Buried in my collective memory are fragments of legend and folklore.
Half-remembered fairy tales and flights of fantasy brought forward from
other lives, other worlds. Lacking substance, they only hint at esoteric
truths and the wistful plausibility of reincarnation. Not so the fabulous
vision that stormed out of myth and raced across the Kiida sanval bold
as the dawn.
Fact or fantasy, the creature was a Griffin.
A long black tail tufted in gold anchored a massive feline frame that
swept upward to six feet at the shoulder, then extended into an avian neck
wrapped in a mane of black and white feathers. Formidable wings, carried
folded and angled forward like the jousting-lance of some great hoary Knight,
reached twelve feet when fully extended. The graceful lines sharply contrasting
the muscular lower body with its feline haunches and avian foreclaws, curled
As the Griffin ran, it both shrieked and growled. Two voices separate
and distinct, a lilting touch of sky and a firm feel of earth in mingled
chorus. Each roar, each whistle, more fearsome than the last, rumbling
from the cavernous bowels of the lion’s chest or erupting incongruously
from the eagle’s throat. A dissonant harmony filled with all the carnal
ferocity legend demanded, meant to warn the brazen and paralyze the weak.
Yet, for me, the greater marvel rode upon the Griffin’s back. A lithe,
golden warrior securely notched behind rolling shoulders, fingers entwined
in the feathered mane A full score more raced behind the Griffin, swords
waving, voices carrying.
“The Odanal!” I heard T’lu cry. “We are saved!”
I could not help smile at his open optimism, even as the Kiida Dular,
temporarily stunned but now roused to action, thumped his wings and let
loose a bizarre mix of words, whistles and grunts that galvanized his hordes.
Whistling wildly, the majority of that brute force closed with the advancing
golden warriors. But a dozen turned on T’lu and I, swarming through the
shallow water with outstretched talons, tigers bounding at their sides,
jaws distended and eyes shining.
Death, theirs or ours, was now all that remained of the Kiida Ki’ juva.
Ironically, the beasts themselves proved our salvation, for they rushed
in a thickly compacted mass, without organization, too dense for effective
attack. T’lu plunged into that mad crush of bodies with fists flailing
and emerged beyond the circle of stones miraculously unscathed, where he
melted into the protective embrace of the golden warriors. I fared less
As I attempted to vacate that sacrificial altar, a Votag forepaw struck
me hard at the temple. A staggering blow that landed me face down in the
crimsoned pool stunned and bloodied, crunching shells sharp in my ears,
my nose buried in an odor as vomit.
Spitting gore and water, struggling to remain conscious, I rose to one
knee. Bodies flayed around me, a chaotic whirl of men and beasts through
which I gleaned an enraged Votag hurtling at my uncovered back, while ahead,
out of a rolling cloud of fur and spray, a Kiida launched at my chest.
The fighting blood of Mecca of Asynth, still nimble, still keen, threw
me flat to the pool bottom. The vaulting creatures collided in a thunderous
crunch. What had met as friends fell as enemies! The D’ jarval forgotten,
The Hon djar stripped bare, the Kiida and the Votag tore at each other,
their primal lust lain naked.
I rolled from beneath their death lock and found footing. A body brushed
me. I felt a longsword thrust into my right hand and the world transformed.
Suffused by a flood of self-confidence that had sustained a hundred
names under a hundred suns, I cut through the skull of the nearest Kiida.
Not yet would Gray Allen fall, his body dried dust blown away. Fate had
Retreating from the slicing, biting destruction I now wielded, the bestial
circle that ringed me collapsed and joined a desperate stampede for the
canyon exit. The Kiida had abandoned the fight to the Votag, who had no
thought to run, if they had thoughts at all beyond blind savagery.
The combat that followed stands unprecedented within my collective memory.
Individual skirmishes raged the length and breadth of the sanval, pitting
human skill and daring against the mindless rage of the beasts. By the
edge of the Kiida pool, I watched as a golden warrior taunted a white-skinned
monster. With horn lowered to gore and maim, the devil-eyed cat drooled
in anticipation of soft skin, red blood, and the swift death of his opponent.
The swordsman waited poised and deliberate.
The Votag charged and the warrior wasted neither moment or motion. A
swift, precise thrust caught the snarling beast in midair, the gleaming
blade burrowing deep into the joint of neck and shoulder.
The Votag roared and whirled right. One thought faster than death the
golden warrior whirled left and the embedded blade skewered deeper, cutting
hard into muscle and lung. Berserk with pain, the stricken carnivore reared
upon its hind legs and clawed at the punishing blade protruding from its
Avoiding a vicious gore meant to disembowel him, prey turned predator,
the warrior darted in close and slipped his curved dagger into the exposed
heart of the Votag. The ground trembled with roars of savagery extinct
to the saner worlds of Gray Allen as, fatally wounded, the great cat leaped
high into the air, fell twitching to the earth, and then lay still.
The battle done, the warrior retrieved his weapons and moved on to the
Here, was the soul of Jatora! A world where Mecca of Asynth could have
roamed happy, living and loving, battling until the final tick of his giant
heart, a world worth taking, a world with its own unconditional destiny.
I thrilled for the moment and yearned for tomorrow. Tomorrow, and the golden
girl with the emerald eyes.
The shadow of the airborne Griffin attracted my eye. It soared above
the battlefield, beaked-head bent low. A slight pull upon the feathered
mane from the golden aeredor, as I came to know the Jatoran word, sent
the Griffin streaking earthward. When it rose again a clawing, roaring
Votag dangled helpless in those imposing eagle foreclaws, and the world
Framed by the cloudless peach sky and swirling vista of the Val Ponada,
the Griffin and Votag melded in a grim tableau from some ancient, white-haired
memory even Destiny herself may have forgotten. Then the eagle’s beak shot
forward to deliver a single, savage thrust to the bantam brain of the great
cat. The talons released and the carcass plummeted to the hard clay of
the sanval where it thudded dully, broken and bloodied. The Griffin screeched,
roared, and circled high in search of fresh conquests while, transfixed
with awe, thrilled to this marvel of incarnated memory. This living myth
raised from the dirges of dead souls trolling unknown worlds, past and
present, thundering to new life and glory, here, upon Jatora.
Under that gliding shadow, the battle waned. With victory assured, cries
of tempered triumph touched the lips of the golden warriors, for it is
not war without casualties.
I heard T’lu shouting to me, wading through the Ki’ Juva pool bloodied
but smiling triumphal. He did not see the Votag crouched low behind the
boulder that had been the Kiida Dular’s throne. In one menacing motion
it uncurled its massive frame and leaped a snow-white mountain of muscle
and revenge hurtling straight at my only friend upon Jatora.
I swear I matched the Votag in speed and distance. We met midair, my
right hand closing upon the dented and bloodied tusk as we, T’lu, the Votag,
and I went down in an indistinguishable jumble of arms, legs, claws and
Thrashing wildly, the Votag reared up; head whipping violently forward.
Unable or unwilling to let go of the curving horn, I was jerked head over
hells to hang helpless in the face of the raging demon, inches from those
great curved incisors. How I diverted those canines from gutting my chest,
I cannot say. Perhaps Mecca was there, his ancient strength a contemporary
salvation. With a will not of this existence, I clamped a second hand to
that bony tusk and planted my feet against its snowy chest. Somehow, someway,
I held the Votag at bay.
The enraged Votag shot out of the water. Locked together, we tumbled
over. My back cracked against the sacrificial stone of the Kiida King.
Red-hot bolts of pain shot my arms and shoulders and the crushing weight
of the carnivore expunged the air from my chest. My head swam. Barely conscious,
unable to abide the agony a moment longer, my fingers lost their grasp
and I slid into the bloody froth at the mercy of the ferocious death primed
Had I been wrong? Was Fate only teasing me with a brief respite from
Death? Had the end come?
Then, through half-closed eyes I saw T’lu, grinning, backed by a half
dozen golden warriors, their longswords plunging into the howling cat,
once virgin white, now defiled red in its own gore. For a moment more,
the Votag stood over me with legs splayed and tusk poised inches from my
throat, out of strength and out of time.
One last thrust from T’lu, one final spasmodic jerk from the Votag,
and the battle of the Kiida sanval ended.
