Tag Archives: hand weaponry

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #34

[begin blog post #34]

They eagerly listen and seek to incorporate many of the innovations I propose.   We turn to the design of the axe blade itself. 

“Too heavy for any woman, even I” I say.  “Try leaving just the outline of the blade and remove all the metal inside.  Think of it as a sword blade cut in three sections, the longest cutting edge curved, the other two used as braces.  Weld them here… and here.  See?  Then try a new design – one with two blades opposite each other.  That will cause excitement, guaranteed.  Look, if I roll the handle with a powerful wrist action the blade spins around its axis, thus, and anything it contacts is sheared off as if it had contacted a milling blade…”

“A milling blade?”  The look of intense interest is almost comical, like leading a class of first graders on a field trip.

“Don’t they teach engineering to men here?”  I ask, being deliberately provocative.  The smith’s face darkens momentarily and I know I’ve walked in dangerous waters.

“Begging your pardon sir, but how do you know about blending metals?  Is there teaching for this?”

“This of no matter to gora.  We not speak of teachings here.”  The subject is closed.  I keep my mouth shut and await developments. 

“Tell what you need to fight, we make.”  He raises his finger at me in a warning gesture.

I bow my head and lower my arms, then speak in a much lower, subservient  voice, “Please, light and deadly, always, when designing weapons for females.  Survive on skill and speed we do, not strength.  Longer we last, more money owners make.  They see results from good weapons, smiths get credit, as you say, yes?  Good arithmetic?”  The two I’m addressing look at me quizzically.  No ‘arithmetic’ for these guys. 

Then I show them my relatively larger feet than those of a typical T’Sing Tarleyn female.

“Where I from there be people train to use no weapon to kill – just body.  Feet be good killing weapon in hand to hand combat.  You hear I kill trainer by using sweeping side kick many years ago when first I here, yes?”  Some nod knowingly as I demonstrate by knocking down a bundle of what could have been potatoes, from a ceiling hook, raising my foot higher than the tallest of them.  I pick up the bundle and swing it back into place, hiding the fact it was almost beyond my strength.

There is one thing you learn in these kinds of worlds, not very different from Earth: that those who think themselves stronger are easily impressed to observe those they consider weaker do something they cannot do.  It’s up to the “weaker one” to immediately change the subject, let it go.  Never rub it in that you can out-do a man at anything.  If they see you beat them at something they will accept it, once or temporarily, but if you make it look that you are gloating in the least they will find some justification for nailing you when you do not expect it and they will never miss their chance. 

The only safe place to gloat over a man is in the arena when you know you have beaten him and he still does not realize he is a walking dead man.  If he is a particularly vicious type who has raped or tortured other females, now is the time to let him know that you are taking revenge for their pain and death.  Let him face and feel the terror he has been inflicting on others.  In any other situation, when under an authority that has power of life and death over you, remain subservient even when it is obvious you are superior.  You cannot reject them but they can reject you.  Here subservience is best expressed by always reverting to pidgin talk when addressing men.

“Please, I would like foot weapon is call ‘sandal’ that straps to foot and has blades mounted on it.  Make retractable if that be possible?”

I had to describe what a sandal is.  Except for the richest among them who do so strictly as an affectation, no one wears shoes, having no need of them.  But they catch on quickly especially the head smith after he decides to ease his now huge erection in me.  He takes me as casually as if he were taking a drink of water.  The others watch and smirk.  I have difficulty getting used to that, even after all the years I’ve experienced the casualness of it.  Perhaps it’s because they are also raping you when they do it, stealing your power if you let them by not being prepared for it.  Almost every act of fornication here is an attack upon the woman.  As an act of love it would be a violation of their laws on sex.  But breaking their law on casual sex seems much less of an offence, probably because it is rape, the socially acceptable humiliation of a female.  

“I see head trainer,” he belatedly answers after rubbing his dirty hands on my breasts and feeling my hardened nipples. “Maybe I convince.  He approve, yes, we make for you.  I credit young apprentice here,” – points to a young boy working with a hammer on a piece of what I take to be white-hot steel – “for new ideas.  He be about gora size so he be one to think of thing like that.” 

