When all else fails, deny the enemy entry.
Erect walls, impenetrable barriers.
~ Ancient Oracles
The space warp was ensorcelled into Valaris’ atmosphere after Mantra, last to go, dematerialised.
Through her tears, she smiled at her husband, who had desired her for the first time during the final dark hours. The memory of their coming together, heart, mind and body, would sustain her for a thousand years.
She would never remarry, and would devote her life to remembering Valaris and its last Vallorin to the Valleur who had not been with them, and to the newborn of the new universe.
And to their son, who would grow up strong and healthy, a good man, as his father had seen.
Her smile would soon be lost in the blackness ahead.
The last ship before the warp landed in the north, far from the others. Built in space, once down, the ships had not the propulsion to lift again into orbit. The northern lands were cold and the newest arrivals began making their way southwest in search of more benign living conditions.
Another large group, a welcoming committee, started out from the east, heading due west, to intercept them. If they succeeded, the settlers would not find Vannis and his five hundred; if they failed, two groups were headed towards the Palace.
Vannis was not about to await that fateful event. He stood on the plain from whence his people departed for the Rift, and issued orders. Taking a massive risk, he divided his meagre force into three; one third to go east and another to go north, both to intercept the two groups before they joined.
The remaining third would return to the Palace, to guard and prepare it in the event of defeat. His opponents were more, but were also weary and unused to terra firma. They were not a nation and communication was non-existent, methods of travel laborious.
Being Valleur, they could confront their enemy in an instant. They chose the dawn of an overcast day to make contact. Their heads were shaven to signify war status, as was tradition; it also tended to unsettle the enemy.
They took with them the Valleur war standard, a flying blue dragon on a gold background.
The settlers travelling southwest were exhausted and disheartened; it was an arduous journey across hostile and hazardous terrain, loaded with more than they could comfortably carry.
Ship to ship communication resulted in a northern landing, away from the populated east. Unfortunately they swung too wide and by the time they realized they headed for snowfields, they were caught within the planet’s gravitational pull. A safe landing was the best they could then hope for.
That auspicious dawn found them asleep, and even the dogs did not give warning. Given their huge complement, they were spread over many sals, with no thought to defence, out upon the open plain below the Great Forest.
The Valleur had cloaked their presence to outside probes two and a half thousand years ago, which was why the Navigator initially believed himself crashed on an uninhabited planet; so, too, for the many who came now.
Shellan, a seasoned warrior of previous encounters, was given leadership of this small force. He inspected the sprawling, sleeping camp, noting the many women and children. So many! And only a fraction of the whole.
To make war on women and children went against the rules of engagement, but there was no turning back, not now that the gauntlet was irretrievably down.
He shook his head over the dogs; accustomed to shipboard life, they lost their danger instinct. He shook his head over the birds in cages: chickens, geese, ducks, quails, guinea fowl, turkeys, even parrots, canaries, doves, and homing pigeons, more. Doves this world already had aplenty, but these humans brought as much of home as they were able to, needing the familiarity of known species to cope with the unknown.
It was understandable, but could well be to the detriment of those creatures endemic to Valaris.
Only the canaries were active in this early morning, trilling their appreciation for clean air, but no one stirred at the musical sounds. The animals got to ride the few land terrain vehicles the humans possessed, while the people walked.
His Vallorin was right. They would destroy this world. Trees would fall to the needs of farming and fuel, native animals would lose their habitats, and the balances would shift too far for natural recovery.
Behind Shellan one hundred and sixty-five stiffened in readiness when he raised the sorcerous whistle to his lips. Soundless, it would seek out those who, by their thought patterns, were the natural leaders among this great gathering of humans. Some would already be leaders; others would be a surprise. He blew and moments later, throughout the camp, individuals stirred.
A total of sixteen men moved towards the Valleur on the rise two sals east of the camp. Without speaking, they walked the distance, their will under the influence of a Valleur calling.
As they stumbled over sleeping forms, others woke to watch in consternation as their leaders headed fixedly for the forms barely seen on the rise.
By the time the leaders were within hailing distance, the camp was noisily awake, but no other followed. They assumed, for the most part, it was a committee from another landed group, and trusted to their men to bring them in.
A few remarked on the glazed expressions, wondering if everything was as it appeared, and others said they were still exhausted. Besides, had they not been told this world was uninhabited? What was there to fear?
Mothers pulled their offspring protectively closer. Their warning instincts had not suffered in a flying cage.
The men halted at the foot of the rise to peer up at the Valleur, the gloom allowing for little clarity.
All they saw was a gathering of tall men and a few women, naked but for loincloths, clean-shaven, somewhat golden of skin.
Shellan released the calling and stood in silence, peering down to study them. These were men in early middle age, with long hair and beard. Strong men with character, already learning frontier skills. Shellan’s eyes narrowed. They would fight. They had nowhere else to go.
“Who are you?” one asked, a tall, wiry man with faded blue eyes.
