This is welcome back time for Chris Jackson-Ash. I recently interviewed him and his alter ego Kris the Bard here. Sensitive souls might want to avert their gaze from the following images. This man likes his torture graphic 🙂
Aftermath of Armageddon is the second Volume in the FirstWorld Saga.
A trailer is available here http://youtu.be/1woxy9uqPJg
“If the radiance of a thousand suns
Were to burst at once into the sky
That would be like the splendour of the Mighty one …
I am become Death,
The shatterer of Worlds.”
Weylyn the Wolf has been defeated and Elannort saved. Simon Redhead has found his sword and begun to learn how to use it to become the Everlasting Hero. Like Queen Ceridwen of the Elves, he is incomplete. They are both missing their kochari. Cambyses is lost in a far dimension. Julie is held prisoner by Dring in Simon’s post-apocalyptic dimension. Meanwhile, Gadiel’s forces threaten to attack on several fronts. Simon is under Ceridwen’s enchantment, but is she driven by her responsibility for her people, her personal desires, or by some darker force? Everyone needs the Hero. Which way will Simon turn, and will he make the ultimate bond with Kin Slayer to become a major incarnation of the Everlasting Hero? Simon will risk everything to save Julie, and it will cost him dearly. Along the way, he will learn much about himself and his enemies. He will make a deal with the Devil to give the elves a future, putting his own future at great risk.
This is the Foreword – so it’s not giving too much away.
Simon wanted to die. He’d begged the torturer during the last session but the simian thug had just mocked him. He lay on the cold cobbles of the cellar floor, arms and legs shackled to the damp concrete walls. He was barely conscious, he hadn’t eaten for three days, and he had no strength left. He was severely dehydrated, and once more, he struggled to lick a few drops of moisture off the clammy cellar walls. He had no tears left to cry. His body was wracked with pain. He didn’t think there was a part of him that wasn’t in agony. For the umpteenth time, he cursed giving them the opportunity to separate him from Kin Slayer. He tried to concentrate his mind to search for the Sword. The pain was too great. He tried to focus on one aspect of the pain, in order to relieve the rest. He tried to concentrate on his feet, where they had torn off both of his big toe nails. Each of his big toes throbbed mercilessly. He tried to raise his legs a little to reduce the blood flow. This brought his backside into greater contact with the rough floor. A stab of pain shot through him. It dragged back into his consciousness the horror of the objects with which they had violated him. Despite the best of intentions, he cried out in his torment.
The door opened and the ugly gaoler lumbered in. “I told you, no noise, scum.” His booted foot thudded into Simon’s chest and a couple of ribs were shattered. The second kick crushed his exposed testicles. The third caught him on the side of the head. He lapsed into merciful unconsciousness. The thug gave him one more kick in the teeth and left him lying in his own excrement and blood. Before he left the room, the bully turned back towards his prisoner. “I’ve hardly started with you yet. Tomorrow you will learn what real pain is, red boy.”
The following chapter describes the battle at Hamadan. Simon Redhead finally accepts his role as Everlasting Hero and discovers what it might cost him.
The Slaughter of Hamadan
It was mid-autumn, the equinox when the harvest is celebrated. The travellers arrived in Hamadan shortly after dawn and were taken to Sheik Salah-al-Din’s minaret. It provided the best vantage point in the city from which to view the battle. The enemy encampments were close to the city. Each had its own distinctive emblem, either insect or animal. The enemy soldiers were dressed in armour that was shaped to resemble their clan symbol. All clans flew the flag of Chaos – a set of broken white scales on a black background. The elven archers took up position at the edge of the city, ready to pick off any barbarians who chose to attack Hamadan. None approached.
They watched as, in the distance, a single red rider on a white horse wielded a black sword. The rider and the horse were clothed in a blue glow, like the fire from a wizard’s staff, and seemed to emit waves of black hatred, as fumes rise from a witch’s cauldron, which struck down many of the enemy. The barbarians seemed drawn to them, like flies to carrion. Yet no matter how many attacked, the rider remained intact and the dead piled into mountains of carcasses. The sands of the desert turned red with their blood. Strange noises were carried on the wind. The death cries of the barbarians were drowned out by a strange singing, high-pitched and resonant, like a continuous tuning fork vibrating in the air.
At first, the watchers rejoiced as the enemy was decimated. Soon they averted their eyes and covered their ears. Quickly, they turned away on the excuse of other pressing business. Three men only watched the entire slaughter, unmoving until the setting sun illuminated the death of the final barbarian. Ten thousand or more died that day. As the last of the light disappeared, the rider dismounted and walked away into the desert. His steed, now permanently stained red, made its own way back to the city. The three men cried, while the city celebrated.