“Had you just let go, you could have spared yourself a beating.”
“I thought you were in trouble. My mistake.”
We sat by the edge of the now tranquil Kiida pool. T’lu grinning at
my sarcasm, I bathing my wounds and trying to soothe the constant agony
of my battered ribs. Innumerable cuts and bruises covered me but my spirit,
charged with the exhilaration of having met death eye to eye and triumphed,
T’lu was still laughing at my little joke. Then, at once, he drew serious.
“I owe you my life.”
“Forget it. We’re even.” I had unconsciously used an earthly word, and
my statement earned one of T’lu’s infrequent frowns.
“Even? I do not understand.”
“Verl,” I corrected. We are friends, we fought together and fought well;
that is enough.”
“Amar!” T’lu returned, and there was a hardness in his voice that snapped
my eyes to his. “We do not use that word easily, Kdal. Friendship is a
difficult matter for the Odanal. Upon Jatora, to call a man Amar is a privilege.
One day, I may have cause to remind you of that.”
With a parting grin, he rose and joined the balance of the warriors
who corralled captured and wounded Kiida by the pool, slaughtering those
The cruelty of war is a universal constant. Still, in a curious way,
I felt sympathetic toward the Kiida. They were little better than brutes.
Yet, by the fledgling principles of Jatoran evolution, which I only now
started to comprehend, they were the ancestors of the warriors they battled.
The primal plateau in the Jatoran ascendancy to man.
To place personal mores above what others deem their inherent right
is dangerous. Still, having always been an impetuous soul possessed of
my own eternal set of ethics, I did not hesitate. Stepping quickly across
the pool, I deflected the arm of a burly golden warrior about to run the
heart of the Kiida Dular.
The man, of the same race as T’lu, big and strapping with an Aal colored
by tinges of silver amongst the black, turned and glared at me with mixed
rage and astonishment.
“Who is this person, my Dular?”
It was my turn to be astonished as T’lu pressed forward and placed himself
between the warrior and I. T’lu was a King!
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I stammered.
“You never asked,” T’lu answered, his face spread with a sly smile.
“Besides, what value was it in that miserable hole of ours?”
Modest or practical, T'lu's avowal was another facet of his personality
to notch and savor.
“Now, why did you interfere with T’rk?”
“Killing this Kiida hardly seemed fair.”
T’lu’s face warmed to a slow, telling smile. “Is that like being even?”
I blushed, and endeavored to explain myself.
“Ten ar ago, in the heat of battle, I would have had no more compunction
in killing this Kiida than you. But this,” and I waved at T’rk, who’s tempered
blade still pointed at the breast of the hapless and unresponsive Kiida.
“Where is the honor?”
“Halm!” The Jatoran word for honor hissed from T’lu’s lips. We had drawn
a crowd and others nodded their heads vigorously. I had unwittingly
stuck a chord. That my challenge had found approval with the Odanal King
I read in his nodding head. T’rk, however, his battle tested countenance
scowling black, remained unconvinced.
“Perhaps you would prefer I give the beast a good talking too,” he roared,
the rebuttal eliciting derisive laughter from his peers.
“It could do no harm to try.”
“Come!” T’rk cried, as he guffawed himself silly. “Set a place for the
Kiida at the evening meal! We can sing I’bars together and drink tup!”
The laughter ran round the sanval. Nor did T’lu move to stop it, for
after the trauma of battle, he saw this release of emotion was not without
merit. As to the Kiida, it stood weaving slightly side to side. Whether
stoic or apathetic impossible to gauge.
When at last the laughing died, T’lu raised his voice.
“All of you have seen Kdal fight, has he not earned the right to Jo’
reht.” The term meant to make an appeal, to speak publicly.
T’rk grunted something under his breath and kicked a bit of dirt with
his moccasin. I took an instant liking to this Van, this Captain of the
golden warriors T’lu called Odanal. I knew his type. Rough of surface,
loyal of soul. If T’lu ordered, T’rk would lay down his life for me, without
question, but taking a reprimand because of me, that got his goat; if Jatora
T’lu stepped to my side then faced about, talking to the whole of his
“We kill the Kiida and sing I’bars of the battles. Yet, each of us,
in his heart, knows that Kdal speaks the truth. What Halm is there in killing
the Kiida? Their S’ti was Ana’s choice, not theirs, not ours.”
T’lu laid a hand upon my shoulder.
“Compassion is not a weakness when one sees the strength behind it.
Others, the great Evars of our cities, they share your opinion, Kdal. Ages
ago, when better fortune favored our world, it was a path the Odanal pursued
with vigor.” He paused, smiling at T’rk. “Though I dare say, not lately.”
The browbeaten Van lowered his eyes, a perceptible gesture of respect
as T’lu passed him and approached the Kiida Dular.
“You are as Ana intended. Your S’ti is our beginning, yet we war with
you. Must it always be so? Somewhere in the Hon djar, the light of fellowship
burns. It is in the hope you will seek that light and follow its path to
peace and honor, that I spare your life. Remember this day Kiida, remember
and learn. T’al! Take your people and go.”
A statement worthy of the greatest of rulers I have known, but received
without visible response by the Kiida. Dully flapping its ponderous wings,
the beast-king of the forest turned and gyrated toward the canyon exit,
the remnants of his decimated tribe gathering in his wake.
“To eliminate prejudice,” T’lu told me later, “one must first learn
“Another I’bar?” I asked. He grinned.
“No, an opinion.”
Even in the cooler elevation of the Val Ponada, as it had upon the plain
and forest of my rebirth, night fell with stunning and stimulating swiftness.
The glittering gown of jewels Jatora wore to bed engulfed the sanval. Crisp
air and enervating scents whistled though the canyon walls.
I walked along the Kiida pool, peacefully reflecting the twinkle of
the stars and the glow of the Val Ponada, until I came to that lonesome
tree. From there, I watched the last of the Kiida file through the narrow
notch of the mountain. Shadowy gremlins moving against the glowing rocks
of the Val Ponada watched from above by the floating silhouette of the
T’lu had suspended the war, not his guard.
Watching that primitive procession, my thoughts knit a delicate weave
between the Kiida and my own eternal condition. An intrinsic understanding
that the Kiida, like Gray Allen, stood forever verged outside the bosom
of humanity; trapped, unable or unfit to go the final distance. Even as
Humanity stood stalled a stones throw from Godliness.
I could not help but look for some higher purpose to my impetuous generosity
toward the strange hulking predators sloughing out of the valley? What
role, if any, did the Kiida play in the divine conspiracy moving Gray Allen
ever deeper into this new incarnation? My eyes found the shimmering summit
of the Val Ponada.
Too many uncrossed voids, I thought, to answer that question now.
I allowed my disquiet to fade into the exquisite beauty of the mountain,
the iridescent luster of the Jatoran night.
“Magnificent,” I breathed.
“Ana so blessed the mountain to remind us, there is always light in
I started. Absorbed in my reflections, I had not heard T’lu approach.
I turned to him, and in the iridescent glowed that bathed his mighty frame,
saw that he too fixed eyes upon the rag-tag band of the Kiida.
“This was their home,” I said to him. He nodded.
“They will return, when we have honored our dead.”
I did not understand, but choose to wait and learn rather than further
challenge that which I did not grasp.
“Perhaps,” the Dular said quietly, “we have planted a seed, Kdal.
There is an I’bar amongst that Odanal that says, ‘things grow poorly in
soil watered with hate.’ ”
“An elegant wisdom,” I told my new friend. Quickly adding, “Thank you
for sparing the Kiida.”
T’lu smiled and said, “Forget it, we are even.”
Once more T’lu and I stood shoulder to shoulder.
Only now, it was at the edge of a Jatoran funeral pyre set in the center
of the abandoned sanval, red fires dancing out of a dark bowl. There were
no words and no songs, just flames as I came to understand how the warriors
of Jatora honored their fallen.
“We lost five of our avan,” T’lu noted in respectful voice tinged in
long acceptance to the cost of war. “They died with Halm. The U’rsan will
see their souls to Lu.”
Lu, Jatora’s Heaven. Achieved only through the flames of the U’rsan,
the vehicle by which a warrior’s soul, his ceadar, ascended to Ana. The
bodies of a slain enemy a Jatoran buried that the Impys could carry their
ceadar to the dark world of K’al Har.
