Carnivores of Darkness and Light: Journeys of the Catechist, Book 1 by Alan Dean Foster

“What ails you? I see nothing.”

“There, Overlordship.” The officer pointed again. “To the left and below the curve of the moon.”

“I see a bright star.” His anger was growing. “You called us out here for that? As the sun rises it will soon be gone.”

“Watch the star, noble Agrath. It’s not fading with the rising sun. It is getting bigger.”

“Don’t be a noukin! Stars do not—”

The female noble stepped forward, her head tilted back, her narrow, slanted gaze inclined upward. “Behgron is right. Look at it!”

Not only was the glowing spot in the sky growing steadily larger even as they stared in its direction, but a small streak of light had begun to appear in its wake, like the feathery tail of the splendid white macaw.

“The sword!” Taking a step away from Agrath, the other male pointed a shaky finger in the direction of the weapon. Natural physiological constraints aside, it was possible that his eyes did widen slightly. “Look at the sword.”

An ethereal blue-black light now bathed the weapon, engulfing it in an unearthly halo. This put forth no heat. In fact, if anything, the startled Agrath found the sword suddenly ice cold to the touch. Dropping it as quickly as if he had found himself clutching a cobra, he retreated backwards, pressing up against a knot of nervous, wide-eyed guards.

As soon as the blade struck the ground it sprang upward. As everyone present watched in awe and amazement, it rose slowly until it was hovering at chest level above the ground. Still interred in the stunning steely effulgence, it adjusted its position slightly until the sharp terminus was pointing directly at the dilating orb overhead.

By now that fierce ghostly globe had swollen to dominate the sky, having grown larger even than the sun. The tail that trailed behind it was a streak of stark incandescence against the cobalt blue of the heavens. Among the assembled Chlengguu, troops and nobles alike, the first traces of panic had begun to surface.

“What is this, southerner?” Droplets of brown sweat had begun to bead on the noble Agrath’s forehead. “I can still see the rim of the moon, so that is not the moon. What is happening?”

Squinting at the sky, Ehomba contemplated the onrushing orb. “I do not know,” he informed his interrogator candidly. “I am only a simple herdsman.” Lowering his gaze deferentially, he turned back to gaze down at the now highly agitated Chlengg. “To know the answer you would have to ask the prating, ignorant whores of the Naumkib.”

The atmosphere was infused with a dull thunder. Unlike ordinary thunder, it did not announce itself and then steal away into the clouds in a series of gradually diminishing echoes. Despite the efforts of their officers to maintain discipline, a number of the guards had broken ranks and were running wildly in several directions. A number of their superiors looked as if they wanted to follow them.

Overhead, the steady thunder had become a screaming, a piercing shrillness that sounded as if the sky itself was coming apart. Hovering in midair, the sky-metal blade continued to emit the same spectral shine, a deep blue light that was almost black. As he eyed it interestedly, Ehomba found himself wondering how something could glow black.

Alarm was now endemic among the Chlengguu. Not only were the guards panicking in the face of the collapsing firmament, so was the rest of the army. Kicked aside in the mad rush to escape, cook fires latched on to tents. Soon, flames from numerous blazes were licking at the sky as if eager to greet their falling sibling. Soldiers clutched and clawed at one another in mad panic, and their massed screaming nearly rose above that of the descending colossus.

Watching the flawlessly organized bivouac plunge into madness and chaos, Ehomba wondered what the reaction was among the Queppa. Powerless to stop what Agrath had set in motion, he could only hope the thousands of refugees were managing their hysteria better than their tormentors.

“Do something!” A trembling Agrath had finally sunk to the level of his terrorized troops. “Turn it from us, make it go away!”

“Free me,” Ehomba ordered him.

“Yes, yes, immediately!” With his own gold damascened sickle the noble cut the herdsman’s bonds. As he stepped back, his terrified, tapering face was drawn inexorably to the lunatic sky. “Now do something!”

“I will.” As mounting hysteria raged around him, Ehomba calmly walked over, stretched out one hand, and reached through the dark aurora to take hold of the radiant sword. The haft was cold, colder than he had ever felt it, but it seemed to warm a little at his touch. Or it might just have been the air itself, which was growing very warm indeed as the onrushing monolith approached the Earth.

Gripping the sword tightly in his fist, he turned around to face the shaken, fearful Agrath. The noble’s two companions had vanished back into the tent, as though the sheer magnificence of its decoration might somehow impress the fiery plunging immensity and save them from destruction. Putting his left hand below his right, the herdsman drew back the blade and brought it around in a single swift, sweeping arc.

The expression on Agrath’s face did not change even as his head was neatly severed from his shoulders and sent flying toward the entrance to the tent. It bounced a couple of times before coming to rest in the dirt. To their credit, a couple of the guards overcame their panic long enough to draw their weapons and rush toward Ehomba. Pirouetting as nimbly as if he were the lead dancer in a traditional Naumkib ceremony, the herdsman showed them the sword. That was enough. The pair promptly joined their comrades in hysterical flight.

Simna was hopping backwards toward his friend. “Cut me loose, bruther! We’ve got to get out of here.” Lowering the blade, Ehomba swiftly sliced through the swordsman’s restraints. “By Golontai’s gonads, that’s icy!” He rubbed at his emancipated wrists. “How do you hold on to it?”

Ehomba was running back into the tent. “In the winter, the nights in my country can get very cold. A man still has to stand watch over his herd.”

“Cold, is it? Hoy, but you’ve sure given these pinch-faced bastards a chill!” Grinning wolfishly, Simna followed him into the tent.

If not for the naked fear rampant on their faces, the demeanor of the two nobles huddled and trembling beneath one of the carved tables would have been comical. On the opposite side of the tent, the four elder Chlengguu sat with eyes closed, lips moving silently as they recited whatever personal mantras they felt would best prepare them for Death. Nearby, Ahlitah fought futilely against the steel net.

“Lie still!” Ehomba barked as he brought the sword down. Simna looked on respectfully as the blade sliced through segment after segment of the tough metal mesh.

Once his front paws were free, the great black predator was able to push hard enough to snap numerous links and lengths of chain and give the herdsman some help. With Ehomba working his way down to the cat’s hind legs, Ahlitah was soon free. He stretched magnificently, fighting to loosen cramped muscles.

“No time for that!” Simna yelled as he recovered the rest of their weapons from the table. The Chlengguu cowering beneath made no move to stop him. “We’ve got to get away from here. The sky is falling!”

“What is the hairless ape prattling about?” Ahlitah followed the herdsman as they hurried out of the tent.

“You will see,” Ehomba assured the litah. And as soon as they were outside, he did.

The piece of sky was close enough now for the scrambling travelers to see that only its nucleus was solid. The remainder of the globe was composed of gases and vapors that were boiling off its surface and streaming back behind to form the now immense but nebulous tail. Actually, the solid portion of the sphere was not very large at all. They did not have time to ascertain exactly how big it might be because it was very near and coming toward them very fast.

It shrieked over their heads, passing just behind them, and hit with a sound like a million banshees all sobbing at once.

“Get down!” Even as he was shouting the warning to his friends, Ehomba was diving into a cramped irrigation ditch. Simna and even Ahlitah imitated his headlong leap without question. He felt the overheated mass of the big cat slam up against him.

Then the sky erupted. Howling winds tore at his body and clothing but largely shrieked past overhead. Out of one eye he could see tents and Chlengguu caught up by the detonation being scattered like toys in every direction. Many of the invaders were screaming, though they could not be heard over the force of the concussion.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster