The Traitorous Mound

It wasn't easy to sit among so many “white men”, even if they were men that didn't act white.    Cat Smiling was very conscious of how different he was to the clansmen.   When he had been among Valcon’s group he had not felt those differences so keenly.  After all, Valcon’s band had been eclectic enough to include an itinerant Comanche.   The clansmen were different.  All of them were of the same race and culture.  Indeed, Cat Smiling could find little difference in the personalities of each man.  True, he had not been among them for long so he wasn't qualified to make a competent judgment of these wild white men, but all of them seemed to be of the proud, loud, boisterous type.

That is not to say that Cat Smiling was unhappy.    He was a long way from home.   He was beginning to believe that he would never return to his people, the Nern, the Comanche.   For this reason he had taken a white woman for his wife and was satisfied to live among white men, and, now that he was among these clansmen he had to make a proper place for himself.

Already one of them had given him obi.   Obi was the particular type of allegiance that one clanner gave to another.   Often it was taken by force, though sometimes a lesser man gave it freely to a better man.   Cat Smiling had taken his obi by force.  Beside him sat the single clansman who given him obi.   His name was Gig Anton.   He was a big, powerful warrior with serious eyes.   In the short week that he and Cat Smiling had been together they had become casual friends.

Now Cat Smiling waited while his friend and leader, Valcon the Blade held a conference with the headmen of the Clan Terentz over the issue of Valcon’s familial clan.   It was widely known on the Plains of Segesthes that Gisgedalt clan was no more.   What remained were a few banished traitors who would no longer be welcome among the clansmen.   Valcon had returned to Segesthes, home of the clansmen, to determine exactly what had happened to his clan and why they had been branded traitors.

“Do not concern yourself too much, Cat Smiling,” said Gig Anton.  “Our wise men will be fair with Valcon.   I think he will survive this meeting.”

“Valcon was far from this land when his clansmen rode against the other clans,” said the Comanche.

“And that will be considered.   All will be considered.   This is a time for thinking and judging, not rash action.   We can only wait.”

Cat Smiling said nothing more.   His dark eyes glittered in his impassive bronze face.  He waited.


Valcon stood in a circle of men.   Some of them were young and impetuous.   Some of them were seasoned warriors still in their prime.  Some of them were old men valued for their experience and wisdom.   All of them stared at Valcon with bitter eyes because before them stood the scion of the traitorous Gisgedalt clan.

“Who stands before us in judgment?”

The voice of the old man rang clear.   Valcon drew in a deep breath of air and smelled the usual odors of a large Clansman camp.   The smell of beasts, food cooking, the prairie grass and the burning fires all reached his nose.    He wanted to look up at the sky and sigh again, but he kept his eyes directly on the old man.

The old man was Kron Ipus, a Chuktar, and a commander of ten thousand.   He was over two hundred years old, and that was very old for a clansman.   Once he had been a tall, straight warrior.   There were tales about him, almost legends, and because of that great reputation he held dominion over the young savage warriors who stood around him.   Not only was Kron Ipus a reputed war leader; he was also wise in the ways of men and animals.   Now, this old man waited for an answer.

“I am Valcon the Blade of the Clan Gisgedalt.   I have been to other lands for many years.  It has been nearly 38 years since I last stood on the Plains of Segesthes.   I have obtained the pakzhan,” said Valcon.  He drew from under his shirt the symbol of the Hyrpaktun.   He showed them his pakai, a trophy string that contained the rings of twelve Hyrpaktuns slain in fair combat.

“We are impressed, Valcon the Blade,” said the old man solemnly.   “You have done well for yourself in your years away from the Clans.   Your clan has not done well.”

Valcon tucked the pakzhan and trophy string away as if he were unconcerned with such medals.   “I had heard of this in other lands.  That is why I have returned to the Plains.  To learn what happened to my clan.”

“Voveshit!” exclaimed a warrior to the right of the old man.  He was gigantic.   He stepped forward with a sneer on his handsome face and brandished his fist toward Valcon.  “Voveshit.   How do we know this man speaks the truth?  How do we know he has been away for so long?  He is of the traitor’s clan.  This we do know.  Why tolerate his filthy presence?”

Valcon kept his eyes on the old man.   He remained silent and calm before the giant's accusations.

Another man spoke up.   “That is why we are gathered, Quintas, to determine exactly that.”   This man was short, stocky, wide and muscular.   His face was scared from some old sword wound.   Several fingers were missing from his left hand.   His blue eyes fastened on the giant like a vice, silently commanding Quintas to be quiet.   Then he turned to Valcon.

“You claim that you have no knowledge of what your Clan has done?  That you haven't rode with them or for them in over 30 years?” he asked in a gruff voice.

“Yes,” replied Valcon, shifting his eyes from the old man to this new man.

“Does that excuse him from guilt, Wugner?” asked another warrior.

The stocky man shrugged.  “I don't know.   I am not ready to slay this man yet, though.”

“Perhaps, there is another thing that can be done to solve this problem,” said another man.  He was of medium height, slender with whipcord muscles.  His hair was dark brown and his eyes green.    He seemed a bit darker than most Clansmen with a rich, deep tan rarely seen among his people.

“What is that, Zain?” asked the old Clan leader.

