Chaos Calls 06: Into the Heartland
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2018 by Ernest Bywater

Preparations

We’re now a lot more experienced at getting ready to visit Chaos and there’s little for us to do for this visit. The new armour arrived and is fitted, including a set for Nadia. I also have the lady make up a dozen sets of horse armour to fit any horse, plus ten sets for our dogs. Then late in the week one man catches the flu so he won’t be going now. To ensure illness isn’t spread the portals won’t allow a sick person to go, so we don’t try, we change the plans to fit the new team. I had been planning to take eleven because I want Nadia along on this trip, but now we stay at ten.

Our group is now two five person teams of Tora, Kira, Nadia, Bridget, and myself as the Alpha Team with Rob, Barry, John, Dave, and Ian as the Beta Team. When a number of the dogs arrived to have their final training done in the compound as our local guard dogs some of the guards started working with them as their handlers. Bridget and Rob having been doing the training and they finish their training while we’re waiting. Thus they both ask to take their dogs with them on this trip. I agree, so the plans are again amended to deal with the new change.

When I check the website I read up on the basics and area of a special mission Mac wants me to do. It’s in the heartland of Chaos, just south of the edge of King Sid’s area, and what was once the heart of the Slavers. It seems some of the remnants of the Slavers are trying to rebuild. As best as Mac can tell there aren’t any Earth people involved in this because there are no Portal Rings showing in the area. However, the situation is harder than most because those in charge had been trained as officers in the Slaver Army by the Earth leadership of the Slavers, and they’re good.

On examining the area I can see we’ll have to start from well outside the area the New Slavers control because of them guarding the banks. The closest bank we can be sure is a safe point of entry is in the Rider Citadel, the home of the Rider Clan. However, it’s a long way from where I need to go to make the rescue, and much of it will be through lands we can expect to be challenged in. I need horses for this trip, but ones I don’t mind selling to anyone because I won’t be going near any of my bases. Then I realise if I return via the Rider Citadel I can get a good price for any quality horses I have so I ask Frank to ship me twelve of the older Walers: ten mares and two stallions he doesn’t mind leaving the herd on a permanent basis. When they arrive I laugh at their names as this group are also named for First World War battles of the Australian Light Horse: Amman and Jerusalem are the stallions with the mares being Jenin, Taif, Haifa, Nablus, Aqaba, Tabsor, Senussi, Hareira, Kumkale, and al-Samna. I start to wonder what the names of the younger horses are because he has to be running out of Australian Light Horse battles soon. My research has the names of about another twenty-eight or so battles they were in. This will give us a horse each plus two pack horses, one for each team.

We prepare tack for the horses with special saddlebags for the dogs the same as the large ones we took to carry dogs before. We also load up with a few things I’d like along to curry favour with the Rider Clan. A few of the telescopes we can carry, some saddlebags full of quality ceramic rings for use in horse harnesses, some quality leather, good hemp rope, and cloth. I also have some satetsu and charcoal to talk to their weapons makers about. Nadia is the only one carrying a new short bow as the rest of us left them in our bank boxes on Chaos.

On the day to travel I check all of the gear for unapproved materials and find it’s all OK. The horses have their tack with full saddlebags, including bamboo armoured horse blankets rolled up and tied to their saddles. All of the travellers have basic clothing with bamboo armour and backpacks of gear. I check the dogs are in physical contact with the horses through the large holes on the inside of the saddlebags they’re in.

Crossroads

Everyone is waiting in the main vault area because there’s not enough room in the portal vault, again. We form up in a continuous chain of contact with each of us having an arm over the neck of the horse we’re leading and those behind have a good hold on the tail of the horse in front with their hand resting on that horse’s rump, like we did on earlier visits with horses. I’ve got Bridget’s riding mare under my other arm while Tora is last in line with Rob’s stallion hanging its head over her shoulder to rub its neck against the side of her face. It’s going to be a tight fit to get two horses through side by side, but we think we should be OK. Bridget and Rob are leading the two horses with the dogs because the saddlebags of dogs make them a wider group. Sharon will lock the vault behind us. I smile at her and approach the portal.

