Where Gather the Gods: Book I of The Walking Gods Trilogy by Ty Johnston by Ty Johnston - Read Online

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Where Gather the Gods - Ty Johnston

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(B.A.)

Chapter 1

It was not the fire which convinced Itidal they were civilized men. Any fool could rub two sticks together and build a fire, followed by rising smoke much as he now witnessed streaming above the never-ceasing horizon of rolling dunes.

It was the sun’s glint off their weapons, their bronze weapons, short hooked swords. These were what told him the four men camped ahead came from civilized folk.

They should not have been civilized men, for no such thing existed. Men did not forge weapons nor grow crops. Men did not subjugate animals nor suppress running waters for their own ends. Men did not gather in villages and towns and cities. It was not in their nature.

Unless someone had shown them different.

And Itidal could think of a few who might very well have done so.

Cursing, he shifted the heavy steel sword hanging over one shoulder and tromped forward, his boots of cracked lizard skin crunching atop yellow sands as he made his way up the incline toward the four men.

As he neared them, two of the four stood facing him, their hands nervous as they rested upon the hilts of their swords tucked into their thick leather belts. Behind the two standing, the others poked at their fire with hooked rods of black iron, their short, triangular tent of canvas flapping in the desert’s wind.

Itidal cursed again, this time under his breath. Far too many signs of civilization for his liking. The four even wore armor of a sorts, what appeared to be hardened reeds laced together.

When he was only a dozen steps away from the top of the ridge, the nearest gestured with a slash of his hand, a sign to halt.

Itidal halted. Standing there with animal skins covering his shoulders and thighs, he could feel the sweat dripping down his bronzed skin as the sun ate away at him.

You do not from the city, the nearest man said to the newcomer.

Itidal did not recognize their language. The words were new to him. Yet he understood them perfectly well, could even speak them. Such was one of his many talents.

He nodded, but voiced nothing.

The man in front grinned, showing several missing teeth inside his curled beard of black. Atop his head his helmet bounced as he glanced around at his companions.

Seems we’ve got a desert nomad here, he said, then looked back to Itidal. That right? You a piece of desert scum come in for a taste of the good life?

Though understand the words he did, Itidal did not know the references. The city? The good life? There were no cities. Hadn’t been in millions of years.

He kept his thoughts and his words to himself but stared ahead with only a gentle shrug as a sign of having heard the speaker.

The closest man chuckled. Probably don’t speak a word, do you, desert rat?

Staring at their similarity of dress and their weapons, it dawned on Itidal that these were soldiers, trained men. Obviously not trained well, not with their scrubby look, and not enough to impress any Zarroc general, but still trained.

As if he need be worried.

The next nearest soldier took a step ahead. Hey, look at this on his back. Is that a sword? The man reached out.

Itidal shrank back from him.

The soldier stopped, lowering his hand, glaring. Stand still there, desert frog, or you’ll regret it.

Are you sure that’s a sword? another asked. Doesn’t look like any kind of khopesh I’ve ever seen.

The two back at the fire suddenly stood, their interest drawn, and they moved around their comrades to stare at the stranger among them.

Answer us, damn you! one of the soldiers shouted. Is that a sword on your back?

Sensing the growing tension, Itidal gave a curt nod. There was no need for bloodshed here. Besides, he had many questions, and slaying these men would not provide him with answers.

One of the men decided to step closer. He pointed at the weapon strapped against the furs covering Itidal’s shoulders. Looks too big to be sword. And it’s straight as an arrow.

Can’t be bronze, another opined. Bronze wouldn’t hold up to that length.

What kind of sword you got there, boy? the first who had spoken asked.

Steel, Itidal answered, his voice croaking from decades of disuse.

Steel?

The four looked at one another, then back to the stranger.

"What the hell is steel?" one of them asked.

So, their city wasn’t all that civilized after all. But he would answer.

A mixture of iron with other elements, Itidal said.

Confused looks were traded again.

So you a smithy? Is that it? one asked.

Again, Itidal nodded.

Don’t look like a smith, a soldier said, glancing past Itidal into the desert. And there’s nothing out there. Everybody knows that. So where did you come from?

It was a good question, and Itidal was not sure he could provide a good answer. Where did he come from? The desert, of course. That was the obvious answer. But before that? He was not sure. His memory was so long, the years and centuries so vast, it was sometimes difficult to remember places and names and faces and events. He had swam within the desert a period equal to the lifetimes of many mortal men. Before that had been ... what? Had there been a coast, a rocky shoal next to an ocean? Or had he been at a Zarroc city, one of the ancient, forgotten places? Or perhaps there had been a place too small to even be called a village, a few huts strung together for protection of those within?

