Chapter 17: The Cimmerian
Suddenly, everyone heard a commotion at the door of the war room. A man flew backwards through the door, landing in a heap on the floor. A few moments later, a very large muscular man six and a half feet in height entered the room. He was truly a wild and unruly man, with his long black hair streaked with gray pulled back in a ponytail. The wild man wore skins and armor with a huge five-foot sword at his side. Everyone went for their weapons except for Hannibal and Nicodemus. “Hold up,” Hannibal ordered as he turned his wheelchair to face the intruder. Everyone else eyed the wild man with caution, their hands on their weapons.
The wild man walked brazenly up to Hannibal and Nicodemus with his hand sitting heavily on the hilt of his sword. He stopped just in front of the two and nodded to Nicodemus, who acknowledged his greeting. The man then looked Hannibal in the eye as everyone stood ready to act. He noticed the leg brace on Hannibal’s leg. Selina rolled her chair closer to Hannibal as Harry and Nathanael had taken up position behind him and Nicodemus. The wild man turned his piercing gaze at Selina and his eyebrow rose along with a slight smirk on his face. He looked at Nicodemus and said, “If what I encountered coming in here is any measure of your capability, it looks like I arrived just in time. Your warriors have gone soft, Nicodemus.”
Nicodemus stepped forward and greeted the wild man officially. “The Ancient of Days is indeed merciful to us. How long has it been, son?” Nicodemus asked.
“It’s been far too long, my friend,” the wild man. “I was just a whelp when I last saw you.” Nicodemus stepped forward and hugged the wild man warmly, who responded in kind as if Nicodemus were his father. At that, the tension in the room lightened as several more men rushed in, ready to fight with the intruder. They immediately saw Nicodemus and the wild man hugging and hesitantly lowered their weapons.
“It’s all right,” Nicodemus told them. “He’s an old friend.” They nodded and carried out the unconscious man who had been thrown through the door with them as they left. “I hope that you didn’t hurt our guards too much, Xavier,” Nicodemus said in a mildly condescending tone.
The wild man smiled wryly and replied, “Oh, they’ll be all right. I didn’t do any permanent damage…just roughed them up a little. They needed it. Seems living down here in the low country has made your people soft. But these outlanders are not that way. I can see it in their eyes.” Xavier turned again to Hannibal, staring into his eyes. “You’re not like Nicodemus’ people. I see a hardened warrior sitting here before me,” Xavier observed. “You’ve seen many a battle and slain many an enemy.”
“That I have,” Hannibal admitted. “I’ve slain many a man, beast, and monster in my time. But I never fight unless I must and will not kill unless it’s absolutely necessary to protect those I care about.”
Xavier smiled at Hannibal’s answer. “And honest too,” he stated. “A true warrior I see here before me. You follow the code, don’t you?”
“I do,” Hannibal replied. “I keep the warrior’s code, unlike the Emperor and his infernal minions. Slaughter of the innocent and weak is never an option.”
“Despite my better judgment, I like you, outlander,” Xavier stated, extending his hand. “You’re not like other people.”
“No, sir; I’m not,” Hannibal agreed. “It’s something I cannot help. I am what I am by the grace of the Almighty Ancient of Days.”
“I can see that,” Xavier stated. “This is good. We need someone like you in this cursed underground.”
“So I’ve heard,” Hannibal answered. “What’s your name, my barbarian friend?”
“I am Xavier,” Xavier stated, “chief of the Cimmerian Clans. It’s been fifty cycles since we’ve come down like this, though we have entertained Nicodemus and his people on occasion during that time.”
“Did you come down alone?” Hannibal queried.
“No,” Xavier stated. “I came with several companions who wait outside for my signal to come in. We never go anywhere alone. It’s just not safe to do so.”
“I understand completely,” Hannibal replied. “Safety comes in numbers, especially in this savage land.”
“Indeed,” Xavier stated, “particularly in our country. You should know that your fame has spread even to our remote villages and hamlets in the Cimmerian Highlands because of Nicodemus. Thanks to him, we knew of your coming. What may I call you?”
