The World Bell
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
Gui shivered in the dawn’s first light, taking in the sights of the mountain range. He scouted not for beauty, but for movement. All looked clear.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, allowing his senses to sharpen. He felt the early morning dew set on his face, experienced the slightest changes in the wind and found the scent of ancient stone. Not reaching him was sound, however. Gui could not hear.
He turned around, laying his eyes upon the great creation he guarded. The World Bell was the size of a hundred grown men, made of thick brass and inlaid with scriptures that held all the land’s wisdom. It hadn’t been sounded in a hundred years. Doing so was strictly forbidden, except for in a moment of dire threat. Then its warning would reach the far corners of the empire, and the people would be prepared.
Guarding the Bell was the greatest honor imaginable, one that made Gui glad he had been born without hearing. Only his kind could perform the duties necessary.
He turned his gaze to the men below, warriors clad in thick green robes. On every back hung two short blades that, when drawn, would flash in a combat style called ‘The Dance’. Only the best warriors learned this art, and watching them perform it was a sight to behold. The Dawn Dancers were only found here, and it was known to them that they would face combat only once. In the midst of it the Bell would ring out, its incredible sound killing all in its vicinity. All except for Gui and his master.
Gui’s eyes changed focus once more, settling on the old man standing at the other edge of the tower. Unlike the Dancers, he wore robes of a deep red, adorned with gold linings. The master stood upright, his arms folded together, his head turned down. Gui knew the man was focused, feeling for every threat imaginable, ready to rush to the bell at a moment’s notice.
His head flicked up. Gui felt it as well. The slightest change in the wind. The arrow struck, straight in the heart. Gui saw the gasp, then the tumbling, then the empty space as his master fell.
The wind changed once more. Instinctively, he ducked and rolled, a second arrow missing him by a hair’s length. He saw a flash of what unfolded at the tower’s base. A vast horde of grey men. Dancers with blades drawn. Arrows raining down.
More than anything else, Gui felt his heart. Its beat was fast, so strong it hurt. He rolled once more, caught a flash of grey men, they broke through, entered the tower. A Dancer looked up, shouted. Gui picked the words from his lips. Bell. Fast.
His heart’s pace slowed time. He was on his feet. He ran. Arrows deflected off the bell. One grazed his arm. A head appeared from the staircase. Gui leapt, flung his hands around the heavy rope, swung with all his might, saw metal hit metal.
He was flying. He was everywhere. He heard.
The sound reached farms, towns, cities, fortresses. Gui saw it all. He saw the people look up, wonderment and fear written on their faces. He saw soldiers running for their barracks, rulers sending for their messengers, even saw the emperor, calm and calculating.
Then he was back, still hanging on the rope. His lungs burned. His breath came in heavy surges. But he was alive, his duty accomplished.
At his feet a few grey men lay dead, blood flowing out of their ears. He walked to the edge and looked down at a massacre. The first of war’s many victims lay still. Tears appeared in Gui’s eyes. He had never seen death before. But he forced them away. Now was not the time for grief.
His eyes traveled towards the horizon, where he first saw the grey fleck appear. Even from a distance of many miles he could see the army was vast.
Gui headed for the staircase. He was terrified of the journey ahead of him, one he had to undertake.
His people had been warned, but of the threat they were up against, they had no idea.