Ithuriel: Inception (Chapter One)

Presenting original fantasy fiction from Robert Roach, this prose series features sword and soul hero Ithuriel in adventures placed in fantasy lands.
 

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PART NINETEEN

Tired -- & a bit stinky -- Ithuriel is squirming out of a pitch black sewer access fissure. Dawn is about an hour away & his eyes adjust to the sky's lighter tone of grey. The warrior glances around himself. All the neighborhood's trees continue to bend to the wind. Few individuals are on the streets, seemingly silhouettes in the distance. Most of these folks are regular army, city officers or Ayana's mercenaries. Despite the paucity of people on the streets, the town's tension remains unbelievably high.

News of the coup has spread throughout Aston. Wherever they encounter each other, the army &/or the police officers battle the hired legionnaires. This reason, more than any other, prompts civilians to stay at home. 

Ithuriel has gone on a circuitous, slightly time-consuming route to reach this point.

The young swordsman leaves the sewers at the capital's south end. Aston's Southside is a blue collar neighborhood. This district was the first to be built outside the metropolis' former guarding walls, four centuries or so earlier. The locality's homes are a bit provincial, but, like other areas in the city, the neighborhood is well-maintained. Rich or poor, Aston's citizens take pride in their city & their homes.

The capital's tall, inner walls create a ring encircling two-thirds of the metropolis -- all of this inside the municipality's current borders. The battlements were once the city's outer wall. By-&-large, neighborhoods have grown beyond & enveloped the ancient parapets. In some areas, the wall has been completely dismantled. Not so here, in the southernmost part of town.

Over these four centuries, the Southside has spread out on both sides of this large, stony partition. The old wall had been built with irregular, multi-ton rocks. By these stones lacking regularity, it was more difficult for invaders to assault & gain access to Aston. There was no way for alien armies to quickly, systematically & strategically climb the barrier. This fact is a major reason that no foreign force has conquered the capital.

Despite the evening's events, technically, this remains true. Domestic treachery has caused Aston's demise.

The old wall is 12-feet wide & 10-feet tall. Vegetation grows from its fissures & interweaves with the rocks. This haphazard intermingling between the wall & the plant life has created an irregular beauty. However, near the main thoroughfare, the battlement's old gate has crumbled, enabling the city to build a wider road.

A (relatively) new fortress for Aston's army -- built a century earlier -- has been erected by partially incorporating the old wall. Some of the old stones have been cannibalized in the construction, making the structure a military mix of more recent & ancient.

This 3-story citadel is rectangular. It is roughly 60-feet by 40-feet -- the north & south sides being the longer sides. The west side facing the southbound highway.

The ancient parapet bisects the structure, paralleling the longer walls. On the fortress's south side, the edifice extends nearly 12-feet from the old barrier. Where the new building has been erected into the partition, the timeworn battlement has been hollowed out. The old stones & structure have been integrated into the new. On the ancient wall's north side, the "modern" fort extends away from the wall for about 16-feet.

Unlike many Kahnuri posts, this garrison does not have a retaining wall surrounding the premises. On the citadel's south-facing side, there is a fenced-off quarter for the soldiers' horses. The corral has a small well for water, a small stable & a feeding area. This night, all of the horses are gone -- being used by the warriors. Other auxiliary buildings dot the fort's premises.

On the citadel's north-facing side, dense shrubbery -- grown & groomed to be a uniform 7-feet tall & 4-feet wide -- acts like a wall. This shrubbery grows out from the fortress -- 30-feet (paralleling the structure's "short" side) & by 40-feet where the bushes parallel the building's "long" side. Though the shrubs' top edges wave in the wind, they pretty much function as a solid barrier for the fortress's main entrance & the exterior staging area.

There's an opening in the middle of the vegetation's long side. This 10-feet wide aperture is opposite the stone stronghold's main doorway. This break in the wall of bushes represents the compound's de facto entrance.

Aston's main north-south thoroughfare -- the closest thing to a highway headed out of town -- bisects the Southside district. This sprawling neighborhood flows down a slight decline toward Aston's newer & official outer wall -- about half a mile from the fort, Ithuriel's present location.

Ithuriel moves in total silence, using the locale's architecture, shadows & foliage to cross this area unseen. By traveling across the entire city through the underground, the large warrior has continued to avoid the city's helter-skelter. Peering from the undergrowth, Ithuriel sees a solitary officer on horseback at the staging area's entrance. It seems as though the soldier is watching the outpost.

