘Of course, I respect your judgement,’ followed Arlin.
‘It is done!’
Jaff stood up, a cup of carna in his hand. ‘To victory!’ he shouted and the camp erupted into a rousing cheer.
There was a great camaraderie in the camp that twilight. The Terras liked nothing more than a good fight and their spirits were high.
As the twilight darkened the Morlons began to stream from the mines and return to their camps. Covered in dust and sweat, they dragged their feet lethargically behind them. The Morlons were massive creatures, muscular and strong, but the heavy work with the heat and unclean air drained them of energy. One by one they arrived and sat exhausted by the fires, their families fussing over them with food and drink, trying to comfort them. Not one of the oafs thought of how they had driven the frail water creatures to the same end, without consideration or qualm.
Karn wandered back last. The ore from the day’s work was even more than he had expected. They had been lucky, finding several extensive veins and Karn knew Mangarna would be pleased with their haul. Karn crawled into his bed and fell asleep immediately, exhausted.
Meanwhile six Morlon workers dragged three large crates of ore into the side entrance of Mangarna’s chamber. Norbit heard their approach and watched them as they passed. He could not believe the quantity of ore they had mined. Sadly Norbit was just too good at his job and he wondered how long it would now take Mangarna, to complete the weapon. This was not good news at all and he hoped the Terra attack would follow quickly, before the weapon could be armed.
Mangarna paced up and down, eagerly awaiting the ore. When the workers finally arrived in his chamber he quickly inspected it.
‘Excellent! Much of it is pure,’ he said excitedly. ‘You have done well my friends. Place the crates by the furnace and leave me.’ The Morlons did so and stepped backward from the chamber, bowing respectfully.
Mangarna rubbed his hands together in anticipation and briskly stoked the fire in the furnace. He then pumped the bellows connected to its base and the air surged through, further feeding the flames. They leapt like the tongues of fiery dragons, in blues and reds, crackling as the heat intensified. The furnace itself was more of an elaborate incinerator. It was cylindrical, but tapered out at the base where a fire blazed over a metal grate. Above that, two feet of airspace, before a thick layer of volcanic stones and coals that was open to the air at its top. The set up, including the bellows worked well and efficiently.
Mangarna moved to a nearby table and opened a large book, studied its contents then added some extra notes with his writing quill. He pumped the bellows twice more then turned to a heavy metal cauldron that hung over a hinged frame by the furnace. With large protective leather gloves on his hands, Mangarna swung the cauldron over the intense heat. The flames licked at the bottom of the cauldron enclosing it in an iridescent blue heat. He then began to weigh pieces of ore on a simple scale that sat on the table, carefully preparing his secret recipe. Once the calculations were made, he carefully transferred the ore to the cauldron and waited.
Next to the furnace was a large square block of stone, and on it sat three separate moulds. These were the final moulds to complete the weapon casing. All that remained after that was to make two more of the shielding discs; it would then be ready for testing.
The ores slowly melted in the intense heat and began to fuse together. The molten mass bubbled, with each bubble releasing a small puff of smoke as it burst, dissipating then reforming. The heat slowly intensified until its golden colour almost turned white.
Mangarna, hoping there would be enough, tilted the cauldron and began to pour the first mould; it was one of two quarter round sections. The thick molten metal spat and fumed as it struck the mould and as it filled, he eased back the cauldron. The second quarter round filled without difficulty and Mangarna looked down at the final mould, then the remaining metal. It would be close.
The last mould was a half round section that was to cover the rear top of the weapon, enclosing the crystals themselves. It was thick and heavy and would need a large quantity of metal. If the pour fell short, Mangarna would have to wait for more ore to be mined. Once fused, the alloy could not be remelted. It simply would lose its strength, become brittle and crack. With some apprehension he tilted the cauldron and began the pour. The molten metal slipped away down into the mould, spluttering and fuming and as the mould filled, the metal rose gently to the top of the spout. The quantity was perfect. Mangarna looked proudly to the weapon and then to the completed moulds. An evil smile slowly crept across his face.