Lu, Impys, K’al Har! Imagery that fired my imagination and inferred
beliefs and superstitions threaded throughout my incarnations. The names
were new but not the misconceptions. God or Devil, Heaven or Hell,
Angels or Evil Spirits, Gray Allen recognized the seed of religion and
understood the world to which he traveled had bigotry and war. One begot
the other; there were no exceptions.
A rush of wind whipped the flames. Sparks shot skyward a thousand fleeting
specs of light that lived a moment and were gone. A mirror image of life
everywhere, except for Gray Allen.
I looked for a cause of the disturbance and found the Griffin, returned
from escorting the Kiida out of the compound, alighting without so much
as a ruffled feather. The young warrior in command vaulted athletically
from the beast’s back and approached his Dular, leaving the Griffin without
tether to graze upon the sparse moss. That the creature was herbivorous,
not carnivorous, surprised me. Though not so much as its Jatoran appellation,
Perhaps of equal surprise was the informal embrace with which T’lu greeted
the young Ul Van. One mystery of Jatora quickly solved.
“It is good that we have found you, Notar.” Uncle is the closest translation
as the word refers to both male and female kinship. “We never lost faith.
Now you can deal with Randak’s treachery! What plans have you made? How
will you punish the V’Koo? How . . .
T’lu halted the impetuous Land with an upturned palm. The damn plugged,
he turned a questioning eye to his trusted Van.
“The impatience of youth,” the Van said, glancing meaningfully at the
waning flames of the U’rsan. Even I, the town dunce, understood the substance
of his words. The Halm of the dead took precedent. That responsibility
satisfied, T'rk would have counseled with his Dular, privately, befitting
matters of a sensitive nature. However, his hand forced, T’rk spoke freely.
“What Land says is true, to a point. There is dissention in the D’kel
O’Odanal and Randak is the root, but labeling a Thief of Syjal V’Koo is
a serious accusation. I hold that charge in reserve. In the present crisis,
Randak may sincerely believe he acts in the best interest of the people.”
Wonder of wonders, beneath that rough exterior T’rk was a diplomat.
His Dular was more pragmatic noting, “If you suggest Randak has always
been a loyal, dependable servant of the Blood and deserves the benefit
of a doubt, I concur. Tell me the full nature of the trouble.”
“A power struggle. Randak advocates Vok succeed Balkar. At least until
the Dulara returns, if she returns. His position is the immediate selection
of a new Dular would give the people closure and unity.”
“HE may be right,” T’lu noted. “Vok does have Blood.”
“Transparent as a Kiida’s skin!” Land interrupted. “The cousin of a
niece of a nephew of a first uncle . . .”
“Still lineage the people cannot simply ignore, “T’lu said stepping
upon the young Ul Van’s tongue. At the least, what Randak forwards does
not smack of treachery.”
T’rk drew a deep breath. “Alone, no, but there is more. Sometime after
the battle of the Mu’ Derj, the D’kel O’Odanal received a Bujan courier
from Ksanj. It carried an offer of peace. Rhetoric, lies and deceit in
the guise of a false truce, it is without merit and should have been burned
and the ashes sent back to Ksanj with the rotting carcasses of his Hisl
except . . .”
“Except what?” T’lu prompted.
The dark eyes of the Van found Land. “I will let Land makes his case”
The boy was not shy to speak his mind.
“Except that not once did Ksanj mention the Dulara Olana. The moment
the Hisl seized the Dulara, the Council anticipated this supposed peace
offering. In truth, it would be a ransom note, the Dulara the pawn, her
life in exchange for surrender. Without that pawn, what threat could possibly
induce Syjal to lay down its arms? Yet, Randak storms the city streets
with this empty parchment declaring the salvation of the Odanal is at hand!
There can be only one explanation. Ksanj does not need the Dulara Olana.
He already has a pawn inside Syjal. Randak is V’Koo.”
For several seconds there was silence.
“Fear makes enemies of friends, and friends of enemies,” T’lu said quietly
and I felt a swell of assent ripple the gathered men.
“There is no truer I’bar,” T’rk acknowledged. “Randak would not be the
first corrupted by the promise of wealth and power.”
“Who stands with Randak?”
“Hull, Joasa, and F’on.”
“Who challenges in my absence?”
“Of course, there is no better friend man than the learned senator-scientist!”
“My Dular,” Land cried. “The city is divided and we are weakened. Ksanj
will surely use that division to launch a new assault. Hifel has dispatched
Griffin to Loer, Tlast, and the other cities of the southern frontier.
Reinforcements gather but,” Land could not repress the shadow crossing
his face, “though a great evar, Hifel is no soldier. You must return at
once. Before Ksanj can strike.”
T’lu placed a hand upon the shoulder of his young aeredor.
“No, I have another mission to fulfill, but you will return to Syjal.
Tell Hifel that he must petition Ganar to lead the Odanal in my absence.
It is the only way to dissuade the other Thiefs until Olana is found and
the True Blood restored.”
To that, Land, and many others, gasped. “Balkar’s brother? He is old
and bedridden. His body weak and his mind faded. The people will not be
“I do not seek to fool the people, only to impede Randak,” T’lu answered
crisply. “Ganar has Blood. Hifel will speak for him. Contesting Vok will
gain us the time needed to find the Dulara.”
“My Dular,” T’rk cried, perhaps playing Devil’s advocate for all the
gathered warriors, “you must be realistic. Ksanj has the Dulara. She is
either dead or a prisoner in Amata. You cannot save her. She is lost.”
“I no longer seek the Dulara Olana. I seek Amata!”
Cries of, “Never been done!” and “Impossible” flooded the sanval. A
current of disbelief surrounded me vibrant as an electrical storm. A storm
through which T’lu stood anchored, fixed upon a path no man or force could
“We have quoted many I’bar this day. I quote one more, that of K’si.
‘To reach the morning we must pass through the night.’ If the death of
Balkar and the abduction of Olana be our darkest hour, then it follows
soon we shall see the breaking light of a new day.” He raised his right
arm and pointed out of the sanval and across the Mountain of Lights. “Tonight,
we honor our fallen. In the morning, we follow the Val Ponada, East.”
“East?” T’rk said it the loudest, and even my meager comprehension of
Jatoran geography gave me to understand that Syjal lay southwest. East
faced away from the city and the political intrigue that played out in
“East may hold many answers for the Odanal.”
“Or it may be just another false hope, as has been every effort to find
Amata for three thousand years!”
“Perhaps so, but you must trust your Dular.”
It was an order, not a request. Nor would T’lu offer further explanation
as he told Land, “Fly! Go to Hifel with the words of your Dular and may
Ana guide your wings!”
As the young warrior rose into the moonless night-sky, the rush of the
Griffin’s wings floating bravely to my ears, I wondered what it all meant.
I had tried to follow the rapid exchanges of the Odanal, but in the main,
grew lost. My head throbbing with unfamiliar references, places, and names.
Why was Amata lost, impossible to find? I thought T’lu King of Amata.
What was a Bujan and who was Ksanj? A villain, yes. He inspired open terror
in men of untoward bravery. I had heard his name repeatedly and always
with hate and horror, yet none would speak of him with me!
My mind reeled with the sheer volume of unanswered questions.
I sighed deeply. In time, it would all become clear. Fate would reveal
her plan. The role assigned Kdal in the Destiny of Jatora. I had no fear,
or rather, only one. The fire!
Tonight, tomorrow, perhaps even within the hour, the hot light of transition
might roar forward and sweep Kdal from the mystery and intrigue surrounding
T’lu, Ksanj, Syjal, Amata, and the warriors of the Odanal. Jatora a puzzle
The fire could come, but somehow my heart knew different. For this wondrous
world filled me like nectar. The sweet taste of adventure had touched my
lips and I thirsted for more.
It was then, as images of the wonders and the travails of my brief time
upon Jatora floated through my reveries, that one piece of that puzzle
strode out of the mists of confusion and into the light of understanding.
T’lu marched East. East across the Mountain of Lights to a crumbled
ledge and a strange, half buried rock formation. East, to where I had last
seen her, the golden girl with the emerald eyes.