Maybe he's on King Telamahn's side ... & maybe not. There's no way to know -- & the giant warrior can't take a chance. Ithuriel slips silently up to the trooper. Before this soldier might even try to be aware of his predicament, Ithuriel knocks the man out & acquires his steed.

Ithuriel's goal has been to visit this station. Doing so is critical if the young man is to succeed in his plans to escape Aston.

The big, bronze barbarian enters the empty outpost. Due to the city's insanity, the soldiers have gone lord-knows-where. Maybe they have all run away. Perhaps they're doing their duty & are battling the hired interlopers. Regardless of whether Ithuriel's suppositions are correct or not, this is a big break. Fates are finally smiling at the young warrior.

As Ithuriel passes through the fortress's rooms & up its stairs, he grabs paper & a charcoal pencil. The exhausted warrior goes to the roof & finds that things here are situated as they should be. As he had hoped they would be. A dozen large bird cages, with varying major cities' names affixed above the doors, are there & untouched. Inside each, six carrier pigeons are sleeping through the capital's chaos.

Ithuriel writes a brief note & wakes a pigeon from the "Locar" cage by grasping it. The grey & speckled brown bird is almost twice the size of its descendant pigeons. The bronze colossus attaches his note to the pigeon's leg & releases the bird. Its homing instincts kicking in, the pigeon immediately takes flight toward Nyanjarrah's main port city -- that country's second largest metropolis.

Ithuriel briefly watches its southward flight. The bird valiantly battles the whipping wind until it's fully aloft. Then the winged messenger uses a gust as an ally, employing the mighty breeze to gain speed. Soon, the bird disappears into the darkness. The warrior intends to quickly follow in the bird's course & head toward Locar.

Retracing his path, Ithuriel exits the outpost. In Ithuriel's mind, he is as good as gone. He'll soon be on the open road, riding toward the south.

However, the young Kahnuri finds Botocudoz, standing next to the dark grey steed given to him at the palace. The general is blocking the young man's route back to his acquired horse in the otherwise empty plaza.

"Hah! Lucky for me," the Sandeh general exclaims. "Found you at the second place that I checked."

"And you are…?" Ithuriel asks.

"I'm Botocudoz, general from Sandeh," the tall, slim & broad-shouldered warrior replies. Like Ithuriel, the Sandeh swordsman's crown is bald -- in Botocudoz' case, due to heredity & nature. The hair comprising the "U" pattern above his ears & the back of his head is plaited into a single, long ponytail. Ithuriel's pate, other than his braid of nobility, is shaved bald.

"Sandeh?!" Ithuriel utters as he takes in Botocudoz' bearing. Though young, Ithuriel is readily able to size up a warrior. This is among the first things that Tzumé taught his son. He's immediately aware that this general is extremely lethal.

"For you to be in Aston from Sandeh, this coup must be much larger than I'd thought," Ithuriel says, completing his theory.

"Soldiers in the palace said you're smart," Botocudoz compliments. "Nice to know that they were right."

The two men begin to warily circle each other on the plaza's smooth surface.

"Where's your back up?" Ithuriel asks, placing his hand on Liwâ's hilt.

"No back up. Ayana's forces would have thought me mad if I had shared my hunch. I'm the only person who figured you'd flee south, rather than directly east, toward the ocean, or north to The Hinterlands," Botocudoz answers.

"I guess I'm not as smart as I'd supposed I am," Ithuriel remarks at his own expense.

"To the contrary, young warrior," Botocudoz replies. "This was a great move. In order to escape, this was your best move. I salute your cleverness."

Ithuriel looks back at Botocudoz, taking in this awkward compliment. The younger man is haggard. It's been a long night & Ithuriel's body bears witness to this fact. Numerous cuts, scratches & bruises document the larger man's many battles, his time on the run & his trek through the sewers.

His body especially bears evidence of the latter. Upon escaping this dilemma -- if he's able to do so, Ithuriel would initially like to have a good bath or shower -- then a good meal.

But the young man must first survive one more fight. This last fight. Hopefully.

Ithuriel & Botocudoz pause for a moment, then, simultaneously, both men draw their swords. 

Ithuriel story elements are the sole property of Robert Roach/Hometown Productions ©2020

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Words and illustrations by Robert Roach