It was a definite insult, not just a slip of the tongue, a serious goading for whatever reason.  Maybe the head smith does not like the boy and would like to be rid of him.  The boy fires his master a look of pure hatred that could mean trouble down the road.  To be compared to a female is the lowest of insults.  To say to a man, “You’re a gora!” is to guarantee a fight, often to the death.  I suspect this boy has yet to pass his puberty rite and has not killed his first female.  His eyes sweep over me with utter contempt.  I know he’d attack me if he did not already know that would be the most foolhardy, and terminal, thing he could do.  He knows that if he did kill me he could claim I was the cause of the insult he had to avenge.  Probably he would only receive a mild reprimand and have to pay back some of my value by winning a fight in the arena sometime in the future.  Of course, that also depends on who it is owns me and my fighting skills and how much they are worth…  He’s not so stupid that he does not realize to attack me gains him two ways to die: at my hands instantly, or in the arena by and by.

But the white bearded, broad shouldered smith laughs loudly – the first hearty laugh I’ve heard on Malefactus.  And I start to wonder… the smith could be useful if I could somehow draw him into a conspiracy to get Deirdre out of this place, away from Hyrete and off Elbre.  I too have that female ectohormonal power men so dread here.  The power to seduce just by being what nature has endowed me with.  My “rebuilt” body is still very attractive despite its scars.  And he’s had a taste of it and what I chose to express with it.  How much more of it does he want?  He would know many traders I warrant, but how could I trust them not to sell her back into the same situation?  I shake my head to free myself of these mindless thoughts.  Always I comeback to worrying about ‘my’ Deirdre.

Dreams are one thing.  Reality too often plays out differently.  And in this place, reality has a way of hitting you on the side of the head.  Not literally this time, but in my heart. 

The days continue to slip into weeks, the weeks stretch into more months.  Since my healing and interview with the doctor – I still don’t know his name – I have heard nothing.  Deirdre has had many “interviews” with all the men in the compound but she seems not to mind, or care.  She had expected her life to have been as a provider of erotic pleasures and has been thoroughly trained for it.  It doesn’t make it any easier for me though, because I seem to worry about her every waking moment.

In all of that, I am a fighter.  I had anticipated that sooner or later I would be forced to use the axe in a fight and that day has come. 

[end blog post #34]

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #33

(Another excerpt, this one gives some insight into Antierra’s not so subtle exhortation to the women fighters, but also into the background of weapons design and construction. Words are fine but what will speak the loudest to the fighters is “new and improved” weaponry, and this is Antierra’s discovered forte.)

[begin blog post #33]

Chapter 14 – The Forge

On the surface life resumes its pace in cages, compound and arena.  The auto-medic has done a great job of repairing my body while leaving all the obvious scars received previously.  With renewed hope that I will be able to work out a scheme to rescue Deirdre from the arena, I work out with increased strength and vigour.  I am able to continue my unofficial training of new fighters while Deirdre is left to attend kitchens and tables, as well as the cleaning of the stalls.  Although she must still take her turn in the line-ups for training, all of it takes place with me and I know not to press her.  She does her amazing moves, to the continuing delight of the male watchers and I pretend they are part of the weapons handling.  No doubt the male trainers and handlers would not mind if all the young trainees performed as does Deirdre the trained entertainer.  She is very popular with the men, naturally and certainly doesn’t mind it.  She is also happier than I’ve ever seen her.

Long ago I had wondered why these nubile young women did not get pregnant from constant sexual intercourse.  I was told we are given contraceptives in our food, it is that simple.  Only rarely does this not work and a woman becomes pregnant.  If she cannot quickly abort in the cages and is discovered, it means death.  She cannot report her condition to a medic to be given a proper abortifact.  Any female who has the constitution to overcome the effect of the contraceptives is considered a danger to the system and must be disposed of.

A gora cannot, by statute, give birth.  This is the sole preserve of the birthers.  No ‘wild’ children legally permitted on any part of Malefactus, so I’m told.  Again you see how legalism is twisted to fit the needs or wants of those in power.  A woman who gives birth to a wild child is killed along with her child.  She has no recourse in this matter.  However if the child survives and is captured at an age where it can be sold into some sort of usefulness it is automatically entered in the system in some capacity as a slave.  As on Túat Har, it appears some stack worlds are also infected by the power of money to control ruling forces, even when such control makes absolutely no sense.  Money is here exposed for the destructive and corrosive virus that it is and if people made the effort to see this, it would lose its power to destroy. But greed causes spiritual blindness and none are so blind as those who will not see but by their faith in the system convince themselves they have the greater sight by simply purchasing their claim to the greater right.