“When the Clan Gisgedalt ran amok burning our the grass of the Plains, poisoning our water sources, killing women and children as well as warriors in their madness, there was one man who led them.  This was Grantec Suun.   It has been said that he was taken over by a foreign sorcerer.  Some say it was his own madness that caused him to lead his clan into infamy and sin.   I think that it was probably some kind of evil wizardry.  How else could an entire clan become evil?   Grantec Suun was never found and killed.  Let this man find him and bring him back alive.  Or bring back his head.   This is the thought I have,” said Zain, standing close to the clan leader with his chin in his hand, strumming his face with his long fingers.

The men became silent.   Valcon restrained a frown at the proposition that had just been thrown upon the council.    It was not something he wanted to do.   He didn't want to hunt down, kill or capture one of his own clansmen.   He waited stoically for the council to consider the proposition further.

All the men of the council evaluated Valcon, then.   The hyrpaktun stood proudly before them, tall and noble.   There was a bearing in Valcon’s stance.  It spoke of a man who was unashamed.  Here was a man who had commanded men to victory and would do so again if given the chance.   There was clearness in his eyes that met theirs without fear.  It was these things more than anything else that leaned them in the direction of believing him and letting him live.

“What you say has merit, Zain,” said the council leader.

“No!” shouted the gigantic Quintas, “no!   Let this scum of a traitor clan be slain.   My father and brothers were slain from ambush by his clan.  I will not tolerate his presence.”

Wugner stepped toward the giant.  “You will tolerate the decision of the Council.”

Quintas snarled and his hand seized the handle of his axe.   There was no direct obi between Wugner and Quintas.   The huge young clansman was rising in obi status through decision and challenge.  Wugner was a man to whom many had given obi.   It was only natural that they would challenge each other at some point in time.  It was the law of the Council that no obi could be challenged during council that stopped Quintas from challenging Wugner at that immediate moment.

“Let the Council decide wisely,” growled Quintas.

Zain walked over to stand beside Kron.   “Indeed, it will.” He said sharply.   Quintas shot him a vicious glance, but said nothing more.

Then, Valcon was dismissed from the council.  He was taken to a place out of its hearing while the men considered his fate.   His own people went with him and stood beside him while they all waited.    For a while no one spoke.   Then, Rev spoke, “I think they'll go for the quest idea, Val.”

Valcon grunted.  “You might be right, although I may have to kill that big fellow, and I donut like the idea of tracking down my own clansmen.”

“How do they think you can succeed when they have already failed?” asked Cat Smiling.

“That Zain is a clever fellow.   He thinks that Valcon might have special knowledge that only a fellow member of a particular clan might have.  He hopes to solve the problem of Valcon and gain fame for his own clan by bringing this Grantec Suun to justice,” said Rev.

Cat Smiling nodded in agreement.

Valcon remained silent.   He folded his arms over his chest and stared over at the men of the Council as they deliberated his fate.  It didn't take long, and after a few minutes he was called back before the Council.

“Valcon the Blade, we have reached the decision that you shall bring us the person or the head of Grantec Suun.   By this deed you will prove to the Clans that you are innocent of the crimes of your Clan.”

Valcon sighed and agreed to the decision.

“A war party will be formed.   Wugner will lead ten of our warriors in this search,” said the old man.   

“I wish to end this matter as quickly as possible, Kron Ipus.   This is the exact reason I have returned to the Plains.   It is my wish to discover what happened to my clan.   Let us depart as soon as possible,” declared Valcon.   He turned and waved to some of his men.

“I would like to take some of my own men, too.   They are very good.   It will help insure success,” he said.

The old man moved closer to Valcon.   He spent a long time appraising the Blade before speaking again, “Take a handful of your men, Valcon.  I believe your intentions in this matter are true.   Take your requests and questions to Wugner.  He is the leader of the war band.”

The old man laughed and turned away.   Several powerful young warriors fell in behind him as he walked back to his tent.   

The short, powerful Wugner addressed Valcon.  “Select your men.   Be ready to break camp before the suns rise.   We will ride early.”

Valcon smiled grimly.   “We will be ready.”

Wugner nodded, “You will not be guarded tonight, Valcon the Blade.   We do not think you will try to escape.  And if you do, where would you go that we could not find you?”

“I am not running any more,” said Valcon.   “Let's get this matter settled once and for all.”

“Agreed,” grunted Wugner.  “Tomorrow, then.”

After, the clansman left, Rev whistled softly.  “A strong man.”

“Yes,” mused Valcon, “and I hope a good leader.”

Rev waved his finger in the direction of the gigantic Quintas, who stood several yards away glaring at the Blade.  “He itches to challenge you.”

“Let him itch,” laughed Valcon.  “He cannot challenge me while I am under geas of the Council.  He will have to wait until I return from this quest.  If I return.”

“You have doubt?” asked Tarks, the golden tan scout from the Hostile Territories.

Valcon shrugged.  “This whole affair stinks of magic, and where there is magic one can not always depend on a strong sword arm.   I think it will be a dangerous journey.   Who will go with me?”

Rev chuckled.  “I have ridden too far with you to stay behind now.”

Valcon laid his broad hand on Rev's shoulder.   “Thanks, my old sword dom.”

