Chapter 28: Caronadons
An hour later, word came to Hannibal that Argus was waiting for him on the southwestern tower. He immediately dropped what he was doing and went to the tower. Argus sat waiting for Hannibal as he strode up. “What is it, my friend?” he asked Argus. “You have something to tell me?”
“Yes,” Argus replied grimly. “No doubt you saw the terror and destruction of the storm this morning.”
Hannibal nodded and said, “Only in the square. We lost a great number of people in it. Nicodemus seems to think we were attacked.”
Argus looked him straight in the eye and said, “We were. That was no ordinary storm. It was engineered. Just before it hit, I was out here talking to Nicodemus as it approached. I suddenly heard a chorus of fell voices on the air as it started raining. I warned him to get everyone inside, and then went to investigate.”
Hannibal suddenly noticed several scorch marks on the side of him. “You’re hurt,” he said with some concern. “Are you all right?”
“I’ll be fine. The lightning just grazed me,” Argus answered. “I didn’t get far, though. I had to take cover on a nearby peak and I watched as the storm seemed to black out the whole valley. But I could sense a conscious control over it. It was a vile, terrible intelligence I haven’t sensed since the Kragonar. Something has been unleashed and I suspect that the Cadre is behind it. Then, after the storm passed, I returned to see the keep and city immediately outside buried in giant hails. Come, you must see the devastation and once you do, you’ll know it was engineered. Climb on.” Argus laid down and Hannibal mounted his back. “Hold on,” he told Hannibal as he rose, turning toward the edge of the tower. Argus billowed his wings and jumped into the air. In seconds, he was carrying Hannibal high over the keep and city. Hannibal was flabbergasted at the sheer destruction the storm inflicted on specific strategic targets. As Argus circled the keep, Hannibal saw huge pieces of the keep missing. The walls of the fortress were breached in six places, the walls cast down in a heap. The city outside the keep didn’t fare much better. It was in ruins, nearly every building in a half-mile radius of the fortress toppled. Outside of the half-mile radius, the city was untouched, minus some street flooding that had submerged some of the ground floors of the buildings. The hails had caused great loss of life inside the half-mile perimeter. People were frantically digging their loved ones out of the rubble.
“My God!” Hannibal exclaimed as he saw the full extent of the destruction. “You’re right, Argus. This storm was engineered by a most terrible intelligence to have inflicted this kind of loss.” As they circled the city, something in the distance caught Hannibal’s attention and he asked, “What’s that coming in over the western ridge?” Argus banked and looked as they immediately flew toward the intruders.
As they approached the intruder, they found there was more than one. Argus looked closely and said, “Fear not; they’re the couriers from the other clans. Let’s go and inform Nicodemus that they’re coming.” He banked and went back to the southwest tower. Landing, he let Hannibal off and said, “Go get Nicodemus and bring him out. I’ll go out to meet them.” Hannibal darted into the tower as Argus lifted off to meet the flying couriers.
Ten minutes later, Nicodemus, Hannibal, Joshua, and Selina stood on the southwestern tower as Argus escorted the couriers in. They watched as Argus led in eight great birds of prey with people sitting on their backs. The birds of prey were not as big as Argus but were a good two-thirds of his size. Each bird had two people sitting on its back. The birds themselves were beautiful, looking much like a giant eagle with brilliant red feathers and a snow-white breast with a scarlet mark on the chest where the heart would be.
Hannibal and Selina watched in astonishment as the Argus buzzed the tower and then the birds, one at a time, came up and lighted on the tower, which was more than big enough to accommodate them all. “Oh, man,” Hannibal whispered to Selina. “It’s just like the dream.”
Selina nodded and replied, “Yes, it is.”
As the birds landed, Hannibal asked Nicodemus, “What are these magnificent birds?”
Nicodemus smiled, replying, “They are the Caronadons. These great birds are a tremendous asset to us. They’re highly intelligent and friendly to our cause. I don’t even pretend to understand their motivation for helping us, but they do from time to time.”
“How long have they been like this?” Selina asked, greatly intrigued by the giant birds.
“For several generations,” Nicodemus answered. “It’s rare that they help us like this. We do most of our travel by horse. But when we need a speedy transport, they always seem to be around. It’s almost like they know when they are needed. Maybe the Ancient of Days sends them. Who knows? Come. Get a closer look.”