“I would sooner live in K’al Har than return to Syjal a podar.”
T’rk, the Van or Captain of the Odanal, held court by the Jatoran campfire.
His talk of K’al Har fanned deep flames of curiosity. I conceived images
of barbaric lands and exotic peoples awash in conspiracy and bondage, a
dark, savage world that spoke in whispers and lived in shadows. Hungrily,
I bit into this apple of imagination.
We had spent a day descending the mountain. Winding trail after winding
trail until, with night again upon us, we sat beneath a grove of glowing
trees and ate our Emosapors, the evening meal, not two hundred yards from
the edge of the Mu Derj.
Staring into the fanciful glow and deep shadows of that twisted forest,
my mind conjured terror known and unknown, creatures beyond imagination
waiting to strike. Trepidation not shared by my golden companions who,
fearless fighters all, ate, laughed, and talked of Syjal and Amata, of
war and of death, in apparent disdain to the encroaching forest. Podar,
the Jatoran word for slave, became a repeated theme, and the Hisl others
called Bujan, though I had clue to their appearance or origin other than
the Odanal held them in contempt. Of all that the men discussed, no one
name surfaced more than Ksanj. Always with an undercurrent of fear wrapped
I bristled with questions and thirsted for knowledge. Yet, a stronger
hand held my tongue. A voice out of the collective consciousness that bid
me wait, keep silent. A voice I obeyed without challenge.
After the Spartan meal of Votag and water, the warriors lapsed into
conversation that was more desultory, their sore feet, the need to keep
their metals polished, the women left at home. Eventually, even that talk
died as one by one the men drifted into sleep. However, for me, fretting,
nettled by the unanswered questions that ran riot through my mind, rest
would not come.
Why did it appear the Amatans lived in Syjal, and not in Amata? Why
was Amata lost, impossible to find? For three thousand years? Had the peoples
of Jatora been at war for that long? Was that possible? Who was this ubiquitous
Why did T’rk and the others so fearfully whisper his name?
All these questions rattled my brain, but the one haunting me most centered
upon the golden girl with the emerald eyes. Was she the nameless waif I
remembered or someone far more significant?
I thought of T’lu and his probing questions in our Kiida prison. His
meaningful decision to march the Odanal East. I tossed and turned
on my self-imposed bed of stone until daylight, slipping in and out of
fitful draughts of restive slumber. As we broke camp and took up T’lu’s
undefined quest, I determined to test the warning of the collective memory
and seek some answers.
However, the Odanal would not speak of things I wanted to hear. Though
not deliberately discourteous, they steadfastly avoided direct answers.
All that miserable day, they spared not a word to the name or nature of
Ksanj. By dusk, I had drawn desperate. By campfire, wanting for conversation
of any nature, I broached the subject of K’al Har with T’rk and some of
“T’lu told us of your strange I’bar,” T’rk stated frankly. “That your
Hon djar is not of Jatora, and he bade we not judge you in haste. To that,
we agreed because you showed courage in battle and wisdom with the Kiida.
Yet your ignorance is astonishing, if not disturbing.”
Again, that element of hesitation and distrust common to the outlandish
claims made by Gray Allen on this or any world. Still, T’rk had been forthright
in a manner difficult to disfavor.
“If my ignorance troubles you, it troubles me more.” I did my best to
smile ruefully. “The only remedy to my ignorance is knowledge. Tell me
of K’al Har.”
T’rk laughed incredulously. “You are not only ignorant, you are also
Ever so politely, T’rk had crowned me the village idiot. A witticism
that had the weathered Van doubled-over in laughter that the others were
not timid in enjoining. A harangue typical of the response Gray Allen garnered
amongst men of honest lineage. Mine being the most implausible pedigree
“Fine, I am an idiot! Indulge me. Tell me more of this imaginary K’al
“Imaginary!” T’rk bellowed, “Ana but you are worse than krekal. No,
Kdal, the great Black World to the North is no figment of the imagination.
It is real, terrifyingly so.”
T’rk raised his head, casting his gaze to the shimmering summit of the
Mountain of Lights. “There,” he pointed. “Beyond the Val Ponada and across
the mighty Anor it lies, cold, dark and foreboding, The domain of the Impys
and things more secret, more terrible than all the Kiida and Votag on Jatora.
A place so terrible even Ksanj does not tempt its borders.”
“K’al Har is death’s domain. An island of fear and loathing and home
to the J’ jerval himself.”
The J’ jerval, the devil. As Ana dwelt in the heavens, the Devil lived
in K’al Har. The one a kingdom of cloud and air, the other a purported
island or continent of rock and forest bound by ocean. I wanted to ask
of the contradiction, but, victimized enough for one day, I thought better
of it. If Jatora believed their deities angles and their devils flesh and
blood, I would not presume to make light of that faith.
“The ancients wrote that to die without the Halm of the Fire, invited
the T’sol Alaj!” T’rk continued. I had uncorked the bottle and the wine
of discovery flowed. The phrase meant the Searching Dead! The unburned
warriors of the Odanal, spirits walking a supernatural boundary between
life and death in search of Lu, perpetual fugitives of the Impys, invisible
lackeys of the Devil of K’al Har. I thought to my own interpretation
of the fire and considered the comparison fitting.
I confess a befuddlement at the emotional response talk of K’al Har
generated amongst these rugged individuals. However, as I thought on it,
I came to see the logic behind that trepidation.
While nearly every world of my memory host similar ideas of heaven and
hell, concepts eternally repetitive in theme and derivation, only here,
on Jatora, lived a race that believed Hell lay just over the mountain and
across the sea. Who would not fear a Devil lurking a swift ocean voyage
Still nursing doubts to the veracity of K’al Har, I asked T’rk if he
had ever been there. Need I restate the reaction? One more, I was a krekal.
“If I had, would I been standing here talking to you? No! I would be
dead, condemned to continuance of eternal suffering! Ana save me!” The
big Amatan cried aloud. “Though, I confess, we all know of men who have
seen K’al Har!”
There came a rumble of consenting voices as again T’rk gestured toward
the invisible world beyond the aloof Val Ponada. “My own great, great-grandfather
told me of a day, long ago, when the Winds of Ana caught him and a great
dovan of warriors sailing south around the Mis Lew to Agar. A monstrous
storm so powerful it drove their ship within a dozen kotal of K’al Har
before it abated. They saw it, the Dark World, laid out black and terrible,
the hand of death reaching for the battered prow of their drifting Gaerlor.
He swore to me, upon the flames of his father, that men dove into the Anor,
preferring to drown or be eaten by Tagor than look upon the Black Mists
of K’al Har.”
“The Black Mists?”
“K’al Har is so dreadful a place, so horrid a world, that not even Emo
will look upon it. Never, in all the eons of Jatora, has the light of our
sun touched the nether world. Never!”
A world that had literally never seen the light of day!
If T’rk thought to disillusion me, he achieved the antithesis. The wanderlust
in my blood pulsed hotly. Whether with the lure of adventure or a foolish
flight of fancy, K’al Har fascinated me.
“Pray to Ana you are spared K’al Har,” T’rk said solemnly, and all who
heard murmured unanimous accord. “There is no return for those who go!”
“For those who go?” I repeated in a half whisper.
“Sa’ Alar!” A voice came out of the dark. T’lu approached. “Those who
found the Black Mists an irresistible seduction. A strange conversation,
Kdal, I hope T’rk satisfies your curiosity.”
“No, he piques it,” I confessed. “Tell me of these Sa’ Alar!”
“Time to time, there have been those who shared your fascination with
the dark world,” the Amatan Dular said as he came and sat amongst us by
the fire. “We called them the Sa’ Alar, the Seekers. Warriors whose spirit
of adventure drove them where others refused to go. The greatest of their
kind was the Flalsai of D’Nota.”
For T’rk and the warriors, that name had the effect of a hot rock tossed
into a naked hand. The repeated the name in tones that evoked an almost
mystical reverence. I should note, for continuity, the D’Notan race claimed
the white-skinned and red-haired warriors witnessed upon the plain of my
birth. None graced our present band.