Gorn, a taciturn man, stepped forward and nodded.   He laid his hand on his sword and stared at Valcon.  “I will go.”

“You are welcome,” said Valcon brightly.   He looked about for other volunteers.   The threat of magic had dimmed the enthusiasm of some of his party.   Tarks stood silently, uncertain, until Cat Smiling stepped forward.

“I go with you, Valcon.”   The young Comanche's face was dark and impassive, but his black eyes glittered with excitement.   

“Oh yeah, “ groaned Tarks.  “Well, if Cat is going, I'll go too, although I donut know who will keep an eye on that pretty woman of yours, Cat?”

Valcon laughed.  “That is simple.   Just tell your man, Gig Anton, to keep her safe.  He will do this because of obi.”

“Just so he doesn't keep her too safe,” laughed Tarks.

“He won't.   He is an honorable Clansman,” explained Valcon.

“Which is more honor than they know in the Hostile Territories,” came a woman's voice.   It was Donni, a Jikai Vuvushi.   She strode up to the men proudly and set her arms akimbo.  

”I would go with you on this quest, Valcon.   There has been little action around here of late and my sword yearns to drink blood.”

“Just for the excitement, Donni?”  asked Valcon.

“What else, Blade?” she replied.

Rev laughed, “What else, indeed.”

“What was that, you skinny spear shaft?” barked Donni.

“Nothing, warrior woman,” said Rev with a hidden smile, “I just cleared my throat.”

“Tomorrow brings a dangerous quest,” said Valcon the Blade, “let us all get good rest tonight.”


“So why do you have to go?”  Frowning, she rubbed her swollen belly.

Cat Smiling stood by his pinto zorca and rubbed along the smoothness of its muscles.   Eroin noted, sardonically, that he paid as much attention to his pet zorca as he did to her.
He turned his implacable black eyes to her and said, “It is what men do.”


They traveled for many days to reach the home range of the discredited and destroyed Clan Gisgedalt.   For Valcon it was a trip of memories, and he was strangely silent.   Most of the riders were also grimly taciturn as they pressed on in their mission.   There was an air of despair among the Terentz men because the trail they were seeking was decades cold.   Still, there was a slim glimmer of hope, and that hope came from the Blade.   Perhaps, Valcon could find a trail where all others had failed.  

Wugner stared at the Blade with a small smile on his thin lips.  “Any ideas, Gisgedalt?”

Valcon nearly bristled at the taste of contempt lacing the pronunciation of his clan's name.  He sighed silently and forced a friendly smile toward the Terentz jiktar.

“Perhaps,” he said.   “Something is stirring as we ride over these old trails.   Do not worry, Wugner.   I will share any ideas I have with you as quickly as I come up with them.   I am as eager to resolve this issue of dishonor as you are.”

Wugner grunted and said no more.   They pushed on until nightfall and made camp.   During the night they split up into two factions.  Valcon and his people sat on one side of the fire, Wugner and his people on the other.  There was little communication between the two groups.   A deep, sullen silence hung over them through the night.

“Lots of fun this trip is,” Tarks said with a smile as he bedded down next to the Comanche.

Cat Smiling grunted.  “Is that why you are here?”

“Nope, dom.  I'm here to cover your ass.   And, to see the sights along the trail.”   Tarks leaned back on his blanket and smiled.   “I have a gut feeling that this trip is going to get very bloody.”

The Comanche regarded his friend with grim agreement.  He had the same feeling.   They stared at each other with faint discontent until Tarks shrugged and laughed.   

“Let's get some sleep.   This Wugner likes to break an early camp.”   He dropped his head and closed his eyes.   Cat Smiling grunted and agreed.


They stopped to watch the other party ride toward them.  It was a large party, bristling with warriors, no women and no carts.   Valcon smiled and looked up at the geas flag flying above them and was thankful for the protection it gave them.   As the strangers rode closer he noted a cold, brutal hardness about their faces.

“These men mean business,” he said to Wugner.

“All men mean business, but I know what you mean.  They ride for obi.”

“Why come to us?   They must have seen the geas flag.  We are outside obi while on our mission,” wondered the Blade.

Keeping his eyes on the strangers, Wugner said, “Who knows?  Curiosity.  It is the nature of bold men to do what they want.”

The strange clansmen thundered up to them and fanned out on either side.  The strangers numbered more than a hundred.   Their leader maneuvered his zorca in front of Wugner with a forceful hand.

“I am Inomoroti.    Who are you?  What is your mission?”

Wugner paused before answering as he sized up the leader of these strange clansmen.  The stranger was a dark man.  Black hair and dark eyes complemented by a suns tanned face.   His appearance was harsh, like a cold wind destroying all summer before it.  His weapons were strange, and he carried them in an odd way.  Most of all there was arrogance in his actions that sprang from complete competence and a total lack of fear.
This was a man who did not need courage because he feared nothing.

“I am Wugner Wecter, Jiktar of the Clan Terentz.   We hunt the last of the Gisgedalt traitors.”  Wugner declared this without mercy for Valcon who glanced at him askew.

The black haired leader turned to one of his lieutenants.   “Gisgedalt?”

“A traitor clan who slew with dishonor.   I thought them wiped out long ago, my lord.   As I recall their leader escaped punishment,” said the man.  He was a tall, thin warrior with sandy hair and a long white scar across his once handsome face.

