The Concord

The view from where the highland gave way to foothills and the vast plains beyond was spectacular in the light of the setting moon. To the south the narrow plateau quickly gave way to taller and taller mountains. They were near invisible against the black sky but for the fact that they blotted out the stars. Earlier that night they had blocked the moonlight too, leaving the entire world near pitch black and the plains could have been mistaken for an abyss, starting just meters from the feet of the six men.

Travelling through a desert in spring and then crossing the world spine mountains in summer had left their once pristine clothes caked with dirt and tattered at the hems. Huddled in their cloaks against the lightless dark they were nearly indistinguishable from the boulders that had rolled down the slope from the mountain behind them.

This was not a coincidence. Even though the Hands of the Concord could not sense anything alive nearby that was big enough to be a danger to them, they still took no chances. For as they travelled further north, away from the domain where the Lord of the Sun and the Concord of Faiths reigned supreme, His ability to grant them His sight was slowly diminishing. They had been warned from the onset that this would be happening, that the lands they were travelling to had been abandoned by all Gods. It was another thing entirely to experience it.

After they had crossed the high pass from the desert into the mythical northern realms their ability to sense their surroundings had been reduced to only those times they were directly touched by the Divine Light of the Sun. For the first time they entered service as Hands they were truly blind. It had cut down the speed with which they could travel across the unfamiliar and dangerous terrain. It had cost them precious months they could ill spare to complete their mission before the world could be cast into an age of darkness by the messenger.

The six Hands were acutely aware now what that age of darkness would mean. They already lived through it every night now they had left the realm were the Lord of the Sun was ascendant. When His sigil dropped below the horizon they were stuck in a lightless void until the night had passed. And so, they knew, it would be for every living being. The light of the sun would be barely illuminating the world during the day, and at night there would be no light at all. Except for the minions of Darkness, who according to the scripture needed neither light nor warmth, and resented it in the living.

This was the reason why the Hands had, even this far removed from every living thing, had kept a watch of two at all time while the others took brief rests. They had agreed that as they were informed by their God of the message, so must have been the servants of the darkness. And if the Lord of the Sun had sent his chosen Hands to the north, so must the Darkness have sent a large force of enemies to counter them.

Here in the cold and remote mountains would be the most logical place to ambush them. There were few passes through the mountains, and their secrets zealously guarded by the desert dwellers and the handful of trade caravans regularly crossing between the northern and southern lands. It also would not be hard to find their warmth and the sunlight that suffused them in these barren lands.

That they hadn’t been attack so far was something of a disappointment and a bit discomfiting. It always was difficult dealing with enemies who didn’t act rational.

“If our enemies do not come to us, we should leave as soon as possible,” one of the Hand whispered in the stillness of the early pre-dawn.

With the sun once again near the sky, something outlined the world around the Hands in a faint bluish glow. It was enough for them to, if not quite navigate by, at least to get a sense of what lay ahead of them. In its ghostly way it was as spectacular an experience as the world in the splendour of the Sun Lord’s glory.

Two more of the Hands stirred to greater awareness and took in the effect that was like a faint reflection of the Sun Lord’s Grace that replaced their burned out eyesight.

“We’ve been Blessed,” whispered one of them in awe.

“It may also be an admonition to make greater haste,” said the informal leader of the small group. “As we have fallen well behind our schedule with the slowness of first crossing the desert and then the mountains.”

They all bowed their heads and breathed a prayer for forgiveness. While it had been difficult to avoid the delays, they still were delinquent in their duty to the Sun Lord.

“We can move, if we are careful,” the oldest of the Hands, the one who often acted as adviser to their leader, spoke up. “There is no excuse to delay.”

Hands rarely travelled or operated together, there were too few of them to make that feasible, but when they did it was always like this. With consensus rather than command. While it made them a little slower to get moving, once they did it was with absolute certainty and terrifying speed. Seconds after agreeing on the course of action, the six of them were on the move.

As they picked their way down the rocky slope that was only barely perceivable by them, and in the shadowed areas completely absent from their awareness, the leader asked for opinions on the next leg of their journey.

“What do we know of the lands we are entering?” he asked. He of course had his own ideas and opinions but he kept quiet on them so as not to bias the others.

“The trade caravan we followed for a while spoke of flat lands and men on horses,” came the reply after a considerable amount of time had passed that they had spent crossing a stretch of land they had to navigate mainly by touch.

The light of dawn was well and truly lighting up the sky on the horizon of the foothills and flat plains beyond, and was beginning to overwhelm the ghostly awareness of the land, when the next memory was voiced. “They were not scared but …”

“There was a wariness. As if they did not quite trust them.”

The other Hands thought it over and one by one agreed with this interpretation of the snippets of conversations they had spied on.

It was approaching noon when their leader finally weighed in on the fragmented conversation. Having passed through the same crucible of relentless training and complete dedication to the Sun Lord little words need to be actually spoken between them. They could hold much of their conversations in their minds, knowing what each of them would say as certainly as they knew their own minds on a subject. It was only when they couldn’t be certain each had the same information, or if there were several possible and likely courses of action that words actually needed to be exchanged.

“Our maps are inadequate at best,” the leader said in the stillness of a treeless land preparing for the summer heat. There was almost no wind rustling the grass and low shrubs dotting the mountain slope that they were descending with the same confidence of a man who could see where he was going. Few small animals and birds made a noise, leaving only the droning of invisible insects to break a silence that would otherwise have been oppressive.

“but combined with what we heard the traders speak of, we must assume that these are the last lands and people we must pass before we reach the northern barbarians and must begin our Search in earnest,” he continued, taking care to project his voice in such a way that it did not carry far beyond the small group.

“From what little we have gathered it is a long way still down the mountains across the foothills and vast plain north of us, but we dare not slow down.”

The oldest of the Hands spoke up in the silence the leader had let fall. “If our opposite numbers have not met with us here where we are most vulnerable, we must assume they have rallied around the Messenger.”

They all mulled over that observation for the next two miles before the leader voiced his assent. “We might want to know more of these horse riders that the traders are wary of. If we can do so without delaying our mission,” he said.

“Allies?”

“Allies. Or arrows,” the leader said, correcting himself almost as an after thought. “An arrow does not need to know who holds and looses the string. Only the target it must strike.”

One by one the others expressed by the smallest of sounds their appreciation of the plan. Unlike the regular army the Hands were not above expediency and if they could pit one set of heretics, heathens or unbelievers against another, so much greater the glory of the Sun Lord over that battlefield.

“But for now we must search our hearts and souls for any clue His Glory has given about the nature of this Message. We only know that in his Hands it can renew and era of Brightness while left unchecked the gods of evil intent will use it to bring about an era of Darkness,” he surprised them by saying next. “The more we know of the message the better we can predict where it will be headed and the better chances we have to intercept it without having to carve our way through an entire country full of barbarians and heathens.”

Advertisements