Whether training or fighting, I find it ever more difficult to keep my mind from Deirdre.  Part of it is pure carnal “love” and it’s easy to recognize that weakness, but there is more.  A part of me is with her all the time.  My work; my long-time process towards becoming a compassionate being, though severely curtailed here, has somehow attached itself to her empathic nature and we’ve become a “one” of sorts.  This pleases me, yet annoys me also.  She has too much power over me, made the worse because she is neither aware of it, nor would she want it if she knew of it. Despite the pain of loss I will feel, I will only become whole again when (not ‘if’ – I never allow myself to think ‘if’) she leaves this planet.

More weeks pass.  I’ve decided it is in my best interest, and Deirdre’s, to add some entertaining aspects into my fighting.  I need to prolong the days I am considered a good bet in the arena.  Now would be a bad time to be earmarked for termination in a killing orgy.  I know I can outlast any contender since I have access to the stim which I get from Deirdre and which she procures by whatever means.  I suspect she has seen the doctor and has made arrangements that are seen to by the Cydroids.  Likely the stuff comes from some channel through the court.  There is an understanding between us that we do not speak of certain things.  Quite naturally I do not dwell on the fights in the arena and she does not tell me what she must do to procure the drug I need.  Nor do we touch on our sexual encounters with men, hers being on the increase, mine, well, quite obviously going the other way!

My body feels like its old self without the pain and the stiffness.  I can couple the speed and suppleness of youth with nine years of grueling experience in arena fighting.  I feel more confident also in the fact I’ve been given more autonomy in weapons maintenance and re-design.  Nothing major but enough to upset contenders.  And I’ve trained on that horrible axe with the knowledge that myself, or one of us, would be forced to use it in a fight.  I push the women to become more proficient in handling their weapons.  Become one with your weapon, I continually remind them; love your weapon.  I wait for the doubts to be expressed by trainees and fighters alike and demonstrate while teaching this ancient art. 

“As you would not normally drop your arm, or your leg, in a fight, so you cannot drop the weapon that is a part of your body, an extension of the physical you.  To accomplish this feat you have to learn that you, the fighter, are not a physical being.  You, the fighter, cannot be killed since you are an immortal mind.  Once you accept this, you will know the truth of it and be forever aware that your whole body and whatever appendages it possesses, is a weapon. 

“Your brain extends to the end of your sword blade, or the pike on the end of your staff.  You can feel the life of it throughout every part of you.  Now your ego self, your energy interpreter, is able to tell your extended body exactly what your mind is directing it to do.  You, the etheric, the shadow fighter, the immortal mind, directs the fighting from a place that is totally inaccessible to the challenger.  He, or they, cannot see you at all.  They can only see your weapons.  The same is true for those spectators in the arena.  Ignore them all, they have nothing to do with the purpose for which you fight. 

“I assure you that if you cannot reach this state of mind you are not a fighter, just another arena victim to be overcome, wounded and gloated over; to be raped and finally tortured to death for the gratuitous entertainment of the spectators. It is time, fighters of Hyrete, that we move beyond this lowly animal status and reclaimed our true selves.  We are not goras, we are ahyas! If we do not move ourselves forward, we are dead.” 

Thus do I continuously exhort them to excel, and to reach beyond anything they believe themselves able to accomplish.     

We have our own “blacksmith” in the compound; not so much in an individual as in a crew committed to producing the highest quality hand to hand combat weapons as well as experimenting with new ideas.  They keep their forge in a far corner of the training compound where some highly combustible odourless, colourless gas is piped in to fuel the forge fires; another interesting piece of technology in this otherwise backward and medieval world.

I am permitted to go there without asking permission now, and can enter the enclosure of the forge itself if one of the men inside escorts me in, reporting to the handlers’ office that he’s got me in hand.  Yes, they have voice communicators they use over short distances, but they do not have datacoms.  Those seem reserved for the elites and security forces.

The blacksmith group enjoys the challenges I give them, always eager to learn more about weaponry.  Even I wonder sometimes where my exotic tastes and natural skills in such a barbaric art form come from.  If I did not have a good working knowledge of information drawn from past lives I’d be confused.  For now, I credit my creativity in weaponry to my many incarnations on Túat Har; Old Earth, the center of the greatest “generic” and mindless violence I’ve ever experienced as a wandering Avatari.  Take pride in that, Earthians! You remain unchallenged masters of gratuitous violence expressed as psychopathy!  

