Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 13

Then he picked out a few familiar shapes that would not have changed over time, like the Gujaran peninsula, and the western blob that was Uttara, the northern and westernmost parts of their nation respectively. “Impossible…” Ashok muttered as he forced himself to stand up. His leg burned and threatened to betray him again, but he needed to get closer. Ashok found another torch on the wall and lit it from the fire pit. He placed himself directly beneath the gigantic map and held up the flame.

This was a map of the entire world.

Their nation, the entire world of man, took up but one small corner. There were several other lands across the seas, some far larger than theirs, and hundreds of islands in between. As he moved the flickering torch back and forth, he realized there were thousands of carved dots casting tiny shadows. A quick check of the one continent he was familiar with revealed that the holes seemed to represent cities, with the bigger the shadow, the larger the place. Most seemed to correspond to the seats of the houses today, though there was no Capitol in the center, and there were a few dots where there was nothing today, but most matched…They had to be cities. When he went back to examining the rest of the map, he realized there were thousands of dots, spread across every landmass except for the ones at the very top and bottom. “Impossible,” he said again.

Ashok couldn’t say how long he stared at that map, memorizing every line, staring upward until the muscles in his neck began to ache and he got dizzy. It was easy to lose track of time when you found something so incomprehensible.

“It is rather impressive, isn’t it?”

He hadn’t heard the Lord Protector return. “Is Devedas –”

“That boy is too stubborn to die. As determined as he is to make up for his father’s failures, it wouldn’t surprise me if someday he was given my office.”

Ashok turned back to the carving. “I don’t understand this.”

“Of course you wouldn’t. This map comes from the time before the demons fell to the world.”

It was forbidden to speak of the time before the Law in anything but the vaguest of terms. The acolytes only learned of it in passing, because it had been a dark and wicked time, so corrupt that it still influenced lawbreakers today. “The Age of Kings?”

“Before that, even. The houses were tribes back then. Fighting the demons is what forced us to name a king. It wasn’t until long after we drove the demons into the sea that we discovered kings could be nearly as bad.”

“We haven’t been taught much about those days.”

Surprisingly, Ratul didn’t yell at him for concentrating on frivolous, useless things, and to the Lord Protector anything that wasn’t fighting or preparing to fight seemed frivolous. Instead Ratul joined him beneath the map. “In ancient times, man had settled across the whole of the world. We were one of nine continents. There wasn’t one nation like there is now, but hundreds of them, a multitude with different ways, different languages, traditions, different color skins, they even had different laws. They fought wars against each other, traded goods and thoughts, even animals. It was routine for man to travel across the sea in mighty ships.”

“That’s illegal, not to mention stupid,” Ashok stated dismissively, even though he was talking to a superior.

“Not in those days. The oceans were just large bodies of water, nothing more, until there was a war that consumed the heavens, and the demons were defeated by the gods and cast down.”

“Gods?” Ashok asked. Advocating the existence of such things was highly illegal.

“I speak metaphorically of course. Regardless of where they came from, there was a time before demons and a time after. They fell from the sky and began to destroy everything. Across the entire world, cities burned, and men fled before them. They nearly exterminated us. It wasn’t until we used the black steel to drive them into the water that the oceans became hell. The demons have owned the sea ever since.”

“Do you know where black steel comes from?” Despite spending years with three pounds of it riding on his hip, nobody had ever been able to explain it to him.

“There are only fantastical tales by those deluded enough to worship false gods,” Ratul answered a little too quickly.

It was hard to imagine this ancient world of travelling foreigners and no supreme law to rule them all, until it had begun raining demons. Angruvadal had been forged in those days and it still remembered them. Ashok would have liked to see what that world had been like, but the memories locked in his sword were limited to battle after battle, and nothing beyond. Ashok could relive every fight of every bearer, but he’d never understand what any of them had been fighting for. “What do the fanatics say about the origins?”

Ratul gave Ashok that heavy lidded glare, letting Ashok know there would be no good answer to that question. “The demons destroyed most of civilization, and what histories survived were questionable at best. They’re locked away in the Capitol library now, under the careful eye of the Archivists’ Order. The Age of Kings was based on lies, so the records that passed through their priests’ corrupt hands were tainted until everything was twisted to serve their greed. Regardless of where black steel comes from, ever since our victory, man has controlled the land and demons have held the sea. We don’t try to cross the water and they are not allowed to walk upon our land. This arrangement has held for fifty generations.”

Scanning the dots on the other lands, Ashok tried to take it all in. Some of them cast much larger shadows than Vadal City and the census said nearly a million people lived there…It was hard to imagine a city even bigger. “What happened to the people in all those other continents?”

“Who knows? Dead more than likely. The demons nearly ended us here. Perhaps other nations weren’t so lucky. Did they discover magic like we did? Maybe in those other places the demons won and now those slimy things are the ones living on land.”

“That would be trespassing. They should be punished.”

Ratul actually appeared amused by that. “I admire your commitment, but sadly that’s a bit beyond our jurisdiction to enforce, Ashok.”

For now, Ashok thought to himself. He couldn’t abide the idea of anything, demon or human, flaunting the Law.

“Regardless, if any foreigners survived like we did, we’ll never know. Crossing the sea is impossible, so for all practical matters, we’re all that remain…You know this. Mindarin must have covered it in your lessons.”

“Briefly.” They didn’t waste too much of the acolytes’ precious training time on ancient history. Protectors were focused on enforcing the rules now, not dwelling in the past. How one got to the destination was not nearly as important as maintaining order once there.

“Myself, I’m a student of these things. I’ve read everything available about the ancients and sought out the best scholars in the Capitol to discuss our history.” That was a surprise. Normally, Ratul only seemed interested in teaching them how to kill people more efficiently. It was hard to picture him actually enjoying something. “I’ve been fascinated by the subject my entire life. If I’d not been obligated to the Order, I might have made a fine Archivist, but enough of this. There is one final test for you.” Ratul walked away.