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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 8

The wedding ceremony went off without a hitch. Even though it was a reaffirmation of their vows rather than an actual wedding, Aram was in hog heaven, performing the ceremony before a crowd that would have made most kings green with envy, to say nothing of the priests of the other gods.

The wedding vows themselves, written from Storm’s memory, caused such a stir the High Priest had to wait several times for the noise to die down. Women, inside and out, broke into spontaneous cheers at the “forsaking all others and cleaving only to” part when it came up. Polygamy had been a sore point with women on Gaia for generations and the recital of wedding vows from Elder Earth discarding that tradition found a ready welcome in their hearts.

The exchange of rings brought many to tears and Aram’s final exhortation proclaiming them husband and wife (singular) and telling Storm “you may now kiss the bride,” nearly brought down the house. His formal introduction of them to the crowd as man and wife triggered a near riot as well-wishers tried to mob them with congratulations. The men-at-arms had to link elbows to keep the crowd from breaking through their line. The noise grew so loud Aram was forced to tap them on the shoulders to get their attention and lead them toward the back of the Temple since going down the aisle and out the front was out of the question; as they left, the men-at-arms had to collapse backwards to prevent the crowd from overrunning them.

One of the under priests slammed and bolted the door as soon as they were through. The noise dropped immediately. The tumult was still audible but at least they could hear themselves think now.

“Phew!” Lorelei exclaimed. “That’s louder than the fight we had in Robling.” The battle which had broken out upon Roderick’s death involved two sets of soldiers loyal to each of Roderick’s sons, with Niran’s men and themselves all fighting each other in a wild melee. The shouts and clash of steel had been deafening.

Storm wiggled a finger in his ear. “I don’t know if it’s louder or not, but it’s a near thing.”

Ralt scooped up his staff, left by the door during the ceremony. “They’re pretty close,” he agreed. “The only thing worse is a council meeting.” He glanced at Krista. “You okay?”

She nodded. “You didn’t see it because your back was to me, but Thomas made sure I got through the door before he and Durin went back to holding off the crowd.” She wiped tears from her eyes. “Are those really the vows you used on Elder Earth?” she asked Storm.

“Just Earth,” he corrected her absently from habit. “Yeah, pretty much. Not everywhere of course, but for the most part, yeah.”

“I love them,” she smiled. “I want Thomas and I to use them when he gets around to asking me to marry him.”

“Just keep doing what I told you and it won’t be long,” Lorelei giggled.

Krista’s answering giggle caused all the men to exchange dubious glances.

“Do we want to know?” Ralt stage-whispered to Storm.

Storm gave his head a firm shake. “Not a chance.”

Lorelei stuck her tongue out at them then grabbed Krista’s arm and marched down the hall to change back into her fighting clothes. Storm grinned after her then followed suit, doffing the scratchy tuxedo in favor of the familiar feel of his leathers and weapons. It might look like a tux – Omar had done a good job – but the materials couldn’t match the silky feel and quality of cloth found on Earth.

After changing, he and Ralt were heading toward the front of the Temple when they heard the distance sound of metal on metal as swords and shields came together outside, followed by screams and shouts. He broke into a flat run, sword in hand, hoping hope-against-hope none of the Lord of Light guards were involved in whatever skirmish was taking place. He felt rather than saw, Ralt hard on his heels, staff at the ready.

He rammed his shoulder into the small door leading out the left side of the building, near the front of the Temple. As he peeked out he saw Lorelei and Durin barreling down the hall to join them.

Tightly packed crowds of people were shoving and pushing, craning their necks toward the front of the Temple, trying to see what was going on. There was no way they were going to be able to make their way through that herd of humanity so he pulled the heavy door shut before they spotted him. “Is there another way out,” he asked Aram, “or maybe a balcony overlooking the front courtyard?”

The High Priest, for all his portly manner, had easily kept up with them, and was now brandishing a heavy, well-worn mace as if it were light as a feather. “This way,” he said, leading them down a short hall to another door, Behind it was a steep, winding staircase. He took them two-at-a-time, going up. At the top he crashed through another door onto a protected balcony with crenelated walls. “The Lord of Light has never been popular with The Six,” he explained, “so this place was built more like a fortress than a Temple, just in case.”

Storm nodded shortly. “Smart move.” He peaked over the wall.

There were only so many ways armor could be designed or decorated if it was to retain it’s functionality, so guards and men-at-arms for the different religions all wore armor which had much the same basic style with only a few minor differences. In combat the only quick way to tell them apart was by their colors. Soldiers for the Temple of Light wore white tunics with blue embellishments. A solid line of them stood in the gate of the courtyard, facing out, while more, armed with bows, lined the walls overlooking the plaza below. They were tense, but unmoving. All the action was taking place outside the Temple of Light in the open square that fronted the various temples. Through the gate, and over the top of the wall, Storm could see men from the Temple of Ashima in black colors with red piping, battling with others who were wearing solid green.

“Who are the ones in green?” he asked Aram.

“Temple of Adrammelech,” he said absently, surveying the scene. He craned his neck, trying to see as much as possible. “It doesn’t look like any others are involved, as least that I can see.” Around the great plaza, guards standing in front of the other temples were tense, their weapons in hand but for the time being doing nothing other than watching. He leaned over the wall. “Brother Barmus!” he shouted at someone below.

There was an indistinct reply, then he shouted, “Check the guards in the watch tower. Find out how this started, and who all is involved.” A faint, affirmative reply was barely audible over the noise.

“You should close the gates,” Storm advised Aram. “We don’t want the fighting to spill in here.”