The couriers had dismounted and Selina noticed that they seemed to thank the great birds, which then turned and lifted off, flying into the distance leaving only one of the great birds on the tower with its two riders standing next to it. Joshua was already speaking with the other couriers, who then left with Joshua as Nicodemus approached the great bird with Hannibal and Selina.
“How bad is it?” one of the men asked. “It looks like you got pummeled hard. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a viscous attack on a single area by a storm.”
“It’s bad enough,” Nicodemus said as Hannibal and Selina cautiously walked up to the bird, who leaned down with its huge head to look them in the eye.
Both Hannibal and Selina’s eyes sparkled with wonder as the great bird sized them up. It chirped and the man speaking to Nicodemus said, “Go on and touch him. He won’t hurt you.”
Hannibal’s hand rose hesitantly and the bird pushed its great head forward to make contact with Hannibal. Selina touched the bird on the neck and was astounded by the softness of the feathers. Hannibal stroked the great bird a couple of times, and then looked into its magnificent eyes. “Selina, look at this,” he breathed as he looked deep into the bird’s eyes. Selina looked into its eyes as well and they both were suddenly amazed that they could sense its curiosity about them, not to mention the extreme intelligence of the bird. They looked at each other with awe, and then Hannibal said, “Thank you for letting us touch you. We hope that you’ll let your kind know that we’re friends.”
The bird bobbed its head, and then chirped as if it understood. It then turned toward the edge of the tower and lifted off, disappearing into the distance in a matter of a few seconds.
“That was incredible,” Hannibal told Nicodemus and the two men with him. “That bird looks just like a much larger version of the owl of the desert we have on the surface. And what more, we got the distinct feeling that it knew who we were and it understood us when we spoke to it.”
“Yes,” Selina agreed. “It was absolutely fascinating seeing such an imposing and beautiful bird at such close range.”
“You know, there must be something special about you two,” the man who was speaking to Nicodemus told them. “I’ve never seen a Caronadon act like that around strangers. It’s like he knew you.”
“Strange indeed,” Hannibal agreed. “We got the same feeling. I suspect that they may be of help to us at some point.”
“You know something you’re not telling us,” Nicodemus stated, after noticing the way they interacted with the great bird. “You act as if you’ve seen these birds before. Have you such birds on the surface?”
“You’re right,” Hannibal said as they left the tower. “And no, we don’t have such birds on the surface. But we have seen them before.” He looked down at his arm that Selina had mauled. He held the arm and continued, “We had a dream the night before last where those birds were an integral part of it. Those were the birds in the dream. I’m sure of it.” At that, he told the dream as they walked through the keep, heading for the throne room. They all listened intently to the dream and once he had finished telling it, Nicodemus marveled, as did the couriers.
“Do you have any idea what that dream was about?” Nicodemus asked, knowing exactly what it was depicting. Hannibal and Selina shook their heads no and Nicodemus said, stopping briefly at a passage junction, “What you described in the dream is amazingly similar to the great battle that gave the Plains of Blood their name. It was the greatest battle in history, according to the legends, a battle that was supposed to decide the fate of the entire planet. In a way, it did because before that battle was over, the Almighty Ancient of Days unleashed His righteous vengeance and overthrew all that was, burying us here. That battle raged, according to the legends for nearly three weeks before the Kragonar. It seems that the Almighty may have given you a glimpse of our past. It’s not completely uncommon for such dreams to occur.”
“You mean the dream was about the fall?” Selina asked as Hannibal tried to comprehend what was being said.
“Yes,” Nicodemus answered. “You’ve been given a glimpse of it, it seems. Don’t forget it. Those peoples who forget their past are doomed to repeat it.”
“That is so true,” Hannibal agreed whole-heartedly. “I don’t know why we had the dream, but I’m sure we’ll find out at some point. Maybe our salvation may be in the discovery of what was lost. I just don’t know.”
“May be,” Nicodemus returned. “Come. Let’s go to the throne room to debrief the couriers.”
Hannibal nodded and said, “Lead the way.” Thus, they went to the Throne room where Joshua, Doug, Bruce, and the rest of the couriers were waiting.