I begin my work with the blacksmiths by trying to describe a proper axe handle.  They even allow me to draw an outline of one in the sand – after I query the danger of breaking the taboo on drawing or writing.  They look at one-another and smile.  The one I take to be the chief smith, a barrel-chested older man with a chest as woolly as a sheep, says:

“We follow somewhat different rules here, slave.  We be not as brain dead as your trainers and we not be slaves to dead gods and dead laws.  There be no danger for you here, you try no tricks.  You do, we beat you, maybe make you taste the red hot steel on pretty lips.  You savvy?” 

I understand their language is not motivated by hate or even a sense of superiority.  It’s just the way of it.  Cover your ass by explaining what goes, what does not.  For them what else could I be but a nameless gora?

As to my axe handle design, it’s a no go.  It leaves them utterly perplexed and perhaps just as well.  I have thought of a better idea. 

“Forget it,” I say.  “Here, put a hand stopper on the handle, like about here.”  I hold it three quarters of the way back from the blade end.  “Make  that longer,” I demonstrate by holding the straight handle vertically against my body, holding it to my elbow with my arm down.  “Now can you affix a short, sharp pike with a cutting edge on the end?” 

“That we can do, and a pleasure that is.  You truly have the Beast in you.  With our weapons you kill – we get credit.  More money for good steel and fuel for the forge, that is good.  What more you need?” 

[end blog post #33]

 

The Antierra Manifesto – blog post #12

[begin blog post #12]

Chapter 7 – In for the Long Haul

“If a path to the better there be it begins with a full look at the worst.”  (Thomas Hardy)

It’s a truism of war: short lives engender fast promotion.  I’ve been promoted to unofficial trainer of new trainees.  My unorthodox ways with hand weapons, especially blades has earned me some recognition. 

The next few months bring little change except I am fitted with a couple of different sets of armour.  One is just a basic skirt made of that same light alloy I realize now is not made of anything familiar to me.  I am fitted with forearm and shinbone protectors as well and have to train with these things on.  They are quite stiff and take some getting used to.  I fail to understand their purpose until I begin to train with the staff.  Ah, I discover that smashing the staff against bones of arms and legs is the preferred method of bringing one’s opponent down.  It can break a forearm or cause such numbing pain on the shin that you simply collapse.  The armour takes some of the blow allowing one to move out of range and recover.  The skirt is used to protect one’s loins from a sudden thrust by the opponent.  That leaves one’s thighs, ribs, hands and face exposed.  But these areas are the easiest to protect.

I’m fast on this particular weapon.  It’s as if I’d used it many a time before.  I have.  I remember reading up on this fighting method and practicing while preparing for my incarnation.  Yes, I know this weapon, but I did not know it could be so deadly.  These staves have pressure points in them that allow the user to shorten or extend them by as much as twelve “thumbs” (akin to inch on Old Earth) thus keeping the opponent always guessing at the distance to pull back, swing or thrust.  They also have one pointed end with which to spear, unlike the ones I am familiar with. 

“Can spear point of staff be poisoned, drugged as with the dagger, sir?” I ask my handler while studying the weapon.

“Yes.  Done all time.” he replies. 

No fighter would ever be permitted such a trick, even if such things were available to us, but for the male contenders there is no dishonour in trickery, however he brings down his opponent slave.  In fact dirty, deadly tricks provide additional entertainment for a paying and braying public that always demands something new and more exciting.  It is the nature of those who participate as spectators of organized sport in any society.  Lust for blood and varying levels of violence dominates their minds.  Deceit is always a part of the game, in sports and war.

I also train with a type of wide battle axe, by far the heaviest weapon used by female gladiators and not very popular.  But we do not make the choices so we have to train and ready ourselves to handle all the officially approved weapons.  With this weapon comes the other type of armour – a robe thing covering the upper body to halfway down the thighs and a helmet equipped with a chin strap.  I feel encased in this contraption, quickly chafing and sweating profusely.  It doesn’t have suitable slits to let me open my long legs wide enough for proper balance.  Bad design, or someone forgot my stature. 

I have difficulties handling the heavy weapon with sufficient speed.  My cut arm gives me trouble and my ambidextrous abilities are of no use.  I can only wield this thing one way, my right hand forward on the handle, my left holding back to guide the stroke.  I cannot switch sides without losing connection with my brain.  To make matters worse, the handle is round, straight and smooth all the way.  As soon as it is coated with sweat or blood it becomes all but impossible to hang on to, never mind use it effectively against an opponent. What I wouldn’t give now for one of those real axe handles of Old Earth.  I must find a way to re-design this ugly contraption if I’m to use it in combat.  Ugh!