“Yes, I remember them now,” mused Inomoroti, and his eyes became thoughtful, “for this you travel under the geas flag?”

“My lord,” interjected the sandy haired man, “this is a mission of some importance.  The flag of geas is appropriate.”

Inomoroti settled back on his magnificently muscled zorca.   A flash of disappointment crossed his brutal face.   There would be no obi collected here.   He smiled grimly and shouldered his zorca into the midst of the geas party with impunity.  Passing each person he made a personal note of their face so he could recognize them later.   When he came to the Comanche he paused.   

“Who are you?” he asked in a deep, interested voice.

The Comanche discovered it was difficult to meet the eyes of this man, but he did so with unseen effort.

“I am Cat Smiling,” he replied proudly, and he wondered why this man had taken a personal interest in him.

Inomoroti stared at the Comanche for nearly a minute.  There was no challenge in his black eyes, just curiosity.   Then, he nodded and turned away from Cat Smiling.  He returned to the head of the party.

“This day I cannot take obi.   Know you all that one day you will fight under the banner of Inomoroti.  That will happen as quickly as we meet again.”

Valcon smiled at the black haired man's boldness.  “I have heard that another man has dominated the clans.”

Inomoroti turned to the Blade.  “Have you?”

“A man called Dray Prescot.”

“His time is passing, clanner.   What is your name?” asked Inomoroti.

“I am Valcon the Blade.”

“What clan?”


“What!   How can this be?   He should have been killed like the rest of his traitorous clan!” shouted Inomoroti’s lieutenant.   His hand gripped the handle of his axe.

“Easy,  Gyom,” cautioned Inomoroti.   He returned his attention to Valcon.  “Why are you still alive?”

“I am part of this mission to solve the Gisgedalt riddle.”

Inomoroti leaned closer to Valcon.   “I have seen you before.  Many years ago in the land of Vallia.   You were an excellent fighter then.   Are you still?”

”Yes,” Valcon answered simply.

Inomoroti grinned viciously and whispered, “Look underground for those who would be dead.”

Then, he turned his mount and rejoined his men.   With a few curt words he lead them away from the geas party.   Soon they were gone.

“Inomoroti.   I have heard of him.  He is said to be unbeatable,” said Wugner bitterly.

But Valcon has stopped thinking of Inomoroti.  Instead, the words he had just heard preoccupied his mind.  In some strange, intuitive way they made sense to the Blade.  He was just not exactly sure what sense that was.

“What did he say to you, Val?” asked Rev.

Valcon straightened up in the saddle.   “Something interesting.  It may be that Inomoroti knows more than we do.”


“What is going on here?” wondered Richart.   He leaned back on his chair and studied the replay of the words Inomoroti had given to Valcon the Blade.   It was his turn to monitor the Comanche, and until the appearance of the Scythian the duty had been monotonous.

He signaled Maeve through a personal communication device and waited for her arrival.   When she came he directed her attention to the images on the monitor.  After watching them she shook her head.

“I donut know, Richart.   I donut like the idea of Inomoroti being so close to Cat Smiling.   There is a hint here that the Scythian knows more about the Gisgedalt tragedy than he should.   I sense a mounting pressure toward an unknown conclusion.”

She tilted her pale, pretty face toward her friend.   A strand of soft light brown hair fell across her high forehead.  It added a touch of innocence to a woman of great intellect.   
She held a question on her face.

“What do you think?”

“I think you are right.   Inomoroti’s mission to the Plains is still a mystery to me.   I donut think he is there in any official savapim capacity.  I think he is there on a private mission for Garvos.   Apparently, some faction has determined that the Prescot domination of the Clans is no longer acceptable.  Inomoroti seems to be intent on doing the same thing that Prescot did, and that is become Zorcander by taking all the obi he can.  If there is one man capable of doing that it would be the Scythian,” mused Richart.

“Original plans for the clansmen were comfortable with Prescot being their obi leader.   It unified the Clans under one apim of considerable leadership quality and fairly correct direction.   But Prescot has wandered far from our philosophy of late, and I think that the Scythian would make a far more qualified leader of that vast army of martial apim,” she said.

“Yes, more qualified from the perspective and goals of the Savanti,” agreed Richard, “but where does Cat Smiling fit in?”

She brushed back the loose strand of hair and grimaced.  “That remains to be seen.  Perhaps he fits in nowhere, or perhaps his participation in all this is very important.   We shall see.”

They stared at each other for a long, knowing moment and both wondered if they had thrown a joker into the Savanti deck.   Their project was to import a person of great destiny to Kregen.   Had they succeeded in Cat Smiling?   Both were excited and a bit intimidated by the possible consequences of their actions.   What punishment would fall upon them if the Comanche ruined the plans of some higher Savanti council?   They shared this thought, unspoken with almost a psychic clarity.

“Don't worry, Maeve.   Cat Smiling is no match for Inomoroti.  No living man is.   He cannot oppose him or stop him.”

“Let's wait and see, Richart.  That's all we can do.”


The place where Valcon took them was a grassy mound that reached up from the plains like a scrubby hill.   A foul stench filled the air.  There were no animals to be found, not even insects.   The grass and small brush that grew on the mound had a twisted, evil appearance and seemed to function like a scarecrow protecting a farmer's field.