During the night, a strange fell wind howled through the city, unlike any storm that Hamadan had experienced before. In the morning, the desert dunes had shifted, consuming the dead, so that many in their hangovers wondered whether it had all been a drunken dream. The three men knew otherwise. The dunes to the east of Hamadan are said to glow crimson red in the rays of the morning sun. They are called the Slaughter Dunes and none will venture there. It is said that they are haunted by the souls of the dead who died by wizard’s staff and witch’s fume. Most of the barbarians died by the Sword and their souls are elsewhere. It was mid-autumn, the feast of the harvest, and the Sword Kin Slayer feasted on the biggest harvest of souls it had ever known.
The Chronicle of the Hero
The night air of the desert chilled Simon to the bone. It was pitch black and absolutely silent. He stopped his aimless stumbling and sat down in the shelter of a large dune. His mouth was parched and he knew that he was badly dehydrated. Kin Slayer was sheathed, but his hand was still bound to the Sword, effectively tied at his side. He closed his eyes and lived the battle again.
He had not been afraid as he approached the enemy host and yet he had known the greatest fear of his life. Then the citadel that he had built in his heart burst and all of the pent-up hatred and lust for revenge was released. He had screamed, as Kin Slayer sang, until his voice was hoarse. With each death, he felt a surge of energy from his sword. He carved through the enemy’s armour as a trained butcher fillets a carcass and with as little emotion. The enemy soldiers seemed drawn to him. They never let up their attack, even though they died in their hundreds and thousands. A blue light, like the sort that emanated from a wizard’s staff, protected him and Snowmane from any physical harm, yet it did not stop them becoming covered in blood. He revelled in its salty taste as it ran in rivulets down his face. A black smoke seemed to be generated by his sword. It drifted away from them in tendrils like scrawny arms groping in the night. It annihilated every enemy it so much as brushed. Kin Slayer was in charge now; he was just the conduit between it and Snowmane. The three worked as one. They were the perfect killing machine. Kin Slayer feasted like never before. The Battle of Elannort seemed like a mere snack before this banquet. And ever the enemy advanced, seemingly embracing death with open arms, tripping over themselves in their eagerness to die by the Sword.
He loved the feeling that each surge of energy from Kin Slayer gave him, the exhilaration of the kill, even as he despised himself for enjoying it. He knew that he was slipping deeper into an addiction he would never conquer and part of him knew that this was his destiny and he should enjoy it. Another part of him, a shrinking part, told him that he was becoming as evil as Gadiel, to resist, throw down the Sword, and let the enemy save his soul from eternal enslavement. At one point, the small voice almost triumphed. He let Kin Slayer fall limp in his hand. Had it not been bound to his wrist it would have fallen to the desert sands and the outcome would have been very different. As it was, Kin Slayer spoke to him, whispered soothing words, and promised so much future joy that he took it up again and continued the massacre.
He didn’t hear the small voice again until the battle was nearly over. Kin Slayer was almost sated, if such a thing were possible. Simon’s focus was broken and he saw what he had done. Then the anguish took hold and he barely had the strength to finish the job. Streams of tears diluted the blood that still ran down his face.
Now, for the first time, he felt his exhaustion. He slid off Snowmane, his dismount lubricated by sticky, drying blood. He whispered to his horse to go back to the city and gave him a pat on the rump. The dying rays of the sun illuminated Snowmane as he carefully and wearily picked his way over the fallen and made his way back towards Hamadan. Snowmane had been a pure white stallion. Now he was dark red. Be careful, Simon called with his mind. We shall ride again in cool green fields under blue skies, I promise, my Bloodmane.
Simon wandered aimlessly through the carnage. The stench of death assailed his nostrils and yet he couldn’t leave it. He was the Hero. He had saved Hamadan. He had proved the old fat milk sheik wrong. Yet, he was ashamed to enter the city. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed movement. He grasped Kin Slayer and turned towards the movement. Instinctively, he swung the Sword and a loud clang startled him. A large dagger, that would have taken him in the back, was diverted harmlessly away. A soldier who appeared to be dressed as a praying mantis tried to crawl out of sight, hampered by the fact that both of his legs had been amputated below the knees. That he hadn’t died through blood loss, amazed Simon. That he tried to hide, rather than embrace death, seemed incredible.