Arriving in the portal room of my quarters at Crossroads I find Merry holding open the door to the stable. With a large grin I lead my horses through the door. Very soon all of the horses are comfortable. Their tack and packs are on tables set on the other side of the stable. The dogs are happy walking about on the floor sniffing at everything, especially the dog beds and litter trays set out for them. Merry leads us through into the main lounge of my Hero’s suite, which I see has a dog-door in it again to allow the dogs free access around the suite.

Once the horse are cared for Merry and I go to our room for a briefing while the rest retire to the training room for more combat practice. None of us bother trying to watch the time because we’re all too busy.

When Merry and I finish with our briefing I study the full details of the rescue Mac wants me to take. This time all of the relevant information is in the file for me so I can go through it without having to bother Mac. I also take the time to examine the entire area of operation and our travel route on the 3D Map Project. That results in a slight change of the travel plans to now go dead south for a long distance before we turn east to come back at the target from south of them. This is because they have most of their troops in their northern lands.

After spending all day examining things and making plans I turn to Merry while saying, “List me for this mission. Get me good maps of all of the lands in the New Slaver’s area of control and the lands we’re likely to go through on the approach path. I also want some maps of the Rider Citadel control area with the useful resources they have marked on them. I want to give them to the Rider Clan. Plan for another day here and two weeks in the Rider Citadel getting some better weapons for us.” She nods acceptance of the orders and turns to enter the details into the computer at the console in the usual way while I walk out of the room to see how Nadia is doing with her sword training. Nadia has basic skills, but she needs more practice with her sword and bow, although she’s already very good with the short bow.

We spend the rest of the day and the next day in combat training with weapons and hand to hand fighting. The morning after that we all get up, dress for Chaos, have breakfast, check our animals, ready them for travel, form up like we did to come to Crossroads, and enter the portal. I’ve several maps in my saddlebags of the areas I wanted.

In a way it was an odd trip to Crossroads because I never spoke to Mac and it’s the first time I haven’t spoken to him on a trip. I like that because it shows we’re shaking down into this type of trip being routine trips similar to what the other Heroes have, even if it is a special mission assignment.

Chaos

Once again I enter an oversized bank vault with room for all of us. I move to the side to make room for the others as they arrive and I wait for them to join me. The portal vanishes when the last horse exits the portal. My box appears when I stick my finger in the hole, so it only takes a few minutes for me to arm Nadia and myself from my gear while the others take turns to have their boxes appear and arm themselves from what they stored on the last trip. When I shut my box others use my spot to get their boxes to arm themselves. Those of us who are armed turn to our horses to rearrange the loads for a more suitable daily use. When all are ready, including the dogs being on the floor, we turn to exit the vault. I stop at the counter to arrange for money and a box for Nadia, then we exit the bank. Although we aren’t expecting any trouble we are ready for combat.

Soon after leaving the bank we’re confronted by a dozen men with the one leading them clearly a trained fighter and leader. I smile when the one beside him says, “This is the group I was told about Gregor.” So I know who this man is, and I suspect I know the one speaking is Derek.

Gregor asks, “Who are you? And what do you want here?”

I smile as I say, “I’m Al Adams and these people work for me. I seek a good weapons maker who will listen to new ideas to make some better swords for me. Can you show me to such a man?”

“I can! However, such a large well armed group inside the citadel is of concern to those responsible for security here. So why should I?”

“You should make the introductions because once I show the man what I want done he can make better steel weapons for you. Although we are a danger to certain groups we aren’t a danger to you or the Rider Clan. I have a task to complete well to the south where some remnants of the Slavers are trying to rebuild. I’ve stopped here to get quality swords made for some of my people who don’t yet have them. We’re rarely in the one location long enough to get a lot made so we work on them where we can and we also trust the locals with the new methods we know. Once we meet a suitable craftsman we’ll need to find accommodation near him for us all and our animals.”

