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The Ancient Legacy
By Graham, Mitchell
Halfway up the hill to the Temple of Coribar, Thaddeus Lane, second officer of the Felizian merchant warrior ship Daedalus, raised his hand, bringing the squad of sailors with him to a halt. The sound of an explosion reached his ears a split second before a blast of hot air roared down the hill.
"Down!" he screamed.
The sailors behind him dove for the ground and ducked behind trees and rocks ... anything that would give them cover as the blast rushed toward them. One man, slower to react than his companions, was hit in the head by a piece of masonry traveling at a phenomenal rate and died instantly.
Lane checked to see where his men were and if any others were injured, then motioned to his coxswain, a heavily muscled man named Brown.
"We're too easy a target," he said. "Take half of the men and circle around to the back of the temple. I'll lead the others directly up the -- "
A second series of explosions cut off the lieutenant's words in mid-sentence. He raised his eyes and stared at the top of the hill.
"What the devil are they doing up there?"
"No idea, sir," Brown replied, following his lieutenant's gaze. "It sounds like the whole place is coming down. One of the balls must have hit something."
Lane considered that for a moment. He was a tall, gan-gly looking young man in his early twenties, with intelligent blue eyes and thick,dark hair that came to the middle of his neck.
Brown was ten years his senior and had seen men come and go in the Felizian navy. This one was different. Lane had a confidence about him that inspired trust. Despite his age and a disturbing tendency to get seasick at the beginning of a voyage, he had proven himself in battle enough times to earn the crew's respect. Ship's navigator for the last four years, he made the right choices under pressure, and Brown was content to follow where he led.
Lane reached his decision. "I saw the temple from the ship. We don't have anything that could produce that kind of damage."
"Coribar folk are a strange lot, Lieutenant," a grizzled seaman spoke up from behind them. "That goes double for the priests. I was here ten years back. None of 'em are like regular priests. Like as not, they blew the building up themselves."
Lane frowned and looked up the hill again. "All right. I suppose there's only one way to find out. The rest of you men, look alive. I don't want any more casualties. No prisoners are to be harmed. Do I make myself clear?"
"Aye, sir," Brown replied.
Similar acknowledgments came from the other sailors. Satisfied, Lane rose to a crouch and drew his sword. Keeping low to the ground, he started up the hill with half the men. Brown and the remaining half angled toward the rear of the building. They numbered thirty in all.
When Lane reached the crest, he straightened and slowly put his sword back in the scabbard. Expressions of shock and disbelief came from all around him. The temple with its gleaming gold dome was now little more than a colossal wreck. From where he stood, he could see a number of white-robed figures partially buried amidst the rubble. It was a gruesome sight.
"Mr. Warrenton," he called out.
A red-haired youth of about fourteen years stepped forward. "Yes, sir."
"Aye, sir, in the navy, Mr. Warrenton," Lane corrected.
"Aye, sir," the boy stammered. He was staring at a man's leg sticking out from under a block of marble.
"Be so kind as to signal the ship and let them know that the temple is taken. Tell the captain there appear to be no survivors. We will search the area for anything valuable and return by midday."
"Aye, sir," the boy said. He saluted and began trotting toward the edge of the hill, carrying a boxlike contraption that was suspended around his neck by a leather strap.
"Walk, Mr. Warrenton. You are an officer and the men will be observing you."
Warrenton immediately slowed. "Aye, sir." He kept his eyes averted from the bodies.
Brown and his squad rejoined them a few minutes later. "Nothing to report, sir. Hell of a mess, isn't it?"
"Any sign of Mr. Fikes and his party yet?" Lane asked.
"No, sir. Shall I send someone to look for them?"
"That won't be necessary. I'm sure they'll be here directly."
Lane turned and looked at the Daedalus, whose tall masts were moving gently in the waters of the bay. Everything there appeared secure. He scanned the plateau for his first officer.
Elton Fikes was fifty-four and a man who wanted nothing more than to serve out his remaining few years and retire to a farm in his home province. Like most professional seamen in Felize's merchant marine, his personal fortunes had taken a substantial upturn when the Felizian government had rediscovered the cannon. Now, instead of merchant traders, Felize had a fleet of seagoing pirates.
In truth, Lane was stunned by what had happened. His stomach had nearly revolted at the death and destruction, but he kept his face neutral and moved methodically from body to body, checking for survivors. After making sure that no one was alive, he instructed Brown to take a party of men and give the priests decent burials. Next, he told Warrenton, who had returned from sending his heliograph message to the ship, to take the remainder of the men and begin combing the wreckage for any signs of treasure. The prospect of robbing the dead sickened him, but it was a role he had learned to play.
Lane picked his way across a pile of rubble and sat on the edge of a broken wall. He had signed on with the Daedalus when the ship visited Sennia ... Continues...
Excerpted from The Ancient Legacy by Graham, Mitchell Excerpted by permission.
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