Aram shook his head decisively. “Closing the gates would be interpreted as a warlike gesture. They’d attack to try to keep us from closing them,” he gestured at the men fighting beyond the walls. “We keep them chained open as a symbol of peace.” Sure enough, large chains ran through the iron handles on the gates then through rings sunk deep in the stone walls on either side. A massive lock held each chain in place.

Storm ran a practiced eye over the forces protecting the Temple of Light and the ones outside; it was far too lopsided for his taste. Krista appeared from nowhere to stick her head over the wall beside him. “We’re outnumbered!” she exclaimed in alarm, voicing his own thoughts.

“You should be inside,” Storm told her. “I thought Thomas knew better.”

“I do,” the lanky bowman snapped, coming up behind her, “but she wouldn’t listen.” He threw an irritated look at her.

Storm closed his lips over the angry words he wanted to unleash. “Durin! That line of soldiers doesn’t look strong enough to repel a group of school children, let alone all those fighters out there.”

The dwarf nodded his agreement. “Aye. And all our men are having their hands full controlling the crowds inside the Temple. It’ll take ‘em half an hour ta git clear so dey ken help us.” He cast a sidelong glance at Aram. “Don’t ye have more men?”

“I wish,” the priest returned sourly. “But we’re still the smallest faith on Gaia. Good soldiers are hard to come by.”

“Well, you’ve four more right here,” Storm said grimly, hefting his sword. Durin, Ralt and Lorelei echoed his fighting smile with raised weapons of their own.

“Five,” Thomas corrected, knocking an arrow in his ever-present bow.

“Six,” Krista interrupted primly. She gave Thomas an arch look. He hesitated, then nodded reluctantly.

Aram twirled his mace. “Seven,” he concluded. He met Storm’s eyes. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Storm bared his teeth in a savage grin. This was more like it! He might not be a barbarian by birth but their delight in battle ran through his veins nonetheless. It helped propel his meteoric rise through the ranks in the Marines on Earth and through the caravan guards here on Gaia.

“That would be now! Follow me!” he shouted, vaulting over the wall to the ground below, aiming for the tiny open area between the crowd and the gate. He whipped out his second sword as the others landed all around him. Two quick strides brought him to the gate where he shouldered his way through the soldiers to stand squarely in the middle. He felt Ralt take a position on his right and Lorelei on his left, Durin beside her. Thomas and Krista fell in beside Ralt while Aram took a place beside Durin.

The tall, muscular Captain of the guard, a seasoned veteran, was encouraged by their presence. “So far they’ve ignored us,” he shouted, “except for few, now and then that stagger into our lines. We just shove them away. It seems to work.”

Storm nodded to let him know he’d heard him, but his main attention was focused on the battle raging before them. As near as he could tell, close to a hundred men from the Temple of Ashima were fighting roughly an equal number from the Temple of Adrammelech; which gave them a four-to-one advantage if they combined forces to attack the Temple of Light. That didn’t look likely though; from what he could see they appeared determined to exterminate each other. The sheer hatred on their faces was readily apparent. Bodies were piling up on the ground as he watched.

Then, without warning a blinding double flash of rainbow-colored light erupted in the midst of the battle, hurling the opposing soldiers away from each other. Everyone around the great square gasped, throwing up their arms to shield themselves from the eye-searing brilliance. When it faded, two towering figures stood there, their feet hovering just over the cobblestones.

Storm stared at them in shock. The giant figures, standing nearly 12 feet high, were the most handsome men he’d ever seen. Their features were almost identical to each other, as if they were twins but their hair and eyes said otherwise. One, in a red robe with black borders on it, had short black hair and dark eyes. The other, in green robes, had long flowing pale white hair and sparkling blue eyes.



The shouts of surprise and awe filled the square. The men who’d been fighting fell on their faces to worship their gods, the priests bowing, scraping, and praying loudly.

Storm glanced at Aram for confirmation. The High Priest, his face white with fear nodded at his unasked question. “It’s them. Two of them. At the same time!”

The gods waved their priests to silence and turned to fasten their attention squarely on Storm and his companions. Ashima pointed at Storm. “Murderer! You murdered our servant, Niran, and stole the bloodstone that rightfully belongs to us.” His voice carried throughout the entire square. He smiled benignly. “Return it and we may forgive you.” His black eyes smoldered with malice in contrast to his reasonable tone of voice.

Storm’s stomach tied itself in knots. His Ghibbore senses were telling him in no uncertain terms he was staring death in the face. The two beings before him had power an entire army of Ghibbores couldn’t hope to match. He gritted his teeth. If he was going to die then he was going to do it on his feet. “Burn in Hell, you monsters!” He braced himself for the deathblow that was sure to come.

A roar of outrage erupted from the priests and soldiers worshiping Ashima. The god waved a hand to silence them. “He is merely a madman. Pay him no mind.”

Lorelei’s shock at seeing the gods was nearly overwhelming but Ashima’s slander cut through her paralyzing fear. “How dare you say such a thing!”

Adrammelech turned his sky blue eyes on her. “Ah yes, the adulterous slut speaks.”

She was outraged. “I’m faithful to my husband!”

Adrammelech’s answering roar nearly deafened everyone watching. “I AM YOUR HUSBAND!” He visibly struggled to control himself for a moment. “Leave that murdering madman beside you and return to me, my child, to be my good and faithful servant.”

Storm revolted against Adrammelech twisting God’s words. “You want her? You’re gonna have to go through me, you filthy vermin!” He slammed his swords together in challenge.

Adrammelech’s eyes narrowed in anger. “So be it.”

He and Ashima nodded at each other, then rose smoothly 100 feet into the air. They pointed at Storm and those arrayed beside him. “Kill them! Kill them all!”

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