Part 10: THE IMPENETRABLE FORTRESS AND THE SPIRIT OF VANGAKANG
High upon the hill of Ganlang stood the fortress of Vangakang, known throughout the tyrant’s realm as ‘The Impenetrable Fortress’ and ‘The Fortress of Death’.
All had heard that it was ruled by Vangakang, the younger brother of Samagusha and that he was a hideous, blood thirsty monster. All knew that its battlements were ornamented with the crowned skulls of every king and general who had tried in vain to capture it and all had heard that each of its walls was protected by a hundred different mechanical weapons of war, like its mechanical archers that would pop up like jack-in- the- box’s and deliver volley after volley of deadly, poison tipped arrows or its giant catapults that would hurl huge boulders and fireballs of flaming pitch or the long sharp, spikes that would spring out all over its walls like porcupine quills and skewer any man foolish enough to try and scale them but, what few people knew, was that, long ago the wicked Samegusha had bound the soul of his younger brother Vangakang to the fortress bringing the fortress to life. At the centre of the stone building was a stone statue of a man that had once been flesh and bone and his soul saw and heard through the windows of the monsterous fortress and spoke through its gates.
“Never again will you feel the cracks of love upon your heart”, Samagusha had told him as he’d cursed him into stone, “People will hate you and fear you and come to try and destroy you but your hate for them will make you strong and you will be my impenetrable fortress”.
Never had so many feet been felt upon the hill of Ganlang or so much joyous singing been heard by the land as on that day when Hiriki and the fifteen thousand marched to the gates of the great grey fortress, carrying their bright banners high that bore the crest of the lion and the four crowns.
“The wind and the waves are not as strong as us”, said Hiriki, “And yet they grind stone into dust. We will grind down this evil fortress but like the wind and the waves we must be tireless and tearless. No man should weep unless it is with joy at our victory, no man should rest until the battle is won”.
But across the hills there echoed a louder more terrible voice like the eruption of a flaming volcano, “Come, come! Enemies of Vangakang! Come and I will crush you and wear your skulls upon my walls!”.
“Make your ears deaf to the taunts of our
enemies”, said Hiriki, “Make your nerves as solid as stone. We will bring the fortress to its knees”.
Suddenly, as if in response to Hiriki’s words, a trebuchet within the fort of Vangakang hurled a blazing fireball of pitch at them but it was spotted by Mazjimata who was flying high above and, following his warning, the fifteen thousand moved as one out of the path of the flaming missile, then a volley of flaming poison tipped arrows rained down from the battlements but fortunately Hiriki and his armies were not within range of them and the arrow heads buried themselves harmlessly in the ground just infront of Hiriki’s feet.
“Advance no further”, commanded Hiriki, “We will stay out of arrows reach” and then he gave the deaf prince Aurokoro the sign for ‘fire’ and ‘door’ and Aurokoro understood that Hiriki wanted him to unleash the flying fire against the fortress gates and Aurokoro reached inside himself and thought of the wall of disability and how he would like to smash through it and his heart lit the magic torch and summoned a giant
fist of white hot fire that flew, like a comet, towards the fortress gates and shattered them with one blow into stone and splinter and twisted iron and, though he could not hear them, fifteen thousand voices roared and cheered the name Aurokoro.
Suddenly, the fortress of Vangakang screamed and the scream was so loud and horrible that a shudder went through the fifteen thousand like wind through the wheat. “That must be the howl of the hideous monster Vangakang”, said Hiriki.
“You will pay for injuring me”, boomed the voice of Vangakang and, within the fortress, cages opened themselves and out of the shattered fortress gates emmerged a pack of ten giant, grey snarling, foaming sabretooth wolves with eyes full of hunger and hate and their furry backs were strapped with arrow proof armour while on their broad heads they each wore a helmet with a single horn, “My warwolves will eat you up!”, said Vangakang, laughing like rumbling thunder and the warwolves immediately set upon the armies of Hiriki, snapping at them with teeth as long
as tent pegs and clawing at them with nails like iron sickles and Hiriki ordered for his archers to fire but the wolves were shielded by their armour and so Junika, who's spear gave her the strength of a titan, leapt upon each wolf and, hurling it upon its back, speared it in its exposed belly and when she had finished slaying all of the giant wolves she piled them up for Vangakang to see and, when the problem of the wolves was solved, she used the healing power of her spear to heal the wounds that the warwolves had inflicted and 15000 praised her courage and mercy.
“You evil maggots. You’ve murdered my warwolves”, roared Vangakang unhappily, “I will unleash horror upon you all… but I will blind you first so that you can’t see death approaching”.
Out of the shattered fortress gates now came a pitch black blanket of fog that was so thick that no man upon the hill could see their nose infront of their face and it spread out to cover the whole hill so that everyone was blind except for
Mazjimata who was flying above the fog and Nukitana who saw with his other senses.
“What do you hear, Nukitana?”, asked Hiriki.
“I hear something that has a thousand long marching legs and a thousand clawed hands holding a thousand sabres but it is not an army, it is one creature and from its mouth that has great crunching mandibles for jaws it is poking out a long forked tongue made of fire”, said Nukitana.