“Ugly place, isn't it?” grunted Rev as he grimaced toward Valcon.  “Why'd you bring us here, Val.”

“A thought.  An intuition based on what Inomoroti said.”

“What stinks so badly?” asked Donni.

No one answered her immediately.  Then Cat Smiling said, “Death.”

They all stared at the Comanche with sour agreement.   No one wanted to go a step toward the mound.   

Wugner rode over from his men to confront the Blade.  “What is this foul place?”

“This is the Mound of Vedafece.   It is said dead gods are buried here.   It was a place avoided by my clan.”

“Why are we here?” asked Wugner.

“Because I think what remains of my clan is inside that mound.”   Valcon spoke in a vacant tone.  His eyes were hollow and he seemed momentarily lost.

“Inside the mound.  How can anyone be inside the mound?”

Rev leaned close to the Blade and shook his shoulder.  “Val, are you all right?”

Valcon snorted and rubbed his face.   Sighing deeply, he forced a weak smile.  “Yes, this is the place.

“This is Vedafece.   Few people ever came here but there was knowledge that there is a portal that leads to an inner place.   I think that what remains of my people went into that place because they knew no one would ever follow them.  It is just a feeling based on something Inomoroti said.   We should investigate.”

The men of the Terentz clan squirmed uncomfortably.  These were men of the open plains.  None of them wanted to enter the “underworld”, yet though they squirmed each one resolved to follow the commands of their leader.

Wugner stared at Valcon for a long time until the Blade returned the stare with a level gaze.   The Terentz leader nodded.

“Let's get started, then.  Spread out.  Find that portal.” He said briskly to every person there.   Reluctantly, his own men moved to follow his orders.   Valcon and his group were close behind.

The stench was worse close to the mound.   It reminded Cat Smiling of skunk scent with a touch of rotting flesh in it.   He poked and prodded the gnarly grass with little interest until one of the Terentz clansman bumped into him.

“Hey, outlander.  If you aren't going to work get out of the way of a man who is,” growled the big clanner.

Cat Smiling took no offense.  He shrugged, walked way from the clansman and poked the dirt somewhere else.

It was no surprise to anyone that Tarks found the portal.   The man from the Hostile Territories had a knack for finding things.   He called to the others with a shout and a harsh laugh.

“Hey, boys…its over here!”

They all congregated around the portal until Wugner pushed his way through the crowd and ordered everyone to stand back.   There, standing with his brawny arms akimbo, the Terentz leader frowned with deep disapproval.  Perhaps, he had hoped that the portal would not have been found.   Like any free spirited clansman, he had no desire to crawl into a pile of dirt.   He kicked at the piece of the portal that Tarks had unearth and grunted.

“Get it uncovered.   No sense in wasting more time.”

Tarks backed off and let the Terentz clanners do the dirty work.   It was not long before they were looking at an ancient wooden door.  The wood had been varnished with some kind of preservative material.  It had not rotted over the years.   There was an indentation that a man could grasp.  No one stooped to open the portal.

Wugner looked up at the open sky.   He took a deep breath of air and commanded, “Open it.”

One of the clansmen took hold of the door and pulled.  It resisted the man's brawny strength.   Several of his friends clustered around and added their strength to his and still the door would not open.

“Axes,” said Wugner.

Instead of attacking the door, the clanners attacked the ground around the door.  They struck with fury until the framework was shattered.  Then the door opened easily.

Everyone scampered back as a smell more odious than they had ever imagined shot out of the portal.   Huge men dropped to the ground, coughing, spitting and holding their noses.   Even Wugner stood on swaying feet as he battled a sickening nausea that rose from his embattled stomach.   Cat Smiling ran thirty yards away with unearthly speed.
Tarks was close behind him.

“By the hairy balls of Tarkan,” cried one of the clanners.  “What a stench!”

“Rather by the odious farts of his sister, Mulaine,” laughed Rev.

“Gods of Kregen, how can you laugh amid this stench?” asked Donni.   

“My last wife used to fart in bed like that every night,” Rev explained, “I'm used to it.”

Valcon smiled at his dom's light words.   He gathered himself and stood next to Wugner who had retreated only a few steps.

“I think the smell is lessening,” Wugner said.   “Or I am getting used to it.”

“We need to go down.”

“We will.   Give it a few minutes to air out.”

While they waited everyone checked their weapons.   The passage looked narrow so short bladed weapons were chosen.   Cat Smiling strapped his bow and axe to his zorca and drew his two fighting knives.   The other men handled short swords and small axes in addition to knives.

“Not much room to fight in there.  Who goes first?” asked Valcon.

“You do, Blade.”

Valcon laughed.  He and Rev bent over low and walked down the passageway.   They held makeshift torches to light their way.   

Behind them came the others in groups of two or more.  Bringing up the rear were the men of Terentz.

It was soon discovered that the torches were not really necessary.   Someone had planted a glowing plant along the damp earthen walls.   It shed an unearthly light along the path that was adequate for their needs.   Wugner ordered the torches put out and kept close at hand in case they were needed.