No, he could not remember exactly where he had been before the desert. He could not answer. So he shrugged.

One of the soldiers chuckled. This one, I think he has been beneath the desert sun for too long. His brains are addled.

Maybe, another said, licking his lips, but I’d like to take a look at that weapon of his.

The man stepped forward.

Once more, Itidal skirted away from the soldiers.

Four swords came out, their hooked, yellow blades glinting beneath the brightness of the day.

Now we don’t want any trouble, the closest of the soldiers said, shifting his sword around, so why don’t you just drop your sword. Then you can be on your way.

Itidal looked from man to man, specifically in their eyes. The one closest to him seemed to be in charge, a leader by words if nothing else, a man only doing a job but determined to see it done. The next soldier, the man licking his lips once more, he showed signs of greed, and he seemed more than willing to harm another to satisfy that greed. The two in back near the fire, they were reluctant, only going through the motions.

A vision sprang into the lone traveler’s mind. It was an image of the future. There was no magic here, only his inner senses informing him of how the next few seconds would play out, and it was not a pretty sight.

Itidal let out a sorrowful sigh and dropped his shoulders, then he dropped the sack covered in tattered wolf’s fur he had carried for more than a century. The bag landed in the sand, sifting up yellow dust, inside his few personal belongings clattering against one another.

That’s it, the greedy man said, leaning forward, his eyes hungry, his empty hand a claw stretching forth.

Itidal positioned himself into a fighting stance, one foot slightly behind the other at an angle, his left side slightly ahead of his right. In truth he had nothing to fear from these men and he did not wish to destroy them, such being not his nature, but he would not allow himself to be robbed and manhandled by such villains. Soldiers or not, from a city or not, they showed a lack of civility.

Right away the four armored figures saw their opponent squaring himself for combat.

Drop the sword and you might walk away with all your limbs, one of the soldiers said.

Enough.

In a whirlwind of motion, Itidal came alive, his sword seemingly springing of its own accord from the makeshift scabbard of hardened leather strapped to his back. He twisted around, the long blade’s handle appearing in his right hand.

His enemies could only blink, the movements were so swift.

Before a soldier could react, Itidal was among them. His steel slashed to his right, knocking a khopesh out of a hand, then flipped over to stab to the left, snapping against a wrist hard enough to crack it and to drop another sword. The last two soldiers with weapons in hand had a moment of awareness before their foe flung himself between them, tromping amidst their small camping fire as his limbs proceeded to swing and jab and punch and kick.

A cloud of dust sprang up around the action, veiling any sight of the goings on. Grunts and groans and none too few cries rang out in the air, and the sound of metal slapping or cracking against wood or leather caught in the air more than once.

Then silence rolled out across the desert.

Slowly, gradually, the whirling sands began to drift away, to dissipate on the heated desert wind. When the last of the grit hung upon the air, the fire was out, flattened, and four men in reed armor lay unconscious upon the ground, their bronze helmets and swords at their sides. Standing in the middle of them was the muscled figure of Itidal, his chest heaving, his sword hidden in its scabbard once more, his eyes hooded as he stared out across the waste.

And landed upon a pool of water little more than a pond, a single tree to one side sprouting palm leaves and dates near its apex. Tied to the tree and sipping from the oasis were four camels, each wearing a saddle and harness. On the opposite side of the water, the animals’ trail showed the way they had come through the sands.

Itidal blinked. He now faced the opposite direction of that which he had come. He had not remembered there being an oasis here, but then he had not traversed this particular region in probably thousands of years. Which explained why he had not known of the city.

The city.

The soldiers had come from the city, and the soldiers had ridden the camels, which left tracks going back to the city.

Staring about at his downed opponents and seeing none of them would be rising soon to offer him challenge, he returned to his dropped bag and retrieved it, tossing it over a shoulder.

Then he proceeded down the other side of the ridge to the camels. He had walked forever, and it was time to ride for a while.

Besides, none of the riders would have need of their animals for some time.

Chapter 2

It was not impossible the four soldiers could cause him further trouble once they woke and returned along their path, but Itidal did not dwell on the possibility. He would deal with such when and if it occurred. Of more concern to him was trying to remember how to ride a beast; it had been centuries since he had saddled and ridden an animal, and he was finding the sensation more jarring than relieving, almost to the point he preferred walking instead of sitting astride the camel.

But sit he did, and ride. Why not? His feet and their tattered coverings could use a rest.

The trail