“There is a monster in the fog”, said Hiriki, “I’m going to order our retreat”.
But Nukitana gripped Hiriki’s arm firmly and spoke determinedly, “I can defeat it. I have the blade that can cut through anything and I can see the monster” and Nukitana called down Mazjimata who was circling above the fog and told him,
“You will see ten tall banners rise from the fog. When you see them you must aim your arrows at them”
Then Nukitana attacked the beast with a thousand arms and legs and because the crescent moonblade could cut through any substance it was easy to penetrate the beasts body, thought it was covered in a thick steel like shell and one by one
Nukitana cut away its sabre wielding arms and drove his blade into its side and, for every hundredth arm he severed, he planted a banner in its body that Mazjimata could see from above the dense black fog and, when all ten banners were planted, Mazjimata rained down arrows upon them and the hail of arrow heads split the monster into ten dead chunks and, when the ten parts had stopped squirming the fog turned white, grew thin and vanished.
When the fog was gone Hiriki saw the beast, like a giant millipede, and the terrible carnage it had caused. All over the hillside his army lay, all bleeding and bruised, some limbless and some dead.
Vangakang roared so hard with laughter that the fortress seemed to shake, “You’ve done well to survive, impudent worms but I have a thousand such weapons within my arsenal. Go home and weep, Hiriki. You will never defeat Vangakang”, he said.
“The monster is right”, sighed Hiriki, despondently.
“He was not always a monster”, said a small voice from behind Hiriki.
Hiriki turned and saw a young woman, “I am Fujisha. The goddess summoned me to this place because I knew Vangakang long before his brother cursed him and turned him to stone. I was a serving maid within that fortress and Vangakang
was my lover and he was going to marry me and make me a noblewoman but the evil Samegusha thought that our marriage would weaken his empire and so he cast the evil spell that made Vangakangs heart into stone and he would have murdered me if I had not taken my family and fled this land”.
“He may have been human once”, said Hiriki angrilly, “But he is a monster now, with the blood of many thousands on his claws. Can you tell me how to defeat him?”.
“You will not defeat him with weapons and anger but he will fall for me”, said Fujisha and she walked across the hillside scattered with the wounded and dying,without any fear and pressed her hands and face to a fortress wall.
“Vangakang, it is Fujisha”, she whispered, stroking the wall, “I’ve come home”.
“Why did you leave me?”, asked Vagakang, his enormous voice growing sad and soft.
“I was afraid that your brother would kill me, the way that you are killing these people?”, she said.
“You are friends with them? They hate me! They all hate me and that is why they attack me!”, said Vangakang.
“They hate you because Samegusha is evil and cruel and you are Samegushas friend. They only want to be free and you understand that. Your brother has lied to you and enslaved you, he has told all of these people that you are a monster so that they fear you but you can be free and we can be together again if you surrender to Hiriki and his army”, pleaded Fujisha.
Under no more than the force of Fujisha’s pleading, the fortress of Vangakang, then crumbled; the walls shook and shattered to a million pieces of rubble, clouds of dust
rose up and, when they had settled, there was nothing left of the fortress except the statue of Vangakang that had once been a man and out of the dungeons that had lain beneath the fortress emerged all of the prisoners whom Samegusha had condemned to eternal darkness and among them were the four mothers of the four royal children,
shielding their eyes because the summer sun was agonizing to them and the royal children ran to embrace them and their eyes were bound with blindfolds for protection and when the sun had gone down and the armies of Hiriki were celebrating their victory and burying their dead, the mothers looked upon the moonlit faces of their
children and wept with enormous joy and where the statue of Vangakang had once stood was a new, golden statue of a couple eternally entwined in love.
After a day of drawing straws a messenger was chosen, from among Samegushas soldiers, who would deliver the news, of Hiriki’s uprising and the fall of the fortress, to Samegusha. When Samegusha heard the news he lifted up the messenger and hurled him out of a window which, luckilly for the messenger, was only a first floor window.
Samegusha had just conquered the fabulous jewelled city of Quintoko which would
have been the crowning conquest of his life but Hiriki’s defeat of his brother now forced him to abandon the city and turn his troops homeward, “Even an emperor can’t afford to turn his back”, Samegusha is said to have growled.
And the dark, blood sucking gods to whom Samegusha prayed and gave the blood sacrifice of slavery and war told him that to ignore the threat of Hiriki would be fatal, “The might of the goddess, who is our greatest enemy, marches in the armies of Hiriki. If Hiriki wins, the power of the goddess will spread and our power will diminish and if that happens your only throne shall be the burning coals of hell, Samegusha”.
And so Samegusha gathered his army of three hundred thousand, that was made up of men from all the nations he had conquered and he headed homeward along the great road of Silk & Spice that had been built by his great, great uncle for trade between east and west.
Because the journey from Quintoko to the city of Nonakdow, along the road of Silk & Spice would take Samegusha six days, Hiriki decided that the only way to beat the tyrant would be to cut his army of three hundred thousand down to a defeatable size before they could reach the city and so he sent each of the royal children on a quest for powers of great destructive force.