Simon approached him and the soldier rolled on to his back. For a moment, Simon had an image of a dog rolling over to have his belly rubbed. Simon placed a foot on the man’s chest and observed him. He had no visible weapons left and his only possession seemed to be a bottle strapped to his belt. Simon let Kin Slayer fall loose and dangle from his wrist, and bent down to remove the bottle. The man’s pupils were tiny points and he blinked rapidly. Simon removed the stopper from the bottle and sniffed it. It was about half full and seemed to be water. He bent down and poured a little of the water onto the man’s parched lips. He opened his mouth and Simon dribbled some water over his swollen tongue. He sniffed the bottle again and decided to take the risk. He swallowed the remaining water in a few gulps. He looked down at the soldier again.
“Why?” Simon asked, not expecting a reply.
“Because I must.” The soldier’s reply was delivered in a harsh guttural accent, but the words were distinct enough. “Why, you?”
Simon grasped Kin Slayer again. “Because I must,” he said as the Sword finished its work. He sheathed the Sword, effectively strapping his arm to his side, and wandered away from the carnage, out into the dunes, leaving his day’s work and Hamadan behind. The night air of the desert chilled Simon to the bone. It was pitch black and absolutely silent. He stopped his aimless stumbling and sat down in the shelter of a large dune. His mouth was parched and he knew that he was still badly dehydrated, despite his recent drink.
He didn’t know how long he had been sitting there, shivering, thinking, trying to empty his mind of the images that burned there. It must have been a long time, because the moon had risen high in the sky and was casting a soft light over the dunes. A man sat, not five metres away, watching him. Startled, Simon fumbled to unsheathe Kin Slayer. The man laughed. “I have been here some time. Had I wished to do you harm, I would have done so while you were lost in your melancholy.”
His voice was warm and melodious, almost as if he sang the words. Simon couldn’t place his accent; it sounded vaguely French. In the weak moonlight, Simon could barely make out the man’s features, but his clothing stood out. He looks like he’s dressed in a sheet. The man appeared to be wearing a single white garment, wrapped around his entire body like a sari. He moved closer, so that Simon got a better view. He wasn’t young or old. As far as Simon could tell in the moonlight, his face looked smooth, as though he were too young to shave, and yet was lined with wrinkles that betrayed the onset of middle age. His hair was long and black, tied in a ponytail behind him. His eyes were jet black. His teeth were perfect and bright. In the soft light, his skin was golden, oriental. As he smiled, Simon felt great warmth emanating from him. As he came closer, Simon smelled an exotic odour, like a mixture of cloves and musk.
“Be at peace, Simon Rufus the One-Handed, for I mean you no harm. In fact, I’m here to help you.”
Who is he? Simon was about to frame the thought into words when the man held up his hand and spoke again. “Do not speak, yet. Hear me out for it is very important. My name is Nostradamus. You may have heard of me.” I’ve heard of someone with your name. “I am also known as the Immortal Prophet. Unlike you, the Everlasting Hero, I do not take different forms, which live and die like mortal men. I am truly immortal. I was here at the beginning and I will be there at the end. I have seen the completed Tapestry. I travel the dimensions, spending time here and there, seeming to grow old and die but always moving on to somewhere new. I return at critical times to the centre. I spoke with Gilgamesh before he battled Gadiel. He was a major incarnation. I have spoken with other incarnations too, mostly minor ones, waiting for the next Gilgamesh to show himself. Some were kings, who believed themselves to be invulnerable. Many were nobodies, looking for glory. And a few, a very few, were reluctant beings with consciences, who questioned their motives and actions. Gilgamesh was one such.”
Simon’s mind was burning with questions and he made to speak as Nostradamus paused. The Immortal Prophet held up his hand again. “You must not speak, lest you lose your one chance. I have seen everything that has passed and glimpsed much of what is to come. I am, to a large extent, my own master. However, I’m bound to play by some rules. When I meet a hero, he is allowed to ask me one question and one question only. I must answer it truthfully. It can be a question about the past. It can be a query about the present. It can be a prophecy for the future. The choice is yours, but you can only ask one question. When the time comes, I hope you will choose well. Before I give you that chance, I am allowed to tell you some things, as much as I choose, in as much clarity as I see fit.” He smiled again and Simon felt at ease with him, as much as his mind buzzed with possible questions.
