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

As rapidly as it struck, the great wind passed. Rising tentatively from their providential if muddy refuge, Ehomba looked back the way they had come. All around them was desolation. The Chlengguu bivouac, much of the assembled army itself, its murderous equipment and lodgings, trees and surrounding vegetation, had been blown away or in many instances humbled beyond recognition.

Rising from the ditch, the travelers gathered themselves as they gazed southward. An enormous hole had been blasted in the Wall where the falling piece of sky had struck. Thousands of moaning, whimpering Chlengguu soldiers still clung to the untouched portions of the Wall that stretched away unbroken to east and west. The barrier was quivering, trembling slightly from the force and extent of the great wound it had incurred.

Then, to the accompaniment of hundreds of hopeless screams from as many hoarse and hysterical throats, the mortally injured Wall toppled slowly forward and fell, perishing with a reverberant crash and ensuing upheaval of dust, dirt, and Death. Dozens upon dozens of gigantic, gleaming hooves protruded from its upturned underside, stationary and unmoving. Among the cloud of debris that was raised by its collapse was a cloud. Not a dark cloud, but a cloud of darkness. This quickly dissipated into the sky, the wind whisking it northward. A tight-lipped Ehomba followed it with his eyes until it was lost from view.

As the echo of the Wall’s fall faded, a new sound could be heard: the cries of thousands of displaced Queppa as they gathered themselves to swarm down upon the dazed and demoralized Chlengguu who had survived. Battle quickly became butchery. Ehomba turned away, disinterested in the outcome. As he had tried to tell representatives of both sides, theirs was not his fight. But no one had listened to him.

Taking a deep breath, carefully stepping over a pair of Chlengguu corpses that had been twisted out of all recognition, he accepted his spear and bone sword from Simna and prepared to resume the trek northward.

The swordsman paced him effortlessly while Ahlitah hung back slightly, pausing repeatedly to groom his ruffled and mussed black fur.

“Please now, bruther,” Simna queried respectfully, “tell me once more how much the sorcerer you are not.”

The herdsman looked down at his more than slightly skeptical companion. “Nothing has changed, my friend. I am the same man, boasting the same lack of skills beyond a knowledge of cattle and sheep, desert and ocean.” Reaching back over his shoulder, he touched the hilt of the sky-metal sword where it rested once more in its scabbard. “The blade did all this, not I. Another made the blade, and others presided over its final forging. If you must have an explanation, talk to Otjihanja the Smithy or the old women of the Naumkib. Not I.”

“But you knew what it could do.” Simna was nothing if not persistent. “You ran for cover as soon as you could.”

Ehomba nodded. “I knew, because I was told by those who know. Not because I carry with me any great store of necromantic knowledge. We were lucky.”

“Lucky.” Searching his friend’s face for hint of cool concealment or calculated mendacity, the swordsman found none. Could it be as the herdsman claimed?

“Well, whatever the explanation, we’re alive, and that’s what matters.” He put a little spring into his step. “Time enough later for clarifications.” Shading his eyes with one hand, he squinted at the rubble they were approaching. From a distance, it appeared to be the ruin of a substantial building, perhaps a modest Queppa fortress. Shreds of Chlengguu banners hung limp from its crushed battlements. Shielded by the outer walls, the inner keep appeared to be relatively intact. Nothing moved on the damaged parapet, on the wind-scoured ground outside, or within.

“Let’s have a look,” he urged his tall companion.

“Why?” Ehomba’s gaze narrowed slightly. “We still must reach the Aboqua and find passage north.”

Concentrating on the small fortress, Simna muttered distantly, “The Chlengguu had to have a headquarters safely distant from the field of battle. Even with the Wall to protect them, that would be just common military sense.” He nodded at the ruins. “Given the number of banners hanging from its stones, this looks like it might have been it.”

“So?” Ehomba commented disinterestedly.

Simna smiled up at him. “Please allow me a minute, my laconic master of new lambs. I just want to have a quick look around.”