Hannibal reached out and shook Xavier’s hand. “I have several names,” Hannibal replied. “You may call me Hannibal, but my enemies, including the Emperor, know me as Beowulf.” Xavier’s eyebrow rose as Hannibal spoke the name Beowulf. “It seems that your arrival is well timed,” Hannibal continued. “Please forgive me for not getting up. The Emperor sucker punched me and my wife in our dreams early this morning with a psychic attack meant to kill us. We’re still dealing with the repercussions of it…mainly a broken leg and ribs that are still mending.”
“I noticed that when I first came in,” Xavier stated. “That’s why I didn’t ask you to rise.”
“I appreciate that,” Hannibal replied. “Do you know what’s happening?”
Xavier rested his hand on his sword hilt; his eyes cold and sober. “Yes, we know what’s happening,” he stated in a very serious tone. “As I said; word of Warrior and his Eleven has reached even to our modest villages and hamlets. The Emperor is about to launch an attack aimed at destroying everyone who is not with him. He aims to start here with you.”
“How did you know to come here?” Selina asked.
“We have a very old friend in common who informed us of what’s going on, Miss,” Xavier replied with a wry smile.
“Argus has once again proved his worth to us. He came to you, did he not?” Nicodemus queried.
Xavier nodded. “Not only did Argus come to us, but he insisted on bringing us here,” he stated. “He explained the situation thoroughly and we decided to help.”
“Why now?” Joshua asked. “We haven’t had any meaningful contact with your clan for fifty cycles. Why did you decide to come down now?”
“We have the same gods,” Xavier replied, looking at Joshua. “We also have access to the ancient writings, though only a few of us know how to read it. It is because of your last contact with us that we were able to read and know the prophecies. When Argus showed up at our village, at first we thought he meant us harm so we endeavored to defend ourselves until he assured us of his friendly intentions. When he spoke to us and told us of what’s going on, the council decided to lend our assistance; however, there’s one thing that Argus failed to mention. That was about the nature of the Eleven. He didn’t tell us that the great cat gods of old had returned as part of the Eleven.” Xavier turned to Selina and said humbly, “If I may be so bold, I haven’t seen such a beautiful cat in all my life. You truly are a vision of loveliness, milady.” He hesitatingly extended his hand to her.
Selina quickly probed him telepathically to see if he was sincere, finding Xavier honest to a fault. But she also found him to be very cautious, not willing to just take people at their word, rather demanding proof of one’s intention before accepting someone. Selina reached out and shook the hand of the barbarian firmly. “Thank you, Xavier,” she purred. “This is the first time since I’ve been on this planet that I’ve met someone of your caliber.”
“Oh, don’t be ashamed to say it,” Xavier said with a smile. “Let’s face it, I’m a barbarian and so are my people. We’re not quote unquote ‘civilized’ like Nicodemus and his people are. Frankly, my people have little use for it. Our land is a savage and wild place, forcing us to be this way. But we would not have it any other way. Cimmeria is one of the few free places left in the caverns that the Emperor doesn’t continuously try to control and we like it that way.”
“And honest too,” Selina answered. “I’m sure you have many questions. But to answer your first one, my name is Selina and this is my father, Nathanael.”
Xavier’s face began to show some amazement. “You’re a telepath!” he exclaimed. “You can read minds!”
“Your insight serves you well,” Selina answered. “Yes, I am a telepath and so is my father. It’s a very powerful gift that we exercise with great reluctance. Just now, I probed your mind to see if you were friendly. You were; however, your questions were written all over your face. All I had to do was interpret your attitude, expression, and body language. As for reading minds, that is a very serious business and we don’t attempt it unless the other party is willing to have it done. The only one I’ve really done it with is Hannibal, my husband.”
The words seemed to hit Xavier like a sword blow. He staggered back a couple of steps. He looked at Hannibal and Selina with the utmost of respect and fascination. “Mates?” he asked with astonishment.
Hannibal nodded. “Yes, sir,” he replied. “We’re mates, mated by the Almighty Ancient of Days Himself. And not just that, we’re linked telepathically in a permanent way at such a depth that we can experience each other’s pain or joy. Our minds are fused together. We act and operate as one.”
