The Knights of Nevertheless: Escape from the Shadows

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Chapter 20: Plan of Action

The black mist that rose from Les’ grave hovered and enlarged. The dark cloud gathered all of the dead man’s capricious malice and bitter resentment, his lying and discontent, and all of his wicked appetites and imaginations; it gathered them together and ascended above the trees like a wandering spirit. As if answering a call to return home, it drifted obediently toward the walled city Dem. There it would be welcomed back into the fold of vice.

Seeping back over the fortress walls, the Shadow was greeted with all the rancorous noise of perpetual drums, moans, wails, and shrieks of terror customary in this den of lawless darkness. Slowly, it drifted in and around the familiar passages with all the nostalgia of a long anticipated homecoming. Making its way to the Counsel Chamber, it floated about the large empty space, examining the blood-stained crevices of the rock walls with longing and desire. Drifting down onto the platform, it migrated to the side hall; circling around behind the great throne, it found the door to the Counsel Hall. Seeping through the door, it discovered its Master, seated at the head of a long table with the Nine. Cam stood to welcome the returning Shadow, beckoning it to draw near like a proud father eager to embrace a son. It raced to its Master, encircling him with a swirling embrace, bringing a sneering smile to the warlord’s face. But as the dark cloud entered the Master, all semblance of a smile disappeared; the sneer took on an expression of doubt and rage.

Cam’s fist pounded the rock-hewn table with such force that the reverberating thunder resonated throughout the hallways and chambers of the entire city. Its citizens and visitors stopped for a moment of silence to absorb its shock waves with awed reverence.

The Council stood to its feet. But a moment’s reflection and a wave of Cam’s hand signaled them to be seated again. Cam, however, paced around the Council table, brooding, pondering. Returning to the head of the table, he extended his arms before him to the center of the table where the Shadow came forth from him and grew large above the table. The Nine viewed the reconnaissance as if they had witnessed all of the events of Les’ travels and exploits of the preceding months by his side. What a disappointing end he gave them!

“What a waste of human flesh this man was,” one remarked.

Cam was outraged that this bedraggled little woman and her two scrawny sons had managed to elude several companies of peacekeepers and posses bent on the prize of returning them to Dem. Moreover, he was furious that yet another Menetan had crossed into his borders to offer assistance to these wearisome Seekers.

“Must I send an entire division against them?” he fumed.

One Council Member suggested that perhaps they should be content that so few Seekers manage to make it to and through the Wall each year; what little damage they cause is a mere trifle. This view point stirred up quite an argument from those who supposed it possible that successful Seekers might organize on the other side and return in stronger numbers to fan the flames of discontent and invite greater numbers of Terra Dombrians to seek refuge on the far side of the Great Wall’s flames. The success of each one threatened the preservation of their power and the lie propagated to keep Terra Dombrians under the delusion that this life is all there is. Seekers would no longer be viewed as foolish, but heroic. No— they must find a way to stop this trickling leak before it became a steady stream. There was too much independent thought perpetuating this defiance.

Never before had Cam or the Council thought to organize a group of dongrels into a trained fighting force. They were assumed to be too wild and thus were permitted to rove the wilderness to wreck havoc however they pleased. It was not their nature to herd but to roam in solitude. With their heightened senses and strength and their ability to fly, if they could be taught to band together, they would make a formidable force indeed! The Council was directed to implement this plan with all haste.

A second motion was also approved. To preserve their decadent culture, the very young would be taken at an early age, five or six years old, and pressed into schools where they would be indoctrinated with the Terra Dombren lies. They would be taught to pursue their worst inclinations, stripped of every vestige of goodness and trained to see traits like kindness, moderation, helpfulness and the like as symptoms of weakness. They would be taught one loyalty only— allegiance to, and adoration of— Cam. This new initiative would solidify their society. There would be unity of thought and purpose. Participation would be mandatory, though the propaganda machine would always refer to it as voluntary. All thoughts of freedom and independence would be vanquished.

It would take a little time to implement; but in the meanwhile, the sport of the hunt for Ava and her children would press on and be useful training for the new Dongrel Force.

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