I hate this method of fighting and would forego it if weapons’ choices fell upon us.  So I train the harder on this thing because I know that sooner or later someone, some spy, some paid trainer or even a female gladiator, out of spite or for some “favour” will reveal my weakness to an informant and I will pay with my life.  I won’t let that happen.  Too many questions left unanswered and too little accomplished in terms of touching upon the private thoughts of other gladiators.  I’m not even “at bat” yet as to sharing any kind of philosophy with the other women.  I’m still an outcast although the young ones’ faces light up when they train with me.  With our signals and low-pitched voice I tell them stories they find fascinating.  It doesn’t matter to me whether they believe me or not, enough that they consider me not only the best fight teacher but a great story-teller.

Day after numbing day, while women continue to be sent to the arena, some  returning cut and bruised, some never, I train.  For the time being at the very least I’ve managed to close my heart and mind to pain and the ever-present sense of fear.  I turn my attention to local details, studying the small but solid hierarchy of the compounds, overseers, handlers, trainers, medics and fighters, looking for answers to my many questions about the social fabric underlying T’Sing Tarleyn.  I search quietly, surreptitiously, for potential leaders, rebels, among the women, even among the men or for weaknesses in the stratified set-up.  I find little to go on.  I try to tap into the women’s minds and receive nothing but white noise – meaningless thought jargon in answer to my probe.  Is this a trick of the mind they play, or are they so brain-dead, confused, mad?  I can’t believe that.  They must have some natural, instinctive method for blocking their thoughts from probes and scanners, both of which I have become aware, are in use around the compound, in our cage areas and in the arena. 

That strange, advanced, inscrutable, esoteric technology that continues to haunt my mind and my dreams.  Where does that come from?  Who really rules this world?

From the other side of the spectrum, I’ve had sex with several of the handlers, trainers and male “nurses” or medics by now.  A couple of them are quite taken by me and I’ve become their “favourite” of sorts.  A dangerous play.  One of them comes to me now and announces that I’ve got a turn in the arena tomorrow.  I pay close attention because there has been no warning of such before.  This has to be something different, unusual.

“Your challengers come soon to watch displays.  You demonstrate skills with sword and dagger, staff and axe.  Word of advice, demonstrate greatest ability with axe, they don’t choose.  Demonstrate least with staff, they chose.  Simple.  That how you make success; turn things around to you, to owner advantage.  So you get to choose weapons after all, huh?” and he pats me on the butt, then casually puts his hand on my breast, fondling the nipple.  Reluctantly he removes his hand before he is noticed. 

However flaunted, the law remains in place: no male may have intercourse with, or demonstrate affection for, any female – under pain of death.  And everyone jealously watches everyone else for any advantage they may derive from blowing the whistle. 

Honour, indeed, hah!  I spit the word out in my head.  And I remember Tiegli.  I miss her terribly at night.  I miss her simple wisdom and her love for me, however brief that was.  And I wonder where she is now.  ‘Shut up – concentrate on here and now.  You are a gladiator.  A fighter, nothing else.’  So I tell myself and return to my work.

Two men, simply, almost poorly dressed, appearing anxious or nervous arrive through one of the stone portals I didn’t even know existed so perfectly does it blend with the surrounding wall.  They are directed to my exercise space and watch me make my moves with the weapons.  I survey them through my lashes.  Both shorter than I by a head – that’s normal.  No unusual musculature that I can see.  They do not seem to have that cat-like walk preferred by those who frequent the arena just for a chance to bet on a fight they are getting into.  Yes, there are professional fighters, killers, out there who make a living by killing us for those who employ them.  They are frowned upon but like bounty hunters, tolerated, as they take chances and cause the stakes to rise.  The women call them drooks.  These two are definitely not drooks, that much I know.

As instructed, I first use the axe and go through some rather esoteric moves, actually impossible in a real confrontation with a living opponent.  I make it look real by letting the heavy weapon slip through my hand and embed itself in a wooden sparring post cut and roughly carved to the size of a man.  They seem suitably impressed.  I then take off my armour and naked, go through my sword routine.  Again I demonstrate undeniable speed and skills with these, suddenly diving on my back and pulling the dagger, sliding it upward and stabbing the wood “man” in what would be his loins or stomach.  