“I see you arm your women as well. Why?”

“Where I come from everyone who wishes to learn to fight is allowed to learn. These women fight as well as the men, and some of them are a lot better than most of the men with some of their weapons.” I motion Tora up and say, “This woman is better with a sword than Sid Jones is.”

All of the men facing us go very wide-eyed, and Gregor asks, “You know King Sid?”

“Yes. As well as the lands he has to the north-east of here he has lands in the country we come from, as do I. We’ve met there and he spoke well of both you and Derek.” I go on to describe Sid.

Gregor slowly nods at my description of Sid and says, “Are you here to seek a number of other people from your lands, too?”

I nod yes while saying, “Once we get ready to fight our enemies, yes, I am. They hold some of the women from our country so we go to rescue them. My friends here want some adventure so they come with me. At home they work for me, but are here by their choice.”

Gregor turns while saying, “Follow me,” and he walks away, so we follow him. A few minutes later he walks into a smithy and weapons shop much like the D Smithy, and I smile. He introduces me to Gill, the lead weapons maker while saying, “Gill, this is Al. He wants you to make him some swords after he shows you how to make them better.”

After Gregor makes the introduction he stands back while waving for me to talk. I pull out my local sword and I hand it over while saying, “Do you have any metal of this or better quality in one of your melting forges right now?” He examines the sword, nods yes, and points at one forge. I smile, because I can also see a basic stone kiln with a fire in it and a few swords are cooling in the upper chamber.

While we’re talking Kira takes off her pack, removes bags of satetsu and charcoal, then hands them to me. I show him the sand and ask, “Have you seen sand like this before?” My audience has grown since we arrived so there are now four of the weapons makers as well as Gregor looking in the bag, and they all shake their head no. “This is high in iron, which is what makes steel better than your usual iron. You sprinkle small amounts of this in with the melting steel along with some charcoal, let it melt and mix it in, then skim off any impurities and repeat many times. The steel you have at the end is much better than what you started with.” Gill waves at the crucible with the melted steel, so I sprinkle a hand full over the metal then I use a nearby tool to mix it in before saying, “Do the same as that two or three times a day for three days and you’ll have a much better base metal. Another thing to do is to have the carbon spread evenly through the steel by taking the hot steel out, beating it flat, folding it over, and repeating until it has several hundred folds in it.”

Gill smiles and says, “We know that trick. One of my brothers learned of it while at a place way up north, about a year ago. So you do know something. We’ll try this sand and charcoal of yours to see how it goes.”

“I see your brother also learned of the extra heat in using a kiln and how you need to let the steel cool slowly.” Gill smiles wider as he nods yes. “Did he also learn of making a sword stronger by using two metals?” I get a head shake of no. “You make the sword of two steels: one is hard with high carbon and one is a lot softer, not much better than iron. You beat and fold both. When you’re ready to make the blade you beat the hard steel flat then lay a very thin rod of the softer steel in it over which you fold the harder steel and then proceed to beat and shape the sword. The result is the outer surface and edge is of the hard steel while the core is of the softer steel. The softer steel absorbs the impacts better than the harder steel, thus the sword is less likely to shatter under impact.”

Gregor says, “I’ve heard talk of two metal swords being better, but I’ve never seen one or heard how it was done. Do you have one.”

I smile while I draw my katana then I hold it out for Gill and Gregor to examine. They test how sharp the edge is and look at how the folding shows on the sword. Gill looks up and asks, “Do you have much of this sand with you? Do you know where we can find more nearby?”

While waving for both Kira and Tora to empty the bags of sand from their packs I say, “We have a good supply, but not a lot. I plan to have you use this in making some weapons for us. I also need to speak with Gregor about some things which includes where they can find more such sands within the Rider Clan lands. Since they’re Clan resources he needs to speak to the Clan Leaders about how they will use them.” All of the Rider Clan members look at me very closely, but they say nothing else right now. I pull out a bo-shuriken and say, “I also want a hundred of these made with a much higher quality steel than they are now.”

