P.O. Box 1333
Merchantville NJ 08109, USA
Kerebos Ikar stood alone
the northernmost cliff of Pangaea's only continent, gazing down at a
ocean. Incoming icebergs hissed in the steaming water and gave
voice as they cracked asunder. The giant, black-clad warrior paid
attention. He was too busy contemplating his own, internal
Cracked the length of my soul, he mused. Can feel it leaking out when I walk. It's been draining for so long I'm surprised I've any left to lose.
Kerebos eyed the nearest iceberg, saw the vapor rising heavenwards. Where are you going? he thought. There's no escape up there.
Seagulls piped piteously as dawn's gray fingers inched across the sky. Kerebos liked the little birds. They sounded as miserable as he felt.
"Land and I'll end your suffering," he muttered.
A gust of wind smacked the ikar and frosted his cropped black hair. He squinted dark eyes and a frown settled on his scarred face. An ethnic Chaconne from a warm inland region, he despised the cold.
The earth trembled between his feet and a tongue of magma spewed from the side of the cliff into the sea, igniting the oil which had seeped up from the broken depths. Kerebos reached for the distant flames as they spread across the surface, but another gust struck him, lifting the cape from his broad shoulders. Droplets froze on his black armor.
Merciless hell! he thought, shielding his face with a huge gauntlet. He half turned toward the Legion's distant campfires. I spend my life freezing. Except in my dreams...
Kerebos wrestled a sudden desire to throw sword and armor into the ocean.
I could leave these desert lands , he reasoned. Leave these men I hate. I need never wear iron again.
He trembled at the thought and pulled a stiff, green kraal leaf from a cape pockets. He munched the drug in silence, sighing as it strengthened him.
Don't dream the impossible, son , his father had often warned. Even the possible rarely comes true.
Kerebos rubbed his eyes. He had loved his father dearly, and every night since killing him, Kerebos had dreamed of fire.
Every night. The ikar heard a slow, heavy tread behind him but did not turn. "Good morning, Triskeles," he greeted the First Elhar without enthusiasm.
"Good morning, lord," came the Boru's barbarically accented Chaconni.
Triskeles sidled up to his commander and placed a booted foot on the edge of the world. "Some wonder of Wyrd, eh?" he asked.
Triskeles, a rawboned giant, doffed his black helmet and a blond topknot spilled onto his cuirass--men of the First Elhar traditionally wore knots. His thin, purpling lips curled into a mirthless smile as he inched a stone off the precipice and watched splash below. "A wonder, eh, lord?" he repeated.
Kerebos knew he had to answer or the elhar would just go on repeating himself. How I loathe him , he thought, but replied: "It is."
Triskeles chuckled to himself, cooed really, but did not reveal the source of his amusement. He often did that, which Kerebos particularly hated about him.
"Wyrd schicksal macht aus allem nichts," Triskeles hummed a proverb in his native tongue.
Kerebos translated: Fate makes nothing of everything. He studied the elhar, dubbed "Triskeles" because his great speed made it seem he possessed "three legs". Triskeles returned the stare with the icy blue eyes so common among his people.
There was that strange look in Triskeles' eyes again, Kerebos noted, but it had never been quite this overt. What was it? Adoration? Kerebos shifted uncomfortably and turned back to the sea. He shuddered with disgust at the thought of Triskeles watching him, wondering if he could afford to heave the Boru into the growling water. He came within a hair's breadth of the attempt, but concluded he would need Triskeles in the coming battle.
"It is refreshing, though, isn't it?" Triskeles chuckled as he moved closer. They stood nearly shoulder to shoulder.
Kerebos eased a spiked gauntlet on his sword.
"What?" he snapped.
Triskeles nodded at the water. "The destruction." Just then a titanic berg cracked booming report. "See!" he chortled, pointing.
"Why don't you swim out there?" Kerebos suggested.
Triskeles shrugged and pulled his private kraal cache. He placed three leaves into his mouth, a potent amount.
"That's quite a lot," Kerebos noted.
Triskeles shuddered as the drug worked on him, his breaths came in gasps. His eyes fluttered and he dropped the purse of kraal.
Idiot, Kerebos thought.