‘It is done!’ he shouted. He sat back on a chair by the table and removed his gloves, wiping the sweat from his brow.
Throughout the twilight Mangarna worked tirelessly. He cooled then cured the remaining moulds carefully attaching them to the weapon with specially prepared pins. Once the casing was complete, the two remaining shielding discs needed to be made. The flattened metal was already prepared; they simply needed shaping, to fit into the casing slots. Mangarna sat on a small stool over a metal anvil, tapping away at the discs throughout the twilight.
As the sun’s rays slowly edged their way over the horizon, Norbit lay under his bed cover. His hands firmly placed over his large pointed ears, he tried to shield himself from the constant sound of tapping that echoed up the corridor. That annoying clinking had kept him awake the entire twilight and he’d just about had enough.
Then ominously the sound stopped. Norbit sat bolt upright, the annoyance on his face suddenly turned to concern.
Mangarna took the two remaining discs and walked over to the weapon, dropping them into their proper slots; they were a perfect fit.
‘It won’t be long now,’ he said, stroking the metal with his long fingers.
Rolling the weapon and its stand into the centre of the
room, he locked the wheels into position and lined the barrel up towards a stone on the opposite wall. He lined up his eye along the top of the barrel and then made a few minor adjustments. ‘Now for a little test,’ he muttered. Mangarna collected the casket that contained the sacred crystals and carefully opened the lid. The blue, smooth facets sparkled in the torch-light.
‘Ah, at last’ he whispered as he removed them from the casket. He slowly approached the weapon and the metal began to glow and pulsate as the crystals came closer, a low frequency humming accompanying the pulsations. As he placed the crystals into position the pulsing intensified even more. He then locked the outer casing. Mangarna’s face lit up; the surge of power was even greater than he’d hoped for. Suddenly his expression changed and he walked to one of the adjoining corridors.
‘Guard!’ he bellowed. Two Morlons hurriedly approached then stopped abruptly at the entrance to the chamber.
‘Yes sire?’ one of them responded.
‘I have an important task, but this task must remain a secret. Do you understand?’ Both of them nodded. Mangarna paced up and down, studying the two of them. He faced the larger of the two and looked him in the eye.
‘What is your name?’ he asked in a businesslike voice. The Morlon, impressed at being asked a personal question, proudly stuck his chest out.
‘Vern!’ he answered in a loud voice.
Mangarna turned to the other guard. ‘You will leave us, and remember, not a word of this meeting,’ he followed.
The guard complied without question and withdrew.
‘Come with me!’ snapped Mangarna and the guard followed.
‘Stand here,’ he added.
The guard did not understand but of course did what he was told. Mangarna moved to the weapon and looked down the barrel. ‘Move a little this way,’ he said, waving his hand. ‘Now back .....a little more...stop!’ he snapped, finally satisfied.
Vern at first had no idea what Mangarna was doing, but even one as slow-witted as he began to feel more than a little uncomfortable. Sweat began to bead on his forehead.
‘Sire?’ he asked nervously.
Mangarna gave the poor guard a reassuring smile. ‘Everything will be all right,’ he replied in a calm and passive voice.
With one movement Mangarna removed the three shielding discs and an intense ray of golden energy rushed from the mouth of the weapon. It shot across the chamber and hit the poor Morlon squarely in the centre of his chest. With a sharp resounding crack, the Morlons body disintegrated, leaving only a small pile of ash on the floor below. Mangarna quickly replaced the three discs and the beam stopped.
More than pleased with the result of his labour Mangarna, wearing an arrogant grin, walked over to the pile of ash and looked down at it.
‘Ah Vern, you didn’t feel a thing did you?’ he said with a cold expression, and then kicked the ash across the cobbled stone floor.
He looked back to the weapon and smiled an evil smile.
‘No-one can stop me now...No one!’
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