“As I travel the dimensions, I’m wont to leave many prophesies behind me. But I couch them in generalities and obscurities while disguising them in rhyme and metaphor. It amuses me to see what future generations make of them. Often, my followers change them after my ‘death’ to make them fit events. People even write new prophesies and attribute them to me. In your dimension, I supposedly predicted the attack on the Twin Towers in New York that became known as 9/11. Sometimes, I slip deliberate mistakes into them to see how clever future generations are. When the two who are one return to the sun…” He paused and laughed. “That was one of my better ones, don’t you think? Don’t answer that, it was rhetorical. I know, let me tell you one from your own dimension.
A mighty Muslim chief shall come to birth
In a country fortunate of Araby.
He’ll take Granada, trouble Spanish earth
And conquer the Italians from the sea.
It came true didn’t it? The terrible third world war eventuated when the Muslim army attacked the Christian west. Another holy war. Who could have predicted that? Don’t answer that, it was a joke.”
Simon was feeling overwhelmed by the rapid flow of information. He tried to swallow, but his throat was parched. He took a deep breath.
Nostradamus must have noticed Simon’s discomfort because he fished around inside his ‘sheet’ and produced a water bottle. “I’m afraid it’s rather warm but you are welcome to drink it all.” Simon needed no further encouragement and drank deeply of the warm water. It tasted almost as good as elven nectar. The seer continued his monologue. “It’s not easy, you know, being a prophet these days. And it’s largely your fault too.” Simon looked at him aghast. What’s he talking about now?
“Once upon a time, there was a universe and time was linear. The Tapestry was woven and everything would end happily ever after. Sure, there’d be plenty of trials and tribulations along the way, but it would have all turned out right in the end. Then you came along and wham bang we had a sundering. All of a sudden, there’s an infinite multiverse and all bets are off. Anything and everything is possible, no matter how improbable. Yes, there’s a dimension where a room full of monkeys sitting in front of typewriters have come up with the complete works of Bacon. You have made time travel possible and now even time isn’t linear any more. It’s a fine kettle of fish, Simon. You’ve made it almost impossible for a prophet to make a decent living. Then again, with anything possible it’s hard to be wrong.” The seer was smiling and Simon didn’t know how to take him.
“Alright, time to get serious. I know that you are struggling with the enormity of what you have done. I cannot imagine how it must feel to kill ten thousand people by your own hand, and one-handed at that.” Simon shuddered. The last one was the worst. “However, if it’s any comfort, I can reassure you that it was essential for your future development as the Hero. Look at it as a training course, if you will. Actually, I predicted this battle. It was some of my best work, I thought. Lots of word plays on the equinox and red sands. It’s a pity it was lost, though maybe Manfred remembers it.”
Simon’s mind was beginning to wander, but the mention of Manfred’s name brought him back to full attention. Nostradamus suddenly glanced over his shoulder. “Your friends are coming to find you. We don’t have much longer. They mustn’t see me. I’ll give you two minutes to think of your question.”
Simon panicked. A million ideas flashed through his head. Should he ask about the past? I could find out more about my father. Should he ask about the present? Perhaps the prophecy about the Seven Wonders is his. I could find out what it means. Should he ask about the future? Would he find his kochari? Would he save her? Would his vision of a happy family come true? Should he ask about his fate? Who would win when he and Gadiel finally met?
“Time’s up, my friend. Ask your question.”
Simon was totally flustered. He had not said a word since the stranger appeared and now his tongue was tied and his brain scrambled. He heard faint voices in the distance, shouting his name. Time was running out. What should he ask? How could he trust himself to ask the right question?
“Ask now, or forfeit your right.”
How can I trust myself to ask the right question? That’s it. I mustn’t be too specific. “Who should I trust?” Simon finally managed to get the words out.
The stranger laughed again. “Well, I never. You are a surprise right enough. That’s a good sign. Usually, they ask about their most pressing personal problems or something so far in the future that I have to couch my answer in so much uncertainty it is useless. You and Gilgamesh are very much alike. That’s an excellent question and one worthy of some fine rhyme. Unfortunately, time is of the essence and I must be away. We’ll likely meet again you and me. I’d like that very much because I’d like to get to know you. You are surrounded by many good friends who will provide you with incredible support. Though your burden is heavy, you have many to help you carry it. One day, though, when there is a critical need to choose between conflicting advice, remember these words. The bard knows best.”
Simon blinked and the man was gone. Suddenly his eyes felt very heavy. He couldn’t keep them open.
The FirstWorld Saga is available from http://firstworld.info/firstworld-saga/
Aftermath of Armageddon is available in various E-Book formats for US$3.99
Volume 1 Quest for Knowledge & Volume 3 A View of the Past are also available. Volume 4 A Vision of the Future, the final part, is currently under final editing and will be available later this year.