T’lu paused to collect his thoughts. He tossed a clump of moss onto
the fire, causing a slight crackle and a sudden, pungent odor, like singed
“The Val Ponada is an unbroken, impassable barrier that girdles the
continent of Andar east to west. Many have tried to cross her lofty peaks,
and many have died. To conquer those formidable crags and crevices one
must fight cold, hunger, wind, snow and, worst of all, the coming of K’Aldan.
Nothing on this world lives upon the Val Ponada unless K’Aldan permits.”
I started to open my mouth but T’lu waved a hand.
“Assuming one did negotiate over the barrier wall of the Val Ponada,
he would find his miserable body at the shores of the great northern sea
of Anor. Another barrier, this of swirling tides, raging storms, hidden
reefs, and fearsome saurian.”
“But it could be done!” I urged.
“Yes, long ago, when the men of Jatora had great Dre danor that traversed
the seas of world rich in trade and adventure, but they are gone now. Save
those few still possessed by the Agala.”
“A seafaring race. They live upon the island of Agar, a fertile land
rich in wood, fiber, and our precious malnor, the metal from which we hone
our swords. Riches that have allowed the Agalans a long-standing truce
of expedience with Ksanj, an uneasy peace, often broken.”
Again, Ksanj! T’lu tossed a second handful of moss onto the campfire
and cursed as though he sought to cover one stench with another.
“And if I had a Dre Danor?”
“If you had a Dre Danor, and you survived the vicious storms and more
vicious beasts that populate the great sea, you would still have to deal
with the Arva Camtar.”
Black Pirates! My senses tingled.
“They infest the Anor, raiding, killing, attacking all that move, swim
or sail upon the bosom of the sea. The Camtars are as ruthless a race as
lives upon Jatora, yet even these fierce aggressors sail clear of the Black
“But if I should win passed these Camtars,” I persisted. “If I breached
the Black Mists of K’al Har, what then?”
“Then the Impys would have you for dinner!” T’rk interjected with wide
The men laughed. T’lu shook his head.
“The I’bar says, the only good thing to do with K’al Har is leave it
“But the Seekers, Flalsai, and the others like him, they beat the Val
Ponada, the Anor and the Camtar. Did they not?”
“Yes, the Sa’ Alar did, because they could not live in a world without
a quest.” The irresistible fire in T’lu’s voice spoke volumes of his true
opinion for the courage and daring of the Seekers. Though he may have called
them krekal, admiration filled his fighting heart. “They invaded the Black
Mists caring only that the challenge be met. As to what they would find,
it mattered little, so long as it was adventure. The went because they
could go, they had Qualo!”
The Qualo, it rang simultaneously from the lips of every warrior present.
“Upon the back of the Qualo, men flew where they wished. They flew South
to the impassable morass of the Mis Lew, or went north and crossed the
Val Ponada, at will daring the Anor. A bygone age of daring and discovery
where the more reckless, or more heroic if you prefer, even penetrated
the Black Mists. The Qualo made it possible.”
That the Qualo was some manner of ancient bird I understood, a companion
beast to the Griffin perhaps, now extinct or at the least, quite rare.
“And what did Flalsai learn in K’al Har?” I asked.
“Poor, Flalsai. The only Sa’ Alar ever to return from K’al Har.”
T’lu shook his head, beset by a great sadness. “What he saw we never learned.
He returned a broken madman, a raging J’ nkar who screamed of impossible
beasts and unholy demons. Impys, we are sure. Within days of his miraculous
reappearance in D’Nota, Flalsai died. The I’bar concludes that he could
not live with what he had seen.”
“But others followed,” I demanded.
“Of course,” T’lu smiled, then frowned. “Until the coming of Ksanj,
when there were no more Qualo.” His voice choked, his eyes glazed over,
and the conversation died. It was all T’lu would tell and, as T’lu was
the voice of the Odanal, my search for answers ended, cut off sharp as
All the following day we marched east along the base of the Val Ponada,
skirting the Mu Derj except when a few individuals detached to forage for
meat, Votag being the meal of choice. The Odanal carried only a single
skin of water for the entire avan, an emergency supplement to the plentiful
bounty of nature, a bounty I again noted as barren of an apple, a pear,
or a peach.
Perhaps the wondrous natural luminance of the forest and the mountain
had some hand in this oddity. A chemical agent perhaps, something that
sustained the wondrous light but inhibited the growth of edible fruits?
I did not know, nor did I ever learn.
All this served as only a temporary distraction for the gnawing curiosity
vexing my soul. At length, hitching my resolve up a notch, I voiced my
compliant with T’lu over his continued reticence.
“On one hand you give me Halm,” I told him. “With the other you beat
me off like a sisk.” A sisk being a general term for the variety of snakes
that populated Jatora.
“Perhaps you are right,” T’lu admitted grudgingly. As rain on a desert,
taking pity for my plight, he allowed morsels, only bits and pieces, of
the villainy and intrigue that surrounded his troubled throne.
T’lu was the Dular O’Odanal, the Leader or King of revolutionaries at
war with the omnipresent Ksanj, of whom T’lu remained tactfully evasive.
Nor was he forthcoming on ‘impossible to find’ Amata, sister-city of Syjal.
T’lu reaffirmed that Randak, once a powerful friend, had implemented
a series of suspect actions to place himself in control of the D’kel O’Odanal,
a tribunal of elected representatives that governed the city. Actions that,
on the surface, smacked of collaboration with the invisible, obscure Ksanj.
“The entire chain of events that has brought us to this moment began
with the assassination of Balkar, the Dular of Syjal, and the subsequent
abduction of his daughter, the Dulara Olana. Olana is the true heir to
Syjal, a direct living descendant of Vopar.”
Though the question filled my eyes, T’lu ignored it.
“We suffered great loses upon Mu Rala, but none more so than the subsequent
assassination of Balkar and the abduction of Olana. Randak has used these
events to drive a wedge into our society and, if these intrigues are the
acts of a traitor, than Ksanj stands on the threshold of the victory Syjal
has denied him for three thousand years.
“Again Ksanj and this three thousand year war!” I blurted. “You surely
don’t mean that this one man . . .
The wall skepticism fell and the conversation ended, the door had closed.
A door to which Gray Allen had neither a clue nor a key.
That night, alone, brooding and introspective, pacing by the steady
glow of our campfire, my thoughts flew to the corpse riddled plain of my
T’lu had said, ‘We suffered great loses upon Mu Rala.’
Slowly, a portrait of bloody warfare unfolded on a vague map I knew
connected to something larger, more sweeping. Low hanging fruit dangled
tantalizing sweet before my mind’s eye. A prize I could not quite reach.
What was it? I felt it close, but, like a wave inside a hollow ball,
it had no end.
The next morning, marching east, the elusive images continued to haunt
me. No resource of time or destiny seemed adequate to pluck the jewel from
where it lay buried in my deepest, darkest subconscious. It gnawed at me
until, as the volcano must spew its steam, I let loose with an angry growl.
It startled the young Amatan warrior, R’ri, who paced beside me. A boy,
really, but already carrying several lur of battle upon his slim shoulders.
“I am sorry I startled you, I was lost in thought.”
“Yes, it angers all of the Blood,” R’ri replied, assuming my emotions
as his. “For Randak to have turned V’Koo is a great blow.”
By accident, I had opened a door. Not by asking a question, but by engaging
conversation. I wondered if Jatora knew the I’bar of flies, honey, and
“What motivates Randak?”
R’ri shrugged. “Like all V’Koo, he seeks to better his prospects if
the city falls, believing abetting Ksanj will gain him wealth and favor.
I am certain he sees himself Dular.”
“You do not?” I asked.
“Randak will never rule Syjal; T’lu has sworn it,” R’ri answered smiling
with the invincibility of youth. I returned the smile, not at his words
but at the easy manner in which T’lu both withheld and granted confidences.
Clearly, conspiracy and subterfuge constituted a way of life on Jatora.
More dogged than ever, I sought out T’lu, and laid my case before him.
He sensed my exasperation and chose his words carefully.
“I have already told you more than any not of the Blood should know.”
I felt like Tantalus, uniquely favored among mortals, invited to share
in the ‘food’ of the Gods, whose punishment for abusing the gift was to
spend eternity grasping for food and drink that was always just beyond
Only now it was T’lu who ‘tantalized’ me.
“Then make me of the Blood, make me Odanal!”
