The Story of Sheng Seleris

From: Martin Laurie (MLaurie@compuserve.com)
Date: Mon 26 May 1997 - 21:57:50 EEST


The Sotry of Sheng Seleris, Chapter 2, Part 2

Sheng and the Forts of Iron

"A sword of iron is the mark of a champion." Quoted Hjoth of the=

Jerghan. with a sneer as he glanced at my travel-stained Kralori peasants=

clothes. The other Khans nodded at this wisdom and looked to me for a
response. The meeting was reaching a crisis point. I stood slowly and
walked across the circle of tribal leaders to Hjoth. He tried to look li=
ke
the rock, unmoving and uncaring but I could see concern in his every
movement, every breath he took as I approached. He had heard the stories=

of what I'd done and even though he discounted much that had been said, h=
e
could not discount all of it and that little he believed made him afraid.=

"Stand before me." I said. It was as order, not a request. He
did - but not because I ordered but because he'd have no man look down on=

him in front of his peers. His pride was as great as his folly . "Draw
out your sword of iron and kill me Champion of the Jerghan." I commanded=
=2E =

He looked puzzled, doubtful till I slapped him in the face as a man would=
 a
woman who had angered him. I saw the instant fury in his eyes, the
unreasoning lust to kill and felt the no-mind of battle settle over that
rage to give it skill and purpose. I would have smiled at the purity of
his hate but such expressions were as beyond me then as they are now. =

        In one lightning fast move he drew and cut. It was a swift,
skilled and brutal stroke for Hjoth was truly Khan _and_ champion of his
tribe and had slain dozens of great warriors with his iron scimitar in hi=
s
rise to power. However I am not as other men and stepped lightly aside
from the blow, allowing it to miss me by a hair. Undaunted and without
slowing for a moment he swung again, this time with a horizontal slash I
could not simply slide away from. Focusing my Chi, my inner strength, I
met iron blade with open hand but it was not my weak flesh which shattere=
d
his blade to flinders, it was the strength of the mountains, the bedrock =
on
which everything rests that he struck against with all his power. I
pulled that obduracy through my soul and stance into my hand, giving it a=

solidity which could shatter even tempered iron. =

        Hjoth looked in shocked surprise at the stump of his sword. "My
sword, my sword..." He whispered in dismay for I knew that he loved that=

blade more than any woman or horse, which for Hjoth was certainly saying
much.
        The other Khans maintained their prideful silence, showing little=

hint of the amazement I knew boiled within then, they merely waited for =
my
words and I knew that their participation in my plans would rest on what =
I
said. I could not hope to bring them to my side, to follow my banner
without maintaining the awe that some struggled to hide form their faces
yet also giving them a purpose they could believe in. I turned to them. =

"Hjoth says that an iron weapon is the mark of a champion and he sought t=
o
set himself above me with mere posessions. I tell you this; a champion o=
f
our people should need nothing but the iron of his will, the adamant of h=
is
soul and the sharpness of his mind to lead us to victory! Those are _my_=

weapons and that is what will make us strong!" I looked around, I had
their attention, no question but their agreement was another matter.
        Kalodai of the Utfren cleared his throat and spat, a signal that =
he
wished to speak. "We all know of the Sheng Seleris, we all know of your
power." He paused and looked sternly around the circle of his fellow
Khans. "Though perhaps some of us believed less than others... But _you=
_
are Sheng and _we_ are not. You call upon us to ride into the mountains,=

to cross the Untakable Pass and wage war on the Legions of the Dragon wit=
h
the blood of our tribes? _You_ may grow strong on pain and suffering but=
 a
_tribe_ does not and I will not follow your ride for vengence to the ruin=

of my people!" There were murmurs of agreement from the other Khans, he
clearly spoke for them all in this matter. =

        I pondered his words carefully. Kalodai was no coward, he'd
fought a hundred battles but I knew what fear dwelt within his heart to
hold back his sword from my cause, indeed, what dwelt within the hearts o=
f
all the Khans before me. They feared the Dragon Empire deep into their
souls. It almost made me angry to see my people intimidated so by the
power of landgrubbers but it was inevitable. No tribe had ridden across
the Iron Fort passes to return as anything but shattered remnants, burnt,=

blackened and speaking of unending horror and legions of demons. Our
people were hard, but not so hard that constant defeat could not blow a
chill on the fires of conquest in their souls. They had learned to seek
easier game and so raided the animal riders and the trolls and each other=

while the riches of a land of teeming millions lay unravaged and safe but=
 a
weeks ride from where we sat.
        I turned to my own people and motioned a couple forward. One wor=
e
a cloak covering him completely. The other was a Teshnosan who bore no
armour or weapons. "This is Tysdu of Teshnos, long a slave of the Dragon=