Putting on the light skirt and protector pads, I then heft the staff.  I look at it suspiciously and thrust viciously but wildly at the wood post, missing it.  I pirouette, pretending to regain my composure and aim the side of the staff at the dummy but instead of hitting high enough to break an arm, or low enough to numb a leg, I hit it straight in the middle, the most easily defended part of the body.

My trainer stops me and upbraids me loudly, bemoaning I’ve made him look ridiculous as trainer.  He pulls the staff from my hands, orders me to remove the armour and sends me to wash.  The ploy seems to have worked.  I observe the two “contenders” choosing the staff.

[end blog post #12]

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part 7 – (Seven)

(please note that I’ve changed the spelling of Allay and Allaya to Alay and Alaya.  I always knew there was something ‘off’ there but didn’t clue in until today.  Also please note that as I post these segments of the story, I am deleting contents from previous entries, leaving only one or two as a means of locating for those who are just jumping in.  Any entry needed I can supply if you email me at  shatara@telus.net.  All this means is, it’s a sort of “playing it safe” as I intend to actually publish this one.  I know, I hate copyright but publishers have rules too.  So, intent is good, right?  Enjoy the adventure!)


The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part 7 – (Seven)

Despite the victory and the number of people filling the great room, the meal was a subdued affair. No one could forget that in a side room used to hang meat at butchering time were three cold bodies waiting to be taken down to the village for proper burial. As to the bodies of the attackers, as was the custom, they had been piled between small logs, branches, grass and leaves and set afire. The body remnants had been hauled out to the lower fields to be cleaned up by wolves, foxes and ravens. No one would mourn them or regret their passing. Any valuables found on the bodies, or which they had hidden in the woods before the attack, were more or less equally distributed among the defenders, a greater share going to Magruder for repairs to the barn and cottage. That was the way of things in that land, and at that time.

There would be an interim of several days after this before Nal and Lo could leave the cottage and continue their journey to the coast, not least of which would be their official wedding in Glowmere. To pass the interminable hours and days, they volunteered to search the area for any more bands of potential attackers.

At first Magruder was reluctant as he feared something could happen to his charges and he felt personally responsible for their safety. The alternative however didn’t please him either. It meant that Nal would be constantly underfoot, pestering everybody connected with the cottage, meddling in the cooking and even suggesting changes to the window layouts to prevent attackers from lobbing fire bombs or torches in. She complained about the poor quality of the defenders’ arms and to Magruder’s horror, went so far as to suggest spending money on new swords and teaching any who wanted, some of her skills. Then she had more suggestions to eliminate the danger of wolf attacks upon the sheep.  And…

“Pestilence!” Magruder said aloud.   “Three days of this, I can’t stand no more!” He took Lo aside and suggested that they should indeed go out through the woods, perhaps as far as a small fortified mansion to the south west “no more’n three days hence” to catch some news and gossip. After being severely admonished as to their personal safety, Magruder let them go, making sure they were well provided in food. Water, he said, is never a problem in these parts, t’would be foolish to burden oneself with such.

“And ye be sure and bring the lassie back safe and sound; there be a weddin’ ta perform in Glowmere kirk.”

The “lassie” smirked at those words but didn’t say a word though several retorts came to her mind, one being, “Chauvinist!”  Likely Magruder would have thought she meant his religion.

After crossing the low stone wall between field and trees, they found a trail leading deep into the dark forest. They walked on in single file silently for some time, listening to the woods talking with small animals, birds, rubbing branches from a slight afternoon breeze. Again they took off their heavy shoes and tied them to their packs, walking barefoot, feeling the earth, listening now with their feet also. The trail meandered some but mostly held to the direction they intended to go in: south east.

The day grew old and the forest darker. They began to look intently for some sort of safe and warm shelter for the night. They found a cave on the edge of a ravine and after lighting up a resin torch and walking through it without encountering anything more dangerous than a resident small owl who seemed to question their right to his place then flew off to answer the call of hunger, they made it their abode for the night. As of absolute necessity in such situations, they would have to sleep alone, taking turns on watch.

It was a long and uneventful night that finally ended with a bright orange glow above the trees in the eastern sky. Nal who had taken fourth turn on watch, woke Lo up by jumping and spreading herself on him and giving him a long and satisfactory kiss. After sharing some of their very basic supplies of travellers’ food, they resumed their journey through the forest. By noon they had gradually emerged into a rough land full of boulders scattered helter-skelter. Here they were forced to put their shoes on again for now their path became strewn with sharp broken stones and the ubiquitous gorse that threatened to shred anything without thick leather shoes and leggings with its inch long spines.