T’lu stopped dead in his tracks. His eyes swung to me and we stood at
the crossroads. Suddenly, a shout rang from the avan of warriors. T’lu
Mouthing a silent oath, my eyes followed the wildly gesturing men. Looking
skyward, I beheld a sumptuous vision. A great, feathered creature sailed
serenely into view around a bulging prominence of the Val Ponada. Crown
to tail, a dozen dazzling feet of pure white plumage that glided effortlessly
on stupendous ivory-wings thrust heavenward like an archangel. While even
its shadow held a sense of elegance, an impression of regal splendor, the
heavily nailed legs carried curled under its snowy breast spoke to a creature
capable of formidable defense.
The avian face was angular, sharp and symmetrical with large coal-black
eyes, round and piercing, appraising the tiny humans below it with noble
impassivity. Fluttering under the curved beak and streaming rearwards in
the mountain air, a long white tuft of hair.
An Aal, it could not be anything else.
I knew immediately the Amatan chin hairs represented homage to the magnificence
of this graceful creature soaring overhead. At the same instant, I realized
I had seen the face before, east, peering out from the shale and debris
of the Val Ponada.
My hand clasped against the hilt of my sword. What had been unknown
then had a name.
With head carried in majestic indifference, the Qualo glided soundlessly
around a bend in the mountain and disappeared. I turned to T’lu, suspicion
fled and perception emerged. I knew what stood at the heart of his unspoken
plan for Syjal and his world. Why we traveled east; though to how my knowledge
favored him, I remained wholly ignorant. I would have that from his lips.
Whatever it was I thought to say next, died in the rivulets of tears
that trailed along his high, proud cheekbones. I watched silently as the
pearls of his sorrow slipped the length of his Aal to splash upon his noble
breast, cleansing my anger.
With the Qualo gone, the startled, wide-eyed warriors crowded toward
their King. The great bird had unnerved them, and they sought the security
of T’lu’s dignified presence. Drawing himself to this full height, emotions
evaporated by force of will, T’lu faced me with dry, searching eyes that
read my heart and found validation for what he wanted to say.
“Do you believe in omens, Kdal?”
I nodded ready to embrace the whole of what he prepared to share, eager
to be accepted. T’lu eyes brightened and he smiled broadly. He shouted
that all might hear.
“Warriors of the Odanal! Tonight, we will sing the I’bar. We will drench
our souls in the blood-heritage of Jatora that we might reinforce ourselves
for what lies ahead even as we initiate the unenlightened. We shall tell
again the Birth of the Odanal!”
The warriors roared in delight.
That evening we made the final camp of our journey east. We gathered
around the fire where the Odanal huddled close to their leader, eyes fill
with an excitable, wide-eyed innocence, children at bedtime. The strident
shadows thrown by the evening fire played off T’lu’s handsome face. Sparkles
danced in his eyes. The flickering flames casting a mesmerizing property
over the power and suspense superseding this oldest of Jatoran traditions,
this singing of the I’bar.
The song T’lu sang was bitter and it was sweet. It was brave and it
was cruel. I listened with an open mind and beating heart and by morning
nearly all my questions had answers.
Dar’ Alur, Dar’ Odanal, Dar’ Ksanj . . . the three great Ages of Jatora.
Dar’ Alur: A puerile, violent era of greed and warfare. Primitive and
savage, it set the stage upon which Jatora stood.
Dar’ Odanal: When the Blood come forward, leading Jatora from dark savagery
to bright promise.
Dar’ Ksanj: When the darkness returned and freedom and hope withered
under the thumb of Ksanj.
The wild, hostile past, the noble ascension, the bitter and bereaved
present, the I’bar of Jatora!
In the Dar’ Alur, two great powers battled for supremacy of Jatora,
two aggressive civilizations that had surpassed and mastered nearly all
the lesser nations of their world. Belligerent conquerors, that, with all
else vanquished, turned upon each other in a futile effort to satiate their
To the south, proud and defiant under the blood-red eye of Emo, her
lofty, wind-swept walls facing the lush plains of the Mu Rala and the gnarled
woods of the Mu Derj stood Syjal. To the North, Amata, oldest of all the
ancient cities of Jatora, an aloof and taciturn fortress huddled deep within
the inhospitable slopes of the Val Ponada.
Two nations with but one franchise; war.
On the feathered backs of the fabled Qualo, the Amatans swept outward
from the Lu’ tajalo, the Way to Heaven, the great scarlet tower that rises
from the Kiej Dular, the House of the Kings, the centerpiece of Amatan
civilization. A massive sea of white wing, this great northern tempest
blew hard and often at the stubborn gates of Syjal, that thrust back with
their own winged army of Griffin.
Endlessly, the battles raged. Titanic struggles that rolled from the
rock bound walls of Amata to the wooden gates of Syjal. There were days
when the roars of the beasts and the cries of the dying filled the heavens
from dawn to dusk, and the ringing lyric of swordplay became the lullaby
by which mothers nurtured their young.
Though the tide of combat ebbed and flowed, and each side, from time
to time, seemed verged upon victory, the Death Blow, the T’sal Lan, never
fell. For a thousand years, the battle for Halm kept men sharp and women
From the Vlis infested Mis Lew swamps to the shunned Black Mists of
K’al Har along the far northern edge of the rolling Anor, Amata and Syjal
battled until the Dar’ Odanal. The Miracle, the Je’ ndal, of K’si of Amata
and Vopar of Syjal. The two greatest leaders ever to rule Jatora, men of
insight that descried the waste in unrelenting bloodshed and worked to
A goal that took an even vaster war to accomplish, a broad civil strife,
that ravaged the land and set brother against brother, father against son.
As it placed K’si and Vopar against those who did not see the future with
their clarity. In the end, perhaps when even the most violent of Jatora
had had enough fighting and enough death, K’si and Vopar attained peace,
Halmnar. A lasting peace, that withstood every challenge to its inception.
A peace, with honor, maintained by the guile, nerve and uncompromising
steel of its authors. The bleeding stopped, and the era of the Odanal began.
Agar, Derhetti, Mopal, and D’Nota, the island nations of the Anor, were
granted their sovereignty from Amata. Syjal relinquished claim upon Indar,
Sojas, Tlast and Loer and opened wide the sprawling continent of Andar,
upon which the known worlds of Jatora sat. Ships sailed the Anor and caravans
crossed the Mu Rala. Qualo and Griffin spanning the distances with news
of the arts and sciences, skills and crafts carried to every inhabited
corner of a maturing world. Commerce flowed, trade flourished, and prosperity
As to the warrior heart of Jatora, one did not have to look far to flex
steel. The Kiida and Votag roamed the Mu Derj and the Lajak, black bear
of Jatora, padded the rocky slopes of the Val Ponada. The odious Ma’ Pola
stalked the trackless morass of the Mis Lew and upon Anor sailed the Camtar,
the Black Pirates of Jatora, who gave allegiance to none and pledged to
restore the ways of the Dar’ Alur. Fighting enough for most men, so one
would have believed.
K’si and Vopar, men of vision and steel, understood the aggressor heart
of their charges and warned against a time when Jatora would grow bored
with peace. A day when a civilization’s appetite for more than it had,
or the law allowed, would undo all the Odanal had accomplished.
They enacted hard laws. Stern, inflexible sanctions to protect the Odanal
alliance at all cost. Break the law and judgment was swift, punishment
extreme. Right or wrong, harsh or fair, the Laws of the Odanal worked.
Jatora thrived and there was harmony, until Ksanj.
What blast of black breath blew this beast upon the shores of Jatora?
What eternal flaw in the character of Creation permitted such as he to
His origin remains shrouded in mystery. There is no family history,
no spoken Hon djar. Nor do the people of Jatora sing the I’ bar of Ksanj!
The only written records of Ksanj surfaced in the great Sareval, the medical
archives of Amata, carried out from her burning walls by those who fled
her destruction. These books record a noble Ksanj who burst suddenly upon
the academic world of Jatora as if by magic, Gal’ dul. A scholar in medicine
and science whose skills surpassed all contemporaries, a healer whose genius
disguised a corrupt soul, the foulest, blackest heart ever to darken the
His brilliance of mind exceeded only by the blackness of his soul.