Empire and a man who stood by me in the Instant Torture Camp through the
bleakness of our suffering. He was no warrior when I found him but he ha=
d
the will to learn and I taught." I motioned again and several of my men
brought forward some chained figures. The Khans all started as they saw
them truly in the firelight for they were Agimori or Men-and-a-Half and
mortal enemies of our people. =

"What madness is this?" Roared Hjoth.
"These are my prisoners, taken a week ago by magics they could no=
t
fight. I bring them here because you know and I know that Agimori fight
beyond all reason and have a pride that never breaks. Yet here today I
will match Tysdu, my disciple against these six Agimori in close combat. =

They know that should they kill him then they _will_ be released for I ha=
ve
given my word and they know it to be iron." I had the Khans interest
again, like all my people we enjoyed a display of combat but they looked =
at
the towering black warriors and the diminutive Tydsu and pitied my discip=
le
for he was plainly outmatched.
        Kalodai was puzzled. "What does the death of you little follower=

prove other than to show us that your men will die for you? We knew that=

already but we will not be spurred on to such acts by his foolish example=
!"
        I said nothing and signaled my men to unchain the Agimori. For a=

few moments the tall men stood silently, eyeing the two dozen archers I h=
ad
all around the camp and then they looked to Tysdu who stood placidly in t=
he
centre of the circle. As if reaching a secret understanding they moved
towards Tysdu as a group. Warily they circled for these men were hunters=

beyond compare, endless in endurance and pride yet ruthless with cunning.=
 =

They sensed a trap, for the little man must be more than he seemed, yet
they had little choice but to attack or die. =

        They attacked as one, in a smooth rush without warning or signal
they leapt like wolves and Tysdu moved in response. As striking lions t=
he
Agimori were, but Tysdu was the shifting wind and one Agimori fell with h=
is
bull-thick neck snapped in a moment by a pass of his darting hands while
the others closed on empty air. =

        Tysdu moved back amongst them as they recovered their balance,
kicking and punching. He broke a broad back with the Dragon Style Crane
kick that shattered bone and rendered flesh and using the Falcon Style
Talon strike he tore the beating heart form another Agimori who almost
disappeared into a mist of his own life-blood before crashing to the
ground. =

        Then Tysdu was down. The three remaining Agimori bore him to the=

ground with the weight and strength of their powerful bodies. Their heav=
y
fists rose and fell and I heard the thumps and crack of breaking bones as=

Tysdu was pinned for a moment but then one Agimori fell back with his
eyeball thumb-pushed back into his brain and another staggered but held h=
is
grip on Tysdus' leg even after his throat had been torn out like a
slaughtered calfs' on feastday. The last untouched Agimori, undaunted by=

the quick death of his companions, lifted Tysdu into the air, allowing h=
im
no chance of escape. Arms like beams tightened around his slight form. I=
n
that moments pause I could see clearly that Tysdus' right arm was bent ba=
ck
at a terrible angle and a shattered rib was sticking bloodily through his=

clothing but his face was still empty of emotion while he struggled and t=
he
big Agimori closed his grip relentlessly. The dying Man-and-a-half =
at
Tysdus feet was not finished with his foe either - holding his leg jerked=

convulsively with the last of his life and strength, snapped Tysdus' leg
back at the knee rendering him immobile even if he should have found his
feet once more. =

        I looked around at the Khans as they watched the final moments of=

the struggle. They were engrossed in its every bloody detail and they he=
ld
their breath as Tysdus' spine arched out further and further under the
terrible pressure. It seemed as if it would crack at any moment but then=

his remaining hand was free and driven with the Skeleton Claw into the hu=
ge
Agimoris' head, punching through his skull into the brain, tearing it out=

in a spray of blood and splintered bone. The big man collapsed and Tysdu=

stood free once more, casually, on one foot, looking calm and as relaxed=

as when he began the fight though many of his bones were broken and the
swellling of massive bruises already discoloured his entire body.
        There was a heavy pause then the assembled folk cheered his victo=
ry
for it had been a feat unheralded in Pentan history or legend. When they=

quieted I raised my arms and spoke with the power of truth in my voice.
"Tysdu is not the first of my disciples nor the mightiest yet he shows yo=
u
the value of my teaching. Imagine an army of our folk inured to sufferin=
g,
distainful of pain, negligent of risk! We would be unstoppable!"
        Many cheered my words but Kolodai spoke against me once more. =