They stood on a small hillock to take stock of the landscape, particularly in the direction they were heading. There saw no sign of human life anywhere but in the far distance they could see a spreading haze of bluish smoke, indicating a wood fire, or fires. A village of wood burning chimneys? Or the results of an attack? They couldn’t know until they got closer or encountered either hunters, shepherds or fleeing villagers. They listened intently but the only sound was the soughing of the wind in the shrubbery. A lonely, empty land. Nal moved against Lo and sought the comfort of his body and both felt the great satisfaction of having each other’s company in such a desolate place.

They continued on, following a now quite distinct well-used animal path. Nal led, being the shortest and Lo had no difficulty scanning the jagged hills over the top of her head. Neither liked how the path meandered but under the circumstances there was little choice. Without the path to follow they would have been greatly slowed by the difficult and clinging colourless shrubs. At least had it been summer they could have had the pleasure of their golden flowers and scent with the additional insect and bird songs. Today, though the sun shone, they saw no song birds, only some ravens and what was probably an eagle circling high in the skies. The smoke haze didn’t seem to get any closer either. Then the path plunged down between two sharp rock faces, forming a narrow canyon. For about two hours they could see nothing but what was in front, behind, and the narrow opening to the blue sky above them. Had they been seen entering the canyon it would have made a perfect trap: no escape. Both ends could be blocked and rocks could be dropped on them from the top. Lo cursed himself for taking the easy way and whispering, urged Nal to a trot, though she felt the same eagerness to escape the canyon. They began to run.

Suddenly Nal realized she was moving much faster than she had ever done in her entire life. The canyon walls whizzed by. She turned and saw that Lo was doing the same speed, able to keep up to her dizzying velocity. While running, she found herself able to project ahead, “seeing” obstacles of fallen rocks and turns or narrowing. They ran on, jumping and dodging until the end of the canyon was reached and left behind.

They stopped and looked at each other. Both were smiling until their smiles turned to open mirth and they laughed, their laughter echoing back from the way they had just travelled.

“I’m picking up speed, Lo. I’m developing my Alaya skills already. I never ran like that before, not even at my best. I feel so hungry now, I must stop and eat.”

“These energies, or powers, the Alay possess burn much energy. In these earth bodies that can be a serious downside. We have to use them sparingly, though I fear we will not often be given that luxury. The canyon, I see now, was a self-imposed test to gauge how well we function together. We are beginning to communicate without the use of language, an important skill for what we are on the way to engage.  Now we need to do it with thought forms, or words.  Later.”

They found a comfortably flat stone and after scanning their surroundings and using their keen sense of hearing, sensing no danger, put down their packs and weapons and eagerly engaged their noon meal.

“’Water won’t be a problem, t’would be foolish to carry that burden’ said Mister Magruder. Well, I could use some now.” snorted Nal.

“Until we do find water, and we will because there is water all over in these rocks, try resetting your feelings. Think, ‘I am not thirsty’ or ‘I just drank water and I’m satisfied.’ Let’s see what that does.”

Nal continued chewing her food, but more slowly and focused on the idea. I have water, I don’t need water. For a few moments nothing changed, then it happened.

“I’m no longer thirsty, Lo! How does that work?”

“You are projecting a reality that your body accepts as fact. It has its costs, but it is very helpful in tight situations. Again, not something to overdo, or rely on too much, but something to always keep as a back-up option when there is nothing else. Let me show you something. Just watch, do nothing, say nothing.

Lo sat very still for about half a minute, then extended his arms in the direction they had come from. Suddenly a half dozen men could be seen coming down the path in single file. All were obviously soldiers and well armed, with shiny helmets and even shields. Lo made a “stop” motion and the men stopped. He bent his right arm and the men turned. Then he made a dismissive gesture and they vanished.

Nal clapped. “Amazing! We could fool people with that trick. Can these men actually do anything?”

