…they were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living (the Nephilim).
Altor strode over the bloodstained field. A deathly hush hung over the broken and battered bodies strewn about.
‘Cark…cark..caaaaark…’a solitary crow hopped nearby.
Altor snarled at it, daring it to come closer. The crow hopped closer again. It cocked its jet black head to one side and fastened a shrewd, milky eye on Altor.
I’m not afraid of you, it seemed to say.
Altor’s expression changed. A frisson, like a chill, started at the nape of his neck, tingling down his spine. He did not recognise the sensation at first then it dawned on him. It was fear.
The animals had come, stealing through the forest on padded paws, others swung through the trees with fierce intent. The brush of heavy bodies made the wild jungle whisper and sigh. The birds cried in alarm and then in fury. The roar of lions and bears swelled, the scream of the mighty boar-like Atedin joined in and the ground shook with thunder of their feet. Without hesitation the animals threw themselves upon Altor and his men.
Altor’s army defended themselves with everything they had but no weapon or shield could withstand the forest creatures, maddened with an unearthly rage.
That crow knew, and so did Altor, that the attack of forest animals, great and small, had not been defeated on this battlefield. At the crescendo of the fight, every animal paused and lifted their heads high, listening. An unearthly voice, felt rather than heard, called them and in a moment all were gone, slipping away into the thick, fastness of the forest.
A handful of men were left standing, bewildered at the sudden disappearance of their foe and the strange quiet had fallen. Now only the crow stared out of his bold, beady eyes and Altor was discomfited.
A shout tore from his throat and he shook his massive head, sending the waving hair dancing over his shoulders. He lifted a fist and thrust it high in the air, staring up into the sky.
“You will not win!”
The echoes screamed back at him, amplifying his voice as if mocking him.
From all directions across the gruesome field a remnant of men streamed toward the towering Earth-Born. He was at his finest, gathering them in with a nod, a handshake, an acknowledging grunt. A gleam of pleasure lit his face when Ittai led his muscled horse to him and wordlessly handed him the reins. The magnificent black animal was miraculously unharmed.
“Follow me,” Altor was short and sharp, “we will go forward to find the fortress.”
There was some protest but Altor would not have it.
“We did not come thus far to turn back now. We have spilled our blood on the battlefield and lost our friends and brothers. To turn now dishonours both them and us.”
Ittai gazed at the bloodied, dirt stained faces around him. No one dared to nay say Altor, even now. They all knew that something other worldly had happened and had no clue what it was. Fear stalked every survivor. They were afraid of what lurked in the deep forest and afraid of Altor too. Ittai felt pity for them. As second under Altor, he felt responsible for them and since most of this small band of survivors were of his own tough, hardy tribesmen, that feeling doubled.
Silently they all followed Altor up the rise and over. Curiously, it seemed as if a trail had been deliberately left for them. The trackers found the entrance easily although, without the deliberate trail, Ittai was doubtful if they could have uncovered the Fortress. It was cunningly embedded in the rocky hillside.
They stole along empty, echoing passages, investigating every room and corner, until they reached the heart of the fortress. Looking into a room, Altor came to a dead halt. Ittai saw the muscles in his back and shoulders bunch and stand out. Altor bounded into a stately room and yelped. It was a strange sound and brought Ittai to a wrenching halt.
There, lounging comfortably before a fireplace sat the arresting figure of Proximus. To say Altor was astonished was truly an understatement. He stared at his father and it was moments before he could speak. The pungent scent of burnt feathers filled the air.
He faltered, the passion and excitement coursing through his entire body along with the sudden shock caused him to stutter.
“Altor,” Proximus said languidly, merely flicking a short glance at his son from the corners of his eyes.
He returned to staring at a portrait on the wall, ignoring his third-born son.
“I see you understood the trail I left for you and had the wits to follow it.”
“Father! How did you come here? Are you hurt? Where is she? Do you have her?”
Altor plunged forward. He flung himself on one knee at his father’s side, gripping his hand and bringing to his lips. Proximus left it there a moment then deliberately disengaged.
“Tsch, Altor,” he murmured.
Curiously, the small sound brought colour surging to the smooth, arrogant cheek of the son. Altor leapt to his feet and stood straight, hands behind him. A short silence stretched between the father and son.
“Father, I lost sight of you when the shimerith attacked. How did you come here? Were the rebels in situ when you arrived? Do you have her?
Ittai hovering in the doorway signalled to his men to gather and wait. Who knew what poisonous and deadly men Proximus had posted throughout the rebel fortress.
Proximus sighed and turned his eyes upon Altor.
“No, my son. They had made their escape before I penetrated the outer entrance to this fortress.”
“But how, Father, did you know where to find it?”
“A very useful spy,” Proximus drawled, “hell hath no fury like a vengeful, ambitious woman.”
He laughed quietly and the sound echoed eerily.
“Father, what is this place?” Altor asked.
Proximus looked briefly around the room and back at the portrait on the wall, tapping one hand on his thigh. He sighed and looked at his son.
“It belongs to someone I have wanted to find for a long time,” he pointed to the finely painted picture on the wall.
A trick of the eyes made it seem that they followed the viewer around the room.
“Noesh,” he finished.
Ittai, waiting at the door, gasped in shock. The name Noesh was familiar to him. It seemed that Altor had kept pertinent information from him. A cold feeling gripped the pit of his stomach and he was profoundly relieved that they had found no one at Tetrahin.
Proximus swung around at the slight gasp and stared at Ittai, still standing guard at the door. With a wave of his hand he made it clear that Ittai was dismissed. Nodding, Ittai withdrew and started to pull the massive door shut. Altor’s men were to protect him but not from his father and they were never permitted to listen to the Fallen One’s plans.
Ittai hoped the Fallen One would give up and return to Arca. He shivered. If not, Noesh was in terrible danger and he, Ittai, would be caught up in the middle between a master he hated and a friend he would be ordered to kill.
As the door settled into place he heard Proximus speak.
“I must leave you to chase after your beauty, Altor. To find Noesh, I must find the other girl. She will try to rejoin him. The sky trail of the shimerith is still fresh.”
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