Derek asks, “What are such little spikes used for?”

I nod at Tora, and we both spin while we toss a bo-shuriken across the yard to stick into a post directly opposite us before I say, “Killing at close range is what they’re good for. Your head isn’t as hard as that wood.”

They all stare at the two throwing spikes stuck in the wood. Gregor waves, and Derek walks over to pull them out of the post. We can all see how much effort he has to put in to get them out. He checks the points and says, “They look a little blunted, but they’re still very sharp.”

Tora smiles while she says, “When made from the better steel they won’t be so blunted as these are. Which is why we want them. Once we get the first ones made we’ll hand the old ones over to be melted down, made into the better steel, and made into new ones. The same with the swords and knives we have that aren’t as good as what we want.”

I add, “By the time we’re finished I want all of my people to have two swords and two knives made from high quality steel. However, we only have fourteen days we can spend here to get as many made as we can.”

Gregor smiles, nods at Gill, turns to me, and says, “Come with me.”

As we leave the smithy I hear Gill say, “Get all the fires and forges going, we’re going to be very busy for many days. Dan, get your brothers and sister so they can tend the fires for us.” We’re passed by a young boy running out of the smithy.

A few doors down the street Gregor shows us into the stables of a tavern while saying, “Settle your horses and dogs here. I’ll take you to the tavern keeper once you have them settled.”

I reply, “Thank you. However, two of the dogs will stay here with the horses while the other two go with us. They’re trained guard dogs.” He raises his eyebrows and simply nods his acceptance to us.

It takes us many minutes to care for our horses and to settle them into the stables with one pair of the dogs staying there to see to the safety of the horses. We leave water and food out for all of our animals before we go into the tavern. I find out Gregor has booked the two large rooms for us so we take our gear up and settle it in the rooms. We leave a dog in each room with pans of water, pans of food, and we leave the doors held ajar by stools so the dogs can exit to go outside if they need to.

Once back in the main part of the tavern I pay the tavern keeper for the rooms for the next fourteen days, which includes the morning and evening meals with a jug of watered wine at each meal. I also pay for a midday meal with a jug of watered wine each. Rob has the men sit on one side of the room facing inwards while the women sit with me at the table where Gregor and Derek are sitting.

When I sit with my back to the room Derek goes to speak, and I say, while hooking a thumb over my shoulder, “I’ve five people watching my back from over there plus two more sitting beside you. Thus I can take the small risk of having my back to the room so I can speak to you in private.” Gregor smiles while he nods he understands. I place two copies of the maps of the Rider lands on the table while saying, “I got these maps from a very good friend who makes maps. He doesn’t sell people’s secrets, either. These are very accurate maps of the Rider Clan lands.”

Gregor looks them over before saying, “Yes, they are. What are these funny markings on them?”

I touch the legend in the corner while saying, “This is a legend and the symbols on the maps show where those materials are. The lines are what we call contour lines, they show how high the land is above the sea level at that point. The numbers are the number of feet. Where the lines are close together is a steep angle while where they’re far apart is a lower angled slope. In case you aren’t familiar with the term feet, it’s the plural of a foot, which is a length of measure about as long as your forearm.”

He looks at the map and points at one area while saying, “I see what you mean about the lines. I know this area and that’s a gentle rise there, but this here is a steep cliff. This is useful to know.”

I reach over to touch some of the other marks on the maps, “I don’t know if you know of these locations, but those red circles are where you can find bog iron while the black ones are where you can find iron ore. These white circles are where you can find a metal called nickel, some men up in the main Shiloh compound can tell you how you can use it to make some thing better than just steel. I don’t know how, but they do. The grey dots are where you can find the satetsu sand while the white dots are where you can find clay for better pottery and ceramics. These green circles show where copper can be found. Now that I’ve passed this on to you I’ve fulfilled my promise to tell the Rider Clan about them. I’ve no interest in staying here to do anything with them, so you now need to see what the Clan Leaders wish to do with this knowledge.”