“Not now but when we learn to telepathically combine our forces I know we can give them much more substance. We can make them yell and run, perhaps even strike blows, or make the enemy believe he’s being actually hit. We can also blend in with our imaginary troops and by striking the enemy from their ranks, add a great deal of reality to the illusion. Nah-La and I did it in our last days together. It almost… almost… saved her. Trouble was, we were not very good fighters then and Nah-La was primarily a healer. She used her bow with deadly accuracy but it made her sick; killing weakened her too much. I think sorrow more than the torture she had to endure is what killed her. And I wasn’t there… I couldn’t find her in time. She signalled me one last time as she was dying, I don’t know where that was. That was the day everything changed for me. I made a vow. Until that day I had made only one: to love Nah-La forever. That day I vowed that I would kill both of the Alay who had turned and betrayed us.

“Perhaps I should have made it clearer, but in case you are confused about this quest, that is the quest we are on. Your presence now as a new Alaya has evened the odds for me. Two on two. But there is more to this that I must share with you soon.”

Nal understood they could not stay in such an exposed place and they needed to find water soon. She got up quickly and gathered their belongings, handing Lo his pack and staff. She set off at a much brisker pace than she had used earlier. There was a strange spring to her step and she was sure she could hear farther. She heard the light gurgling sound of a tiny stream and focused on it as surely as a hawk focuses on a mouse from an impossible height.

“I’ve found water up ahead, behind that large boulder.”

Lo grabbed her and pulled her down. A well aimed arrow whizzed overhead. They crawled off the path behind some rocks and waited.

“Why didn’t I sense that, Lo?”

“You were too excited with your new-found powers and too focused on the water.”

They slowly put themselves into a position from which they could defend themselves even against three or four attackers. Nal pulled her faithful bow and prepared her arrows, all the while focusing on the direction the arrow had come. Two more arrows flew over their cover. Either this was one stupid idiot, or there were several and they didn’t mind wasting a few arrows. She tried to “see” the attackers but all she got was blurred movement and confused thoughts.

“Lo, what can you see?”

“There’s three of them. No Nal, this isn’t a game or an illusion. Sorry but these are real. We need to decoy them, I don’t want to stay here until dark. Suggestions?”

“How good’s your throwing arm?”

“You want me to throw rocks at them?”

“I’ll do it, it’s a trick.” She picked a good rock, gauged her distance, then lobbed in in a high arc. The stone flew high then losing velocity, dropped suddenly behind the rock the attackers had chosen for their attack point. There was some commotion behind the rock, some swearing. Lo grabbed another rock and did the same thing, lobbing it high so it would drop on the attackers. More swearing and this time an arm with a sling showed up beside the boulder. Nal’s arrow skewered it through the wrist and that was followed by a scream of pain.

“Now they’ll know they’re not dealing with amateurs. Should put a bit of fear in ’em.” She kept looking, hoping for more movement but except for more cries of pain, nothing ventured from behind the boulder. Lo kept on lobbing more rocks, stones, even pieces of roots until finally they heard running and a pleading voice, “Don’t leave me here!”

“Let’s rush it, Nal.” Staff ready and arrow notched, both rushed to the boulder then carefully peered behind, one from each side. All they saw was the wounded attacker running away.

“Let him go for now Nal. We’ll follow their footprints and find them, never fear. They’ll have some explaining to do then. Let’s refresh ourselves, here’s your stream.” Down among the rocks a silvery streak of running water could be seen. They followed it down until it came out into the open and flowed into a natural pool. They drank their fill, washed face and hands and returned to retrieve their packs. Nal walked around until she’d found the miss-spent arrows, checked them over to ensure they were still usable and slipped them in the same band that held her own staff. Then she carefully inspected her bow, put three arrows in her belt and kept the bow in hand as they proceeded to track their attackers.

They advanced with extreme caution. If they set a trap for them once, they could do it again. Once in a while they saw or smelled blood. The wounded bandit was obviously following his mates. Then they saw something that shocked both of them: the “mates” had killed their wounded comrade and left his body on the trail.

“This is monstrous,” said Nal. I’ve seen things, horrible things, but this to me is completely sick, inhuman. We’re dealing here with rabid animals, Lo.”

“I agree, but I think we’ve arrived at their lair. I smell something odd here. There must be a cave. I see a dark opening in the rocks.”

They approached the opening, smelling, listening, focusing. Both knew there was life inside the cave, they could sense it, but it felt wrong. A large animal perhaps?

“Watch this entrance, I’ll walk around and see if there is another exit.” Lo crept around the rock mound that he’d mistook for a cave. He saw a glimpse of the two bandits running away and disappearing in the tumble of rocks. He let them go and returned to Nal.

End Part 7 – (Seven)