Triskeles soon mastered himself. He bent to retrieve the drug and asked: "Do you know I've taken the personal responsibility of guarding your tent?"
Kerebos felt a cold finger play his spine. His eyes narrowed.
Kerebos felt ill; he knew how pathetic he sounded in his sleep. "Why?" he demanded.
Triskeles appeared troubled. At any rate, it took a moment for him to answer. "I fret about the legion, sometimes." he managed at last. "Is that so wrong?" He appeared so inconsolable Kerebos feared the elhar might embrace him!
Kerebos played it all off with a laugh. "No," he said. "If you didn't worry about the brotherhood you'd be of no use. Let's get to work."
Triskeles posed like a stroked dog; he leaned close enough to share his fetid breath. "I want to be of use, Lord," he said. "The legion is the only home I've ever really wanted."
"Good," Kerebos grunted and stepped away.
"Fate placed me in its hands, and..." Triskeles trailed off.
How I hate this game, Kerebos thought. "And?"
"I fear I'm losing it," Triskeles replied.
Kerebos was unsure how to respond. "Explain yourself."
"Well," Triskeles began, "you must agree we've witnessed many wondrous strange things this tribute year. Even the very earth breaks and sinks."
"So?" Kerebos said. "We see odd things every tribute year."
"Yes, but every tribe we've crossed seems more afraid of the future than of us. I can't help but think that wrong." Triskeles mulled the implications. "They all speak of The End."
"The end of the world!" Kerebos scoffed. "Stories to frighten children!" His mood festered. He was bored of the conversation and very much sick of Triskeles. "Fate make nothing of everything, eh, Triskeles? I am the end of the world!" he insisted with vehemence. "They must fear me!"
Triskeles grinned, reassured. "Yes, lord."
"And as for this dross," Kerebos waved toward the water, "it's not real." He pulled his sword and held it between them. "This is real. Blooded swords are all the end Pangaea needs or deserves!" Triskeles beamed, exposing sharp canine teeth. "I understand, my lord. I can weather anything while among my brothers."
Kerebos sneered. "That's manly of you."
"Thank you. But one thing troubles me still."
"What?" Kerebos demanded.
"Every night I've stood outside your quarters, I've heard you cry out in fear."
Kerebos' ears burned with embarrassment; he quite forgot the cold. "What did I say?" he demanded through clenched teeth.
Triskeles showed a palm in bewilderment. "Mostly babble, but I heard the word 'lama' clear enough," he replied. "I'm no Chaconni scholar, but doesn't that mean 'daddy' or some such thing?"
Kerebos stiffened then snarled into action. He struck the elhar's face with a fistful of spiked knuckles. Triskeles cried out, staggered and crashed onto the hard ground.
"Bastard!" Kerebos roared. "Don't ever again lurk outside my tent! I should kill you!"
Triskeles lay sprawled out, groaning.
Kerebos pulled his sword, Mistaaka. "Next time I'll strike with this!" he threatened, brandishing the long blade.
Blood streamed from Triskeles' face, painting his white skin. The holes in his cheek were large enough to admit his tongue. He pinched the largest gash closed. "Understood, my lord," he gargled.
Kerebos subdued his temper and sheathed Mistaaka. "I require no night guard. No one," he said.
"But we're the First Elhar!" Triskeles protested; that unit had been the ikari bodyguard since ancient times.
Triskeles sat silent a moment. "As you wish, ikar," he said finally.
Kerebos nodded, satisfied. He felt better after hurting Triskeles. He always felt better after hurting people. Pain was the only thing that took his mind off his dreams. He produced a needle from his cape and tossed it at Triskeles.
"Sew your wounds," he ordered. "And start your men on drills. I want the elhari in my tent as soon as possible. We'll catch and finish the Stalenzka rabble this very afternoon."
"Yes, lord," Triskeles gurgled.
Kerebos marched down the slope toward camp. He reached the perimeter and a pilum-bearing guard saluted, fist over heart.
"Lord Ikar!" the man cried.
Kerebos strode silently past as he picked pale skin off his gauntlet.
Back on the cliff Triskeles stitched himself, and though the new wounds pained him greatly, he savored them and silently prayed Kerebos might someday strike again.
Copyright © 2001, Nicholas C. Prata. All Rights Reserved.