"Aye, your disciples are mighty but they are few but the Iron Fort warrio=
rs
are many and they come endlessly from their impregnable bastions. Even
should we force the pass, they will cut off our retreat and reinforcement=

creating an anvil upon which the armies of the Dragon Emperor will hammer=

us bloody."
        I said nothing but merely motioned to the cloaked and cowled figu=
re
who'd stood near me during the course of the combat. He flipped back his=

cloak and there was an intake of breath from the camp then the hiss of
unsheathing swords filled the air. The man beside me was a Dragon Warrio=
r
of the Iron Forts. His armour was golden, ridged and strange, his face
also had a golden tinge and at close range the hint of scales could be se=
en
on his cheeks. Even his eyes had a lizard-like quality that matched his
hatchet face in their serpentine proportions. =

        He didn't move and the sword armed men paused, uncertain as to hi=
s
purpose here. I held up my hands for quiet. "This is Jen-ta of the Iron=

Forts. I met him when we entered the pass and we have talked long and of
many things. Here his tale if you would." I motioned Jen-ta to begin
speaking and I translated as he progressed:
"I am warrior of the Iron Forts - I live in their fastness but wa=
s
born in the Empire. When I was but a child, I was taken by the Mandarins=

to the forts - they said that the Dragon was strong within me and paid my=

parents five bushels of rice in recompence. I have never seen them since=

and that was over one hundred years ago. I trained with the other
warriors, who are like me; they were taken from their families or were
orphans but all of us gained a new family; we gained the Dragon. The
Dragon begins to grow within us when we are assigned our eggs. Each of u=
s
has one and in each Iron Fort there are many eggs for should we be slain
outside then we will be reborn inside, ready to sally out to wage war onc=
e
more. This is why the Dragon Warriors appear endless for truly, in that
sense, we are and this immortality makes us strong in skill and fearless =
of
death. Lord Sheng has proved how such a foe can be beyond defeat and so =
we
have always been."
        He paused as I finished translating his last words. The Khans we=
re
interested in this strange story and sat rapt once more, swords sheathed
for now. We continued. "Though it gives us strength, it also binds for
the Dragon cares little for individual concerns, it unifies and gives
strength but only by making you part of the whole and this, this is what =
we
cannot endure."
"I do not understand - what can you not endure?" Said Kalodai.
"We are allowed no imperfection in our service, we are allowed no=

love but that of the Dragon, not joy but that of the Dragon and if they h=
ad
their way - no _thoughts_ but that of the Dragon for the Iron Dragon
Mandarin wants all parts of the Dragon to obey his will for he is its min=
d
and we are its limbs. Some of my fellow warriors are much further into i=
ts
power than I and the majority of us and they are almost mindless,
performing their actions with no thought for themselves, like machines,
like the Zombie armies of the Mandarin of Dead Men Walking."
"Sounds like slavery to me - no way for a warrior to live!" Spat=

Kalodai.
"You have it right, it _is_ slavery and we wish it ended. We
cannot escape the Dragon for we are bound into its energies - to leave
would be to die - but Lord Sheng has promised us a way of severing the
control of the Iron Dragon Mandarin, giving us some freedom, some will of=

our own. As proof of his word, he has kept my soul seperate from the
Mandarins will with the power of his magic. With this gift, we will know=

some joy again, some life of our own. In return we will aid your crossin=
g
of the Iron Passes and supply your forces, paving your way to the conques=
t
of the interior."
        There was a stunned silence among the Khans. I looked to them al=
l,
knowing that the truth of my claims was undeniable and that they were
convinced. All I had to hear now was their word. "You have seen my=

power, you have seen the power of my servants, you have seen the path is
clear. Do you _still_ doubt me?" =

"NO!" They roared.
"Do you ride with me to victory and plunder?"
"AYE!" They screamed as they let loose the frustration of decades=

in one yell of vengence. =

        The Empire would know of our coming soon enough.

Martin laurie =

        =

        =

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