Gregor laughs as he says, “This, more than anything else, tells me you know Sid. What you speak of is worth many fortunes but you don’t care about it. Your interests lie elsewhere, so you just hand it over to those you feel own it and should know about it. I’ll talk to the Clan Leaders about this for you. Thank you. Now, I notice you have some very small bows. I know you enough to know they have a purpose, but why so small?”

“If a fight starts out in a room like this they’re a lot easier to use with crossbow bolts than a normal bow and arrows are. For dealing with people outside of sword range they can be devastating inside buildings.”

Gregor laughs and says, “I’ll have to have one of our bowyers look at them to try a few out. I like the idea.” We chat on many subjects while we eat our midday meal, then he and Derek leave. We spend the afternoon walking around the citadel and seeing who is interested in buying some of what we have to sell in the way of tack, leather-goods, and ceramics.

The next day I stop to see Gill to give him a wooden copy of a flat throwing star known as a hira-shuriken which is about the size of the palm of the hand. I carved it last night. I ask him to make me a hundred of them out of the high quality steel and the entire outer edge is to be razor sharp. He simply nods his agreement to make them.

The next several days are taken up with training in an open area we’re shown by Derek. We practice with all of our weapons and also do hand to hand fighting. Many of those watching us are surprised at how skilled we are with multiple weapons. Each morning we do various routines to keep fit, and the locals find the exercises we do of great interest while they stand around and watch us. Some days I visit Gill to see how he’s going with the weapons we want.

Ten days after our arrival Gill has the hundred bo-shuriken I want, he also has the hundred hira-shuriken, the two knives for each of us, plus another ten knives I ordered, and eight of the swords we want. That gives us two swords per person now, one of top quality and one of good quality. I hand over the old knives and the old bo-shuriken for reuse of the metal. Tora, Kira, and I spend most of the next day sharpening and testing all of the weapons we collected.

Thirteen days after our arrival Gill has the last of the weapons I ordered ready so I pay him what he asked for as the cost of the difference between the metals used in our order and the metal we hand over for reuse. He says, “The iron sands you handed us have some value we don’t yet know, and so does the knowledge of charcoal and the other skills you passed on. So we see our skill in the work as being paid for by the knowledge, skills, and iron sands. We can now demand more for our best work, and we thank you for that.” I simply smile while I pay Gill what he asks as the final payment for the gear before I leave the smithy.

The Ride South

The next morning we have breakfast, pack up, prepare the horses and dogs with their armour on them so they’re as safe as we are. Then we walk through the citadel toward the southern gate. While passing through the market I let the ladies trade some cinnamon we brought with us for the fresh supplies we’ll need on the trail. Outside of the gate we mount up, wave goodbye to the guards, and head down the road at a canter in a column of twos with Rob and me leading our two teams. We’re not in a huge hurry but we don’t want to dawdle, so a gallop isn’t called for but I do want to go faster than a walk.

About an hour later I see a large group of riders coming from the trees off to our right. They’re riding through a large field, but not riding hard and I can see they’re well armed. When we get closer I can see it’s Gregor with about forty or so men. When they line up beside us I ask, “Out for some exercise today?”

He grins as he replies, “Sort of. There are reports of trouble on the south-east corner of our lands so I’m taking a patrol down to deal with it. Since the first part of the trip is along the same road as you’re taking I thought we could ride together for a while.” I simply nod agreement, and then we all concentrate on the ride. We camp together that night.

About midday of our third day on the road we crest a ridge and we see some smoke to the south-east. I stop, pull out a telescope, pass it to Gregor, and get another out of my saddlebags which I focus on the smoke a few miles away. Rob, Bridget, and John do the same while the rest watch our local area. Gregor watches me to see what I do with the device I gave him, then he follows our actions. Out of the corner of my eye I notice the way he looks through it, pulls it down, looks at it, then has another look before passing it on to Derek to take a look. I reach in and get another of my spares to give him while saying, “Here’s another. Keep them. You’ll find them very useful. We call them telescopes.”