After a few moments, Xavier finally shook off the astonishment and smiled. “Stranger things have been and I’ve seen some strange things as I roamed the wilds of Cimmeria. It looks like you did very well, Hannibal,” Xavier stated. “She is a most beautiful cat woman who strongly compliments your presence. We must talk some more about it, but first, we have more pressing things at hand. It’s obvious that you are going to have to flee this place. So, have you decided where to go?”
“We felt that Acheron was the safest place for now,” Nicodemus said in a businesslike manner. “We had pretty much decided on that. What we were debating is how to get there. The southern route across Draken Pass and up through Xaricar is out of the question. The Emperor’s Fifth Division is approaching it from the south through Myria. We were about to decide whether to use the cursed Acheron Highway. It’s the only other way I know of to reach the city.”
Xavier’s face fell at Nicodemus’ words. “The Acheron Highway,” Xavier replied grimly. “That’s going to be a very difficult and dangerous journey. It runs through the worst the highlands have to offer. You may lose a number of people if you take that route.”
“We’ll lose everyone if the Emperor sends the Zarukar and the new beast-men in here while we’re still here,” Joshua stated bluntly.
Xavier nodded and said, “I see your point. How many are you considering moving?”
“All of them,” Hannibal replied. “From the intelligence reports that have managed to reach us on the Emperor’s activities, we may have seven days, if we’re lucky.”
Once again, Xavier’s face fell with dismay. “That’s going to be a very tempting target,” he declared. “There are many who aren’t going to like such a large number of outsiders coming in. Moreover, the Yetis don’t tolerate anyone in their territory and Murian hordes we’re at war with will not pass up a chance at the tender morsels your people will make.”
“Are those the mutated cannibals haunting your country?” Hannibal asked. “Nicodemus mentioned them before your bold entrance.”
“Yes,” Xavier stated. “The Murians are a scourge on Cimmeria and we destroy them whenever we get the chance. They eat human flesh the same as we’d eat a bison or mastodon. They’re a vile wretched race that live only to plague the living. They’re an affront to the gods for their cannibalistic practices and are no longer considered human by my people.”
“I see,” Hannibal murmured, rubbing his chin with his fingers. “What about the Yetis? I was told the Yetis live in your savage land. Is that true?”
“Yes,” Xavier stated. “They’re an ancient clan that has nothing to do with us or the Murians. They remain content to haunt the northernmost reaches of Cimmeria well beyond the cursed city. We have a sort of truce with them. We do not intrude into their territory and they stay away from us. How’d you know the Yetis lived in Cimmeria?”
“In the Circle of Hammunaptra during the Zinzera trials, I encountered a Yeti by the name of Sukar who helped me kill a creature he called a Jagara,” Hannibal explained. “But I was unable to stop the Jagara from mortally wounding him before I could kill it. Sukar’s last wish was for me to find his clan and tell his wife and people of his end.”
Xavier raised an eyebrow at the declaration. “Interesting,” Xavier replied, “I thought the Circle of Hammunaptra was just a myth. You actually saw it?”
“Unfortunately, yes, and up close too,” Hannibal stated. “The Zinzera natives captured us on the ancient road and took us there I suspect because of Selina and Nathanael.” At that, Hannibal briefed everyone on the trials at the Circle of Hammunaptra and its aftermath. The account astounded everyone except for Hannibal and his team since they had been there.
“That’s quite a tale,” Xavier stated after Hannibal finished sharing the account. “But I don’t doubt that it happened as you said. The code doesn’t permit such deception.”
“That’s true,” Hannibal stated. “It just doesn’t profit me to make up such a tale. Furthermore, that monster almost killed me in the pit arena. It’s a creature I’ve never encountered in all my long days and I’ve been around. I suspect the Emperor has his slimy claws in both that thing and the Yeti Sukar being there. Sukar was merely a prisoner, but that Jagara was there as an enforcer. I’m sure of it.”
“Do you know what that means?” Nicodemus asked.
“What?” Hannibal asked.
“It means the Emperor has been in contact and influencing the surface longer than we suspected,” Nicodemus declared. “This is very bad news indeed.”
“No kidding,” Joshua agreed. “But what does this have to do with our present problem?”