The early verse recorded that Ksanj worked selflessly within the law
and earned great Halm. He cured disease, created healing balms still in
use today, and explored facets of anatomy and the Hon djar beyond the greatest
minds of that day or any day.
In that quest, the decay of Jatora began.
Though K’si granted Ksanj many honors and rewards, those endowments
proved pitifully inadequate to satisfy the deeper cravings of his twisted
psyche. Jaded with life, he became obsessed with death. More precisely,
life after death, immortality, T’al Lodinar.
Secreted in grim underground laboratories of his own design, Ksanj employed
stupidly brutal henchmen that brought him living subjects for hideous experimentation.
Acts so vile and unspeakable they sickened even those paid to do his crazed
bidding. Eventually one such conspirator betrayed him, an old crone, who
deemed herself to be underpaid and unappreciated, ferreted out his underground
novevars. Seized, clasped into irons by the avans of the Odanal, Ksanj
faced the judgment of K’si.
In the great throne room of Amata, his dark atrocities found light.
Horrors so vile, so repulsive, that K'si purged all records of the proceedings
to forswear Ksanj to generations yet unborn.
With an entire world clamoring for his head, K’si ordered Ksanj’s death,
though in that decree, K’si both damned and mourned him, cursing the remorseless
killer while grieving his unfulfilled promise. Ksanj could have been a
savior and visionary, a powerful force for the advancement of the Odanal.
Instead, that brilliant intellect had chosen to live in the impenitent
soul of a butcher.
A great feast, an Ialora, accompanied Ksanj to his retribution. The
citizens of Amata gathered in the streets and sang and danced and bore
witness to the exorcism of the J’ Jerval from their midst. Ksanj, smiling
calmly as he knelt before the poised blade of his executioner, had these
final, sanctimonious words for the Odanal.
“Bury me deep Jatora. Deep as you can. If I am amused, I will stay awhile
with the Impys, ruling them as easily as one day I will rule you. Be warned!
When I am ready, when the moment is right, I will return. On that day,
Amata will fall! Nor will I stop there, all Jatora will feel the weight
my revenge, Amata, Syjal, everywhere city known to man will fall. You will
learn to tremble before me. As will your children, your grandchildren,
and their children’s children. I, Ksanj, swear it!”
The people of Jatora laughed.
The sword of justice fell and Ksanj died. The people cheered. His words
quickly forgotten. Ksanj was dead, his murderous ways finished forever.
That was three thousand years ago.
One year to the day, Ksanj kept his vile promise. As some stinking black
plague vomited up from the depths of K’al Har, he stormed across the Val
Ponada. In his wake, the hellish beasts he called Hisl.
Born in the quest for Tal Lodinar, unholy and unnatural, fashioned from
the nightmare world to which Ksanj had fled, these hellish beasts fell
upon once proud Amata. Avan after avan of fetid monsters riding the sacred
Qualo in numbers so thick they cloaked the light of day, Emo blotted out
by this deadly, living shadow.
On that day, Amata will fall!
Her impregnability shattered, death rained out of the sky. Chaos lit
the ancient fields afire. Black clouds of acrid smoke swirled to the heavens
in columns visible even in distant Syjal, a fire replete with the stench
of burning flesh and charred dreams.
The Odanal valiantly defended their homes and their honor. A useless
gallantry, for the avans of peace proved pitifully inadequate against the
deviant army of Ksanj. No modest joust with unruly Camtar had prepared
the Odanal for the mutated murderers pouring over the rim of the Val Ponada.
Amata crumbled. Unburned dead filled the streets and festered in the sun,
and a once roseate future collapsed into disfigured darkness.
K’si dead, his life sold courageously defending what he had built, his
U’rsan a burning city, Ksanj ascended the fabled Lu’ tajalo. With his prophecy
of slavery and death come full circle, he turned glittering, hate-filled
eyes upon Syjal. He dispatched his malignant hordes in supreme confidence
that Syjal would fall as easily as Amata.
However, the valiant resistance of Amata had not been entirely vain.
From Loer, from Tlast, from wherever free men of the Odanal lived, Vopar
marshaled forces. When the Hisl came, Griffin met them, colliding over
the Mu Derj in a roar that reverberated pole to pole. The first engagement
of an insane bloodbath that has never ended.
Raging forward and backward between Amata and Syjal for three thousand
years, the beasts of Ksanj and the warriors of Syjal have grasped at each
other. To this day, Syjal stands unbent. The city and the glory of the
Odanal preserved through the sacrifice of uncounted numbers who battled
and died for the Blood; men of character and Halm willing to die for freedom
and their Dular.
While men of courage died, Ksanj sent the inhuman and easily replaceable
Hisl, who died without feeling, without soul, without spark. While he,
in his resurrected novevars burrowed below the streets of Amata, holes
deep enough and dark enough to absorb the cries of tortured victims that,
like the war, never ended, labored anew at the Tal Lodinar. Heinous experiments
that dwarfed all that had gone before, plying his knives on living flesh,
cutting and maiming in disdain for the rules of men and Ana.
What emerged from those dark underground caverns looked human, but there
the resemblance ended. These were the Bujan, in whose desecrated veins
flowed the Gopal, Ksanj’s vile, degenerate serum of T’al Lodinar that no
sarevar then or since has understood Ksanj’s greatest success, and his
From the first, something went dreadfully wrong with the Bujan gopal.
While it prolonged life to extents beyond comprehension, it also awakened
virulent diseases that twisted and scarred the Bujan unmercifully. Ksanj
fought to reverse the tainted gopal, tampering mightily with his formulas,
but his alterations only exacerbated the problem resulting in a cascade
of physical deformities that grew increasingly repulsive in each succeeding
generation. Try as he might, Ksanj could neither halt, nor reverse, the
Remarkably, though self-aware of their origins, the Bujan never held
Ksanj accountable. They suffered their wretchedness without petition and
worshiped Ksanj. They called him father, Sharda, and Ksanj, with perverse
affection, embraced that love and came to look upon the Bujan as his children.
He made them his governors, captains and slavers, the officers of his Hisl
army and the enforcers of his podar empire. He ceased his struggle to repair
the gopal. The deformities lingered but the Bujan did not die unless through
violence. He had achieved Tal Lodinar. That it came with caveat, Ksanj
Where Ksanj became indifferent, the Bujan became obsessive. They set
about seeking their own cure to the tainted drug of their creator. Stripped
of all the finer sensibilities of humanity, the ugliness of their bodies
ingrained in their souls, the Bujan sought their antidote in chaste Ki’
djar, the pure, untainted blood of the Odanal. In the helpless podar of
the city, the Bujan saw their cure; and rape the instrument of that remedy.
The atrocities that followed raised the level of terror in Amata to
unparalleled heights, horror beyond even the demented dreams of Ksanj.
Nor did he raise a hand to stop it; rather, he laughed, reveled in it,
while the soul of the Odanal wailed in agony for the children of the Bujan.
Hideously malformed and inbred scion of a sick and slattern breed, this
was the ultimate transgression. A defilement so steep that even Ana revolted,
demanding that there be a price for this depravity, this illicit procreation.
The price paid was the Tal Lodinar. By rejoining pure Hon djar with
disease riddled gopal the Bujan had lost eternal life. They began to die!
T’lu finished. His eyes flushed; his chest heaved.
“As my fathers sang before me, I have sung the I’bar of Jatora. For
three thousand years, nothing has changed. Ksanj lives! The one perfect
testament to his search for the T’al Lodinar riding at the head of his
hellish empire, his vengeance an everlasting tempest raging across Jatora,
wasting away the True Blood of the Odanal. The same undying Ksanj whose
severed head my ancestor carried on a pole through the heart of Amata.”
I heard the I’bar, felt its weight and measured the depth of pain inflicted
upon the world of my rebirth. I bore witness to the sorrow and the bitterness
in each warrior around me, and the great burden of responsibility carried
by T’lu of Amata.
T’lu stood before me and sought my soul. In my eyes there reflected
grief, horror, and a touch of compassion. Emotion I gave openly. He did
not see what Gray Allen chose to hide. The irony, the paradox, the bitter
truth that we, Mecca, Bodine, Falsworth, the infinite others, had heard
his story before!