Rob says, “That looks like some people are attacking a village, but not doing well while the villagers fight back. It’s only a few miles away, so they’ll still be at it by the time we get there. I can’t see why they set fire to the huge pile of wood.”

Derek says, “Signal fire to warn the others in the area.”

We just nod our acknowledgement of the information while we put the telescopes away. I raise my arm and move it forward: we move off at a trot. I give each signal for my troops speed up and Gregor’s people stay with us until we’re just below a full gallop while eating up the track between the road and the village.

It doesn’t take long for a racing horse in good condition to cover a few miles, so we’re soon approaching the village. Gregor says, “Can you ride straight through the village to hit their main force while we hit their flanks?” I simply nod yes, and they split off with Gregor leading half and Derek the other half as they speed up to draw ahead while moving out to go around the village. I raise my small bow to indicate what weapon to use. We’re close enough we can see all of the villagers are gathered in the tavern and its stables while a large group of bandits are attacking them from all around the town.

On reaching the side of the first building we go up to a full gallop to charge down the street of this one street village. As we near the first of the bandits they turn to look at us due to the sounds of our horses. Rob and I fire, and while we reload Tora and John fire at the next two bandits. We’re fast to ride through the small village so we’re only able to get away three arrows each, but we leave twenty-seven bandits on the ground with the crossbow bolts we use for arrows stuck in them, and most of them look to be dead. Instead of trying to stop we turn in a circle then slow down to stop because there’s no room for us in the village. Gregor and his men hit the bandits as soon as they came out to shoot at us, and now the street is full of Gregor’s men finishing off the bandits. So the streets are filled with dead and dying bandits as well as Gregor’s men.

We sit there to watch the end of the battle until Ian says, “Horses and wagons in the edge of the forest just south of the village. So we turn to investigate them. A few minutes later we’re herding sixty horses and taking three wagons with teams to the village. It seems they came ready to loot the village. We hold on the edge of the village because the street is full of the dead and people stripping them. Gregor looks up, so I wave at the horses and wagons. He smiles and talks to the people with him.

They walk over and he says, “You best go strip those you killed.”

I reply, “We’ve not got time for that. Can you do that and keep our share aside at the citadel until we return?” He nods yes. I turn, “Dave, go collect our bolts, please.” He waves to acknowledge the order, gets down, and jogs to the first of those we shot. He grabs the bolt, pulls it out, and continues through the village retrieving our bolts. I turn back to Gregor, “I’ve some slack in my schedule, but we need to get going. You’ll be OK now, won’t you?”

He nods and says, “Yes. I think this is part of the group we were sent to deal with. Once we finish here I’ll send some people back to report and bring us more men to conduct a wider campaign here. I like how well your little bows worked, but they’re definitely close range weapons.”

I smile and says, “Good luck. We’ll be on our way as soon as Dave is finished collecting our bolts for us. Yes, they’re good from horseback or on foot, but only at close range, so we all have the big bows for the longer range targets.”

A few minutes later Dave is back with our bolts after having taken a moment to rinse them off in a bucket of water. He hands them back to the people who fired them. We each have our own marks on them now, so he can tell who owns which. When he mounts up we head off going south-west to return to the road we were on before. While riding away from the village I wonder if the New Slavers’ response to the Rider Clan attacks on their expansion forces will make our rescue easier or not.

For twelve more days we ride south to be well south of the lands under the direct control of the New Slavers. For the last four days of the trip south we ride alongside a fast moving group of traders in wagons. They like us being there because it makes it look like we’re armed guards for their caravan. When we reach the base of the main southern mountains they continue up the road over the mountain chain while we turn off to take a little known track through the trees at the base of the mountain chain.

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