The herdsman sighed tolerantly. “Very well. Otherwise I will hear about it for days.”

“Yes you will. Come on.” Increasing his pace, he raced on ahead.

Ahlitah watched him break into a sprint. “What ails the ape?”

“I do not know.” Ehomba lengthened his stride. It would not do to let Simna out of his sight. The overeager swordsman might stumble into a nest of surviving invaders ready and frustrated enough to take out their anger on the first non-Chlengg who came their way. “But I can guess.”


THE SWORDSMAN WAS NOT TO BE FOUND IN THE VACANT courtyard of the fortress. Nor was he in the deserted stables, or the unpretentious, high-ceilinged entry hall. Everywhere was evidence of hasty departure on the part of the Chlengguu who had been stationed in the sturdy stone structure. With every uncontested breeze, scattered scrolls and abandoned papers scooted across the floor like whispering, bleached vermin. Goblets and cups of indeterminate liquid posed forlornly on tables and in alcoves, waiting for drinkers who would never come. Erratic spills stained the floor. Gaps in the rafters showed where a few banners had been ripped from their braces and carried off by the fleeing soldiers.

They found Simna in a back room lying on a bed of gold. The room was small and showed signs of having been partially looted, but enough riches remained to satisfy even the most avaricious. There was some silver extant, and platinum presentation disks, and several chests of jeweled pins and medals. The swordsman lay on his back atop the pile, arms spread wide to encompass as much of the hoard as possible. His eyes were closed and a look of bliss reposed on his face as snugly as a perfumed hot towel.

Ahlitah took one glance at the heaping knoll of inedible metal, sniffed, and padded off in search of something valuable. Ehomba stepped through the open doorway, noting as he did so the broken lock and seal, and knelt to examine a handful of the coins. They were six-sided and stamped with an assortment of profiles and adornments. All of the sharply minted faces were Chlengguu.

“What was that you’ve been trying to tell me about no treasure?” As he slid down the front of the flaxen gradient, gold bunched up beneath the swordsman’s undergarments. He did not find the sensation unpleasant.

Straightening, Ehomba surveyed the accumulation. “All Chlengguu coin and manufacture. This room in this fortress must have been used as the army’s treasury. The troops were paid directly from this stockpile.”

“And now there is no army.” Simna smiled beatifically. “So it’s ours.” Lifting a fistful of coins, he let the gold trickle out between his fingers and spill across his stomach.

“Yours.” Turning away, the herdsman prepared to head off in search of the litah.

“Hoy, bruther! Wait a moment.” As Simna sat up, gold tumbled from his arms and chest. Coins bounced musically off the hard floor or ran away and hid against the base of the thick stone walls. “What do you mean, it’s mine? Share and share alike, by Gloriskan!”

Pausing, Ehomba looked back at his friend. “I do not want any of it, Simna. It is all yours. I have all I can do to carry wood and water and weapons and a few essentials. Even a little gold is heavy when one has a long ways to walk.”

“Not to me it ain’t.” Hoisting a handful, the swordsman tossed it into the air for the sheer pleasure of watching it catch the light as it fell. “To me it weighs next to nothing. In fact, the more I have to carry, the lighter my step becomes.”

“If it makes you happy, you should enjoy it.” Ehomba smiled good-naturedly. “There is little enough happiness in the world. I am sure you will be able to find Queppa who will be delighted to help you take charge of your good fortune.” He eyed the pile appraisingly. “I do not know a great deal about gold or money, but I think there is enough there to keep you in comfort for the rest of your life. Not enough to buy a kingdom, perhaps, but nearly anything else.” He started through the door.

“Hoy, what’s your hurry?”

The herdsman smiled back at him. “I am on a journey that leads to a destination, remember? I hope to reach the shores of the Aboqua in a few days. Be well, my good friend, and have a long and contented life.” With that he strode out into the corridor and headed back in the direction of the main hall in search of the litah.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster