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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 14

The future is an echo of the past.
Learn from the latter to control the former.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr

The month of Kisrei, the last month of the year, came and went.

Every few days there was an attempt on their lives or an unsuccessful kidnapping aimed at Lorelei. Count Reginald Draven visited the estate after the fourth group of bodies were unceremoniously dumped outside Krista’s front gate.

The titular ruler of Zered was handsome in a slovenly sort of way, gradually going to seed as he put on weight over the years. His jowls were developing the beginnings of a heavy sway when he spoke or moved. He sorrowfully informed Storm and his friends that the City Council had voted to stay aloof from the sectarian violence shaking the city.

“Zered is one of the few cities in the world with all of The Six represented with a temple here,” he intoned ponderously, ignoring the Lord of Light’s temple. “We’ve never taken sides before and we don’t intend to start now. We have to remain neutral so as not to jeopardize our good relations with each temple.”

There was more, all of it phrased in the mealy mouthed tones common to every conniving politician since the beginning of time. Storm didn’t bother trying to remember any of it. The upshot of it was, if they were attacked they were on their own.

“So much for law and order,” Storm mused bitterly as they watched Draven leave. “After all these years you’d think I’d get used to it, but it still infuriates me every time.”

One year ended and another began. The month of Shev started with a flurry of snow that melted away before mid-morning but the cold never let up through the gray, overcast days.

By common assent Storm and his friends had decided to wait until spring to head for the great Biqah Prairie to avenge Lorelei’s father. Wintering in Zered gave them a chance to recuperate from their lengthy trek through the mountains of Ingold and the subsequent battles.

On the last day of Kisrei, Aram came over for the traditional end of the year celebration. Storm had been amused early in his childhood with the Bear Clan to learn it was called New Year’s Eve on Gaia too.

A cold drizzling rain had been coming down all day.

“Nothing worse than a cold, rainy day,” Storm grumbled, holding his hands to the fire in the “small” dining room. Krista’s mansion had several. The rest of them were huddled with him trying to warm up after going outside to welcome the priest.

“Do you have days like this on Elder Earth?” Aram asked through chattering teeth.

“Just Earth,” Storm corrected him absently. “Yeah, of course we do; rain, snow, sleet, hail, tornadoes, hurricanes, avalanches – you name it, we’ve got it.” A drop of water fell off his hair and ran down his neck. He shivered involuntarily. “Every place I’ve ever been to, on Earth or on Gaia, all have one thing in common . . .” he paused to look at his friends.

“Well?” Durin snorted impatiently.

Storm grinned. “They all claim to have climate, but what they really have is weather.”

Laughter erupted.

“If dat ain’t da truth,” Durin chortled. “I’ve been a few places me self and I guarantee yer right, lad.”

“Correct you are, my boy,” Gerald added with a twinkle in his eye. The idea of a rousing celebration had enticed him out of his tower as well. “The bards lure you in with tales of balmy skies and gentle breezes but when you get there you only find mosquitoes or dust storms.”

“Then don’t bother going to Carrzulm,” Aram put in as they all sat down to the feast the servants were laying out. “All that talk you hear about the warm, sultry conditions down there are a bunch of hog swallow. It’s hot and muggy one day, then cold and humid the next. You’re either dripping with sweat or freezing your rear end off. I hated that place.”

“When were ye in Carrzulm?” Durin asked curiously, spearing a slab of meat. The acrimonious argument between the two men about the gods hadn’t been resolved so much as ignored. In Storm’s mind they had merely agreed to disagree. They were outwardly friendly but there was still an undercurrent of tension between them.

“I was born there,” Aram snorted. “My parents decided they didn’t like the constant wind and cold in Sairaw so they moved south.”

Lorelei raised an eyebrow. “That’s a long way to move because you don’t like the weather,” she observed. “It’d take over a year to make the journey,” she said around a mouthful of biscuit.

“Unless you can afford passage on a skyship,” Aram agreed amiably. “They can make the trip in no time.”

“I’ve heard about those!” Lorelei exclaimed excitedly. “Do they really fly?”

He nodded while the others listened closely. “They do indeed – I was on one once.”

“You have? What was it like?” she pressed him, all thoughts of the cold weather and food instantly forgotten.

“Most of them look like regular ships but with these shimmering sails that make them fly,” he said. “When they’re moving you can’t even feel it, and there’s no wind either. I don’t know how it works, but it’s like you’re standing still. Then you look over the railing and the ground is moving past faster than anything I’ve ever seen. It was quite an experience.”

Storm had heard of the skyships as well but had never entertained the possibility that they might be real. This was quite a revelation. He swallowed a mouthful of biscuit and warm gravy. “Has anyone ever put weapons or soldiers on them?” he asked.

“Do you have to see everything in military terms?” Ralt sighed.

“Hey, I spent 35 years in the Marines on Earth and most of my life here as a guardsman or leading guardsmen,” Storm retorted. “Of course I think in military terms. Aerial combat is well established on Earth; established and dangerous. It can change the course of a war.”

“Change it how?” Lorelei asked quietly, fearing she wouldn’t like the answer.

“Imagine a ship a thousand cubits in the air –” he paused. “Can they go that high?”

Aram nodded. “Easily.”

“Then imagine them dumping a load of rocks on their enemies below. Imagine what would happen,” Storm continued. Their faces showed what they thought of the idea. The results would be grim. “Or imagine ships carrying troops who can be flown over and past enemy lines to attack them from behind. Give Carrzulm twenty of those ships and Ingold’s defenses wouldn’t be worth squat. They could conquer them once and for all,” he finished.

Gerald’s face was creased in thought. “Those airplanes you were telling me about, were they used that way?”

Storm nodded. “That and more. One plane was used to drop a bomb – an explosive device like a fireball – so big it destroyed an entire city in a country called Japan.”

Lorelei gasped in disbelief. “An entire city?”


“I’m starting to think Earth may not be such a great place after all,” Aram said somberly.

“It’s not the place, it’s the people,” Storm protested defensively. “And the people here are exactly like the people there, and vice versa; good, bad, and everything in between. Believe me, I’ve been both places and I guarantee the people are the same.”

“Not quite,” Gerald responded sadly, putting his fork down.

Storm was puzzled at the elderly mage’s sudden change in demeanor. “What do you mean?” Ralt and Aram were nodding in agreement with whatever point Gerald was making.

Gerald clasped his hands in front of him almost in prayer. He sighed heavily. “We don’t have many records from the First Age, and what we do have is generally confusing but one thing is clear, the people who came here from Elder Earth did so of their own free will. They knew how evil the gods were and followed them anyway.” His face was lined with sorrow. “Our ancestors were all evil.”

“I was here in the First Age,” Durin added. “I’m afraid he’s right,” he agreed glumly.

Silence filled the room. Even the bustling servants paused their scurrying around to consider those dismal words.

Storm sensed a moment pregnant with meaning. He could either confront it squarely regardless of his personal discomfort, or run away from it – and perhaps loose something precious beyond words. Lydia used to berate him over his reluctance to discuss what he called church stuff. Now he stood at a crossroads where he felt he had to make a life-altering decision to speak or be silent. “All our ancestors were evil,” he said quietly, casting caution and discomfort to the winds. “It’s been that way ever since the Garden of Eden.”

The silence in the room changed. Now it was filled with curiosity and expectation.

Ralt focused narrowed eyes on him. “For once you’re going to have to answer the obvious question without brushing us off with your it’s a long story excuse.”

Storm nodded, reaching out blindly for Lorelei’s hand, squeezing it tightly for support. She squeezed back. He looked around the room. “Some of you already know I don’t like talking about this stuff, mainly because I never really believed it.” Ralt and Durin nodded emphatically. They knew. Beside him, Lorelei was doing the same only more sympathetically.

“But this place, Gaia, is showing me differently. Magic, demons, being Ghibbore; it’s all proof God is real. And,” Storm hurried before they could interrupt or he lost his nerve, “in the beginning He created humans in a place called the Garden of Eden, created us to be perfect just like Him. But those first two people, Adam and Eve, messed it up, disobeyed Him, got kicked out of Eden, and brought evil into the world.” Everyone was staring at him in rapt wonder. “All of us, whether we’re from Earth or Gaia, are descended from them. All of us. So we all share the same inclinations toward good and evil.” He lapsed into silence, staring moodily at his plate, nerves stretched to the breaking point, but experiencing an unexpected sense of relief at the same time.

Aram pursed his lips. “Unbelief can be a heavy load, my friend. Nonetheless, it seems obvious to me you were brought here for a reason. If nothing else, you’ve given us more information about Elder, uh, Earth, than we’ve ever had before, and more about the gods than we’ve ever had before as well.” He paused. “I wish you could give us more,” he added hopefully.

“Not right now,” Storm shook his head miserably. “I can’t. Sometimes I’d rather fight a dragon than talk about this stuff.”

To his immense relief his friends let it drop – for the time being.

Later that night though, as midnight was approaching, Storm brought up the subject of airships again. They were relaxing in the main study on the second floor preparing to toast in the New Year.


The priest finished his drink, his complexion turning ruddy from the wine he’d already consumed. “Yeah?”

“Those skyships you were talking about; how many are there?

The priest blinked in confusion. “Where?”

“Anywhere,” Storm shrugged. “I was just wondering how common they are.”

“Oh.” Aram laughed. He got up to refill his glass. The servants had set out a dazzling array of bottles on the sideboard next to the wall. Glass clinked briefly as he poured. Satisfied, he ambled back to the group of chairs and couches where they were sitting. “They’re not common on at all. Curiosities mainly.” He sat down cautiously so as not to spill his drink. “Why?”

“What does it take to make one? How long? What materials are needed? Where can they be found? How much does it cost?”

Gerald erupted in a bizarre fit of laughter at Storm’s barrage of questions. Everyone turned to stare at him. Seeing their expressions he waved helplessly at them as his laughter began to die down. “Listening to him, I just realized what I must sound like when I’m quizzing him about Earth,” he grinned.

They laughed along with him.

“You ain’t just whistling Dixie,” Storm agreed with a chuckle.

“Whistling what?” Ralt asked, hoping to get an answer for once.

“Uh, a song that used to be popular in a certain region of the country I lived in,” Storm mumbled. He waved it off and wiggled forward in his seat. “What I’m getting at is,” he said, returning to his original line of inquiry, “why aren’t there more skyships around?”

Aram shrugged and waved at Gerald. “That’s more along his line than mine, really.”

Storm turned his eyes on Gerald. “Well?”

The old wizard smiled indulgently as if to a slow student asking questions whose answers they could never hope to understand.

“They have to be built just right by a master shipbuilder out of exactly the right materials,” he began, measuring his words carefully. “The sails have to be magically woven by a team of powerful wizards using exactly the right kind of silk thread. The cost of everything is a king’s ransom, more than the prices on all your heads combined,” he finished, waving a finger to include Storm’s companions.

“And,” he said just as Storm opened his mouth to speak, “it all takes at least three or four years to complete.” He smiled at their awed expressions. “Curiosities, my young friend, curiosities. That’s all they are and it’s all they’ll ever be.”

Storm considered how factories on Earth had turned once rare items into everyday trinkets and gave him a knowing smile. “Don’t bet the milk money on it.”

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