It was not easy going.  As the shortest man in the group, Cat Smiling had less trouble than the others.  They moved along a passageway that forced most of the men to bend deeply at the waist.   The slime on the walls and the all pervading odor kept the men silent.

Soon it became apparent that they were heading downward.

“We are descending, Rev. I donut think that is a good thing,” said Valcon.

Rev grunted.  “Looks like trouble ahead.”

As they descended the dirt beneath their feet became muddy and soft.   The heavier men sank to their ankles in the muck.   Suddenly, the whole place shook; walls of mud crashed down and the floor beneath them gave way.   Cat Smiling and Tarks found themselves falling a short distance to a chamber below.  None of the other members of their party were with them.   They heard shouts of anger and surprise from the others until the mud walls closed again.  Then they heard nothing.

Both men crouched silently in the dim light.   Tarks held a short sword.  Cat Smiling had a knife in each hand.   There was no exit from the chamber they were in.  There was nothing to do but wait.

The wall behind them erupted with mud, water and men.   Two huge bodies landed on Tarks and bore him to the ground.   Three more raced at the Comanche who managed to whirl in time to face them with earthly speed.

They were grotesque in appearance.   Moldy skin stretched over huge animal muscles.   Eyes burning like hot coals in each ferocious face.   The two men that took Tarks to the ground pounded on him with hard fists and tried to force their fingers into his eyes and nose.   They were uncommonly strong; one of them seized the scout's throat in a death grip.  All the time they giggled with insane pleasure or growled like beasts.

Cat Smiling entered the pack of three that had attacked him.   His speed surprised them.   One man clutched a sliced throat in the first two seconds.   Another tried to grab the Comanche.   His fingers fell from his hand.  Cat Smiling pushed his shoulder against this man, pivoted and buried his knife into the heart of the third man.  Then he slipped under the armpit of the wounded man and drove his knife into this man's kidney.   The subterranean man screamed in pain and tried to flail at his attacker, but the Comanche was away too quickly to be hit.

Tarks bit off one of the thumbs that was near his face and pushed his blade into a nearby stomach.  With a supreme effort he rolled his attackers away and stumbled up to one knee.   One of them held the wound in his stomach, while the other lunged at Tarks with a vicious snarl.  Angry, Tarks met him head on, and for a moment they held each other, matching strengths, until Tarks drove the flat of his hand into the other man's throat.  It was a short, choppy blow that stunned his foe.   Tarks head butted the man and pushed him onto his back.   He pulled his knife as he covered the man and pushed the point into his heart.

Tarks knelt beside his dying enemy and laughed bitterly.  “I guess we found the traitors.”

Cat Smiling didn't reply.  Instead he stood still.   Like a robin listening for worms, he waited to be warned of the next attack.   It came from the wall near Tarks again.  It exploded in water, mud and rocks.  One of them hit Tarks on the head and dropped him senseless to the ground.   Five bulky enemies rolled into the chamber and rushed at Cat Smiling.

Still in that tentative mood, Cat Smiling aligned himself into a living weapon just as the Blade had taught him.   Both knives felt alive in his hands, and that, coupled with his unnatural speed, sent him hurling into the rushing pack like an angel of death.

It was important to kill the lead man quickly, and Cat Smiling did this with a lightning stroke to the throat.   He pushed this man's body into the others, pausing three of them, while the last man leaped across the jumbled bodies and attacked the Comanche from the side.   Cat Smiling dipped forward through the legs of this man, cutting his groin as he did so.  The man screamed in surprise and pain.   Cat Smiling sliced his hamstring and came up from behind to drive his blade into the manes kidney with a reverse stab.

The other three men had recovered from their stumble and came at the Comanche.  Cat Smiling was unable to withdraw his knife from the manes kidney so he faced these men with one blade.    They were more wary this time.  They spread out a little and came to him more slowly.   The Comanche's lips curved in a slight smile and he took the fight to them.


Valcon and Rev found themselves buried under the bodies of savage men.   They fought with blade and muscle against superior odds.   In the madness of their eyes, Valcon thought he saw something familiar.   Perhaps, he recognized men from his old clan, but this did not stop him from fighting ferociously.


Donni fell alone into a small chamber.  Two huge brutes attacked her.   Surprised, she dropped her weapon and her strength was no match for the monstrous strength of her attackers.  She felt the bones in her arms snap and her knees were kicked apart.  She was forced to the filthy, muddy floor.

Everywhere clanners found themselves in small pairs or alone in combat with mud covered brutes.   Blood gushed, fists fell, men and brutes died.


Rev was smashed against the wall.   One of the men pulled on his arm with a great bone snapping surge.  The other man grabbed Rev's knife hand and slowly pushed his own knife into his chest.   Slobber dribbled from his attacker's mouth as the beast man hunched over him.

Valcon pulled himself from the bloodstained, dying body of his foe and saw Rev go down.   With a strangled cry, the Blade launched himself on the back of Rev's killer, plunging his knife into the manes body over and over.


Through smashed lips, Cat Smiling gasped for breath as the last enemy held him in a suffocating bear hug.  His knives were gone; the last one was buried in a manes heart.  The brute that held him was of monstrous size, and although he struggled with all his strength, the Comanche couldn't break free.   Darkness began to drive the light from his eyes and the brute squeezed tighter and tighter.