“Everything,” Nicodemus stated. “It means he knew that Hannibal was coming with his friends and tried to intercept them before they got down here. He tried to circumvent the prophecy. Now that he’s failed to destroy Hannibal before he entered the caverns, the Emperor is going on his last purge. I fear not just for our people, but also for all humanity. He means to unleash his wrath, starting with us. He’s not going to be sated until the entire planet looks like the Blister Fields and is part of his infernal kingdom.”
“We can’t let him do that,” Joshua blurted out.
“And we won’t,” Hannibal agreed. “That’s why we’re discussing Acheron. But before we get back to that, I have one last question about the Yeti for Xavier.”
“What do you want to know?” Xavier asked.
“From my encounter with Sukar, I know the Yetis are highly intelligent with a clan-based culture,” Hannibal reported. “They’re not just wild animals. What I want to know is if your people have been able to have any kind of dialog with them. I need to make contact with them so I can fulfill my promise to Sukar. They have a right to know what happened to him.”
“Not since my great grandfather’s time have we had contact with the Yeti in the manner you speak of,” Xavier stated. “It was during that time the Cimmerian clans and the Yeti stopped the bloodshed between us. Since then we have had isolated encounters with them, but it never degenerated into bloodshed. We leave them alone and they leave us alone. On occasion, our people have actually rescued some Yeti from the Murians and vice versa. But once we freed them, they disappear like ghosts into the mountains.”
“Where’s the Yeti’s territory?” Nathanael asked.
Xavier looked at the map and pointed to Mt. Olympus. “They have claimed the ruins of Mt. Olympus and a thirty league radius around it,” Xavier stated. “Their territory reaches almost to Acheron with some of the Acheron highway lying inside their territory.”
Hannibal’s eyebrow rose. “Did you say Mt. Olympus?” he asked.
“Yes,” Xavier stated. “It’s said the gods once used it as a refuge in the 1st Age. But all that’s left there now is ruins that the Yetis haunt.”
“That’s really interesting,” Hannibal chimed. “Did you know of a settlement on Mt. Olympus, Nicodemus?”
“Only from the writings,” Nicodemus stated. “None of our people have ever seen it. But I’m sure some of Xavier’s people have seen it. I don’t doubt it exists.”
“As interesting as this is, we really should get back to the subject of Acheron,” Harry blurted out. “This Emperor doesn’t give a shit about the Yetis. He’s after our skins.”
“You’re so right, Harry,” Hannibal stated. “Let’s get back on subject.”
“Indeed,” Nathanael agreed. “Xavier, do you know the condition of Acheron?”
Xavier nodded. “Acheron has been a desolation and necropolis for generations,” he reported. “It’s abandoned and haunted by foul spirits and ghosts. Even the Murians, Yetis, and the great beasts stay out of the city itself, but they do hunt around it.”
“Interesting,” Nathanael replied.
“I assume the city has a central fortress like this city,” Hannibal said. “Do you know what the condition of the fortress is?”
Xavier thought for a minute, and then answered, “It’s pretty much intact, I think. But I’m not sure. Both our people and our enemies consider Acheron a cursed place. It is a habitation of demons. No one ever goes there. The last one of our people who ventured near that city narrowly escaped death by a tarok. But if you are looking for a secure place to go to, the city would be perfect. But you must understand…my people will not go in there. They believe it cursed by the most heinous evil.”
“I understand,” Hannibal said. “I guess what I’m asking is how much work are we going to have to do to make it livable. Do you know the conditions of the walls and sources of water and possible food sources?”
“I wish I could help you, but I cannot answer that question because I don’t know,” Xavier replied. “But there is someone that you could ask that might know. Argus might know. Since he knew of your dilemma, he may have already scouted it.”
“That’s an excellent suggestion,” Nicodemus said. “Let’s go to the southwestern tower and see him. Oh, you may also bring your friends in as well, Xavier. We’re all friends here.”
Xavier nodded and said, “That is good of you, my old friend.”
Nicodemus then walked toward the door and said, “Come on. Let’s talk with Argus.” At that, everyone followed Nicodemus out of the room with Drew pushing Hannibal in his wheelchair and Bruce guiding Selina in her wheelchair close behind Hannibal.