The Golden City
”...and each with his
weapon for smashing.”
Key·ol·te·ton and his men overlooked the desolate plateau below with caution. Deep in the territory of the Nephraceetan, high on a rocky crag, the Mammoth-men studied the pulsating glow in the middle of the third terrace. Mesmerized by the scene, the mystic dance of radiance twirled and weaved in its colorful, pattern-less array. Seductively it called out to the men’s senses of wonder and yet at the same time they feared the unknown of its magic. This was the most sacred of places. Only the gods were welcomed here. The Sanctuary, — The Light — emanating from the very heart of the Forbidden Terraces, — guarded by the monstrous ghouls,— The Nephraceetan.
“Brother, we have traveled too far north since we left the soft-skins,” whispered Zee·ya. The panic in the medicine man’s voice was unusual. “We should of turned south weeks ago. Surely no one would have been foolish enough to bring the Beloved this deep into the dark world of the cannibals?”
“Our own spies confirmed the tavern owner’s story —that the kidnappers were bringing her to the devils as an offering.”
“No one strikes a bargain with the devils. They are beyond reason.”
“Shhh!” Key·ol·te·ton answered as he cautiously lessened his exposure behind the large outcropping of granite while keeping his full focus on the changing scene below.
Zee·ya froze in horror.
* * *
The small contingent of transparent forms moved as phantoms in the twilight hours through the primeval woodland. Only a rare sign marked their passing. A few prints with razor sharp talons pushed into the rotting debris of the forest floor. Here-and-there, a singular dewclaw scarred the earth as it gripped the unstable terrain like an opposable thumb.
The occasional roar of a big cat and the squeal of prey, or the thunderous trumpeting of an angry pachyderm hinted of the dangers of this foreboding world; but the ghostly forms seemed indifferent to the unnerving sounds of the fierce denizens.
Apparitions on a quest, the aliens stalked through the matted vegetation. They were Marshals,— Guardians on a mission. Soldiers of the Empire sent to reclaim a critical outpost on the fringes of the realm.
Ahead, somewhere in the heavy growth, their destination lay hidden,— abandoned long ago on this forgotten world after the galactic upheaval that lost this sector of space to insurgents. Hopefully, after the onslaught of some of the heaviest fighting of the insurrection; the treasure-trove of scientific research was still intact, — and with it, an antidote.
The alien Prince stepped into the clearing and solidified as silent as a disembodied spirit taking form. The cloak, — a mere tool in his arsenal against a resourceful enemy, had served its purpose. The locator signal on the giant’s visual array marked arrival at the coordinates as he inspected the passage of dancing light far ahead on the mountain plateau. Numerous trees broke up the features of the flat landscape ahead; a haphazard smattering of dead and barren shapes that prevented a clear view of the energy source.
Subordinates materialized in defensive positions around their commander.—— Ignoring the science, it was a haunting display of magic as the mystic warriors stood; the stone hewn features of the Guardians’ imprinting images of ancient centaurs in the soft hue of the single moon’s glow.
The contoured horns of each war-helmet gracefully shadowed the large bulging eyes of the masks that were as black as the surrounding night. Deep within the dark glossy orbs, radiated small pupils locked on their destination; the burning embers peeking out through the doors of hell. Gnarled cords of hair, a tangled mass of disjointed, twitching, spider-like legs, veiled the back of the neck and draped over the heavily sinewed shoulders. Light chain-mail, girded at the waist by a thick belt served the duel purpose of protection in battle and field generation for the cloak.
For hand-to-hand combat, heavy gauntlets shielded forearms and each warrior carried a unique weapon of choice besides knives of varying lengths: single and double edged swords; saber, trident, spear, battle-ax, and war-hammer.
The Prince alone, standing a full head taller then his subordinates, carried a quarter-staff. Fingers with daggered talons held the stout metallic shaft as corded sinews rippled under the giant’s adjusting grip. Strength was a characteristic bequeathed to all the warriors; but the long tusks protruding from under each mask appeared the most formidable of their natural weapons.
A fearsome contingent of soldiers, these were the pride of the royal house and sworn sentinels to their leader;— the giant, Cal·mic·kay, — “The Destroyer,” foremost prince of the Guardian Empire.
The giant triggered his targeting sensors, and scanned the doorway ahead. The waves of light emanating from the entrance seemed to twirl and spin like rays from a sun reflecting off the rippling surface of a stream. Go from this place, they warned hypnotically. The rhythmic power source from within hummed and vibrated,— cautioning — Leave or Die, to any life-form.
Pulling a small black box from his belt, the Prince transmitted the appropriate frequencies to unlock the safeguards, and motioned his sentinels forward.
They walked into the sparse, almost barren grove. A haunting mystique of evil shrouded the ancient courtyard, —most of the scattered trees, dead and withered. Repugnant, shriveled fruit clung to a few gnarled branches, hanging abandoned, — the mummified remains of lost prosperity.
They neared the gateway and static filled the air. The presence of ozone readings scrolled down on the officers’ visual arrays doubling as mask visors.
“Why is the shield still on?” Cal·mic·kay raised a hand stopping the advance.
* * *