Though sung upon other worlds with other names, we knew the words. This
evil, this transgression against the sanctity of creation rang with a commonality
impossible to convey to my new friends. Nor would they have believed me.
Yet the truth remains, we knew Ksanj. His maniacal lust for vengeance,
power, and yes, even life after death, his T’al Lodinar, was naught but
an oft told tale to Gray Allen. We knew him by many names in many lands,
had fought his malevolence across a million undefined ages, in triumphs
and in failures too numerous to recall.
Yes, we knew Ksanj. The I’bar that meant everything to Jatora was only
a thread to Gray Allen, a strand in an ancient web spun across time, space,
and the collective memory. While the horror of Jatora stood undiminished
in the mind of Kdal, in the heart of Gray Allen, it shaped a far more personal
Through all the ages of Mecca, of Bodine, of Falsworth, of Gray Allen's
time in the path, I have persistently wondered: What is my place in the
universe? As man has woman, as light has dark, as life has death, all things
have balance. Yet, I was alone, unique, an exemption I had come to accept,
until now, until this I’bar of Ksanj.
Could Ksanj be my balance, my antithesis in an immortal dance with Destiny?
Could it be that to find and defeat Ksanj is my ultimate Fate? Could that
be the purpose drawing me across the twisted forests and glowing mountains
of wild, fantastic Jatora?
I thought about that and of a pair of emerald green eyes lost in the
untamed reaches of the Mountain of Lights; and wondered.
Like a yawning child, the morning warmth of Emo spread over the camp
of the Odanal, dissipating the phosphorous hues of the Jatoran night. The
warriors stirred. Rubbing the sleep from their eyes, they stretched their
muscles and sloughed-off their dewy cocoons.
As is the habit of true leaders, T’lu had rose first. I found him sitting
cross-legged and pensive by the waning embers of the campfire. He looked
up with a quick grin and motioned me to sit beside him.
“You know you were only a breath from being turned out to find your
own way out of the mountains, despite your bravery and sacrifice with the
I nodded. “It did occur to me. What changed your mind? The Qualo?”
“The Qualo was a sign, that I do not doubt, but no, my decision came
was made upon a more personal need.”
“Need?” I thought the choice of wording odd.
“Yes, need, K’al. Fantastic though your tale of coming to Jatora may
be, I believe it. I need to believe it, for your conflict comforts me.”
My eyebrows raised.
“You seem surprised.”
“You shouldn’t be.”
The sincerity in his tone reflected a deep, inner struggle, personal
turmoil previously unseen in this gentle giant. Perhaps, there had not
“We are more alike than you realize,” T’lu continued without prompt.
“Am I not two voices that struggle inside one soul? The one a warrior,
yearning for peace and family, the other a Dular, in command of the avans
of O’Odanal, sending his men to their deaths against the forces of Ksanj.”
T’lu smiled, weakly. “I watch others find mates and enter the D’ jarval,
the joining. They father children and draw a breath of happiness from the
chaos that strangles our world. For them, in the arms of a wife, in the
laughter of children, there is respite, however brief, from the horrors
of war. For them, but not me. I am the O’Odanal. What do I offer a woman?
I would make her a Dulan, a Queen, but condemn her to a life of endless
battles, harrowing decisions, and my own, inevitable death. Worse, any
I chose to love must live under constant threat of assassination, a tool
by which to get at me. We have the Dulara Olana as example. But you,” he
said with a sudden brightness. “You make me dream. Perhaps Ana will grant
me another chance, another life on another world far, far away from this
terror and torment.” The smile grew to a grin. “So, you see I need to believe
in you Kdal. You give me hope.”
“Then let us hope together we defeat Ksanj. Until then, you have the
Odanal. I saw how they came to the fire, eager to hear your words, to listen
to the voice of their Dular. Until the day Ksanj lies forever skewered
at the end of a sword, let them be your family.”
“I knew you would say that,” T’lu replied with a bemused laugh. “Very
well, I will marry T’rk!”
I burst into laughter. T’lu joined me and the moment fed our souls.
We laughed heartily, temporarily absolved of the personal ghosts that haunted
each of us in our way.
Seizing the moment, I pressed T’lu to fill the remaining gaps in his
“Just what is it you don’t understand?”
“When you call Amata lost, I sense something far more material than
her merely being conquered.”
T’lu nodded. “Yes, your perception is keen as your blade. Built eons
ago, how many none know, to be the most impregnable of fortresses upon
Jatora, Amata’s supposed invincibility lay in her clandestine location.”
“How is . . .”
“Do you wish to hear or ask questions?” T’lu chastised. I said no more.
“I will explain. Of all the thousands of depressions and valleys dotting
the Mountain of Lights, there is but one Al’ tajalo, the Crater of Heaven.
A great bowl veiled from the eyes of man beneath billowing clouds that
never rise. Forever held in place by the Winds of Anor. In this hollow,
whether by act of Ana or an accident of unfathomable dimension, lies the
invisible city of Amata.”
“Ironically, that strength became her undoing. When Ksanj seized the
city, he destroyed all natural or manmade markers to the Al’ tajalo. With
maps burned, landmarks crushed beyond recognition, Amata disappeared. To
the descendants of those who fled her bloodied streets, she a memory and
“You have searched?”
“Without end or success. Only by incredible good fortune or dumb luck
could one hope to reach the summit, penetrate the perpetual cloud coverings
and search, canyon by canyon by canyon, for that single shielded valley
wherein lay the City of Dreams. By foot, the trek is implausible if not
impossible, and it is no accident Ksanj controls nearly all the Qualo upon
The weight of the Griffin, T’lu explained in answer to my query, precluded
their reaching the summits of all but the lowest peaks. They flew well
enough upon the lower plains and above the forests, but struggled in the
thin air of the Val Ponada.
“For three thousand years, the Usurper, the T’ala T’sol, has imperiously
protected his hidden asylum. Whatever defense Ksanj overlooked the absolute
obstinacy of the Val Ponada provided. For three thousand years the Al’
tajalo crater, and the city of Amata, ancestral home of the Odanal, has
eluded detection, though we never cease the hunt.”
“You said to climb the Val Ponada is implausible if not impossible Then
there is a trail?”
“Rumors and fables abound. I’bars of ancient entrances to Amata such
as through Tamor, the Black River. Once a well-traveled conduit of commerce
through the underbelly of the Val Ponada, Tamor had been Amata’s outlet
to the Anor during the peaceful reign of K’si and Vopar. Some scholars
of the war believe Tamor dried up and extinct, dammed and walled thousands
of years ago by the Bujan. Others hold that underground entrances persist.
Rare instances of escaped podar support their contentions that Ksanj continues
to employ Tamor as a channel to the Anor where alternately he trades, or
raids, for the malnor and other precious materials that his empire demands.
Productive labor the slothful Bujan are incapable of generating.”
I felt a wave of compassion for T’lu. Not pity, for that he would find
abhorrent, rather a great empathy for his predicament, his role as the
shoulder upon which all Jatora cried. King of a city he had never seen,
not knowing where in all the thousands of kotal of mountain to look, his
was a lot unique in the collective memory.
“But now you march east, to find Amata. Something has changed and it
has to do with the . . . ”
T’lu rose, indicating that our discussion had ended and my question
would not be answered. He directed me to where T’rk and some of the other
warriors busied themselves with the tasks of the camp. “If you are to be
Odanal, it is time you earned your keep!”
For most of that morning, I joined the Odanal in the pleasant pastime
of shining our blades. All Jatoran warriors carried a B’ain, a leather
pouch that rested in the bottom of their scabbards. The B’ain held the
ulor, a flint-like strip of metal. T’rk told me it was Broqua. When moist
and mated with the sturdy, tough moss growing abundantly about our camp,
they made an excellent stone and pumice.
Thus occupied, engaged in amiable conversation, time moved quickly.
The track of Emo had curved well beyond the zenith when a great shout rose
among the men.
“Land! Land returns!”
Sight of the powerful Griffin soaring majestically into view galvanized
the Odanal. Nor was I immune to the hot stir of anticipation rifling the
camp as, gently touched down, Land vaulted from his saddle and approached
T’lu, his face drawn grim to tell how . . . but that is Land’s story. I
will let him tell it, in his own words, as nearly as I remember them.