Robi and Adan are boys from different lands.
Thousands of years ago the words that told men the way were blazed into the rock. In Robi's land, isolated by towering mountains, the words have long been the way. It is a place of tranquillity where science and the arts flourish and war is just a distant memory.
In Adan's land, the Salacian horde has swarmed from the black plains close to the Mountains of Madness and swept across the country bringing fear and death to all who would choose to live by the words. In a desperate attempt to slow the enemy's advance, Colonel Astara, Adan's father, stays to fight as Adan and his mother flee. They are separated when Adan, with the best of intentions, disobeys his mother's instructions.
A combination of events throws Robi and Adan together in Adan's world. They encounter an old friend in an unexpected guise and confront many perils as they search for Adan's parents.
Although his mother Lincel had sent him to bed early, Adan had slept little during the night. The sounds of battle, terrifying and moving menacingly ever closer ensured that he snatched only fleeting moments of sleep. He was however, sleeping when loud banging on the front door brought him suddenly and fearfully awake. He heard movement and a match flare as his mother lit the lantern. The door creaked and voices reached him. He couldn’t decipher the words but he could measure the urgency in them. He wished desperately that the tall, dark haired man with the ever ready smile was with them but Adan’s father, like many other good men in the beleaguered city of Paraquae had joined General Caraco in a desperate, if almost certainly futile, attempt to hold back the Salacian hordes.
Despite her best efforts, Adan could easily read fear in his mother’s eyes as she hurried into his tiny room. A candle flickered fitfully in a jar that she carried. She saw instantly that he was awake. “Hurry Adan. We must leave. The enemy has broken through our lines. They are already in the city.”
Lincel had known in her heart that this time would come. Much as she dreaded leaving her beloved Ador, for the sake of their son she had considered fleeing the city much earlier. Others had tried, even before the peace talks had inevitably failed. Many had been killed; many others had been driven back into the city. The peace talks had never been more than a ploy to allow the Salacians to surround Paraquae unopposed.
Their bag had long been packed. The night was cold. Lincel helped Adan into his coat and seconds later they were part of a small fearful group on the street that hurried towards the underground.
General Caraco had advised the ordinary people of the city to stay in the shelters they had prepared earlier, when the Salacians entered the city. They would become second-class citizens but if sufficiently servile, most at least, would survive. Almost all of the people, now moving towards the centre of the city, knew they would be targeted by the Salacians for execution or brutal enslavement. They were prominent people or the families of prominent people, who had spoken against the enemy. Lincel had even more to fear than most. Her husband had served with General Caraco’s resistance force from the very beginning. She was losing the battle to stifle tears as she thought how things had changed so terribly in a few short years.
The Salacians had first come to power in the small city of Salace, on the Black plains, near the foothills of the Mountains of Madness. They claimed to worship Ilidia the god of all good Ilidasians. At first, they preached tolerance and charity but as their power and influence spread, their demeanour subtly changed. They began to slyly fuel any simmering difference among the people of the lowlands. They encouraged discord, resentment, intrigue and corruption. They moved from tolerant to intolerant, from intolerant to vile. The evil, the greedy, the cruel and the weak rushed to serve them. Eventually existing authority had crumbled across almost all of the lands of Ilidasia. The lands had become chaos and evil, in the form of the Salacians, had found chaos to be a land of limitless opportunity. In ten short years their evil empire had spread six thousand miles from Salace at the foot of the Mountains of Madness to Paraquae at the foot of the Mountains of Mystery.
Her misery was not the sole cause of Lincel’s tears. Shells from the enemy’s great cannons had caused many fires to rage. Thick acrid smoke hung heavy in the air. A shimmering miasma of poisonous smog swirled around the few gaslights that still showed the way. Lincel thought, almost like some evil ethereal thing, dancing on the grave of the city she loved.
A fit of coughing raked Adan as she dragged him past a woman struggling to control four small unruly children. Lincel had promised her husband to place Adan above all else when this time came, even so she could not help feeling ashamed at ignoring her basic instincts. A few seconds later a shell landed, not far behind, knocking her and all those around to the ground. As she anxiously pulled an unharmed Adan to his feet, a long, piteous wail rose chillingly and heartbreakingly from the street behind her. Lincel made no effort to stem the tears that streamed down her cheeks, dragging Adan behind her she ran for the underground entrance that loomed in front of her. She hated the Salacians with every ounce of her being.
The trains, imported from Anglosia, once the pride of the county, had long since exhausted their fuel. The tunnel under the city now served only as a shelter from the enemy’s cannons.
All those who entered were asked to identify themselves. The young Captain that stopped Lincel seemed more intent on studying the haunting beauty of her face than the card she proffered. Eventually he lowered his eyes to the card. He ordered a subordinate to fetch Colonel Ador Astara’s file. The man was gone only seconds; he returned carrying a slim portfolio. The captain studied the contents briefly before asking Lincel a number of questions. Many were of a personal nature. She didn’t mind. Like some foul invasive vapour, Salacian spies and stooges had managed to permeate almost every nook and cranny of society. Only Ador could have provided those questions and other than herself, only Ador could have answered them truly.
The Captain handed the file, back to his subordinate, before quietly apologising. “I’m sorry that I may have embarrassed you. Please forgive me. These are terrible times.”
Lincel smiled. “They are indeed Captain. I do understand.”
He pointed, “Continue down the tunnel, others are waiting. God be with you both.” There was warmth in his smile but it couldn’t mask the tiredness and fear that lurked in his eyes.
Before turning away Lincel said softly, “And may God be with you.”
She and Adan joined a group that swelled to perhaps two hundred people before one of the soldiers pulled a lever beside the track. To the astonishment of most, a section of the wall slid back revealing the entrance to another tunnel.
A silver haired officer held up his hand to silence the murmuring crowd before speaking. “This tunnel will take us beyond the enemy’s front line and our scouts report that many of the forces that have been roaming the hill above the city have moved down close to the battlefront.” He didn’t speak his thoughts, no doubt anxious to share in the rape and plunder soon to come. “Some of our own forces are waiting in the hills. They will do what they can to assist but our journey will still be perilous. The Anglosi have ships standing off the small port of Corsa about fifteen miles to the south-west. They will evacuate all who reach the town tonight.”
The echo of a hard ridden horse’s hoofs clattered in the close confines of the tunnel. Seconds later a dusty rider reigned in his sweating mount and passed a note to the officer. He scanned it briefly before nodding to the horseman. The rider saluted, turned his mount and rode off, again at reckless speed. There was also urgency in the officer’s voice. “I have just received word that General Caraco is ready to draw as many of the enemy away from our sector as possible. We must leave immediately and we must share the burden. We will all take turns at carrying small children and helping the elderly. We will carry nothing we do not need.”
As Lincel filed into the tunnel, a soldier gestured to her bag. “You take no treasure?”
She responded softly, “Only the one that walks beside me.”