Someone reached out and seized the brute's matted hair.   Tarks pulled back with all his strength and hurled the brute and the Comanche against the wall.   The wall oozed weakly on impact, the floor opened up, and everyone fell into darkness below.

Cold, hard water broke their fall.    Cat Smiling lost all consciousness as he plunged under water.   He never felt the suns golden hand that grabbed his long black hair and pulled him back to the surface.


Valcon rested his bruised back against a mud slimy wall.   Stark, sullen death lay about him, including his old sword dom, Rev.   He gasped for breath, trying to recover his strength, and gazed at the twisted creatures that had attacked him.   They were things that had once been men, but had been changed by some terrible force or curse long ago.   They were so primitive that they carried no weapons other than a stone club or rock.   Like animals, twisted grotesquely from original human stock, they had attacked with powerful fingers and teeth.   They were naked, without ornamentation that might identify who they were or where they came from.   The blood that seeped from their death wounds was brackish, black-red and smelled like feces.   Valcon, the mighty hyrpaktun, sobbed in a great lungful of air and steeled himself to go on.  He pushed to his feet, recovered his weapons and began to look for a way to continue.   Pausing, he touched Rev's pale face and for one brief second remembered the old times they had spent together.

Mud slid, and a passage opened for him.  He made his way down the passage, nearly on all fours until it opened up into a large chamber.    He blinked in the richer light that emanated from thousands of the plants that had illuminated the passageways.  Then, looking less than a man himself, covered with mud and filth, he stepped into the chamber; short sword gripped tightly in his strong right hand, and faced what was before him with a slight smile of resignation that said nothing of surrender.

The smell was the same: odiferous.   Naked, manlike creatures like those that had attacked his party lay stretched about the huge room, wallowing in soft beds of gooey mud.   Most of them were males with only a few females, and Valcon could see little difference between the sexes except for genitalia.    The bones of fish, rats and other underground animals littered the place, as well as feces and urine.   The brutes did not speak.  They grunted and growled and whined as Valcon walked through them.   There was no fire, and the only light came from the plants that grew almost magically from the walls and ceiling.   Ahead, sitting on a throne of dirt was an exception to the rule: a creature with a twisted, animal body not unlike his brethren, but with a human head upon his muscular rocky shoulders.   It was a face that Valcon recognized.

Though battered, bruised and filthy, the proud hyrpaktun walked boldly up to the leader of the brutes and stood tall before him.

“Valcon!” gasped the leader with shock and dismay.   “Still the same.”

Valcon studied the face upon the body of a man-beast.   With great difficulty he refused to let hatred paint a horrid picture on his own face.   The only sign of his agitation was the severe grip he held on the handle of his weapon.

“Grantec Suun!   What has happened here?” the Blade managed to ask in a voice little above a whisper.

This great caricature of a man shifted painfully and snorted with displeasure.   At his movement several of his beasts rose and moved dangerously toward Valcon, but they had misinterpreted his discomfort as a sign to attack and Grantec Suun quickly waved them back.

“Madness.   We were all touched by the madness of a wizard.  Used and discarded.   Twisted into these revolting animals you see before you,” growled Grantec Suun.

“Wizard?   What wizard?” asked Valcon.

“Name?   I can't remember.  He took the memory from my mind as he took so many other things.  All I remember is a tall, handsome man dressed in white linen.   He bewitched us with strong words, and then enslaved us with his magic.   We served him like vosk.”

Valcon thought about these words in silence.   Over Grantec Suun’s shoulder he saw a great axe hanging.   It was a weapon he remembered from the old days.  It had been carried by the master of his clan, Fenwik Toroa.   Somehow, Grantec Suun had kept it in good condition.  Perhaps because of an old memory of what his clan used to be.

“Why come here?” asked Grantec Suun.

Valcon forced the answer through compressed lips, “To end the misery of the Clan Gisgedalt.”   With the speed and accuracy of a true hyrpaktun, Valcon stepped forward and drove his short sword into the traitor’s heart.   Brutally, he cast the dying body aside and pulled the axe down from the wall.   He turned and faced the agitated horde of thirteen brutes with a laugh.   Never had he felt more savage, never had he felt happier.  He had a great axe in his hand and had room to swing it.

That axe spoke his last words to his fallen brethren.

Tarks pulled the semi conscious body of his friend onto a natural shelf that he had found by chance.   The underground river rushed forward to some dark destination.   After sitting Cat Smiling up against the wall, the man from the Hostile Territories looked up a narrow path that led to a dim light above.

While he waited for the Comanche to recover, Tarks pissed into the river and laughed.  That was the only part of him the river would claim.

After some time, Tarks shook Cat Smiling’s shoulder.  “Hey, are you going to sleep all day?”

The Comanche opened he eyes and groaned.  Water seeped from his lips.   “I can't swim,” he mumbled.

“I noticed.   Good thing for you I can.” Tarks said.   “We have to get out of here.  I got a feeling this small path leads up to the surface.”

That was good enough for Cat Smiling.  Tarks’ “feelings” were usually accurate.  The Comanche shook himself off and rose to his feet.

“Let's go up.”