“We are the Valleur,” Shellan replied. Give them a chance; there were women and children to consider. “This is our world; you trespass.”
“We were told it was uninhabited,” another said, frowning.
“You were misinformed.”
“You speak our language,” the wiry man remarked.
“Yes,” Shellan smirked. “Then, it is the common tongue, isn’t it?”
“How can you know that?” yet another said.
“We are not savages,” Shellan answered in amusement. Eyes blinked at him and he knew he read them right. A human was a human was a human, everywhere.
“Look, we don’t want trouble, friend. If we knew, we would have approached settlement differently, parleyed, remained in orbit … I don’t know. Now that we do know, perhaps we can talk?” Faded blue eyes shared a negotiating smile, beginning to sense hostility. Inwardly he wished he was more awake, his tongue being not quite as glib without due preparation. “My name is Benjamin …”
“I do not require your name, human,” Shellan interrupted. “We want you to leave our world; that is the only matter we are here to discuss.”
The men laughed, not out of scorn, but because it was something they could not consider even in the gravest of dangers. Leaving was physically impossible.
“You would laugh at the Valleur?” a tall woman asked. She, too, was a seasoned warrior.
“No, lady, our apologies. We laugh for we cannot leave. This is our home now.”
“The Valleur will not share space with humans ever again!” a younger, hot-headed Valleur male shouted.
The men’s eyes narrowed and their stances shifted … to defence.
“What are you saying?” a short man with spectacles asked.
“Simple. Leave.” Shellan stated it with new grimness. Give them a chance, yes, but only so far. “Leave now and we shall allow you to pass unhindered.”
“Where to? North, to the snow?” a burly man snapped.
“I think he means off-world, David,” Benjamin, of the faded blue eyes, remarked, his eyes on Shellan. “All of us, every landed ship.”
“Sweet Lord, why?” David blurted. “It’s a big enough world!”
“Even if we wanted to …” another began.
“… which we do not,” a second quipped.
“… we cannot,” a third finished, and all three gazed at Shellan, willing him to understand, wondering what kind of force lay behind the cluster of gold-skinned people.
Shellan said, “We are aware your ships have a propulsion problem.”
The men glanced at each other. Obviously these Valleur were not savages.
“… and thus we are prepared to assist in lifting them,” Shellan continued. It was not something suggested by Vannis, but if they could get the humans off, without bloodshed, closing the skies thereafter permanently, well, he was sure Vannis would agree. Hopefully.
There had been battle-lust in his Vallorin’s eyes recently.
Benjamin laughed. “There’s a space-warp overhead, Valleur. It separated us from the final two ships in our fleet, and if they cannot enter, how can we leave? If it were possible to lift us and if we agreed to go?” It was probing, trying to determine the strength of the Valleur, their knowledge, their abilities. It was the first step to confrontation, with bloodshed.
“Note he said if we agree,” a stocky man with dark curly hair growled, stepping forward. They were growing restless and angry.
Shellan gave a grim smile. The niceties were over, and quicker than expected.
A break in the cloud cover allowed early dawn sun through, and it pierced in a shaft of pale light, casting Shellan’s yellow eyes with a wolfish glow. There were no wolves on Valaris, but these men knew them from elsewhere.
They gasped and stepped back. For the first time they were afraid.
Shellan then replied to Benjamin’s probing. “Ah, humans, how little you really know. We caused the warp.” Privately he wished they saw fit to put it in place when they first came to Valaris. None of this would have come to pass, but regret altered nothing, and thus they would deal only with the present. “We shall open it long enough for all of you, your ships, your gear, and your animals to exit. Thereafter we shall close the warp against incursions forever.”
A stunned silence ensued.
“Impossible!” a man with a flaming red beard eventually laughed.
“Why should that be, human? We Valleur live long and know much. Nothing is impossible.” the woman who spoke earlier said, her eyes ablaze with fury.
“Enough talk,” Shellan said, stepping forward. “Agree to leave and we shall assist you. Supplies, fuel, anything you require for another journey through space. If you do not agree, you are the enemy. We shall be at war. You have one hour to decide.”
With that, he motioned to his small army and, as one, they vanished. The sixteen were aghast. The mass vanishing proved power. Perhaps these Valleur could do all they claimed. If so, they had only an hour to find a solution. It had already been thirty years aboard ship, a stifling, squabbling existence of zero privacy and no peace. Another thirty years like that? Fifty? More?
They were young pioneers when they set out, idealists with great dreams; they would be dead before they found another world.
Time muted idealism, but this paradise world made the long wait worthwhile. Wonder. Freedom. Fertile. No pollution, no over-crowding and no squalor.
The children of today would be old before another paradise came along, if it were out there. They would prefer to negotiate, to live in harmony, to share, but if they were not given that choice, so be it.
The hour passed to the second, and the sixteen waiting men were blasted into nothingness.
Shellan sensed their answer; he saw it in their eyes.