It was not a difficult climb for two fit men.   Soon, like a pair of ground hogs, they popped their heads out a hole in the grassy ground.  Both men scrambled up out of the hole eagerly, happy to be alive and whole under the suns of Kregen.

All about them stretched the Plains of Segesthes.   Nothing looked particularly familiar.  For an ironic moment it looked like the two scouts were lost.

“We have to find the others, Tarks.  Go back to the mound,” said Cat Smiling.

“Yes.   There is no way of telling how far the river carried us.  Perhaps, not too far.  No way of telling what direction either.  We'll just have to pick one,” said Tarks.

The Comanche gave Tarks a rare smile.  “You pick.  You're good at that.”

The man from the Hostile Territories shrugged.   With no more words he began to trot in his chosen direction.   Begrudged, Cat Smiling followed, and even though running was so much easier on Kregen, was there ever a Comanche that preferred to run?


The second sun of Kregen was setting when a filthy, blood coated figure crawled out of the portal.   In one hand he carried a great axe and in the other the head of an enemy.  Valcon sucked in the fresh air as he staggered away from the mound.

He was a man hollowed by grief and violence.   He nearly fell, and propped himself up on the long handle of the axe.   Tired beyond any worse time he could recall, Valcon rested for a moment, leaning on the symbol of his dead clan.

A laugh broke his short period of rest.

Lifting his battered head he saw several riders before him.   He forced his vision clear.  It was Inomoroti and a small band of followers.   His blood quickened.   There was no sign of his companions around, and no sign of the Terentz.  He was alone.

Inomoroti stared at the Blade without passion.   He directed his zorca forward until he was nearly touching Valcon.

“I see you have succeeded in you mission, Blade.”

His words were like flint chipping.   The hair on the back of Valcon’s neck rose with fear.   There was unknown danger here.  He felt it as surely as he had a hundred other times in his violent past.

“Yes,” he muttered through bloodied, swollen lips.

“Where are the others?”

Valcon shrugged.   

“You took the head alone?”

“Yes,” Valcon said.   “There was a terrific battle underground.  We were separated.   I donut know what happened to everyone else.  Just the man I saw die,” Valcon said bitterly as he recalled Rev's death.

Nearby, over a small rise in the rolling grass, Cat Smiling and Tarks were trotting to the mound.   As they ran closer they saw what was happening below.  Tarks went to the ground, pushing the startled Comanche with him.

“What?”  blurted Cat Smiling.

“Don't know, Cat.   Got a bad feeling,” Tarks said softly.   Worming their way through the grass they achieved a position that allowed them to see what was going on more clearly.  It was obvious that Inomoroti was confronting Valcon about something.

Inomoroti looked up at the setting sun.   He closed his eyes in thought.  When he opened them again he saw a piebald dove fly overhead.

“Did this filth tell you anything before it died?” he asked, pointing to the head of Grantec Suun.

Something in the Scythian's voice  warned Valcon.  He hesitated to answer.    Though his head had been beaten and battered, he still retained a clear survival instinct.  And there was no doubt in his mind that at that moment his survival was at stake.

“No,” Valcon muttered, “the brute was barely capable of speech.”

Inomoroti grunted.   For a moment the world froze.

Cat Smiling  turned to his friend.  “We have to go down there.   Valcon may need our help.”

“Against Inomoroti?  We have no weapons.   What can we do?  Besides, we donut know he intends to hurt Valcon.”

“I thought you had a bad feeling,” the Comanche said dryly.

Tarks laughed.   “Dom, I had a bad feeling about the whole mission.”

Cat Smiling shrugged and stood up.   He walked boldly toward the men at the mound.   Tarks rolled on his back and smiled up at the darkening sky.   Then, against his better judgment, he got up and followed the Comanche.

“My lord,” cried one of the Scythian's men, “two men approach.”

Inomoroti left his musing and looked in the direction of his manes pointing finger.   He grunted and muttered, “The anomaly.”

“My lord?”

“Nothing, Crakdo.   Let them approach.”

Cat Smiling and Tarks went directly to Valcon and stood beside him.   Inomoroti curled his lips with amusement.

“What a fateful day this is,” he said, “Valcon the Blade, you have done well in your mission.   I know we will meet again…soon.”

Inomoroti turned to Cat Smiling with a sly smile.  “And you, little brother of the Old World,” he said to stunned Cat Smiling in Comanche, “we will meet again too.   Then you must decide what side of the line you will stand.”

With these cryptic statements, the Scythian wheeled his zorca around and rode away, his men at his heels.

Valcon watched him go.   In his mind he recalled the words of Grantec Suun: a wizard dressed in white linen.   Once, long ago, he had seen Inomoroti before and it had been in the presence of a handsome man dressed in white linen.   Valcon knew in his heart that if he had told the Scythian what Grantec Suun had said to him then Inomoroti would have killed him on the spot.

“Nothing left of Gisgedalt but mud, blood and filth,” Valcon said in a sour whisper.

Cat Smiling put his hand on Valcon’s shoulder.  “What is left is the best, my friend.”

With a deep sigh, the Blade sat down on a nearby rock.

“We will rest.   Later, we will look for survivors.   And, we will kill any remaining traitors that live.”

Then, he closed his eyes and leaned on his axe to sleep.

The End

By Rod Hunsicker
Copyright 6/5/03