Screams of horror filled the camp, and men stormed the Valleur, some barehanded, others with anything that could knock an enemy down - axes, hammers, clubs, branches, mallets. Yet others came with weapons - mechanized guns, laser shooters, handheld missile launchers, grenades. Others rushed forward with more civilized weaponry, longbows, crossbows and swords.
The early morning transformed into the deep dark of night as the Valleur called on the power which removed light to confuse the humans - they could see in the dark - and they called upon the elements, storms, earthquakes, hail the size of fists, and spread havoc, destruction, disaster, death, screaming pain.
They threw lightning to strike their enemies down in great numbers, they twisted the weapons used against them and exploded the bombs amid the enemy. They turned them against each other in the dark with whispered insinuations, insane laughter and sibilant sounds.
The Valleur died also. Shot, clubbed, torn and stabbed. Some fell into the fissures created by the earthquakes, along with countless humans, and others were struck by lightning.
They fought the men, the women and even the children, hating themselves, hating the enemy more. Babies were left unattended, wailing desperately, as their mothers and siblings fought for their right to live. The most helpless died within minutes, exposed to the extremities brought on by the manipulation of the elements.
Two days and a night followed. Darkness. Fire. Smoke. Fear. On both sides. For the Valleur, greater and greater guilt.
On the second night the humans fled in their desperation.
They ran, abandoning everything - gear, animals screeching in captive terror, the dead and dying, babies missing in the destruction. They fled for days, more succumbing to injury on the run, until bodies marked their passing.
Unable to rest, pursued by the demon Valleur, who bit at the stragglers until no one dared to turn to see how far behind their pursuers were, they ran into a bloody group of survivors fleeing from the east, their encounter with the Valleur equally as terrible.
Vannis recalled them, seeing the rout, the terror, the confusion.
Twenty-two Valleur returned from the north; Shellan was not among them. He fell to blindness from a laser, and was then clubbed to death. Only nine came back from the east.
The Valleur paid a high price. Two enemy groups destroyed, but there were more, and they would be vengeful, prepared. The fallen Valleur were irreplaceable.
They knew their time had come. Truly they faced only death.
Vannis stood in his Throne-room and was numb.
He found his voice. “We honour our fallen and thank them for the price they paid in our name.” He paused. “Our force has dwindled to one hundred and eighty-four. We were not enough in number to begin with; now our chances at engineering victory are … slim. We are their sworn enemy, as they are ours, and they will not rest until they have avenged the deaths we caused, especially those of their women and children. Would we not do the same?” He started pacing and with each step his anger returned. “I shall not wait for them to regroup! They are reeling, and thus we meet them now, on our terms! And we take as many as possible with us! No mercy!
“And in our final hour, we shall take from them any memory of us! We shall take from them the ability to navigate the stars! We shall render their weapons useless! We shall instil in them a fear of technology, and we shall cause them to tremble at magic! We shall make them creatures without a future, capable only of existence on the barest level! We shall hide our sacred sites from them, from their corruption! We shall throw the Oracles and the Ruby into the ether to stir up trouble just when they believe they have found the future we took from them! They will tremble in fear, and scrabble like rats to survive, afraid of their own shadows, distrustful of each other!”
He ceased pacing and ran his hands over his smooth head, realising the horror his words caused among his own.
“Fear not, my Valleur, they will survive. They are tough, resourceful, imaginative and brave. It takes a special kind of being to travel vast space based only on hope. However, they are narrow and suspicious; see how they turn on the aliens who made it to ground before the warp. Are these people we should feel sorry for, hand them our world without a fight? I think not. Had it been the creatures of light and song who came in such numbers, and who are now in danger, I would spread my hands in welcome and share my world with them. Fortunately, human dislike of other races means they will treat the darklings as anathema, and therein, perhaps, lays the ultimate survival of this world. But not ours. We must look to the final battle! Come, give me your thoughts …”
They took the battle to the survivors who met near the Morinnes Mountains.
Not one human survived. Three Valleur lost their lives.
Vannis fought with the strength and fury of ten men, and his Valleur took heart from him. However, two days later the combined forces of the entire human population, all the men under fifty and over fifteen, which effectively meant most of them, marched across the plains from the east.
Horror was what they discovered. The Valleur waited for them on the field of the fallen. It did not deter them; the men roared with one voice, and fought like demons fresh out of the netherworld. No one ran, no one turned away sickened at stepping and fighting on the already dead.
No, they would fight to the death. In that they finally matched the Valleur. Thirty-two thousand men. One hundred and eighty-one Valleur.
They brought down storms and earthquakes as had never seen the light before and the last of their kind fought like madmen, using all and any sorcery at their disposal.
The Valleur held on long.
Twelve days of Hell.
The settlers would count the cost after at nineteen thousand. The total of all confrontations would amount to fifty thousand.
Sixteen Valleur remained to be hounded back to the Palace.
The humans sensed victory.
The Valleur would never surrender.